Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Un-Preached Sermon

So I didn't get to preach on the day after Christmas--imagine, 3 whole inches of snow in Charlotte! : /

However, I thought my manuscript would make a nice post for the Beatitudes Society blog, so here it is:

Back to the North Pole? I Don't Think So!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hunger Blog

Hi all--if anyone is still out there. I've been absolutely terrible about posting--I hate that a whole month has gone by but it has been one heck of a busy semester. I hope I can post a little more significantly over Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, but for now, here's the link to my latest blog for the Beatitudes Society:

Hunger blog

Monday, October 11, 2010

Saturday, October 9, 2010

how fast you were going

i didn't realize how much i missed fall break last year. last year, of course, i only had class three days a week and had 10 hours less of work/internship a week. this year, with my weekly schedule planned down to the minute, it feels really great to take a moment to breathe.

last night i flew into jacksonville, FL, and am currently sitting in the living room of my dad's new house here. we walked 5 blocks down to the beach this morning and strolled along in the surf and sunshine for a couple miles. i slept solidly last night, had a delicious lunch earlier today, and now i'm sitting on the sofa watching unc play clemson and we're up by 7.

i also took a shower this morning in the master bath and enjoyed the warm spray of eight shower heads. it was rather glorious.

the last 18 hours or so have brought a welcome sigh of relief. but now i'm sitting here, in front of this football game, and i feel so guilty for having 3 hours to spend just watching it. so now i'm blogging, and i have a novel sitting on the couch next to me. i'm also planning to run upstairs and get my book bag to see if there's any light reading i can get done for school next week. i've gotten so good at doing multiple things at once that i can't do just one thing, especially one thing that is completely leisurely. and that's fine--i enjoy being busy and keeping myself engaged on multiple levels. what's not fine is that i feel guilty about it. i should be able to watch my first football game of the season without feeling the eyes of my book bag staring down my back.

i think a lot of it, too, is weighing the benefits of taking a complete break for 3 or 4 days and then making up for it later, or instead trying to balance the work throughout the course of the week. maybe it's just that i'd rather not make myself miserable with work and sleep deprivation later.

another thing i don't like about being so busy is watching the weeks slip by and egging them on towards weekends and breaks. i really prefer to savor every day, but when you're going, going, going, from one end of the day to another--it all slips by with a woosh that leaves your hair blowing in its breeze. suddenly another semester will be gone and my time at candler will be half over.

wow, it's funny how slowing down can make you realize how fast you were going. here's to a weekend at something of a a slower pace.

Monday, September 27, 2010


ah, a spare moment! how few and far between these so quickly become.

the end of september is almost upon us and i find myself wondering where the time has gone. i have two midterms next week. i turn 25 in less than a month. the season has (technically) changed and fall break is only two weeks away.

the pace to get to this point has been frantic. it turns out what they say about second year at Candler is true--it is chaotically busy. and, as with life in general, there are always things that "come up." take last week, for example. i had to drive to and from Charlotte in a 24-hour period. that's eight hours in the car, mind you, some of which were spent listening to the New Testament on cd--a graduate degree cannot be achieved without high expertise in multitasking, if you didn't know.

it was really good to see my mom, though. and i had a great appointment with the UMC conference psychologist for my assessment for ministry. i also went to the DMV and made it out of there in an hour with a renewed license and my wallet $32 lighter. the DMV is such a funny place--strangely equalizing: people from all walks of life sitting in the same sticky chairs, tapping our toes with the same impatience, resting our foreheads against the same eyesight-testing machine.

luckily, the DMV wasn't the highlight of my week,  but i can, indeed, pick the moment that was: this weekend i went on a first Date! and yes, that is Date with a capital 'D'...because he brought me flowers and didn't let go of my hand all night. he took me to a wonderful restaurant and suggested fried green tomatoes as an appetizer (win!). we went to an art museum and he kissed me in an empty elevator. and i am hopeful that this was the first Date of many.

and in between dates and trips home, there is this thing called school. this good thing that can be so overwhelming and so enriching all at once. sometimes it feels like i am jumping through hoops to earn my degree, while other moments bring profound theological insight and soul-defining, ontological clarity. and then sometimes, like tonight, i am reading articles that i just don't know what to do with, because someone is comparing the Holy Spirit to placenta. yes, you read correctly: placenta.

just another day in the life of this seminarian. and tomorrow i get to do it all over again.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

taking the pulpit

it is no small thing to ascend the stairs behind a pulpit.

i walked up those two maroon-carpeted steps today for the first time at Haygood. and i shook with something other than nerves. if i was quaking for any reason, it was for the fear of God--the good kind--and my vast unworthiness to approach such a lectern and stand before the people of God . yet it is my calling to be there all the same. taking the pulpit is a privilege of the highest regard--imagine when I'm not just reading the words of Scripture, but preaching them! what an amazing thing to be called upon to do--truly a sacred task.

my voice was one thing that did not waver or falter (even as i questioned my decision to wear heels on those steps!). the first thing i did as liturgist was read from the Hebrew Bible as the opening collect. there is a power and an authority that flows from the thousands of years of tradition in those words, a power to which i am privileged to lend my voice--in this time, in this language, in this context, for these people. Hear, O Israel! Shema, Y'Israel! Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad. 

Indeed, it was the Shema that I was asked to read. This is the text that nearly brought me to tears when we sang it in Hebrew at the Shabbat service I attended earlier this summer. This is the text that is at the core of the Jewish faith, the text, too, that Christian children know from Vacation Bible School songs, the text that has initiated in me the practice of writing reminders of God's love for me on my inner wrists, the text that led me to hang the cross I received from my church upon graduating high school on the upper door frame in my room--a living reminder of the faith I carry whether I'm in my room or without.

it is no small thing to read these words. and as I did, I was reminded of the first time I ever read Scripture in church. as part of my sixth grade confirmation class, we each were required to read in big church. and though I didn't know really anything of its context at the time, I still remember that my text as sixth grade liturgist was Isaiah 6. it is poignant now, to think of reading this famous call narrative, not knowing then of the call I myself would come to answer. and like Isaiah, still even today as I walked up to the pulpit, I felt the truth of the words, "woe to me, I am a woman of unclean lips!"

yet we know God's M.O. in these call narratives: prophet complains, God offers reassurance. eventually we might get it, God--we will never be worthy of the tasks you call us to do. but still you want us. you cleanse our lips and put words in our mouths.

words are powerful things. proclaiming the ancient words of Scripture is one thing that we can nearly do without conflict or question (though the interpretation of these words is a different matter entirely). but the other words we employ--how important they can be! today I got to stand and lift the offering plate up before the altar as we sang the doxology; thus, for the first time I stood directly beside my pastor as we sang these words. in the past few months, I've taken up the practice of singing "praise God..." for each stanza in lieu of "praise him.." in the second and third iterations (for my thoughts on why, click here). It feels like a quiet little rebellion that really means something to me, but that I can do without making church-folk too upset (that I will save for a future sermon on such issues!). But today, I was so hyper-aware of my body position and my place of prominence in front of the congregation that I lapsed into the version of memory and went ahead and said "praise him." But my pastor, she said the "praise Gods!" She was doing it, too! This woman, who has to be 30-40 years older than me, was also promoting this little theological correction in her own worship, as I have started to do in mine. What hope!

Some other words I have been encouraged by today were not ones intoned in my church, but in the Methodist worship service just up the street. I heard from two friends who attend that they read the Qu'ran from that pulpit today. How timely, how prophetic! It gives me great hope to know that churches are taking risks of love and choosing to promote peace instead of hate. Though our attention-hungry Florida friend may be one of the very few that actually promote hate in an explicit form, I am convinced that choosing to remain silent is similarly detrimental to the witness of Christ's gospel in the world. Thank God, then, that the words of the Qu'ran were read today in a Methodist church!

While these experience of Sunday morning worship have been such concentrated little bursts of ministerial formation, I was reminded today, too, that the awesome thing about the kingdom of God is that it is everywhere among us. I can have church while I'm listening to Ingrid Michaelson in my car, because she sings the songs of my soul. I can have church while I'm sitting with one of my best friends outside at Starbucks, and we're talking about our frustrations with ourselves and with the church and with seminary. We say that maybe it's okay if she decides to someday walk away from the faith of her upbringing, that faith that was once so sure but now seems distant--it's okay because it's a part of the journey. And as we say those things, God is so tangibly near to us that I can taste it in the air (and I pray that she, too, will feel God again, soon, close enough to taste and feel and sense). And there we are, having church, just being friends and loving one another.

Emily Dickinson has a poem that talks about the worship that happens everywhere, all around us. Some might use such a poem as an excuse to not come to Sunday morning worship--a trend that is becoming all too real in our society. I think we need to be in church on Sunday mornings, worshiping God corporately and coming before God's presence with a bit of fear and trembling every now and again. But it is good, too, to see the God-force all around us. It is a reminder that yes, the pulpit is a sacred space of intoning the words of God before the gathered assembly, but (as any good Methodist will tell you) the world is our parish, and the words we say and the God we meet in our everyday moments, with each breath in and out, with those words we also can preach.

what is it, then, that I am saying?

Saturday, September 11, 2010


what i learned in seminary, year two, week two:

Jesus is the cheese

Hellenism is McDonald's

Monday, September 6, 2010

training wheels

yesterday was my first morning at Haygood UMC as official intern. having signed up this past Wednesday to be on the Sunday School roster as a floating substitute teacher, i received my first assignment as such with about 36 hours to spare. i excitedly accepted the task of leading the Fellowship Class, the oldest age bracket of Sunday Schoolers at Haygood, with the promise that a lesson plan would be forwarded to me via email.

as it turned out, the curriculum book stopped short of September, so i was next asked to come up with a lesson on the fly. no problem, really, but i have never attended this particular class before and felt slightly unsettled about teaching them without having met any of them. and then there was the added fact that this class, i was told, doesn't like interactive learning. so basically, i needed to prepare a lecture/sermon as my lesson.

what else is work in ministry but the call to dive right in, whether you are fully prepared with swimsuit and floaties or not?

so i joined the Fellowship class and was privileged to deliver a message to Haygood's oldest members. i felt so very humbled to try and speak about God to these 80 and 90 year old folks who know so much more of life than i do. but that's just what i did. they were so excited to welcome me there in the first place, and after Buddy, the class leader, led us in a few hymns and announcements, i took the podium. we looked at Psalm 62 and reflected on waiting for God to speak. i shared about my brief stint in Kentucky and how that failed experience led me, ultimately, to Candler. i sang "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" (because i love it when preachers sing in their sermons). i cross-referenced the Beatitudes and Mary's Magnificat and Job. i think i pounded the podium a time or two. and, as i closed with a reflection and prayer on 1 Kings 19, i felt coursing within my being the very presence of the living God and felt confident that God had answered my opening prayer to speak through me. it felt like one of those anointing moments, those times of reminder that yes, this is what you're supposed to be doing. preaching feels real good, y'all, even if this was something of a training wheels experience.

after the class ended, i robed-up and joined the choir for the first time. i am so thrilled to be singing again, and thankful to be able to serve in this way. the opening hymn for the service was "Here I Am, Lord" which is basically a call narrative song (a la Isaiah 6 or 1 Samuel 3). this is one of the hymns i remember from the church of my childhood. and the lyrics really just moved within me yesterday, simple as they are:

here I am, Lord/is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord/if you lead me. 
I will hold your people in my heart. 

the whole morning was a reaffirmation, a reminder of the path that i am on, of the call that i have answered. it was also an occasion of thanksgiving for the grace of God in loving me and using me despite my proneness to wander. but the voice of God calling in the night seems to be coming clearer and clearer as i progress through my time at Candler. i am confident, too, that my experience at Haygood will be incredibly formative in shaping me further towards that call. now, i know that every Sunday morning will not leave me feeling anointed and filled with the Spirit, as i felt yesterday, but there is so much space for growth in the course of this year, and i am eager to embark upon this journey. by the end of it, i pray and trust that my training wheels will be removed and I'll start pedaling on, steady and sure.


on another note entirely, remember when i said a couple of posts ago that i was thankful to stay friends with this guy with whom i have recently broken off any romantic inclinations? that plan has failed. after a week of spending lots of good time together, i found myself crying on the side of the road at 2am as a party that we were both attending began to wind down. i mean, i let out this cathartic sobbing, set off by i-don't-know-what, that showed me that being his friend right now just isn't possible. and that hurts so much--though i know it will be less painful in the long run. but i've just spent 3 months apart from this guy, who, at the core of our relationship, amidst all this unnecessary drama and these confused signals and expectations, is my best friend. i missed him for those 3 months, and now i have to impose another period of separation--that sucks. but, as the fray remind us, "sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same." for now.  but here's what i am thankful for: friends who will let you cry on their shoulders, roommates who will come pick you up in the middle of the night, friends who bring you lattes and muffins and listen to you talk it all through. as i pick up the pieces of this ridiculous mess, i'm so thankful for the people in my life who've stood beside me and brushed my hair back as i've cried.

i've got these two nasty, deep scars on my arms from my crash-landing after riding the plastic tub down the staircase (at patrick's house, no less). i've never had rug burns this deep before, and they hurt, they won't stop hurting. and they're ugly. these burns have been these odd little physical tokens of the emotional hurt i've been going through. i acquired them from a shared, fleeting moment of joy, laughter, and pleasure. the crash landing was painful, but it took some time before the injuries fully manifested. and now i just hurt, no matter how many band-aids i use to try and cover up the cuts. i can forget about the pain for a time, but then i'll bump against something abrasive that makes it smart and sting anew. and there will be scars.

just like my skin is fragile and soft, so is the shell of my emotional being.  i wear my heart on my sleeve. i give of myself wholly and fully in relationship .i trust.  i invest and i care. so it hurts that much more when someone seemingly goes back on that trust, or can't return the emotional investment. that's nobody's fault really, especially not here, with him. he does care for me and hasn't tried to hurt me. it's just the risk you run when you love (in the platonic sense) so boldly.

like so many scars on our arms are our disappointed hearts.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

free fallin'

i did something completely absurd last night.

i borrowed a big plastic tub from a friend last may when i moved my stuff out of my house and into his (empty) room for the summer. i finally bought a craig's list bookshelf last weekend and was able to unload the books out of this tub. last night i returned the tub. begin scene.

patrick [standing at top of stairs]: you know what would be awesome? to ride in this tub down the stairs.

whitney: that would be amazing!

patrick: yea it would. [begins to walk downstairs with tub still in hands].

whitney: hey, wait! i was serious.

patrick: no way.

whitney [takes off shoes and gets in tub]. let's do this.

jess: here, let me get you a pillow to cushion your landing.

and with one swift push, a nanosecond-long ride down the uncarpeted staircase, a catapult-like ejection from the plastic tub, and a brief moment of flying headlong through the air, i found myself belly-up on the carpet, laughing hysterically and nursing a couple of serious rug burns on my elbows. and also one gimpy foot.

but in a week full of syllabi and schedules, readings and routines--it felt good to do something ridiculous, to scream and soar, to laugh uncontrollably with good friends. suddenly i was a little kid again, riding down the stairs (carpeted--lame) of our house in a sleeping bag (not nearly as fast as plastic). i was a teenager spending a summer's week in arkansas, jumping off the high bluffs into the lake below. and, as patrick was glad to point out, i was again the 24-year-old woman riding the upside-down fair ride with screams of sheer terror and delight.

things are busy. i've already burned the midnight oil to finish up a paper and it's only week one. it's been a long week one. i hope i can remember to keep taking time out to laugh and to not take myself so seriously. hopefully, next time, with a few less rug burns.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


there is nothing more satisfying than the pound-pound, pound-pound of your sneakers against the pavement after you've managed to pull yourself out of bed for a morning run. the steady rhythm of running is unchanging and solid, no matter the pace, even as your breath skips and drags in syncopated time.

these little rhythms of life are everywhere. i love finding them, hidden, and discovering a new musicality in the everyday and the mundane. it's like some great symphony that we ourselves are playing, only so rarely do we realize it. 

i was babysitting on friday and we spent the whole morning snuggled up in blankets reading and singing together. em had picked out several dr. seuss books. it took me a minute to get back into the swing of reading his rhymes. i tripped over my own tongue more than once before finally finding the rhythm of the words. and as the poetry began to feel like singing, i read faster and with greater pizazz, emphasizing just the right syllables, so that the girls would be lulled by the rhyming lines, able to truly experience the beautiful chaos of dr. seuss. 

and then we really did sing. thank goodness i have a repertoire of Disney princess songs in my arsenal of audition pieces. i can be Belle or Sleeping Beauty or Ariel on command (and with the red tint to my hair,i can just about fancy myself to be Ariel). i'm also starting to introduce them to my other favorite princesses: Eliza and Eponine and Laurie. 

but more beautiful than all of that is one-year-old Sydney's budding version of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."

rhythms of sound and lyric are not, of course, the only ones. more important are the rhythms of people, of lives. as the opening of the semester approaches, those familiar patterns and routines of graduate student life creep in: alarms are set, books purchased, lunches packed, highlighters made ready. the manic pace of the past week has foreshadowed the coming onslaught of syllabi, papers, unending pages to read, deadlines to meet, (not to mention) relationships to upkeep, exercise to squeeze in, sleep. it's hectic and insane, and somehow it feels normal and manageable--despite the seeming lack of control, i am still in control. i am the one juggling, the one smoothing the harmony of the different components: class and school work, church internship, student government, babysitting, another potential job on campus, time for me and time for my friends. i'd also love to serve on a worship planning committee for chapel services and get involved with two other school organizations: Sacred Worth and Social Concerns Network. maybe the creation care keepers, too. my approach looks to be: go until you hit tilt. 

but coming back to school doesn't just mean a return to chaos. it also means a return to friends. i love the simple rhythm of an afternoon spent with my girlfriends, conversation easy and light, laughing and singing along to the radio. i love knowing people and trusting them, being myself and sharing life. these are the rhythms, the ones of people, that change so often, that come and go, but run throughout life like a sturdy bass line. these are the rhythms that keep us singing even when we've had a rough week, that come back to us after a long time quiet, that can fill the emptiness and the silence--or rather, remind us of the great beauty that is life. for there is Another to whose beat we dance. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

for each other

truth: breaking up sucks, no matter how amiable it is.

(want to know what else sucks? having another guy, whom one BARELY knows and has no interest in, approach said ex for advice on how to best approach freshly single self, because all previous attempts at interaction via FACEBOOK have been duly ignored. bah. )

BUT, this post aims to be about the incredible value of relationships. and you know what good relationships require? vulnerability. and what does vulnerability risk? hurt.

(this feels vaguely like some para-biblical version of Romans 5:4. i'm channeling paul, i never can help it.)

i'm wallowing in a bit of hurt right now, but have also been marinating in it for the last 3 months of my summer. and those three months, we both think, is what saved our friendship, though our opinions about being morethanfriends have come to differ. i would rather have a friendship with someone whom i care about deeply and who has not-so-intentionally hurt me than to push him away and lose not only a dating relationship but a really good friendship, too.

but it still sucks. for a little while, it will suck. end of story.

i've been doing a lot of thinking about relationships--about how we are deeply relational people. this fact has been thrown into distinctive relief by my return to atlanta. despite the community that i built during my time in DC, it feels so good to be home and among the people whose lives with mine are now interwoven. i spent friday evening with several good friends, and all night long, we just sat around, first on the porch, then in the living room, talking for hours. that's not always the definition of a party or a get-together--sometimes there's more, but there's never less than that. we spend time with people because we want to be with them. the simplicity of this gathering reminded me of that.

we also had a German exchange student join us for the evening. i wondered, as he sat with us, whether this was weird for him, granted, it was likely a bit awkward because we've all known one another for at least a year, and he is just beginning to make friends here, but i wondered more so whether this was a cultural thing or not. did he think we, young, fun-loving twentysomething Americans, would more likely be spending friday night out at a club or bar, where talking still happens but not quite as organically or intimately? or perhaps it was a glimpse into the closeness of our community, a promise of great relationships to come for him. i hope he felt welcomed into it all.

i also love all the new people i've been meeting--just 2 full weeks of being back, and i've already met and started to know more Candler peers--in my polity class and in the C3 (student government) events that i've been attending. and now, starting tomorrow, i'll be volunteering at Candler's new student orientation and meeting a whole class of new people. expanding the community is exciting and promising. what a neat phase of life, to be meeting so many people of such diverse backgrounds. hopefully, working in the church, this constant renewal of community will continue, with no less the degree of tight-knit-ness than we have among school colleagues.

renewal brings freshness,yes, but it also requires work. it demands change, a shedding of one skin to grow another.

all this to say, thank God for relationships. for the people who come into our lives for only a season and are gone all too soon; for those who hurt us and yet remind us of the need for forgiveness and of the incredible ability for healing; for lifelong friends; for "small-world" moments and connections; for roommates, for family. for messiness and brokenness and wholeness and beauty. for each other.

Friday, August 13, 2010

roach's last stand, etc.

i've been back in Atlanta nearly a week now, and my experience has been a perfect mix of newness and familiarity.

my new apartment is fabulous. FAB.U.LOUS...despite the two larger-than-average bugs i've had to squash. one left me with a jammed finger (roaches, i believe, may survive the apocalypse. i had to give him an extra good whack). the other was such a satisfying smash that amanda had to get out the wet wipes to clean up the scene of the attack. pesky bugs aside, we're feeling much more settled. not everything is assembled, hung up, or even purchased yet, but it's becoming home. my room is light and airy and spacious. for the first time in my nearly 25 years, i have a walk-in closet and my own bathroom. these things certainly aren't necessities, but it's rather nice to spread out a bit. yesterday we had our basic cable and internet installed, we found our mailbox, and i've finally figured out the right combination of buttons to press to open the front gate to our complex. home sweet home, indeed.

i think what makes the apartment extra-fab is my roommate. sure, it's only our first week together (and fall semester hasn't yet begun), but it feels like a perpetual slumber party :) talking and laughing nonstop; watching gilmore girls, grocery shopping and cooking together; decorating our space.

one week of class down now, too. it feels really good to be back at Candler--very natural and comfortable. it feels good to be with my peers and colleagues, to learn, maybe even to crack the books again. UMC polity is alternately encouraging and overwhelming, but we have a very knowledgeable and kind instructor, and despite the 8am start time, i'm glad to be taking it.

only bad thing about the week so far--got stopped for speeding yesterday. thankfully, it was only a warning. 10 over. going down a hill. these cops were sitting at the bottom of the hill, around a corner, and just pulling over car after car that came by. there were literally 3 other cars lined up on the side of the road that i pulled behind.  i suppose i am thankful for the lesson that this road i will be driving down frequently is, in fact, a 35mph zone. it's still an icky feeling. but i certainly don't need to be paying for a ticket when there are a hundred other expenses involved with moving into a new place and starting a new semester.

also, still looking forward to a lot of my closest friends moving back to town. but all in all, a good week one back home in ATL. celebrating with lunch at the Flying Biscuit this afternoon :)

Monday, August 9, 2010

small, small world

though i should be reading about United Methodist polity right now, i wanted to give a brief update: i'm back in Atlanta and (partially) settled into my new apartment! we are still waiting for an installation appointment for our internet, so i may be a bit out of touch between times spent at various wi-fi hotspots. but i am having a blast living with Amanda already, our apartment is cute even though half of our stuff is scattered in boxes and piles, and i survived my polity class at 8am this morning!

CRAZY story i have to share: today at the post office i was standing behind a woman who looked very familiar. i finally recognized her as the mother of an INFANT i babysat in high school. little abby, who was 6 months old when i first started watching her, is NINE and started the fourth grade today. i feel old. i didn't get to see abby, but met her youngest sister, who was born after i left for college and stopped sitting for this family. but now, we're neighbors again--they just moved into the morningside neighborhood a week ago, which is right up the road from my new place. we traded phone numbers and i hope i can spend some time babysitting for them all over again! i LOVE moments that make the world feel this small.

okay, i really need to start this polity reading. but i'm so excited to be back in atlanta, back at candler, and back with my wonderful community of friends!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

there is a great hope

yesterday my Beatitudes Society summer cohort met for the last time. confession: i'm not doing so well with goodbyes this week--and i have a lot of them to say. i have met (and reconnected) with so many amazing people this summer and they all have beautiful souls that inspire me to live a little better myself.

but despite the bittersweet moments of our last time together, i was overwhelmed with a sense of great hope amidst our closing conversations. it suddenly dawned on me that we are the bearers of this good news, this Gospel message. and there are people who desperately need to hear it. as Christ's very ambassadors, it is our call to declare this hope to the world--a world that is suffering not only from hunger, poverty, environmental crises, corruption, (and the list goes on) but that also suffers from a diluted and perverted Christianity, from irresponsible leadership, and from strife between faiths that should be working together for peace. in all this--there is still a great hope. i think it has been buried; it has been hidden and people aren't hearing it and seeing it anymore.

which means we stand at a great juncture, with a great responsibility. we have a message of freedom. and if we can commit to being faithful to that message, despite the long, hard, uphill battle it may take to proclaim it truthfully, i think there can be a turning back, in our society and in our generation, towards life. there can be a freshness, a renewal, a light.

we have this message. what, now, are we going to do with it?

i began this reflection last night and was trying to pull my thoughts together without much success. but then this morning, as i was working on my final evaluation for the Beatitudes Society, i reviewed my application to the program that i submitted earlier this spring. i think my own words, before any of my experiences and relationships from the summer came to pass, best sum up how i felt during this dawning of hope yesterday:

In my personal and academic studies and spiritual disciplines, I have been led to vastly question contemporary Christianity's relationship to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Radicality has been lost in complacency and prosperity. We have neglected the message that speaks to society's downtrodden and have replaced it with a message that supports the gross injustices of an overtly wealthy society. We have become our time's Egypt, Babylon, or Rome with our false gods of patriotism, prosperity, and comfort . It scares me that the Gospel message has been deeply disguised underneath a cultural Christianity that carries little of the weight of salvific impact that Jesus intended to convey. I am still exploring what it means for me to live and practice as a true disciple of Christ, but I am convinced that it should be something different, something more than what so many are experiencing in American Christianity. It is possible to work towards a more genuine, progressive Christianity, but it is not easy and requires a definite pushing of boundaries and stepping outside of comfort zones. I have already experienced what it feels like to rock the boat within a more traditional setting and have at times been neglected instead of encouraged. There is a long road ahead, but it has been encouraging to know that there is a movement of people walking it together. When our goal is to recapture the essence of loving one another by emphasizing compassion, peace, and justice, what, in the end, can overcome us?

Monday, July 26, 2010

just call me alfalfa

the good news: i am growing new hair! no, seriously. i have these little sprigs of fresh, never-been-seen-before hair growing right on the crown of my head. the bad news: peach fuzz is cute on babies. that's when most people grow their hair. it's not so cute when the majority of your hair is down to your shoulders and this one little patch is sticking up like somebody took scissors to it at a slumber party.

however, despite my newfound affinity to one Alfafa of Little Rascals fame, i am thankful for my new baby hairs. sometimes, it's the little things that put the sunshine in life.

but it's also the big things.

on friday night i saw the movie Agora. i think Rachel Weisz is divine and was intrigued by the story of a woman philosopher, Hypatia, who actively studied and taught in Alexandria during the 4th century. but (as is usually the case when i venture outside of the merry sunshine and rainbows of romantic comedies) i got a little more than i bargained for with this film. it was a deeply religious movie that highlighted the violent conflict between the Christians, the pagans, and the Jews living in Alexandria. let's just say that no one was portrayed as the "good guys" in the story, but the Christians may have fared worst.  i can appreciate that if it reflects historical accuracy--no need to sugarcoat things, certainly.

however, my old friend 1 Timothy 2 reared its ugly head in this movie. spoiler alert: Hypatia dies violently. and the movie, at least, credits the cause of that plot to the reading of 1 Timothy. a tyrannical bishop proclaims this Scripture in church and accuses Hypatia of witchcraft because she has the Roman prefect under her influence and is decidedly non-religious and, of course, a woman. her voice is then silenced by the blind fear and merciless violence of a Christian mob.

who knows if this particular Scripture was actually proclaimed against Hypatia. but, i think it is safe to say that it has been used against plenty of other women. i am so thankful that i stand at a time and in a tradition that ordains women to ministry, that respects women as teachers, that defines our worth above and beyond childbearing, that allows us to learn in top seminaries, and encourages us in our call to serve God. how many before me were denied that right? how many were silenced, locked up, or killed because they wanted to pursue the source of this very fire that burns inside of me, too? i am so thankful. but it's a battle not yet won. and we can't just "highlight" some of paul's choice words in black permanent marker and be rid of them. but we have come an awful long way.

another dawning moment of thankfulness came yesterday afternoon. i went to tour the franciscan monastery and gardens of which i had heard high praise. my new friend shannon claimed it as her favorite spot in all of d.c., so i joined her and her partner aaron for a visit. let me say firstly that there is an undying seminarian-nerdy-bookworm type that lives inside of me, and, on occasions like yesterday's tour, she pokes incessantly at the inside of my brain and begs to be let loose of the polite, smiling girl in which she resides to wreck havoc on unsuspecting tour guides and the like who aren't paid enough to face her down in arguments over dates, biblical quotes, and geographic references. i keep her at bay. but just barely sometimes.

anyhow, this particular franciscan monastery is called the monastery of the holy land in america, which means that the chapels within the church building are modeled after famous sites in the holy land--holy sepulchre, church of the annunciation, church of the nativity, and so on. the altar canopy was modeled after the one at St. Peter's in Rome, and there are even "catacombs" down in the lower church modeled after the ones in Rome. it's a beautiful, beautiful place and i really would like to go back to the gardens when temperatures aren't soaring above 100. yet even during our short visit,  i was overwhelmed again and again with gratitude for my opportunity, at only 24 years of age, to have seen the majority of the original versions of these replicas. i am so blessed. there are a million more places and things that i want to see, but even if i never travel another day in my life, i will still have seen more of the world than the vast majority of the population. especial thanks go to the mother who nurtured, encouraged, and supported such an acute sense of travel and adventure and a love for reckless exploration.

i have but 4 days left to recklessly explore DC! the highlights of my dwindling to-do list: attend a congressional hearing on the Millennium Development Goals, watch the Nationals take on the Braves, and kayak on the Potomac river!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Romans 12:21

i do not remember a time when my stomach has turned so violently just from reading about a particular current issue. but i literally feel sick as i read about the protest by some Americans over the planned community center and mosque near ground zero in NYC. 

what astounds me most is that our nation's leaders are vocally promoting this discrimination. do we not remember the principles upon which our nation was founded? religious freedom. people came here to escape the persecution they were facing because of their religious beliefs. how is this any different? how can we claim to be the land of the free and stand behind our first amendment rights when people are openly and publicly decrying the building of this mosque? 

it infuriates me that people want to equate Islam with terrorism. that is stereotyping in its worst and most blatant form. we cannot allow ourselves to associate the actions of the very few with the intentions of the much larger group with which they identified themselves. 

i understand that people are up in arms because of the new mosque's proximity to Ground Zero. however, i think we would better honor the victims by graciously welcoming the building of the mosque. if we reduce ourselves to an attitude of hate, we are acting out of the same irrational fear that motivated these terrorists. what have we learned from this terrible tragedy if we cannot choose to act differently ourselves? 

Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.

this is our chance to show the world that we are not ignorant, selfish Americans. we can live up to the ideals on which we claim to stand. it is my deepest prayer that our Muslim brothers and sisters, especially those here in this country, will hear the voices that rise in support of them. that they will know that there are people who think it is sacrilegious to protest the building of a space of worship--in NYC, in Tennessee, anywhere. i

i think we--people---are more than this. i believe we have the capacity to love more than we have to hate. i believe we best express our faith in God by expressing our faith in each other.  i pray that this situation will be peacefully resolved, in a way that doesn't involve the Muslim community feeling pressured to back down. i pray that our country will elect and support leaders that don't actively promote discrimination. i pray that we can learn from the past as we live in the present and look towards the future. 

love wins. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

i'm ready for my closeup

did you know that i have graced two magazine covers? my mother proudly displays both on the wall right next to her front door, in the foyer.

i also gave an interview to the local news when i was in tenth grade. i won a writing contest for my school district, one that they hold every year for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. as a winner, i was asked to read my selection at the city's MLK Day service, along with my elementary and middle school counterparts. as we left, a reporter grabbed me to ask a few questions for the evening news. she sat me down and began asking questions. i thought the whole thing was just prep work--she never told me when the camera started rolling. all of the sudden, she was thanking me for my time. later i watched the footage on tv.

so unless you'd also like to count my time writing the academics beat for the South Meck High School yearbook, that about sums up my media experience.

however, after today, i will be ready when the world wants to hear my opinion.

the beatitudes society gave us the amazing opportunity to participate in a media training day. the workshop was presented by auburn theological seminary. its goal was to equip us, as faith leaders, to effectively give interviews (for tv, print, radio) that communicate a particular message and faithfully represent the organizations with which we affiliate ourselves.

okay, so clearly, right now, i am not fighting off the reporters with a stick. but we're also not necessarily talking about only NPR or CNN here. local news shows and papers are also a platform for communication. and people care what religious leaders have to say, especially on hot button issues. and, religious leader or not, we all know how one media misfire can ruin a whole career.

but having this kind of media training isn't just about making a career and a name for myself. it's about redefining Christianity in the public eye.it's about being relevant. it's about being a positive voice in the faith community and showing people that Glenn Beck isn't the only one who has something to say. we are the ones we've been waiting for, our trainer reminded us--how poignantly related to the point in my last post about making choices and living intentionally (and prophetically) right now!

we have a notebook full of great tips for preparing messages/statements and giving interviews. but the bulk of our day was spent actually composing a core message for a mock interview, and then giving that brief interview on camera. i chose to speak about child hunger. we were to have three supporting points for our core message: one religious, one social, and one hopeful. within the framework of those three there should be scriptural references, personal stories, and statistics. i planned a web with points about feeding the five thousand and manna, about food waste and school lunch programs, about bread's belief that we can end hunger in our time, about tax credits. the personal story i decided to include came from my time with YouthWorks last summer--we had a boy in Kids Club who ate the craft he had made out of a raw potato because he was hungry.

then you get in front of the camera, and try to remember it all: to repeat your core message, to lead with a story, to deflect off-topic leading questions, to smile and not fidget, to make eye contact...and (specific critique for yours truly) to not call the interviewer "sir." ("but we're from geawwwwgia," i retorted in mine and my fellow southerner's defense, doing my best miss scarlett impression.)

it was challenging, but exhilarating! our trainer did an expert job of trying to throw us off our message (as real reporters are wont to do), so it was such great training for internalizing and intimately knowing what it is that you have to say to the world, and then making sure it gets said: keep your own agenda, don't say anything that you don't want to say, be in control, be confident.

so if the ajc or the post ever give me a call, i'll know what to do. until then, i'll practice being articulate for my professors and for my umc candidacy interviewers. knowing what to say and how to say well will probably come in pretty handy then, too, i'd imagine. gotta pass seminary and ordination boards before becoming a bigwig, highly sought-after, darling-of-the-media religious leader, you know. it's all about keeping those ducks in a row :)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

she headed out to change a few things

i discovered something on friday: the national mall is much like the upper quad at UNC.

okay, okay, you might be fair to call me a UNC snob if i was insinuating that silent sam or even the old well are monuments of comparable stature to those that line the mall. and franklin street, i suppose, is no pennsylvania avenue.

but i get that same feeling on the mall, crossing precisely between the capitol and the washington monument, watching families taking pictures and friends playing frisbee--the same feeling i always got when walking from the old well down to franklin. the upper quad is the location of my nostalgia for UNC--nostalgia that i experienced even while i was still a student there. it was my "i love carolina" quad. i feel that love more intensely there: under the poplars, just past the azaleas, atop the worn brick walkways. the mall, in a similar way, has helped awaken my fondness for this city.

(a fondness that persists despite the unrelenting heat, the security guards that condemn favorite water bottles to the trash can, and the clenching jaws that are the doors of metro cars, which prey on mis-minded limbs.)

and here i am, only two weeks to go. and even though it's gone by really fast, i'm ready to head back to atlanta. i miss my life there. and i'm anxious to move into my new place, get settled in, tackle august term, assume my new leadership roles.

not to mention the task of reorienting my life and experience at candler around the things i've seen, learned, and done this summer.

the time is upon me in my life (young, transitional, largely unattached) to start making choices and decisions that will directly influence how i live. i am ready to be intentional about how i live so that my lifestyle and worldview will accurately reflect my values, beliefs, concerns, and opinions: what i know now about domestic and world hunger, what i know about advocacy, what i know about my body and what it means to me to be healthy and active. what i've learned from the people i've met.  how am i going to choose to live? how am i going to frame my understanding of ministry? what am i going to lift up to my classmates at Emory?

let me ground this in a bit more specificity--one thing i've been thinking about is food (working at Bread, this should hardly come as a surprise). i think i'd like to commit to buying and consuming a more sustainable food supply: buying local, going to the farmer's market, eating vegetables out of the garden. along with that comes practices of composting, eating community meals, changing my habits of eating out, cutting back on caffeine and drinking more water. it's absolutely amazing to ponder the implications of such a choice: healthier self, stronger community, care for the earth--and the very worship of God that is inherent in all these things. the good news is, i think i have the community in place around me that will support me and journey with me, should i choose to start making these transitions and commitments.

but as i am inspired and dream big about being so intentional in my own life (and by association, i strongly believe, my ministry), i am reminded about my tendency towards idealism. i expressed my frustrations to carter (my supervisor at Bread) in a wonderful conversation we shared on friday morning at work. not so much around the issue of food habits, but around a discussion of church budgeting of all things. i spent all day thursday sitting in on a consultation for the 2011 version of the Hunger Report, Bread for the World Institute's yearly publication. there was a lot of talk about country-led development in foreign aid and what that means for the relationship between donor and recipient countries. carter, in her brilliance, translated this for me into an understanding of the relationship between churches and the organizations/ministries that receive their support. working at Bread, carter is often on the receiving end of such a relationship, but has had many years on the church donor side and spoke to me as a future church leader. how can churches best manage the relationships with organizations they support? how can they be good stewards of their funding and assure that good work is actually being accomplished through the ministry of the organizations receiving money? i was really moved by her insistence on intentionality...but recognized that familiar itch of "i can do this better that i've seen it done in churches." i confessed to her that lately i've started to worry that all of these things i want to be really intentional about and good at in my ministry (preaching biblically being the primary example) may fall to the wayside as i hit the reality of ministry on the ground. once it gets out of these planning and preparing and interning stages--will i be able to stay true to the commitments i'm making to myself now? will the ideals i want to hold up--of good preaching, of community, of responsible giving, and so on---withstand the demands of full-time ministry? or will i begin to let things slide as my plate fills with responsibility?

carter gave me such good advice, i was almost at the point of tears over her genuine concern and the mentoring relationship we have developed. you've got to dream big, she said. but don't wait until some day when you're in a church--these are the decisions that you have to make now. what's more, you're already making them! intentionality can't be put off for tomorrow. and how true that my life is my ministry--i'm doing ministry at bread, at candler, and more broadly in my relationships and in the way that i live---and life doesn't start tomorrow, it is happening right now. making these important choices--whether it's about intentionality and commitment in running a church or in food habits---can and should start now. idealism is great, but it has to be grounded. dream big, then act.

i'm ready to act. i want to live in a way that matters.

my feelings may best be summed up by the words on a plaque that i bought when shopping in downtown alexandria with the two mrs. teaters (i intend to hang this in a prominent position in the new apartment):

"she packed up her potential and all she had learned, grabbed a cute pair of shoes and headed out to change a few things'"

Friday, July 16, 2010

all we can do is keep breathing

i started the day with an incredibly productive attitude and looked forward to getting a lot done in the window of time after lunch (that is, right now). that energy has been zapped. i need to get out a few thoughts and reflections before i turn myself back to my work.

today at lunch a group of us watched the second half of a movie called A Crude Awakening. it is a documentary made in 2006 about our world's consumption of oil and the impending "peak" of the earth's supply of oil. bread has a "green team" that promotes awareness and discussion of environmental issues such as this.

the first half, which we watched last friday, was informative and moderately concerning. it was good food for thought and i think we all left in a contemplative spirit. the second half, however, was downright apocalyptic. when the credits began to roll, we all could only stare at one another in morbid shock. here's the movie's message in a nutshell: we've over-exploited our oil resources and we're going to run out--in our lifetime. we've built our society upon the assumption that the oil would never run out and the infrastructure just isn't there to realistically deal with such a crisis. anything we might do to help---buying hybrid cars, carpooling, conserving, reducing our carbon footprints---is too little too late.

 it certainly comes as no surprise that we've been exploitative in our use of oil. but the movie's doomsday predictions were harsh and hopeless. the interviewees gave no real viable energy solutions--perhaps solar, but the development isn't currently in place and the cost is high. so do we revert to simpler lifestyles? do we fight wars over oil until we kill almost everyone off? do we wait and see what happens and then solve it or do we beg our politicians and leaders to wake up and start dealing with it now?

i'm torn between calling the film propaganda and over-exaggerated scare tactics...or actually believing it. i want to believe so i can do something about it in my own life, but that was the most depressing part of the movie--there's nothing we really can do, according to these folks. it's like watching an implosion in slow motion--and the fuse has already been lit.

they really alarmed me when they started talking about population. the exponential growth we've seen in the past couple centuries is congruent with the rise of oil. there are well over 6 billion people on this planet--this is where things really got apocalyptic--and the interviewees seemed to suggest that the earth can only viably sustain about 1.5 billion on the oil resources that remain (or that will remain once we "peak" in the next 10-20 years). okay, so what happens to all those billions of people? how is that a solution? 

will people read about us in history books 1000 years from now (if the world hasn't exploded or dried up or jesus hasn't come back yet) as the oil age (comparable to the stone age, iron age, etc) that ended in some catastrophic way, resulting in a Book of Eli-esque world that had to be rebuilt from the ground up--this time without societal dependence on oil? what are we working ourselves up to here?

sorry for the heavy thoughts--i needed to get them out of my brain quickly so i can try and make myself useful on this friday afternoon. lots of other, less depressing and non-cataclysmic things have been going on--sorry, too, for being remiss on posting. hopefully i can find time to play catch up sometime this weekend.

until then, as ingrid michaelson sings, all we can do is keep breathing.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

why i love metro (today)

1) dozens of faces stretching upwards to find a draft from the air conditioning like flowers to the sun

2) sitting down hard on the handrail of a seat. it's a pain like no other.

3) unintentional (?) molestation before 9am

4) excellent upper arm conditioning when standing and holding onto a hand rail

5) catching the gaze of a stranger and then awkwardly trying to avoid looking at them for the rest of the ride. it's impossible not to meet eyes again.

6) when sitting in a backwards facing seat, i can close my eyes and feel like i'm on the backwards-facing car on thunder road at carowinds (especially if the conductor is new at steering the thing)

7) the hand sanitizing industry should love me. i shudder to think about what all has touched the various poles, rails, and handles.

and despite all this, i do have one complaint from the day: please, sir-sitting-behind-me, could you refrain from trimming your fingernails on public transportation? i'd hate to go home and comb your clippings out of my hair, thanks. (i guess, though, it's really no different from the droves of mexican women who use spoons to curl their eyelashes on the train. me, i save my hygiene and cosmetology for home.)

and on a completely unrelated note, why i love my candidacy mentor:

"Whitney, not only do you have a low interest in caring for others, as your interest inventory demonstrated, your psychological assessment confirms you also have a flagrant disregard for the plight of human suffering. Congratulations.”

he envisions great things for me. (and that's as yet a joke about my psych eval--i'm not taking it until next week.)

Monday, July 5, 2010

like a child

there's something equalizing about fireworks. about sitting on the ground with a bunch of friends and strangers, awed and wide-eyed like children. the sensory-overload of the colors and the noise and the smoke, the people crammed together, the sweat from the day still sticky on your skin, but a cooling breeze starting to blow through. i don't know any other response than to sit in wonder at the display. it's one of the few things human-made that might begin to come close to inspiring a nature-like reverence. i love fireworks.  although i think i was mostly scared of them as a child...so knowing now that the big booms are harmless helps me enjoy them like a non disaster-paranoid child might.

the display in downtown d.c. was wonderful. we sat on the steps of the lincoln memorial and watched the show in the sky above the washington monument, the lights and colors mirrored below in the reflecting pool.

almost as awesome as the fireworks were the sheer number of people there. of course, i had been warned of this by all the d.c. locals, whose advice was to avoid downtown like the plague on the fourth. but really, getting there and finding a spot was rather uneventful. it was packed, though. every inch of space on the steps in front of lincoln was covered with bodies, and we could see across to the WWII monument, where the same was the case, and presumably it was so all the way down the mall to the capitol building.

 the real chaos ensued after the show was over and everyone hurried outwards. i think i actually got lucky to get on the metro only a minute after i arrived on the platform. but the line to get down the escalators and into the station was outrageous, and the car was packed full all the way back to my stop at franconia-springfield, the very end of the line. overall though, very manageable mayhem and worth it, i think.

not only was last night a reversion to child-like wonder during the fireworks display, but i also revisited my youth when i went to the neighborhood pool and swam laps earlier in the day. i just got a pass for the summer to enjoy the pool and gym where i'm living, and this was the first day i went swimming. there's lots of time to think when you're swimming in circles, and i couldn't help but think back to my days on the swim team. of the giant pixie sticks we ate at meets between our events; of the three feet of water we dove into, off of blocks. and my favorite swim team memory: the time one of my contacts fell out as i put on my goggles right before my race. my friend's mother was standing next to me in the lane as a timer. "ms. street, ms. street! can you hold this for me? my contact just popped out." i gave her my lens, swam my race down and back. when i was back at the wall where she stood, she leaned down to me in the water and said (in her british accent, no less), "here, whitney, i didn't know what else to do to keep it from drying out, so i kept it in my mouth for you!"

another unavoidable childhood memory of being at the pool was of the utter devastation of hearing the lifegaurd's whistle blow every hour announcing adult swim. it still feels weird to be able to stay in for it, like having graduated into some special club that you almost can't enjoy knowing the anguish those 10 minutes cause for all the kids.

and today itself feels like childhood, enjoying a day off school: no work today in honor of independence day. certainly something worth celebrating.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

thoughts from a Sunday morning

this morning i went to the third church i've visited in my three weeks here: one CMA, one Baptist, and today, back home to the Methodists. i've been frustrated with myself a few times over the last year or so--as someone preparing for ministry, it is easy to be critical of church services when your eyes and ears are so finely attuned to what is (or isn't) going on. but this morning, i experienced another aspect of my sharpened eye. visiting churches is a chance to see how things really can be done. for example, the church service this morning actually included ALL of the lectionary readings for the day. yep, Old Testament and all. we even sang the psalter. i don't think i've ever done that in a Methodist church--heck, i didn't even know they were printed in the back of our hymnals.

i was also encouraged to see an African American woman as the pastor of this church. now i know it's 2010, but that's still really just something for me to behold and celebrate, especially in a congregation full of mostly older white folks. and the pastor, she came around to everyone in the pews to shake hands and say hello. she caught sight of me and asked if i was visiting. she made sure to get my name ("like Whitney Houston, right?") and my business in the city straight, and then during the announcements, she introduced me as a first-time visitor. everyone clapped and they brought me a goodie bag with a coffee mug inside.

also, today was youth sunday. as i read on their website beforehand, every fourth sunday is youth-led, not just one service a year. i am encouraged by that--what a way to raise up leaders and help youth feel comfortable and confident in participating. and it was in a way that wasn't overwhelming--sometimes once-a-year youth sunday can be frustrating because the youth minister pulls out all the stops and the kids are doing everything and that's great, it really really is...but it is such a radical change that people are left with the heads wheeling and can only comment, "don't the kids just have great energy?" and pat them on their little heads. but today, there were two youth as the liturgists and one who led the children's time. it was integrated into what i imagine is a typical service--not a something separate but youth being part of what is already going on.

so anyhow, it's nice to be able to take some notes on how to consider doing things in my own ministry one day. at best, i'll only be able to attend that church 4 more times. but i appreciate the chance to step outside of what has become ordinary to me and behave as a student, not a critic, in addition to a worshiper.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

everyday is an adventure

i have new favorite d.c. moment. last night, i joined betsey and luke for a nationals game after work. despite the oppressive heat, we scored $5 seats in the shade at the very top of the park. i even got my picture made with the racing presidents and collected a free t-shirt. we had settled in and watched 4 innings before the thunder began to rumble. we turned around to see the sky filled with black clouds. we noticed rain starting to fall and cascade over the awning above us, but we had shelter. then the wind started to whip and and lash raindrops at us horizontally. suddenly the sky let loose, the players rushed for the dugouts, and a huge tarp was unrolled over the diamond. as we stood admiring the swirl of the wind and water, getting wetter by the minute, a security guard asked us all to clear the bleachers and move down to the concourse. which of course involved going out into the thick of it. and once we got down there, the horizontal rain continued to drench us and we found ourselves shivering on a 95 degree day. shivering and laughing hysterically. betsey and i crouched under a stairwell for shelter while luke gave us updates on the downpour. almost as soon as it started, the rain was over.

the metro, too, continues to be an experience. in the heat, the descent into the earth is blessed relief and yet chaos. there are businessmen and summer interns and panhandlers and women with babies. there are kindles and blackberries and ipads and ipods. there is much haste and pushiness, which only makes the moments of kindness and thoughtfulness all the sweeter. today, one woman took charge of moving people toward the center of the car (as an announcement reminds us at every station, to which no one seems to listen) so more people could cram in. of course, once we had effectively fit everyone from the platform, the conductor came over the intercom to announce that we would have to sit for a moment due to a medical emergency somewhere on the train. so there we are, limbs contorting, brows sweating. on the world's stage, the metro is certainly the theater of the absurd.

everyday is an adventure.

but even as these dc-centric activities captivate my day-to-day experience, "real" life lies in wait not too far away.  my UMC candidacy mentor asked me to call him on monday at lunch. i went outside to the sidewalk in front of my building and talked with him for about 20 minutes. we scheduled this call to discuss the personal interest inventory survey that i took several months ago. the good news: now that we've had this conversation, i can move forward in the process towards certification by scheduling my psych. evaluation--which is what will likely take the most time between now and december interviews. the bad news: the inventory determined that i have moderate to low interest in ordained ministry. hmmm. problematic for one pursuing, in fact, ordained ministry. and shane told me that the district board will have these results in front of them (among other things) when i go for my interview.

the survey did indicate that i have a 90th percentile interest in scholarship and academics. yes, makes sense. i've loved seminary and i've always done well academically. i love learning and reading and teaching. that's where my life was when i took the survey (and still is)--in school, in academia. of course i would display an aptitude for that.

my frustration comes in that these other areas of low interest are places where i am still (and very consciously so) discerning my call. and though i'm only 1/3 of the way through seminary, i've discovered SO much about myself and about my place in ministry with the Methodist Church. and the fact that i want to fight for this, to defend this call even though this survey--this snapshot of one point in a time of intense growth--might subtly suggest otherwise...that in itself is a huge indication of growth. check out my archived blogs from this time last year and you'll quickly recall my struggle with ordination. i've come so far, and i am encouraged to see that growth in myself. in fact, i think it will be a great point of discussion with the D-com.

some of the immediate areas of growth that i see in myself from the time of the survey to now: interest in preaching and politics, and an overall desire to explore parish ministry more closely. and i really have no interest or intent to pursue doctoral studies or teaching at the seminary level, which is what this survey seemed to indicate i might want to do. educational ministries within the church or parachurch sector? yes. but my time at Haygood next year will do me a world of good in experiencing parish ministry so i can grow my interest and my skills in that very important realm that is THE church.

one further thing i didn't talk through with my mentor regarding these results. i am working towards deacon's orders, which may allow me to push the boundaries of ordained ministry a bit more. like i've said before, i'm following this particular call because it is an ordination to work in the church and in the world. if formal pastoral care isn't high on my list of interests (shane so kindly read for me that the survey indicated that i have no interest in caring for people in difficult times. ha), well, it might still work out for me to have a more specialized ministry position, like in education, for example. and so on. not that all these skills don't contribute to one another, of course. teachers need a heck of a lot of pastoral care--it just may not come in nursing homes and by deathbeds.

so that's all simmering on the back burner. at the forefront of my attention has been my internship, of course, which is continuing to go well. i've received direction on another big project to occupy my time--getting church resources ready for the web--in addition to my work on bread for the preacher. the first edition that i worked on came out today! i also had the third meeting with the other d.c. beatitude fellows today, and i'm really starting to look forward to that time together. it's great to interact with people who are so similarly-minded (we laugh at all the same nerdy seminarian jokes) and who are going through such similar experiences as each other. we're reading this terrible book that is supposed to be defining for us what progressive Christianity is...we're  all ready to re-write the thing ourselves because it's falling so short of its well-meaning intentions. yet it has sparked such fruitful discussion and i just LOVE talking and thinking about this kind of stuff--in the midst of doing it all at Bread at the same time.

now if only i can manage to keep my cool in this intense heat! i would so like to go for a run but am afraid i might die. literally. i'm thinking either the national gallery, the holocaust museum, or one of the smithsonians this weekend--something indoors, for sure!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

busy bee

nothing beats eating a cup full of frozen yogurt at the end of a hot day while strolling down the city streets with your best friend and her hubby. and that's just what i did this evening, even though our plans to sit with our feet dangling in the fountain at the sculpture garden were upended by its early closing hour. ah well--there will be other summer nights for strolling and wading and fro-yo-ing.

before that, the three of us spent some time wandering around the national portrait gallery/smithsonian art museum. i actually got there a bit earlier than the Teaters, and had some time alone. the portraits are all really interesting, and it was fun to play a game with myself to see which ones i recognized or not. but then, i came up a staircase and turned a corner and there were the impressionists. soft lines and colors, landscapes and figures out of the best kind of dreams. if we each end up with our own little piece of heaven, i think mine would look like an impressionist painting. some of them almost brought me to tears. i don't know what it is. so much beauty and life and hope and sadness.

before that, i made an appearance at a party for one of our bread interns who is leaving in the next couple of weeks. it was nice to see people outside of the office, to talk and eat and just chill. okay, 'chill' may not be the most appropriate word, because it was HOT. we were outside on this tiny little porch that, though shaded, was not catching any breeze. i finally decided to stop sitting with my legs crossed, because every time i moved, there was this disgusting sshtuchk sound as my skin unstuck itself and then suctioned back on again.

and before that, i slept in. GLORY. it has been quite a long week.

tuesday was lobby day--bread's biggest day of the year. we all gathered on capitol hill around 8:30 and spent the morning learning about the issue at hand: tax credits. after being adequately prepared, we split up into teams by region, then state, and went to the office buildings to lobby. i'll be honest, this is not something i ever saw myself doing. but i did. i went to my senators' offices, with my new friend Lloyd from Durham, and talked to office staff about tax credits and why it is important to help working families keep benefits so that they won't fall into poverty and have nothing to feed their children. it's really empowering to walk into a government office and have someone listen to what you have to say. it's quite poignant to be here, with this organization, after spending a year at MUST, eating a meal each Wednesday night with a group of people experiencing homelessness, and after learning about the importance of attacking root causes instead of just band-aiding situations (thank you, Dr. Jenkins!)--to really be doing it, a small part of it, working to change structures that cause hunger and homelessness instead of only giving out food and a place to sleep.

so tuesday was a solid twelve hour day (plus the hour commute on either end), after the reception and closing worship that followed our afternoon of lobbying. but all of us had to be in the office on wednesday morning, because there was a big announcement to be made that all the higher-ups had been keeping hush-hush for the last week. we gathered over catered chinese food and plastic cups of champagne, and learned that the president of bread, david beckmann, has been named a world food laureate for 2010. this is a big cause for celebration and a great opportunity to step forward for bread. after that announcement was made, i joined the other interns on my first hill drop--we had envelopes addressed to every senator and representative detailing the news about beckmann. so i took 50 letters to 50 senators' offices.

i was kept pretty busy on thursday, too--i had to learn how to supervise the tasks of two volunteer-interns who are coming in for two days at the end of next week. both the administrative assistant and my supervisor will be gone on the days these folks are here, so yours truly is in charge. 2 weeks on the job and i'm already management ;) hopefully all will run smoothly.

what's made the week feel exceptionally long is that the ugly beast of vertigo is back. i felt nauseous on the ride home on the train a couple of nights early in the week, then on thursday the dizziness started to wash over me just sitting at my desk at work. it's such a terrible feeling. after consulting with Dr. Paw-Paw (that is, my grandfather), hopefully i can scale back my caffeine intake, try to get into a more regular sleep pattern, and keep drinking plenty of water. it's no good getting motion sick when each day involves a long metro ride to and from work.

so all in all, life is quite full to the brim right now. i want to try and be better about taking sabbath on the weekend. so after church and lunch with mal tomorrow, i'm planning to take it easy, read a little, maybe even nap, watch some soccer, go for a run, and get myself ready for another week.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

snapshot of life at Bread

my friday started off in prayer with a group of colleagues. 

after that, an impromptu and brief department meeting in which we worked to come up with a list of leadership attributes of female figures in the Bible. these were to complement a list of all male characters and attributes (the wisdom of Solomon, the vision of Nehemiah, etc). though i refrained from adding the licentiousness of Rahab, the precision of Jael, or the promptness of Jephthah's daughter to our list, i did manage to come up with the name of Timothy's mother as my boss pondered it aloud (Eunice, in case you're wondering). bible trivia at work? yes please.

just before lunch i had a meeting with my boss to review some materials i've been working on for publication. this started with a discussion of streams of eschatological thought and the question of whether bread's target audience are pre- or post-millenialists. it actually makes quite a big difference in the language i employ as i discuss bread's mission to end hunger. i mean, it's right there in the motto of the organization: have faith. end hunger. eschatology. matters. at my job. woah.

(i think this is the second blog post in a month that i have used some form of the word eschaton. that's impressive...or ominous)

making a list such as this immediately draws my mind to the lists i started keeping last summer of my sundry tasks as a YouthWorks site director. the most memorable? cleaning out a tub of rotting cucumbers. mopping twice daily. cleaning out sink drains. performing weekly as boots the monkey. cooking over a hundred waffles. don't get me wrong, i had a great time last summer, but so far this job sure beats rotting cucumbers. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

ms. pierce goes to washington

two words: dream job. today i spent most of the day with a Bible and lectionary commentary open across my desk. and i was not just pondering an exegesis paper for a grade or creating a new blog post, but i was working. and what's more, i'm working in ministry. people will read what i'm writing and piecing together and it will affect the way they plan a worship service or it will motivate them to advocacy or it will cause them to pause and reconsider some aspect of the divine. and sure, my supervisors will edit and whittle down my carefully chosen words and make it appropriate for the parameters of the end product. but a little piece of me, of my heart and of my gifts, those things will remain in everything i touch. that feels really special. it feels good to find something that fits.

that's something huge that's happened in just these first three days, this feeling of a perfect fit.(such a statement may be premature this early on--trust that i'll have a more fully developed opinion in eight weeks time.)  i feel like i've finally around arrived at this crossroads where everything i'm passionate about and gifted to do has come together--church work and social justice meet at this place where i now find myself, the church relations department at bread for the world. i was sitting in on my first department meeting yesterday morning, introducing myself, and mentioned that i'm pursuing deacon's orders in the UMC. i dropped the phrase that the orders are for people who feel called to have one foot in the church and one in the world. the head of the department thereafter pointed out to me that this department is full of people who are managing that divide--many are ordained ministers within their denominations and there is even one Franciscan nun! it's a group of people who care deeply about the life of the church but have recognized a call upon their lives to work directly for justice and social transformation.

on another level though, several times i've stopped to ponder the sadness that this organization even exists and that i have a desk to sit at and work to do. this huge organization with all these amazing staff and a ton of summer interns running around, we're all here because people are hungry. because they are still hungry for needless reasons. it's ironic to love a job and an organization that we all hope we one day be rendered worthless when hunger is eradicated.

truth be told though, i think it will be a while before i get into the swing of a 9 to 5 full-time job. it's definitely a mind game with me--it is hard to be inside all day, usually in just one place, even if it is doing amazing work. and while i know i'll have to get over it eventually, graduate school, and get a more longterm 9 to 5, the one thing i hope i never have to do on a permanent basis is the commute. i've been leaving at 7:30 to get to the office by 9, and i know that a lot of people in the DC area have an even longer commute than that. something about sitting and riding and being underground that is just incredibly draining. and it's hard to come home and have just a few short hours before being ready to crash again, wake up, and start it all over. i can't always live on a grad student's schedule, i suppose!

but it's also mexico all over again, and ann and i are riding clear across the city on a train, plus two micro bus rides and a walk across a plank bridge spanning a green creek of trash and through mud streets to a tent full of children.

dc has its own set of peculiarities about it, green rivers aside. for example, everywhere you go, people are walking like the devil is chasing them. it can be helpful in catching a departing metro or sliding into your cubicle right as the clock strikes nine, but there are dangers, too: i think i swallowed a bug this morning in my haste.

all this and i've yet to really explore the city! unfortunately, this weekend i HAVE to devote most of my time to writing my final paper for my summer course. no sightseeing for me just yet.  it's been fun, though, to be here as a working girl instead of a tourist, to feel like i'm a part of this big thriving mass of humanity that works inside and around the buildings that other people are coming to visit. and i think, at least for now, eight weeks will be just enough to be fulfilled and exhausted by this kind of life.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

summer beckoning

the air has felt so heavy lately. i've felt it weighing on my skin as it has slowed my breath and curled my hair. the clouds have been begging for release, and finally, last night as i was leaving atlanta for the summer, the rains came. i had a pretty steady cloud above me as i drove up 85, but never enough to impede my driving. the perfect summer storm, with lightning and dark skies and the promise of cooler air the next morning.

the next few days bring with them not only cooler air but also sundry to-do's and the anticipation of D.C. i'm sitting at barnes and noble, suspiciously eyeing a book entitled Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office 101 and an endcap labeled "Bestselling Christian Inspiration." I'm meeting my candidacy mentor here in a few minutes. I am determined to get an action plan put together in order to become a certified candidate for ministry before year's end and hope I can use these next few days wisely to that end.

The next appointment of the day: dentist. Far from the terror it inspired as a child, I'm looking forward to nice clean teeth for the first time in *coughhummphcough* years. As long as I can get past the inevitable chiding for the state of uncleanliness of my permanent wire retainer...that's really what I've come to dread about the dentist. This verbal scathing will be worse than the shot to the face I received at the dermatologist on Tuesday.

Besides double-checking that I have everything loaded up for D.C., starting to create a pile of stuff to take to the new apartment come August, and attending Wicked (!!) with the fam on Saturday evening, my only other major to-do is to try and get started on the final paper for my summer school course. We finished class yesterday by planning a hypothetical new interfaith worship space for Emory's campus (I was the Reform Judaism representative). I've really enjoyed learning about other faiths by visiting their worship spaces. We had a great talk with the imam at Atlanta Masjid last Friday. He seemed to really get interfaith dialogue; he was so willing and able to answer our questions about Jesus's place in Islam and about the relationship of our Scriptures. I also appreciated his views on "judgment" and the exclusivity of heaven, if you will. He reported that the Qu'ran teaches that all God-fearing folk, so to speak, will be welcomed together into eternity. Sometimes I just get weary of the fire and brimstone. I probably need to think on this more before I blow a rant wide open here...Regardless, I hope I can challenge myself to incorporate elements of these other faiths into my own discipline. I think the Muslim posture of prostration in prayer is incredibly humbling and would serve as a helpful reminder to me that in prayer I'm actually communicating with God and that's kind of a big deal. I also loved going to the Jewish shabbat service and chanting/singing in Hebrew. Singing the ancient words of the Shema in its original ancient language--that's really something.

Another aspect of this class that really got me fired up was our discussion about religious space in conflict. I managed to get a spot in the Jerusalem group; I don't mean to this sound trite, but what an exercise in creative thought the Temple Mount controversy is! There's so much to grapple with--politics, faith, nationalism, tradition. It's like a big jigsaw puzzle with so many pieces to fit into place. It also gives me a bit of the eschatological shivers. There are some major things at stake there. Anyway, this conversation was one of those moments where I could contentedly say, "yep, I'm in the right place studying the right thing." I'm also thankful for issues like this one that make me realize how important it is for me as a (future) Christian leader to be well-versed in issues of politics. I used to not care much. As with the question of our sister faiths, nothing is mutually exclusive. The better we become at building conversations rather than drawing lines, the more hopeful the future starts to look (cue pageantry music...sorry).

But speaking of politics, my thoughts are now really turning towards D.C. A little hint of nervousness has crept in as I stand in the face of the unknown. I look forward to having that first week under my belt, to meeting my host family and my supervisor, to learning that metro commute that I will know like the back of my hand at the end of the summer. I'm ready to get my hands into this work. I'm ready to see Betsey and Mallory, et al. I'm ready to spend a long Saturday getting lost in the art museum. In truth, I was a little sad as I drove away from Atlanta yesterday (too nostalgic for my own good, certainly), but am eager to embrace this awesome opportunity I've been given. And, as a well-meaning colleague told me on the phone yesterday, "even if you hate it (which you won't) and even if your job is terrible (which it won't be), you'll only be there for a few weeks, really." Ha. I'm quite hopeful, myself, that I won't be ready to leave by the end of my time there instead of vice versa.

see you on the other side of the Potomac!

Monday, May 17, 2010

wild like the sea

via dolorosa. strange name for a road at the beach, don't you think, among the 'sand piper way'-s and the 'palm tree lane'-s. it felt somewhat appropriate today, though. it began storming this morning while we were all still in bed and the clouds have persisted throughout the day. rain at the beach. dolorous, indeed.

but not enough to keep us wholly indoors. it was kind of nice to walk along a largely deserted beachfront. strangely peaceful. with thoughts that have been tossing and raging like the waves against the sand, emotions rising and falling like the tides, a bit of walking through the light drizzle did me some good. the world was at once quiet and roaring. and i felt drawn back into nature, bare feet sinking deep into the sand and what is usually meticulously-straightened hair blown curly by the wet ocean wind, wild like the sea itself. or, if not one with nature, i might have stepped into a Dali scene, with beached jellyfish strewed about like melting clocks.

while all of life makes me want to write in prose, there is something about the ocean that makes me want to write in verse, to dance and to sing and to love life and to feel connected to the larger everything. it makes me ponder the Almighty, who created such bizarre creatures as crabs and set the moon in place to pull the tides, and yet it also makes me feel like a child again. a child who last night was scared to walk on the beach in the pitch black of night for fear of stepping on said crabs under the meager light of only a sliver of said moon. the child who handed a pretty shell to her mother as they were walking along the beach, because, as she said, mothers always have pockets.

we've been a delightfully odd bunch this week--one mother who always has pockets and who loves the beach almost as much as she loves her children. her endearing boyfriend, who says 'vehicle' instead of 'car,' 'eatery' instead of 'restaurant,' and who drank one margarita too many while cooking hamburgers on the grill. one sister, who has been avidly watching Lost and discusses theories on the meaning of it all with me ad nauseum. one brother, who, on the beach at least, is still a kid at heart despite the ever-increasing evidence to the contrary. his girlfriend, who has puffy bruised cheeks from wisdom teeth removal and has been gumming food pitifully but with increasing success. his puppy, who has kept us entertained with his constant attacks on his own leash and who has reminded us of the true sensory overload that comes with one's first experience of the beach. one grandmother, whose sweet tooth is one of the few that can out-eat my own and who gave a kind listening ear to my thought-vomit on the 3.5 hour drive down here. one grandfather who is the silent backbone of the family, and who is probably more like me than i can know.

and me, the one who can describe the rest of the eccentric bunch because, as Paul might say, of these i am the worst. perhaps another would peg me as the pale one who carefully monitors the placement and proportion of any exposed skin under direct sunlight, but still comes home with odd patches of sunburn at the end of the day. truly though? the only way i can fairly describe myself now is transitioning. here, but not fully. thinking thoughts of what's passed and what's to come: 2 weeks in Atlanta, 2 days in Charlotte, 2 months in DC. delighting in the adventure of it all while still catching myself longing for normalcy every now and again.

like the ebb and flow of the water, life swirls forward.