Thursday, August 16, 2012

Simply Sit

I spent the summer working at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas.  I did all sorts of things (i.e. preach my first public sermons) and ate more TexMex and Vietnamese food than should be legal. One of my ministerial assignments was to work with a community/organization that is forming within the walls of the church reaching out to the youth of the Southwest Houston, particularly youth who have been affected by the gangs of the neighborhood. My job was simply to sit, to hang out with the guys and be a present, encouraging, non-domineering authority figure.

Considering my previous school-work-homework-sleep-repeat pattern of graduate school, being a professional hanger-outer was a bit of challenge, in the best sort of way. I learned how to turn off my achievement detector and tune into prayer and simple joys. There were young men who took very personal steps, taking pride in their appearance in a different way, speaking more clearly, initiating conversation with adults, and setting new goals for themselves. Their transformation challenged me to consider how our friendship was transforming me. I became a person much less likely to dole out judgment on anyone. I became a person insistent on the necessity of the Holy Spirit for personal and community transformation and in prayer for it. I became a sister, never wanting to give up on anyone, overly excited about the smallest thing.

God didn't dramatically change the trajectory of my ministry. I am still called to think through Christian formation and theological education. I am still called to think about the equipping and empowering of the people--paid and volunteer, educated by institutions and educated by experience--particularly with the young people of the church. But this calling has a renewed attention to systematic injustices and the failings of the church to reject these injustices. I see more clearly that the church is called to care for the unheard, the ignored, the silenced, whether they are military service members and veterans, the incarcerated, the severely impoverished, those who do not conform to gender norms, or anyone else rejected by the pristine nuclear family ideals. I see more clearly that my work is to reveal this calling of the church to her leaders. I see more clearly that this work is not a task of the church segmented and separated from her discipleship, worship, and fellowship tasks, but integrated into her fibrous, fleshy being.

When I left middle school ministry in the church to attend school full time, I didn't know what would happen while I studied and died to my perfectionist ideals. Sitting at the threshold of the two-thirds mark, I am overwhelmed by all that has been given to me in knowledge and experience and opportunity. Anticipating this place in ministry and life would have been impossible. Looking back it is all that makes sense, God is at work in me and around me. Looking forward, it dares me to dream for even more. If studying and simply sitting can accomplish so much within my heart, what else could be in store?

Friday, August 3, 2012

7 lbs.

7 lbs.
After having many life-giving experiences over the past few days, this morning may have been my favorite moment of my entire ten weeks in Lilesville. (So much so that I am putting off finishing my sermon to write this out.) This morning I had the absolute blessing of finding the newest member of our Family, Jeffrie Dean, snuggled in my arms. After I excitedly entered the hospital room, I smiled to see the father lying in the hospital bed, and there, lying on his chest, was the most precious 7 lbs. currently on the earth.  I had not even got through ordinary greetings, and his father, Josh, out stretched his arms, handing me the most precious bundle of love.  And there I stood, elated, holding the most delicate little thing. His nose wasn’t larger than my pinky, and his eyes rested peacefully, not a care in the world.  Every couple of minutes he would move the tiny little muscles in his face creating the cutest expressions.  Deeply moved by God’s newest creation, I stood there rocking him to the rhythm of my silent prayers, for him, his life, and his family.  I wished for him a life of awareness of God’s unending love, and that this love would be shown to him in the world around him, his family and friends, and all those graced by his presence.
Not even 24 hours old, this child brought peace and joy.  Jeffrie Dean, innocently sleeping, was the truest form of embodied peace.  He was born to a couple that has had a special place in my heart this summer, not only because I had the blessing of taking part in their reception into Lilesville Charge’s membership but also because whether they knew it or not, it was always nice just to see another young face representing the 18-45 year old crowd. And Jeffrie brought to this couple life. His life invoked pure joy and elation in his father, illustrated in his face and comment that he was on Cloud Nine. And his mother, Melissa, was absolutely glowing, and quite frankly itching to get home with their newest addition to the family.
Born on what would have been his great grandfather’s 80th birthday to a world where it is all too easy to get caught up in the struggles of life, death, and decay, I wondered what this world would be life if everyone held a new born child every once in a while. Maybe we would be quicker to remember we leave this world for our children.  Maybe we would find ourselves more often submerged in the joy and love a newborn parent feels. Maybe we would embody and share the peace of a newborn child.  Maybe we would more frequently remember what gives us Life.
So today, I thank little Jeffrie and his parents for giving me life, and I pray that his life will be endlessly life-giving.

May the Lord bring you, Jeffrie Dean, into an ever deeper understanding of the love of God. Amen.

Another day in the life in Lilesville.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Youth

The Youth.

I’m not sure when it was that I became old enough to consider others “the youth” but regardless, the youth of the Lilesville Charge have been my constant resurrection this summer.  They have showed me life when I was blind to it, and they have given me life when I felt like I was decaying. 

It all started with my first Sunday in Lilesville, which happened to be Youth Sunday. What a beautiful introduction it was- filled with each youth sharing their particular gifts and testimonies. Then throughout my first couple of weeks, when attending church potlucks and other such events, exhausted from the awkwardity that accompanies repeatedly introducing myself I would seek out the youth to go and join them, relaxed and re-energized by their presence.

            The summer progressed and I had/created many opportunities to spend time with the youth of Lilesville charge.  Between the cliché council meetings about cemetery plots and finances, I thrived off of their excitement for being at church and was consistently inspired by their liveliness, particularly at 4 am as we continued to play Sardines. Amidst four seemingly struggling churches, these youth are not floundering in the least. They are passionate about God and growing in their relationship with God, and I see the face of God in each of them.
            Allow me to introduce you to a few:
One young man walks to church even when his family does not attend or he has no ride. He is there, Sunday after Sunday.
Another young woman is musically gifted and helps many Sundays with music. She was my saving grace one particular Sunday when my supervising pastor and the music lady were both out of town.
Another young man has a gift for evangelism, well actually, they all do. At every single youth event we had, they brought friends. This summer I have gotten to know the youth’s friends just as well as the youth.  There were always just as many friends of the youth as there were youth at each event. If only this habit could be absorbed by the rest of the congregation! 
Another young man, just graduated from high school has a gift for mentorship. From what I hear, he has led the others throughout his high school career and I witnessed him this summer seek out God-centered discussions with the others, directing their not just those conversations but also their hearts.
What’s more is in our smallest of the four churches, which averages at a five-person membership, the trained lay speaker is in fact fourteen years old.  His animation and impressive insights excite me to see what is in store for the rest of his life.

On the whole, the youth consistently embodied not only a “can-do” but a “will-do” attitude, and with a happy demeanor I should add. For example, one evening at VBS, I had asked some adults to help with a particular activity, but they deemed their assistance unnecessary and continued to catch up on some gossip, all the while the youth were coming up to me recurrently asking what else they could do to help. 

Plus, they are all gifted in seeing symbols of God, their relationship with God, and how God is moving.  Many times this summer, we have provided opportunities for them to share different symbols of their walk with God; their responses illustrated self-awareness and God-awareness, which consistently moved me deeply. 

Inspired by each of their gifts and talents that they not only bring but also fearlessly employ, I praise God that I was able to see the face of God in each of these youth. And, I fear that while many adults are frantically searching for the youth within the church walls, the youth are busy out being the church.  I think we could all use a little youth-like faith and follow in their footsteps.

Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. -1 Tim 4:12. Amen.

Another day in the life in Lilesville.