30 June 2006

Sweet and Low.

I've been back in Atlanta since Sunday. Back from Austin, TX that is. I was there for the Excellence in Ministry sponsored by the Fund for Theological Education. The theme of the conference was "The Promise of Ministry" and it brought together nearly 150 would-be ministers all at different places on their particular paths towards figuring out how they are each called to work for and serve God.

It's been nearly a week since I returned. And it has taken me that long to really begin to digest what I experienced there--a task that has begun, but has hardly finished. I have been meaning for the past 5 days to write about it, but this conference was one of those times that one really doesn't know how to begin.

It was four days packed full of amazing preaching, friendships, discussions, prayer, and love. What is unique about all this is that hardly any of us knew one another before we arrived. We ate dinner that first night keenly aware of our denominational differences, but also realizing our two foundational commonalities: a calling and Christ.

Through the hours we spent together, we heard speakers that inspired, attended seminars that challenged, and participated in roundtable discussions that embraced. There is so much to tell about this weekend and the friendships made and the experiences had, so please don't be suprised when these stories pop up throughout subsequent. Here is the first.

The night before we left, there was a wonderful Taize' inspired worship service. Founded in 1940, the Taize' community is an ecumenical community that works to reconcile differences between Catholic and Protestant traditions. Through contemplative and purposeful prayer and song, participants are often able to find themselves on a common plane, a common call--Christ.

We had two hours for worship that Saturday night. Truth be known, I'm not sure any of us were particularly gung-ho about sitting in church for two hours..even if we all were considering ministry, but we filed into the chapel at Austin Theological Presbyterian Seminary at dusk to be greeted by the soft glow of a sanctuary filled with candle light. Around the windows were icons of Saints. Around the chapel itself there were stations for foot washing, prayer, and annointing. We were encouraged to follow the spirit in song, in prayer, and in interaction.

At first, things were awkward. No one was really thoroughly familiar with the process (excepting those who had been to the Taize' community in France), but as the night moved on, we all became comfortable. There was an air of reverence, of holy, of a sacred commonality in that space. We all came from different backgrounds, but Christ was there, and in Christ we were one.

Towards the end of the evening, there was a lull in the music and someone in the back hummed the first strains of Amazing Grace--sweet and low. The next line found itself actually being sung, followed by a small group singing the following line. Soon the entire chapel was softly echoing "was blind, but now I see." Soon the chapel was in full blown song--joyfully, sublimely alive with a song that seemed to express a common emotion and appreciation.

What happened next, though, was simply wonderful. We all finally reached the fourth verse.

When we've been there 10,000 years
Bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we first begun.

We bellowed the words full of joy and hope and appreciation and anticipation. Never have I heard such exultation in such a moving way. We sang it and we believed it. From there, some one started singing "Praise God" over and over to the tune of Amazing Grace.

That's about all we could say, that was all there was left to say. It was the only thing that could possibly sum up where we all were--all because of this amazing grace that brought us each there.


24 June 2006

Two things.

(+) believe the story

(+) love the people


23 June 2006

the pull and promise.

It is 6:45 in the morning. I've decided that I'm really not a huge fan of waking up in the morning, but that once I'm up, I really enjoy the solititude--the ability to be quiet, relax, and be. I think I might get that from my mother.

What's fascinating about this time is that somehow, if you let it, whatever is on your heart seems to rise to the surface. What I am reminded of and what still seems to be alive on mine was the miracle of yesterday. It was a completely full day (pretty typical for FTE, I'm learning), but what it offered to me was astounding. I was able to participate in workshops that enlightened and inspired, and listen to speechs and sermons that challenged, called and loved.

After receiving a renewed call to social justice by Father John Dear, my afternoon was filled with the reminders of graduate school applications. But then I was able to return to my roundtable. This group of 9 guys and a leader has become my base at the conference. They are funny, open, inspiring, and wonderful companions. Dinner followed. Then came worship.

At this conference there are multiple worship opportunities. Well, really, the whole conference is a form of worship which allows us to lift up one another and our experiences. This was the big worship service of the day, though. It was a Gospel service. We sang in community, celebrated, listened, then sat for the sermon. The Gospel text used for the service was that of the story of Christ calming the storm as the boat he and his disciples was on headed for the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Here's a brief summary of was the pastor (a pheonomenally energetic speaker) shared with us.

(1) We are all being pulled. Pulled to the other side. Called to do something. Inspired to touch.

(2) We need to search for a pattern of partnership, not competition. He reminded us that, in the vocation of ministry, it is easy to want to compete--to be number one on the charts. That's not the point, he claims, but rather it is to connect with other people, to partner with them to make it all more successful.

(3) The promise. We have the promise that if we decide to follow the call the we hear, someone will be blessed.



22 June 2006

The Promise of Ministry

Yesterday, I left for Austin, TX. After a somewhat bumpy ride (which had several would be ministers praying their hardest), I arrived at the Austin Airport, which, sadly, is hardly as big as I assumed it would be citing the very apparent Texan obsession with size. I made it to the UT campus (where I am staying in the largest dorm in the world. no lie.) and began to meet people.

I suppose I should first explain exactly what I am doing in Texas. In March I applied for a fellowship from an organization called The Fund for Theological Education. Well, much to my surprise and delight, I was given one of the fellowships. As part of the deal, I am required to attend a conference on Excellence in Ministry...which is in Texas...hence my reason to travel to the Lonestar state.

It is amazing.

I don't think I've ever been in a place with so many amazing young minds gathered together all alive with discussion and thrilled with the same opportunity that I feel like I am having. Granted there haven't been any fights yet (which I'm sure will come later down the line), but what has really amazed me is the ability of these 120 folks to come together with the single commonality of Christ and find fellowship, friendship and home.

Can't wait for today.


18 June 2006

Happy Father's Day, Pops.

So, I have decided that it is time to start updating my blog again. After what seems like an extended hiatus, I feel like it'll be nice to have the outlet once again.

I got home two Fridays ago after nearly 16 hours of traveling (which is way better than on the way over, so really, there aren't any complaints there) to be greeting by my two best "home" friends as well as my parents. After a quick detour to Chick-fil-a (the real one, the original) I made it to the home place, and then on to the one and only Speedy Pig BBQ which just about made my life.

The next day, the whole family made their way out to greet me which was nice.

The next week found me completely exhausted and sick. I think the stress of traveling (which is just part of the deal, whether or not you intend on it being involved), the extreme climate change, and just plain tired caught up with me and did me in. Two doctors appointments, lots of medications, and nearly a week later, here I am, finally feeling slightly under-the-weather, but overall, well.

But I think what has really done me good (like that grammar?) has been my parents. They have been wonderful. Nearly as glad to have me home as I am to be home. They have taken to my whims, allowed me to be bitter as I miss Copenhagen, and listened to innumerable stories that start with "One time, in Denmark..." What has become really apparent, however, is just how lucky I am that I have had this opportunity to cross the ocean and have my life changed. And it's all because of them. So thanks, y'all. It was great and completely worth it.

And Dad, I know this is Father's Day and such, so, at the risk of being too sappy, thanks for all the rides to Busey and Woodward in the mornings, for all the Pinewood Derby cars you helped carve, for the restless nights sleeping on rocks for Boy Scouts, for letting me play in your woodworking shop when I was really in the way, and for making sure I knew I mattered.

I won't forget it.

love. always.


10 June 2006

Welcome Home, son.

Home. Finally.

In some ways, my return to the states yesterday began on the day I left. You know how people say that the moment you are born, you begin to die? Same idea. The moment I left the states, I began my journey to return home.

My coming home was greatly anticipated by not just myself, but also my parents and close friends (two of which even made it out to the airport to greet me). I'm not sure whether it has lived up to its expectations or been a disapointment. I have certainly enjoyed my own bed. Internet Access, personal shower, etc. But there is also something plain about home. It is what it always was.

That being said, there is some new life here. Well, perhaps not new life, but newly discovered. Copenhagen and the people there and my experiences there opened me to a world which is so far beyond the one I knew before. But what it also did was it helped me to realize that there is so much more here. So much that we pass by everyday chalking it up to normalcy or boringness.

My 4 months studying and three weeks travelling taught me many things. Here are some of the lessons that I have learned off the top of my head.

(1) We don't look, we overlook. I initially read that phrase in a book and it became a mantra of sorts. I would think it over and over as I travelled to other countries or walked down the streets. Don't overlook. Detail. Pay Attention. All good things to do.

(2) Give to Beggars. You know, some friends of mine would see me give to beggars and would immediately offer the counsel that the people I donated to would "just buy alcohol with it." See, here is the problem with that mindset. It assumes people are bad. It automatically labels people as uncontrollable and unable to use money "wisely." Instead, we should give the benefit of the doubt. You could deny the money and thus alcohol. Or you could deny them money and help them starve.

(3) Public Transportation is Amazing.

(4) Always order food at an eatery if you sit down there during meal time and always finish what they put in front of you.

(5) "In everything keep trusting that God is with you, that God has given you companions for the journey." This was my guiding principle throughout this adventure. Looking back on my last five months, I realize that it's true--there are companions. You just have to search for them sometimes. Othertimes, the stick their heads out of windows above you like one did in Barcelona when my group and I were lost.

Just some thoughts.

I'm glad to be home. And even happier to be heading to bed.



01 June 2006

The Stars of France.

I have finally arrived in Barcelona and am preparing to meet up with a couple of Elon kids. I actually came into Spain yesterday and had some good alone time which really allowed me to reflect on some of the experiences I had in Nimes.

Firstly, I should say that I had orginally planned to stay in Nimes as a base camp of sorts--a central location for day trips throughout the Provence region. It functiioned as such, but it also allowed me to meet up with and connect to people I would have never even imagined meeting. From Fred the Dutchman to Ilka the German and Noel the Angry Brit, I had a colorful stay of singing, eating, travelling and growing.

I visited the markets in Arles, Ste. Maries del le Mer (where the bones of Mary Magdalene and a couple other Marys are), spent a lazy day in the fountain gardens, sung on the streets of Nimes for money (we made enough to cover one night of camping and my breakfast the next morning!), had late night bottles of wine and discussions with exceedingly interesting people, slept (a lot, which was great), visited Avignon where I randomly ran into an Elon friend and recent graduate, and simply had a marvelous time.

It was one of those times when you wonder why you decided to come to a place, and leave realizing that there was so much in store for you, that there was a reason and that that reason is still unfolding even after you have left the place that inspired it.

Despite a BAD sunburn, a 45 minute trek from the trainstation to the hostel, and the 6:31 am train from Nimes to Barcelona, I have yet to have more fun in Europe.

Oh, and my last night in Nimes, I remembered to look for the stars. Almost as pretty as home.