30 November 2007

Budapest: Ways of Seeing

What adults see while walking along the Danube River on a hazy November morning:

What kids see: giant maple leaves on the ground. Better collect them all and carry them as long as possible!

What adults see in beautiful St. Matyas church:

What the kids remember: the skull of a saint. And in the display case beside it, a foot.

What adults see while climbing up steep Gellert Hill:

What kids see: "Mama! My legs are tiiiirrreeedd! Are we to the top yet???"

What this adult thinks (worries?) about on Thanksgiving: "My daughter won't have memories of turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving! Oh, the bad parenting!"

What the daughter says: "Last year I ate turkey and then threw up. I never want to eat turkey AGAIN!"

What adults think at the Italian place on Thanksgiving night: "It doesn't feel much like Thanksgiving."

What the kids think: "Cool! Pizza!"

19 November 2007

Holy Places Are Dark Places

"It is shallow nonsense to say that God forgives sin because He is love. When we have been convicted of sin we will never say this again. The love of God means Calvary, and nothing less; the love of God is spelt on the Cross and nowhere else. The only ground on which God can forgive me is through the Cross of my Lord. There, His conscience is satisfied."

--Oswald Chambers

After a number of years, I have come back to reading My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers (that link is to a version with "updated" language; my copy has the original text, first published in 1935, but compiled from talks Chambers gave around 1915-17, according to the Foreward). It's challenging. Chambers strips away the warm fuzzies that we often wrap around the gospel. No sentimentality for him. The way of Christ is difficult, and all-consuming--or should be. The love of God does not overshadow the justice of God. Chambers' God does not say, "there, there, dear, we all make mistakes sometimes." Justice requires payment, forgiveness exacts a price, and the price is "the rending of His heart in the Death of Christ."

I am reminded of my absolute favorite C.S. Lewis book, Till We Have Faces. Much lesser known than his Narnia books, Faces is a re-telling of the Cupid and Psyche myth, in the voice of Psyche's ugly half-sister. Doesn't seem like the myth would have much in the way of spiritual fodder, at least of the Christian sort, but Lewis does it. One of the images? concepts? that stays with me from this book is the contrast Lewis creates between the old goddess worship and the "new" Greek gods. The goddess the main character grows up with is a shapeless, smooth black rock, fearsome and bloody. She demands blood sacrifice. Her ways are dark and mysterious.

In contrast, the Greek gods are clean and tidy, with sharp angles and recognizable faces. They do not smell of blood and darkness. They do not inspire fear or demand too much.

"Holy places are dark places," says the ugly sister.

In my experience, many Western Christians like our religion clean and tidy. God is our Father, Jesus is our buddy, the Holy Spirit...well, the Spirit is in us, but let's not get too crazy about it. We soften the hard edges of sin and justice and the bloody sacrifice that was the Crucifixion. We see the Bible as a blueprint for life; we gloss over things that are not clear to us, that shake our comfortable certainty.

In other churches, I've seen names for children's choirs or Sunday School classes like "Jesus' Little Lambs," and I'm sure to the modern mind it conjures up cute images of furry animals cavorting in grassy fields. But that's not what Lamb of God is meant to convey. In the Lutheran liturgy (and the Catholic as well, I believe), we sing "Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us." Jesus is the Lamb of God, because Jesus was the blood sacrifice for our sin. Lambs were routinely sacrificed under Old Testament law. So I wince when I hear children in the church being called "little lambs." (One could argue, I suppose, that the reference is to Jesus the Good Shepherd, but, still...)

By nature, I think, we don't like mystery. We want to know with clear certainty. We forsake the murkiness of blood and sacrifice for pretty gold crosses. We forget that God is not squishy and sentimental, that his love and his holiness are/were in conflict, that only the mystery and the heartbreak and the bloodiness and messiness of the crucifixion could bring us into any kind of relationship with him. And it was long ago and far away for us, so it is easy to leap over it to the resurrection, to the clean lines of theology, to Acts and Romans.

But, still. At the center of the Christian faith is that mysterious, shapeless darkness, smelling of blood and fear, howling with evil, abetted by indifference, with jeering, wild faces all around. Because of our darkness. Because of God's love, hard-edged, sharp, and ruthless.


Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us peace.

14 November 2007

Random Randomness--Now with Amoxycillin!

We had a long, glorious autumn, but this week the gray of late fall/early winter began. Gray skies, gray rain, gusty winds, browned trees, even snow flurries today. I'm hoping for a colder winter than last year, when we had one measly snowfall of less than an inch. Because the alternative is four or five more months of gray.

After the excitement of Halloween, we're back into the routine. Or as routine as we can get when germs are stalking us. Katrina is fighting off another ear infection with a 10-day round of nasty antibiotics in large doses. The doctor even apologized for prescribing 10 ml twice a day. But there was no higher concentration in liquid form, and Katrina is still too young for pills but large enough physically to need the higher dose. So far, we've had only minor rebellion, nothing like last time she had this stuff. She has about four more days to go. That means four more days of glorious protection from all of the other little buggies being so generously shared by her classmates. Meanwhile, Jon and I both have been coughing and coughing, oh, and coughing some more. I've gotten somewhat better, and Jon seemed to be on the mend but now the stress of a business trip has worsened it again. So, I'm not really a fan of this time of year.

In other news, we had the first conference of the year at school a few weeks ago. No surprises, really. Katrina is starting to read and knows about 6 sight words, all her letters and sounds, and can count to 39 on her own. She's also working on addition.

The part of the "report card" outlining her social and other nonacademic skills was kind of interesting. Teacher comments on "works independently": "Well, she CAN work independently..." and we finish the sentence in unison, "but she doesn't WANT to."

We were also not surprised that Katrina does not choose challenging work on her own. She's a perfectionist, that one--typical of an only child, and I suppose, of the child of two parents with perfectionistic tendencies. She'd rather do something she knows she can do well/perfectly. Plus, she came home from school one day distressed that the teachers wouldn't let her play with play-dough during work time, but made her choose "serious work."

The only thing that the teacher is a bit concerned about is Katrina's gross motor skills. She can't skip yet, and she has difficulty hopping on one foot. (She also hasn't yet mastered pumping her legs on the swing--she gets the rhythm of the legs but doesn't put her body into it enough to propel the swing higher.) Apparently, having trouble skipping and balancing can be a sign of vision or hearing problems. Both were checked and found normal at her last physical, so I don't think that's the problem. No, I think the poor child just inherited my poor coordination.

She can run like the wind, though. Which is more than I ever did. So maybe there's hope!

It was kind of confidence-building as a parent that what the teacher observed matched up with what we know about Katrina. We know our child, we knew most of her strengths and weaknesses before we walked in. And the nice thing is, after two years and beginning her third at the same school, her teachers know her well, too. I don't know that she'll have that kind of advantage after she moves on to elementary school. Though, not being the shrinking violet type, Katrina will make herself known fairly quickly wherever she is.

We're starting to look into schools for next year. There are a few private schools in the area, in addition to the school on base and the German school. I checked out the British school (set up for members of the British military stationed here, but open to other nationalities, as well), and I was impressed. The teacher/student ratio is much better than the schools on base, which are essentially public schools. As a contractor rather than a military member or government civilian, Jon is not entitled to use the schools on base free of charge. As a part of him working here, however, his company will pay Katrina's tuition. This gives us much more flexibility than we would have otherwise. The base schools--which are average to above-average public schools--actually charge a much higher tuition than the private schools we've looked at so far. And the private schools have 12 to 15 kids per class, rather than 20 to 30. To me, the class size alone is a compelling reason to go private.

Of course, also by virtue of being a contractor, we don't know from year to year whether we'll be staying or not. Uncertainty R Us.

And that's about it for the random news here at Haus Gross. Tune in next time to hear Katrina say, "Mama, when are we going to take a walk where the graves are?! I never get to go there!"