Category Archives: Mission Work

My favourite word: Fling

A lot of people don’t listen to the words in music. I remember once being in the car with Eric, singing along to a song that said, “I don’t care whose ring you wear, ’cause as long as no one knows then nobody can care” (Uncle Kracker). Yikes! Who could actually sing that to someone? It’s a great song, but every time I hear it, I think, Yikes.

So I’m clearly a person who cares about the words of songs. The right wording at the right moment in the song brings me elation. When the words and music match, I remember how music opens us up to the divine, and I am so grateful. Even when I’m listening to the blues, I am gladdened. It doesn’t have to make sense (but please, try to make the lyrics of your songs make sense. Please.)

For years one of my favourite parts of Christmas is hearing the words of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” The whole song is evocative of how we long for peace, for rest, for hope as the generations unfold and year turns to year. But my favourite line is: “…when peace shall over all the world it’s ancient splendors fling; and the whole world give back the song which now the angels sing.”

It’s my favourite because I always have the image of angels flinging peace, like bits of golden glitter, over all the world. Maybe like pixie dust, or the twinkling of stars, or just like big handfuls of glitter. You know, if glitter gets on you or your stuff, you will never get it out. It’s powerful stuff. A camp counsellor at Mar-Lu-Ridge once glittered the sleeping bags of the male staff quarters one summer, and I bet those bags are still sparkling. That is probably why I imagine peace being tossed over the world like glitter – because it is beautiful at first, and because it has staying power that no one expects. That is how I want to imagine the peace of God that passes all understanding.

Our blog is called Flung Forth Anew because we want to be like that glitter, like that peace – tossed all over the earth, with gifts that not only make beautiful the ministries we land in, but that after we have served, that changes will last, both in sites where we go and in our hearts when we return home. We trained with ELCA volunteers going to Nairobi, Kenya; Tokyo, Japan; Ethiopia; Cameroon; and with our leaders who are centered in Chicago, Illinois – and the ELCA has volunteers both in 1-year and long-term positions in more than 90 countries. We are flung across the globe. And with each new place that we visit or serve, we are made new, our eyes sparkle with the connections between people and ministries and organizations.

In the hymn, ancient splendors are flung forth anew into today’s world so that the whole world can give back the song which the angels sing. May all of us, wherever we have landed, be a sparkle in the Father’s eye, a force for peace in the world, and glitter that catches people’s eye so that they want to explore God’s kingdom and live into God’s reign of peace.

The Hap-Happiest Season of All… or, 3 months away from home

Advent greetings, friends. Is your Christmas tree up yet? Our is, no thanks to my annual humbugginess. I am definitely a humbug. I love the idea that God comes to Earth, to meet us as we are, that God isn’t afraid of being a vulnerable baby, that it took a whole cast of people to live out the original nativity that we celebrate. I just hate untangling Christmas lights, and people running up to me saying, “If we don’t get the decorations right, it ruins the whole feel!” As Mary about the whole feel of Christmas, and I bet there was no turkey, wrapping paper, or post office involved!

OK. You get the gist. But, there are parts of Christmas I really like, especially the music. Eric made us a whole Christmas playlist from our digital music collection, 11.1 hours of all kinds of Christmas music! And amongst the music came this radio favourite:

It’s the most wonderful time of the year 
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer” 
It’s the most wonderful time of the year 
It’s the hap-happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings 
When friends come to call 
It’s the hap- happiest season of all ‘

We tend to hear these songs and accept them as a picture of normal holiday feelings. But really, kids are not jingle-belling, they’re prepping their list of demands from Santa; and if you’re in a blue or cruddy or tired mood for any of a thousand reasons, being told to “be of good cheer” is not going to cheer you up, especially if you are depressed or grieving or lonely. Is it the most wonderful time of the year? I love that moment of candlelight at Christmas Eve worship, but I think I really like those first days of spring when you can smell the earth blossoming more. And the song goes on – those holiday greetings (that we politicize and haggle over) and gay happy meetings (in our free time, right?) when friends come to call (and we don’t worry about if our house is photo-shoot ready)? Really? In my mind I romanticize the days before electricity and cars and central heat, when people had nothing to do in winter except feed the animals and wait for spring, and if they did go out across the prairie, they would stay awhile with friends just to warm up before coming home. When things were slower, less was expected, and people knew their neighbors’ names *and* their stories. Maybe it wasn’t that great in real life, but I tend to think of it as better than today’s consumer rush and drastic expectations of ourselves. There. Have I ruined the song for you?

Now, it’s not quite fair that this song played just about at our 3-month mark of being here. Here is a chart of average responses to moving to a new place:

The process of adjusting to living in a new place, by Clide Sargeant, with revision by Daniel Kealy

Note that there’s a dip there. I was warned that this would be coming (and many thanks to author Clide Sargeant, with revision by Daniel Kealey) and so I can keep some perspective on my emotions and reactions and expectations these days. I can be gentler with myself. This morning I lost my voice, had a terrible head cold, and looked at this chart – right below “frustration” it notes that this is the time when people develop colds, headaches, and are most prone to take sick leave. So I spent the morning reading the not-so-holiday “Hunger Games” trilogy. I took the boys to mail Christmas presents and didn’t lose my temper when we found we had to re-pack them twice and still not get it right (“ah, I thought, ‘frustration.'”) I sent an e-mail inviting friends to come to call.

The seasons come, whether it be Christmas or monsoon or “frustration.” But in our missionary handbook, right beside the chart that says some seasons will be hard, are these verses, appropriately, from the book of Lamentations.

“The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall!        My soul continually thinks of it, and is bowed down within me.                                           But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:                                                         The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is God’s faithfulness.                                      “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in God.” -Lamentations 3:19-24

Keeping the candles inside the cathedrals?

missionary training's prayer candles

Light and the Word –      gifts from God

With the power outages on the East Coast, a lot of people have been using candlelight for everything from walking around their house to doing late-night Sudoku.  Candles are such a symbol of faith.  They cannot light themselves – they must receive light from someone else.  Once lit they can be generous with their light – sharing flame without losing anything, casting light over a whole room, giving warmth and a unique glow that is both calming and energizing.  Flames burn and wicker and dance, and are so mysterious.   Jesus Christ is the Light of the World – and he said to the crowds,”You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:14-16)

But candles are also frail.  Have you ever tried to carry a candle outside?  Wind can whip it out at any moment.  Even walking with a candle can be a challenge – that little bit of movement takes all our focus and gracefulness.

Most people have had the occasion to see candles at Church.  They are a sign of -1- God’s presence, of -2- the holiness of a place, of -3- the Spirit working in mysterious ways.  Yet aren’t each of these three alive and life-giving in every place and time?  I am reminded of the lyrics of the song “April Showers”:

(Oh) Like April Showers on the slick cement

When I consider how our light is spent

Keeping the candles inside the cathedrals

Hold on tight, Don’t go into the night So full of evil

So often as Christians we focus our energy of worship, fellowship, and giving within the walls of cathedrals, in part because the beauty of Church buildings is inspiring, but also because outside of the cathedrals our candles are open to all kinds of winds and chaos.  Candles won’t stay lit; our spirits are frail; we cannot prove our beliefs; we may feel alone when away from the gathered saints, so our witness is silenced.  Yet it is the world outside of the cathedral that needs the warmth of faithful friendships.  This world needs the beauty and mystery of God in a world where to value something we first have to measure it.  This world needs to see candles get blown out and miraculously re-lit by the Light of the World, over and over again.  It is the darkest places that need light the most.  And, you may not know how much your light matters to people around you.  “Remember to be kind to everyone, for each one is fighting a battle that you cannot see.”  Carry your candle, O lights of the world – feel God’s presence in the carpool and the holiness of your kitchen and the Spirit sending you to a world in need.

Enjoy the song “April Showers” by the Christian band Caedmon’s Call:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HagtNrzW5NY

Find the lyrics here:  http://www.metrolyrics.com/april-showers-lyrics-caedmons-call.html

PS – and the song goes on:  “Rain rain don’t go away, we need you this dry and dusty day…  Rain rain don’t go away, though some may say please go away.”  You may remember the child’s song “rain rain go away, come again some other day.”  The song April Showers plays on that, saying that the rain is like the waters of baptism, the flood of God’s presence washing through our lives.  Rain is powerful stuff – as these storms have proved.  We might want the rain to go away so that we will feel safe, so that our lives won’t be risked and changed.  But if we’re talking about the rain as God’s presence, then we do need God to come into our dry and dusty souls, refresh us, give us life abundant – even as we try to deny that we need God in order to live.  Ah – what a song, and what images of our need and God’s love!