Sunday, January 29, 2012

Last First Day

This is my last first week of school. The last time I’ll wait eagerly for all of those books to come arriving from Amazon (and bemoan how the ones I need for this week will inevitably all be late). The last time I’ll pour over syllabuses. The last time I’ll trudge over to the UC to renew my gym membership (seminarians get a great discount). It is a strange, bittersweet, start to a semester.

I have loved my time at LSTC. I have loved being a part of a seminary community that truly cares for me. Faculty who challenge me and want me to succeed. Inspiring worship. New ideas. Classmates who fill me with hope and joy for the future of the church. But as grateful as I am for my time here, as the end of my seminary career comes to a close, I find I am even more excited for what lies ahead. I am excited to get out and do ministry, to enter into the office to which I have been called and for which I have been trained. The next four months will fly by. I plan to enjoy every minute of it. To relish in every joyful, student loan sponsored minute of my last semester of seminary. And then to leave this place knowing that an even greater adventure lies ahead. Spring semester, 2012, here we go.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Family Pastor

So as you enter into seminary and go through the rest of your life as pastor, it is true that you become the "family pastor." This means that at any family gathering, you will be asked to pray. Just accept this now. No one else will want to pray when you are around - both because they believe you can do it better and because they don't want to do it. I guess I cannot really liken this to asking a doctor for medical advice when he is out of the office... but it still feels that way sometimes.

And more recently, I have come across the role of "family pastor" at funerals and weddings. On the one side, I took part in my grandmother's funeral this last Monday. On the other, my big brother just got engaged. It certainly calls into question the role of the "family pastor." Does everyone assume I will do these things? Do they actually want me to or do they feel obligated? Do I, MYSELF, want to?

So far I've taken the course of saying I will do part of it, but not all. Because I knew I'd be weeping like a baby at my Grandma's funeral, I did a small part and left the rest to the local pastor. I sat with my family and held their hands and was also proud to take part in it at the same time. It's that whole "both/and" thing we like to do as Lutherans.

I assure you, this is not something I had thought about before seminary! Being a pastor is such a unique beast...

Friday, January 27, 2012

Pressed to Prepare

The rush is on. There is a calm before the storm that is the beginning of LSTC, but in my world, I am trying to make sure I know where I’m supposed to go, if I have my books, figure out which GIF credit to register for, and complete other death-defying acts such as taking out the garbage or cleaning out the fridge. I feel like my next couple of days will be like a run-on sentence, what looks like a period of conclusion turns into a comma which introduces a sub-thought or something else to add on to the main points in the beginning of the next semester.
I have been spoiled with J-term. I had such a nice time having a couple of weeks off at Christmas, one intensive week of class, and then another couple of weeks off. Now I have to get back in the habit of classwork all over again!
Although it does feel intimidating, I welcome this new semester. It’s another time to build relationships with my friends, grow in my theological understanding, and really enjoy Hyde Park. When I put it that way, things really don’t feel as hectic as I thought they were. At any rate I am happy to finally be back around LSTC-land (with or without snow). I know that sometimes when I get in a mindset to “just go go go” I find it helpful to remind myself that I am so pressed to prepare myself because I care about these things. I wouldn’t want to be anyplace else because I am in a place that cares about these things too.
And so I wish all of my classmates a blessed start to this next semester!
Until Next Friday!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Creation Ascending

Winter has definitely now descended upon, tangling our everyday lives even with the beauty in the rarity of crystals and ice, and the endless snow that sometimes seems to capture our attention.

Four times within a year, I look forwards to the Board Meetings at my camp, LOMC in Oregon, IL because in those moments that I am able to wander freely around camp and listen to the softness contained hidden in the inviting winds I feel as if it is a homecoming. With the mini storm that descended upon us, many parts of the camp are inaccessible for walking to say the least because the snow takes up residence and can be quite the demanding guest. I only then, can imagine what my Valley as I lovingly call it looks drenched in pristine white only to be disturbed by the deer who have the privilege to be present.

I came across this picture on our PC as I was thinking of inspiration to write this week. For me this is Creation Ascending, the inviting staircase to wonders to behold and joy that falls preciously in the sun showers. It is a reminder of the hope that remains and waits for us to climb, walking into the ethereal light of God.

Lape Bondye, God's Peace.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Prosperity of Liberation Theology

Greetings from San Salvador, El Salvador!

I am currently writing from Central America, where I am taking a course sponsored by a sister-Lutheran seminary (one of the perks of going to LSTC is cross registration!). I am here to learn and explore the current situation in El Salvador, and visit some of the historical and monumental movements of the Salvadorian religious experience. Even as I type this I am writing from at a computer whose spell-check is set to spanish, so please forgive the typos. Among the many things I´m learning is that I am a bit dependent on technology!

Today my group visited the Lutheran Bishop of El Salvador, Bishop Gomez. While there, he voiced a recuring theme of the Salvadorian spirituality - Liberation Theology and the battle to quelch Prosperity Gospel Thelologies.

What is fascinating is that neither of these movements look the same here as they do in U.S. society. In the bulk of the context I´ve seen, Liberation Theology is linked to the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and continues to play out from the pulpit of many African American churches and their supporters. Liberation Theology in America involves a lot of educated people providing resources to those who do not have them, in hopes of building skill sets and ideals of freedom. In El Salvador, Liberation Theology is the polar opposite. The people who are the least educated are trying to inform the educated of their rights in order to allow room in society for their equality. Both are important. Both are lead by the same fundamental cause and belief; through God´s love we are all equal and are all entitled to just filled life within our communities.

But how it plays out here versus the U.S. speaks a great deal to the fact that our citizens, even those who are the most oppressed, already have an advantage over a nation like El Salvador.

I have lived in or near two major U.S. cities, Chicago and Cleveland, and am no stranger to violence. I served a church who had a strong outreach program that served the most marginalized in Cleveland. But never before being here did I see a security gaurd carry a shot gun, nor be able to purchase a machete at an artisian market. Of course our view in the U.S. of Liberation Theology is different - we are different.

While the differences of what poverty, violence and oppression are being re-defined for the thousandth time in my life in my time here, one thing remains consistent. God loves us more then we can ever imagine, and that is the voice of hope.

Even in the midst of pain and suffering, there is a great deal of joy in El Salvador. People laugh, they hurry home to their families after a day of hard work, they worship, they live. They have hope because El Salvador is vocal in living out their faith. That is something liberating. Who knows, may even improve my view of Liberation Theology and how I will use it to serve the world, but serve myself as well.

All (Questions) are Welcome in this Place"

“I’m spiritual but not religious.”
Ever heard somebody say that before? I used to say something similar in my sophomore and junior years at Luther guided by the later statement of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “I’m a religionless Christian”. I would be critical of pretty much anything that came out of the mouth of organized religion. I still am a lot of the time. My primary reason was that no one should place human limitations on God’s action in the world.
While I still totally cling to this reason for other faith discussions, I don’t know if I can call myself religionless anymore. I have my views on the role of the institution and the manufactured prettied up stories of the Bible to create particular images of Jesus and God. I have many doubts as to if Jesus through the church is better than Jesus through experience. That said, I deeply appreciate the presence of a community of people who share in a similar tradition and want to develop what Christ means for them in the world today.
I think this sense of community is lost when the Church tries to be a place of answers rather than a place for questions. My Church History professor put it best when he said “The Church should be a place for people to come out of their religious closets, whatever they might be.” When many people experience an institution that seeks to communicate answers rather than receive questions, it is easy to see how more and more people do not feel welcome to voice their underlying concerns about religious Christianity unless they go “religionless”. I have begun to wonder if this cry for being spiritual but not religious is a way for people who are fearful within an institutionalized context to ask the questions that weigh heavily on their hearts and minds about faith-related topics. Perhaps the Church’s response should be more directed at broadcasting that “All Are Welcome”…all people and all questions.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Happy New Year and Blessed Epiphany from your friendly neighborhood Gypsy seminarian!

My wonderful husband surprised me with a beautiful Christmas present, a Celtic Cross ring lovingly carved with 1 Corinthians 13:13. The silver that surrounded my finger seem to shine brightly, in a serene way and as I caressed the words of Love, Hope and Faith it slowly turned as gently as the dawn which breathes into life, softly bows touching the coolness of the Earth as the moon rises meeting our gaze with its shimmering light.

And yet, as the weeks have turned so has my ring which now bears the tarnished scars of wear as I continue my journey into this life; my hands which touch and mold and work in different aspects.

Even as the new year crowned and as we celebrated, those memories too are faded and worn replaced by the weariness of what Mother Earth has birthed: the stresses of the everyday, the questions and the struggles. Many of my fellow Seminarians are embarking on their last semester; many of our LSTC community have made transitions which have left the rest of us prayerful and perhaps even mournful.

And yet, three things remain: Love, Hope and Faith. Even though my ring is worn, the words carved into the silver are as what is lovingly breathed into our spirits by Our Creator. These three things remain, the core of our being that we are able to continue living out what He taught and commanded of us. The faith to continue to follow Him, the love of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and the hope that blossoms within us all.

Lape Bondye, God's Peace.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Lift With Care

My wife, Andrea, and I are both in grad school. We both picked schools in Chicago and started our new educational careers at the same time. So, while I've spent the last two and a half years in seminary, she's had her nose in case books and legal documents as she studies to be a lawyer. Every now and then, when I share my classroom and field experiences with her, she'll say something like, "Man, I'm glad I'm not in seminary." And when she shares her experiences in law school with me, I have the same reaction to the idea of going to law school. It's a great exercise in self-differentiation, for sure.

Through these conversations, I now have many reasons compiled for why law school is definitely not for me. Tonight, I got one more reason for my list.

This box, which contains exactly two textbooks came in the mail for Andrea yesterday. Two books, and it needs a heavy-lifting warning! I know that when I return to classes in the fall, all my books will be regulation-sized - not so large as to make the Anchor Bible Dictionary look like an informational pamphlet. Yet another reason why I'm glad I'm in seminary and not law school!

To be fair, though, I'm not sure why this sticker was on the box. It really isn't that heavy. And, I do feel bad that Andrea and law students everywhere have to lug these tomes around. Nevertheless, this warning sticker, however silly, has been another simple reminder that my seminary experience so far has been profoundly wonderful, and it's exactly where I need to be.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Seattle Tradition

Tonight for my J-term class on Preparing Adults for Baptism, we visited St. Mark’s Cathedral for the Sunday night Compline service, an event we were informed was “a Seattle tradition.” The service began at 9:30 pm, we arrived at 9 pm to give us time to settle in and watch people gather. When we arrived there were already a couple of people scattered throughout the sanctuary, all in silence. St. Mark’s Cathedral is a huge beautiful building, it is very modern, but with an ancient feel, hard to describe.

As 9:30 drew closer, more and more people came in, all in silence. Some sat in the pews. Others sat along the walls, in the aisles, or even laying around and in the chancel. Some had blankets. They came in groups or alone. Most were young, 20s and 30s, though definitely not all. At 9:30, the Compline Choir, a dozen or so young men, all in cassocks and surpluses, gathered around the back of the sanctuary. They sung the Compline, while the assembly sat in silence. At one point, the choir recited the Apostles Creed, and without a word the entire assembly stood. As soon as they finished, just as silently, the entire assembly sat again. And at 10 pm, the choir sang the Benediction, and as they finished we all stood up and filed out into the cold Seattle night.

At first it was a strange feeling. Being used to participating in worship, it felt odd to just sit and listen to someone else do worship. It felt like a concert almost. But slowly the sacredness of the place and the beauty of the music sunk into me and I began to realize the incredible gift of this service. Here was a place and time set aside for the express purpose of prayer. Without a book to juggle or a place to keep or a role to hold, I was free to just sit and reflect and pray. I love traditional worship, don’t get me wrong. And I think it is absolutely important for the assembly to have a role in a worshipping community. But this was not a Eucharist service. This was Compline. And it was nice to just have time for me and God, with beautiful choral music and a breathtaking setting to help focus that time. In a world of so much hustle and bustle, what a gift this Cathedral offers to the community, a space to come and be, with no pretense or explanation.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Building the Self and the Church

Something that I have particularly enjoyed about my J-term class, Building and Inclusive Church, is the exercise in storytelling. Throughout the week we have had to create three different and short stories about our call, an achievement by a group of people that we are a member of such as but not limited to our home congregations, and how to present the challenge of inclusion and full participation of all people to this group of people. I could probably describe it better, but this was my very basic understanding of it.
I really appreciated this element of the course because it has forced me to a defining moment for my call, which I have never really explored before. I have negative occurrences in my life that have pushed me to become a pastor so that I might work against those forces and I have had many reaffirming experiences of my call, but I had a hard time identifying where my call really came from. I had to examine myself.
I also discovered that I have an overwhelming amount of negative feelings towards a particular group of people who demand more positive feelings in my life. It is now my turn to express positive feelings and to work on making positive future memories with this group of people.
I have had to question who I am as a person called by God and others as well as why I feel the way I do about certain groups or decisions that have affected me in my journey to seminary. I can’t believe how this course had made me think of these things in the span of a week and has begun a transformative process of recognizing that I do have a story to tell, but what are the elements of that story and why are they there. For this challenge and opportunity to define these things, I am truly grateful.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

My Neighbor, the President

I love living in Chicago in general, but perhaps one of the coolest things about going to LSTC and living in the Hyde Park neighborhood is that I literally live four blocks away from President Obama's house. Normally this doesn't affect me too much since he's usually kickin' it in the White House, but this week the President is in his home-sweet-home.

I really had no idea how much this would impact me. I went to the grocery store last night and on the way home tried to drive my usual route, which leads me a block away from the Obama's house. In the span of four miles my friend and I counted 42 marked police cars, and we can only speculate how many unmarked vehicles were in the area. I couldn't even turn down a street to go home my usual way because I was re-routed several blocks by law officials. I have never seen such a security detail in my life. In the midst of it being pretty cool, it is really frustrating when you are trying to make it home before your Ben & Jerry's melts and every street is blocked off.

This afternoon I was doing some reading for a JTerm course (JTerms are accelerated courses in the month of January) where I will be traveling to El Salvador to study for two weeks. I was reading how I will have to pay a fee to get back into the US, how those of us with wedding bands should think about leaving them at home, and that for my overall safety I should tell people I'm vacationing, not studying, while I'm in Latin America because it will put me at a lesser risk of being attacked.

Sometimes I think we take for granted how lucky we are to live in a country where safety is a priority. This week, with the President sleeping four blocks from my home, I am probably the safest I will ever be. There is security everywhere. I know this is not the reality of most Americans, but even in the worst of neighborhoods we have freedom in the United States that always exist in other places. No matter where my home is, I can go there without paying a fee. No matter how underfunded a school district can be, I don't have to worry about being attacked because I claim I admit that I am their student.

I am furthermore blessed that I live in a nation where it is not only a civil right to be able to express my thoughts, feelings, and religious beliefs through media like blogs and newspapers, but I can choose to attend a seminary who will ask me to do such things.

While I may be frustrated that going to the bank or the pharmacy may be more challenging this week because of a security detail, I am going to celebrate the fact that it is a societal expectation to protect our president. Not all places in the world share this conviction or can afford its cost, and I give thanks that I can see it and write about it, too.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

It's been far too long since my last post! That, in a way, should be a good indication of how busy church-work can be around Christmas. It was a whirlwind of a season, with a lavish Christmas concert, a Sunday-School pageant, 3 Christmas Eve services, and one Christmas Day service. Of course, we also had all of the preparations and clean-ups in between the services as well. In all, it was a very busy end to 2011, but it was definitely a blast.

The season was so chaotic, that this picture - a tree with no decorations - was the only one I took!

Since I last posted, I've preached twice, both times outside of the pulpit. My congregation is used to the pastor preaching outside of the pulpit, and since I obviously don't know what the congregation of my first call will one day expect of me, I'm trying to use this as an opportunity to expand my skill-bank for preaching. This isn't something I'd done until now, and it's not something I was too familiar with, since it's a style that few congregations encounter . Because if all this, preaching outside of the pulpit, without a manuscript, was a bit nerve-wracking. I'm glad I've done it, though, because now I know I can do it! I'm looking forward to practicing this style of preaching more as the year continues.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Guitar Gift-Part 2

Walking out of the church after seeing the future life of my guitar made me pensive. I had let go of a record book of musical memories and I wondered how many kids would even get anything this season. It began to bother me that some children in even my family would get Ipads the next day while some kids would get the first decent meal that they may have had for a while. I have heard parents complain that they can only spend $1000 on each child that year because of their tight budgeting. I wonder how many other parents would complain about that “tight budget”.
My disappointment grew when I heard on the radio a couple of days after Christmas that there were thousands of “tweets” from people who didn’t receive the color of an Ipad that they wanted, or that they received an earlier model instead of the latest Ipad 2. There was dismay about a lack of Iphones, Tablets, Kindle Fires, and even a lack of Macbook Pros saturating the world of twitter. It about made me sick in the car to hear these things. I wanted to reach onto the other end of the radio and scream and shout and say “Don’t you get anything?!?!?” but even if I could, I bet many of those people still wouldn’t get it and move on, which makes me even sadder.
The commercial Christmastime that we experience in America has tainted and blinded many from the true realities of the season. The most genius part is these blinders are on all year long, obscuring our view from those in need and directing us to the things we want! Myself included!
I have this picture from the previous post close by for me to see. I will remember every day how I felt this Christmastime so that I may not forget that grave sense of injustice plaguing the season. It looks like my first guitar helped to teach me one last lesson: the wholesome experience of giving in the face of commercialism. Not just a Band-Aid experience, not as a feel good, but as a necessary and wholesome act for developing healthy relationships as an Earth community.
Until Next Friday!

Water Water Everywhere

If you've ever traveled to another country, especially one where water is scare or may cause you to become ill, you know the preciousness of clean water from the tap (and yes, I even count Chicago water which I always filter before drinking).

I was reading this article over at the Mayo-Clinic website about how much water we should drink daily. It sounds like most of us miss the mark. We mistake thirst for hunger and eat more, only barely satisfying the true bodily craving.

As Christians, we focus so much on the importance of water, the symbol of our own baptisms. We splash our hands in baptismal fonts and make the sign of the cross on our foreheads, another bodily reminder of God's great love for us.

How about we spend some of this New Year's Resolution gusto on finding another way to remember our baptisms: drink some of that delicious tap water. Take a sip. Make the sign of the cross. Take a gulp. Smile.