Sunday, February 19, 2006

WCC- February 17-18

Saturday-Sunday afternoon, February 18-19th, 2006
  • Sight of the Day- A little Methodist church about five blocks from my hotel, busting at the seams with people from every part of the world

  • Weather- Sunny, humid, in the mid 90’s

  • Price for Lunch- I will pay something today (probably 3.00 or less), but yesterday my school took us out to a fabulous Brazilian/Italian restaurant for free

  • Price for Dinner- Nothing…yes, that’s right, I will spend about 3.00 on food for two days
-     New Insights: Latin Pentecostals (who led evening prayer yesterday and don’t belong to the WCC) sknow how to worship with passion. Quite frankly, they showed all the rest of us staid mainline denominations up in terms of congregational participation and enthuasiasm. Maybe this points to one of the reasons why the charismatic church is exploding worldwide, while mainline denominations wither and die.
  • Portuguese Word of the Day-“Deus, em tua graca, transforma o mundo”- “God, in your grace, transform the world”: This was the theme for the WCC assembly

  • Best Experience of the Weekend- Singing praise songs loudly and enthusiastically with a room of rather charismatic Methodists from around the world during Sunday morning worship.

  • Amount of Sleep Last Night- 8.5 hours

Friday, February 17, 2006

WCC- February 16th

Thursday, February 16th, 2006
  • Sight of the Day- No particularly interesting sights- but tomorrow I’ll see the President of Brazil and the Archbishop of Canterbury!

  • Temperature- Mid 80’s with some rain and a lot of humidity

  • Price for Lunch- $3.20 American (for two sandwiches and soda)

  • Price for Dinner- $4.75 American

  • Cool Conversation(s) of the Day- Bartholomew, a Benedictine monk from Belgium and a professional religious reporter…Soren, a classical organist from Denmark who’s interested in global music….and a youth steward from Vancouver, Canada, on the bus back to the hotel
-     New Insights: I’m beginning to think that my Christianity has been incomplete because I haven’t had the opportunity to build relationships from Christians in other contexts, especially internationally. If you never have had a chance to interact from Christians around the world, I can’t recommend it strongly enough. In America we are far too narrow minded and provincial….there’s a rich wealth of Christian wisdom in our world that we are utterly unaware of.

  • Portuguese Word of the Day- Sanitarios- Bathroom (One of the most important words in Portuguese)

  • Amount of Sleep Last Night- 9.5 hours (a record for this trip by a long shot)

  • Quick Quiz- Which even today do you think will be most likely to make my mother gasp in horror and worry?

  • A) Nearly getting crushed in a crowd getting onto a bus on Tuesday

  • B) Wandering alone in downtown Porto Alegro in search of food (okay, so just a block, but that’s okay)

  • C) The sound of a broken bottle and a cop pulling out a shotgun on the driver of the car next to us while someone in our bus tells us to “get down”

Thursday, February 16, 2006

WCC- February 17th

Friday, February 17th, 2006
  • Sight of the Day- The President of Brazil (on a screen), a man dressed in a dress shirt, tie, and lovely black skirt, and the Rowan, the Archbishop of Canterbury

  • Weather- Somewhat cloudy in the mid 80’s

  • Price for Lunch- $1.80 American (for a nice sized sandwich…my budget loves these prices!)

  • Price for Dinner- $1.90 American (for two homemade stuffed sandwiches)

  • Cool Conversation(s) of the Day- Kerry, the youth steward who I mentioned but didn’t name yesterday
-     New Insights: It is utterly unbelievable how you can plan for seven years, bring in the top people in the western world in global music, and still have mediocre performance based worship.
  • Portuguese Word of the Day-A qui- Here, a lever- to go (these last two terms are extremely important when ordering in Brazilian restaurants)

  • Best Advertisement of the Day: A cigarette packet with a government warning that smoking causes….(hint, it’s a medical condition that is not life threatening but it advertised about extensively in the United States)

  • Amount of Sleep Last Night- 6.5 hours (this is what happens when you stay up later talking economics, politics, and theology with your roommate)

  • Most Unique and Enjoyable Experience- Participating in the choir and getting taught a song by a Coptic Christian Bishop

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

WCC- February 15th

Wednesday, February 15th, 2006
  • Sight of the Day- A male delegate from Fijii in a polo shirt and lovely colorful skirt.

  • Temperature- Mid 80’s with a cool breeze

  • Price for Lunch- $5 American (a buffet)

  • Price for Dinner- $5 American

  • Cool Conversation of the Day- One Presbyterian New Testament Professor from Germany on the bus this morning.

  • New Insights: Ecumenism is not about unity in dogma, but about asking “what do we see together?” rather than “What is right and what is wrong?”- From the workshop entitled “Recentering the Ecumenical movement in Spirituality”
Also, in case you were taking the right of women to be ordained ministers
for granted, understand that in most of the world, women are prohibited, either explicitly or implicitly, from ordained parish ministry. This isn’t true just in regions of the world like Asia, South America, or Africa, but is largely true in Europe as well.            

  • Portuguese Word of the Day- Aqua, which means water.

  • Great Quote from His Holiness Aram I, Orthodox Patriarch of Lebanon and Moderator of the World Council of Churches

  • “I consider the role of youth as being essentially an agent of transformation. We must help the youth to move from the fringes of our churches to the heart of the churches’ life and witness, including the decision-making processes. I cannot imagine a church without youth. They ensure the church’s vitality and renewal. Youth should be actors, not merely listeners; they should be leaders, not merely followers.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

WCC- February 14th

Tuesday, February 14, 2006
  • Sight of the Day- A black garbed Orthodox Patriarch using his Palm Pilot.

  • Temperature- Mid 80’s with a cool breeze

  • Price for Lunch- $1.60 American (for a sandwich and soft drink)

  • Price for Dinner- $10 American (ridiculously overpriced for Brazil, will probably be the most expensive meal I have here)

  • Cool Conversations of the Day- One with a Presbyterian pastor from Switzerland and another from a 19 or so year old theo student from Germany (who was also a PK!)

  • Quick Portuguese- “Bueno Dies” hello and “Obrigado”- Thank you

  • New Insight- You can experience boring worship no matter how big and well organized your gathering is (and yes, evening prayer was quite tedious today). But at least I got to sit behind two monks from Taize….

The Trip to Brazil (Unabridged)

Note: This was written over two days, the first half written while I was on the plane flight to Brasilia.

What did you get when combine two New York Port Authority cops, one New York Port Authority chief, two police investigators, one irate Homeland Security supervisor, two Homeland Security workers, two feet of snow, five hours on the tarmac, one refueling stop, two planes, one inedible 1:30 AM dinner, and five hours of sleep?
Answer: My first day traveling to Brazil, of course.

Since I’ve finally woken up, the batteries of my CD player have run out, and I have an hour to burn before we get to Sao Paulo (well, I think we’re ending up in Sao Paulo, but currently that’s up for debate), I’ll give you the details..

It seems quite ironic that the most exciting and eventful day of my entire trip could quite possibly have come before I got to Brazil. We ended up flying out from JFK airport on the day that New Jersey finally decided to get serious about winter, and a northeaster swept in and deposited about two feet of snow in about a twelve hour period.
The weather and driving was certainly not good- ever major airport in the Washington D.C./Newark/New York area was closed except for JFK. I had unsuccessfully tried to get to church in the morning, only to give up after getting stuck three times in about half a mile. On the whole, I think I set an all time record by getting about two miles to the gallon throughout the course of the morning. Oh well, I guess today was not the day to save the ozone.

I got on the busy and my group arrived at JFK without incident and got our luggage, and checked in.

Everything was going quite smoothly. I should have been suspicious.

Being the industrious person I am, I decided to go through the security checkpoint and get myself situated before finding something to eat, and this is where things started getting interesting.

No, unlike previous trips, I was not stopped, questioned, searched. I did not have my luggage searched or have homeland security employees looking suspiciously at me as a would-be terrorist. Instead, I put my baggage through the scanner- laptop, laptop case, duffel bag, and coat and wallet together.

When I get to the other side of the checkpoint, out comes my laptop, my laptop case, and my duffel bag. I put my shoes back on, repack my laptop, grab my duffel bag, and right around the time I begin to worry about my last bin, it comes through. I put on my coat, gather my luggage, and begin walk away, when I pat my back pocket and realize that my wallet isn’t there. I return and talk to the Homeland Security supervisor, who, after asking me four times whether I stuck the wallet in my coat, my duffel, my laptop case, other jeans pockets, etc. etc. etc. (although how my wallet could have possibly made it into my close laptop case or duffel is beyond me), begins to search.

I’m starting to get worried and annoyed. He obviously isn’t happy that he has to search for me and I’m obviously unhappy that in the five or so seconds that I took my eyes of the bin to walk through the security checkpoint, that my wallet disappeared. After about 15 minutes of searching, the wallet turns up- on the other side of the security checkpoint and in a separate bin.

The supervisor breathes a sigh of relief, hands me the wallet, and asks me to check to see if anything is missing. I open my wallet- credit cards, ID are all intact. Phew. That’s when I find out that all my money for food and expenses (where ATM machines and credit cards are not as prevalent) has disappeared.

I again return to the supervisor, who is absolutely thrilled (and a wee bit skeptical) to hear that my money is gone. He shrugs his shoulders and tells me that I can go to the pay phone, call the Port Authority. I thank him for his time and he responds with an eye roll.

Irate and worried, I walk over to the waiting area, deposit my remaining luggage with friends, borrow some change (since of course I am now flat broke), and, after three tries, manage to get the Port Authority, which decides to send a police officer to the scene.

All right, take a deep breath, relax, rest your eyes, go surf your favorite web site for a few minutes, get a glass of water- if you’ve made it this far, you deserve a medal. Plus, I want your full attention, because this is when things get interesting.

Don’t worry. Go ahead. My story will still be here when you get back.

The Port Authority police officer comes over and the previously uncooperative “what are you doing complaining about stolen property at my checkpoint” supervisor, who we shall call Ramon (primarily because that’s his name), becomes considerably more polite and friendly.

In contrast to his homeland security counterpart, the police officer is friendly and sympathetic. I answer a barrage of questions, explain in exacting detail what happened, how much money I lost, etc. etc. He writes my name and address and decides that he should call the Chief of Port Authority police in that area, since thefts at security points tend to be taken seriously.

{Okay, quick aside- I just checked the in flight map, and no, we are not landing at our original destination, we are actually landing in Brasilia, which is about an hour by plane from Sao Paulo, I believe. This probably has something with running out of fuel after idling on the tarmac for five hours, but more on that later). (Quick aside to the aside- I was actually correct…we ended up on the tarmac in Brasilia, so we could refuel- which added an extra hour or so to our flight.)

So the police chief comes over, and asks me the same series of questions. He too talks to the supervisor, who, (poor guy), is now looking very stressed and a bit beat down. The police officer who first arrives informs me that this is likely all the can do except file a police report, since it’s unlikely that the investigators will come down unless there have been a series of incidents at this checkpoint.

Sure enough, about fifteen minutes later, the investigators (who yes, look like they came straight from a crime show) and ask me the same series of questions. By now, it’s looking like a metro police convention down there, with two metro police officers (who informs me that this checkpoint has an awful reputation for thefts), one police chief, two police investigators, two TSA homeland security advisors, and a few TSA/Homeland security officers thrown in for good measure.

They finish, I leave, and we finally get on the plane, which rolls on the runway at 7:30 PM, and stays there for five and a quarter hours.

No, that’s not an exaggeration. Five and a quarter hours. With no explanation.

Finally, around 12:45, we lift up off Kennedy’s only operating runway, and are served dinner (which has been sitting in heating units since 7:00PM) and it was easily the worst dinner I have ever eaten, (which, at that point, I didn’t really care about, my last full meal had been 13 hours before, and I would have been satisfied with mud if they had heated it up and given me a spoon).

After the aforesaid refueling stop, (caused by idling on the tarmac for five hours), we arrive in the airport around 1:30PM, having missed our connecting flight by about 3 hours. We end up getting bused to a different airport which puts us on a five o’clock flight to Porto Alegre. We crash in our hotel, eat dinner around 10:30 in the evening, and finally get to sleep.

And that’s it, that’s my story. No, money is not a problem- people have been forcing money upon me, and if I accepted all the Brazilian (and American) twenties that people have been trying to give me, I might be able to turn a tidy profit by the end of trip. That being said, I guess it will be a good spiritual discipline to rely on others for my daily bread.

All right, that’s enough for now. I’ll give you an update on the first day of the assembly later!

Friday, February 10, 2006


I thought I’d share a quick excerpt from my Bishop’s latest conference wide e-mail where he reflects upon his trip in December to Nigeria. In times when money gets tight for us as individuals and communities of faith, this brought me up short. Maybe it will do the same for you:

Some have asked for the text that I read from my Journal.  I wrote it during my December visit to Nigeria after visiting our mission hospital in Zing where patients desperately wait, sometimes two or three to a bed, for help....for a doctor....we no longer have one there.  Next to the hospital complex is a new, state of the art (for Nigeria) eye hospital....also with no funds....only a very dedicated nurse.  When there was a doctor there, hundreds would come from as far as Cameroon....there are so many in Africa suffering from eye diseases carried by water and insects....many are blind....and waiting....waiting for mission funds.....waiting.   The nurse asked me why the United Methodists in the U.S. could not provide more it used to? 
The day before I had been at a wonderful outdoor service of about 8,000 in a remote area where some of the people had walked for days to get there.  Most of those who came are very financially poor, but very rich in spirit.  When the offering time came, the music started....and then the dancing...the people from each area represented came joyfully processing, singing and dancing, up to the large offering basket....children, old folk, teenagers (who had climbed up into the trees so they could see), mothers with babies wrapped on their fronts....singing and dancing....led by the pastors dressed in their black robes and white stoles that fluttered and billowed like wings of the Spirit...singing and dancing....such joy....such generosity....such faith that if they risked giving their little, God would provide for tomorrow (no 401k plans here....many of the pastors and D.S.'s hadn't been paid for months)....the pastors we re leading...........And then they called on the Bishops!!!  Bishop Ntambo (from the Congo where they do this almost always) and Bishop Weaver (from New England where they do this almost never.....I never have figured out how to get my right foot to follow my left foot in dancing....that's why a hundred years ago I did OK at the "twist"....but I didn't think that would work here.)  But with God all things are possible.....and when the Spirit says "dance" (and be generous), somehow the Spirit provides.....and Bishop Ntambo and I danced our way to the offering...and the offering baskets and hearts overflowed....the "Lord loves a cheerful giver,"  (the Greek word used in the New Testament for "cheerful" is "hilarion."  The "Lord loves a hilarious giver"....think about your church....your own giving.) 
And after experiencing all of this on the day before, the nurse at the hospital that day asked me why the United Methodists in the U.S. could not provide more help???  That night I wrote in my Journal: "What shall I tell them?....that we are too poor with our multiple TV sets and cars...and our Christmas tables laden with more food than many in Nigeria will see in a month.  What shall I tell them, who tithe what little they have, when they ask how our mission dollars can be declining if our American United Methodist's are tithing?  What shall I tell the Nigerian pastors who lead the way in the offering dance...pastors who have not been paid for months...about our pastors who will not lead in stewardship efforts, or even give "Together for Tomorrow" a good faith effort?  What shall I tell them about churches that tell me they cannot pay 100% of their Mission Share, and then show me their new kitchen?  What shall I tell them about churches that disagree on this denominational issue or that issue and think they will make a difference by not sending their mission share dollars, when th e only impact they will have is to leave a child without a doctor in Zing?  What shall I tell them about the too many Christmas gifts I will buy with my VISA card to honor the Christ who gave it all for the poor....and the poor in spirit like me?
O Lamb of God who takes away the sins of self centeredness, greed, waste, lack of boldness, gluttony, and reluctance to love our neighbors as we love ourselves....have mercy upon us."   What would you tell them?

Monday, February 06, 2006

A Quick Update

It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve updated, so I thought I’d do a quick hits post to keep people current with my life.

-  I spent the last week of January relaxing, preparing myself for the semester. I visited with my Aunt and Uncle in Philadelphia over the weekend, and had a marvelous time watching their 500 channel (no exaggeration) television, eating great meal after great meal, getting taken out to movies, church, Doug and Buster’s (a huge arcade/restaurant), and generally enjoying their wonderful company.

- Last week was my first week of classes and I’m in for a fairly easy and hopefully stimulating semester. For the record, I’m taking

     1) Greek Exegesis, where we finally get to read and translate actual Biblical texts after spending all of last semester on grammar.

     2) Religion and the Social Process (fondly known by students as Oppression 101), where I’ll get to learn about all the inequities upon which our society is structured and how bad white straight males are. (Just kidding on that last account, our professor (who is a practicing Quaker incidentally) has a wonderfully gentle spirit and is making sure to give people room to struggle and engage with the issues).

     3) The Future of the Ecumenical Movement, in other words, my trip to the World Council of Churches Assembly in Brazil next week, with about 3000 other Christians from across the world and across denominations.

     4) Intro to New Testament, with a professor who’s teaching it for the first time. While I’ve heard great things about her, I’m a bit skeptical about the course, since it’s primarily historocritical in focus (we don’t even start reading the New Testament itself until the third week) and not nearly as challenging as my Intro to the Old Testament course.

     5) Worship in the Emerging Church, with Mark Miller, one of the foremost composers, worship leaders, and musicians in the denomination (he wrote, for instance, the sung communion liturgy in the Faith We Sing). While our first set of classes lacked focus, I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to learn from him and to visit some emergent congregations.

     Hopefully this will sate your appetites for a little while- I’ll try to get one more post before I head off to Brazil on Sunday.