Things We've Learned Living in The South

We've officially been living in Georgia for a year now. Here are a few things we've learned living in this new region. 

  • “Y’all” is a great term. We’ve started saying it, and bonus: it is gender inclusive.

  • Bugs aren’t in your home because you’re dirty, they’re there because it’s The South.

  • Most people “do church” with people who look and think exactly like themselves.

  • Yard sales start way later in the day. No more 5 am early birds.

  • There are film sets everywhere but celebrities nowhere.

  • What neighborhood you choose to live in says something about you. Missional living matters.

  • Helping people is often inconvenient and uncomfortable, because that is when people need help. In those places God helps you as you help others.

  • You can use less water in the shower than you’re using. And less toothpaste.

  • People from other parts of the country don’t necessarily like people from California.

  • Hushpuppies are a food. And they are delicious.

  • It rains. A lot. There is much to be learned from the seasons.

Keep following the blog for more updates on our life and more devotional thoughts!

Top Read: Searching for Sunday

Do you ever start quoting something without realizing it? I often find myself in conversation referencing some story I heard/read/watched recently (often on NPR). And lately, many of my references seem to come from Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans. Whether it was a conversation in the classroom, catching up with a good friend, or debriefing a sermon, I kept coming back to this book. Each section, structured about the seven sacraments, resonated with me in a unique and vibrant way. Even as I flipped back through to find some earmarked quotes, I was reminded again of the sheer beauty of her writing and instantly wanted to re-read from page one.

Rachel opens the book by noting how she often gets asked about why “Millennials” are leaving the church. I get asked this too, and have talked about it extensively in my Sunday school class, at seminary, and with friends. I appreciate that Rachel doesn’t attempt to resolve this issue or offer a one size fits all solution. Instead, she gives us an honest glimpse into her faith journey. She confesses the doubts, the hurts, and the joys of faith without making this book about herself. The chapters that dip into memoir do so in a way that allows readers to connect with her story and relate it to their own journey.

I didn’t grow up in a fundamentalist Baptist church - but I can connect to the stories of youth group culture and feeling the pressure to prove my Christian identity by behavior and “right” dogma.  I didn’t leave my church over theological changes - but I connect to the struggle of not falling in line with the dominant belief system. I don’t attend an Episcopal church - but I connect to the ways she’s found God present in sacramental ways.

Coming to seminary, the “get-to-know-you” questions are name, home, and denomination. All three of these have changed for me over the years. My name changed after a beautiful ceremony under a tree nearly 5 years ago. My home has changed most recently as I drove across the country from beaches to peaches, and I struggle to find a succinct way to explain how Minnesota, Arizona, and San Diego are all home to me. And that third one has three answers too. While I can currently tell people I’m part of the Church of the Nazarene (and happy to be pursuing ordination in a tradition that has always ordained women!), I still can’t leave behind how I grew up Catholic and came to know Christ in a non-denominational church. Much like Rachel’s transitions, I can’t leave any of them behind. They shaped me and continue to mold me. She writes, “I realize I can no more break up with my religious heritage than I can with my parents...as long as I have an investment in the church universal I have an investment in the community that first introduced me to Jesus” (page 221).

The church is beautiful. And complicated.

Rachel writes, “A worldwide movement of more than two billion people reaching every continent and spanning thousands of cultures for over two thousand years can’t expect homogeneity. And the notion that a single tradition owns the lockbox on truth is laughable, especially when the truth we’re talking about is God" (page 183).

Furthermore, having moved across the country from our wonderful home church, Jared and I are in a season of visiting and exploring all types of churches. This search has been enlightening, engaging, and sometimes frustrating. We won’t all agree on every tenet of faith. We won’t all agree on how to live it out. But we are called into the community where we feast on the body and blood of Jesus together and figure it out from there.

The table teaches us that faith isn’t about being right or good or in agreement. Faith is about feeding and being fed.
— Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

Order a copy today: www.searchingforsunday.com

Beauty for Ashes

By now, most of us realize that sex-trafficking is a major issue today. Many of us have learned that it happens in our own neighborhoods. But few of us know how to respond, how to help, how to offer hope. 

This is a tangible way to join the fight against human trafficking. 

Many women are trapped in cycles of trafficking because there is little hope offered for an alternative future. It can be extremely difficult to leave what seems like your only option for money and search for a job when you have little to put on your resume. It's additionally challenging to recover from the mental and spiritual damage that was inflicted. Women escaping sex trafficking often lack two important things - a community and an education. 

This is a chance to give help where it's needed most. 

Point Loma Nazarene University has long been a voice for justice and addressed the issue of human trafficking. Now they've created the first ever university scholarship for survivors of human trafficking. This was the school we graduated from, the place that gave us community, spiritual encouragement, and a beneficial education. We can both testify to the beauty in this place. 

This is an opportunity to extend that beauty of community and education. 

Donate now to the Beauty for Ashes campaign, and contribute to the long-term rehabilitation for a survivor of sex-trafficking. This is a direct impact on the life of one survivor, which will lead to an increasing impact on our world. 

Scripture: Isaiah 61:1-3 (NLT)

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,
    for the Lord has anointed me
    to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
    and to proclaim that captives will be released
    and prisoners will be freed.
He has sent me to tell those who mourn
    that the time of the Lord’s favor has come,
    and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.
To all who mourn in Israel,
    he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
    festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
    that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

Further Exploration: 

Lean more about human trafficking at www.abolishhumantrafficking.com

The Beauty for Ashes Campaign Website & Facebook page

 "Securing the resources to fund a college education can seem impossible to a survivor. We don't think it should be....The money raised from this campaign will go to support the education of survivors of human trafficking. We look at it this way - an education in the loving, academically challenging and carefully mentored environment of a Christian university can take someone from Victim to Survivor to Thriver.

Press about the scholarship

Living on Cheerios and Bananas

Across the street lives a caterer, which makes for the best kind of neighbor. Knowing we were new to the area, she brought over armfuls of Southern food "for us Northerners to try." Thus far in my life, Collard greens and Brunswick stew have not been staples in my diet. I don't dislike these new foods, but I've grown accustomed to the meals I'm comfortable cooking. 

bananas.jpg

How often do we rely on the Scriptures that feel familiar? I fall back on Ephesians 3 and John 15 as my diet of God's Word, often to the neglect of the books that feel unfamiliar. Deuteronomy may be the collard greens - different but recognizable. But Habbakuk? Might as well be a fried tarantula. (Yes, that is served in parts of the world). 

Paul tells the Corinthians that they were first given spiritual milk, before moving on to solid food. Yet I often move on to solid food but get stuck at the spiritual equivalent of Cheerios and bananas. I'm relying on a diet of baby's first meals, rather than diving into the abundant meals offered to me. Think of all the wonderful meals you would have missed out on if your palate development ended at Gerber-level cuisine! Scripture is rich and decadent, maybe a little spicy or strange at first taste, but we're invited to dig in, enjoy, and be heartily nourished. 

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 (CEB)

Brothers and sisters, I couldn’t talk to you like spiritual people but like unspiritual people, like babies in Christ. I gave you milk to drink instead of solid food, because you weren’t up to it yet. Now you are still not up to it because you are still unspiritual. When jealousy and fighting exist between you, aren’t you unspiritual and living by human standards?

A White Guy Walks Into A Black Church

Has your church changed the world? Sometimes we're tempted to believe church is another weekly activity. It's entertainment or moral encouragement or a social connection. Yet we do recognize deep down that Jesus established more than a sing-a-long and coffee hour. Jesus established a Kingdom. He initiated a new way of living, one with the potential to turn this world upside down.

Last week we worshipped at Ebenezer Baptist Church, in downtown Atlanta. This is one church that can truly claim some world changing members. Among other influential leaders, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was raised in this historic congregation. American culture is significantly altered because someone was transformed by the life, teaching, and salvation of Jesus, and undoubtedly, this body of believers. 

How is your church shaping people to participate in the Kingdom?

Who is encouraging you to put your faith into action?

How can your church challenge current culture?

                           Ebenezer Baptist Church today - educating, equipping, edifying.

                           Ebenezer Baptist Church today - educating, equipping, edifying.

But Would You Cut Your Ear Off?

What do you care enough about to cut your ear off for? 

There are lots of things I would say that I care about. I love baseball, and it is fun to have the team I root for playing in the World Series. We yell, cheer, scream, wave orange-colored towels in the living room, dance around when great plays are made... However, if I was given the choice to cut my ear off ensuring my team wins the World Series, or, keep my ear and then "my" team loses the series...I am pretty sure I'll keep the ear, thank you very much.

I was struck this week to see the headline "Man Cuts Off Own Ear." I clicked through to read about the issues Russian activist/artist Pyotr Pavlensky has brought attention to through his self-mutilation. He removed his own earlobe with a kitchen knife while sitting on the roof of a controversial Moscow psychiatric center which has been accused of neutralizing political threats to Russia. 

I didn't know this was happening on the earth that I inhabit. Pyotr took action, and now I know. And now you know as well. 

So, what?

Well, what do you care enough about to let everyone in the world know? What are you willing to sacrifice to have them know it? What should getting that message out into the world cost you? And then, when you figure what it is and how much it would cost and if you are willing to pay it, then get to it. 

Scripture:

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? Mark 8:35-37 (NIV) 

If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. Matthew 5:29-30 (NIV)

Further Exploration: 

Read about Pyotr Pavlensky's Activism

Top 3: Seminary Reads So Far

I'll spare you the details of my Christian history textbooks and Old Testament historical criticism (for now) and share with you a few spiritual works I've been reading in my first semester of seminary. Each of these reads have challenged and inspired me on journey lately. 

51GUoBHYoKL.jpg

An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor. This collection of essays and reflections lifts my heart every time I turn a page. She writes with such honesty about how to incorporate spiritual practice into every day life that reading her words feels like sitting down with a mentor. 

"What is saving my life now is becoming more fully human, trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world."

Anything and everything by Howard Thurman. This spiritual mentor to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. challenges me to see beyond simple definitions in this world. His essay "The Sound of the Genuine" encourages you to find your true voice among distractions in this world.

“There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.” 

"Revelation" by Flannery O'Connor. A short story centered on a disturbing character forced me, the reader, to confront my own prejudices in a new way. Creative and unsettling, O'Connor's writing has secured a place on my bookshelf. While it's near impossible to pull a quote from this story  out of context, here's a glimpse....

"Mrs. Turpin's head cleared and her power of motion returned. She leaned forward until she was looking directly into the fierce brilliant eyes. There was no doubt in her mind that the girl did know her, know her in some intense and personal way, beyond time and place and condition. "What you got to say to me?" she asked hoarsely and held her breath, waiting, as for a revelation."

 

OMG I love your bracelet, and other compliments.

Regina George pays a "compliment"

Regina George pays a "compliment"

What is that little thing that can brighten your day no matter what? When my Real Simple magazine gets dropped in the mailbox, I'm a happy gal. Sometimes it takes me a while to get around to reading it, but it brings with it moments of rest, learning, and creative dreaming. I recently read in their new "Women and Work" section a survey fact about negative remarks. Far and away, women said that they are most likely to get upset over a negative comment regarding their...appearance. 

At the bottom of the list were remarks about children. To me, this looks like an inverse relationship between the things we are most secure about. A negative remark about our appearance can throw us off all day, because it picks at something about which we can already feel insecure. But a remark about our career or children - well, we don't rely on the off-hand remarks of others for our whole sense of worth in those areas. We stand more secure in the things that deeply matter. 

On the flipside, I wonder if a compliment about appearance would have the same weight as a negative comment. Sure, I appreciate a compliment, and you can always tell me if my hair looks good! But I fear we throw around compliments about looks just to make conversation..."oh, that's a cute skirt" or "you look nice today." Those remarks don't carry much intentionality. However, when someone gives a compliment about something significant, such as career, or children, or how they see God alive in you, that carries some weight. It means someone saw deeper than your trendy outfit and pointed out something worthy they notice about who you truly are.

Repeatedly in the Gospels, Jesus truly sees people. And his words are life-changing and healing - not mere compliments. May we see with the eyes of God and let that change how we speak to others as well as how we receive those remarks about ourselves. 

Scripture:

On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. Luke 13:10-13 (NIV)

But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV)

How can you compliment others more intentionally?

What negative remarks upset you?

How can that reveal insecurities? How do you respond?

What is in your heart for the Lord to see?

 

 

Hoverboards and Confessions

It’s coming. The actual day that Marty McFly visits in Back to the Future II. Okay, the day is actually October 21, 2015, but for the last three years people change the year on the photo and celebrate on Facebook like we officially made it to the future.  Every year this day brings the extreme disappointment that we don’t have hoverboards yet. That would just be awesome.

Stepping into the future brings other letdowns as well. I feel like I am always measuring myself against my ideal self, an unrealistic standard that I hold for myself, never to be attained. In order to avoid thinking about what we could be, it’s easier to be comfortable with the decisions that we’ve made and places that we find ourselves. I don’t think that this is the kind of contentment that God desires for us to dwell in. True peace (or shalom) that we seek comes when we can be freed from the ways that we have fallen short, which allows us to move more freely into the future. If it is a sin to know what we ought to do and not do it (James 4:17), then I weekly, daily need forgiveness for the ways I fall short of seeking God with my all.

Today I offer you a Prayer of Confession. It was presented corporately at the small church we attended on Sunday. How refreshing to know that gathering in the name of Jesus brings with it the opportunity to move forward with freedom.

Prayer of Confession (from the Book of Common Worship)

Gracious God, our sins are too heavy to carry, too real to hide, and too deep to undo. Forgive what our lips tremble to name, what our hearts can no longer bear, and what has become for us a consuming fire of judgment.

Set us free from a past that we cannot change; open to us a future in which we can be changed; and grant us grace to grow more and more in your likeness and image, through Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Amen.

One Cup: Reflecting on World Communion Sunday

Where did you take communion yesterday? I received the gifts of bread and wine at a little church in the Kirkland neighborhood, a few minutes from our new home in Atlanta. In moving to a new city, I’ve had the opportunity to visit new churches and see new communities. I’ve been challenged by the differences in liturgies and practice, while comforted by the consistency of certain hymns and prayers.

At this church, they had globes hanging overhead to remind us that in every time zone, wherever sun is rising or setting, there are communities taking communion. I think back to the communion I received in South Africa or Sydney or San Diego. Those communities are still gathering, they taking communion on this Sunday, as am I.

I’m often tempted to see myself as the focus of my Sunday. It matters what I am learning, how I am feeling, or where I am worshipping. Yet there is a God beyond my Sunday - a God that is working in every worship gathering, a God who is present in the bread and wine we’re all receiving.

What communities around the world do you know people taking communion?

How can you pray for them?

How can we better express the unity of the church?

In what ways does the practice of communion challenge our individualism?

"The fact that Christians in all these places share the same cup and the one bread provides one of the greatest challenges to modern conceptions of individual consumption"

-Father Emmanuel Katongole  

(A Future for Africa: Critical Essays in Christian Social Imagination)