Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Back in the USA! + [Sermon from Church of the Ascension - 22 March 2015]

Hello hello from Seattle! I really meant to get something out sooner, but things just got away from me for a variety of reasons...but I have been back from Brazil for a bit over 2 months now, and am in the midst of job hunting -- part of why I've been busy, but look for more of a reflective piece in the near future.

In the meantime, I have been organizing some times to share my experiences at some Seattle area churches, and below I've posted a sermon that I preached on March 22nd at Church of the Ascension [in the Magnolia neighborhood -- click here for the bible readings from that particular Sunday]

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more info!

The train tracks in Meier, the neighborhood in which I worked and went to church in Rio de Janeiro.
O God of all Creation, longing and anticipation,
Speak to us now in this season of waiting –
May we recognize the divine not only in the holy words we hear,
But in the hearts we meet, the faces we see, and see you in them. Amen.

Good morning – or as we’d say in Portuguese, bom dia. My name is Nina Boe, and I am a recently returned missionary of the Episcopal Church. For two years, I was part of a national program called the Young Adult Service Corps, in which young adults, ages 21-30, spend a year in volunteer missionary service in another part of the Anglican Communion, with placements in Latin America, Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Europe. My placement, as you might have guessed, was in a Portuguese-speaking country—Brazil, to be precise. My first year, I served in the city of São Paulo, working with the office of the Provincial Secretary of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil, and having the opportunity to travel about the country and visit six of Brazil’s nine dioceses. My second year, I was based in Rio de Janeiro, working both in the diocesan office of Bishop Filadelfo Oliveira, and working with a specific community, Santíssima Trindade, Most Holy Trinity, in Rio’s north zone.

It was at Most Holy Trinity that I found myself in a position I hadn’t quite anticipated – that of being a lay minister. In the Anglican Diocese of Rio de Janeiro, this gave me quite a few abilities and responsibilities – aside from continuing in various acolyte functions, crucifer, learning to be a thurifer –how to not make the thurible seemingly burst into flame, or avoid smoking out the chancel, per se – I also was able to assist the priests at the altar during services. Now, I grew up going to a sort of chill, lower church – and Most Holy Trinity was decidedly Anglo-Catholic… so I had a fun little learning curve. Much to my surprise, I really enjoyed it. It instilled in me a more holistic reverence and respect, as well as encouraged a different appreciation of our diverse faith traditions. It helped that despite being decidedly more high church than what I was used to, it truly felt like a real and genuine community that welcomed all, regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, what one looked like, what their background was…it really felt like a church home.

With friends at my home church, Most Holy Trinity. 
This is an experience that I had time and again in Brazil – despite differences in language, culture, regional identity, gender, what have you… I felt at home. Welcome. Part of a wider community. As the prophet writes: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Love is that new law, and when it is written on our hearts, genuine community is a natural and inevitable consequence. There is a quote from Trappist monk Thomas Merton that I have used often – in the sermon before I left for Brazil, in the one I gave between my two years of service, and my last one in Rio before leaving: “I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I was theirs.” And it truly is overwhelming, and beautiful when you feel that way, as I learned to feel about Brazil.

I had long felt the call to go somewhere else – mission on a global level had always tugged at me. The church’s entire idea of mission is based in relationship and companionship. Our liberation is inextricably bound with the wholeness of others. As Jeremiah reminds us, “no longer…shall they say to each other, ‘know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” Between growing up in diverse communities and schools in West Seattle, to my various travel experiences in Europe, Africa, and Latin America, I have certainly met people and been places that range from the least of these to the greatest. I’ve shaken hands with the United Nations Secretary General, and I’ve walked with children in the former city dump that is their playground and neighborhood.

At Rio de Janeiro's former city dump, Jardim Gramacho.
Now if I might tangent briefly from the latter…when it comes to ideas of mission, it’s unfortunately become a kitschy, normative thing in some circles of the realm of the white savior, Christian humanitarian complex to go to some other country, visit an impoverished area, take a few photos, post them to our social media, and – well, you know the rest – likes, comments, and a superficial, been there/done that sort of response. Life merely goes on…but dare we go deeper? We must. It is where we’re called. The psalmist writes, “you look for truth deep within me and will make me understand wisdom secretly.” And how do we do that? Our baptismal covenant gives us a clue: that we seek and serve Christ in all persons.

Now, there are lessons that don’t come easily, or quickly. But, thankfully, it does come with experience. Two years is no small thing, I’ve realized. And quite honestly, sometimes there are moments where I look back and honestly wonder what did I actually do? That question may not necessarily have all that much of an exciting answer in some ways…but I am constantly trying to be open to the process of discerning answers to a different question: what did I learn? Much. About the world, about people – and about myself. Indeed, the irony about something like an experience abroad is that so many people go with the idea of doing something, or taking their skills and giving – because more often than not, you get so much in return. I was gifted the opportunity to see Christ not only in cute, dirty, homeless children, as well as in perhaps less cute, dirty, homeless adults – and learn that even if I had moments of discomfort or frustration with the latter more than the former, that it doesn’t mean I have to stay that way. I can continue to learn, grow, and change. I was challenged to look for Christ in both drug traffickers and the police pacification units, knowing full well that both sides have been perpetrators of violence at times…and yet I too must strive to remember that these are the ones whom Jesus loves. The marginalized, the excluded, and everyone in between.

Our text today from Hebrews states that “so also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed.” By no means would I stretch to compare myself to anything quite like that, but it did make me think about the role of being a missionary. There are things we do become through our experiences – wiser, hopefully. More passionate, and compassionate. More understanding. But do we really become something like a missionary, or is it something to which we are appointed? To be a missionary is, in essence, to be a Christian. To be an Episcopalian. There is a quote by Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “We are all missionaries or we are nothing.” It is to remember not only our baptismal covenant, but also our marks of mission – my particular favorite being “to seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.” As our season of waiting draws us nearer to Holy Week and Easter, I do wonder – if our understanding of the resurrection does not traumatically challenge all injustice, oppression, sin and violence, are we truly yet to understand the resurrection?



And yet resurrection is not simply a life-changing transformation. Something must die in order to be reborn. John’s gospel gives us the line we have heard time and again: “…unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” In today’s age, the Church worldwide still has painful reminders of those who physically die for their faith identity. This is clearly not our narrative in the United States or in Brazil. But it does beg the question of us, what in my life must die in order to bear fruit? By no means did I have my life figured out before I left for Brazil, but I certainly let go of my ideas of plans and certainty. I applied to a master’s degree, and eventually turned it down. I thought I would do just one year in Brazil, and did two. I learned to love a new region of the world that had never really entered my realm of consciousness before, and left marks in the lives of others – and they left marks and memories in mine. Now there is another young adult missionary in Brazil, and hopefully a few more to head there this year. The fields are fertile, and I am confident that the harvest will be plentiful. But you don’t get anywhere close to any of these experiences unless you let something die, say yes to the call of the Spirit, and step out to seek life renewed.

John’s gospel reminds us that “whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.” As I later learned to elaborate, it wasn’t as if I was going somewhere to take God to anyone – but rather, I was called because God is present and working there. Christ is present in all persons – in Brazil, or Bellevue, on the streets of São Paulo or the streets of Seattle. In the pews at Most Holy Trinity, or Ascension. May we ever seek Him, wherever we are called to do so, stepping out through death into fruitfulness, our new covenant emblazoned upon our hearts.

We are all missionaries, or we are nothing. May it be so. Amen.

Walking with a new friend at Jardim Gramacho.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sermon - First Sunday after Epiphany [the Baptism of Our Lord]

[Written by Nina Boe, preached Sunday 11 January 2015 
at Most Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil]

O God, you come to us in water and fire, amidst darkness and light,
You come to us in the act of Creation, its birth, death, and resurrection…
Let us with gladness enter this season of birth and renewal,
Of new beginnings, however they may come,
and to step forth in the newborn hope renewed of God with us. Amen.


            I don’t know what it is, but the story of creation, the first words of Genesis, chapter 1…there is something so meaningful and profound to me about these words. Of all of the places and times in our complex and beautiful galaxy and beyond, out of all of the possible moments, there was one where God chose to breathe something new and different into existence. 

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

            So…I have a thing about heights. And darkness. If there’s a choice in it, I prefer to see what’s going on. Depth and darkness can be intimidating. And yet…I can’t get over this curiosity, wondering what was it like when our very solar system was in its birth pangs. We think so often of the heavens as the clouds above us, and centuries of religious art has only solidified that imagery – but as technology advanced, we learned there was so much more beyond what we can see. What can we see in the dark? Precious little, and yet Genesis reminds us that even in the deep and the dark, the Spirit of God is present—and active. That so much can be created out of darkness.

3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.

            I am reminded of Eucharistic Prayer C in our Book of Common Prayer:

God of all power, Ruler of the Universe…at your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.
By your will they were created and have their being.


            I’m a big fan of symbolism and metaphor—and I am sometimes struck not only by what is said, but by what is left unsaid. God saw that the light was good—but didn’t say the darkness was bad. God was present in the darkness.

As I read the readings for today, there was one word that kept sticking out to me: glory. The psalm in particular:

Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters… 9 …in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

            To God be the glory, for many a reason…but today I find it fitting to focus on God the Creator. Here in Rio de Janeiro, it is easy to be amazed by the beauty of Creation. As I go back to my city, I find myself reflecting on things I have missed, including nature itself. I’m reminded of a story of our former priest, when our parish supported a refugee family from Kosovo, a predominantly Muslim region, who fled due to conflict in 1999. Rev. Peter took the father and his sons on a hike in the area, with a stunning view of Mt. Rainier, a beautiful dormant volcano of which we in Seattle often have amazing views. As Rev. Peter and his companions came to a viewpoint overlooking the mountain, the father of the family paused in reverence, only able to say one word in the presence of such beauty: Allah. God.  


To God the Creator be the glory…but it is not simply nature and the stars in their orbits that God has created…but us humans and our hearts, into which God has placed eternity. An infinite longing and mission in a very finite frame. It is no wonder that we ache and strive for things that many times seem beyond our grasp – justice. Peace. Love. Equality.

            As some of you may know, I am going back to a society that is once again being actively torn by injustice, systemic violence and racial inequalities – not that they ever disappeared as time passed, but like so many instances in the human experience, once again they rear their ugly heads, and once more we must rise and fight. There is a beautiful song by the popular American singer John Legend that was just released in light of a new film, Selma, about part of the U.S. civil rights struggles in the 1960s and 70s.

“One day, when the glory comes, it will be ours… one day, when the war is won, we will be sure…oh, glory…welcome to the story we call victory, the coming of the Lord, my eyes have seen the glory…”

You see, one of the many things that God has created in us is our calling. The true and worthy desires and passions of our hearts. The things that make our very souls ache. I knew from a young age that I wanted to participate in what God was doing beyond the borders of my own country and community. I grew up in a very diverse neighborhood, my schools always reflecting a colorful mosaic of people from different religions, races, countries and cultures. I was always excited to learn more about what I didn’t know, excited to see things for myself and have new experiences. My first real international experience, a month in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina only solidified a passion that encompassed my entire undergraduate academic career, that motivated me to become near fluent in a language, to become part of new communities, and ignited a love that continues to this day. But that led to another interest…which led to another… and I realized that there was infinitely more to experience, learn and love.

            That said…it doesn’t mean the journey is easy, or that simply because it’s something we want to do, it is without any fear or apprehension. There is a prayer attributed to St. Brendan, and I find it rather fitting to remember when undertaking new and life-changing things...like going to spend a year in mission in Brazil. Or two. Or going home and seeking what’s next.

Shall I abandon, O King of mysteries, the soft comforts of home?
Shall I turn my back on my native land, and turn my face towards the sea?
Shall I put myself wholly at your mercy…
Shall I say farewell to my beautiful land…
Shall I pour out my heart to You…
Shall I leave the prints of my knees on the sandy beach,
a record of my final prayer in my native land?
Shall I then suffer every kind of wound that the sea can inflict?
Shall I take my tiny boat across the wide sparkling ocean?
O King of the Glorious Heaven,
shall I go of my own choice upon the sea?
O Christ, will You help me on the wild waves?

            Simply because we are called doesn’t mean that we won’t worry. That we won’t pass through the wilderness, the dark, or the wild waves…but as our very Creation story reminds us…God is with us, even then – in the darkness and depths, he is there. And there are those, who like John the Baptist, will appear in the wilderness, preaching the words our souls and hearts need to hear on our journeys.


And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins… 9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

1 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul…arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them.

            This too is what God has placed in our hearts…the Holy Spirit. And as is always the case, there is nothing, no one, who can remain the same after encountering the Spirit. Saul became Paul. Disciples became empowered. And I, much to perhaps my own surprise, became a missionary. I’ve had the chance to preach during epiphany for the last three years now. You’d think I’d come up something new, but…I remember the first time I preached during Epiphany, just before I moved to São Paulo in January of 2013. I had come across a quote by Trappist monk Thomas Merton, and I first used it because it seemed like a good quote to use…and when I returned to Seattle in early 2014 for a couple months, I referenced it again because by then it was obvious that the quote was how I felt about Brazil and the Brazilian people. I share it here with you today to both affirm its truth, and try to communicate in some way the immense depth of feeling and meaning that being here amongst you all has been these past ten months: “I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I was theirs.”

            This is perhaps the summary of what God has done to me these past two years here in Brazil. From São Paulo to Recife, Rio de Janeiro to Rio Grande do Sul, Brasília, Goiás, Tocantins…the pull that led me to stay another year…and that which makes it so hard to leave now. And yet, as difficult as it is, I find it humbling to have even a glimpse in this of the love that God has for all of us, to have my finite heart be throbbing from the eternal within.

            Perhaps most fitting in closing as I now stand on the threshold, following the call as it beckons me onward, there is a prayer by Thomas Merton that I first heard during the beginning of my discernment journey that eventually led me to Brazil with this program of the Episcopal Church. I end with it now in the hopes that we all remember it on all of our journeys, and that our loving God the Creator, our dear Christ born to us again this Christmas season, and the Holy Spirit, are constantly with us—from the depths and the darkness to the joy and renewal, and on every step of the roads in between.



O God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

Amen.


Friday, January 2, 2015

the hardest post to write: leaving.


When I decided to do another year in Brazil, it seemed like such an abstract date in the future that I didn't really give it much thought. Even when I came back for year two, leaving still seemed like some foreign idea. When I finally decided some months back that I felt it was time to head back to the States after round two and do something different (whatever that turns out to be), it still seemed like some distant thing.

...and now I am less than two weeks to go before I leave Brazil after almost two years straight (sans 2 rushed months back in Seattle in early 2014). As much as this really is the thing that I feel is what I should be doing, that it's time to go back...it's starting to really hit me now that I'm really leaving. Yes, I knew when I got here that this wouldn't really be home -- that I would inevitably at some point go back to Seattle and the U.S. But on the other hand...it did kind of become home. Between the two years, I've been in Brazil some 656 days, by my calculations. 

That's a long time. A lot has happened to me here, and I realize - after some serious introspection, as well as talking to family members, that I have also changed and grown a lot, too. Two years, and I've been to three different countries, multiple locations in Brazil, had some fascinating experiences, met innumerable amazing people, learned a new language, and challenged myself to step out in faith that this would be an amazing experience that would be worth the risk of leaving my home, my comfort zone, and everything I knew.





"...I say hey, I'll be gone today
but I'll be back around the way -
it seems like everywhere I go, 
the more I see the less I know
but I know one thing, that I love you.."

I've liked this song since I first heard it, and when I randomly looked it up on YouTube, was entertained to find that it was actually filmed in Rio de Janeiro! The text I've quoted from the refrain reminds me of a moment I had last October, on a plane flying back into São Paulo after a trip to Brazil's southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul -- actually, the moment I realized I wanted to stay in Brazil for a longer period of time -- this realization that this time in Brazil had helped me fall in love with Latin America, and I didn't want to leave just quite yet. 

Or on another level, the realization by Trappist monk Thomas Merton (a quote that I've used a few times in previous sermons): “I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I was theirs.” This is a sentiment that I realized has easily become how I feel about Brazil. This is a strong, overwhelming type of love -- something that has always been easy to me, in some ways, anywhere I travel. But this experience here in Brazil has been different...it wasn't just traveling, and inasmuch as this wasn't home, it became home. I felt at home. So many amazing people made me feel at home here. And yet as the months wore on, despite that I was in an amazing, beautiful city, with so many amazing, beautiful people, having so many amazing, beautiful experiences...I began to feel the tug that said, it's time to move on.


"...so I say hey, I'll be gone today
but I'll be back around the way -
it seems like everywhere I go, 
the more I see the less I know
but I know one thing, that I love you..."

Thomas Merton also penned a prayerful reflection that I recalled before I even left for Brazil -- we heard it in our discernment weekend as well as our training with the Young Adult Service Corps...and now I hold it close to my heart as I prepare to leave, and go on to the next thing.






 One of the recurring things I have been learning and re-learning time and again in various contexts is that life and learning are processes. There are few things that are so definite, concrete, and set in stone, including knowing where I am going, and knowing myself. I look forward to continuing this process, and I look forward to going back to Seattle and having the time and space to reflect on the last two years, the things I've learned, where I went, who I became...and I can only hope that we all have such experiences. 

And for you, my Brazil...remember: 


"...I say hey, I'll be gone today
but I'll be back around the way -
it seems like everywhere I go, 
the more I see the less I know
but I know one thing, that I love you..."


Rio de Janeiro as seen from Morro dos Irmaos in Zona Sul.

From A.A. Milne's "Winnie the Pooh"