Thursday, December 28, 2006

cheesy church slogans

As I’m walking outside of churches, I often marvel at the cheesiness of some of the slogans that are posted.

For example:
“CH_ _ RH – Q: What’s missing? A: UR!”

Or one I just saw:
“The baby Jesus was found in a one star motel”

I am setting out to find the cheesiest ones, so if you’ve seen some good ones send them to me at and I’ll post them.

Monday, December 25, 2006

the donkey dung manger

It may seem strange, but as I reflect on Christmas this year, I’ve been thinking about the donkey dung that surely surrounded the manger in which the baby Jesus laid.

Seminary has been a journey full of theological formation, and my Christmas theology has been no exception. In my Systematic Theology 1 course last semester, my professor Dr. Vitor Westelle was teaching on “revelation” and was discussing God’s revelation in unexpected ways. He pointed out: Who would have expected that the manifestation of the divine would be in a manger filled with donkey dung?! Only faith can see the Savior in the middle of a smelly manger.

Christ appeared in the smelly manger, into the rough city of Bethlehem, and into a harsh and struggling world. Sometimes I get caught up in the smelliness and harshness of the world today. I think of the War in Iraq, the genocide in Sudan, AIDS in Africa, and the homeless on the streets of Chicago. Although when I reflect on the smelly manger, I am filled with hope. This Christmas I reflect upon the grace of God, that like the little baby appearing in a smelly manger, still shows up today amidst the smelliest circumstances we could ever fathom. This grace may not appear where we would expect it, but it comes where we need it the most. May Christ’s Spirit bring you all the grace and peace of Christmas.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Ministry In Context

As a "middler," (or second year Master of Divinty student) at LSTC, I have a Field Education requirement called "Ministry In Context," which consists of ministry and pastoral observation for 7 hours a week in a local church, and a monthly class. My "MIC" church is St. Andrew Lutheran in West Chicago, IL, a western suburb of Chicago. St. Andrew suffered a fire to their church building a year and a half ago, and have been very resilient in the rebuilding process. Their concept of "church" being broader than the church building is particularly inspiring. St. Andrew now worships in a elementary school gym. They have worship in both Spanish and English, and another student and I have been primarily involved with the Spanish speaking worshiping community. We help with the weekly first communion classes. I help playing guitar for worship. We will also have opportunities to preach and assist in worship. This hands-on ministry experience has allowed me to put to practice what I'm learning in the classroom. It has been great for my pastoral formation, and is affirming my call to ministry in the Latino context.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sigh of Relief

The end of the semester was a bit stressful as I attempted (successfully) to write a 30 page paper on Max Weber, Ernst Troeltsch, and Martin Luther, give a presentation on Identified Relgious Leaders and how to handle personal crisis, and write a 15 pager on my theological model of ministry. I must say it was a long couple weeks.

Well, the semester is now over! (sigh of relief) That means a bit more sleep, getting to the list of books that people have suggested I read, and enjoying the pleasures of Smallville: Season 5 on DVD. The Christmas music has begun to play on my iPod and over streaming radio. I am looking forward to the break ahead of me and enjoying the company I will have.

I have been so focused on my projects for the end of the semester that I feel like I have missed the coming of Advent. There are still a few weeks left to prepare for the coming of the Christ-child. These weeks go by so quickly, that it is so easy to get caught up in the immediate duties that HAVE to be done that I forget to pay attention to the great opportunities for growth that this time of year brings with it.

May you have a blessed Advent and a Holy Christmas,


Sunday, December 03, 2006


It's finals week here at the seminary. I really can't believe it. So much has happened in the past few months! Part of me feels like they flew by; other parts of me feel like it's been forever!! We have learned so much, especially us first-years. We've moved to Chicago; we've made new friends (and kept in touch with old ones); we've experienced seminary classes and gotten to know professors; we've felt the Midwestern climate - 60 degrees one day and 30 the next! We've gotten settled into our new routines (finally!).

I can't wait to have these papers and finals done, and enjoy the holiday season, and reflect some more on my first semester of seminary. And I'm already excited for what's next - a J-Term in Geneva, Switzerland, and 4 new classes in the Spring Semester!

Post Party Depression

Well, we had our big Advent Party. There was plenty of food and eggnog for everyone. My roommates and I call it our party ministry. Sometimes we think that we get so carried away with school and getting everything done that we forget to celebrate with people. It was nice to sit around and laugh, to invite people into our home. There is something very important about going to someone's home. I think you learn more about a person when you go to his or her home than any other way.

This is us just before the party began. I am the one NOT in Red. Everyone was supposed to bring something from his or her Christmas tradition. So we had Swedish Pastry and a German cake and Spiced Tea and wood carvings and Japanese paper angels and a Christmas CD of the concert at Luther a few years back. It was nice to share those things. I think it is important to have traditions and I enjoyed getting to know my classmates in that way. One thing is sure, even though it is a lot of work and comes at a really bad time in the semester, next year I'll have an Advent Party again.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Liturgical Painting

I love to make art, particularly painting and drawing. I’ve always seen my art as an expression of my faith, as a form of worship. Often my art reflects scripture or prayer. Making art for me is always a spiritual experience, it brings me close to God.
Yesterday I did some “liturgical painting” for our daily chapel service. I painted during the reading of Daniel 7:9-10;13-14, describes Daniel’s vision, which full of vivid imagery: “a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.” I continued to paint as the hymns were sung, and this continued to inspire me as I painted. It’s a beautiful thing to feel the Holy Spirit work through multiple expressions of worship.

May all the rich expressions of our hearts praise God, Amen.

Stop & Go Traffic

This is my dog, Lika. She - like me - loves riding in the car. However, she - like me - hates stop and go traffic.

Lika hates sudden stops in the the car because she slams into her doggie seatbelt in the back seat. I hate slamming on the brakes in life because I feel like I'm losing control, or that I'm not applying myself with as much determination as I should.

But really, traffic and life involve quite a bit of kairos - God's time. Sometimes life involves going down the highway at a brisk pace and sometimes there are obstacles or potholes or road construction. Sometimes there might just be a pretty view that entices you enough to pull the car over, get out, and stretch your legs for a bit. So, for those of us in a stretching legs moment, let's relish it and be open to God's timing.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


I am working on my Systematic Theology paper right now-- trying to anyway. I've been in a lot of school in my life, written a lot of papers. One thing about writing a paper in Seminary, for me, is that I cannot retreat into my brain, putting only my academic self and my pride on the line-- here my whole self, my whole being is on the table. I am invested on all levels in the ideas I am talking about. I guess that means that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. Still, I sometimes find the whole size of the enterprise crippling. This week is especially difficult because I am trying to write papers and get ready for the Christmas party and grade student finals. Yet despite all the frenetic work, I still enjoy it. Coming to Seminary for me was like falling in love-- it doesn't make everything perfect, actually it makes things harder, but I would never give it up.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


If you've got an hour and an online audio player, listen to episode #304 of the radio show This American Life.

This episode, entitled "Heretics," first broadcast on December 16, 2005. I heard it for the first time last week. (The link leads away from LSTC-land, and all support that implies.)

To paraphrase one of my professors, a heretic isn't someone trying to tear apart the church. A heretic is someone who deeply loves God and is trying to be faithful - but goes a step further.

If nothing else, a heretic has to be brave. Or foolhardy. Could you or I do that for our convictions?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Cool Websites to check out

When you have a chance, you might like to check out some of these awesome websites:

LSTC - of course, but you've probably already done that if you've made it to this blog!
ACTS - learn about the awesome set-up LSTC has with many other seminaries in the area. You can take classes at each of the schools!
Social Work - You can get a dual degree from both LSTC and the University of Chicago (that's what I'm doing!)
Become a ONE Lutheran - a great site that the ELCA has set up to tell you how to get involved
ELCA Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations - I intern for this office at the ELCA Churchwide Office. They have tons of resources on their site.

Reminder: Most of these sites I've listed are not run by LSTC, so LSTC is not responsible for their content.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Life of a First-Year Seminarian

Well, it's November and this is my first time contributing to The Seminarian's Sojourn. Not that I don't think about doing it all the time, but life just got in the way! My name is Becky, and as the title says, it's my first year at LSTC. I am a dual degree student, and if all goes as planned, in 3 years I should have two Masters degrees (Theology and Social Work) and be a consecrated Diaconal Minister!

Graduate studies here at LSTC is all that I expected and more! I am busier than I ever thought possible - but it's such a great kind of "busy." Just think - going to school and taking ALL classes that you actually WANT to take! I don't "have" to read, I "get to"! (most of the time... :) )

Even though life often gets hectic, and it's not always easy - I love the busy-ness that school has brought me - and I love all the new things I'm learning!! I couldn't have made a better decision than this really.

the suit

I'm typically your blue jeans and hoodie type guy. However, last week I broke out the suit 3 times. I had two interviews for Horizon Internships, one Domestic and one International, which I'll find out about in January. The standard internship process begins next Spring.

My other interview was for my "Endorsement," the second part of the Candidacy Process where my development at Seminary thus far was discussed: I was officially "endorsed," which means I can go on internship.

Now it's time to put away the suit for a while, and let it collect some more dust.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Clapping in Church

I hate clapping in church.

Went home this weekend for Thanksgiving week. At my home congregation today the bell choir did a beautiful song. And they were excellent. At the end, the congregation clapped, applauded. I don't like it because I think it makes the performance of music a perfomance, not a worship. To me, the musicians are not seeking OUR approval, not trying to get us to recognize what a good job they did. We don't clap after sermons even though we often clap after speeches outside of church. So, yes, even though we often clap after musical performances in other arenas, it doesn't mean we have to do so in church. Someone told me that in sign language clapping means praise. I tried to let that idea overwhelm the part of me that is upset about the clapping as applause, but I don't think people who clap in church mean it as anything other than applause.

So I am happy to disagree with others, but I just don't like it.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Why I wear black clergy shirts

This song from Johnny Cash inspired me

"(Wo)man in Black"

(This link leads away from LSTC-land and it does not necessarily reflect the opinions or convictions of the LSTC, the ELCA, or any other powers-that-be.)

All God's Critters...

Gotta place in the choir!

Just because I dig this song - here are the lyrics and MIDI file.

The music is soft so you shouldn't get in trouble at school/work

(This link leads away from LSTC-land and it does not necessarily reflect the opinions or convictions of the LSTC, the ELCA, or any other powers-that-be.)

Monday, November 13, 2006

Who are the poor?

I like to give parties. People who know me well have to have at least attended one of my parties and seen me giving one from the inside. So my roommates are being very good sports because they are helping me throw a party right in the middle of writing papers and studying for finals. So I am having an advent party. And all I can think about during my spare time is getting all the details in order so that when I come back from Thanksgiving things will be in order for the party.

And we have a nice apartment, frankly one of the larger ones on campus, but it is limited in size. And, between the three of us and my roommate from last year who is helping throw the party, there are a great many people that we are friends with. Suddenly, we realized we cannot invite everyone. This is a very sobering thought, almost enough to make us not give the party. In fact, one of my roommates suggested we just not throw the party because we have 150 people on the guest list and have to cut because we can't even afford to have that many people. And because so many of us live in close proximity and because last year we had a 80% turn-out rate, we know we have to cut names. How can we cut out people? We had wanted to invite the people that we don't know very well, the quiet ones, the ones who don't often get invited to the little suppers we have at our house or the game nights that spontaneously come up. Because those people do exist, even here. And we are finding ourselves cutting them because their feelings seem less likely to be hurt than someone who has heard us mention the party already, or someone who lives with someone who has heard us mention the party already, or the spouses of someone who heard us mention the party already. So some people are getting left off and it has nothing to do with their relative worth as people and it is an unfair criteria that we invite the people that are just most like us and happen to be the ones we know and like best.

So should we just give up the idea altogether?

Recently, I had my students at DePaul read "A Modest Proposal" by Jonathan Swift. That's the famous baby-eating satire. At the time the essay was written, British colonialism of Ireland was at its zenith. Swift wrote that the Irish should start selling their babies at one year of age for food for the English landlords. He also suggests tender care of the children for the first year so the "hides" can be used for ladies' gloves. You cannot get a more jarring look at exploitation of people than in that essay. When we were talking about how Swift uses language that equates the babies to animals in the essay, I asked my students if this essay has any application in modern times. And eventually we came to the conclusion, in both classes, that the "bums" or "homeless" in the streets here in Chicago are treated similarly. And the students puzzled about what to do. Some said the government should take care of the problem, but others suggested that this solution was only passing the buck and probably not practical. Others suggested that the bums ought to get jobs, but this elicited critique from others who thought this solution missed the complexity of why people are on the street. Most suggested that they couldn't possibly give money to everyone who asked for it and some pointed out that a few of the "bums" were just trying to buy alcohol or were people trying to rip off easy marks. The final consensus was that there wasn't really a solution posed in Swift's essay, nor could the students discover--in one class period-- a solution to the homeless problem either (which in some ways is a relief because if the solution could be puzzled to that easily, what have we been doing for the last two or three millenia?) But there was a sense that the dehumanizing of the "bums" was bad. A few said that they felt they should at least talk to the people on the street, not ignore them.

And again I ask whether, faced with such incredible unfairness over who gets the benefit of the few coins you do have in your pocket and the perils of not knowing if the particular homeless person you approach will hurt you or put your funds to improper use, whether, faced with these limitations, the whole enterprise ought to be abandoned.

Should we just give up the idea altogether?

I like to put change in the bellringers' buckets at Christmas time. I never put nearly as much change in the buckets as I spend in the store on things like wrapping paper and bows and cards and stocking stuffers, but it makes me FEEL good for doing it. Makes me feel like I was GOOD. And the bell ringer smiles at me. I MUST be good. But despite my inadequate gift, somehow good IS DONE with the bellringers' money.

We talk in seminary about how we are all priveledged here in the U.S. and how we should help the people with less and how we ought to share better and give of ourselves. And it's true. There are a great many things we have that we don't need, don't really even want, can't take care of, distract us from each other and God. The beatitudes, in the Matthew version, talk about the "poor in spirit" and make me think that maybe my definition of "poor" might be too small, especially when thinking about other passages in the Bible and when thinking about the movement in theology to focus on care for the poor. Certainly providing for the economic well-being of all of God's people is not something we humans do well. Never really have. But I wonder if the poor could also be those people who don't get very many invititations to Christmas parties, the overweight woman who never gets asked on a date, the lonely, the ones who feel useless, or even George W. Bush-- who has a lot of responsibility and is being told in no uncertain terms that most people in the WORLD believe he is a collossal failure, stupid, wicked, that the world is a worse place because of his life, and that almost anyone else could have done a better job.

I don't know how to solve the problem of the homeless. I don't know if I should abandon the whole Christmas party concept because I can't invite everyone and only continue to support the social institutions that allow some people be invited to more things than others. The only consesus I can come up with is that at least this Christmas when I actually take those too-few moments to think of the greeting-card sentiments of the season and those less fortunate than me, I will try to think of all of those less fortunate than me-- in all the powerful and horrible ways that people can be poor or poor in spirit-- and try to remember not to dehumanize them.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

"High School Never Ends"

There’s a song by Bowling for Soup entitled “High School Never Ends.” (Note: This link navigates away from LSTC. LSTC does not necessarily promote, condone, or agree with the opinons on this page. I’d probably rate it PG-13 for language though, so be forewarned).

The song makes a good point. I once heard someone say that whenever humans gather in a group, it’s tempting to think that we’d rise to a higher level, but instead we tend to sink to a lowest common denominator. That’s true for ministry and it’s true for seminary. But really it’s true for life in general – wherever 2 or 3 are gathered in God’s name, as it may be.

But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing in all aspects. Yes, the self-centeredness and lack of compassion can get to anyone. And yeah, it really stinks trying to figure out where you stand in the social strata and figuring out who you’ll sit next to in the lunchroom. Trying to figure out who you’ll dance with at Prom is also a big concern. But high school (or junior high, or preschool, or seminary, or working in ministry, or life in general) is all about figuring out who you are in relation to God and to the rest of community. High school is so torturous because you have all these visions of yourself and society that you embrace. You have other visions you want to embrace, but just can’t quite grasp. And you have to deal with the visions that other people want you to embrace.

Ultimately, we’re called to work in concert with God and all humanity and all of God’s creation. We’re called to come to a dynamic understanding we can live with. We need to embrace a vision of ourselves and our relationship with God that is strong and firm but doesn’t trod on anyone else. And most importantly, these visions have to be strong enough to bend.

Bending is hard. How many high schoolers have you known that were just so blasted inflexible about something? How many of us in high school were inflexible to the point of ridiculousness or even to the point of being dangerous? What are we inflexible about today? What are the points of rigidity in our beliefs about God, ourselves, and our fellow Children of God the Holy Spirit nudging us on?

So, since “High School Never Ends” our chances to change never end. Yeah, we’re rigid and unbending and closed off to the Holy Spirit in a lot of ways. But apparently God believes in semper reformanda – “always reforming.” We are not perfect. Our church is not perfect. Our seminary (sorry LSTC) is not perfect. But God is moving within us as individuals and us collectively as groups and institutions for the good of the gospel. Thanks be to God!


A few months ago my sisters and I discussed the world of Competitive Eating Contests. It is tempting to think that champion eating is a matter of: 1) open mouth and 2) shove in food. However, according to a book I had recently picked up on the subject and a documentary on MTV Real Life that one of my sisters watched there actually is a great amount of systematic thought going into it.

My sister spoke of one champion eater from Japan. Firstly, he’s got some sort of anatomical difference – the internal placement of his stomach in relation to his ribs, I think – that makes it easier for his gullet to expand to hold more food. But beyond this natural gift, he practices, he exercises, he watches tapes of his competitions to analyze his performance so he can improve. To do his job well, in order to utilize his gifts, he needed to attach some order to the process of his job.

So since that conversation, I’ve also thought about the order I add to my process of being a seminarian. By virtue of my baptism, I’m called into service of the Reign of Christ and my fellow members of creation. Also, by virtue of nature and nurture, I’ve got some concrete gifts and skills that I’m called to cultivate for the sake of the gospel. So to help me in my process of being a seminarian, I’ve taken on some disciplines for my life. Some of them are overtly spiritual. Some seem to be less spiritual at first glance but do make a big difference in my faith walk.

I’m committed to going to chapel regularly and reading scripture. I exercise more days a week than not. I try to eat a varied diet (although I’m not joining the competitive eating circuit anytime soon). I’m an introvert so I naturally lean toward cultivating my inner life. But I also make concerted efforts to get out with my friends and family on a regular basis. I pay attention to my checkbook and calendar to help me keep some sort of balance in my life.

And maybe balance is the wrong word. It’s not like as if any of us can strive for some perfect equilibrium. Things are always going crazy in some area of our life. Maybe it’s a matter of trying to aim for overall health in the midst of the craziness. And life is crazy. And seminary is crazy. But, at least for me, a certain amount of discipline helps me touch base with God and community and know that we’ll all make it out okay.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Second Chance

Last Friday morning I got to see Jeff Obafemi Carr speak on campus. Carr spoke about his acting career, which he joked about his previous roles in films where he had one or two lines, and then would get shot. Now Carr is a co-star in the new movie, "The Second Chance," which is about two pastors whose lives intersect (or collide): Carr plays Jake, an African American pastor who ministers in the streets of the inner-city, and Michael W. Smith plays Ethan, a white pastor who leads music at a suburban mega-church. The movie highlights many crucial issues for the Christian faith such as grace, compassion and solidarity. It also raises issues for the Church, such as racial reconciliation, stewardship, outreach and social justice.

In the beginning of the movie Pastor Jake (Carr) tells the suburban mega-church that he and his inner-city church don't need their money, but rather their time. In our discussion, Carr was asked about the best way for wealthy churches to support struggling churches, and he said "ask them what they need," rather than going in with your own presupositions of the need.

Carr talked about the power of story telling, and how this movie tells a story that can break past people's biases, and move them in a different way. He described Jesus' parables as having this kind of power. Carr believes that this may have opened a window for more movies that can tell stories that move people to think about crucial issues regarding faith and life.

This is certainly a story that needs to keep being told, and is full of issues that need to continue to be engaged, especially by those of us who are future church leaders.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Fear, love, and trust

“Be terrified of the resurrection.” – What I think Dean Billman said during some remarks in Chapel a few weeks ago.

“Do I believe the things I do, because I know that they’re the truth. Or is it that I’m just afraid?” – song “Faithless Me” performed by Cravin’ Melon

In the explanation of the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism, Martin Luther writes that “we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

So what is the place of fear in our lives? Without a well developed sense of fear horror movies, roller coasters, and deep-fried Twinkies aren’t nearly as much fun.

But what about our life of faith? Do we fear – or awe – God and God’s work? Do we think about the ramifications of the resurrection and tremble? Do we often sit back and think, “Gosh! God’s redeemed all of creation! All the people I love and hate and am indifferent to, we’re all impacted by this. And I should start living like it!”

Do we act on faith because we’re scared of being wrong, because we’re scared that God is up on high with a chalkboard keeping score? Do we not act on faith because we’re afraid our faith isn’t strong enough?

Maybe now is a moment we can embrace God in fear (or awe) and love and trust and join in on God’s work in the world.

By way of a brief introduction....

I’m Lisa Parker – a M.Div. senior seeking ordination. I’m a native South Carolinian who grew up in a Holiness tradition (think conservative Baptist.) I became a Lutheran in college and discerned a call to ordained ministry. I’m an African-American female seeking to be an ELCA pastor as a first career – so that’s a little different by itself.

So, I came to LSTC because a pastor I came to respect during my undergrad years suggested it. And I wanted to see real snow at some point in my life – which I have now seen in abundance.

I’ll tell you more about myself as we go along.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Lifestyles of the Squirrels

Here at LSTC, I have gotten well acquainted with many great people…oh, and several squirrels, too. It all started one day a squirrel started to build a nest outside my window for itself and its mate. There are metal spikes outside the windows to prevent pigeons from sitting there, but apparently not squirrels. The truth is that I wouldn’t mind the presence of my bushy-tailed buddies, except they often leap onto my window screen (see photo) with a loud Bang, and hang there, just looking at me. They also get into heated arguments from time to time, which is also distracting. After pushing the nest off of the window ledge, it was quickly rebuilt the next day.

My mother will periodically send me cookies in the mail, and one day I left them on the dinner table, and upon my return I saw that someone had taken bites out of several of the cookies. Perhaps to understand how terrible this crime was you must know that there are few cookies in the world quite as tasty as my mother’s. Then, I discovered a hole in my window screen and little paw prints…the squirrels ate my mother’s cookies! They must be stopped. So we replaced the window screen. However, a couple days later they ate through the new window screen and ate even more of the cookies! All they left this time was a few crumbs. Because of this impending threat, we are left to keep our windows closed. Okay, my little buddies, it was funny before, but c'mon, those were my mom's cookies!

I have concluded there is something different about Chicago squirrels; they are some sort of fearless survivor breed, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. My sisters and brothers, it’s true, I try to love all of God’s creatures, but with regard to the squirrel, it has become quite difficult.

Reading "Week"

Every semester at LSTC, we have a week to read. During fall semester we don't get Monday off because of having Labor Day off earlier in the semester. Since we always have Fridays off, it's really more like Reading Three Days. I strenuously object to the false advertising of calling it "Reading Week." And I didn't actually get any reading done. I spent the week taking a sort of extended Sabbath. It's something I've been thinking about this week quite a lot. On Monday, I took a midterm about Genesis in Dr. Klein's Pentateuch class. In the first creation story, way back in Genesis 1, God takes a Sabbath. We talked in class about how God's resting indicated (for the Priestly Writer) that taking a Sabbath was part of the fabric of the universe.

Sabbath is a concept highly discouraged in our society. The idea that idle hands do the devil's work is pervasive. But I am starting to think the opposite. Never idle hands do the devil's work. I've never listened to anyone who cautioned me that I was, at that moment, trying to do too much. But when I am in that frenetic stage of my life, I forget to look around at the others and I, for example, don't do the dishes at our apartment thinking my roommates or a house elf will magically appear and do them. I don't take time to pray and I sit in chapel and think "I really should come back some afternoon and just pray until I get some of the crazy out of my head." But I don't come back because I find something to take up my time, even during Reading Three Days when I have extra time.

A little bit of self-disclosure. I need time to play. I have a lazy streak in me a mile wide. If we lived in a world where we measured tendencies in ourselves in geographic denominations, my tendency to be lazy would measure a mile. I am not one of those people who can be self-disciplined enough to work even three days straight without a break. I like to play board games. I like to do absurd things like run around in a park with water balloons (in the summer) or go sledding or splash in puddles in the rain or color in a coloring book or build things with legos or pick up leaves that have fallen and try to find the best red one and the prettiest multi-colored one. My systematics professor calls worship the place where we come to play. I haven't really wrapped my head around that thought yet. Don't really know what that means, but maybe it has something to do with how I feel closer to God when I am happy, how I feel a strange mix of exhilaration and peace when I am playing. I am completely missing the nuances of his metaphor, I am sure, but I'm making a new one, just borrowing heavily from his. Playing is how I open myself up to God, let down my defenses of Enlightenment thinking and see the other people in the world around me.

My roommate last year took a Sabbath. I watched her be very dutiful about giving herself time off and I realized how ridiculous it was that by taking some time she was actually being subversive to a culture which says efficiency and production are the ideals. So my new post-Reading Three Days resolution is to play every other day for at least a little while. We'll see how I do, but I am going to be purposeful about it, take a Sabbath for a few hours now and then and maybe try to pick one day for a true Sabbath when I can play and pray. And for heaven's sake, I am going to try not to feel guilty about it, realizing that if the Sabbath was good enough for God at creation, then certainly it is good enough for me.

So these thoughts and a few beautiful leaves are all I have to show for Reading Three Days.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Long Way Around


My name is Wendy and I am a second year M.A. student at LSTC. Additionally, I am on my second, or third, career. Which is about all you need to know about me to realize I can never take the most direct path to anything. It's kind of like Big Bird in The Muppet Movie. The muppets see Big Bird walking down the side of the road and they ask him what he is doing. He explains that he is heading off to make it big in show business. Kermit says that they are going towards the same goal and asks Big Bird to join them on their quest for Hollywood. Big Bird says no, he'd prefer to head to New York City to make a name for himself first in Public Television. The muppets leave shaking their fuzzy little heads. But everyone knows that Big Bird was as successful as Kermit. The moral of the story: a lot of different paths lead to the same end.

My goal is to get a PhD in something vaguely theological and to teach in a University. I came to LSTC because it has a reputation for solid academics and is connected to the other seminaries in the Chicago area so that students can take classes at any of the seminaries or at the University of Chicago Divinity School. I decided to go to a seminary first, instead of straight to a Divinity school, because I think it is important for the people who teach and write theology to know people who do the actual work of theology in the parishes. I think it is important that the "Ivory Tower" of academia knows a little bit more about how real people think and feel.

I am a cradle Lutheran-- which is to say I was baptized as a baby in the Lutheran Church. I was always active in my youth group, taught Sunday School, sang in choir. At the end of high school and the beginning of college I worked summers at Carol Joy Holling camp in Nebraska. In college I started the candidacy process. But many around me who were important didn't think that ordination was the right path for me. Some were cautionary because I am a woman and this was the middle 90's. I was daunted and, in the end, I felt like something wasn't quite right. So I went to law school instead. I practiced for a little while and still felt a nagging sense that there was something more in the universe, in life, that I needed to do. I switched careers, went back to school, got a Masters in Literature and began to teach at a University. Then I realized I wanted to teach. But something was still not quite right.

After I turned thirty I began to think about the significance of the age of thirty. These were the years we traditionally ascribe to Jesus' ministry with the disciples. I was going to church, more or less, every week, but I wasn't involved. I had an active internal spiritual life, but I wasn't doing anything about it. Except that I was writing Lenten devotionals or poems or whatever sort of mixed-up genre I could think of to express my frustrations with what I viewed as bad theology in the world around me. And I read biographies of Luther. And I argued about God and Jesus and the Spirit and ecumenicism and the place of history and sacred texts in religion. And one day it occurred to me that all the things I was interested in, and all the things I wanted to be, made a lot more sense if I studied theology with the intent to teach. And suddenly there was around me a vast multitude of peace.

That's the gist of my story. It's different from every other story I've heard since I've been on campus. And all the other stories, all the other goals, are all different from each other too. But here I have found a community that is okay with difference. Now in my second year, I can say that although M.A. students have different requirements from the M.Div. students, we have different hopes, there is one body in Christ and many members. I am one of those members. My path to theology is not straight. I don't have the background that some of the students coming out of college with a religion major have. I won't ever wear a clerical collar, but only through being at a school where it is okay to pray at the beginning of class and Chapel is one of the social events of the day can I get a full theological education. There will be time in the years ahead for secular studies of religion, but I do not think I could ever replace the lessons, spiritual and academic, that I am learning here. I like to think of myself as Big Bird walking on the side of the road after the muppets' Studebaker had driven off, a little nervous about making the decision he had, knowing that it will take a while, but somehow at peace.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Tell Me Who Jesus Is

"Tell me who Jesus is." That's what Bishop Marie C. Jerge of Upstate NY said in her sermon to the LSTC community today. That question to a Lutheran seminary opens up a plethora of conversations: Christ's divinity, Christ's humanity, the work of Christ, the teachings of Christ, Christ as part of the Trinity, etc.... Next she said, no theological answers please. That really gets to the heart of it doesn't it? Who is Christ for and to me?

Sometimes with everything going on in my life, work, school, relationships, I feel like I'm just not making it. I'm always falling short or catching up. I feel like one of the disciples who just doesn't understand. I become hard on myself. But in the gospel lesson for this past Sunday, Jesus says, "Let the little ones come to me."

It reminds me that I am a little one. It reminds me that Christ picks me up in his arms and loves me- like the child I am. I tend to identify with the bumbling disciples of the gospel stories. But in Christ, I am a child who is loved and cared for, far more than I recognize.

In Christ,


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

An Introduction

Greetings from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago! This is my first Blog entry to "The Seminarian's Sojourn," so how about an introduction...

My name is Josh, and I am a second year (middler) Master of Divinity student. I am originally from Davenport, Iowa, and graduated with an Education degree from the University of Northern Iowa. Two of my years there were spent working as a Resident Assistant. I spent four summers leading church service trips for Youthworks in Juarez, Mexico, and subsequently spent a year doing an internship with them, working with churches in Juarez. This experience had a huge impact on my call to ministry. After this I came to seminary here at LSTC.

My time at LSTC thus far has been enlightening and challenging. I have grown academically as my mind continues to expand from the diversity of thought, wisdom, and teaching. From my classes I have had opportunities to dig deeper into scripture, and I have learned new and innovative approaches to and interpretations of scripture. My theological understanding has also been stretched. I have gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for the history of the church. Classes such as Worship and Pastoral Care have broadened my vocational understanding of pastoral ministry. All of my classes have given me tools to take into the parish.

One class that was particularly formative for me was my January Term class: “Exploring the Northern Latino Border in Chicago.” It had an opportunity to hear from people that do ministry in a Mexican neighborhood in the Pilsen area of Chicago. My eyes were further opened to the realities of the lives of Mexican immigrants who are socially marginalized.

The education I have received is not only from textbooks and class lectures, but from a dialogue that transcends the classroom walls and even into daily chapel, the sidewalks and laundry rooms. This dialogue is possible because this seminary community encourages and challenges one another in our collective pursuit of the Gospel. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit I continue to grow in God’s grace and continue to be shaped and equipped for ministry.
I completed CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) this past summer at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center on the north side of Chicago. I was able to sincerely open myself to the people for whom I cared for, and foster my compassion for people’s struggling into a ministry that demonstrates God’s presence and love for them. The pastoral care I provided ranged from time with prophets in the Psych Unit (one of my assigned units), to providing grief care to family and friends of teenagers shot in acts of gang violence. CPE helped me in my pastoral formation, and has made me more in tune with issues that effect people and cause people to suffer.

I am excited to have embarked on my second year of seminary at LSTC. I am taking the following courses this Fall semester: Hebrew, Preaching, Systematic Theology I, and Historia de la Iglesia Hispana en los E.E.U.U. (History of the Hispanic Church in the U.S.A.- taught in Spanish). I started my “Ministry In Context,” a field education requirement in which I will be actively involved in a parish weekly for the entire academic year. I along with Lara, another second year MDiv student have been assigned to St. Andrew Lutheran Church in West Chicago, IL (a western suburb of Chicago). I have been learning and participating in their Hispanic Ministry, in which they have services in Spanish. I will have the opportunity to play guitar in worship, preach (in Spanish and English), lead a weekly Catechesis class for elementary school children, and to learn from the pastors by joining them in various pastoral activities. Their church building burnt down last year, and so now they worship at a school. It is remarkable the faith of the congregation in spite of this, and they were quick to point out that the church isn’t a building, but the people.

I also continue to work weekly at the church-based “Union Avenue Community Outreach” youth center with inner-city youth, providing homework help and building relationships. The hospital where I completed CPE hired me as a “Pastoral Care Associate,” (serving as a chaplain) working on-call shifts on a fill-in basis for the year.

My classes, the seminary community and my practical ministry experience are dynamically working together in my pastoral formation. Thanks for reading, tune in again next week!

God's grace and peace,


Monday, October 02, 2006

The Sojourn of Seminarians

From Israel in the desert to Mary on the donkey's back to Paul's missionary sails, our faith stories are full of people on journeys to places unknown. So, too today, the people of faith are on a journey to where God is leading them. We're not always sure of where we're going or how we're going to get there. Instead we rely on God, faithful and full of grace, to be our guide.

I invite you to join some of the seminarians at LSTC who travel together, yet are in different place along the way. May their encounters with God and with others encourage you as you make your own pilgrimage to the place God is calling you. Feel free to comment on their posts or ask them questions. May we become sojourners who uplift and travel alongside one another.

In Christ,