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'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 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.