Sunday, February 27, 2011

At the Table

I helped serve communion at church this morning. Polity nuts would scoff at this since I'm not ordained, but at New Covenant it isn't uncommon for Pastor Lee to invite random people to serve. I believe I was called up to serve the 1st or 2nd time I attended worship there, and I recall feeling very uncomfortable. I couldn't remember what to say and I had a hard time looking people in the eyes.

This morning was different. This time I was serving my family. People I've gotten to know through delivering food to people experiencing homelessness and enjoying a cup of coffee and rehearsing for the Easter play.

I was serving the bread, telling each person "This is the body of Christ, broken for you." Those 5 minutes of serving seemed like 5 seconds and 5 years all at once. I'm not sure how it is possible for time to both slow down and speed up at the same time, but it did this morning. I got lost in the act. I know there was music playing during communion, because several people remarked at how beautiful the song was. I didn't hear it at all. I was so consumed in this act of sharing in the meal at the table. This time I didn't just look each person in the eyes, I intensely gazed into them. Nothing else existed in that moment except for that meal. That beautiful, difficult meal.

After we finished with the Supper, I sat back down and came back to reality. I looked down the row and saw a few teenagers wearing bracelets that say "I love boobies." I have no idea what that fad is all about. But I love the fact that at the Table, all are welcome and have an equal share in the meal. Whether they are wearing silly bracelets or have a criminal record or have a 4.0 GPA.

That is what I love about my faith tradition.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Knitted Wonderland

For the past month I’ve been knitting a “tree cozy.” If that concept sounds weird to you, know that you’re not alone. I get a lot of reactions like: “You mean you’re knitting a Snuggie for a tree?” or “Aren’t there better uses for your time and energy?” The answer to both of those questions is “yes,” but let me explain what this is all about.

On March 5, The Blanton Museum plaza on the UT campus will be turned into a knitted wonderland! All 99 trees outside the museum will be yarn-bombed by internationally recognized textile artist Magda Sayeg, in celebration of Explore UT, the University's annual open house. Clearly making coverings for 99 trees is a big task, so Sayeg put a call out to the community of knitters in Austin to help her.

In early January we were invited to an orientation to learn about the project and claim a tree. As soon as I walked into the room, I was tempted to walk right back out. In the auditorium, there were 80 or so people, all knitting. My immediate reaction was “What in the world am I doing here?” I enjoy knitting, but I don’t consider myself a “knitter.” These people were knitters, clearly more knowledgeable, experienced and passionate about knitting than I am. But I sat down anyway and am glad I did. By the end of the meeting I was sold on the idea and excited to take part in this project. I was assigned tree #43, an 84” tall, 30” in circumference beast of a tree.

Some people opted to team up for the project, others like myself are going it alone. I’ve attended a few knitting parties, where we get together to work on our cozies and encourage each other. My favorite aspect of this project has been taking part in this thing that is bigger than myself. I love contributing to this project that is going to create something beautiful and whimsical. I can’t wait to see the results in a few weeks. On March 4th, we’ll all get together to install the art project and transform the plaza into a wonderland of pink and orange and green and turquoise. If you’re in the Austin area, I encourage you to check out the installation which will be there from March 5th - 18th. Go hug a tree (cozy)!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Trini Church

The Presbyterian Church of Trinidad seems to be struggling with some of the same issues that PC(USA) is. One of those struggles is declining church membership, which was quite apparent as Kris and I visited the churches in the eastern portion of the island. Another issue the Trini church faces is a lack of pastors. There are twenty-three regions with 3-6 churches in each, and only one pastor assigned to a region. I've heard of the challenges that come with serving multiple congregations or yoked churches, but to be forced into that position sounds frustrating. I gained a whole new appreciation for the Trini church as well as pastors in the States who have the energy for that task.

Our Sunday morning started early. Now, I often complain about church being on Sunday morning, but my 10:15 am service doesn't seem so early after experiencing Trini church. Our first service started at 7am. I'm assuming it starts that early because Rev. Kimberly has to preach at three churches each week, but it seems to me they could push it back a wee bit! Turns out this was the largest congregation we would visit that day, with a whopping 100 members, though only about 30 were in attendance. They had their annual congregational meeting to elect elders and officers.

Same church politics we see in the States. Same cantankerous old guy who wants to rule the church and have it all his way. Pretty entertaining. I really enjoyed visiting this church, especially since they offered some much needed coffee after the service. We didn't have time to chat though, since Kimberly had to book it for the next church.

The next church was significantly smaller and didn't even have a church building to meet in. Instead they congregate in a Presbyterian elementary school. Only 3 members and 2 visitors were there that morning, but it was an energetic crowd. We wedged ourselves into the desks built for second graders, to sing hymns and hear the Good News.

Finally, we ventured all the way to the coast for the third worship service, again meeting in a school because they lacked a building. This church also had 3 members and 2 visitors in attendance, including Romeo, a six year old who never misses a Sunday.

They too held their congregational meeting, which meant all present were "voluntold" to take a position. All willingly obliged, probably because they all cared about their tiny congregation enough to see it continue.

That Sunday morning turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the trip. Sure, I was running on less than an hour of sleep, but worshiping alongside these Presbyterians who remain faithful to their tradition was invigorating.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Big Fat Trini Birthday Party

You may have noticed a typo in the title of my last post. I'm leaving it that way. Reminds me that I'm not perfect, but am a finite being with poor spelling. Deal with it.

I think I'll work my way backwards through the trip, mostly because I want to write about this story now.

On the second to last night in Trinidad, we had the opportunity to split up into pairs and shadow a Presbyterian pastor for the weekend. I was very excited about this opportunity, although I wish it could have happened the first weekend when I wasn't so physically and emotionally exhausted. Despite the fatigue, I made the best of it.

I was paired up with Kris, a Junior at APTS, and assigned to Rev. Kimberly who serves in the Eastern portion of the island. We had no idea what to expect from this experience, since we'd never met her before. I was taken aback when she pulled into the church parking lot and walked up to greet us. She was so young! I soon learned that at 25 years old, Kimberly is the youngest pastor in the Trinidad Presbyterian Church. We hopped in the car and before starting the engine, she turned to us to explain how the weekend would go. She said something along the lines of "I know you're supposed to do churchy stuff today, but I have no duties to tend to, so we're going shopping." That was fine by me! We wound up at a mall and then a Sam's Club-type store to get party supplies for her brother's birthday which would be celebrated that evening.

We then drove about 45 minutes to the other side of the island where her family lives. Thus began my education on the Trini-family. I thought it was neat that she still lives with her parents and I asked her if that was because she doesn't earn enough on pastor's wages to live on her own. She laughed and told me that it is normal to stay with ones parents until marriage. If children move out on their own, the neighbors will raise their eyebrows and wonder what's wrong with your family. Radically different than our attitude in the States!

We arrived at her lovely home and met the rest of her family. In the downstairs portion of the house, her parents, her older brother and Kimberly share the space. The upstairs portion houses her aunt and uncle and their 2 year old daughter. It was a relatively small house, and I was shocked to learn that a few months ago her other aunt and her family of 4 lived in the house as well! They seem to have a radically different concept of personal space than White American culture.

After an afternoon of watching DirecTV - all American shows, of course, the birthday party commenced at an aunt and uncle's house. It was supposed to start at 8pm, but we all showed up at 9, in true Trini fashion. There was a plethora of food and a bar more impressive than a lot weddings I've attended. Oh, and a pig on a spit. They had never tried it before and decided to give it a go. Now, in my experience with "pigs on a spit" here in the States, usually the butcher handles the gross parts and you pick up the pig all ready to roast. Not so in Trinidad. I missed the first few steps of the process, but I saw pictures of the men picking up the pig, killing the pig, and then gutting the pig for roasting. It was pretty badass.

The party was a lot of fun, though a bit another post I'll explain the concept of "Kryptonite." We ate and drank and talked and by midnight I remembered that I had to be up at 6am in order to make it to church by 7am. So I ventured upstairs to the bedroom of Kimberly's cousin who graciously gave it up for the night so Kris and I had a bed to sleep in. I was very excited for bed, especially since a good night's sleep was hard to come by on the trip. I got all ready, hopped in bed and was alarmed by how loud the music was. They had speakers on in the backyard, but it sounded like they were in the bedroom with me. There's no way I was going to interrupt the party and demand that the volume be turned down. So I decided to wait it out. Surly they couldn't stay up too late, the neighbors would complain!

Kris wandered into bed around 12:30 and she and I laughed at how loud it was. She seemed to be able to doze off, but I was struggling. By 1am I still couldn't sleep and so I rolled over to stare at a poster of Ronaldo, a Brazilian football player. By 2am I started to go over Bible Content Exam questions in my head. At 3am I was ready to start having a delirious conversation with Ronaldo. At 4am I started to pray that the party would end soon, especially since Savage Garden was blasting through the speakers. Finally, at 5:14am, the music turned off and everyone went home. I slipped into a blissful sleep, only to be woken 46 minutes later by my alarm, telling me it was time to wake up.

Not the ideal way to prepare for three worship services, but now that I look back on it, that was one of my favorite experiences of the trip.