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Canadian Graffiti Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I'm bored tonight, so I'm writing. Fantastic start, right? It's been a year and a half since I've posted, and this is the first time I'm so bored that I'm going to update my blog.

I could write some inane sarcastic statement like, "not a lot has happened," but I'm a better writer than that, to be sure. And I know you know this is the case because you stuck around after the first two sentences. You, reader, truly are a connoisseur of fine writing. You see Isaac Asimov next to Stephanie Meyer and the choice is obvious. You've heard of Stephanie Meyer.

So what has happened since February of last year? It looks like during my last post my plan was to attend SPU. That went well, in that I got an interview, and not so well in that I wasn't accepted to the university. That's fine because I ended up at Northwest University instead. You'd think, being a university you've never heard of, it would cost less than SPU, but that's not the case. On the bright side, it didn't cost more than SPU.

In May, I bought a new-ish car and traveled the US. I visited 27 states in 29 days. The whole photo album can be viewed here.

I could write at least a few blog posts from that trip alone, but I'm not going to. Some stories are meant to be memory, and some are meant to be told in person.

Memory, it turns out, is fairly malleable. For instance, perhaps a decade from now, I'll remember having accidentally entered Mexico, rather than accidentally entering Ontario, without my passport thanks to unfounded trust in Bing Maps. And I'll remember the three pieces of graffiti I saw on three different overpasses over two separate freeways, each at least thirty minutes apart saying "I ♥ you", "Forgive, forget", and "Have a good day" in Spanish rather than English. I'm not really sure what a heart symbol in Spanish would look like, but if I remember crossing the border from New York to Mexico, I'm sure I could think of something.

Perhaps some day I'll remember... nope, this was a stupid way of writing. I'll have no more of it. Fine, I'll tell you a couple more tidbits. The only place I visited or drove through in which I did not find some amount of beauty was Los Angeles. Everywhere else I appreciated some aspect to it.

Washington DC is the only city I've ever considered someplace I'd want to live. I really prefer suburbs and rural areas. I actually got giddy when I first saw the Washington Memorial from the freeway. I had no idea I would feel that way. Perhaps I've seen the West Wing too many times. My favorite place to visit in DC was the National Building Museum.

Petrolex's family in Phoenix was ridiculously hospitable, and even gave me $100 for gas. I loved my visit with them.

I went to the Sounders/Dallas FC game with Nicci and her then boyfriend. We were three of about ten Sounders fans scattered about the sadly small stadium. Even that close to Mexico (most of the attendees were hispanic), soccer is not a big sport in the US. The three of us made an appearance on TV in Seattle for a couple seconds around half time. We won that game 2-0. It felt really awkward being an away fan. That's the first time I've experienced that.

After visiting Disney (an old female friend from high school, not the company--if you're reading this it's because I didn't manage a better pseudonym for her before finishing this post) and her boyfriend in San Diego, which was super fun, I drove Phoenix-ward and got a ticket in California for speeding. 'Cause if you're going to get a speeding ticket, southern California is the logical place to get it.

Texas has freeway speed limits of 80mph. "Share the road" signs in Texas are for motorcyclists. God bless Texas.

My most surprisingly awesome visit was with an old church/high school friend and her husband whom I'd only met briefly at their wedding. Halfway through what had been a normal small-talk dinner, I made some nerdy science statement and things just went uphill from there. Her husband and I stayed up until 1:00am discussing the physics of light.

On a month-long trip, you're bound to have some ups and downs. Aside from LA and my speeding ticket, I've only listed some ups. Some downs were missing Mother's Day and my grandpa's 75th birthday party. Also Montero scored his first, long-awaited goal of the season against the LA Galaxy at one of the games I missed, and it was a pretty fantastic shot. That's alright. He's not on the Sounders anymore anyway.

A few of the visits I had were really awkward. Maybe I'll forget those over time. There are a couple other stories, but I really will only tell those in person. So if you're that interested, and you know me, ask about the girl in Chicago, or the whole story of Niagara Falls through Ontario to Chicago, as getting into and out of Canada without a passport is a feat.

In mid July, I saw an old acquaintance, Mary, online. (She's aliased so for her love of British everything, such as Downton Abbey.) I knew of her from college, and I'd always thought was cute. She'd been part ofwith Vin's clique of CCFers that I was never really a part of. Up to that point in our lives "hey" was the only word we'd said to each other, so quiet naturally, that's what I said. One thing led to another and we dated from August until January. I don't know what to say about Mary. She's one of the best people I know. She's funny, compassionate, real. But there's an indescribable quirkiness that's just Mary (though italicizing her real name would make this sentence more accurate). It's that quality that most attracted me to her. We broke up on good terms. In fact we were both planning a relationship changing/ending talk for the same evening. I miss her semi-frequently, but more often than not, I miss her more than my romantic relationship with her.

With September began my masters program. We began as a group of twenty-two, but in the end nineteen of us graduated. One failed a class and dropped out, one ran into healthcare/money issues, and one got super sick after commencement (which happened in May, despite the program ending in July) and had to push back her student teaching to this September, and she'll graduate when she completes that.

The first three months were pretty easy, and as long as you had flexible hours, very doable while working a job. I didn't have a job, still relying on my Microsoft stock.

Second, and technically third, semesters were a little lighter on class load but also had two major teaching projects--one for the school, one for the state--a forty page research paper, and student teaching. At this point, you could no longer maintain a job.

There really is a ton to write about my masters degree experience, and I've exhausted tonight's writing enthusiasm and, let's face it, talent, so I'll post more about it tomorrow, or, you know, within a year or two from now.

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Much Ado About Nothing Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I suppose it is time.

Since October 1. Hum. Well, I briefly dated/flinged--flung?--a girl named Belle. Basically the first date went fantastic, which introduced super high expectations, that were later not met. It's entirely possible they were impossible to meet. Belle and I are still friends, though it took a couple months.

In the last couple days in Rwanda, we headed back toward the airport. On the way, we visited some orphans and widows, doing missionary work like a cop eats a doughnut. The woman my group met with was 51 years old and had an amazing, tragic story. Her husband was a fisherman and died drowning when she was in her early twenties. By then she had two kids, but her parents and parents-in-law disowned her. She couldn't afford the house she was living in, and had no where to go, so she lived, quite literally, under a mat for ten years. The neighbors took pity on her kids some nights and gave them food, some of which they smuggled in their shirts, so that's how the woman survived. There was something about her owning the house they'd lived in, but not the land it was on, and the man who owned it refused to part with it. He was planning on leveling the house, but since it was government-built, it was illegal. When we met with her, she was in the process of getting the government to step in. My favorite part was that she let us take the bench in her house, and pulled down some mats for herself. One of the mats, when unrolled, revealed a giant spider. I pointed it out, expecting her to whack it with a shoe, or ask me to. Instead, she slapped it, bare-palmed, it curled up, and she brushed it aside. My sister would have run to Uganda at the sight of that spider.

The day before we left the country, we had a one-day "retreat" for the World Relief staff. It was based around the five or six sections of the Lord's Prayer. We put out large sheets of paper with the section name at the top, then went around and wrote prayers that fit the section for World Relief and otherwhere. (Otherwhere passes spell check?) It was a fairly powerful experience. Afterward, it began to rain pretty hard. I walked out into it, getting soaked. The Rwandans thought I was crazy, which amused my team and me.

The day after we got back from Rwanda, I had tickets with my Microsoft team and Swood to see the Seahawks. We were to meet at a bar in Seattle, but I managed to leave my wallet in my bags, still packed, at home, and my 16-year-old face couldn't convince them I was 24. Our tickets were for seats literally the furthest from the field, the nosebleeds of the nosebleeds. We lost the game, though had we made the hail-mary field goal we would have won or gone into overtime. I don't remember.

When I went back to work, everything had changed. The two remaining members of the original project I was on had left to go work with my old boss. We had one new member, and two or three more on the way. Our code base had moved to an entirely different system. Seriously, I'm gone for two weeks and the team falls apart.

Within two weeks, I had to do my commitments. My boss helped me with those, and midway through, I realized, I'm not going to do these. It made setting them a bit easier, when then and there, I decided I was going to quit my job.

Obviously the next question was "What now?" The only thing that came to mind was teaching high school math, so I set my course, and looked for colleges. The only college that fit my schedule was SPU. For UW, I'd have to wait until the next October to apply, and start in spring of '13. Western, which would have been my first choice, had no Seattle satellite campus, and I don't want to leave my church. When I talked to HR about leaving Microsoft, she recommended CityU, but my sister is there.

A few weeks later, at one of my one-on-ones with my boss, he told me, as a friend and in no official capacity, that I should start looking for a new job. I started talking to people about my decision, outside of work (and with Athena). My Rwanda trip team (we're still meeting once every two to four weeks as we did pre-trip) was all very supportive, everyone saying I'd make a great teacher. My psychiatrist said she hears people frequently say they want to quit their jobs, and she always tells them to keep them, but in my case, that I should go for it. The only two people I told that weren't thrilled were my mom and Luke's wife--both teachers. My mom didn't want me to drop out of the computer field when she knows that's one of my (if not my) biggest passion, and she's been teaching for 35 years, is burnt out, and angry at what the government is doing to the system right now. Luke's wife is a second or third year teacher, and at the time, had been having a very rough year. Both of them are junior high teachers, whereas I want to teach high school.

I gave my two weeks' notice two weeks before Thanksgiving. My boss gave me the best compliment he could have: "Oh, I expected you to say you were going to Google or Amazon." My last day could have been the Wednesday before, but Microsoft has a long standing tradition of a farewell lunch, and I figured that everyone would be out of town, but be back by Monday, so that was my last day. Those two weeks were hard because it's Microsoft policy not to tell anyone except HR and your boss if you're actually leaving the company as opposed to changing groups. I spent a lot of it messing around with a MSR gadget, teasing out the peculiarities and attempting to train the guy who would take over my project. I spent a lot of it rereading QC too. The rest of my time, I spent talking to Vin on facebook. She is a wonderful person.

The person I hadn't told, come Thanksgiving, was my grandpa. I was not really looking forward to that conversation, but I've got a bit more ... I don't even know the word ... than my mom or sister. Hostility isn't quite right; indifference; rebelliousness. Combine those but only take certain portions of each: hostdiffousnessity--the attitude of I'm doing this, and I know it to be right, so you can condemn me or not and it won't bother me either way. It's being a teenage daughter, except right. Anyway, I don't even remember how it came up, but I ended up telling my grandpa I had given my two weeks' notice and was going to become a math teacher. His response was, "Good for you!" My jaw almost dropped. I know he and Grandma knew that I wasn't happy there, in fact they were the first to know, even before me, but they'd always tried to push me toward Amazon or Google. When my mom had told him she wanted to be a teacher, he was disappointed, though my understanding is that it was because of the pay they received.

Thanksgiving went well for me. Well in general, except for my cousins and sister, I think, and except for one or two parts, it went well for them too. Good food, good company, an interesting game of Apples to Apples--interesting because some people played it literally, my sister and I didn't, and my two cousins were too young to understand "Woodstock." "I like the bird." But, as the party was breaking up, my grandpa said goodbye to my sister asking, "So, are you on track to graduate?" Since my sister's taken five years to graduate, he's quit supporting her financially (or so I've heard). His concern can be interpreted as aimed at her success rather than her wellbeing. Then, he turned to me and said, "Follow your dreams!" A few moments later, when he was out of earshot, my eldest cousin turned to my sister and said in a bitter tone, "Or, you can just not go to college and have no expectations placed on you at all!" Good ol' family politics, I guess. Still, beats presidential politics.

My goodbye lunch was bittersweet, half because I was leaving and would miss the people who attended, half because half the people I wanted to attend were out of town still. I'll admit it's a little selfish to wish the guy were at my lunch rather than at Disneyland with his family. A little.

Of the process for leaving, I was most upset that they didn't let me keep my badge as a memento. I was tempted to leave it home that day, but my good nature prevented it.

The SPU program officially starts in late July, so I had/have eight months of unemployment. What allows me to do this, and to live while in college without a job, is my recently converted buy-a-house fund, a large sum of money sitting in MSFT stock. Assuming Microsoft doesn't go out of business, or drop its value by half, I should be fine for living for 36-40 months, without taxes. What I don't have is the $17k needed to go to school, so I'm hoping to take out some loans for that.

Everything just kind of fell into place for this decision. Last June, I'd planned on moving into a house I wanted to buy by February, so that's when I set as the end of my lease. As "luck" would have it, February is when Bob's roommate is moving out. (It's now one week until the end of my lease and she still hasn't so I need to do some more prodding.) Rent at Bob's place is a couple hundred cheaper per month. It's not huge, but it's some. SPU's program is 14 months, which is about the amount of living money I have, and it's somewhat targeted at people leaving the tech industry who want to teach math and science, which is me. My mom's an alumnus so I think that will help with admissions and tuition a little bit. A dozen other small things have just left me feeling at peace with this decision. It's where God wants me to be right now, and that's enough. It's quite the turn around from where I was a year ago.

Christmas was good, mostly because I got to see friends from all over. Vin came back, so we had lunch together at a place in Seattle. Denna, whom I'm renaming once again to Nicci (having reread The Wizards First Rule, and deciding Denna doesn't really fit--and I'm not choosing Nicci because she's Death's Mistress [one should hope not], but because she turns into a dear friend of Richard's, though not his wife) visited, and I spent a day barhopping with her and her sister, brother-in-law, and roommate and his friend. That day, my iPhone was stolen from my car seat through my window. I forget that Seattle is not Redmond. It was really being used as a glorified iPod, since I've been using my Windows Phone for over a year. Still, it would have been nice to keep, sell, or give away. It's missing the chip that makes it act as a phone, so they'll have a little more trouble using it. After the barhopping, I took the ferry over to Port Orchard and hung out at her parents' house, with some of her other Port Orchard friends. I'd been hoping to get a chance to talk to her one on one, but it didn't really happen. At the end, it was me, her dad, and her. Her dad and I played a game of chicken, and I lost. I was a little disappointed, until the next morning when Nicci told me that a lot of wounds between her dad and her were mended and that they were on significantly better terms, which were my prayers while driving on the way home, and had been for months before. God is good.

Frank was also in town, and the Quad had a good night of Apples to Apples, and dare I say it, Quelf. They are the only three people with which I could play that game, though perhaps on a different timeline, it'd be interesting with Goose as well. Much blackmail material was generated.

A lot of people, people older than me mostly, have suggested that I should become a technology teacher, or assume that's what I'm going for rather than math. It's really hard, and repetitive, to try to explain that there's a difference between computer science and technology, the same as there's a difference between math and accounting. I would love to teach computer science, but first I'd have to find a school that actually teaches it. That might involve working for a few years, and then coming up with my own curriculum. I don't know how good the AP CS curriculum is, but that might also be an option.

In order to become a masters student, you have to take the WEST-B and WEST-E tests. WEST stands for Washington Educators Skill Tests. The B is basic--reading, writing, and math. The E is endorsement, so in my case, math. I took the endorsement test first, and it was fun. I got something like a 78, but it's a pass-fail test with a 70% bar. The WEST-B, I got in the high 80s/low 90s for reading and writing, and a 98-ish in math. The scores they give you are on a 100-300 scale, so calculating, I'm guessing, is not a straight percentage.

In order to take the WEST-E, you can't bring anything except a calculator, and they give you lockers for your wallet, watch, cell phone, and anything else on your person. I thought I'd be smarter than that, and leave all my stuff in my car. Of course, that stuff included my keys. And my wallet, which normally has my backup car key. I do so love when I outsmart myself. One of the women who worked at the testing center was super gracious, and let me use her AAA membership to unlock my car. She even gave me a little cash for lunch while I waited for them. It's so great to meet people like that.

The SPU application was due February 1, but to beef it up a little, I was encouraged to volunteer at a couple schools. I set myself up to volunteer in a math classroom at a high school in Kirkland, but the Monday that week was Martin Luther King Jr Day, and Tuesday through Friday were snow days. The Civil Rights Movement strikes again! The next Tuesday, I went back to Port Orchard and volunteered in my favorite junior high math teacher's classroom on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Wednesday was insane. Because of the snow, the kids were rowdy. Also, because of the days missed, they had pushed back the end of the semester to that Friday, which meant the kids' grades were basically set in stone. No failing student was going to pass, and no high A student was going to get a B. No passing student cares that much about a percentage point or two, nor will they fail. The kids basically had no perceivable incentive for listening. Further, Cedar Heights's schedule is such that on Wednesday, he didn't have a plan period. Last, and probably foremost, he's a little too lenient when it comes to keeping the kids quiet, so when he gives that inch and lets them talk during homework time, they take that mile and don't shut up when he's trying to teach. In one period, he even lost his temper and sent two instigators outside for the rest of the period. At the end of the day, I was wondering if I even wanted to teach anymore. Also, that day, my car was towed because it was parked awkwardly, yet a legal 6" from the curb. Neither that, nor the $216 it cost to get it out of impound, helped. I decided to tough it out and stay Thursday. I wouldn't say it was a night and day difference, but a world of difference, nonetheless. The biggest thing, probably, was that I was ready for it. Second, he had his plan period, and during it, I went to my mom's classroom to see how she teaches. Her classroom management (crowd control) skills are significantly, well, better. It helps that she's been teaching longer, and also that her classes are all of a single grade, and thus she can reinvent her teaching style each year, whereas the math teacher's classes are mixed-grade, and students have expectations year-to-year. Also, apparently, the class I visited third period was her best, most respectful class. I finished that day thinking, "Ok, so this can be done." Still, the experience confirmed in me that I want to teach high school and not junior high.

It was good to see all the teachers I grew up with. Having lunch with them was fun, and interesting. I got the feeling that these particular days were hard for most of the teachers, probably due to the end of the semester, and a lot of the time was spent "discussing" student behavior. One interesting comment was that a girl had asked another girl out and was rejected. She ran out of the classroom, hurt, and I think went to the counseling office. The comment was that the girl who asked the girl out was committing sexual harassment. I'm thinking, "Really? How is that different than a guy asking a girl out?"

Friday was best of all, despite the Friday mayhem. During third period, I again visited my mom. She was teaching persuasive writing. The entry task was to pick a topic on the board and write a note to their parents trying to convince them of something. The topics were like "push back my bed time" or "let me dye my hair" or "give me more allowance". After a few minutes, my mom collected all the papers then redistributed them to other students. The task then was to write a reply as their parents, countering the arguments. I looked up at the board, read through the topics, and asked, "Do you realize you just put some kids on the wrong side of 'quit smoking'?" It got me a good laugh. I made a few more comments like that, and asked my mom at the end if I had been too disruptive. She said no, that having me had been good.

Some Saturday in January, I went to see Goose's play. She played Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. The part fits her almost perfectly; Goose is a nicer person. I went during a matinee because it was the last day, and I know that casts have parties after the last showing, which was that night. I wanted to see her afterward, but I didn't want to impose, having not seen her in a little over a year, and that being when she broke up with me. The play was fantastic, I thought. It was no new epiphany, but Shakespeare was brilliant. It kicked off a bit of a Shakespearen binge for me. I didn't actually do a whole lot--I read a little bit, enough to discover that so much is lost without the acting--but I thought about it a lot. Someday, I want to write a play, a comedy I'm sure. It always comes back to plot, though. It's the same reason I haven't written a book yet, either. The only thing I seem to be able to write about with any degree of skill is myself.

Most of the binge happened on facebook, and a friend of mine, a girl I almost went on a date with but then she got married, posted this clip on one of my statuses. I don't normally put youtube in my blog, but this is worth it.

Seeing the play also kicked off a bit of me wishing I was with Goose, and I tested the waters, confirming that she is, in fact, dating Benedick. I know that she's not the one for me, but sometimes things are hard to know. Later I told a friend I hadn't talked to since high school, whom I randomly chatted up on facebook, "She'd be the one that got away, if I weren't completely certain there's a girl out there whose better for me."

On the 31st, I turned in my SPU application. That's right, a full day before it was due. First time in my life. That afternoon, before turning it in, I had lunch with my old Microsoft pals, one to have lunch with them, and two, to get my letters of recommendation (which were incredibly kind) signed. It was a good thing they were signed, too, because they almost rejected one on account of it not being in an envelope. Alas, I had forgotten to print out the second half of my written thing, which was a list of teaching experiences I'd had, so I emailed that to them that night. All that's left now is an interview on March 10, and then waiting one to two weeks for an application letter. I got the feeling there were 100+ applicants per year, but ALL of the interviews, which are required in person, happen on the 10th between 8 and 4pm. I'm just trying to imagine how 100 people get interviewed in 8 hours without a LOT of interviewers. Anyway, I'm not too worried. If this is what God wants, then I'll be accepted. If not, then since I think God has me where he wants me right now, he must have a plan to get me to where I need to go next. Plus, it's not like I'm not an ideal candidate for the spot anyway. The only thing I could have done better, perhaps, was to double-major in math, but I took enough math to cover all the requirements for the MTMS (masters in teaching math and science) without taking any other courses.

As for girls, as there must always be a for girls, I'm a bit put off right now. A day or two ago, I was angsty and frustrated, and way too into it, applying my girl-situation to my identity, where it does not belong. So, once again, I'm at a place where if I find a girl, cool, if not, I have other things to worry about--even though I really don't, having money and no employment. Moving! Right. Good. I was worried I had nothing to worry about. Anyway, all that's really happened since Belle is a few girls I met for lunch, none of which went spectacularly. This latest one, I met in Bellingham, and I thought it went well enough to warrant a second date, but she did not. What was great about it, though, is that it got me to Bellingham where I met with Rufus and Solomon. It'd been entirely too long since I'd talked to either of them, and seeing them again was both wonderful and nurturing to my soul. Solomon is so sincere with his Christ-like love. While talking with Rufus at the VU, I saw a good six or seven other people I knew from back in the day, pastors and friends and Fir Creek counselors. I have no doubt that the reason I ran into this girl on eHarmony was to get me to Bellingham. Besides, who wants to date a girl that enjoyed The Phantom Menace and wanted to see it in 3D? *dog with shifty eyes*

The meeting with Solomon spawned off an email thread, largely about girls and what to look for in girls when looking to marry. I've read it a few times now because he is incredibly insightful. If I get his permission, I'd love to post it on my blog, or maybe a link to it. If not, well, sucks to be you, I guess.

I guess saying I only met a few girls for lunch isn't fair. For a little while, I was kind of seeing this girl. We met up a few times. She was the first girl I've ever really been on a date with that was (more than a year) older than me, though not much older. I'm not really sure why we dropped out of contact, but I think we both felt we should. I don't know. Looking back through nostalgia-colored lenses, I miss her a little. Or maybe (matter-of-factly) I'm just lonely.

The rest of these past months is just keeping busy. I refuse to get bored while unemployed. I've volunteered at my church and also at that Kirkland high school, though they have no place for me in the classroom right now. For my church, they have me doing repetitive menial tasks, which so far I've actually enjoyed. When they set me up to do some data entry, they showed me the software suite they're using, which only lets you search for one member at a time. I noticed that it runs on an .mdb (Microsoft Access) file, and told them I could whip together a quick program that lets you see all the people who are members in a list at once, along with all the people in the list who are new. Tomorrow I'm going to work with the volunteer coordinator to put together a rough spec, since my initial one-hour version doesn't quite do everything needed.

If I'm going to make that meeting, I should probably end this post now. I've been getting up, most days, at 8:30--quite a feat when I don't have anything to do during the day--and reading my Bible while sipping Frappuccino. I was never good at reading my Bible regularly, so I'm determined to make this habit stick.

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Anonymous Anonymous said... At December 21, 2012 at 8:34 PM
World Relief University Monday, September 26, 2011

Today I met wisdom incarnate. He's the former Bishop of Rwanda, having recently retired. He spoke for an hour or so at the beginning of a day dedicated to explaining the vision and execution of World Relief Rwanda. This is a man who represents and leads the entire country through the Anglican church, a man who speaks to hundreds if not thousands at a time, a man who speaks to and councils presidents and ambassadors, here to talk to the twelve of us.

He didn't speak on behalf of World Relief, but he definitely agreed with their work and methodology.

The Rwandan government relies heavily on the Church to care for the most vulnerable. That is Jesus' mandate for the Church, and the Church therefore, presumably, is the body most fit for the task. Is it the government's duty as well? Yes, I think it is, but in the US, the Church often shrugs off its responsibility, its core purpose, because we can rationalize that our government has already taken care of it.

It's entirely foreign to me that government should rely on the church to do anything. It seems to me our government tries to do what would make our lives better, avoiding at all costs any relationship to the church; the church is a hinderance, not an asset. Recently I was considering whether it might not be a good idea to completely remove marriage, a religious notion, from our laws. Let the church handle religion. Hearing Bishop John's telling of how the Rwandan government and church work together, complement each other, may have turned me around on that. Of course, it's easier when 90% of the population claims to be Christian.

The Bishop talked a bit about the US, where he has lived in the past, and some of the Church's failures there. One of those failures, he said, is not being able to talk about Christianity in the schools. I assume he means students not being able to, but he didn't specify. I asked him how the church could not fail in that regard and he said it needs to change its attitude; it needs to be more humble. He said the Anglican church has figured out everything, and it leaves no room for the Spirit. He then asked if he had answered my question, which I felt he had not, so I asked how that would change the government's position on religion in the schools. Essentially he said the government doesn't value the church because we no longer have anything of value to offer. "The church doesn't do magic. If you put salt in a pan and heat the pan with the food and serve it immediately, the salt won't have added any flavor." He suggested that if we humble ourselves and serve rather than rant, in a generation or two, we may see change in how people view Christianity. It's certainly food for thought.

Another culture shock that I mentioned previously is Rwanda's view of Sex. "Professor" Maurice, my translator on Thursday for the pastoral retreat, talked a bit about the Mobilizing for Life program they have which teaches faithfulness and abstinence to combat AIDS. I asked a devil's advocate question, as I do so often, "When the US, historically, has taught abstinence only, it's failed miserably. It doesn't reduce the amount of sex, it reduces the amount of safe sex. (Thank you CJ Craig.) What do we expect to happen here?" In the last three or four years, the number of sexually active youth in areas where the benefits of abstinence has been taught has dropped from 33% to 12%. Maurice talked about a lot of testimonies. Pastor Phil said there are statistics to support this as well. He went on to talk about the many supporters of Rwanda, whether they be governments or organizations, that all have agendas for Rwanda and Africa. They all have their own ideals. Much of what comes in is helpful, from financial aid to education to entrepreneurial spirit. But with the good also comes the bad and the ugly, and just because the US can't keep its dick in its pants, doesn't mean the rest of the world can't. Since then (two hours ago) I've been thinking about what could cause this separation in values (and abstinence is a value in Rwanda). I know it's not belief in the Bible, as this education is still being taught to the country and roughly one in three pastors aren't even "born again." It's not ancestral roots (they're not being taught it by their parents) as polygamy is an issue here. I'm left thinking it's our media, our advertising, our obsession with sex in the first place. They have no sex appeal ads because they have no ads at all. I'm not blaming the media outright as the media wouldn't present what we don't want to see. There's a Jack Johnson song about this called "Cookie Jar".

These two pointed questions earned me the prestigious Hardest Questions award during graduation from World Relief University.

I overheard at the end of Bishop John's talk, on the way to tea that Rwanda is, too, materialistic. Americans put their faith and trust in the objects they own. Rwandans put their hope in the objects they think would make their lives complete. I guess Americans do that as well. It's an interesting thought, to be sure.

What I've learned today is that life as it's meant to be is hard. In fact, it's impossible. The amount of forgiveness, the metaphorical seventy times seven, for every possible way someone can sin against us, whether that be accidental, misunderstanding, cruelty, thievery, rape, or murder of loved ones... how can you? With the 1994 genocide raw in everyone's minds here, it makes all of this that much more real. The amount of healing through forgiveness that's happened in the last 17 years is phenomenal. Selling your stuff to support those in need? I can easily give, and in fact enjoy giving, out of my abundance, but ask me to sell my tv, or laptop, or car to help someone? Not happening. LIfe, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness? God gives us life and the liberty to do with it and fail as we please in our own pursuit of happiness. Life is the one thing we, as Americans, feel we have as our own. How can we give that up completely? It's impossible. "With Christ all things are possible." It's hard to comprehend, much less believe, much less act on.

On lighter topics (and it is now this entry's tomorrow, about 18 hours since starting it), we left our hotel in Musanze yesterday morning. Before leaving, we walked up to the Catholic church about five minutes away and prayed for the region. Dyanah didn't walk with us. I thought she was being lazy since she got in a car that was to pick us up at the church. It turns out she was leaving, so I missed my chance to hug her goodbye. Nothing grieves me more than missed opportunities for relationship, romantic or not. To my future girlfriends, never tease me by offering a kiss and then denying it because of something, legitimate or not, I did. It tears me apart.

The ride to our new home, where the day-university class was held, was about 40 minutes long, bumpy and upward. (We're just about to leave this place, and I just carried my bags up the stairs to where the SUVs are. To give you an idea of the elevation, not only am I winded, which would be normal, but everyone else has mentioned being winded too.) We got some beautiful shots of waterfalls and people working their fields. The retreat center we went to has the most glorious view I've ever seen, tenfold and then some. It overlooks a large lake with several islands in the middle. There's no electricity to the islands, so there are no power lines crossing the water or anything else to mar the scene. Not that I've ever been a poetic writer, but I doubt anyone but a poet laureate could capture the view. Or a photo. With the world's best camera. Yeah, you really should just visit.

Glory be to God, we had a bathroom door in our room.

It has rained fairly frequently, so we haven't had much opportunity to see the whole thing unclouded, nor have I had any time to journal outside.

Because I don't believe I've yet stated it, and it really is one of the main points of this trip, I'm going to attempt to explain World Relief's purpose here in Rwanda. "To empower the local church to serve the most vulnerable." We've (the world) found that dumping money in Africa hasn't worked. In fact, it has worsened the situation by creating a dependency on those who've tried to help. The old give a man a fish, teach a man to fish. The only way Africa will ever succeed in betterment is if it does it itself, if it owns it itself. World Relief believes the best organization to serve the "most vulnerable," the poor, the widows and orphans, the down-and-out, is the Church, as it has been called by Jesus to do so. Further, with 90% claiming faith, it's the largest social network in Rwanda, already in place.

Jesus calls himself the groom and the Church his bride. World Relief sees itself as the maid of honor, the woman whose job it is to help the bride to have everything she needs, and then to step out of the way.

World Relief doesn't supply any financial incentives for pastors to join in their programs, except in the beginning for a free lunch and transportation. The pastors or other Rwandans own everything they do. World Relief just supplies training (trainers of trainers) and curriculum. If people think of a program as World Relief's, they'll become dependent on the organization.

This kind of thinking is difficult for task/results-oriented people and organizations. "89¢ a day will let this child go to school." That organization will, unfortunately, never go out of business, never succeed in its goal of saving Africa. Even organizations that agree with World Relief's way of doing things are often pressed by boards for results and will pay for food and transport for every meeting. Now pastors aren't going to the meeting for the benefits of the meeting, but for free food and the extra money left over after expensing transportation. Once again, they're taught that white people will give them money.

It calls into question, a bit, our (Bethany's) partnership with Living Water International. Wells are great, but it'd be better if the Africans paid for them. They also break fairly frequently, so that's another opportunity for African business. Elizabeth has mentioned this to LIving Water (whom primarily in the past has been sponsored by organizations and companies that want to boast they've put x wells in Uganda), and said Bethany is more interested in a relationship and partnership with the people our wells have gone to, and that we also want a maintenance plan in place for those wells. It sounded like, from talking to her, they were noncommittal. She said she'd call again when we get back.

Last night at our team time, Richard tried to make joke to tease me about Dyanah, but accidentally said [Caleb] instead of Jordan. After a team-wide fit of laughter directed at Richard instead of me, Elizabeth asked if there was romance there and I shrugged indicating a little. I guess she had no idea. She had even pointed out at breakfast one day that the only two other single people on the trip were women too old for me, and "I guess you'll just have to find an African."

This morning before our mostly-daily devotion, we did a quick highs-and-lows. At the end, I appended a sappy, half-joking low that I didn't get to hug Di goodbye. This unfortunately coincided with a side-effect of my Vyvanse, watery eyes. I don't know if anyone noticed or thought I was tearing up over it. Amongst the laughter at my bringing this up, I heard someone say I was doing it wrong, that I was supposed to be embarrassed so they could tease me. Ha.

We spent some time debriefing. I've said it before: I don't really come with expectations because I don't know what to expect, and I don't want to be disappointed. The disappointments I've had were minor, a missed hug, paying more than I'd meant to on a souvenir chess set, not having as much a-few-on-one time with the pastors on Saturday. I spent the last twenty minutes of that debriefing time writing this, which is really debriefing in itself.

This whole trip we've been examining poverty. This trip is based on a book called When Helping Hurts. At the beginning, it does a deep dive on the various forms of poverty. It's essentially when our relationships to God, self, community or environment are out of whack. This is to say that we ourselves are quite poor as well. We don't lack materials, but our relationships to ourselves and to our communities are really screwed up. To God, I'll leave on a per-person basis, and in Washington, we're at least trying to be environmental. Anyway, financial poverty affects all four relationships, at least in the theory presented by the book. I asked the group whether it was fair to say that Jesus experienced no poverty. The consensus was that he did not. Then I asked if he was materially poor, which he was. I'm still thinking that out.

When we came back from personal reflection, Richard said something profound (or maybe this was sometime else). He said, "it's much easier to sympathize with people when they act against us when we recognize their actions as their own poverty."

Last night, the Nertz crew played a couple games. Lindsay crushed us in the first 100-point series. She wanted to go to bed but we prevented it and I actually dealt her cards for her so she had no choice. It was only a 75-point round and it looked like Richard was going to finally win, but I passed him up in the last hand. Tonight, however, our dear Richard finally won, and won big, two 100-pointers in a row. After the first, he took off his shirt and ran and danced around. I'm surprised he didn't give a speech. I'm glad he finally won. I was starting to feel bad for him, but I never let anyone win. My mom never let me win growing up, and I really appreciate that.

During last night's games, some wild African dogs tried to get into the room we were playing in. We shut the door just in time, but until after the games ended, they puppy-guarded us. We waited and watched for a few minutes as they ran around the yard playing with each other. It felt like they were waiting for us, and then, miraculously, they just left. We hightailed it out of there as quietly as we could, back to our rooms. About 80% there, when Richard knew we were home free, he stopped suddenly to freak out Lindsay, who had been significantly the most nervous about the run. Good times.

I'm running out of pages in this 100-page notebook. Most of the left hand pages are empty, so don't you worry about losing a second of Rwandan play-by-play. Except about Saturday. I just really don't have anything to say about that day.

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Legend Sunday, September 25, 2011

Yesterday we met with a few pastors from various churches in the area to make reminder-to-pray bookmarks to disperse to Bethany. That's all I have to say about that.

The rain just stopped. People are again walking the streets. That's the first thing you notice in daytime Rwanda. There are people everywhere. They don't have cars and so they walk. Bicycles are fairly common. They all have flat beds behind the seats for carrying people, bags of potatoes, or bundles of bamboo-looking branches. You could close line six people at once. Buses and vans are there too. The most common mode of quick transportation is paying a motorcyclist to taxi you. People carry everything on their heads. They necks must be made of cement (steel bends when compressed). When it starts to rain, everyone just takes shelter, squished together under the nearest eve until it stops.

The roads aren't near as crazy as in Jamaica. While pedestrians don't have right-of-way, at least drivers will slow down and try to avoid them. They honk if a pedestrian or bicyclist is ten seconds away. Cars slow down around curves or when they're about to hit pot holes. Not so in Jamaica. Drivers aren't afraid that cutting someone off will cause an accident. Perhaps the speed limit naturally enforced by the pedestrians and road quality allow for quick braking.

Though people crowd the city streets of Seattle, this is somehow different. People look more comfortable around other people. They look used to walking and taking whatever time it takes. Seattlites are determined unless they're playing the tourist for the day.

My pen just dried up. Nearly the entire thing was spent in this journal. I hadn't planned on that possibility happening. I don't think I've ever written a pen, start to finish.

On Friday night, a new translator arrived for the weekend named Dyanah, or Di. She and I have been a little bit of an item, an innocent, two-day African fling. She's stick thin--compared to her, I look average--about 5'9", with a face softer than most African women have. I was surprised that her accent nearly matches mine. She's going into international business, in the hopes of traveling the world a bit.

The last two nights' events conspired against our Nertz tradition. No riveting writing to add there.

As it is Sunday, we all went to church, or rather three churches. The church we went to was Baptist, I believe. It's a church Elizabeth visited when she was here in January. Since then, it has gained windows, doors, a roof, and a floor, half of which was still drying today.

When we got there, a choir was already singing and dancing. As the rear half of the floor was dying, the front doors were locked and everyone entered by a side door near the front. We were seated in chairs immediately to our right, clearly reserved by for esteemed visitors.

The choir sang a couple songs, each five to eight minutes long. We clapped. Di complained to me yesterday that all the music here is now synthesized rather than made with real drums or instruments. Such was the case here. When the music died down, the pastor welcomed each group: men, women, children, pastors from the Congo, visiting pastors from nearby, people who have been gone a while but have returned, new people, and us. He gave a short sermon on Daniel 1. More singing happened by a second choir, lots of clapping, lots of dancing. The pastor had us go to the front and introduce ourselves. More singing happened and this time the pastor invited us to join in the dancing. I wish I had, just because it's a bit of a fear of mine. Ballroom dancing and swing I love; when I don't know what I'm doing, I can't make myself move. The running-in-place the dancing men were doing was pretty simple, but I still wimped out. Next was time for testifying. Someone had gotten married this week and an aunt was proud and praising Jesus for it. Something happened for a guy that I don't remember, and to thank God, he was putting 50,000 franks in the offering this week. That's about $83--very generous here, about two weeks' wages. Each time someone went up or sat down, including when we introduced ourselves, the keyboardist played the same short tune giving it a talk show flavor. A second pastor came forth to give a half hour sermon on a few different verses scattered throughout the Bible. The long and short of it was that people need to return to God, and until that happens, don't expect any miracles. Next was tithes and offerings. We each put in our 83¢ we'd been told was an appropriate amount. More singing and dancing. The three hour service ended around noon.

I was in my Sunday best, slacks, black dress shirt, shoes, and tie. Di said I looked "stunning."

This morning I had a debilitating headache. Marie gave me some Advil and I skipped breakfast in lieu of lying down til it took effect. Thus, I missed the announcement that we ought to bring a change of casual clothes. It turned out not to matter as stopping back at the hotel before lunch was both on the way and the more logical choice.

We had lunch at Lava Cafe, which I think the other members of my team nicknamed Lava Java. They serve white people friendly food. I got what the menu made sound like a tri-tip dip. They forgot my au jus, but all-in-all it was decent. Di ate my fries complaining for the umpteenth time that I don't eat.

After lunch, we went to a national rainforest as tourists. What appeared to be a park ranger gave us a tour of the forest, complete with history and legend. We took a ton of pictures. Di stole my camera saying I don't take enough shots. I'll be the first to admit that. Africans take pictures slightly diagonally. We got a good shot or two of the two of us with arms draped over shoulders. Right at the end of the tour path, it began to rain. Heavily. It was a mad dash across volcanic stones and under vines, Indiana Jones style, to the SUVs. The rain stopped thirty feet from the start of the trail. One of the legends or historic stories had to do with a pool or spring that dried up when someone tried to tamper with it. Four snakes appeared and the tamperer disappeared, never seen again to this day. Seven days later, the pool returned to normal. We saw that pool then left for home.

I'm all stuffed up with a sore throat. I think Marie gave me her cold. I don't much feel like eating dinner, which is in fifteen minutes, but I want to say goodbye to Dyanah. It's been fun.

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This is Africa Friday, September 23, 2011

I'm wearing one of my favorite shirts. I believe I only have two button-down white shirts, and while one looks nicer, especially untucked since it stops at waist height, this one has memories. I wore it on one of my last days in Costa Rica when I couldn't take feeling dirty anymore. The women in the kitchens at the camp thought it was a shirt worthy of weddings, which I found mildy depressing as it's a fairly average, low thread count dress shirt. Anyway, that was the day of the obstacle course with the mud pit, and despite taking the shirt off well before the event, there's still a mud stain at the bottom, just right of center.

Mud is the reason I'm wearing it now. Today we "shadowed" four pastors to get a sense of their daily lives. To get to our pastor's house, (and while I'm thinking about it, the "mini-barn" that our group's Savings Group met at was actually a house) we drove down the main road ten minutes, at which point the pastor, who had been waiting for us, got in the SUV, then fifteen minutes up a rough dirt mud road, across a few log bridges, one of which looked to be pieced together with wooden fence slats that made cracking sounds when we drove over it and definitely had a few missing pieces, that is, had holes, up to a point where we had to walk up slick red dirt. His house was at the end of a ten-minute climb.

The pastor we were visiting was one of the ones in my small group from yesterday. His name is John Peter, a good ol' two-parter first name. His neighbor, wife, son (about four years old) and infant daughter were there with us. Shorty after arriving, his dad joined us. We sat in their front room around a couple small tables of mismatched height. The room was smaller than my tiny apartment kitchen. Mothers here are not at all shy about breast feeding.

We talked for a while about his church. His congregation is fourteen people. The Anglican Church, at least in Rwanda, feels instability reduces complacency, so he moves churches about once a year. The one he currently leads is a two hour walk from his home. He has to be at his church three days a week, and on off days, he walks down the hill to find pick-up jobs and/or do blacksmithing. Our translator, Ngoga, is some sort of liaison at the national level for World Relief Rwanda, and did some filling in to give our questions context. He also did his fair share of asking both parties his own, very helpful questions and then translated the responses. As the pastor's wife, his wife is the president of his church's mothering group and helps with encouraging women in their marriages and resolving disputes.

After about an hour, we went outside to look at his land. My apartment is pretty close to half the size of his entire property. In his garden, he has a couple banana trees, probably there naturally, and has planted beans. He'll harvest about 30 kilos (do your own damn math), while he cooks about a kilo a day. Since he can't grow beans consistently, given the seasons, he can't come near to living off them. Our translator, whom at the time I only knew as our translator, gave him several different ideas on how he could more efficiently use his land. All he really said was, "That's possible," nothing committal or excited. Lindsay, Christine, and I talked amongst ourselves as the pastor and Ngoga talked, about taking a soil sample, figuring out what would grow best there, and buying seeds of something not native, and therefore in low supply, to Rwanda. He could sell that crop for a high price in the market due to being rare or exclusive. There's a hot sauce on our dinner tables that is super spicy with no added flavor that I could discern. The factory that makes it is only a short distance from his house, and is in constant need of peppers. Ngoga suggested he grow these instead of beans, then use the profits to buy beans or whatever else. Like I said, he didn't sound enthused.

I have to admit, as frustrating as I find his attitude, I take the same one at my job. I'd rather deal with working around the bugs than fix them.

We went back inside and minutes later it began to pour. The rain lasted a few minutes, then began again, coming in waves. We ate lunch, it now being too rainy to safely get down the hill, and there being no point in skipping lunch in order to beat the rain for the sake of the drive. Our meal was surprisingly American with ham sandwiches. There was also passion fruit, which Lindsay bit right into, when it's more of a pomegranate experience, pine apple, and some sort of meat pie. We'd come with several aluminum sack lunches, but not quite enough for everyone in the room, as several neighbors had joined us. We made sure they all got one before we did. The four of us visitors shared the remaining two.

They asked us a few questions. One was whether we have poor people in America. They're always shocked that we do. We got to share about Bethany's Tabitha Ministry, a homeless women's shelter, and other programs that serve the homeless. When we'd finished our lunch, and it stopped raining, I prayed and then the pastor prayed, both translated. The pastor, his wife, Anna the infant strapped to her back, and his brother, walked us down the now slick and muddy hill to our SUV. It took quite a while, and at the end, our shoes were coated with the red, sticky mud. The journey down, even with four-wheel drive, was still a bit terrifying. I don't usually get scared by things like this, and I didn't this time either, but it was definitely a dangerous trek, especially with the rain that started back up a couple minutes before we made it to the car. I'm surprised we didn't get stuck in the mud.

When we got back, we tried to figure out what to do with our shoes, clung to by mud as they were. We tried to clean them off in puddles or wiping them in grass, the effect of which seemed to only be to color the ground. When John got back with my room key, I washed them off, then showered, and changed into this white shirt. When I exited the room, to head to our team time, a guy was collecting shoes to wash for us, mine now more wet than dirty. Maybe he has a hair dryer. On the bright side, we discovered we have a balcony, when looking for a place to put my wet shoes.

We debriefed a bit as a team and with our translators who were all more than translators, hearing each other's experiences, and asking questions about World Relief and the culture of Rwanda. All the information was interesting and I'm sure important to someone, but I've always had a broken filter when it comes to judging importance, and can't recall much of it now. I remember that Ngoga said he lived 100 KM from here. I remember Richard saying the foreign aid fund the US put toward stopping/helping the AIDS epidemic in Africa is almost gone. I remember Josh Lyman repeating a statistic that 81% of Americans think the foreign aid budget was too high and 72% think it should be cut, meaning that 9% of people are so bat shit out of their minds that they think the foreign aid budget is too high and shouldn't be cut.

The majority of our team went out for coffee at Lava Java. I sacrificed the experience to journal (now) for the sake of you fine folks, and not because my only available shoes are dressy ones. I doubt they'd have hot chocolate anyway.

If I moved to London, I'd have to spell color with a u. Eww. Accents, right.

Last night after our team time, a bunch of us went to play Nertz. When more people than decks arrived, we transitioned to Uno. Around 10:30 (totally just made that time up), Richard headed for bed, saying if three people were left, he'd play Nertz, obviously indicating himself, Lindsay, and me. We played one more round of Uno, then dispersed. I went up to find him playing on his laptop hoping "those Uno playing clowns" would leave, allowing for his "game of destiny" or GOD, to commence.

Well, at least he didn't come in last? I was slow at first but quickly gained momentum, slightly buffeted in the second to last round, making it a seven-point game between the two of us, Lindsay 10 points behind him. I got my remaining three points and twenty-one more. He suggested we play another 100 point series. Bad move, man. In seven games, I won with more than their scores combined. We'll see what happens tonight. I'm not convinced it was more than just luck as I don't think I was playing any differently, nor much faster, if not slower. Bring it.

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Accordion Thursday, September 22, 2011

Today was fantastic. We had our Pastoral Spiritual Retreat, which World Relief used as a preamble for their Church Empowerment Zone (CEZ) kick-off ceremony.

It was a mix of improv and planning, all overseen by, suffused with, saturated in the Holy Spirit. The three of us had prepared three passages of Scripture about the Kingdom of God on Earth and Bible study-esque questions to go along with each.

The first, Matthew 6:25-34, talks about not worrying. God will provide. Susanna presented this first passage and then we split into men and women, three groups of each. We figured women would be more likely to talk if their husbands weren't nearby. Caleb and I got Pastor Maurice as our translator. He was invaluable as an interpreter as well as a facilitator. I don't know Caleb's ability at crowd control and keeping people interested and talking, but mine is wanting. What I'm good at is asking good, usually hard, questions.

The question that got the most memorable responses for the first set of verses was: How has God shown/demonstrated his provision in your times of need? One man said he felt bringing us, our team from Bethany, to him was God's provisioning.

The second set was the Beattitudes (Matthew 5:3-12). Besides the Lord's Prayer and the 23rd Psalm, it's probably the most well-known Scripture. The pastors were all well versed in it. "In what ways has God comforted you in your times of mourning?" Evidently "mourning" is translated as "times of trouble or need." They had some seriously miraculous stories. One man was in a sinking boat and couldn't swim. He sank but the water pushed him back up without explanation and people rescued him. Another, during the genocide, was wounded by knives and about to be executed, when a soldier appeared out of no where and commanded that he be spared. Yet another's wife was seriously ill and so he sent her to the States to be treated. The doctors gave her a very short time to live. They said she wouldn't survive the plane trip home and that it would be better if she were to be buried there. The pastor prayed that she would survive the trip home so she could say goodbye to her family. A doctor traveled back with her and couldn't explain her successful journey. She lived another three weeks and made peace with everyone before she passed away. He is now at peace about it and happily remarried.

A different translator switched out with Maurice because John had had a terrible time with him, and we wanted at least one session to go well for his group. He says it was a night and day difference, and that he couldn't get them to shut up. Our group was marginally worse, but they had already opened up a bit so it was fine. This was the same translator that was with the group with the bad experience at the Savings Group, as well as the one that didn't translate the beauty comment at the church yesterday.

This passage was Luke 13:18-19, Jesus comparing the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed, among the smallest, which grows into one of the largest trees. We asked: what would Musanze be like if everyone lived with "kingdom values?" That question refined to "How could Musanze improve or grow?" followed by "What would this change?" They answered that if people gave more time to serving, more people would become Christians. On the flip side, we asked, "How is God's Kingdom visible here in Rwanda and Musanze?" which boiled into "What could the people of Bethany learn from the churches here?" One pastor pointed out that they'd never been to Bethany, but that the people here are very hospitable and welcoming, and are open to hearing the word, even nonbelievers. Both are very true. Seattle is neither.

Caleb improved a question asking what gets in the way of seeking first the Kingdom of God. One of the pastors revealed they, or at least he, really got it. He said that even if someone had material wealth, and everything needed or wanted, it wouldn't be any easier to follow God.

At the end of each batch of questions, we returned as a large group to share with everyone the key points each group had discussed. Brevity is not a concept known to African pastors.

At lunch, Lindsay, John, and I talked to the interdenominational committee head. He had tons to say. Good stuff. He asked if Lindsay and I had fiancé(e)s yet. Neither of us do, but Lindsay has a boyfriend, which is not really a concept here. Children are assets here and in many other places in Africa and Latin America. You get married to have lots of children who can work the land. Romance takes a back seat, at least in rural areas. We've visited a couple rural areas, like where the Savings Groups were yesterday. Where we're sleeping is semi-rural. The result of that part of the conversation is that he's going to pray that I find a financée. I'd said "In London" before I realized no one at the table would get it.

Two days after conception, moving to London seems significantly more farfetched. Still... the accents.

After the retreat ended, World Relief held the CEZ ceremony. The phrase "new history" was used a lot. A good concept, especially considering Rwanda's history. This is the first time I've felt like I was witnessing history, or rather, a part of it.

We just got back from a walk. Elizabeth, Amelia, and I went through the market while the rest of our posse went around, having seen it yesterday. They compared it to Pike Place; it reminded me more of the food court at the Kitsap Fair, though I couldn't tell you why. It was a little discouraging to see that every table held the same foods. Specializing and offering unique items just isn't built into them yet. Sometimes I hate competition, but it's the only way that their economy will improve.

On the walk, Elizabeth convinced Christine that some black goats on a distant hill were gorillas. When the ruse was over, she convinced Christine to pull the same stunt on us. I'm glad I never found where the goats were or my gullibility would probably have kicked in. Like Princess Leia, I'm far too trusting. Poor Alderan.

Today was... I can't even put it to words. I don't get excited. I never see what other people see in order to describe a day or event as amazing. But I'm surprised at how well, how important, the retreat went and was. I just have this sense of... off comfort. A sense that something has changed or unlocked. That things are starting to move.

I'm glad God used me to make it happen.

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Been There, Done That Wednesday, September 21, 2011

So far today we've visited a few different places. First was a program for teaching the benefits of abstinence. In Africa, with AIDS, and I suppose a lack of condoms, abstinance is of dire importance. I guess it didn't occur to people before? I suppose, without the Bible, if we didn't have rampant STDs, maybe we wouldn't consider abstinence either, at least not by choice. Damned non-nerds. After a number the church did on Africa in the past 50 years, a lot of Africa doesn't link sex to AIDS in the first place. Let's fix that. The program appears to be effective. My one qualm is that all their answers for the why of abstience seem to be based in fear. At the end, they gave us a chance to ask the girls questions. I asked what methods they'd been taught to avoid having sex. They've clearly got the why down; I asked the how. I got the feeling they didn't understand the question. Maybe it was lost in translation. Maybe sex is different here.

We next visited a barber who was a success story of a micro-loan. I guess Dietrich was particularly fond of him. He's taking care of his 11-year-old (half?-)brother whose parents had died. We almost left without praying for him, which I found sillly, so I stuck my neck out and was volunteered. Totally fine, but... why was it nearly overlooked? One of the women in my group thanked me for praying afterward and said she'd felt the same way.

Bob is an amazing translator. The amount of words he can remember before needing to flush the buffer is remarkable. He seems like a generally great guy too.

The third place we visited was a church doing an adult education class on marital fidelity, or faithfulness as they put it. A few different couples stood up and expressed why they thought fidelity was important. The first couple said because not being faithful could lead to AIDS, and accidental babies. Fear based, again. They did give a couple abstract benefits, but nothing concrete. The pastor then said, as we were under a time crunch, that any new answers should be new, not repeats. The next two couples gave repeats. One couple out of the five(?) that spoke shared that there had been infidelity, and, in fact, that it had brought AIDS into their marraige. That took guts.

The church building was shoddily built. A cement floor, brick walls that left dust if you leaned against them, a tin roof with holes. Something in me, though, thought it was beautiful. I could also feel God's love for it. Strongly. As we were getting up to leave, I asked the translator to tell the pastor and the people there that, but he must have misunderstood, or perhaps thought I was mocking him/them with the beauty remark. I did what I could.

The first and a half place we went was to visit some pigs that World Relief had microfinanced to the program that trained the girls in the ways of abstinence. The girls take care of the pigs and then sell them and keep the profit. What I think is important to remember is that they were cute (the pigs, not that the girls weren't) and that Elizabeth tried to touch a pig's head. It freaked out in fear, invoking in Elizabeth the same reaction.

After these trips, Bob sat next to me at lunch. That's significant, maybe? Not sure. Check back later.

After lunch we split into four groups and visited these community savings groups. Basically each village creates their own mini-bank. Each week they have a meeting, pay dues into the pot, then buy between one and five shares. If more than one share is purchased, the whole group claps for them. We left before the next part, but after purchasing shares, people of that group, only, are allowed to take out loans. The person must say what the loan is being used for--it must be used in a way that generates more money--and present a plan for repaying the loan with interest. At the end of nine months, all the loans must be repaid and the villagers receive their share of the increased pot. Everything is very private outside the group, even giving people numbers instead of using names in case people overhear from outside the building, but within, it's completely open to avoid corruption. The only involvment World Relief has is to buy the pots (metal boxes with lockable latches) and supply the curriculum books.

The walk to and from the miniture barn where our group's meeting was held took about 15 minutes. The surrounding country side was among the most beautiful, I'll venture to say, there is. Washington, the Weyerhauser State, has mountains of untouched evergreens. Here, every square foot of hill is cultivated with rings of road and cut-backs. The varying colors are outstanding. Set in Washingotn mists, Weyerehauser might still take my vote, but putting our evergreens in Rwandan sunlight wouldn't touch this.

The story of the Savings Group the three of us visited has many tellings. One would include me nearly falling on my butt, catching myself on my hands just before contact on the way down. This preceded our interpreter coming back to hold my hand while he walked in front of me. This is not the right telling, which has more to do with a rooster somehow making it to the top of the wall in the building, and pushing off some metal instrument, nearly hitting Lindsay on the head. That one, I think all can see, is the better one.

It's about dinner time.

Last night I played Nertz with Richard and Lindsay. It was back and forth between her and me, with Richard trailing. The second to last game, Richard beasted pushing both of us negative, making it a four-point spread between the three of us. I made my first big speed-through the pile and triumphed with 101 points. The whole time we were trash talking each other. It got brutal. The game ended. The scars remain. The game will return.

At dinner last night, Richard had had a three hour nap and was giving Kathy, who had stayed up taking care of their baby Sahara, a hard time saying he was pumped and ready to be active. Kathy said she needed sleep and a few seconds later, Richard said, "Been there, done that." What Richard hadn't heard in those few seconds was Kathy say, "You can go sleep with Caleb." Since then, "Been there, done that" has become a bit of a team motto. Reminds me of Jerkfest '08.

Tomorrow is the "Pastoral Retreat" that Richard, Susanna and I were tasked with preparing. They're confident we've got it all planned out. I'm confident we can wing it if they're wrong.

Three of our four Savings Group groups had good experiences. Our group was very deliberate about the order of things, about keeping order. There are rules about talking that induce small fines to the pot. Every week, the whole group remembers the total in the pot, both, I think so they know no one is stealing, and so they can feel a sense of pride in what they have accomplished. Not remembering the correct total at the beginning of each meeting induces a small fine to the pot. Being late to the meeting induces a small fine to the pot. They asked us what we thought of their process. I was seriously impressed. I doubt many people in the US have that kind of will power to save even when it's hard. I wanted to match today's funds ($26) as an encouragement. I asked the translator if he thought it would be insulting, but it didn't get that far, because the two girls stopped me. We had been given strict instruction not to give money to someone in need. This was not just giving money to someone for doing nothing, though. This was me offering to help people who worked hard for it, to encourage them to keep at it. A guy named Phil, one of the two white people who work at World Relief (and until the day we get back, the head of World Relief Rwanda), told us about how giving money encourages the attitude of "if we ask a white person for money, he might give us some." They didn't ask. He also told us about kids who would come up when he parked and say they'd guard his car for him. He gave them money for doing so, even though they obviously couldn't beat off people who would steal his tires, because it encourages an attitude of working for money. All that aside, and I do think I was right, only because they clearly believed in this system and their own ability, and because they didn't ask for it, I think they would have declined anyway out of a sense of pride. I go back and forth on whether I can fault them for that. In January, Dietrich tried to give a different Savings Group money, and they refused.

The fourth group visited a Savings Group that did not go as well. Theirs had been running since March, whereas ours started this past August, and they clearly didn't believe in its effectiveness. Kathy was out taking care of Sahara, leaving Richard and Christine in the room. The question was asked, "Are you going to financially support this group?" At that point, the translator was supposed to say that that was not the point of the visit, that we were here to pray for them and see how this curriculum was working. He did not. Richard, experienced in Africa, danced around the question. Another question, similar in nature if more indirect, was posed, complaining that too many loans had been taken out and now no one could afford the dues, and also the only person who had taken out a loan was the president of the group (sketchy and inconsistent). This time the translator interceded with a twelve-minute-long story of how he'd carried beans an extra five miles to make 50¢ more, and then traded the beans for potatoes and walked another three miles for a little more. Up hills both ways. Pastors here are extremely long winded. Anyway, I would not have even considered giving money to that group. It's unfortunate.

Nertz was just played again. In a heroic, last stitch effort, I pulled into second place after trailing the whole game, significantly, as Lindsay crossed 100. Richard is frustrated.

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Small Print Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I'm in Rwanda. I still haven't figured out why. So far it's been good: beautiful, easy, no problems during travel. Everyone's getting along.

One of our tanslators is a 22-year-old named Bob. He's studying computer science, so I sat by him on the bus ride to Musanze. It's more of a software engineering major than computer science, so that was deflating. His first language is English since that's what they teach in schools now. I always assumed the accent came from English being the second language, rather than it being taught by other people with the accent.

Kinyarwanda has 17 tenses/conjugations. I think it was meant to be my native tongue but something got gunked up in the works. With the youth learning English in school, it wouldn't surprise me if the native tongue disappears in the next couple decades or perhaps generations. As convenient as that would be, it's still sad.

We were told to bring nice clothing and not wear jeans. I haven't seen much evidence that that was a necessary rule. Still, I do like my new kahkis. Built in bug repellent and SPF 35. Only $88. It's a steal at half the price!

With narcolepsy and the associated meds, breaking jet lag has been a breeze, though I had hoped to get further through The Sparrow, the book Porter recommended to me, on the plane rather than sleep the whole time. It's a decent enough story with a barely-too-slow pace, but I'm not a fan of third person omnicient, especially when each small section seems to be nearly third person limited... so close.

The countryside is gorgeous. Land of a thousand hills, indeed. On the way from Kagali to Musanze, I saw two or three soccer fields, but those were seriously the only flat patches of land. Whenever I think of hills, I think of Mullenix road. The hills are similar, but several dozen times more numerous.

Before boarding the plane from Nairobi (which, despite being clean, is the trashiest airport I've seen in my scattered travels) to Kagali, a couple English girls came over to our group to coo over our trip leaders' baby girl. Since then I've been entertraining the idea of moving to London for a year or two because "I like the accents." Obviously it would take more than that (though precious little), but it might be a valuable experience. I keep thinking "It's been too long since I've had an adventure," a completely ironic thought in Rwanda.

Something about mission trips makes them not an adventure to me. Maybe it's that they're thoroughly planned. Maybe it's that I feel there's no risk, a valid thought or not. I think it has something to do with the fact that God told me to come here. I always hear the stories of the people in the Bible that God called to action. It's hard to argue they weren't living adventures. I wonder how they felt about it at the time. Maybe adventures are on the greener grass and in-hindsight-only. Anyway, we'll see if this idea persists past October the first. I wonder if Denna would move with me.

And I'm back! It may have not looked like much to you, but between this paragraph and the former, our group met with members from the inter-denominational committee. Such a thing would be fantastic in the states. ♫That was a joke. Ha ha. Fat chance.♫ Sad times.

A bunch of other stuff has happened since June. Go figure, right? I had my third (of three) poor annual reviews. I still have my job, at least until January, much like last year. Having my new boss, I think, will increase my odds of improvement. Also, we've all moved into a team room, rather than individual offices. Besides making me less likely to visit facebook, it's significantly decreased my blocked time. On the other hand, I get a little more distracted by conversations on the other side of the room. Enter headphones. Overall, it's an improvement.

All my life I've procrastinated until a few nights before something was due and then did it in a fraction of the given time. In sports, soccer and racquetball come to mind, I've always been terrible, and then once in a somewhat-rare while, I'll do something perfectly that looks almost expert. I only blog when I sense I'm in the creative writing mood, and my writing will be good. I've thrown out dozens of stupid blog posts. I wonder if I'm actually just an average guy with sparks of brilliance that have kept me near the top.

A few weeks ago, I got really bored on Tuesday night and retook the eHarmony test of humanity. This time I passed and so am now quantifiable. Either they've relaxed their partitioning algorithm, or I've changed enough in the last year as to be considered datable material. I was curious to see my answers from last time (on a different email address) and emailed customer support. They said I could look at/change my answers by clicking a link that the old account couldn't see, and then scolded me for making a new account to alter my first answers, saying I needed to be true to myself or the system would fail. ... I didn't reply to that email.

Within moments of starting my profile, a girl sent me an icebreaker. I thought maybe it was the same scheme I suspect Match used in order to get me to buy a subscription. I bit. Turns out she had actually sent it. We went on what I felt was a very successful, fun first date. She went to church with me the following evening. Everything seemed great, and then she just sort of stopped talking to me. Still haven't figured out why. Kinda bites. It doesn't matter though; I'm moving to London because I like their accents.

The moon here splits horizontally. While we waited for our bus to pick us up from the Kagali airport, I drew diagrams until I figured out why. Looking at them, though, I think the moon must wax upward, like filling a tub, and then wane downward like draining it. Unless I've seriously never paid attention, the moon in Washington waxes right to left, and then wanes right to left. I've yet to reconcile these.

In the last week, I keep thinking I'm starting to understand why God wants me here and what he wants to teach me, but then when I try, I still can't put it to words, and it slips away. I have noticed that I'm at the 3pi/2 of the sin curve of the closeness I have with God. I don't much pray, or rely on him, not that I've ever really understood how or what that means. But I'm almost blatantly denying him access to my life. I pick and choose what use he is to me, a utility rather than a king. Today I tried a new food I knew I wouldn't like. I thought, "What's the worst that could happen? I don't eat the rest, and I get rid of the taste with Fanta." How much more should I give God my life and decisions with that attitude when I know he is for me? I guess he did get me here. So that's something. With my means, it's really not much.

My mom would freak if I moved in with Denna, much more in London.

Three days before I left, well, first at one of our meetings it was suggested that we bring day packs that wouldn't draw attention, so we could carry money without a high threat of mugging. We all brought $100 cash, which is a month's wages here. Those Nike drawstring backpacks you see everwhere were suggested, rather than full blown backpacks, but we should aim to not all have the same Nike one. I was almost certain I'd seen a microsoft one, but the company store didn't have them. They must have been swag at some conference. So, I looked online at a few designs. I didn't really like any of them, but there were ads everywhere for designing and printing your own. Obviously shipping would take too long, so I looked up a couple stores in the Redmond area. The two I visited three days before the trip didn't have the bags in stock, so rush delivery was like $15. The bag itself was about $2.50. Printing was about $15. $32.50 bought me a Protoss Akilae Tribe cinchbag. No regrets. I was hoping I'd get stopped by a knowing stranger in Sea-Tac. There's still time.

Being in a new, beautiful country makes me want to be alone and observe the countryside, or to play my violin (which I contemplated bringing, but ultimately did not). Or blogging in my notebook (now transposed to the blogosphere). But being alone in some capacity. Not much of a mission trip attitude to take. I'm so bad at talking to new people unless they share the exact same awesomeness I have.

Dark clouds are rolling in (not a metaphor). My favorite color is the blue-gray-purple of the eastern sky at sunset. People always look the wrong way at sunset, even if there is more activity in the west. The east is more serene.

Done for today. Subject to change without notice.

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Handholding Sunday, June 19, 2011

I should be spending this time addressing support letters, but I just care about you all so much.

"Support letters?" you ask. Yes, after quite a lot of nagging, and someone dropping off the Africa trip, I am on the mission trip team to Rwanda this September. It appears I've not even mentioned this in my blog before, so I suppose this begs some explanation. Sometime last September, Dietrich briefly mentioned Uganda in his sermon and that the church was planning to head there soon. As with my trip to Detroit, I inexplicably had the thought, "I want to go to Uganda." I have to admit, I couldn't have even pointed to Uganda on a map. I spoke to him after the sermon about the trip. He said that there was a small trip, two or three people, going in January, sort of a reconnaissance trip, and there'd be a bigger one in June. I talked to Elizabeth, our pastor of missions, telling her that I have no real idea why I want to go other than I felt like God was calling me to.

Come January, the small trip happened without me on it (no surprise). A community group began that would plan the trip. I'd just finished leading a study group, so this trimester I wanted to do something else, either activity or service. I did notice the trip's entry in the catalog, but it did not say anything about joining the trip, only planning it and learning more about Africa. I suppose I probably should have joined it anyway, but I didn't. I instead joined an Eastside Community Service group, which was also focused on starting an eastside Bethany campus, which really has nothing to do with this paragraph. As it turns out, in order to go on the trip you were supposed to join the group. Shocker, right? My foreshadowing skills are unparalleled. Two weeks into the community group season, I happened to talk to Elizabeth and found out that I was not on the shortlist, but if someone dropped out, perhaps I could join the trip.

Maybe this is bad to admit, but at the time, I didn't want to be part of the group. I hate planning things, and I get stressed if things I've planned don't happen. Mission trips are notorious for going differently than planned, and I'm not sure having me during the planning phase would have been beneficial. Anyway, I am glad I was part of the Eastside Community Service group, and I'm not sure I had time to do two groups. Ok, that's bunk. I'm not sure I wanted to use more of my free time to do a second group. So, to cut the remaining story short (read 'out'), someone dropped out of the trip, and I took their spot among the twelve.

We've met three times as a group now, since I've joined. The people are splendid, seriously some of the nicest people I've ever met. One of them is Mark's sister. She's so proud of her brother; it's really sweet. The eldest guy has been on the Bethany missions board since before I was born. He's friends with my counselor, so small world I guess. The woman who's done most of the planning is amazing. I've not been on a more organized trip, and the first two I went on were planned by people who do this every year. Anyhow, I'm actually fairly excited to go, and I don't get excited about things. I think it may have to do with the people on the trip rather than the going itself. I'm also interested and slightly anxious about why God wanted me to go; and I do trust that he wants me to go, even if the trip is to Rwanda rather than Uganda. If you're interested, the support letter I should be sending out, rather than writing this post, is here.

Work is going. We've more finely tuned my narcolepsy meds, so I've been getting more done at work, especially since the meds are more often used for ADHD. I've been slightly more focused. At the moment, I'm working for a partner team that's a man down. I hope to finish that work by Wednesday, realistically, but it's taken a lot longer than I'd hoped. On the other hand, I've been told by other people on that team that of the three portions of this feature, I'm the furthest ahead. I just hope that message is relayed to my boss.

A few months back, Microsoft did a massive overhaul of how it will measure performance. Previously we were measured on a two-axis scale, and now it's been condensed to one. They've replaced stock rewards with greater cash rewards, and the top 93% of employees will receive at least a 5% raise, as well as a larger annual bonus. The tech market as a whole is growing its salaries, and Microsoft wants to keep its employees. My boss, while delivering this news, said that everyone in the room (my team) was going to get at least some raise, and these raises begin in September. Annual reviews happen in August, so it would follow that, at least at that point, my dismissal was not in the works, and that means promotion.

I am enjoying work a bit more lately. There are a few reasons for that. One, I'm no longer the owner of the project I'd been working on for two years. I still help out a little bit, but all the bugs are being assigned to Chell. Two, my team just came out of a transitory phase, where we were trying to figure out what was next. We've always had a pretty clear goal in mind, but now we have good ideas on how to achieve it. Third, we have a new PM intern that I'll be working with as soon as I finish with the other team. Dory's pretty awesome. And though that previous sentence makes this sentiment self-serving, it seems like she's nearly a female version of me. She calls me her dev.

Evidently it's been way too long since I've posted. I haven't yet mentioned Portal 2 and that was like eight years ago. I loved it. I beat it in about 8 hours, went back and beat Portal 1 in one hour, then beat Portal 2 again. It's that good. Porter and I have had lunch a few times, per usual, and one time we ended up talking about Portal, which he has never played. He thinks it's a dumb game because he's walked through doors before. Swood made the point on facebook that that's like saying he doesn't need to play Tetris because he's moved boxes before, a statement Porter later agreed with, saying that's about how he feels about Tetris. I could go on, but I'll just say, with regards to the game, that Cave Johnson is my hero.

Things are being patched up with my dad a bit. A few Saturdays ago I went surfing with him. Dietrich had given an object lesson where he contrasted surfing with rock climbing. When climbing, you can stop at any point along the way and figure out where to go next, call someone on the cell phone, have coffee. When surfing, when it's time to go, you have to go or you miss the wave. He then compared this to when God calls you to do something. When he says go, it's time to go. Anyway, before conveying this image, he asked for a show of hands of people who surfed, and though it'd been at least seven years, I found my hand raised. I think I was the only one that service, so he called me out by name, and sounded surprised even. It brought back a nostalgic feeling, so I facebooked my dad, and set up a surf date. The trip there was mostly good conversation. I noticed a side of him I hadn't before, a function of an influential moment he had as a kid. At another moment, I'd been telling him about my StarCraft and Prayer community group coming up (I'm leading it). I asked him if he had any idea what StarCraft was and he thought he'd seen a commercial for it and asked worriedly, "Doesn't it have something to do with warlocks?" I realized quickly he was thinking of World of Warcraft, a distinction that set his mind at ease, so I didn't mention that I also have played that game. I still find it funny that StarCraft doesn't bother him and WarCraft does, simply because StarCraft uses "energy" and WarCraft uses "magic." Anyway, today was Fathers Day, this Wednesday is his birthday, and this coming weekend will be the first of either of those I'll have celebrated with him in four or five years.

I was sore after surfing for a few days, especially my left arm. The Wednesday after surfing I had my Rwanda trip shots in the same arm, so I'm sure that didn't help. I still have to find out whether I had Hep A or B shots when I was a kid. I think I at least had Hep A. But for the next 10 years I'm immune to Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Tetanus, and Polio. So in your face, bio-terrorists who happen to try to get me sick with any of those four!

Luke just got married yesterday. I don't think I've ever been so excited for someone. However, when he gets back from his honeymoon, I fear I must inform him that I checked facebook right after I got back from the reception, and at that point, his wife hadn't changed her last name. I'm worrying that something fishy's going on, since it's not official yet.

Swood just bought a house. I'll only be able to complain about his slow elevator one more week. I'm looking forward to seeing his new place. Alexander also bought a new place. All my friends are either getting married or buying houses. And for the first time, a couple weeks ago I met a Microsoft employee (albeit an intern) who was younger than me! I might as well start making arrangements for my coffin to be sized, or maybe I should be cremated. I haven't decided.

My battery's dangerously low at 33% and it's five til midnight. That's my cue to end this post (aka, I don't have a lot of material left until I figure a couple things out; I might have a follow-up post in a week or two).

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Anonymous Yanjaa! said... At July 2, 2011 at 4:12 AM
Oh my lord that is a lot of text. A LOT! I think it could feed a whole hungarian family.
Sucker Punch, Knights of the Old Republic, and Dragon Age Saturday, March 26, 2011

If you've not seen Sucker Punch, stop reading this right now. Watch the movie, and then come back.

I watched Sucker Punch with Swood last night. The movie itself was very good. It was shot well, very imaginative, interesting, and hard. There weren't a lot of lines in it. The main character talked only a couple times. The same could be said of Wall-E, and I only know one person who didn't like that movie.

I've heard that they had to cut a bunch of the movie in order to keep it PG-13. It looks like they'll release a director's cut but according to this article, it won't quite have the scenes I'm hoping they'll have. It didn't need more action; it needed more gut wrenching or perhaps more explanation. I should clarify; Sucker Punch was plenty gut wrenching, but if there are 18 minutes more, I expect that some of that should also be gut wrenching.

I know the point was to let your imagination do the work to convert the actions in the brothel to actions in the asylum, so maybe more explanation would ruin it. But maybe it wouldn't. I want to know how the other two girls (Amber and Blondie) died. I can't imagine the orderly would shoot them. Also, how did Blue "own" Dr. Gorski (the dance instructor) in the asylum? The opposite was true when Sweat Pea escaped. In the asylum, Baby Doll had to distract the guards. In the brothel, she was distracting patrons. Why would they keep her from escaping? I would expect in order to live with themselves, they would have to convince themselves that these women chose this lifestyle and were free to leave. Why would they stop her?

I'll definitely see the movie again, but probably not until it comes out on Blu-Ray. I want to figure out who told the story, who the narrator was. At the beginning, I assumed it was either a grown up Baby Doll, or just an arbitrary narrator. At the end, I started to think it was Sweat Pea, since she's the only one who saw the Wise Man/bus driver or the soldier boy who ended up in the bus line in front of her. It wouldn't explain how she knew anything about Blue being arrested, but the narrator in 300 didn't know anything about the story after he was sent back either. Sometimes you can't over think things, and this is one of those.

On a last note, I'm surprised that they showed Baby Doll's face at the end. Swood said she gave a meaningful blink, perhaps implying that she was more herself than she should have been, but I didn't notice that somehow. Also, that implication would take away from the movie being a tragedy a little, like the opposite of Magneto still having a little of his powers left at the end of X3.

Only three times in my life have I felt the urge to kill someone. In none of these cases did I know the person, nor was I near them. The first time was watching Call+Response with a couple women from the church I was attending. The second was hearing stories before my trip to Costa Rica last year, about children who had been sexually abused by their fathers or foster fathers or uncles or anyone, really. The third was last night.

The first scene brought forth such a visceral reaction in me, I needed to see the stepfather dead. I began to hope this movie would go V for Vendetta style and somehow, she would kill everyone who deserved it. I began to add people to the list, though in the end, it turned out to only be three: the stepfather, Blue, and the cook. Dr. Gorski was added and then removed. Of course, that's not what happened.

In Knights of the Old Republic you have a good/evil, light side/dark side (being a Star Wars game) meter. Various actions throughout the game make you a better or more evil character, and your decisions somewhat affect the rest of the storyline. This implicitly gives you a goal of doing the right thing every time or the wrong thing to push your character in one direction or another, and based on that meter, the storyline changes and you either take over the galaxy or save it. Taking a middle of the road approach has no benefits. This goal to be fully light side or fully dark side made decisions easy. If someone deserves death but there's an option to let them live and be arrested, you've got your light side choice. If someone stands in your way, but you are strong enough in the force to Jedi mind trick them into jumping off a cliff, you've got your dark side choice. (Admittedly, I choose that one every time, even though I go light side. It's way too hilarious, and they had just beaten up a homeless person.)

Mass Effect is similar, except in both cases you're trying to save the galaxy. Things just change based on your approach. Either you're a peacemaker, a Paragon and only kill when necessary and after every peaceful solution has been exhausted, or you're a Renegade who threatens and sometimes tortures people to get results. Some actions require a certain amount of Paragon points or a certain amount of Renegade points. What's interesting in Mass Effect is that they're not mutually exclusive. If the game were long enough, and therefore you had enough opportunities to gain enough morality points, you could be full Paragon and full Renegade, giving you the power to do anything to achieve your goals. In Knights of the Old Republic, dark side points are negative light side points.

In Dragon Age, there is no meter. You have literally hundreds of decisions to make, you make them, and they affect the storyline, not your character. You can spare someone's life, and they might go kill someone important. You might spare someone's life, and they might turn their life around and help you later on. Your character is no more evil or good than the person behind the keyboard. Your companions care about your decisions and will either become your friends or your rivals, but those characters are also neither completely good nor completely evil, and so are also bad indications of whether you made good choices.

What is a good choice in that game? You can make choices based on your own sense of justice, or if you've played through already (or have a walkthrough), you can make choices based on what you know will happen. You can make choices on what you know will make your party members like or dislike you. Your choices are just your choices.

I know that I immerse myself in games like this a whole lot more than other people. I cannot make myself play Knights of the old Republic as a dark side character. I actually feel guilty any time I see that red icon indicating a gain of dark side points, even when I try to do what is right. In Dragon Age, you have to live with the ambiguity of not knowing whether you made the "right" choice, and then with the consequences of your actions.

Life has no meter. You can choose to make the best actions in your eyes, actions that preserve, or you can make destructive, and often fun, choices. You can make choices to expand your horizons, choices that don't preserve the status quo, and also don't break your moral code, or you can choose to sit back and do what you've always done for fear of looking the fool.

Denna and I took a trip to the Grand Canyon last December. The website said that we had to have a wide-rimmed hat for the mule rides to keep the sun out of our eyes. It snowed, however, and there was no sun. Our snow jackets were sufficient, but Denna and I donned our cowboy hats nonetheless. We looked like total fools, dorky tourist parents, but I smile every time I look at that hat in my rear view mirror.

I don't dance. Sometimes I wish I danced, because people always try to get me to, but I have such a fear of looking like a complete idiot that I don't. I know that if I did, and I likely would, I would develop a terrible tic.

I often lean toward not dancing than toward wearing ridiculous cowboy hats. Preservation isn't always good.

Life has no meter. Sometimes you know you've made an evil decision, and you feel guilty. Often your decisions are just ambiguous. More often than I'd care to admit, I make a decision that should be ambiguous, and feel righteous about it.

Last night I prayed on the way back from Swood's. God, how can you abide the stepfather? He does not deserve the air he breathes. I wanted him to die. At first I was upset with myself for wanting revenge, but then I realized he hadn't actually done anything yet. He obviously had the intent, but vengeance would be getting back at him. So what is that feeling? Righteous fury? Were I in that scene, and had I pulled the trigger, would I have gained light side points or dark side points? She did have a third option. She could have fired a warning shot at the ground, then told him at gun point to walk with her to the phone, then dialed 911. He would have been arrested, her sister would have lived. He probably would have gotten off, as intent is not enough to convict someone, and restraining orders are only paper walls. Would I have pulled the trigger? If my sister were in danger.... I'm sure I could easily plea self defense, but what about the meter?

There's a freedom in having no meter. You don't have instant feedback about guilt. Life is certainly harder without one, but also a lot better. "Perfect victory."

God, how can you abide the stepfather? He does not deserve the air he breathes. Let's be clear. God hates death. He hates rape. He hates evil. But did I not kill Jesus? For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Did I not do to him what slavers do? A man does not simply become a slaver. He's twisted by need into a monster. In the end, he might not even see himself as a monster. And yet God loves me.

Justice begs mercy. At the INN several years ago, they were doing a sermon series that tackled seemingly contradictory virtues. At the end of each sermon, they nailed a piece of paper to the door, Martin Luther style. (wikipedia says that nailing probably never actually happened.) "Justice begs mercy" is the only thing I remember from that series, but it has stuck with me. Castrating a rapist, while poetically just, isn't actual justice. An eye for an eye doesn't help the person who went blind first. We long to make things right, but a loss of purity cannot be regained without God. God makes things new. We attempt to balance the loss by inflicting the same loss on the perpetrator. The only way to have justice is to admit that we can't achieve it, and what's left is resentment or mercy. Those are our options. Resentment only hurts the resenter. Mercy is not the same as pretending it never happened. It's not the same as reconciliation. If someone raped my sister, or killed my mom, or crippled my friend, or me for that matter, perhaps he belongs behind bars to prevent him from further damage, but when he got out of prison, has he really "paid his debt to society"? Will I feel like things are ok between us now? Of course not. I might have mercy on him in order to move on in my life, but without a miracle, I would never be reconciled to him. I would not become friends with him. God does not always call us to reconciliation. He does call us to mercy and forgiveness.

Life without the meter is better than life with it. We would be slaves to the meter. It would be easier, perhaps, to do what is right, but far harder to do what is Right. In Knights of the Old Republic, you are pulled along by your decisions. In Dragon Age, you are forced into the freedom to make your own decisions, your own path. In life, we have a God that knows that's how it is. That's how he designed it. Best of all he loves you and wants you to make the decisions that are best for you and best for everyone else. Those decisions are his path for you, crafted not for mass distribution via Steam, but for you individually. He wants to help you make those decisions, and knows full well we probably won't.

But there is perfect victory. In the end, the earth will be perfected, made new. In the end, we will be perfected, made new. As in Sucker Punch, perfect victory requires deep sacrifice. That sacrifice is God's own son. Baby Doll made that sacrifice and Sweat Pea survived and lived on her behalf. It was a good ending, debatably, but it was not perfect. In life, Jesus made that sacrifice and we survived. Jesus rose again. He defeated death. He gave a meaningful blink. This was no tragedy.

top | 4 Comments
Anonymous Derpy Hooves said... At July 18, 2012 at 9:53 AM
Does anyone actually read these?
Blogger Jordan said... At July 18, 2012 at 11:08 AM
Not sure if anyone else does, but I do when I feel nostalgic. Plus, I met a girlfriend through my blog once. :)as
Blogger NikolaiZhukov@Royal-Taxi.com said... At September 4, 2013 at 3:47 AM
people are so bat shit

Seems legit!
Blogger Benjamin Emery said... At October 15, 2013 at 10:20 AM
Say iPhone 5 times post this on 2 other walls then look under your pillow.