Posted in Sermons

Picture This: a sermon on Matthew 5:8

Mt 5:8 CEB “Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God.”

“Hola! Mi nombre es Anita. Yo estudio en seminario de Vanderbilt. Soy de Michigan, pero yo vivo en Nashville, Tennessee en Estados Unidos. Traigo bendiciones de la iglesia bautista glendale.”

This is how I introduced myself all last week at the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America~ Bautistas por la Paz Summer Conference in Toluca, Mexico. Today, I am going to blend this week’s beatitude text “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” with some reflections from a trip some Glendalers made last week to Mexico.

First, as a reminder, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America~Bautistas por la Paz, is an international organization that works to support peacemaking efforts around the world. We have a four-nation identity, with the majority of our membership coming from the United States of America, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico. I say the majority of our membership comes from these places because there are people living on continents other than North America who find a spiritual home with us from as disparate places as Indonesia, Kenya and Ukraine. We have members who represent the Alliance of Baptists, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, American Baptists, National Baptists and many other denominations–some are not even Baptist but are Methodists, Anabaptists, Quakers, and others, but they, again, find spiritual friendship among us. I don’t want to speak for everyone, but I think all of us were amazed at what we experienced this year.

So, let’s get to the good stuff. This year our summer conference, fondly called “Peace Camp,” took place at an old Spanish mission built in the 1700s that has been rehabilitated into a retreat center and community center in the region northwest of Mexico City that was and still is the home to the indigenous Mazahua people (you’ll see some photos and hear more stories soon at one of our Wednesday night programs). Though the BPFNA has existed for almost 30 years and has called itself a 4-nation organization for almost that long, this year was the very first Summer Conference to be held in Mexico. The first one. All the other conferences have been in the USA or Canada. And it was the first one where programming was almost completely in Spanish. The theme of this conference was “Arropandonos con esperanza/ clothing each other with hope,” the latest in our 5-year plan to work our way through the story of Matthew 25, following “when did we see you in prison? Breaking social and structural injustice” and “no longer strangers: crossing borders for peace.” So, now, I invite you to get comfortable, whether that involves closing your eyes or not, and imagine with me.

Picture this: Waking up at 4am to drive to the Nashville airport, taking 2 connecting flights and changing land altitude about 9,000 feet over the course of the day. Riding in an old, rickety Suburban over 70 speed bumps (called “topas”) between the airport in Toluca, Mexico and Campamento Mazahua, the site for Baptist Peace Camp. Not knowing how to ask for something so simple as a fork so that we can eat your yummy lunch–which, coincidentally, we also were not sure how to name. Losing a suitcase at the airport in Monterrey, Mexico AND not having a local phone number AND not speaking Spanish AND not being sure how we were ever going to get it back. Using headsets with headphones during plenary sessions, workshops and worship times, so people whose first language is English could understand all the programs and speakers who mostly spoke Spanish. There being no English translation to song lyrics or Bible passages projected onto the screen for worship, but you’re pretty sure you’re saying something about loving Jesus. Finding a scorpion–yes–a scorpion on your pillow in your dormitory with 20 bunkbeds.

So, after all that, after all those things that were less than perfect, I’m not so sure that my heart is pure (I seem to be lodging a lot of complaints)…but I have seen God at Peace Camp this year.

Picture this: 217 people from the USA, Canada, Puerto Rico, México, Cuba, Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Honduras, evenly split between USA/Canadian participants and Mexican/Central- and South-American participants. Brushing teeth at night time in our communal bathroom while trying to carry on a conversation between an English-only speaker and a Spanish-only speaker concerning how we see God with our hearts. White-haired Canadian women dancing salsa with young Mexican guys while a veterinarian from Mexico City sang dressed in his mariachi outfit. Sitting with pastors and seminarians from across the Western hemisphere who tried to fashion a new theology of the cross that doesn’t involve atonement. A certain pastor who loves to weave examining the handiwork of weavings made by a local indigenous woman. A wacky and touching talent show that involves both a Mexican seminarian miming and a farmer from Ohio who sings, “De Colores” backed up by a collection of twenty musicians from all over North and South America. Lying in hammocks and sharing trail mix snacks with youth and young adults from Mexico and the USA, talking about our hopes for the world and the fear that the USA’s government instills in people on both sides of the border. Attending workshops about the separation of church and state, a historical Baptist concern, and how this idea has impacted the political landscape of both the USA and Mexico. Praying with our feet as we walk the trails of the beautiful Campamento mission land, learning words and plant names in Spanish as we pointed to different objects.

What we have been picturing, what I have described, felt like the kin-dom of God. Last week’s Peace Camp truly felt like nothing I have ever even dreamed of.

You see, as a board member, I was privy to conversations planning this conference. I heard the hesitation when our executive director announced that she thought it was time for us to have Peace Camp in Mexico. “But most of our membership is from the USA and Canada–won’t they be uncomfortable if everything is in Spanish?” “But how will we have that many translators?” “Can the camp handle that many people?” “Will people from Mexico even come?” Over and over again, board members and membership and people who heard about this idea of having Peace Camp in Mexico for the very first time said,”We can’t. This won’t work.”

But it did. We paid for translators for the English-speakers, but so many people from all countries involved stepped up to translate one way or another. Half of the attendees were from primarily English-speaking countries and half were from primarily Spanish-speaking countries. Fabulous activities were planned that got people connecting in many ways besides spoken language; visual art, dance, music and games were offered alongside workshops about politics, theology and practical community-building skills. The camp administration and staff worked tirelessly to prepare food and clean for us, but many Peace Campers also stepped up to assist and support the staff by serving food, cleaning bathrooms and organizing rides back to the airport.

And we, on the board, learned an awful lot about trust. The organizer of the Summer Conference, a friend of mine, is a seminary student in Mexico City who has served on the board for six years. When it became clear that the spirit was moving us in the direction of planning camp in Mexico, it also became clear that my friend was the person to make this happen. But skeptics raised their voices, questioning her ability to understand English (when she’d been attending board meetings held almost solely in English for six years). What would we have missed out on if we had not swallowed our pride and buckled in our seatbelts to accompany the BPFNA on this wild roller coaster of learning to trust people who don’t look or think or speak like us? We would have missed out on the kin-dom of God that was near, so plainly alive among us. By letting fear and apprehension about new experiences and our desire for comfort fortify barriers between us, we would have missed out on purifying our hearts such that we would see God in each other, crossing borders and breaking down walls for peace.

Many walls are built between the countries represented in Bautistas por la Paz, built with the intention of separation and isolation and reinforcing the status quo. They are built with bricks labeled “capitalism” and “colonialism” and “Trump’s Wall” and have stamps from the US Immigration Custom Enforcement organization on them. The mortar that holds these bricks together is concocted from a thick mixture of “prejudice” and “fear.” But last week at Campamento Mazahua, it looked a lot like a whole bunch of white USAmerican and Canadian folks trying to put as many dents in those walls as possible. What tools did we use? How can we truly knock down walls glued together with the mortar of fear that is one thousand times stronger than Gorilla Glue?

Practically speaking, this took the form of being aware of how our bodies were positioned in the spaces we occupied. For me this meant I asked the following questions of myself: am I only sitting with people from my church or from my country or with my skin color? Am I spending most of my mealtimes conversing in English or am I challenging myself to bridge language barriers and try out my Spanish? How can I center non-white, non-American people when I serve food at my table/when I line up for communion/when I am walking through the camp? Breaking down the walls that systemically divide us involves the USAmericans and Canadians being uncomfortable–physically (accommodations this week were a little different from the cozy 2-person dorm rooms that we usually occupy when Peace Camp is held on university campuses); and intellectually. Speaking for myself, it takes a lot of energy to be in a place where I don’t easily understand what is going on around me. It is tiring to be the stranger who doesn’t speak the language and doesn’t know the local customs. It is tiring to be an outsider. This is part of an important experience that many USAmericans and Canadians had at this Peace Camp, a turning of the tables and a lesson in seeing God in the life of those we often label Other.

But there was another tool, another way that we put dents in the wall. It had to do with the youth-led worship service that traditionally takes place the last night of Peace Camp. Some of Glendale’s youth were among those who dreamt up this idea for the worship service. Picture this: the sanctuary was split in half down the middle, with rows of pews facing each other across the gap in the middle of the room. There was a long table down the middle of the gap. Slowly, the youth build a wall on the table using chairs, so that soon all I could see as I was seated on one side of the sanctuary were slivers of friends’ faces through the bars of the chairs. Then the youth invited us to write what causes us to create walls in our own lives as a sort of confession.

And so we all wrote down on small, brightly colored pieces of paper, “race,” “class,” “fear,” “not enough time,” “I’ll look stupid,” and so many other things that perhaps we had never shared or named as creating walls. And we all placed the small colored papers on the wall of chairs, each of us moving reverently in silence. Then the youth invited us to say what gives us hope for breaking down walls, what builds community across borders, and they said, “Watch what happens.” As people called out in English and Spanish, “listening,” “learning about each other,” “being willing to be uncomfortable,” “making new friends,” “playing together,” the youth led us in removing the chairs that formed a wall between us. As people called out how they envision the kin-dom of God, how they envision a community where we don’t even cross borders but we eliminate them, the wall melted away and we could see the other side clearly.

So I have a question for you all: What do you envision as you imagine what the kin-dom of God is like? How do you hope to see God among us? 

Friends, we have spoken these words aloud. We have called them into being. By listening to each other and hearing these hopes and dreams for the kin-dom of God, we have chosen to enter into relationship with each other and with God. I’ll leave you with words from BPFNA founding director George Williamson, who tearfully shared this sentiment at the closing worship on Wednesday of Peace Camp, “We can’t go back now, we need each other. This gathering is beyond our wildest dreams.”

Today, let us go forward in trust and hope, purifying our hearts of all those ideas and thoughts and systems that threaten to (and often do) divide us. When we break down barriers by hearing each other’s stories, learning what impact our bodies and our lifestyles have on other people, and embracing each other to clothe each other in hope, we are getting closer to picturing the kin-dom of God. We can’t turn back now that we’ve seen God.

This sermon originally preached July 30, 2017 at Glendale Baptist Church in Nashville, TN.

 

Posted in Sermons

Gospel Questions: How is it that your eyes were opened?

“How is it that your eyes were opened?” (John 9)

John 9.jpeg

“How is it that your eyes were opened?” is what the religious leaders ask the man whom Jesus healed. “How is it that your eyes were opened?” is the question from people who don’t understand the behavior of Jesus and his followers. “How is it that your eyes were opened?” ask the people who can’t logically figure out the process of gaining clear sight. “How is it that your eyes were opened?” ask our family members of varying political persuasions, ask our bosses and volunteer captains, ask our activist friends, ask the neighbors whom we serve.

The question that is the refrain in our text today is important because it is voiced no less than four times throughout this whole passage. The only clear answer to the question that I can find here–and as we know, things are not always clear when Jesus is involved–is that the man’s ability to see resulted from an encounter with Jesus.

In the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America~Bautistas por la Paz, we provide opportunities to encounter Jesus and have our sight restored. As we know, sometimes the way we learn to see is by removing the log from our own eyes, or wiping away the mud that has been placed there by layers of societal training to think a certain way, and when the BPFNA~Bautistas por la Paz gather together, we come with a wet washcloth perfect for wiping away grime and tools for chucking logs away into the woodpile. For the last couple years, our annual summer conference has been focused on themes from Jesus’ story in Matthew 25, wherein people ask the ruler, “When have we seen you naked and hungry and thirsty and ill and in prison?” Last year, we gathered around the theme of “When Did We See You in Prison?: Breaking Social and Structural Injustice.” This coming July, we will congregate in Toluca, Mexico to address the question “When Did We See You Naked? Clothing Each Other With Hope.” Each summer, we ask a gospel question; we practice removing the logs from our own eyes with workshops and deep conversations as we build meaningful relationships across differences of country, language, ethnicity and culture; and begin to see clearly so we can confront the world as it is. Maybe we did not think about those who are imprisoned and detained prior to Peace Camp; but afterwards, we have had encounters with people for whom those stories are lived realities, and we see differently. Maybe we don’t normally consider the different ways in which people must be clothed with hope; but at this coming Peace Camp in July, we will have direct encounters with folks who are dealing with grief and depression and desolation, and with whom we can share our hopes and dreams. Then, we see differently. All of this happens by encountering Jesus through encounters with each other. And sometimes when we return to our homeplaces and families of origin, people ask us, “What did you learn? How is it that your eyes were opened?”

In true Jesus-style, I’m going to ask you another question: once we have gained new sight, what is it that our eyes have been opened to see? Perhaps we view in a new way the reality of injustice that looks like homelessness and hunger in our community; young children crossing the desert borders alone; families divided in anger and anxiety over political events in our world. These truths are important to see, and we must gain courage not to look away. And also perhaps our eyes are opened for the purpose of seeing the world that is possible if we follow in the footsteps of Jesus: some call it the beloved community, the peaceable kin-dom, a world characterized by justice and restoration of relationship and affirmation of the imago Dei, the image of God, in all of creation, all of our neighbors–even in us! May we be brave enough to wipe away the mud and remove the logs and risk encountering Jesus. May we learn to see those who are hungry and naked and ill and in prison, and may we witness to those who ask us these good and hard gospel questions.

(This sermon snippet originally preached at the Good Shepherd UCC in Sahuarita, AZ on March 26, 2017 alongside two other “Gospel Questions”: “Where do you get this living water?” and “Who do you say that I am?”)

Posted in Sermons

No Longer Strangers

(This sermon originally preached July 26, 2015 at Glendale Baptist Church in Nashville, TN)

Ephesians 2:11-22

11 So remember that once you were Gentiles by physical descent, who were called “uncircumcised” by Jews who are physically circumcised. 12 At that time you were without Christ. You were aliens rather than citizens of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of God’s promise. In this world you had no hope and no God. 13 But now, thanks to Christ Jesus, you who once were so far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. 15 He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. 16 He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God.

17 When he came, he announced the good news of peace to you who were far away from God and to those who were near. 18 We both have access to the Father through Christ by the one Spirit. 19 So now you are no longer strangers and aliens. Rather, you are fellow citizens with God’s people, and you belong to God’s household. 20 As God’s household, you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 The whole building is joined together in him, and it grows up into a temple that is dedicated to the Lord. 22 Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit.

Hear the good news: Christ is our peace. We are no longer strangers.

A couple of weeks ago, several Glendalers joined with folks from all over the world in a gathering of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America/Bautistas por la Paz at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The text for today was the basis for the theme, “No Longer Strangers: Crossing Borders for Peace.”

For those of you who have never been to Peace Camp, here’s a picture of what goes on in that mystical place with those hippie Baptists-for-peace; for those of you who have been to Peace Camp, here’s a reminder of why we gather there:

At Peace Camp, we met new friends from places like New York City; Richmond, Virginia; and Phoenix, Arizona…but we also met folks from Cuba; Puerto Rico; Chiapas, Mexico; Haiti; Sri Lanka and Sudan. In a seminarian’s discussion group I joined this year, I heard about the faith of mujerista theologians in Puerto Rico–women who are studying Scripture and theology with significant attention to their social location as Latina women. I heard about the struggles of a small seminary in Chiapas, Mexico, raising money to replace their old truck that struggles to get across the hills to sell bread to local churches in order to support their eco-theology farm. I learned what surprises our Sri Lankan brother Jude was facing as he studies at Andover Newton Theological Seminary in Newton, MA–not only was he learning about American food culture (I had the joy of witnessing him meet a grapefruit for the first time!) but he also shared with me some amazing interpretations of parables from a south-Asian context. At the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (better known as “AWAB,”) annual prom on that Thursday night, people dressed how they wanted, danced with whomever they pleased and shared in the celebration that is imperative to sustaining the work of justice and peacemaking. We were crossing borders for peace.

All week, we considered how we cross borders in our own spiritual lives; in our day-to-day encounters; within our families who may or may not understand us or have different political or religious views than ours; in our schools and workplaces and seminaries; in our home churches and around the world.

In this letter to the Ephesians, the author (whom I will call Paul despite the fact that this letter is not a verified Pauline letter, but more likely one written by a disciple of Paul’s), encourages budding Christian communities who are learning about unity in Christ, and how it is lived in a broken world.

In our passage today, Paul directly addresses those who have been “far off,” those who were “strangers” to the covenant and promise of God, those who had no hope and no god. In one sense, Paul is speaking about the Gentiles, the non-Jews. Because most of us modern day Christians do not share in the lineage of Israel genetically, the text speaks directly to us. In another, more metaphorical sense, Paul is speaking to all of us in this world who have felt God’s distance and experienced being cast out or written off by some group in power.

Karen Chakoian, writing on this lectionary passage in Feasting on the Word, says: “By using the loaded word atheos [in reference to “you who were once far off”, meaning those without God], the author evokes the strong emotional separation of Jews and Gentiles. This was not merely side-by-side coexistence, but active antagonism and hostility. To remove the dividing walls was no small feat…to make these hostile groups one is nothing short of miraculous. What had been separate for generations–indeed, for the whole of covenant history–was now being made into one body.”

This sounds familiar to those of us brought up in the United States of America, where slavery and genocide are the original sins of this nation, and where now much of society is absorbed in discussing race and the #blacklivesmatter movement is picking up momentum. Now, we are in the thick of the work of truly becoming one body and one household.

Speaking directly to us, those who have been far off, Paul informs us that we are no longer strangers. We have come near to the presence of God in each other, across time and geography and language barriers, and Jesus has come with us. We, who have before been excluded, are fellow citizens with folks who speak different languages, whose skin is a different shade of human than ours, who eat foods we’ve never heard of and whose communities of faith might look different from ours; we have been embraced into the community of Christ, into the household of God.

Simply put, we are family. You and you and you and me–we are no longer strangers, to God or to each other. Reconciliation is the new way–folks who had been separated are now together, and in communion with God. Tell me that’s not some real Good News!

But what do we do now, knowing we are no longer strangers? It can’t be all sunshine and daisies, being part of the household of God and experiencing the unity of Creation instead of the division and hatred. In the term “reconciliation,” there is also a call to action.

At the same time as we begin the hard work of reconciliation (the deep listening and analyzing our privilege and empathizing with folks on the margins), let us be wary of calling for reconciliation too soon. Oftentimes reconciliation is the “safe word” we use to talk about the time when people will stop disagreeing with us and will be assimilated into our modes and ideas, when there is no longer something uncomfortable to us. The call to reconciliation is a call to make ourselves uncomfortable. Because since we are no longer strangers, we don’t have any excuse to keep treating others as strangers.

Paul writes, “Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us.”

Jesus, with his body, broke down barriers that divided us. Whether you think about his body washing his disciples’ feet, his body hanging on a tree used as an instrument of torture, his body eating and praying and crying and healing–Jesus, with his body, went up against the man-made Law in order to observe the higher Law of loving his neighbor to make peace between groups that not only disliked each other, but had oppressive power dynamics.

Jesus, with his body, made us no longer strangers. Jesus, with his body, brought us all into the family of God. And we are called to do likewise.

At Peace Camp, we were humbled to have among us Rev. Osagyefu Sekou, a prophetic preacher who is a part of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and a native of St. Louis, speak about reconciliation and the immediacy of incarnational Christianity in today’s United States American society, where race has repeatedly (and necessarily) been at the forefront of public discourse.

In response to Paul’s words illustrating Jesus’ body breaking down barriers, Rev. Sekou implores us to always consider this question: “When they shoot a black baby in the street, where is your body?”

We need an incarnational Christianity, we need to think about our bodies because Jesus thought about our bodies. Why else would he have healed on the Sabbath, disobeying religious law? Why else would he have healed the woman with the flow of blood or the lepers or the blind, all of whom had been outcasts in their community?

We need to think about bodies because Jesus had a body–one that was labeled so “dangerous” and “disruptive” by the State that it caused him to be killed by capital punishment.

We need to think about bodies because each and every day, someone with a non-white body; or a non-heterosexual body; or a gender non-conforming body is being similarly labeled “dangerous” and “disruptive” and is murdered at the hands of the State.

Paul writes, “…you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God…in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” Just as Jesus chose to cast his lot among strangers, God chooses to be present with us–we are a bunch of people with different experiences, with different ways of loving, choosing to be in community with each other. And God chooses to be among us, not in this physical building of Glendale Baptist Church, but in the ekklesia, the gathered congregation, dwelling among flawed people who aren’t always the best allies, who aren’t always the best lovers or teachers or parents or truth-tellers. God aligns God’s self with humanity…and that is our calling too. To align ourselves with our family in Christ– no matter if we have even met them or not–we align ourselves with all our cards out on the table, messy and dirty–and blessed.

We are all family. And when it is our family on the line, we stand up in a different way than if harm is being done to one who is not related, though hopefully we’d stand up for them too. So when we turn on the television or pick up the newspaper or log on to CNN.com in the morning and hear about yet another child of God struck down violently by any number of institutions, we need to treat these situations, the Charleston and Mike Brown and Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice situations, as if these people are members of our family, because they are.

            Because we are no longer strangers, because we have been outcasts and we have now been brought into the promise of God’s family and household–because we have crossed the border of the internalized white supremacy that most of us in this room carry without knowing–because we know in our hearts that there must be another way to be the family of God besides only showing up when there are funerals to attend–that’s why we need to think about where our bodies are.

Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” In turn, he welcomes us. Likewise, the presence of God-with-us already has empowered and equipped us to engage in reconciliation work in the world and manifest peace in what may seem to be hopeless situations. We must choose to dwell with The Stranger, so that they too will be brought into this household, the place where the Spirit of Love and Light dwells with us.

Incarnational Christianity is part of this–being the ‘household” or “family” of God or “body of Christ”, the unity of the body paints a picture of the members of the body protecting each other. We belong to each other. If one is without wholeness, all are incomplete; when one body is abused for generations upon generations, what do the rest of the members do? Knowing what it is to be an outcast, they reach out and embrace those in pain and pray for each other and work for each other’s full inclusion in the household of God.

That is what reconciliation can be. But how do we practice reconciliation?

The Baptist Peace Fellowship/Bautistas por la Paz is in the process of becoming a truly multilingual organization. At Peace Camp, I’d become fed up with my monolingual self, and decided that I would start gaining some more tools to be a peacemaker–I would learn Spanish! As I was talking with my new friend Josue, nervously pronouncing some new Spanish words I’d learned from my iPhone app, Josue looked me right in the eyes and said: “You must not be afraid of doing it wrong.”

And something clicked. In many situations, our hearts are in the right place and we plan and serve our world with grace–but really, much of the time we are actually self-deprecating and shut ourselves down because we are afraid that we won’t be the perfect ally, that we will embarrass ourselves or be too vulnerable or lose control. Well, guess what? Sometimes we will do it wrong. Sometimes we will talk too much and be arrogant and shut other people down and listen only for what we want to hear…but we can’t let our fear of failing stop us from stepping up and standing up for justice for our siblings in Creation. That’s the real work of reconciliation.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says: “We are called to be allies of God in the work of justice and reconciliation.” This work is already in motion, the uniting of the people of God and of all creation is in motion–that’s the struggle, the revolution, the speaking out, the cause for disruption—God’s justice is rolling like water in the mountains, in Baltimore and in Charleston and Detroit and Cleveland and Texas…and in Nashville…can you hear it? It’s already on its way. Will you be caught up and become an ally with God? The only way any of us will flourish is if we all do.

Our joy in darkness, our striving towards justice, our hope for peace–all of these are bound up together.

In the words of James Taylor,

“Let us turn our thoughts today

To Martin Luther King

And recognize that there are ties between us,

All men and women living on the Earth.

Ties of hope and love,

Sister and brotherhood,

That we are bound together

In our desire to see the world

Become a place in which our children

Can grow free and strong.

We are bound together by the task

That stands before us

And the road that lies ahead.

We are bound and we are bound.”

Hear the good news: You are no longer strangers. They are no longer strangers. We are no longer strangers.

In the haunting words of author Arundhati Roy:

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

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Canada, Michigan, and Nashville, Oh My!

WOW. So many transitions!

In the midst of all these transitions, I’ve been making a list of things I wanted to blog about. This post is about the things on that list.

1. The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America Summer Peace Camp 2014 (a.k.a. “Peace Camp!”): Imagine a ton of progressive Baptists from California, Texas, Ohio, New York, Ontario, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, North Carolina, Tennessee and a bunch of other locales gathered together at a large Canadian university in the Niagara region, singing and praying and dancing and laughing and worshipping and loving together while doing conference things, attending workshops, sharing meals, riding the Maid of the Mist (in Canada it’s called the Hornblower) at Niagara Falls, and of course, visiting some beautiful organic wineries. Wish you were there, right?

One of the best things about this conference (and there were a lot of best things I could talk about) was the young adult group. The young adults ranged from college aged to folks in divinity school to teachers and people who self-identify as a young adult (and who’s to say what “young” is?!) These folks welcomed me (a non-Baptist first-timer) into one of the official Young Adult Townhouses (read: we stay up late and chat and are goofy ’til the early a.m. and then are late for breakfast and morning worship) and also into their fun and friendly group dynamic. Everyone was willing to share of themselves, discussing spirituality and God and their life, and just simply walking alongside each other in each other’s spiritual journeys. So much love and life and peace in that group. ❤

2. Michigan

So, post-Wild Goose and pre-BPFNA I was mostly hanging around my hometown in mid-Michigan. This was a much-needed rest period. I got to hang out with some awesome friends from high school who are still the hilarious, loving, and supportive folks I remember them to be. Much love was shared!

 

I also got to hang out with my family, boating and watching our favorite tv shows and movies, as well as traveling to Illinois to see my mom’s side of the family for the 4th of July. My cousins and their children are some of the most important people in my life and I value any time I get to see them! Being around my family is an incredibly important part of my life, and I always feel warmed and renewed by their presence.

And because family is not only defined by blood relations, I valued the time to see my best friend, her husband, and her mom more than usual. They are some of the strongest people I know, and whether sharing spaghetti together or going out for drinks or eating pizza on the couch, they are the coolest and definitely part of my family.

I also, importantly, got to sleep in and watch Netflix and do crafts and cook tasty things. Yay.

3. NASHVILLE

Oh my goodness! So, guess what? I moved! To Nashville! The first five days have been amazing. I thought I’d have some separation anxiety (from the Great Lakes, from Michigan, from family, etc.) but it’s going really well. I’m part of an amazing group in the Belle H. Bennett House at the Scarritt-Bennett Center, nestled in midtown Nashville between Vanderbilt University and Music Row. (Yes, THE music row. Celebrities are found running around everywhere, from what I hear. I was pretty sure that I saw the actress who plays Rayna James in the show “Nashville” the other day, and we can see Taylor Swift’s (or TayTay, as I fondly call her) penthouse from our porch. Wut.)

Our house is beautiful. The people inside it are beautiful. The campus of SBC is beautiful. The programs are beautiful. Wow. I’m just amazed at the amazing things going on around here. In the first several days of this fellowship program, we have attended seminars on interfaith relations and Nashville’s role in the civil rights movement (watch “A Force More Powerful”), mapped big events in women’s history, and mapped the trajectory of our own lives and spirituality. It’s been, quite simply, amazing. I am so convinced that I made the right decision as to what program I engage during this year (or two) before going to divinity school. While I know that working for AmeriCorps would have been a wonderful opportunity, and one that I might still do sometime, I am so glad to be living and working alongside a group of young women that hold the same values and ideals as I do. We can (and have) talked about race, sexism, immigration, faith, church, friends, family, life plans, and how we can encourage each other to live the life we want to live. They’re great. I’m blessed.

So, yeah. That’s my list. Since I’m in a listing mood, I’ll give y’all another list:

Things I’m thankful for:

  1. gardens–including the dirt, bugs, sunburns, and weeds they come with
  2. Skype–I’m taking advantage of this a lot! It’s a great way to stay in touch with my loved ones. Sometimes it’s so nice to see someone’s face after a long day.
  3. walking–my housemate Elena and I went on a 3.47 mile walk yesterday, all around our neighborhood and a nearby park. Even though it was 91 degrees, we lasted very well and I felt energized all day.
  4. Oberlin connections–a good friend of mine from Oberlin just moved here to start at Vanderbilt Divinity School in several weeks. It was a blessing to see his face yesterday and know that some good friends are nearby!
  5. church–I love church. And I’m defining church as a community of people that get together and support each other and enjoy fellowshipping with each other. I was invited to a church this morning through some Peace Camp connections, which was so uplifting and inspiring. The service was beautiful and familiar, and I’m super glad I got to go.
  6. Country songs that I know–my house has been exploring the area a bit and has stumbled into some cool venues for country music and dancing. I feel really good when I know the songs–but my country music knowledge is in need of improvement. If you have some favorite singers, send them my way!

Food for thought: What are you thankful for today?