Saturday, December 31, 2011
A year ago, I was Skyping with friends on internship in various time zones. The eastern time zone struck news years and it was only 10PM for me. Again, I got through a second dropping of the new years ball with a friend in the central time zone. And finally, I made it to midnight Mountain time. By that point, I had already curled up in bed to read a book. I clicked on my phone around 11:58, waiting for it to tick to midnight. Then I smiled. And I shut off my light and went to sleep.
This year, I'm driving from one home to another, neither of which are in Montana or the mountain time zone! What a year it has been. I just took my car in for his 100,000 mile check up. The man taking care of me at the dealership looked at my book of past maintenance and commented on all the places I had been. Yes. Yes, I have been many places.
And yet, I find that this evening, I am content to be with myself. Perhaps dragging myself (and Henry) around the country has caused me to find contentment in many places, even within me.
So today I give thanks for the many homes I've known and the God who came to earth to make a home with us.
[photo = http://www.flickr.com/photos/rosendahl/5598930036/]
Friday, December 30, 2011
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Being an aunt is my greatest job, I'm sure only to be topped (hopefully) by one day being able to mother a child of my own. My niece and nephew are some of the clearest beacons of truth that I have seen in this world. There is no happiness as pure as the happiness of child. There is no quest for knowledge like that of an inquisitive child exploring the world for a first time. There are no hugs as heartwarming then snuggling up with a child as they fall asleep in your arms.
I'll never forget that night waiting at Lakewood Hospital in Ohio, sitting with my dad outside in the waiting room as my mother and brother-in-law stayed with my sister as she struggled through a challenging labor. I remember everything about how that night turned into day, and ultimately afternoon - from the book I read, to the letter I wrote a future-Phoebe, to the person who sold me one-too-many cups of coffee. But what I remember most of all was that first moment she was placed within my arms, her little curled fists poking out of her blanket, the squished post-delivery look on her face. It was at that moment that I fully understood what God's unconditional love for us was like, because I knew then that I would never stop loving this beautiful miracle that laid within my arms.
For many people Christmastime is about celebrating the joy that comes from recognizing that God loves our humanity so much as to live in human form. While I celebrate that joy, for me the added reason to celebrate the season is in thanksgiving that God continues to love us so much as to bless us with the joy of rediscovering our humanity through the lives of our children, and our children's children, and the children of our loved ones.
I am so grateful that my God has allowed me the blessing to have a loving relationship with my niece and nephew. Their presence in my life has been a gift greater then I ever could have imagined, and with every lit candle on the cake I rejoice that when I sing "Happy Birthday" to them, I am also celebrating that their birthdays are happy days for me, too.
(Happy Birthday, Phoebe. Much love - Aunt Tina)
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Sunday, December 25, 2011
While songs about snow and sleigh rides never have made sense to me, I still love them. I love them because they remind me of the earthiness of this holiday. Christmas isn’t really about weather, but about the miracle of a God who became flesh and came down to muck through this world of snow and heat. So Merry Christmas to you, whether your holiday dreams include sledding or surfing. As for me, I’m going hiking.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
Most years I grow weary of close minded people griping about X-Mas, Happy Holidays, and so on. This year, however, there's been a strong response about Christ being in the midst of these.
My favorite, has been about Christmas trees. My atheist or agnostic friends are quick to point out to me that Christmas trees are not Christian. I enjoy the moment when they are shocked at my agreeing with them. Christmas trees were not present at the birth of Christ (nor were whales, octopi, or lobsters, but I love that scene in Love, Actually). And I'm okay with it. And I'd cry if there were no tree up in my mom's house this Christmas.
Why the tie? What's the point of putting up a tree, more capable it would seem of celebrating winter solstice than Christ?
For me, it has to do with that line in "I'll be home for Christmas" and a God who promises to shine in our darkness. Last year, all alone in Montana, I had a tiny little tree with one strand of lights. It didn't feel like home. The one time I felt like I was home was sitting in the church at night, with only the grand Christmas tree lit up. That glow, that "love-light" is Emmanuel, God with us. That glow is home. That glow is love.
Besides, Christ hung on a tree for us. That speaks some profound love that no darkness can conquer.
(Photo by Eric Renshaw. Taken at Opryland Hotel, where I go every year to see this tree and all the decor.)
Friday, December 23, 2011
Thursday, December 22, 2011
A few days ago, for instance, my mother and I got dinner with my grandfather. Now that I'm a bit older, I'm starting to realize that the patriarch in my minds eye is only a fraction of the person my grandfather is. Over dinner he shared some stories about his career. Since he's been retired since I was just a few years old, it's weird to think about him working a job that changed the landscape of our community.
That dinner made his life suddenly more complex to me, and when we were driving home, my mother agreed what a lovely disconcerting feeling it is to see that a person is more then just their connection to you. She mentioned that with me and my sister, she looks at our education and career and lives as an extension of her own life since we are her kids. Even more then being her children, though, we are also our own person with our own lives.
I think this recognition is a little challenging to wrap our head around. We really only know how to experience life from our own vantage point. For instance, I found out last night that a friend who has been living as an HIV positive patient for as long as I've known him now has full-blown AIDS. I keep thinking, what can I do to support him? What will it be like for me if I lose him? How will my living in Chicago affect how I can care for him as he begins treating his condition differently? I keep seeing the Tina-centered connections, and while those connections are real and valid, at the same time a whole other slew of things is going on that have nothing to do with me but everything to do with him. My friend is living a life that affects me be doesn't include me, and while his condition is a part of my life, it is still a very separate thing that ultimately disconnected from me. Our experience of AIDS can be in tandem together, but it will never be equal.
Perhaps that's why the gift of Christ's humanity is such a hard thing for us to wrap our head around. Our Triune God came into human form so that he could not only be an extension of our humanity, like I am an extension of my mother, but so that he could also be a part of our humanity. Christ lives fully and equally in every part of our human experience, and will be completely with me and completely with my friend as we struggle with this new diagnosis of AIDS.
We are so blessed to be in community with each other, to be connected as extensions of each others lives, impacting and shaping one another as we progress together towards our independent futures. But we are far more blessed to have a God who loves us so much to live as human, truly living the life of our vantage point.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Monday, December 19, 2011
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Like tonight - I just spent the past two hours working on order of worship information for Christmas day and New Years weekend. If you would have told me even six months ago that I would plan a worship service around Christ's circumcision over planning one about the sacredness of a name, I would have laughed. Yet here I am, scouring through the hymnal trying to find a circumcision-appropriate tune while my parents watch re-runs of the Mentalist.
Last week was equally abstract. A group of us gathered together in an apartment to say goodbye to a fellow student who was returning to her home in Denmark. We ended up singing Christmas carols (in harmony no less!) for several hours, one even in Danish. Prior to seminary, I never experienced caroling that happened outside a youth-group visit to a nursing home.
These moments are not things I ever thought I'd experience in my life, mostly because seminary is nothing like I had anticipated. I come from a very blue collar town, where most people have been struggling to make ends meet after the steel mill closed a few years back and the car factory underwent layoffs. I had no context to envision a life at a divinity school in Chicago. Now that I'm back home for the holidays in a city of multiple part-time jobs and Auntie Annie's Pretzels, I realize that an average American town isn't the normal I expected it to be, either.
Being a seminary student is like living in a perpetual state of Advent. The transition between our current state into our future is wonderful, beautiful, and a bit scary. It's a balance between the assumed normalcy of our past and the anticipation of our future. It's a balance between television reruns and Revised Common Lectionaries. And much like the season of Advent, we don't really know how it's all going to play out.
As much as I wonder how I got here to this moment in my life, I'm really glad I made this journey. I used to be a person who was so absorbed with the planning that I couldn't smell the roses. I needed to know the next step so badly that it prevented me from being engaged with people in the sacredness of the moment. Before seminary, I never would have spent an evening singing carols because I would have spent that time working. I never would have thought about picking the harder passage to study because I would have been too scared to take the risk.
Tonight I give thanks for the Advent times of our lives. As I wonder how I got here, I'll continue to praise our God who is teaching me that not knowing all the answers can be a more fulfilling way to live.
Friday, December 16, 2011
Thursday, December 15, 2011
With all of this going on, it's important to find a moment to breathe and relax. But it's even more important to look around and take all the festivities in. I am, after all, here to learn. So, I hope that this next week will not only be fulfilling spiritually, but also educationally. It's going to be a busy week, but I have a feeling I'm going to learn a lot from it. And, when I can't find time to breathe and relax, I remind myself that at least I don't have to study for a final or write a 15-page paper! Despite how worn-out I may get this week, I can at least have that assurance.
I'll have more to share next week. Until then, rest easy, keep awake, and enjoy the holidays.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Friday, December 9, 2011
I am not a language person. I attempted four different languages in college, and only fulfilled the credit because I had a sympathetic professor who saw how I struggled and let me do a sociological study about American Sign Language and the Cleveland community. Needless to say, I approached Greek with an intense sense of trepidation, and soon found that Greek was far harder than anything I had ever tried to learn to begin with.
This entire semester has been a struggle. I purchased iPad apps to learn vocab. I hired a friend to tutor me, doing her laundry in lieu of payment. I made late night phone calls to people who love Greek and spent hours writing and re-writing paradigms. I have never worked so hard at something so abstract to me in my entire life. It all boiled down to this one test, and I look forward to knowing the test score to see exactly how well that work paid off.
There is a saying, "P is for Pastor." We need to pass the class so we can transition from talking about ministry to working in ministry. It's not to make light of our work here, educating ourselves to the best of our ability is our duty as church leaders, but it helps to keep that education in perspective.
A seminary education covers a wide breadth of knowledge. Not only do we learn practical stuff like how to preside over communion and what are appropriate words to say to someone who is in the hospital, but we also learn highly academic things like Biblical Greek and Systematic Theology. Covering such a wide gauntlet of options it is unlikely that each course is going to celebrate our strengths - sometimes they are going to show us our weakness.
But that is the beauty of being a part of the body of Christ. I will never be a person who could translate a passage from Luke in the blink of an eye. It will take me hours to do what could take a fellow classmate mere moments. That being said, I'm really good at helping a committee discern a workable budget, and I am definitely the person who develops a strong volunteer ministry. My natural skill sets may not be in translating the language of the saints, but I am blessed to be in a community with people where such talents are their skill sets. Together, as a community we do the work of God's kingdom.
Maybe the "P is for Pastor" doesn't have anything to do with passing. Maybe it has everything to do with recognizing we are part of a body greater than ourselves.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Of course, I knew that St. Nick was a Bishop from Europe who secretly gave presents to children and helped children in need, but that was all I knew about him historically. It wasn't until a year ago today, when a professor at LSTC gave a sermon on the life and work of this legendary character that I began to realize just what, exactly, the story was all about.
Saint Nicholas was a slight bishop from Myra who lived during the 4th century and probably attended Christianity's very first ecumenical council in Nicea in 325AD. But, he is best known for the gifts he gave to a poor family in danger of losing everything. In the culture of Myra, women could not get married without giving a dowry, a large sum of money, to the groom, and this particular family had three sisters. Because the three sisters were so poor, they could not afford to get married, making them vulnerable to being sold into slavery or forced into prostitution. Nicholas save the family from that threat by generously providing dowry money for all three impoverished sisters. This was no simple gift; this was an act that saved three women from an almost certain life of slavery or prostitution. This was an act of love; this was social justice done in the name of God.
Today, women all over the world are still in need of people like St. Nicholas to free them from oppression and poverty. Charities and organization all over the world are working to end human trafficking, forced prostitution, and poverty. One of the many ways we can help is by donating to organizations like Heifer International or Lutheran World Relief, which provide resources for female farmers (who make up 80% of the world's farmers), undereducated women, and artisans to create sustainable, life-giving small businesses which can pull them out of their poverty. This kind of gift is one that can literally bring peace to the world.
Wouldn't it be amazing if, along with the candy we give our friends and children on St. Nick's Day, we would give to those in need and teach others, including our children, to do the same? To me, this is the legacy of Saint Nicholas, and it is what Jesus Christ has called us all to do.
Monday, December 5, 2011
The famous all-niter, it seems to come up once a year, when the perfect storm of lots do and little time collide. The list was getting too long of extra little things that needed to be done. Now they can be daunting, but the nice part is that having people around you doing it too, makes it a festivity. An experience that does not give woe to procrastination or misunderstood assignments that need redoing, but rather as the facebook and google chat lists get smaller, there remain a few names. And as those names disappear, others reappear, and you chat quick; an encouraging word or a website that will give a chuckle. Maybe you talk about getting McDonald's, but decide not to because just talking about it is enough calories to make you think twice. So then you go back to work. Moving from the table to the couch and back, discussing with your roommate how if only your professor could see the hour long talk you just had about the assignment, they would surely give you an A on that alone. Discussing how if the room was bugged no one would know what to make of your senseless singing and beat boxing as you worked on papers. I have to say I love the all-niter and all the wonder that goes into the evening. I feel quite accomplished and ready to take on the day with all my smaller list items finally out of the way, I can focus on the big fish preaching finals, reciting Hebrew, and papers about the Apostle Paul! And the Biggest Fish of All... Ugly Sweater Party!
Saturday, December 3, 2011
Well, then this one says quite a lot all on it's own. My best friend, Kevin, and I hosted a Viking party last night to celebrate our adopted Scandinavian heritage. That's what happens when you go on internship to Dayton, Iowa and Billings, MT - you learn about lefse and lutefisk and all things Scandinavian. So I made Lefse and other delightful treats were brought by friends. Kevin even purchased pickled herring for us (not as bad as I would have thought, actually!). And we even had mead.
We were in a celebratory nature anyway given that the seniors had just completed their RLP's and Forms for assignment! So here's to some Lefse... here's to our future as pastors... Skol!!
Friday, December 2, 2011
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
The next day, after a full breakfast, we decided to burn off all those calories by taking a walk to Promontory Point, the lakeside park in the neighborhood. It was a beautiful day, with a fantastic view of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline, and it was a perfect ending to a great holiday spent with family here in Chicago. When it's not possible to go "home" for the holidays, it's so wonderful to have home come here.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
More than the hymnody, I love the simplicity of the season, the somber blues, the flickering candles, the flash of an evergreen wreath in the midst of the bare winter branches. Advent just seems to fit the mood of the seminary in December. Two weeks left in the semester, it is a stressful time. And then here comes Advent, like “communal deep breathing.” Advent is somber, but not penitential like Lent. Instead, it is hopeful waiting. A deep pause that assures you that even in the midst of chaos everything will be, in the end, all right. This year, the Advent wreath in the chapel is an “eternal flame.” This small, constant flickering candle reminds us that one small light shines through the deepest darkness and the Light of the World is on the way.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
But it's not just Christmas cheer that singing spreads, it's cheer in general. As my mom, aunt, cousin, and I were cooking up our Thanksgiving feast, we had my mom's ipod on and were rocking out to some tunes. We were crooning at each other, swaying our apron clad bodies as we stirred up stuffing and sweet potatoes.
I enjoyed the food, don't get me wrong. My grandmother even said it was the best food she's EVER had! But it was the singing that did me in. A group of people that know the lyrics to the same songs and don't mind looking like little girls as they dance around a kitchen like they're wearing ball gowns instead of messy aprons.
We may mess up the lyrics. We don't always hit that high note. But you know what? We don't mind at all.
Monday, November 21, 2011
"Hey, we're having a Fancy Thanksgiving!" That was the lie we were telling our friends Ben and Tara, who were married a month ago today. Since we were not at the real wedding, an idea circulated, "let's have a wedding reception here at LSTC, during our Sunday potluck!" But we wanted a surprise and Fancy Thanksgiving was the ticket. We are known for having some great parties and themes, so Fancy Thanksgiving, although low on our quality of themes, was a realistic lie to be told. So we got to work over the last couple of weeks, mostly just keeping our mouths shut, but some party decorations were bought and a secret facebook event was created, we were off to the races.
And the day came last Sunday, and as I arrived with some potluck foods to offer (eggplant parm and avocado quesadillas), I walked into a decorating frenzy. "Alex you can be our tape guy!" Yes ma'am and I was off hanging up balloons and paper wedding bells, throwing around streamers like I was toilet papering. I was doing it all and having such a good time, and then there was no more time, they were suppose to be there. "Are they coming?" Everyone hid while I went and played lookout, and finally I see some fancy dressed people come around the corner. Here we go! Running down the stairs, were lying in wait when we finally heard voices, and...
"Surprise!!! Happy Marriage to you, Happy Marriage to you... (to the tune Happy Birthday)"
They were completely shocked; never saw it coming! But we did it, we had a wedding reception. We had a sit down dinner with a head table, we had speeches, we had a first dance, bouquet toss, garter toss, a wedding game, we did it all. It was a blast, the quote of the night was, "This was better than some real weddings I have been to." And when it was all said and done we stayed and cleaned up together too, we were a community through and through that night! It was quite amazing to see what we can do when we are unified!
Saturday, November 19, 2011
In my most stressful moments, I take a moment to breathe. I quite literally stop whatever I'm doing and breathe in deeply and out deeply. A deep sigh. Sometimes I take TWO sighs. It helps. My friend Robert and I decided a few years ago that a sigh is the simplest form of prayer. I think of the passage from Romans when the spirit intercedes for us "with sighs too deep for words."
So this week, this Thanksgiving week, this week-long break from classes.... I'm breathing. I'm taking nice, long, deep, big breaths. I'm filling my body with restful sleep, and hugs from family, and kisses from my goddaughter, and of course, some delicious thanksgiving food.
It's also a good time to enjoy the present and to not stress so much about forms for first call, about papers and projects that will be due when I get back, and so on.
Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, take a moment to breathe. Just breathe. It's a prayer, I promise.
Friday, November 18, 2011
This week I was offered an opportunity to preach at my home congregation. No date was set, and really the idea was just thrown out there in the e-mail, but it’s still a little intimidating for me. I have never preached before. I’ve given campfire talks, which are alright but much less formal, and I’ve given one “talk” at a Sunday evening worship service at Luther College called FOCUS, which was a wonderful experience and probably the closest I’ve come to the pulpit. The idea of reaching excites me. Although I haven’t taken the Preaching class yet at LSTC, I am still learning a lot of things by observation.
I am very fortunate to be able to attend chapel up to four times a week and listen to a variety of ways to interpret and communicate the gospel to others. I am also fortunate to participate in Greek Pericopes with Dr. Edgar Krentz every Monday (that I can make) where we translate the New Testament readings for the week and sometimes take a look at the Septuagint translation of the First Reading as well. At both of these occasions, I challenge myself and ask how I could preach on one of the subjects within the texts? Most of the time, my gut is wrong (yes, even post-appendectomy). Dr. Krentz usually will preface how he would go about that Sunday with, “It is tempting to preach on this…(insert what I was thinking here)…but I wouldn’t for this reason”. Ooops.
I’m looking forward to completing the Preaching class next year so I can get over some of these concerns about how to “properly” preach within the Lutheran church. I’ve heard some scary stories about first sermons and those have me a little nervous, but I am still very excited for my first preaching opportunity coming up soon.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
I'm not the kind of person who blasts Christmas carols from the radio in November. I'm not even the kind of person to do that on December 18th. There are years when I don't decorate my home or put up a Christmas tree until I absolutely have to. In fact, I really don't get into the Christmas spirit until about December 24th. And when I do finally get into the spirit, I'm in it for about 12 days. Of course, this means that I have to find my own Christmas music, since the radio stations get tired of singing carols on the 26th.
It's almost as if my holiday calendar is off from the rest of society. And, it's not because I'm a grinch or a Scrooge. I just really, really love Advent. I love the waiting, the spooky Advent hymns (O Come, O Come Emmanuel; Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus), and the prayerful yearning for peace, which are so integral to the season. For me, to sing hymns like "O Come, All Ye Faithful" or "Angels We Have Heard on High" in the midst of the Advent season would be like singing "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" during Lent. We can gain a lot from treating Advent like Advent and the Christmas season (Dec. 25 - Jan 6) like Christmas. Even before I grew into true liturgical nerdiness at LSTC, I enjoyed the quiet, prayerful tone of Advent and the boistrous celebration of Christmas, and I love making the most of both.
I can't wait for Advent. I guess you could say I can't wait to start waiting. I hope that in my ministry I will be able to share my love of Advent with the church, as well as my willingness to celebrate Christmas well after Christmas Day.
Of course, I'm getting ahead of myself. I still have a turkey to buy!
Sunday, November 13, 2011
Another trademark of Dr. Hendel is the famed “Hendel Project.” The major assignment for all of his classes is either a 15-page research paper or a substantive project that engages the course material. The project is a great way to engage your creative side. It can be anything from a piece of art to a photo collage to setting the Small Catechism to music. There is even stories of a beer-brewing project. This semester I decided to go the research paper route. However, halfway through the paper I became kind of bored and this is what resulted:
My classmates whom I was studying with found the whole thing hilarious. But hey, sometimes you just need to build yourself a fort out of Luther’s Works.
Friday, November 11, 2011
So, CPE application time is coming up. During this long process of writing essays about my past or my family or my religious background, I came across the question “what are your initial impressions about Clinical Pastoral Education?” I guess I haven’t really thought about that before. Ideally, I think it would be awesome if my experience turned out to be a lot like the TV show Scrubs. Everyone would have quirks and dynamic relationships that everyone learned something from in every episode. That would be cool. I’m sure I will learn a lot, but I don’t think it will be like Scrubs.
CPE sounds like it will be an intensive experience. Initially, I am very intimidated by it and nervous about how well I will do. The thing about those types of immersion experiences is not necessarily how well I will do, but how will I learn from it? How will I understand how I interact with other peoples’ faith lives in critical and even noncritical situations? I have spent much time in the classroom which has provided me with a great number of resources and understandings about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and how we participate and interact within our perceptions of these subjects both presently and throughout history. Writing a paper about a subject related to this and talking to someone about it is a little, if not very, different.
So I suppose my initial impression of CPE is that I will be challenged, pushed, taught, and exposed to a variety of experiences that will help me understand their point in life and mine. New experiences lie CPE can be intimidating and rewarding at the same time and I stand to gain much from this time in my seminary life. Now to make that statement into a paragraph or two…and maybe throw in a reference to the life lessons on Scrubs for a bonus!
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Despite missing home, I also really love being here in Chicago. This is my life now. The people who share classes with me, share chapel with me, share God with me are now a part of my family, too. Before my dad got here, I was a bit worried about what it would look like when those two worlds collided, if those two families could mesh. I doubted seriously if my past and my present could meld into my future.
It is at times like these when I am glad that I cannot stomach tension and that I like to make things happen. To ease my fear, I invited several friends over to meet my dad and have lasagna with us. After a few moments of awkward hellos and where-are-you-from conversations, a natural hum fell over the dinner table. At one end their was an avid debate about the role non-parish pastors play to bring people to the church, while at the other end I heard my father explain his love for all Cleveland sports teams (even despite LeBron James). Some of my friends discussed ways that as Christians we can realistically advocate for safe oil drilling, while others looked at new pictures my father had brought of my niece and nephew.
Of all the times that I have witnessed the Holy Spirit work at building communities, it never touches my soul as much as when I can see that work happening in the most intimate places in my life. I am so glad that my dad came to Chicago, not only so I could see him, but so that I could bear witness to God creating community around the sacredness of my dinner table.