10 For the Win

This year, 2016, I am thankful to celebrate 10 years cancer free. I am celebrating by completing 10 5K events. What better way to celebrate a temporary health decline than by putting the power in powerwalk toward a healthy goal? As of August, I am only about half way to my goal, but I have more 5Ks on my calendar through December.

As some of the fittest people in the greater DMV and Baltimore areas zoomed past me, I made a few observations applicable to life, especially church life:

 

Organization and communication

The most well attended and enjoyable 5Ks were well organized as evidenced by accessible organizers and clear instructions. To successfully host a race, there must be an organized team working together as a healthy team.

 

Encouragement from the sidelines

Some 5Ks were in residential areas, others were in more business-oriented areas of town. Regardless, there were always at least some people on the sidelines cheering and encouraging the runners and walkers. Positivity is particularly important during up hills and the final stretch of the race.

 

Sportsmanship

Some of the most inspiring moments of the Olympics and even local 5Ks are when fellow participants help each other. While there were always professional medical personnel, there were minor issues such as a small cut or younger participants getting tired. There is power in handing the runner next to you a band aid or an encouraging pat on the back.

We were all moving toward the same goal- to finish well after giving our best.  Each person is responsible for themselves AND we are all in the race together. This is not multiple choice. I hope you will join me in finishing this year well- finish 2016 well personally, spiritually, socially, professionally, and otherwise.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” -Hebrews 12:1

#10forthewin

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Go For the Gold!

The 2016 Olympics are upon us. Opening ceremonies begin Friday evening. The usual nationalist fanfare and moving stories of determination are already circulating. Socio-political tensions are high in Brazil and questions about the environmental impact of hosting the Olympics linger.
 
This Olympics includes a refugee team of 10 dedicated athletes from nations in conflict including Syria, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Democratic Republic of Congo. As their life stories are shared, I am increasingly inspired by their resiliency. For example, Yusra Mardini began swimming at 3 years old in her home country of Syria. When she and her sister fled Syria in 2015, their small dinghy with 20 people on board began taking on water between Turkey and Lesbos. Mardini and a few others swam while pushing the dinghy to shore. Now, she is swimming in the Olympics.
 
I am also increasingly convicted to respond to the ongoing global refugee crisis, especially as a result of incessant warfare. How can we love our neighbors on micro-next-door levels and on macro-global levels?
 
I invite you to watch the Olympics and read the stories of as many Olympians as possible. Learn the experiences of real people around the world. When possible, watch the Olympics and discuss the athletes’ and their families’ stories with other people around you. Knowing each other’s stories is an important step toward recognizing the imago dei, Divine Image, in all people.
  
“‘Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien. You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone.” [Deuteronomy 1:16b-17a]

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Make Basil Great Again

While in seminary I had a pet basil named Basil the Great. I picked him up at the local farmer’s market one Saturday and repotted him on the wrap around porch of my cottage. He thrived and became quite large with very little attention which worked well for my very minimal gardening knowledge. I harvested him multiple times to make bowls of pesto and top homemade pizzas with fresh basil leaves. The sacrifice brought delight to my table. Eventually Basil the Great died during freezing weather.

 

I think back to those days with nostalgia. I have even attempted to recreate another Basil the Great here in Maryland on the patio of my basement apartment with the same strategy and plan- minimal intervention, sunlight, natural rain, etc. I have successfully killed at least 5 different basil plants in the past year. What worked well previously does not necessarily work well now. My home and climate are significantly different. I continue to experiment with different soils and amounts of water, sunlight, etc.

 

I continue to experiment with the hopes of having a stable and thriving basil plant again. The only way this will be possible is by trying new things. 

 

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” [Ecclesiastes 3:1]

 

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The Gospel According to the Convent

I am Mennonite & I love Catholic nuns. I am a nun groupie from way back. In college, I minored in Women’s Studies & focused on the experiences of women in religious leadership related to family systems, mostly Catholic nuns. I have prayed with Sisters, baked, sang, cried, hiked, cleaned, laughed, & more with them. Last week I had the amazing & always illuminating experience of visiting a convent & starting to know another community. Parts of this Carmelite convent were familiar, but there were some parts that were unlike any other convent I have visited. A few observations:

 

Boundaries & Radical Hospitality Must Co-exist

I contacted the convent & they received me as a guest with only a few pertinent questions such as when I planned to come. It was practically a “no questions asked” welcome. This does not mean I had free reign. Certain doors & areas were labeled private. The Sisters did not modify their schedule for me. They invited me into their schedule & routine. This gives the community consistency & gave me a sense of authentic presence as I observed & participated in their natural habitat.

 

This community is semi-cloistered. They know who they are & what they need to do to fulfill their commitments to themselves & to show hospitality to the stranger. Brené Brown says, “daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” See more from her here on healthy boundary setting.

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Sing, Even if it Sounds Like A Train Wreck

Monastics throughout the ages have gathered for regular prayer together throughout the day. These Sisters chant a few Psalms a few times each day as part of their communal prayer time in addition to daily Mass. Every once in a while the rhythm or organist or someone is off, but the chant went on. Part of the beauty of communal chant is when you find yourself off, you are surrounded by other people who carry the chant until you are able to jump back in. This principle of mutually supportive community surely carries over beyond the chapel.

 

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.” [Ecclesiastes 4:9-10]

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Accessibility is Everything

I have visited many convents & had great conversations with many different types of Sisters. This was my first time to visit a more progressively minded community. A few times I heard people of other faiths spoken of positively & even prayed for. Other times I heard subtle & not so subtle openness to LGBTQ people. These small comments of gracious kindness reflect a life of prayer & openness to the Spirit’s presence that turns out to not be so small after all. As a result, I have never felt so welcome at a convent.  

 

“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” [Romans 13:10]

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Leadership + Follow-ship = Healthy Community

It was not immediately clear to me which of the Sisters was the Prioress or the local Superior. Yet, there appeared to be no need for heavy handed leadership either. The Sister in charge of hospitality was wonderfully thoughtful with no need for the Prioress to insert herself. The community was orderly & connected with a mission & focus beyond the Prioress. There was clear respect for the various priests who visited, though they called each other by familiar first names. There was a clear sense of mutual respect that everyone seemed secure in. Perhaps everyone is following Pope Francis living example of empowering leadership.

 

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” [Hebrews 13:7]

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God Is Everywhere… Maybe

I believe in a theology of place. While I believe that God is all-present, there are certain places where I experience God consistently & profoundly. Convents are 1 such place. Thanks be to God & the Sisters who commit their lives to prayer & hospitality. Find your place visit. Visit often.

 

God spoke to Jacob in a dream, “‘Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’” [Genesis 28:15-16]

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Blizzard Sabbath Keeping

I don’t know if you heard, but a little storm has popped up on the East coast. So far Winter Storm Jonas has dropped more snow in the DC-Baltimore metro areas than I have ever seen in my entire life combined. Before now, the only blizzard I was familiar with came from Dairy Queen!

The ability to drive or even walk much outside has contributed to me accepting the need to stay home. So I have. I have stayed in, read, relaxed, baked, connected with my sweetheart. After 1.5 days of this externally imposed hibernation, I realized how relieved I have been not to have expectations put on my time.

Business as usual has temporarily stopped.

While I was in seminary I experienced great relief & peace by carefully practicing Sabbath & protecting that time. Not in the Orthodox, kosher, Jewish sense, but in my own adapted yet spiritually focused, life-giving way. This regular practice has since stopped as little by little I allowed other demands, “needs”, & a different life stage/lifestyle to take over.

My mistake.

I truly grieve the lost life & damaged property this titan of a storm has brought, but I am thankful for the reminder that I need this type of rest when no one owns me or my time. When I am reminded that I am only Erica, always Gods, & life is both short & long so plan accordingly.

Sabbath is a reminder that Creation is finite & glorious, our Creator is infinite & glorious, & rest is divine. Sabbath is a reminder that contrary to American belief, work & productivity do not define humanity, or more particularly me. Sabbath is a reminder that what we do individually & privately impacts who we are collectively & publicly.

Sabbath is not leaving reality, but facing reality in a more centered way.

When was the last time you Sabbathed?
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Why I support full LGBT inclusion

A powerful word from my friend & colleague, Marty Troyer, on the importance of loving & welcoming all people, especially LGBT people. I particularly appreciate his insistence on a we rather me approach to church life!

HOUSTON MENNONITE CHURCH

“The wind blows where it chooses…. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit (John 3:8).”

I believe the Spirit of God is alive and well today. It’s the only way I can describe my journey, and the journey I see happening throughout the Body of Christ today. Having shared this with our church leaders, I’d like to share my journey with all at Houston Mennonite Church.

You see, at a point in the not-too-distant past, my thoughts about sexual orientation mimicked the thoughts I had inherited from church, culture, and family: godly sexual orientation was opposite-gender attraction only, and therefore marriage was only between a woman and a man.

I believe it was nothing other than the Spirit of God which led me to full inclusion of my gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) brothers and sisters in Christ. My repenting toward this position did not…

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Saffron in Jerusalem

I am excited to guest blog for Space for Spice this week! Check it out!

Space for Spice

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Today’s post comes from a dear friend of mine who took a recent trip to Jerusalem and brought back a delightful gift—saffron!  I invited Erica Lea to share with us about her experience in the market at Jerusalem, and you’ll find a treat at the end.

As I walked through a stretch of market stalls near Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, I couldn’t help but sense that all or at least most eyes were on me, an Anglo American woman shopping alone. My group of seminarians had quickly spread out to do their own shopping and exploring.

Jaffa Gate is 1 of 8 gates in the Old City walls, and was a major entrance for pilgrims. The gate also includes bullet marks from the War of Independence. The Old City is divided into Armenian, Christian, and Muslim quarters. I saw some intermingling, but most groups stayed in their designated…

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