Imago Dei?

Hit Command+N. Type “m”. is what Google Chrome automatically finishes. This is my every-30-minutes-or-so routine until I get my blood test for an autoimmune disorder marker back. I am exhausted, emotionally, by this process. I thought it would be over once the bacteria was gone? It is not, so far. The PICC line may be gone, but things are not as they once were. In church this past Sunday, we reflected on the John take on the turning over of the tables. There was a lot of talk about bodies being made in the image of God. We even sang a lovely new song called “Imago Dei,” taking that theme quite literally. I took notes on the sermon this past Sunday, as I have almost every Sunday for at least a year. One thing I wrote down in my notes, thinking of a possible blog entry for my long-forgotten blog: “My body has not been my favorite part of me lately.” The sermon was mostly about seeing God in other people, in our differences and similarities. But instead, all I could think was “my body has not been my favorite part of me lately.”

I have been relatively healthy for as long as I can remember. Sure, some mental health concerns and the ever-present advice to “eat healthily! Exercise!” but generally speaking, I haven’t ever really been inconvenienced, or worse, scared, by my health. I mean, people my age just don’t think about this happening to them. But it did to me and I’m bitter about it. Bitter about my body betraying me, bitter about all the people in my life who are acting like this whole ordeal is over, bitter about the fact that my body was still made in the image of God. I mean, honestly, who is God to make me this sick person? And then who is God to say I am made in the image of God? Because if my body is made in the image of God, then this illness I’m dealing with is something God is experiencing too. It means I’m not alone. It doesn’t take away the anger and bitterness I feel towards my body, not entirely. It doesn’t magically make all this go away. But it’s something for me to consider for as long as this is going on. If I am made in the image of God, then what I experience is God’s experience too. Maybe all I’m clinging to right now are the prayers from those who still pray for me and that knowledge that I’m not alone, but I think for right now, it’s enough.


Listening to God’s Call in Camp Washington

Coming up with words about my life in Cincinnati has been the hardest part about being in Cincinnati. I know this experience is transforming me. I know this community has become a part of who I am and I don’t want to leave, even though I know I will be traveling to Chicago for my debriefing a month from the day I write this. But forming words about this incredible experience just hasn’t happened. I sit and think and try to write and nothing comes out. Or rather, so much comes out. This child got in trouble today, that child did something so touching that I almost cried on the spot. I have cried so much this summer. I’m certain I’ll cry more as my time in Cincinnati with the kids ends and as I leave my fellow staff and then as I meet up again with my other summer interns. I cry because 35 children not listening to a word you say all day is incredibly frustrating. I cry because our children experience heartbreaking realities. I cry because a little boy told me he loves me. Yes, Ms. Sydney, as I am known here, cries a lot. My time with these children is up so soon and I feel like my job here is not done. There is so much I still want to do with them. I’m still working on breaking through with some of the kids who are hard to get through to. I want to spend more time with the youth group that we have here. I want to start projects with the groups to try to foster self-esteem and teach interpersonal skills that they need to learn. I had no idea that when I came here I was truly being called by God to be a part of this community. And I know that sounds silly because of course that’s the case, I work at a church, this is through my denomination, etc. But I didn’t expect Cincinnati to feel like a place I could call home. And now I genuinely feel like I have a home in Camp Washington.

I have a book that is a collection of UCC women in ministry writing about hearing God’s call. The pastor who founded my church happens to be in the book. The dedication of the book reads: “this book is dedicated to women everywhere who are responding to God in word and deed” and it got to me. I am in Camp Washington because of a UCC woman in ministry who jumped at the chance to have me when she read that I am discerning a call to ministry on my application for this summer internship. She always says that this is “real ministry.” And the longer I’m here, the more I understand how right she is. I now fully believe and am beginning to really understand that God has called me to be in this place, with the raucous children, with drug addicts that I’ve eaten lunch with. My work here is not done. I don’t know when it will be. I’ve already decided that I’m going to return next summer. God placed me in Cincinnati for a reason. God made it feel like home the minute I got here for a reason. I am where I belong. And no matter how stressful things may get here, as long as I remember that, I will be okay.CF62B46D-4B63-450C-8F91-2B5210CE7019-1-2048x1536-oriented.png

I made a rose on my phone playing Pictionary with one of the kids today. It was the highlight of my day and I thought it went with the post nicely.

I’m Here!

Monday morning I woke up around 7:30AM and embarked on an adventure. I am spending my summer serving at a church in Cincinnati, Ohio working with elementary school children teaching them conflict resolution and how to handle feelings and all that sort of stuff. For the past few days, I have been doing orientation activities with other young adults who are working at other locations across the United States this summer. Today all the other groups left so I thought it would be a good time to fill in everyone at home about what’s going on.

All the orientation stuff was fun, even though the days were long and busy. We did a lot. We did typical icebreaker type stuff, learned games to play with the kids, worshiped together each morning (using the Common Prayer in the mornings, which I really enjoyed and would love to use if I ever end up living in a hospitality house type thing), and explored some of Cincinnati. Thus far, I really love the city and am excited to see what all it has to offer and what all I can do for it.

On Sunday, the work really starts, as we help serve community breakfast and help lead worship and greet the work camps from surrounding churches that come to help. And then first thing Monday morning we get to meet the kids. The summer will be busy, but my heart already feels full and I feel fulfilled. The people I am working with are good people. This summer will be challenging and will push me out of my comfort zone, but I’m ready for that, I need it. I feel certain that God placed me in the right place in Camp Washington.

#HUCCGirls2044 or How I’m Coping in Trump’s America

I’ve never in my life felt more overwhelmed and hopeless. I’ve ached from physical pain that made me see stars and feel faint. I’ve battled depression that did fun things like make me unable to leave my bed and consider running into other cars on the highway. I’ve had anxiety that makes me expect the worst in my everyday life, quite literally everyday. And yet, the closer we get to a Trump presidency, the worse I feel. The first few days, I did alright. I put on my brave face. I signed up to volunteer at W, X, Y, and Z organizations. I scheduled an IUD appointment on the off-chance that the world truly goes to shit and I can’t be in charge of my reproductive future. I got really fun (read: absolutely vile) Tweets about it when #ThxBirthControl was trending on Twitter, and I spoke about my experience and made a snarky comment about it outlasting the Trump presidency. I remained strong, as I played with the bright, kind, young girls at my church’s Thanksgiving dinner while the nasty Tweets kept pouring in. I literally had children climbing on me while strangers were telling me I was a slut for being scared and responsible. I only cried that night when I thought of anyone saying those things to my wonderful girls. Those girls deserve better. They don’t deserve a Trump presidency. I am terrified. For them. For me. For America. I don’t want this for any of us. I want to stomp my feet and jump up and down and tell the world “NO!” I want to physically force the Electoral College to vote for Hillary Clinton (I don’t even know how I intend to do this. Nor do I know how the Electoral College actually makes that decision.). I want to wake up from this horrible nightmare. (I kept pinching myself on November 9th, like it couldn’t be true.) I want to give up. I want to go to sleep and not wake up until November 5th, 2020. I want to find out how to study abroad until then. But I can’t do any of those things. Whenever I think of giving up, I will think of the children at my church who deserve a better future. They don’t deserve a Secretary of Education who has never stepped foot in a public school. They don’t deserve a Vice President who is so horribly homophobic that he took money for HIV/AIDS research and used it on conversion therapy. They do not deserve a President who has said you can just “grab [women] by the pussy.” I want to make this world a better place for them. A safer place for them. I don’t know when I will truly come to terms with the results of this election. It has certainly been an eye opener about the type of America we live in. I so badly want to give up right now. But because of these young women who hold our future, I can’t. I won’t. Thank you, children of HUCC for being the hope I need, always.

Why I’m Starting a Young Adult Group at My Church (And Why I Think the UCC Needs to Do More)

I’m a 21 year old who has always had a passion for church. Ever since I can remember, I have loved sermons, loved the rituals, loved hymns. I even remember joining a prayer group in middle school. Church just works for me. There’s something about faith that really speaks to me. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always been an anxious person so the idea of a higher power who is looking out for me is comforting (though I do remember the nightly children’s prayer of “if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take” terrifying me because that idea completely goes over the heads of children). That explains the relationship with God part, but I still can’t quite figure out why the traditions click. Regardless, they do. And I know I’m not the only young adult who feels that way. I know I’m not the only young adult who has progressive values who wants to discuss issues that are important and work to change the systems that are broken. But unfortunately, I feel so alone in this prospect. Why aren’t there more resources for young adults who feel this way? Why doesn’t my denomination, which I do love dearly, I promise, do more? A quick search on the United Church of Christ website does not contain the information that I think it should. It has the typical mainline Protestant information about “Young Adult Service” groups for mission trips and such, a link to our sexual education program, Our Whole Lives (which I think could be a useful and interesting draw to the church), but also no campus ministry information. There’s also committee for youth and young adult ministry, but honestly? There is just not a ton of information available for young adults who want to get connected to a church. Even just browsing random churches’ websites, I rarely ever see information about young adult groups. I desperately want a connection with young adults who feel similarly to me but it’s just really difficult to find. So in the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt: “It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself,” I’m taking the initiative to start up a young adult group at my church. My initial ideas are meeting for dinner maybe once a month? Perhaps meeting after church for a quick chat? Maybe even a texting group chat for prayer concerns or just good vibes in general? That is ultimately the first step in my goals for young adult ministry. I’d love to branch out and meet up with young adult groups of other denominations, other faiths, even, and find common ground. I’d love to do service projects with those groups to show the world that Millennials do care about the world around them, that we care about each other. I want this not because I’m upset with the UCC, but because I love it so much. I see us and see that we are a haven for those who feel like they cannot love God as they are and that God does not love them. I know for a fact that there are young adults who feel that way who appreciate my willingness to talk about faith in such a genuine way and perhaps would even want to join a faith community where they could feel truly welcome. I want that for them. I want that for me. We need young adults in the UCC. It is not enough to go from youth group to just the general church population. Young adults do want religious community, though it may look different than what we expect. I know young adults who don’t like sitting through a church service, but would love the opportunity to meet up with other young adults to discuss faith and build community. I’m taking on this task because I believe in the past, present, and future of the UCC. I love this denomination, with its longstanding history of welcome for all of God’s children, but I want more from it so it can thrive and grow. I want to see God’s extravagant welcome extended to all people and that they can be nurtured in a way that is what they need. This is what I need so this is why I’m starting a young adult group at my church.

Why I Have a Tattoo With the Word “Dead” in It

No, I don’t worship the Devil (though the real question is if I believe he exists!). No, I don’t want to die. I didn’t even at the time that I got it! My tattoo says “not dead yet” in Old-English-y looking font. And this is why I got it.


The tattoo in question (Also, if you know, can you tell me what my undertones are? I have no idea.)

I got my tattoo when I was going through the hardest thing I’d ever dealt with. I had a severe bout of depression. I couldn’t get out of bed some days. When I could, I didn’t feel anything. I felt powerless and completely out of control of my own mind and life. I did have a close-knit group of friends at the time who introduced me to a singer called Frank Turner. He’s a British folk-punk singer who was in a punk band until he started doing the singer-songwriter thing. So not what ‘90s-country, pop, and rap-obsessed Sydney was used to. But he sang about things that I could relate to. He sang about relationships and parties and life not being what we were told it would be. His music bonded all of us together. We went to parties and drank (me while underage. Oops? Just being honest here…) and sang his songs at the top of our lungs on the car ride home (That’s seriously one of my favorite memories). And while a lot of those friendships have come to their end or just kind of drifted apart, I will never regret this tattoo. It’s inspired by Frank Turner’s song  “Get Better”. It was loud and raucous and so uplifting. “We can get better, because we’re not dead yet!” This song is about living! It’s about getting through the tough times a little beaten and bruised, but hey, you’re still alive. And to a clinically depressed 20 year old, it was my gospel. So I got the words “not dead yet” tattooed on my wrist. And it was the best therapy $60 could buy me. It allowed me to do something for myself and only myself. I’d been in some not-great relationships with guys who liked telling me how I should look and they didn’t approve of tattoos, but I didn’t care what they thought. I got it for me. And it was the most freeing thing in the world. It allowed me to feel in control of my life and do something for me. It didn’t cure my depression, (shout out to Lexapro and my lovely therapist for helping!) but it did give me some courage. I’d lost my confidence through the bad relationships and the depression and my everpresent struggle with anxiety. But I got a tattoo! On a Monday, kind of on a whim? (The dude who did it was free that day while I was planning on coming in later in the week) After going on a 5 mile hike the day before. (That was seriously one of the strangest 24 hours I’ve ever lived.) I just did the things I wanted to do. And while at the time, I was totally fucking depressed, (Can I say that word on a blog about religion?) (How many sets of parentheses can I use in one blog post?) it was one of the only times in my recent life where I have just done what I wanted to do. While I am so grateful to be in remission with my depression, I need to remember to keep some of that wild, recklessness. Life is meant to be lived. As another Frank Turner song says “You’re not delivering a perfect body to the grave.” So I will continue to get tattoos, much to my father’s dismay. People get tattoos for all sorts of reasons but I like the story of mine being a therapy session. Where I picked the meaning of the mark that is permanently etched on my body, the phrase that I needed to hear at the time. That’s something that is unique about tattoos and I love it. The temporary pain of the getting tattoo helped with the not-so-obvious pain I was dealing with in my brain.

Thanks for writing so much great fodder for this wannabe preacher, Mr. Turner. (PS I sincerely love “Glory, Hallelujah”)

“Some people don’t get and some people don’t care, but some of us we have tattoos”

“You’re Still Doing the Religion Thing?”

“In the meantime, I attended writers’ parties, where the other writers, who had left the Orthodox world behind to pursue self-professed “hedonism,” laughed at me: “You’re still doing the sleeves thing?” They tugged at my long sleeves. I stood out.” Avital Chizhik Goldschmidt “Confessions of a Rabbi’s Wife

Avital Chizhik Goldschmidt is one of my favorite writers. I love the way she writes about her faith. She admits the issues it has, but is still deeply connected to it. I struggle with being a woman of faith in the modern world, but for slightly different reasons than Mrs. Chizhik Goldschmidt. The language is similar, but not quite the same. I attended a party last weekend where I had a similar conversation with some friends. Most of the friends in this group were at one point religious but are not anymore. They don’t understand why I still go to church and believe in God. I don’t instantly look religious like Avital does. Actually, a friend of mine commented on my dress with cutout sections and zippers and my bright makeup, saying I don’t really look like a future preacher.


The Aforementioned Dress and Makeup in Obligatory Selfie Form

I’ll admit, that dress was more risqué than I remember it being when I bought it, but I don’t believe there is one mold I must fit to be a minister. Most of the books surrounding my bed right now, where I sit typing, are religious in theme. I’m involved in my church in multiple ways, from heading up the new young adults group that I hope to get off the ground soon to choir to teaching Sunday school. That’s not even counting where my true passion in the church is right now – helping with the youth group. Life would be much simpler for me if I were not religious. It’d cross off an item on my long list of things I’d like to do with my life. I wouldn’t have to struggle so much with the idea of loving humanity. It’d make the cynicism that is rooted so deeply in me take shape much easier. But alas, just when I think I’ve escaped from the grasp of “divinity school” and “ordination,” they reel me back in. With interfaith dialogues and stewardship and missions meetings and lunch with my mentor and friend. I have big, broad ideas for what church can be. I know almost exactly what I would want my future church to look like. It would be part gathering space, like campus ministries I’ve seen that are open almost all the time, for people of all backgrounds – black, white, gay, straight, Jewish, Christian, Muslim – to come together, converse, and build community. It would be part food bank, like Sara Miles’ church (though I’ll admit, I have not yet read her book), where we feed the hungry in our community and make them feel welcome and at home, with resources available to help those who need homes or jobs. It would be part yoga studio, with classes available at various hours during the week with an emphasis on mindfulness to help everyone with the stresses of daily life. I would borrow from the Catholic Church, taking the idea of Daily Mass so there is opportunity for prayer and worship everyday of the week, but with the idea of it being open to everyone, not just Christians. There would be rooms for musicians to practice and for artists to work, to bring their unique gifts and talents into the community. I love church. But I want more from it. I think we all do, don’t we? And perhaps not all of these ideas are sustainable or possible, but certainly some are, right? With all this in mind, I know I will never leave religion. I will never leave my faith. I believe in my faith. Not just God, but my faith. My church. The church. I believe in what the church can be. I see the good it does in the world and want to multiply that by a million. My church has always believed in me, so I will always believe in it. And as much as it would simplify my life to feel otherwise, I cannot shake the idea that ministry is something I am being called to. In spite of, and even perhaps because of, everything else about me, that would seem to make the idea of ministry impossible, still, I feel that calling.