Thursday, January 27, 2011

BVS: service based in faith and love

Following the leads of Carol and Don, I will also post my meditation from our service sunday from Highland Avenue. Enjoy!

Starting with the scripture:

John 1:35-49 (NIV)

John’s Disciples Follow Jesus
 35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
 37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
   They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
   39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
   So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.
 40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.
   Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter[b]).
Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael
 43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
 44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
 46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
   “Come and see,” said Philip.
 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
 48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
   Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
 49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A house bonding experience

As Don already mentioned we led worship on Sunday. It was really great to work together as a house to plan our worship service. And much to our surprise, we gave three very different meditations, but all were grounded in service. Each meditation showed the individuals personality, processing style. The other reoccurring theme that stuck out to me was not only were all of the meditations about service, they were also all about love.

  “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Matthew 25:40

This is a perfect transition to the Children's story that I led. After working at the local church camp for many years, as well as being the advisor on a number of trips I have really gotten to know the youth of the district, some of which attend the church. So I had an idea to reinvent the good Samaritan, into something that the children could understand, a new kid at school. This skit showed the new kid being made fun of, and then there was one kid, who decided to stand up and be nice, and the others soon did the same. It was funny after the worship service, Clara and I were talking and she said, that her dad had always told her to be nice to the new kid at school, even if she did not want to. I thought that this was an interesting connection.
1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
9“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
John 13:1-17 

After this scripture was read, I shared my reflection, which brought several in the church to tears, as well as me. It was one of those funny, things I did not think that I would get emotional, but when I read those words again, I could not help myself.                       READ WITH CAUTION :)
We commonly here this scripture at the very brethren gathering commonly known as Love Feast. We are all to familiar with this act of service. Jesus takes on the role of a servant and rises from the table to wash his disciples feet. In biblical days, your feet were the dirtiest part of the body, from walking everyone that you go on dirt roads.

In the brethren tradition, only baptized members are invited to the Lord’s table. Each year, as you partake in communion and wash your brothers and sisters feet, in appreciation of Jesus ultimate act of servant hood. Every time that I kneel to wash my brother or sisters feet I am reminded of my own baptism, as well as the other times that I have kneeled to serve someone else.

On father’s day in 2002, I entered the waters of baptism at the Polo Church of the Brethren. Already in the baptistery was a man that I knew quite well. A man that was getting weaker with each passing day, even though I did not want to admit to it, that man was my father. It was the best father’s day present that we both ever got. I was the last person that my dad ever baptized on that day, and more importantly ever. I will never forget the tears gathered in his eyes as he said the prayer of blessing, before I left the waters of baptism. I know that I will never forget this moment.

While I was a student at Manchester, we would regularly have Love Feast services. Many of the non Church of the Brethren students had never participated in this service before, so we would often include a teaching element, in which some of us would share what the various elements mean to us. A friend of mine, once said while explaining foot washing, “it is a powerful feeling to fully serve someone else, by washing away the dirt of the world away, so that they can start all over again, in our hurting world.” I think that this is the kind of example that Jesus was giving to a world that was hurting 2,000 years ago and is still hurting today. What kind of example are we sharing with our world.

During the summer of 2008, I was able to join my brothers and sisters that gathered in Schwarzenau, Germany on that August morning on the banks of the Eder River. To me that was truly what faith is all about. Rising early in the morning, while it was still dark out to go about two miles to a river that runs through the town. It was at this spot that they went against the state church and were baptized for the first time by choice. They wanted to enter the waters of baptism. After fleeing their homeland because of their faith they moved around a lot until they finally were safe in the United States, one of the first thing that they did, as a way to celebrate their religious freedom was to kneel down and wash one another’s feet. We no longer have to worry about being chastised for our faith, but we need to remember the innocence and strength of the early Anabaptist's every time that we join the Lord’s table.

Fast forward, several years to 2010, I am leading a workcamp in Richmond, Virginia. As I was planning the closing worship service I wanted to include something that would be meaningful for everyone, I had no idea that it would have the most effect on me. It was our fun day, so we were hanging out on the James River and the other leader and I decided that it would be the perfect backdrop for this worship service. At the close of the service we talked about water, and the power in the bible that is held in this important liquid. It was then that we talked about foot washing, much like I am doing now, and I invited my junior highs to enter the river and wash one another’s feet. They all rushed to the water, I have never seen it happen so quickly. Then as the last feet were being washed the sky opened up and it began to pour down ran. It was such a beautiful event.

At the closing of my BVS orientation this October, there was a foot washing service. This was a new experience for some of the people in our orientation and for others it was an old friend.

I have often found a special inner power in songs. Rather than simply saying the words I really try to think about the words that I am saying. Earlier we sang a song that I believe has a true power in its words, listen as I remind you of the words. “Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you, pray that I may have the strength to let you be my servant too. I will hold the Christ light for you, in the night time of your fear…” Isn’t this what its all about, holding up our brothers and sisters and being servants to everyone that we meet? It may be as simple as listening to a friend that just needs to talk, or working side by side with everyone that we meet on the road of life.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

For Matting. Who's Matting?

Service Sunday 2011. Poster by the
great Debbie Noffsinger
Service Sunday is a joint collaboration by BVS, BDM, and the Youth and Young Adult office of the church.
It's a chance to focus the entire congregation on the full body of service - there are many ways to give of yourself besides tithing and BVS. Because of my schedule, Highland Avenue had Service Sunday this past week. Us three volunteers were asked to lead worship, and give short meditations on service. Of course, I can't speak without having something written down, so what did I do? I blogged about it first! Then I forgot to actually post it until two days later :-(

For my portion, I also led the opening "call to worship." I started off pretty poorly:

God I don't like praying out loud. Most people wind up talking to the rest of the people in the room instead of actually praying. It's kind of annoying. Then they start using the 3rd person for you because they're not really talking to you anymore. But now I sound like a Pharisee. Great. I just want it to be meaningful, which means personal to me, but that's hard to do in a large group. How do I incorporate these 100 other people without letting them talk? Call and response is annoying because no one really means what they say; they're just reading it. So here's my feeble attempt at praying to you in front of a bunch of other people:

Isaiah 6 says:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Then I decided complaining about praying isn't a good way to pray in church. So I tried again.

God, we come to you today in worship. You are great, and we are each small. The whole earth is full of your glory: what can we say or do that will make us worthy of your love? We are of unclean lips, and yet we have experienced the divine. You have made us clean, Lord, and we give you praise. Now, give us the strength to spread the good news. God, help us be known not by the color of our robes or the books on our shelves, but the actions we take. Help us not to stop at saying "Here am I." Send us out, with fire and excitement!


The word "service" reminds me of an auto-mechanic. Probably because that's what my grandfather was. He taught his two sons the profession as they were raised, though only my uncle took it on as a career.

It's a very spartan, impersonal definition. People bring something that is broken, the mechanic fixes it, the owner pays and then leaves. It's about making things right, but something is missing; there's no heart - no chatting with the mechanic as he dissects the engine, no stories explaining the little dings in the fender or that one time the belt slipped on I-95.

In BVS we talk about cold climate vs. warm climate cultures. In a warm culture, people are friendly, get to know you, and always see how you're doing before getting down to business. Cold cultures are business-minded. No one wants to hear about your problems; just take my money and let me get on with the day. I am very much aware that I fall in the latter.

Even in college, when I signed up for Brethren Volunteer Service, my mindset was one of cold computed justice. I decided before graduating that I was being led to volunteer for a year in New Orleans. A hurricane had trashed things pretty thoroughly, and I would help fix it. Not because my heart bled for the recently homeless, but because something wasn't right but I could help fix it. Here I was, making a huge life decision - basically resigning to be selfless for a year or two - and it was more out of anger than compassion. At first, I tried to work as hard as I could, sometimes through lunch, and didn't get bogged down in survival stories or feelings or other human things.

I realized pretty quickly, though, that rebuilding people's homes is kind of hard to do without involving the people. They like to pick things like curtains and paint colors. Skipping lunch didn't help either. Slowly, over the next few months, the people wore on me. Or is it grew on me? Maybe both. I started to put tools down when the owner showed up. We'd talk; They'd tell their story and I'd just listen.

Work progressed more slowly, but, after being thanked by homeowners week in and week out, it started to dawn on me that something much greater than drywalling was going on here. People's lives were being transformed, healing was taking place and the only thing they could do was give back: cooking lunch for us, taking us to lunch, maybe cooking us another lunch that week. It was surreal. It was like they cared or something!

I don't think I'll ever understand what kind of an impact us volunteers had on the people we served; I think it's the kind of thing people write about and think they grasp before it happens, and they can't believe how amazing it really is. But I do know that the people I served and the experiences I had with them had an impact on me. A lot of people say "it's better to give than to receive" and "when you volunteer, you get more than you gave." Well, it's true I say!

The definition of service I hold has changed after a few years in Brethren Volunteer Service. Though I'm still cold-climate and task-oriented, I acknowledge that the reason for what I do must be love
1 Cor. 13:2-3 ... if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

So, every once in a while, I have to tell myself to stop and remember why I'm here, doing what I'm doing. Warm up a little bit, culturally. Service should be an attitude, a way of life, a lifestyle. Dying to yourself should be a decision that has an eternal impact.

So there you have it, friends. I am by no means a great orator or thought-provoking theologian. But I do know hot climate / cold climate like it's my job! Peace out,


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Welcome to 2011 y'all

As the new year begins I am struggling royally with a topic for this blog. I have been toying with ideas all week. I even constructed a few well worded sentences that I could work in. But, alas no complete ideas worth posting have formed. So, I guess I will write about what I know for now.

What I know is home :) I was fortunate enough to visit home over the holidays. Home for me is on the southern end of the Shennandoah Valley of Virginia. I grew up on a 1200 acre beef cattle and sheep farm. I adored my childhood and every experience living on a farm offered me. I loved it so much, that I fully intend on living on a farm for the rest of my life. (After my BVS tour, and 4 years in vet school that is)

My farm is comprised of its own valley. The valley is surrounded by wooded mountains on one side. The other side borders the James River, and beyond that Jefferson National Forest. A gravel road winds down a picturesque hill and through the main part of the farm. Our flat land is planted with different varieties of horse hay. Tall timothy with cat tail heads, leafy alfalfa with purple buds, and soft light colored orchardgrass blow in cool summer breezes. Black Angus cows and their calves graze side by side along the hilly pasture. White specks dot the hilltop as the sheep follow their well worn paths to shade.

As beautiful, peaceful, calming, (and most other good adjectives that you can think of) as my farm is, it's not my favorite part about home.

My house is approximately 120 years old. It is a two story farm house, painted light blue in an attempt to hide the coating of dust that covers it due to the dirt road that runs between the front yard and the pasture. My living room is one of the best places on earth. On top of an old, unlevel hardwood floor sits two pieces of leather furniture that swallow my fairly petite family. At this time of year about 1/6th of the room is occupied by a huge cedar tree. Our tree lacks the classic christmas tree shape. This is due to the fact that my family is somewhat incapable of estimating the height of the cedars covering the hills, and therefore we typically select a tree that is far too tall for our 7 and a half foot ceilings. This year was no different, and the tree measured 10 feet before my mom began shortening and reshaping. Even with the reshaping it remains more of a large cedar column. But, as our trees normally do, it has character :) The sweet cedar scent wafts into the hall, mixing gently with the smell of the woodstove. While the rest of the house, with good insulation long gone, stands cold, the woodstove has the capability to leave the living room sweltering, and with the dampers most of the way closed, is quite perfect. I love to lay on the couch with the lights off, and stare at the pattern the tree and colored strands of christmas lights make on the ceiling.

I know you probably want to visit now :) But, even my living room at Christmas time is not my favorite part about home.

My family has three dogs. Maggie is a black lab/ mutt that my mom brought home from the SPCA about 15 years ago. She came to us in a card board box at 5 lbs. Today she is almost completely deaf and has arthritis in her back legs, causing them to shake frequently. Mildred is my brother's 5 year old basset hound sweetheart. She has every member of my family absolutely wrapped around her oversized paw. She pads through our house, ears flopping along. Although she was not graced with many brains, she has quite the personality and is fairly vocal when she wants something. Her persistence to get into the house, and the fact that she typically ignores the word "no" means that she spends most evenings curled up by the fire, snoring gently. Lastly comes Huck, our 60 pound lap dog. Huck is a border collie and spends the better part of his days accompanying my dad with his work at the barn. Huck's favorite past time is working sheep. Given a choice, he would work sheep all day and all night. He is the most athletic dog I have ever seen. He effortlessly slides between the wooden boards of the fence and darts around the lamb who attempts a daring escape, bringing each one back to the flock.

As charming and loving as my puppies are, even they are not my favorite part about home.

Although you may have already guessed my favorite part, and although it may be cliche... my favorite thing about home is my family.

A spectacular immediate family has formed me. My parents are pretty perfect if I do say so myself. I have yet to hear them argue or raise their voices. Their relationship is deep and complex, built on respect, trust, and love. Characteristics that I now look for in a relationship, not just in a romantic way, but in every relationship I form. My parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary this year and are planning on 75 more... (that would make them about 125, but we'll see!) My brother Isaac is 20. He is a junior at Virginia Tech. Although we have had, and still have, our fair share of fights, we are best friends. My family makes me laugh every day... not just a quick laugh, but a good hearty chuckle. Anyone who knows my family can attest to the fact that we are a strange bunch, but I guess that is what makes us us.

About 75 members of my extended family on my Dad's side of the family gather for every Christmas evening. Although the house is overflowing with people and food, there is a calmness found within all the voices of cousins catching up, and children streaming by. A peace that says, this is my family, and this is love. On Christmas night we also share a meal and a few presents with my Mom's side of the family. That night is another filled with laughter, hugs, and true happiness. I wouldn't trade my family for the world.

I hope that everyone reading this can find the peace and love in their own family. Although each family has flaws, the ones who love us are so important. Sorry this blog may have been a bit mushy, but I am very thankful for the family in the new year :)

Peace y'all,