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.