Friday, July 31, 2009

Back to the Motherland

With the wedding behind us, I've finally got my visa wheels in motion. I was getting nervous about it being the end of July, but I wanted to wait until the wedding was over and the relatives had left.

After a few emails back and forth with Herzen University in St. Petersburg, they have agreed to get me an invitation for a student visa. It is going to be for 9 months. It sounds like a big commitment, but it will be great to not have to renew my visa during that time! And maybe by that time I will have temporary residency and won't have to have a visa at all.

I think that the classes are going to be a bigger commitment than I realized, akin to a full academic load. That makes me wonder if I should see if the credits will count towards a degree program. I want to see about getting my diploma apostilled just in case I need it to prove I have a Bachelor's.

The invitation will take about a month to get here, and then I will still have a few weeks to get my visa before departing on Sept. 21st.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Can't help it

I have resisted posting recipes on here, because I don't want this to turn into a food blog. But what can I say, it's one of my passions. I'm American, after all!

I am going to make a rule, though. I'm going to post one healthy recipe for every fattening one. I'm going to run out of healthy recipes pretty quickly, so it will be a good challenge.

Recipe #1- Raw Beet and Carrot Salad


I love Russian salads, but it always seems like there is so much chopping and/or boiling to do. I do not have the patience for that sort of thing.

So here is a simplified version.

-raw beets
-raw carrots
-fresh herbs (parsley, dill, green onions, cilantro, etc.)
-salad oil
-vinegar to add a little tang (optional)
-salt and pepper to taste


-Wash and peel the veggies; grate; dress with oil, etc.
-You can add the herbs ahead of time or wait until you're serving.
-You can make the salad ahead of time for flavors to mingle, but the vitamins will be at their best early on.

I didn't get a photo, but the salad is colorful, as you can imagine (and your kitchen counter will be, too!).

Recipe #2 -Shortbread Sandwich Cookies

These are related to the Australian "yo-yos," although I'm not sure of the exact recipe for those.

If you are going to be making "sandwiches," you have the outer part and the filling. That's what I recommend doing as the cookies don't taste that exciting by themselves.

-For my cookie part, I used a shortbread recipe found here.

-For the filling, I used the Wilton's buttercream icing (1/2 batch). I've used this recipe since I was about 10 and took a cake decorating class. It works really nice for cakes and anything else requiring icing. The shortening gives it a nice stiffness that you can work with, but it doesn't harden up like a glaze.

Timing tip: You are supposed to refrigerate the cookie dough before baking. What I did was made the icing while the dough was chilling; then let the icing chill while the cookies were baking. Cleaned up while the cookies were cooling, and then iced them and put them in the freezer. It all took a little over an hour.

I recommend making them small in size. These are really rich!

Reader's Block

You've heard of "Writer's block." But what happens when you just can't bring yourself to sit down and read something? I was disappointed when I found that the term "Reader's block" has already been coined, but maybe I will help to popularize it. :)

After doing a lot of reading this summer, I seem to have burned out. I normally jump at the chance to read, but lately, nothing I pick up is interesting. I'm hoping the condition is temporary.

Maybe my intellect has been dulled by the Internet. But I think the situation is actually the opposite. I think I am looking for something top-quality to read. It's like when you're so hungry that you don't know what to eat (I'm not sure if it comes before or after the phase when you eat everything in sight). You reject one thing after another. When choosing a recipe, you, that takes too, we just had that one last, not in the mood for that.....

Nothing fits the criteria.

I realized that what I was truly craving was the Bible. At least, my soul was craving it, and my flesh was still thinking about it. Maybe God dulled my pleasure from other books so that I would get back to the Word.

There is, after all, such a thing as too much studying (Proverbs 12:12).

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Getting the docs

This is part of my series on pursuing temporary residency in St. Petersburg, Russia (look under label "residency").

I haven't gone to get fingerprinted yet, although has a really helpful forum thread related specifically to Americans getting a criminal background check. They tell it mostly from the point of view of getting it while in Russia. I am hoping to obtain it while in the States so I don't have to deal with the international postal system. But a lot of the information is still applicable.

In the meantime, I do have one document that I can check off my birth certificate! It's here (a copy), in notarized form.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Wedding wrap-up

My sister Anastasia got married on Friday, July 24th, 2009.

The rain held off for much of the evening, which allowed us to go ahead with the outdoor ceremony, as planned...

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One of the biggest problems was how to keep Angelica occupied during the ceremony since she's in a Mommy-only phase. She made her appearance carrying a basket of crackers.

The microphone wasn't working, but I heard most of what the pastor said as he led the couple in their vows before God. Angelica could not be distracted any longer as the final prayer was being uttered.

After that, there was the usual social hour and photo session.

Then we were seated in the banquet hall for the familiar program of toasts, socializing, dinner, and dancing. I was seated at the table with the youngest children, but it turned out that they didn't really sit the whole evening. They only came back to check in for a bite to eat or to fight over the glow-sticks. A plus was that I got a pretty good view of the dance floor and the head table!

Angelica was everywhere, darting here and there. I mostly let her do her toddler routine. I wasn't about to to tackle her on the dance floor.

At weddings, a lot of the toughest questions come up regarding conduct as regards to courtship and marriage, alcohol, sex, etc. It can be hard to determine what constitutes Christian "partying," or even Christian behavior at a non-Christian event.

During the wedding ceremony, the bride and groom were reminded that "Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain." (Ps. 127)

It was a good reminder.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

It's over! (or just beginning)

The wedding yesterday went fine. What a relief! I will share a few more photos later.

(click to make it larger)

*photo courtesy Mark Keating ;)


I got this email today that was so obviously a scam that it made me laugh. Of course, I don't mean to poke fun at anyone who is in a desperate financial situation. But this is just classic....


My dear I am writing this mail with tears and sadness and pains. I know it will come to you as a suprise since we haven't known or come across each other before, but kindly bear with me at this moment. I have a special reason why I decided to contact you. My situation at hand is miserable but I trust in God and hope you will be of my help. My name is Akia Ibrahim Bare 25years old girl and I held from Republic of Niger the daughter of Late General Ibrahim Bare Ma?nassara the former President of the Republic of Niger who was ambushed and killed by dissident soldiers at the military airport in the capital, Niamey with his driver and a former Prefect. You can see more detail about my late father here [they included a link for my convenience)...]


I am constrained to contact you because of the maltreatment which I am receiving from my step mother. She planned to take away all my late father's treasury and properties from me since the unexpected death of my beloved Father. Meanwhile I wanted to travel to Europe, but she hide away my international passport and other valuable documents. Luckily she did not discover where I kept my father's File which contained important documents. I am presently staying in the Mission camp in Burkina Faso.

I am seeking for longterm relationship and investment assistance. My father of blessed memory deposited the sum of USD$6.7 Million in one bank in Burkina Faso with my name as the next of kin. I had contacted the Bank to clear the deposit but the Branch Manager told me that being a refugee, my status according to the local law does not authorize me to carry out the operation. However, he advised me to provide a trustee who will stand on my behalf. I had wanted to inform my stepmother about this deposit but I am affraid that she will not offer me anything after the release of the money. Therefore, I decide to seek for your help in transferring the money into your bank account while I will relocate to your country and settle down with you. I have my fathers death certificate and the account number which I will give you as soon as you indicated your interest to help me.

It is my intention to compensate you with 20% of the total money for your assitance and the balance shall be my investment in any profitable venture which you will recommend to me as have no any idea about foreign investment. Please all communications should be through this email address only for confidential purposes.

Thanking you alot in anticipation of your quick response. I will send you my photos in my next email.
Yours Sincerely
Akia Ibrahim Bare

Friday, July 24, 2009

Cross-cultural weddings

"My wedding is going to be the first that's in only one language," my sister Emily observed the other day.

She may be right. Last year we were trying out our French in Congo at Nate's wedding. Yesterday, a "Bienvenidos" sign was posted in our kitchen yesterday to welcome Anastasia's groom's family, primarily from Bolivia and Colombia (though not first-generation).

I didn't feel any cultural differences as we gathered...although we were the hosts, so who knows how our guests were feeling? It was a fairly casual cookout, with a tent to provide some additional seating. The kids ran around with bubbles, or tiptoed into other parts of the house and claimed that they had seen "monsters."


Nastia was very insistent upon putting details of the schedule (including reception) into the wedding program. I didn't think it was necessary and she really wanted everyone to know what was going on...that the ceremony would be 45 min; that the reception would include toasts and the cutting of the cake; etc. I tried to explain that it was standard and people didn't put it in writing. But then I thought about how until she was 15 she lived in Russia, and her groom's family may not follow the typical "American" traditions. So Nastia really wants to get it right.

We'll see what happens...

It's wedding time...

(Angelica and the tent, at the rehearsal dinner)

Red tape, continued

This is my series on pursuing temporary residency in St. Petersburg, which officially begins here, but has been mentioned in other posts under "visas."

The local police check seems to not be sufficient. Or if it were, I would have to find a way to get it apostilled.

After inquiring of a few different people, the consensus seemed to be that I needed to go through the FBI, but that it was "easy."

A guy at my church does background checks and was trying to find out for me, but he can only do them when an employer orders it. He can't independently run a check on someone, which seems to be the case with most agencies.

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So I did a little searching about getting an FBI check done on yourself, and it seems pretty easy. According to one site, all you need are:

1) The cover letter (which they provide)
2) Fingerprints
3) Payment ($18)

Send them to the FBI and it takes 3-4 weeks to process, which would mean I'd get it before leaving in September.

I just have to get through the wedding this weekend and hopefully on Monday I'll be able to see about getting fingerprints done.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

In the town where I was born...

Actually, I wasn't born here, but close enough.

It's interesting living in a place where everyone "knows your name." That's a slight exaggeration, but it is small.

Today I kept running into people from church, for some reason.

First I saw a group ministering to the homeless. We had just prayed for them at a meeting recently, so I went over and said hi. As I was continuing on my errands, I thought about how it certainly wasn't my calling to witness to male drug addicts. At least, I think it isn't. But maybe I could bake some cookies or something since they said they often run out of food...


Then I was looking for a dress shop and walked by another guy from church who did some construction for us. I did not stop to say hi. However, I missed the address and had to turn around and go by him again. "Home's that way, Liz!" he called out to me. "Don't get lost!" I couldn't help but grin and thank him.

Reading (or not) in the original Russian

My dad gave me his copy of "The Master and Margarita" to read after finishing it recently.

I haven't read it before. I read "Heart of a Dog" (also by Bulgakov) in Russian in college. We had 1-page reading assignments which would take me 1-2 hours, with the help of a dictionary. Then the professor would explain a lot of the culture points since we didn't have much of a clue.

Anyway, I feel a little silly for not reading "Master" in the original. I've always felt that literature should be read in the original language, if possible. I love reading Bible excerpts in the original. It makes me feel so much closer to the writer and original context. Around the time when my Russian became proficient enough to read novels, I decided to cut down on reading fiction. Prior to that, I had wanted to become better acquainted with Russian classics, and had read some of them in college.

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IfI ignore the question of fiction for now, there is still the matter of language. I will probably get more out of reading the book in English. Even though I will miss some of the nuances of Russian, I will understand more of the overarching themes. There are also some cultural/historical notes to help with that. Maybe I'll read it in Russian later.

So what do you think? When is it beneficial to read something in the original language, and when is it okay to stick to your native language?

Wedding countdown

Nastia's wedding is on Friday...

My mom decided that the rehearsal dinner needed a personal touch, so she's creating some surprises out of African fabric.


That's along with the cleaning and cooking. Dessert is top priority, of course.

Dad has been fixing things and "purging" the basement and garage, which is not necessarily related to the wedding, but adds to the flurry of activity. He's been advertising things on Craig's List or putting it out on the curb, and people often stop by to look.

Meanwhile, I heard some noise on the roof the other day and later learned that it was the Wildlife Removal Personnel, AKA the "Bat Man." Those little critters are going to be gone soon!

Also, someone came and was looking at the gutter. And on Thursday the tent people are coming.

A relative passed away over the weekend, and my father went to Long Island to do the funeral, which is tomorrow. Unfortunately, we can't all go because we have wedding guests arriving at various times tomorrow.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Unintentional affliction?

I was reading Lamentations and nodding in agreement about the painful (as well as hopeful) truths written there.

Here's a passage that I agreed with, then suddenly noticed that it seemed like a contradiction.

Take a look:
For men are not cast off
by the Lord forever.

Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.

For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to the children of men.

-Lam. 3:31-33


Verse 32 says that He brings grief, yet verse 33 says that He does not willingly bring affliction or grief. * But can God do something unwillingly? Wouldn't that imply that He's going against His own will? Is it by accident? Is someone forcing Him to conflict grief? This brings us to one of the so-called "omnipotence paradoxes": Could God make a rock so big He couldn't lift it?

An illustration that probably fits a little better is to see God as the Father here, disciplining His children. Does He want to cause them pain? No? Does He want them to learn? Yes, so He must discipline them. Well, you get the idea. Maybe it is more profound than that, but it's all I came up with.

*Different translations may use "afflict," etc. But the word used in verses 32 and 33 is identical.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Meeting an illustrator

My mom and I went to an opening of Tomie dePaola's original illustrations. It's good timing because I'm working on a drawing project at the moment. The exhibit is at the Eric Carle Museum, where a lot of Eric Carle's originals are displayed in the main gallery.

Here I am with the "Very Hungry Caterpillar" who is perched on top of a big "cake" (my arms are of equal length in real life).


I love Tomie dePaola's books (Strega Nona, Pancakes for Breakfast, The Quilt Story...), but the original illustrations were even better. I wish I could post some images, but there was no photography allowed in the gallery. I saw that he used acrylic paint for most of them, and it made me want to start over since I've been using watercolor and it's coming out a little...well, watery.

Oh well, he is turning 75, so I still have a chance. After looking at the paintings, the artist gave a little interview. He has a youthful demeanor that explains why he's so good at writing for children! I might go back for some more of his talks.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Making sense of love languages

I wrote a post about love languages once, and then at a conference recently I had to practice-teach a lesson on the topic, using Gary Chapman's book as a basis.

I have been wondering whether or not the "language" analogy works. For one thing, I don't think it's true that we naturally give love in the same way that we would like to receive it. I mean, I may need words of encouragement, but what if I am not very eloquent myself? I might even avoid that particular form of communication, although wishing to receive it from others. I also wonder how we can be expected to give in a different language if it's not a strong area of ours. What if I know that a person whom I love likes to receive gifts, but I'm not good at picking them out?


Is it better to excel at using your own language, or to struggle along trying to speaking another person's "language" in order to put him first? I am really not sure about this.

Is using "foreign" love languages a skill that can be learned, the same as learning Spanish or French? If so, once you learn one of them, does it work on all the people that have that language?

I am probably being my usual nit-picky self and ruining a concept that works for other people. If so, I apologize. I suppose my tendency is to rebel against formulas.

Ancient Consensual Scriptural Teaching

When I first quoted this book, a lot of people thought I meant Russian Orthodoxy. The thing is, that I didn't really know what I was talking about myself. You see, the title of the book* is written in all capitals, so by merely glancing at the book, you can't tell whether it is about "orthodoxy" or "Orthodoxy." And I capitalized it in my blog title, which was misleading (I have fixed it now. However, "today" could also be written with either a big or little "t," depending on what you mean).

It turns out to be "orthodoxy" with a little "o." I think. It took me awhile to make sense of this book.

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As I searched for a passage that might explain what this book is about, I came across the following, in the third chapter:

"By orthodoxy (in its lowercase form) I mean integrated biblical teaching as interpreted in its most consensual classic period. More simply put, orthodoxy (as defined by both Jews and Christians) is ancient consensual scriptural teaching."(29)

Ouch, my brain.

"For Jews this means rabbinic and midrashic teaching; for Christians it means the doctrine taught during the period of ancient ecumenical Christianity-doctrine that is commonly called classic Christian teaching. "(29)

I have to admit, I felt like a dummy reading this book, and it took me quite a while to get through it. I got tired of all the "big words" and wondered if they were really necessary. But at the same time, it is refreshing to read a contemporary work by a Christian author who seems educated.

I was pleased to read a book in which the author focuses on a positive trend rather than a negative one. I'm not sure I agree with all of his observations, but I like his attitude.

Thomas Oden's claim is that the Church is showing signs of new life. The layers of transformation that he lists are: Personal transformation, Faithful scriptural interpretation, Ancient ecumenical multiculturalism, Well-established boundaries, Ecumenical roots reclaimed, and Consensual ecumenical discernment. (73-74)

He follows this list with a handy chart, in which, for each layer, he lists where it is happening, how it is happening (by what means,) and who the key leaders and writers are. I knew practically none of the people he mentioned. I don't know what that means.

One point of Oden's that I liked is what he calls "Originality Versus Consensus." While reading some more contemporary authors, he realized that these observations had already been made by classic authors such as Basil, John Chrysostom, Augustine, and Gregory the Great. Oden concludes, "Since [reading] Leary I have remained committed to unoriginality...I am trying to curb any pretense at 'improving' upon the apostles and fathers." (93) With this statement, this man has earned my respect.

Is Oden right about these trends in returning to orthodoxy? I can't argue with the examples he lists, but I cannot say whether or not they are truly trends or a few isolated examples.

Oden concludes with a list of imperatives which lead toward regeneration (188). They are:

  • Tell others the true story of your own rediscovery of ancient religious teaching.
  • Study the classic religious writers.
  • Enjoy and respect the cross-cultural, intergenerational nature of the religious community.
  • Live within doctrinal and moral boundaries fixed for millenia.
  • Reclaim faltering religious and educational institutions.
  • Apply the ancient ecumenical method of discernment to contested questions.
As I began the book feeling confused, the conclusion also leaves me a little bit unclear about what each of these imperatives means, and whether or not they are really the big questions for Christians. Read Augustine and tell others about it? Change my church's dress code? Petition for the liturgical service at church? (which was canceled recently)

I'm not quite sure what to do with the concepts I encountered in this book. As the author makes many comments on culture and the current state of religion in the U.S., I will probably begin to test out these theories. But it would be a bit hasty to say whether I agree or disagree.

*Oden, Thomas. The Rebirth of Orthodoxy. New York: HarperCollins, 2003.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Engaging an introvert in the classroom

This is not a scientific study. I'm just writing about classroom activities from an introvert's perspective.

Although many teachers noted my "lack of participation," there was one teacher who tried to help. He caught me one day after class.

"Why won't you talk?" he asked. I didn't know. I couldn't answer. There is no answer. It just doesn't come naturally.

"How about if you start out with saying just one thing a week?" I agreed, although I was skeptical that it would work.

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I walked home with tears rolling down my face, because I knew he cared. I didn't begin to speak more, but sometimes he called on me during class, giving me the floor so that I could enter the discussion. I remember the strange feeling of people listening to what I said. And for the most part, disagreeing. But that's another story.

You can't change the whole configuration of your class for one student, but it is meaningful to let him know you care; that you notice he's having a hard time.

Here are a few factors that make a difference:

  • Class size. An introvert may feel comfortable in a class of up to 10, depending on how orderly it is (see below). Anything bigger is difficult in terms of speaking. I mean, I can literally walk into a room and observe the number of people and decide right then that I will not be speaking. With groupwork, 5 is enough, if you really want everyone participating.
  • Classroom order. Jumping into conversation can be stressful, so turn-taking can make an activity seem safer for an introvert, as long as someone can say "pass" if he's not prepared to answer. If you are introducing new topics, don't expect to hear from the introverts, at least not right away. They need time to think.
  • Type of activity. This is probably obvious, but writing/reading assignments are much easier for an introvert than speaking activities. And speaking in groups is less threatening than in front of the whole class. When choosing activities and evaluating student participation, it's always important to have student-centered goals in mind. Is it really in their best interest to force them to do something a specific way, when alternatives could be arranged?
Here are some types of classroom activities and guidelines:

1) Ice-breakers

-The first question to ask yourself, the teacher: What is the goal of this activity?
-Try to choose activities that don't put someone on the spot. For example, there's one chair too few and the person who's left must say something about himself. This leads to some students showing off and others feeling humiliated. It's not a very good start for a group of people getting to know each other.
-Avoid questions that involve superlatives: "my favorite book," "my funniest memory," "my most embarrassing moment," etc. Again there is a pressure to show off and come up with the most interesting answer.
-Introverts are going to say something quickly to get out of the spotlight. They will not necessarily answer truthfully or sincerely.
-If you want students to get to know each other, try pairs work or more serious questions that require thought, but not necessarily embellishment.

2) General discussion

-Again, ask yourself, What is the goal of this activity? I honestly have a hard time thinking of a goal that couldn't be accomplished through other means.
  • Is the goal to evaluate mastery of the material? If so, students can do this in writing.
  • Is the goal to test a student's ability to form an argument orally? If so, students can do this in pairs.
  • Is the goal to test a student's ability to give a spontaneous reaction to ideas? Again, you could use pairwork, or you could use a timed writing period.
-See the factors above on class size and order, and recognize that this is an area in which introverts are not likely to participate much.
-If you still want to try, here are a few alternatives to get quiet students to speak: 1) Revisit the topic the next day, when those who process more slowly will have had time to prepare 2) After students have handed in a written response, call attention to someone whose writing was good but didn't share anything with the class. Perhaps this will give him enough confidence to speak up.
-*A cultural note on participation: Students from different cultures will have different ways of expressing that they would like to say something. They may raise their hand, call out, stand up, make eye contact, sit quietly, etc. I have had Russians refuse to raise their hands, and often stand up when they want to say something. Knowing about these customs, and making it a cultural lesson with a mixed class, will get your classroom environment off to a good start.

3) Group work
-Despite being quiet, introverts have a lot to say. They are fine working in smaller groups.

4) Oral presentations
Making presentations seems to be an element of the average school curriculum, but I wonder what percentage of adults really need to make oral presentations regularly? If they do, it is probably in their area of expertise and they manage quite well.
I remember in 7th grade English being forced to do oral presentations. I pulled mine off with a lot of props and slight nervousness. But I remember a few girls who stood at the front of the room in silence with crimson faces, managed to get out a few words, and were sent to the nurse's office to calm down. (I must note that these ladies had thriving social lives, and there was certainly nothing wrong with them in that department)

I have to it really necessary?

I'm not sure if making oral presentations affects introverts differently or not, because it is not really a form of interaction with people. In many cases you are simply releasing a flow of words that you have memorized. There are several skills affecting someone's public speaking ability, including appropriate use of language, coherency, clarity, ability to engage the audience, etc.

Techniques that make oral presentations easier are:
-visual props

I love hiding behind a map or chart. Otherwise I fidget and feel like a child.

Here I have to make a point about language learning, which is that oral presentations do very little in demonstrating fluency. It is role-playing that is more of an indication. Oral presentations may indicate some range of vocabulary/grammar, and progress in pronunciation.
So, there you have it. A few things to keep in mind while teaching.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

This is what I was talking about.

"The light comes forth"

"Sense of community"

"An intimate atmosphere"

"...flow with grace..."

If you glanced quickly at these phrases, they could describe a Christian gathering.

But they actually belong to an article describing the opening of a new yoga studio.* This is an example of how the language we (or others) use can be misleading.

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I called attention recently to an Episcopalian presiding bishop who has a focus on peace and working together.

The problem is that, to me, "community" is not the Gospel. Being in "light" as an isolated experience is not the Gospel. Living in harmony and living for the Truth are often contradictory.

The point is that we need to be careful of how we speak. We need to be clear and specific. Love, peace, fact, all of the fruits of the Spirit are valued in many religions, not just Christianity. Using vague language is not productive.

The yoga article confused me initially, and it made me wonder if I confuse others with my speech. When you begin to speak more specifically about Christianity, people may not necessarily be appreciative. They may think that it is starting to sound pretty exclusive. But at least you have been honest about what you believe.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. -Hebrews 12: 2

*Storrow, Ben. "The light comes forth-Goshen resident plans to open Prakasa Yoga Studio." In The Daily Hampshire Gazette. July 13, 2009. Pages C1, C3.

Monday, July 13, 2009

An introvert at church

I don't see intro/extroversion as an astrology-type analysis that is supposed to dictate your actions and foretell your future.

But the first time I read testimonies of other introverts, it was like reading about myself. It's the little mini-panic attacks when you have to sit in a circle and introduce yourself, and waiting for your turn is just agony....

When I was a child, I used to whine, "Don't look at me!" at the dinner table. I would like to say that it is about not liking to be the center of attention. But we all seek attention, in our own way.

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Who came up with the idea of "ice-breakers?" For some of us they can be traumatizing and send us further into our shells. In my teacher training (TESOL), we learned many "ice-breaker" type games to use when getting to know a new group of students, or as a warm-up. I have a whole booklet of them.

The ironic thing is that when I had to participate in these mixers myself at a conference a few months ago, it was agony...and I thought...why did I think it was a good idea to make students do this?

There are the name games. There are the "people hunt" type of games where you search for people who fit certain characteristics (these are good for vocabulary building later on, but when you are first meeting someone, do you really want to know these random facts?). There are also games done in pairs. My partner and I had to ask each other a few questions and then report back. It was more of an "exercise" than a game. At first I was can I possibly collaborate with this person on something when we don't even know each other? I didn't understand this idea of instant teamwork. There was no time for chit-chat. Just as we were getting warmed up, we had to stop talking and go to the front of the room one by one to report on our partner. Can you say stage-fright?

Now, God does have the power to transform a person. A lot can happen when we are able to take our eyes off ourselves. But God does not want us to pretend we are someone we're not. He made us different so that we could complement each other.

My response is usually one of confusion, that I try to mask. How can that (extroverted) person have so much energy? When someone is telling me about his/her news, I listen carefully. I nod and wait for my turn. An extrovert may interrupt with gasps of ecstasy or dismay, depending on the situation. This is bewildering to me. But it's not necessarily bad.

I remember being at a church retreat in college with a bunch of fellow students. We had a pretty packed schedule. After leaving our rooms at about 7 am, we had a full day of worship and seminars, going to and from meals without going back to our rooms until evening. That was okay; I paced myself. Evening came, and I happily flopped down on my bed in the hotel room. My friend came into the room and exclaimed, "What are you doing? Why don't you ever want to hang out with us?" I was shocked. "I just spent the entire day with you!" I can laugh at it now, but it was an eye-opener to how different people's social needs can be.

It affects the emotions as well, and I can remember various worship experiences where I was surrounded by people being openly emotional. Why was that lady up there waving her arms around, making it so I couldn't see the song lyrics? Why was that person next to me sobbing? I was choked up, too, but not that much. Why didn't God touch my heart like He touched theirs? I once forced myself to cry so hard that I hyperventilated. Eventually, I realized that God touches hearts differently, and gives us different ways of expressing how we feel.

At church today we were instructed to "Greet one another in love." I like seeing people in the hallway as I enter the sanctuary, but that very phrase struck fear in my heart. Concepts like "mingling" and "small talk" are frightening to an introvert. I wonder why? I think that part of it is a sense of privacy. If I am going to give anything deeper than a standard answer, I would prefer not to have 20 people standing around in close proximity. It also takes me awhile to warm up, and just as I am beginning to open up a tiny bit, it's time to sit down again. I would not be good at speed-dating. But I can use the time (at church) to make plans for a one-on-one visit. That's usually a good solution.

Having a formula, while impersonal, also helps to allay panic. But as the worship team jumped in, people were still chatting away. I didn't want to turn my back on the people still talking, but I was ready to follow along with the service. Where to focus my attention? I needed instructions.

As the sermon was drawing to a close, we were reading in Genesis about God's day of rest. The pastor started to encourage us about having a day of rest, but I had reviewed this theme recently, and floated off into thoughts about my own Sunday plans. Curling up with a book...catching up on some letter-writing. Going for a walk (alone) in the sunshine? Suddenly the pastor made a suggestion for getting some rest in the afternoon. "If you see some singles, why not invite them out? If you're a family, why not spend time with your family members or invite someone else to join you?" MAYDAY! I suddenly panicked, imagining someone I didn't know very well inviting me to go out. I retreated to the library to recharge, and then joined a few nice people in the nursery and caught up on their news.

Another day in the life of an introvert...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Can a relationship with God be egotistical?

I posted a link on another site recently that referred to an Episcopal leader calling a focus on personal salvation a "heresy" and encouraging more of a focus on collective harmony. It is not my intent to make her into a scape-goat, but it left me fairly confused as to how this fit into Christianity.

A few commenters agreed that her statements were off-base; others thought she had a point.

Evangelicals do focus on a person's decision to accept Christ as his "personal Lord and Savior." If a person were not convinced of his own faith, what reason would he have to invest his life in serving the Lord and others? Many people can perform acts of kindness without having repented, but God knows the true content of our hearts, and in the end these deeds will not be fruitful if they are not coming out of a heart devoted to God (Matt.7:17-20).

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Humaneness and a life of harmony, if they can be tied to Christ, are fruits of salvation, not salvation itself. After all, Christ commands us to love.

While the importance of personal salvation is clear, is it possible to focus too much on it at the expense of other teachings? Can worship be "me-centered"? If we sing about Jesus dying "just for me" or "thinking about me" while on the cross, is it narcissism or thankfulness?

There are ways that one's striving to have a "personal relationship" with God plays a role in how we choose priorities. Take, for example, the idea of having a "personal quiet time." We were planning to spend the next 30 min in prayer, when the phone rings. It's important. What do we do?

Or we have the choice between attending a Bible study (personal edification) or volunteering at a soup kitchen (service to others/possibility for evangelism). Again, a decision has to be made. A book I reviewed recently had a section on priorities. The author lists "God" as her #1 priority, and "Spiritual growth" as #5, after her spouse, children, and home (George, 270).* I wondered what situations she placed in the "God" category, that were separate from spiritual growth. Is it just that the "God" card trumps all the others? Is it possible to do something for the Lord without thinking "this is my calling, this is what God wants me personally to do"? It seems that the "me" is always in there.

While grappling with these questions, I don't necessarily feel a conflict. Within Christianity there are paradoxes. But they aren't mysteries of the Emergent "I'm still looking for the answer" sort. Christ said, "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." (Matt. 16:25)

If there is a narcissism in the Church, particularly among American Christians, I don't think the problem is too much of a focus on personal salvation. Yes, we may be lacking in service to others, but it has to begin in our own hearts. If our repentance is genuine, shouldn't that lead to us wanting to serve others? I think I could argue in circles with this, but I'll stop here.

*George, Elizabeth. A Woman After God's Own Heart. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1997.

Friday, July 10, 2009

What I'm doing

In reference to my recent varied book reviews, someone asked (jokingly) what I was up to with all this research into different churches.

I am not planning anything, nor doing serious research. It's just a season I'm in. While I have a little more time and better access to libraries and books in English, I am soaking up information through reading.

I do enjoy reading books on the church. I normally look for books that seem to have solid doctrine, in line with my own. I don't usually continue reading a book if I can tell from the first few pages that I don't agree with the viewpoint. If I want to learn more about that viewpoint, I read a review or synopsis, so as not to waste time and energy on something that I am just going to argue with. But I do try to make sure that I have trustworthy sources so that I don't misrepresent anything.

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As I wrote last fall, I don't always understand what churches are looking for when they make changes to their services, or their way of "doing church." In most cases where change is needed, I think we need to search the Scriptures and seek the Lord. I've been reading a little bit about the "emergent" church, which aims to make Christianity relevant; about "orthodoxy" (I still haven't gotten very far), which supposedly is so constant as to transcend culture; about cultural wars which affect Christianity, and now, a book about the great need for expository preaching.

I'll take book recommendations, if you think you have something I would be interested in.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Christian Femininity 101

It's always a little awkward reviewing books by Christian authors. Well, it's always awkward reviewing any book if you picture the author standing over your shoulder. But when it's a Christian author, there is a certain pressure to say something nice.

Meanwhile, I don't have any caveats about the book I'm about to review. That is, in contrast to the last book I reviewed (which had a questionable tone), I don't find anything unedifying in this one.

I had seen Elizabeth George's A Woman After God's Own Heart* recommended on various blogs and in women's circles. I was ordering some Christian books anyway and decided to add it to my "cart." The cover says "over 900,000 copies sold," and the author explains her wish that her readers will carry a copy around with them.

Suffice it to say, my expectations were high as I cracked open the pink cover. In the introduction, Elizabeth George promises "practical insights about what it means to follow God in every area of life...(p.12)"

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This book falls under the "inspirational," but non-academic category. To be fair, the author states at the beginning that her goal is to give practical advice, and she is clearly well-read as she references a range of sources here and there and notes that she enjoys reading. But as I dove in, I had to ask myself if I really needed to be reading a book like this. Sometimes I wonder whether books about women's issues are really necessary. And they do serve a certain purpose, but I certainly wouldn't want to overdo it.

I think maybe this book just wasn't what I needed for my current season in life. Looking around my bedroom, you might disagree. Okay, I do need improvement. But I'm not married, don't have kids, and don't have my own household to run. Although I need discipline to take care of certain tasks, there are only so many options for how to do things in a 1-room apartment. There is no place for a filing cabinet with color-coded folders. Every once in a while I empty my 3 shelves, try to get rid of something, and then try to squeeze it all back in. Voila. Elizabeth George's time management tips are also too contextualized, not helpful for a single woman.

Here were a few points that I wasn't sure I agreed with:

  • -"Always stick to plan A" (p.258) Yeah right! You can't always control everything. Of course it's good to not be distracted, but it doesn't mean we should pass up everything that's not written and color-coded on our calendar!
  • No unscheduled phone calls. "Interruptions by people without appointments" are described by the author's husband as a "time robber." (p.171)Yes, it is hard for kids when Mom's on the phone and there's no telling when she'll get off. I have work and other people waiting for me, too. But it is possible to give someone 5-10 minutes of your time without scheduling it. Maybe you don't get to wash your hair that night, or you don't get to bed on time. So what? You should always be ready to rearrange your schedule for someone in need.
  • There was also a little quote about priorities that slightly freaked me out.
"One way to simplify your moment-by-moment decision-making might be to assign your priorities these numbers: #1-God, #2-Your husband, #3-Your children, #4-Your home, #5-Your spiritual growth, #6-Your ministry activities, #7- Other activities. Let me show you how this works.
Your children (#3) have just arrived home from school, and you're praying and snacking and talking together about the day. The phone rings. It's not your husband (#2), which means it is either a ministry (#6), a friend (#7), or a salesperson. The decision is simple. You don't leave the #3 priority to tend to the #6 or #7 (or even lower) priority. Be sweet and be kind...but be firm and be brief. Make arrangements for a call back. Quickly ask the salesperson to remove your name and number from his or her call list. Don't lose this important time with your children! (270-271)"
Now, she does go on to admit that these principles may sound harsh and could be abandoned in an emergency (p.272). I suppose all of us go through a sort of "triage" when deciding where to focus our attention. Yet her method seems a little extreme. I could think of a few other solutions to the situation above, so it's not like there is always the same singular right answer.

A Woman After God's Own Heart contains some pretty basic ideas about growing spiritually. I almost put the book down after the first few chapters because she was using all these examples to encourage readers to do the obvious: read the Bible and pray.

"What happens when you and I do slip away to be with God in study and prayer? We receive. We take in. We are nurtured and fed. We ensure our spiritual health and growth. When we spend time with Christ, He supplies us with strength and encourages us in the pursuit of His way."(p.32) Christ-centered? Yes. Earth-shattering? Not really.

The end of each chapter has some thoughts to ponder and pray about, but admittedly I skipped over them. You can also buy a study guide to go with the book.

Again, this is not a bad book and there was nothing wrong with author's attitude. Maybe I'll revisit her ideas in the future.

*George, Elizabeth. A Woman After God's Own Heart. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1997.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Is orthodoxy for today?

While I'm working on a longer post, here's something to chew on from a book I'm currently reading:

"The most salient feature of orthodoxy is not its rigidity but its flexibility. Since orthodoxy is centered in life in the eternal Word, it is free to enter willingly into infinitely varied cultural settings on behalf of its all-embracing vision of the truth." (Oden, Thomas C. The Rebirth of Orthodoxy, p.38)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Another kind of Fourth

My parents don't really celebrate national holidays. But our neighbors (also friends from church) invited us over and we shared a meal together, along with a few other guests.

It was a pretty typical evening. Except that, a year ago on this date, my dad fell ill and had to go to the hospital. It was nice to have a healthy Fourth of July.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

How to pronounce Russian names

(if you are looking for an actual chart, here is a starting place with some given names that are all transliterated for you)

Wow, my blog has certainly been a potpourri lately. I haven't done a linguistics rant for awhile, and I'm feeling inspired, so here goes...

One of the fascinating things about the English language, or perhaps American culture, is the extreme inconsistency in (mis)pronunciation of foreign names and phrases. Let's face it, we're not known for our sophistication in this area, as a nation.

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A program on NPR today was pronouncing "Khrushchev" very oddly. It made me wince each time. I thought to myself, "Why can't Americans pronounce foreign names correctly?" But I immediately realized that 1) I would be making mistakes too if it weren't Russian (or possibly Spanish). I suppose English spelling is conducive to pronunciation errors. 2) It does sound know-it-all-ish when a person does know all the correct pronunciations, along with the trills and such (no offense, Alex Trebek).

So now I'm going to contradict myself and say that using foreign pronunciation is not always the best approach. After all, we live in America and speak English. I find it funny when Russians throw in an English word or two, as it messes up the flow of the language. It does make more sense when they Russify the word, even though it's funny to decline words like "McDonald's." So we shouldn't be ostracized for Americanizing words in our own country.

A person insisting on sticking to the "authentic" pronunciation of a foreign word risks being ridiculed, or possibly just misunderstood. If you've ever seen (or been) the kid who pronounces something like "et cetera" with a hard "c," then you know what I'm talking about.

So I don't know what the best policy is. Perhaps people's names should be an exception. I don't think anyone at McDonald's is going to have a fit over the pronunciation of "Big Mac," but if you were a sports star hearing your name butchered on the news, you might be offended.

Oh yes, the guide to Russian names. Well, the main lapse between English and Russian is where you put the stress. Basically, it's the opposite of your instinct. It's not VLAdimir, it's VlaDImir.

The example on the page above is "Ivan." We say "I-van" with a long "i" and the first syllable stressed. Russians say "ee-VAN" with the second syllable stressed, sounding more like the female name "Yvonne." And the origin is Greek, so it's not like the Russians have a monopoly on the pronunciation. I'm just saying....if you go to Russia, be aware.


The black lab on the left, Max, is ours.


I've been in the States for over a month now. I think that the time passes more quickly if it is over a month, because you don't have to count each day (although each day does, of course, count for something).

Today I got a letter from Russia! It is so nice to receive something in a friend's handwriting and to see the smudges where your friend touched the paper. Also, I think she mailed it out before receiving mine, so maybe they crossed somewhere over the ocean...

Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls, /For, thus friends absent speak. (John Donne)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Contract or covenant?

I finally saw Fireproof. But I'm going to refrain from reviewing it since there are probably a lot of reviews out there.

I have to admit, I was impressed at the end when they slipped in the point about marriage being a covenant, not a contract.

I liked it because it reminded me of one of my favorite sermon illustrations-the same concept, but in terms of our relationship with God. For example: a contract is between two people who do not have a close relationship or trust each other, so they draw up the document to protect themselves. A covenant is a relationship of trust, in which each person gives of himself. A contract is signed for a certain period of time...a covenant is for life.

And so on.

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
-Heb.13:20,21 (NIV)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Women in the kitchen

Louisa helped me make dinner last night.

She's dressed in various African garments; I'm looking sort of Russian with my slippers on. Except that a Russian person probably wouldn't be wearing a souvenir from Russia. But you never know.

June 2022

So, we are 4 months into what's happening in our part of the world...though, of course, we live pretty far from the border!   Currently:...