Sunday, July 26, 2009

Saturday, July 24, 2009


Day Six


Jazzed Up



Saturday was a good day.  No early morning wake up call.  No pressure to do see and experience everything all at once.  No anxiety over complex logistical concerns.  No longer are we wondering, ‘where is that?’ or ‘how would we fit that into our day?’  We already put in the extra effort required to be on the floor for the mass gathering event.  We already got up early for our servant event.  We already meandered through the Learning Center.  If the last few days have been cake, Saturday would be the icing.  Most of us had plans to do that thing or two we haven’t had the time to do yet.  Shop, see the rest of the French Quarter, go that museum we wanted to make time for or just get back to the hotel early to take a long deserved nap.

The day started with a little structured Gathering time.  From 9-11:30 we were assigned our time for the Interaction Center.  We got a taste for this amazingly huge place on Wednesday, but Saturday morning was our time to feast here.  After zip lines, wall climbing, and the pick up basketball/volleyball games we rejoined Holmen Lutheran for lunch at the Hard Rock CafĂ©.  It was truly a gift to enjoy our midday meal at tables away from long lines.  This was genius planning (thank you Leah for foresight!)  After the Hard Rock, our group from First walked together toward St. Louis Cathedral Basilica, King of France which is New Orleans iconic Church behind Jackson Square.  From there we split into smaller parts to enjoy whatever parts of the city still beckoned our attention.

After our afternoon experiences we met up again at 6:00 outside the Superdome.  Some of us (female types) had bought masks and boas and were ready to fly through a night of masquerades.  Others had ‘chilled’ at the pool.  But no matter where we had been, we were on our way to our last evening gathering event.  And it was a good one.

The theme for Saturday night was ‘Jazz’.  The first 10 minutes or so were dedicated to linking the way of jazz to the ways of God, which was exactly what I did with last Sunday’s sermon.  Jim Knutson heard so many of the same analogies that he asked me whether I got my sermon from the Jesus Justice Jazz website.  I, of course, told him that actually the JJJ gathering planners downloaded my sermon from First’s itunes site after hearing how helpful it wasJ  Anyway, that was – generally speaking – the theme for Saturday evening: how our God can improvise creation, redemption and grace into our lives and the whole world.  We first heard from Donald Miller, the author of Blue Like Jazz.  At no other point in this gathering has the connection between our service and Christ been made more clear.  Let me explain.  All week we have been patted on the back for how 36,000 Lutherans have so graciously come to New Orleans – a place in need of so much healing – to serve them by painting their schools and churches, assembling bags for school kids, reclaiming parks etc.  At the beginning of Saturday’s evening festivities we were even thanked in person by New Orleans’ mayor Ray Nagin and heard a thank you letter read by our Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson from President Barack Obama.  Our works are being noticed by the world.  But Donald Miller made it clear that we do not do these acts of service just because it is nice or the even the right thing to do.  We act on behalf of Jesus.  We serve because Christ first served us, as an act of worship and discipleship.  We not only do what we do in the name of Christ but for Christ.  Yes, it’s nice .  And yes, it IS the right thing to do.  But Christians act in service to our Lord first and foremost.

It can be easy amidst these amazing speakers who have done and are doing such amazing things to forget that connection to Christ.  I was so glad Saturday evening started out by being so clear.  We also heard separately from two women.  One leads a garden project in Milwaukee in response to God’s call for good stewardship of creation.  She doesn’t do it because it’s green, she says – although that is a perq.  Above all, she does it in respons eot her Lord Jesus who calls her to steward His creation.  Finally we heard from Kelly Mahlum who started a run club in North Philadelphia.  Just in her mid twenties she told her story about how she has gone from a girl with no faith in anything bigger than herself to finding herself caught up in a call from God, doing God’s work.  Just two years ago, after running every day past a dilapidated area of her city she slowly started to get to know the homeless guys who lived there.  She started to care about them and their problems of addiction and neglect.  So she asked them whether they’d like to run with her.  9 said yes and soon she was running with 30.  Two years later she has a bona fide ‘group’ who are there to support each other and dare I say love each other through life as they run.  But it was Kelly’s faith journey that spoke loudest to our kids.  She admits that this ministry (she never called it a ministry… but I just have to because it so clearly is) is not her own.  She never set out to meet her own goals or expectations.  This thing has a life of its own and is clearly God’s work.  She has just had the guts to say yes: here I am Lord (again she never used the ‘Here I am Lord’ line , but she so obviously has said that whether she knows it or not.)  Bottom line: she gave us a great example of how God jazzes love into the world through sometimes unsuspecting people.  And so, we are jazzed up after a great Saturday.  We are ready for Communion in the morning and our departure that we may get home as soon as possible on Monday morning.  

Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday, July 24, 2009


Day Five


Front and Center



On this fifth day of the gathering, many of us are feeling the full effects of being away from home.  Lack of sleep has accumulated.  Aches and pains from many miles walked are real.  And, of course, we sincerely miss the families and work we are absent from.  BUT, it is a good day to be at the Gathering as God continues to do a whole new thing in all of us… today especially through learning.  Each of the three full gathering days (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) has a theme.  Day 1 for us was our service day.  Today, Day 2 is our learning day.  And tomorrow is our day to play (and so much more) in the interaction center. 

Our learning day (from 9-noon) was in the incredibly large New Orleans Convention Center.  Each participant was encouraged to complete 3 learning experiences which were rewarded by a pretty snazzy bandana.  We had dozens of workshops to choose from.  I heard Psalm 139 in a whole new way in terms of discernment.  Then I watched the PBS “American Experience” movie about the history of New Orleans.  Finally I did 6 activities that pertained to AIDS awareness.  There were workshops on keeping churches green, making Mardi Gras masks, and how to share your story through drama aong with many others. 

After our learning experience we ate in the New Orleans Riverwalk on the Mississippi.  I must say the jambalaya, red beans & rice, crawfish and hush puppies are all really tasty – especially when you have a little of each all at once.  (It’s a good thing I’m walking so much with all these extra calories).  Later our group went to an IMAX movie near the Riverwalk called, “Hurricane on the Bayou.”  This was a great way to be reminded of the devastation that occurred here from Katrina.  And it is actually necessary to be reminded, especially as we walk around this fully functioning city.  It is difficult to imagine, believe it or not, that 8 feet of water flooded out much of this area and that people literally died in the convention center and Superdome in the storm’s aftermath.  Remember the chaos that followed the storm?  Remember how there was an actual national debate as to whether we should rebuild this city?  And now we are here, walking its streets and experiencing its culture.  The movie brought it all back to our hearts once again. 

After relaxing in a dark air conditioned theater we made our way into the hot muggy New Orleans afternoon so that we could trek to the Superdome for tonight’s worship service.  The goal: floor seats for tonight’s mass gathering – which aren’t easy to get.  We arrived at 4:30, a full hour before they would even open the doors and 2 ½ hours before the 7:00 start time of the event.  That meant that we had to sit outside the Superdome’s closed doors for a full hour in the hot sun before we could get in.  And trust me, that wasn’t easy or fun.  But when those doors opened, and after we rushed inside we got the best seats in the house.  We sat on the same floor where thousands of people lived for a few weeks after Katrina.  Only this time where we sat was front and center at the foot of the Gathering’s enormous cross.

The theme of the worship service tonight was Hope.  We heard from  Spencer West and Michel Chikwanine.  Spencer had his legs amputated at the pelvis as a child and now advocates for all who are too easily bullied.  He knows Hope intimately as he has had to overcome seemingly hopeless social obstacles his whole life.  Michel was abducted as a 5 year old boy in the Republic of Congo so that he could serve as a child soldier.  If you have never heard a child soldier’s tale it is more awful than you can imagine.  After being forced to kill his own best friend, Michel (5) was made to assault a village for its food.  There – just 2 weeks into his new soldier life – he ran for three days and three nights back to his village.  He now advocates for change in Africa, believing Hope is real.

It was a good day, but everything requires patience and extra time.  Going to the bathroom, waiting for a shower, and even getting ice requires time.  Lunch had a 45 minute line at every restaurant.  The water fountain in the Superdome had a 35 minute wait.  IMAX was a half hour and well… patience wore thin at times today.  But it never left us completely, and I truly consider that a gift from God.  We should be more cranky with each other and ourselves.  But God is putting himself front and center in our lives through these experiences and when God is being so overwhelmingly powerful, it’s hard to be crabby.  Even when I write this blog at 1:00 AM after a long day.  Thanks be to God!