Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Herald of Good Tidings

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”
-Isaiah 40:9

My friend and seminary colleague Zach recently wrote a reflection on Advent as a time of entering into the dark of nighttime and discovering God’s presence there just as much as in the light of daytime. He concludes:

“While the rest of the world squirms in the darkness seeking out the light, take comfort during this Advent season that God is active and present in this world, even though it may be dark.”

I think Zach is right. Here in Mexico, where I’ve been living and studying for the last five months, I’ve been thinking a lot about God’s activity in places where I am full of doubt and fear, whether they are light or dark. Last month I visited Acteal, the site of a massacre of more than forty-five mostly women and children only a decade ago. The horrors of what happened there were overwhelming.

Yet every month, the survivors of Acteal gather to remember the victims. They speak their names aloud and declare their continued presence among the living. They take a page from Isaiah and on a high mountain (literally) they lift up their voices with strength and announce the dawn of a new world, a world of justice and of peace, a world of hope and of love.

It takes a radical faith to declare that such a world can possibly be born at a time when most of us have grown too weary and wary of hope to believe it. But in Advent, a time Melissa Etheridge calls “the season of change,” we remember – and we announce – that God is, against all odds, bringing about that very birth.

Last week Amnesty International released a song called “The Price of Silence,” highlighting just how powerful our announcing voices can be. “Raise your voices to the sky,” sing the different artists in their different languages. “The price of silence is much too high.”

Isaiah, I think, would agree. So let us raise our voices this Advent season. Let us be the signs of what God is bringing to birth, little by little, every day.

Prayer: God of hope, in a world that considers poverty, injustice, and violence to be normal, give us the strength to be your “herald of good tidings” announcing the birth of Your new world.

Make your Advent faith active in love: Lift up your voice by signing Amnesty International’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Prayers of Intercession

The following are prayers by LSTC student Birgitte Jeppesen from LSTC's chapel service last Thursday...

God your kingdom is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, come to us now and open in us the gates to your kingdom.

God stay with us in the dawning of a new day

A fresh start

To live in your loving hands

Stay with us in relationships

Nurture us

Stay with us

In the political times of uncertainty

Where duties wait and opportunities are born.

Help and guide us to turn the challenges, hopes and opportunities, privately and politically, into action that transforms, build up and reconcile what is broken.

Guide leaders to use their power wisely for the fellow good of everyone, also the people whose voice is not heard.

Help us to live our new day in trust, not fear.

So we this very day, may show forth your light

God stay with us.

Where the day becomes night.

Where lives are destroyed and creativity killed

Where laughter, singing and story sharing is mute

Where compassion and trust do not exist

Where fear is the master

And injustice rule

Stay with us where night rules

In structures and institution in our societies designed to destroy and dehumanize human beings.

The School of the Americas, prison cells, chambers of torture, cold corners of the city.

God we pray, conquest the night.

Conquest anything that prevent your creation to unfold and flourish.

May your resurrected light reach out to the corners of darkness.

God awaken us.

That we may see clearly the beauty - in your creation, in each other and in ourselves

Help us to make the world more beautiful, just, funny, and peaceful, in each of our unique and creative ways.

And remind us that even when we are tired, insecure, sad, or stressed you receive us and bring forth the best in us.

We leave our lives, our dear ones and all the people we meet during this day in your loving hands.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Give Thanks

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday! I enjoy it because there are no presents to buy, no lights or decorations to put up or parties to attend. Don’t get me wrong…I enjoy all those things but sometimes they get in the way of celebrating the real reason for the holiday. Thanksgiving in its basic form is just that…”thanks giving.” At this time of year the students, faculty and staff of LSTC get a much needed rest from the end-of-the-term papers, finals, interviews and meetings as we stop and give thanks. Of course those papers and finals will still need attention over the next several days in order to finish out the term the first week of December, but as the holiday suggests, we might want to consider what we are thankful for.

In my home parish, our pastor has the children who are taking their First Communion prepare a list of fifty things they are thankful for. I haven’t seen any of the lists but I can imagine a seven or eight year olds list might contain things like: mom, dad, siblings, pets, friends, toys etc. As an adult, what would my list look like? What are the things I’m thankful for?

As a musician at heart, I turn to one of my favorite songs (please pardon the non-inclusive language):

Give Thanks
Lyrics by Don Moen, Music by Henry Smith

Give thanks with a grateful heart
Give thanks to the Holy One
Give thanks because He’s given
Jesus Christ, His Son

And now, let the weak say “I am strong”
Let the poor say, “I am rich”
Because of what the Lord has done for us!

© 1978 Hosanna’s Integrity Music

No matter what you find yourself doing this week, take some time out…maybe make a list…and give thanks to God for what God has done!



Sunday, November 16, 2008

Global perspectives on the U.S. Election

Every Monday students, faculty and staff gather at the LRWC (Language Resource and Writing Center) of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and McCormick Theological Seminary for Global Conversations, which are lunch conversations where students share various international perspectives. Last Monday about a dozen students from all over the world shared their perspectives on the recent election in the United States. Here is a summary of the discussion:

A student from Sudan shared the hope from his country and an e-mail from a Kenyan friend of his, who shared about the pride felt in Kenya because of Obama's Kenyan roots.

A student from Indonesia shared about the pride Indonesians felt, since Obama lived in Indonesia for part of his youth.

A student from El Salvador shared his hope for U.S. relations with El Salvador, and in the struggle to close the School Of the Americas.

A student from Colombia was hopeful that there would be a concern for human rights reflected in the U.S. Policy with Colombia, particularly in the free trade agreement.

A student from Palestine addressed the concern of the Palestinians that the new U.S. President would reflect the same position about Palestine. She shared that many in Israel preferred McCain, and that they are wary of Obama's approach to diplomacy.

We heard from two Indian students that in India there are many who are happy and celebrated Obama's victory, particularly because of the opportunity for someone from an oppressed group to lead the country. We also heard that there are some in India that would like some of the current policies with India to remain the same.

In Nigeria there were great celebrations and gatherings all over the country, a Nigerian student noted, particularly because Obama shares their African heritage. He also noted that Nigeria, with their tribal prejudices, has something to learn from the election of an African American candidate in the U.S.

Then we heard from a student from Russia, who said that Russians were suspicious of the hard-line rhetoric they were hearing from McCain, and saw him as representing an older generation, that of the Cold War. To many Russians, she said, Obama represents the same generation as Putin, a new generation. In general, Russians are naturally pessimistic, she said, but there is hope as well.

We heard from a student from South Korea, who sees a sense of hope in her country. She expressed hope for North Korean relations. She also is hopeful that the U.S. Empire could be more of a human empire. Perhaps there can be a change with those (in Korea) who see the U.S. With an image of a white face.

A student from Turkey says that generally she doesn't feel that the U.S. Cares about what happens in Turkey. She sees hope in Turkey to renegotiate, that Obama won't have cold blood in his relationship.

Overall, the conversation was very informative and insightful. It was a reminder of how the election in the U.S. has an impact in the entire world. There were at times feelings of skepticism, particularly due to the U.S. government's past actions that have scarred international relations and have violated human rights. However, from all of the students there, I heard the word “hope.” The sense of hope was resounding in Obama's message of a new direction, his heritage and understanding of the world, and his diplomatic approach. As we face many serious challenges in the world at this time in history, it was refreshing to hear so much hope.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Note of Correction

Greetings All,

So, apparently my previous notation about "completely accurate" was slightly ambitious. My memory, as it turns out, is not that of a pachyderm. So, here is a slight retraction:

We did not win our final game with a score of 20-14. We won it with a score of 32-26 (with Jon Bergstrom completing a whopping 4 touchdowns and Mr. Brahm Smith completing 1).

Thanks to Brahm for the correction. As he stated to me in a strongly worded email that "As an offensive player, we want all of our scores!"

So, that is the complete and absolute truth, cross my heart.


Saturday, November 08, 2008

Final Games: A Wrap Up

Greetings Football Lovers,

LSTC has finished their two other games and, although there were five minutes between them, I was unable to blog. Here is the late, but totally complete and accurate, account of both games.

Game 2: LSTC vs. Virginia Theological Seminary (Episcopal)

This game started out with bang! With the defense on the field first, we held the line strong but for a long Hail Mary that somehow connected with a receiver. VTS took the lead 6-0, but were unable to complete their point conversion.

Our offense retaliated, but were unable to score on this initial push. Defense was back in play. With amazing speed and agility, Rory was able to intercept a pass and run it all the way from the offensive 40 into the endzone. Touchdown LSTC! Being rightly pumped up from this victory, our defense once again took the field. VTS made another push and were successful, bringing the score to 14-6.

Half time came just as we were hitting our stride.

After the break, our offense came out strong but were unable to connect some key passes. We did not score on our initial outing of the second half. Feeling unwilling to let this go by, our defense takes the field intent on another interception...and just in time. With five minutes left on the clock, we had to make something happen.

VTS snaps the ball, but it's a sloppy snap. Taking advantage of the situation, Dave dives into the line, snatches the ball from the VTS quarterback, and runs it down to the 3 yard line before being tug. Another interception!!

Score is looking like it will soon be 14-12, advantage VTS. But there's still the requisite extra points which will send us into overtime as the clock is running out.

LSTC snaps the ball cleanly, Josh H.K looks left, looks right, no one is open! VTS' coverage is great. So, Josh takes matters into his own hands and dives the ball into the endzone. Touchdown!! 14-12, VTS, but we still have just enough time for an extra point.

But someone's down. A VTS defender named Matt was unintentionally caressed by Josh's shoulder as he dove in. And by "caressed" I mean that his knee was hit. Hard.

LSTC takes a knee as an ambulance is called. VTS's teammate is taken to the hospital. We hope he is fine.

Needless to say, our momentum (and some of our spirit) is lost. We still attempt the extra point, but our hearts were not in it and VTS wins.

Score so far: LSTC 0

Game 3: LSTC vs. LTSP (Philly)

Game begins with LSTC receiving. We march the ball down, freshly reinvigorated by our cheerleaders (thanks Manda, Justin, Caroline, and Laura!), and score on our first drive. Glorious glorious points! We, yet again, were unable to make the extra points-which we have now decided are the bane of our existence.

Defense takes the field. We hold Philly strong, not letting them move for any significant yardage, and once again the offense takes the field. This time, however, we play the short options and the long options with the QB sneak. All work beautifully. Advantage: LSTC as we gain another 6. Score is 12-0 LSTC.

Philly takes the field. They have an amazingly agile QB who tosses the snap off to another player, only to have that player throw the ball back to him down the field! Good use of gifts. Philly scores with the extra point. 12-8 LSTC.


We kick off, and our defense holds Philly back. Offense takes the field and scores on yet another drive! And this time...drum roll....we get the extra point! (Insert band music here)

Score: 20-8 LSTC.

Philly regains momentum for another touchdown, but the game is called in the last few seconds as even their extra point can't put them ahead. Final score: 20-14 LSTC!

All in all, we've had a great time here. Trinity Episcopal fought against Gettysburg in the championship, beating them by just a few points. So, in an ironic twist, Trinity Episcopal will be taking home the Book of Concord and the Luther bobble-head. We hope they read the BOC.

Bye for now, sportsfans. I'll try to update on last time before we're on the road.

But that, as they say, is that.


Game One: LSTC vs. Gettysburg

Greetings Sports Fans,

Well, LSTC met the mighty team from Gettysburg on field one today. Weather was nice; ground was wet. With new rules in place for movement on the line, both teams sought to adjust their strategies accordingly.

LSTC kicked off first with the defense holding strong. Gettysburg drew first blood: 6 plus 2 extra points. LSTC returned the 6 in kind, but was unsuccessful in scoring the additional points needed for a tie. This repeated again for a half-time score of 16 to 12, Gettysburg advantage.

Star players for first half were Jamie for an interception, Brahm for successful passage, with Jon B. and Josh H.K. scoring the two touchdowns.

Second half started with LSTC's march to victory! Touchdown by Jon B. got us to 18. We were yet again unsuccessful on the extra points. Gettysburg scored yet again, bringing their score to 24. Defense takes the field. Defense holds them to 3 downs and Gettysburg kicks, getting a sizeable field advantage with 1min 15sec on the clock.

LSTC bites their nails.

Offense strives mightily, even drawing a foul for roughing the passer, but they were unable to score.

Time was called.

Final score: 24-18 Gettysburg.

But, we are not down and out. Having to play the homefield team on the first game of the day is rough, and we are more determined than ever to bring back the book!

Off for some nourishment and lunges. Our legs are tight, but our wills are strong.



P.S. Justin Eller is our mascot and he looks awesome in his aviator goggles, unitard, and orange cape. Pictures to come soon...

Friday, November 07, 2008

Arrival for Domination

Greetings All,

We left the seminary this morning at 6:22am. After giving the goat one last goodbye kiss, we were off East for the historic battlefields of Gettysburg. It seems that these battlefields will once again get some historic action this weekend as we fight tooth and nail for the coveted Book of Concord trophy and Luther bobble-head. They are more precious than they sound on paper. Trust me.

The car ride was thankfully uneventful. My car listened to the greatest hits of the 80's allowing Aretha Franklin to move our souls toward domination. I think it worked. George Michael also helped. I heard another car blasting the soundtrack from "Wicked." That music is less useful for preparing one's innerself for conquest I believe, but only time will tell.

As we pulled onto the grounds we felt two things: hunger pains and the impending heartache that comes from beating a team on their home turph. Unfortunately that second pain cannot be helped; it is only a matter of time. The first, however, was easily resolved through dinner at the Appalachian Brewing Company. They have been serving Gettysburg and Eastern Pennsylvania for over 30 years. Come to them for all your hunger-pain related needs!

Now I will give a shout-out to the seminary reading the blog at this moment: Hi Southern!

We are settling in and going over last minute plans. As it turns out, we've had to order new shirts. Our biceps were too huge for the one's we preordered, as we didn't plan on the exponential growth we've seen through the dedicated and time-honored practice of semi-towing. But our new Orange jerseys fit well, and we're looking forward to them getting nice and dirty tomorrow.

Jon Vehar has just gone to get us some apples, Snickers bars (they really satisfy you!), and eggs for breakfast. In the meanwhile we're all talking about sleep, football, and domination. We hope you'll check back with us. I intend, with appropriate access, to update after each game. Please stay tuned.


Off We Go, Into the Wild Grey Yonder...

Greetings All,

It's 5:00 in the a.m. The sun has yet to rise, and yet here I am folding laundry, packing my bags, and doing some final bicep-curls. Yes, today is the day we head to Gettysburg.

I've been up playing and replaying our whole strategy book in my head. I only got through half of the book. Yep, thats a great indication of how thick our strategy book is (Hi Philly...nice of you to read our blog), but its of no consequence. Despite my inability to run through all the plays mentally, we are totally ready.

We're caravaning. We thought a luxury bus would be too much intimidation for this, our second year of attending. But, we're keeping options open for next year. The trick to caravaning is staying together, which will be of little problem for us because we have bright orange "Go LSTC!" and "Orange Whips are Winners!" on the car windows. We also have cell phones.

Finally, we'd like to give a shout out to Amanda Frier's mother and father (Hi Amanda's parents)! Not only are they loaning us their van (we'll fill her back up, promise), but they also filled it with vitamin water, protein bars, and gummi bears. You guys are the best!

Ok, have to finish packing. I'm not sure how this victory flag is going to fit into my suitcase, but I'll force it. Please check back often to get updates!

Tim Brown
Orange Whip Official Blogger

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Living and the Dead

(Writer’s note: This post comes out of my experiences in the Mexico Semester Program, a study abroad opportunity open to students from all ELCA seminaries, including students, like me, from LSTC.)

…And on the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.


It was November 1st, el Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Chris met me in Cuernavaca, where the Lutheran Center was putting us up for the night in a tranquil Catholic retreat center. When we arrived in the evening the workers in the retreat center – the cooks, gardeners, gringa volunteers, and one Dominican sister – had lit the candles for their ofrenda.

The ofrenda, the traditional way to welcome the coming dead, looked like this: Two tables of different heights, like a little staircase, stood at one wall, covered with white tablecloth and colorful papel picado and laden with bright orange marigolds (here called cempasúchitl or simply flores del muerto – flowers of the dead), sugar skulls, sugar crosses, bread (pan de muerto), fruit, peanuts, and even a bowl of molé. At the back of the ofrenda table, leaned against the wall, was a frame with seven or eight photos in it. In the photos were loved ones who had died – a grandmother, a husband, a co-worker, even a family pet.

It was only a little larger than the one I had seen earlier in the home of my host family. When I arrived on Friday evening, there it was, next to the kitchen table, white tablecloth, papel picado, two big pots of marigolds, some bread and fruit, a dish with rice and a chicken leg covered in molé, and a shot of tequila. It was for a grandpa, an aunt, and an uncle; a photo of each of them lay propped up on the ofrenda. A candle was lit, too, and stayed burning all night long.

It is a privilege, a blessing to be witness to something so intimate. Yet every year the people of Ocotepec, a little village just outside of Cuernavaca, invite the world to be a part of their Dia de los Muertos. The Dominican sister gave us a brief explanation of how it would go down. Thousands of people walk the streets, lining up outside the homes of those who had died in the last year, waiting to be invited in, to see the ofrenda and pay their respects and maybe hear a story about the person who had died, to offer a candle to the family, to drink a little ponche and eat some tamale, and then: on to the next house.

We began at Ocotepec’s church, the Iglesia del Divino Salvador. In the daylight it might have looked like any other gorgeous hundreds-of-years-old church – they are in every village in Mexico, a holy wonder of the world spread out over an entire country. But as we walked under the arched entrance we could see that the place had been transformed for this night. A path of shredded orange marigolds, lit by candles in paper bags, lined the path to the church. Off to the left, in the courtyard, a ring of candles market the spot where indigenous dances were being carried out, a blur of masks and feathers and drumbeats. We walked on into the church, where a massive ofrenda lay between the pews and the altar. Had a priest died in the last year? No: This ofrenda, complete with a photo of the deceased, was for the parish sacristan, who had died only months ago after serving as sacristan for fifty-five years.

We left the church and walked to the first house, stopping to buy some candles along the way. An archway of orange marigolds marked the entrance, and a sign over the door read Bienvenido Papa: Esta es tu casa – Welcome Dad: This is your house. On the Dia de los Muertos, the dead are said to make an annual return to visit their homes, so this homemade sign welcomed back a father who had died within the last twelve months. But the words “this is your house” also welcomed the long line of people filing in underneath the flowery archway in the darkness.

Again the path to the ofrenda was lined with shredded orange marigolds and lit by candles in brown paper bags. Inside the ofrenda looked like this: A bed, with clothes of the deceased, including shoes, laid out on the bed to look as if the person was lying in it. Where the head would be there was a life-size sugar skull, complete with decorative eyes and teeth. Candles surrounded the bed. At the foot of the bed was food, and lots of it. A whole chicken in a pot of mole, bowls and baskets overflowing with fruits and vegetables, side dishes galore, a case of Victoria (a dark beer made in Mexico), a case of Coca-Cola, and a whole bottle of tequila. It was as if the dead man were not just returning alone but bringing all of his friends from Mictlan, the land of the dead, for a party, the living and the dead together for one night a year. We accepted our own party favors – a cup of ponche (a punch usually made of pear, apple, guayaba, and sometimes spiked with liquor) and a hot chicken tamale and sat down with other visitors in white plastic chairs.

Over several hours we made our way through seven or eight homes, standing in long lines at each one. One man’s sugar skull wore a gray White Sox hat; another man’s photo featured him with a guitar he must have loved in life – and then there was the guitar itself, set out next to the bed, as if the dead man, upon returning, might pick it up and begin to play for all of his guests. Favorite clothes, favorite musical instruments, favorite foods – all were laid out with care, ready for the homecoming.

Despite the colorful fiesta atmosphere, a few nearly choked us up. At one there was an archway made entirely of flowers that spelled out “Bienvenida Mama! – Welcome Mom!” On the way in there were draped purple-and-white decorations lovingly made entirely by hand out of straws and construction paper. The mother’s clothes, laid out on her bed in a lifelike pose with a giant sugar skull at the head, included a traditional-looking apron, with little white shoes at her feet. Chris said it was like you could almost see a person’s life, right there in their clothes: This woman spent her life in the kitchen – or maybe on the street, where we have seen so many women in these indigenous-style aprons, selling little candies and knick-knacks. She was the kind of woman you normally wouldn’t notice, unless you were waving off her attempts to sell you a necklace or a pack of Chiclets. But here she lay, beloved, surrounded by colorful flowers and bright candles, with food at her feet, a thousand strange people walking by the ofrenda her family had created to welcome her home.

And the smells, the smells were overwhelming. There were the flowers, fresh flowers everywhere, always brightly colored, usually orange. And the food, some of it still cooking. We imagined these families, gathering together in the days leading up to this weekend, working together to make hundreds of tamales by hand, for visitors they didn’t even know, including some like us, from other countries, who must have looked like garish tourists.

But on this night, here in little Ocotepec and all over Mexico, we all were welcomed warmly, offered a hot drink and a little something to eat. No distinction was made between the friend and the foreigner, the rich and the poor, the spirit and the flesh, the living and the dead. Gracias a Dios.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Equipping the Saints for Domination (Again)

Greetings Fellow Blog-readers,

As you may know, LSTC has a long-standing tradition (read: one year strong) of playing like-minded seminaries in the glorious game of American Football. In but a few short days, the LSTC Orange Whips (or Orange Crush...depending on who you ask and what you prefer) will be taking the long trek to the frigid fields of Gettysburg to continue our tradition of domination.

Now, I know what you are thinking: Why? Good question.

Answer: We feel our quest for domination is rooted in the fact that the rigors of seminary life must be expelled every-so-often through a physical outlet, lest we end up like our brother Soren Kierkegaard: tortured and alone. We also like football and running.

I know some of our competitors check this blog frequently (Hi Trinity). Thus, I can't betray any of our secret plays or whatnot (like the "Same Thing Sweep" or the "Palin"). But I do want to let you all know that we have been in training for the past two months, working and reworking our straining muscles to the point of ultimate fatigue. The one exercise that I like the best is the "Chain-pull," where we strap iron safes to iron chains and pull them through the field dogsled style. Some call it pain; we call it dedication.

To end in the words of Saint Paul in his first (and disputably only authored) letter to the Christians at Thessalonica: "Brothers and Sisters, let us strive with one mind to the historic fields of Gettysburg" (edits by Tim Brown). We play on Saturday, November 8th and we hope that you might be able to join us. Bring the kids, bring some food, bring your LSTC gear and cheer!

Well, off to practice again for the third time today.


Timothy Brown...
Orange Whip Official Blogger

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Anxious Excitement!

I am heading to South Africa TOMORROW, November 5, for two weeks. This is well-timed, as I will either be extremely joyous and wanting to celebrate, or I will be depressed and needing to take my mind off the election (but I, of course, will not turn this blog post into a partisan plea! I only ask that each of you go out there and VOTE!)

This trip is a global seminar for young women in the US and various countries in Africa. Please follow our blog at It already has a couple posts on it. I'll also try to download pics while we are there.

I'm soooo excited for this trip!!! But unfortunately, I have so much schoolwork to do today, plus I am so anxious about the election, that it almost doesn't seem real that I am leaving tomorrow. I'm sure that will change at some point on my 16 hour flight from DC to Johannesburg tomorrow... haha...but until then, I think I just have to accept that my stomach will be in knots for the rest of the day so I just need to deal with it!

Please keep our group in your prayers - and check out our blog every so often for fun posts and pictures.


Monday, November 03, 2008

Election 2008

There has been great interest in the election this year at LSTC. We have had large gatherings of students to watch the convention speeches and all four debates together this year. We discussed the debates and the issues they raised afterwards.

Last Wednesday we talked about the ELCA Advocacy document, "Called to be a Public Church: 2008 ELCA Voting and Civic Participation Guide" ( Dan Schwick from Lutheran Social Services of Illinois came to discuss the document with students. The document offers helpful tips on how churches can get involved with elections with voter registration drives, get out the vote efforts, etc. It also offers Issue Briefs on issues like Domestic Hunger, Housing, Health Care, etc.

Through these activities together we have explored issues of faith and civic participation. I think this year especially people realize the importance of the election and what is at stake. Dr. Richard Perry has been with us to help facilitate discussion, and he said that this was the first time he's ever seen students at LSTC organize debate watching and be so engaged in the process. Students will be gathering tomorrow to watch the results as well...

Monday, October 20, 2008

“Never forget what you learned here.”

Transitions. Life has been full of transitions. My mind is still full of images from internship. As I was standing in the bus terminal in Resistencia, Argentina, I remember saying goodbye to my pastor-supervisor and several members of the congregation. All of a sudden the deafening sound of 30 children screaming filled the terminal. The children we worked with at the church mission had come to say goodbye, chanting things like “Don't leave.” It was hard to leave them. Many of them have very rough home lives, and they don't always know where their next meal will come from. I also recalled a church member who I had gotten particularly close with and had been going through two deaths in her family. At my last meeting with the internship/lay committee she looked over to me with tears in her eyes and said, “Never forget what you learned here.” Indeed I carry with me the stories, the struggles and joys of the people at both churches in Argentina who taught me so much about life and ministry.

One 12-hour flight later my goodbyes quickly turned into hellos. Being reunited with family, friends and classmates. The transition did not feel subtle. It feels as though you reach a certain flow in doing ministry every day, and then you go right back to the classroom. Despite the abrupt transition, it has been good to have a space to reflect on my internship. I continue to learn the importance of praxis, of action/reflection. In my Constructive Theology course, we are talking a lot about the context of our internship site. I learned a lot about the importance of context in ministry last year. Being in a new country, with a different dialect of Spanish and a history that was new to me, I found that knowing the context was particularly important. It was through talking with people about the day to day struggles and joys and learning about the history that allowed ministry to be more effective and relevant.

I have talked to other senior year students who are also coming off of a year-long internship, and there is a great variety of experiences. I enjoy seeing the ways they've grown over the year, and the insights they bring to the classroom. During the senior year we go through the “Approval” process, which is last step before “Assignment” in the ELCA Candidacy Process ( I have completed my “Senior Interview” with the seminary faculty and in December I will have my Approval Panel interview with my home Synod.

Right now I'm at the in-between place. I continue to take classes and enter back into this seminary community. As I am in this place, I am looking ahead towards a future vocation in the Church with the words still ringing in my ears “Never forget what you learned here.”

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ministry in Context: Learning to Lead by Learning to Follow

What is seminary really like?? Well, I can’t speak for everyone but if I had one word to describe how my second year of seminary is going, the word is CRAZY!! Life right now is crazy-awesome and crazy-busy. My feeling of awesomeness and busyness often stems from my experience of Ministry in Context (MIC) this year. What is Ministry in context, well I am glad you asked. Ministry in Context is basically a ‘teaching parish’ experience. MIC is designed to help prepare me for internship next year. I spend about 7 hours/week participating in the congregational life of Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church, on the southside of Chicago. Bethany is predominately a Black, African American church. Worship life is always filled with praise, prayer and the Holy Spirit. Bethany’s awesome Gospel choir has a way of penetrating the soul that gets me clapping and moving. It has been a refreshing and freeing experience to participate in worship by giving praise to the Lord through clapping and dancing. I love worshipping at Bethany!

Through MIC I will grow in understanding of myself as a minister; gain practical ministry experience; be a part of worship leadership, preach my first sermon; encourage the baptized to recognize and use their God given gifts, lead a ministry project, develop pastoral identity, and so much more.

Currently, I am assisting with teaching 4-5th grade Sunday school which is a blast. Just last week we looked at the call story of Stephen in the book of Acts, one young girl raised the question of whether women were Apostles. We had an awesome time talking about women in the bible as well as why Moses is mentioned and the experience of the Holy Spirit. It is a delight to engage young people in questions of faith and exploring together possible answers. But most of all, my experience is teaching me that MIC is about learning how to lead God's people by learning how to follow Christ. So even though this year I am crazy-busy, MIC is crazy-awesome

May God invigorate our hearts to be followers of Jesus and servants of love, that by learning to follow we may also learn how to lead. Amen.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Come visit during the Seminary Sampler! 10/26-10/28

How did I get to where I am today? Specifically, how did I end up at LSTC?

Obviously there are many things in my life that have led me on this particular path. One of those things was attending a Seminary Sampler as I was starting to think about attending seminary.

The LSTC Seminary Sampler is a 3-day event held at LSTC for prospective students to come and get a "taste" of LSTC life. Prospective students visit classes, attend chapel, eat meals with LSTC students...the list goes on. It's a great time to experience the community of LSTC, while also continuing your own process of discernment. You may be asking yourself questions such as:

*Do I even WANT to go to seminary?
*What do I feel called to do?
*I know I want to go to seminary - but where?
*Would I like living in Chicago?
*What is seminary like?
*Do I want to go back to school?

These and many more are the types of questions that you will be able to explore by coming to a Seminary Sampler. When I came, I most appreciated meeting such a diverse group of people, both among the prospective students, and the current students...

*People come from various parts of the country and the world.
*We all have different interests: MDiv, MA, a dual degree with social work, etc...
*We are all different ages and have had such a variety of life experiences leading us to this point, regardless of our age.
*Among the prospective students, some have been aware of their call to seminary for years, while others of us had just started hearing a call. We were all in different places of personal discernment.

The next LSTC Seminary Sampler is coming soon - October 26-28, 2008. I encourage you to check out our website and consider visiting during this time, no matter where you are in the discernment process! You will be greeted with open arms by the LSTC community.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Reading Week?!?!

That’s what it says on the LSTC calendar and the question from the first year students is always “Do we really read all week or what?” The answer is yes…and no. The life of a seminarian is not easy. There are mountains of books, handouts, papers, reports and notes to be covered in a short amount of time. We deny ourselves sleep and even food in order to check off each item of each class syllabus. There is a calendar full of field education, spiritual friends, meetings and study groups as well.

So reading week is a time to catch up right? Yes…and no. Time to catch up on a little reading…ok. Time to catch up on some much needed sleep…oh yeah! Time to catch up on laundry…definitely! Time to do something fun like catch a movie or go for a long walk on the lakeshore…just show me the way!

Our seminary journey takes us to places we never imagined and is not always easy. But just like life outside the walls of LSTC, God is always there. God is there to lead us to calm green pastures and by streams flowing with living water in order to renew and refresh us for the next steps on our journey. So reading week…ok….how about I just READ the 23rd Psalm?

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
The LORD makes me lie down in green pastures;
The LORD leads me beside still waters;
The LORD restores my soul.
The LORD leads me in right paths for The LORD’s name's sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil; for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff -- they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

Peace and rest,


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

To go or not to go...that is the question

About a month ago I was asked if I would travel with other women in the ELCA to South Africa for a 2 week global seminar called "Women Building Global Community." My immediate response was YES! SEND ME! ...And then I found out the dates - 2 weeks in the middle of November (ie. right in the heart of the semester/quarter). While I didn't want to pass up this great opportunity, I also knew it wouldn't be easy to be gone for that amount of time during the school year. Just think of all things I'd be missing:

*I would miss my seminary class. Not only would I get behind on reading (would I really bring all those books with me across the world, and READ them?!), but there is also a paper due immediately upon my return...

*I would miss my social work class at the University of Chicago (I'm a dual degree student). They are on a quarter system still, so missing 2 out of 10 weeks is actually quite a bit!

*I would miss my social work internship. It is 24 hours a week, so making up 48 hours is going to be a lot of hours to make up.

*I would miss my cats. Being gone for 2 weeks is expecting a lot of my roommates isn't it?!

Well, even though I'll miss all of these things, I knew I couldn't pass up this opportunity to represent the ELCA in South Africa. That's the way God works - we don't always (or ever?) know where we'll be called next. I know that I'll have to work very hard to make up hours and classwork, but I also know it's worth it.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

There's No Place Like Home!

The famous story of the Wizard of Oz finds our heroine Dorothy carried away from her home in Kansas by a twister and dropped into the Land of Oz. There she meets all kinds of new people, sees some pretty amazing things and yet all she wants to do is go home. She doesn’t consider staying in this incredible place or check out all the new things she's experiencing but instead is determined to find her way home at all cost including taking on the Wicked Witch head to head.

As a commuter student at LSTC, I frequently feel the same way. LSTC is not "home" for me. While on campus I study on the shelf, eat my meals in the refectory and sleep in the Commuter House across the street. When classes are finished on Thursday I hurry down to the garage to get on my way home before rush hour hits. I hop into my Ruby Red (seriously!) Toyota, click my heels three times and utter Dorothy's famous words "There's no place like home...." and instantly....well...considering traffic on the Kennedy…not instantly....but an hour or two later I'm home!

After a weekend at home, Sunday evening too quickly approaches so I pack my suitcase and gear myself up for yet another week away. Although it sometimes feels like it, I am not carried away to the land of LSTC by a twister but I come willingly. I choose to immerse myself in this strange land called seminary and take time to breathe in and experience all that it has to offer. No, there isn’t a wizard, scarecrow or wicked witch but there is knowledge, community and God’s presence in every corner of LSTC. And when my time here is done, I can click my heels and go home.

But for now, the journey down the yellow brick road continues…



Tuesday, August 19, 2008

answering God's call

The summer after my first year of college I drove with my parents out to Lutheran Camp Chrysalis to pick my sister up from the first week of camp. The camp director and I chatted as my parents loaded up her stuff, as he was a counselor when I was a camper, and he mentioned that they were looking for another lifeguard." What are you doing this summer?" he asked on Friday, I faxed in my application on Saturday, and drove out on Sunday for my first of five amazing summers in outdoor ministry!

I have been incredibly blessed to be able to be the Outdoor Ministry Ambassador to Camp Chrysalis this past week. It holds a special place in my heart, and it was great to see all the improvements that have occurred since I was on staff in 2001 and 2002. The new cabins have air conditioning, there's a climbing wall, zip-line, and exciting new programs. Given the glut of superhero and comic-book films this summer, the theme of "Saints and Superheroes" was especially apropos and the youth connected these ideas with their faith lives throughout the week.

Though some things change, there will always be aspects of camp that never change. It's always great to see that the staff is excited and passionate to be working with youth. The middle-schoolers still oscillate between eye-rolling resignation and goofy enthusiasm. Dave the Maintenance Man stills knows absolutely everything about camp, and the Executive Directors Eric and Deanna still love their vocation at Chrysalis. Though this year's staff is still deciding what their major will be in college rather than their vocation later in life, I could see each of them answering God's call by making that week at camp the best possible for each camper.

Outdoor Ministry Ambassador & Seminarian, Rebecca Smith

Friday, August 08, 2008

Lutherdale Reflections

Lutherdale Reflections, Amanda Kimmet

The first week of August I had the pleasure of being the Outdoor Ministry Ambassador from LSTC to Lutherdale Bible Camp near Elkhorn, Wisconsin. I had visited Lutherdale previously when I led a youth group retreat and was very impressed with the facilities, the environment and the staff. With such a positive first experience at Lutherdale I was eagerly looking forward to another and being there in a different ministerial role.
I began the week open to experiences and growth and received a bountiful of experiences, growth, opportunities and blessings. I cannot possibly begin to describe everything I did or learned or experienced during my week at camp so I will try to share a couple of experiences with you and there impact upon myself and others.
This was the last week of summer camp and the week that the inner city youth from Milwaukee visited intermixing with the "normal" camp crowd of neighboring Wisconsin towns. The environment at Lutherdale this week was different than any other week during the summer program due to those two factors and this environment provided me with many excellent pastoral care opportunities.
I spent the majority of my time with two counselors and their cabin groups assisting the camp counselors when and where I could as they dealt with the stress and joys of the culture and language clash of rural and urban youth, white and black, lower class and middle class and male and female. And there were indeed many clashes ignited by homophobic, racist, sexist and derogatory remarks. At times the language and behavior was overwhelming for the counselors and me. At the beginning of the week the clashes were intense and frequent as the week continued and the youth grew to know one another, befriend one another and become comfortable in their village group and with their counselors these clashes lessoned and lessoned.
One evening was particularly memorable to me. We gathered together as community for a cookout meal around the fire. The usual comments were made when the campers were asked to search for kindling for the fire but a new experience occurred. The normal splitting of the cabin group did not appear. They worked together to gather kindling and prepare a meal. The campers who at the beginning of the week were quite anti-camp or anti-community waited patiently for their turns to cook their fudgie pies over the fire and rather than stray from our group stayed by the fire and shared in the communal environment of the cook out. No derogatory comments. No disrespect of others. We were a community gathered together sharing our meal and sharing laughter and joy together. The counselors relaxed and had the joy of joy with their campers rather than having to stress about behavior and respect issues. The evening was peaceful, communal and joyful and God's presence was with us.
These groups of youth coming together as one community and including the counselors and I into it is a powerful message for all of us as we go out into the world feeling that we are called to serve God's people. This was a community formed out of many. This village group was my microcosm of the church. We all come from different environments, traditions, cultures, families and perspectives but we are all united together through God and we are called to be in a community together even when there are conflicts (and there are!) These kids taught me a powerful lesson about the Christian community and what it truly means to gather together for a meal.
My week included many conversations with the camp counselors about vocation, life, past pains and heartaches and community conflicts that I will not and cannot fully describe here but I can say that I am thankful to God for bringing me to Lutherdale for this week because God was working.
I also had many conversations with visiting youth directors and pastors who accompanied their youth groups to camp and with our camp pastor of the week. These conversations I hope were mutually beneficial as ministry ideas, hopes, joys and frustrations were shared. I did not expect to discover my own community of peers at Lutherdale (and two LSTC graduates!)
I needed this week at Lutherdale as much as I feel God needed me to be present there. I hope that through me many seeds were planted or watered just as new seeds, new thoughts for ministry opportunities were planted within me.

Outdoor Ministry Ambassador, Amanda Kimmet

Monday, July 14, 2008

Forging Ahead

Reflections on my time at camp

I realized many things about call and vocation this summer as I spent time at two of our Lutheran camps.
My first week was at LOMC here in Illinois. I spent much of the week getting to know the confirmation campers. I had the opportunity to talk to them about what it meant to be called to ministry. In this time I realized that in our seminary circle we use a very unique language. I had to define words like call, vocation and discernment, and talk about the difference between being called to ministry and being called to a specific congregation. Being so ensconced in the seminary community I had forgotten how much of this language is taken for granted. It was actually really helpful for me to refresh myself by explaining these things to others who might eventually experience them.
My second week was at NLOM in Nebraska. Here I spent a lot of time talking with staff. On my first day there one of the staff was talking about her college classes in youth ministry and how she loved everything she was doing but was really struggling in the process of discernment. I asked what held her back from trying seminary. She said, “Seminary is scary.” The name, the idea, the process is scary. This is something I had forgotten. That it is just a really daunting process, and though I love the whole thing I can totally understand why it would be daunting. I talked about how much I love it and how I have made great friends who support me and help me through the crazy times. I also reassured her that there are a lot of people who come into seminary who are unsure about how they will serve and how great it is to have others around in the discernment process.
Another day I was sitting with a couple of staff, one of whom is about ready to graduate with a degree in graphic arts and web design. We talked about the pressure she’s under to find a job and have a plan. This staff member talked about how she is at the point where she is willing to forge ahead with getting a job in her field and trusting that the Spirit will guide her into what should come next as the time comes. But her family can’t handle the ambiguity. They want her to have a life plan and get things settled. It’s hard with those conflicting views. I think so much harm comes from the idea that when we’re between 17 and 22 years old we are supposed to discern what God has planned for the rest of our lives. We need to encourage the idea that God calls us to do God’s work each day and what that entails changes with the need in the world around us.
I am so grateful for these reminders about the stresses that can come with discernment and call and to share these concerns with people who are currently in the midst of considering seminary--maybe that's you.

Outdoor Ministry Ambassador & Seminarian, Angel Jackson

Thursday, July 10, 2008

let justice roll down

Well, I just got back into Chicago from an amazing week at Pine Lake Camp (part of the Crossways Camps in Wisconsin), and am already missing the stars, songs, and sanctified community of camp life! I feel so honored to have been able to jump into a week as a support person for the staff, each of whom brought boundless energy each day and truly embodied Christ for the confirmation campers throughout the week. Though the middle-schoolers kept the staff pretty busy during the week, I was able to have some significant conversations about call, vocation, and discernment with the counselors. Surprisingly, the kitchen provided the best times for these chats as I assisted with food prep or after meals as we rocked KP ("Kitchen Patrol," though I prefer "Kitchen Party!") Pine Lake campers and congregations are blessed to have such a gifted staff serving this summer! And the theme at Pine Lake this summer? "Let justice roll down." Here you can see us singing that prayer.

From Rebecca Smith, Outdoor Ministry Ambassador (OMA)

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Serving Christ in the World

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Serving Christ in the World 2008

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

risk, fail, are still loved

June 1-6 Michi-Lu-Ca

Stories are important! We are all built on stories and we come with stories and we make stories. We share our stories with others along the way. At Camp Michi-Lu-Ca in Northern eastern Michigan, the staff shares their stories as well. A common theme in each story is the sense of God’s call in their being at camp for the summer. A call from God is sometimes hard to describe. Most camp staff has been encouraged to apply by another friend, a former counselor, a pastor, or sometimes the director himself. I have heard the camp staff talk about the feeling they get when they are at camp and the sense of ministry being done to and for the children.
The model of Christian community that Michi-Lu-Ca strives for is a care for each camper’s physical health, emotional health, and spiritual health. This mission helps create the camp environment that lets you risk, fail, and fall, and still be loved. At camp, people love you for just being you: a person of God!
I was inspired by so many wonderful people at Michi-Lu-Ca and realized that even though it was a different camp it was God’s same creation, they are different people, but the same relationships exists among them, and that there are many manifestations but the same, one God! As we talked about life, I hear the effect that camp has had on these young people as they continue to seek God in their lives and listen for God’s call as they leave high school, college, or sometimes even their career. They come to camp. They share their stories, and they help so many others see God in the midst of these stories calling each of us by name. I pray that we hear God call us in our own stories!

From Adam Berndt, Outdoor Ministry Ambassador (OMA)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

God's love changes people

June 1-6 Michi-Lu-Ca

Staff training was always my favorite. Camp for the counselors was a description I would often associate with those two weeks spent preparing for the summer, building a healthy community with the staff, and caring for God’s creation in anticipation of a full summer. My time at Michi-Lu-Ca and Stony Lake, two beautiful camps of Living Waters Ministry in northern and western Michigan respectively, was filled with the familiar, the new, and the love of God.
The familiar at Michi-Lu-Ca, among other things, was love. I found a group of young people full of fear and uncertainty, facing new relationships and transition, and unsure of what the summer, let alone the next year, holds in store for them. I stood in the midst of this tactile emotion, as I had so many times in the past, and saw love overtake the fear and uncertainty. I saw love become the foundation to new relationships and fill the staff with hope for the summer as well as their year and life beyond. Camp remains a place that changes people by God’s love.
"Interdigitize" was a new term and brilliant concept that I was gifted with at Michi-Lu-Ca. Interdigitizing happens when we hold hands. We interlock out fingers to show how other peoples strengths (represented by our fingers) cover our weaknesses (represented by the space between our fingers) and vice versa. This exemplifies the body of Christ in which we all bring something different in order to make up one body.
That is what I experience my first week at Michi-Lu-Ca. In the camping world, each camp is unique in special ways but each camp is also on one mission in one body: To go our and share the word through Christian community, love.

From Adam Berndt, Outdoor Ministry Ambassador (OMA)

Monday, June 09, 2008

"do not worry"

These are worrisome times. People have been feeling the crunch of food and gas prices all over the world. The UN recently reported that the world needs to double food production by 2030. As I talk to people here in Argentina, they talk about food items that have doubled in price over the last couple years, as well as costs such as bus fare.

On top of rising food prices, the last 3 months in Argentina there has been a conflict between the government and farmers: In objection to increased export taxes, farmers have suspended their shipments of grains and have set road blocks which have caused food shortages and prices to rise. In a year when international food prices are high, people are frustrated that Argentina is missing an opportunity. The article points out that because of the conflict, Argentine farmers have missed US$2.3 billion in soy, wheat, corn and sunflower seed sales. The road blocks have caused bus companies to cancel services and milk trucks to pour out their milk on the side of the road. Attempts at dialogue between the government and the farmers so far have failed, which is making for more frustration across the country. Many frustrations and worries are also fueled my memories of the economic crisis of 2001 in Argentina. In the stories of people and the general climate, you can feel the uncertainty, insecurity, anxiety and worry in the air.

In the midst of this deep anxiety heard in everyday encounters and on the pages of newspapers, I prepared my sermon for the week, and the Gospel text was Matthew 6:24-34. The words of Jesus “do not worry,” jumped off the page with glaring audacity. Jesus must have known how hard these words would be to hear, since he repeats them three times. Often the gospel-good news message in the text is the hardest to hear. Jesus goes on to say that God “knows that you need all these things.” This is reinforces by the text in Isaiah which provides the imagery of a mother nursing her child to remind us that God does not forget us. In fact, we are tattooed on the palms of God’s hands. In these uncertain times, we will have our share of worries. What we can count on is that in the midst of these worries and increasingly uncertain times, is that Jesus’ audacious words "do not worry," will confront us with radical grace, and remind us that the God who made us has not forgotten about us. May these words transform our worries into striving, to “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” to strive for a kingdom where there is no worry.

youth in mission

another summer of Youth in Mission programs at and out from LSTC has begun!
stay tuned for reports from our "Serving Christ in the World" immersion program, Beyond Belief testimonies and words from our Outdoor Ministry Ambassadors

Monday, April 14, 2008

Seminary: A Life of Transition

As my first year in seminary is nearing an end I would describe seminary life with one word, TRANSITION. In the past few months I have experienced and observed life in transition. The seniors excitedly and nervously awaited first call assignments. First their region and then a few weeks later their synod assignment. This was an exciting time for the seminary community. We celebrated together God’s call and the journey of seminary life as our peers looked forward to continuing the journey in places throughout the U.S. The process of first call, I learned, is both joyful and nerve-wracking. The wait is hard but sweet. However, there is the occasional…”what could God possibly have for me in THERE! I didn’t want to go THERE!” But at the same time there is joy for the journey traveled and the knowledge of new possibilities ahead.

LSTC Interns have been keeping the seminary community posted about their experiences in the places where they are ministering and learning ministry. Their stories have been a witness to the joys and challenges of ministry life…a life of transition. Perhaps in this case the word BECOMING is fitting. Just last week a student wrote an article for the Door (LSTC student news publication) titled, “We’ve never done it that way before…” It seems that seminarians aren’t the only ones feeling the effects of transitional change but also congregations. Yet, I think openness to transition keeps us aware and discerning of the Holy Spirit...and that includes congregations too!

Recently many of the middlers (2nd yr. students) completed interviews for various possible internship sites. Now they are in the WAITING process…a time of anxiety and thinking about where God is calling…to the east coast, west coast, midwest, southwest, southeast, northwest?? Location, location, location is the big question on the minds and heart of middlers. They are set to find out about their placements in about 9 days. Also, middlers are currently working on carrying out ministry projects in their Ministry in Context sites. Soon they will begin the process of transitioning out of those places of ministry as they begin a new phase of ministry as interns in new places.

The first year students have not escaped seminary life as life in transition. For most juniors coming to seminary has been the greatest transition and now that the first year is coming to an end seminary feels more like home. Also the junior class has been seeking CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) sites for the summer where they will serve as chaplains in hospitals, hospice care facilities, social service agencies, and a variety of other placements. CPE tends to be an intense experience, emotionally and physically exhausting, working with persons/families facing physical and/or social crisis. Moreover the most recent transitions have occurred around scheduling for next year’s classes because LSTC has experienced several faculty changes due to retirements, resignation (on good terms), and vacancies.

As I reflect upon my first year of seminary and upon the process of becoming a rostered leader in the ELCA, I am convinced that seminary life is a life of transition. But, perhaps, a life in transition is good spiritual formation…creating an openness, awareness, and reliance on the Holy Spirit for guidance amidst transition. Perhaps transition (the process of ever-changing) is exactly what a life in ministry entails. PRAYER: God grant us the patience to embrace transition and the wisdom to discern your Holy Spirit moving in us, through us, and among us. Amen.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Jesus Songs

So today I was looking for a Bruce Springsteen song called “Jesus Was an Only Son.” I had forgotten the words, and wondered if Bruce's acoustic musings would be helpful as I look for ways to reflect on the season of Lent. To speed things up, I typed “Jesus” in the iTunes search box.

To my utter shock, 15 songs filled up the screen in front of me, from a musically and culturally diverse group of artists – everybody from Jars of Clay to Kanye West, from Sam Cooke to Wilco, from Genesis to Mavis Staples. Here, in front of my face for the first time all in one place: my musical Christology.

Let me be clear: I have yet to listen to this playlist all the way through, much less to check all the lyrics for potential heresies. In other words: The views represented by these artists may or may not represent the views of the iMix publisher i.e. me. And this list doesn’t take into account songs where Jesus is not in the title but hides in the lyrics somewhere. Even so, the picture of Jesus created here – the various pieces added gradually, the mosaic itself snapped together in a nanosecond by a computer’s search function – must, on some level, reflect the images of Jesus that have appealed to me over the last couple of years.

So, without further ado, here’s my Jesus Songs playlist. I published it as an iMix on the iTunes music store, so you should be able to search for “Jesus Songs 030108” and obtain any of the songs for yourself there. (No, I don’t get paid to advertise for Apple. If only.)

When Jesus Left Birmingham – John Mellencamp
Jesus, You’ve Been Good to Me – The Gospel Keynotes
Jesus, I’ll Never Forget – Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers
Jesus, I Lift My Eyes – Jars of Clay
Jesus, Etc. – Wilco
Jesus Was A Only Son – Bruce Springsteen
Jesus Was A Crossmaker – The Hollies
Jesus Walks – Kanye West
Jesus Walks (remix) – Kanye West with Common and Mase
Jesus Is On the Main Line – Mavis Staples
Jesus is Love – The Commodores
Jesus He Knows Me – Genesis
Jesus Christ – U2 (Woody Guthrie cover)
Everybody’s Jesus – AM
Come to Jesus – Mindy Smith

So there's mine. What would your playlist look like?

Monday, February 25, 2008

"Will they make you shave your beard?"

(This entry is from the article I wrote for today's issue of "The Door," LSTC's weekly student newspaper)

“So, when you are a pastor, will they make you shave your beard?” the ten year old Jose asked me during a youth camp last month. “No,” I replied smiling. “Good,” Jose replied, “it looks good on you.” This year I’m doing my internship in Argentina. Every day I learn something new, and I’m letting my beard grow out.

Like Kristin, who is in Oslo, my internship is through the Horizon International Internship program, which is a program that works with the ELCA Global Mission to provide seminary internships around the world. My assignment is at two small churches, at Misión Maria Magdalena (MMM) in Resistencia (population 422,400), and San Mateo in nearby Corrientes (pop-ulation 364,500). In Resistencia, 112,000 people live on $2 or $3 per day and almost half of Chaco's 1 million people live below the poverty line. In the interior of the province, neglected indigenous communities are dying of hunger.

Both churches are of the IELU (Iglesia Evangélica Luterana Unida - United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Argentina and Uruguay), the Lutheran Church here affiliated with the LWF and ELCA. I have been preaching every other week (in Spanish), teaching the first communion class with a couple of church members, teaching adult bible studies, and doing frequent pastoral visits, where I am always met by a warm welcome and offered mate (the classic Argentine tea). I also help with the various social outreaches of the mission, such as food distribution and various children workshops, like an environmental workshop, and a mural we’ve been painting on the church building. I have participated in IELU district and churchwide events, including three summer camps last month.

I’m now writing my mid-year evaluation, and I can’t believe it’s halfway through. As I look back at the last six months, many words and memories come to mind:

· I watch Cristina Kirchner speak a week before she was elected as president of Argentina and listened to hopes and doubts of political promises.
· In a conference with pastors from Argentina and Brazil (in a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese) we tackled questions like: “how do you do ministry in an increasingly individualistic society?”
· I listen to the joys and challenges of other churches at various assemblies.
· I sweat in my alb as I went outside to greet people at the Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) worship service.
· “What is a Lutheran?” the taxi driver asks me.
· I open the newspaper and read that more indigenous people have died in the interior of the province.
· Industry and employment have dried up, and corporations exploit land for soy production.
· “So, what do you think of that president of yours?” I’m asked.
· On my way to preach at church, I walk past a young girl looking for her next meal in the dumpster.
· Mercy and justice seem so far away.
· How great the urgency is when we pray for “Thy Kingdom come.”
· How great our call to “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
· Church here is both spiritually and literally the “pan de cada día (daily bread).”
· The boy’s face shows his gladness that tonight their will be a full meal, as he eagerly picks up the bag of food from the church, and carries it for his mother.
· I saw Jesus today.
· At the church planning meeting, each member talks about the fear neighborhood crime gives them, and how the police can’t be trusted.
· Vandalism abounds.
· We paint a bright mural on the front of the church.
· Natural Church Development workshops…The image of a horse pulling a cart with square wheels, and the cart is carrying a load of round wheels.
· Growth comes from within.
· We plant trees around the church, some are trampled, some grow.
· “No, you shouldn’t throw firecrackers at horses.” I tell the young boy.
· Church here is a place where hymns of praise are sung amidst the sound of kids throwing rocks on the roof.
· We pass the mate around the circle, laughing, sharing stories.
· My beard keeps growing.
· My pastor tells me stories about the military dictatorship in Argentina (a time when thousands of Argentines suspected in being a part of the political opposition were seized and “disappeared”), when he would receive visitors from the government who listened in on his sermons, because protestants were held under suspicion.
· Preaching the Gospel out of the conviction of it’s truth, and not letting the fear which sits in the back row preach it for you.
· Reading the Bible in Spanish continues to bring new meaning.
· “Why do you believe in God?” “I feel God’s presence when I pray,” replied the camper.
· Being invited to eat, receiving hospitality, being welcomed into a community of faith…ministry.
· At camp we sing: “Es lo más grande el amor nunca dejará de existir: no guarda duda o rencor, sin amor no es posible vivir” (Love is the greatest, it will never cease to exist: it doesn’t keep doubt or grudge, without love it is impossible to live).

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A Threefold Rhythm

For my J-term class this year, I chose to take Christian Daily Prayer, which is a class offered through McCormick Theological Seminary, the neighboring Presbyterian school with which LSTC shares classroom space and some community events. The first week of the class was spent on campus in Chicago, learning about Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim daily prayer, and praying in community with our classmates. During the second week of the class, my ten classmates and I traveled with our professor to New Melleray Abbey in Peosta, IA, a small community outside of Dubuque, so that we could experience monastic daily prayer firsthand. For over 150 years, the brothers of this Cistercian monastery have been living their lives according to a threefold rhythm of prayer, study, and manual labor. For a week, I was able to become immersed in this satisfying rhythm as well.

Although my classmates and I didn't get the chance to engage in manual labor like the monks do (they farm and make beautiful handmade wooden caskets to support themselves), we were able to participate in studying Scripture and praying through the book of Psalms during the seven daily offices of prayer. The daily offices happen at fixed times each day, and the monks order their time around these hours. Each morning, we began the day at 3:30 AM with Vigils, in the dark of the monastery's beautiful chapel, lit at times only by a single candle suspended from the ceiling, and on through the offices until we closed at 7:30 PM with Compline, again held in the darkened chapel lit by a single candle. It was different than anything I had ever experienced, and I found the week to be deeply meaningful.

There is something innately appealing about such a way of life. Rather than trying to fit in time for prayer in their busy lives, the monks instead begin with prayer, and structure everything else around it. Prayer comes first, and study and manual labor fit in the spaces between formal prayer. They do each have certain jobs and tasks to accomplish during the day, but they also realize that if they don't finish everything, there will be time the next day, and the next, to get it all done. They are masters of doing what they are able to do, and then giving the rest back into God's hands. This rhythm of doing what they are able to do and keeping their priorities in order allows them to live out their calling in a way that is holistic and authentic. It is this sense of authenticity and keeping first things first that has stayed with me since returning to Chicago.

As the new semester begins this week, I realize that it would be easy for me to thoughtlessly slip back into the normal busy rhythm of classes, work, study, friends, and so on, where time for prayer and God might get lost in the shuffle. But my time at New Melleray encourages me to think about my daily rhythm in a new way. What if I were to make time for prayer before the rush of the day begins, and to be mindful of God's work in my life throughout the day, rather than trying to tackle my to-do list first and then becoming frustrated when I run out of time for God? There is a lot of wisdom to this practice of praying first, as the monks have demonstrated over the centuries. It is one that I want to hold on to as the routine of the semester begins again.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Urban Ministry: Prophetic Voice for Change

“Speak Truth to the powers and principalities!” Name, unmask and engage God’s people to be a prophetic witness of Christ’s love in the City. J-Term SCUPE (Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education) course, Dimensions and Dynamics of Urban Ministry challenged me to think about the difference between a charity model vs. justice model of action if we are to address issues of injustice. Our focus was on issues of racism, economic injustice and violence.

If we are to truly change the condition of the poor and oppressed charity is not enough. Justice is served only through the changing of the systems (institutional and otherwise) that keep people in poverty and oppressed. The class visited 11 sites throughout Chicago to observe and learn from faith-based organizations; some provide services (charity) others advocacy (justice) and some provided both services and advocacy work.

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless works to organize the homeless to help them advocate for their right to housing. This was my first exposure to the art of community organization as the foundation for social movements. Organizing works to embrace the reality of self-interest, agitate (move into action) and empower. The Interfaith Worker Justice organization is doing amazing work for workers’ rights. IWJ is a purely faith-based organization standing in solidarity for the right for workers to organize and have a living wage. Bethel New Life is a wonderful example of comprehensive community renewal using asset based Community Development techniques. Instead of thinking about all that seems to be missing in the community, imagine rejoicing in the amazing gifts and life that God has provided through those around. This ministry is built of the people and by the people in the community. What a tremendous example of ministry and stewardship. All of these organizations in one way or another speak “truth to the powers and principalities.”

What I have shared may resonate with you or it may not but one thing is for certain, how we see and understand issues of injustice depends on the places in which we have sat. God help us to remove the blinders from our eyes, expose to us the injustices that persist in our world and give us the strength and courage to speak the Gospel Truth to the powers and principalities so that your kingdom may reign on earth as in heaven. Amen.

A Week Off

We had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 2 Peter 1:16

These times between semesters can be a double-edged sword. Certainly it is wonderful to have a week free of any scheduled events save a few hours of working with second-graders on Tuesday and a few hours of guitar lessons on Wednesday. In my free time this week I finished a novel, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, and cleaned the apartment (mostly) and learned to play some bass runs on my weeks-old guitar and watched half a dozen episodes of Planet Earth on DVD and spent probably too many hours at the local coffee shop, Third World Café, where today they gave me a frequent customer punch card. So yeah, it’s been a nice week.

Oh right, except I also called it a double-edged sword. On a week like this I can’t help feeling like I’ve been awfully unproductive. I keep thinking of all the things I did not do this week – and there were plenty of those, to be sure. I should have emailed some acquaintances I’ve lost touch with – and some new ones I’m supposed to start keeping in touch with. I should have cleaned out the all-purpose storage room in our apartment, which is becoming dangerously full of 2 or 3 important papers mixed randomly in with 3 or 4 hundred unimportant ones. I should have done some work for that Ministry-in-Context project that’s likely to get lost in the shuffle of the busy spring semester. But alas, now the week is over, and all of these things, along with the myriad other guilt-inducing not-done tasks that seem to keep sprouting up in my head, are going to have to wait for another time.

I could, of course, get started on one of these tasks. Instead, I’m sitting at the coffee shop (again), gazing out at the snow that has been blanketing our fine city for the last 24 hours or so. Since I’m trying to write a neatly conclusive third paragraph, I’m hoping the snow is trying to tell me something. If it is, it’s probably something like Quit worrying and enjoy the snow, you gloomy existentialist! (Snow has an advanced vocabulary.) And I should, really, enjoy the snow, because even though it’s been falling almost nonstop for the longest time all winter, it’s not likely to last. It’ll melt just like this weeklong vacation. And so, as always, even when I'm not paying attention I have indeed been an eyewitness of the majesty – a majesty that is unscheduled, gone-before-you-know-it, always falling always melting, and sometimes even, yes, gloriously unproductive.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

January courses

In January, seminarians are doing all kinds of things... journeying from Geneva to Cairo, from Nebraska into the heart of the scriptures, here are some of their writings on their work this January: