Monday, July 31, 2006


I've finally done enough shopping, driving, eating, reading, tv watching, and resting to comment on something really incredible.

one year ago i left this country to "expand my horizons" as my mother would say. I went to Egypt to serve and also to grow, to have my eyes opened, my mind expanded, my understandings of various things broadened, etc etc etc.

When I got there, I found my choices severely limited compared to living here. I expected some of this--the fewer choices of foods, of various consumable products, etc. I expected a limitation to be placed on my general freedom, since I am a woman. I did not expect quite the limits I found, but I eventually learned to live within them. I ate the same two cereals all year (until my dad came to visit with some Cinnamon Toast Crunch!), I drank the same two flavors of juice, I ate the same vegetables. I learned how to get around without getting harassed (as much) by going the same way, seeing the same people, taking the same taxi, not going to new places, etc. And I looked forward to the expansion of my freedom and my choices when I returned to America.

Well, now I've returned. I'm still a little limited--by my resources, by the fact that I'm mooching off friends and family, and the fact that I don't have a car here in Atlanta. But my choices here are incredible--I can go to the park, I can walk around the neighborhood, I can call my friends, I can watch TV, I can do all kinds of things and no one even looks twice at me.

However, one area where I've found the expansion of choices overwhelming is in the realm of shopping. During the past year, several products have expanded their product lines so the old products are nearly impossible to find. One example: the cereal aisle. No longer are there four types of cheerios (which is already ridiculous)--now in addition to regular, frosted, honey nut, and team cheerios there are berry cheerios, yogurt cheerios, multi-grain cheerios, and apple cinnamon cheerios. I didn't even see the yellow box. No longer do we have lucky charms--now we have lucky charms, berry lucky charms, chocolate lucky charms, and less-sugar lucky charms. Cinnamon Toast Crunch is now next to French Toast Crunch. Don't even get me started on Honey Bunches of Oats or Smart Start. The cereal options now run the full length of an aisle in the grocery store. The cereal bars (which have also expanded significantly) are on the other side of the aisle now.

Many people have written about what's being called the "tyranny of choice" (this link is to the best synopsis of the research article you would otherwise have to pay for...which is linked to in this article, in case you feel like paying for it). It seems that we have a lot more money and a lot more choices than we did 30 years ago (duh) but that fewere Americans report that they are happy. Apparently "maximizers"--people who strive to make the best possible choice each time (so, people like me, then)--are the least happy because they are constantly weighing options and second guessing and wondering if they made the best choice.

Now I've lived in some places where I didn't have a lot of choices--in Scotland I didn't have choices at all because I was fed every meal in the refectory and the only entertainment on the island was the (singular) pub or nature (gorgeous). I loved 99% of the minutes I spent there. In Egypt, things were different and sure, I chafed under the restriction at times, but as far as the grocery store goes I didn't feel limited aside from the lack of leafy green veggies. the whole freedom-to-be-a-person thing, that's different. But choice-wise, it was okay. And now that I've come back to even more choices than I had when I left, I am really feeling this.

Jason and I spent over an hour in the grocery store last week. Most of that hour was spent wandering, staring at all the new stuff and wondering why we need 8 flavors of cheerios. I think I was in the cereal aisle (by myself) for at least 15 minutes. I couldn't find anything. The boxes have changed, in many cases (I had no idea which kind of SmartStart I wanted because the box looks different!). There are three or four (or more) flavors of everything where there used to be one or two. It was crazy. I was almost paralyzed with trying to decide about things that, half an hour before, I hadn't known existed. If I had been on the cereal aisle of the western supermarket in Cairo, I would have had about 10 or 20 choices of cereal, more than half of which would have been WAY out of my price range. I would have picked up the same two cereals I'd eaten the previous month. If I'd been at ZamZam, our local grocer, I would have gotten corn flakes, and then stopped for bananas from the fruit man because Egyptian cornflakes are gross.

But, I stood in the aisle with my cart. I looked up and down. I walked left and right. I stared at 40 feet of five shelves of colorful boxes, and all I wanted was...everything. Honeycomb, Apple Jacks, those new not-Apple-Jacks, every flavor of Lucky Charms (except chocolate, eew), all four kinds of Captain Crunch, three types of Raisin Bran, and everything else that would fit in my cart. I couldn't choose the best thing, because everything looked good (well, not shredded wheat, but you know...). What was going to taste best? What was going to be healthiest? Would any cereal manage to be both healthiest and best tasting?

I left the aisle with SmartStart (heart healthy, with no weird dried fruit or anything), Quaker Oh's (nothing's changed there!), and Barbara's Cinnamon Puffins (again, nothing's changed--good ol' organics!).

I left the store with four types of berries, cool whip free (yum), veggies, bananas, and stuff to make an egyptian dinner. Speaking of which--did you know that Athenos Hummus has expanded from just two flavors to about 10? Red Pepper, Roasted Eggplant, Black Olive, Greek Style, Original, and more! Can you imagine being an Egyptian in a Publix for the first time? oh my, let the panic begin.

Has anyone tried those new dark chocolate m-n-ms in the purple package?

Here I go, maximizing again--seeing what choices other people are making and soliciting feedback trying to find out the best kind of m&ms to eat. really.

Seriously, I do think we have too many choices in this country. We have this idea that more is better (goes right along with "bigger is better"). But is it? Or are all these choices just taking over our lives? Arabic speakers who learn English often use the phrase "take a decision" rather than "make" a decision. I have wondered about this, because it seems strange. But here, maybe it's right, only in this country, the decisions have taken us--hostage.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Lies, All Lies!

a sermon for my "Final Assessment" with my Committee on Preparation for Ministry in Chicago Presbytery, adapted from my ordination exam exegesis paper.

Jeremiah 7:1-15 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: Stand in the gate of the LORD's house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah, you that enter these gates to worship the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: "This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD."

For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever. Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, "We are safe!"-- only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the LORD.

Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. And now, because you have done all these things, says the LORD, and when I spoke to you persistently, you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your ancestors, just what I did to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of my sight, just as I cast out all your kinsfolk, all the offspring of Ephraim.

Imagine yourself in a crowded place—the state fair, the mall on the day after Thanksgiving, or the line to get a tour of the White House or the Washington Monument. Can you feel it? The bodies, the heat, the anticipation. Can you smell it? The air, the grass, the car exhaust, the food. Can you see it? The colors, the masses of people, the hairstyles, the clothes, the children. Can you hear it? The voices, the machines, the music. Listen harder…there’s one voice standing out, and there’s a crowd gathering over there to the left—who is it? What’s he saying? Ooh, he’s one of those people—he has shaggy hair and tattered clothes, and a voice that carries through town while he makes all those crazy pronouncements. You know the type—the sandwich-board wearing, cross-carrying park-preachers. They’re always talking about the end times, the last days, the judgment of the earth, and telling us to hurry up and repent. Well, they haven’t been right yet, have they?

This is what it must have felt like for Jeremiah’s crowd. They came to Jerusalem, maybe for a festival or maybe just to make a pilgrimage, or maybe to sacrifice on behalf of their family, their village, or a particularly heinous sin they’d committed. They came with their lambs and goats and turtledoves, they came with their money, their grain, and their oil. There were lots of people, lots of priests, lots of sacrifices, and a lot of blood. The air smelled of smoke and blood. The people smelled like they’d walked a long way. The crowds were excited, the voices were loud, and the people rejoiced that they’d completed requirements for forgiveness.

And then they heard the voice, the voice claiming to speak for the LORD. “Do not trust in these deceptive words, ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.’”

Wait….I thought that was the whole point of the Temple? God lives here! God said he would live here, and we would be safe! God said she would live here forever with us, and that we would live forever here in the land with God. What is this crazy man going on about now?

“Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say “We are safe!”—only to go on doing all these abominations?”

Well, I mean, that’s why we made the sacrifices, right? That’s why we brought the perfect lambs and the grain and oil, that’s why we walked all the way here…just because we sacrificed one of the lambs on the high place a few miles back doesn’t make this one any less worthy, right? I mean, we have to cover our bases. Just in case. I’ve never murdered anyone. And I don’t steal! And I certainly don’t lie, except about that missing bread. Besides, that’s why we have this Temple, isn’t it?

“You know, I too am watching, says the LORD.”


“Go to Shiloh and see.”


“Therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, in which you trust, just what I did to Shiloh.”

No—you can’t! You promised! This man is crazy—let’s stone him!

Jeremiah tells these words of the LORD—and they are not popular words. Words like “hypocrites” and “idolaters” and “liars.” The people of Judah are not doing a good job at keeping the covenant God made with them—did you notice the commandments mentioned here? The LORD, through Jeremiah, accuses the people of stealing, murder, adultery, swearing falsely, making offerings to Baal…these are serious offenses here at the center of this passage. Even worse, though, is what the people do in conjunction with these offenses—they come to the house of the LORD and say “We are safe!” and then leave the house and break the covenant again and again.

Why can’t they just do what’s asked of them—to act justly with one another, not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, not shed innocent blood, not go after other gods? Why can’t they just amend their ways?

Well, that always sounds easier than it really is. I’m sure we’ve all tried to change a habit—it takes time. To change from always being late to always being early, to change our eating habits, to stop smoking. And here Jeremiah is talking about much more serious change—he’s talking about a change from lies to truth. The people of Judah have been lying to themselves for years. These deceptive words—“but we have the Temple!”—have gotten them a long way. “We are safe!” they tell themselves as they sacrifice to Baal and to the LORD on the same day. “The LORD promised this land to us” they say over and over as they watch the northern kingdom fall. "We have no serious sin," they say, but the truth is not in us. These are lies, all lies, when not backed up with covenant action. But these lies—the lies they tell themselves, the lies they tell God, the lies they tell one another—they are all to no avail. “I, too, am watching, says the LORD.” There is no safety in lies. The temple rituals mean nothing when they are not accompanied by true repentance—a turning from the bad and to the good. It’s not just about not murdering and stealing, it’s also about acting justly and welcoming others. It’s not just about making the right moves in the Temple, it’s also about not going to the high places and making back-up offerings to another god. It’s not just about coming to church and saying the right words from memory, it’s also about acting like a follower of Jesus on Tuesday. What the people do in the Temple, or what we do in the church, doesn’t matter nearly as much as what they (and we) do outside those buildings.

But but but! I can practically hear the people of Judah exclaim. God did promise us this land, and God did promise to dwell here forever! Those aren’t lies—that’s the truth! Flip back a few pages and read it for yourself! Well, that’s true. But God didn’t say “here’s some land, have fun!” God made a covenant. And that covenant has rights and responsibilities, blessings and curses. You don’t get the land without the book. Jeremiah reminds the people of Judah what happened up north in Israel, with that whole Shiloh fiasco. God said God would dwell with them at Shiloh, and look what happened! The people didn’t keep their end of the bargain, and Shiloh was destroyed. The southerners thought that they were different than those northerners. To be compared to the north was an outrage—perhaps one reason Jeremiah was nearly murdered for this sermon. Walter Brueggemann says that “everyone listening knew of Shiloh—that it was a northern shrine and that long ago it had vanished from history, destroyed because of disobedience. It was also part of the self-understanding of the southern community that northern Shiloh and southern Jerusalem are precise opposites. Whereas Shiloh is rejected by God and therefore destroyed, Jerusalem is chosen and valued by God, and therefore safe.”

Jeremiah, however, is engaged in proclaiming exactly the opposite. He argues that Jerusalem is just like Shiloh. Jerusalem is the current dwelling place of God, the meeting place of the tribes, the place of worship. “It is just like Shiloh in that it must obey to survive. It is just like Shiloh in its profound disobedience. And therefore, it is just like Shiloh in that it must be destroyed.” Just as Israel was wicked and its temple was destroyed and the people carried off by the Assyrians, now Judah too is wicked and the temple can be destroyed and the people carried off to Babylon. Jeremiah seems to be saying, “remember last time? It could, and it will happen again!” But the people of Judah are too mired in their own lies to believe him. They have told themselves that they’re different, that those rules don’t apply, that everything is just fine—and they’ve made themselves believe it. They trust in deceptive words.

I’m sure we can all think of some deceptive words we have put our trust in, maybe even some that were painfully exposed as lies. “This is America—nothing can happen to us.” “We’re the richest people in the world—no one is hungry here.” “This will make our country safer.” There is no safety in lies. There is safety only in the Truth, in living within the covenant. The lies we tell ourselves, or that others tell us, will get us nowhere. We have to live like we believe what we say in church. We have to act outside the way we act inside these walls. Otherwise we are just lying to ourselves.

I saw some examples of this during my year in Egypt. I was astounded at the way people treated each other on the street. As I walked down the sidewalk, I noticed that people were completely indifferent to others on the sidewalk or road. People don’t move—they just run into each other or wait for the other person to yield. They don’t wait for people to cross the street, they just nearly hit them with their cars. They shout at each other. Men harass and abuse women right on the sidewalks. I was also appalled by the way they treated their environment—they just toss garbage on the road, the sidewalk, out the car window, even out the windows of the Metro trains. I’m surprised the subway tunnels haven’t filled up with trash.

I remember the first time I went into the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral complex—the walled-in city block where Christians gather for worship, fellowship, education, and all kinds of activities. It is one of the cleanest places in Cairo—no trash to be seen. Inside, everyone is friendly. Soon, I started to notice outside on the streets and sidewalks that I could tell who was a Christian—they put their trash in the trash cans posted along the sidewalk. They helped anyone they saw. They stepped aside when people walked toward them on the sidewalk. They picked up things others dropped, helped elderly women across the street, and were friendly if you made eye contact with them. If they were harassed (which women often were since they wore no headcovering), they simply greeted the person and moved on. In other words, they showed the love they have received, they tried their best to uphold the covenant.

I admit that I often admired this behavior from afar. I found myself often angry at the men on the streets, and there were times when I would run into people on the sidewalk because I was so annoyed that they didn’t even appear to notice that they were blocking the entire sidewalk. But gradually I found out what it means to be a Christian in a place where few others are, what it means to live out the things we say in church, to act the way Jeremiah says we must. To act like the words in this book make a difference to our lives and thoughts, to our interactions with people—both strangers and friends, to our treatment of the environment. To act ilke followers of the One who fulfilled the covenant. I found out what it means to turn not just my words but my life from falsehood to truth.

The people to whom Jeremiah was speaking found themselves trusting in falsehoods they had created for themselves. Each breach of covenant revealed a new lie the people were living. How often we stay in our comfortable lies….but the truth is that the LORD requires justice and faithfulness of people, and then God will dwell in the house called by God’s name. The truth is that God has come in person and lived this covenant with and for us, and made us into his body on earth. Remember that 1st Peter says we are the living stones that are being built into God's house? How lovely it will be in this dwelling place of God when we turn from the lies and place our trust not in deceptive words but in the Word made flesh.


(Walter Brueggemann quotes from A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, pub. 1998.)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

one week in America

I almost used a line from the over-played BareNakedLadies song...but I declined that opportunity.

It's been five days since we returned to the USA. And while I haven't exactly done a lot of things, I do have a few reflections.

1. I really love not having to squeegee my bathroom floor after taking a shower.

2. I love drinking cold water right out of the tap even in the middle of a 100-degree afternoon.

3. I love the way people drive between the lines on the road.

4. I love that there isn't any garbage on the ground (okay, at least there's not a lot of garbage on the ground).

5. I LOVE the grass and trees and clean air!!

1. I think those stores everywhere are absolutely humongous. I went to the mall the other day and across the street was a complex of BestBuy, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Toys R Us. Those stores were so big that "big box store" didn't even begin to describe them. I thought I was in a Super Mario Brothers game.

2. I went into a Publix for a sandwich and I only went on ONE AISLE in the store and found that I wanted every single thing I saw. There are all kinds of new products that I wanted to try--plus I was starving--and I thought I might die if I couldn't have the SmartStart cereal bars, the powdered-sugar donuts in a bag, the weight-watchers snack cakes, five different kinds of juice, the mixed berries already washed in a container, a salad, and five packs of cheese.

3. I went shopping for some interview-worthy clothes (I'm going to a weekend-long church visit in two weeks and didn't really bring home any clothes like that...or really many clothes at all) and found myself aimlessly wandering huge stores wondering what to do with myself. I ended up checking out twice at a department store because I just assumed that I only wanted the one thing I tried on...and then I found myself in a different quadrant of the same floor of the store, trying on more things. oy!

4. It's incredible to go places and have people be friendly--in my language. It's like being myself again. At the same time, though, I have actually found myself unable to understand people sometimes , I think because I don't expect to be able to understand everything around me. Also, I do miss Arabic. Jason and I are still speaking to each other in Arabic sometimes. It's nice.

5. It's strange to get emails back right away. I sent an email the other day and within half an hour had several responses. I was so shocked, because all year I've been 7 or 8 or 10 hours ahead of most people on my email list! I was like "why are they online in the middle of the night? oh...they're not, it's 11am." duh. Things happen much faster here. I'm glad of that, but it's also a little overwhelming.

Those are the thoughts for today. I should be working on a sermon for my CPM on Jeremiah 7. I'm off to do that. ttfn!

Friday Five on Saturday...again

It's been one year since the RevGalBlogPals ring started. And so, this anniversary Friday Five:

1) What is your first memory of the RevGalBlogPals?

It was October. I lived in Egypt. I read a blog (I can't remember whose). I saw a strange blogring box in the sidebar. I thought "I don't like the look of those boxes." Then I thought "but this sounds so cool!" I clicked the link. It looked neat. I joined.

2) Have you met any of the other ring members in real life?

I already knew several of them...Reverend Mother, NotShyChiRev, Miranda (My Farcical Existence), Amy (It's Not Just About the Camel Dance), and Julie (Musings). I'm just two days away from meeting Reverend Mommy.

3) Of those you haven't met, name a few you would love to know in person.

hmm...probably lots of them. Check my sidebar for blogs I read--those are mostly the people I'd like to meet sooner rather than later.

4) What has Ring Membership added to your life?

women clergy role models, support, and fun. plus a fantastic way to spend my "free" time.

5) Describe a hope for the future of the WebRing.

Just like everyone else has said, I would love a retreat or something! And naturally more books. I love books. :-)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


I have arrived.
and seen good friends.
and eaten.
and consumed cherry vanilla dr. pepper.
and slept.
and woke up BEFORE 7am, which I think is actually a crime.
and watched lame morning tv.
and checked my email.
and now...i'm going to take a shower in a bathtub with a door, and I am not going to have to squeegee the floor when i'm done, and it will be GREAT.

ps. it's quite nice to be back.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Leaving, on a Jet Plane

cross-posted from Adventures in Egypt, so you all can see it without clicking another link. Also, there are a lot of things I want to say about Israel and Gaza and Lebanon, but I'm using our dial-up so I don't really have time. Maybe when I get home. Until I get there, tomorrow afternoon American Time!, enjoy this and pray for safe travels. Love to you all! peace...Teri

Leaving, on a Jet Plane
My last letter from Cairo
July 16 2006

At this moment, I sit in my living room surrounded by two full, 23-kilogram suitcases, a backpack, and a laptop case. I have four candles burning—trying to make things smell homey though they don’t look homey anymore. Most of my food is gone—just a few things left to eat today. Everything is off the walls. My dresser, closet, desk, and bookshelves are empty. Trash bags abound—some filled with actual garbage which will be carefully sorted and recycled by the Christians in Garbage City, some filled with clothes and shoes and toiletries to be donated to the African refugees who come to St. Andrew’s church for help. Our internet is down so you may not get this until I get home…but, this being Cairo, it may come back anytime so we’ll just hope for the best.

Yesterday Naadia, one of our cleaning women, came to my room and looked at my suitcases and said something along the lines of, “oh, all your things are ready, your room is empty, I’ll miss you!” Even after a year of hanging out with Naadia and Marsa, who speak no English, I still often only get the basic gist of what they’re saying. A lot of the time I nod my head as though I understand when actually I caught only a few words. But yesterday needed no translation—Naadia is my friend, and she considers me like one of her children (grandchildren?). She has been here to help me figure things out in Dawson Hall, to wash my dishes if she felt I wasn’t getting to that quickly enough, to buy my groceries because it’s inappropriate for me to be the only young single woman in the market, to celebrate and to be sad at various times. Naadia has been working here for something like 15 years—long before the Young Adult Volunteers started staying here, and now she will continue after us as well, since there will be no volunteers here next year. When she said goodbye to us yesterday (she doesn’t work on Sundays—she goes to church to pray for us, she said!), she nearly had tears in her eyes as she said she wanted us to come back to Egypt soon, that she loves us and will miss us. And I will miss her too—she’s so friendly and helpful, loving and kind. I have learned a lot of things from Naadia and Marsa this year—about cooking, cleaning, fixing stopped-up drains and broken stoves, lighting the big oven in the common kitchen, hanging clothes to dry outside without getting them dirty, about Arabic, about their families, about how we do things in Egypt, about how to be a true servant and a joyful Christian. These women are really incredible. They can’t read, but they have great memories. They can’t speak my language and I can’t really speak theirs, but we have communicated with love.

As I prepare to leave Egypt in just a few hours, I am reflecting on some of the things I have learned this year. And so I am going to share them with you—serious and silly, in no particular order.

· There are definitely things I have struggled with this year, as many of you know. I went through a phase several months ago in which I really disliked this place, the way men treat women, the way people treat each other, the trash everywhere, the pollution, the lack of what my grandparents would call “common sense,” etc. But as I looked through photos the other day, I found myself really missing some of these places and people already. I actually discovered that, in my heart, I like Egypt quite a bit.

· I found out that I don’t use as many toiletries as I expected. In fact, I have leftovers of everything—probably enough toothpaste for another year, enough deodorant for four more months, and enough skin care products for another month or two at least. The only thing I guessed pretty accurately about was conditioner—my Dad brought me another bottle of conditioner because I was definitely running out…and I did have to use it, for about a week. So let that be a lesson—I don’t use as much of that stuff as I think I do!

· I have by no means acquired enough Arabic to be considered fluent or even mildly proficient. Jason and I were discussing yesterday that somewhere in the realm of verbs and not-as-simple adjectives, we are completely clueless. I tried to say last night “please give this photo to Mehir” and realized that I don’t know the words for give, take, receive, gift, etc, or how to say “to” someone. So I was left with the broken sentence “I won’t see him again…please (insert hand gestures miming giving something away) Mehir.” Crazy. I came here this year really hoping to leave proficient in this language. Then I tried to learn it. And then I went to work in a school where I was forbidden from speaking Arabic to students. So I never really practiced and I missed out on a lot of things—like verbs. oops. Maybe one day I will try again.

· On the other hand, I feel I have learned a surprising amount of Arabic. I can get along in a simple conversation, I can shop, I can get a taxi, I can talk to Naadia and Marsa and our gate guards about goings-on in our house, and I can talk about food like nobody’s business! I love food, so of course that’s the one thing I am fairly proficient in talking about. Bring on the food talk!

· It’s not so bad to have to wash your feet at the end of the day. In fact, it feels nice. But if you start needing to wash your feet (or your face) multiple times every day, I think we’ve crossed a line of grossness that just shouldn’t be crossed. Sadly, I crossed this line a couple of weeks ago, when it started to get really really hot and people started watering the road (why, we don’t know) with more frequency, leading to hidden puddles of nastiness and humidity rising off the sidewalk or street. Plus there’s been electrical work/construction going on in Dawson Hall for the past two weeks, so our house is covered in plaster dust and who-knows-what-else. Eew.

· Working in the seminary library I finally feel like I did something tangible. It was very task-oriented, which was nice because so much in Egypt feels disorganized so making something more orderly was a real bonus for me every day! Plus there are really great people working in the seminary library! I have definitely found myself swinging between two poles lately: the “I am in no way qualified to be a pastor, I should just do some kind of task-oriented job” pole and the “oh my goodness please get me out of this task-oriented fiasco and let me deal with people and worship and preaching and youth again!” This year I have really missed many things about being a pastor—especially leading worship. And I found that when I started teaching the teen class at the Coptic Cathedral, I had really missed youth ministry too. I loved those girls—we had so much fun playing games, reading stories, learning together, and generally being cool. I am sad to leave them after only 6 weeks together, but I know they will remember me, and I will remember them. Plus they really helped me to clarify my call to be involved in youth ministry in some way.

· Mango juice is back—I’m so glad I didn’t leave before mangos came in season again! Fresh mango juice in Egypt (which is widely reported to have the best mangos in the world) is one of the most wonderful things you can put in your mouth. ooh, it’s so good. Right now the juice stands have bags and bags of mangos hanging outside, and on Ramses Street (where we live) it’s quite a sight to behold, since there’s a juice shop every 50 yards or so. Incredible.

· After a whole year, I can safely say that my favorite place in Cairo is the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral. It’s about a five minute walk from our house, and it is full of interesting people and things. Only Christians are allowed inside the gates (they check for cross tattoos, IDs, etc at the gate)—supposedly for “safety” because the pope lives in the humongous complex. Inside there’s the church, a seminary, a library (with books mainly in Coptic and Arabic), an icon workshop, a couple of canteens/cafeterias, some shops, a sport club, the pope’s house, lots of offices, green courtyards with chairs, and lots of friendly people. Only once have I been stared at by men in the Cathedral complex. Never have I heard a rude comment or been touched or anything. Instead I have found friends wandering all over the place, just hanging out, or waiting for a class to start. I have made friends over snacks, taught classes, sat in the grassy cross-shaped courtyard, bought an icon (and made friends with the artist) and looked at cheesy stuff in the shops. The Cathedral is the best thing about living in this neighborhood, and one of the things I will most miss.

· I am really looking forward to going somewhere with normal water. The water here smells very strange—I can’t even describe the smell, but it’s quite gross. In the summer there is no sign whatsoever of cold water after about 10 am—in fact, the other day I found that the water coming from the cold tap was hot enough to make me pull my hand out…I could probably have cooked a cup-a-soup with that water. Oh, for cold water during the hot part of the day!

These are just a few of the things I have been noticing and thinking about this week as I have prepared to leave. In just 12 hours Jason and I will leave Dawson Hall for the airport. If all goes well we will arrive in Atlanta 19 hours after that. So 31 hours from right now, we’ll be home—insha’allah. It’s quite an impressive thing, and also a strange thing, to think that we can leave a whole way of life behind in a few hours. I feel like I’ve been preparing to leave for a few weeks now, but also it kind of snuck up on me—the realization that I won’t be back at the library on Monday, that I took my last taxi ride yesterday, that I went to church here for the last time, that I ate my last fuul sandwich, that I won’t be having any more ice cream from the Christian-run sweet shop, that I won’t see the Cathedral again, etc. The last few days I have been focusing on things that need to be done when I get home—making doctor’s appointments and hair appointments, preparing for interviews with churches and my presbytery committee, buying shoes online, getting a cell phone service set up, etc. It feels weird to do those things, to move back into the American Way of Life. But they must be done. The tricky bit will be trying to adapt the American Way of Life to my broadened understanding of life in all its fullness.

I think that’s more than enough for one day—plus, it’s lunch time. I need to go eat up the last of my food! I hope our phone line and internet connection comes back on in time for me to send this to you before I leave. If not, know that I’m thinking of you and hope to hear from you soon…since you’ll be reading this when I’m already home!

Thank you for your support of me and this program during this year. It’s been really wonderful—a growing and learning experience, a great privilege, and an incredible opportunity to live with people in a different part of the world. I look forward to sharing more of the experience with you. In the meantime, check out my website at and my photos at

rabbina mayku

maa salaama


Saturday, July 15, 2006

Friday Five: Pet Peeves

The RevGalBlogPals Friday Five...

1. Grammatical pet peeve: the misused apostrophe. Sadly, all over non-english speaking countries, and the south, the apostrophe works serious unpaid overtime. It absolutely drives me crazy--it's, your's, etc etc etc. grr.

2. Household pet peeve: trash on the counters. if you empty a box or package or wrapper, throw it away--don't leave it on the counter.

3. Arts & Entertainment pet peeve (movie theaters, restaurants, concerts): sticky floors. also talking during classical concerts, plays, operas, etc. the occasional whipsered comment is okay, but excessive use or full-voice should result in fines or something.

4. Liturgical pet peeve: energy-less worship leadership. like declarations of forgiveness or acclamations or whatever said with no enthusiasm whatever, just totally deadpan "we are forgiven. thanks be to god. alleluia. amen." without even a fluctuation in tone or pitch or ANYTHING. come on, people--this is GOOD NEWS!!! Is that how you share good news with your family? No. "mom! guess what! I got a job!" or "guess where she got into college!!?!?!?!" or "we're getting married" or whatever--good news requires a good energy, not life-sucking dreariness.

5. Wild card--pet peeve that doesn't fit any of the above categories: when people ask absurd questions designed to make you feel bad, i.e. "do you really want to eat that?" or "are you just going to leave that pile of paper on your desk?" or some such thing. I also really don't like for people to touch my hair. You need special permission to touch my hair, and few people get it, okay? I know it's gorgeous and whatnot, but unless you're blind I don't want you looking at my hair with your hands without permission. Thanks.

Bonus: Because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God: What do YOU do that others might consider a pet peeve?: I have high expectations--maybe too high. Also I tend to make requests with a "do you want to ____" which apparently drives Jason up the wall.

Monday, July 10, 2006

New Photos

new photos are up in the following albums on my yahoo photo page (with new pics in parentheses):

Alexandria (the library, Jen and Jennifer at school, etc)
Cairo 7--Islamic Cairo, Khan, & Citadel (the Citadel)
Tel Basta and Minya-el-qamh (all new!)
Cairo 8--Around Town (all new!)
Tukei's going-away party (all new!)
Hurghada in June (all new!)
Wadi Natroun (all new!)
The Coptic Cathedral (all new!)
Coptic Cairo (museum and street scenes)
Egypt--events and organizations (seminary graduation added at the top of the page)

If it doesn't say "all new" then the new photos are nearer to the bottom unless otherwise noted.

I hope you enjoy these!

Saturday, July 08, 2006


“insha’allah” is an Arabic word that means “God willing.” I suspect that this word gets more use in Egypt than any other word. A close second? “ilhamdulillah”—Thanks be to God.

This is strange to Westerners, because we just are not used to people invoking God all the time, even about everyday things. For instance, in America if someone asks “how are you?” you will usually respond with, “fine, thank you.” Here, someone asks “izayik?” (how are you?) and the response is often simply “ilhamdulillah” or sometimes “kwayesa, ilhamdulillah” (good, thank God).

The same goes for insha’allah. When you leave work, you say to other people “see you tomorrow” or Monday or whenever. Here, you say “ishufak bokra, insha’allah”—I’ll see you tomorrow, God willing. Or when something needs to get done, the person will often tell you when but add “God willing.”

Tonight at church the preacher talked about this a little bit, but she went somewhere different than I have been thinking. She of course wanted to talk some about free will and whether “God willing” and free will were compatible. I, however, have been thinking about this rather differently.

I often feel that people here use this phrase to shrug off responsibility, and to promote apathy. This is a country with 35% unemployment, with a large number of problems, and with a history of other countries stepping in and doing things for them (think Suez Canal, Aswan Dam and High Dam, Cairo Tower, etc). There’s not a lot of responsibility taking—there’s a lot of waiting for things to get better. And I think part of this has to do with the “insha’allah” mentality.

If things happen only because God wills them, why bother doing anything? If you show up late to work (or if you don’t show up to work at all), that was God’s will. If you can’t find a job, it’s because God doesn’t will you to have a job. If there’s a huge problem in the education system, the environmental protection (or lack thereof), or with hunger or illiteracy, it’s because God does not will those problems to be solved. On the other hand, when things do get done, Thank God…and wait for the next thing.

I think it’s important to be grateful, to recognize that power and resources come from God, that God’s will is a major factor. But it’s also important to use the resources you have, to do the work of the kingdom here. Egypt has bunches of university graduates without jobs. Egypt has bunches of really smart people who are leaving the country because only in foreign countries can they research, work, or live safely. Egypt has a history that is the envy of the world. But they have a worldview that promotes apathy. It’s so different from our American “get up and do it! pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality. (aside: have you ever thought about that bootstrap metaphor? Do you realize you can’t possibly pull anything up that way? You’ll just be stuck bent over and frustrated. Just saying.) I’m not saying that we’re right or anything...but I am saying that pushing all the responsibility for every little thing—and the big things too—onto someone else or onto God can leave you in a pretty big mess. God gave us brains and talents and resources…and expects us to use them. When we sit around waiting for someone else to do things for us, or when we say “well, God wasn’t willing for me to come to work yesterday” we get into dangerous ground.

What’s disturbing about this to me is that I have felt myself doing it. I say “see you Monday, insha’allah”—and inside I do not want, in any way, to go to work on Monday. I know that I am probably going to go in late because I just don’t want to face the streets in Cairo on Monday morning. So I am providing myself a little insurance by saying “insha’allah”—if I oversleep, if I take a little longer over my tea, if I procrastinate on getting out the door…well…God willed it. (I only do this on Monday morning, I promise!)

What’s good about this to me is that I have really found myself more reliant on God than I have been in the past. I know that it’s only “through Christ who strengthens me” that I can do anything, and that fighting against God is quite the losing battle. Putting the focus on God so often, sometimes in every conversation, reminds me to be correctly oriented. But I still do things, I still work hard, I still intend to use what God has given me. I guess that’s where our cultures clash…

and now it’s the end of the day—ilhamdulillah—and I am going to have a Sabbath tomorrow, insha’allah. woohoo!


It’s been a busy day—Jason and I visited the last two places in Cairo we wanted to go before leaving: The Citadel and the Coptic Museum. The Citadel houses one of the most famous mosques in Egypt, the “Alabaster Mosque” of Mohammad Ali. It was truly beautiful, with lots of hanging lamps, a wide open space, and no one “giving us a tour” for baksheesh. The rest of the citadel is more mosques (we visited one other), two museums—the national police museum and the national military museum (we visited the military one…it wasn’t great but was okay)—and some other stuff, I guess…and a lot of vendors trying to sell you “coke sprite fanta ice cream mango juice!”

The Coptic Museum has been closed the entire time we’ve been here, and only recently reopened after 9 months of “one more month!” Their website is still for the old museum, but it's cool anyway. The Museum has been in the news a lot lately because of the Gospel of Judas, which supposedly was/will be returned there. We did not see it today. We did see some really old Coptic manuscripts though, including a fourth century psalter—partially still bound as a book! It was incredible. We also saw frescoes from monasteries and churches around Egypt, stone and wood carvings, textiles, and even toys from the Coptic period (about 100 to 700 AD). I was really really glad we got to visit this museum!

How did we get to all these places? You might be wondering—especially since you probably know already that I don’t enjoy going out and about in Cairo too much. Well, we know a taxi driver who is really incredible. He is a Muslim man, he went to university and graduated, he speaks pretty good English…and he’s a taxi driver. He sometimes shares the car with his father, and together they are the income for their family. Our driver, Sabray, has a wife and a beautiful baby boy named Amr. You may remember him from some photos I took back in October—when the family invited us over for iftar, the dinner-time breaking of the fast during Ramadan. Sabray has been driving us various places whenever we need someone to wait for us while we do things. He’s been our driver for Trudie’s house (Trudie was our counselor these past few months), and he has patiently driven us long distances and waited in the heat, then driven us wherever else we wanted to go—including supermarkets! He’s incredible. I really like him. He’s friendly, he speaks some of my language and I speak a little of his, he’s a good driver (I never feel near death in his car—an unusual experience in a Cairo taxi!), he’s normally prompt, and he doesn’t overcharge. Sabray is one of the few Muslim men I have met in Cairo and don’t have a bad feeling about. So, Sabray, thank you. Thank you for being great and friendly. And to Egypt, I say two things: why can’t more people be like Sabray, and what’s wrong with a system in which a university graduate scrapes a living by driving a taxi?

Monday, July 03, 2006

Independence Day

This is not the first year I've been away on the fourth of July. In fact, this is the fourth time in the past 8 years that I've been out of the US on our big day. (once I was on a plane to London (on the way to Belgium) which was strangely ironic...twice I've been in Scotland...and now here.) It's always a mildly strange feeling, because you feel like you're supposed to be extra-American, you know? But I usually feel strange at home too, because it's so...well, extra-American. Blind patriotism is normally the order of the day, with music and speeches extolling our country as though we were perfect and have made no mistakes ever. Too bad we're in the middle of huge mistakes right now, and other people are suffering from mistakes we continue to make. Not to mention that the ideals the original Revolutionaries and the framers (not farmers) of our Constitution espoused and built our country on--which are incredible, by the way--are being eroded daily. Jason has quite a bit to say about this, so I won't say much. In fact, I've just decided that I won't say anything at all about it...right this minute.

Instead, here's what I want to tell you about.

This past Saturday, several of us missionary-types got together and went to the big yay-US party down in Maadi. About 2,000 Americans and Canadians (plus a few foreign guests) attended. There was food, there was music, there were games--lots of Bingo, some limbo, bouncy castles for the kids, even that cool bungie-on-a-trampoline thing--there were prizes based on your wristband number (yes, we had to show our passports to get in, then they slapped those not-plastic-not-paper American-flag emblazoned wristbands on our right hands...well, wrists). There was baskin robbins (they ran out of ice cream before I even got any!). There was pizza hut. there were hamburgers and hot dogs and pork-n-beans with actual pork (eew). there were beverages provided by coke. there were Lays potato chips. there was lots of grass, lots of English, lots of fun. It was incredibly loud because the speakers were clearly on too high. Anyway, it was great.

And there are a lot of things that I miss about America, being here. The other times I've been away on this holiday, I've been in another Western country with similar ideals (sometimes even better-lived-out than we). But here, it's different. Here you can't talk about the government unless you say nice things. Here you can't use the "m" word (missionary) because "you never know who might be listening" and since evangelism is illegal, it's best to use the word "volunteer." The police are stationed on every corner and they have big guns. The women are covered from head to toe, and if they're not then they're likely to get harassed. There aren't really rules. The government gets huge amounts of money from foreign countries (Egypt gets the second-largest amount of money from the US--first is Israel), but the people see little of it. There's 35% unemployment (on a good day), people are unhappy but see no way to change things, and the largest opposition movement in politics these days is a banned, uber-conservative, islamic faction. It's not at all clear that people like America or Americans, but everyone wants to go there because there's a real idea that it's so much better there.

Is it? I often want to say, "you know, we have problems. We have poverty--crippling poverty for a lot of people. We have drugs, violence, and real uncertainty about the future of some of our civil liberties." But you know what? We have hope. Egyptians may have history, but they've lost hope. Ditto Palestinians. At least in America, there's the sense that things can and will be better, that someone is there to help, that work can be had, that food can be had, that medical care doesn't mean making you sicker, that the government can't just kidnap you in the night from your own bedroom, that you'll HAVE a bedroom, that there can be life. Maybe even abundant life.

Which brings me to a new point: Abundant life only comes from one place. Yes, loyalty to one's country is important. Yes, pride in being an American--a real one, a true patriot who believes in what the country was founded on--is good and right. But allegiance is owed only to one. You know the One I mean. The actual source of hope, the One who gives us courage to face the situations we're in, the One who walks through the bad times with us, the One who inspires us to be the best people we can be, the One who blesses all the countries of the world, the One who bought our independence from death and sin, the One who is life and love and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

And so today I am thankful that I am an American and that, for the moment, I have rights and privileges and responsibilities. I am thankful for our history and our ideals. I am hopeful that we can admit our mistakes and that we can make progress on some issues that have been stalled for a long time. I am thankful to live in a free country, where I can say, do, think, eat, and wear what I want. I am thankful for the people who fought for our independence.

But I am even more thankful that God so loved the world that God's only Son was sent to secure our independence from something much stronger and more vile than terrorism, communism, or any other -ism you can imagine. And I am hopeful that we humans can live into that independence more and more each day, to the glory of God.

Here endeth the soliloquy on independence.