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,