When the Son of Man Comes…

On June 1, I started an 11-week journey of CPE. CPE stands for Clinical Pastoral Education. From the ACPE website:

“Clinical Pastoral Education is interfaith professional education for ministry. It brings theological students and ministers of all faiths (pastors, priests, rabbis, imams and others) into supervised encounter with persons in crisis. Out of an intense involvement with persons in need, and the feedback from peers and teachers, students develop new awareness of themselves as persons and of the needs of those to whom they minister. From theological reflection on specific human situations, they gain a new understanding of ministry. Within the interdisciplinary team process of helping persons, they develop skills in interpersonal and interprofessional relationships.”

This summer, I’m doing my CPE with the Training and Christian Counseling Center at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. There are six of us, and we each serve in various placements in downtown Atlanta. I’m serving with Central Presbyterian’s Outreach and Advocacy Center. Central works in partnership with individuals and families to assist and advocate with them to avoid or overcome homelessness. In fact, most of the guests we serve on a daily basis are currently experiencing homelessness, or are just one step away from having nowhere else to go but the streets.

Much of what we do involves helping people obtain some kind of identification. Atlanta has a relatively poor track record when it comes to working with individuals experiencing homelessness. In preparation for the 1996 Olympic Games, the City of Atlanta passed a law which made it illegal not to have a government-issued ID. Many people who live on the streets don’t have a state-issued ID, or a birth certificate or social security card. For many of our guests, those things were stolen from them. For others, they had to leave them behind because they were fleeing a dangerous situation, like domestic violence. Others were kicked out of their homes as teenagers, without any documentation proving who they are. Still others, suffering from undiagnosed or untreated mental illness, simply can’t keep up with the things they have.

So, many people who have no where else to go end up in jail or prison because of a violation of this law. To add insult to injury, the state of Georgia confiscates your ID when you’re incarcerated, and they don’t give it back. So, when you get released, you’re potentially back on the streets, without ID, and therefore without the ability to get a job or find housing. And you have to start the process all over again.

Day in and day out, the staff and volunteers at Central tirelessly work to restore hope and dignity to those who are ignored, mistreated, or worse. There’s a surprising amount of laughter when we’re meeting with a guest. There’s also a less-surprising amount of sadness. My heart breaks, over and over, for these children of God who have nowhere else to turn.

The most frustrating thing about the work that I’m doing is that Central Presbyterian is directly across from the front steps of the Georgia Capitol, and very close to Atlanta City Hall. The work that we do at Central, and places like it, will never end until the people with the power to do something for the least of these actually do something. Much of what’s legislated in Georgia is for the benefit of those already wealthy and powerful. Many of our guests sleep right outside of our gates, in the shadow of the gold-plated dome.

I’ve been reading through the lectionary this summer, and I was struck by a pair of the readings last week. The Old Testament reading was Deuteronomy 16:18-20. It reads:

“You shall appoint judges and officials throughout your tribes, in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall render just decisions for the people. You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eye of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

It was coupled with the Gospel reading – Luke 18:1-8:

“Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me down by continually coming.” And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will God not grant justice to his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?'”

Well? Will he? Nothing has made me wonder that more than these past two weeks. What is God’s justice? Whatever definition we may find, the for-profit prison system isn’t a part of it. Illegally detaining people isn’t a part of it. Forcing the most vulnerable among us to jump through a thousand hoops while simultaneously demanding and expecting that they be working and “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps” isn’t a part of it. Institutional and systemic racism isn’t a part of it.

This is what we face, as people of God. A world that wants us to believe that there’s such a thing as valueless and disposable people, cogs in the machine. That’s in direct opposition to the biblical narrative of redemption, of grace, of God’s love for the world and each individual who is a part of God’s creation.

And so, we demand justice from our leaders, crying out day and night until they, too, are worn down like the unjust judge. So that, when the Son of Man comes, he will indeed find faith on earth.


In 24 hours time I will be on a plane to India. Technically, I will be on the first of two flights: from Atlanta to London, and from there on to Bangalore.

I am traveling with a group from the seminary for a class called “Explorations in Alternative Contexts.” This course is a requirement for the MDiv program at CTS. We will be gone from the 27th of December to the 11th of January.

The course description is as follows:
“In this class, students will encounter various Christian communities in south India, especially in the metropolitan centers of Bangalore and Hyderabad.  We will explore a cultural and religious context in which the church is engaged in interfaith conversations, on a regular basis, primarily out of necessity rather than by choice.  Through this encounter, students will grow as theologically-informed readers about the various ways in which the gospel, culture and theology shape each other and will reflect on what it means to live in an ecclesial context in which the church constantly finds itself at the margins—numerically, politically and ideologically.  As a group, students will develop insights about becoming resilient and imaginative amid difficult situations and about transforming crisis into opportunities.”

We’ve been meeting as a group once a month over the last semester to eat Indian food, get to know one another, and discuss issues of caste, gender, interfaith dialogue and the intersection of religion and politics.

I am a nervous flier, and a bit wary of the 20-or-so hours we’ll spend 30,000 feet above God’s good earth. However, my nerves grow more distant as my excitement for this opportunity makes its way to the forefront of my consciousness. I am nearly packed, have done most of the required reading, and can’t stop looking at pictures of where we’re headed – not unlike the nights before YAV orientation.

For those of who you’ve been faithful readers of this collection of my experiences over the last two years, you may recall that I was originally placed in India for my YAV year, but because of extenuating circumstances went to Belfast, instead. I am, as you already know, overwhelmed with gratitude each and every time I think of the people and experiences that shaped my year of service in that damp wee country in the North of Ireland. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I have, however, been very curious about how my life would be different had I served in India, and I wonder what things await that perhaps I wasn’t ready for a few years back.

I do not plan to blog regularly during this experience. However, my group will be keeping a blog – to which I will contribute. You can click here to access it. If you click on the link before the 28th, you likely won’t find anything. But click away if you’re so inclined!

I so appreciate all of the love and support I’ve been given and that I continue to receive from dear friends around the world. This experience will undoubtedly change my classmates and me in ways we can’t even begin to imagine. I humbly ask for your prayers: for the ten students enrolled in the course, for the two brave professors leading us, and for those brothers and sisters in India whom we have yet to meet. Pray also that these experiences will shape all of our ministry to the glory of God.

All love and peace and hope during this sacred season of joy and new beginnings.

Here we are.

This week, I’m joining forty people from the Presbyterian Church (USA), along with about 6,000 women and men from around the world, at the United Nations 58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women. As part of the PC (USA)’s delegation, I am also serving on behalf of Ecumenical Women.

I join eight other young women who were chosen to attend with Presbyterian Women’s Young Women’s Leadership Development. We were given a full scholarship to attend. I am so very grateful for the opportunity to meet women from around this nation and our world.

When I was in the 10th grade, my high school choir (Sumter High School) under the direction of the wonderful Eric Wilkinson performed Mozart’s Vespers at Carnegie Hall. As part of the trip to New York, we toured the United Nations complex. I don’t remember much about the tour, because at the time I had no idea I would need to pay close attention. The one thing I do remember, however, is a photo display featuring women from around the world. The description asked you to guess the ages of each of the women, and then invited you to remove a panel revealing the actual age. I was floored. Most of the women, I guessed, were in their forties and fifties. As it happens, the women I thought were in their fifties were actually in their early twenties. By our standards, they had aged far too soon. Our tour guide explained that the conditions these women experience daily causes them to appear so aged. Most of them have no childhood or adolescence, the guide explained.

This year, the overall theme of the CSW is “Challenges and Achievements in the Implementation of Millennium Development Goals for Women and Girls.” In 2007, I attended my first Model UN conference in Atlanta. The topic? Evaluating the MDGs at their halfway point. Oh, continuity.

The Millennium Development Goals were established by the United Nations in the year 2000 as a global development framework for the next fifteen years. The eight goals are:
1. Eradicate extreme hunger and poverty
2. Achieve universal primary education
3. Promote gender equality and empower women
4. Reduce child mortality
5. Improve maternal health
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
7. Ensure environmental sustainability
8. Global partnership for development

Much progress has been made toward these goals. For instance, according to the 2013 Millennium Development Goals Report, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has been halved at the global level (from 1990). However, there is much work to be done. Which is what brings us here.

Ecumenical Women has released a statement outlining the four areas that we identify as priority areas. They are:

1. Poverty and Hunger
2. Equal access to education
3. Health
4. Ending violence against women and girls

Through this 58th Commission, we will be setting the stage for 2015 and beyond. We heard from Lopa Banerjee on Saturday. She is the Chief of Civil Society for UN Women. She pointed out that 2015 is a crossroads – it is the end of the MDGs and the beginning of the post-2015 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). It is also the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration. It is an incredibly important time. And as we particularly acknowledge and address the failures of the MDGs, we can know what to emphasize for the post-2015 agenda, so that structural change will occur in order to have lasting progress for gender equality; a common set of minimum standards.

We had the great privilege of hearing from the Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlango-Ngucka. She spoke yesterday after our chapel service. Here’s a video: (it’s a bit long, but it includes the singing we did before, at her invitation). Phumzile Mlango-Ngucka was elected to South Africa’s Parliament in 1994, and she later served as the Deputy President of South Africa (from 2005-2008).

Three themes from this time are emerging for me, already:

1. Progress for women is progress for all of humanity. Gender equality is not a conversation in which only women should participate. We need the other half of the population in order for this conversation to have any relevance. We must raise our daughters and our sons to know the importance and value of women and girls within each and every society.

I feel so connected to my women’s college roots these days. Dexter Edgar Converse, the founder of our institution, wrote in his founding statement, “The well-being of any society depends much upon the culture of her women.” And it’s so very, very true. And men must be a part of not only the conversation, but the implementation of change, as well. Please check out heforshe.org to find out more ways to empower men and boys to join in the movement.

2. Our stories matter. Stories will change the world.
Many of you know that I believe fully in practicing nonviolence in all forms in every aspect of life. I mean, we’ve tried violent intervention and resistance since, like, the beginning of time, and it hasn’t really worked thus far. What can it hurt to try something different? (A conversation about what nonviolence is and isn’t would probably be helpful here, but that’s a different subject for a different day.)

I am beginning to believe that nonviolence as a way of life begins with storytelling. Listening and being heard. It’s not impossible to behave violently toward someone whose story you know – but it’s a whole heck of a lot more difficult. It’s about re-humanizing those who have been dehumanized. It’s not about speaking on their behalf- because how could I ever do justice to someone else’s story? I have my own to tell. But, we can create space for other stories to be told – stories that are otherwise unheard and unnoticed. This is the way we begin to move forward.

3. People of faith must advocate and must speak out. So often, people of faith are seen speaking out against something. (Just recently, I was incensed as a state representative in the state of Arizona declared that the vetoing of the bill which would have legalized discrimination against the LGBT community is a “war on people of faith.” No, it isn’t. But that’s what the rest of the world sees as our representation: a fearful people. A people who live as if God’s grace could ever actually be taken away. A people who have forgotten the goodness of all of God’s creation. A people who speak out of a place of hurt rather than a place of love. A people who shout for action rather than calling for peace.)

We cannot be afraid, in our own churches and communities, to make clear that gender-based violence in any form is completely and totally unacceptable. We must make clear that lack of access to clean water is not the way the world was created to be. We must make clear that the decision whether or not to have sex does not lie with the male alone. That women and girls are not objects. That reproductive health and rights are universal, and that access to each of these things is a human right. That it is unacceptable that women worldwide provide 60% of labor and own 1% of property. Speak out. Speak up. Pave a new path for people of faith. Raise a new voice and sing a new song. We have such power in our togetherness. And power is not a zero-sum game, contrary to what the world would have us believe. We can only become more powerful agents of change in the world as we combine our gifts and passions. The Kingdom of God is within our reach – but we won’t see its realization without, among many things, gender equality. So here we are.


This semester, I’m taking a class at nearby Candler School of Theology called “Peacebuilding with Youth: Unlearning Violence, Learning Nonviolence.” One of our course assignments is to adopt a practice and/or fast from something so that we may cultivate nonviolence in our lives. These changes are meant to be small, but meaningful. Part of this assignment is to post a weekly blog update on our progress and thoughts. We’re sharing these on a class website that I won’t make public. But I thought for an extra measure of accountability (and, maybe just for fun because I miss this space) I’d post my own updates here, as well.

I haven’t done any hard and fast statistical analysis, but I would hazard a guess that the majority of our liturgical calendar is about waiting, about spending a season in anticipation of something – and learning about ourselves and the nature of God in the process.

The beginning of our liturgical year is Advent – the season of waiting for and anticipating the birth of Christ. We celebrate Christmas, the culmination of that wait-cycle. And then comes Lent. Waiting for the violence of the crucifixion. Anticipating the suffering death of Jesus on the cross. Lingering in the darkness that covered (and still often covers) the earth.

In this course, we’ve been reading from the likes of Walter Wink, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhi. Wink’s book, Engaging the Powers, has been particularly eye-opening in this process of delving into the systems and structures that keep violent regimes and practices in place.

In many of his letters, the Apostle Paul writes of the “powers and principalities.” These powers and principalities are, according to Wink, the systems at work in the world – particularly the “Domination System.” Wink claims that we cannot avoid these powers and principalities, because we were born into the structures and systems that surround us. He claims, however, that we can engage these powers in such a way as to transform them, as vessels of the transforming power and love of God.

As I was thinking of the many ways I participate in or contribute to the violence of the world around me, I had a hard time deciding on just one practice to fast from or add. (Should I stop shouting at people while driving? Is that going to be enough? Maybe I could garden every day, and then plan to give away whatever I grow. Or, maybe I could adopt a practice of centering/reflective prayer. Or pledge to write letters and make phone calls to my representatives. Or, or, or.) So what I’ve decided to do is an amalgamation of those thoughts. I am going to use “Prayer Practices for the Way of Peace” by Andrew Dreitcer. Each week, I am going to adopt a different one of these prayers for each day of that particular week. I will also strive to have at least one physical action and/or inaction that is a manifestation of this prayer practice.

I hope this will make me more aware of not only the ways in which I practice violence, but the ways I can incorporate nonviolence into my everyday realities, so that it can become, over time, a way of life.

Rainy Days

It’s been overcast and rainy a few times in the last weeks. And while many of my friends here grimace and moan, I smile to myself.

You see, the rain is no longer a nuisance.

The rain is a very physical reminder of another home, of a place I love and cherish. The rain is a physical reminder of how incredibly fortunate I am. The Columbia community has already proven itself to be a great fit – my classes are challenging and engaging, my professors are brilliant and many of my classmates have fast become my friends.

But in the midst of this happy transition, I miss Belfast.

In some ways, the transition home has been harder than the transition abroad. I think this is because when I was leaving the States, I knew that my time away had an expiration date. I don’t know if and when I will ever get back to Belfast, and there are people there whom I love dearly, and who I will likely not see again (in this lifetime, anyway). It is harder because my daily realities no longer include the primary school that stole my heart, the church community that showed me that I am more than my voice, and the YAV community that loved me even at my most undeserving.

I know that these things will come here, with time. Time is hard. Time is agony. And change is an odd thing. It can be subtle, yet powerful.

I begin nearly every sentence with some form of, “Well in Belfast…” or, “When I lived in Northern Ireland…” But at some point I stopped saying, “Hiya!” or, “I’m away,” or, “You’re doing my head in.” At some point, “biscuits” once again became “cookies”. I can say “pants” without blushing, and no one makes fun of me when I say the word, “aluminum.” I miss it desperately, at times. But I am also falling desperately in love with my experience here. I am growing, stretching, learning, doing and being.

On rainy days in Belfast, no matter how cold or wet it was outside, I was warmed by a welcoming hug as soon as I walked through the doors at Whitehouse. I was warmed by the smile of a nine-year-old as I shook the rain off of my jacket. I was warmed by the fellowship found around the lunch table at the Vine. The rain is no longer a dreary thing. My time in Belfast taught me that the rain is a reminder that beyond the clouds exists warmth and light. Always.

There is something to be said, I think, for a people who have experienced a collective trauma. There is a warmness and sense of camaraderie that cannot be found elsewhere. So if you never gathered it from previous posts or conversations, please hear me now: the loveliest people in the world can be found nestled along the loughshore in Counties Antrim and Down. I now carry with me a different understanding of the word hospitality. I carry with me stories and memories which sustain me on the coldest and wettest of days. I carry a spirit whose kindness and generosity knows no bounds. I carry the heart of a people. I carry it in my heart.

An Aside

I’m back. I just couldn’t stay away, and I’m going to post some post-Belfast reflections shortly. However, there is something else that has been on my mind lately.

I may have mentioned a few (hundred) times that I spent my last two years of high school as a voice student at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities (SCGSAH). Those two years were incredibly formative, and I still find myself in regular reflection on my time there.

The Governor’s School residential high school program is relatively young (the first class graduated in the year 2000). We are seeing, now, an emergence of govies (that’s what we call ourselves. It’s cute. Like it.) who are “making it big.” Three of those govies were classmates of mine: Teyonah Parris, Danielle Brooks and Liza J. Bennett.

Liza most notably appears in the critically-acclaimed film “12 Years a Slave” as Mistress Ford. Teyonah was the first African-American character on the show Mad Men (she plays Don Draper’s secretary Dawn). And you probably best know Danielle as Taystee (from the Netflix original series “Orange is the New Black”).

I’m not telling you all of this to name drop some pretty cool people (although, that’s happening and I don’t hate it). I’m telling you this because it struck me recently that I have the opportunity to tell people that I know them because people know their work. And people know their work because it matters. “Orange is the New Black” isn’t just an incredibly well-written show with an outstanding cast – it brings attention to the great injustices which are very real and very present in American penal systems and facilities. “12 Years a Slave” is an important story because we are nowhere near finished with conversations about the gross injustice of the African slave trade and the many and varied legacies it leaves in its wake. It matters that a television drama in set in the 1960s would only have a handful of African-American characters because it matters that this was the reality of the time period.

In many ways, the Governor’s School doesn’t just produce artists. In fact, many of us find ourselves in professions outside of our primary art areas. SCGSAH produces students of life, who approach everything with integrity and efficacy. I think it speaks to the core of our curriculum that these particular alumni are involved in work that matters, work that generates conversation, and work that makes people, at times, uncomfortable.

I didn’t intend for this post to be a pseudo-political PSA, but please consider this: anytime someone in the South Carolina legislature moves to limit or (God forbid) eliminate funding for the arts, they are moving to limit or eliminate the powerful capacity for change that an arts education embodies. I could go on and on (and on), but suffice it to say I am incredibly proud of all of my classmates, and I count that education – daily – as a blessing.

Change and Grow

This is it.

My last service is over. Plates have been cleared from the tables, goodbyes have been said and keys have been returned. My bags are packed and waiting upstairs.

In a few hours time I leave for Dublin, where I’ll catch a flight to Prague and travel for a week or two before heading back to the States.

It’s surreal that this has all come to an end. I knew it would, in some part of my mind. But here we are. Officially. It’s been an incredible journey – one that began around January of 2012 and is now beginning a new chapter as the page turns away from my time here.

I’d like to leave you, finally, with some lyrics that encompass (as best as anything can, I think) the last year and a half of my life.

I worked with several grade levels at Whitehouse Primary School, but I got to know the P7s especially well. I had the great privilege of conducting the music for their Leavers Assembly. This song, Change and Grow, is one that they sang in June. And while the Anna Owens of years-gone-by may have found it to be incredibly cheesy, I find that it now has a great deal of meaning.

Change and Grow

Winter passes into spring,
Seasons come and go,
There’s a time for everything,
For everything must change and grow.

Lessons learnt along the way,
Things we’ve come to know,
We take with us each new day,
For everything must change and grow.

There are places we’ve loved and those we’ve left
There are days we remember well.
There are faces we know we shan’t forget,
But this day we move forward,
This day we move forward.

Who knows what tomorrow brings,
Where the winds will blow?
There will be new songs to sing,
For everything must change and grow.

Through the laughter, through the tears,
In life’s ebb and flow,
Seize the moments and the years,
For everything must change and grow.

There are places we’ve loved and those we’ve left
There are days we remember well.
There are faces we know we shan’t forget,
But this day we move forward,
This day we move forward.

Winter passes into spring,
Seasons come and go,
There’s a time for everything,
For everything must change and grow.

There are places we’ve loved and those we’ve left,
There are days we remember well.
There are faces we know we shan’t forget,
But this day we move forward,
This day we move forward,
This day we move forward.

This day I move forward.

Goodbye for now, Belfast.


Eternally yours,