Friday, June 21, 2013


I was cleaning out some cupboards a few weeks ago, and I came across a little notebook from the summer of 2005. I lived in Atlanta for a few months, working for a service-learning program and experiencing city life for the first time. One of the pages of this notebook offered the beginnings of a top ten list that I never finished: Things That Wouldn’t Happen In Newton, Kansas. One item: being late to work because the street is closed for a Braves game and you have to take a detour. Another: getting hit on by the man bagging groceries at the local store.

I spent a lot of time that summer in awe of the urban setting – people everywhere, public transit, diversity of many kinds, an abundance of restaurant options. The parking lot of the church where I was staying filled up for a couple of days with trailers and equipment used for a big screen movie that was filming nearby. I learned why side-view mirrors are important while driving a mini-van in multiple lanes of traffic. I had to think about things like locking the door and traveling in groups and paying attention to smog alerts.

Now I live in Chicago and many of those things that were shocking, awe-inspiring, or exciting have become commonplace. When I go back to Newton and my mom runs into several people she knows at the grocery store, I am surprised. When I think about how my road bike would never work on the gravel, how quiet it is without the constant noise of city traffic and sirens, and how soil contamination is not a concern when planting a garden…these are the things that are shocking, awe-inspiring, and exciting to me now.

On one hand, I want to use these reflections to draw big conclusions about human malleability and the de-sensitizing effects of exposure to new things. On the other hand, I am reminded of the importance of taking notice. I can see the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower from the living room window that I am looking out as I write. A Mexican man pushing an ice cream cart just walked by on the sidewalk outside. If I open the windows, I will hear the Ashland bus announcing its stop half a block down. Commonplace. Special. Some of both. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Soundtrack for a Season

The 2012-2013 academic year, my last in a long graduate program, has been full of ups and downs. Along the way I’ve been accompanied by a couple of important albums. Great for provoking deep reflection, offering comfort when things look bleak, and providing a burst of adrenaline while trying out the running shoes after a sedentary Chicago winter, Taylor Swift’s Red and fun.’s Some Nights have been my favorites. Here’s why:

The capstone class at my seminary, a constructive theology project, started off in a bad way. After struggling to decide on a context for my paper, I thought I’d found the perfect angle. My professor, however, was not as enthusiastic as I and offered a strong critique of my first draft. Just as I thought I’d gotten going, I had to start over. Thankfully, shortly thereafter I discovered that fun. sings more than the few songs I’d heard on the radio. It turns out that their lyrics include carry on, it gets better, it’s all alright, and put one foot in front of the other one. I carried on and  it did get better, especially when—months later—I passed my constructive theology oral examination with honors.

I turn 30 in August, and this milestone birthday has sparked a fair amount of reflection about aging and life choices (more on that in a future blog post, perhaps?). Thankfully, both of my favorite albums offer some inspiration on this front, some invitations to think about age as a state of mind: toni-i-ight, we are young, so let’s set the world on fire. We can burn brighter than the sun. And I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 22… Everything will be alright if we just keep dancing like we’re 22.

In March the concert choir from my alma mater, Bethel College in Kansas, came through Chicago on their annual tour. Their performance had many highlights, but my favorite was a particular song performed by a women’s group called Woven. The group sang a mash-up that included fun.’s “Some Nights.” I loved the song already, but to see those talented and powerful young women perform the upbeat piece was inspiring. More than that, the whole night was inspiring as I remembered how important and formative my time as a Bethel student and as a member of the concert choir was.

My job search has also been a significant part of my year, and it has been a disappointing process. A few months ago I interviewed for a challenging, exciting, and well-paid position doing community mental health outreach. Through the hiring process, I walked a delicate line between beginning to imagining myself in the role and trying not to count on being hired in case things didn’t work out. I was one of two finalists for the position, but I wasn’t selected. I’ve been spending the last eight months thinking all love ever does is break and burn and end could apply to job seekers as well as to angsty adolescent love. More cover letters to customize. More organizations to research. More interviews to prepare for. The title of Taylor Swift’s “Begin Again” was a refrain that captured that feeling.

School is over. The job search continues. And I'm still loving these albums.