My mom says I’m a keeper.

Genesis 4:2-9
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. 4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”[d] While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

If you have a sibling-or 5- you know how it goes. Where’s your brother? Did he eat lunch today? Has he done his homework? What does your sister’s facebook status mean? The school called– was it for you or Nico?

I love my Lil Brudder more than you could understand (even though I’m sure you ALL understand). He’s been my best friend as far back as I can remember. But as big as that special place in my heart is for him…not i day goes by when I don’t want to attack him to some extent. Truth be told, Nico is a grade-A punk. He’s the best of the best at getting on my last nerve.

I pick up my brother from school everyday. That shouldn’t be a big deal: we go to the SAME SCHOOL. However, I get a phone call saying “Hey. I’m by the Field House.” So I drive to the Field House and he’s not there. I call him fifteen or twenty times with no answer and as I’m driving around I see him up to Shenanigans in the parking lot of the Shell or the sandwich shop. I sling into the parking lot, rolling down my window: “Let go of that kid and get in the car!” or “I’ve been looking all over for you!” or  “I’m gonna slow down, if you’re not in the car when I speed up again it’s your own loss!” Maybe not that last one, but I feel that way sometimes.

Sometimes our siblings are the hardest ones to love. Not even talking about everyone because we’re all Brothers & Sisters. I am talking about those people that grow up in our house. The ones who watched us turn into the people we are today. The ones we compete with for all kinds of attention (or deflect all kinds of attention to). The ones we fall asleep ontop of on long road trips. The ones who got gum stuck in our hair, pushed us down the stairs, and ripped heads of our teddy bears. Our siblings.

Why would God make families the way they are? It seems pretty obvious how the parent-child dynamic is supposed to be. Parents raise the children and the children grow up to be parents who raise the children and the children grow up to…etc. But siblings are harder. Maybe we’re supposed to torture each other so that when we grow up, we’re stronger for having made it through childhood alive. Maybe we’re supposed to make each other feel stupid because we’re different and constantly put each other down so that our younger sibling will feel like they’re worthless unless they grow up to be just like the bigger one. Maybe we’re supposed to compete with each other to the death to regulate overpopulation.

For some reason, I don’t think any of these are our best bet for doing what we’re supposed to do.

I am my brother’s keeper. That means no matter how angry I get when he doesn’t answer his phone, I always call again. That means even if I have to pull the car to a complete stop, I  always let him get in. That means when I’m jealous of him for whatever reason, I let him have it and I get over myself. That means I invest in him enough to know where he is when God asks me. That might be what your mom meant when she said you were a keeper.

THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS THE REAL WORLD

I hope you enjoy that this blog post has a soundtrack. I felt like it was necessary.

John Wesley says that the world is our parish and we better get started. This has been in my mind the past five days. One definition of parish is a local church with its field of activity. This makes me believe that we are not called to grab people off the street, pulling them by the ear and throwing them into our sanctuaries; nor are we called to turn up our AV systems so loud that the the surrounding neighborhood has no choice but to listen to worship; nor are we called to yell at people and condemning them to Hell, using the logic of “God is good because LOUD NOISES!!” I don’t think we are called to do those things. I think we are called to extend our field of activity and allow the church to follow.

Sitting at our SLT meeting last weekend, we were all visioning and brainstorming and asking questions. It was a good conversation. This phrase, however, came out over and over again “well, in the real world…” and then we went to talking about school, work, home, even. All of this was said to imply that church, youth, SLT, even, are not the real world. It is a different thing. Somethings at church, youth, etc. are so much easier than “in the real world.” If my imaginary friends at church are being rude to each other or intolerant of someone else, I’ll usually say something. On Tuesday night, Kevin got to hear some Quips of Wisdom For the Young Gentleman-something he gets only because he’s imaginary:). My real world friends have to get a little worse before I let them know they’re bothering me. Somethings are harder with my imaginary friends. Even though some of the SLTers are my best friends, even though they know basically everything about me, they are things I’ll never talk to them about. Things that bother me everyday even. Sometimes I feel like I should even have two different planners, because it so often feels like I’m living two different lives.

I was at a committee meeting a few months ago. We were scheduling our next meeting and one woman asked if it mattered if we met in the middle of the day and if “anybody here does anything outside of The Church?” I was the only one. It’s state-mandated that I do something besides church, so that’s not so impressive either. This has bothered me a lot actually. I feel like we should constantly be in and out of the church. It doesn’t matter how wonderful we make our little church to be if we don’t share it with The Real World.

My dad once told me that a church without any outreach is just a rotary club. A bunch of people eating pancakes doesn’t mean anything if they don’t help people. I think that’s really, really true. I don’t want to eat pancakes. I want to love people.

Now, I don’t think my SLT are in danger of becoming isolated pancake-eaters. But I do think that the mindset of having Church and then The Real World is making our lives harder. I think the more we align these two parts of our lives with God, the better both will become. And I think that the further out of our sanctuaries we get, the more we share our faith with The Real World, the better we’re doing. So, we better get started.

I hollered: Ethel, don’t look!

I am thankful for my family.

It is the night before Thanksgiving. We are driving home from a night full a American consumerism: “Chinese” food in our stomachs, brand new books and tote bags in our trunk. My dad and brother are reciting lines from The Streak by Ray Stevens. I hollered ‘Ethel, don’t look!’ but it was too late. She’d already been mooned. Then the conversation shift to the history of mooning. My dad says he knows for a fact it was around during the Great Depression and he begins telling a story of his father in the orphanage.

When the Depression hit, my Dad’s Dad went to live in The Clark Home and later adopted that as his middle name. That’s my Dad’s name, too. My Grandma Addie would sit in the café and order hot water, mixing it with the ketchup because it was as close as you could get to free soup. My dad grew up in a frugal Catholic family, often living in mental hospitals where his dad was a doctor. He has five siblings. When my dad turned 18 he moved out and his parents moved to Big Spring with the younger children where they had several misadventures or raising small animals on two acres of land, but that is a separate story.

I am sitting in my bed in my quiet suburban home with lots of windows and carpet and floral print wall paper. My dad buys vitamin waters by the truck load and my mom tells me that flowers go to Heaven. My little brother pumps gas for my late at night when I realize I need gas and our three dogs are excited to see me no matter what my mood is when I come home.

I have the best examples for what I want to be when I grow up, I call them my siblings. They and their children are part of my life I am most in love with.

I have a church family who gives me support in absolutely anything I need. A family that sets such a faithful example that I dare you to walk out of Epworth with a normally cold heart. Not to mention that they are hilarious. Like really. I mean gut-busting. It’s genuinely fun to go to church.

I even get to go to AHS every day and play beautiful music with the most gorgeous Orchestra in the state, strike out against illiteracy and censorship and be creative in the most fun and exciting publications department you’ve ever seen, and just generally get to learn about things that my teachers love teaching me. It’s a pretty sweet gig.

I’m desperately thankful for the fact that I get to wake up each morning and live the life I live. When I go to bed tonight, the heater will kick on if it gets to cold, my facebook feed will fill up with the thoughts and actions of the most wonderful people I have the pleasure of knowing, a child in Africa will be wearing shoes that match mine, someone will probably be reading this blog, and I will get to let go of anything that bothered me today.

That just makes me excited.

Journey: Ducks in a Shark Tank

Where are you comfortable?

This picture (the second in my series of Journey Photos) was taken from the passenger seat of my dad’s car as we were driving to Dallas to spend the day at SMU. We took a tour and talked with professors and admissions counselors and all that fun stuff. This was not a very long time after the infamous Wesleyan Day.

The movie Wesley (based on the private journals of John and Charles Wesley) was playing at the Lakewood in Dallas. Being who we are, my Methodork friends and I had to be there. Carly was driving around Dallas that morning while I was still in Arlington getting my tires fixed. She called me and said she was in Dallas but didn’t really know where she was. Hearing these words sends things through my brain thatI would rather not have in my brain.

“Look for museums..and fountains! When you find some, STAY THERE. And don’t talk to strangers. And don’t get out of the car if you don’t have to.”

“You’re like little baby ducklings in a shark tank. You aren’t in Glen Rose. I mean it.” I am worried.

Carly, on the other hand, went with Emily and Andy to explore Dallas and they found a tiny cafe and a baby clothes store. Then later, she and i were lost and she remembered where we were from her earlier adventure, saving us from dying on the side of the highway. I can only assume that would’ve been the outcome.

We talk a lot about Risk Taking Missions and Service, because it’s a Fruitful Practice. And we heart Fruitful Practices because they sound delicious and look exciting and are thought-provoking. And we love to say that God calls us out of our comfort zones to help others and to share his love with people near and far and places we didn’t know existed. That is delicious and exciting and thought-provoking.

But Carly is a good example. Why can’t we hop out of our comfort zone to grow ourselves? We might never truly get anywhere (or get back home for that matter) if we don’t explore and discover things that are farther away than we’d like to be. I think that everyone’s journey should involve a certain amount of “Look over there!” or “We’re lost…that’s ok.”

Isn’t that kind of what our conference is doing? Even Marianne Brown who loves changing things (I suggested at the last Agenda Committee Meeting that AC be a lock-in!) is a kind of like “Not so sure about this.” Sure, some aspects of what is happening is concerning, but we have to learn our way around. We might even find a cafe and a baby clothes shop.

So, my Journey advice for this one is: Take part in some Risk-Taking Growth. Don’t panic if you aren’t sure. And find your way back Home with your new knowledge.  Branch out, get lost, and learn something.

 

Journey: The Filter

What do you want to be along the way?

At my Beautiful Bible Study this week, we created mission statements. Wendie told us that they had to be simple enough that a 12 year old could understand it and that you had to be able to recite it at gun point. Hers is: To believe, create and illuminate hope in God’s community. Tough act to follow.

We all took a sheet of verbs, wrote our name at the top and passed them around. And we picked verbs that described each other. Then when we got our papers back, we picked our own, selecting the ones that we strive for, or do or just are. Then we had to pick our value. Then we had to pick who or what we were going to do these things for, with or about.

I ended up with: To embrace, brighten, and influence the Life of God’s children.

Embrace

Something that I’ve discovered about myself is that i can’t stand intolerance. Carly thinks this is hilarious, but it is so true. No matter what it is, when people don’t like each other…I don’t like it. Judging people on their beliefs or other aspects of their life in a negative way is just something I don’t like to see. I really think that anyone and every one is a potential friend for life, no matter how they are when you meet them or what they have been like before. So, one of my big things is to embrace people. The whole “it doesn’t matter where you came from or what’s happened to you- you deserve a hug” thing is my thing. Everyone was made to embrace and be embraced, that is a big enough thing to have in common that you can’t overlook it for anything else.

Brighten

I’ll own up to it; I love the attention. And I was very little when I realized how easy it is to engage or enchant someone when you’re excited and happy about being with them. Throughout my life, this has evolved into I love of making people happy. There’s a reason I laugh at people laughing, even if I don’t know what’s funny. I love brighten someone’s day, or making someone smile, or cheering someone up, or any kind of happiness or giggling or fun. So that’s another thing. I love to brighten. I need to brighten. I figure that we are all called to spread God’s love to those around us. The best way I know how to do that is making people happy, even if it’s something as silly as:

A bear walks into the McDonalds and says, “Can I have a Big….Mac?” and the man at the register says, “What’s with the big pause?” and the bear answers, “I’m a bear…” as he raises his paws. 🙂

That’s my thing.

Influence

I just generally want to make a difference. That’s all I really have to say about it. And if I, Marianne Brown can only come up with this much, you know it’s simple.

The Life of God’s Children

There’s a reason I say “the life” instead of “the lives.” I think that we are so closely connected, and that we are made to relate with each other, therefore we’ve all kind of got the same life. And God’s children is everybody. Some people might tell you differently, but it’s everybody.

To have a mission statement, or something similar, is a way to measure yourself. To see if you’re doing what you need to be doing. Wendie says it gives her permission to say no to anything that doesn’t fit into believing, creating, and illuminating hope in God’s community. If it doesn’t embrace, brighten or influence – I probably can find something better.

This maybe not be the best way to start talking about a Journey, but it’s important all the same. You need a filter. Something to keep you on track. You don’t want to end up in the bike lane.

 

Homosexuality in The Church: what are we doing?

As far back as history can dictate, humans have believed in something bigger than themselves. Religion, especially Christianity, has shaped laws, political systems and policies carried out by both the government and individuals. The church needs to avoid hypocrisy, ideology, and political swaying of theology to maintain its integrity as an organization of love and acceptance.                                   The church often allows its initial feelings toward homosexual behavior to induce hypocrisy. The United Methodist Church’s slogan is “open hearts, open minds, open doors” (Hefland). This implies that all are welcome to be a loved and accepted neighbor in its community. Therefore, it must always be the church’s goal to be an open sanctuary for all. Is this openness not applicable to homosexuals? Homosexuality is “about love, not about sex” (qtd. in Billitteri). Feelings toward gay sex can cause people in the church to very easily lose sight of the beauty within homosexuality. Same-sex partners spending the rest of their lives together are just as noble or romantic as any other matrimony. The church often uses minor differences to pass judgment. Some organizations, such as the Interfaith Alliance, draw on “shared religious principles to challenge those who manipulate religion to promote an extreme political agenda based on false gospel…This false gospel threatens our families, our values, and our future” (Briggs). Many Christians cling to scraps of scripture to support their personal beliefs rather than basing their opinions on scripture as a whole. It is hypocritical to twist beliefs to wave them as a sign of another’s wrongs, for disables the purpose of believing in love and acceptance. Sadly, this is not uncommon: believers often reduce themselves below the loving expectations set for them.

Some churches are reduced to hateful behavior against homosexuals. Scott Harrison, a homosexual Christian, participated in ex-gay ministries that tried to change his sexual orientation. He lived through a three hour long exorcism that induced psychological wounding: it was so theologically incorrect and invading that he felt spiritually raped (qtd. in Sanchez). This ministry was trying to cure Harrison’s sexuality. If the church supports actions that are emotionally, physically, or spiritually destructive, it can never reach its mission. The church cannot spread God’s love while causing damage to people. Even if one believes that homosexuality is an ailment caused by a distance from God, treating people with hatred only furthers such a distance. By refusing to accept homosexuals in any aspect, the church pushes them away and makes it increasingly difficult for them to keep the faith.  Many clergy and lay leaders are taking a stance on the prejudices in the church against homosexuals. Rev. Janet Gollery-McKeithen, a United Methodist clergywoman, proclaims that she does no want to leave her church, but “can’t be a part of a church that is willing to portray a God that is so hateful” (Hefland).  Christians believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God. The denial of same-sex couples, however, depicts God as discriminatory and assumes he does not see homosexuals equal to other humans.  This sanctimoniousness exhibited by many Christians tracks their secular beliefs into the church.

Political concerns should always be guided by theology and core beliefs of Christianity, rather than beliefs being pinned behind secular opinions. When politics are dragged into the church, it is a distraction from true faith. According to Kenneth Briggs, “within mainstream churches today, there is no unified liberal effort to counter the powerful Right,” and “the political gap between the two groups could hardly be wider.” Separation within the church on secular matters causes it to be less effective in bringing each other closer to Christ. Time is wasted on arguing the differences of political groups that could be spent exploring faith or reaching out to the community. Many churches “suffer large losses in membership, inducing a climate of caution with regard to confronting controversies that may sour further attrition” (Briggs). Church should be a place for a breath of fresh air from the average, spiteful concerns of politics. People do not want to be part of an institution that offers nothing beyond the worldly concerns. The church needs to focus on its mission to preach the gospel and live out of love, letting politics fall behind this belief — not the other way around. The church should apply their theology to politics rather than extending beliefs that support their opinions. The acceptance Episcopal Church exhibits for “gays and lesbians reaches far beyond religion to touch society” (“Acceptance”). Christians are often are the examples to define morality. Church-goers were often the front-runners in reformations such as women’s suffrage and the Civil Rights Movement. The opinions formed in the church on what is right reverberate into society as a whole. Because of this influence, it is the church’s duty to set an example of love and acceptance. Violence, hatred or discrimination against any individual or group cannot be condoned in the church, therefore religious communities must teach the people of the world how to love each other through acting upon their beliefs.

Love and acceptance must be the basis of all actions of the Church, including its policies on homosexual-related issues. According to Rev. Steve Heyduck, the church “should do something different than we are doing now. Honoring same-sex unions or marriages, I think, would be much more Jesus-like in that we would be valuing and affirming people in their humanness and in their intention to be faithful people to one another.” In the everlasting quest to achieve Godliness, the church often loses its way. Christians believe they are called to love everyone they encounter − even when it is difficult. Homosexuals are equal to any one else: “heterosexual and homosexual expressions are variations on the theme of positive inherent sexuality” (Billitteri).  A homosexual couple is as human as any other. If any one deserves to be loved and respected, then these rights cannot be denied to any one else. The fear or discomfort felt by congregations about homosexuals is a negative expression on their sexuality. If sexuality is a gift from God, homosexuals should not be refused that gift.  Therefore, the church must treat them with love, acceptance and respect.

Homosexuality is not merely a lifestyle choice, a phase, or a rebellion to religion. Sexuality is a part of who a person truly is. God created those attracted to the same-sex just as he created heterosexuals. The church is an institution built on a foundation of love, respect and acceptance. When it allows secular issues to interfere with the extensions of this foundation, it loses its integrity as a religious organization. It loses its meaning. For all these reasons, the church must accept homosexuals into its community of faith, work to ensure their rights, and love them the same as anyone.

 

C is for Cookie. And that’s good enough for me.

On Thursday we had a blood drive at school. I donate blood every time Carter Blood Care comes ot my school for the following reasons:

Despite the fact that it’s disgusting, it takes very little effort on the donors part.

Only 38% of the US is eligible to donate blood.

Only 8% of these eligible Americans have ever donated blood.

Someone in America needs a blood transfusion every 2 seconds.

This is the one that really gets me:

Each blood donation saves 3 lives.

The first time I donated blood, it was mostly to see if I could stand it. Because I thought it was a challenge. Because I felt like a loser for being excused from biology labs because of my quesiness.

Then as the woman wrapped my arm, she said “You saved three lives today.”

If taking deep breaths for ten minutes can save three lives, then how could you pass up an oppurtunity to do so?

But I digress, I am at the blood drive.

Whenever you get done donating blood, they give you a powerade and some cookies. To keep you from getting light headed and passing out. I think. Not sure why it is. But it is a really good feeling to sit there, wearing your blue bandage of courage, having people watching over you to make sure you’re okay, and eating cookies. I feel like the getting taken care of and eating cookies is the most pleasant part of the experience.

That night, I went to a memorial service at Epworth UMC. Afterwards, there was a reception in the Family Life Center where everyopne was ordered to eat at least three cookies. Because we had a. lot. of. cookies. All the members of the congregation, family, friends, everyone made cookies for days. And after deep breaths for a while. And some pain. They fed everyone cookies and took care of them. And that’s a good feeling.

We all want to DO something. We don’t want to sign a card, we don’t want to just sit and watch our friends and family hurt. We want to feed them cookies and take care of them. This is why i am thinking about cookies on All Saints Day. Because Saints are the ones who feed us cookies and take care of us.

At some point, everybody is taken care of and is taking care of someone else. Say whatever you want about my trying to be universal or my optimism in this, but I don’t see how it could not be true. Every one takes care of someone else and is taken care of by someone else, because we are in constant interaction and relationship with each other.

Sometimes it’s really hard though. We do care about each other, but don’t understand how to show it. We don’t see the best way to take care of each other, to love each other, to be Saints. And so we make cookies. If the best way someone has to show you how much they care and that they are there for you and that they just want you to feel loved and to be happy again is to feed you cookies, then what’s wrong with that? Sometimes cookies are the best we can do. And I think that that’s good enough for me. Because of the sentiment behind it. If the past few weeks are any indication of what life in general will be like for all of us, I am certain of only one thing and that’s that we will constantly be making and feeding each other metaphorical cookies.  And that those cookies are going to say more than “let’s cross our fingers to avoid childhood diabetes and obesity”  and they’re going to say more than “Hope this helps the medicine go down” they’re going to say “I understand your pain. and I wish I could take it away entirely, but I can’t. But I still love you and I’m going to do my best to take care of you.”

A cookie is a promise. Not just a random act of kindness. A cookie tells you that as soon as I find out what you need me to do, I’m going to do it, but until then i’m going to shower you in the most random expressions of love as they pop into my head and into my heart.  I will bake you cookies, I will pick up your kids from daycare, I will check the oil in your car, I will change your air filters, I will water the plants, I will bake you cookies, i will bake you cookies, I will bake you cookies until I find something better to do.

And although cookies are not a necessity to life or a great grief-easer, they say a lot. And although many of these circles of love will be underestimated as merely a baked good, they all are a promise.

We are going to be taking care of each other all our lives. We are going to love each other, worry about each other, look after each other, and bake lots and lots of cookies for each other. And a cookie might not seem like much, but it’s good enough for me.