Sunday, May 31, 2009

Catching the spirit's fire . . .

Today we celebrated Pentecost Sunday -- the Biblical account of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit talked about in Acts 2 that fell so heavy on the people it had them speaking in different tongues! Had them doing things -- performing acts they probably wouldn't have done on their own. This is one of the two paintings one of the members, Callie painted while Pastor Catherine delivered the sermon. (She painted during each service) I've never experienced a service like that before. It kind of reminded me of being at a spoken word sect, which is where I would expect to see something like that -- an artist painting to the rhythm of the words being spoken. But it was church. And it was nice. . . out-of-the box! What made it even more spirit-filled were the 20-plus doves that were released after each service as a sign of the Holy Spirit going out into the world. (I'll try to get pics posted soon)

Interestingly, before the service started, a parishioner told me he wished he had courage like me. This was the second time I had had this conversation with someone at Harvest and I found it interesting that they automatically assumed I had this character trait.
So I asked, "What makes you think I have courage?"
The man replied, "You must, to do what you're doing. To follow this call."
I guess some would think that. But the truth is I don't really have that much courage. I actually have that much fear -- fear of what would happen it I didn't follow it. Fear of what my life would look like -- mediocre at best. Definitely unfulfilling. (I had seen glimpses, got a t-shirt and wasn't interested in revisiting.)
But just like I shared with that parishioner, most of what I do these days surrounding my foray into ministry also has a lot to do with the Holy Spirit's influence. Just as one of my professors pointed out in her book, there has to be some higher calling that would have one open themselves up to being castigated as an impostor or pimp, or giving up their jobs and homes to go back to school at nearly 40. There has to be something higher operating that would have someone go places they never thought they would -- sometimes into uncharted territory.

So I can't say whether it's really courage that I have, but there is definitely some level of faith.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Waiting and anticipating . . .

So I've been back from Atlanta for about three hours now -- had to make an impromptu trip to interview for this fellowship. I'm praying through Wednesday that God will have the judges give me favor. Wednesday is D-day, the day the committee will decide whether I will be one of the recipient's of the Black Women in Church and Society Black Women in Ministerial Leadership Fellowship. I don't feel the most confident that I did well . . . the ministry project I proposed to do in conjunction with my work at Spelman next year needs a bit more work. . . I also needed to articulate more clearly what I could bring that is different than what the women at Spelman have now . . .I've really been thinking about that. All I know at this point really is that God told me that I am needed at Spelman. And I'm in need of the experience Spelman will offer me. Honestly, it was the only place where I felt called to do ministry next year outside of my work with the homeless. Now this committee has me wondering what my purpose is there. What among my passions will meet their greatest need?

But there was some good news to emerge from the meeting . . . the team that grilled me during the interview thought I could bring a lot to the ministerial leadership program . . . so let's hope they scored me high enough to get in.

I'll find out on Wednesday.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I've been re-affirmed . . .

So we just celebrated Confirmation Sunday -- when 17 of our 6th graders and a few 7th graders confirmed their faith. The celebration was a first for me. I had always heard about confirmation ceremonies, but never quite knew what they were or what they were about. Now that I've seen them, I think they're more like "coming out" parties. Kind of like the debutante ball, where we young girls are introduced to society as young ladies. Only this coming out party says a bit more than just I'm moving into a more mature phase of life. This one says, "I've made a decision to follow Christ" or "I'm riding shotgun with Jesus and that's my story and I'm sticking to it."

As I watched the kids -- barely in their teens -- answer questions about prevenient grace -- the grace that is given to us before we were born . . . justifying grace -- the grace that we are given when we accept God's call on our life and sanctifying grace, which sustains us as we continue to walk with Christ, I was reminded of how big of deal it was for these youth to take this public stance. There they were dipping their hand in the bowl to douse water on their forehead as a sign of remembrance of their baptism, then kneeling before the church to have hands laid on them by their parents and family for prayer, symbolically saying that they too believe in this God of their parents. That they too have a foundation in this Christ who died for them. That they too wanted to live for someone other than themselves.

And I thought, that's a big deal. A huge commitment -- one that takes courage to admit. It was sort of akin to the the day (in my early 30's) I put the "God's girl" sign on my car, which too was a public proclamation of who I am and what team I play for.

Now I'm not naive enough to think that they'll always live accordingly. I mean part of being confirmed is agreeing to turn away from evil, work against it and accepting whatever call God has over your life. Frankly, that's a tall order -- one I haven't always adhered to. But at least somewhere along the way seeds have been planted and at various times I'm reminded of what the sign reads on my truck. Sunday was one of those days. It was their confirmation ceremony, yes, but I left service that day thinking it was most definitely my re-affirmation ceremony.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Making rounds . . .

I visited the hospital for the first time today . . . as a minister. And it's quite a humbling experience. At least it was for me, a newbie to the whole chaplin experience, who was welcomed with open arms by families who didn't even know me. You have to understand being the only African-American at Harvest and in this congregation, I can't help but wonder what the socialization has been of those I now worship with. If race had been an issue, it wasn't in that moment, where all that seemed to matter was that their minister was there. The one who could get a "line" through to God and usher their loved one through a safe surgery. The one could share words of encouragement and help them shoulder their fears and handle their tears.

And it seemed to mean more that the minister-in-training had come along.

So, I should not have been surprised when the families bypassed my handshake and went straight for the bear hug and thanked me profusely for my presence.

Sometimes, that's all one needs -- for someone to be there. And I'm glad I could oblige.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

That God . . . quite a comedian!

For the past few days I've been in awe of this Creator of ours . . . simply astounded by how he just puts things in place. Here I am, my third official day on the job as a pastoral intern at Harvest UMC down here on the Florida coast in the Sarasota/Bradenton area, being constantly amazed at how God lines things up. I must admit, at first I thought it was "all about me" and the impression the pastors and worship ministry team wanted to make on the new intern -- the new African-American intern at that. It had to be for that reason that on my first day (this past Sunday) the youth choir would be singing a Swahili worship song, "O Sifuni Mungu" with drums included and all. I thought, I must have shared at some point my affinity and love for African dance and drumming. I must have indicated that I have been dancing for nearly 10 years to the beat of the Dijimbe. How nice it is that they would incorporate this song in worship just for my liking. As part of my welcome to Harvest party!

However, the pastor knew nothing about my love affair with African dance. So I chalked it up to a God-thing!

Then there was the message: The Power to Embrace, which focused on racism, sexism, classism and all the other ism's we battle that keep us from fully accepting each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. The pastor urged parishioners to be aware of the Holy Spirit's nudge, which could take "them places they may not want to go." I mean that message had to be about me, right? It had to be about laying the foundation of acceptance and training the congregation in being more diverse-friendly so the new intern -- the only black woman in the congregation --would feel welcome and a part of the family.

But, this too, had nothing to do with me. In fact, the sermon was the continuation of a series being preached from Acts. Again, another God-thing. Or maybe more of a God-incidence. Just like the talk I had with one of the parishioners who shared with me his work with homeless populations. I figured the pastor had shared with him the work I had been doing at the homeless shelter for the past year.

The parishioner knew nothing of my volunteer history. This was definitely a God-thing -- one that confirmed I'm in the right place. I'm where all my passions can be further explored.

As one parishioner put it, God did just enough to keep me humble and more than enough to make me feel comfortable here. He brought me all the comforts of home while I'm away from my home. And he reminded me of just how 'Big' he is. And how small I am.

He's quite a comedian when you think about it!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Whatcha call me?

Oh my goodness! It just dawned on me. . . people will probably start calling me Minister or Pastor Juana! So that means I have five days left (up until the wee hours before the first church service starts) to get over the name change, accept it and be ready to walk in it.
Sunday is fast approaching. On May 17, I'll officially be the pastoral intern at Harvest UMC in Bradenton. And for the next three months I'll be emerged in all things pastoral. So yeah, I'll probably hear Pastor or Minister Juana more than a few times.

A few days ago at Candler's graduation, one of my former high school classmates -- who is also a pastor -- approached me saying, "Hey Reverend, how you doing?" My eyes got wide. My head turned from side-to-side and I wondered for a split second who he was talking to. Then last night I get a call from another high school classmate who wanted to know how he should address me this weekend at the class reunion. "Should I call you "Bishop, Reverend, Pastor, what?" he asked me.

"Juana is fine, " I said.

As I've shared before, the reason I struggle with the title is because of the weight of the responsibilities and expectations it carries. I'm in a insulated environment inside Candler where it's normal to hear Minister this or Reverend that. It's largely outside of that bubble that I squirm uncomfortably in my skin when I hear the prefix added. You never know what's coming behind it -- a joke, a snide remark, or a challenge to see whether you know what people think you should know. "So, what are apostles and are they still in existence today?"

What does that have to do with what's happening in the world right now? Nothing.

But more than anything, I often think it just doesn't sound like me. Every now and then, I go rounds with God, like Moses, offering objections to why this idea of being becoming a minister possibly won't work. Of course these are the days when I am extremely frustrated and overwhelmed by it all. Overwhelmed by what God is saying I must do. Moses gave 5 objections. I've probably given about 10 to 15 (some probably repeats) and none of them have been able to stand up in court. It's amazing who God calls. I still wonder sometimes why God chose me. Being a pastor was not what I wanted to grow up doing. I just wanted to write a few books and travel the world telling people about the liberation I've found in my relationship with Jesus.

Uhhhh, kinda sounds like a minister, huh? Yeah.

I have to remember that I prayed for God's will for my life to be my will. And God's will is for me to walk this road. And his gift in this obedience is to help me meet my greatest passion with the world's greatest need. Sure, I fight from time-to-time and wrestle with this. I'm told I probably always will. But there are the in-between times when I remember that I have been called "for such a time as this" to aid a world that hurts in a way that it didn't when I started this journey. God must think me some kind of special! And that's pretty cool.

So, Minister and Pastor Juana it is!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Reflections of a first-year graduate

Today is graduation day and honestly I'm dreading the sea of people I'll be forced to wade through -- more than 3,800. That's just the graduates. So you can imagine the burgeoning numbers with the families following behind. But I'm putting all of the anxiety of the day aside to celebrate the ending of a three-year journey for a select group of those 3,800 -- new friends at Candler I've met whose business card now reads with Master of Divinity (MDiv) behind their names. Today is about them -- about their ending of a chapter in their life story and the beginning of another.
But I guess it's also about me and where I have journeyed from and where I'm going.
Today officially marks my ending as a first-year MDiv student who came here wondering if she would even understand all the theology jargon. I still don't although I've picked up keep words here and there: christiological, eschatological, hermeneutical, homiletics, pedagogical.
Now if I can just use them all in a sentence!

Then there are the names of ancient theologians -- some who haunt me in my dreams -- Arius, Athanasius, St. Augustine, Cyril, Ireanaeus, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Nostorius, Origen. All of these now make up who I am becoming -- a theologian. Just saying that sounds strange. Me, a theologian! Not what I grew up wanting to be -- but who I am becoming. And when I reflect on the journey thus far, it's not so bad. Sure, I now approach the Bible differently, look at it differently, and sometimes even wonder what I believe. Because as a friend reminded me, in seminary we don't embrace the Bible, but rip it to shreds, tear it apart to examine its skeleton, to make sense of that which oftentimes can't be explained.

Some of the knowledge is rich. Some, quite simply, is troubling. But in it all, I am becoming a richer minister, preacher and theologian for it. And in some way, the doubts I have, the questions I ponder over are becoming the places where I am finding God.

A few weeks ago, I scribbled a note about how even after a whole school year, I find myself wondering why Emory let me through the door. At the time, I was reminded of what a dancer said to me following our dance class. She told me that there would be some dances I won't get no matter how hard I try because my body isn't made for that dance. So, all I could do is simply study the movement and go through the motions as best I can. But there would be others, she said, I would pick up quickly and move about gracefully as if the dance was made for me.

I thought about that and compared it to my seminary experience. There will be aspects of my learning that I simply won't get. My brain just won't compute. But that's okay, because there will be some theological dances I'll pick up with little effort.

And those I don't. . . well, I'll just have to rely -- like I did much of this year -- on my dance partner to sashay me through the ending of the song.

Happy Graduation Juana! One year down. A lifetime of learning to go . . . .