Monday, November 23, 2009

sea glass

i try to be honest
try to be kind
and honestly leave
when i know that it's time

i know that it's time

~the weepies ("hideaway")

I don't think I do well with self-inflicted transitions. I could blame it on my childhood (what can't you blame on your childhood?), but I think it's hard for everyone to step out into a change that is not required.

Right now I'm wading into something new. The final details are slowly coming into reality like sea glass bobbing in on the last night tide.

I miss the ocean, can you tell?

One vacation in Heng Chun (south Taiwanese city) we were on one of our almost daily beach excursions, complete with swan floatie and sunscreen (I hope. Oh I hope). I fought past the surf and dog paddled, safe within my inner tube. After I had drifted and gotten tired I turned around and started kicking my way to the beach.
Halfway there the waves picked up and I, already recklessly holding the tube from the outside, slipped

into green saltiness.

I held my breath and opened my eyes, looking up at the sun wafting through increasingly darker shades of green-gray. Saw the black circle of my inner tube.

The next half second I was up, up--spluttering, eyes itching, clawing at the tube. Dad and some other people were nearby and helped me get back to the beach, where I recovered in the shade and rubbed my stinging eyes. I didn't go back in for a whole half hour.


I think I'm still rubbing the salt out of my eyes. Feeling rough sand, a million colors, reassuringly under my feet but still battling the suck of the waves--pulling the sand from under me even as I walk the last few feet to sun-baked sand.

I just hope that I'll take sufficient courage to start what I've already begun and turn away from what I have already left.

Friday, November 20, 2009

call or family and the red white and blue (several)

I have been living in the United States for 5 years and 5 months. And have not been overseas for 3 years.

it's been a long, long.... long time. (Beatles)

When I moved to California for college, I was afraid that I would get stuck in the U.S. and never live overseas again. Now I'm not really afraid, but am still wary of it. Part of me thinks that if I don't move overseas soon, I won't actually live there. And I don't want to get to the point where I'm okay with that.

I appreciate the U.S. very much. Especially its value on creativity and the arts, hobbies... garage sales... chatty people... free summer concerts... fireworks in July... and lots more.

above all--
glorious beauty. Almost every single day I look outside and think, "Wow, I get to live here."
It's the loveliest place I've ever lived, as far as space and mountain and a clear blue dream of a sky (last phrase borrowed from e. e. cummings, I think) are concerned.

And of course there are things that make me itch for a long plane ride to the equator or just to somewhere far, far away.
But I don't really want to get into all that here, and really things don't bother me as much anymore, unless I'm already grumpy. Only one thing I will mention--it always really bothers me that on U.S. holidays, flags invade pretty much every local church, and the global flags are taken down from outside the World Prayer Center, replaced by the red white and blue (U.S.'s, not Taiwan's. Just in case anyone was wondering which red white and blue flag I was talking about). hehehe.

the church does not cease to be a house of prayer for all nations on Veteran's Day.
Now, don't get me wrong. I truly and deeply appreciate what the U.S.'s armed forces do for this nation, and have had the privilege of seeing more firsthand this year what that entails. I truly respect and support them.

But the church is the CHURCH---catholic { = world-wide}, global, united.
It is not the American church. Why take down flags that, for many, are a rare reminder that there is life outside this great nation?

(yes, the church is local--by all means, pray for your military in church, but do not forget that we are more than what we see.) There, hopefully that covers offenses.

As far as travel goes, God has been tiding me over with little international surprises, such as~

On Wednesday two women came into Wisdom Tea House, and one of them chatted with Tom about possibly adding a vegan dish, other than salad, so that her husband could visit. She was very polite, and the accent was so familiar that at first I didn't even notice it until slowly it dawned that....

"Ma'am, have you ever been to Singapore?"

"Yes, I grew up there!"

She was Singaporean, and had moved away in '98, just when we had moved there! And had lived in Jurong, and also missed chicken rice. Her Swedish husband had picked up some Singlish from her, and actually dropped an, "Ok, lah!" in a business meeting!

She said I was very Singaporean, which was very nice of her (my Singlish isn't great). :)

I excitedly told Mary Anne, the cook (who's Irish and prophetic and just an awesome lady) and Stevie, one of the dishwashers, but realized I couldn't explain how rare or deep the two minute connection was.

Last Sunday I went to New Life and was early for the prayer meeting but too late for the evening service, so I slipped into the last 40 minutes or so of a Perspectives class (class about missions, international ministry). The speaker grew up in Nigeria and was involved in World Outreach, I think.

I appreciated what he was saying, and after he mentioned that his grandparents had also been in Nigeria, and his father grew up mostly in boarding school in Africa and eventually going back there as a missionary---I determined to try to talk with him after the session.

I asked him (Tom??) if he knew Ruth Van Reken, who wrote, "Letters Never Sent" (re boarding school in Africa, child of missionaries and a missionary) and co-wrote "Third Culture Kids" with David Pollock. She was my group leader and counselor for my re-entry seminar right before college, with other missionary kids. I love her.

And he did!! He had gone to an international school in Nigeria with her sister. And "Letters Never Sent" rips him up, too.

I had a burning question that I had to ask him: "Do you think we are called first to our families (called to be a godly wife, mother, husband, etc.), or to the mission field (career)?"
He translated it to be the classic "family or call" dilemma, although I think that family roles are callings, too.

Joe said that his grandparents would have definitely said, "call first." And his father would have admitted that there was a terrific price to pay (he was the one who barely saw his parents, in boarding school). His father and mother moved back to the U.S. when their kids were in high school specifically to ensure that they transitioned and that they were connected as a family.

And he himself? He didn't really give me a straight answer, but just that he had 'reservations' about the 'call first' mentality.

This question means a lot to me.

Used to assume that you had to 'hate your father and mother' and take up your cross.
Then I realized (loophole?) no, you're called to be your children's parent as much as you're called to any nation.
Now I'm questioning whether that is truly Biblical, or if I'm twisting the gospel into something less offensive.

AND I've decided that if I ultimately decide that we are supposed to put ministry first, I will never ever have kids. If family comes first, then of course I would love to have kids. If not, I'll work in a school or orphanage or something. :)

Friday, November 13, 2009

knives and policemen

Well it's been a while since I wrote a Taiwan story... my excuse is six, count 'em, six, part-time jobs.  I couldn't believe it when I added them all up! 

~Piano/voice teaching at my apartment
~same at a studio downtown (don't get as much $, but get a regular paycheck instead of juggling parent's schedules and cheques)
~Wisdom Tea House
~Substitute (music at Mann)
~Accompanist for D11 (again, Mann)
~Mary Kay.

AND  I just found out that I get to play/sing at the Wall, an IHOP branch that just started!!
(unpaid) :)

I really love this schedule.  Every day is different and sometimes it's a juggling act, but I love the variety and it just feels like a vacation after the M.A.T. (Mother of All Trials).  hehehe

OK Taiwan stories (thank you whoever reads this for persevering!)

It was a dark and stormy night.

We were just finishing up dinner which was normal, complete with random bites from our moody cat.  After being continually strangled by the little mei mei and enduring bloody complications from being neutered, she would nightly slink in between the dining room chairs and lash out at the most convenient ankle.

But the cat's a whole other blog.

Dad got a phone call from one of our missionary colleagues who worked with gang members and drug addicts, and was a single woman to boot.  She said that it was Xin Gao (made up name...hopefully I didn't swear) again; he had been threatening her, and she knew he carried a knife.  

Tonight he seemed dangerous, and could she come over so that we could decide if he could be reasoned with?

Of course.

We kids were almost done with the nightly shower lineup when our missionary friend and Xin Gao arrived; we went out to the living room to say hello, and I remember being surprised that he looked very normal.  My parents didn't tell us anything about violence or his knife, but I sensed tension and had overheard a bit of the phone conversation.  Which of course I didn't tell my littler siblings.

After the brief introduction, Mom herded us down our little hallway into our bedroom and shut the door.  After some time, voices rose slightly in volume, and our missionary friend was instructed to go into our parent's bedroom.  Part of the tense situation was that Xin Gao wanted to her to stay in the discussion, and possibly wanted to have a closer relationship than was appropriate (but this is speculation).

Almost immediately after she went into my parent's room, Xin Gao's voice climbed to a new intensity, and soon he was shouting, with Dad almost yelling back just in order to be heard.
I started sobbing.

I understood enough Chinese to be scared, and was listening more than my brother and sister, whom Mom was avidly trying to distract.  

Then Xin Gao started repeating, "I want to see [the missionary's name], I'm going to talk to her," and loud footsteps started down the short hallway.

Mom, serene and smiling, stood up and stood against our door.  (our room was adjacent to our parents room, where the other missionary was).  I had been crying with my head in her lap but then grew very quiet, wondering if she would be thrown into the wall: our door didn't lock.

After a few seconds and after crossing half of our short hallway, Dad managed to convince Xin Gao that he must come back to the living room and sit.

I don't remember anything right after that; I think I was just exhausted of being terrified. 
After we had been in bed, awake, for an hour, I went to the bathroom and saw Taiwanese policemen, their uniforms garishly out of place in our apartment, standing in our living room.  Several had already taken Xin Gao away.

I didn't grow up in a really dangerous place like some missionary kids who've had to flee from war zones or anything, so I've had to milk this story for all it's worth. :)

Time for teaching piano.

Friday, November 6, 2009


My favorite section of The Economist is the weekly obituary.  The article never seems morbid but is instead a tribute to unfailingly remarkable lives.

 The  Oct. 10-16th magazine, which I just read today, detailed the life of Marek Edelman, the last military commander of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.  I'm pretty sure you can find the article online somewhere, but to summarize, this man kept faith in horrible conditions, with thousands dying from hunger, disease, and more being deported to death camps.  He escaped from the ghetto uprising by crawling through tunnels full of dirty water (reminds me of "Shawshank Redemption") only to take part in another Warsaw rebellion.  It lasted 63 days before Nazi forces broke through and soon razed the city. 

There's more... but what really caught my eye was that he had written a book describing the "ecstatic moments of happiness, when terrified and lonely people were thrown together" in the Warsaw ghetto. (quoting the article, not necessarily his book, 91).

This seems to fly in the face of other books imagining humanity's response to horrific conditions (e.g. "The Plague," Camus, or "Lord of the Flies," Golding).  In those books, the majority of people succumbed to apathy and/or animal instincts.  
Just makes me wonder how much of Edelman's book is written on very selective memories, or if the ghetto did somehow bring out the great things in people. 

My favorite quote of the article seemed to be also taken, although not directly, from Edelman's book:

"Man was naturally a beast, but love could overwhelm him, and love could also be taught."

Perhaps that's the only way to teach love-- to overwhelm someone with it.

A bit more:
Edelman refused to talk about the ghetto uprising for decades, did not embrace heroism, and also did not express hatred for Nazis.  He was a Polish Jew who experienced anti-Semitism all his life. 
He was a cardiologist and a chain smoker.  Somehow that seems to fit his life experience.

"Someone who had known so much death bore all the more responsibility for life."
~marek edelman

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Over the Rhine

I had the chance to see "Over the Rhine" last night.   It was perfect.  Artsy, intimate and crowded venue, great opening band, and of course, the jazzy/folk/blues "Over the Rhine."  They are a couple (with a few others for a full band) with the husband playing the piano and bass and guitar and background vocals, and the wife singing and playing the acoustic guitar and piano.  She has a voice you can live in.

         There's something about career musicians that have been doing their thing for a couple of decades-- if they have stayed truly musicians, then there's always (I've observed, at least) a loose-handed way about them.  Kind of a careless manner and a lazy grace in the way they talk about themselves and music.  Then it begins---and even when they're not playing, emotion and blood sweat and tears pours from their fingers... you see why they have to do this.

I used to think about all the different careers, and concluded that the arts were a form of prostitution.  You must sell yourself for all to see and hear and use as they will. 

I still think that's true, but instead of prostitution I think it's more true to say: you either sell something or sell yourself.  

And if you're really blessed, you either give something or give yourself.

If you're in business you sell something.  You could extend this to teachers, engineers, etc (sell/give ideas, knowledge, technology).  Of course, this gets fuzzy because you do give yourself as an educator and as all of those jobs--your time and energy and talents.


But in the arts when you're specifically creating something-- you are selling your lifeblood.  your heart, your soul.

         That's why for the time being anyway, I'm a closet songwriter who shares with a very limited audience.  Not because I have an ethical dilemma with selling/giving songs to everybody, but I don't want to yet.  It's a cowardice that I'm fine with for now.

         The switch between selling and giving is interesting, because if you're a professional artist, for example, you're selling yourself.... but can do so in a posture of giving.    I think that quite a few artists who originally were givers became merely salespeople... manufacturing their trade just for the money, without letting creation affect them.  That's horrific.

         But the ones that I most admire---and I sensed this in "Over the Rhine"--are the ones that bear the scars of continual creation, the stretch marks and the pain of birthing something new into creation.  It costs them.

If it's any good, it's a part of them.  And whether they get paid or not (I hope they do, always) , their creation is a gift.


One of my favorite songs is one they opened with, and has a verse that goes:

I don’t wanna waste your time

With music you don’t need

Why should I autograph the book

That you won’t even read

I’ve got a different scar for every song

And blood left still to bleed

But I don’t wanna waste your time

With music you don’t need"

         This touches on other things--the connection between musician and audience, and really the connection of all humankind, and how music is not possessed but experienced and entered into.... but that's too much for this blog now.  I'll end with another of their songs.  When I first heard it, I realized with a lovely shock what it was about, but then forgot about it and got to realize again when they performed it last night.

the Trumpet Child

The trumpet child will blow his horn

Will blast the sky till it’s reborn

With Gabriel’s power and Satchmo’s grace

He will surprise the human race


The trumpet he will use to blow

Is being fashioned out of fire

The mouthpiece is a glowing coal

The bell a burst of wild desire


The trumpet child will riff on love

Thelonious notes from up above

He’ll improvise a kingdom come

Accompanied by a different drum


The trumpet child will banquet here

Until the lost are truly found

A thousand days, a thousand years

Nobody knows for sure how long


The rich forget about their gold

The meek and mild are strangely bold

A lion lies beside a lamb

And licks a murderer’s outstretched hand

The trumpet child will lift a glass

His bride now leaning in at last

His final aim to fill with joy

The earth that man all but destroyed

(piano ending... theme, jazz improv...theme)  Satchmo is a nickname for Louis Armstrong ('satchel mouth'--great for playing the cornet). Thelonious Monk was an amazing jazz pianist.