Muse on a Monday

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The Hidden Clocks (Mon.11-9-15) by Iain Thomas in I Wrote This for You 2007-2017

“Don’t stop searching.

There is no comfort in giving up.

There are large parts of you that don’t exist yet.

The greatest you you could be, is still waiting to be found.

Get up and look.”[1]

Muse Profile

Who is Iain Thomas: Someone I discovered by accident. Poet, media artist, author.

Why This Person: Sometimes the books you need to read find you. Sometimes these books aren’t the ones you go looking for. #anewpoetfoundmeinTarget

Why this quote: Age 40 and breathing life into crucial parts of me that had almost melted away.

[1] Iain Thomas, I Wrote This for You: 2007-2017 (New York: Central Avenue Publishing, 2017).

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Muse on a Monday

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Today is the day a tiny baby arrived and offered hope to a broken world.

“What in God’s holy name do you do when it feels like you’re broken and cut up, and love has failed, and you’ve failed, and you feel like Somebody’s love has failed you?”[1]

“My dad had told me this once. For a seed to come fully into its own, it must become wholly undone. The shell must break open, its insides must come out, and everything must change. If you didn’t understand what life looks like, you might mistake it for complete destruction.”[2]

Muse Profile

Who is Ann Voskamp: Bestselling author, blogger, wife, mom.

Why This Person: Voskamp’s writing is lyrical and vulnerable.

Why these quotes:

As Christmas dawns, I find myself broken, raw edges exposed.
And yet, somewhere in my tender wounds, the promise of hope aches.

Not one thing in your life is more important than
figuring out how to live in the face of unspoken pain.”[3]

[1] Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life (Zondervan, 2016), 12.

[2] Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way, 26.

[3] Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way, 12.

Muse on a Monday

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“Again and again, decisions must be made as to small and large matters;

each one involves him in devious ways.

No one is free from the peculiar pressures of his own life.”

–Howard Thurman in Meditations of the Heart

Muse Profile

Who

Howard Thurman: Minister, Civil Rights Leader, Theologian

Why This Person

I was inspired by Thurman’s book, Jesus and the Disinherited, so I was excited when I saw this book of devotions compiled from Thurman’s life.

Why This Quote

This has been a semester of critical decision-making about
who I am, where I’m going, and with whom I journey.

Advent Reflection for First Year Seminarians

This fall I had the privilege of reading Scripture every week with a group of first year seminary students. They shared their firsts, and I watched them grow into confident proclaimers and oral interpreters of scripture. To be part of this birthing process is an honor. I am so proud of these students for making it through their first semester. I found a piece I’d written a year ago when I finished my first semester of seminary. I offer an adaptation here, in honor of first year seminary students everywhere. –AE  

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December 2016:  These days I find myself saying to others, “It’s been a harrowing semester.” It does not escape me that the only other time I described something as “harrowing” was following the unmedicated birth of my first child. Since it is Advent, it seems as good a time as any to reflect on my first semester of seminary in light of Mary’s journey to motherhood .

A brush of angel’s wings accompanied notification of my acceptance to seminary in February. I pinched myself in disbelief. After striving to be in seminary, on-campus, in-person, financials and family accounted for, for so long, I started to think it could never happen. I sat with my news awhile, unsure when to tell the masses. I shared gradually. Talking about it made it more real, even though, save for the acceptance letter, I had nothing yet to show; no parking permit, no ID badge, no Hebrew textbooks to lug around. And yet anticipation bore preparation. I savored last moments in order to pave the way for firsts. Time with children became more poignant. I took stock of my beliefs. I rested. I played. I prayed.

By September, parking permit affixed, ID in hand, weighted down with textbooks, I stopped pinching myself and believed my dream really was coming true. A few weeks into the semester, the pressure built.  Contractions of scholarly muscles intensified, no longer in fits, but in ongoing swells of labor. Betrayed, I cried out, pleading for the pain to subside. Forceful waves, already in motion, pulled me under against my will. No matter who held my hand, no matter how similar the cries from classmates, I felt alone. I had to figure out a way through. Finally, I succumbed, letting the leading edge of faith carve my body anew.

I focused my breath for the final pushes. When, just as suddenly as I was awash in the news of my seminary acceptance, the first semester was over.

I stare in disbelief at my dream for the future cradled in my arms. I gaze at it like a babe in swaddling clothes, my call all wrapped up in it, the agony of its birth gradually becoming a distant memory. I wonder who she’ll be. I hope her heart will reflect more God than the world, and pray for her journey ahead. I sit. I rock. I wait, humbled by the mystery of birth and becoming, and the mysterious transformation in between.

Gimme an M! F! A!

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Almost a year ago I attended a writer’s conference that made clear I’m meant to be both writer and pastor. Two months earlier when I started at Columbia Seminary, I thought it was one or the other. God’s call is rarely so simple, so I’ve spent the year since the conference trying to figure out how to live fully into both.

Recently, like a book being opened to the exact right passage, I found the field in ministry that speaks my language, Pastoral Theology. After much doubt my first year of seminary about my pastoral identity, I cry tears of joyous relief.

But what to do about that crazy idea that still cheers at the sidelines, its pompoms shaking as it shouts, “M! F! A!” ? Last year, I wanted to join its team. I was tempted to quit and pursue an M.F.A. degree. Certainly the loudest cheerleader must be God herself! But let’s be real—just because I’m in seminary doesn’t necessarily mean everything is a “God thing”!

What to do with these phantom cheerleaders? Better at least pay attention. When I see an MFA, I see uninterrupted time and an established structure to write. What does that tell me? That I’m not getting enough writing in my current situation. Not because I’m in seminary, but because I’m choosing to use seminary pressures as an excuse not to do even 20 minutes of writing each day—the kind of honest, hard-won writing that does not come in the form of papers or academic reflections, or rushed journal entries.

This realization shifts how I perceive God. Maybe God is speaking through phantom cheerleaders shouting “M! F! A!” But perhaps her message is not necessarily one that tells me what to do (quit and get an MFA), but is an enthusiastic attempt to spell out how I am or am not meeting my present needs.

Reluctantly, I get off the bench and leave behind by program of easy answers. On the field I stretch my muscles, preparing to do the practice and run the complicated plays that will help move me to the end goal of touching down in the future as both writer and pastor. In less than two days, I, too, will cheer—celebrating the complexity, challenge, and wonder of this call at the writer’s conference that pointed me in this mysterious direction a year ago.

The Writing Life of a Seminarian

e9a42464c14573fd513bce3883aa4c2dbyhotblackonmorguefileI’m at the midpoint of the fall semester next week. Which means I have my hands in many projects right now. I’m writing a lot, but the fruits of my work seem to be academic work, forms, communications, or journal entries.

I think that still counts. Here’s some excerpts of what I’ve written recently:

From an email, on discernment:

“Not really knowing what “practical theology” was when I began the Intro to Practical Theology course last summer, I was surprised to learn how well it fit with what I perceive as my pastoral identity. As I experienced the field of homiletics in the spring, I felt I was getting even closer to who I am. I am in Intro to Pastoral Care this fall, and I have finally discovered what I am! A pastoral theologian!! “

From my CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) application for a hospital chaplaincy internship, on vocational identity:

“One need that stems from my ministry and call is to know whether I am suited for ministry in contexts of suffering. The majority of my work until this point has been in “positive,” “growth-minded” contexts. Teaching, for example, focused on community building and learning outcomes, camp focused on fun and camaraderie, even children and youth ministry focused primarily on the good things that come from following God. Not that there wasn’t suffering. At camp, for example, I worked with staff members who suffered from mental illness, another who faced an unexpected pregnancy, and others devastated by the news of subway bombings in their London hometown. I worked with campers whose mom was in jail, others whose parents beat them, and another whose dad had terminal cancer. Reflecting on this, I suspect that my skills will transfer and I likely have already used many of them. Combined with fond memories of the pace and duties as a camp director—no day was ever the same…and I had to respond and think on my feet, which I loved—I think chaplaincy could very well be an important aspect of my future vocation.”

From my Committee on Preparation for Ministry annual review forms, on unexpected personal transformation:

“I am so immensely thankful that I ended up in the Atlanta area at Columbia Seminary, even though it’s not what I planned. The cultural shift from a suburban to metropolitan area and northern to southern United States locale is impacting me in subtle but profound ways. My views on race and justice have been cracked open. I’m being transformed. Not just because of the increased exposure I have to these issues on account of my geographical move, but because of the friendships and collegial relationships I’m developing with a great diversity of people among seminary colleagues and in the community.”

From my journal, on my reality right now:

“I never expected seminary to be such a testing ground.”

“I didn’t expect to feel so raw in seminary.”

From a poem I wrote about hope as flame, spark, smoke, and heat:

“…I dance,

a hope-fueled she-dragon,

breathing fire into a world

pregnant with longing.”

I hope you’re dancing, too. –-AE

 

 

 

 

 

A Child Says…

file0001628333441byiamagooatmorguefileI’ve been told that I can stretch the boundaries of people’s understanding or comfort. Last spring, after I preached a sermon using a vulture as a metaphor for disciple, I was advised to keep in mind that depending on my audience, I may need to scaffold listeners’ understanding for things that may rock their world. Maybe I’m just a naive judge of what will rock people’s worlds.

I’m still relatively new at my church, where I’ve been attending and working as their Sunday school teacher for about a month. The church is excited to have a relative abundance (thirteen!) of kids participating, ages 4-11, compared to recent past. The congregation and its leaders are trying to embrace this, and expand kids’ involvement to worship. For World Communion Sunday this past weekend, the kids played a special role in two parts of the liturgy, and I was asked to offer the Prayer of the People during worship.

I prayed and thought a lot about this before I wrote the prayer. There is so much to pray for these days! I thought about some of the worries the kids vocalized in just our first few gatherings together. I reflected on a visit to the Georgia Aquarium with my own kids. I prayed about the transition the church is in of figuring out how to more fully live into its perceived identity of offering a wide welcome to a diversity of people in a personable way. I recalled my participation in this majority-white church’s first intentional conversation about race following Charlottesville.  I reflected on how I am inspired by the interim minister’s leadership. I connected all that I’ve been reading in my seminary classes, particularly pastoral care. I thought about the conversations swirling at the seminary. I attended to news and current events. I tried to intuit how these things intersected with all the people around the world gathering to break bread together at God’s table. I prayed some more as I wrote and tweaked the prayer.

On World Communion Sunday, I prayed for the People of my congregation, from my heart.

There seemed to be a heightened alertness during most of the prayer. Following worship, I had flashbacks to the conversation from last spring. I received a few general, “I liked your prayer” comments following the service, but I also heard, in tones ranging from excitement to OMG, words like, “bold,” “fearless,” “yeah, pretty bold.” Or, “moments like these will help you grow.”

I didn’t feel like I prayed anything that earth shattering. I went where the Spirit led. Did I really misread my context? Was it bold? And if so, might that be okay?

What I do know is that the intersection of prayer, Spirit, people, and life during worship is a mysterious place. I am thankful to have the opportunity to enter this mystery. Join me. Let us pray:

A Child says,
“I hope the man who fell and broke his hip at the roller skating rink is okay.”

God, this life we lead is not easy.
For the everyday trials, accidents, and discomforts of life, we ask your presence and healing.

 

 A Child sits in front of a window into the world’s largest aquarium and says, “Whoa! Look how big that fish is! Daddy, look, a shark, a shark!”

God of light and dark, water and earth, we are in awe of your creation.
We are also at a loss in the wake of hurricanes, earthquakes, and fires.
Your earth and your people cry out.
We hear, God, but as you move mountains and waters, move us, oh God, to care for your creation. LORD, your love knows no bounds.
Let us show this boundless love in our response to your people in Puerto Rico and around the world who cry out for help.

 

 A child says,
“Some white people don’t like black people.”

Oh, LORD, we kneel before you, mourning for our sisters and brothers
who bear the physical and emotional wounds and scars of hate and oppression.
We lift up broken systems and institutions, lynched by nooses of white supremacy and greed.
In lifting them up, help us see how our own thoughts and actions support these structures,
so that we instead transform them in ways
that show black lives matter as much as they do to you.

 

A child says, “There are refugees here from Syria.”
A child asks, “What’s a refugee?”
A child responds, “People in wars.”
Another child adds, “Yes, they move because they are hurt, or hungry….or because of a hurricane.”

God, we mourn that people are on the move in this world because of horrors we can barely begin to comprehend. Remind us that we are all refugees from hate of our own making. As people of the Exodus, help us remember to love and care for all your people, even those who appear from places we don’t understand and who may not look, like, love, believe, or act like us.

 

A child asks,
“Why would refugees come here? We’re going to start World War 3!”

God, we admit that we fail at following Christ’s example of love and peace.  Forgive us oh LORD, for wielding words and weapons in a way that puts fear in the hearts of children and adults alike.

 

A child says,
“Yeah, there’s going to be a nuclear bomb!”

God of abundance, we thank you for your provision,
for the intelligence with which you’ve gifted us,
for the ability to imagine and build so many technologies with what you’ve provided.
Remind us of your ultimate authority.
Show us how to choose your way of peace.
Nurture the restraint of our world leaders, reveal to them the wisdom in using their positions for good not evil.

 

A child says,
“God loves us.”

We, along with millions of other Christians around the world, come to your table of grace today, bearing all of our imperfections, hurts, hopes and joy.
We meet at the Table because we have already been met and loved by you, a God who welcomes us to a table bigger and more abundant than we can imagine[1].
Let us come to this table with the open eyes, ears, and hearts of our children.

Amen.

This line adapted from: [1] de Jong, Patricia. “Unity Amidst Diversity.” First Church, Berkeley, CA. http://firstchurchberkeley.org/written-sermon/unity-amidst-diversity (accessed September 31, 2017).