Tuesday, November 30, 2010
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.
Monday, November 29, 2010
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
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
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.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
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.
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
Sunday, November 21, 2010
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 short...so, I don't know where they got this short, Irish leprechaun business.
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
"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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
Friday, November 12, 2010
bearing the scars of a lost people
woven tight around her neck
draped colors of her soul woven into her shawl
trapped between here and the next
carried on the thunderous hooves of a Nation
the horizon scattered with wavering spirits listening for the call
a parade of peoples dancing before her
and yet why, does her spirit cry
As sage and sweetgrass filled the chapel last week, we invited in the voices of those ancestors that are not only flowing within the blood of their own people, but rushing forth reaching and connecting to those who are not Native. Listening to elders such as Dr. George "Tink" Tinker and Rev. Marlene Whiterabbit Helgemo bringing their experiences and history brought again the realization of a people so vital to this land, to its beginnings and their continued struggle.
Reflecting in the stillness of the night, and as I continue to form my own theology I reach back and draw from the thunderous shores of Africa and draw to me the strong, vibrant heartbeat of the original Native land, seeing the beauty of Creation and the meaning, importance of Life.
May the Creator continue to guide and protect you.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
I actually like writing papers. And when one of your professors decides to make the main research paper due before thanksgiving, to “lighten the load” after thanksgiving, that seems like a brilliant idea. But when three of your professors do that? Then the idea doesn’t seem quite so brilliant anymore. Alas, that’s what happened to me this semester, and so here I am, with a weekend full of reading and writing in front of me, all due on Monday and Tuesday.
Of course I saw this coming, and so I tried to get ahead and get started on my research a couple weeks ago. And to a certain extent, I did. At least I know what I’m writing about! But it’s hard when you still have the normal workload of all your classes to keep up with. So my “getting ahead” mostly consisted of securing two large stacks of books from the library.
So here I am with stacks of library books, a fresh pot of coffee, and my two study companions (see pic), ready to tackle a day of research and note-taking. I realize this probably sounds like hell to some of you. But if it doesn’t—and if researching topics like 1st century conceptions of resurrection, atonement theories in Luther besides forensic justification, and Isaiah 56:1-8 as an alternative vision for the reconstitution of the Judean community after the exile sounds interesting to you—then maybe you should be here!
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
I first worked at “Lab” three years ago, when I was last on campus and it seemed like half of the student body at LSTC was employed there. Today Lab After School is staffed by mostly education majors, recently graduated and looking to deepen their teaching skills with an internship at one of the most respected private schools in the city. I’ve been grandfathered in, which is great, because I get to learn from them, observe their best practices, take part in their discussions on pedagogy, hear from their guest speakers. It’s like having an elementary education practicum as part of my seminary coursework.
Today, for example, I listened to a presentation about techniques for writing workshops in the lower grades. I walked a dozen second-graders from their classroom down to the line of cars waiting to pick them up, and on the way I learned about one girl’s progress toward adopting a cat and debated a seven-year-old over the merits of Mexico’s national futbol team. I helped a fifth-grader with multiplication.
And then I played soccer for three hours, my daily recess. All in a day’s work…
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Driving back to the vicarage I was so angry. “Why is nothing ever simple here!” I yelled at God. God, in her infinite wisdom, did not answer.
That afternoon I made a hospital call. I was coming off a bad experience at the hospital, so I had been dreading this all weekend. Not the visit itself, but having to face my fear and go back in the hospital. But after the burglar alarm, I found I wasn’t as scared any more. The absurdity of the day served to put things back into perspective for me, remind me of who was really in charge. The silent God wasn’t answering, but she was moving. Moving in my heart and soul and spirit to knock me down from my self-confidence, remind me of God’s confidence, and teach me to laugh again. Thanks be to God who comes in the unexpected, in the absurd. Thanks be to God, who moves.
Saturday, November 6, 2010
Memories of laughing, crying, singing and eating crepes fill the space.
So, thanks, LSTCers. You move me...and Laura. :)
In the Lutheran world, we talk only of the Holy Spirit and even then, very little. We could take a few pointers from our pentecostal brothers and sisters on how to let the spirit move us.
But what I've been wondering on are the dark forces that reside with the light one. Good and evil. To be honest, it has creeped me out. Now, whatever you believe personally, I have to tell you that I cannot ignore it. I've had a sense that evil was working in the world but it never bothered me much. It was there. So was the good. Now I'm working on placing this deeper realization into my theology. What comes to mind so far?
1.) God made all things. All spirits are a part of God's creation.
2.) Jesus was merciful to the legion of demons.
3.) We are called to care for all creation.
4.) The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.
So if your thoughts are straying to spiritual warfare like mine, know that you are not alone. Not just in your thoughts or quest to make sense of it all, but as one who shines in the darkness. Together we are the body of Christ, standing as one, and conquering all things in His name.
From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!
(-traditional Scottish prayer)
Friday, November 5, 2010
Into home spun ribbons of gray
As if hands draw up to tired eyes, wishing to explore new horizons
Impatiently waiting for the cascading colors to fall, spilling over
Seeping and not restrained in a withered, cracked ceramic shell
Cupped and contained, carried and cradled
Lifted and reaching upwards
Bursting and flowing
Light that has merged
November has begun its campaign down these rainy streets as it always has, drawing notes on a somber trombone, and even as we think of those angels that have faded into memory I am reminded that along the rushing river of Life, the soft petals that fall from towering redwoods and weeping willows, absent from our sight, continue traveling on the sweetness of the winds. We are left to stumble into the harshness of the winter which pushes at the fabric of our weary souls, driving us within the sanctity of our homes.
Cocooned, and peering out into the showers of snow that now Mother Nature proudly dons as a pristine gown of white sometimes brings us to sadness, or finding us questioning our faith. Yet the Creator speaks to us in song, in the rare beauty of crystals that form and the Light that is always pulsating and present each new dawn. Like every trial or struggle in our lives, there is the promise of the radiance of simple serenity walking through a prairie, trickle of a river reborn in the warmth of Creation that ebbs and flows.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
In the first game, against host Gettysburg, the Orange and Blue got off to a rough start. But after the defense kept us in the game, LSTC made Luther Bowl history. Down 14-0 with 10 minutes to play, we came back with two scores and a successful two-point conversion to send the game into overtime. After both teams scored again in the first overtime, the defense stopped Gettysburg on their second turn. It was time for destiny. LSTC quarterback Carl-Eric Gentes took the snap from All-Luther Bowl center Meredith Harbor, rolled to his left, finding “the receiver whom Jesus loved” open in the endzone. Touchdown! LSTC wins! Orange elation ensued.
Unfortunately we lost two more hard-fought battles, one to eventual champion Princeton, and the cherished Book of Concord and Luther bobblehead will spend another year doing evangelism. Though I most likely won’t get to play next year when I’m away on internship, I’m confident this young team has a bright future.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
I had my first brush with Barack Obama four years ago, during my first months of seminary. He was beginning a book tour in his neighborhood bookstore, 57th Street Books. At the time, he was, if not quite unknown, not too far removed from “local author” status, either. As I stood in line, I met others who lived in the neighborhood and were braving a rainy morning to meet the former law professor. Maybe inevitably, given our reasons for being there, we talked about our hopes and dreams for our neighborhood, and for our country.
The world changes so quickly.
On Saturday, the "skinny kid with a funny name" returned to Hyde Park, this time not for a book signing as a local author but as a President headlining a get-out-the-vote rally of thirty-five thousand people. My wife and I stood in line for an hour or so before joining the throngs on the Midway. Undergrads studying Latin textbooks stood behind us, while several older women gathered in front of us, campaign buttons pinned proudly to their overcoats. A family I knew from the U of C Laboratory Schools walked by, and we waved to each other.
A few days later, I awoke before dawn and walked across the street to vote as a resident of Chicago’s 4th Ward for the third and probably last time. I don’t know where I’ll be for the next election, but I’m sure I’ll miss the neighbors.
(Election week bonus link! LSTC alum Paul Bailie ('08) posted an article this month in the Journal of Lutheran Ethics about political issues and preaching. Click here to read what he had to say.)
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
This week we are celebrating All Saints Day. This is a day for remembering, creatively enough, all of the saints. Not just the ones with great wisdom or knowledge or ability to perform miracles, but the ordinary, everyday saints as well. Saints like you and me. So on this election day in the middle of All Saints week, I remember that in God’s eyes we are all saints, all equal in the loving embrace of God.