Friday, September 23, 2016

The Interrupted Rest

Midway through the week, I became exhausted and regretted not having taken more of Sunday off to intentionally rest from academic work.  As an assignment I had anticipated taking most of my time mid-week was postponed, I decided to take my lunch to the beach.  

Despite being a mostly clouded Tuesday afternoon, the beach was crowded with people soaking in the last bit of summer.  I sat up on the boardwalk enjoying the marvelous view as I munched on my pb and j sandwich and began reading.  One middle-aged man came and sat down across fro me to put his sandals back on his sandy feet.  He asked if and where I was a student.  When I responded that I was a student at the seminary he immediately responded “Don’t tell me you’re one of the Jesus people.”  A short conversation ensued in which he continued to ask pointed questions about what I believe.  After the series of questions, he stood up, walked over to me, shook my hand and introduced himself as a pastor.

In Luke 24, two disciples allow a stranger to come alongside of them on their journey.  They are challenged in their thinking by this new companion who challenges their current perspective of the events surrounding the death of Jesus.  Realizing the fruitfulness of this conversation, they continued to make space in their lives by inviting the unexpected companion to join them for the evening.  As the evening progresses, they suddenly realize that they have been listening to the risen Christ.  Jesus disappears and the disciples rush back to Jerusalem with renewed energy with which to encourage the other disciples that the Lord has indeed risen.

My interaction with the pastor on the boardwalk was not nearly as life-giving as the experience the disciples received on the road to Emmaus.  While I found myself somewhat frustrated by the pastor’s approach to the encounter, it did lead me to reach out to several friends with whom to debrief the experience and renewed my excitement to be at a seminary where I can continue grappling with some of these tough questions. 

Do we allow space for our lives to be interrupted and challenged in the midst of our regular demands?

Friday, September 16, 2016

Focusing on the beach

Amidst the week when course syllabi suddenly present a view of a semester containing mountains of reading and assignments, one friend came and pounded on my dorm door inviting me to the beach.  Despite my initial decline, her persistence led me to find myself standing on a beach where my long shadow cast by the setting sun seemed tiny in comparison to the distance of the ocean that stretched out beyond.  The daunting (yet exciting) horizon of rigorous academics temporarily found its place in a bigger picture.  One of my main hopes for this semester is that my academics will stay in their proper place, namely in that God is calling me to see, experience, and participate in far more this semester than just what sits on my desk.  Doing so will require a prioritizing of where I invest my focus.

In Matthew 14, Peter sees Jesus walking on the water and asks to join him.  Peter has initial success walking on the water by keeping his focus on Jesus.  When the wind swells up, Peter loses his trust in Jesus and cries out for help.  Notice that the passage does not say that the wind which challenged Peter ceased when Jesus reached out and grabbed Peter, but rather it ceased when they got back into the boat, implying that there was a time when the wind was still there while Jesus was restored as Peter’s main focus.

How does our primary focus and love influence the way we perceive and handle all areas of our lives?

Hebrews 12:1-2

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Lastingness of Temporary

Four examples of the lastingness of temporary:

a) As I moved into my dorm room and adjusted the old window, several Hebrew flash cards came fluttering out, apparently having once been used to keep the window in place.  I laughed thinking of how I have shared and will share some understanding with the previous resident, despite never meeting them, over the shared task of studying Hebrew.  The previous resident has graduated seminary and now is on to a new adventure, yet the lastingness of the shared experience remains.

b) One of the librarians mentioned that the library was a place where one is physically surrounded by a ‘great cloud of witnesses’ (Hebrews 12:1), namely referring to the testimony of those who had looked to Jesus, walked in faith, and wrote about what they thought and encountered along the way.  Even though their earthly experience was temporary, there is a lasting quality to it that remains to encourage and challenge us today.

c) I’ve jokingly called this orientation week my finals week, since I’ve taken five tests to try to waive courses that are similar to ones I took at Whitworth.  Despite the extra stress it caused, taking those tests served as a reminder that I am building upon my previous experiences (see blogpost from June 6th about embracing culture for more thoughts along this line).

d) Long-distance friendships can still be life-giving.  While we may no longer be singing the doxology as we leave the library at midnight, making late-night runs to the grocery store, and catching up over lunch in the garden, there is still a connection in that we once shared those particular experiences together.  As several of my friends begin their seminary experience, return to Whitworth, and settle into new jobs, there is a potential (as in requires one to be intentional) for them to be lasting friendships.  I’m looking forward to staying connected with people and creating new memories with new friends here that may also last beyond the temporary.  

And finally two questions:

What does it look like to draw lastingness out of the temporary?

Where is the balance in treasuring the past while embracing the new?

Friday, September 2, 2016

To whom shall we go?

Amidst transitioning from Whitworth to Estonia to Washington (home) and now to seminary, I found hiking to be a great means of helping me process the journey I’m on.  On one hike, I came across a pile of rocks which immediately brought to mind the altars in the Old Testament where people recognized the sovereignty of God.  As I reflect on where God has brought me up to this point and look towards what lies ahead, I must remember that where I go is always secondary to the One who sets the path before me.  (Psalm 23)

I’m looking forward to continuing to blog throughout seminary.  Look for new blogposts every Friday!

A few pictures and questions to ponder from August:

(Home Garden)

What resources make communities unique?

(Upper Big Quilcene Trail, Olympics, WA)

Do we take on only what we know we can handle (a short hike), or do we allow ourselves to be challenged by our trusted friends?

(Spokane, WA)

What makes a place a home?

(Whistler, BC)

How do we view dust in our lives: is it something which distorts the intended image (an originally black boot) or something through which we can be reminded of God's goodness?

Happy Fall!
Remember to check back every Friday for a new post.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Garden of Christian Community Part II

        Early on during my time in Estonia, I bought myself a pad of paper and a small watercolor kit at the local grocery store, with the intention of using them to spend my free time The first painting was of the ruined Orthodox church I blogged about earlier.  As I spent the afternoon working on it, I reflected on where the church is which resulted in the blogpost.  I’ve been meaning for a while now to paint again, this time reflecting further on the ideas raised in the blogpost about the garden of Christian community.  When the paint of this reflection finally began to leave its mark on the paper, I learned another important lesson about what it means to be part of Christian community.
        As I painted, I was surrounded by the two young girls were each working on their own painting.  Having spent an hour working on perfecting her painting, Mim let out a cry of frustration as she looked at the three skinny petals on the flower she was drawing in pen.  She had been aiming to outline the broad petals of a sunflower and began to fall into paralyzing despair that what she had done didn’t match up to what she had envisioned.  I tried to reassure her that the flower was still beautiful and added to the allure of the picture overall.  Realizing that this tactic wasn’t giving her the hope to lift the brush again, I offered to finish sketching out the series of skinny petals.  I made this offer with the assumption that she looked up to my artistic abilities (although they are equal if not surpassed by hers) and would be encouraged that I wanted to take part in what she was working on.  She didn’t accept the offer for me to add to her painting until I asked her to fill in the empty center of a sunflower on mine.  As we exchanged paintings again after making the requested additions, she eagerly began to paint her picture with renewed enthusiasm.  Looking at my painting, I saw a visual reminder of the beauty of Christian community that takes form when we let others into our lives, particularly as the painting reminds me of the events that occurred during the painting process which left their mark on the final product.
        Another story that conveys a similar beautiful growth from a faithful community is that of Ruth.  Having committed herself to Naomi as Naomi was in despair, Ruth finds herself waiting to be married to someone who will carry on the name of Ruth’s late husband.  When Boaz, whom Ruth has offered the position to, offers it to another man who has first-dibs, the other man rejects it as soon as he realizes accepting it would be a risk to what he had planned out for himself.  Inviting Ruth and Naomi into his life, which undoubtedly changed his own plans, Boaz takes Ruth as his wife and they have a son who will become the grandfather of David. 

        While we may catch glimpses of the beauty of community when we let others impact our lives, God may be doing more through our devotion to one another than we could even imagine.  Acts 2:42-47, a Christian community is portrayed where they are clearly invested in one another lives, not just with the excess they don’t need to keep for themselves, but rather with all that they had.  They saw some of the fruits of this community in the numbers that were being saved, but think of how surprised they would be if they had known how many people their story would inspire.  The call to community is not just a call to help out, it is also a call to be willing to be helped yourself, to be known, and to end up looking back on the picture of your life and see a beauty that can only be created by community.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Sustenance of Stories

This past week was Rapla’s English Camp.  As the anticipated camp approached, I spent time reflecting on my camp experience last summer with Hume Kauai.  Most of what I remember from Hume Kauai is tied to a video shot by professional videographers throughout the camp.  The high-energy video highlighted the best moments of camp with shots ranging from kids yelling from inside bubble balls to kids sharing their testimony of how God made Himself known to them during the camp.  With the Hume Kauai video in mind, I spent my waking hours, which far outnumbered the precious hours of trying to sleep on the school’s hardwood floors, filming short clips around English Camp.  By the time camp was over, I had a few memories of where God gave growth to the work put in (1 Corinthians 3:6), such as an unanticipated invitation for the people at camp to play soccer against the local youth (the camp team lost, but connections were made).  As the other intern and I pieced together a video the day following camp, I was reminded though of the many ways that God created visible growth which served as yet another reminder for how some of the seeds planted may yet yield such visible growth in the future.

As I read through the Old Testament in preparation for seminary, I am struck by how many times the history of what God has done up to that point is recounted to the Israelites.
For example, in the last chapter of Joshua, a brief summary of what God has done to bring the Israelites into the land they are just beginning to settle into is recounted.  The account of what God has done is immediately followed by a command for the Israelites to serve the the LORD alone.  The Israelites affirm that they are willing to take up the command and the covenant is renewed.  Notice that the telling of what God has done has a purpose, namely to showcase God’s character and inspire trust.

This week will turn another chapter in my life story as I conclude my internship in Estonia.  The stories contained in the concluding chapter will still play a role in how I live into upcoming adventures (see blogpost on embracing culture).  The stories that influence me though are not only those that I’ve personally experienced, but also those I hear from others and those I read.  As I’ve attempted blogging about my adventures this summer, I’ve found several stories from the Old and New Testament to be helpful in providing me a framework with which to think through my experiences.  Stories, even really old ones, are active and crucial as encouragement and sustenance as one grows into their identity in Christ.

The video of the English Camp:

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Roadtrips and a local highlight

I've enjoyed having the opportunity to travel throughout Estonia this summer.  Recently, the pastor took the interns on a trip to the two largest islands, Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, where we learned about the history of churches on those islands and the construction of windmills.  A few days later, we joined several other families from the church on a church camping trip on the shore of Lake Peipsi with an excursion to Narva.  Here are a few photos from those ventures:


(An Estonian castle on the left and a Russian one on the right)

Between these extended explorations, I enjoyed a day of rest in Rapla.  As I walked through town that day, I thought I would see if the Lutheran cathedral was open to visitors (I had been inside once before).  As I approached the open doors, I heard the joyful roar of the organ and was greeted by two elderly women as I stepped inside by the info desk.  Neither of them spoke English and I realized in that moment that I really should know how to say 'I don't speak Estonian' in Estonian (for the record, I do know a few phrases and can count to ten in Estonian).  After trying to speak to me in Estonian for some time as I tried to do my best bewildered smile, they motioned for me to walk further into the church.  After enjoying the organ rehearsal, which was now being accompanied by a male singer, for half an hour, I went to leave and passed by the info desk to say thank you.  The women tried to talk with me again and though I still could not understand any of their Estonian, I was able to read their non-verbals enough to gather that they wanted me to sign the guestbook, which when accomplished seemed to please them.  They each reached into their purses and pulled out bags of Estonian candy to offer me a piece and didn't take 'no thank you' (a phrase I know in Estonian) for an answer.  I walked out of the church laughing at the humor of the whole experience and treasuring the feeling of being loved despite the lack of a shared verbal language.