Sunday, August 26

Off to Africa

In just a matter of hours I'm getting on a plane to Africa. My destination: the Borden's house in Tanzania. I'll spend a couple of weeks with these dear friends who are more like family, living alongside of them, and getting a feel for what life is like working with their Wild Hope International.

I'll post as I can. This is my first trip to Africa and I'm thrilled for the adventure. But, no matter where the Bordens were in the world, I'd be excited to spend time with them. It's less about the place and more about the people, if you know what I mean.

I'm very grateful for this space in my life to do such crazy things. And for frequent flier miles. (Thanks for the help, Mama!)

Saturday, August 25

Travel Log #01 - Portuguese Trees/Skies

On the Bus to Porto

Two minutes of lo-fi travel, designed to be a calming pause in your day, and to make you feel like you're sitting next to me on the bus. Music by Yann Tiersen (Amelie soundtrack).

Jesse and Trevor's travel log from Tanzania to California was my inspiration. Oh! Their video surprise for their Mama made me so happy.

Thursday, August 23

Overwhelmed by English

It is raining and I've been walking 'round London--traversing the underground wearing my soft pink jacket and carrying the big blue rucksack. Mid-jaunt I spun my iPod through two scratchy-sweet melodic records by Appleseed Cast: Two Conversations and Peregrine. Somehow it seems that drenched urban landscapes should have driving, percussive soundtracks supporting them in the distance. (I'm not certain if "percussive" is really a word, but I'm drum rolling it out now.)

I find it strange how the London underground and train systems tend to overwhelm me. I've navigated myself through buses and trains from Italy to Germany to Lithuania, even. But there's something unsettling about seeing signs in your native English, and still being a bit confused. I remember feeling like this while in the guts of Brooklyn, too.

Maybe I feel more free to be me in the bellies of cities where I don't necessarily speak their tongues, exactly because I expect to make some mistakes there. In those places I leave more grace for my feet. But in London, it's different. I've been to this city enough times that I feel I ought to understand its underbellies and trains. And it's all in English! But I still always feel a bit lost here.

The information lady at Liverpool Street station said that my train ticket out to Guildford counted for the tube, as well. I trusted her, especially when they let me through the tube turnstiles on that ticket. But after six stops on the Circle line, and then one stop on the Jubilee line (I almost took a photo of that nice sign), I was stopped at the exit. The underground ticket-check-man very nearly hit me with penalty fares for not having the proper ticket. Oh dear.

"If it were anyone else, you'd have to pay penalties, you know," he said, reluctantly, after assuring him that Liverpool lady had given me some misinformation. Penalty fares in pound sterling are a scary thing to an American girl. It's almost two dollars per pound now, yikes.

Everyday Grace, how sweet the sound!

(Liverpool Tube Photo by Loukreu)

Tuesday, August 21

Interruptions on the Way

I'm traveling by train from Lisbon to Castelo Branco, on the way to spend a night at Barbara's land. We're stopped. The Portuguese lady on the recording calls it a brief "interruption on the way." But the other passengers say there is a fire up ahead, somewhere near the tracks.

Catherine is with me, and we laughed that just a few moments ago I'd quipped: "Those dark rain clouds don't sound good for us in the land." Turns out those rain clouds were actually made of smoke. It is dry in Portugal, and brush fires are common.

It is nice to have a traveling companion for this part of my journey. I met Catherine about four years ago at St. Dominic's International School. She was in year ten and I was in year one of my Young Life internship. I met her at lunch-break, and we chatted about life and books. I remember thinking that she was one of the brightest thirteen year-olds I'd ever met. We continued to meet up for lunches over the years, and kept the conversation going. We spoke a lot about Jesus. I prayed for her and asked many friends to do the same, because I so wanted her to know how much God loves her.

Today Catherine sits next to me knowing that Love personally. Somewhere along the way--was it in a 24-7 prayer room, or as she was walking along the Atlantic?--Catherine committed her life to following Jesus. Now she's two train seats away from me reading and journaling Madeleine L'Engle.

When we settled into the train she'd grabbed a book from my tiny portable library a'la red Samsonite carry-on. I've been grinning to myself as I watch her scribble old M's words into her Portuguese/English journal.

"What good words did you find, Cat?"

"Oh! It's this great bit about how when we're too self-absorbed and analytical, we're not really able to live."

"That's the part about us being more like children, right?"

"Mmmm, yes."

It is a joy to see others losing themselves in the same words that have held me. With Catherine, I'm reminded how simply-chewed words over lunch can be a part of the relentless in breaking of God's love in another's life.

May we keep that conversation going.

Friday, August 17

I Heart Texting

This week I found this sweet site called Callwave that lets you send free text messages to cell phones in the US/Canada from a computer. And the nice thing is, when the American/Canadian replies, I receive it as an email on my computer instantly! This sort of technology makes me very happy, because communicating from across an ocean can be quite expensive.

If you have a Mac (and why, I ask, would you not?) you can get a cute little Callwave Widget for your Dashboard, too. It integrates auto-magically with your Mac Address book.

Wednesday, August 15

And You Turn Yourself Around

"Hello," said Jenelle will be undergoing some turns and revisions in the coming days. This blog's 1st birthday is somewhere around now, so I'm putting a new dress on her. (She does the hokey pokey and she turns herself around.)

In the meantime, you are hereby poked by me to share your most immediate memory of growing up and singing that "Hokey Pokey" song.

I remember doing the Hokey Pokey at the roller skating rink in Waldorf. I was never very stable on skates so I had to poise all of my inner thoughts on not falling down as we were "doing the hokey pokey and turn[ing]" ourselves around. I was nine and wore neon MC Hammer pants and had a crush on a boy named Israel.

(Photo by Fredo Alvarez)

Tuesday, August 14

Rucksack Found!

Thank you, Jesus. And all of you who prayed my bag of clothes back to me. A nice reunion in Sopron, Hungary, after nearly four days!

It's a Family Affair: Synchroblog

Is Christianity exclusive or inclusive? In my view, it is both. But perhaps that is not such a terrible thing.

"Christian" really means, a "little Christ." We find the term first used in Acts as a name badge for those who followed the controversial person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. These "little Christs" were convinced that Jesus was not dead, but alive, and that Jesus is Lord of all. Many went to their death proclaiming his resurrection and Kingship.

Today the term "Christian" has been sadly liquified to mean anyone who identifies with a supposed facet of "Christian religion." And yet, according to the New Testament record, Jesus Christ arguably never intended to create what we would call a world religion. He simply called people to (give up everything and) follow Him. Following the Son of God is to receive a new birth certificate and receive a honored place in God's Family.

If we consider our families, we might have a more accurate portrait of the exclusive and inclusive qualities of those who'd identify as "little Christs."

In my family, I am marked by my father's name, D'Alessandro. This is who I am, not because of what I've done, but simply because of my birthright. I'm entitled to all of the rights of this great Sicilian name, which includes the inheritance of being a descendent of the late Duke of Messina.

My neighbors names are Mike and Laura. They are not D'Alessandro's by birth, nor by marriage. Of course, they are excluded from my family name, but they are included in our family meals when we enjoy Maryland crabs outside in the evening sunset.

In some small way, so it is with "little Christs." We have been welcomed into Christ's Family Name through Christ's work on the cross, and when we agreed to follow Him and carry a cross of our own. In this family affair, we are naturally exclusive.

We are inclusive in that we may freely welcome others into our mealtimes who don't yet bear his Name. And no matter what their name, we ought dignify them, because it is the way of Jesus to give dignity to all. Sharing a meal means sharing the healing power of the King. Conversations can be prayer when we welcome Christ there.

The gorgeous mystery in this Family is that (regardless of the dysfunction therein), Jesus Christ is awfully generous: freely giving all of the exclusive birthrights to anyone who will follow Him. The good news is that his inclusive tendencies seem so unfair. Those who seem to deserve his Name the least are those most sought after by Him.

He exchanges our shameful history with a crown of honor. And we'd dare not do the same for others who are yet unconcerned with the Name?

Check out what others on the Synchroblog team are saying about the matter. And if you'd like to join in on our next month's topic, just leave me a comment and you'll receive the Synchroblog birthright [cheeky grin].

  • Steve Hayes at Notes from underground is blogging his thoughts "Christianity inclusive or exclusive?"
  • John Smulo adds his thoughts.
  • Erin Word shares some thoughts on The Politics of love.
  • Sam Norton the Elizaphanian writes about Inclusively fanatical.
  • Julie Clawson of One hand clapping writes about The narrow door
  • David Fisher asks "Why are we exclusive?"
  • Mike Bursell muses on Inclusive or exclusive: you mean there's a choice?
  • Sally of Eternal echoes shares her thoughts about Christianity- exclusive or inclusive
  • Cobus van Wyngaard is contemplating Inclusivity within claims of heresy
  • Tim Abbott joins the conversation with Christianity - inclusive or exclusive?
  • Sonja posts on Pack behaviour.
  • And, as an extra, Nic Paton of Sounds and silence adds something on Incarnation, inclusion and hell

  • Monday, August 13

    Rucksack Update; or, Clubbing Robots

    Thanks very much for the prayers on behalf of my rucksack. I am at a conference in Hungary and have been feeling awfully bohemian in my lack of clothing. But I sort of get a kick out of that, I suppose.

    Well, the Iberia web site tells me this exciting, but rather uninformative news:

    Which means, I think, that the bag is definitely located somewhere in the known universe.

    So I called the happy Iberian hotline whose robots told me,
    "The call center is busy, please stay on the line, thank you," every 30 seconds until my call was disconnected, 30 minutes later. I had just decided that after waiting 34 minutes I'd hang up, so I felt like the friendly Skype internet telephone robots were trying to beat me at my own game.

    Most of the important information on Iberia's site is in Spanish, but I managed to figure out that if you send a special almost-morse-code message via cell phone, their happy computer robots (might) text back with some info on your lost bag. So I sent my almost-morse-code message with my bag tag number and wrote: Solicito la informaciĆ³n sobre la localizaciĆ³n de mi bolso. (Muchos Gracias for Altavista's robot translators.)

    To translate, my text message to Iberia basically said, "Please send me some news about my rucksack that I can put in some Hungarian goulash and actually chew on."

    But I have the vague feeling that robots in Spain go out clubbing at night, and probably don't answer their work messages. That's probably why I haven't heard back from them. I hope they at least eat some tapas for me.

    Continued words to the CEO of the Universe are welcomed.

    Happy 30th Anniversary, Mama + Dad!

    Today is Rose and Joe's 30th Wedding anniversary! I'm so proud of them.

    Mama and Dad, if you've been married 30 years, that must mean you got married at about age 4, right? You're so young still. You're beautiful parents to me and I'm very glad to celebrate today with you, halfway across the earth.

    (Dancing is the Poetry of the Foot photo by Lovelypetal).

    Sunday, August 12

    Missing: Since Saturday

    Missing : One Blue Jansport Rucksack

    Last Seen: Lisbon Airport

    -shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush, pastey stuff
    -all of Nelly's clothes for this journey (nothing folded very neatly)
    -one pair of very old brown Reefs, almost worn through in right toe
    -one pair of new Reefs, still wearing in
    -one pair of running shoes
    -old swimming costumes

    Iberian Airlines: Say they cannot yet locate said bag.

    Prayers Are: Always Accepted

    Saturday, August 11

    Just as Far as the Lighthouse, Girl

    Yesterday I was walking up the stoney streets of Cascais, on my way to run along my most favorite path in the globe: from Boca do Inferno (lit. "mouth of hell") to Guincho beach, overlooking the Atlantic. I was intercepted by a phone call that my presence was requested in Sao Joao for Indian food in 30 minutes. Now, this was a dilemma.

    This Indian restaurant was the spot of nearly every celebratory meal eaten outside of my apartment for three years. The food is good. Outlandishly good, in fact. But holy curry, man, I had planned my whole day around this run because, well, it is my favorite spot in the world. (And I am not prone to throwing superlatives into the air. My most indeterminate crush of all time once said, "It is very difficult to impress Jenelle.")

    These dear friends wanted to eat in 30 minutes, so I decided to scrap the Boca-run, and just run along the boardwalk to Sao Joao. (My 2nd favorite path.) But I'd forgotten that I am not the woman I used to be and have fallen a bit out of shape. Needless to say, I took some elegant "stretching breaks" as I went, but made it safely back to my old hometown, and the dinner date. I imagined that Sao Joao's "Cucina Indiana" was the most excellent of finish lines.

    Along the way, I impressed myself by sending text messages from my cell phone while running. I also (literally) ran into Marco Santos--with the cool new tattoo--whom I had not seen in a year, and whom did not know I was in town. Funny.

    Well, tonight I got my Guincho run. And I told myself I'd run "just as far as the lighthouse," and then turn back. I am a sucker for overused, tired metaphors that stretch out like my legs after running. While I'm mid-jaunt I make up half-haikus in my mind and feel far too profound. Just as far as the lighthouse? I'll let you draw this one out.

    (Lisboa Lighthouse photo by Oumupo.)

    Friday, August 10

    I Crossed the Ocean get this haircut. Any body in Cascais with the least strand of hair-sense knows (the infamous) David from W2 Stylists in Monte Estoril. I've missed him. David said he affectionately refers to all us girls who left Portugal as "the mystery girls who came and went." I like that monniker. (Or, as Agent B calls me, I am a Portu-gal.)

    I sort of feel like now I need an old Gibson axe with a crunchy Marshall amp.

    This punker-do definitely highlights my silver "highlights." I'm ok with that. I hope I stay ok with that.

    Tuesday, August 7

    Well, To Be Honest

    I can't get past the strange feeling that I never really left Portugal, but that I just happened to go on a really long vacation. A year long vacation. And I took all my stuff with me.

    I've gone to a few of my old favorite places--the Salamandra with Jasmin, the Indian restaurant with Cristina, Caffe Girassol with Jesus (though I'm a terrible friend to him) and with the journal in which we converse. And each of these places somehow doesn't reek with sentimentality, as I'd expected. It just seems like I never left. And this is strange.

    You could say that I'm still twirling around the notion of "home" like a pinwheel in an uncertain, but pleasant ocean breeze.

    (Photo from the Lisbon Underground with Cristina J. in the foreground)

    Monday, August 6

    Familiar Streets, Salinger on Family

    Portugal is familiar as ever. And I do mean familial-er. The uneven stone streets of this land reach out and greet me as a sister because I, too, am uneven. And we will keep on walking, dear.

    I might start including scraps from my scrappy journal, as I write them. My tone betrays my own voice as I tend to immediately mimic the writers that I read, just as teenage girls begin to talk like their favorite friends, accidentally.

    6 Aug 07 - 4:45 pm - Cascais, Portugal

    I have just finished Salinger's Franny and Zooey, and am terribly glad that for perhaps the first time in my life I happened to arrive at a meeting point ten minutes earlier than planned. I'm leaning my somewhat tired back against the old marble wall at the Cascais Station. The cool breeze keeps washing away the station-smell of urine in the crevices of the steps.

    Jasmin will soon be here to greet me. I can't wait to hug her. It's been a year.

    On the walk to Cascais from Monte Estoril I did my civic duty and helped at least three German tourists. I also avoided a nice Brazilian lady who was trying to sell me something with my mostly true, "I'm sorry but I don't speak Portuguese." She later diverted a helpless English speaking tourist to me. I'm not sure if I helped the lady find a bus to Cabo do Roca, but I gave it a shot.


    I am so glad that sweet Jesus urged me to plant Franny and Zooey in my carry-on as I viciously packed for six weeks of travel. I read it straight through on the two aeroplanes, and then finished it, quite triumphantly, while leaning against the train station wall in old Cascais. I've read the book about three times since college, and it still makes me giggle aloud at every third page. The interplay of the Glass family is a riot, and Salinger's narration absolutely kills me. Incidentally, I think that English and Theater majors would find the conversation perfectly self-deprecating to their studies. Artists do tend to take themselves far too seriously. And the Glass family certainly does.

    The plot weaves around the spiritual crisis of young Franny Glass. Muffled within a host of superfluous cigarettes and god-damns, Salinger still paints a more honest picture of the real Jesus than might be found in many a church-house. That's one of the reasons I like him so much.

    I found this excellent NY Times book review by John Updike from 1961. I disagree with the guy on many points, but his words are far more erudite than mine about why Salinger is a genius:

    "...Salinger's conviction that our inner lives greatly matter peculiarly qualifies him to sing of an America where, for most of us, there seems little to do but to feel.

    ...His fiction, in its rather grim bravado, its humor, its morbidity, its wry but persistent hopefulness, matches the shape and tint of present American life."

    -John Updike, NY Times (Sept 17, 1961)

    Sunday, August 5

    Home, a Definition; or Home is Where the Obedie Dances

    I'm writing from London Heathrow, en route to Lisbon, and then on to Christian Associates' annual staff conference. I can't wait to return to Portugal. I have that excited/exhausted nausea from skipping across time zones during the night. I feel a bit like a little girl on those groggy mornings when I knew I was going over to play at a friend's house that afternoon, and so awoke too early on account of happy nerves. My body is happily confused with an excited lack of sleep.

    On the flight over from Baltimore, my next door seat neighbor asked me whether I was going home, or going on vacation. I said I didn't quite know how to answer his nice question. I lived in Portugal for a little over three years, so it is like going home. But then again, I just left home, and already miss my family. These home questions are strange. (TCKs know so well.)

    Not long ago, someone much smarter than I said that we're only really "at home" when we've pitched a tent in the center of obedience. I think that might be the most accurate definition of "home" that I've ever heard. What do you think? I've always liked the image of our bodies as tents. I think the metaphor stretches out nicely.

    (Photo of Warwick Castle by Jedi58)

    Friday, August 3

    Our Stories Are Currency

    I've spent the last few days in upstate New York with family. My parents met in this town at age 17. The story goes that Dad fell in love when he first watched Mama walk out of Five Corners Pizzeria.

    But an amazing thing happened when they married: their two Italian families really became one. It is extraordinary the way these two families enjoy each other.

    Last week, my Mama's niece graduated high school. She invited my Dad's parents to the party. This week, my Mama's sister had a small anniversary party, but she happily invited my Dad's parents, too. We're all family. "In-laws" need not apply.

    I think the way my relatives welcome one another is a nice metaphor for how God's Family should work.

    Since I only get to visit my family here about once a year, this week I've been determined to write it all down. I spent a lot of free-time scribbling down stories from my Grandma Dee-Dee, my Great Uncle Chuck and Great Aunt Mary, and my Poppie Collamer. Their words and stories are a great currency spilled out in ink. I have many many words saved onto the computer, now, and I'm hoping to stretch them into mini-memoirs for each of them.

    I wonder why I did not do this sort of thing far sooner.

    Poppie Collamer (aka. Poppie-in-the-kettle in my previous post) turns 80 today! He has taught me so much about the value of living simply and loving generously.

    ("Write Me" photo by SuperMamacita.)