Sunday, February 27, 2011
As a junior, last semester was all about transitioning into seminary. All of my energy was focused on establishing roots and getting "used to" seminary. Watching the seniors though, it was like the swinging door was now going the other direction. We are ushering them out, faithfully and with support of course, into the "real world" of ministry. It made me reflect on when my time will come to be "called" out of seminary and into my first call.
I think time will go too quickly, but when that time comes, I hope to be sitting surrounded by my peers, my colleagues, and anxiously awaiting that envelope of fate. Oh the places we will go!
Saturday, February 26, 2011
In CPE last summer, we talked about walking into the darkness with people. Of having faith that when you did so, it would not consume you. Instead, there is the assurance that you will find God. There will be light. After all, the best part of Psalm 23 is the word THROUGH. "I walk THROUGH the valley..."
There's no jumping over the valley. There's no denying the darkness. Of pretending the world is hunky-dory and death never happens and darkness doesn't exist. Of trying to sweep it under the rug and declare that there are rainbows and sunshine.
Fact is, I need that darkness for it shows me God. It is the darkness and the light that reveals the SON. This is the promise of our Lenten journey and of Easter morning. It is in our darkness that the light of Christ shines brightest.
Friday, February 25, 2011
Of course, I write this in the middle of a whiteout snowstorm that is threatening to dump as much as a foot of snow on the beleaguered upstate NY region. My co-workers find my optimism cute and amusing. ‘I think the poor Californian vicar has finally lost it….’ But I stand by my pronouncement. Spring is in the air; you can feel it. There’s a difference in the air now. The bitter suffocating cold that blanketed the area for the past two months is loosening its grip. In the icy wind, there is a subtle hint of warmth. Once a week now, the temperatures even lean towards forty before quickly plummeting back to the teens.
The past couple weeks have been busy with planning for Lent. I’ve always loved Lent, and one of my favorite things about it is the contrasts it involves. As we march towards the cross, the texts become more optimistic. Nicodemus approaches Jesus at night; then Jesus meets the woman at the well in the middle of the day. Jesus brings sight to a blind man; Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. We’re moving to the somberness of Good Friday, but the texts steadily remind us that there is life after the cross. The weather always seems to mirror the texts. In the depths of the darkness of this season, a brilliant spring day reminds me that the grave is not the end. The empty tomb follows the cross, spring follows winter, Easter follows Lent. There is a pattern to this world, and that pattern leans towards life.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
One of the blessings of spending an “extra” year (a Lutheran year) of seminary at LSTC is being able to choose the classes I want to take without having to fill many specific requirements. For me, this means lots of biblical studies. I’ve also always wanted to take an ecologically related class about our call to care for creation. So this semester I’m taking “Future of Creation,” an ecologically-minded class that I also get to intersect with biblical studies. Not only is the class co-taught by New Testament professor Ray Pickett; it was also started a few years back by retired New Testament professor David Rhoads. And today I went to an “Environmental Emphasis” meeting with Barbara Rossing, whose class on the book of Revelation I am also taking this semester. How exciting that all these New Testament scholars are taking the lead in creation care!
For my main project in my Future of Creation class, I will be developing a bible study curriculum for use in congregations that will guide us into seeing how the biblical story leads us to care for creation. It may eventually be published on a website run by David Rhoads and others at LSTC, www.LutheransRestoringCreation.org. This website seeks to encourage the ELCA to care for creation in all expressions of its life and mission. If you haven’t already, check it out! There’s lots of great resources here, as well as its “sister” website, www.webofcreation.org. Great to be a part of a community fostering these conversations.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
It is indeed ELCA Regional Assignment Day, when 240 seminarians across the country are assigned to one of 9 geographical regions. I keep describing the process to friends and family as being like the NBA Draft, but shrouded in more mystery (and, for better or worse, more theological language).
With that analogy in mind, I thought I'd cover this momentous day by taking a page out of the Bill Simmons playbook and live-blog it, draft-diary-style.
6:00 a.m. CST: Alarm clock goes off, set to NPR’s coverage of yesterday’s local elections. I’m still half asleep, so the voices of WBEZ drift surreally in and out of my early morning dreams. Wait, have I really been assigned to Chicago’s 20th ward?!
6:27: No, no I have not. This is going to be a long day.
7:34: I make some coffee and check the Facebook. My news feed is full of seminary friends continuing their countdowns, expressing their hopes, and describing their attempts to calm their nerves. Supportive comments flood in (thanks, Adam!).
7:36: My mom sends me an encouraging email (thanks, Mom!).
8:14: I decide to keep calm and carry on. I will treat this as any other day, and not worry too much about it.
8:15: Like a kid who puts on shorts to bring about warm weather, I optimistically put on every piece of clothing I own that is in some way related to my desired region.
8:16: I think better of it and change my clothes. (But I put my Stanford hat back on.)
8:32: I walk to the library to write this blog and cue up my "Travel Well" playlist. Send me on my way, Rusted Root, send me on my way...
10:57: The LSTC community gathers for worship. Seniors check in with one another. "How are you doing?" we ask, in hushed, knowing tones.
11:49: We pray for the church, the world, and all those in need. It is a glorious relief to pray for others' needs instead of our own, if only for a few minutes. Thank God for worship.
1:27: I walk to my job at the U of C's after school program. Nothing like a few hours of Jenga and wall ball to take your mind off things...
5:23: I walk over to LSTC for a service of prayer. At the end of it, we'll receive our assignments.
5:55: The envelope is in hand! But my wife, Chris, is still at work. I'll wait until she gets home, sometime around 7, to open it.
6:50: REGION 2!
6:52: We make phone calls. Lots and lots of phone calls. :)
8:30: We head to the afterparty and see where everyone else is going! See the photo below for a graphical depiction of where LSTC-ers were assigned this year...
Sunday, February 20, 2011
This semester, I'm participating in two GIFs. The first is knitting prayer shawls. I've never knit before...successfully. Emily Hefty has been a fantastic teacher, patiently showing us how to "cast on," "knit" and "pearl." It's awesome. It's also a group of women. As we're sitting around knitting, I like to imagine us all in rocking chairs on the porch of some wonderful, large home, sipping lemonade, talking about the town news.
The other GIF I'm participating in this semester is the musical. I don't know if there's a title for said musical, because it was written by two classmates, Sara Suginaka and Brock Klobe. We've only had three rehearsals, but I can already tell it's going to be awesome. The music is adapted from current songs, so Bathsheba and Adonijah sing Billionaire by Travie McCoy and Bruno Mars. Awesome. We laugh almost the entire way through practice, since Sara and Brock's writing is personal to LSTC. For instance, there may or may not be a scene that takes place at Jimmy's.
Guess you'll have to come and see the final performance in May to find out!!!
Saturday, February 19, 2011
...they've not shown up yet. So I'm dealing with those expectations as a regular (albeit called and hopefully ordained) human being.
Am thinking this will involve all parties (congregations and pastors) to begin debunking this myth. Yes, I'm your pastor. No, I've not been endowed with special powers. I like to joke that I have special Jesus powers of turning ordinary wine and bread into Jesus but that's... Jesus. Not me. Ditto for baptisms. Ditto for presiding and preaching. That's the ever awesome Holy Spirit working in your hearts to hear the Word.
Yes, I show up. Yes, I'm there. Yes, I will have spent four years in seminary studying how to be a pastor. Still, the only reason I'm different than you is that you were called to be an architect, teacher, parent, dog groomer, x-ray technician... and I was called to be a pastor.
I'd love to tell you I've got it more together than you and that when I have a family, my family will be the most organized, with it, together family in the history of families. And then that's when I'll show up with half my hair chopped off, bags under my eyes from lack of sleep, and hand you my screaming toddler so I can get ready to preach the gospel to you.
We're all in this together, dear people.
Friday, February 18, 2011
Although I will admit doing these word studies in our Jesus and the Gospels class has been exciting, much to my chagrin the first 30 minutes is studying a passage and translating from the Greek.
Oh joy and rapture.
Agapo has several meanings: of affection for persons, of the love of supernatural beings, of the practice of love, etc. The word Agape appears a multitude of times within the New Testament with the most quoted when Jesus gave his commandment to “Love the Lord your God...Love your neighbor as yourself.”
As many of us tune into CNN, MSNBC, our local news via cable or reading various newspapers, the horrors of what human beings can and do to each other sometimes is depressing and leaves one's soul in a state of despair. No matter what our faith walk, this universal command should remain scorched on our hearts, stopping us in our paths and realizing that we must treat each other as we expect and know that our Creator loves and cares for us.
The violence is an unfortunate disease within my own community even as we continue to celebrate and reflect during this Black History Month. Could we look through the eternal veil to face our ancestors, those who fought and died for civil rights and equality, struggled and persevered as they escaped the horrors of slavery and say that we are proud of where we are?
We have come far and triumph, yes but the road is long, the nights dark with unseen, deadly obstacles, and even as our cries pierce the night, we rejoice for our joy comes in the morning.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
It’s kinda crazy not knowing where in this grand country we’ll be next year. And we still have two months before we find out. Could be as close as Somonauk, IL (about 60 miles west of Hyde Park) or as far as Vancouver, WA (almost 2200 miles west of Hyde Park). Could be as cold as Seymour, WI (avg. January high of 24) or as warm as Bradenton, FL (avg. January high of 72). Oh the joy of internship interviews!
We’ll find out where we’re going on April 14, and then move there as early as five weeks later. Only to do it all over again a year later with [God willing] a first call. I know I’ve brought some of this on myself by my unorthodox timeline and the places I’ve chosen to go to school, but it gets me wondering…is there an easier—and by easier I mean more local—way to prepare pastors for our churches? I understand that the ELCA hopes to train leaders that will be well-prepared to serve the whole church, wherever that might be. But is this educational model sustainable long-term? Is sending seminarians (and often their families) all over the country the best use of our resources? Or would we do well to develop a more local solution when someone receives the call to ordained ministry? There are no easy answers to these questions, but I think we should be asking them.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Sitting in church on Wednesday night as my supervisor leads the Eucharistic prayer. I have my normal horde of six-year-old boys around me. N is on one side, L and Z on the other. N, who appears to be making up a song on his bulletin-turned-horn is apparently paying more attention than I realized, as he suddenly turns to me, points at the chalice, and says, “is that blood in there?” His tone is surprisingly matter-of-fact for a six-year-old asking a question about a goblet full of blood. I don’t know how to answer.
“Um,” I stutter weakly, “yes, we believe that is Jesus’ blood…” Not sure how to explain this at six-year-old level and worried that I might frighten him, I follow up with, “and also grape juice.” A comment I instantly regret as one, it’s not grape juice at all, but wine, and two, not exactly the most theologically honest answer to the question. As I am struggling with where to go from here, my attention is drawn to my right, as Z has apparently stuck his finger in L’s ear. By the time I get that sorted out and turn back to N, the service has moved on and he is contentedly bellowing the Lord’s Prayer at the top of his lungs. Now is not the time to continue our conversation.
The service continues. We finish with communion and I am once again seated amongst the six-year-olds. N points to the now empty chalice.
“Was there blood in that cup?” he asks again. I turn to answer but once again, Z sticks his finger in L’s ear and the conversation is diverted. When I get back to N, the service has again moved on and he is now inventing his own tune for the closing hymn. Once again, I missed my chance.
I can wax poetic on Lutheran Eucharistic theology for a long time. I have written pages on the subject for various seminary courses. But how to condense all that knowledge to honor a six-year-old’s question in the middle of a worship service while simultaneously keeping his colleagues from sticking their fingers in one another’s ears is the true balancing act of ministry.
Over the last few days I’ve been reading up to prepare for the course: first, Ched Myers’ interpretation of Jesus as a practitioner of nonviolent direct action (in Ambassadors of Reconciliation, Vol. 1); then, Elaine Enns’ theological narration of six contemporary practitioners of restorative justice and peacemaking (in Ambassadors of Reconciliation, Vol. 2); and, finally, by filling up my iPod with the Rev. Dr. King’s speeches on nonviolence and social change (as compiled in A Call to Conscience, edited by Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard).
I’m looking forward to the class and congress for a number of reasons. For one thing, the lineup of speakers reads like an all-star of scholars and preachers: James Forbes, Walter Brueggemann, Renita Weems, Otis Moss III, and Shane Claiborne, to name but a few. Dr. Perry preached about heroes in the faith during LSTC’s worship today; a few of mine are certainly in that list of speakers!
But on a more personal level, I’m looking forward to learning how God is at work even and especially in the midst of the violence so deeply embedded in the world we’ve made. There was a time when I could only lament this violence. Now, after four years in seminary, I’ve learned to come together with colleagues and communities, to listen, to pray, to preach, to act.
I’ll return with a full report for you all during and after the Congress, which you can learn more about here.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Looking forward to Tuesdays, because they give me a full day of fun and exciting, and by fun and exciting, I mean longing for God to let the sun stand still in the sky, so I can have more day time like Joshua. I have three classes all of them three hours or more. The first starting at 8AM and the last one ending at 9:30 PM. I find myself in a whirlwind of notes and lecture, and really the two hours between each class are sucked up by switching books, grabbing food, and getting to the next class. The joy is that I will only have one other class on Monday morning, but the new responsibility reminds me that I need to plan out an attack on school. Ben Stewart... excuse me, Dr. Ben Stewart, put in his Worship syllabus that we should be prepping about 6-7 hours outside of class. I am taking five classes this semester because of a miscommunication I made with another school about timing, so I have done the math. Four on site classes requiring 12.5 hours a week, plus two hours of online lecture, take the five and apply the 6-7 hours and you have a grand total of… about 44.5 hours a week. Obviously the math is to make it scarier, but as you look to the future for my yay or nay status, pray for me. I’m in the big leagues now!
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Below each cubicle though, I see someone's feet. Sometimes the feet are in their shoes. And sometimes, the shoes are drying out below, unattached to said feet. I always analyze peoples' shoes. I think you can tell what country or region somebody is from by their shoes. European sneakers are more likely to be Pumas. Americans from the South seem to wear Rainbow flip-flops a lot, not that we're seeing a ton of flip-flops these days. Camp counselors and their Chacos, Keens or Tevas.
Shoes show where we're from geographically, but they remind me of the journey we all take to get somewhere. I always wonder, when I see those detached shoes, what steps a person has made to get to the little cubicle in Regenstein. Have you traveled across the country? To a different country? Are you an undergrad? A PhD student? Another seminarian sneaking into Regenstein? Do you like the arts? What about sports? Do you believe in the theology of the cross? Theology of salvation?
As the Dave Matthews Band song asks, "Where are you going now?"
Saturday, February 12, 2011
So annoying right?
Alas, I confess - I'm one of them.
But THIS year, I get to spend it with three adorable dachshund pups, a lizard, and a bird. I'm house sitting for the week and am getting all kinds of puppy love (the bird does walk around on my shoulder but we still feel...distant). I walk in the door and all at once, I get "bark, bark, bark!!!!" while three hot dog bodies rush toward me in glee.
I grew up with cats, who may sleepily acknowledge one's arrival home as they stand by the food bowl and give you that "why isn't there food here yet, human?" glare.
Dogs are the complete opposite. "Ohmygoodnessitsyou, itsyouitsyouitsyou!!! Iloveyouiloveyouiloveyou!!!"
And you know what? That love is quite enough to lay some serious smack down on my single lady blues this Valentine's Day.
So from all of us curled up on the couch this Saturday afternoon, have yourself one heck of a lovely day. Youaresoveryloved. ;)
Thursday, February 10, 2011
So I sat down to write my blog for the week, and all of a sudden I heard it. It had been over a month since the last time. I thought it found another roof or attic. Or maybe it had finally had enough peace and quiet to begin its winter hibernation while we were away for ten days to California. I thought it was gone for good. But tonight, it’s back. The familiar scratching and clawing. The incessant rubbing against the opposite side of the ceiling above my desk in the sun room of our third floor apartment. The cats going crazy trying to figure out what the heck it is and how they can get closer to it. It is… (dun dun dun) … THE CREATURE ABOVE!
This is the name my wife came up with for it months ago, around the time when it seemed to have a marble that it constantly rolled around up there. We thought about calling….someone. LSTC maintenance? An exterminator? Animal control? Unsolved mysteries? We weren’t sure. At times it sounded like it was trying to claw through our ceiling—and I’m sure it was trying to get to the warmth it felt coming upward. We resolved to make an emergency maintenance call at the first sign of any substance falling from the ceiling. But then it stopped. No more noise. Until tonight.
One night, I caught a glimpse of it. I heard it fumbling over the gutter and figured it had to be making a descent down the side of the building. So I ran over to the window, and I saw it. First, one paw with long, two-inch claws. Then another. Then, it’s monstrous head poked over the side of the roof! Then two green eyes glowing in the night. We locked eyes for a second. It was…well, it was kind cute, actually. A raccoon. Not a small raccoon, mind you. I didn’t see the whole body, because after we locked eyes I guess I scared it back up to its abode over my head. But judging by the head, I’m sure it outweighs my 17 lb. cat. But while Sylvester may be big, he’s fairly harmless. Not so for the creature above. It may look cute—but seeing those claws and hearing those noises—it’s deadly.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
What a gift, then, to discover that the Catholic Theological Union, Hyde Park's Roman Catholic graduate school, was offering an Introduction to Judaism class this spring, taught by Rabbi David Fox Sandmel. On Monday morning I walked the fifteen minutes down 53rd Street, took a right on Cornell, and buzzed the double-doors.
In an instant I found myself in unfamiliar territory, in a new building, in a new seminary, like the first day of class at LSTC so many semesters before. I looked around for a building directory, ready to start from scratch...
A moment later a fellow student noticed the bewildered look on my face, introduced himself, and helped me find my classroom. Three hours later I left CTU, my notebook full of lecture notes and my bag full of new books. Our first session was an exhilarating experience, an initial foray into the anatomy of a faith that is, for Christians, naturally familiar yet wholly other. I can’t wait for more.
It all seemed just about perfect for this, my last semester in seminary. Thanks be to God.
Hoping to get through the day is not the way I want to start my semester, but somehow, I find myself going back to these feelings the week before. I was excited to get down to school and be in class, but once the classes were over, it was hard to have the drive to keep going, it was hard to find the chances to get excited. I know that I must rework my schedule and priorities. When I started in the fall I was so focused on school, that work was second, but now I have worked the month of January, and have lived like I was a full time server(late nights and no mornings). Now I seem to be endangering both roles with worry and uncertainty to how things will get done. I know I can do it, and I know I will, but first things first, I need to bounce back from a demoralizing week of classes and studying.
Did I mention the Packers won the Super Bowl! It’s not like there is nothing to smile about.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
I was thinking as I was driving how much my perception of weather has changed. In December I absolutely would not have gone out on a night like last Saturday. I would have sat alone in my living room watching the snow pile up and feeling trapped. Over the last two months I have grown increasingly confident as a snow driver. Mainly because I know now what it feels like to slide and to correct. The roads are slick, but I know what it feels like to lose control and I trust my car and myself enough to be able to regain control again.
I have developed a similar calm about internship. When I first came I was terrified I was going to make a mistake. I was just waiting for that trip or slip that would spell disaster. What I have come to learn is I will screw up sometimes. But what matters is not that I don’t make mistakes, but how I respond once I do. I have to trust myself, the relationships I’ve built, and the grace of this community, to embrace me through whatever slip-up I may cause. But I cannot let the fear of slipping prevent me from trying. Worse than making a mistake is not to do anything at all.
Sunday, February 6, 2011
This is a chunk of prayer called Empty Me by Ted Loder. His book, Guerrillas of Grace should be on everyone's shelf. No, I lied. It should be on everyone's nightstand, kitchen counter, toilet, phone, etc, etc. They're prayers that hit the core of who we are. Deep, real, scary, internal stuff that you don't always want to talk about with people.
This week's readings for my Pastoral Care class talked a lot about hospitality. One piece of that is vulnerability. We're getting to a point in our seminary careers where we need to be vulnerable with each other. We've hit the walls of shallow sharing. It's now time to start getting into the thick and nasty stuff that I'm afraid people will shy away from, knowing full well that I am a master (mistress?) at shying away from sharing my own stories. Pastoral Care has an element of the course where we'll learn about different styles for pastoral counseling and have assigned groups of three people to practice these skills. To which I quote Ted Loder again, "Empty me of the disguises and lies in which I hide myself from other people and from my responsibility for my neighbors and for the world."
Saturday, February 5, 2011
I've had about 20 of those in the last 4 days. (Vacations home rock.)
I believe in the power of hugs to heal. Wrapped in someone's arms, the world melts away for just a minute and the tension in your body is somehow less, like you've been holding your breath and are just now releasing it.
Go give someone a hug. It's a great giving AND receiving action. Everyone wins with a hug.
(Photo from Free Hugs Campaign. AWESOME.)
Friday, February 4, 2011
Thursday, February 3, 2011
As I’m sure you’ve heard, the beginning of a new semester at LSTC has been interrupted by a little snow. One of the most entertaining aspects of this is the state of University Avenue, where all of our cars still look like boats being overtaken by a river of snow.
I have been looking forward to the new semester, especially the opportunity to take classes with two professors who were on sabbatical last semester during this my only year here. Two of my four classes were snuck in before the storm, including Advanced Homiletics with Craig Satterlee, a class we the students get to help form. Unfortunately, Revelation with Barbara Rossing will have to wait another week. One of the gifts of studying at LSTC is the opportunity to study with top-notch faculty who are highly respected in their fields, and I am happy to take advantage of that while I am here.
But some of it will have to wait until next week, when everyone has had a chance to wield a shovel or two. The semester just started and we’re already having to dig ourselves out!
The snow starts falling around two in the afternoon. At the after school program I where I work, the kids are just getting out of class. I lead a group of first and second graders out the door and down the street, where a long line of cars waits to take them home. The wind begins to pick up, driving the icy snow into our faces. The older kids find this hugely entertaining, and stagger around exaggeratedly, competing to see who can get the biggest laugh from their friends. But one younger boy seems genuinely frightened, and hurries forward. I block the wind as best I can, until they have all been whisked away to safer and warmer places.
On the way home the streets are all but deserted. A handful of students struggle across the U of C quad, their heads down against the wind. Once inside, we turn on the news, watching the reports until they grow monotonous, falling asleep while the wind howls outside.
The next morning, we step outside to survey the new world. The sidewalks are, amazingly, already clear – thanks, LSTC Snow Crew! – but the streets are impassable. One unlucky motorist was stranded in the middle of the intersection; their car now sits, buried there indefinitely. Our own little Kia is completely covered, its roof pushing up the snow like a prehistoric mound.
Yet everyone seems to be in good spirits, their regularly scheduled day interrupted for the elusive snow day. People help each other dig out their cars, kids tumbling around between them, the streets temporarily transformed into a playground.
Later, we walk down to Lake Michigan, and stare out in awe: The crashing waves are stilled, frozen over, and the snow stretches out for as far as the eye can see.
For more scenes from the day, check out our photo album here:
|Scenes from the Snowpocalypse|
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
This storm is expected to add another 10-15 or so inches to the already 117 inches that have fallen over the course of the season. Most of which I have removed from my driveway myself, with a shovel. This fact motivates my blog for this week, which I have titled “An Ode to the LSTC Snow Crew.”
Dear LSTC Snow Crew. I have always greatly appreciated you. Every snowy morning as I was running frantically to class, coffee in one hand, books in the other, I never had to worry about slipping, because you were always up before me, clearing the walks, salting the stairs, and generally making my short commute to school much more pleasant. You constantly went above and beyond the call of duty to keep me safe from the winter elements.
Snow Crew, I always appreciated you, but I never realized how much I appreciated you until this year. You see, up until this year I had never handled a snow shovel before. Being from California, my experience with such tools extended as far as the scary guy who ended up being the hero in the movie Home Alone (Old Man Marley?). What I have learned this year is snow shoveling is incredibly cold, hard work. Work that you get up very early to do, so that my walk to school can be safe. Every morning when I am up shoveling my driveway, I think of you fondly and cannot wait to be back under your care again. Thank you, LSTC Snow Crew. Unsung heroes of the seminary.