26 September 2007

Story Water

A story is like water
that you heat for your bath.

It takes messages between the fire
and your skin. it lets them meet,
and it cleans you!

Very few can sit down
in the middle of the fire itself
like a salamander or Abraham.
We need intermediaries.

A feeling of fullness comes,
but usually it takes some bread
to bring it.

Beauty surrounds us,
but usually we need to be walking
in a garden to know it.

The body itself is a screen
to shield and partially reveal
the light that's blazing
inside your presence.

Water, stories, the body,
all the things we do, are mediums
that hide and show what's hidden.

Study them,
and enjoy this being washed
with a secret we sometimes know,
and then not.

rumi, trans. Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi

23 September 2007

worship or sin speech?

I love Candler. I love the people, and the learning, and the praying. But most of all, I love the worship. I love that it has become part of my daily routine...class, worship, reading, work. It gives me a rythmn for my day, a reminder of why I'm here, and what I'm here to do.

Thursday, however, provided a different worship experience.

The Candler Evangelical Society was leading the service. I don't really know that much about CES. The only real interaction I've had with them was through their t-shirts. The shirts are brown with the UPS logo on the front, except it reads CES. On the back, it asks "Have you been delivered."

No, really. I know.

Personally, I have some major concerns with language like that, and the theology that grows from it. But, I realize that we each have different means for understanding God and Christ and how God and Christ interact in our lives. So, I let it go.
But the service they led on Thursday is becoming increasingly more difficult to let go.

I feel that I am pretty open minded to various forms of worship. I realize and honor the different ways that people access and praise God. That was not the issue here.

I think what concerned me the most was the fact that it filled every cliche' possible. We sang songs about our thirst for God, our hunger for the Divine. A little summer camp-y, but good, and a nice change of pace. Then we got to the text for the day--Romans 12. Just in case you need a reminder:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters,by the
mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and
acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to
this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may
discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

I couldn't believe it. Perhaps this is more of a UCC thing than anything else, but I have a really hard time with scripture like this, mostly because these are verses that plant the seeds of Christian hate speech. Taken by themselves, they seem relatively harmless, but with the right lens, suddenly we are swimming in the world of sin that surrounds us.

And that was exactly what the sermon was about--sin. In fact, at one point, the student preaching asked the gathered people if we had sinned last night, this past week. He refered to the blood of sacrifices in the "old days, " and how Paul doesn't want our literal blood, but our spiritual selves on the altar. Then, he broke cardinal preaching rule #1--Don't preach at, preach with. He began to tell us how during highschool, he hadn't conformed. He didn't drink or smoke or do drugs or have sex. He had one best friend; he didn't hang out with buddies.

Anyone have a snorkel, because just like that, we were swimming in the sea of sin, our own. "We're called to higher lives," he said. "Don't conform." I had to wonder if the words and theology his was preaching counted as conforming--conforming to language which gives people permission to judge, to hate, and to hurt.

I'm still not sure what to do with it.


19 September 2007

what i know...

Last spring, I took a class called Life Stories. The point of the class was to explore our lives up to that point, and look toward the future with anticipating eyes. At the end of the class, we had to take a favorite quotation, and explain what it meant to each of us in the context of our "life story." A classmate used this quotation: "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."

Today, during my ConEd site meeting, we had to read our reflection papers which we had written about our first visits. In mine, I expressed some worry that I didn't have enough training to do what I was being asked to do. I walk into hospital rooms, and introduce myself as a chaplain.

I have been in seminary for, count them--one..two--weeks.

Who am I to be anyone's chaplain.

With that being said, my supervisor made a good point. "You keep talking about the knowledge you think you lack....what do you know?"

I know how to love people. And how to relate to them. I know how to be scared of the unknown, like so many who find themselves in hospitals. I know how to pray. And how to sing. And how to find hope in the hopeless.

I know that God's will doesn't involve suffering--that sometimes bad things happen to good people. And that it sucks when that happens. I know I can't explain it all. I know I don't have to.

I know how to laugh. And how to help others laugh.

Maybe I'll start there.


18 September 2007

A Letter from Aunt Kathryn

This letter was written to me for the occasion of my baptism (in Baptist sense) or of my confirmation (in the Methodist faith I grew up in). It was written on the day I was born, and held until I was confirmed, at which time I was given the letter. I recently found it again, and somehow, it speaks more to me each and everyday day. Aunt Kathryn taught at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville (before it went crazy), and had a Ed.D. in Christian Education.

March 21, 1985

Dear Jonathan,

This letter is written on the day you were born. This is very nearly the happiest day of our lives in the Chapman family. We loved you even before you were born and now that you are present with us that love grows with each passing day. You are blessed with a wonderful Christian heritage and in the forthcoming years of your life you will hear all about that heritage. You will hear about George Colon Steed, "Mr. Georgia Baptist" who preached for years at Crawfordville Baptist Church and you will hear about Helen Steed Chapman, your grandmother and others who have been outstanding baptists. God has blessed us richly!

All of your life you have been moving to a time when you would make a commitment to Jesus Christ. Loving parents, a church family where you belong and all the friends who surround you have been praying that you would someday give your heart to Jesus. That day has come and I rejoice with you and with your parents. The future is bright as you continue to study your bible and pray that God will reveal to you what His plan is for your life. If you are faithful to God in the way you live your life it will be an abundant life that is filled with joy and peace. Today is a good beginning. My prayer is that God will bless you mightily and that you will come to know what it is like to seek the face of God.

God bless you, Jonathan, all the days of your life. you are a beloved son, a treasured grandson, and a nephew in whom I delight. You are loved!

With gratitude to God,
Aunt Kathryn

12 September 2007

You are Mine.

Wonderful chapel service yesterday. Here was one of my favorite songs:

I will come to you in the silence
I will lift you from all your fear
You will hear My voice
I claim you as My choice
Be still, and know I am near

I am hope for all who are hopeless
I am eyes for all who long to see
In the shadows of the night,
I will be your light
Come and rest in Me

Do not be afraid, I am with you
I have called you each by name
Come and follow Me
I will bring you home
I love you and you are mine

I am strength for all the despairing
Healing for the ones who dwell in shame
All the blind will see, the lame will all run free
And all will know My name

Do not be afraid, I am with you
I have called you each by name
Come and follow Me
I will bring you home
I love you and you are mine

I am the Word that leads all to freedom
I am the peace the world cannot give
I will call your name, embracing all your pain
Stand up, now, walk, and live

Do not be afraid, I am with you
I have called you each by name
Come and follow Me
I will bring you home
I love you and you are mine

10 September 2007

like a child

Today was my second visit to my Contextual Education (ConEd) site placement. I had visited Scottish Rite Children's hospital the Thursday before, but today was the day I was to start visiting patients.

My first duty was to watch three short films on child abuse, development and the hospital.

Then, after searching the hospital and finding my employee badge (which grants me access, etc), I met with my resident and made my way to my floor.

When I first learned that I would be at Scottish Rite, my heart sank. I didn't want to work with kids. The only real experience I had was with my baby (now 8 year old) cousin, O. And even then, she was family--it was different.

I didn't want my heart to be broken. When I told a friend this, she asked "why?" It seemed like a dumb question at first, but I thought about it, and answered her with this "Cancer is a horrible thing. But I can swallow it a little easier if someone has been smoking for fifty years than if they were five years old." I guess I'm afraid of the unexplained. More specifically of the undeserved (not that anyone deserves to suffer or be in pain).

Today, I visited with two families. My visits were brief (I was on a tight schedule today), but they went better than I had anticipated. The big question still looms--what are you supposed to say? What are you supposed to do? But at the end of the day, all you can do is be there and sit with them and chat and hope and pray.

And above all, remember that at our core, in our most central being, we are all like children--hopeful, scared, and all searching for a little fun along the way.


09 September 2007

redemption at stone mountain

Some seminary friends and I went to Stone Mountain on Saturday. Initially, we were going to drive up to Amicalola Falls north of Atlanta to hike around some, but we decided that while we were anxious to get out of the city into God's Country (nature, that is), we weren't anxious enough to get up at 830 am.

So, we opted for the far closer (but busier) Stone Mountain Park. When we arrived, we were greeted by a flood of vehicles, more than any of us thought would've been there. And, of course, there was a reason. The Yellow Daisy Festival was in town, and the park was brimming with visitors.

Anxious to avoid the crowds, we bypassed the festival parking, and stashed our car at the bottom of the walk-up trail.

As we made our way up the mountain, I was thinking about what Stone Mountain meant. For years it was meeting grounds for the KKK. In fact, in 1915, the KKK was resurrected on top of the mountain. I thought about the carving on the north face--three confederate leaders on their mounts. And I thought about how divisive the monument could be. It would certainly be easy to see it only as a memorial to the fallen South's most notrious attribute--slavery.

But I had to believe that it could mean more.

As we walked up the mountian, small children were running up its slope--excited to be on an adventure, intently and carelessly looking at every detail. The yellow daisies were in bloom, and the sun was out. And it became clear to me that things aren't always what they once were, that before it was a memorial, it was a mountain. And as such, it was a memorial to exactly that which redeems it (and us) and makes it new.

I was joking with my friends that I should've brought a Bible to re-enact the Sermon on the Mount on top of Stone Mountain. Later, I told another friend about that converstaion, and she expressed some concern that it might be offensive to do that.

I'm not sure how that works out. The Gospel is for everything, it finds redemption and renewel and grace in everything. It takes things that are offensive and hurtful, and transforms them into new and good things. And it's because of its past that it becomes the perfect place to read the Gospel, because in the end the Gospel is for the wretched.

During his "I Have a Dream" speach, MLK, Jr. exclaimed "let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georiga." Perhaps the way to let that happen, is for all of us to recognize the mountain's embarassing history, but then to look with new and fresh eyes toward a future of unity.

dirty becomes clean.
bad becomes good.
hate becomes love.


01 September 2007

Getting Oriented

I just finished up two days of Seminary orientation.

And I have to say I'm getting excited about starting. But that's not because of orientation. Well, not directly, at least.

I'm getting excited because I'm meeting people. Crazy people. Fun People. Out there people. And right in line people. And it feels good, and right.

Our first day of orientation involved dressing up for our contextual education (or ConEd) site placements. I have been placed as a Chaplain at Scottish Rite Children's Hospital. We met in our groups, after a dreadfully boring morning (even though they tried hard), and prepared to visit our sites.

Soon, people were piling into vans. Not us. Nope. We didn't get to go. I can't say that I can be particularly angry about this. I totally understand why. Not all of us had been cleared by employee health (we had to do TB tests, screenings, etc). And, to make sure we didn't put anyone in danger--particularly a "vulnerable population"--we became oriented at Candler.

I was a little disappointed. At first, I have to admit, I felt a little self-righteous. I had gotten my stuff together. I went and did the tests, and peed into the cups, and gotten stuck by needles, and filled out more forms. Why should I be held back?

But, as my friend E. says, be generous. And she's right. We ended up having a good conversation, getting to know each other, learning more about our placement, and going over some important stuff. So all was not lost.

The first day was followed by a shorter, but information-packed day. We took a library tour, heard from everyone under the sun, and had worship to end the day.

I really liked that. So often, worship is a routine thing (in the ordinary sense), but at seminary it becomes so much more than that. Starting a morning off with morning prayer focuses the mind on the day ahead, and the reason for the day ahead. Ending the work day with worship brings us back to square one. It was nice.

All of these past night have been spent meeting new people, hanging out, and wondering just what is ahead.

None of us know that answer yet.

But come Tuesday, when classes finally start, we might find the answer. Or, more likely, fall deeper into that question.

Happy Labor Day Weekend,