USA Recap: Ordination, Wedding, Friends, Bagels, Falling in Love Again

I know that I don’t need to apologize for longer gaps between posts, but I always feel the need to do so. We have been in the USA for nearly eight weeks; tomorrow at noon, we head to Newark Airport for a 5:30pm departure and a Tuesday arrival in Palanga. We’ve done a lot, traveled a bit, and learned a lot (I hope).

People often ask us, “What are the things you can’t eat in Lithuania that you like to eat a lot of here [in the USA] when you’re visiting?” Without hesitation, we always reply: bagels and spicy foods. We certainly had our share of bagels and Mexican food on this trip, and Corrie and I had some great Chinese food last week. But for the most part, we’ve realized that not only can we get nearly everything we like in Lithuania, most of the distinctive American foods that are hard to get are not very good for us and not good to pig out on. We really do feel much healthier when we’re in Europe, in terms of diet and exercise. I’ve just about put back on the 7-9kg (15-20 lbs) that I lost when we moved to Europe both times, and I’m expecting to lose it again within a month when we go back. It is somewhat disturbing that my weight fluctuates that much without much substantial change in diet. I don’t know if it’s corn syrup, or hormones in the chicken, or what–but we Americans must be doing ourselves a disservice somehow…

On May 20, I preached in the morning service at First Pres Mount Holly, our ECO home church. Later that afternoon, I was ordained as a minister by the Heritage Presbytery of ECO. It’s hard to describe how it felt to be ordained, to have hands laid upon me and be commissioned for ministry. My situation is different from some in that I was already serving in the call to which I was being ordained (teacher of the Scriptures at LCC). If I had to sum it all up, I would have to say that it felt right–I felt confirmed and empowered in the vocation that God has already made clear to me.

That feeling was confirmed in subsequent weeks as I preached at Presbyterian churches in Dunellen, NJ, Norristown, PA, and Endicott, NY. The task was the same, the struggle was the same, the blessing was the same. The fact that nothing “felt different” about performing this important ministerial function before and after the ordination just confirmed to me that this is the life God has made for me.

Here are some pictures from the ordination.

My sister was married on May 26, and so we got to see my family, including my sister and nephew who recently moved to Reno. The rest of our time has been a mix of relaxing, spending time with family, watching soccer, and writing/research.

Especially while Corrie, Claudia and the kids were away for a week (in Idaho and Colorado), I hit the library hard: taking notes, scanning articles and book chapters, using commentaries, and gathering as many resources for my ongoing projects as I possibly could. While I do not think it is useful to spend all one’s research/writing time in the library (because the resources are distracting from writing), I have been largely starved of book resources these past ten months (LCC’s library is not sufficient for advanced biblical research). I was able to mostly finish off a couple of papers, and to gather resources as I was writing three more. And, I made good progress reviewing significant works for my next book project, though the sheer volume of resources has made me rethink my approach.

Corrie was discouraged at times during this visit with the difficulty of reëngaging with USA friends. Even on a trip of eight weeks, we weren’t able to see everyone in our area, and only a handful more than once. Despite being able to catch up and pick up where we left off, it’s a painful reminder of the great communities we left behind here. We are still building those communities in Lithuania, through LCC, church, and the kids’ school. During this trip I had many substantive talks with current and former students, colleagues, and friends in Europe through video chat, emails and messaging. Though nothing quite replaces face-to-face, I’m feeling more integrated into a community there. It’s easier for me than for Corrie to find those communities, because my role is defined and places me in contact with people–I have coworkers. We are praying that God would present her with more of those relationships in the years to come.

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Even as we celebrated our eleventh wedding anniversary yesterday, I found myself falling in love again with an old flame. If you’ve followed this blog closely over the last few years, you’ve gleaned that I’m not the most patriotic person in the world. I have serious concerns about nationalism, particularly as it manifests itself in the religious life of American Christians. But there is a beauty to this country that is hard to appreciate these days through portraits in the media that are dominated by the concerns of coastal elites.

Our hosts at the Endicott church took us last Saturday night to one of the Broome County Carousels in Binghamton. These carousels were founded by the Johnson family of the Endicott-Johnson Shoe Company, which was the major employer in the Tri-City area at the turn of the 20th century. Thousands of workers, including many immigrants, provided for their families by working for E-J. The Johnson family paid for the carousels (and other amusements and civic buildings) and funded them in perpetuity, so that they can be free for all (the only “price of admission” historically was to bring one piece of litter from the park and throw it away). As we rode these ponies with our kids and listened to some classic kids’ songs on the Wurlitzer organ with a few missing notes, I found myself thinking of all the families who worked at the factories and rode these ponies, their unique struggles and joys that we will never know, and their confidence that their children and grandchildren would live lives of more prosperity and freedom than they did.

Though grossly imperfect, my country of birth still has a lot going for it. I’m still not ready to start flying the flag and singing Toby Keith songs all day long, and don’t expect me to vote anytime soon. I will continue to criticize politicians, movements, individuals and communities when they need to be called out. But, “love always hopes.” I will also hope and pray for repentance and reform–and judgment, if necessary–so that American individuals (and all people!) can be free to pursue God’s kingdom and the shalom of the earth.

(Speaking of….Happy Canada Day to our peeps North of the Border! Congratulations on not having to fight a bloody war to establish your nation or end slavery. You score higher on Fraser’s Economic Freedom Index. But what’s up with your PM?)

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Our travels for the summer are just beginning. We hope to visit Tallinn (Estonia) and to stay in Helsinki for a couple of days before the International SBL meeting (July 30-August 3). Then we will be headed to Prague via Warsaw and Łódź for the Fellowship of European Evangelical Theologians. In the months to come, look for those conference papers (on Genesis 35-50, 1 Corinthians 8-11, and the use of technology in worship) to be posted here–depending on whether I get egged on (or just egged) at the conferences…

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About Benj

I’m a native North Jerseyan, living and learning in Eastern Europe…Old Testament professor, ordained minister, occasional liturgist…husband to Corrie…father to Daniel and Elizabeth…eldest sibling to three, brother-in-law to Hannah, Josh and Josh…uncle to Marshall and one on the way...son-in-law to Claudia.
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