Hello Friends!!

So if by any chance you are a person who reads this blog, but you are not a) my facebook friend or b) a follower of my new Twitter handle (@beccakempe), then I am really sorry for being a terrible blogger.

Several months ago, I decided to switch blogging platforms. And I thought I would be able to arrange it so that bravenewrealworld.wordpress.com acted as an alias that would redirect you to bravenewrealworld.squarespace.com, now just bravenewrealworld.com.

And while I am absolutely positive there is a way to do this, I still don’t think I’ve set it up properly.

So I am back to tell you that (good news!) I did not quit blogging. But (bad news!) I forgot to tell you about it. But (good news!) there’s more new stuff for you to read, if you are so inclined including:

The second half of my 2012 book review

A post about my wedding (including pictures!)

What I thought of that viral Dove ad campaign (does anyone still remember that?)

WE WILL NOT CELEBRATE THEIR TALENT OR THEIR BEAUTY OR THE ASPECTS THAT MEET WITH OUR APPROVAL; WE WILL CELEBRATE THEIR EXISTENCE.

A post about how hard it is to be an adult

Two of my favorite things I’ve written

Summer

 

I still sometimes dream of being a magical, Narnian Jedi

 

I play video games and hilarity ensues!

I like bikinis and dislike the idolization of the 1950’s!

I hope you’ll forgive my abandonment and check out the new look!

If you want to keep up with the blog, you can follow me on twitter (@beccakempe) or add bravenewrealworld.com to your feedly subscriptions (my personal choice to replace Google Reader).

And now I basically feel like I just walked up to a group of people and shamelessly begged them to be my friend, so I’m glad I’m done with the self-promotion.

Oh Texas, My Texas

A few weeks ago, I took one of my best friends to San Antonio.

We had one mission: to see that most anti-climactic of all tourist attractions – The Alamo.

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It was my bridesmaid present to her, because there is no one alive who loves Texas more than this girl.

Yet she had somehow lived 22 years without setting eyes on that blessed memorial.

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We even got to see our friend, Wyatt!

We even got to see our friend, Wyatt!

For those who have never seen it, The Alamo is mostly one dark, smallish room. Three more rooms, barely larger than closets, squat beside the front doors, but these can not be entered. They house between them, one old military uniform of unspecified origin, a cannon that may or may not have been used in the battle of The Alamo, and that’s it.

The walls of the original building stand at about ten feet of rough stone. Above that, renovations have added three more feet of smooth concrete and a domed roof. Most of that main room is taken up by a diorama of the original fort, and a crowd gathers here with little else to draw their attention.

At the back, plaques hold the names of the dead, and a pair of imposing, old doors lean against the exterior wall. These doors, I found out, have no connection to The Alamo, but evidently, James Bowie passed through them many times, so sure, they belong.

We wait in line for this. And pay $10 for the audio tour.

It’s so Texan.

We take the sight of a lost battle and resurrect it as a point of pride. We claim ruins as a monument to our stubborn refusal to surrender. We teach our children to remember this, remember The Alamo. Remember that in the end, we won Texas.

There is no humility in this defeat, no plaque for the soldiers who besieged this sight, no nuanced discussion about Mexico’s lawful claim on the land and the contracts that first attracted these American frontiersmen.

No, here the marquis of the Crockett Hotel smiles down on the courtyard and the gift shop sells the great mementos of our time: stuffed armadillos and lapel pins emblazoned with the phrase Come And Take It.

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My feelings about Texas are admittedly conflicted – one minute I am filled with a fierce and familial pride, and the next Texas Public Schools are Teaching Ridiculous Things About the Bible or Rick Perry’s unpopular opinions are flooding my dash.

I groan inwardly every time I remember that two years of my history education were devoted to Texas, two more were spent studying American History, and the entire history of the rest of the world got 6 months. True story.

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But as we drove west toward San Antonio with hardly even a gas station to break the expanse of land around us, I marveled again at this landscape that seems to be all sky and cloud and sun. It feels sometimes as though that sky belongs especially to us, we who drive along these highways, without mountains or trees, exposed on the surface of the earth.

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With both the good and bad, it is the place from which I have come and the place I choose to call home. This state frustrates me, at times, with its self-aggrandizing, and embarrasses me with a lack of self-awareness.

But I’ll admit it, I do love my Texas. And our anti-climactic memorial.

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Today, I fail at making cookies

I had big Valentine’s Day plans guys. Big ones.

I was going to make heart-shaped, red velvet cookies.

They were going to be beautiful. Just like these.

These are last year's cookies.

These are last year’s cookies.

See, gorgeous, right?

I was going to take them to work.

And then everyone was going to love me.

And then I was going to share the process with you.

And then you were going to love me.

Because Valentine’s Day is the day that it is most appropriate to use chocolate and sugar to earn other people’s affections.

That’s what St. Valentine is famous for, right?

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The recipe calls for one box of red velvet cake mix.

So last night I strolled into HEB like the queen of baking and originality that I still believed myself to be, only to realize that a) I was shopping with every single even slightly attached male in College Station, b) everyone on the planet had the exact same thought (let’s bake red cake for the red and pink holiday), and consequently c) they were completely sold out.

Now, I usually try to avoid the more populated areas of the grocery store, which includes: the Easy-Mac aisle, the General Mills end of the cereal aisle, and the corner of the refrigerated section where they sell pre-made cookie dough. I generally have the baking aisle to myself.

But not on February 13th.

The shelves of boxed cakes had been ravaged. Basically, the only thing left behind was a Simply Organic Gluten-Free Carrot Cake. Because it’s a special breed of person who wants that as a Valentine’s Day treat. And let’s be real, they don’t tend to congregate in College Station, Texas.

So I’m standing in the baking aisle, staring at the cake shelf, when this guy turns the corner, clutching a basket and a list, and looking for all the world like a freshman trying to find his first class. He stopped and looked down at the empty shelf, then back at the list, then back at the shelf, then back at the list, as though it was going to explain the extraordinary lack of cake.

I felt bad for the guy. I did. We’ve all been there – 9:30 pm on February 13th. Our carefully made plans, crumbling before our eyes when we realize that no, the grocery store does not have an endless supply of holiday themed food. And we are too late.

I thought about suggesting a recipe to him. But then I thought about explaining that he’d need to get vinegar and buttermilk and food coloring and maybe cake flour.

It didn’t seem worth it to do that to the guy. Better to let him go buy some chocolate covered strawberries.

.

I went home and tried to recreate the box cake mix from an actual cake recipe. I thought “just combine the recipes” and “you can be like a real baker who makes things up.”

No. I can’t.

I like recipes. I like instructions.

When I go off the recipe, I end up with a concoction whose texture is far too liquid to be a cookie, and far too thick to be cake.

I kept adding small amounts of flour, hoping it would thicken into dough.

It didn’t.

So I just tried to bake it and “see what happens”.

And what happened was really dry, puffy cupcakes.

The Velveteen Baker I am not.

There was a time when I would have cried over this – really – all the wasted effort, all those not-be-realized aspirations. Instead I turned off the oven, rinsed off the worst of the dishes, and went to bed.

I consider this a sign of personal growth.

Anyway, I hope that guy has a nice Valentine’s with his whoever, even without cake.

This is, after all, not a day to celebrate our confectionery skills, but a day to celebrate the very human people that we love, failed plans and all.

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Today, just thankful

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    • Waking up on Sunday morning to the sound of rain outside the window, just lying in the dark thinking, “I don’t have to get up right now. I can enjoy this.”
    • Downton Abbey (how am I just now watching this?) and Maggie Smith portraying the Dowager Countess with lines like, “Of course it would happen to a foreigner. No Englishman would dream of dying in someone else’s house.”
    • Late brunch on Sunday (well let’s be honest, if you don’t eat until 1:00, it was lunch with eggs, but whatever you call it, it was delicious).
    • Birthday cards and birthday presents and birthday phone calls. It is nice to be remembered.
    • Finding out that my college roommate, Kaitlyn, won’t be going out of town after all, so I get to spend all weekend with her!
    • The new Valentine’s Day Pact that David and I agreed to Saturday night. It is as follows: one “Fancy” dinner out between my birthday and Valentine’s (but never on Valentine’s Day, because crowded) and we will wait to buy chocolate until it goes on sale on February 15th (his), provided we only buy the good stuff (mine).
    • Getting the photo booth pictures back from our wedding. Man, my family is awesome. And embarrassing. And awesome. Also, it is official that I look about as uncomfortable as I feel when taking goofy pictures. I definitely got my loud, fast-talking speech from the Fullerton’s, but the goofy gene got lost in translation.
    • New books.
    • I GET TO SEE MY FAMILY THIS WEEKEND!!!
    • @PopeRandyHarris. I don’t know who is responsible for this. I only know that I love them.

This is just to say

 

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This is just to say
I wasted almost every minute
of the last 24 hours.

Dishes languished in the sink.
Purchases went unreturned.
The laundry has over-run the basket.

You see, I downloaded 9 episodes
of Downton Abbey.
And I simply couldn’t stop
until I knew what happened
to Anna and Mr. Bates.

My condolences to the dishes.

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This is just to say

I know I should
have gone
to church
this morning.

But instead
I talked an hour
on the phone
with my darling friend.

I chatted
over sushi
and read
and ran.

I’ll dare to say
it helped
my soul more
than a sermon.

I guess this is
where I’m supposed
to say I’m sorry,
but I’m not.

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This is just to say

I have found myself
a bit disillusioned,
though just a bit.

But tonight,
I looked up from
the concrete

and saw the pale
yellow light
of a quiet,
setting sun
break through
the clouds
and reflect
off the pavement,
smiling back at itself.

I guess this is
just to say
thank you.
And forgive me.

I know not
how to live
this life
so gracefully.

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The Fallacy of the Fog Machine Gospel

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I have been reading Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. I’m not sure I have ever needed a book more at the moment that it found me. It’s the story of a guilty, angry, oh-so-certain, baptist preacher who drags his wife and four daughters into Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in the 1960’s.

I carry it to Starbucks during my lunch breaks and allow it to swallow me, emerging 40 minutes later into a world that makes little sense.

It’s pulling, again, at the threads of wealth and poverty, war and power, the gospel of Jesus and the gospel of the Moral Majority.

———–

“Bingo Bango Bongo. That is the story of Congo they are telling now in America: a tale of cannibals. I know about this kind of story-the lonely look down upon the hungry; the hungry look down upon the starving. The guilty blame the damaged. Those of doubtful righteousness speak of cannibals, the unquestionably vile, the sinners and the damned.

It makes everyone feel so much better.”

———-

I close my book reluctantly. My hour is nearly up; the blinking clock and an office-full of expectation calls me back to work.

As I leave, I sip my coffee – or cinnamon, soy latte if we’re being honest – from a re-usable plastic cup, 10 cents off and BPA free. This, one of my little choices that is supposed to help save the world.

I wonder, again, about the men and women who have drug my coffee up from the earth; have sorted through the uncooperative berries to find those ripe for the picking; have shelled, roasted,  and packaged them. I wonder about the hours of human labor that I have bought with $4.29. I don’t know if I have supported workers in a country that desperately needs jobs, or offered another contribution to the gods of power and human enslavement.

I am complicit, an active player in the injustices of the world, and I don’t even know the breadth or depth of it.

———-

“Maybe I’ll never get over my grappling for balance, never stop believing life is going to be fair, the minute we can clear up all these mistakes of the temporarily misguided…Just when I start to feel jaded to life as it is, I’ll suddenly wake up in a fever, look out at the world, and gasp at how much has gone wrong that I need to fix.”

———-

HEB sells exactly one variety of fair trade chocolate chips. They are milk chocolate. So every time I decide to make cookies, I choose between buying fair trade and buying the dark chocolate that I prefer.

I buy the dark chocolate about half the time.

That choice is so utterly inadequate.

I feel swallowed by a problem that I can’t even comprehend.

Like my freshman year of college, when I tried to give up Nestle and Cocoa-Cola products after finding them both on a list of top human rights violators. After a couple months of trying to remember which energy drinks Cocoa-Cola owned and attempting to unwind the web of corporate entanglements, I gave up.

It didn’t seem possible to exonerate myself.

———-

“We have in this story the ignorant, but no real innocents.”

———-

Sometimes, I feel so tainted by my wealth and my citizenship, by the atrocities committed before I was born. I realize that those were not my decisions, that no one asked me, just as no one asked the children of the Congo.

Yet I have benefited from them, innumerable odds stacked in my favor before I ever learned to walk. And still today, I buy Oreos, knowing full well that I just paid for the children harvesting cocoa in the Ivory Coast.

I am not innocent.

The reality sneaks up on me again, and I don’t know what to do with it.

Because I have no honorable way to justify it.

———-

“Father, forgive me wherever you are, but this world has brought one vile abomination after another down on the heads of the gentle, and I’ll not live to see the meek inherit anything.”

———-

Then, I read an article yesterday that claims young people are leaving the Churches of Christ because the churches aren’t experiential enough, because there aren’t enough videos or stadium seating.

As though all young people are so distracted by sparkling objects and fog machines that we are destined to follow the shiny veneer wherever it may go.

But in reality, I see a church that will get up in arms and coordinate support when Chick-Fil-A declares its support of “traditional marriage”, but couldn’t care less about that company’s contract with Cocoa-Cola* or the implications of that bed-fellow.

At least a quarter of the children in this city go hungry, and yesterday we received the third straight week of elder selection sermons, this one entitled: Men with Experience.

Young Americans are not leaving the church because you lack a “three projection screen set-up”. They are, in my experience, leaving because your gospel is hollow and self-serving.

———-

“It came as a strange letdown, to see how the game always went to those who knew the rules without understanding the lesson.”

———-

In the book, this preacher comes to Africa bound and determined to baptize every last child in the Kwali River, never mind that several children had been eaten by crocodiles in that river the year before.

He is determined to stand by his principles, to never give-in, to never-not for one moment-admit that he might be wrong.

In the end he baptizes not a single person. And in the process he loses every one of his children, who see only his arrogance and his portrayal of a distant, careless God.

———–

I love the bible. I really do, for all its mess. And in spite of her failures, I love the church. It was, and is, the church who taught me to care for the world.

But I wonder if the American Church isn’t portraying its own distant, careless God. Only this one isn’t screaming in the jungle; it’s singing “post-worship” music on a well-lit stage, broadcasting the same empty from message from every wall of the auditorium.

It’s so frustrating, that they would watch a mass exodus and think “I know what we need: more YouTube videos. That’s what young people care about, right?”

Because the gospel that my church taught (with just the one projector) allows me to hope that I might live in a world where everyone has enough to eat, on earth as it is in heaven. It gives me grace for all the ways I fail, and conviction to keep trying.

I hope that won’t be lost in the production. Because showmanship and crowds and experiences are not the gospel. They are a distraction. The gospel is better than that.

———–

“So what do you do now? You get to find your own way to dig out a heart and shake it off and hold it up to the light again….

I rock back and forth on my chair like a child, craving so many impossible things: justice, forgiveness, redemption. I crave to stop bearing all the wounds of this place on my own narrow body. But I also want to be a person who stays, who goes on feeling anguish where anguish is due. I want to belong somewhere, damnit.”

———-

.

.

.

.

* I will not even pretend that I understand contracts between restaurants and beverage companies, nor do I necessarily understand the implications of those arrangements. I’m just saying that this company has purportedly done a lot of evil in the world, and no one seems to care.

What do Mumbai, baseball, a selectively utilized pool, and biblical womanhood have in common?

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Last week I alluded to the fact that I am planning to read 35 books this year, and in the comments, Shari asked if I had any specific books in mind.

And honestly, I don’t. My to-read list has at least a couple hundred entries, so I generally prefer to just read whatever wanders into my life.

But I will not leave you empty-handed. Instead, I offer an alternative in the form of last year’s reading list (now broken into 3 parts).

I first gave myself a yearly book quota last January: 30 books in 2012.

I only made it to 28 (and I cheated a little), but I went ahead and upped the ante to 35 anyway. As they say, “If at first you don’t succeed…just aim for a higher level of achievement, regardless of success or failure.” Apparently my approach to goal-setting is a little bit like the life philosophy of Newt Gingrich.

Anyway, we start with YA Fiction and Literary Fiction.

YA Fiction

1. The Fault in Our Stars: John Green – This book was Time Magazine’s Best Book of the Year. And it is beautiful. It is the story of Hazel, a teenager living with cancer, who is still funny and flawed and smart. It is also the story of Augustus, the young cancer survivor that she meets at a hilariously-rendered church support group for cancer kids. I laughed almost as much as I cried, and that, in my opinion, makes a great book.

“I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things. I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.”

2. Paper Towns: John Green –  In between hilarious pranks and the world’s most frantic road trip, it explores the importance of seeing people as people, not just the objects of your imaginings. Also, it partially inspired mine and Kaitlyn’s fantastic pranking of Dr. Reeves.

“What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.”

“Maybe its like you said before, all of us being cracked open. Like each of us starts out as a watertight vessel. And then things happen – these people leave us, or don’t love us, or don’t get us, or we don’t get them, and we lose and fail and hurt one another… And its only that time that we see one another, because we see out of ourselves through our cracks and into others through theirs… Before that we were just looking at ideas of each other.

3. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: Ransom Riggs – This. Book. Riggs collects old Polaroids, the ones that get piled into boxes and sold at estate sales or flee markets. So he took some of them, and built a story around them. It’s the best. It has mystery, love, monsters, WWII. I mean, seriously. If you have a young adult in your life you doesn’t love to read, buy them this book. 

“I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.”

“I didn’t know what to call it, what was happening between us, but I liked it. It felt silly and fragile and good.”

4. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight: Jennifer E. Smith – I liked this book okay. My sister said she really liked it though (and John Green really liked it), so maybe it’s just me. But I found the father/daughter relationship to be much more interesting than the romantic one.

“He was a professor, a lover of stories, and he was building her a library in the same way other men might build their daughters houses.”

5. The Astonishing Life of Octavia Nothing: M.T. Anderson – This book is brilliant. It is a fascinating story set against the backdrop of the American Revolution and the African slave trade.

“The times, the seasons, the signs may have been mythical; but the sufferings were not… I knew in dark houses, there was torture, arms held down, firebrands approaching the soft skin of the belly or arm; and still – there is screaming in the night; there is flight; mothers sob for children they shall not see again; girls feel the weight of men atop them; men cry for their wives; boys dangle dead in the barn; and we smoke their sorrow contentedly; and we eat their sorrow; and we wear their sorrow; and wonder how it came so cheap.

6. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane: Kate DiCamillo – This is maybe the 12th time I’ve read this book. My high school theatre teacher read it to our class, and it has become the threadbare sweatshirt that I pull out when I just need familiar words.

“Edward knew what it was like to say over and over again the names of those you had left behind. He knew what it was like to miss someone. And so he listened. And in his listening, his heart opened wide and then wider still.

“Perhaps,” said the man, “you would like to be lost with us. I have found it much more agreeable to be lost in the company of others.”

Literary Fiction 

7. The Art of Fielding: Chad Harbach – I say by way of disclaimer that this book is for Adults. And it is magnificent. The novel rotates around a college baseball star, his gay roommate/teammate, his mentor/friend, the university’s president, and the president’s only daughter who has just returned home after the failure of her marriage.

“Life was long, unless you died, and he didn’t intend to spend the next sixty years talking about the last twenty-two.”

“She hated the namelessness of women in stories, as if they lived and died so that men could have metaphysical insights.”

“…a soul isn’t something a person is born with but something that must be built, by effort and error, study and love.”

8. The Marriage Plot: Jeffrey Eugenides – This novel begins on the day of a college graduation and follows the story of three newly-minted graduates. I read it right after I graduated. They felt like me and my friends, if our lives were written by a brilliant novelist.

“He remained heartbroken, which meant one of two things: either his love was pure and true and earthshakingly significant; or he was addicted to feeling forlorn, he liked being heartbroken.”

“College wasn’t like the real world. In the real world people dropped names based on their renown. In college, people dropped names based on their obscurity.”

“If Mitchell was ever going to become a good Christian, he would have to stop disliking people so intensely.”

9. The Virgin Suicides: Jeffrey Eugenides – Eugenides’ first novel. The story of five sisters and their suicides, as told by the boys who watched them from across the street. He’s just a great novelist. Though I wish I had read his books in book form, not e-reader form. Literary novels do not make good e-books.

“In the end, the tortures tearing the Lisbon girls pointed to a simple reasoned refusal to accept the world as it was handed down to them, so full of flaws.”

Chucking her under the chin, he said, “What are you doing here, honey? You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets.” And it was then Cecelia gave orally what was to be her only form of suicide note, and a useless one at that, because she was going to live: “Obviously, Doctor,” she said, “you’ve never been a 13 year old girl.”

10. Farenheit 451: Ray Bradbury – In honor of the passing of Ray Bradbury this year, I decided it was high time that I read this book – the one I always saw on the required reading table, but was never required to read. I read this at the height of the 50 Shades of Grey pandemic, and what he says about our cultural preference for constant noise and the discussion of nothing, well it feels that Bradbury can just go ahead and take his seat among the prophets.

“We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?”

11. The Great Gatsby: F.Scott Fitzgerald – Easily one of my favorite novels of all time. I don’t know how I didn’t fall in love with it in high school (probably because I didn’t read it). What a fool I was.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

12. The Catcher in the Rye: J. D. Salinger – Another classic that just never got assigned in high school. I love this book. If you don’t love it, watch Crash Course’s two part series about it. John Green will make you love it. Also, learning that Salinger saw some of the worst fighting of WWII makes this book’s obsession with innocence that much more desperate.

“Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.”


Well that got really long. So we’ll just take a break here and make this into a series! You’ll get the rest – I promise.

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* You should know, by way of disclaimer, that I rarely read a book I don’t like, unless it’s Christian Non-Fiction (subcategory: self-help with Jesus sprinkles).

This is partly because I have a good idea of what books I will like, partly because I can appreciate many different things about a book (a captivating story or beautiful language or compelling ideas), and partly because I have no qualms about quitting a book if I no longer feel like reading it. So, if it seems like I speak highly of most books, it’s not that I never dislike a book, it’s just that I rarely finish “bad” ones.