Thursday, December 12, 2013

Preparation and Patience

I'm back on my Blogger account this morning and I'm realizing how long I've taken between posts... if anyone has suggestions of how I can make myself keep more regularity in this, I'd be all ears. Regardless, we are in the third week of Advent, the season where we prepare for the birth of the Christ Child. I was helping out with my parish youth group last night and our youth pastor read a selection from a devotional that gave rise to this:

"The time has come! The kingdom of God has come near! Repent. And believe the good news!"
-Mark 1:15 (with slight alteration of punctuation and emphasis)

The first and second weeks of Advent are busy and filled with excited preparation. There are greens to put up, wreaths to be made, cookies that need frosting.

Lessons and carols is being rehearsed, making sure that everyone knows what they're supposed to do so that there can be a good show for those who come visiting.

And amid all of this, when Christmas day is nearly upon us, suddenly we are told to have patience, to slow down, refocus on the Christ candle and remember that this season is for us to prepare ourselves for the in-breaking of God to our world. It's a strange thing in the third week of Advent, that lighting of the rose candle.

I mean, throughout Advent, up until this point, we have been reading about this incredible messianic Servant in Isaiah and we've been looking at the travelling magi. John's gospel has been read right there at the end of the Lessons and Carols liturgy, serving as another prophetic voice, telling us what is to come. And from this, there are so many things that so many people want God to be in their lives.

And yet Christ comes in as a baby. A little infant, soft and vulnerable. It's definitely not the king or judge that is usually spoken of in reference to the Lord Almighty.

My point here is that, no matter how much we prepare for the King, he will always come unexpectedly and in a way that we thought impossible. And we need to be patient with ourselves so that we can respond to the movement of Christ, no matter where (or how) we find him.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Seeking for Goodness and Trying to Understand What I Find

The upshot of this post is that I think there is a lot of good in the world. I don't think it's really popular to say that right now. But I also think that, in amongst all the people convinced that we're on our way to hell in a handbasket, it is important to highlight the sources of goodness that I have encountered.

And now is when I get controversial.

I was told recently by a man I respect very much, that he does not embrace 100% of church doctrine, but he follows all of it, because that is what a member of a community does. You don't always understand all the stuff that concerns the community and you certainly don't always understand the reactions of your fellow community members, but treasuring your community means that you uphold the integrity of what the community is for, and this even when you find yourself disagreeing. You can disagree because there is a strength in the community; people who understand the issue when you don't.

Another way that I've heard this said is that "it takes a church to make a statement of faith." That was said by someone a little more famous. It was Nadia Bolz-Weber; a very unorthodox Lutheran pastor who was interviewed early last month by Krista Tippet. It came up in the course of the interview that Bolz-Weber proclaims this statement of community faith. I think it is another instance where someone is articulating this idea that, as individuals, we may not be able to say that we understand every part of the creed or the doctrine, but that, as a community, we understand the entirety. And, moreover, we are then able to act on our faith, as a community.

This is where I go back to my original point; that I think there is goodness everywhere. If there were no goodness, how would anyone be willing to admit 'I don't understand everything about the church I love so dearly,' only to find out that the church responds 'that's okay. We can work with that.' I think it is an incredible testament to people that we can lean so much on each other, loving someone with all their faults and strengths, and transforming the whole group of learners into a something that can further the mission of God.

I think I should also point out at this time that both these individuals that I have referenced are Christian. One is Roman Catholic, the other, as I said, Lutheran. Both are important to the way that I do things and the way that I understand what goes on in the world. I, meanwhile, am neither Roman Catholic, nor Lutheran. I am Episcopalian (there, I said it). But what I can see, as these people admit their faults and begin to lean on their communities for understanding, is that I have an increasing awareness of how each community of faith admits their faults. Pope Francis has been saying that Catholic individuals need to consider how their messages are being received, and do work to make sure that the Catholic message is received well by people who are not Catholic. Lutherans all around me, not just the ones I hear on the radio, have become more articulate about what it is about the creeds or theology that keep them coming back to church. I see this as a big step, as I know more than a few Episcopalians who cannot actually articulate the reason that they keep coming to church week after week (well, they say 'this is what my family has always done...' but that's not a strong reason).

Each community of faith is made up of people who contribute to the greater whole. But what happens when we start looking at the ways that each community are affecting the rest of the world? There must be more goodness and understanding out there, right? I mean, if I have the gall to suggest that different Christian denominations can, collectively, offer a huge amount of goodness and understanding by leaning on each other, why shouldn't I keep going, and look out into the world to find more and add that goodness in with what the Christians have?

Oh, wait... I already did that.

There is a man in London who is an atheist. No shocker there, but he has gone ahead and founded a School for Life. If this school were founded under any other conditions, it would be called a church. But it isn't because all the 'congregants' have no faith in any god of any sort.

Alain de Botton is that man and he is something of a scandal for religious folk in England because he shamelessly uses traditional hymns and structures from many religions in the events that take place at his School. He is the source for further scandal, this time among the atheists, because he does not hate Christianity or any other religion. He openly seeks after what he calls 'wisdom for living' and he is more than happy to learn it wherever he finds it, whether that be Christianity, Celtic spirituality, Hinduism, Islam, wherever. And I applaud him for it. Moreover, de Botton is exactly the kind of atheist that I would love talking to, precisely because he does not harbor hate toward any other group. He simply wants to learn.

I also think that de Botton remembers what many traditionally religious people have forgotten; religion is supposed to be a structure that helps us learn how to live. De Botton talks about morality and ethics; how can people get married in a world where so many are unsatisfied with marriage? How can people cope with death when we think we're supposed to be young forever? How are we able to keep our heads and live our lives well when things seem so nasty? If these are not topics of wisdom, I don't know what is.

But how can I reconcile de Botton's school with the rest of the religiousness that I have been writing about? Because he has something that he understands in his pursuit of Goodness. On the one hand, I think it is a great testament to the created world that we find ourselves in (which I believe was made by God) that de Botton can find wisdom by examining what he finds before him, instead of examining God. On the other hand, I recognize that the wisdom he offers rings true. The wisdom he offers is the kind of stuff that I, too, want to learn from. I think there are many that can learn from what the School for Life offers. So is it so far-fetched to the think that the Lutherans and the Catholics and all the other Christians can lean on the School for Life in order that we all can have greater goodness and understanding?

Here, I'm going to make nearly full departure from what I've been writing about goodness and understanding, but it will relate, trust me.

One of the best-kept secrets, hiding in plain site of the Christian tradition, regards the Second Coming of the Messiah. In the prophets and books of revelation, there are references to the Supper of the Lamb and the Kingdom (or City) of God. It is always referenced as a far-away, unattainable place. And it is, without the intercession of Jesus Christ. In the Christian tradition, we always talk about what has been won for us in eternity through Christ's suffering, as well as how we 'await his coming again in glory.' It's that coming again in glory that I'm trying to focus on. When the Messiah comes again to earth, it will be to make all things new. It's not going to be near so much about plucking away the righteous and turning into a Holy Hoover; it is more about re-establishing the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. And we are told to prepare the way for that.

So how do we prepare the way for the Messiah? Well, that is what the Christian religion has been trying to do for millennia. With some mixed results, if I may add. But I think a core tenant to the religion has to do with understanding how to be good and encourage goodness in others. I think religion is all about emulating the Good Deity, thus drawing yourself and the world closer toward goodness.

So really, if we are supposed to emulate the source of Goodness, shouldn't everyone who strives for that band together and help each other? Shouldn't Lutherans help Catholics and Catholics help Episcopalians and Episcopalians help the School for Lifers and shouldn't they in turn help the whole group of Christians and Jews and Muslims and Hindi and Buddhists?

I really do think there is a lot of Good in the world. I don't think it's popular to say that because everyone is too worked up about their brand of Goodness being the best. I, personally, don't care what brand it is, as long as it is Goodness that you are using.

Go. Use your Goodness. Find others who are good, too. Treasure them and your Goodness will grow. Use your Goodness for everyone because it was never really yours in the first place.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A few "dos" and "don'ts" for young adult ministry

DO invite young professionals to be a part of decision making processes. Their voice is essential to the life of the parish.
DON'T treat them like a token. It denies the rest of their personhood.

DO ask college students and young professionals how they can see themselves involved in parish life.
DON'T just assign them to the young group because "the rest of us just don't understand kids these days." There's a good way around that and it doesn't require a 20something.... get to know the kids yourself!

DO emphasize how important it is for college students and young professionals to be a part of parish life. The more diverse that life is, the healthier and more robust it will be.
DON'T expect that this young demographic will be the salvation of the Church. That job's already raken care of.

I am aware that these suggestions are fairly snarky. But my experience in Church has been one of participation going sour. I have been an acolyte (altar server) since I was little and I have read Scripture in worship and whatnot, but there came a time when my participarion apparently identified me as a young leader... but young leaders were not given credibility. Not many people actually wanted to hear the voice of the younger demographics. And so I became resentful of the people who expected me and my friends to be seen but not heard.

This was a problem for me through college, and now that I've graduated and become a young professional,  with all the burdens therein, I refuse to suffer people who don't take me seriously. This does not mean that I want a hostile takeover of a parish, this means that I want to be a full member of parish life, not labeled as a token "young adult" and be sidelined because the parish doesn't know what to do with me.

I know how I want to serve God and my parish community.  And in the next breath, I will admit my youth and say that my service may change,  but it will be my offering nonetheless and I pray that it will be found worthy in the eyes of God. My prayer is also that the people around me may see it that way, too.

Note: I found this stuck in with other files of mine. It's been complete for a month or more. I'm not entirely sure why I haven't published it.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My time in Chicago for Shared Space

At the end of June I had the privilege to attend the first annual Shared Space conference in Chicago. Now, before I go and start on a boring, stodgy summary of what an honor it was to be included, let me honestly say that I was taken by surprise at what I found at the conference. It was an invitation. An invitation to dialogue, an invitation to be included, an invitation to the edge of Christianity… an invitation to take and pass along to others.

I had no idea what I would find in Chicago when I hopped on the plane at MSP. I had been nominated to attend this conference, but I hadn’t been told about the nomination until after I had been selected to attend. Best I could tell was that representatives from five denominations would be gathering to discuss campus ministry and that my official capacity was to attend as a “student leader” representative for Province VI. No pressure.

Upon my arrival, I walked in (late, due to flight delays) to a room full of people that I had never met and who had been ministering on college campuses for 10, 20, or 30 years. The record length was 45 years. All my feelings of accomplishment after surviving my rookie year of teaching suddenly seemed to amount to squat.

But I was taken in. My voice and recent experience as a college student was honored and genuinely listened to, and held on equal par with the 45-year veteran of this ministry. Through conversations on lifelong faith formation, encouraging and cultivating allies in ministry, and using Facebook, I was constantly and genuinely invited to discuss and listen and absorb the ideas circulating at the conference.

Now, in order to express why I found this so extraordinary, I need to share some of the practical scope of the conference:
  • The Shared Space conference was the first installment of what is hoped to be an annual event.
  • The topic was campus ministry and representatives working in and concerned with that field attended from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Presbyterian Church, the United Methodist Church, the Disciples of Christ, as well as the Episcopal Church of America. We were all given time to converse and share our experiences with one another.
  •  Diana Butler Bass gave the keynote talk, which we also were given time to discuss ecumenically. Her keynote was in regard to her newest book, Christianity After Religion, and her research on the growing disconnect between young adults and organized religion.
  • Each Christian denomination took time to meet on their own, for their own discussions. As a part of the Episcopal conference, I attended the following workshops:
    • Ruth Ann Collins, “Campus Ministry in the Arc of Lifelong Christian Formation.” Ruth Ann led a very conversational workshop regarding lifelong faith formation and the partnerships that could be cultivated in that journey, whether it be in a parish context or on a campus. She questioned and gave her responses on how faith can be formed long after someone’s formal catechism is done.
    • The Rev. Tim Hallett and the Rev. Amity Carrubba, “Equipping Your Supporters: Education and Mentorship.” In this skills training workshop, I heard questions of ‘what is community’ when you have a parish that sponsors campus ministry.
    • Randall Curtis and the Rev. Kyle Oliver, “The Internet is for Evangelism and Formation.” These two guys are so immersed in online social media and well-versed in promoting a church presence in those media that they just simply kept giving example after example of strategies and ideas. As they shared their knowledge, I saw many ways to invite students and young professionals into spiritual relationship.

So, in short, I heard many people making observations on what kinds of invitations they have made and the relationships they have built with college students. I also heard them asking questions about where we may be able to make more invitations to relationship through campus ministry. I began to observe that a large part of college ministry is a ministry of presence, so that when students begin to question and explore, there is a repository of knowledge and guidance ready to help them. But this ministry of presence needs a physical, incarnational side along with the theological, intellectual one. In other words, young adults need food, nourishment and care just as much as they need to be allowed to seek their truth.

However, I wonder even more about the demographic that these ideas pertain to. Not all individuals in the 18 to 30 year old age bracket are college graduate or undergrad students. Some are working, young professionals, having already completed their bachelor’s degrees. Some have vocational or trade school training that helped them enter the work force, though “Campus Ministry” seldom concerns anything other than universities. Some began working as soon as they left high school. What are the needs of these people and where can the Church meet those needs?

In her keynote address, Diana Butler Bass noted that the church membership of young adults has been going down steadily. Her most recent book is entitled Christianity After Religion, which I hope is named more sensationally than she meant. At the core of her book and presentation, Bass questioned the exclusive way that Christian denominations have treated each other, and now that is very much at the expense of interacting with younger generations. She showed many graphs and statistics that showed that, in contrast to older generations, young people are less and less likely to pick and identify with a single Christian denomination, or even pick and identify exclusively with a single religious tradition.

Now my reflection is not “How can we evangelize and get these younger demographics back to church” but “How can we find it within ourselves, as church people, to offer a genuine invitation to relationship with college students, young professionals and all young adults?” Since I left the conference, I have been going online to explore some of the options. I feel that that, for me, this is an essential part of my call to the diaconate, that is, I have a particular interest in the bridge-ministry between the world and the Church that is tied up with and becoming a growing focus for the diaconate in the Episcopal Church in Minnesota. It is a growing edge that I have been pursuing and it is a conversation that I invite you to join me in.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Seven program write-up

At the end of June I finished with my discernment program. I was trying to figure out whether or not I have a call to the diaconate and be ordained in that servant ministry. For the end of my program, I was supposed to write a letter... you will see how that went.

To Those Who Have Told Me That They Know What Kind of Spiritual Work I Should Be Involved In:
I should first preface this by saying that the format and the content is unconventional. I should also preface it by saying that I usually think of Church in terms of family and food, so that may fill in some gaps.
Regarding my experiences over the past year with The Seven, I have found myself in many uncomfortable positions and conversations in an effort to discern what God is calling me to do. I have also heard from trusted friends and elders that what I already do is very obviously the work of a deacon.
This poem does not use actual names or specific events; it is parabolic in an effort to describe a ministry and a call instead of giving details to specifically chronicle events in my life.
So, there are many people at church and in the world. Each of us has something to do. Some cook the food, some put out invitations, some make decorations for the house. It usually seems that we designate a leader to cut the roast (because that is full of ceremony and ritual).
I am not the one to cut the roast.
I am not the one to cut the ham or the turkey, either.
I am the one who sets the table and counts to make sure we have room.
I am the one who finds chairs to put at each setting.
I am the one who stands at the door, to say hello to everyone as they come in.
There’s Uncle George, hello.
There’s Aunt Kimberly, hello.
Auntie Mary and Uncle Mark.
Cousin Sam, his wife and little one
Cousin Chelsea and soon-to-be husband
There’s Sarah and with little one in tow (she’s getting so big!).
But where is Uncle Stewart?
Where’s Grandmother Dotty?
Where are Cousin Michelle and Cousin Jimmy and Theo and Maria?
They’re still out there.
I am the one who girds his scarf round his neck
I am the one who zips up his jacket.
I am the one who pulls on his boots and his cap down low
I am the one who goes out into the dark and the snow to find them.
Grandmother Dotty was stuck in a snowbank
Her truck in up over its wheels
Cousin Michelle couldn’t find the house
Though she could have sworn she would know it if she saw it
But when I go looking for Theo, I find my other cousins under the bridge on 5th.
I find my uncles and aunties waiting in line at the food shelf.
I find my cousins at night school, looking to pass and get a diploma to work hourly for the man in the mall
I heard from one cousin tonight that his brother won’t come tonight; he’s a homie in a real gang now
I know another cousin who’s alone tonight because her boyfriend kicked her out after he discovered she was four months pregnant.
I am not the one who wears a tie and cardigan, making toasts at the head of the table, while a chorus of ‘here, here’s are shouted.
I am the one up to my knees in dirty snow, tracking down my cousin before she and her baby freeze in the cold.
I am not the one that others come to in the hall with the vaulted ceiling so that they can tell me of the latest group initiative.
I am the one, pulled aside at school so that they can whisper in my ear where to find our cousin tonight, before he gets capped
Perhaps I ought to be the one crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!”
But right now there’s a storm between me and the wilderness
And the Good Lord may just need to wait for my proclamation until I’m finished pushing out cars
I am not the one to cut the roast
I am the one to show my family where to find it.


P.S. For my many, many plethorae of blog readers, would you please post comments on any of the entries or send me your reactions? I'm interested to get those so that I don't write completely in a vacuum.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Things the fjord makes me think of

I am perfectly aware that it have been over two months since I have posted anything. And I also am aware that my last entry involved me saying that I may write more "blogger" type entries that are impulsive and less drafted than what I've posted previously. Well, I don't think that's happening yet. For the past two months, I have been concerned with finishing my first year of teaching, moving, getting married, going to Norway and then coming back and going to Chicago. It has been a whirlwind. Forgive me that I have not put anything out onto the blogosphere.

Any rate, what I have included below is something that I wrote in my travel journal on 19 June. We were staying in a cabin about two miles from Flåm, Norway. It sat right next to the fjord and, this particular day, I sat out under the eaves while it was drizzling and wrote the following list, the name for which is also the title of this blog entry.

  • The moment that a Tolkienian Elf first sees the ocean rising from the mist or shining in the evening sun
  • Deep waters, turquoise blue and frigid
  • The tide creeping up or slipping away when you're not looking
  • It's hiding secrets, out there in the shipping lanes
  • When it rains, the droplets reveal which water is swelling and which is being pulled by the current
  • The low-hanging, misty clouds that lurk on the mountains when the conditions are right
  • How the size of the water and the mountains make the passing cruise ships look like toys
  • When you live on a fjord, you could be a farmer while your next door neighbor is a fisherman
  • You go out to explore and find yourself so small but so intimate with the place, all at once
  • You can look across the valley and see there is still snow on top of the opposite mountain, while its feet go right down into the dark water (though my reaction is still it's not that big; I could climb it)
  • How people figured out such good ways to make houses here, but the tradition is so deep and so authentic. What's more is it was all developed before machines were around to help

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


So I think this may be my first proper "blog post."

If anyone cares to start going through the other posts that I've made, you'll see that the chronology of when they went online has absolutely nothing to do with when I actually wrote the content. Additionally, I understand that you're really not supposed to draft a blog post; that a true blogger just kinda writes everything that's on their mind that day and publishes it on the blogosphere. Well, that's what I'm doing with this one. Almost.

What I really want to do with this post is explain why I've been publishing these written works that I've largely kept on my hard drive for so long.

I've always wanted to show them off... but I've been afraid that they wouldn't be received well or that I wouldn't show them off at good times, either of which would subject me to have my work rejected or simply passed over.

But now, through the miracle of modern telecommunication, I can put my work out there, for anyone to see at any time, in any place anywhere around the world! Which is completely terrifying... and maybe a little compromising... but I am intentionally putting it out there and I will also deliberately start telling people that it is there. Because I really do want this stuff to be read, but I don't know how to say that in the manner that we speak everyday. I want to use these observations and reflections that I've had as a kind of preaching, but I have not yet found a good way to do that.

I want to preach, but I don't know how to do that when I know so well what the restrictions are at church or at school... and I might go start preaching on the street corner, except that I know what the reactions are to that sort of thing.

So I guess I'm turning to the blogosphere as a place where it's free to publish and anyone can read it. I'll call this practice and keep looking for a place where I can share what I've written in person.

Of Cattails and Mires

I stand here
Surrounded by hard wood
It is probably here to make us focus
For the idea presented here is lofty

I read off a sheet
Given to me as I entered
I give into the monotony
This monotony bred of ages
Worshiping in cold, stony cathedrals
I still lose focus

My mind is wandering in mine own celestial planes
I romp around and go whither I will
I come to a stream and decide to drink
But I stop while stooping
For there is a figure standing among the lilies
A figure garbed with white raiment
This person smiles, head shaking at me
And sends me on my way,
Back the way I’d come

My mind returns
To find my body seated in the car
I’m driving across the bridge downtown
Black water is lit by a tugboat light
I don’t know where I’m going
But I find him just the same

A man, a bum living in a cardboard box
Behind the fish stall on the pier
I get out, walk to him
Drawn by some otherworldly force

Hey old man
Hello, he says
I think we’re supposed to talk
Though I’m not sure why
Yes, he says, I suppose we are
Do you need anything from me old man
No but you do, his words trickle out, you need help
See boy, you are thirsty
And the river is the only drink
Wayward enough to quench that thirst
But how to drink a river old man
With this, a shell of a trinket he hands me
Now move, he points upstream
And I begin to drive

I drive along the darkened streets
Until they are dark no more
I drive until the morning hum blinds my eyes
The car pulls to the side of the road
Free of my control
I move out and find a marsh
My feet move to the edge and in
I flail at the cattails
And my ankles are cradled by mud
I come out at the river
In a burst of light and perplextion

Water past my knees
The figure is there again
Smiling my grandfather’s smile
Eyes twinkling like my first love
Hands calloused and caring like dad’s
He pulls me in and takes the shell
Fingers brushing my palm
Water pours from the shell
It covers my head and face
Running down my neck and throat
It covers me inside and out

As I choke and gasp
A thumb presses at my forehead
Makes a sign and withdraws
I smell something
That pulls memories out.
Old and long forgotten
It penetrates my being
I open my eyes and see the white robes
And through them a whole world
Filled with good and bad
People lost and people found
Past, Present, Future
They mingle and murder
Love and laugh

Through my crystal mire
I can see I must be with them
Love them and guide them
Hold them and console them
I’ll to them now
For the river is long and wide
And it beckons me on

"Of Cattails and Mires" is a piece that I'm particularly proud of. I distinctly remember writing it, too. Quite frankly, I was pissed off one night when I had to be at a church service with my Confirmation class and I started writing things that came into my head on the back of the bulletin. It was a small demonstration of resistance but I kept adding onto it when I got home. 

This one took me a while to finish. I remember that because I started writing it when I was in Confirmation in Minnesota and I didn't finish it until later that summer (2004) when my family was settled in South Dakota. I also remember showing it to my mother late at night when I was done with it. She was so moved by it and, while I felt proud of being able to have that effect, I really didn't know what I should have been feeling about being able to do that.

At any rate, reading it now, I realize how long it has been since I've started trying to articulate what I believe about Baptism and salvation and Christianity. I think my methods have changed some, but I think I'm still going along in a similar trajectory, don't you?

My report card

My best guess on this piece is that I wrote it sometime in early 2005. I can't remember what was happening when I wrote it, but I remember writing it. I'm not holding it up as a paragon of poetic work, but I am offering it as a gesture of vulnerability. Anyone can obviously see the emotion in it and I'm hoping that most people can sympathize, seeing something in their past that connects to what this piece is trying to articulate.

I work so hard
to be called “holy”
but put to sermons’ standards,
I don’t really add up

I feel bad
I feel insufficient
I wish I could see
God’s report card for me

do I get an ‘A’
in Piety?

and am I earning enough
extra credit in Stewardship?

I wonder if I am creative enough
in Bible Study views

oh, how I wish I could see God’s comments
in that box at the bottom of the page
so that I can truly see
what percentile I match

my trouble lies
in where to find this card
where do I look
in God’s wide creation?

do I look to the stars
or down at my hands?
do I look high and low
or wait for the mail?

perhaps the best I can do
is buy me a copy of the Good Book
open it up
and find where I fit

cause doesn’t it say
God loves me so?

doesn’t it say
that I just need believe?

after all this
God’s message, I think
is not directed toward my doubting
but more to my faithing

the Lord leads me blindly
but of course the Creator knows
which heading to follow
to keep from sticking to the muck

by that celestial sea
the Lord is my shepherd
and if God leads me by still waters
then I’d best go swimming