Alpha Moments: Suffering and Firetrucks – Fridays with Robynn

Our church has offered the Alpha course for 6 years in a row but I only recently discovered how lovely it is. The Alpha course was originally developed in the UK and then revised and greatly expanded by Nicky Gumble at Holy Trinity church in London. It’s a non-threatening introduction to the Christian faith. I love it. It’s a safe place where you can come, enjoy a free meal and free child care and ask any question you want about God or Christianity and no one makes you feel stupid. Imagine being surrounded by regular people who sincerely just want to ask legitimate questions about faith, about pain, about their bad experiences, about evil, about good, about God.

This morning in the car, my ten-year old daughter, Bronwynn wanted to know more about the Alpha course,

“So can you really ask any question you want?”

“Yes,” I told her, “any question…it’s a safe place.”

“Do you get answers?” she wondered.

“Sometimes,” I replied, “but sometimes just asking the question out loud with other people who are also asking questions…sometimes that’s comforting too.”

It’s true isn’t it? Sometimes just being with other people and being allowed to wonder out loud is reassuring. We are all human. We all have deep questions. We all have pain we don’t understand. We all wonder why and for how long. But we never have the luxury of forming the question, let alone, asking it outside of our heads and hearts. Sometimes just the space and the freedom to shape the question, to articulate it, to let it live, sometimes that’s almost enough.

“I want to go to Alpha. I have questions,” Bronwynn continued.

She was quiet for a few minutes. She was thinking hard. These were big issues. Tough to articulate. The car was her safe space. Her Alpha moment.

“I have two questions. The first one is, ‘Why does God allow suffering? The second one is,” She hesitated,  “Can fire trucks and police cars go through red lights?”

These are the big questions of 10 year olds. They were weighing her down. I didn’t laugh. Alpha is a safe place. No one makes you feel stupid.

I don’t know the answer to the first question. I wish I did. But just asking it out loud in the car relieved some of Bronwynn’s angst.

And yes, firetrucks and police cars can go through red lights with their sirens and lights on!

From Mummy to Credit Card-A Lesson from 100 Objects

The British Museum, England's single most visi...
Image via Wikipedia

If you unfold the small black guide-book to the British Museum and look at the bottom of the page you will find a section called “A History of the World in 100 Objects“.  From a mummy to a credit card you are guided through a detailed journey of life and man. Empires and nations are consolidated to pottery from Mesopotamia, coins of Croesus, Harem wall paintings, jade cups, and Victorian tea sets. The title, taken (and I believe inspired)from a BBC program of the same name, is a great way to draw those of us who are not as naturally enamored with history into the amazing events that mark the past and affect the future.

I am a present day person, preferring to wander through the local supermarket and delight at what people are eating and doing in the present day of a country with which I am unfamiliar. I notice herbal teas to shampoos that differ from mine and listen to conversations that will orient me to what others find of interest in this new setting. But this display at the museum caught my attention and moved me to a place of wonder and awe and terror. From the beginnings of  literature and science to economies, religions, and wars – we are quite a group of people! A group constantly in need of checks and balances, displaying the human condition far more graphically through our past than anything Hollywood could ever create.

Given some of my recent posts on identity and the world of the third culture kid, I realize this is not the best display to walk through if  one is having any kind of identity crisis. You could be reduced to a mere nanosecond in the bigger picture of time, left with a paralyzing sense of smallness. But for me it was the opposite. As I looked at several of these pieces, I was left with a far larger identity. Mummies are stared at, formerly human beings with lives and personalities, now laughed at by school children. Credit cards are denied or expire.Pottery may end up restored, or crumbled, depending on the excavator and importance of the empire.  As one with a soul, I am comforted that I am far more than pottery in the hands of a Creator. A Creator who has been there since the beginning and hasn’t given up on us yet, far more interested in restoration and preservation than any museum could be – and for that I am eternally grateful.

Bloggers note: Soon after posting I received a comment from Jonathan Addleton – a great friend from Murree days and well beyond. He states that his wife “Fiona’s second cousin Neil McGregor is director of the British Museum and author of the best-selling book “One Hundred Objects” on which the section of that guide book you refer to must be based”. Indeed – yes! I saw the book at the museum and wanted to purchase. For those of you reading with a connection to Murree and Fiona and Jonathan it is a fun fact!

Leaving for London

London collage.And I said, what a pity, To have just a week to spend,When London is a city,Whose beauties never end!

This line of a poem sent by my daughter Stefanie sums up some of our feelings as my 15-year-old son and I travel to London today. We arrive early morning in the United Kingdom and will be joined by Stefanie arriving from Milan and Cliff, my husband, arriving from Edinburgh in late evening.Stef and Jonathan will be introduced to London with all its history and charm as this is their first visit.

As we prepare I realize once again how vast the world is and the magic of travel. Along with the magic of moving between worlds and cultures will be a sweet reunion with Stefanie. Stefanie is 19 and has been on a gap year between graduating from high school and entering college. Her experiences have taken her from Milan to Istanbul and London will be our reconnection between coming back to life in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Reunions for the third culture kid are many and often. Hellos are frequent, goodbyes more so. Trying to work through the complexity of being willing to get to know someone only to let them go is a challenge in this context. The tendency at points is feeling it’s not worth while, that the goodbyes are too painful and bring about unresolved grief and loss. Dave Pollock who worked extensively with third culture kids until his death says this:

“one of the major areas in working with TCKs is that of…dealing with the issue of unresolved grief. They are always leaving or being left. Relationships are short-lived.At the end of each school year, a certain number of the student body leaves, not just for the summer, but for good.It has to be up to the parent to provide a framework of support and careful understanding as the child learns to deal with this repetitive grief. Most TCKs go through more grief experiences by the time they are 20 than monocultural individuals do in a lifetime.”

It’s also self-perpetuating – just as we said a lot of goodbyes and faced continuous loss as kids, we bring up our children with a love of travel and the world so we continue to face these partings, only now it’s with our most precious commodity – our kids.

But then we go through that glorious feeling of reunion where your hugs are so tight that you can hardly breathe and you can’t talk fast enough to get all the missing thoughts and words of the last months and years out of your heart and head and into the heart and head of the other person. And you know in that instant that no matter how much it hurts to say goodbye, it makes the reuniting all the sweeter. That as much as you think you want that other persons life – the one who has lived in the same house for 30 years and has all of their family within a 5 mile radius – it will never be so for you and your family and that’s quite alright!

Middle-Aged Woman, Little Black Suit

Continental breakfast
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Bloggers Note: In keeping with the unintended theme on women this week, I’ll relay a story that showed me just how hard it is in some cultures for middle-aged women to be taken seriously….

Location: London, England

Time: March 2009

Place: Fancy Intercontinental Hotel – breakfast

I can’t say I wasn’t warned.  My sister-in-law had told me when she entered middle-age that middle-aged women were not taken seriously in the western world unless they dressed up.  I heard her with part amusement and part interest.  I was to find once again that Hearing and Experiencing are not the same.

I walked down to the breakfast area of the Intercontinental Hotel in London, England in jeans and slip on flats.  I had almost overslept breakfast and the meal as described on the brochure was not to be missed.  The descriptions of butter croissants either chocolate, plain or almond; pastries of every kind;fresh fruit and juices; and an omelet bar topped off with whatever kind of coffee drink you so desired were mouth-watering.  More over, we had only three nights in the fancy hotel, heading next to Hotel Jubilee, a ‘cold toast and bad jam perfect for our budget‘ hotel.

I waited at least 10 minutes to be seated, growing increasingly frustrated.  The waiter who seated me gave me the up and down look making snap judgments on  both my intellect and budget before seating me with no eye contact.  I helped myself and people-watched.  I was the invisible person – I was the middle-aged female frump, a nuisance to be ignored.  Let me make it very clear that there were middle-aged male frumps who were doing just fine.  But not the female…

So I decided to do some non-scientific research.  I obsessed and planned over it all day long.  The next morning I jumped out of bed, even later than the day before.  I had no time to shower but I put on my little black suit and the highest heels I own.  I topped it off with make up on an unwashed face.

It worked – “Good morning Madam!  Would you like to be seated?”  No waiting, no frustration. I gave what I hoped was a charming sophisticated smile through teeth, unbrushed and fuzzy with sweaters still on them, and followed him to a premier spot with sunlight pouring through the window. The excellent service continued and culminated with a copy of The Times brought to me on a silver tray.

The research had ended, the results were clear – Middle aged women need little black suits in order to be recognized and taken seriously.

Thankfully I have several role models who are on the other side of this stage and have not allowed poor service, middle age, black suits, or Botox to take over their identity.  They have instead focused on growing increasingly wiser, humbler, and more fun. And as those characteristics are molded deeper into their wrinkles, they have become more beautiful.

Note from the blogger: This post is dedicated to Pauline Brown, Ruth Johnson, and  Bettie Addleton – Beautiful women who don’t need little black suits.

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