Tag Archives: Christianity

Scooping Ice Cream for The Lord: A Week at Ridgecrest Conference Center

retro ice cream chic

retro ice cream chic

I’m in Ridgecrest, NC, which is about 17 miles west of Asheville and a million cultural miles away from any other city I’ve lived in. To be more specific, I’m at Ridgecrest Conference Center, a Baptist retreat paradise that has operated for more than 100 years in the Swannanoa Valley.

I’m volunteering for the week, and in exchange for scooping ice cream alongside Baptist retirees, I get free room and board and a whole lot of culture you just don’t find in San Francisco. It’s a pretty sweet deal – terrible pun intended.

This place is not exactly on the beaten path, and considering I’ve never been to Ridgecrest before, am not Baptist, and am under the age of 70, the first thing people want to know when we meet is how in the world did I wind up here in the Nibble Nook (the ice cream shop)(but seriously that’s what it’s called.)

The answer is simple really: Google. When I was planning my 7 week long post-quitting-my-job celebration trip, I wanted to do something in North Carolina before heading to Washington, D.C., NY, and Boston while I was still in the Southeast U.S. I also didn’t want to pay for food or lodging while traveling. Go figure.

I don’t know what happened first, but one thing led to another and on a very productive night at Starbucks, I sent some emails to conference centers in the greater Asheville area asking about opportunities for work or volunteering.

Eventually, I got in touch with Ridgecrest and signed up for one week of service knowing nothing about what I would be doing. Cut to 6 weeks, two buses and a cab ride later and I’m checking into my guest room at Spruce, the volunteer lodgings.

As I found out at breakfast the next morning, the volunteer program is almost exclusively for senior citizens, most of them from Florida, Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina. As I sat down at a table with a tray full of eggs and grits with people who were at least 50-60 years my senior, I wondered what on earth I had gotten myself into.

Long story short (more details to come later), it’s been much better than I thought it would be, even though sometimes I’m afraid I’ll blow my brains out after explaining one more time that I am from Oklahoma, but I live in San Francisco and I’m a triplet and I want to be Tina Fey when I grow up.

I’ve realized that the people here are good even though they’re not like my other friends. One woman is on a mission to be the world’s most helpful person. Every time I see her she asks if I need anything and gives me advice on something. Another woman is trying to get me a boyfriend. Another man is trying to fix me up with his son. Another woman told me about how her mother-in-law blew herself up because she smoked a cigarette while using an oxygen tank.

I have to say that it’s been refreshing to be around people who are different than what I’m used to. Most of these men and women have had close friends or spouses die, are retired, and have large extended families. Their life stories are mindblowing and they don’t even know it.

I’ve still got 3 more days left here, which will include a hike and pizza with a woman named Mickie who is 77 years old and spent 8 years in Zimbabwe after her husband left her. I’m also going to Asheville with her, which I hear is like a woodsier and smaller version of San Francisco, so it’ll be fun to hear her take on everything she sees. She’s Baptist, so I’m guessing there’ll be no afternoon beer.

If I did get a beer though, I’d toast to experiences that surprise you.

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11 Hot New Ab Workouts

Hagia Sophia: site of the first Byzantine ab workout

1. Sexy Sneezing

2. Hug it Out: an ab workout for liberals

3. Byzantine Abs: for Church history lovers

4. The Bacon Buster: an ab workout for meat eaters

5. Top Ab: various abdominal challenges separate the best from the rest

6. Fox Abs: an ab workout for conservatives

7. Beliebabs: for beliebers

8. Tupperabs: Airtight!

9. The Son of God Ab Workout: WWJALK (What would Jesus’ abs look like?)

10. Six packs for 4-Eyes: an ab workout for glasses-wearers

11. Surprised by Abs: for C.S. Lewis fans

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Lessons in Conspicuousness

It did not look like this, but it did have a steeple

Cairo is obviously well known for its churches. Though it’s no match for Edmond, Oklahoma with regard to church density, it certainly holds its own for church diversity. There are Coptic churches, Armenian churches, Greek Orthodox churches, Protestant churches, churches with mostly Egyptians, churches with mostly foreigners, churches with services in English and Arabic and French and Coptic, churches that God loves, churches that God hates, churches for humans, churches with services on Friday, churches with services on Sunday, and churches with everything in between.

Tonight, friends and I began a church hopping discovery-fest: an expedition in the smorgasbord of church possibilities. I do believe that if every church service we go to is as interesting as the one we went to tonight, then I will have no shortage of blog posts the rest of my time here in Cairo. This blog is, of course, my main motive for doing anything besides sitting in my apartment and watching movies on MBC.

We had planned to go to St. Andrew’s church, a church that has a website and works with refugees, a church that, according to the website, was established over 100 years ago and has a service on Sunday at 7:00. St. Andrew’s was also conveniently close to where we live, which was great because we love visiting the house of God but not if he’s living too far away from us. The church we ended up going to most certainly does not have a website.

Instead of St. Andrew’s church, we accidentally attended a small, evangelical church of an unknown breed, mistaking it for St. Andrews because it was…a church. We hadn’t even considered the possibility of stumbling upon the wrong church. After exiting the Nasser metro stop, we espied a steeple and homed in on it, oblivious to the fact we were missing our intended destination. Finding a gate in a high wall with a cross on it, we gave each other confident nods of confirmation, and pushed it back only to find ourselves in a kind of courtyard, in front of us a small church that resembled a gingerbread house. We entered the tiny sanctuary right as the service was beginning and found that we, three Americans, nearly doubled the size of the congregation. We also were also about 40 years younger than the average attendee. It is safe to say we stood out a bit.

The white-walled church was quite plain, its main decorations a large back lit cross behind the pulpit and a smattering of air conditioners and fans. Though the pastor was no Josh Groban, he successfully led our small band of believers in worship acappela style from the foremost right pew all the while  looking ahead at the powerpoint that he was also operating. The fellow congregants also had varying vocal abilities, each one’s imperfections perfectly audible. My favorite happened to be an elderly lady blessed with the voice of a wooden desk, but a very passionate one at that.

After singing, I learned that Egyptian sermons are just as sleep inducing as American ones. Luckily I was kept awake by the pastor’s occasional shouting and the occasional Bible drill. These Bible drills were actually just him calling out scripture passages, but they became a drill since he would wait to continue until he was sure everyone, especially the foreigners, had found the appropriate verse. Monitoring us was an easy task as we were all exposed beneath his gaze. Cognizant of this vulnerability, I tried to remain awake even more since I knew there was no way the pastor would let one tenth of the congregation slumber in peace.

Post-service, we introduced ourselves to everyone there and realized they were quite eager to keep our young blood in the flock, even taking my friend’s number in order to keep in touch. We, however, were slightly more hesitant, and though we enjoyed the experience, I don’t think it was the spiritual food any of us were looking for, so I can only hope friend doesn’t get a phone call next Sunday night with someone worried about his heavenly status.

It also turned out that the church we were trying to go to was right across the street. Oops. Who knew there would be two so close to each other? The things you learn….

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Christians in Cairo

This is where the pop music was playing

History can be interesting sometimes. I experienced that phenomenon today when I went on another tour with AUC to Coptic Cairo where we learned a little bit about Coptic history and art—we also saw a synagogue—not too many Jews left nowadays however, and most of the ones that are left reside in Alexandria, but the synagogue we saw was pretty sick.

Like last time, we rode in ultimate style to the old part of the city in our luxury bus, where we were then forced to get out and walk around, to our great disdain. Luckily, most of the time we were inside so I didn’t have to worry about wearing sunscreen. Unfortunately, I had remembered to bring sunscreen but forgotten my camera. On the bright side, no one else had a camera so I’ll forget the entire experience except for what I remember to put in this post.

Highlights from the trip:

1. Seeing two oldest churches in Egypt, going back to the 2nd and 3rd century A.D. (I think…that could be inaccurate). Maybe earlier. Old South Church in Boston has nothing on these guys.

2. Seeing where Mary, Jesus, and Joseph hung out while they were avoiding being killed in Nazareth (one of the rumored places)

3. Smelling frankincense when walking into the churches and imagining the people that have been smelling the frankincense for centuries.

4. The pop music playing in the courtyard of one of the churches.

Tidbits from the tour:

1. The tradition of monasticism was apparently started in Egypt, and so there’s a ton of Coptic art from monasteries that were built and then abandoned whenever the water resources ran out. I now desire to go hang out at a monastery and add my own modernist twist to Coptic art.

2. A story: in the time of the Fatimids, the ruler used to like to have discussions between the leaders of each religious community. At one such discussion, the ruler got into an argument with the Coptic pope and demanded a miracle from him in order to assuage his anger since Christianity was supposedly a religion of miracles. The specific miracle he demanded (I didn’t know you could be so picky) was that the pope move the Moqqatam hills in 3 days. So the pope asked all the Copts to pray and fast for three days and on the third day the Virgin appeared to the pope and said that he needed to walk outside the church and he would find a one eyed man who would perform the miracle. He exited the church indeed found a one eyed man. They took a taxi to Moqattam together and the one eyed man performed the miracle and the hills were lifted off the ground so that you could see the sky through the bottom of the hills. We know this actually happened because there is an authentic tile representation of the miracle, a medium widely known to be quite accurate.

3. St. Mark was the founder of Egyptian Christianity

4. Copts were known for their weaving skills.

5. In the 19th century, a tourist (read: British colonialist) was poking around in the synagogue and accidently stumbled upon a huge treasure trove of Jewish texts. When I’m chilling at the monastery I’m going to do a lot of digging in hopes of finding something equally impressive.

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