Friday, December 31, 2010

A Light Unto Our Paths

Sitting in the Treehouse, watching the difference in the seasons make their appearance outside of my windows as premeturely Spring slips slowly onto center stage, elegantly turning on graceful feet gives me pause in my reflection of the time now past. Walking outside there is an urgency in people's gaits and steps as preparations no doubt are underway for New Year's Eve festivities.

As I recently drove on I-94, the Dan Ryan Expressway with normally the sheer agressiveness and even reckleness explodes as people rush to and fro, on and off there was a sense of calm and of respect as traffic came to a standstill yesterday the latter was carried to his rest in a haunting, sorrowful yet beautiful display of honor. In silence but with the colors displayed preceeded by Chicago Police, was the fire truck which slowly carried this vessel of a man who had died protecting a neighborhood and people from the horrors of fire.

Vessel, yes. The peaceful spirit of that public servant has now flown into the arms of the Creator who welcomes us all home when He steps to the edge of Heaven and calls us by name.

And yet, life continues on. I am brought back to the present as the rain softly falls, washing away the downy blanket of white that has delighted children and frustrated adults. I realize that the path before us is ever winding and just as the new year comes in the morn, we do not know what lies ahead. What is certain is that the Creator's presence is felt in every moment of triumph, every challenge, every obstacle, every burst of laughter and joy and every sorrow lost in a river of tears.

May the Creator continue to walk with you in your path, blessing and giving you peace.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

LSTC=Von Trapp Family

Wanting a break and needing a break, that’s how I felt about two weeks ago. Now not so much, everything has subsided the stresses inside and outside of school have all been dealt with and instead of thinking how I can spend my last week, I start to think about what’s coming. I am excited about branching out past LSTC and taking a class from the University of Illinois Chicago during the month of January. I am excited about a new spring semester and commuting on different days. I have never been to a chapel on a Monday, or other activities that have been advertised as, “happening every Monday…” The first semester is done and I have done pretty well for myself, I’m not swaggering about but randomly thinking of “Maria” in The Sound of Music, she says it best,.” I have confidence they'll put me to the test, But I'll make them see I have confidence in me…” Not wanting to go into a Sound of Music parallel, but feeling drawn to it, I felt tested in the first semester and now having taken that on and to stand in front of my lap top living and breathing, never once being called a heretic, I can truly say, “I have confidence in me (Imagine me singing in the Austrian countryside for more effect!!!).”

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Prayer Life

In seminary you hear a lot, “make sure to develop a prayer life now, because you won’t have time in the parish.” While I will acknowledge there is a lot of wisdom in that statement, I would also push back on it. Four months into internship, it is true that I am busy. I also don’t have the community I had in seminary to nurture spiritual growth. I don’t have daily chapel, or an organized centering prayer group, or a multitude of Growth in Faith opportunities. But despite that, or perhaps because of that, I find that my prayer life is growing in the parish. Not in organized, planned ways, but out of need.

Prayer on internship has for me proven not to be about wanting to try it on, but about needing to know I am not alone. Whether I’m sitting in my car in a hospital parking lot, trying to write a sermon to speak to people’s lives, struggling to hold my own grief and concern for an ill elderly member so I can minister to her friends, or frightened by footsteps in the snow behind my house, sometimes there is nowhere to go but God. Nothing to do but to fall back into the arms of a loving God. So my wisdom would be, yes, try to develop a prayer life in seminary. But if you fail, know that God will still be waiting to catch you when no one else will.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Tree Capital of the WORLD!

Acquiring and decorating a Christmas tree is a pretty big deal in my family.  I'm from a small town, well, village, really, near Indiana, Pennsylvania.  There's a sign nearby that says Indiana is the Christmas Tree Capital of the World.  I'm not really sure who decided this, nor do I know what factors this decision was made off of, but it's on a billboard, nonetheless.

Growing up in the boondocks, we used to go tromp around a field for several hours, even several different fields.  We'd pick out trees and defend them against one another, arguing until we finally tired out and picked the next tree we saw.  My favorite trees were the ones that we'd pick and cut ourselves, putting $5 in a coffee can on the tree farmer's front porch.  Have I mentioned that I grew up in the country?

As my siblings and I have grown older, our epic tree search has been reduced to typically stopping at the local nursery, picking out a pre-cut tree, getting it nicely bundled and paying more than $5.  We no longer hem and haw over how to get it into the car, or back into the car if it fell off onto the road on the way home...I mean, that's never happened.

 No matter how we acquire our Christmas tree, it's still our family tree, decorated with love and surrounded by pets who run through it and eat tinsel.  Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Annoying Christmas songs about snowmen who can come to life and marry people when WE have to put in 4 years at seminary?! Unfair.

Getting the plastic napkin holder with jingle bells on it at the Dirty Santa gift exchange when you wanted the snuggie? Unfair.

Being far away from family and friends and all the traditions that you grew up with because you now work every Christmas (and are on internship/first call)? Unfair.

A White Christmas that actually means having to drive through ice and snow to get to church on Christmas eve and Christmas morning? Unfair.

But this frustration and resentment and business of the season comes to a halt Christmas morning as I read about the unfairness of Christmas. Not just with Mary and Joseph and their odd predicament. Not just with the manger birth because the inn was full. But more about a God who loves us enough to become incarnate and suffer with us.

Fair? Hardly. But this is the abundant grace if God which we celebrate this morning. Our hope is in one who meets the unfairness of the world and confronts it with the calm of a new born baby. God is with us.

© Faris

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reading the last several posts from my peers about the variations in home: Chicago, family, LSTC, etc, reminds me of that little bit of sadness I get when I leave a place.  I think it's inevitable, as we get older, to feel like the definition of our physical "home" changes.  I remember the first time that my older sister referred to Pittsburgh, the city where she did her undergrad degree, as home.  The pained look on my mom's face spoke to these growing pains.  Even though the places change, I feel like I can find home in people. 

As the numbers were dwindling in Hyde Park, finding less of those classmates in the library or building an igloo, I jetted off to Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesoooota.  I've spent the last few days connecting with one of my very best friends in the world, Nikki.  This sweet Minnesotan is a bit of home for me, especially around Christmas-time, because we used to live together in Bethlehem, Palestine.  There's never a dull moment with Nikki.  In the few days that I've been here, we've gone cross-country skiing, country line-dancing, to a Christmas parade, to the Mall of America and more. 

I'll head home to Chicago soon, then home to Pennsylvania, but the bits-o-home are in the many people that have crossed my path over my last twenty-four years on this earth.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Don't Get Too Comfortable

So I am hanging out in Bend, Oregon snow on the ground, sitting in a circle with a group of 12 young adults (18-35). They call themselves the 99 Collective…the what??? The 99 Collective, looking back at the story of the shepherd that leaves the 99 behind to find the one lost sheep, and yeah we feel like the lost sheep a lot, but we also have felt like the 99. What are we doing when we feel like we are in solidarity, I feel like that right now. I have a home church that I love, I have a seminary that I am totally a part of and in all that I do, but I feel completely whole and ready. So I look at the “99 collective,” and what do you know, many of us are standing around saying, “What can we do, while we feel like we sit and wait?” I think that the answer that has escaped me more and more these days is the preparation that goes from being part of the group that believes and feels comfortable. And why are we comfortable? People are dying from hunger, disease, and abuses of sexual and physical nature, and we are comfortable? What a great reminder that although, the joy of seminary is like thinking, that like thinking needs to daily reach out past comfort and challenge ourselves to be ready for when God brings another sheep home.

Family Time

On my internship application I wrote, "Must be within driving distance of family" and listed the various states I had relatives in. I have none in Montana, and one cousin in North Dakota. So technically, Billings fits the bill. But it is a far cry from being near family like I have been my entire life. My supervisors tell me that they almost didn't interview me when they saw that caveat on my application. I recall it was the first question they asked me, though. My response: "God has a sense of humor... and every where is driving distance if you have the time."

And here I am, over 20 hours from my closest family. In a strange way, the depression caused by this fact has also been the catalyst to force myself into community here. For instance, I saw a preview for that new movie, Tangled, and wanted to go (please note my love of Disney...). So I asked the awesome 12 year old girl in my congregation to go with me. We had a great time giggling over Justin Bieber in the previews and talking about school and life.

I'm trying to wear a different set of glasses that shows me that I am actually surrounded by new family members. People I have yet to know but that are eager to get to know me... if I'll only let them. It is a complex dance - forming community. But I am finding it is as vital for me as my own heartbeat. I am happiest surrounded by family. And while I look forward to the time when I can once again embrace the family that has known me since my birth, tis the season to embrace my brothers and sisters in Christ that are with me now.

For all those far from family this holiday season, may God bless you with moments of lightness and peace as you look with hope towards the ones who do surround you this season. Amen

Friday, December 17, 2010

It is Finished (Well, at least for now).

Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν· τετέλεσται can be translated in many different ways “It is finished, it is fulfilled, it is accomplished, it has begun” as our guest professor Dr. Cheryl Pero shared with us in Biblical Greek during the last week of classes.

There is silence now around campus: where I was used to seeing fellow classmates in the library occupying many tables, now remain the studious Advanced Studies students whose work is truly never done. Where an igloo remains abandoned in the middle of the Seminary courtyard, only days before in a dazzling snowstorm, three M.Div-ers had the time of their lives building. Where the Refectory was once the bustling epicenter of social activity, the doors remain now, silent and locked. Where those came as if the bells called, streaming from Seminary apartments filling the chapel, now only the trickling sounds of the eternal baptismal font beckon me for quiet prayer and meditation.

These past two weeks have been a flurry of studying, papers, exams and headaches; of deadlines for endless paperwork and drowning one’s sorrow in Starbucks. Now it is time for celebration, for homecomings, for reunions and for rest. In essence, the Fall Semester is finished and yet, the journey continues as a new dawn approaches, and it will begin once more.

May you have a Blessed Advent and Holiday Season. God’s Peace.

Thursday, December 16, 2010 extended breath

The nice thing about being in school is that a break over the Christmas season allows this to truly be a time to stop and rest. Having worked at a church the last few years, I’m not taking this time for granted. I know, in fact, that this could be the last Christmas season in a long, long time that I’m not busily preparing for celebrating Christ’s birth planning services, sermons, and gatherings, etc. This year I am allowed to calmly prepare for Christ’s coming, waiting and watching for God at work in the world.
My own personal ‘liturgical renewal’ (inspired by Worship class) is causing me to explore ways to keep advent “Advent” this year, and then celebrate Christmas in full when the 12 day Christmas festival begins, on Dec 25. How to do this? I haven’t quite figured that out yet. But I know Advent should remain a time of quiet, reflective, fervent prayer; a time spent in darkness awaiting a great light. Perhaps it involves setting aside time each day for study and prayer, especially for the needs of the world. Maybe reflecting on ways Christ’s coming and his Gospel addresses those needs. And then Christmas is a time of gathering with friends and family, celebrating the true hope that Christ brings into the world.
I pray this time of beginnings includes some time of true rest for you as well.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


The close of classes often coincides with a great exodus of students from campus, seminarians fanning out across the country to visit family and friends. Much of our own family lives in the states bordering Lake Michigan – it’s one of the reasons we chose to come to LSTC – but last weekend I took a special holiday trip to the Southwest to visit my grandparents.

I love traveling. For this trip, I brought along my California playlist (twenty songs about the Golden State, carefully arranged) and the new anthology State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America. This latter is a collection of essays in the McSweeney’s mold, fifty writers telling stories to illustrate why they love the state where they are from, or the state where they live now, or the state where they had lived once and, like a lost love, have never forgotten.

Driving through the desert, passing its praying Joshua trees, reading a book about place, I couldn’t help but find myself wondering where on God’s sandy earth we’ll land next year. The ELCA Assignment process begins, more or less, at the end of February. I suppose this makes these in-between months a time of waiting, of preparation, an extended sort of Advent.

A few days later, just as my return flight was beginning its descent into Chicago, I turned a page to find the essay on Illinois, in which Dave Eggers argues that the Land of Lincoln is the "best of all states." I finished the chapter on the bus ride to Hyde Park, closed the book, and walked through the snowdrifts and the icy wind back to our apartment.

For now, after all, this is still home. And I can't think of a better place in which to spend our time of waiting.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


On top of my TV stand sits a little Christmas cactus in a terra cotta pot. I grew it from a cutting off my grandmother’s Christmas cactus. Grandma’s is huge; thick with deep green branches that turn a rich magenta in the winter from its overabundance of blossoms. Mine is a few sickly, little, yellowish sprouts poking up from the dry soil. It’s not my Christmas cactus’s fault that it is so sickly looking; it has had a rough life. It started out as a cutting that my dad carefully grew roots on, which subsequently fell off in dad’s suitcase on a flight from California to Chicago. In Chicago I re-rooted it, planted it, and placed it on a ledge in my apartment, where I promptly forgot about it a lot, leaving it for long periods without water. Then, just a few months ago it drove from Chicago to Syracuse in the back of my Jeep, smashed between the window and a suitcase to keep it upright. Crossing the Canadian border it even spent two days hidden under a sweater. Yet still it soldiers on. A little bit yellower, sure, but every bit as determined to grow as when it was still attached to my grandmother’s plant. While it has not flowered this year, it has recently sent off a new little green shoot. In the midst of winter, in the midst of adversity, far from the tropical climates it prefers, my determined little Christmas cactus is stubbornly growing.

Martin Luther wrote: “This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.” So become little Christmas cactus, become. Grow and change and flower. This is just a step in the process, there are bigger things ahead.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The end.

I really don't have any profound thoughts aside from the fact that my first semester of seminary is over.  After my last Church History I class last week, I said, "That was my first 'last' of seminary."  It's still a little surreal.  I still feel like there's more to be doing for classes, but I'm ready to finally give my apartment a good cleaning and sift through the craziness that has been my life for the last few weeks.

One of the things that I'll miss the most over break is the daily chapel services.  Not everybody goes to chapel, nor does everyone love chapel, but it gives me intentional time and space, every day, to be in a community of people and to think about faith.  We hear the same readings for the days following the Sunday in the lectionary.  So, in theory, if I missed the message the first time around, I have four more attempts to try.  Plus, in the chaos of learning so much academic information, it's awesome to just be, to sing hymns and pray and think without feeling like I need to produce an outcome from these actions.

Peace and blessings, y'all.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Baptism in Beast

You all know my love and affection for Disney (see Theology of Disney)...

One of the reasons? There is so much good quality biblical imagery tucked away in them. I certainly didn't catch on to it when I was younger - at least not on this level - but I enjoy finding them now.

I just finished watching Beauty and the Beast (hey, self care takes all forms, right?) and found a beautiful baptismal imagery in the Beast's transformation. He quite literally dies from Gaston's attacks before Belle weeps, "But I love you." And just like that, he glistens with light and shines and bit by bit, the furry exterior changes into the body of a young man. It is her love that changes the Beast into a brand new man.

Love transforming a troubled (and sinful?) beast into a new man.... sounds pretty baptismal to me!

And on a side note, I think the things the villagers chant on their way to "kill the beast" speaks about our own tendancy to hate what we do not know.
They rage:
"We don't like
What we don't understand
In fact it scares us
And this monster is mysterious at least
Bring your guns
Bring your knives
Save your children and your wives
We'll save our village and our lives
We'll kill the Beast!"

What beasts do we have around us, waiting for love to transform them into something brand new?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Blue Christmas

A time to be held by God…

A time to be lifted up in prayer…

A time to experience the warm light of Christ

in the darkness of our world.

These are the words printed at the top of the bulletin for the “Blue Christmas” service for which Becky and I have led music for the past three years. Becky had the idea to bring the service to the LSTC community this year, and that’s what we are doing! We are in the midst of planning a service with Pastor to the Community Joan Beck at 11:00 am on Tuesday December 21st, the shortest day of the year.

The concept of Blue Christmas is to have a service for those among us for whom, for whatever reason, Christmas is a difficult time. For some people, perhaps because they are missing someone who has passed, or because they have experienced loss during this time of the year in the past, the pervasive joy of the season is difficult.

I realize that many of my fellow students will most likely be at home or visiting family by that time, but if you are around, we would love to have you join us. Or, if you know someone local for whom this service might be helpful, please let them know about it. Or, if you would like the opportunity to sing some subdued Advent and Christmas carols with us, that’s great too!

May your Advent season be a blessed time in darkness, awaiting a great light.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Blessings and Biddings

On Sunday a classmate and I went to visit the congregation where we had once served as Ministry-in-Context students, during our second year at LSTC. We’re both fifth-year seniors now, and hadn’t been back in three years.

We needn’t have worried. We received the same warm welcome we had received the very first Sunday we worshipped at Reformation Lutheran Church. Over the course of the year that followed, I preached my very first sermons, wore a clerical collar for the first time, presided over coffee hour for the first time. We learned a lot about ministry – and about context, too.

Roseland, the neighborhood Reformation calls home, has a rich history: This is where the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters once stood up to the Pullman Rail Car Company – and won. By the time we arrived, however, there were new realities: The neighborhood had – still has – one of the highest homicide rates in the city.

Yet still the warm welcome. Still the preaching that feels like an event. Still the sense of family among the people who have gathered to sing, to pray, to share a meal. Still Christ present in the congregation on a chilly Sunday morning.

I’m grateful to have revisited this place, but I’m especially grateful to have done so with Elisabeth, with whom I served at Reformation. This morning at chapel we bid her goodbye, along with four other classmates who graduate this month. Misty-eyed, we stretched our hands toward our companions and bid them go forth from this place with our blessing.

For a time we walked the untrodden paths together, but now they go out, with good courage. Soon I will join them. Soon will we all.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Blue Skies

It has been snowing for four straight days. The “lake-effect snow machine” is churning off Lake Ontario and dumping directly on Syracuse. 36” already, another 12”-15” anticipated for today, and no break expected until Friday. This weather is hard for me. I grew up in southern California, and even though I’ve since lived in more wintery places snow is still a foreign concept to me. My house is becoming increasingly cave-like as the snow pile on the bushes grows to meet the icicles coming down from the roof. And most of my adult life I have not owned a car, so I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve driven in the snow. Living alone, the snow feels claustrophobic and isolating, despite its beauty.

And then today while I was driving to work the clouds parted and the sun came out. It wasn’t even out for five minutes, but that little break was like balm to my weary soul. In that little flash of blue sky and sunshine I felt like Noah must have felt when the rainbow arched across the sky after the flood. Beyond the snow, beyond the clouds, the sky is still blue. The sun is still shining, even though I cannot see it. In the cold, dark, loneliness of winter, God is still here.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Advent...Holy Week...Advent...Advent...

My Worship class had a Paschal Retreat on Friday.  We celebrated Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil, all in a day.  My classmates who aren't in Worship keep asking how it was.  The first thing that keeps coming out is, "It was jarring.  We plunked Holy Week into the middle of Advent!"

My favorite part of our Holy Week on Friday was the foot washing on Maundy Thursday.  The act of foot washing has always been a part of my faith life, since we do it every Easter season at my home congregation and every staff training at the camp I used to work at.

I'll admit, I was a little nervous for this foot washing, perhaps because some of my male classmates announced that they had an affinity towards feet, and I had serious doubts over whether or not they would do something weird in service.  Fortunately, they restrained their desires to disrupt the flow of worship.  Even more enjoyable, aside from relatively well-behaved classmates, was seeing these peoples wash each others' feet.  It was similar to seeing the laying on of hands earlier in the semester.  

We are in a very hard point in the semester, perhaps the hardest.  I have two 10-15 page papers to write, a Greek final, a Pentateuch final, readings for Worship and Church History, in addition to finalizing my CPE application and everything else I've managed to save up for myself...all by Thursday afternoon.  To see the hands of my classmates holding the feet of one another, purifying the dirty feet, was moving.  I want to cleanse the frustrations and anxiety from my friends, just as they cleanse mine.  I want to hold their feet, and not in a creepy affectionate way, but to honor them and the hard work that they have put in all semester.

Gracious God,
Thank you for the friendships we have spent the semester forming.  Remind us that the road ahead is rough, but we walk alongside one another, ready to hold one another in our arms and hearts.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Happy Holidays?

A local church is planning secular themed decor for their sanctuary: "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Some of my clergy colleagues are offended by this but I simply find it intriguing. I like the idea of a church embracing the secular and (hopefully) using it to proclaim Christ in a new way.

I haven't always found joy in the secular side of the season. But over the years, I've found cause for celebrating. For instance, this year I will be missing driving up and down Lake Shore Drive and seeing the buildings on the lake front decorated with twinkle lights and wreaths and whatever else they deem worthy. And I grew up visiting Opryland Hotel that was decorated to the teeth with festiveness - including parachuting giraffes which I never quite understood.

Frankly, it's beautiful. I love Christmas trees. I love getting a cup of coffee (or hot cocoa) and settling onto the couch with the only light in the room the glow of the Christmas tree. What's the point of being contentious? If I get upset every time I hear "Frosty the Snowman" because it isn't proclaiming Christ, I'm wasting the joy and hope and peace of the season.

So I choose to embrace it. After all, I think during this season we need all the joy we can get.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Light in the Darkness

Candles flickering in the shadows, remind us of the peace that should be centered within our hearts this Advent season. As the flame turns and spirals upward in an eternal dance, it reflects the hope of Heaven that centers within our spirits; it is the core of what we are as children of the Creator.

As the celebration of Advent begins and as holiday season ebbs and flows, I always think of this time as one of chaotic happiness, of families coming together for merriment and fellowship, yet I often forget in the midst of Christmas songs and beautiful worship services that, as we have been discussing in Pentateuch class, the book of Job and “bad things happening to good people.”

This week, my husband came home to tell me that one of his young students succumbed to an illness that perhaps the doctors nor her parents were able to pinpoint. For that moment, as I listened to this tale of sadness life reared its ugly head and I asked the question why? As a parent, in the moment of solidarity I felt for this mother, whose home was now so empty. What hope could be reflected in the Advent candle for this family?

As one family mourns, perhaps one answer is that the love that will pour forth from extended family, from friends and from their community that even though each day will be filled with challenges and that our Creator walks with us, cares for us, mourns with us and has the power to heal us.

“Father Creator, the stars which shine from Heaven are examples of your eternal love. Remember those who have lost a loved one; cradling them close and speaking within their hearts your promise of never leaving us or forsaking us. Amen.”

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Observations of a Hyde Park Barista

If coffee is a sacrament, then I’ve already been ordained for years! While I can’t exactly say Starbucks has gotten me through seminary, it has definitely helped—in more ways than one. I may not have gotten through my 45 minute commute to my CPE site everyday without my travel-mug of home-brewed Gold Coast Blend. All free, of course—my reward for helping others with their grinding daily Los Angeles commute.

In transferring to a store in Hyde Park, though, it’s been interesting to see how much community really can be formed around coffee. Sure, plenty of people would meet over coffee at my old store in California. And lots of people would unexpectedly run into someone they knew. But here on the south side of Chicago, people meet over coffee—for the first time, unplanned. If there’s an open chair at a table where someone is already sitting, and it’s the only one left in the café, a patron will eventually walk up and ask the person if they would mind sharing the table. That just doesn’t happen in California. If a person sitting at one table overhears an interesting conversation at the next table, they’ll join in. And the person isn’t considered rude or crazy! And sometimes that conversation ends up lasting for hours! Again, these things just didn’t happen in my store outside Los Angeles.

Community happens over coffee. Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of people in my Hyde Park Starbucks with headphones on, hunched over a laptop clicking around facebook or writing a paper. We are across the street from the U of C, after all. But it’s been interesting to observe just how much of a “third place” a coffee shop can be. Not quite “Cheers,” but sometimes, not far from it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December in the Chi

I sent off my regional preferences for spring Assignment this morning. My wife and I have been talking about these preferences for months; we thought them through and made our decisions carefully. Even so, it still broke my heart to send them off knowing they are the first step in a process that will in all likelihood mean leaving, once again, our sweet home Chicago.

It’s especially heartbreaking to take this step on the first day of my favorite Chicago month. I know some prefer September for its temperate perfection, and no one in their right mind will argue with Kanye West that the good life feels like “summertime Chi,” but I’m still starstruck every time December rolls around and the city adorns itself with lights. A Christkindlmarket brings boot mugs of glühwein to Daley Plaza, ice skaters turn Millennium Park into a postcard, and the icy wind still feels like a seasonal novelty (but check back with us when we’re still wearing mittens in April).

As if on cue, it started snowing this morning, the perfect backdrop for an Advent Eucharist in the LSTC chapel. Professor Klaus-Peter Adam preached the gospel for our community on World Aids Day, and then we were sent back out into the streets of our city. I pulled on the Nepalese hat I’d bought during another Chicago December, pulled my Chicago Fire scarf tight, and went forth, ready for whatever comes next, ready to serve the Servant in whatever adventures lie ahead.

But oh, Chicago. It’s only December, and I’m already heartsick over leaving you.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Great Escapes

I just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s newest book, The Lacuna. The book is an autobiography of the fictional William Harrison Shepherd, a Mexican-American cook turned writer. The book is masterfully done. I was pulled in immediately by Kingsolver’s sharp prose, engaging characters, and a storyline that twists and dances its way through the history of two countries and leaves you guessing until the very end.

But what captured me most about the book was the title. Though it sounds Spanish, fitting with the setting of the book, lacuna is actually an English word, meaning a gap, an empty space, or a missing part. The lacuna in the story is an underwater cave Shepherd discovers as a boy. When the tide is right, Shepherd can swim all the way through the cave, emerging in a totally new place. This imagery of a secret passageway through time and space becomes the metaphor on which the entire plot turns.

I didn’t do a lot of pleasure reading in seminary, but right around the last couple weeks of the semester, I always found myself picking up a book. Usually Harry Potter or something else light, familiar, and well worn; I am the sort of person who reads books over and over again, delighting at the familiarity. Books were my lacuna, secret passageways out of the end-of-semester stress and into a new world. On internship when everything is so unfamiliar, books offer the same gift, a way to disappear from this life and spend some time with old friends. And so I offer a prayer of thanksgiving for books and the people who write them. Entire worlds that fit in the space of my bookshelf, offering no end of escapes and adventures if only for a few hours.

Thanksgiving Pastoral Care

My uncle is a once a year or a couple of years relative, and I always look forward to his visits, which have always been over Thanksgiving. From the look of it, you may not know it, but my uncle is one of the most thoughtful people in the world. He always knows what everyone does and wants, whether someone needs something in a meal, or inquiring about people’s interests and experiences. He never really sees us, but he seems to know so much about us, or at least seems to ask the questions that make us feel like in the small window of days that we see him, we matter so much. As I went through the week and saw how everyone was reacting to this, whether family, friends, or random strangers, they all seemed to leave with a smile, or at least a peaceful look. I walk away from this past weekend, hoping that I work to have that ability to exist for the person in front of me. I talk about what pastoral care is in classes and I understand it, and I know I have experienced it, but I think this weekend, showed me how amazing it can be, and what a gift it truly is. And since we are family, I can only hope to have this gift as well. What a great Thanksgiving, and time to be refreshed, now it is back to the books for two long and fast paced weeks!

Monday, November 29, 2010


I went home for the first "real" time, since starting seminary, for Thanksgiving last week.  I say it's the first "real" time, because I did stop at my house for about 45 minutes to drop off my dog on our way to Luther Bowl in Gettysburg.  I slept, ate, shopped, watched crappy television and spent quality time with my family.

The weirdest thing about being home though was knowing what I was coming back to, here in Chicago.  I remember leaving my house to come to seminary.  I packed up my car, put my dog in the front seat, hugged my mom and brother goodbye, then drove down our driveway.  I started to cry a little, realizing that I didn't know what I was getting myself into.  What classes would I take?  What would my professors be like?  Would I be prepared academically for seminary?  What would my apartment and roommate be like?

Yesterday, after I packed my car and put Steve in the front seat, I hugged my mom and said that I'll be home soon.  I also said, "It's fine, Mom.  I know where I'm going now."  It was pretty cool to know what I was returning to this time.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Three months into my internship and the facade starts to fall. I am not always on time, always together, or always crafting great sermons. I've made mistakes, missed appointments, hidden out when things got a bit scary, and forgotten plenty. People are finding out my flaws, my cracks, and seeing my warts all the way from the pews.

During supervision last week, my supervisor looked at me and said, "It's going to be an uncomfortable year. I'm not saying it won't be good, too, but it will uncomfortable." I couldn't say much after that so I just nodded.

Don't let anyone fool you - seminary is a difficult process. One that breaks down all notions of what ministry is and what being a pastor looks and feels like. It isn't all sunshine and smiles.

The truth is that your carefully crafted notions about life and ministry collapse around you. The good news is that sturdy strong walls of faithful living are coming up layer by layer, too. Some days it seems barely a brick has been laid on this faithful foundation but every time I look, I am more surprised at how strong and tall this wall is.

Seminary and internship are nothing like I thought they'd be. But like the beautiful analogy of the garden in "The Shack," God is creating space for something more amazing than what was there before.

Take heart when you see your walls come down - the Carpenter knows how to build skillfully.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday Madness

Yesterday, peace on earth reigned as many of us gathered in our homes and gave thanks for the many blessings, our families and friends in our lives.

However, the madness started around midnight as people flocked to malls and stores everywhere attempting to snag the perfect gift, bargin or deal to impress those same family and friends. Why? What has seeped into the human psyche that a materialistic present will pacifiy their children or outshine anyone else's offering in this Advent season?

Although I understand the attraction and the draw of the prospect of Black Friday especially in these hard economic times, what I despise is the false advertising, the chaos and unfortunately in some cases, the death that has occured making this truly a dark time of the year.

During the Thanksgiving celebrations yesterday as I was entertaining a couple of my fellow Seminarian brothers and sisters with dinner that we had prepared, I received a text from a Pastor friend who had attended my childhood home congregation for services yesterday with that started with these words: "Your Mama gave thanks for YOU this morning in church..."

For me, those words of love, of graciousness, of acknowledgement and of humility will carry me through my spiritual journey and it is those simple acts of kindness that our Creator continues to teach us, whether in a new birth or rebirth or whether guiding our own ways to reach out and bless, help or comfort another.

Heavenly Creator, breathing life into our beating human hearts you brought us out of the darkness of chaos and into the Light. Free our spirits and guide our spirits to open our homes, and our homes of worship to those who are forgotten or neglected so that we truly give the gift that is everlasting; through your Son, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Eucharistia

Family and friends gathering together. Skilled hands preparing food, drink, and festive space. Collective memory recalling old stories – sacred stories. Prayer. Giving thanks. The breaking of bread and the sharing of food. The pouring of good wine. Time spent in joyful community. Mutual service. Connections made with the earth, with one another, and with God.

Thanksgiving, more than just in name, can be a Eucharistic holiday. In many ways it is an extended time of Holy Communion. Holy people gathering together to share food, wine, and communion with one another – sometimes with people you don’t see on a regular basis. And what a lovely time for such a holiday in the liturgical calendar. A giving thanks for God’s abundant faithfulness as our final, worshipful act before beginning a new journey in Advent.

May your Eucharistia be a blessed celebration.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Every Friday morning I take the Red Line to Fullerton, transfer to the Brown Line, and step out at Western, where I walk two blocks south to school, my trusty guitar in tow.

I first registered for guitar lessons at the Old Town School of Folk Music in my middler year, at the same time I was learning to preach. I was clueless about either subject, having only heard the thing done before, never having tried it myself. But I wasn’t alone. Most of my classmates in Guitar 1 were just as new as I was to frets and fingerboards.

Sitting in a circle of folding chairs, we began with the simple chords of Woody Guthrie’s “California Stars,” our first uncertain steps into the wonders of frets and fingerboards. Over time, we learned lots of songs, some old, some new. And then, at the end of every session, we’d gather in the concert hall with students from all of the other classes for a great big sing-and-play-along.

It was like church. (I know, I know… such a seminarian.) And so one day in the spring, we took it to church. Several classmates, including one who was honing his banjo skills at the Old Town School, led a bluegrass Service of the Word for morning chapel at LSTC. It was every bit as awesome as you’d imagine.

Since returning to campus for this final year, then, I’ve continued with my group guitar lessons. They continue to be a Sabbath for me, in more ways than one.

So you want to go to seminary?

This video has been making the rounds on Facebook recently. As much as it makes me laugh (“rural North Dakota”, whoever made this was clearly Lutheran ☺), I struggled with the video because in between offensive comments the man asked some tough questions and the woman had no good answers. All she could offer were cliqued quips that sounded even more naïve in the automated computer voice. I wondered: could I do any better?

The questions the video raised caught me off-guard. After all, I’m three years and a fair amount of student loans into this seminary experience. I also feel just as, if not more, called to be in this profession as I did when I started. But the man is right. I know all the statistics. Clergy do have the highest rates of alcoholism, depression and obesity, the moving constantly thing is hard, and there isn’t lucrative financial compensation. On paper, this seminary thing is crazy.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized, maybe there isn’t supposed to be a rational answer. I did not come to seminary because I listed the pros and cons and being a pastor came out as the best option. I came to seminary because it began to feel like the only option. Vocation, be it to seminary or the medical field or accounting, is the thing you find you cannot not do.

The woman in the video said she wanted to go to seminary because she was called by God. I would change the voice and say that I am in seminary because God called me. The action is all God’s. And no, it doesn’t make any logical sense. But faith doesn’t always make logical sense. That’s why it’s called faith. Following God’s call to seminary may not measure up to the world’s standards of success, but neither does following a carpenter’s son and a ragtag bunch of fishermen. So here I am. Naïve? Maybe. Idealistic? Probably. Called by God? Yes, I think that too. Dear man in the video, I’ll let you know how it turns out for me.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving Break

As we begin another reading week/Thanksgiving break, I find myself in a decent place, working on homework but also trying to find time to relax. The break was welcomed at a time when my to-do list was getting quite long, but the time to do it was coming up short. We start to see that there are really only two weeks left when we return. Two weeks?! “But I still have to work on that big paper, and I don’t know Greek yet, I need more time.” I find myself saying that a lot lately, but I think I am reminded when I think like this, make use of the time you have. Take this all a day at a time, get done what needs to be done today. When life stresses like this, I also try and keep track of those people, places, and things that can take stress away. Whether it is a phone call to my best friend, watching a movie with some grade school friends I still keep in contact with, or just good family time, like a good Thanksgiving dinner with relatives I have not seen in a long time. All these experiences are what allow me to keep at the homework and the long readings at bay. Happy Thanksgiving, take in the holidays and enjoy the time you have, the people you have, and all that we have to be thankful for.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Just a circle of rain.

The last time I flew, as we were about to touch down in the plane, I saw this really cool silhouette of the plane against the clouds.  The coolest part was that it was surrounded by a raincircle.  It wasn't a rainbow, per se, since the bow is the shape rather than the inherent nature of the concept.  So, yes, raincircle.

I've been thinking about this raincircle for a few days now.  What does it mean, exactly?  Yes, I know, it was a reflection of light off of water molecules...blah, blah.  I got it.  What I'm asking though, is what does it mean that it was a raincircle?  God set his bow in the cloud.  Anytime I draw rainbows, they typically have ends.  The rainbow stops somewhere, possibly capped with a bucket of gold placed by ironically petite Irishmen.  My family is Irish...we're the farthest thing from, I don't know where they got this short, Irish leprechaun business.

I digress.

I'd rather it be a raincircle that God set in the sky.  This was a small raincircle that I saw, but the idea that a circle has no ends fits much more into my theology of God's love for creation.  I like that there's no beginning or end.

Just a circle of rain.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Today... today I will simply share a piece of inspiration. Sip it slowly and then gulp it down.

"You cannot know for certain the greatness of the future for which you are being prepared: the depths of compassion and understanding that are being carved by your sorrow; the vitality that gathers in secret pools behind the dam of old hopes and memories; the adventures that await you. Your inner spirit builds upon itself in anticipation of that final drop that will pour over the side and into your future.... you cannot stop the life within you that is pressing forward. Your curiosity will be the source of your courage."
~Carol Orsborn in The Art of Resilience

Friday, November 19, 2010

Slow Down, Enjoy Life!

My usual routine on any given morning during the week is to accompany my 9 year old son to school. As I walked along 56th street back towards home, my mind was an endless stream of the virtual to do list: translating 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 for Biblical Greek, working on the next set of Pentateuch questions for cohort group, refraining from burning my Lathrop book for Worship, reading and rereading my CPE application-and seeing a tall cup of Joe in my future just to get me through the day. On top of that, the old familiar chill of a Chicago autumn encased my spirit and pushed my very being to move faster, hurried.

From my blind side, a U of C grad student rushed past me as he was, I imagined attempting to get to Regenstein Library for a prime spot. In front of us were two construction workers, lingering and laid-back in their stride as they chatted. The grad student almost slammed into one of them, apologetic with a half smile as he continued on. The construction worker laughed and retorted to him "Hey, slow down! Enjoy Life!"

Even as I laughed softly, I was conscious of slowing my own pace and closing that door within myself where the stiff neck person named Worrywort continually harasses the rest of me about what we have to do; this time last year, Worrywort succeeded in landing me in the hospital with blood pressure that was dangerously extreme as well as an ugly migraine.

And as I reflected on this past weekend, where I did stop and smell the roses as I celebrated with my fellow Seminarian brothers and sisters my birthday with dancing, libations and food I realized, that our Creator did not put us on this planet to be drones and dull! "Therefore I tell you do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink..."

Make a joyful noise! Celebrate the Creation He has given us! Celebrate Life!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Beautiful Autumn

I had a friend in high school who refused to use the word “Fall” when talking about the season that comes after summer. And I understood why. “Autumn” does a much better job of capturing the beauty of the season. Becky and I were looking forward to Autumn this year, having come from a place where it doesn’t quite exist in the same way it does here. And Autumn in Chicago has not disappointed. It has been gorgeous, and unseasonably warm much of the time, in answer to Becky’s prayers! Even so, there's just something about putting on a sweatshirt or light jacket and going out into the crisp, cool air that somehow makes me feel alive.

In the debate over the etymology of the word Autumn, some believe it came from the Latin word auctus, which means “increase,” while others believe its root is auq-, and means “drying-up season.” Themes of life and death side by side. An increase in bounty simultaneous with the earth’s dehydration. A sacrifice, you could say, that brings life and sustenance. And most certainly good reason to be thankful.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


This week I’m filling out forms for the ELCA assignment process. In other words, I’m doing paperwork. Lots of it.

Sometimes the paperwork is merely informational. What’s my home synod? (Indiana-Kentucky.) Where was I baptized? (Foster City, California.) What’s my Social Security Number? (Nice try.) This is the easy stuff, and it’s called, appropriately enough, “Form A.”

But the task quickly gets more complicated. “Form B” asks us to “describe the ministry situation(s) and setting(s) to which you have the clearest sense of call and describe the gifts you bring.” In other parts of candidacy process, you get to spend a lengthy essay exploring questions like this one. Here we are allowed 250 words or less. On the basis of a piece of writing the length of one of these blog posts, a bishop will draft me into one of nine geographical regions. No pressure.

(Below: A wordle based on the paragraph I wrote for Form B.)
After I’m assigned, bishops, synods, and finally a congregation will get to see the next form on my to-do list this week: the Rostered Leader Profile, sixteen pages of prompts where I get to elaborate on my calling and gifts for ministry in more detail.

It’s intimidating to fill out paperwork like this, but, I must admit, it’s exciting, too. It requires me to look back over my time at seminary and marvel at the ways my call and my gifts have been nurtured, challenged, and made a part of what God is doing in the world. It has me filled with gratitude and wonder, which is just about perfect for a week leading up to Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Youth are on Fire!!!

I worked two summers at camp before LSTC, and sometimes I miss that camp lifestyle; playing games and being outdoors, and scraping to get by. I traded it in for being indoors and reading long books, and still scraping to get by. Luckily for me once a week I hangout with 6th – 8th graders at my church for bible study.

I look forward to Sunday mornings because I know that they bring this excitement about life and the simpler things, the highs and lows of life are always more dramatic, but more than that they can say things that will challenge you with one sentence more than 10 sermons. We tell them to look up Bible verses, and they don’t know whether the books are in the New Testament or Old, and they cannot wait to play games. Although sometimes they seem to check out, they still talk once and a while and I know that they are learning, or at least catching a couple words between goofing off.

I was reminded yesterday how refreshing it is to be involved with kids. I study this stuff day in and day out, and I know a lot more than the kids, and still need to learn. This week I was reminded I am still that child that who wants to learn, but sometimes I goof off in class a little or am thinking about what I am going to do next. And I hope I never lose that.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


I spent the last week at the National Council of Churches General Assembly: Centennial Gathering in N'Orleans.  It was the first time that I was in a formal setting to discuss ecumenism, especially with non-ELCA-Lutherans.  I think it's easy to talk about getting along with everybody when there's relatively few differences within the ELCA, but it's a whole different thing to actually BE ecumenical.

We had two main worship services in our time in New Orleans, which felt very odd to me, since we have chapel Monday through Thursday at LSTC.  Both services were designed to be as inclusive as possible, so there wasn't eucharist.  One of the other young people at the conference was a member of the Society of Friends and as we were talking about the services she said, "Some things really upset me.  Then I realized that there were things that upset everyone in that worship.”  This was exactly the point.  The bulletin had an asterisk during the Apostle's Creed, denoting that not everyone uses the filioque.  The service we had at the Orthodox church had a charismatic, AME bishop preaching, complete with Amens and "Preach it, Bishop" being yelled out from the pews.  There were things that upset all of us in those services.

In some ways, it was this crazy collision of worlds, east meets west, Catholic meets Quaker, silence meets vocal praise.  Despite it making us feel "uncomfortable" or upset, we were all there, worshiping God, praising Christ, feeling the Holy Spirit, in a new space with new people.  It was uncomfortable, but it was the true spirit of ecumenism.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Coffee - A Sacrament?

I feel like coffee is such a widely accepted part of American Christian life that it isn't even worth bringing up but just in case, I will.

I decided I would finally bring my guitar and play for our Wednesday evening healing service this past week. After all, we usually only have a small crowd of two or three. They'd be forgiving of my beginner guitar skills. Of course this is the week when TEN show up.. and TWO are first time visitors.

The heat was on.

But of course everyone loved it. The spirit did that showing up thing that always amazes me. And as we are sharing peace afterward and making our way to the fellowship hall to begin week seven of our bible study, we were talking with our visitors. They were gently heading toward the door until I piped up, "We've got some decaf coffee on if you want to stay." They both changed direction instantly. Over coffee, one woman confessed she was looking for a church home. The other told us of her struggle to find a job and a home. We drank our coffee and shared our faith.

I'm not sure what magical power coffee holds but I have certainly discovered its unique ability to draw people together into conversation. Perhaps it means instant community if you are, like the rest of us, a coffee drinker (just black, please). Perhaps it is the distraction of something in our hands or something to do when really we are in it for the conversation more than the caffeine. Perhaps it was the invitation to stay and not the coffee that changed their minds.

Regardless, I consider coffee another sacrament of church life.