Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite (secular) holiday. It is a holiday that traditionally comes from a historical celebration of the first harvest after settlers arrived in the “Promised Land” that is now the United States. On this day, we celebrate the first harvest by gathering around a table filled with lots of seasonal foods such as pumpkin, squash, sweet potatoes and, of course, turkey.

It has become my favorite holiday because there are so few expectations on it. No gifts to give, no huge preparations to make. Just family, friends and food. It doesn’t get any better than that!

I have made it my tradition that, in the season of being “thankful” on “Thanksgiving,” I make sure to record at least one thing I am thankful for every day in the month of November (Thanksgiving is always the last Thursday in November). Also, as we gather with friends to share in a harvest-themed feast, we go around and each share at least one thing we are thankful for. Sometimes it feels a little cheesy or cliche, but really, truly, we all have much to be thankful for, and spent too little time expressing that gratitude.

So this year, as I am far, far away from home and many other Americans, I have done my bit not to let this holiday just pass me by. I was overwhelmed with messages wishing me well on Thanksgiving, and greatly appreciated the thoughts and efforts of especially my friends here in South Africa.

I spent Thanksgiving day with my “family” here in South Africa, and while we didn’t share in a traditionally Thanksgiving meal, somehow, I suppose with a bit of subconscious effort, we did share in an “American” meal: I made (ostrich) burgers, salad, corn on the cob for dinner… and even apple pie for dessert. Certainly a first for a Thanksgiving day meal, but delightfully delicious all the same.

Then came the next day: Black Friday. While Americans all over were out shopping and kicking off the Christmas season, I was preparing for a day-late Thanksgiving feast with friends. Kyle (a fellow American working for the Methodist Church of Southern Africa) and I had planned for it and together joined forces to prepare a feast! We had it all: turkeys (3!), stuffing, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, jello salad, sweet corn… and of course pumpkin and apple pies.

At first we thought we’d have too much food, but it turned out we had underestimated the ability of our friends to eat! It was a great feast, a wonderful celebration, and remains my favorite holiday no matter where in the world I am. And today, two days after the official “Thanksgiving” day, I am overwhelmed with the number of things and people in my life I have to be thankful for.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Self Care

Sometimes, an excuse is all thats necessary.

Sometimes, that excuse is as simple as, “its good for my soul.”

Which, I suppose, is to say that I need no excuse at all.

What am I talking about, you wonder? A reason to go. To get away from the city and find peace under the large oak trees at a campground near Stellenbosch.

Why wait for a weekend or a holiday or other “reason” to go, when my very-flexible schedule allows me to go on a Wednesday night?

So that’s what we did. We left after Lisa finished work on Wednesday, and we both went straight back to work when we arrived back in Cape Town early Thursday afternoon.

The weather was perfectly stunning, the timing was right, and we kept reminding each other that this much fun was okay - even in the middle of the week.

Time well spent, and indeed, it was “good for my soul.”

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Jesus Is Our Backhoe

"Jesus is our Backhoe"
If I were to title it, that would have been the title of my sermon this morning.

Based on my experience of life in America where everyone knows what a backhoe is, it made for a great (albeit comical when it stands alone!) visionary tool. So yea! I quite like it when things work out like this.

The problem with this is: Context. I didn’t realize that no one here knew what a backhoe was! After the first service, someone asked me and told me they thought it was a bird. oops! (Fortunately the way the example was staged, it seemed to work fine even without knowing exactly what a “backhoe” is).

So, lesson learned. I easily adapted and made due for the second service, eliminating surprise when the example “clicked” better for them.

So today comes the age-old lesson of not taking advantage of what people know… and today it comes with a bit of reminder that I’m “not in Kansas anymore.”

A year later, and I’m still learning. and to be honest, that’s my cause to smile today. I’m grateful for this small reminder of ways that we are living different but also such very similar lives. And I’m grateful for the ways it has reminded me of ways I’ve been blessed by this community that I now claim as my own. So much so, that sometimes I forget I once wasn’t, and perhaps they won’t understand the same references my church at “home” would.

If I’m going to forget anything, I’m grateful for this kind of “forgetfulness.” and I’m grateful for being able to share in worship with this great community.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

All Saints Day

Since Monday, I have been thinking about a tradition or “holiday” that I love in the church. A tradition that will be celebrated in churches throughout the world, including United Methodist Churches, this coming Sunday. The first Sunday of November is known as “All Saints Day.”

All Saints Day is a day when we as a church recognize the saints who have come before us. Often, we read the names of loved ones who have passed away in the previous year. I have taken part in All Saints Day practices from lighting candles to writing names on a strip of cloth that was later weaved together and used as an alter cloth.

It is a day to lift up and remember those who have come before us and led the way for us as Christians, as a body of believers, who claim to be, in the words of the Apostles Creed, a part of the “communion of saints.” “Communion of Saints,” of course, referring simply to a community made up of past, present and future disciples of Christ.

So tomorrow is All Saints Day, and I’m preaching. All week I have been battling with what to preach about. The Methodist Church here does not celebrate All Saints Day. Sure, I recognize that this does not mean the congregation would not appreciate a once-off celebration of the saints among us here. The problem is deeper than that, though: the problem is that I am aware I’m being called to preach on something else.

So the battle continues. I have two sermons: the one I want to preach, and the one that came from the lectionary text.

I have been cognitively aware of the difference in these two, affirmed now by the fact that the one that’s drawn from the text is finally coming to be, while the one I initially wanted to preach has come to a standstill and feels a bit un-inspired.

So there you have it: I feel a bit as if this week I have been wresting with these texts as Jacob wrestled with God, and am grateful that in the end, I am not the one who has won. I am sure this is not the first time such a match has taken place, and I know it will not be the last. I just pray that the next time such a match takes place, the winner is as clear as it has been today.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Social Networks

Networks.

Recently I asked the Facebook world how they feel about Linked In. I get an invite about once a week, and wondered if it would be a good use of my time to create a profile. Do people use it? Is it helpful? Or would it be “just one more online source I won’t check or use anyway” (aka a procrastination tool for desperate times). The conclusion reached via facebook, in the words of one friend, is that it isn’t actually helpful for “pastor-types.” So I’ll skip it and stick to my blog and facebook, thank you.

It did get me thinking about the role of Facebook, though. What began as a “social network” for college students only, we know has now greatly changed, both in its use and in its function. I’ve become increasingly less picky as to who I add as “friends” these days, especially now that I’m living overseas. For obvious reasons, I am now unable to communicate as often with my family and friends in the US as I used to, and if used well, the online world can almost always offer an update of sorts on my life (either through pictures and status updates on Facebook, or here on my blog).

One thing about Facebook I have always said is that I don’t want to feel like I have to screen it or worry about what my friends might post. So “when I am appointed at a church,” I would say, “I’ll open a separate professional profile.” But now that seems like it would be a bit pointless, because the reality is, I won’t want to upkeep two profiles.

The other side of that is: I don’t feel I can just not “add friends,” either. So I have “friends” I have never met. Some are friends of friends, some are professional contacts. Some are church people who have supported me but I have never met face to face. Some are even people I indirectly work for (try saying no to that!) but have not yet met in a face-to-face encounter.

And all of the sudden, this Facebook thing that I always called a “social network” has become more than just “social.” I mean, I’m the girl that refused to add my mother as a Facebook “friend” because I insist that if she wants to know what’s going on in my life, she should pick up the phone and call me! But now I’m a world away and am increasingly less picky with who my “Friends” are - and I wonder: is there any point to such a filter?

So I’m curious, and looking for feedback. What do you think? Separate profiles? Give up on having a separation between a “personal” and “professional” page? Just say no? I wouldn’t want to hide my current page, I do want actual friends to be able to find and connect with me. But I also really like having a line between my personal and professional life, as well as a means of separation (such as when I leave a church someday and need to break ties as I start fresh at a new church). Is that break possible if I also have a life that is often communicated through the interwebs?

oh, the internet… and to think I haven’t even had a computer for ten years. and now I can’t imagine life without it...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Thankful

Contrary to here in South Africa where there have been huge "HAPPY CHRISTMAS" signs hanging in the shops for a couple of weeks now, in the US, everyone is gearing up for Thanksgiving. and every American knows Christmas is not supposed to appear in the shops or on the radio until Black Friday - the day AFTER Christmas.

It seems these past couple of weeks of preparing and celebrating for some of these holiday traditions (Halloween, All Saints Day, Thanksgiving), I've been missing them. Little pieces of home that go with the changing of seasons. Sure, its a different change of seasons here, but as my fall turned to winter here last year, I still had holidays to mark that change: Easter, for example.

But this time, I'm left without those markers that bring the mark of the new season.

Seeing as how just living in another country doesn't take the American out of me, I've decided there are things about these traditions worth keeping, so I'm seeking to educate and share rather than lament them. To do that, I'm planning things like a Thanksgiving feast for a group of friends. Fortunately, there is one other resident American among that group of friends, so we'll be sharing in the cooking fun.

More than the food and the one day of celebration, I like that Thanksgiving reminds us to be thankful. Via Facebook, a few friends have issued challenges to post something each day about what we are thankful for. I love this idea! To be honest, though, I likely won't change my status every day. But I will be writing down at least one new thing each day I am thankful for. Its only one thing - it isn't difficult!

American or not, I invite you to step up to this challenge as well. Feel free to share them publicly such as on Facebook, or to write them down in a journal. But record them, don't just think of them. What are you thankful for. Really? Then at the end of the month, we'll all have lists of things we will remember we are thankful for. As for me, I hope that list will be reflected as I then transition into the New Year - how can what I am thankful for today be celebrated and lived into in the new year? 2011 is just around the corner...

Today, I did post what I am thankful for, with a bit of a precursor, even. After a sleepless night of tossing and turning and eventually an early rise, I realized that I am thankful for shelter and a place to lie my head at night.

What are you thankful for?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Music

“Nobody said it was easy. No one ever said it would be this hard.” -Coldplay, "The Scientist"

That’s what I love about music. Its poetry with a beat that triggers something, that moves so deep inside you don’t know its hit you until you can hear the words echoing deep inside.

I love that lines which seem so simple on some days, are complex and life-changing on others.

I love the challenge that comes with words that speak truth into my life. Truth that was there all along, but that I needed help seeing and understanding.

I suppose that’s why music is so important. Why it serves as a lifeline. Why most significant journeys or moments in my life are memories triggered by the music that spoke to me during that time. For music has spoken to me in moments of great sorrow and pain, as well as great joy and celebration. It tells of heartache and it tells of struggle. It tells the story of overcoming and stories of new life.

Music tells stories. Stories of your life. Stories of my life. Stories of those we will never meet. Stories.

Who would we be without stories? Our stories make us whole. Make us human. Bring us together. Connect us.

In the end, its the stories that are said so well in lines like this one that draw us back to earth from wherever we are, be it drowning in muck and despair or high on a joyous cloud or joy. And when we are drawn “back to earth” - its there that we meet and encounter and share our stories with “others” - stories without which we would cease to exist. Cease to be human.

We were created for each other. We were created to share stories. Historically, music was used for this. Today, nothing much has changed. Music helps us live, understand and share our stories.

Today, I’m grateful for the music in and of my life.