Monday, July 30, 2012

by the Grace of God...

God  you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.  Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is guiding us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I've been told that leaving seminary is like leaving the womb.  You're suddenly expelled from a warm, nurturing environment into the scary world that is filled with air and light and terrifying things.  No wonder babies scream so much when they're born.

I'm experiencing that a little bit myself right now, as I prepare to head off to internship at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, CO.  Leaving home is never easy, after all, I've made so many memories at LSTC, and formed bonds of friendship that are so woven into the fabric of my own life that they will never be able to be broken.  I won't be constantly fed with theology and philosophy, and chapel...and that's a little scary.

But, on the other hand, I'm so excited to take my first breath as a Vicar, to fill my lungs with the grace and love of God.  To finally be able to do ministry full time, what I've been waiting for two years to do!  And so, as I go, full of emotions that are unsettled, on a path which I can see ends in Denver on the 16th of August, but beyond that have no idea what it will look like.  So I take solace in the words of the above prayer from the ELW Evening Prayer setting, I have to trust that God's hand is indeed guiding my path and I am fully confident that God's love is supporting me (and all my fellow interns) on this untrodden path of internship.

And honestly, I couldn't have asked for a better place to try this whole pastor thing out than a congregation that knows the power of Grace in such a way as HFASS.  So, here goes nothing, but first I have to pack!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

God's Gumbo

Last night I spent a good hour and a half on the verge of tears. I walked into the Superdome and felt the electric energy of 33,000 youth all excited to listen and praise and dance and share in what it meant to be the physical manifestation of Christ in one place in the city of New Orleans.

I am lucky to know two of last night's speakers personally, the Rev. Yehiel Curry and the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, and both of them had poignant things to say to our youth (and adults!) who were gathered together.

Rev. Curry is a classmate of mine at LSTC and shared a word of welcome with everyone in the dome. He reminded us of the rich history of Gumbo-a dish of welcome. Gumbo, made of all sorts of meat, veggies and spices looks an awful lot like a giant dome shaped bowl of the Gumbo of God, we were reminded. And he went on to speak to those people who were definitely-abled, republican, democrat, disinterested in politics, black, white, brown haired, blonde haired, black haired, gay, straight, male, female, open minded...reminding us all that we were an important part of God's Gumbo, and without us the entire gathering, and I would say the entire Church, would be lacking.

And then Nadia came on stage, sharing with us that she grew up in a church where "they didn't want her flavor in the gumbo," something that I have experienced too. She was turned off to the church and was perfectly fine with walking down a path of destruction, knowing she would die before she was 30. Fast forward to 2012, and Nadia told us that she did not deserve to speak to us, and that the parents who had doubts were probably right...there's no way a tattooed, recovering alcoholic, who had 20 years before gotten a tattoo in the living room of a junkie, should be able to talk to 33,000 high schoolers. But, in her words, "that's the God we are dealing with, people." Because we are dealing with a God of transformation and new life!
Indeed, we have a God that welcomes all people into the gumbo, knowing that every single child of God is important to enhancing the flavor of the kingdom of heaven on earth. We have a God that is less interested in us climbing some pious spiritual ladder of religiosity and a God that is more interested in climbing down the ladder to where we are. We have a descending God who claims us as God's own because of Christ, who climbed down to earth to dwell among us, the pious and the spiritual junkies alike, to share the love of God.

Our God is a radical God, one who transforms us and blesses us so that we can boldly proclaim the good news of Christ to all people. And we, the crazy Lutherans, can be proud to roll up our sleeves here in NOLA and do God's work with our hands as Citizens With the Saints!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Citizens With The Saints

Today was an early day of training for the Community Life team in New Orleans, we had to be at the convention center at 7am to start our day. After a couple hours of safety lessons, questions, laughs, yawns, and coffee we got a chance to meet up with all the other volunteers to worship together and participate in a commissioning.

I'm always amazed when you get a bunch of Lutherans in a room together, how alive music and worship can be, from singing harmonies (even when there are just words on a screen) to gathering together around one table to be fed and nourished with the Body and Blood of Christ. And I got that opportunity to swallow grace another time today, a couple hours ago, in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with about 100 volunteers. We sang Holden Evening Prayer, read scripture, passed the peace, and once again shared in the Body of Christ which we were reminded is given for everyone. Not just those people who are super energetic, or who are participants, or who are administrators, but everyone is invited to share that meal together, and everyone is invited to live in the constantly flowing and ever abundant grace of God.

It is that grace, which is given freely from the table, which flows forth from fonts, which brings us to New Orleans this year, and encompasses the theme of the week: Citizens With The Saints. In a world where walls divide us from each other, both physically and psychologically, the word "Citizen" conjures up very specific images to all of us. And that is what is so great about the theme, and the scripture that encompasses the entire Gathering:
Jesus is our peace. In his life and death on the cross, Jesus broke down the dividing walls so that we are no longer strangers and outsiders, but we are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God. The foundation of God's house was built of apostles and prophets, and Jesus, the cornerstone, holds it all together.
Ephesians 2:14-20, Gathering Paraphrase
These words are just as radical now as they were in the first century because division, and the "us vs. them" mindset is not new. Thinking in terms of "we" has never been comfortable, or easy, for any of us. And that is where Christ comes into our lives, in the midst of chaos and strife and walls, Christ IS our peace. Christ is our peace and comes to us in such unlikely ways, in food and drink, and in a bath. It is those times, when Christ is present in our midst through Word and Sacrament, that "us" and "them" simply do not exist. It is only "we". It is only citizenship with all the Saints.

It's good to live in the "we" this week with 36,000 other people!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Only a Month to Go

I'm at the point now where I have one month left of CPE before officially beginning my Middler year.  At this point we're doing some mid-unit evaluations and I'm left wondering: what have I learned so far?

Well, for starters, I've learned that chaplaincy isn't for me, but pastoral care is.  Learning to listen and be an pastoral figure in the lives of people I minister to and with has been significantly more challenging that I thought it would be, but I love it.  One day, after feeling slightly discouraged because I realize that chaplaincy was not something I wanted to do for the majority of my ministry, someone surprisingly walked into the pastoral care office and we began a pastoral care session "on the fly".  I couldn't believe what happened! I listened, tears flowed, I understood, we came to a conclusion together and learned from each other in that conversation!  Afterwords I thought to myself, "that could happen at a parish!" and got a little giddy at the thought that I just practiced genuine pastoral care in a situation that I could encounter in a church setting. That's how I began to understand that chaplaincy might not be up my alley, but that's ok.  It will certainly be a part of my ministry and I understand that, but I see now why CPE entails a lot of self-understanding, sometimes more so than calling it job training.

The other big thing that I'm learning is that self-care is ok too.  In fact, I'm finding that the more I practice my self-care the more effective my visits are.  I really burnt myself out early on, thinking that I needed to work work and work to get my face into every room I was assigned.  We had short introductory conversations that didn't really seem to delve too deeply into any sort of concern or topic which was on their mind in a significant way.  All of that changed as I modified my routine to include more practice of self care.  Leisure reading, working out, watching movies, playing games, and resting have all contributed to a deeper interaction with my group members and residents.

Aside from these wonderful lessons, I have also been wrestling with conceptions of God, worship planning, understanding and ministering with people with cognitive impairments of multiple kinds, and other, you know, trivial stuff :P
All in all, it's been a pretty significant summer in Hyde Park and I have to say I feel more affirmed for it.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Well I don't know what you came to do...

...but I came to praise the Lord!
This was the way one of the songs I got to sing at Sugar Creek Bible Camp this past week began. I had never heard the song before, and some of the songs I did know we're interpreted a little differently, but the most important thing is that I got the chance to once again experience outdoor ministry during the summer! The last time I had been at a summer camp during the summer was at LMC in the summer of 2007.

I was at SCBC as part of the Youth In Mission office (sensing a theme with my summer jobs this year?) as an Outdoor Ministry Ambassador. Basically what that meant was that I got to hang out with kids all day, hike some gorgeous trails, and most importantly, talk with counselors about where they saw God in their lives, and what they felt they were called to do in living out their baptismal vocation. I also got to talk to counselors about other types of ministry in the ELCA that might be a possibility sooner than seminary, such as Lutheran Volunteer Corps, Border Servant Corps, Urban Servant Corps, and Young Adults in Global Mission. On top of that, I got to share my own call story, and how I came to be in seminary at this point in my life.

I once heard a statistic that 72% of seminarians cite outdoor ministry as a major part of their faith formation, and it doesn't surprise me at all...I was one of them. And so, if these counselors go on to seminary or not, it was an absolute gift to be able to walk with them on just a tiny portion of their journey, and to get to hear the calling of God in their lives. I am constantly amazed at the passion for serving Christ in those I had the pleasure of talking to.

Where has God called you?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Preaching and playing

I got to preach at my home congregation yesterday, Lord of Life Lutheran in Columbus, OH. They are doing a summer series called "Psalms of Summer: The Songs That Jesus Sang" and so the preaching text each week is the Psalm as a way of reintroducing the Psalms into worship. I think it's a great way to start using the Psalms again, by using them to preach from....and then I had to actually do it. I felt so great to be back at my home congregation to preach and worship with them. Anyway, the Psalm this week was Psalm 30, a great psalm and one which I did not think would describe my situation once I got back home to my parents house from preaching so effectively.

So, I get to my parents and know the inevitable has to happen. I have to get rid of my iPhone that has been at my side for two years now. This tragic moment is because on my internship next year, I'll be in a situation where I won't be able to pay for it, and I think it is really important to live I within your means, so back to the regular phone it is. Make fun of me if you want, but I've come to depend on my iPhone and getting rid of it was a tragic moment this morning. But like Psalm 30, I know that my mourning will be turned into dancing since in 2 months I'll be in Denver having a blast on my internship where I'm sure I won't even notice that I don't have the latest technology. I look forward to that moment, and I'm terribly excited about internship. And maybe, just maybe, it will teach me that even mourning the loss of shiny electronics will be transformed into dancing!