Sunday, January 30, 2011
I would like to second this.
I found myself having endless coffee dates this month. I had coffee at Z and H. I had coffee at Medici. I had coffee at Third World Cafe. I had coffee at my apartment. Rinse and repeat. I had one coffee date that lasted four hours, which only seemed to end because we noticed that they were closing.
While my stomach lining and teeth enamel probably would have preferred not to have been treated to this barrage, my soul is joyous. These conversations were ones that nourished me, made me feel alive or heard, when often times, I'm too busy reading and writing to really process what is on my heart and mind, especially with other people.
We start classes tomorrow. I'm looking forward to having a schedule again, but also having a few more coffee dates.
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Today, in bold letters, underneath the date, it said "NO EVENTS." And I broke into a huge grin. Nothing scheduled. A day filled with nothing but me time.
I'll be honest. In the past, this situation would have unnerved me. I would have been fretting spending an entire day with just myself. I'd start scheduling things just so I wouldn't feel alone. But not today. After a fairly hectic three weeks in a row (in which my Saturday's were spent fretting about preaching and leading service the next day), I basked in the "NO EVENTS" heading of my day.
And let me tell you, though I did end up going to visit a parishoner and going to the grocery store... as well as answering a few work emails and preparing for service tomorrow morning, I did a whole lot of blissful nothing.
It was a sabbath rest and I cannot convey how restorative it was. Thank the Lord for this day (and all days... but especially this one) and for the care that comes in resting.
Friday, January 28, 2011
Thursday, January 27, 2011
I’m preaching this Sunday at a church out in Bolingbrook, a suburb about 40 minutes west of Hyde Park. The church is doing a series called “Lessons from the Lesser Known,” about stories or characters in the Bible we don’t hear from as often. I’m preaching on Acts 8:25-40, the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, another conversion story that directly precedes the famous Saul-to-Paul story. The latter story features Saul walking down a road, and Jesus speaks to him and basically tells him to do a 180 with his entire life. Well, the story of Philip and the Ethiopian is a bit more—shall we say—down to earth. It’s a story that we can relate to easily, one that seems similar to something that could happen in our own lives (well, except for 8:39-40). But the way the story is told in Acts, God’s action is no less central. The Spirit is the one leading the action. Philip simply listens and goes along with it. Philip even listens to his “convert” and baptizes him. In fact, there is no action Philip takes in the story that is his own initiative.
When I read the book of Acts, this is the kind of “evangelism” I see occurring throughout the book. There is nothing pushy, nothing forced. Only followers of the Spirit being open to where and when they might be sent, and answering questions along the way. They are the ones getting pushed around, witnessing to the love of Christ the entire time. How can we practice this kind of evangelism? I haven’t yet mastered the art of listening to the Spirit telling me where to go next, much less being teleported to another city. But maybe it starts with simply being open to having a conversation when the opportunity presents itself.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
I wrote the line in my manuscript, no problem. But when I went to deliver it on Sunday, I looked out over this room full of people who I had never even thought of until the ELCA, in its infinite wisdom, decided Syracuse, NY was the place for me, and I thought, huh.
This decision to start seminary is crazy. I don’t think I give that fact enough credit sometimes. This is not to toot my own horn and say, “look what a great follower I am,” this is simply to allow myself the space to recognize that this journey is hard. If you are reading this blog, I’m assuming you are at least considering seminary, if not already in it. And so I’d like to offer you the space as well, to recognize that this is a really big decision. It’s a big decision, and it can be scary. But Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples, “Go fish for people.” Jesus says, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” The action is all Jesus. The responsibility is all Jesus. All I have to do is follow. And hey, it turned out pretty well for the disciples.
Looking back at the last three days, I have never felt so much anticipation to a single football game. Going to school in the Chicago area for undergrad and now graduate school, has always placed me on high alert because of my undeniable love of the Green Bay Packers. I can still remember at the beginning of this football season, after the Packers lost a close one to the Bears thinking, "I do not want to come in to school this week." Now around 19 weeks later, I was thinking the same thing Sunday, "If we lose the NFC Championship to the Bears and Jay Cutler (who I have really started to dislike this season), I may have to take the semester off!"
Lucky for me the Green Bay Packers are headed to the Super Bowl and this year my fears are relieved on this particular topic. The threat of school still looms with the pressures to get those grades again and preparation is already beginning for next school year in the fall, with finances and figuring out if my days of commuting are over. I am excited to be busy again, I am excited to be flooded with so much, it reminds me how lucky I am for these opportunities, and it makes me rise to a level that I would not be capable of alone. So I say, “GO Pack GO,” knowing as the Packers season comes to an end, I keep going. No fear though, because I have done it before and I will do it again, just like the Packers!
Sunday, January 23, 2011
There are so many spouses/partners that are being called to serve and love God, in an equally important role as their partner studying theology. As a student who is spouseless, I continue to be so, so, so impressed by people who have made a commitment to their partners in this crazy seminary journey, following them across the country and putting their career goals on hold.
I also really appreciated some of the "tips of the trade" that came from the voices of partners. On the day off, assign the president of council to screen your phone calls for emergencies. Encourage a weekly gathering at the beginning of your placement to "meet and greet" with all members of the congregation, but in small doses; this will help establish the family members as individuals, rather than just PKs or the "pastor's wife." Know what your spouse's opinion is before you go into an interview and NEVER speak on behalf of your spouse, as the pastor or spouse.
I truly value the priesthood of all believers, despite how frustrating it can surely be for these wonderful people.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
As we discussed her plan to always have something to look forward to, she told that she tries to get as much enjoyment as she can out of the anticipation of the event because once the event (vacation, visit from a friend, special occasion) arrives, it always flies by.
I will be home in Tennessee in two weeks and I am eagerly awaiting that week of visiting friends and family and my old haunts. It is keeping my head above the waters in these past few very busy weeks of ministry. I'm continually amazed at how much *new* stuff continues to pop up. They're silly things like learning I can lower the stand on the pulpit so it doesn't swallow me whole when I neglect to wear my heels. Then there's the bigger stuff like leading my first memorial service or sitting by a dying man's bedside.
But life is a balance not just of fast with slow and solo with company... but of new and familiar. And frankly, I've had a little too much new on my plate in this new year. I'm anxiously and joyously anticipating some very *familiar* things.
...though I suppose I'll make time to meet my friend's brand *new* baby. ;)
Friday, January 21, 2011
Thursday, January 20, 2011
I hate to say it, but seminary drains my creativity. It’s not that I lose all creatively whenever I am taking classes; rather it seems all by creative faculties are being put to use through writing papers, giving presentations, and writing sermons. These actions are certainly artistic in and of themselves, and I do enjoy the artistic process of writing a paper or a sermon. It’s just that little time and energy remain for other artistic passions.
For me, this means songwriting. The summer before I entered seminary (the first time, in 2004) was the most prolific songwriting period of my life. In those three months I finished at least nine songs. In the following three years, during which I went to seminary full-time, I wrote seven. And to be honest, many of my attempts were simply not very good. The ones that did survive are characterized by a decidedly darker tone than those that preceded seminary.
What if our seminary curriculum included artistic expression at its core? I am grateful that I had the opportunity to write a little liturgical music for our Blue Christmas service in December, and happy to see invitation for visual art submissions for the chapel during lent. But these opportunities are in addition to the seminary curriculum, not a part of it. What if the seminary had a director of artistic expression, and space and time—and credit hours—were allowed for students to engage in visual art, creative writing, and music. Imagine the wealth and breadth of art that would be produced for the benefit of the seminary community, and perhaps the larger church! And the benefit to students of having another method of engagement to process the new ideas often learned in seminary classes would be substantial.
I spent the weekend back in California visiting family. It was wonderful to be back in a place where people knew me. Where I wasn’t Vicar Kjersten or seminarian Kjersten, or even adult Kjersten, but was instead Glen and Nancy’s daughter, Ralph and Charlotte’s granddaughter. It felt so stifling as a kid to not have my own identity. But now it feels like a gift, to be around people who in some ways know me better than I know myself, having seen all my quirks before, in my grandparents. It was good to be for a while in a place and with people who are familiar and safe.
Being home in California also made me miss my home in Chicago and my classmates in diaspora across the country. This group of people has become for me a home and a family. Brothers and sisters who have only known me at my current height, but who know a part of my identity and personality and can hold that up for me when I forget who I am.
I am grateful for these homemade families. Families of friends and colleagues that offer support and love in as far-flung of places as Washington, DC, Chicago, and maybe even Syracuse...
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Just got back from seeing the movie Burlesque, $1 Tuesdays at our Budget Theater in WI near my house. I enjoyed the movie, although it has a lot of risqué scenes. But I was finding myself drawn into one part, when asked why a character left a comfortable small hometown they replied, "I was looking around and I didn’t want to do what anyone else was doing..." Now I butchered that line, but I was really caught up in that line all the way home to the computer, because days before this quote, I was sitting in a room with about 10-15 young adults, talking about church at a Global Mission event for the ELCA. The idea there was, "Where are the young people?" And I think I may have received part of the answer tonight. Is it crazy to think that Burlesque has the answer??? Are the youth and young adults looking around thinking they do not see themselves in their own congregations? I feel a new excitement today and from that conference, because I know that I am not alone, but more so that I go to school with a bunch of people who feel called to eradicate this feeling, who do not want that in their church or Christianity, in fact some were at the weekend event and others there may be future LSTCers. In the end great weekend and great movie, but the future looks even greater.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Over Christmas break, I ended up spending a week back at my old job. I worked as a case manager at a homeless shelter prior to coming to seminary. As I sat in my old chair, at my old desk, staring out the window at the same “Grant Street” sign, methodically going through the files that I set up and reading the notes on the clients that I worked with, I knew that I could quit seminary and come back to Pennsylvania, and I would have this job waiting for me. No problem.
As easy as it could be to go back, almost like the prodigal daughter, I know it’s not where I’m supposed to be. I feel selfish being in school here in
”The opposite of faith isn’t doubt. It’s certainty.”—Ann Lamott
Saturday, January 15, 2011
So on Monday, knowing what this week was bringing, I told my friend who is a local pastor that we were getting pedicures. This wasn't an option. It had to happen.
This is how we found ourselves, pampered to pieces by the amazing staff at Digits here in Billings. And as I looked down at the Vietnamese man wearing a long Buddha necklace as he rubbed lotion into my feet, I thought, "This is how Jesus washes my feet today."
And while you might point out that I paid for the service of having my feet washed (so it doesn't therefore count), I'll assure that you I used money given to me at Christmas. I couldn't have bought anything else I would have enjoyed more. And it was a good reminder to let myself get taken care of instead of doing all the taking care of.
I'm sure it was a great moment for the disciples way back then and it was certainly a great moment for me yesterday.
Friday, January 14, 2011
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
The range of student approaches to the assignment has been amazingly varied: A handmade liturgical calendar. A testimonial through poetry and liturgical dance. A series of paintings reflecting on the story of Ruth. A children’s book telling the story of David and Jonathan. A working three-level stone-and-burlap water fountain. A mosaic-glass-and-hammered-tin jar, inspired by the jar of the widow at Zarephath. An original song, written, performed, and recorded in a cappella harmony.
And more to come tomorrow. In the meantime, I find myself marveling at the vibrant and varied creativity of God’s people. If all this creativity is latent in a handful of theological graduate students, who knows what lies hidden in our congregations? And how might we as leaders nurture such creativity in the church?
My own project found me reaching for a trusty paintbrush: my Canon PowerShot SD960. I decided I would go out looking for Christ, like the legendary magi. First I wandered through the city, riding the rails and bus lines, walking the streets and bridges, taking photos all over. Then I pasted all the photos onto a folding map (not to scale). Finally, I traced my path through the city with the words of the Epiphany gospel text. The final product is below, the mapped story of my “Epiphany 2011.”
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
A year ago today I nervously awaited the email that would tell me where I would spend the next year of my life. January 11, 2010 was placement day for the ELCA Horizon program. Representatives from all eight seminaries got together to decide which twelve lucky seminarians would get to take one of the Horizon internship sites.
I remember opening the email and scanning quickly for the indented line in the middle of the page that said the congregation and city. I found it, and my first thought was, “Syracuse, where’s that?” In the Horizon program, you list five potential sites you would be interested in going to. Atonement had made my list because of its reputation for excellent urban ministry, a diversity of worship experiences, the opportunity to work part-time with a Presbyterian congregation, and a supervisor who believed in hands-on ministry education. But the experience of listing five places you might want to move to and trying to actually imagine yourself in one of those places could not be more different. Just because I had listed Atonement on my list of potential placements did not mean I had any idea what I was getting myself into.
A year later, and I cannot imagine a place where I would have learned and grown and changed as much as I have in just four months in this place. I absolutely believe that, as arbitrary as it can feel at times, God truly does have a hand in the internship placement process. Is Atonement perfect? No. Is it difficult? Yes, absolutely, every day is a challenge. Many days I wish I was anywhere but Syracuse, NY in the middle of winter. But there is something in this place that I am meant to learn, and there is something in me that I am supposed to offer to this place. It is hard, but it is a good hard, a growing hard.
Sunday, January 9, 2011
We all preached on the 10 Commandments, which meant for a lot of sermons on the same general themes; however, the range of what the spirit moved people to speak about blew my mind. Some people started with prayer. Some sang. Some quoted a source. Some preached from a manuscripts; some without. It was an honor to be around so many talented people.
Laura Gerstl, another LSTCer was there preaching, and Alex Raabe representing LSTC from admissions. The best part? LSTC offered to fund five students to attend this year! Check out it out next year, folks. It was amazing.
Saturday, January 8, 2011
And as I listened to their song, "Roll Away Your Stone," the word "grace" caught my ear.
It seems that all my bridges have been burned,
But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works.
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,
But the welcome I receive with the restart.
That's a sermon for me. Some spiritual food for my day. A tasty gospel snack. And it doesn't come dressed in an alb, preached from a pulpit or in a church. Perhaps God's still small voice is actually an indie rock and roll band from West London? Well, it is this week for me.
Their video for "The Cave" is below:
Friday, January 7, 2011
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
The class I’m taking is “Contemporary Issues in Religious Education: God, Faith, and Art” and it’s taught by Elizabeth Caldwell, a professor of Christian education at McCormick Theological Seminary, the Presbyterian seminary that is LSTC’s closest neighbor here in Hyde Park. The aim of the course is to help us use and explore art as a means of teaching and expressing faith, especially as a way of incorporating multiple intelligence theory and moving beyond the “oral-linguistic” methods many of us are used to.
Rather than merely studying theory, however, Professor Caldwell has us diving in and actually doing art… which is fun, but a bit terrifying, too! I’ve spent more time with paint and glue and construction paper in the last three days than I have in the last few years, to be sure.
Our first assignment was to create an “icon” to represent our faith journey. My own icon grew out of several hours spent with Photoshop, and in the end I came up with an icon that was Trinitarian, with the Spirit and the Source surrounding an image of the Way, or the Road. Lining the Road are the saints and sacred places that have been important to me in my faith journey.
Welcome to J-term, where anything can happen – even art!
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
“All we need now,” they tell me, “is a couple of inches of fresh snow to cover up all this mud. Make everything look clean again.”
Snow is this great disguise of the winter grays. It blankets the cold dead of winter, making everything look bright. And here in upstate New York, where an inch of new snow a day is normal, it continually refreshes itself. Snow hides the winter mud until the new growths of spring are ready to burst forth from the earth.
On internship I have adopted a policy of “fake it ‘til you make it.” On any given day, at any given task, I have no idea what I am doing. Even if I know what I’m doing, I frequently lack the confidence I need to do what is asked of me. So I fake it. I walk through the doors of the hospital like I’ve been there a million times, not like I just got lost in the parking lot. I plan worship like I wrote the ELW. I preach like I have something to say. And somehow, in the mud below all of the bravado, the Holy Spirit shows up. Shows up and grows a pastor out of this seminary intern. I hide behind a mask of self-confidence, trusting that it is not my confidence that matters, but God’s confidence. That God is doing a new thing in the winter of this strange experience. And I just need to keep showing up, and bring enough mud for something to take root.
I was all excited because I thought that I was getting back into the swing of things for the J-Term, I was getting excited for the weekend, watching the Badgers (not so good), the Packers (not so promising) and then Monday...Start my online class! Not so fast, I was blindsided before it even started with an email saying my class doesn’t start until the 17th. Booooo! Well I guess two more weeks of waiting, but this does allow me to get my life routine going. I have been sleeping irregularly, staying up and seeing friends, playing racquetball at 2AM, and having coffee at 4 at my local diners. Sounds like a good time, and maybe it sounds like training for the upcoming semester, but I know myself better as I grow older, and as much as I love these times, I am finding that I really do need to focus, and want to. I am looking forward to the week of normal hours, with some sadness that school isn't starting yet. I will probably do some pleasure reading to gear up the eyes for what's to come and to make use of my rad Christmas gift, the Kindle. Work on not staying up too late and keeping a regiment, because it's not going to get any easier come this spring when we pick up with a full semester. As I write this it is pretty late, but I am already off the racquetball court and at home, so I am already on the right track. Good night, I mean good morning?
Sunday, January 2, 2011
Epiphany will be celebrated on January 6th this year. As you know, Epiphany is they day we celebrate the Magi or wise men coming to Jesus in Bethlehem. I try really hard not to begin every sentence with, "When I lived in Bethlehem..." because I know how aggravating it can be for other people...but...
When I lived in Bethlehem...I volunteered through the ELCA--Young Adults in Global Mission program. I worked in a Lutheran school in Bethlehem, Palestine, called Dar al-Kalima. Because of this experience, my understanding of Bethlehem and Jesus Christ, for that matter, has forever been changed.
In talking to one of my LSTC classmates, Alex Raabe, he shared with me a sermon he heard today in church. He said that he wondered what the magi journey of 2011 would look like.
My favorite olive wood carver in Bethlehem likes to include a mini Occupation Wall for his nativity sets. He doesn't force them on people, but you see them in display sets. It may seem ironic or quaint, but the sad reality is that the magi really wouldn't have made it to Bethlehem and Jesus wouldn't have been allowed in Jerusalem, since he and his family were from Bethlehem.
To avoid continuing down a very political road and an incredibly personal topic, I'll leave you with the same question Alex had: What would Epiphany be like for the magi today?
Peace and blessings.
And then heartwarming stories of shepherds, angels, magi visits. Followed by some scary times fleeing to Nazareth, and silence for quite a few years. But what next? In the birth stories, Jesus is pretty silent, mostly because it would be difficult to record in letters the sounds of babies. So once Jesus gets to speaking age, what does he say? Let's start with the (earliest?) gospel
Mark: (1:15) "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."
Matt: (3:15) "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness."
Luke: (4:4) "It is written, 'one does not live by bread alone.'"
John: (1:38) "What are you looking for?"
These all come from pretty different stories (if you were to line the stories up side by side) and some of them are kind of surprising...but that's how Jesus enters the picture verbally in the Gospels. I'll let you pick your own favorite, but I think each of them is important, and insightful as to who Jesus is. Take John (I think it's the most gutsy for Jesus to start his dialogue with)...Jesus questioned things all throughout his ministry, questioning social and religious norms and making people reevaluate their stances. Maybe it's because I like to question social norms, but that resonates loud in the current world. We are in the midst of a change from modern times to post-modern times, a switch from Christendom to Secular culture. What are we looking for? What are you looking for? Are you looking for bread? Are you looking for the kingdom of God? The good news? the fulfillment of righteousness? Or something else? Whatever you are looking for, remember how Jesus came on stage.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
Then there's that passage in Hebrews: "Faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen." That's all well and good. But what exactly is hope?
"Hope" is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—
And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—
I've heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.
Emily Dickinson said it quite well. And it turns out that internship is quite a chilly land and a very strange sea. But like Emily pointed out, it is in that land and sea that we find hope. Adrift and alone, I find my anchor is always hope.