Here's to Second Chances

So, I watched American Idol last night.

I fear it might be becoming an obsession.

It was the Top Ten Guys, and it’s the first I’ve heard any of them sing (I missed the Top Twelve Guys last week), so I had no context. I probably could have used some context. I actually wanted to pick up the phone and vote NO a couple of times.

Good grief—I’m turning into Simon Cowell.

I can’t remember the young man’s name, and he seems like a nice enough guy, but, dude—no one should sing “Superstar” like Karen Carpenter except for Karen Carpenter.

I did vote for three of the performers last night (see? obsession!). While I was dialing (and redialing and redialing, trying to get through), I thought about how glad I am that most of life is not like American Idol, where if you mess up once, you’re more than likely done (unless you’ve got teeny bopper girls in your camp—then apparently you can do no wrong and are able to go pretty deep in the competition). Boy, if I had to live my life according to the “mess up once and you’re done” rule, it would have been over for me a long (long, long!) time ago.

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Adventures in Apartment-Hunting, New York Style

Last Saturday, our landlord dropped by to tell us the bad news – the 120-year-old building that houses our little apartment (four hundred square feet of Brooklyn studio goodness) and an identical one on the floor below needs some serious renovations, and as a result, our rent would need to go up and we’d need to move out for an indefinite period of time which could range from two weeks to three months, and there’d be no way of knowing how long that might take. In other words, it was probably time to move.

Two and a half years and two apartments after moving to New York City, I should be an old pro at this. "Where do you live?" is one of two cocktail party conversation staples in the Big Apple (the other is “what do you do?”), simply because it’s a fact of life for everyone – you live somewhere, you move a lot to escape rent increases/vermin/loud neighbors/etc., and the neighborhood in which you live often says something about you. Hipsters and rockers live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and the East village; families and literary types live in Park Slope, Brooklyn (our current neighborhood) and Manhattan’s Upper West Side; old money belongs on the Upper East Side; and families, immigrants, and starving artists are scattered all over the boroughs.

Our neighborhood of choice is the West Village, because we work, study, and worship in the Village already. In fact, I lived in the West Village for a year when I first moved to New York, which is how I found my church, which is where I met my husband and many people who have greatly influenced my life and ideas.

So, you might say, what’s the big deal about moving? We’re going from a neighborhood we’ve loved to a neighborhood that is home, and that’s something to celebrate, right? You might be thinking that I’m just a big fat whiner right now.

Have you ever looked for apartments in New York?

The easy way to do this is to find a reputable, trustworthy broker – which, in a city of this many people, can be a challenge – and tell them what you want, where you want it, and how much you want to pay, and just see what they come up with. This can work beautifully, but there are two drawbacks: their fees are usually expensive, even by NYC real estate standards (often 18% of your annual rent), and brokers are notorious for showing you everything except what you asked for. You can’t blame them – after all, they’re trying to show you an apartment you just might take so they can make a living – but it’s more than a little frustrating to spend hours marching around looking at two-bedrooms on the Upper West Side when what you asked for was a studio in the Flatiron District.

Some of us are too cheap or too poor to pay someone else to do our apartment hunting for us. Luckily for us, Craig Newmark invented the ever-useful Craigslist, the number-one real estate listing in New York. Though many of the apartments are listed by brokers, by trolling the list maniacally, compulsively refreshing the browser twice a minute, you can sometimes stumble onto a building owner who is renting an apartment, no fees, just first and last month’s rent up front - if you can provide evidence of excellent credit, a letter of employment, your last three/six/twelve paystubs, proof that you earn at least 40x the rent each year, and a report from the housing bureau.

The listings sometimes include pictures, many of which you discover aren’t of the actual apartment but a “similar” one (which may or may not even be in the same neighborhood). Sometimes they include huge, neon text or garish clip art, which some brokers feel is an appropriate way to attract your attention. (Run in the other direction.)

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In a Red/Blue Political World, Hold your Breath and Turn Purple

Disclaimer: Okay, I have to admit. I’m not, by nature, a blogger. Everyone tells me that blogs should be succinct, supercool, appealing—kind of like essays for people with ADHD.  I am not this kind of person. I am longwinded, not-so-cool, and I can fix my attention on a topic for days until I’ve chewed it to bits. If you’re zipping through your nightly internet routine, looking for the quick, profound little blog, this won’t be it. But please, read ahead anyway.

For the longest time, nothing about politics stood out to me as dangerous, urgent, or even personal. Now I’m not so sure.

Out of the 40-50 new books coming out on the subject of religion and politics in the past year, most plant their flags on one side or the other. Side One: religion does and should play a natural role in the shaping of public policy; Side Two: religion and politics are a messy combo, leading to division and theocracy.  Most discussions are ideological; few are personal. 

 My job is much simpler for I ask only one question:  How can I live out an interior, God-designed relationship with Jesus Christ while being governed by a man-made political system?
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Craig Hazen: Five Sacred Crossings

Craig Hazen discusses his new book Five Sacred Crossings with

Lessons from a Killer Cat

The cat came downstairs while I was writing the other evening. I was busy typing so I didn’t bother to look up, but heard her whining, like she was sick or something. When I finished my sentence I looked over to see that she had some sort of creature in her mouth. The huntress had conquered and she was displaying her prey! She spit it on the ground and begin to purr, proud of her capture. Somehow though, the ‘beanie baby’ tag around the neck of the miniature Canadian goose took some of the fun out of the kill for me. She was prancing and purring as if she’d actually done something worthwhile, but the reality was that she’d used all her cunning and courage to capture a few patches of clothe stuffed with peas. Indeed, our cat, now nearly 4 years old, has been fully domesticated. I offered her some fish this evening from my dinner plate and she turned her nose up at it like is was just so much junk food.
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New Job, Updates, and Pictures

Hey Everyone,

Time is short so I have to kinda bullet-point this one.

-Our second Mongolian video installment is in the post below. It's a look at our typical Saturday doing our grocery shopping. Thank you to everyone who sent in questions! I am going to try to get to all of them in a video or blog.

-I came home a few days ago to see this as I rounded the stairs up from the second floor to our door on the third. Keep in mind this was at 12:30 in the afternoon. As my brother said when he saw it, “So close...”

-I got a job this week teaching English to doctors at the hospital in town. The great news is that they can get me a work visa and pay me a little bit. I came home from the interview beaming with pride to tell Kim that I was gonna make $250 a month (what the average state health worker makes)! I get my own office – in the trauma ward of course – and classroom. One of the classes I get to teach is to heart surgeons who are starting a new heart program with some doctors from Luxemburg which is interesting.

-I’ve also started volunteer teaching English to the YWAM staff at their DTS center here. That’ll be two times a week and tomorrow should be my first class.

-Kim did her first radio show last night and, despite getting some flak from some Mongolians for being a woman and supposedly Russian, it went really well. (I love it when, occasionally, people say things about us thinking we don’t understand them and then Kim turns to them and corrects them in their own language. It’s like that scene in Good Will Hunting. “How do you like them apples?!”)

-No one told me about this but every Friday they blast the gigantic copper mine that’s a few miles away so when I heard explosions and the windows started shaking I seriously thought there was an air strike or something. Anyway, here’s what that looks like.

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Video 2 - Cabbage, Carrots, Onions, & Goat Heads: A Trip to the Market

Here is a little video of our typical Saturday grocery shopping.
If it doesn't work on this site, here is the YouTube link.


Meeting Nataka; a Woman in Search of Peace

A few years ago I was studying at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary outside of Boston, MA. I was enrolled in a course on Islam. One of the course requirements was to talk to a Muslim about Jesus and then write a reflection paper.

I decided to call around to a few mosques and ask if I could come by for a visit.

I was fortunate. A Mosque in Cambridge gave me the okay to stop by anytime. One morning I decided that was the morning and I drove myself over praying gibberish to the Lord and hoping that things would just be okay as I entered a Muslim Mosque on my own.

I arrived shortly before noon and was surprised to see the parking lot full of cars, most of which were taxis. What on earth could all of these taxi driver’s be doing here in the middle of the day? I approached the front door of the Mosque and was greeted by the Imam (the leader of the Mosque, believed to be gifted with the ritual of prayer as one of the five pillars of faith in Islam). Then I realized the reason behind the taxis. Noontime was one of the daily calls to prayer. The taxi drivers were there to pray.

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Democrat Debate: Over Confident Democrats Can Lose

It began for me when I heard a debate watcher say (something like), “It doesn’t matter whom we nominate. The Democrats will win.”

The two major candidates for the Democrats have forced each other further to the left, bad politics generally,  and still have not dealt with changing public perceptions of Iraq. The Surge keeps working and Iraq keeps improving. Political goals in the nation of Iraq are difficult, but some are being met now and more will be met as the weeks pass.

What if the Surge works? Really works? The single political figure who pressed hardest for the surge, John McCain, will reap a huge benefit if independents agree with Republicans that Iraq is a winnable war. Like a mortgage holder clinging to an upside down house payment who sees real estate rebounding in the neighborhood, there looks to be real hope the investment will pay off.

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2008 Oscars: A Distant Fire in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Who will the Oscar for Best Picture of 2007?   No Country for Old Men  is an instant masterpiece.  After achieving cult status with directing Fargo and The Big Lebowski, The Coen Brothers’ do not waste a shot or a gesture in No Country.   They nail every chill, spill and punch line.   

Adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel, No Country for Old Men merges the darkness of film noir with the open spaces of the west.   It is about the dismal tide of violence that arises from greed.   When hunter Llewelyn Moss encounters a drug deal gone bad, he grabs a satchel loaded with two million dollars.   Unfortunately, a calculating hit man named Anton Chigurh follows his trail.   Anton’s air gun represents the most frightening murder weapon in recent cinematic history.  Javier Bardem portrays Anton with a ferocity that will win a well deserved Oscar as Best Supporting Actor.  
Tags | Film
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