Monday, December 27, 2010

It Is Our Light that Most Frightens Us

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually , who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

-- Marianne Wilson

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Prayer Following Communion

A few weeks ago, I was leading worship at the Pathways contemporary worship service at Orange United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill, NC. It was a communion Sunday and Advent to boot, so I was pleased to be able to share my new arrangement of "Lo How A Rose E'er Blooming" (see this post and this video) during the distribution. After everyone had received, we were preparing to go into our closing song, but we haven't quite streamlined the transition from communion to congregational singing in that service, so I decided to say a prayer.

Now, praying extemporaneously is dangerous when you're me. I once ended a public prayer with, "Talk to you later. Love you, bye!" Like I was leaving a voicemail. I kid you not.

So I decided not to go that route. Fortunately, I have lots of prayers memorized, including the Prayer Following Communion that comes at the end of the United Methodist communion liturgy. So I used that:

Eternal God, we give you thanks for this holy mystery in which you have given yourself to us. Grant that we may go into the world in the strength of your spirit to give ourselves for others. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

It really is a nice prayer and a perfect bridge from communion to closing and sending forth. As it turns out, it was even more effective than I had expected a prayer that probably only a few people in the room (two of whom would have been the pastors) would have recognized.

After worship, a woman came up to me struggling to hold back tears. She is a friend, so I knew that she was dealing with some stress and various life issues. But she told me that she was deeply moved by the prayer I said before the closing song. What a beautiful image, she said, to say, as Christ gives himself to us, so we must give ourselves to others. The Spirit had spoken through me, she said.

I was genuinely touched by her comment, but I felt almost as if I had cheated her by using a memorized prayer instead of speaking "from the heart" or "from the Spirit" or whatever. I talked to my boyfriend about it later, telling him I hadn't had the heart to admit to her that it was the United Methodist Hymnal, not the Spirit, that spoke through me.

I greatly appreciated his response: "I don't really think there's a difference." He made the point that part of what makes us good worship leaders is our ability to draw on all kinds of resources, not only in music but in speaking and prayer. Yes, the Spirit spoke through me--by inspiring me to use a prayer that was intentionally crafted for that purpose by faithful people who sought the Spirit's inspiration to write it in the first place.

Besides, it's a darn good prayer.

"O Magnum Mysterium" by Morten Lauridsen // University of Utah Singers

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Jesus Ruins Christmas

"Jesus Ruins Christmas," courtesy of one of my favorite singer-songwriters, David Wilcox. Amazing.

Jesus Ruins Christmas! by Artspromo Viral Marketing

Monday, December 20, 2010

10 Things Christians and Atheists Can (And Must) Agree On

While I'm posting links to the online humor magazine Cracked...here's another one, entitled "10 Things Christians and Atheists Can (And Must) Agree On." This one's a lot longer than the site's standard. For me, a lot of this stuff is sadly applicable to battles among Christians. *sigh*

5 Ridiculous Things You Probably Believe About Islam

So, there's this humor site called Cracked.com that I love. It's a wonderful time-waster/study break spot, rife with hilarious articles about pretty much everything under the sun. Most of their stuff is absurd, but sometimes they produce real gems. Like a recent article they posted, entitled "5 Ridiculous Things You Probably Believe About Islam." As fair warning, let me just say that Cracked does not skimp on the strong language, which doesn't bother me but might bother you, depending on who you are. Anyway, this article is really interesting and such a breath of fresh air--a lot of this is stuff I didn't know, stuff that more people, especially in America, need to hear. So check it out. As a preview, here are those 5 things:

#5. If you're a Muslim, you have to wear the veil.
#4. Our Founding Fathers would never have tolerated this Muslim nonsense!
#3. "Muslim" equals "Arab"
#2. Western cultures are far more humane than the bloodthirsty Muslims.
#1. Islam is stuck in the Dark Ages.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

What I'm Reading #13: The Historian (Elizabeth Kostova)

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova

I really ought to read novels more often. I read voraciously as a kid, but these days the amount of reading I have to do for school can be prohibitive, not to mention that even when I do get a break from all that, I'd rather cram a whole season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer into a 48-hour period. (Fact: I just did that.)

However, graduate school has not yet completely crushed my love of books, and I am very excited about doing some reading for fun over break. I started The Historian earlier this semester, was forced to set it aside and then took it back up and finished it during finals.

This novel is excellent. I have been avoiding the inundation of vampire fiction that has choked the bookshelves as of late, so when my dad told me he had read and enjoyed a vampire novel, I moved quickly from shock to intrigue. As it turns out, The Historian is, in a way, about vampires, but it takes a completely different approach than Twilight or--this one I saw in Barnes & Noble yesterday--Wuthering Bites (God help us).

This is a historical novel par excellence, intricately woven across centuries and the borders of the U.S. and Europe. Kostova leads the reader through library rare book rooms, monastery crypts and Orthodox churches layered with Ottoman and Eastern European influences. The multi-generational story skips around without losing the reader, taking you on a thrilling ride of mystery and macabre. An intelligent take on the current vampire craze that ties in with stories of Vlad the Impaler and gypsy vampire folklore, this is a novel as believable as it is terrifying and fascinating.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Colbert Preaches the Gospel

"If this is gonna be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we've got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition, and then admit that we just don't wanna do it." -- Stephen Colbert

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"The Rose" on YouTube

Just to follow up on this post about my arrangement of "Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming"--the acoustic track is now on YouTube. See below. :) When I do get a full-band recording done, all this stuff is coming down though...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

You KNOW It's a Myth...

This post might get me in trouble. Oh well.

You've probably heard about this New Jersey billboard on the news:


I'm here to tell you why this really doesn't bother me. (Sidebar: I do think atheists, and anyone who believes anything, for that matter, should stand on their own two feet without having to tear down other people's beliefs, but that's a universal problem, especially for Christians.)


1. The funniest thing about this billboard is that "myth" doesn't technically mean a story is false. We use it that way colloquially, sure, but that's not the actual meaning of the word. Here's an excerpt from Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth by Alan Dundes:

"The term mythos means word or story. It is only the modern usage of the word myth as "error" that has led to the notion of myth as something negative... In common parlance the term myth is often used as a mere synonym for error or fallacy... But untrue statements are not myths in the formal sense...nor are myths necessarily untrue statements. For myth may constitute the highest form of truth, albeit in a metaphorical guise."

Go ahead and refer to "the Christ myth." I don't have a problem with that.

2. Reason is no enemy to my faith. I'm happy to celebrate reason. Paul engaged Epicurian and Stoic philosophers in debate in Acts 17. So I could use the tagline, "Christians: Reasonable Since 51 CE." (I'm sure Douglas Campbell would have some disagreement about that date, but whatever.) Here's a great quote from Biblical scholars Charles Briggs, who was condemned as a heretic at the end of the 19th century for suggesting the Bible should be interpreted using the tools of reason and history:

"So far as I can see, there are errors in the Scriptures that no one has been able to explain away. Men cannot shut their eyes to truth and fact. Let the light shine higher and higher, the bright, clear light of day. Truth fears no light. Light chases error away. True orthodoxy seeks the full blaze of the noontide sun. In the light of such a day, the unity of Christendom will be gained."

Thomas Aquinas thought reason was a gift from God. When did we decide otherwise?

3. The enemy in the war on Christmas is not unbelief but commercialism. I keep hearing about this "war on Christmas" stuff, but if having a "holiday parade" instead of a "Christmas parade" makes you mad, you're concerned about the wrong things. If you want to fight for people who are sleeping in tents over the holidays, or fight against the way Christ's coming has been co-opted by Hallmark, great. But when we feel threatened by the wrong things and don't notice the true threat, we're in trouble.


The Catholic League's response to this billboard (another billboard--this one) makes me sad, perhaps because it reminds me of Dr. Seuss' Butter Battle Book. Plus, the graphic design is lame and it's just pathetic in its defensiveness. Stephen Colbert summed up the decision to put up the opposing billboard: "If someone slaps you on the cheek, counter-punch!" So that's the reason for the season...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Rose

For church this Sunday, I did an arrangement of "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming," except I changed a good bit of the lyrics to reflect less archaic language and just express some slightly different nuances in the hymn. I also incorporated a verse from "People, Look East"--the one about Love, the Rose. :) I think this arrangement came together really well, so I'm hoping to be able to do a real recording of it soon--you can hear a bootleg acoustic version here. Below are the revised lyrics:

At last a rose is blooming
A blossom ever young
From kings and princes coming
As we for years have sung

It comes, a flower of light
Breaks through the cold of winter
And brightens up the night

Isaiah once foretold it
This flower we proclaim
With Mary we behold it
And magnify God's name

She gave our Savior birth
To show God's love and mercy
And brighten up the earth

O flow'r, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air
Now banish with your splendor
The darkness everywhere

True God, yet fully man
From sin and death you save us
Through blood shed by the Lamb

Garden, rejoice! Though earth is bare
One more seed is planted there
Give all you are to tend and nourish
That from the seed a flower may flourish

People, look east and sing today
Love, the Rose, is on the way
People, look east and sing today
Love, the Rose, is on the way

At last a rose is blooming
A blossom ever young
From kings and princes coming
As we for years have sung

It comes, a flower of light
Breaks through the cold of winter
And brightens up the night

Peace Is the Opposite of Security

This is part of a very rough sermon summary I had to draw up for a project for my worship class. It is by no means complete, but there are some things here I thought worth sharing.

"The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." – Isaiah 11:6-9

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theological and pastoral hero of mine, said in a sermon once, "peace is the opposite of security." Part of the reason we can't seem to figure out peace today is that we think too simply about it. There is a difference between peace as a lack of conflict and peace as living abundantly. Historians talk about the Pax Romana, the period of peace during the Roman Empire—but all that meant was that there were no wars, because the Romans rules their territories with an iron fist. We think living in peace means not being at war, but that is too simplistic.

Moreover, we think living in peace means living in safety. But peace is not about safety; it is about trust, trust in God and trust in each other. Bonhoeffer's quote goes further: "Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to mistrust, and this mistrust in turn brings forth war. To look for guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means to give oneself altogether to the law of God, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God" (A Testament to Freedom, HarperCollins, 1990).

Let's look back at Isaiah for a moment. There is nothing safe about a cow grazing with a bear; a farmhand would be fired to letting such a thing occur. Even worse is the image of a child putting its hand on the adder's den—I'm not sure what kind of snake this would refer to in a historical sense, but there is a kind of adder that is so poisonous that it is known as the "death adder." A parent would be jailed for allowing their child into that kind of danger. There is nothing safe about this peace Isaiah portrays.

There is a wonderful story about St. Francis, the 13th-century saint who is sadly best known for talking to birds, though he did so much more than that. In 1219, Francis showed up at a battlefield where Arab Muslims and Western crusaders were preparing to meet in battle. Francis didn't make any grand speeches about peace or sabotage the military operation; instead he walked right across no-man's land, completely defenseless. He was not killed, as we might expect, but ended up visiting with the sultan and all but convinced him to convert to Christianity. When I hear people claim that if we were to lay our weapons down, our enemies would immediately take advantage of us, I think of this story and say...would they really? Do we know that? Isn’t that assertion still us holding onto that security instead of giving into trust?

I’m not an idiot. I know we live in a broken world. One of the things that fascinates me most about Bonhoeffer is that although he was a firm pacifist, he participated in a plot to kill Hitler. Bonhoeffer never relinquished his beliefs about peace, but he came to advocate what he called "responsible action"—and for him, Hitler posed such a threat to all of humanity that something drastic had to be done. That's part of what I most admire about Bonhoeffer: he tried to walk this thin line of standing by his beliefs while acknowledging that he lived in a deeply fallen world and was responsible for his brothers' blood. This call to peace is not a call to stand idly by in the face of injustice. Our world may not be ready to live in the peace of God's holy mountain. But we must always keep our eye on this hope and seek to live it out wherever we can—even, and especially, when we think perhaps we can't.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

We Need Most What We Deserve Least

The other day, I had a conversation with a friend who was in a position of needing to ask for forgiveness. She had called for some advice and encouragement, but she was struggling with the idea of unconditional love and mercy, despite having been a Christian all her life. The conversation was like a microcosm of one of my biggest spiritual struggles: learning to accept forgiveness. "I just don't feel like I deserve to be forgiven," my friend said.

I heard those words echoed in my own mind and heart going back years, and suddenly I realized...that was the point. If we deserved forgiveness, we wouldn't need it.

It's a liberating but terrifying truth. For those of us who are achievement-oriented, it goes against our basic instinct to do something to make ourselves worthy of love. We feel like we should never be in need of forgiveness.

But we're all just people in the end, no matter how accomplished or "holy" we think we are. We need most what we deserve least, and God offers it free of charge. That is the Gospel that I love and fear.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I Have Decided to Follow Jesus

The following is a slightly tweaked version of a reflection I wrote in my spiritual formation class today. The prompt was to write about a decision.

Yesterday, on the way home, I found a Romans Road pamphlet in the bathroom at a gas station in Thomasville. It's one of those things that takes you through a few passages of Scripture, laying out the basics--"all have sinned"; "the wages of sin is death"; "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us"; "whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved"--all from Romans (hence "Romans Road"--this one even had a road map design in the background). The final panel of the pamphlet has what I've heard called "the sinner's prayer," and it asks if you're ready to make a decision. Are you ready to accept Jesus Christ into your heart? I chuckled to myself and stuck it in my purse.

Last night, I had a conversation about the pamphlet--more so about evangelism in general--with my boyfriend, who comes from an evangelical background. He's a professional musician, and he sings and talks about Jesus at his shows--in coffee houses, shopping malls, bars, you name it. He has been called first and foremost to the un-churched and the de-churched. He tells me stories about "leading people to Christ." He asked me last night how many people I had led to Christ--not in a "you show me yours and I'll show you mine" kind of way, just out of curiosity.

My answer? None. We Methodists don't talk like that. We like to be respectful of other people's beliefs. It reminded me of when one of my best friends started coming to youth group in high school. I was not responsible for her presence there--in fact, she later asked me why I had never invited her to church. Because she had been Unitarian up until then! As it turns out, she was later baptized in that church and is now in seminary. And it never occurred to me to invite her to youth group. Apparently I was worried she might find pizza and name games offensive.

I know that every Christian is called to witness. For Christ's sake (heh), I just wrote a paper on Matthew 28, where Jesus commands his disciples to "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." Heck, in my supremely geeky act of reading in my copy of the United Methodist Book of Discipline last night, I saw it right there in a list of the responsibilities of an ordained elder: "leading people to faith in Jesus Christ."

See, I never made a decision to let Jesus into my heart. I've had my moments of renewal over the years, sure, but I've never not been a Christian. That decision was made for me long before I was born. Going to church was never a choice. Being a Christian was never a choice. It was and is an identity. I never really had to decide to be a Christian. No wonder I'm uncomfortable facilitating that decision for others.

A few months ago, a friend and I were talking about family and significant others. His parents were Southern Baptist missionaries when he was growing up. His girlfriend is Catholic. "My parents love her," he said. "My dad's only concern is that she might not be 'a born-again Christian'." I paused, then replied, "I think my dad's concern with my boyfriend is that he is."

That decision. It is of the utmost importance to some Christians and a foreign, even frightening concept to others. The body of Christ is so much more broken than we realize, and it some times and places it has been over precisely this. We can't figure out how to talk about actively claiming a given identity, or how to form an identity from a decision. But we'll all sing the same hymn: "I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back. No turning back."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Our God Is With Us (Video)

I made this. Yay.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Postlib or Emerging? (Video Link)

This is hilarious...and I feel like most of you will think I'm crazy if you watch this.

The Weepies // Be My Thrill

A good friend introduced me to The Weepies several years back, and I was instantly taken in by this husband and wife folk/pop duo. Having heard too late that they were in Raleigh this month, I downloaded their newest album, Be My Thrill. I've only had one listen through, but I can already tell that this music has the same addictive, utterly charming qualities of The Weepies' older releases. (By the way--favorite tunes of mine include World Spins Madly On, Gotta Have You and Take It From Me.)

"Charming" is my favorite adjective for The Weepies. Deb Talan and Steve Tannen, both musicians in their own right, trade lead vocals (Deb's voice is beautiful in its uniqueness--take a listen) and back each other up with close harmonies threaded over pop-tinged folk, cozying up to full but spacious band arrangements. And their lyrics are unassuming and genuine. Here's a verse from track 4, "I Was Made for Sunny Days":

Found a book you gave me
When we were first in bloom
When I thought that you might save
me
from the dark side of the moon
Instead we both went walking

through the shadows and the gloom
And we never did stop talking

And you still light up the room


I like that for the truth of it--the expectations we have about relationships saving us, when maybe really they give us companions with whom to walk through the valley.

Deb and Steve have two kids now, and their Be My Thrill tour was their first time on the road since 2006. According to their Twitter feed, among the four of them they had 13 loads of post-tour laundry to do. Part of the appeal of The Weepies for me is that Deb and Steve seem so down-to-earth, even with an album hitting #34 on the Billboard chart in its first week out.

Friday, November 26, 2010

What I'm Reading #12: For the Beauty of the Church (W. David O. Taylor, ed.)

For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts, edited by W. David O. Taylor

Last April, I was invited to perform at an artists' reception for New Creation Arts Group, the student arts group at Duke Divinity School that I didn't even know existed at the time (I was not very plugged in at all last year). By mid-May, I was one of two co-leaders for the group. I didn't know what I was supposed to be doing, but I had caught wind of something that fascinated me: the power of theology through the arts to educate, transform, worship and more. Despite having been embedded in the arts all my life, I had thought little about theology and the arts formally except in a historical context--I took an art history course on Gothic Cathedrals, an icon theology class, a few literature and writing courses that had to do with religion or spirituality, etc. Suddenly I was very interested in how the arts can and should be a part of the local church here and now.

Having been thrown into leadership in an area that was still new to me, I looked around for something to read. For the Beauty of the Church immediately jumped out at me. The editor, David Taylor, is a Th.D. student at Duke; Jeremy Begbie, one of the contributors, is the faculty adviser for New Creation and is at the forefront of theology and the arts; and there were a few other familiar names among the authors of this collection of essays. The book emerged from a symposium called "Transforming Culture" and includes essays that provide insights on the arts in the church from various viewpoints: the artist, the pastor, arts in worship, the art patron, etc.

In this book, art is explored as a gift, a calling, a vehicle of worship and relationship-building, a pedagogical tool, and even a danger--the writers do not hesitate to warn the reader of the ways in which the art or artist can be abused or even elevated above the Gospel. Then, too, one writer warns against incorporating only the liturgical arts into the life of the church--this, Joshua Banner writes, creates a false dualism between what happens Sunday morning and what goes on the rest of the week. This was important for me to hear, because I am obsessed with worship and am more than ready to use music, dance, painting and more in that setting, but I need to be reminded of the myriad of ways in which the arts intersect with our lives outside that setting.

This post would get far too long-winded if I tried to summarize each of the essays, so I'll leave you with some favorite quotations and a strong recommendation to pick up this book if the idea of arts in the church inspires you--or, perhaps even more so, if it perplexes you.


Favorite Quotations

"What we do in our churches, when we do what we should be doing, is unuseful! It is better than useful. Does prayer work? Should prayer work? No. Prayer does not work. It does something better than work. Prayer brings us into the life of the one by whom all things were made and are being remade." -- Andy Crouch

"...the most fruitful liturgical artworks are never ends in themselves but rather function as means to deepen the covenantal relationship between God and the gathered congregation." -- John D. Witvliet

"Worship has to do with a God whom no one has ever seen... But worship has to do simultaneously with all the stuff we see wherever we look." -- Eugene Peterson

"Genius is always remarkable for freaking most people out." -- Barbara Nicolosi

"There are two kinds of people in the world: people who are artists and people who are supposed to support them. Figure out which you are and do it with vigor." -- Barbara Nicolosi

"...the arts are made by people for people--each as intricate and organic as the corn my grandfather raised. In this very human endeavor, I have to continually remind myself that the arts are not buttons we push to enhance a sermon. They're not levers we switch to intensify an evangelistic tactic. Art has to do with people we love, and this love bears witness to Christ." -- Joshua Banner

"A full, gospel vision for arts ministry is one that attempts to nourish a wide spectrum of the arts, both inside and outside the church building, both within and beyond a Sunday service. If we engage only the so-called liturgical arts, we are modeling an unfortunate dualism that separates Sundays from the rest of the week." -- Joshua Banner

"Excellence does glorify God, but our pursuit of excellence should never reduce our artists to being means to an end. We glorify God not just with our final art presentation; we glorify him in the gracious and patient way we engage in the process of artmaking." -- Joshua Banner

"...our goal as Christians is not to be polished and impressive, but to be true." -- David Taylor

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What I'm Reading #11: Rise Up and Sing (Lex Buckley)

Rise Up and Sing: Equipping the Female Worship Leader, by Lex Buckley

I ordered this book when I stumbled across it on Amazon. I recently started leading worship monthly at the contemporary service at Orange United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill, and I was beginning to run into quirks and snags that come with being a female worship leader--for example, for the next time I lead worship at Orange, I had to completely redo one of the charts because it's simply not available in a key that's good for the female voice. I realize I'm fortunate to be able to do that--not every worship leader has the skills or the software to make something like that happen. Anyway, I by no means feel called to occupy the role of worship leader long-term, but I was interested to hear from other female worship leaders.

Lex Buckley is currently leading worship with her husband at River City Church in Jacksonville, FL. Being me, I scoped out their website. I liked the "wear a crash helmet, not a tie" tagline (do they know that's Annie Dillard?). But, being me, I wasn't fond of the "religion-free" banner that popped up the second time I loaded the home page. Anyway. That's another issue. RCC is a plant of St. Mary's in London. I'm not clear on whether St. Mary's is Church of England or what--they received some help from the Bishop of London at some point...anyway.

Rise Up and Sing
is essentially a primer for the new or inexperienced worship leader. Buckley and the other contributors (including Beth Redman, Christy Nockels, and Kathryn Scott) give practical tips for how to determine whether you ought to pursue being a lead worshipper, how to lead a band, how to work with your pastor, how to deal with gender issues, etc. They highlight important qualities like humility, communication and relationships, and I appreciated that they were intentional about including sections intended to be read by a female worship leader and her male pastor, if different genders are a part of the leadership dynamic in a church setting. They discuss the ins and outs, pros and cons of leading from guitar or keys or without any instrument, what sort of preparation is necessary to lead worship, how to know the congregation and to be creative in worship without leaving them behind. The book went really quickly for me partly because this isn't dense or profound writing and partly because a lot of what the book had to say was helpful, but they were things I had picked up along the way already.

I was a little dissatisfied with how they took gender roles at face value. I absolutely believe that there are fundamental differences between men and women, in a generalized sort of way. But chapter 2 starts with Buckley gushing about how fun it is to be a girl--to dress up, wear makeup, and go shopping. OK, fine. Even I need a chick flick every now and then, and I like to be pretty. For what it is, this book is practical and useful, and it's good to see at least someone acknowledging the gender divide among worship leaders, but I wanted something a little...meatier. I get that this isn't an academic work, and maybe that's what I need. Maybe I'll just have to write it myself. :)


Favorite Quotations

"It seems that God often sets limitations around our gifts so that we lean on each other and let another person shine where we don't."

"Just because you can, doesn't mean you should!"

"Our musicianship must not get in the way of our leading worship, but rather facilitate it and give us a form foundation from which to lead."

"Diversity is one of our strengths as a church, but it makes leading worship tricky sometimes. We want to make people feel safe when they have stepped out... We don't want to 'go for it' if that means leaving people behind; yet, we also don't want to hold back from following where the Holy Spirit is leading just because we are trying to make sure everyone feels comfortable."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rise Up and Sing...Ladies?

Once a month, I lead worship at the Pathways contemporary service at Orange United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill. This is pretty outside my comfort zone on a lot of levels, but I enjoy it, and I'm getting a little more comfortable with it. I led this morning, and although it went well, I was still feeling pretty nervous, still feeling like I come up short in that role--which in some ways is fine, because I have no intention of being, you know, "a worship leader" full-time in the sense of leading a praise band.

But after worship, a friend came up to me and told me that I did well, which was nice, but then she said something that struck me. She said it's meaningful for her to hear a female leading worship, because it seems to her that every time she turns on K-LOVE (Christian contemporary radio), it's a guy singing. I, too, have noticed a dearth of female worship leaders, and it shows even in the song arrangements that are available. It was cool for me to hear from her, though--it reminded me that even if I'm not totally comfortable in that position, simply being a woman in leadership in the church means something.

A little while back, I bought a book called Rise Up and Sing: Equipping the Female Worship Leader. I read about the first chapter and then got derailed with schoolwork. I may revisit that book over Thanksgiving, and I'll let you know what I think. In the meantime, do any of you worship in a contemporary service that's led musically by a woman? Or, for that matter, if you're in a traditional setting, is there a female preacher? If you're from a tradition that limits female leadership, how do you feel about that, or is it even something that crosses your mind?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What Matters Now?

This is a mildly edited version of a reflection I write in my writing spiritual formation group the other day. The prompt was a simple question: "What matters now?" Clearly, my reflection devolved into a quasi-rant, and although I edited out a few things, including strong language (*sigh*), I chose to leave it largely intact. Take it or leave it.

I feel like my life has been lived in the awkward space between what matters and what should matter—that is, what matters to me and what matters to family, friends, society, etc. And, just to make things more complicated, I think there is a third category: what matters to God.

Of course, that one tends to be harder to figure out, so I'm constantly trying to decide whether God reveals what matters to him [sic—we need a new pronoun for God] through the desires and passions I think he has placed on my heart, or whether God does so through the words and actions of others, trying to decide when either of those is the case, and trying to decide whether sometimes it might actually be both.

I wish all my experiences and hopes came with divinely ordained labels: "This doesn't matter to God. Let it go." "This is really important to God. Take good care of it."

OK, so—so does matter? I'm constantly engaged in arguments over what matters in the church. Just the other day, I was turning my nose up at a pastor who did something in worship that I found distasteful. I felt a little ashamed of my judgments after the sermon that senior M.Div. student Carlos Smith preached this past Tuesday in Goodson Chapel, where he chastized Christians for spending too much time and energy trying to decide who's right or wrong, in or out. I can be kind of a jerk about things I think matter to me and to God. I know I shouldn't do that.

But you know what? I still think that thing the pastor did was stupid. Maybe there was a good reason for it, though. That reason probably wouldn't be enough for me to start using that approach, but maybe it's there.

Maybe what I need to figure out isn't just what matters but how I allow it to matter. Can't I have things that are important to me without needing to dis other approaches? If something seems to matter, can't I just be excited about it without thumbing my nose at people who see things differently?

If the church would be more passionate about loving God and his people than about condemning gays and Muslims to hell, maybe we wouldn't look like such jerks. And when we look like jerks, we make God look like one too.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Lamentation as Honesty Before God

For my worship class this week, we were assigned an exercise in Lawrence Hull Stookey's Let the Whole Church Say Amen!, to write prayers of lament. Here are a few important points Stookey made in his introduction, followed by my own prayer of lament:

"Probably most Christians do much more lamenting over the back fence than in the house of the Lord... People who complain are looked upon as lacking in faith. One is supposed to trust God in every circumstance without complaint. The silver lining of every cloud is to be identified at once, no matter how tragic the circumstances... Those who suffer the greatest pain thereby feel excluded... Good lamentation is honesty before the God who already knows how we feel... To put a smiley face before the All-Knowing One is to engage in deceit. Furthermore, God is both willing and able to accept whatever venom we spew out. Not only to accept it, but to redeem it, to transform it."

An individual prayer of lament based on Psalm 55:

Show yourself to me, God!
I need to know that you are here.
I need to know that you will not turn away,
That you will not betray me.
Listen to me, and come!

I am shaken to my core,
I am broken and terrified.
I wish I could break free from myself,
To leave this body that writhes in agony,
Or to crawl deep inside and shut myself out,
To silence the screaming inside
And rest, if only for a moment.

How can this happen?
How can it be that the ones I trusted,
My friends, my family,
Hand me over as if I were nothing to them?
I can handle the taunts of the enemy,
But this I cannot bear:
Happy memories turned to searing brands in my mind,
People and places I loved showing the darkness within,
Poisoning what I thought was a deep well
Of nourishment and cleansing.

Make them stop!
I am crying out to you, God;
No more running to them,
For their hearts are hard.
But your heart, O God, is neither false nor fickle,
And I will beat upon the door of your heart
Until it opens and lets me in,
And I will come into the presence of your mercy.

Human promises are breakable;
They are shattered by a word.
But your Word, O Lord, stands forever,
And if your Word is my foundation,
My feet will never slip
And I will stand on your grace.
This is too heavy for me,
So I give it over to you.
I trust you will know what to do with it
Better than I ever could,
So I empty myself of this anger and grief,
And I wait for your healing touch. AMEN.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran's Day: Dona Nobis Pacem

I posted last night about Williams Byrd's Mass for Four Voices, and we're singing the final movement, the Agnus Dei, in Vespers today as a prayer for peace on Veteran's Day. To me, that means peace in the world but also peace in the hearts, minds and bodies of soldiers who have suffered in ways about which people only recently are starting to care. I'll be singing for my great-grandfather, one of the first flying chaplains in WWI; my grandfather, an Air Force vet; and Tony and Anthony Mitchell--I haven't met Anthony (my boyfriend Gary's oldest brother) yet, but he's deployed to Korea right now. Prayers for his and every other soldier's safe return. I'll also be singing for people like my godfather, who left Westpoint after he decided he could not be in the military and be a Christian. I pray that people like him might be prophets of that great day when "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isaiah 2:4). Dona nobis pacem.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Et Ascendit In Caelum

This year, I am honored (and more than a little intimidated) to be a member of the Duke Chapel Vespers Ensemble. I spent two years in the choir and then took a two-year hiatus, so coming back has been an adjustment. It's one of several things in my life right now that are difficult and challenging but for good reason.

We had a concert this past Sunday, which went fine, but the music was very much Baroque (Bach, and Schutz's German Requiem), and this is a Renaissance choir at heart (or maybe just at my heart, but hey). So I was thrilled when tonight at rehearsal we delved into William Byrd's Mass for Four Voices, a work I actually sang with Vespers three years ago. I distinctly remember spending my spring break listening to the Tallis Scholars' recording of the work repeatedly on my iPod in preparation for the concert. Even better, my spring break was spent at a Benedictine monastery in New Mexico (which, if you've ever read my blog at all, you've probably heard of), Christ in the Desert.

The Credo movement was always my favorite. I'm not sure why; maybe it's just how I love the way Byrd does text painting in the movement of the music--for example, at the line et ascendit in caelum ("and he ascended into heaven"), the sopranos soar into their upper range. This is by far the longest movement, as it is a setting of the Nicene Creed. It's quite lovely. Check out the rest of the Mass, all on YouTube or iTunes.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Downstairs Bedroom at 421 Pine Road

In my 'Writing As a Spiritual Practice' spiritual formation group today, our prompt was to draw the floor plan of our childhood home and then write about one room. My drawing was awful and isn't worth reproducing, except maybe for the Christmas tree I drew in the living room. But here's what I wrote about the downstairs bedroom at 421 Pine Road.

I have a hard time recalling the exact layout of the house at 421 Pine Road. Some of the problem is that I am spatially challenged. Some of it is that the layout is similar to that of my parents' current house. There are a few differences. 421 Pine Road has three bedrooms upstairs and one downstairs while 2335 Richardson Drive has all four on the second floor. And 421 Pine Road has a spacious laundry room that was great for giving the dog a bath, stashing muddy boots, and being in time out. 2335 Richardson Drive just has a laundry closet by the garage, so all the laundry has to be corralled more efficiently.

I had the best room at 421 Pine Road. Well, I started upstairs, but by the time we got to three Howell children, I moved downstairs and took over the guest bedroom. It never stopped being the guest bedroom. I got used to relocating to the extra bed in Grace's room when company came.

My room was probably bigger than my parents', and I had my own bathroom, where one hermit crab after another lived for several years. The huge mirror that all but covered one wall always frightened me after an encounter with the "Bloody Mary" legend, where you say "Bloody Mary" 3 times and turn around. You're supposed to see Queen Mary's severed head in the mirror, and I swore I did. The layout of the bathroom allowed for even more terror in the form of my dad slipping a hand through the door to turn off the light while I was in the shower. He did this the day after we watched the movie Psycho, and I screamed bloody murder.

Back to my room. There were glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling, painstakingly placed in the patterns of constellations among meticulously spaced out planets by my dad and me, who subscribed to an astronomy magazine for much of my childhood. The stars were more concentrated in the corner originally occupied by my single bed, and they felt far away when a double bed replaced it and switched sides of the room.

My walls were a hideous sea foam green, a color that I picked out and which my mother allowed me to use for some reason. But it was mostly covered by posters, anyway. Star Wars, sports heroes, later on musicians and actors. I seem to recall a calendar or two being dismantled so that pictures of horses and dolphins could serve as decorations. The furniture was solid wood, a whole bedroom set that now resides at 913 Burch Avenue here in Durham, but not in my upstairs bedroom because it is too dang heavy.

Even though I had my own room, I still longed for a secret space. I remember one night when my mom found me in my closet with the light on, reading far past my bedtime as I so often did. My first-floor bedroom was never wholly private. I was right next to the den, so on more than one occasion I emerged bleary-eyed to make my parents and their friends feel guilty for vocalizing their excitement over a late-night basketball game. As I got older, though, I began to join in, cheering on Duke and appeasing my father, whose superstitions about luck in sports often dictated where everyone had to sit and even whether certain people could stay in the room for the final minutes of a close game. I grew to adolescence on the threshold between my bedroom and the den.

When we moved, the new inhabitants let me keep the key. I wonder if they've changed the locks.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Release Healing Truths

How strong, O Lord, are our desires,
how weak our knowledge of ourselves!
Release in us those healing truths
unconscious pride resists or shelves.

— Fred Pratt Green
"O Christ the Healer" (UMH No. 265)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

An Environment Where It's OK to Fall

I love Jonathan Acuff. I blogged about his book Stuff Christians Like, based on his blog of the same name. I just came across an article he wrote for CNN, entitled "How to Scandal-Proof Your Church." He lists several wise suggestions, but perhaps my favorite is the first one: "Create an environment where it's OK to fall." So much of the trouble Christians get themselves into comes when sins are repressed, hidden, and generally misunderstood. The church needs to be a place where sins can be confessed in an atmosphere where accountability is real, but so are expectations. If Christianity is all about maintaining an image, we (myself included) will sooner lie to keep up the facade than confess failings...and that is not what the Gospel calls us to do to ourselves and to each other.

A Semicolon

During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." "Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water." "Come," he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?" And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." – Matthew 14:25-32, NIV

I love this icon. I love the passage it depicts. I love it because I can so strongly identify with the fear and doubt that Peter is feeling. Even the disciples in the boat are exhibiting some of that same fear—some of them may be looking at Peter in concern, but for the most part they seem focused on and worried about their sails. Only Peter is really looking at Jesus, and we can see from the text that it was in his seeing the wind—looking away from Jesus—that he began to sink.

I'm reminded that I blogged about this passage once, in part as a response to controversy that erupted over the release of the film The Golden Compass. Parents feared their children would see the movie and doubt their faith, which would naturally lead to an endless spiral into the murky depths of sin and godlessness. But I read that book when I was a kid—I read everything of Philip Pullman's—and I'm in seminary. So there's that.

What reminded me of that old blog post was the quote I used to start it off. It's from Frederick Buechner, a hero of mine, and it's something that has remained with me and which I find comforting in times of doubt. Buechner says, "Without somehow destroying me in the process, how could God reveal himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt? If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me." God knows us better than we know ourselves, and that means he knows just how prone we are to falter and to lose focus—to look at the wind rather than at Jesus. God isn't so naïve as to think that once we come to faith we will be able to rid ourselves of all doubt and fear. He makes room for us.

This reminds me of yet another quote, this one from the author Wendell Berry. It's a longer one, but it gets at why God reveals himself in ways that can be ascertained only by faith, in ways that are by no means irrefutable in the eyes of reason:

"Christ did not descend from the cross except into the grave. And why not otherwise? Wouldn't it have put fine comical expressions on the faces of the scribes and the chief priests and the soldiers if at that moment He had come down in power and glory? Why didn't He do it? Why hasn't He done it at any one of a thousand good times between then and now?

I knew the answer. I knew it a long time before I could admit it, for all the suffering of the world is in it. He didn't, He hasn't, because from the moment He did, He would be the absolute tyrant of the world and we would be His slaves. Even those who hated Him and hated one another and hated their own souls would have to believe in Him then. From that moment the possibility that we might be bound to Him and He to us and us to one another by love forever would be ended.

And so, I thought, He must forbear to reveal His power and glory by presenting Himself as Himself, and must be present only in the ordinary miracle of the existence of His creatures. Those who wish to see Him must see Him in the poor, the hungry, the hurt, the wordless creatures, the groaning and travailing beautiful world."

Faith is necessary because if God is to be a God of love, the worship of him can never be forced. I'm apparently on a quote kick—here’s another one I recalled: "He who remains good simply because he must serves necessity, not God." That's from John M. Patrick. We are called to serve and love God, and God will not secure our loyalty through uncaringly enslaving us.

I love the passage about Peter walking on water because it shows that although our doubt is not exactly pleasing to God, he doesn't give us over to it, either. Jesus rebukes Peter, but he doesn't leave him to drown. The question Jesus asks—"Why did you doubt?"—sounds rhetorical, but I wonder if that wouldn't be a helpful question to ask ourselves in times where we are floundering in water on which we once walked. "Why did you doubt?" "Because I was afraid." "Why were you afraid?" "Because I saw the wind and it frightened me." "What did you have to stop looking at in order even to see the wind?" "You, my Lord."

Peter has the faith necessary. He had already taken a few steps across the sea before he sank. Having faith and having doubt are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps my favorite Bible verse is Mark 9:24—"I believe; help my unbelief!" The profession of faith is separated from the confession of doubt by nothing more than a semicolon.

Jesus treats our doubt with a gentle rebuke and an honest question. I do not treat my own doubts and fears so gently. I often find myself in situations where it is almost as if I were willing myself to drown as punishment for even looking at the wind in the first place. But the doubt is a part of my humanity, and it is not up to me to decide how long I must thrash about in the waves.

The band Caedmon's Call sings, "Waters rose as my doubts reigned / My sandcastle faith it slipped away / I found myself standing on your grace / It had been there all the time." Jesus' hand is outstretched. "On Christ the solid rock I stand / All other ground is sinking sand."

Repentance of an Anti-Gay Bigot (a quote from Mark Osler)

"Are gays and lesbians sinners? It doesn't seem that way to me (other than the way in which we are all sinners), but at some level I really don't care. If it is a sin, it is not my sin. The sin that I need to discern, root out and identify is my own. One of those sins has been bigotry and senseless cruelty. I atone for and seek forgiveness for that now and here." — Mark Osler (read more here)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Freedom and Responsibility

With freedom comes responsibility. With the freedom of speech comes the responsibility to listen. Are we willing to listen, or do we just want to hear ourselves talk?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Two Sculptures

The first image below was shown in my intro worship class this morning. It really struck me, and I think part of it was that it reminded me of the figure in the second image. I don't have much to say on these, but they are beautiful and invite contemplation, at least to me.

Frederick Hart, Ex Nihilo, now installed at Washington National Cathedral.

Michelangelo, Il Prigioni Ridestantesi.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go

I am mildly obsessed with this version of this hymn.

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

— George Matheson

Monday, October 18, 2010

Michael Franti & Spearhead // The Sound of Sunshine

Last spring, I saw Michael Franti & Spearhead open for John Mayer in Greensboro. Franti put on a killer show. His music and lyrics are uplifting, but he's not afraid to talk about real problems of poverty, gangs, etc. It is clear that the audience matters to him, not only when he opens the stage to any kids who want to come dance to his hit single "Say Hey" but also when he runs through the crowd with his guitar, singing and playing (which was cool in the Greensboro Coliseum, but cooler for my mom and sister when they saw him in the smaller Neighborhood Theatre in Charlotte--they actually got to high-five him).

Franti's music defies and crosses genre barriers. He is a vocal supporter of a number of social justice issues. He's a vegan and hasn't worn shoes in ten years. The son of an Irish-German-American mother and an African-American and Native American father, Franti was adopted by a Finnish-American couple and raised with their 3 biological children and another adopted, African-American brother. His music reflects his diverse background and embraces cultures beyond his heritage.

Franti also made a film, I Know I'm Not Alone: A Musician's Search for the Human Cost of War, in which Franti travels to Iraq, Israel and Palestine with a few cameras and a guitar. Franti was tired of seeing news reports on the conflict that paid no attention to the humanity behind it. So he basically went to play music in the streets and to hear people's stories.

So...Michael Franti is pretty freaking amazing. I started this post to recommend his latest CD, The Sound of Sunshine, and got a little distracted. Back on task.

The Sound of Sunshine is *exactly* what the album name suggests. It is freaking auditory sunshine. Franti believes in the power of music to transform mood and renew a sense of purpose, and this CD does just that. And uplifting sound coupled with honest lyrics results in an album about whose message you can really care. Here's the first verse and chorus of one of my favorite songs from it, "Hey Hey Hey":

It's been a long time coming that I had to say
When I wake up in the morning all I do is pray
For some guidance and protection on the streets today
And an answer to the questions I ask everyday
So tell me why do the birds that used to fly here
Tell me why do they come to die here
And all the kids that used to run here
Tell me why do they load their guns here
I remember, in the days when,
We were one heart no need to defend
I just wrap my arms around
Don't give up this song is for you

Hey, hey, hey, no matter how life is today
There's just one thing that I got to say
I won't let another moment slip away
I say hey, hey, hey no matter how life is today
There's just one thing that I got to say
I won't let another moment slip away

Just for good measure, here's a 5-second video clip I took at the concert last March--a little girl who joined Franti for "Say Hey" and was so into it that he gave her the mic. Adorable.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Understanding God (a quote from Augustine)

"If you understand God, then you're not talking about God." — Augustine (via my good friend Jamie Michaels)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why I Still Dress Up for Church

As a child, I had Sunday clothes. The distinction was massive in my elementary school years, when I was a tomboy who kept her hair as short as her parents would allow and who hated wearing dresses. So putting on a dress to go to church was a big deal. The difference was less dramatic once I grew my hair back out and started wearing something besides sweatpants and t-shirts. But I still dressed up.

I remember the first time I wore jeans to church. It was mildly traumatic. I can count on one hand the number of times I've worn jeans to church. I'm sure a lot of my aversion to doing so comes from my family's deep Southern and Christian roots--my grandparents are always dressed to the T, my mother has indefatigable fashion sense, and my dad's a pastor (and not the kind that wears jeans and graphic T's), so he kinda has to dress nicely. I can just see my mother's or grandmother's face (and hear my grandfather's remarks) if they ever saw me at church in jeans.

I don't have a problem with people in general dressing down for church. I emphatically believe that the church should welcome people as they are. I just went clothes shopping; I know how much it costs to maintain a "nice" wardrobe, and I know that in many churches I've attended, plenty of people can't afford that. And I know the dangers of dress code expectations--I've been in churches that felt like highfalutin social clubs, and I spent a lot of time in high school worrying that my Sunday clothes weren't stylish enough compared to the girls in my youth group.

But my dad told me something about a community in Bayonnais, Haiti, that struck me. Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas, according to the Human Development Index. Bayonnais is the poorest part of Haiti. But at the church to which my dad's church is connected through missions and outreach, all the men come to worship in suits. My dad, who had prepared for the heat of early summer on a visit last year, felt under-dressed in his shirt and tie. There was nothing self-important about these people's church attire; they dressed this way because church was important to them, and they wanted to offer their best to God.

I still dress up for church partly because I am often in leadership positions (and will be more regularly as time goes on), partly because that's how I was raised, and partly because there's something in me, old-fashioned though it may be, that wants to show a modicum of respect and attention to the church and to God. Maybe the people in Bayonnais would be better off buying food than buying a suit; but maybe they are like the widow with two coins:

As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. "I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." -- Luke 21:1-4

I don't have to make decisions like the people of Bayonnais. Anything I give, I give out of my wealth. It's easy for me to decide what part of me to give to God and what part to keep for myself. I don't want to romanticize poverty (see this post), and I'm not one to impose a dress code on others (though I will dress my boyfriend, and if your teenager is wearing something inappropriate--to church or anywhere, really--I might say something).

I guess I'm wondering what other people think. Does anyone really think about what they wear to church anymore? If we do, what are our considerations--respect, comfort, stylishness, attractiveness, or something else?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The King's Kitchen, Where You Feast to Feed Somebody

Today I had lunch at The King's Kitchen, a new restaurant in Charlotte. It's not only delicious, it's for a good cause--proceeds go to serving the poor of the city. Check out the info below from their website:

__________

The King's Kitchen is an outreach of Restoration Word Ministries managed by Jim Noble Restaurants that donates 100% of profits from sales to feed the poor in Charlotte, the region, and the world. Additionally, The King's Kitchen partners with area ministries to provide employment opportunities to Charlotteans in search of a new beginning.

And while every penny of profit at The King’s Kitchen has a higher calling, each bite of the food served to patrons, features Jim's signature "New Local Southern Cuisine." Specialties include premium local and organic produce paired with fine meats like Aunt Beaut's Pan Fried Chicken.

Twelve years before opening the doors of The King's Kitchen, Chef Jim and his wife Karen were awakened to a calling from God. Rather than open another restaurant to simply feed the body, the Noble's were called to start a ministry that would nourish the soul.

In 1998, Jim and Karen started Restoration Word Ministries (RWM) and their weekly radio broadcast ministry, The Voice of Healing Faith. An ordained minister, Jim uses this outreach as a way to share the teachings of Christ as well as remain open to the ways God calls him to serve. Over time, Jim recognized the relationship of his two passions – serving food and serving God – and was led to the ministry of feeding the poor.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Voice, Small, a Whisper

1 Kings 19 has always been one of my favorite passages in Scripture. This is the one where Elijah has been told that God is about to pass over, so he goes and stands on the mountain. Here are verses 11 and 12:

"Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence."

In my Hebrew class, we're going through the Elijah and Elisha cycles, so we recently worked through this passage, and it was fascinating. Now, don't cry, but I'm going to reproduce the above excerpt in Hebrew here:

ורוח גדולה וחזק מפרק הרים ומשבר סלעים לפני יהוה לא ברוח יהוה ואחר הרוח רעש לא ברעש יהוהואחר הרעש אש לא באש יהוה ואחר האש קול דממה דקה

The word economy here is incredible. The Hebrew uses almost no verbs. It's a ton of nouns and prepositions, because Hebrew can do that.

I think my favorite part of this passage is the very last snippet. "קול דממה דקה" gets translated in a ton of different ways:
  • "a sound of sheer silence" (NRSV)
  • "a still small voice" (KJV)
  • "a sound of a gentle blowing" (NASB)
  • "a gentle whisper" (NIV)
  • "the sound of a low whisper" (ESV)
  • sibilus aurae tenuis/"a whistling of a gentle air" (Latin Vulgate/Douay-Rheims Bible)
All right, that was TMI, but my point is that there's no real consensus about how exactly to translate those 3 words. The Hebrew pretty much just says "A voice, small, a whisper." It's pretty ambiguous. And I really, really like that.

The whole point of this passage is that God doesn't come in the forms we might expect--wind, earthquake, fire. He comes in a still small voice (for once, I like the KJV best). So many musical artists have picked up on this and run with it. Nichole Nordeman sings, "Oh great God, be small enough to hear me now." Audrey Assad, similarly, sings, "Let me hear a still small voice." There's something about a soft, intimate whisper that is more powerful than wind, earthquake or fire, especially coming from the God that made and controls them all.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I've Got the Methodist Blues



The other day, while listening to NPR, I heard this song on the radio. "Methodist Blues." I laughed my head off at lyrics like "Problems? We've got a whole long list / But we can't say cause we're Methodist" and "Church is a club, it's downright tribal" and "Our theology gets thinner and thinner / We don't talk about saving the sinner."

Then I recalled a conversation I had with a member at a Methodist church where I'm involved, where he said he and his wife came from different Christian backgrounds and decided on Methodist because it seems to be where anyone can come in. A part of me rejoiced at that, but I began to wonder what Methodism's identity was.

And then I got sad. I recalled Jon Stewart calling United Methodism "the University of Phoenix of religions" (see it in context here). And I remembered Dr. Stanley Hauerwas calling Methodism "flaccid." I thought about a classmate who is considering leaving the Methodist church because he is disappointed in our sacramental practices.

I love how diverse United Methodist congregations are. From high-church liturgical worship to old gospel black church to parishes that more closely resemble Baptist churches, we're all over the map. You aren't necessarily going to get what you expect at a Methodist church, even if you grew up in the denomination.

It's wonderful because it allows for the UMC to bring a myriad of people into communion with one another within the denomination. On the other hand, how much are we really doing that if our church is so fragmented in terms of liturgy, theology, practice and politics? Does a statement issued by the UMC mean anything really?

Yes, the Methodist church has problems. But it is my home, the place where I grew up, the place from which and to which I am called into ministry. Wherever God may take me in my vocation, I doubt you will ever find me far from the Methodist church, even with its tribalism and aversion to facing the reality of sin. My hope is that the Methodist church's true legacy is the evangelical revivalism that John Wesley originally intended.

Monday, October 4, 2010

For Women = About Men?


I don't have much to say about this, except...why are women defined by their relationships with men? Do men bear the same burden of proof of identity? What can the church do to combat these messages to young women and men? Why is it that the more sex is talked about in society, the more impoverished our understanding of and appreciation for it becomes?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Feast of St. Francis: October 4

"Francis dares to live the Gospel the way I would like to live it, and he loves Jesus the way anyone would like to be loved… It is easier to rationalize and dismiss Jesus than Francis, because Jesus, after all, is divine and so far above us. But Francis is only human like us. What he is, we can become… What is so unique about Francis is that he does what we would like to do, and he does it in such a simple, ingenuous way that we know we could do the same if only we would." -- Murray Bodo, The Way of St. Francis: The Challenge of Franciscan Spirituality for Everyone
__________

Click here to read a great blog post by my dad about Francis.

Witness or Warrior?

From yesterday through tomorrow, I have been/am/will be in a New Testament colloquium on intertextuality in the book of Revelation with German scholar Stefan Alkier. Academically, I'm in over my head, and I'm still not sure what possessed me to give my entire weekend over to a non-credit class, but I've learned some interesting things.

What I've most resonated with so far was part of a paper Dr. Alkier is working on called "Witness or Warrior? How the Book of Revelation can help Christians live their political lives." He seeks to take back Revelation from fundamentalism (which he distinguishes from biblicism by saying it is always political in some way), which has over the ages used Revelation to justify violence and vengeance. Alkier argues that although Revelation does not shy away from expressions of anger and desires for revenge, even legitimating them, but its focus on the risen Christ demands that we leave acting upon such desires to God.

This immediately got me excited because I thought of Walter Brueggemann's book Praying the Psalms, which we read in Old Testament last year and about which I blogged a while back. Revelation, like many of the Psalms of vengeance, has had its place in the Biblical canon questioned for its violent and graphic content; but Brueggemann argues, as does Alkier, that to eliminate such texts is to be in denial that these feelings exist in humankind, which is dangerous. Brueggemann writes, "The real theological problem...is not that vengeance is there in the Psalms, but that it is here in our midst." Revelation, the Psalms and many other disturbing Biblical texts force us to confront feelings and passions that make us uncomfortable but which are very real.

I wasn't going to go here, but the next time I hear someone rant about how there are 109 violent verses in the Quran, I'm going to tell them to go read Psalm 137:7-9, 2 Kings 2:23-24, and Revelation 18, for starters. If you want more, this website lists no fewer than 1,199 Bible verses with "cruelty or violence."

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Not-Being-a-Jerk-About-It Part

The Church Is a Whore

"The Church is a whore, but she's my mother."

The first time I heard this quote (from St. Augustine), I was at first shocked, then extremely pleased.

All my life I've heard people accuse the church of hypocrisy. I would be the last person to argue with that. The church is full of hypocrites and sinners. The moment we stop believing that, we decide we can redeem ourselves, or worse, that we don't need redemption.

I just wrote a paper for my American Christianity class about how the church has always been embedded in its culture. I believe it is important for Christianity to be able to relate to its time and place, and as a lover of the arts, I am especially interested in how the Church interacts with and shapes culture and art. But the church must never be co-opted by its cultural setting.

Unfortunately, the Church regularly has been whored out (hey, I'm just quoting St. Augustine) to nationalistic, imperialistic, cruel and even idolatrous institutions and causes. Some theologians argue that the Church was ruined as far back as the 4th century, when Constantine made it the official religion of the Roman Empire. The easiest targets for accusing the Church of hypocrisy are the Crusades and Nazi Germany. These days, with all the anti-Islam sentiment, no one wants to talk about these things seriously; but even though these events are "in the past," they cannot be easily brushed aside. That's part of why I recently purchased an iron cross from 1939. An odd purchase, admittedly; but I never want to forget how easily we Christians can whore ourselves out to the peril of those around us and to our own souls.

We also cannot allow the church to be co-opted even today; I found this picture of the famous Last Supper painting Photoshopped with various trappings of Americanism while looking for a photo of a flag draped over a communion table, which I've heard about happening. The table is not America's table. It is the table of our Lord.

Back to the Crusades and Nazi Germany. We need to admit to these atrocities, to apologize, to make restitution. But we cannot put them behind us, and we cannot wash our hands even of things that happened before we are born. That Christianity has been used as a vehicle of genocide means that the Holocaust could happen again.

And yet. I love the second part of Augustine's quote. The Church is my mother. Regardless of what she may have done, or what we may have done because of her, she is all we have. All the anti-institutional talk floating around in Christianity these days forgets that the institution is all we've got. Yes, it's broken. Yes, it's hypocritical. And I'm not necessarily saying that's OK. We must mourn the brokenness of the church and seek to amend it, with God's help. But we cannot deny that brokenness, or else it will consume us.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Please Don't Forgive Me

Over the summer, I got into the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Yes, I know I'm a little behind.) I'm now on season 6. The other day, I watched an episode where Buffy confesses to a friend for the first time that she has been sleeping with Spike, a vampire whom she hates with every fiber of her being. Tara is reasonably concerned and doesn't condone Buffy's actions, but she does comfort her--we all make mistakes, she says; it's OK; you've been going through a lot lately. At that, Buffy breaks down and makes this pitiful plea: "Please don't forgive me." She wants to be told that something is wrong with her, that she's bad and deserves to be punished; instead, she is receiving grace, and it is more than she can take.

The scene moved me, because I know exactly how that feels. Sometimes, forgiveness can be an even heavier burden to bear than sin--or maybe that's just my prideful, fallen nature talking. But forgiveness requires confession, vulnerability, being known in your most humiliating and painful moments. No one wants to be known that well, and even when we are, we want enablers, people who will help us punish ourselves. Hurt can become familiar, comfortable even, and healing threatens to introduce unfamiliarity.

This morning, I read Luke 5:1-11, where Jesus has the fisherman cast their nets until the boats are sinking with so much fish, and then calls them to become fishers of people. In verse 8, Peter reacts a bit surprisingly to Jesus' show of power: "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!"

Does Peter not know that sending Jesus away is the surest way to remain in his sin?

I bet he does. Sin is easy. Forgiveness--especially receiving it--is hard.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Composer Robert Kyr Finds Inspiration at Christ in the Desert // From NPR Music

One of my favorite places on the planet!!!!!

Children's Sabbath

Yesterday at Orange UMC, we observed Children's Sabbath, an annual observance started by the United Methodist Women (UMW) in order to draw attention to the needs of children in our churches and communities. We had the elementary-aged kids sing a song and talked a lot about how to let the little children come to Jesus

Orange broadened the scope of Children's Sabbath to include children around the world, highlighting two organizations: ZOE Ministry and Compassion International.

ZOE stands for Zimbabwe Orphan Endeavor, started in the Methodist Church and has expanded to encompass missions not only in Zimbabwe but also in Rwanda, Zambia and Kenya. OUMC has sent a number of medical mission teams to Zimbabwe over the years, most recently at the beginning of 2010. I recently learned that you don't have to be medically trained to go on a trip. Hmmmm. :)

Compassion International is a group about which Gary Mitchell, my boyfriend and the Pathways worship leader at OUMC, is very passionate. Compassion works with and through local churches around the globe to connect children with sponsors, provide them with food, clothing, education, Bible study, training and more. Gary and I each sponsor 2 children through Compassion, and this past June Gary traveled to El Salvador to meet Karen, his sponsored child there (learn more about his visit here).

Children's Sabbath came on the heels on OUMC's annual Harvest Festival, a big missions fundraising event that includes food and games, crafts and vendors, a yard sale, an auction and more. The proceeds from that event go to support missions at OUMC, including ZOE.

As part and parcel of his presentation of Compassion, Gary set up a table where people could give a one-time donation or sponsor a child. Yesterday was also Compassion Sunday, where churches could highlight the work on Compassion and make a push for sponsors. 11 new sponsors picked up packets for children from all around the world yesterday. Awesome.

We ended up showing several videos throughout worship to show the congregation more about what ZOE and Compassion do--here's a short one I put together to show a few facts about child poverty:

Monday, December 27, 2010

It Is Our Light that Most Frightens Us

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually , who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

-- Marianne Wilson

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Prayer Following Communion

A few weeks ago, I was leading worship at the Pathways contemporary worship service at Orange United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill, NC. It was a communion Sunday and Advent to boot, so I was pleased to be able to share my new arrangement of "Lo How A Rose E'er Blooming" (see this post and this video) during the distribution. After everyone had received, we were preparing to go into our closing song, but we haven't quite streamlined the transition from communion to congregational singing in that service, so I decided to say a prayer.

Now, praying extemporaneously is dangerous when you're me. I once ended a public prayer with, "Talk to you later. Love you, bye!" Like I was leaving a voicemail. I kid you not.

So I decided not to go that route. Fortunately, I have lots of prayers memorized, including the Prayer Following Communion that comes at the end of the United Methodist communion liturgy. So I used that:

Eternal God, we give you thanks for this holy mystery in which you have given yourself to us. Grant that we may go into the world in the strength of your spirit to give ourselves for others. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

It really is a nice prayer and a perfect bridge from communion to closing and sending forth. As it turns out, it was even more effective than I had expected a prayer that probably only a few people in the room (two of whom would have been the pastors) would have recognized.

After worship, a woman came up to me struggling to hold back tears. She is a friend, so I knew that she was dealing with some stress and various life issues. But she told me that she was deeply moved by the prayer I said before the closing song. What a beautiful image, she said, to say, as Christ gives himself to us, so we must give ourselves to others. The Spirit had spoken through me, she said.

I was genuinely touched by her comment, but I felt almost as if I had cheated her by using a memorized prayer instead of speaking "from the heart" or "from the Spirit" or whatever. I talked to my boyfriend about it later, telling him I hadn't had the heart to admit to her that it was the United Methodist Hymnal, not the Spirit, that spoke through me.

I greatly appreciated his response: "I don't really think there's a difference." He made the point that part of what makes us good worship leaders is our ability to draw on all kinds of resources, not only in music but in speaking and prayer. Yes, the Spirit spoke through me--by inspiring me to use a prayer that was intentionally crafted for that purpose by faithful people who sought the Spirit's inspiration to write it in the first place.

Besides, it's a darn good prayer.

"O Magnum Mysterium" by Morten Lauridsen // University of Utah Singers

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Jesus Ruins Christmas

"Jesus Ruins Christmas," courtesy of one of my favorite singer-songwriters, David Wilcox. Amazing.

Jesus Ruins Christmas! by Artspromo Viral Marketing

Monday, December 20, 2010

10 Things Christians and Atheists Can (And Must) Agree On

While I'm posting links to the online humor magazine Cracked...here's another one, entitled "10 Things Christians and Atheists Can (And Must) Agree On." This one's a lot longer than the site's standard. For me, a lot of this stuff is sadly applicable to battles among Christians. *sigh*

5 Ridiculous Things You Probably Believe About Islam

So, there's this humor site called Cracked.com that I love. It's a wonderful time-waster/study break spot, rife with hilarious articles about pretty much everything under the sun. Most of their stuff is absurd, but sometimes they produce real gems. Like a recent article they posted, entitled "5 Ridiculous Things You Probably Believe About Islam." As fair warning, let me just say that Cracked does not skimp on the strong language, which doesn't bother me but might bother you, depending on who you are. Anyway, this article is really interesting and such a breath of fresh air--a lot of this is stuff I didn't know, stuff that more people, especially in America, need to hear. So check it out. As a preview, here are those 5 things:

#5. If you're a Muslim, you have to wear the veil.
#4. Our Founding Fathers would never have tolerated this Muslim nonsense!
#3. "Muslim" equals "Arab"
#2. Western cultures are far more humane than the bloodthirsty Muslims.
#1. Islam is stuck in the Dark Ages.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

What I'm Reading #13: The Historian (Elizabeth Kostova)

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova

I really ought to read novels more often. I read voraciously as a kid, but these days the amount of reading I have to do for school can be prohibitive, not to mention that even when I do get a break from all that, I'd rather cram a whole season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer into a 48-hour period. (Fact: I just did that.)

However, graduate school has not yet completely crushed my love of books, and I am very excited about doing some reading for fun over break. I started The Historian earlier this semester, was forced to set it aside and then took it back up and finished it during finals.

This novel is excellent. I have been avoiding the inundation of vampire fiction that has choked the bookshelves as of late, so when my dad told me he had read and enjoyed a vampire novel, I moved quickly from shock to intrigue. As it turns out, The Historian is, in a way, about vampires, but it takes a completely different approach than Twilight or--this one I saw in Barnes & Noble yesterday--Wuthering Bites (God help us).

This is a historical novel par excellence, intricately woven across centuries and the borders of the U.S. and Europe. Kostova leads the reader through library rare book rooms, monastery crypts and Orthodox churches layered with Ottoman and Eastern European influences. The multi-generational story skips around without losing the reader, taking you on a thrilling ride of mystery and macabre. An intelligent take on the current vampire craze that ties in with stories of Vlad the Impaler and gypsy vampire folklore, this is a novel as believable as it is terrifying and fascinating.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Colbert Preaches the Gospel

"If this is gonna be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we've got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition, and then admit that we just don't wanna do it." -- Stephen Colbert

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"The Rose" on YouTube

Just to follow up on this post about my arrangement of "Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming"--the acoustic track is now on YouTube. See below. :) When I do get a full-band recording done, all this stuff is coming down though...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

You KNOW It's a Myth...

This post might get me in trouble. Oh well.

You've probably heard about this New Jersey billboard on the news:


I'm here to tell you why this really doesn't bother me. (Sidebar: I do think atheists, and anyone who believes anything, for that matter, should stand on their own two feet without having to tear down other people's beliefs, but that's a universal problem, especially for Christians.)


1. The funniest thing about this billboard is that "myth" doesn't technically mean a story is false. We use it that way colloquially, sure, but that's not the actual meaning of the word. Here's an excerpt from Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth by Alan Dundes:

"The term mythos means word or story. It is only the modern usage of the word myth as "error" that has led to the notion of myth as something negative... In common parlance the term myth is often used as a mere synonym for error or fallacy... But untrue statements are not myths in the formal sense...nor are myths necessarily untrue statements. For myth may constitute the highest form of truth, albeit in a metaphorical guise."

Go ahead and refer to "the Christ myth." I don't have a problem with that.

2. Reason is no enemy to my faith. I'm happy to celebrate reason. Paul engaged Epicurian and Stoic philosophers in debate in Acts 17. So I could use the tagline, "Christians: Reasonable Since 51 CE." (I'm sure Douglas Campbell would have some disagreement about that date, but whatever.) Here's a great quote from Biblical scholars Charles Briggs, who was condemned as a heretic at the end of the 19th century for suggesting the Bible should be interpreted using the tools of reason and history:

"So far as I can see, there are errors in the Scriptures that no one has been able to explain away. Men cannot shut their eyes to truth and fact. Let the light shine higher and higher, the bright, clear light of day. Truth fears no light. Light chases error away. True orthodoxy seeks the full blaze of the noontide sun. In the light of such a day, the unity of Christendom will be gained."

Thomas Aquinas thought reason was a gift from God. When did we decide otherwise?

3. The enemy in the war on Christmas is not unbelief but commercialism. I keep hearing about this "war on Christmas" stuff, but if having a "holiday parade" instead of a "Christmas parade" makes you mad, you're concerned about the wrong things. If you want to fight for people who are sleeping in tents over the holidays, or fight against the way Christ's coming has been co-opted by Hallmark, great. But when we feel threatened by the wrong things and don't notice the true threat, we're in trouble.


The Catholic League's response to this billboard (another billboard--this one) makes me sad, perhaps because it reminds me of Dr. Seuss' Butter Battle Book. Plus, the graphic design is lame and it's just pathetic in its defensiveness. Stephen Colbert summed up the decision to put up the opposing billboard: "If someone slaps you on the cheek, counter-punch!" So that's the reason for the season...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Rose

For church this Sunday, I did an arrangement of "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming," except I changed a good bit of the lyrics to reflect less archaic language and just express some slightly different nuances in the hymn. I also incorporated a verse from "People, Look East"--the one about Love, the Rose. :) I think this arrangement came together really well, so I'm hoping to be able to do a real recording of it soon--you can hear a bootleg acoustic version here. Below are the revised lyrics:

At last a rose is blooming
A blossom ever young
From kings and princes coming
As we for years have sung

It comes, a flower of light
Breaks through the cold of winter
And brightens up the night

Isaiah once foretold it
This flower we proclaim
With Mary we behold it
And magnify God's name

She gave our Savior birth
To show God's love and mercy
And brighten up the earth

O flow'r, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air
Now banish with your splendor
The darkness everywhere

True God, yet fully man
From sin and death you save us
Through blood shed by the Lamb

Garden, rejoice! Though earth is bare
One more seed is planted there
Give all you are to tend and nourish
That from the seed a flower may flourish

People, look east and sing today
Love, the Rose, is on the way
People, look east and sing today
Love, the Rose, is on the way

At last a rose is blooming
A blossom ever young
From kings and princes coming
As we for years have sung

It comes, a flower of light
Breaks through the cold of winter
And brightens up the night

Peace Is the Opposite of Security

This is part of a very rough sermon summary I had to draw up for a project for my worship class. It is by no means complete, but there are some things here I thought worth sharing.

"The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." – Isaiah 11:6-9

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theological and pastoral hero of mine, said in a sermon once, "peace is the opposite of security." Part of the reason we can't seem to figure out peace today is that we think too simply about it. There is a difference between peace as a lack of conflict and peace as living abundantly. Historians talk about the Pax Romana, the period of peace during the Roman Empire—but all that meant was that there were no wars, because the Romans rules their territories with an iron fist. We think living in peace means not being at war, but that is too simplistic.

Moreover, we think living in peace means living in safety. But peace is not about safety; it is about trust, trust in God and trust in each other. Bonhoeffer's quote goes further: "Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to mistrust, and this mistrust in turn brings forth war. To look for guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means to give oneself altogether to the law of God, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God" (A Testament to Freedom, HarperCollins, 1990).

Let's look back at Isaiah for a moment. There is nothing safe about a cow grazing with a bear; a farmhand would be fired to letting such a thing occur. Even worse is the image of a child putting its hand on the adder's den—I'm not sure what kind of snake this would refer to in a historical sense, but there is a kind of adder that is so poisonous that it is known as the "death adder." A parent would be jailed for allowing their child into that kind of danger. There is nothing safe about this peace Isaiah portrays.

There is a wonderful story about St. Francis, the 13th-century saint who is sadly best known for talking to birds, though he did so much more than that. In 1219, Francis showed up at a battlefield where Arab Muslims and Western crusaders were preparing to meet in battle. Francis didn't make any grand speeches about peace or sabotage the military operation; instead he walked right across no-man's land, completely defenseless. He was not killed, as we might expect, but ended up visiting with the sultan and all but convinced him to convert to Christianity. When I hear people claim that if we were to lay our weapons down, our enemies would immediately take advantage of us, I think of this story and say...would they really? Do we know that? Isn’t that assertion still us holding onto that security instead of giving into trust?

I’m not an idiot. I know we live in a broken world. One of the things that fascinates me most about Bonhoeffer is that although he was a firm pacifist, he participated in a plot to kill Hitler. Bonhoeffer never relinquished his beliefs about peace, but he came to advocate what he called "responsible action"—and for him, Hitler posed such a threat to all of humanity that something drastic had to be done. That's part of what I most admire about Bonhoeffer: he tried to walk this thin line of standing by his beliefs while acknowledging that he lived in a deeply fallen world and was responsible for his brothers' blood. This call to peace is not a call to stand idly by in the face of injustice. Our world may not be ready to live in the peace of God's holy mountain. But we must always keep our eye on this hope and seek to live it out wherever we can—even, and especially, when we think perhaps we can't.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

We Need Most What We Deserve Least

The other day, I had a conversation with a friend who was in a position of needing to ask for forgiveness. She had called for some advice and encouragement, but she was struggling with the idea of unconditional love and mercy, despite having been a Christian all her life. The conversation was like a microcosm of one of my biggest spiritual struggles: learning to accept forgiveness. "I just don't feel like I deserve to be forgiven," my friend said.

I heard those words echoed in my own mind and heart going back years, and suddenly I realized...that was the point. If we deserved forgiveness, we wouldn't need it.

It's a liberating but terrifying truth. For those of us who are achievement-oriented, it goes against our basic instinct to do something to make ourselves worthy of love. We feel like we should never be in need of forgiveness.

But we're all just people in the end, no matter how accomplished or "holy" we think we are. We need most what we deserve least, and God offers it free of charge. That is the Gospel that I love and fear.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I Have Decided to Follow Jesus

The following is a slightly tweaked version of a reflection I wrote in my spiritual formation class today. The prompt was to write about a decision.

Yesterday, on the way home, I found a Romans Road pamphlet in the bathroom at a gas station in Thomasville. It's one of those things that takes you through a few passages of Scripture, laying out the basics--"all have sinned"; "the wages of sin is death"; "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us"; "whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved"--all from Romans (hence "Romans Road"--this one even had a road map design in the background). The final panel of the pamphlet has what I've heard called "the sinner's prayer," and it asks if you're ready to make a decision. Are you ready to accept Jesus Christ into your heart? I chuckled to myself and stuck it in my purse.

Last night, I had a conversation about the pamphlet--more so about evangelism in general--with my boyfriend, who comes from an evangelical background. He's a professional musician, and he sings and talks about Jesus at his shows--in coffee houses, shopping malls, bars, you name it. He has been called first and foremost to the un-churched and the de-churched. He tells me stories about "leading people to Christ." He asked me last night how many people I had led to Christ--not in a "you show me yours and I'll show you mine" kind of way, just out of curiosity.

My answer? None. We Methodists don't talk like that. We like to be respectful of other people's beliefs. It reminded me of when one of my best friends started coming to youth group in high school. I was not responsible for her presence there--in fact, she later asked me why I had never invited her to church. Because she had been Unitarian up until then! As it turns out, she was later baptized in that church and is now in seminary. And it never occurred to me to invite her to youth group. Apparently I was worried she might find pizza and name games offensive.

I know that every Christian is called to witness. For Christ's sake (heh), I just wrote a paper on Matthew 28, where Jesus commands his disciples to "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." Heck, in my supremely geeky act of reading in my copy of the United Methodist Book of Discipline last night, I saw it right there in a list of the responsibilities of an ordained elder: "leading people to faith in Jesus Christ."

See, I never made a decision to let Jesus into my heart. I've had my moments of renewal over the years, sure, but I've never not been a Christian. That decision was made for me long before I was born. Going to church was never a choice. Being a Christian was never a choice. It was and is an identity. I never really had to decide to be a Christian. No wonder I'm uncomfortable facilitating that decision for others.

A few months ago, a friend and I were talking about family and significant others. His parents were Southern Baptist missionaries when he was growing up. His girlfriend is Catholic. "My parents love her," he said. "My dad's only concern is that she might not be 'a born-again Christian'." I paused, then replied, "I think my dad's concern with my boyfriend is that he is."

That decision. It is of the utmost importance to some Christians and a foreign, even frightening concept to others. The body of Christ is so much more broken than we realize, and it some times and places it has been over precisely this. We can't figure out how to talk about actively claiming a given identity, or how to form an identity from a decision. But we'll all sing the same hymn: "I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back. No turning back."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Our God Is With Us (Video)

I made this. Yay.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Postlib or Emerging? (Video Link)

This is hilarious...and I feel like most of you will think I'm crazy if you watch this.

The Weepies // Be My Thrill

A good friend introduced me to The Weepies several years back, and I was instantly taken in by this husband and wife folk/pop duo. Having heard too late that they were in Raleigh this month, I downloaded their newest album, Be My Thrill. I've only had one listen through, but I can already tell that this music has the same addictive, utterly charming qualities of The Weepies' older releases. (By the way--favorite tunes of mine include World Spins Madly On, Gotta Have You and Take It From Me.)

"Charming" is my favorite adjective for The Weepies. Deb Talan and Steve Tannen, both musicians in their own right, trade lead vocals (Deb's voice is beautiful in its uniqueness--take a listen) and back each other up with close harmonies threaded over pop-tinged folk, cozying up to full but spacious band arrangements. And their lyrics are unassuming and genuine. Here's a verse from track 4, "I Was Made for Sunny Days":

Found a book you gave me
When we were first in bloom
When I thought that you might save
me
from the dark side of the moon
Instead we both went walking

through the shadows and the gloom
And we never did stop talking

And you still light up the room


I like that for the truth of it--the expectations we have about relationships saving us, when maybe really they give us companions with whom to walk through the valley.

Deb and Steve have two kids now, and their Be My Thrill tour was their first time on the road since 2006. According to their Twitter feed, among the four of them they had 13 loads of post-tour laundry to do. Part of the appeal of The Weepies for me is that Deb and Steve seem so down-to-earth, even with an album hitting #34 on the Billboard chart in its first week out.

Friday, November 26, 2010

What I'm Reading #12: For the Beauty of the Church (W. David O. Taylor, ed.)

For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts, edited by W. David O. Taylor

Last April, I was invited to perform at an artists' reception for New Creation Arts Group, the student arts group at Duke Divinity School that I didn't even know existed at the time (I was not very plugged in at all last year). By mid-May, I was one of two co-leaders for the group. I didn't know what I was supposed to be doing, but I had caught wind of something that fascinated me: the power of theology through the arts to educate, transform, worship and more. Despite having been embedded in the arts all my life, I had thought little about theology and the arts formally except in a historical context--I took an art history course on Gothic Cathedrals, an icon theology class, a few literature and writing courses that had to do with religion or spirituality, etc. Suddenly I was very interested in how the arts can and should be a part of the local church here and now.

Having been thrown into leadership in an area that was still new to me, I looked around for something to read. For the Beauty of the Church immediately jumped out at me. The editor, David Taylor, is a Th.D. student at Duke; Jeremy Begbie, one of the contributors, is the faculty adviser for New Creation and is at the forefront of theology and the arts; and there were a few other familiar names among the authors of this collection of essays. The book emerged from a symposium called "Transforming Culture" and includes essays that provide insights on the arts in the church from various viewpoints: the artist, the pastor, arts in worship, the art patron, etc.

In this book, art is explored as a gift, a calling, a vehicle of worship and relationship-building, a pedagogical tool, and even a danger--the writers do not hesitate to warn the reader of the ways in which the art or artist can be abused or even elevated above the Gospel. Then, too, one writer warns against incorporating only the liturgical arts into the life of the church--this, Joshua Banner writes, creates a false dualism between what happens Sunday morning and what goes on the rest of the week. This was important for me to hear, because I am obsessed with worship and am more than ready to use music, dance, painting and more in that setting, but I need to be reminded of the myriad of ways in which the arts intersect with our lives outside that setting.

This post would get far too long-winded if I tried to summarize each of the essays, so I'll leave you with some favorite quotations and a strong recommendation to pick up this book if the idea of arts in the church inspires you--or, perhaps even more so, if it perplexes you.


Favorite Quotations

"What we do in our churches, when we do what we should be doing, is unuseful! It is better than useful. Does prayer work? Should prayer work? No. Prayer does not work. It does something better than work. Prayer brings us into the life of the one by whom all things were made and are being remade." -- Andy Crouch

"...the most fruitful liturgical artworks are never ends in themselves but rather function as means to deepen the covenantal relationship between God and the gathered congregation." -- John D. Witvliet

"Worship has to do with a God whom no one has ever seen... But worship has to do simultaneously with all the stuff we see wherever we look." -- Eugene Peterson

"Genius is always remarkable for freaking most people out." -- Barbara Nicolosi

"There are two kinds of people in the world: people who are artists and people who are supposed to support them. Figure out which you are and do it with vigor." -- Barbara Nicolosi

"...the arts are made by people for people--each as intricate and organic as the corn my grandfather raised. In this very human endeavor, I have to continually remind myself that the arts are not buttons we push to enhance a sermon. They're not levers we switch to intensify an evangelistic tactic. Art has to do with people we love, and this love bears witness to Christ." -- Joshua Banner

"A full, gospel vision for arts ministry is one that attempts to nourish a wide spectrum of the arts, both inside and outside the church building, both within and beyond a Sunday service. If we engage only the so-called liturgical arts, we are modeling an unfortunate dualism that separates Sundays from the rest of the week." -- Joshua Banner

"Excellence does glorify God, but our pursuit of excellence should never reduce our artists to being means to an end. We glorify God not just with our final art presentation; we glorify him in the gracious and patient way we engage in the process of artmaking." -- Joshua Banner

"...our goal as Christians is not to be polished and impressive, but to be true." -- David Taylor

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What I'm Reading #11: Rise Up and Sing (Lex Buckley)

Rise Up and Sing: Equipping the Female Worship Leader, by Lex Buckley

I ordered this book when I stumbled across it on Amazon. I recently started leading worship monthly at the contemporary service at Orange United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill, and I was beginning to run into quirks and snags that come with being a female worship leader--for example, for the next time I lead worship at Orange, I had to completely redo one of the charts because it's simply not available in a key that's good for the female voice. I realize I'm fortunate to be able to do that--not every worship leader has the skills or the software to make something like that happen. Anyway, I by no means feel called to occupy the role of worship leader long-term, but I was interested to hear from other female worship leaders.

Lex Buckley is currently leading worship with her husband at River City Church in Jacksonville, FL. Being me, I scoped out their website. I liked the "wear a crash helmet, not a tie" tagline (do they know that's Annie Dillard?). But, being me, I wasn't fond of the "religion-free" banner that popped up the second time I loaded the home page. Anyway. That's another issue. RCC is a plant of St. Mary's in London. I'm not clear on whether St. Mary's is Church of England or what--they received some help from the Bishop of London at some point...anyway.

Rise Up and Sing
is essentially a primer for the new or inexperienced worship leader. Buckley and the other contributors (including Beth Redman, Christy Nockels, and Kathryn Scott) give practical tips for how to determine whether you ought to pursue being a lead worshipper, how to lead a band, how to work with your pastor, how to deal with gender issues, etc. They highlight important qualities like humility, communication and relationships, and I appreciated that they were intentional about including sections intended to be read by a female worship leader and her male pastor, if different genders are a part of the leadership dynamic in a church setting. They discuss the ins and outs, pros and cons of leading from guitar or keys or without any instrument, what sort of preparation is necessary to lead worship, how to know the congregation and to be creative in worship without leaving them behind. The book went really quickly for me partly because this isn't dense or profound writing and partly because a lot of what the book had to say was helpful, but they were things I had picked up along the way already.

I was a little dissatisfied with how they took gender roles at face value. I absolutely believe that there are fundamental differences between men and women, in a generalized sort of way. But chapter 2 starts with Buckley gushing about how fun it is to be a girl--to dress up, wear makeup, and go shopping. OK, fine. Even I need a chick flick every now and then, and I like to be pretty. For what it is, this book is practical and useful, and it's good to see at least someone acknowledging the gender divide among worship leaders, but I wanted something a little...meatier. I get that this isn't an academic work, and maybe that's what I need. Maybe I'll just have to write it myself. :)


Favorite Quotations

"It seems that God often sets limitations around our gifts so that we lean on each other and let another person shine where we don't."

"Just because you can, doesn't mean you should!"

"Our musicianship must not get in the way of our leading worship, but rather facilitate it and give us a form foundation from which to lead."

"Diversity is one of our strengths as a church, but it makes leading worship tricky sometimes. We want to make people feel safe when they have stepped out... We don't want to 'go for it' if that means leaving people behind; yet, we also don't want to hold back from following where the Holy Spirit is leading just because we are trying to make sure everyone feels comfortable."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rise Up and Sing...Ladies?

Once a month, I lead worship at the Pathways contemporary service at Orange United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill. This is pretty outside my comfort zone on a lot of levels, but I enjoy it, and I'm getting a little more comfortable with it. I led this morning, and although it went well, I was still feeling pretty nervous, still feeling like I come up short in that role--which in some ways is fine, because I have no intention of being, you know, "a worship leader" full-time in the sense of leading a praise band.

But after worship, a friend came up to me and told me that I did well, which was nice, but then she said something that struck me. She said it's meaningful for her to hear a female leading worship, because it seems to her that every time she turns on K-LOVE (Christian contemporary radio), it's a guy singing. I, too, have noticed a dearth of female worship leaders, and it shows even in the song arrangements that are available. It was cool for me to hear from her, though--it reminded me that even if I'm not totally comfortable in that position, simply being a woman in leadership in the church means something.

A little while back, I bought a book called Rise Up and Sing: Equipping the Female Worship Leader. I read about the first chapter and then got derailed with schoolwork. I may revisit that book over Thanksgiving, and I'll let you know what I think. In the meantime, do any of you worship in a contemporary service that's led musically by a woman? Or, for that matter, if you're in a traditional setting, is there a female preacher? If you're from a tradition that limits female leadership, how do you feel about that, or is it even something that crosses your mind?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What Matters Now?

This is a mildly edited version of a reflection I write in my writing spiritual formation group the other day. The prompt was a simple question: "What matters now?" Clearly, my reflection devolved into a quasi-rant, and although I edited out a few things, including strong language (*sigh*), I chose to leave it largely intact. Take it or leave it.

I feel like my life has been lived in the awkward space between what matters and what should matter—that is, what matters to me and what matters to family, friends, society, etc. And, just to make things more complicated, I think there is a third category: what matters to God.

Of course, that one tends to be harder to figure out, so I'm constantly trying to decide whether God reveals what matters to him [sic—we need a new pronoun for God] through the desires and passions I think he has placed on my heart, or whether God does so through the words and actions of others, trying to decide when either of those is the case, and trying to decide whether sometimes it might actually be both.

I wish all my experiences and hopes came with divinely ordained labels: "This doesn't matter to God. Let it go." "This is really important to God. Take good care of it."

OK, so—so does matter? I'm constantly engaged in arguments over what matters in the church. Just the other day, I was turning my nose up at a pastor who did something in worship that I found distasteful. I felt a little ashamed of my judgments after the sermon that senior M.Div. student Carlos Smith preached this past Tuesday in Goodson Chapel, where he chastized Christians for spending too much time and energy trying to decide who's right or wrong, in or out. I can be kind of a jerk about things I think matter to me and to God. I know I shouldn't do that.

But you know what? I still think that thing the pastor did was stupid. Maybe there was a good reason for it, though. That reason probably wouldn't be enough for me to start using that approach, but maybe it's there.

Maybe what I need to figure out isn't just what matters but how I allow it to matter. Can't I have things that are important to me without needing to dis other approaches? If something seems to matter, can't I just be excited about it without thumbing my nose at people who see things differently?

If the church would be more passionate about loving God and his people than about condemning gays and Muslims to hell, maybe we wouldn't look like such jerks. And when we look like jerks, we make God look like one too.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Lamentation as Honesty Before God

For my worship class this week, we were assigned an exercise in Lawrence Hull Stookey's Let the Whole Church Say Amen!, to write prayers of lament. Here are a few important points Stookey made in his introduction, followed by my own prayer of lament:

"Probably most Christians do much more lamenting over the back fence than in the house of the Lord... People who complain are looked upon as lacking in faith. One is supposed to trust God in every circumstance without complaint. The silver lining of every cloud is to be identified at once, no matter how tragic the circumstances... Those who suffer the greatest pain thereby feel excluded... Good lamentation is honesty before the God who already knows how we feel... To put a smiley face before the All-Knowing One is to engage in deceit. Furthermore, God is both willing and able to accept whatever venom we spew out. Not only to accept it, but to redeem it, to transform it."

An individual prayer of lament based on Psalm 55:

Show yourself to me, God!
I need to know that you are here.
I need to know that you will not turn away,
That you will not betray me.
Listen to me, and come!

I am shaken to my core,
I am broken and terrified.
I wish I could break free from myself,
To leave this body that writhes in agony,
Or to crawl deep inside and shut myself out,
To silence the screaming inside
And rest, if only for a moment.

How can this happen?
How can it be that the ones I trusted,
My friends, my family,
Hand me over as if I were nothing to them?
I can handle the taunts of the enemy,
But this I cannot bear:
Happy memories turned to searing brands in my mind,
People and places I loved showing the darkness within,
Poisoning what I thought was a deep well
Of nourishment and cleansing.

Make them stop!
I am crying out to you, God;
No more running to them,
For their hearts are hard.
But your heart, O God, is neither false nor fickle,
And I will beat upon the door of your heart
Until it opens and lets me in,
And I will come into the presence of your mercy.

Human promises are breakable;
They are shattered by a word.
But your Word, O Lord, stands forever,
And if your Word is my foundation,
My feet will never slip
And I will stand on your grace.
This is too heavy for me,
So I give it over to you.
I trust you will know what to do with it
Better than I ever could,
So I empty myself of this anger and grief,
And I wait for your healing touch. AMEN.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran's Day: Dona Nobis Pacem

I posted last night about Williams Byrd's Mass for Four Voices, and we're singing the final movement, the Agnus Dei, in Vespers today as a prayer for peace on Veteran's Day. To me, that means peace in the world but also peace in the hearts, minds and bodies of soldiers who have suffered in ways about which people only recently are starting to care. I'll be singing for my great-grandfather, one of the first flying chaplains in WWI; my grandfather, an Air Force vet; and Tony and Anthony Mitchell--I haven't met Anthony (my boyfriend Gary's oldest brother) yet, but he's deployed to Korea right now. Prayers for his and every other soldier's safe return. I'll also be singing for people like my godfather, who left Westpoint after he decided he could not be in the military and be a Christian. I pray that people like him might be prophets of that great day when "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isaiah 2:4). Dona nobis pacem.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Et Ascendit In Caelum

This year, I am honored (and more than a little intimidated) to be a member of the Duke Chapel Vespers Ensemble. I spent two years in the choir and then took a two-year hiatus, so coming back has been an adjustment. It's one of several things in my life right now that are difficult and challenging but for good reason.

We had a concert this past Sunday, which went fine, but the music was very much Baroque (Bach, and Schutz's German Requiem), and this is a Renaissance choir at heart (or maybe just at my heart, but hey). So I was thrilled when tonight at rehearsal we delved into William Byrd's Mass for Four Voices, a work I actually sang with Vespers three years ago. I distinctly remember spending my spring break listening to the Tallis Scholars' recording of the work repeatedly on my iPod in preparation for the concert. Even better, my spring break was spent at a Benedictine monastery in New Mexico (which, if you've ever read my blog at all, you've probably heard of), Christ in the Desert.

The Credo movement was always my favorite. I'm not sure why; maybe it's just how I love the way Byrd does text painting in the movement of the music--for example, at the line et ascendit in caelum ("and he ascended into heaven"), the sopranos soar into their upper range. This is by far the longest movement, as it is a setting of the Nicene Creed. It's quite lovely. Check out the rest of the Mass, all on YouTube or iTunes.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Downstairs Bedroom at 421 Pine Road

In my 'Writing As a Spiritual Practice' spiritual formation group today, our prompt was to draw the floor plan of our childhood home and then write about one room. My drawing was awful and isn't worth reproducing, except maybe for the Christmas tree I drew in the living room. But here's what I wrote about the downstairs bedroom at 421 Pine Road.

I have a hard time recalling the exact layout of the house at 421 Pine Road. Some of the problem is that I am spatially challenged. Some of it is that the layout is similar to that of my parents' current house. There are a few differences. 421 Pine Road has three bedrooms upstairs and one downstairs while 2335 Richardson Drive has all four on the second floor. And 421 Pine Road has a spacious laundry room that was great for giving the dog a bath, stashing muddy boots, and being in time out. 2335 Richardson Drive just has a laundry closet by the garage, so all the laundry has to be corralled more efficiently.

I had the best room at 421 Pine Road. Well, I started upstairs, but by the time we got to three Howell children, I moved downstairs and took over the guest bedroom. It never stopped being the guest bedroom. I got used to relocating to the extra bed in Grace's room when company came.

My room was probably bigger than my parents', and I had my own bathroom, where one hermit crab after another lived for several years. The huge mirror that all but covered one wall always frightened me after an encounter with the "Bloody Mary" legend, where you say "Bloody Mary" 3 times and turn around. You're supposed to see Queen Mary's severed head in the mirror, and I swore I did. The layout of the bathroom allowed for even more terror in the form of my dad slipping a hand through the door to turn off the light while I was in the shower. He did this the day after we watched the movie Psycho, and I screamed bloody murder.

Back to my room. There were glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling, painstakingly placed in the patterns of constellations among meticulously spaced out planets by my dad and me, who subscribed to an astronomy magazine for much of my childhood. The stars were more concentrated in the corner originally occupied by my single bed, and they felt far away when a double bed replaced it and switched sides of the room.

My walls were a hideous sea foam green, a color that I picked out and which my mother allowed me to use for some reason. But it was mostly covered by posters, anyway. Star Wars, sports heroes, later on musicians and actors. I seem to recall a calendar or two being dismantled so that pictures of horses and dolphins could serve as decorations. The furniture was solid wood, a whole bedroom set that now resides at 913 Burch Avenue here in Durham, but not in my upstairs bedroom because it is too dang heavy.

Even though I had my own room, I still longed for a secret space. I remember one night when my mom found me in my closet with the light on, reading far past my bedtime as I so often did. My first-floor bedroom was never wholly private. I was right next to the den, so on more than one occasion I emerged bleary-eyed to make my parents and their friends feel guilty for vocalizing their excitement over a late-night basketball game. As I got older, though, I began to join in, cheering on Duke and appeasing my father, whose superstitions about luck in sports often dictated where everyone had to sit and even whether certain people could stay in the room for the final minutes of a close game. I grew to adolescence on the threshold between my bedroom and the den.

When we moved, the new inhabitants let me keep the key. I wonder if they've changed the locks.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Release Healing Truths

How strong, O Lord, are our desires,
how weak our knowledge of ourselves!
Release in us those healing truths
unconscious pride resists or shelves.

— Fred Pratt Green
"O Christ the Healer" (UMH No. 265)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

An Environment Where It's OK to Fall

I love Jonathan Acuff. I blogged about his book Stuff Christians Like, based on his blog of the same name. I just came across an article he wrote for CNN, entitled "How to Scandal-Proof Your Church." He lists several wise suggestions, but perhaps my favorite is the first one: "Create an environment where it's OK to fall." So much of the trouble Christians get themselves into comes when sins are repressed, hidden, and generally misunderstood. The church needs to be a place where sins can be confessed in an atmosphere where accountability is real, but so are expectations. If Christianity is all about maintaining an image, we (myself included) will sooner lie to keep up the facade than confess failings...and that is not what the Gospel calls us to do to ourselves and to each other.

A Semicolon

During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." "Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water." "Come," he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?" And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." – Matthew 14:25-32, NIV

I love this icon. I love the passage it depicts. I love it because I can so strongly identify with the fear and doubt that Peter is feeling. Even the disciples in the boat are exhibiting some of that same fear—some of them may be looking at Peter in concern, but for the most part they seem focused on and worried about their sails. Only Peter is really looking at Jesus, and we can see from the text that it was in his seeing the wind—looking away from Jesus—that he began to sink.

I'm reminded that I blogged about this passage once, in part as a response to controversy that erupted over the release of the film The Golden Compass. Parents feared their children would see the movie and doubt their faith, which would naturally lead to an endless spiral into the murky depths of sin and godlessness. But I read that book when I was a kid—I read everything of Philip Pullman's—and I'm in seminary. So there's that.

What reminded me of that old blog post was the quote I used to start it off. It's from Frederick Buechner, a hero of mine, and it's something that has remained with me and which I find comforting in times of doubt. Buechner says, "Without somehow destroying me in the process, how could God reveal himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt? If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me." God knows us better than we know ourselves, and that means he knows just how prone we are to falter and to lose focus—to look at the wind rather than at Jesus. God isn't so naïve as to think that once we come to faith we will be able to rid ourselves of all doubt and fear. He makes room for us.

This reminds me of yet another quote, this one from the author Wendell Berry. It's a longer one, but it gets at why God reveals himself in ways that can be ascertained only by faith, in ways that are by no means irrefutable in the eyes of reason:

"Christ did not descend from the cross except into the grave. And why not otherwise? Wouldn't it have put fine comical expressions on the faces of the scribes and the chief priests and the soldiers if at that moment He had come down in power and glory? Why didn't He do it? Why hasn't He done it at any one of a thousand good times between then and now?

I knew the answer. I knew it a long time before I could admit it, for all the suffering of the world is in it. He didn't, He hasn't, because from the moment He did, He would be the absolute tyrant of the world and we would be His slaves. Even those who hated Him and hated one another and hated their own souls would have to believe in Him then. From that moment the possibility that we might be bound to Him and He to us and us to one another by love forever would be ended.

And so, I thought, He must forbear to reveal His power and glory by presenting Himself as Himself, and must be present only in the ordinary miracle of the existence of His creatures. Those who wish to see Him must see Him in the poor, the hungry, the hurt, the wordless creatures, the groaning and travailing beautiful world."

Faith is necessary because if God is to be a God of love, the worship of him can never be forced. I'm apparently on a quote kick—here’s another one I recalled: "He who remains good simply because he must serves necessity, not God." That's from John M. Patrick. We are called to serve and love God, and God will not secure our loyalty through uncaringly enslaving us.

I love the passage about Peter walking on water because it shows that although our doubt is not exactly pleasing to God, he doesn't give us over to it, either. Jesus rebukes Peter, but he doesn't leave him to drown. The question Jesus asks—"Why did you doubt?"—sounds rhetorical, but I wonder if that wouldn't be a helpful question to ask ourselves in times where we are floundering in water on which we once walked. "Why did you doubt?" "Because I was afraid." "Why were you afraid?" "Because I saw the wind and it frightened me." "What did you have to stop looking at in order even to see the wind?" "You, my Lord."

Peter has the faith necessary. He had already taken a few steps across the sea before he sank. Having faith and having doubt are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps my favorite Bible verse is Mark 9:24—"I believe; help my unbelief!" The profession of faith is separated from the confession of doubt by nothing more than a semicolon.

Jesus treats our doubt with a gentle rebuke and an honest question. I do not treat my own doubts and fears so gently. I often find myself in situations where it is almost as if I were willing myself to drown as punishment for even looking at the wind in the first place. But the doubt is a part of my humanity, and it is not up to me to decide how long I must thrash about in the waves.

The band Caedmon's Call sings, "Waters rose as my doubts reigned / My sandcastle faith it slipped away / I found myself standing on your grace / It had been there all the time." Jesus' hand is outstretched. "On Christ the solid rock I stand / All other ground is sinking sand."

Repentance of an Anti-Gay Bigot (a quote from Mark Osler)

"Are gays and lesbians sinners? It doesn't seem that way to me (other than the way in which we are all sinners), but at some level I really don't care. If it is a sin, it is not my sin. The sin that I need to discern, root out and identify is my own. One of those sins has been bigotry and senseless cruelty. I atone for and seek forgiveness for that now and here." — Mark Osler (read more here)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Freedom and Responsibility

With freedom comes responsibility. With the freedom of speech comes the responsibility to listen. Are we willing to listen, or do we just want to hear ourselves talk?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Two Sculptures

The first image below was shown in my intro worship class this morning. It really struck me, and I think part of it was that it reminded me of the figure in the second image. I don't have much to say on these, but they are beautiful and invite contemplation, at least to me.

Frederick Hart, Ex Nihilo, now installed at Washington National Cathedral.

Michelangelo, Il Prigioni Ridestantesi.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go

I am mildly obsessed with this version of this hymn.

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

— George Matheson

Monday, October 18, 2010

Michael Franti & Spearhead // The Sound of Sunshine

Last spring, I saw Michael Franti & Spearhead open for John Mayer in Greensboro. Franti put on a killer show. His music and lyrics are uplifting, but he's not afraid to talk about real problems of poverty, gangs, etc. It is clear that the audience matters to him, not only when he opens the stage to any kids who want to come dance to his hit single "Say Hey" but also when he runs through the crowd with his guitar, singing and playing (which was cool in the Greensboro Coliseum, but cooler for my mom and sister when they saw him in the smaller Neighborhood Theatre in Charlotte--they actually got to high-five him).

Franti's music defies and crosses genre barriers. He is a vocal supporter of a number of social justice issues. He's a vegan and hasn't worn shoes in ten years. The son of an Irish-German-American mother and an African-American and Native American father, Franti was adopted by a Finnish-American couple and raised with their 3 biological children and another adopted, African-American brother. His music reflects his diverse background and embraces cultures beyond his heritage.

Franti also made a film, I Know I'm Not Alone: A Musician's Search for the Human Cost of War, in which Franti travels to Iraq, Israel and Palestine with a few cameras and a guitar. Franti was tired of seeing news reports on the conflict that paid no attention to the humanity behind it. So he basically went to play music in the streets and to hear people's stories.

So...Michael Franti is pretty freaking amazing. I started this post to recommend his latest CD, The Sound of Sunshine, and got a little distracted. Back on task.

The Sound of Sunshine is *exactly* what the album name suggests. It is freaking auditory sunshine. Franti believes in the power of music to transform mood and renew a sense of purpose, and this CD does just that. And uplifting sound coupled with honest lyrics results in an album about whose message you can really care. Here's the first verse and chorus of one of my favorite songs from it, "Hey Hey Hey":

It's been a long time coming that I had to say
When I wake up in the morning all I do is pray
For some guidance and protection on the streets today
And an answer to the questions I ask everyday
So tell me why do the birds that used to fly here
Tell me why do they come to die here
And all the kids that used to run here
Tell me why do they load their guns here
I remember, in the days when,
We were one heart no need to defend
I just wrap my arms around
Don't give up this song is for you

Hey, hey, hey, no matter how life is today
There's just one thing that I got to say
I won't let another moment slip away
I say hey, hey, hey no matter how life is today
There's just one thing that I got to say
I won't let another moment slip away

Just for good measure, here's a 5-second video clip I took at the concert last March--a little girl who joined Franti for "Say Hey" and was so into it that he gave her the mic. Adorable.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Understanding God (a quote from Augustine)

"If you understand God, then you're not talking about God." — Augustine (via my good friend Jamie Michaels)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why I Still Dress Up for Church

As a child, I had Sunday clothes. The distinction was massive in my elementary school years, when I was a tomboy who kept her hair as short as her parents would allow and who hated wearing dresses. So putting on a dress to go to church was a big deal. The difference was less dramatic once I grew my hair back out and started wearing something besides sweatpants and t-shirts. But I still dressed up.

I remember the first time I wore jeans to church. It was mildly traumatic. I can count on one hand the number of times I've worn jeans to church. I'm sure a lot of my aversion to doing so comes from my family's deep Southern and Christian roots--my grandparents are always dressed to the T, my mother has indefatigable fashion sense, and my dad's a pastor (and not the kind that wears jeans and graphic T's), so he kinda has to dress nicely. I can just see my mother's or grandmother's face (and hear my grandfather's remarks) if they ever saw me at church in jeans.

I don't have a problem with people in general dressing down for church. I emphatically believe that the church should welcome people as they are. I just went clothes shopping; I know how much it costs to maintain a "nice" wardrobe, and I know that in many churches I've attended, plenty of people can't afford that. And I know the dangers of dress code expectations--I've been in churches that felt like highfalutin social clubs, and I spent a lot of time in high school worrying that my Sunday clothes weren't stylish enough compared to the girls in my youth group.

But my dad told me something about a community in Bayonnais, Haiti, that struck me. Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas, according to the Human Development Index. Bayonnais is the poorest part of Haiti. But at the church to which my dad's church is connected through missions and outreach, all the men come to worship in suits. My dad, who had prepared for the heat of early summer on a visit last year, felt under-dressed in his shirt and tie. There was nothing self-important about these people's church attire; they dressed this way because church was important to them, and they wanted to offer their best to God.

I still dress up for church partly because I am often in leadership positions (and will be more regularly as time goes on), partly because that's how I was raised, and partly because there's something in me, old-fashioned though it may be, that wants to show a modicum of respect and attention to the church and to God. Maybe the people in Bayonnais would be better off buying food than buying a suit; but maybe they are like the widow with two coins:

As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. "I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." -- Luke 21:1-4

I don't have to make decisions like the people of Bayonnais. Anything I give, I give out of my wealth. It's easy for me to decide what part of me to give to God and what part to keep for myself. I don't want to romanticize poverty (see this post), and I'm not one to impose a dress code on others (though I will dress my boyfriend, and if your teenager is wearing something inappropriate--to church or anywhere, really--I might say something).

I guess I'm wondering what other people think. Does anyone really think about what they wear to church anymore? If we do, what are our considerations--respect, comfort, stylishness, attractiveness, or something else?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The King's Kitchen, Where You Feast to Feed Somebody

Today I had lunch at The King's Kitchen, a new restaurant in Charlotte. It's not only delicious, it's for a good cause--proceeds go to serving the poor of the city. Check out the info below from their website:

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The King's Kitchen is an outreach of Restoration Word Ministries managed by Jim Noble Restaurants that donates 100% of profits from sales to feed the poor in Charlotte, the region, and the world. Additionally, The King's Kitchen partners with area ministries to provide employment opportunities to Charlotteans in search of a new beginning.

And while every penny of profit at The King’s Kitchen has a higher calling, each bite of the food served to patrons, features Jim's signature "New Local Southern Cuisine." Specialties include premium local and organic produce paired with fine meats like Aunt Beaut's Pan Fried Chicken.

Twelve years before opening the doors of The King's Kitchen, Chef Jim and his wife Karen were awakened to a calling from God. Rather than open another restaurant to simply feed the body, the Noble's were called to start a ministry that would nourish the soul.

In 1998, Jim and Karen started Restoration Word Ministries (RWM) and their weekly radio broadcast ministry, The Voice of Healing Faith. An ordained minister, Jim uses this outreach as a way to share the teachings of Christ as well as remain open to the ways God calls him to serve. Over time, Jim recognized the relationship of his two passions – serving food and serving God – and was led to the ministry of feeding the poor.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Voice, Small, a Whisper

1 Kings 19 has always been one of my favorite passages in Scripture. This is the one where Elijah has been told that God is about to pass over, so he goes and stands on the mountain. Here are verses 11 and 12:

"Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence."

In my Hebrew class, we're going through the Elijah and Elisha cycles, so we recently worked through this passage, and it was fascinating. Now, don't cry, but I'm going to reproduce the above excerpt in Hebrew here:

ורוח גדולה וחזק מפרק הרים ומשבר סלעים לפני יהוה לא ברוח יהוה ואחר הרוח רעש לא ברעש יהוהואחר הרעש אש לא באש יהוה ואחר האש קול דממה דקה

The word economy here is incredible. The Hebrew uses almost no verbs. It's a ton of nouns and prepositions, because Hebrew can do that.

I think my favorite part of this passage is the very last snippet. "קול דממה דקה" gets translated in a ton of different ways:
  • "a sound of sheer silence" (NRSV)
  • "a still small voice" (KJV)
  • "a sound of a gentle blowing" (NASB)
  • "a gentle whisper" (NIV)
  • "the sound of a low whisper" (ESV)
  • sibilus aurae tenuis/"a whistling of a gentle air" (Latin Vulgate/Douay-Rheims Bible)
All right, that was TMI, but my point is that there's no real consensus about how exactly to translate those 3 words. The Hebrew pretty much just says "A voice, small, a whisper." It's pretty ambiguous. And I really, really like that.

The whole point of this passage is that God doesn't come in the forms we might expect--wind, earthquake, fire. He comes in a still small voice (for once, I like the KJV best). So many musical artists have picked up on this and run with it. Nichole Nordeman sings, "Oh great God, be small enough to hear me now." Audrey Assad, similarly, sings, "Let me hear a still small voice." There's something about a soft, intimate whisper that is more powerful than wind, earthquake or fire, especially coming from the God that made and controls them all.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I've Got the Methodist Blues



The other day, while listening to NPR, I heard this song on the radio. "Methodist Blues." I laughed my head off at lyrics like "Problems? We've got a whole long list / But we can't say cause we're Methodist" and "Church is a club, it's downright tribal" and "Our theology gets thinner and thinner / We don't talk about saving the sinner."

Then I recalled a conversation I had with a member at a Methodist church where I'm involved, where he said he and his wife came from different Christian backgrounds and decided on Methodist because it seems to be where anyone can come in. A part of me rejoiced at that, but I began to wonder what Methodism's identity was.

And then I got sad. I recalled Jon Stewart calling United Methodism "the University of Phoenix of religions" (see it in context here). And I remembered Dr. Stanley Hauerwas calling Methodism "flaccid." I thought about a classmate who is considering leaving the Methodist church because he is disappointed in our sacramental practices.

I love how diverse United Methodist congregations are. From high-church liturgical worship to old gospel black church to parishes that more closely resemble Baptist churches, we're all over the map. You aren't necessarily going to get what you expect at a Methodist church, even if you grew up in the denomination.

It's wonderful because it allows for the UMC to bring a myriad of people into communion with one another within the denomination. On the other hand, how much are we really doing that if our church is so fragmented in terms of liturgy, theology, practice and politics? Does a statement issued by the UMC mean anything really?

Yes, the Methodist church has problems. But it is my home, the place where I grew up, the place from which and to which I am called into ministry. Wherever God may take me in my vocation, I doubt you will ever find me far from the Methodist church, even with its tribalism and aversion to facing the reality of sin. My hope is that the Methodist church's true legacy is the evangelical revivalism that John Wesley originally intended.

Monday, October 4, 2010

For Women = About Men?


I don't have much to say about this, except...why are women defined by their relationships with men? Do men bear the same burden of proof of identity? What can the church do to combat these messages to young women and men? Why is it that the more sex is talked about in society, the more impoverished our understanding of and appreciation for it becomes?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Feast of St. Francis: October 4

"Francis dares to live the Gospel the way I would like to live it, and he loves Jesus the way anyone would like to be loved… It is easier to rationalize and dismiss Jesus than Francis, because Jesus, after all, is divine and so far above us. But Francis is only human like us. What he is, we can become… What is so unique about Francis is that he does what we would like to do, and he does it in such a simple, ingenuous way that we know we could do the same if only we would." -- Murray Bodo, The Way of St. Francis: The Challenge of Franciscan Spirituality for Everyone
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Click here to read a great blog post by my dad about Francis.

Witness or Warrior?

From yesterday through tomorrow, I have been/am/will be in a New Testament colloquium on intertextuality in the book of Revelation with German scholar Stefan Alkier. Academically, I'm in over my head, and I'm still not sure what possessed me to give my entire weekend over to a non-credit class, but I've learned some interesting things.

What I've most resonated with so far was part of a paper Dr. Alkier is working on called "Witness or Warrior? How the Book of Revelation can help Christians live their political lives." He seeks to take back Revelation from fundamentalism (which he distinguishes from biblicism by saying it is always political in some way), which has over the ages used Revelation to justify violence and vengeance. Alkier argues that although Revelation does not shy away from expressions of anger and desires for revenge, even legitimating them, but its focus on the risen Christ demands that we leave acting upon such desires to God.

This immediately got me excited because I thought of Walter Brueggemann's book Praying the Psalms, which we read in Old Testament last year and about which I blogged a while back. Revelation, like many of the Psalms of vengeance, has had its place in the Biblical canon questioned for its violent and graphic content; but Brueggemann argues, as does Alkier, that to eliminate such texts is to be in denial that these feelings exist in humankind, which is dangerous. Brueggemann writes, "The real theological problem...is not that vengeance is there in the Psalms, but that it is here in our midst." Revelation, the Psalms and many other disturbing Biblical texts force us to confront feelings and passions that make us uncomfortable but which are very real.

I wasn't going to go here, but the next time I hear someone rant about how there are 109 violent verses in the Quran, I'm going to tell them to go read Psalm 137:7-9, 2 Kings 2:23-24, and Revelation 18, for starters. If you want more, this website lists no fewer than 1,199 Bible verses with "cruelty or violence."

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Not-Being-a-Jerk-About-It Part

The Church Is a Whore

"The Church is a whore, but she's my mother."

The first time I heard this quote (from St. Augustine), I was at first shocked, then extremely pleased.

All my life I've heard people accuse the church of hypocrisy. I would be the last person to argue with that. The church is full of hypocrites and sinners. The moment we stop believing that, we decide we can redeem ourselves, or worse, that we don't need redemption.

I just wrote a paper for my American Christianity class about how the church has always been embedded in its culture. I believe it is important for Christianity to be able to relate to its time and place, and as a lover of the arts, I am especially interested in how the Church interacts with and shapes culture and art. But the church must never be co-opted by its cultural setting.

Unfortunately, the Church regularly has been whored out (hey, I'm just quoting St. Augustine) to nationalistic, imperialistic, cruel and even idolatrous institutions and causes. Some theologians argue that the Church was ruined as far back as the 4th century, when Constantine made it the official religion of the Roman Empire. The easiest targets for accusing the Church of hypocrisy are the Crusades and Nazi Germany. These days, with all the anti-Islam sentiment, no one wants to talk about these things seriously; but even though these events are "in the past," they cannot be easily brushed aside. That's part of why I recently purchased an iron cross from 1939. An odd purchase, admittedly; but I never want to forget how easily we Christians can whore ourselves out to the peril of those around us and to our own souls.

We also cannot allow the church to be co-opted even today; I found this picture of the famous Last Supper painting Photoshopped with various trappings of Americanism while looking for a photo of a flag draped over a communion table, which I've heard about happening. The table is not America's table. It is the table of our Lord.

Back to the Crusades and Nazi Germany. We need to admit to these atrocities, to apologize, to make restitution. But we cannot put them behind us, and we cannot wash our hands even of things that happened before we are born. That Christianity has been used as a vehicle of genocide means that the Holocaust could happen again.

And yet. I love the second part of Augustine's quote. The Church is my mother. Regardless of what she may have done, or what we may have done because of her, she is all we have. All the anti-institutional talk floating around in Christianity these days forgets that the institution is all we've got. Yes, it's broken. Yes, it's hypocritical. And I'm not necessarily saying that's OK. We must mourn the brokenness of the church and seek to amend it, with God's help. But we cannot deny that brokenness, or else it will consume us.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Please Don't Forgive Me

Over the summer, I got into the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Yes, I know I'm a little behind.) I'm now on season 6. The other day, I watched an episode where Buffy confesses to a friend for the first time that she has been sleeping with Spike, a vampire whom she hates with every fiber of her being. Tara is reasonably concerned and doesn't condone Buffy's actions, but she does comfort her--we all make mistakes, she says; it's OK; you've been going through a lot lately. At that, Buffy breaks down and makes this pitiful plea: "Please don't forgive me." She wants to be told that something is wrong with her, that she's bad and deserves to be punished; instead, she is receiving grace, and it is more than she can take.

The scene moved me, because I know exactly how that feels. Sometimes, forgiveness can be an even heavier burden to bear than sin--or maybe that's just my prideful, fallen nature talking. But forgiveness requires confession, vulnerability, being known in your most humiliating and painful moments. No one wants to be known that well, and even when we are, we want enablers, people who will help us punish ourselves. Hurt can become familiar, comfortable even, and healing threatens to introduce unfamiliarity.

This morning, I read Luke 5:1-11, where Jesus has the fisherman cast their nets until the boats are sinking with so much fish, and then calls them to become fishers of people. In verse 8, Peter reacts a bit surprisingly to Jesus' show of power: "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!"

Does Peter not know that sending Jesus away is the surest way to remain in his sin?

I bet he does. Sin is easy. Forgiveness--especially receiving it--is hard.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Composer Robert Kyr Finds Inspiration at Christ in the Desert // From NPR Music

One of my favorite places on the planet!!!!!

Children's Sabbath

Yesterday at Orange UMC, we observed Children's Sabbath, an annual observance started by the United Methodist Women (UMW) in order to draw attention to the needs of children in our churches and communities. We had the elementary-aged kids sing a song and talked a lot about how to let the little children come to Jesus

Orange broadened the scope of Children's Sabbath to include children around the world, highlighting two organizations: ZOE Ministry and Compassion International.

ZOE stands for Zimbabwe Orphan Endeavor, started in the Methodist Church and has expanded to encompass missions not only in Zimbabwe but also in Rwanda, Zambia and Kenya. OUMC has sent a number of medical mission teams to Zimbabwe over the years, most recently at the beginning of 2010. I recently learned that you don't have to be medically trained to go on a trip. Hmmmm. :)

Compassion International is a group about which Gary Mitchell, my boyfriend and the Pathways worship leader at OUMC, is very passionate. Compassion works with and through local churches around the globe to connect children with sponsors, provide them with food, clothing, education, Bible study, training and more. Gary and I each sponsor 2 children through Compassion, and this past June Gary traveled to El Salvador to meet Karen, his sponsored child there (learn more about his visit here).

Children's Sabbath came on the heels on OUMC's annual Harvest Festival, a big missions fundraising event that includes food and games, crafts and vendors, a yard sale, an auction and more. The proceeds from that event go to support missions at OUMC, including ZOE.

As part and parcel of his presentation of Compassion, Gary set up a table where people could give a one-time donation or sponsor a child. Yesterday was also Compassion Sunday, where churches could highlight the work on Compassion and make a push for sponsors. 11 new sponsors picked up packets for children from all around the world yesterday. Awesome.

We ended up showing several videos throughout worship to show the congregation more about what ZOE and Compassion do--here's a short one I put together to show a few facts about child poverty:

 

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