Wednesday, July 25, 2007

being a scapegoat

I mentioned in my last post that the committee evaluation was almost too positive for my taste, but this morning I got a little taste of something else. I don't think that it would be appropriate here to go into details, but someone unleashed on me a torrent of deconstructive rage. It was a very, very hard conversation. I thought that I was getting along fine with this person, and then in a moment it turns out that there was a lot going on under the surface.

I have gotten so much encouragement this past week that such unfiltered anger came as a shock. It has made it very hard to focus this morning as I try to prepare my final sermon. While I hope that I will be able to discern some areas of truth--places where I can really improve--I also have to remember what was very obvious (and what my supervisor told me): outbursts of this nature arise from a deep set of circumstances that may not have very much to do with me. I am leaving in a few days, and I present an easy target.

You know how we're always encouraged to pray the Psalms? They're part of the Daily Office, but so often I just mumble through them. This morning, though, tears came to my eyes; I had no idea how much I needed to say these verses:

Remember your word to your servant,
because you have given me hope.

This is my comfort in my trouble,
that your promise gives me life.

The proud have derided me cruelly,
but I have not turned from your law.

When I remember your judgments of old,
O LORD, I take great comfort. (Ps 119:49-52)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Youth Revival = AMAZING

The past 7 days have been absolutely amazing.

I'm exhausted, I'm hopeful, I'm elated, I'm surprised, I'm happy, I'm full -- and I feel loved. The way God has shown Himself to me in the past 7 days has been an overwhelming sign of His love for me. Now, I know the theologically correct thing to say is that I feel God's love everyday. And I do! But the past 7 days have been...just...over and above. God never has to bless us richly, and yet He does. I feel so loved and cared for by God. God is soooooo good.

Last Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday were the days during which the South Tryon Community Church annual youth revival occurred. I was the primary planner for the youth revival -- and that's probably why I felt extremely nauseous every night just before the services started. I was worried. Was God going to show up? Would my sermons (I preached W, Th, and F) make any sense at all? Would anyone come to the services? Would the kids get anything out of the revival? Would God be pleased?

And on and on and on.

Well, God indeed showed up and left me speechless from awe. Now believe me, I could talk forever about the amazing things that happened at the revival, but I'll just focus on a few ways God showed up and showed out and left me weak from having seen Him at work.

- One teenager gave her life to Christ on Wednesday night. In all honesty, the revival was an evangelistic tool, and watching one of my teens fall into God meant watching the thing happen that we clergy pray for and dream of. Thanks be to God.

- On the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of revival week, we asked the whole church to fast until a certain time and be in prayer for the revival. Well, on Monday I called one of the teens to ask for some help with some paperwork and she informed me that not only was she fasting, but so were several other teens. Now, this may not seem like a big deal to you, but for the teens to have believed in the revival and in God's power enough to fast (you can't even get adults to fast) -- was breathtaking to me. Breathtaking.

- On Saturday, we held the grand finale of the revival, a 'Block Praise Party,' at the church. We fed between 200 and 250 people. I can still taste all that BBQ and slaw (and I can still here the 4 different Christian Hip Hop groups that performed)! People came from everywhere -- children and adults, males and females. It was so beautiful to have that many people eating, dancing, and laughing on church grounds together. It was such a gift to watch God honoring all the work and planning that had gone into the event. And to top if off, after all the people were gone and I was walking to my car (utterly exhausted) -- a homeless man who generally chills on the steps of the check cashing place next to the church yelled to me, "Thank you for today!" I assume he'd come by and eaten earlier at the block party. Well his thanks to me almost brought me to my knees in tears, because (for reasons I shall never know) God used me as a vessel of His service. God used all of STCC as vessels of His love - and that is an incredible honor and privilege.

GOSH!!! -- there is SO much more I could say!!! So many more stories and joys and rewards. God is amazing. Until now, I had never planned anything on the scale of the youth revival or even thought about having a free cookout for an entire community -- and STCC, as a worship community shouldn't technically have had the resources or the abilities to make something like that happen. But God pulled a loaves-and-fishes miracle -- He miraculously provided ideas and people and dedication and hands and feet and hearts -- and in the midst of what was seemingly 'not enough,' God showed Himself abundant. God is awesome. Thanks be to God.

Monday, July 23, 2007

slowing down

Well, my friends, we're approaching the end. Is that why no one's been posting here, of late? Are we all utterly exhausted?

Actually, I'm not. But there is something odd about being near the end. (And it may be that here we have simply run out of things to say.) My committee evaluation was done last night. It was encouraging--in fact I wish they had been a little more critical. This week, there will be a lot of "lasts." The last time to have lunch at this particular place; the last time to visit someone; the last Wednesday-night service project; the last time to wander the churchyard; and, of course, the last Sunday.

(The picture is from Shiloh's churchyard, where I am prone to wander when I get there early in the morning--a reminder that I'm not alone. And yes, dear Methodist friends, I pray for the dead. You can even find some hints in the Methodist Book of Worship. It's not something I've advertised a lot this summer, because I've noticed that when somebody dies the bulletin always just says "the family and friends of so-and-so." But if we can't pray for people--and with people--dead or alive, I'm not sure what we think we mean when we say we believe in "the communion of saints.")

Monday, July 16, 2007

Falling In Love

Well its happened. I've begun falling in love with South Tryon Community Church.

I'm excited, but at the same time nervous as I dunno what -- because South Tryon is so unlike anything I've ever done, and is so different from anything I've ever felt called to. Its also nerve racking, because South Tryon (surrounded by an indescribable amount of need and pain and seeming hopelessness) is where outcasts -- society's invisible people -- come to worship; and I'm not sure I'm ready to be outcast with them, to worship with them. You see, South Tryon Community Church is smack dab in the middle of three impoverished housing communities that have been all but abandoned by a host of surrounding people and policies. South Tryon is a real, down-to-earth, come-as-you-are, Christ-centered church. And as I continue to work here, I find myself if I'm really willing to be so honest, so humble, so needy, so real -- as to worship with the people of STCC.

This week in particular has been CRAZY, because STCC's annual youth revival starts in appx. 48 hours. Oh, and did I mention that I've planned the revival from the ground up? 'Cause I did. If ever there were a time of honest humility -- its now. I'm anxious, nervous, excited, happy, and hopeful. I can't wait to see how God works through the several Holy Hip Hop artists we've invited to the revival, through the ex-cons we've invited (they'll share their testimonies), and through the musicians and choirs we've invited (they'll be sharing through song). I'm also curious to see what words God speaks through me, as I'll be speaking each night too. I'll keep you posted!

Lastly, falling in love with South Tryon becomes irresistibly easier each day, as
God creates bonds and relationships between me and the people of the community. For example, after spending all day at the church in my office working, I stepped outside just to catch a glimpse of the light of day. I was then greeted by playing children and yells of, "Ms. Chris!!!" I realized, then, that they were excited to see me -- and I was overwhelmingly, almost to the point of tears, excited to see them. This joy -- joy that comes from experiencing God through others -- is such a gift. I also experienced this gift the night we took 45 community youth to the skating rink. As I did all the "chaperone stuff" like tying skate laces, I found myself having more fun than most of the kids. Just honing relationships was enough for me. It felt so good -- so peaceful -- to feel God's presence through the laughs, smiles, and freedom of the ones God has called me to serve.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Happy Fourth of July (four days later)!

So you might be wondering how I made it out to NYC to have my photo taken with the Statue of Liberty...well this is actually the Statue of Liberation Through Christ aka the Lord's Lady Liberty at the World Overcomers Church in Memphis, TN. It is a controversial, 72 foot replica of the original Statue of Liberty with a cross in her right hand and the ten commandments in her left hand. I just thought it might add to the church/flag/nationalism discussion.

If you want to read more about it, check out

preaching, take two

Well, my throat got dry, and apparently I (still) talk to fast, but it seemed to go relatively well. We had three baptisms, and a family join the church, so I preached on that--knowing well how low a lot of people around here view baptism. I don't think it was as good as my first sermon--but then again, it wasn't quite as, well, momentous (my mom said, "You've been waiting your whole life to preach that sermon," which may be truer than I think it is). If you're interested, the text is here.

[Updated with picture. I picked the one with the oddest facial expression.]

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

happy fourth

In wishing you all a happy Independence Day I do not purposefully eclipse the significant Christian holidays which have passed in the last few weeks (the Nativity of S John the Baptist, and SS Peter and Paul, in particular), but I am still happy to be in this country, and I like fireworks, grills, and popular history as much as the next person.

I bring it up here not because I wish to revisit our flag discussion, but because, especially following up on my last, more negative post, I wanted to say something good about Shiloh: last Sunday was blissfully free of patriotic extravaganza. I don't think that "My Country 'tis of Thee" is the best way to conclude a Christian worship service, yet if it weren't for that I think one might have mistaken it for any other summer Sunday--which is exactly right.

In fact, I, good postliberal that I am, was the only one to explicitly talk about Independence Day during the service, and that happened during the children's sermon. I tried to explain to them that true freedom is not being able to do whatever you want (like eating nothing but cake, or taking naps in the middle of Hwy 150), but the freedom to love and serve God.

So happy 4th of July. I hope you all enjoy whatever celebrations are at hand. (I, as I expected, will be joining some parishioners.) Comments are encouraged: what will you be doing for the holiday?

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Hello from Ghana!

I write this blog with much excitement! I arrived in Ghana with Dr. Curtis Freeman, Chad Eggleston, and Mr. and Mrs. Walker to attend the Baptist World Alliance Conference.

The last time I came to Ghana was in 2002 - I had just graduated from High School. It has been five years since I last came home.
On our way to Ghana, we stopped in Nigeria for a transit period of 45mins. As the plane prepared to land in Nigeria, it finally hit me that "I am almost there." I could not help but burst out in tears! Thank God for sunglasses...

A lot has changed since I last arrived as a teenager. Our once quiet neighborhood is now a hub for social mongers! There are more shops and restaurants in our neighborhood now. And oh...noise! But the people have not changed much. I asked my parents if they had grown "short" or I had grown tall! I am still not convinced by the answer I received.

Apparently the biggest change has occurred in myself. The first thing I did after I arrived at home was to go to my church. Can you believe one recognized me!!! I only revealed my identity to one person! To the rest... I just said "hello." My mom thinks that it was too late and dark, so I will give them another chance. But more importantly, I am now able to analyze and give a critical (de)construction of events around me.

I am very very excited and I have a lot of reflections to write after the conference, and pictures to share with those who might be interested. For now, just keep all of us in your prayers. I know that at the end of this trip, I can only look back and repeat the usual, "THE LORD HAS DONE IT AGAIN."

Sunday, July 1, 2007

let's have a round up

A round up is when a blog community asks one another to answer pertinent questions. Here are a few for us to chew on:
(answer them using the comments page)

  1. Can you believe the summer is half over? How have you been spending your time?
  2. Who is invisible where you are...and have you been able to shed some light on them? How'd ya' do it?
  3. What was the funniest thing that happened to you in June (that you can share with Duke Divinity)?
  4. What has been the most moving thing?
  5. The most surprising thing?
  6. What is going to be the hardest part about leaving in a month (if this applies)?
speak up - let' s get some conversation going...otherwise you are all going to get pretty tired of only hearing from the people listed on the left. In the immortal words of Halley Mills "Let's get together yeah, yeah, yeah."
(okay so she didn't write them...but she sang them in the original Parent Trap movie)

interesting ecumenics

There are any number of things that could bother me this summer, but, by the grace of God, most of them don't. That is, serving a church in a different tradition is a high-level exercise in discerning adiaphora in ecclesial practice and doctrine. One learns to love people even if they are silly; and one hopes even to learn how one's own practices may be silly, and how we can all learn to do church better.

While at first I was dismayed that my parish here only celebrates Holy Communion once a month (and yes, I know, that's more than some), I am now beginning to see it as a blessing, for the simple reason that I am not sure if I could go through it again. Leaving aside the liturgical/historical awkwardness of intinction and grape juice, my main issue is simple: crumbs. They're everywhere. It makes me sick to my stomach. I don't care what your view is of what happens during the Eucharistic prayer (or for that matter of the validity of Methodist orders); even the most Zwinglian/modernist/memorialist should be able to see the irreverence of tossing the bread all over the place.

Now, deep breath. The rest of the month is just preaching. Probably no chance for interpellative catechesis. The Lord can handle it. Focus on the task at hand: eating green beans, fried squash, etc. Mmmm.