Thursday, April 28, 2011

Post-Lenten Post!

Happy Easter everyone! As we continue our journeys through this Easter season, I wanted to pause for a moment though and reflect back on the season of Lent.

If I were to pick two words to sum-up this Lent and my YAV year overall, it would be 'being' and 'grace.'

Being. This is something that I think everyone struggles with.
Just be yourself, right? But how does one begin to 'be'?
Making this even harder is that our interactions with other people are often based primarily around doing. Even when we meet someone, our first question is all too often, 'what do you do?'
While you can learn a lot about a person's interests by knowing what they do for a living, the question, at its most basic level, often implies that we must do something to begin to have an identity.
The YAV program though encourages volunteers to simply 'be' first and then 'do.'
This was brought full circle on the Monday of Holy week.
The YAVs visited a Benedictine monastery in Rostrevor, about an hour south of Belfast, and we attended the morning Eucharist service.
The homily was given by a Presbyterian minister, the brothers' chanting was absolutely beautiful, and it was truly an international service as five of the monks are French, one is Mexican, and the head of the monastery is Northern Irish.
We had the pleasure of talking with one of the French brothers after lunch time, and he talked about his journey to becoming a monk. His comment that stuck out the most to me was the fact that he could be a monk without being a priest, but he could not be a priest without being a monk. The focus of monks are to be - to be in community, specifically. And within that community, they are called to create a space of mutual respect and acceptance.

And this is where 'grace' comes in.
As part of being present with yourself and with other human beings, one needs grace.
Grace that accepts people just as they are, not needing feats of great accomplishment to receive praise. Rather, as Mr Rogers would suggest, you are liked just the way you are.
And it is through this grace, particularly this grace that we sang about on Easter Sunday, that we can begin to be in community with each other.
The Benedictine community is not a space for self-gratification, but rather the glorifying of God by simply being yourself, a child of God.
Simply put, just as much as we need God's grace, we also need to have our own grace for one another. To 'be' one must first have 'grace.'

So with this understanding of 'being' and 'grace,' I head off this weekend for EBM's weekend away up on the North Coast. White Park Bay, here we come!
Ohhhhhh yeah.
But first, the royal wedding is indeed tomorrow. I will be helping serve at the 'royal banquet' being put on at EBM's cafe. It should be an experience.

Then this Monday, it's time to walk the marathon!
Courtesy of my simple lifestyle this year and having the pleasure of walking everywhere (except for occasional public transportation), I hope to survive the challenge.
I, one of my flatmates, and the Northern Ireland site coordinator will all be walking it together. One of my flatmates is part of a team running different legs of the marathon, and my other flatmate is running the whole thing. Heck yes Bathgate residents!

Hope you all enjoy the royal wedding, and maybe lift up a few prayers for me this Monday... The race starts at 9 a.m., and I am hoping that we will have crossed the finish line before 4 p.m.

In grace and peace, may you simply 'be' this Easter season.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday Reflections

"Christ you know I love you.
Did you see I waved?
I believe in you and God
So tell me that I'm saved."

In the musical 'Jesus Christ Superstar,' the crowd sings these lyrics as Jesus enters Jerusalem.
As it's Palm Sunday, we pointedly reflect on that entrance.
A Messiah that entered Jerusalem on a donkey and not a war horse, a Messiah that brought a message of peace and not violence, a Messiah that didn't come to conquer Rome for himself but rather to question the oppressive empire, the oppressive norm, the militaristic empire.
The crowds that were so welcoming during his entrance lost any sign of loyalty or enthusiasm by the end of the week.
How fickle are human beings!? (And thus, how fickle am I!?)

On that note, my apologies for the lack of regular updates recently. When it's a busy stretch, I have so much to write about, but no time. When I have free time, I don't feel that I have anything to write about. Oh the fickleness!
But this is not a post of lamentations but rather a letter of correspondence.

As we draw to the end of Lent and into Holy week, I will use this space to reflect on and give you a glimpse of what Lent has been like in Northern Ireland.

Different traditions from what I would have experienced at home.
Protestants here didn't recognize Ash Wednesday by putting ash on their foreheads.
Easter is even more commercialized here... The Easter chocolates have been flowing for the past month and a half. It's sickening even to me who is a chocolate fanatic!
People here struggle just as much with Lenten practices: give up something? take on something? But life is so busy, how difficult it is to stick to something; Easter seems so far away!

Some Lenten practices that I have found that I have enjoyed while being here:
- I gave up 'sporcle' for Lent. It's the first time that I have ever given up something! I partly gave it up as I was procrastinating a lot by doing quizzes on sporcle.com. It's brilliant, but I found that going without it has been a positive thing. Each time I thought about typing the link into my internet browser, instead I thought about what better ways I could spend my time. And as cheesy as this might sound, it forced me to think about God... Or at least think about thinking about God. And sometimes this theology-logy is the start of Lenten disciplines. Because the other part of giving up sporcle is that it made me more conscious of the amount of time I was spending on my laptop. So usually when I had exhausted my list of regular websites and was about to go to Sporcle, I would instead shut my laptop and do something else. I was more conscious of how I was using my time! And I do have to say that I have been reading a lot more during Lent.
- Another discipline was Thursday evening bible studies. Mark Sweeney and I were planning the studies using a Methodist Lenten study. Having the regular prep and reflection time during the week, plus getting to have a dialogue about the topics with other people, has been brilliant. Having a regular pattern of devotional time makes such a difference.

Lent has been busy as well with various projects. As I mentioned in a previous post, for Friday Fusion (the youth club), we had a performance two Fridays ago: Fusion Factor. I choreographed a dance for the older group and also taught and danced 'Evolution of Dance' (youtube it, if you aren't familiar) with the leaders. It was a great, great success on all accounts - great audience, the kids were a hit, and despite the demanding nature of the dance, the leaders totally rocked it.
Then this past Friday, Friday Fusion finished up with some origami Easter basket making lead by yours truly.
Due to most schools getting two weeks off for Easter (they don't really have a Spring break), the next two weeks will be quieter.

Holy-week wise, I am helping to plan a Seder meal for this Thursday. It will hopefully be a multi-generational gathering during which we use a Haggadah that I have put together (many thanks to resources passed on by my mom!!!) and get to have a proper meal with it courtesy of some cooks in the church.

Topping it all off, the past two Saturdays have been rather full as well.
Last Saturday, one of my flatmates and I went to see a Henryk Ibsen play, 'Ghosts,' at the Millhouse Theatre in North Belfast. Getting to/from it was an adventure... I am so ready to have access to a car again!!!
Yesterday, we then headed down for a day trip to Dublin.
Having taken the 6.50 a.m. train to Dublin, we walked around the city most of the day and were thoroughly exhausted by our 8.50 p.m. train back.
Besides enjoying the Guinness factory, we wandered around a lot of the city, making full use of the gorgeous parks (complete with beds and beds of tulips) and visiting a Georgian house that exemplified the cool Georgian architecture of much of the city.
Overall, a fantastic whirlwind of a day. I am excited to go back and see more of Dublin!

It's interesting to note the difference in culture between two areas in just a 2 hour train trip: Belfast is not in Ireland.
Very, very few signs in the North would be in Irish. The majority of signs in the South would have both Irish and English.
Belfast is on pound sterling. Dublin is on the Euro.
There are many statues in Dublin remembering the famine. There are many statues in Belfast remembering the Troubles.
We heard more English accents in Dublin than we have heard most of the year in Belfast. (Interesting, considering Belfast is in the UK.)

I will hold off again on posting about returning to America, but will instead placate you with a vocabulary lesson, apologies if I have included any of these words before.

mingin' = gross, dirty, unpleasant ('those boots are mingin' - those boots are gross!)
wick = not good ('that's wick' = 'that sucks')
dear = expensive ('those shoes are very dear' = those shoes are expensive)
wind yer neck in = an expression telling someone that not only do they need to stop talking but they are incorrect
banter = teasing, jovial deprecation of yourself and others
don't be cheeky = cut out the sass/ back talk/ whining
pet = affectionate term of endearment, not just to children ('wee pet') but other adult family members
gurning = complaining ('they are such gurners')

To conclude this post, I'll bring it back full circle to the starting topic of Palm Sunday.
The conclusion of the passage in Luke about Jesus entering Jerusalem goes like this:
Luke 19:41-44
As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, "If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God."
Think about the state of Jerusalem over the past 2,000 years. It has been and continues to be a city of much violence, hatred, and division.
If Jerusalem is a metaphor for the wider world - the state of humanity - what do we begin to draw from Jesus' proclamation?
How has our blindness, our fickleness, prevented us for recognizing 'the things that make for peace?'

Monday, April 4, 2011

April showers bring...

Lots and lots of sunshine.

The weather pattern these past few days has consisted of rainy, windy, chilly, and altogether miserable mornings... that turn into gorgeous, sunny, and warm afternoons. Mmmmm Spring. Coats are no longer required.

Spring has been around Belfast for about the past month. March brought fields and fields and fields of daffodils. Rather appropriate that Marie Curie, one of the cancer awareness societies, sells daffodil pins during the month as a fundraiser.
(Side note: As I was reading a BBC article the other day, I did learn that daffodils are poisonous to dogs. Good to know.)

The past two weeks since St Patrick's Day have been rather straight forward.
What have I been up to, you ask?
Some highlights include:
- leading/ helping plan the Thursday evening Lenten Bible study
- choreographing/teaching two dances for this week's Fusion Factor - Friday Fusion's (the youth club) edition of the X-factor/ Britain's Got Talent show
- Friendship Circle outing to Lady Dixon's park, where we had a lovely picnic of tea and traybakes
- my body struggling for about 5 days to be caught up with Daylight Savings time, which primarily meant that I felt sleep deprived for 5 days straight

Life in Belfast continues to go well. It's really, really hard to believe that my time here is beginning to draw to a close. (My work schedule is beginning to be filled out through the end of June and July.) I am already starting to get a bit teary-eyed when thinking about leaving, but for now, it just means that my work here is not done!
My reflections on leaving the UK and returning to the U.S. is a subject for a separate blog post, so I will let that be a cliffhanger which ensures you will check back to read more of my blog. :)

In grace and peace.