An Ode to the Jersey Shore @NJShorePatch

confluence in point pleasant beachThe most beautiful place I’ve ever been is the top of a mountain in the Austrian Alps. It was Easter Sunday 2001 after a rain storm. A group of us were in Austria for 18 days doing construction work on a church in the valley below and took a windy drive up, up, and up into the sky to have lunch at a country inn that rightfully belonged in a fairytale.

We were literally enveloped by clouds. I felt as if I could reach out and touch heaven with my hand. The physical and metaphysical worlds merged to a degree that I’ve never experienced before or since. Perhaps it was the altitude.

Men were dressed in lederhosen and women in colorful dirndls. There was homemade cheese, speck, and plenty of beer. Way too much beer for the Austrians. One man fell off his bar stool, hit the stone floor with a frightening thud, and was up drinking again before we fully comprehended what had happened. Our group was teetotaling, so we simply drank in the moist, clean air and the breathtaking sights. Those were intoxicating enough. It was the kind of place about which tourists say, “I could live here.”

I’m not sure I said that, but I did inhabit the moment, as I have many others like it when I’ve immersed myself in the particular beauty of a place. Whether I’ve been in Paris, or on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, or in the hill countries north of San Diego or San Antonio, I’ve given myself over to the charms inherent in every bit of earth I’ve traversed.

And each time I’ve come home to the Jersey Shore knowing more deeply than before that I am of this place. …

Read the rest at Manasquan Patch.

What I Wrote This Week @UrbanFaith: July 4-8

Hitchhiker, NYC

It was a short work week because of the Fourth of July holiday, so even though I wrote three posts for Urban Faith, only one was published this week, and perhaps that’s appropriate given that it’s a bit of an apologetic for my role as News & Religion editor at the site.

The post was inspired by an article about the relaunch of AOL Huffington Post’s Black Voices and included a quote from Ed Gilbreath explaining his vision for Urban Faith. Here are bits and piece of the post, but I encourage you to read the whole thing.

“During the early days of the AOL Huffington Post merger, we had a chuckle when Arianna Huffington was named editor-in-chief of an array of AOL blogs outside her area of expertise … perhaps most glaringly, Black Voices.” So began an article in The New York Observer about the site’s re-launch. …

As news and religion editor at Urban Faith, I’m keenly aware of my own limitations in communicating stories that reflect authentic African American experience and interest, which is why I’m enormously grateful for the black men and women who contribute the majority of UF’s content. …

Urban Faith, on the other hand, has a specific, yet broad vision. Here’s how it was described in a 2008 pre-launch email I received from editor Ed Gilbreath:

Urban Ministries, Inc. is an African American-owned company. Our core audience is black, and will naturally be rooted in that perspective. At the same time, recognizing the beauty of diversity in God’s kingdom, will strive to also be ethnically inclusive and multicultural in flavor.

Today, urban culture transcends racial boundaries and covers many different socio-economic backgrounds. What’s more, Christians who are engaged in the exciting call to urban ministry come from all races and walks of life. will be more about a way of looking at the world than where folks live or the color of their skin. It will be both for those who make their home in an urban setting and for those who care about the people, culture, and issues related to urban life.” …

Read the whole post here. And, look for those other two articles and more next week.

I’m a Child of Urban Ministry @UrbanFaith

I’m alive today because God used an urban ministry to bring my parents together, and to lead our family to a more dynamic faith.

My bio here at UrbanFaith says that I’m a product of urban ministry. Readers might imply from that statement that I came to faith in Christ through an urban outreach program, and if they did they’d be wrong. Although my earliest memories are urban ones, I grew up in a bucolic mile-square beach town that people visit to escape city life. What I mean is that I’m literally a product of urban ministry, and I owe its practitioners a great spiritual debt. …

Read the rest here.

A Steel Frame Holds

When my husband and I were dating, I was a 20-year-old single mother and I was determined to finish college because my unplanned pregnancy had forced an unwanted hiatus from school. When we were going through pre-marriage counseling with our pastor, I mentioned this in a session. The pastor said, “You have a baby to take care of,” even as he was encouraging Jeff to extend his 2 year Bible college goal to 4 years. One day, as Jeff and I stood outside the beat up construction trailer that would become our first home, I said, “I will finish college.” He bristled, not because he was unsupportive of my goals (he’s always been that), but because I was making a declaration rather than including him in a decision.

What was implicit rather than explicit in my declaration was a desire to escape a dubious 1970s past. And fear. When my father died of a myocardial infarction at 41 years old, my mother was left with two children to care for on her own. I was terrified of being unprepared for an unpredictable future.

I did finish college, with the help of my mother and my mother-in-law, both of whom babysat, and with the support of my husband, who worked countless hours earning a lucrative income (rather than a degree) so that we were able to pay for my education without incurring any new debt. I finished also because I decided that college would be my hobby. I didn’t go to the gym or the nail salon or on expensive trips. I went to school in my spare time for twelve years and graduated with honors. Only then did Jeff go back to school.

Fast forward a decade and some of my worst fears have come true. My baby is dead and my husband is involuntarily retired due to a physical disability. We’re in the midst of profound grief and profound role reversal. He stays home and I go to work. To make matters worse, my choice of a practical career coincided with historic technological shifts. Journalism is about as unstable and insecure as a career gets. I’ve had to be creative and flexible in order to minimally meet our financial needs. I’ve also had to grapple with that little devil reputation again, because there is a prejudice in our culture toward those, like my husband, who are unable to work. I wrestle with this prejudice myself. And then, there are the emotional challenges of role reversal. Ann Althouse writes this about it:

These deeply embedded sex roles… they don’t change so easily. Being large-minded and flexible and into change isn’t enough. It doesn’t get at the root of what you really feel, and you can’t just feel what you want to feel.

Jeff is one of the smartest, hardest working men I know. Still. He keeps his days full and his mind occupied. He contributes significantly to our family and our community. His strong work history and wise financial decisions have made our continued solvency possible. And yet, we both feel the strain. As much as I’ve always wanted a career, I haven’t wanted one like this. As much as he knows he must respect his limitations, he often ends up writhing in pain from overexertion.

Ann Althouse’s marriage didn’t survive role reversal. My marriage will survive, as it has through a host of other challenges, including the only one that has truly threatened to decimate it: our son’s suicide. We’ll thrive because we love each other and because we have a long history of working through our conflicts, but mostly because God is with us and in us prompting us always to love and forgive.

Planning for the uncertain future is good and wise. It creates a framework upon which to build when the walls of life are blown off. Without structure, chaos reigns. Without love, there’s no point in rebuilding.