January 31, 2009

a fall into community

This morning I had a temporary loss of gravity and effectively smeared most of my back half on the stairs in our home. Probably I deserved it because I was laughing at my beautiful husband for one of his more ridiculous morning rituals. Typically I would have dusted myself off and gone on with the day, but my aforementioned husband finally made me promise to TELL him when I hurt myself or felt nauseated, because for three years he found out too late about some of my setbacks. (once my decision to keep my ill-feelings to myself led "setting my breakfast free" all over the windshield and dashboard while driving 70 miles per hour on Interstate 35)

It was clear that I had hurt myself, so I waited until I knew Baker was in the hallway and informed him that I had taken a spill ... he ran down the stairs and began quizzing me about broken bones, loss of consciousness and other concerned spouse questions. My fall, much to my dismay, awoke our housemate Crystal and she came down the stairs to check on me as well.

All of this attention made me regret my promise to Baker that I would TELL when I hurt myself or felt nauseated, so I stood up brushed off my backside and assured my kind husband and concerned housemate that I was fine.

The day went on from there, and somewhere along about 1:30 I started freely sharing with anyone within earshot that I had fallen down the stairs and was starting to feel it. Two nurses were around and started asking my questions about body parts I did not even know I had, and one sweet friend, Carol, asked if I needed to go get it checked out that instant to be sure all was well.

All of this attention made me regret having said a word about it to anyone, so I ignored the warning signs and continued on with my chores and tasks without noticing the ever-increasing burning in my lower lumbar. Soon the pain was such that I started feeling nauseated and could not pay attention to what I was doing.

It was clear that I was going to need some kind of medical attention, so we called a dear friend who we knew would work me in for an appointment on Monday afternoon. Baker already has plans on Monday, so we called Lindsey to see if she could cart me around and listen well at the doctor's office. Amazingly Lindsey was free and very willing to help us out. Joe called to see how I was doing and Karen came over to keep me company while I sat around grunting and complaining about "my back, my back".

This evening I am exhausted by all of the attention, but also overwhelmed by the sweetness of the people around me. Everyone was willing to help in whatever way they could ... so as I settle into bed and hopefully drift off to sleep I will dream about the way my community surrounded me today, like the mountains surround Jerusalem. I remember the wings that King David talks about in Psalm 91 that give hope to the ones in pain.


January 30, 2009

It's my day to work in the store.

I’m sitting in the office—which is crammed with all the stuff that it takes to run Christ the Lightgiver—but just over to my right is a spot on the wall where we’ve started posting our Letters from Famous People. As you probably know, we’ve started inviting various people to speak at some of our bookstore events—and we’ve sent some invitations to some really high-caliber folks. A few of them have accepted; a few of them haven’t; a few of them told us that they would have to get back with us. But, so far, those who have declined our invitation have responded with some very nice letters. Rebekah posted part of a note that we received from Wendell Berry a couple of weeks ago. And just this past week we got a long, personal letter from Eugene Peterson explained why he won’t be able to stop by the store this summer (I’ll share some of that letter with you in another entry).

So what makes us think that a tiny little independent operation like Christ the Lightgiver could possibly get people like Wendell Berry and Eugene Peterson to show up for a speaking engagement?

Because we believe in the Norman Wilson principle. Norman was one of my father’s high school buddies. This was back in the late 1940’s in Farmersville, Texas, so there were only, like, 25 people in my father’s graduating class, and Norman was, by far, the shortest. But one day this new girl moved to town; she was really tall and really good-looking, and the first day she showed up at school, my father and Norman and a few of their other friends just happened to be standing out on the front steps of the building. The young lady walked by; the young men stood there, admiring her, but, then, Norman suddenly walked away. My father asked him where he was going. Norman turned, and, with a big grin on his face, said, “I’m gonna find me a step ladder and ask her for a date.”

I actually don’t know if Norman ever went on that date, but we approach our potential speakers the very same way: we just get out our step ladder and crawl up there and ask them if they’ll join us at the best bookstore in Central Texas. So the next time you’re in the store, ask to go back in the office and check out the Letters from Famous People. You’ll be amazed at the folks who’ve been corresponding with us—and, who knows? They may still end up speaking at one of our events.

fr. aidan

January 28, 2009

culture of tea

I remember sipping black tea out of a tiny shot glass in Muhammad's Persian Carpet Gallery in Old City Jerusalem. My friend Michael and I sat with our knees squeezed in tight around our stools for the "great gallery" was no more than six feet wide and eight feet deep.

Along with us was Muhammad, the shopkeeper and Haans, a Czech tourist whose English was really bad. Every color of fabric you can imagine stacked all around us in twelve-foot high towers leaning in as if to listen to our conversation about land, love and politics. Above our heads hanging from the twenty foot ceiling were thick chains adorned with jewelry, oil lamps and pitchers. Everything metal would click, clank every few seconds which gave the feeling of being aboard an enormous yacht; the thousands of people swarming along the souk in black, blue and white completed the experience, almost making the three visitors seasick.

The tea was hot and sweet with three twigs of mint stems poked sideways into the glass floating capsized in the clear cup. About an hour later Michael bought a Persian rug that weighed half as much as I did, and Haans went on to find his wife and children somewhere among the millions.

Muhammad invited us to stay for a second round of tea. We gladly accepted this small delight and ate greedily cubed sweets that came along with the tea. We continued to talk on about our families and cultures. Once our glasses were empty the little shopkeeper asked us to share a third cup of tea with him that evening in his home.

Initially the tea was Muhammad's thanks for coming to rest awhile with him, or maybe a courtship of us as his customers. The second cup of tea was for the hospitality of friendship and the standing offer for tea anytime we were in the Old City again. The third cup of tea was like a deeper contract of kinship. I feel sure that Muhammad would recognize me now, ten years later if I stopped at the Persian Carpet Gallery.

It makes me happy that we offer tea to our friends when they stop in to the store. I am glad that we even offer it in a clear glass with plenty of sweet. Sometimes people cannot accept this free gift ... they are afraid of committing to stay, they think there is some hidden cost, they feel awkward receiving a gift from a complete stranger. Maybe they are wondering about sanitation or or just had a cup of coffee in car.

Eventually I hope people will stop in for just a visit and a cup of tea. No need to worry about what gift they need to give to their brother, or what version of the Bible to read. Next time you are around, come in and sit for awhile; enter our culture of tea.


January 24, 2009

Sophie Scholl

So we had our first Movie Night this past week at Christ the Lightgiver.

We screened the 2005 Indie film "Sophie Scholl: The Final Days", and we had a nice turn-out with tea, popcorn, chips, and cookies--and Chris Lewis even turned up with Sour Skittles. Anyway, we had gone partners with Rigel Thurston on a new projector and screen and speakers, and the set-up was looking really impressive until we popped the DVD into the computer and nothing happened. Fortunately, the room was full of tech people, so Baker Galloway and Father Deacon Basil and Winston Chapman and Rebekah Galloway (who isn't a tech person, but she was helping out anyway) went to work and rigged up some sort of arrangement which appeared to involve the store's computer and several extension cords and the Exit Sign over the door and the Christmas lights that we had left up outside. When they fired it up, there weren't any sparks, and none of the lights in the neighborhood appeared to flicker or go dim, so it all turned out well.

Unfortunately, by then, it was almost 7:45, and the movie was two hours long, so, by the time it was over, it was pretty late, and we weren't able to have our discussion. Which was a bummer until the other day when Rebekah was bugging me about getting started on this blog, and it occurred to me that we could have our discussion here at Preparing For Illumination--and this won't even require all the crawling around under the furniture that we had to go through in order to get the movie started. So, here are my observations, and I hope that all you folks who were with us on Wednesday night--or who wanted to be with us on Wednesday night--will weigh in.

I thought that one of the most effective aspects of the movie was the fact that, while the heroine's moral choices were clear, the context in which she made them was very murky. Her finance, for example, was an officer in the German Army and, apparently, a loyal Nazi--yet she clearly loved him and hoped to spend the rest of her life with him. Several of the male conspirators had also served in the armed forces--and Sophie herself had once been part of a Nazi youth organization. Our view of Nazi Germany is often pretty black and white--implying that, if we had lived back then, we would have know precisely what to do. But the fact that the heroine was very much a part of German society made her choices even more compelling.

I also thought there were profound parallels between the ways in which the Nazis went about their genocidal work and the ways in which our society deals with abortion. When Sophie talked about the fact that mentally challenged children were being killed, and when her brother, Hans, talked about the fact that he had witnessed German soldiers killing women and children, the response from the authorities was that these were just rumors and lies or that these people were better off dead. In other words, the Nazis redefined what it meant to be human, and they relied on the fact that few people had actually witnessed the atrocities they were committing. And it works that way in our culture in regards to abortion--because we do not see unborn children being killed, and because we have labeled these children as something less than human, then we can go on with our lives while millions of unborn children are put to death. Of course, viewing this movie the week before our participation in the Annual March For Life through downtown Austin, and the week when our new president has overturned the Mexico City Policy and has promised to promote abortions in other, more dramatic ways has kept all this front and center for me.

Cinematically, I loved the film's spare qualities and the use of sunlight as a powerful symbol. I thought the attempt at a happy ending--or, at least, a significant ending--was really forced, though. The film would have been much more forceful had it ended with the breath-taking execution scene.

Those are my thoughts--at least at this point. You guys let me know what you think and what we can do to make our next movie night even better (though, I'm sorry, Chris, I'm not endorsing Sour Skittles).

fr. aidan

January 21, 2009

Wendell Berry

We invited Mr. Wendell Berry of Kentucky to come to visit our store and speak to us sometime soon. We wrote the letter in early December and received this as the bulk of his response back, dated December 23, 2008.

Thank you for your very kind letter. I am honored of course by your wish to have me come down and speak, and I am sorry to say that it is very unlikely that I will be able to accept in the foreseeable future. Because I am needing increasingly to be at work here at home, I am now traveling only to help out two or three causes that I have been long committed to.

Yours sincerely,
Wendell Berry

Now it is unlikely that we will see Mr. Berry anytime soon, but somehow it is encourage to know he knows about us and we know about him.