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?