Saturday, December 31, 2011

Finding Home

What else do you do on New Year's Eve but think about the past year? (Rhetorical question. I don't want to know just what you were up to until 2AM...)

A year ago, I was Skyping with friends on internship in various time zones. The eastern time zone struck news years and it was only 10PM for me. Again, I got through a second dropping of the new years ball with a friend in the central time zone. And finally, I made it to midnight Mountain time. By that point, I had already curled up in bed to read a book. I clicked on my phone around 11:58, waiting for it to tick to midnight. Then I smiled. And I shut off my light and went to sleep.

This year, I'm driving from one home to another, neither of which are in Montana or the mountain time zone! What a year it has been. I just took my car in for his 100,000 mile check up. The man taking care of me at the dealership looked at my book of past maintenance and commented on all the places I had been. Yes. Yes, I have been many places.

And yet, I find that this evening, I am content to be with myself. Perhaps dragging myself (and Henry) around the country has caused me to find contentment in many places, even within me.

So today I give thanks for the many homes I've known and the God who came to earth to make a home with us.

[photo =]

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Guitar Gift-Part 1

This Christmastime, I gave away the first guitar I ever tried to play as a donation to a church down the street. I had to clean and re-string the instrument first though. The strings were over 15 years old!
Cleaning a dusty instrument is an intimate process to me, especially if you own it. It’s like you’re discovering a whole new identity hidden under the dust and crap that has accumulated. I began by removing the strings and saw that it was clearly time for these strings to go. As I cleaned and polished the wood I remembered the first few times I picked it up to try tuning it or playing a little tune that I wanted to know. I remember my fingers making their way clumsily from fret to fret struggling to find a G or a C or even the melody to “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. This guitar deserved better treatment for the lack of talent that had painstakingly played it many years ago.
As I diligently tied each nylon string onto the guitar, I thought about the potential that this guitar may have for someone else. There could be joy, anger, sadness, love, and creativity that someone else might pour into the very strings that I am laying in. When I had finished placing all six strings I began tuning it correctly for the first time in years. New strings always have a process to adjust and get comfortable onto a guitar. They are not used to be stretched out so far and so they need some attention to help them ease into a new transition in their coiled existence. I gave them the attention they needed for three days. Tuning and playing songs that I knew from a classical rendition of “To Zanarkand” to a fun “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”.
After giving the guitar the attention it deserved from me, I knew it was time to pass it along. I had mixed feelings about leaving that instrument, my first one, in the hands of the kind pastor at St. James Lutheran Church, because I had taken the care to make it whole again and revive it. I knew that someday it would make someone very happy or at least give them a chance to have some fun.
I received many great gifts this season, but the best one by far was in the picture and the beginning of this post. This is the guitar that I cleaned in the hands of someone who was not able to afford a musical instrument. I watched as he played “Away in a Manger” for the first time and walked out with the guitar. I wanted to run after him and tell him all of the history and wonders that I discovered, but then I decided that making one’s own history and discovering the potency of the memories found in the guitar is more worthwhile for his musical experience.
There’s a lot more that I could say, but alas I have greatly exceeded my word limit already by quite a bit. Perhaps next week I will reflect on this subject some more.
Until Next Friday!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Truly Happy Birthday

Four years ago today one of the most amazing people God ever created came into my life - it was the day my niece Phoebe was born.

Being an aunt is my greatest job, I'm sure only to be topped (hopefully) by one day being able to mother a child of my own. My niece and nephew are some of the clearest beacons of truth that I have seen in this world. There is no happiness as pure as the happiness of child. There is no quest for knowledge like that of an inquisitive child exploring the world for a first time. There are no hugs as heartwarming then snuggling up with a child as they fall asleep in your arms.

I'll never forget that night waiting at Lakewood Hospital in Ohio, sitting with my dad outside in the waiting room as my mother and brother-in-law stayed with my sister as she struggled through a challenging labor. I remember everything about how that night turned into day, and ultimately afternoon - from the book I read, to the letter I wrote a future-Phoebe, to the person who sold me one-too-many cups of coffee. But what I remember most of all was that first moment she was placed within my arms, her little curled fists poking out of her blanket, the squished post-delivery look on her face. It was at that moment that I fully understood what God's unconditional love for us was like, because I knew then that I would never stop loving this beautiful miracle that laid within my arms.

For many people Christmastime is about celebrating the joy that comes from recognizing that God loves our humanity so much as to live in human form. While I celebrate that joy, for me the added reason to celebrate the season is in thanksgiving that God continues to love us so much as to bless us with the joy of rediscovering our humanity through the lives of our children, and our children's children, and the children of our loved ones.

I am so grateful that my God has allowed me the blessing to have a loving relationship with my niece and nephew. Their presence in my life has been a gift greater then I ever could have imagined, and with every lit candle on the cake I rejoice that when I sing "Happy Birthday" to them, I am also celebrating that their birthdays are happy days for me, too.

(Happy Birthday, Phoebe. Much love - Aunt Tina)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Twilight fading, a new dawn approaches...

Ushering in a new beginning

What beheld my gaze was the emptiness of the landscape
Swathed in naked cotton
The earth steady within my grasp
Soaring above my spirit, a lone bird, trailing eternal light blazed across
From out of the sands quiet steps were others, a thousand of my twins
Confusion, questioning with a sweep of the winds laid the paths before
Steady steps as the horizon beckoned
Voices lifted in rhythm, calling
And the breezes carry the response home
Purposely my pace matches another
A hand, gesture, sign of peace in whispers
“We had been lost, where the Creator leads we do not know.”
The smile that graces these feature only speaks the outcome-where our heart will sing.
Shadows of comfort stretch across the clouds in that distance we can not reach
In order to be, sitting under the Tree we must travel
Allowing the Mysteries of the Holy Spirit to guide us.

The velvet curtain slowly caresses the emptiness of the air as it flutters to earth; a year begins to bow before Creation as it fades into the recesses of our memories. Soon the faint strains of violins and the rhythm of percussion shall catch the attention of our souls bringing our gaze center stage as another year appears to delight, surprise, astound and confuse us. 

Although part of me misses the beauty of Winter, it is the steady beat of rain that has welcomed me to another dawn and the morning is reflective. People will start to compile New Year's Resolutions among their New Year Eve's celebrations; my own is rather simple. To continue to allow the Holy Spirit to work within me, to continue along this path that God has set before us-this vocational journey called Seminary. To remain prayerful and supportive to those who walk alongside and with me, from those within my Treehouse, those nestled in the valleys of my camp, those whom God has connected by blood and those whom God has connected as brothers and sisters in this faith journey, in Christ.

Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year to you all,

God's Peace.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

White? Christmas

I’ve never dreamed of a white Christmas. I grew up in southern California; my preferred Christmas weather is 75 and sunny. I sang the song, sure, but I sang it the way one sings “Puff the Magic Dragon.” I sang it because it was fun, not because I believed it was real. Some people are amazed at my disregard for the magic of snow on Christmas. They tell me I must just not understand, having never experienced it before. Last year in Syracuse, I did finally have my first white Christmas; I found the whole thing over-rated. Snow is cold and hard to shovel no matter what day it is. The first Christmas was likely not white either, Bethlehem averages in the 50s this time of year.

While songs about snow and sleigh rides never have made sense to me, I still love them. I love them because they remind me of the earthiness of this holiday. Christmas isn’t really about weather, but about the miracle of a God who became flesh and came down to muck through this world of snow and heat. So Merry Christmas to you, whether your holiday dreams include sledding or surfing. As for me, I’m going hiking.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Trees and Things

"Christmas Eve will find me where the love light gleams."

Most years I grow weary of close minded people griping about X-Mas, Happy Holidays, and so on. This year, however, there's been a strong response about Christ being in the midst of these.

My favorite, has been about Christmas trees. My atheist or agnostic friends are quick to point out to me that Christmas trees are not Christian. I enjoy the moment when they are shocked at my agreeing with them. Christmas trees were not present at the birth of Christ (nor were whales, octopi, or lobsters, but I love that scene in Love, Actually). And I'm okay with it. And I'd cry if there were no tree up in my mom's house this Christmas.

Why the tie? What's the point of putting up a tree, more capable it would seem of celebrating winter solstice than Christ?

For me, it has to do with that line in "I'll be home for Christmas" and a God who promises to shine in our darkness. Last year, all alone in Montana, I had a tiny little tree with one strand of lights. It didn't feel like home. The one time I felt like I was home was sitting in the church at night, with only the grand Christmas tree lit up. That glow, that "love-light" is Emmanuel, God with us. That glow is home. That glow is love.

Besides, Christ hung on a tree for us. That speaks some profound love that no darkness can conquer.

(Photo by Eric Renshaw. Taken at Opryland Hotel, where I go every year to see this tree and all the decor.)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Celebrating Christ, not Commercials

Christmastime can be hard to watch. I don’t mean only the panicked looks on people’s faces as they might worry if they’ve gotten everything on their lists, even after checking it twice, but one needs only to turn on the television to see that Christmas can be hard to watch. If you are not watching the news filled with stories of inter-party politics within the GOP and tales of a recently escaped 5 time sex offender you will still find commercials doing what they do best, commercializing.
Christmas has become a holiday of commerce stretching from Black Friday to the day the last Christmas gift gets returned. Commercials are filled with heart-warming and joyful reasons not to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace or the unlikely Son of God, but to shop at their stores and get marvelous discounts. Rather than giving and receiving out of joy for those around you, Christmastime looks more like an obligation. An exchange of material symbols of the material culture instead of the affection in our hearts.
Perhaps in light of the economic situation of many Americans (48% at or under the poverty line currently) it is best to remember the conditions of the event which we as Christians celebrate. We celebrate a child being born to an unwed teenage girl in a place where it smelled bad and was probably very unsanitary. We celebrate the coming of God into the world at an unlikely place at an unlikely time. We celebrate that God did not dwell with us out of obligation, but out of affection, even undeserved affection (gotta make sure there’s a little Lutheran in here!).
Christmastime has been tough for me to watch as people stress to make sure that everyone buys the things they need to make a perfect holiday when really the most important gifts of Christmas can be found beyond the idea of the perfect Christmas in a place where love of neighbor and God meet with joyous celebration of the perfection in the imperfection.
Have a very merry Christmas! And please pass it along to your loved ones.
Until Next Friday!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Vantage Point

One of the great things about being back in my hometown of Cleveland for the holidays is that I can catch up with the people that I love.

A few days ago, for instance, my mother and I got dinner with my grandfather. Now that I'm a bit older, I'm starting to realize that the patriarch in my minds eye is only a fraction of the person my grandfather is. Over dinner he shared some stories about his career. Since he's been retired since I was just a few years old, it's weird to think about him working a job that changed the landscape of our community.

That dinner made his life suddenly more complex to me, and when we were driving home, my mother agreed what a lovely disconcerting feeling it is to see that a person is more then just their connection to you. She mentioned that with me and my sister, she looks at our education and career and lives as an extension of her own life since we are her kids. Even more then being her children, though, we are also our own person with our own lives.

I think this recognition is a little challenging to wrap our head around. We really only know how to experience life from our own vantage point. For instance, I found out last night that a friend who has been living as an HIV positive patient for as long as I've known him now has full-blown AIDS. I keep thinking, what can I do to support him? What will it be like for me if I lose him? How will my living in Chicago affect how I can care for him as he begins treating his condition differently? I keep seeing the Tina-centered connections, and while those connections are real and valid, at the same time a whole other slew of things is going on that have nothing to do with me but everything to do with him. My friend is living a life that affects me be doesn't include me, and while his condition is a part of my life, it is still a very separate thing that ultimately disconnected from me. Our experience of AIDS can be in tandem together, but it will never be equal.

Perhaps that's why the gift of Christ's humanity is such a hard thing for us to wrap our head around. Our Triune God came into human form so that he could not only be an extension of our humanity, like I am an extension of my mother, but so that he could also be a part of our humanity. Christ lives fully and equally in every part of our human experience, and will be completely with me and completely with my friend as we struggle with this new diagnosis of AIDS.

We are so blessed to be in community with each other, to be connected as extensions of each others lives, impacting and shaping one another as we progress together towards our independent futures. But we are far more blessed to have a God who loves us so much to live as human, truly living the life of our vantage point.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The elusive post liturgical nap

Relaxation? What's that?

It's your friendly neighborhood Gypsy seminarian invading Wednesday evening this week.

As I had eluded a couple of posts prior, the semester has wound down and some were ecstatic  that their siesta would last several weeks whether they were off on a J-Term excursion or digging a comfortable hole within their family's abode, vegetating on Netflix and endless home cooked meals. 

Many of my fellow seminarians and friends know of the respite and contentment that I am blessed to have here within the hustle and chaos of the city. My Treehouse, is the wonderful, classic and rustic charming Hyde Park apartment surrounded literally by several huge trees and as Advent gracefully swept down the crystal catwalk, draped in  shards of blue taking center stage, I was looking forward to wrapping my own self around the hearth; watching the beauty of Winter slowly cascade by my windows.

And yet, this vocational journey is not a sightseeing one; there is a rhythm reverberating from the bareness of my feet. My soul is forever bonded to the heartbeat of heaven, and every turn that is revealed to my gaze no matter how small the accomplishment or exciting the miracle or wondrous the blessing I am not weary, and I am driven further on. 

Today I had the humble privilege of preaching during morning and evening prayer services at my MIC site. Although nervous because this was my inaugural time in the pulpit, My Creator's hands were upon the entire day, holding me close, telling me that it was alright not to be perfect because He promises to never leave us, nor forsake us. It was reflected back into my eyes through the smiles of the congregation, the presence of my family and the surprise visitors of my camp director's sister and of my dearest friend from college whose mother is a member of my MIC church. Today in between times we took my camp director's sister on a whirlwind tour of downtown Chicago.

Which means I did not get a nap in.

Dawn has risen once more, and the hush still settles as fog drifting over my bare feet. Tomorrow I will allow my steps to dig into the earth once more, racing towards that elusive creature that many a pastor has quoted saying "After you preach, you will be tired and will want a nap."

Blessed Advent, Merry Christmas and God's Peace.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Writings from a freezing hostel on an iPhone!!!

laying under the covers, I write to you from Jordan in the capital city Amman. I arrived by bus earlier today by a tiny bus from South Jordan. I had been camping in the desert and visited Petra. why Jordan? And the answer is LSTC. I am taking a class with my professors Esther Menn and Barbara Rossing that starts in January, but hoping to see a little more of the middle East, I headed out early. Tomorrow is my last full day in Jordan, because I go to Israel for Christmas! It's been eye opening even for the short time being exposed to a big Muslim City. So many mosques around and the call to prayer coming o er the speakers throughout the day. Reminds of the work we do at LSTC for peace and understanding within the relationships of Christianity and Islam. This trip is proving to be eye opening and inspiring. it also has study since I have a class I have lugged 6 books and information for a paper here. Not all vacation for this student, gotta start studying.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Seminary: an Advent Time of Life

There are times when I look at my life and wonder, how did I get here?

Like tonight - I just spent the past two hours working on order of worship information for Christmas day and New Years weekend. If you would have told me even six months ago that I would plan a worship service around Christ's circumcision over planning one about the sacredness of a name, I would have laughed. Yet here I am, scouring through the hymnal trying to find a circumcision-appropriate tune while my parents watch re-runs of the Mentalist.

Last week was equally abstract. A group of us gathered together in an apartment to say goodbye to a fellow student who was returning to her home in Denmark. We ended up singing Christmas carols (in harmony no less!) for several hours, one even in Danish. Prior to seminary, I never experienced caroling that happened outside a youth-group visit to a nursing home.

These moments are not things I ever thought I'd experience in my life, mostly because seminary is nothing like I had anticipated. I come from a very blue collar town, where most people have been struggling to make ends meet after the steel mill closed a few years back and the car factory underwent layoffs. I had no context to envision a life at a divinity school in Chicago. Now that I'm back home for the holidays in a city of multiple part-time jobs and Auntie Annie's Pretzels, I realize that an average American town isn't the normal I expected it to be, either.

Being a seminary student is like living in a perpetual state of Advent. The transition between our current state into our future is wonderful, beautiful, and a bit scary. It's a balance between the assumed normalcy of our past and the anticipation of our future. It's a balance between television reruns and Revised Common Lectionaries. And much like the season of Advent, we don't really know how it's all going to play out.

As much as I wonder how I got here to this moment in my life, I'm really glad I made this journey. I used to be a person who was so absorbed with the planning that I couldn't smell the roses. I needed to know the next step so badly that it prevented me from being engaged with people in the sacredness of the moment. Before seminary, I never would have spent an evening singing carols because I would have spent that time working. I never would have thought about picking the harder passage to study because I would have been too scared to take the risk.

Tonight I give thanks for the Advent times of our lives. As I wonder how I got here, I'll continue to praise our God who is teaching me that not knowing all the answers can be a more fulfilling way to live.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Trains, Towers, and Time to Play!

There are a series of rules in the movie Zombieland that are essential for survival in a post-zombie dominated world. There are some very important rules like buckle up as well as some practical ones like double tap or be careful in the bathrooms. There is one rule that I think applies particularly well to life and does not get expressed often enough.
Rule number 32 - enjoy the little things.
So far while I have been home I have played violin, guitar, find the man, build a tower, and play with the toy train. My sister and her family are here for this weekend and I get to do all of these things with my wonderful niece. In the midst of my preparation for my first sermon, these instances are a major relief. I now have a great excuse to relive the joys of playing with toys and be a two year old again. I have had so much fun playing these games that do not challenge my intellect or vex my religious or political views. I feel very lucky every time Mr. Snowman appears to play “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” on his computerized and looped saxophone recording.
These little things (literally and figuratively) have made it easier to be working on the various projects I have created for myself while I am home. It is a great reminder of the new life and joy we find in Christ. Yes, I am willing to compare the experience of hanging out with my two-year old niece to a resurrection experience. Thanks to the little snippets of playtime I feel relatively rejuvenated, except of course for the sleep I don’t get in the mornings currently, but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make at this point.
I am looking forward to heading back to LSTC for a J-Term, but for now I’m looking forward to more playtime. J
Until Next Friday!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Internship Equivalent of Finals Week

While the rest of my fellow bloggers are winding down and taking a much-deserved break at the end of a long semester, my life is winding up. It never ceases to amaze me just how busy a church can get during this time of year - the Christmas concert (along with all the rehearsals), the Children's pageant, three Christmas Eve services, one Christmas day service (in which I'm preaching), and all the festivities throughout currently stand between me and a nice vacation on the 26th. Of course, I still have to decorate our apartment, wrap presents, and send out cards, too. This is most definitely the busiest I've been since beginning my internship.

This guy will look much more festive after tonight's decorating party.

With all of this going on, it's important to find a moment to breathe and relax. But it's even more important to look around and take all the festivities in. I am, after all, here to learn. So, I hope that this next week will not only be fulfilling spiritually, but also educationally. It's going to be a busy week, but I have a feeling I'm going to learn a lot from it. And, when I can't find time to breathe and relax, I remind myself that at least I don't have to study for a final or write a 15-page paper! Despite how worn-out I may get this week, I can at least have that assurance.

I'll have more to share next week. Until then, rest easy, keep awake, and enjoy the holidays.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Moving Through the Journey

There is a quiet hush that falls as deeply as the misty rain that confounds our childlike spirits as we look to the holidays with anticipation and frustration. The chaos of a sea of papers descending on our heads seems never ending while we crawl in earnest towards the end of the tunnel, stopping only for a moment to lift a glass or two to celebrate with our fellow brothers and sisters who travel this road.

As quickly as the madness erupted, it soothes into streams fanning out into a mass exodus away from the Seminary. Finals and projects have consumed our every waking moment up into this moment as the year comes to a close. The conversations have drifted around to points of interest: Israel, Seattle, Nebraska, Tennessee, France, California and even a little town in the midst of Illinois.

The blogger and her camp family

What strikes me as interesting is that many of us who have answered God's call, our call stories are wrapped in our experiences in Creation-which have happened deep in the wilderness of camp. As outdoor ministries continue to strive to have a stronger voice in the wider Church, no matter where I roam throughout Creation my camp always has a special place within my soul and the people who embraced me as one of there own.

It is in this wilderness, where Creation stands bare, natural we too understand how our souls are opened to the love and mercy of God and even when we feel deemed not beautiful to stand out and be noticed, Our Creator showers fragile magnificence fueling the fierceness within of who He wants us to be.

As we travel towards the wonder of Christ's birth in this Advent season, many will experience newness of life, onto that pathway of serenity. For me, to feel the roughness of gravel under my feet, my gaze weaving through bare branches over my valley-and to have the place where God spoke, and still whispers to me so close I am truly at peace.

May your travels during this Advent speak life into your being, alighting it with the Holy Spirit and God's infallible Love.

Blessed Advent. God's Peace.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Greek is good vs. Greek is gone

While many of my other classmates are celebrating the “end” of their Greek class this semester, I hear the familiar phrase, “I’ll never have to do that again”. Unfortunately, I will have to be the bearer of bad news (the κακηγγελιον if you will). Greek doesn't end yet.
In our Life and Letters of Paul class, we were tasked each week to translate about ten verses or so from the letter we were examining on that day. In the “Book of Revelation” class that I sat in on when I visited, they began the session by translating a part of the book of Revelation used in The Messiah. I have a hunch that Jesus and the Gospels will call for Greek translation as well.
I have some good news too (or ευαγγελιον, for that matter); it does get easier. The more one works with the language the better they will get at it, especially if it’s classical Greek. It does begin overwhelmingly in a one semester course, but now there are only a few Greek surprises that will come our way. We can work with Greek now and not even for a grade! It can be for fun! (Hah, Greek for fun…guess that gives away that I would consider myself a Greek geek huh?)
Learning the intricacies of the Greek language can provide meaningful insight on several passages of the Bible. Even the different ways to translate a genitive (a possessive or distinctive form of a noun) can have a significant impact on how to communicate in faith languages. Consider, for example, the translation often rendered in Paul’s letter’s “the faith in Jesus Christ” which can be legitimately rendered “the faith of Jesus Christ”. This little change suddenly affects our understanding of Paul’s connection between "salvation" and Christology in a way that should be addressed and identified.
In the end, Greek can be one of the most valuable tools for anybody wrestling with the Bible. It has rough patches and might be very frustrating a lot of times, but I can’t help but urge those discouraged by Greek to not fret or worry, it will get better and I’m sure there will be Greek geeks like me to help if necessary!
Whether Greek is good or Greek is gone, congratulations are in order for my classmates who have conquered their semester of Greek! Way to go and ευχαριστεω υμων…I hope I got that right, I’m not too good at formulating a Greek sentence. Something to work on I suppose J
Until next Friday!

P is for Pastor

Today I completed my last test for what will undoubtedly be one of the hardest classes for me at seminary - Greek.

I am not a language person. I attempted four different languages in college, and only fulfilled the credit because I had a sympathetic professor who saw how I struggled and let me do a sociological study about American Sign Language and the Cleveland community. Needless to say, I approached Greek with an intense sense of trepidation, and soon found that Greek was far harder than anything I had ever tried to learn to begin with.

This entire semester has been a struggle. I purchased iPad apps to learn vocab. I hired a friend to tutor me, doing her laundry in lieu of payment. I made late night phone calls to people who love Greek and spent hours writing and re-writing paradigms. I have never worked so hard at something so abstract to me in my entire life. It all boiled down to this one test, and I look forward to knowing the test score to see exactly how well that work paid off.

There is a saying, "P is for Pastor." We need to pass the class so we can transition from talking about ministry to working in ministry. It's not to make light of our work here, educating ourselves to the best of our ability is our duty as church leaders, but it helps to keep that education in perspective.

A seminary education covers a wide breadth of knowledge. Not only do we learn practical stuff like how to preside over communion and what are appropriate words to say to someone who is in the hospital, but we also learn highly academic things like Biblical Greek and Systematic Theology. Covering such a wide gauntlet of options it is unlikely that each course is going to celebrate our strengths - sometimes they are going to show us our weakness.

But that is the beauty of being a part of the body of Christ. I will never be a person who could translate a passage from Luke in the blink of an eye. It will take me hours to do what could take a fellow classmate mere moments. That being said, I'm really good at helping a committee discern a workable budget, and I am definitely the person who develops a strong volunteer ministry. My natural skill sets may not be in translating the language of the saints, but I am blessed to be in a community with people where such talents are their skill sets. Together, as a community we do the work of God's kingdom.

Maybe the "P is for Pastor" doesn't have anything to do with passing. Maybe it has everything to do with recognizing we are part of a body greater than ourselves.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Freed In Christ

Original Poetry by the Gypsy Woman. Picture by R. Pitts

As the semester begins to come to a crashing halt and chaos ensues in many of our lives at this moment, a surprise was breathed into life during one of my Preaching labs. Many of my classmates, peers and friends have been introduced to the poetic side of me, as I may have mentioned previous and expected to hear the Gospel authentically through my words and reflected in my eyes. The one thing that I hope people understand is that Seminary is not a place to be stripped of who you are, but to celebrate whom Our Creator has called you to be. Therefore, from my Gypsy soul to yours...

What does it mean to be Free?
How does your soul sing when washed with living waters
Drowned to the darkness and despair of an empty life
Reborn in the endless melody of a new Son
Does the beat within bring your steps to the openness of Creation?
Standing in the four winds, hearing the rhythm and the love of ancestors before you
Solitude of the valley bringing you to your knees?
Whispers that allow the tears to flow?
Does the music intertwined with the softness of your hands
Pulling, twisting, reaching for that little sprout, little seed?
Bringing you to the Cross
Infusing your being, burning within the blood
Does the essence knowing that the Creator touches your spirit
That Christ walks with you
In bondage you are freed
By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone? 

Blessed Advent season. God's Peace.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Saint Nick and Social Justice

As I've become acclimated to the culture and customs of the Lutheran church (Becoming a Lutheran was my college rebellion - Daring, I know), I have learned about many traditions and stories I had never encountered before. One of these is the celebration of St. Nick's Day on December 6th, which just so happens to be today. The first time I ever heard about the traditions surrounding this day was when a friend of mine gave me a small stocking stuffed with candy during finals week in our freshman year of college. I had no idea that some cultures give stockings of candy on this day in lieu of, or in addition to, a stocking on Christmas Day. And, I had no idea that a tradition like this was centered not on Santa Claus, but on the historical Saint Nicholas.

Of course, I knew that St. Nick was a Bishop from Europe who secretly gave presents to children and helped children in need, but that was all I knew about him historically. It wasn't until a year ago today, when a professor at LSTC gave a sermon on the life and work of this legendary character that I began to realize just what, exactly, the story was all about.

Saint Nicholas was a slight bishop from Myra who lived during the 4th century and probably attended Christianity's very first ecumenical council in Nicea in 325AD. But, he is best known for the gifts he gave to a poor family in danger of losing everything. In the culture of Myra, women could not get married without giving a dowry, a large sum of money, to the groom, and this particular family had three sisters. Because the three sisters were so poor, they could not afford to get married, making them vulnerable to being sold into slavery or forced into prostitution. Nicholas save the family from that threat by generously providing dowry money for all three impoverished sisters. This was no simple gift; this was an act that saved three women from an almost certain life of slavery or prostitution. This was an act of love; this was social justice done in the name of God.

Today, women all over the world are still in need of people like St. Nicholas to free them from oppression and poverty. Charities and organization all over the world are working to end human trafficking, forced prostitution, and poverty. One of the many ways we can help is by donating to organizations like Heifer International or Lutheran World Relief, which provide resources for female farmers (who make up 80% of the world's farmers), undereducated women, and artisans to create sustainable, life-giving small businesses which can pull them out of their poverty. This kind of gift is one that can literally bring peace to the world.

Wouldn't it be amazing if, along with the candy we give our friends and children on St. Nick's Day, we would give to those in need and teach others, including our children, to do the same? To me, this is the legacy of Saint Nicholas, and it is what Jesus Christ has called us all to do.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Don't Stop! Won't Stop!

The famous all-niter, it seems to come up once a year, when the perfect storm of lots do and little time collide. The list was getting too long of extra little things that needed to be done. Now they can be daunting, but the nice part is that having people around you doing it too, makes it a festivity. An experience that does not give woe to procrastination or misunderstood assignments that need redoing, but rather as the facebook and google chat lists get smaller, there remain a few names. And as those names disappear, others reappear, and you chat quick; an encouraging word or a website that will give a chuckle. Maybe you talk about getting McDonald's, but decide not to because just talking about it is enough calories to make you think twice. So then you go back to work. Moving from the table to the couch and back, discussing with your roommate how if only your professor could see the hour long talk you just had about the assignment, they would surely give you an A on that alone. Discussing how if the room was bugged no one would know what to make of your senseless singing and beat boxing as you worked on papers. I have to say I love the all-niter and all the wonder that goes into the evening. I feel quite accomplished and ready to take on the day with all my smaller list items finally out of the way, I can focus on the big fish preaching finals, reciting Hebrew, and papers about the Apostle Paul! And the Biggest Fish of All... Ugly Sweater Party!

Saturday, December 3, 2011


If a picture is worth a thousand words...

Well, then this one says quite a lot all on it's own. My best friend, Kevin, and I hosted a Viking party last night to celebrate our adopted Scandinavian heritage. That's what happens when you go on internship to Dayton, Iowa and Billings, MT - you learn about lefse and lutefisk and all things Scandinavian. So I made Lefse and other delightful treats were brought by friends. Kevin even purchased pickled herring for us (not as bad as I would have thought, actually!). And we even had mead.

We were in a celebratory nature anyway given that the seniors had just completed their RLP's and Forms for assignment! So here's to some Lefse... here's to our future as pastors... Skol!!

Friday, December 2, 2011

For a long time I have wanted to learn how to play the violin. I have thought it to be a sophisticated instrument with a great sound that can be used in a wide variety of music. Now I finally have that opportunity! I was casually mentioning my desire to learn how to play the violin when one of my other classmates mentioned that she had a violin and was looking to get rid of it…for free! I couldn’t believe it! I would have to wait until after Thanksgiving, but I could totally do that. I got it this week and so far I have learned (kind of….I still suck) the melody line for Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, The Final Countdown, Lux Aeterna (sp?), and a couple of other little jingles. It’s sooooooo much fun! And I have one very wonderful classmate to thank for opening up my world to play a new style of music!
Then again, here’s another plug for what makes LSTC wonderful to me. I have already talked about how welcome I have felt by other students here, but it doesn’t end at the welcome. This violin is one gesture of acceptance that I have encountered this week as I have finished up some of the semester. I want to say thank you to the middler who asked about my CPE application and if I wanted any help or advice. I want to say thank you to the classmate who said they enjoy reading these things that I write. I want to say thank you to the dude who shouts “Tiiiiiiger” whenever I come around. All of these little things are not little to me, nor are they just “things”. They are wonderful signs of the transition that I am still making into the world of LSTC.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Forgiveness Policy

I'm in the midst of a war. A couple months back I ordered a Halloween costume for my three-year-old niece. Halloween has always been our special day - for the past several years we attended a holiday party at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens called Boo-tanical Bash. Now living in Chicago, I wasn't able to maintain that tradition, so I bought her costume instead.

Or so I thought. Apparently when my sister opened the box from a highly frequented retailer (it's logo may or may not look like a bullseye), instead of a toddler-sized princess dress inside, she found an adult male Abe Lincoln costume. I have been trying to get refunded for this costume for six weeks now. They are refusing to give me a credit in any other form then a gift certificate to their online store. I don't want a gift certificate to their online store, because it was the error of the online store that put me in this predicament to begin with. Time and time again, this retailer has told me they would mail me a refund, and yet, every email confirming the return is for a certificate for their online store.

Each time I call, I am told they are sorry. They are continually sorry for making the same mistake over and over again. The last time I spoke with them I said, "You keep telling me you're sorry, but you're not doing anything to fix this. Prove to me your sorry by getting it right." Well, wouldn't you know, today I got an email about my refund - an online gift certificate.

While I'm feuding with this company, I can't help but point out the irony that this situation is to my life's calling to be a pastor. As Christians, we are constantly making the same error over and over again. But God never asks us to prove that we're sorry by forcing us to get it right. He just forgives.

A policy like that would never fully work in the real world. People are eventually held accountable for their actions. Society demands that we have show that we are trying to make things right to our fellow neighbor, and very often things are made right before we are willing to forgive. This is what makes God's forgiveness so extraordinary, so out of this world. God's patience is infinite, his love never ending.

I just hope that I can tap into a fraction of that patience when I call the bullseye yet again.