Monday, December 5, 2011

Babbling Bossey

Pumpkin pie & Apple Cobbler
USA culture "spoken" through food.
"Robyn, how do you say this again, 'Aaron's berd?'"

This is just one of the many funny "language" conversations we have here at Bossey.  My "know-it-all" complex isn't humbled much when the English speaking Bossey courses ask non-native English speakers to read, write, and speak in English.  I've proofread a lot of papers and over stressed the pronunciation of TONS of words.

All languages have funny sounds and phrases, but any language sounds like babbling gibberish when you stress every letter and syllable.  Even though Bossey is an English speaking school, the sharing of language and cultures happens on all sides.  The other day we had orange cherries for lunch, and as I was oohhing and aaahhing over how much I loved this new fruit, Nomfang said "oh, we call these angel fruit, or fruit of the angels."

Is this what you do with chopsticks?
She pronounced "angel fruit" in Chinese and I, with so much enthusiasm, echoed this word ... only Nomfang was speechless with laughter.  Cangfu "translated" for me.  I apparently said "holy cow."

As in the holy animal, not the 90's-tastic Bart Simpson throw-back.

Arm flapping is the "universal" language
for chicken
"Poulet, s'il vous plait."
Yeah, we have a pretty good time with language.  The other day at our bbq someone asked for chicken ... only the Indian accent when speaking french poulet wasn't discernible.  We ended up flapping our arms like a chicken and squawking "poulet s'il vous plait, poulet s'il vous plait."  Our words didn't make sense, but our actions spoke volumes.

Before coming here I had always read the Tower of Babel story (Genesis 11) as a way of making sense for our different languages.  The story begins by saying

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. (Gn 11:1-3)

Coming together with one language seems like such a blessing, like such an easy way to communicate with one another.  We have had many language challenges, and have laughed at ourselves most of the time; but where we struggle to communicate is not the language of words; but rather the language of culture, theology, and community living.  While we laugh and openly make verbal mistakes, the stumbling blocks on our different ways of living usually have less laugher and more wonder ... who is this person?  

And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’ (Gn 11:3-4)

Why do they live this way? Holding hands in public is a sin?  Alcohol is okay for Christians?

Reformers.  Radicals.  Visionaries.
Then & Now
Why do they believe this way?  Homosexuality is a sin and a crime?  Feminism can be Christian?

With every cultural assumption, we stumble upon a brick lying before them.  With every challenge we feel we place another brick around ourselves, protecting what is known, what is comfortable, what is "right."
Agate stones placed together to create a window.
A new window in Zwingli's, Swiss Reformer, church.

We may have a "common language" but we're all living in separate towers of our own cultural making.  Some live out a theology of preservation - I cannot associate with "that" because it's a slippery slope toward sin.

Others live out a theology of evangelism - my way is "right" and I want to include you behind my walls.

Most of us go somewhere in between, coming out from behind our walls at times, only to retreat behind them again; hurt, angry, ashamed, confused.  

The people of this original Tower of Babel blamed God for this confusion. 

Another window in Zwingli's church entitled:
"Who is Christ"
With so many faces, so many tables
Christ's face
Christ table
is everywhere.
The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, ‘Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. (Gn 11:5-8)

Other's blamed the pride of the people, trying to be Godlike.

No matter the blame.  
No matter the tower we build.
We're confused, scattered, and don't understand one another.

We're gathered here because we believe we've been brought together by God, not scattered apart.  But despite this believe, we're more confused then ever and there are more towers reaching "heavens" of our own making.

In this season of Advent we are all feeling course work fatigued and homesick weary.  We still laugh at the verbal mistakes and are finding ways to come out from behind our walls.  In the northern climate of Europe the days get dark quickly and we're all awaiting a light to shine, prayerfully hoping for a crack of brilliance to shine through.  

In this season of waiting in the midst of a community of ecumenism, I think the wisdom of the Trinity, rather than the Tower, quietly speaks wisdom.  Adorned in every Orthodox church is the icon of the Trinity, three figures of God, seated around a table to host one another.  
Trinity Icon in the Bossey Chapel

We as students are finding ways to host one another beyond our walls so our towers become tables, and our relationships become the welcoming of God in one another.

God has scattered us throughout the earth, but we are not alone.
God has given us creative power to build meaning, culture, and life;
and God has done this by hosting us within our spaces so we might

bring good news to the oppressed,
                                                          to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,  
 and release to the prisoners; 
(Is 61:1)
We are often times held captive by the prisons of our own making, and in relationship with one another can be set free.

Monday, October 17, 2011

just a little bit

Switzerland loves tiny spoons.

They're adorable.
They're practical.
They allow you take deliberately tiny bites,
of your dessert,
allowing even the
of bites to be
a delight.

They spoon just the right amount of sugar into your tea,
and twirl at the perfect degree your milk
into your coffee until it's the
perfect shade of caramel.

I love spoons, bowls, cups, saucers, anything that cradles it's contents like
it's a treasure;
allowing it to be held
in a hug.

What if we treated one another like this?

What if we only took a piece of the earth in tiny delicious portions,
leaving enough behind for others?
What if we savored
and spun slowly together our days, instead of 

I like these tiny spoons.
They remind me of childlike tea parties
and grown up like responsibility
gently stirred together,
until we're the perfect sweetness of
and comfortable and warm as a 
is in your hand on a crisp fall day.

I like these little spoons.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

come on in, the water's "fine"

Ioan Sauca, the director of Bossey, told us this would happen.

It was only a matter of time.

He warned us when we were still in our "smiling everything is wonderful" phase.

We smiled when he said it.

"Ecumenism is shocking!  You Will Be Shocked!"

I know you don't believe me.  You think we're just a bunch of Jesus-following, church-loving, song-singing Christians.  We are.  We're all of those things and more; just like our churches, our faith, and our communities.  I think the Spirit is central to play, laughter, joy, and delight; but she also stirs some pretty serious waters and all of us sitting in this ecumenical boat get ROCKED .... and we rock it a little bit, too.

So, let the shocking debates begin!

They first started in our Ecumenical Theology course where we're discussing the monumental "Baptism, Eucharist & Ministry" document created by the WCC.  Published in 1982, this document spent 50 years in congregational "dialogue" (aka debate) before being published, and it's still being discussed today.  The debates here at Bossey have only just begun in comparison to this paper, and let's not even get started on the legacy of debates begun in the early Christian councils.

John (Presbyterian/Kenya), Martins (Catholic/Nigeria)
Grego (Reformed/Hungary) hotly debating in Bible study.
We argue because we have different doctrines, beliefs, practices, cultures, economic realities, roles, authority, philosophies, languages, genders, the list is exhaustive.  We argue because we all have a relationship with God, and therefore one another.  Like all families, when we gather, we have points of disagreement.  This week we're debating baptism and as Duni and Perpetua, two Pentecostal women from Africa, challenged the efficacy of infant baptism, they ignited the passion of Zenoviy, Russian Orthodox.  There was nothing boring here!  It was like watching a tennis match, our heads shifting back and forth across the room between these two positions, these two traditions, and these three sisters and brothers in Christ.  We're all paddling around these waters, clothed in our tradition, and kept a float by different cultural water wings (those arm floaty-things) - but we're still all in this together.

As Ioan has said over and over again (he's a very wise man) in our Ecumenical History course, so many of the schisms, fractures, and disagreements throughout our beloved church's history are a result of cultural, linguistic, and philosophical differences.  Despite those differences, our love of God, our commitment to living as Christ did, and gratefully welcoming the Holy Spirit remain the same.  Those differences caused brokenness in our church of the past; and today, those same cultural, linguistic, and philosophical differences remain.  As I listen and join these debates, I can't help but also hear another stream joining this pool of thought.
Water fountains in Switzerland.

"Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard 'Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John' ... he left Judea and started back to Galilee.  But he had to go through Samaria"(Jn 4:1-4)

Apparently even Jesus wasn't removed from the yearbook's request to quantify the faith.  More importantly, the sense of competition and "winning" is an ancient shared cultural tradition.  Like this historically shared value, Jesus too encountered people who held different values than he.

"So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar ... Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey was sitting by the well.  It was about noon.  A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her "Give me a drink.  The Samaritan woman said to him, 'How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria"(Jn 4:5-9).

Our debates could consist of personal inquiries and questioning like Jesus and this unnamed woman; but thankfully behind all of our debates remains this question:

"Give me a drink?
You would have asked him, 
and he would have given you
living water."
Jn 4: 10

We all seek this living water, but we don't always agree on how to share it.  Many feminist theologians from the USA read this text showing the Samaritan woman as the first evangelist, the first disciple to declare the good news:  This living water is gushing forth, and there is enough to be shared with all!  Yet many African feminist theologians read this text and see colonialism; using the respect of women in the culture to gain entrance into a community for powerful exploitation and inculturation.

Same text,
different interpretations,
different lived experiences.

Same water,
different interpretations,
different lived experiences.

Culture, language, philosophy, theology continue to cause divisions; as well as diversity.  We won't find one way to interpret this text, just like we won't find one way to understand baptism.   I don't think we're called to one way.   The "Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry" document references 6 different faithful meanings of baptism with numerous biblical references to support each meaning.
Me & Perpetua (Pentecostal/Kenya) in Bible study.

Natailia (Orthodox/Ukraine) grabbing
a drink during our bike ride.

This text, this living water creates some tense debate, but it also keeps bringing us together. So we might take small sips every now and then, as well as taking plunging dives in the Holy waters that refresh, renew, and unite us all.  

We might have different practices of baptism.  We might find ways to accept ways to respectfully disagree with these practices; but what we do know is that it is not a competition to see who is right, who is wrong, who has baptized more and how.  We are all thirsty, and together, we come seeking a new way of living together - now that's shocking!
Ivan (Orthodox/Belarus)
swimming in L. Geneva

Zenoviy (Orthodox/Russia) & Henry (Nigeria/UMC)
And the coffee cup unites us all during Bible study. :)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

That's what it's all about

Shaking it all about
You put your right hand in;
you put your right hand out.
You put your right hand i and you shake it all about.
You do the hokey pokey
and your turn yourself about,
that's what it's all about!

I have a friend who has a t-shirt that says "Maybe the hokey pokey really is what it's all about?"  At the close of orientation we sang a French version of the hokey pokey where you put in fingers, hands, toes, feet until everyone is shaking it all.  We're not only sharing this silliness, but we're united in this moment.

We're here for ecumenical formation, but we don't come as unformed globs of clay, waiting to be shaped, or empty vessels waiting to be filled.  We're each deeply saturated in our own culture and uniquely embody the Spirit that unites us.  So what's involved in ecumenical formation?  What exactly are we forming, and why?

Ivan of Belarus doing his interpretation of Latin dancing :)

I don't think this formation is a one time thing, nor will we ever stopped being formed.  I think this formation is fully dependent upon each one of us being fully ourselves, and bringing what we have to offer.  Like Jesus in the feeding of the multitude stories, everyone gathers together having only themselves. They came to him with only the clothes of their hard word and personalities created by their community.  We come with only the loaded packs on our backs and ourselves, shaped and created by our own communities.

Tricia (USA), Gregu (Hungary), me, Deavit (Columbia & Argentina)
Gergu & Deavit showing us "the look" is universal
Like the 4 gospel renditions, all are slightly different, all are seeking answers.  But in all 4 gospels, and in this place of Bossey, Jesus does not dismiss us to our own homes as the disciples ask him to.  Jesus realizes that we have become community for one another, and we now need to share together.  So the Christ of the multitude "took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated next to him; so also the fish, as much as they wanted (Jn: 6:11)."  This story is called a miracle, and what a miracle it is when we gather in one place, and as Jesus showed, offer the things we have in our pockets and hidden corners of ourselves.  We might not think they're gifts.  We might think they're as useless as pocket lint; but when offered to those seated next to you, you together create a miracle. You together discover we have so much to share; but you also discover that what you have to offer truly is worthy.  You discover not only the uniqueness of your offering, the value of your individual identity; but you also discover that this separate gift of a person is intrinsically connected to others.

In those small groups seated on the grass Jesus showed people that in the act of sharing the miracle of community is formed.  Last night, to conclude our first week together, we threw together a party and realized that dancing is intrinsic to ecumenical formation.  

Deavit & Natailia (Ukraine) 
Marins (Nigeria) & Sr. Jaseentha (Indian, serving in Italy)
We started the week as strangers and ended the week as friends.  We started this night with the hokey pokey, and ended it with Lady Gaga, "I was born this way."  I think that, and more, is what its all about!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Our House

“You are an ecumenical family.”

This is what my professors keep telling throughout orientation.   We are in fact becoming a little family.  Just this morning my neighbors Duni, from Nigeria, and Perpetua, from Kenya, joined me for my morning dance party; being willing to white-girl dance with my African sisters makes one family fast! 

We’re discovering how to care for one another as we continue to reach over oceans and mountains to skype, text, chat, call and email with our families back home.   Home is stretching from those many places so we might find family in one another, as well as a place of home.  Deriving from the Greek word oikos, for home, ecumenism is a house for all Christians to dwell and live – that also includes fist pumping, booty shaking dance parties (sorry, no pictures of that J)

#82 my room
Home is about finding yourself welcomed, so you might welcome another.  Home is about relaxing and resting so you can be rejuvenated and refreshed.  And home is about finding people and things that resonate in your spirit like a resounding bell, singing out a piece of you, ringing out a piece of this place so others might also feel welcome.  As my classmates become family, and Bossey becomes a home, we’re also learning to find a home within the ecumenical movement.  

This is a movement that is home for all people.  As my home now has expanded to include Bossey, D.C. & Nebraska, ecumenism has an even greater reach!  Oikumene, the Greek bell that rings out the ecumenical movement is the care for all creation.    All people then become family, and all places become home.  Yes, this means family “fights” over the Eucharistic dinners and how to share the showers at Bossey; but it also the means the blessings of being welcomed as family, too. 

While I do not have the dance moves of Duni and Perpetua, nor does Bossey look like my apartment back home, I am gratefully finding pieces of home with these people and in these places.  I’m finding the familial acceptance of myself (awkward dances moves and all), and a landscape that captures pieces of home but in a devastatingly beautiful Swiss way.  I arrived at petit Bossey this afternoon to see a farmer tending a field of sunflowers, and last night with Gergu (Hungary) and Mihael (Romania) I captured a bit of the Switzerland sky through my Nebraska lens. 

Sunset over a cornfield and Alps
This time, this place, this movement is about being welcomed home; so you might rest and be renewed by the people around you; so you can go out into other places of our home and do God’s work.  I’m just so grateful my work is here, for now.  Perhaps tomorrow morning's dance party will include "Our house, is a very, very, very fine house!"

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

crumbs continue...

Greetings from Switzerland!  Please forgive the continuation of the crumb theme.  I found this fabulous poem which adequately describes the many little blessings of the last few days.  In truth these are huge blessing; but I really like themes so crumbs continue. :)

Gunilla Norris

Be careful with the crumbs.
Do not overlook them.

Be careful with the crumbs:
the little chances to love,

the tiny gestures, the morsels
that feed, the minims.

Take care of the crumbs:
a look, a laugh, a smile,

a teardrop, an open hand.  Take care
of the crumbs.  They are food also.

Do not let them fall.
Gather them.  Cherish them.

I have gathered to many crumbs to share with you in one blog; but here are a few of them.  I arrived in Switzerland safely and have gone through 2 days of packed orientation to the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey.  I'll spend the next 5 months living, studying, and worshiping my way through ecumenical formation - in short that means I'll live with 30 other fabulous Christians from around the world in a lovely house, called Petit Bossey, in the Swiss countryside.  We'll eat, study, and worship at the Chateau de Bossey.  That is the briefest description of this adventure; but more on that will come later.

Another great crumb that feel from God's table is I was called to be the Minister of Growth at Crestwood Christian Church of Lexington, KY.

How can I be in Switzerland for 5 months and join the fabulous church in ministry you ask?
That's a very good question, I'm glad you asked. :)
I'll begin this new ministry on March 1, after I return from Switzerland.
God is full of wonder and I'll happily partake in this goodness.

Words fail to fully describe this beauty, so I'll simply let my pictures do the talking.
My mealtime view.  Such lovely mountains. :)
Chateau de Bossey
Where we have courses and meals
Back yard of Chateau de Bossey - this is where we eat our meals...
and yes, that turret is our chapel!
How cool is that!?

So my friends, I am filled to the brim with conversations on ecumenism and unity, new friendships, love from you back in the States; and just a little Swiss chocolate and cheese. :)  I miss you all, but am also taking in all this beauty.  As I run through the foothills every morning (and to this Nebraska girl they feel more like mountains) I, slightly quietly, sing "The hills are alive....." 

They in fact are, here's one last tiny nugget of living beauty for you.
Peace, and goodnight.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Crumbs of Compassion

Oh My God!  I finally did it!

After many months of trying to make the most perfectly puffy loaf of bread, I finally did it! They have pillow tops, browned crust, and soft centers.
 They are a thing of beauty!

If you remember a few months ago, I made the asetetic opposite of these puff top beauties.  It was the most delicious, yet most deflated loaf of bread.  So I've gone from flat loaf A, to puff loaf B.  Amazing!

I delight in this accomplishment, but in my journey from perfectionist to delightfully flawed human, I confess I didn't start this blog and baking adventure to make the perfect loaf.  I instead started this to think about ministry, communion, and the bread of daily life.  While this blog adventure is no where near the end (nor is the delightfully flawed journey), I find myself at the close of one chapter - The DC chapter.  I'm packing up to head to Switzerland for 6 months and while the communion will continue, the bread baking will take a break for a while.  The pause on baking makes these final loaves feel a little more delightful in their glorious rise!

I currently have lots of lists of things to pack, things not to forget, and things to be left behind.   I'm really looking forward to Switzerland, but I also can't help but look back over the last 8 months.  

This bread crumb trail of daily communing with God leads me to one of my favorite texts.  I've always loved the Canaanite woman from Matthew's gospel (Mt 15:21-28) because she challenges Jesus and extends the table to include everyone.  I love imagining how her small, yet strong voice expands the table, lengthening to reach the far corners of the earth, and widening to make sure every last crevice is reached!  Chairs, bread, love for all!

And the bounty of this text doesn't stop there.  Today I see another morsel of wisdom.  As a foreigner to Jesus, she pleads with him to heal her daughter.  Claiming God's table is not meant to feed dogs, or the likes of her; she responds to Jesus' hurtful statement with a crumb of compassion: "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table"(Mt 15:27).  The tiniest statement moves Jesus to heal her daughter, have compassion for her, and heal himself of his own prejudice.

Small in stature, 
large in worth;
crumbs fall from God's table
carrying blessings
bigger than belief.

Being one for over-the-top expressions I lean toward the abundance of life, the overflowing table, and crowded family gatherings often overlooking the tiny morsels left behind.  As my bread rose to fullness, my back pack fills to stuffed, I hold onto the small moments of these last 8 months.  I realize that while I'll always seek out the fullness of life, these 8 months of bread baked life have taught me that communion is also about the brief moments of hand holding, the time to visit and cherish friends; the time to realize I too am a small and valuable part of God's world, flaws and all.  

We're filled to the brim at the table; but the rest of the week is scattered with small moments so we might linger over the crumbs of quietly sharing a newspaper, sweet kisses, and phone prayers with friends.  These small moments fall from God's table as brief blessings throughout our lives.

While I'll always have an affinity for flair, I am so grateful for the lessons of this Canaanite woman and deflated bread.  Bits of God fall into every crevice, filling the world with morsels of blessing and crumbs of compassion.