Sunday, January 03, 2010

Reflections on a cell phone

My cell phone is turned off. This is probably not the most normal introduction for a first ever blog post, so I will go ahead and tell you also that my name in Kjersten Priddy, I am an MDiv Middler, and I am currently in Iceland for J-Term. And my cell phone is turned off.

Seriously turned off. Not like on vibrate or silent in my bag or off for a flight to be turned on as soon as the flight attendants give the comforting “it is now safe to use portable communication devices” announcement, but completely and totally off. For the next two weeks. I am supposed to be reflecting on Iceland’s culture and stark beauty and experiencing a “profound experience of darkness,” or so said the course description. Above all, I am supposed to be saving myself the outlandish out-of-country charges I would face for using my cell phone in Iceland. All these things I’m sure are happening. But what I find myself most noticing the most is that my cell phone is turned off.

It is not like I am without communication. The house I am staying at in fact is some sort of a model technology house and literally has wireless internet streaming from the outlets in the wall, so my connection to the internet is actually better and faster than my $10 ATT wireless in Chicago. But still, I find myself feeling a little bit lost without my cell phone. Being cut off from it, I’m realizing my phone has become a bit of a security blanket. I can think of rough times in my life where I have sat on the couch with my cell phone in my hand looking at all the people I could call if whatever it was got bad enough. Oftentimes knowing that in my hand was a list of people I could call at any time was enough to not need to call anyone. Just that realization that people who loved me were out there was enough.

So this trip becomes, for me, about more than just experiencing a new culture in this land of beauty and harsh extremes. Being on this beautiful island in the middle of the north Atlantic, with great internet and no cell phone is also about discovering new ways of connectedness, new ways of remembering my community and my support system. There will be times in ministry where, for one reason or another, there will be no one I can call. There will be things I will have to deal with in life that will be difficult and painful and I will feel alone and that phone will have to sit unopened in my lap. And in those times, maybe I will remember Iceland. I will remember the experience of finding new community in the place where I am. Of learning to eat cheese on cookies, playing Bananagrams with someone who beat me despite playing in his second language and ending up with all the Q’s and X’s, and waking up to a five-alarm sunrise at 10 am. But I will also remember the people across the ocean who remind me that my home and my welcome are still in that place. I will be glad to remember that the world is small. And I will be grateful for a God whose arms can reach across as vast a space as the ocean and across as small a space as a cell phone.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

God's Dirty Work. Our Dirty Hands.

The clearing rests in song and shade
It is a creature made
By old light held in soil and leaf,
By human joy and grief,
By human work,
Fidelity of sight and stroke,
By rain, by water on
The parent stone.

We join our work to Heaven's gift,
Our hope to what is left,
That field and woods at last agree
In an economy of widest worth.
High Heaven's Kingdom come on earth.
Imagine Paradise.
O dust, arise!

-Wendell Berry, "The Clearing Rests in Song and Shade"

A few weeks ago Zach Parris challenged his fellow SS bloggers to think and write about our next steps during LSTC’s Earth Year. In classic Zach fashion, he urged us, as we seek to join the growing green movement, not to shirk the strengths of our theological heritage, nor to skirt the messy nature of ethical choices in a sin-soaked world.

Zach is right. If we fall into the trap of thinking that voting for a Democratic president, eating organic food, and buying a Nalgene bottle is all it takes to save the world, we will indeed build up a "works-righteousness bubble” that will be punctured as soon as we encounter a political headwind, read Michael Pollan, or see REI’s new BPA-free Nalgene bottle. As the air rushes out, we finally realize that no cobbled-together cure-all, taken on its own in increasingly desperate doses, can save us. We are grateful for Luther’s rediscovery of this crucial truth, and we Lutherans would do well to carry our forebear’s insight with us into the future.

Yet our goodly heritage has, unfortunately and for a variety of reasons, too often been used to justify an all-too-typical Lutheran quietism. The story of Lutherans in North America – and in Europe, for that matter – is ripe with examples of our church giving short shrift to the world-changing work God has called us to do. Trapped halfway through our paradox, we have sat out too many social movements. Oh, we have our heroes, and rightly so – our Dietrich Bonhoeffers and our Jon Nelsons – but as a church we have too often been inactive enablers of evil, often with our theology as an excuse.

But – thanks be to God! – we are sinful and forgiven, sinner and saint, dust and yet arising. It is well past time that we claimed our full Lutheran heritage, the one that declares the great paradox that we are sinners, yes, truly, but we are also saints, yes, truly, empowered by God through our baptism to, as Zach puts it, “act and move” for justice. And though we, the sinner-saints, work in “what is left” of a world – indeed, a creation – already devastated by sin and its brutal effects, we are freed by the cross and yes, called through our baptism, to, in the words of Wendell Berry, “join our work to Heaven’s gift.”

So, in answer to Zach’s question, what’s next in Earth Year for me? It is the work of joyful discovering that - much to my surprise - this sinner-saint work-joining is already happening!

I am blessed this year to be on a pastoral internship in a place where I am seeing God working through our hands every day through communities of faith in the Pacific Northwest. Three-fifths of my time this year is spent at St. John United Lutheran Church in Seattle, Washington, a congregation already engaged in innovative Care of Creation ministries. (The other two-fifths is at the Lutheran Public Policy Office of Washington State, but I’ll say more about my Earth Year discoveries there in a future post.)

Several years ago St. John United, together with its then-intern, decided to reclaim a sidewalk and adjoining parkway in a residential neighborhood in the heart of urban Seattle. Over the past few years God put their dirt-covered hands to good work: They planted crops, from green beans to bright yellow sunflowers, adding new varieties every year. They invited others in the community to join in planting, nurturing, and harvesting. They built an irrigation system to run through pipes under the parking lot. And they grew more and more wild plant life to beautify the neighborhood, and produced more and more good food to donate to their weekly soup kitchen ministry.

Of course, the harvest is still small by most standards. We often bring in only a shoebox full of veggies – a harvest that pales in comparison to the one reaped by Celebration Lutheran Church in East Wenatchee, Washington, where I am visiting this weekend. They regularly cover several fellowship-hall sized tables with food (big orange pumpkins this Sunday!). And if I were to compare our crop to the big industrial farms that stock the Safeway grocery store, well… let’s just say the economists would tell us to give it up. But, as we well know, they’ve been wrong before. And so we press on, confident of what God can do with a few loaves and fishes – or a few green beans and sunflowers, for that matter.

As for me, I still have a lot to learn about gardening. On my first garden work day, I pointed at an ugly-looking plant that had pricked me and asked whether it was a weed.

“No,” a fellow garden steward told me. “That’s a wild rose.”

I stepped back to marvel at the mystery of God’s creation, and to marvel even more at the mystery that God can do such work through such clumsy, dirty hands as mine. Heaven’s gift, indeed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Everything I needed to know for Seminary…

Kwame Pitts is one of our newest bloggers--look for her photo and introduction, coming soon! But for is a first word from Kwame Pitts, Assistant to the Director of Advanced Studies & Registrar
“The Beauty of LOMC” Picture by R. Pitts copyright 2009 @ all rights reserved

Surrounded by darkness
Illuminated by your Light
My soul touched by your Voice
As the stars fall

Loneliness I felt
But cradled by your Creation
Welcomed through waves of green
As the stars fall

Awakening my spirit
Travelin’ through this journey
Surrounded by your Wonder
As the stars fall

Knowing how far I’ve come
And knowing where I will go
Confirmation that I am Home
Watching the stars fall.
Original by K.L.P.

As I was assisting a group of pastors out for a day of relaxation from the Northern Illinois Synod with a canoe trip on the Rock River, one of the pastors who is retired joined me as I tied a canoe down on the rack. He smiled and joked “Did you ever think that you’d be doing this? Hauling canoes and whatnot, like that would help you prepare for seminary?” I laughed and replied “Well, that’s true! Everything I need to know I learned…”

Sounds like a “What I did this summer” essay, right? Yet when we come to Seminary Sampler that is a question that is asked of us-what made us hear the call? What events caused us to make that decision and why LSTC?

One word I can equate with LSTC is community. Will you pick up on that during the Sampler? Perhaps yes and perhaps no. Yet dear readers, if nothing else through all of our cheerful ramblings through our blogs no matter where you are in the world, you will still be embraced by the community spirit that flows through every portion of our being and throughout these buildings. For it is in this community that encourages, enriches and excites us about answering that call-whether the open doors before us lead to becoming ordained, or modeling our professors and finally donning those beautiful hoods and colors of an advanced studies student. It also includes those charged with guiding, teaching and counseling all of us as well as those on the front lines, making sure this body of Christ runs smoothly. Every one of us is an important factor to the ministry and the mission of LSTC.

It is one part of that call that I have answered: being able to assist those students who are knee-deep in the trenches of the libraries working on research, fretting about exams and panicking about that all-important dissertation, along with supporting Dr. Esther Menn and the wonderful faculty with our Th.M and PhD students. It is truly a pleasure for me. Most students welcome a calming presence and I hope that my office will always be a warm place for them to lay their burdens, share in laughter and of course, have brownies. Often, graduate and doctoral students are tossed aside at other institutions because well, the administration perhaps feel that they are so mature they don’t need a human voice or one-on-one conversations. Yes, many of our faculty proudly wears the colors of LSTC in formal ceremonies and during graduations and this place nurtures future professors and leaders regardless of wherever their spiritual path leads them in this life!

It is a place that I too, am proud to be a part of and become a part of, for I too have listened to His voice and answered His call still even questioning it all the way. With His presence, love and mercy as well as the blessing of my Synod, I will proudly be able to count myself among those who call themselves, seminarians.

Regardless of where you are along your journey I pray that you think of LSTC as a home away from home, and that I am one of many that can show you, beloved through our eyes, the simple yet profound beauty of LSTC--what it means to us, and what it can be for you.

May God’s peace be upon you, until next time-

For more information or to check out a green space right here in the great state of Illinois, please visit

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Beginning a Year of Earth Bloggin'

As Pastor Joy mentioned previously, “Earth Year” has begun here at LSTC. “Earth Year” is a year in which the LSTC community will focus on greater theological engagement with ecological concerns. Throughout the year there will be many opportunities in our communal life to consider how we are being called to care for God’s creation and how the life of the seminary can further that mission. On the line, you can keep tabs on earth year with twitter (EarthYearLSTC) and a facebook group (Earth Year at LSTC). On the Seminarian’s Sojourn blog, we too will engage in this green year with some earthy blogging. Throughout the year we will wrestle and blog our way through ecological questions raised and insights gained.

Our terrestrial year kicked off this past Wednesday with a lecture introducing the theme from LSTC Professor of New Testament, David Rhoads. It was a powerful lecture. There were profound insights as Dr Rhoads articulated a theology of the earth, a theology grounded in our understanding of creation, justification, vocation, the cross, and the Holy Spirit. It was a lecture filled with beautiful imagery, in particular as Dr Rhoads described a vision of all of creation gathered around the table at the Eucharist. And it was a lecture filled with emotion. This topic is clearly a passion for Dr Rhoads, but the emotion in the room provided support to his assertion that “the signal issue has changed.” From the time of Luther and anthropocentric or human focused salvation, the signal issue in our current context has moved to a focus on the survival of humanity and creation. This issue and this year of green focus clearly resonates with our current context in the world. It was an inspirational lecture; those in attendance were filled with energy and excitement to begin this themed year. To borrow a phrase from my favorite college football coach, it seemed that everyone was “All In” with earth year. And to borrow an addictive theme song from one of the most memorable cartoons of my childhood, everyone was ready to sign up to be an official Planeteer.

As we walked out of the lecture, it seemed that we were of one mind and heart. And so it occurred to me,
what’s next? If in response to God’s call to care for creation we all shout “Amen!”, then what is the goal for earth year? What do we hope to get out of this themed year? What’s next?

For me, what’s next is some sort of green Lutheran ethic. For me, in this year I hope that our community will wrestle with how God is calling us to respond in action to God’s love of all of creation. If there’s anything that really bothers me about the environmental movement, it’s in this ethics department where we figure out exactly what to do. A popular green ethic seems to place most responsibility and power of ecological justice on the individual. It’s even at the end of the seemingly innocuous and catchy outro from Captain Planet above. It ends as Captain Planet tells us all, “The power is yours!!!”

Especially from a Lutheran perspective, when we speak of creation in a theological frame work this focus on th
e individual makes me a little leery. Because if the signal issue of our time is an understanding salvation not on just an anthropocentric level but in a way that embraces the salvation of all of creation; then I think the basic Lutheran insight still applies. It’s not me or I or we that have the power to bring about the salvation of creation, but Christ and the cross.

I can almost hear echoes of Captain Planet’s call of “The power is yours!” in the theology of our more evangelical brothers and sisters. If we are to reject this kind of semipelagianism in regards to anthropocentric salvation, then I think we must do so in regards to a salvation embracing all of creation.

I’m not trying to say that we are called to sit back and relax in our SUV’s while rockin’ CFC laden hairspray an
d let Christ and the cross take care of ecological justice and concern. Rather, I think our ethic must be connected to our theology. We must also beware of that great western heresy that locates all power in hands of the individual consumer, and tempts us to think that ecological justice comes when the individual consumer makes a single green choice. My undergraduate degree was earned in environmental engineering, and I spent several semesters co-oping as an environmental engineer. From this past life, I have retained enough knowledge of environmental science, to know that I don’t know enough. I must humbly confess that despite what Captain Planet says, I don’t have the power. I don’t have the knowledge or power or perhaps even the will to make choices to bring about ecological justice. But that doesn’t mean I’m not called to act and move for it.

Perhaps the most memorable part of Dr. Rhoads lecture for me was some of his remarks on community and salvation. He said that in the New Testament, “there is no salvation outside of community, and no community without creation.” I find these remarks instructive on how God is calling us to respond to God’s care of creation. It is a place where our theology can inform our ethic. I hope that this year at LSTC we are able to wrestle, as a community, with how we can respond to God’s call as a community. I find hope, that even as individuals without “the power,” perhaps as gathered together as a community listening to God’s call together we can find ways to respond together to help bring about ecological justice.

Again, this is not easy; especially for a community like LSTC. As we begin the year, we are reminded of how our community is diverse and dynamic. We are reminded that at least 2/3 of the folks on campus this year, weren’t here last year. We are reminded that a major part of our community is scattered across the world on internship. We are reminded that our community at LSTC is continually being reshaped and remolded. This diversity and dynamic nature certainly enriches our communal discernment of how God is calling us to ecological justice, but it also makes it more difficult. It is my hope and prayer that during this earth year our community engages in the difficult but necessary task of asking the hard questions and engaging in communal discernment of how to respond to God’s grace.

So, I guess my question for you other bloggers, commenters, and community members is, “What’s next in Earth Year for you?”


PS - I finally have a post that rivals Matt in word count.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Earth Year at LSTC

Students are back! We're almost through Orientation week and have welcomed many people back to campus. Yesterday, we heard an inspired Inaugural lecture from Dr. David Rhoads and celebrated Eucharist with thanksgiving for God present in Word and Sacrament and the whole web of creation.

Thanks be to God!
Pastor Joy

Friday, July 31, 2009

rainbow trail

Rainbow Trail
July 19th-25th
Brahm Semmler-Smith

The final camp we visited this summer was Rainbow Trail Lutheran Camp, situated on the side of a mountain in aptly named Hillside, Colorado. Sarah and I both worked at Rainbow Trail five years ago, and this was our first time back since we left that summer. We were excited to be back in the mountains at camp, visiting a place that had made such a positive impact on us.

Adding to our excitement was that we happened to be on-site during a senior high week, with 115 or so high schoolers driving the energy of the week. These were all kids who wanted to be there, and had been coming to camp for many years. Rainbow Trail uses the village system, and each day of the week a village is invited to plan and coordinate the worships and activities. The counselors are there to support and encourage the campers as they do this planning. The campers and staff did an amazing job throughout the week planning and owning their week at camp. We shared communion under the mountain stars, got up at 5:30 for a sunrise service, hiked up the mountain, went rafting, and heard the staff witnesses of five of the staff in the morning, and messages from five congregational leaders in the evenings.

But what left me with the biggest impression of the week was the Bible Study theme: “Take it down the mountain.” How do we take the ‘mountain-top high’ of our faith lives at camp and live it out and experience faith back in our daily lives? For so many of these kids, camp is the ONLY place that they experience, wrestle with, and share their faiths. They come from so many different circumstances, some of which are extremely difficult, and they struggle to make their faith a part of their lives. For me, the Bible study focus at Rainbow Trail this summer emphasizes the importance of outdoor ministry in our church. Camp is a place to encourage and challenge ourselves and each other. Camp is a place in which we accept, love, and teach kids who need to be accepted, loved, and taught. Camp is a place of grace. And we hope and pray that they take what they experience at camp back down the mountain and live out their lives remembering the grace of God that surrounds them.

And this goes for the staff, too! During the staff meeting, I thanked the staff for the amazing week we had, but I also asked them what they felt this summer’s theme and Bible study was saying to them. How was God calling them? I invited and challenged the staff to take it down the mountains themselves, to find churches to be involved in and to be leaders in those churches. Maybe not as pastors (although quite a few were considering the possibility), but as leaders. There are kids and adults who are longing for people just like them to connect with at church, and God is calling them to be leaders in the Church.

At all four camps that Sarah and I visited this summer, we were struck by the number of young adults who showed such amazing leadership abilities at camp, while giving up their summer to do outdoor ministry. We thank God for such an amazing ministry of the ELCA, where faith lives are nurtured, and leaders are made.

mountain ministry

Friday, July 24, 2009

green lake bible camp

July 1, 2009

Green Lake Bible Camp, Spicer MN
Camp, Day 4
Sarah Semmler Smith

We’ve arrived at the ‘flow point’ of camp today. The kids know the songs, the Biblical theme verse, and are genuinely excited to be here. Friendships are forming. Flirtations and mini-dramas are unfolding between teenage campers. The counselors have hit their stride with each other and with the kids, having learned what makes them laugh and how to help them focus at the right times. The weather is sunny and breezy this week in MN and in the low 80’s – just cool enough to make swimming a brave versus essential activity. Its tie-dye day, and soon the camp will be an explosion of swirled rainbow colors.

I’ve been struck again, as I visit a Lutheran Bible camp after an absence of three years, at how much the campers truly love to sing and dance and spend time in worship. Two songs seem to be favorites for this week’s bunch; both have to do with dancing, interestingly. In the first song, there is a break-out/jam session in the middle of the verses where everyone yells, “Let’s dance!” and to the rhythm of the guitars, everybody breaks into their own free-spirited rendition or move. The giggles produced during that moment of the song are always contagious.

The second song, “Holy Time” really is a song that functions as invocation. The lyrics: “This is holy time, gathered together to worship you, to love one another. And as we pray, and as we sing, and as we dance and as we dream, Oh Lord I beg of you, just this one thing: Won’t you dance with me? Throughout the heavens and below the sea, up on the mountain top, flow with the breeze, come carry me. Oh Lord won’t you dance, with me?” This song captures so well the raw spirituality of children at this age; their longing for something real and of God; the vastness of their imagination; their incurable curiosity and ability to laugh and play in any moment. “Holy Time” seems to be a young persons prayer to be a part of the life of the Divine, a yearning for a life of faith that is hardwired to something profoundly close and accepting of them, and yet vast and powerful enough to take them on adventures to the worlds and beyond.

At camp, God dances with the counselors and children. At GLBC, you can see it during cabin meals, as counselors and their cabins chare a laugh over a rice crispy bar. You can see it in Bible study, where games and activities help make values a topic accessible and interesting to 7th grade boys; you can feel it in worship at the crackling of the fire as young eyes who peer into the orange flames listen to the strumming of the guitar and ask in that quiet moment, “Who am I, really? Who will I become? Where are you God in all this anyway?”

To the music, creativity, spirit of play, adventure, and dance at camp, I take off my hat, and Thank God for such a ministry in the ELCA.

Sarah Semmler Smith

at the shores of st andrews

Seminarians are again at Camp this summer!--
here are words from Brahm Semmler Smith:

I spent my week at Shores of St. Andrews, one of the sites of Green Lake Lutheran Ministries. Shores primarily hosts elementary aged kids, and this particular week there were 150 campers, although half were only at camp for a few days. We spent a lot of time playing, praying, worshiping, and eating; all the usually great things that happen at summer camp. Highlights included evening worship on the beach with the sunset out across the water, fun in the water swimming and kayaking, playing many games that involved chasing the kids, and many, many games of knockout/lightning on the basketball court. One of my favorite moments was walking next to two young girls, probably around 7 years old, who were holding hands as we were heading to an activity, and in our conversation they commented: “Do you know that we only met each other yesterday? And guess what, now we are BFFs. Isn’t that cool?” I don’t know if I was more floored of their quick bond or that they, at the age of 7, used the term BFF (Best Friend Forever).

The staff was a great group of individuals who cared for the kids, shared the Gospel, and were kind enough to welcome me into the fold of camp, allowing me to reminisce of my summer camp counseling days. I was able to sit in on Bible studies, play guitar at worship, and act in skits proclaiming the good news. I am very thankful for the week I was able to spend at Shores of St. Andrew, and was heartened and encouraged by the ministry that was taking place there. God is making a difference in the lives of the kids and staff of Shores, and I give thanks for this.

Brahm Semmler Smith