Saturday, June 16, 2007

I Just Ate a Hamburger for Breakfast

That's right - a delicious hamburger topped with ketchup, mustard, tomato, and pickles. Yes, even pickles for breakfast! And do you know what? I feel great about it!

It's not that there was nothing else available. No, this was a symbolic gesture on my part. It's also not the weirdest thing I've ever eaten for breakfast. Anyone who has lived with me even for short period of time knows that I can eat almost anything for breakfast. . . well, that is, except traditional breakfast food. You couldn't pay me to eat eggs, and although I can tolerate them, I would never choose to eat bacon or sausage.

Symbolic gesture on my part, you ask? Indeed. And liberating. I have had a lot to think about in the six months that have comprised this year, and I'm glad I've done so. I'm going to continue to do so. But because there have been so many facets to consider, it's almost as if the entire corpus of my life has been thrown into question, and every relationship -- both past and present -- has been put under the microscope for me to examine in detail.

I don't regret this time of examination, but throughout all the multifaceted considerations, a common thread has managed to weave its way through. Pressure has been put on me, both from within and without, to make every relationship fit a pristine type of paradigm. How does one define "Friend?" "Parent?" "Husband?" "Wife?" "Pastor?" "Mentor?"

Certainly, every type of relationship has its particular sort of distinctives. That's why they all have different names. But I have to ask, when has any relationship in my life fit a paradigm perfectly? And when I consider each one, I have to ask, would I have wanted it to? Would I have wanted any of these relationships to stop being particular and start being generic?

In other words, would I have wanted my friends with specific names and personalities to mold themselves into the ideal paradigm of "friend," and become more a function toward me than a particular person? Would I have wanted my former pastor with a specific name and personality to mold himself into the ideal paradigm of "pastor," and become a professional role toward me rather than a person I consider to be a father? Did he cross a so-called "boundary" when he did so? Perhaps, we could say so if he became a paradigm, and from this point on, every pastor -- including myself in the future -- was supposed to behave like a parent. But I must move away from the paradigm and think of the specific. I don't define our relationship as "boundary-crossing." I think of it as "possibility-opening."

And so, for the next few weeks, I want the word "should" and all its derivatives to become banished from my vocabulary, including my own self talk. There is a disclaimer, of course: I do realize that there are some ways that people should behave, and there are some ways that people should think. I recognize this, and I stand by it. But in other ways, the word "should" is smothering me right now! I am tired of feeling the weight that has recently been placed upon me as I try to get every relationship to conform to a role and function! Is it possible for relationships to be specific without being pardigmatic? Is it possible for certain types of relationships to behave professionally and become personally meaningful rather than confined and rigid?

You know what I say? I say a resounding yes, and to that, I celebrate hamburgers for breakfast!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Practicing Darshan in Christian Community: Seeing and Being Seen

This week I have found myself reflecting a great deal about how sight and vision are a part of our communal life together. The concept of sight is a theme that runs its way throughout the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, and I believe that the need to see and to be seen is one that goes right to the core of who we are as human beings.

In the Hindu tradition, people practice a ritual called Darshan. Hindus flock from various towns and villages in India to have an encounter with images of Hindu deities. Hindus believe that these common images of wood, stone, and metal contain the presence of the Divine. Some people outside the Hindu tradition have concluded that the Hindus are actually worshipping the images themselves, but Hindus do not make such a claim. They believe they are worshipping the God who is represented by the images.

Darshan is practiced through sight. When Hindu images are made, the last part of the process involves the painting of the eyes, and this final portion is a sacred ritual. Hindus believe that the Divine presence inhabits the image at this time, and from that point on, people may gaze into the eyes of the image to see God and be seen by God.

I believe that the desire to see and be seen is a universal human need. How is it that Christians are called to do something similar, to see and be seen by God? What would Darshan look like in the Christian tradition? Where do Christians believe that the image of God resides? If we truly believe that the image of God resides in redeemed human beings, then we are called to be in community with one another where we see God and are seen by God in and through the presence of others.

The desire to see and be seen is a natural part of who we are as human beings. We observe this in children. How often have we heard children say to their parents, "Hey, watch me Mom!" or "Dad, watch this!" even when they do the simplest things? When children are very young, they often look for the reaction of adults to know how they should respond to certain situations. The developmental term for this is called social referencing. If a child falls down and a parent reacts with a look of shock upon her face, the child will almost always cry. But if the parent reacts calmly, the child will generally react more calmly too. Children look to the gaze of their parents to see and to be seen by them. I have a feeling that this tendency to look into the eyes of the ones who care for us also occurs in the Christian community. We want to see who people truly are. We also want to be seen and acknowledged as the people we are, and we find ourselves looking to those in our community to help us interpret and react to the situations in which we find ourselves. As adults, we no longer look to each other for permission to react in certain ways, but our reactions are held safe in the eyes of those who are intentionally watching over us.

A few weeks ago, one of the Austin Seminary Professors gave some lectures at University Presbyterian Church. He told a story about his two year old niece who he observed during a recent family gathering. The family encircled the room where they were sitting, and the children played in the middle of their circle. The professor observed his niece who sat in her mother's lap while the other children played. Gradually, his niece gained the confidence to join the other children. He watched her take a few steps toward the others. Before she proceeded to walk farther though, she turned to look into the eyes of her mother. She took a few more steps and gazed at her mother again. This occurred several times until the child was fully engaged with the others. The professor believed that this was his niece's way of recharging. Her mother's gaze was constant, and she could count on that gaze to be present. She could count on seeing and being seen.

In a similar way, God's gaze is ever upon us, and we often experience it through the gaze of people in our Christian community who are purposefully with and for us. We too can practice Darshan by watching one another. We can see the image of God in human beings, and we can be seen by that same image in others. I find it encouraging that when we need to look away and deflect our vision, there are others who keep their gaze constant, and I find it encouraging that we can keep our gaze constant for others as well. This is a way in which we are present with one another. This is Christian Darshan.

I, for my part, will be gazing into the eyes of others more often.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Reflections on "Trek to Hoosierland" Eve

Hello to all my fellow APTS bloggers.

Before I leave for tomorrow's drive to Indiana, I would like to express my thanks for an amazing semester. And it really has been an amazing semester! I have learned more about myself in the last few months than I have in a long time. I have enjoyed my friends and connected with them in a deeper way. I look forward to seeing all the Hoosiers, of course, but I have realized that Austin has really become a home for me. I'm sad that I'm going to be away for almost three weeks. It just seems like so long!

In the last few months, I have found myself challenged and encouraged by many of you. I have also found my sense of call confirmed in three very unexpected situations:

1. I sat around a Thanksgiving dinner table with my friend's family and friends from Plano. (No worries: I did not pass West Plano Presbyterian Church. I did not collect 200 articles. :) The folks who gathered together were wonderful, hospital, interesting people. We had a disscussion for three hours. Now, these people are very theologically conservative -- probably as theologically conservative as you can get. I have to admit that I was a bit nervous about such a situation because I am a woman in seminary, and I'm never sure how people are going to react to that. And while I tend to think of myself as pretty orthodox in most respects, Ian and I felt so "left field" in comparison, that I wondered if they would even consider us to be Christians. I sat across from a very intelligent, articulate woman. Her name is Virginia Armstrong. I was enthralled with our conversation. I realized that different theological premises result in different theological questions. They asked questions that we wouldn't ask, and the questions that puzzle us aren't questions they would ask.

For instance, in our discussion, some people at the table questioned whether the earth is 6000 years old or not. The old earth/young earth debate is not a question for me, but I was fascinated to enter into the conversation. Once we set up the perimeters of that question, some really important ones emerged. "What does science have to tell us about the Bible?" "Is the Bible even written to be a science manual?" "Would God deceive us by making the earth appear to be old if it really isn't?" During the course of this conversation -- in a place where I was concerned that I might not be taken seriously at all --Virginia Armstrong called me a theologian twice! (And she said it in a respectful way. It didn't have the ring of, "Oh, Renee's one of those theologians.") She was serious! And I have to admit that I was very baffled. My call was confirmed in the most unlikely of places.

2. During a Taize service at UPC, I had the priviledge to pray with people and annoint them. I found myself in quite the unexpected role reversal as I annointed Ted Wardlawe and prayed with him. And then, San Williams (one of my pastors) approached me, and I did the same. It was such a humbling experience to pray for these people to have the gifts I need them to have for myself and for others. What a strange situation! Here too, I felt my call confirmed in an unexpected place.

3. I had a great class lineup this semester, and among all my classes, "Bonhoeffer and the Public Church" was certainly my favorite. This class was the highlight of my week because in addition to learning about Bonhoeffer, I had two amazing professors (Michael Jinkins and Dave Jensen). There was rarely a class that I didn't think, "Wow. I can't believe I get to take a class with these people!" They both have amazing insights, and I think Michael Jinkins has to be the most well-read individual I've ever encountered. On Wednesday, I had a huge surprise. I received my paper back from their class. I really enjoyed my topic, and I knew that I had worked hard and written a good paper, but never in a million years would I have expected to hear what they said in their comments. They suggested that I continue to work on it and present it at a conference and/or submit it to a journal. I was absolutely shocked, and once again, I felt that my call was affirmed in an unexpected situation. I don't know if anything will actually come from that paper, but this gives me the opportunity to work some more with Dave and Michael. That in itself is something for which I want to give thanks!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I Heal You with this Jacket!

This is hilarious!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Calling All Books!

I would like to make a reading list for myself. Although I will go through it at snail's pace because of all the required reading I have, it would be nice to have a list of books to read outside of class time.

Here's the question: What are 5-10 books you wish every pastor/theologian would read?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Death? Eschaton? Eternity?

I've been wondering about a strange question: If I died this evening -- or for that matter, if anyone died this evening -- and entered the afterlife in whatever that entails, do you think that I would find that everyone else is already there?

If God exists in eternity and outside of time, and if all time is present with God (Is all this really true?) then the eschaton is a present reality in all its fullness from the perspective of God. And so, would everybody already be experiencing the eschaton, in whatever form it takes because they have entered into some form of eternity? Would all things be complete? Would I leave my family and friends only to find that they are already there? And on this side of things, am I only separated from those who have died because I am entrenched in this thing called time? It would be comforting to think that if I died tonight, I would be united not only with those who died before me but with those who have not yet died.

But does this mean that I'm already there? Is there some perfected form of me floating around -- some Renee essence? This is beginning to sound a bit like Plato.

So, I suppose my question is this: for those who have not experienced the eschaton in the perspective of time (I guess that's all of us!) and for those who will not experience it in real time, do you think it happens for them at death?

These are weird questions, but they are fun to wonder about nonetheless.

Enough of this non-blogging!

For all those of you who are fans of the Miers-Briggs Type Indicator, I am an ENFP. In fact, I am an ENFP to the core. To spell that out, I am an extraverted-intuitive-feeling-perceptive individual. That translates to this: Like most ENFPs, I come up with great ideas and never follow through with them. Hence, my blog has spiderwebs. I am hoping to resurrect my blog.

Do you want to know what has changed that has gotten me back into the blogging spirit? In addition to the fact that classes are through for the semester, I now have the internet! Yes, I know it is rediculous that I have been living an internet free life. What does one do without the information superhighway? But now, the internet is working from my own living room. The blog returns!

Friday, September 22, 2006

9/11 This Year. . . Oh how strange. . .

I realize that it's been over a week since the most recent rememberance day of 9/11, but I have to say that I have found myself thinking about it differently this week.

I, like many other people, remember where I was when I found out about the tragic events of 9/11. But even though I have shared memories with others, I have to admit that I rarely find myself thinking through those memories. The main reason is that I am generally disgusted with how the memories of the day and the emotions associated with them are used to justify current U.S. policies. So, I don't revisit those memories very often. I don't want to be manipulated by my own emotions.

But the fifth anniversary of 9/11 was a little different for me. I watched some of the coverage of the memorial service, and it took me back to a different time -- not to September 11, 2001 but January 20, 2001.

That day was cold, wet, and miserable. But it was exciting. I was huddled with a bunch of people in concert black, looking out at the biggest crowd I had ever seen before. Some of us were on the verge of frostbite, but we were excited when we saw the big motorcoach approaching with police vehicles on every side. An hour or so later, we saw Bill Clinton and Al Gore as they made appearances. George Bush Sr. was there too, and he turned around from the podium to take pictures of us with his disposable camera. (He's a former president. You would think he would have a better camera!) The BBC took pictures of us too. We realized that the day was an important one. It was an exciting one because we were singing as the inaugural choir for George W. Bush.

There was a lot of controversy, of course, surrounding the Bush-Gore election. This election was the first time I had ever voted, and I did vote for Bush the first time around. I think most of the people in that choir -- no matter what their politics were at the time -- felt a real sense of excitement during the event and a real hope that we as Americans were really going somewhere. It was an overwhelming emotional experience.

This year as I watched the 9/11 coverage, I wouldn't have expected it, but I instantly experienced flashbacks to the Inauguration. The coverage from a week ago was so similar to the coverage five years ago. There were images of large crowds, a solemn President Bush, and once again, a choir was singing in the background . I hadn't thought about 9/11 in a long time. I definitely hadn't thought about the inauguration in a long time. But my stomach churned as I watched these images and thought about that memorable experience my freshman year. Back then, what were we hoping for? Would we have ever guessed that we would be dealing with war? Would we have ever guessed that so many nations of the world would have hatred for us?

This forced me to ask myself how we as Americans have used 9/11 to justify horrible acts. And I couldn't help but think -- how many people have died directly or indirectly because of this administration?