Thursday, March 31, 2011

A (brief) Philosophy of Worship Music

Before coming to LSTC I spent a lot of time leading “contemporary” or “modern” worship, and in doing so developed a set of guidelines for worship music. This was mostly in response to “contemporary” services I experienced that seemed to abandon/neglect all theological principle for the sake of good music or emotional experience. Although I think this could be applied to more traditional forms of worship as well, as these are not immuned to bad theology either.

As with any guidelines, I’m certain there are valid exceptions, so I present this in humility, as simply a suggestion. The basic principle is that our music should be lyrically grounded somewhere, and I propose three possible groundings: (1) in scripture. The dominant theme in the song uses images, metaphors, stories, or language taken directly from scripture. (2) in the worship service. The song helps move the liturgy/worship forward, whether in confession/absolution, is a ‘hymn of the day’ that enhances the proclaimed Word, moves us into Holy Communion, or enlivens another part of the liturgy. Or (3) in the church year. A song is grounded in the theme of the present season, whether Lent, Advent/Christmas, or a specific festival like All Saints or Pentecost.

In my experience, worship that is not grounded lyrically in one of these three ways is often ethereal emotional experience, with very little that identifies it as specifically Christian. And although this principle alone does not guard completely against bad theology, it can help. Thoughts?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


"So I hear you got a job in LA?”

It’s been a little over a month since regional assignment, and a little over two weeks since I learned that I had been placed in the Southwest California Synod. (I was thrilled. :)) By coincidence we were visiting SoCal this month, so I’ve already met with the bishop, received paperwork for a congregation, and had my paperwork passed on to said congregation.

I do not yet have a job or a call and do not expect to for some months, though I’ve had to disabuse more than one person outside the process, including the friend who asked me the question above, of that perfectly reasonable notion. Even so: It all seems like things are moving right along, doesn’t it?

At one level, yes. But the reality of the assignment and first call process is not nearly so simple.

Immediately upon receiving your regional assignment, you are thrust into the company of classmates, some of whom are as excited as you are, some of whom are very disappointed, and most of whom have some combination of mixed feelings. You try to temper your own ecstatic giddiness with attentiveness and sympathy.

Then you wait for the phone call that will tell you which synod you’ve been assigned to. I’m not sure I’ve ever stared at my cell phone as much as I have during that window of waiting.

Now we wait to hear from a congregation we know only from their paperwork. If it all works out, I might have a call by the summertime; if it doesn’t; we might be waiting until the fall… or later. Regardless of what happens, student housing rents for graduates go up, way up, on July 1st.

Still, our lot is no better or worse than most seeking work in a troubled economy, even if the process is a little stranger. And so we try not to let our apprehensions about the future overwhelm our gratitude for the present. We try to hold fast to hope, to faith, to love.

And we wait.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Done is better than good.

This was my mantra all through the first two years of seminary. I repeated it with great faithfulness, especially toward the end of the semester when papers and deadlines started to pile up. Done is better than good. Did I believe it? Absolutely not. I am an insatiable perfectionist. I think pretty highly of myself, which leads to having pretty high standards for my work. Done is better than good was my mantra, but it was not one I followed with any regularity.

Then I went on internship. And Lent happened. And people took vacations. And suddenly I was preaching twice a week, teaching a lot of adult ed, behind on visits, daunted by seminary paperwork. Suddenly I was very, very busy. And done seemed like an impossibility, good was even further off.

“This isn’t fair,” I told my supervisor frustratedly one afternoon. “The congregation deserves better than I can give them. This isn’t my best work, I just don’t have the time.” My supervisor looked at me, calmly.

“Sometimes finishing is accomplishment enough.”

The thing about done as opposed to good is done allows space for the Holy Spirit to work. If I stand in the pulpit and finish an acceptable sermon on a Sunday morning, it has more chance to hit someone’s heart than if I preach the first half of an amazing sermon, and never get to the part about grace. Done acknowledges that I am not perfect. That I am a sinner in need of God’s grace, that I am not up to the task set before me, that I need God’s help to get me through. Done keeps who is human and who is God in perspective. Done can be pretty amazing.

Monday, March 28, 2011


The gospel good news seems to be overwhelmed by another message these days: The Church is dying.

It is most clearly seen in lower attendance at church. This isn't just the case at my congregation or in the ELCA but across the map in all denominations. I think one factor is that many members are older and are reaching the end of their lives. The Church is dying because the people who make up the Church are dying. New generations simply aren't showing up in the same numbers their parents' or grandparents' generations did.

But we'd be foolish to see death as a bad thing. As we rub ashes on our foreheads and talk about baptism, we seem to be forgetting the one thing our hope is pointing to in this dark season of Lent - Christ's resurrection.

Think again about those ashes. About death and new life in baptism. About the tomb. About resurrection. We die in order to have new life.

So, while many might say the church is dying, I choose to believe the Church is phoenixing. Emerging as something new and beautiful.

Perhaps the new church will not be easily recognized within church walls and lists of members. Perhaps the new church will be so busy working for justice that Sunday mornings no longer look like they do now . Communion will happen around tables at youth hostiles or homeless shelters where it doesn't matter what clothes you wear or how well you can read the bible.

Preaching will happen with our very lives as we live out the gospel in our various vocations and in online chat rooms reaching people who cannot leave their homes because of depression, illness, or disability. Baptism will be celebrated in rivers and streams and lakes and oceans, surrounded by all creation. The gospel will reach places it never could before as it is spoken by pastors and people with dyed hair, tattoos and piercings.

My comfort is found, not in the flames, but in the hope of new life together.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Equal Justice Under Law.

Equal Justice Under Law is the phrase engraved into the top of the US Supreme Court building in Washington D.C.  I know this because I spent the last several days in DC at the Ecumenical Advocacy Days conference.  One of your other favorite bloggers, Alex LaChapelle, and I, along with 1,000 other people, or so I was told, spent the weekend learning from a variety of organizations about the issues affecting our nation and world.

Did you know that the 40 states still keep pregnant, incarcerated women shackled to the bed while giving birth?  I heard from a woman who gave birth to a 9lb 7oz baby in Arkansas while incarcerated; she was given two Tylenol for the entire process.  Thank you, National Religious Campaign Against Torture for this information.

Did you know that people picking tomatoes in Florida get paid 45 cents for picking a 32 pound bucket?  This price hasn't gone up in 30 years.  Thanks, Coalition of Immokalee Workers for this info.

The theme of the conference was "Development, Security and Economic Justice: What’s Gender Got to Do with It?"  A lot of the sessions were focused on women and families.  After hearing from a variety of speakers, we spent Monday on Capitol Hill, meeting with our state senators and representatives.  We asked them to re-sign the domestic Violence Against Women Act and to co-sponsor the new International Violence Against Women Act.  We pushed our representatives to create the laws that provide for the equal justice we, as Americans, pride ourselves as having.

It was a phenomenal weekend and I encourage you all to check it out.  This year, there were 70 young adults who received scholarships for the registration fee and the ELCA is always willing to help you find money to attend.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Do You Believe in Hell?

Pastor Rob Bell of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids recently released a book called Love Wins that has stirred up a fair bit of controversy over this question. While he doesn’t seem to actually directly answer that question in the book, he’s (negatively) being labeled a “universalist” and even a heretic by many conservative “Evangelicals.” But what’s interesting to me is what the book has brought to the surface about the state of the “belief” in hell in American Christianity. In one (more thoughtful) review of Bell’s book, the author calls hell a “foundational doctrine” of the church.

It makes me wonder what is the “state” of hell in our own community. I’m guessing most of us would prefer to talk about it in metaphorical terms of “the state of separation from God,” and the like. I’ve had professors who openly say they don’t believe in hell. But I don’t know whether they meant they don’t believe in hell as a literal place as traditionally defined, or as a state of being, or if they just don’t find it helpful to talk about as an idea. But no matter what your thoughts are about the subject, I think it would be unhelpful—pastorally—to just leave the whole idea behind as archaic and irrelevant. There are people in many of our congregations who would be shocked to read the third sentence of this paragraph. As we progress through seminary and into all kinds of “enlightened” viewpoints, we also have to remember and/or learn how to engage in conversation with people that have all kinds of perspectives.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Green Pastures, Perfect Congregation?

As most of us are drowning under endorsement essay drafts, internship interviews and paperwork, besides the normal rushing flow of paper after project after readings, our brains are otherwise occupied and crowded with Luther's sermons, Tilly's observations, endless worship settings and prayers for that every occasion. Sharing a conversation with my best friend over the phone, she had asked me the silly question had I read the latest novel, etc.

"There is no more room at the Inn", I quipped.

And yet, on my bookshelf as we speak is more required reading this time assigned by my jovial Spiritual Director (who also happens to be my Camp Director) who thought it would be excellent reading and discussion material for when we met. With a raised brow I perused while he described it "It's from a Lutheran Missouri Synod pastor's view of his first call and some of the challenges he faced."

"Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all."

I suspect many of us are romanticizing our first calls, that they will be in an urban setting, in a fashionable hip neighborhood with a beautiful parsonage or house attached and a perfect balance of congregational members. Reading the first chapter, one could almost imagine themselves riding along with him in his car, this educated pastor driving into this sleepy town in Southern Illinois and coming upon the church, dilapidated as well as the house, run down and how his stomach flopped and the disappointment seeped within his spirit.

If you get a chance, pick up the book called Open Secrets. I am thankful to have had that insight, because as many of us look toward that future when hands are laid upon us and our first call is on the horizon, we should remember that as we hold this public office our hands are open, waiting and ready to serve.

God's Peace

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Sometimes it isn’t about classes or candidacy or even clinical pastoral education. Sometimes it’s about the people you meet along the way, the classmates who become colleagues and the friends who become like family.

This week my wife and I had a chance to visit two of our closest companions, Zach and Hannah Parris. We met them when we lived in LSTC housing together. Soon we were sharing meals every Tuesday, going on epic road trips, taking tours of each others’ hometowns. When Chris and I were stationed in rural Mexico for a year, they came to visit us. When I was in Seattle on internship, I hosted Zach for a J-term class, and we visited Hannah’s sister and her family, who lived nearby. Our paths kept crossing again and again, and still do. I’m so grateful for their friendship.

Zach is now serving his first call in Bakersfield, California, and he has done some pretty amazing things out there already. He started a pub(lic) theology group that meets regularly at a local coffee shop. He administered ashes on a busy street corner for Ash Wednesday. And he’s just begun a catechumenate process for new members called, appropriately enough, “El Camino.” You can check out the really cool ministry blog of this LSTC alum here and you can check out Hannah's photo blog here.

Anyway, we had a great time this week catching up, exploring the wonders of the Golden State, reminiscing about seminary, dreaming about the future, and just enjoying each others’ company, as we always have.

Thanks be to God for friends like these.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


My name is Kjersten, pronounced sure-sten. It’s weird, I know. How “Kj” makes a “sh” sound is beyond me. It’s old Swedish, but such old Swedish that the one time I was in Sweden I got funny looks. Minnesotans, however, find it to be the most normal thing in the world. Best I can tell Kjersten was a common, or at least known, name during the height of Swedish immigration in the 1800s. The Swedish language in Sweden continued to evolve, while the Swedish of the immigrants was frozen in time. Thus you get someone like me, a third generation American, a second generation Californian, with a name that looks like I just got off the boat clutching an armload of lutefisk, sure ya bet’cha.

I’ve always been fairly sensitive about my name. Because it is such a mouthful, I value people who actually take the time to learn it. While I’ll respond to pretty much anything, it grates on me a bit when people repeatedly pronounce it wrong. I had a co-worker once who recommended I go by Kristen, “because it would be easier for customers.” I was offended. Kristen is a fine name, it’s a lovely name, I know many wonderful Kristens, but it’s not my name.

I’ve been reflecting on this because it turns out I’m horrible with names. This is becoming a problem six months into my internship. It is as if my brain shuts off when a name is said. I can remember detailed facts about the person, but the name itself is gone. Especially if the name is not one I’m used to. One of the youth I keep accidentally calling a roofing material, because that word is more familiar to me than his name.

So I am learning to be more gracious with people who stumble over my name. Maybe they are trying. Maybe it’s not that they don’t care, but that they’ve never seen a silent j before (because really, unless you’re blessed with my parents’ creative spelling efforts, who has), and they just can’t get their mouth around it. It's a mouthful, but it's mine, and I'm proud of it.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

"It's been a helluva week."

The last several weeks have been filled with world pain and hurt on a variety of levels.  Political unrest and civilian protest in the Middle East and Africa, followed by the strikes in Wisconsin and now the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, have all made our seminary community more vigilant.  

As strange as it sounds, my favorite moment in all of this was when my professor at the Chicago Theological School (the UCC seminary in the ACTS Consortium) began our Native American Religions and Traditions class by saying, "It's been a helluva week.  Let's start with some quiet time."  And we did.  We sat in silence for maybe twenty minutes, with the lights off and a few candles burning.  There was an intentional space to pray and reflect without having the confines of a vigil or worship service. 

Sometimes, the church needs to respond with a worship service, which is what LSTC did on Tuesday night while I was in class.  The church also needs to respond with acknowledgement of just how crappy the world is sometimes.  It was really great to sit in silence with this group of classmates that I don't know very well, knowing that we were physically and emotionally exhausted by the pain of the world.  I wasn't flipping to the next hymn or thinking about my candle burning out.  I was able to be.

With that, I hope that your prayers and actions continue to care for God's creation.  Sara Suginaka and Miho Yasukawa are working to make paper cranes and attach them to string to be sent to Japan around Easter as garlands of our prayers for them.  Grab some paper and make a crane or write a prayer for Japan.

Picture from:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Automated Response

I apologize that I cannot be here today for my regularly scheduled post. I am only mildly sorry that I'll be away from technology all weekend and not able to be with you today. I am at Chico Hot Springs for the church's annual women's retreat. Yes, ministry is that awesome that a weekend out of town in a cabin with good food and good conversation is part of the job. Yes, this retreat is much needed.

Should you need to get in touch with me, you'll just have to wait. I might get back to you Sunday evening after I return, or I might just wait until Monday depending on how needy you are. Of course, you are also invited to drive to Montana and come visit me in the cabin. I will meet you at my leisure there.

Peace and blessings on whatever your weekend brings you....

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ministry in Motion, Words of Life Blooming

It seems that Life has poured through our windows, spilling out onto the floor in happy puddles. Slowly but surely Spring has come and with many hopes will kick off her shoes and stay awhile.

With the rebirth of beauty, and the warmth beginning to embrace us all, during this season of Lent there is always, also a flurry of activity emerging from churches as they fellowship once a week over a meal sharing the Good News and teaching others. Elsewhere, in the hallowed halls of Seminary many of us are in the midst of working on drafts of Endorsement Essays, turning in MIC preferences, filling out financial aid paperwork, waiting on Internship placements to be announce as well as paper after project after midterm. Fridays are a Sabbath here, most of us either hiding in the Library or hiding in our little abodes catching up on sleep or reading.

The question remains "Is this all there is?" Will the knowledge that is poured into us sustain as we go out? Why do I feel empty?

This afternoon, a few of my fellow sems and I met with S.O.U.L, an organization that works on the South Side of the city on issues that have bogged the surrounding communities for decades-they give them a voice, the action and the validity of humanity that they matter. This is the practical side of ministry in motion-this is going out and following His teachings to impact and care for the least of these.

Empowered, Excited, Enthused and Elated-how the soul sings in harmony emerging in the light of ministry!

"Good and Gentle Creator, you have taken our hands, hearts and spirits and linked them with our fellow brothers and sisters to remind us of the legacy and the lessons that your Son left for us. Bestow us with your grace, Father the driving force in our lives that we continue to exude your Will and Way and infect the world with you Word and Peace. In your name we pray, Amen."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tourney Time

Yes, it’s that time of the year again. My personal favorite sporting event of the year, the NCAA Tournament. I haven’t had as much time to keep up with the teams and watch many games this year, and so I’m feeling a bit deficient in my knowledge as I fill out the bracket. But even in the midst of this busy post-reading week (how does that always happen?), I found the time to add mine to the millions of brackets—including the President’s—on

But even when I’m not a part of a contest or a pool, filling out a bracket and watching tournament games is not a lonely activity for me. It connects me to my dad. Every time I print out a bracket and begin filling in those names, I’m reminded of doing so with him every year of my childhood. Basketball is a passion of mine because of my dad. He taught me how to play, coached me, took me to games, and passed on his knowledge of the game as we watched it together. Playing is still by far my favorite way to stay active, and that enjoyment is because of him.

One of my favorite childhood memories is sitting in front of the TV with my dad (who grew up in Chicago) watching the Bulls win a championship, year after year. And at least once a year, we got to go watch Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the rest of the Bulls live when they came up to Milwaukee to play (and beat) the Bucks. Thanks Dad. And go Bulls.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What's Left of the Flag

Saturday was a great day, I saw the river turn green in Chicago, I watched the parade which had lots of kilts and bagpipes, and I finally saw Flogging Molly, the band I have wanted to see for quite a long time. And although the concert could be described as out of control and maybe even a little too vulgar, there is one point that I remember and really took with me. The lead singer is the only person from Ireland I believe, and while they were playing one of the last songs, "what's left of the flag," lots of imagery was being displayed behind the band of Irish revolts. I was quite inspired, and not to revolt, but that at this concert of around 4000 people, I was witnessing a man's history and how close he still holds to revolts that made Ireland what it is today. I look back in my own history to experiences like Seminex that I hold dearly to, and the amazing stories of that experience and how LSTC plays a pivotal role in that history, and I look to the future as I head to Washington DC for Ecumenical Advocacy Days. As a Wisconsinite, I have watched my state go through one of the most detrimental arguments in a while and doing it all under the public eye and criticism, but I will remember the protesters and those willing to stand out all night, I remember seeing signs in Milwaukee and in Madison, and I feel connected, and I will always remember those images whenever I hear that Flogging Molly song, but maybe I will remember my own images too. "walk away me boy, walk away me boys, and by morning we'll be free. wipe that golden tear from your mother dear, and raise what's left of the flag for me." Seminary is about getting an education, but I reminded this week, it's about training to stand up for what is right, and pushing towards a better tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Life's Short, Talk Fast

On internship I have gotten really into the television show, Gilmore Girls. I never saw the show when it was on air the first time, but I’m watching reruns online. releases three episodes each week, which forces me to pace myself. I came in around the beginning of the second season and six months later I think I’m reaching the end of season five. I must admit I’ve really become attached to the characters. I cried when Luke and Lorelai broke up for the first time. I felt a little silly, as it was happening on television and in I think 2005, but it just seemed like Luke and Lorelai were meant to be together…

One of the things I find most interesting about the show is the exploration of class divisions between Lorelai and her upper-class parents. Conflict frequently arises between their different values and knowledge. For example, Luke’s struggles to fit in at the Country Club, or Emily’s amazement that Lorelai knows how to sew a button. Lorelai’s world and the Gilmore’s world have different rules of interaction.

I’ve been reading a book recently called What Every Church Member Should Know about Poverty by Bill Ehlig and Ruby Payne. The book outlines the cultural differences in economic classes, and how those differences affect how we view the world. The premise of the book is that each economic class has hidden that are unique to that particular class. The majority of congregations function under the hidden rules of the middle class, but to do effective outreach in either direction it is imperative to understand the hidden rules of the other economic class.

Watching Gilmore Girls has, oddly enough, helped me understand the hidden rules that I function under and how those can get in the way in ministry. As Lorelai fights her parents assumed norms, I too am challenged to see what preconceived notions I bring into conversations with people in different social classes then my own. I highly recommend Ehlig and Payne’s book, and of course, the Gilmores.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

I'm in seminary.

I'm starting to get better at saying, "I'm in seminary."  I've struggled with it over the last few months when meeting strangers, because I know what bad stuff the church can represent for some people.  I felt this need to compensate for every misguided Christian who judged and demeaned the person I'm talking to.  I would say, "Yeah...I'm in seminary, but I'm here because the church needs to change."  Or, "I'm in seminary, but I know that there are a lot of crazy people that say they're Christians out there, but..."  I feel like I need to explain myself before the conversation even starts!

This weekend though, I met several new people and when asked what I do, I simply said, "I'm in seminary."  Okay, well, I may have added an enthusiastic "Yeah...pastor school!" after that, but it's still progress.  One woman even said, "Oh, that's so cool!  Are you interested in any specific type of ministry?  Like, global ministry?"  She must be psychic.

I have friends at other seminaries or who are young pastors who like to come up with witty responses like, "I'm in life insurance."  Or, "I do a mix of counseling and education."  In the fall, I wanted to come up with some cutesy response.  Coming to seminary, I told myself, "You're just going to grad school."

Nope.  I'm not.  I'm in seminary.  I'm going to be a pastor.  I'm going to be a pastor in the Christian Church, of the Lutheran flavor.  I don't need to apologize for every other lunatic out there.  I need to be a voice for God through Jesus Christ.  That's my job.  

And, I'm not going to lie, I'm getting a little excited for that job.  

 Picture from:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I Will and I Ask God To Help Me

Internship can get a bit crazy. My internship especially gets crazy as I am split between two different ministries - one as parish pastor and one as chaplain to an elder care facility. My days are divided though tasks spill over from day to the next, especially as my project looms and Lent has begun.

I had a special treat Sunday when I got to attend a pastor's installation. Not only was it delightful because I was not leading the service, but getting to absorb all the good news through excellent lay reading, prophetic preaching by the bishop, and phenomenal music by their adult choir (including A Mighty Fortress with BELLS!!), but I was reminded just what exactly a pastor is called to do.

For those of you who get lost in papers, projects, and learning contracts.... I give you the words from the installation. I hope they set you free, too.

Will you preach and teach in accordance with the holy scriptures
and with the confessions of the Lutheran church?
Will you carry out this ministry in harmony with the constitutions
of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America?
I will, and I ask God to help me.

Will you be diligent in your study of the holy scriptures
and in your use of the means of grace?
Will you love, serve, and pray for God's people,
nourish them with the word and sacraments,
and lead them by your own example in faithful service and holy living?
I will, and I ask God to help me.

Will you give faithful witness in the world,
that God's love may be known in all that you do?
I will, and I ask God to help me.

Almighty God, who has given you the will to do these things,
graciously give you the strength and compassion to perform them.
The assembly responds:

Friday, March 11, 2011

Giving Up, Letting Go or Coming Together

As we journey within this season of Lent, in good humor there is conversation about what people will give up; it is parallel to New Year's Resolution's where we swear off all of the wonderful holiday foods and run, not walk to our local gym.

Epic Fail.

The phrase "Good Intentions" comes to the recesses of my thoughts; we wish and want to improve, and whether it be the stark reality of the cold, astronomical prices or the weariness of our daily routine that elicits the promise of "tomorrow, I'll start tomorrow" that stalls our progress, the realization that we can not accomplish this on our falls over our spirits and we are left pondering, where is our will, our strength, our drive?

I would challenge those who walk these long, dusty paths into solitude not to give up but to come together with others-as Jesus called to His disciples so we should reach out and join hands, helping those that can not help themselves, carrying their burdens, sharing what we have. Coming from the heels of the conference the Spirit ushers me forward into the battle of hunger and homelessness; of wellness for those who are blessed with Mother Earth, in turn caretakers of what the Creator has blessed us with.

As I write this, my prayers have been lifted to the valley as a wonderful church member from my childhood is making her transition. My mother who has visited her says her eyes shine with beauty and blazing with spirit but her body, this earthly shell is failing her.

Seminary is not about theology, papers and impressing your candidacy committee. Seminary is about passion, about what Christ truly wished us to fight for, finding our voice and then fighting for those who can not fight for themselves. What is your fight? Hunger? Homelessness? Health Care?
Allow the Holy Spirit to guide your heart, and then go-be a servant for many.

Mighty Creator your grace abounds throughout our lives, embedded and created deep within. Instruct our hearts so that we may not just self sacrifice menial habits in this Lenten Season but joining in solidarity and unity with our fellow and forgotten brothers and sisters. Walk with those who will soon see you amazing Father and dance in your presence, and comfort those who will lose their loved ones. In your Eternal Name we pray, Amen.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

An Appeal for a Greater Ecumenicity

So I went to a Chris Tomlin worship concert last night, on Ash Wednesday. No mention of the ancient rite or the beginning of this repentant season that Christians have been practicing for centuries, though. Not that I expected there to be. It just would have been a nice surprise.

I think the fact that this and many other church year festivals are largely ignored in a non-denominational, Evangelical setting like this one is largely the fault of the mainline, highly liturgical denominations. For us, ecumenicity (working toward unity among different Christian traditions) usually means common mission with Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and the like. Often “Christian unity” is determined more by political lines than by the gospel, and the traditions between whom it would really be helpful to have dialogue remain mutually exclusive. We would have much to learn from one another. We could share the gifts of the ancient liturgical traditions and perhaps a more holistic understanding of the gospel, and they could teach us about a passion for worship and for the gospel that is often missing in our churches.

Sure, some of the songs last night were overly focused on the believer’s individual commitment to God, and every once in a while there was a song so full of worship clichés that I couldn’t help but laugh. But the most pivotal moments of the concert left no doubt that the Gospel of Jesus Christ ransoming sinners from the grave was front and center. To that, we can and should say “Amen.”

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday

The crush of ash against skin. The slow vertical scrape, then the slow horizontal one. The words breaking the silence:

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Remember. I remember. I remember the Wednesdays growing up, chapel Wednesdays, when I and my parochial school classmates would learn how to sit in pews and say our prayers and sing our songs. I remember Wednesdays in Indiana, when I would drive to church after work, seeking sustenance amid a vocational crisis. I remember Wednesdays at seminary – the ones that didn’t fall in a reading week – when vestment-clad professors walked in with solemn purpose, encircling the newly circled chapel chairs, leading us in the low rumble of Martin Luther’s “Out of the Depths I Cry to You,” and I experienced the full cosmic drama of worship as if for the first time. I remember the Wednesday in Mexico when we woke early to receive the ashes from an old priest in the Guadalajara cathedral, shuffling past the beggars selling rosaries outside the great wooden doors. I remember last year, when I put the ashes on my own thumb for the very first time, and made the sign of the cross on the foreheads of the old and the young:

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

And I think of the years passing through my fingers like dust, and I pause, if only for a moment, to remember what I am. And whose I am.

On the way home, we pass people in the neon-lit streets with dirt on their foreheads, people waiting at bus stops, people sitting on the El train, people walking to and fro, all of us made of the very same thing.

Kyrie eleison.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Spring is Here!

Spring is here! How do I know? It’s not the plants; nothing is poking out under the foot and a half of snow on the ground. It’s not the weather report; more snow is forecast for tonight and again this weekend. It’s not the temperature; bone-chilling cold and damp. No, I know spring is here, because the ice cream place is open again.

Gannon’s Isle is the local ice cream place in south Syracuse, maybe even in all of Syracuse. There’s one up the street from my house, and fall evenings I used to head up there for a scoop of whatever their current seasonal flavor was. I was devastated one evening when I arrived to a “Closed for the Season” sign. I could not imagine such a thing. Since when does ice cream have a season! The main store near the church stayed open for another month or so, but eventually even it gave in to the realities of a Syracuse winter. So for three months I have been without ice cream. Oh sure, I could buy Dreyers or something from the grocery store, but it’s just not the same. Then recently the marquee announced the glorious news: “Opening in 14 days!” I patiently watched as the days ticked off, until last week when the marquee read: “Gannon’s Now Open!” Spring has come. Gannon’s knows it, even if the weatherman does not.

The office manager and I went out for ice cream yesterday to celebrate the arrival of spring. I had crème brulee, she had Oreo cheesecake. It was delicious. Here’s to you, Spring. Welcome back!

Looking Forward to St. Patty's in Chicago

This semester has been moving much faster than the last and already has seemed to snuck up on some major due dates academically, but I cannot even say I am that worried. This could be in large part to an overly active schedule on my part, but also because of the opportunities that have surrounded me socially, as well as academically have been quite amazing. In the last month, I have been to a few concerts in the area, as well as also attending the SCUPE Congress, like Matt. In the next couple of weeks, I have an opportunity to go to Washington DC for a conference, and also hoping to be involved in a conference right after that beginning of April. The busy life of a seminarian, but also the limitless opportunities of a seminarian. This weekend, I am usually not in Chicago, but I have a workshop I am required to attend and rather than leave to come back a day later, I am going to join in the festivities of St. Patrick's Day... watch the river turn green, the parade, and a special treat for me, an Irish rock band I love, Flogging Molly is coming to town. Yeah, I'm busy and maybe a little overwhelmed, but I am also having an amazing time in this city, and cannot wait for the weekend, before getting back into it all over again.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Reading Week.

It's officially Reading Week again here at LSTC.  Reading Week is the time in the semester where we take a week off of classes to catch up on all the reading and start projects for the rest of the semester.  I didn't recognize how much we all needed Reading Week until last week, when almost every person answered the "How are you?" question with an answer along the lines of "Okay," "Tired," "Exhausted," "I'm...not...sure...".  It was certainly time for this break.

In addition to catching up on studies, two classmates and I decided that the best way to start Reading Week was to head to New Orleans for a bit of the Mardi Gras festivities.  We left campus at 6am on Friday morning and pulled into the parking lot at 5:30pm on Tuesday, just in time for me to head to my class at CTS.  It was a crazy weekend filled with driving, beads, King Cake, Po'boys and loads of memories!

I hope y'all find some fun amidst the productivity of Reading Week!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Finding Your Place

(Community organizer Mary Gonzales prepares to send us out)

Yesterday afternoon closed the Congress on Urban Ministry that fellow blogger Kwame wrote about so beautifully. On a personal note, I was deeply moved and quite proud that a member of our seminary was one of two students who represented those gathered by meeting with the Lt. Governor on the issue of gun violence. Thanks, Kwame.

My own experience of the Congress began the moment I walked in the doors and recognized a former classmate of mine from the Urban CPE program; she is now serving her first call in Minnesota. It was a joy to see her again after… has it been four years already?

From there I went off to workshop with fellow seminarians. Nearly forty of us from around the country gathered to talk about the role the church might play in the urgent work of breaking the spiral of violence in our communities and beyond. One of our professors mentioned her solidarity work in Chiapas, Mexico with S¡PAZ, an organization I’d met with during my seminary semester abroad.

Then it was four days of roof-raising preaching, burrowing Bible studies, and one extraordinary moment of nonviolent direct action to urge political movement on policies that promote peace. The action was led in part by Mary Nelson, a leader at Bethel New Life. I’d met Mary’s brother, Jon, on internship, where he was recognized for his lifelong peace and justice work in Washington State.

By the end of the Congress I’d realized just how much these years in seminary have been preparing me to do this kind of work, to assume a leadership role in a Church whose faith is active in love. In part, I’ve been prepared by classes and trainings and practicums, learning the skills to preach and teach and lead a public church. And in part I’ve been prepared by being connected to others in the body of Christ, faithful leaders in the neighborhood, across the country, around the world.

As I left the Congress, I found a single phrase on my tongue, a simple prayer :

I am ready, Lord. Send me where you will.


As I send out prayers for the Middlers awaiting internship assignment and the Seniors awaiting synodical assignments, I am noting the flux in my own community here in Montana and the transient nature of internship. There are interim pastors coming and going from four ELCA churches and the staff is changing around at the care facility I work for.

I have the illusion that once I am on first call, life will calm down and I will, at last, have a consistent community. But this is merely a myth I tell myself to deal with all the change in my own life. I've moved every year for the past 7 years and sometimes twice a year if summer happened to be happening elsewhere! I long to have a community that stays put around me and I with it instead of this ongoing change.

I know many other interns and I anxiously await the time when we can hug one another again and walk down to Jimmy's for a pitcher of Linney's. Skype and phone calls just aren't the same. And then I start to think how quickly this year has gone by and how quickly our final senior year will go by and my breath catches. That's barely any time at all before we all  begin to depart for our first calls and lives outside of the seminary.

What do we do with all this change?

Perhaps the key is to begin looking at life moment by moment and enjoying those who are around you in that moment. There is no guarantee that any of us will be around tomorrow or next month or next year.

And if Vitor were here, he'd offer an eschatological remark about bringing about the kingdom. It's us. It's now. Seize the day. The day is all we've got.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Prophetic Witness, A Community Laments

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”

As we aspiring pastors and humbled seminarians deepen further into this life, we are exposed to a multitude of opportunities to grow within and beyond our community. This week several LSTC'ers gathered together at the SCUPE (Seminary Consortium of Urban Pastoral Education) conference-the Congress on Urban Education held at McCormick Place.

Conferences of the norm are usually back to back days of speakers and speeches, melded in with workshops and networking events. SCUPE's conference was so much more than that: It was a call for we who have discerned, answered and dedicated to ministry. It was a place where the Spirit truly descended and blessed us with its presence. It was a moment when we could praise and testify together.

(Awesome to be a part and surrounded by those in the struggle)

It was also a place where I stepped from the shadows and out into the blazing forefront, joining such leaders as Dr. James Forbes and Father Michael Pflager as we with determination and confidence met with the Deputy Gov. of IL letting him know that violence could not be compromised, especially gun violence.

Are we as seminarians just supposed to attend seminary, hope for a quiet congregation and be content for the rest of our lives? Father Pflager said in the opening worship Tuesday eve "The church has spiritual laryngitis"-Christ is calling for us to be Radical, Empowered and Re-birthed.

God's Peace.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Four Songs

I came across this in the reading for one of my classes and just had to share. Abraham Isaac Kook, one of the most influential Rabbis of the 20th century, wrote a poem called “Four-fold Song.

First, there are those who sing the song of the individual. Our culture helps us sing this song very well. While this song tends to cut us off from our relationship with others and the world, it has made contributions to human rights, lifting up the value of each human being.

Second, there are those who sing the song of their own people. Those who sing this song have compassion on those who look, think, believe, or act like themselves. Families, cultures, and nations sing this song beautifully when they celebrate their relationships and stories. But when sung too loudly it can sound like excessive patriotism, classism, sexism, or racism.

Third, there is the song of all humanity. Many faith communities sing this song well, going beyond their own boundaries to reach out in justice and compassion. This song is often heard in homeless shelters, Habitat for Humanity projects, interfaith dialogue, by Doctors without Borders, the One campaign, and in many other places. It is a beautiful tune indeed. But there is yet one more song.

It is the song of all creation. It reflects the most expansive circle of compassion. You hear it in the Psalms like Psalm 148, when all creation praises God with one voice. In singing this song one recognizes the interconnectedness of all creation.

There is a time for each of these songs, but it is important that all are heard, so that “each one lends life and vitality to the other.”

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Livin' on a Prayer

A classmate offered this Bon Jovi video to all of us who have now completed six months of internship. I’m sure six month evals was not what Bon Jovi had in mind with this particular song, but it feels strangely fitting for how I feel at the halfway point. “A prayer” is pretty much what I’ve been livin’ on.

I’ve been tired recently. Not physically tired, but mentally. Things just seem to be taking a lot of effort. I was talking to my co-worker about this the other day; she seemed not at all surprised.

“You’ve hit the Atonement wall,” she explained. “You’re six months in, bogged down with Lent planning, and you haven’t seen the sun in three months. Don’t worry, this is totally normal, it will pass.”

One of the greatest gifts I think we offer to one another as people in ministry, or maybe just as people, is the gift of perspective. “Yes, this is hard. Yes, you’re right to be tired. No, this is completely normal.” As Alison so eloquently pointed out last week, we’re not superheroes. We’re people, and people get tired. So “take my hand, we’ll make it, I swear.”