Friday, October 26, 2007


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: 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 (MisiĆ³n 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


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,

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!