Wednesday, March 14, 2012

out there

Lent 3, Wednesday

Getting ready to leave for Taize!! Won't be back until the evening of the 27th, and won't have internet access most likely, so look for the next post on the 28th!

This song came to mind when I was taking a shower this morning. I thought it summed up my feelings before leaving on this journey pretty well (plus it takes place in France). Hope you enjoy!

See you on the other side...


Lent 3, Tuesday

Readings: Genesis 45:1-15; Psalm 78:1-39; 1 Corinthians 7:32-40; Mark 6:1-13.

Ok, so maybe it's just because it's on my mind, but it seems like all the readings today apply to my impending travels. I'll stick with Genesis and 1 Corinthians for tonight.

In Genesis, Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers and has an idea that they should move to be closer to him. This will require lots of preparation, as they will have to bring their kids, servants, wives, possessions--their livelihood--with them. As I write I have yet to begin packing for my trip to Taize. I have been trying to catch up with paperwork, schoolwork, and other odds and ends so that I can truly leave everything behind for a bit. Tomorrow I'll need to do laundry, make a run to a few stores, go to two meetings, and finish packing, all before 4:45pm. Whew! Preparation is difficult!

In Paul's letter to the people of Corinth, the very first verse is something I need to take to heart on this trip: "I want you to be free from anxieties" (v. 32). If you know me, then you know that I am quite an anxious person. I think that, for the most part, I am able to hide it pretty well, but people who are close to me can attest that many times I'm wound tighter than a tether ball wrapped around a pole. It's almost like I breathe anxiety--I'm always thinking of what could go wrong and how I could fix (or get out of) the situation. But Paul reminds us that we are tempted to be so engrossed in our earthly lives, worrying about everything--that we fail to see the big picture. We fail to see God at work in the world around us. I know that, for me, when I do not make time to relax or address things, my anxiety builds until I either become paralyzed or lackadaisical. I told my adviser about this anxiety, and she told me to think of the things that could go wrong, write them down, and then think of how I could address the issues. This actually was really helpful, and when my mind was cleared of this worry, there was a sense of stillness as my inner dialogue was temporarily silenced. My adviser suggested that in the liminal stage of preparing for my journey, I had essentially already begun my journey; I should, therefore, try to act as if I was already on my pilgrimage. In that case, I should take a deep breath and focus on gratitude for having the opportunity to travel to such an amazing place.

My journey--and yours--has already begun. How are we going to live differently with that knowledge?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Lent 3, Monday

Readings: Genesis 44:18-34; Psalm 80; 1 Corinthians 7:25-31; Mark 5:21-43.

The story about Joseph and his brothers has been building in intensity this Lent. Each day, as a little bit more is revealed, it seems that the story gets more and more interesting. So far we have seen Joseph's bratty attitude in the beginning, heard his brothers plot his death, waited with Joseph in prison, and bit our nails when he interpreted Pharaoh's dreams. Now, the tables have turned, Joseph has been elevated to second-in-command, and his brothers have come because of the famine. We wait with baited breath to see if this is the time where he gets his revenge on them for all those years away from home--years he can never get back. But we only get a bit of the story, and if you don't know how it ends, then it can be pretty suspenseful.  

I don't always do well with suspense; I am impatient and want to know what happens. If you've been watching the TV show Walking Dead recently, then you probably have been experiencing some of the frustration that happens when things go unresolved. Will they make it alive? Which character is going to die this episode? The same is true with music; we want things to resolve. For example, just try going to a piano one day and playing a melody. When you get to the penultimate chord, stop and walk away. Even if you are able to leave the final chord unplayed, I bet you will be silently humming it in your head.

Suspense can be frustrating, but it also makes things interesting. Walking Dead wouldn't be nearly as good if we knew exactly what was going to happen. And music is made richer when a little dissonance is added (they are called suspended chords for a reason).

The same is true for our faith. Sometimes I get so frustrated that I don't know all of the answers to questions and problems that arise. "It would be so much easier if I just knew what was going to happen" I sometimes catch myself thinking. But if I really think about it, a life of complete certainty--no surprises, no suspense--would be boring.

I don't know exactly what my life is going to look like. I don't know exactly what is going to happen when I die. I don't always know if I am making the right choices. But I will take this life of suspense over monotony any day. We have been given a sneak preview of what the kingdom of God looks like in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus taught us to expect the unexpected: that leaders will have to be servants, enemies are to be treated as friends, and the poor will inherit the kingdom. Nope, not what they were expecting. But it's so worth it.

So, I say, bring on the suspense.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Lent 3, Sunday

Readings: Genesis 44:1-17; Psalm 93; Romans 8:1-10; John 5:25-29.

Reading Joseph's story in Genesis this Lent has made me think a lot about sibling relationships. His actions seem so childish and dramatic (hiding his silver cup in Benjamin's sack to frame him). But then I have to remind myself that his brothers did plot to kill him before selling him into slavery, and he's had a lot of years to think about that. I'm surprised he didn't throw them all in jail, permanently. But, then again, maybe I shouldn't be surprised.

Sibling relationships are complicated. Each sibling, regardless of birth order, thinks that they are the victim. Siblings get into some pretty horrible fights--I've been in my fair share. But if you think about it, all relationships that are worthwhile come with some challenges. Your perspective changes when you grow up sharing your parents' attention, and I think that's a good thing.

The Shine siblings on top of the Empire State Building (2005)

Two particular sibling relationships I've been thinking about recently are the relationship between Moses and Aaron and the relationship between Moses and Pharaoh. One of the classes I'm taking this spring is a midrash class taught by a local Jewish rabbi. The best way I've heard midrash described is that it's "a true story that never happened" (click here for more information). Well, for one of my assignments, I wrote a midrash on two verses from Exodus (this is the assignment that kept me from posting on Wednesday night). It reads, “Afterwards Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.” ’ But Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the Lord, that I should heed him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go’ ” (Exodus 5:1-2). Since we're on the topic of siblings, I thought I'd include the midrash in today's reflection:

Nothing ever changes. That’s what my life taught me to believe, anyway. Our people have been here for generations, slaves in a foreign land. But it’s the only home I’ve known.

After years of suffering and torture you have to put your feelings aside, submerge them, because if they resurface you will drown in all the pain. “Don’t let your hearts get hardened, now,” mother used to say. She stopped saying that when she made the choice to feed my little brother to the waters of the Nile rather than watch him be murdered.

Growing up I used to love listening to the old men tell stories of our people and their relationship with Adonai, blessed be His Name. They were exciting stories: evil snakes, murderous brothers, epic floods, towers reaching to the sky…I could sit at their feet listening for hours. Sometimes I made Miriam play ancestor with me. For example, I would be Abel and she would be Cain. I would be Noah and she would be the people left behind (since she was so good at wailing and complaining). If I was feeling particularly generous that day I’d let her be the animals on the ark. But of all the ancestors I played, the one that intrigued me the most was Enoch. What did it mean that he walked with the Lord? I wanted to walk with the Lord. I had about a bazillion questions for him. Like why he invented smells. Why all the Egyptian kids didn’t have to work. And why the heck he made belly buttons. On these imaginary walks with the Lord I let Miriam play God. Before you think I was being kind, let me assure you that I grilled her.

Once I got older, the situation didn’t change, and so the questions never went away. As I moved into my role as a religious leader of Israel, I thought that if I prayed hard enough or cared hard enough, the Lord would come and save us. After a while it felt like he was either refusing to listen or was deaf. I didn’t know which was worse.

And then one day I heard it: a voice, calling my name. “Aaron” the voice said in rich, rumbling tones that for some reason made me think of a fatherly lion. “Aaron, go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” After I picked myself up from the ground following the shock of hearing a voice without a body (which, come to think of it, God must either really get a kick out of or be completely fed up with watching people fall down every time he speaks)…but anyway, after I picked myself up, all of my questions moved to the background and I felt like it would probably be good if I listened to him. You don’t argue with the Big Guy, after all. Well, that’s not entirely true, but you know what I mean.

I found my brother at the mountain. So many emotions were going through my head; for the first time I understood what Esau must have felt when he saw Jacob in the wilderness. This person was a stranger, had been dead to me for most of my life, and yet here he was, my little brother, standing awkwardly before me. How could I not run and embrace him?

We talked all the way back from the wilderness; we had a lot to catch up on. He recounted his years growing up in Pharaoh’s palace with servants obeying his every whim, and I told him how much it sucked being a religious leader of oppressed people. Good times. Then he began explaining to me exactly what our task was. We were supposed to convince the Israelites that the Lord had finally listened to us. And then we were to go to Pharaoh—the king of Egypt—and ask to be given a short vacation so we could celebrate a festival in the wilderness. I started laughing when he told me that, but then stopped when I saw by his face that he was serious. “You know he’s not going to buy that excuse, right?” Moses looked nervous but said that the Lord had it under control. He even had a script ready for me.

We got back to the Israelites and my speech went really well; turns out the Lord knew exactly what to say and do to get them on board. I felt pretty good after that, even felt optimistic that our efforts with Pharaoh would go well.

I was wrong. We got to the palace and did our little spiel, “let my people go” and so forth. But he wasn’t buying our reason for leaving. “Holiday? You people haven’t had a holiday in…wait a minute, you’ve never had a holiday. Your entire existence is to serve me. Plus, who is this Lord you speak of? I’ve never heard of this Lord. I think you’re making it all up. I’m not giving up free labor. You may not go.”

I looked at Pharaoh, a man who for a time was brother to my brother. I felt no brotherly feelings toward him, except that I had to fight the urge to roll my eyes. Of course he didn’t know the Lord. When you have been treated like a god your entire life, groomed for this purpose, why would you look anywhere else for authority? I was reminded of my mother saying, “Don’t let your hearts get hardened, now.” Pharaoh’s heart was definitely hardened. But with all that had gone on recently, I had the feeling that maybe, just maybe, this time everything would change. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012


Lent 2, Saturday

Readings: Genesis 43:16-34; Psalm 76; 1 Corinthians 7:10-24; Mark 5:1-20.

So I know that I wrote about food the other day, but I was struck by the image of Joseph and his brothers sharing a meal in the Egyptian palace. I realize that Joseph hasn't revealed himself to his brothers at this point in the story, but it made me think of my own family meals. Currently I'm in the liminal stage in my family, which makes eating situations somewhat complex; I'm not quite a child, and yet I'm not yet ready to join the adult table. What I love about these meals is the conversation--it's not that I remember what exactly is said, but every once in awhile I sit back and soak in the happy din. This is one reason why Christmas is my favorite holiday--because the whole family is gathered at our house, laughing, joking, arguing, teasing, and being merry. It's joyful noise :o)

I imagine that the dinner with Joseph was kind of like a mix between my family's Christmas dinner and the scene from the 1995 movie A Little Princess where the main character and her friend wake up to find a banquet has mysteriously appeared. "I'm a little scared about all of this" the friend says. "Me too," Sarah replies. "Do you think we shouldn't eat it?" "I'm not that scared!" says Becky.

That's what I picture this scene is like: excitement, fear, and joy, all wrapped up into one. Perhaps a preview of the heavenly banquet?

Friday, March 9, 2012

rockin' the boat

Lent 2, Friday

Readings: Genesis 43:1-15; Psalm 73; 1 Corinthians 7:1-9; Mark 4:35-41

Tonight we had what the seminary calls a Community Eucharist, where the entire community (faculty, students, staff) are invited to attend a worship service, usually followed by a community dinner. Tonight's Community Eucharist was hosted by the Missionary Society. Everyone was invited to dress in outfits from their native country or from countries where they had been on mission or immersion trips. I wore my longyi (pronounced lunj-ee), a traditional skirt that I received from the Diocese of Hpa-an (in Myanmar). The people who dressed up were invited to be a part of the procession. The entire service was student-led, and the international students played a huge part in it. We had readings in Haitian Creole and German, prayers in Creole, Filipino, Spanish, and French, and we sang a song in Swahili (I think), Spanish, and English. It was also fun to see the many kids, some of them who had dressed for the occasion. The service was full of energy and joyful noise :o)

My friend Sara, a fellow senior, gave an awesome sermon, and I got to take part in it! It was an interactive sermon on Mark's Gospel. She had everyone close their eyes as they listened to her read the Gospel again. While this was happening, 13 of us got into position. When she finished reading, the 13 of us froze where we were; we had recreated the scene where the disciples were waking up Jesus in the boat! Then Sara invited people to come up and look at us while we remained in our positions. This process is called tableau, "a pause during or at the end of a scene on stage when all the performers briefly freeze in position." I didn't get to see what everyone did, but some of us were despairing, some were bailing out the boat, and some were trying to steer the boat while Jesus looked calm. I wore my yellow galoshes and leaned over the edge of the boat like I was sick. After we unfroze, we returned to our seats and Sara invited the kids to come sit up front (so, naturally, I joined them). I don't know how she managed to focus on her sermon--there was so much going on!--but she did a great job. She told the kids (and us) that when things get difficult we need to remember that it's okay because Jesus is in the boat with us; when things get rough we are not alone! I found this really comforting. At the end of the sermon Sara prayed while the 13 of us got into position again. When everyone opened their eyes again, they saw us positioned how we imagined it would be if we knew that Jesus was in the boat with us. I don't know what the others did, but Amy, a fellow seminarian, and I had our arms around each other. It might sound a little cheesy, but people seemed to like it. I'll have to keep this technique in mind for future sermons. Part of me wishes I could have seen the tableau, but I'm glad I had the chance to be a part of the scene--it made it more real for me.

me in my longyi (picture taken in Myanmar in 2011, when I had long hair)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lent 2, Thursday*

Readings: Genesis 42:29-38; Psalm 74; 1 Corinthians 6:11-20; Mark 4:21-34.

If you know anything about me, you know that I love food. Well, I suppose it's not really love so much as lust. Macaroni and cheese, tacos, quesadillas, black beans, desserts (pound cake is my favorite, but anything chocolate is always good), and my absolute favorite of all time: fresh bread. Yum. My mouth is watering just thinking of them. Several of my friends can attest that my eyes light up and I get all excited when one of my favorites is being served. I'm a vegetarian, but probably the worst vegetarian ever--I don't like a whole lot of vegetables, and I think iceberg lettuce tastes like crunchy water (in my defense I do like spinach salads). I eat fish when there isn't another option, so technically I'm not even a vegetarian but a pescatarian. So my diet consists of a few vegetables, fruit, and lots of grains and dairy. Not the most balanced diet, but oh well.

Living on-campus at my seminary, one of the blessings is that our food is provided for us (as in, it is cooked for us, not that it is free). But it has turned out to be somewhat of a curse as well; buffets are my mortal enemies. Instead of getting just what I need, I put a little bit of everything on my plate. "Why, yes, I would love some mac and cheese." "Veggie chicken nuggets? My favorite!" "French fries with ranch? Yes, please!" "Chocolate cake/brownies/pie/cookies/lemon bar? Of course!"

But then I get to these verses from 1 Corinthians: " 'Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,' and God will destroy both one and the other" (v. 13). "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body" (vv. 19-20). I stare down at the second bowl of popcorn I've demolished and sigh. We live in a culture of excess; even the poorest among us in the U.S. have more than people in other countries. When we live into this culture of excess, greedily eating more than we need, we are not honoring our bodies. With this behavior we also are not honoring the other members of the Body of Christ. I don't know about you, but I tend to eat a lot, without much thought of people who don't have the privilege of eating three meals a day. Every once in a while I need to be reminded of this.

Last night I gave a presentation on Christianity in Asia (specifically my experience in Myanmar). During the presentation I recounted an experience I had had in a rural village. Here is the excerpt:

              I had considered myself a “good” Christian (whatever that means) but in a mere month the people I met in Myanmar demonstrated more genuine faith than I felt I had known in my lifetime. An illustration of this would be when we went to Maw Bvi and visited the homes of local villagers. Two seminarians from Holy Cross [the local Anglican seminary] went with me. In the last of these houses we visited we were presented with a small bowl of beans [which I think had been their dinner and when they found out we were coming they gave it to us]. I looked down to see that there were ants in my bowl. The seminarians must have seen me looking down intently because when our hosts were not looking, one of them quietly switched bowls with me, and then both of them began to eat around the ants. What made me feel worse is that I had already decided to risk being ungracious by not eating at all because I was unsure if the food had been properly cooked or about how long it had been sitting out. So I sat there feeling both humbled and humiliated, unable to convince myself to take a bite despite my feelings of guilt.
So what should I do with these feelings? To be consumed by guilt would neither be a productive use of time nor would it honor the Lord. For reasons known only to God, I have been abundantly blessed. My new friends helped me realize that out of this abundance I am called to respond to the world with grace, humility, generosity, and love—and through all of this I hope to demonstrate gratitude to God.

One cool thing my seminary does during Lent is it hosts a weekly Soup & Bread day. On Wednesdays those involved pledge to only eat soup and bread, instead of the other hot meals. The money the food service company saves (because soup is cheap) is donated to the Episcopal Relief and Development's (ERD) NetsforLife program. We usually end up donating thousands of dollars--last year we potentially saved over 800 people from malaria! This practice of eating less helps remind us of the abundance we have.

*My apologies for not posting yesterday. It was one of those days that just got busier the later it got, and when I finally finished my schoolwork at 1:30am, I decided that sleep would be a wiser choice than blogging, since I had a presentation in the morning. The perfectionist in me is so tempted to make up the lost work, but one of the things I need to work on is letting go and saying no. This reading came to mind when thinking about missing yesterday. It comes from A New Zealand Prayer Book's Night Prayer, on p. 184 (this is such a sweet service; you should really check it out sometime--and p.s. the bolding other than the amen at the end is for emphasis and doesn't appear in the original book):

it is night.

The night is for stillness.
    Let us be still in the presence of God.

It is night after a long day.
    What has been done has been done;
    what has not been done has not been done;
    let it be.

The night is dark.
    Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives
    rest in you.

The night is quiet.
    Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
         all dear to us,
         and all who have no peace.

The night heralds the dawn.
    Let us look expectantly to a new day,
         new joys,
         new possibilities.

In your name we pray.

Goodnight, friends.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

my soul in silence waits

Lent 2, Tuesday

Readings: Genesis 42:1-17; Psalm 62, 1 Corinthians 5:1-8, Mark 3:19b-35.

"For God alone my soul in silence waits; *
    from him comes my salvation." (Psalm 62:1)

Sometimes words are not good enough. Sometimes they get in the way. So for today's post, I'm going to post a link to a video that reflects a motif from Psalm 62, because I feel it more adequately sums up the feeling behind the verse. The song is entitled Mon âme se repose, or In God alone. This song comes from Songs & Prayers from Taizé. Since I am leaving for my pilgrimage to Taizé a week from tomorrow, I thought it would be fitting (especially since I'm starting to get anxious in my preparation for the trip). Enjoy!

The English lyrics are:
"In God alone my soul can find rest and peace, in God my peace and joy. 
Only in God my soul can find its rest, find its rest and peace."  

From the French they translate closer to:
"My soul rests in the peace of God alone: from him comes my peace.
Yes, only in God my soul rests, it rests in peace."

put your money where your mouth is...

Lent 2, Monday

Readings: Genesis 41:46-57, Psalm 56, 1 Corinthians 4:8-21, Mark 3:7-19a

In the reading from Genesis, we find that Joseph begins working for Pharaoh at age 30. He travels across Egypt, organizing the storage of the abundance of food in preparation for the famine. During this time of preparation he has two children. He becomes the second most powerful person in the kingdom of Egypt, and perhaps the world: "all the world came to Joseph...because the famine became severe throughout the world" (v. 57). And he achieves all of this as a young adult.

Jesus, in today's passage from the Gospel according to Mark, is beginning his ministry in Galilee. It is commonly held that this was taking place when he was in his 30s. Jesus appoints twelve apostles "to be with him," and some suggest that these men were also in their 30s or even younger.

The past few years I have seen many articles saying that my generation (Generation Y or the Millennials) is growing up to be lazy, self-involved, and apathetic. Of course, there are young adults (and adults in general) that fit this description, but the majority of young adults I know do not. Most of the ones I know are passionate, involved, and inspirational. Several of them have done Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, or other amazing internships (like Resurrection House, an Episcopal Service Corps internship in Omaha, NE). They are teachers, nurses, music therapists, social workers, therapists, musicians, youth ministers, priests, and work in non-profit organizations. They are passionate about changing the world for the better: some have donated their hair or shaved it to raise awareness, others have run races to raise money for disease research, still others dedicated summers to mission work in underprivileged communities, and some held quilt raffles to raise money for people affected by national disasters. Findings by the PewResearchCenter characterize the Millennials as "confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and receptive to new ideas and ways of living."

In my completely humble and non-biased point of view (read: sarcasm), young adults are awesome. If they are so passionate and involved in their communities, why aren't many of them in the church? Maybe they feel that the church is out-of-touch with them. That the church doesn't have what it takes to get them involved (or not lose them in the first place). Perhaps even that they don't practice what they preach. I'm not exactly sure why; as a young adult seminarian, I'm somewhat of an anomaly. But recently some of my friends have shared a blog that suggests that the Episcopal Church is out-of-touch with young adults, or at least does not consider them a priority. The proposed budget for the Episcopal Church was recently released, and it has some pretty stunning omissions. They have drastically reduced the amount of money for young adult ministry: from ~$3million to $286,000. They have completely eliminated the seminarian scholarship. Although they have increased the budget for Young Adult Service Corps (from $321,000 to $381,000), they have cut funding for many local and overseas missions.

What does this say about our Church's priorities?*

*Stay tuned for opportunities to comment on the proposed budget here (it also has a link to the actual proposed budget). If you feel that the Church should make some changes, make your voice heard!

Ladies and gentlemen, here is the future of the Episcopal Church. Look out! 
(and yes, I have on a mustache)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

say my name

2 Lent, Sunday

Readings for today (Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Psalm 22:22-30, Romans 4:13-25, Mark 8:31-38).

In the reading from Genesis, God gives Sarai and Abram new names: Sarah and Abraham. In the Gospel for today, Jesus calls Peter Satan. This got me to thinking about names.

Names hold such power. I think the first place I really recognized the power of names was when I read Ursula K. Le Guin's fantasy novel, A Wizard of Earthsea. In this fictional world, people go by their nicknames and don't tell anyone their real names, because that gives the other person power over them (it's a really awesome book; I highly recommend it). 

Most parents I have talked to have said that one of the most difficult things they have ever had to do is pick out their children's names. If you stop to think about it, most of us have several names. There is your birth name, usually reserved for when you have misbehaved or when you have achieved something great, like graduation (if you were wondering, mine's Lara Christina, which means either "famous" or "cheerful" daughter of Christ, depending on which site you check). There are the names your family calls you (in my case, Punkin', Dirlie, Wawa, Rara, Lala--FYI some of those were because siblings could not pronounce my name). There are the names certain circles of friends call you (Sunshine, Shiner). Then, of course, there are names that people use to make fun of you (someone in 8th grade tried to make fun of me by calling me "moonshine" but it wasn't really effective--"Really? That's the best you could come up with?" Oh yeah, then there's the name we use for my mom when we're trying to get her attention. One time one of us kids was trying to get her attention and went through various names, "Mama! Mommy! Mother!" until finally they said "Nurse!" Well, my mom turned around at that and said, "I am not a nurse. I am a doctor." Now, every time we need to get her attention we just call out, "Nurse!"). Oh, and let's not forget pet names, one of my favorites. In Germany you call your sweetheart schatz, which means treasure. In France it's mon petite chou chou ("my little cabbage cabbage"). In the states I've heard people use many: sweetie, honey, darlin', muffin, gorgeous, love.

It makes a difference what people call you. Sometimes people misspell names (in my case, by adding a "u." One time my mom received a letter addressed to "Sufan." Her name is Susanne. The only explanation I can come up with is that they heard her name wrong or maybe they were listening to Sufjan while doing their work and subconsciously wrote it down--I don't know). Every time someone mispronounces my name (pronouncing it Lair-ah rather than Lah-rah) I cringe. That's not my name!!! The funniest name I've been called so far was when I was in the airport in El Salvador on my way back to the states. On the tickets they distinguished between males and females, so they put a Ms. after my name. Except that they didn't put a space in between my name and the Ms., so the officer saw my ticket and read, "Shee-nay, Larams." Not wanting to cause any problems, I smiled at the officer and said, "Yep, that's me!" So if you ever hear anyone call me Larams, that's where that comes from. 

Then, of course, there are names that happen after transitions. My dad got to choose a saint name when he was confirmed in the Catholic church (he chose Timothy because it was the name of one of his friends. But also because when he added it to his name, James William, he could go by "Jim Bill Tim"). When people get married, they have to make the decision of whether to keep their own names, take their spouse's name, both take each other's names, hyphenate, or come up with a new one (i.e. Slane + Jianakoplos = Slaneakoplos).

I have some big changes coming up this year. Next month, God willing and the people consenting, I will be ordained a Transitional Deacon, at which point I will add the title "Reverend" to my name. Then, in the fall, God willing and the people consenting, I will be ordained a priest, at which point I have to decide if I want to be called "Mother" or "Pastor" or "Reverend" or something along those lines (my friend Christine, who graduated from VTS 2 years ago, is called "Father" by some people in her parish). I'm not quite sure what I want to be called, yet. Mother Lara? (I feel too young for that one) Reverend Shine? (too formal?) What I choose to go by potentially says something about who I think I am, and could make a difference in how people interact with me. It doesn't necessarily need to define me forever, though. Thank goodness I've got a little while longer to think about it!

What are your names? What names do you like? Which ones are embarrassing? Funny? Weird? Have you ever changed your name? Do people view you differently after the change?*
*this is a reference to The Princess Bride, one of the all-time best movies. Ever. You should check it out if you haven't seen it!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

what dreams may come?

Lent 1, Saturday

Readings: Genesis 41:1-13, Psalm 55, 1 Corinthians 4:1-7, Mark 2:23-3:6.

"Pharaoh awoke, and it was a dream. In the morning his spirit was troubled; so he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them to Pharaoh" (Genesis 41:7-8).

Dreams. They are such strange things. I usually don't remember mine, but almost all the ones I do remember are very weird, violent, bizarre, and/or scary. For example: I dreamt I was a secret agent, plotting revenge on my partner (who in real life was a fellow seminarian) because my partner had murdered my son. To make it even weirder, one of my seminarian church history professors then entered the dream, trying to convince me not to kill my partner by saying, "You really ought to forgive him, Lara." See what I mean? Weird.

Most of my dreams are in color, but I remember one that was completely black and white--because of the checkerboard tiled floor. Every once in a while my dreams are in German. Very few of my dreams are happy, and actually those end up being worse than the bad ones, because when I wake up I become disappointed that they weren't true. Most recently I had a dream about zombies (thanks a lot, Walking Dead).

Part of me wants someone to be able to interpret these dreams, but part of me is content not knowing. One dream I had in college disturbed me. I dreamt that I had given birth to a baby, except that the baby was really two babies connected by their legs (their legs ran into each other so that they were facing each other). One baby was black, and the other was white. The dream confused me, so I went to the head of my music therapy department because she was experienced in dream interpretation. After I described the dream, she had me draw the baby. She turned the paper on its side and it looked like a person with a shadow. We had been discussing Jungian philosophy recently, so I must have subconsciously internalized what we had been learning. Let me just say that it was really creepy.

Experiences like that make me not want to explore my dreams. But if I had recurring dreams like the Pharaoh, I probably would want to figure out what they were trying to tell me--curiosity would win out in the end.

What about you? Have any of you done any dream work? If so, what kinds of experiences have you had?

broken and contrite heart

Lent 1, Friday

Readings for today: Genesis 40:1-23, Psalm 51, 1 Corinthians 3:16-23, Mark 2:13-22

"The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" Psalm 51:17

When I first came to seminary, one of the first things we had to do was share our faith journeys with each other. As juniors (first years), we participated in a class entitled Introduction to the Theology and Practice of Ministry (TPM). One of the assignments we did was called the "River of Life" exercise. This consisted of pairing off with a pre-determined partner to share our faith journeys following the model of a river: the twists and turns and bends marked significant points in those journeys. After my partner spoke I realized that mine was not the only story that held pain. I felt a close connection with my partner; we had both been through some tough times, and somehow had made it through.

Last year (middler year, or second year), one of the assignments for my first homiletics (preaching) class was to talk about what compelled us to stand up there and preach about the Word of God in the first place. I gave a safe answer initially, going first so that I wouldn't have time to get too nervous (we were doing this without notes). But when my classmates began sharing their stories, I got more and more uncomfortable. They had far more profound things to say, or at least they were taking risks in what they shared with the class. As a result, I felt that I had been dishonest, or at least hadn't told the whole truth. After everyone had gone, my professor asked us how we felt about sharing. Instead of letting it slide and just waiting until class was over, I said that I was dissatisfied with what I had said, upset that I hadn't been willing to be as open with my classmates. The professor asked if I wanted to try it again. Stupidly, I said yes. So, I got up in front of the room and spoke again. I'm not sure exactly what I ended up saying, but I know it resulted in me sobbing and needing several tissues; it seems I had a lot to say, after all. I'm not sure what my classmates thought about my verbal vomiting, but I felt much better after it was over. I hadn't realized how much pain I was carrying, how broken I felt.

This year, my senior year, I learned something about a person whom I hadn't really taken the time to get to know. Learning of the pain that this person had been carrying around made me see them in a different light.

Each year, the people I have met who have shared their stories with me have talked of difficult times, of being broken. The one thing that has been in common in all of these cases is that in the midst of the pain, they felt God's love surrounding them. It was only after they had been through these painful experiences that their relationship with God had strengthened. Maybe it's because when we are at our very lowest, we realize that God (through Christ) is the only one who truly knows what it's like to feel abandoned, to feel alone. It really is amazing that God loves us so much that God was willing to experience all of the emotions, all of the pain and suffering of humanity, followed by a horrible death, in order to reconcile us to God. What wondrous love is this?

Recently, several of my friends have had illnesses and deaths within their families. Others are going through emotionally rough times. I wish I could be there to give every one of them a hug, wish I could help take some of that pain away. There is so much brokenness in the world. So much pain, hunger, desolation. I don't have an answer for all of that. I can't make any of it better, not really. But I can tell you that I truly believe with everything I am that God really is with us through it all

Thursday, March 1, 2012

and also with you

Lent 1, Thursday

Today's readings: Genesis 39:1-23; Psalms 19, 46; 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:15; Mark 2:1-12.

I find it interesting that God never prevents any of the bad stuff from happening to Joseph. First, his brothers plot to kill him. Then, he is sold by his brothers into slavery. After that, once he gets on his master's good side, he is falsely accused of having an affair with his master's wife, which lands him in jail. Things aren't exactly going Joseph's way. But throughout all of these ordeals, "the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love" (v. 21).

Thinking of all the times in the past when I have felt stressed or sad or angry, this passage brings me comfort. No matter what is going on, we are never truly alone, because God is with us. As Psalm 46 assures us, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble...The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge" (vv. 1...7, 11).

I wonder if this is why we greet one another during church by saying, "The Lord be with you" and responding, "and also with you"?

Joseph in prison by D. Roselli

even if your voice shakes

Lent 1, Wednesday

Readings for today: Genesis 37-25-36, Psalm 49, 1 Corinthians 2:1-13, Mark 1:29-45.

These words of 1 Corinthians struck me tonight:
"And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom..." (vv. 3-4).

Since beginning my internship with the Episcopal Church, one of the most challenging and yet rewarding things for me has been preaching. It is scary to stand up in front of people and attempt to "break open the Word" (a common phrase in seminarian-speak). Seeing all those faces looking at me expectantly (or not looking, as the case may be) can be very intimidating. If I didn't have my sermon printed and placed in front of me, I'm not sure that I would be able to do it--I'd probably freeze up or pass out. Seriously.

The year that my family decided to home school (note that it was only a single year), we joined a 4-H club for home schoolers. My sister and I had prepared speeches for one of the meetings, complete with note cards in case we got nervous. When it came time for people to get up there, I didn't go up--I was terrified. My sister, 4 years younger, got up there and wowed everyone, but even my super-competitive nature was not enough to give me the courage to do it. I decided I would rather be embarrassed for wimping out than get up there and fail in front of everyone. I'll never forget how disappointed my parents were and how disappointed I was in myself.

For some reason, preaching is a totally different experience. Yes, I'm still terrified, and I know that I stumble over words and that there are much more qualified people out there who could do it more effectively. All I can do is try my best to be honest to Scripture and my own experience of God and hope that people are able to get something out of it. As a button I own states, "Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes." Please know that if I ever say something that is of value, it is only because the Spirit has interceded and helped you to hear what you needed to hear. I know it sounds cheesy, but sometimes when I get up there to preach, it's almost as if there's something magical going on--I get this energy and time seems to move in and out of existence. I'd like to think it's the Holy Spirit, but maybe I'm just narcissistic and enjoy the sound of my own voice (I have always enjoyed reading aloud). Regardless, somehow preaching is different for me than saying a speech. There is a sense of vulnerability when laying your struggles with the text before the people gathered. It's a great privilege, and a humbling experience.

All the same, it makes me feel better to know that even with all of his training and experience, Paul also felt inadequate at times.