Monday, April 30, 2012

Remembering an Old Life

Today we went to a BBQ that was recognizing commuters and how their lives are not always recognized in our community planning and decision making.  There were some CDs made with a travel mix recognizing that trips are different and longer and sometimes some tunes to listen to are a big help.  Sound like I may know something about the commute?  It was my past life last year.  I maintained a completely different schedule so that I could still live and work, making me a commuter with a couple days down at LSTC and rest of the week in WI.  Making that happen includes many choices and small inconveniences, it could be...
-choosing to take classes like Greek and Pentateuch online rather than to stay longer in Chicago or traveling back and forth more times
-hearing about something like playing football or basketball or a great party idea you can only go if it matches when you are already around or willing to drive back in.
-and if something scheduled is canceled like basketball for a floor cleaning or a mandatory meeting has been put in the wrong date, you have showed up for nothing and probably canceled something else
-your spouse or partner cannot always attend things because it is not feasible for two cars to come to something or 
-it feels like you have two lives
-many meetings and classes let out or begin right around rush hour
-you are odd man out as those things you missed for work or family, are now the birthplaces of inside jokes and stories that need to be retold only to you, so you can have a vague idea of what your community is doing. 
I had a life in my van of clothes and supplies ready for anything that may happen when I was down in Chicago.  These comments are not only my own but those of other commuters as well.
Now is this a taunt to the commuters as I reflect on how much my life has improved since I moved to school??? Never!!!  It is merely a glance back of appreciation for the ups and downs of that life and the ups and downs of a new one.  I loved that I still saw my family once a week and friends from high school were still keeping in touch with me.  I was able to be with the people I cared about and give them a real chance at the jobs and calls they have in their life, as well as my own.  I think commuters help us recognize the difficulty of the call and that it can be easy to move when we are single and in our twenties. Try attaching a spouse or kids and all their needs, or a real financial threat of ending a prominent and successful first career, these make life harder to uproot and go.  Commuters are the real Abraham's and Ruth's, as they trust God with so much and many times ask their families to do it with them.  Everyone chooses to give up on something to come to seminary, I believe that is really the case.  But I believe commuters give up something and in their choice to commute usually they must give up the conveniences of a seminary life.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

4 Years

Last night, I opened my LSTC file on my Dropbox to locate an old paper. Four neatly organized folders sat before me. One for each year of seminary. I was stunned.

For one, four years of my life look so neatly organized in their little folders. A sub folder with each class title. Completed papers tucked inside. Notes taken during many hours of my life spent in classrooms on campus and off, learning at the feet of others and soaking up their knowledge.

I have a week left. Two week, technically, before graduation around this time on the 13th. We'll be lining up in our graduation caps and gowns, processing about with our many colleagues in ministry.

A week left of a long four year journey. It has at the same time crawled and flown by. The hours and days seem slow and the months and years fast. Or perhaps it is the opposite? And in several more years, I will be reflecting back on a first call (God willing) and beginning to look towards the next adventure.

What an incredible journey. I have been pulled at like taffy, nurtured in the dusty sunlight, and filled up with good news and hope. I have wept and rejoiced. I have been positively snarky and pissed off. I have been politically correct. I have chosen my words wrongly. I have spoken prophetically. I have been a part of this place and space and time.

LSTC, thank you for forming this visionary leader. I hope I will make you proud.

(the photo is of me and one of my best friends at my birthday party 2nd year)

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Good, the Less than Good, and the Wonderful

The end of the first year at LSTC is looming on the horizon and I can hardly believe it.  I remember asking myself when I wrote the first post on this Taste and See page whether or not I would actually fit in here.  I have some good news and some less good news.  The good news is I totally feel comfortable at LSTC even after one year of discernment in action.  I have become a part of several communities (most of them musically related) and have enjoyed my participation in all of them.  I have made friends with people who I can play Frisbee with and can share a meal almost anytime.

The less than good news is that it took me too long to put myself in the community. In keeping myself caught up with studies and my life outside of the seminary, I had a hard time experiencing the communal quality of this place at first.  I am not slamming on the community here.  The community is wonderful and always adapting to new contexts at this institution.  I wasn’t ready to jump in, although I was certainly welcome to do so.

And so, my big regret for the year is that I took too long to get to know the great people I work with at LSTC.  Now 2/3 of these wonderful people (with some wonderful exceptions!) are leaving and moving on to internship or out into a call of some sort.  As with many others, I will miss them very much and look forward to any visits in the future. Before I say good-bye, however, I am fortunate enough to keep making connections and hanging out with many people before they leave.  It’s kind of nice to know that, for some at least, I won’t have to say goodbye until the end of summer.  The time together is certainly something for which I am thankful.

Until Next Friday!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Cowboy Hat and Boots

Dancing at a Hoedown
    "Where are you going next year?"  A question asked many times about what comes next after year two for a seminarians?  "So do you get to pick or they just place you wherever?"  Then, I always explain how I have no idea and that churches apply to our school and then we interview with them and then we rank each other and then someone decides and we find out... they have usually wished they never asked and look as disinterested as I am in explaining it all again, but as of a week ago something changed.  Someone did decide, and I will be spending a year in Austin, Texas as the intern or Vicar (fancy word used more in my Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) days) for First English Lutheran Church.  I was so nervous to find out, that I scheduled myself to work so that I would not be around to find out.  But I had my classmate Chris pick up my envelope and text me where I would be.  I remember sitting at work knowing that the time was right around the corner and as I was in the middle of doing something I felt my phone buzz and I felt a chill come over me.  I slowly drew my phone out of my pocket and there it said simply and plainly...First English Austin, Texas... there was no congrats or you are at... but rather it was just the words I needed.  I felt so confused and excited, I thought surely someone else should have, would have gotten this site.  Or, maybe Chris is playing a joke, but really he is not that mean and he has not said anything else.  I excuse myself and call a couple key family and friends to get the weight off my chest a little and text my supervisor at the church I work at now and a couple of others I wanted in the know.  Then I worked the rest of my 5 hours knowing my fate for the year.  Since a week has passed since that crazy day, I have been answering those questions with a new found confidence..."Austin, Texas."  To which now I hear, "Better pack your cowboy hat and boots..."

Sunday, April 22, 2012


It’s unclear to me who designs women’s clergy shirts, because they don’t appear to fit any actual women. My roommate is short and curvy; I am tall and angular, like a beanpole. Women’s clerics fit neither of us. Over the past few years of field ed and internship we’ve both learned tricks to looking professional despite the limitations. I layer all clerics under a sweater; my roommate gave up completely and invested in a dickey (a piece of fabric with a collar attached that fits around your neck and tucks under a shirt). I did also find one company that makes a line of “petite” clerics, though I’m 5’7”, so I don’t know what short female clergy do.

A couple weeks ago the junior class received their field ed assignments for next year. In excitement and preparation for their future ministry sites, two of the junior women came over to try on clerics and get a feel for what they liked. One of the juniors is tall, but curvy like my roommate. The other is short, but thin and angular like me. It was a fun evening of clergy dress-up as they raided our closets, trying on different sizes and styles, getting a sense of what worked and didn’t work. It felt like a strange passing of the torch, getting to share the wisdom we’d gained in several years of learning to make oddly sized clerics work for us.

I have learned a lot in the past four years of seminary. Much of that learning has come in the classroom, but probably an equal amount came from my colleagues. Tips and tricks passed on by word of mouth through generations of pastors; like keep peppermints in your pockets at a wedding (they help settle nervous stomachs) or that horse troughs make excellent full immersion baptismal fonts. After four years of taking in wisdom, it was fun to get to share some of my own and continue the chain of experience.

This is not a cleric, notice it fits. I made this by cutting the collar off a regular shirt and sewing a button on the back.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Entranced, Endorsed, Approved, and...

Hey Taste and See Readers,
This week I am sharing a reflection from Tyler Rasmussen. I asked Tyler if he would be willing to write on his experience of getting a call, which is something that affected a significant population of the seminary community as we watched our friend struggle. He has written the following article and I think this is an important life story which presents the challenges of being called to ministry, some harsh realities that still linger, the support of LSTC community, and the work of God at the end, or beginning, of it all. I am grateful for Tyler's words and willingness to share this story on the Taste and See LSTC page.

"When it came time for assignment, I have no idea what happened. Sometimes, the process doesn’t always go according to plan. In the summer of 2011, it had been two years since the churchwide vote to ordain people in publically accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships (PALMS). After talking with a few bishops who said they had promised congregations they would know if they received the paperwork of non-straight clergy and that they wanted to know if a first call candidate fit that category, I decided, unwise though it may be, that I would put on my paperwork, “I have the hope of entering a relationship with someone of the same or opposite gender.” I always figured this church should know what they are getting into, and if they don’t want me, they don’t want me. As best I can, I do not want the pain and depression of being in the closet ever again. Alas, fall assignment time came around, and I reverted to my home synod, who had no place for any first call candidates, much less ones who weren’t straight. It turned out that there was no place in this church for me at that time, solely because of my sexuality. To put it in the blunt terms I was told over the phone, “You reverted because you’re gay.”

Those were rough days; I cried a lot. I wasn’t naive, but I had hoped this church had grown to a point where there were a number of ministries ready and willing, even if still tentative, to receive pastor regardless of sexuality. I had generally given up the hope of small town (>5000) ministry because of my sexuality, but there had to be open congregations somewhere out there. It seemed, however, all my brothers and sisters who had spent years on the Extraordinary Ministry roster had filled those positions. Sincere blessings to them, but there are so many of us coming up that I have no idea how we will all find a call. Then, a week after assignment, a bishop made the remark that gay people need to be prepared to wait a long time, because it has been 35 years and we are still having a hard time placing women in ministry. BAM! There was my answer.

I was heartbroken by the bishops who made it sound hopeless. No hard feelings toward any bishop – I know it is tough to be leading this church, and this issue hasn’t made it any easier – but there’s hope; I know there’s hope. As brutally honest as I hope my first call bishop is with me, I hope she is able to be my pastor and helping me to live into the hope of faith, because it crumbled that day.

I was also heartbroken as I heard a number of my fellow seminarians start talking about alternative careers if ministry doesn’t work out. God had called you, my brothers and sisters, and if God has called, the Spirit has to have a place for you, right? It was hard for me to give an affirmative answer to that question for many days, so I understood exactly why they were putting alternative careers in their corner pockets.

Feeling hopeless and hung out to die, I searched for any word of promise I could find in our recent social statement or the revision of “Vision and Expectations” that this church gave for people in places like me when things go wrong due to sexuality. Beautifully, in “Vision and Expectations” I found a promise to people in PALMS relationships, a promise “to find a way for [these people] to serve as rostered leaders of this church.” Sadly, I am a single gay/bisexual man. I do not have a partner, and this church made no promises to me because single people weren’t supposed to be a problem. I love my church, and after all those years leading up to the social statement, I have no idea how we missed this.

My fellow seminarians were also searching for words of promise. On the day the remark was made about how long it may take to place gays in ministry, the whole community was hurt. I had “Preaching John” class that afternoon, my friends preaching that day quickly modified their sermons to give hope to those of us who were consumed by tears. Within a month, I had heard twenty sermons detailing the hope and love Christ gives us, even when our church can’t. So much Gospel – this community is blessed to be able to care for those in it in such a powerful way – and I still craved more.

I can admit to preaching sermons to myself; I think those sermons, when done with the community still clearly in mind, are the best because I am not satisfied until I hear a gospel that truly satisfies my longing heart. A month and a half after assignment crashed into a wall, I found myself preaching one of those sermons, using the text of the master who gave his servants talents. Reflecting on Christ as the worthless servant who brought back the buried talent (for the image of the one who came to serve can surely be found in the servant in any parable), I said, “As I look at this talent, God keeps calling to my mind all the times I’ve felt buried in my life only to have Jesus bring me out of the ground into a life I never imagined. What will Jesus bring out of the ground this time?”

I don’t quite have a full answer to that question yet, but there have been good hints. I finally came out to my father, as difficult and painful as that was. I went through assignment a second time, and my new bishop says I should have paperwork for a congregation in my hands by the end of the month. Moreover, because I did not get a call following the fall assignment, I was able to move home after my brother broke both his legs to help support the family and fill in his shoes in the family business while he spends the year healing. Icing on the cake: I get to spend a lot more time than I would have gotten with my 8-month-old nephew. Whatever God had in mind when the doors of this church were closed to calling me in the fall, it seems like the ideas were good ones, even if the it hurt like hell for a while."

Thank you and God bless you in your call to ministry, Tyler.
Until Next Friday!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Accepting Tolerance

Three days ago I received some medical news that completely alters the future of my life. I have been living with lupus for over 12 years now, and I thought that I understood how my condition affected me. I now am adjusting to a new reality, and it is hard to know exactly how to put one foot in front of the other when the path of my life is leading me down a road I'd rather not travel.

I'm a pragmatic person, and despite feeling the wind knocked out of me, papers need to be written, meetings need to be had, finals need to be taken, and packing for CPE needs to begin. I am in a state of tolerance with my health. I am tolerating the fact that I am angry and frustrated because despite having my health put limitations on me, I still have a full life with very full responsibilities.

There is a difference between tolerance and acceptance. We tolerate things that are frustrating. We tolerate things that are challenging. We tolerate things that are less than. This is vastly different from acceptance. We accept our limitations and find ways to work around them. We accept our differences so that we can grow together. We accept things because in acceptance there is an acknowledgement of worth.

Right now, I am not accepting how my health is affecting my future life goals. I am tolerating it. I can still move forward with tolerance, but it is not as full or rewarding as the progress made with acceptance.

When we think about other areas of our lives where people use "tolerance" and "acceptance" language, which do you choose? Do you tolerate the dominating personality in the classroom, or do you accept them? Do your race relations come out of a place of acceptance, or merely tolerance? Do you think we should tolerate LGBTQ unions, or accept them as equal to a heterosexual union?

Both lead to progress. Both lead to a brighter future for our tomorrow. But which word is the word that speaks more to the gospel of Christ, tolerance or acceptance? Are we forgiven for our sins because we are tolerated as being victims of a fallen humanity, or because we are accepted despite being a broken person?

Right now, I am in a state of tolerance, but with God's grace, I hope to move to a place of acceptance.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Body of Christ has Two Arms

It’s been an interesting couple of days. On Thursday night I took a tumble playing basketball (seminarian basketball is not for the faint of heart), and could tell when I got up that something was not right. Eight hours in the University of Chicago Emergency Department confirmed this; I fractured a bone in my elbow. It’s not a bad fracture, but the location required splinting my entire arm from wrist to shoulder. For the next week I have almost no use of my left arm.

I’ve spent the last few days learning how to do things one-handed, and there’s a lot I can do with careful planning. But as much as I can still do, there is a seemingly endless list of things that are what I’ve deemed “two-arm activities.” Things like opening jars, washing dishes, spreading cream cheese on a bagel, and even doing my own hair. As someone who’s always been pretty independent, this has made for a rough couple of days. I hate having to constantly ask others to help me. I want to be able to do for myself what I’ve always done.

But I can’t. I can’t open jars, use a knife, etc. And I am so grateful for the community who has surrounded me these past few days. Friends who sense when I’m struggling and reach over to perform simple tasks without making me ask. Who also understand when I need to do the job myself even if it might take longer than if they just did it for me. And most importantly, who are willing to be present with me in my pain and in my frustration as I navigate these temporary limits on my world. I cannot imagine trying to manage these last few days alone. It is good to be part of the Body of Christ, who can offer another arm when my one is not enough.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Little Resurrection in a Little Assessment

This week I found a significant affirmations in a place I didn’t expect- my First Year Assessment.

I remember first getting that wonderful mailing which said that I would have to arrange an hour long meeting with my advisor before the end of April. For this meeting I would have to draft of my Endorsement Essay and some paragraphs about how I would rank myself in the learning outcomes of LSTC. I would also have to print off a transcript. At the time, the paperwork seemed very intimidating and tedious as I thought about the other projects that I had to finish. By the time my week had come up for this First Year Assessment meeting, I was thinking about everything but First Year Assessments.

Now, I won’t hold anyone in suspense too much longer (insert chuckle here), I did get the paperwork together, eventually. At the meeting itself, I was almost immediately comfortable talking with my advisor about the next classes I was looking at, how my time at LSTC was going, the subject matter of my coursework, the musical, and other fun things. I was sad that it had to end, but I had my schedule and my advisor’s to honor. I left after a wonderful and reassuring time together that really brightened my day.

I have never worried that someone at LSTC would be out to get me, but it’s so nice to find another person who is on your side as a seminary student (pardon the language; I don’t want to suggest that someone in particular is NOT on “your side”). This was really a resurrection experience for me this week. I've been getting myself stuck in places of worry in my attempt to complete projects, readings, and other paperwork. The meeting that I had lifted me out of that mess, even if only for an hour. Turns out what I thought to be tedious and intimidating ended up being exactly what I needed.

Until Next Friday!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Christ is Risen Indeed

I love Easter Vigil. It’s one of my favorite services of the entire liturgical year. I love standing outside in the cold, dark night, huddling together, waiting for the lighting of the new fire, waiting for that rush of warmth that assures us that the light of Christ cannot be extinguished from the world. I love the bold proclamation that “This is the night!” I love hearing the stories of faith brought to life in new ways. I love that moment when all of a sudden the lights go on, the organ blasts out the first strains of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”, and the congregation responds with that long-awaited “Alleluia!”

I love Easter Vigil, but I did not go to one this year. I spent Holy Week at my home church visiting my friends and their brand new baby. I went to the other Triduum services, but Vigil was deemed too long for a four-week old, so we stayed home, played cards, and passed the baby around. Eventually she fell asleep on my chest with my finger in her mouth, sucking away contentedly.

I hope in my career in ministry to have the privilege to attend and preside at many an Easter Vigil. But as for last night, I can think of no better way to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ than a very small baby sighing softly on my chest. Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Pocketful of Memories...

or rather a tote full.

Sometimes this journey that we travel on can be disconcerting, and it can even appear as if we are trapped within gnarled forests blinded even to the brilliance of the morning sunrise. Lent perhaps to our spirits, will never end. Yet, the promise that floods the horizon with new Light bringing forth new Life can pierce our souls with renewed energy even as we hold onto so tightly to the hem of His cloak.

For seminarians, the descent of Spring Semester as the academic year winds down to drifting lazily into the paleness of the evening means as a community we will begin to say our good byes. Our seniors sems are feeling the antsyness of approaching graduation as well as many of them journeying on to new horizons of first call interviews. For the first years, just getting through Lutheran Confessions as well as the piles of papers and projects that eagerly await their brilliant thoughts and ideas on paper and on computer . For my class, the middlers are awaiting April 19th when they will find out where exactly they will be going on internship. 

In the last Lord of the Rings, Gandalf and the others set off on the sleek, transparent ships going beyond the Gray Veil, destination unknown but departing from this world into the beyond. The others watched it disappear, hearts heavy and missing those they had traveled with for so many, many years into dangerous and eye-opening adventures. 

Although the adventures we have taken as a class have not been dangerous, the Holy Spirit definitely has traveled and opened our hearts and minds to the beauty of God's Love and the commitment that The Creator has to our vocational and discerning journey. For me, the addition of having a daughter in her junior year of high school means I will remain on the shores with my toes dug in the sand, wishing my classmates safe travels and blessings.

As the weather for a brief moment drew us all away from the sanctity of our hearths, spring cleaning too, also came early in our household and cleaning out our hall closet once more unearthed our tote full of pictures: pictures that equal up to more than 16 years of marriage as well as snapshots of both my husband and I's childhood. 

For me, the excitement of another academic year, of bonding with my adoptive classmates who will soon be middlers, means also that I too will begin the journey onward. This will be the year I say goodbye and not farewell to a Synod who continues to mold and support, to a Seminary who has stood by and opened their arms and to my extended family who has gathered around me since my first steps into this world. 

This pastoral journey is getting real folks. 

Lape Bondye, God's Peace.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


"I heard that God is in the radio, checking the stations" - Queens of the Stone Age

Today as I was driving home to Cleveland for the Easter, I did a litle radio surfing. In Chicago I tend to listen to the pop stations, and as I was driving for 5 hours I was reminded how much I love a good double bass peddle and heavy guitar music.

I am a closeted metal fan. I guess I've always been into various forms of rock. My dad loves to tell the story of how when I was two I would rock out to Bon Jovi's "Living On a Prayer" in my car seat (believe me, the irony does not escape me). Today it was quite a delight listening to Seether and Under Oath, and I've reaffirmed that I like my Korn best when it's spelled with a K. If you looked at me, though, you wouldn't think I have an extensive Coheed and Cambria collection on my iPod. I can be traditionally girly. I like dress suits and patent leather shoes. With the exception of two tiny tatoos, nothing about my appearence me screams rocker.

As I was driving through Indiana a college radio station was playing an hour-long block of Nine Inch Nails when suddenly the radio DJ read a passage from the Gospel Matthew. I almost couldn't believe it. Who would have thought that any non-Christian radio station would quote scripture, let alone during an alternative rock segment? Not me.

I think on some level I needed to catch that broadcast. Seminary prompts you to think a lot of your public role, and there are times when you can be tempted to present the most mainstream parts of your personality. It's important to be accessible, but at the same time, it is also important to remember that God called the entire individual. I'm sure for that DJ's career, reading the Bible on the air may seem a bit taboo, but he shared the good news in the forum that spoke to the whole of his idenity.

God called the whole me to seminary with my love of emo music, my love of traditional business attire, and my love for Jesus. As I think about my public role, I should remember to broadcast that God loves our entire self, and the best way to do that is to embrace my inner rocker.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Synod Community

One of the things I enjoy most about being in Chicago for my internship (and my whole seminary experience) is the network of ELCA clergy in the area. The Metro Chicago synod, being a handful of counties large, is quite small compared to most other synods, making it feel much more intimate and interconnected than, say, my home synod of two entire states.

And so, today the Metro Chicago Synod gathered on the north side of the city for a special mass. I'd estimate around 100 ordained pastors, deacons, associates in ministry, and seminarians were there, representing every corner of the ELCA's reach in Chicago and the suburbs. At this 'Chrism Mass,' the bishop blessed two enormous pitchers of oil (or chrism) to be used for anointing in baptismal and healing rites in all the congregations of the synod; the clergy and associates renewed their ministerial vows; and we all joined together in the great feast at the Lord's table.

My supervising pastor from my Ministry in Context (MIC) last year helped to coordinate this event, and so I joined fellow seminarians and interns in the good work of acolyting. And as the gathering hymn began and I carried the cross into the midst of the people, I began to think that think liturgy couldn't get much higher. Processionals, incense, beautiful music, genuflecting, a chasuble, dalmatics... the works.

Me, Kwame, and Rev. Shebeck: an MIC family!

I had been craving this kind of liturgy. I had gotten so used to it at my MIC site last year, and my internship site isn't quite as liturgical. In fact, I'd venture to guess that the majority of congregations in the synod aren't nearly as liturgical as the Chrism Mass today... which is why this sort of gathering is so important, especially on the Tuesday of Holy Week. Gathering with fellow clergy to renew vows, strengthen relationships, and experience God through these ancient liturgical practices really sets the stage for the marathon that we in the Church are about to run. It reminds us that we aren't alone in ministry. We have colleagues and friends close by, and we have the cloud of witnesses throughout time, to encourage us as we enter the most holy time in the Church calendar.

I hope that whatever synod I find myself in for my first call (and second, and third, and so on) will have the kind of support network that this synod does. This is, in a way, what Christian community looks like.

Monday, April 2, 2012


My freshmen year of college, my roommates and I decided that we would hug each other before we went to sleep each night. We realized that we were used to be hugged by our parents, friends, and pets back home and in this strange land of college, we were feeling deprived.

I go through that from time to time. Withdrawal. Of just needing some human touch. And as everyone is preparing to preach the 2nd week of Easter (the most popular Sunday for seminarians to preach), I think about Thomas just wanting to touch. And my heart calls out for him.

In this society of individualism, of isolation, I fear we have forgotten that we are the body of Christ for one another. Reaching out to touch. Reaching out to hold.

And yet, even as I type this, I think of all the times touch has been used wrongly. Used to hurt and harm. And I weep.

So in the midst of this broken world, I seek Christ. Look for an empty tomb that means Christ lives. I wait to touch the wounds in his side and in his hands.