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Category Archives: Life in America

Getting Old is Bad Idea…but things are not as they seem

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“Getting old is a bad idea,” my grandpa said to me as we walked the dog around the block. Everyday grandpa took the ol’girl on the same walk that he had memorized deep in his mind under the hazy layer of alzheimer’s. Though he was smart enough to know that something was wrong, it was bad enough that he couldn’t remember basic facts like how many kids he had. I shook my head at the obsession we have with youth, yet I felt bad for my grandpa.

Grandpa Dick is my father’s father. He was a highly intelligent man. He had the engineering kind of intelligence that wants to know how things work and figures them out. He could make anything. He worked JPL, part of NASA, and he put his own additions on his homes. Grandpa was strong and driven. One time, he rode his bicycle from L.A. to D.C.  with a buddy of his. But he didn’t get to enjoy his retirement; by then he wasn’t putting things together very well. We thought he’d teach part-time, volunteer, and travel, but for the most part it was too late.

Grandma Rose is my mother’s mother. She was a little pistol, in the best possible sense. Her mind was always sharp, she had all of her eight siblings birthdays memorized, as well as each of their children, her children, and grandchildren. She knew everyone’s phone numbers too. I think that is where my mother and brother got their photographic memory. Just last year she told me in detail how to make gnocchi and beef brachial even though she hadn’t made it with her own hands in over ten years. She was a great Sicilian cook. She could sew too. She made jackets and skirts, everything. She made perfect high fashion Barbie doll clothes for me, until she couldn’t see well enough anymore. Then she couldn’t cook anymore either, so she taught grandpa Boyd, her husband to cook. She would sit in her seat and give him step-by-step instructions on how to make his favorite dishes that she had been making for over thirty years.

Now things are worse. Grandma Rose has been in a home for 4 years. She has the most faithful husband a place like that has ever seen. Grandpa Boyd is there three hours in the morning, and three hours in evening. For a while they had a routine, Fridays he would take her to the hair salon, and while she would get here hair done, he would eat at the Magic Wok. Then they would go visit Grandma Rose’s sister Nicka. Sundays, he would bring her her purse and her wedding ring and they would go to church. I always thought she’d have colored and styled hair till the day she died. I was wrong. She got a lung infection last Spring. After that, she stopped eating for a while and soon she was too weak to get up, now she can’t go out anymore. She eats a little pureed food a day. She sleeps a lot.  Still, I did get to show her my wedding video.  She felt like she was there. She called me her doll.

Grandpa Dick is getting worse too. Some things were funny. You had to laugh so you didn’t cry. One time we were sitting at the dinning room table and grandpa got up to go to the bathroom, after a minute grandma Margie followed him to make sure he was ok. She came back in the room shaking her head. Grandpa was peeing in the kitchen sink. Some things were sweet. Grandpa would be driving grandma crazy the whole day, making a ticking sound with his mouth, tapping his figure, and telling her to watch out of other cars on the road, and out of the blue he would tell her that he loved her.  He is still that way, even though his own doctor said that he went off a cliff in the last three months. Sometimes he falls asleep in his chair and he is so hard to wake up. Even when he wakes up it is like he is walking in his sleep, and he rarely makes eye contact. Then when grandma Margie hugged him goodnight a few evenings ago, he said, “I love you.” He told me he loved me too.

Whenever Grandpa told me that getting old was a bad idea, I wanted to disagree with him, to tell him to enjoy this season of life. But, who was I kidding? How could my grandparents enjoy the season of their lives where their minds failed them, their bodies failed them, or their spouses had to be put in homes. One time Grandma Rose told me that it just wasn’t right, not getting to live with her husband. “What does this mean for my marriage?”, she asked rhetorically.  I felt like crying.

There was a children’s book series that my parents read to me when I was young called, “Tales of the Kingdom.” One of my favorite parts in those stories, was when the old women, aged and ugly to the world, danced in celebration. When they would dance they would be transformed into the most beautiful creatures, and hunched over backs would be made straight, and wobbly knees made strong. This image has been forever cemented in my mind. When I look at the old and frail, I think this is not how they really are…this is only how they appear. And someday, someday they will be transformed.  I hope that those I love will be able to enjoy all the days of their lives, no matter what comes. So I bring grandpa Dick a milkshake, and I bring grandma Rose home baked sweets. But on the days that it is difficult to enjoy this season, I long for them to remember that this is not the end. Things are not as they seem. Someday, I’ll be reminding myself of the same thing.


A housewife’s budget crisis: shopping for groceries with a calculator.

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While our government fought about the budget, my husband and I fought about our budget. Well, not exactly. We have more values in common than the Democrats and Republicans but sticking to our budget is not easy. We are in a predicament because although Joe makes a good deal of money, we have a mortgage, he is in school, our wedding is not fully paid for yet, and I do not have a paying job. The biggest problem, other than our outstanding bills as mentioned is that we spent way too much on groceries the last month. In my joy of being a housewife and preparing dinner almost every meal, I bought whatever I wanted at the grocery store…as well as whatever Joe wanted. But after consulting our budget and my friends who are wise with their money, we decided that we needed to spend only about $50 a week on groceries and at the most occasionally $75. So, I did some research online and determined that in addition to planning out our weekly meals I also needed to shop at the cheapest grocery store and add up my purchases on my calculator as  I shopped.

So yesterday I set out to walk to Aldi’s with my commuter’s shopping cart. By the time I reached the corner of Wrightwood and Clyborne I was dripping in sweat, the heat index made it feel like it was $100. And then I saw that Aldi was closed for remodeling and would reopen in the Fall. I looked across the street at the Dominick’s for about two seconds, refusing to even try that store.  Frustrated I walked another half mile to a place where I knew I could catch a bus to Trader Joe’s. It turns out that Aldi is the cheapest grocery store, followed by Target, and then TJ’s. Jewell and Dominicks are almost as bad as Whole Paycheck (ur a Whole Foods). After waiting for the bus for over 15 min, I saw the bus coming and realized I had left my bus pass at home and had no cash. I walked home. I grabbed a snack, I checked on the puppy, and I caught the bus to TJ’s.

At Trader Joe’s I careful followed my shopping list, for each item I looked for the best unit price, and then I added the price into my phone calculator. I even decided to buy the unpeeled whole carrots rather than the cut and peeled “baby carrots” in order to save a buck. After going through my entire list, I was only up to $35. I thought of a few more items we needed, and wanted but kept the bill at $52 with tax! I’d like to see the American government do that!

The Event of the Summer: The Wedding Was Amazing, Planning it Was Not.

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Planning our wedding was not fun. Okay there were some good moments such as when good deals worked out, but so many things went wrong or went complicated that I was at almost a constant state of wanting to pull my hair out. And I was paranoid that Joe was going to leave me during this time of engagement because honestly if I was him, I might have left me. When it was all said and done and we were sitting on the white sand of the Caribbean drinks in hand, I asked Joe if he ever considered breaking up. “No,” he said, and he meant it.

Here is are a few of the fiascoes that we went through in planning our wedding: finding that 90% of the Chicago hotels were booked due to a conference and we couldn’t get a block of rooms or a honeymoon suite downtown,  discovering that our reception venue could not formally seat 150 guests after the invitations were sent out and my parents had purchased over 150 place-mats in India, when the U.S. postal service lost my engagement ring for over 24hrs, and when the bar owner downstairs from our venue threatened to call the cops on any events held on the weekends at the Portfoilio Annex and we were asked to move our reception (luckily though it was a longer story we just ended the party at 10pm).  All of this combined with making $1,000 decisions everyday with your fiance, your parents, and your parents-in-law made for a stressful time indeed. And, the week just before the wedding might have been the most jam backed stressful time ever. But, by the week of the wedding due to the calling the cops episode I was laughing instead of crying. The week of the wedding, I had to make the programs twice due to misspelling, Joe sprained his ankle, our friend’s trunk he offered to help us move with was broken into, the bathtub in my apartment stopped draining, we forgot the seating chart for the rehearsal dinner, and my dear friend who made our amazing cakes got in a car accident and by the time she got to venue to deliver the cake it was locked up and the cakes were melting. I was standing outside of the Ethiopian Church where the rehearsal dinner was hosted thinking–really? The drama continues?

But, the day of the wedding could not have been better. We had a blast. We didn’t let anything bother us. The ceremony was beautiful. The music was more than I dreamed of…my friends Abby, Allison, Chad, and the violinist Igor made it beautiful. It was contemporary, but simple and classic at the same time. We used the grand piano, a guitar, and violin.  The weather was perfect. When I was little I always said I wanted it to rain on my wedding day (too many bollywood movies I guess). But then as the day approached I thought, “no, please, no, I don’t want it to rain.” So it was beautiful and sunny but a little humid. Then right as we walked out the chapel as a married couple for the first time…it was raining. Joe gave me his coat to cover my head and we ran to the side room to wait until the chapel emptied. I loved how my dress turned out. It was beautiful…my greatgrandmothers 1930’s dress redesigned…gorgeous silk satin and lace. Plus I got to play fashion designer! I remember walking down the aisle and thinking, why is Joe not looking at me. Look at me! Then when he wiped his eye I knew why he had been looking down. Steve’s message about learning to love someone so different than yourself was encouraging.

Then we got in the Limo…the hummer Limo. It was Joe’s dream…and it was fun. We went downtown and took pictures on Michigan Ave, Franklin Bridge and Millennium Park. I felt like a super-model. The funny thing was that Joe is shy of kissing in front of anyone and the photographer. My dear friend Robert of Shades of Grey kept asking us to kiss for pics. I loved it! h

When we got to the reception. It was like the this is the greatest party ever!!! The food from Catered by Design was beautiful and delicious. And the space was so cool. Then the band started playing. They were amazing… All of our hard work to get the best quality for the best price was paying off. Matt gave a great best man speech. I might post it here. But, our very favorite part of the evening was when the band played OMG…somehow Joe and I ended up dancing in the middle of the room with everyone surrounding us and cheering. I cannot wait to see that on video!


Why Chicago? …For the Potential of A Great Love.

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If you know me, you might wonder why I moved to Chicago. And, there are many answers to that question. In the next few blog entries I will explore why Chicago.

Last year, I left everything—my job, my friends and family—to move across the world for the potential of a great love. I had been living in Delhi, India for two years. I loved running VDS, a young adult program. I worked with and lived near my parents. I was good at what I did. My students were learning how to serve people in poverty. But, I reached twenty-eight and started believe that I would never find love. It was real for others, but not for me. Almost and sort-of relationships with promising young men only compounded my discouragement. So in the spring of 2009 when a tall, dark, and handsome American man walked into the retreat center in North India, I expected disappointment. I glanced at his left hand, but there was no ring. Huh. I thought. He offered to carry my suitcase down to my room.

“No thanks, I got it.” I snapped.

He was in India for a week accompanying his pastor on a speaking engagement. I wanted to help him adjust to India, but I refused to jump on the merry-go-round of “let’s get close in a few days and when you are lonely you can always email me,” and go-around-again. I was still dizzy from my last merry-go-round ride. Although I put my guard up, Joseph was persistent. We easily talked for hours. On the last day of the conference we exchanged email addresses and phone numbers and I offered to meet him in Delhi when he had a lay over on the following Saturday.

Saturday I dressed more American than usual in a cute sundress. I went out to the market with my friend. While haggling with merchants, my phone rang with an unknown number. I answered,

“Amy, this is Joe Negussie, ” he said.

“Oh, Hi” I said. “Are you in Delhi?”

“Yes,” he said. “We are sitting in lounge outside the airport for the next few hours, but do not have time to leave, do you want to come join us?”

“Um, maybe,” I said. “Let, me think about it, I might show up, I might not.”

I got off the phone and explained the situation to my friend Andi. We continued shopping. Ten minutes later, something came over me and I said to Andi, “I’m going to go.”

“You are?” she asked quizzically.

I nodded.

“Don’t you think he’s going to think you like him?”

I struggled. I didn’t care if he thought I liked him. I hoped in a three-wheeled auto-rickshaw and in my broken Hindi haggled for the price and directed the driver to take me to the airport. At the airport we bantered and exchanged travel stories until it was time for him to check for the flight.

Monday morning I had an email from Joseph. Next thing I knew I was in a flirty email correspondence, but there was something different about this exchange. As soon as I wrote to Joseph, he’d return my email—within hours. I was traveling and still cautious, so I would wait three days, sometimes a week depending on my Internet access. No matter how long I waited, he wrote back instantly. Most guys take days or weeks to respond. We got into a deep correspondence of past stories and experiences.  Joseph suggested I visit Chicago when I was in the U.S. for the summer. I was planning my itinerary of fundraisers and so I said, “if you host a fundraiser, I’ll come.”

He said he would throw a party if I would let him take me on a date. I agreed. He did not just take me out to a nice dinner. He took me to Spiaggia—an exquisite restaurant in downtown Chicago with a lake Michigan view. And, then he had a surprise. We were driving and I started seeing signs for Midway airport. Next thing I knew a buddy of his was greeting us and Joseph was explaining that Jarryd was talking us on a flight tour of the city. He was a charter plane pilot. I loved it. And, as I looked down at the city I had a feeling that something was pulling me towards Chicago.

A few days later I was leaving and Joseph told me he was interested in getting to know me better. He asked me to come back to visit Chicago before going to India again in the Fall. I agreed. By the end of the second visit we were officially dating. We both agreed that long-distance could not be long-term and we kissed good-bye.

For the next month we talked on the phone, over web-cam, and email. Then, I casually started looking for jobs in Chicago. Before I met Joe, I assumed my next move would be following a job offer in the States, and I hoped to be in California where my grandparents live. But, there was no reason I had to live in L.A. I had lived all over the place and found myself happy as long as I was in a city. We were on web cam talking about everyday life and I mentioned that I was looking for a job in Chicago. Joe changed the subject and pointed out a picture behind me. I let it pass, but rapid-fire emails and more Skype conversations followed. The risk freaked him out. Still, he did not disappear or break it off. A few weeks later I received a Chicago themed package in the mail. He did want me to move to Chicago.

I did not know what was going to happen. We had only spent three weeks together in person. That time planted a seed in me, and if it was watered and given sunlight, it might grow into the love of my life. But the seed could be neglected, over watered, ripped out, or not given enough sunlight in Chicago’s winter.

I would not have moved for anyone, and I would not have moved anywhere—but I liked Chicago and I liked Joseph. Some men look good on paper, but in reality they are dull or inconsiderate. Joseph looks good on paper. He was high school quarter-back, he was in a fraternity in college, started an faith-based organization in college, makes good money as a twenty-seven year-old, has just started his MBA at Kellogg, his boss told him that one day he will be her boss, and he’s gorgeous. But in reality, he is better than his CV. He is generous, God-fearing, fun, and loving. They say love is blind, but I did not want to be fooled. If this was real, if he was real, we could be something great. If not, it would be awful but I would get through it. So, with my eyes open, I boarded the plane, waved good-bye to my beloved friends in India who cried, “Mut jaow, Amy didi, mut jaow” (Don’t go sister Amy, don’t go), and took the first greatest risk of my life. It was the last week in October 2009.

At first it was a little rocky, we didn’t know each other well. He was used to doing what he wanted to do. But I was impressed that if I was offended by his behavior or attitude and I told him how something made me feel and what he could do different, he would apologize and make immediate changes. I made adjustments too. By mid- January I received an early Valentines present on my front porch. I’ve never asked him what possessed him to give me perfume mid-January especially because lovely earrings followed as a surprise on Valentine’s Day, but I think that was when he finally relaxed and remembered why we both felt that pursuing each other was worth going to extraordinary measures.

My life in Chicago still means sacrifices. I love the city and I love Joseph. But, I have had to work in coffee shops and other part –time jobs. I have turned down dream jobs, in other states. Someday I hope I will have both the man I love and a job I love, but for now it is worth the sacrifice. After a year of being together when I think of all the men I’ve dated, or even wanted to date, when I think about the men that my friends dated or even married, no one compares to Joseph Negussie. I feel excited thinking about our potential to love each other well for a lifetime, and to impact the world together for good. I would have never known this love if I did not take the risk of moving across the world for the hope of our potential great love.

St. Ar Bucks: My Recession Parish

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St. Ar Bucks is my parish. I have been called to St. Ar Bucks. I am a missionary. I do not mean that I am trying to push anything on anyone. I just mean that I have been sent there for a time for a purpose. I am here like a bar-tender therapist to listen to the customers and my co-workers. I am here to empathize and to call out the good in each one.

Never mind that I am the most over-educated barista at my particular café.  Not only do I have college degree, I have a master’s degree–from Princeton Theological Seminary. And yet, I make Lattes. I clean toilets, I take out the trash—for $8.50 after my raise. When it was a half an hour walk and I thought it was temporary as in, 6-8 months–I was okay with it. Now it’s a hour bus ride, a 30 min bike ride, a $13 cab ride, or a fifteen minute borrowed a car or talked a friend-into-driving-ride, and it’s frustrating,

If it weren’t for the people I work with I would not have been able to last this long. They are real, they are interesting. Last night I worked with a nocturnal comic artist who drinks, and smokes and knows how to make everyone feel like he’s his or her best friend. He is very gifted with people. In fact last night a customer was hitting on me and he said to him, look she doesn’t get a paid for you to hit on her. The man said, “you can’t blame me for trying.” My friend said, “no, but I can blame you for a big swing and a miss.” That really meant a lot to me.

Sunday nights I work with an actress. She’s a tall beautiful perfectionist, who has an immense amount of compassion for the world. As a result of her compassion does not eat meat, and her boyfriend is a girl. They have become my friends. Her boyfriend is a photography student and owns a beautiful brown Alaskan Husky. Somehow my co-worker puts up with my quarks. She finds me a bit odd as we have talked about relationships, a moral system, and even God.

There is a theory that St. Ar Bucks attracts the artists and the more interesting variety of people to work there, it maybe true. I am highly impressed by my co-workers’ longevity to the job. And, here I am supposed to be a witness of who God is and they are putting me to shame in the good attitude category. Barely making enough money, odd hours, and lectures over the particularities of how to steam milk in order to perfect cappuccino foam—can be testing. You have to remember your job is not your life. It is just a job—a means to an end. We work to live, we do not live to work. Or at least we do not live to work the job that gives us a bi-weekly pay-check and health insurance. I am a preacher, he is artist, she is student, she is an actor. The café is a practice stage, it is a place for comic inspiration, and it is a congregation.

The economy is bad, so at least we have jobs. And, we get a pound of free coffee a week and if you close you can take home food that would be thrown away. Doing has been over thrown by being. “What do you do (for a living)?” and “Who are you (made to be)?” are not the same questions.

Fitting In

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I think I tried on my entire wardrobe this morning. Nothing seems to go together, I’m trying to look American. There are hundreds of kinds of Americans, but what I’m going for is the twenty-something attractive city girl variety. Now I’m sitting in a coffee shop—no wait it’s a tea-shop—watching the stylish women walk by on the sidewalk. I finally saw a girl that I would like to be dressed like. She had tight red pants on, black boots over top—the heeled calf-covering scrunchy type, a big yellow purse, and long curled red-colored hair. I think her top was black. I’m going shopping tomorrow, thank God. Oh there she is again she has a multi colored scarf and a black jacket on too, but it was the sunglasses that toped off the outfit. What I can’t figure out, is how much or in which ways that I want to fit in here…or anywhere. Internally I have this foreigner thing going and that is why I’m keeping this blog. But here in the U.S., unlike in India I can disguise myself as a local. And, really I am pretty normal. I’m a single twenty-eight year old girl, over-educated, underpaid, who likes to watch movies, dark chocolate, red-wine and to lament about injustice in the world. Hopefully I do stuff about it too, but let’s be honest sometimes there is more dialogue in my circles than anything else—but I put in a few hours at a food pantry here and there. I’m normal. Then the inconvenience of having a boyfriend but not sharing a bed with him comes up, and someone is shocked. “We’re old fashioned like that,” he says. But it’s too late, our abnormal-ness is out in the open. But we pour another glass of wine and step in when the call for a dependable friend is made and the oddity is put to the side. We walk the line of cultural relevancy and our own counter-culture.

I met some people last week who moved to Amsterdam in the past year in order to start a new faith community. Well, Amsterdam is a very secular city. In Amsterdam, one girl suggested to believe Jesus was who he claimed to be, might be akin to believing in the tooth fairy. So mostly what my friends have been doing is just making friends there in the city, and throwing parties—being normal, having fun. And, their parties aren’t lame, people like hanging out with these guys. The cool thing is that I think Jesus was like that…people invited him over all the time. As soon as they knew he was coming to town they would throw a party. And like this guy was saying last week, it was the religious people that Jesus would give a hard time—not the other people. I’m sure people were drinking and smoking, and using foul language around him. Yet in the bible we never see Jesus telling anyone to go away because they were contaminated. In fact, we know that Jesus was even at a party that included a prostitute. And, Jesus didn’t end up in some heated discussion about the evils of prostitution, but instead this woman washed Jesus feet with her tears. It wasn’t like he took advantage of her; instead they had an intimate yet innocent human interaction.

Versatility, to be able to relate to all kinds of people, is a good thing. The challenge is continuing to know who you are, throughout your many transformations. For me, I look to St. Paul who said he was “in Christ.” That’s what I want to be, “in Christ.” I’m “in Christ” loving the little kids who came with their parents to get groceries and the food pantry, I’m “in Christ” talking with a surgeon who makes more money a year that I will ever see in my life, and I’m going to be “in Christ” as I make cappuccinos at Starbucks. Most of the time, my “in Christ” relational status might not affect how I am perceived, but there will be moments when people will be surprised at the things I do or say, and that’s a good thing.

Who’s going to wash the dishes?

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Who washes the dishes? I remember when I was in college and my roommate and I would have our guy friends over for dinner. These were the nights when we would go all out and actually buy meat. But, there was one rule: if we buy the food and cook, you do the dishes. In my new apartment in Chicago, we do things the real American way: everyone does their own dishes (for the most part). It’s fair. But in India, it’s not how things are done. The wife, mother, or servants do the dishes. If you are in a cafeteria setting, maybe you do your own dishes, but the boss or person of authority will rarely be allowed to wash his dish.

My friend, Yuvraj is the kind of guy by Indian standards who could go his whole life without washing a plate. That would be very normal. He’s a U.K. educated upper-middle class twenty-nine year-old from a good family. But, Yuvraj is a follower of Jesus. And sometimes when people follow Jesus they find themselves in very different roles than would be seen as normal.

He has recently moved out of his comfortable family house and into a very simple cement house in the slum. Him and his wife now sleep on the floor; carry water in from a hose outside to wash dishes, and share a bathroom with at least twelve people. Why? It’s not easy, and it’s not that they have some weird preoccupation with suffering… They are real; they want nothing to do with hypocrisy.  They believe that the Creator of the universe cares about the suffering people of the world, and sent his son Jesus out of love for them. The God of the universe cares about the woman who lives across the gully from them in a three-sided shack with her children. God sees this sweet lady who never asks for anything and whose children get bitten by rats while they are sleeping. So Yuvraj and Mary see her through God’s eyes, and they insisted that she accept a bed from them—so her and her children have a chance to sleep through the night without rat bites. They imagine that if Jesus were living in their neighborhood, he might do something like make friends with her.

But back to dishes—plates. So Yuvraj started this training program in which he goes into a small town or village area and teaches a group of people problem solving skills, has them get into groups and try to think of solutions to real community problems they are facing. And, when he hears the best problem—solution he has a grant that will help them start working to implement these solutions. And, each day of the seminar starts with a time of spiritual reflection. So one day my friend Yuvraj taught devotion about Jesus washing the disciples feet. Most of the participants were Christians and all of the participants were rural Indian farmers. Then they started the training for the day and at lunchtime had a cafeteria-style-wash-your-own-plate-routine. On this day Yuvraj finished his lunch first and after washing his own plate turned to the next man and said, “Would you allow me to wash you plate?” The man blinked, and stepped back, with his month open. You have to understand that Yuvraj is so well spoken in English that sometimes people think he is a foreigner. The third man elbowed him and reminded him of the teaching of Jesus washing his disciples feet. Yuvraj laughed and said, yes, but I’m not going to say like Jesus that you have no part with me, if you don’t let me wash your plate. I am only requesting that you allow me the honor of washing your plate. As the men continued to come up to the sink, some allowed him to wash their plate and others didn’t.

Later Yuvraj brought this up to me, because we were talking about foot washing—which is something I love to do in a worship service, but Yuvraj was saying that foot washing has been ritualized beyond meaning in some contexts. On Good Friday, the priest will wash the communicants feet and it is like receiving a blessing—but the ordinary yet disruptive act of Jesus washing his followers feet has been lost. In Jesus’ cultural context, you would come in the house from a day of walking around on dusty streets and either a servant would wash your feet or you would wash your own feet. It was just a normal thing, like sanitizing your hands after moving around in a crowded place, buying lunch, pouring a glass of water, or washing the dishes in your neighbor’s house.