Monday, December 27, 2010

Happy New Year!

Hope everyone has a very happy and safe New Year's Eve!
(Can you believe it's 2011?!?)
Early tomorrow morning, I am flying to Frankfurt, Germany with one of my fellow YAVs to spend a week relaxing from work and exploring Germany. No worries, pictures will be taken. (FYI: we will return to Belfast on January 4th.)
I will have sporadic access to the internet most likely, but in case I don't get a chance to talk with you:
"Good morning, and in case I don't see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night!"
Happy New Year!!!!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Christmas Eve!

Happy Christmas everyone! I hope you are getting to spend this holiday season with family and friends. And special greetings to everyone at First United Presbyterian! I realized that this is the first Christmas Eve in many years that I won't be playing trumpet, organ, or handbells as part of the service! (For those of you who are worried: following the Christmas morning service, I will be spending the day outside of Larne at the home of one of the families from EBM. I am quite excited to experience a Northern Ireland Christmas Dinner!!)

My week at EBM primarily involved delivering biscuit tins to some of the elderly women of the congregation. As part of delivering the tins, there was an expectation that it would be a pastoral-type visit. Little did I know though that what I at first viewed as an obligation would actually end up being a wonderful opportunity that I thoroughly enjoyed. Many of these women shared with me pieces of their life stories, including some reasons why Christmas-time is often a difficult time when they miss family members who are no longer living.
For everyone who are missing loved ones this year, may you still find some peace and happiness this Christmas.

For those of you who are lamenting the 'commercialism' of Christmas, keep in mind that December 25th was not really the day that Jesus was born. Most scholars would suggest that he would have been born sometime during September. So with that in mind, we can remember that as we sing "In the Bleak Midwinter" or "Still, still, still," these songs are all part of, in essence, a holiday that even from its beginning was a part of humanity's commercialism and need for ritual.
What is important is what we are celebrating, not really when or how we celebrate it. Here is something to help you reflect on that

Christmas Begins (by Howard Thurman)
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost... feed the hungry...
release the prisoner... rebuild nations...
bring peace among all people...
and to make music from the heart.

To conclude on a more lighthearted note though, here is a glimpse of what the Christmas season involves in the United Kingdom courtesy of the Vicar of Dibley. :)
(That is part 1 of 5; you should find the other four parts also listed on youtube.)

May you survive all of your Christmas dinners and much love to you this Christmas season.
In grace and peace from Northern Ireland. :)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Worst snow in 25 years!

The headlines across Northern Ireland bear not so glad tidings about the effects of the recent snowy weather across Belfast and the rest of the United Kingdom.
Yesterday (on Sunday), Royal Mail delivered an extra 7,000 packages around the city. Thank you dedicated postal workers!
However, the snow brings beautiful opportunities... See the end of this post. :)

This past week was full of Christmas dinners and parties with groups around EBM (Mums & Tots, Friendship Circle, and then on Friday, the official EBM dinner, and Friday Fusion!)
While thoroughly enjoyable, this past week was a bit harried as I was helping plan two events: Friday Fusion's Christmas Party and Sunday's morning worship: The Nativity Service.
Both went splendidly! The Christmas party was general chaos of course (it wouldn't be Friday Fusion if it weren't), but the kids got to play on bouncy castles, get their faces painted, decorate sugar cookies, and be sent home with a selection pack of candy distributed by Santa Claus.
It was brilliant: kids on a sugar high being sent home with their parents. Recipe for success. :)

Sunday's nativity service of course included children in Biblical-themed costumes. But since I was helping out with it (lol), it was a bit different than your standard nativity. (First change: no children in animal costumes; kids can be cute as humans, no need to humiliate them by dressing up as lambs or donkeys - which also detracts from the meaning of the story. Probably read too many books as a child about the scarring of other children because of Nativity plays.)
The script was around the idea of 'Jesus as the light of the world.' So as each 'character' came out, following their bit of dialogue about the greater significance of their lives to the Gospel story, they then lit their own candle from the Christ candle.
It was a success for two reasons: 1) the building did not burn down. and 2) overall, i think it was a genuine time in which all generations could reflect on these images of light - light coming into the world and being carried out by every one of us.

Since I survived the past week, Monday (meeting day with the other YAVs) eventually rolled around. It was topped off with sledging (aka sledding) at Stormont. It ended up just being myself, another YAV (John), and our fearless leader Doug Baker hitting the slopes with our 'bum boards' (nifty sleds that I am sure are also marketed in the states). It was good craic (aka fun).
Enjoy the following photos from the experience**.
**Disclaimer: who knew the most epic hill that I have ever sledged on would be in BELFAST!?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Corrymeela Women's Retreat

Images from women's retreat in November to Corrymeela Centre, outside of Ballycastle on the North Coast. (Cross-community retreat between two women's groups from East Belfast):

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

season of being

Each day, I am continuously amazed at the wonderful interactions that I have with the "employees" of East Belfast Mission. Many have backgrounds in theology, ministry and public outreach, some have previously been employed in the shipyards, engineering firms, and other businesses, and a few have backgrounds in both. I could spend this whole post raving about these people and the work they are doing, but this post is actually about another project.
The head of the Skainos project (the current building construction project) is a theologian as well as a business manager, and he is an avid fan of William Stringfellow:
During the season of Advent, he and a group of other people contribute to a blog reflecting on the time of year and the writings of Stringfellow. I was given a copy of Stringfellow's writing and asked if I would like to contribute. I went ahead and said yes.
It felt a bit like I was back in undergrad, posting my comments on an article to the class discussion board, but it was refreshing nonetheless to dip back into academia.
My blogpost is copied/pasted below; if you would like to just check out the whole blog yourself, you can go here:

a season of being

“In order…to be a person in Harlem, in order that my life and work there should have integrity, I had to be and to remain whoever I had become as a person before coming there. To be accepted by others, I must first of all know myself and accept myself and be myself wherever I happen to be. In that way, others are also freed to be themselves” (Stringfellow, “A Keeper of the Word,” 38.)

A few days ago, a person reflected to me that today’s society is spiraling downhill; all great nations and civilizations have fallen because of the loss of morality. On the most basic level, I disagree. (If Napoleon had not foolishly invaded Russia, we would have had a Beethoven symphony dedicated to him.) But focusing more on the first part of that statement, isn’t that just a nostalgic way of viewing the past? Ultimately, have the needs of “today’s society” changed that much in the past 2,000 years?

We could take hours to list all of the advances of the past 10, 50, 200, or even 500 years that define today. (My mother would argue that at the top of the list should be Gutenberg’s printing press.) But despite our radically different possessions, our ‘enlightened’ way of thinking, and even being much taller than our ancestors, the phrase “people, are people, are people” still comes to mind.

During the Advent season, our vocabulary is filled with wonderful words like “peace” and “love” and “justice.” These words that are central to the prophets’ messages about the coming of Christ translate into today’s world just as much as they did 2,000 years ago.

People, are people, are people who are in need of peace, in need of love, and in need of justice. Huge concepts that are constantly addressed during Jesus’ ministry. This season of preparation is not about buying gifts, decorating trees, or creepy Santa light up statues. It’s the time for us to realize that what is holding us back from peace, love, and justice to be present in this world is so often ourselves. People for centuries have defined the “right” way to dress, the “right” sexual orientation, the “right” skin colour, the “right” way to worship God. People have striven to bring about peace through violence, love through domination, and justice through tyranny. But we have the wonderful opportunity of living in the 21st century to realize that people regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation are all fearfully and wonderfully created and are all in need of Christ-like peace, love, and justice.

In this season of preparation, Christ is calling us to be comfortable in our own skins. To love your neighbor, you must first love yourself. Kudos, Stringfellow, for realizing this as part of your daily life. Peace, love, and justice will hopefully be realized for all people of this world.

But if you believe our society is in rapid decline and lacking in hope this Christmas season, may the words of Isaiah provide you hope that out of nothing, through Christ, God can grow much.

Isaiah 11:1-10 (NRSV)

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. [2] The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. [3] His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; [4] but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. [5] Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. [6] The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. [7] The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. [8] The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. [9] They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. [10] On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Reflections from the Week

Happy December everyone!
This past week has been a bit of an unusual one, but also a very good one.
For those of you who have been following the weather in the UK, the British isles are currently getting socked with lots of snow. Northern Ireland has not gotten as much snow as some parts of Scotland and England, but we have gotten a fair share.
Surprisingly enough, we had 8 days of sunshine in a row. But it was cold enough, that the snow on the ground after melting slightly during the day would refreeze to ice. (It doesn't help that the sun is up for about 7 out of 24 hours.) And more snow would often fall at night.
Today, the snow is falling fast. For living in such a northern country, the Norn Irish don't deal well with snow. Think Williamsburg, VA, style of cancelling schools at the thought of snow.
But in their defense, the Norn Irish are contending with a lot of ice under the snow, lots of country roads that are hard to maintain, and lots of small city streets that few snow/ salt trucks can traverse.
Walking to work this week has been interesting as the sidewalks of one of the main streets that I walk down have been completely iced. Skating to work isn't really my favorite thing to do, so I generally ended up walking in the street, skirting around parked cars. Adventures-Belfast style.
This week has been unusual work-wise for several reasons.
The Nativity planning which started last week continues to go well! Consequently, this week has been a bit calmer compared to last week.
Due to the teacher being sick, Dance Nation was cancelled this week, and then due to icy roads, Friendship Circle was then cancelled as well.
Construction continues to go well at EBM - the church itself was torn down this week. I unfortunately did not have my camera at work the day that the roof came off, but it was quite a sight to see! (And some EBM staff were out taking pictures - hopefully they will be posted online soon, and I will share the link.)
Last night was the first meeting of Re:act, the youth group for 11-18 year olds. I hosted the gathering at my flat, and it was a resounding success!
I had forgotten how much I enjoy working with older youth. (For example: they are old enough to play some of my favorite and more "advanced" games - such as spoons. Also, in the down time, there is space for both serious and also humorous discussions.)
Funny observation:
In addition to the standard pizza/crisps (aka chips)/ soda fare of youth gatherings, I also put out some plates of fruit and veg. The apple/ satsuma plate went over really well. The carrot/celery/hummus tray did not... As I expected, most of the youth had not had hummus before. Surprising revelation: only a couple of them had ever had celery sticks before. Most had only had celery in soups... And after their first bite of a celery stick, most made grotesque faces and couldn't finish the remainder of it. I tried explaining to them that carrots and celery sticks are standard fare in America, but I am afraid most of them still thought that I was crazy. :)
Not sure yet what the weekend and next week has in store. Perhaps a makeshift sleigh is in sight for the near future. Who knew I should have brought my snow pants to Northern Ireland!?
Overall, a great week at work of planning activities for the Christmas season, surviving and even enjoying the Scripture Union at the school yesterday (there were a couple of volunteers missing), and having some free time to reflect just how quickly the past three months have flown by!

I hope you are enjoying the Advent season!
During this time, let us reflect on how we often feel like this:
But when we are able to keep life in perspective, appreciate the time that we get to spend with friends and family, and realize that we have indoor plumbing, we are called to be more like this:

In grace and peace. :)