Sunday, April 13, 2014

Silence of the Erin: Weeks 5/6

I'm back!

I know I haven't posted in a while, but here's why:

  • I spent last weekend in Chicago at a leadership discernment conference put on by the Forum for Theological Exploration (more on that later)! As a result, I spent much of last week working ahead to defeat the pesky homeworks.
  • I'm giving a speech tomorrow for my public speaking class about why women should be allowed to preach, and have spent the past week researching it.
  • I'm going to study abroad in Argentina next semester! I learned of my acceptance a week later than what was originally promised, so I spent a considerable amount of time alternatively panicking and plotting a hostile takeover of the international studies center.
But now I'm back! All is well! The ministry has fallen! Wrong exclamation! Unless I'm really Kingsley Shacklebolt!

I'm not.

Easter is a week from today, which is weird. Classes will be over in two weeks, which is even weirder. I'm going to be living in a different country in almost three months, which is surreal. We saw a cockroach in our room earlier this week, which is unrelated (and terrifying).

Speaking of terror (and segues), last weekend it occurred to me that fear is a pretty significant interruption, so much so that it almost seems too cliche to mention.

But here we are.

I'm afraid of many things. My kids at camp all thought it was hilarious that I was afraid of butterflies, frogs, and horses, all of which exist in significant quantities at a camp in the middle of the woods.

In my defense,

A. I don't like things crawling on me. Like butterflies.

B. Have you ever seen a butterfly up close, on a kid's show that you weren't supposed to be watching but did anyway? I HAVE. Freakin' SpongeBob.

C. A frog jumped on me in the shower my first night at camp. The water was also cold. It was an unfortunate combination.

D. A horse makes scary noises and has huge teeth and scares seven-year old children who begged their parents to ride it, but then didn't actually know how to steer and didn't expect it to just start walking as soon as they sat in the saddle, and spent a good thirty seconds screaming as a result.

At the discernment conference, the central theme of the weekend was to discern God's call for our lives, and attempt to figure out how that then translated into a vocation. 

A vocation was defined as the place in which our passions meet the world's need, whether that be as a doctor, a teacher, a pastor, etc. 

The trick is trying to figure out what exactly that is.

On Saturday, Rev. Johnson told us that the thing that we're most afraid of is usually what we're called to do, which means I'm essentially doomed to be a horse-butterfly-frog hybrid of evil and amphibiousness. 

It'll be great. 

In all seriousness, this really got me thinking about what deeper fears I actually had, and what they could possibly mean.

The answer came to me surprisingly quickly (I see you, Holy Spirit), and made so much sense that I don't know why I never thought of it before.

My deepest fear is that I'll never be good enough.

That's why I worry about relationships so much: I'm afraid that I'll never be considered good enough to be in one.

That's why grades mean so much to me: failure, or anything less than perfection just confirms my fear that I'm not actually smart enough to be here.

That's why grace is simultaneously the most wonderful and difficult thing about faith for me: I don't have to be good enough for it.

The source of this fear is what's tricky.

My family is full of successful, hardworking, intelligent, encouraging, wonderful people whom I greatly admire and look up to. I was always encouraged to do my best, learn as much as I could, explore the world, and be curious.

The flip side to this is that a very high bar has been set for you, one that's completely based on your ability to meet certain standards of performance. 

There are no such things as accidents, or excuses; you just simply aren't good enough.

I remember being told that I wasn't smart enough to go to a particular school. I remember being called an idiot for accidentally ruining a Christmas surprise. 

I remember being warned that my driving privileges would be revoked if I didn't maintain certain grades. I remember basing much of my identity and worth on my ability to earn high grades and score well on tests, because that was what counted.

I'm still wrestling with breaking free from that now.

Read this with the knowledge that I was a pretty intense kid (and still am) who internalized, and no doubt exaggerated the significance of many things.

Read this also knowing that this doesn't mean these experiences are in any way untrue, or their impact invalid. 

Finally, read this knowing that my family loves me very much, has told me that they are proud of me on numerous occasions unrelated to school, and are my biggest supporters. 

However, they didn't always provide me with the best example of grace. 

Recently, I've become aware of two calls God has for my life: I want people to know that they are loved, and I want to make them laugh.

I've never been so sure of anything in my life, but the career center doesn't exactly work in love or laughter.

I'd been thinking that maybe I wanted to be a pastor to fulfill these calls because love is a such a HUGE part of their job, which, if done right (I think) will include a fair amount of laughter.

I love being in church, because that it where God's love is supposed to be especially concentrated. I love welcoming people into that atmosphere, and I love hearing their stories about how they got there.

I want my life to be about serving others and learning constantly. I want to help people. I want to make their lives a little easier. I want to make them smile.

Pastors get to do all of those things; they have the unique and special privilege of being part of people's spiritual lives, which trickle down into every other aspect of who they are.

It's humbling and awe-inspiring to be in a position of sharing God's love with others like that, of providing them with "ear-stuffable Jesus" as Nadia Bolz-Weber would say.

But what if I'm not good enough?

What if I'm actually a really sucky pastor? What if my church becomes embroiled in some church-politics meltdown? What if I do more harm than good? What if people don't think I'm funny?

What if they don't actually feel loved?

The sad part is that I took that fear, and labeled it as "God's will".

God obviously didn't intend for me to be a pastor if I'm having so many doubts about it! And yet, I couldn't shake the tiny suspicion in the back of my mind that this wasn't true. 

God is not the same as fear; in fact, God is the complete opposite of fear. Why? Because God is love, and perfect love casts out all fear.

Remember how I said that grace is simultaneously the most wonderful and frustrating part about faith for me?

It's both frustrating and wonderful that I don't have to be good enough for God to love me. I don't have to worry about my place in heaven being taken away because of a mistake, or the simple fact that I'm a flawed human.

Jesus's perfect sacrifice, which we'll remember on this Good Friday, makes up for all of my imperfections.

His wholeness and truth have invalidated my fear. It has no teeth, no weight, no merit. 

John 16:33 says, "'I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!'"

One of the girls in my small group told me that as a therapist, she had the same sorts of fears about not being good enough.

What was important to remember when faced with these fears was not only that you weren't good enough, but that you were never going to be.

"God not only uses our weaknesses," she said, "but joyfully does so to further His will."

She cited 2 Corinthians 12:10, "Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong."

Sometimes when I don't know how to pray for others, I pray that they would make choices that will make them happy and glorify God. 

I realized last weekend that I haven't been so good about taking my own advice thanks to this whole fear thing.

I also failed to realize that being happy and glorifying God are interrelated.

I would be happy as a pastor, living out my calls of love and laughter through the church. So long as I am seeking to fulfill these divine assignments with all my heart, then God will be glorified. 

It's as simple as that.

What I basically got out of last weekend was a God group hug composed of 70+ people from all over the country who were just as confused about their lives as I was, a group hug that told me not to be afraid.

God's calling for our lives is oftentimes much simpler than we think. The ultimate calling is to follow in His love, but how we choose to do so is up to us. 

My understanding of God's plan is that it's a bit like a choose-your-own-adventure book. Where you end up has already been decided, but you have a plethora of choices about how to get there. This isn't to say that God doesn't call us in particular directions, but merely that He's flexible.

The idea that we'll be able to screw up so much that God's entire plan will be for naught gives one of us way more credit than we deserve. 

I want to be a pastor. I know that I'm not good enough, but I know that that's also perfect working material for God.

I know that his grace is sufficient for my weakness. I know that His love is bigger than I am. I know that He'll be with me every step of the way.

Most importantly, I know that He is bigger than my fear.

I'll leave you with a Leonard Cohen lyric:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.







Friday, March 28, 2014

Silence of the Erin: Week 3

Thin Mints are always acceptable rewards for anything. 

Except when you can't open the box because it's been in your freezer for too long. 

Then they're doubly acceptable.


I admit that I don't know too much about World Vision, other than that it sponsors children in impoverished communities, and works to better the community itself in the process.

If you'd like to learn more, check out their website.

What I do know is that due to its changed hiring policy, many people began dropping their child-sponsorships.

The resulting backlash has been so negative that World Vision has now reversed its decision

That is distinctly unacceptable. 

I'm not here to start a debate about gay marriage. I support it because I think marriage should be available to all people who are committed to a lifelong relationship of love, regardless of their sexual orientation. 

If you disagree with me, that's fine. My understanding of Scripture may be different than yours, and that's okay. 

What's not okay is when we forget that it's not about us.

Who's really affected the most by World Vision's decision, when you get right down to it?

It's not the outraged Christians who can't tolerate the idea that maybe gay people deserve to be treated like people, or the equally outraged Christians who can't understand how their brethren keep missing that.

It's the children who were finally getting a chance to have a better future, who no longer have that opportunity thanks to bigotry and self-centeredness. 

Rachel Held Evans said it perfectly: Who's this child sponsorship about, anyway?

Are you sponsoring a child for the God points? Are you committing to having a relationship with someone you've never met, wherein you serve and love them as Christ taught, just for the warm and fuzzy feeling you get?

Does that opportunity to serve mean less to you than your personal prejudices? Are you serving to boost your ego, so that you'll have bragging rights? Is someone else's poverty just another vehicle to further the You Show?

Before we went on any mission trip, my youth pastor would always sit all of us down, look us in the eye, and say, "Remember, this trip is not about you."

This trip is not about you.

It's not about me.

This is something that's very hard for me to remember, and it's been on my mind a lot lately since I gave up interrupting.

One, not interrupting is incredibly difficult. Two, when you make a conscious effort not to, it gives you a moment to reflect on just how easy it is to make any conversation about you.

You find that you look for certain ways to tie yourself into whatever the person who's talking is saying, even if it requires a huge, illogical leap. You find that you aren't really listening so much as waiting for them to be finished so that you can jump in. You find that people notice when you do that, even if it's with just a slight change of tone.

I've been in a particularly me-centric mode all week.

I spent the weekend finishing a study abroad application that was due on Monday, registered for classes that I might not even take next semester on Wednesday (assuming the study abroad situation works out), and then have spent the past two days researching and outlining a speech that's due next Monday.

I've been extremely stressed out most days and haven't left my room after 7 at night since Monday. The sad part is that there's still more to do.

On Tuesday, I was telling God how stressed out I was about everything, and complaining about how I felt really distant from Him, which was super annoying because isn't the whole point of Lent supposed to be about getting closer, or something like that?

Out of nowhere, I heard the small, heart-whisper of It's not about you.

This was also annoying, because what the hell was it even supposed to mean?! I have to get up at 7 am to register for classes tomorrow, sir. What I could use is some inner peace and a good night's sleep, not an ego realignment. 

Worst prayer ever.

And also the best prayer ever, because it was so true, as much as I hate to admit it.

Even in the midst of everything that was going on, the reality of my life in Christ is that it's ultimately not about me at all; it's about Him.

Wesley does an event every semester called Share the Love. All that we do is camp out in the library
for a few hours with lemonade and water, and hand out bags of cookies with motivational Post-it notes taped to the front.

I say that that's all we do because people in the library are a dangerous breed.

The Earl Gregg Swem library is the epicenter of stress, nervous breakdowns, and communicable diseases on campus. The people who inhabit its walls, who we'll call Swemmers, are normally caffeinated, behind on sleep, and inherently irritable. 

First floor Swemmers are generally approachable, if not friendly. The first floor is where you go to do homework assignments that aren't so important that they require deep concentration, the reason being that people talk in a normal volume on the first floor.

Second floor Swemmers are less tolerant of sounds and other distractions. I turned my computer on up there once, and it was easily the loudest thing. Flip-flops are frowned upon on the second floor, but there will be no penalties imposed for their use. The second floor is where you go if you either have a lot of assignments that need to be done fairly efficiently, or you have a few that require a lot of focus.

Third floor Swemmers are the dangerous ones. Unlike the first two floors, where some noise is acceptable, the third floor is completely silent. People may glare at you for jingling keys on the second floor, but if you do so on the third floor, no one will find your body. Third floor people are in it for the long-haul; it's where you go to concentrate every last drop of your being into a single unwavering ray of focus, channeling all of your sleepless nights and general stress into one, perfect are they chewing gum?! 

With this in mind, library dwellers are inherently suspicious of anything that may cause a distraction of any kind, as well as outsiders who've invaded their sacred space.

When we stand by the door and say, "Free cookies and lemonade!" the initial reaction can go three ways.

One is total relief: "Thankyousomuchyoudon'tunderstandhowmuchIneededthisrightnowI'mwritingthispaperandugggh!"

Caution is found in the middle: "Thanks so much! Who are you all with?"

The last possibility is paranoia: "What is this for? Why are you doing this? What's the Wesley Foundation? Do I have to make a donation or something?" "Can I please have some lemonade?"

Why are you, someone I've never met, someone who doesn't look nearly as stressed out as I am, offering me free cookies? There must be some catch.

The answer we give is, "We're the Wesley Foundation, the United Methodist campus ministry, and we're doing this to share the love."

The response to this is always, "So...you're just doing this? Just because?"

To which we always say, "Yep, just spreading the love. The cookies on the left have nuts."

Then they get a really relieved smile, take a bag of cookies, look human for a few more seconds to thank us, and then skitter away. 

We hand out free cookies just because. 

We hand out free cookies because love doesn't care who you are. We hand out free cookies because Jesus called us to love our neighbors as ourselves. We hand out free cookies to our stressed out brothers and sisters because Jesus told us that whatever we do for the least among us, we do for Him. 

We hand out free cookies not to make ourselves look good. We hand out free cookies not so that we can feel good about ourselves. We hand out free cookies not because we're trying to get you to join the Wesley Foundation.

We hand out free cookies because it's not about us. It's about sharing the love of Christ indiscriminately with everyone we meet, regardless of who they are or where they've come from.

It's about letting God speak through chocolate chip cookies and lemonade, and not interrupting with ourselves. 









Thursday, March 20, 2014

Silence of the Erin: Week 2

Hi, friends! Happy first day of spring!
I'll explain in a minute.

On a somber note, you may have heard that Rev. Fred Phelps died last night. He was the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, an organization that preached extreme hatred and bigotry and called it "the gospel."

The WBC causes more than a few flinches and justified anger among more than a few groups of people, especially Christians.

Who is going to believe that God is love when people who are supposedly His followers picket soldiers' funerals with offensive anti-gay propaganda? 

Who is going to listen to the miracle of Jesus's sacrifice when people who claim to have a relationship with Him are preaching that God punishes homosexuality by killing those who died for their country?

How do you tell people that God loves everyone when Jews, gays, immigrants, and other minorities are ostracized by His followers?

Come on, Erin, he's just one guy from Kansas with a big mouth and hateful theology. He doesn't represent all Christians, or even begin to come close to the message of Christ. Who's really going to believe that all Christians are like that?

Many people, actually. If not a direct association with the WBC itself, then its theology, traces of which unfortunately show up in many of the churches that condemn such hatred. 

Hatred and prejudice go hand in hand, and have a way of self-replicating within both their progenitors and their targets, creating a perpetual cycle of strife and ignorance that shouts over that little voice asking, "What if?"

What if not everyone is like that? What if I've misunderstood? What if there's an angle to this that I'm not seeing? What if I don't actually know what I'm talking about? What if I'm simply wrong?

A brief note before I continue.

Please realize that the fact that Fred Phelps is dead is still a sad occasion for his family, and for humanity in general since we have lost a brother in Christ, regardless of whether or not you agreed with him. With this in mind, the last thing I want to do is sound crass, or as if I'm merely using his death to make point.

What I really want to talk about here is prejudice, which greatly transcends him; the news of his death is merely what crystallized this post for me.

Speaking of which, you may have noticed in my picture up yonder that I'm wearing a hijab, the traditional headscarf worn by some Muslim women. Here's another one to save you from scrolling: 

My hair looks less on the verge of escape in this one.
As part of Islam Awareness Week, all women (Muslim or not) were invited to wear the hijab on Tuesday, simply to experience what it was like. 

The hijab covers the head and neck, and is worn for modesty. Some women wear it, some don't. It's not a way to subjugate women; many wear it because they believe it is a religious mandate.

On an unrelated note, it's also very warm, and, I think, cooler-looking than a hat when it comes to keeping unruly hair in check.

What does this have to do with what I said earlier?

Off of the top of your head, how much do you know about Islam? 

Now take those facts, and really think about how many of them are based on verifiable data, and how many are based on prejudice. Cross off any facts associated with certain groups; what do you know about the actual religion itself?

When I first came into my Intro to Islam class this semester, here's what I thought I knew:

  • Fundamentalist Muslims were responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
  • Women are oppressed in Islam.
  • Who is this Allah character?
  • They don't eat pork.
  • Most of them live in the Middle East.
  • There's some thing about 72 virgins?
  • Their holy book is called the Quran.
  • They worship in mosques.
  • Mecca and Medina are important, right?
  • There's that Muhammad prophet dude. I think they like him.
  • Everyone thinks they're terrorists.
Some of these things are true, lots are assumptions, and most of them are simply based in ignorance.

Here are some things you should know about Islam:
  • Islam refers to the religious tradition established by the Prophet Muhammad, the followers of which are Muslims. The word islam means "submission to the will of God," and all who do that are muslim
  • What is God's will? To establish justice and mercy upon the earth.
  • You establish justice through jihad.
    • Jihad is NOT the same thing as war. It is NOT the same thing as terrorism. 
      • Jihad refers to the struggle to do the will of God, or the struggle to establish justice and compassion.
      • Terrorism (hiraba) is defined as the random killing of people to incite fear, and is not only forbidden, by condemned by Islam. In fact, it is punishable by death. 
      • Warfare, or lesser jihad, has very strict rules, namely that is must be declared by a legitimate ruler, it must come with a warning and/or invitation to a truce, non-combatants are not to be harmed, and property and natural resources are not to be destroyed.
  • The Quran is believed to have been revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel, and is seen not as usurping Jewish and Christian teachings, but adding onto and clarifying them, much like how Christians view the New Testament with reference to the Old.
  • Women and men are recognized as equal before God in the Quran. 
  • Polygamy was seen as a way to gradually end poverty by ensuring that women were taken care of and protected. The Quran actually encourages monogamy, and warns men not to marry more than one woman if they do not think that they will be able to treat them all fairly. The Quran also recognizes that you will ultimately not be able to do this, which is why it's only a temporary measure.
  • Some Muslims are Arabs, but not all Arabs are Muslims; an Arab is a geographic/ethnic distinction, not a religious one. The majority of Muslims actually live in Southeast Asia, while the majority of Arabs are Christian.
  • The 72 virgins bit is a lingering influence of Zoroastrianism. 
  • Islam recognizes the prophets and stories of Judaism and Christianity, but does not recognize Jesus as the Christ. Everyone will be ultimately be judged based on their intentions and struggle to establish justice, and no one can intervene on your behalf. On that note, no one really needs to since Islam also doesn't recognize the concept of original sin. You were born inherently good, with a purpose from God, meaning that you don't need someone else to save you. 
  • Allah refers to the one God, who can also be found in Judaism and Christianity.
  • The Quran forbids forced conversion. Islam is not recognized as the Truth (which is God), but merely a path to it. Religious freedom was a component of the earliest Muslim societies. 
To clarify, I'm not a scholar of Islam; all of the following things that I just told you came from a class I take twice a week for an hour and half. If you are in fact an expert, feel free to add on/clarify any of what I just said.

What I really wanted to get across was that the actions of one group do not speak to the entire religion as a whole. This group is often prevented from speaking because of how others like to interrupt, sometimes internally, sometimes from outside.

We interrupt with prejudice. We interrupt with ignorance. We interrupt with hatred. 

Not all Christians belong to the Westboro Baptist Church, and not all Muslims are terrorists.

These sounds like common sense, and almost condescending in its simplicity, but prejudice often talks louder than reason. 

Where is God's love heard? Where is the message of acceptance for all proclaimed? Lots of the time it's just a whisper. Many times you just have to shut up and listen. There's a wonderful verse in 1 Kings that describes an encounter Elijah has with God:

"Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?' He answered, 'I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.'
He said, 'Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.' Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then came a voice that said to him, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?'"
~ 1 Kings 19:9-13 
Sometimes silence is where God's love is heard.

Silence as we listen to the views of others. Silence as we seek to learn more in order to understand, not to discount.

When we interrupt from prejudice, we just sound awful, like nails on a chalkboard. The very first verse of 1 Corinthians 13, that famous chapter on love, says:

"If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."
 I'd rather not be either.

To Fred Phelps's family, I'm deeply sorry for your loss, and I pray that God will surround you with love and peace during this time.

I pray also that those who were hurt by his ministry would be filled not with vengeance, but with a desire to heal, through love, the damage he and his followers have done.

As for prejudice, whether towards Muslims, gay people, soldiers, or anyone else that we disagree with, help us to remember that love doesn't care who we like or dislike. Love is bigger than all of our petty squabbles or complaints, and sometimes legitimate squabbles and complaints, and part of love is simply listening.

Even if we still disagree after listening openly, may we still act in love, with You as our example, Father.

Amen

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Silence of the Erin: Week 1

It's that time of the....Lent again.
Wednesdays, man.

You know...intros.

Welcome to my Lenten blogpost series thingy! As you may or now know, I've given up interrupting, and committed to reading my Bible every morning, journaling every night, and giving you weekly updates about how that's all going.

If you want more information about why I picked these specific things and/or Lent in general, check out my original post.

This week I'm specifically going to focus on the Bible-reading and interruption-quelling efforts so that I can deploy Operation: SLEEEEEEEP at a time before 1:30 a.m.

So. Let's get to it.

On the biblical front, Jeremiah isn't the cheeriest guy to sit down with first thing in the morning, but it's almost like taking a vitamin: it tastes pretty gross, but you're grateful for its benefits in the long run. Personally, I think I'd still have issues with Jeremiah, even if he was grape flavored and chewy, but forcing myself to interact with him every morning definitely gives me a sense of peace as I go into my day.

How can it possibly, you ask?

As much as the seemingly unfriendly and oppressive God vibes turn me off to Jeremiah, the fact that I get those vibes in the first place means there's something there worth exploring. To throw another simile at you, it's a bit like exercising: I hate it for the vast majority of the time I'm doing it, but I know that it's good for me.

Reading Scripture that makes me angry or uncomfortable opens up an opportunity for dialogue (or angry rants) with God about why that is, and also raises the possibility that there's either more to the text than I'm reading into it, or I'm not reading into it enough to see what's really there.

If nothing I read makes me uneasy in some way, than that's a sure sign that I'm missing something. So while I don't like Jeremiah very much (I'll explain more about why at some point), the fact that I spend my mornings wrestling with the text makes me feel fortified for the rest of the day, if that makes any sense.

Look, I just had an angry conversation with God this morning. YOU CANNOT FAZE ME.

If all of that's not an encouraging way to look at reading Scripture, I don't know what is!

As for the not interrupting....I kind of suck at it. I always realize that I'm doing it after I've already interrupted someone in the middle of their conversation, which is particularly annoying.

There have been small victories, though.

If I specifically ask people not to let me interrupt them, that makes it easier to to rein myself in. The cool thing is that they'll also (usually) make a more concentrated effort not to interrupt me when it's my turn to talk.

I've also learned that sometimes interrupting has nothing to do with talking out of turn; it can be a presence thing.

The weather gods have been smiling upon Williamsburg for the past few days, and because Tuesday was particularly beautiful, I went for a run in colonial Williamsburg, and then hung out in the sunken gardens to do circuits (ab/arm/leg exercises).

My playlist ended right about the same time that I was finishing up, and I was about to turn something else on while I stretched, but a God poke of sorts beamed Listen my way.

So for a few minutes I just sat in the middle of the sunken gardens, listening to the people laughing and talking around me, feeling the air getting slightly colder as the sun started to set, noticing how blue the sky was, and the way the sunlight reflected off the buildings.

That was it.

Nothing major aside from sitting still for a few minutes and looking around me. It was strangely peaceful, and the funny thing is that moments like these are always when I feel the closest to God. What's funny--in a sad sort of way--is that I hardly ever take the time to just be in said moments; I'm always so busy filling them up with my trivial chatter and constant planning for the future and Maroon 5.

Sometimes it's easier to think of yourself as an island instead of a puzzle piece, by which I mean it's easy to focus on what's swimming around in your immediate waters instead of how you fit into the entire ocean.

When we forget that, our presence is like an interruption. God is speaking all around us if we'll only stop to listen. We should try to be part of the tune He's humming, instead of breaking in with our own guitar solo.

The same is true of interrupting others. God is undoubtedly speaking through them in some way, regardless of how mundane the conversation may appear. They're part of the tune too, with their own unique sound that God made just for them. This, by definition, makes them worthy of being heard.

If only I could internalize that better!!

And that's what's been poking me since Ash Wednesday. Until next time, happy Lent-ing!






Tuesday, March 4, 2014

LENT

Did you know that Lent starts tomorrow? I didn't until this afternoon, which is also when all of the fuss about Mardi Gras finally began to make sense. 

I'm hip with the times, yo.

If you didn't already know, this blog was started as part of my lenten effort to give up negativity last year, so this moment is oh, so nostalgic. If you're curious, you can check out my daily posts from February/March of last year.

Only if you're curious. And if you're into bad writing. Or both.

OTHERWISE, here are some quick facts about Lent:

- It's not just a Catholic thing. I think Catholics have much more regulations regarding what goes on during Lent, but seeing as it's a time to commemorate the 40 days that Jesus fasted in the desert, and seeing as Jesus is kind of big deal for most Christians, it applies to everyone. 

- You don't have to celebrate Lent, and some people don't. One of my friends didn't even know what Lent was last year. It's not technically mandated in Scripture, so everyone kind of has their own take on it. You can find out more about how specific denominations view Lent here

- You fast during Lent. This can be with a food, or with something like Facebook. The idea (from what I understand) is not just to give up something in commemoration of Jesus's own temptation, but also to use the extra time and energy to grow closer to God. This is why some people also take on activities during Lent, such as Scriptural studies, or more time spent in prayer. It's really a personal thing between you and God when it all comes down to it.

- Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent (also not just a Catholic thing), Maundy Thursday (commemoration of the last supper) is the end. Lent lasts for 40 days, not including Sundays. 

- If you want more information, go back and click on any/all of the hyperlinks I included above.

So. Lent.

This year I've decided to give up interrupting. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people don't listen to what I say, jump in before I'm finished, and/or don't actually listen to what I've said because they're too busy coming up with a response.

These things drive me crazy, and yet I still find myself doing them to other people. I don't like that.

I'm also particularly adept at always turning conversations back to revolve around me, and I'm hoping that becoming a better listener will help with that. It's funny how the traits you hate most in other people can turn out to be your own worst flaws as well. 

If you're reading this and happen to know me, don't let me interrupt when you talk to me. You deserve to be heard fully and completely. 

In addition to this, I'm also going to make a point to read my Bible every morning before I check the weather, as well as how many people still haven't liked my riveting status from the night before. 

Thirdly, I'm going to start journaling again. I had a prayer journal for most of last year, and it was amazing how much closer to God I felt just by writing down my prayer requests. It was also especially fun to go back and see how they were answered later on. 

Each week I'll plan on having a blog post about how everything's going, both for accountability and retrospective humor purposes.

To sum it all up, from now until April 17, I will be:

- Interruption-free
- Hanging out with God before I scroll through pictures of puppies
- Prayer-logging
- Summary-of-week blogging

If you have a moment, please pray for me! I'm an extremely self-centered person, so while this will be good for me, it will also be very difficult. Which is good. But annoying.

Until next time, happy Lent-ing!

 



Friday, February 28, 2014

Lurv

Wow. It's been....forever.

How've you been? How's the wife? Did Frank lose any more teeth? How're the folks? Don't you hate it when hand lotion makes your skin tingle?

Love. That's what's been percolating around my brain lately.


This is my percolating face.

Here is something that happened to me: 

One of my friends tagged me in a Valentine's Day survey that asked me questions of which I have no knowledge of, like when it becomes a date (if it's on a calendar), or what's in a kiss (preferably no backwash), and what love was.

Good question.

Here is something else that happened to me:

At small group, we were discussing what people at school were thirsty for, like success, purpose, fun, and love. Someone mentioned that lots of people are driven by a need for success, especially at a place like William and Mary.

Someone else said, "Yeah, like Erin loves homework!" It was followed up by, "I mean, if you had time for a boyfriend, we would support you!"

What is love?

Here's a memory from last spring/summer:

One of my campus ministries was the only one that showed up at a gay pride festival to offer support. My other campus ministry had an entire segment of small group leader training dedicated to how to interact with a student who is "struggling with homosexual thoughts."

What is love?

Here's an episode from the not too distant past:

One of my friends always has a boyfriend. I never have. She was single for a little while, and thought it was the worst thing in the world. She informed me, "Erin, boys are not important. They take up a lot of time, and you have a lot of Spanish homework."

It's what you love, you know?

What is love?

Here's something that happened to me this month:

The South African ambassador to the U.S. gave a talk during Interfaith Harmony Week about how dangerous it is when different religious traditions claim that they have the sole rights to the Truth at the expense of others.

Nadia Bolz-Weber told us that she was Lutheran because it was true to her experiences. She said that our particularities are important parts of faith, because everyone experiences truth in a different way.

One of my friends asked if I was one of "those people" who thought there was truth in every tradition.

What is love?

Here's a high school memory:

I asked one of my friends why I didn't have a boyfriend, and she told me it was because I was intimidating. Fast forward to now: People still agree with this.

What is love?

Here's something that happened to me last year:

I used to go to a church right across the street from school. It was beautiful and cold. The ceilings were high, the pulpit ornate, and the people only smiled once a month when we passed the Peace of Christ.

What is love?

Here's something that happened to me this summer:

One of my campers came over and hugged me on one sunny afternoon by the lake. I asked him what I'd done to deserve that, and he shrugged and smiled in that way that only a seven year old can and said, "Just because."

What is love?

Here's what happened at my first small group:

I mentioned that I was involved with another campus ministry, to which someone immediately replied, "Is that the gay friendly one?"

What is love?

Here's something that happened to me today:

A conductor on the train asked if I needed help with my bags, and then proceeded to move them to the front of the train for me, while I was still seated with ten minutes until my station.

What is love?

Thomas Merton said, "The beginning of love is the will to let those who we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them."

On the survey, I said that love was giving someone permission to be imperfect.

Sure, you can divide love in categories (brotherly, agape, familial, erotic), but I think the basic principle remains the same.

In order:

Factors of Appeal

I do not love homework. Homework requires me to be perfect by definition. Quite frankly, I hate homework. It's time-consuming and energy-draining and monotonous.

What I love is learning. Learning sees my imperfections, and seeks to constantly make them better, newer, fuller.

The beauty of it is that it's something I can do over and over again, for there's always more to absorb. I'm always doing homework because I'm always trying to learn more. And also because I have an extremely high degree of responsibility that requires me to fulfill all of my outstanding duties before I do anything else.

And also because I hate fun.

If no guy can accept that I love to learn, then I don't think my time is wasted, and neither is his. It's a win-win.

Also, when I asked someone else if I was intimidating, I was told that I was because I was pretty, smart, and blunt. At no point was I ever told to change those qualities in order to be accepted.

That's not what love is.

My understanding of romantic love is that in giving someone permission to be imperfect, said minor flaws eventually just become parts of the overall masterpiece, for if love isn't stronger than these character bruises, than it isn't love.

Granted, this doesn't mean that you should allow someone to treat you badly under the guise of "love." Giving someone permission to be imperfect doesn't mean that you give them permission to be cruel.

Acceptance

If people have to meet certain standards in order to be loved, that's affection when sugarcoated, control in reality.

If people are treated like less than human because of some perceived irreconcilable difference, that's bigotry, not "tough love."

If the promise of the gospel comes with prerequisites, that's violating the cross and not understanding it.

If we build up our version of God to be the only correct one, then we do Him a gross disservice by turning him into a shrinky-dink deity, who thinks exactly like we do.

That's not what God does for us. That's not what He is.

The real Truth is that He's so much bigger than us, and He loves us more than we could possibly imagine.

He knows that we will never be perfect, but loves us anyway. He knows that we'll continually fail, but in His grace, we don't have to be defined by our screw-ups. He is our Perfection. We are simply His.

And that means all of us.

The Body

If you know the Casting Crowns song in word but not in deed, stop for a minute to ask yourself if you're really being Christ's hands and feet, and not His ingrown toenail.

A lack of hospitality makes people feel as though they've already failed in some way. Love doesn't do that.

In Practice

Love is just because. And that's because it's a verb.

And that's what I've been thinking about for the month or so since I last posted. It wasn't meant to sound so rantish; interpret it as you will.

Until next time!



Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Water Wings

I've been trying to write this post for quite some time now, but haven't actually had any luck in getting my thoughts to coagulate until recently. Last night, to be specific. As I was falling asleep. This may explain a few things later on,

Throughout my life thus far, I can recall four defining moments where God has crashed into my life. I'm not sure what metaphor to use for that here, because it's an experience with the explosive power of a meteor strike, the surging of a tidal wave, and the unpredictability of Luke blowing up the Death Star from the inside.

It's always unexpected, forceful, and always strangely peaceful. They're wonderful moments of clarity that I wish could make up my entire life. I guess that's why I keep coming back to this Jesus guy.

The first moment was last summer at Rockbridge, when I realized that I was the one trying to control God, instead of the other way around. It's impossible for me to earn my way into heaven, when Jesus's sacrifice is the only thing that can even bring me close. And that's wonderful.

The second was during my first week as a camp counselor, when I learned that I also wasn't really in control of my life. At all.

The third was also during my first week at camp, when I learned that I'm incapable of loving everyone (or anyone really) as they need to be. Only God can do that; the most I can do is be a willing vessel.

The fourth lesson I've learned rather recently, which is that I'll never be satisfied living for myself. Pursuing things that I can tangibly control may give me a sense of comfort, but they won't actually make me happy.

Living for God, offering everything I have and am to Him, seeking to be filled with His love and sharing it with everyone I meet, trusting that He is good even when everything else seems to argue against it, that's where I'll find fulfillment.

It won't always make me happy, but it'll bring me joy. It may be incredibly scary to put your life in the hands of this entity that you can't see, but somehow trust, but it's better than trying to run everything on your own.

I'm starting to realize that satisfaction, that deep feeling of completeness and peace, and happiness, that fleeting sensation that you have to continually work to maintain, are two different things.

It's sort of like those little kids you see at the pool, standing on the side and fidgeting while their parent(s) try to get them to jump in.

Said parent is usually swimming around and smiling and assuring the kid that it'll be fun, but the kid never seems to buy it.

The pool is huge and there are all these people around and the water might be cold and it looks so deep and what if I sink?

The funny part is that the kid is always wearing water wings. They can't sink, at least not too much. This is something their parent always tells them, but kid logic isn't fooled by these illusions.

The water wings are just there to keep them from making the farting noises with their armpits. That's why mom looked so excited to put them on.

I feel like that kid a lot of the time when it comes to my faith.

I've got Holy Spirit water wings to keep me afloat, endless guardian angel lifeguards, and a savior who can freakin' walk on water, for goodness sake, and yet it's still terrifying to jump into the pool.

The uncertainty is too much, and so I'd rather just hide under my towel, or stay in the wading area.

At camp, each kid had to pass a swim test to be able to go in the deep end. They had to tread water for a minute, and then swim from one end of the pool to the other (width wise).

Some kids did it easily, but other kids just couldn't.

I remember a little girl who made it from one end of the pool to the other without a problem, but started sobbing when she heard that she had to swim back.

"I can't, I can't, I don't want to do this anymore!" she kept saying. The lifeguard said, "That's okay, honey, you'll just have to stay in the shallow end. We can always try again later in the week."

I think it's really easy to forget that we always have second chances when it comes to living for God. We get so caught up in how hard it was the first time around that we back off permanently.

We forget how good it feels to swim when all we think about is how we might sink. We forget that we're not alone.

As counselors, we would tread water with our kids, and cheer them on as they swam. The lifeguards would jump in the pool with the kids when their shifts were over. Sometimes members of the support staff would come down just to hang out.

Most importantly, we forget who we're swimming to. We forget that we have a God who calms storms, parts seas, walks on water, and conquers death. We forget that sinking can sometimes bring us closer to Him, that we're not judged on how well we can swim, but on our continued efforts to jump back in.

What I've been trying to do lately is get better at jumping in, even if it's just with little things, like committing this blog post to God, or surrendering feelings of stress.

I still have a long way to go, probably at least a lifetime, but it feels good. Jumping in is scary, but I always feel better when I do. The trick is learning how to stay in the pool more.

Learning that the act of learning is a journey in and of itself is half of the battle.

And that's where I am on this snowy Wednesday evening.

Give your water wings a try for me; I'll see you in the pool : )