Monthly Archives: July 2007

Comments on American Christianity

I stumbled on this in the blogosphere today:

http://mjackson75.wordpress.com/2007/07/31/american-christianity/ 

and found it terribly interesting… apparently I am not the only person around who wonders if the Christian church in the US is somehow going in a different direction from (a) the rest of the west, (b) the rest of the world and (c) the rest of recorded history.

Politics and the church

An AP article yesterday, “Religion looms large over 2008 race,” reminds us that in the US, where there is supposed to be separation of church and state, the line of this separation is getting blurred. The issue of religion is increasingly important in the presidential race, and things have changed fast since the 1960s when last the issue was substantially discussed in the Kennedy context, although interestingly and in stark contrast, apparently not much discussion occurred when Mitt Romney’s father ran for office.

Living in the UK, I find that people are really surprised and unaware of the possibility of religious “one issue voters”. I will not comment further than to say that choosing a candidate for any office solely on the basis of a pro-life/pro-choice stance seems extremely short-sighted and makes a mockery of the democratic process. Then again, a good friend of mine confessed once that she votes for any female candidate above any other candidate. Another one issue voting strategy… perhaps one that I support a bit myself, but regardless, perhaps not embracing the true spirit of the democratic process.

I have commented previously that I find there exists a sort of peer pressure when it comes to the expression of religious feeling in the US. I suspect this same sort of peer pressure is influencing the words of the presidential candidates:

All the Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls have been grilled on their religious beliefs. Most seem eager to talk publicly about their faith as they actively court religious voters.

Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton emphasizes her Methodist upbringing and says her faith helped her repair her marriage.

Chief rival Sen. Barack Obama frequently uses the language of religion and proclaims a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ. The Illinois Democrat – whose middle name is “Hussein” – scoffs at suggestions of Muslim leanings because he spent part of his childhood in Indonesia. He is a member of the United Church of Christ.

In the most recent Democratic debate, a pastor in a YouTube video asked Democrat John Edwards to defend his use of religion to deny gay marriage. The former North Carolina senator – a Methodist – talked about his faith and his “enormous conflict” over the issue

Republican Sen. John McCain, an Episcopalian, says, “I do believe that we are unique and that God loves us.” Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, emphasizes his belief that “God created the heavens and the earth. To me, it’s pretty simple.”

The interesting exception to this rule of religious blather is Giuliani, but look at the revealing way in which the AP writer explores this:

Unlike the others, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a divorced Roman Catholic who favors abortion rights, sidesteps such questions, claiming one’s relationship with God is a private matter. But he attended Catholic schools and at one point considered being a priest.

The AP writer actually appears to be trying to infuse religion where Giuliani has tried to keep it out. This is part of what’s wrong with America! As for me, I’m with Giuliani. All of this showboating and showcasing ones supposedly personal faith makes me queasy. If faith is an important part of your life, you won’t feel the need to go around telling that to any reporter who is within hearing distance. Clearly the candidates are doing so because they feel that this is turning into another single issue on which voters will turn, and that is really a damning verdict on the greater American populace.

The taxman cometh

It’s amazing how terrifying it is to get an envelope with a return address “United States Internal Revenue Service.” Especially when you live in another country. My gut reaction: “Oh no, they know where to find me! I’m no longer safe!” The ironic thing is that I err on the side of being overly conscientious about such things, mostly to my own detriment since I sometimes stress and worry. That adage, “don’t sweat the small stuff” is the best advice I never take.

I was sure I had not done anything wrong (I hadn’t) and that the lovely company I had hired–based on their claims to specialize in expat and global tax issues–had done their job (they had). In fact, the envelope was simply confirmation of receipt of, and acceptance of, a piece of paper that had been filed on my behalf. But I still walked in a state of alert for six blocks, after picking up my mail, before my heart rate had returned to normal. That’s the amazing effect of the US government… even from this distance, capable of literally taking my breath away. And that’s without getting into politics, the presidential race, or anything even remotely inflammatory.

The heights triumvirate

I’ve recently been trying to tame my fear of heights. Having conquered a gondola in the Colorado mountains and a cable car in Singapore, yesterday was my chance to complete the heights-triple-play with a trip on the London Eye. This was, in the end, a reasonably well-planned and well-executed adventure for one really good reason: you can buy the tickets online in advance. In practical terms, from my perspective, that means that if you commit yourself to the (somewhat steep) price of the tickets and the timing of the adventure well in advance, you are unlikely to chicken out once actually faced with the reality of the circumstances. In the end, the trip to that part of London took longer than anticipated and I had no time to stop and think about what I was doing but had to collect the tickets and get in the capsule in a rather hurried manner. I therefore did not start to freak out about the experience until walking along the Thames path after the fact, looking at the tiny cables holding the entire thing together, or the way the entire wheel is cantilevered out over the water. Admittedly, this was a much gentler ride than either the gondola or cable car experiences and I’m quite chuffed at having completed such a trifecta of high places in a mere six weeks’ time. I now am allowed to rest for a few weeks before running the gauntlet and attacking my next set of fears, right?

London Eye

t minus 26 days and counting

Oh you know I’m getting homesick when I’ve started counting down the days until my return to Minnesota… it’s getting pretty desperate here! Work is busy, life is mostly good, but I really wanna go home. I left Minnesota to move to the UK on 8 October, 2006 and have not been back since. In the meantime I’ve been to the US several times, but not at all near Minneapolis, and I’ve been to Ireland, Italy, Germany, France and Singapore. Definitely time to go home. Cue Bon Jovi/Sugarland:

Who says you can’t go home
There’s only one place that call me one of their own
Just a hometown girl, born a rolling-stone,

Who says you can’t go home
Who says you can’t go back, been around all around the world and that’s a matter of fact
There’s only one place left I want to go,

Who says you can’t go home

Totally Ausgezeichnet!

I think this may be the best culture clash/fusion story I’ve experienced:

While in an American fast food chain (Burger King) in Germany, a music video came on from a Swedish pop star (Robyn) with the title a fusion of Japanese and Dave Chappelle: Konichiwa, Bitches

Warning, listen/watch at your own risk: the thing is strangely catchy and has not left my head in the not-quite-48 hours since I left Germany!

Not the passport, not again!

Greetings from Munich, where I had to go for just a 24 hour, last minute work meeting thing. I swear, after this trip I’m going to have to “lose” my passport just so I can stay in the UK for more than a few days at a time! It was only 2 weeks ago today that I was flying back from Italy. I know, I can’t complain too much. This is part of what makes Europe fun. When I lived in Minneapolis and got on a plane for a ride that took the same time (90 minutes) as my flight today, I ended up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. So really, I’ll take Germany, and certainly I’ll take Munich. I love Munich, actually, I spent a happy few days here about this same time last year (again, as usual, for work… God forbid that I ever actually go somewhere just on a lark). The MVV train-subway-tram system is quite good, so it’s easy to get around town and even the trip to town from the airport is not terribly taxing. So here I am, yet again writing from a hotel room in a country even more foreign than the one I (sort of) live in.

The exciting news from my perspective, although again it impacts this whole passport thing, is that one month from now I will have arrived in Minnesota. Friends are starting to come out of the woodwork… it seems that several of us who once lived in Minneapolis will all be coming back for the State Fair. I simply cannot wait… cheese curds, here I come! The real question is, should I get grandstand tickets? The people I have seen in concert at the grandstand, well, let’s face it: the list dates me a bit. Wilson Phillips especially is so embarassing I can’t believe I’m admitting that… fortunately that is balanced by the fact that Keb ‘Mo is still cool, as is Susan Tedeschi. I’m sure there were others, my mind is blank at the moment. As for this year, I’m too old for Fergie and maybe not old enough for the Goo Goo Dolls. Sadly I’m flying back to the UK the day before the Prairie Home Companion show. So it leaves me with a very serious question/confession… do I go see Vince Gill… again?  I saw him only 18 months ago…  I love bluegrass especially if the banjo is involved…  I have a super cool historical banjo of my own (there’s a long story there, for another day) that I’m learning to play.  I might just have to go see him again, it was one of the most fun concerts I’ve ever seen.  But who in Minnesota could I possibly find who would go with me???

Spotted in large American chain bookstore in UK

A sign reading:

For health and safety reasons, food and beverage will no longer be permitted in the children’s section of this store.

Um, does that remind anyone of anything? Post-9/11 in the US, when strange and unrelated things were commonly being out-lawed for “security reasons”? What can I say, I’m guessing after all the H. Potter madness there were a few too many books splashed with Starbucks’ newest fruity summer frappuccinos… but hey, that’s just my guess. The UK sure loves their “health and safety” laws more than anywhere I’ve ever been.

Apparently I need more friends

I finished the great clean out of my first UK flat and turned over the keys. Really, I ask you, is there a more thankless task than cleaning out a former residence? You are leaving it clean and shiny for someone else, when it was probably dusty and at least somewhat more dirty when you actually lived there.* You have to buy specialist products that don’t normally appear in regular useage,* like oven cleaner and — my favorite this weekend — lime-scale remover. That was, for me, over the course of two days, nine hours of serious scrubbing. And do you know what I kept thinking while cleaning? “If only I had an English friend, one with a vacuum cleaner that I could borrow and it would be even better if they had a car to bring the Hoover here and could help me clear out the last remaining stuff.” How sad is that? I cleaned that entire floor on my hands and knees, again, a most thankless task, and carried the last stuff in tote bags walking down the street from my old flat to my current one. Pity the poor expat and her startling apparent inability to make local friends. Sigh–choke–sob…

*unless you’re my mother, that is.

My lack of English friends also came up at the grocery store the other day. I was buying a bag of clementines that were marked “buy one, get one free” and I had just taken the one bag up to the register. See, I knew that it was unlikely that I would eat two whole bags of clementines in the few days following that transaction. So rather than take two bags and throw some fruit out, I decided just to take the one bag. But this was not sufficient for the grocery store clerk, who (I’m not kidding) engaged me in this little exchange:

Clerk: Don’t you want the free bag?

Me: Nah, I can’t possibly finish them all fast enough.

Clerk: Don’t you have any friends you could given them to?

Me: (laughing nervously) no I couldn’t think of an obvious target. I’m not from around here and I don’t know that many people.

Clerk: How long have you been here?

Me: about nine months

Clerk: Seriously? And you haven’t made any friends?

Me: Not to whom I could give fruit.

I have to laugh a bit at the clerk’s clear discomfort at my not wanting the free give-away. This is, after all, the land of the free give-away and normally I’m quite keen. I love my Prince CD that was free with a Sunday newspaper. I have two pairs of flip-flop sandles that came with magazines, and countless free cloth shopping bags. But sometimes you just don’t NEED more than 30 pieces of fruit in a week — like when you’re living alone in a foreign country.

Now it’s also true that I have made some friends in the time I’ve been here… in fact, I did not tell the clerk that one of my good friends — who might normally have appreciated a gift of fruit — was out of town and this factored in my thinking on the subject. But it is true that I do not have a whole long list of friends to whom I might give a bag of tiny oranges. Nor could I think of someone to help with the floor-dust-removal process at that silly flat. This is clearly something I’m going to have to work on.

A love letter for my sister

I just returned from spending four hours cleaning my first UK apartment in preparation for handing the keys back.  I ache all over and have to go back tomorrow to finish the job.  The UK landlords of that place would clearly benefit from a water softener: the amount of limescale remover I have used, and the amount of limescale remaining, is remarkable!

I only fully lived there for a few months, so it’s not even as bad as it could have been.  When I moved here I needed a place to live, and a furnished apartment was key since it would be months before my own belongings arrived here.  After four months in the original apartment, my belongings arrived and I had them delivered to a new place, one that was partially subsidized by my job such that it was not a disastrous financial burden to carry two apartments for a few months.  But the time has finally come and the lease on the original flat is about to end, and I have had to do the painful and inevitable scrub-down on my own.

Just over one year ago, right before I came over to England to inverview for this job, I was not a happy camper.  The job I had taken after graduate school had seemed like a dream but was in reality more of a nightmare.  I had worked out my one year contract and quit without having another job lined up (although by the time I left I had several options at least potentially on the table, England included).  I was leaving my apartment and storing my worldly goods without knowing where I would end up next or what the future would look like.  In that time of real trial, my sister came to visit and quietly and competently packed and cleaned my apartment while I was running around like a headless chicken.

Scrubbing hard today reminded me of what a selfless act it was, and how much she has taught me about the meaning of the word “love”.  Part of the changes I’ve gone through recently–perhaps best defined as really, finally growing up in the last year since moving here–includes my fully coming to grips with what an amazing thing it was that she did for me and how lucky I have been to have someone in my life that loved me that much.  So to her today, a public declaration of my love in return.   We may drive each other crazy at times, we may not see eye-to-eye on some things, but at the end of the day no one has taught me more about love than my baby sister.