Monday, January 31, 2011

Book #4: The Wordy Shipmates

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

It's not often that one can say that a book written by an atheist about 17th century Puritans was spiritually inspirational, but I'm saying it about this book.

Vowell focuses her trademark deadpan humor on the Puritans who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony in this offering, mainly centering on the Bay's founder and governor, John Winthrop (writer of "A Model of Christian Charity"). She also discusses Roger Williams (who was too religious for even the Puritans, which is pretty impressive, in my opinion), the deplorable Pequot War, and Anne Hutchinson (one of the first true religious feminists). It all completely fascinated me.

And the spiritual inspiration? I realized just how much I have to be thankful for. I know I take my religious freedom for granted. The fact that I can even blog about questions, fears, and disagreements is a beautiful thing. Anne Hutchinson tried to voice some of her opinions and ended up banished from her town and was eventually murdered by rampaging Indians for her trouble.

I was also struck by how much the Puritans got right - their work ethic, their support of each other (if you agreed with the prevailing opinion, that is), their love for Christ - as much I was horrified by what they got wrong - misreading important Bible truths, their stunning racism (horrendous treatment of Native Americans), and the scary authority the church wielded over its congregation. It made me grateful for those people who didn't let fear of the church shut them up when they knew in their hearts that the church's behavior was wrong.

More than anything, this book made me breathe a sigh of relief that I'm an American in 2011 rather than 1636.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Song I'm Digging This Week

"Addicted to Love" - Florence + The Machine

Um, I'm pretty addicted to Florence + The Machine, too. And I've always liked this song in a guilty pleasure sort of way.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I love everything about this kitchen.

spotted here

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Unwanted Guests

Last night during Akiyah's piano lesson, she got the hiccups. I suddenly leaned towards her and yelled "BOO!"

She jumped and giggled and I said "See? I scared 'em out of you!"

She paused thoughtfully and then hiccuped again. "Nope," she shook her head, "they still moved in."

I think Akiyah should write her own book.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Food for Thought

I've been really convicted lately about honesty and transparency. And the guy who started me thinking about it all posted this question on his blog over the weekend:

What I'm wondering is how honest do you want people to be? If your pastor is steaming mad one night, venting to his wife about what some jerk at the church said, do you want him to tweet about it? Do you want to know? And if you don't, is it because that wouldn't be wise, or because you want to think your pastor is somebody he isn't?

It's the last question that got me. Do we censor our honest thoughts and reactions because we just want to appear holy (or at least holier than the person who just made us angry)? Are we giving people a true representation of ourselves?

I think that a filter is necessary in some situations - if we didn't restrain ourselves during critical moments, our testimonies could be ruined with one thoughtless sentence.

But sometimes, are we and the people we admire in our churches and lives practicing a fake turn-the-other-cheek mentality, a false version of who we really are, of who God made us to be? And if we are, are we doing almost as much damage to the testimony that God wants us to live out as we would by speaking out of turn?

Yep. More tension.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Song I'm Digging This Week

"All the Wild Horses" - Ray LaMontagne

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Loner, Loser, Complicated Wreck

My sophomore year in college, one of my roommates showed up at our apartment in the wee hours of the morning, wearing the same thing she'd worn when she went out on her second date with who we'd all dubbed Cute Soccer Guy. I was making coffee in the kitchen and preparing to cram for a Music History exam, and she plopped down on the stool at our kitchen bar and asked me to pour her a cup. As I did, she sighed "I can't believe I slept with that guy!"

Whoa. Rewind. What? You did what?! I must have looked as incredulous as I felt, because she shrugged defensively and said "Sorry I'm not a prude, Amanda."

Ok. While a good part of me was pretty horrified that she'd had sex with a guy after date numero dos, another part of me (a bigger part of me than I'd like to admit) was totally and completely jealous.

I have always been a good girl. Not a saint, but a good girl. I didn't have a boyfriend in high school, just a crazy unrequited crush. I dated in college and while my roommate would probably disagree, I wasn't a prude, but I was still well-behaved. Aside from one regretful night, I didn't participate in underage drinking. This sort of behavior has continued into adulthood. I did go through a slightly rebellious period in which I pierced my nose and I have two tattoos, but for the most part - pretty non-shocking life.

I don't know why, but most of the time, if I admit it to myself, I tend to equate good with boring. I do. I can't help it. I remember having a conversation with my friend Bridgett about a friend of ours who was always in trouble, always in tumultuous relationships, always making the wrong decisions, etc., and after we felt we'd done our due diligence in tut-tutting about this friend, I looked at Bridgett and admitted "Oh my gosh, but wouldn't it be fun to at least have some regrets?"

As I was driving to work this morning, I heard an advertisement on a radio station asking "Are you a fun, single girl between the ages of 23 to 32?" Yep. I am, as a matter of fact. "Do you live in the New York Tri-State area?" No, but I could, couldn't I? "Do you have an exciting dating and love life?" Ugh. And I'm out. No. I don't.

But here's my question: does that make me boring? Does the fact that I'm not sleeping around and gabbing about it the next morning with my equally promiscuous friends make me a prude? Would I bore people to tears on a radio show?

I wish I could be at peace with my pretty innocent background. I know I should be thankful I don't have these past mistakes looming behind me all the time, and really, I am. Most of the time. But sometimes I feel like I missed out on some part of life. This post isn't about resolving these feelings and ending with a cliche religious admonition. This is just how I feel in my life today.

My sister sent me a Valentine's card once after I had suffered a pretty major rejection from a jerk, and she had written on the inside "Someday, Manda....someday some guy will want you only for your body." I laughed and kept the card, but seriously, that's pretty much what I want.

I'd like to come in late at night, collapse onto a couch, and say out loud to no one in particular "I can't believe I made out with that guy on our second date."

Sigh. Even my imagination is tame.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Book #3: The Partly Cloudy Patriot

The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell

I read Assassination Vacation a few years ago, and loved it. Vowell's morbid sense of humor speaks to me. And really, who isn't fascinated by historical assassinations? What? Not many people? Just me? Never mind, then.

I enjoyed this series of politically-themed essays as well, although I was a tad put off by her sarcastic vitriol aimed at all things Republican. However, this book was written in December of 2001, in the wake of 9/11, so I think some opinions were slightly cloudy, no pun intended.

I think Sarah Vowell is basically Jon Stewart in female form. With a squeakier personality.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Book #2: unChristian

unChristian by David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons

This book was hard to read on two levels:

1. It's by the Barna Group, so there are a lot of statistical tables and charts to get through. Lots of scientific researchy language, too, so it's not something you can breeze through. I found myself reading paragraphs once or twice to make sure I understood what I was reading. A few times I found myself making grocery lists in my head or wondering if I should make a hair appointment while I was reading.

2. It's true. And it's unflattering. Some Christians have managed to make a pretty bad name for ourselves in today's culture. Just ask Ann Rice. I'm ashamed to say that I identified with and resemble some of the less-than-stellar accusations leveled at Christians by non-Christians.

I mentioned this in a post from last week, but the main point I took away from this book is that to be a Christian means to live in constant tension with the world. Reaching others in a non-pious and judgmental way is a juggling act on all levels. It's hard knowing what is too far and what isn't far enough, but it's something that we have to accept as our way of life when we decide to follow Christ.

But it's worth it in the end. And that's what I want my life to convey.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Icy pavement, callous men

I took this picture of my car (the Beetle on the right) from inside my apartment on Monday morning. Sorry about the screen, but it was too freezing to venture outside. Especially when I don't have any boots.

This week North Alabama experienced what my friend Jason is calling Snowpocalypse 2011. I woke up Monday morning to around nine inches of snow outside my apartment.

Alabama is not used to snow. Any snow. Especially not nine inches. Our town has been virtually incapacitated. My place of work was officially closed on Monday and Tuesday, and even though our offices are "open" today, almost everyone has taken a vacation day rather than deal with the still icy roads. Kids haven't been to school since Friday.

The allure of the snow is starting to wear off for most people. We're ready for the thaw.

My parents are from Michigan, and they are still, after 22 years of living in the South, amazed by the milk and bread hysteria that accompanies each snowflake. When I began driving, my dad instructed me on how to drive in ice and snow. No braking! Steer into the slide if it starts! Be calm.

So by yesterday, I was completely sick of the food I had in my apartment. I wanted something hot and not made by me. So I ventured out. To Chili's.

It was a little slushy, but not too bad. However, when I got out of my car at Chili's, I realized that in order to actually get in the door, I had to pick my way across an enormous icy patch. I was wearing sneakers, but my traction wasn't that great. And I am the Queen of the Fall. I spent most of my high school career as a Giant Bruise.

I felt like an 85-year-old gymnast trying to balance beam across that ice. Halfway across, a man came out the door and headed my way. I thought "Wow! This guy is going to take my hand and help me out. Thank you, Mr. Stranger."

But he just looked at me (sort of disdainfully, I might add), passed right by my flailing body in his snow boots, and hopped in his huge four-wheel-drive truck.

What? Ok. I am all for being an independent woman, but what happened to chivalry, guys? I still think that guys should open doors for women, pull out their chair, call my mom Mrs. Alana if they don't know her really well, and hold my hand to help me across patches of ice so I don't get a contusion on my tookis. This man obviously doesn't agree with me.

I made it into Chili's and told them they should sprinkle some salt on the ice outside so they won't have to deal with lawsuits from people with less balance. Next time, I'm bringing skis.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Common Grace

"God cares not only about redeeming souls but also about restoring His creation. He calls us to be agents not only of His saving grace but also of His common grace. Our job is not only to build up the church but also to build a society to the glory of God. As agents of God's common grace, we are called to help sustain and renew His creation, to uphold the created institutions of family and society, to pursue science and scholarship, to create works of art and beauty, and to heal and help those suffering from the results of the Fall."

- from How Now Shall We Live? by Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Ok. So I'm going to try and be really, really honest with this post today. Not that I'm a blog liar, but I do feel like I hold back a little bit when I'm writing, because I'm afraid that certain people who might read my blog and actually know me in real life (all four of you) might be offended if I lay all my cards on the table. And I don't think that's a bad thing. I read some blogs and think "Yikes! They're going to regret putting that down in the near future." After all, our blogs are not our diaries, though some people treat them like they are. Some things should be saved in our heads and hearts and not uttered.

But I've been thinking about this all week. A while ago, I'm not sure when, Donald Miller wrote a post that was a bit inflammatory for some folks. He talked about how the church can sometimes stifle creativity. My first thought when I read his post was "Easy there, Don." Criticizing the church does not win fans. But then I read it again. And I think I agree with him.

The thing is, the church isn't bad and we shouldn't go out to intentionally offend fellow church members in the name of creativity. There are some people who do that. I can't stand that kind of behavior - the whole "I think I'm going to cuss in a song because I'm a radical Christian" (Derek Webb - I'm speaking to you) or "I can't call myself a Christian, because that is so 2000 and late. I have to find another title." That stuff irritates me to no end. It's navel gazing and it's annoying.

I'm talking about the fact that we hesitate to be real people because we're afraid of criticism from our church. We don't speak honestly about anything. We don't talk or write about sex and alcohol because good Christians aren't supposed to struggle with those things. We pretend we don't know all the words to that Lady Gaga song on the radio because she was scantily clad in the video, and that surely means we're a step away from hell. We don't admit that we're unhappy in our secure jobs, and we certainly don't pursue that other career that we daydream about while we're at our secure jobs.

I'm reading a book right now that speaks of the fact that being a Christian means living in constant tension. There's always going to be a struggle between being in the world, but not of the world. How transparent can we be without being stumbling blocks? If we're not transparent enough, that can be a stumbling block, too.

I've been having a lot of conversations with my best friend about this gnawing feeling that we both have that we just want more. Of what? I don't know. God. Life. Honesty. Love. Creativity. Knowledge. Something. We're both 30, and dealing with frustration because we feel we're meant for more. To quote Switchfoot, "we were made to live for so much more," and I'm feeling that this year more than ever.

I don't think God wants me to use my faith as an excuse for not being what He wants me to be. Could I make some church enemies by being creatively honest? Maybe. Probably. But should it stop me? Does it make me selfish to try? That's the question. That's the struggle. That's the tension.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Viva Las Elvis

Today is Elvis's birthday.

About five years ago, Ashleigh and I spontaneously decided to take the day off from our jobs and drive to Memphis to visit Elvis's famous house, Graceland. Neither Ashleigh or I were especially obsessed with Elvis, but we decided that Graceland is something that everybody should visit once.

By the time we left the 70's-tastic mansion, we were both a little bit enamored with Elvis. Ok, maybe a lot. I mean, check out that picture, folks. Elvis was H-O-T. I even bought a magnet of the picture above to put on my fridge. And even if his style of music isn't your cup of tea, the man was immensely talented, and it's such a shame that his life was cut so short.

I think I'll be tuning my Sirius radio to the all Elvis station today in tribute. I might even do a little hip shaking. Who knows?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

40 Before 40

I read a lot of blogs. I read blogs about fashion, families, interior design, and even one about everything to do with the color turquoise. When it comes to blogs about writing, however, my two favorite ones are Jon Acuff's and Donald Miller's (I still think that we are destined to be together. Not in a "Fatal Attraction" way, but in an every Meg Ryan comedy from the 90's type way).

Unfortunately, both of these blogs have given me slightly different advice for the new year. Jon Acuff blogged about he and his wife creating a "40 Before 40" list of everything they wanted to do before they turned 40. They even helped their kids come up with "10 Before 10" lists. Ultra cute. I thought it was a great idea, so I came up with my own.

I was all set to share my list when I read Donald Miller's post this week about how sharing your resolutions with others might be a bad idea, since you could lose some of the motivation in achieving the goals yourself.

Conundrum. Do I share my 40 Before 40 list? Or do I keep it to myself for years, like the fact that I sort of still believed in Santa Claus until I was 12 and my dad had to literally tell me the truth?

So here's my compromise:

I'm going to share some of my list. Some goals and resolutions I think are good to share, because the encouragement you receive from friends and family can keep you on track. However, some of my goals are seriously personal - stuff that was hard to even put down on paper, because admitting that I need/want them is admitting that I might not get them. And I do not do well with failure.

When I wrote this list, I wrote everything down fast, not censoring myself as I listed things that popped into my head. This is how I like to write, anyway - I think if you're too careful, you end up sounding like a bad Martha Stewart impression. So, please note that this list is in no way indicative of the level of importance I give to these goals. It's just how they came out of my head.

So here goes:

1. Publish a book the successful way.

7. Pay off all debt.

9. Get a dog.

10. Find one sport that I'm good at. Just one. Even if it's only ping pong.

13. Spend more time studying Scripture, and read the Bible all the way through in a year. Also spend more time in prayer and stillness.

14. Learn French.

15. Have super long, Victoria's Secret-esque hair - just once.

16. Visit my friend Maiken in Denmark.

17. Live overseas for at least a few months.

18. Kiss someone who is not from America or who has sexy tattoos or a sexy beard. Or all three.

19. Wear skinny jeans and rock them.

20. Figure out how to successfully wear a scarf so as to not look like I think I live in NYC and not Alabama.

21. Meet Donald Miller as a fellow writer and not a crazed fan. (If we end up making out, even better.)

22. Have one really flattering picture taken of myself.

23. Spend two weeks in Ireland, Paris, and Italy.

24. Be less selfish with my time, and give some of it to others without conditions or expectations.

25. Spend more quality time with my sister.

26. Spend Christmas/New Year's in London with Kam and Ashleigh.

27. Become a bicycle riding person, complete with a cute bike basket.

28. Go an entire month without eating out.

29. Wear shorts. In public.

30. Have in-depth conversations with my parents and get to know them not just as my parents, but as friends.

31. Perfect the smoky eye look.

32. Make a non store-bought cake, a la Julia Childs.

34. Buy furniture I love.

35. Own a Dyson vacuum.

36. Buy a house.

39. Give family and friends amazing, expensive gifts, because I can.

40. Finally accomplish my goal of reading 52+ books in a year.

So there it is. Well, most of it. The few things I left out are goals that, maybe once I've accomplished them, I can share. But for now...I'm keeping them close to the vest.

Do you have a 40 Before 40? Or a 30 before 30? I'd love to hear some of your list, too!

Book #1: The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart

So I didn't quite make my 52 book goal for 2010. I made it to 36. But it's a new year, and I'm determined to meet (maybe exceed) that goal this year.

My sister Holly Jo and I went to London for the first time in 2007, and we visited the Tower of London and took the Beefeater's Tour. We both agreed that it was one of our favorite London moments. We were fascinated by the stories about the different prisoners, daring escapes, tragic executions, and overall haunted atmosphere.

This book tells the story of the Beefeaters (or Yeoman) and staff members who guard and live in the Tower of London full-time. To say that this book is charming is an understatement. Stuart's characters whisked me into their quaint and quirky world.

There's Balthazar and Hebe Jones, who are reeling from the sudden loss of their 12-year-old son, and who also own the world's oldest tortoise, Mrs. Cook.

There's Valerie Jennings, the pleasantly plump employee of the London Underground's Lost and Found Department, who falls head over heels for a tattooed ticketmaster named Arthur Catnip.

There's Reverend Septimus Drew, who while secretly pining for the barista of the Tower's pub, Ruby Dore, also moonlights as an author of erotic novels "with strong morals, which allows readers to 'fill in the chinks.'"

And lots more.

While I was reading the book, I could literally see the different towers and buildings in my mind's eye. In fact, in this book, Reverend Septimus Drew lives in the tower-house with the blue door. Holly Jo took a picture of that door while we were there, and I have it in a frame in my bedroom right now.

I dare say this book made me wish that I lived in the Tower of London. With a turtle. Yep.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy New Year!

I can't believe that Christmas and New Year's are already over. The thought of having to get back to "normal" this week is both depressing and exciting at the same time. I'm psyched to see friends from work that I haven't seen in nearly two weeks, but I'm so not looking forward to the stress that comes along with my job.

I did come up with a few New Year's resolutions, but my biggest one is that I just want to be more active - physically, mentally, emotionally - all of it. I'll be 31 this year (gasp!), and I want to experience every minute of this year, not sleep through it.

For the most part, I loved 2010. I want to make 2011 the best year yet.

Wbo knows? Anything can happen...