and now for more community reflection

recently i wrote about living in community–reflecting on the lessons of community and communal living that i have been learning in the past three*1* years. this week i have begun the arduous (and also gratifying/affirming) process of responding to the questions from the united methodist book of discipline (umc bod) one answers in their (hopefully) prayerful journey towards commissioning and then ordination as ministers in the umc, and in this process have found myself rereading the plethora of notes i typed in my two methodism courses while in divinity school.

this postulant theologian has no qualms in admitting that i am greatly enjoying this journey back through these notes. the pace of my heart quickens with delight and excitement when i ponder the call in feel from god to seek this gift or ordination–the gift of standing with a community of believers and walking with them towards holiness and a more full understanding of who each of us are–in our personal gifts and talents–and who we are together.

which brings me to my connecting point of bringing up the post regarding living in community: in reading my PAR160 notes searching for wisdom and rekindling my knowledge of umc polity i came across two quotes that kept taking me back to that community blog post.

the first is from the preface to “hymns and sacred poems” (1739) and the remainder of the quote below is from rev. dr. randy maddox expounding upon the depth of meaning:

“no holiness but social holiness” you can’t have growth unless you have community. you need the class meeting. you need a small group and to be a part of society. we need this living and conversing with other people if we are to grow in dispositions and meekness. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness (Hymns and Sacred Poems [1739], Preface, §§4–5).

and the second is from john wesley’s sermon 24: “sermon on the mount, iv” I.1-4

Christianity is essentially a social religion … to turn it into a solitary religion, is indeed to destroy it. … I mean not only that it cannot subsist so well, but that it cannot subsist at all, without society—without living and conversing with other [people]. … That the religion described by our Lord cannot subsist without society, without our living and conversing with other [people], is manifest from hence, that several of the most essential branches thereof can have no place if we have no intercourse with the world. There is no disposition, for instance, which is more essential to Christianity than meekness. … (Sermon 24, “Sermon on the Mount, IV,” I.1–4).

i copy and pasted these quotes into my the document that i’m working on and then directly onto sticky notes on my computer screen–readily available for instant consumption when i feel i need a reminder as to why community is so very important. i digress on that point for now, as it was not why i started this particular post.

what these quotes have made me realize (or made me feel) is that while i may not be very good at quoting off the top of my head, i have seemingly been listening to the tradition and the church that i so wholeheartedly love. (do take this to mean either the umc or the Church as a whole. both are true. scripture and holy texts, holy people/saints/mystics/poets and friends are also lumped into my definitions of tradition and church at the moment.) i am deeply steeped in the belief that community is essential for Truth and Life.

this saturation is so deep that a lot of times i think that i don’t even comprehend the depth or the effects on my life. my body. my way of being.

i never would have been able to quote these statements to you directly, and i wouldn’t have necessarily been able to point to them as part of the process of becoming who i have become (and continue to become, too)–but it was in reading them again that i realized how shaped i have been by them. when rereading these and other quotes in my notes i was transported back to the classroom and to the
conversations that my classmates and friends had regarding these subjects.

another example is the poetry of shel silverstein. just now, housemate and i are sitting in the living room and she’s playing shel reading ‘invitation’ from “where the sidewalk ends” and i’m wondering how much these poems have shaped how i feel about life, how i feel about dreaming and hugging and being with people.

perhaps i am over sensitive to the didactic, or maybe the things that are read to us, that we read, hear, sing and see really do shape us in ways that are beyond us.

INVITATION

If you are a dreamer, come in.
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer . . .
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire,
For we have some flax golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!

*1*if not six…in my recent memory it is while at duke i began to “learn the language of community” and probably truly began to contemplate what “community” could mean on a deeper or a theological ground.

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foundations: working with and within limited resources (stoking creativity)

perhaps defining my work for the past three years having been with “limited resources” is still painting a picture that is not quite accurate. it is my assumption when one hears of “limited resources” in most places in the north american context one may think this means something like–“ah, well they don’t have enough money for the bouncy castle AND giving away free cotton candy at the church fair this year.” that person would be quite incorrect. when i say limited resources i mean a lot of the time the education department of the north karamoja diocese is working with a grand total of $0.†

i have always considered myself to be a fairly creative person, be that artistically or academically. it took (and is still taking) time to fully embrace this creativity. (i was almost always embarrassed and confused in grad school when i found myself to be the only one in my discussion group who had totally different thoughts on the readings–thinking that i ‘didn’t get it’ or wasn’t intelligent enough to ‘get it’. it turns out that i tend to just “come in through the back door and or window” rather than wherever it is others enter.)

all that to say: these three years have been a challenge to my academic, artistic and spiritual creativity–and an opportunity to encourage and tease-out others creativity as well.

often times when working on a project proposal or assignment in the diocese i would invariably meet with a brick wall that would seemingly be a sign that this would never work. with some encouragement from my community (both local and international) i would begin to attack this brick wall with all of the creative energy i could muster–sometimes burrowing underneath, leaping over the top or taking a sledgehammer to the wall and busting out a window.

the highly aerobic imagery is apt to show the amount of aerobic and anaerobic energy that sometimes goes into tapping into one’s and encouraging others creativity. at least this is my experience as an introvert. perhaps it is more energy-tapping for an introvert to put forth the exertion necessary to master the walls of un-tapped creativity that many societies seem to suffer. (if there are any extroverts who would like to add their perspective, i’d love to hear it!)

i won’t go so far to say that i have come up with a systematic plan for overcoming The Wall, but i have learned to throw myself at it in many different ways–and in ways that either hadn’t crossed my mind before, or that weren’t necessary until now.

for example: my position here has required me to work directly with money a lot more than in any previous job i’ve held. in my personal life i am pretty used to not having a lot of money (see the previous “foundations” post regarding living simply or seek out your local menno-friend and inquire directly.[www.mennoniteyourway.com]) but working as a head of a department has meant that i have to consider budgets and finances on a much more grand-scale than just my own personal finances.

even though i knew coming into the position that there was little to no funding (hence my service-term with mcc, providing capacity-building and resources where money is tight) trying to figure out programs and how to build capacity with little to no funding shocked my system a bit. i didn’t have money to offer, i didn’t have money to buy Things for the schools or the diocese but i had my self* to offer; my education, experience, and creativity.

sometimes my colleges and i would climb The Wall together, using our mutual creativity and ingenuity to overcome the challenge of few resources. and sometimes i found myself scaling what i thought was The Wall only to reach the top to discover that this particular wall was the wall of getting my colleagues on board with my crazy-western/north american-out of the box approach. (another equally challenging wall was that of convincing people that while i am: a) unmarried b) “young” c) female and d) “not from here” i have something to offer!)

previously i mentioned that it takes aerobic and anaerobic energy to stoke personal and corporate creativity–for me this means that sometimes engaging the aerobic side: going for a walk, doing yoga or running is what i need to start the creative process or to get it going after stalling-out.  or sometimes utilizing anaerobic means: brainstorming, meditating, sleeping or praying to either simulate or calm the mind so as to receive inspiration. for this particular group of people, i found that asking a lot of open-ended questions and listening between the lines was a good start to finding their innovative energy, and then facilitating the chasing of their vision sometimes resulting in what can only be described as a moment of divine alchemy.

i hope that you, dear reader, are not upset that this reflection is still vague–i’m working all this out still–and i hope that you were not expecting any “how-to” type advice. i still have a lot to learn and a lot to suss-out regarding the mysteries of living life, tapping my creativity and climbing The Wall. i do hope that you will continue to climb, burrow, and smash through the walls in front of you–and that we can break them down together.

__
†that is not always the case, in my three years i wrote and received two small grants from mcc to do some work in the education department and was amazingly grateful for them and the connections and learnings made and shared with these funds.

*yes, i do mean my self and not myself. puzzled? inquire!

related
• experiencing beauty in unexpected places (‘harsh’ places like karamoja, within and around poverty and hardship [this is not to make poverty itself beautiful, however], in small acts of kindness, in nature etc.)


• laughter is magical and medicinal

c25k: vacation edition

last week i was in kampala (again) and indulged myself by working out at the garden city gym. i even took a few photos to share what this little oasis of fitness looks like…but am not entirely ready to post them yet (this will probably happen next week after another trip to said gym, so stand by for that!).

that run was on friday afternoon partially because it was time to run, and partially because i was getting on (another) bus that evening to travel to kenya (eldoret) to visit katie. (yay! katie!) having traveled from kotido (boarding the bus at 1:30 a.m.) to lira, changed busses and rode to kampala (after a odd obstacle at the river nile–a lorry had gone down the hill and into the nile…a crane was there to pull it out. intense) arriving in the evening i figured that a good run would help my body to adjust and realign.

then! after being in kenya for oh, maybe a day and half i was itching to get out on the road and discover the magical qualities of running in this region of kenya… the high altitude training centre is here, and some of katie’s neighbors are medal-winning-800 runners. rather than be intimidated i was excited to breathe in some fresh kenya air and enjoy the cooler climate than i typically endure.

it was beautiful.
i left katie’s gate, took a right and just ran along a out-skirts-of-eldoret-road (old nairobi, for those keeping track at home) letting my timed play list tell me when to turn around.

my plan was to just run straight up the road (and it was up. uphill. the entire way. yowza.) until my first play list was over than turn around and return the same way. that almost was what happened.

but then.

there was this really inviting foot-path off the main road that seemed to weave through a field…there were cows and trees…and i couldn’t resist! i found myself making a quick left turn onto this path as beyonce reminded me that “if [he] liked it then [he] should have put a ring on it!” i was smiling and enjoying myself–applauding my spontaneity and bravery when i realized that there was a dog following me.

and not a nice “i’m trotting after you because i’m curious” following me, but the “i’m growing and barking and maybe going to bite you” kind of following me. i pulled my earbuds out, turned around and stopped moving entirely… i bent toward the dog (he was still maybe 10 feet away) with my the backs of my hands out–non threatening…and speaking in a soft voice: “its okay…it’s alright…i’m not here for your cows…”

he stopped growing but still looked pretty intense. i stayed bowed down with my hands out, saying nice things in a nice voice and started backing away. he didn’t move–and, thankfully, his owner materialized from somewhere near by and called the dog who quickly jogged to his side. whew!

the owner and i shared a little interchange in my fake swahili and his much better english about the day, and “yes its okay to run here” and “sorry about the dog!” (that last phrase was uttered by both of us…)

feeling confident i turned back toward the foot-path and continued into the field, no more dog followers. however, when i reached the end of the path i concluded that i didn’t necessarily want a repeat of this canine encounter and decided to go along the edge of the field and then turn back, giving the pooch a wide berth. this meant running off path through tall grasses…delightful! the grass in this particular field isn’t the veld grass or any sharp cut-throat type that was going to rip at my skin, but what looked like 4 foot tall stalks of clover–delicate little poofs on the ends. hurray!

so, i ran along the edge of the field, making my own path and having a delightful time–and i spotted a swath of field back towards the road that looked to have been cleared, so i aimed for that.

this is where the real hilarity ensues: this part of the field was cleared because it seems to be where the cows graze…the grass here, while short, is a vibrant green–this is clearly where the cows enjoy their lunch. this in and of itself would have just been a nice observation, however, it rains frequently enough here that this bit of land trod my many a cattle hoof is basically a marsh. a calf-deep marsh.

i went from solid ground, trucking along nicely, to calf. deep. marsh. it took all of my core strength to not pitch forward onto my face–but i did manage to stay upright and moving in a forward direction. once i righted myself and decided that this is still FUN, began laughing and high-stepping the 1/4 of a mile back to the road. the rest of this little marsh-field was only about ankle deep, so i wasn’t as filthy as i could have been, but i was still a muddy-mess by the time i reached the road–i even had splashes of mud on my arms!

even after all these events, and having to move at a slower pace than before, my first play list still hadn’t ended so i braved more of the up-hill-battle and trudged onward, getting funny looks (even a laugh!) out of the people i was meeting on the road.

when my first play list did end and i was thrust into silence for a few minutes i noticed how loudly my shoes were squashing with every step and started to giggle again as a group of upper primary school girls walked past me…they also got a good laugh out of the whole incident–how hilarious i must have looked: mzungu woman, wearing weird clothes, covered in mud, loud shoes AND she’s laughing at nothing… i suspect i was the top of discussion at more than one home that evening!

i got my act/self together and started running DOWN the hill back toward’s katie’s place–getting confused looks and smiles from the people i had passed on the way up. “you are dirty!” one of the mamas shouted after me. i made a big deal of shrugging and we both laughed.

upon arrival back at katie’s place i asked her to document my muddy self, photos of which you can find below!

 

 

foundations: living simply & in community

it was while i was in grad school that i first heard the phrase “living in community.” and i will readily admit that i thought this was just another pithy duke-appropriate buzz-phrase that a good moderate-to-liberal christian would toss about in conversation when talking about the Church and being a good
moderate-to-liberal-non-evangelical-christian.

this belief quickly turned to rolling my eyes every time i heard the phrase “living in community” or “intentional community.” while a part of me agreed with the underlying theology and belief of Being a part of a Community and engaging meaningfully with one’s community, many of the people i knew expounding upon these things were kind of cult-ish about intentional communities. it was much easier to write all of them off as far too crazy and, if nothing else, fairly detached from reality/the real world.

then i found myself spending a summer living with J, someone who not only was a part of one of these intentional communities (houses) but would become one of my very dear friends [sister]. in her, i began noticing the difference of what life is like when one is “intentional” about their engagement with those they live with. there was no saul/paul moment that summer, i was still fairly skeptical of all this and was still prone to rolling my eyes at what i thought to be overzealous affirmation of intentional communities† at duke. however, i did allow myself to explore what these over-used buzz words could mean for me and my theology beyond how i felt duke was shoving them down my throat.

throughout that year (my final year of the m.div program at duke) i spent more time with J, in and around her intentional community–listening and watching what this was all about “on the ground” and in reality rather than simply dismissing the pie-in-the-sky-perfection i had heard tale of. slowly i came around and found myself saying things like “i really need my community.” and doing things like turning to “my community” to help me to make decisions or hold me accountable to and for things that i would typically attempt to take on by myself.*

i was bringing these learnings and new patterns of living with me to uganda.

but there was another component to this community living that i was taking on in signing up with mennonite central committee–and that was an affirmation of a commitment (calling?) of living simply. to be more kind and gentle to the earth, to remember “its not my money, it’s god’s money” (something else i can truly attribute to J for not only saying to me over and over, but showing me what that can faithfully look like.) to carefully and prayerfully consider the impact on individuals, communities, relationships, the earth etc when acquiring Things.

for the bulk of my “adult life” i have been in school (university and grad school) and in many ways was forced to live within a certain type of simplicity. however, for me, that type of simplicity was not a chosen one-and i found myself pushing beyond my means for whatever reason. but it has been such a journey and so life-giving to turn towards a life of chosen simplicity.

choosing to do my best to only purchase what i need, live within and even below my means and seek god’s guidance on what to do with the remainder. and at the same time learning how to balance simplicity with remaining happy and healthy. not pushing the simplicity argument too far that i felt like i was depriving myself of necessities and splurging sometimes on something silly or extraneous and not feeling bad about that.
many of these lessons have come from living in and working within the embraced theology of mcc and the anabaptist tradition. but many of these lessons have also come from living in kotido. don’t worry friends, i am not about go bounce down the rabbit trail of how “poor africans” who “have so little” can still be “so very happy”. that is not where this is going. feel free to peel yourself off the ceiling now.

these lessons in simplicity learned in kotido have had more to do with attempting to explain to my friends and acquaintances here why i would choose to live so simply. why we would not push for things that we found to be over the top extravagant, or unnecessary. sometimes this meant defending my (and mcc’s) stance on simplicity. people think that some of the choices we make to be irrational and counterintuitive to people “of [my] stature” (seemingly having access to money).

having had embraced the theology of intentional community my job upon entering this corner of my community in kotido was to figure out how i was going to translate what i already knew to what i was learning. how was i going to translate living theologically intentionally in a community into this new place and this new culture that i was trying to be a part of. where i quickly learned what is mentioned above of explaining choosing simplicity when it looked like i could have had nearly anything i wanted or that people thought i should want because of my level of education, perceived monetary status (i have far less money than most assume i do), my skin color or my position in the diocese.

i have learned that group-think, living in and making decisions in community can be deeply faithful and fruitful. from participating in wedding committees at church (where we pretty much planned the entire thing with some input from the bride and groom, including fundraising and carpooling to the wedding) to inquiring of the community how to truly be helpful and culturally appropriate to those coming to my gate, asking.

hopefully this means that i have a better understanding of giving and receiving grace within my community (and, of course, beyond). and that i have become more firm in the creation of healthy boundaries and not feeling guilty about sometimes needing my space–and on the other hand of that equation having a deeper understanding of receiving and giving hospitality. knowing that in receiving hospitality well the one receiving will sometimes be uncomfortable physically, mentally and spiritually. but to be a true member of community being willing to stretch and lean into those growing edges.

living intentionally simply and in community are two gifts that i hope to continue to cultivate and grow into as i transition back to the united states, “home.” it is exciting to wonder where the similarities between my “home culture” in the u.s. and my “adopted culture” in karamoja will overlap. where they will differ, and how in those differences those two cultures may embrace in ways they never have before. and, if nothing else, i pray these lessons in simplicity and communal living help to make my life a more faithful reflection of the love of christ.

† my main argument was that just because i wasn’t living in an intentional-community, or throwing myself into “new monasticism” didn’t mean that i wasn’t intentional about my engagement with my community and the Church at large. in some ways, i think my reaction was my way of pushing back against what i saw as a group of people trying to make me feel bad that i didn’t live in intentional community, that i locked my door and that my house didn’t have weekly prayer or meal times together with my housemates regularly. now, later, i realize that the majority of these people were not trying to make me feel bad, or to force me into an intentional community but perhaps their…hero-worship…of those in these houses made me to feel as if i wasn’t a “good christian” or “good duke christian”. i digress.

* “pilgrimage as a way of life” was a concept that had also recently captured my attention and heart and had begun to change how i engaged with the world and those around me as well. this has also played a huge and significant role in shaping me. i will not touch on that so much here as i am really still unable to concisely discuss this. do, however, ask me about pilgrimage. it would be my honor and delight to share with you.

other related lessons that i will not expound on at the moment:

• speaking in a different culture/the language of a different culture (and i don’t necessarily mean a different language)
• choosing to try to be culturally appropriate is generally better/more respectful than being comfortable/getting what you want.
• relationships are sometimes more important than buying the best tomatoes in the market
• just drink the tea/soda (could also be called: just eat the meat.) [to be filed under hospitality/receiving]
• what looks like “doing nothing” can really be doing deep and real “work”

c25k: confession edition

the confession is actually two fold:

i had every good intention of running in kamapla, but it didn’t happen. it should have happened for my mental health, but, it didn’t. which brings us to confession two:

running my be my new drug.

this afternoon i ran again in the bush of kotido at dusk, and learned (again) that my body has a lot to say about the events that surround her life. my brain did not want to be out for a run, my brain wanted to be fussing over my monetary reports for mcc and daydreaming of an upcoming trip.

but my body? she needed to run. seriously.
i found myself moving at an exceptionally quick pace, especially for having not run in over a week (maybe about 1.5 weeks?) and unable to tell my body to slow down. i changed my music. i turned my music off. i slammed on my brakes and tried to walk, but my body really just wanted and needed to run at the pace that my body wanted to go. not the pace my brain thought i was capable of, but a fast almost all-out 3km run.

i bargained with myself that if i ran through the ekisil billboard (the billboard saying ‘we want peace’ in ngakarimajong) that i could walk until the sorghum fields and then turn around and walk back to the sign to then continue running until the end of the wfp road then walk home.

body had none of that. i took another flat out run from the fields, back between the posts of the billboard and to the turn on the wfp road. i knew that i’d pushed almost too far at this point when things were beginning to get a bit hazy around the corners of my eyes.

but, i think, my time spent running has become my time of
processing–my dreams are all bad these days (and the fact that i’m remembering them at all is alarming as i don’t tend to) i’m dealing with some minor road-trauma from traveling back to kotido (nothing actually happened, just 2 near misses that in the moment didn’t phase me at all, worrying me, only to surface today of all days.) and i’m also dealing with the major transition time of moving back to the united states in about 4 weeks. so, basically, i’m kind of an emotional wreck to say the least. running has clearly become my body’s way of dealing with all of this and prefers to push to her limits of ability. (the depths of which simultaneously surprise and scare me a little.)

all that to say: i ran today. and i ran hard. i was out for about 45 minutes and ran a lot of those minutes at a speed that i didn’t think was possible out of these legs for that long. i pushed to the point where i thought i’d be physically ill, or maybe black out. neither of those things happened as i am at least somewhat a rational human being still.

but, keep an eye on me, eh?