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hopeful holds the tension/ dew jewels cling the sway/ clasped tight against the world/ not yet knowing it's ok/ the waiting deepens color/ trying to accept every sun ray/ gathering its truth song/ beauty at bay so long/ awaiting opening to day/

Friday, July 31, 2009

Holland Part 2: Why Holland has so many canals

The outing with the Amsterdam Vineyard church plant allowed me to meet an awesome Dutch girl named Dieuwke (pronounced "Du-ka"). She invited me to spend the day with her in the town she attends university (their school system is VERY different here) to be a journalist. So, I took the train from Amsterdam Centraal half an hour south to Utrecht (pronounced something like U-tre-CKK, the CKKK is a cross between trying to hack up a lung and clearing one's throat). She met me at the train station and we walked around the beautiful, modest little town of Utrecht. We had lunch by the outergracht (the outer canal). We climbed the Dom Tower - a tower built as part of a church (which is the oldest Reformed church in Holland: St. Martin's) in the 1300s with 465 steps. The tour guide (who climbs up and down this thing three times a day) spoke to us first in Dutch and then in near perfect English, telling us all about the history of the church, how the middle part of it (that connect the Tower to the main church building that they still use for services today) was blown down by a hurricane in 1674, how the heaviest bell in the Tower weighs 8 tons (and was made in 1501), and the total bell collection (of 14 bells) takes 25 people to ring (they only ring this particular set of bells on special occassions such as a baby born in the Royal Family, New Years, or an anniversary pertinent to the church or the tower. The "museum" level was where the bell ringer used to live with his family and every hour on the hour he would have to pull a rope to ring the bells. The staircase was spirally and wind-y and narrowed as it rose, so it was a bit claustrophic at the top, but the view was definitely worth it.After this, we walked around Utrecht and Dieuwke informed me of a lot of things I didn't know about Holland: like how they have the best water management engineers in the world because most of the country (besides Utrecht and another part farther East) is 5 meters below sea level and if they didn't know how to manage that, most of the country would be underwater. Global warming is really threatening this country, apparently. She also told me how her father and grandfather, to make a living, sell flowers in the marketplaces. They've been doing this for their entire lives; it is a huge industry out here - people want fresh flowers for their homes on a weekly basis, and there are many, many other occasions - not that you'd even need one here to buy some flowers. The sellers get their flowers at auctions and take them to these huge flower markets they have nearly every day to sell them.
Then, of course, we went shopping. Well, we went looking, I should say. It was so refreshing to hang out in an earring store with someone who likes earrings as much as I do! We went to a store called "Six" that orangizes it's merchandise by color, and lists the price of each item on its tag in several different currencies (Euro, CHF [swiss francs], PLN [??] and a few others that I didn't recongize. Diewke suggested that the reason those particular currencies are listed is because that might indicate what other countries this particular store is in.
Afterward, we went to a traditional Italian ice cream shop - "traditional Italian" here in Europe is WAY different than "traditional Italian" in the States (better here, in my opinion and it's probably because things are much more easily imported from Italy here!). We talked for about 3 hours on the existence of hell, eternal suffering and eternal life, free will and self-acceptance. We also debated whether it was better that drugs be legal or not (there are obvious issues with both); we marveled at the complete lack of natural limit on people's appetites. Legalizing drugs can either make them safer because they can be regulated and people won't feel like they've got to take their hobbies "underground," but it sends a confusing moral message to people, as well as basically abandon people to their addictions and cravings. It's a messy subject and I LOVED that I had a from-a-whole-other-culture companion to discuss things like this with! Dieuwke was such a blessing to me and I really do hope we can stay connected!
I took the train back around 10 (it was still light) but I got a bit lost trying to find my way back to the hostel. Amsterdam is a relatively easy to figure out and I actually felt safer there than I did in any of the cities in the States I've had to walk around by myself at night in - not that I made a habit out of doing this (and everything turned out fine). I got back to my hostel around 11 and fell asleep thanking God for a wonderful day and a chance to discuss some of the difficult things I've been wrestling with lately to another live human being!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Holland Part 1: Water into Wijn

Here I am, back from The 'Dam! I realized that I fly out on what would have been my grandfather's 84th birthday...
Anyway, I ended up going to about three different cities in Holland. The first major outing I did was meeting up with some friends of a friend who are planting a church in Amsterdam; the team based out of the Columbus Vineyard in Ohio moved to A'Dam about a year ago and have begun the preliminary work for planting a Vineyard there. On Sunday, I was invited over to a girl's flat for breakfast (which she cooked!) and hang-out time before our excursion to the first Vineyard in Holland, in the city of Wageningen (pronounced something like Va-CKKen-Ay-CKKKKen). The worship, announcements and prayers were all in Dutch; I could sing along in English to some of the music I recognized, and picked up on a few repeated phrases, so now I now how to say Lord (Heer), Jesus (Jezus), soul (sheel) and a few other things in Dutch! Dutch, like German, sounds enough like English to me that I can pick up the general topic of conversation when I'm listening to it but I can't really read it so much since they're pronunciations are very different (for example, oo=short o) from mine...The sermon was in English, but that's because it was given by the main guy in charge of the Amsterdam Vineyard plant, Eric Pickerel, and every sentence he spoke, we had to stop so it could be translated into Dutch. Overall, it was pretty awesome.
What was really fun was that, to get to to the Wageningen Vineyard, we had to take a train (an hour south) from A'Dam Centraal. I went with two girls who are part of the church planting team, and one girl who goes to another Vineyard in a nearby city (she's Dutch) - we got to ride bikes from the flat on level 3 of a really cute Dutch street to the Centraal to catch the train. The excursion took the entire day, which was wonderful!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cook like the Italians

So, today, instead of getting ready for Amsterdam tomorrow, I attempted to finishing writing a sermon (since the deadline is a day after I return from Amsterdam and I'm not taking my computer) for a contest, listened to a BUNCH of stuff online (and discovered that my 'doubt', while having emotional dimensions, may be more volitional than anything else...that is to say, a death-producing form of self-protection I learned in my two-and-change decades of life...) and attended a talk about "emotional eating" (sort of) in the Umbrella-esque thing (called a 'yurt'). I'm not sure exactly what a 'yurt' is, but this is Sally's, and it's in her backyard, where she hosts her meditation practices and other Buddhist-like-"not-a-threat-to-anyone's-religion" (her words) classes.
Anyway, about the emotional eating. The talk was actually given by a spunky, gorgeous young health-food-store worker named Kim who could talk a mile-a-minute (literally - she's Irish) about any health question you threw at her. She gave a LOT of good reasons to stop drinking coffee (which I've got down since I think the stuff tastes like chalk [and yes, yes I WOULD know]...), try as hard as you can to be vegetarian (which I mostly am except for fish - and actually, salmon, mackeral, "wee" fish (sardines) and trout can be good for you; the bigger the fish (tuna is actually rather large) the more toxic it is), and essentially convinced me that a microwave is not only not needed, but actually harmful. She told of this study she knew of where three groups of cats were given different kinds of milk: one group was given raw (as in, not messed-with) milk, another pasteurized (as in, processed) and another microwaved. These cats were studied over a few generations...if they could be. See, the cats on microwaved milk started to show health problems within their lifetime and their kittens didn't live to have kittens of their own. The pasteurized mlik-drinkers were better off, but degenerative health problems started to show up in the 3rd generation. Cats given raw milk lived longer than any of the others and, as far as the study went, their offspring are still offspring-ing. It came as no surprise to me that microwavable meals had virtually no nurtitional value, but I was a bit shocked to learn that putting ANYTHING in the microwave caused enough molecular change to the food that it became unrecognizable (as in toxic, and thus, weight-producing since your body wants to store toxins as far away from the vital organs as possible) to the body. Obviously, I'm looking more into this, but it's a good thing I don't really have access to a microwave out here. :-). Basically, the best way to cook most things is...uh... as little as possible: steam or boil vegetables, don't cook anything till it's black, and pour on seasonings, oils, etc AFTER something is cooked. So, apparently like they do in Italy. (I always knew I liked Italy for a reason....:-P).
The talk was focused on "eating for your emotions" and focused a lot on how blood sugar can affect what your body craves and thinks it needs to balance it's blood sugar levels to what it's used to - so, like, if you drink 8 cups of coffee a day, your body will want to balance out out to that level (which is WAY too high) so that it won't experience a "crash". That's the addictive principle behind most stimulants, actually.
Anyway, it was really helpful - I only knew about half that information - because I'd sort of been struggling with what to eat out here since I have decided for ethical reasons as well as health to continue being at least white-meat vegetarian (there are pretty much no health benefits you can get from red meat that you can't get about 16 other ways), and am allergic to lots of random things (avocados make my throat itch, sunflower seeds turn my body into one big hive for three days [and that's with regular doses of Benedryl], chocolate makes my body sort of seize up and freak out), etc. I also really don't like sweet things too much at all (fruit being about the only exception these days)). I've also recently discovered that I am definitely lactose intolerant (which is actually the more common way to relate to dairy, according to world population statistics, (roughly 70% of the world's adult cannot absorb lactase!), am probably minorly celiac (gluten intolerant) like 1% of the US population and am very sensitive to sugar. So, overall a good day, but now, I've really got to jump on this Amsterdam business. See you in a week!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Life (next to) the Fast Lane

Today I woke up and the sky was flooding, so I went back to sleep. Then, I woke up again, sort of a "take 2: Sun", and it was finally peering shyly from behind the draw curtain. So, I readied for a walk to the County Town of Down from Saintfield. The bus ride is twenty minutes, and all the signs say "Downpatrick: 11" on them. I assumed it was kilometers and figured that it's got to be less than 11 miles anyway; the plan was to hoof it there and back in the beautiful, though spotty, sunlight among the ripply-rolly green of what-comes-to-your-mind-when-you-think-of-Ireland Northern Ireland. Like, the tallest moutain in Ireland (3000 feet) singing in the picture above - which was one of my rewards for my little endeavour today. I started out by walking the 25 minutes into "The Village" ('downtown' Saintfield) and bought the least suspicious looking "biscuits" (cookie-cake things) I could find at the Saintfield Bakery for sustenance on what I was assuming would be about an hour and a half at-(worship)-music-pace walk.
The sidewalk ends about 5 minutes outside Saintfield, which leaves you about a snap pea's long-length -wise length away from the "main trucker's highway between Belfast and Downpatrick", and only some of it was this groomed in terms of plant wildness (but I LOVE how much less obsessed with nature battle-back they are here, even if it did nip at my ankles and turn my socks to dish rags) so I tromped through knee-length grass, heavy with a day and a half of rain to avoid the topple-over-whiz of...you know, all the trucks. I discovered that I'm more sure-footed than it might appear (I really do blame those stealthy gusts of gravity): I was able to rock out to Rita Springer, Keith Green and tobyMac without turning my ankle in the several unexpected (because I couldn't see them) holes, terrain changes or gashing them on tangles of thorn bushes or blackberry vines. For the most part...
After about an hour and a half, I began to think that walking the same direction until you start to feel sore is not really that smart. I'd only passed two bus stops, though (and no bus had passed me so in all honesty, it appears that it was actually faster to walk) and I really wanted to walk to Downpatrick and back, so I kept going. I finally saw a spire in the air and rejoiced in having found the Down (St. Patrick's) Cathedral.
Or the half-way-there point. The deceptive spire was that of a Church of Ireland that, while gorgeous, mocked me as I limped past with all it's standing-still-in-the-same-place-for-the-last-200-hundred-years. For me, though, another "5" to go. The first 5 had taken me just under two hours, and that was without the shooting pain down my right leg.
I left the house in Saintfield at just past 10, and finally arrived in Downpatrick at half(ish) 1. The reason it took me 3 and a half hours is because it actually was 11 miles! I wandered around for a bit, and went to a restaurant that Sally recommended to me - called "Denvir's"(spelled differently, but pronounced like where I'm sort-of originally from) - but decided that I wanted a quaint little coffee cafe, rather than a down-the-nose-posh place, to relax (recover, really) and write, instead. So, with some poking around, I found "The Daily Grind" a block and a half from "St. Patrick Centre" and, after basically one-legging it up a flight of stairs, inched downward into a chair. I sat there for about two hours with my Pink Ginger Thorncot (it's a kind of humbly sparkling, modestly flavored, sharply fresh whistle-wetter) and pita-exploding-of-salad (with crumbly, but not dry, chicken, splashes of colored pepper cubes, snappy cucumber and cooling lettuce under pesto mayo) reading an incredible little book (see right panel) that spoke to nearly all of the things I'm either currently going through or ever have. Seriously. So, despite a knee that's still protesting a bit (and influencing my foot to do the same), I think my 11 mile walk today was really, really good (I'm glad I didn't try to walk all the way back, though!) My hips were way too sore to walk back anyway, so I did take a bus, but still had to negotiate the hill from The Village to the house with my throbbing lower half and right knee, now screaming with every step. I made it home alright, though, and put some ice on the poor thing. Hopefully it will calm down for Amsterdam on Friday!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Today

Today marks one month I've been away from Seattle, three years since I've started becoming Christian and one month (about) till I get to Iona, Scotland. It was storming all day outside (until about just now - 6pm), so I spent a cozy day indoors with God. I found out there was a rather intense storm (tornado?) in Colorado (though I'm not sure where) last night so I hope everyone (especially those I love there!) are ok - I heard some trees got thrashed pretty badly, and a friend reported that her dog almost blew away...
I received the package from my "parents" back home that I'd been told about a week or so ago (part of it I'm supposed to save until Iona, but I think it's more than co-incidental that I got it today! The part I could open was two purple pens*! "Parents" - thank you! God, you ROCK!). I listened to an amazing sermon (seriously, I've NEVER heard the "wives submit to your husbands" verse in the Bible talked about in this way before!), had two rather intense prayer times that gave me a headache (but were both really, really good), did some intercessory dance (something I'd not done before), stumbled upon a really interesting blog, and discovered that most of my pens are out of ink*. Perhaps you can see why...
(they're not even done yet! And these are just the ones I brought (or bought - the one with the purple bird sewn beautifully onto the front is from London) on this trip!)

Monday, July 20, 2009

"Depends on who you ask"

Today Sally (the lady I'm staying with) took me on a tour of the County that we're in - the County of Down. We saw a lot of really old stuff - monastery ruins from the 5th century, stone circles (smaller versions of Stone Henge) from 1500 B.C., and the three places where St. Patrick is buried. Yes. It depends on who you ask. In the County Town of Down - "Downpatrick" - there is a beautiful cathedral on top of one of the three hills that Downpatrick was built on, and St. Patrick was buried there. There are two other places where St. Patrick was buried. Sally and I talked about how history is more about story (that is, the story of the person who's telling it) rather than what "really" happened - and I continue to be amazed at how important story and identity are around here. For example, it "depends on who you ask" if Gaelic is just a sport (a cross between football - that is, soccer - and rugby) or if it is also a language (and if so, it's the same as "Irish"). It depends on who you ask if Belfast is in a different country than Dublin.

And, it depends on who you ask if you get to where you want to go or not. A Dubliner I met at the Belfast City Vineyard a few weeks ago told me that if I wanted to be sure I knew where I was going, I should "ask three people and take the average." People aren't deliberately deceptive, their world is just very personally/personal identity oriented. Combine that with an eager to help and you've got yourself...well, in my case, pretty much lost. But, fascinated nonetheless. And...reassured that God actually does know what He's doing - beyond a cosmic/big-picture/future sense...God really knows how to love ME. For example, the view of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Downpatrick from Inch Abbey:

After this, I watched a heart-wrenching movie, "Inside I'm Dancing" about two blokes (it's set in Dublin and I've actually been to some of the places in the film!) in wheelchairs who become friends and...well, since I highly recommend you all go watch it, I won't spoil it. It's brilliant!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

"Be Still and know that I am good"

(First, I want to thank my grandmother for her e-mails. They mean more to me than I can say.)

This morning I went to 2nd Presbyterian Church in "The Village" of Saintfield. The main reason is because the buses actually don't run at the right times to the right places to get me to the Belfast Vineyard, and I could walk to this church in about 25 minutes. It reminded me of the church I grew up in - the church where Christianity "didn't take" - St. Andrew UMC (it's not the church's fault...). The place even smelled similar to St. Andrew...I'm wondering if it's the people (since that what a church really is, anyway) since I remember that smell from my childhood as well as the last time I was at St. Andrew (for my grandfather's memorial service) - and the church has moved buildings in between those two things. Anyway, the first song the choir sung was "Be Still and Know that I am God" (thank you, Lord). With their accents, it sounded like "Be still and know that I am good" (thank you again, Lord). The service really was wonderful and spoke to me a lot of ways I needed to be spoken to.
Afterward, I walked around a neighborhood - probably the equivalent of a "suburb" - and laughed in the sunlight. I walked to the end of the road of these peaceful houses with carefully groomed lawns and precisely arranged flowers, feeling a sense of home (not my own, but that this was where people made their homes - something I sometimes forget when I'm on "vacation" in a strange new place). At the end of the road was this beautiful song (pictured to the left). My pastors, on a 4 and a half hour phone call a few nights ago, suggested that I "fall in love" on this trip (with the One who made all this!). I'm starting to find this One (praise God) irresistible!
This evening, I cooked up some fish (trout!) and "experimented, in a do-what-you-can-with-what-you-have sort of way with a salad: really good lettuce (that I haven't had in the States and is hard to describe), kiwi (it was going "off" (as in, "bad") soon), strawberries, olive oil and what I thought was ginger but turned out to be cinnamon. I know. Gross, right? But, actually, it was delicious. I am actually so enjoying coming up with things to eat around here - yes, I think I am actually saying that I...enjoy...cooking! I'm being humbled into beginning to believe that God really can change things I think are "impossible." :-). (In the corner of the picture is a jar of garlic - I can't figure out what they do to it here, but it, too, is rather irresistible! :-)
As I was consuming this lovely meal I made, I watched "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (I had to do this weird thing and switch the region on my computer so that it would play the DVD and I can now only switch it three more times or something...)....and all I have to say about this movie is...what. the. heck.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

God....who am I?

I ended up in downtown Belfast again today - not really the way I had planned, but I'm sort of used to God setting me up. It turned out to be a lovely day. First, I walked along the Lagon River, praying (really, really hard), crying and groaning (I'm so glad the Spirit knows how to pray for us), then around the city. I found some beautiful things (including a different city - accidentally - on the bus!), and, during one of my prayers realized something: one of the best ways to learn who you are/stop rejecting yourself is to actually receive when God is saying "yes (and amen)" to you. So, despite a really difficult relational situation, I received that God was actually trying to give me the desires of my heart. And that really changed everything.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Presenting God with the Bill (but taking out my own wallet)

(I wrote this yesterday morning just after I'd posted about Belfast but, for whatever reason, hesitated to post it. Now, for whatever reason, I'm not.)
So (brace yourselves). This (my desk area/ computer) is where I spent most of the day yesterday. I listened to a sermon by Rich Nathan yesterday about the problem of pain (It's not the problem of evil because the problem of evil was defeated on Christ's cross) and suffering. I was going to leave the house (really), but the sermon nailed me to the floor: I've got some issues with suffering. I'm sure I don't need to prove to you that suffering exists. I think my issue, mostly, is with the amount of suffering that is allowed to go on around here (because some lessons, I've found, are only learned through pain).

But, I probably don't need to explain that there is NOT always this nice, neat one-to-one correlation/reap-what-you-sew/touch-fire-get-burned sort of relationship between person and affliction when it comes to suffering (the book of Job is a great piece of protest literature against that, for Job was blameless and upright). My ex-boyfriend's mother died of cancer after an eleven year fight when he was 13. She was (and probably still is) a good Christian woman. One of my dear friends has been in a wheelchair since birth due to Spina Bifida and has health problem upon health problem continually piled on him. He is a devout Christ follower. My own mother suffered through (and survived) cancer. My grandfather recently died (and I don't care HOW old a person is, death is not really ok). Both Christians. I'm from the town home to the Columbine High School shooting that happened ten years ago where several of the 14 (teenaged, and yes there were 14) victims (and 1 teacher) were Christian. And that's not even the extent of my own personal suffering (by now it should be obvious...I'm Christian). Not only that, but it doesn't scratch the surface of humanity's cry of pain.

Darfur is home to the worse humanitarian crisis of the 21st Century. Less than a hundred years ago, Germany was. Millions of Jews (the way I read the Bible, these are GOD'S people!) and millions of others were exterminated for absolutely no reason other than the power, fear and greed of one man. At least 1.2 billion people go to bed hungry every night. 6 million children are currently without clean water (that is, they either have no water or the water they have will kill them). You get it. And it makes it really angry.

God, this is YOUR world. What of it? (Why would You sustain something like this?)

Rich said in his sermon that the most searing attacks of the Christian faith do not come from atheists like Richard Dawkins or Bertrand Russell, but of devout Jewish or Christian BELIEVERS. C.S. Lewis says that the very REASON for your outrage should point to the fact that there is in fact a God who is good, who SHOULD be doing something about this (who you presume CAN or you wouldn't cry for Him) and who you presume cares (or you would take your anguish elsewhere). Yes. Because we all know, somewhere inside us, that pain is not something that "just is" in the sense that it's "ok", really, and those who have "gotten to the place" where they are "ok" with pain are kidding themselves, I'm sorry. Deep down, I have to say that I know that I, that we, as people weren't made for this.

A friend once said, "As you get older, death begins somewhat of a familiar friend." No! my soul cries. No! I can't just "be ok" with death no matter how often it happens around me, how old the person was, or how peacefully they went. (Rich Nathan's got another beautiful sermon on death, too.) I can't just say in my heart to a picture of a starving AIDS orphan that "that's the way life goes" especially when I know of a very few people (proportionally) who are taking disgustingly more than they need at the rest of the world's people's expense. It's not just that my faith forbids that. It's that my very soul is revolted by such psychopathic (really, read the Columbine link) callousness (insensitivity isn't strong enough). I'm mad. I have to care.

God? (A friend and "papa" in my church once said, "If you're not outraged, you're not conscious.")

In the middle of his sermon, Rich talks about suffering being a "stepping" stone - not a "stumbling" stone for faith. He read an e-mail he received from a firefighter: "I often find that God is working in the fire. God is working in the rubble. And I find that He is working through me." Whoa hey. Like the book "The Wounded Woman" (though the ideas and principles really could be applied to everyone) I'm reading says, "Your pain is not a problem. It is a solution." (And here, I am reminded of a line from a Rich Mullins song that caught in my head about 6 years ago on a drive with my father through Utah after a college visit trip down the West Coast. I was not Christian then - actually, I was still convinced that I was "never going to be" - but this line has been swinging around the branches of my mind ever since that trip: "You meet the Lord in the furnace long time 'fore you meet Him in the sky.")

And my pastor has recently been mining the riches - for they truly riches in a sin-soaked planet - of Christ's suffering, too. Guys, Jesus gets it. We don't have a High Priest who snaps His whip saying "deal with it" when it comes to bloodshed, or cancer, or ravaged lands, or nakedness, or starvation, or loneliness or depression ("My Soul is troubled to the point of death!"). Only we who are Christian have a God who suffered, too. This valley of the shadow of death that we walk through? Our God died, too. This atrocious, bone cracking hell-on-earth we flounder in? Christ fell (three times) under His cross, too. We want this suffering to stop, to be taken from us? God-in-Christ asked God-the-Father (three times) for the horrific-ness He was about to endure to pass before Him, too.

God does not answer the "why" Job hurl at Him 17 times throughout the book (like Eugene Peterson paraphrases in The Message version of the Bible, "You are asking the wrong question. There is no cause-and-effect relationship. Look for what God can do."), but He promised us He would never leave us. Not even to the end of the age. (So, in theory, we don't even need to pray "Come, Holy Spirit" because She already has...).

And that, to me, is no longer an airy-fairy promise of hand-holding because Christ knows what it is to suffocate, to bleed to death, and to be mocked in the process. That is the God who knows me, who sees me, who's planned for me since before my mother's womb, and who walks with me and who will walk with you.

It really IS "time I started dancing over all these graves!"
(how can I sing this?)
It is really IS time "I give you o my God the highest Praise"
(because "I want the joy of the Lord to come down,
to fall down, to lift me,
to change me!
I want the joy of the Lord - the freedom of the Lord - the LOVE of the Lord
in my life!").

Belfast City: Looking Deeper *updated*

Yesterday I went into the city by myself. The lady I'm staying with took her son and I with us into the city and dropped us off at the bus station so that I could know where it is to get back to the house. Her son showed me around a bit and then took off to meet his friend. I did some walking, and realized that I actually 'feel better' in a larger city rather than a smaller one, even though I've got issues being in a large crowd. Something about cities just feels safer, more encouraging - which is weird, since there is a lot of tough stuff that can happen in inner cities. I was in Belfast City Centre, sort of by Queens University (I think), though I didn't too much exploring. I have a fear of getting lost, so I didn't wander too far from where I was dropped off. I did get to see Belfast's gorgeous City Hall, though. I found a coffee cafe and sat and wrote for about 4 hours - nothing too brilliant, just reflection and on some memories.
Something I really enjoyed about the City Centre was it's means of getting around. Public transportation in Europe really rocks (aside from it being really expensive). You can (if you've lived here long enough), tell to what part of the city a bus is going and how far by what it looks like (for example, those bright pink double deckers are city buses, and they don't leave the city area - though I don't know what that would be; Seattle's equivalent might be the 'Ride Free Area', Denver's might be, in part, Colfax and Colorado Blvd, if I remember right...). The little window where Seattle's buses have the number and the destination include all of that, but they also include the time the bus left it's station (either Europa or Great Victoria Street) so you can tell when the next one of its kind will leave, if you really know you're stuff. Apparently I've also captured the essence of getting around on foot. Jay-walking is actually a necessity around here if you want to get anywhere, which is dangerous for people like me who (still) look the wrong direction when attempting to cross the street.
I managed to find my way back to Saintfield on the bus, and in the process, stumbled upon the "most bombed" hotel in the world (which might be why I've heard of it: the Europa Hotel.
I've also noticed that I take a lot of "street" or "path" shots. I think what it is about these sorts of pictures is that I like the symbolic representation of a "journey" in a path or street. Plus, I also think that, in many cases, looking at long stretches of road or street in a city can tell you a lot about the character of it. In general, the streets of London, Dublin and Belfast have a lot in common - the best way I can describe it, as an American, is that they are all "European." I think what I mean by that is that the buildings, at least to me, seem generally older and more intricately designed. I remember this the last time I was in Europe, too. I remember that being something I really liked about Europe - it's oldness, it's history. Six years ago, when I toured Western Europe on a concert tour, I remembered feeling safe precisely because of the oldness - like, it's more solid because it's been around a lot longer.
Anyway, so this is a street shot of Belfast. I think there is typically more activity going on for a Wednesday afternoon - well, there would be in Seattle, I think, it could be different here, obviously. What caught me about this is that there are a lot of newer buildings - mostly offices and shops, I think - and then, in the middle of all this progress and commerce there is, what seems to me, anyway, an older building. It's the Operah House, apparently. And I love that they've preserved it smack dab in the middle of what probably was a lot of renovation and remodeling. I feel that a lot here - there are a lot of newer buildings in Belfast as opposed to London and Dublin, but even still, there is a sense of protection around history. In terms of religion (Catholic vs. Protestant), it's about the preservation of story, the differentation necessary in identity, and the pride (in the good way, if there is such) what makes you "you" and us "us".
Something else I loved seeing while walking around was the authentic expression of compassion by a group of white-shirted interpretative dancers. There were about 8 of them, and what caught my attention was their leader: a very Irish man who was yelling - but in a very gentle way - to a tour bus stopped at a red light. "Hello ther, are ya havin' a good tyme in Beylfast, t'day? Wer heer on ar whey to dance fer Darfur so, if yer aruund layter, we'd lov ta heyv ya stop biy!" Complete with gratuitous arm motions and ballet jumps by him and his band of social activists. It was so brilliant that it actually made me cry a bit. Perhaps I DO have a heart for the beautiful expression of God's gifts in others (as in, I'm not just a sack of jealousy and anxious wiggles about not being good enough myself). :-)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Dublin, Part 3: I'm really not a tourist

But, I went out to see some of Dublin anyway. I met up with that group from NY - "Father Rob" was in my Urban Soul team and he said I could tag along with them, which was awesome in a lot of ways: one because I got to be with people and two because I got the group rate to some of the sightseeing stuff. Like, the bust tour around Dublin that had twenty three stops around the city, including O'Connell Street, the Guinness Factory, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral, Phoenix Park (the largest enclosed park in Europe), James Joyce's house, several famous bridges that cross the Liffey and the Book of Kells! The Book of Kells is fairly amazing - it's the four gospels in Latin and it's beautiful. The day I saw it, it was opened to the feeding of the five thousand story in Matthew.
I walked around a bit by myself after seeing the city on a bus, found a cute little cafe to hang out in for a bit and then walked along the main street in Dublin. Dublin's got it's own version of the Space Needle - they call in The Milennial Spire which was erected in 2002.
That evening we went out for traditional Irish food, music and dancing. I was blown away by the gifts of the musicians and dancers, so much so that I actually started to cry. I sat in the front row by the stage, and the fiddle player noticed and commented on my teary eyes. I thought it would be embarrassing, but, for whatever reason, it wasn't. The dancers were incredible, though. We were entertained by world-class dancers and musicians that night. The food was very interesting - lots of potatoes and fruit, and they do fish-n-chips very differently around here. Still very good, though.
I made it to the Dublin Vineyard (they meet in the YMCA in Dublin - and so far, no Vineyard I've been to in Europe meets in their own church building) the next morning, too. The bus system is a bit different: you get on, tell the driver where you want to go and he determines how much you pay. Then you get a receipt instead of a ticket. The Dublin Vineyard was, so far, the most different of the Vineyards I'd been to: I finally got a chance to have communion, which was placed (randomly) in the middle of worship. Then, there was announcements and we went straight into a message about the secrets of the kingdom of Heaven. One of the "secrets" is that the kingdom of Heaven sort of depends on our response to Jesus. I was having a conversation with a friend recently that sort of sums that up; he said "All who hear the gospel message are called, and all who follow are chosen." (This was within a discussion of pluralism and our response to the myriad religions in the world today).
After the service, a few of us gathered together, stopped by a Subway (it's only minorly different here in Ireland) and headed out for a picnic in St. Stephen's Green (a major park in Dublin City Centre. Here, I met some more Americans, someone from Brazil who came to Ireland to learn English, two guys from Bern (the capitol of Switzerland - which I am probably going to since I've got another friend there that I met when he was visiting my home Vineyard), and a family from Texas who has just moved there because the felt God's call. Walking back from St. Stephen's Green through Grafton Street to the train station by the hostel I was staying actually made me really happy for some reason. I think it was because I love to see the activity of people, the colors and sounds and movements...I'm really THAT people oriented I think. It could also be that this particular street - a pedestrian only shopping area - reminded me a LOT of Pearl Street in Boulder: there were musicians, dancers - performers of all varieties, really, and it was one of the first times I missed being at CU. Of course, this is much cooler - which the picture doesn't accurately express, but it's the only one I took because I was too distracted by all the European coolness - the accents, the different spellings, the architecture of the buildings. It was brilliant!
Anyway, I found myself getting sick during the tours on Saturday and am still getting over it. I actually think it's more allergies than being sick because I don't feel that bad, I just can't breathe through my nose or see very clearly because of all the water. My throat is a bit sore from all the sneezing/coughing. It's the worse in Belfast - I'm staying, if you'll recall, in a place with a LOT of flowers and plants, though none of the plants LOOK that different from back home...I had horrendous allergies in Colorado, but so far, none in Seattle, and most of the plants here look familiar from the Seattle area. Anyway, I'm praying about it, because it's actually bad enough that I can't leave the house on windy days.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Dublin, Part 2: Indiscriminate Acts of Kindness

After the main meeting in the mornings, we would get into our gear - the red t-shirt (we got to keep) and the "be safe, be seen" construction vest (that we, thank goodness, didn't have to keep) and split up into about 20 groups to go out all over the city and do whatever was needed. I'm not sure how Urban Soul knew what was needed around the city, but we had groups going to old folks homes to knit/spend time with the residents, to the streets of Dublin to give out free coffee/tea and biscuits, to people's homes to clean and paint, to various events around the city for children, to garden, etc.
My group (just outside the Dublin Christian Mission) from left to right: Mike (from Albany), Lisel (one of the directors of DCM, originally from Canada), Chuck (from Albany) Daniel (from Costa Rica), Father Rob, kneeling (the leader of the Albany group), Sarah (from Cali), James (from PA), Doris (from Albany), me and Manuel (from Nigeria), on the first two days, went to the Dublin Christian Mission. We got to be adventurous and take the Luas System to get out a bit further than the other groups who were on foot did. For reference, we started at Connolly Station and took it to the DCM at Four Corners. At the DCM - whose walls are covered with paintings of looney tunes characters combined with Bible verses (it's actually quite clever) - we cleaned out all their rooms (this is just one of the three sides rooms that I helped Daniel clean out) to get ready for their 9 summer camps they have throughout the country during the summer season. We took the clothes, shoes and toys we found while cleaning out their rooms to their homeless ministry further in the city called "The Lighthouse." We organized food for the camps, cleaned the kitchen, and even prepared some decorations for their camp. I traced (from a projector) and painted the "Summer Project" banner (that they want to re-use every year!) by myself! I thought I would use my decorative inklings and add a few things so, in case the picture is too small to see: the little black things by the "Ms" are spokes for tents (and people inside them), the green by the "S" is grass, the green under the "r" in Summer is a stem that makes the "r" a flower of sorts, the yellow by the "P" are stars, and the yellow under the "o" are hands ready to "catch" the "O." I couldn't think of anything else in the short time I had, but perhaps they can use the blank space in some other artistic way...

On Friday, they split our group in two and I got to "lead" the group even further out (from the Luas map it's from Connolly to Drimnagh station) to an "estate" (the US equivalent of a project housing development) and we got to help out with a sports day/community event for the children there. We had sack races, spoon-and-spoon races (where you have to balance a potato on a spoon and run as fast as you can without dropping it), three legged races, basketball tournaments, 100 yard dash, and, of course, sumo wrestling. We offered hot dogs and ice cream to the children and there was even an awards ceremony, to which the Archbishop of Ireland came. Mark Ritchie was there on his visit around the city to the various projects Urban Soul was doing and he kept saying (in his AWESOME Scottish accent), "You guys are just doin' brilliant!" I think "brilliant" is this part of the world's equivalent to "awesome", not "really geniusly smart" like what it means in the States. The ironic thing is that most people (even the lady I'm staying with, who is originally from Canada but lived in Seattle) doesn't know what "that's awesome" means. She gave me a "goosebury" to try (freshly picked from her backyard) and I exclaimed, "These are awesome!" and she says, "I don't know what that means, is that good or bad?" I love things like this!
During the morning meeting, one of the speakers challenged us to "dream big" during the day. I was not doing a whole lot on Friday - I was manning the sack race station and holding the finish line rope and, again, feeling quite awkward not knowing what to say or do except clap and cheer...and I believe God was speaking to me. I'm not sure if it was just a wild dream or if God was actually revealing more of my calling...we'll have to see. Anyway, I believe God "highlighted" two children for me to pray for - one was Ben, a very cute but really disruptive little boy, about 6. I "dreamt big" for him that he would grow up to be a leader in this community - a pastor, even. The other was a little girl, about 7 - Shauna. She seemed so delicate and shy (a lot like how I feel) and I "dreamt big" for her, and prayed for a husband like the one I desire for her.
After the last main meeting/worship/speaker (Mark Ritchie is unbearably hysterical, truly), instead of staying for the Open Mic Night (because those things always make me feel anxious whether or not I'm participating in them for whatever reason), Joann and I went out to see a bit of Dublin. We wandered around a bit and found that, at least in the part of Dublin we were staying in (basically the city's centre), there is a large amount of authentic Italian restaurants. We found one, with this painting (I couldn't get a good picture because it was late and dark and I couldn't find it again the next day so the strategically placed bright spot was just coincidentally where the flash bounced back) outside its window. We discussed the various possible interpretations over bread and four different kinds of pesto. While that sounds exotic (and somewhat random, to be eating authentic Italian food in Ireland, but I have to say, they do it MUCH better than the places I've tried in the States), I couldn't help but feel rather guilty. I know I deal with that a lot, but it's just not really all that fun for me to go out and spend money on myself anymore. I grew out of shopping a while ago - not only is it, to me, pointless to bring home a bunch of stuff that was made to be obsolete (whether in function or perception) and will end up in a landfill somewhere since most things are STILL not really made to be recyclable, but the world is becoming increasingly needy, and I can't really justify going out to eat very easily anymore.
That was one of the things with which I was contending while doing my service project. I was standing around "doing nothing" because I don't know how to interact with people very well, and I sort of feel like that's what I do in the face of the world's pain. I want to do something, and I feel very bad when I don't, but I freeze, I clam up, I don't know what to do. I'm learning in a very real way that giving is receiving, and letting go of one's own life (in very many ways) really is saving it. The knowledge of this, though, isn't readily translating into action. My ex-roommate is serving in Argentina right now on a YWAM DTS project. My mother ex-roommate went to Africa. I got an e-mail from my Nana this morning about what my father does with his faith. (I know they both read this, and so sometimes, what I put up here makes me a little bit self-conscious). I'm not there yet, and it's really hard because I don't really have a good reason not to be (other than selfishness, which is only "good" because it's true). I don't know what, other than a rather large move of God, is going to get me there. I have put in an inuqiry with an organization here in Belfast called Youth Initiatives that I found out by meeting some of their volunteers this week at Urban Soul, so we'll see what comes of that.
Anyway, obviously a lot more prayer is needed. I don't want to do random acts of kindness because it feels good to do them. I mean, that's not really that loving, right? I know of a person who loved his girlfriend "not necessarily so that she would know it, but so that he would be more loving." That doesn't make sense. I don't know what to love "for me." That's not love. I mean, that's why books like "The 5 Love Languages" are written in the first place. I'm listening to all these sermons about love, about community and how the pursuit of maturity is never an individualistic undertaking, how we need each other, how long-term relationships are the only way people ever get to know the love of Christ, even how responding to a needy world because you see and are moved by the need is not actually what the gospel is about - it's about Jesus Christ and HIS power to do good works in and through you. But I don't want to talk about it or listen about it anymore.
I want to know
for real in my life
what happens in truth
with the fall-out of strife

I want to see
beyond all the doubt
what it really means
to be for-Jesus poured out

I want to hold
the results in my hand
of the Love over above
anything I understand

And I want to know, Jesus

what You can do
with a life full-on
surrendered to only You

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dublin, Part 1: Your Bag is a Jungle

I boarded a train from Central Station in Belfast (UK) headed for Dublin (Republic of Ireland). They're two different countries, which means, they use two different kinds of money. Honestly, Euros, to me, look like monopoly money and pounds sterling (or what is sometimes, in London, called "quid") is really beautiful. Actually, both Euros and pounds a lot fancier than US dollars, in my opinion.
Anyway, this is some of the scenery out the train window. Ah, the ministry of rolling hills. I have to say, going down I was really nervous - I was nervous about what stop to get off at, how I was going to find the group I was supposed to meet up with in a (foreign) city I've never been it, being by myself, if I was going to make any friends, etc. But this scenery was amazing - it was calming in its patient beauty. It's just there, being what it is, being as true as it can (while it, as part of creation is yet groaning for the sons and daughters of God to be revealeD), and it was beautiful. I prayed that my true self would be like that, that if I were to find it as I've set out to do this summer, it would be like those rolling Irish Hills.
I also appreciated, though, the not-hiding that goes on here, in stark contrast to most of my life. There were periods along the "journey" (what people call "trip" here) where not-so-pretty but real-life stuff was displayed along the path. (This happened along the tour bus journey, too - and, in Ireland, they've got their gravesights 'randomly' along the sides of roads.
Actually, the entire Urban Soul event just felt more...solid, the city felt more real, the people were...honest. It was such a blessing to see Dublin this way. There were three little girls who got on the train around Newry (right above the Ireland border) and sat with me (it was crowded). They eventually begin bantering about Americans and, essentially, making fun of my people. It was really humbling, though, because...well, I can't say they were exactly wrong in terms of their generalities. I mean, there is a reason why we Americans have the reputation we do. It was amazing - I didn't get defensive, I actually began apologizing to God for the ways I've participated in my human being-ness on this planet by buying into the American Dream. Anyway, at one point during the make-fun-of-American's fun and games, one of the girls pretending to be "the world" said to the other girl pretending to be "America", "Hey, I'm a really poor person - you must have so much stuff. I mean, your bag looks like a JUNGLE!"
Whoa hey. (These girls couldn't have been more than 9 years old).

Once I arrived (safely and soundly, with only one minor glitch) at Urban Soul, I was met with a group of about 300 or so Christians from all over the world gathered together for four days in the centre of Dublin City to go out and do random acts of kindness in the name of Jesus. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, the schedule went like this: breakfast at half 8 (8:30), worship, prayer and speaker at half 9 (9:30), pack lunch and head out to your assigned project at 11, come back for dinner at quarter 5 (17:15), then more worship and a speaker from half 7 (19:30) until 9. The concerts were great, it was SO good to worship (man, God is really breaking me wide open in that area, I now cry during any sort of worship). The guy in the red shirt in the back is Jimmy from P-A. Apparently it IS true that all people from Pennsylvania say, "I'm from Pee Ay." I asked Jimmy (from Lancaster, apparently in "Amish Country") why Pennsylvanians are the only Americans who refer to their place of origin by its postal code (yes, exactly like that, too), and he said, "Well, 'Pennsylvania' is just too long. We've brilliantly shortened it." Uh, right. So, I'm from Colorado (which has just as many syllables). I don't walk around goin', "Hey, I'm from CEE - OH!" My cousins are from Boston. I've never heard one of them say, "I'm from EM - AY". Although, I have to say, Pennsylvania is rather difficult to spell (that's, like, the only word I have to slow down for to type), so maybe they (as in, every person I've ever met from PA [which is turning out to be quite a lot, and weirdly enough, they all either go or went to Penn State]) are doing us a favor by shortening it. :-).
Then, from 9 till half 10 or so, there was "late night at the Cafe" where the worship band played some more, there were snacks for purchase and you could hang out. Or, as I and a friend I met from California (who was also traveling by herself), go back to the hostel, Jacob's Inn (on the left). I found this hang-out time to be particularly challenging so I didn't stay around much. I struggled a lot with self-consciousness, feeling incredibly awkward (which I've actually gotten a prophetic word about), and not knowing what to say or how to interact "normally". It really did, as it so often does, feel as though people just aren't looking for the same things I'm looking for in friendship. (Not that I'm saying I'm any better, I'm just always felt painfully different in the area of relationships).
But God did awesome stuff with me anyway. God's bag of plans for people's lives are so much more incredible than we can ask or imagine. For one example, I met a girl called Sarah (on the right) who was traveling with a friend (also called Megan, on the left) from California as JARON Missionaries. She and I, as we came to find out, were struggling with the EXACT same things in relation to men, marriage and facing our feminine hearts before God. We had the most healing conversation I've had in my life - and one of the deepest parts of the healing was that she felt the same way about our conversations. She initiated praying with me at the end of our trip, and shared a lot about her experiences with how God has been working with her in the area of "the biggest promise of a person's life" (that is, marriage). God met me, not through a flashy prophetic word like I'd been coveting, but answering two of my prayers at once: a sign that He cares about what is really in my heart, and my desire for relationship. I think I'm starting to believe William P. Young when he says in his book "The Shack", "I believe that since most of our wounding comes through relationships, so, too, will most of our healing."

Out of this budding friendship with Sarah, a lot of pressure was released. In just one tiny conversation over breakfast, Sarah informed me that the actual translation of the Great Commission is NOT "GO out and make disciples" but "AS YOU ARE GOING, make disciples." I have felt, since I became a Christian, a terrible sense of failure over my failing to sew Jesus seeds wherever I go - I have, in fact, not been able to share my faith with anyone, really. I think I am one of those people who has been "overevangelized." The youth group at the church I grew up seemed to only care about befriending people as a means of converting them. It was actually only until I met a Christian who did not even really tell me she was Christian, but hung out with me, called when she said she would call, and loved me the best way she knew how, that I became Christian. As if to drive home this point in healing for me, the sermon preached at my home church last Sunday (7/5/09) was, in part, about exactly that. Thank You Lord. It's not about going out to make disciples, it's about living in a way that makes them; that our life would be (for we really have one purpose - it's amazing that God answered my question about that so directly - which is to glorify God). About a year ago, the former senior pastor at my church said in a sermon that we are indeed to be prepared to give a reason to everyone who asks for the hope that we have, "but that is presuming that someone has asked you!" Life is to be lived in such a way that someone asks. More on this - that is, the "service" piece of Urban Soul - tomorrow. The part of the sermon about 29 minutes into it, about friendship and the kind of friend we are to be to others, works. It is exactly how I came to Christ, and is really, for me, the only way I would have. Thank you, Rebekah.

For just another example, I fell in love. Hard. Now, I can't go to sleep unless I've read the Bible. A week ago, the speaker at Summer Madness (in Belfast) prayed the anointing of Esther and Daniel over me, so I began to read those books to see what that was about. Also, last August, my pastor, during a prophetic word he was giving me, asked me if I'd ever read Ezekiel. "Read it, Megan, and stop complaining about seeing things you don't understand." Check.

God really spoke me through all of the speakers. There was Andy from Northern Ireland - a pastor in Belfast. The main message I got from him was with God, you either like Him or you love Him. It's sort of like this: if you're a teenage guy, you probably are interested in girls. So, you start to talk to one of them, and you're all shy but you're doing great, until your group of buddies comes around the corner, and then, you are 180 degrees from what you were one minute ago. You like girls, but you're not willing - yet - to compromise. God wants more. This is the whole warning about being lukewarm. Either be hot or cold. Then, Simon from Peckham (England) spoke about long-term relationships (something I'd cried myself to sleep the past week and half wishing and praying for), and how it is only in long term relationships, friendships, mentorships, etc. that people really learn how to live loved. (It's comparable to my opinion of short term missions and how they can actually be more harmful than helpful, but that's for another day...).
My favorite speaker, though, was Mark Ritchie. This bloke is a passionate Scottsman who is probably the funniest person I've ever met - and yes, I got to meet him. He prayed for me and my trip to Scotland. He spoke two nights in a row, and each time, he opened with a snorter - that is, a hysterical story of something that had happened to him. It had no relation to his sermon or speeh, but it was the best way ever to break up the tension and ease everyone into hearing from God. His main message was about being a "carrier" - that is, carrying the smile of God, the presence of God, and a broken generation (mine) to the cross. Can I just say, I LOVE Scottish accents. And, the two men I've met from Scotland (Alan Ross and Mark) are some of the softest, most true-hearted people I've ever met. I can't WAIT to go to Scotland (and I might get to spend a week or so in Edinburgh before I go to Iona with my SPU friends).
The worship was, as I've alluded to, fairly amazing. We didn't sing any songs I've not sung before but, apparently, my heart is in a different place than it was even a month ago. I actually BELIEVE what I'm singing now! I really DO surrender all - or at least as much of me as I know of to as much of Him as I know of, I really do believe that He's alive, etc. Paul Baloche, apparently a really famous worship leader, played two nights for us. (Please excuse the blurriness of the picture, I had to jump to get a good shot). I'd not heard of him, but I've heard a LOT of his songs. We also had the Redemption Youth Choir, based out of Africa (I think), and Drive (from Oklahoma) come. So, the "event" part of the event was quite God-filled, in a personal way especially, but also in a corporate way - which is the first time I've been able to really feel that corporateness very strongly at all (and will total strangers, too!).
God's bag really is a jungle! And a much better one than what the little Irish girls on the train were referencing...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Reduce, reuse, re...main?

Not everything is good about "remaining." Our current ways of doing things in terms of the amount of waste we produce simply isn't working. As Brian McClaren said at a "hotspot" interview on Sunday, "If we don't take the gospel to the three biggest problems I see facing us, then God help us." The FIRST one he mentioned was the environment: "If the environment goes the way it's going, your grandchildren (meaning the grandchildren of my generation) do not have a good future, if one at all." (The other two he mentioned were poverty and religion - did I already talk about this...?)

Anyway, it seems, from talking to the locals and just living here for about two and a half weeks, that the UK is, in some ways, about twenty years behind the US. The recycling laws (and they are laws because people seem to follow authority more than what's best for them and the planet) differ per county - what can be recycled, where it goes, how it's recycled, it's exhausting. I feel so guilty for how much I've thrown away here, simply because there aren't facilities to not throw things away. I'm scared for the health of our planet because me trashing Northern Ireland isn't too different from me throwing stuff away back home. We've only got one planet, guys. I'm not sure why people are so slow to wake up to that fact.
Thank goodness there were booths and tables and books and stands at Summer Madness on Sunday to deal with these issues. This booth, I think, really calls it like it is: "Climate Chaos." It's not just climate change, people. We have no idea what's going on - all the "weird weather we've been having lately" - like, it's been HOT here in Belfast...which is, apparently, "weird", even for summer. Gosh I hope people make the connection soon.

I'm heading to Dublin in about a half hour, and I'm not entirely sure where I'm going. Part of me is very nervous (shaking while I'm typing) because I don't have EXACT directions and could get really lost, but I think that is partly my fear of "imposing" - that is, asking for help. It really shouldn't be that hard, Megan. Everyone here has been really friendly, especially once I open my mouth or try to cross the street (both events really reveal that I'm totally not from anywhere around here...). It's going to be ok. Especially because the event God has graced me with attending is going to be really cool, from the looks of it. This time I am actually staying in a hostel so I'm not taking my computer - they say they've got internet there, but in case that doesn't work, or I don't have time, I'll be back in about a week!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

'Receiving is Remaining' *updated*

I visited the Belfast City Vineyard yesterday. I arrived early to meet with the Welcome Pastor and helped fold bulletins while the locals told me about their area. Then, during "coffee and tea" time (coffee and tea are REALLY big here, and you don't "not drink" one of them, that just doesn't map here, even if you're a foreigner), I ended up standing near some Americans! One was from Nashville originally and, when I asked her how she got to Belfast, she said, "Well, God has a sense of humor and, the first time I came to Belfast, I fell in love." Her husband plays on the worship team. Sigh...if only it were THAT easy.
Anyway, the service was amazing. The worship, again, made me cry (I've got a few thoughts about that), and the sermon spoke into my life in ways that needed speaking to. It was their last in a series on the 1st letter of John, which they've called, "A letter on staying close to Jesus." It talked about assurance, how you know you're a Christian (this whole "A Christian does not sin-that-leads-to-death" is really coming totally alive for me!!) and how our first response to sin (before loving, tearful, burdened confrontation steeped in prayer) should be intercession! Whoa hey...
The prayer time afterward God used (through a lovely Irish girl named Kate) to confirm a LOT of what I thought God was saying to me about this trip. And then, I met Jane and Mark. I'd mentioned to one of the senior pastors (also American) that I'd wanted to check out Summer Madness - the biggest Christian Festival in the UK, apparently - and she introduced me to siblings Jane and Mark. As a brief aside, I'm starting to pick up a bit of the "accent" - I would say more in the inflection of things, and the tone in which things are said rather than the actual pronunciation of words (I'm SO auditory). Because I'm so auditory, I've picked up on the way they say names differently: Mark introduced himself as MaRRRRk, as if the "R" were the most important part of the name. In England, the Mark I met there barely said the "R" at all - Like "Mahk." Maybe it's some odd conservation of "R's" thing...I wonder how it sounds to people when I say that name...to me it sounds "normal"...almost boring: "Mark." Short, no emphasis on any letter or leaving any letter out, perhaps slightly less emphasis on the "K" (maybe this is why some spell it with a "C"?)...
Something cool about Jane (besides her red-striped hair and Irish accent and how awesomely kind she is!) is that, on April 5, she was at the Seattle Vineyard on "holiday" (what they call "vacation" here) with some friends. She was staying in Vancouver, and wanted to find a Vineyard, so she drove down to my little church! I was not there that Sunday (I was on a retreat at Whidbey Island) but that was the day our worship leader got ordained as Pastor of Worship. She got to tell me about that service I was sad to miss!! Small world, eh?
Anyway, the festival was incredible. Jane and Mark were with me for bits of it - they had to run home for a family dinner (Mark is actually in town only for a weekend since he's part of a church plant down in Galway...). It was SOOOOO good to be with believers. I sat in on a Brian McClaren talk (I can see why the guy's controversial), as well a presentation by the principle of Belfast Bible College, David Shepard, called "Bible, Fact or Fiction." We stayed for worship and a message - again, the worship made me cry, and I received incredible prayer from three people - one of which was the speaker that evening. He spoke on that passage in Ephesians that gives God all the glory for being Someone who can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine and told this story:
"The man who led me to Christ was not a learned scholar or pastor. He was, simply, a person who read the Bible and found Jesus. He was asked to give a talk at a conference once and he spoke about how no body knew Jesus better than John did. He went on and on about how John was part of the 72 Jesus sent out and came back with questions: no body knew Jesus better than John did. He spoke about how John was part of the 12, following Jesus and doing as He did: No body knew Jesus better than John did. He spoke about how John was part of the intimate 3 at the end of Jesus' life and ministry: no body knew Jesus better than John did.
Of course, this guy went on for 45 minutes about something that the scholars either didn't already know but could easily grasp, or already knew. And then, he gave them the REAL punchline: In Revelation 1, John sees a vision of the heavenly Jesus and falls on his face as if dead. But wait, I think no body knew Jesus better than John did." He left the room for a coffee.
So, my point? There is ALWAYS more of Jesus to know, always more of the Father's Ways to understand, and Jesus does not wany to build on your current understanding of things. He wants to BREAK. OUT. OF. THEM."
He also talked about how receiving is remaining - abiding, essentially, waiting. Which is funny, because the sermon that morning talked about that, too. (My pastor in a recent sermon asked, "Have you ever had the experience in life where, everywhere you turn, everything seems to be saying the exact same thing?" Uh, yeah...for about 4 or 5 months I've constantly been reminded to "wait" It was even a bit ironic - the guy I "married" when I was six on the playground at school's name was Chad Waite. After our "wedding," (we tied grass around each other's fingers), I started writing "Megan Waite" on all my papers. Even though I got a talking-to by my father about that, my pastor turned that whole thing on its end and goes, "Yes, right now it IS "Megan, wait.").
I went up for prayer because the service coordinator TOTALLY called me out on ALL the words he got for people, and I waited. The familiar feeling of "No one ever approaches me, I have to do ALL the work myself - God? Why don't You send people after me ever? Why don't You come after me ever?" came on very strong. I approached a prayer ministry team member and her prayer really just made things worse - not because she was wrong, but because I couldn't handle it. I sank to the floor, sobbing, and wishing I could be at home (Seattle). Then, a girl my age approached me, prayed for me and prayed EVERY SINGLE prayer I'd prayed for myself recently (with the exception of one, but I can understand why that is not being addressed right now). And then, the guy who spoke (who told the "No body knew Jesus better than John did" story, prayed for me. He got words people have gotten for me before, plus prayers that confirmed what the girl my age (who asked to get in touch with me during facebook so she could hang out with me while I'm here!) had just prayed for me...
God is amazing. As if THAT weren't enough, two more other quick things:
1) Recently, God taught me that my very name means one of the deepest felt desires I have. You know the parable in Mattnew where it talks about the kingdom of heaven being like a merchant who goes out looking for a pearl and when he finds it, he sells everything he has to obtain the pearl? Well, about 6 months ago, a guy named Andy Glover explained to my congregation that the merchant was Jesus and the pearl was...YOU. Me. Us. My name, in Welsch culture, means "pearl." So, in a biblical sense, my name means "sought after pearl." And I thought my name was "random" - when my parents knew I was coming (at least, this what I was told), they each made a list of ten names, and "Megan" was the only one on both lists (and not very high up on either one, I don't think). Yeah, I'm a firstborn...(they also made a list of my first 200 words or so, and the date and place of where I said them...).
2) I'd been told to get out of town this weekend for the 12th of July. The locals here have said that it's a great thing if you want to see some culture, but it's sort of a commemoration of a rather nasty event and everything comes to a standstill, etc. Well, since I'm not a tourist - and I stand by that - I thought, "Well, when in Rome, do as the Romans." I'd wanted to get down to the Vineyard in Dublin anyway and was recommended by the lady I'm staying with to go down for at least a few days so I can have some time in Dublin. But, I didn't want to go by myself. Yesterday, while I was waiting for Jane and Mark to come back from their family thing (I'd decided not to leave even though I sort of wanted to since loneliness was crippling me - that was the word the service coordinator at worship that evening opened with!), I wandered around. (I found a t-shirt based on the verse my pastor and I had a REALLY meaningful conversation about a few years ago that comes up every once in a while in his work with me).
I ALSO discovered a way to go down to Dublin with other people, and not be a tourist while doing it: UrbanSoul. The thing was, it was this week! The 7th-the 11th. Which, in many ways was perfect, and in many ways was really last minute. I e-mailed them (since I don't have a phone and can't call) and heard back at 2:30 this morning -they would love to have me come! So, I'm going to Dubling tomorrow, and rushing around today to figure all of this out.
There is ALWAYS more of God to know. And my pastor really was right, right now it is "Megan, wait"...because receiving is remaining.

Bondage to Buddha

Yesterday I was taken to a Buddhist Temple with the lady I'm staying with to say prayers for the Dalai Lama's birthday. The man enshrined in the picture isn't even the Buddha or the Dalai Lama - it's the "Jampa Ling" Centre's teacher. Yeah, what these people call "respect," I'm sorry...quacks like idolatry to me...I don't want to offend anyone, but Tibetan Buddhism is really the most ridiculous thing I've ever experienced. Not only is it obviously idolatry - no, no, I will not touch my head to the floor three times and raise my hands to a huge picture of some man or be careful about where I point my feet or how high I sit (you must be lower than the Buddha) in the chanting room - but it's just...well, it made me angry actually. The lady I'm staying with, who used to be a practicing Christian, says that Buddhism, which is more of an educational system than a religion (really, who are all these prayers of long life and the end of suffering and "may I attain the great status of a Buddha" to, then?) is the most logical way of explaining reality she's come across....
Logical? I couldn't figure out half the stuff they were saying - all these names of dieties and gods and whatever, and these magical places and this obscure language so poetic I'm not sure it actually refers to anything at all. Karma and reincarnation? Take about a discontinuity of identity... The thing that really got me, though, was that, contained in every prayer was the plea for the end of suffering for all sentient beings. I'm sorry, but that is actually the most illogical thing I've ever heard. Have we been on planet earth for more than 5 minutes? As if the more you know the less you suffer? Right. Suffering is the one thing we all have in common on this planet and there is no way out. In my opinion, Christianity is the only religion that correctly identifies the causes and duration of suffering, to say nothing of its view of Christ.
Speaking of that, though, I think I WILL say something of its view of Christ. In an apologetics class I took a few years ago, just after I'd moved to Seattle, the teacher said, "How we know the Bible is right is because it is the only book that correctly identifies Jesus Christ. And how we know its identification is correct - that is, the son of God - is because he rose from the dead." And then, he went into the four proofs of how we know Christ was raised from the dead. I think what's incredible about all of this is that those things are no longer stumbling blocks for me. I put my full weight down on Christ. Death renders this life meaningless - the Apostle Paul even says so - unless Christ really was raised from the dead, as the FIRST fruits of new life.
Here's the tricky thing, though. While I was sitting in a room full of chanting in another language (having flashbacks to a really awful prayer time with someone who was praying for me in a language I did not understand [French, not tongues]), I was whispering "Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ" to the rhythm of the chanting. (The dog in the room got up and trotted over to me, putting both paws on me...interesting...). I noticed, though, that with every argument that I came up with to prove that this whole thing was "ridiculous", I saw a similarity in the Christian religion. The devil certainly has played a nasty trick. For example, in my head I was thinking, "This is idolatry. These people are worshipping a MAN." Well, Jesus Christ was a man, too - people lost their lives defending his humanity. Then, I thought, "they are bowing down to a PICTURE and manipulating materials around to show their devotion to Buddha." Well, what of the icons in the Orthodox tradition, and the communion table, and the flags we use for worship? It's not exactly the same, but, I see The Enemy's deception all over this...it is a dirty little monster anyway.
Rich Nathan has a great sermon on the response to religious diversity. How do we respond? There were other religions in the ancient world, too - people, specifically GOD'S people, were chasing hard after idols. The FIRST Commandment deals with this: You shall have no other gods before me. (Whether or not this implies the existence of other actual "gods" is still a question in my mind). How do we respond? WE LIFT JESUS EVEN HIGHER. Rich Nathan also talks about the challenge of plurality. C.S. Lewis in his book, "The Screwtape Letters" talks about one of the best tactics to pull people from Christ - "Make them think that Christ is not enough - so that it becomes "Jesus AND...", "Christianity AND....". This calls into question the efficacy of the cross, and harkens back to why we're in this mess in the first place:
A serpent winds its way around
before its banished to the ground,
hisses in the woman's ear
that in her God is something to fear:
"He's holding out on you" the line
that cuts human from divine.
"Eat the fruit - you won't surely die!";
Even stretched out her hand in lies -
"Become like God" the promise sung;
she'd forgotten that she already was.
This group of Tibetan Buddhists do do some good. This wall details a program they've got in Mongolia that teaches sustainable living - things like how to grow vegetables - they're digging wells, they're providing training in cottage industries such as sewing, slipper making, etc and lifting a small village out of poverty. They're also "reconnecting Mongolia" with its roots and sending in the Buddhist teachers. The main problem I see in this Buddhism - obviously besides nothing but "respect" for Jesus Christ - is that it all seems to rely on people. It all seems to rely on how much you can work yourself up and out of suffering into "enlightenment" - I mean, they think the reason people suffer is because they do not understand ultimate reality. As if education were the answer. Education has NEVER been the answer: If Hitler were smarter, would we have avoided a war? NO! If Hitler were any smarter, I'd be writing this in German. I think that's the only example I need there.

It is NOT about what man can do to alleviate suffering in this world, "for in this world, you will have trouble." It is about Jesus Christ, who has overcome the world. It is not about attaining the state of Enlightenment, for that the Fall-Old lie that says we can become like God. It is about embracing who we are in Christ, as creatures that ALREADY ARE like God in that we are to image Him forth on the Earth. It is not about rituals, sacrifices, motions, symbols, prayer routines or chants. It is about how all things hold together (no matter what we do or don't do) in Christ Jesus, the Risen Son of the Living God.