Tuesday, November 3, 2009

what are you create-ing?

I can't help but feel a little jolt of shock/excitement/fear/pride when Molly Marshall talks about Central's create program. In her recent blog post, she talks about a donor couple -- longtime supporters of Central -- who have decided to redirect their gifts to our program. They want to "sow seeds for the future," Molly suggested.

The future. Someone believes that my 8 colleagues and I are the future. I must say, it feels pretty remarkable to be believed in to the point that someone wishes to fund our education.

Most days I don't feel like "the future." I feel like a girl stumbling along to find her place in ministry. I feel like the little I think I know is completely overshadowed by all the things I don't understand; all the hurt and need around me; all the voices that wish to limit possibility. The journey is hard and exciting and absolutely terrifying. And I know that I don't want to be anywhere else.

I think about the friends I am journeying with -- Allyn, Quintrell, Patrick, Reggie, David, Gary, Jermine, and Tyler. After three classes together, I know these guys. I may not know them all in their daily contexts, but I know them under pressure; I know them in confusion and tough situations; I know them in the process of development and change.

We are seedlings right now. Rookie ministers who want desperately to run in every direction at once. And slowly, very slowly, roots are beginning to develop. We certainly won't be finished products after the next three years, but I have hope -- which I believe is well-founded -- that we will be much further along in the process once we are pushed out of the Central nest (how's that for mixing metaphors?).

I am unbelievably grateful. Grateful for a place to explore and grow; grateful for a community of such fantastic quality; grateful for those who can see things in us that I can't always see in myself.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

15 minutes of fame

My story is now on the CBTS Web site. Click on my face to read how I ended up at Central and to see a video of me making really goofy facial expressions (and thanks to Francisco, sounding far more coherent than I usually do!).

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

M.A. in Just Desserts

“You need a masters degree just to use a cell phone,” he said. If you met Darryl on the street, you’d scratch your head at his comment. A young, intelligent American, Darryl hardly seems the sort to be outsmarted by technology. But after spending 24 years in a maximum-security prison, Darryl is essentially a stranger in the modern world.

I interviewed Darryl in January and was absolutely astounded by his journey. He was arrested and convicted of murder using the testimony of paid, criminal informants. Though no physical evidence linked him to the crime, he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for 50 years.

Five months later, one of the key witnesses recounted his testimony and signed an affidavit indicating that he lied about seeing the shooting. And yet, nothing happened.

In this case, like many others, justice was not the key issue. Instead, the courts needed someone to blame and punish, so an innocent man went to jail — and remained there for 24 years, until a not-for-profit organization finally convinced the courts to reevaluate.

But the truly amazing thing — the thing that makes me continue to return to his story — is that Darryl carries no trace of bitterness. I asked him about it, because I can’t imagine being imprisoned unjustly for 24 hours without some degree of bitterness, much less 24 years. He responded that he looks to the story of Christ. Jesus, he said, knew what it was like to be punished for a crime he didn’t commit. And Jesus’ response was to pray for those who killed him. For Darryl, being like Christ means forgiving his oppressors.

Six months after talking to Darryl, his ability to forgive still astounds me. My clergy friends who are active in social justice often talk about the need to free both the oppressed AND the oppressors. And while I like to nod and voice my agreement, deep down, I want to remain angry with the oppressors — even when, during my moments of clarity, I recognize that I am one.

The oppressors shouldn’t be freed — they should be imprisoned. Right? Isn’t that what justice demands?

And yet, it never seems to be what Jesus does. Instead, Jesus invites them to see the world differently. Perhaps it is not unlike when my parents would send me to my room as a kid to “think about what you’ve done.” When I emerged, I was expected to discuss my actions, why they were wrong and what I could do differently in the future.

I’m trying to move beyond the idea that justice is some sort of cosmic revenge. I can’t exactly imagine Jesus throwing a few air punches and rejoicing that some “evil doer” (who is always someone other than us) “got what was comin’ to ‘em.”

And maybe that is what Darryl understands and lives out — that true justice is an act of restoration and, yes, of freeing.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Eye see you

When I was younger, I was a pirate. Granted I lived in Jackson, Tenn., which – while rhyming with it – is hardly part of the open sea. And I never hijacked anything, except maybe my little sister’s toys. But I was a pirate – I had the eye patch to prove it.

A few months after I was born, I was diagnosed with amblyopia with strabismus – gigantic words for “a lazy eye and muscle problems.” I had surgery on my eyes at 6 months and began wearing a patch on my left eye (my good eye) in order that its sluggard partner would begin to pull its share of weight.

I remember makings lots of trips to the eye doctor – one in particular who did not appreciate shy, terrified 4-year-olds and would send me out into the waiting room until I was ready to” show him some respect” (speak in his presence).

It’s all part of a world I don’t think about often. But, yesterday during a chat with a friend, I realized it is a world that impacts my life daily.

As a result of my pirate days, my eyes don’t quite work together. My dominant left eye still carries a larger percentage of the seeing burden and, as a result, depth perception is apparently not one of my strong suits. I say apparently, because as someone who doesn’t know any different, I don’t know exactly what kind of depth perception I’m supposed to have.

My friend Jennifer (yes, ANOTHER Jennifer) mentioned that she thinks this causes issues for her with things like parallel parking. I really like that excuse.

As I drove home, I found myself wondering what kind of adaptations I’ve made without ever knowing it. Or what insecurities have always had a medical reason behind it (my feeling the need to be extra-cautious while going down flights of stairs or inclines in the dark, for instance).

I see the world differently, in ways I may not ever comprehend; in ways I never would have known if someone hadn’t pointed it out.

Perhaps there is something metaphorical in there, too. Jesus spoke of those who see. Those who thought they could see were always the ones stumbling at the (lack of) sight of his words. How much do we miss that we never know about? Just what can’t we see?

---
PS: my new FaithLab post is up

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Developing 'golden retriever mind'

This past weekend, I participated in my first contemplative retreat at Mystic Trace, the home of my friends Tom and Kathryn Boone.

The weekend was certainly a learning experience for me. Contemplative practices have both scared and fascinated me, as they don't tend to be encouraged in my Baptist tradition. And having pure-O OCD certainly doesn't help with the quieting of the mind.

But I found the weekend enjoyable. Tom, who is essentially my spiritual director, is good at granting permission and reminding me that there really isn't a "wrong" way to be contemplative. There are no set guidelines to follow, and God isn't sitting somewhere pointing a long finger at me and grimacing because I didn't meditate correctly.

Over the course of the weekend, I read a lot about "beginner's mind," the idea of approaching life not as someone who has it all figured out, but as someone open and eager to learn.

After my recent Faith Lab post on an encounter with the Boones' dog Bob, someone suggested that "golden retriever mind" may be the way to go.

With that in mind, I thought I'd share another story from my weekend here. This is from my retreat journal:

Even here, isolated as I am, it is hard to allow myself to rest fully. I think about my apartment, miles away, and how I need to clean or do laundry when I get home. I think of the stories I need to finish for the next paper. I think about the fact that I am thinking about home and work. Learning to be is hard. I've so long equated being with doing that I don't quite know how to separate the two.

Pixie, the Boone's tiny, easily-excited dog, seems to have it figured out. She runs up to greet me, believing my purpose in being here is for her enjoyment. She then rushes over to my backack and shoes to sniff. When she is satisfied, she bounds into the bedroom — presumably to do the same with whatever she finds there. Out she runs again, pauses to look at me, and disappears down the stairs.

Pixie doesn't take the time to analyze what I think. She doesn't care. She knows who she is and lives in that reality: excited and all over the place.

Perhaps contemplative prayer is less about learning to be silent than it is learning to live excitedly and all over the moment we find ourselves in.

Friday, May 1, 2009

An experiment in faith

What happens when you gather a group of goofy, ministry-minded techies, photographers and writers and ask them to create? The Faith Lab.

I've been a fan of the site for awhile and just became part of the creative writing team. My first blog post, "I Like Dandelions" is now up on the site. Check it out — and wander around the site for awhile. There are some fantastic photos and insightful (as well as laugh-out-loud) reflections.

From the main page, you can see how to become a fan on Facebook and follow The Faith Lab on Twitter.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

On the Capitol steps

Yesterday I joined with several local clergy to lobby our legislators on behalf of the 150,000 children in Missouri living without health care coverage.

We came prepared with our "Testimony to our Legislators," signed by seven of us from the Jefferson City Clergy for Justice (and yes, I realize I'm not a member of the clergy. They let me play because I like justice and am in seminary.).

It starts by saying: "As people of faith, we believe that Missouri's budget is a moral document which should reflect our deepest values: compassion and justice. Compassion and justice — the core values of each of our faith traditions and of our state, whose Seal and Capitol declare: 'let the welfare of the people be the supreme law."

We appealed because we've seen that food pantries can't find enough food to meet the growing needs and because hospital emergency rooms are loosing millions in charity care; because we believe that regardless of where one falls on the political divide, that children ALWAYS deserve the best -- and that includes having access to a doctor when they are sick.

We asked that our legislators translate compassionate concern into fair and equitable public policy -- and outlined s few specific ways they could accomplish that.

And I must admit that overall, it was a frustrating experience. I left feeling talked at rather than listened to. Our representative is a dedicated Catholic who says he prays before "pushing the button."

And yet, I was left with the impression that the Capitol steps were more important than the 10 people who die each week due to lack of health care coverage.

We let our legislators know that we are praying for them as they make decisions. And we assured them that we will be back.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Keep swimming, runners!

(cross-posted from my training blog)

The morning was perfect. Nervous chatting as folks adjusted bib numbers, the "serious" runners logging warm-up miles. "Are you pumped?" asked a random guy, approaching Tiffany and I. He rubbed our shoulders, and I was relieved to discover he was a pacer -- and we just so happened to be standing where his pace group intended to line up. Everyone was all-smiles. And it was raining.

Race day is like a portal to another world. There is a recognition that we have all arrived for the same purpose, and the brother/sisterhood takes over. Someone need only make eye contact and the banter begins.

Fifteen THOUSAND people lined up — in the rain — to run either the half or full marathon in St. Louis.

T and I crossed the starting line 15 minutes after the race began and marveled at the mass of people spread out in front of us. We were somewhere between the back of the mid-pack and the front of the back-pack, but the folks in front of us seemed to go on for miles -- and given that the elites started 15 minutes before we reached the starting line, I suppose we literally DID stretch on for miles.

Garmin was off almost immediately. Seven minutes after we crossed the start, it beeped at me that we'd completed a mile. While we'd surged in front of the pace group we were lined up with, we knew it was impossible that we'd run that fast.

The course passes by a lot of fun things in the downtown area -- the stadium, Union Station, the brewery. The brewery is at one of the first loops, and we circled around it to the parallel road, where a Clydesdale was waiting to cheer us on (or stand there proudly as we all oohed and aahed).

I was impressed that I actually recognized a lot of the course from last year. Familiar buildings and intersections... and even remembered enough to know some of the changes. "Didn't we continue on that street last year?"

All along the route were spectators. This was especially impressive due to the rain. Favorite signs along the route: "You are nowhere near 'almost done'" (just after mile 1), and "Keep Swimming, Runners!" (somewhere around mile 6, I think). There was also a group of guys -- one playing guitar, another with a tambourine. No umbrellas.

We runners were insane for being out there, but the spectators were certifiable. I spoke to a few as we ran by, to thank them for cheering us on -- "we're the die-hards," I was told. And they were. And certainly appreciated as the miles ticked by, and I found myself daydreaming about dry socks... and a towel.

By the time the course split and the marathoners and half marathoners went their separate ways (just after mile 9), the rain got harder. While my wicking fabrics had done a good job of making me feel as if I wasn't drenched (even though I was), there was no fooling me now. And with the wind, it was no longer just wet -- it was COLD. And I was losing steam.

I took one of Tiffany's gels (granted, a bit late in the game) and grabbed a gatorade at the fuel station and began feeling a little bit better... but by mile 10 I was ready for the end. If folks in deserts see mirages of water; in the midst of all the water, I could practically see dry socks! But I still had a lot of up hills to conquer to reach the finish.

When I saw the 26 mile marker (the half and full courses came back together and finished at the same spot), I began picking up the pace. Passed the 13 mile marker and spent the last .1 mile trying to figure out if my running skirt was falling off. It wasn't, but apparently the faster pace made me realize just how drenched it was and gave me the illusion. So as I crossed the finish line, I was busy holding up my skirt!

Got the medal and stumbled over to the post-race area, which was essentially a giant mud puddle. Lots of folks were joking around "well, if you didn't twist an ankle during the race, you will now!"

We waddled back to the metro station and rejoiced at the chance to FINALLY sit down.

Overall, it was a good day. My finish time wasn't too far behind my time last year, which was amazing since I walked more this year (and encountered more hills.... in the rain!). I'm pleased with the result.

My shoes, which are STILL drying, may be forever mud covered. I'm just hoping they lose the mildew scent they were starting to develop yesterday.... hmmm, they may go into early retirement!

Any suggestions for my next half?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Hope fulfilled

I awoke with a great sense of relief. Easter is FINALLY here. It may seem a ridiculous thing to say, as Easter is a celebration of something that happened long ago. But in many ways, Easter is new for me every year. The Lenten season drains me. Self reflection is hard, painful work. Between recognizing myself for who I really am and experiencing the mental and emotional journeying with Christ toward the cross, I usually find myself stumbling around toward Easter.

And somehow, the Holy surprise finds me. Like the women who approached the tomb over 2,000 years ago, I never find what I expect. I come carrying my burial clothes and arrive to discover a flower blooming in a tiny mountain crevice. Life has overtaken death; grace has overtaken my guilt.

As I drove home from services today, I found myself struck that this holy day isn't as much about new life as it is changed life. In other words, Christ didn't die to create something new or start over, but because of great love for the people all around. Christ looked at what was and saw all that could be. He died not to make me a new creation, but to remind me (us) of the creation I (we) already am (are) - of the identity God already gave me (us).

In reading John's depiction of the graveside encounter, it is easy to laugh at the way he writes about himself. He outruns Peter on the way to the tomb -- and let's not forget his favorite way to refer to himself, as "the one Jesus loved." As this Lenten season progressed, I can't help but wonder if his reference was a reminder to himself -- that he was, in fact, loved. When all seems dark, it is easy to think that a perfect Christ is repulsed and turned away by all of our failings. In the midst of self evaluation, it is easy to adopt Paul's idea that I am the "chief sinner." Perhaps one of Easter's greatest messages is that while I am chief among sinners, that I am also the one that Christ loves... and that he doesn't love the perfect vision of me, but the me I am now. Christ loves me -- loves all of us -- in the middle of our failings.

And honestly, that is hard for me to grasp. Like the women at the tomb, I'm completely flustered by the news of Easter and don't quite know what to do with it. Mark suggests they ran away afraid and, in their astonishment, kept silent. Other gospels suggest the disciples didn't believe until they saw for themselves -- and even then they saw and walked with Christ without recognizing his presence among them.

While exciting, hope fulfilled is also scary. I think it is easy to feel as if the job is completely done -- and there is a sense in which that is true. I believe that Christ's life, death and resurrection ushered in the kingdom of God. Might our new responsibility be to actually live there? What does it look like to live the good news? How might we live out the love that Jesus poured out upon us?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Moments of grace

Holy week is upon us, and I'm exhausted. After a hard week and action-packed weekend, I feel like I'm hobbling toward Easter. I'd been reading "The Last Week" this past week, attempting to read each chapter on the day (a week ahead) that it corresponds with. As I focus on the original Holy week, I can't help but wonder about the exhaustion of Jesus during this week. I suppose it may be fitting that I'm stumbling along.

Today's gospel reading is the "triumphal entry" -- a goofy, creative and subversive entrance preceding the Passover festivities. As we discussed the passage this morning, I was struck by the inclusion of Christ. Jesus invited his friends and followers, as well as strangers along the way to enter into the bringing of the Kingdom of God.

The Upper Room noticed something similar in today's daily devotion -- Luke mentions that "they set Jesus on [the donkey]." Jesus didn't climb up alone, but relied on others as he rode into town, Pamela Hawkins writes.

This weekend I covered the Baptist Border Crossing in Liberty, MO. The three-day event was designed to bring Baptists of all stripes together in order to "cross borders" -- to get to know each other and respect each other in order to bring peace and understanding.

The event was full of invitations to be creative. The opening sermon was a call to "color outside the lines," following in the footsteps of little children who "have no political commitment to the lines."

To follow Christ requires a creativity that stretches beyond the lines that the powers that be have drawn. Indeed, it is the type of call that would lead Jesus to parody the triumphal entry of the Roman leaders by riding on an unbroken donkey. While others have suggested he chose such an animal to show his power over all creatures, I prefer to picture the donkey behaving as an untrained animal -- not wanting to stay on course or be lead... Jesus laughing while the animal weaves back and forth throughout the crowd.

Because this new kingdom isn't like the kingdom of Rome. It isn't about showy war horses and demonstrations of power. It isn't the traditional system that values the haves over the have nots. Instead, if is a spontaneous celebration among the peasants. A goofy ride into town showcasing an animal that has never been given a chance. An invitation for the least of these to be in a position of honor -- to serve and BE served by the King.

Moments of grace.

I had a chance to witness another such moment after urging a friend to speak to Tony Campolo after the session he lead at the Border Crossing. She was intimidated due to his popularity as a speaker and author of 30+ books. I pushed her forward, offering to photograph the meeting (which I did). And I saw him turn to her and ask about what she was doing with her life; his rejoicing when she mentioned that she is in seminary. And then he embraced her, whispered a blessing and kissed her cheek (He then proceeded to do the same with me, the girl who stole his seat while he was speaking).

Not that Tony is comparable to a king, but as a keynote speaker for the event, taking the time to care about a stranger in Missouri -- call her by name and learn something about her -- is a beautiful expression of grace, a depiction of the little ways that we have the opportunity to bring about the kingdom of God here and now...

What moments of grace will you offer this week?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Names

So, I admit it -- I was in a bad mood. I didn't want to be there, and I didn't want anyone to talk to me. And more than that, I wanted to judge them all for NOT talking to me. All I wanted to do was find the door and get out, but I was stuck in a far corner and would have to pass by far too many people in order to sneak out.

I was on the third story of a church. A HUGE church. A church with escalators. Outside the room was a coffee bar area, where I'd just heard a woman ask for a second glass of white wine. At 9 a.m.

And did I mention this was a dream? No... well, it was.

I chuckled slightly at the woman with her white wine, but quickly resumed my bad mood as I walked into the room and painstakingly found a seat alone, in a corner. The set-up was rather restauranty. I was on the edge of a booth-like seat that went across the entire back of the room. In front of me was a small, two-person table with a chair on the other side.

"Get ready, the street smokers are coming," someone said. Even in dreamland, such a statement seemed odd. Street smokers? What does that mean?

Apparently it meant a group of folks in their early 20s with various shades of blue and pink hair who stumbled into the church either drunk or high, or both. Perhaps they were invited by white wine woman.

Anticipating the stench of old cigarette smoke, I wasn't thrilled about these folks invading my space. Especially since all I wanted to do was leave. But my corner is where they landed.

As soon as I looked at the girl next to me, my entire attitude changed. I've often heard it said that people look as if they were carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. If that is said about the averaged stressed-out person, this girl was carrying the entire Milky Way (the galaxy, not the candy bar). I could feel tears welling up.

"I don't even know this girl, why should looking at her make me cry?"

She looked at me, lip twitched it what seemed to be a greeting. Her gaze went back to the floor. Or through the floor. Or whatever it is that one is looking at when s/he is obviously not seeing what is right there.

"Are you okay?" I finally voiced.

"No."

I placed my hand on her back, an awkward attempt at humanity and interaction. She lost it. Though we had never met, she crumbled into my embrace and cried. After a few moments she asked my name. "Jennifer. What's yours?"

"I don't have one."

Don't have a NAME? Is that possible?

She began telling me a story about a past relationship, although "relationship" is a loose term here. A member of the clergy had apparently won her trust and then abused her. It was hard to make out many of the details, her cries muted and muffled the words she was trying to say. But somehow this person, this hurt was connected to her not having a name.

Instantly, I saw myself walking under trees, with beautiful pink blooms. It was peaceful and beautiful "I have called you by name" echoed in my mind.

And I woke up. I don't think I have ever felt as much in a dream as I did last night.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

An unconventional search for building materials

I'm a thief. I admit it. I like taking things from other traditions and implementing them into my own life. Most recently, I'm stealing from the Catholics. More specifically, I'm stealing the Saints -- especially Francis.

I've been slowly making my way through Chesterton's "Saint Francis of Assisi." I've always had an affection for St. Francis, built upon references to him in song -- or the fantastic signs around San Francisco (gee, wonder where that name came from...) quoting him as reasons to care for the homeless.

My favorite St. Francis story so far is the beginning of his monastic journey. He felt called to fix the church, so he set about doing so in a literal manner -- sold a bunch of his father's cloth to get the money and was flatly refused when he offered it to the church for rebuilding/renovation work.

When his father found out, he took Francis to court. Francis literally stripped down, handed his father his clothes (as his father had provided them) and essentially said "to this point, you have been my father, but now my father is God in Heaven." And he walked away.

Naked.

I imagine quite a few people were around. I can't help but wonder what they were thinking. Francis was apparently a really likeable sort of fellow. He was a singer-poet type who never quite seemed to get money. He'd either spend it all at once or rush off and give it all away. And now, he's completely lost his mind and handed his father everything he was wearing. In public.

While I'm quick to judge the father, I'm guessing he was really like most of us. He thought his son was being irresponsible -- after all, he needed the money from his business in order to provide for his family.

I imagine there were a lot of giggles. A lot of bewildered looks and one flabbergasted father. Was he embarrassed? Was he merely ashamed of his son?

Chesterton gives the impression that Francis thought nothing of walking out naked. He just walked down the street, through the woods and ended up at the door of a priest. I don't know many priests today who expect folks to show up at their door NAKED.

It's completely ridiculous.

And I think it may just be what the Kingdom of God looks like.

And, by the way, Francis did continue efforts to fix the church -- he began begging for building materials and showed up to do it himself. "Wasn't that the guy who walked out of the courtroom naked?" "Yeah, I think so! We should give him bricks..."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Quenching thirst


Last Saturday, my running buddy Tiffany and I were excited to have a Spring-like day for our 8-miler training run. After about mile 3, my saliva turned into paste, and she commented that her mouth was turning to cotton. Our trail suddenly transformed into a virtual desert and we began having hallucinations about families standing beside creeks (no wait, we really do run by a creek...).

Our new goal became making it to the comfort station, where we knew there was a water fountain. By the time we arrived, we were imagining exactly what the water would taste like and how it would feel. I pressed down on the magic water fountain button and... nothing. I waited a few seconds and tried again. The abundant streams of water I had been fantasizing about never came. The fountain was dry.

So we looked at the door... of course! The bathroom. We each cupped our hands under the sink and cringed at the not-so-pleasant taste of the sink water, assuring ourselves we were only four more miles away from Schnucks -- the neighborhood grocery store that had not one, but TWO water fountains in the front hallway.

We vowed never to go on a long run without our fuel belts -- featuring small water bottles -- again.

Sunday, March 22 is World Water Day. My ridiculous running story is about all I know about thirst, but my friends at WaterPartners remind me that 884 MILLION people still don't have access to safe drinking water. Each year, over 3.5 million people die from water-related disease.

While I am running and marking drinking spots along my route, millions of women and children have to walk miles to find ANY water -- and often, their sources aren't nice comfort stations, but polluted water sources.

I share these statistics, not to overwhelm, but to encourage your help. For just $25, you can provide someone will clean water for the rest of his/her life. Visit my firstgiving page to find out more and donate.

You can also help simply by searching the Web. Goodsearch.com is a search engine powered by yahoo. Thanks to advertising revenue, they are able to donate approximately 1 cent for every Web search you do. I GoodSearch for WaterPartners, I encourage you to join me. GoodSearch also has a shopping feature, allowing some of your purchasing dollars to be donated. In the last two years, an estimated $134 has been contributed to WaterPartners just through Web searches.

Join me in saving lives.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Born to sing

(cross-post from my running blog)
"I was born; I was born to sing for you..."

I can always count on U2 to boost my energy level and lift my spirits. As I drove to the trail to meet Tiffany for our 5:30 a.m. run, Bono and the boys were busy making sure I was awake.

U2's song "Magnificent" blasted from the speakers. And I thought about the idea that I was born for God's enjoyment.

Several Christian fantasy writers (Madeleine L'Engle and C.S. Lewis to name a few) have touched upon the idea of God singing the world into creation; that there is some song at the heart of the world that we catch glimpses of in our best moments.

In a recent conversation with a friend, we discussed the beauty of nature. My friend suggested that he sees an example of faithfulness in the created world, as the trees are doing exactly what they are designed to do. In the most basic of terms, it is an act of worship. "Even the rocks cry out."

As Tiffany and I set out in the dark, I thought about the different parts of my body doing what they were designed to do; the information traveling from my brain to my legs and back to my brain; my lungs expanding and contracting; my heart rate rising as blood pumped through my body...

The trees, the creek, the human body all do what they were designed for... and it all happens involuntarily. Water doesn't think about rushing over the stones; trees don't ponder whether or not they will grow; I don't consciously tell my body to take in more air or pump blood faster...

And yet, when it comes to the human will, we have a choice. I may have been born to be with and sing for God... but am I? Will I?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore



My Baptist roots haven't taught me much about the Saints. My pastor growing up preached about telling the congregation to turn to their neighbor and introduce themselves as "Saint (insert name here)." One man turned to his neighbor and suggested he didn't want to refer to himself as a saint. The neighbor urged him on, saying that we are all saints through Christ. "No, you don't understand," the man replied. "My name is Bernard."

And the collective groan rattled the building.

I'm thankful that more and more evangelical types are realizing that protestants made a mistake in trying to flee from all things "Catholic." Hard to run from church tradition without dropping essential life-giving elements of faith along the way.

In attempt to reclaim some of those deep and beautiful traditions, I've been trying to read about the great men and women of faith.

Due to the time of year, Saint Patrick has been the latest to jump across my radar screen. He was captured at age 16 and taken to Ireland as a slave. He managed to escape and return to Britain at around age 20.

BUT, he had a dream where the people of Ireland begged him to come back. So he studied to be a priest and, after being ordained a bishop, returned to minister in Ireland.

And while he did amazing things in Ireland, my fascination lies in his willingness to return to the land where he was a slave. I wonder what it takes to do that. What were his thoughts? What kind of advice did his family offer?

Catholic.org emphasizes that Patrick was a man of prayer. During his captivity, he prayed continuously.

"The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was rosed, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same," he wrote. "I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain."

Patrick had the sort of faith -- the sort of love -- that erased "us/them" borders. The Irish weren't "those people who imprisoned him," but beloved brothers and sisters. In fact, according to St. Patrick's confession, he viewed his time in slavery as punishment from God for neglecting his faith -- as well as a wake-up call, giving him the opportunity to turn to the one who "watched over me as a father would a son."

This St. Patrick's Day, I celebrate a man who took a bold step in faith, and a God who inspires love that crosses all divides.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

On life and death

I've found myself revisiting a favorite poet this week. I've been fond of John Keats since a high school English teacher discussed "When I have fears" with us. That poem remains one of my favorites, and I find myself turning back to it every now and then.

I always feared my lit professors would worry about my mental health since I always tended to write papers about death. I not only wrote about "Fears" in my Romantic Lit class, but I wrote diary entries from the perspective of Fanny Brawne in response to letters Keats wrote -- and reflecting on his death.

My ethics professor has suggested that we cannot help others walk toward death until we have thought about our own. I'd also suggest that life doesn't make a lot of sense without pondering the end -- when we have "shuffled off this mortal coil," as Shakespeare would say.

Sunday evening I received the news that a pastor (Fred Winters) in Illinois was shot and killed during the Sunday morning service. My editor, who knew the man for 20 years, had only good things to say about his character. But I have found the church's response to be even more telling. In report after report, I have seen urgings from the church to pray for the young shooter. Their first response -- along with deep grief -- has been grace.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Fred, but I can't help but think the response of his church must be a result (in part) of the life he lived. He didn't know that Sunday would be his last day in the pulpit, his last opportunity (here, anyway) to kiss his wife and hug his kids. But I think his death showed that he knew something about the art of living.

As David Bazan sang in the Pedro the Lion song "Priests and Paramedics," "We're all gonna die / could be twenty years, could be tonight." I find myself wondering what my death will say about me.

In a recent issue of the Baptist Standard, editor Marv Knox asked if the community would notice if your church were to disappear. Would the community -- or the church -- notice if *I* disappeared? Am I living my life in a way that brings good news? In a way that brings "up there" a little closer to the "down here?"

I wrestle often with how I am to live, and I am thankful for the Fred Winters among us who inspire us to live with more love and more grace.

May God comfort those who are mourning, and may God teach us all how to love more deeply.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

some.nice.things

Things that make me smile today:
* hints of Spring * Bigelow's Vanilla Caramel tea * strawberries * songs based on "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" * a job I enjoy * watching kids and parents march across the parking lot of the dentist office next door * baby Dino * the baby from this year's king cake * missional conversations * sunflowers * accidental voice mail messages * found poetry * The Peace Book * One More Mile running apparel * Tom's shoes * e-mailed mix albums from Chad Thomas Johnston * a box labeled "big smile" * Madeleine L'Engle * the time/space continuum * girls' night at the theater * John Keats * etsy * prayer *

What made you smile today?

EDIT: In honor of National Grammar Day (which, unfortunately, I missed...): Strong Bad grammar songs!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A missionary's what?

We were laying on sleeping bags looking up at the stars. Miles away from the nearest electric light, the stars had no competition and dazzled us with clarity and brightness we never experienced at home. "Do you think women can be pastors?" someone asked.

On a mountain in Panama, a diverse group of students from a southern Baptist college were pulled from the never-ending sky into a black hole of controversy.

Years before, I was pulling weeds that had grown through the concrete of a church parking lot. My church youth group had traveled a considerable distance to sing some songs and assist a small church as it struggled to care for its property and minister to a changing neighborhood. So I pulled weeds.

It was satisfying work, grabbing hold and removing the menacing plant from the ground. One of the trip sponsors looked at me and stated, "Jennifer, you'd make a good missionary's wife."

Missionary's wife? Did such a thing exist? Weren't women married to missionaries typically ALSO missionaries?

His well-meaning compliment stuck in my side like a thorn from one of the weeds I pulled. Though I had grown up in a Southern Baptist church and had a general understanding that women as Pastor were frowned upon, it was an issue that stayed hidden -- somewhere back in a broom closet in the "old part" of the building that winded like a maze on the second floor. This was the first time anyone had ever suggested that there was a career I couldn't have because of my gender.

That next year, I announced to my youth minister (they were "ministers," not "pastors" in my home church) that I intended to follow in his footsteps. "I think I'm called to youth ministry," I suggested. He smiled, "I think you will marry a pastor."

My parents had always told me I could be anything I wanted to be. Were they wrong?

On the mountain in Panama, my fellow students were divided. "I think women can be in church ministry roles, just not THE PASTOR," stated one. "What if that is God's call for her?" asked another. "Didn't Paul say that women shouldn't be leaders?" responded a third.

The conversation stayed at a discussion tone, but the answers to the question were deeply important for some: the one female pastoral studies major, for one. And while I was no longer focused on youth ministry, I still had that nagging question in my head.

As my understanding of Scripture expanded, I found that women leaders are sprinkled throughout the Bible. My question has faded, but as Pastor Nadia points out, many women (and men) are still being left to answer it. "There is something unusual about serving in a profession where there are entire institutions in America where women are not allowed to do my job," she wrote.

Isn't it about time we allowed our daughters and sons to focus on more important things -- like the stars?

Monday, March 2, 2009

A matter of great importance

I'm sure you will all agree that this is, by far, the most important blog I have written.

Tomorrow, U2's new album, "No Line on the Horizon" will be released worldwide!!

Let there be much rejoicing =0)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Return to ashes

"From dust you were created, and to dust you will return."

I can't think about Ash Wednesday without remembering Anne Lamott's story. She talks about scattering the ashes of her father and her friend Pammy. "They're impossible to let go of entirely," she writes. While it is an odd story, I find the idea of ashes clinging beautiful. As I think about today, I picture Anne tasting the ashes of her friend.

And yes, it is creepy.

For those not used to thinking about death, the entire Lenten season is creepy. We stumble toward the cross, pondering our own mortality.

I grew up fascinated by Lent, likely the effects of being an evangelical in Louisiana. My church didn't observe the season, but the community and culture around me did. We got out of school for Mardi Gras. One year, I even learned the French National Anthem to sing with an ensemble for one of the local parades. The school cafeteria resorted to serving fish on Fridays and all over town one would see invitations to fish fries.

The Episcopal church down the street had a large wooden cross next to the church sign. Throughout Lent, fabric would be draped on the cross, bearing the colors of the season. Even before I understood the significance, I enjoyed when we drove by and saw the colors changing throughout the season.

These days, evangelicals are more likely to be schooled in Lenten practices. My Baptist church will have an Ash Wednesday service tonight, and while we aren't yet brave enough to mark crosses on each other's foreheads, we join our brothers and sisters in being symbolically marked for death.

And perhaps, in the midst of communion, I'll think about Anne Lamott, licking her friend's ashes off her fingers... in that nice, symbolic sense, I suppose that is exactly what we'll being doing.

EDIT I stand corrected. First: I mistakenly mentioned communion because I was thinking too far ahead in the Lenten season. Second: we did indeed impose ashes this year. Who knew, my Baptist church is growing up ;0) And yes, I did taste them.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Life as a spiritual refugee

I admit it. I have a love/hate relationship with the church. Several years ago, my friend Chad and I served as college interns at the church we both attended in Springfield. Both of us were injured church-goers, licking our wounds and hiding from loud denominational noises. We had each seen the mildewing underbelly of churches whose leaders spewed out Christianeze, but thought only of notches in their salvation belts. And slowly, we watched the beauty of our faith turned into something militant and predictable. The mystery was gone.

And so we became spiritual refugees, hiding in the third floor of this new (to each of us) church, trying to remember why we felt Christian community was so important to begin with. Many weeks, Post Traumatic Church Disorder would spring up in unexpected places, and the two of us would flee the building for the safety of mexican food and movies.

Along the way we met other spiritual refugees who would join us for a weekly faith and film class. The hodgepodge of spiritual misfits coming together to watch movies and discuss the meeting place of faith and culture helped heal wounds, perhaps in all of us.

The gathering of broken individuals stumbling around in search of grace was beautiful and reminded me of why I loved church; why I kept coming back, despite my duck-and-run impulses. And the sanctuary of community (and the cinema!) helped quiet the need to flee.

Last semester, I created a personal Code of Ministry Ethics for a class I was in. While I'm not a licensed or ordained as a pastor and have never served on a church staff (unless you count the college intern role), I often find myself playing the part to various people in my life. My copy of the Code is signed by seminary colleagues, and reminds me not only of the promises I've made concerning ministry conduct, but of the powerful repercussions that breaking such codes can cause.

This week, I've heard story after story of folks — of friends — who have been deeply hurt by the hands of the church. Whether or not the church causes the first abuse, churches often cause re-victimization and further harm. Instead of being the hands and feet of Christ, we cover up the "unsightly" by removing personhood and shifting blame. And those wounds we inflict can be deadly — if not physically, then mentally, spiritually and relationally.

We are all broken. And we desperately need someone to listen, to affirm, to help us as we scramble around searching for grace.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

We lift them up

This morning a choral piece written by Pepper Choplin has been running through my head. The church choir has been working on it, and I fell in love the first time Rod played it for us. The words are fairly simple. The basic gist is, "Pray for the person on your left. Pray for the person on your right. They may seem strong, but we don't know all of the struggles and the burdens they hold. We pray, Lord we pray, give them power to face the day."

Prayer is something I think about often. I wonder what significance it holds. Theologians seem to debate the purpose of prayer quite often, as well. Does prayer change God's mind? Does it cause external things to happen? Or does it merely change the heart of the person praying? Might the purpose of prayer be to open one's self to hear from God? Maybe a combination of some or all these things?

I'm not sure.

One of my favorite movies is Shadowlands, the story of CS Lewis and Helen Joy Gresham. Jack (as Lewis is called by friends) realizes he is in love with Joy while she is in the hospital, being diagnosed with terminal cancer. A well-meaning friend tries to encourage him by saying that Jack has been praying and now God is answering. Jack says that isn't why he prays. "I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because I can't help it. The need flows out of me all the time waking and sleeping. Praying doesn't change God. It changes me."

Elsewhere, Lewis wrote that praying for others causes a change of heart. That as one prays for another, he or she begins to see the same need in his/her own life.

While this is certainly not the extent of Lewis' thoughts on prayer — or even praying for the needs of others (the book "Letters to Malcolm" deals with the issue, as do others of his works) — I find the ideas intriguing. To pray because one NEEDS to pray, regardless of the outcome. It's an idea I rather like. It is humbling, recognizing the otherness, the biggerness of God; recognizing the great need that we have — even when we aren't sure what that need actually is. We can't figure life out, and so we pray.

As we pray for others to have "power to face the day," we recognize hurts that we may not have noticed. We are opened to have compassion for those around us. And we are more likely to recognize our own need for that same power.

Beyond that, I'm not sure. But like Lewis, I find the need flows out of me. And so I pray.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The cost of Justice

For some reason complete strangers like to tell me their life stories. It always takes me by surprise. Within half an hour of meeting someone — often without exchanging names — I know more about a stranger than I do about people I have known for years. The conversations never begin with me, and I often don't say more than a few words — yet there it is, a heart-wrenching story that asks nothing from me but a listening ear.

Often, such as the case of "Saint Rick," I never see these folks again. But the stories — usually tragic, but strangely motivational — always stick with me.

I don't recall how it came up, but while still standing in the board room at a trustee's meeting yesterday, I found myself discussing the fairly new film "Slumdog Millionaire" (which I almost always accidentally type as "Slumgod." hrmmmm...). The film tells the story of Jamal Malik, a rather unlikely contestant on India's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." This "slumdog" is doing remarkably well — to the point that he is believed to be cheating. After all, what does an uneducated, impoverished orphan know? The film gives a rather brutal depiction of how he came to know the answers, and by doing so, gives insight into the lives of India's poor.

My friend suggested that we don't like knowing such things go on in the world. I countered that I simply don't like that such things occur. The more I think about it, however, the more I think she captured me more fully than I like to believe.

Last night, I read a blog update from my friend Gary Snowden. He is back in Guatemala, leading a team from his church in Lee's Summit. They have been working with a church in San Marcos, bringing bags of groceries and a listening ear to those who desperately need both.

I find myself wondering about the systemic problems that produce such poverty. Is it lack of clean water, lack of education, government corruption? And how can someone sheltered by living in a rich country possibly help? I find myself without answers.

I climbed into bed last night, planning to do some reading before falling asleep. Instead, I found myself looking around my room and observing the luxuries that surround me. The stack of books by my bed. Clothes hanging in the closet. Curtains on the windows and art on the walls. An extra bedroom that simply holds stuff. Food in my kitchen. Heck, I often have to throw away food, because vegetables and leftovers go bad before I finish them.

I want justice, but only on my terms; and my terms include my own comfort. In my ministerial ethics class last semester, we discussed money and the Scriptural way of using it. Many of us admitted that we believe the way we use our money is sinful, but that we were too selfish and too scared to make the changes we believe we are called to.

I hereby admit that I am the person talking about in "Hotel Rwanda." I hear the stories, mourn for them, but then return to my dinner and the latest episode of a TV show. I'm the girl who slaps a Save Darfur magnet on my car and drives on, believing I've done my duty.

But that isn't justice. Hearing and remembering isn't enough. And I confess I'm too caught up in my own culture to know how I'm supposed to live. Have mercy, O God.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The fantasy of faith

I've found myself thinking about the oddities of my faith a lot this week. It is incredibly messy, and I really like that about myself.

Last week, a friend posted a blog asking how Christians can view God as "good" in light of the Hebrew Scriptures. Is a God who assists people in eradicating entire cities, who flooded the world really good? I had to admit that such passages give me pause. That I wonder if such historical stories tell us more about the people's perception of God than the reality of God. That the story and hope I gain is that throughout the Hebrew Scripture is a woven tale of God loving God's people; of God going to amazing lengths to display that love. Strangely enough, the response from my post-Christian friend was that if he returned to Christianity, it would be my brand. And here I just thought I was confused.

On Sunday, instead of watching the Super Bowl, I went on a walk (you can read the tale of that experience on my running blog at silverlinedjenn.blogspot.com). Since my buddy Chad has been bugging me about the downloadable lectures at Veritas ("Denfolls, go to Veritas NOWS" -- this may or may not be the place to note that Chad and I most often write to each other in the phonetic rendition of five year olds missing their front teeth. Which can be interesting when we are discussing issues of depth), I downloaded a few lectures of some folks I dig and transferred them to my seldom-used mp3 player.

As I walked, I listened to Madeleine L'Engle discuss fantasy and faith. She discussed the idea that truth is often somewhere beyond facts. That faith is best addressed in fantasy instead of theology, because it is something beyond the realm of mere facts.

"A Wrinkle in Time" was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. To this day, whenever I wish I could get somewhere faster or miss a friend who is far away, I wish for the ability to wrinkle in time. And I hope my recollection of that part of the book is accurate enough for that sentiment to mean something. I desperately need to reread that series!

Madeleine is another messy faith sort of person. And dreadfully honest -- I love it. After the lecture, she was asked by an atheist about the "fantasy of God." "That fantasy has always seemed too simple," he said. Ah, but it is the most difficult fantasy in the world, Madeleine responded. And I find myself agreeing. I don't find faith easy. Perhaps it is my questioning, cynical nature, but I struggle regularly to believe. Madeleine said "If I believe in God wholly and completely for two minutes every 7 or 8 weeks, I'm doing well... it is life-threateningly difficult, but it matters."

I've begun following the blog of Nadia Bolz-Weber, a rather unlikely ordained minister in the Lutheran church. My buddy (and pastor) Jeanie introduced me to her by sending a sermon Nadia preached recently on the confession of Peter. In it she states: "I often have people say to me 'I can’t say the apostles creed because I’m not sure I believe all of it' Well, do I believe every line of the Apostles creed when I say it? Sometimes yes, but sometimes no. But here’s the thing. In a congregation….for each line of the creed there is probably someone there who believes it. So we are covered. Because it’s not my creed. It’s the church’s creed and I, thank Jesus, am a very small part of the church. When we confess our faith, the Body of Christ carries the faith for one another. As a body. On each other’s behalf. God creates faith in community where we daily convert each other to Christianity."

Since I'm pulling from all this great women of faith, I should pull in my friend Robin, who first introduced me to the idea of the church community carrying faith for us. I think it is a lovely thought. I mentioned on my running blog that my training partner and I need each other to believe in each other's running abilities -- Tiffany (another great woman of faith) believes that we can be faster, while I urged us to become marathoners, believing we could handle the distance. If such interdependence is necessary in something as inconsequential as running, how much more so is it true in faith?

While the Baptist church doesn't tend to recite creeds in the manner of our mainline friends, each song we sing and Scripture we read is a creed of sorts. And through that collective action, we believe together, for each other. You taking these two minutes, and maybe me finding the strength to carry the next.

And to tie up and sum up what is impossible to tie or sum, it is in that deep mystery -- that fantasy -- that I find a God who is good. A God beyond my comprehension or ability to believe -- but a God who makes all the work of faith worth it.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Life in the headlines

I adore what I do for a living. As I watch others who are unhappy with their job or looking for the next great career opportunity, I find myself incredibly thankful to be right where I am. Growing up, I was the kid who didn't have the faintest clue what I wanted to do with my life. In the sixth grade, I declared what I wanted to be a singer. I am proud to say that there was a year or so I wanted to be a writer — unfortunately, by high school I ruled out that ridiculous idea. I was going to be a youth minister. No, a missionary. Being a missionary is good and vague. All you have to do is move to a foreign country and love God. Surely THAT is the job for me.

I've been a full time journalist for over four years now and still feel the need to pinch myself to see if it is real. Someone pays me to write and put stories and photos on a page? REALLY?

In college, I remember aspiring writers joining the newspaper staff and complaining about how boring newspaper style was. "You can't even use adjectives — where's the creativity in that?"

Is there something more creative than climbing into someone else's brain and digging around to learn how they view life? (And look, Mom — no adjectives!) I enjoy writing about people — figuring out how to express on paper the essence of a person. I haven't figured it out yet, and perhaps that is what keeps pulling me back to the next story. And, of course, everyone has a story to tell. And I've learned that often the most fascinating people are the one's who don't think they have a story.

So I hate to break it to you doctors, lawyers, teachers, singers and, yes, missionaries. I have the best job in the world.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

In retrospect...

Had I known when I wrote it that my blog on Guatemala would end up in the BGCM E-Newsletter, I would have expressed my deep appreciation for allowing Word&Way -- for allowing ME -- to join the team in early January. I certainly have a much clearer understanding of the BGCM partnership and hope I'm able to transfer some of what I've learned to W&W readers. While this blog is not affiliated with Word&Way, I think I can speak on behalf of the staff in saying that we are truly grateful for the relationship we have with BGCM.

I hope you'll enjoy the coverage in the Jan. 29 issue. It represents just a small portion of the great work you (well, we -- I am a BGCM member!) are doing in Guatemala.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

YES WE CAN!

"Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free..."
I'm not sure I thought about those words in terms of our country before. The gorgeous arrangement played by John Williams, Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Gabriela Montero and Anthony McGill at the presidential inauguration has certainly changed that.

I am watching Barack Obama take the oath of office while sitting in my office and feel ready to jump out of my skin. Can't imagine what my friends on the mall are feeling right now.

I am thankful for the hope and imagination that Obama brings to the White House -- both, as it turns out, are simple and freeing gifts. May they be used to inspire a nation toward justice and peace-making.

Monday, January 19, 2009

On overcoming

On MLK day, I can't help but think about Glide Memorial Methodist Church in San Francisco. At the closing of each Sunday celebration service, everyone joins hands and sings "we shall overcome TODAY." A church that will not wait on society to catch up, but marches ahead to do the work of God's justice NOW.

This afternoon I attended a packed out service at a local hospital. I like MLK services -- since moving to the Midwest, such services are the only time I get to be a minority of sorts. My friend John Bennett was the invited speaker. He is the first white guy I've ever seen speak at such an event, and one of the few I know who can pull it off. John's heart beats for justice. The woman who introduced him read off a litany of the organizations he has either helped found or played an integral part in -- the list of groups doing good is astounding, but I think it was also unnecessary. It seemed everyone in the room knew John. Many, perhaps, have served alongside him for years in one organization or another. He is a soft-spoken, graceful sort, but with compassion leaking from all his joints.

After the service, a pastor friend and I chatted about what it takes to live with that sort of love and dedication. Barack Obama speaks of telling his children that Martin Luther King, Jr. dared to love somebody. And perhaps taking the time to love somebody is where it starts. It removes the distance of merely loving humanity and requires one to actually do something about that love.

Amy Errett, in speaking about her involvement with the social ministries at Glide Memorial Methodist said, "This is not ivory tower stuff. This is how the world changes."

It requires getting dirty. Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn't afraid to get dirty. Instead, his deep love required him to jump into the trenches. I, too, hear a calling for the trenches. And I confess that my fear and self love have kept me from the hard work that exists there. Our nation -- our world -- still cries out for justice. Are we willing to step down from our ivory towers in order to seek it?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Searching for change

I tried to notice everything in Guatemala — the sights, the sounds, the smells (and perhaps other things that do not necessarily begin with "s."). And while I remember the strange curving incline leading to the women's restroom in the airport, the slapping sound and smell of tortillas being made, the dogs, cars and rooster that invaded my sleep, I know that my week in Guatemala is but a glimpse of a beautiful culture that is drastically different from my own.

Our trip was focused around a two-day conference in Quetzaltenango. Approximately 75 pastors, spouses and layleaders from the Western area of Guatemala gathered for fellowship and training, led by their Missouri counterparts.

My role was to play the part of journalist. I watched, photographed, listened and tried to place myself in the position of those gathered in the room. My new friend Vinicio often commented that this experience would change my life. And while I smiled and nodded, I couldn't help but wonder what he thought would change. While the language was different, the meeting was essentially something I could find in Missouri — talk about spiritual maturity and spiritual gifts. Good information, but nothing I hadn't heard many times before. We weren't out walking with Calcutta's lepers or sharing stories with African refugees, we were merely conferencing in Latin America at a hotel that issues TV remote controls with the room keys.

A day later, it hit me. And the answer was so obvious, the authorities should revoke my journalist's license (but please don't, I'm not qualified to do anything else!). The info was old hat to me, but it was revolutionary for the pastors in the room. In Guatemala, theological training is a luxury. Most of them — and the pastors before them — relied only on the Bible. They didn't have commentaries or theology books or Sunday School materials. They hadn't been taking spiritual gift inventories from the moment they could read. This was new. And it was life changing.

Our fearless leader, Gary, shared that these meetings were probably the only time many of the pastors had stayed in a hotel. And for many, it was the only time they were guaranteed three meals a day (plus snacks!). In a nation where survival is still a large part of life, conferences aren't on the regular schedule.

I had overlooked the volcano and its fiery rumblings. And I can't help but wonder how many times I've been scalded by the lava I never saw. Christ calls us to care for our neighbor's need, and I find I've been traveling with a blindfold on (much like the salsa that covered my breakfast eggs, so the yolks wouldn't stare at me!). It's humbling. And may it, in fact, be life changing.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New beginnings

This blog has probably been a long time coming. I started a blogger page to post updates while training for my first marathon (and continues to be a hit or miss running blog), but my non-running thoughts tend to be scattered to the wind with no place to land. 

While I don't expect to have much of interest to say, the writer in me likes to say it anyway and the small organization part of my brain prefers to have all those sayings collected somewhere. This blog shall act as such a receptacle.