29 April 2015

Cleaning someone else's dishes: another way of doing community

Last week, Matthijs and I stayed at friends of his in San Francisco. It was good, both the city and the  hospitality of Chris and Eva.

As I was cleaning up the dishes one night, I realized why I was enjoying this vacation in a different way than normal. Vacation is about getting to do things that we don't do as much as we'd like to, like exploring a new city, walking through beautiful nature, and spending lots of time talking to each other (about everything) over good food. Resting and getting away from normal life is thus an important part of how I understand vacation. At the same time, doing the dishes at their house reminded me of something I had also been missing: the easy intimacy and comfortable sense of community found in sharing (living) space. 

Doing the dishes felt symbolic both of sharing space and life together (Matthijs and I had helped wrap enchilladas for the dinner they were hosting the next day) and of having enough freedom to create and order the space in a way that fit me. The freedom was further extended to knowing that I could go to my room any time to read (or even read with them around) or skip out on the conversation to play/read with their daughter, Alma. It felt close without feeling forced or overwhelming.

Creating community - or perhaps better said, creating space where community can form - is part of my job as a campus minister. It seems strange thus to talk about it as something I miss, especially I do experience Campus Edge as having a strong community (even for me) and have started making friends. Yet, I still miss the natural intimacy that develops from living with others in intentional community. As I had met Chris and Eva only at our wedding, the sense of community was even more special, while also reinforcing my belief that gracious hospitality and sharing normal life together is more than enough to create good community.

Once again experiencing the joy and wonder of the community has reminded me how much I want that to be part of my life again, and soon. 

17 April 2015

Time for a vacation?

Last night as I was lying on bed, overly tired from the day, I told Matthijs that "I hate everybody." He proceeded to inform me that he didn't qualify as everybody, while simultaneously warning the cat about my mood. Have I mentioned recently that Matthijs is good for me?

And, of course, I don't hate everyone. The words are simply a way of expressing both my being overwhelmed and frustrated by the challenge of human beings in relation with each other. It's also my way of saying that I need some time alone, far enough away from others to recharge. 

It feels like my ability to recharge from caring for people and interacting with people's messiness has decreased in the last while. The "I'm finding it crazy hard to motivate myself to do what I should" mood has also increased in length and frequency. A vacation is definitely a good idea to replenish my energy and desires.

I come from a culture where we learned to "suck it up" and "live with it". To some degree, saying that I need a vacation feels selfish and even a bit frivolous. Lots of people don't or can't have vacation. After all, if you farm or have your own business, vacation is often exceptionally complicated, if it's even feasible. Having a fragile economic or political situation also makes vacation pretty difficult. So when so many people don't get vacation, why/how can I need one? The short answer is that I don't need one. 

At the same time, God gives gracious gifts, and for me that includes paid vacation. It's a blessing, a way to refresh my soul so that I might come back more able and open to doing ministry. The refreshing my soul is good, as my attitude makes a huge difference in ministry (for a comparison, see this article of how a dean's way of being affects everyone). I also am learning that it matters a lot that my spiritual life is in order (i.e., I definitely shouldn't hate everybody). I am not the only one to believe that, as this article on the pastor's personal holiness points out. 

It is not so much that how I am doing spiritually encourages and challenges those I lead, it is more that I can not pastor people well if I am not constantly turning myself towards God so that I can listen well, be humble, pray for and love those God has given me. When my turning towards God focuses too much on my own frustrations and tiredness, it's hard to turn to God with and on behalf of others.

04 April 2015

Holy Saturday: the not quite in-between day

Ever since reading, Alan E. Lewis's Between Cross and Resurrection: a Theology of Holy Saturday, I have deeply appreciated the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter. These words by Tish Harrison Warren capture some of the wisdom I found in that book:
"This day in Holy Week provides liturgical space for us, as a community, to recognize that because of Christ’s victory over emptiness and death on Sunday, we can sit patiently in ache, in ordinariness, in unresolve, in fallow times when God seems silent."
The rest of her article can be found at http://thewell.intervarsity.org/blog/holy-ordinary-saturday

Holy Saturday is for me a day to pause by the darkness of the resurrection that has not happened. On this day after the crucifixion, the initial shock would have worn off enough for the disciples to recognize that they have awoken to a world where everything they believed has shifted. It is a fitting day to remember and empathize with those whose faith is shifting and/or for whom the hope and joy of Easter feels absent.

To help you do that, Kathy Escobar does a wonderful job of writing about helping those whose faith is shifting: http://kathyescobar.com/2015/03/09/friends-of-faith-shifters-things-that-help-things-that-hurt/
Rachel Held Evans wrote a good article about the difficulty of Easter joy for those who doubt: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/holy-week-for-doubters.

The Reproaches of Good Friday

The end of the Good Friday service in the OudeKerk in Amsterdam would include the song: "Het Beklag van God" (God's complaint). I always found it powerful, although startling and a bit disturbing: the song asks how it is that we, God's people, would reject Him. As the songbook attributes the text to a rather well-known liberal Dutch songwriter (Huub Oosterhuis), I assumed that the song was uniquely Dutch: moving, provoking, and perhaps questionably orthodox. As much as the words reflected Scripture, it seemed to put words into God's mouth, which makes me uncomfortable.

I discovered today, though, that the Reproaches of God are actually an ancient text. Furthermore, the words are really from Scripture (Micah 6:3, Jeremiah 2:21, Isaiah 5:2 and 40 and more: see the Catholic Encyclopedia). Although the juxtaposition of these Old Testament texts to the context of Jesus' death is a bit unorthodox (and some have even argued that the words used in this way come across as anti-Semitic), I have found that juxtapositions often surprise us, causing us to see the text in a new way. I thus think it is worth hearing, reading, contemplating and sharing.

The following is the first part of the text (credit to be given to Jeffrey Pinyan):
"O my people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you?  Answer me!
For I brought you out of the land of Egypt,
but you brought out* a cross for your Savior.
Holy is God!  Holy and mighty!  Holy and immortal!
Have mercy upon us!
For I led you through the desert for forty years,
and fed you with manna,
and brought you into a land of plenty,
but you prepared* a cross for your Savior.
Holy is God!  Holy and mighty!  Holy and immortal!
Have mercy upon us!
What more should I have done for you, that I did not do?
Indeed, I planted you, my precious chosen vine,
but you have become terribly bitter to me.
Indeed, you gave me vinegar to drink in my thirst,
and have pierced your Savior’s side with a lance."
Follow this link for more of the text.

You can also listen to a Latin version of the text (the Improperia) on youtube.