Monday, September 27, 2010

Soul Medicine

Current Music: Iron & Wine
Current Mood: Hopeful :)

The people I have met in New Orleans continue to inspire me. Statistics may tell you this city has a high crime rate, crumbling political and education systems, etc.  but I can tell you the hospitality rate soars higher and speaks louder than those numbers ever could.  I am overwhelmed by the love the people at both First and Faith Presbyterian Church have shown me in my time here. I came to these two churches as a mere stranger just hoping to help in anyway I could. I was nervous of how I would be accepted and scared that I would be too shy and under-qualified for the tasks ahead of me. But as soon as I arrived my fears were squashed.  These congregations immediately welcomed me with open arms and have treated me like close family since I have been here.  I think it's great so many people here are all about hugs! During Pass the Peace, it is not simply a quick handshake and a muffled acknowledgment. People greet you with smiles that burst at the edges and give you giant hugs that feel like they genuinely mean something. No one sits down until every single person has greeted each other. I just love the openness here, the focus on meals and being together as a family (even if not biologically related), and how every one seems so relaxed and laid back. Everything does move slower here. It is not a lazy, careless kind of slowness though but a deliberate thoughtfulness that allows one to soak up the parts of life that others are missing. New Orleans people seem to know what living means at its most rawness, and I find that incredibly refreshing.

 I am enjoying participating in the homeless ministry each week at First Presbyterian. What I am doing seems so simple: sorting, labeling, and laying out shoes and clothes for the women and men to come collect. But it truly is a rewarding experience.  I enjoy talking with these people and trying to help them get what they need. It is frustrating when I have to tell them we don't have something. But the experience is humbling, as I realize how basic the things these people need are and how easy it would be for all of us to give them if we would allow ourselves.

For the most part, I have spent the past weeks observing how the people around me do things. I remember the first week I was here a New Orleans resident told me to just observe for awhile. I think there is a great value in that. Stepping back, taking away any judgments I might have, and just seeing how God's love pours out of these people. I often find myself inside these small moments like sitting on the floor with my roommates just laughing and passing the time. It is then I step back and simply think "Wow."

One of my favorite things about this city continues to be the endless supply of live music. My roommates and I are becoming regulars at the Maple Leaf where Rebirth Brass Band plays every Tuesday. There is just nothing like letting those cathartic, ear-shatteringly loud brass sounds wash over you in waves. I also went to see Jon Cleary, the most amazing piano player EVER. Standing in the crowd with people of all ages, moving our bodies to that same spiritual rhythm of New Orleans hit me somewhere deep. We met an older couple who was so happy to find out we are here volunteering. It is interesting to see people's reactions. They are just so grateful for our mere presence. It's an exciting thing.

In about two weeks on October 9, I will be participating in a Light the Night walk here in New Orleans which supports the treatment and cure of blood cancer. I am fund raising for it, and if you would like to help me you can donate any amount at the following link. I would greatly appreciate it!!

So no big things yet, just doing a lot of small things. It can be frustrating at times, but every little piece of this complicated puzzle counts. Even if I don't get to see the final picture, I know I am part of it. In a world that at times seems broken beyond repair, I am learning that there is a goodness deep within each of us that has the power to change aspects of it. If only people could realize it just takes filling in the gaps with little things to achieve wide-spread, positive change. I continue to hold on to my faith and try each day to retain this sense of optimism despite the suffering I have witnessed. New Orleans is absolutely soul-medicine.  I am almost done with Irresistible Revolution and hopefully can write my next blog post about the important insights into Christianity I have found in this book. In the mean time, thank you to all my wonderful followers out there! I am so blessed to have such beautiful, loving family and friends. May the love of God touch each of your lives daily in the most surprising ways.  

Feel free to comment! I would love to hear your thoughts :)


"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
-Martin Luther King Jr. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

When the Saints Come Marching In

I am starting to get the ball rolling. 24 hours a week at Faith Pres across the Westbank and 10 hours a week at First Pres here in town.  As far as Sundays go, I will rotate off each week and teach children's Sunday school at both churches. .I have spent most of this past week at Faith. Thy are a little church made up of about 46 members and I have received an extremely warm friendly welcoming from them. Yesterday I taught the children's school which was made up of three adorable girls and attended my first of many Session Meetings. I love working with children so I am glad to have this opportunity. I also have and will be working with the church secretary at Faith writing up the bulletin and managing the website. I am excited to tackle more projects. This week I will be going to First Pres to help out with Project Hope, the homeless ministry. Monday and Tuesday I will help organize all the items and help prepare lunches . Then Wednesday morning the people actually come to First where they are provided with clothing, food, bus tokens, etc. About 9 other churches participate in this program and I am excited to be a part of this ministry.

This past Thursday was the first Saints game of the season which served as the NFL kickoff. Wow. It is like nothing I have ever witnessed before. The whole city shuts down for the day. Kids get out of school early, meetings scheduled churches are canceled. Everywhere you go whether to a restaurant or Wal-Mart or the Post Office people were all decked out in Saints attire. I went to the parade in the French Quarter and it was crazy fun!! Dave Matthews Band and Taylor Swift performed live and I got to watch them on the big screen monitor. So glad the Saints won the game! WHO DAT.

Did several cathartic things for the soul this week. Am trying to continually run in City Park early some mornings. (Absolutely Beautiful) On Friday night, some of us went to see a brass band, The Soul Rebels. It was awesome! Love live music. Yesterday I spent the entire day scraping paint of a house that Project Homecoming is fixing up to sell. Hard labor felt good and I hope it will be something I can continue.

Got a Public Library card!! Am currently reading two books: Shane Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution and Barbara J. King's Evolving God. I love Shane's take on Christianity, which is that it should not be contained and suffocated within a church's walls but should be something we seek on the streets and in the lives of other ordinary people. King's book takes a look at the origins of religion, which is a topic that has begun to fascinate me lately. How does religion, God, spirituality tie into the way we have evolved? What has cauesed us to turn to the sacred and supernatural as groups of human beings?

One last important thought. My roommates and I have been watching Spike Lee's 4 part documentary: When The Levees Broke.  I would highly recommend this emotional, heart-breaking, and eye opening film about Katrina and the aftermath to everyone. It is extremely painful to watch but I think it is something that we as Americans need to see. The slow disorganized response of our government shocks and disturbs me. People left out on the highways for days without the most basic of needs while government officials got lost in petty political disagreements.The President flew over the city in his spacious, comfortable airplane and said he saw the damage and knew the pain of the people. Did he put his feet on the ground and walk the streets full of bleeding, dying people with nowhere to go? Did he smell the horrible stench of dead bodies a or peel off rooftops to find people drowning, suffocating in their attics? No. These people went days with nothing. I struggle with seeing and hearing these people's stories on the screen and know that they are not unique. What makes it twice is hard is  walking outside my house and living in the midst of it years later. I know that me being here counts for something. Maybe my presence can help us not forget New Orleans, although the news and media may have died down.  I hope that I can go forth from this place and help show America the truth about this disaster. 

"Great opportunities to help seldom come, but small ones surround us every day."
-Sally Koch

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Living With Intention in The Blue House and beyond...

Hello friends! On Monday I returned from a week long YAV orientation in beautiful Stony Point, New York. It was a powerful and energizing experience full of worship, singing,laughter, and deep discussion. Being surrounded by 60 something other young adults all with the same drive to live in an intentional faith community while doing service both nationally and internationally was an incredible experience. We had very enlightening discussions on race and power in mission, self-care, culture shock, and globalization.

One cool thing we did was that we got to be commissioned at different congregations in the presbytery up there in New York. Two of my housemates Evan, Lauren and I all went to First Presbyterian Church in Yorktown. We each got preach our story of how we felt called to mission. Then they all put their hands on us and prayed for our coming year and made a promise to support and pray for us. It was great to have an entire congregation that I had just met be so welcoming and supportive of us and what we are about to do.

There was also a seminary fair with all the different representatives from Presbyterian seminaries around the country. Definitely something to think about!

On the second day we took a whole afternoon on self-care. Ellie, the girl doing the workshop, mentioned that you have to have a self to give. This statement struck a chord within me because Ive struggled with the idea that part of the reason I'm doing this YAV year is selfish, internal motivation. However, after the self-care workshop, I decided it's not selfish at all to want something out of this experience besides service because that is what it is for. I don't want to come in as someone with the upper hand willing to help people because I think they desperately need it. I prefer the idea we discussed of Mission being Partnership. Not just one individual overpowering another because they need them to but serving one another in christ with the common goal of living out God's love.

I felt God's presence throughout orientation. I felt him in the songs we sang, in the quiet meditative moments, in the provocative discussions about faith in a broken world, and in the laughter and dancing among new people. The past few weeks of this experience have made me realize how intentional I want my spirituality to be. I no longer want God to be something that is selective or compartmental or even going through the motions. I want God to fill all aspects of my life, and I want it to be an offering I hand up to him at the end of each day.

This week in New Orleans we've been having more orientation type stuff. Today we did a fun scavenger hung around the city which involved various things like gettting our picture with an alligator, a saxophone player, a person drinking a hand grenade, an NOPD officer, and mardi gras beads hanging in trees. We also discussed goals for the year and what an intentional community and what simple living really means. I am learning simple living is not just being frugal . It means to live your life with less stress, with less unhealthy habits. To think about living a life focused on God despite all of the distractions our society throws at us. To appreciate what you have instead of constantly searching for more "stuff" to clutter your world. To replace the phrase "I need" with "I want" because many of us have more than enough. To realize what is really unhealthy and what is really healthy.

I am really liking this word "intentional." I feel like a lot of times we go through life and let it just happen to us and we don't realize what we're doing and how that affects others in the bigger picture. By being intentional with what I do and the way I do it I can turn my whole life around and in turn affect others hopefully in a good way. It's hard to think that one person can change the world in one year or even their lifetime. But I think awareness and evaluation of how one's own life is being directed is a good place to start.

Last night we went to see the Rebirth Brass Band at The Maple Leaf in Uptown. It was a cathartic, loud, joyful experience. I can't wait for more live music adventures in the city. These guys were so talented and really embodied the hope and passion this city offers. Tomorrow I will visit Faith Presbyterian for the first time and hopefully begin talking to them about what I will be doing for their church in the next year. I am nervous and excited but feel very ready. I have gained a lot of new insight and knowledge over the past few weeks, so I am still processing it all. After it all gets shifted inside my brain I will share more of my thoughts with all of you, my dear followers! But for  right now things are going pretty well. I've started getting up early and running with some of my my housemates in City Park which is nice. I'm a a little overwhelmed with this new phase in life, but know I am in the right place and am growing in leaps and bounds. Talk to you wonderful people again soon and feel free to comment!

"If you have come to help you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together"


A few pictures of my adventures so far!  Enjoy!
My housemates and I on the wall in the Ninth Ward

Live Music on Bourbon Street!
Some other YAVers on the Hudson River in New York!
Stony Point Presbyterian Church
YAV Orientation at Stony Point Retreat Center
Emma, my rommie, and I  at The Maple Leaf in Uptown NO.
Rebirth Brass Band at The Maple Leaf! AMAZING!!