Monday, October 31, 2011

Preaching

Sitting in preaching class seems to bring out a nervousness that was reserved for my public tap dancing to the song, "The Candyman" in third grade, but I find myself with that same nervous stomach and that worried feeling of what others may think. So to write a great sermon (for a second year LSTC student) you want to start early and looking at my weekend I needed to be done for Thursday night not the Tuesday Nov. 1, when i was to preach. And I was meeting with my professor, Dr. Satterlee to go over my sermon, which was actually going to be preached outside the classroom on Thanksgiving, which adds just another knot in the stomach. But after some writing...Ooh I was stoked! I had been writing for a couple of days and Wednesday night I really felt that I had groomed this thing out well. So as Dr. Satterlee is reading through it, he seems intrigued makes some noises of agreement and stops, removing his glasses he says, "You lost me." Oh No!!! "Sermon time of death... " I thought this one was a home run, but it looks like a strikeout. But what needs to be remembered is...This is why we meet, because a second year student writing his second real sermon needs the chance, space, and permission to fail. So we start to work through it and all of a sudden we see the areas of growth, we see the gems to hold on to, and we see the hope that this sermon has but does not say out loud. Sigh of relief, and as I left a little sad I was not the prodigy I had dreamed up in the morning hours, I knew I really had something to bring back Tuesday. I went down and had a great weekend with friends, celebrating my best friend's wedding, and returned to make a new sermon on the new foundations that Dr. Satterlee and I created. Now I really think I got something! Lesson learned... trust the system and it will reward you; trust your professors, because they know what they are doing!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Luther Bowl

Check out this picture from Luther Bowl 2011! OK, not really, this is actually just a white square. But it does look a lot like Luther Bowl 2011. Because the theme for this weekend was snow. A LOT of it.

This weekend, twenty-five seminarians and one alumnus from Connecticut traveled to Gettysburg, PA to take part in the Luther Bowl. Formerly an annual football game between Gettysburg Seminary and LTSP, Luther Bowl has expanded to an eight-team ecumenical football tournament where teams from all over the eastern half of the country compete for football glory.

LSTC had an excellent team this year. We had been practicing for months together and we had a strong offense and an aggressive defense. We were ready for whatever the other teams might be ready to throw at us. Everything, that is, except snow. That’s right; Gettysburg was hit by a rare October snowstorm. The snow started falling around 7 am, and nearly four inches had fallen by the end of our second game. The tournament was canceled around 10:30 am and the refs went home. But being hearty Midwesterners, the mighty LSTC Orange Crush remained on the field to play whoever remained. Two dedicated referees, the Gettysburg New Testament professor and an alumnus from LTSP, remained to ref the game. Overall, LSTC went 1-1, defeating Union Presbyterian 12-0, and then losing a hard fought game to Trinity Episcopal 16-12.

Despite the snow, cold, and being in cars for longer than we were actually in Gettysburg, the true spirit of Luther Bowl shone through. Old friendships deepened, new ones developed, and spirit of camaraderie filled the field. Players helped one another up, as we fell again and again in the slippery snow. While no official Luther Bowl champion was crowned, because no one played enough games to clearly declare a winner, this was definitely a Luther Bowl for the record books. All who were hearty enough to remain and play are winners in my book.

For more on this historic battle, click here to download a full report from the LSTC Newspaper, The Door.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Quick Reflection on Gaming and God


I love playing RPG’s (Role Playing Games). For some reason RPG’s just haven’t gotten boring, despite the age old storyline.

I wonder what it would be like if there was a Christianity RPG out there. I know of infamously bad videogame titles (such as Noah’s Ark which is all too similar to Shining Force 1 and Doom), but theoretically, who wouldn’t want to play as Jesus slaying demonic forces, healing allies, and having an ultimate showdown with the Roman authorities…but wait, what about the cross? I’m sure there could be a cool showdown with hell fiends or something like that to attain the resurrection.

Is this how people actually see Jesus. In many atonement theories, Jesus triumphs over the devil or tricks the devil into losing. Is he the action hero who slays evil to unlock his destiny? Is this really who what we take atonement and the cross to mean? Jesus’ life and ministry go so much further than what happened between the cross and resurrection. The memory of Jesus pushes us to go further than that place too. Should we as Christians really linger at that point?

I don’t think Jesus should be important because of the theoretical place where he was between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Something about that time was important to be sure, because it allowed for the manifestation of the resurrected Christ to be present in the lives of his followers. But the atoning death in the sense that Jesus used it to beat up his enemies goes against his own words and ideas concerning how one should others. I don’t think there could really be an effective RPG Jesus with its usual storyline.

What if we redefined RPG from Role Playing Game to “Re-Presenting God”? Now we’re talking.

Until Next Friday!

P.S. Good luck and have fun to our magnificent Luther Bowl team!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Promise in Safety - Insight from a Mouse

"There's no promise in safety." - Thrice, The Melting Point

This evening I was sitting at my desk, paying some bills, when suddenly a little flicker caught my eye. There, sitting on the middle of my rug, with it's beady eyes twitching, was a mouse.

I instantly leaped up, crawled into a ball on my couch, and called all of the big, strapping men who live on campus at the seminary. Luckily my friend Alex (really, a true hero) came over and set a mouse trap for me. I'm still a bit creeped out, to be honest. My eyes keep flicking back to that rug, and my stomach tied up on knots. I swear I hear that little critter walk around my kitchen, which I know is silly because he's probably working just as hard to hide from me as I am from him.

But in my neurotic huddle on the couch, I had one recurring thought: who can we count on when we are deeply disturbed?

It was amazing that I had several people I could call to help me out, people I could be really awkward with. It's a good friend who not only can decipher your panicked, squealing messages, but will instantly drop what they are doing to help remove vermin from your house. It helps a great deal that my other strapping seminarian friends have all called to check up on me to make sure I'm okay. It also helps that my dear friend Alex told me that he will continue to come and check the trap for me until we catch the mouse. He knows my level of disturbia is high and will cross the distance to put me at ease. I'd be willing to bet my other friends touched base with me tonight would do the same thing.

I told someone today that you know a relationship will go the distance when you are safe enough to show them the ugly sides of your personality and know they will love you anyways. There's no promise in safety, and there's no promise that feeling safe with someone will always come in beautiful, calm packages. Sometimes knowing that a relationship is real is knowing that you can count on someone to make things safe for you when you cannot. That is one of the promises we make when forming Christian communities - to create safe places. There's no guarantee that we can always create that space, but there can be a promise to try. Alex didn't promise to get the mouse, but he did promise to try. That makes my home safe, and it makes my heart feel safe with him.

Trying is the promise in safety, and that is a beautiful way to live.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Finding Your Voice


Imagine standing at an ancient pulpit seeped with history, where pastors are birthed, molded, created and made. Imagine a manuscript neatly placed before you tucked gently into a Bible, all of the right words, phrases speaking life into the Gospel clearly and concisely. Imagine opening your mouth to form the words from the black and white to drifting on the still air that surrounds you and your classmates..and for a moment, watching yourself a total stranger to the deepness of soul that usually flowers reaching into the light and giving different life and meaning to the ordinary.

As seminarians, Preaching class is one of the most important courses that we will encounter because it is where we hone our craft, where those who are introverted become extroverted; where those who speak softly must now bring attention to their presence and bring the beauty and richness of the Word into the darkness of our consciousness where fear, doubt and worry takes up residence and dwells.  As a poet and writer, I found myself struggling because those who know of me have been a witness to how I express myself as a Gypsy. I found myself struggling with suppressing my identity because perhaps how I express my spirit would get in the way of proclaiming the Goodness of the Gospel. 

Time and again, the community sheds new light on how ministry should be an extension of those who have been called to this vocation and the feedback that poured into me was "where are you in all of this?" 

There is comfort knowing that even as many scoff at the rigors of religion, that through the creeping dawn of each morn there is new opportunities for celebration and of praise-and that my Creator wishes for me to speak to Him, speak of Him as only a Gypsy child could.

God's Peace.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rally Day, Part Deux.

This past Sunday, Good Shepherd celebrated my supervisor's 60th birthday with a party that put our Rally Day in September to shame. Sure, Rally Day had lots of games, lots of food, and lots of mingling and laughter, but for some reason, this birthday party was able to draw an even bigger crowd. The celebration had been hyped for well over a month, with promises of a feast full of the pastor's favorite foods. There was pizza from his favorite pizza place, Italian beef sandwiches and Chicago dogs from his favorite Chicago-style fast-food joint, Tootsie Pops, root beer floats, lemon-fluff cake, and obligatory salad.

Oh, and the Pastor kicked the party off with a mile run measured out into laps around the building. After the second service, the congregation filed out of the building, stood all along the path, and cheered him on. 30 vuvuzelas, a dozen signs made by the Sunday school kids, noise-makers, pom-poms, speakers blasting "Eye of the Tiger," and 400 people cheering created enough adrenaline for our pastor to complete the mile in 8:25. It was a spectacle to behold.

The mile run was not only a test of one man's health after six full decades lived, but it was also a fundraiser for our upcoming Habitat for Humanity build. Congregants could pledge a flat amount or a variable amount, based on the number of seconds the pastor finished the mile in under an hour (He was 95 seconds under). For some reason, the people of this congregation came out of the woodwork, not only for the spectacle and food of the party, but also to donate to this great cause, far exceeding the unofficial goal we hoped to raise.



Sometimes, it's just good to celebrate like this. Sometimes, it's just good to raise money for a worthy cause. And, sometimes it's just good to join together in a crowded family life center and to find the joy in living as a community free in Christ to celebrate the blessings in life. Because this party wasn't simply about the pastor's birthday. It was about celebrating the people God has surrounded us with.

Monday, October 24, 2011

10 minutes on the beach...still got a boat load of memories!


Leave Thursday night put on a workshop for two days in Long Beach, CA and come home Sunday morning with 15 minutes to get to my Ministry in Context site, what's the worst that could happen? What a weekend, I do not know where to start, oh yeah me chasing the 55 bus in front of LSTC and missing it, that is when I knew the weekend was gonna be a hit. But why, you missed your bus? Yes and the next one came in minutes and then I got to ride with the Admissions Guru and my online Old Testament prof...Scott Chalmers. I was off to Los Angeles Airport, but really my final destination was Long Beach, CA. I was speaking at a gathering called the Glocal Mission Gathering, where Global and Local meet to discuss how the two should be working together and not apart. My role was to talk about radical hospitality and what young adults could and are doing, and giving ideas for making churches more hospitable. We use the story of the 99 sheep saying that if God is the shepherd that goes out and finds the lost sheep, we are the 99 waiting to be made whole. But what do we do with time while we wait, the same old, same old? Of course not, we are making sure that when the sheep comes home it is accepted and loved and that we are not standing in the way of that sheep seeing God's love and the beauty of the church as a whole. I belong to a group called The 99 Collective and our goal is to work with young adults in the ELCA, giving them a chance to tell their story and working to bring back the young adults because we as a church do not feel whole until God brings everyone back safe. This weekend was quick but I had such fun hanging out with people of all ages who shared that idea, that they were not OK with leaving anyone out. I am glad to be part of a seminary and church that believes that idea of accompaniment and walking along side people wherever they are at. In closing, my favorite random moment was meeting a young man, looked a little older than me, he says his name is, "Josh Ebener (left)." He's a former LSTC grad placed in Long Beach, CA for his first call (I should take some lessons from this guy). He and I exchanged some stories and laughed about the things that we can connect on... classes, the workload, and the fact that Rob Saler (right)is a genius (reason alone to come to LSTC). It was so good to see someone out in front of me, saying that everything was doable, saying yeah sometimes it is hard but worth it, and someone saying here's my card call me if you ever have a question or you just want to vent, "I've been where you are." Those were the closing lines combined with a hand shake that left me relieved. This was a short and fast weekend (I barely had time to put my feet in the waters of the Pacific Ocean), but I found peace in someone who could tell me my journey was survivable... the papers get done, the sermons are written, and finally you are a pastor. And I believed him.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Napping

Though Sunday afternoons are the typical days for naps when you are a pastor, or a soon-to-be-pastor, I am reminded of the beauty and bliss of naps any day of the week.

Truth: sometimes I am attempting to read a book for class and fall asleep. It happens.

But I'm visiting my cousin, her husband, and their 2 kids this weekend. The kids get naps each day. It makes them happier. Less cranky. More pleasant to be around. And gives them enough energy to get through the rest of the day.

I'm not saying we can all enjoy the luxury of a nap each day, but how have we lost a mid-day rest? We don't have a siesta, we have a rushed half hour or hour lunch break when we are trying to pack in another errand or two with our meal.

Is Sunday the only time we can enjoy a Sabbath rest? A liturginap? I'd like to find a moment or two (or three) to simply be. To be still for a moment and not stare at my to-do list and feel utterly discouraged. To not stress about assignment and the mounds of paperwork or people that stand between me and ordination.

Wanna try it with me?

(Here's my god daughter napping away. It makes me happy to simply watch her nap!)

Friday, October 21, 2011

I.D. ing Ideas


Two weeks ago in my Church History class we tried to tackle to the topic of the Trinity. The conversation and lesson concerning the Trinity lasted for double the time that the professor had allotted for the subject and by the end I felt the confusion of many classmates still lingering in the atmosphere. I brought our class discussion to someone in my family who was not well versed in the Trinity (as if anyone is, right?). She did assert, however, that with something so confusing as the Trinity, which normally many people have strong opinions about, why bother talking about it with other people?


I would like to humbly (not really) disagree. Whether we are seminary students, mathematicians, performers, or whatever else, it is impossible to stay an arm’s length away from our ideas. Especially when concerning subjects in our religion that we might try to communicate to other people someday. There is a good chance that parishioners and even people of other faiths will want to know more completely some of the history or at least what we think about the Trinity.


Even if we look beyond this one example of the Trinity, there are probably some ideas that we are not comfortable wrestling with because they might be too confusing or complicated to understand. Should that stop us from encountering them or critically examining them? We are at seminary to encounter these ideas, whether they are easy to understand or not, or even if they align with our beliefs or not. The challenge of this in seminary is being able to take our experience encountering these subjects wherever we go.


As my college ethics professor taught me, “Ideas matter, otherwise no one in the humanities would have a job”.


Until next Friday!

Christ Laughed

This evening several of my friends came over to watch the movie-cult-classic, Dogma. For those who are unfamiliar with the film, it is an extremely humorous look at some of the dogmatic ideas we have about our faith while still ending with the message that God loves and forgives, Christ is with us, and reconciliation is always possible. The movie also features Matt Damon pre-Jason Bourne flicks, which in and of itself is a sheer delight.

I don't know if it was because I was watching this movie with a bunch of seminarians, or if it was the fact that my friends get me enough that they don't complain when I hum along to the music track during segue scenes, but tonight was one of the most enjoyable experience I have had watching this film that I have owned for years.

I think a large part is that the older I get and the farther I get in ministry, the more I realize there are times when we can't take ourselves to seriously. This week has been serious enough - in my pastoral care class we talked about domestic and sexual violence, I read a blog post of a friend who was struggling with some moral passages from the Old Testament, another friend's wife had a very complicated (but successful, yeah!) birth delivery of their daughter. Those are the moments when it pays to be serious in our faith. But watching Alan Rickman and Chris Rock play an angel and an apostle are not one of those moments.

One of the great aspects of our God living the earth as human is that Christ was able to experience the full breadth of what it means to live. We often celebrate that Christ suffered, Christ died, but I think it's also important to remember that Christ laughed and that Christ had friends.

Living into our calling means embracing the opportunities when we can curl up on the couch, eating popcorn, and wondering whatever happened to Silent Bob movies. It truly is a beautiful gift.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Kyrie Eleison

The opening of wispy gray skies pouring out  always brings me to a moment of reflection.

The question had been presented to me two years ago, when a pastor asked me what type of church I wanted. Even now thinking of this causes me to laugh a little. The picture has been painted, I am sure somewhere in the recesses of our consciousness about the perfect church and I am sure what is reflected in our dreams is a congregation that is comfortable and content inside our bubble. A church where everyone agrees on the style of worship, the hymns or song,  and everything goes smoothly. A congregation, as one wise pastor told me, just like when we were seven years old.

Funny how the Holy Spirit comes in and makes chaos of our lives.

As I sat posed, quietly in the assistant minster's chair as the service began last evening fragile tendrils of incense crawled upward behind me. Flames danced silently along the walls swaying as the Kyrie was chanted hauntingly, beautifully and in that moment my soul stood still our hands outstretched receiving this grace seeping into our very being. Even as ancient rhythms will always run with my spirit, bringing laughter and light to my song of praise so too does the ancient tone of voices calling the Holy Spirit within as one also moves solemnly. 

There are many at the mere mention of "high church" run screaming blindly into the night. Yet there is comfort in the liturgy that can attach to one's body and spirit, as if the Creator speaks softly, gently affirming something within the heart.  Closing my eyes, hands open there will be a moment when my voice too will chant, feeling the earth rumbling beneath bare feet in tune to our Creator's presence; a Gypsy's simple prayer in thanks for all the expressions of Faith and Love.


God's Peace.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ordinary Times.

This Sunday, I preach at Good Shepherd for the third time. If I've learned anything about preaching in the past two months, it's this: the lectionary during ordinary time is harder than it looks. Advent waits with a purpose, Lent prepares, Easter celebrates, Pentecost Sunday sends us out. But ordinary time is just so... ordinary. If you're used to the lectionary, then I'm sure you've noticed we've been reading a lot about Jesus taking on the "holier-than-thous" of his community, and so the message has contained a lot of "do this, not that" sayings.



Since I've been trained to preach the good news of Jesus' saving grace, these readings can prove to be troublesome. Don't get me wrong; "Love your neighbor as yourself" is a fantastic challenge of a commandment, but it's not the Gospel. Everyone has failed to follow this commandment, and we all need to hear how God still loves us, even when we leave things undone. So, I've been learning how to preach a commandment as important as this while still preaching the grace and forgiveness of the Gospel. It's not easy, and it takes a lot of thought. However, it's definitely a good learning experience, especially because ordinary time is the longest season of the church year, and my career will mostly consist of preaching on "ordinary" texts. And though I'm learning a lot, I'm definitely looking forward to Advent.

That's all for this week. I've got a sermon to write!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Citizens!!!


A man walks past you in a kid's batman towel over his head, it has a hole for a head and two really pathetic antler ear pieces and looks like it's only like 20 times too small. As you pass him he nods his head and says in a manly and protective voice, "Citizen." What do you do to that? Well if you were walking around Hyde Park during our relaxing but too quick for words reading week last week, on a certain night I was out sporting my batman kid's towel like I have many times before. I was headed to an apartment of some students from McCormick, one of our brother/sister seminaries that is so close that our buildings are linked, I was headed to a superhero party! I park in McCormick's parking garage, we do trainings together, and most recently before this party we held an arts event in LSTC's chapel. These Presbyterian brothers and sisters of ours I see almost at least once during the week if not daily, and I know a couple of names, and choke a, "hi" and a head nod when I see them. Not Good Enough!!! I broke some of my personal barriers last week by hanging with those McCormick kiddos, and guess what??? They know how to party! They were all dressed up with some money costumes... Quail Man, The Penguin, a couple of Incredibles, the list goes on and on. I just know that I was so ready to be an LSTC student and I almost missed out on being a student of so much more. I hope I made some acquaintancesthat night, which may someday become more than that. God bless other seminaries, God bless ecumenism, and hopefully soon LSTC will keep the family ties going and we will host a party soon?! It's not up to the seminaries to keep us connected, we all have our part and I realized it last week amidst all the reading. Man the things you can't learn in a book!
Until next time..."CITIZENS!!!"

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Allies

For me, being in seminary has been one long lesson in how to be an ally. Allies to those who are oppressed throughout the country and the world. Allies to those with mental or physical disabilities. Allies to many minorities, especially the GLBTQ community who is struggling to have a voice in the church today.

It's not easy. Most of the time I have no idea what I'm doing or if I'm saying the right thing. What seminary has taught me is that it is not so much WHAT I say but that I am trying to give voice to something that society makes silent. As a society, we don't like talking about disabilities, minorities, and oppression. It's just something that makes people uncomfortable. So the task is to talk. To stand with. To walk with. To give voice to.

It's not strange that I've been learning this in seminary given the ELCA's model of mission: accompaniment. The task is not to go and share my own story but to go and listen to other stories. To hold them.

And speaking of holding stories, one of my dear friends was diagnosed with thyroid cancer this summer. In her honor, and to remember all those with cancer whom we love (and many of whom have died), we are having a F*%# Cancer Party tonight. Sometimes, being an ally means showing up a party with chocolate chip cookies and a playlist of angry punk music.

I am an ally. And I love it.

Friday, October 14, 2011


During this lovely reading week I got the opportunity to drive up to Libertyville to see my girlfriend conduct her first concert. I must confess it was a really cool thing for me to see partially because I would like to conduct a musical group, really, any group, sometime in my life. I think it would be awesome, despite my poor conducting ability at this time, although I am working on conducting in my car and my room. Sometimes I wonder what it might be like if we had switched places or something like that and I went into Music Ed. instead of Religion in undergrad. Would I still end up here?

As a “pipeliner” –someone who came to seminary straight from college- I guess I won’t know in totality what that would feel like. I have felt pulled to go to seminary since I was in high school and so the whole wrestling with calls thing is still foreign to me. I recently had a conversation with someone much older than I am in our class in which we discussed why we were at seminary. This person told me that they were still struggling to find a reason why they were there. I didn’t understand, I thought that if you’re still struggling this violently that maybe this call still isn’t it. They were insistent, however, that this is where God called them to be. I am still baffled by the confidence in this claim, but it’s not right for me as a classmate or as a friend to question their motives or journey, only to support them joyously as we all experience our various calls.

What’s your call story? Each time I hear that question, my answer changes a little bit. Our call stories, I think, are never quite over.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Best Perk

One of the lesser-known perks of being a student at LSTC is being able to use the gym facilities at the University of Chicago with the same student rate as if we were a U of C student. It is because of this amazing perk that I have dropped four pant sizes since the beginning of August. As a result of having little money to afford a new wardrobe every few days, I have resorted to shrinking my clothes in the dryer.

Last night, as I was emptying out my clothes that had been circulating in the heat for an hour and half, I noticed a little trinket on the floor that had an engraving. The message was from John 15:16, which reads, "I have chosen you."

We are in the midst of reading week, which is in the middle of our first semester of the school year. As an M.Div junior, a friend informed me that as of today I apparently only have 16 more segments to go until I have finished my seminary education. While I know that is almost four years away, 16 segments doesn't seem long enough.

It has been reassuring to discover that I'm not the only one who worries that I will leave seminary only to realize that despite all we know, we still know nothing. It has been comforting to discuss with other students that we all worry that we will not have what it takes to bring our church to the next phase in our future. My worry that 16 segments seems so little is echoed in my peers, and it helps to know we all share anxiety on being the best leader we can be.

But what really soothes my heart in these moments of apprehension is the knowledge that God has chosen each of us to be here for a reason. It also soothes my heart that God places reminders in front of me - the conversations of my friends, the better health from a discounted gym membership, or a mere trinket in the dryer - that let me know I am exactly where I need to be.

We all are chosen, and that is the best perk of all.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

...and a great multitude followed them.


Picture taken by Robert Pitts

As with most of my middler classmates, we are spending long nights with the Gospel of Luke and the Widow of Naim for our Preaching class. We are beginning the struggle of becoming one with the text and allowing the Holy Spirit to flow within and throughout.

Working with commentaries that I have acquired through mass book sales and retired pastors eagerly dropping off boxes of books at the Seminary, I came across a translation that  instead of "a great crowd followed" was "a great multitude". Happily diving into reading week, one could say that a great multitude came streaming out of the Seminary wanting to enjoy the beautiful Indian summer that has enveloped and occupied us for some time now. Except, that's not where I found myself Monday afternoon at 3pm.

Surrounded by fellow brothers and sisters on a school bus heading downtown, was our goal to bring the Good News of redemption, teaching those Pharisees to err on the side of grace? Was it our goal to enlighten those who chose to remain in shadow, comfortable with being spoon fed what the world had to offer them? Or was it our mission to become the voice, one collective voice for those whose weeping had not reached the ears of the 1%? Was it our mission to connect as children of the Most High, of God, of the Creator and stand for justice? 

Taking in the massive throng that bottlenecked downtown, elated to see those pastors such as Pastor Tom, Pastor Mike, Pastor Kim and Pastor Vance marching and united with fellow LSTC'ers remembering the commandment to "love one another as I have loved you" this is truly putting our ministry, our call into motion.

I know one thing we did right
Was the day we started to fight
Keep your eyes on the prize
Oh Lord, Oh Lord.

God's Peace.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Time to Run, and a Time to Stop

As I type, I am sitting on a veranda overlooking Lake Geneva at George Williams College in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. A lone sailboat is floating in the bay, refusing to believe the warm fall air will ever go away as yellow and red leaves float to the ground.

View from the dock, looking toward the college

I'm here with about fifty pastors, seminarians, and church professionals as part of the Metro Chicago Synod's Professional Leader's conference. For the past few days, the topic of the conference has been on ministry to youth and young adults, with the majority of the discussions and keynotes being presented by Dr. Nathan Frambach of Wartburg Seminary. The information he's given is in fabulous juxtaposition with the serene and joyful atmosphere around us. What I mean is, what we've learned has been rather jarring, to say the least. We have learned through research that churches are on the decline; the age bracket that used to disappear after high school and return to be married and have their children baptized is seeing fewer and fewer people make the return trip; and youth and young adults around the country are saying that they find the Jesus story compelling, but they can't find any need for the church.

With all of these deep, systemic issues in my mind, I went for a run with a few other LSTC students and recent alumni. I've only recently started a regular exercise routine, and as I puffed up and down the hills surrounding the bay, my sides began to cramp, my legs began to go numb, and my will began to falter. When I stated that I wanted to walk for a bit, a friend running alongside me said, between breaths, "When I'm running, I like to paraphrase Ecclesiastes. 'There is a time to run, and there is a time to stop.' This is a time to run." We continued winding through the hills until we returned to the college, it was time to stop. My legs could barely hold me up, my heart was pounding, and I felt great. After running my furthest distance in ten years, I stopped, confident and satisfied.

Around half of the people at this conference are, like myself, young adults. We are a generation compelled by the Jesus story and how it is at work today. The church may be suffering from a cramp in its side, and it may be tired and short of breath, but those of us who are working to bring the Gospel to the world know that this is not a time to stop. This is a time to run, to work together, to build relationships, and to share the Gospel. That is the curriculum we have learned at this conference. As Dr. Frambach said today, "Practicing faith communities are the best curriculum we have." Let's keep running.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Take Back Chicago



Why Chicago? That is always a question when people talk to you about why you chose this seminary...the answer is one that I even ask myself in the dead of winter when I know we have a seminary in California...in Berkley! But days like this it is obvious. Chicago is going to have protesting all week in response to the banks and their actions over the last years. The nation seems to be truly aware of itself, its needs, and what it wants. There is a stir all over nation with protests and actions against banks. This is extremely apparent here in Hyde Park, being part of the south side of Chicago. Foreclosures are real and many people are struggling with job loss and it is apparent, not so much around us. Being in a bubble right next to University of Chicago, we have extra police and money exists around us, so that we do not always see it in our quick walks around. We are very safe and LSTC makes sure of that as an educational system. But, problems do exist, and I have been lucky enough to be in conversation with SOUL (Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation). They have kept me updated on what is going on in the area I live and opportunities to get involved. Opportunities to get involved! Protesting? I don't know if I would call it that, but rather an opportunity to stand with people who feel the need to share their opinion and I believe witness history. The posters I have seen say, "Take Back Chicago," an opportunity to take back the schools, jobs, and homes that have been lost and to improve Chicago as a whole. I agree with that, and so I hope this week I will have the opportunity to partake in history, learn about my city, and add experience to my education here at LSTC.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Occupy Chicago

Today a friend and I went up to the financial district to join the Occupy Chicago protesters. Occupy Chicago is part of the larger Occupy movement that started with Occupy Wall Street. The protests began on September 17th, when 1,000 protesters marched through New York City to protest the influence big business has over government. The protests have since spread to over seventy cities across the world, Chicago being one of them. For the past fifteen days, protesters have gathered at the corner of Jackson and LaSalle to sing, dance, play drums, and stand together to make their voices heard.

Maybe it comes from several years living in Washington, DC, but I love peaceful public protests. I love the spirit that emerges as people come together around a common cause. At one point a musician joined us. He performed for a while, and then an impromptu drum circle emerged. People played five-gallon buckets, upturned plastic barrels, and sticks covered in duct tape. The musicians ranged in age from eight to mid-sixties, men and women, from various races, economic backgrounds, and places in life. Over the din, a series of voices led us in chants. Dancers weaved throughout the crowd. The movement was lively, it was festive, and it was spontaneous. I am glad that such a spirit exists in the world. May the Occupy protesters remind us of the joy and the power of community.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Cherch

There was a bit of.... tension in the air this week. A humm of anxiety that clouded everything. As a seminary we can get through an awful lot. We trust and believe that God is with us and this sees us through some of the worst financial crises and bad news of the community.

The one thing we don't take well is hearing that the church is dying. Is hearing that we have no place in the church that is dying. Is hearing that we as seminarians who are called by God to do ministry in this church have no place in this church.

We consoled one another a lot this week. And then I rediscovered this note I saved from internship.


I got this (and a big hug) after leading one of my final worship services. It gives me a surge of hope every time I look at it. Yes, we may hear the naysayers speak of a church that is dying but the truth is here in notes like these. In the steady attendance of church goers no matter the weather or the holiday or the football game. "Cherch" is alive, a "good plays" and even, yes, "fun."

It also helps that the note is covered in stars... a small reminder of a steady light in the darkness.

Friday, October 7, 2011

If there is any evidence of the grace of Jesus Christ present in our lives, it must be Reading Week... and the blessing of the animals on St. Frncis' Feast Day. Gotta love dogs.

My (and many of my fellow classmates’) stress levels have seemingly reached a point where it’s time for a little reorganization. They know how to keep you busy! Despite the amount of things on our academic to do list, I am really enjoying getting out and meeting more classmates. I have been kind of a shut in for the past few weeks that I’ve been here, but the past couple of days alone have been a real joy for me. I mean, orientation was great to meet them, but it’s getting to be about that time when surface level conversations with everybody just don’t cut it anymore and you have to take the initiative to go and develop relationships with the people who you spend class time with. Especially if they’re really the only people you know around here. There’s nothing as important in the life of the community as further developing those friendships with each other. I will definitely have to make time during Reading Week to continue spending time with the friends as well as the books, people as well as theories, and hanging out as well as reading or writing (maybe there should be a paper-writing party? Yes I said it!)

It’s absolutely true that people will de-stress in different ways and I hope and pray that during Reading Week we all find that delicate balance between work and play that best helps us to re-kilter until Thanksgiving Break, whether we're at our respective homes, on the beach, or just hanging around LSTC for a while. I know I’ll be around Hyde Park, and I’m looking forward to it!

Until next Friday!

Discerning CPE


This afternoon I had my first CPE orientation. CPE (or clinical pastoral education) is something I will do next summer. Basically, it's an intensive program where I will immerse myself in some sort of ministry that is not the typical parish scenario - hospital chaplaincy, night ministry at a crisis center, ect.

After the informative meeting, I got together with one of my dear friends and we talked a bit about where I see my experience. I have to admit, I am a little intimidated by the CPE experience. Will I have what it takes in just a few months to minister outside of my norm? Will I have enough money to afford a good program? Will I get into the program I hope to? Do I even know what program I hope to get involved with?

As much as I know that I am called to be a pastor, I'm still not entirely sure what that will look like. The ELCA requires that all ordained ministers serve in a parish, and while I look forward to that time in my life, I often wonder if that is my ultimate destination. I'm in the midst of a pastoral care course, and through that work, I'm starting to discern that I am more called to heal those who are aching then to identify visionary leaders. I think I may have what it takes to support visionary leaders, but as for spotting them out of a crowd, I'm not so sure. I do know that I am more comfortable in the hard places then the easy places, and that there is nothing more beautiful to me then being present with someone as they take the next steps in challenging times.

As I look ahead to next year and the gift that will be the CPE experience, I hope that I will find a site (and that it will find me!) that will continue to support the gifts I currently recognize and the skills I hope to develop. I want to both be a healer and a person who detects new visionary leaders. I want to be a pastor that has the ability to serve a large spectrum of people, and I really want to know where I need to grow in order to do that.

And maybe that's the point of CPE - to be stretched in area we never expected. I certainly hope I am up for the challenge.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

If you’re loved by someone, You’re never rejected, Decide what to be and go be it



Usually you will see my name on a Monday, but I have been working on this blog a little bit longer because it has video and a complicated day of events. So Friday was a non stop day, but it has three major points to it. First, I went to scan a document at Staples. The minute I stepped out of the car, I realized something was missing, OH NO!!! Keys in car, but I have AAA and a short drive became a couple hour endeavor pretty quick. This made me rush back because there was an on campus viewing of the Academy Award winning documentary Inside Job, which chronicles the bank failures in America and dangers that exist in our economy. This was something that I wanted to see even before it won awards and I barely was able to make it back from my keys incident, but I showed up just as they were starting the movie...oh yeah there was chocolate cake there. Now these events put together created stress and sadness, because in the South side of Chicago we have a real issue with banks and foreclosures and all the problems presented in the documentary. They represent to me, the need for change in our systems that seem to oppress rather than support. Now if the day ends there, yikes, pretty bad day, but as the movie ends, it's only 3 PM. What else will I do with my day???

THE AVETT BROTHERS!!! A bluegrass band that rocked my world a little less than a year ago and lives in my ipod because of it and there name is always on my lips as one of my top bands to listen to and now as I write this, top bands to see. Fellow seminarian Ben Adams (left) and myself (right) went North on the bus and the train past Wrigley Field. So they turned my frown upside down, the end??? No way, lyrics...I live for em, and after watching this band rock my face off I had to debrief. The long "L" (public train) ride home on the Red line gave me time to think. In one of their songs, Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise they present an idea that maybe there is hope out there...
"When nothing is owed or deserved or expected And your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected Decide what to be and go be it"

And this is the refrain...
"There was a dream and one day I could see it Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it And there was a kid with a head full of doubt So I’ll scream til I die and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out"

Great lyrics that seemed to speak to my documentary about a day when the world is not owned by economics, but rather the love of God, and that the only way is to realize we can never be rejected, not here at seminary or anywhere we travel, because we have the love of God. So go and do!

Favorite song hands down comes from Scott Avett about what would happen if he was murdered in the city, but what he realizes throughout the song is that Love is all that matters, not revenge or who's better, just love. Find the video on YouTube, Avett Brothers "If I get murdered in the city,' listen to the lyrics, but for all those romantics out there... the best line out there...

"Always remember, there is nothing worth sharing Like the love that let us share our name"

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Endurance


"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness"

40:16

The question over decades has always been “Where were you when?” and unfortunately associated with ominous events such as space shuttle crashes for NASA, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina or even humorous events such as the Chicago Blizzard from February of this year. 8:00 am on a Saturday chilly autumn morning found me linked arm in arm with fellow seminarians as we walked along Congress to Balbo for the annual AIDS Run/Walk 5 and 10K. Music was pouring out from tents and a sweeping sea of red met my gaze as we came over the bridge.
                                                                                    
In my former years during high school and college, for about 5 years total I was involved in track and field teams. Apparently because of my leg length, my track coaches always thought it to be hilarious that I run the 2 mile and I would reluctantly agreed. Although my time was decent, I often found it to be rather boring because it involved running around an indoor or outdoor track.  

As we continue this spiritual journey, we struggle with what it means or how to balance our academic life and pressures and putting our ministry into motion; actually bursting the safety bubble of campus life and making a difference in any way, shape or form. At the same time, the beauty of the life that flows through us, powered by the Holy Spirit can only be strengthen by connection again with Creation which is what I found myself doing Saturday morning. Yet I had not run in years and found myself perplexed as I stared at the blue numbered tag marked RUNNER. Oh My. 

Caught up in that same sea of bold red as people stretched and prepared my soul leapt as well, excited to be a part of something bigger and as I began my run flanking marathon veterans and trainees, the muscles in my legs questioning my sanity and keeping pace so I would stay warm,  I thought of those who suffered in hospitals and clinics, taking thousands and thousands of dollars worth of medicines just to keep them alive and those who sit by bedsides, holding hands, singing, praying, hoping. 

40:16. This time was an achievement for me running my first 5K. Through the winding, bumpy roads flanked by the scenic beauty of the lakefront reminded me of my own spiritual journey; even rough at times, flowing smoothly at time I am thankful for the experience and when I faltered, I was reminded of the journey of those afflicted with AIDS-and continued on.

God's Peace.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Overcoming Restrictions

I’m doing what’s called a restricted internship. Meaning that, unlike most interns who have moved all over the country and world for the year, I’ve elected to stay in the Chicago area. My wife is in her third year of law school at DePaul University, and so moving away for the year was out of the question. So, we’re still living in our apartment at LSTC, which is nice because the seminary does its best to keep housing costs low, and it’s centrally located for both Andrea and me.

As I prepared for the beginning of internship, and as I helped my classmates load up and move out for theirs, I started weighing the pros and cons to restricting my internship to Chicago. It probably wasn’t the wisest thing to do, but as I sent my friends off to such adventurous places as Bradenton Florida, Vancouver Washington, and Tblisi Georgia (the country, not the state), I was feeling a little bummed that we were staying behind to endure yet another snowy Chicago winter.

Six weeks into my internship, I’m realizing that the biggest downside to restricting is exactly what I expected it to be: the commute. Now, don’t get me wrong; I love a good trip in the car, especially with the amount of quality time I’ve been spending with NPR lately. The drive isn’t the issue – the distance is. When there’s a night meeting, I have to stay through the evening. If I were to be at home and there was an emergency requiring me to get to the church as fast as I could, it would take me 45 minutes to get there. And, since I spend my evenings and days off at home, it’s been difficult to get integrated with the wider community of Palos Heights.

In truth, I feel most definitely restricted.

But, I’m finding ways to overcome these restrictions. Palos Heights is a wonderful community with lots of small businesses owned by local residents, and so I have started my integration into the community simply by supporting them. There’s a wonderful little deli which I get my dinner from whenever I have to stay through the evening, a semi-famous Chicago-style Italian Beef restaurant that’s great for lunch, and a public coffee-shop at Trinity Christian College that I've been to a few times to work on my sermons. I’ve started working out at a local gym, doing my dry-cleaning, and getting my oil changed in Palos Heights instead of in Hyde Park, not only because it’s easier, but also because these little interactions help to make Palos Heights feel a little more like home for me this year. And, I hope these interactions help the people of Palos Heights feel that I am invested in this community.

I don’t live in a vicarage next to the church, and the great distance between my home and the community I serve could make it easy for me to feel like an outsider. Thankfully, I am learning the steps it takes to integrate myself into a community even when I don’t live there. And, though I’m not in an exotic, new place, I’m still learning to be a part of a community I knew nothing about before now, which I feel is an integral part to the internship year.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Radiators

There are certain "fun house" elements inherent in living in the housing at LSTC. Part of the fun is the age of the buildings themselves, rumored to have been the housing for the workers at the World's Fair. There are certain "sticky" doors that have multiple layers of white paint. There are floors with a definite tilt to them. This week's adventure: radiators turning on.

It's that awkward time of year before it is really cold but when fall weather is cool enough to find you curling up in a fetal ball underneath layers of blankets. Okay, maybe that's just me and my love of being under heaps of covers...

Regardless, fall is in the air. I'm finally getting into the rhythm of the semester and checking things off my endless to do lists. I've stocked up on groceries and toilet paper and ink cartridges. My roommates and I finally got internet, put up pictures on the walls, and rolled out the rug in our front room. They've also figured out my great dislike of doing dishes and my love of dancing around the place.

With the humm and buzz of the radiator coming on and warming us up, this place is finally feeling like home again. Aptly, I am curled up in a ball under my covers as I type this. LSTC housing may not be perfect but it makes a darn good place to call home.