Sunday, January 30, 2011

Coffee - A Sacrament? Part II

I've been back in Chicago for the last two weeks with nothing official scheduled.  Sure, I've had errands to run--buying books, mailing letters, etc, but I've managed to fill my two weeks quite nicely with coffee.  I remember Alison's post back in November, suggesting that coffee was a sacrament.  
I would like to second this.  

I found myself having endless coffee dates this month.  I had coffee at Z and H.  I had coffee at Medici.  I had coffee at Third World Cafe.  I had coffee at my apartment.  Rinse and repeat.  I had one coffee date that lasted four hours, which only seemed to end because we noticed that they were closing.  

While my stomach lining and teeth enamel probably would have preferred not to have been treated to this barrage, my soul is joyous.  These conversations were ones that nourished me, made me feel alive or heard, when often times, I'm too busy reading and writing to really process what is on my heart and mind, especially with other people.

We start classes tomorrow.  I'm looking forward to having a schedule again, but also having a few more coffee dates.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Each day my google calendar walks me through my day, item by item. I have it on my cell phone on the main page (it's a fancy phone). It has arrows so I can click through the items and see what's coming.

Today, in bold letters, underneath the date, it said "NO EVENTS." And I broke into a huge grin. Nothing scheduled. A day filled with nothing but me time.

I'll be honest. In the past, this situation would have unnerved me. I would have been fretting spending an entire day with just myself. I'd start scheduling things just so I wouldn't feel alone. But not today. After a fairly hectic three weeks in a row (in which my Saturday's were spent fretting about preaching and leading service the next day), I basked in the "NO EVENTS" heading of my day.

And let me tell you, though I did end up going to visit a parishoner and going to the grocery store... as well as answering a few work emails and preparing for service tomorrow morning, I did a whole lot of blissful nothing.

It was a sabbath rest and I cannot convey how restorative it was. Thank the Lord for this day (and all days... but especially this one) and for the care that comes in resting.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Comfort Food

"You turned my wailing into dancing;
You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing to You and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give You thanks forever."

Although living through winters here in the Midwest means that we must endure months of drifting blankets of snow that seem to pour from the Creator's hands, in our household also begins the season of cooking and baking comfort foods, one of which includes Gumbo. Proud to be from a long line of Creole women, my childhood during the holidays especially were sitting in my Grandmother's kitchen at the speckled white table and watch, learning as she taught me how to bake cakes, banana pudding and Gumbo from scratch. My Grandmother also never wrote anything down, passing her knowledge along to whomever chose to pause from the hectic world outside and listen to stories about her own childhood growing up in the South. Kneeling at the feet of elders, acknowledging their contributions and heeding their wisdom is unfortunately endangered in today's society.

In a passing conversation with my best friend, she recounted a discussion where someone scoffed at scriptures "Why read this old book? What knowledge could it hold for anyone? There's nothing relevant there!"

Just as the waifing of sweet smells and spices surround our very being, cradling a fresh batch of Apple Brown Sugar muffins or coming in from the frigid and desolate outside and resting one weary soul with a bowl of filling stew so can be a favorite scripture, a sung Psalm or a simple hymn that reverberates within us and gives us the comfort and strength .

God's Peace. Ainsi-soit-il

Thursday, January 27, 2011


I’m preaching this Sunday at a church out in Bolingbrook, a suburb about 40 minutes west of Hyde Park. The church is doing a series called “Lessons from the Lesser Known,” about stories or characters in the Bible we don’t hear from as often. I’m preaching on Acts 8:25-40, the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, another conversion story that directly precedes the famous Saul-to-Paul story. The latter story features Saul walking down a road, and Jesus speaks to him and basically tells him to do a 180 with his entire life. Well, the story of Philip and the Ethiopian is a bit more—shall we say—down to earth. It’s a story that we can relate to easily, one that seems similar to something that could happen in our own lives (well, except for 8:39-40). But the way the story is told in Acts, God’s action is no less central. The Spirit is the one leading the action. Philip simply listens and goes along with it. Philip even listens to his “convert” and baptizes him. In fact, there is no action Philip takes in the story that is his own initiative.

When I read the book of Acts, this is the kind of “evangelism” I see occurring throughout the book. There is nothing pushy, nothing forced. Only followers of the Spirit being open to where and when they might be sent, and answering questions along the way. They are the ones getting pushed around, witnessing to the love of Christ the entire time. How can we practice this kind of evangelism? I haven’t yet mastered the art of listening to the Spirit telling me where to go next, much less being teleported to another city. But maybe it starts with simply being open to having a conversation when the opportunity presents itself.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Follow Me

Last Sunday I preached on Matthew 4:12-23, Jesus calling the first disciples. I was reflecting at one point on how frightening it must have been for the disciples to leave their boats, their trade, the life they knew, and follow this stranger who offered them the chance to fish for people. “I don’t know,” I commented, “if some stranger approached me on the street and said, hey, leave everything you know, if I would jump at the opportunity…”

I wrote the line in my manuscript, no problem. But when I went to deliver it on Sunday, I looked out over this room full of people who I had never even thought of until the ELCA, in its infinite wisdom, decided Syracuse, NY was the place for me, and I thought, huh.

This decision to start seminary is crazy. I don’t think I give that fact enough credit sometimes. This is not to toot my own horn and say, “look what a great follower I am,” this is simply to allow myself the space to recognize that this journey is hard. If you are reading this blog, I’m assuming you are at least considering seminary, if not already in it. And so I’d like to offer you the space as well, to recognize that this is a really big decision. It’s a big decision, and it can be scary. But Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples, “Go fish for people.” Jesus says, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” The action is all Jesus. The responsibility is all Jesus. All I have to do is follow. And hey, it turned out pretty well for the disciples.

Packers win! Now I got to step up my game.

Looking back at the last three days, I have never felt so much anticipation to a single football game. Going to school in the Chicago area for undergrad and now graduate school, has always placed me on high alert because of my undeniable love of the Green Bay Packers. I can still remember at the beginning of this football season, after the Packers lost a close one to the Bears thinking, "I do not want to come in to school this week." Now around 19 weeks later, I was thinking the same thing Sunday, "If we lose the NFC Championship to the Bears and Jay Cutler (who I have really started to dislike this season), I may have to take the semester off!"
Lucky for me the Green Bay Packers are headed to the Super Bowl and this year my fears are relieved on this particular topic. The threat of school still looms with the pressures to get those grades again and preparation is already beginning for next school year in the fall, with finances and figuring out if my days of commuting are over. I am excited to be busy again, I am excited to be flooded with so much, it reminds me how lucky I am for these opportunities, and it makes me rise to a level that I would not be capable of alone. So I say, “GO Pack GO,” knowing as the Packers season comes to an end, I keep going. No fear though, because I have done it before and I will do it again, just like the Packers!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

I wanna marry you...

I went to an event hosted at LSTC yesterday called the "Spouses/Partners Perspectives Panel." It was spearheaded by a spouse of a middler, who works incredibly hard to incorporate the spouse/partner community into the student community.

The panel talked a lot about boundaries, involvement, therapy, communication, communication, communication. I continue to be very appreciative for the men and women that make LSTC a more vibrant and well-rounded community, by their call into medical, theatrical, business and education fields, among others.  

There are so many spouses/partners that are being called to serve and love God, in an equally important role as their partner studying theology. As a student who is spouseless, I continue to be so, so, so impressed by people who have made a commitment to their partners in this crazy seminary journey, following them across the country and putting their career goals on hold.

I also really appreciated some of the "tips of the trade" that came from the voices of partners.  On the day off, assign the president of council to screen your phone calls for emergencies.  Encourage a weekly gathering at the beginning of your placement to "meet and greet" with all members of the congregation, but in small doses; this will help establish the family members as individuals, rather than just PKs or the "pastor's wife."  Know what your spouse's opinion is before you go into an interview and NEVER speak on behalf of your spouse, as the pastor or spouse.

I truly value the priesthood of all believers, despite how frustrating it can surely be for these wonderful people.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


A colleague told me that she always plans little get aways or things to look forward to during this season. This is, of course, the season of the S.A.D. which always grabs me. I keep meaning to get a "happy light" and bask in it but I guess part of me things it is a load of bull. But really, the lack of light combined with the dreadful post holiday season and new years resolution testing is enough to drive anyone into depression.

As we discussed her plan to always have something to look forward to, she told that she tries to get as much enjoyment as she can out of the anticipation of the event because once the event (vacation, visit from a friend, special occasion) arrives, it always flies by.

I will be home in Tennessee in two weeks and I am eagerly awaiting that week of visiting friends and family and my old haunts. It is keeping my head above the waters in these past few very busy weeks of ministry. I'm continually amazed at how much *new* stuff continues to pop up. They're silly things like learning I can lower the stand on the pulpit so it doesn't swallow me whole when I neglect to wear my heels. Then there's the bigger stuff like leading my first memorial service or sitting by a dying man's bedside.

But life is a balance not just of fast with slow and solo with company... but of new and familiar. And frankly, I've had a little too much new on my plate in this new year. I'm anxiously and joyously anticipating some very *familiar* things.

...though I suppose I'll make time to meet my friend's brand *new* baby. ;)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Cabin Fever

As the snow drifts down from different darkened starry skies, a familiar smile crosses my features. Home away from home once more.

There's only one more week before classes begin and as many of us finish up J-term classes or find ourselves with too much time on our hands, we dive into fiction books, catch up with friends and wander aimlessly. In conversation with one of my classmates we both agreed: we are ready for the semester to begin once more. I must admit I miss the daily interaction with my class, the routine of coming in with morning jokes or sharing baked muffins, warm coffee or enlightening tea or afternoons of hanging out at the Shelf, the mailroom or outside enjoying cool refreshing air; the courtyard filled with laughter as well as evenings of propped up on the couches in the library hunched over laptops writing in frustration or that moment of clarity as our own personal theology swirls and forms before us.

The nakedness of the woods greeted us as we pulled onto the pathway; through this darkness that I was so comfortable with and had walked on nights as these surrounded by bats swooping down snatching unsuspecting pesky bugs, was now still and where there were groups of night hikers, their voices echoing happily-now only deer, reclaiming land that for eons belonged to them, munching on sprigs of green that perhaps poked through the newly minted snow.

To have this moment, a break in the mundane was welcomed to my spirit-a wonderful way to end J-term and the promise of a semester ahead.

God's Peace.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Seminary and Creativity

I hate to say it, but seminary drains my creativity. It’s not that I lose all creatively whenever I am taking classes; rather it seems all by creative faculties are being put to use through writing papers, giving presentations, and writing sermons. These actions are certainly artistic in and of themselves, and I do enjoy the artistic process of writing a paper or a sermon. It’s just that little time and energy remain for other artistic passions.

For me, this means songwriting. The summer before I entered seminary (the first time, in 2004) was the most prolific songwriting period of my life. In those three months I finished at least nine songs. In the following three years, during which I went to seminary full-time, I wrote seven. And to be honest, many of my attempts were simply not very good. The ones that did survive are characterized by a decidedly darker tone than those that preceded seminary.

What if our seminary curriculum included artistic expression at its core? I am grateful that I had the opportunity to write a little liturgical music for our Blue Christmas service in December, and happy to see invitation for visual art submissions for the chapel during lent. But these opportunities are in addition to the seminary curriculum, not a part of it. What if the seminary had a director of artistic expression, and space and time—and credit hours—were allowed for students to engage in visual art, creative writing, and music. Imagine the wealth and breadth of art that would be produced for the benefit of the seminary community, and perhaps the larger church! And the benefit to students of having another method of engagement to process the new ideas often learned in seminary classes would be substantial.

Sisters and Tomato Plants

“If the seasons like Chicago tides come at ridiculous times and I have to plant in September instead of May, and if I have to make up family from scratch, what matters is that I do have sisters and tomato plants, the essential things.” – Barbara Kingsolver

I spent the weekend back in California visiting family. It was wonderful to be back in a place where people knew me. Where I wasn’t Vicar Kjersten or seminarian Kjersten, or even adult Kjersten, but was instead Glen and Nancy’s daughter, Ralph and Charlotte’s granddaughter. It felt so stifling as a kid to not have my own identity. But now it feels like a gift, to be around people who in some ways know me better than I know myself, having seen all my quirks before, in my grandparents. It was good to be for a while in a place and with people who are familiar and safe.

Being home in California also made me miss my home in Chicago and my classmates in diaspora across the country. This group of people has become for me a home and a family. Brothers and sisters who have only known me at my current height, but who know a part of my identity and personality and can hold that up for me when I forget who I am.

I am grateful for these homemade families. Families of friends and colleagues that offer support and love in as far-flung of places as Washington, DC, Chicago, and maybe even Syracuse...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Burlesque, Global Missions, and Me?

Just got back from seeing the movie Burlesque, $1 Tuesdays at our Budget Theater in WI near my house. I enjoyed the movie, although it has a lot of risqué scenes. But I was finding myself drawn into one part, when asked why a character left a comfortable small hometown they replied, "I was looking around and I didn’t want to do what anyone else was doing..." Now I butchered that line, but I was really caught up in that line all the way home to the computer, because days before this quote, I was sitting in a room with about 10-15 young adults, talking about church at a Global Mission event for the ELCA. The idea there was, "Where are the young people?" And I think I may have received part of the answer tonight. Is it crazy to think that Burlesque has the answer??? Are the youth and young adults looking around thinking they do not see themselves in their own congregations? I feel a new excitement today and from that conference, because I know that I am not alone, but more so that I go to school with a bunch of people who feel called to eradicate this feeling, who do not want that in their church or Christianity, in fact some were at the weekend event and others there may be future LSTCers. In the end great weekend and great movie, but the future looks even greater.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"God doesn't call the equipped. God equips the called."

This fall was a hard semester for me, filled with many moments where I doubted if I was really supposed to be in seminary.  While I have plenty of people affirming me externally, I can't deny the sense of inadequacy I feel.  

Over Christmas break, I ended up spending a week back at my old job.  I worked as a case manager at a homeless shelter prior to coming to seminary.  As I sat in my old chair, at my old desk, staring out the window at the same “Grant Street” sign, methodically going through the files that I set up and reading the notes on the clients that I worked with, I knew that I could quit seminary and come back to Pennsylvania, and I would have this job waiting for me.  No problem.

As easy as it could be to go back, almost like the prodigal daughter, I know it’s not where I’m supposed to be.  I feel selfish being in school here in Chicago  when one of my clients is still terrified to ride the bus by herself or another doesn’t understand his mail.  God didn’t burst through the clouds and tell me to get my butt back to Chicago.  I did, however, have a sense being incomplete.  LSTC and Chicago are not my final destination, but neither is the shelter.  To continue on this journey though, seeking to serve God, I knew that I had to come back to LSTC.  It’s where I’m supposed to be, as unqualified as I feel.

”The opposite of faith isn’t doubt.  It’s certainty.”—Ann Lamott

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Pedicure - Another Sacrament?

Okay, so getting a pedicure is not a sacrament. At all. But I was of course struck by the resemblance to Jesus washing the disciples feet. I think about the weeks that get so very long, especially when I'm preaching and leading multiple services (four this week - two with communion). I think about the need to rest and recover and recharge and renew and... yeah.

So on Monday, knowing what this week was bringing, I told my friend who is a local pastor that we were getting pedicures. This wasn't an option. It had to happen.

This is how we found ourselves, pampered to pieces by the amazing staff at Digits here in Billings. And as I looked down at the Vietnamese man wearing a long Buddha necklace as he rubbed lotion into my feet, I thought, "This is how Jesus washes my feet today."

And while you might point out that I paid for the service of having my feet washed (so it doesn't therefore count), I'll assure that you I used money given to me at Christmas. I couldn't have bought anything else I would have enjoyed more. And it was a good reminder to let myself get taken care of instead of doing all the taking care of.

I'm sure it was a great moment for the disciples way back then and it was certainly a great moment for me yesterday.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Words Blossom as Roses....

"Lying lips conceal hatred and whoever utters slander is a fool". Proverbs 10:18

The human speech is complex as it is musical because out of many mouths and voices not only carries the history of a people but the insight into unique cultures and traditions bind us together and separate us apart. The power of the spoken word can also comfort a troubled soul or tear a spirit into oblivion as we have been witness to almost an entire week prior.

As tainted as the political arena has been previous it seems with the election of the first African American president who has brought his compassion and community organizing talents and abilities into the nation's highest office this has unfortunately brought out the worst in many people. Although many of us may not agree with his policies and direction, we should as a people realize who we are first, no matter what our background, spiritual journey or beginnings have been-that we are all creations of the Most High and the commandment of caring for our fellow man, woman and child should be paramount.

More powerful that any weapons, and now with the advantage of the internet those who violently disagree are able to spew discord and hostility and infect others that not only may blindly listen but sadly feel compelled to take action.

If nothing more, what we can learn from this is that we should all think before we speak. You never realize what treasure or trap you can spring upon your fellow brother or sister in Christ, bring them peace or dragging them into sorrow.

Heavenly Creator, we ask for your peace among our people, comforting those who mourn knowing they have passed through the Valley and dance in the fields eternal. Continue to guide our hearts and minds that we are only a blessing to one another as you have commanded us. In your name we pray, Amen.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Maps & Legends

J-term continues. As a final project for the intensive course I’m taking on multiple intelligence theory, we were instructed to create a work of art in response to a biblical text or theological issue. In other words, we were to do what we would normally do in a final paper, but we would do it with paint, or clay, or music, or dance, or whatever else our imaginations could come up with.

The range of student approaches to the assignment has been amazingly varied: A handmade liturgical calendar. A testimonial through poetry and liturgical dance. A series of paintings reflecting on the story of Ruth. A children’s book telling the story of David and Jonathan. A working three-level stone-and-burlap water fountain. A mosaic-glass-and-hammered-tin jar, inspired by the jar of the widow at Zarephath. An original song, written, performed, and recorded in a cappella harmony.

And more to come tomorrow. In the meantime, I find myself marveling at the vibrant and varied creativity of God’s people. If all this creativity is latent in a handful of theological graduate students, who knows what lies hidden in our congregations? And how might we as leaders nurture such creativity in the church?

My own project found me reaching for a trusty paintbrush: my Canon PowerShot SD960. I decided I would go out looking for Christ, like the legendary magi. First I wandered through the city, riding the rails and bus lines, walking the streets and bridges, taking photos all over. Then I pasted all the photos onto a folding map (not to scale). Finally, I traced my path through the city with the words of the Epiphany gospel text. The final product is below, the mapped story of my “Epiphany 2011.”

Welcome Back, Welcome Back, Welcome Back!!!

I am so excited because I am visiting some friends at LSTC very shortly. I have not really seen anyone since before Christmas, only a couple of talks, a vague text message, and some, well a lot of Facebook stalking. I am so excited just to have a chance for a quick catch up, but what I am finding most is that my limited time does not give me enough time. Who to choose, where to go? This also proposes a bigger question for me to think about and that is, “Where do I want to live next year?” Not in a couple of weeks, but next year as I know so much will go on and the addition of outside hours comes into play, where should I live. I have gone back and forth on it for the last couple of weeks, but I have made no headway whether or not I should or should not do one or the other. I want my community at LSTC to be closer at hand with everything school will bring as this all gets harder and fairly harder for other friends and family outside of church work to understand. But as the old saying goes, to much of a good thing… (I guess I don’t really know how it ends), and so I am left wanting that closeness of friends outside of LSTC to give me a break from the word seminary. How come we have not invented the teleport yet?!?!?!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Placement Day

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

A year ago today I nervously awaited the email that would tell me where I would spend the next year of my life. January 11, 2010 was placement day for the ELCA Horizon program. Representatives from all eight seminaries got together to decide which twelve lucky seminarians would get to take one of the Horizon internship sites.

I remember opening the email and scanning quickly for the indented line in the middle of the page that said the congregation and city. I found it, and my first thought was, “Syracuse, where’s that?” In the Horizon program, you list five potential sites you would be interested in going to. Atonement had made my list because of its reputation for excellent urban ministry, a diversity of worship experiences, the opportunity to work part-time with a Presbyterian congregation, and a supervisor who believed in hands-on ministry education. But the experience of listing five places you might want to move to and trying to actually imagine yourself in one of those places could not be more different. Just because I had listed Atonement on my list of potential placements did not mean I had any idea what I was getting myself into.

A year later, and I cannot imagine a place where I would have learned and grown and changed as much as I have in just four months in this place. I absolutely believe that, as arbitrary as it can feel at times, God truly does have a hand in the internship placement process. Is Atonement perfect? No. Is it difficult? Yes, absolutely, every day is a challenge. Many days I wish I was anywhere but Syracuse, NY in the middle of winter. But there is something in this place that I am meant to learn, and there is something in me that I am supposed to offer to this place. It is hard, but it is a good hard, a growing hard.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Festival of Young Preachers

I spent Wednesday through Saturday at the National Festival of Young Preachers through the Academy of Preachers.  This whole event was the brainchild of Dwight Moody, a retired Baptist minister.  The premise of the festival was to join together a 125 preachers between the ages of 14 and 28 to preach.  We gathered in Louisville, Kentucky, to find ourselves amidst high school students, undergraduate students, seminarians, employed ministers and even people who were not going into ordained ministry.  It was a young, vivacious and ecumenical group of people passionate about preaching.  

We all preached on the 10 Commandments, which meant for a lot of sermons on the same general themes; however, the range of what the spirit moved people to speak about blew my mind.  Some people started with prayer.  Some sang.  Some quoted a source.  Some preached from a manuscripts; some without.  It was an honor to be around so many talented people.  

Laura Gerstl, another LSTCer was there preaching, and Alex Raabe representing LSTC from admissions.  The best part?  LSTC offered to fund five students to attend this year!  Check out it out next year, folks.  It was amazing.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Secular Music Gospel

As much as I love hymns and praise and worship songs, I take delight in finding the gospel in secular music, or at the very least, music not ever sung in church. For example, there's Katy Perry singing out about how there's a light in all of us. Amen, Katy. And then I got a new album last week, Mumford and Sons. They play that catchy "Little Lion Man" tune that you've been hearing on the radio (and if you haven't go youtube it right now!). Though the classify themselves as more spiritual than religious, their views come out in each song.

And as I listened to their song, "Roll Away Your Stone," the word "grace" caught my ear.

It seems that all my bridges have been burned,
But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works.
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,
But the welcome I receive with the restart.

That's a sermon for me. Some spiritual food for my day. A tasty gospel snack. And it doesn't come dressed in an alb, preached from a pulpit or in a church. Perhaps God's still small voice is actually an indie rock and roll band from West London? Well, it is this week for me.

Their video for "The Cave" is below:

Friday, January 7, 2011

Waiting in the Wings

"As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you O God."

Covered in the season of waiting, of silence, winter is definitely among us. Although we do not have the pleasure of opening our doors wide and meeting the gaze of a deer, who returns our inquisitive glance with one of their own, we have the joy of delighting in childhood rituals of sledding down hills, tossing snowballs at our friends, falling with glee to the earth making snow angels and many, many trips to our local coffee house for steaming mugs of hot chocolate.

As the new year made its appearance in our lives, so did the seminary community come alive once more after weeks of serenity and quiet. It has been a welcome site to walk outside and see a familiar face or two emerge greeting one another with delightful smiles and more importantly, a restful spirit.

It is if time is in limbo for the moment , where we collectively as a community are rushing from one class to another, our days are filled with taking a week of J-term classes, traveling to different colleges and universities to bring the unmistakable spirit of LSTC home to those pondering entering these hallowed halls, catching up on leisure reading and outings with friends. We as seminarians, have finally allowed ourselves to "stop and smell the roses" so to speak.

"To you O Creator, we embrace the blessing as the Earth stills for our community and this city. Guide our souls to reach out in prayer and thanksgiving, as we reach out to those who are forgotten, gathering them close to the hearth, where your Love, Mercy and Grace abides. In your name we pray...Amen."

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Arts & Crafts

In past years I’ve spent J-term in immersion courses, in Mexico City studying liberation theology and in the Nebraska panhandle studying rural ministry. This January I’m staying closer to home. My classroom is literally across the street from my front door, and rather than bringing a suitcase I pack only my box of art supplies.

The class I’m taking is “Contemporary Issues in Religious Education: God, Faith, and Art” and it’s taught by Elizabeth Caldwell, a professor of Christian education at McCormick Theological Seminary, the Presbyterian seminary that is LSTC’s closest neighbor here in Hyde Park. The aim of the course is to help us use and explore art as a means of teaching and expressing faith, especially as a way of incorporating multiple intelligence theory and moving beyond the “oral-linguistic” methods many of us are used to.

Rather than merely studying theory, however, Professor Caldwell has us diving in and actually doing art… which is fun, but a bit terrifying, too! I’ve spent more time with paint and glue and construction paper in the last three days than I have in the last few years, to be sure.

Our first assignment was to create an “icon” to represent our faith journey. My own icon grew out of several hours spent with Photoshop, and in the end I came up with an icon that was Trinitarian, with the Spirit and the Source surrounding an image of the Way, or the Road. Lining the Road are the saints and sacred places that have been important to me in my faith journey.

Welcome to J-term, where anything can happen – even art!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


The snow is pretty much gone now. It doesn’t seem possible, but a couple of warm days and five and a half feet of snow is just gone. It its place is not the bright, fresh grass I remember from the fall. No, in its place is mud, dirty, sticky, slimy, gray mud. The upstaters, ever the weather optimists, are fine with this change.

“All we need now,” they tell me, “is a couple of inches of fresh snow to cover up all this mud. Make everything look clean again.”

Snow is this great disguise of the winter grays. It blankets the cold dead of winter, making everything look bright. And here in upstate New York, where an inch of new snow a day is normal, it continually refreshes itself. Snow hides the winter mud until the new growths of spring are ready to burst forth from the earth.

On internship I have adopted a policy of “fake it ‘til you make it.” On any given day, at any given task, I have no idea what I am doing. Even if I know what I’m doing, I frequently lack the confidence I need to do what is asked of me. So I fake it. I walk through the doors of the hospital like I’ve been there a million times, not like I just got lost in the parking lot. I plan worship like I wrote the ELW. I preach like I have something to say. And somehow, in the mud below all of the bravado, the Holy Spirit shows up. Shows up and grows a pastor out of this seminary intern. I hide behind a mask of self-confidence, trusting that it is not my confidence that matters, but God’s confidence. That God is doing a new thing in the winter of this strange experience. And I just need to keep showing up, and bring enough mud for something to take root.

I Guess I'm Not Ready After All!

I was all excited because I thought that I was getting back into the swing of things for the J-Term, I was getting excited for the weekend, watching the Badgers (not so good), the Packers (not so promising) and then Monday...Start my online class! Not so fast, I was blindsided before it even started with an email saying my class doesn’t start until the 17th. Booooo! Well I guess two more weeks of waiting, but this does allow me to get my life routine going. I have been sleeping irregularly, staying up and seeing friends, playing racquetball at 2AM, and having coffee at 4 at my local diners. Sounds like a good time, and maybe it sounds like training for the upcoming semester, but I know myself better as I grow older, and as much as I love these times, I am finding that I really do need to focus, and want to. I am looking forward to the week of normal hours, with some sadness that school isn't starting yet. I will probably do some pleasure reading to gear up the eyes for what's to come and to make use of my rad Christmas gift, the Kindle. Work on not staying up too late and keeping a regiment, because it's not going to get any easier come this spring when we pick up with a full semester. As I write this it is pretty late, but I am already off the racquetball court and at home, so I am already on the right track. Good night, I mean good morning?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Epiphany today?


Epiphany will be celebrated on January 6th this year.  As you know, Epiphany is they day we celebrate the Magi or wise men coming to Jesus in Bethlehem.  I try really hard not to begin every sentence with, "When I lived in Bethlehem..." because I know how aggravating it can be for other people...but... 

When I lived in Bethlehem...I volunteered through the ELCA--Young Adults in Global Mission program.  I worked in a Lutheran school in Bethlehem, Palestine, called Dar al-Kalima.  Because of this experience, my understanding of Bethlehem and Jesus Christ, for that matter, has forever been changed.  

In talking to one of my LSTC classmates, Alex Raabe, he shared with me a sermon he heard today in church.  He said that he wondered what the magi journey of 2011 would look like.  

My favorite olive wood carver in Bethlehem likes to include a mini Occupation Wall for his nativity sets.  He doesn't force them on people, but you see them in display sets.  It may seem ironic or quaint, but the sad reality is that the magi really wouldn't have made it to Bethlehem and Jesus wouldn't have been allowed in Jerusalem, since he and his family were from Bethlehem.

To avoid continuing down a very political road and an incredibly personal topic, I'll leave you with the same question Alex had: What would Epiphany be like for the magi today?

Peace and blessings. 

Coming onstage

The week before finals week, my professor of old testament (Pentateuch for all you needing a fancy name) made some comment about looking at Jesus differently than any of us probably had before. Sure, we read the Christmas story every single year, in fact, I've gotten pretty good at saying things like Quirinius over the years...

And then heartwarming stories of shepherds, angels, magi visits. Followed by some scary times fleeing to Nazareth, and silence for quite a few years. But what next? In the birth stories, Jesus is pretty silent, mostly because it would be difficult to record in letters the sounds of babies. So once Jesus gets to speaking age, what does he say? Let's start with the (earliest?) gospel

Mark: (1:15) "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."
Matt: (3:15) "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness."
Luke: (4:4) "It is written, 'one does not live by bread alone.'"
John: (1:38) "What are you looking for?"

These all come from pretty different stories (if you were to line the stories up side by side) and some of them are kind of surprising...but that's how Jesus enters the picture verbally in the Gospels. I'll let you pick your own favorite, but I think each of them is important, and insightful as to who Jesus is. Take John (I think it's the most gutsy for Jesus to start his dialogue with)...Jesus questioned things all throughout his ministry, questioning social and religious norms and making people reevaluate their stances. Maybe it's because I like to question social norms, but that resonates loud in the current world. We are in the midst of a change from modern times to post-modern times, a switch from Christendom to Secular culture. What are we looking for? What are you looking for? Are you looking for bread? Are you looking for the kingdom of God? The good news? the fulfillment of righteousness? Or something else? Whatever you are looking for, remember how Jesus came on stage.
Guest blogger, Alex Raabe, M.Div.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


I have this ornament plaque that I got last summer at the hospital where I did CPE. It says simply, "HOPE BIG."

Then there's that passage in Hebrews: "Faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen." That's all well and good. But what exactly is hope?

"Hope" is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—

I've heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.

Emily Dickinson said it quite well. And it turns out that internship is quite a chilly land and a very strange sea. But like Emily pointed out, it is in that land and sea that we find hope. Adrift and alone, I find my anchor is always hope.