The Adventure Continues

Our Church Council granted me a sabbatical for three months during the summer of 2010. My intention was to learn Latin American Spanish and to explore Latin American cultures here and abroad. Now that I have had some opportunities to lead mission trips to Yuscaran, Honduras, and to visit Mexico three times, the adventure continues.

Seeking New Horizons

Seeking New Horizons

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A New Culture All around Us

   Among the ways in which I enjoy people from other cultures is through travel and learning Spanish.  This morning I started reviewing my completed lessons on the Rosetta Stone program.  I can sure use the practice! 
   I am also finding that one of the new cultures is not so far away, but is already among us in the church.  So much is changing so fast, and many old ways of doing things that were effective for sharing the Gospel before no longer have the positive impact they once had.  While sometimes this is frustrating, I also find it exciting.  We can discover new ways of being a faith community together: it's like going to a different culture without ever leaving home.
   In two of my sermons this month I cited an interview on the American Public Radio program "On Being."  The interview is with a Lutheran pastor from Denver, who is very much out-of-the-ordinary in terms of how she looks, talks, and has come to be called as a pastor.  Nadia Bolz-Weber is a powerful voice in the Lutheran Church, and in the wider Christian community.  Since I have quoted her from the interview, I think it is time to share the link so that you can see and hear the entire interview.  It goes for an hour and 16 minutes, including the sight and sound of a freight train that interrupted the flow of the conversation.
   Maybe that's kind of symbolic.  Our ways of being the church have been interrupted by unexpected voices that need to be heard.  Maybe our time is not so different from the time of the Reformation, or Constantine's Conversion, or countless times in the Bible when God interrupted history to show us something new about God's grace.  Here is the interview:

Friday, August 23, 2013

Big Milestone for Me and My Car

   I saw this one coming, so I pulled my car off the road and took this picture.  Yes, you can see from the speedometer that the car is stopped, and that the right blinker is working.  I think this is the first time I have driven a car this far.  Once before, we came close, going over 190000 miles before we gave it away and bought a van that was better able to fit our growing family.
   It took a lot of care to get to this milestone, and I learned some things about cars in the process, like a better way to take care of our tires.  It made me think of other milestones, like the 25th anniversary of the ELCA, and the 50th anniversary of our building here at Trinity Lutheran Church.  We will celebrate the former with a day of service in our community on September 8, and the latter by fixing the roof and the brickwork.
   Continuing to take care of our car will be a challenge as we head on through the next 100000 miles.  It's getting older and will require different kinds of care.  Being in the church also has some new challenges as we head into the next years.  In many ways, there is more uncertainty now, but some things are clear as we look at the changes around us.  The church needs to be a more welcoming place in ways that are new.  We need to abandon the illusion that we have all the answers, and we need to find new ways of engaging peoples' difficult questions.  We will be less like advice givers, and more like companions on the many journeys through life.
   I learn a lot from Bishop Jim Hazelwood, who is also celebrating a milestone of being our Bishop for one year.  His blog struggles with the many questions of where our church is headed.  He also asks interesting questions, and has interesting ways of keeping in touch with people.  He is not only influential, but he also has creative ways of sharing his influence.  He has worked hard while getting to this first year milestone, and many of us have learned a lot about leadership as he has shared his journey with us.
   We are all learning together.  Our milestones show where we have been, and we are creating new milestones along the way.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

No More Endless Circling

   I used this picture by m.c.escher in a sermon to illustrate a point about the faith of Abraham.  In his day, faith was in circular patterns.  The Egyptians had a daily cycle of Ra rising each morning in triumph over the powers of darkness.  Each evening Ra would descend to do battle again, and the Egyptian priests would pray for Ra's success.  It worked, because the sun would rise every morning.
   The Mesopotamians had an annual cycle of life appearing in the spring, coming to flourish in the summer, and dying off in the winter.  Fertility rituals in the spring would assure that the earth would bring forth the bounty of new life.  The gods were going in circles, and faith in these gods meant following the rituals that assured the cycles continued.
   When God spoke to Abram (Genesis 12), the Word was to break any of the cycles Abram had already understood.  God called him to move to a new place that God would show to Abram.  This God was not interested in cyclical rituals, but rather in a faith and trust that would bring God and God's people (Abram's descendants) together.  This was a powerful idea that led to the founding of the world's great faith of Judaism and later Christianity.  Muslims also trace their faith origins to Abram, a.k.a. Abraham.
   Sometimes today we find ourselves going in circles.  Our God calls us to do new things.  "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end.  They are new every morning."
   Christian churches throughout the United States are undergoing great changes.  The patterns we were used to no longer hold the interest of all of our members, and do not attract visitors the way they did in the recent past.  We don't know precisely where God is calling us, but we do know that we do not have to run in circles.  Sometimes breaking the patterns simply means doing one new thing.
   I have encouraged my congregation to read the story of Abraham, beginning with Genesis 12.  The rest of Genesis is the story of one very important family, over four generations.  You cannot understand Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or the relationship among them without understanding this family.  One new thing might simply be reading their story.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Meeting the Cambodian Community in Lowell

   On Sunday, May 5, I attended the Commemoration of the Cambodian genocide which began 38 years ago and took nearly 2 million lives.  The event was sponsored by GLILA, the Greater Lowell Interfaith Leadership Alliance.  I joined this group last fall as a new way of being connected with the diversity of communities right here at home.

   The event took place at the Glory Temple on Hale St. in Lowell. I had never been there before, and I had not known of its existence.  I have heard that Buddhism is a philosophy that is compatible with all other faiths.  The place looked like a religious place of worship, so I inquired whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy, and I was told it depends on who you ask.  Note the picture of the central shrine.  There were also many paintings on the wall depicting the life of the Buddha.

   Several faith traditions were represented with talks, prayers, songs, and poetry.  The most moving part of the presentation was the life story of two of the survivors of the genocide.  They were just children when they and their families were subjected to the cruelty and brutality of the Khmer Rouge government. The stories were astounding in their horror.  Yet, the people were gracious and generous, some of them being real leaders in the Lowell community.  I was impressed by their resilience.

   After the presentations, we were all invited outside for refreshments.  Most of the food was Cambodian, although there were a few desserts that Westerners would recognize.  I enjoyed the "sticky rice," made just like I remember from a Laotian family that lived with us for a few weeks in the 1980's.  I also sampled some excellent spring rolls, a dainty dessert of a kind of fried dough, and another dessert that was made with seaweed.  The hospitality was wonderful.

   I still don’t know if Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy.  I do know that the people who are practicing it in Lowell have been through some horrors that are hard to imagine.  If their practice has helped to make them stronger people, then I pray that God will continue to bless them with more healing.  I am so blessed to have met them.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Understanding Honduras in Joy and in Grief

   My most recent trip to Honduras was April 16 through 23.  April 15 was the day of the bombing in Boston, and we were just getting the news as that infamous day was ending.  I wondered how much news I would be able to get while we were in Honduras, since we had no internet, TV, nor radio.  Yet, we had people on the street, and they consoled us when they heard we were from the Boston area, and they gave us news updates as the week went on.  Even though we were far from home, I felt like we were one community, and the people of Honduras grieved with us.
   Our group spent more energy than usual getting to know the people of the town, Yuscaran, and the village where we were staying, Los Tablones.  We made many new friends to go along with the ones we had already made on previous trips.  While I was the translator for most of our Spanish conversations while we were there, the people in our group had little trouble communicating with hand gestures and a limited vocabulary.  I never cease to be amazed at how people who want to, are able to communicate over language barriers when they care about each other.
    The work we are continuing in Yuscaran is the construction of a new church building for the Episcopal church there.  While the work has seemed to be nearing completion, the plan has now changed to include an additional third floor.  The original plan called for a meeting room in the "basement" and the sanctuary on the floor above.  Now the plan calls for an additional story that will be used for offices or for the residence of the local pastor.  While this may be a good use of limited space, it also means that the sanctuary will have little light or ventilation that would have come from dormers on the roof.  The new plan needs some more discussion, but has already been a part of the continuing construction.  The work we did this year was to mix cement on the floor and to help haul it up about 15 feet to be poured on parts of the new ceiling of the sanctuary, which is also the floor of the third story.  As in the past, we used muscles in ways which were new to us.
   One of the people I look forward to seeing when I go to Honduras is a young man who is now 17 years old.  His name is Selvin and he helped me with my infant Spanish on my first trip in 2010.  He wants to be a translator and is learning English.  In 2011 I brought him a Spanish-English, English-Spanish dictionary to augment his studies.  This year I learned he cannot study at night because he has no electricity at home, and batteries are very expensive.  He uses candle-light, but has been advised that this is not good for his eyes.  So I gave him the money to purchase a solar light that uses bright LED bulbs, and is powered by the sun during the day.  (Solar power is really catching on in Honduras.)  Then I asked him what he is using for a textbook, and he told me the only book he has is the dictionary I gave him three years ago.  I know the kinds of resources I need to learn Spanish, and my three dictionaries are only part of the list!  My heart goes out to the students of Honduras who would give just about anything to have the educational resources we in the USA can take for granted.
   My friendships with people in Honduras are getting stronger.  Part of this is the frequency with which we have been able to get together.  Part of it is the ease of e-mail with which I can communicate with some of my friends there.  Part of it is my growing familiarity with their language.  This year, part of it is the grief and caring I saw in their faces and heard in their words when we in the Boston area were experiencing violence and mindless terror.  It's a long way in miles to Honduras, but it does not seem so far in my heart. 

Canon Kathy Pennybacker and Pastor Dagoberto Chacon

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

World Hunger and Global Mission in Mexico

   I have accepted an invitation to be a part of a new event being held in Mexico and Washington, DC in the first week in April.  The event combines the interests of people working on the ELCA World Hunger Appeal, and those who work with the ELCA Global Missions.  This is good news for us in New England because our two Synod groups have been working this way for at least two years.  We attend the same regional workshops together, and promote each other's programs. 
   There is a natural link between these groups.  Most of the money given to the World Hunger Appeal is used for development projects in other countries, although about 25% is used for similar projects in the United States.  The Global Misson Team also works in countries all over the world, and helps people to make special connections through service and travel.  In New England, the trips are to Honduras and to the Holy Land.  Since I have an avid interest in both of these areas, I have joined both committees.
   This trip to Mexico will explore the links between hunger and justice issues that touch on the interests of both groups.  The end of the event is in Washington, DC, where we will participate in the ELCA Advocacy Days.  This is an effort to influence United States foreign policy in various ways that would actully help the people in the countries where we as a nation spend spend money.  Our church and the churches we work with in other countries have a unique perspective to share.  I will be learning more about this.
   I am thankful to Pastor Karen Goltz who will be leading worship in my absence.  I leave on April 1 and return on April 8.  This will be another adventure in faith where my fledging skills in Spanish will be useful.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Learning Another's Culture

  Can you guess where these pictures were taken?  They are from my visit with Pastor Dagoberto last week.  It was really fun to show him some of my favorite museums.  Lowell in the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution, and I wanted my friend to have a sense of the important history that surrounds us here.  We started by looking at the waterfall in the Merrimack River.  That waterfall is the reason why Lowell is where it is.  It provided the water power that drove the engines of industry here.
   When I saw Dagoberto in the mill or in the space suit, I realized how far from home he was; not just in distance, but also culturally.  I often asked him what he liked best from our day's adventures, and invariably he would say, "Todos!"  "Everything!"
   At the dinner on Thursday, someone asked him what things would be most useful to give to him for his ministry in Honduras.  He said what he wanted most was our friendship.  Yes, it was great to have people come to construct a church building in Yuscaron, but what we were really building was friendships.  He is in Florida how, and he called to say he made it OK, and he wanted me to extend his blessing to all the people here.  He has some new friends at Trinity!
   When we go to Honduras, especially for the first time, it may seem as strange as putting on a space suit.  The language is different, the money is different, and the ways in which people interact is also different.  People there do not have much in the way of material gifts, but they really pay attention to one another.  They make us guests feel safe and welcome.  The only way to really know this is to put aside our impressive wealth for a time and to receive the friendship the people of Honduras offer.
   I am so happy he was here.  I am also so happy to be going back to visit him and his people in April.  There is still time to register to come with me.  The pictures are from the National Industrial Park, the American Textile Museum, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Getting Ready for Dagoberto

   Today I am getting ready to greet my friend, Pastor Dagoberto Chacon.  The last time I saw him was in Yuscaron in December, as in the picture below.  I had hoped to have him here for Bishop Jim Hazelwood's installation as bishop, but he missed his flight due to an accident that blocked his way to the airport.  So we have rescheduled him to come now.  I wonder how much snow he has seen before, because it is snowing now.
   I'm looking forward to the Spanish immerson I will need for the next two days.  I plan to take him to the National Park in Lowell on Thursday, and we have a dinner at church that evening.  On Friday I hope he will play volleyball with me and my friends early in the morning.  Then we will go to Boston to visit the Museum of Science or the Museum of Fine Arts.  The MFA has a display of Meso-American art, and I'm hoping Dagoberto might have some insights for me from that period of time of his ancestors.  I hope my vocabularly can expand enough to understand.
   I am especially interested in his reactions to life here in the Boston Area.  When Pastor Mamkwe from Tanzania visited us a few years ago, he was fgascinated by all the machines we have to deal with the snow.  Since he was fascinated, I became fascinated as well, seeing familiar objects through new eyes.