This is Spain

20170219_171100

A view of the old roman bridge from the river on my walk 

Friday we went to pick up bank cards. Justin asked for our cards to be sent to the bank closest to us, but he received a text from the bank saying the cards had been sent to a branch outside of town.  It’s not a big deal to go outside of town if you have a car.  But when you’re relying on public transportation, that changes your strategy.  So we got up early, got a taxi and rode the 20 or so minutes outside of town to the address provided. Only, there was nothing there.  Justin realized the address we received from the bank was incorrect.  They made an error and we needed the main office. Which is where we wanted our cards sent in the first place.  Because that’s the office closest to us (a 5 minute walk from our apartment).  So, we explained this to the taxi driver, said sorry for the mix-up, and 15 euros later, were right back where we started. The best part was when the taxi driver said, “No te preocupes, por esto es Espana.” Or “Don’t worry about it, this is Spain.

This is Spain. Ha!

 

We learn new things about this place every day. Some stuff is fascinating, and other things frustrate the heck out of us. Some days we say “wow, how amazing is that!” and other days say “what?!? why?”

This is living outside your passport country. Some days you think ‘wow I’m so lucky to live in this place,’ and other days you’re like ‘why did I come here again?’  It’s helpful to know that these bipolar feelings are NORMAL and all part of the ebb and flow of cross-cultural assimilation. We have been living in Spain 4 months now, not naive to think we’re done making adjustments, but overall, settling into our life here.

You may wonder what living in Spain, or any other country for that matter, looks like for two Americans? In short, it’s creating a healthy blend of new culture stuff while attempting to keep a few comforts from your home culture. In my experience, you need both.

Some things that are still “new” to us. Meal times! The Spanish eat a very lite breakfast, a lite snack a couple hours later, followed by their main meal at 2 or 3. “Cenar” or dinner isn’t until after 9. While we’ve been following this pattern, I think my body is still adjusting.  I get up each day around 7:30, have my coffee and breakfast, do some reading & studying, then get ready for the day.  We are at language school from 10-2, with a short break in the middle.  We get home around 2:30 and by the time our meal is prepared, it’s 3 o’clock. I’ve gotten better at preparing snacks to take, but some days I still forget.  It’s hard not be starving by the time we eat again at 3! And there have to be others like me, where after you eat a large meal, you feel tired or lethargic. I’ve been trying to force myself to walk after our meal, and not lay down, which is what the Spanish do. Siesta!

As for the food, I’d say we’ve done well at trying new things.  We like Spanish food, as the fare is simple, hearty, and prepared with quality ingredients. They love fresh fish and pork. Oh the pork.  Those black-hoofed, acorn-fed, black Iberian pigs are the heart and soul of Spanish cuisine. It’s quite a tasty treat, and we enjoy sandwiches, varieties of cheeses and meats, and traditional dishes like paella, cocido madrileño  and tapas. But at times, it’s important to make our comfort foods.  I make tacos about once a week because Justin LOVES him some tacos. I make pancakes on Saturday mornings, because breakfast foods are the bomb. And when I need a little pick-me-up I enjoy baking my favorite batch of cookies or scones.

From L-R: Tapas- small portions of appetizer type foods, Cocido Madrileno- stew of chickpeas, chorizo, & vegetables, Paella- saffron rice with shellfish & veggies, and Iberian ham. 

We love our walk-able city. We literally walk everywhere, there’s no need to take a bus. it takes 30 minutes round trip to the city center for language classes, and I’ll try to get in at least another mile or two later in the day. The farthest I have to walk for a store is 20 minutes. The hypermarket is like Walmart, only a European version- so not as sketchy, and I can find everything I need in one place. Although, I’m walking with items on the way back, so it limits what I buy in one trip. My handy cart can carry about a week’s worth of groceries. It’s kind of like a stroller, but for your groceries or stuff! Sometimes I miss having a car because it would be easier to drive to the parking lot and load whatever we need in the trunk.  But I’m getting used to making more frequent trips and enjoying the time spent walking solo- Justin hates shopping! When I don’t have the stamina for a long walk or a big supermarket, there are plenty of little neighborhood markets within 5 minutes of our place.

Europe is different from the U.S. when it comes to cars and driving.  Most people prefer to live in cities where they can walk or bike. And if they have a car, they only use it to go to the other side of town or outside of town.  In general, people walk their kids to school, to the store, and to restaurants or cafes to meet friends. The pace of life here is different. We will eventually get a car, when we move to the smaller village.  It’ll be necessary for our sanity to have a way to get out and about, to travel to bigger towns when we need more options for food and supplies, and to the airport when people need picked-up.  Now, the crisp, cool air invites us outside, and we enjoy giving our bodies more excuses to move.

20170219_172021

Sometimes you need to leave the sidewalks and let your feet touch the earth

We love our apartment, and using it as a space to welcome people.  Justin says he enjoys watching me play hostess.  For example, last night he invited his friend Miguel Angel (Michealangelo!!- how awesome is that name?!) over. He’s a fun, older Spanish guy who helps Justin with Spanish.  The invitation was for coffee, but he came in to find lots of snack & beverage options and I think he was a little surprised. Justin tried to explain the concept of “southern hospitality” in broken Spanish, and we all had a good laugh.  We’re grateful for this homey, little, inviting place, where people feel wanted. Even though it’s a 1 bedroom apartment, we have enough space & a dining table on our terrace, so we’ve had as many as 10 over at a time. We strive to host a meal a week, and share what’s been given to us. It’s also kind of a game for us to see how many nationalities we can have in our home. So far: Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, Egyptian, English, American, Russian, & Brazilian. That means there’s a wild array of beliefs, world-views, and orientations. Our ministry right now is to the people God brings our way, and we love all the wondrous variety and color!

For the next 2.5 months our “job” continues to be exclusively learning Spanish.  After that, when we move, we’ll add other things to our plate, and still continue with some kind of language builder. We’re thankful for the experiences and challenges of living cross-culturally up til now, and look forward to more of what God has in store for us this year.

 

some cheerful neighborhood art near our street

 

 

A language learner’s reflections

We’ve been in Spain just shy of 3 months, almost halfway through our language program. In terms of language, it’s crazy to think how far we’ve come in a short time, but in another sense, we still have a long way to go. Justin & I are in different classes, which is probably healthy for our marriage! He tested into a higher level than me, but likes to say that I am a better student and will soon pass him up. Well, we’ll see. We have different strengths, so in a way we complement each other. Justin likes to speak, and is fearless when it comes to practicing WITH ANYONE.  I comprehend a lot more, and am getting to the point where I can read quite well. However, speaking fluidly will take a while to develop. Basically when we talk to people in Spanish, I listen & understand, translate to Justin, then he replies.  It’s been a good system! But we both have to be able to stand on our own.

Language learning is a humbling process, and it’s interesting to be on the other side of it after my previous work in TEFL.  I still remember the faces, expressions, victories, and struggles of my students learning English in Japan and Myanmar. Now, I have some idea of what I put them through!

The 4 languages of Spain. If you’ve never visited Spain, it’s anything but homogeneous.  For starters, they actually speak 4 recognized languages in Spain:  Castilian (the official language), Catalan (a blend of Spanish & French spoken in the east & along the coast), Basque  (completely unrelated & distinct, spoken in a small region in the north of Spain & the western mountains of France), and Galician (spoken in the western most tip). On top of this, there are regional dialects that make communicating even among Spaniards difficult. And if you think that Spain Spanish and Central/South American Spanish are the same, think again.  People can generally understand each other when communicating, but the vocabulary and accents are very different. And given the state of migration all over Europe, Spain is becoming an international hub, with many Arabic-speaking North Africans in the south, Germanic speakers dispersed all over, and in a university city like Salamanca, a stew of European, Asian, and English langauges.

20161209_114902

Language makes up a big part of our world right now. In learning a new language, we are literally re-wiring parts of our brain. So after 5 hours of immersion each day, we’re zapped!  We’re constantly translating, conjugating, and asking each other, ‘which tense do I use?’ or ‘what’s the word for <blank>?’  Even though it’s challenging, Spanish is a beautiful language, and it’s fun to practice and gauge our progress. It’s exciting to think about where we might be after 6 months, 1 year, or 3 years.

Awkward moments. Yes, I’ve had plenty of awkward moments with Spanish.  For one, on my 2nd day of class, I CRIED in front of everyone. I was overwhelmed and felt like a complete idiot because I didn’t understand anything! And to be honest probably jet-lagged and reeling from the transition of uprooting our lives. Then there was the first time I went to the grocery store. Apparently in some markets, you ring up and label your own produce before checking out.  So I got to the counter with all my unlabeled bundles of vegetables & fruit,  only to have the cashier say a lot of stuff I didn’t understand really fast while using a ton of gestures. Not to mention, lots of hurried, anxious looking people behind me, waiting to check out. Did I mention it was right before siesta/comida? Essentially, the busiest time of day. And there are the many times I got strange looks asking for “el baño” because in Spain they don’t really use that word (it actually refers to the bath tub), and they use “aseos” or “servicios” for bathrooms.

Clearly I’m used to having the upper hand in language (I mean c’mon people who travel, English is spoken EVERYWHERE, and we’re so coddled). Ok, well there are places where English is spoken more widely than others.  But Spain is not one of those places. Compared to other European countries, they are far behind and hesitant to speak English. Which is actually due to their history. For years the dictator Franco outlawed things like American movies and Spain was very closed off from the rest of the world. Things are changing now, especially with young people, but your average Joe in Spain does not know or speak any other language. Hey, just like Americans!

Things we don’t normally have to think about in our native language, can be sources of stress in another language. Here, things like receiving mail, filling out paperwork, finding a doctor, going to see a movie, ordering at a restaurant, talking with your landlord, etc., can be stressful while you are learning a language. It influences everything, including your ordinary, everyday activities. And as I eluded earlier, even going to the grocery store can be stressful. Soothing this stress often requires planning ahead, translating or googling some phrases you think you might need, and moving forward with patience.

Language, or lack thereof, can also cost you money and time.  I’ve tried twice now to ask for a grocery store’s discount card, and both times left in frustration without it.  We’ve had to pay expensive taxes on receiving mail (Christmas gifts!), because we didn’t know how to navigate the postal system. Another time, we ended up taking the “slow” bus (4 hours instead of 2) because we didn’t read the bus website correctly. In the moment these things are stressful, but looking back we try to have laugh at all our newbie fails.

You make rookie mistakes when you move to a new country. You just do.  Some days are easier than others.  Some days are super challenging. Some days we just want to be hermits, because it’s comfortable.  But, we know we won’t assimilate with that attitude.  We’ve learned to celebrate the small victories, like ordering at a new cafe, and actually getting what we want. Or the other day, I successfully gave an elderly Spaniard directions. And just yesterday I ventured to the phone store solo and talked to a clerk about potential phone plans.

We keep going and keep trying each day because we know so many people are behind us. And we know there are sweet souls here that God wants us to talk with. He gives us grace, even when we find it hard to extend it to ourselves. In His grace we are here, and we truly are grateful to be here, cultural/lingual faux pas and all!

 

 

 

America the great

Disclosure: I have no interest in a debate (there’s enough of that going on) especially in any forum online or through social media. This is merely an attempt to express my thoughts, feelings, and concerns. I’m writing to exercise my freedom of speech. 

As many are expressing, I’m deeply troubled about the upcoming presidential election.  I’m not a historian, political analyst, or sociologist (although that is probably one of the lenses I’m coming at this from since I graduated with a Sociology major). I am a Christian, wife, missionary, teacher, traveler, writer, American. I’m coming at this through these lenses too.

I’m not entirely sure who I’ll vote for when it comes down to it; but I do know I will vote; and I do know who I will not be voting for.

What has me feeling uncomfortable, frightened, and flabbergasted, is this whole notion of ‘Making America great again.’ What does this mean exactly? You mean the great America that chased Native Americans from their own land? You mean the great America whose Puritans executed women by burning them at the stake? You mean the great America that advocated for slavery, discrimination, and segregation? You mean the great America that idolizes sports figures and lusts over celebrities? You mean the great America who endorses those who claim they want to ‘protect our borders’ and ‘keep em’ out’ at all costs? You mean the great America that wants freedom- but only if that freedom aligns with the values of one particular party or class? You mean the great America that wants to bring God back, so we can affix the label of “Christian Nation” to ourselves once again, only to banish or deport anyone who doesn’t ascribe to that label?

This. This is what I fear.  America becoming ‘great’ again. Actually, I think America as a ‘great nation’ is a faint notion.  Maybe we had our day back in the early 20th century, when we allied ourselves with nations around the globe to stop the spread of fascism. Or maybe it was when we gave women the vote. Or maybe it was in the dawn of the space age. Regardless of when it was, or if it was, perhaps now, America is on its way out. History shows us that while nations rise, they also fall.  During the Cold War, America was seen as one of two superpowers, the other being the Soviet Union.  Are we at all disillusioned in believing America is ‘the Superpower.‘ Or worse, that it should be? With Superpower mentality, authoritarian rule is not far behind (Russia, China anybody?) History reminds us that these empires began with what were once great Superpowers in their day:

The Persian empire (550-330 BC), the Byzantine empire (330-1453) the Holy Roman Empire (962-1806), the Ottoman Empire (1299-1922), the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the British Empire (1603-1997), the Third Reich (1933-1945).

Maybe this sounds very unpatriotic, but I’ve traveled enough, lived enough places, and met enough people to realize I’m not just a U.S. citizen; I’m a global citizen.  Jesus didn’t lend himself to any one particular nation.  God doesn’t just care about what happens to Americans. He cares about what happens to South Africans, Syrians, Nigerians, Afghans, Mexicans, Cubans, Burmese, Russians, and so on. As a missionary, the plight of the world’s citizens concern me, not just my country’s.  As a missionary and a Christian, one of my greatest concern these days is religious freedom. Not just for myself, but for others as well.

Through a sociological lens, I am seeing the upcoming election in a much broader scope. In my studies, I remember learning about other times when fear rhetoric was used to compel people to rally behind something or someone they believed would offer protection.  But there’s a cost for this protection. The truth is, when you succumb to fear, or resign yourself to support a person, a cause, or an ideology as a result of fear, it always backfires.

These quotes sum up my thoughts well:

“One of the saddest chapters in the history of Christianity is how the courageous church of the martyrs became — with the help of the state — a fearful and persecuting church. Under Charlemagne, the punishment for refusing to be baptized into the Catholic faith was death. Conversion at the point of the sword became a cultural norm”

“A government that can shut down a mosque can shut down a church. A president who insults entire categories of human beings with impunity will not hesitate to attack any religious community that dares to criticize him.”

-quotes from Joseph Loconte, assoc. professor of history and contributor to the Washington Post.

New Year New Direction

This week we are excited to share with you the new direction we believe God is moving us.
Recently, we were put in touch with missionaries who have been praying for team mates.  They’ve been working beyond their capacity, and are in desperate need of help. Every day they’re turning people away from their ministry because they don’t have the human capital they need. What a shame to turn people away, people who could be followers of Jesus. This doesn’t have to happen!

As this need was shared with us, we felt called to respond and go.  Our prayers have also affirmed us. We’ve been praying to be a part of a team. We’ve been praying that for our first term we could join veteran missionaries in furthering the gospel.  We’ve been praying about teaching as our primary ministry platform. And we’ve been praying that this would take place in a Spanish-speaking country.

Well, about two hours west of Madrid, Spain is perhaps just the right opportunity.  The missionaries who have asked for our help are ministering in a region of the country where over half of the population are immigrants. Of those that are immigrants, most are Moroccan Muslims.

Immigrants are leaving North Africa in droves.  Spain is the second most highly emigrated nation in the world.  Meaning after the U.S., more immigrants resettle in Spain every year than anywhere else. Some seek refuge, others seek better opportunities through jobs.  Many need to learn English or Spanish, or both.

We are passionate about this for several reasons. This is a direct ask for us to come and use our skills and experience as teachers of English.   There’s need down the road for small business development, and lots of entrepreneurship potential. There is an INCREDIBLE opportunity to share Jesus with the UNREACHED.  And then there’s this: at this point in history, when there’s more migrant movement than at any other time, Europe may just be “the place” to reach the Muslim world. Here, maybe we can help bridge west and east, Christianity and Islam, Christians and Muslims. How humbling to be part of the reconciliation story between these two groups of people.
That old adage is true: “when God closes one door, He opens another.”

As we move towards this, here are a few important steps in our timeline.

  • Jan-Feb 2016- Finish out our ministry roles at NMSI’s home office
  • March 2016- Visit Central Spain; Begin Visa process; TESOL certification
  • April-May 2016- 4-6 weeks of field training for cross-cultural ministry (Center for Intercultural Training, North Carolina)
  • Summer 2016- Finish fundraising if needed, register for language school (in Spain), proposal for ministry development due to NMSI
  • July/Aug/Sep 2016- Say our goodbyes, prepare for deployment, move to the field as soon as we have visas

Ways we’d love to partner with you:

  1. Pray. For each other, undoubtedly, our greatest source of power.
  2. Be relational. Let’s be friends! Let’s encourage and admonish one another in our walks of faith!
  3. Give. Monthly, to sustain a long-term commitment, or one-time gifts to help with start-up costs.
  4. Go. On mission, whether that’s globally or locally. Engage others with the gospel.
  5. Connect.  In church, small group, or among friends or family who share a heart for Jesus.

Thanks for journeying with us.  We are eternally grateful to you and the vital part you play in this ministry. We would love to hear from you and how we can be walking with you in your faith this year. How can we be praying for you?

CLICK HERE to partner with the Hemming ministry!

Two Americans in Cuba

12345442_649129234280_3327457086117040426_n
Our “taxi” for the week, stopped along the way from Holguin to Santiago for coconut water

Justin and I recently returned from Cuba. It’s approximately 90 miles from Key West and took just a little over an hour to get there from Miami.  It’s so close, yet so far away. Cuba is unlike any other place Justin and I have ever visited….and we travel a lot.

Our purpose in going to Cuba was to survey the country’s viability for future ministry.  To aid in our assessment, we were asking 3 main questions: what’s the market and political climate like, what’s the church doing, and what needs do they have?

Our scope was limited to two major cities in the eastern part of the island: Santiago and Holguin.  Both have roots as Spanish colonial cities. We didn’t visit any part of the western island, including Havana, but feel we got a good representation in the east.

From the airport, we were picked up in a two-toned turquoise/white, 1956 Ford, with lime green interior.  It was fantastic.  Essentially, this was our “taxi” for the week.  Owned by a local pastor, he graciously allowed his son Ornello to drive us to and fro as needed.  Other forms of transportation included motorcycle taxi (a little scary when my helmet wouldn’t clasp) and horse and buggy (yes this is even more popular in Holguin than in Amish country). Transportation alone made you feel as if you stepped back into time.

12376166_649122148480_6655435933590441604_n
Revolution Square, Santiago
12345652_649129388970_9083293040611051827_n
Catedral Metropolitana de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (or Cathedral of our Lady of the Assumption)

Our first destination, Santiago, was a hilly city, full of character.  We wove in and out of small cobblestone streets on foot and were able to take in quite a bit of the city’s history, such as Revolution Square, numerous colonial era buildings, a beautiful blue cathedral, and lots of local shops, uniquely Cuban. In Santiago we stayed with a Cuban family in their small but quaint home.  We had luxuries like running water, electricity, and our own room, rare considering many Cubans dwell in small spaces with multiple generations.  We even had an electric water heater- which Justin refused to use (picture a coiled light bulb with a cord coming out one end, which you submerge under water for about 5 minutes until water boils) Perfectly safe!

12375304_649122797180_9010517427698308578_o

Holguin, another colonial influenced city, was very flat. Hence the mode of transit here was the horse and buggy (which only cost a few cents to ride!). Of particular interest to me was the city’s cemetery.  When I asked to see this, our friend Carlos just kept saying, “Really, the cemetery? You American is crazy.” The tombs were beautifully white-washed, ornate, and mostly Catholic iconic. Some of the tombs for Spanish settlers, dated back to the mid 1700s!

In Holguin we stayed with a local couple and their baby, but in a much smaller space.  There are pros and cons to staying with locals when you travel.  On the one hand, you generally get a much more authentic and hospitable experience, which we certainly did.  On the other hand, you may not sleep for 4 nights because what you hear out your window at night are neighbors blasting music til 3 a.m., a cat in heat, dog fights, and roosters crowing in the wee hours of the morning. The bucket baths and flushes weren’t a ton of fun either.

12371092_649122617540_4198425970168042477_o
The “hill of the cross” in Holguin….over 450 steps! 

While there was much beauty, and some of the stunning architecture tricks you into thinking you’re strolling somewhere through Europe, Cuba’s poverty is not hard to find. People live on an average of $20 per month.  Foods such as rice and beans are subsidized, but many foods beyond that, are expensive. Speaking of food, I personally was not impressed.  Rice and Beans are the staple, and while we had some variations with lentils and yuka, overall the food was a bit blah.  One of my least favorite foods was the ham and cheese sandwich.  This is found everywhere and often they’re left out for days until they sell.  The ham is reminiscent of spam, and I have no idea what kind of cheese it is. One was enough for me. Thankfully, at different points we were able to introduce a little pork, and a little fruit into our diet. While it wasn’t great, I am grateful our meals were prepared for us, and they did certainly try to please our palates.

Back to my earlier thoughts. One Cuban said despairingly, “A man will work hard all his life, and have nothing to show for it.”  In Cuba, working hard to work your way up simply doesn’t happen.  Wealth is taken out of the country.  Those who have money, leave, and they take their wealth with them.  Too many shops are closed.  One man told us Cubans are not good consumers. Either way, it’s a vicious cycle that affects sellers and customers, or rather the lack thereof. Not a great climate for small businesses or your average entrepreneur.

12360337_649129823100_8832122650632534081_n
Transportation in Holguin

Religion in Cuba is a hodge-podge of Protestant (Baptists, Methodists, Assemblies of God, etc.), Catholic, Santeria, and like anywhere, a lot of nominal believers at that. However the Church we saw is a bright spot. The bulk of our time was spent listening to, talking with, and meeting pastors, youth leaders, seminary teachers, and church staff. We absorbed a lot of information and asked a lot of questions (with the help of translators- though our Spanish was getting good by the end of the week!). One of our main take aways was that the Church is actually thriving in Cuba.  They have a strong presence, strong leadership and sound structures which put them in a good position to continue training leaders and planting churches.  Many want to be pastors and missionaries, and the Church could always use more resources to support full-time Cuban missionaries or pay pastors full-time salaries, but it is evident God is very much alive and moving in this nation.

10437406_649123056660_1873034285335317168_n
Beautiful “playas” (beaches) in Guardalavaca, Holguin

Cuba is a beautiful country. Gorgeous terrain, green mountains, lush valleys, sculpted farmland, pristine beaches, interesting cities, and beautiful people. Most of all, beautiful people.  I wasn’t sure what to expect visiting my first communist country, but I suppose I assumed that all people would be staunch-faced, and on the lookout for anyone who behaved outside their conformity. What I found was the opposite.  People were warm, friendly, and excited to share their country with us.  We got our fair share of “stares” in large crowds, but I imagine what they were really thinking was nothing like what I thought they were thinking. Cuba is a difficult place to live, even for Cubans. It’s unpretentious in that what you see is what you get.  Tourism doesn’t seem to have robbed this country of its soul.  Yet.

Because in 5-10 years Cuba could look completely different, I’m so glad we went now.  When this country gets its first Starbucks or McDonalds, it will forever be changed.

Thanks Cuba, for allowing us to experience all of your raw, undefined, and complicated beauty.

12366435_649130342060_953489885904294105_n
With new friends, Carlos & Madelin outside their home in Holguin

 

 

 

Metaphors of God: Bread & Vine

Continuing with Winner’s ideas of metaphors for God, bread and vines have much to say about God.

Bread

When we think about bread, the metaphor is quite straightforward. Bread represents the broken body of Christ; and vines, which bring forth grapes to produce wine, represent the blood Christ shed during his crucifixion. This is integral to our understanding of communion.

How does your church offer communion? Do they provide wafers and juice like most churches? I once visited a church where a stale wafer and small juice cup were pre-packaged as one and served to the masses. How did it taste going down? About as great as it sounds.  Stale and sugary. Our church provides some type of salted, herb cracker and juice. Several weeks ago I was preparing communion for a service during one of our programs. Instead of going for the wafer/cup combo, I brought home-made, whole wheat biscuits. I tore them into pieces and placed them on a plate next to a wine glass (which was filled with juice- because, well, the American Christian church hasn’t quite made the leap to wine yet).  Our participants came forward and dipped their chunk of biscuit into the juice and ate.

I’m not interested in changing church traditions, or suggesting we are there to indulge our taste buds, but is it out of the question to enjoy communion?  Could the point be to remember AND to enjoy? I will go out on a limb here and say that Jesus not only wanted his disciples to remember him during the last supper, but also to enjoy a last meal among friends.

Bread is visible throughout scripture.  It is the most basic of food, yet it curbs hunger like nothing else. God provides manna for the wandering Israelites, oil and flour cakes to feed hungry prophets, and Jesus breaks bread at his own final supper.  Here bread was provision, satiation from hunger.  We (American Christians) are not hungry when we take communion, so the point becomes about remembrance,  about accepting an invitation to sit down to dinner with God. When we go to a dinner party, we remember when food tastes really, really good. Wouldn’t we remember Jesus better if he were a chocolate croissant? An apple streusel muffin top? A rosemary ciabatta bun? An asiago sage scone? Or even a simple yeast loaf?

Vines

I grew up in a church where drinking alcohol was prohibited.  It is unclear whether the message was drunkenness is sinful, or drinking is sinful.  Either way, I learned alcohol is wrong. Many Christians grow up this way unfortunately. I get the slippery slope of the vine, that drinking often leads to drunkenness, which is good for no one. I have been “drunk” exactly twice in my life. Once on a bottle of wine at my own goodbye party, the other on champagne and an empty stomach at a fancy wedding. Neither time was pleasant, and I have no desire or intention to repeat that.

Some churches go to the other extreme. My friend wrote to me about all the hipster churches in DC where pastors talk about drinking from the pulpit. She writes, “The way it comes out is almost like a high schooler boasting about a weekend of binging because it’s young people who grew up in a faith tradition that didn’t mingle drinking with God.”

Isn’t it interesting the church sits on such a wide spectrum when it comes to the vine? Why do so many Christians refuse to drink the symbol that Christ himself chose? Christ did in fact drink wine, so can’t we carve enough room in our churches to discuss bringing wine into communion? Church leaders are often gauged on whether or not they’re against alcohol. My husband often says, “it’s a shame Christians are often known for what we’re against, rather than what we’re for.”

As with bread, wine as the blood of Christ metaphor is straightforward.  Winner’s metaphor breaks down a bit for me when she dives into being inebriated with Christ. Though, I can appreciate the point she is trying to make:

“It sounds like the excess of falling in love with your college sweetheart, only moreso and as in Song of Songs inebriation seems the right metaphor. This is why Jesus is hymned not as grape juice but as wine; because He is dangerous and excessive. He is more than you will need, and He is more than pleasure, and if you attend to Him, you will find so much there that you will be derailed completely.  And you will think your heart might break. And then…He will withdraw and you will be miserable and sick until He returns.” 

Jesus, in excess, can be dangerous. In your inebriation, He will make you do crazy things like give up the American dream and move to a communist country.

The metaphors of body and blood are obvious.  What’s more subtle are indulgence and inebriation. When we indulge to “taste that the Lord is good” and inebriate ourselves in His love and radical call, we find ourselves fully satisfied at his table, or miserable without Him.

Metaphors of God: Clothing

A good friend and I together just finished reading Lauren Winner’s new book, Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God.  If you are reading this, it’s unlikely you have read or will read her book (though I recommend you do), so I will strive to give you a snapshot here, as well as several personal reflections that may inspire or challenge or frustrate your current understanding of God. Winner certainly did that for me. And I appreciate her for it.

Have you ever thought about the ways in which we describe God? Thought about the metaphors we ascribe to Him? Father, Savior, King, Judge.  These are some of the most common metaphors we know. What do you notice about them? For starters, they are powerful. They are masculine. They exude a certain kind of authority.  But what about clothing? Laughter? Smell? Bread & Vines? Fire? A woman in labor? I’ll go on a limb here and say these are not the first metaphors that come to mind when we picture God.  However, each of these metaphors is used in scripture as God, to describe God, or to reveal characteristics of God to His people.  In this series of blogs, I’m going to focus on one metaphor per blog for the next 5 nights.

Clothing

Think about the “clothe yourselves with….” passages in Scripture. These verses literally mean “to put on” the things of God. Things like compassion, humility, kindness, righteousness. What does it mean to be clothed in righteousness? When we “wear” these things, in a very real sense, we are wearing God.  Let’s also think about the practicality of clothing.  Clothing provides warmth and protection from abrasive elements.  It provides security and conceals our vulnerability (nakedness).  I believe this is why God gifted Adam and Eve with clothing as they left the garden.

Clothing also communicates something about who we are, and how we feel.  What I call my “style” is simply another way of non-verbally saying how I feel about who I am on a particular day. When I am really sensing my “extra baggage” so to speak, I want to be in comfy, pajama like clothing- long, loose fitting, soft cotton. Clothing that comforts, as God comforts.  When I have been properly exercising, watching my carb intake, and drinking plenty of water, then I wear a fitted shirt and pencil skirt that hug my curves and communicate my confidence.  Wearing God gives me confidence.  When I want people to see me as a “do-gooder” and subsequently admire me, I wear one of my promoting a hunger free Africa, or stop trafficking young girls in Asia advocacy t-shirts. In my clothing, I can stand for things, as God stands for many things.

Clothing also creates barriers.  In Europe, Priests, Friars and Nuns wear clothing that indicate a closed, cloistered status.  Burmese people dress in modest, simple longyis. When I lived there I wore sun-dresses. In Liberia, women wear vibrant lapas that hug every curve. I wore mostly muted colors that were loose and breathed against my skin. Japanese people dress for success. I got more than enough wear out of jeans and a flannel button up shirt. Clothing was always a barrier overseas. And it’s just the same in America. Prisons across this country require that men and women wear uniform jumpsuits.  When one is in a prison, one stands out. Clothing creates barriers.

My friend who read the book with me reminded me about a commercial on TV for an online service, something similar to Angie’s List. My friend wrote, “The Angie’s List woman is dressed with cropped boot leg style khakis and a loose fitting cardigan. The woman promoting the new online service is wearing skinny jeans and a tailored shirt.  They are making Angie’s List look dated simply by comparing the clothing of the women. So what does it mean that we are clothed in righteousness? How can I learn to see that when I look in the mirror, rather than my own perceived measuring of success and failure?”

Clothing says a lot.  About us, and about God. If we are willing to see clothing as a metaphor for God, then I believe we are a little closer to understanding much about how we perceive ourselves, how others perceive us, and how deeply God values us, to put us in His cherished animal skin garments.

His are the hands that stitched together the first clothes, and He is the One who clothes.