Saturday, April 30, 2011

Top 10 signs you’re ready for internship or first call

10) You’re sick of preaching to seminarians and just want to preach to “real” people

9) You’re ready for your preaching to be a part of a worship service, and not just stand alone.

8) You’re beginning to continually debate your professors and classmates whether “that would fly in the parish.”

7) You’re sick of writing papers!

6) You’ve actually heard of every book your professor puts on the syllabus.

5) As great as worship is at LSTC, you’re ready for something different.

4) You’re spouse keeps getting jealous over how much time you “get to” spend at home.

3) You’re ready to be a customer at Starbucks instead of an employee (ok, maybe that one’s just me).

2) The thought of wearing a clerical collar doesn’t seem so bad after all.

1) You actually (almost) look forward to the challenge of dealing with congregational conflict!

Yellowstone National Park

It part of the tradition of the Montana synod to gather its pastors together for a four day retreat after Easter. Since I felt like I ran a marathon last week, I was ready to sit in the hot springs and take a break from ministry.

One of the afternoons at the retreat, my friend and I drove to the park. The north entrance is marked with the Roosevelt Arch that reads "For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People."
And as we drove through the park, I was thinking it would still take many more visits for me to take in all the wonder and majesty the park has to offer. The beauty is overwhelming. Can one ever take it all in? And even if I've driven every street twice, the seasons still color the park differently, new life is born each spring, and there's always the chance you'll catch a glimpse of an eagle, or a bear. Each trip is unique.

How like the Easter season. Christ is not something we can take in on one trip to church once a year. This is something that takes not only seasons to grasp but years. And each time we visit, we see something new. We commune with creation in a different but equally extraordinary way. Like Yellowstone, Easter is not something we visit once and check off our lists. In many ways Easter, like the arch reads, is for the benefit and enjoyment of all.

Christ is risen! Let's keep celebrating.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Transitions and Transformations

As we celebrate Christ's resurrection, the beauty of an empty tomb and the majesty of eternity before us as people of faith we too are going through our own transitions.

The year is closing and for many of us this has been the year of discernment. We have struggled, triumphed, achieved and allowed ourselves to be humbled. For us, from the academic to the practical is becoming a reality: summer is filled with visions of walking through hospitals, hospices, retirement communities and social service organizations being that healer vulnerable to pain and suffering and becoming God's hands by our actions, the comfort of words, a prayer or simply being present. For many it is embarking onto new horizons, going out and being immersed in new communities and for others it is leaving the grace-filled community of LSTC to continue the fight, being warriors in ministry.

Yet, it is not only that but we are being formed, through trials by fire and our experiences molded into what Christ has called us by name, one by one to become. And yet even though whether we are embarking on CPE or internship far away, we are never far from our hearts and the interwoven thread of Love and the Holy Spirit that resides within our souls.

Our experiences from this moment on will be real. We will stumble, fall and utter the words "Oops" perhaps quite often. But the Creator smiles, laughs with us and reminds that no matter where-the path is open, the journey continues and He is always there.

God's Peace.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Signs of Life

Chicago has been soaking up its share of April showers lately. The kids at the after school program where I work have been cooped up inside for weeks on end, their energy overflowing like a river pushing the limits of the levee. You might think this rain means that spring is near, but the temperature, struggling to stay above the mid-40s, keeps resisting your theory; we drove through snow flurries on our way to Michigan last week. Local meteorologist / Valpo grad Ginger Zee says this is all normal for a la niƱa year, but it still feels like the season is taunting us.

So is it spring or isn’t it?

The question echoes through the gospel text for this Sunday. Is Jesus alive or isn’t he? The disciples tell Thomas about their sunny day – we saw him! – but Thomas doesn’t want to get his hopes up. Not now. Not yet.

Some of us graduating seniors can relate. Many of us are waiting for calls. And as the latest issue of The Lutheran explains, for some of us – for more of us than ever before, in fact – that may take awhile. A few of us have been interviewing (second base, I think). Several of us have paperwork (first base, I think). Many of us have heard nothing at all (waiting for the first pitch, I think). And some of us have moved to one or another base only to be thrown out for one or another reason, sent back to the dugout to await another at-bat.

So is new life here, or is it still on its way? Is it Easter, or is it Advent?

I step outside, and the rain comes again, but just a sprinkling. (Is it raining, or isn’t it?) The water runs in irregular rivets along the sidewalk, trickling into the dirt. Deep below the ground, seeds are nourished, break out of their shells, grow roots. New life is on its way. New life is here.

Here, on its way, both at the very same time, even now, in this season of uncertainty, even now, as we try to believe before we can see. Even now. Alleluia, alleluia.

Who doesn't love surprises!

"Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...It's a belated surprise," was what the email was titled, it was a surprise party for our friend and fellow Junior, Sara Suginaka. We had a blast planning, people were making all kinds of different foods, I myself made two cakes, Pineapple Upside Down and a layered confetti cake (I had never layered a cake before). We surprised her by saying we were having a meeting from a group some of us were in, and helped by Cheryl Pero, our solid diversion in detaining her, she was brought to a room with a bunch of Juniors who yelled surprise while a bunch of her friends sang happy birthday! We moved from there to a different room we call Freebies (a basement hangout place on campus), and played games, listened to music and had a good ole time. I guess I bring this up, because it is good to recognize milestones in people's lives.

A few days earlier aided by Emily Ewing, fellow Junior, while I was house sitting for another friend Zak Wagner and spouse, Katie, we decorated their house a little for their belated honeymoon. We filled their room with about 60+ balloons, Emily decorated two balloons to be his and hers, and I put some chocolates and champagne in the fridge. Easy and quick, but I think this community wants to help each other, I think that we need to play together and most importantly, we need the fun to take our minds off the end of the year stuff. I love that we were able to do all of this, but I loved doing it because immediately it was done, no waiting for a grade, no reflection paper after, just some good ole fun. Well now I do need to get to some homework, because we have The Willy Wonka Extravaganza tonight!!! Man I love this place!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ringing out our welcome

Zion Lutheran Church was founded southwest of Chicago in the late nineteenth century, over a decade prior to the establishment of the township of Tinley Park which now surrounds it.  From an early time, the congregation made a habit of ringing the bell three times during the Lord's Prayer at Sunday morning services.  Although this peculiar liturgical practice was discontinued some years ago, its original meaning has recently been discovered.  The ringing of the bell was meant to alert farmers who were at work in nearby fields (and therefore unable to be in church) to pause and pray the Lord's Prayer in concert with the congregation.  This gesture of solidarity marked the church as a center of the community, an assembly whose impact reached into the surrounding community to address the life and culture of Tinley Park's earliest European settlers.

Have you ever wondered how we might more effectively reach out to our surrounding community?  How does our worship in Augustana Chapel address the lives of our neighbors?  How do our studies and ministries promote solidarity with those who pass by on 55th and University Streets?  As we celebrate God's exaltation of the humiliated Messiah, let us consider the ways in which we express Christ's continued presence both among us and through us to others.

Guest blogger--Nate Sutton

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Quantity vs. Quality

In my family, we always work really hard to get home to my mom's house in Pennsylvania for holidays. We have always celebrated Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas together, unless one of us is out of the country.  This Easter though, after driving the nine-hour drive to PA on Thursday and back on Sunday, I realized that what makes my time with my family special is the quality, not the quantity.  In fact, if we're around each other for too long, tempers start to fly and somebody needs some time to cool off.  This trip was really fast, but worth it.

 Quality versus quantity really struck me on Easter morning.  We each had personalized Easter baskets when we were younger.  They were never too elaborate or expensive--no Wii's in this kid's basket--but they had more than enough candy for one child.  We've progressively reduced how much chocolate was in our baskets over the years, with this year's being the smallest so far.  The basket contained a few handfuls of mini Snickers bars, mini-chocolate eggs, some chocolate-covered pretzels (we really like our chocolate in my family) and three Divine 85% Dark Chocolate bars.  Instead of piles of Easter candy that we could fight over, we had one family Easter basket, with high-quality chocolate.  That's sort of how this family holiday felt.  It wasn't the unbroken family time that we had when we all lived under one roof.  It wasn't the three weeks or so that we'd have off of undergrad for Christmas.  It was a few short days to laugh, listen, share and just be together.  It was high quality this Easter.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Revelations of Time

Where were you when?

This is always a popular question when it comes to moments in history or marking an important time in one's life where the journey seems to wind, taking on a life of its own or the valley opens up before you blossoming into new beginnings.

Last week 4pm became the crucial time on campus: Monday afternoon several of us came streaming out of our classes, racing down to the mailboxes at the speed of light as myself and the rest of the Junior class found out where we would be going for Ministry in Context sites for the Fall of 2011. As the warmness of Spring washed over us, we celebrated, scratched our heads, shared and congratulated one another in the middle of the courtyard. For us, the road beckons as we are able to immerse ourselves weekly in our craft, in our theology and have that trial by fire being amongst an assembly putting ministry to practical use.

Thursday, our Middler friends gathered at 3:30pm and we in solidarity with them in the Chapel as we reflected and allowed the Holy Spirit to envelop us singing "We are Marching in the Light of God", with a beautiful celebration as they received their internship assignments. Laughter filled the chapel and the hallways as they shared with one another and us the excitement of moving across the country or across the waters. For them, the journey continues as arms wide open calling them to what our Creator has blessed their steps and travels; for us they go before and serve as our models how faith and perseverance explodes into being.

" ... and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

How the cross now looms over the grayness of this Good Friday morning, and with our eyes closed and soul receiving the words spoken from wherever we will worship this day, with teary eyes we are reminded of the saddness, imagining ourselves at the foot of the cross and wondering, angry and perhaps our faith crumbling just a little.

Darkness and weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

God's Peace.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Last week I joined my wife and sister-in-law in a walk down to the U of C’s Rockefeller Chapel to see author Neil Gaiman. @neilhimself was visiting Chicago as part of the Chicago Public Library’s One Book, One Chicago program, a citywide book club that had chosen Gaiman’s Neverwhere for its Spring 2011 selection.

Neil was charming and engaging, being a Brit and all, but as he spoke from the high pulpit of that gothic chapel I found myself thinking beyond entertainment for its own sake. Go figure. Neil writes stories in which good and evil are all mixed up, in which the gods of ancient myth lurk in the shadows of the present day; Neverwhere itself spins a tale of fantastic (and terrifying) worlds hidden beneath the urban alleyways of contemporary London. You won’t find Neil’s books in the “Christian” or “inspirational” section of the bookstore, but, truth be told, his work continues to deepen my thinking about Bible stories, faithful living, and the meaning of Christ in our world as much as anything you’ll find there.

In Faith as a Way of Life: A Vision for Pastoral Leadership, seminary professor Chris Scharen laments the way our lives have become compartmentalized, “Christian” things here, “non-Christian” things over there. But, Scharen argues, it doesn’t need to be this way. As Rob Bell puts it in Love Wins, there are rocks everywhere; living water flows from the places we may least expect it.

So it is that this seminarian will participate in the Great Three Days this weekend, but he will also try to make sense of Lady Gaga’s latest single, perhaps in light of U2’s screw(tape)y work a generation ago. As Gerard Manley Hopkins put it, “the world is charged with the grandeur of God,” and it is our sacred calling, dear preachers, to name that grandeur wherever it may be.

Soli deo Gloria.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Leaving Well

Last week I wrote about registration day, and the odd tension of having one foot in this place and the other foot firmly re-planting itself in Chicago. I wrote about it knowing I was living with this tension, but assuming my congregation had not yet become aware of the looming reality. I was wrong.

On Sunday amid the joyful chaos of palm processions, the children’s pageant, and the questions about Holy Week schedules, I also fielded one very unexpected question. “When do you head back to Chicago?” The question was honest, well-meaning, asked with a tinge of sadness even. It sent me reeling.

“I’m here through the summer,” I stumbled blankly. “I don’t leave until August, lots of time yet.”

The truth is while I was dealing with the tension I blogged about last week, I was relying on their lack of knowledge to buy me some time. To allow me to ignore a little bit longer the harsh reality that I need to start thinking about leaving this place. But May is just around the corner. And after May comes summer, and Confirmation Camp and Vacation Church School and cook-outs, and before I know it, it will be August and I will be packing my car. If I intend to leave well, it's time to start thinking about what that means. Internship is about learning, and the last great lesson is how to say good-bye.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Holy Week becomes a Holy Day

It's Holy Week for everyone but me...OK it's still Holy Week for me, but it's a little tricky. I will be working most likely all day Thursday- Saturday, from morning until night. And this has happened in the past, but this time I felt lucky because I was able to take part in a holy week celebration this past weekend, all day on Friday... For Worship class we had an all day Paschal Retreat. We had Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and an Easter Vigil. They were all excellent and non-stop, real services. I had such a fun day, hanging with my classmates as we put on all three services, with help from Ben Stewart our professor and Dean of our Chapel, and Dan Schwandt Cantor to LSTC, and Chad McKenna, Sacristan. They made sure that we had the majors like sermons, music, and all the spaces were ready and dressed correctly. We also were able to go across the street to Augustana Church, which gave an alternate experience, being so used to worshiping in the Augustana Chapel, which is on LSTC's campus. Augustana Church was a darker less open building, with a much stronger and contemplative feel. We took communion twice, we stripped the altar at our Thursday celebration, and we even sang Hallelujah at our Vigil. I thought I was in opposition to this experience of burying the Hallelujah during Lent, but I must admit when we started singing it, I got really excited and kinda realized the awesomeness of the experience. I still have my reservations, but understand it a whole lot more. The whole experience was real and also helped a lot of us to see these services in a new way, and with new understandings. For some it was a first time, since a lot of people admitted that their churches no longer do some or all of these services, and only do Easter, which is sad and scary considering how amazing and diverse they are. Needless to say I had a Good Friday... he he, a little church humor, but it was great and has made the missing of this week's celebrations lots easier to handle.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Q & A

There's a joke about seminary - instead of it being the place where your questions get answered, it is the place where your answers get questioned.

I've been blessed with some amazing supervisors and professors who have challenged all of my answers. And they continue to do so. At times it feels unnerving to be constantly re-questioning and at other times, I feel this is our very calling. We cannot approach ministry or Christianity believing we have all the answers or the right answers. Faith is a dialogue with God and all creation.

furthermore, since we are Lutherans, we are called to be continually reforming the church. We are called to continually be stretching ourselves to live out the gospel and find new ways to proclaim the good news.We are called to question our answers.

So welcome to life as a Lutheran - constantly questioning answers.

Friday, April 15, 2011

I found myself sitting in chapel for a special worship service for the Middlers (second year seminarians), as they prepared to find out where they were going on internship. I was so excited for their waiting to be over, as I realized how fast approaching my own internship would be upon me. As we ended the worship, we gathered around the baptismal font and with the Middlers in front of us, we laid hands on them. I had my hands on Matt Anderson (fellow blogger, Wisconsinite, and also a Lutheran year student, who had arrived just like myself this fall) and Nate Sutton (the man who always has the best Greek translations in my Jesus and the Gospels class, and who I am convinced will be the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA someday). What a powerful experience as I prayed, I was thinking primarily about them and knowing that Nate would be in the Chicago area and Matt was open to anything with places like Washington State and Florida being discussed (he would go to Vancouver, WA), and I prayed that they would be content, that they would be strong as they went their separate ways. After the prayer we closed with singing, "We are Marching..."
If you would have asked me last fall about the Middlers, I would have told you names and maybe a little bit about them, but now I realize that I have all this anxiety about losing a big chunk of my family. I realize that I know names and know so much more about people, I have gone on retreats, been in class discussions with some, and I just say hi to them all the time. The cruel world that is seminary is the fact that I will never be on campus with any of them again. I may see some of them next year, but really it is all that quick. So I cherish the relationships, and as I almost cried as we sang, "We are Marching," I realized I was so thankful to have known the class above me and the seniors as well, and although, I so desperately want to keep them here, they are so desperately needed out there... And they're good, so watch out world the interns and seniors of 2011 are coming!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Draft Diary, Part II

The day has finally come! After two months of waiting since I interviewed with 10 potential internship sites, we will find out at approximately 4:00pm today where we will be spending the next year of our life. Recalling Matt K.’s Bill Simmons-esque “draft diary” the day he found out his regional call assignment, I thought I would add my own version for the internship “draft.”

8:03 am: Wake up to find I slept surprisingly well last night! Not so for Becky, who tells me she woke up at 5am and spent an hour with a book and some tea before going back to bed.

9:26 am: Take my cup of coffee over to my desk to start research on my Lutheran Confessions paper on the authority of Scripture in the Lutheran church. I thought it would be really important to keep myself busy today, but I’m finding that I’m not really that anxious. Maybe that’s why they have us wait so long – after two months, what’s a few more hours?

11:53 am: Distract myself from my work long enough to check, still basking in last night's Bulls' victory that secured for them the best record in the NBA and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs!

12:17 pm: Alright, starting to get a little antsy. I think it just finally hit me that we’re finding out today! Getting kinda hard to focus on my reading.

1:23 pm: A grocery shopping trip will fill the afternoon until the prayer service at 3:30. But we’re not sure how much to buy, as we don’t know when we’re moving! Depending on where we’re going, internship could start anywhere from June 1—August 1.

4:03 pm: Well, Chicago, it’s been fun. Gotta be in Vancouver, WA by June 1!

4:13 pm: Time to call mom.

4:33 pm: Class identity crisis. After being with the middlers to find out internship sites, I immediately head to a “Prep 4 Parish” workshop with the Seniors, who have already done internship. Oh the adventures of being a Lutheran year student!

7:52 pm: Receive a call from my supervising Pastor!

8:01 pm: Time to go celebrate (hopefully not mourn) with other soon-to-be interns/vicars!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Looking Ahead

Over the weekend Chris and I were blessed to attend LSTC’s Senior Capstone Retreat. Thanks to the Tithing and Stewardship Foundation, students completing their final year on campus were invited out to Schaumburg for a weekend of preparing for parish life, reflecting on stewardship, and connecting with classmates once more before we are scattered across the country.

There were plenty of invaluable moments. We heard from a representative at the ELCA Board of Pensions who explained the health and retirement benefits for ELCA clergy; his words were a relief, especially for those of us longtime students, that life might actually be sustainable – financially, physically, emotionally, ethically – after seminary. We heard from worship professor Mark Bangert, who turned the idea of stewardship on its head by placing it in the context of a “Eucharistic economy” of gratitude for God’s plentiful gifts and an intentional distribution so that everyone has enough, and nevermind that such an economy might just be at odds sometimes with that other one we read about in the newspapers. And there were others who spoke of family life and others who broke down church finances and others who simply shared their memories and stories of their first years in the parish.

But some of the most valuable time, of course, was the time we students spent together. We updated each other on where we were at in first call processes, shared our budding hopes and nagging fears, wondered aloud what the future might hold… and laughed as often as possible.

Soon we will cease to be classmates and begin to be colleagues, and when we do, the relationships we are building now will, I can only hope, be a source of strength and encouragement, a continuing and powerful sign of the presence of Christ walking alongside us, wherever we might go.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Registration Day

I register for classes tonight. Well, technically I register tomorrow (1 am), but as I won’t go to bed between then and now, it’s basically tonight.

Registering for classes seems like such a foreign concept right now, a thousand miles from campus and in the middle of Lent. Tomorrow morning I’ll hit the snooze too many times on my alarm, just like every other morning in Syracuse. A little groggier from being up late registering, but otherwise the same. I will stumble into the living room, turn up the heat on the thermostat, and turn on the coffee pot. I will get dressed; pour myself a cup of coffee and head to church.

Tomorrow’s a Wednesday, which are always busy days. I will be on my feet from the time I get in the door. We have two worship services on Wednesdays, I preach and lead both of them. We’re reconfiguring the sanctuary for Palm Sunday tomorrow also. And there’s the midday luncheon with the seniors, adult bible class, and some prep work for Holy Week bulletins if I can fit it in. It will be a busy day, but a fun day of ministry. Filled with all of my favorite parts of the job.

But tonight I register. So tomorrow, as I’m going through this busy day of worship and ministry, a computer in Chicago will know the truth. I don’t really belong here. Despite having been here seven months, having fallen in love with this place and these people, this is not my home. I am a student at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. I am here only temporarily, to learn, to be a student. This is the odd tension of internship. Even as I immerse myself in the life of a pastor, there is this lingering reality that I don’t belong in this role, not yet anyway. Tonight I make the first steps out of this place and back to Chicago. It is a strange feeling.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Life is so good.

Some of us seminarians have taken to becoming official Buckman Page groupies.  The band, led in voice by Marcus Lohrmann, who is the husband of my classmate Bekki Lohrmann, is phenomenal.  They started as a college band out of Valpo and are booking shows in Chicago on a regular basis.  We load up at least two carloads of people about once a month to go see these guys rock out.  While I'm sure the other BP groupies may have a different favorite part of the shows, mine always comes with one of their slower songs called "Good."   

"Good," aside from being a love song, always makes me appreciate my time at the show with the lyrics, "Life is so good.  We are here.  This is so good."  I look around and see the two carloads or more of seminarians whose heads are about to spin off with writing sermons, analyses of the Lutheran Confessions, exegesis papers, reflections on Luke's Gospel and everything else that piles up on their kitchen tables.  We all take a break to come to these shows together.  I feel this moment of release from everything else I am worried about in the classroom and on campus, because life is so good to be with these people, listening to great music.  

"I know you got your problems, but today, life is so good.  I know you got your worries, but today, life is so good.  I know you got your troubles, but today, life is so good.  I know it's no answer, but today, life is so, so good."

Picture from Buckman Page's Facebook page:

Saturday, April 9, 2011


I've been working on dependency on internship. It seems to be a tight rope for me, trying to decide when and how to trust on top of who. In seminary, we get told over and over again about safe boundaries, especially between a pastor and his or her congregation. I confess this fear of boundary crossing led me to form a wall between myself and my parishioners. Not good.

So where's the line? How do you become vulnerable in order to connect without over sharing, without crossing a boundary, without sacrificing yourself? How do you get to a place where giving of yourself is a gracious act of service and not means for resentment or martyrdom?

I'm walking... and now's the time to walk, right? Time to test the waters. Time to not engage and watch people yearn to connect to me more. Time to figure out how to break down that wall I've created and truly engage and connect without then also weeping on their shoulders.

Far from some CEO refusing to mingle with the minions, my heart is on the line. We are all the body of Christ together and yet, the pastor has a nurturing and guiding role that sets her or him apart from the rest. There's no easy way to describe this relationship between pastor and people. If so, it'd be easier to do, as well.

Odd business, this ministry. And God bless internship so I can figure out how to do it!

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Picture Says a Thousand Words


My Lenten discipline was to immerse my spirit and pouring out through words in poetry. For about 12 days this actually worked and I was rather surprised of the rhythm that set the tone of my mornings.

And then the semester descended upon me.

Although awaking to the growing glow of dawn energized me for classes, papers and other projects it sapped me creatively. Then again, perhaps it didn't. What was to be accomplished through writing poetry everyday? Or refraining from sugars and other temptations? Not swearing? Was this a way to prove that we could be worthy through works? Has Lent become a time of penance where we attempt to make up for all of our faults and weakness throughout the year?

And yet, I found freedom each morning as I wrote and could go out into the day, tackling a full day of classes, allowing the Holy Spirit to sing within, connecting me with my Creator. Perhaps it is through these positive outpourings that we are all attached to the fabric of Mother Earth, happiness vibrating and allowing healing to this troubled world.

God's Peace.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


If you’ve lived in LSTC housing, you’ve experienced the joy of radiant heat. You know the old radiators are coming on when they start their clanking and clattering. And soon begins the hissing and squealing of steam coming out of the valve. And when that heat gets going, you can’t help but react. Take off a layer of clothing, open a window, or remain uncomfortable for a while until they turn back off and the apartment cools back down—but you have to do something.

I want to suggest that prayer is like radiant heat. The process begins with boiling water in the basement – the distressful or cheerful situations that cause us to pray, you could say. Those prayers “rise” to heaven and have a tangible effect – they change the atmosphere of heaven. And heaven cannot help but react. So prayer really does change things. But in our third floor apartment, heat also comes through the floors from the apartments below. Perhaps this is the prayers of those who pray constantly, not in reaction to specific situations in their lives.

However, God did not stay on the third floor. In the ultimate act of compassion, God in Christ Jesus comes down, takes on human flesh, and walks with those who are at the boiling point.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


As I explained in my last post, I’m currently playing the waiting game, checking my email and cell phone constantly in hopes of hearing about first call opportunities in the Southwest California Synod. Naturally, there are distractions – classes, work – but this kind of pins-and-needles waiting requires an even higher level of distraction. In other words, baseball.

In the spring of my first year at seminary, I was somehow convinced to attend a White Sox game after chapel; being April in Chicago, it actually snowed while we froze in the stands that afternoon. No matter. We carried our mitts to class the rest of the year, running down to the LSTC courtyard during every five-minute classroom break to practice our fielding skills. When we discovered our latent rivalries, we made plans to attend Cubs-Brewers showdowns, complete with trips to the North Side and Milwaukee and stories that grew in the telling. We added more teams on internship and first call, becoming secondary Tigers and Mariners and Dodgers fans; though we’ll never give up our first love, seminary makes a free agent out of you, if you haven’t learned already…

So it should come as no surprise that last weekend, as the Cubs opened Wrigley Field for the season, I found myself at the Friendly Confines with my friend Adam, who is now serving his first call in Chicago’s northwest suburbs. Adam is a die-hard Brewers fan, but since starting seminary he married a Cubs fan, so you’ll be able to find him at that bricks-and-ivy ballpark more than once this summer. In any case, Sunday was a beautiful day for a baseball game, with no snow or freezing rain in sight, but with plenty of peanuts and sunflower seeds for all.

Sadly, my Cubbies lost. Again. Oh well. At least there are a few more weeks of basketball left. And so, naturally, we went to the Bulls game last night…

For more photos from our day, check out the photo album:

Opening Weekend in Wrigleyville

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Grey's Anatomy and the Problem of Suffering

My favorite thing about last week’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy was how the cast suddenly realized they were actually characters in a soap opera. First there was Alex Karev’s reflection on dating:

“She works here at Seattle Grace Mercy Death, so I'm sure she’s pretty much gonna go crazy or get cancer or shot by a gunman or hit by a truck, so don’t get your hopes up for Karev’s big happily-ever-after.” A good observation, especially since that is only the tragedies that have happened to women Alex Karev dated. Other members of the cast have been bludgeoned by an icicle, blown up by a homemade explosive, drug under a bus, killed in an attempt to jump to the top of the donor list (only to reappear for an extended run as a ghost/hallucination) or drown.

Karev’s comment is flippant, but Meredith Grey gets to the heart of the matter:

“The universe says, ‘Screw you, Meredith,’ and gives Callie a kid... and then puts Callie through a windshield. I mean, what the hell is going on? What’s the point? I mean, is there a reason for this? Because if you can think of a reason—any reason at all—why the universe is so screwed up and random and mean, now would be an amazingly good time to tell me because I really need some answers.”

Meredith’s elevator lament was possibly the most profound line of television I have heard. That is the ultimate question, why do bad things happen? In the real world, people get cancer, shot by gunmen, hit by trucks. Being bludgeoned by an icicle is less common, but I suppose that can happen too. The point is, bad things happen, and they don’t make any sense.

There are no answers for Meredith (except that Shonda Rimes says so), and there are even less answers for us as we are not characters in a TV drama. But as we journey through this fourth week of Lent we can cling to the fact that ours is a God who understands pain, fear, and the seeming randomness of life. A God who weeps at his friend’s death, and then raises that friend to life. Sometimes resurrection is tangible, like Lazarus in the tomb. And sometimes it is just a feeling of peace in the midst of crisis. Grace isn’t always an answer, but it is a promise. Thanks be to God.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Crazy Train

Hanging out on Mondays has never been so stressful. Last night I had my laptop go out on me and I lost a couple of papers and some other documents that I needed to make papers for the week. Weeks seem shorter and time is flying, but the interesting part is that next year is already creeping up on everything. People are starting to talk about next year’s classes and where they are going to live. I am trying to figure out roommates for next year and where I want to live. I have to check for financial aid and refill out all my forms for next year. I visited a church yesterday to see if I might be interested in using them as my field experience, not that I can really pick, but you do give the people who pick for you an idea of what kind of ministry you want. I said something that promotes social justice and postmodernity…or Kurt Hendel (since the church I visited is his home congregation). The end result is that now more than ever the times have quickened, there is the urgency to finish the year, but also the urgency to get ready for the next. Between this and the summer clinical hours that are coming the future looks quick and crazy. More than anything it’s nonstop, and I like that, so I hope for perseverance and I a good grip to hold on to the whirlwind that looks to be my next three years.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Growth and Grace

They say our brains are not fully developed until we are 25 years of age. I'm confident they don't mean we cease growing at 25 because I am turning 26 today and I don't for a second believe I am done growing. I've stretched and ached and experienced more growing pains in this 26th year of my life than I can even begin to describe.

Well, I can try: I dealt with the some major heartbreak, a summer with high school youth in Chicago and Mexico, a move to Montana to begin internship, all the ins and outs of internship and being far from family, and a billion other small things. While that may seem to be a lot of heart stuff, I've spent a good amount of energy rewiring my brain around issues of shame, depression, and compassion. I've worked with my counselor and spiritual director to break through many "cognitive distortions" and embrace the wonderful gift of grace for myself.

I hope we never stop developing, growing, changing, and finding new ways to experience this ever changing world around us and our place in it. Thanks be to God for these past 26 years I've had and the people I've been able to grow and change with! Here's to another year packed with growing pains from God.

Stop. No, really.

In our Lutheran Confessions class this week, we got into a conversation about the Office of the Keys, more commonly known as Confession and Absolution.  The room of seminarians was filled with questions for Dr. Hendel about the significance of confessing.  How often should we confess?  Private versus public?  How do we confess for the history of enslaving and torturing people?

The central theme of Confession and Absolution is repentance.  The act of stopping and turning around in our ways to change the way we act and treat others is what this is all about.  Jesus said to turn your cheek seven times seventy times for a neighbor to hit you, but if the neighbor chooses to repent, then she is turning around and changing her way.  We confess to be in right relationship with God and we repent to be in right relationship other people.

I came across this stop sign recently and I loved the "No really" addition to it.  Seems to fit that little "Faith without works is dead" mantra.  Turn around, repent, change the direction of choices.  Stop.  No, really.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Paperless Worship...the Future?!?!

The last two days I have been at a conference about the effects of paperless worship, using music leaders to teach songs and create a new type of worship experience. I have been having a great time, but it could not have happened without the generosity of All Saints Company, the group putting on the conference. They waived the fee for the conference for LSTC students, it has been amazing to talk about worship and the way that you can create so much energy and feeling from simplicity of worship. The leaders had so much to offer in wisdom and experience. Episcopal and Lutheran leaders, but even more denominations were at the conference and just reminding me about how important it is to keep an open mind to create a worship that is inclusive. I know that my hopes for the future is that we would start to incorporate paperless worship at LSTC, and my true hope for this school is that there would be a paperless worship a week. I hope that environmentally and also an experiential way that LSTC will take a serious look into this opportunity. We can really push the envelope on how we interpret worship and what we can do for the future. I look forward to everything that this conference will do for our worship experience at LSTC. I especially am excited knowing that we represented well with at least 10 students who took advantage and our Worship teacher and dean of chapel was there, Ben Stewart and our Cantor to the LSTC Community, Dan Schwandt. Very hopeful! I also used a shruti box...don't know what it is you can look it up, and be excited with me!