Unearthing Israel by Valerie Brite

// Finding God Abroad //

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Finding God Abroad

As a history and theology student, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the first month of my summer than by traveling throughout Israel and Palestine and participating in an archaeological dig at a possible biblical site.

At the start of May, I finished my final exams, and less than twenty-four hours later, I was on a plane bound for Tel Aviv with a group of my peers and professors. The first eleven days of the trip we ventured out on a biblical lands tour. We started in the city of Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee and then slowly worked our way around the surprisingly small country that is Israel.

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Tiberias–Galilee Region

We took a boat out onto the Sea of Galilee where Christ is said to have walked on the water, conversed about David and Saul at the springs of Ein Gedi, contemplated and prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, and took communion with one another at the Garden Tomb, where the Protestant Church believes Christ was buried briefly after the crucifixion.

I now have in my biblical/theological arsenal a much broader and deeper understanding of the geography and culture of the Ancient Near East to an extent that can only be gained through such a pilgrimage to these sites.

When you are able to put a realistic picture to the places that you read about in scripture, the text comes alive in a new way.

A portion of our group spent the next two weeks doing archaeological work at on disputed West Bank territory just north of Jerusalem.  It’s believed that this spot was once the ancient city of Ai–famous in biblical history as a Canaanite city the Israelites conquered in Joshua 7 and 8.

To help prove this hypothesis, we uncovered a multitude of first century pottery, coins, and other small but strikingly significant trinkets. Digging at this site and seeing the remains of houses, silos, and religious spaces made it seem as though the history of a time long forgotten was coming to life in the dirt before our eyes.

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We may have been digging the “Holy Land,” but the schedule for that portion of the trip was anything but holy. We woke up each morning at four in the morning and made it to our site by six.

I would like to be able to say something profound about seeing God in the sunrise every morning as we hiked to our site, but most mornings, it was just plain miserable. I learned a lot about archaeology and history, but I can’t say that Christ and I met very often in the dirt over those two weeks.

​One would think that because so much in that part of the world centers on religion, theological insight would be flowing from the land itself.

I left the U.S. with the notion that merely being in a place that so many people have held in such high regard for well over a thousand years would be more than enough to bring about a heightened sense of spirituality.

That wasn’t quite my experience.

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Church of the Holy Sepulchre

This is not to say that I didn’t have a moment or two that stirred me in such a manner. However, I wasn’t shedding tears on a daily basis as we roamed the streets of Jerusalem and passed by the Stations of the Cross. I wasn’t beside myself with emotion in the Garden of Gethsemane.

No, Christ caught my attention in a different manner over those twenty-four days. One of the most impactful experiences of the trip coincided with the feelings of sadness that confronted me when we ventured into Palestine to visit Bethlehem.

As I talked briefly with a young girl who worked at a shop in the area and as I studied the graffiti-lined walls that separate that city from Jerusalem, I was reminded of the complexities of the distress that currently exists in the unsettling sociopolitical climate of the Middle East.

I encountered Christ as we stood listening to scripture being read at the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter when I wandered off to hear to a group of foreign monks and nuns, on their own religious pilgrimage, joyfully singing in a language unknown to me as they partook in the Eucharist with one another.

I was theologically shaped by the conversations that occurred in between cities on a bus, in a hotel lobby, and at the dinner table.

The moments that I’ll remember the most from this trip occurred in those ordinary spaces where, as students, we processed the cultural complexities, the historical and theological information being rapidly thrown at us every day, and the little interactions and experiences that brought meaning to the trip for each one of us.

Those moments reminded me that every space on Earth has the potential to be sacred, and that the location is all about what you make of it and who you share it with.

If anything, remember that sometimes the holiest of moments happen in unlikely and sometimes surprising spaces. Don’t limit yourself based on your preconceived ideas about how it is that we’re supposed to meet with the Lord.

You have the opportunity to recognize a sense of sacredness wherever you happen to find yourself. //

I hope you enjoyed our first contribution to the Finding God Abroad Series.

Val and I have known each other since before college, and we both have taken similar journeys of exploring and expanding our faith over the last few years.  A senior at Lee University, Val hopes to become an ordained Episcopal priest in the future. 

You can find more from Val on Twitter at @vbrite.

The World’s A Temple

At the start of this past summer, I was given the privilege of sharing a message with my home church where my dad pastors.

I delivered a sermon entitled “The World’s A Temple” in which I shared lessons I learned in my three-month study abroad in Europe along with what I consider to be the primary message of my blog, Isaiah 6.  (You can read more about the message behind The Train of His Robe here.)

I think travel can be one of the best teachers of life’s lessons.  As I told the congregation, moving to Europe taught me that no moment is ordinary, and no opportunity comes about by happenstance.

From experiencing cultures around the world to looking up at the stars above me in my own Tennessee town, I’ve noticed a common thread of spirituality present in the extraordinary and the mundane.  It’s the beautiful omnipresence of God–the reassuring proximity of the divine–and it makes our lives worth living.

During my travels, I’ve visited plenty holy places and even a couple biblical locations, but what I learned most on the go was that the Spirit of God was by my side every step of the way.

I’ve come to realize that the whole earth is sacred space, like a cathedral whose architecture points to God or a temple where God Himself yearns to meet with us.IMG_4032

That’s why it is such a powerful experience to leave your home and travel across the world:  you find both the familiar warmth of God’s heart as well as a new expression of His wild nature.

Getting outside our comfort zone opens our eyes and ears in such a unique way to the presence of God everywhere.

That sense of adventure in faith is what I hope to explore in my new series, Finding God Abroad.

You’ll be hearing from me as well as some of my dear friends who will share stories of meeting God in airports and distant villages and metro stations and castles.  Whether the streets were cobblestone or dirt, these are journeys down roads that tested our faith and widened our perspectives.

During this series, we’ll be sharing stories from Ukraine, Israel, South Africa, the U.K., Cambodia, Costa Rica, and more.  Each one of the stories relays the sense of wonder and present-mindedness that I consider essential to experiencing God wherever you go.

So fasten your seatbelt as we take flight on an adventure around the world!

Marshall-signatureee

 

 

BURNOUT

When my vehicle sputtered and jolted to a complete stop, I was just an intersection away from the nearest gas station.

I was first in the turn lane, and I just needed to turn left onto Chambliss from 25th to reach Speedway, but it was too little too late.

I’d been so busy as a resident assistant for Summer Honors–a program our university offers to high school juniors and seniors–that I’d been running on empty for days and had forgotten to refill my tank.  And now I was about to be late to my next responsibility, stuck in the middle of the road, frantically shaking and sweating in the late June heat.

I ran across the street to purchase an overpriced gas can, of which I accidentally lost my grip while filling.  Covered in gas, sweat, and tears, I had the sick realization of what this awful moment actually was–a cruel metaphor.

My hope in God was totally burned out.
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My life had been so busy, and I had taken such little care of my spiritual condition, that I was running on fumes.  And here I was, stranded in the middle of a subculture that was driving me nowhere.

Even though I was definitely having major doubts and dealing with cynicism before I left for England, I came back a different person.  Having sought God in cathedrals and seen His glory in cities and landscapes across Europe, returning to my whitewashed Christian environment was extremely painful.

The excesses of materialistic American Christianity weren’t intoxicating me like they used to.

When had Christianity become so paralyzingly complicated in my mind?  When had I become so repulsed by the “things of God?”

The clues were all around me, I guess, like all the long conversations I was having about the validity of Scripture, my cluelessness regarding how to lead my Summer Honors students in small group devotions, and my insistence that certain aspects of Christian community were, in fact, cultic.

I hadn’t prayed or read my Bible (except to find fodder for pointless religious debates) in months, yet here I was, the good Christian kid on his good Christian campus in all his good leadership positions–not believing a word of it.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m completely in favor of questioning the things you believe.  I regard doubt as a quasi-virtue and believe critical thinking is the only way to ever truly own your faith.

But somewhere between my reasonable doubts and unproductive cynicism, I had lost the ability to hope.

I still deep down had a love for God:  that had never changed.  I just really hated Christians and had been hurt by them so many times that I was forgetting who Christ himself was.

The worst thing was that I had been a so-called follower of Christ for fifteen years and never really read Jesus’ words.

But how unique is my story, though?  There are myriads of Christians in countless churches who have no idea who their Savior even is.  The person of Christ is so often lost in our frantic rush to worship and serve Him as methodically as we do.

Let’s face it:  the Gospel has become so convoluted and bogged down by modern religion that half of us don’t even know what it even means.  The Simple Way has become anything but simple.

So in the middle of the intersection, I realized it was time for a change.

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How did I find my way back from this desperate place?  Well, I haven’t really.  Yet.

Every day, however, I try to give hope another chance.  I pray that I will truly desire God again, that my hard heart will change, that I will release the questions that are pounding in my head in a moment of trust.

I’m proud to report that I have abandoned the blind religiousness of my old ways and left behind the desire to always be right.

But, if I’m honest, it’s been a long and extremely painful journey, searching for a passion to pursue God again.

Here’s the thing, though.  Rebirth doesn’t have to be some huge process where we ditch a bad habit or experience a miracle.  It’s something we need every day–a fresh start, a wide open door–and can look more like a soft, subtle, slow healing.

This is just the beginning of a born again experience for me, and I really can’t contribute that much to it.  I’ve already relinquished control of my story.  Now I’m relying on God to place a new heart for Him within me–to empower me with a freedom to understand, to see things differently, to speak a better word.

This doesn’t mean I won’t ever again be drained of energy or confused or bitter or dysfunctional, but it does mean that there’s a clarity of focus and a purity of motive that is being instilled in me right now as I wade through my own uncertainty.

So wherever you’re at, I pray that God would light a new flame within your heart–to love Him, to trust Him, to feel Him again. //

Marshall signature

“Lord, I give you these stirrings inside of me.  I give you my discontent.  I give you my restlessness.  I give you my doubt.  I give you my despair.  I give you all the longings I hold inside me. Help me to listen to theses signs of change, of growth; help me to listen seriously and follow where they lead through the breathtaking empty space of an open door.”

-Shane Claiborne, Common Prayer

 

 

Why You Haven’t Heard From Me Lately

Incredible readers,

It’s been a long time, ya’ll.

In case you forgot what I look like.

In case you forgot what I look like.

I can’t begin to say thanks for how much support you all have given me in my blogging endeavors.  It’s always so encouraging to hear someone say they’ve been keeping up with my writing.

I recall a time recently that someone I didn’t know stopped me on the street and said, “Hey, I read your ‘Man Up’ post, and I just wanted to say that it helped me a lot.”

That’s what it is all about.  That’s mostly why I write here.

The other reason, however, is to effectively work through all the chaos in my own mind.  I’ve constantly got so much going on, and as a verbal processor, crafting my disjointed thoughts into cohesive messages has been some of the best therapy I could ask for.

Hence my problem:  it’s been a while since I sat down and invested time in The Train of His Robe.

My summer of planning New Student Orientation for a thousand students was incredibly busy, and before I knew it, all my friends had returned to campus, and we had started a new school year.

As a result, my mind and my schedule have been a little cluttered, and that’s why I’ve been absent from the blogosphere.

When I decided to revamp the blog and start more actively writing here this past spring, I realized how much writing more offen improved the consistency/logical flow of my posts and the scope of my readership.

It’s easier for people to follow your writing when you’re not constantly reintroducing your blog to them.

But that’s exactly what I’m doing right now:  reintroducing you to The Train of His Robe.

If you’re new, this is a place where I discuss life, work through controversial issues, and share about things that are really important to me–like gender equality, faith, and travel.

Most of all, though, this blog is a place to see the manmade lines of the secular and the sacred cross.  I hope my writing is able to bring together ideas from the Church and the world and find God in the midst of both.

The Train of His Robe is an invitation to explore the uncertainness of our lives and discover God working somehow through it all.

So it’s time to get back to writing.  Things have been crazy with the start of the semester, and I know it will be hard beginning my senior year and maintaining the blog, but this is something I really believe in doing.

Stick around because we’re going to talk about some interesting things this fall.

What’s next?  We’ll discuss topics like burnout and cynicism–issues I personally struggle with.  Also we’ll begin a series called “Finding God Abroad,” which will feature travel stories from me and some amazing guest writers, where we’ll explore what it looks like to discover the divine far from home.

Talk to you soon,

Marshall signature

 

Keep It Casual: Why Over-sharing Doesn’t Equal Closeness

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This is the last “Exploring Sex, Gender, + Identity” post for a while.  I hope you all have enjoyed this ongoing conversation on how our faith intersects with the way we look at ourselves, our stereotypes, and our sexual gifts.

This post is the last of three posts on sex.  To get caught-up if you haven’t seen the first two installments, you can read them here–Worth Waiting For? Why Abstinence Doesn’t Equal Sexual Wholeness + Driven: Why Intimacy Doesn’t Equal Intercourse

Gender month graphic

As a generation, we’ve been fed a lie:  intimacy is cheap and casual.

By definition, personal closeness can’t be nonchalant.  Human connection is meant to be deep and meaningful and vulnerable, but pop culture teaches us that we can be selfish and unintentional and still lackadaisically end up with a “ten” in our beds.

When our entertainment is so preoccupied with sex outside of committed relationship, it’s no wonder that sex means less than nothing.

But the problem doesn’t just revolve around sexual relationships.  It’s becoming more and more apparent that people have lost the ability to make authentic human connections.

Technology has somehow managed to drain personality out of interpersonal communication as we hide behind our smartphones and shut the world out so often.  As a generation, we’ve taken the intentionality out of the very deliberate business of interacting with other human beings.

Yet  we are technically sharing more than ever with our fellow man.  Our social media profiles are filled with “friends” we’ve never met now that people from Delaware and India and down the road (although we’ve never actually talked to them) can access our personal lives.

Paradoxically, we’ve isolated ourselves while still sharing our every thought.

As far as the heart condition is concerned, over-sharing on Facebook isn’t much better than having a one-night stand:  both reflect a soul starved for human connection desperately trying to gain approval.

But giving too much of ourselves away impulsively isn’t a bridge to a worthwhile experience of intimacy:  more often than not, it’s a roadblock.

Have you ever shared a shameful secret or deeply personal information with a friend and seen your relationship change dramatically afterwards?

In this really powerful clip from Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, one of my favorite writers–shame researcher Brene Brown–shares why over-sharing can actual hinder more surface-level relationships.  According to Brown, the relationship has to be able to “hold the weight” of the shame story.

Yes, embracing vulnerability is powerful, and yes, it is the secret to living a more whole lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean we give ourselves away to just anyone.

Your level of intimacy should never exceed your emotional connection to the person with whom you are sharing.

So how do we set boundaries to protect our hearts?  How do foster actual intimacy instead of facsimile connections?

Meet your emotional/social needs with people who have proven themselves to be faithful.  There are times when I have opened up about something personal with an individual who I just met or who I didn’t know well enough–all in order to get to get closer to them.  The problem is that the sudden closeness you feel afterwards isn’t genuine.  Don’t be so desperate for connection that you overlook the people who love you and are willing (and trustworthy enough) to handle your struggles.

Stop emotionally trench-coating people via social media.  I promise, I promise, I promise that no one needs to know all your drama on Facebook.  It’s one thing to mention your bad day, but if you are constantly giving your online community all your baggage, you are likely to get unfollowed.

Bloggers, this means you too.  While vulnerable blog posts get the most views, it’s wise to wait a little while for the emotions to cool before you hit the send button.  You don’t want the approval you get from the blog post to nurse the wound you’ve been feeling in your personal life.

Don’t exploit Hollywood.  What’s amusing is that everyone has been so up in arms about the Fifty Shades of Grey books becoming movies when, in all actuality, Christian Grey is logical progression of The Notebook, The Bachelor, and Beyonce (yeah, I said it.)

The problem with popular entertainment is that you can’t make hard and fast religious rules about what’s appropriate because media affects different people different ways.  You have to set your own boundaries and be comfortable with those.

Here’s a test:  the moment you feel like you are encroaching on someone’s private sexual life (an actor/a musical artist/a writer/a character), that’s when you know you might should avoid this piece of entertainment.

If you’re a casual observer to an intimate moment, you are invalidating intimacy.  The more you fill your mind with these fake intimate moments, the more you will devalue the real thing.

Don’t use your testimony or accountability as an excuse to over-share.  Testimonies and confession shouldn’t be misused to create some kind of fake bond between people.

Now I want to be clear, I’m not saying you can’t tell the story of how God has delivered you from this or that.  I’ve just been in too many youth camps where kids stand up on stage and talk about how many times they looked at porn last week.

Details about your sex life or other specific issues you face aren’t necessarily useful (or appropriate) for the whole congregation.  In those settings, a more vague explanation would be much more edifying.

Additionally, a lot of superficial supposed intimacy can happen within accountability groups.  I was in a group of eight for a year, and while I learned a great deal from them, I wasn’t as close to all of them as I should have been to share as much as we all did.  The Christian act of confession doesn’t have to look like a big group:  maybe this intimate practice is more effective with one or two other close friends.

Don’t be the same person to everyone in your life.  At my school, I’ve heard this expression so many times, and I really hate it.  Of course, you are going to be different around certain people.  You don’t act the same way around your family as you do your coworkers, and you really shouldn’t.

The same goes for levels of vulnerability.  I can be vulnerable with my freshman students, but that looks very different from how I will open up with my best friend.

// God, thank you that our identity rests in You.  Help us to respect ourselves and be careful with who we share our lives with so that we may create authentic, lasting relationships.

 

Featured: Five of My Favorite Pieces I’ve Written for Someone Else

“Whatever you do in life will be insignificant, but it’s very important that you do it because nobody else will.”
-Remember Me (2010)

Things have a been a tad busy lately with moving into my new house, and not having Internet yet makes it slightly difficult to blog. So with a few moments of stolen wifi, I’m posting links to five articles that I’ve written for other sites.

Now I’m certainly not making as much as Lil Wayne by adding my two cents to someone else’s artistic work, but I’m personally pretty proud of these articles.

So, without further ado, here’s a writing sampler ft. ya boy Marsh. //

| More me for this self-promoting post |

| Because this post just wasn’t self-promoting enough without a pic of me |

I Don’t Care About Being Right Anymore” featured on The Accidental Extrovert

I wrote “I Don’t Care About Being Right Anymore” on a balcony overlooking the port of Athens, Greece.  Inspired by my time at the Vatican and 20+ years in church, this piece for my friend Kelsy’s blog examines the global Church and its insistence on sucking the doubt out of faith.

Admittedly a bit cynical.

“Off the Grid:  What I Learned About Social Media By Ignoring It” featured on The Lee Clarion

I participated in a social media fast and was amazed at how much important stuff I missed.  This Lenten reflection offers a renewed perspective on social media after seeing firsthand the positive and negative effects of our obsession with social networking.

“Give Me Love” featured on Heart In Bloom 

This post for a friend’s purity/relationship blog is honestly one of my favorite blog posts I’ve ever written.  I really need to revisit the lessons I was learning during this time in my life and let them sink in again.

“John Mark McMillan Plays U-Church, discusses ‘How He Loves'” featured on The Lee Clarion

#tbt to 2012 and my long-abandoned aspirations to be a journalist.  While I didn’t include this article because of its intriguing creative writing (it’s a straight-forward hard news story for my college newspaper), I did want to share this with you guys because I got to interview John Mark McMillan–one of my favorite musical artists who’s also a Christian.

We discussed the severity of the Psalms and the apparently controversial lyrics of his hit song “How He Loves,” made popular by the likes of David Chrowder Band and Kim Walker-Smith.  (If you’ve ever been to church even once, I promise you’ve sung this song.)

credit: heychristiangirl.tumblr.com

The great “How He Loves” debate //                               credit: heychristiangirl.tumblr.com

“Surviving a Small-Town Summer” featured on The College Cosmopolitan 

I got the privilege of writing for one of my writing inspirations (who I just also happen to be dating).  Seriously, it was such a joy to be featured by Caroline’s adventure blog.  Because we cover fairly different topics on our blogs, it was actually a bit of a stretch artistically. //

Hope you enjoy these articles!  I can’t thank you guys enough for continuing to read my stuff.  You’re a major bright spot in my life.