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!