Wednesday, February 22, 2017

I am human; so are you

Try as I may, I've been unable to get an image to leave my head. A couple weeks ago during the contentious confirmation hearing of now Education Secretary DeVos, there was an image making rounds on social media of a venn diagram that indicated there is nothing in common among DeVos and educators. While I consider it a responsibility of constituents to voice opinions to representatives, the diagram has deeply troubled my soul. My soul ache isn't simply because of the use of the diagram. It was a witty statement, for sure, and certainly a fitting image for how many educators feel. My soul ache is because of how well the diagram describes the common way people treat one another. How, my friends, have we gotten to a place where we no longer see dignity and worth in our neighbor? Why do we no longer recognize another member of the human race as our sister or brother?

O God, we have gone crazy.
We have forgotten that those we hate are those you love.
We have discarded the idea that every person is created in Your image.
We mock You, thinking surely we know best.

Her idea is absurd.
His opinion is skewed.
We know what is really true...
Or, at least I do.

How long will this go on, O God?
Wake us from this foolish quest for our dreamland.
In a thousand ways we are different.
Remind us of how we are alike.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

New year, new semester, new thoughts on ministry

This is really fun reading!
Books for schoolare longer and I don't
 usually have cuddle buddies!
It's the New Year 2017 now, and I'm just back from a little vacation with our family. It was nice to be away and to spend time with family and friends. I haven't written for about a month, so let me update you that I did finish my first semester with all passing grades. I have started reading for my January class and will spend all of next week, Monday through Friday, in Dubuque at school for one "intensive" class. Then I'll have a couple weeks to finish that class at home on my own and second semester will begin. I think I ordered 15 books for the semester, so if you're looking for me, I'll be reading!

The class I'm taking this month is United Methodist Polity. You may guess that it is about the polity of the United Methodist Church. You'd be right! That means I'll learn about the organization and structure of the church and the underlying beliefs that formed this organization led by the Holy Spirit, but also clearly under the influence of people like you and me. For any of you that are associated with the United Methodist Church, you may find it interesting that we are assigned to read the entire Book of Discipline (it's around 800 pages). Because the Book of Disciple covers topics that aren't always interesting in extreme detail, the reading can be dry. However, at times, such as when explaining some things I've wondered about or articulating doctrines, the reading can be interesting and even a little exciting. And, there are little gems all over the place, like this one "Support without accountability promotes moral weakness; accountability without support is a form of cruelty". It was written regarding Social Principles but applies to a lot of situations: parenting, leadership, etc.

One of the things I've thought about a little differently these past couple days as a result of the reading is the idea of ordained ministry. For years, since the beginning of the church, Christians have had a practice of setting apart people for total dedication to the ministry of the church in the world. In some ways, I think of this similarly to how we set apart money in our personal and corporate budgets to support the work of the church. Setting apart money in our budget for the church doesn't mean we can waste all the rest of our money - we are still stewards of it all, and in the same way, setting apart some individuals for full-time ministry doesn't mean the rest of Christians aren't also stewards of God's grace and love for the world. We are all called to ministry.

Many times, when we talk about a person "going into the ministry" we are talking about something that is very personal for that one person - one person gets a call from God and one person responds. However, that understanding isn't the understanding of the United Methodist Church, and it's not my understanding either. True, I do believe God is calling me to prepare and to be set apart for ministry, but it's not something about me as one person. The Book of Discipline says that the greatest contribution the local church makes is identifying and supporting candidates for ordained ministry. The local church, where the hands of Jesus meet the world, is the body that is used to nurture people who will exemplify the Christian life in the world. Through the reading, I've been confirmed in thinking that my being set apart isn't an action that just I'm doing. My local church is setting me apart now, and probably one day the larger church will too. We are all stewards together - sharing Jesus with the world.

Then there's about 799 other pages that begin to scratch the surface of how the UMC works in the world...

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


It's hard to believe, but in ten days (or less!), I will have submitted all of my coursework for my first semester of seminary. I have learned a lot and am so grateful for the opportunity. I have two more movies to watch, two papers to write, and one test to take. And a couple more classes and lectures too. Oh, and some reading. And studying. Well, I guess there's more than I first thought! In other news, I found out today I'm eligible for a grant that I thought I wasn't eligible for this semester. So, I'm delighted and so thankful to have some extra money going into my school account.

I've been thinking about waiting. In a few weeks we will celebrate the New Year with parties and fun and most of us will take some time to think about all that has been and then what is going to be. Many people will come up with resolutions or goals for the coming year and it is pretty exciting to imagine what may be. Christians around the world celebrated the new year recently too, with the First Sunday of Advent. It was very quiet. You may have missed it. It was in the busy weekend of Thanksgiving. Or maybe it's easier to remember if I say it was the day between Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. You know, after Black Friday, which is so good we have start on Thursday... because we just can't wait (but I digress).

Christians start the year with the Season of Advent. During Advent, one of the things we consider is waiting. We remember our brothers and sisters of years ago waiting for the coming of the Messiah. We remember that we too are waiting for the coming of Jesus. I think what is aggravating about waiting, and why we have so much trouble waiting, is that waiting seems like wasted time. We only have 24 hours per day and we have them pretty much chock-full of stuff to do, so we can't waste time. Even when we aren't pressed for time, leisure time is so odd that it's difficult to adjust to not being in a hurry. I've been thinking that there must be a better way, and I think we can see how by looking at Advent. During Advent, many churches light candles around a wreath, one candle per week until the center candle is lit on Christmas Eve. Each candle represents something; many churches use the candles to represent peace, hope, joy, and love. So, while we wait during Advent, it would be good to learn and practice peace, hope, joy, and love. Of course, it's hard to practice anything during December unless we are intentional. I've been challenging myself to use my "wait" time to consider how I can be peaceful, hopeful, joyful, and loving. It starts in my own heart. On some days, that's where it stays because, honestly, I need peace, hope, joy, and love too. But some days, it can spill out. When following the example of Christ, life isn't a waste of time, not even when we are waiting.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Looking for Dawn

This is a great little story that Foster relays in his book Prayer.
    A venerable old sage once asked his disciples, "How can we know when the darkness is leaving and the dawn is coming?"
    "When we can see a tree in the distance and know that it is an elm and not a juniper," ventured one student. "When we can see an animal and know that it is a fox and not a wolf," chimed in another.
    "No," said the man, "those things will not help us."
    Puzzled, the students demanded, "how then can we know?"
    The master teacher drew himself up to his full statue and replied quietly, "we know the darkness is leaving and the dawn is coming when we can see another person and know that this is our brother or our sister; for otherwise, no matter what time it is, it is still dark."

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Lots of Learning Going on... now about living and loving

The past few weeks my New Testament class has been focused on the very early Christian church. We've read the New Testament books Acts of the Apostles (I'd call it the Acts of the Holy Spirit, but I'm not really saying I've got a better name than the one given...just a thought), Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon. We've learned about the challenges of the church, the grappling with the covenant of the law and the covenant of faith, with the inclusion of Gentiles into the Jewish sect, etc. Such a difficult life's work for the early Christian leaders, and yet it was so productive.

In Theology and Film, the past few weeks we've watched Jesus of Montreal, God's Not Dead, Children of Men, Spotlight, and Star Wars VII for next class. We've been listening, watching, analyzing, discussing what things we can learn from our cultural contexts, both secular culture and Christian culture. We've discussed how our cultures understand Jesus, the church and mission, human value, meaning of life, etc. and what our Christian theology has to say in affirmation of the views presented in film and how it might instead offer something different.

In our Disciple Formation class we created a group covenant and have been reading some Psalms and learning a lot about the practices and life of prayer. We have supported, encouraged, and challenged one another within our Christian community of unity and love.

So that's what I've been learning and doing. How does it affect me? How do I synthesize all of this into real life and ministry? That's the big question. Sometimes I look around and see the amazing work that God is doing in and through me and in and through our community and world, and I can see comparisons to the amazing work that God did in the early church. Other times, I look around and think... I don't know what to say. What is going on? I grieve, with tears, physical pain, and everything, at the ugliness I see. I hope for unity, especially for and from the body of Christ. In my own experience with church it's been expressed to me: you don't belong here; it was relatively minor for me, but it occurred. How much more so do others feel rejection? I've also experienced loving acceptance! I pray that everyone will feel the love of God through Jesus Christ and experience it through the Church. I repent for the ways I've gotten it wrong. When I've failed to listen, when I've wanted to be understood rather than seeking to understand. I pray for those who I still don't understand, those with fears that I don't feel. God loves us all.

Scriptures and prayers for today from my devotional book are focused on love. Over and over in his New Testament letters, Paul focuses on love. The love we are to have that is from God.  Jesus was a sacrifice of love for all and Paul calls us to sacrifice in love for each other as well. Even when I don't know what to say, the Holy Spirit speaks to me through the Word. I'll share parts of the scriptures and one of the prayers from this morning.
It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors -Deut 7:6-8a
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. -Eph 3:14-19
Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid..." -John 14:23-27
"We admit and confess, God of love, that we need you. We pray that your love might draw us and lead us near. We pray that your love might infuse our lives, our families, our churches, and our communities so they may reflect your goodness, kindness, mercy, sacrifice, and friendship. Love of God, rain down on us today. Amen." From Dawn to Dark, A Book of Christian Prayer by R Douglas Jones.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Invasion of Purity

Niels Larsen Stevns's 1913 depiction of
Jesus curing the leper
This week I keep coming back to something I read in a text book, and then was challenged with the same concept by our New Testament professor. I want to share the thought and allow you to think on it too.

One of the themes of the Gospel of Mark is Jesus proclaiming the Kingdom of God. One of the new things that comes with the Kingdom of God is an "invasion of purity" that is a challenge to the traditional view in Israel that unclean must be kept separate from clean/holy. People who were unclean (ie: lepers, people with health problems like the woman with an issue with blood, and all people at one time or another) stayed away from other people because the uncleanliness they carried was contagious. Touching an unclean person or thing caused the clean person to become unclean and they'd have to go through a ritual of some sort to become clean again.

In this new Kingdom of God, Jesus reversed the idea of uncleanliness being contagious, and instead, holiness became contagious. When Jesus touched unclean people he remained clean; the unclean became clean. Revolutionary! This new system allowed Jesus to associate with everyone.

As members of this new kingdom, it is our mission to be like Jesus and absorb uncleanliness around us, rather than becoming unclean, and spread holiness by unleashing the power of forgiveness and restoration. How are you doing that today?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Beauty, the early church, and the first test

We've been talking about beauty, so I decided I'd look for
beauty on my drive. When I saw these cows in the harvested
corn field, I pulled over to take a picture. I remember how
happy it makes the cow to be let into the corn. My New
Testament professor and I were talking today about how
beautiful it is that God created animals with the ability to
express joy. We also talked about baling hay and walking
beans. Neither of those seemed to hold the same beauty!
I continue to see seminary as a gift from God to me. It's a lot of work and occupies many, many hours, but I'm learning a lot and growing with a community of people that I will cherish for the rest of my life I'm sure. This week, in Disciple Formation, we talked about beauty. We often think of God in terms of love and truth and justice, but forget that God is also true beauty and as we recognize beauty in creation, we are recognizing something of God.

Another thing I've been thinking about this week is what it must have been like to be part of worship in the very early Christian church. I'd never realized or considered, until recently, that the Gospels weren't written until after many of the New Testament letters had been written. All the early churches were operating without the Gospel writings, so when they gathered together, people would bring original hymns, prayers, and thoughts to spur one another on in faith. That's how we got some of the hymns in the New Testament texts. I think about how often many of us are reluctant to volunteer to prepare a devotion or scripture or prayer for a group even though we have so many resources to draw from! These early church people didn't have the resources we take for granted. I imagine they had quite an openness to the Holy Spirit that we would find refreshing (well, unless we find it scary). Anyway, it's been something good to ponder.

This week will be my first test in many years. It's in New Testament and will cover Matthew, Mark, the "synoptic problem", basic exegesis, and several New Testament literary forms like midrash, hymns, genealogies, miracle stories, proclamation stories, pesher, yada yada yada (no, that's not really one). I look forward to having the first test behind me, but studying for a test is a great way to practice articulating what I'm learning, so I welcome it.

I also did my first film review, you can see it here (spoiler alert: it spoils the film Room, so if you're going to watch it, don't watch the review). Without the having the text book we used, the review might not make as much sense as it did to my peers (and thus might be horribly boring), but I share it as a way to include you all in my journey if you're interested. Next I'll be working on a discussion guide, which will have different content than the film review, but over the same movie. It's been a challenge for me to think in a way that evaluates messages in art. It's not at all the 1s and 0s of my computer science training.

In other parts of life, I continue to enjoy working at church. I preached for the 2nd time a week ago. I have been working on my interview questions for an interview in December. At that interview I may be recommended to become a certified candidate for ordination, the first baby step in a long process. Also, Zoe enjoyed playing 8th grade volleyball this fall and is eager to start swimming again later this month. Lea is in tumbling for the first time and loves it. She lost a molar today. Both are doing well in school and enjoy time with friends. This is probably the best October ever for Ryan. Go Cubs Go!