Friday, December 31, 2010
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
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
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
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.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
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
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
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
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
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
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.
"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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.