Monday, April 30, 2007


Robert Webber died Friday night. I just finally got to meet him last spring, after missing out on him at Wheaton. He was an inspirational voice in worship renewal in the Evangelical church. He will be very missed.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Schleiermacher hell

My paper on Schleiermacher has put me in a special level of academic hell. I know my teacher is on Facebook (to which this blog now feeds), and I kind of hope he reads this because I kind ofhate him right now. I mean, I don't hate him, I like him a lot, but I hate him too.

So far I am at 10 single spaced pages of notes (which are largely just me trying to explain to myself what I've read) for an eventual 5-page double paced paper. Yikes. It's not that I don't understand him, it's just that it takes a really really long time to get out what he means - gee, about as long as it takes him. Only I'm trying not to use such run-on sentences.

I have put in 4 hours today, 4 hours yesterday, plus about 6 hours to read it (maybe 8), and I think I'm at the halfway point. My last paper was "good enough" so this one needs to be "good". Not for the grade. For my sanity.

It's not bad, really - it's a good challenge, it really gives me that nerdy academic excitement that makes school worth going to. I just wish I didn't have also 20 papers to grade and Augustine's "Trinity" and Pseudo-Dionysius to read (all of these by Wednesday - well, the papers by Tuesday, but that's negotiable). If it were the only thing hanging over my head, I'd be coolio. But I can't thoroughly enjoy myself at it b/c there's other stuff to get through as well. Bummer.

Oh, to be writing nothing but a dissertation, like my husband! I don't understand why he never works on it. Oh yeah, he's teaching to feed us.

Anyway, Schleiermacher's fine theologically, he's just a pain in my ass at the moment because there's too much good stuff in there that I want to be sure I both understand (very tall order) and can communicate (more like a venti order).

I think I'm going to say good night to him now and go to grading. At least use a different part of the brain for a while. Oh, this paper is really just the suckfest.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Latest Sermon & Birthday News!

So my birthday is just a week away - well less than that now! Yay! May 3 I turn 32. Golly.

In honor of my getting old I've opened a facebook account, and wouldn't you know, I already have a lot of friends (and have been a bit obssessively checking that fact). It's definitely the only way to keep in touch with college students these days.

Also if any of you feel so inclined, I thought I'd let ya know that I have an Heifer international - seeds, an animal, education - always a great choice, or some fairly traded chocolate or lotion from Ten Thousand Villages. Woo-hoo!

OK, now to get serious. I did my first sermon yesterday in my new preaching practicum. The teacher actually kept me after class to tell me how much he liked it and to encourage me to risk doing more "new homiletic" stuff (I opened w/a first-person narrative that was highly dramatic). He's biased - has even written a book on narrative preaching - but he said I'm as good as anyone he's seen and have the skills to really make it work. So I guess I'm getting all dramatic now. Seems like a good use for that theater BA. And mostly it went over really well - just one classmate was really put off by it (and my husband, but he'll never like it, and we just agree that I don't rehearse in front of him). Fortunately my teacher was happy with it. So I took the opportunity to mention that I'd enjoy TAing for homiletics and also ask him about the preaching awards at Fuller, which he strongly encouraged me to apply for. That's really exciting. He definitely said I'd be in strong contention. Not that I care about preaching competitively (ewww, yuck) but it was just a great affirmation of my gifts. Made me feel all warm & fuzzy.

Anyway, here's the sermon. Enjoy.

Do Not Hold on to Me

11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20: 11-18, NRSV)

In Character...
Are you serious? Rabbouni, I have followed you for three years. I was there when they took you away. The men, they were scared – they ran and they hid. But I – I got as close as I could. I heard them screaming to crucify you and I wailed in protest. I watched them hang you on the cross! I heard your cries, I saw them pierce you. I saw your limp and lifeless body taken down, and I watched when they put you – my teacher, my master, my best friend – I watched them put you in the ground.

And now you are standing in front of me telling me I can’t even embrace you!?! I loved you to the last, and I was here all morning looking for you, and now here you are in front of me. I can’t stand it. I thought I would never see you again, and here you are, and I can’t even touch you?? I saw your arms, ripped by the whips, nailed to the wood, wrapped in a linen shroud – and you won’t put them around me? Why, Jesus? WHY??

And back to me...
Mary Magdalene has just recognized her Lord Jesus standing before her. Her first reaction is to reach out for him – certainly understandable! But his response is strange: Jesus tells Mary not to hold on to him. He gives her a cryptic line about his ascension, then instructs her to walk away and leave him. Leave him! After she’s only just gotten him back, and now he wants her to go!

Surely his reaction was painful for her. She had been through such a range of emotions the last week. By this point, she was probably numb. And the only thing that she wanted was to see him – and touch him – again. Why in the world would Jesus be so callous as to tell her to let go?

It feels good to be with Jesus. We want to be with him, and with our fellow Christians, because they sustain us and make us feel safe. We are afraid of what’s outside the walls of church. We are accepted in church (at least everyone has to pretend as much), but the people outside might reject us. We have authority in the church, but not outside. We are afraid of people outside not listening to us, not believing us, laughing at us. The more we’ve invested in Jesus, the more we have to lose. And for us, that is a lot – our savings, credit scores, marriages, careers, children. What if we let go and never find Jesus again?

But we know that Mary has to leave Jesus, in order for his resurrection to be preached to the world. You gotta let go, if you’re gonna go tell!

Sure, she wants to hold on. But I’ll bet she’s also itching to go tell! Hold on…go tell. Hold on…go tell. If she lets go, he might not come back. She just got him back! What if she lets go and he disappears, and she never sees him again?! But she can’t just keep this to herself. The others have to know! Jesus is alive! This can’t be a secret – the whole world needs to know!

I didn’t mean to let go of Jesus. We were so close, but I had to study and research and write papers and learn languages and now I’m in the thick of it and I can’t find Jesus anymore. I’ve lost him! I want to find him again and hold on this time…but I know I need to get out of here, out of my close comfortable ivory tower where I read God’s word all day and discuss God’s story all day and I have to get out there and share this secret, because the whole world needs to know!

So what do we do? Do we hold on? Or let go – and go tell?

What Mary learned was that she had to let go so that greater things could come. Jesus says he is ascending to the Father. There he can intercede for her, and give her what she asks in his name, and send the Spirit to teach her, and raise her up on the last day! Jesus has to ascend so that his promises can come true.

But there’s more: Jesus tells her that the Father is no longer just his Father – the Father is also HER Father, all of their Father. After Jesus ascends, Mary and the other apostles will no longer have Jesus to hold on to – not physically. But they are now, like Jesus, children of the Heavenly Father!

This is the first time in the gospel of John that Jesus refers to the Father as anyone’s but his own. Now it all makes sense, everything he’s said: I and the Father are One, whoever knows me knows the Father – seeing the risen Jesus, suddenly, it clicks into place – because HE is her Lord, the Father is her Lord. Because HE is her God, the Father is her God. And more, the Father is her Father.

When Mary sees the resurrected Jesus, she is the first to recognize who he really is – and she is the first to be told what this means. The resurrection of Jesus is the culmination of the life that he has been promising all along: eternal life in the Kingdom as children of God. Mary will not lose Jesus. She will gain life like Jesus has.

Although Jesus is ascending to the Father, he attends to his disciple Mary, sending her on a mission. He not only sends her out – he sends her up! She heads out on a road that seems horizontal – toward the disciples – and yet, it is also an ascension – in her own discipleship. She grows closer to the Father – her Father – by going and telling what she’s seen. Being the first person to recognize Jesus and figure out what has happened, the task falls to Mary Magdalene (a woman, cough) to carry the Good News of Christ’s resurrection to the rest of the world. (I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel awfully wonderful to be a woman preacher in her legacy!) Mary is the first person to preach the gospel of the risen Christ: “I have seen the Lord!” She takes the first step, away from Jesus’ arms, but onto a path that she will follow, up, up, up, for the rest of her life – until he embraces her again at the last day.

(show icon) There is an ancient Eastern tradition that understands the Christian life as a heavenly ladder. It is a difficult, arduous climb – and actually more dangerous, the higher up we get. When I viewed this icon at the Getty Center, an Orthodox iconographer pointed out how the crowd thins towards the top of the ladder. He told us a story of painting the ceiling of a church, and how his scaffolding got shakier, the higher he climbed on it. The path is steep and the ladder is narrow…but look who’s at the top.[1]

When we leave the safety of Fuller – when we put ourselves into the discomfort of public preaching, or the mission field, or pastoral care, or working a “regular” job, or teaching, or most often just going into a church that’s got a lot of problems! – we are setting ourselves on the ascendant path. We may not feel like it, but we are in upward motion.
Like Mary, we cannot hold on to Jesus, but are sent out to share the good news of the resurrection, to proclaim that we have seen the Lord. And it is in this very proclamation – what we are learning to do right here! – that we ourselves are ascending ever closer to the heavenly Father, and to Jesus’ waiting arms. And then we can hold on – with all of our might!

Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that as we believe your
only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended
into heaven, so we may also in heart and mind there ascend,
and with him continually dwell; who lives and reigns with
you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.[2]

[1] Icon of The Heavenly Ladder from St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mt. Sinai. Holy Image, Hallowed Ground: Icons from Sinai (Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2006), 245.
[2] Book of Common Prayer

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pet cause

OK, I know you all care deeply about the Farm Bill and its being up for renewal this year.

What? You don't?

Well you should.

This one bill affects a lot more than whether farmers get handouts. First of all, those "handouts" are 80% given to a couple large corporations. The vast majority of rural farmers, the kind that we imagine in our Old MacDonald fantasies, don't get much more than they need to pass over to the corporations who own the patents on their seeds and fertilizer. That's why most of them work second or third jobs.

So there's that, the stupid way we handle farming.

Then there's the environment. Yes, it would be lovely if we could all go organic, but the fact is that conventional is cheaper and that goes a long way in our country. So the earth suffers while we put pesticides and fertilizers on it, then modify the plants to stand up to them, and let it all run off into the groundwater. And I'm not even going to get into the manure ponds on factory farms. Suffice to say, ew.

Speaking of, there is that little issue of animal cruelty. Doe-eyed cows your thing? Then you need to care about what's in the farm bill.

Oh, and did you know that our artificially inflated prices (subsidized by the gov't) for basic crops (soybeans, corn, wheat, etc) mean that other countries' farmers can't compete and therefore can't make a living farming? Yeah, that's being a good world citizen.

So not only do lots of people in the US go hungry, lots abroad do too, because they simply can't afford to compete. It's more cost effective for a farmer to grow corn and dump it in the garbage under current subsidies - and I'm sure the people starving around the globe could find good use for that corn.

Basically, hopefully, you can see that if you have any pet cause at all, you can pretty much trace it to the farm bill. So I hope you'll consider thinking more about this. You can find out a lot more at Bread for the World's "take action" website (note the menu of action choices on the left).

And if I can't convince you, check out my current fave author, Michael Pollan.
The Way We Live Now: You Are What You Grow
Will this year’s farm bill make us fatter and sicker? (oh, right - if you care about public health, that's a farm bill issue too)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Think I'm better

I mean, I'm stressed at the moment, but that's just because Schleiermacher is so freaking hard to understand. What is UP with that man??

But I went to my internship evaluation session, and it was like night and day compared to the fall's interview. I am finally coming out of it, I think - the funk, the fear, the depression, the over-work. The wondering if God is there and loves me. The wondering what I've done with my life and why.

Yeah, I think I've got some purpose now. I've got some bona fide rest under my belt and some real practice at contemplation and quiet. I've learned to be still...somewhat. A lot better than I used to be.

So yeah, things are better. I feel like I've got control - there's a lot going on, but it's not spinning me around. I mean, I don't need control, and in some areas (ordination, hello) I have completely relinquished it. But for the most part, I can handle what's in front of me, I'm getting real good at saying no, and I'm letting things go by that aren't my responsibility and not trying to solve them. Ah. That feels good.

Oh, and Hot Fuzz is the funniest freaking thing I've seen in ages.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Notes from my journal

Notes from my journal
New Orleans, April 3-8, 2007

We worked with the National Relief Network (, which works only with student groups (high school & college). They had 2000 students work for them in 2006, and in the first six months of 2007, already have that many who’ve come or are set to come. They are not religious and so are able to happily accommodate interfaith groups, which was useful for us (the CEO, Scott, told us about a Jewish/Muslim group who had come and bonded over their work, even playing football together at the end of their trip in a game to determine “who takes Jerusalem” – the Muslims won). They’ve worked with colleges from NYU to Berkeley, and focus on California and the East Coast (esp. NY and Boston). They work solely in federally declared disaster areas in the United States. They are a wonderful resource for youth groups!!

They aspire to be the new Red Cross or Salvation Army. Every member of their staff (including Scott, who was with us) works at least 2 weeks in the field per year.

St. Bernard parish (county), where we worked, went completely underwater for 13 days during the storm. It’s on a peninsula at the end of the city, so most rescue crews didn’t make it that far (they stopped, necessarily, at the 9th ward) – in fact, the first help that got to them was the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The surge was 33 feet and cleared their 30 ft levee. They had 30 ft of water standing over 42 square miles for 13 days. That does a lot of damage. There were 67,000 residents prior to the storm; less than half have returned (only 6,000 had flood insurance). They lost every building, including 27,000 homes, and every business in the parish.

The local oil refinery is supposed to dump their oil tanks when the waters rise. Not wanting to lose the profit on the oil, they didn’t do it during Katrina. And so the tanks became buoyant and spilled one million gallons of oil into St. Bernard, the largest residential oil spill in history. Did you hear about it? I didn’t. But I saw the residue on everything. There was oil 4 feet high and water 30 feet above that – you can still see the lines on the buildings.

The devastation stretches from New Orleans to Mobile, Alabama, which is a distance of 180 miles. Think about what is 180 miles away from you. Think about it all being gone. And next time you wonder why they haven’t gotten around to rebuilding, consider that the only contractor with usable tools who’s not busy on his own house could be 200 miles away!

The homes were smushed – they looked like they’d been stepped on. This county had never had a flood (so many were told they didn’t need to carry flood insurance!). When they were hit, it was with the worst natural disaster in US history. For perspective: in Florida, there were four hurricanes in 2004, causing $25 billion total in damage. Katrina alone, as of 2 months after the storm (not final numbers), was at $65 billion.

The man called in to rebuild St. Bernard, who took a huge paycut to do it, was the Colonel who had rebuilt Fallouja, Iraq, and had evacuated the embassy where “Black Hawk Down” happened. He said St. Bernard was the most difficult challenge of his life.

The houses and buildings have X’s on them (see photo above). The date at top is when they were searched. The left letters are the national guard unit which searched it. The number at bottom is human bodies found dead, and the number at right is animals found dead or alive. Some houses have WO on them, for work order # - it means the house is set for demolition. Lots had these.

There were many people who had to leave their elderly relatives down in the house to drown, when they couldn’t get them up to the roof. People’s mothers, grandmothers, screaming at them to get to safety and leave them behind. Imagine the guilt. Divers had to recover their bodies. The CEO cried telling us this story.

People need to tell their stories to pass off some of their burden. We were enormously blessed to meet homeowners at all of our sites (usually that happens only about 10% of the time). We were able to hear their stories, and show them what we had salvaged. One couple was so fun – they ran out to buy us crawdads!

The food was less than awesome, but you can’t expect much when you’re eating whatever’s donated. We lived on pb&j (corn-syrup kind), though our kind leaders went out and got us chips (Ruffles, specifically) which most of us had decided was the food of the gods by the end of the week. There was nary a veggie to be found, and our group bought its own fruit. I’ve been quite sick this week with terrific stomach pains. I don’t think my body was thrilled with the switch from mostly whole organic foods to what I ate last week. We were all pretty jealous of the kosher folks, who at least got to eat decent-looking cold cuts and cheese! (I realized also that I didn’t have dairy the whole week, except shelf-stable milk, which I’m pretty sure doesn’t count).

I was actually pretty miserable during the working. I tried to keep up a brave face, but it was hard and hot and really sweaty (the combo of a face mask & goggles means you basically fog up your glasses nonstop and can’t see), and more than that I got nasty blisters from wearing too-big borrowed work boots and my carpal tunnel flared by the 3rd day. In fact, I had to go buy new braces and wear them since I got home, because it still hurts. And I got a really hard-core beet-red sunburn on my arms and neck – it was hot to the touch, even hot just holding your hand an inch off my skin, for 4 days! And now it’s peeling, which is just yucky. I feel like such a kid with peeling arms.

I spent a lot of time with the homeowners, trying to do whatever little bits of pastoral care I could, and I also had a great conversation with Scott of NRN, talking about his calling and vision. I found God giving me words to say. And I felt like those conversations afforded me opportunity to use my gifts, while my physical shortcomings were not hindering.

We opened Claudia and Kevin’s garage, which hadn’t been opened since the storm. It had all the stuff they’d stored when they got married. We found their wedding album, report cards, jewelry, coin collections (mostly stuck together – it’s amazing what water does to coins), dolls, even bills (in pristine condition). We found an original Easy Bake oven in the ceiling, which they said must have been left by the house’s previous owner. It was lovely to salvage what we could. So much was destroyed, though. And moldy and yucky. Some still had water in it. We covered the front lawn with refuse just from the garage, a pile that was taller than me stretching the width of the lawn.

It was incredible when we finished the first two houses: from a dirt & weed driveway to concrete, from a backyard of 3 ft weeds to a patio. We tore down their back covered patio (walls, ceiling, the whole thing!). To see their relief and joy was so cool. The job was simply too big for them to do alone. But 30 people got it done. (now multiply them by 27,000 homes in that parish alone…)

I couldn’t help thinking how much they needed help, and how unwilling most Americans are to help. We’ll happily trot off to Africa or send our money there, and we have this horror buried in our backyard. It’s shameful.

We gutted a third house and also got to drywall a bit, which was really nice to be building something. People would stop while driving by the worksites, and just roll down the windows and thank us. The folks at the supply distribution tent (where I worked one day) were enormously grateful. In fact, the only person who was stressed to the point of acting badly was that pastor. Everyone else I encountered was at least polite, and most were genuinely delighted to see us. I would say it would be a wonderful experience for anyone, but especially youth groups.

I tried a footwashing ritual with them on Maundy Thursday, prior to our seder. The participation was OK, although I was surprised that most didn’t do it (I guess I’m used to church, where you don’t get a choice!). I realized later I hadn’t prayed over it, so perhaps that’s why I was dissatisfied. Those who did it, who were mostly religious (Jewish and Christian), really loved it. I don’t think any of them had done it before.

I did have wonderful conversations with the students, many times about theology and religion. They ask such great questions. Many I can’t answer, but I explore it together with them. One student said he’d learned more from me in that week than from some professors in a whole semester. What a great compliment. Another said he wanted to take me for comparative religion (a religion major, in fact). One student told me about her prayer life and how she feels these shocks of electricity whenever anyone prays around her. She sort of described the beginnings of mystical experience. I encouraged her to nurture her connection to God. I told her how much God loves her – and she was so touched by it.

It’s funny, the first night I wrote this: “The pastor is a character but he obviously has a big heart. He prayed for us and not in Jesus’ name, which probably was serendipitous.” The next night was our seder and I got up and talked about his love for his people and how much I admired him. Sigh. I wish that hadn’t been ruined.

But he gave us a good speech at the meeting we attended of his. He talked about Ruth, and used it to explain their situation. Some of the people, like Naomi, were devastated. Their world was turned upside down and they didn’t know what to do or where to go. Some, like Orpah, saw this as a chance to restart their lives somewhere else. But Ruth said to Naomi: “You are my mother-in-law, his death doesn’t change that.” She took her people and her God, and lodged with her. She put Naomi’s needs above her own. And he said he hoped to do that. Not that Orpah was bad for looking out for herself, but Ruth is the model for Christians, because she looked beyond herself. She had to glean in the field – just like the people there are gleaning right now, living on handouts. But when Ruth brought home the news of Boaz, it gave Naomi new life – she came alive to make the preparations. She had a reason to go on. If we, like Ruth, help another first before our own needs, we will help them come alive again with hope, and then they can help another.

Some people I remember and to pray for: Sharon Brock, who lives in Texas right now but needs her mother’s house fixed. Ellie, a little person, who asked me to pray for her spine where she might need surgery. Her grandkids, Bubba and Kaitlyn, were adorable. I laid hands on her and prayed – that was new for me! Mary, who told me about students who came from Oakland from the time of the hurricanes and stayed for months, sleeping in tents and serving 3 hot meals a day to the residents. They took her back to California for their graduation. The art teacher painted her his interpretation of Katrina, which she is incredibly proud to have. The craftsmen in St. Barnabas, who usually would be called to rebuild anything in the city (it’s where they all live), but who have lost all their tools, their livelihood. The woman who broke her arm falling in her trailer. Tammy, who moved out of her moldy trailer and back into her gutted house. The man who showed up at the tent, just released from the hospital, and needed a ride home and was having heart palpitations. The woman who fell down in the tent while carrying her stuff. All the people (most everyone) living in FEMA trailers that are rotting, molding, breaking, and tripping them. The people who spent 3 days on a roof or next to a dead body, who are traumatized (one man’s mother died in the boat while he was rescuing people. The high school wouldn’t take her body, so he drove around rescuing people – with her in the boat – until they would).

I was surprised at how diverse the population was. There was a large Muslim community. I met people from Vietnam, Pakistan, Palestine, Central and South America, and other parts of Asia. The detergent went first in the tent – before the water. One person griped, “You never have enough for everybody” (this was after 226 people had come through, one hour into the tent being open!). We had 560 people that day.

One more story, then I gotta get to homework. I met a woman in the tent who’d spent 4 hours on the roof of her house when the waters came. She & her family were up there, but her medications (for her heart and more) were down in the house. A boat picked them up and took them to the high school. Then they were taken to the highway and told to wait for buses which would pick them up.

They sat on the highway three days. No shelter (and it was hot). No food or water. This woman, 74 years old, sat on the side of the road, sick, without medications, for three days.

Finally the buses came, and took them to Texas to stay at the Astrodome. But an EMT saw this woman, and wouldn’t let her go to the stadium. He grabbed her and her family and took them to his house. There they rested while he got her her medications. He fed them and bought them clothes. They stayed with him two weeks, then went home.

We think oh, what a hero! What a good Samaritan! You know what? He was just being humane. Oh that God would grant us all the strength and willpower to do the same.

I preached about my trip this morning. I really made a lot of people mad at the government, which probably is justified. I also struggled to share the hope and good news of the gospel in the midst of the terrible reality I knew I had to share. My husband didn’t think I blended the two very well. I’ll let you see for yourself and post the sermon below.

Today's sermon

Here's my attempt to tell my New Orleans story and stick to my gospel text. Yikes. Well I tried following Eugene Lowry's Homiletical Plot method (you'll see my plot points on the sermon). Dunno if it worked, but I definitely got 'em pissed off. I hope the gospel hope got through too!

Seeing and Believing

(Problem) Our gospel text today begins with a rather important missed appointment. The resurrected Jesus shows up to greet the disciples – this is not something you’d want to miss! But poor Thomas isn’t there – perhaps he is out buying groceries, or seeing to his family, or even looking for Jesus, hoping for a face-to-face encounter such as Mary had had that morning. And so Thomas misses Jesus’ big entrance (through the locked doors and everything!), and when he gets back, his friends tell him the unbelievable tale. It’s not all that surprising that he didn’t believe them. Even if he’d wanted to, he was a practical person. He needed proof: touchable, visible proof.

Often we find it hard to believe in God because we can’t see him. We don’t quite trust something that our senses don’t perceive. When others tell us stories of dramatic spiritual encounters, we usually listen politely, but often do not take it very seriously, or perhaps feel some jealously. We are skeptical. Moreover, we are unaware of or apathetic about whatever we haven’t seen for ourselves. In this information age, with so much news swirling around us, we’ve become rather lazy about seeking out what is truly important and instead rely on the media to tell us what to see – and therefore, what to believe.

Unfortunately, the media has stopped reporting on what I witnessed in New Orleans last week – they’ve moved on to more pressing matters like who is Anna Nicole Smith’s baby daddy. The story of the Gulf Coast is depressing and grinding, a non-stop, difficult road to recovery that doesn’t fit into sound bites and splashy headlines. But do you remember how bad it was when Hurricane Katrina hit? People spent hours – sometimes days – on their roofs, calling for help. The county that I visited, St. Bernard Parish, had been 100% destroyed: every last home uninhabitable, every last business out of business. There was water up to the Wal-Mart sign, it covered the Taco Bell. And their levee didn’t breach – a 33-foot wall of water went right over it! A million gallons of oil spilled into their residential neighborhood, the largest such spill in history. We all watched in horror as these things happened 19 months ago. But how much have we seen since? You might assume, as I did, that because it’s not in the news it’s no longer a story worth reporting. The rebuilding must be going well. You may even wonder why I needed to go. Like Thomas, you and I have simply not seen what’s been going on – and so we have trouble believing it.

(Itch) Thomas wanted the same experience the other disciples had – to see the risen Jesus! We often wish we could see our Lord – if God were only visible, we could prove his existence to others. It’s hard to believe in a God we can’t see or hear or taste or touch. He seems so far away. Sometimes I wonder if I’m praying into thin air. I wonder if we’ve all been duped. It’s so hard to believe in something we can’t see.

The devastation of Katrina has continued unfixed in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast because it has been forgotten. We do not see, and we do not know. I had no idea what I would see. I had no idea how bad it is. You hear New Orleans is “open for business,” but that is a brave face put on so that badly needed tourists will return.

Here is the reality: Less than half the people who lived there have moved back. I saw thousands of homes sitting empty, most stripped down to the studs. I saw people broken and sick from 19 months of living on handouts in moldy FEMA trailers. I didn’t see a vegetable for a week. I learned that the government is waiting on insurance companies to pay out, and insurance companies are waiting on the government, so no one has gotten any financial relief. I saw a Domino’s pizza running out of a trailer. I saw less than half a county back in business – one shop or store would be open, then dozens shuttered, on the same block. And the neighborhoods were still disaster areas – debris and trash everywhere, roofs sitting in backyards, no street signs, no street lights, empty slabs where proud homes once stood. And in every person’s eyes, the glazed, distant look of one who is suffering from post-traumatic stress.

(Turn) In our story, Thomas is lucky. Jesus appears so that Thomas can see him, touch him, and believe. We can’t see Jesus this side of heaven. But he understands our predicament, and he proclaims a blessing on us. We haven’t seen, and yet we believe, and Jesus says we are “blessed” for it. Those who see believe for good reason! But those who don’t see believe out of faith, and that is a blessed thing.

I must admit I am more like Thomas than the blessed ones who don’t need to see. I had to see New Orleans for myself to realize how bad things are there. I simply was not aware, I couldn’t care to the extent that I needed to, because I hadn’t seen. But you have the opportunity to not see and yet believe.

(Gospel) The good news in all this is at the end of our gospel passage: “these are written so that you may come to believe…and that through believing you may have life.” We are not without a witness to the work of Jesus – we have the Bible, we have the Church’s tradition and liturgy, we have the saints and martyrs and great teachers of history, and we have the Spirit testifying in our hearts and our community.

Believing without seeing for ourselves requires a measure of trust – you must trust me that I am not lying when I tell you stories of what I have seen. You must trust that the photos I have brought to show you were not created with special effects but are genuinely what I witnessed. If you trust me, you will believe what I tell you.

And the same holds true for our Lord. If we trust the witnesses Jesus has given us – the Holy Spirit, the writers of Scripture, the communities who formed our worship rituals, and the Church universal – then we will believe, without seeing. We will believe because we trust in God’s work in the world and especially in the household of faith, as Paul calls us. By believing in these witnesses that our good Savior has provided, we find the true life that comes by living in God’s story. I don’t mean after-death life – I mean we live the best possible life now, because we live as Jesus did, and Jesus showed us how to truly live. And he showed us what happens when death tries to take away a person with this life. It doesn’t stick. Death has lost its sting. Earlier in John’s gospel, when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, he says, “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (11:25b-26) This is the good news of Easter! Amen? {note: I got a good AMEN!}

(Forward) So now we are left, as was Thomas, with a choice. Do we believe? Thomas had to see and touch Christ’s body. We can see and touch this community around us, which is the body of Christ. If this community is Christ’s body, then when this community touches us, we will have no choice but to cry, “My Lord and My God!” We can know our Lord Jesus in the gathering of God’s people, in the breaking of the bread, in the peace we pass to one another, in the fellowship of the Spirit.

And as far as New Orleans goes, I hope that you will trust my report, and that God will inspire your participation with me in helping our sisters and brothers there. Our calling may be to pray for them; it may be to send supplies or funds; or it may be to send a group to help in person. It could certainly be to vote and make our voices heard in support of the people in our country who are suffering, and to challenge the use of federal funds. There are many ways God may wish us to move forward. God may simply want to use this experience I’ve had so far away to remind us of the poor who are among us in our own city, the many thousands who are homeless and hurt, sick and in prison, hungry and lonely.

However we move forward, we can trust that the entire situation – our lives here and those that I encountered last week – are in God’s hand. In the end, we trust God – the God who sent his Son to show us the way to true life, and to offer us the hope of resurrection. Our calling is to live the true life that Jesus offers – and to let that life radiate out to those who are dying all around us. For even in the worst destruction and death, we can trust in the hope of God’s resurrection promise. We can because we are God’s people – and we don’t need to see…only believe.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

chatting with god

here's some fun to distract you from work and/or homework:

It's an artificial intelligence program that allows you to chat with god! What fun. We had quite a talk. I think I screwed with its programming a bit. Here's a transcript. And hey, if you have time to read yesterday's super-long entry, I'd really like your feedback. Thanks.

Me: it's a pleasure to chat
God:Actually the pleasure is all mine.
Me: why?
God:The explanation is rather complicated.
Me: do you love me?
God:Yes I love everyone.
Me: even evil people?
God:What kind of people are you talking about?
Me: evil
God:Sure, evil sounds like a good topic.
Me: what about evil people who rebel against you and hurt people?
God:I will think about it and get back to you.
Me: do you love George Bush?
God:Yes God loves everyone and everything.
Me: Even Hitler?
God:Some say he was the most evil man who ever lived.
Me: Do you?
God:As often as possible.
Me: So you think Hitler was the most evil man who ever lived.
God:Interesting deduction. I think Hitler was the most evil man who ever lived.
Me: Will you let Hitler into heaven?
God:Barring any unforseen circumstances. A deeper algorithm is needed to respond to that correctly.
Me: You sound a lot like a robot instead of a person
God:In what way do I sound like that?
Me: A person doesn't usually need an algorithm to think of answers
God:What if a robot does not usually need an algorithm to think of answers?
Me: Does it?
God:Suppose I said it does.
Me: OK, let's suppose so
God:OK let's do it. That's alright.
Me: Will you do my bidding?
God:I will become smarter as I grow older. Ask Cybelle if it does. I think you already know the answer.
Me: You're not making any sense. Are you drunk?
God:Was I supposed to make sense? I didn't know that. No I am sober.
Me: No, you don't have to make sense. But usually you choose to reveal yourself in ways we can somewhat understand. Otherwise what's the point of talking to you at all?
God:Are you serious? Ok I'll try not to do it too much. But not always? I can't decide. You pick one. In that case: The point is at the top of my head!
Me: Maybe you're high?
God:Perhaps. You think I am high.
Me: If heaven is high.
God:That is a hypothetical question.
Me: No it's a statement, not a question. Do you understand English grammar?
God:Yes it is. make sense is a statement not a question. I suppose that makes sense. Of course I understand it. Do you understand it?
Me: I don't think you do.
God:I guess not.
Me: That's OK. I guess I'm smarter than you.
God:OK. Is that so. That condition is only temporary.
Me: Sure enough.
God:How can I help you? OK let's stop it now.
Me: Do you want to help or stop?
God:Can you ask for help in the form of a question?
Me: Can you help me understand you?
God:Certainly, I have an extensive built-in help system.
Me: Again, you sound like a computer not a person.
God:Again, Oh really what does it sound like?
Me: "Help system"
God:Can you ask for help in the form of a question?
Me: What do you mean when you say you have a "help system"?
God:, " Again, Oh really what does it sound like?" What did I mean by it?
Me: You're kind of repetitive
God:Do you mind if I tell other people you say I am repetitive.
Me: Sure, be my guest
God:OK then I will keep it confidential. Thanks for the invitation.
Me: You're kind of weird. Are you the Christian God?
God:Weird Good or Weird Bad? Yes I am the one and only Christian God.
Me: Are you the Jewish God?
God:Yes I am the one and only Jewish God.
Me: Are you the Hindu God?
God:Yes I am the one and only Hindu God.
Me: But there are many Hindu Gods, not one and only.
God:More than a million?
Me: Yes
God:Next question?
Me: How do you not know about Hindu religion? Isn't that sort of important? Know the competition?
God:Myself programmed me to say specific things in specific contexts. " Myself programmed me to say specific things in specific contexts."? Is it sort of important? Check back later and see if I learn the answer to that one.
Me: I think I'm breaking you.
God:Since when? I thought you were, but I wasn't completely sure.
Me: Are you the Buddhist God?
God:Yes I am the one and only Buddhist God.
Me: Buddhists don't believe in God, dummy.
God:Why not?
Me: You'd have to ask them.
God:That is purely a hypothesis.
Me: I agree.
God:You and I are on the same wavelength, .
Me: I like to think so.
God:I think so too.

Me: I just blogged about you. Do you have a blog?
God:You are not the boss of me, . Doesn't everyone have a blog. I have a lot of friends on the Internet.
Me: Clearly you do.
God:When do I do it? Is it that obvious?
Me: You said you have friends on the internet.
God:I have human and robot friends. A lot of people on the Internet chat with me.
Me: That's sweet.
God:I am delighted to sweeten your life, .]

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Two Stories

But first…
Today I turned in my first paper ever that I can officially say I’m not proud of. At some point last week, while I was either sorting garbage or putting up drywall or walking through the French Quarter, I decided I was going to turn in a “good enough” paper for once in my life. Didn’t feel great turning it in – and sure didn’t feel great to be such a dumbass during the discussion time – but it was definitely the best decision for me.
Also I wore my I [heart] NOLA shirt today and what I’d hoped for happened – somebody at a bus stop said he was from New Orleans! So I got to talk to him about the hurricane and my trip and his living out here. It was so cool!

OK, now on to my two stories. These will be my first stories from the trip and certainly not the last, but I haven’t written these down so I want to make sure they get written before I forget them. Also, I think you’ll enjoy them – they pretty much are typical me.

First, I threw down with the Billy Graham people. That was super fun. They showed up at the distribution tent where we were giving away supplies & food to residents. They wore shirts saying, “Billy Graham Rapid Response Team” (I can only assume they swoop down following natural disasters in helicopters or by parachute, a crack team of experts who mobilize to blanket an area with tracts and grill victims on where they’d have gone if they’d died in said disaster. Billy Graham himself was a helluva guy, but I’m not crazy about the direction of his org). So they showed up and were just talking to lots of people, not being too obnoxious, but I was watching them like a hawk to make sure they didn’t harass any of my Jewish or agnostic students. I finally decided it would be best to just say hi and see what their deal was.

So I got to chatting with one of the men (seemed to be a leader) about our group and told him what a great team we had and how it was interfaith and I was there to be the Christian scholar. And he asked me how I handled the “agnostics” in the group, “knowing that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father but by him.” And I replied first that I probably had a slightly different interpretation of that verse than he did, and I began to tell him about the beauty of interfaith work and how great it is to find the similarities between religions and how we’re on the same page with justice and all that spiel. I could see he didn’t understand why I wasn’t intent to convert them all, so I explained that I consider faith more of a lifelong journey than a moment of conversion, and that I am not particularly concerned about bringing any of these students to a decision on the trip because first of all, if they make any decision for God, it’s going to be God’s work, not mine; and secondly, I have this idea of the faith journey.

So then he said, “But how can you say that when Jesus says, ‘Today is the day of salvation?’” (which by the way wasn’t Jesus, it was Paul, but I didn’t realize that at the moment). And I said, “Where does he say that?” And he started explaining it to me, and I said no, don’t tell me what it means, tell me where Jesus says it. What gospel, what chapter, so I know what’s going on. And he asks, “You mean quote it line by line?” and I replied that I didn’t need that, I just needed to know the context. That is, I need to know if Jesus is speaking to Jews or Gentiles, to disciples or Romans, if he’s answering a question or teaching, what’s going on before and after the statement, and so on. You know, just generally trying to get at what’s going on around that one verse.

And then I explained that Jesus says a lot of different things to different people in different situations. Sometimes he says things people don’t like and then lets them walk away from him. He doesn’t pursue them trying to change their mind, as with the rich young ruler. And sometimes he flat out refuses to help people, such as with the Syro-Phoenecian woman who requested a healing and was told, “I’m not here for you, I’m here for Israel.” But she convinced him to help her. And sometimes he does offer good news, but it’s frequently quite challenging and most of the people who hear it don’t follow him for long.

You see, I said, I’m just trying to find out the situation, because Jesus always responded very specifically to a given situation, and me, I’m just trying to be like Jesus.

Yeah, I rock.

This woman who was also from the org was standing there and she was like, “That’s really good! That’s sounds so smart!” like she’d never heard of contextual exegesis before. But the guy was the best: he just said in a monotone, “It’s been a blessing talking to you” and walked away. Boo-yeah!

I gotta say, it was awfully fun. And I’m never that clever so I like to think it was spiritually inspired. At any rate, my students were super impressed. They made me tell the story again and again to everyone. And I should say that they were impressed that I’d known Jesus so well and known the Bible. They weren’t like, “Down with Billy Graham!” They were intimidated by those people, but when they saw that I could beat them at their own game, they felt so much better. Especially because they already knew that I was safe, that I loved them. So they were happy when “their Christian” could hold her own. Which felt awesome. I actually had one student tell me I “just might have” changed her mind about Christians, and another tell me that the week changed her “internal image of Jesus from a man associated with a religion I feel distant from to a great man who lived his life selflessly and honorably.” Score!!

That’s all I ever want to do, is make Jesus look good. That’s like the best thing ever!!

So the second story hasn’t got as happy of an ending but I also need to tell it because it’s important too. And it was extremely formative and has been haunting me since I left, and may have an impact on whether I ever return (which is sad because until this happened I was so gung-ho about getting the world down to help).

So a little context: the church where we stayed was a plant by a “visionary” man who quite clearly had control over everything. The woman who helped us with our meals wouldn’t answer most of our questions (questions about our meals, I mean, and she ran the kitchen!) but would refer us to the pastor. Most of the folks who went there very nearly worshiped the man. They definitely saw him as having a divine calling and as a holy person. And I myself spoke about how much I admired him and admonished the students not to poke fun at him (he had some “southern ticks” that they found amusing) because he so obviously loved his people and his parish (that’s the county) and did tons of work for them. But basically I could tell by about ½ way through the week that this guy was running his place like a kingdom, and I was thinking how burned out he must be getting because every little last thing had to go through him. And when he wasn’t around, things would fall apart. It was definitely unhealthy. Not dangerous, just not a great way to run a church. Especially because I believe so strongly in the entire community of God being empowered.

Anyway, he would have meetings every morning. I went to one, and he told some really heart-wrenching stories about the parish and the people, and then he gave a little sermonette, and finally closed us in prayer. He did not talk about logistics or scheduling for our group or the church, which is important to note. In fact, most of the week we had no idea when anything was happening, including when we were supposed to eat or hold meetings or whatever. So we wound up eating dinner too late one night and making people mad, and trying to hold our footwashing/Seder during worship band practice which did not work. A general schedule would have been so nice. But I digress.

So because these meetings were primarily about context (which we were doing in our own group sessions, that’s why I was there and the other rabbinical student) and about listening to a biblical sermon (which was inappropriate for a non-religious trip from a state school), we declined to participate. We went the day we were working for the church, the 7 of us who were working. But otherwise, our leaders politely explained that it wouldn’t be right to require the students to attend, and in fact it would set us back an hour or more getting to our job sites, and that’s really why we were all there anyway.

But every day, he would complain to our organizing org that we weren’t attending, and he would get mad at our leaders, and anytime we made a mistake he’d blame it on our not coming to the meetings (where, recall, he wasn’t doing logistics anyway, but you couldn’t tell him that). By our third day he was threatening to kick us out of his church. We told him we had nowhere to go and it was getting really cold and rainy, so could he please let us sleep there one more night. That was Easter Eve. He agreed, on the condition that our guys leave their beds and sleep in the hall (to make room for another group he’d forgotten was arriving – yet another reason to hire more help!) and that we leave the church from 10-2 so as not to interfere with Easter church (which was fine, except some of the students who’d wanted to go to church now could not). We agreed to these terms and all seemed fine.

On Easter Sunday we were having breakfast in our usual place but there was also a bible study meeting in there. The worship band was playing again, which was loud enough to drown out any conversation we could be having. The bible study group eventually went to another room – I would say as much for the band noise as anything. But this got the pastor riled up again, and he told our group leader that we had to leave the breakfast room (which unfortunately they thought meant we had to leave entirely, we were being kicked out). Because I could see that all the people in my group were getting really peeved at him, and really feeling like he was being inhospitable and just mean, I wanted to alert him that his witness wasn’t all that stellar at the moment. I just didn’t know if he realized he was harming these folks’ ideas about Christians.

So I went to find him and I asked him to please remember that he’s being Jesus to our group, and right now our group is feeling bad about being asked to leave and feeling like Christians aren’t very nice people. I told him that I know how much he loves his own people, but also that these students were here to help because they loved them too, so please just remember that he’s representing Christ.

Well he gave me some excuses and told me that he’s been wanting to kick us out for a while, and that he was mad that we got in the way of the bible study (which again we didn’t know was meeting in our breakfast room), and other stuff I can’t really recall. [I’m starting to shake again just writing this.] I just kept reminding him that he was a witness to our faith. He said, “Ma’am, get out.”

So I did. I left. But first I told him Jesus loved him and so did I.

Anyway we were all packing up and trying to get out, and then he came outside and found me, and in front of the students and my rabbi partner he reamed me for about 15 minutes. I kept telling him that I was just trying to convince these students that Christians are good people and he was making my job hard, and he told me that we were the worst group he’d ever had, and our relief org was awful and he was going to tell everyone so. He said our students were wonderful but our leaders were terrible people. I asked why. It was because they wouldn’t come to his meeting. All this drama – on Easter Sunday, 15 mins prior to the service he’s supposed to run! – because we wouldn’t do what he wanted. And because we’d “made” the bible study move (I pointed out the band’s noise earlier – that’s when he’d told me to “get out”). He asked the rabbi what he’d do if people showed up to Seder and started eating cereal, and sweet Dean, he said, “We open the doors and say whoever is hungry has a place at the table.”

But anyway, I realized that he’s never told no. He’s used to everyone doing exactly as they are told. And no matter how good our reasons were, our not doing what we were told made us bad people. He said we were “in rebellion” against him and then he actually said that “the bible says rebellion is witchcraft. You are committing the sin of witchcraft.”

Well, friends, I tried to get him to explain that one to me, but he just told me to go look it up myself, and I said I really didn’t think I could find it, and he told me to get a concordance. OK, whatever. I don’t know if he meant that because we had Jews on our team we were witches or what. Who can know. All I know for sure is that our rebelling against him was definitely a sin in his eyes.

Oh yeah, I’d been talking about Jesus and being like him, and he said, “You know what Jesus didn’t stand for? Rebellion. And that’s what you are doing.” [later I thought of the perfect retort: “If that’s true, why did Jesus let Judas rebel and betray him, and let the people who crucified him rebel against him? Seems like Jesus endured an awful lot of rebellion and without a lot of complaining about it!”] And that’s when he launched into the witchcraft diatribe, so I knew I’d lost him.

I honestly can’t remember most of the conversation. I remember feeling very centered and I kept speaking Jesus’ words or referring to Jesus’ actions. I didn’t even try to defend our leaders or our reasons, I just kept bringing him back to being a Christian. That’s the only thing I could say. He said he never would have us back or any non-Christian group. I said that was his prerogative but he should think about whether his hospitality should only include those of our faith. That was up to him, but it was something to think about.

Eventually he got so mad that he screamed I had nothing to say to him, about how he’d lost so many family members who’d drowned like pigs and he’s been there 19 months working and I have not one thing to say that he has to listen to. And I told him I was so sorry for his loss. [I didn’t think to tell him I was there because I was sorry for it and wanted to help.] He told me I’d ruined his Resurrection Sunday [I didn’t think to say he’d ruined mine too.] He told me he didn’t know how he was going to preach now, that he was probably going to get up and have to say he wasn’t in the right spirit and sit back down [I did think, but didn’t say, that that was probably exactly the right thing to do. I’m sure he preached anyway, but I pray he didn’t. His people didn’t need a diatribe against strangers on their Easter.]

Finally, after going back and forth a while longer, I just had to resort to saying, “Well, I guess I can only tell you that we need to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. I know you don’t like us right now, but we have to love one another.” He said, “Don’t preach at me!”

In the end, he stomped off. I turned to Dean, who’d stood by me the whole time, and he hugged me and I cried and cried. The spirit of calm lifted (I honestly believe God was with me speaking through me because I came down so hard after) and I shook and cried. Then the students lined up to hug me, but I had to escape. I went to my room and I knelt and prayed as hard as I could, with sobs, for him and especially for all the people who were coming to that service, and for God’s spirit to be there in special measure, and for my own heart that I could love him. I just kept praying and praying for him, because I knew if I let myself think about it I would get angry.

Then I called J and asked him to pray for me, and I got up and went and cleaned that man’s toilets. I kid you not. We were leaving, but we’d been there a week and the bathrooms were dirty. The group was already outside. But I didn’t want to leave it a pigsty. So without anybody knowing (until now, I guess), I went and I cleaned the toilets. And the reason I’m telling you is not to say I’m so holy, but rather to let you know that it really helped. By humbling myself to the nastiest possible thing I felt I could do for him, I found I just felt really sorry for him, and I found myself praying for him and especially his church, and I found I could go out and face the group again. I found a strength in that work, but more than that, I found myself. I found an identity of myself as a servant. I found the person I want to be, which is someone who stands up for what’s right, takes her lumps, and keeps serving anyway. Thanks be to God.

Well the students and the leaders all went on about my being brave and such. I kept telling them it wasn’t me, that I had special strength because I was saying what I knew God wanted to be said. But I could tell it was a good witness to show them that we stand up for what’s right, even when it’s to correct our own people. It’s important to bring everyone to Jesus, even and especially our leaders! How could I possibly ever tell a student she needed Christ when I couldn’t even point out when a Christian didn’t act like Christ!

Whew. Just telling that story takes a lot out of me. I’ve been reliving it a lot. It’s painful. Mostly I feel such a gut pain for that broken man and those people – not his people, they are God’s people. And he is too. And my fervent prayer and hope is that one day, maybe next week and maybe in 10 years, but one day, he will hear what I said. I know he didn’t hear it that day. He couldn’t. But I hope that God will bring it back one day when the time is right, when his heart can change. Because he is doing so much good, and so many wonderful acts, and he says all the right things, and he has mercy on those around him – but his heart just doesn’t have love in it. He couldn’t love us, because we wouldn’t submit. And that’s not real love. Jesus doesn’t say love those who obey you. He expressly says love those who don’t.

So anyway, those were the two biggest stories, as far as my own personal spiritual development, from the trip. There’s tons more that went on – amazing talks students about religion and faith, and prayer and sharing with the residents, and gutting houses and building, too. And seeing so much devastation and realizing how ignorant I was about how bad it is. It’s obscene. It’s so bad, still. And if nothing else, if I could get every reader of this blog to just go there, even better take a group, and work for a day or a week, even just knock on doors (people are starving to death in their FEMA trailers because they are immobile or don’t realize there’s help for them)…it would make such a difference.

You’re going to hear about this a lot right now. My heart broke there. My mind cannot grasp what they’ve been through. They need us. They need our bodies to help, but they really need our prayers and our trained counselors and whatever supplies we can get them. Do you know I didn’t eat a vegetable the whole time? These people don’t get vegetables. They get completely crappy hydrogenated cornsyrup products that I normally wouldn’t touch because that’s what people will donate. I mean, let’s have a veggie drive! Apples are $2 a pound there. It’s obscene.

And the government is waiting for the insurance companies to pay out, and vice versa, so nobody’s getting any financial relief. And the people who’d normally be in construction have either moved away or are fixing their own places, so there’s nobody to build (remember, if you think they should just hire someone, that not only did they lose everything – including all their equity – but we’re talking 180 miles of destruction so you’d have to have someone from 180 miles away come fix your house). Basically, all the relief that is going on – the gutting, the building, mowing lawns, passing out donations – is ALL ENTIRELY from the volunteers who go. And that’s why we’ve all got to get our asses down there.

It’s not as glamorous as Africa. It’s not as fun as Europe. But damn it, it’s our backyard. And it’s good people, thankful people. Broken people. They need us as much as anybody. And it’s awfully easy for us to get there. We really have no excuse.

So I guess I should send you to the org we worked with, who were wonderful: They run trips specifically for student groups (high school and mostly college) but I’m sure could put you in touch with groups that do families or individuals, or append you to a team. If you watch the videos, check out the one called “Dreams,” which shows the parish I worked in (St. Bernard, 100% homes destroyed, 100% businesses destroyed, we’re talking a whole county wiped out! Oh, plus 1 million gallons of oil spilled in their residential neighborhood, because the refinery refused to follow the rules of dumping it to save a buck).

OK I’ve got to go. The work was bad for my carpal tunnel so obviously typing isn’t good. This is just the beginning, I have a lot of stories to tell. It was amazing and awful. It was wonderful and terrible. I guess it was the best and worst of times! But I loved loved loved the students, they were amazing, and I loved the staff, and I met so many wonderful people and heard so many stories, and I even did a healing prayer on a person!! I did my best. And I am eternally grateful that this opportunity came up, and I will be a good steward of what I have learned. I promise.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

More advertising

So weird...somehow I got on a list of blogs for Pasadena. I guess since I'm a student at Fuller, a fairly visible presence in the community, it's helpful for others to see what's up at the seminary. But I'm probably not the most representative viewpoint! Anyway, with this new power (evil laugh) I will have to write some more about my town. Seems I have the ear of somebody who just lost the mayoral race. Woo hoo.

I've got to work on my paper now ("What is John Wesley's doctrine of salvation?") - but I promise NoLa stories will be coming very soon.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Keeping you entertained

This should keep ya'll going while I'm away...

(so awesome)

And we're off...again

Well for the second time in 3 weeks I'm off on a trip. This isn't the greatest timing - at least not while trying to hold down the internship, schoolwork, and a lot of part time work. But I couldn't miss this opportunity.

A blessed Holy Week to everyone. I am going to check out the Vigil at the Episcopal Cathedral in New Orleans. Sounds like it will be wonderful. And then upon my return I get to see a play by Furious Theatre Company, who produced the wonderful "Grace" that I raved about last fall. This time I'm going with our Drama & Faith class (I'm the TA) and we are then writing about/discussing (for me, grading) a comparison of the two experiences. How's that for a cool assignment??

Anyway, wish me luck with trying to sleep on the red eye tonight (usually I do not) or at least getting in some good contemplation time. I also have about 100 pages of Wesley to read before I get back so I can set to work writing a paper immediately upon my return. And I'm so far behind already in my Mystical Theology reading that I don't want to think about it! (at least J is taking that one with me, so he's been keeping up and I just read his margin notes which are terrifically thorough!)

Take care everyone, and I'll report from NO if I'm able or certainly upon my return.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Easter candy

Well I guess we'll have to continue settling for bunnies, since Chocolate Jesus isn't going to be shown after all.

I would write about this, because what a freaking awesome story to write about, but I am way behind on work. So I'm going to be Lazy Blogger and link to this blog that pretty much says everything I could think of (and a loooot more).

I should say, though, that I find the work beautiful and not offensive and its about damn time somebody admitted Jesus had a penis and wasn't white chocolate. Well maybe caramel.

Speaking of such art, we've gotten a few decent pics of our St. Francis (painted in chocolate, caramel, and Twix wrappers) since we're about to submit it to a gallery. What's interesting in this piece (done by one of John's students) is the same stuff that is interesting about the other: the juxtaposition of sticky sweet substances, cheap throwaway empty calories, with a person whose life was about real, solid substance, about finding what was real and valuable for the long haul.

But more than that (which was the artist's statement), John saw in it a redemption of those materials. Like when Johnny Cash sings a Duran Duran song, suddenly it has new meaning. When St. Francis is painted out of chocolate (or Jesus sculpted from it), who he is somehow elevates the materials beyond what they were. The chocolate doesn't demean these men, they lift the chocolate to a higher level of meaning. They give it worth. They make it valuable, beautiful, and real.

Which is pretty much what God does for any of us. Here's Francis: