A Complaint of the Times

So much regulation and so few lives saved,
So much loud music and so little melody,
So many doctorates and none wiser made,
Such license in the name of liberty,
  So much compassion preached, so little shown,
  Since the world’s beginning there was never known.

So much production of so many shoddy goods,
So little saving and so much money spent,
So many rulings so little understood,
Such lavish shows and such poor amusement,
  So many bureaus fat and purses lean
  Since the world’s beginning there was never seen.

So much to bed, so little marrying,
So many new police and no less crime,
So many churches built, so few prayed in,
So many new dollars not worth a dime,
  So much speculation on so little ground
  Since the world’s beginning there was never found.

So much change of fashion and no beauty gained,
So much expense so little justified,
So many principles so ill explained,
So much self-praising with so little pride,
  So much prophecy of ruin and so little heed,
  Since the world’s beginning can no scholars read.

“A Complaint of the Times” by Gail White

Published in First Things, October 2007

What You Want

 

Every day I’ve been feeling the pressure
I always gotta know the plan
It’s a weight that I’ve tried to shoulder
I thought I could, but I can’t

And I’m so tired of chasing dreams
When I am wired to let You lead

You’re changing my heart
To what what You want
To love how You love
And that is enough
There’s no greater plan
That I need to know
You only ask me to follow

And want what You, what You want
And want what You, what You want
And want what You, what You want
And want what You, what You want

Oh, there’s freedom in this surrender
I feel myself come alive
And the burden feels like a feather
When I let my agenda die
And I get so tired of my own dreams
When I am wired to let You lead

So many leaders
You ask for followers
So keep on leading
‘Cause You’re my Father

~Tenth Avenue North

Letters From An MBI Student – 6/1

Dear Chicago,

You know I don’t hate you, right? You know that I don’t hate your trains, your traffic, your yellow clouds at night, and your cardboard signs on every corner. You know that I don’t hate the claustrophobia of the Purple Line at 17:05, the ambulance sirens at 1:15, the taxi horns at 6:30, the dogs and crickets and slurred speeches at 20:00. You know that I don’t hate the smell of coffee and bagels and trash and homelessness, the sounds of angry drivers and weary travelers and untethered foreigners, the looks of the curious and tired and filthy and ordinary, the feel of a city that wants to be remembered for more than its violence, and the knowledge of a place with its head in the clouds and dirty feet on the ground.

You know that I just don’t always want to be here, right?

You know that you can’t be everything to everyone all of the time. You know that it is never silent here, never still, never quite real. You know that the little pockets of serenity here are man-made and hand-carved, with a thin line between the city and silence–or maybe just a fence–and the stale breezes of The Windy City are always trespassing between them. You know that you teach us to make our own silence by making our own noise, to find our own space by choosing what to fill it with, because there is nothing here that has not been drilled, labelled, approved, pegged on a map somewhere, and tagged with graffiti and yesterday’s gum. You know that your streets and shops are in collusion against the sky, because there are too many potholes and pickpockets and people to be able to look up long enough for the clouds to get in our lungs. You know you have taught us to stare at the ground and everyone around us with distrust and disillusionment, because nothing and nobody is as good as it is supposed to be. You know your billboards are a conflation of need and selfishness: you tell us to demand the best, donate the rest, never be satisfied, find it in gleaming steel and something out of a bank account. You know the spaces you are crafting into the next best thing are littered with cigarettes and angry car horns and the appreciative whistle appreciated by no one.

You know you are the city. You know you are layer upon layer of good and bad and ugly and no matter how high your buildings, how crystal your windows, how promising your developments…you are still most beautiful when your windows are red with a sunset you did not paint, when your streets are splattered by a rain you did not manufacture, when your walkways are covered by a lake you did not carve, when your buildings and alleyways and streets and scaffolding are bright in the sunlight you do not own. Did you know that it is the things you cannot control that keep us sane?

Don’t try too hard to make me love you, Chicago. Try as you might to dazzle and sparkle and glitter brighter than everyone and everything, you will never quite be enough. You will always have your passion and your violence, your pinnacles and your projects. You will always be trying to be better and you will always never be enough. And that is okay. Because don’t forget: you were created, too. You were built by those who are forever confronted by their inability to create utopia and forever confronted by the Creator who will. But He won’t call it Chicago.

~Rae

Empty My Hands

I’ve got voices in my head and they are so strong
And I’m getting sick of this oh Lord, how long
Will I be haunted by the fear that I believe
My hands like locks on cages
Of these dreams I can’t set free

But if I let these dreams die
If I lay down all my wounded pride
If I let these dreams die
Will I find that letting go lets me come alive

So empty my hands
Fill up my heart
Capture my mind with you

These voices speak instead and what’s right is wrong
And I’m giving into them, please Lord, how long
Will I be held captive by the lies that I believe
My heart’s in constant chaos and it keeps me so deceived

But if I let these dreams die
If I could just lay down my dark desire
If I let these dreams die
Will I find you brought me back to life

So empty my hands
Fill up my heart
Capture my mind with you

‘Cause my mind is like a building burning down
I need your grace to keep me, keep me from the ground
And my heart is just a prisoner of war
A slave to what it wants and to what I’m fighting for

So won’t you empty my hands
Fill up my heart
Capture my mind with you

Empty my hands
Fill up my heart
Capture my mind with you

With you
I need you now

~Tenth Avenue North

Letters From An MBI Student – 7/1

Dear Family,

I think something is wrong with me. Or the world. Or both? Please don’t answer that. Because all jokes aside, truly, there is an enormous list of things that I do not understand and, lately, life has involved a lot them.

Here’s one that is easier to talk about. Gossip. We all know it’s bad, right? One of those “Thou Shalt Not” sort of things that was black and white.

I know I hate it. I know I hated it when I saw people I knew sucked onto the gossip train heading straight down the line towards the sister towns of Mistrust and Unresolved Issues, stopping along the way to pick up Resentment and Self-Righteous Indignation. Oh, and a whole bunch of logs.

But now I’m not sure I know what it is all of the time. I knew when it was petty, pointless, a rant behind a closed door that contributed nothing to the solution. I remember the sign that a friend suggested I hang in my office: “Complaint box [tiny little square]” and below it “Suggestion box [huge square].” I liked the idea that the nuggets of other people’s lives that were distributed second-hand, malicious or otherwise, didn’t have space in my life.

The problem is that gossip here isn’t so black-and-white any more. What is it when you’re retelling a tale about other parties that is probably funny but is also making-fun? What is it when you don’t have contact with someone and you’re checking in on them by talking to those in their periphery? Where is the line between bad-mouthing and debriefing, between spreading rumors and sharing information, between gossip and fellowship?

Here at Moody, there aren’t a whole lot of boundaries on conversation. We’re a sharing/caring/burden-bearing community that is in the process of removing all dividers, including the ones that should rightfully restrain our tongues. We may not mean to be unkind, but I think dishonesty is its own unkindness and we don’t know how to define that any more. We don’t know what is true about ourselves and each other enough to know when to just shut up.

So we talk, we babble, and sometimes I just want to flee the scene because I know it is not right. It’s surface-level word-vomit about someone else’s life, habits, decisions, character, and it protects us from our own. If we don’t have to speak the truth about ourselves then we don’t have to figure out what that is.

Sorry for the rant. I may be wrong about where the line about gossip begins and ends, and I know I will get it wrong again. When the students come back, I’ll ask them about a professor whose class I intend to take. I’ll ask about their summer. We’ll talk about life and relationships and breaking up and breaking out and the gray spaces in between. And in that gray will probably be more gossip than I like. But I hope I never lose the sick feeling in my stomach when we get on that train too far. I hope I don’t mind exiting the station when that conversation begins. I hope I learn better how to ask and how to say and when to let other people’s business be theirs and when to let it be mine. Until then it feels a lot like muddling along in a world that is as wrong as I am.

But you probably already knew that.

Maybe missing you,

~Rae

Letters From An MBI Student – From the PO Box

PREFACE:

Dear Family,

So, I wrote you some letters. Quite a while ago, actually. In varying states of finished, but all “unsent” or whatever the internet equivalent is. But you know that PO Box we had, that we’d remember every few months and go open up and bring home a treasure trove of 95% junk mail and 5% something important that we would have liked to have had before? Think of this post as that equivalent. Welcome to a PO Box post and a few postcards of life, just a few months late.

Maybe missing you,

~Rae

 

*******

10/5

Dear Family,

Today I decided that ChiTown is beautiful and I am happy. Please don’t freak out; I’m still a country girl in heart. There are a thousand-and-one things I miss about my beloved Midwest countryside, but I’m finding many things to love about this city God has placed me in. If I don’t compare them, I will be happy.

Here are five of the latest:

  1. The Nighttime. When it is night here, the streetlights shine as fierce and yellow as fireflies, and the buildings stay lit at all hours, and it is so, so beautiful. At night, there are fewer taillights to chase on Interstate, and Lakeshore Drive is glittering and it’s hard to keep your eyes on the road.
  2. The Fog. A city in fog is a stunning thing. The buildings are all suddenly equal in height, stunted by the fog that eats the tops of them all and I love it. At night the fog turns yellow and orange and gray and it’s even more spectacular. It makes the city seem a little smaller and cozier, wrapped up in blankets.
  3. The Sears Tower. Ahhh, need I say more? I could stare all day, and all I would need is a bucket for my drool.
  4. The buildings. They’re eccentric and bold and dirty and pristine and have every color you could want. It’s a perk of being downtown: if you don’t like your view, just look at a different corner.
  5. Little things: The Montgomery Ward building has what I call the Peter Pan statue, and it’s a perfect silhouette in the sunset. There’s a funny lighting shop with a giant white horse statue on the roof-terrace-thingy; it’s actually a lamp and the horse head with the lampshade over it looks down over the street from two stories up and still makes me laugh. I can get a pretty good view of the sunset from the top of the parking garage, and going to work in the winter means seeing the sun come up over Lake Michigan from one of the tallest places in the city. I realized the other day that our freshman t-shirts from Moody have a crane in the city silhouette printed on it, because of course the Chicago skyline would not be complete without that.
  6. I could fill this space with things that are individually underwhelming but collectively take your breath away because who knew that you had so many things to enjoy?

I can’t make a list of things I miss about the country right now, because that’s a long list and I’d like to enjoy this one for a while. I used to think that “choose joy” was just a kitschy thing on a plaque, but I think it may be…ahh, that’s another post for another time. Just know that today I chose it and the result was some pretty cool things (and this list).

Maybe missing you, and the country,

~Rae

 

********

12/16

Dear Family,

Well, once upon a time I thought I was smart. Or good at taking tests. Or even a generally well-behaved, genial, uncompromising sort of person. Ha. Welcome to Finals Week, where you feel either clumsy, dull, crabby, or frantic–or all of the above.

I only had four finals. Six, if you counted the two papers that were also due. So no big deal, until I met the girl who had NONE. Lucky [insert designation of your choice].

But I learned a few important things! New things, the sort of things I didn’t learn at community college where I could have skipped the finals and still passed the classes.

  1. SLEEP. ALL THE TIMES. Except during the actual final. Otherwise, truly, honestly, you will feel like the stupidest person alive, and that will be true if you don’t sleep.
  2. Study before finals weekend. I know everybody says you should do this, but, guess what? They’re right. Memorizing Spanish vocabulary is so much easier when you’re not trying to review 9 vocabulary lists the day before the 2 hour final.
  3. Sometimes the finals aren’t actually terrible. Truly! We had a trivial pursuit final for my ed class, and basically everyone ended up getting an ‘A’, but only because we worked together and learned the terms. It helped that I memorized nearly all 90 of them the day before, but getting the first ‘A’ was only good for my ego.
  4. Give yourself plenty of time. I only had one final on Monday, and I was going to work the rest of the day, because what was I going to do with my time? I decided not to work and was able to study for Tuesday’s finals. Another bonus: the extra time allowed me to realize that I’d written my research paper twice as long as it actually needed to be. Just a small detail. Ha.
  5. If the prof suggests a way to study, do it. Like, when he says to review his notes from previous assignments so we don’t make the same mistakes, it’s probably a good idea. Then you probably won’t get that note from your prof telling you to add periods, for the third time.

There are plenty of things I think I learned, but I’m going to take my own advice and sleep. For a week, preferably. Because right now my brain is drifting into the stupid category and I’m going to pretend it’s lack of sleep and not reality.

Maybe missing you (but missing my sleep more, sorry),

~Rae

 

*******

12/22 [warning: sappy sentiment to follow]

Dear Family,

Campus is a funny place at Christmas. It becomes this paradox of attributes, a weird mix of dark and bright, cold and warm, lonely and lovely. After finals week campus becomes a big empty place with Christmas lights and dark places. Locked doors usually mean secrets and warmth at Christmas, places where presents are stashed and surprises are lurking. Moody after finals week means those locked doors just hide dust and emptiness.

But they still have Christmas lights. They have all these beautiful Christmas trees in every color, and the lights in Joe’s are always glittering even when no one is allowed there. So it’s this faraway Christmas, that makes you more homesick for the Christmas you can touch and taste and feel.

And the city is beautiful. I visited the Christkindlmarket and got swallowed up in a place of spiced cider, hot pretzels, glass ornaments, and cuckoo clocks. My favorite ornaments were the ones we already have: little sledding men and the wee man who does jumping jacks when you pull the string and tiny stoic nutcrackers. I found some new favorites, particularly the painted glass globes, but even those that I loved best were the ones that looked a little like a place I used to call home.

How do we make new, lovely Christmases when everything we enjoy is a poor copy of what we actually want? I got to see huge, astonishing Christmas trees, but I ranked them based on what it felt like standing next to them. Because when I was a kid and we turned off all the lights in our living room, the sense of color and Christmas was as distinct as the first sip of hot cider in the fall.

I’m doing it again, aren’t I? Comparing things? At some point I think I’ll enjoy Chicago and Moody and their Christmas just for what it is. But I’m not very good at this thing yet. Right now I enjoy their Christmas because it satisfies the part of me that wants to be home for Christmas, with my own fireplace and that droopy fake tree that I wouldn’t trade for a million blue spruces, even if they are 63 feet tall.

So here I am, keys in hand, and a playlist ready for that drive home this afternoon. First up, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.”

~Rae

 *******

3/29

Dear Family,

I think I’m going crazy. Or maybe I just need to come home. Or maybe I just need to be reminded that some things are not A Big Deal. Here’s the thing about Moody: they have these things that are A Big Deal, and there aren’t any nice billboards that remind me that, in life outside the Moody bubble, they are Not A Big Deal.

Examples? Here are two:

  1. Classes. Registration opens this week, and you get to sign up for your class based on how many credits you have. Seniors have first pick, juniors next, etc., and you have an exact time of day given to you and you can’t sign up before that time. This is what is known on campus as A Big Deal, because if you do not get the class you want or the schedule you want or the whatever then there are many problems. I did not realize this was A Big Deal, so last semester I just, meh, picked a few classes a few minutes before my time slot opened up, and managed to get a schedule that worked for me. Afterwards I found out that I should have been stressing out all semester about getting my classes. Oh.
  2. Rooms. Also A Big Deal (many things are). Because you will have a very bad semester if you do not get the right dorm floor. Or room. Or roommate. This is apparently very stressful.

The thing about these is that…well, they’re A Big Deal if you make them A Big Deal? There are a lot of things that could make the list of Things That Are A Big Deal: Meal plans, 8:00 classes, the right professor, the wrong room, the terrible roommate, the ability to work…they can make college easy or hard. But I don’t think that should make them A Big Deal, let alone A Very Big Deal. Why do we look at everything difficult and say, “Oh, you must be worth stressing out.” and then stress out about it?

Acknowledgement: things can be really stressful. It can be really stressful to not be able to get your classes in and wonder if you’ll graduate on time. It can be really stressful to have a class schedule that doesn’t let you work and pay for school. It can be really stressful to have early-morning classes and late-night jobs. It can be really stressful to have back-to-back-to-back classes and a roommate who hates you or a dorm floor that doesn’t believe in quiet hours. They are all difficult things. But not impossible.

I guess I feel really, really, extraordinarily fortunate to be at school, in school, doing school, getting to have this. I don’t like 8:00 classes or not getting lunch until 14:00 on Wednesdays. I don’t like studying until midnight on Thursdays or wearing work clothes to Chorale or writing papers on Sundays. I don’t like being tired or feeling sick or wondering what the haystacks I’m going to eat this week. I don’t like getting a weird prof and a difficult class. I don’t like having loans or bills or facing the cost of living in Chicago with food allergies that complicate everything.

But none of the things I don’t like are A Big Deal. What is A Big Deal? Today: this lovely gift of Today that I have been given. A Big Deal this week was that I fell asleep during my quiet time last night and today is different because I missed that. Everything else that could be A Big Deal is really just A Thing To Do.

Whew. That’s easier. And vastly less stressful.

Maybe not going crazy,

~Rae

 

*******

5/14

Dear Family,

I SURVIVED…

[Freshman year (and all the glories of being the old newbie on campus), finals week (again, but now it’s old hat. Almost.), and graduation (for other people, without squirming). But’s that’s all secondary to…]

…ROOM CHECKS.

Ha. Who knew that the weirdest part of all things end-of-semester would be Moody’s insane [batty, preposterous, deranged, irrational, cuckoo, loony, bonkers, bats-in-the-belfry] dorm policy? Okay, so the thesaurus expansion might be a little overboard, but hear me out here. It’s finals week, okay? You’ve signed up a week or two in advance for a room check: your own, for the night before you leave. It may or may not be different than your roommate’s room check. You pack and clean everything, move your stuff out, do a room inspection, and leave campus. Normal procedure, right? Let me break it down a little more.

  1. It must be the night before you leave. If that’s different than your roomie, tough luck. Get ready to pack up way early or be left with cleaning duties you didn’t want.
  2. Pack up everything. All the things. No paperclip left behind. Everything – as in, box it up and put it in the hallway as a fire hazard for the evening your room check occurs, and put the room back to the way it was when you entered in August.
  3. Clean everything. And in the process, find out how badly the room was cleaned before you as you scrub down more than just two semesters of living. Also, don’t forget to wipe down the mattresses and the air vents and the blinds and then go hunt down the floor vacuum that a dozen other people are waiting to use.
  4. By 22:00, the hallway will be filled with whoever else is leaving the next day, which may be everyone on your hall, which may leave six inches of space to crawl between boxes as everyone’s lives are teetered precariously outside their doors. Wait until your room check comes, which may not be until 23:30 and prepare to have to clean some more things, get marked down for a fine because you nicked the edge of the desk, and want to crawl away and disappear by the time the RA has run a finger around the inside of every empty desk drawer.
  5. Then move all your things back into your room and flip a coin to decide how important it is to put sheets back on the mattress. Feel guilty taking a shower, breathing, or generally sneezing a speck of dust back on any surface in the room.
  6. The next day, wait in line with DL in hand to check out a cart that you can use for two hours, which is just enough time to move yourself (maybe). Try doing that with five people, and end up spending all (yes, all) afternoon moving too much stuff from one place to another. Oh, and turn in your room keys by 17:00 or get fined.

Okay, so maybe I’m ranting a little bit. The whole move-out-but-stay-another-night procedure was just so bizarre to me, and it made for a very exhausting evening. Part of that was my fault, for packing everything up in one day and having room checks that same night. Also, I should probably have made the effort to take my blankets out again so the night after room checks wouldn’t have been sans sleep because I was so cold. And move-out day wasn’t terrible because I loved the work of it and the people were fantastic. We all just dug in and plowed through and cracked jokes about the insane amount of stuff and it was okay. It was hard to move into an apartment late because the owner wasn’t gone yet, it was hard to move into an apartment where every space in the kitchen needed a bucket of bleach, it was hard to see the pile of five people’s things overwhelm an apartment. But the irony and sweat and cheer of working together to move all the things was fantastic.

So I survived. I know the /why/ of some of the dorm check policies, and I shouldn’t complain just because I was expected to clean up after myself (and other people). And I can’t complain about poor inspections because we passed ours and all was well. Yes, it was way weird and yes, there are now many things I intend to do differently next year [possibly involving a dumpster or living out of my car; I haven’t decided yet].

I just know what to expect a little better, and it’s like everything at Moody: it may not be great, but you’re doing it with great people.

Maybe done with my rant,

~Rae

Born Again

I came into the world, into the wild
No place for a child
Used my voice to howl 
With the ghouls of night
In the dying light

Had to learn to get what I need
In the dark, empty
Instincts are guiding me 
Like a beast to some blood
And I can’t get enough

I’m losing control; my body, my soul
Are slowly fading away
But I’m ready now 
To feel the power of change

I’m my mother’s child
I’m my father’s son
It took me awhile
But my time has come
To be born again

Running scared in between what I hate 
And what I need
Savior and enemy are both trying
To take my soul
And I can’t hide no more

Stumble out to the light
Raise my fist up to fight
Then I catch your eye 
So full of love
Lord, what have I done?

I cry at your feet, wounded for me 
And all of the monsters and men
But here in your light 
We can begin again

I’m my mother’s child
I’m my father’s son
It took me a while
But my time has come
To be born again

“Born Again” by Josh Garrels