"it does not take a great deal of imagination or courage to believe that God is on your side when you are prospering or winning; it takes a great deal of courage and imagination to believe that God is on your side when you are suffering or losing."
-peter j. gomes, on paul tillich's The Courage to Be.
as i've been re-acclimatizing to being an east-coaster (both at-heart, and in location), i've been reflecting on things the east coast offers that the west does not (and i'll throw in a few of the reverse, to be fair).
the first, and biggest, has been the pizza. california's pizza is incredibly varied, and a lot of it is pseudo-gourmet, often with a flaky, crunchy crust. none of them (in my humble opinion) match east coast pizza, and only a very few came close (amici's, north beach). a lot of them were good in and of themselves, but overall did not compare to east coast pizza. two of my favorite pizzerias in NJ are Lenny's in bernardsville (try the "casa" or the "bolognese"), and Sienna's in basking ridge (try their fresh tomato basil and garlic - UNbelievable).
in reverse, california has incredible mexican...and it's EVerywhere...and ALL of them are great. the east coast cannot and will not ever touch cali's authentic and plentiful mexican food.
this is an obscure one. now, one might think, that with a retailer as big as Entenmann's, the distribution of their products would be wide and standard. not so. i have long been a slave to entenmann's crumb-topped donuts (NOT the devil's food ones, might i add). i love anticipating the end of the box, when i get to down all the stray crumbs that have fallen off the former donut residents. now, california, for some reason, does not carry their CRUMB TOPPED DONUTS. even their variety pack, which normally contains two crumb topped, had powdered instead!! what's with that!? is there some regulation embargo excluding crumb topped donuts from entering the state of california? what's up arnold? i think i went through withdrawal my first couple months in sanfran.
this one is unique to NJ, and to a few surrounding areas. two words people: taylor. ham. also known as porkroll. this is one amazing meat. my arteries probably hate me for eating this, but i can't resist, even if it has taken years off my life - i will die happy. the flavor and the tang of this meat is beyond compare. it is typically eaten as a breakfast meat, and in particular on breakfast sandwiches - such as a porkroll, egg and cheese on a hardroll. during college summers i worked maintenance at a county park, and we'd order from this great deli every morning for break. i had about 90 porkroll sandwiches that summer. i prefer mine with a toasted hardroll, and with salt, pepper, ketchup and mayo. exquisite.
california has infinite places where you can get great, fresh sushi. i first started eating sushi on the east coast, but california has amazing sushi BY far (i loved the creative rolls at godzila in sanfran, and the hawaiian roll at mollie stone's).
yes, i've noticed that these all revolve around food. i guess that's where my heart lies.
alright so if you didn't know already, i am a star wars fan. not a fanatic, but a big fan. the original trilogy is amazing. i even enjoy the newer trilogy a lot. in general, i love movies, and i love them because they can illustrate so much. since getting deeper and deeper into my faith, i love movies that analogize faith (either intentionally or unintentionally). so what follows is some "star wars theology" that i thought i'd share.
Boss Nass: Yousa no tinken yousa greater den da Gungans? Mesa like dis. Maybe wesa...bein' friends.
Yoda: Ready are you? What know you of ready? For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained. A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away... to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless.
Padme: You're not all-powerful, Ani.
Anakin: Well, I should be.
Obi-Wan: But he still has much to learn, Master. His abilities have made him... well arrogant.
Yoda: Yes. Yes. A flaw more and more common among Jedi. Too sure of themselves they are. Even the older, more experienced ones.
Padme: All mentors have a way of seeing more of our faults than we would like. It's the only way we grow.
Padme: It must be difficult having sworn your life to the Jedi... not being able to visit the places you like... or do the things you like.
Darth Vader: I find your lack of faith disturbing.
Luke: I don't, I don't believe it.
Yoda: That is why you fail.
Luke: All right, I'll give it a try.
Yoda: No. Try not. Do... or do not. There is no try.
Yoda: So certain are you. Always with you it cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say?
Yoda: Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.
Qui-Gon Jinn: Remember: Your focus determines your reality.
Yoda: You must unlearn what you have learned.
Yoda: Hard to see, the dark side is.
Yoda: No, no, there is no why. Nothing more will I teach you today. Clear your mind of questions.
Obi-Wan: Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.
The Emperor: Only now, at the end, do you understand.
Padme: I do not like this idea of hiding.
Anakin: Sometimes we must do what is requested of us.
Yoda: Careful you must be when sensing the future Anakin. The fear of loss is a path to the dark side.
Anakin Skywalker: I won't let these visions come true, Master Yoda.
Yoda: Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed that is.
Anakin Skywalker: What must I do, Master Yoda?
Yoda: Train yourself to let go... of everything you fear to lose.
Shmi Skywalker: You can't stop change any more than you can stop the suns from setting.
Qui-Gon Jinn: Remember, concentrate on the moment. Feel, don't think. Trust your instincts.
Yoda: Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you.
Yoda: Control, control, you must learn control!
Yoda: Yes, run! Yes, a Jedi's strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan's apprentice.
Luke: Vader... Is the dark side stronger?
Yoda: No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.
Luke: But how am I to know the good side from the bad?
Yoda: You will know... when you are calm, at peace, passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.
Obi-Wan: Be mindful of your thoughts Anakin. They'll betray you.
Padme: To be angry is to be human.
Anakin: I'm a Jedi. I can be better than this.
Supreme Chancellor: Remember back to your early teachings. "All who gain power are afraid to lose it." Even the Jedi.
Anakin Skywalker: The Jedi use their power for good.
Supreme Chancellor: Good is a point of view, Anakin. The Sith and the Jedi are similar in almost every way, including their quest for greater power.
Anakin Skywalker: The Sith rely on their passion for their strength. They think inward, only about themselves.
Supreme Chancellor: And the Jedi don't?
Anakin Skywalker: The Jedi are selfless... they only care about others.
Supreme Chancellor: Did you ever hear the tragedy of Darth Plagueis "the wise"?
Anakin Skywalker: No.
Supreme Chancellor: I thought not. It's not a story the Jedi would tell you. It's a Sith legend. Darth Plagueis was a Dark Lord of the Sith, so powerful and so wise he could use the Force to influence the midichlorians to create life... He had such a knowledge of the dark side that he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying.
Anakin Skywalker: He could actually save people from death?
Supreme Chancellor: The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.
Anakin Skywalker: What happened to him?
Supreme Chancellor: He became so powerful... the only thing he was afraid of was losing his power, which eventually, of course, he did. Unfortunately, he taught his apprentice everything he knew, then his apprentice killed him in his sleep. It's ironic he could save others from death, but not himself.
Anakin Skywalker: Is it possible to learn this power?
Supreme Chancellor: Not from a Jedi.
ON RIGHT FOCUS…
Obi-Wan: But Master Yoda says I should be mindful of the future.
Qui-Gon Jinn: But not at the expense of the moment.
Anakin: Mom, you said that the biggest problem in the universe is no one helps each other.
Darth Vader: Luke... help me take this mask off.
Luke: But you'll die.
Darth Vader: Nothing... can stop that now. Just for once... let me... look on you with my own eyes.
Anakin: Attachment is forbidden. Possession is forbidden. Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love, is essential to a Jedi's life. So you might say, that we are encouraged to love.
Yoda: Clear your mind must be, if you are to discover the real villains behind this plot.
ON THE HOLY SPIRIT…
(yes, this is my personal interpretation)
Obi-Wan: The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.
Luke: I can't. It's too big.
Yoda: Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.
so i've been thinking a lot in this time of transition. i did a lot of thinking during my 6000 miles of driving, and have continued to process since being in NJ. some days there is too much time for thinking - and my thoughts can often run away with themselves. irrational anxieties often creep in easily. i remember that i'm about to turn 31, that i have two degrees, am currently unemployed, and have a fair amount of debt yet to be repaid. it's amazing how quickly my thoughts can orient toward things that i think i should be measured by. but then i remember that i have chosen to pursue a different thing - a life of ministry, pursuing and living out God's kingdom.
i haven't chosen a "profession" per say - i didn't come out of undergrad with a marketing degree or pursue an mba. i'm not really qualified for any normal job or career. and when i'm in transition, that can make things look bleak in the practical sense. i don't have trouble entrusting my life and well-being to God in the long run, but i have a lot of trouble trusting in the shorter term.
so i wanted to share a little bit about where i'm at with things. at this point, i am feeling unsure of a specific direction or focus or avenue toward what i desire and what i feel called to. with as many challenges as i've faced working in churches, i still feel such conviction for the church - for what it could be. so working in the church is still a possibility for me. i think i've learned a lot with regard to the specific type of environment and position that i'm made for, so i believe i'd be able to better evaluate what i'm getting myself into.
some other things seem to be potential options for me too. as many of you may know, i'm a pretty outdoor-centered person. so over the years i've been trying to seek out possibilities that mate ministry and the outdoors - retreat centers, camps, conference centers, high adventure ministry. i am truly at home in creation, and even moreso when i'm in creation with a community of people. so working at a camp with a small staff team is a great combination for me. even though those opportunities seem to be fewer and farther between, i'm still poking around to see what's out there that might fit what i can offer. another thing i've been thinking about is getting involved with a church in more of a volunteer/member role, and "get a normal job". this possibility appeals to me for a number of reasons. first, on the job side, i really enjoy working with my hands, doing some form of manual labor - some specific task that i'm responsible for. so the possibility of doing something like that is appealing. on the ministry side of things, getting more involved as a volunteer would keep me a little farther from the administration/business/politics side of church that i HATE. and yes, i really mean HATE.
so anyways - all that to share a little bit more of where i'm at. a friend of mine once told me that she thought the meaning of life was to know yourself, love yourself, and allow God to use you. so i'm just continuing to figure out who i am and how i function so that i can figure out where God can best use me. and i feel good about where i am on that road. so we'll see where it continues to lead.
The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.
- Anne Frank
Only One Earth
but i have prayed a lot for help in understanding what i have been convicted by. and, as i mentioned, i continue to get encouragement that i'm on the right track. so i'll continue in my quest - not belligerently, but contemplatively.
so my brother took me to his church yesterday - 1st Pres. Washington (NJ). it's a mid-size, rural presbyterian congregation, with a senior pastor, and a commissioned lay pastor. i love visiting new churches. i love seeing how local congregations live and interact, and how church is unique to them. so it was fun to go to the church that my brother has found to be home for him.
it was refreshing - a number of members said hi to me, recognizing that i was a new person. but mostly, it was the senior pastor that struck me - he was...umm...normal. it's hard to describe, but he was just being himself - not trying to put on a show or a facade, or over-dramatizing his performance. he was being genuine. i was thinking about how i've become super-sensitive to un-genuine-ness, and how i find it harder and harder to understand how people think they need to put on this show with who they are. i feel like it shouldn't be so hard - don't try so hard, and be yourself. now for sure, i know there are instances for all of us where this is difficult to follow through on, but it seems like i'm seeing more and more examples of people who are putting on a constant show to hide their real selves - and unfortunately more and more of that is in churches. so while it may not sound all that profound, i found it refreshing to experience this senior pastor just being normal.
he preached on the road to damascus, as thousands of other churches were preaching on across the country. it's always so hard to listen to (let alone preach on!) one of those passages that we've heard a hundred times - thinking "i know what that's all about". this is what stuck out for me.
"When [Jesus] was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him"(luke@24:30-31). i have come to believe that relational ministry should always be our primary focus, no matter what we do. i have had a very difficult time figuring out what that "looks like", as most churches are primarily focused on the programs that they run. but i keep getting encouragement that i'm on the right track - and this passage is one of those encouragements. they all sat down at the table, broke bread together, and the two followers' eyes were opened to who jesus was. a simple formula for ministry - to break bread together, to share a meal and personal time together - as relational ministry.
now i know that churches can't just run on eating meals together - though presbyterians certainly try their darned-est. but i have found it hard to figure out how to base ministry around interactions such as this - interactions that allow people to open their eyes to each other; to open their eyes to the jesus inside each other. i can imagine the difficulty lies somewhere beyond trying to justify having lunch with people as successful ministry, when programs are the things that draw larger amounts of people in one sitting. i have experienced this at every church i've been at, and i still have trouble understanding this challenge.
greetings from the garden state. i've been here a few days - and have been meaning to post, but mostly i've just been decompressing and hanging out with my brother. the end to my 4-week adventure was definitely bittersweet for sure, but it's been nice to not be living out of my car any longer :) here's a bit of a statistics look at my trip:
-19 states (i'm up to 42 out of 50 states visited)
-3 time zone changes (plus hitting daylight savings in utah, but NOT in arizona, then again in new mexico)
-1 cracked windshield (damn big trucks!!!)
-1 lost kayak paddle (i'm an idiot)
-28 tanks of gas
-4 fastfood meals (ONLY 4!!! so proud of myself. 2 mcdonalds, 1 taco bell, 1 wendy's)
-15 old friends visited
-6 new friends made (at LEAST)
-28 cups of coffee (mostly the bad, burnt-cardboard-tasting gas station variety)
-10 showers (1 of which was ICE COLD in the everglades)
-6 nights of sleep in an actual bed
-5 national parks
that's about all the creative stats i could think of...but they're pretty impressive i think. and certainly very defining of my trip.
so now i'm in NJ, spending the next month and a half with my brother. it's already been nice to just sit around, catch up, and watch lots of movies together. so i'll be around here, probably working a temp job, and seeing some friends around the northeast until i head up to the adirondacks for the summer to work with La Vida. so far, i've been catching up on the day-to-day life stuff that i haven't done in the past month. i just had my taxes done this morning at h&r block (yay for swEEEEt refunds coming!), and i'm going to see a temp agency on friday morning. in the meantime, i've been sitting zombie-like in front of my brother's 200+ channel monster tv watching movie after movie, eating good food, going through my 1000s of pictures that i've taken, and attempting to organize my truckload of junk that got shipped here to his house. i'm going to be posting the best-of pics on my facebook account. once i get them set, i'll update this post with links to them (even if you aren't a facebook'er).
i feel like i should have something profound to say as my 'final' post, but it's not really going to be my final post - i'll be continuing the blog on a regular basis. i'm a processor anyways, so putting things down and thinking about them is a good thing for me - even if none of you continue to read them. but if you want, you can continue to check in here for (hopefully) some regular thoughts/questions/ramblings. i'll end with some wise words...
"We may not like the other, but we are called to love. We may certainly not validate or condone his or her actions. But we are called into a radical sense of our interconnectedness as creatures and children of the same God. To perceive this deep level of interdependence, especially with those whose worlds are fashioned differently than our own, or perhaps with those who would seek to harm or destroy our worlds, seems a nearly impossible task. Yet the Gospels prod us on.... At the furthest reaches of our capacities to love, we are urged, 'Love even your enemies.'"
- Wendy M. Wright