Saturday, May 14, 2011


What ELSE have I been missing?

Sniff, Sniff
Rebecca, are you in there?

There is a young man about my age who I see walking his little dog every morning before work. At about 7:10, they round the bend of the street that I can see out my kitchen window as I make tea, and stop at the edge of my neighbor's flower garden. There is always something good to sniff there, since this is also a favorite hang out for one of our neighborhood cats. The young man is usually dressed in khakis and wearing sunglasses. Often I believe his dog is really walking him, since he pays more attention to his cell phone and his text messages than he does to where they are going. Little doggie leads the way, stopping and starting and sniffing and shivering in the cool morning breezes.

They appear again in the evening, at around 6:00. This time they round the corner by the mailboxes, owner dressed in workout gear and headphones, little dog galloping along to keep stride.

This happens every day, morning and evening. I have been living here for just over three years, and I never noticed any of this until very recently.

It occurs to me that often we get so wrapped up in who we think we are or need to be, and in what we're doing, and in what others think we're about or should be about, that we stop looking around and noticing the world outside. It is as though I have been missing from my own life for quite some time now.

It does beg the question... what ELSE have I been missing? Now that I am NOT so wrapped up in my own self-importance, now that I have been knocked flat on my back on the floor with nowhere to look but up, what else is there to see from this vantage point?

I have to admit, I feel a little bit sorry for those who are still so caught up that they won't notice the little dog kicking up dirt in the neighbor's flowerbeds, while on the other end of the leash, his master yawns and sleepily checks his voicemail.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Circle

Here I am again. I've come full circle. The questions are still the same ones, only perhaps the answers are different.

Two years ago, I hit my own personal Easter about the time the church entered Lent. I remember thinking on Ash Wednesday of 2009 that I had finally broken out of the church's box. Although those sentiments didn't get entirely sorted out on my blog until many months later, I knew it was true--my freedom came in being willing to give it all away for the sake of the gospel. Even my diaconal ministry. Even the church. Once I was willing to give it all away, I suddenly didn't have to anymore.

"Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.'" (Matthew 16:24-25).

I sit here at 13 minutes to midnight on the night of the Easter Vigil, 2011, and I am still willing to give it all away. Last night, in the wee hours of Good Friday, I officially had a meltdown, and the truth came out...

Although for the last 12 years or so I have been able to divide my life into TWO distinct eras--Becca BEFORE Africa, and Becca AFTER Africa, for some reason, when I returned from Cameroon in 2002, I just kept living my life according to the plan I had laid out in college, as if Cameroon hadn't profoundly changed me. In the desperation and signature Rebecca impatience that I had to keep moving forward upon my return, I enrolled in seminary, just as planned. Just as planned... when? While I was still a student at Roanoke College, before I left for Cameroon.

The only problem was... I never counted on the plan changing. Somewhere between August of 2000 and July of 2002, the plan changed. I changed.

In February of 2001, while living in Cameroon, I wrote a short story called "Renaissance." In part, it was about giving up on the misconceptions and dreams of who I was before my love affair with Africa began, and embracing the realities of all that I had experienced... I wrote: "How can a quaint railroad town nestled in the mountains of southwest Virginia exist in the same world as the harsh purity of Africa, where life is defined by birth and death and the cycles of the rain? How could we just have sat there, sipping our beers, totally oblivious?"

My life and my journey were irrevocably altered in Cameroon. I found a new path. And yet, when I returned to the US, I chose not to take it. It has haunted me ever since.

Tonight, now 10 minutes into Easter morning--glorious resurrection!--I find myself in a strange predicament. I no longer have any reason not to choose that path that I once abandoned. The shackles have come off. There is no job, no salary, no call. All of the distractions have fallen away. There appears to be only one path forward.

I am not convinced that this means that seminary was a mistake or that I will eventually have to give up my consecration as a diaconal minister. I may not know the answer to those questions for many years to come, if ever. I'm not saying that I regret those things or the resulting experiences, either. But I do know something right now--it is time for me to do something I should have done a long time ago.

I am going to spend some time gaining the pre-requisites I need and studying for the GRE, and then I am going back to school to gain the knowledge I need to do what I have been called to do for at least 10 years... This would be my dream:

Enhanced by Zemanta

Sunday, April 17, 2011


What does it REALLY mean?

My recent experience with my young friend at my temp job in Norristown has gotten me thinking about what it means to be privileged. "Being able to do what you really feel called to do in life," she told me, "Is a privilege and not a right." 
Kugel Ball in Railroad Plaza, Lansdale, Pennsy...Image via Wikipedia
Kugel Ball in Railroad Plaza
Lansdale, PA

I often get the impression from people in my church social circles that I have led a pretty privileged life. Among my local colleagues, the main reason for this seems to be that I have served at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale, PA. It was my first call, and I am only 32. I was the youngest person on staff the entire time I was there. Having done that at my age and level of experience is not an honor everyone can attain. I should feel pretty damn special.

On the other hand, I also sometimes get the impression that in the eyes of some of my colleagues, I now have nothing left to live for professionally. Around here, once you've been at Trinity, you've kind of made it. I have heard people ask, "Is there life after Trinity?" Of course there is, don't be silly. I have also had my time spent at Trinity thrown in my face in random unrelated conversations. I think people want me to be angry or bitter about whatever they think might have happened to me there. Perhaps they want me to affirm their own pre-conceived notions about the place. I had a colleague approach me recently and ask me out of the blue, "Don't you feel like you got shafted?" Would it make you feel better if I said yes? Then you will probably be disappointed.

The truth of the matter is, when it comes down to the things in my life that have impacted me the most deeply, that I feel the most privileged to have been able to be a part of, I must be different than most people I know. Because when I make my list, when I think about the things that bring me to tears because I feel so honored to have been able to be a part of them, "Being at Trinity" is not on the list. Don't get me wrong--I am not talking smack about Trinity. It is a lovely place filled with lovely people, it was an important experience, I learned a lot and I will never regret it. It was a time of great growth and learning for me. At the same time, I never really wanted to go there, and although it was an exciting and challenging time in my life, I am not now sorry I am gone. It did, however, provide me the opportunity for something else that does make the list.

Downtown Ngaoundéré with Mount Ngaoundéré in t...Image via Wikipedia
Evening at the Petit Marche
Ngaoundere, Cameroon
There are two things in my life that I feel more privileged to have been able to be a part of than anything else. The first one was living and serving in Cameroon, in Africa. That was truly two years spent on holy ground. To be welcomed into the homes of my students, to hear their stories, to teach them and learn from them, to eat together, to love them and be loved by them--that was truly an honor. To know that I have formed lasting relationships with Nafissatou and Rifkatou and all of those beautiful girls who taught me so much more than I could ever teach them... that is truly an honor. I feel privileged to have even been welcomed into their midst.

The other one is spending my nights in a homeless shelter last winter. What an honor to get to know these men who came to us seeking a warm place to sleep. What courage they had. What a privilege to see volunteers from the congregation and community have their eyes opened and to begin building relationships with people who before this experience were just "those people," un-named others who we could just throw our money at and who we didn't really need to care about. What an honor to be summoned to the hospital bed of a sick, dying, drug-addicted man who had spent his life on the streets, and for whom those volunteers and the other guests at the shelter had become his only family. What a gift, to be called to give your life in service to others... Those nights I was truly in the presence of God, and walking on holy ground.

Many of the things that this world values, and that many of the people in my church value, do not make my list. Trinity is a very privileged place, and yet it does not make my list. Perhaps my idea of what it means to be privileged is messed up. I feel privileged to have been welcomed into the midst of the outcasts, the poor, the forgotten. I feel honored to have known them by name, to have met them on their terms, to have shown them the light of Christ. If this isn't true privilege, then I don't know what is.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

And Where Should I Go?

The Assistant to the Bishop of the Southeastern Synod (ELCA) at the time, Amy Onstad, sent me this quote in early May 2007, the week after the Candidacy Committee approved me for consecration as a Diaconal Minister. It accurately expresses what I told that committee that I felt about the church (and they still approved me!), and what I still feel even more poignantly now. I didn't write it, but I find it meaningful. Perhaps it will also help someone else who seeks understand their own struggle.

How baffling you are, oh Church, and yet how I love you!
How you have made me suffer, and yet how much I owe you!
I should like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence.
You have given me so much scandal and yet you have made me understand sanctity.
I have seen nothing in the world more devoted to obscurity, more compromised, more false, and I have touched nothing more pure, more generous, more beautiful.
How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face, and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms.
No, I cannot free myself from you, because I am you, although not completely.
And where should I go?
Taken from The God Who Comes by Carlo Carretto

Monday, April 11, 2011

Living It...

Let's Talk.

She came and stood behind me at the edge of my cubicle, just on the other side of the filing cabinet. I didn't notice her at first, as entrenched as I was in my email. Eventually, I felt her presence and swiveled around in my chair. I looked at her, but before I could even open my mouth to ask what she wanted, she was already talking.

"You know, Rebecca, being able to do what you really feel called to do in life is a privilege, and not a right."

I kept looking at her. Where did that come from? I wondered. When she didn't say anything else, I put on my young adult ministry hat and I said, "That's an interesting statement. What do you mean when you say that? Please, tell me more."

She sat down on my desk. "I just mean... well, I mean it would be easier to do what I really want to do if I didn't have to worry about money all the time." And with that she hopped off my desk and disappeared around the corner to answer her phone.

And that was the end of the conversation for the time being. Later other little bits of information about this 24-year-old young woman would be peppered in--about how her mother committed suicide, about how her sister is a drug addict, and why her live-in boyfriend converted to Mormonism while he was in prison...

Last weekend at a retreat with leaders and future leaders of the ELCA, my church, someone asked me what I have been doing since I got laid off from my job in a congregation almost 8 months ago. I told her I have been working in the customer service end of a warehouse in Norristown.

"I'm sorry. That must be awful," was the response I got.

"Actually, it's not," I replied. "There is nothing to be sorry about."

She looked surprised. I went on, "I'm living the priesthood of all believers."

This is the life that most of the people in our congregations live. Gritty, real stuff. We preach it, and we tell others to live it, yet we have no idea ourselves what that means. We tell people to go out into the world and be little Christs in all of their contexts, shining their lights into all the dark places--at work, at school, at home. And yet we rarely leave the confines of the church ourselves. And those of us who do are often marginalized by the very church we serve.

And our congregation members have come to believe, perhaps because of who we are and what we do as leaders, that the church is what happens inside the "circle." Many Christians have no room in their hearts for those who are different than they are--Muslim, gay, hispanic, homeless, whatever. It is much easier to remain inside the walls of the "church" where it is safe, than it is to discover the priesthood of all believers, the Church, on the outside.

I always suspected this, but never realized how much it was true until there was no "church" to shelter me anymore. Cast out into the world, I'm living it.
Enhanced by Zemanta