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:
To get a day by day synopsis of our trip, visit our online study diary at:
For more information about Equal Exchange, Fair Trade and Equal Exchange’s Interfaith Program visit, or call (774) 776-7366. For more information about the Lutheran World Relief Coffee Project, visit, 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


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


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.