Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Field Notes #30: Planning Toward July 4

I started musing in general, rambling terms about preaching/planning worship on July 4 in this post, and since then I've done more thinking and planning. Here's my basic approach this Sunday: I'm preaching on 2 Kings 5:1-14. My sermon is going to be about that passage. (And no, I have no idea what exactly I'm going to talk about just yet.)

Musical selections include "Down to the River to Pray," "Let the River Flow" (I arranged this one myself--maybe I'll record a rough version later), "Wade in the Water," "Wash, O God, Our Sons and Daughters," and "Shall We Gather at the River." (Ohmygosh it is hard to find decent versions of praise songs/hymns on YouTube. I apologize for some of these. I did my best.) Hopefully we'll also be able to do Needtobreathe's "Washed by the Water" as an offertory anthem. (Hint: we've got a water theme going on.)

I couldn't find a call to worship that I liked, so I wrote one:


L: This is the day that the Lord has made!
P: Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
L: Today we celebrate our freedom to love and worship God.
P: Let our worship be a declaration of dependence.
L: We come with a need for healing,
P: With wounds, with illness, with pride.
L: We come with a need to put God first,
P: Before ourselves, before our family, before all other loyalties.
L: We come to respond to a gracious invitation, “Wash, and be clean!”
P: We come seeking mercy and justice for all God’s people.


And here's an opening prayer from The United Methodist Book of Worship:


Almighty God, you rule all the peoples of the earth. Inspire the minds of all women and men to whom you have committed the responsibility of government and leadership in the nations of the world. Give to them the vision of truth and justice, that by their counsel all nations and peoples may work together. Give to the people of our country zeal for justice and strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will. Forgive our shortcomings as a nation; purify our hearts to see and love the truth. We pray all these things through Jesus Christ. Amen.


That pretty much sums up my approach to Sunday, July 4.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Field Notes #29: Comet!... Starship!...

Yet again, I should be in bed (and will be very soon, trust me). Tonight was the last night of Vacation Bible School at Hill's Chapel. Our Bible story today was about the blind beggar, and we also learned about comets, so all our stories and activities had something to do with one or both of those things. For my part, the suggested games turned out to be a little too complicated, but one thing that worked well was playing "Marco, Polo" but changing it to "Comet, Starship." I know, I'm the most creative person you've ever met. Anyway, the point I tried to convey was that if you're blind, you have to listen to know where you're going and where people are, and Jesus listened to the blind beggar. All in all, we had a good time, hopefully the kids learned something, and now I have the "Galactic Blast" theme song stuck in my head. Check out this short slideshow I put together of select photos I took over the course of VBS:


El Salvador Compassion Trip: Meeting Karen

My boyfriend recently went to El Salvador to meet a child he has been sponsoring through Compassion International. You can read about his incredible experience here, and the video below captures his meeting and interacting with Karen.

Thank You, GBOD

The United Methodist Church's General Board of Discipleship (GBOD) makes worship and teaching resources available through their website (which, by the way, is confusing since they changed the design/layout). Their lectionary resources for this coming Sunday (July 4) point preachers to blessings and prayers for the military and veterans, but they also include this paragraph:

"Always remember that the Scriptures for the day should set the theme for worship, and special commemorations should happen within and related to the context of the overarching biblical and Christian seasonal themes. God's word and our common baptism tell us who we are in Christ and so establish the underlying norms for our worship, not our national, ethnic, or familial ties or current station in life."

What a great way of putting it. I know some people (myself included) get worried when they have to preach on a day like Independence Day--I was dreading the possibility of singing "America the Beautiful" in worship. It's a delicate balance that I think we mess up quite frequently--many of us want to offer a counter-narrative to patriotism that sometimes can blot out our unity in Christ, but there is nothing wrong with praying for the troops or honoring veterans. The GBOD website is trying to encourage worship planners to put our identity in Christ first, but that where recognition of human achievements and national holidays are appropriate to the Christian season, they can be included in the appropriate time and space. I'd just as soon ignore the 4th of July holiday and take up the issue of war another time, but I know the parishioners are probably going to go straight from church to a cookout and to watch fireworks. There has to be some sort of continuity and point of contact between what happens in Sunday morning worship and what's going on in the rest of the lives of the congregants. That doesn't mean unilaterally supporting cultural phenomena--the Gospel should be subversive of anything that detracts from its singular position in our lives--but it does mean finding the connections and making space for transformation. Anyway, I'm sort of thinking out loud, but those are just some of my musings on the subject, which I'll be refining in my own head over the course of this week.

Back to the lectionary. I'm thinking 2 Kings. I really like the Naaman story.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Field Notes #28: Planet, Planet, STAR!

I know I should be in bed, but here's my brief update on day 2 of VBS. We gained a few more kids, so today was a little crazy at times--thank goodness for our awesome volunteers! The Bible story for the day was the woman at the well (John 4:1-42). I got to sit in on one of the storytelling sessions, and it was pretty cool.

I had planned to use 2 of the games outlined for the day, but since the weather was sort of touch-and-go, I tabled the one that had to be outside and modified the other to make life simpler. We also played a modification of "Duck, Duck, Goose"--we played "Planet, Planet, Star." That was hysterical with the littlest ones, most of which either didn't get it or didn't want to play or just wanted to go to the playground (which we did, eventually). But it was fun. The kids are really sweet, and hopefully they're learning something.

The other fun part for me was that my boyfriend, Gary, is in town visiting. He's great with teenagers, but little kids make him nervous, so I was concerned he wouldn't enjoy helping out with VBS (though he agreed to be there, of course). But when he got asked to be the puppeteer and voice for the mad scientist, he not only went along with it, he supplied a voice that left me (also crouched behind the altar rail, playing the part of the gorilla Galileo) struggling not to laugh out loud. A few of the kids are starting to figure out the puppet trick, though one of my favorite quotes from yesterday was in reference to Galileo: "And he's REAL!!!" I love kids.

A few images from today:

Commander Val setting the stage for the day's Bible story.


Looks like Alix tagged Faith in "Planet, Planet, Star."

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What I'm Reading #8: As One With Authority (Jackson Carroll)

As One With Authority: Reflective Leadership in Ministry, by Jackson W. Carroll

As One With Authority was loaned to me by my summer field education supervisor. I'm reading select chapters, and although I don't really like to think about authority in relation to my ministry, I know it's important for me to realize that I probably have more authority than I think I do, and Carroll's book is helping me see the many ways in which authority can be exercised.

A major emphasis in this book is the relational nature of authority. This seems pretty basic--the more you know and respect someone, the more you trust them and are willing to give them power--but a lot of the time, we assume that a degree or a name is enough to give us authority even with total strangers. Of course, sometimes it is--Carroll points out three bases of authority (from Max Weber): traditional, charismatic and rational-legal. Sometimes any one of these is enough to grant a person authority, but Carroll notes that it can be important to have more than one of the bases of power. He points out that Jesus' charisma aided in his speaking "as one with authority" (Matthew 7:29) (hello book title)--but the same was true of Hitler. Yikes.

Another distinction Carroll made that I found interesting was the difference between social authority and cultural authority. Social authority involves influencing behavior while cultural authority involves influencing thinking. Of course, one assumes that when a person's thinking is influenced, so, too are their actions. This reminds me of a time in high school when I was having difficulty getting other youth volunteers in a tutoring program of which I was a student leader to uphold our discipline code consistently. Frustrated, I finally went to one of our adult supervisors, who flatly told me I couldn't make anyone do anything. Nor could I wash my hands of one particularly frustrating youth's conduct. I had to find a way to help him see why our rules were the way they were and why it was important for him to stick to them, in a way that he could understand and that was persuasive but not coercive. I was undermining my own authority by expecting the adult to step in a lay down the law.

Finally, Carroll talks about the difference between the authority of representing the sacred vs. the authority of expertise. In a way, the concept of a clergy person representing the sacred is different for Catholics and Protestants, but the broader question is an interesting one: is it enough to have a background in theological education, or does one need also a sense of calling? Or vice versa--can someone with a profound vocation to holy leadership wield spiritual authority without technical expertise? At Duke Divinity School, students are theoretically required to have both, certainly when they graduate but also to some extent when they apply for admission. An undergraduate degree is required and not just any GPA gets you consideration; however, you also have to describe your experience of a calling from God. You can be unsure about exactly what your calling means, but the Div School expects your application to be a response to the Holy Spirit's work in your life.

At a first-year spiritual formation retreat last fall, I had an interesting conversation with some fellow seminarians about whether we planned to display our diplomas in our offices in the future (most of us were planning to enter parish ministry). One person said he'd be very proud of his degree and would want to have it framed and mounted--not just for his own pride, but because it would earn him respect as soon as people saw it. I told the group that I was hesitant because I have had experiences with people who wrote me off as elitist the moment they learned I went to Duke; does a diploma on the wall earn you respect or intimidation? I recalled my dad telling me about the first church he served, a lovely country church where he still has dear friends. When he first became the pastor, he was still finishing his Ph.D., and somehow this got mentioned in worship, but in very vague terms. Apparently a few members thought it meant that my dad hadn't finished school--as in high school or college--and they were thrilled to have a pastor with a humble education like theirs. In that community, a doctoral degree might be more of a curse than a blessing for an authority figure.

Of course, all of that comes back to the relational dimension of authority. No good pastor can responsibly wield authority before she or he knows the community.

Now, to figure out all the details before I get my first church...


Favorite Quotations

"...to have authority is to use power in ways that a congregation or other church body recognizes as legitimate, as consonant with and contributing to the basic beliefs and purposes of the church."

"Authenticity and competence may have been assumed as a basis for ordination and a call, but they have to be proved in practice before a congregation or community accords the pastor full legitimacy to lead."

"While the Hebrew prophets and Jesus are prime examples of charismatic leaders, so also was Hitler in his appeal to Germany's sacred past and his projection of a thousand-year reich."

"If we have authority as clergy, it is because laity perceive us to be reliable interpreters of the power and purposes of God in the context of contemporary society. And this involves both spirituality and expertise, not one without the other."

Field Notes #27: Blast Off!

Today was the first day of Vacation Bible School at HCUMC! I had a fun first day with "Galactic Blast." Never one to shy from committing to a theme, I got a boys' size 8 Buzz Lightyear t-shirt for $5 at Wal-Mart, cut off the sleeves and squeezed it over a t-shirt that actually fits. I'm in charge of games, and I quickly learned that although the 9- t0 11-year-olds had fun with "Creation Station Relay" and "Planet Toss," trying to coordinate 3- to 5-year-olds for a relay race is like herding cats. But the playground is fun, and I'll adjust my approach tomorrow anyway.

Here are two of my favorite pictures from today. I'll put together a slideshow once VBS is over.


Torin playing with Galileo.


Braden and me showing off our Buzz Lightyear t-shirts.

Friday, June 25, 2010

His Eye Is On the Sparrow

A few months ago, a friend of mine lost her one-eyed cat, Sparrow. She was found 10 miles from home yesterday after 90 days of being on her own. The funny thing is that we're singing "His Eye Is On the Sparrow" in church this week. I don't like to give too much spiritual significance to "coincidences" (I hate that word) like that, but I do like to point out the craziness and just let it sit. :)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Field Notes #26: Moon Rocks and Space Monkeys

We started sorting through VBS decorations. Alix and I had fun with this.


There is only one way to describe this picture: BOSS.


Alix with Galileo, the (inexplicably) green, galactic gorilla.

Field Notes #25: The Backwoods General Store

Today, a church member took myself, Val and LeaAnne to lunch. She warned us ahead of time that we might be a little concerned when we saw the place, but that they had great food. She was right on both counts. Here's how you get to the aptly named Backwoods General Store: get to the middle of nowhere in north Gaston County, then keep driving. Outside, you see this sign and a somewhat worse for the wear building with a bright orange door. Inside are 6 tables, so I'm told--I only saw 3; they're all ensconced in a labyrinth of antique furniture, books, toys, games, pictures and all sorts of odds and ends, including birdhouses, baskets, boxes and more made of or decorated with wine corks. If I'd had the time to poke around, you probably wouldn't have seen me for several hours, as I'd be bound to get lost in exploring the place and its contents.

Oh, and the food. My goodness. Talk about a square meal, and I'm talking classy yet inexpensive. I ordered the smothered chicken--incredibly tender, juicy chicken covered with tomatoes, roasted red peppers, bacon, mushrooms and cheese--with a side of fresh fruit and roasted broccoli (which had cheese and spices of some sort on top, and was delicious). All that came with a roll and a drink. The chef doesn't have a dishwasher, so everything is served on paper plates, and in lieu of drinks in cups, your options are bottled water or canned soda. Everything was wonderful, and I was sorely tempted to try dessert but restrained myself.

It may be out of the way, but Backwoods is getting attention--I was told that at night there's a line out the front door to eat there, and you can check out this article in the Gaston Gazette for a review. The plan, apparently, is for them to relocate to Gastonia in order to be more accessible not only to the faithful clients who trek out there regularly but also to the not-yet-enlightened who will surely benefit from exposure to the food. What an experience.

Field Notes #24: Flashlights, Group Reflection, Green Space Monkeys and Authority

"Though by the path he leadeth,
But one step I may see."


I had never really paid attention to those two short lines (from "His Eye Is On the Sparrow," lyrics by Civilla Martin) until last night when we sang them at choir practice. I journalled about it last night. The image of following God being like driving a car through pitch black darkness and only seeing the road directly in front of you where the headlights shine--that has been helpful to me as I've sought to follow God, not knowing really where I'm going. Of course, often I feel like all I have is a flashlight or even just a cell phone to light the way, but I have to remember Jeremiah 29:11--"For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope." I may not know where I'm going, but God does, and I have to trust and rest in that.

Yesterday we had our group reflection meeting with those of us doing field ed in the general vicinity of Charlotte (ish). It was cool to see some of my friends again, to get to know some pre-enrollment students, and to hear about other people's field ed experiences so far. Plus we started off with worship led by half the group, which was very cool. Also, one of my friends is placed at my dad's church, so it was neat to hear about her experience there.

Yesterday we got a bunch of decorations and props for VBS from my old home, Davidson UMC. We are SO thankful that they were willing to share--we have moon rocks, a mission control station, loads of inflatable space shuttles, several sets of planets (I didn't check to see if Pluto got included), great backdrops for storytelling, a green space monkey, and more. We're also working on integrating the science unit into our schedule--the curriculum has all these cool demonstrations that fit in with the Bible stories for each day, and we have a number of scientifically-minded folks in the church who will have a lot of fun with that. People are excited about VBS and eager to help, which is so great. I'm looking forward to it.

I'm off to do some reading--Val gave me Jackson Carroll's book As One With Authority: Reflective Leadership in Ministry (look for it in my "What I'm Reading" blog series soon) and bookmarked a few chapters of particular interest for me to read and for us to talk about. I'm realizing that although I've always wishes people would respect me and get past the fact that I'm short, blonde and look like I'm 14, I sometimes rely on and feed into that because I'm actually uncomfortable with authority. I pull a Jeremiah pretty regularly--"Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy" (Jer. 1:6). But even though I'm "just an intern," I do have authority, and even though I sometimes don't want to think about it, it's something that's really important for me to begin to get my head around, something about which I need to be intentional.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Silence, Frenzied, Unclean Spirit"

"Silence, frenzied, unclean spirit!"
Cried God's healing Holy One.
"Cease your ranting! Flesh can't bear it.
Flee as night before the sun."

At Christ's words the demon trembled,
From its victim madly rushed,
While the crowd that was assembled
Stood in wonder, stunned and hushed.

Lord, the demons still are thriving
In the gray cells of the mind:
Tyrant voices, shrill and driving,
Twisted thoughts that grip and bind,

Doubts that stir the heart to panic,
Fears distorting reason's sight,
Guilt that makes our loving frantic,
Dreams that cloud the soul with fright.

Silence, Lord, the unclean spirit
In our mind and in our heart;
Speak your word that when we hear it,
All our demons shall depart.

Clear our thought and calm our feeling;
Still the fractured, warring soul.
By the power of your healing
Make us faithful, true, and whole.

-- Thomas H. Troeger (UMH No. 264)

Psi: Connecting the Psalms with Ancient Greek Figurines

This is just a random observation on my part that I mentioned during last night's Psalms class. When I studied abroad in Greece in 2007, one of the souvenirs I brought home was a terra cotta statue (I assume a replica) like the one in this picture. Countless figurines have been found in the shape of several Greek letters--in this case, the psi (Ψ). The vaguely humanoid statues bear the trident shape of the 23rd letter of the Greek alphabet, and they seem to lift their stubby arms up in praise.

Being both a language dork and a history nerd, I liked the imagery at the time. In researching for my Psalms series, I learned that the Greek word from which we get the name of the Biblical book is psalmoi, which means "songs sung to a harp." The fact that the first letter of psalmoi has been rendered as a symbol of an act of praise is pretty cool to me. Worship and music are meant for each other, and the Psalms embody that.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Field Notes #23: Wet, Wild Water and the Word

Today was exhausting but super fun! I spent most of the day at Wet 'n Wild Emerald Pointe with the youth from HCUMC. Apparently it's the Carolinas' biggest water park. I'd been there a few times before, but not in a long, long time. I had so much fun hanging out with the youth and with the adults--that ministry is volunteer-run, and I love how committed and involved the parents and other adult volunteers are. I'm convinced that is the key to a successful youth ministry, regardless of whether or not you have a paid youth pastor. Anyway, we had fun, I am sunburned, and there will probably be some pretty goofy pictures of me from the van ride up on Facebook in the near future thanks to the multiple cameras in use while I was still convincing my body that yes, I did drink coffee this morning.

Part 2 of my Psalms class was tonight, and I had a lot of fun teaching that! I had a lovely group of attendees who humored me and participated when asked, which was wonderful. We talked about the Psalms and music, which I obviously enjoyed. We learned how to chant psalms, listened to a few tracks off the Psalms mixtape I made (also available, minus 2 tracks, as an iMix), and talked about how the Psalms can be incorporated into prayer and worship. Like I said, I had fun talking about the psalms and music, and people seemed to be interested in what I was saying. It was very cool. :)

On an unrelated but still awesome note, a friend told me she heard my name on 106.9 The Light this morning. As it turns out, I made their concert calendar because I'm playing at The Upper Room in Statesville this Friday. Way cool!

I'm off to celebrate by eating Froot Loops, vegging out on the computer and going to bed early.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Field Notes #22: Psalms, The Mixtape


Watch out. The queen of CD mixes is back in action, this time with better technology and with the Psalms in mind. Tomorrow it's Psalms: The Songbook of the Bible, so we're talking about music! In preparation (and to have as a goodie for folks who come), I've created a playlist of music based on the Psalms. The CD covers a broad range of genres, and the tracks are arranged in numerical order by psalm. Here's my Psalms playlist (with the performer, not necessarily the writer, listed along with the referring psalm). You can hear song samples and download the whole playlist (minus tracks 17 and 19, for some reason) as an iMix in iTunes by clicking here.
  1. "I Will Call Upon the Lord" Marty J. Nytrom (Psalm 19)
  2. "House of God, Forever" Jon Foreman (Psalm 23)
  3. "Cry of My Heart" Studio Musicians (Psalm 25:4-5)
  4. "O Taste and See" John Rutter & The Cambridge Singers (Psalm 34)
  5. "I Love You, Lord" Eric Quiram & The London Fox Singers (Psalm 35:9)
  6. "Your Love, Oh Lord" Third Day (Psalm 36)
  7. "As the Deer" Terry Clark (Psalm 42)
  8. "A Mighty Fortress" John Rutter & The Cambridge Singers (Psalm 46)
  9. "Create in Me a Clean Heart" Martin Smith (Psalm 51)
  10. "Better Is One Day" Passion (Psalm 84)
  11. "Bless the Lord" Tye Tribbett & G.A. (Psalm 103)
  12. "East to West" Casting Crowns (Psalm 103:12)
  13. "Not to Us" Chris Tomlin (Psalm 115)
  14. "Laudate Dominum Omnes Gentes" Choir of King's College, Cambridge (Psalm 117)
  15. "Come to the Quiet" John Michael Talbot (Psalm 131)
  16. "Forever" Chris Tomlin (Psalm 136)
  17. "Cry Aloud" Shelly Moore Band (Psalm 141)
  18. "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" Mormon Tabernacle Choir (Psalm 103, Psalm 150)
  19. "Let Everything That Has Breath" Passion (Psalm 150)

The Purpose of Grace (a quote from Martin Luther)

"Grace is given to heal the spiritually sick, not to decorate spiritual heroes."

A Child Is Waiting

My boyfriend recently returned from a trip to El Salvador. It's always interesting when people ask what he was doing down there, because it was an unusual trip. Gary went with a group through Compassion International, an organization that does work all over the world. Gary has been sponsoring a young girl named Karen through Compassion for several years now and had been saving money to make the trip down to El Salvador to meet her. He had an incredible experience and is now a bigger Compassion advocate than ever.

I've sponsored Compassion children in the past, usually via my dad. I recently took on a 6-year-old Kenyan girl named Gakii on behalf of the youth group at my church in Durham. Since I'm no longer on staff there, I finally changed my information with Compassion so that I have sole responsibility for sponsoring and writing to Gakii--I want to keep sharing her letters with the youth and telling her what they're up to, but it was just easier to switch things over so I could keep sponsoring her even after I finish seminary. I finally wrote her a letter, the first one in a while, and hopefully will be more consistent about writing to her in the future.

Gary's stories from his trip inspired me, so today I started sponsoring another child, this one in El Salvador. Realizing that the adorable 4-year-olds probably get sponsors more easily than perhaps older children, I looked for a teenager and found one who had been waiting for a sponsor for over 6 months. Cesar is 13 and enjoys singing, soccer and playing a musical instrument. Sounds like a good kid for me, even if I stink at soccer. :) Maybe Gary and I can go to El Salvador together someday.

In addition to Gakii and Cesar, my dad sponsored a child in my name for Christmas. His church, Myers Park UMC in Charlotte, has been very involved in the community of Bayonnais in Haiti--the poorest part of the poorest country in the western hemisphere. One of his church members started the organization World of God, which is sort of a localized version of Compassion. World of God so far establishes sponsorships in Haiti and Liberia, two countries where Myers Park has relationships with churches. I like that approach--the church taking initiative to be more intentionally engaged in a place where they have already established connections. Anyway, Choudeline is my sponsored child from Haiti, and I have been a horrible sponsor and haven't written her yet, so this morning I got myself together and wrote her a letter. It would probably be pretty easy for me to visit Bayonnais, since MPUMC sends groups down there pretty regularly--both my dad and sister have been there.

I'm grateful for the sort of nudging I've gotten towards being more intentional about this means of reaching out. I've been pretty turned inward for quite a while now, and though in many ways I have needed to be that way lately, it's time for me to start moving past myself.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Field Notes #21: A Wonderful Weekend

I was out of town from Thursday to Saturday celebrating my boyfriend's birthday with him. I got back in town last night, and today just topped off a great weekend.

Church this morning went well despite the fact that I was really nervous about filling in for our music director. I had a funny moment before church where I thought, Huh, no one's set up the music stands yet--and then I realized that I had to do that today. For all the congregational songs, I was playing piano, and despite the fact that I started piano lessons in kindergarten, I'm always extremely nervous on that instrument. Fortunately, Art, one of the HCUMC parishioners, played drums, and he's an excellent drummer, which really helped me to relax into the songs.

My major flub of the day was when the Doxology popped up on the screen and I realized that it hadn't even crossed my mind to practice it. I frantically flipped my hymnal open to somewhere in the 90s, found a "Praise God, From Whom All Blessings Flow," and dove in. I wondered why no one was really singing until I took a second look at the screen and realized I was playing the wrong version--wrong tune, wrong words, AND I played it poorly. Oops. :) But worship was good this morning, Val preached about baptism and inclusiveness a la Casting Crowns' "If We Are the Body" (which I played during the offertory), and we had a baptism of the happiest baby ever!

After church, I jumped in the car and drove down to Charlotte to meet my family for Father's Day lunch. My dad is the jam! We went to this French restaurant called Cafe Monte--it was awesome. I had delicious eggs Benedict, and my sister and I split an order of chocolate crepes. YUM. After lunch, we gave Dad his Father's Day presents, then he ran out the door to drive my little brother to Camp Tekoa, in the mountains. Mom and I did a little shopping, then I came back to Denver.

Tonight was the second installment of the evening worship service I've been helping to lead with one of HCUMC's college students and his girlfriend (with whose sister I actually went to middle school and high school, as it turns out). It was just Jon and me this week, and the theme was grace. We had met last week to pick and practice music; we sang "Your Grace Is Enough," "Amazing Love," Needtobreathe's funky/soulful "Washed By the Water," "Grace Like Rain," "Heavyhearted" by The Glorious Unseen, and Tenth Avenue North's "By Your Side." The song selections worked really well--it's been great working with Jon because we have different repertoires, so we end up with a cool blend of stuff when we put our heads together. The service went really well. We had 4 people show up, and it was great. We sang; Jon and I shared Scripture and quotes about grace; I played my original song "No Part of You"; and we just talked and shared among ourselves about the gift and challenge that is God's grace. I hadn't done worship in that small, intimate kind of setting in a long time, and it was really refreshing.

Now it's almost 9:30 and I am seriously ready for bed. So tired. :)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Vienna Teng & Alex Wong: The Moment Always Vanishing

Vienna Teng has been one of my favorite musical artists since high school. I finally got to see her live in concert earlier this month, along with Alex Wong, singer/songwriter/guitarist/percussionist extraordinaire. They were fabulous. Vienna is one of those musicians who has a strong following but may never be on the radio, because her music is...well, it's too good. She dares to do things like write pop songs in 5/8 and pen upbeat tunes that are about a girl deciding whether or not to have an abortion. No cookie cutter Top 40 hits from her--instead, something much better. Paired with Alex's percussion and arranging skills, she is stellar. Their live album, The Moment Always Vanishing, is excellent. I particularly like their version of "Tower," off Vienna's first CD (see the video below), the song "Antebellum," and "Grandmother Song," a soulful and humorous tribute to her opinionated paternal grandmother who doesn't exactly approve of her career choices.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Field Notes #20: Some Things Planned, Others Not

I woke up before my alarm today, which is usually a bad sign, but it ended up being good. I've written a new song! It's called "Beautiful God." The chorus popped into my head during my 2-mile barefoot run last night (which was awesome), and this morning I penned the verses and a bridge. I'll be working out the groove and general feel for the next little while--maybe I'll start playing it out soon to let it come into its own. :)

Anyway, Val and I spent some time this morning going over Vacation Bible School stuff--the woman who was in charge is unable to continue in that capacity, but there should be enough in place that I can pick up where she left off (with help). We also worked out some possibilities for activities with the kids and finalized worship stuff (even though we ended up cutting a hymn later).

Little did I know, Val was intentionally keeping me occupied so I wouldn't leave. I found this out when my boyfriend Gary called me, and I was very confused to hear his voice coming not only from the phone but also from down the hall. Turns out he had conspired with my dad and with Val to come down to Denver and surprise me! I was definitely surprised, especially because I'm going to visit him for his birthday this weekend, but it was a wonderful surprise. I was excited to show him around the church and the area, and I got to see his many many MANY pictures and videos from his trip to El Salvador with Compassion International. And I got pretty jewelry and stuff from El Salvador. :) So my day didn't go like I had expected, but it was wonderful.

After Gary left, I attended the worship committee meeting, and then we had choir practice. Jeana's going to be out of town this weekend, so I guess I'm in charge of music, which makes me nervous. And I always get anxious when I'm playing piano in front of people. But it went fine, and I'll have time to practice and get comfortable with the music before Sunday.

Which, of course, is Father's Day, and I have a groovy dad, who came (along with my mom) and took me out to dinner last night. :)

And also the sunset was GORGEOUS tonight.

Truth vs. Helpfulness (a quote from C. S. Lewis)

"If Christianity is untrue, then no honest man will want to believe it, however helpful it might be: if it is true, every honest man will want to believe it, even if it gives him no help at all."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Field Notes #19: Food, Friends and Music

I had a really good dinner last night. We have some leftover salad stuff from the spaghetti supper on Sunday, so I put together a salad with a little bit of cheese, tomatoes and honey dijon, and I also had pineapple beef teriyaki with rice. OK, so the beef dish was a frozen dinner, but it was yummy! And I just went to the store and got some goodies: spinach and smoked salmon to make eggs Benedict (inspired by a house dinner of a few months ago), sweet apple chicken sausage because it's delicious, and chocolate Silk (soy milk) for the same reason. Of course, I got home and realized that the one thing I actually needed was milk. Oops.

I've spent a lot of my day working on music and worship stuff. I'm experiencing the joy of actually having time to chart songs the way I want them. Today I arranged Blest Be the Tie That Binds, complete with a new bridge with yummy harmonies; charted and harmonized They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love, and scored The Servant Song. I've also been practicing piano for Baptized in Water (because we have a baptism Sunday) and Christ, From Whom All Blessings Flow, and I'm considering using a hymn that a friend of mine wrote because it ties in with the Scripture and theme for Sunday.

Music and worship is fun!

I also went to lunch in Davidson today with all the DDS interns and supervisors from the Lake Norman District, courtesy of the District Superintendent (I always spell "superintendent" wrong, by the way). It was a great lunch in general, but it was also fun to see several of my friends from school and to realize that some of them are pretty close by and we ought to hang out. I drive past Salem UMC all the time, and John Bryant is the intern there; we're hopefully gonna get coffee or something soon.

Mom and Dad are coming in a bit to take me out to dinner. Rock on.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Time Traveler's Wife

I just watched The Time Traveler's Wife. I didn't really know anything about it, I just picked it out on a whim from the most awesome invention ever Redbox earlier today. I really liked it! Besides being entertaining and a tear-jerker, it got me thinking. See, in this movie, Eric Bana's character, Henry, has a genetic disorder that causes him to time travel randomly. He has no control of where he ends up or how long it takes for him to travel back. Sometimes this is beneficial, like when he returns from the future with winning lottery numbers, but more often than not it's frustrating, particularly for his wife. Things get far more serious when he travels far enough into the future to learn that he dies when his daughter is 5 years old.

Obviously, this is quite a burden for his wife, played by Rachel McAdams, and also for his daughter, whose future self returns on her 5th birthday to let her know that this is the year her father will die. Being a divinity school geek, this made me think about God. I personally would not want to know when I am going to die--much less would I want to know when a loved one will die. Of course I know that we're all mortal, but there would be something very different about knowing the details of the end of our lives before we got there. And then I realized--just as God knew us in our mothers' wombs, he knows when we will die. "In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed" (Psalm 139:16). Sure, God gets to hang out with us in heaven, but God has compassion for us and is moved by our suffering. It's as if in the movie Henry had been told when his daughter would die and had to wait for it to happen; except this is God, whose love is infinitely greater than even the most devoted parent's, and it happens for God billions and billions of times over.

OK, so some of this line of thought is a little inane, but still. I'm writing it down because it made me think about just how much God loves each of us, how much he hates for us to suffer. The love and pain written across Rachel McAdams' face, even if they weren't just the stylings of an actress, are only a pale shadow of God's love for us. And Rachel McAdams still made me cry! How much more should I be moved by the realization of the depth of God's true, pure, unconditional love?

__________


And also, the girls who play Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams' daughter Alba, Hailey and Tatum McCann, are precious:

Field Notes #18: Technical Difficulties and Churchy-ness

The internet is down at church again, which is very sad. I'm at Dilworth Coffeehouse right now catching up on email and trying to do some of the work I had to set aside earlier. Jeana's out of town next Sunday, which means I'm in charge of music, and I'm having an annoyingly hard time finding suitable music to go along with Galatians 3:23-29. You know, "There is no Jew or Greek..." etc. etc. Anyway.

I also need to research possibilities for activities/field trips for the younger kids at HCUMC--possibly visiting the Mullholland Planetarium in Hickory and/or going to the Lazy 5 Ranch in Mooresville (I have childhood memories of llamas spitting at me through a sunroof at Lazy 5).

And I'm gonna try to work out something fun/edifying to do with the youth during the week. Maybe fellowshipping with some Bible study snuck in there somewhere. :)

But this morning, I had a bunch of errands to run, one of them being picking up the violin I was buying off a guy I found on Craigslist for $65. Her name is Valencia, and I dropped her off at Music & Arts in Huntersville because I think the tuning pegs need adjusting and the bow might need some work. Of course, it may just be that I haven't played violin since 5th grade, but whatever.

I tagged along with Val on a home visit this afternoon. We went to see the man I visited in the hospital last Thursday after he had surgery. A former pastor (and current member) of HCUMC was also there, and I met the dog Jake (who is a girl). That was fun. They got going telling stories and it was great. People mailing LIVE possums to each other. Hiding the pastor's car so he had to walk home, thinking it had been stolen. Egads.

Finance meeting got cancelled for tonight, which means I can go to aerobics, which is good because otherwise I'd have to go running or biking and OHMYGOSH it is hot outside. Unreal. Every time I got in my car today, I turned the AC on higher and colder, and yet the air blowing out felt warmer and warmer. Yuck.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Field Notes #17: Hymn Sing, Spaghetti and Dunking Booths

Today was a full day and a fun one, too. In church this morning, we had a hymn sing. In place of a sermon, the congregation threw out hymn requests. Fortunately, our music director is a professional accompanist, so this was no big deal, and the singers all did our best to lead the songs. It was a lot of fun. It was also educational for me, because there were quite a few songs that I didn't know. I feel like I have a pretty broad repertoire of music, and I know my United Methodist Hymnal, but we were getting old Baptist hymns--the kind that have a sort of swing to them and sound most natural on an electric organ--and although I knew some of them, I didn't know them all. But it was great to be a part of that sort of worship--spontaneous, heartfelt and uplifting.

After lunch, I sort of crashed...I took a nap by accident. I then tried to help clean up the old parsonage (now offices and my living space) for an open house this afternoon. So here's the deal: HCUMC tore down its sanctuary in February. This first picture is looking toward the Nelson Center (where there are Sunday School classrooms, a nursery, etc.); the grass and dirt is where the sanctuary used to be (and where the new one, pictured on the sign, will be). The second is of the Family Life Center, where worship is being held until the new sanctuary is built (the contemporary service was already meeting there). That's also where the offices used to be.

The parsonage is big; it had been expanded at some point to accommodate a pastor with 5 kids. The whole building has been renovated into new administrative offices, Sunday School/meeting rooms, and a living space for summer interns (like me!). I already posted pictures of my room, but today I walked around and took more of the rest of the building. It's definitely still a work in progress, but it looks great.



Anyway, a few people came by to look at the "church house" (the actual name is still pending), then we had a spaghetti dinner at the Family Life Center. Several music students from Lenoir-Rhyne University (where our music director teaches) came and sang for us. They were great--they sang one of my favorite choral anthems, Rene Clausen's "Set Me as a Seal" (a setting of Song of Songs 8:6-7, one of my favorite Bible verses) and a mash-up (heh) of "Danny Boy" and "Loch Lomond" (that's my twin brother Jay singing the solo!). Nice.

THEN (no, my day was not over), I went to the Gastons' house with the youth. They had a dunking booth set up (I forget why), so the kids had fun knocking each other in. John Gaston got a fire going, so they had S'mores too. It was fun.

Above are some of the kids gearing up to throw a ball at the target, and here's Alix preparing to get dunked.

Friday, June 11, 2010

"God Don't Think Stuff's Funny!"

The title of this blog comes from a vague memory I have of seeing the Blue Collar Comedy Tour on DVD. I think that was Bill Engvall talking.

Anyway, I came across this article on Faith & Leadership, written by Kavin Rowe. It's called "Humor as a mark of life-giving leadership." The first Bible verse Rowe quotes cracked me up:

“Paul talked with them,” writes Luke, and “prolonged his speech until midnight. ... A young man named Eutychus was sitting in the window. He sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on and on; and being overcome by sleep, Eutychus fell down from
the third story and was taken up dead” (Acts 20:7-9).

OK that is FUNNY. And I do think humor is an important part of the life of faith. Not just bad jokes that your pastor (er, my grandfather?) tells in the pulpit, but being able to acknowledge that some of what we believe is pretty ridiculous. I can be a little more irreverent than some people would like at times--one of my favorite movies is Monty Python's Life of Brian, and I was genuinely disappointed when my undergraduate
New Testament professor, Mark Goodacre, told me he had considered showing this video in class but thought better of it. (That's Eddie Izzard, who I always describe as "my favorite British transvestite comedian.") (WARNING: Strong language.)



Anyway. I sure hope God has a sense of humor, or else I'm screwed. :)

On a side note (or the same note):

Field Notes #16: Days Off

Friday is my day off. I probably won't have much human contact today. The only thing I really need to do is to call and check on a few folks who have had surgeries this week. I did make myself a to-do list for the day. I've been recruited to help one of Gary's bands, Funktion, design a logo; Gary's website needs a little tweaking; I'm supposed to be designing a website for Gary's mom; we talked the other night about the possibility of having a health fair at the end of June, so I want to start compiling contacts; I AM GOING TO CLEAN MY CAR SO BAD; and I need to exercise. The Descent 2 should be coming from Netflix today, but I don't know that I want to watch that by myself. Heh.

I do have plans tomorrow. I'm playing at the Davidson Farmer's Market in the morning and Maddi's Southern Bistro in the evening, and in between I'm gonna hang out at the Edwards' pool and let the dogs out while they're gone for the day. Good times.

I've also been working on a new song. The lyrics pull a lot from various Psalms, and I've got the verses and chorus down solid. Just gotta figure out the rest of it. I may just send it to Gary and tell him to go to town on a bridge.

All right. I'm gonna grab the Pledge Multi-Surface and some quarters for the vacuum, and go to town on my car. Heyo!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Field Notes #15: Flying Solo

Val's email to the church this morning included this sentence (caps hers): "IF YOU HAVE AN IMMEDIATE PASTORAL NEED, PLEASE CONTACT INTERN SARAH HOWELL." Heh. Great. Val's leaving for Annual Conference this morning, and LeaAnne's on vacation, so I'm sort of it. Today I have to visit Keith in the hospital, where he's recovering post-surgery, and I have to figure out how to print the bulletins--I'm just praying they got the copier set up and working.

Backtracking a bit: I had one person come to my first Psalms class. That's OK--it was Iris Walker, and she's awesome, and I know Art and Janet had intended to come but got tied up in traffic in Huntersville. Before the next class (June 22), I'm going to be more intentional about recruiting folks to come out. The first session wasn't a big deal, but from here on out they get pretty cool and I'd like to have at least a few people there.

I'm looking forward to Sunday--we're doing a hymn sing! In place of the sermon, we'll have people request favorite hymns. This is when it's handy that the music person is a professional accompanist--Jeana can handle anything anyone throws out. So last night at choir practice, we did the songs we know we're doing (since we'll have our usual 5 songs throughout the service) and then everybody threw out suggestions. There were even a few hymns I didn't know. I realized that each church has a sort of "canon within a canon" (gah, dork), and although Davidson/Myers Park UMC and Asbury Temple UMC have different canons, Hill's Chapel is different still. One thing I like is that they use the Celebration Hymnal sometimes, which I've seen but don't own. Gotta get me one of those.

My mom's coming to visit today! And my siblings, or at least my sister. That'll be fun. :)

All right. Off to make corrections to the bulletin and print it out. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What I'm Reading #7: Rising Stars (Michael Straczynski)

Rising Stars, by J. Michael Straczynski

I know, I know. Rising Stars is a comic book series. I'm expanding my geekdom. It's a great release after a long semester.

And this series was enjoyable. I won't give you the whole rundown, because there's one specific thing I want to talk about in regarding to this book, but basically, a mysterious flash--some sort of cosmic event--appears over Pederson, Illinois, and all the children who were in utero at the time were born with various powers. Some had super strength, others could fly, one could manipulate electrical energy, etc. Some became heroes a la Superman, others became public enemies a la the X-Men. But all of them spent a great deal of time using their abilities for selfish reasons until things got real and they realized they were meant to help the world. So the one with pyrokinesis burned down the world's cocaine fields, the strongest of them went about burying the entire world's nuclear weapon supply two miles under the North Pole, the woman whose power was that to anyone looking at her she was the most beautiful woman alive went on a fund-raising spree. It was cool.

There's plenty in Rising Stars about power and responsibility, but there was one particular exchange that struck me. When they began actually trying to help the world, one thing they did was to try to mediate international conflicts. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was, of course, a priority. One of the "Specials" (as they were called) planned to destroy the major religious symbols in Jerusalem--the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Wailing Wall, etc. This, she said, would give the people a common enemy and bring them together.

Another one of the Specials offered an alternative. What if, he said, instead of giving them a common enemy, we gave them a common--I don't know what he called it, maybe a common source of rejoicing? You see, the Special who planned to destroy the city's holy sites had the power of controlling small objects. This seemed useless until someone realized that the carotid artery is a small object, and she became an undetectable assassin. But her friend offered her a different task: use her powers to pull up the fertile soil from underneath the desert sand. She had just enough power to do it, and it killed her. But suddenly, for miles around Jerusalem, there was arable land. As the second Special had suggested, it became less pressing to fight over one small patch of land once there was so much fertile space around.

Obviously, that solution isn't plausible, but it made me think. Having a common enemy can be a powerful thing; but I wonder if a common source of gratitude and joy could be even stronger. It's too bad that not even the Abrahamic faiths can find that in God.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Field Notes #14: UMC Cribs

I have officially moved into the parsonage (er, ex-parsonage, now offices and intern living space)! And I actually got everything unpacked and set up! Since I know myself, I know the room may never be this clean again, so I decided to go ahead and take pictures. Enjoy and be envious--I'm gonna get spoiled having this much space. When we get offices and whatnot set up, I'll take pictures of the rest of the church house (Val's been calling the building that). See if you can find Bananagrams, part of the Isenheim Altarpiece, Brucey (my--er, Gary's--plush Batman), and my favorite, the baptismal font. :)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Field Notes #13: Planning a Psalms Class

My Psalms class starts tomorrow! I'm looking forward to it. This first session is going to be my guinea pig--figuring out how to manage my time in teaching, testing how to facilitate discussion, and just seeing how many people are going to show up. I'm using Bonhoeffer's Prayerbook of the Bible, Brueggemann's Praying the Psalms, a book my dad co-wrote called Preaching the Psalms, and plenty of other resources. I really want to figure out how to keep people creatively engaged with the content. That'll be easier in later classes--music and poetry can easily be made interactive, and the one on prayers of vengeance will hopefully spark discussion--but I want to make sure that even in this first one, which is more of an intro/overview, I can get people talking or contributing in some way. I found a Psalms journal in Barnes and Noble the other day that looks really neat, and I found it on sale online, so I'm gonna take orders from folks who might be interested in that approach. The journal pulls sections of Psalms to fit certain themes and provides space to write and reflect on each group. Plus it's just plain pretty. :) I heart journals. Anyway, Val also lent me the Psalms planning guide from The Efird Bible Study Series, which should be helpful.

All right, I've been at Dilworth Coffee for a while; I figure I should go to the church.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Field Notes #12: My First Sermon at HCUMC

I preached from Luke 7:11—17. I used an audio clip from The Bible Experience as the scripture reading; click here to listen.

This is a mosaic from the Cathedral of Monreale in Italy. It depicts today’s Gospel narrative—the raising of the son of the widow of Nain. Jesus is touching the boy with one hand. With the other hand, he is reaching out in blessing to the widow. In the background are all the people who witnessed the miracle—people you would have heard gasp when the boy sat up, much like in the reading we just heard.

It is not insignificant that Jesus’ focus is on the widow. Being a widow was a precarious position to be in. With her only son gone, she had no heir. With no one to inherit from her, all of her property would go back to her husband’s family. When Jesus came along, this woman had truly lost everything.

This passage is a healing narrative. God as a healer is a powerful image for many, myself included. But what do we think is meant by healing? Where is the healing taking place in this story? The focus is on the widow, not on her dead son. The boy’s life is restored, which is an obvious act of physical healing, but the woman gets back her son, her livelihood, and her hope. This story shows that healing is not simply about curing illness or raising the dead; it is about redeeming the entirety of human life in relationship with God.

I've heard people say that we shouldn't pray for healing, only for God's will to be done. They have a point. When Jesus himself taught his disciples to pray, he spoke the Lord’s Prayer for the first time, which clearly says to God, “Thy will be done.” But the act of surrender is still accompanied with requests. The Lord’s Prayer asks for everything from forgiveness to daily bread. God knows what we want, and hiding that behind a servile “Your will be done” denies the depth of humanity expressed in our desires. It can also imply that it is God’s will for us to suffer, but God does not will a child to die of cancer. He has anointed doctors and specialists with skills and a calling to help preserve the lives of his precious children. That’s why we can pray for healing, we can pray for wisdom on the part of the doctors, we can pray for successful treatments for illnesses. Of course, far more than perpetuating our earthly existence, it is in God that we must place our trust. He alone has the power to save our bodies and our souls. And healing does not always take the form we would like it to take.

We read part of Psalm 146 as the Opening Prayer this morning. Here’s part of it that we left out: “Don’t put your life in the hands of experts who know nothing of life, of salvation life. Mere humans don’t have what it takes; when they die, their projects die with them.” It says something about our culture that we pay our doctors—the experts—so much more than our pastors. Ultimately, these bodies we inhabit are broken and mortal, and the power of humans to save life is limited.

One of my favorite TV shows is the medical drama House. In the most recent episode, a young woman had to have her leg amputated in order to be rescued from a collapsed building. Just when things seemed to be going right, a fatal embolism formed as a result of the amputation. Dr. House could only sit by helplessly as Hannah died. Later, one of the other doctors tried to comfort House—“Fat embolisms are impossible to prevent,” he said. “You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s not your fault.” House turned to him and shouted angrily, “I did everything right and she still died. Why would that make me feel any better?” When our trust is in our ability to keep ourselves healthy or to heal other people, we can only respond with confusion and anger when we are faced with the reality that ultimately we are not in control.

Henri Nouwen is one of my spiritual heroes. He was a theologian who left a distinguished professorship to live in L’Arche Daybreak, a community where people with developmental disabilities and people without live together and care for each other. I recently learned that soon after coming to L’Arche, Nouwen plunged into a deep depression that required him to be hospitalized for 6 months. This was both surprising and comforting to learn. It helped me to know that such a theological and spiritual giant went through many of the same struggles I did. During his hospitalization, Nouwen wrote a series of spiritual imperatives—reminders to himself of how to orient himself toward God, toward others and toward himself. One I read just the other day says, “Allow your pain to become the pain.” All suffering is unique, Nouwen says, because pain is always tied to specific circumstances. But if we become obsessed with the concrete details of our pain, we end up descending into a swirl of “if onlys”—if only this one circumstance had been different, if only she had gone to the doctor sooner, if only I hadn’t let him drive. “If onlys” do not produce healing—they just isolate us further. Nouwen says that in order to heal, we must find the places where our specific suffering touches the universal human experience of suffering.

This does not mean dissolving our own suffering into a greater ocean of generalized pain. It means finding and showing compassion. As Pastor Val said last week, the word “compassion” means “to suffer with.” Perhaps the most difficult part of depression is the sense of profound isolation. Being shown compassion and having compassion for other people shows us that we are not alone. We are never alone. And this doesn’t just mean we aren’t alone among other people, though that in and of itself is important. In this story in Luke 7, Jesus has compassion for the widow. Jesus suffers with her. The Message version of this passage reads, “When Jesus saw her, his heart broke.” Jesus was fully divine, but he was also fully human, which meant he participated in the human condition of suffering—never more so than on the cross, where he took all of our sin and sorrow upon himself.

When Jesus was taken down from the cross, he was given to his mother. Michelangelo’s beautiful sculpture, the Pieta, shows Mary holding her son with one arm, but the other hand is lifted heavenward. She holds her child and mourns for him, but simultaneously offers him back to his Father above. In Luke chapter 7, when the boy is raised to life, the text says, “He gave him to his mother.” This is the same phrase used in the Greek translation of a very similar healing story in 1 Kings, where Elijah brings another widow’s son back from the dead. Just as in the gospel of Luke, the focus is on the mother. Where is the healing, really?

We all have stories of healing, whether in our own lives or in the lives of people we know. We also have stories of times when we prayed for healing and it didn’t come. Some of us are living a story right now where we still desperately need healing. In the end, our stories are really all we have. In the Bible, when Jesus is asked a question, he does not respond with a systematic theological answer; instead, he tells parables—stories. So I’ll close one more.

Clay Wayman was a member of the church in Davidson where I grew up. He was a brilliant young doctor and became good friends with my dad. One time, Clay took my dad and my younger brother Noah out for a boat ride on Lake Norman and managed to beach the boat on a sandbar. Noah was really little at the time, and for most of the hour they spent stuck on the sandbar, he lectured Clay: “Clay, you shouldn’t have driven that close to the sandbar. You should have seen the signs.”

One day, Clay called my dad and told him to come over to his house right away. Dad rushed over, thinking something must be wrong. When he got there, Clay led him into the spare bedroom, where Dad saw, of all things, a baby in a crib. Clay had decided that it just wasn’t in the stars for him to get married, but he wanted a child, so he had adopted a little girl named Lauren. Clay turned out to be an outstanding father. The way my dad describes it is that it was like walking through a museum of beautiful art, then turning a corner to discover the real treasure room. Fatherhood was Clay’s treasure room.

When Lauren was a few months old, Clay had her baptized at our church. Afterward, Mary, one of our lovely but more eccentric members, came up to my dad—“During the baptism, I had a vision,” she said. “The roof of the church lifted off, a light shone down on Lauren and a host of angels descended and gathered around her.” My dad said something like, “Oh, how nice,” and promptly forgot about it.

Five years later, my family had moved to Charlotte and Clay and Lauren had moved to Texas. One day, my dad received a phone call. It was Clay. He had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Lauren, then in kindergarten, was going to lose her only parent.

The next day, my dad received a card in the mail from Mary, whom he hadn’t talked to in quite a while. The card had this picture on the front. Something had prompted Mary to remember her vision of 5 years before. She had had an artist do a rendering of it, and put it on notecards. She had dropped the card in the mail to my dad the day Clay was diagnosed with cancer—5 years after she had the vision.

Some people said it was a sign that Clay would be cured. He wasn’t. But it was a sign of something. When the widow’s son is raised in Luke 7, The Message says this of the onlookers: “They all realized they were in a place of holy mystery, that God was at work among them.” This picture was and is a sign that we are not alone, that God is here. And this is our response to healing, to suffering, to mystery: the collective gasp we heard in the background of the Scripture reading earlier. We may never understand any of these things, but maybe understanding is not the most important thing. Maybe love is the most important thing. When experts die, their projects die with them. When we die, we die with the promise of resurrection by God’s power and love. The singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman put it beautifully: “All that matters when we’re gone / All that mattered all along / All we have that carries on / Is how we love.” Oh, how he loves us. “God is God for good! Hallelujah!”

Saturday, June 5, 2010

What Would You Do?

Make sure you watch the whole thing. The beginning might make you cynical, but Jesus shows up in the end, in the form of a sometimes-homeless woman.

"Where is your brother?" -- Genesis 4:9

"I have called you by name; you are mine." -- Isaiah 43:1

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Field Notes #11: Moving Day Means Liquor Store Runs

The scene outside Val's office this afternoon:
Yes, those are liquor boxes.

And earlier today:

Val: Well, I'm going to the liquor store.
LeaAnne & Me: [...]
Val: To get boxes!

Today was moving day! The new parsonage/administrative office (the latest name suggestion was "church house") is almost ready! Church members came out in full force this evening to pack books, move furniture and clean. The place looks great. Once it gets its occupancy inspection, I'll move into my new digs, and there will be plenty more pictures. :)

Most of my day was spent helping LeaAnne with bulletins and working on my sermon--which hopefully is going to work pretty well. Tomorrow I'm off to a very short jaunt to the beach, then back Saturday to do last-minute prep and SLEEP. Sunday means preaching one sermon, leading music at two worship services, and meeting/fellowshipping with the youth. Yay!

What I'm Reading #6: The Sabbath (Abraham Joshua Heschel)

The Sabbath, by Abraham Joshua Heschel

OK, so The Sabbath is also one I read for school, and last fall, too. And I'm just going to post the paper (or the introductory paragraph--the paper will be attached) I wrote on it for my Old Testament class. But I really may re-read at least parts of this book. This was such a breath of fresh air in the midst of reading lots of dense theological arguments.
__________

Particularly in the modern West, Christians have a great deal to learn from the wisdom of Abraham Heschel. Whereas the Sabbath is often spoken of and treated as a means to an end—a period of rest in order to make one a more effective laborer the other 6 days of the week—Heschel emphasizes the nature of the Sabbath as an epitome of rather than a lull in the life of the world. Though there are some limitations of nuance in translating Heschel’s deeply Jewish reading of the Old Testament, Heschel’s treatment of several apparent dichotomies—space versus time, labor versus rest, and heaven versus earth, and holiness versus goodness—articulates a theology of creation and eternity that presents a positive, Scripturally-based challenge to both Jews and Christians.

Download the entire paper as a PDF here.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Field Notes #10: Geeking Out Over Worship Planning

If you know me at all, you know that I am a nerd. I used to subscribe to Star Wars Insider and I once got Middle English grammar books for Christmas--and was excited about it.

So it should come as no surprise that I literally had a giggle fit today as I was typing the lyrics to next Sunday's closing hymn and realized just how brilliantly it fit the service. And how wonderfully everything seems to be aligning with a theme that develops over the course of the service and culminates at the end. Seriously, June 6 is gonna be a great service at HCUMC, at least I hope so. I will have a much more detailed post Sunday evening, both about the morning's service and the new worship thing we're starting that night. Heyo!

Speaking of being a dork, Val gave me a volume of Feasting on the Word, a very cool lectionary commentary edited by Barbara Brown Taylor, as a gift. It's pwetty! And I really ought to start collecting commentaries. My dad has a ton, of course, but there's always new stuff coming out.

Music practice went pretty well tonight. We were really short on singers, but we'll have more come Sunday morning. Art, the drummer, is back in town, so this was my first time playing with him and Jeana. It was pretty cool. I still need to figure out exactly what I want to do as far as helping lead worship, how much I want to try to add musically, etc. I know that as an intern at a very loving congregation I have a lot of license to try new stuff (which is lovely), but I'm trying to balance that with not taking over--especially because goodness knows I couldn't if I tried! But this "blended" worship service is a learning process for everyone involved, and it's cool to be a part of it.

There's a lot more I could write about, but it'll keep, and some of it will be far more interesting once it actually happens. Sunday morning: preaching, music, etc.; Sunday evening: new worship service thingy; Tuesday night: first Psalms class. Aaaaand I'm going to the beach between now and then. :) Woohoo!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Field Notes #9: The Victory Is in the Preparation

Things are starting to get busy around here! And I like it.

What's going on right now:

I'm preaching on Sunday.
Egads! Sermon prep, and making musical selections that will fit. I'm doing a bit fat no-no and trying to preach on 3 different texts. Fortunately, the Old Testament and Epistle readings for this coming Sunday are pretty similar, so it's not like I'm trying to do exegetical acrobatics. Of course, it's Promotion Sunday, which means we're celebrating graduates and kids moving from elementary to middle and middle to high school. I doubt that'll find its way into the sermon, but we'll see. Oh, AND it's communion Sunday! Which makes my heart smile. I was hoping to pick a choral anthem anyway, and here's the perfect opportunity. And I think I'm gonna try and do some creative stuff--the GBOD website had a neat semi-dramatic reading thing that ties the OT and NT texts and is cool, and I'm contemplating using a clip from The Bible Experience as the Scripture lesson. I don't wanna scare people off, though...

I've decided to teach a class. Psalms, here we come! This is the header for the bulletin insert I just drafted to advertise my class. I like that font (Matura MT - Script Capitals), haven't used it before. Anywho, I'm excited about this, even though I know it's basically me giving myself more work and it's doubtful there will be a very large crowd. I may shoot an email over to the interns at Salem UMC to see if any of their folks might be interested. Anyway, the four parts are gonna be as follows: (1) Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible; (2) Psalms: The Songbook of the Bible; (3) Psalms: The Poetry of the Bible; and (4) Psalms: Prayers of Vengeance. I will be using lots of Bonhoeffer and Brueggemann, naturally. It's gonna be awesome!!

I'm part of planning a new worship service. One of the HCUMC college students who's home for the summer has expressed interest in starting a small alternative worship service aimed towards youth and young adults. He and his girlfriend (who lives in Huntersville, nearby) are both very talented and passionate and have a heart for authentic worship. The idea is for it to be a more contemporary (but not rock band-like) service in an intimate setting. We're looking at every other Sunday evening. We're still figuring out how that will work with youth group (hopefully in conjunction), how often to do it, and what to call it. Has giving things cool Biblical Greek names gone out of style? :)

We're moving into the parsonage this week. We actually need a name for that too. It used to be the parsonage but has been renovated into mostly offices and meeting/conference/Sunday School room, though it still has the master suite (AKA my crib once it gets its occupancy certificate). It's a wonderful space and looks great. Thursday night we're moving and cleaning and whatnot, so maybe by next week I'll finally live in the same place as all my junk. Plus the living room there could be a good place for this new service to meet.

And then there's youth group (we meet on Sunday and will hopefully start doing something during the week as well), meetings, LeaAnne going out of town next week (which means Val and I have to do the powerpoint and bulletin and everything), folks in and out of the hospital, etc. etc. etc.!

And that's not even my personal life! This weekend, I'm taking a short beach trip (apparently the only kind of beach trip I take), to see Gary's band Climb Jacob's Ladder play in Wilmington. Er, and sing with them, too. And I suddenly have 2 shows of my own the following weekend--I'm playing the Davidson Farmer's Market on Saturday morning and I'm back at Maddi's Southern Bistro that night. PLUS, Gary's leaving the country next week--he's going to El Salvador on the 10th! Crazy!

I also really need to learn to get up in the mornings. Debbie's got sweet blinds on these windows so it stays dark in my room, which is a blessing and a curse. Tomorrow I am determined to get up with my alarm. When I finally did get up this morning, I went first to The Coffeehouse at Denver to work. I may do that again tomorrow, or go back to Dilworth Coffee at Denver.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Field Notes #30: Planning Toward July 4

I started musing in general, rambling terms about preaching/planning worship on July 4 in this post, and since then I've done more thinking and planning. Here's my basic approach this Sunday: I'm preaching on 2 Kings 5:1-14. My sermon is going to be about that passage. (And no, I have no idea what exactly I'm going to talk about just yet.)

Musical selections include "Down to the River to Pray," "Let the River Flow" (I arranged this one myself--maybe I'll record a rough version later), "Wade in the Water," "Wash, O God, Our Sons and Daughters," and "Shall We Gather at the River." (Ohmygosh it is hard to find decent versions of praise songs/hymns on YouTube. I apologize for some of these. I did my best.) Hopefully we'll also be able to do Needtobreathe's "Washed by the Water" as an offertory anthem. (Hint: we've got a water theme going on.)

I couldn't find a call to worship that I liked, so I wrote one:


L: This is the day that the Lord has made!
P: Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
L: Today we celebrate our freedom to love and worship God.
P: Let our worship be a declaration of dependence.
L: We come with a need for healing,
P: With wounds, with illness, with pride.
L: We come with a need to put God first,
P: Before ourselves, before our family, before all other loyalties.
L: We come to respond to a gracious invitation, “Wash, and be clean!”
P: We come seeking mercy and justice for all God’s people.


And here's an opening prayer from The United Methodist Book of Worship:


Almighty God, you rule all the peoples of the earth. Inspire the minds of all women and men to whom you have committed the responsibility of government and leadership in the nations of the world. Give to them the vision of truth and justice, that by their counsel all nations and peoples may work together. Give to the people of our country zeal for justice and strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will. Forgive our shortcomings as a nation; purify our hearts to see and love the truth. We pray all these things through Jesus Christ. Amen.


That pretty much sums up my approach to Sunday, July 4.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Field Notes #29: Comet!... Starship!...

Yet again, I should be in bed (and will be very soon, trust me). Tonight was the last night of Vacation Bible School at Hill's Chapel. Our Bible story today was about the blind beggar, and we also learned about comets, so all our stories and activities had something to do with one or both of those things. For my part, the suggested games turned out to be a little too complicated, but one thing that worked well was playing "Marco, Polo" but changing it to "Comet, Starship." I know, I'm the most creative person you've ever met. Anyway, the point I tried to convey was that if you're blind, you have to listen to know where you're going and where people are, and Jesus listened to the blind beggar. All in all, we had a good time, hopefully the kids learned something, and now I have the "Galactic Blast" theme song stuck in my head. Check out this short slideshow I put together of select photos I took over the course of VBS:


El Salvador Compassion Trip: Meeting Karen

My boyfriend recently went to El Salvador to meet a child he has been sponsoring through Compassion International. You can read about his incredible experience here, and the video below captures his meeting and interacting with Karen.

Thank You, GBOD

The United Methodist Church's General Board of Discipleship (GBOD) makes worship and teaching resources available through their website (which, by the way, is confusing since they changed the design/layout). Their lectionary resources for this coming Sunday (July 4) point preachers to blessings and prayers for the military and veterans, but they also include this paragraph:

"Always remember that the Scriptures for the day should set the theme for worship, and special commemorations should happen within and related to the context of the overarching biblical and Christian seasonal themes. God's word and our common baptism tell us who we are in Christ and so establish the underlying norms for our worship, not our national, ethnic, or familial ties or current station in life."

What a great way of putting it. I know some people (myself included) get worried when they have to preach on a day like Independence Day--I was dreading the possibility of singing "America the Beautiful" in worship. It's a delicate balance that I think we mess up quite frequently--many of us want to offer a counter-narrative to patriotism that sometimes can blot out our unity in Christ, but there is nothing wrong with praying for the troops or honoring veterans. The GBOD website is trying to encourage worship planners to put our identity in Christ first, but that where recognition of human achievements and national holidays are appropriate to the Christian season, they can be included in the appropriate time and space. I'd just as soon ignore the 4th of July holiday and take up the issue of war another time, but I know the parishioners are probably going to go straight from church to a cookout and to watch fireworks. There has to be some sort of continuity and point of contact between what happens in Sunday morning worship and what's going on in the rest of the lives of the congregants. That doesn't mean unilaterally supporting cultural phenomena--the Gospel should be subversive of anything that detracts from its singular position in our lives--but it does mean finding the connections and making space for transformation. Anyway, I'm sort of thinking out loud, but those are just some of my musings on the subject, which I'll be refining in my own head over the course of this week.

Back to the lectionary. I'm thinking 2 Kings. I really like the Naaman story.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Field Notes #28: Planet, Planet, STAR!

I know I should be in bed, but here's my brief update on day 2 of VBS. We gained a few more kids, so today was a little crazy at times--thank goodness for our awesome volunteers! The Bible story for the day was the woman at the well (John 4:1-42). I got to sit in on one of the storytelling sessions, and it was pretty cool.

I had planned to use 2 of the games outlined for the day, but since the weather was sort of touch-and-go, I tabled the one that had to be outside and modified the other to make life simpler. We also played a modification of "Duck, Duck, Goose"--we played "Planet, Planet, Star." That was hysterical with the littlest ones, most of which either didn't get it or didn't want to play or just wanted to go to the playground (which we did, eventually). But it was fun. The kids are really sweet, and hopefully they're learning something.

The other fun part for me was that my boyfriend, Gary, is in town visiting. He's great with teenagers, but little kids make him nervous, so I was concerned he wouldn't enjoy helping out with VBS (though he agreed to be there, of course). But when he got asked to be the puppeteer and voice for the mad scientist, he not only went along with it, he supplied a voice that left me (also crouched behind the altar rail, playing the part of the gorilla Galileo) struggling not to laugh out loud. A few of the kids are starting to figure out the puppet trick, though one of my favorite quotes from yesterday was in reference to Galileo: "And he's REAL!!!" I love kids.

A few images from today:

Commander Val setting the stage for the day's Bible story.


Looks like Alix tagged Faith in "Planet, Planet, Star."

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What I'm Reading #8: As One With Authority (Jackson Carroll)

As One With Authority: Reflective Leadership in Ministry, by Jackson W. Carroll

As One With Authority was loaned to me by my summer field education supervisor. I'm reading select chapters, and although I don't really like to think about authority in relation to my ministry, I know it's important for me to realize that I probably have more authority than I think I do, and Carroll's book is helping me see the many ways in which authority can be exercised.

A major emphasis in this book is the relational nature of authority. This seems pretty basic--the more you know and respect someone, the more you trust them and are willing to give them power--but a lot of the time, we assume that a degree or a name is enough to give us authority even with total strangers. Of course, sometimes it is--Carroll points out three bases of authority (from Max Weber): traditional, charismatic and rational-legal. Sometimes any one of these is enough to grant a person authority, but Carroll notes that it can be important to have more than one of the bases of power. He points out that Jesus' charisma aided in his speaking "as one with authority" (Matthew 7:29) (hello book title)--but the same was true of Hitler. Yikes.

Another distinction Carroll made that I found interesting was the difference between social authority and cultural authority. Social authority involves influencing behavior while cultural authority involves influencing thinking. Of course, one assumes that when a person's thinking is influenced, so, too are their actions. This reminds me of a time in high school when I was having difficulty getting other youth volunteers in a tutoring program of which I was a student leader to uphold our discipline code consistently. Frustrated, I finally went to one of our adult supervisors, who flatly told me I couldn't make anyone do anything. Nor could I wash my hands of one particularly frustrating youth's conduct. I had to find a way to help him see why our rules were the way they were and why it was important for him to stick to them, in a way that he could understand and that was persuasive but not coercive. I was undermining my own authority by expecting the adult to step in a lay down the law.

Finally, Carroll talks about the difference between the authority of representing the sacred vs. the authority of expertise. In a way, the concept of a clergy person representing the sacred is different for Catholics and Protestants, but the broader question is an interesting one: is it enough to have a background in theological education, or does one need also a sense of calling? Or vice versa--can someone with a profound vocation to holy leadership wield spiritual authority without technical expertise? At Duke Divinity School, students are theoretically required to have both, certainly when they graduate but also to some extent when they apply for admission. An undergraduate degree is required and not just any GPA gets you consideration; however, you also have to describe your experience of a calling from God. You can be unsure about exactly what your calling means, but the Div School expects your application to be a response to the Holy Spirit's work in your life.

At a first-year spiritual formation retreat last fall, I had an interesting conversation with some fellow seminarians about whether we planned to display our diplomas in our offices in the future (most of us were planning to enter parish ministry). One person said he'd be very proud of his degree and would want to have it framed and mounted--not just for his own pride, but because it would earn him respect as soon as people saw it. I told the group that I was hesitant because I have had experiences with people who wrote me off as elitist the moment they learned I went to Duke; does a diploma on the wall earn you respect or intimidation? I recalled my dad telling me about the first church he served, a lovely country church where he still has dear friends. When he first became the pastor, he was still finishing his Ph.D., and somehow this got mentioned in worship, but in very vague terms. Apparently a few members thought it meant that my dad hadn't finished school--as in high school or college--and they were thrilled to have a pastor with a humble education like theirs. In that community, a doctoral degree might be more of a curse than a blessing for an authority figure.

Of course, all of that comes back to the relational dimension of authority. No good pastor can responsibly wield authority before she or he knows the community.

Now, to figure out all the details before I get my first church...


Favorite Quotations

"...to have authority is to use power in ways that a congregation or other church body recognizes as legitimate, as consonant with and contributing to the basic beliefs and purposes of the church."

"Authenticity and competence may have been assumed as a basis for ordination and a call, but they have to be proved in practice before a congregation or community accords the pastor full legitimacy to lead."

"While the Hebrew prophets and Jesus are prime examples of charismatic leaders, so also was Hitler in his appeal to Germany's sacred past and his projection of a thousand-year reich."

"If we have authority as clergy, it is because laity perceive us to be reliable interpreters of the power and purposes of God in the context of contemporary society. And this involves both spirituality and expertise, not one without the other."

Field Notes #27: Blast Off!

Today was the first day of Vacation Bible School at HCUMC! I had a fun first day with "Galactic Blast." Never one to shy from committing to a theme, I got a boys' size 8 Buzz Lightyear t-shirt for $5 at Wal-Mart, cut off the sleeves and squeezed it over a t-shirt that actually fits. I'm in charge of games, and I quickly learned that although the 9- t0 11-year-olds had fun with "Creation Station Relay" and "Planet Toss," trying to coordinate 3- to 5-year-olds for a relay race is like herding cats. But the playground is fun, and I'll adjust my approach tomorrow anyway.

Here are two of my favorite pictures from today. I'll put together a slideshow once VBS is over.


Torin playing with Galileo.


Braden and me showing off our Buzz Lightyear t-shirts.

Friday, June 25, 2010

His Eye Is On the Sparrow

A few months ago, a friend of mine lost her one-eyed cat, Sparrow. She was found 10 miles from home yesterday after 90 days of being on her own. The funny thing is that we're singing "His Eye Is On the Sparrow" in church this week. I don't like to give too much spiritual significance to "coincidences" (I hate that word) like that, but I do like to point out the craziness and just let it sit. :)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Field Notes #26: Moon Rocks and Space Monkeys

We started sorting through VBS decorations. Alix and I had fun with this.


There is only one way to describe this picture: BOSS.


Alix with Galileo, the (inexplicably) green, galactic gorilla.

Field Notes #25: The Backwoods General Store

Today, a church member took myself, Val and LeaAnne to lunch. She warned us ahead of time that we might be a little concerned when we saw the place, but that they had great food. She was right on both counts. Here's how you get to the aptly named Backwoods General Store: get to the middle of nowhere in north Gaston County, then keep driving. Outside, you see this sign and a somewhat worse for the wear building with a bright orange door. Inside are 6 tables, so I'm told--I only saw 3; they're all ensconced in a labyrinth of antique furniture, books, toys, games, pictures and all sorts of odds and ends, including birdhouses, baskets, boxes and more made of or decorated with wine corks. If I'd had the time to poke around, you probably wouldn't have seen me for several hours, as I'd be bound to get lost in exploring the place and its contents.

Oh, and the food. My goodness. Talk about a square meal, and I'm talking classy yet inexpensive. I ordered the smothered chicken--incredibly tender, juicy chicken covered with tomatoes, roasted red peppers, bacon, mushrooms and cheese--with a side of fresh fruit and roasted broccoli (which had cheese and spices of some sort on top, and was delicious). All that came with a roll and a drink. The chef doesn't have a dishwasher, so everything is served on paper plates, and in lieu of drinks in cups, your options are bottled water or canned soda. Everything was wonderful, and I was sorely tempted to try dessert but restrained myself.

It may be out of the way, but Backwoods is getting attention--I was told that at night there's a line out the front door to eat there, and you can check out this article in the Gaston Gazette for a review. The plan, apparently, is for them to relocate to Gastonia in order to be more accessible not only to the faithful clients who trek out there regularly but also to the not-yet-enlightened who will surely benefit from exposure to the food. What an experience.

Field Notes #24: Flashlights, Group Reflection, Green Space Monkeys and Authority

"Though by the path he leadeth,
But one step I may see."


I had never really paid attention to those two short lines (from "His Eye Is On the Sparrow," lyrics by Civilla Martin) until last night when we sang them at choir practice. I journalled about it last night. The image of following God being like driving a car through pitch black darkness and only seeing the road directly in front of you where the headlights shine--that has been helpful to me as I've sought to follow God, not knowing really where I'm going. Of course, often I feel like all I have is a flashlight or even just a cell phone to light the way, but I have to remember Jeremiah 29:11--"For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope." I may not know where I'm going, but God does, and I have to trust and rest in that.

Yesterday we had our group reflection meeting with those of us doing field ed in the general vicinity of Charlotte (ish). It was cool to see some of my friends again, to get to know some pre-enrollment students, and to hear about other people's field ed experiences so far. Plus we started off with worship led by half the group, which was very cool. Also, one of my friends is placed at my dad's church, so it was neat to hear about her experience there.

Yesterday we got a bunch of decorations and props for VBS from my old home, Davidson UMC. We are SO thankful that they were willing to share--we have moon rocks, a mission control station, loads of inflatable space shuttles, several sets of planets (I didn't check to see if Pluto got included), great backdrops for storytelling, a green space monkey, and more. We're also working on integrating the science unit into our schedule--the curriculum has all these cool demonstrations that fit in with the Bible stories for each day, and we have a number of scientifically-minded folks in the church who will have a lot of fun with that. People are excited about VBS and eager to help, which is so great. I'm looking forward to it.

I'm off to do some reading--Val gave me Jackson Carroll's book As One With Authority: Reflective Leadership in Ministry (look for it in my "What I'm Reading" blog series soon) and bookmarked a few chapters of particular interest for me to read and for us to talk about. I'm realizing that although I've always wishes people would respect me and get past the fact that I'm short, blonde and look like I'm 14, I sometimes rely on and feed into that because I'm actually uncomfortable with authority. I pull a Jeremiah pretty regularly--"Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy" (Jer. 1:6). But even though I'm "just an intern," I do have authority, and even though I sometimes don't want to think about it, it's something that's really important for me to begin to get my head around, something about which I need to be intentional.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Silence, Frenzied, Unclean Spirit"

"Silence, frenzied, unclean spirit!"
Cried God's healing Holy One.
"Cease your ranting! Flesh can't bear it.
Flee as night before the sun."

At Christ's words the demon trembled,
From its victim madly rushed,
While the crowd that was assembled
Stood in wonder, stunned and hushed.

Lord, the demons still are thriving
In the gray cells of the mind:
Tyrant voices, shrill and driving,
Twisted thoughts that grip and bind,

Doubts that stir the heart to panic,
Fears distorting reason's sight,
Guilt that makes our loving frantic,
Dreams that cloud the soul with fright.

Silence, Lord, the unclean spirit
In our mind and in our heart;
Speak your word that when we hear it,
All our demons shall depart.

Clear our thought and calm our feeling;
Still the fractured, warring soul.
By the power of your healing
Make us faithful, true, and whole.

-- Thomas H. Troeger (UMH No. 264)

Psi: Connecting the Psalms with Ancient Greek Figurines

This is just a random observation on my part that I mentioned during last night's Psalms class. When I studied abroad in Greece in 2007, one of the souvenirs I brought home was a terra cotta statue (I assume a replica) like the one in this picture. Countless figurines have been found in the shape of several Greek letters--in this case, the psi (Ψ). The vaguely humanoid statues bear the trident shape of the 23rd letter of the Greek alphabet, and they seem to lift their stubby arms up in praise.

Being both a language dork and a history nerd, I liked the imagery at the time. In researching for my Psalms series, I learned that the Greek word from which we get the name of the Biblical book is psalmoi, which means "songs sung to a harp." The fact that the first letter of psalmoi has been rendered as a symbol of an act of praise is pretty cool to me. Worship and music are meant for each other, and the Psalms embody that.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Field Notes #23: Wet, Wild Water and the Word

Today was exhausting but super fun! I spent most of the day at Wet 'n Wild Emerald Pointe with the youth from HCUMC. Apparently it's the Carolinas' biggest water park. I'd been there a few times before, but not in a long, long time. I had so much fun hanging out with the youth and with the adults--that ministry is volunteer-run, and I love how committed and involved the parents and other adult volunteers are. I'm convinced that is the key to a successful youth ministry, regardless of whether or not you have a paid youth pastor. Anyway, we had fun, I am sunburned, and there will probably be some pretty goofy pictures of me from the van ride up on Facebook in the near future thanks to the multiple cameras in use while I was still convincing my body that yes, I did drink coffee this morning.

Part 2 of my Psalms class was tonight, and I had a lot of fun teaching that! I had a lovely group of attendees who humored me and participated when asked, which was wonderful. We talked about the Psalms and music, which I obviously enjoyed. We learned how to chant psalms, listened to a few tracks off the Psalms mixtape I made (also available, minus 2 tracks, as an iMix), and talked about how the Psalms can be incorporated into prayer and worship. Like I said, I had fun talking about the psalms and music, and people seemed to be interested in what I was saying. It was very cool. :)

On an unrelated but still awesome note, a friend told me she heard my name on 106.9 The Light this morning. As it turns out, I made their concert calendar because I'm playing at The Upper Room in Statesville this Friday. Way cool!

I'm off to celebrate by eating Froot Loops, vegging out on the computer and going to bed early.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Field Notes #22: Psalms, The Mixtape


Watch out. The queen of CD mixes is back in action, this time with better technology and with the Psalms in mind. Tomorrow it's Psalms: The Songbook of the Bible, so we're talking about music! In preparation (and to have as a goodie for folks who come), I've created a playlist of music based on the Psalms. The CD covers a broad range of genres, and the tracks are arranged in numerical order by psalm. Here's my Psalms playlist (with the performer, not necessarily the writer, listed along with the referring psalm). You can hear song samples and download the whole playlist (minus tracks 17 and 19, for some reason) as an iMix in iTunes by clicking here.

  1. "I Will Call Upon the Lord" Marty J. Nytrom (Psalm 19)
  2. "House of God, Forever" Jon Foreman (Psalm 23)
  3. "Cry of My Heart" Studio Musicians (Psalm 25:4-5)
  4. "O Taste and See" John Rutter & The Cambridge Singers (Psalm 34)
  5. "I Love You, Lord" Eric Quiram & The London Fox Singers (Psalm 35:9)
  6. "Your Love, Oh Lord" Third Day (Psalm 36)
  7. "As the Deer" Terry Clark (Psalm 42)
  8. "A Mighty Fortress" John Rutter & The Cambridge Singers (Psalm 46)
  9. "Create in Me a Clean Heart" Martin Smith (Psalm 51)
  10. "Better Is One Day" Passion (Psalm 84)
  11. "Bless the Lord" Tye Tribbett & G.A. (Psalm 103)
  12. "East to West" Casting Crowns (Psalm 103:12)
  13. "Not to Us" Chris Tomlin (Psalm 115)
  14. "Laudate Dominum Omnes Gentes" Choir of King's College, Cambridge (Psalm 117)
  15. "Come to the Quiet" John Michael Talbot (Psalm 131)
  16. "Forever" Chris Tomlin (Psalm 136)
  17. "Cry Aloud" Shelly Moore Band (Psalm 141)
  18. "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" Mormon Tabernacle Choir (Psalm 103, Psalm 150)
  19. "Let Everything That Has Breath" Passion (Psalm 150)

The Purpose of Grace (a quote from Martin Luther)

"Grace is given to heal the spiritually sick, not to decorate spiritual heroes."

A Child Is Waiting

My boyfriend recently returned from a trip to El Salvador. It's always interesting when people ask what he was doing down there, because it was an unusual trip. Gary went with a group through Compassion International, an organization that does work all over the world. Gary has been sponsoring a young girl named Karen through Compassion for several years now and had been saving money to make the trip down to El Salvador to meet her. He had an incredible experience and is now a bigger Compassion advocate than ever.

I've sponsored Compassion children in the past, usually via my dad. I recently took on a 6-year-old Kenyan girl named Gakii on behalf of the youth group at my church in Durham. Since I'm no longer on staff there, I finally changed my information with Compassion so that I have sole responsibility for sponsoring and writing to Gakii--I want to keep sharing her letters with the youth and telling her what they're up to, but it was just easier to switch things over so I could keep sponsoring her even after I finish seminary. I finally wrote her a letter, the first one in a while, and hopefully will be more consistent about writing to her in the future.

Gary's stories from his trip inspired me, so today I started sponsoring another child, this one in El Salvador. Realizing that the adorable 4-year-olds probably get sponsors more easily than perhaps older children, I looked for a teenager and found one who had been waiting for a sponsor for over 6 months. Cesar is 13 and enjoys singing, soccer and playing a musical instrument. Sounds like a good kid for me, even if I stink at soccer. :) Maybe Gary and I can go to El Salvador together someday.

In addition to Gakii and Cesar, my dad sponsored a child in my name for Christmas. His church, Myers Park UMC in Charlotte, has been very involved in the community of Bayonnais in Haiti--the poorest part of the poorest country in the western hemisphere. One of his church members started the organization World of God, which is sort of a localized version of Compassion. World of God so far establishes sponsorships in Haiti and Liberia, two countries where Myers Park has relationships with churches. I like that approach--the church taking initiative to be more intentionally engaged in a place where they have already established connections. Anyway, Choudeline is my sponsored child from Haiti, and I have been a horrible sponsor and haven't written her yet, so this morning I got myself together and wrote her a letter. It would probably be pretty easy for me to visit Bayonnais, since MPUMC sends groups down there pretty regularly--both my dad and sister have been there.

I'm grateful for the sort of nudging I've gotten towards being more intentional about this means of reaching out. I've been pretty turned inward for quite a while now, and though in many ways I have needed to be that way lately, it's time for me to start moving past myself.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Field Notes #21: A Wonderful Weekend

I was out of town from Thursday to Saturday celebrating my boyfriend's birthday with him. I got back in town last night, and today just topped off a great weekend.

Church this morning went well despite the fact that I was really nervous about filling in for our music director. I had a funny moment before church where I thought, Huh, no one's set up the music stands yet--and then I realized that I had to do that today. For all the congregational songs, I was playing piano, and despite the fact that I started piano lessons in kindergarten, I'm always extremely nervous on that instrument. Fortunately, Art, one of the HCUMC parishioners, played drums, and he's an excellent drummer, which really helped me to relax into the songs.

My major flub of the day was when the Doxology popped up on the screen and I realized that it hadn't even crossed my mind to practice it. I frantically flipped my hymnal open to somewhere in the 90s, found a "Praise God, From Whom All Blessings Flow," and dove in. I wondered why no one was really singing until I took a second look at the screen and realized I was playing the wrong version--wrong tune, wrong words, AND I played it poorly. Oops. :) But worship was good this morning, Val preached about baptism and inclusiveness a la Casting Crowns' "If We Are the Body" (which I played during the offertory), and we had a baptism of the happiest baby ever!

After church, I jumped in the car and drove down to Charlotte to meet my family for Father's Day lunch. My dad is the jam! We went to this French restaurant called Cafe Monte--it was awesome. I had delicious eggs Benedict, and my sister and I split an order of chocolate crepes. YUM. After lunch, we gave Dad his Father's Day presents, then he ran out the door to drive my little brother to Camp Tekoa, in the mountains. Mom and I did a little shopping, then I came back to Denver.

Tonight was the second installment of the evening worship service I've been helping to lead with one of HCUMC's college students and his girlfriend (with whose sister I actually went to middle school and high school, as it turns out). It was just Jon and me this week, and the theme was grace. We had met last week to pick and practice music; we sang "Your Grace Is Enough," "Amazing Love," Needtobreathe's funky/soulful "Washed By the Water," "Grace Like Rain," "Heavyhearted" by The Glorious Unseen, and Tenth Avenue North's "By Your Side." The song selections worked really well--it's been great working with Jon because we have different repertoires, so we end up with a cool blend of stuff when we put our heads together. The service went really well. We had 4 people show up, and it was great. We sang; Jon and I shared Scripture and quotes about grace; I played my original song "No Part of You"; and we just talked and shared among ourselves about the gift and challenge that is God's grace. I hadn't done worship in that small, intimate kind of setting in a long time, and it was really refreshing.

Now it's almost 9:30 and I am seriously ready for bed. So tired. :)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Vienna Teng & Alex Wong: The Moment Always Vanishing

Vienna Teng has been one of my favorite musical artists since high school. I finally got to see her live in concert earlier this month, along with Alex Wong, singer/songwriter/guitarist/percussionist extraordinaire. They were fabulous. Vienna is one of those musicians who has a strong following but may never be on the radio, because her music is...well, it's too good. She dares to do things like write pop songs in 5/8 and pen upbeat tunes that are about a girl deciding whether or not to have an abortion. No cookie cutter Top 40 hits from her--instead, something much better. Paired with Alex's percussion and arranging skills, she is stellar. Their live album, The Moment Always Vanishing, is excellent. I particularly like their version of "Tower," off Vienna's first CD (see the video below), the song "Antebellum," and "Grandmother Song," a soulful and humorous tribute to her opinionated paternal grandmother who doesn't exactly approve of her career choices.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Field Notes #20: Some Things Planned, Others Not

I woke up before my alarm today, which is usually a bad sign, but it ended up being good. I've written a new song! It's called "Beautiful God." The chorus popped into my head during my 2-mile barefoot run last night (which was awesome), and this morning I penned the verses and a bridge. I'll be working out the groove and general feel for the next little while--maybe I'll start playing it out soon to let it come into its own. :)

Anyway, Val and I spent some time this morning going over Vacation Bible School stuff--the woman who was in charge is unable to continue in that capacity, but there should be enough in place that I can pick up where she left off (with help). We also worked out some possibilities for activities with the kids and finalized worship stuff (even though we ended up cutting a hymn later).

Little did I know, Val was intentionally keeping me occupied so I wouldn't leave. I found this out when my boyfriend Gary called me, and I was very confused to hear his voice coming not only from the phone but also from down the hall. Turns out he had conspired with my dad and with Val to come down to Denver and surprise me! I was definitely surprised, especially because I'm going to visit him for his birthday this weekend, but it was a wonderful surprise. I was excited to show him around the church and the area, and I got to see his many many MANY pictures and videos from his trip to El Salvador with Compassion International. And I got pretty jewelry and stuff from El Salvador. :) So my day didn't go like I had expected, but it was wonderful.

After Gary left, I attended the worship committee meeting, and then we had choir practice. Jeana's going to be out of town this weekend, so I guess I'm in charge of music, which makes me nervous. And I always get anxious when I'm playing piano in front of people. But it went fine, and I'll have time to practice and get comfortable with the music before Sunday.

Which, of course, is Father's Day, and I have a groovy dad, who came (along with my mom) and took me out to dinner last night. :)

And also the sunset was GORGEOUS tonight.

Truth vs. Helpfulness (a quote from C. S. Lewis)

"If Christianity is untrue, then no honest man will want to believe it, however helpful it might be: if it is true, every honest man will want to believe it, even if it gives him no help at all."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Field Notes #19: Food, Friends and Music

I had a really good dinner last night. We have some leftover salad stuff from the spaghetti supper on Sunday, so I put together a salad with a little bit of cheese, tomatoes and honey dijon, and I also had pineapple beef teriyaki with rice. OK, so the beef dish was a frozen dinner, but it was yummy! And I just went to the store and got some goodies: spinach and smoked salmon to make eggs Benedict (inspired by a house dinner of a few months ago), sweet apple chicken sausage because it's delicious, and chocolate Silk (soy milk) for the same reason. Of course, I got home and realized that the one thing I actually needed was milk. Oops.

I've spent a lot of my day working on music and worship stuff. I'm experiencing the joy of actually having time to chart songs the way I want them. Today I arranged Blest Be the Tie That Binds, complete with a new bridge with yummy harmonies; charted and harmonized They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love, and scored The Servant Song. I've also been practicing piano for Baptized in Water (because we have a baptism Sunday) and Christ, From Whom All Blessings Flow, and I'm considering using a hymn that a friend of mine wrote because it ties in with the Scripture and theme for Sunday.

Music and worship is fun!

I also went to lunch in Davidson today with all the DDS interns and supervisors from the Lake Norman District, courtesy of the District Superintendent (I always spell "superintendent" wrong, by the way). It was a great lunch in general, but it was also fun to see several of my friends from school and to realize that some of them are pretty close by and we ought to hang out. I drive past Salem UMC all the time, and John Bryant is the intern there; we're hopefully gonna get coffee or something soon.

Mom and Dad are coming in a bit to take me out to dinner. Rock on.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Time Traveler's Wife

I just watched The Time Traveler's Wife. I didn't really know anything about it, I just picked it out on a whim from the most awesome invention ever Redbox earlier today. I really liked it! Besides being entertaining and a tear-jerker, it got me thinking. See, in this movie, Eric Bana's character, Henry, has a genetic disorder that causes him to time travel randomly. He has no control of where he ends up or how long it takes for him to travel back. Sometimes this is beneficial, like when he returns from the future with winning lottery numbers, but more often than not it's frustrating, particularly for his wife. Things get far more serious when he travels far enough into the future to learn that he dies when his daughter is 5 years old.

Obviously, this is quite a burden for his wife, played by Rachel McAdams, and also for his daughter, whose future self returns on her 5th birthday to let her know that this is the year her father will die. Being a divinity school geek, this made me think about God. I personally would not want to know when I am going to die--much less would I want to know when a loved one will die. Of course I know that we're all mortal, but there would be something very different about knowing the details of the end of our lives before we got there. And then I realized--just as God knew us in our mothers' wombs, he knows when we will die. "In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed" (Psalm 139:16). Sure, God gets to hang out with us in heaven, but God has compassion for us and is moved by our suffering. It's as if in the movie Henry had been told when his daughter would die and had to wait for it to happen; except this is God, whose love is infinitely greater than even the most devoted parent's, and it happens for God billions and billions of times over.

OK, so some of this line of thought is a little inane, but still. I'm writing it down because it made me think about just how much God loves each of us, how much he hates for us to suffer. The love and pain written across Rachel McAdams' face, even if they weren't just the stylings of an actress, are only a pale shadow of God's love for us. And Rachel McAdams still made me cry! How much more should I be moved by the realization of the depth of God's true, pure, unconditional love?

__________


And also, the girls who play Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams' daughter Alba, Hailey and Tatum McCann, are precious:

Field Notes #18: Technical Difficulties and Churchy-ness

The internet is down at church again, which is very sad. I'm at Dilworth Coffeehouse right now catching up on email and trying to do some of the work I had to set aside earlier. Jeana's out of town next Sunday, which means I'm in charge of music, and I'm having an annoyingly hard time finding suitable music to go along with Galatians 3:23-29. You know, "There is no Jew or Greek..." etc. etc. Anyway.

I also need to research possibilities for activities/field trips for the younger kids at HCUMC--possibly visiting the Mullholland Planetarium in Hickory and/or going to the Lazy 5 Ranch in Mooresville (I have childhood memories of llamas spitting at me through a sunroof at Lazy 5).

And I'm gonna try to work out something fun/edifying to do with the youth during the week. Maybe fellowshipping with some Bible study snuck in there somewhere. :)

But this morning, I had a bunch of errands to run, one of them being picking up the violin I was buying off a guy I found on Craigslist for $65. Her name is Valencia, and I dropped her off at Music & Arts in Huntersville because I think the tuning pegs need adjusting and the bow might need some work. Of course, it may just be that I haven't played violin since 5th grade, but whatever.

I tagged along with Val on a home visit this afternoon. We went to see the man I visited in the hospital last Thursday after he had surgery. A former pastor (and current member) of HCUMC was also there, and I met the dog Jake (who is a girl). That was fun. They got going telling stories and it was great. People mailing LIVE possums to each other. Hiding the pastor's car so he had to walk home, thinking it had been stolen. Egads.

Finance meeting got cancelled for tonight, which means I can go to aerobics, which is good because otherwise I'd have to go running or biking and OHMYGOSH it is hot outside. Unreal. Every time I got in my car today, I turned the AC on higher and colder, and yet the air blowing out felt warmer and warmer. Yuck.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Field Notes #17: Hymn Sing, Spaghetti and Dunking Booths

Today was a full day and a fun one, too. In church this morning, we had a hymn sing. In place of a sermon, the congregation threw out hymn requests. Fortunately, our music director is a professional accompanist, so this was no big deal, and the singers all did our best to lead the songs. It was a lot of fun. It was also educational for me, because there were quite a few songs that I didn't know. I feel like I have a pretty broad repertoire of music, and I know my United Methodist Hymnal, but we were getting old Baptist hymns--the kind that have a sort of swing to them and sound most natural on an electric organ--and although I knew some of them, I didn't know them all. But it was great to be a part of that sort of worship--spontaneous, heartfelt and uplifting.

After lunch, I sort of crashed...I took a nap by accident. I then tried to help clean up the old parsonage (now offices and my living space) for an open house this afternoon. So here's the deal: HCUMC tore down its sanctuary in February. This first picture is looking toward the Nelson Center (where there are Sunday School classrooms, a nursery, etc.); the grass and dirt is where the sanctuary used to be (and where the new one, pictured on the sign, will be). The second is of the Family Life Center, where worship is being held until the new sanctuary is built (the contemporary service was already meeting there). That's also where the offices used to be.

The parsonage is big; it had been expanded at some point to accommodate a pastor with 5 kids. The whole building has been renovated into new administrative offices, Sunday School/meeting rooms, and a living space for summer interns (like me!). I already posted pictures of my room, but today I walked around and took more of the rest of the building. It's definitely still a work in progress, but it looks great.



Anyway, a few people came by to look at the "church house" (the actual name is still pending), then we had a spaghetti dinner at the Family Life Center. Several music students from Lenoir-Rhyne University (where our music director teaches) came and sang for us. They were great--they sang one of my favorite choral anthems, Rene Clausen's "Set Me as a Seal" (a setting of Song of Songs 8:6-7, one of my favorite Bible verses) and a mash-up (heh) of "Danny Boy" and "Loch Lomond" (that's my twin brother Jay singing the solo!). Nice.

THEN (no, my day was not over), I went to the Gastons' house with the youth. They had a dunking booth set up (I forget why), so the kids had fun knocking each other in. John Gaston got a fire going, so they had S'mores too. It was fun.

Above are some of the kids gearing up to throw a ball at the target, and here's Alix preparing to get dunked.

Friday, June 11, 2010

"God Don't Think Stuff's Funny!"

The title of this blog comes from a vague memory I have of seeing the Blue Collar Comedy Tour on DVD. I think that was Bill Engvall talking.

Anyway, I came across this article on Faith & Leadership, written by Kavin Rowe. It's called "Humor as a mark of life-giving leadership." The first Bible verse Rowe quotes cracked me up:

“Paul talked with them,” writes Luke, and “prolonged his speech until midnight. ... A young man named Eutychus was sitting in the window. He sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on and on; and being overcome by sleep, Eutychus fell down from
the third story and was taken up dead” (Acts 20:7-9).

OK that is FUNNY. And I do think humor is an important part of the life of faith. Not just bad jokes that your pastor (er, my grandfather?) tells in the pulpit, but being able to acknowledge that some of what we believe is pretty ridiculous. I can be a little more irreverent than some people would like at times--one of my favorite movies is Monty Python's Life of Brian, and I was genuinely disappointed when my undergraduate
New Testament professor, Mark Goodacre, told me he had considered showing this video in class but thought better of it. (That's Eddie Izzard, who I always describe as "my favorite British transvestite comedian.") (WARNING: Strong language.)



Anyway. I sure hope God has a sense of humor, or else I'm screwed. :)

On a side note (or the same note):

Field Notes #16: Days Off

Friday is my day off. I probably won't have much human contact today. The only thing I really need to do is to call and check on a few folks who have had surgeries this week. I did make myself a to-do list for the day. I've been recruited to help one of Gary's bands, Funktion, design a logo; Gary's website needs a little tweaking; I'm supposed to be designing a website for Gary's mom; we talked the other night about the possibility of having a health fair at the end of June, so I want to start compiling contacts; I AM GOING TO CLEAN MY CAR SO BAD; and I need to exercise. The Descent 2 should be coming from Netflix today, but I don't know that I want to watch that by myself. Heh.

I do have plans tomorrow. I'm playing at the Davidson Farmer's Market in the morning and Maddi's Southern Bistro in the evening, and in between I'm gonna hang out at the Edwards' pool and let the dogs out while they're gone for the day. Good times.

I've also been working on a new song. The lyrics pull a lot from various Psalms, and I've got the verses and chorus down solid. Just gotta figure out the rest of it. I may just send it to Gary and tell him to go to town on a bridge.

All right. I'm gonna grab the Pledge Multi-Surface and some quarters for the vacuum, and go to town on my car. Heyo!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Field Notes #15: Flying Solo

Val's email to the church this morning included this sentence (caps hers): "IF YOU HAVE AN IMMEDIATE PASTORAL NEED, PLEASE CONTACT INTERN SARAH HOWELL." Heh. Great. Val's leaving for Annual Conference this morning, and LeaAnne's on vacation, so I'm sort of it. Today I have to visit Keith in the hospital, where he's recovering post-surgery, and I have to figure out how to print the bulletins--I'm just praying they got the copier set up and working.

Backtracking a bit: I had one person come to my first Psalms class. That's OK--it was Iris Walker, and she's awesome, and I know Art and Janet had intended to come but got tied up in traffic in Huntersville. Before the next class (June 22), I'm going to be more intentional about recruiting folks to come out. The first session wasn't a big deal, but from here on out they get pretty cool and I'd like to have at least a few people there.

I'm looking forward to Sunday--we're doing a hymn sing! In place of the sermon, we'll have people request favorite hymns. This is when it's handy that the music person is a professional accompanist--Jeana can handle anything anyone throws out. So last night at choir practice, we did the songs we know we're doing (since we'll have our usual 5 songs throughout the service) and then everybody threw out suggestions. There were even a few hymns I didn't know. I realized that each church has a sort of "canon within a canon" (gah, dork), and although Davidson/Myers Park UMC and Asbury Temple UMC have different canons, Hill's Chapel is different still. One thing I like is that they use the Celebration Hymnal sometimes, which I've seen but don't own. Gotta get me one of those.

My mom's coming to visit today! And my siblings, or at least my sister. That'll be fun. :)

All right. Off to make corrections to the bulletin and print it out. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What I'm Reading #7: Rising Stars (Michael Straczynski)

Rising Stars, by J. Michael Straczynski

I know, I know. Rising Stars is a comic book series. I'm expanding my geekdom. It's a great release after a long semester.

And this series was enjoyable. I won't give you the whole rundown, because there's one specific thing I want to talk about in regarding to this book, but basically, a mysterious flash--some sort of cosmic event--appears over Pederson, Illinois, and all the children who were in utero at the time were born with various powers. Some had super strength, others could fly, one could manipulate electrical energy, etc. Some became heroes a la Superman, others became public enemies a la the X-Men. But all of them spent a great deal of time using their abilities for selfish reasons until things got real and they realized they were meant to help the world. So the one with pyrokinesis burned down the world's cocaine fields, the strongest of them went about burying the entire world's nuclear weapon supply two miles under the North Pole, the woman whose power was that to anyone looking at her she was the most beautiful woman alive went on a fund-raising spree. It was cool.

There's plenty in Rising Stars about power and responsibility, but there was one particular exchange that struck me. When they began actually trying to help the world, one thing they did was to try to mediate international conflicts. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was, of course, a priority. One of the "Specials" (as they were called) planned to destroy the major religious symbols in Jerusalem--the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Wailing Wall, etc. This, she said, would give the people a common enemy and bring them together.

Another one of the Specials offered an alternative. What if, he said, instead of giving them a common enemy, we gave them a common--I don't know what he called it, maybe a common source of rejoicing? You see, the Special who planned to destroy the city's holy sites had the power of controlling small objects. This seemed useless until someone realized that the carotid artery is a small object, and she became an undetectable assassin. But her friend offered her a different task: use her powers to pull up the fertile soil from underneath the desert sand. She had just enough power to do it, and it killed her. But suddenly, for miles around Jerusalem, there was arable land. As the second Special had suggested, it became less pressing to fight over one small patch of land once there was so much fertile space around.

Obviously, that solution isn't plausible, but it made me think. Having a common enemy can be a powerful thing; but I wonder if a common source of gratitude and joy could be even stronger. It's too bad that not even the Abrahamic faiths can find that in God.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Field Notes #14: UMC Cribs

I have officially moved into the parsonage (er, ex-parsonage, now offices and intern living space)! And I actually got everything unpacked and set up! Since I know myself, I know the room may never be this clean again, so I decided to go ahead and take pictures. Enjoy and be envious--I'm gonna get spoiled having this much space. When we get offices and whatnot set up, I'll take pictures of the rest of the church house (Val's been calling the building that). See if you can find Bananagrams, part of the Isenheim Altarpiece, Brucey (my--er, Gary's--plush Batman), and my favorite, the baptismal font. :)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Field Notes #13: Planning a Psalms Class

My Psalms class starts tomorrow! I'm looking forward to it. This first session is going to be my guinea pig--figuring out how to manage my time in teaching, testing how to facilitate discussion, and just seeing how many people are going to show up. I'm using Bonhoeffer's Prayerbook of the Bible, Brueggemann's Praying the Psalms, a book my dad co-wrote called Preaching the Psalms, and plenty of other resources. I really want to figure out how to keep people creatively engaged with the content. That'll be easier in later classes--music and poetry can easily be made interactive, and the one on prayers of vengeance will hopefully spark discussion--but I want to make sure that even in this first one, which is more of an intro/overview, I can get people talking or contributing in some way. I found a Psalms journal in Barnes and Noble the other day that looks really neat, and I found it on sale online, so I'm gonna take orders from folks who might be interested in that approach. The journal pulls sections of Psalms to fit certain themes and provides space to write and reflect on each group. Plus it's just plain pretty. :) I heart journals. Anyway, Val also lent me the Psalms planning guide from The Efird Bible Study Series, which should be helpful.

All right, I've been at Dilworth Coffee for a while; I figure I should go to the church.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Field Notes #12: My First Sermon at HCUMC

I preached from Luke 7:11—17. I used an audio clip from The Bible Experience as the scripture reading; click here to listen.

This is a mosaic from the Cathedral of Monreale in Italy. It depicts today’s Gospel narrative—the raising of the son of the widow of Nain. Jesus is touching the boy with one hand. With the other hand, he is reaching out in blessing to the widow. In the background are all the people who witnessed the miracle—people you would have heard gasp when the boy sat up, much like in the reading we just heard.

It is not insignificant that Jesus’ focus is on the widow. Being a widow was a precarious position to be in. With her only son gone, she had no heir. With no one to inherit from her, all of her property would go back to her husband’s family. When Jesus came along, this woman had truly lost everything.

This passage is a healing narrative. God as a healer is a powerful image for many, myself included. But what do we think is meant by healing? Where is the healing taking place in this story? The focus is on the widow, not on her dead son. The boy’s life is restored, which is an obvious act of physical healing, but the woman gets back her son, her livelihood, and her hope. This story shows that healing is not simply about curing illness or raising the dead; it is about redeeming the entirety of human life in relationship with God.

I've heard people say that we shouldn't pray for healing, only for God's will to be done. They have a point. When Jesus himself taught his disciples to pray, he spoke the Lord’s Prayer for the first time, which clearly says to God, “Thy will be done.” But the act of surrender is still accompanied with requests. The Lord’s Prayer asks for everything from forgiveness to daily bread. God knows what we want, and hiding that behind a servile “Your will be done” denies the depth of humanity expressed in our desires. It can also imply that it is God’s will for us to suffer, but God does not will a child to die of cancer. He has anointed doctors and specialists with skills and a calling to help preserve the lives of his precious children. That’s why we can pray for healing, we can pray for wisdom on the part of the doctors, we can pray for successful treatments for illnesses. Of course, far more than perpetuating our earthly existence, it is in God that we must place our trust. He alone has the power to save our bodies and our souls. And healing does not always take the form we would like it to take.

We read part of Psalm 146 as the Opening Prayer this morning. Here’s part of it that we left out: “Don’t put your life in the hands of experts who know nothing of life, of salvation life. Mere humans don’t have what it takes; when they die, their projects die with them.” It says something about our culture that we pay our doctors—the experts—so much more than our pastors. Ultimately, these bodies we inhabit are broken and mortal, and the power of humans to save life is limited.

One of my favorite TV shows is the medical drama House. In the most recent episode, a young woman had to have her leg amputated in order to be rescued from a collapsed building. Just when things seemed to be going right, a fatal embolism formed as a result of the amputation. Dr. House could only sit by helplessly as Hannah died. Later, one of the other doctors tried to comfort House—“Fat embolisms are impossible to prevent,” he said. “You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s not your fault.” House turned to him and shouted angrily, “I did everything right and she still died. Why would that make me feel any better?” When our trust is in our ability to keep ourselves healthy or to heal other people, we can only respond with confusion and anger when we are faced with the reality that ultimately we are not in control.

Henri Nouwen is one of my spiritual heroes. He was a theologian who left a distinguished professorship to live in L’Arche Daybreak, a community where people with developmental disabilities and people without live together and care for each other. I recently learned that soon after coming to L’Arche, Nouwen plunged into a deep depression that required him to be hospitalized for 6 months. This was both surprising and comforting to learn. It helped me to know that such a theological and spiritual giant went through many of the same struggles I did. During his hospitalization, Nouwen wrote a series of spiritual imperatives—reminders to himself of how to orient himself toward God, toward others and toward himself. One I read just the other day says, “Allow your pain to become the pain.” All suffering is unique, Nouwen says, because pain is always tied to specific circumstances. But if we become obsessed with the concrete details of our pain, we end up descending into a swirl of “if onlys”—if only this one circumstance had been different, if only she had gone to the doctor sooner, if only I hadn’t let him drive. “If onlys” do not produce healing—they just isolate us further. Nouwen says that in order to heal, we must find the places where our specific suffering touches the universal human experience of suffering.

This does not mean dissolving our own suffering into a greater ocean of generalized pain. It means finding and showing compassion. As Pastor Val said last week, the word “compassion” means “to suffer with.” Perhaps the most difficult part of depression is the sense of profound isolation. Being shown compassion and having compassion for other people shows us that we are not alone. We are never alone. And this doesn’t just mean we aren’t alone among other people, though that in and of itself is important. In this story in Luke 7, Jesus has compassion for the widow. Jesus suffers with her. The Message version of this passage reads, “When Jesus saw her, his heart broke.” Jesus was fully divine, but he was also fully human, which meant he participated in the human condition of suffering—never more so than on the cross, where he took all of our sin and sorrow upon himself.

When Jesus was taken down from the cross, he was given to his mother. Michelangelo’s beautiful sculpture, the Pieta, shows Mary holding her son with one arm, but the other hand is lifted heavenward. She holds her child and mourns for him, but simultaneously offers him back to his Father above. In Luke chapter 7, when the boy is raised to life, the text says, “He gave him to his mother.” This is the same phrase used in the Greek translation of a very similar healing story in 1 Kings, where Elijah brings another widow’s son back from the dead. Just as in the gospel of Luke, the focus is on the mother. Where is the healing, really?

We all have stories of healing, whether in our own lives or in the lives of people we know. We also have stories of times when we prayed for healing and it didn’t come. Some of us are living a story right now where we still desperately need healing. In the end, our stories are really all we have. In the Bible, when Jesus is asked a question, he does not respond with a systematic theological answer; instead, he tells parables—stories. So I’ll close one more.

Clay Wayman was a member of the church in Davidson where I grew up. He was a brilliant young doctor and became good friends with my dad. One time, Clay took my dad and my younger brother Noah out for a boat ride on Lake Norman and managed to beach the boat on a sandbar. Noah was really little at the time, and for most of the hour they spent stuck on the sandbar, he lectured Clay: “Clay, you shouldn’t have driven that close to the sandbar. You should have seen the signs.”

One day, Clay called my dad and told him to come over to his house right away. Dad rushed over, thinking something must be wrong. When he got there, Clay led him into the spare bedroom, where Dad saw, of all things, a baby in a crib. Clay had decided that it just wasn’t in the stars for him to get married, but he wanted a child, so he had adopted a little girl named Lauren. Clay turned out to be an outstanding father. The way my dad describes it is that it was like walking through a museum of beautiful art, then turning a corner to discover the real treasure room. Fatherhood was Clay’s treasure room.

When Lauren was a few months old, Clay had her baptized at our church. Afterward, Mary, one of our lovely but more eccentric members, came up to my dad—“During the baptism, I had a vision,” she said. “The roof of the church lifted off, a light shone down on Lauren and a host of angels descended and gathered around her.” My dad said something like, “Oh, how nice,” and promptly forgot about it.

Five years later, my family had moved to Charlotte and Clay and Lauren had moved to Texas. One day, my dad received a phone call. It was Clay. He had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Lauren, then in kindergarten, was going to lose her only parent.

The next day, my dad received a card in the mail from Mary, whom he hadn’t talked to in quite a while. The card had this picture on the front. Something had prompted Mary to remember her vision of 5 years before. She had had an artist do a rendering of it, and put it on notecards. She had dropped the card in the mail to my dad the day Clay was diagnosed with cancer—5 years after she had the vision.

Some people said it was a sign that Clay would be cured. He wasn’t. But it was a sign of something. When the widow’s son is raised in Luke 7, The Message says this of the onlookers: “They all realized they were in a place of holy mystery, that God was at work among them.” This picture was and is a sign that we are not alone, that God is here. And this is our response to healing, to suffering, to mystery: the collective gasp we heard in the background of the Scripture reading earlier. We may never understand any of these things, but maybe understanding is not the most important thing. Maybe love is the most important thing. When experts die, their projects die with them. When we die, we die with the promise of resurrection by God’s power and love. The singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman put it beautifully: “All that matters when we’re gone / All that mattered all along / All we have that carries on / Is how we love.” Oh, how he loves us. “God is God for good! Hallelujah!”

Saturday, June 5, 2010

What Would You Do?

Make sure you watch the whole thing. The beginning might make you cynical, but Jesus shows up in the end, in the form of a sometimes-homeless woman.

"Where is your brother?" -- Genesis 4:9

"I have called you by name; you are mine." -- Isaiah 43:1

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Field Notes #11: Moving Day Means Liquor Store Runs

The scene outside Val's office this afternoon:
Yes, those are liquor boxes.

And earlier today:

Val: Well, I'm going to the liquor store.
LeaAnne & Me: [...]
Val: To get boxes!

Today was moving day! The new parsonage/administrative office (the latest name suggestion was "church house") is almost ready! Church members came out in full force this evening to pack books, move furniture and clean. The place looks great. Once it gets its occupancy inspection, I'll move into my new digs, and there will be plenty more pictures. :)

Most of my day was spent helping LeaAnne with bulletins and working on my sermon--which hopefully is going to work pretty well. Tomorrow I'm off to a very short jaunt to the beach, then back Saturday to do last-minute prep and SLEEP. Sunday means preaching one sermon, leading music at two worship services, and meeting/fellowshipping with the youth. Yay!

What I'm Reading #6: The Sabbath (Abraham Joshua Heschel)

The Sabbath, by Abraham Joshua Heschel

OK, so The Sabbath is also one I read for school, and last fall, too. And I'm just going to post the paper (or the introductory paragraph--the paper will be attached) I wrote on it for my Old Testament class. But I really may re-read at least parts of this book. This was such a breath of fresh air in the midst of reading lots of dense theological arguments.
__________

Particularly in the modern West, Christians have a great deal to learn from the wisdom of Abraham Heschel. Whereas the Sabbath is often spoken of and treated as a means to an end—a period of rest in order to make one a more effective laborer the other 6 days of the week—Heschel emphasizes the nature of the Sabbath as an epitome of rather than a lull in the life of the world. Though there are some limitations of nuance in translating Heschel’s deeply Jewish reading of the Old Testament, Heschel’s treatment of several apparent dichotomies—space versus time, labor versus rest, and heaven versus earth, and holiness versus goodness—articulates a theology of creation and eternity that presents a positive, Scripturally-based challenge to both Jews and Christians.

Download the entire paper as a PDF here.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Field Notes #10: Geeking Out Over Worship Planning

If you know me at all, you know that I am a nerd. I used to subscribe to Star Wars Insider and I once got Middle English grammar books for Christmas--and was excited about it.

So it should come as no surprise that I literally had a giggle fit today as I was typing the lyrics to next Sunday's closing hymn and realized just how brilliantly it fit the service. And how wonderfully everything seems to be aligning with a theme that develops over the course of the service and culminates at the end. Seriously, June 6 is gonna be a great service at HCUMC, at least I hope so. I will have a much more detailed post Sunday evening, both about the morning's service and the new worship thing we're starting that night. Heyo!

Speaking of being a dork, Val gave me a volume of Feasting on the Word, a very cool lectionary commentary edited by Barbara Brown Taylor, as a gift. It's pwetty! And I really ought to start collecting commentaries. My dad has a ton, of course, but there's always new stuff coming out.

Music practice went pretty well tonight. We were really short on singers, but we'll have more come Sunday morning. Art, the drummer, is back in town, so this was my first time playing with him and Jeana. It was pretty cool. I still need to figure out exactly what I want to do as far as helping lead worship, how much I want to try to add musically, etc. I know that as an intern at a very loving congregation I have a lot of license to try new stuff (which is lovely), but I'm trying to balance that with not taking over--especially because goodness knows I couldn't if I tried! But this "blended" worship service is a learning process for everyone involved, and it's cool to be a part of it.

There's a lot more I could write about, but it'll keep, and some of it will be far more interesting once it actually happens. Sunday morning: preaching, music, etc.; Sunday evening: new worship service thingy; Tuesday night: first Psalms class. Aaaaand I'm going to the beach between now and then. :) Woohoo!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Field Notes #9: The Victory Is in the Preparation

Things are starting to get busy around here! And I like it.

What's going on right now:

I'm preaching on Sunday.
Egads! Sermon prep, and making musical selections that will fit. I'm doing a bit fat no-no and trying to preach on 3 different texts. Fortunately, the Old Testament and Epistle readings for this coming Sunday are pretty similar, so it's not like I'm trying to do exegetical acrobatics. Of course, it's Promotion Sunday, which means we're celebrating graduates and kids moving from elementary to middle and middle to high school. I doubt that'll find its way into the sermon, but we'll see. Oh, AND it's communion Sunday! Which makes my heart smile. I was hoping to pick a choral anthem anyway, and here's the perfect opportunity. And I think I'm gonna try and do some creative stuff--the GBOD website had a neat semi-dramatic reading thing that ties the OT and NT texts and is cool, and I'm contemplating using a clip from The Bible Experience as the Scripture lesson. I don't wanna scare people off, though...

I've decided to teach a class. Psalms, here we come! This is the header for the bulletin insert I just drafted to advertise my class. I like that font (Matura MT - Script Capitals), haven't used it before. Anywho, I'm excited about this, even though I know it's basically me giving myself more work and it's doubtful there will be a very large crowd. I may shoot an email over to the interns at Salem UMC to see if any of their folks might be interested. Anyway, the four parts are gonna be as follows: (1) Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible; (2) Psalms: The Songbook of the Bible; (3) Psalms: The Poetry of the Bible; and (4) Psalms: Prayers of Vengeance. I will be using lots of Bonhoeffer and Brueggemann, naturally. It's gonna be awesome!!

I'm part of planning a new worship service. One of the HCUMC college students who's home for the summer has expressed interest in starting a small alternative worship service aimed towards youth and young adults. He and his girlfriend (who lives in Huntersville, nearby) are both very talented and passionate and have a heart for authentic worship. The idea is for it to be a more contemporary (but not rock band-like) service in an intimate setting. We're looking at every other Sunday evening. We're still figuring out how that will work with youth group (hopefully in conjunction), how often to do it, and what to call it. Has giving things cool Biblical Greek names gone out of style? :)

We're moving into the parsonage this week. We actually need a name for that too. It used to be the parsonage but has been renovated into mostly offices and meeting/conference/Sunday School room, though it still has the master suite (AKA my crib once it gets its occupancy certificate). It's a wonderful space and looks great. Thursday night we're moving and cleaning and whatnot, so maybe by next week I'll finally live in the same place as all my junk. Plus the living room there could be a good place for this new service to meet.

And then there's youth group (we meet on Sunday and will hopefully start doing something during the week as well), meetings, LeaAnne going out of town next week (which means Val and I have to do the powerpoint and bulletin and everything), folks in and out of the hospital, etc. etc. etc.!

And that's not even my personal life! This weekend, I'm taking a short beach trip (apparently the only kind of beach trip I take), to see Gary's band Climb Jacob's Ladder play in Wilmington. Er, and sing with them, too. And I suddenly have 2 shows of my own the following weekend--I'm playing the Davidson Farmer's Market on Saturday morning and I'm back at Maddi's Southern Bistro that night. PLUS, Gary's leaving the country next week--he's going to El Salvador on the 10th! Crazy!

I also really need to learn to get up in the mornings. Debbie's got sweet blinds on these windows so it stays dark in my room, which is a blessing and a curse. Tomorrow I am determined to get up with my alarm. When I finally did get up this morning, I went first to The Coffeehouse at Denver to work. I may do that again tomorrow, or go back to Dilworth Coffee at Denver.

 

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