Sunday, December 23, 2007

La Noche de los Pobres


Last night we had the children’s Christmas pageant (see picture). Joseph was missing in action, luckily we found a replacement. If you look closely you can see the shepherds sweating in their costumes, since it was in the 80’s here. The kids put a lot of work into it, and it went very well.

I’d like to share the chorus of one of the songs we sang, called “The Night of the Poor,” as a reflection for the Christmas season:

“Es la noche de los pobres; es la noche del amor; Nace pobre y es el Rey; tiene hambre y es el Pan, tiene frío y es el Sol.”

“It’s the night of the poor; it’s the night of love; he is born poor and is the King; he is hungry and is the Bread; he is cold and is the Sun.”

Christmas peace be with you.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Vida y Misión

About a week ago (the weekend of November 10 and 11), we had the Asemblea de Vida y Mision (Life and Mission Assembly) of the IELU (Iglesia Evangelica Luterana Unida – Unted Evangelical Lutheran Church) of Argentina and Uruguay, with guests from the Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Peru and Chile. It was great to meet people from all over these countries and to learn about their churches and ministries.

This gathering was held in Buenos Aires at ISEDET (Instituto Superior Evangélico de Estudios Teológicos - The Evangelical Upper-level Institute of Theological Studies), which is an ecumenical (representing most of the historic protestant churches in Latin America) seminary affiliated with the IELU. Talking with seminarians there made me miss LSTC, and reflect on the similarities between the two seminaries. From what I observed, seminarians at ISEDET were discussing familiar issues such as how to be engaged in ministry in an ever-changing religious dynamic (such as the growth of pentecostal and evangelical churches) and in light of current social and political realities. Students entering seminary with the IELU come straight from secondary school (high school), and have four years of studies, followed by two years of internship.

This was not a church policy assembly, but rather a gathering to come together as a church (everyone – pastors, lay members, etc.) and to discuss “Spirituality in our present context, from a Lutheran perspective.” To symbolize coming together from many different places, we interwove bright pieces of fabric (see picture). We heard from IELU vice president Dr. Guillermo Hansen, former ISEDET professor Dr. John Stumme, and Gettysburg Seminary president Dr. Michael Cooper White.

Dr. Guillermo Hansen’s remarks reflected the focus of the gathering. He opened up the theme of spirituality by focusing on these words from Martin Luther: “A Christian lives not in himself/herself, but in Christ and his/her neighbor.” He discussed various issues in Christian spirituality, such as the privatization of the Holy Spirit and how religion becomes only a portion of one’s life. He explained how the Protestant Reformation signified a questioning of old and new spiritualities. Luther talked about a “living God,” and this creates a tension (with sin). He brought up this key point: The Christian does not live enclosed, but lives in Christ by faith, in their neighbor by love, and the creation by hope. Here’s the synthesis: The Spirit of Christ lives a amazing, free, and unexpected character of grace. That grace comes to be from God that is made weak, that accompanies us, and heals us for a new life.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Changes

Leaves change and so do I, I guess. These last few months and weeks I have been thinking more and more about changing to become an MDiv student instead of an M.A. student. Contemplating that change requires many different layers of thought. Is God really calling me to do this? Am I practically able to respond to that call financially, spiritually, emotionally and intellectually? Is my faith a faith that can live through being a pastor? And then, what do I need to change, right now, about myself to start living in a way that would coincide with being a pastor?

My last blog was a bit preachy. I've felt sort of strange about it for a long time, but think that the issue is important enough I wanted to throw it out there. And yet, it occurs to me that maybe this isn't the sort of thing a pastor ought to do. Perhaps a pastor ought to just love his or her neighbor, lead by example and not try to "preach" at people. Maybe it doesn't really work for anyone to "preach" at people.

Anyway, I am pondering all of these things in my heart as I contemplate exactly what is at stake if I choose to follow this new path, exactly what I would be gaining, giving up. Whose path before me is this? Mine? God's?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Words

One of the things that has really changed inside of me in Seminary is my feeling about words. When I came to seminary, I was a somewhat reluctant convert to gender inclusive language about just general things like "firefighters" "mailperson" etc. I always argued that these words IMPLIED inclusion, by usage, and therefore, why did we need to change the way things always were. I most emphatically did not want to change the way I spoke about God. Even though my papers risked being downgraded for doing so, I stubbornly refused to speak of God as other than "He."

Then, last year, I had the honor of taking Dr. Klein's Pentateuch class. Dr. Klein doesn't lecture about using gender inclusive langauge, he models it. After hearing Klein use "God" and sometimes (even) "She" to refer to God, I started to let down my defenses. After a while, I realized that speaking of God as "God" for lack of an appropriate pronoun was okay. I even began to think about the negative consequences of holding to the past and calling God "he" exclusively. In my systematics class, Vitor Westelle spoke about the way language about God can become an idol. We get so engrossed in our ways of speaking and thinking about God that we begin to prescribe God rather than describe God.

And I believed.

So I started to model using gender inclusive language about God. Now, more and more, I am insisting upon it from my colleagues as I see that perhaps the rest of the world isn't quite as rosy as I had believed it was. I am beginning to see that there are still places in our society where people don't realize that women and men are ontologically equal in the eyes of God, not to mention equal in society.

What had really changed in me was my belief about the power of words. I believe that words can shape the way we think, can affect us subtly in ways that we are not even aware, can seep into our thought patterns and the way our brain shapes its perceptions of the world around us. So it became very important for me to use gender inclusive language everywhere.

BUT, like most revelations of this sort, the implications went farther than just the way I speak about God. I've begun to think more and more about language now that I believe the people who have always told me that language affects the way we think. I have started to wonder whether the way we talk about other things might affect the way we think. And what keeps standing out in my mind is the way we talk about violence, about sex, and about the combination of the two.

I have always been one of those girls who blushes and gets a little nervous when people start making sexual innuendos. I don't know why that is, but it is true. I have gotten "better" in recent years and have even "learned" to make a few myself. Society has taught me that making sexual innuendos is a way of bonding with other people, that it is "funny" to talk about sex in an informal and often flippant way. It still bothers me, but I have "learned" that this is a problem with me, not with society.

Lately I have become more aware of the pervasiveness of sexual comments around me. Some of the comments have been made by men and women that I really respect. (I unfortunately am prone to unreasonable respect that doesn't allow the recipient to be human, and I am working on that problem.) I wondered whether I was just a prude who wanted to revert to the Victorian era when society had a very unhealthy relationship about sex because people were not allowed to talk about it. (I began thinking of how in that time period it was perfectly acceptable to talk about money and God, but not about money or sex. I wondered whether the shift of being able to talk in the general population about sex, but not God and money, simply meant I was born in the wrong generation. I wonder what it means about our society?)

So to get back from my digression, I began to wonder whether I was just an unhealthy prude in my conversation. I observed the language that bothered me. I can't repeat any of it because I will blush too much. Mostly it was graphic. Some of it involved violence. It came from both men and women. Almost exclusively it involved sex acts between people who were not married or even dating or even "hooking up" but sexual acts which aren't about lust or love, but about power, or violence or vaguely about making someone else feel bad by saying "that's not what your mom said last night when I was. . ." The comments that didn't really bother me were those which were accidental plays on words. Those comments when someone looks at you in a strange way to make you realize you've said something that could be taken the wrong way didn't really bother me. I began to wonder about the difference. And the difference was the way in which both people and sex were being objectified.

I am a prude, and I need to get over the way my Puritanical roots prevent me from being entirely comfortable talking about consensual sex between loving partners. BUT I don't think I am a prude because I do not like to laugh about sexual acts or implied sexual acts that are violent or are intended to make sex into an act of power or even those which are competitively intended to mean nothing other than the fact that you are better at coming up with creative ways of implying that you had sex with someone's mom. EVEN IN JEST. It isn't okay to degrade people of other cultures, etc. in jest, and it isn't okay to degrade sex in jest. Why? Because language matters, because language affects the way we think, because it seeps into the way our brain shapes its perceptions of the world around us. WE ARE OVERWHELMED by negative images of sex. As believers in God's promised kingdom, we are called to model that kingdom when possible. Violent sexual comments is just right out. Even in private. Even in jest.

Jesus obviously thought a lot about keeping sex a good and sacred thing by suggesting that lust was committing adultery in the heart. We can think about the cultural differences and the implications of paternity in a day before DNA testing and how that might have affected ways that sex was talked about in the Bible, but it doesn't change the fact that sex is something which was taken seriously by Jesus. I cannot imagine that, faced with Jesus, anyone would make a "your mom" joke. And I believe in a pretty human Jesus that would find some things pretty funny, who might have engaged in good natured joking with the disciples, who might have misworded some things at times and had to deal with Peter snickering in the corner. But I cannot imagine a Jesus who would say to Andrew something that would be the first-century equivalent of "who would you rather do-- Mary Magdalene or Martha?" It simply isn't consistent with the teachings of respect in the gospels.

Simply put (after all this space I just took up) I think we need to be careful about how we speak about sex and about people. Having competitions to think of the most creative ways to make demeaning comments only trains our brains to think of those comments. And it desensitizes the people around us. Just as I don't think it is appropriate to call God "He" in a group of all men, so also I think it is inappropriate to make objectifying comments about men in a group of all women, even a group of close friends. Does that mean I am never guilty of doing this? Of course not. One of the actors on the new Battlestar Gallactica has been the subject of my objectification. But he won't ever hear about it. Does it hurt anything?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Pictures and paperwork

Here in Chicago, the weather changed this week, so that the air is crisp and the wind causes the branches of the trees to sway. It feels like the senior class, too, subtly changed from focusing on the joy of being back together at LSTC to looking towards what the next step in our journeys will be. On Monday, we had our senior pictures taken for our composite class photo, which will hang in the second floor hallway of LSTC after we graduate. (It reminded me of having my picture taken in elementary school, only with a clerical collar this time)! Yesterday, many of us met with Rev. Paul Landahl in the Field Education office to learn how to fill out the paperwork that will help us be assigned first to a region of the country, then to a specific synod, and finally, will aid in determining where our first call to a ministry setting will take place.

It is hard to believe that in less than a year, my class will be scattered around the country, in small towns and big cities, preaching, working with youth, serving as chaplains, and leading worship. I'm excited as I think about the different gifts that each person will bring to the setting where they end up, but realizing that, as a class, we don't have that much time left together here in Hyde Park makes me pause. I want to savor our days here, as we walk through the changes of these days and months, and enjoy the time that we are living in now, as we prepare for the time to come.

Monday, October 22, 2007

October Obligatories

Did you know that the apple orchards of Michigan are only about an hour from LSTC? It’s true. I have the pictures to prove it.


Last weekend my wife and I drove over to Three Oaks, MI, which, according to their welcome sign, is the Home of Prancer the Movie. We didn’t see any reindeer, but we did find a little apple orchard just outside of town where we plucked apples off branches until we had a bag full of Honeycrisps and Granny Smiths and everything in between. I’m hoping for some apple pie. (Homer Simpson voice: Mmmm….apple pie.) We also picked up a big bright orange pumpkin that is currently eyeing my carving knife with suspicion.

As we drove back to LSTC on a gorgeous 70 degree day, we marveled at the many trees that line the streets of Hyde Park and frame the gothic structures of the University of Chicago campus. They’re finally adorned in their golden October crowns – a big finish before we all shiver our way into the frigid winter to come. At least we've got our apples to keep us warm...

Friday, October 19, 2007

Jesus heals the Impenetrable


Luke 17:11-19 (NRSV) 11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers1 approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" 14 When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."

Last weekend when I was preaching, I thought the end times were coming, but it was really just the clanging of big rocks that kids were throwing onto the roof, and the sound of dogs barking. Preaching in my second language (Spanish) is challenging, but it’s getting better. The Gospel lesson was 17:11-19, where Jesus cleanses ten lepers.
The pain and suffering the lepers endured because their infected skin was magnified by the infected looks they received as they were socially ostracized because of the religious views around leprosy.
In the interior of the Chaco province in Northern Argentina, where I’m living, there are neglected indigenous communities that are dying of hunger. They live in a region known as “El Impenetrable (The Impenetrable),” because of its lack of water and thorn scrubs. (The living conditions in Chaco are starting to get a little more international attention: http://news.uk.msn.com/Article.aspx?cp-documentid=6319354) Many of the people there move to the outskirts of Resistencia, the city I’m living in, only to be further ostracized by the people here.
Last weekend we also had a province-wide social assembly where various social development organizations gathered to network and discuss various social issues, one of which was the extreme hunger of the indigenous communities. To speak on this issue was a delegate from the indigenous community, Jose Carlos. As he spoke you could feel the pain of his community in his voice. Then in this secular assembly, he expressed his faith in Jesus, and how Jesus challenged oppression, and struggled for justice.
When Jesus cleansed the ten lepers, only one returned to give thanks. So what happened to the other nine? Were they just plain ungrateful? Or had they been infected for so long, both physically and socially (both by their blistering skin and the shame they felt every time they had to warn others that they were “unclean”), that when they had been healed they couldn’t even believe it, let alone give thanks to their healer? Had the reign of oppression become so normal that it mad the reign of God seem foreign?
Poverty in our church (Misión Maria Magdalena - see photo) community on the outskirts of Resistencia eats away like leprosy. Children are underfed and mothers go through the dumpster to find food. When it seems that all I can see is the effect of the reign of discrimination, corrupt politicians, and yes, even the policy of the U.S.; it’s hard to see beyond it to see the reign of God. When we go through difficult times, when we are in pain, when society ignores us, it is hard to see God’s grace.
Like the nine lepers, it is hard to see that because of Jesus, we have been healed. It is hard to look past this world of pain, and see that Jesus is bringing a new world, that in heaven there won’t be all this leprosy, oppression, suffering and pain.
We read that even though society doesn’t see the lepers, Jesus sees them! Over and over (especially in Luke) Jesus reminds the oppressed that God’s reign is a complete reversal of what they are experiencing now. They have dignity and beauty in God’s sight, and they shall be healed and free.
The leper who returned to give thanks to Jesus was a Samaritan (a foreigner, despised by the Jews), which made him the oppressed of the oppressed. Despite all this, he saw past the way the world looked at him and recognized in Jesus’ look that the One who gave him dignity, sees it in him, and promises him that it will be restored in him.
When I heard Jose Carlos express his hope in Jesus in the midst of his pain regarding the current situation of his people in the Impenetrable, I thought about this leper that returned to give thanks to Jesus. It is this beautiful ability to see the grace in the midst of suffering.
Even though I see the hunger on the faces of the children in our church community, when they come to the church for merienda (afternoon snack) and dig into a ham and cheese sandwich, in their eyes there is a moment of grace.
As overwhelming as the leprosy of this world is, may we feel the grace in Jesus’ healing look, to which nothing is impenetrable. Like the Samaritan leper, may this look bring us to our knees, and give us the strength to praise God, and give thanks to Jesus.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Week in the Life

Hello there, web wayfarer. I’m Matt Keadle, and I’ll be blogging here this year…and maybe attending some classes and other stuff, too. You can see my picture there on the right hand side of the page…that’s pretty cool.

Anyway, I thought for my first posting I’d just offer up my schedule for the last week because it was a little crazy. I’ll leave a theological framework out of it – use your own hermeneutic and interpret away…

Sunday: Put on clerical collar that was purchased yesterday. Look in the mirror; take a deep breath. Go to Ministry-in-Context site. Notice that although it’s October it feels like July outside. Open all the windows in the sanctuary. Assist in worship. Miscommunicate with church musician; confuse congregation. Realize that everything went okay anyway. Shake lots of hands. In the afternoon, go to football practice. Do homework. Check score of Bears-Packers game. Cheer Bears on to victory. Sleep satisfied.

Monday: Systematic Theology class. Chapel. Hebrew class. Preaching class. Homework, dinner. Guitar lesson on the North Side. Stay up until the wee hours working on a paper on Galatians.

Tuesday: Preaching lab. Chapel. In the afternoon, go to work at 1st and 2nd grade after-school program, i.e. play with kids for 4 hours. Come home, finish off paper, other homework. Think about Endorsement interview coming Thursday. Sleep.

Wednesday: Systematic Theology class. Meet w/Field Education office about internship possibilities for next year. Chapel. Hebrew class with a quiz. In the evening, have dinner with member of candidacy committee. Letters of Paul night class. Think about Endorsement interview tomorrow.

Thursday: 9am Endorsement interview!!! Remind self that it is not the most important thing in the world even if you have been worrying about it for over a year. It goes well; exhale with relief. Immediately afterwards: finish Hebrew homework. Go to Hebrew class. Crash for the rest of the afternoon. Play basketball in the evening.

Friday: Meet w/Ministry-in-Context supervisor. Try to do some homework in the afternoon. At night, go to Becky’s birthday party across the street. Trade tales of Endorsement interviews with classmates.

Saturday: Go to Preaching Stewardship conference. Give up a day off, but enjoy helpful lectures, free stuff. Come home satisfied. Go out for pizza to celebrate the week finally being over.

Sunday: Bypass clerical collar – no worship assisting today. Put on Garfield novelty tie instead. Go to Ministry-in-Context site. Notice that it although it is October it feels like January outside. Wait for radiators to heat up. Go to church council meeting after worship. When you get home, check score of Bears game. Turn off Bears game in disgust. Go to football practice. Catch up on dishes. Study for Hebrew midterm exam. Be distracted by Zach practicing banjo in the apartment downstairs. Set homework aside, practice guitar instead. Write for blog. Go to sleep.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Fall

Well, I am a little late to get back to blogging after summer break, but better late than never, I guess.

I spent half the summer in Germany visiting a German friend who had been here at LSTC in an exchange program for a year. I still can't quite digest the experience. It was my first time in Europe, my first really extended trip outside of the United States and certainly the first time I had been somewhere other than the U.S. when I wasn't a tourist. Since I stayed with my friend's family, I got to know a lot more about what her life (and theirs) was really like. I befriended all three of her little brothers and occasionally still get e-mails from them. I think it was important in their life to meet a crazy American. I actually blogged the entire time I was there, so I will try to post some comments later when I have time to find a few interesting sections. What I can say, on balance, from this trip is that I learned about what it is to be an American by being in Germany. I hadn't ever really understood how prevalent American culture is everywhere else. I didn't understand how much English is the langua franca of large parts of the world. It was strange not to speak any German at all when I left and to be able to do most everything because everyone spoke English at least a little. And my friends family all spoke English. I was impressed.

I went to church in Germany --my friend's father is a pastor. It was very interesting because even though I had just arrived and didn't know any German, I could still get a general sense of the message. It was a little daunting to see a church service there and really completely realize for the first time that there are people communing and preaching and worshiping all over the world almost all the time. But I must note that the church was almost empty. In America we worry that people are leaving the church and that attendance is down, but we have nowhere near the problem that Europe does in that respect.

More on all of this later,
Wendy

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Walking Feet

This past week in Constructive Theology, we discussed Frederick Buechner's Alphanbet of Grace. The quote that I will remember most from the book is his discourse on vocation: “Thus, when you wake up in the morning, called by God to be a self again, if you want to know who you are, watch your feet. Because where your feet take you, that is who you are.”

I look forward to being back at LSTC for my senior year and blogging where all my feet take me.

For now, I don’t want my feet to take me very far. I am looking forward to staying local to LSTC, the University of Chicago, and Hyde Park. I’ve been far away on internship this past year, traveled much, and ready to stick close to home.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

An Introduction

I'm Jordan Miller, an M.Div senior at LSTC who will be joining "The Seminarian's Sojourn" blog this year. I'm originally from Buffalo, NY, and came to LSTC right after I graduated from college. I spent this past year on internship in Austin, TX, at a congregation where I was their 41st intern! I loved being able to learn from and with such a unique group of people, who give me great hope in the future of the church.

I'm glad to be back in Chicago with the LSTC community this year, as I move towards graduation and first call. I look forward to sharing my journey with you as we go along!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

New writers coming soon!

I'm grateful to Josh who is writing from his Internship in Argentina (as you can see!) and to Becky (second year Dual Degree student) and Wendy (third year MA student) who plan to continue writing. YAY! Since Lisa and Ben are 1) a graduate and 2) on-the-brink-of-graduation, respectively... we are now seeking LSTC seminarians to join in the blog for the 2007-2008 academic year. Look for a senior and two first year students to join us soon!

Pastor Joy

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Pictures of Plaza 25 de Mayo










Here are some pictures of the Plaza 25 de Mayo, the main plaza in the center of the city, which happens to be one of the larger central plazas. To see more pictures, go to: http://picasaweb.google.com/JoshEbener/Argentina

My Internship in Argentina

I have just started my internship year at LSTC, which is the third of the four year Master of Divinity program. The internship year where we are sent all over the country and world for full time ministry under the supervision of a pastor/supervisor: http://www.elca.org/candidacy/pdf/internship.pdf
I’ll be doing my internship in Resistencia, Argentina, with the ELCA Global Mission Horizon International Internship program: http://www.elca.org/outreach/leadership/leadership_horizon.html

Argentina is finishing up its winter, so when I arrived a couple weeks ago it was 40’s and 50’s. It may seem strange to those of you sweating in 90s and 100s that I broke out the winter coat, long underwear, and am clinging to a box heater. I am also sipping lots of mate, the classic Argentine tea, which I may actually like more than coffee.
I took an overnight flight to Buenos Aires, where I spent a day, where I got to meet the directors of ELCA Global Mission here, as well as the president and staff of the IELU (Iglesia Evangelica Luterana Unida - United Evangelical Lutheran Church), and to see some of downtown Buenos Aires. We walked past a political rally, which was for Cristina Kirchner, the wife of current president Néstor Kirchner, who seems to be the current front-runner for the presidential elections to be held in October (an exciting time to be here). I then took an overnight bus to Resistencia, the city I’ll be doing my internship in, and my pastor/supervisor picked me up.

The terrain is flat and swampy with tropical plants and lagoons. Resistencia, a city of roughly 400,000 people, is a city of sculptures of all sorts of styles. The city centers around a very large plaza (see photo), Plaza 25 de Mayo (25th of May), which is the actual Independence Day of Argentina (and also my birthday). The culture here is distinct, especially as compared to Buenos Aires. It’s more laid back and they have a nice siesta in the afternoons. This is the capital and main urban center of the province of Chaco. Chaco is home to many indigenous people, who are an ostracized minority in the country. Chaco is also one of the poorest provinces in the country. There are many children throughout the province who suffer from malnutrition. Because of these realities, there are many people that migrate to the city and settle on the outskirts.

So far I have been getting acquainted with my pastor/supervisor, who along with the other people I’ve met, has been very warm and welcoming. I have already gotten to attend a worship service at Misión Maria Magdalena (Mary Magdalene Mission), which is on the outskirts of Resistencia. The church has been a driving force for, and partner with, many social programs in the neighborhood, and the pastor works with a couple of social workers. There are hot meals for children, after-school programs, health programs, and several other programs the church is involved with. The other church I’ll be with is San Mateo in Corrientes, a city of about the same size, which is across the Parana river.

I preached at both churches last weekend for the first time on Luke 13:10-17, “Jesus Heals a Crippled Woman.” I talked about how revolutionary this act was and all the cultural and social rules Jesus was breaking by healing the woman. The woman had been ostracized and defined by these social rules. When society tries to define us, it’s hard not to listen to them. It can sometimes be so much that it has us bent over like the woman. That’s when Jesus comes and with a touch he helps us stand up straight, and reminds us that we are not who society says we are, that we are full of dignity and wonderful in God’s sight.

I’m excited about ministry in this context, I will continue to keep you posted.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Outdoor Ministry Ambassadors

It was an incredible summer for those who paved the way in our pilot program of connecting seminarians with outdoor ministry settings. Here are some of their words and photos:

Tom with campers at Lutherdale
Elkhorn, Wisconsin




Tom with campers at Camp Carol Joy Holling

We also had OMAs travel to Sky Ranch, Ewalu, Camp Kirchenwald, Pine Lake, Camp Shalom, Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministries--it was a great summer!
Holly Philips said this:

My week at Sky Ranch was phenomenal. It was a great camp to have vocation conversations. The on-site program director, Andy, gave me 1 1/2 hours of staff meetings a day to talk about vocation, theology and LSTC. It was a gift. I built relationships with the counselors during each day, through hikes, low and high ropes, Bible Studies. I then was able to use those experiences to talk about Christian vocation. Many people were interested in seminary, were surprised by the various programs and were excited to have the opportunity to voice their opinions and questions in group discussion. I followed up with many of them in one on one conversations.

I think this is an important ministry. I think it is vital that our seminary participates and exposes people to camping and youth and family ministry. I would love to be part of continuing to make things like this happen.

Here are a few words from Matt Ley, MDiv:

This summer I worked for LSTC as an Outdoor Ministries Ambassador (OMA) at three different camps in the Midwest during the month of July. At each camp I would arrive on Sunday morning, be greeted, shown around camp, introduced to the people working there at a group meeting and then would instantly be set to work welcoming parents and campers. I would then spend the next five days getting to know the ministry style of each camp, the relationships of the people working at the camp and the rhythm of the week all while trying to figure out how I fit into all of it. My job description was pretty open. Basically I was called on to “do ministry” and to have conversations with staff about vocation and seminary, though none of this was structured. I found ways to do this through the traditional means of leading Bible studies and speaking at campfires but also through washing dishes, weed eating, walking campers to the bathroom, eating meals, working at canteen and various other day-to-day activities. Then each Friday evening, I was invited out to eat with the staff after all the campers had gone home, say my good byes and travel back to Chicago for a 30-hour break. It was the most engaging, exhausting and rewarding ministry I have ever been apart of.
What struck me the most with the whole experience is how much like parish ministry it was. I was an individual with a somewhat ambiguous title (What is an OMA?) that enters a pre-existing community as an outsider who is looking to be not just an insider but a leader and resource within the community. I had to learn the lay of a new geographical location, peoples’ names and roles, the relationships between these people and the way the term “ministry” was understood all within the first 24 hours. During all of this, I had to try and explain my purpose to people who already had preconceived notions of my identity based solely on my title as either an OMA or, more often, as a future pastor. If this doesn’t sound what coming into a new church is like then my first call we be more of a shock then I already assume.
That is why I wish everyone who hopes to work in the church would take advantage of this opportunity. Not only is it a great trial run for future ministry, but many churches see their relationships to a particular camp as a major portion of their youth ministry. So to be able to enter call scenarios with the ability to say you have familiarity with camp ministry will be a big bonus. Also, for those who are nervous about youth ministry what better opportunity will you find to observe youth ministry without having to be in charge. You could probably spend the whole week just attending bible studies, campfires and just walking around without ever having to lead if you really wanted to.
For me though the greatest benefit was getting to engage with the counselors and staff, who are some of the strongest church leaders we have, and to watch them in action. This experience is as close to “cloud of witnesses” and I think one can ever get. It was amazing to see young adults sharing their faith with children and each other day in and day out for peanuts in salary (usual pay works out to about 50¢/hour). After a year of getting burned out and beat up in academic and theological study at seminary, it was a blessing to be bolstered and lifted up by these people. It really put what I am doing at seminary into perspective, which is something I believe all of us need a healthy dose of from time to time.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Internship Sending


Last Wednesday our class, many of us in the "Middler (second year)" class were formally sent to internship. The past two years in seminary has flown by, it is hard to believe that we'll be all sent to different parts of the country and world next year. In fact, out of 51 of us, we're being sent to 17 different states and 4 different countries (U.S., Argentina, Tanzania and Norway). Our class has build strong bonds, and it will be hard to leave one another for the year, but it was a great feeling to make it to this point together.
For me, it was a feeling of both "wow, we made it," and a strong feeling of anticipation, "I can't wait." It still hasn't sunk in for me that I'm going to be going to Argentina. I am very excited about this opportunity to grow in ministry and be transformed by this context. I am excited to put all the course work to practice, for the rubber to hit the road. More to come, I better get back to my final papers...

Friday, April 27, 2007

"COO!"


It’s getting pretty busy around here at LSTC, as we only have two weeks left, and many final papers are already due next week. At this time students’ identity changes from “Tina” to “I am 25 more pages.” No longer do we say “Hello,” but we manage to utter, “two more exegesis papers.” Honestly, I don’t know why I’m typing in my Blog right now, when this could be counting as “one less page” if it was put into a paper. No, it’s not because I’m procrastinating, but rather because I wish to be in open dialogue with all of you. Really.

Anyway, as I’ve been writing my Systematic Theology II paper on various correlations between Christology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology, and Eschatology, in the midst of my inner-theological discourse, I heard cooing. That’s right, cooing. Then came the sound of wings flapping. It turns out it wasn’t angels coming to bring the eschaton (end of the world).

Some of you may recall my Blog in October about the squirrels outside my window. In the winter I changed rooms, and now instead of my bushy-tailed buddies throwing themselves into my window screen, I have the cooing and flapping of the pigeons to keep me company. So far I like them better because they haven’t eaten any of my mom’s cookies like the squirrels did.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Casting Out Fear

As I went for my morning run by the shore of Lake Michigan this morning (I wish I could show you the view of the city as the sun rose) I realized something about myself this year. There has been a common theme throughout my classes that has been fairly constant since the fall semester. It has had to do with fear and its manifestation in our lives. We fear the “other,” we fear God (not in the Martin Luther - we should fear, love, and trust kind of way), we fear our “authentic self.” These theme of fear have woven themselves throughout my learning. If I have learned anything it is that fear is paralyzing. It keeps us from living into the life that is intended for us. As class is soon beginning for the day, and I have a paper to write today, I cannot spend too much time on this topic now, but check back over the next couple days as I reflect on these different fears. I have a hunch that in the end, they won’t be that different.

1 John 4:18

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Conflict

I don't really like conflict, but sometimes, it just comes up. Tonight I was playing a game with some seminarian friends of mine and I started to take some things personally that were happening and I felt attacked and was being competitive. When one of my friends started to take things personally as well, she snapped at me and I snapped at her. I am not sure what will happen because she stormed out and then I did. And we're grown adults! After a while, I felt bad and appologized because what I said had been more ludicrous than what she said and anyway, I shouldn't have said it. But her feelings were hurt and she doesn't want to talk to me. Looking back, the whole thing seems so unnecessary to me. If I had just moved out of my own selfishness in the moment that I snapped at her, I wouldn't be in the situation of having hurt my friend and possibly having permanently damaged the friendship. I think that much of the conflict in the world happens in this same way. We get selfish and we do something stupid without thinking about how our actions affect others, then pride comes in and blocks our ability to limit the damage that's already been done. I don't want discord in the world and yet it is one of those things which I am completely unable to get rid of. We all do stupid things. The most amazing thing is that despite this thickheaded inability to do what's right, even when we know full well what it is that is right, God somehow still values us. Tonight I don't have a whole lot of use for myself, but somehow God still does. How do I know that? I don't really, but I believe the Gospel message which is that God loves us enough to overcome sin for us. I wish I could prevent this discord, but even now when writing this blog entry, I believe I had a reason to be upset even if what I said was wrong. I still feel the need to press the point. And maybe we have to make our feelings known in order to have healthy relationships, but it makes it easy to understand how very different strangers can fight when good friends do.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Mourning with Virginia Tech

As the nation mourns with Virginia Tech after the mass killings there last Monday, our inability to understand such a tragedy burns inside of us.
In the Virginia Tech memorial convocation Tuesday evening, professor and poet Nikki Giovanni said:
"We are Virginia Tech.
We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.
We are Virginia Tech.
We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry, and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.
We are Virginia Tech.
We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it, but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army, neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory, neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water, neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.
We are Virginia Tech.
The Hokie Nation embraces our own and reaches out with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.
We are the Hokies. We will prevail. We will prevail. We will prevail. We are Virginia Tech."
http://www.vt.edu/tragedy/giovanni_transcript.php

As we struggle to undertand this tragedy, our prayers go out all those who mourn at Virginia Tech, that God's healing presence would be felt.

Friday, April 13, 2007

After the Easter Lillies Wilt

I'm in Omaha tonight. It's my mother's 60th birthday. She's just a little upset about turning 60. I can understand it. I didn't particularly relish 30.

We're giving Mom a party. So I've been digging through old pictures and memorabilia in their basement. I found a picture of Mom being surprised at a birthday party for her when she was 34. I remember this party. And now, next month, I will turn 33. It's sort of strange when you get to be the age that you remember your parents being.

And it's a little strange for your parents to be 60 and not seem OLD to you. They don't seem old to me at all, but I know that at one point I considered 60 old. If I were really being honest with myself, I think I would have to admit that my dad is pretty bald, but he's been bald almost as long as I can remember and anyway, there are 23-year-olds at seminary who are bald. But he does have a few wrinkles. Mom's knee bothers her. She would argue that it has nothing to do with age and she's probably right. Still, there are little things that tell you they aren't completely untouched by time. Yet if you met my parents you would NEVER guess they are 60. It isn't just because they bought a Wii for themselves or that my mother likes to start a squirt gun fight every year at our Fourth of July party; they look young. Good genes, which I am pleased about, and they don't either of them drink or smoke or go to places where there is smoking. And they eat vegetables and my mom drinks milk.

The other day I was carded to buy a bottle of wine and the woman almost didn't let me get out of the store with it because she was convinced I had to have a fake i.d. I almost kissed her. I don't care when my students think I am supposed to be in the class, rather than teaching, on the first day. It's nice. When I was in high school and college I didn't like it much though.

I was studying the passage from Paul in 1 Thessalonians about the dead rising first. It makes me wonder always about how this is going to work. Do we get our bodies. In a class the other day someone was joking that she wanted her 19-year-old body. I think I'd take 24. It's a strange concept to think about. And then to think about cremation and the little problem of conservation of matter (assuming it will apply at the eschaton) and all the people who have existed and will exist. Who knows where we'll go. We'd probably just be too heavy for the earth if all people were alive bodily at the same time (Maybe it would just be believers? And anyway we'd have our 19 year old bodies so we'd be lighter.) The idea of the resurrection of the body is an interesting question. It is something I think about more and more at Easter time. Maybe we'll get cool walk-through-doors bodies like Jesus. Likely we will all be bodily resurrected to a place and in a way that we just don't understand now, but during this last Holy Week, I thought about it quite a lot.

My sister died when I was a child. My Godmother died last year. I've lost grandparents and friends and aunts and uncles and all sorts of people I love. As my parents get older, I am confronted with the finitude of their existence. I cannot imagine a world that is missing some of the people in my life. And perhaps the hardest part about grief, for me, is that I know that you live through it. You laugh other days and you do laundry and you go to work, even when someone in your life dies. And one of the reasons you are able to go back to life is the belief we all have in the life to come, the everlasting promise of Jesus on Easter.

And yet, I think about the resurrection of the body. And I think about all of that and I think that I would rather not know anything after I die if some of the people I have loved in my life, people who were not Christian, will not be wherever I am. And I would rather not know anything after I die if my baby sister will remain trapped inside of her infant body for eternity, unable to ever talk or understand the love that my family has for her. And I would rather my dad could have the afro-like hair back that he naturally had until it fell out.

I am comforted by the Easter message, but then I doubt. I doubt and I worry and I don't know how to accept that God is going to take care of all of my concerns and fears in ways I can't imagine. But I doubt.

In this post-Enlightenment world we live in, oftentimes non-Christians see Christians as those who just believe. Maybe the non-Christians think we are silly and superstitious for believing because they believe in something else (after all, belief in total logical positivism is itself an act of faith, but that's another blog). Maybe they think we are people who just happen to have this monolithic gift of faith that they don't. Sometimes I think we want to show people the love we feel in Christ so much, that we forget to show them our doubt, our struggle, our questions. What would it be like for us to say "Yes, I question all the same things that you question, all the things that seem foreign to our worldview. You don't have to believe all the time on every level to be Christian. You do have to nurture the little seedlings of your faith, but not believing all the time doesn't mean you are an unbeliever." Would the concept of Christianity which has so spread around our society by the more radical wings of Christians be affected if people heard Christians say "I doubt, but I believe too." Sometimes I think we say we believe, tell ourselves we believe because we are so afraid of doubt. And sometimes I think we build up false idols around things we can believe, around dogmatism, just because we can comfort our own doubts by having a strict litany of things we rehearse in our head as what we believe. Especially in a world of doubters that sees clergy as unfailing believers, perhaps the human frailties of doubt might not be a bad thing to show now and then. After all, Peter denied Jesus three times. Peter, whom the church was to be built upon, doubted. We've all heard sermons on "Doubting Thomas" and how he gets a bad rap. It's probably true. How powerful an image is it that Jesus didn't really get mad at Thomas. Jesus was patient and showed Thomas what he needed to see. I don't know why we live in a world where God allows doubt, but I do know it is one of the types of suffering that exists in this world.

I doubt, but I believe too.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

I am Peter

To complete the Lenten series of monologues I was doing at St. Andrew, I performed one today (Easter Sunday) from the perspective of Peter, according to Luke 24:1-12. I did this for our three services, two in English and one in Spanish. It went like this:

"I remember the day, the other ten disciples and I were gathered together, grieving the death of our teacher and Lord, Jesus Christ.. He was killed a criminal’s death on the cross, and now here we were with deep sadness and confusion. All of a sudden the women who had went to Jesus’ tomb to bring spices came running in to tell us that the stone in front of Jesus’ tomb was rolled away, and Jesus’ body was gone! They said that two men in dazzling clothes—angels, told them that Jesus was risen from the dead. The disciples did not believe what the women said, and why should they have? Once you’re dead, you’re dead! Right? But why would the women make up something like this? I mean, I don’t know them to lie. What if what they were saying was true? What if Jesus had risen from the dead? No, it couldn’t be! Or what if someone had stolen his body from the tomb? I had to see for myself. So I got up and ran to the tomb, and was short of breath when I finally arrived. Then I stooped and looked inside the tomb and I saw only the linen cloths that had been wrapped on Jesus body. Could it be? They were right, Jesus’ body was gone! I was amazed! But what did this mean? My Lord Jesus, have you indeed risen from the dead?"

I can imagine Peter going back and forth in his mind like this. Finally, he needed to see it for himself. We can relate that the resurrection is tough to believe, but why? After reflecting on this story, I believe what Peter was struggling with was more than just the notion of resurrecting from the dead. He was so immersed in the death, struggle, pain and grief, that he couldn't see outside it. It is in this bitter grief of death on Friday that the hope of resurrection comes on Sunday.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Christian Peace Witness in DC


On Friday, March 16 I traveled with over 20 seminarians, mostly from McCormick Theological Seminary to the Christian Peace Witness (CPW) for Iraq gathering in Washington DC. We were a part of over 3,000 Christians uniting in response to our faith, to call for an end to the War in Iraq. This was the first of a weekend of protests around the country to mark the fourth anniversary of the war. The CPW gathering started with a service at the Washington National Cathedral at 7:00pm, where we sang songs of hope and heard from several speakers. After the service we marched in the snow and cold with battery-operated candles to the White House singing hymns of peace and hope (see picture). At the White House 222 people were arrested for praying in an area that requires constant movement. One of the speakers at the service was Celeste Zappala, who lost her son in the war, and shared the following words:

“Tonight we’re in the National Cathedral, the alter of the nation, and we lay before God the sorrow that lives in all of us because of this war. Since Sherwood (her son who died in the War in Iraq) died protecting the Iraq Survey Group as they looked for the weapons of mass destruction 2,483 more American lives have been lost… And how many limbs? And how many eyes? And how much blood? And what about the souls of soldiers who pick up the pieces of their friends? Or fearfully fire into a car and discover a minute later a shattered Iraqi family? In Iraq shamefully no one could say how many children and old people have died, those counts are only kept in the hearts of the people who lost them, keep these people in your heart. An Iraqi mother searches a morgue for the familiar curve of the hand of her child beneath a pale sheet. An American father watches his son beheaded on video tape. An Iraqi child wakes up in a shabby hospital in excruciating pain, because of the loss of his arm. An American girl writes letters to her dead soldier father. An American vet wraps a garden hose around his neck, and leaps away from the nightmares that beset him. And the ocean of tears spreads across both countries along with the numbers: 1,950 US kids have lost parents, 25,000 wounded and struggling through the VA system, scores and scores of suicides, 500,000 and more dead in Iraq, 2 million refugees, a wail rises from the throats from all who love these people and shakes our hearts as it reaches the crucified open arms of Jesus. We’re here tonight as the church, each one of us is a witness to this war and to our own complicity in it, when were we silent when we should have spoken, whose eyes would we not meet to face the truth? Now we are prostrate at this alter, begging: ‘Lord, help us, war is our failure to love you, and peace is your command, peace isn’t the easy way out, its creation is the most confounding, the hardest thing we can do, help us, we lay our souls open to you and question, how can we follow your command to love each other?’ Surely it cannot be by mindlessly sending the children of others to kill people we don’t even know. I know that nothing I say, no amount of logic or protest will bring my son back to me, or any of the lost ones home. Yet I ask the Lord to help us, we lay this grief before the Lord, our souls broken open, ready to rise to witness, ready to love God’s world to peace. Bless you and thank you.”
Zappala's words shook me because not only was it a call to peace in Iraq, it was a call to repentance of our own complicity in this war. She reminds us that even though for the past four years we've seen death tolls in the daily news, that there is mourning and wailing behind the words and numbers. I believe my faith calls me to hear their cry and to join in. This experience has affirmed a part of my call to ministry, that I carry the bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. As we approach Good Friday, may we not read the words in the newspaper, but may they be heard as "a wail rises from the throat from all who love these people and shakes our hearts as it reaches the crucified open arms of Jesus."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Baby's First Oppression

I have something new for my baby book today. My mother has my book in Omaha somewhere with a lock of my hair from my first haircut and the birth announcements and information about my first steps and first words.

First you need to know that I have always been at best a reluctant feminist, that I was one of the last people around here to change to gender-inclusive language when talking about God. Next you need to know that one of the predecessor institutions which formed LSTC was Seminex, the Seminary in Exile from the Missouri Synod Seminary where students and faculty walked out of the Seminary and that tradition many years ago largely over issues like female ordination. When that body voted against female ordination, a large group of all men, including some faculty members who are still teaching at LSTC today, left with no plans for their future except that they could not be a part of that group anymore. Needless to say, because of that institutional heritage, LSTC is a very open place for female would-be pastors. In fact it was one of those Seminex Professors who finally modelled gender inclusive language for God enough that I started using it. Around here, the belief in ordination of females is a fundamental assumption that isn't even really talked about anymore. It's a given. It's like talking about the earth being round, earth shattering at some point in history, but hardly shocking today.

I have two friends who are remarkable men. Young men, both younger than me. Both are extremely intelligent. One is, in some ways, one of my closest confidants in the world. I respect both men implicitly. They are both very kindhearted, tolerant, progressive and unselfish. Essentially they are exactly the kind of people you want to have as pastors. I trust them enough to jump out of a plane if they told me it was safe.

Today I had lunch with these two men. We were, as we often do, talking about theology. My close friend said that he thought, now that we have agreed with the Catholics on justification, that we ought to rejoin them, "submit" to the Roman Catholic church was what he said. He said submitting was the Christian thing to do, even though as Lutherans we would have to just change some of our policies and confessional beliefs to do so. In the interest of Church unity, we ought to submit. My other friend said he thought it wasn't a bad idea exactly. I disagreed and put forth the standard reasons, the hierarchical structure, the Pope, the veneration of the Saints, the policy on penitence, etc.

Then, in the middle of one of my friend's statements, I thought about the differences and exclaimed, interrupting him, that there was no way we could return to the Catholic church because of its policies on women and because women cannot be ordained as priests. I expected I had hit a home run. For me the question was settled. I expected them to both say "Oh yeah, I didn't really think about that." Instead, both said something to the effect of yes, it was a shame, but that was essentially a sacrifice they were willing to make in the interest of Church unity. My close friend suggested that we could all work together inside the church to reform it and eventually women would again be able to be fully ordained as pastors/priests.

I was shocked. Surely they just hadn't thought about it I thought. So I thought I would make it less abstract for them. "That would mean that all of the women in your classes would not be able to be pastors." They were both willing to sacrifice their classmates ordination, the unqualified acceptance of women as equally acceptable to partake in all aspects of Christian community and practice. One of them said "There are lots of very pious happy nuns." For me that statement suggested that women should/could learn to adjust. I started shaking and said we needed to discuss something else. Tears welled in my eyes. I was startled by my own strong reaction. The men respected my boundary and we talked about something else. My close friend sought me out tonight because he wanted to understand and he felt bad and had detected some error in his thought.

I had never felt oppressed until this lunch.

Although I am a woman, I've not felt that I was treated differently because of it. I have more education than almost any men around (makes getting a date tricky) and I've been in traditionally male-dominated professions like law. I come from a now upper-middle class family. I have the kind of personality or a mean looking face, or something that makes people typically take me seriously and not doubt my ability to do something. Or at least I am argumentative and stubborn enough that people generally don't tell me I can't do something because they know they will just waste their time even if I really can't do it. I've generally been exempt from feeling the exercise of power over or against me. My parents were supportive and generally let me help my dad with construction projects while my brother helped my mom make lunch.

What I learned today is that oppression is latent. Discrimination is powerful because it exists in the silent places in the mind, because it becomes part of the fabric of a culture. If I had that same conversation with men I didn't respect quite as much or men I didn't think wanted to do the right thing or men who I didn't think truly valued and believed in the equality of women, I would not have been so disturbed. These are men I trust to look out for my best interests far before their own. I was not mad at them because they didn't understand they were wrong. I was shocked and horrified to realize I live in a world where men I respect, young men, still think that women's equality to men is not one of the basic premises of life, that it is something which can be sacrificed if necessary, and that it isn't shocking for them to think of living in a world where women are lesser and that they could think of asking of their sisters to submit to an authority which sees them as lesser and will not accept them as pastors.

So today I realized what it really means to be oppressed. It means to be asked by someone who is perfectly good intentioned to make a forced sacrifice for something they value. It means they are willing to decide that your feelings and thoughts are expendable in the right situations. It means well-intentioned people think that your equality with them is something that can be negotiable for the right reasons. It means that still, in the back of their minds, they think that open discrimination against you is acceptable in some way under some circumstances.

I confess, I didn't believe our brothers and sisters in other oppressed classes who told me that I and other good, well-intentioned people can be accidentally oppressive. I resisted the idea that discrimination was institutionalized. I worried that focusing on discrimination was actually more divisive than uniting.

After my lunch experience today, I am not sure exactly what I feel about what should be done. I still think that I have been given all of life's opportunities and that others are openly oppressed whereas I am living in a situation where the oppression doesn't really become a factor in my life very often. I did learn my grammar today. Oppression is a noun, not a verb. It isn't an action, it's a state of existence. That it could ever be justified by thinking people in the name of anything Christian is a hard reality to swallow. Mark my baby book. Today was baby's first oppression. Today my eyes were opened to some of the latent cruelties in the world.

Friday, March 23, 2007

I am Barabbas

"I was sitting in chains, both hands and feet, in a dirty, cold and damp prison. I had robbed. I had murdered. I knew someday I would be caught, but until then I had always been able to slip through their fingers..." This is a part of a monologue from the perspective of Barabbas. What happened in Barabbas' mind once he heard the news that he would be set free after all the terrible things he had done? How did he respond to this radical grace? How do we respond grace in our lives?

This monologue was part of a Lenten Wednesday worship service series I am doing with Lara (another LSTC student) at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in West Chicago for our Ministry In Context (field education) project. Each week I memorize and perform a different monologue from a Lenten drama series called "Am I Guilty?" by Audrey Surma (published by Contemporary Drama Services). The monologues have been from the perspectives of Caiaphas the High Priest, a moneychanger, a member of the mob, Barabbas. Next week I will be Cornelius a Centurion and then Peter for Easter. I perform these monologues in first person story form, walking around the room, and then inviting discussion. Each monologue has sparked discussion on the parallels between these biblical characters and us today. Do we seek power like Caiaphas? Do we practice unethical business like the moneychangers? Do we follow the crowd like members of the mob? Do we still see a lot of these tendencies today? What does this tell us about sin? What does this tell us about grace? These are many of the questions the people of St. Andrew and I have been reflecting on and engaging during this Lenten season. Peace and grace to all of you.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Day Trip

Despite all the homework and grading I REALLY ought to be doing, one of my seminary friends and his wife and I all went on a day trip today. We travelled up the west coast of Lake Michigan since it was raining on the east side. We took a tour of the Jelly Belly factory and then went to a state park somewhere north of Milwaukee. It was really nice to get out of the city and see the lake shore in a quasi-natural state (there were still bits of pink Styrofoam floating in the rocks at water's edge and the occasional plastic bottle lodged into piles of shells).

I am absolutely convinced that God is revealed in nature. And God works in nature. Of course humans are natural too and therefore human-made items must be, in some way, natural. And God obviously works in humans. But you know what I mean--the non-human made stuff out there in the world is pretty revelatory. I feel closer to God from going out and walking on the beach. I feel more at peace.

But we don't have much "nature" left really. And although it is possible to enjoy the little bits-- the snowdrops and crocus flowers blooming in the yards along Woodlawn Ave-- it is sometimes very helpful to get the more dramatic dose of nature. Not everyone gets that opportunity. And if everyone did go out and walk on the beach like I did today, the beach wouldn't stay "natural" for very long. It's an interesting balance. We are in a position very different than the one that confronted biblical peoples. Then there was a struggle to survive for humans in a large world of "nature." It was necessary to be fruitful and multiply or we might not have made it as a species. Now the tables have turned.

I am faced with a series of dillemmas when I think about the Earth and "environmentalism." First. I come from a large family and I think I derived a lot of benefits and life lessons from the size of my family. But if I ever have a family of my own, should I keep it small because of the overpopulation of the earth? I love taking unnecessary road trips, but I probably hurt the environment by driving with fossil fuels. Think globally, act locally. How can you act when you are crippled by the enormity of the problem of thinking globally? What can we do when there are so many people alive and we want to keep them all alive and yet the world is straining under the bulk of our population? What happens if only certain factions in society curb their reproduction-- when the demographics of the society change will the environment be in better or worse shape if only those who don't seem to care as much bear and raise children?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Middle Times

Right now we are in the middle of the Semester-- a busy time in some ways with papers due just around the corner. For me it's my middler year in Seminary in a way that is even more true than for other middlers. I am taking three years to do an M.A. and so this really is the middle year.

It's sort of a moment of peace and familiarity. I know the schedule; I know what's expected of me. Life is a little bit settled for the moment. I guess most of the world operates in that moment, in the middle times. For me it's the most enjoyable time because I can focus on things other than putting fires out. So I took a quick trip home to Nebraska this weekend to see family-- it wasn't as quick as I'd hoped since the train was 10 hours late on the way back! I am working on a paper for Systematics and I have enough time to work just a little each day, then set it down and come back to it. My friends and I are talking about driving up the East coast of Lake Michigan tomorrow just to see what we can see. Since it's reading week (a whole week this semester) we have the day off.

The flowers are just starting to bloom and when the sun shines you feel like you just might have glimpsed eternity. This is Springtime! I don't really think it is the new beginning. It's the middle time. The time between trying to survive in muck and snow and cold in winter and the oppressive heat of summer. The middle times when things grow even if you don't water them.

I guess I don't live very well in the middle times. I get anxious and want to get moving on past them. But I almost always look back and wish I hadn't been so eager. It's easy to love spring, and I am enjoying this year, but stretch out the middle times into five or ten years and I get restless. I'm not sure why.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

how I long to smell the shoe

I enjoy playing basketball with a group of LSTC students every Thursday. Last Thursday we had the traditional bi-anual Student vs. Staff/Faculty Basketball Game. This semester's game we pumped the court with the Rocky theme song, and had team shirts that said: "HERE I SLAM, I CAN DO NO OTHER."

Unfortunately, we lost again (which is usually the case). They won the much coveted trophy, the president's "Shoe." I must mention that their team consists mostly of younger staff that are very athletic. However, we will have our day of glory, just you wait. Now as we sing the familiar tune of "next year," we do not sing it as the Cubs sing it, we sing it with fullness of confidence. I won't be here to see it, but next year will be dawning of a new era, I can feel it...and the students will win that shoe, and we will take it and we will smell its glory.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A prayer for Lent

God of love and understanding, as Jesus forgave the woman caught in her sin and the thief hanging to pay for his, forgive me those things of which I am sorry or ashamed.

Forgive me so that I might be a person redeemed and full of hope.

May some part of your dominion come through me and may I be one who offers forgiveness to others.

For your grace is without limit, your call to follow you is wondrous, and my life is continually restored through Jesus Christ my Lord.Amen

- from the Oremus III+ worship book

Sunday, February 18, 2007

I'm going to Argentina for Internship!

I am excited to announce that through the I will be doing my internship in Argentina. My internship is the third year (out of four) of seminary, which is a field education requirement where I will be ministering in a church full time under the supervision of a pastor. This opportunity is through the ELCA Horizon International Internship program.

It will be in the cities of Resistencia and Corrientes -which are close to one another and both a population of about 300,000, in the northern part of Argentina. I will be at a two-point parish: Mision Maria Magdalena in Resistencia & Congregacion San Mateo in Corrientes, Argentina.

I will be starting on July 15 with a three week long orientation with ELCA Global Mission, and then will be traveling to Argentina for the course of a year. I am very excited about this placement, and eager for this transformational experience to grow deeper into my call. Having never been to South America, this will further broaden experience and my tools for ministry.

Does Fair Trade Work?


Does Fair Trade work? This is the frequent question I asked myself while I was in Nicaragua, and I’ve been asked by others since I’ve been back. My answer is: Yes.

Reason #1- Perhaps most importantly, given low market prices, Fair Trade ensures farmers a fair price, Equal Exchange ensures a minimum of $1.41 per pound of organic coffee. For the high quality coffee which comes from their cooperative partners in Nicaragua, the company often pays considerably more. For small-scale farmers, a fair price is just the beginning of the benefits of Fair Trade. “We do not want people to buy our coffee, to pay a fair price, because we are poor. We want you to buy our coffee because of its quality,” said Blanca Rosa Morales, the President of Cecocafen, the coffee co-op visited by the group. “And this quality translates into many other qualities: not just the quality in your cup, but our quality of life, the environment, and of our children’s education – it is total quality.”

Reason #2- By trading directly with farmer co-ops, Equal Exchange cuts out layers of “middlemen,” who small scale farmers are usually forced to sell to because they are isolated from markets. This ensures that more money reaches the people who do the hard work of growing and harvesting coffee.

Reason #3- Another important Fair Trade standard is to provide the cooperatives with loans so that the cooperatives can pay their members for the coffee well before the coffee is shipped to the U.S. This provides the farmers with funds between harvests – money for farm improvements, seedlings, and training programs, as well as family expenses such as medicines, clothing and school supplies – helping them to stay out of debt. In 2005, Equal Exchange arranged for pre-shipment financing of $1.7 million to its cooperative partners. This was one of the most frequent benefits of Fair Trade that we heard in the cooperatives we visited. Especially since the Central American Coffee Crisis hit Nicaragua about six years ago, where sales went down significantly, the instability of the coffee market haunted our hosts. One story that is still burning inside me is a testimony about a nearby community that suffered the deaths of 25 children because of the Coffee Crisis. Therefore, Fair Trade in some instances even means the difference between life and death.

Summary of my J-Term trip to Nicaragua



For my January term course this year I made a week-long visit to Nicaragua with the to learn more about Fair Trade and the lives of small-scale coffee farmers. My trip was made possible by a scholarship for seminarians to go on Lutheran World Relief study visits. I traveled with a delegation of 20 people sponsored by Lutheran World Relief and the Center for Global Education of Augsburg College. Representatives from Equal Exchange, a Fair Trade organization that imports coffee, tea and cocoa, were also with the group. We heard from several people working with farming cooperatives, and the positive impact Fair Trade has had on their lives. We spent two nights with a gracious family from a coffee farming cooperative. I joined the nine year old son Julito (see picture) in picking coffee from the trees. We were able to observe all the steps involved in producing the coffee, which I will attempt to summarize. After picking the coffee, it is brought in burlap bags down to a Wet Mill, where it is de-pulped. Later it is brought to a Dry Mill where it is preserved and then cupped and tested for quality.


After this trip, when I drink coffee I can remember the nine year old boy Julito picking each coffee cherry off of the tree, and all the subsequent labor that was invested in it. This is the type of solidarity that Fair Trade offers. I will close with a reflection on the sermon we heard from the Lutheran bishop of Nicaragua who talked about the star that the Magi followed, and the ways that God’s revelation encounters us. I saw Christ’s presence revealed in countless ways in the hope and resilience in the people we met in Nicaragua, which had a profound impact on my faith, and will certainly have an impact on my future ministry.

Please take a look at my trip pictures at: http://picasaweb.google.com/JoshEbener/Nicaragua
To get a day by day synopsis of our trip, visit our online study diary at: http://www.lwr.org/studydiary/itinerary.asp?VisitID=13
For more information about Equal Exchange, Fair Trade and Equal Exchange’s Interfaith Program visit www.equalexchange.com, or call (774) 776-7366. For more information about the Lutheran World Relief Coffee Project, visit http://www.lwr.org/coffee/index.asp, or call (410) 230-2800.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Shades of Gray

Human eye can distinguish 250 pure colors, 17000 mixed colors, and 300 shades of gray. - Brain Food Podcast

Yeah, my eyes can deal with shades of gray, but my mind has some trouble wrapping around all that uncertainty. In less than a week, many of my senior classmates will be receiving their regional assignments. This is one of the steps in the first call process for anyone looking to be in rostered ministry in the ELCA.

So the questions are intensifying. Where are we gonna live? What congregations or settings will we end up in? When do we have to start paying back student loans? Will we find new friends where we are heading? What if it takes a while to get a call? Am I really ready for this?

I'd really like a clear path, a nice red flag pointing my in the right direction. But this is a journey. God is with me and all of us in this time of amazingly scary uncertainty. Thankfully, there's comfort in that.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Superbowl

Several things struck me on this "Superbowl Sunday." When I first woke up this morning, the television news anchors were talking about the potential problems to the waste water management systems in America because, just as half-time started, such a large portion of Americal would flush at the same time. When I think about this, I wonder at the power of something which can cause such a huge majority of people in the US to behave identically. Later in the broadcast, some intrepid reporter was out at Soldier Field's parking lot because there was a crowd gathered "tailgating" -- there are two facts of which you must be aware to fully understand the import of this assembly. First, as is widely known, the Superbowl wasn't played at Soldier Field-- none of the players or coaches were there. Second, it was the coldest day in Chicago (CHICAGO!) in eleven years. I wonder at what has the power to gather so many who could not even hope to be entertained by the sporting event to gather on this bitterly cold morning.

There were many Superbowl parties in the Seminary housing where I live, just as there are in homes all across the U.S. The Superbowl is a tradition. People remember where they were when certain games were played. Superbowl Sunday has become something of a holiday. My students complained because they have a paper due tomorrow.

I have a penchant for studying ancient cultures, especially Egypt, but I am also interested in
Isreal, Rome and Ancient China, etc. One thing that strikes me from these studies is the role of the gods in the lives of most ancient peoples. Gods represented you as a people. You rooted for your god because if your god won a battle, you won. Of course your gods never "won" battles in the myths until you as a people got to write the myths, so that probably meant you won some military victory over another people and consequently its gods.

We sometimes call certain actresses "screen goddesses" and I wonder whether there isn't more truth than poetry to this comment. We follow their loves and losses, pay attention to their triumphs and sometimes secretly smile at their failures. We take our sons and daughters to Wrigley field and tell them the stories of the past there, the teams that have played and the mythos that surrounds them. We tell them which other teams we hate and which ones are okay, but just not as good as our team. We get in arguments defending the honor of our team, our side, our pride. We associate ourselves with the acts of these athletes who we refer to in mythical language: gladiators, warriors, combatants.

I am struck, then, most by the similarities we have with our foreparents who, searching for meaning and truth in life, grabbed onto stories of something greater than themselves, something to take themselves out of the misery or tediousness of their own lives, and I wonder whether polytheism was the mass entertainment and celebrity watching of the past, or whether professional sporting events and Hollywood are the pantheon of the polytheism of the present. Either way, I wonder whether we as humans have an innate need for something (like ritual and a sense of belongingness) that causes us to make myths out of people and to stand out in the cold on days when the high is zero degrees.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Retreat

For the past two weeks I have been on retreats. Last weeks retreat was actually a class with the Alban Institute. It was designed to increase our "Emotional Intelligence." It was a great class, but very intense as we were in small groups for 5-7 hours a day. Those groups helped us become more self-aware and perceptive as we relate to others.

The second retreat was at the Cenacle in Warrenville, IL. This retreat was a prayer retreat. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to go on this. After such an intense class the week before, these past few days have really helped me center myself and reflect on what I learned. This is a mosaic of some of the pics I took while there.


This is what I like about our J-term so much. The options for classes are very different from trips to Israel, Geneva, Mexico, Tanzania, or Nebraska to retreats that are very focused on personal development and growth to intense studies of Hebrew texts. I'm also glad that the regularity of the semester is about to begin and the community begins to reconnect after being apart during the break.

Peace,
Ben


Friday, January 12, 2007

Saludos de Nicaragua

Right now I am in Nicaragua for a January Term travel seminar on Fair Trade coffee, thanks to a scholarship from Lutheran World Relief. This has been an amazing trip full of transformation and insight. Yesterday was a huge day in the history of Nicaragua, as Daniel Ortega was inaugurated president. We watched the ceremony and speech on TV, since it was in Managua and we´re in Matagalpa, but this city was sounding with fireworks. Most of the areas we´ve been visiting are of Ortega´s Sandanista party and have hope in the new government. It´s quite an exciting time to be in Nicaragua.

Today (Thursday) we were in the city of Matagalpa, and headed out to La Esperanza (Hope) Cooperative, which LWR supports. We heard various stories from the people that work at this coffee cooperative, and the benefits to the community. One is that because of the cooperative, their wages don´t go up and down because of the market, but are sustained. Another is many community projects such as road improvement and a car for emergencies. The community was very hopeful that we would share their stories with all of you, and keep promoting Fair Trade coffee. They send thanks to all of you who support their cooperative through LWR.

Then we visited a women´s collective supported by Project CIPRES and LWR who works on growing, processing and commercializing medicinal plants and conserved products. Two women shared their stories of how the medicinal plants not only help with income, but also with the health of the community. The other 24 women were invited to meet with president Ortega and president Chavez of Venezuela.We ended the day with reflection. Overall, I am struck by the vibrant spirit of Nicaragua, the deep beauty of it´s people and land. I have seen the Spirit of God shining in the resilience and hope in the people I have had the pleasure to meet here. I am learning a lot about the depth of solidarity, and this is equipping me for ministry.

I will be documenting the rest of the trip on my blogs to come (when I return to the US).

In Gods peace,
Josh

Approval

Sunday night I traveled 2.5 hours down to Columbus, OH for my Approval. Approval is the 3rd of 3 interviews that I must go through in order to be ordained as a pastor in the ELCA. I wasn’t too nervous heading down for the interview with the Candidacy Committee, but I was unsure of what to expect. I really didn’t know the people on the committee-would they be tough on me, challenge me, be supportive of me?

Pleasantly, they were all 3.

The time we spent together (about an hour) was filled with them asking me questions regarding an essay that I wrote which included a sermon, theological reflection on forgiveness, a discussion of public ministry, and a personal reflection section. The questions they raised for me were challenging and opened good opportunities for conversation. I did not feel they were out to get me, but rather out to understand me. That was reasurring, as their task asks them to recommend me for ministry within the Church.

After the time together, I stepped out of the room, they talked about me and invited me back in 15 minutes later. Their recommendation was for approval. The rest of their recommendation was extremely flattering and it gave me energy again for this ministry that will be set before me.

Their final words to me were nice to hear. As I still have one more year of school left they said, “Remember, we’re still your committee. If there is anything we can do for you, please let us know.”

With that I left, called some loved ones, and departed-approved of-not only by them, the church, myself, but also, by God.

Ben
Isaiah 65:13-16

This was one of the readings in my devotion book this morning. I struggle with passages like this from scripture-where God’s chosen are blessed and their enemies are cursed. Usually, I try to gloss over these sections and make the enemies refer to something sprititual in my life or to see myself as the enemy of God. Yet, originally, that is not how this text was intended. It literally meant the enemies of God’s chosen, of Israel.

How do we interpret these texts in our world today? Our President spoke the othernight of killing and capturing our enemies. Are they the ones that God will curse? We proclaim a gospel of grace-of good news for all humanity and creation. Yet, these passages do not lead us into inclusivity with our neighbors, but an exclusivity from our enemies. We cannot only hear the blessing, because the entire passage is a blessing to those on the inside and it is all a curse to those on the outside. We claim that we belong on the side of blessing and that the “other”stands on the side of curse.

In this passage of good news for Israel, it is sometimes hard to hear good news for all. I don’t know if we can find good news for all in it.
This semester I am taking a class on Israel’s Prophets (finally). I hope to struggle with these texts and questions throughout the semester. I’ll continue to share my reflections as they come.

Peace,
Ben

Monday, January 08, 2007

Happy New Year!

Christmas and New Years were great for me. I spent time with my family, went to my home church and had a nice break from papers and grading and homework. I am just teaching during J-term, not jetting off to anywhere exciting or even taking a class. So I have a little downtime now as well. But even now I realize that with re-organizing my apartment after one of my roommates moved out and teaching and all the little things you promise to do for people, there really isn't much leisure time. This semester my resolution is to make more time for people. I get carried away with work and don't spend time with some of my friends because I am just too busy. So all the people around campus that I've been saying I just need to go have lunch with sometime or catch a movie with or play cards with. . . well I am going to (try to) actually do it this year!

Have a blessed 2007!
Wendy

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Another 2 days in Geneva

The jet lag has apparently hit me. After sleeping for 14 hours the first night here (maybe NOT such a great idea?!), I've been hardly able to sleep at all the past two nights...I'm hoping tonight is the night I'm going to get back on track.

Yesterday Krista, my roommate, and I did some more walking around the area we are staying and actually found what we were looking for the day before. There's this fabulous "balcony" that overlooks the lake and the beautiful mountains. Here's a pic of me and the mountains :)



Last night (Saturday) almost all of the 23 in our group had arrived, so we ate dinner together and had a short meeting. Most were super tired as they had just arrived.

Today we got up and went to the worship service at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva...English speaking :) It was really great, with people from all over the world, and many languages spoken. Here's a picture of the church....looks more like a chateau, which we found out is because churches aren't allowed to look like churches in Geneva!! Why? Because John Calvin was real big back in the day of the Reformation, and the Cathedral of St. Pierre where he preached is a great big cathedral that is very noticeable in Geneva's "skyline." And apparently his was the only thing that could look like a place of worship. Anything that wasn't a Reformation church wasn't allowed to look like a church at all!!


Since there's so much history here with the Reformation, they have a wall that is a monument for it. We went by that wall, plus we even got to go to the Reformation Museum :) Here's me with Martin Luther's "statue"...ie a big block with his name on it. Apparently there's some Germans in Geneva who are pushing for a "real" Luther statue - Calvin and others actually have their bodies as statues in this same park...but not Luther....


And finally near the end of the day we went up the 157 steps to the top of the tower at the St. Pierre Cathedral. As you can see below it was a pretty amazing view. We found out at the bottom that one of the guys in our group proposed to one of the girls!!! (Yes, they knew each other before today!!!) How romantic!!


Tomorrow class starts....which means I have to go do some reading to prepare!