Saturday, December 30, 2006

Arrows 2006

2007 is only two days away, which means that every media outlet is releasing top ten lists and "Best *insert category here* of 2006" features. Some reminiscences are cheesy, others are funny (I rather guiltily admit that I watched the best commercials of 2006 special and laughed. A lot.), all are carefully selected and presented in such a way as to be entertaining. I make no such promise. But, as it is the end of the year, I wanted to do a little introspective ranting and raving. I wanted to present this in the Newsweek style with up arrows, down arrows, and side-to-side arrows, but I'm not particularly good at html, so if it doesn't work, forgive me.

↑ Moving to a new city I adore the city where I now reside, I love the southern weather, and being near my aunt is fabulous. It's amazing to have so many resources at my fingertips and my apartment isn't even too tiny. In addition, my roommate is awesome. While my furniture leaves a bit to be desired, the new location is definitely a step up.

↔ Graduating I got my college degree this year. When this happened, I was a bit shocked. I didn't feel like I'd done enough work to suddenly be a college graduate. I felt like I just showed up for classes for 4 years and they were giving me a degree. Beyond that, it isn't even a particularly useful degree; when I tell people what my degree is in, they look at me VERY confusedly and demand an explanation. And graduating meant moving away from some really incredible friends. But, as boring as the ceremony was, I had a great time over the weekend of graduation hanging out with family and friends. Not to mention that I learned a TON in undergrad and grew up a lot. I'm just still amazed that it's over.

↑ Travel I went on an incredible mission trip to Sao Paulo, Brazil this year that reminded me of the beauty of the world, the commonality of people across the globe, and the enduring tragedy of poverty. I got to make a summer trip to visit family out west, which was unbelievably fun, and I got to make my annual pilgrimmage to my grandparents' house for Christmas. I didn't go 9000 miles this year, but it was still a good year for travel.

↑ Work I know, an up arrow next to "work" seems a bit incongruous, but I had several jobs that I enjoyed this year. I picked up Statistics tutoring in addition to my usual Geology, which meant more fun students and (thankfully) more income. Then I spend the summer doing my favorite job of all: ASP staff. I won't elaborate on that here, since I have before and probably will again later. Then I spent a semester blissfully unemployed, focusing on schoolwork, before getting a fabulous job opportunity for next year. Suffice it to say, I was pleased with my employment (and unemployment) this year.

↓ State of the World As I spent the year insulating myself in my bubbles of school and work, I grew more and more frightened and irritated by the state of the world. Domestic policies were enacted that make my blood boil. The U.S. continued to bully and alienate our neighbors. The violence in the Middle East intensified, poverty and disease plagued most of Africa, yet celebrity culture continued to rule the headlines.

↑ Graduate School I thrived in my first semester of seminary. I can finally be accepted as both liberal and Christian at the same time, by the same people. I enjoyed the coursework and realized that I can handle the level and amount of work quite well. Above all, I met and made friends with some incredible people. I can look back on my struggles to decide in March/April and say decisively that I mad the right choice of schools

↔ Romance This year I attempted to obey the cliches by "being true to myself" and "following my heart" with mixed results. I strived for the amazing, and on the way I hurt someone wonderful. I did what I felt I had to. Perhaps it was selfish. I don't know. Since then I have been in pursuit of fireworks. And maybe I've found some. But that is another story for another year.

↑ Family With every year older I get, I learn to appreciate my family more. We play Confusion and Mafia together, we talk on the phone, and we hug whenever we meet. We are all as stubborn as mules, so we nag and argue with each other constantly. The political and theological views some of my family members hold make me want to scream. But, in spite of it all, I love them and I'm glad I have them. I got to see all but one of my cousins this year, and all of my aunts and uncles, which was an incredible blessing. This was likely the last Christmas at the house my grandparents have lived in for two decades, and seeing my family together there reminded me of just how lucky we are to still be able to do that.

? The Future I have no idea what the future holds in any of these categories and I'm not going to speculate about it here. I'm also not going to list my New Years resolutions (because I wouldn't stick to them anyway) or give some bland platitude about faith for the future. I'm just going to wish you, whoever you are, a close of 2006 with no regrets and a 2007 that starts with hope.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Goodnight Dear Void

Please pat me on the back: I have finished my first semester of grad. school without failing anything, getting totally overwhelmed, or freaking out. Score one for me.

I've got a lot of stuff rattling around in my head aching to get out into long, rambling posts, but none of it is crystallized enough to write about at any great length. Instead, I leave you with these questions:

-How do we trust God with our futures when our minds are busy imagining worst-case scenarios for how our lives will play out?

-What's the proper level of disclosure when an application asks for "a reasonably full account of your life, including important events, relationships with people who have been significant to you, and the impact these events and relationships have had on your development"?

-How many books is it logical to take on a six-day vacation?

-What does it say about me that I care more about the quality of dialogue and character development in movies and books than I do about the plot, writing style, or cinematography?

-How many trees die for the sake of holiday celebrations between the Christmas trees and the use of wrapping paper?

-How do I find my place in the tension between causes that impassion me and the institutions working on those causes that infuriate me?

-Why is it that, despite wonderful feedback in most areas, we focus on the few bits of criticism that are sent our way?

-What am I doing spouting off these questions at 2 a.m. when I should be sleeping?

Thursday, November 30, 2006


"Sin is inevitable, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." -Julian of Norwich

Sin, and its wonderful counterpart, pain, are inevitable. And, as Julian states, all will be well. Wounds will heal, grief will fade, pain will ease, transgressions will be forgiven, and hope will return. However, Julian sagaciously declines to specify how or when all will be well. As I listened to a patient in horrific pain cry out, begging for death, I wished that I understood the how and when. As I hugged a grieving friend, I wished I that it were possible to know the how and when. And when I struggled with my own pain, I wished for the speeding of time and a divine revelation of how to heal more quickly. But no answer came. And I was reminded that faith, love, and life are marred by brokenness. But it is only in this brokenness that we can appreciate the promise that all shall be well, however and whenever that is.

The sunset tonight is beautiful. The sun is brilliant tangerine against the silhouette of the skyline. Rose and even lavender tinge the edges of the horizon. I've been trying to comprehend the tragic beauty of sunsets. Some people think they're romantic, but watching the sun drop and disappear has always made me a little sad. Watching the source of daylight vanish, leaving first colorful traces of light, then darkness, behind is a little disheartening. However, I enjoy the mystery and calm of the night. I love the freedom and coziness the darkness lends, and the reminder of God in the stars. Better yet, while I'm not often awake to see it, I love the sunrise and the progression of the sun from a small sliver at the edge of forever to an orb that illuminates the whole sky.

"That's the heart of religious questing, isn't it? Once you get a handle on the infinite cycle of the restless existence of all things, do you despair or do you willingly take your place in the circle? Does enlightenment lead to sorrowful disengagement or willing participation?" -Robert Fulghum, "Uh-oh"

This, to me, is the real challenge of seminary. Sure, it's tough to keep up with the readings and write all the papers and get through all the hours of contextual study, but the real challenge is balancing enlightenment with faith and life. Once you discover that Moses probably parted the "reedy sea" instead of the Red Sea, that the books that made it into the Bible were selected by a group of priests at a conference in Northern Africa, that congregations can be centers of catty, political infighting as much as communities of faith, that people suffer pain and loneliness in hospitals and workplaces and homes without relief, and that ordination means submitting your whole life to an imperfect, human institution, how do you keep on? How do you stake your faith and your life's work on an ancient book in a changing world of hurt where you will struggle each day and may never know whether you're having an impact? I don't have a perfect answer. I have only a few strategies that I have begun to embrace. I have to remember that the texts may be ambiguous, but that contemplation and interpretation can help us to gain a much better understanding than we'd be able to gain if it were simple and straightforward, plus we learn much more in the pursuit. I have to believe that, despite their faults, congregations and churches are our ways of building Christian community and, in spite of their failings, they are our attempt to show love in the world. I have to believe that there will someday be relief for the pain and brokenness, and in the meantime, there are love and joy and beauty in the world, too.

There are days when I disengage. There are days when I come home from the hospital or from campus and collapse in a chair and watch movies to numb myself to the enlightenment that's burning my retinas. But after the sun sets and rises again, I get up and go out to face it again. Because, though I don't know when or how, all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Jumping into the Getaway Car

I'm about to set off on my third ten-hour drive in the last week and a half, part of two road trips home in as many weeks. In a way it's a treat for me, since I love driving and enjoy the extended time to think late in the semester. The first trip was for an interview that, despite being longer and more intense than I anticipated, had a positive outcome. The second is for a family holiday celebration. Even though it's my least favorite holiday (I don't like Thanksgiving food much and the pressure in the kitchen is enough to make me flee to my room) I'm looking forward to a chance to chill out with my family.

Much as I love school, I'm ready for a chance to be away. As we near the end of the semester, stresses and emotional breakdowns are coming to the forefront. People are becoming short with one another and nerves are rubbed raw by end-of-the-semester pressures. It should be good to get away from that for a few days. By the time we return, people's patience will be renewed and we'll all communicate better.

I'm a firm believer that any long drive must be accompanied by some awesome tunes. After all, who wants to drive 10 hours on the interstate without something to sing along with? I don't. So here's the current "In My Brain" playlist:

Grand Illusion - Styx
Woke Up in a Car - Something Corporate
Here Is Gone - Goo Goo Dolls
Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes - Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mombazo
In the Sun - Joseph Arthur
Rockin' Me Baby - Steve Miller Band
All About Soul - Billy Joel
Comfortable - John Mayer
Don't Say You Love Me - M2M (random Scandinavian band that no one besides me knows)
Susie Q - Creedence Clearwater Revival
Grace is Gone - Dave Matthews Band
Out of my Head - Fastball
Sheep Go to Heaven - Cake
You May Be Right - Billy Joel
Sexy Boy - Air
Dumb Girls - Lucy Woodward
You and I Both (Acoustic) - Jason Mraz
Friday I'm in Love - The Cure
Maybe Tomorrow - Stereophonics
Bye Bye Blackbird - Joe Cocker

Now I'll hop into my getaway Buick and drive, singing, off into the sunset.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Love and Pain

It's inevitable: if we love someone, we hurt them. When we love people, we get close to them and gain special access to and understanding of their inner workings. We see them at their highest and lowest and, as a result, gain increased power for inflicting pain. Sometimes the pain is intentional, often not. It is just that when we love, we open ourselves to being hurt. We grant power to those we love by valuing their opinions and believing their words...words that won't always be kind. One bit of criticism, a poorly chosen word, and the beloved is injured. It's mutual, too. It is the people we love who hurt us the most, as well. In being close to one another, we are more able to do both good and harm.

Love is always a risk.

Look at your family. Families begin with married couples who, contrary to their portrayals in 1950s TV shows, always fight, at least sometimes. Children, despite their love for their parents, misbehave, rebel, and hurt their parents. Parents, in trying to discipline their children, often scar the kids with harsh words or punishments. Siblings compete against one another and wreak havoc on one anothers' confidence and security.

As one of the patients I worked with last week explained, all marriages end: 50% in divorce, 50% in death. The same statement could be applied to all relationships; even friendships fall apart as a result of distance or fighting or loss of contact. As long as flawed mortals form relationships, those relationships will be flawed and, at least somewhat painful.

So why do we do it? Why does so much of our culture revolve around these dangerous situations? Because in the pain is also love. Risking brokenness is the only way to wholeness. I'm not saying that we all have to find a perfect mate, I don't think that's the case. I'm saying that building loving relationships with family, friends, mentors, and significant others is the most important thing humans can do. Humans were created to love. We're here to love God and one another, despite the risks. While the people we love can hurt us more than others, they can also give us the greatest joy. There are few things in life as rewarding as seeing a loved one happy. And it is only love that can help us cope when the pain is the greatest.

Don't worry if you're out there wondering where the hard, realistic person who writes this blog has gone. I haven't become a hopeless romantic and I'm not going to get all mushy on you. I'm simply asserting something I should have said long ago: Love is the most powerful and most valuable thing we will ever experience, no matter where it comes from. We need to respect and value it each and every day for both the harm and good it causes.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Throwing it out there...

These are things I want to say to people but haven't managed to articulate. I just want to say them here because I can't say them in person. I think there should be greeting cards for this sort of thing, but Hallmark doesn't sell them yet.

I forgive you. There are even things, despite what you did to me, that I thank you for. Even though you really messed me up, I'm so much stronger because of what you put me through. I'm still not totally recovered from the damage you caused, but I want to be and, someday, I will be. I've moved on and I know you have too, but sometimes these things just need to be said. In the meantime, thanks for the lessons and God be with you. (Because I'm not and never will be again.)

I'm sorry. I hurt you when you had done nothing to deserve it. I was confused, but that's no excuse. I wish I could chase the pain away, but you have to grow through it. And I hope you do. I hope you grow and thrive and find what you're looking for and get to be happy. I'll be waiting to cheer when that happens.

You can do it. I know that you're facing a tough decision and I know that every possible path leads to pain. But they also lead to life. They lead to dreams and wholeness. Don't let yourself be held back by the people who might judge you. Do and be what you ARE, claim your path and continue your journey. Whatever you choose, I'll stand by you.

You amaze me. I admire few people as much as I admire you, and just the thought of you makes me smile.

Please be careful. I worry about you. I know you're seeking and you have to take risks, but don't lose yourself in the search. Enjoy the moment, but don't forget the long term. You could get seriously hurt and make yourself very unhappy for a long time. I'll be here to pick you up if you fall, but I can't keep you from scraping your knees. You have to take care of that on your own.

I'm proud of you. You went out there with boldness that I didn't know you possessed. You opened the doors and stepped out into the big, risky world. And, once there, you discovered exciting things you thought you'd never find. Embrace and enjoy it.

Don't be afraid and don't retreat. You've come so far that you can't chicken out now. Go get 'em, kid!

I think I'll write to the card companies about this. Maybe American Greetings will pick them up...

Friday, October 20, 2006

Defining the Self

My roommate asked me last week what the identity of a person who had undergone a brain transplant would be. Would the patient's identity be of Person A, whose body had received the new brain, or of Person B, whose brain had been placed into a new body? Or is a third, new identity created by the fusion of those 2? (For anyone who's studied Christology, this may debate may sound familiar, but I'm not taking it in that direction, despite my recent studies.)

So, what defines us as individuals? We are clearly bodies, and our experiences and treatment by others is, at least to some extent, determined by our physical being. I would be very different if I had been born male or black, very short or abnormally tall, or with a disability. Others identify us by these characteristics and, when describing us to others, usually list our height, race, hair color, and build first.

Still, if our parent's words to us as children are true, "it's what's inside that counts". What on the inside counts, though? Are we the sum of our experiences, defined by that which we have done? Surely I would be a different person if I had been born into the Danish royal family or been an AIDS orphan in Niger or a woman behind a burqa in Afghanistan. I know that my upbringing, my schooling, and my travels have shaped me, but is that what differentiates me from everyone else? If a different person, you for example, had been in my place and experienced all that I have, would we be alike? Surely not.

This brings in another dimension: choice. If someone else had started life as I did, they would surely have made different choices and, thus, experienced different things. So is it our choices that make us who we are? If so, our person is formed by the factors that caused us to make those choices, which places the spotlight on our natural traits and the people in our lives. Our natural traits make us who we are to some extent, but a person who had the same personality traits as I have in another setting might have been totally different. Likewise, someone with those traits surrounded by totally different people would likely have chosen another path and would still be different.

I guess I could conclude that the self is formed by an enormous combination of inherent and experiential factors. But that leaves me with another question: am I who I am inside, or who people think I am?

Someone called me an intellectual yesterday. I have never seen myself in that role. I always defined intellectuals as very smart, lofty people who contemplated abstract ideas and said profound things. That's not me, but that is how some people perceive me. Another person gave me a list of traits from which I only applied a few to myself. So, who's right? Are we really who we think we are when we're alone inside our heads, or do people who see us from the outside see what's really there? And if those two images are radically different, does that mean we're fake, or just misunderstood? Do we misrepresent ourselves for self-preservation? Or do people see what they want to see?

I wish that I, like Yahweh, could simply say "I AM who I AM" or, perhaps more accurately, "I WILL BE who I WILL BE." The answer is probably in the middle somewhere, somehow combining everything. To give some sort of resolution to this wondering, I could say that I'm a combination of my natural traits, my physical being, my experiences, and the people who have influenced me, a mingling of who I think I am and how everyone else views me. Any more definition than that is probably impossible, but it would be nice to understand it. After all, this is the time of my life when I should be out trying to "find myself", right? But I'm not lost, I'm just undefined. And really, aren't we all?

Monday, October 16, 2006

You Said It!

So... I've been having trouble coming up with interesting tidbits of life information to share lately, since I've been mostly writing papers and studying for midterms. However, since I have no clever words of my own to share, I decided to give you some idea of the clever, or just plain funny, words I've heard lately.

Wisdom of the Ages (or, Things My Professors Said in Class)
"A sheep is clean because it's not a lobster."
"If you get a goofy building, it's usually a temple."
A sentence beginning with "Go to neverneverland..."
"I'm not an expert on temple prostitution."
Student: "I felt like a little piece of my childhood died." Professor: "Welcome to seminary."
"We don't really think of Godness as something in degrees."
"Homoousious, a word as big as Turkey..."
"There are many places where the Bible says 'like'."
"I haven't had any sleep, so don't give me any crap this morning."
"They just had one kind of peanut butter called 'State Peanut Butter'."
"But I'm not like that. I don't believe that cheap is good. I believe that expensive is good."
"If you want to buy a refrigerator for the Lord..."
"Everything in the English language eventually becomes a metaphor."
"The process, well, it's just very awkward."
Bishop: "You're laughing, what is it?" Student: "Nothing, it's not important." Bishop: "You're making me want to check my fly."
"Once you become a member, it's difficult to get thrown out of the club."

Not Quite So Dignified (things my friends said):
"We didn't have Nintendo, we went to sailing camp."
"How about this goal: have a date by the time I get married."
"Usually only Dave gets to see me eat like that."
"Shut up, you have a bubble."
"I'd totally marry him if he weren't 40...and gay...and married."

Thursday, October 05, 2006


I've been working through a lot of jumbled thoughts lately, but most of them are too heavy and too messy to put out here. Instead, I'll leave you with the peripheral thoughts that have been dancing at the edge of my consciousness, shoved out of place by the big stuff.

-I've never voted in a voting booth. This isn't because I don't vote, instead it's because I've never been in my hometown on an Election Day. I'm really good at filling out absentee ballots, though. I'm just nervous that someday I'll go to vote in an actual booth and won't have any idea what to do.

-I've loved the River of Dreams album by Billy Joel for a decade now, and it never becomes less amazing to me. The songs that are sticking out in particular at the moment are: Shades of Grey, All About Soul, and Two Thousand Years.

-I've never gotten comfortable with the whole bar/club scene... I always feel totally awkward trying to mingle with people and I'm way to inhibited to dance well. I can't decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

-Next time I choose an apartment, I need to consider its proximity to emergency services. I'm getting a little tired of being awakened at 3 a.m. by fire truck sirens.

-I really like southern weather, but I could do without the "palmetto bugs", which, for the record, are really huge cock roaches, but are called "palmetto bugs" in order to sound more genteel.

-Someday I need to move to a place where I can actually get regular coverage of the athletic teams I'm interested in. I'm getting tired of having lame football game options.

-Other music in the playlist this week: "You Are Forgiven" and "Let's Go to Canada" by Reel Big Fish, "The Shoop-Shoop Song", and the entire soundtrack to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (I just had a test over Genesis).

-I need to stop staying up late before the days when I have an 8 a.m. class OR I need to find some form of palatable caffeine to consume on early mornings.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Scary Jesus

I just saw quite possibly the most frightening movie I have ever viewed. I went to a screening of the documentary "Jesus Camp" at a nearby theater. The film follows a few fundamentalist, evangelical Christian kids to a "camp" in North Dakota. It shows the kids engaging in pentacostal worship, taking part in altar calls, singing, and preaching. While the style of worship wasn't something I feel comfortable with, that part wouldn't have been so bad. However, the leaders of the camp were using manipulation and guilt to elicit extreme emotional responses from the children. Beyond that, they were preaching on political issues, particularly abortion, alongside Scripture, as though both their position on the issues and the word of God held the same importance and place of truth. Without a real explanation of what abortion means, children as young as 5 were being ordered to put an end to the practice.

At one point, the director of the camp explained that she and her fellow leaders were simply teaching the children their beliefs and values as all parents should. Now, I have never been a parent, but I believe there is a line between teaching children values and brainwashing them to a particular political and theological viewpoint. My parents raised me in the church and encouraged my faith, but they always reminded me that faith is a choice. I was never forced into a mindset. My parents encouraged me to go to church, but they didn't use guilt and fear as tools to make me believe in God. They certainly never pushed a political agenda as part of religion.

As though that manipulation weren't bad enough, the children were shown bowing down in front of a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush and praying for him, and smashing mugs with the word "government" on them to symbolize breaking the hold of the secular on the government. The children were being taught to do away with the separation of church and state, which is one of the central tenets of our governmental system. And, as the film went on, the language used by both the adult leaders and the children became increasingly violent. The kids described themselves as "soldiers" and "warriors", and the camp directors spoke of building "an army for Christ." I hated the way such language was used. I am terrified at the thought of children being indoctrinated and sent out with such a violent mentality. It was so reminiscent of the religious extremism that has caused the recent outbreaks of terrorism that I shuddered.

I want to think that the film exaggerated this phenomenon. I know that most evangelical Christians are not like the people in this film. But at the same time, most Muslims are not like the extremists who bomb buildings. This film illustrated the mentality that creates terrorism present in Christians in America, and I, for one, am terrified.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Stars Before My Eyes

I went to see President Jimmy Carter speak to the student body last week. It's amazing that this highly educated, passionate man is willing to hold an annual town hall meeting with a bunch of college students. He was asked questions ranging from his favorite type of peanut (he used to be a peanut farmer) to his opinions of Bush's recent actions. I was amazed by his straightforward, honest answers. When he criticized someone or something (like Bush) he listed specific criticisms with evidence and examples. When he gave his opinion on an issue, his passion was obvious. The more I think about his incredible contributions, including the Carter Center, Habitat for Humanity, and his diplomatic efforts, the more I am impressed by this former president. Jimmy Carter would definitely have my vote.

I have also been impressed by the seminary faculty. While they don't have Carter's fame and influence, they astound me on a daily basis. When professors preach in chapel, they always have incredible insight and conviction, and it is clear that they have not only thought through the theological and historical impact of the text, but also its applications in life. Beyond that, they are remarkably accessible. One professor, who is the head of the Women in Theology and Ministry Certificate program, held a retreat for all the students interested in the certificate program at her family's vacation home in the mountains. She opened her home to 20 women, cooked for us and arranged for incredible, relaxing sessions on yoga, liturgical dance, photgraphy, and meditation. She also seems genuinely interested in getting to know the students and their interests beyond class, including music and creative writing. Another professor, a retired United Methodist bishop who teaches my polity course, enriches the course with stories from his vast personal experience, that bring the phrases in the Book of Discipline to life. Yet another professor allows the class to discuss openly for nearly the entire two-hour period, with only a few guiding remarks. He seems truly caring and takes the time to talk whenever students approach him for any reason. While not all of the professors are so open and passionate, there are many who make seminary life a joy.

But the people who have impressed me when I least expected it have been my fellow students. The richness of their experiences and their diversity of perspectives blows my mind. Each person I meet introduces me to new ideas, tells me stories of their faith and experiences, and demonstrates a perspective that I hadn't considered. I feel honored to have such wonderful peers.

My recent accomplishments are less exciting and impressive, but I feel good about them. I have managed to cook several meals, including making a casserole, several chicken dishes, inventing a sort of "stone soup" with things we had tucked away in our kitchen, and even made dinner for friends. My roommate and I have managed to keep our dishes clean without a dishwasher, and nothing in the apartment is terribly filthy or even that cluttered. I found a church and joined their choir. I'm the youngest person in the choir by a decade, but it's a fun group. I found a small, independent coffee shop where I can go to study and relax. I've even written my first few grad. school papers without freaking out.

Life is not perfect. Seminary is not perfect. None of these people are perfect. I'm sure I'll be striking all of these statements by midterms, but I'm certainly enjoying myself so far!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Station for the Soul Train?

The chapel at my new school is a phenomenal architectural structure and the first time I saw it, I hated it. Allow me to explain. It is made almost entirely of concrete, with copper railings and things throughout and a very open floor plan. The balconies make it resemble a theater-in-the-round, but the floor seating can be removed or rearranged very easily. But I gradually came to see the beauty in the meaning of the design.

The chapel looks like a train station. It has giant concrete columns and exposed venting, and it has the feel of several railway tunnels that run parallel to one another. Someone once told me that it was designed to look like a train station to remind us that we are perpetually in transition. Particularly at a seminary, we are in-between, traveling from one part of our life to another, learning to minister to people, and temporarily in community in this place. We won't stay at seminary, just as people never remain in a train station forever, it is merely a point on the way to another destination, or perhaps a pause on a long journey.

There are also, if one looks carefully, pieces missing throughout the chapel. There are chunks out of the pulpit and the altar, as well as pieces missing in the columns. All of these remind us that nothing on earth is complete. Nothing is ever perfect or totally put together, but the incompleteness is still beautiful.

There is also a lot of natural light in the chapel, both from the ceiling and from windows along the sides of the chapel that are invisible from 3 sides, which make it seem as though the walls are glowing slightly. The balconies rise in steps as they go around the main floor, demonstrating an ascent or, to my mind, growth. While concrete and venting systems aren't beautiful materials, their unfinished nature and the baring of things that are typically inside walls make the whole space feel a little vulnerable and unpolished, as though to remind us that humanity isn't about being complete or impenetrable.

I was used to churches with giant stained-glass windows and pews that are nailed down that felt old and reverent and invincible. It's refreshing to worship in a space that is simpler. The totally different feel of the room challenges me to consider the service more carefully instead of just going through the traditional motions. At the same time, the space is not necessarily designed for contemporary worship, as many more recent church buildings are. The open floor plan allows it to be adjusted for any type of worship.

What a blessing to be able to meet God and the community of faith in such a unique space!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Week 1: Happies and Crappies

At every ASP summer staff meeting, each staffer names one good and one bad thing from his or her day. These are referred to as "Happies and Crappies" or "Yoes and Woes" or "Chocolate and Broccoli" or some other pairing of positive and negative items. In that spirit (and because I'm a bit short on time) I am going to give you the weekly update in this ASP-meeting format.

Dr. Frank's speech at Opening Convocation
Dinner at Golden Buddha with the girls
Going to see the Braves play the Cubs at Turner Field
Dinner with Aunt Marsha
Activities Carnival
My professors' excellent senses of humor
Clean dishes
Lunch with Rev. Sarah and Frank
Phone calls and AIM conversations with distant friends
Mixed Signals Boy
Chilling in the apartment with Beth
Incredible weather
New friends every day

Overwhelming reading assignments
Having a cold
Lost certification paperwork
Killing trees by printing off reading assignments
Realizing that taking all the classes I want is impossible, even if I max out my hours every semester
Buying gas before prices dropped $0.20
Not enough hugs
Feeling both incredibly old and disappointingly young at the same time

Further information and commentary (or whatever I think to say) when I find time to write again. Until then, "Yay heresy!"

Monday, September 04, 2006

More Like Laborless Day

I don't know what the origins of Labor Day are. I think it was probably created to give some sort of vague recognition to the workers of the country and those whose work allowed this civilization to be formed. But, for all I know, it COULD have been created to celebrate the unionization or even the birthing process. I, however, see Labor Day as a bit of a misnomer. After all, why would you call a nationwide day off "work day"?

That, however, is a question that I doubt I'll ever care enough about to seek out an answer. And I'm certainly not complaining about the existence of another holiday, I'm a huge fan of getting a day to relax. Instead, I'm going to focus my energies on this Laborless Day on reflection. I want to remember this day as a point of closure on the last four years and a point of beginning for the next three.

On the last four years: I would definitely classify them as a whirlwind. I moved for the first time in my life and began a new life. I attended classes, learned how to live with myself and both good and bad roommates, learned to walk, eat, shop, and entertain myself alone, and made a lot of interesting acquaintances, both good and bad. I traveled to three new countries, failed miserably at learning an ancient language, altered and crystallized many of my beliefs, and even got a college degree. I made plenty of mistakes, but thinking back I wouldn't change a thing. I like where I am and appreciate my growth so far. I made some fantastic friends that I really admire, others that I know I can rely on, and many that, while I may never encounter them again, have made immeasurable impacts on my life. I've also met people who challenged, angered, and hurt me, but whom I value for the lessons they forced me to learn. I had my first real jobs and never got fired, but learned what I do and don't want to do for employment. I learned to recognize the smell of weed and the taste of alcohol without ever being drunk or high. I can officially state that, while I'm not convinced that college is "the best years of your life", I value my experience there and believe that the vast majority of it was incredibly positive.

As for the next three years: I want to discern the next steps with wisdom and faith. I want to learn how to fall in love while maintaining the strength and independence that I value so highly. I want to go to the Middle East or Great Britain (or both) and see the legacy of my faith present in those places. I want to get to know my relatives as people, not just names on the family tree. I want to learn how to minister to a congregation, get my MDiv, and be assigned to my first church (even if it is probationary). I want to make friends with a huge spectrum of people and have friends who both love and challenge me. I want to grow in my faith and my understandings of God, myself, and the world around me. I want to learn to play the guitar and give a sermon that moves people to think, feel, and act. I want to realize my capacity to be an adult while retaining the hope and simplicity of youth. Above all, I want to be able to look back at the end and know that I have grown and loved and to be able to go forward at the end of three years to serve in whichever church God and the church select for me.

Monday, August 28, 2006


I've moved a lot over the last five years, but only one of those moves was to a new semi-permanent home. Now I'm in a new city where I'll spend the next three years, so I'm trying to find my way around and make this city feel like home as fast as possible. So far I know how to get from my apartment to campus, and I've located a few restaurants, a grocery store, and a hardware store.

I even had a public transportation/city adventure earlier this week. It was surprisingly simple to navigate the bus and train systems to get to the attractions downtown. We did all sorts of touristy things once we got downtown, but I at least felt savvy managing to get downtown and back without incident.

I feel a bit like a character on Barney saying this, but I've made FRIENDS! It has been surprisingly easy to find friendly people that I have things in common with here. It's a bit like finding my Mothership; I'm surrounded by students who are interested in the same things I'm interested in, but who are passionate about service and change in a way that drives them to act independently. Each person I meet has had incredible experiences in service or education or life, and they all have so much to contribute. I'm ecstatic to be a part of such a vibrant and diverse community. I'm sure the newlywed phase will wear off soon and I'll be much less positive once the drudgery of school starts and people are less eager to make friends, but right now it's awesome.

The real challenge will begin on Tuesday when classes start. Until then, let the good times roll!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Hike Continues...

I'm back from three months in CARRRRter Co., Tennessee with ASP, it was awesome, and there's no way I can capture it to explain it here, so I'm not going to try. If you want to know, find me sometime when we've both got 4 hours and some sort of sugary food.

As they say in RENT, "I'll pack up all my junk and go so far away, devote myself to projects that sell." Well, not sell, exactly, but you know what I mean. I packed all my essential belongings into boxes and drove them to my new apartment far away, deposited them, and came home for a last respite before I return again to the world of work, deep thoughts, intensive reading that is academia. I've decided that I'm resigned to change. I even feel like I've got closure on the whole college thing. Now the time has come for something new. I'm ready, I think.

The one thing I can say about my summer is that it got me straightened out. It reminded me of what's important. It empowered me to believe that I can and will do better, work harder, and keep growing. It allowed me to leave behind all that was comfortable and all the things that were holding me back and to see the wide open vistas of the future before me. And now it's time to move on.

It's a better place
Standing high upon this mountain
I've seen your face
Full of the light that only this height can show
A blistered hand is what you've given
But you've been given all you'll ever need to know

So walk down this mountain
With your heart held high
Follow in the footsteps of your make
With this love that's gone before you
And these people at your side
If you offer up your broken cup
You will taste the meaning of this life

It's a common ground
And I see we're all still standing
Just look around and you'll find
The very face of God
He's walking down into the distance
He's walking down to where the masses are

We're standing in a place of peace
But this is how the world should be
How the world should be

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Where's my blankie?

“It's not so much that we're afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it's that place in between that we fear. [...] It's like being between trapezes. It's Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There's nothing to hold on to.” - Marylin Ferguson

Have you ever fallen asleep during a car, plane, or bus trip, then awoken once you reached your destination? You awaken to discover you missed a huge chunk of the journey and, disoriented and groggy, must face a new place with different people and surroundings. That's the feeling I have now. I was so busy with the days immediately in front of me that I lost track of the passing of time. Now I've suddenly become aware of the fact that I have reached the end of my college career and have to go forth from this place. With so little time left, things seem to be running in fast forward and I'm trying to cram as much time with friends as possible into my remaining days while balancing packing and studying for my last two finals.

I know it sounds cliche, but it really is true that it isn't until we lose something that we truly appreciate it. In becoming comfortable with Columbia and Mizzou, I had lost track of the unique feel of the city and the campus. In spending time with people every day, the love I have for my friends here was overlooked. I love my lifestyle here. But I know that I can stay in touch with people and visit, so leaving isn't the hardest part.

This weekend I will graduate from college. I will say goodbye to my friends and leave behind all the things that have become my sources of security over the last four years. Furthermore, I have to return to being a nomad, with my belongings packed in boxes and left behind, only to be sorted and transported again in three months. For a few months, I will be without a social network, without most of my belongings, and without a concrete vision of the future. Then, in the fall, I'll go to a new place, where I'll have to start all over again with forming relationships and building a home.

I am really looking forward to Emory. It's a great school, I love the academic programs, I enjoy the feel of the campus, and Atlanta is a great city. While I'm frightened of starting over again, I've done it before and I know that I'll be alright.

So what's the problem? I hate being stuck in between. I hate saying goodbye to the people here and letting go of the security of my second home. I hate not being able to build connections at Emory yet. I feel incredibly disconnected and, like Ms. Ferguson says above, like I have nothing to hold onto. This is one of those times when every devotional book tells you to trust in God, but, while that helps, it would still be nice to have something more tangible than that. It would be easier if I didn't have to walk through this desert without a person by my side. For now, though, Howard the Bear will have to do.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


*When a book is published, the author has the opportunity to include acknowledgements of people who have helped in the making of the book or the author's life. I may never be a published author, but I'm about to complete something that took a lot of work and thought and time, and there have been people and groups that have helped and supported along the way. This entry is my way of recognizing them.*

First, and probably most importantly, I want to thank my family. They made college possible financially, logistically, and emotionally. They paid, edited, organized, drove, moved boxes, listened, and contributed in so many other ways that I can't even begin to list them here. For all your support and help, thanks.

Second, and the first people I really encountered at college, the people of FARC. When I moved to college, I went 8 hours away from my family to a place where I didn't know a single person. FARC became my home away from home. Over the years, the students who lived in FARC became my friends, challenged my thoughs and beliefs through conversations and lifestyles, worked by my side, shared food with me, helped me study, taught me to laugh, love, and appreciate, and stretched and molded me into a more mature, confident, and open-minded person than I had ever been before. Thanks.

Third, I must mention the people of the Wesley Foundation Campus Ministry. I was nervous and lonely when I walked up the stairs to the Wesley Center the first time, but once there, I never felt out of place again. Rev. Mike and several generations of Peer Ministers guided my spiritual growth and facilitated mission and fellowship opportunities. The students who took part in mission trips, Midweeks, Sunday Suppers, WOWs, and Bible Studies became my friends. Thanks for everything. I love you guys.

Next, I want to recognize all the professsors, administrators, and school staff that made the campus less formidable for me. Professors challenged me to work harder and think more deeply and broadly. Residential Life staff like Kris, Ashley A., Chris C., and Ben W. gave me opportunities to work and develop skills while encouraging me to be my best. The staff of the Student Success Center and Learning Center, including Irene, Alice, Deb, Bina, and Terri welcomed me and made it possible for me to teach other students.

Furthermore (sorry, I'm running out of transition words!), I want to thank the random folks I've encountered on campus, in classes, in other student organizations, and through friends that have shared strange, terrible, and amazing experiences with me. There are too many to list you individually, but you know who you are.

While most of these people are in Missouri, I also need to thank the wonderful people of my hometown who have supported me from across the country. Whether through phone calls, e-mails, or kind words when I'm at home, you have made it possible for me to be brave and go beyond my comfort zone in the knowledge that I'd have a welcoming home to which to return. So, thank you to my friends from home, whether from high school, through my family, through the church, or through the community at large.

And speaking of church, I have to thank all of my guides in the ministry process. I have finally been named a certified candidate for United Methodist Ministry, and I could never have done it without you. Sarah, you amaze and inspire me daily. Wayne, thanks for your care, guidance, and support. Mike, thanks for challenging me and giving me opportunities to serve.

There are inevitably many important people who have been left out of this list. For everyone else who has supported me, challenged me, helped me to complete my degree, and transformed me into the person I am today, thank you. I hope I will someday be able to do as much for you as all of you have done for me.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Napoleon's Battle Plan

According to that great repository of all knowledge: SportsNight, Napoleon's Battle Plan was "First you show up, then you see what happens." I have decided that, whether I really wished to adopt it or not, this has become the blueprint for my day-to-day survival.

Take, for instance, college. You graduate from high school and the next logical step is college, so you apply. No matter how much research you do or how many times you visit, you can never get a complete and accurate idea of what to expect. Then one day, you move into a dormitory and start attending classes. There is no way to prepare yourself, so you just show up and see what happens. I followed this plan upon arriving for college and adhered to it for four years. I showed up at class often with little idea of what to expect and, with a little work, I completed semester after semester. Now, after eight semesters of showing up, the people in the registrar's office inform me that I'm finished. I showed up for long enough and, lo and behold, I'm graduating. I don't feel as though I have done enough work or jumped through enough hoops to be graduating from college, yet after just four years of showing up, I seem to have earned a degree.

Each job I've held has been a similar experience. I always walk into new situations unsure of whether or not I'll be capable enough to complete the necessary tasks. While I have been trained for all of them, there are always little quirks or particular circumstances that have made them at least slightly different from what I expected. I'm not sure I can do it, I don't know what I'll face, but I show up.

I have come to the conclusion that having the courage to do things and go places is really more than half the battle. Those cliche remarks professors make about attendance are actually *gasp* true. And once an individual puts for the effort to attend an event or meeting or day of work, their involvement almost always grows from there. After the first appearance, inertia keeps things going, so it's just a matter of getting there the first time.

I am approaching some stressful and frightening beginnings. I have a huge interview coming up for the UMChurch, ASP staff starts in just over a month, and in 4 months I'll be starting at another school. Anxiety is already beginning to make my stomach churn. My response? Put the plan into motion. And the first step is showing up...

Friday, April 14, 2006

Viva Brasil!

Finally, the update you've all been waiting for: the trip to Sao Paulo, Brasil! (I spell Brasil with an "s" because the U.S. is basically the only country in the world where we misspell their name, and it's really only fair to TRY to get it right!)

I went with a group of 20 people from my Wesley Foundation (mostly students) to Sao Paulo, Brasil for nine days over spring break. We worked mostly with a church in Santo Andre, which is a suburb of Sao Paulo. It was more of a relationship-building mission trip than the better-known manual labor trips. We spent most of our time getting to know members of the churches where we worked. We did SOME work, including painting, helping with children's crafts, leading worship, and helping with a giant service day in a favela (like a township).

Among our relationship-building activities was attending a meeting of people recovering from chemical dependency. We shared stories of our tough times with them and heard their testimonies about their experiences. It was an incredible and emotional exchange, which really inspired many people in our group to understand mission differently. As I learned on ASP, mission isn't about the work being done, it's about the relationships built between people and the hope and faith shared. The meeting we attended was an incredible demonstration of that different definition of mission.

The workday in the favela was amazing as well. The churches we worked with combined forces to bring doctors, dentists, nurses, women's health educators, and hairdressers in to a school in the favela, then they provided free services to the residents. The churches also provided food, children's activities, and all-day worship. It was a huge event that included approximately 3,000 people from the favela. The turnout and the work done were amazing, and I was blown away by the experience.

In addition to the work, we did some touristy things. We went to a Brasilian Barbecue, which was a feast that combined a buffet of side dishes with a series of giant slabs of meat on sticks that waiters brought and sliced pieces off to serve to us. We also enjoyed traditional food while we watched a show of traditional Brasilian dance and music. We walked around downtown Sao Paulo visiting churches, skyscrapers, and gardens.

Throughout our stay, we were accompanied everywhere by church members who acted as tour guides, translators, and body guards. A woman named Milene acted as our translator, patiently answering all of our questions. Marco, or "Bones" as we call him, went with us everywhere to make sure we were safe. If any threatening-looking or suspicious-looking people approached, he would calmly speak with them and walk them in another direction. Other church members and pastors came with us at different times in the week, so we were constantly watched over by our Brasilian guardian angels.

Other highlights:
-Finally watching a toilet spin the opposite direction. (While this happens in all southern hemisphere countries, I saw now spin-flushing toilets in South Africa or Peru.)
-The conversation in which several American girls tried to explain the differences between cock, cocky, and cocker spaniel to two of our Brasilian guides.
-The Brasilian church member who fell madly in love with one of the girls in our group, following her around and calling her his "angel".
-The Wesley praise band rocking out with the band from our church in Santo Andre.
-Being treated like celebrities/rock stars
-Changing Chuck Norris jokes into Bones jokes
-Reginaldo, a member of the church in Santo Andre who looked like a mild-mannered guy from the U.S., but was actually a Brasilian sky-diver and scuba-diver. (SO COOL!)
-Dancing after the show at the Brasilian traditional dance show
-Out-eating everyone except 2 guys at the Brasilia barbecue (oh man, prime rib!)
-Watching the Wesley guys play soccer against 9-year-old Brasilian kids
-The multiple-tire-blowing bus
-Attempting to do handshakes and conversations in Portuguese... Yao Blaiza!

Next stop: India or Israel (I wish!!!)

Monday, April 10, 2006


Zugunruhe, as German scientists recently revealed, is the need to migrate. It is the urge, most often studied in birds, to take wing or hop in the car or run or catch a plane and GO. And even those birds that don't migrate experience nocturnal restlessness. Sound familiar? We all feel that spring fever or pull in the fall toward a homecoming. Even those of us that have to work and cannot travel get restless during those first nice days of spring and last glorious days of autumn. We want to go, to depart, to discover new places and things.

The pull to go is a constant struggle for me. I almost always have the urge to do, to go, to get away. I'm constantly daydreaming about traveling to distant countries or driving down dusty country roads. I'd love to hop in the car and drive until I reach the mountains. And, when I can't go, I get restless. I listen to songs about driving and leaving while I fidget endlessly in the confines of my apartment.

I love the travel time. I love airports and airplanes and driving for hours alone with my thoughts. I love walking for miles on empty paths and chasing the breeze through open fields. I even love truck stops and rest areas and layovers because it means I'm in transit.

Perhaps that is why graduations occur in the spring and new school years start in the fall. No matter where you are in the world, the school year lasts from fall to spring, allowing students to migrate away to school in the fall and back in the spring. It's our natural pattern. I almost dread facing a year-round job because I will be unable to go when I want. I'll be forced to remain restlessly trapped in one place throughout the year, unable to obey the zugunruhe. I think I must have descended from nomads, from generations of people who traveled in order to survive. I feel that, to survive, I too must go, move on, discover.

I guess it's like James Thurber once said, "All humans should try to learn before they die what they are running from, and to, and why." I just keep going everywhere to try to find the answer.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Prayer is Ineffective?

As one of my friends told me today, the results of the largest study of intercessory prayer ever conducted were released recently. The study observed that there were no discernable differences in the rates of successful recovery or numbers of complications between people who received prayers and those who did not, thus researchers concluded that prayer is "ineffective". (For details, look here or here)

Many theologians and scientists attempted to explain away the data and several media outlets attempted to downplay the story. People in many circles probably find the results distressing, even a threat to their faith. Others are pleased with the results, which seem to show the power of science to exceed the power of spirituality. I think that all of these responses place way too much emphasis on this one study.

First, I believe that prayer is effective. However, God is not a vending machine. We can't put in our prayer and expect God to produce our desires. This study attempts to put God into a box, limiting the power of the creator of the universe to merely a genie that answers our wishes. God might be answering the prayers in the study by saying "no" or "not yet" or "my way, not that way." God's ways are not our ways, so what makes us think we should be able to order God around? It's like a six-year-old child telling his father what to make for dinner; the father will cook a healthy meal, even if it is not what the child requests. Does prayer work? Absolutely! But it works is God's time and in God's ways.

Also, we cannot discount free will. Like questions about theodicy, the answer involve the actions of humans as much as it involves the actions of God. No one knows where the lines are drawn between God's action and humankind's free will, so the impact both causes may have on the outcome must be considered.

Furthermore, humans cannot understand the mind or actions of God. God is limitless and above our understanding. There may be reasons beyond our comprehension for God's action or inaction. If we cannot with certainty discern why bumblebees can fly, how can we hope to discern how God chooses how to answer our prayers?

In short, I believe in the love, power and mystery of God. We don't know how God works, and it is enough for me to believe that God is working.

Monday, April 03, 2006


I have FINALLY decided where I am going to school next year: Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. After lots of consideration, prayer, and advice I finally selected a school. Thanks to everyone who helped me with the decision and supported me as I tried to figure things out.

Going to the Porch!
In May I'll be returning to the best summer job I've ever had: Appalachia Service Project. I still have no idea who I'll be on staff with or to which county I'll be assigned, but I'm pumped to get back to something I love so much.

"Ha Ha, Heel Heel, Welcome to Brasil!"
I returned VERY early this morning from a fabulous trip to Brasil (we're the only ones who spell the country with a "z") with the Wesley Foundation. We spent a week working with churches and ministries in Sao Paulo, which was an incredible experience. I don't have much time now to expound on this, but you can look forward to a more complete explanation once I get caught up after spring break.

...And Counting
I graduate from college in six weeks. That means in approximately a month and a half, I will be a college graduate and I'll move away from the city that has been my home for the last four years. My only reaction at this point: Whoa.

That's the news for now, details will be reported as they become available. Until then, wrap your mind around this: Why do people from the U.S. call themselves Americans, when in all actuality anyone from anywhere on the continents of North and South America is technically an American?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Paper Reflections

We all fill out numerous applications in our lives. We apply for jobs, honors, organizations, educational institutions, insurance, credit cards, benefits, and memberships. It's practically impossible to survive in the modern day world without filling out applications. (Think about it, you have to apply for jobs or for welfare and subsidies!) It's shocking the number of applications I have faced in just the first 21 years of my life. I have applied for seventeen educational institutions, not to mention numerous jobs, organizations, and honors. In addition, I've read applications and participated in selection for both jobs and organizations. So, what do these applications really say about us?

An application doesn't really reflect the candidate, it really reflects the person's skills of persuasion. You could be an underwater-basket weaving major, but if you have a high GPA and show leadership and involvement in underwater-basket weaving club and the society for underwater-basket weaving honorary, you may do well in the applicant pool after all. This is not to say that no one is qualified, it is merely to say that we learn how to present ourselves in the most appealing and professional-sounding ways possible. After a few applications, we learn that using buzzwords and filling the whole space provided is as important as actually having the necessary skills and experience.

This is all a strange result of the mixing of a society structured on achievement and our information-saturated media culture. We expect all information to be presented in a crisp, concise, professional manner. We view with skepticism anything that doesn't fit these expectations. While this system works in many ways, it makes me wonder about the people it allows to slip through the cracks.

For instance, a person who speaks four languages fluently, but for whom English is a third or fourth language will struggle in this system because their writing on applications will seem poor. Likewise, people who are quiet servants in the background of organizations and workplaces are constantly overlooked in favor of people who may put in less work, but are extroverted and visible. If two resumes were submitted, but one was in Times New Roman on thick eggshell paper and the other was in Jokerman on tie-dye paper, which would get the job?

Perhaps I have only encountered stodgy selection committees, but this seems to be the trend I observe. While I have been extremely fortunate in my experiences with applications, I wonder at the message of conformity and aesthetics that we present through these processes. It just seems that we've created a self-perpetuating power structure within these institutions, and I am concerned at the results it may have.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Is growing up just a series of goodbyes?

At the risk of sounding like a centenarian ruminating on ages long past, when did I get so old? This is not to say, of course, that I'm particularly old now, but I just realized that it has been years since I saw most of my high school classmates. I was procrastinating on Facebook today, something I do rather often (and a practice which I think is actually the purpose of the site, but that deserves its own entry) and I decided to scan through all the people from my high school who are on Facebook now at their universities. This, for anyone who is familiar with my background, is not a terribly time-consuming feat, as each graduating class from my high school contains only about 60 people, many of whom are not on facebook anyway. The point is, as I scrolled, I identified a huge number of people that I knew in high school, many of whom I talked to on a daily basis, that I have literally not seen since I left for college. I saw tennis teammates, people from my Physics class, girls from my section in choir, and people I danced with at formals that I have had no contact with in years. This brings me to the question: why?

Why is it that, while I live in a tiny town and return there approximately four times a year, have I not seen these people? It is not an act of conscious avoidance, but I don't spend all that much time at home. When I am there, I spend most of my time playing serious catch-up with my closest friends from high school and enjoying my family. I don't make the effort to see lots of people from high school, nor do they make the effort to see me. And, after much thought and not a little regret at first, I have decided that I'm OK with that.

The irony, of course, is that in my senior year of high school we all wandered around talking about how much we'd miss each other, making promises to keep in touch and stay friends, we even sing songs about staying friends and not saying goodbye. Then, after the graduation parties fade away and the thank-you cards have been written, we go our separate ways and may never see each other again. Sure, there are the occasional IM conversations or Facebook messages, but in truth, it's really over. It's no one's fault, really, it's just a result of the nature of distance and the limitations of time.

So, why worry about it? Because I'm a senior again. I am about to repeat the process of graduating and moving on to another place, another group of people, another social sphere. Inevitably, many of my friendships will fade, like the ones from high school. This saddens me greatly. I know that there are lots of people out there and many more friendships to be made. I know that I cannot live totally in the past, clinging to too many distant friends at the expense of building new relationships. Yet it hurts to consider leaving behind the people who have become my world.

In a very depressing way, it becomes a matter of trimming the fat. As with high school, a few friends will stay close, but many will fade away. Which relationships will be valuable enough to both parties to keep them alive? I had a foretaste of this in South Africa, when only a few people took the trouble to stay in contact with me, and I, therefore, only really kept up with a few of them. But this isn't a matter of a semester from which I'll be returning, this is the foreseeable future.

Goodbyes form a cyclical procession. First you move away from home and friends there, losing touch with many of them. Those friends are replaced by new college friends, who you are very close to for about four years, then depart from, allowing many of the friendships to fade. From there you go for further schooling or various jobs, and with each move, you gain and lose a new set of friends. It's a constant cycle of goodbyes.

On the other side of the coin, though, you get a new set of friends with each move. In every new place, there are more people to get to know, more people to build relationships with. It becomes a never-ending process of loss and gain. However, while contact may not be lost, the impact and memory remain. Even though I'm not in touch with many of my friends from high school, even though my relationships with many of my college friends may fade, I have been permanently altered by our interaction and I will never forget the lessons they have taught me. So to all of you, thanks. I miss you. And, if possible, stay in touch.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Faith: Verb

"Evangelism" has become a very loaded word. It has come to be associated with a particular group of Christians who subscribe to Biblical literalism and very conservative views on many subjects. It has become synonymous with the Religious Right, the Left Behind series, creationism, homophobia, and many other political and theological positions. It calls to mind the voices of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Jed Smock. This definition of evangelism is extremely problematic for me, since most of those concepts and people repulse me. I began avoiding the word evangelism at all costs.

I have, however, changed my stance about this word. I have decided to reclaim it. I'm reclaiming it for what it REALLY means: sharing the gospel with people. This definition says nothing about becoming judgmental or taking a specific political or theological position. It implies sharing and dialogue, but beyond that, it implies care. According to psychological theory, until an individual's immediate bodily needs are met that person will be unable to focus on matters beyond that. As it says in James 2:14-17, What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Indeed, how can Christians ever show the love of God by preaching exclusion and judgment? Moreover, how can we preach love without showing care to those around us. Evangelism is not a man standing on campus spewing condemnation, prejudice, and politics at passersby in an uncaring and confrontational manner. Evangelism is reaching out with God's love to everyone you encounter in whatever way you can. It is smiling at the overstressed cashier at Arby's, lending notes to a student who missed class for a funeral, doing yard and house chores for those who can't do it themselves, driving neighbors without cars to the grocery store, and holding the door for the person behind you. It is the thousand little things we can do each day to improve the lives of the people around us; the things that almost always go unnoticed, but can show God's love as much or more than shouting at or handing tracts to passersby.

As St. Francis of Assisi once wrote, "“It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” Walk on.

Monday, February 20, 2006


Returning to an old blog is like finding an old pair of jeans in the back of the drawer and trying them on. Usually you find that you've gained or lost weight, or that styles have changed or you spilled something and couldn't get the stain short that the you had a reason for putting the jeans in the back of the drawer and are now going to demote them even further by tossing them into the garbage can. However, occasionally you find that your favorite old jeans just got stored improperly and you still love them. The faded, worn hems are charming and they still fit like a glove, just the way you wore them in. They still match the sweaters and T-shirts in your wardrobe and you realize that you never want to let them go. They're just comfortable... they're you.

In short, I'm back to this blog full time, now that my African adventure is complete. I'm still me and this medium still works. Write on.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Now that you know, don't you wish you could go back?

Obliviousness quivered with joy,
Innocence glowed with naivete,
And truth stood:
A solid rock
Beneath sheltering, suburban roofs.

But the questions rained
And the roof leaked
And the rock eroded
And the light spluttered out.

The hinges creaked,
The box lid rose
And the apple crunched in mouths
So sour.

Curiosity sated, now fullness makes us sick
Because now we recognize starvation.
The glow no longer blinds us
To pain, death, poverty, cruelty
And our now-stilled hands are stained with blood.

Leaving makes you homesick
And knowledge makes you heartsick,
Inaction makes you guilty,
But action makes it worse.

Yet you can't clorox your mind
In knowledge there's no going back.
All at once you're trapped by your wisdom
Ignorance is no longer a lack.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Faith and Inspiration... from a Rock Star?

U2's Bono spoke to the National Prayer Breakfast on February 2. I have no idea why a rock star was selected to speak at this enormous religious event, but when I saw the transcript of his speech, I was so amazed and impressed that I almost froze in my chair. He spoke the very sentiments that I have thought many times, but he did so in such an eloquent manner that I was nearly breathless as I read his words. While I won't reproduce the entire transcript here, I want to highlight some of his words:

"Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives.

Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone. I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill. I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff. Maybe, maybe not. But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. "If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places."

It's not a coincidence that in the scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. It's not an accident. That's a lot of air time, 2,100 mentions. (You know, the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor.) 'As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me' (Matthew 25:40). As I say, good news to the poor.

[...] And finally, it's not about charity after all, is it? It's about justice.

Let me repeat that: It's not about charity, it's about justice.

And that's too bad.

Because you're good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can't afford it.

But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.
Sixty-five hundred Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about justice and equality.

Because there's no way we can look at what's happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn't accept it. Look at what happened in South East Asia with the tsunami. 150,000 lives lost to that misnomer of all misnomers, "mother nature." In Africa, 150,000 lives are lost every month. A tsunami every month. And it's a completely avoidable catastrophe.

It's annoying but justice and equality are mates. Aren't they? Justice always wants to hang out with equality. And equality is a real pain.

You know, think of those Jewish sheep-herders going to meet the Pharaoh, mud on their shoes, and the Pharaoh says, "Equal?" A preposterous idea: rich and poor are equal? And they say, "Yeah, 'equal,' that's what it says here in this book. We're all made in the image of God."

And eventually the Pharaoh says, "OK, I can accept that. I can accept the Jews - but not the blacks."

"Not the women. Not the gays. Not the Irish. No way, man."

So on we go with our journey of equality. On we go in the pursuit of justice."

I, for one, am impressed. I'm impressed because I believe in justice for ALL PEOPLE, regardless of their location, gender, sexual orientation, economic conditions, political opinions, or religious beliefs. I believe that everyone has a right to be fed, clothed, housed, educated, and provided with health care. After all, what if YOU had been born with AIDS in Niger? What if YOUR CHILD had no opportunity for education because your country didn't have the money to build schools and pay teachers? What if YOUR FAMILY had nothing to eat because desertification or warring had destroyed your crops? What if I were dying from tuberculosis because my family couldn't afford medication to treat me? People in poverty are exactly like us. Shouldn't they be given the care that we would hope to receive? Isn't their survival worth more than our Halliburton contracts? As people of faith, we have an obligation to treat EVERYONE with respect, to maintain the dignity of ALL humankind, and to care for ALL of God's people. It's not about giving money, it's about fixing the institutions of oppression and putting an end to the conditions that cause poverty.

Here's the link for the full transcript:
Check it out if you're willing to be inspired.

For now, here's to dedication to a better future.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Return of the...Jedi? Mac? Something...

I'm back from my South African adventure, safely on U.S. soil, and tucked nicely into the daily habits of school and work. What am I doing now?

Off-Campus Living
I now live with a friend of mine in an off-campus apartment. While the building is very similar in style to a residence hall, it has a totally different aura. In FARC I left the door open constantly and knew that I'd see friends passing every few minutes. My buddies were close-by and I always had people to chill with because they were right down the hall. Our apartment building, however, is eerily quiet. Unlike FARC or the house where I lived in Cape Town, there is dead silence in the hallways and all the doors are closed. While Ashley and I have a great time relaxing in our apartment, I know that if she's not around, I have to take the effort to call someone and go meet them instead of just wandering down the hall and seeing whoever is around. It was also bizarre to return to the dorm to visit, since I hardly know anyone there. After three years of living in that building and knowing nearly everyone, the idea of being a visitor and knowing only a few people is VERY strange. Mostly I avoid the building altogether.

Graduation... Am I really going to do that?
My credits are totalled, my graduation application is filed, and I'm meeting my last requirements right now. I'm actually going to graduate from college. I am thoroughly overwhelmed by the realization that in a few short months I'll be a college graduate. Graduating from college is one of those threshold experiences, one of the last "steps" to being considered a full adult. Every time I think of that, I do a mental double-take. I know that I can handle the responsibilities. I know that I'll be OK. But, to be honest, I still don't feel old enough. I still feel like a seven-year-old that did the Rip Van Winkle-thing and is waking up to being 21 years old with no idea where the time went. It's strange.

Decisions, Decisions
I have applied to seminaries. Now the remaining steps are waiting for replies, interviewing for financial aid/scholarships/fellowships, and deciding. I remember that deciding to go to college was difficult, but I think (although I once considered it impossible) that there are even more factors to consider in choosing a seminary. I have to consider location, distances from Missouri and Ohio, where I want to eventually settle, what specialties I'm looking for, where on the liberal-conservative spectrum I want the school I attend to fall, whether the school has a good balance of academic rigor and practical preparation, how much flexibility the curriculum offers, what the faculty are like, class sizes, spiritual formation, housing costs in the area, whether it's residential or commuter, diversity in the student body, and how the school will look to the committees on Ordained Ministry that I'll need to get approval from in order to get ordained. There are so many things to consider that I can feel my brain oozing out of my hair follicles. To put it succinctly: Oy.

You want me to do WHAT?!
The process of becoming a United Methodist minister involves running an obstacle course that includes leaping through flaming hoops, dancing on one's hands while balancing spinning plates on one's feet, and walking on water, among other things. OK, not really, but it feels like it a lot of the time. It actually involves doing 2 workbooks, completing a series of interviews with committees at various levels, writing letters and papers, passing a psychological exam, providing five letteres of recommendation, getting a physical, and getting a masters degree. The whole process is excruciatingly long and complex. And it's a bit like a reality TV show, in that if at any point someone doesn't like you or what you're doing, they can vote you off the island and make you start all over again. To some extent, I understand. It's essential to make sure that ministers are trustworthy people who are strong and capable enough to serve in this capacity. At the same time I have to ask: What do my weight or the results of my pap smear have to do with my ability to minister to people? How are those things relevant in any way? Above all, why do I have to make those records open to whoever in the UM church wants to see them? It's incredibly invasive and frightening. I'm just trying to keep from drowning or getting a fatal papercut in the sea of paperwork. After all, the fatal papercut would probably be an unacceptable mark on my physical exam and I'd have to start the whole thing over. Yeesh.