15 November, 2017

Prayers of the People

at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City, Jerusalem during the 500th anniversary of the Reformation service.


I break bread daily. Sometimes(usually) multiple times a day. If I’m being 100% honest, I’ve gained some weight since arriving here in August. It’s fine. And not surprising, because food is at the center of socializing here in the Holy Land. So I’m adjusting well in that regard.

Food is the social means of “hanging out” and meals can last anywhere from an hour to three. During my time in the Holy Land I've come to find meals aren't about eating for utility, but feeding the soul.
And my soul starves for these relationships that develop over shared meals.
It’s not about time or convenience. It’s connection.
This is part of the reason why Jesus shared a meal with his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion- beyond the symbols of bread and wine is the connection of a shared meal to the soul. Soul food.

Admittedly, it has taken me longer than it should have to realize the importance of a shared meal within my community. I’ve been figuring a lot out during my first few months of service. One of the hardest things has been recognizing the interplay between time, obligations, and relationships.
Not long ago, a typical routine would include grabbing some shawarma(شاورما) and stuffing my face while running to my next destination. This is pretty congruent with my behavior back in the states. I’d like to publicly acknowledge I was a regular at the local Dunkin' Donuts drive-thru, which I frequented(every morning at 4:30am sharp) for coffee on my way to my coffee job.

After multiple incidents(a graceful way of saying I was bordering on a shawarma habit) of running and stuffing my face, I realized: Nobody else is eating and running. Nobody is eating on the street. Nobody else is even running. Food isn’t a transition, it’s a destination. People sit down to eat. It is something I need to be making time for because it’s important. It’s important to sit at a table and talk to who you’re with, or make small talk with the person behind the counter. I should’ve recognized this after five years as a barista, but I’ve been too focused on what I thought was more important- whatever’s next, and not what’s now. Sharing is the key here, not consuming.
October and November have been an exercise in slowing down, staying present, and making time to share bread.
I am passionate about carbs here in the Holy Land, and the options are endlessly delicious.

Bread has become a symbol of building relationships with people in the community. In the teacher’s lounge I am constantly offered coffee and cookies and crackers and pastries and candy bars and fruits and vegetables… I could go on.
Yura, one of my students, always insists on sharing something from the school canteen when we spend time together during breaks. Almost daily, we commune over my favorite pastry, a cheese-filled triangle of bread heaven, which Yura has sarcastically informed me is called a “cheese sandwich” (ساندويتش جبن) in Arabic. Sometimes we pair it with a grape Capri Sun.

At times, I’ve questioned my worthiness of these communal relationships- whether with those around me or with God. Who am I to receive this hospitality? I am a stranger, I am privileged, I am far from perfect.
Jesus meets us at the table- whoever we are, and wherever we’re at in our faith.
The table is our relationship, and the bread and wine are reminders that we are worthy no matter where we are at. This bread, this soul food, gives us life.
Upon thinking of this concept of bread as food for the soul, I considered the image of 12 disciples at the last supper. I have the tendency to lump the disciples together as one unit, and indeed we are all one body, but they were also individuals coming from different perspectives and points in their faith journeys. I've been thinking a lot about the different tables I’ve sat at, the different points in my own faith I've carried to the table, and those I've communed with. Sometimes the table is full of sinners, myself included. Sometimes I'm not listening to the host, and sometimes I can't understand the host but desperately seek to find connection. Sometimes I'm happy. Sometimes I'm frustrated. Sometimes I feel unworthy. Sometimes the table is full of strangers. It doesn’t matter where we are “at” because Jesus meets us at the table over and over and shares bread with us. This is the image I encounter daily with my hosts. It is important to engage in this meal, these relationships, and share in the feeding of the body and soul.

Here is my body.         Luke 22:19
I am the bread of life. John 6:35
I am with you, I am present. 1 Corinthians 5:3
Be present.         Psalm 46:10

14 October, 2017


"This is how I die." I am silently panicking in a car of strangers as we catch the first glimpse of the Wadi Nar (a road appropriately translating to "Hell Fire"). I had forgotten which route the service takes, and am now reminded. I smile at the woman next to me and she asks where I'm from. I wonder if the anxiety is written on my face.

The feeling isn't unfamiliar. My childhood comes to mind- when inline skating was popular. The 90's. My dad took my brother and me to a skate park in Tampa because we were convinced it would be as cool(and easy) as the video game Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. Then, I stood at the edge of an empty swimming pool, the front wheels of my inline skates peeking over the edge. I remember feeling excitement, slight terror, and pure unfiltered adrenaline.... a total loss of control sitting in the pit of my stomach and shooting out the ends of my fingertips. It's the feeling of potential energy converting into kinetic. The defining moment: you either sink or swim.

Philosopher Alan Watts said, "To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don't grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax and float."
At the skate park, I metaphorically sank. To put it gently, I "went for it", panicked, and face-planted. The point is, though, I went for it... I got back up and survived the 90's. Likewise, the service driver successfully navigated the hairpin turns of the Wadi Nar, and I’ve lived to blog another day. During the anxiety-inducing ride, I came to the realization this year is an exercise in giving up control. Over and over.

The thought brought me to tears- an emotional loss of control, to put it gently. I sat in between two strangers in the back row of a packed service navigating the edge of a cliff in the Palestinian desert and I silently wept. Not because I was afraid but because I recognized a vulnerability to discernment within my soul. It is in this space, this loss of control where I feel most guided. This is where discernment exists because all I can do is listen.

Bret Easton Ellis wrote, “People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles.” It is the beginning of his book Less Than Zero, and though the rest of the book isn't applicable, the line is something that has stuck with me this month. It is universal, and the beginning of my chapter in the Holy Land. People are afraid to begin something new and drop into the pool, but they do. People are afraid to confront themselves and try again when they fail, but they do. People are afraid of giving up control to float in the water, but they do. How fitting: I am afraid of confronting myself, trying something new, and giving up control but here I am in a van of strangers on the side of a cliff. I've made it into the pool, and now it's time to relax and float in the water.

Click here for pictures from my first month of service.

13 October, 2017

                                             The Temple Mount, Watercolor October 2017

19 September, 2017

Where I'm From...

The following poem was inspired by a writing activity at orientation in Chicago. Part of my job at school this year is teaching a creative writing unit each week for 7th, 8th, and 10th grade. I adapted the activity from orientation, to fit my group of tenth graders (whose primary language is Arabic). It was a challenge to help students describe (in detail!) parts of their lives. They did a great job using colorful language, and I'm already looking forward to next weeks prompt. Here is my personal sample, the framework for the activity:

Where I'm from....
I am from a hiding spot at the bottom of a wooden telephone booth
from bananas mashed into wicker chairs
and cold spaghetti noodles plucked
from the strainer in the kitchen sink

from hearty blades of St. Augustine grass
from Van Ert and Johnson
and from lightning quick wit,
sarcasm-laced debates, and obsessive truth-seeking

I am from hand-turned lefse we didn't hand-turn, ginger snaps that could break teeth, and at least three types of barbecue sauce

I'm from grinning through tough emotions, only breaking when we can no longer pretend "everything's fine"
from "don't interrupt me when I'm on the phone" and "I'm your parent, not your friend"

I'm from saints who sin and sinners who are saints

I'm from Minneapolis, Tampa, Austin, San Antonio, Des Moines, Norway and Holland
whose long-gone limbs I remember as they are my own.

A Typical Day, So Far

We weave in and out of traffic up the street and down the hill towards the Lutheran School of Hope, where I will be serving this year. The primary language of the service(“CIR-visse”) drivers is Arabic, closely followed by honking. The chorus of beeps and chimes fill the streets- every street, every time of day. It is the song I wake up to, and it is the song I fall asleep to.

When we reach the street of the school, marked by a tall UN building, hopping out I say “Hon (“hhown”, here), shukran(“Shoe-Crawn”, thank you)”. The service driver replies “Afwan(“ah-f Wahn”, you’re welcome)” and disappears into morning traffic. The walk is short, and the weather is hot like a Florida August. It is less humid in the Holy Land, and I am thankful because the school is not air-conditioned.

The School of Hope is a bright white stone building- it’s the first year at their new location. All of the buildings here are made from Jerusalem stone, the primary exterior building material of choice for the Holy Land since ancient times. Up close, the bricks have subtle variations in texture, tone, and size. From far away, the buildings have a monumental, uniform feel. At first I had difficulty deciphering between the buildings, but the longer I have been here, the easier navigating has become. Though subtle, there are visual variations and character to each one of the buildings. There are nuances in all aspects of daily life, and I am constantly learning these intricacies.

When I walk inside, students grades KG(ages 3, 4, and 5) through 12 are running around, talking in Arabic, German, and English. Many faculty and students stop to say “Marhaba” (“MARr Ha-bahh”), or hello, and ask how I am. Some of the younger students simply smile and wave. I make my way towards the office to check in with the Deputy Principal(Vice Principal), then I’m off to the teacher’s workroom to begin planning the day.

I meet with the two upper-level English teachers, Renee(7th-10th grade) and Hanin(11th and 12th). We talk about the lessons for the day and how I can support them.

This week we spent a lot of time speaking and emphasizing pronunciation. In tenth grade, Renee asked me to lead a creative writing lesson and an unit on “Wuthering Heights.” My first prompt with the class was “Your Name.” The tenth graders shared the meanings and history of their names and read in front of their classmates. I enjoyed hearing them share about their families and it was a good get to know you activity for memorizing names. In other classes I assisted individual students that are behind or uninterested. I also dictated quiz and test materials to a blind student.

After school, I take public transportation back home, make a snack, and either write or catch up with Katharine, my roommate and fellow YAGM volunteer. It is exciting and humbling to think about the upcoming year serving the school of Hope. I expect many challenges as I navigate the education system nuances and build relationships with colleagues and students.

20 July, 2017

Conceptualizing Accompaniment

I don’t have a lot of information about my year abroad yet.  At this moment “it will work out” is the best answer I have to most questions. An example: I leave the country on August 23. Maybe. It depends on a few details… but it will work out.

My exact placement and duties are up in the air, including where I’ll be working and with whom I will live. Family and friends frequently ask me, “Are you nervous? Are you excited? Will you be safe?” The simple answer all of these questions is “yes.”

Although details allow for a more complete answer to these questions, the excitement I feel is not dependent on these aspects, but the true thrill is found in purpose...

I know little, and I am open to everything.  In this strange space on the edge of departure, I wish to share with all of you the purpose of ELCA Global Mission- ideas which I’ve already found applicable to any context.  To summarize, the idea of “accompaniment” is the core of the Young Adults in Global Mission(YAGM) program, and is truly what sets the program apart as a ministry rather than a volunteer opportunity.

You likely have your own relationship with the term “accompaniment”. It is used in culinary description or musical composition, and often simply means multiple items are together. The simplest definition of accompaniment, and the heart of the YAGM program, is the idea of “being with or walking alongside.” In terms of ministry, this means I will be experiencing a different perspective of faith. I will be there to listen, and to experience a year alongside our global companions. I anticipate it to be formative.

The purpose of the YAGM ministry is very much the same as Calvary’s- to proclaim Jesus Christ to the world. But what does walking alongside our brothers and sisters look like in a global context? It is difficult to conceptualize accompaniment when “being with” is such an abstract definition. During the discernment process, I’ve broken down and explored some of the core values that we as Christ-followers practice in many communities of accompaniment- local or global. To carry out ministry through accompaniment we uphold the values of mutuality, inclusivity, vulnerability, and empowerment.

As volunteers, and as Christians, we work to build up and explore our own gifts, while we empower those in our community to recognize and share their own passions. Pastor Jack and Pastor Rob talked a lot about this during the SHAPE sermon series. We are many unique parts, and also one body. My YAGM year will have a constant foundation of mutuality as I foster deep connections and trust through my daily interactions with students and community members.

My interactions with Inclusivity will look a bit different in a global context compared to home. By many definitions, I will be an outsider in Jerusalem. As I have little experience being the minority, I am intimidated by this reality of my upcoming experience, but welcome the growth it is sure to foster. In my YAGM interview, the coordinators asked me to describe a time when I was an outsider and reflect on what it felt like. My response was brief. There have been very few times I actually have been, or even felt like, a complete outsider. It will be important to recognize my own privilege when encountering this situation of true minority.

During my call process to this ministry, I have been challenged to reframe my view of vulnerability as “openness” rather than “weakness”.  Placing vulnerability into a positive context has been extremely difficult during my YAGM discernment, and throughout the year I plan to continue my growth towards being a more “open” person. Feeling drawn to the ministry, I began my YAGM application in 2014. It wasn’t until this year, however, that I completed the application and answered the call. The last few weeks have required me to remain open to a lot of unknowns, and to trust that my deployment is a true calling. A person like me is often most open and vulnerable at a time of journey, and this allows space to form connections within a community.

The ability to better understand empowerment is another opportunity presented to me in this YAGM experience. I have already learned that letting go of my own power is often what empowers others.  At home and abroad, this idea of empowerment embodies a lot of the previous values I have explored. In order to empower others, we must remain vulnerable and inclusive. This is based on a foundation of mutuality. It is in a place of accompaniment that we are most equipped to empower each other. It is also here where we walk together as Christians, and “my story” and “your story” become “God’s story.”

I am truly appreciative to the congregation of Calvary for the love, community, and continued support during my time of discernment, fundraising, and upcoming year. Thank You!

I look forward to sharing this story of global accompaniment with each of you as I explore the core ideas of mutuality, inclusivity, vulnerability, and empowerment amongst our global brothers and sisters. More soon!

01 June, 2017

Spaghetti Dinner Fundraiser

On June 23 from 5 to 7pm, there will be a fundraiser at Calvary Lutheran in Apollo Beach. The proceeds go towards Young Adults in Global Mission, and my goal of $5,000 to offset a portion of what the ELCA has invested in sending me to Jerusalem for a year.

It will be a great opportunity to connect with friends in the congregation and to discuss what exactly I'm going to be up to this year. A lot of it is still unknown- my placement specifics and living situation for starters... but I'm looking forward to sharing what has called me to this ministry- this idea of global accompaniment, and "walking with" somebody from another place.

I look forward to seeing many of you at the fundraiser dinner!

Click here if you would like to make a donation towards my fundraiser.

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