Home

After a long flight, I reached the US.  I arrived in around 1:00pm central and went to my house.  I forced myself to stay awake and made an appointment at the Apple/Mac store at 7:30pm to get my computer fixed (they fixed it before I left but the screen flickered the whole time I was in Uganda). The Apple store in Nashville just so happens to be located at the Mall at Green Hills, this is the fancy, upper-class mall in the Nashville area. Waiting for my Genius Bar appointment, I sat on a chair in the middle of the mall lost and a bit afraid. Afraid of a culture based on consumerism and lost in the sights of wealth and smells of perfumes, food, and new-shiny-clean things.

What does it mean to be home? Is it as the Cheer’s song tells us, “Where everybody knows your name.” or is it “where the heart is?” I do admit that being around people who know my name makes me feel at home — More than anything else this summer I missed being near my dearest friends and family. I also feel at home in places where my heart is full and where I find my truest self being revealed.

Sunday morning we offered communion at my church. My friend and pastor handed me the body of Christ and said, “Welcome home.”

Cultural poverty is a space where people do not have a home. I am one of the most blessed people in the world to feel at ‘home’ in two cultures — Uganda and the States. I feel the tug of both homes and people who love me sometimes I mistake this for being out of place in both cultures but when I think about my true home in the body of Christ — I know that I will always be home and the door will always be open.

Leading Women’s Reflection

On Tuesday I lead a workshop for women in a village near Busia on the Kenyan-Uganda border. When the program was arranged, I tried to explain: wait, I don’t want to lead a workshop, I want to hear from the women. But it was no use, I would lead a day workshop for the women of the region.

I designed the workshop in a way that would allow them to share their songs and stories with me.  I started with a group reflection and study of the story of Deborah.  I wanted to teach them my favorite way to interpret scripture: Read the scripture, feel into the scripture, and then respond out of the scripture.  We read the amazing story of Judge/Prophet/Warrior Deborah (If you haven’t read it or it’s been a while, check out Judges 4:1-24).  The 20 women and I broke up into small groups and then answered questions about the way the characters may have felt in their circumstance.  Then I had them answer questions about what we have to learn from each character.  It was a simple Bible study, but you could tell that the women hadn’t done something quite like this.  Once they understood that I wanted to discuss questions and then share with the group… the lesson worked well.

I shared the way that I respond out of this Scripture based on the last five weeks of my life.  Basically it went something like this:  Deborah is called the Mother of Israel in her victory song because she saw Israel’s oppression, hurt, and lack of leadership.  Therefore, what it means to be mother is to listen to God and be able to lead and provide for your family. In traditional women’s roles, we have been viewed as “property” and that we should be “managed.” Some people say that God wants it that way, but God sees us as beloved and able to be faithful leaders for God.  We can be mothers and women like Deborah and Jael.

During my group meetings it is almost always a man who is translating for me.  This was significant for me in this meeting because I felt like he was accepting my message and helping me to empower these women.

I wanted to hear their songs and stories!  So I talked about the song that was written about Deborah and her story of faith.  I invited them to share their songs and stories of faith.  Like the small groups, it took them a little while to feel free to share, but once they began they were open to share their lives with me.  They shared for over an hour.  Some sang worship songs in their language and songs learned in English, others talked about their marriages, issues of poverty and sickness, struggling for education, having faith in God, and being healed. The Ugandan church has a rich history of testimony and the women need no help or training in how to share the way God has been, is, and will work in their lives!

We took a break and then spent some time interpreting Gen 1:27, being created in the image of God. I focused on having them ask questions trying to discover more about this passage to “feel into” the text.  This turned into a discussion of what it means to be created in the image of God.  I was amazed by their interpretations: they talked about treating everyone fairly because of God’s image, they talked about being made like God, and having God inside of us.  To respond out of the text I asked them to think about how women gain their worth.  We discussed beauty, marriage, and children and then how our worth should be built on the foundation of the image of God.

I emphasized the fact that women are able to interpret Scripture through the Holy Spirit and that you can use this process to interpret the Bible in your life.  This is not always something that women believe about themselves… but it is important for them to know that God has given them the ability to interpret Scripture. —I did the “image of God” lesson on Thursday with a woman’s group and when I was finished explaining the process, one of the women asked what she should do if she cannot read. I had never considered her question and told her to interpret Scripture with a group of women.  Have one read the passage and everyone answers questions in community.

After the workshop, the woman leader who was interpreting for the women’s stories and the image of God lesson asked me how she can share this with her women’s group and if there were more examples.  I told her all she needs to do is be open to the Holy Spirit, keep reading, trying to relate to the text and characters, and then relate the text to her life.  But I am not satisfied with my answer and this question has not left me since she asked it.

There are women’s groups that meet at church every week and there are no women’s Bible studies or curriculum— or none that I have seen or heard (and I have asked).  Churches are lucky to have Bibles, they are extremely fortunate to have hymnals, and curriculum is expensive to print and produce.

What if there were a relevant and culturally sensitive theological curriculum to address the theology of women’s issues and development in Uganda?!

Who would write such a thing? I cannot pretend to take on a task like this as an American woman; however, maybe I could help co-write something that could be adapted, reviewed, and edited by a Ugandan woman theologian.

There are no ordained women in the East African Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.  But there are women Priests in the Church of Uganda (Anglican Church).  Today I met with Rev. Joy Isabirye, one of five women to serve in the Busoga diocese.  She is a professor of Old Testament, working on her PhD in ethics in Nairobi, and in her third year of ordained ministry.  She is Rose’s mentor and we went to visit her yesterday.  She answered my never-ending questions with an open heart!  I wish I could type out our whole conversation!  She encouraged me greatly and explained her theological views on polygamy, domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, traditional women’s roles, and many other topics.  She also directed me to talk with Rev. Dr. Olivia Nassaka, Dean of Mukono Christian University, about my work. She focuses on theology and women’s issues.  Hopefully I will meet with her this week.  I’ll keep you posted on developments.

Eyes that can heal wounded hearts

During my time leading up to Uganda and while in Uganda I am reading the journal, Journey to Daybreak, of Henri Nouwen which gives an account of leaving a tenure at Harvard to work at L’Arche in Trosly, France.  L’Arche is a place where people with and without disabilities live and work in community.  If you want an honest and raw account of a person struggling with the pain of life and human desire for affection, while on a road to self-discovery and healing, this is a book for you.

Yesterday morning I read: “I gradually realize that I want to be seen by you, to dwell under your caring gaze, and to grow strong and gentle in your sight.  Lord, let me see what you see—the love of God and the suffering of people—so that my eyes may become more and more like yours, eyes that can heal wounded hearts.”

I cannot hide from people’s eyes anywhere I go in Uganda.  The moment many Ugandans see my white skin, their eyes follow me.  I usually smile and say hello or o su zo tia, which means good morning/how are you.  Usually their staring eyes turn into smiles when I try to speak Luganda.  Small children will say “Hello Muzugu!”  (muzugu is the name for white person) I will normally wave and say, “Hello.”

There is a common understanding that you can “feel” someone’s eyes on you.  In the states, when you catch someone staring, frequently the person staring will move their eyes… but that’s not the case here… your eyes seem to lock with the person staring—and it’s usually me who turns away first.

The meditation from this morning impacted me strongly, especially, “so that my eyes may become more and more like yours, eyes that can heal wounded hearts.”  What would Jesus’ eyes have felt like?  I can imagine that his eyes feel the way a proud mom looks at her daughter on graduation day, the way a bride looks at her new partner, the way a baby smiles and looks at their care taker, the way best friends look at each other after accomplishing something together, the way musicians look at each other in a groove, the way stars look down on humanity, and the way a Ugandan and musungu look at each other.

America will be!

The United States began its war in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001.  That was nine years, three months and a week ago.  The war continues to expand and deepen and we were recently told that we won’t be leaving that country until 2014.

In light of celebrating the life of Martin Luther King Jr., America’s greatest non-violent freedom fighter, I would like to quote from his speech “Beyond Vietnam” in April 4, 1967 (one year before he was murdered):

  • We were convinced that we could not limit our vision to certain rights for black people, but instead affirmed the conviction that America would never be free or saved from itself until the descendants of its slaves were loosed completely from the shackles they still wear. In a way we were agreeing with Langston Hughes, that black bard of Harlem, who had written earlier:

O, yes, I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath —
America will be!

  • Now it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read “Vietnam.” It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that “America will be” are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.

I know a lot of folks that are concerned with the “integrity and life of America.”  But, my generation does not seem to care about the current war.  I brought up why my generation is silent about the “War on Terror” in comparison to my parents generation which was so ardently against Vietnam over dinner during holiday break.  My dad mentioned that most people are not personally affected by death in this war where as many knew someone who died in Vietnam. I looked up the death toll in the war on terror and it’s approaching 5000 US soldier lives, not including the lives of those in Afghanistan.  Mom mentioned the lessened media coverage. I wonder if my generation traded our backbone for facebook?

I must be honest, I don’t know all the logistics of the war in Afghanistan… However, one need not be interested in politics to understand the loss this un-winnable, INSANELY (for there is no other word for it) expensive, immoral, and fought for corporate profit war is causing, and the immeasurably steep cost it will impose upon our country, when all is said and done.

So what do I do?!  Well, I am writing a blog post about it.  Discussing it with my friends and family and hoping to join what will one day be a “critical mass,” or what my generation calls the tipping point, forcing the government to change direction.

Parts of this post were tweaked quotes from conversations with my friend and colleague Dr. M. David Hoch.  Thanks David for your activism.

Can I have my cake, eat it, and share it too!?

I love to read novels.  It’s hard to make the time during the school year, but during the breaks I devour them.

I just finished The Cider House Rules.  John Irving is brilliant.  He is able to put subconscious thought into words like no other author I have read.  If I were to copy a quote from the book to explain I couldn’t do it justice… you have to read it in context and in light of your own experience to grasp the brilliance.

The Cider House Rules has some dark points and exposes intense issues such as abortion, addiction, rape, adultery, racism, alcoholism, and poverty.  I read most of this book on a cruise over Christmas break, laying out on Caribbean beaches sipping a cocktail.

I don’t want to ruin the plot for you (so if you are concerned about such things… stop reading now) but part of the plot is about a woman who is in love with two different men.  One man is a hard working, orphan and the other is talented and lighthearted son of a business man.  She refuses to choose which one to love and does a lot of “waiting and seeing” to find out who she will be with.

This woman is torn between two men like I am torn between two personified lifestyles that I live.  I talk a big game about poverty and sacrifice while I dabble in service to the poor, but I spend the vast majority of my life surrounded by wealth and comfort.  Like the woman in the story I am “waiting and seeing” which lifestyle I will choose…

This morning my home church did a Wesley covenant service.  This is a portion of the liturgy:

  • I am no longer my own, but yours O God.  Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will.  Put me to doing, put me to suffering.  Let me be employed by you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you. Let me be full, let me be empty.  Let me have all things, let me have nothing.  I freely and heartily give all things to your pleasure and disposal.

Am I just “waiting and seeing” if I will have the courage to step into God’s call on my life?  Can I have my cake, eat it, and share it too!?  This Christmas I am feeling very convicted for my lack of following the true incarnation of Christ and imitating the way that he lived his life.

I wish that this blog entry concluded with the fact that I know whether God wants me to be full or empty, have all things or nothing… I don’t know that.  But I do know that their will come a point when willingness and intention are not enough… there must be action and those actions will have consequences.

“love no matter what” category

It is ironic that some of the people I have had the biggest disagreements with in my life have become my closest friends.  I had a friend in town this week with whom I constantly disagree.  Yet, over the years we have formed a mutual love and respect that goes beyond friendship into an “I love you no matter what” category.

One of my favorite verses is this morning’s epistle lesson: 2 Corinthians 5:18-20

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

This morning I realized that although I reserve a specific number of people for my “love no matter what” category in my life, as “Christ’s ambassador” I am supposed to put the whole world in that category.  This verse turns the reconciled into the reconcilers.

Loving and reconciling all people sounds so wonderful and happy… but it’s sometimes difficult, mostly intense, and usually chaotic.

I copied this poem by Mary Oliver to a piece of paper and taped it to my dashboard weeks ago… it continues to have new meaning in my life:

A Pretty Song

From the complications of loving you
I think there is no end or return.
No answer, no coming out of it.

Which is the only way to love, isn’t it?
This isn’t a playground, this is
earth, our heaven, for a while.

Therefore I have given precedence
to all my sudden, sullen, dark moods
that hold you in the center of my world.

And I say to my body: grow thinner still.
And I say to my fingers, type me a pretty song,
And I say to my heart: rave on.

Gustavo Gutiérrez speaking directly to me…

Last night I heard Gustavo Gutiérrez speak at Vanderbilt.  His message was clear: Poverty is not the will of God or a fact of life, but we have made poverty.  As Christians we can not ignore or simply be “generous” to solve this problem, we must be critical of and fight against causes of poverty.

Gutiérrez spoke about the story of the Good Samaritan.  In Luke 10 the question is posed for Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”  The story continues to tell of a man who was half dead and eventually helped by a Samaritan man.  Gutiérrez points out that the most important character in this story is the half dead man and he is the only one we know nothing about his social or political status.  There is the Samaritan man, the church figures who choose not to help, there are the robbers who live a life of thieving, and we know the innkeeper at least has enough money to own an house to open to others.  The only thing we know about the half dead man is that he is in need.  Christians are called to approach people only because they are in need.

On my way home from the lecture my gas light came on in my car.  I petrified to run out of gas so I stopped a the nearest gas station.  After the tank was full I got out of my car to put the gas pump back in it’s holder when I heard/saw a figure approaching on crutches.  It was about 9:00pm and so I jumped in my car in hopes that they would leave me alone.  A middle aged, one legged, African American man approached my Jeep.  I hesitated before I rolled down my window… “Do you have some change to spare,” he asked.

I said a little prayer to God… OK… I get it… this is you approaching my car and I now have the opportunity to help you… “Are you hungry?  I could buy you something to eat inside,” I replied.

“Thank you,” he said, “There is a Sonic a block away, could you buy me a Jr. Burger from Sonic?”

“I could do that.  Wait on this corner and I’ll go get you a hamburger.  Do you like everything on it?”

“Yes.  Everything mam.”

So, for less than $5 I was able to feed Jesus, who also goes by Eugene when I meet him at a gas station, a Jr. Cheeseburger meal.

One of Gutiérrez major life questions is, “How do we say, ‘God loves you,’ to the poor?”  When no one is born to suffer and poverty is a sub-human condition in which the majority of humanity lives today.  He reiterates that we must not only tell to the poor, “God loves you,” but also, “Your condition is not the will of God.”

This reminds me of one of my favorite anonymous quotes:  “Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering, and injustice when He could do something about it.

…Well, why don’t you ask Him?

Because I’m afraid He would ask me the same question.”

hurry

I don’t like being late.  I actually try my best to be early, but somehow this makes me always in a rush.  For example this morning I set my alarm in exactly enough time to get the most sleep possible and be at church to sing in the early choir.  Well, there just wasn’t enough time and scurried around the house, speedily drove to church, and I was still late to rehearsal.  Last Wednesday I scheduled meetings back to back.  Meetings inevitably run over and I ended up in the words of my grandma, running around like a chicken with my head cut off, to make it to each place…

Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? — Henry David Thoreau

Halloween is coming up next week and it always marks the beginning of the end of my free time.  During the holiday season I will have to rush more places, and do more things!  These places and things are usually good things and I am thankful for them… BUT something inside of me especially when I stop rushing says:  Nancy, do you really need all of this in your life?  When is enough actually enough?

I am addicted, as Gerald May would say, to the “myth of fulfillment.”  So much of my day is spent trying to capture peace of mind and there is a strong feeling that says, “Nancy, if you slow down you’ll have to deal with the fact that your mind is far from at peace.”  Rushing and pretending that I’m so very important keeps me from experiencing my radical yearning for love.

Without recognizing the yearning, I do things from a place of busyness and arrogance.  If I take time to stand in a place of questioning and longing — I can begin to recognize my extreme need for God.

You have made us to be toward Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.  –Augustine of Hippo

The question is… will I intentionally carve out the space to slow down and experience the emptiness?

Many of these thoughts are spurred from Simpler Living Compassionate Life edited and compiled by Michael Schut.

Changing Relationships

All three of my current roommates are engaged to be married. My brother will be married in the spring.  I am the maid of honor in my dear friends wedding in November. I am so excited for each of them, and at the same time it is hard for me to have so many of my most intimate relationships changing. It’s the transitions that are usually most difficult for me.

I recently read a journal entry from one of my favorite author’s, Henri Nouwen, called “A Fragile Shelter”:

How often is the intimate encounter of two persons an expression of their total freedom? Many people are driven into each other’s arms in fear and trembling. They embrace each other in despair and loneliness. They cling to each other to prevent worse things from happening. Their sleep together is only an expression of their desire to escape and threatening world, to forget their deep frustration, to ease for a minute the unbearable tension of a demanding society, to experience some warmth, protection, and safety. Their privacy does not create a place where they both can grow in freedom and share their mutual discoveries, but a fragile shelter in a stormy world.

During this time I have desperately wanted to find someone to hold onto… to help deal with the “unbearable tension of a demanding society.” Society demands that because I am not in a relationship something is wrong with me. I recognize now more than every how stormy this world really is and how much I contribute to the fear and trembling. However, I don’t want a “fragile shelter” from the world… I want a house built on rock.

“The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” Matthew 7:25

I want total freedom in my relationships. God holds me, gives peace, and gives me constant reminders of his faithfulness as I learn how to trust him.

Minister in Training

This morning I was the second liturgist at my church.  I wore a robe, processed and recessed with the clergy, and was in charge of verbally — welcoming the members, joys and concerns of the community, pastoral prayer, and the Lord’s prayer.

The sermon this morning was about worship… how worship is an encounter with God in Spirit and Truth and that is what is important, not the logistics such as how we sing, whether we are loud or soft, and if mistakes are made.

For my portion of the service everything was written out and reviewed by the worship committee.  For the welcoming new members I had the option of ad-libbing or reading off of the sheet.  During the first service I started by ad-libbing and then got nervous so I looked down to read the sheet… I awkwardly repeated a portion of the welcoming new members (so new folks must have felt SUPER welcome… ha ha).

During both services there was a baptism and the holy water was removed between services.  As one pastor read the baptismal questions, the head pastor (my mentor) turned around to me and whispered energetically, “There’s no water!”  So he left the service and gathered some before the actual baptism occurred.

After I gave him a blank stare I began to think about this week in my Formation of Christian Tradition class.  We talked about the baptism narrative in Mark which specified that John baptized for the forgiveness of sins and that his baptism was “with water” while Jesus baptized “with the Holy Spirit” (Mk 1.8).

After the sermon about the importance of encountering God and realizing… even though excellence is very important to this congregation of believers… they have created space for me to learn and for mistakes to be made.  I was assured that for this baptism no one would need to energetically whisper, “There’s no Holy Spirit!”