Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Madam Moderator Cynthia Bolbach

I was saddened this morning when I heard that Cindy had been moved into hospice care and go to bed in many ways with a heavy heart and in others ways so very happy that a wonderful servant is with her Maker.  After being a YAAD to the 219th GA and watching Cindy journey as moderator of the assembly. I like many of my peers fell in love with her.  Cindy had a heart for the church like I had never seen before.
I continued to be in conversation with Cindy via facebook leading up to her preaching at a Synod meeting I was attending as a ruling elder commissioner. 
I was sitting down at the bar watching the 2011 World Series with many other commissioners and guests at the hotel when Cindy walked in with our Synod Executive.  Right away they sat with us and as I sat beside Cindy (who was tired as she had literally just arrived) we began to talk about the Church, my school work (theological studies major), the baseball game, and many other topics that brought good laughter and wonderful insights from such a wise and thoughtful woman.

This memory is one I will cherish for a long time.  But what I will hold dear to my heart about this faithful servant is how she led by example.  Her non-anxious and gentle presence was simply amazing.  In her service I saw what it was to be Christ-like in service to the larger Church in ways that were transforming not because of her eloquent tongue or wicked smarts but because she listened deeply and cared so much about what was going on in the church and how we could all work together for the common good.  Cindy transformed my life by simply being Cindy.  Listening and loving the only way she knew how, with a gentle presence and loving spirit.

I remember when I posted my blog (see the post here) Cindy being Cindy responded to my facebook post by thanking me for sharing what I thought.  This was very pleasing to my soul because one of the things the YAAD's loved about Cindy was that she cared about what we had to say and what we thought (not that she didn't care about others but she made sure to include us in her conversations).

In the end I give thanks to God for the service and love Cindy shared with so many.  I give thanks that her life continues to live through those of us she touched in very meaningful ways.  But I am also going to bed with a heavy heart tonight as the church has lost a wonderful voice of peace and gentle reason.  May we all strive in our own ways to let Cindy's legacy live through us as she goes on to be with our Lord for all eternity.

Peace be within you all,

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sunshine and Rain

I am one class away from finishing my second week of classes as a seminarian.  In one sense it has gone by very slowly but at the same time I look back and realize these two weeks have gone really fast.  It is hard to believe I have been in Texas for three weeks and finished two weeks of class.  It is also hitting me that I am over 1,000 miles from family and friends who have been a part of my life for the last 22 years.  I was thinking about "home" (Louisville and Southern Indiana) today as the sky was dark and cloudy.  It is the first day since I have been here that it has not been sunny out.

One of the things I dreaded in Hanover was the gloom that seemed to come in the sky and stick around most of the academic year.  I felt like we had more gloomy days than sunny days in Hanover and for someone who loves to be outdoors, that was one downside to the place.  Here it has been really hot so I haven't spent too much time outdoors, and when I do it is not birding or hiking-it is in the pool!  But at the same time I feel that all of the sunshine has been a good change.  The rain is much needed here as it is across the country so I do not complain about the gloomy day (or days to come) but I rejoice in the beauty that is around me.

As I drive away from Austin or on the outskirts of Austin I find myself in awe of how beautiful the land is here.  The hills and ridges are unlike any I have ever seen or experienced before.  They may not be the Appalachian Mountains I love so much, but they still make me pretty happy.  I see the hills and the animals and think about how wonderful this world can be, and then I read the news and see how awful this world can be.  It is hard to imagine how anyone can be so hateful and destructive, it is hard to imagine how the beautiful landscape around us came into being, it is hard to imagine what has come of this world that we have to stand between these two feelings/ideas/insights of beauty and destruction, of love and hate, of peace and war.

In my reading of Calvin I came across a beautiful insight. Calvin makes a claim  that "our mind cannot apprehend God without rendering some honor to him, it will not suffice simply to hold that there is One whom all ought to honor and adore, unless we are also persuaded that he is the fountain of every good and that we must seek nothing elsewhere than in him."  I stopped reading and found myself caught in his statement, I was reading it over and over again.  I stopped reading and simply let this statement bounce around in my little brain and I was reminded of how small I am in this world.  And then I read what came to follow:

"I take this to mean that not only does he sustain this universes (as he once founded it) by his boundless might, regulate it by his wisdom, preserve it by his goodness, and especially rule mankind by his righteousness and judgment, bear with it in his mercy, watch over it by his protection; but also that no drop will be found either of wisdom and light, or of righteousness or power or rectitude, or of genuine truth, which does not flow from him, and of which he is not the cause.(Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion I.2.2)"

Wow.  I don't even want to go into the digestion of this small portion of reading I lifted from Calvin because I may never end this blog.  But I wanted to share it.  I wanted to share it because in light of the violence and intolerance going on in our world this brought me to a sense of peace.  It did not make me feel like the world was okay, it did not "fix" the problems I have with humanity.  BUT it did remind me that I am a child of a God who is full of love.  A God I worship and adore, a God who oozes goodness, truth, righteousness, and wisdom.  I was reminded that this world may be big but God is still here even when we doubt and question where God is in the midst of violence, hate, and chaos.  God is here, God is still breathing and oozing good things into this creation, be on the lookout.  Be reminded of the greatness of the God who created you.  Be reminded that we are to seek this God above all else in the world.

Peace and All Good Things,

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

1 Week down...

I am in my second week here at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  So far I have experienced many things including seminarians playing kickball, chapel services, all of my classes, being sick, being homesick, and being stuck in Austin traffic.

It has been an adventure so far, but I have to say that one of my favorite experiences so far has been taking communion in chapel.  For many taking communion by intinction is nothing new, however here at APTS it was new to me!  It was a new experience because those serving the bread tear the bread and hand it to you proclaiming it to be the "Bread of Life."  Some may read this and think what is so new and great?  Well the reasoning behind the bread being given to you is that you are not working to earn it.  You do nothing but stand there and receive this gift.  It is just like grace!!

Maybe some of you have experienced this before, maybe not.  I do know that each time I receive communion I will remember this and remember that it isn't that I "take" communion but I "receive" it and I will be intentional about the language I use to about communion as well.

As my seminary journey continues I am sure I will find nerdy things such as the way communion is received to get excited about.  I am sure I will continue to have fun playing kickball with my colleagues, and I am sure that traffic will continue to be a challenge.  I am also certain that I will continue to be more aware of the ways God presents the many riches of God's grace to me in various forms!  As for being sick, well I hope that is not something that comes around very often but if it does I will take it one day at a time and I will be getting myself in to see an allergist!

I hope you are all reminded of grace each and everyday, and I hope it is made manifest to you in many ways including ways you never imagined.

Peace and all good things,

Thursday, August 30, 2012

I am a Seminarian!

It has been a while since I wrote a blog and shared my thoughts with the world, so I thought I would take time this morning and write about my adventure to Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

I left on Thursday August 23 for what was suppose to be 8ish hours to Little Rock, Arkansas.  12 hours later, 3 of which were spent around Nashville, I arrived at my hotel and crashed.  The next morning I checked out and walked out the doors to find my rear passenger tire to be flat.  After using a can of fix a flat I found the nearest tire place to get a replacement.  They informed me that they could not even look at my car until 5pm and sent me down the road where two nice gentlemen looked at it, told me I needed a new tire and sent me to another store because they did not have any in stock.  FINALLY around noon my car had a new tire and I was on the road again.  I found myself completely worn out after touring the Little Rock tire stores and decided I should stay outside Dallas on Friday evening instead of pushing through to Austin.  Dallas was pretty uneventful as I pretty much crashed into my bed and slept until the next morning.  Saturday I made the final 3 hour push to Austin and after 3 days of driving adventures I was in my new home!

I spent the weekend unpacking and organizing my stuff because I knew Orientation would leave me little time to do so.  I also did my best to drive around Austin and find my way around-which I am getting pretty good at. I also attended a church in South Austin on Sunday-the sermon was great and the people were super nice-and had Tex-Mex for lunch (lots of that around here).

Wednesday began Orientation.  7:30am came way too early as I was entirely too anxious to sleep Tuesday evening.  But I got myself out of bed (more like the Spirit pulled the covers off me and told me to get my butt up!) made a pot of coffee and headed to breakfast and the rest of the days events.  It was great to meet classmates, professors, and other very helpful and lovely people around here.  Everyone is so excited about journeying through this theological education together and I too am ready and excited for the journey.

In my quiet time this morning I thought about where I am right now, who God has called me to be this day, and I am excited.  I am ready for new friends, new adventures, and continued learning as this new chapter in my life comes to life.  I realize how beautiful it is to observe God at work in so many lives and then to remember that God is not just at work here at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, but God is at work in all of us, in this entire world, and that is something to be excited about! 

I look forward to sharing this journey with everyone around me.  I look forward to learning with my classmates, professors, and friends.  And I look forward to being open to the movement of the Spirit, to being aware of God's work in me, in others, and in the world.  I look forward to these next 3 years and the rest of this life God has called me to!

Peace be within you all,

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sermon 12 February 2011

I think this is pretty close to what I preached...

Text: Amos 5 and Matthew 7:24-29

During the fall semester myself and 5 other theological studies majors spent the semester defining, redefining, and even redefining theology for ourselves. We had to articulate what exactly our goal for theology was, and then we had the joy of outlining a method for doing theology. We read theologians from many time periods, all with different ideas and methods, and we ourselves agreed to disagree at times. The one thing we could agree on was that we were tired of reading all sort of theologies that neglected to include a step where ones theology was applied to the way they live in the world. After spending a semester writing pages and pages of theology based on justice and compassion, I received an opportunity to go to Nicaragua with 13 other Presbyterians to learn more about Fair Trade coffee, t-shirts, and art.

I have never left the country, the furthest I had traveled was to Texas and that was in October, so a part of me was terrified. I knew I would see things I had never seen before, I knew I was going to hear about injustice in another country, I knew I was going to be face to face with poverty in a place that was unfamiliar to me, but at the same time I knew that I was going to see justice and the effects of people making decisions to purchase goods in a just way. And so, I was excited. Terrified and excited.

As we arrived in Managua, Nicaragua and began to be acquainted with this new country, we were given a brief history, a tour of the capital, and we had some down time. It was in this down time that I had remembered this text from Matthew, I remembered Jesus saying “everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”

As I traveled to the countryside and stayed in a little house with a dirt floor, as the mother of the house gave me her bed to sleep in and headed in to sleep with her two daughters, as the three women who had a small piece of land in this rural town with no running water fed me more than enough to eat three times a day, as I was seeing these people do hard physical labor for little pay, I kept being reminded of scripture. This passage from Matthew, the passage from Amos, and many many more continued to run through my mind and continued to challenge me because as Jesus had said “everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”

For many years I have heard the words of Christ, I have read them, studied them, fallen in love with them time and time again, and now I was in a foreign land learning what could happen if people took these words seriously. If we take the teachings of Jesus seriously, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, to visit those in prison, if we cared for the sick, set the captives free, and loved the Lord our God with all of our hearts minds souls and strength, the world would look different. If we did these things our lives, our faith, and our world would be a solid foundation, built on a rock.

As I was studying this text from Matthew I noticed two things right away, and these things come from the Greek translation.

ὁμοιόω (hom-oy-ohO)-to be made like-it is used to make a comparison- is translated simply as “will be like”

I have come to appreciate the little bit of Greek I have learned. I have enjoyed spending time using what I have learned to study the original language while preparing for Sermons and when I found this nuance along with another I had to stop and let it sit. I didn’t want to keep writing or reading, I just wanted to ponder for a moment, the beauty that was in this passage. Instead of being like a wise person, we are made to be like, it is not that we are imitating or reflecting, but we are becoming. What Jesus is getting at here is that the work of hearing and acting is a continual process, we are always reading, always hearing the scriptures, and it is our duty to go from this place and act on them. It does no good for us to come to church, to read our Bible’s and to sing the hymns if we aren’t going to do something about it. If we aren’t going to worry about our neighbors, if we aren’t going to take care of those who are down and out and need a hand, if we aren’t going to empower those who society has given up on, if we aren’t going to do something then why church are we here?

In this short passage Jesus is wrapping up a long sermon, I can feel in this story a plea to not just take his words and ponder them in our hearts, or simply repeat them, Jesus is saying if you really want to build a solid foundation to stand on for yourself, live these things out. Forgive one another, take care of one another, and love one another.

I have used my trip to Nicaragua as a parallel to this scripture for many reasons, it is fresh on my mind, I’m still processing a lot of it, and it was in Nicaragua that my mind was blown away to just a few ways I can live out my faith by being aware of the things I was purchasing. I learned that by purchasing items at a fair trade value I was not just giving people a fair wage for their product, but I was supporting an entire community of people. I was creating job security, opportunities for education, healthcare, and enough money to take care of their families. I learned that being conscious of the fact that the world of commerce is full of injustice and that a few changes to my personal purchasing habits could make a difference, and that is what Jesus preaches. Jesus doesn’t preach that we change the world in one swooping motion, reality is that doesn’t work, but what Jesus does know is that if each of us continue to learn and continue to hear the Word, and we put those two things together, the world can change.

The second nuance in the Greek, comes at the very end of the passage. The word ἐξουσία is translated as “authority”…I did not recognize this word at first but I did recognize the prefix of Ex as meaning from or out of and ousia being essence or being. As I noticed it is translated as authority, I began to be slightly disappointed with Greek, authority I have learned is the normal translation for exousia, however, as I pondered the thought of Jesus teaching from his being I couldn’t help but to smile and laugh a little on the inside. My gut reaction was to say, Jesus taught out of his being, from his essence, who he was, and that would account for him having authority. The people were not amazed at the fact that Jesus had these almighty words of wisdom, but Jesus himself had heard the scriptures and acted on them. His ministry was full of action.

In elementary school the WWJD bracelets were a hit. Everyone had them, and they were a great tool for teaching kids to treat each other respectfully, but they went out of style quickly. I haven’t seen them in years. As I have grown a little older, gone through high school, and endured 3 ½ years of college I notice that the world has become concerned with itself. How am I going to make it by this week? What can I do to get ahead? It has become a me me me kind of world as people are not acting on what they know. I wonder what the world would look like if we picked that mentality of WWJD back up again? I wonder what would happen in our own communities if we taught the ways of Christ not with our words or some colorful wristbands but ex-ousia...out of our beings? What things in your life can you change to empower those around you? To love your neighbor as yourself…that is the visible and invisible neighbor? What can First Presbyterian Church in Scottsburg Indiana do to build a solid foundation, what are you doing? What can this Presbytery do? What can the Church universal do?

Will you be made into a wise person? Will you put your wisdom into action? Or will you build your house, your foundation of your being on the sand and let it wash away as the rains and the floods come pouring in?

I challenge you, take the hard road, don’t take the easy way out and make yourself a shack on the sand, but dig deep, put your foundation in a place that matters.

There was one other lesson I learned from Nicaragua. As we were driving around at the beginning of our trip there was a massive statue of Christ, and I turned to another member of the trip and said “LOOK I found Jesus, he’s in Nicaragua.” We laughed and didn’t think anything else of it. On our way back from traveling the countryside and staying in homestays, we passed the statue again, this time I thought to myself, “no really, I found Jesus in those who fed me, put a roof over my head, cared for me, and loved me even if I couldn’t communicate very well with them.” The people I interacted with had a foundation of rock because they were hospitable to me. They didn’t have much but they could still act on the words of faith they knew.

Remember, you don’t have to change the world, you simply have to put wisdom in action, and change your life, in doing so you will see lives around you affected, changed, and challenged.

Go and act on the words of Christ with all of your being. I pray that you do so for the sake of Jesus Christ and the world we live in. In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sustainer. Amen.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

This I believe

I had to write a This I believe statement for a class...

Words, Beliefs, Action

I believe that faith and theology are obligated to result in making decisions that are rooted in justice.

The world is full of injustice. People exploit each other, those who work hard to produce the products the rich eat cannot put food on the table for their children at night, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The world continues to press forward; people make decisions in order to put themselves in a situation where they can advance in their business, social status, or fame.

I have spent a lot of time listening to people who are constantly experiencing injustice in their lives. Those who are abused, exploited, looked down on by the rest of the world, and those who are never given a chance to show who they are and what they can do. I have spent time hearing their struggles, their hopes, their dreams, and I have seen them work hard to make those hopes and dreams come true.

I recently went on a trip to Nicaragua with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). On this trip we met coffee farmers who are part of a fair trade cooperative, artisans who work in a pottery coop, and men and women who work in a sewing cooperative. All of the men and women I met in Nicaragua were part of what is known as fair trade, they work for wages that are “fair” and they produce goods that are better quality than what we receive when paying unfair prices. These men and women live in a third world country where many of their neighbors are working in sweatshops or begging on the street, most people in Nicaragua live on less than $1 a day.

Their poverty is a result of a faulty government and the exploitation of their people and resources over many years. As a person of faith, one who purchases many of the goods I witnessed being produced, I never knew just how unjust the situation is for these people. I as person of faith, one driven by the teachings of Jesus Christ have now seen the effects of both justice for people and injustice done to people. I know what justice can do and I am obligated to share the stories I have so that others may be informed.

Why is it that my faith drives me to believe I have this obligation? If I take seriously the teachings of Jesus I have to see that Jesus was one who exploited not people but injustice. He stood up for those who were cast out by society and helped those who were being oppressed by even their own government. If I am to be Christ like and faith driven, I too must be committed to just living. My actions reflect my words, my words reflect my beliefs.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What does the Lord require of you?

Micah 6:8
What does the Lord require of you? To seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.

To seek justice...
Websters defines the word seek in many different ways,
1: to resort to : go to
2:to go in search of or look for or to try to discover
3: to ask for
4: to try to acquire or gain or aim at
5: to make an attempt

What does the Lord require? To resort to justice, to go to justice, to go in search of justice, to look for justice, to try to discover justice, to ask for justice, to acquire justice, to make an attempt at justice. What exactly is justice? Justice is defined as:
The principle or ideal of just dealing or right action: conformity to this principle or ideal- righteousness

The breakdown of words could go on and on, but if we look at just dealing, right action, and righteousness and assume for a moment that these things all point towards living in a loving relation with all people and the earth around us, that we take care of one another and the earth, that we live as people who care about future generations then we can understand just why it is important to seek justice. Seeking justice is not for ourselves, it is for those who are experiencing injustice around every corner they turn. Those who are not making fair wages, those who are being exploited so others can lift themselves up, those who are cast aside and thought of as no good or useless in society. God doesn't give up on people and neither should we, instead we should be seeking justice. Looking to do right by those experiencing injustice and therefore walking in righteousness before God.

What does the Lord require of me this day? To keep pressing on, to keep seeking justice and being informed, informing others, and challenging this world to seek to do what is right, to seek to do what is just, not only when it is convenient to do so...but in all circumstances.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Adjusting to being home

I have been back "home" for 3 days now. I have done a bit of debriefing and a lot of sharing since I returned home. I am faced with a pile of reading and more emotions than my body can handle. I have slept a lot, cried a lot, and find myself with one foot planted in Nica and the other walking through life back here in Southern Indiana.

And so I begin to process the experience. In our closing worship a member of the group read from Matthew 25:31-46
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

As she read the passage and reflected on it I began to think that as an American I am so accustomed to reading that passage in a way where I am the one doing for the least of these...however, in Nica I was the least of these. Sylvia, Alexandra, and Maria were feeding me, giving me shelter, giving me something to drink, they were loving me when I was in a very different place out of my comfort zone and at times wondering why in the world I was in Nicaragua.
Riding around in Managua I saw a huge statue of Jesus, and when I saw it I turned to another person in the group and said "Look, I found Jesus, he is in Nicaragua!" I was joking when I said it, but the more I reflect on my experiences in Nicaragua the more I realize I was face to face with Jesus every time a person welcomed me into their home or business. I saw Jesus in the way the people of Nicaragua were taking care of one another and even us strangers from a country that has done a lot of harm.
I saw in Nicaragua the outcome of Christians living as a people set apart, people who put others before themselves and who humbly serve as Christ served.
This experience was not just an eye opening experience to the world of Fair Trade, but it was an eye opening experience to what it means to live ones faith in a way that is loving and just and right in this world. It can be done, it is being done, we just have to look in places we least expect it and be open to receiving it.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Nicaragua Experience in photos...

Communion at our closing worship...

The first use of my new communion set
T-Shirts from the Sewing Cooperative
This and the one below it are of the communion set I purchased at the pottery cooperative in Ducuali

The pottery from the cooperative
beautiful work the women do

Gallery of Heroes and Martyrs
A church in Esteli
Coffee beans drying
Chili peppers being grown...Tabasco
The first step of the coffee process is picking these cherries off the tree
my hands after picking the coffee for a few hours

The pulp from the coffee bean being used as an organic fertilizer
The beautiful scenery
A house on the road in Boaco
In Boaco
Look at the size of those carrots!
A market outside of a Free Trade Zone (NOT the same as Fair Trade)
Trash burning on the street in Managua

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Nica 2012

Adjusting from Nica time to normal US fast paced be on time society is a bit challenging. I realized that this morning when my alarm went off and I turned it off and went back to sleep, missing church for the first time in ages. I spent the week in community with people I could barely communicate with. I spent a week living on "Nica time" what we Americans would call consistently being late to everything. I spent the week being served by people we view as poor, people who make in a year what I make in a month. And now I am home, home in the US trying to readjust. Trying to process my experience, trying to get back to living and doing so in a way that brings justice to all people.

I realize the impact my decisions have on the lives of people who have had a rough life, those who live in poverty, those who want to live and live well for themselves and their children. I have been a supporter of fair trade goods for a long time now, and this week has shown me how much of an impact this way of just living can have on a community. I can make a difference in the life of children and families in Nicaragua and I can influence my communities to do the same.

It is not just a gift that I was able to have this experience, but it is an obligation to me as well, an obligation to share the story of those I came into contact and relationship with in the past week. I have an obligation to continue sharing the stories of Christ in relation to the people who provide luxury items for us (coffee, chocolate, clothing, art). I have an obligation to the people I have come to love in Nicaragua and the rest of the world around me, to share the love of Christ in the most tangible seeking and doing justice.
Those are my thoughts so far...more to come as I continue to process...
Peace be within you,