Thursday, April 29, 2010

Vacances Part 1: Circus

2 weeks ago we took some final exams and such for the semester of language school and then were set free for 2 weeks of fun! We decided that this time would be best spent getting outside of the 12 million people urban center that we call home, and so we planned a few short getaways. Some were related to our work and language learning, some purely for our own sense of adventure. But the first weekend found us at home still, and what better way to kick off a vacation than a trip to our (almost literal) backyard and the circus!
The circus seems to come to our town quite often. I'm not sure whether it's the same one over and over, or a bunch of different ones. We feel like since we've been here in January, the circus has already come through about 3 times and one could only expect summer to pack in more circus fun. This particular circus was put on by an Italian company, and their sign boasted our old neighbors (African safari animals), cousins (camels), our hometown KY memories (horses), and some new interests (tigers). Let's check it out!

Mama and Sawyer, prepped and ready for the big show.

Ooh! It's a tiger jumping through fire!
And it totally looks like a Bengals mascot print I've seen.
Worth the price of admission right there.

We'd heard back in Africa that tigers were being introduced to the wild in South Africa.
Something about too many people in India and no place for the tiger to make his bed.
Now we have conclusive proof that lions and tigers will get along just fine and be friends.

The high-flying acrobat types.
Dude only did 2 things that really made me think he was totally nuts.
1 was acrobatic and blindfolded,
the other was walking out in a mesh shirt with a rocking 4lb mullet.

"Daddy, these people are weird, all flying in the air. I think I'm gonna scan the crowd for some ladies. Could you please let go of my hands so I don't look like a baby?!"

I've heard of spitting camels.
But do all camels foam at the mouth all the time?
Or did ours have rabies?

And nothing really to do with the circus, but this is cute:

Sunday, April 25, 2010

France travel notes

We are midway through travels of our first French vacation. In the past few days, we’ve been to Giverny (Monet’s gardens), Mont Saint Michel (1000 yr old monestary/church on an island), Omaha Beach and the American War Memorial/Cemetery (WWII, D-Day), and lots of amazing little villages and towns, some extremely old. We’ll have many pictures and stories to post in a couple weeks once we’re back home and settled, but we leave again tomorrow and must get to laundry and packing. So in the meantime, here’s a few observations from our first time outside of Paris in France:

-French people LOVE their picnics. It’s interesting when traveling... there are rest areas and picnic tables aplenty along the major roads, but very few little towns with fast-food restaurants like in the States. You stop at a rest area around lunchtime, and you are literally surrounded by people having picnics. Baguettes, cheese, wine, meats, and berets are everywhere! Actually no berets... in 4 months the only people I’ve seen wearing berets are goofy-looking tourists.

-Not only do the French love picnics, but they will literally pull of the road, lay a blanket in the grass, and take a nap.

-The French way of curbing speeding is strange. There are these little radar boxes that check your speed, and if over they take a picture of your license plate and you get a ticket in the mail. Seems like a good idea, until you see the GIANT signs that are a couple hundred meters before every radar box warning you it’s there.

-Telling a British person your son has a “bloody nose” may get you a funny look in return.

-Rural is rural. From the USA to East Africa to France, there are dirt roads, one-lane bridges, and cows that randomly take over the road.

-Cows in France are really big.

-I wanted to take a night picture of Mont Saint Michel, and I had to wait until 10:20pm for it to get dark enough! I’d heard it can be light here till almost midnight in the summer. I’m starting to believe it.

-It’s entirely possible to feel more spiritual depth standing on a beach where thousands of people died than standing in a 1000 yr old church on top of a big rock. The God I know inhabits the hearts of man, not buildings, so I guess this makes sense.

-Saying that a particular region of France is known for its cheese is like saying a particular State is represented by a star on the USA flag.

Hey Grandpa, you think engineering school will take me?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Before hitting the road

We are about to embark on a series of small journeys (finally getting outside of the city!). Little time to think and type. So here's some fairly recent photos to freshen the place up until we get back and I overload it with pictoral fun. In a week or two... Monet's gardens, Mt St Michel, Normandy's beaches, and maybe a shot from somewhere down south.

Does that look like NASCAR or Formula 1 abilities?

Monday, April 19, 2010

To Tell A Story

Do you ever read the book of Acts and get a little discouraged? I do.

Take for instance Stephen (Acts 7). Does that name ring a bell? Think alliteration. Stephen = Stoned. Not Woodstock, but big rocks. Pounding into his head. Over. And over. And over. Till he’s dead. Not a good way to go. But do you know what’s amazing about Stephen? Right before the rocks start flying, Stephen gives one of the most amazing, succinct accounts of the epic story of God all the way from Abraham up through the coming and death of Jesus Christ. And yet, it doesn’t read like a script that was memorized to be regurgitated, but a tailor-made and historically accurate story that perfectly fit his audience (Jewish leaders) and would have forced further thought into the minds of those listening.
I’m blown away every time I read the story of Stephen. But then this thought pops into my mind: I could never do that. I don’t have talent like that. Maaaybe I could memorize the story as Stephen told it. But could I re-tell it in such a way as to be understood by any particular audience? Could I take the story of God and show an african villager how it relates to his life? A post-modern painter? A dock-worker? An heiress to the royal throne? And then there’s the whole situation of Stephen’s circumstances... HE WAS ABOUT TO BE KILLED! Would I be thinking straight enough in that situation to tell the most important story ever told? Or would I be flashing my American passport and waiting for marines to swoop in and save me?

Here’s two more examples which come from Paul. In Acts 17, Paul’s in Athens. Athens is at this time a city known for its gods, idols, religiosity, philosophy. He sees statues and idols to gods everywhere. He’s Paul, so he has a reputation. He’s pressed by some people who don’t want him around, and he finds himself in the middle of a bruhaha. With everyone watching and listening he stands up and says ‘You know what I saw today? An idol to an unknown god. I’ll bet you Athenians would like to know this unknown god... (dramatic pause) I know him!’ And then he proceeds to tell them all about the power of the one true God and how it is desperately important they know Him. The other example comes later, when the Jews arrest Paul (Acts 22). He’s put on trial, and he takes the opportunity to tell his story: how God met him, grabbed him, changed him, and sent him. And like Stephen, he does it in such a way that the people around him hang on every word. Again, I’m flabbergasted at the lyrical and situational beauty of it all. But I could never do that.

Or could I?

Today I read a simple little verse in Luke: “When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (12:11-12)

This verse is Jesus talking, and right before this He says that all who confess Him before others on this earth will be confessed to angels by He himself. Jesus knows my life. He knows the mess of it. He knows every little part and He knows better than anyone the total unworthiness of myself and my actions. And yet He will be the one in heaven who stands up and says ‘this man is worthy to be here, and let me tell you why...’ The angels will be waiting for only one answer to follow, ‘because he knows ME.’

And this same Jesus who proclaims us worthy also promises that when we’re in those tight spots before the multitudes, His spirit will give us every word we need. Listen to the spirit inside of you, His story is in there dying to get out.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Flaming Cars

Today I did a lot of driving around Paris. A trip to the airport, a trip to the east side of town and a few detours therein. Along the roads (mostly bumper-to-bumper highways) I kept seeing this sign:

I have absolutely no idea what this sign means. Every time I passed it I laughed to myself and looked around fearing that my car may at any moment spontaneously combust. As I wondered to myself what it could possibly mean, I decided that I would much rather never know, but instead dream up ideas for it. So if you know what this sign means, please do not tell me here. But if you don't, feel free to speculate in the comments!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Thank you. Give me. And?

I recently attended a simple chapel service put on by some fellow students at language school. During the service we had a time of splitting into groups to pray. Admittedly, we were doing this in French which severely limited our abilities, but I’m going to make a point anyways. I listened and heard all around me prayers that went like this: “Thank you God for being great, powerful, and wonderful / Thank you Jesus for coming to earth and dying for our sins / Thank you God for your grace / Thank you God for helping us.”

Those are elementary, as is necessitated by our language level. But add to those a bunch of prayers that say, “God give me / help me / teach me / aide me / ... me / ... us” and you’ve pretty much wrapped up a large portion of my basic prayer life. Especially when praying with a group of people.

Jesus spent hours every day in prayer. He was constantly withdrawing to commune with the Father. Could he have spent hours every day thanking God and asking for stuff. I guess so maybe? But I really doubt that’s what he did.

We’re told to pray continually (1 Thes 5:17). I think that means we do plenty of thanksgiving to God, especially in the little stuff. And surely we need to ask him for plenty (John 16:24). But couldn’t there be more? When we withdraw to commune with the Father, what should it look like? Honesty, for starters. My closest friends, the ones I truly commune with, are not simply friends that I thank and ask for things. There’s more depth to our time together. We share our lives with one another. We do things together, we talk about our dreams, fears, struggles, and basic thoughts. We enjoy each other and look for chances to talk about just about every experience, thought, and feeling we have. Should our time with God be any different?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Americano Day

Sometimes we need to feel like we're normal Americans. Monday was our day to do that. We fixed some popcorn, hot dogs, chips, and ice cream sundaes, and we watched the opening day baseball game between the Reds and Cardinals on TV. Since JJ's a Cardinals fan and I'm a Reds fan (when I care about baseball, which is rare - i.e. opening day and if the Reds make the playoffs, or during the game I'm attending), the game was a perfect set-up to feel like we were back at home. Sadly the Cardinals drummed the Reds, but we still had fun with it!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Our little techno-baby

It seems that every generation is more technologically adept than the one before it, right? Well our fear that our little one is already beginning his advancement in all things electronic beyond his parents.
Like any child, Sawyer loves little devices with buttons and lights. Remotes, wireless mice, game controllers, handheld monitors, and mp3 players are far better toys than blocks and balls. Many things we've diligently taught him to stay away from, but some we've been less strict with. One example is our phones. Even though he has had a part in destroying one cell phone (my mom's, but that was mostly do to his baby slobber which is around no more), we've felt that there's not too much damage he can do with ours. Mine's a cheapo little prepay flip phone that has some buttons but not much that could be messed up. JJ has an iphone which is locked, and while he loves to press the button on it, he's not figured out the finger slide to unlock it.

Today, Sawyer proved that he is more adept than we'd previously thought. After the third time I pried my phone from his fingers and turned off the web-browser that had opened, I received a message from my provider telling me that I am now out of credit and must recharge. I loaded €10 ($14) on it this weekend! And I've yet to make a call! Then moments later, sitting in my lap where I could see everything he did, he took mama's iphone and pressed the wake button. He did NOT slide his finger across the screen to unlock it, but suddenly a message came on the screen that read "Voice Control," he said something in babyese, and Colbie Callait's melodic voice began broadcasting over the phone's loudspeaker. I have no idea how he did that one.

As I've been typing this, he's meticulously brought me (one at a time) every single jar of baby food from our pantry. I'm staring at a dining room table covered in jars of baby food, and he's walking toward me now with a tub of oatmeal. I guess even techno-babies gotta eat.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Sunday, He is risen!

Maybe I’m a bad Christian, but I’ve never really gone for the whole Easter Sunday sunrise service deal. I mean, I guess if you live somewhere with dramatic sunrises, then it could be cool and symbolic, but when you live in a mega-city that’s covered by smog and rain clouds, something’s lost in translation. Today we went to one anyways. Our curiosity pulled us out of bed at 5:30 this morning to go see what the Paris Sunrise Service was all about.

We’d heard that there would be an interdenominational Easter Service at 7:30 for all Christians in the Paris area. In my own typical fashion, I didn’t really listen to the rest of the information or take the time to read the posters. So when we left our apartment at 6:00 we went to the train station and hopped on the train to Paris. My big plan was to hope that there’d be a mass of people on the train all headed in the same direction and that we could simply fall in line with the crowd. But there was nobody on the train. A handful here or there would get on and then off again, and as we neared Paris we knew we had absolutely no plan where to go. I scanned the seven people on our train and picked out the one I thought most likely to be going to the Easter Service. I talked to her and nailed my prediction. She indeed was the only other person on our train going, and she graciously agreed to show us the way.

When we arrived, I was quite surprised. Knowing that this was a service for all Christians in a traditionally Catholic city, I expected a huge old church or square and a reverent service. Instead we walked out of the metro to the ultra-modern Place de la Defense, and hopped into the middle of a concrete open space surrounded by high-rises. A choir with a keyboard and guitar led some choruses while the line-up of priests and pastors and other decorated figures came onto stage. They had one of the biggest Bibles I’d ever seen with them!

Here’s some pictures of the event:

It was cold and rainy, so not a lot of fun. I did however enjoy watching the guys in white robes with pink hats on grab their hats every time the wind whipped up. It reminded me of a time back in the states when I was taking a night seminary class. The seminary had organized a movie on the lawn for all students to attend. During a break in class I went outside and sat at a distance to watch the group getting the movie set up. When all was ready, one of the organizing students stepped up to a microphone in front of the large canvas screen propped up in the courtyard to pray. “Thank you God for giving us such wonderful weather to be outside and watch this movie.” Right at that moment, a huge gust of wind came and literally blew the movie screen down, which proceeded to tear in about 4 places. His prayer stopped short and moments later he returned to the microphone with this announcement, “uh... we’ll be watching the movie in the auditorium inside the student center.” As I said earlier, maybe I’m a bad Christian, but I sat on my little hillside and couldn’t help but laugh that night. I though the whole thing was hilarious.

God has his ways. We have ours. His ways are higher. We would never have suggested God take on the form of a man, live among us and be rejected by us, heal, forgive, feed, and teach, and then die a miserably painful death.

And if you know the whole story, you can’t help but be awe-struck by it all. He rose on the third day, and then like a television season finale, He ascended to heaven with a “to be continued...” in his wake. When the next season premier starts, you won’t want to miss it! In the meantime, I’m going to keep hanging out by the water cooler and talking about how amazing the first season was while speculating on just how dramatic the next and final season will be.