Cities have been on my mind lately, partly because we just helped my son and daughter-in-law move from one city to another. From Chicago here, to Minneapolis. I have a long history with both these cities. I went to college in Chicago and have loved it ever since. I have family and friends there and so have visited often over the years, particularly after my son also went to college there and then planted roots and stayed. As for Minneapolis, I’ve lived here, in the city limits, nearly all of my adult life. My other son went to school in Boston, but he now lives in New York City and has been our guide and teacher for understanding that overwhelming but glorious place. My husband is a student of skyscrapers and other city architecture. You could say we’re a city-type family.
The summer issue of Comment magazine is focused on cities (“The Other Side of the City”), and I’ve been reading it with interest. The essays in this issue are challenging my thinking about cities. Despite my confidence in getting on a subway or finding a restaurant, how much do I really know about the inner workings or social architecture of the cities I love? Coincidentally, the issue’s first page is Carl Sandburg’s poem, "Chicago."
Editor James K. A. Smith writes in the title essay,
[T]his issue also invites you to consider the unseen side of the city, the social infrastructure that undergirds it—the web of institutions and systems that make it possible, like the hidden girders and encased skeletons that hold up our skyscrapers. The city isn't just a mission field, a dense audience for Gospel proclamation; it is also a human cultural creation, born of necessity and desire, a way that humans seek to live together. But such a reality is not magic, nor is it merely "natural;" it is an astounding cultural feat that requires constant maintenance, renewal, and reform, especially in a fallen world. Infrastructure isn't sexy and doesn't get much press. Nobody moves to the city for the sewers, sanitation, or the municipal master plan. And yet these invisible skeletons of the city are what sustain its life.
You can read the complete essay here as well as an essay by Milton Friesen, “The City is Complex: Lessons from The Wire.” The rest of the issue is accessible only by print or digital subscription, which I recommend by the way. Comment is a quarterly magazine (tagline: “public theology for the common good”) and is always filled with themed and thought-provoking material.
What cities have you known and loved?
[Photo: Taken approaching Chicago's Gold Coast, southbound on Lakeshore Drive.]
I like the word "intention" better than "resolution." It implies something to work toward, move toward, rather than something at which you either succeed or fail.
Here's what I'm intending for the new year:
Create more; consume less.
Trust more; worry less.
Read more; write more; watch less.
Write more of what lasts longer.
Waste less time.
Spend more time in "creative idleness".
Spend less; save more.
Use more paper, lots of paper.
Use a pen more, a keyboard less.
Find an agent; find a publisher; deliver a manuscript worth publishing, worth reading.
Talk less but say more.
Figure out how patience and urgency co-exist.
Cook more; eat less.
Start sewing again.
Play the piano more.
Pursue truth, beauty, and goodness at every opportunity; realize every moment is an opportunity.
Stand up straighter.
Speak more often in the strength of my own voice.
Find the way to do what needs to be done; sit quietly and wait for the Lord.
Pray more, pray without ceasing.
See the signs, ask for signs; be more willing to step into the unknown.
Use less; have less; give more away.
Shorten my to-do lists.
More intentionally be a conduit for the flow of God's grace to the world.
Be silent more often.
Pray more fervently for safety coast to coast but live less fearfully.
Remind myself as often as needed where true hope lies.
Start fewer projects but finish more of those I start.
Be more attuned to the burdens of the people I pass on the street as well as those with whom I share a table or a home.
Love God with ever more of my heart, soul, strength, and mind.
Eat less sugar but more dark chocolate.
What's on your list?
Related New Year's post:
Lost Quote has Royal History (includes the poem "The Gate of the Year)
Since last Saturday I've been watching something miraculous unfold long distance. Over Twitter and emails, texts and phone calls, I've witnessed my son, Alex Nordenson, and two friends, Katherine Dolan and John Heggestuen, (all live in Brooklyn, NY) go from being Brooklynites who were inconvenienced by Hurricane Sandy but generally unscathed to becoming Metro citizens who have spearheaded an enormous donation drive for those who did not fare so well with Sandy.
That part's not the miracle.
The generosity of people is the miracle, the bubbling joy this effort is fueling, the sheer number of people who are participating, the speed with which the message to give is replicating. It's gone viral. Search Twitter or Google for "Sandy Registry" or #sandyregistry or @sandyregistry and you'll see what I mean.
The giving drive they've created is this: an online "wedding registry" on Amazon for Hurricane Sandy victims. They are working with the nonprofit "Occupy Sandy" to provide specific needed items directly to those who need them. All purchases are sent to the Occupy Sandy relief center at the Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn and then delivered daily by volunteers.
Here's the link: http://www.amazon.com/registry/wedding/32TAA123PJR42
They are continually updating the list to reflect what’s needed in real time, and because they’re working with volunteers in daily contact with the people in need they can be spot on with requests. For example, the registry first emphasized flashlights and batteries, then blankets, diapers, and items for water clean up, such as hoses and pumps and mops and rubber gloves. Now the temperature is dropping and there’s demolition to be done, so stop by the registry today and you’ll find requests for sleeping bags and long underwear, sledge hammers and crow bars, as well as other items for the long haul ahead. Yesterday someone purchased the 6 laptops that were requested to help people fill out requests for FEMA assistance for faster processing.
Here’s just a small sampling of what’s been purchased so far: hundreds and hundreds of fleece and wool blankets; hundreds of sleeping bags; more than 300 canisters of baby formula; nearly 500 boxes of disposable gloves; more than 600 48-pack battery boxes; mobile hotspots; generators and water pumps; safety glasses. To see the growing list of purchases, go to the registry and sort by “Purchase Status.” The numbers are amazing and continually increasing!
In the last 24 hours alone, 1,000 orders have come in.
The team encourages registry buyers to use expedited shipping so that items arrive while the need is pressing. For those who have Amazon Prime, 1 to 2 day shipping of qualified items is free, but not everyone has Prime and many needed items don’t qualify. The team has been reaching out to Amazon to chip in with free shipping but so far Amazon isn’t talking.
Jeff Bezos, if you’re reading this, please give my son a call.
This registry is getting attention. Journalists are interested. Here’s a piece from The Atlantic and another from ABC News. Here’s a video from Mashable. I’ve even heard that some “experts” have been reaching down to ask the team for info and advice. A similar registry has now been started for New Jersey and that one is in contact with the original.
This strategy, with its heavy use of social media, could very well change the face of disaster relief.
There’s something very personal about this way of giving. You can select a canister of baby formula and package of diapers and picture a grateful mother opening her arms to them half a country away. You might choose to forgo buying a CD for yourself on Amazon and instead head to the registry and send a tool belt to someone rebuilding what they lost, or put the purchase of the complete series of your favorite TV show on hold while you click and buy a wheelbarrow.
Follow the Sandy Wedding Registry on Twitter @sandyregistry.
The American Swedish Institute, located here in Minneapolis, held a Grand Opening of its new wing this past weekend. In this Scandinavian-dense city, the ASI has acted for many years as a cultural center for all things Swedish, hosting museum exhibits, dinners, classes, festivals, a gift shop, and so on, in its "Castle" on Park Avenue, which was originally built in 1903 as the mansion of Swedish-American newspaper publisher.
The new wing is new in every way. "Green," sleek, light to the Castle's dark. My husband and I stopped in for the opening just as a group of students from a local grade school were performing a Native American Indian dance in its performance hall, which is an indicator of what else is new. The ASI's vision is expanding to include multicultural programming in recognition of the multicultural reality that is now this metropolitan area, particularly the neighborhood in which the ASI stands
My husband and I found this interesting: By looking at the original Castle from the vantage point of the new wing, you can see and appreciate it from a perspective you never could before when this land was a parking lot. Similarly, the best way to get a full view of the new wing is to stand facing it from a window on the upper floor of the Castle.
Looking back; looking forward.
Before we left, we drank coffee and split a cardamom roll, sitting in a shady corner on the courtyard, in the space between the old and the new.
This morning I want to give a shout out to my friend Lisa Ohlen Harris who just landed a book deal for her memoir, The Fifth Season: A Daughter-in-Law’s Memoir of Caregiving. The book chronicles her years of sharing a home and being the primary caregiver for her elderly mother-in-law through the time of her death.
Look for it in 2013 from Texas Tech University Press, In the meantime, you can read online a couple essays from the book that have already been published.
From "Comfort Food" published at Brevity:
"I woo Jeanne’s appetite with her favorite Southern foods. Grits, banana pudding, Miracle Whip, and bologna loaf on white bread. French dressing over cottage cheese. Sausage gravy over biscuits: pallid sauce so thick with grease that the leftovers will congeal, gray and lumpy. Tomorrow I will reheat them to mash over her toast." [Keep reading...]
From "Autumn Sage" published at Ascent:
"The first time it happened was in October. And then again—twice—in November. What better season for falling? The leaves lose their grasp and come floating down, brittle as an old woman’s hipbone." [Keep reading...]
Here’s a link to Lisa’s blog where she posted an announcement about the book deal and where she’ll be giving updates about the book. This is Lisa’s second book. Through the Veil came out in 2010 and is about her time living in Syria and Jordan.
Given the growing complexity of eldercare as a key issue in the real lives of real people, Harris's memoir is going to be an important book. It joins the ranks of other narratives that have recently emerged (see the article "Daddy Issues" in the March 2012 issue of The Atlantic) that give witness to and deepen the conversation about how we care for our aging loved ones and still care for our own families and ourselves.
Last Saturday, I attended a symposium on human trafficking put together by my good friend who recently quit her day job and is pouring herself into this issue. Presenters included law enforcement officers, several men and women who run organizations to help victims, and musical and spoken word artists. It was eye-opening to say the least. That's exactly what it was meant to be. Who knew this was happening in our own back yard? How can a wrong be righted without this awareness among ordinary citizens? The stories we heard were graphic and shocking.
Here is some of what I learned: Minnesota has the largest number of homeless youth per capita in the country. Not New York or California, but Minnesota. This doesn't even count the youth that are homeless but part of a homeless family. A homeless youth on his or her own will be targeted by a trafficker within 48 hours of being on the streets. Nationwide, the average age of entry into sex trafficking is 13 years. This trafficking is a form of slavery, quite literally, and is the fastest growing black market crime. In Minnesota alone, 8,000 to 12,000 women and children are being sold for sex. Some are locked in rooms and forced to provide services to a steady stream of customers; others are on the streets to attract customers under the watchful eye of their "owners" who will use baseball bats or any other means to make sure they stay on the job and bring in a certain daily quota. This doesn't happen only to girls from the wrong side of the tracks. Rich kids get trapped too. Traffickers are trained to see the vulnerable in shopping malls, on the streets, and, in rapidly increasing numbers, on the internet and lure them by affirming their beauty, promising to take care of them, pretending to be their boyfriend and so on, and then the trap is set. Overall, considering sex and labor trafficking together, an estimated 27 million people are enslaved worldwide.
Nationwide, there are few law enforcement officers dedicated to human trafficking and fewer than 100 recovery beds for rescued women and children, with long waiting lists for those beds. Few churches or civic groups want to host awareness events and fundraising for this cause is difficult because the topic is too dark, too scary. To be honest, I don't even like having such darkness on this blog.
So what can an average person do? Here are some ideas from the symposium:
By day I'm a freelance medical writer. After hours I do another kind of work. Creative writing, spiritual writing, essaying. This blog arises from those after hours. I write about work/vocation, meaning, hope, imagination, faith, science, creativity/writing, books, and anything else I feel the impulse to write about. I hope these short posts provide camaraderie for your own creative and spiritual life.
In the Celtic Prayer Book, Aidan Clarke wrote that the soul is like a bridge, "bear[ing] the weight and accept[ing] the contradictions of the two-way flow between God and the world." I like this metaphor of the soul as a bridge and have been thinking about it in relation to one's work. I’ve always thought that God wanted his people to saturate the world, all industries, all domains. Here in the pool business. Here in the advertising industry. Here at an arts center, at a hospital. God's bridges everywhere—God to world, world to God. But there's a catch to the...
For readers who are tempted to think that finding and traveling one’s path is as simple as identifying your passion on a vocational questionnaire and then never losing sight of that passion, this story may cause you to think again.
On New Year’s Day I started rereading Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I first read it the summer before last after a short writing retreat, and it seemed appropriate to start the year with a review of this book’s gems. If you do any kind of creative work, or think about doing any kind of creative work, whether or not it’s your day job, I commend this book to you.