11.30.2009

while thinking on thanks

I wish I could say that this has been a tough fall and not feel conceited, lazy, or inexperienced in dealing with suffering.

This fall has been tough in non-persevering, non-suffering, non-trying ways. It's just been gray and chaotic. Like the sky before an autumn storm. I've been anticipating a storm that hasn't come in full force. I'm wearied from expectation.

The trouble with my troubles is that they are the troubles of will and spirit. They aren't concrete. They are in the upper echelon of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which feels like something that should be celebrated. And yet, I simply want to throw the contents of my office, my closet, my cupboard onto the sidewalk and stroll away, never glancing backward.

Can I be thankful and disdainful? Can I be thankful through abandon? Can I be thankful and turn away?

11.18.2009

sometimes, i write to myself.

I write a weekly message to the leaders in our Sunday School program at church. It connects to the weekly theme and story. More often than not, I write it to myself. I write it to pick my melted self off of the floor and to tell myself that there is greater, deeper, better hope.

Here's this week's, based on Joshua 3:1-4:24 where the Israelites cross the Jordan River into Canaan:

Thanksgiving is a verb, an action, a movement. It’s more than a day. Certainly, we get together and partake in whatever family or friends traditions we have. Some eat Chinese food, some watch 2948 hours of football, some have pie making competitions (I’m coming to your house). Yet, at the core, our activities are centered on things that we are thankful for. This can be difficult at the end of a year filled with lost jobs, sick friends, lost sanity, and a whole lot of rain that just seems to aggravate the malaise.
Our young people aren’t oblivious to these troubles. They know when the adults in their life are hurting. They know when we are wandering around in a proverbial desert waiting for God to show us the river to cross. God acted mightily in the lives of Joshua and the Israelites. He dammed up a river and they walked across. Finally, their wandering was coming to a miraculous end. Tomorrow, when we wake up, this life will not change. And yet our response can change. We can look forward in life at the malaise and see the miraculous promise in the end. We can see forgiveness, healing and meaning in Christ. Our joy is independent of our sorrow and circumstance. For that we give thanks and build our 12 stone altars.

11.13.2009

nightmared

You wake wanting to scream, but somehow you don't.

You lay in silence, a bit awed at the exhaustion from running through unknown European back alleys.

You stare blankly, upwardly, afraid that the person you grieved has actually passed.

You toss, scanning quickly the darker corners of your room, ensuring that the blackened silhouette is just a lamp.

And then you wait for the nightmare to become real or to reveal itself as less than. Sometimes wide-eyed. Sometimes in dreams.

10.14.2009

perspective

Sunday was diabolic. I don't say that lightly. Both of my computers crashed. My work computer in the morning. My home computer in the late hours of the evening. (Yes, I have two computers. It is extravagant and silly and absurd. I already know that.) The irony, the cataclysm of both crashes at the start of important conversation, encouragement, and proclamation of the Gospel can surely be interpreted many ways, but I think, I am truly convinced, it was a very lame attempt by the evil one to bury me in self-pitying woe, absurd busyness, and egotistical frustration.

Computers, cars, and people die.

As I write, my colleague in the Word is burying a friend, a man whose life has served the church, a man who gave more in his retirement from his professional field than many of those who are paid to serve.

Computers, cars, and people die.

Computers and cars bear no significance in my life. Sure, losing information, functionality, ease of transport, and funds is inconvenient and irritating. But that's it. Life is filled with general inconveniences and irritations. Have you visited a big box store parking lot lately? Those things epitomize the irritating side of life. I cannot complain about irritation when there are larger wounds to mend.

The temporary suspension of the blessing of technology cannot distract me from the reality that I have work to do. I have a hope that changes me, compels me, grounds me. It is a hope that heals and cares and sets aside the burn of irritation and self for the bigger picture.

Computers, cars, and people die.

As my fellow servant is buried in the ground this cold and brutal fall day, I am reminded that he will not be stripped for parts like a dead computer or car, but his brokenness will be made new. His scratches and bumps will be healed. His broken heart will be replaced. Love will course his veins.

10.09.2009

to the long-forgotten ever-present

To the long-forgotten ever-present,

I want to tell you that I'm leaving this behind me. That I'm moving on and moving up. That everything is going to be just alright.

But alas, time has shown that it isn't.

I can't get a handle on the mess in my mind or in my room or in the cabinet underneath the sink.
I can't get a handle on who I am or who I want to be.

I don't know who my friends are, who I can be happy around, who I can trust with the fact that I don't know if I like these people.

I don't know what to do with the words in my mind most days and so I bottle them up. Too dangerous for the people I sweat for. Too boring for my own eyes.

I could create a thousand dance metaphors but really it boils down to that fact that learning to dance has created the biggest culture gap in my life since moving away to live in the thick of another culture.

Starting every line with "I" further proves the inanity that I feel. I wish I had something better to tell you, something to say. But I've been living in a windowless cave for some years now and I've lost the view that made things tick.

Life has become unsustainable.
This has become unsustainable.

And yet, I keep coming back to it.

5.27.2009

gratitude

I received a thank you note today from a youth in our ministries. She's the kind and thoughtful sort that writes thank you notes after retreats and special events, even if I begged her to be okay with her mom coming along because I was desperate for another leader. Beg seems like a strong word, but it is really a balance of my inner thoughts and reality. In my mind, I was on my knees, bawling my little itchy eyes out, groveling. On the outside, I was calm and rational and listened to her concerns about having her mom there. In the end, they both had a great time and mom is coming again.

This time, however, the thank you note was not preceded by anything in particular, except perhaps the sentimentality of the year coming to a close. She is an eighth grader, graduating on Sunday. Soon she will be promoted into the big and scary senior high ministry where they travel out of state and separate by gender for bible study.

Her gratitude is so untimely, unsolicited, and wonderful. I am tremendously grateful for her. Her frolicking maturity has surprised me, delighted me, challenged me. She has gently grown up and brought her classmates and friends with her. She's shared with me and I've learned from her.

As I reflect on her thank you, it almost seems scandalous that she would write me such a note. I've done nothing more than what is expected of me. Rather it is I who should be writing. It is she that has risen above expectations and shared her faith so tremendously. Her gratitude is a reminder to me of the blessing that she is.

5.26.2009

here comes trouble

This Saturday, I spent some time with Jacob, my soon-to-be-two cousin. I kind of think he's the cutest thing since pug puppies. Here's a few pictures that argue my case.



5.14.2009

self-differentiation

When I was a wee-intern three years ago, my university supervisor and I had a long conversation about self-differentiation. Basically, I used the word and then he asked me 325097 questions about why I would use that expression and talk about striving for it at my age and blah dibbity blah.

As a young ambitious youth worker, self-differentiation was easy. I didn't care what each and every person thought of me. I cared what 6 people thought of me, maybe 7. I could separate my self-definition from their imposed definition. I could separate my emotions about the success of Thursday evening bible study (mmm, do we call that success or utter failure?) from my self-definition. I could do it without blinking an eyelash. I was impervious to most things.

What they forget to tell you when they hand you the diploma and send you on your way is that as these adverse reactions or questioning emails or poorly received ideas build up, you lose your immunity. Like an aging woman barraged with seasonal viruses, with each situation the difficulty compounds. Over time, you forget to remind yourself that Lorene's opinion of the Sunday School program doesn't define your ability to effectively share Christ with kids. You forget that you can share Christ with 3 pennies, no pennies or $35,000. You forget.

I forgot.

Despite my every attempt to keep my self-definition separate from negativity, it's wandered in, stealthfully, like the H1N1 into the corners of our world. Imperviosity has departed from me and I'm left to learn the real process of self-differentiation.

Self-differentiation requires the ability to meaningfully connect with each person, their concerns, their hopes, their problems with you, and walk away from them knowing that you aren't ultimately defined by any of those things. It's harder than I expected. I want to wave some sort of magic Jesus wand on my heart and make it content.

Faithfulness to God's redemption in me is much more challenging than simple acknowledgment or redemption's existence. Faithfulness to Christ's redemption in me requires that I set aside my feelings about myself, good or bad, and move forward in the mission of the Church. What I strive for is no longer self-differentiation, but self-loss.

4.27.2009

the need to belong

The New York Times is currently running an article about atheist and humanist organizations that are popping up in different locations around the country.

These lines, in particular, struck me:

And now parents were coming out of the woodwork asking for family-oriented programs where they could meet like-minded nonbelievers.

“Is everyone in favor of sponsoring a picnic for humanists with families?” asked the board president, Jonathan Lamb, a 27-year-old meteorologist, eliciting a chorus of “ayes.”

The sociology and psychology of religion have been chewed upon over and over again particularly by critics. These lines remind me that there is also a sociology of non-religion. The non-religious, non-spiritual also have the need to belong, the need to form a collective identity.

As a deeply spiritual, deeply religious person, I hadn't considered the need to belong separate from my faith and practice. For this reason, these groups are fascinating to me. Their gathering practices mimic those of religious organizations.

I'm certainly not excited by this movement in religiosity, but I am intrigued by it.

4.15.2009

por fin: YM 3.0

My review of Mark Oestricher's YM 3.0 is a long time in coming. You can check it out on theEsource.
Mark Oestreicher's Youth Ministry 3.0 embodies the conversation model of ministry books. His book is revolutionary not only in content, but also in style.

raising spiritually healthy children

The theme of spiritual development is popping up in my daily reading quite frequently.

Here's an article on Raising Spiritually Healthy Children that I enjoyed for its simplicity and implementability (new word!) outside of the church walls.

via emerging parents

4.11.2009

holy listless saturday

My favorite neighborhood run wanders right past a cemetery. I run by it enough, I can do it thoughtlessly. I'm too busy convincing myself that the urge to stop is only in my head. Today, after spending a good part of the day wondering over that first Holy Saturday, the cemetery took hold of my attention in an earth-shattering way.

I don't expect my grandmother to rise from the dead tomorrow morning. I don't expect my brother to join me for a post-sunrise service run in the morning. I don't expect the Normas and Johns and Edwards to rise up from their graves as I run past them on a sunny evening.

The disciples didn't expect Jesus on Sunday. Their grief was real. It was hopeless. It was hot and painful and scary. The women went to cemetery in the listlessness that only sudden grief can bring. Despite her grief, Mary was actually quite rational. It was much more likely that the groundskeeper looked like Jesus than he would be the Risen Jesus.

But reason went wayside with her name, "Mary." Her expectations, her listlessness, her grief, her reason was replaced with surprise, uncontainable joy, and an irrational faith.

It is irrational to believe that the physical bodies of my brother, friends, grandparents will rise up out of their graves. And yet Christ's resurrection is a sure sign of what is to come, the first fruit of many. His resurrection tells us that death, its listless grief, its hopelessness has no victory, no lasting sting.

Holy Saturday is listless. It is waiting for what is to come. But on this side of Christ's resurrection, we know what is to surely come.

4.09.2009

adulthood


question prohibition

Months ago, I was finishing up a Sunday morning’s paperwork as two members came by to visit with me. The topic of global warming came up. One member made a heavily derogatory comment towards anyone who believed in a warming globe, commenting that anyone who believed that also believed that the world was millions of years old and that macro-evolution was verifiably true. They framed the comment in such a way that disagreeing made the person un-Christian. As a young person who cares deeply for the beautiful earth, I was mortified. But as a paid member of our staff and a representative of the church-at-large, I remained silent, wondering when a scientific conversation became a pillar of our faith.

If that were the only example of such an experience, I would label it anecdotal. However, I think representational would be a more fitting description.
If I were to ask questions about science and faith in an open forum, I am afraid of being labeled, of being “blacklisted,” of being ridiculed. As a servant of the church, I shouldn’t be afraid of asking honest questions. I have honest questions about science and faith, questions that my instructors in university sidestepped, or only hinted towards. I wonder if they sidestepped in their own inhibition.

Fear breeds dissatisfaction and anger. As a culture, I worry that one day many will self-exclude because of fear, anger, dissatisfaction. I worry that the inability to properly and safely ask the questions about faith, scripture, life will keep us from engaging spiritually with one another.

Certainly this fear is nothing new. It has been expressed by many over the ages. But it is different when the fear becomes your own.


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4.08.2009

anecdotes on spiritual development

In a conversation about religion and faith with a pluralistic group (an Evangelical Christian, a Buddhist, a Jew, a Lutheran, and a few others), we found common ground. We agreed that faith, spirituality, and religion were different things that cannot be judged on the same principles.

When you take away the hang-ups that many of us have on organized religion (can you say Spanish Inquisition ten times fast?), it opens up a whole new realm of more meaningful and productive conversation about the interaction of faith and belief. Instead of anger towards a group or misguided assumptions, you can learn from each other.

This non-scientific experience reminds me that there is much to be shared in the human experience and spirituality has a place it that shared experience. Certainly my understanding of spirituality through Christ differs greatly from the views of a Buddhist and a Jew, but I can find something in common with each of them in how they experience their faith. More than I might expect.

4.03.2009

fumbled onus

I once heard a dance spinning instructor once say that if the lead dancer (the guy) doesn't properly lead the spin, it will be impossible for even the most talented follow (the girl) to spin well.

The onus falls to the person in charge.

It is impossible to follow a fumbling leader. But a grounded leader can make a stumbling follower look good.

3.21.2009

tradition!

One of the curiousities of the young adult years is the lack of consistency of support network. We are transient finicky creatures that change our likes, dislikes, and locations as much as we skip songs on our ipod.

On of the curiousities of my life is that despite this innate quality of transition, my friendfam has an addiction to tradition. Enough of us have lived in close proximity to one another for enough time that we have developed traditions that make life more bearable, more exciting, and filled with photo albums.

We have the standard holiday parties with the standard fanfare, but we've created a few of our own side traditions, too. One of these traditions is something explicitly named: The Godfather Marathon. A few years ago, Nate and I realized our mutual affection for the movies and need to proselytize our friends with its goodness. So he found a spaghetti sauce based on a scene in Part One, we found a large screen tv, and hunkered down for a full afternoon and evening of mobstah lovin' and italian meals that will sustain you into the next millenium.

Nate has since moved on to new places but the marathon continues. Every year Godfather virgins fall into our traps. We teach them about the intricacies of the plot and talk throughout the movie, but only when it is appropriate. It is one of my favorite traditions with friends.

Now on to the store to buy meatball materials!!

3.17.2009

when it drizzles you get wet

It was drizzly afternoon. The sun was shining. The sky was so blue, my eyes dimmed. But circumstances, results, realities still sank into the dry hard earth. Like a slow drizzle, dampening the concrete, dewing the grass.

A furrowed brow, a confused heart, an impatient, invalidated spirit. The sun was shining, but the atmosphere was overcast and seeping out what it could not hold back.

--

It was a slow morning. Realities hardened, encrusted, accepted. Confusion still lingers like dampness under the bushes. Present, but unseen.

--

Today, I am reminded that I don't belong here. I'm not from here. No one seems to understand that. But then, neither do I.

3.11.2009

bello monte

like spain

I like yogurt. I like the way it tastes. I like the way a container slips into my lunch bag easily without hassle, thought, or mess.

Many people prefer variations on strawberry flavored yogurt, but not me. I like citrus-y and tropical yogurt. Lemon. Lime. Orange. Coconut. Pineapple. Mango.

But my favorite yogurt is whipped lemon yogurt. It tastes like Spain. Four ounces of it and I am transported to the all-white kitchen, the warming blending appliance that still mystifies me, my Spanish mom scurrying around making sure everything is in "su sitio." And the most delicious lemon mousse.

Whipped lemon yogurt is a poor substitute for her Spanish lemon mousse but its the closest I've been to Spain in a long time.

For now, it will do.

3.05.2009

waves of regret and waves of joy

Where I grew up the ocean waves were too far away to see and the corn fields waved gently, smoothly, like gold. I didn't think about the fields of waving grain much until I moved into an urban area and never saw them anymore. Sometimes, on my way home from work when the sky is blue and the clouds are yellowed from the sunshine, I detour myself through a pocket of farms to see the corn.

It reminds me of what I've come from. The night we dangled our feet off the overpass and watched the trucks plow by underneath. The barn at her house that scared the bejeebers out of me but never ceases to be the barn I see in fiction's stories and tales. The music that we blared as we ripped out of the gravel parking lots on our way to make a series of bad decisions of varying degrees.

Waves come and go. Life is filled with the waves that make us hold onto our seat and pray the boat ride will end quickly. Its filled with the kinds of waves that make us want to go back and do it again like a child who just discovered body surfing. Try as we might, capturing the wave in film, in our memories, in words falls short of possibility.

Sometimes the waves die down and we are left standing there. Wondering. What do I do when I am not watching, surfing, surviving the waves?

I wonder.

2.27.2009

juicy juice

One of my favorite things about Venezuela is the prevalence of fresh juice. Not just fresh squeezed orange juice, but fresh name-almost-any-fruit-you-can-think-of juice.

Blackberry. Watermelon. Peach. Cantelope. Strawberry. Papaya.

Mmm. Delicious.

But my favorite fruity beverage of all was the Cocada. Delicious sweet coconut flavor. Not everyone is a coconut fan, but if you are, you should beware of its entrancing qualities.

Sweetened coconut milk, tiny chunks of coconut, a touch of shredded ice. Heaven in a glass. Addiction ensured.

2.26.2009

all the things i want to tell you

I want to tell you about how unscary the Caracas airport was because a stout red-haired man picked us up and a lovely lady behind the ticketing counter practically held our hand on the way to security.

I want to tell you how crazy smooth all of our airline travel went despite the warnings and expectations to the contrary.

I want to tell you about the beach and how I managed to not get burned despite being the WHITEST PERSON ON THE BEACH. I haven't felt so white since I walked down the streets of Ningbo, China with tall blonde people nearly causing bicycle accidents.

I want to tell you about the deliciousness of cocadas.

I want to tell you about how I thought I was going to be in the middle of an angry bus station riot after standing in the sun for 5 hours only to get on a bus where my friend pretended like she was sleeping to avoid being subjected to the Latin air-lap dance going on in the aisle. Its a true story that deserves to be told in full.

But for now, all I am going to tell you is that lying on my bed, listening to a spring thunderstorm is the best place to be and I am going to go enjoy it.

2.05.2009

goalless

Since the collapse of the sun into the winter abyss sometime in November, the gym and I have gotten much cozier. It has nothing to do with New Year's Resolutions and everything to do with the misery I experience in the winter months. The only respite from the cold is to simulate rain forest levels of personal perspiration. And so I hit the treadmill three or four times a week, attempting to trick my internal organs and hormonal balances into summer bliss mode. They are easily duped.

Since my semi-failed half-marathon days (okay, so they weren't at all failures, I just quit running them because I love not feeling my left hip when I walk), I haven't had much in terms of goals with running. With the exception of "don't get fat," which is really a whole-life goal and not actually specific to running.

Goals in running are surprisingly problematic for me. I have spent too much time in yoga practice and have become totally okay with challenge but not with forced effort. I don't like racing because of an aversion to competition. I am terrible about wearing stopwatches and using them appropriately. Treadmills sidestep the stopwatch issue, but only kind of because I like to pause to drink water, but my time should really be paused and they can't pause time without pausing distance traveled. Grr. Weight goals don't work either because I haven't weighed myself in years. (In my mind, so as long as my clothes fit and my doctor doesn't say anything at my yearly check-up, I don't need to be worried.) Increasing distance is somewhat out of the question because of aforementioned affection for not feeling the left hip while walking.

And yet not having a goal seems to be tantamount to quitting before stopping. I don't do much in my life without purpose or reason. So, dearest Internet, after hours and hours of thought over an appropriate goal for running and even a pitiful attempt at wit, I can say to you in total confidence that I am running just to run. Because it feels good: old-school hedonistic style.

Goalless activity is a whole new type of accomplishment in my life.

1.29.2009

humility

On occasion, I have ever-challenging experience of explaining my job to someone outside of the church. The problem of explaining ministry to an unbeliever is that there is little understanding of purpose. The skepticism in their eyes makes me shift uncomfortably. I can feel myself being pigeonholed into some ill-fitting category, into something that doesn't quite describe my actual faith or my purposes for serving in professional ministry.

As I reflect on these conversations, a common theme has risen up that has nothing to do with my job and everything to with faith. Humanity carries a great load of guilt surrounding their spirituality and how it informs our lives. Regardless of religious affiliation or spiritual conviction, we all suffer at some level Paul's Romans 7:15 frustration with ourselves:
"I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate."
When someone hears another proclaim a redemption from the guilt cycle, they are repelled by the assuredness, the confidence. Christians have failed to communicate humility of Christ and skip straight to the confidence given to them by Christ.

Confidence and guilt are enemies. They repulse one another. Humility seems to be the bridge between. Humility that surpasses guilt in its quality of ingenuousness. Humility that breeds Christ-confidence, not self-confidence.

1.28.2009

a view from my window


This is the first real snow we've had this winter. In celebration of the snow, I haven't left my house since Monday night.

1.01.2009

beautiful days

The thing about early winter in St. Louis is that it can surprise you. It can be wretchedly cold, icy, and horrid. Or it can be brisk, pleasant, amazing. Like a Wisconsin summer.

On Tuesday, we had the latter. And to celebrate the blessing of sunshine and warm air, we went to Forest Park and took a walk. We also visited the art museum as seen here.

Photo by Megan