The First Day.

This is Post #6 about my trip to Korea for the WCC. Please click on these links for Post #1Post # 2,Post #3Post #4, or Post #5.

Today was the official start of the World Council of Churches. It was quite exciting! So much to take in and experience.

Adam, Sarah, and me outside the BEXCO, a conference center even bigger than McCormick in Chicago!
Adam (USA), Johanna (Germany), and me outside the BEXCO, a conference center even bigger than McCormick in Chicago!

As GETI participants, our day started with two lectures, one from Michael Kinnamon of Seattle University, and former General Secretary of the United States’ National Council of Churches and one from Henriette Hutarabat-Lebang, General Secretary of the Christian Churches in Asia. I was blown away at their clear explications of the future of the ecumenical movement in the 21st century.

Dr. Kinnamon asked three tough but essential questions of the ecumenical movement:

  1. Are the churches involved in the ecumenical movement still committed to the goal of visible unity?
  2. Is the ecumenical movement in danger of becoming too ideological?
  3. Is this a movement that truly trusts in God’s leading?
One of our morning speakers, Michael Kinnamon
One of our morning speakers, Michael Kinnamon of Seattle University

After a vigorous but short Q&A session, we hurried over to the main worship hall for the opening prayer of the WCC.

Oh.My.Goodness. Beautiful, heart-wrenching, and inspiring.

The prayer service began with lamentations from all regions of the earth.  What a humbling way to begin this gathering of Christians, who are complicit in so much hurt and pain, and who have been hurt and pained by a world that still yearns for the justice and peace of God’s Reign. A sampling:

Your beautiful image in Africa has been deformed as the greedy have raped its resources… the powerful have raped the less powerful…Your people’s lament is echoed in your deep groans that drain rivers dry… (Cries and Hopes from Africa)

Empowering God, we see you in the resilience, resistance and creativity of the weary and heavy laden, the crushed lives and broken relationships. Transform our greed to consume into a thirst to share…(Cries and Hopes from Asia)

Comfort us so that our souls are healed from the wounds of wars and conflicts. Gives us your light that we may walk out of the shadows of death… (Cries and Hopes from the Middle East)

Lord, have mercy on us, for we mine the resources of our own lands and those of the south, leaving in our wake environmental devastation… (Cries and Hopes from North America)

(c) Peter Williams/WCC
The lamentations were accompanied by artistic interpretations of the laments. (c) Peter Williams/WCC

There was a Gospel reading (Emmaus!), sermon, song, and common recitation of the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.

His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians, gave the sermon at the Opening Prayer (please ignore the speaker that was blocking my view)

We sang a challenging, moving song at the end based off a Bonhoeffer quote called,

“Peace must be dared.”

After the opening prayer, we broke for lunch. We saw some protesters of the WCC on our way back in. We actually had seen hundreds of them when we arrived in Busan on Tuesday, but they were much fewer in number today. These protesters were Christians who think the Christians who support the WCC are being misled and are in fact, going against the will of God. More on them later, probably 😉

"Oppose the WCC" sums it up pretty well I suppose
“Oppose the WCC” sums it up pretty well I suppose

Then we headed back to the convention center for the official opening of the assembly complete with a welcome from the General Secretary, the WCC Central Committee moderator, 4 young people sharing their expectations, various welcome greetings, and an artistic presentation on the assembly theme (“God of Life, Lead us to Justice and Peace”) and the experience of the Korean churches. That was such an unexpected treat!  I didn’t know to expect something like that.

Cardinal Kurt Koch reading the greetings of Pope Francis!!!!
Cardinal Kurt Koch reading the greetings of Pope Francis!!!!
From the artistic presentation on the theme and Korean history
From the artistic presentation on the theme and Korean history

We then moved to the General Secretary’s report on the WCC and all that has been happening since the last assembly in Porto Alegre in 2006.  So much. More on that later.

Then, as GETI, we headed back to the hotel for our seminar group discussions where my group actually got into some pretty interesting (read, occasionally tense) discussions. No one said unity was easy.  But it is worth it. It is our beautiful, daring calling to work that all may be one (John 17:21). Then, after a brief evening prayer, our day was finally over at around 830pm. Woah.

I doubt I’ll be able to keep these (lengthy) updates up as they take too much time, but I felt the first day was totally worth the effort because it was so powerful and it set the tone and mood for the rest of the conference.

Thanks be to God for the opportunity to be here and to be transformed by this experience.

God of Life, Lead us to justice and peace.

Melissa

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Drinking from a Fire Hose

This is Post #5 about my trip to Korea for the WCC. Please click on these links for Post #1, Post # 2, Post #3, or Post #4
 
Today, Monday, was our last day in Seoul for our pre-program with GETI. Tomorrow, we travel to Busan where GETI will continue and where the WCC will begin on Wednesday. 

The other day, the Dean of GETI used this phrase to describe what we were experiencing. I’m not sure if the phrase translated well for others, but I certainly think it is an apt metaphor. I hardly know where to begin as far as reflecting on what I have experienced so far. But I will not be too hard on myself for not taking in more or put to much pressure on myself to give neat summaries or astute synthesis yet. I will just appreciate the gifts that are being offered to me right now. My notebook is capturing as much as I can. Synthesis can wait. Sharing deeply about these gifts and their affect on me will come. But right now, these gifts, I need to receive them first. I need to drink deeply from the well, or the fire hose , whatever metaphor works, right? So in the spirit of drinking from the fire hose, I will share some of the “sips” I’ve been experiencing:

  • Talking about (rural) African perspectives on pastoral care with my seminar group member from South Africa
  • Sharing a love for Henri Nouwen with my new friend who is in seminary here in South Korea
  • Hearing about the priests and sisters and other Catholics and various Christians who are involved in nonviolent resistance in Jeju island here in Korea, protesting a U.S. Naval base that is destroying the local village there.
  • Listening to lectures on Korea history, realizing that the Cold War is still said to be going on here because of the divided nation of the Korean peninsula (Korea was divided along the 38th parallel at the end of WWII by Russia and the U.S., just days after Korea was freed from Japanese occupation)
  • Talking with the only other Catholic woman here, who is from Australia, about what her context is like as the only younger female studying theology at her grad school.
  • Totally having a fangirl moment when the official Catholic delegation to the WCC showed up this morning, that is, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU).  CTU people- Steve Bevans was all cool, like, “Yeah, I know most of these people,” and I was like, “I read about this council and here they are in person! Plus, there aren’t many other Catholics around here usually.” There were several women too. Very happy to see.
  • Being blown away and deeply challenged by Professor Namsoom Kang (Brite Divinity School at TCU). She reminded us here that for those of us here at GETI who speak English as our first language, that means that we inherently are the power-holders and others are marginalized. The first step is to be aware.  That’s all we’ve got so far.
  • Going on a spontaneous walk with my new friends from lunch from Korea, Germany, and Sweden.
  • Discussing my American (Catholic) context with my German friend who practically knows more about American politics than I do, I discovered this as we discussed evangelicals, polarization in the Church, and the religious backgrounds of American political leaders.
  • Asking “who is defining culture? What interest does it serve?”
  • Bonding with my Slovakian group member who considers himself Czechoslovakian because he was born before the split and I consider myself 1/4 Czechoslovakian because my grandma was from the undivided nation as well.
  • Visiting a Presbyterian Church here in Seoul. With a German pastor preaching the sermon (who was part of a delegation on their way to the WCC) haha
  • Having only 30 minutes to shop/explore at the market for souvenirs and such.
  • Discussing with my friend from the UK/USA (Seattle) about her Jesuit school that is uber ecumenical, and her friends’ experiences of being Catholic women in ministry.

These are just a taste for you, a few sips. Multiply this by 10. At least.  I’m so thankful for this fire hose of experience and information. I know it will just continue to multiply as we head to Busan tomorrow for the actual start of the WCC on Wednesday!

More later, friends. But for now, pictures!

GETI Catholic contigent: Antonia from Australia; Victor, SJ, from Boston; Steve Bevans, CTU professor; Edmund Chia, former CTU prof now in Australia; and me!
GETI Catholic contingent: Antonia from Australia; Victor, SJ, from Boston; Steve Bevans, CTU professor; Edmund Chia, former CTU prof now in Australia; and me!
10-27-13 David Field 2
Eating a traditional Korean meal on Sunday
10-27-13 Noria (37)
Me, Gift (South Africa), Saleem (Jordan) at some palace in the middle of Seoul
10-27-13 Noria (38)
Posing for the camera… because it’s what I do 🙂
Professor Steve Bevans talking with his friend, the General Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
Professor Steve Bevans talking with his friend, the General Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
My lunch table today!
My lunch table today! Sweden, Korea, the US, and Germany, all represented!

Thanks for journeying with me, friends!

Much love on the road to Busan,
Melissa

What is GETI?

(This is Post #4 about my trip to Korea. If you missed Post #1 or Post #2 or Post #3, click on those links to check them out!)
 
It is the end of our first full day here. I arrived in Seoul at 3pm on Friday and arrived at our hotel at about 8pm after about 3 hrs in traffic! I passed out on the bus though because I hardly slept on the plane. My bus group caught the end of the welcoming address for GETI that night. 

In the spirit of offering background information on what I’m up to in Korea, today we’ll explore the specific program that I’m participating in alongside the WCC.

So what does GETI stand for?

GETI is an acronym for the Graduate Ecumenical Theological Institute.

What is the Graduate Ecumenical Theological Institute?

The Global Ecumenical Theological Institute (GETI) is a major event for about 150 younger advanced theology students from all regions of the world and all Christian denominational traditions.  It began in Seoul on October 25th and on October 30th we will transition to Busan to study alongside the World Council of Churches’ 10th Assembly.  We will conclude on November 9th, the day after the end of the WCC.

What will you study and do?

The curriculum focuses on “the future of ecumenism and the transformation of World Christianity in the 21st century” and will be geared to the theme of the WCC Assembly “God of life, lead us to justice and peace.” GETI is meant to be a place where we are formed as ecumenical leaders, where we engage in intense theological learning and mutual dialogue as well as inter-generational dialogue with leaders in the ecumenical and evangelical movement.

What will your days look like?

Well, first, here in Seoul, on Saturday, and Tuesday, we begin the day as GETI participants in communal worship. Then we have morning and afternoon lectures. Later in the afternoon, we meet as seminar groups which consist of 8-9 students and one faculty member. We have  worship led by a particular “confessional”/tradition in the evening to close the days. Tomorrow, Sunday, we will go to various churches in the area to experience our Korean Christian context more concretely.

In Busan, we will participate in the WCC sessions during the mornings and early afternoon, which include Bible Study, morning prayer, morning “plenary” (all-conference assembly), and ecumenical conversations on particular topics. Then, the the late afternoons, we will meet with our GETI seminar groups and have evening prayer as a GETI group again.

Throughout the weeks, we also eat together as GETI and have time for informal sharing of our cultural context and our faith.

Sounds busy!

That’s for sure!

So why did you want to partake in GETI?

Well, not gonna lie, the opportunity to go to Korea (um, for free), piqued my interest. But then, I realized I totally believe in the reasoning behind the ecumenical efforts of the WCC and I appreciate this opportunity of GETI because it seeks to form us as future ecumenical leaders. My heart longs for “us all to be one” (John 17:21). GETI is teaching me about the complexities and challenges of seeking that oneness, but also  about the progress we have made and about our hope for unity in our diversity.

Why did they decide to put on GETI alongside the WCC?

I can’t speak to the specifics of GETI (and I’m too tired to research too much!), but I can speak the world-wide ecumenical movement’s desire to keep the flame alive in younger generations. In the constitution of the WCC,the concern for ecumenical theological education receives a high priority. It is defined as one of the primary purposes and functions of  the WCC to “nurture the growth of an ecumenical consciousness through processes of education and a vision of life in community rooted in each particular cultural context” (WCC constitution par III).  At GETI, this is happening, in a particularly intense way. Our ecumenical consciousness is being raised, and we are sharing our particular cultural contexts.

What do you hope to gain from this experience?

  • Friends from around the world (already happening)
  • An expanded heart and mind.
  • An expanded worldview
  • To be transformed by God through the diverse community, through the lectures, through the communal prayer
  • To be able to articulate what I have experienced and relate it to the needs of our church and world.  According to the Joint Working Group between the Catholic Church and the WCC,

All persons who have experienced the transforming power of ecumenical encounters should be encouraged to see themselves as witnesses, and should be prepared to offer testimony to the ways in which their experiences with other Christians have been blessing that have deepened their own spiritual roots.

I will steward the gift. But it will be a long-term process of course 😉

One day in, every single one of these things is ALREADY beginning to occur. Woah. Thanks be to God!

Some teaser pictures:

My lunch partners: Jutta, from Germany and Myoung, from Germany and Korea
My lunch partners: Jutta, from Germany and Myoung, from Germany and Korea
10-26-13 (9)
Namsoon Kim (middle), one of the afternoon lecturers, and professor at Brite Divinity School. We loved her lecture!
10-26-13 (13)
The view from Hashin University where we were today. Woah.

Peace, love, and kimchi,
Melissa

Blessed for the Journey

(This is Post #3 about my trip to Korea. If you missed Post #1 or Post #2, you can find them here and here.)
 
I leave tomorrow morning, that is Thursday, the 24th at 7am! I will arrive in Seoul on Friday, the 25th at 3pm, 18 hours later.  I expect to be up for well over 24hrs (eek!) unless a miracle happens and I can sleep on the plane. One can hope 😉 

This post, post #3 of my Korea musings, was half-way finished as a post called “what is GETI?” but it has now transformed itself and “what is GETI?” has been relegated to Post #4. So stay tuned for that! In the meantime, I just had a few night-before-big-trip thoughts to share.

Today, in my class, my fellow students organized a blessing for me as I embark on this journey. The class is called “Religious Life for the 21st Century: Creating Communities of Hope on a Global Scale.” Long title! But a beautiful, hope-filled, challenging, inspiring class. For those of you outside of the Catholic bubble, the term “Religious Life” is not meant generically but is Catholic jargon used to denote vowed life as sisters and brothers in community, i.e., nuns/sisters, brothers, priests who are in orders, etc. My class, like the rest of CTU, is incredibly diverse. We are young, old, male, female, from the U.S, from Bangladesh, China, Korea, Mexico, you name it, (vowed) religious, and lay students (2 of us!).

To have this community pray for me.

To be blessed in Korean, for my trip to Korea.

To be blessed in song.

To have my forehead signed with the cross by each classmate and my professor.

To hear words of encouragement and hope.

To be told “May you find joy in the friends you meet there, like the joy you exhibit with people here.”

To be “welcomed” to Asia.

To be sent from one community of beautiful diversity to another.

To have my hands and my heart held.

These graced moments.

They touched my heart and freed me to leave behind my fear, my to-do list, my anxiety.

Nothing could have made me more ready. Or reminded me it’s okay if I don’t feel “ready.”
Not the 3 hours of packing I did this morning, not my triple-checked lists, not my self pep-talks.

I’m so excited. I’m leaving on a jet plane. At 7am tomorrow morning. I will fly to San Francisco first, which ironically will be the exact same flight that is previously my longest flight I’ve ever taken (4 1/2 hrs to SFO). Then I will embark on my longest flight yet in my life, to my first place outside of North America I will have ever been! My only other experience of international travel was living in Mexico for two months. An international conference for two weeks in Asia will be quite different! And I am so grateful for this opportunity. To expand my horizons, my heart, my relationships.

One of the poignant ponderings from our Religious Life class readings for today was on our relational “web.” I know I don’t make this journey alone. I take my communities with me. I take you with me.  And I will return with magnificent additions to our web, our communities of hope. And that gives me such encouragement.

Thank you for journeying with me. Thanks for being excited with me. Thanks for asking for updates. Thank you for your blessings.

With joy on the journey,
Melissa

So what is the WCC? And…ecumenism?

(This is post #2 of posts specifically related to my trip to Korea for the WCC. If you missed Post #1, check it out here!)

So I keep saying I’m going to Korea for the World Council of Churches (or WCC for short) but most people I talk to don’t know what that is, or why it exists. I sure didn’t know until I applied for this opportunity! So I thought I would share with anyone who was interested what the WCC is.

What is the WCC?

In their own words:

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the scriptures, and therefore seek to fulfill together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It is a community of churches on the way to visible unity in one faith and one eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and in common life in Christ. It seeks to advance towards this unity, as Jesus prayed for his followers, “so that the world may believe.” (John 17:21)

In short, it is a group of churches (some might say, denominations), with all their diverse practices and doctrine, united in prayer and common life, visibly expressing and seeking unity for the sake of the world.  The WCC officially held its first assembly in 1948 in Amsterdam, but it has its roots in the missionary movement of the early 20th century.

It is the broadest and most inclusive expression of ecumenical effort in modern times. The WCC brings together churches, denominations and church fellowships in more than 110 countries and territories throughout the world, representing over 500 million Christians and including most of the world’s Orthodox churches, scores of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed churches, as well as many United and Independent churches.

I see. Coolio. So you’re going to the WCC?

Yep, I’m going to the 10th Assembly of the WCC.

African delegates in procession at the Third Assembly of the World Council of Churches, New Delhi, India, 1961. (Credit: WCC Photo)
African delegates in procession at the Third Assembly of the World Council of Churches, New Delhi, India, 1961. (Credit: WCC Photo)

What is an assembly of the WCC?

The assembly is the highest governing body of the World Council of Churches (WCC), and meets every seven years. It is a moment when the fellowship of member churches comes together as a whole in prayer and celebration.

There have been nine previous assemblies.  This year is the 10th assembly and it will take place in Busan, South Korea, from October 30th through November 8th.  This video is not only informative, but will get you pretty pumped about how inspiring the WCC is:

So how did you end up going to something as cool as the WCC?

Haha, great question. Well, I am going not as a delegate or an official observer, but as part of the Graduate Ecumenical Theological Institute (GETI),  a program/course for “younger theologians” from around the world. GETI begins before the WCC, on October 25th. I heard about this opportunity to apply for GETI through an email that my school sent out and well… here I am, 2 days away from leaving for Korea!

8th Assembly of the WCC, Harare, Zimbabwe 1998. (Credit: Christ Black/WCC)
8th Assembly of the WCC, Harare, Zimbabwe 1998. (Credit: Christ Black/WCC)

What will you do as GETI participants?

Stay tuned! That deserves its own post!

So you keep saying “ecumenical.” What the heck does ecumenical mean?

Ecumenism comes from the Greek word, oikoumene, which means “the whole inhabited earth.” It has come to be applied to the efforts at healing divisions among Christian traditions for the sake of the world, in response to Christ’s prayer for unity (John 17:21).

It’s like interreligious dialogue, but for Christian traditions. One might say it is inter-denominational efforts at common ground and fellowship.

Does this mean my particular faith tradition doesn’t matter?

Nope.  It matters. Most Christians have a church “home” where they feel most comfortable and where the majority of their theological understandings lie. This is good. The unity that Christian churches seek is not a call for uniformity, but a longing for unity that values the diversity of gifts brought by various Christian traditions. Diversity does not have to be a threat.  But we do simultaneously recognize the limits of that diversity.  Profound divergence can occur and undermine communion. But we have our most perfect expression of this unity in diversity is the Holy Trinity-absolute oneness and distinction of persons.  Woah. Quite an example!

But why is ecumenism important?

Well, in the words of the Decree on Ecumenism  from the Second Vatican Council, division [in the church] “openly contradicts the will of Christ, provides a stumbling block to the world and inflicts damage on the most holy cause of proclaiming the good news to every creature.”  Christ wills that all His people are one, for the life of the world. Our divisions contribute to the world’s pain, instead of offering healing and hope. Ecumenical efforts seek unity, not for its own sake, but for the world’s sake.

Ok, I can get behind this odd word now.

Great! Stay tuned for more info on what GETI is and for updates on my trip.

Thanks for journeying with me in anticipation,  friends!

With increasing excitement,
Melissa

A Gift I will Steward

(This will be Post #1 of updates and musings specifically related to my trip to Korea for the World Council of Churches).

For months after finding out I was chosen to  go to South Korea for the World Council of Churches (WCC) as part of a program for graduate students in theology or young theologians, the Graduate Ecumenical Theological Institute (GETI), I tried very, very hard not to be intimidated by this opportunity, specifically, by my fellow “young theologians.”

But the more I learned about my fellow GETI participants, the more intimidated I became. I felt inadequate, unprepared, and out of place… and we’re not even there yet! Some students are working on PhDs, some already have them, some are decades older than me, some have taken class upon class on ecumenism, some have a plethora of practical experience in ecumenical efforts. You get the picture. I’m a 24-year-old, 2nd-year Master of Divinity student, a degree that while still academic, prepares one for ministry, not necessarily for the field (the competitive battlefield?) of academia.* My experience with ecumenical efforts is solely relational: some of my best friends are Protestant or Orthodox Christians, and I am a Catholic Christian. My lack of professional experience in the field made (makes?) me feel like I have a sign on me that says, “I am not worthy to be here.  You all are better prepared for this than me.”

But then one day it just hit me. My mindset was all wrong.

This isn’t about the fact that a lot of the students are older than me and have had more exposure to ecumenical work- both at the academic and practical levels.

This isn’t about the fact that “young” is defined loosely and that some of my fellow students are 30 and 40-somethings working on PhDs or already with them.

This isn’t about the fact that I feel I was chosen because they needed someone from my demographic: female and Catholic. 

This isn’t about the fact that some of my fellow students are ordained and pastoring churches.

This isn’t about my smallness.

This isn’t about my fear.

This isn’t about me.

No.

This is about you and me, us, the Church, the world.

This is about building up the Body of Christ, finding unity in diversity.

This is about receiving this opportunity as a gift that I will steward.

This is about faithfully accepting this opportunity and giving it the time and energy it deserves… for the sake of the human family.

This is about being gentle with myself, honoring the gifts I bring, and using them to let this gift, this experience, bear fruit for the life of the world.

This is about not getting caught up in my to-do list and my fears and everything else related to this experience, but instead getting caught up in the movement of the Spirit, uniting us as the People of God.

I was so focused on my own smallness that I was missing the huge sign of life and hope that will be unfolding before my very eyes next week, that is already unfolding in the work the WCC behind the scenes or in the interactions we’ve had as GETI online.

So I have resolved…to acknowledge my fear, but to choose to live from a different space, a different mindset. To own who I am without apology and without jockeying in the competitive arena of “who has more to offer.” Instead, I will go with open hands. Open hands to accept the gift of this opportunity, open hands to experience the beauty of Korean culture, open hands to embrace my brothers and sisters in Christ from around the world, open hands to offer and continue to receive the beauty of ecumenism I have known: relationships.

In the weeks to come, as I head off to Korea, I will share more about this trip, including semi-logistical updates (possibly) for those who care, explanatory posts about the WCC, GETI, and what is ecumenism, reflections from things I experience while in Korea, and musings that occur as I unpack the experience of the WCC in Korea. Thanks for journeying with me, friends!

Preparing for the journey,
Melissa

*I should note, I use this term lightly for two reasons: 1. I don’t mean to offend the field of academia. I’m a fan of academia in general 😉 But there is a lot of acknowledgement within the field about the pressures involved: publishing, tenure, the process of getting a PhD, etc. That’s all I’m referring to. and 2. While this experience is an academic one, among other things, I don’t want to imply that this GETI class is like a competitive battlefield. I don’t know or think that my group of fellow GETI students is particularly competitive. Our first assignment was to give a thorough background of our faith and academic lives, as well as share our interest and experience with ecumenism. Thus, the basis of my fear. I don’t mean to imply anything about the beautiful people from around the world that I have yet to meet. 
 
Now, please forgive me for belaboring a point that I didn’t want to emphasize! Let’s pretend this never happened.

Grace and Courage

At the end of my year as an Amate House volunteer, I wrote myself a letter to be opened in one year. (Thank you, Amate, for sending our letters to us!).  I may or may not have written to my 23 3/4 self from my 22 3/4 self. I’m that cool.

This last June, I appreciated getting that letter so much that I decided to do it again.   I wrote myself another letter on my 24th birthday to my 25-year-old self. Thankfully, I have a terrible memory so I already have no idea what I wrote in it other than two paragraphs that I decided to copy into my journal because they’re about things I decided to be intentional about this year:

Grace and Courage.

I know these are life-long pursuits. But I think it’s good to be intentional about things and about becoming the person I want to be.  Here’s what I wrote:

Grace. Seeing people as God sees them. Asking, “who am I to judge?” Remembering, “If God has been merciful with me (constantly!), then so should I be with others. Giving people the benefit of the doubt. Choosing understanding over self-righteousness. Being gentle with myself and others.

Courage. Daring greatly. Living in the arena. “Doing” when called to “do.” “Being” when called to “be.” Choosing to make time for prayer, because, let’s be honest, it feels like such a risk at the time. Living wholeheartedly. Not living small in false humility (or large, in unhealthy pride), but living me, as God calls me to be me. Focusing on God’s strength in me.

Ironically, I didn’t want to share these intentional practices with people. I didn’t have the courage to do so 😉 But that is because it offers others the opportunity to call me out if I am not living grace-filled (note, that is not graceful. I’m a klutz. You don’t have to call me out on that… I’m well aware) or if I’m living small and scared. It offers the opportunity to be critiqued for picking virtues to “focus” on. But I’m going to be courageous and be open to criticism, open to conversation, open to being formed by those around me. Open to not keeping all my thoughts in my head.

Speaking of being open to being formed by those around me, I decided it was time to share these thoughts because someone called me out the other day around the topic of courage. A mentor of mine heard my timidity at accepting a compliment concerning courage and she made me say out loud, “I have courage.” THREE TIMES. Hmmph. So here we are.

All year long, I’m going to be adding to my thoughts on grace and courage… and of course, trying to find opportunities to practice them! I don’t think I have to worry about a lack of opportunity. It’s like praying for patience. God doesn’t give you “patience” per se,  but gives you an opportunity to wait. In my 1+ month of being 24, I’ve had several (daily!) instances to choose grace and practice courage.

And why grace and courage specifically, you ask? Well, first, I should say that practicing these are obviously integrally tied up in other ways of being intentional about my life and becoming the person God calls me to be. But these stuck out to me right now, to my mid-20s self, for a few reasons.  Simply, I’ve read a lot of Brené Brown over the last year, and I’ve been convicted to live life wholeheartedly, to dare greatly, and that takes practice. And answering my vocational call(ings) demands courage. (As does yours of course! And grace? I think I noticed a piece inside of me that didn’t like some of my interior dialogue that I was hearing. And it was affecting my actions. Asking myself to be more grace-filled calls me immediately to rely more on Grace, humbling me to be patient with myself and others.

And you want to hear something cool?!?!

Over a year ago, my running buddy and I met this cool group of runner-women who started an organization/movement of runner-women called Fellow Flowers. They sell different colored flowers that signify different concepts. I chose white: Dreamer. The description?

To show grace and courage. To embrace the challenge and welcome new beginnings. Putting yourself out there. Doing it scared. I WILL RUN THROUGH THE FEAR TO FEEL THE JOY.

Dreamer. To show GRACE and COURAGE.

Didn’t realize that “coincidence.” Pretty cool.

You’re pretty cool too, friends!! Thanks for being part of the conversation. What else would you add to my collection/collecting of thoughts on grace and courage?

With grace and courage,
Melissa

P.S. Do you want to know who else is pretty cool and courageous?! My running buddy. She’s running the Chicago Marathon AGAIN this year. Check out her blog supporting her work and running cause, Taller de José.

The Reason for the Season

The season of busy, that is! the season that had/has me too busy to even catch my breath, let alone keep up with my new blogging attempt at finding my voice.

One of the main reasons for this season of busy (in which I’m trying to not be busier than necessary, don’t worry) is that my second year of grad school includes my practicum. An awesome, challenging, invigorating, draining, internship.  My practicum is my “fourth class.” It includes 8 hours of supervised ministry split over two days, almost 6 hours of public transportation each week, 1.5 hours of Theological Reflection (TR) class with my group, one verbatim assignment each week for my supervisor, one reflection assignment for my TR class, and (usually) one additional assignment for my TR class unrelated to the weekly reflection.  Phew.

Good thing I love my site.

I’m a “chaplain intern” at a hospital on the northside of Chicago. It is a hospital that mainly serves the elderly, those with mental illness, and those with developmental disabilities. It is also one of only two hospitals in Illinois that treats developmentally-disabled persons who also suffer from mental illness.  Basically, our patient base is relatively low-income and under-resourced in many ways. As a chaplain (intern), I interact directly with patients and a lot less with families, because there are a lot fewer families around the site.

About a month in now, I finally feel I have my feet wet, but almost every day has brought a new learning opportunity. Here’s a sampling of things I’ve learned and experienced in my first 9 days at the hospital:

  • I’ve had to be comfortable with having conversations with patients while other people (nurses, staff, other patients) are listening. In general, I am so self-conscious about people overhearing my conversations. But now, I have to accept. And still be confident in who I am and my choice of words. The first day there, it was petrifying to have to speak and pray with patients when (if) other people were around. Now, I’ve found that I can do it. Not only can I do it, but I can thrive and hopefully minister well even when someone happens to overhear.
  • I will stumble over the ‘Our Father’ as soon as I try to pray it out loud by myself. Even though I’ve been praying it since I was three. Fact of life.
  • I have entered another world—of mental illness, of involuntary vulnerability, of old age. I can feel my world expanding rapidly. I have limited prior experience with several of the particular populations that our hospital serves.
  • I’ve been feeling out how to help patients draw on their own sources of hope and comfort and not impose my sources on them.
  • I’ve been challenged to stay in the discomfort and frustration of not being able to communicate with a patient who wanted to communicate, but physically could not.
  • I have wrestled with the question of “who am I?” to be ministering with patients who are often vastly different from myself-age, race, life experiences, you name it.
  • I’ve learned that seeing a person in restraints due to medical need causes a visceral reaction in me. He couldn’t express his frustration verbally. It was my most distressing meeting yet.
  • I’ve “learned” firsthand the value of my self-care goal (I have four official “goals” for my practicum). Running on empty is not an option in ministry. Well, I suppose it is if you don’t want to be a minister for long.
  • The list could go on, as I’m sure it will throughout the year.

I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned so far. I’m grateful for my patients’ willingness to let me enter their stories for a brief snapshot. I’m grateful to be an intern at this particular hospital, learning how to be a more compassionate minister with a wonderfully helpful and wise supervisor-mentor.  I’m also grateful to have time to catch up on sleep this weekend.

Thus, good night, friends.