Monday, August 27, 2007

God's Warriors

Let me first say that this post will be a somewhat departure from the norm. Sure you'll read a little about what I've been doing but today's post will be discussing a particular issue that has cropped up in my view the last few days. At times it may seem like I'm ranting, or a little scattered as I'm discussing several smaller aspects under this one large umbrella; you'll just have to bear it. So what exactly will you read about today- well it's the controversial topic of religion.

I spent most of last week in Denver, Colorado attending a work conference. While there I saw a CNN documentary entitled God's Warriors. The reporter had spent eight months going around the world studying the major religions. She focused on why people believed in this religion, how it shaped their lives, why they were willing to become God's Warrior and what that truly meant. It was a multi-day documentary and I missed a few days. I missed the report on Judiasm but did happen to see the one on Islam and subsequently the report on Christianity. Also, I believe, there was a report on Buddhism as well, but missed it. First off, I was very impressed by the reporting. She was very straightforward in the facts, presented it in a very unbiased way (which can be extremely hard to do) and she basically let the people and their actions speak for themselves. The really interesting aspect of the program was the age group she targeted. In each religion she bascially spoke with the Generation Xers (my generation: 21-40). This group was targeted for many reasons. We have parents or grandparents who were religious and thusly tried to impart it on us, we're the emerging leaders of tomorrow, we've let the morality of the world change, and we're the ones now forced with fixing the problems left for us in order to ensure a better society for those younger generations. We're also a very cynical, unhappy, materialistic group, so I'm not surprised that's who were targeted.

As she spoke with them about their faith and why they had chosen to follow it I was amazed to hear that so many young people (both here in the states and abroad) were turning to other religions. I was shocked to learn these facts and appalled upon hearing the reasons why a typical American teen had turned to Islam. Reasons such as legalism, hypocracy, and conformity were rampant themes. I wondered was this really true, what view was Christianity portraying to the world. Well I got my answer as the next night was a broadcast on "God's Christian Warriors". Now granted, I know this document was only showing one side, one angle to the story, showing only certain people to fit the mold, I understand that, but still it's disturbing. We've all heard about the pillars of faith here in the States but I don't think any of us have ever stopped to see and understand what type of a message they actually portray. It's not pretty to those seeking. They seem ultra-conservative at times, almost to the point, as one person stated, of appearing to confine people by their beliefs and rules. (Rules they stated included no women in leadership roles in the church- not just pastorship, but any leadership roles- knee length or longer skirt and male submission). Now I have my own beliefs on these various issues and won't necessarily get into them here but I was just thinking that if that's the picture being portrayed to this lost generation then no wonder why they're running to more "peaceful, understanding and accepting" religions. I heard people from both broadcasts state that we should be accepted as we are without fear and that Christianity in its secular sense, as the world understands it, may not be the answer.

As I'm listening to this I'm thinking this can't be entirely true. Then they showed various "christian retreats". We've all been to them. Those times when we go somewhere, have large music shows, here speakers, and go back to our lives. Well they showed this one that completely made me appalled. Honestly I couldn't tell the difference between it and a glorified rock concert, except for the demonstrations across the street. These demonstrators were claiming that this group (I don't remember the name) didn't welcome everyone, wanted to impose ultra-conservatism upon them, etc. It was a ticking time bomb. For some reason this scene just stuck with me throughout the rest of the broadcast. Demonstrations from both sides is not what needs to happen. Yelling at others, trying to be the loudest from the pulpit or screaming hell, fire, and brimstone is not a way to show the Truth. I'm sitting on my hotel bed thinking whatever happened to love, which is the greatest of all. Whatever happened to acceptance, to Grace, to Peace? What's with all the noise, the glitz, the legalism? After listening to the various different pastors they spoke with I honestly got a bitter taste in my mouth, just this bad feeling that if something doesn't change soon the world is going to be radically different.

Now, not everything in the broadcast was bad on the Christianity front. She spoke with young college students who had decided to truly live in the Lord and what that meant for them. They talked about their struggles and the secularism of the world. I was really pleased to see them openly sharing and being willing to admit it's not perfect. Sadly, though, those few brief moments of sunlight did nothing to quell the darkness that I saw eminating. I just felt forcefulness, uncompassion, lack of understanding, and violence. Even when they talked about being active in politics (which I think any bible believing christian should do) I felt they were going at it all wrong. They were talking about bestowing these set beliefs onto the political arena, at finding those candidates that met them, and how they needed to change the politics into one the more firmly followed the Bible... or at least their view of it. I sat there thinking, 1. who are you to impose them, 2. what makes your views the "right" ones, 3. what happened to peace and grace? Why go in there with arms blazing... that never accomplished anything. We never see Christ in a confrontational manner; he always avoided it or never needed it. He used love, grace, and peace to show the world the Truth. Not gun slinging, my way or the highway attitudes. Being the loudest, most vocal, or even "right" never accomplished anything, and I think we've seriously forgotten that, which is why so many are turning away from the Truth and instead following darkness.

I also think we're missing genuiness. It was gospel day on the pavillon at work today. I didn't know this (having only decided to go outside to warm up) and found myself listening to some good ole black gospel music. It was nice, rhytmic, upbeat and I was completely fine with it. It was good praise music, a good time to have some quite moments with the Lord. Then they started to do what every praise leader does and trys to get the audience involved by clapping hands, saying Amen, lifting hands, etc. Well suddenly I was just struck that if people really were genuine in their faith, if it was truly lived the way Christ calls us to live then we wouldn't need any encouragement. We would have our hands up, singing at the top of our voices for Him. We wouldn't have to force it, as I felt and saw. We're too stuck in protocol, in what we're supposed to do, in perception to really open up and allow the Spirit to truly move us. I'm guilty of it and I don't know anyone who's not. But as that music made me think more over that broadcast I was reminded that Muslums really do live their religion. It's a complete part of their lives. They will pray five times a day (no matter where they are), the women (if they are devout) are fully covered with the head scarves.

They are unabashed and unashamad. So why aren't we? Why don't we open up fully and completely? Why don't we allow ourselves to truly show the Lord? If we did there would be no stopping what Christ would do. I don't have any answers. I, myself, am in need of lots of work, but now I know. Now it's time to change.... what about you?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Calm in Chaos

This past weekend was a rather busy one for me. On Friday I went to a happy hour with some of the fellows at a local restaurant near work that provides a free cocktail. Although, I didn't drink I still had a nice time visiting and relaxing with them. It was such a nice night, cool, lovely clouds in the sky, shady, that I really enjoyed just talking with them. Then, after about an hour we all parted ways and I headed off to Borders to get a book that has been recommended to me. Sadly, after much searching and scouring the shop I had to order it. So I walked out of the friendly bookshop slightly down but still ready for the weekend.

Then chaos hit on Saturday. Talk about a busy day. I am a member of Flexcar (which allows me to rent a car for a specified amount of time without having to pay for gas and insurance). Well, as I was a novice about this entire experience I didn't realize just how high a demand there is for these cars. Needless to say I was not able to pick up the car from my local metro stop but had to proceed down to another stop to pick it up. So I'm thinking that's fine, no big deal. Well, of course there's train problems so I'm late getting it. Then I get lost trying to go two minutes down the road to the grocery store (it ended up taking 15mns). Finally, I'm thinking ok, I'll just go grocery shopping and not do Target since I don't have the time (I had to have the car back by 1pm). I then look at the posting placed there by the Flexcar people and read that I could extend my reservation. Woohoo!! So I did. I'm thinking that's perfect. I'll get everything done in time. Well I did manage to get most of my stuff from Target and Giants (although even with a list I still managed to forget stuff) and proceed back to my place, where unbeknownst to me the charts that are at the bottom of our building for our use for unloading are no longer there. So I make three trips up and quickly unload my cold stuff, grab my backpack (because I'm going into the city for a hike) and leave within a span of 10mns to drop the car off. I then encounter a final hurdle... Saturday traffic. Due to this I was late (only about 5mns) in dropping the car off. Talk about an exhausting and grueling trip. However, I learned on major lesson. Next time I'm getting a car on my Friday off, then I won't have the traffic and I'll be able to pick it up from my metro stop.

So here I am sitting on the train going into DC after that adventure in shopping. I was planning on visiting the Lincoln Memorial, as it's been a long time since I've seen it. To visit this I'm supposed to get off at Foggy-Bottom/GWU and then walk to it. The way I had been told it seemed like the monument was close by. It's not. I couldn't find it. Still have no idea how to get to it. I am very good with directions and I know how to read maps, and for the life of me I couldn't get to it. I'll try it again some other time but it wasn't meant to be. Instead I found something different, something that just blew me away. I found the Foggy-Bottom area. This area is home to George Washington University, close to Georgetown, and a very historic area. It was so peaceful, and beautiful. The architecture, the buildings, the nature all encompassed in this one area. What really blew me away was the calmness of it. Sure, I understand it was a Saturday and school was not in session at the college yet, but still it was like it's own world. I mean just three blocks up you enter into the urbanness of DC, and yet nothing like that was experienced here. It's like there was an invisible barrier surrounding this area that protected it from the city. I was just amazed by it. What really amazed me was the school setting. For graduate school I went to an urban centered school, and GW is one of those... and yet, not. This is a school that almost seems tucked away from the bustle of DC. It's a large campus with many buildings but there was none of the traditional urban feel to the campus. It had the air of rich history mixed in with quiet tranquility. I just felt like I was experiencing two different worlds. When I was walking from the area I truly felt like I was walking through some boundary... it was very surreal, and another place that I have grown fond of.

So for now, no matter what chaos may be surrounding you always look for the calm. You may be surprised where you find it.

Friday, August 17, 2007

An Asian Bow

After I leave work I usually go for a forty-five to an hour walk around DC. I do this to become more familiarized with the city and to be outside while the weather is still nice. Plus I love to take pictures so I'll usually snap some with my digital camera (making everyone think I'm a tourist eventhough I'm not). Anyways, after the nightly walk I hop aboard the train and then catch my bus back to my apartment. Usually by this time I'm getting tired and am ready to proceed home, but wait.. I still have a walk to my apartment, for the bus stop is at the very front of the entire property complex and my building is all the way at the back. So then I walk another 5-7 minutes to my place. Up and down a hill, through various townhouses, by the park, and past the pool. It's a really nice little walk actually. Usually nothing exciting happens while I'm walking home but last night something did.

I enter the building through the back because that's the side my apartment is on. Well I usually see the various other units on my way in and sometimes I see people out on the patios either eating or just enjoying themselves. Last night I spotted this cute little Asian girl. She's probably about 3 and I've seen her before. I think she lives a few floors below me. Anyways, I've always just seen her looking out the window and a few times she's waved. One time before she ran up to the window to see what was happening and then started to get really excited and gave me multiple waves. Well, I hadn't seen her for a few weeks and last night she reappeared. I was lost in thought and not really paying any attention when something caused me to look up and I see her apartment. This time I notice not only her but her mom, and her sibling, whom mom was holding. Mom and baby were looking in the opposite direction but the little girl saw me and waved. So naturally I wave back but then she does something completely unexpected... she gives me a bow. Up, that's right, a bow. I was completely surprised and happy at the same time. Why you may ask? Well let me tell you.

This little girl has no idea who I am, and I don't know her either. Yet, for some reason she not only gave me a very American welcome (waving of hello) but she shared with me a welcome from her culture, the bow. Well I bowed back(though I'm not too sure of the traditional bow so I improvised). She was delighted and went running back to her mom, but not before she bestowed upon me one final wave. So as I proceeded further into the building and ultimately up to my apartment I began to think about why that little Asian bow had caused me to smile, to laugh, to feel welcomed. I realized it's because it's freely and innocently given. There was genuine warmth behind that bow. A child hasn't been tainted by the world or taught what is polite. They are impulsive, fun, and enthusiastic. They don't care what's right in a situation; they do what's bursting inside them to do. So she gave me a bow, and I gave one back. Such a small thing, I know, but it really did make my night.

However, this little Asian bow wasn't my only cultural learning left for me last night. I learned another lesson on hospitality from my neighbors across the hall whom are also Asian. I have a friend who is currently stationed in Japan and he's mentioned how he's always having to change shoes for various reasons. I've wondered since then what that looks like and how it works. I saw it last night. As I was walking to my door a nice Asian gentleman was knocking on his door to let his wife and kids know he was there (his arms were full of groceries so he couldn't open the door). Well, as the door opened I saw littered on the hard floor that makes up our hallway rows and rows of shoes. Then, next to the shoes were all these slippers of various shapes and sizes. I saw the dad take off his shoes and then put on the slippers. I was actually quite amazed by this entire process and he saw me with this astonshied look on my face and gave me a very nice warm smile. A smile that shone from his eyes, one full of warmth and friendliness. Again, a small, simple display of welcome but it meant a lot. Especially because many people would be upset that I saw into their apartment or wouldn't have given me the time of day. Then again, it's amazing what a little Asian bow can do for you.

So aside from me giving a horrible bow to a three year old I learned a little lesson about acceptance. Hopefully you to can experience a simple little bow.


This is a quick notice to all my friends:

I love receiving your comments about my blogs but could please include your name at the end. I only know that someone may leave a comment but I have no idea whom you are. So please, leave me your name. It's nice to receive them and I'd like to know who's providing them. I'd greatly appreciate it if you could all do that for me.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Lessons, Years in the Making

Today's blog may seem somewhat scattered and not entirely ordered compared to my previouos ones. This is mostly do to the fact I have several topics to touch none and I'm not really sure how to put them all together. I do know I need to explain one important thing first, my fellowship.

I am here in Washington D.C. due to an ASPH fellowship. ASPH stands for the Association of Schools of Public Health. I applied for this fellowship last spring while I was still in graduate school, where incidently I was working on a Master's in Public Health. ASPH has several fellowship opportunities with various agencies, EPA, CDC, HRSA, ATSDR, and others. Throughout the year they announce openings and then public health students apply to them. Well I applied to the EPA one as I'm an environmental public health student and it seemed to fit. I received a great score on my initial application then was brought out for an interview with their EPA/ASPH review board (all expenses paid, too). From here the board sent out further recommendations to the various offices that I had applied with. Then, the final stage happened with me interviewing via phone with the various departments that I had applied with and with several others I hadn't. Then placements were given based on all the interviews and recommendations, and so here I am. Whew, talk about a grueling process. That, ladies and gentlemen is a good overview of bureacrecy at work (something that I've immediately learned here). The fellowship itself is for one year (with an option for two or for hire). I receive a stipend, travel/training money, helath insurance money, and Metro money. However, that doesn't fully explain to you all exactly what I do (as I was conveniently asked by my sister this past weekend). So here's a description of that... along with several lessons learned along the way.

My official department is the Office of Science Advisor under the Office of Research and Development at the EPA. That's the official title. I work though with the Human Subjects Research Division in particular. This department deals with various environmental human subjects research that is occurring throughout the agency both at federal, state, and local levels. More importantly, I deal with ethical issues, and more precisely still with environmental public health ethical issues regarding this research. I work to make sure investigators are following proper procedures, considering the integrity of the subjects, and making sure public health is being promoted. I'm actually the only one with a public health degree so I bring a very unique perspective to the situation. My big job, though, for this year is to create public health ethics education that is going to be used by the entire agency. One thing I've come to realize and have learned is that most people have no idea how to ethical do a study. The scientists here are so enthusiastic about what they're doing that they often forget they are dealing with people. As a scientist I can understand why this happens (for those who don't know i have a B.S. in chemistry/biology), but with my public health experience I see how we need to be promoting health and ensuring safety to these communities. It's really interesting to see how my two backgrounds have steered me in this task. So this education is to help those researchers conduct studies in ways that is ethically sound but also helps promote public health. Currently the EPA has no such training and so I am basically doing it from scratch. It should be exciting. I'll keep you updated on how it's going.

All that leads me into my main topic of discussion... lessons learned.

I had lunch with some of the other fellows today (we do this about every two weeks since we started in July) and were discussing what we've been doing, our frustrations with burecrecy and just what we've begun learning in our various divisions. Well at one point as we were discussing health outcomes and possible ways of measuring them among the Alaskan villages when there's no current standard, and how health outcomes is a priority among EPA but not currently assessed- it hit me that I've actually learned something from school and from my brief time here. I actually know what's being talked about, how to address the problem and what the problem is. Charlie, one of the other fellows, actually made that point. He stated how when we first started getting together we all felt like we had no clue what was going on or how anything worked and now here we are (about two months later) talking about the OMB (office of Management of and Budget), proper research engagement status, industry stake in EPA, and the correct way to do an ecological based study with risk assessors. It was kind of surreal actually. As students we often wonder if anything we learn will actually help us in the real world and it has.

However, more surprising than the fact that you do remember what you learn is school is the fact that I've learned so much here so far. I've learned loads regarding ethics, public health ethics, IRBs, and human subjects, and still lots to. Also, learned about the world of DC as well: the politics, the transportation, the street layout, and the people. I've learned about the spirituality of this region (which is another blog in itself) and how things work. Basically it's been a really interesting ride so far. As I finish up (and sorry this is so long this time) I just want to say it hasn't been easy. Learning new things never is and everyone has ups and downs. But just continue pressing on. Seeking new things, new lessons, no matter where they're from. You never know when you may use them. Until next time...

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Salsa and So Much More

Before getting into the heart of this blog I need to provide some background regarding the places to be mentioned. So here goes...

I currently work for the Environmental Protection Agency here in Washington DC. The EPA, however, is not just one building, as I've quickly learned. In fact it is composed of several, some found in the downtown area of DC (which is where I'm at), others in Virginia and elsewhere. This fact leads me to explanation of my particular work area. I don't work in the "main" EPA building (which can be even further divided in East, West, and Rios- confusing, I know). Instead I work right next door in the beautiful and majestic Ronald Reagan International World Trade Center. The Capitol can be viewed on the right (a mear 20 blocks down- which isn't really that far) and the White House on the left (about two blocks down and surrounded by trees). This is a wonderful building that is home to several agencies: not just EPA. There's the USAID (United States Agency for International Development), EPA, Washington Visitor's Center, and a very tasty food court filled with delicible coffees (I've found a place that's better than Starbucks), savory asian, tasty italian, healthy subs, and cool shakes. It's a nice building to work in (although extremely cold). So why explain this to you all... well to help you understand my topic.

Between the two buildings (Rios/EPA and Reagan) is a courtyard called the Woodrow Wilson Plaza and everyday from 12pm-1:30pm there's music and performers. Tables, chairs, and shade umbrellas are set up for people to sit, relax, eat, and enjoy. I've often found myself wondering out there during lunch time for some fresh air (my work area has no windows) and sunshine (I often need to warm up). Most of the time the music is nice but nothing extraordinary. I've heard jazz, pop, flamingo (that was cool), piano and other types. But today was best... for it was Latin, and on top of that: salsa music. It was upbeat, vibrate, energetic, and great. I sat there with my foot tapping and head bobbing and thought this was wonderful. People were dancing latin ballroom dances like the mumbo, samba and others. Older folks, little kids, guys in suits, and ladies in dresses were all enjoying the moment. Then I came to a startling realization... I was witnessing true expression.

Now, what do I mean by that. Well the singers, dancers, everyone was just letting go. They were letting themselves breathe, feel, and open up to the world around them. They didn't care who was watching or what else was happening. Meetings, chaos, problems were all melting away as people laughed, danced, and smiled. Life was fully and truly being lived. A latin vibe of self expression... of freedom... of pure enjoyment had swept this political area. And then I began to think why did this surprise me? I mean after all, I do work in the international building and work next door to an international agency, so why did foreign way of life truly affect us all so much? I think it's because we've forgotten how to breathe as Americans. We've forgotten how to look inside ourselves and enjoy the moment. We're too concentrated on work, kids, and various other demands to take the time for a little jig, a little smile, a time of fun. How much we're missing and how sad for us.

Well I left that lunch time feeling much warmer and wondering if I, too, would remember to breathe and remember that salsa is so much more.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

After a month's time

I've been in my lovely new town of Washington DC for a month now. So what have I done in that amount of time. Well, I've been in the Nation's Capitol for the Fourth of July celebration, visited the National Wall, started work, learned the extensive and amazing subway system, and learned why so many people on the east coast are walkers. Not only that but I've gone grocery shopping (which is an adventure when you don't have a car), done lots of "touristy" things, and become used to working a compressed work schedule. It's been an interesting time, not in the least of which involves me getting lost several times, getting caught in the rain last week, and trying to figure out if certains restaurants are good.

So far during this short tenure I've found three notable places that I thoroughly enjoy. The first is my general work area. I work about two blocks from the White House and about twelve from the Capitol. It's such a great area. When you walk out my building (which is the Ronald Reagan International Building-located directly across from the EPA, my current employer) you notice the Capitol on the right and White House on the left. It's really cool actually. This area, called the Federal Triangle area by resident Metroers- those people riding Metro (the subway) is the pinnacle downtown area. It is bustling with people, shops, restaurants, and has that whole big city metropolitian east coast feel. I love just walking around this area. I've found myself walking to the National Mall (which is home to the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian Museums, and others as well) which is just a few short blocks from work. I've walked past the White House on my way to other places and am just amazed by the wonder of this area.

A second favorite place is the Archives area. I will usually walk from here down to work in mornings (it's only 5 blocks) because it's just a favorite spot of mine. The National Archives is home to the Declaration of Independence and other famous articles. The architecture is phenomenal (reminiscent of Roman buildings). In front of the museum is a beautiful memorial called the Navy War Memorial and is filled with stone and bronze depictions of various naval engagements. Along each depiction is a description of what happened and why it's commorative. Also right in the center is an amazing fountain (I love fountains) that just adds to the mystic of this area. However, another reason I enjoy this area is its proximity to Chinatown. This is an amazing sight to see. I walked around it just the other day and was amazed by the many Asian shops, restaurants and feel that was emulating from this area. I was surprised by how in a few short blocks you feel like you're transported to another world. I chuckled when I saw a Ruby Tuesdays stuck right in the middle of Chineses restaurants and was surprised upon seeing a Buddist temple on the outskirts. It is an amazing area and one that I've come to treasure.

The final area the I've taken a fancy to during this month of exploration is the Eastern Market area. This area is located in the Capitol Hills area of Washington DC and is very close to the Capitol building. Sadly the day I visited was extremely hot so I wasn't able to stay as long as I'd liked. But I got enough to know I'll be a frequent visitor. The Eastern market is an open air farmer's market that also has a flea market, and an art fair every Saturday and Sunday. It was soo amazing. I felt like I was transported to another place and time. I walked around the market testing free samples of fruits, vegetables, and ice cream. I looked at all the wonderfully home grown products and couldn't decide what to get. Then I strolled through the vendor area and was blown away by the various products being sold: jewelry, pictures, paintings, handbags, books, etc. You name it. Then I was off to the flea market and couldn't believe my eyes. I was walking through different cultures, times, and places. I found myself thinking, "this would look amazing in my new place," or "wow... that's amazing," or "wonder what that is supposed to represent..." I can't wait to go back. This time I'll have to bring cash and a bag for goodiess.

As you can see DC and I seem to be getting on well. Sure there's ups and downs, nothing is perfect. But for now, the novelty hasn't worn off and for now that's all that matters. Stay tuned more to come...

A Glimpse of what's to Come

As some of my friends know I was never one into blogging. I never really understood the fascination or the point of it. This was before I moved to a new city, started a new job, and found myself so full of new insights that I realized the attraction that is blogging. Therefore, in order to tell everyone who cares what I've been doing, seeing, and learning; I established this blog.

It will contain various glimpses into my new life. I'll share about my new city, my new job, and new friends I'm making. You'll also have the chance to hear more about what's happening on a personal level and what I've been learning. Hopefully many of you will find this fascinating, interesting, or worthwhile. So please continue to journey with me into this realm of the unknown.