Monthly Archives: November 2013

10 Things I Learned from 2013

I admit that I sometimes go back and read my blog posts.

I don’t think it’s because I’m a narcissist(?), but more because I’m woefully forgetful!

Rolling hills over Merrill Creek Reservoir, NJ.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Rolling hills over Merrill Creek Reservoir, NJ. Photo by Evan Schneider.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that I often have to revisit the same lessons many times to make sense of who God is and where God is calling me, and thank God, God stays faithfully the same.  So with November waning, December looming, and 2014 on the horizon, I wanted to take a moment to revisit some of those lessons.  

Perhaps you’re like me, and it takes a few times for something to stick.  Perhaps you’re like me, and reminders of God’s grace and provision, can never be too frequent or too poignant.  So I invite you to revisit some of these posts from 2013, and share your lessons in the comments.  What have you learned?  Where are you growing?  And where are you headed?

1.  “Called to this life.”  Jan. 25, 2013.

I’m reminded that it is in God that the multifaceted call I’ve received finds its unity.  This gives me confidence and reassurance when others question, or I begin to question the integration or the practicalness of my own call.  It is we who often put limits on God, not the other way around!

2.  “Cracks are all there is.”  Feb. 1, 2013.

I’m reminded that there are really only two ways to live in this world–the one in which we try to prevent others from seeing our imperfections, and the other in which we lay them bare and resolve to love others and ourselves just as God made us.  How liberating it is to live into the second truth and to let God shine through the cracks.

Evan and I buying lamps in old Cairo.
Evan and I buying lamps in old Cairo. Photo by Ben Robinson.

3.  “I’m not busy.”  Mar. 15, 2013.

I think this may have been one of the greatest revelations of my year, and I’m so glad it came relatively early!  I find myself repeating these words to others and myself when I am tempted to let the competitive, swimming upstream tendencies in my career or my life to get the best of me.  And I find deep wisdom and comfort in never being too busy to listen to those in front of me.

4.  “Holy everything”  April 6, 2013.

Thanks to yet another excellent sermon at my church, I began to reflect on what it means to be Easter people, to undergo profound internal change, and yet to still experience great brokenness, pain, and death in this world.  For me, holy everything amounts to witnessing and testifying to the holiness of the cross, and the holiness in you and me, in the triumphant and the everyday.

5.  “Outside the walls” May 9, 2013.

Yong River. Guangxi, Nanning.
Yong River. Guangxi, Nanning.

I wrote: “Perhaps this is where my anthropology meets my theology so nearly, neatly, and dearly–in the enmeshing of the sacred and the profane in the everyday lives of people in culture, relationship, and meaning-making.  Real salvation is transcendent in that it seeps out of our pores to touch everyone we meet and everything we do.  And so I think theological education has to change to respond to not only this reality, but this Truth.  It has to equip all these people who are going to be outside the walls of the Church institution, and who will be ambassadors of faith and hope and love in this world.”

6.  “On community” June 4, 2013.

I reflected on how deeply our new church community had ministered to me despite the lines I’d been trying to draw between experiences of God in China and back in the United States during our transition.  

7.  “Each other’s miracles” July 13, 2013.

I wrote: “What if instead of contemplating the origins of disease, asking how the bus driver got lung cancer, or quibbling with the details of disaster, wondering why people bother to live in Oklahoma which is so prone to tornados, we contemplated the length that Christ went for us on the cross, the underservedness of our own grace, and the abundance of grace in a world that’s often so graceless?  And then what if we committed to being not the one who speaks, but the one who prays, not the one who solves or fixes or even heals, but the one who recognizes, beholds, and reveres deep need?  What if we found a way to acknowledge great hurt, but live with great hope?  What if we were one another’s comfort, one another’s grace, each other’s miracles?”

8.  “The God of all of us” Aug. 3, 2013.

A mosque in Cairo, Egypt.  Photo by Ben Robinson.
A mosque in Cairo, Egypt. Photo by Ben Robinson.

I realized that I often give up on those closest to me, friends and family who have been burned by the church and believe that God is not for them.  If I believe that God truly is the God of all of us and doesn’t give up on any of us, how do I reflect that with my life?

9.  “Learning contentment” Sept. 10, 2013.

I reflected on what it truly means to be content in all circumstances, to find a deep acceptance of what God has given and an even deeper praise for all that God has gone, no matter the ups, downs, or delays in life.

The D & R Canal in Princeton at the height of summer.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
The D & R Canal in Princeton at the height of summer. Photo by Evan Schneider.

10.  “Redefining Success” Oct. 17, 2013.

Along those lines of learning contentment, I thought about how empowering, meaningful, and important it is to redefine success in a world in which its often bound up with pride, trampling others, and being number one.  I believe that even in academia, it’s possible to live with the sense that being a child of God and doing one’s best constitute the ultimate contentment and satisfaction.

 

 

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Feeling our way to God

This is a post I wrote for our church newsletter to give our community some direction and comfort while grieving.  I hope that in whatever circumstance you find yourself this morning it may offer a reflection and a respite from your troubles.

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All photos by Evan Schneider, taken at Merrill Creek Reservoir, NJ.

Have you ever noticed the psalms and the psalmist are a veritable jumble of human emotions?  When I first began personally reading through the Bible, I was vexed by the range of seemingly “unchristian” feelings in the psalms—despair, sorrow, rage, and vengeance—juxtaposed with the more expected and accepted—praise, wonder, and jubilation.  I didn’t understand how laments, cries of anger and defeat, even one’s heaping of curses upon one’s enemy, could be included in a Bible we hold to be the word of God, and wholly Holy.

But over the years, I’ve come to find great comfort in the fact that nearly 70% of the psalms begin with lament, that the Bible is full of unseemly, broken characters who are vindictive, fearful, and impulsive, and that the psalms are not made obsolete by the death of Jesus, but all the more powerful, prophetic, and complete.  For instance, I once heard a sermon about the fateful words that Jesus cries from the cross, lamenting, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27: 45-46).  If Jesus is God, how could he, of all people, lose faith? we might ask.  If God forsake Jesus, surely God may forsake us, we might fear.

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However, in that sermon, the pastor drew attention to the fact that when Jesus spoke these words, he was actually quoting Psalm 22, a psalm that like so many, begins in lament and despair and then winds its way to praise and adoration.  While the psalmist complains that God does not answer (verse 2), and he is but a worm, despised by others (v. 6), he also recalls that it was God who took him from his mother’s womb and kept him safe on his mother’s breast (v. 9).  The psalmist remarks that dogs surround him (16), and much as Jesus experienced, “for my clothing they cast lots” (18).  Yet, throughout the psalm, he cries out to God (2; 11; 19), and finally, feeling that God has heard him and rescued him (21), he turns to praise (23).  He asks that the Lord be glorified by all (27), and promises that he will live for God (29).

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By quoting a psalm so meandering and mixed emotionally, Jesus reminds us that to be human is to feel.  To be human is to feel despair, anger, and fear, but the end of Christian life is not death, but resurrection—a sign that God never forsakes us.  It’s comforting to realize that Jesus lamented, and also powerful to see that those cries to God echo a tradition that claims hope found in the midst of suffering, even death.  When you’re weary, I invite you to turn to the psalms and embrace your emotions as the psalmists did, wandering the paths of the heart to faith.  I invite you to ruminate on the fact that your wholly human self may be the best instrument to knowing our Holy God, that no emotions are “unchristian” or alien to our God, and that the God who invites us to lament and question, also promises resurrection and healing.

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Where I’m meant to be

Bikes in front of fall vines at the university.  All photos are mine.
Bikes in front of fall vines at the university. All photos are mine.

It’s already been such a busy season.

I’ve been such a delinquent blogger because of it all, and while most of the busy-ness is good (I’ve completed 2 fellowship applications out of 4, my class is going great, the dissertation is coming along, and I’m heading to a conference in a few weeks and off to spend Thanksgiving with dear friends and family…oh, and there’s the whole every-growing belly thing), sometimes I find it difficult to rise above the stress and anxiety of the season.

I’m blessed to be a pretty low-stress, low-fuss individual, and so I’m often the one others come to  to vent, emote, and share.  And I love listening and being as much comfort as possible to those around me.

Glimpsing fall through Princeton University's arches.
Glimpsing fall through Princeton University’s arches.

But I’m discovering lately that my empathy supply isn’t endless, nor is my energy, and what it means to be me is to remain rooted in God’s calling on my life, to worship, to take time in silence, and to pray.  I love my colleagues in the Anthropology Department, but sometimes I need to step away to remember why I’m working so hard on this dissertation and this dream.

For instance, the other night, I skipped the third dissertation defense in two weeks at the university to attend a gathering for church communities who want to try to be more inclusive toward people of all abilities.  We visited and got to know one another over a meal and then had a simple worship service in which we prayed with and for one another.  And this amazing thing happened–it wasn’t the people with the more apparent disabilities that needed care and prayer, but the supposedly able people at the table.  And the friends with disabilities stepped in, naturally and full of confidence, to offer care and support.

Lovely light across campus.
Lovely light across campus.

And as tears came to my eyes and chills wafted over me, I took a deep breath and knew so clearly, this is where I need to be.  This is where I’m meant to be, with all the other broken people, the imperfect people, with the children of God.  And that experience reminds me why I write this dissertation, because the story I’m telling about foster parents and disabled children in China is so much larger than me, anthropology, or the job I may or may not get.  It’s a story about God’s transforming love, and I feel simply humbled to have been a witness to it.

So no offense to academia in this season–I’ll keep writing and applying and teaching, but I’m not going to stress out about it.  I’m going to spend the time with the people who remind me who God is and who I am, and they may not be the most likely people, but they’re some of the best around.  Today I’m praising God for God’s church, all God’s children, and the perspective that finds me when I’ve lost myself somehow.

Brilliant fall colors in downtown Princeton.
Brilliant fall colors in downtown Princeton.

Thank you God, for showing me, time and again, where I’m meant to be.