Thursday, June 09, 2011

The Avett Brothers - live!

Concerts are funny things. You spend a lot of money to stand a little too far away from the stage and listen to music that sounds better coming out of your laptop speakers. You have to endure the delayed start time, the no-name opener, and (depending on the concert) the haze of marijuana smoke radiating from your neighbors.

And yet I love them.

A few weeks ago I crashed the Flower’s date night and went with them to The Avett Brothers concert. Before we booked the tickets, I wasn’t that familiar with the band, having only heard them when they performed with Bob Dylan at the Grammys this year. But Ken knew them, and when he found out that they were playing in Columbus in May he called to see if I wanted to go with him and Beth. Looking back, it is possible that he was calling to see if I would baby sit the kiddos, but was unable to bring himself to ask after I reacted with such excitement to the prospect of a concert (any concert), and invited me to come along instead. Win.

I did tell them that they could make out and I wouldn't look. I'm not totally insensitive to date night.

Going to concerts is a perk of living in the big city. For some reason, it was difficult for Alaska to attract big names to come and sing to us. They must be reluctant to navigate their tour buses around the curvy Canadian passes of the ALCAN (stupid Canada, you ruin everything).

The Avett Brothers are great. They have a very energetic presence onstage, and look like they’re having a good time and enjoy one another. I devoted myself to learning their music (thanks Grooveshark!) before the concert, and I like almost everything. My favorites are Murder in the City, I and Love and You, and Kickdrum Heart.

The Avett Brothers – Check ‘em out!

Of course, that might just be the second-hand pot smoke talking.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

You're preaching to the choir, Paul Bowles

from The Sheltering Sky:
As long as he was living his life, he could not write about it. Where one left off, the other began, and the existence of circumstances which demanded even the vaguest participation on his part was sufficient to place writing outside the realm of possibility. But that was all right. He would not have written well, and so he would have got no pleasure from it. And even if what he might have written had been good, how many people would have known it? It was all right to speed ahead into the desert leaving no trace.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Dog day afternoon.

The spring has been mercifully temperate and rainy, but Ohio is starting to show her true colors now. I don't know if I will ever get used to the artificial, goosebumpy cool that my air conditioner churns out, but it has become preferable to the sweltering stickiness that is overtaking my house. So I closed the windows, and turned the AC on to 78 and am looking forward to welcoming the Columbus summer with open, bared arms.

And honestly, it's not all that bad yet. The sun is hot, but there is a breeze that shivers through the treetops all day and cools the evenings. And the thunderstorms (!) cover a multitude of sins.

Today is Memorial Day. The neighborhood is quiet - maybe people have taken advantage of the long weekend and have gotten the heck out of Dodge, or maybe they are waiting for things to cool down before they venture outside.

It's not like Anchorage. A day like this - warm, sunny - would set off a sort of panic in Alaska. Are we wasting it? We can't waste it! Garage doors would be thrown open to reveal homeowners ransacking their camping gear, feverishly praying that they remembered to patch that punctured bike tire, unwilling to lose valuable minutes of the midnight sun. Old women hack away at their gardens, mindful of the brief growing season. Children shudder through sprinklers filled with glacier water, screaming Pain?

But here, everyone's a little more kick-back about summer. It's because I'm now around city-folk, who have chosen to be surrounded by skyscrapers and coffee shops instead of mountains and ocean. Or perhaps it is the comfortable knowledge that today is not an anomaly.

I would think that this is more my speed. Anyone who knows me would not put self-propulsion down on my list of strengths, and when I lived in Alaska I often had to straight-arm attempts from my friends to push me up steep, steep mountains or cycle over root systems. I have a hard time getting over "the hump," which is what I call that space in motivation between being outside exerting myself and the comfort of sitting on my sofa with a cup of coffee.

In an "absence makes the heart grow clichè" sort of way, I am all nostalgic about the fireweed and green grasses of the Alaska summer. I want to go flying and fishing and camping. I want to ride horses on my parents' farm and hike Flattop and make driftwood fires on the shores of Resurrection Bay.

But I'm not so far gone that I can't enjoy the rhythm of urban life, and until I visit AK in July I'm happy to fit in with the reality of the sleepy summer city, and take walks in the cool of the evening. I'm satisfied with reading at the park fountain with the rainy-day girl, and sitting on my front porch listening to The Who streaming from my neighbor's window.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Lock Your Cars, People. A Cautionary Tale.

In a timely reminder that I live in a city now, my car was broken into last night.

I thought things looked a little messier even than normal as I approached my trusty Santa Fe, and upon closer inspection it was clear that my car had been breached. Someone had raked through my glove compartment and ransacked the middle console.

I peered through the window and hesitated about getting in. It seemed creepy, like the crook could still be in there, I don’t know, hiding behind the shearling seat covers. Also, do I need to worry about fingerprints? How high on the priority list is petty theft to the Columbus PD?

But as it turns out, I couldn’t see that anything was missing. Nothing was damaged on the outside of the car, leaving me with the unsettling suspicion that I may have possibly left it unlocked last night (rookie move, Jess). And as far as an inventory, it appears that he (or she!) had no interest in the following:
Ball of twine (1)
Plastic package of fast food condiment (several, various)
Plastic army guy w/ parachute (1)
Prism (1)
Teething ring (1)
Debit card, expiration 9/2008 (1)
Napkins (3)
Book on memorizing Scripture, purchased circa 2003 (1)
Dog food in Ziploc Bag (about 3 cups)
Playing cards (about 48)
$60 cash that was in the untouched lower compartment of my middle console (which I will now be referring to as the “secret compartment”)

He (or she!) also left my registration and car info alone. So not a malicious burglar. Not even a good burglar. Just a messy one.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

How I Ruined Easter Service.

I will be honest with you (it’s this new thing I’m doing). Easter is not my favorite Sunday of the year. My issues are practical, not theological. Often, and despite the best efforts of my church and friends, Easter kind of sneaks up on me. I find myself surprised on Saturday night that I have to find something on the high end of presentable to wear, cook an egg dish for the earliest potlock of the year, and show up to church before the sun rises. My groove gets thrown off – and I don’t even have any little girls to wrestle into tights.

This is a shame, because Easter Sunday (also known in my circles as Resurrection Sunday) is a celebration of the very core of my identity. Jesus Christ, the perfect son of God, willingly died an unjust death and unlocked a depthless mercy. This mercy is what makes me a Christian. Christ rose to life again on the third day. He conquered death. And now he wraps his arms around me, warts and all, and presents me to the Father.

It’s a beautiful story, and an every day story, but once a year we celebrate this remarkable event in a special way. With egg dishes and sunrise services and cantatas.

Cross City Church, being the reasonable baby church that it is, opted for a simple celebration for Easter. A nine a.m. service followed by lunch at the Burns’s house.

We all had our roles. Ken was leading music, Scott was teaching. Melissa prepared to feed us all afterward. Beth was teaching the kiddos something involving palm branches hidden in Easter eggs. Others in our congregation brought friends and family and food. I, jetlagged from a redeye flight and reeling from the four hour AK-OH time-zone gap, was tasked with printing and bringing the song sheets.

When my cell phone rang on my nightstand at 9:15 Sunday morning, my first thought was, “There’s no way I can fix this.” Those were also my first words to the person on the other end of the line, who turned out to be Scott. Ken couldn’t come to the phone, because he was too busy standing up front with his guitar strapped on his shoulder.

The meeting had started, and Christ has risen, but I was still abed.

The irony is not lost on me.

We don’t have songbooks, or hymnals, or any kind of projector yet. Each week, we print the lyrics on a sheet of paper and make a copy (more or less) for everyone. Unless Ken wants to lead us in some kind of worship solo performance, we need those song sheets.

My one job, the “bye” job, had disrupted the whole flow of the morning.

“No problem,” said Scott, his voice an octave higher than normal, “we’ll just sing at the end. Come as quick as you can.”

I threw on some clothes (definitely not on the high end of presentable), battled my printer and rushed out the door. The trip from my house to the community center where we meet takes about 2.5 minutes. Unless you catch the one red light. Then it takes about 15.

Ken was waiting as I pulled into the parking lot. I could see the whites of his eyes. He traded me his six-month old for the sheaf of songs and rushed into the building, just as Scott was wrapping up an uncharacteristically prompt sermon.

I was unshowered, bleary-eyed, and embarrassed. Easter service! It’s supposed to go smoothly! I’m supposed to look pretty! Everything was out of whack this year.

The whole church was nice about it, although I did get some deserved mockage. Ultimately, the blame was placed squarely on my jetlag.

Sweet, sweet, scapegoat jetlag. What do you have against Easter?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


The subject of me being the worst blogger ever has been a recurring theme in my life – and for good reason.

Weeds are growing up through the floorboards of this blog. The eyes on the potatoes of this blog have sprouted into curling vines that spiral around the feet of anyone who dares to visit. It has a layer of dust on every surface, it smells damp, and the mail has piled up on its front porch. In other words, it looks a lot like my house, to which I just returned after my three-week trip to Alaska. Cute infrastructure, pleasant history, but obviously unlived-in.

It’s not like I don’t have anything to write about. I just moved across the country to a new place, bringing with it a host of awkward moments and funny stories. And it’s not like I don’t have readers – my dad harangues me about writing every time we talk.*

But when I sit down at my rapidly aging computer to tackle the day’s events, I run into the same wall.

I don’t want to look like an idiot.

“But Jess!” you protest, “You’ve never had a problem looking like an idiot in the past. Wasn’t that you who got her jeans stuck on a doorknob? And hit the moose with your car? You know that every time you pen a sentence, you display your utter lack of “when in doubt, leave it out” comma mastery.”

That is all true. I do my best work with the flush of embarrassment in my cheeks.

But while I don’t mind being an idiot about driving, or England, or even my own failure as a grammarian, I’ve found there are some subjects that are a little too close to my heart for me to comfortably share.

Right now I’m in the midst of the early days of a new church plant in Columbus, Ohio. It is a hard, often awkward, uncertain process. I am on a team of good-hearted men and women who love the Lord and are doing their best. I’m confident that God has called us to German Village, and that our efforts will result in His best plan. I am even fairly certain that His best plan is a healthy, thriving church in the middle of the city. The road to that church, however, is paved with the stones of setbacks. It also seems to be coated with some kind of sticky syrup that is slowing everything way down.

Now, I feel compelled to say that there have been some huge encouragements. I don’t want to miss the wonderful people that God has brought to our church (the few, the proud), or the overwhelming financial support form believers who don’t even live here. Or the awesome neighborhood which features a huge park, streets paved in brick, and a restaurant called The Sausage Haus.

Still, we are toiling – praying for more believers to commit to our church, for direction and leadership, for shared vision, for funding, for the heart of the community. And, not being clairvoyant, I can’t help thinking that it’s all “too soon” to commit to print.

In writing about Columbus, I know that I will be betraying my naiveté, my selfishness, my ignorance about church planting and a fair amount of presumption. But the effort to present my life devoid of mistakes and troubles has paralyzed my writing voice. If I knew how everything turned out – if I could control my story arc – then I think it would be easier. But I don’t know what I’m going to learn through this process. I don’t even know what I don’t know yet.

I miss being a blogger. I look back over the years and see every post as a snapshot of my life. When I have to quantify a feeling or impression into a sentence, it draws my perceptions into focus. I also know that Christ did not come for the well, but for the sick, and any true thing I divulge about myself on this simple, silly website is already known by God and forgiven by Christ’s sacrifice.

Don’t worry, this blog will never become an exposé of the innards of my soul, but I know it is read mainly by my family and friends scattered across the world, and I want you guys to know what’s really going on. And great things are going on.

Which is why my next post will be entitled, “How I Ruined Easter Service.”


*don't worry, Pop, you don't really harangue me. Just a little authorial license to make the joke that my parents are the only ones who read this.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

“Silent night, holy night…is calm…is bright, round yon…gin mother and child, holy infant so tender and mild…in……pea….sleep in heavenly peace.”

Or “Guys start carols too high”

Caroling, right? What a great idea! Everyone, let’s get together and we’ll tromp around the neighborhood singing familiar Christmas tunes. How Christmassy! How effortless!

The emperor has no clothes on.

Or, to be more precise, not nearly enough clothes on. I held this truth to be self-evident about ten minutes into last night’s evening of caroling, as the temperature plunged in a sick inverse relationship to our group’s starting key. At least there were a lot of us – the body heat of 30 people raised the ambient temperature a good two degrees. And thanks to the quick thinking the organizer, we had song sheets pinched between frozen fingers, so the second verse of Joy to the World escaped sounding like an unintentional Christmas mash-up.

I’ve noticed that there is a moment in events like this – that moment between “this is going to be the best!” and “Well, we’re in it now, so let’s soldier on,” where you realize that real life is not a Christmas calendar. It’s cold and unorganized and some things go on a little too long. Some people are a half-measure ahead of you. Sometimes your driver locks his keys in his car.

Times will not always be sentimental, or hilarious, or traditional, or perfect. There are long stretches of off-key ordinary connecting the post-card memories. And that’s fine. You have to give good memories some breathing room. They don’t perform well under pressure.

And actually, I had great time caroling with the youth group last night. We weren’t going to be mistaken for a GAP advertisement at any point of the evening, but there is a bonhomie that comes from freezing your collective keister off with a group of happy people. It was fun, it ended with a gift exchange, and I was treated to some of those flashes of brilliant humor that teenagers display during their great transformation.

And it was my last youth group at Chapel by the Sea, at least for bit.

So I guess it was sentimental and hilarious and traditional and perfect.

But seriously, somebody should have brought a pitch pipe.