Monday, June 25, 2012

Atención Gringo

When we got to Cuernavaca, Mexico this is what greeted me when I got into my room above my bed. If you're not familiar with Spanish phrases, Gringo is not always the most polite way to speak about a white person. I laughed about it for a while, but ultimately I would have no idea how much those words would frame my trip with Youth in Mission's Serving Christ in the World program.

I'm always worried when traveling in a group of other Americans that we will be greeted coldly, judged, considered the "ignorant group of gringos". Or hit up for cash, laughed at, or any number of other things associated with America and American people. Enter "Atención Gringo", where we received many fewer of these than I expected and instead got hospitality and love heaped upon us.

I knew we would be experiencing a new culture, something which I absolutely adore after my first international travel this past winter. I unfortunately did not know much about Mexican culture before I got here. "Attención Gringo". I fell into my own behavior, and didn't research the country I was visiting before getting here. But, I would like a moment of grace, since United States news outlets don't often give information about the goings on in Mexico. Who knew they were electing a president on July, 1.

We had the opportunity to visit an indigenous village, Cuentepec, and meet with a women's artisan cooperative who made clothing and textiles, pottery, and also had a bakery. They sold their crafts to people to support themselves and also were able, as a cooperative, to make more of a living than they would if they sold their handiwork to a middleman. We were welcomed into the home of one of the women artists and got the opportunity to learn about their pottery and tortilla making processes. They then taught us how to make pottery, and tortillas which was so much fun! The tortillas we helped make actually became part of our lunch with these women and their children. As I was experiencing this place, and learning a little bit of a different culture, even from Mexican culture, I was also able to look at myself and the group from afar. We were invited into the home, 24 American youth and adults, and shown such immense hospitality from people who had very little to give. Sure they showed us some of their work, and we bought quite a bit, but when the Pesos were converted to American dollars, I was shocked at how inexpensive everything was.

"Atención Gringo" rang loud in my ears after that thought. These people live in a city where iPad doesn't mean anything at all. And they were selling their goods at a price that was reasonable to them. They had something that I valued, a beautiful candle holder of children all holding hands around the circle, and I had the 50 pesos that they deemed the piece was worth. We exchanged goods and money, exchanged words of thanks and exchanged warm handshakes.

When talking about Justice, I think it's important to recognize the difference between charity and justice. Charity would have been being the "rich American" who gave twice the amount and said "Keep the Change". Justice was what happened, this woman had something that I truly valued, and I gave her the fair price for her work. We spoke to one another (even with my rusty Spanish) and created a human connection. And because I was purchasing straight from the artist herself, I was doing her justice by not having to sell her items to someone else first before I bought it. And in that moment when we all had to say goodbye to one another, I saw the face of God in every single person at the home who sat and talked and shared a meal with us.

"Atención Gringo," God is truly in the midst of this place.

Monday, June 18, 2012


So, Saturday afternoon I began work with LSTC's Youth In Mission office as a seminarian mentor for the Serving Christ in the World program. (I'll give you a hint, that last sentence helps you understand 2 of the words in the title...)

As I was going through orientation for the program we ran across multiple acronyms for various organizations, names, offices, and the like. Some were new to me and some were not. To me it was interesting to step back and take a look at what was going on when we were using all of these acronyms. I realized that while we all knew what they meant (or learned very quickly) they were meant to be used because we were part of the club. We used the acronyms because we were the in crowd, the ones who did not have to decipher what they meant.

A few years back at an orientation for the ELCA National Youth Gathering in New Orleans we were told how to respond when someone not affiliated with the Gathering asked what we were a part of: "We're here with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as part of the National Youth Gathering" and then we could talk about what we were doing, how we felt about their great city, and learn what a portion of their story was. It was made pretty clear to us that we were not to use the term ELCA when having these conversations. Some people thought it was kind of militant, and controlling, but I think it was a great gift both for the people we spoke to, and to ourselves.

It was a gift for those we interacted with because they did not have to be part of the inside group to understand who we were or what we were doing. For these people, having a name to attach to something and to have the appropriate language for what they were talking about was necessary for communication to happen.

I also see it as a gift for us talking about the Gathering. So often we get caught up in our acronyms that maybe...just maybe we forget what we are actually talking about. How many times in a day do I rattle off LSTC or ELCA or LoL(Lord of Life, my home congregation) or now SCITW, YIM or CCIDD (Cuernavaca Center for Intercultural Dialogue on Development)? Too many, I think. I think when we use this "club language" we forget what we are actually talking about. I think I'm going to challenge myself to start saying Evangelical Lutheran Church in America so that I help other people understand, but also so that I too fully understand that I belong to a Christian Church in America that is Lutheran and centered on proclaiming the Good News of Christ to all people.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Star Trek and Seminary

Star Trek and I have gotten very close lately.  I have made it a habit after CPE to arrange dinner plans, do whatever work I wish to get done, and pop in an episode or two of Star Trek: The Next Generation for a little R&R before bedtime.  I have made it such a habit that I am on the 6th of 7 seasons.  I will soon be forced to find a new television series to transport my mind somewhere it hasn’t gone before. 

I will say that I have really enjoyed getting to know the characters and immersing myself in the various story lines.  It’s always fun to catch the latest philosophical question posed by Data, chuckle at the humorous blunders of Worf, or listen to the seemingly infinite wisdom of Captain Jean Luc Picard.  I have been continually impressed with the scripts of most episodes and I have said on more than one occasion that this series was ahead of its time. 

Although this series was very advanced, the God figure, “Q”, is portrayed quite satirically and this bothers me a bit.  “Q” is manipulative, playful, chaotic, and sarcastic.  Not exactly an ideal God.  Why couldn’t we see a consistently omnipotent character who mirrors a more benevolent and compassionate force in the universe?

I suppose “Q” needs to be there as the antithesis to the ordered way of life which humanity has created for itself.  In a way, God is a source of order in the creation story, but then becomes a source of chaos in the incarnation story.  Jesus’ message provided the basis of chaos in a Romanized world.  Ironically, “Q” does seem to embody not only the nature of the entropic universe, but also the ever unpredictable Christian God. 

Oh Star Trek, how do you do it?

Until Next Friday!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Aww 'shucks'

I have a classmate, David, from Louisiana, and his parents came up for a vacation this week. With them they brought 20 lbs of shrimp (heads on, of course), several kinds of sausage, jambalya, and the crowning glory, Oysters! Now, I had never had oysters till January of this year. Louisiana Oysters were way less salty than the French oysters I had, and as David's mom said 'they're uglier too". It's true that they had muscles and seaweed attached to them, but to me that just made them unique.

Now the fun part about these oysters is that they came all closed up. Like good, helpful seminarians, we all pitched in to help cook and prepare the food. The time came to shuck the oysters, and since I always like an adventure I thought I'd give it a go. Those wiley little things are practically cemented shut and *graphic detail ahead* you had to stab them in the back, which surprises them enough to open up...then you have to cut the muscle attaching the oyster to the top shell, and voila! an oyster on the half shell.

Some of them we served charred over the coals with a hot pepper butter, and others we had raw on the half favorite! I learned that the Louisiana way of eating them is on a cracker with lemon juice and hot sauce. I prefer mine with just lemon and right out of the shell, but either way, they were great.

Now the best thing about all of this, even better than all the shucking I got to do (which I'd love to do again!) is the hospitality that David's parent's showed to us. It seems like a lot of the time in this job we get to provide hospitality for others, something which is really important, and something which I particularly happen to love. But I also know that those moments of being able to receive hospitality (even by helping shuck a little) are always life giving moments for me. They help connect me to part of a larger story of the Christian faith and witness, that we are all meant to share God's love to others, to be hospitable with God's love.

For some people that is praying for people, for others it is making the perfect latte, others show hospitality by smiling to strangers, and showing up with pounds and pounds of Gulf Coast food. All are good, all are heartfelt, and all show God's love to others.

What are moments of hospitality that you have ever received? Given?

Friday, June 8, 2012

CPE, In the Beginning...

“Hello, my name is Justin Tigerman and I am one of the summer chaplains.  I am calling to see if there might be a time when we can meet and visit each other for a bit.”

CPE has finally begun.  The long awaited summer of trials, tribulations, and testaments of pastoral care has finally come.  My father and friends recount often of how CPE was one of the most dramatic and formative times of their pastoral lives.  I am so excited.  For the most part, my ministry experience has been in camp settings for the past four summers and, while I loved my time there, I believe I am ready to broaden my ministry experiences into another setting.

I am at a retirement community for my CPE site.  My colleagues and I have split up the residents so that each of us has about 40 rooms to visit.  Some people have been quite receptive to the introduction at the top of this blog post.  Others have been less receptive.  One of the first lessons I am learning is how much weight the title of “chaplain” bears, even if “student” is directly in front of it.

One thing is for sure, there is a certain level of authority that I need to better understand and learn how to use in my endeavors this summer and beyond.  The truth is, however, that I am not the authority; God is.

Already in the first week, I have learned much (partially from the overwhelming orientation to the program).  I have learned a little about authority and about the graduality of a relationship.  We haven’t even gotten to family systems, story theology, or verbatims yet!  Oh what fun I have to look forward to this summer! J

Until Next Friday!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Oh the Places You Will Go...

What? Is that really my name?

Greetings from your friendly neighborhood Gypsy Seminarian, reporting to you live from Metro Chicago Synod Assembly!....

...actually it happened this past weekend.

Spring not only brings the flowers that leaped forth from Mother Earth and yelled "Hello world!"; Spring not only brings brightly colored homemade fruit and veggie stands with red and white awning, bursting forth with a wonderful harvest and awakening our taste buds to new and interesting foods. Spring gives the floodgates a shove as all the Synod Assemblies begin.

Awaiting the masses of the faithful

The Tinley Park Convention Center was transformed almost into one of those mega churches (perish the thought) with beautiful banners proclaiming the power of the risen Christ but of also the throng of witnesses proclaiming the Good News in every tongue. 
Interesting that the next weekend, the Illinois GOP would be meeting in the same space.

Glad a little Jesus got a chance to bless this place...

It seems like the years I have been able to go, I have gone in a volunteer capacity: I served on a Committee, greeted people at check in and this year, I initially participated in both Worship Services but also was asked to sit at the Lutherans Concerned/Chicago booth.

Collectively, we as a Synod are speaking with one voice. Perhaps we don't understand everything or even why we need to stand with those who historically some aspects of humankind tend to damn altogether. There were those during the hearings and debates didn't want us as a Church to speak out on this resolution supporting the Illinois Religious Freedom and Marriage Act; that we should advocate individually. 

Yet what about the Church's voice during the Civil Rights Movement? Didn't people of God, brothers and sisters in Christ come from the confines of their four sacred walls and walk through the streets proclaiming that restricting, limiting, enslaving a people just because of this or that or the other was wrong?  Perhaps people are afraid to step out on faith, and it's alright because we as children of God are not perfect. We are ever changing, growing, learning and sometimes just being who we are and remembering whose we are. 

My Synod passed this resolution but there is still more conversations to be had, and even more so, prayers to be joined together holding hands when we agree to disagree. Hearing those voices speaking out in that hearing room whether they agreed or were unsure or even frustrated meant that our spirits were alive, calling out our prayers to Our Creator knowing that He was also in that room with us, listening, surrounding and loving us.

Oh a post script..someone nominated me to be a part of the Synod's delegation to Churchwide's Assembly next August 2013. I didn't know about this until well into that Friday afternoon. I have my suspicions about who did and well, it's awesome and humbling to be recognized and as I delve more into my Church and the people who link hands with me, I realize that my vocational walk becomes more and more real.

Until next time, Lape Bondye! God's Peace!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Blame it on the Spirit

I have a confession to make....I think I'm an Ordination Junkie.

Eternal God, through your Son, Jesus Christ, pour out your Holy Spirit upon Matthew and fill him with the gifts of grace for the ministry of word and sacrament. Bless his proclamation of your word and administration of your sacraments, so that your church may be gathered for praise and strengthened for service. Make him a faithful pastor, patient teacher, and wise counselor. Grant that in all things he may serve without reproach, that your people may be renewed and your name be glorified in the church; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
~ELW Occasional Services

These words were spoken at my friend Matt's Ordination yesterday at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Park Ridge, IL. I called the same church my home over the past nine months because it was my Ministry-In-Context parish. Matt was called to be a Mission Developer for a new church that they are planting in the city of Chicago. It's been a really great time watching and participating in getting the new church ready to open, and now that Matt is ordained, they are one step closer to having weekly worship (which will hopefully happen this fall).

The most powerful part of the service for me was the laying on of hands by Bishop Miller and the other clergy in attendance. It's simultaneously exciting, awe-inspiring, and downright terrifying to think about the Holy Spirit. I know we spend a lot of time praying for the Holy Spirit to be at work in our lives, and know that the Spirit is an ever present part of our lives and our entire world, but I know I don't always think about what that actually means, and ordinations give me a chance to pause and consider the implications of this request.

Praying for the Spirit to pour out these things upon Matt (and all of us) is exciting in that we get to recognize the power of God at work in us, and through our lives of service to each other. It's also incredibly humbling and awe-inspiring, knowing that God claims and calls people at their baptisms to live out their vocations of faith, and that the Spirit is actively at work helping us fulfill those calls. And on top of all these things, praying for the Spirit's presence in our lives is downright terrifying. It's terrifying because once we recognize the power of the Spirit within our lives it's impossible to ever go back to the old way of living. It's impossible to wake up and think "nope, I don't need the Spirit today". The power of the Spirit in our lives calls us to our baptismal vocations of living out God's promises in the world with joy and excitement, living daily in the knowledge that the Spirit does show up in everything. Everything from ordinations, to conversations over dinner, to getting sweaty and dirty planting flowers and vegetables in the garden.

The exciting, awe-inspiring, terrifying presence of the Spirit at work in our lives, and in Matt's life, shown clearly yesterday in the laying on of hands and prayer, is something that I love to witness, and be a part of. So maybe I'm an ordination junkie...but I blame it all on the Holy Spirit.