Do Antibiotics Cause Nightmares?

Do antibiotics cause nightmares?

(I suppose I could say that nightmares cause antibiotics. My current nightmare, contracting my third bout of strep throat this year, has definitely brought its share of antibiotics.)

But I ask the question because after my latest bout with my “favorite” infection (streptococcus bacteria), after taking my antibiotics religiously, I have been REALLY BAD DREAMS. I mean really bad ones. Vivid dreams. Scary dreams. Some real HUMDINGERS! I’ve had one scary dream every morning since the start of my antibiotic. There must be some connection.

So anyway, the dreams have been going as follows:

Nightmare #1: The Yogurt Rebellion
To date, I’ve had teaching nightmare dreams (where my lesson plans disappear, or where I show up at school totally unprepared). But I have not yet had a student nightmare, where the resident (student) evil rises up with restless rebellion and malevolent angst!
It was a very anxious dream wherein I could not maintain classroom control. Students were yelling and running around the small classroom. I raised my voice, demanding quietness, to no avail. One little seventh grader was yelling, name-calling, and flinging globs of purple yogurt on the floor. I yelled at him, “Stop that!” I tried to reach him, but my arms and legs would hardly move. I slowly oozed over to him. Why couldn’t my arms move faster?! I tried to grab him. He sneered and flung purple yogurt at me with his spoon. “Taaaaaake thaaaaaat!” I was so furious that I grabbed him by the neck. He spit purple yogurt on me. … … And then, I spit it back. No amount of yelling could stop the chaos….

Nightmare #2: Disney World Apocalypse
My oldest sister moved in next door to Disney World. She was able to get free tickets to Disney, so I traveled south to hang out with her. Her daily free tickets were only good for up to an hour every day. We got in line, and finally, we were inside! A whole free hour at Disney World! “What do you do here?” “Well,” she said, “We can go on rides. Let me show you the bathrooms.” The bathrooms at Disney World are very spacious. They have twelve foot ceilings. When we came out of the bathrooms, the sky in Disney World was the strangest color I’ve ever seen. The color of the sky struck me with the deepest fear in my little first-time-Disney-World heart. It was purple. It was the oddest, scariest, stormiest shade of purple you had ever seen. It was a black, fuschia purple, and the clouds were broiling. Just looking at the color made your stomach turn over. We had to run. We knew we had to get out of Disney World because “it” was coming. I’m not sure if “it” was a storm, an apocalypse, or a war, but “it” was indicated by the purple sky color, and everyone was in hysteria. We tried to exit Disney World, but you had to wait in line even to get out! We stood in line, waiting, on faded pavement, trying not to think about the purple sky, and trying to remain calm amidst chaotic fears of the end of the World.

Nightmare #3: The Kansas Youth Girl Apocalypse
My third nightmare has been the most disturbing one so far. It was about my old youth group in Kansas. I was having a great time seeing all my old chums again. We were walking in the cool prairie grasses, under a cool gray sky, near a dark contemporary building, when someone mentioned that the “deaths” would happen that night. “What deaths?!” I cried. My Kansas friends explained that it was common for the younger youth girls to be put to death to make room for more people in the community. These deaths happened about once a year. Quite a few girls were normally chosen. This year eighteen youth girls were going to be put to death. My friends were spending this last week making the girls comfortable. “It’s sad, but they understand that it’s just to make more room for everyone else.” Later, back at my house: “THIS IS SO WRONG!” I wailed to my mother. “And so unfair! I can’t believe this!” I was so livid! I was enraged! Everyone was acting so calmly about the deaths. Several days went by. No one would do anything. And no one understood how angry I was. I told my mom that I was even thinking about telling the police of the plans of the Kansas community. (THINKING?! THINKING?!) I decided to tell about the planned homicides even if it meant that my Kansas youth group wouldn’t let me be a part of it anymore. (Me, the little martyr.) I closed my eyes. And then I heard a train whistle. I heard a truck rumble past. My cell phone started beeping. I was laying in my little bed in Nappanee. I was anxious, sad, and heart-broken. For several minutes. Until I realized. THAT IT WAS ALL A DREAM, PRAISE JESUS! IT’S FRIDAY!

Sadly, there were no Purple Things in Nightmare #3.

Yikes, guys. I still have a couple of days to go on my antibiotic. This could get interesting.


Thank God for Facebook: A Poem About the Status of Affirmation Markets

Where else can you buy friends through
the economic exchange of numerous pics and posts?

It is a curious thing to donate your time and energy to
agreeing with ideas (that can be counted).

The worker’s wages are classical conditioning,
minus the cost of employment
plus the benefits of feeling less lovely
and then you can add a photo.

The more you complain and comment,
the more you’re liked and loved.
You don’t count it all joy, but
you do count all your notifications.

You search for people, places, and things,
You update statuses and “save changes,” yet
you never save changes in your first relationship
(because you don’t relate to the sonship
you once knew).
Your spiritual profile needs updating,
but first you need help editing your on-and-off-line relationships.

You shop for affirmation in your newsfeed–
You skim ads, looking for a better life than the one you’re already buying into.
You’re shocked to learn that it costs to promote yourself.
(You know,
it shouldn’t be a surprise that
this free market costs a lot.

I’ll tell you that your self-promotion is expensive.
It cost him, who made himself nothing, everything.
You don’t remember him?
Maybe that’s because you defriended him
and bought friends to replace him who bought you.

I think you must feel that the economy of immediacy is more valuable
than the price of eternal intimacy.

It’s clear you’re selling out.

You might say: who needs God?
You certainly don’t need him because you have: a white rectangle that’s asking what’s on your mind.

Flour Town: Inquire Within

How I came to the ruler-straight, dry pavement of Flour Town
is beyond


My wheels bump along the wide
patches of dry
manure clods
on Tomahawk road, a road
named by white European settlers,
a road
that takes Yutzys to buy some
Troyer’s cheese

and wide-brimmed hats.

At least I think they’re supposed to be wide-brimmed, but I’m just guessing here.

A road
that Pablo takes to get to work
at Cielito Lindo.

A road
with an unreasonably large Amish hotel
(Yes, Flour Town’s hotels go to church)

and a theater that runs poorly-researched musicals
(Hey Mel:
[and Glee, for that matter]
they don’t use musical instruments)

A road
that a Midwestern, Middle-class family of four runs on
to get physically fit.

A road
wearily driven by first shift factory workers
streaming in
in gray pick-up trucks.

A road
perused by a
curious, attentive,
young, visiting,
hard-working, judgmental,
hopeful, excited,
English teacher.

Reading in the New Year

Great writers are well read. For this reason, one of my goals for the new year is to read. One thing that has helped me to read more is to accept my own strange reading habits. I feel so much better about my reading habits after reading Douglas Wilson’s book Wordsmithy. In his chapter “Read Until Your Brain Creaks,” he encourages writers to read widely, and he announces that it’s totally okay to have, like, twenty books going at a time.

I’m relieved. I actually have a whole shelf devoted to books I’m currently reading. I start reading really great books, but sometimes I don’t have time to finish them right away. And then another book catches my fancy. Or, I’ll be in the middle of a good book, but it’s not the right “book mood” for the certain time of day that I’m reading: for relaxing late at night, for quiet dinner times, or for loud-ish laundromats. So I’ll start yet another book. However, thanks to Wilson, I no longer have to feel guilty about my ADD reading habits.

Right now I’m in the middle of seven (yes, seven) books.


1. Obligatory Classic: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
Fact: A Tale of Two Cities is (except for religious texts like the Bible or the Quran) the best-selling book in the world today. So I think to myself: this book I’ve got to read! Plus, it was one of the highest bidders for my tiny facebook survey of “What classic shall Esther read next?” Several people have responded about this book: “It’s kind of hard to get into, but once you get near the end, you’re like, ‘This is about Everything!’”
Reason for Reading: As an English teacher, I’m trying to brush up on the classics that I haven’t read yet. Sadly, my own high school curriculum and even my liberal arts college education gave me a poor treatment of the classics, so accessing these texts will be prove to be a long, arduous journey, but nonetheless personally satisfying. I think these books have more meaning then we can even begin to imagine.
Reading Ease: It’s not been super easy, but it’s been interesting and heart-warming. I truly have to train myself to enjoy deep reading. I do waaayyy too much internet reading, so I truly do have a short attention span.


2. Christian Life: Crazy Love by Francis Chan
Fact: A lot of my friends read this New York Times bestseller five years ago. Cringe. (Okay, so, I’m a little behind.) The great thing for me, though, is that I get to read the “revised and updated” 2013 version.
Reason for Reading: I wanted to read a book about the Christian life that focuses on the character of God. The version I’m reading is almost devotional as Chan encourages frequent meditation throughout the different sections.
Reading Ease: Very simple. Chan is not writing. He is talking, and he is doing so in an everyday street vernacular. His paragraphs and thoughts don’t always really relate together in logical ways, and a time or two he (carelessly?) dismisses huge theological debates with simple statements of childlike faith. But. I have to consider the point of his book (which is not to answer huge theological questions) and the audience to whom he is writing (the churched, who perhaps he assumes has come to accept, based on faith, certain debated issues.) And, I have to remember that sometimes my “earnest, academic questioning” is not so genuine, but is really only prideful. Or lazy. It is a laziness that comes in the way of getting to know God better. Or that comes in the way of my obedience or of my having to be faithful to certain teachings and beliefs. It’s almost like I’m saying, “Well, I don’t have that figured out yet, so I don’t need to obey my Savior in this area yet.” ?? Ironically, Chan even addresses this tendency (though in regards to another issue) in the book. He talks about the sins of worry and stress, and he writes: “These two behaviors communicate that it’s okay to sin and not trust God because the stuff in my life is somehow exceptional. Both worry and stress reek of arrogance.” My toes are stepped on.


3. Christian Life, Academic: Finding God at Harvard: Spiritual Journeys of Thinking Christians ed. By Kelly Monroe Kullberg.
Fact: Few of you will forget my raving review of Finding God Beyond Harvard, the second book that Kullberg compiled. That book, for me, was life-changing and inexplicably refreshing.
Reason for Reading: My secular liberal arts education, the media, cynical bloggers, dear searching friends, hipster Christians, and even the Church have told me that Christians can’t, or don’t, think. This book indicates otherwise. So you better believe that I’m going to read it.
Reading Ease: Now, we are talking about academics here. They write gorgeous prose about their super-interesting and diverse (albeit mostly upper-class) backgrounds, which is really fun if you are in a learn-y, academic-y mood. Honestly, it’s exciting. But not what I would call easy reading.


4. Christian Theology: Miracles by C. S. Lewis
Fact: The New Yorker writes: “If wit and wisdom, style and scholarship are requisites to passage through the pearly gates, Mr. Lewis will be among the angels.” I AGREE! Esther squeals in a sort of teenage-One-Direction-like frenzy.
Reason for Reading: Duh. Lewis is AHmazing. I have greatly enjoyed Mere Christianity, and even Chesterton himself, the one who got Lewis thinking about Christianity in the first place.
Reading Ease: To be honest, I need “world enough and time” for this one. And a little peace and quiet. So many great thoughts, that I fear they may pass over my little mind, but nevertheless, I grasp, reverently, at the few pearls I might amass. Thank you, Mr. Lewis.


5. Biography/Memoir: Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World by Shirley Hershey Showalter
Fact: I pre-ordered this book before it was even available to the public. Showalter writes about growing up conservative Mennonite to finally becoming a college president! I read an online interview a while back about this book, and Showalter said something to the effect that there’s a lot of books out there about being Amish or growing up Mennonite, but this is a book by someone who actually lived it.
Reason for Reading: I spent a good deal of my English (Pre-Education) undergraduate degree reading a ton of “minority” literature so that (according to the state of Ohio) I would be prepared to teach all kinds of constituencies. Well, guess what? I never found “myself” or “my people,” very remotely, in ANY of the literature we read, so I guess all this talk about diversity is a little misleading, wouldn’t you say?
Reading Ease: Great! If you’ve had a bit of a literary education, you can pick out the literary things she’s doing… like starting her book, quite literally, in a root cellar, and beginning with genealogies. But even if you don’t pick up those things, you will find it to be an interesting read.


6. Familiar, Comfortable, Baby-Bye-Bunting-Feeling Book: Anne’s House of Dreams by L. M. Montgomery
Fact: Growing up I had many positive role models of strong, educated females both in my literature choices and in my guarded exposure to media. Anne Shirley, Jo March, Christy, and Maria von Trapp? It’s like I didn’t even have a chance. #teacherforlife
Reason for Reading: To induce baby-bye-bunting feelings when one’s family is very, very far away.
Reading Ease: Quite perfect. Just enough plot to keep you moving and just enough contemplative moments to keep you thinking.


7. Nonfiction: Globish: How the English Language Became the World’s Language by Robert McCrum
Fact: You all probably watched McCrum’s informative, though highly dated, T.V. series “The Story of English” in your introductory undergraduate linguistics coarse.
Reason for Reading: It struck my fancy in the nonfiction section at our local library. I absolutely love studying the history of the English language. That course, “The History of English,” was one of my favorite courses at Ohio State. Thank you, Dr. Modan!
Reading Ease: Good. He’s clearing his throat a lot at the beginning, or it seems like it to me (maybe because I’ve actually studied a bit of these topics before), and he has an amusing view of the United States and its politics (most snobby Europeans do), and his writing is cluttered with a lot of academic jargon, but I think I will be able to pop over these portions with ease to get to the real meat of his work.

Also, we include a picture of McCrum because he is so funny to look at.


Question 1: Do you believe in “reading moods”?

Question 2: What is the largest amount of books you’ve ever had going at a time?

In Which I Play It Cool at a French Restaurant

“I’m going to order the flat bread. The Lyon one. What do you think? How do you even say it? It’s probably ‘leee-OH(n)’ or something, and I’ll be ordering a lion.”

(five minutes later)

“I’ll just have the Flat Bread Lion.”
“Em, oui. Flamekuches Leee-OH(n)?”
“Yes.” Quite.


The Not Pizza

(one hour later)

“Do you have a dessert menu?”
“(Indistinguishable) (word that sounds like cannoli).”
We smile and say, “Thank you!”
Absolutely no idea. Think. Think.
I remember when I was waiting to be seated that a couple walked up to the front of the restaurant, perused the bakery case, and then returned to their table.
“I think she wants us to check out the bakery case. And she says they have cannoli in the back.”

We march up to the case. There are some Yule logs, berry tarts, day old éclairs, and chocolate mice.
She watches us as we stare at the case.
“And you have cannoli, too?” I ask.
Amused smile. “(Word that sounds less like ‘cannoli’ and more like ‘crème brulee’).”

How is it that we still have NO IDEA what this restaurant serves for dessert!

Wil to the rescue: “What do you recommend?”
Relieved waitress. She lights up a bit. “Mmmm, crème brulee!” she intones, quietly, reverently.
We decide: “We’ll have the crème brulee.”

(Thirty minutes later, fresh crème brulee with a strawberry garnish is served.)


Lerv France.



First Year Teaching

What is a teacher?

I find myself grappling with this question here at the close of my first semester of teaching English. It’s been a whirlwind; I’ve found few moments to sit back, take a deep breath, and contemplate. So here I go, the week of Christmas, pecking out a few observations of first-year teaching.

I’m working hard to conquer and understand the ins and outs of our curriculum. I’ve decided that I really like the stability of a curriculum but that a curriculum can be very confining.

One of the biggest surprises of first year teaching has been sickness. I was sick five times between August and November. Apparently, stress and sixty-five dear little germ-holders do not mix well. So now I’m trying to get my rest, and I’m gorging on vitamins. But the worry of future sickness makes me feel even more stressed out.

Another surprise is the amount of busy work that teaching entails. It’s my job to sit down and read through vocabulary assignments and poorly written comp assignments by students who (about English) don’t give a flying fart in France. Yes, that’s how I spend my time.

Or filing. I hate filing! What a waste of time. I get really sick of these (what seem like) meaningless tasks. However, these “meaningless” assignments are, in some ways, foundational roots. And someone read through my daily work in eighth grade so that I would not turn out to be an ignoramus.

Another thing I’ve realized is that I do not hate teaching. I do not dread going to school. I think: that is a good thing.

How teaching complements my career goals: teaching 11th and 12th grade composition has been a really great experience for me because I am learning better writing techniques. It’s surprising how lazy I can be with little things like parallelism and subordination. But great writers have mastered these basics. I’m enjoying teaching these tools, editing for these tools, and applying these basics to my own writing.

Also, I’m spending a LOT of time reading literature in order to teach it. One of my biggest complaints of both my high school and college education is poor treatment of the classics. So I am excited to spend time studying some of the great works of literature that I have never encountered before.

I should probably mention here something about lesson planning, but I would be careful to broach this subject outside the brotherhood of teachers. Those in the brotherhood understand the necessity of lesson planning, and explaining it to people who are not teachers always brings extremely depressing responses like, “You spend THAT much time working outside of 9-5? And you get paid THAT much? I would NEVER be a teacher.” Says the ungrateful person (OR STUDENT!) who is going to make so much more money than you and never once thank the elementary teachers that got them there in the first place. Non-teachers do not realize that we teachers have made a choice to sacrifice our lives and a lot of personal comforts (and luxuries) for students because we feel called to teaching and because we want to make a difference. Wise people will realize, then, that it is in their best interest to forego these demeaning, unsupportive comments. People: SUPPORT YOUR TEACHERS. Teachers who spend a lot of time with children and young people are extremely aware of (and sadly, used to) ungratefulness, and ungratefulness is even MORE disgusting coming from adults.

This is actually something that I’ve dealt a lot with this semester. I get so aggravated that all my waking moments are spent either in the school building or in lesson planning. I had this moment where I shook my little finger at God and griped, “You know, I get really tired of spending my time sacrificing my LIFE for people who don’t care at all!”

And God’s like, “ … …”

And then I grew up.

So when I ask myself the question: “what is a teacher?” here are a few responses that come to mind.

A teacher celebrates choice. When a student makes a personal reading choice, a teacher celebrates that choice even if it is not the best choice. While the teacher may not have chosen that book, the student is demonstrating ownership of his/her education. This is important in English education. Students must have successful reading experiences before they will attempt more difficult material. So, for example, a “teacher” will overlook the fact that a student exchanged a Holocaust narrative for Si Robertson’s Si-Cology for his book report book. (Ahem.)

A teacher does not take it lightly when vulnerable eighth grade boys ask, “How do you study for an English test?” This question once again demonstrates ownership. Eighth grade boys do not ask how to study for tests. This question shows that something is awakening in the student. He realizes he does not have study skills, and he is actively seeking knowledge in this area.

A (junior high) teacher rejoices with the magic 6: “I’m sorry. That was my responsibility.”

A teacher forgives cultural mishaps in Catholic basilicas. Because. Junior highers are not adults. Yet.

And then in closing: I can’t end this post without sharing some of my best blunders from this semester.

One of my favorites: catching myself doodling on a student’s homework. I have a student who is obsessed with all-things-England. Many assignments this student turns in feature some reference to England or London. One day I was grading this student’s work, and before I knew it, I had drawn a whole British flag on the paper. Suddenly I remembered that I WAS THE TEACHER! I was quite embarrassed, and I tried to smooth it over with some academic comment, but there it was: the doodled flag.

Another good one was in 5th grade English class, when I was reminding students that a certain assignment was due and accidentally let my teenage self rear its ugly head: “Do you know when that is due, bee-tee-double-you?!”
The 5th graders didn’t notice the text speak at all, but a sixth grader smirked in the corner. Oops.

And finally, one of the worst content mistakes was teaching (and TESTING) that Emily Dickinson was a British poet. Um. Oops.

It happens?

Blue Like Jazz: Movie Review

I finally took the time to watch “Blue Like Jazz,” a 2012 independent film based on a book by Donald Miller. My reason for watching this film? The issues in the movie are relevant to my life: it talks about Christian subculture and how Jesus is portrayed, accepted, or rejected in secular liberal arts colleges. (Disclaimer: I did not watch the movie in mindless absorption but rather with a critical mindset. In other words, the language and adult themes of the movie were not drawing points.)

I was expecting to hate it. Or at least be offended.

I wasn’t.


So I would like to discuss the movie a bit here.
One of the reasons I wanted to see the film is because I am somewhat familiar with the work of writer Donald Miller. I’ve read a few of his books (though it’s been quite awhile), and I heard him speak in Wichita, Kansas. So I’m somewhat familiar with his worldview, some of his life goals, and ministry to fatherless boys. I feel like this background knowledge helped me to overlook things in the film which would normally greatly offend me as a Christian viewer. I know that the main character is based on Donald Miller himself, and I understand how the experiences at Reed College greatly changed him for the better. So it was like I was cheering for Don through the whole movie. (Also, I heard him talk about this movie way before it was even a possibility to film it. He joked that if a film was ever made, the he certainly wouldn’t be “played by Kirk Cameron.”) My first point: Don’t watch the movie unless you’ve read some of Miller’s books. The work will be greatly misunderstood by you, and you’ll probably be offended.

We have to be so careful when it comes to separating someone’s words from their actions. There are many things written by Donald Miller that I disagree with, perhaps things that sound nice but are not theologically correct. However, taking someone’s words alone isn’t always the best idea. We have to look at someone’s words followed up by their life. A person’s actions give more weight to their words.
Because I’ve heard him in person, and because I’ve heard about The Mentoring Project, I’m more inclined to give his movie a little more credit. Christians who haven’t had this opportunity (to understand his character) might totally misunderstand him.

I was reminded of this truth of combining character and words by a teacher/pastor from Kansas last weekend when I attended a teacher’s conference. He emphasized (in a most cosmologically Anabaptist way) that our words should not be separated from our actions. He also indicated that we should not put much stock into words that ARE separated from actions or from true lives lived. (So, he was saying: take books with a grain of salt. And facebook posts. And blogs.) So the second point is: This movie should not be separated from the writer who wrote the work and from his post-college ministry.

I say all this because there are plenty of things in the movie to offend Christian audiences, including language, sex jokes, and homosexual characters. Certainly, it could be argued that the movie makers could have produced a Clorox-clean version of a freshman year in college, but they made a different artistic choice. This is always a difficult choice. How will you present sinful realities without reveling in them? There is always a fine line here in the arts. The one thing I would say is that the movie makers, I thought, were sensitive in some areas. They could have over-sexualized the Renn Fayre. But they didn’t. There could have been more reverie, but they were careful to make it peripheral.


One thing I want to discuss is a rather abrupt shift in topic, but here goes. Um, so this is me getting all English major-y and everything, but I couldn’t help but notice the homosexual metaphors in the movie. A female college student demands that Don keeps his Christianity “in the closet.” (Ironcially, the student is a lesbian. I could go on for a while here about how this movie speaks into some of the latent hypocrisies of LGBTQ agendas of tolerance and diversity, but I won’t.) Also, Don’s best friend Penny, when describing her new-found faith in Jesus (which did not come from her childhood subculture but rather from her personal study of the Bible in college), declares, “I wasn’t born this way.” Now the metaphor “born this way” does not have to refer to homosexuality, but one cannot miss its significance, especially in a movie filled to the brim with pop philosophy. Curiously, the idea of “coming out” is essential to the movie. I argue that that’s a strange metaphor choice for talking about Christian believers. Why was this metaphor chosen? And what is its effect? I could wax academic and ask if this metaphor is working to build inclusivity for the LGBTQ community within Christian cosmologies, but I’m not really ready to do that. And I doubt that’s what Miller was going for. (Or was it? I mean, he’s not stupid. He was an English major, too.) Maybe I’m reading too much into the movie. I mean, I’m not an expert in Queer Theory or anything (managed to skip that one in college). I’m just wondering why the “coming out” metaphor was chosen. Or borrowed. (Because, I mean, the LGBTQs borrowed “coming out” from the patriarchal American South whose young, upper-class women formally presented themselves to society at a “coming-out ball.”) I would welcome your feedback on this minor observation.

Q: Who would I recommend to watch this movie?
A: Christian college students
On one level, it’s just enjoyable to identify so much with the main character. Watching the movie makes you remember those first college days: of walking around in a fog of architecture and ideas… and then that first know-it-all student who makes you feel so stupid and sheltered… and the first person who hands you condoms on the sidewalk…  My favorite scene is when Don is checking out his college campus, all the while rocking his tucked in polo shirt. Hilarious for those of us in church subculture.

On another level, this movie strikes a chord with Christian college students trying to make sense of a world of conflict. We identify with the antagonism that Don experiences. During college – a  time of intense personal growth – we experience many competing philosophies, ideas, and worldviews, and we encounter so many hurting people that we sometimes begin to doubt many things: ourselves, the church, and God himself. But Don’s character doesn’t descend into the blame game. His tearful apology at the end of the movie is humble and vulnerable. His two-fold realization and admission goes something like this: “I’m ashamed of Jesus.” And: “He’s not like me. I’m sorry.” It’s moving to watch Don admit that his spiritual discontentment has to do with his own shortcomings.

Finally, I also enjoyed seeing how Don interacted with unbelievers. His personality and wit allowed him to get along with a lot of different people. He wasn’t judgmental in his friendships.

Have you watched “Blue Like Jazz”? What did you think?

America vs. France: Cooking Edition

I cooked dinner tonight.


I was tempted to call it “Zucchini et por la Fwench”, which means, “Zucchini, eaten by the French” in some local, organic, low French dialect. Or something.

But I caught myself. It’s really just called, “Zucchini Eggs.”

I was talking to a friend about this dish that my mom makes a lot in the summer.

“You sauté shredded garden-fresh zucchini and peppers in oil. Then stir in eggs and scramble everything together. Sprinkle with browned sausage and cheese. Voila. Zucchini Eggs.”

“Don’t you mean an “omelet”?

No. I mean zucchini eggs.

Does anyone else feel the pressure to change “everyday” things to obscure, “exciting,” foreign things so that we can accept them? My question is: why can’t we just eat zucchini eggs? Why must we name it something else? And if it has to be something else, why does it always have to be French?

Really now. It’s just eggs and zucchini. Why does it have to be French? In fact, why do we give a ______ about the French at all? We all pretend to love the French. Rather, we love the stereotype of the French. And what is their stereotype? That they are cultured and snobby. Why would we celebrate snobbishness? Why wouldn’t we instead want to celebrate the dozens of loving, faithful cooks who have cooked for us over the years? Our mothers and grandmothers, never snobby, and certainly not French.

Why don’t we celebrate the thousands of meals prepared for our own tired bodies by cooks who would also like to be sitting down to their favorite Netflix— Oh wait, I forgot. Our parents didn’t watch Netflix. They selflessly slaved away in the kitchen.

My own mother felt the pressure. When she served leftovers, she began Naming Things. We were too small to know what “Comment allez-vous” meant. All we knew was that it meant all the leftovers in the frigerator were fried up in a skillet and served with a big bottle of ketchup. My mom alternated between “Comment allez-vous” and “Romaine Hash.” As young children, we began to disdain the French, the Romanians, and their ketchup. I think it would have been just as well if my mother had chosen more local dishes. “Midwestern Mixed Meats”, for example. Or “Vittles in the Valley”. A rose, after all, as the poet says, by any other name would smell as sweet. With or without ketchup.

All I’m saying is that we don’t have to stamp Eiffel Towers on everything to make it more “cultured”. (Besides, the French don’t even like the Eiffel Tower. “That ugly thing?” they say. … … … They would.) So instead of implanting foreign names and silly stereotypes on our own local dishes, let’s call them what they are: good home-cooked food.

As much as I love trying ethnic foods, even French foods (if you live in central Ohio, you simply must visit La Chatelaine), I’m realizing that my body does best with the food I’ve grown up with. Homegrown vegetables. Simple meat and potatoes meals. But I’m not allowed to say that. I can’t celebrate Amish and Mennonite foods because “they’re fattening.” Yeah, they are if you eat too much of them. Simply: don’t. We should celebrate the healthy foods our mothers and grandmothers have fixed for us for years. And we should celebrate the culture that has produced these foods. No matter if that culture is “down-home”, “countrified”, or even cooked up in an iron skillet.

(I made zucchini eggs in an iron skillet.) Yeah, move over, Le Creuset, “circa 1925”. (Do the French think they own everything?) Lodge has 30 years of experience on you. Since 1896, Lodge Cast Iron has been helping out American pioneer families. Thank you very much, Le Creuset, my grandmother and my mother have always cooked in cast iron, and I’ll probably do the same. You know, my mom bought me a Lodge cast iron skillet from Lehmen’s Hardware (what do you think of that?) before I moved this summer.


And I really really like my cast iron skillet. In which I cook “boring” American dishes like… zucchini eggs. So eat that.


I’m continually amazed at how far-reaching family connections are. Perhaps it’s because I’m a part of the Mennonite subculture, but somehow I find connection to far away people through friends, places, and even objects.

Case in point: My parents were visiting me this weekend, and instead of getting a hotel, they stayed with my father’s long-lost cousin about 30 miles away. (They happened to be out of town and loaned my parents their house for the weekend.) I buzzed up to spend the night, and my mom and I were giggling late at night, in the kitchen, eating peaches. Above the kitchen sink was a simple photograph of a sunset. On the frame was a tiny gold plaque dedicating the photograph to “Frieda.”
“Nice photograph,” I said aloud to my mother.
“She was a good friend to me,” my mom said.
“Wait. Who?” I said.
“Frieda. The mother of the cousins. She helped me in the kitchen when I lived in Michigan after we were first married. You know my salsa recipe? …She was a wonderful woman. A very mothering kind of person.”
I stared at the sunset photograph. Frieda.  It was nice to meet one of my mother’s old friends. I didn’t expect to meet anyone in this empty house—this random house in northern Indiana.
Later, I lay down on a little foam mattress with a very old quilt that had been left out for me. As I fell asleep, I lay thinking: “If pictures in this house are old friends, I wonder who this quilt is…”

Speaking of cousins, I’ve met a long-lost cousin of mine here in the area, and I was able to have dinner with her and her family. They and their young children and I gathered around a large dinner table to a summer feast of garden-fresh sweet corn, tomatoes, potato casserole, and blueberry cake. We talked about the kids’ school, the sprawling farm, and the remodels done to their farmhouse. I asked how long they’d lived there:
“Fifteen years, at least. We’ve lived here all our married life and probably always will!” My cousin and her husband shared a smile.

Roots. I’m not sure I can imagine such permanence. In some ways it’s wonderful. I think it’s a beautiful thing that few young people today have a concept of—that of plugging into a community long-term. I think the thing that surprised me was that the couple was relatively young to be making such a statement. I think many people today live with less permanent mindsets. Most people my age expect at some point to live somewhere exotic. “Just for a little while.” “Maybe in the city for a few years.”

Or maybe the permanence is a bad thing. Maybe we all need to be more willing to move away from our cushy country lives… to trailer courts. Or to the inner city. Maybe God is calling us out of placid pastures to unknown suburbs or secular cities. Or to cross-cultural settings in foreign countries.
I’ve not decided.
In any case, I was certainly struck by the young family contentedly enjoying life on the farm in rural Indiana.

Speaking of children, I had this curious baby moment last weekend. I had the privilege of participating in the Oasis Chorale Choral Festival in Ohio. I cannot possibly describe my excitement for choral events and the community and fellowship that I feel at events such as these. And the musical talent of Oasis and the reunion choir was really quite stunning. That’s all I will say.

The concert experience was amazing, of course, but one of my favorite moments was during rehearsal on Saturday. We were having timing issues with Rene Clausen’s “All That Hath Life and Breath.” So all seventy singers spread out in the church for a sort of kinesthetic body-timing exercise where we moved, and sang,  becoming this marching line of sound around the rows of empty pews. Our director stopped us short, giving us several more directions. I happened to glance down at the empty pew in front of me, and I almost jumped! There was this thing, this infant, this person lying there! The baby was wrapped in a white blanket, sleeping peacefully on the padded church pew.

I regained my composure, and we marched again, our wall of sound increasing in intensity. We ran the entire piece, and by the end, I had filed back around to the small child again.
We held the final chord, fortissimo.
And the child slept peacefully.
How lucky this baby is, I thought. Think of all the pain and suffering in this world, and this child sleeps peacefully to this beautiful music. How blessed is this child. And to know that this child’s parents will raise this child to honor and fear the Lord

Sometimes I’m amazed at my heritage of faith. While I do not ignore the spiritual deficiencies that can be found in Anabaptist congregations, I thank God for the family love that runs so deep. It’s so real, it can almost be touched. Or felt. Like layers of line-dried cotton.

A Matter of Conscience

So there was this guy, right? And several girls and I were all talking to him about how we were going to go to this concert, and we asked him if he was going and he said, “I’m not going. The style of music promotes sensuality, and many of the performers there wear immodest clothing. It’s a matter of conviction for me.”

You know what? His answer was so humble. He had a conviction and owned it. Too many times when I have a conviction about something, I get self-conscious about it. I react in pride, and I’ll try to make another person look bad for doing it. Or I’ll try to convict them myself. (As if I ever could. Isn’t that the Holy Spirit’s work?) This is called self-righteousness, and Jesus speaks against this in the Gospel of Luke where he tells the parable about the self-righteous Pharisee and the humble tax collector. Jesus told this parable for the reason that some Pharisees “trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others” (Luke 18:9). The Apostle Paul in the Epistle of Titus, like Jesus, calls believers to humility, and he emphasizes the grace and mercy we ourselves have received from God: “No by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).


If we maintain a haughty attitude about our convictions, and if we preach and whine about the failings of other believers and unbelievers, we are really being ungrateful for our own salvation and for the mercy and grace that God has poured out on us. And we begin to sound a little bit like Peter, complaining about cross Jesus asked him to bear. But Lord, what about THAT disciple?

 Jesus replied,

“What is that to thee? Follow thou me.”


The humility of the young man’s answer about the concert impressed me. He was not judgmental in any way, and he answered with a smile on his face. It was clear that his conviction was a very personal one, one that he himself had worked out with Jesus through relationship.


I had to think of this story when I was reading in the Psalms this morning.

“The Lord takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble with salvation.” Psalm 149:4