29 November 2007

Rite of Passage

It would be wrong to say that we, in America, have no rites of passage, but I find it challenging to see our lives demarcated by dramatic, cultural, coming-of-age events like they once did, or like they do in other cultures. Sure, we have things like First Communion, marriage and the birth of one's first-born, but these are common to many cultures. They don't seem to be as culturally specific as Dokimasia, which was the process in Athens by which a citizen's eligibility to engage in public rights and duties was ascertained, or the ceremony of Poy Sang Long in Myanmar and Northern Thailand in which boys between 7 and 14 take novice monastic vows and participate in monastery life for a designated period of time.

But I think I've stumbled upon a specifically American rite of passage since I've been married, one I was not expecting: the ability to cook Thanksgiving turkey. Indeed, the first question posed to me after I explained that Thanksgiving would be at my home was "Are you making a turkey?". And then, inevitably, "Is this your first turkey?", as if to count it among the many important firsts in our lives: first words, first day of school, first home. Don't get me wrong--I'm not knocking it! I felt that to successfully prepare Thanksgiving turkey was to be successfully initiated into... something. I'm still not sure what that something is, other than now I know how to cook a turkey (hey, at least it's useful). And I think that's good enough for me.

We had a wonderful weekend with my parents and brother--a weekend of feasting, relaxing, napping, and being showered by my parents' tremendous generosity. I am so fortunate to have parents, both mine and Andrew's, who give us room to grow, to explore, to succeed, to make mistakes, to make our lives our own. With each rite of passage that comes our way, no matter how big or small, they gently encourage us, sometimes by holding on and sometimes by letting go. And on this Thanksgiving, I am truly thankful for them.

(Happy Birthday, Dad!)

19 November 2007

The Artists Among Us

I have a few friends that are blazing some trails and leaving their mark. So I thought I'd share. Indeed, it is amazing what each of us brings to the table--our gifts, talents, skills, perspectives. I am becoming increasingly aware and appreciative of the fact that it takes all of us--a body comprised of many members--to change and celebrate the world. So, without further ado...

I know Brant Menswar from my home church in New Hampshire. He has been working for the past several (and perhaps more) years to follow his call to music. His band is called Fort Pastor and they have just released a new CD called "Beautiful Imperfection". Check out their website to read the band's bio and to read up on their own non-profit organization, The Social Justice Army.

Secondly, a friend of ours is a painter and here is her online gallery: Paintings by Jessica Shurr.

(If anyone is looking for some free advertising, let me know!)

14 November 2007

I Pledge Allegiance

On Sunday, Andrew and I became members at our church. This is noteworthy only because it’s the first time we have committed to a church since we've lived in Chicago, and if you include our years at North Park, those years start to add up. Membership wasn't necessarily a difficult choice for us once we decided it was time. Granted, we have spent the last 6 months seriously considering this place in which we will serve, all the while trying to achieve a balanced understanding of when a church is about our “criteria” and when it’s about so much more. We knew we were ready to commit to a community, pledge to serve and really live life with a body of people. This, in essence, is what membership is all about. But it has been interesting to observe that “membership”, in all its traditional and historical clothing, no longer attracts the loyalties it once did. Perhaps I am wrong, but I know that at least in the Covenant denomination, it’s been hard to recruit members in these recent years, especially those my age. I believe it to be considered somewhat of an inconvenience in our postmodern world. Membership has always implied commitment, permanence, loyalty. And there are many things out there these days that try and warn us against these “unnecessary hindrances”. Why commit when you can be free to do as you please? Permanence? Heck, you can get tattoos removed these days. Loyalty? Well, what if we just don't agree anymore? This is the atmosphere in which the church is trying to foster some sense of "I'm here. I said I would be. You can count on me." I am in no way immune from such hesitations, hence my many years of abstaining from membership.

However, none of these postmodern mantras make membership obsolete. The fact is the church needs members (from a legal, financial, visional and missional perspective) and I believe congregants want and need the empowerment that comes from commitment.
Our church explained that they viewed membership as "a commitment for a season", an explanation laced with grace and understanding that life happens, things change, and that God may call us elsewhere. And that that's ok. It is my hope that churches will continue to create atmospheres that encourage commitment by recognizing what we're all up against. We're in an age of ruthless competition for our time, energy and resources, and instead of feeling pressured to shrug off anything that might "limit" us, we need to be empowered and encouraged to pledge some allegiances. Life will happen. Things will change. Our commitments will evolve. And I believe that the church, of all places, should have the grace and understanding to inspire, support and strengthen us along the way.