November 12, 2011 § Leave a Comment
When we hear the phrase “remember your baptism,” it always feels a little awkward. I don’t remember my baptism; I was a newborn. (My formerly Southern Baptist husband has a much easier time with this task.) I deeply resonated with the video testimony shared tonight — what if I can’t remember my baptism??
Even with a theological education and having “passed” my theological interview and paperwork for ordination, the concept of baptism is a little fuzzy at times. Remembrance, though … remembrance I can do.
As I boarded the plane in Orlando at 8 a.m. Eastern, a flood of memories rushed back. No, I don’t remember the flights from the last two Exploration events, but the events themselves are firmly etched into my spiritual memory.
I gazed over the airplane wing and the faces of so many people rushed by me. Most of them were people I have only been with in person for three days of my entire life, but they were people that changed my life forever.
My first Exploration event was Explo 2006 in Jacksonville, Florida. The theme was “Dive In, Make Waves.” I remember finding it a bit cheesy at the time, but it was kinda fun to raise strips of cloth above our heads and make an ocean of discernment around the room. That’s an image that sticks with me, to be sure.
I remember a Saturday night birthday supper shared with folks I had not known 24 hours before. I had come alone to Explo, but quickly we loners found each other and formed a ragtag group of individuals desperately seeking community, and desperately seeking discernment (which we did — together).
I remember sitting in the front row of Saturday night worship weeping with a new friend as the Spirit engulfed us, clarifying our calls to ministry.
I also remember one lone admissions director standing by her table just outside the worship space, as the final worship service of the weekend was about to begin. Soon after I remember a whirlwind campus visit during which I found a place that would change me forever, and a place in which I would begin a lifelong journey of theological inquiry and love for ministry.
I remember in 2009 returning to represent that same school in Dallas, sharing my seminary, call, and ministry experience with other young people who were walking around with the same excitement and bewilderment as I had been only three years before.
There are so many more memories that can’t be captured with mere words, and I look forward to experiencing another weekend of memories here in St. Louis.
Remembering is exciting, and if we’re honest, memory is often about an image. The image of water is powerful. It represents renewal of life, a new beginning knowing that God is present in our every move. Baptism is a time to prepare to share in the work of Christ, a cleansing of those things that keep us from God. I experienced much of that in the rather haphazard community I found at Exploration 2006, and in the devotion of an admissions director to stick around for those last few moments, and in tears that fell on newly kindred shoulders.
It’s interesting to reflect on the 2006 theme: “Dive in.” The image of water is pervasive in my story in particular, but I pray that we can all dive into this experience, and be immersed (no, not just sprinkled) in God’s presence, that we can listen for God’s voice, that we can put aside those things that distract us and remember our own baptisms, when God began that work in each of us.
I loved the possibility sprinkled through Adam Hamilton’s sermon tonight — that this weekend in St. Louis could represent a reawakening in the church. Tonight could have begun an opportunity to reaffirm its own baptism, in a way. As young people, we do hold the keys to the future of the church. As a young clergyperson, I feel that pressure more and more each day, and I was reconvicted tonight during his sermon.
I have to confess that I’m an idealist. I believe in what the church can be, not just what it is. I still believe that I (we) can do anything. When Adam Hamilton began the Church of the Resurrection, he was told his dreams were too big; but I loved his response: “I was 25 and I didn’t know it couldn’t happen yet.” Well, I will be 27 next week, and I still commit my life every day to minister within a denomination that appears to be dying. The statistics scream at me, “Get out while you still can!”
But, I see in events like this light that has the power to “knock some holes in the darkness.” This weekend could be the beginning of something big. So this weekend, do remember your baptism. Let it be a renewal of mind, with clarity of intention, and openness of heart, to hear what God has for you — for us.
And for those of you reading this who are not present in St. Louis, know that there are nearly 600 young people seriously trying to figure out what God wants them to do with their lives. Pray for them. And support them when they return to your communities with newfound clarity and excitement. You will be amazed at what can — and will — happen.
October 29, 2011 § 4 Comments
I remember seeing the poster before I knew it was a book: “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”
The poster shared these incredibly deep thoughts:
- Share everything.
- Play fair.
- Don’t hit people.
- Put things back where you found them.
- Clean up your own mess.
- Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
- Say you’re sorry when you hurt someone.
- Wash your hands before you eat.
- Flush the toilet.
- Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
- Live a balanced life.
- Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
- Take a nap every afternoon.
- When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
- Be aware of wonder and wonderful things.
- Remember the little seed in the plastic cup. The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are still all like that.
- Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the plastic cup – they all die…So do we.
- And then remember the story book about Dick and Jane and the first important word you learned, the biggest word of all: LOOK!
Those were life lessons that, even as a kid, I could understand. I could see the breadth and depth with which to apply them and realized that those simple concepts really did underlie what it meant to live a good life.
Now, when I think about the most important life lessons I’ve learned in my nearly 27 years, I always think of Camp. Particularly when I saw this recent column in USA Today, I was reminded of how I was impacted by my experience working at camp. The writer speaks to the gravity of what is expected of a camp counselor:
“I am fully integrated into the aforementioned professional hierarchy. I am given great responsibility; indeed, I am responsible for the physical, emotional and mental well-being of … children …”
Sometimes I am reminded that to consider what we are actually doing when we do summer camp is an absolutely absurd endeavor. Basically, a bunch of overprotective parents forget about all of that for a week or more, drop their children off in the hands of high school and college students who have had minimal training, and allow them to care for their children’s well-being in potentially hazardous situations. Yeah, it’s best not to think about it that way.
But the crazy thing is, it works. A ragtag bunch of college students somehow step up, come together, and meet the challenges that are in front of them. It has worked for decades, and each summer, campers and staff return to have yet another “best summer of their lives.”
I could wax poetic all day long about why this writer has it spot-on about the great learning experience it is to work on staff at camp. Although I have ended up working as a camp professional, I still recognize the non-camp-related skills that working at camp taught me.
But I want to hear what you learned at camp. What are the bullet points under the title “All I Really Need to Know I Learned at Camp”?
October 10, 2011 § 10 Comments
He sat in a red chair and watched while I was raped. I was only four, but I knew who he was. Jesus didn’t do anything but speak into my mind, over and over, “I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere. You’re going to be OK.” And I believed him as I slid into darkness from pain and suffocation.
The incest went on for years, and Jesus stayed with me, more like a stray dog than God. He followed me into bars and hotel rooms with strangers, in and out of church, through three divorce hearings, into alcoholic blackouts. Sometimes I appreciated his company; sometimes I just wished he would leave me alone. Often I took him for granted, but I always knew he was there, as real as I was.
Along the way, our relationship got messed up when church told me that Jesus did things for those who believed, for those who asked in faith, for those who followed him. I couldn’t figure out the “follow” part because we always traveled side by side. But what about “faith”? I had believed Jesus from the very beginning. He did what he said he’d do: never leave. But what about everything else in my life? He hadn’t stopped the rapes, kept me out of trouble, helped me get sober. Whose fault was that? Apparently mine. I didn’t have enough faith or pray right or behave enough or or or.
Then I heard that “All things are possible with God.” Except for me. It seemed like my Stray Dog God shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “Sure, I can do anything, but for you?” Silence. I knew I could never go to All Saints Academy. If I got into heaven, which was questionable, my crown would come from Burger King with painted paper jewels. And the crucifixion story – all that gore and torture made me shudder. I’d had too much abuse for too long. Instead of making me feel connected with a fellow sufferer, I fled in revulsion. If being “washed in the blood of the Lamb” was required for salvation, well…..I couldn’t do that or go there. I was already lost. Now I had to stay lost.
So what did that make Jesus for me? A partner in crime, like the guy at the wheel in the getaway car while I robbed the bank? Or was he my little friend who let me play with his toys until it was time for him to go home to his Daddy? Was Jesus on loan to me until I died and went…….where? I didn’t know, but I was getting really pissed off. I had a useless God on my hands whom I loved and hated at the same time, and I didn’t know what to do with him.
The day came when my years of compressed pain and anger erupted all over Jesus. I screamed at him, wanting to hurt him as badly as I hurt, and to my complete shock, he screamed back – his love. And that’s how I learned to pray. We began talking, and I let him have it, trying to be as blasphemous as possible, and he just laughed and said, “Finally! You’re being honest with me. Come on, let’s get in the mud and fight dirty. I love to wrestle.” And we did, and I didn’t always win, but I always wanted another round.
You see, he wouldn’t give up on me. What I didn’t realize was I hadn’t ever given up on him, either. No matter what had gone wrong in my life, I was never alone, never abandoned by my God like so many other people had. I discovered I couldn’t offend him – he hadn’t ever run off screaming or struck me by lightening, right? And come to think of it, Jesus had done a lot for me. I wasn’t in prison from killing someone while driving drunk. I wasn’t dead, though I should have been. Jesus had been working his ass off protecting me. Why? Because he loved me just as I was. In fact, he made me just like I was, knowing how I’d turn out, which is totally insane.
And then lightening really did strike – in my brain: Jesus had been saving me all my life. I didn’t have to get saved – I already was. We shared a deep, personal relationship like I had with no one else. I was loved and accepted unconditionally, which meant I didn’t have to pray right, have enough faith, act like Mother Teresa, or be someone I wasn’t. Then lightning struck twice, and I realized it had been awhile since I’d done something self-destructive. I was getting better at telling the truth, being kind, stuff like that. I was starting to act like…..him.
Last night we were talking outside in the carport, and I said, “I love you so much. But what about the crucifixion?” And Jesus said, “Don’t worry about it. I’ve got you covered.”
Joy Wilson is the author of Uncensored Prayer: The Spiritual Practice of Wrestling With God and a contributor to Not Alone (both Civitas Press, 2011). She and her husband, Bud, are two life-long hippies. They live in Bartlett, TN, with six cats, two dogs, and no TV. She is part of an eclectic group of Jesus-followers called Outlaw Preachers and has a passion for prison ministry. Also, Joy is an advocate for middle-aged and senior women, and anyone who suffers from depression. Joy’s website is joyleewilson.org and you can contact her at email@example.com.
October 3, 2011 § 1 Comment
I’m not a good cook. I’m not a bad cook either. Mostly, really, I just don’t like to cook.
But I do enjoy baking. And although I have no shame in accepting help from Betty, Duncan, or Sara (that’s Crocker, Hines, and Lee if you were wondering), there is something fun and exciting about making things from scratch — about picking out the prettiest picture in the cookbook, collecting all the ingredients, mixing them together in the correct order and amounts, and finally it goes in the oven. That’s when the anticipation really begins. That’s when you lose control. That’s when all you’ve got is faith and hope.
Hopefully, you’ll pluck from the oven a culinary masterpiece. It doesn’t always happen, though. And that’s where baking loses over cooking — there’s no going back, or sprinkling in a little more salt. You have to start all over.
I’ve been at my job for about two weeks now, and this job is definitely one for a baker.
The job I started September 1 is a brand-new position. It has never existed before — I’m the first. Which is incredibly exciting. I was once told that I’m the kind of person who wants to change things, make things better or different somewhere, not just keep something going. I know that’s true; I know this is the right kind of job for me.
At the same time, though, there is a lot of pressure. And a lot of awkward “What do I do?” time these first few weeks. I’m not taking over any responsibilities that existed previously. I have to create my responsibilities.
So right now I’m gathering my ingredients. Pretty soon, though, I’ll have to start mixing. For me, that means actually committing to put dates on the calendar and actually committing to plan and promote programs. And once registrations go up, it’s in the oven and it’s the “already-but-not-yet” time of hope.
So pray for me in these coming months, but mostly pray for those who need the things that this place has to offer. There are so many needs out there — pray that I will find needy people and churches and can utilize my gifts and the gifts of this place to meet those needs. And for me, pray that I can keep hope throughout and pull something at least remotely edible out of the oven next year.
September 29, 2011 § 6 Comments
It’s true, Outlaw Preachers. I don’t need you anymore.
Last year, when I began being included in tweetings, facebookings, and beginning to form relationships online with many of you, I needed you desperately. I lived in the middle of nowhere. I wasn’t doing a ton of ministry that required major theologizing, and I certainly wasn’t engaging in any kind of significant progressive theological conversation.
When I was included in this group after attending Big Tent Christianity in Raleigh, I knew I had found a community that would be incredibly important to me and meet a major need in my life.
After attending Wild Goose Festival this summer, I was even more convinced of the essential nature of the Outlaw Preachers as a central community for me.
But I had some major changes in my life recently. In August, I moved from the middle of nowhere to the edge of somewhere. I find myself in civilization again, with a church family and easy access to a number of major cities. I don’t find myself feeling so isolated. I don’t find myself feeling so alone, physically, mentally, or emotionally.
So when I got on the plane to head to Tennessee for the Outlaw Preachers (re)Union this week, I was almost depressed. I was going to be wasting a week (and a good amount of money) away from work, away from my husband, and away from my new community to spend time with a community of people I had, on the whole, never met face to face.
When I arrived and saw people having such a good time, it was intimidating. I felt like a kid on the first day of school. I didn’t have the same kind of drive to get to know people, and I worried my introvertedness would create a situation in which I would be a wallflower and end up very bored and alone. Luckily, I had a rental car and could go see friends in Nashville or even go home if I decided it wasn’t the event for me. After all, I don’t need this community.
But I was blessed to have picked up another OP at the airport on the way in. We had an enjoyable conversation on the way in. It was a nice time.
When I got to the park, I was greeted with smiles and hugs from the folks I knew, and from some of those I didn’t know. I relaxed a bit.
But as the week continued, and I began to meet and get to know more people; as I became more connected and engaged in more and deeper conversations, I forgot all those things that I had decided before I came to this event. I forgot that I didn’t need the community and that I wasn’t going to have a good time. I forgot that I considered going elsewhere. I forgot all of it.
It wasn’t until I was about to leave that I discovered something incredible.
As I was leaving, so many folks wanted to be sure they had a proper and individual farewell — hugs required. So many wished me safe travels. So many spoke of continued relationship online.
And for me, leaving the event and the group wasn’t difficult. My hypothesis going into the event was not wrong. I do not, in fact, need the Outlaw Preachers anymore. That didn’t change.
But as I said each individual goodbye, as I noticed the difference of each embrace, I felt a sense of blessedness.
I realized that I didn’t need the community. Some in the group do need it, and I know why because I was there. It’s not that I have grown or am in a better emotional or spiritual place; I just moved.
No, I don’t need the community. But my goodness do I love these people. I no longer need you all. I am just incredibly blessed to have you in my life. Your love and compassion; your ideas and encouragements; your humor and your listening ears mean more to me than you might ever know.
I thought you would all mean less to me because I am no longer dependent on you. Turns out, you mean all the more to me.
So Outlaw Preachers, I don’t need you anymore. But I sure hope I can continue to be blessed by your incredible friendships and support for many years to come.
So, when is #OP12?
August 14, 2011 § 1 Comment
I have never done the same thing for more than 2 years in a row. Yes, college was 4 years, but 2 of those years I was working for the newspaper, Sidelines, and the other two I was working for a church. Plus, classes changed every semester. Friends came and went. And of course, grade school and high school was nothing but a fluctuating existence.
When I moved to NC, I thought things would be different. I wanted to be here for 5 years, minimum. At first I even saw a pretty long life here. Soon I knew I wouldn’t be here forever, but I never, even up to accepting my new job, saw myself here for a measly two years.
Now, on the eve of my departure from the NC coast, I anticipate a new life in Florida. I anticipate a new job, new friends, new adventures, a new home … and this time, I anticipate a more lengthy tenure. I have certainly learned that even with the best intentions, plans change and life changes. But I hope it is prudent to go into this new experience with the same intention with which I went into my last two-year stint. I want to be around long enough to build a life, and more importantly, a ministry. I want to know people, and I want them to know me. I want to know my way around town. I want to give directions that include the phrase “where the old gas station used to be,” or something like that.
It’s weird to think that I have never had the same life for more than two years at a time. I live very much in anticipation of the next big thing (although I do believe I enjoy the present as well), so my greatest fear is never being satisfied. I fear that I will get two years into it and need something new. I fear that the “adult” life with a career will be unfulfilling, no matter how much I think I want it.
Mom was saying how she and Dad lived in the town where I was born for 30 years. I haven’t been alive for 30 years yet. That’s 15 times the greatest amount of time I’ve spent doing the same job. I cannot fathom what it would be like to live in the same house, or even the same town, for 30 years. Part of me yearns for that; part of me cringes. I guess in the next two years we’ll find out which part is stronger and truer.
July 5, 2011 § 1 Comment
A couple of weekends ago I went to Wild Goose Festival at Shakori Hills here in NC. I was blessed that the event was so close, and that my wonderful husband covered for me at camp so I could be gone (generally it isn’t possible to take a full day off from camp, much less two full days in a row!). I don’t get the opportunity to be in a place where I am surrounded by people who share my theology, passions, interests, and beliefs so closely. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate diversity and am happy to be around folks with whom I disagree, but don’t we all like to be surrounded by an affirming, like-minded circle every once in a while?
Living in the middle of nowhere is nice, but it can be a bit overwhelming and at times discouraging. I’m blessed by my online community, and it is even more a blessing to meet them in person. I know this especially after having attended Big Tent Christianity last fall in Raleigh.
I was blessed to attend this first-ever historic event, modeled after the UK’s Greenbelt festival. I heard some incredible speakers, conversed with some incredible people, met a few of my favorite authors and theologians, and just had an all-around good time!
And although I didn’t expect it, one of the highlights of my experience was hearing the incredible singer/songwriter Jennifer Knapp. Yes, the Jennifer Knapp you remember from about 10 years ago. Yes, the Christian artist who revealed last year that she was a lesbian and had disappeared from the Christian music scene. That Jennifer Knapp. « Read the rest of this entry »