Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Last night we went to the movie theater downtown. It was free popcorn and coke night--just because, they said, every Tuesday is free popcorn and coke night. Our tickets costs just $6 each. We parked our car right out front, on Main Street, without fear of returning to a boot on the tire and a $50 fee. Paw Paw reflected upon a simpler time even further away, a time when he had young granddaughters to take to see Disney movies about princesses falling in love. We all took a trip back to that time last night--it was at my request that we see the only movie playing at the one-house Gem: The Princess and the Frog. Of course, this time on the way home, the twenty-four year old granddaughter noted scornfully with her mother that Disney still had their modern princess swept off her feet by the prince in a matter of hours, to be married within days, despite attempts at the beginning of the movie to make her an independent woman. I don't think the four year old Whitney would've minded that quite as much.
Two nights ago we soaked up a little more local culture. My grandparents operate a free health clinic in town and their church has been producing a Christmas play for the last three years as a fundraiser. Afterwards, Mom and I experienced our first round of introductions to some of the church folk. When we told one woman that I went to school in Atlanta, at Emory, she nodded wisely and asked, "Candler. That's a good conservative school there, now isn't it?" "Well, no ma'am. Candler actually tends a bit more towards the liberal end of things." After pausing for a moment of thought, she concluded, "That's good. It's good to have somebody on the inside that can change things." She also said to me, earlier in the conversation when Grandma first said I was a student at divinity school, that she "loved divinity." I was struck dumb momentarily, not sure whether this was some way unbeknownst to me for expressing one's personal devotion to the Lord, or if this woman was a particular fan of divinity schools in general. Apparently, as I was told later by my grandmother, divinity is some form of dessert. Hard to believe that there is a dessert I have not yet met, but it seems that my face did betray a bit more of my cluelessness that I had intended. Perhaps I can make it up to her by bringing Candler down from the inside.
Liberal or conservative biases aside, it has been nice to take a break from school work (though not from theological ponderings altogether) and return to a few simpler talents of my own: shopping at WalMart (thank you, YouthWorks), doing a little cooking, singing in the church choir. Reading. I finished Donald Miller--darn him still for making me want to write. Everything has become a story--I start narrating my life inside my head as it is happening (well, I do it more than usual), constructing clever sentences about the silliest little things, remembering conversations and things people say because it might make for a funny reenactment in a memoir about my life. Here's one that I had to write down:
Phone rings. Paw Paw answers. It's the preacher from the church, he says, as he hands the phone to Maw.
"No, I don't want to play at the New Year's Eve service," she says by way of greeting.
Pause. "Well now don't start in with all that God-talk or you'll make me say yes. What would I have to play?"
Pause. "Well of course I can play that--I used to be a Lutheran."
Of course, in the end Grandma agrees to play at the service. I am left laughing and mentally scribbling this scene into my memory and am encouraged to know that Donald Miller may be onto something--that real life may be funny and poignant and meaningful, whether you're traveling through painted deserts or sitting around the kitchen table in Heber Springs, Arkansas.
I also want to hike the Grand Canyon now. And watch the sun rise. I don't know if I've ever just sat and done that. That makes me pretty sad.
There will be a few more days in Arkansas to do that. Tomorrow, Christmas Eve, the family is coming. There will be food and bustle and awkward conversations until things settle in and we're comfortable with one another again, for these few hours at least. There will be cousins with boyfriends and babies, reflected by the increasing number of stockings across the fireplace mantle. I stop for only a minute to wonder when my stocking holder will have one with a name done in puff paint tucked next to it, then decide that right now, this is just right, where I am. I've got stories of seminary and Atlanta and future plans to retell again and again. The independent princess.
On Monday I will fly to Texas to see old friends, one of whom is getting married. She asked me to lead a Scripture reading in the ceremony, and I think sentimentally how that is much better of a gift she is giving me than the utensil holder I bought for her off the registry. But I've been awful sentimental lately. The day before I left Atlanta, I woke up in time to catch the end of Mona Lisa Smile on tv and I sobbed and sobbed as Julia Roberts left Wellesley and all her students behind, but all the girls jumped on bicycles and chased down her car and waved her off with tears in their eyes. I realized then how much I hate goodbyes. I think that's why I am soaking up every moment here with the grandparents I see only once a year, why I'm excited to see my friends next week but already heart wrenched to leave them again, why I'm planning a trip to Chicago in March to end that period after your last goodbye with (several) someone(s) when you're left wondering when it is, if ever, you will see each other again.
That's kind of life though, isn't it? Even the simplicity of Arkansas can't change some things. But I've gotten dreadfully long-winded. I hope you have a merry Christmas, simple in joy and hope, wherever you are celebrating.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
but i'm also sad to have left atlanta. i think it's because i don't like getting thrown out of rhythm--even if it is for a break and a trip home. it is nice to exhale, however, after the end of the semester. i have a feeling school will only get harder from here, but it's also weird to think that we just have 5 semesters left! i know, i know, that sounds like a lot (and it is), but i love it so much that it's hard to already scratch one semester off the list. this is such a precious time in my life, and i want to savor every moment, even as I count down the days of reading and papers and tests listed on syllabi as i go along. our OT professor has reminded us several times this semester (usually before a big test) that we should count it as an extreme privilege that it is our full-time job to study, and to study what we love at that. (for another take on grad students, click here). i actually had a moment of realization during my OT final that i was enjoying writing an essay on the exile. that, friends, is a pretty good sign of being in the right place.
but for now, it is time for a brief break from the OT and from all day study sessions at caribou coffee and from counting the number of not-pants worn by undergrads in the library. i've got only a few days at home in charlotte before jetting off to arkansas and spending christmas with my grandparents and extended family. then it's off on a mini-trip to texas for ashleigh's wedding before heading back to charlotte for a few days. j-term starts on the 4th back at emory. if i could squeeze anything else in, i really would like to go skiing--maybe a day trip up to boone would be feasible? we shall see.
one of my to-dos over the holiday break is to figure out what i want to do this summer. there is an internship or two that i want to apply for, and i'd welcome any suggestions of jobs or programs to apply for if anyone knows of any good opportunities. i'd really like to be a traveling vagabond this summer, but barring a lottery win (made even more unlikely by the fact that i don't play the lottery), that probably won't happen.
i would also welcome any suggestions for books to read over the break. i need to finish the donald miller i started on a whim midway through the semester, and i'm sure i have a list a mile long i'd like to work on--if only i had ever taken the care to write that list down. unfortunately, i may have to start reading my history of methodism book soon if i want to avoid being overwhelmed during j-term. but we'll see...
i pray that your christmas season is filled with joyful expectation for the coming of Jesus our King. watch for him like the coming of the dawn on a black, cold night. wait for him as a people in exile and defeat wait for the hope that they know will one day come.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
if this happens during finals week of graduate school, combined effects may lead to nonchalance over studying for the last exam of the semester. may cause delusions where it's okay to eat chocolate ice cream and 7up for dinner.
combination may be lethal if said anticipation is over both finals and a boy. may lead to over-reactions. will require heightened dosages of romantic comedies and episodes of 'say yes to the dress.'
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Lord, catch my attention.
truth be told, God could answer that prayer in many ways. so let me clarify. i pray this prayer from a place of complacency. of frustration with myself or with a system in which i am embedded (America, the Church, my family).
catch-my-attention prayers don't ask for blessing. they do ask for healing, but healing through brokenness. these are prayers that ask for something "bad" to happen in order to wake me from my blindness to what is really happening. to jolt me out of the routines and habits that have become destructive without my awareness.
so i should clarify even further--this is a prayer i'm trying to pray. when i'm honest with myself, it's not something i'm really prepared to ask for. but i'm thankful that my eyes are being opened to why i need to pray this way.
the first time i prayed in this way was during undergrad. it was the end of my junior year and i was trying to decide (yet again) whether or not i should change my major. i had several long phone conversations with my parents, and out of this context came a revelation from my father that he was unhappy in his job--and nearly always had been. he does extremely well for himself, and for the family by extension, but the long hours and the lack of fulfillment had begun to pile up, i believe. of course, i saw this as a nudging from the God my father doesn't know very well, a nudge towards something of greater significance. out of this, i began to pray that my father would lose his job--or that something would happen that would drive him to quit. (we're getting honest here). i knew that there was no way he could just up and leave a job of such security and benefits for our whole family. but i grew to see that such a thing might be the best way for my father to find fulfillment and find God. how true is it, sad or not, that so many people meet God when they're forced to their knees or in their last hour? it's that jolt out of complacency and comfort that makes the bubble pop and lets us see that there is much more to life than the idols we have created--there is a God who loves us, there are family and friends who love us more for our money or our accomplishments, there is a beautiful world full of beautiful people brimming with potential.
my dad is still with his same job, and i know that i benefit from his success immensely--and always have. i know that if this prayer were to be fulfilled, i would lose a lot of the things in which i have grown comfortable. an upheaval in the family of this sort might then serve two purposes: to lead my father to a place of fulfillment and to snap me out of my reliance on the material things he has always provided for me.
i actually started thinking about this post today during my last Old Testament class of the semester. we've spent a lot of time in this class discussing the theme of land in the OT--how central it is to the relationship between God and Israel, how it is gift, it is covenant. the Israelites received their law codes while they were yet outside the land. the Deuteronomic sermon was given just on the other side of the Jordan (putatively at least). as the Israelites stood on the brink of landedness for the first time in their existence as a people, on the brink of the Abrahamic promise fulfilled, God issued a warning: things are different in the land. when you settle down, build houses and towns and get comfortable, don't forget that this land is a precious gift from God. don't get complacent--you're not going to have to collect manna everyday from now on, but remember where you're blesings come from. as my professor aptly put it, it becomes very tempting to forget that it is God who provides when there's a Walmart up the street. and of course, what happened? the Israelites did forget. they became complacent in their blessings and left Torah behind. and God caught their attention: exile.
there's a lot of implications here that i won't go into, because the point i want to make is that there is a glaring analogy between the people of ancient Israel and contemporary America. we are complacent in our blessings, in our Christianity! we have little respect for the land--it is exploited instead of appreciated. we have Walmarts and Starbucks and iPods and SUVs and all the rest of it (please know i implicate myself in all of these things). our earth is dying, our ("national") faith is a facade, and we can hardly distinguish God from Santa Claus, from President Obama.
how does God need to catch our attention as a nation? that is one heck of a scary question--and i'm terrified to pray it. but i'm also convicted--America is hurting. American Christianity is moving further and further away from biblical principles to self-help mumbo-jumbo. we are certainly due for an "exile"--we've long since broken covenant. how will God respond? and how can i pray for our nation to be knocked down off its high horse a bit while still embodying love and goodness? what will it take to grab our attention, and what will it cost? i don't know the answer, but i think it's something i need to start praying for.
habakkuk 1:5--Look at the nations and watch--and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.
Are we prepared to take God up on that? are we ready for this to happen in our generation?
as i said before, i am every bit as wrapped up in american consumerism and the like as the next girl. maybe i'm even worse off, because i'm starting to recognize these flaws and still fail to really act--to stop shopping at Walmart and drinking fancy lattes and filling my closet with too many clothes.
i have other catch-my-attention prayers that i've been praying for myself, most of which revolve around my new seminary experience. i've been lulled into a place of what has felt at times like spiritual complacency (though as mentioned in my last post, Pastor Shane may disagree by the simple fact that i'm in seminary, but it's still how i feel sometimes). so i pray for God to catch my attention, to grab my spiritual heart--again, not knowing what that will look like (it's often in the form of Psalm 51:10-12). maybe seeing something like the awesome power of nature (hmm, the Atlanta floods??) or having to rigorously defend my faith. another, more concrete example has been my struggle with perfectionism. i've considered praying for a 'C' (or below?!) on a paper or even in a class so i can see that nothing will be chucked out the window if that happens--not my faith, not my career, not my friends and family. stepping out from under the shadow of a 4.0 GPA might be really nice. it might be really nice not to feel compelled to live up to the pressure i put on myself to maintain that at Candler. that's not why i'm here.
praying these prayers genuinely, i think, is going to next require moving to a place where I'm prepared and truly willing for God to answer them.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
apologies for falling so naturally into the thanksgiving vernacular, but being home has also reminded me how very blessed i am. my family is great--maybe even a little less dysfucntional than i last remembered. this truth is thrown into sharper distinction by my recent viewing of the movie Precious. in short, the main character is abused in every way by her biological family. i come home to a family who has been eagerly awaiting my return. my mother changed my sheets and made my bed for me, complete with chocolate on the pillow! she remembered to turn the heat on upstairs hours before i arrived so i that i wouldn't be cold. she has cooked more food for us than one would think humanly possible (this morning it was banana pancakes--yum!). it all makes me stop and wonder what accident of birth allowed me to have this kind of life. no, we're not perfect, but i have always been loved, and loved well. at my dad's house, where i usually spend much less of my time when i'm home (the years of back and forth have led me to settle at mom's and stay), he followed me into the kitchen when i wanted a bite of dinner one night. he opened the refrigerator door and proceeded to show me all the grocercies he had bought because he knew they were things that i particularly enjoy: good salad lettuce, pineapple, apple slices. he didn't even know that i would be there to eat those kind of snack-like foods, but he bought them just in case. my dad's love through provision has so often reminded me of God's abundance: the extravagance and the detailed, intimate knowledge of the recipient. i don't always agree with the lifestyle of extravagance my dad has chosen (and works hard to enjoy), but this year i've begun to see that providing for his family is the way he best knows to show his love. and there's something really beautiful in that. sometimes life is just about doing the best that you know how.
one of the first things i did this week in charlotte was to meet with my candidacy mentor. we've only met once, and i've been pretty slack in pursuing my ordination requirements thusfar, so i wasn't entirely sure what to expect. we had such a great talk, though. of course, there is much to catch up on, since i've completed almost an entire semester of seminary (and my first one at that) since last speaking with him. he really spoke to the fears and frustrations i've experienced in the last few months. i've been craving this conversation--someone to mentor me through this process--so i was more than willing to be vulnerable, and he was very willing to push me even further into those places. i admitted that one of the things i've struggled with this semester is my lack of personal devotional time--in the Word and in prayer. this has led to a feeling of distance from God. he reassured me that God is close even when i don't feel God there, when i don't have all the warm-fuzzies. God is bigger than emotion and God certainly doesn't rely on my compliance in the relationship for the existence of the relationship (if that was true, we'd all be in trouble). God wants me to spend time in devotion, but that doesn't define our relationship. right now, i am obeying God by being in seminary. this is the place God has led me to, and i am being faithful by doing the work of seminary. it's a different kind of faithfulness--not necessarily a complete one (if there is any such thing), but a step toward a maturing relationship, i think. it's moving further beyond the Sunday school ideal of God to one that has a little more practical experience.
pastor shane also reassured me that i am, in fact, engaging in discernment already this semester, moving closer to the place to which God is calling me. he asked me who the greatest teachers in my life have been, using those examples to say that great teachers are passionate about what they teach. as an aspiring religious educator (or pastor or what have you), my primary job is to love Jesus, and to let people see that. a true passion of that nature will have to impact people, in one one way or another. i can see how this might sound like a cop-out for the real work of ministry that needs to be done, but i don't think that's how he meant it. his point was to say that the best thing we can do is to just love God and be passionate about the Gospel--all the other work we do is God working through us, anyway.
a few closing notes:
1) i am in love...with my new puppy nephew
2) my iPod is in the ICU, and i'm only hoping it will make it through a few more workouts before christmas. now the question is...iPhone???
3) christmastime really makes me miss singing. sometimes i miss it like i would breathing--singing so often was something i did all the time, and it was my life. i may already be annoyed by the christmas stations on the radio (i mean really, there are more songs and versions than the rotation of about ten songs they all seem to have), but i can't WAIT to sing christmas carols in church.
4) i also miss dancing. that was almost ALL i did for workouts last year. the absence thereof in Atlanta has led me to significantly improve my running game (me and Baxter, said puppy nephew, went a couple of miles or so on the greenway together yesterday--also the occasion of the iPod coma), but being home, i was able to attend a cardio funk class on wednesday night. i danced myself into something of a muscle paralysis as i am now experiencing it. i can barely move for the rediscovery of some of those muscles and dance moves, but it was great. there is a class tomorrow at 5, which i expect i will attend despite any lingering soreness, between panther football and tarheel hoops!
home on monday. one more week. 3 papers, one final. then done. when did that happen?
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
that's all i've got. hope to find my voice again soon.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
i know i got weepy because his preface is about leaving--a segment that was included in our youthworks devotional book this summer, over which i sobbed and i journaled, thoughts which i accepted and i rejected all at once. but the preface is also about dying, it's about living, and writing and reading the story of your life. this summer, i was in a place of transition, coming and leaving several times from several places in the course of a few months. now i'm not in a position to be leaving anywhere for awhile, and i'm happy about that, i'm happy about being here. but i do want to make sure i'm living, before i end up with the thickest part of my book in my left hand, as miller puts it, about to close it for good.
deep thoughts, and i'm not really sure where to go with them. miller said he started pondering death once he hit 30. maybe i am six years too early, or maybe it's this being in grad school business, but i feel like the time is upon me to start living intentionally, more so.
donald miller is the kind of writer that makes me want to write. to sit and ponder a phrase until it perfectly (and wittily) captures some truth about the world as you see it. doesn't that sound better than trying to write for the way some professor sees the world? maybe. i think there's an art in both.
i don't really have much else to say. i just felt compelled to write something, after reading that.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
i had hoped that all would be well in the morning, because, wouldn't you know it, the wednesday and thursday of this week contained the most jam-packed 36 hours of the semester: two presentations and a test. but after getting up to shower,etc for about 30 minutes, i was forced to admit that i wasn't going anywhere. i settled back into bed with tears of frustration and began composing the series of emails required to excuse me from the day's activities. i had to miss a group tour of MUST--probably THE one day of this class that i woul prefer not to miss. of course, i felt bad for skipping out on my group, but they were all very understanding and my professor was extremely gracious. i didn't really expect anything less, but it's so hard for me to do that--to show a bit of weakness, to admit that i can't do something, to let people down in any way. my body was screaming against my fear of all those things, though, and i just couldn't ignore it.
thus yesterday, i had a sabbath day. a forced one. what does that mean? not to fall too heavily upon the old "everything happens for a reason" adage, but i have to wonder, honestly, about the timing, severity, and unexpectedness of this vertigo. admist all my running around and my pushing of my limits, my body said stop--and i couldn't control it, couldn't talk my way into a different solution. i had to be still. i had to let go of a little control over some of my classwork, over my studying for my test this morning, even. i had to recuperate, to take care of myself. i don't think i do that enough otherwise. it's scary that something like this has to happen for me to really get that message.
it's also been a real blessing to see how well i'm cared for here in atlanta. of course, the first person i called about the vertigo was my mother, who has experienced the same thing, but when it hit, i was with a classmate who i met only a couple of months ago. he got me home and let me crash pathetically on his couch. he held onto me when i could barely put one foot in front of the other. then my roommate, who i met in march, but have again only really known for a couple of months, drove across and back from our house to his, leaving her studying at 11:30 at night to get me home. the two friends who i had planned to study with in the morning brought me dramamine and insisted that i call if i needed anything. everyone else who heard was so kind in asking after me and wishing me well. i didn't know any of these people only 3 months ago. that is a beautiful witness of community to me. i am well cared for :) it's nice to know.
this morning, blessedly, i woke up feeling fine. 24 hours and it's done. completely debilitated and then back to normal--just in time to take my second OT midterm this morning and participate in my RE presentation this afternoon. my head has hurt a little bit, but i was able to concentrate on my test and operate heavy machinery again, which is good! and it's been pretty nice to just crash on the couch tonight for some more recuperation. the scary thing is how unexpectedly and fully the vertigo hit me--now who knows when it might happen again??
it seems that there is some universal ordering that causes me to be sick in this way during my first year at a new school. so for your antecdotal entertainment, here are my previous experiences with vertigo:
1) freshman year at South Meck in Charlotte--it was show week for the school production of Bye Bye Birdie, and our rehearsals had been running until 11 and 12 at night (doesn't sound that late now--but my bedtime was 9:30 at 15). school started at 7:15, so i was up everyday by 5:45. i believe it was opening night, during school hours still, and i was exhausted. i started feeling quesy and asked to be excused from class. i walked outside across the quad to reach a building with a bathroom, and i passed out against the side of a brick wall. i eventually made it to the bathroom and lulled in and out of consciousness on the floor of the stall. the episode was complicated by the fact that my recent bellybutton piercing had been giving me trouble and i had been messing with it that day. gross.
2) freshman year at UNC, i gave blood for the first time. i went in worried about the needle, and that ended up being no big deal. so i had a false confidence about me during the rest of the experience. when i was all done, i popped up out of the chair and the next thing i knew, i was coming to with several people around me and my feet up in the air. apparently, i got up way too fast and went down just as fast. the technician leaned over to me and whispered, "next time you donate, don't wear a skirt!"
Thursday, October 29, 2009
you'll never guess what finally snapped me out of it: it was another moment in my religious education class. almost every week in that class i feel like i'm hovering outside my body and my mind, as if an outside observer, and asking myself what the heck is going on. trust me, if you ever walked into our class, you would be terribly confused and probably quite amused.
but what an experiment it has been! here's what pulled me out of my funk today: at the end of class, we all laid down on the floor (as we do quite frequently) and sang to ourselves "twinkle twinkle little star." first we sang in a normal voice, followed by opera, country, and rock star voices. yes. but wow, it's such a release. to just be stupid and laugh at yourself and laugh collectively and to not think for a few moments.
another highlight of the day--i checked out a new small group tonight. i was a bit wary because it was described to me as a group of "mostly twenty-something marrieds, with a few singles." red flag. but i desperately need to know people outside of candler, i need another community. it was so bizzare, though, to talk about the Bible without other students of theology. the church i've been attending has been working through a series on exodus, and the small groups are reading through the same. of course, that's also just what we've been studying in OT, so it was really good for me to hear theological thoughts and perspectives outside of those belonging to Candler students and professors. it was also good for me to realize that there are some conversations that happen with Candler classmates and teachers that shouldn't happen in more of a lay setting. again, i felt like i was having an out-of-body experience--there i sat, with all this "knowledge" about the exodus and the ten commandments (which we discussed tonight) but i couldn't just barf it all out and sound like a smarty pants seminarian--or just completely irrelevant. i had to hold it all in tension and respond to people, engage in what we were actually interested in talking about instead of just launching into a lecture of sorts. i need that, to remember that not everyone is a seminarian (nor should they be). we need to come out of our ivory tower of academia every now and again. i'm glad i got to tonight.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
it's been a good weekend, actually. despite the fact that friday started off with 3.5 hours spent on the top floor of Woodruff library, huddled over old copies of Faulkner novels, searching, searching, searching for quotes that are NOT on the same page in the first editions as they are in later versions. and then i worked another couple hours in the office, since i took monday off for my birthday--nothing wrong with that, i definitely had the time. but my office computer can turn 20 minutes of work into an hour because it moves at an absolutely glacial pace.
friday evening made up for it, though, and i can sum it up for you in only a few words: falafel, cat, twilight (if you really know me, of course, that is less weird than it sounds. or maybe just as weird but justifiable). i spent the evening with my friend amanda, and after having a really great conversation and realizing that we might be seminary soulmates (in that we're struggling with a lot of the same issues), we went for mediterranean food before heading to her apartment, where i met her cat, who spent the rest of the evening in my lap. then we turned on twilight and giggled like teenage girls. there is no mental break better than a few ridiculous hours spent with edward cullen (rivaling, in fact, the ridiculous mental break that was the stone mountain laser show last weekend...another story for another time, indeed).
saturday was nice and included a great morning workout, a pumpkin latte, an amazing vegetable dinner with fro-yo for dessert, and a dog pee stain that was successfully removed from my new boots!
today was an absolutely beautiful fall day and i started it off by spending a chilly hour out on the front porch with a mug of tea (sent for my birthday by dear Liz Kool--and i even drank it in my victory tankard!), a blanket, and henri nouwen. i've decided to take a break from morning church and just attend the night service i've been going to. i've never solely gone to an evening service, so i've wanted to see how i feel about not spending sunday morning at church. it definitely feels different, but i felt like i had my own little church out there on the porch this morning--just enjoying the beautiful creation and delighting in the crisp breeze, reading a less dense but still spiritually compelling book.
i needed church tonight, though. and a good word was preached, one that i really needed to hear. the current series is based on exodus, which has been frustrating at times as we simultaneously study it in OT. but God gave me an open and willing heart to receive the message tonight. the passage of Scripture was the ten commandments, and the pastor centered his sermon on the first verse: God does not begin this law code with a command, but rather with a call to remember what He has done. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery (Ex. 20:2). it is the grace of God that ALWAYS comes first, and His desired obedience is but a natural response to that grace, to that incredible gift.
the ten commandments are not, then, a to-do list, but a call to first receive. the pastor set up this great metaphor about new swimmers, who panic, thrash, and flail in deep waters instead of simply floating. this remembrance that God sets at the beginning of the decalogue is a reminder to float--God carries the bulk of our weight, while the arm strokes and kicks of our learned and eventual obedience begin to take us somewhere. but the first step is to just float.
how ironic that i have been a long-time swimmer, with brief stints as a competitive one, but i have never been able to float well. how is it that i can butterfly up and down a lane, but i start to sink when i simply lie on my back? that's just like me--doing and doing and doing until i don't know how to just be. that's going to be an especially hard lesson to learn here at seminary, where taking time to just be is quite the luxury and i often feel as though i'm thrashing and flailing about, wasting my energy and making a big watery mess. but i can already sense that God wants me to get that and let loose a bit. He even started teaching me that this summer! such a doer, so stressed about the work of ministry that i sometimes missed the purpose of ministry, the joy.
tonight during the service, we had a blessed 5 minutes of prayer time at the end of the sermon. we were offered the opportunity to reflect upon the things that God has already done in our lives, that lead us to the place of joyful obedience but more importantly call us to TRUST* Him, to rest in the knowledge of Him. not only was this 5 minutes good for the actual process of relecting and engaging with God, but it was good for me to realize that even 5 minutes of intentional, focused time with God can be exquisitely rich and meaningful.
i think i can start finding 5 minutes to float in the midst of my thrashing, treading, butterflying days.
(*in one of the books i read this weekend, the author named trust as the church's holiest of holies. i thought that was just beautiful.)
Thursday, October 22, 2009
i am wearing my carolina sweatshirt and preparing to devote a full three hours to watching football without feeling guilty about ignoring the pile of reading for next week. three hours of football--with a 30 minute break for The Office. there is nothing better for closing off the school week than a good dose of Dwight Schrute.
i am strangely uplifted by the end of my religious ed class this afternoon. for the last 5 minutes we stood in a tight circle and improvised song, noise, harmony. i could've kept at it for an hour. i love using my voice, like i've loved using my body and movement, as release, as an engagement with God and the world and people that doesn't involve quite as much thinking.
i am relieved--next week will be relatively easy, perhaps the easiest week of the semester. i want to use it to relax a bit, to catch up on phone calls and sleep and exercise. because the week after that, it's gonna get ugly.
i am nervous about signing up for Hebrew next semester, but came to the conclusion today that it is what i want to pursue.
i am 24! hearing so many of your voices and reading your birthday wishes truly brightened my day--and it was a long one. i am blessed to have you all in my life.
i am spending my day with William Faulkner tomorrow. work study sure isn't retail or waitressing (thank goodness).
i am wishing that it hadn't been so long since i picked up my guitar in the corner. i feel like i don't make music as much as i used to. i miss singing. i might even miss glee club...
i am still looking for a new way to reconnect with God. i wish i wasn't so greedy of my time. i realized that it's hard for me to sit down with God in the Word right now because i spend most of my time reading. but how many more ways are there to worship, to build a relationship, to grow? there are plenty--and i need to discover them, take the time to discover them.
i am losing a little bit of what it is to be me. minor identity crisis...which i think will be good in the end because i will come to a more solid understanding of who i really am.
i am still seeking. and i am beginning to find.
Monday, October 12, 2009
i'm filled with this incredible angst some days--not a feeling of fear, just one of anticipation and uncertainty, like i'm on the edge of something great, like something big is about to happen. i don't know what that could be--there are a lot of things that are about to happen, that could happen as i live in this liminal stage that is grad school. maybe the liminality is what causes the angst--caught somewhere between school and career, between child and adult, between the faith i've been taught and the faith i must come to own. it's like i've been given a small glimpse, a taste of the world and the life that i might live one day but i'm still caught in the process of getting there. it's an assurance that i'm on the right track, but sometimes all the reading and the class or two that i'm not really interested in taking makes me feel as though i'm wading through this swamp of molasses. it's slowing me down. isn't that strange though? that's why i'm here--classes and school and writing. and i do still enjoy it, and maybe i'm still just settling back in. maybe i've gotten too focused on all that is waiting on the other side, in the midst of my ordination decisions and class discussions about call, so i start to forget that my education is not a means to end. it's a beautiful, self-forming journey of thought, refinement, and discovery.
and wouldn't you know that the first thing that goes out the window is my personal spiritual discipline. where is God in seminary? you can't assume that God's there. several times over the course of our opening weeks here, deans and professors told us that our time at Candler is a time to focusing on the loving of God with our minds. for awhile there, i was commited to that idea--i'm going to throw myself into my studies at the expense of all else and that will be my worship even if i don't feel as connected to God, as passionate about my faith. fortunately, the revelation that that is not going to work came quickly enough. Love of God, like love for others, is holistic. yes, the mind is the focus of school, but that cannot continue to be at the complete expense of the heart, the soul, the strength. it's causing me to lose who i am. it's no wonder that i've been doubting my self-worth and moping about and using more curse words that i ever have before ;) last night at church we heard a sermon on the exodus, and what really stuck with me was this idea of remembrance--being in Scripture as a way to remind us of all that God hass done so that our hope can be in Him even in times of struggle or doubt or fear. i need to remember what God has done both in my life and in the life of our corporate faith story. and then LAST week at church (i think i may have found a good one, huh?) the speaker posed the biblical question, what good is it to gain the whole world yet forfeit your soul? that became for me a question of, what good is it to gain the whole world that seminary has to offer, yet forfeit my soul? i have been letting my personal faith, my spirit suffer at the expense of this seminary world with all its appeal and bells and whistles. BUT studying God is not knowing God.
hmm, all this goes to say that i am, as ever, continuing to reinvent myself, to define who i am as a daughter of God and as one called to the ministry. again, i've only been here for a month and a half, so i don't know if this angst and this spiritual wandering will continue or if i'll snap out of it and commit myself to what's really important. will i be refined by fire? almost certainly, yes. as long as i don't leave this place as the same person that came in. and hopefully, that'll be for the better.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
who knew that seminary could pull you away from God before you've really gotten started? (probably most graduated seminarians...)
more soon. bed now.
ps--ultimate church pet peeve: back rubbing, fondling, and cuddling. there are people in the pews behind you and we're trying to center our hearts on God. cut it out.
Friday, October 2, 2009
i also think i've enjoyed those times so much because almost every other moment of my week is spent using my mind. reading. and this week, the studying begins. we have our first exam (excuse me, "celebration of learning"--it's become an elaborate metaphor) in OT on Thursday, and the first year class is in a pitched fervor. i think it'll be just fine--just a bit of quality time with Wellhausen and Abraham and Professor Strawn's power point presentations.
i've got a new hobby to relieve the stress of all this thinking. i am slowly becoming a runner. i never thought it would really happen, but all of a sudden, i'm motivated. i'm starting to feel the addiction--i quite frequently catch myself thinking about when the next time i can run will be. it feels so good to be out on that pavement (or sometimes, the treadmill), feeling the strength of your body (again) and the breath in your lungs. i've set the goal for myself to run a 5k this spring, and i'm feeling good about progress so far. a friend told me that a half-marathon is just one step further than the 5k, at which point i laughed hysterically, but i think i can do the 3 miler.
things are definitely staying busy, but i'm settling in more and more, and still just love atlanta and my new developing community here. it feels good to feel so at home.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
there is a girl with cute, curly red hair looking off to the side coquettishly. she is wearing a t-shirt with your typical, arms-spread-warmly depiction of Jesus...and the letters 'BRB'
i am in seminary now, so i have an official licence to joke about things that border on sacrilegious, but come on.
my question is--is that somehow based on my interests? yikes.
another sign that the world's going to pieces--i'm at the gym the other day, working out on the elliptical (which apparently is making my butt get bigger, in fact) between two emory undergrads. and we three are all positively ENAMORED with the ridiculous MTV show 'parental control.' this was completely unintentional on my part, but i couldn't not look away from the bad accident of humanity. here's the scene: girl takes girl (who is dating another girl) on date where they cover themselves in animal feed, lie down in a pile of mud, and let various species of livestock walk all over them and eat.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
but the feedback i received from this paper included the nicest academic complement i think i have ever received: "Whitney, thank you for your paper. It's an absolute pleasure to read your writing--you turn a beautiful phrase." i think i like that so much because it puts to words exactly what i try to do when i write, whether it's here on the blog, in a school paper, or even in a letter or email.
i've been needing that confidence boost. sometimes i really do feel like i'm in over my head--and i probably am. but if i can stay afloat on the preliminary assignments, hopefully i'll fare better in the future. and i won't have to ask myself, "now why did i come back to school again?" quite as frequently.
this is actually the second time that a teacher has thanked me for my observations, for my work. how nice is that? is that a grad school thing? how great to know that your contributions are appreciated, not just another notch in the gradebook.
alright--i need to get back to it. we've been given a window of studying opportunity due to our OT lecture being cancelled on account of the flooding. apparently our professor is trapped in his neighborhood by a river of water across the road. perhaps God is trying to teach Gen. 6-9 by object lesson instead of by lecture...
Sunday, September 20, 2009
i've realized that i don't like them. i like church without bulletins. both churches i attended today (still being extra pious) didn't have an order of service handed out at the door. a couple of years ago, chapel hill bible church, though usually they hand out such a bulletin, did not one sunday as part of a bigger effort to engage in a worship service likened to the early church of the disciples. ever since then, i've really latched on to that idea--worship being free-flowing and natural and following the Spirit. now i know that these services today DID have things planned out, and maybe their reasonings for not passing out bulletins are as simple as saving paper & minimizing copying costs. but it's so much better to not have people flipping and turning pages in unison during an otherwise somber moment during the service, to not have noses buried in announcements.
it's weird that i don't care to know what's going on, that i don't like to have a structured plan laid out in front of me. i'm generally so structured, so organized--i like lists. i make many of them to keep my life in order...and what is a bulletin but a list for the service? hmm, but i like the idea of God being the chaos in my life--how could any aspect of His majesty ever be captured and put into a box or a list? He is unorderable. i try to keep myself ordered and neat and together--i try to plan things (my future, for instance) and then God often comes by and knocks things off center. a beautiful collision. there is definitely beauty in God's chaos.
i think that's it for this week's installment of the continuing saga,"Is Whitney a Methodist?" i've got at least one friend now labelling me as a "non-denom-er." and i talked with a newer friend tonight who is looking for a church similar to what i am, so i think we might journey together. (she attended vintage 21 in raleigh, which is worthy of a Jesus video shoutout. please click that link--it will make your day a little better, i promise).
it has not stopped raining here for days. does anyone else find it ironic that we've been reading the flood narratives in OT?
Monday, September 14, 2009
the weekend was good--lots of reading, of course, but so far, it's being managed well enough. i just put down a book on the history of the Biblical world, which i'm sure will be a great resource. but the chapter i read was basically a rehashing of my undergrad course in Ancient Near Eastern archeology--a course i would liken to running your brain through a meat grinder. so that was enjoyable to relive. paolo friere's pedagogy of the oppressed for my religious ed class has been great though, a really foundational read. my paper for our "remedial writing" class, however, was not quite so enjoyable, but it's done.
other points of interest for the weekend: i got asked out for sushi via facebook chat at about 6:30 Friday evening...for Friday evening. let's not abuse our technologies please friends. did not go but might take a raincheck. (any and all dating advice is always welcome :) arden & i found our go-to local sketchy Chinese place. and church! sunday was an epic day of church--did double-duty. in the morning i went to St. Mark's Methodist downtown with a group of friends from Candler. random fact: first church choir i've EVER seen with men far outnumbering the women. it was a good service--great message--but i've got A LOT to think about as far as worship style goes. i can't do traditional, not right now at least--at best i'll have to grow into it through chapel services. but in the larger scheme of things, not being able to do traditional put me at odds with the vast majority of UM churches. that's not the only reason i'm considering exploring and searching and finding out where i truly am called within the Church...but it is one more to think about. fortunately sunday night service was a little more like what i'm used to and definitely what i needed. we sang some crowder AND "All Creatures of our God and King" (albeit crowder's arrangement...), we read a creed of sorts aloud together AND had space and quiet to reflect and pray alone to God. and it was casual and natural and worshipful. so i'm getting there--finding a home. it's such a search, and it should be i think.
and now, a reflection. (warning, i may be getting back into the constant reflection mode since i'm back in a education class again...shudder). i think i've been having some self-worth issues lately. we did this exercise in said education class that started with a complaint about a ministry each of us is/was involved in. i decided to complain about the "Hotel YouthWorks" mentality that accompanied our evals this summer--not really the point of the exercise though. next you go through a series of steps that shows you where your real commitments lie and ultimately what big assumptions about life and the world and God you hold onto. my big assumptions from this exercise are as follows:
- others' impressions of who I am define my identity
- being successful at my job means that I'm a good person; failure means I shouldn't be in ministry
Needless to really say, those assumptions are quite off the mark of God's truth of who I am. but it just hit me like a ton of bricks--i still don't get it, not really. these are still the ideals i operate underneath, despite the saving grace i have receieved in Jesus. i'm thankful that we did this exercise now, during my second week of seminary, because clearly those are not good foundational thoughts on which to build a lifetime of ministry. i think it's time for the clay of my assumptions to get squashed by God's hands (jer. 18:4) so that He can remold me into someone whose identity and worth is based in Him, not in my own actions or on other people's opinions.
relatedly, i've really been tough on myself lately on the body image side of self-worth. just when you think you might be moving past that junk...it rears its ugly head again. sure, a YouthWorks summer was not extremely kind to my figure, and my complexion is still a bit temperamental, but i've definitely grown a lot in love for myself and the person God created me, just me, to be. then i come to Candler and am meeting all these new people...and okay, i'll just say it, i'm meeting guys. guys that i am interested in, that i am attracted to. and when i ask myself, what if? what if he likes me, too? i stop and think to myself whether or not it would be possible for someone to like me. am i really pretty enough for him to notice me? am i skinny enough? is my hair too thin, are my clothes okay? and some days, the answer to those questions is no. i could wax poetic here about how wrong and detrimental these ideas are, because i know those things, i do (come on, i HAVE read captivating *stifled gag*) but that's where i am, unfortunately--still.
it's funny, isn't it, how seminary won't be as much about the making of a minister as it will be about the making of a person, a child of God.
enough heavy thoughts for now--i might have to turn towards bed soon and read myself to sleep with a little more friere. tuesdays are epic.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
everything is so good, it really is. sure i miss friends and UNC and family and my preschoolers and YouthWorks--but this is good and right. it is a lot though. i know i've only been out of school for a year, but i think that's a part of my disorientation. i had to redefine my identity as a non-student last year (though i still used my student ID at the movies, shh don't tell), and here i am again, shoved back into that role and having to relearn certain things. like microsoft word 2007 on my new computer...what IS that?? and a whole new system for source citations in papers. and what it means to put aside books that i want to read for books that i have to read.
and oh, good grief, i've got a headache over all this UMC ordination stuff. there are so many hoops to jump through and i'm not sure i even want to do the jumping! i'm not sure if i'm all in on the methodist church. as far as i know, i'm on board with their doctrine and theology--but mostly because it's what i've been raised to believe. i don't know if i'm ready to tie myself to a denomination so permanently. what does it mean that i feel more at home at a nondenominational, organic church that i attended this weekend over all the traditional services i've been going to lately? as we were leaving church this sunday (it's called veritas and i will definitely be going back), arden commented on how she missed the prayer recital and call and response elements in the service. i had just been thinking earlier in the week, during chapel, about how uncomfortable those recitations make me feel. i like the idea of the congregation reading as one, and of course they're always beautiful, Scriptural prayers. but i don't feel like i'm talking to God when i'm reading off a sheet of paper someone else typed up for me. maybe that's a personal fault and a way for me to grow in worship while i'm at candler.
the main points on my 'pro' side for going through with ordination have been things like standing up as a woman in church leadership. and my scholarship...i just can't kick that reason. and there're some really dumb 'con' reasons, too--like not wanting to restrict myself to living within the Western NC conference. maybe i really should make a pro/con list. that might help me. it's hard to feel like i've got to make all these HUGE decisions when i'm definitely not ready, and for goodness sake, i'm just a clueless first semester first year.
last night i spent my first shift volunteering at MUST ministry. it was great--i'm so excited about spending a semester there (though i was DEFINITELY feeling disembodied due to a pounding sinus headache). some hard stuff went down right away though--a young guy got kicked out of the shelter for failing his drug test, and he had nowhere to go. a family of 4 didn't have $16 to pay for their mandatory drug tests. what a seemingly insignificant amount of money, that i easily would blow on a new top or a nice dinner out--and they didn't have it. with 2 kids. i wanted to simultaneously melt into the floor and dig out my wallet to sneak them a twenty. that's going to be a hard lesson to learn--you can't loan everybody a few bucks. i think it'll be a life lesson in ministry--MUST is in the business of teaching the man to fish instead of handing him a fish, of repaving the road to Jericho so the no one else gets beat up and left for dead along its path. fortunately for this family, some of the other residents chipped in and they had a place to stay for another night.
with all this going on, i guess i shouldn't be surprised that i'm spinning, trying to catch all my juggling balls and sort them neatly into piles. i hope that happens soon--i hope i settle. hmm, if you'll allow me to shift my metaphor slightly, i feel a bit like Peter who has seen Jesus walking on the water--he's had this vision, right, he's seen something clearly. but as he scrambles out of the boat and makes his way forward, he looks around at the wind and the waves, and overwhelmed by it all, he begins to sink. how quickly he forgets that Jesus is standing there--i mean, Jesus is right there! "Lord, save me!" he cries out. "You of little faith," the Lord replies.
so whether i'm floating overhead or swimming with the fishies, i hope the day is soon coming when my feet will be on solid ground, walking next to Jesus on this journey. somehow, though, i feel pretty certain that this spinning is a part of my growth process here.
PS--today in my scary class, our professor, in his continuing efforts to build community in our classroom (which would probably work beautifully except for the fact that he's got half of us shaking in our skin and the other half sitting paralyzed for fear of sneezing too loudly) asked each of us what skill we felt, uh, skilled enough in to teach someone else to do. my reply was blogging. i felt it would be kind of cliche to say 'Bible study' in a seminary class (though someone else did say 'Greek') and that potty training would be a little too much information, so there you go--blogging. is that my skill? hmm, i do LOVE it, but i'm somewhat useless, aren't I? my life has been an adventure in mediocrity in a lot of things, which is okay with me. a little soccer here, a little theater there, throw in a couple of years of flute playing, some amateur baking, some pretty sweet zumba moves and i'm a well-rounded gal, no? maybe i should change my blog title to adventures in mediocrity...i kind of like that :)
Friday, September 4, 2009
right now i'm enjoying my Old Testament class the most. of course, we haven't even gotten to the actual Biblical texts, but our professor is so dynamic and engaging and funny. that is, he's funny if you're a seminary student and can laugh at jokes about the spirit of Marcion possessing disgruntled church members as they wade through Leviticus during Disciple Bible Study. which i can. it's good to know that reli studies degree is good for something.
i have two classes that span across an entire afternoon--3 hours long. the good news is that both will be managable! the first may be my most difficult, taught by an extremely intimidating man...but there is a cute boy in there, too. (yes, i am still in middle school.) the second three-hour course is my religious ed class, and we'll be doing a lot of "movement"--stretching & releasing our bodyspirit & interacting with one another on somewhat odd terms. i'm excited about it--who doesn't like a class that is different from all the others? plus, we're discussing education, which is my career of interest (at least at this point), so i'm eager to hear what our teacher has to say. something tells me it will be better than all those three hour Ed. classes at UNC...
i need to pause here for a moment to say how exceedingly impressed and inspired i am by all the second career/later in life folks who have become my classmates at Candler. one of the men i met at Leadership Candler--his wife had a baby this week. a baby. during the first week of classes. and they have two others! another woman i spoke with during one of our ordination sessions--she has 3 kids under the age of 5 and her husband is also a first-year MDiv. and they live 1.5 hours away! there are countless other stories like these among my classmates, and i just have to stop and admire their faith and courage and dedication...and also remember the others who have done it, like my own mother, when i was one of the kids waiting at home instead of one of the students.
we've had two chapel services thus far, though one was technically convocation. i love the idea of worshipping with my classmates every week--taking communion together. it's really beautiful, and so new for me. and, get this, our professors pray before class. yes, it's true. i love that! but again, so different. it's part of getting used to this new environment i've stumbled into. one of our pre-class devos included a prayer for the sojourner--asking God to help us remember in situations that are new and unfamiliar, when perhaps we feel like strangers, that we are in fact but strangers on this earth. i know that Candler and Atlanta will soon be home, will be comfortable and dearly loved, routine and familiar--but then eventually I will again be on to the next thing: more new relationships, perhaps a new city, a new job. we are always sojourners, watching the seasons change, moving ever onward to Home.
i;ve also had another day of work: i spent 3 hours reading a 26-page essay on the development of African American studies at Emory, then summarizing it for the book introduction. i don't know if it should have taken me that long (it did--i wasn't wasting time, but perhaps being too thorough??) but my boss wasn't there & that's all i was left to do. then she got back 10 minutes before i was scheduled to leave, and starting handing me more essays to summarize. i had to awkwardly excuse myself, just as i had to do last time--it will be nice to establish my schedule so we can be on the same page, the two of us. but i still enjoyed myself, really--i'm not quite sure how i happened upon this overwhelmingly literary job, but in a lot of senses, it's just perfect for me. and i like having my own little desk, and working with purpose, and hearing the clip clop clip clop of my stilletos on the tiled floor of the President's Office hallway. it's something to get used to, this being a big girl ;)
tonight there is a "invite a first year" party that i am intending to attend. something about the terminology makes me feel like i should be walking around at Hogwarts in the world of Harry Potter. but don't worry, i won't make the classic movie mistake of showing up in costume. hopefully i'll just meet some more fun people :)
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
and it is so where i'm supposed to be. sure, it's just the first day, and i know things will get much harder & much less easy to love, but i really do love it right now. talk theology to me all day long. it's good to feel that rightness, that sense of being in just the place you should be--and i think at the graduate level, you have to love it that much. this is it--you picked a speciality and you better be all in.
also today--my first shift at the Office of the Pres. i thought it was just going in to fill out paperwork, and by some miscommunication, ended up being asked to stay for the afternoon. that was fine in that i didn't have anymore class, but i was totally unprepared mentally to go in & get started, and i was superbly underdressed for parading around the offices of the university bigwigs. but when i finally got down to work for an hour and a half, again, i loved it. i sat there with two manuscripts, and each had an edited copy and a revised copy. my task was to check the revised copy against the edited one to make sure all the revisions had been made. simple, easy, fabulous. i poured over 30-40 pages total and could've kept going. my little red pen was marking away where things were missed--what a feeling of power, no? and the promise of being the one to make the edits in the computer somewhere in the near future--even better.
the two things i've learned about myself (confirmed about myself, more like): i am a dork for both theology and grammar. go figure.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
as it happens, there are many new routines i am trying to establish. the newness and novelty of life in Atlanta certainly haven't worn off after one week, though i do feel like this is home now. some things i've already gotten down--like setting the security alarm and loading the dishwasher and sharing a bathroom. others i'm still working on--finding the best route home from Emory, deciding what to buy at the grocery store now that it's just me, knowing where the best gas station nearby is located.
and there is one routine, one pattern that i want to establish in my new life here, that i know is still a long time coming--church.
it's a daunting task, really. a huge, Southern city full of churches. it's more than just one on every corner--just up the road, we have Latter-Day Saints, Orthodox, and Lutheran worship buildings right in a row, with a Primitive Baptist church across the street. there are big churches and small churches, Methodist and non-Methodist, contemporary and traditional.
so what is it, exactly that i'm looking for? i wish i knew. the truthful answer is that i'm looking for God and a community of people with which to seek after Him. that doesn't necessarily narrow it down--and then, on top of that, i know that i add the qualifications of worship style, age demographic, theology. and, as with most anything, i'm waiting for that 'it' factor.
i do know that where Arden & I went this morning was probably not it. we decided to try a big Methodist church in Decatur-traditional service. i have to preface our experience by saying that today was children's Sunday, which we both understood to be a bit of a hindrance in our actual experience of the church service. today was atypical. but what i can say is that it was huge--too big, i think. and a little too "high church"-y for me (Catholics and Episcopals might laugh at my threshold for high church tolerance, but what can i say? i haven't really been in a hymn-singing, liturgy-based, doxology-and-gloria-patri-filled church since i was in middle school. my experience of church as an adult Christian has been "contemporary").
i'm going to buckhead church again this evening, to get a second impression. i'm not sure if it's exactly what i'm looking for--might be a bit too big, a bit too trendy. however, the preaching was fantastic (hologram though it was), the "flavor" and atmosphere are more of what i think i'm looking for. hopefully, as class begins this week and i begin to meet more second- and third-years, i can stop searching websites and start asking people where i might find all of these things.
this process is made especially difficult by the fact that the past experiences of "church hunting" in my life ran fairly smoothly. after leaving the church in which i was confirmed, my mother & i stumbled upon our current church with relative ease, and felt at home almost immediately. it wasn't a hard decision for us to transfer our membership there. at UNC, i spent my first year attending a traditional Methodist church based on the sole factor of distance--i could walk there. when i acquired a car sophomore year, i attended a kick-off event at Chapel Hill Bible Church in September, and decided to call it home after only a few more visits. i got plugged into the college Sunday school class, volunteered in the nursery, fellowshiped with a local family that took in college students as their own. even this summer, in Hyde County, we knew almost instantly that Swan Quarter Baptist would be our church family--and they truly were, in every way.
is it supposed to be easy, though? seeking out true community and a place to worship and meet God and experience life change. i guess we're lucky if we ever find that, much less multiple times over the course of our lives.
the really good news is that i think i'll have all of those things in my faith community at Candler. two days until i'm an official student of theology!
i'll also have one more routine to learn--and that is the routine of things at my new job! yes, i finally landed a work-study position. i'll be working in the office of the vice president. i applied for the position of office assistant as it was listed on Emory's job bank. the posting mentioned possible work on a new book on the history of Emory. as it turns out, that seems to be most of the work i'll be doing! as a former literary editor of the South Meck High yearbook, it's right up my alley and completely unexpected. i had to complete a little quiz of grammar during my interview and i guess i still have a knack for it because i was hired mere hours later. it feels good to be wanted, you know? more about that as it, too, becomes part of my routine.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
i cannot fully express how thankful i am that i participated in the leadership candler event back in the spring. from that experience, i have a great roommate (arden, for future reference). last night we went out to dinner with a group of 8 of us. today at orientation, i saw familiar faces again & again. it is so comforting to have a bit of built-in community here in this new place. it's so scary to pick up & try to dive into life in a new city because, more often than not, you're completely alone. making friends is possible, but it takes time. here, i've got a core group of friends from the get-go. maybe we'll be tight all three years at Candler, maybe we'll all find our own niche & group of friends elsewhere. but for now, at least, it is the hugest blessing to have friendly faces.
and let's see--the house! it's pretty amazing. i am mostly settled into my new room and it's nice to have a new environment. i also like moving in that it helps you downsize in some ways. right now, i know exactly where everything is & know that it's only stuff that i need (well, mostly). we have an amazing front porch, extremely well-furnished and well-decorated common areas, a kitchen with every gadget known to man (including a dishwasher that achieves such heat levels that it melted my youthworks water bottle :( not okay!!). we're in a cute neighborhood that is green & hilly & full of beautiful & eclectic homes. it feels so good to be in a house. and our third roommate/landlord, Courtney, seems really great. She's about 3 years older than me, and works in the area. She is super friendly & clean & organized I went to church with her on Sunday morning. She's quite the social butterfly, so it's almost the best of both worlds--we'll get to spend time with her around the house & when we plan little house dates, but it's also nice that we don't all 3 have to always be in each other's hair & spending every waking moment together. i'm sure it will eventually be nice to have someone outside of our Candler bubble to talk to about it all. i think things are really going to work out great.
speaking of church, the place i visited on sunday with Courtney is called Buckhead and it probably falls on the mega-church end of the spectrum. It is a satellite/daughter church/church plant of Andy Stanley's main campus in Alpharetta. The santuary space is the huge auditorium--no crosses or artwork of any kind, just a very neutral space. The worship band was amazing but we only sang two songs & it felt a little too rigid for me. In the past, when I have experienced this "rock band", super loud style of worship, there has been a feeling of complete abandoment among the worshippers. I didn't really feel that in this space (not a judgement & certainly not necessarily accurate of how anyone else was feeling) & it was just cut a little too short as well. There followed an amazing baptism ceremony of a 30-something couple, and a great sermon by Andy Stanley himself. Come to find out, however, that though he was slated to preach that day, he was broadcasted in. And they didn't just play a video up on the screens--they had a life-size version of the recording projected onto the stage space...almost as if it was supposed to look like he was really there. Weird. BUT nonetheless it was an amazing message. They're currently doing a series called "Losing Your Religion" and he preached on Acts 17, where Paul gives his famous Mars Hill discourse. Beautiful stuff. And I loved how he gave a great exegetical sermon--very tuned into the word itself, and referencing the Greek all over the place (quite inspirational for an incoming seminarian). His main point was that Paul was making it clear that Jesus did not come down to be another option on the list of religions or idols. Religion is man's way of seeking the divine, reaching out for the unknown--manifested in all the ways we see today, and in Paul's time, in all the temples and different gods that covered every base, so to speak. Yet God chose to end the process of man seeking the unknown through religion (since so much was off the mark) and came down to us, in the person of Jesus--God in the flesh, emmanuel.
So--GREAT teaching, but still a lot to figure out. One advantage of such a huge church is the amazing things they're able to do with community ministry. There is a (groan) "singles" ministry that actually seems pretty cool. You sign up & they intentionally stick you in a group with people you're likely to connect with. Then you just have several Sunday evening gatherings where the point is simply to meet & mingle. Christian speed dating? Perhaps--but a great way to meet people in a relatively safe way. There is also the opportunity to get plugged into more traditional small groups. So I'm sure I will visit there another couple of Sundays & possibly get hooked into those ministries. Depending on how I'm feeling, I've considered going to multiple churches on one Sunday (several I've looked at have night service anyway) so this "shopping" (another groan) process can go a little faster. But I suppose trusting in the Lord to lead me into the right place is the best option. I know that there is a community of faith here that I can belong to (the nice thing is I've already got one at Candler!)
-I really may have a touch of bronchitis--my whooping cough is quite fierce & wheezy. Nonetheless, I'm auditioning for the choir here next Tuesday. So excited!
-My dad got me a new computer for school as an early birthday present. It really is great & I can already see how much better & faster it works than the old one. But...I miss the old one. A familiar story: missing what is comfortable & familiar when CHANGE happens to bring along something new. It's just that all my favorite websites are preset over there, and my pictures are on the screen saver, and don't even get me started about trying to switch my iTunes library over.
-It feels a little weird to shower every day...without shower shoes on. But I think I'm slowly & surely acclimating back to real life post-YouthWorks.
I apologize that this is not a terribly poetic or thoughtful post--just a few updates on my new life here. Call me anytime to hear more--there is plenty more going on!
LORD, you have assigned me my portion & my cup;
you have made my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the LORD, who counsels me.
Friday, August 21, 2009
and that frightening fact, my friends, is what caused the following realization to dawn on me: my body has every right to go haywire on me as i've been trying to shift it back to normalcy after a youthworks summer. for those of you who don't know, being on staff with youthworks caused the following to happen to my body:
- no (intentional) exercise. not only is exercise, obviously, a way to stay in shape, but it is my primary form of stress release. i had an outlet for neither on our schedule.
- not only was i unable to relieve my stress through exercise, but instead i began eating my way through it. and it wasn't just stress--i ate my feelings. tired? have a 11pm bowl of cereal. frustrated? here's a peanut butter & honey tortilla wrap. angry? poptart. sad? bag of Doritos. impatient? animal crackers. you get the idea...
- Martelle's, the Johnsons, David & Anita, and Beck's (good enough to slap your grandma, but way too many calories)--all the local favorites kept us saturated in grease & sweets.
- i think i've established that a lot of junk was going in (4 pounds worth, as it turns out. grr) but there wasn't a whole lot of good stuff mixed in there with it. we had salad out every day--but it was iceberg lettuce aka water in leaf form. occasional fruit & fresh veggies (Sunday afternoons were our salvation), but not as much as I usually eat. just a general lack of variety in diet.
- Hyde County water. affectionately referred to as "poison" or "cancer water." we purchased a well of salvation (that is, a Brita filter) but couldn't drink from it 100% of the time.
- we. didn't. sleep. we had to push & push & push our bodies far beyond what they'd normally endure, and as everything inside us called out for rest, we had 6 more hours to go before the day was over. "tired" headaches became a common occurrence--a literal pull behind the eyes, the brain trying to shut them, which had to be ignored& thus developed into a headache.
- inhalation of bleach fumes.
another after-effect of the summer: continued numbness. right now, all my possessions are packed into my little Focus & ready to drive off down I-85 tomorrow morning, where 4 hours hence everything will be unloaded into my new house. my amazing new house. where i will be living this year. and attending seminary. i'm excited--i am. but not enough. the same thing happened at the end of the YouthWorks summer--it kept drawing nearer & nearer until finally it was the last week, then the last full day, then we were saying goodbyes at 5am next to airport shuttles, and it still wasn't real. i still don't think i really have gotten that the summer is over, that YouthWorks is over. i mean, i get that--i'm sitting here in Charlotte, not Hyde County, on a couch, not a classroom floor. but i haven't felt it. the first half of the summer, i kept wondering how it would feel--how sad or bittersweet it would be--to drive out of Hyde County for the last time. then when that day finally came, it just happened. we just drove away & that was that. and now, i'm about to move to Atlanta and earlier this spring I was bouncing up & down with anticipation. i know, i KNOW that is all buried down inside me, because I am thrilled to be attending seminary, but i still just can't feel. being on staff at YouthWorks requires you to repress so much--you're "on" all day long. so no matter how angry or upset or frustrated or elated you are about one thing or another, you've got to keep going. so you push it all down. you swallow your feelings (often times washed down with an oreo or poptart, as mentioned above) and plan to deal with them later. but it never relents, there's never time or space to deal with it. so we became numb.
there was a point during the summer when the staff was very seriously considering following through on our pact to get tattoos. okay, so it didn't happen (lame, i know--but i'm still up for it if anyone's in!) but at one point i turned to katy & commented that getting that tattoo would hurt--and that would be a feeling that couldn't be pushed down or ignored or swallowed for later. i wanted that pain, that hurt just so i could feel.
i know eventually everything is going to hit like a tidal wave. all the emotions & feelings are going to well up until they burst out in a "david after dentist"-esque scream of pain & release & confusion.
clearly, just like my body is rebelling, my emotions are going to be a bit scarred for awhile, too. i want to feel all the joy & anticipation & awkwardness of this new Atlanta/Emory/seminary/big grown-up adventure instead of just wading through--wanting to experience everything in its fullness but not being all there.
i think it's going to start when i get on my face before God. i know everything i experienced in His ministry this summer is stored up inside me somewhere--and i just can't tap into it yet. i want to so badly. SO MUCH happened and i want to feel the rush of it, the overwhelming presence of God in & above & around & through what i just went through with YouthWorks. i'm still waiting on that. that's a tidal wave i'm ready to get lost in.
i'm ready, God. open me up again.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
it's interesting to remember who i've been and where i've come from as i ponder where i am going--where life is about to catapult me head-first, no turning back now. but sitting here on this crux of transition, mere days before i move to Atlanta & begin another life, it can be hard to prepare for what's coming when i still miss what's behind, when there are still days where mourning the endings overwhelms anticipating the beginnings.
today i talked with one of my very best friends--a friend i haven't seen since february (that's not okay). but what are we supposed to do? we live in 2 different states now, not just 2 different dorms. (how sweet that long walk across campus looks now, huh?) and that's how it is with everyone--friends are in California or Boston or DC or Chicago or New York. and we have full-time jobs and husbands and lives outside of the UNC-bubble. and we miss each other. what a radical change it is to have all your closest friends living within a 5 mile radius of one central campus hub, and then suddenly you're scattered across the country, across the world. admittedly, this summer it was hard to hear my YouthWorks teammates make plans for going back to school & seeing friends & getting back into leadership roles on campus. i had home to come back to...and next, a completely new place to get to know. i have phone dates. not real dates. i like real dates so much more.
but there is also a time to look forward. so here's to new relationships (without the loss of old ones) and to a new niche on a new campus and to a new community, a new church, a new house, a new place to discover whoever it is I am becoming.
Friday, August 14, 2009
i'm antsy. and still swimming in a sea of emotional upheaval from life post-youthworks. and i had a little wrestle with God this morning. a little throw-down over this ordination business. and wouldn't you know, i walked away limping. and without any real clarity. God just doesn't like easy answers, does He?
you see, today was my first meeting with my candidacy mentor. and though it was far less formal than the interview i had with the UMC-Charlotte district superintendant back in May, somehow today i was all torn asunder inside. so i walk inside this ridiculous church (apparently the biggest Methodist church in the whole southeast) and meet this crazy pastor man with a southern accent and a Carolina class ring and a theology library bigger than that of my wildest dreams. and he tells me his story, about how his family is broken and he flipped burgers and did drugs for a while before heeding the call. then all through seminary he fought doubts and uncertainties and personal shortcomings and unworthiness. then at one point in our conversation, he turned to me and asked, "so are you thinking about ordination?" my jaw metaphorically dropped open so wide that you could have shoved his complete collection of Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics down my throat. excuse me, what? you mean i don't have to be all in at this point? and you understand that? you're okay with that? and so i answered honestly--i'm here to check it out. i want to know why i would need this for whatever ministry the LORD ends up leading me into.
i couldn't bring myself to open up just yet about the role my scholarship plays in all this--that my $7000 stipend a year is a big reason i was sitting in that room today. earlier today, talking with God, i was ready to march into the Emory financial aid office and declare that I was tired of fighting this internal battle with myself and tired of wrestling with God Himself over this ordination stipulation--so they can just take their money back & i'll figure something out. perhaps God is teaching me how to depend on Him for resources & calling me to faithfully give up $7000 a year. but i feel like that is the easy way out, crazily enough. so i'm going to walk this path for awhile, and see where it leads. i have the feeling that my world is about to be up-ended when i move next saturday. and when i begin orientation for grad school in less than 2 weeks. when i become an official student of theology on September 1. so despite the fact that i needed to have this meeting today in the midst of my emotional overhaul (dangerous enough) , i think i'll refrain from making major decisions of any kind within this wonky in-between phase.
but let the wrestling match continue...