Sunday, August 30, 2009

Just Starting Up

Week One of No-Spend Month. We spent $23 on household items and food (toilet paper, peanut butter, flour, bananas, coffee) over the course of the week, and $27 out for drinks and music on the last night, for a total of $50. Among the lessons learned. Homemade coffee smoothies taste good when you're craving ice cream. Leftovers can be reworked so as not to seem repetitive. We have a lot of friends and family that like to invite us out and over. Cheap chicken is not worth it. Taking a long walk with a packed dinner is very satisfying. Martinis are unduly expensive. God is taking care of us.

In other news, some career decisions. Something that we carried away from our life in Paris was a growing realization that Karl is meant to be in music. No surprise there, you will say. He's a piano player, he always has been. We all went to his shows "back in the day," cheered him on. Still, he's always held down that other job, just in case. And I loved him for it. We were able to pay the rent, pay for groceries, line our pockets with little luxuries...wait, what?

Hm. Maybe there's something more important than that last one. More and more, it seems somehow right that he fully take up the responsibilities he has towards the musical gifts that God has given him, and by fully, I mean full-time. So, I guess you could say we are in a start-up, in the interest of being genuine to our callings. It's kind of like moving abroad...casting off all we know and depend on for security, and putting our faith in a loving and sovereign God. Those of you who pray, please do. We need bands, gigs, and piano students to make it work.

Things are starting to happen, signposts that seem to be telling us we're heading in the right direction. Some funky guys writing music on the south side. A house band for a new club in the western suburbs. (More details to follow.) And the martini night may have been expensive, but it re-united us with one of his former bands, and all of those excellent players. Think of that glass of gin balancing in my hand as an investment in our future. Sure, why not. At any rate, we are training our minds and hearts to say: "If the Lord wills, we will do this or that." If He doesn't, we won't. Either way, it's going to be a great adventure.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Preoccupation with Bread

Jesus feeds four thousand people plus with seven loaves and a few small fish, as Mark recounts in chapter 8 of his gospel. In addition, He and the disciples end up with seven baskets full of broken pieces. We are told that Jesus wanted to feed them because his "bowels" of compassion were moved (our pastor pointed out last Sunday that this is a universal human feeling - your guts lurch when you see a person or an animal being hurt. Or they should.) In light of Jesus' extraordinary act of mercy on a crowd weak with hunger, the Pharisees don't get it. They get in his face and ask him for a sign. Jesus heaves a deep (exasperated?) sigh and leaves in his boat.

The next part is the bit that interested me today. Mark goes out of his way to tell us that the disciples in the boat "had forgotten to bring bread, and they only had one loaf." Where is all of that miracle bread you had leftover? My frugality wants to chew them out. I mean, they could have made a bread pudding, or croutons at least. Maybe they could have soaked the bits it olive oil like the Italians, I don't know. But Jesus is not so preoccupied with their management of ministry resources as I am; He has other concerns.

"Watch out!" He says. "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod." What on earth does that mean? I want to know. I'm sure the other disciples are just as curious as I am, which is why they begin discussing..."the fact that they had no bread." Wha...really, guys?

Jesus turns around. "Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet understand? Are your hearts hardened?" (At this point, I imagine Jesus rapping his knuckles on the one loaf of bread they do have, now gone stale.) "Having eyes, do you not see, and having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember?" (Ouch - that was just a few hours previous, right?) "When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?" They said to him, twelve. "And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up? And they said to him, "Seven." And he said to them, "Do you not yet understand?"

Is He annoyed that they forgot the bread? "Hey guys, I made enough bread for you to eat, it was your fault you left the baskets behind. I'm just the miracle worker, here." I don't think so. It seems like He was trying to use the topic of bread and hunger, an earthly reality, to talk about heavenly food, and they just weren't making it with him to that higher plane of thinking. And truly, how can we wrap our brain around a concept like "the leaven of the Pharisees" when the fridge is empty? How do we set aside our human preoccupation with bodily fuel in the interest of spiritual things? Do we ignore our rumbling tummies, and those of our neighbor. No. Jesus Himself was concerned for the crowd before he fed them, that they might faint on the way if they tried to walk to the store. He knows we are dust, and our need for sustenance. But how much time and mental energy should we devote to these things?

This is a significant question for me personally for two reasons. Lately, given our latest jump into careful spending, it takes a considerable amount of time, planning, and extra work to run a household. Many things turn out to be a fraction of the cost when made by hand, such as bread, whole wheat tortillas, sprouts, fresh herbs, jam, cleaning products, and face wash. Of course, I have found a lot of joy and purpose in rediscovering some of these "housewifery" skills (nice, old-fashioned term). The "simple life," a trendy concept in the blogging world, promotes the values of homemaking, from-scratch cooking, gardening, local markets, and I love it all. I just eat it up. But is it really "simple," and how much of it is unnecessary preoccupation with earthly bread? (Sheesh. That's a big question. Maybe I'll save that one for a later post.)

The second reason that Jesus' reprimand to His disciples resonates with me is the recent scuttlebutt about health care spending. Now, I'm not all "wee-weed" up about it or anything, but I do read and think about these things, because they involve not only the physical health of our country (the "bread," as it were), but also the spiritual health. Why do I say that?

The story in Mark says that Jesus had a visceral reaction to the physical hunger of the people. The same word, "moved with compassion" is used when He was faced with the leper in the first chapter of the same gospel. "My heart goes out to you," by now a clichéd phrase, seems to describe the feeling pretty well. Well, I think this ought to be my first reaction when faced with the multitude of sick. (Notice, I did not say: the multitude of the uninsured.) They need help, and I need to ask God what my personal role is in alleviating the physical troubles of this world for His glory. Pray for healing? Yes. Volunteer my time, maybe. Volunteer a greater portion of my paycheck willingly? Maybe? Let the government take it from my paycheck? Maybe. Regardless, my motive should be Jesus-like compassion. As James says in his epistle, "If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,'without giving him the things needed for the body, what good is that?"

But also, like Jesus, I don't want my focus to stay on the physical satisfaction of needs. The things that I give should be like a parable, enabling me to talk more about Him. That is one problem that I have with the government (or the economy!) in the role of benevolent giver; they can only satisfy earthly needs. It's the opposite problem of the one posed in James. And goodness knows, when our earthly needs are taken care of, we tend to forget God.

Is that what he meant by the "leaven of Herod"? Hmm. I wonder...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"They had everything but money"

In an essay by Wendell Berry, 'The Work of Local Culture', he tells the following story. I thought it was poignant and true.

I was walking one Sunday afternoon several years ago with an older friend. We went by the ruining log house that had belonged to his grandparents and great-grandparents. The house stirred my friend's memory, and he told how the oldtime people used to visit each other in the evenings, especially in the long evenings of winter. There used to be a sort of institution in our part of the country called "sitting till bedtime." After supper, when they weren't too tired, neighbors would walk across the fields to visit each other. They popped corn, my friend said, and ate apples and talked. They told each other stories. They told each other stories, as I knew myself, that they all had heard before. Sometimes they told stories about each other, about themselves, living again in their own memories and thus keeping their memories alive. Among the hearers of these stories were always the children. When bedtime came, the visitors lit their lanterns and went home. My friend talked about this, and thought about it, and then he said, "They had everything but money."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Give us this day our daily bread

Last time, I mentioned that Karl and I had been reading Randy Alcorn's book Money, Possessions, and Eternity together. We have also been doing some thinking back to our first year in Paris, when our budget was extremely limited. Though it was not an easy season, it was one of the sweetest times in our life together, when we had to lean on God's faithfulness. Yup. Poor as all get-out, and our life just a bowl of cherries.

A little financial tête-à-tête this past week also revealed that it was time to tighten the belt again. Hm. I thought we were doing pretty well. (The debit card history told another truth.) Rather than get all glum about it, we agreed to treat the situation like a game. We have x amount of dollars for the next month. What can we squeeze out of it creatively? More importantly, what can we learn about about God's investment in our material needs?

This is not a glamorous idea, nor a new one. It's the basic idea of budgeting, of course - but with a tighter constraint than we normally have. The frugal blog Small Notebook's No-Spend Month Challenge is an excellent recent example. We will be closely following their model, a family of three who limited themselves to $250 dollars for one month to cover the following:

-food & eating out
-household items

The figure did not include:

-rent, insurance, bills
-health expenses
-work and education expenses
-savings and investments
-tithes and gifts

We'll be doing $200 for the next month, from August 23-September 23, with the added non-included expense of mass transit (Abbey's bus pass falls under the work/education category). We are starting with a semi-full fridge, and 3/4 tank of gas.

There are two things that I don't want this to become. First, a morose experiment in self-deprivation. Alcorn's book has an excellent chapter or two on how asceticism can be pointless, and even dangerous to one's outlook on life. God created many things for us to enjoy, and that is exactly why we're working with constraints for a short period of time: to appreciate them more. Secondly, I do not want this to become all about how clever Abbey and Karl can be in the face of a dilemma. (Though we might have to get a little clever!) The point is that the Lord wants to teach us new ways to view our pocketbook and glorify Him with our money and possessions. What can we learn in these respects?

I'll be using lifelong fling over the next month to update you on this latest adventure. Hopefully it won't be too boring - I'll try to keep it to a healthy balance between the practical (as in, oh my gosh! do you know how much money you save making your own x?) and the philosophical (i.e. I wonder what Martin Luther meant by the "conversion of the purse"?)

Should be entertaining!

Addendum: I find it curious and encouraging that once we decided to do "No-spend month", two things happened: my brother insisted on taking us out to breakfast, and some music colleagues of Karl gave us produce from their garden. None of them knew about our master plan - we just rejoice in God's provision already showing up in unexpected ways!

Friday, August 21, 2009

New Home

When it comes down to maintaining a blog long-term, there seems to be a whole lot of ebb and flow. Part of this stems from the fact that writing is an art, and inspiration comes and goes. The old meaning of the word "amateur" (from the French and Latin originally, someone who loves what they do) gets to the heart of the matter. If the muse is not moving, I won't be in the mood, so I won't be enjoying myself, and since it's all about loving this pursuit, I procrastinate. No deadlines. No editor to breathe down my neck. I write because I want to.

But then there's all of you. I'm not even sure how many of you there are. But you're all out there, reading faithfully, despite long pauses in-between posts. Hmm. I guess the pressure is on anyway. Thanks. I needed that.

This lifelongfling is an ongoing adventure. And since all great adventures start from home, it's time to introduce you to chez von Gohren, à Minneapolis. (This is mostly for the benefit of our friends who are scattered the world over and can't just drive over for a visit. Those of you in the Cities should just drop by and hang out. Send a texto and make sure we're here and...well, decent.)

It's a one-bedroom flat on Loring Park, and the building is from the 1920's or so. This is the dining room, facing south and looking into the kitchen (at left) and the bedroom (at right) a little bit. You are standing in the living room with your back to the front door.

Here, you will find Karl in his studio, imitating a French travel poster defaced with the head of Alan Greenspan. Strange things happen when you move things around. More pictures of the studio to follow soon, with or without Mr. Greenspan, I'm not sure.

On the other side of the roon, you will also find Karl sipping his coffee on the futon we found in the alleyway next door. Several bolts and a new 2x4 later, we have a comfy place to sit for about 2 or three dollars in extra screws and bolts.

Ok, further into the dining room, you find a spot for reading and playing guitar. Absolutely essential in any home we've ever had, not to be underestimated.

Next, we walk south through the apartment, and you can see here the east side of the kitchen (Apparently, I'm picking up my great-grandmother's habit of thinking about houses in ordinal directions. Uff da.) We got our beloved dishwasher up the two flights of stairs thanks to my ingenious husband who was able to take it apart and put it back together.

Continuing southbound, we end up at the backporch, where we have a grill, and a table where we take most of our meals, and some plants & things. I love this spot. The bistro table was also a product of dumpster diving

Bedroom. Karl is planning to build a platform bed, but until then, our mattress rests on the tippy-top of an air mattress. Quite a nice sleep!

Then, my desk alcove in the front end of the bedroom, next to a walk-in closet. It is my little space to concentrate and forget about my surroundings while I work. Sorry it's so messy. Just moved in, you know.

I won't bore you with pictures of the walk-in closet and the bathroom, but they're pretty nice, too. We just keep lookin'around and saying: Thanks God for a good place to land. We can walk to many stores, take the bus anywhere, run in the park, walk to many of the museums. It's that sweet spot between Uptown and Downtown. We are so grateful to call this home for now.

It's also been very thought-provoking to read a book called Money, Possessions, and Eternity, by Randy Alcorn, and think about the spiritual and physical ramifications of STUFF. Now, we knew we'd have to acquire a few things to live efficiently and well, but we both were digging our heels in the whole way - "don't want to accumulate!" was our battle cry. Several trips to IKEA, pickups at parents', and a moving day when many dear friends helped us life about sixty boxes up three flights of stairs - all made us feel weighed down a bit. But somehow, it's in the human spirit to nest.

Still want to travel light on this adventure of ours. More thoughts on that soon...

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Wait, which box did I pack my brain in...?

I have a confession to make. I haven't made time to sit down and write in about five or six days. We moved all of our possessions on our fifth-year wedding anniversary, the last day of July, into a one-bedroom apartment on the south side of Loring Park. The boxes were up around our ears for a few days, and the only thing that seemed important was getting things where they belonged. *Sigh* This is not true, but it felt true because it's close to the truth.

Thus, I've neglected some of the daily joys like writing and running and baking and reading. But they are slowly creeping in again, gaining ground. At least it coincided with summer vacation, so I didn't feel quite so guilty.

But I actually began this post to announce the hopeful fact that I am jumping back into it, beginning this morning. Here's to many mornings to follow (I'm raising my coffee mug) - chin chin!