Ministry Training (ACMNP) and a Return to the Beginning

This weekend I attended the national training conference for A Christian Ministry in the National Parks (ACMNP) up in the Rockies of Colorado. I had the utmost pleasure of meeting my ministry team to the Grand Canyon for the first time and I already feel myself falling in love with our dysfunction. During our free time, I set out to hike on my own and was quickly engulfed by four other ministry members who refused to let me find the freedom in solidarity I thought I was chasing. We summited a peak that was supposed to take two hours, so naturally, we did it in one. The second we set out at that boisterous pace, huffing and puffing, I thought about the palaces I had been summiting just months early and realized “this is a piece of cake” even though my sensitive sinus cavity screamed with the change in altitude. Mind over matter is not just a mantra used for the weak who capture our pity. When we reached the top, someone, I don’t remember who, said, “you guys just want to read and chill?” and that’s how I knew I found my people. I threw up a hammock between some rigid pines and fell into a Spanish story of love and mystery and regret while the sky dusted it’s icy blessing onto my head.

We had hiked the first mountain that ever captured my undivided attention some 8 years ago. I remember how that peak flirted with my competitive side and how the bigger, older, stronger boys won me over to loving the dynamic landscape by daring me to sprint down the mountainside with them. They must have seen that subtle flicker in my eyes of someone who is never satisfied and whispered, “let’s go” before going full force with the pull of gravity. And me in all baby-of-the-family mindedness had the nerve to think I could keep up with them. I was right. When we reached the bottom eons before the rest of the group they all turned around to me and laughed, not at me, but in surprise. One of the boys leaned over to me and said “keep flying, kid”. At the time, I might not have known what he meant, but I think my heart kept that promise anyways. I remember how we parted ways from there and never shared a moment of depth again. I remember how one of them died a few years later and how that was my first clue into the fact that death doesn’t see in the spectrum of age but rather in the black and white of “yes or no”. I hope he thought about flying down that hillside when he laid his head back for the very last time.

My ministry team kept things slow on our way down that old familiar peak and even though I was grateful they had chosen me to go along at all, I realized I have a thing or two to teach them this summer about choosing to go fast simply for the sake of going fast. About speed for the sake of speed. About flying for the sake of flying. But, we had just met so I kept my mouth shut like I always do and hoped it would be enough just to write it down later.

My team makes a lot of sense to me and I’m not really sure why. I suppose it’s because their quirkiness seeped through their cracks just enough to not make me feel incessantly uncomfortable in my own skin like I do with most new people. I felt that I didn’t have to keep my mummy wrappings on so tight, that I could loosen them up enough to breathe even though a bit of weird and dark and sarcastic and spacey slipped out. Heaven help them the day I cut the wrappings off in full this summer.

We learned many things about how to do effective ministry in a national park and throughout it all God spoke to me and said, “this is what you’ve been looking for” and I believe Him. I believe Him in that He sent me to the place of my roots in Christianity to tell me that this season of my life isn’t an escape like nearly every other season has been. He sang Job 5:8-11 to me all weekend long saying “little thorn bush of mine, it’s high time you realize you’ve got flowers coming alongside your thorns and they will make each other beautiful. stop acting like you were meant to scare everyone away”. I realized that I am the earth He has been pouring rain on and that this period of sunshine – hot, dusty, desert sunshine – will go hand in hand with that rain and make flowers pop up on my skin previously thought to be barren.

I am still hopelessly afraid of that canyon; I keep having dreams that he reaches up and swallows me whole. I think it stems from the fact that I haven’t been able to place my hands and forehead upon this type of land yet to ask it for forgiveness and permission. I’m worried he will speak to me in a language the mountains never used. I’m worried I’ll like it more. All I know is that I fully plan on standing on that rim with my guitar singing songs yet unwritten into his open palms and hopefully, he will believe that I mean good.

I’m overly excited to get the summer started, to be back with my team, to be back surrounded by Christians who treat the earth as a sacred place and not a servant. I’m ready to be challenged and lonely and swallowed and completely whole in a place where most people aren’t. I want to get lost in it all, I think I already am.

Books that Impacted Me

Now that midterms are behind us, students everywhere are once again finding time to do things that aren’t schoolwork – sleep, for example. One thing I have found I suddenly have time for again is reading books I’m not assigned for class. This got me thinking about the books that I’ve read that shaped my taste in literature and shaped me as a person. Of course, I couldn’t pick just one, so my top four are listed below.

  1. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell


I read Cloud Atlas at what, in hindsight, was a very important time for me in terms of developing my voice and style as a writer. My writer friends raved about it — for good reason. This postmodern masterwork, comprised of six different narratives that “stack” on top of each other, redefined my ideas about how a story can be told. As technically driven as the book is, at its core is the honesty of human connection that drives all great art. Combined, the two create one of the greatest books I’ve ever read.

      2. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers


Having been truly introduced to postmodern literature with Cloud Atlas, and to Dave Eggers with Zeitoun, I jumped at this book when my high school creative writing teacher dropped it on my desk. It, too, changed the way I saw written storytelling. This book did things I’d only seen before in experimental theatre. It is meta, it is self-aware, it is technically innovative. It is also the first  nonfiction book I’d ever actually read for pleasure and enjoyed.

      3. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut


While the others listed here are significant to my development as a storyteller, Slaughterhouse-five is more significant to my development as a person. This is one of those books that you walk away from feeling  profoundly changed. It was for me, at least. Not only is it one of the great American anti-war novels, and a great work of modern fiction, it is a book with much to say — if you are willing to listen.

       5. 225 Plays by the New York Neo-Futurists


If Cloud Atlas redefined how I saw literature, 225 Plays redefined how I see theatrical storytelling. These plays are all part of an aesthetic called Neo-Futurism, which is a form of experimental theatre defined by total authenticity, living in the moment, and real conflict. These plays took everything I thought I knew about theatre and turned it on its ear. In the process, I was opened up to a plethora of new ideas of what theatre could be, and the type of art I am free to create.