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.