Sunday, March 20, 2011

It all started with a butter knife

For Lent this year a few friends and I have decided to give simple living a try. So, we each picked a budget for the 40 days and are limiting our food and entertainment purchases to that budget. I picked $300.

One of our struggles with this intentional living experience was what to do about Spring Break. If we're traveling somewhere, do our transportation costs count? What about other plans? We all agreed to leave it to our own discretion. Since I had to fly to New York for a training this week, the plane ticket alone costing $300, I chose to not include this week in my Lent budget, but still planned to keep costs at a minimum. Therefore, my one day/night in the city would involve cheap food, no-cost attractions (which meant a lot of walking around the city looking at cool stuff) and staying in a hostel rather than a cushy hotel.

So when I got bumped to first class on my flight here, my hopes of frugality were thrown out the window.

It all started with a butter knife. As I packed for the trip at 3am, rushing to leave by 4am to catch my 5:30am flight, I wasn't really thinking clearly. I grabbed my school bag and threw some books and things in it. I completely forgot about the butter knife that I had used for my lunch a few days before. At the airport, security pulled me aside to inspect my bag when that knife came up on the scanner. The TSA lady, who did not have a sense of humor, told me that butter knives were not allowed on the plane. I've heard it's best not to joke with TSA personnel, so I told her it wouldn't happen again, and she let me get on my way.

I arrived at my gate in plenty of time and sat near a woman who was clearly upset. We made small talk and she told me that her mother is in hospice and doesn't have much time left. Thus this woman was trying to get on the next flight to Houston to see her before she passed. I groggily attempted some pastoral care and we parted ways when they started boarding the plane. I got up to the gate, ready to hand over my ticket to be scanned, when they announced they were seeking volunteers to take a later flight with the incentive of a $150 voucher good on a flight within the next year. Thinking about that woman flying standby to see her mother in hospice and knowing I could certainly put that flight voucher to use, I stepped out of line and over to the counter.

The Continental employee was very friendly as he checked for the next available flight. He told me that unfortunately the next flight to Newark wouldn't leave until 11:30, 6 hours later than my original flight. But it was a first class seat. I told him I would take it. I was sad to have less time in NYC, but flying first class was too good to pass up. I walked away with my first class ticket with "***Elite Access*** Seat 1B" printed on it, a $200 voucher and a $6 food voucher. My good deed for the day was turning out to be very good indeed!

As I hopped in line to get some breakfast, I looked over at the departures board, knowing my new flight wouldn't be on there yet. I noticed there was a 6:30 flight to Newark. I gave my food voucher to some girls behind me, hopped back out of line and wandered over to the gate to try my luck at getting on that earlier flight. I figured they'd bump me back to coach, but I didn't mind so much if it meant getting to NYC an hour earlier than I originally planned.

The woman at this counter was not as friendly as the previous chap and she told me the flight was full, but she'd put me on standby. I waited around for 10 minutes until they called my name. I was in luck! There was a seat open and it was now mine. She handed me a ticket with "***Elite Access*** Seat 2A" on it. What?! First class? This really was my lucky day.

First class was lovely. So much leg room. Free DirecTv. Hot towels to wash my hands. A real breakfast. And a butter knife. Not a plastic piece of junk they give you in coach. No, this was a real butter knife. I couldn't help but laugh at the situation. My butter knife was confiscated at security, and now I had one on my tray. Amazing what that ***Elite Access*** can do for you.

It was a fun experience, but also a startling experience of having my privilege tattooed on my forehead. I realize I walk around everyday with my privilege: being white, educated and middle class affords me certain opportunities that many people in this world don't have access to. But those 6 stars and the words "Elite Access" gave me a privilege on a whole new level.

I will never pay for first class seats, but if I get bumped again I'll jump at the opportunity. You know, for sociological research reasons.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Sabbath has never been easy for me. I come from the "Weaver work award" family and was always encouraged to work hard if I want to achieve anything. This can be a very good thing. But it can also be a very exhausting thing. When it comes time for resting and taking a break, I (like so many other people) have a hard time tucking away the to-do list and giving in to rest.

This Lenten season I'm attempting to be more intentional about Sabbath. I'm also living simply with 7 other folks here at the Seminary, which I'll write about next week.

What does it mean to be intentional about Sabbath? I still don't know. But I flipped through Abraham Joshua Heschel's book The Sabbath and was reminded of why this sacred practice is so important. He writes: "Creating Shabbat begins with a sense of is not we who long for a day of rest, but the Sabbath spirit that is lonely and longs for us." This Jewish explanation of Sabbath definitely falls in line with my Reformed theology, in that God beckons us to be in relationship with God. That's the very nature of who God is. So it makes sense that God would long for us to create a space for Sabbath. Easier said than done.

I used to think Sabbath had to literally mean "do nothing." This notion reminds me of one of my favorite movies, Stranger Than Fiction, with the scene where Harold does nothing all day.

But now I realize there's more to it than not working or shopping or whatever we do to fill our time. There has to be some sort of intention behind it.

I think I did a pretty good job this weekend with a sunset to sunset sort of deal, starting on Saturday evening:

I walked Chloe, and checked out my tree cozy. Then I listened to music and filled picture frames with pictures, something I've been meaning to do since I moved in here 18 months ago (I don't count that project as work, since I spent time reflecting on my friendships and my wonderful family). Then I called it a night early since Daylight Savings was going to kick my butt the next morning. That brings us to Sunday morning. I woke up at 8, which felt like wretched 7, to watch my old person show. Got ready for church. Did church. Rehearsed for the Easter play. Came home for lunch and then went on a 2 hour bike ride.

By sunset I felt restored. And then I hiked to the library to start working on a paper. Since it is Spring Break, I was the only idiot there. But I'm going to New York on Wednesday and I want to be intentional about my time there, which means I'm bringing very little school work with me. Spending the first half of my Spring Break in the library is a small price to pay for opening up space for intentional living in New York. And maybe even a Sabbath day while I'm there.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lenten Fasting and Feasting

Our APTS "mother hen" sent this to the student body:

In this holy season, let us think about our call to:

Fast from judging others; feast on the Christ dwelling in them.

Fast from emphasis on our differences; feast on our oneness.

Fast from the darkness around us; feast on the light of Christ.

Fast on thoughts of illness; feast on the healing power of God.

Fast on words that pollute; feast on words that purify.

Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.

Fast from withholding anger; feast on sharing our feelings.

Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism.

Fast from worry; feast on trust.

Fast from guilt; feast on freedom.

Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.

Fast from stress; feast on self-care.

Fast from hostility; feast on letting go.

Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness.

Fast from selfishness; feast on compassion for others.

Fast from discouragement; feast on seeing the good.

Fast from apathy; feast on enthusiasm.

Fast from suspicion; feast on seeing the good.

Fast from idle gossip; feast on spreading good news.

Fast from being so busy; feast on quiet silence.

Fast from problems that overwhelm us; feast on prayerful trust.

Fast from talking; feast on listening.

Fast from trying to be in control; feast on letting go.

Loving God, let us fast from anything that leads us away from you and teach us to feast on all that brings us closer to you. Amen.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

99 red balloons. Er, sweatered trees.

On Friday afternoon, Kristi and I rode our bikes over to UT to install the tree cozy.

After putting in roughly 50 hours of knitting time, it took an additional hour to sew it onto the tree. It would have taken less time if I had used one color to stitch up the seam, but I thought that would look tacky. So I taught Kristi how to sew, and we stitched up that cozy. All seven feet of it. When we finished it, we stood back to admire the work. And then we named her Eloise.

We walked around a bit to admire the other 98 trees. I was amazed at how not a single one looked alike. We were limited to "stripes" but could interpret that how we wanted. We were also limited to four colors, but some chose to leave one or two out.

As we walked around, I couldn't help but think about how this weird situation must be something like the Kingdom of God (I'm a seminary student, that's what I do). And I'm not joking when I say it was a weird situation. We all knit sweaters for trees. Sweaters. For trees. And then we all got together at the same time to clothe our trees with their new apparel. As we all wondered around, admiring each others work and complementing each other, I thought, "Yeah, I hope the Kingdom is like this." Weird people in a weird place, loving on each other. Glad I got a wee taste of it here and now.