Friday, June 29, 2007

introspection

Phew! I thought 1:45 p.m. would be a relatively peaceful time to visit my local McDonald’s. I was wrong.

Once I got past the man holding the door open for me, asking all passersby for change, and I stood in line, I do what I usually do as I wait at McDonald’s – study the faces of the employees; check out the general mood/visage of those in line; and, if I really have a lot of time, analyze the efficiency of what’s going on behind the counter. But there’s usually plenty going on in the first two categories to hold my interest.

If you’re starting to wonder, “ooookay… It’s no wonder Kate’s put on a few pounds, if she’s spending THAT much time at McDonald’s,” well, no – that’s more of a ‘lack of exercise’ issue. Which is more of a hot weather/too much commute/lack of time/oh, yeah, I’m somewhat lazy issue. I have been going to Mickey D’s more of late to take advantage of their iced coffee drinks. Those I’ve shared them with have agreed that they’re more like flavored water, but it’s a nice refreshing sort of flavored water. I’ve decided it’s a tasty occasional afternoon treat that won’t keep me wired until 1 a.m., like a Starbucks in the afternoon has been known to do. Today’s venture, though, involved the procurement of a Southwest grilled chicken salad, also a relative newcomer to the McD’s menu.

(I pause now to take a few bites.)

Mmmmm. If you’re a McDonald’s salad kind of person, and $5.50 won’t break you, and you haven’t tried it, you should!

Recently, my church (I notice when I go to the Web site that someone’s really keeping that puppy current. Way to go, ‘iTeam’!) has formed a Spiritual Formation group that has now split into two, so as to provide a smaller-group vibe. We’re welcome to go to either, or both, (or, of course, neither,) as schedules and interest allow. One appears to be more inward-directed right now, examining contemplative practices, and the other, which defies description a bit, is more about trying to live out Jesus’ principles in such a way that would leave little to regret when we’re, say, 64, and looking back on our lives. (Have I mentioned, by the way, how ridiculous Paul McCartney looks when plastered on a Starbucks gift card?) (How is it that I have mentioned Starbucks now twice in one post, which in no way was intended to be about Starbucks? Yikes.)

I love that our little church community is trying to be more intentional about spiritual formation, and is going about it in a creative, inclusive way (both approaches are hallmarks of this church, in my observation). I’ve been frustrated thus far by my lack of involvement in the past couple of weeks, since the groups split into two. It’s been disheartening to realize that I can’t even imagine what time of day or week would be ‘best for me.’ I’m hoping to soon find a way to regularly attend at least ONE of them regardless, though that isn’t the point I’m trying to make with this post.

My interpretation of someone else’s (who was there) interpretation of the ‘64/Jesus experiment’ group’s progress thus far is as follows: Start by reading a gospel from the NT and go to a graveyard – in this group’s case, Arlington National Cemetery. It just doesn’t get much graveyardy than that! – man, that sounds cool. A discussion afterward led to … you know what, I’m just going to cut and paste here. From the host's own mouth.

We had a nice time cooking together and catching up on life, and talking about our impressions from the graveyard walking and gospel-reading we've been doing. As we did so, a theme seemed to emerge: we've all been struck by just how engaged Jesus was with so many people. Sometimes superficially, and sometimes substantially, but seemingly quite intentionally at every turn. Too, we noted that though he certainly spent most of his time with the powerless and the poor, he also hung with some rich and powerful folks, and we spent some time pondering his enigmatic parable of the Shrewd Manager, and trying to see how we fit into this alternately wealthy and poor culture in Northern Virginia. As we continued to talk, we noted how we tend to notice roles, rather than people. To not know our neighbors, or our co-workers, or the people with whom we interact and live among every day. We talked about our tendency to objectify the people whose job it is to serve us, and to objectify those who we are tasked to serve. To gloss over people, rather than to really connect with them. So our experiment is this: once a day, to pause to see a person, and then to find a way to show them mercy. We plan to write down at least three of these encounters over the next two weeks, so that we can share them when we get together.

In a weird way, I find this terribly off-putting. Because it seems like, even before we started these groups, and even before I recently read that same host’s copy of “Nickel and Dimed” (though that hasn’t helped), my heart has been twisting with almost every interaction with those who, hm, what? Are working a minimum-wage job? Something like that. It’s absolutely the worst at McDonald’s, for some reason. My heart bleeds for those people as if they’re about to be carted off to a concentration camp. It’s completely bizarre, and, no, I’m not pregnant or otherwise ‘hormonally challenged.’ I just find myself watching them, wishing I could do something for them (almost all are foreign, of various nationalities), wanting to reach out to them. Wanting to make their day happier. And so I try to at least smile at them in a genuine fashion, which might be rare enough indeed in their daily experience. But I fear that merely being a more efficient customer is the greatest way to bless them. And that doesn’t feel at all satisfying.

I don’t know what this is about. Sheesh. Those people are grown-ups. Younger than me, for the most part, but still grown-ups. One imagines they took the job of their own volition, though I’m not going to pretend they turned down a bank teller’s job to do so. So what’s my problem? “success guilt”? Is this something God’s doing in my heart, or is it just going haywire?
By the way – I have little fantasies sometimes about being able to work somewhere like, say, a bookstore, or a coffee shop, making almost no money. So it’s not like I look down on the type of work they’re doing. And, yeah, I know that in my fantasy, I do it because it seems like it would be sort of fun, not because I was desperately trying to make ends meet by holding three such jobs with no health insurance, for example.

This has happened occasionally before. I still remember a Bedouin I saw in the Jordan desert from whom I didn’t buy a $5 bracelet (if only I’d had such restraint during the rest of the trip), and I just couldn’t shake his beseeching face from my mind for weeks afterward. Why? He was trying to SELL ME something. He wasn’t even lying paralyzed in the road, begging, or in any number of more dire situations. Etc. It’s probably partly because I might have rebuffed his sale efforts more forcefully? Sick as I was of being seen as a walking dollar sign, after two weeks in Israel and Jordan?

The only explanation I can come up with, in the McDonald’s-type example, is the dreaded Mommy Syndrome. Give it what name you will. But once you become a mother (or, I daresay, an involved parent of either stripe), the world will never look the same. Now, instead of being full of human obstacles (though it still seems that way, sometimes), it’s more often full of other mommies’ kids. Small or grown up, that’s what they all are. And sometimes, it’s just too darned painful to realize that. It just about breaks my heart.

Why? You might still be asking. I don’t know. Maybe God IS doing something to my heart. I just find it odd that it seems to be so directionless.

And so, no, I don’t want to write a paper about three people with whom I have an otherwise mundane interaction. Or maybe, this is my paper? I will end up offering to adopt (or something) whatever poor individual is under such scrutiny, and that’s maybe not exactly the point of the assignment. I don’t think they want my pity, nor are they remotely pitiful.
I did miss the original discussion that spawned the assignment, so maybe I’m gigantically missing the point. If so, I would love to be told that.

Maybe it’s time for an honest analysis of where I don’t measure up to the life of Jesus. (yes, Ha! Ha! All nine thousand ways.) But maybe the approach I need to take right now is merely a different one. Maybe I should actually attend one of these here meetings instead of blathering on and on about it, from second-hand information, on my blog. Now, there’s a thought.

Or maybe I should just go with the introspective group, for now. :)

Starbucks! (third time’s a charm.)

3 comments:

  1. I'd say you need to lose these overly noble, nagging friends, and find some new ones. Starting with the guy who keeps loaning you books!

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  2. Anonymous4:34 PM EDT

    Hey you,

    I always get stuck on this kind of stuff too - especially since jason keeps getting closer to finishing up his training.

    - julie

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  3. I do the exact same thing standing in lines. Sometime lets stand in lines together and talk about our analysis. Quietly, of course. To the larger point: interesting thoughts on that mothering feeling. That whole "class" thing gets weird in our beautiful u.s. of a.

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