Christians are strange

Sometimes, I just don’t understand Christians.

At His Church this past Sunday in Pinetown, we sang a song that included the words “lift my hands in praise”.  And at the moment of those lyrics, at least half of the two hundred-fifty-ish people lifted their hands.  By second time we came to that lyrical set, almost everyone had put their hands down.  But as soon as we sang that, half the people raised their hands again – and then the song leader verbally encouraged everyone to raise their hands.  At this, more people raised their hands until nearly everyone had their hands above their heads.

And it made me think, as I’ve thought a few times since coming here, about something silly I’ve noticed Christians do.

When it comes to song lyrics about lifting hands above our heads, or dancing, or clapping, or a few other things, people do it, and with gusto.

But when we sing about bowing, or laying down, or kneeling, or some other things, I have rarely if ever seen someone do it.

I just don’t understand it.  As an outsider to all churches we’ve been to in the last six months, it’s strange to me, and seems inconsistent and inauthentic.  If you do what you’re saying in one part of the song, why not in another?  And if a “churchy” person like me finds this weird, what are people who are new to church thinking?

Do they arrive on Sunday morning with some of the questions I mentioned in Unintended Learning, and sing a “lift hands in praise” song and see people lifting their hands and join in, come to a “bow down” or “kneel down” phrase and do it because it they think other people are doing it based on the “lift hands” lyrics, and then feel entirely out of place when they realize at some point that no one else is doing that motion?

Maybe I’m over thinking it, but I think the general idea is solid – what are “churchy” people doing that is ok in one instance but not ok in another, with no explanation as to the difference?  How do our own little cultural “churchy” things distract those who need to hear the Gospel from hearing it?  How do we help the person who wanders in off the street make our congregation feel at home despite the decades or hundred-plus years of history the congregation has without that individual?

At church the next time you go, do you notice any things that you wouldn’t know how to do unless you already knew how to do them (anything that might be utterly confusing to someone who has never been to church before)?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.




Re-unassigned to be pastors in the ELCA

This post has little to do with our travels abroad. And at the same time, this post has everything to do with being abroad.

As some of you know, and some of you may not know, this past week  on Ash Wednesday marked year 3 of my first go around in the “Draft” (the first step in the assignment process where you find out which region you will hopefully be fulfilling your first call as an ordained minister in the ELCA). Ash Wednesday three years ago was one of the happiest days of my life. I handed in my paperwork with some preferences of where I would desire to be placed, but I went into it with a completely open heart. I truly believed that the Holy Spirit had a place for me and it didn’t really matter where it was as long as it was a good match. On that day, with the possibility of being sent anywhere in the USA for my first call, I found out that I was assigned to my first choice. I was going to be a pastor in Region 1. A week or so later during one of my classes, I found out that it was going to be Northwest Washington Synod. I was over the moon. I was overflowing with excitement and joy. It felt like all the pieces had fallen into place and my gifts were going to meet up with a culture that understood me. Cloud 9.

Then the next three years happened. I’m not saying that every facet of my life was awful for that time period. I dated and married my husband, I made and maintained many other relationships through the jobs I took on to make the ends meet in the wilderness. I got the opportunity to be a part of a Graduate Preaching Fellowship, even though it was not my own. Don’t get me wrong, good things happened. But I also had to give up promotions in my jobs, give up potentials for other career opportunities, and put off expeditions I had been planning all because I was hoping and relying on the fact that I was going to get a call to be a pastor at any moment. These past few days have been a roller coaster in my call that I don’t remember getting onto.

The moment didn’t come.

I made the choice with Will to take a year away from the process and enter the assignment again this February with him as one half of a clergy couple. Once again the date of assignment fell on Ash Wednesday for those in the States. Because we are 8 hours ahead, we were not to receive the email of destiny until Thursday morning when we woke up.

So, Thursday morning came and we woke up. We opened up my email and found an email that was not from someone we had expected. The email was from the churchwide office telling us that we were not assigned….to any region….at all.

Imagine our surprise!

This is a turn of events that not even I, in my vast experience of being let down by the system, had seen coming. I didn’t know it was even an option to fill out your paperwork for assignment and be told that in fact you were rejected from that process. We’re not sure what happens now, but it looks like it is going to be a bit more time in the wilderness for me/us.

At least this time I have a partner in crime and crying. That makes the wandering a bit more bearable, I have to admit. Though my own wounds are torn open again, having a wonderful companion to share the pain and agony in the journey and even to know first hand what this feels like is helpful. I only wish that it were not also happening to him. I so wanted his experience to be different than mine has been.

Prayers are welcome. This road looks like it may continue to be long and harrowing.

Much love.


Boko Haram in Cameroon

Katie and I have fewer than two weeks left in the Durban area.  The plan is to move to Johannesburg for two months, then to Cameroon for two months, and finally to Scotland for two months, before returning to the US in late August.

But the last few weeks have made us think about whether or not we are going to Cameroon.  We are not making a call yet, neither saying “we are definitely going” nor that “we are definitely not going”.  But it’s a situation we are keeping a close watch on, grateful to contacts who live in Cameroon to give us up-to-date information.

Here’s a quick summary of what’s been going on in Cameroon and the surrounding countries:

Boko Haram – loosely meaning “Western education is forbidden” in Hausa – is attempting to create an Islamic state in northeastern Nigeria.  Founded in 2002, their official name means “People Committed to the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad” in Arabic.  In the last few months they have attacked multiple towns mainly in three provinces in northeastern Nigeria – Yobe, Borno, and Adamawa.  Last week they tried to take over the capital of Gombe state, adjacent to the three listed here.  Some of their weapons are Nigerian military equipment, as the group has overtaken some small military stores in some cities.

Recently, Cameroon, Niger, and Chad have come to Nigeria’s aid in their fight.  They have sent troops, called in airstrikes and repelled attacks in their respective countries.  They are also providing refugee camps for tens of thousands fleeing the violence in Nigeria.  Because of this, Boko Haram has said they will be targeting these countries – and they have carried out an attack against Chad and at least one against a town in northern Cameroon.

Boko Haram’s numbers are estimated to be around 9,000.  The African Union recently said they will be sending 7,500 troops to help in the fight, and Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad have all committed significant levels of troops.

The US State Department’s latest update on travel to Cameroon warns of going north of the city of Ngaoundere, and says they are not sending US personnel north of there.  Meiganga, where we are planning to stay, is about two hours south of Ngaoundere by car.  We are in contact with the ELCA liaison in Cameroon as well.

This is a very quick rundown of what is going on.  The BBC has some good information about all this, that they keep well updated, in case you want to stay informed.

Please keep us in your prayers as we discern if traveling to Cameroon will be feasible.  Also keep the people of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad in your prayer as they live with the constant threat of attacks and kidnappings.