Friday, September 27, 2013

Hawaii: Land of Volcanoes, Sunsets and Sea Turtles

Ryan and I at Kilauea Crater
by Rev. Laura Barclay

I went on family vacation to Hawaii recently and discovered that it is unequivocally the greatest state.  This is saying a lot from a Kentucky girl. I recently found out that Kentucky has the highest percentage of people who are born and who die in the same state. This means that friend of yours from KY will probably be moving back soon.

Only the base of Mauna Kea is
visible from below.
But even I have to step aside at the marvel of Hawaii. The localreligion and culture, which is in the middle of a renaissance that began in the 1970's, is so tied to the topography as to make the land a breathing entity all its own. This is not a hard leap in imagination to make, since the Kilauea Crater pumps out steam daily and spews lava into the ocean, vents for hundreds of square acres, and is responsible for Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, two volcanic mountains that lord over the island. Only the base is visible as the rest is cloaked in heavy clouds.

Offering to Pele near steam vent
Legend has it that the Goddess Pele went from island to island creating the chain of islands comprising the state of Hawaii out of volcanoes. This Hawaiian myth lines up with scientific fact, as the trajectory of Pele's travels matches the age progression of the island--Pele's newest creation is also the newest island, The Big Island of Hawaii. Locals leave offerings for Pele near steam vents. For Hawaiians, volcanic activity decides their future and their legends urge them to appease the goddess's anger.

Sea Turtles at Black Sand Beach
Yet it is not just anger that rules the day, as the God Kane is thanked for bringing some of the most vibrant flowers and life to the island I've ever seen, coming in neon orange, purple and blue. One day while snorkeling off the beach, I was surrounded by a pod of sea turtles who had come in to feed on the algae on the rocks. How beautiful to be surrounded in a cove with such gentle, beautiful creatures. This is truly one of the most memorable moments of my life.

Ku, Hawaiian God of War
The god Ku has become synonymous with Hawaiian nationalism. Ku is a political symbol for indigenous people, who were forcefully taken over by Americans that wanted to claim the island for its strategic importance. U.S. Marines placed Queen Liliuokalani under house arrest, giving her no choice but to surrender. Now, given that we are in a new age of questioning the wisdom of colonialism, rural Hawaiians are giving serious thought to whether the U.S. governing system is the best for their land. Hawaiians have one congressperson who represents Oahu (with the populous Honolulu) and one congressperson who represents all the rest of the islands, which are mostly rural. This is an understandable point of contention. Also, rarely do indigenous persons hold office to to their socioeconomic status. Wealthier Japanese immigrants tend to rise to the top in political circles. Regardless of their political arguments, the people were the friendliest of anywhere I've traveled, striking up conversations quickly and genuinely.

Tale of how Henry Obooktah
was an "idolater" but became
a Christian, Mokuaikaua
A point of reflection for me came when I entered the oldest church in Hawaii, Mokuaikaua Church. Itseemed pretty conservative, and had a small museum in the back that recounted tales of converting local "heathens" and "idolaters." This was disheartening. I found that many locals tend to view the coming of white Christians as the first in a wave of foreigners to erase their culture. White Christians not only wanted to eradicate the local religion, but educate the people in the ways of the whites. Western culture equaled Christianity. While this is no longer how many do missions, it is a sobering thought about all that white Christians have done in the name of God, both evil and good.

Christ Church Episcopal, Hawaii
Conversely, I saw a wonderful congregation named Christ Church Episcopal that publicized local cultural events in an effort to embrace syncretism and respect for indigenous practices. It was heartening to see a positive model of Christ-like love and respect for one's neighbor being exhibited! In addition, I kind of wanted to put in my application for pastor and never leave. If I ever move away Kentucky, look for me here.
Sunset in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

I will mull over my visit for some time to come, and look forwardto learning more about the culture, beliefs, and history of Hawaiians. Have you been to Hawaii? What were your takeaways?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Soul Renewal

Erin Gordon Goddard (middle) , Sara Hof (right), me (left)
at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, CA
by Rev. Laura Barclay

I had the blessing to be able to visit dear friends I see rarely who live in California a few weeks ago. To make this even more special, seeing them coincided with my birthday. Cupcakes, adventures, and exploring were on the docket. Nothing could have been a better present than seeing friends who are like family after a long time apart.

I met Erin and Sara in divinity school at Wake Forest University. I lived with Erin for two amazing years and spent countless hours in Sara's library studying (or not studying) and laughing at YouTube videos. These are two wonderful people who I know I could pick up with like no time has passed. They never judge me, they are always quick with a hug or friendly text, and are some of the most genuine and authentic people I know. In short, they have been models of Jesus's ethic of love for one's neighbor when I've lost my way. Without judgement, their unconditional love has always helped guide me through, as it seems to do with the best of friends. I am so blessed to have so many beloved friends (especially from Wake Divinity and University of Louisville and CBFNC), and I was tempted to begin naming them. Yet there are so many dear ones who have guided me along and been the loving presence of Christ.

When you encounter friends like these, it feels like your heart will burst and you can never give enough thanks to know such people. If I've learned anything from them, it is to pay it forward. When one friend renews your soul, try to renew another. Send a note or a funny present or a card that lets you know you are thinking of them. If a friend is in need of help--be it moving or some other project--make the time to be there for them. Friends who are like family are nothing short of life-giving, and they need to know you care.

I'm reminded of this quote from Paul's Letter to the Ephesians in Chapter 4: "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." This is the mark of a healthy community, a wonderful friendship, and a model for the Kingdom of God. 

How can you model this for a friend this week?