Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Alone in the Darkness

The silence of the sanctuary.....

I remember many years ago in my home congregation one evening arriving before anyone else for a meeting. Walking through the doors into a darkened sanctuary with the barest of lights flickering before me as I stood in the middle of the aisle. My spirit seemed rooted to the weary carpet, familiar with steps that danced, traveled, journeyed to the place where Christ opens His arms and welcomes us to the Beloved Community, nourishing our souls so that we are able to throw open the doors, not only stepping out on faith but embracing those strangers whose songs are removed and whose voices fall silent.

And yet, being alone in the sanctuary frightened me and I hurriedly ran and turned on every last night I could possible find, thankful for the voices of others raised in fellowship coming through the worn wooden doors.

Fast forward to Lent, 2012. Once more I found myself alone in a different place, a different church as I awaited my husband and children to come and pick me up. Standing before the closed wooden and clear glass doors of my MIC congregation, the foreboding, flickering flames gestured as witnesses to the somber journey we know wearily travel. The winds, this night seemed to seep into every crack as if to howl and bang against my very being expecting me to fear.

Above the doors leading into the sanctuary: C+20+M+12+B

Even in the darkness when the unfamiliar tugs at our fears-the cross, the table stand as reminders of the bareness of our faith, simple and exposed. In the dying light of a summer day I have wanted to wander in the upper prairie at my camp and weep being in the presence of the Creator,listening for His Voice. In this moment, I wanted to stand in the presence of the Creator illuminated by candles...and listen to His Voice.

Lape Bondye, God's Peace.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

It's the Most Busiest Time of the Year

As you can probably tell from my lack of posts in the past weeks, I've been keeping busy. With Lent preparations, long days full of meetings, youth group fundraisers, a lock-in, funerals, and hospital visits, it's been hard to find much free time. Luckily, we're starting to get into the groove for Lent, and so things should ease up slightly before the marathon that is Holy Week.

This past Friday, we hosted nineteen fifth-graders at Good Shepherd for an all night lock-in. Now, I've done lock-ins in the past. In fact, I remember doing many of them when I was a high school youth director straight out of college. I would stay awake and energetic all night long, go home for a long nap, and continue the weekend as usual. Not anymore. This time I was exhausted by 2, asleep by 3:30, and for the rest of the weekend, I felt as if I'd been hit by a train. Despite the long recovery, it was still a night full of fun for all. We played games throughout the church building, ate too much junk food, learned all about the sacristy and chancel (rather, I had fun teaching the kids about the finer things in worship), and many of the students made some new friends. And there's nothing like having some of the parents arrive bright and early in the morning to wake us all up with the magic smells of bacon and pancakes.

We started off the evening with an excursion to Jewel-Osco. A few weeks before, the Sunday school had hosted a bake sale which raised a good amount of money, and so we took the 5th-graders to Jewel to use that money to buy groceries for the local food pantry. We divided into 4 groups, and 90 minutes later the students had filled about 10 carts with Velveeta, sugar, flour, cookies, mac and cheese, boxed dinners, and all the non-perishables every kid loves.

The Haul. Well, most of it.

One of the groups went way over budget, and so after checking out they had a cart about half full of items that would have to be restocked. A cashier who has helped Good Shepherd with this mission project in years past decided that instead of restocking the items, she would purchase them for us. It's amazing how God's love works through so many people in order to bring some help to those in need and teach our children to do likewise.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Senior regional assignments were last Wednesday. Everyone is more or less back to sleeping normally again, now that the decisions of that day are announced. I am headed to Region Two, which, for those unfamiliar with the ELCA Regions is basically the southwest. I am excited to get back to the sun.

The completion of regional assignments leaves us in this strange liminal period. There are still synodical assignments to be made, a process that happens much more independently. Each time the phone rings my heart jumps a little. It could be a bishop calling to welcome me to her or his synod. Calling to discuss the needs of his congregations, and the types of ministry I feel called to. Soon there will be church profiles to read and interviews to prepare for. Regional assignment day is just one small revealing of the future God is preparing for us in ministry, so much is still in the air.

Sitting in the chapel on Wednesday, knee to knee with classmates whom I had spent the last four years working and playing and laughing and praying with, I felt the magnitude of all of these changes. These envelopes marked our first step away from this place. Soon we will be scattered across the country, called to do ministry in many different places and spaces. But I felt something else also, I felt hope. As we step away from LSTC and each other, step away from being seminarians, we step into being colleagues. I looked around the room that day and thought, wow, the ELCA, you are about to get a whole group of amazing pastors. Watch out world, here comes the LSTC Graduating Class of 2012.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Good News Choir! pt.2

Since my last post, I have received a couple of comments that have been very helpful to my processing of gospel music and my “academic” theological side. One commenter pointed out that it was unfair to compare these two topics because one is steeped in cultural tradition while the other is based on the trend of modern biblical scholarship. Another person suggested that my stepping into the gospel experience is expressing some biblical hospitality (Rom. 14 and Heb. 13) of the lament, longing, exhortation, praise, and urging. In this sense, gospel music seems to closely parallel my limited understanding of the variety of psalms found in Scripture which seem to be based on a cultural experience and a need for the Divine in their lives.
Especially from this second point of view, singing these words in gospel Christian music (even if it is through words that make my theological brow furrow) is something that can be likened and found in Scriptural-cultural experiences that are very real. I feel compelled to continue being a part of this further experience and am very excited to keep learning from it as a member of LSTC’s Gospel Choir. Perhaps these reflections on my enjoyment of gospel music will be the framework for which I enter other forms of Christian music as cultural-theological texts. Thanks to all who contributed to my thoughts and commented on this subject.
Before end this thought for now, I would like to apologize if I sounded judgmental of the gospel music experience in my last post. I am moved by Gospel Choir and very excited to see and sing some more gospel music. I encourage everyone to check it out too!
Until Next Friday!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wandering and Waiting in the Cradle of Creation

Nan pousyè ou ye, ak ap tounen pousyè tè w ap retounen

Sitting among the community gathered in chapel, raising my gaze to everyone marked with the sign of the cross seemed to almost strike my spirit as painful. A painful reminder of how fragile we, as a people of faith are. A reminder how finite is this world, and how infinite the beauty of the Valley that hovers in our memories, where Life renewed awaits all of us. A reminder that we are beloved and a part of Creation; Our Father weeps for all of His children as we struggle and fall, and yet how He opens His arms welcoming us with Love and Eternal Light. A reminder that there is still so much to do, and our journey has not even begun.

This particular Ash Wednesday, the waiting is more pronounced and painful. Our wonderful Senior class, those who have truly gone before, who stand in the shadows having traveled and who we look to for guidance, friendship and example are waiting to hear where God will be leading them. Regional Assignments on Ash Wednesday? Heavy.

This afternoon many of us with gather in spirit, joined together by this vocational journey of Seminary praying with the Seniors and embracing them as one by one they are called by name. As Pastor Paul Landhal's voice carries and fills the chapel, may God's voice pour out from the font. May they hear God's voice in those waters, speaking through time and space "You are my beloved, I am pleased with thee." May they know that no matter where the Church is sending them, that God will always walk with them.

Lape Bondye. God's Peace.

Monday, February 20, 2012


It's a complicated week in my world: regional assignments happen on Ash Wednesday. For most of us, it is all we can think about. This tiny piece of the puzzle is in some way a reality that we have been anticipating since far beyond our first days in the seminary. While we all do the best we can to wait patiently and trust in the process and the holy spirit... waiting is hard.

This is when I turn to people wiser than I for a bit of perspective. These words are often recalled and always beautiful to me.

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

-Archbishop Oscar Romero

Saturday, February 18, 2012


I’m fascinated by the various houses in the Harry Potter series. How each one is unique, each one has its own special character and style. Brave Gryffindor, hardworking, Hufflepuff, intelligent Ravenclaw, and of course slimy Slytherin. Students are placed into houses by the Sorting Hat. The Sorting Hat is a magical hat that can read a student’s character. There is some question of nature vs. nurture, but imagine Ron in Ravenclaw or Neville in Slytherin, it just doesn’t fit. The Sorting Hat knows the sort of environment that will support the young witch or wizard best, and places them accordingly. It’s a pretty great system.

It’s sorting season at LSTC right now. Juniors are starting to hear back from CPE placements, starting to visit MIC sites. Middlers are deep into internship interviews. And for the seniors, next week is regional assignments, where we get some notion as to where our first calls might be. It’s a crazy time. Sometimes I wish LSTC had a Sorting Hat, that I could put on and it could look into my mind and determine just the place where I would grow the most. And if it got stuck, I could discuss with it, like Harry did, “Not Slytherin, not Slytherin,” and it would change its mind.

We don't have a Sorting Hat, but we do have the Holy Spirit. Who blows through the various processes of assigning and interviewing and sorting and makes sure things turn out right. Not always as we wanted, but right. It’s hard to trust the Spirit sometimes; she’s not solid, like a hat. She doesn’t sing me a song before she presents her decision. But she blows through the process anyway. And better than the Sorting Hat, she keeps working long after the placement is made, molding and shaping us and our future congregations into our combined mission. Let the sorting begin.

Image from:

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Good News Choir!

I often have a very hard time with listening and memorizing lyrics. It’s usually because either I’m more interested in the musical notation rather than the text or because I just can’t understand what’s being said. When it comes to Christian music, however, I make sure to really try and listen to the lyrics because I believe that the lyrics are a way of theologizing! Christian music across the entire spectrum is making claims about God in different ways. Unlike other genres, the theology that is expressed in the lyrics informs my opinion of the song more so than the notation.

While this is true for most Christian music (especially “contemporary” music) I have found myself recently attracted to the music sung by LSTC’s gospel choir, so much so that I have actually joined up! We just finished our first concert of the semester and I have to say that I had a very good time. It was a wonderful experience filled with audience participation, clapping hands, and so many lovely high B's for the tenors (that is usually on the high end for an amateur tenor to try in full voice).

I had a lot of fun, but I also began to think about what I was singing. I realized that if I was in the audience I would have critiqued many of the lyrics on an intellectual level. I discovered that I outright don’t agree with some of the theology in our music. This said, it really feels like we are preaching good news about God, which is super appealing. This poses an interesting contrast for me. The academic screams “hold on a second!” while the gospel-centered Lutheran says “Amen!”

How might you respond to what seems like conflicting feelings on this subject? Perhaps I will develop a more complete answer/reflection next week…but think about it! I encourage any responses and suggestions either on the blog or through e-mail:
Until Next Friday!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Drinking in Original Sin

Almost a year ago, a dear friend of mine from obtained her PhD. That evening, after hearing her defend her work on Contemporary Christian Music from an ethno-musicology perspective, our pastor joined us for celebratory drinks at a restaurant which had a large gluten-free menu. Although being in her late thirties, my friend had not had an alcoholic beverage in 15 years because of the gluten found in most drinks. That night, we celebrated on a gluten-free hard cider called "Original Sin," and to this day I find it ironic that my friend obtained her faith-centered doctorate and then toasted that celebration with "sin."

This memory has been floating to the top of my mind recently as I study for my Lutheran Confessional Heritage class. This week's reading in particular speak on thow original sin manifests in our lives. As Lutherans, we believe that we are sinful both pre-and-post-baptism. It is through our faith in the promise of God through the suffering and resurrection of Jesus that we are saved. I love and trust in the notion of justification by faith, not good works. I love and trust the notion that we commit good works as an expression of that faith, but not with the expectation that our work is a ticket to salvation. What I do not love is the language "original sin." I tend to believe in the truth of creation from a non-literal perspective. I don't necessarily believe that there were two people, one Adam, one Eve, who are the so-called reasons for sin because I recognize that the very human essence of human nature is sinful. I believe that if it wasn't them, sin would have been brought into the world through someone else. This mentality only adds in my faith of the gift of Christ Jesus.

But what do we do with this original sin business if we don't believe in a literal fall? Gunther Gassman writes in the Fortress Introduction to the Lutheran Confessions, "Original sin is better named universal sin, since it explains not so much where sin came from as why all human beings in all ages without exception are opposed to God and therefore need a Savior." This is an idea of original sin that I can get on board behind!

Ultimately, I don't think it really matters who introduced original sin or how sin came to be. What is important is the fact that we are inherently sinful but loved unconditionally anyways. Almost everything we do is entrenched in sin, from how we treat others to the earthly desires we consume, like money and hard cider.

We need to embrace the fact that we are sinners, and drink in the knowledge that even in light of sin we are saved through our faith. When we accept our sin and embrace our nature, that honesty allows us to experience our faith more fully. Only in recognition of our sin can we be in deeper relationship with our God who loves us so much that he would send his only Son to reclaim our salvation through a tree shaped like a cross.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Spiritual Vitality..

As I wandered through the cloistered, cluttered streets
The overwhelming sense of the pulse
Even as the sun blossomed into the fury of the day
Swirls of flimsy cotton danced in the deepness
In the recesses of my hazels
Every breath
Guiding my steps, energies of my ancestors seeping into the hems of sweeping fabric
Every breath
How life is consumed spoken in the quiet of death?
Once, as streams of life giving waters rushed
Prayers lifted
Thunder heavy in tune with the pulsing of my heart
Dancing in shadows
Dancing in sweet smoke
Crossing the threshold even as prayers abounded
My journey has been twisted and complex
Even as Mother night cradled me, singing softly
Calling to the core of my soul
Reunion at the crossroads caused fear to shiver before me
Ancestral spirits parting the waters, reaching my shore
Wandering through my Valley
Understanding His majestic power
Understanding the threshold not yet for me to cross
Children of the Creator, serving different purposes
Haunting reflected back to mine
Shattering tears that had wept
In the brilliance of a loved one’s transformation
In the dying arcs of frozen tears
Reborn even as my soul was quieted
Shivering in the waning heat of the gentle summer day
Swathed in the colors of heaven
Crowned with Motherhood
In her tones I hear the voices of nameless women, symphony
In her eyes, connected

Original poetry by the Gypsy Woman. Lape Bondye, God's Peace.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


I love making pancakes, it reminds me of mornings with grandma or the time that I made my mother breakfast in bed (did not cook the pancakes all the way through). I had the chance last Friday to realize my childhood mayhem as I hand stirred 15 pounds of pancake mix. I know what you are thinking, boy was I hungry...but really it was an awesome morning working with Living Room Cafe. Living Room Cafe is an opportunity that was presented to me through fellow classmate David Buco, where rather than the assembly line experience of feeding the houseless and impoverished, they provide a restaurant experience where volunteers take orders and they have a list of options. Options for last friday. Bacon or sausage, grits, eggs, potatoes, and a pancake, with choice of cheese on anything that people may want. After the volunteers take the order they come and give us, the kitchen, a piece of paper with the specialized order and name of the individual, they then bring it to the table and are served like a regular restaurant that you or I would attend. Also at the tables was butter and syrup, and there was choice of coffee, tea, OJ, and water to drink. The experience was amazing, we were in the kitchen the whole time, about 5 volunteers and some other consistent kitchen members. Listening to older soul music, singing and dancing while making pancakes, scrambling eggs, making bacon and sausage, cutting vegetables, and making juice. Starting at 630 in the morn, we were serving by 830 and done by 1030. We made friends with some new faces and heard some stories of why others felt it important to wake up early in the morning more often than us and make sure people were getting a hot breakfast. Speaking of hot breakfast, we even got to eat some of our leftover fixings and they were delicious!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Snow Shoveling

I recently joined the LSTC Snow Crew as a way to make some extra money this winter. Having been out of town for the January storms, Friday’s snowstorm was my first opportunity to be involved. So Saturday morning found me huddled in the Maintenance Shop at 7:30 am, awaiting instructions. 7:30 is, in my humble opinion, way to early to be anywhere, especially on a Saturday. There were a good number of us, so it only took about two hours to clear the walks. Still it was a long two hours. Snow shoveling, especially sidewalks, is hard work. The cold morning air bit at my face; my back was tense from the cold and the exertion. After a year off of shoveling, my body was not prepared for a morning of hard manual labor. I came home, took a hot shower, and spent the rest of the day curled up on the couch drinking tea and reading an obscure book about the life of Paul, feeling tired but grounded.

Seminary is an intellectual activity. As seminarians, we are trained to be theologians, theology literally meaning words about God. We think a lot. We think, and we talk, and we read, and we ponder. We are taught to challenge assumptions, to ask tough questions, to grapple with texts and draw meaning from them. Hard work, absolutely, but mentally hard. Hard work that can be done from one’s couch.

Ministry, on the other hand is a physical activity. Ministry is an act of presence. It requires taking ones body and placing it amid other bodies in the dirt and muck of the world. It is walking with people in their living and their dying. We worship a God, after all, who took on a physical body, a God who still comes to us in the very physical elements of bread and wine and water.

A classically Lutheran answer, but pastoral ministry seems to be a both/and. We need both intellectual and physical pursuits. There will be days where my knowledge of Paul Tillich’s concept of symbol will be absolutely essential. And there will be other days where all that matters is that I know what to do with a snow shovel. Glad I have both.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Crows and Community

Normally I don’t like winter snow. In fact, I am one of the people who have been enjoying the lack of snow this season. It’s been nice to go on a run a couple of times this winter and not freeze my feet. It’s been great to be able to drive myself safely 45 minutes north to visit my girlfriend on occasion without worrying about the street conditions. Today, however, I am enjoying this snow.
You see, while it wasn’t snowing, a migration of crows came through Hyde Park about three days ago. These crows decided that their horde should take a break in the trees lining University Avenue which is where some of us who reside on University Avenue like to park our cars. As they were creepily staring at the people passing by, they all must have gotten a bad case of food poisoning. As I walked back to my apartment, I couldn’t help but see that the sidewalk, street, and everyone’s car was covered in crow crap. And so today, I welcome the snow, because I think it will help me to clean off my car a little bit.
Sometimes we can find help in the most unlikely of places. One thing that I have been trying to learn is to not be too proud to take help from others. I really enjoy the term community and everything that it stands for, but I think accepting help is an element of communal life that gets overlooked and is so necessary to practice. On Tuesday I attended a meeting as I began to think about writing my Endorsement Essay for the next step in the candidacy process. Our main speaker said “No one is looking for a lone ranger pastor. We have too many of them already.” If everyone is too proud to admit they need help, how can building community happen? Something to chew on this week I suppose.
Until Next Friday!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Healing the Dark Places

This January I spent ten days in studying in El Salvador. While there I had the great privilege of meeting the Lutheran bishop of the country, Bishop Medardo Gomez. He was present in El Salvador during the ten year armed conflict in the '80's and '90's. Like many Christian leaders advocating for peace during the civil war, he at times was forced into hiding for fear of being assassinated. Bishop Gomez is a fascinating and inspirational leader, and he shared a story with my group that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

One day Bishop Gomez laid white cardboard down on the altar in the shape of a cross during a worship service, asking the assembly to come up and write the sins of both the government and the people upon it. It was a powerfully healing moment for the congregation, and they hung up the cross so that they could remember that their struggles where Christ's struggles, too. Translated, they named it the Subversive Cross. A few days later, Bishop Gomez got wind that the army was coming to assassinate him and he went into hiding. Many people barricaded themselves around the church in order for him to get away. Bishop Gomez was able to escape, and the people who barricaded the church were arrested. In addition to those people, the army confiscated the Subversive Cross and hung it up inside the prison with those arrested.

That cross remained hanging in the walls of that prison long after the arrested were released. That cross hung in prison long after Bishop Gomez returned safely to his home. That cross, with the sins of the government and people written upon it, hung in prison for almost two decades until one day the current president, President Funes, released the cross back to Bishop Gomez. It now hangs inside the church where it was created, a vibrant testimony of how Christ follows into the darkest places and will not stop working for us.

I have been thinking about that cross a lot lately the past few days. I am a lupus patient, often feeling imprisoned by my condition. On Tuesday of this week I had a biopsy. Too make a long story short, the procedure had a few hitches. Not wanting to be imprisoned by my illness, I went back to school too early, got dizzy, and fell down a flight of cement stairs. Instead of just healing the wounds of the biopsy, I now have to heal the wounds of a swollen knee.

There are times in our faith when we need to let things rest, to be still and let Christ do the work. It is powerful that the Subversive Cross was arrested and imprisoned, but what is most powerful is that it remained safely hung inside the walls of a prison for almost 20 years. I can't even imagine the amount of hope it brought to the most emotionally destitute while hanging behind bars, and thinking about that amount is why it hangs with such reverence being "freed" today. There are times in our life where we feel confined behind emotional bars proves to be more helpful then forging ahead. It is only after being in the dark for a while that our eyes adjust and see that Christ is present doing some much needed healing.

Tonight, as I sit still on my couch and look upon the photos I took of the Subversive Cross, I remember that even though I am still, Christ is still working to heal the dark places.

The Mirror Reflected

Two sides reflected in the never ending whispering rings of the eternal waters.

The past can teach you many things for therein lies the answers that perhaps shape our path and carve out our journey. 

This past Fall Semester, I joyfully found myself in one of three courses that I have no problem taking in the early a.m: Church History. It is also a plus when the professor teaching the course is one of the students favorite and to boot, my adviser. One would not think that History is important in the wider Church but in fact how can you stand on the shoulders of those who have been called before and not understand the struggles, the challenges and the rewards that will encompass our vocational life?

Having an understanding of where you come from, so that you know where you are going is not alien to me; as I continue to reflect during this month of African American/African Descent History and Heritage we as a nomadic people must never forget the richness of our beginnings especially with our connection to the Divine.  As much as I had knowledge of history with regards to my people and where they fit in (or rather not) in this country's own beginnings, there was a difference in how Scripture ebbed and flowed with the rushing, chaotic waters of human history. Humanity at many different times, I concluded, got in God's way. Yet, there were those who truly stepped out into the darkness, motionless as night continued to vibrate into their consciousness, allowing their spirit to be open, receptive to the mysteries across the veil.

Mysticism transcended Christianity; it was a religious phenomenon of having an experience with the Creator and many of the devout names haunted my days as I poured into books on their lives: St. Teresa, Julian of Norwich and Hildergard. They were not labeled witches or of the demonic-they rambled, spoken in riddles, experienced pain, suffering and scrutiny...and were elevated, revered to be wise vessels or instruments of God.

Why then, are ancient peoples, ancient tribal practices, ancient religions shunned, ridiculed and stamped "taboo" just because they did not, or continue to not worship just as the Western World? Why then as I unravel the fabric of spirituality, no matter what beautiful, fragile string of yarn falls into my hands no matter how I join them as one-that the colors of the tapestry coexist into a river of harmony?

The picture above to the left, is Our Lady of Czestochowa, a icon of Mary and known to be a protector of the people of Poland; she is revered as Mother and forever watching, caring as a mother  would. 

A couple of days after the horrible earthquake in Haiti, Sunday to be exact I turned on CNN early that morning. As they reported how the dawn rose over the terrible devastation and the death-they also panned over women in the streets-having church service, dancing and praising God. In all this tragedy, the Haitian people came out and continued to give thanks to the Creator, repeating one line over and over.

I wept. How many of us could do the same in the midst of strife and pain?

The icon on the right is the same but she has a different name in the Haitian tradition. I shall not name her because the Haitian people have long been ridiculed and damned for continuing in their ancient ways. She is too, a strong symbol of the Haitian woman, fierce in her protection of the Haitian people. She too, is a Mother. 

How different sometimes our languages, our religions, our cultures separate us. How soon we forget that Christ celebrated and communed with us in the splendor of Creation, and we were simply..the children of God.

Lape Bondye. God's Peace.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Youth Sunday(s)

Before I was a member there, my home church used to do an annual Youth Sunday - a Sunday in which the music, leadership, readings, sermon, greeting and ushering were all taken over by the high school students. It was the one Sunday a year that many of these roles would be filled by a teenager. When the congregation called a youth pastor, one of the first things he did was put an end to this tradition. For the next few years, whenever anyone asked him why such a drastic change was made, he would say, "The youth should feel free to participate as leaders all year long. Every Sunday should be Youth Sunday."

As I've reflected on this liturgical anecdote over the last few years, I've consistently agreed with Pastor Aaron's intentions. It is possible that when we focus all that the youth have to offer into a single Sunday, we may feel like that's the best (if not only) time for them to participate as leaders in worship. On the contrary, every Sunday the leadership of the worship service - from greeters to musicians to assisting ministers - should reflect the diversity of the congregation. I've held strong to the idea that all chancel guild members do not have to be women, all ushers do not have to be men, and all acolytes do not need to be confirmation students.

But, as it is wont to do, my internship experience is once again challenging my theoretical ideals. This past Sunday was, in fact, Youth Sunday at Good Shepherd. There was a jazz band comprised of high school brass players, a young women's chorus, a string quartet, an Old Testament reading arranged for three lectors, and a chancel drama (written by yours truly) for the sermon. All of this was done by the High School students. They also acted as greeters, worship leaders, organists, communion assistants, and ushers. In all, there were 55 high school youth actively participating in the service. It was one of the most moving worship services I've seen at Good Shepherd, simply due to the massive amount of dedication and sincere desire to be a part of the liturgy from all those teenage children of God. And, it was an amazing expression of faith for the adults of the congregation, who were able to witness God's love through the special leadership on Sunday.

I'm still against the idea that youth can only participate in certain aspects of worship on one chosen Sunday a year; however, I learned this week that a marker-Sunday - to show how one section of the population is vital to the congregation's life - can be a positive means to create more diverse leadership on the other 51 Sundays. The string quartet is already planning their next chance to lead the congregational music, and the brass group will probably return soon, too.

So, now I'm thinking we need to have a Grandmother's Sunday next. Who knows what talents the Holy Spirit will shine her light on in that vital portion of the church's population?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Family Pastor Take 2

So last week I was talking about being the family pastor, right?

It continues.

This last week, my cousin's friend/her kids' sitter died at age 36. This woman, Kelly, was like a second mother to my two little cousins. I liked, respected, and admired her as I am very close to my cousin and lived with her and her family during CPE. They are my home away from home. And Kelly just died one morning last week. To say it was a shock does little to expound upon the situation. She left behind a husband and three young girls.

So I'm thinking more about grief as I continue to grieve my own grandmother and to an extent, Kelly. I went to my home away from home this last weekend. And I thought, do I go as cousin and pseudo sister or as family pastor? What about the questions about how to tell the 3 year old who loves Kelly that he won't get to see her again? What about my own grief?

The best answer I can give is that I went as myself... with my own grief, with my pastoral care skills, with my love for my family. There's no easy answer for when to be pastor and when not to be. Regardless, I can never unlearn the things I have learned as I have become pastor. It is a part of me.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

On Being a Visitor

The strangest thing for me about being a senior is figuring out what to do with myself on Sunday mornings. For the first time in my seminary career, for the first time in my life, really, I have nowhere I am expected to be on a Sunday. The last two years I’ve had field education requirements on Sundays, and even before seminary I was part of church communities that would miss me and note my absence. With this new found freedom and the knowledge that my Sundays would soon be scheduled for the rest of the foreseeable future, I decided to take some time to explore a variety of congregations and experience different styles.

“This will be great,” I thought to myself as I developed this plan. “I’ll get to see what other congregations are doing, experience new forms of worship, expand my horizons a bit.” So I picked my first place, a small nondenominational congregation a couple of blocks from my apartment, and I headed out.

What I had not taken into account was how incredibly frightening it is to enter the doors of a new community. I figured, I’m a seminarian, I go to worship all the time, I like worship, this will be easy. I could not have been more wrong. As I walked up to the front door of the church, I felt my heart racing. What if the worship is uncomfortable? What if our politics don’t line up? What if our theology is different? It was a communion Sunday, what if our beliefs didn’t line up, was I welcome at the table? All these questions masked the major one, what if they don’t like me, what if I’m not welcome? I stood in the entryway frantically searching the bulletin, trying to gather the confidence to walk into the sanctuary.

In the end it was a lovely service and a nice group of people, but I learned a lot from my fear that day. It was for me a reminder of the risk we ask people to take when we invite them to join us for worship. No matter how welcoming we are, how hospitable, how visitor-friendly, it still requires a huge risk on the part of visitors to step through the doors of a congregation on a Sunday. I hope as I look ahead to my own pastoral ministry I can find ways to honor the risk that is taken by new people to join a worshiping community and to express my profound gratefulness to everyone who has the courage to walk through the door.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Wine and Wine-skins

As I write this, I am sitting here at my girlfriend’s house listening to a YouTube video of a children’s choir sing a cover of “Fireflies” by Owl parts! Not only is it fun for me to hear so many young voices singing such a sweet tune (in my opinion), but I am a huge fan of the creativity and the opportunity to take a popular song and make an enjoyable choral experience from it. Another one of my favorite choral covers is the song “Africa” by Toto. It’s already a great song, arguably one of my favorites, but the choral cover made it even more enjoyable for me to listen to. I also similarly enjoy the cover of “Africa” by Straight No Chaser, especially their Christmas rendition.
When I think about these things, my mind wanders to the parable in the Synoptic Gospels about the new wine and wine-skins. Jesus explains how no one should put a new wine into old wineskins but that the new wine needs new wineskins and that is how it will be preserved. This is a great metaphor for how our experience is shaped by and continues to shape the frameworks that we use. When a cover song is created, a first instinct seems to be placing the new wine of the performer into the perceived parameters of what can and can’t be done in a musical performance.
Personally, I know I feel like I need to burst out of those parameters and create a new wineskin for the music that I will attempt to create. Whether it’s using different instruments, insertion of interludes, or even a different tempo, the new wineskin of our experience can bring revelation and contextuality to whatever new wine (or old, note that Jesus does not give a parameter for an old wine in new wineskins) we might encounter in our lives.
P.S. Check out the Africa cover I am referencing here:

Perpetuum Jazzile - Africa (live, HQ) from rokelvisar on Vimeo.

Until Next Friday!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

My Ancestors Calling, My People continue to Roam

As the semester has once more taken flight, I almost forgot for a moment the significance of this month until one of my classmates asked me a question as I settled in my seat for another rousing lecture time in Israel's Prophets.

"What's the proper name for Black History Month?" 

Quite honestly, as I pondered this it could be many things for a people without truly a place to go home to. It could be African Heritage Descent Month or African American History Month, or simply Black History as it always has been. For me, the color black is a deepness and a void; our origins go farther than the dying embers flickering in the night yet our direction, our purpose is vast and seamless, almost lost in chaos. 

We are a people without a country, without a religion, without our language, culture..without a cornerstone in our lives. We continually have roamed throughout the ages, restless, searching for acceptance and affirmation. 

Our spirits are etched in a puzzle, where our ancestors love us fiercely not for us to lose our identity, to impart the wisdom that has bonded us to Creation and connected us with the stars. 

It is a part of my very being that continues to haunt me, whispering "Never forget". Sometimes in our confusion we cry out to Our Creator and ask the question "What is the purpose that I am here now?" We lament why our people were torn from the serenity of our home and dragged across the waters, waters that were supposed to be life affirming, healing and instead turned into waters of despair in a river, an ocean of tears. 

And yet, it is the drums that continually sing out the rhythms of grace and love from Our Creator, from God that give us hope. To walk out into the blackness of night and listen, listen! as Creation answers back pouring out the knowledge that is eternal...that God has not forgotten God's People. 

I did not forget that it was the month to celebrate my ancestry, as my classmate asked that question, rather I live and breathe and carry my ancestors with me.

Lape Bondye, God's Peace.

Senior Pastor for a Week

This past week, I finally got a real taste of what being a solo senior pastor is like. My supervisor took his usual January vacation and quite literally left the keys with me. Now, I've definitely had a good sampling of pastoral duties during the past month, but to have all of those duties, and then some, on my shoulders for a week was an absolutely new experience. I was in charge of all the Bible studies and the Pastor's confirmation class (as well as my own classes); I was in charge of knowing everything about who was in the hospital, who was going home, and who needed prayer; I was in charge of the entire liturgy, from the sermon right down to the need to coordinate back-up organists due to extenuating circumstances (of course, we went without the Eucharist on Sunday, and everything went smoothly with our organist!); I was in charge of locking up, of unlocking, and of grabbing a shovel if it snowed on Sunday morning (it didn't!); and most importantly, I was in charge of making sure the bulletin was correct before it went to the presses. Okay, so maybe that last part wasn't the "most" important, but it was still important!

Put on your Pastor Hat!

It was, in short, a week-long learning experience unlike any other. It was the second busiest week of my internship so far, and I loved it. If this is what the ministry is going to be like, I cannot wait. I know some of those tasks sound mundane or even unnecessary, but I have always enjoyed doing background work: the myriad of little details that can go unnoticed but are vital to making things happen.

I am glad that I was able to experience this first-hand immersion into being a solo pastor before I graduate from seminary. Granted, all of internship has been a blessing that is preparing me for my ordained calling, but it's nice to be given the keys for a week. I'm pretty sure I brought it back in one piece, too.