Archive for September, 2011

“Aimless distraction is the original sin of the mind.” – Aldous Huxley

It was staring me right in the face.  It was on the tip of my tongue.  It was right before my eyes.  It was so close I could almost taste it.

These phrases have been running around my head tonight after I got out of history class where the professor shared a quote by Aldous Huxley about being distracted.  This quote finds me the day after I took an abbreviated form of an enneagram test, and I can’t help wonder if I am allowing myself to be distracted.

I don’t know if you’ve ever taken an enneagram test, but basically it is an evaluation that lets you know what your tendency’s are toward your environment, what your natural strengths are, and what your natural weaknesses are.  I took a longer, more official version of this when I was applying for entrance to the ELCA.  It was one of many tests taken to make sure I was mentally sound, and for spiritual development purposes I took it again to see where I’m at.

The test didn’t point out anything I didn’t really know about myself, and in some ways it’s interesting to see the balance I have in my tendencies since I last took the test.  Growth is happening! Yes!  But one factor of my results is still the same – I suppress shame through the validation of others.

I don’t really like that characteristic about myself.  In fact,  I hate it.  This natural tendency is only amplified by some origin history stuff and some bad relationship stuff.  Now that I am in a reality where I am actively trying to bridge healthy relationships, there is a part of me that worries that some tendencies will never disappear (worry, BTW, is another tendency – shocker!).

This quality stares me in the face right before my eyes.  The solution to putting it behind me is so much on the tip of my tongue I can almost taste it.  But still, it’s not quite there.

So today, instead of meditating on where I am, or praying to God for wisdom, I found myself crankin’ up the Nikki Minaj and scrubbing my apartment down.  There isn’t a dust-bunny to be found and you could probably serve a seven coarse meal off my floor right now.  Talk about being distracted.  It has recently been pointed out to me by a very wise and magnanimous soul that when I’m searching for control, I clean.  This is particularly interesting because this habit really has only appeared since moving to Chicago.  I’m sure my parents would have greatly appreciated if this would have developed when I was a teenager instead of my late twenties.

And so enters the musing of Mr. Huxley into the picture.  Is distraction really the original sin of the mind?  When the snake saunters in at the end of the second creation story, was Eve merely distracted when she took his advice and had that fateful snack?  What is the graver offense, ignoring the opportunity to explore a part of ourselves by turning up the elbow grease, or living a life where worrying about our future mistakes holds us captive?

Maybe distraction is the greater sin, but sometimes a distraction helps to give us the distance to put things in perspective.  While self awareness is a good thing, I’m fairly sure that overly analyzing my flaws is not entire healthy.  Sure, I’m not one hundred percent the person I want to be just yet, but I know that it’s not for a lack of effort.  Maybe my tendency and my history has given me a disposition that likes external validation, but I am not where I am now because I always got that validation.  I am here by digging deep into my soul and deciding to be different, not because of what box I check on a test.  I am here because I have the experience and insight to balance reason and reaction.  I am here because God has equipped me with love and forgiveness, and when my heart choses to see shame or get another person’s approval, that love cloaks me in redemption.

Feeling good isn’t always a distraction. Putting messy insights aside to have a dance party with a duster isn’t always a waste  of time.  Choosing not to rule your life with the big “what if” is not a always a sin.  I think original sin is making the decision to turn away to the gifts God places before you because of pride, worry, past regrets, and non-divine supported ideals.

We are never quite where we want to be.  But most of the time, if we allow ourselves the chance, we are exactly where we need to be.



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Back Another Day

“Come back another day, and do no wrong.” – Queens of the Stone Age, God in the Radio

Can we return to a place where we have done wrong, and really do right?

The past few days I have been talking to people on campus who are in the midst of saying goodbye to a part of their past, or a part of their fears, or a part of their personality that they would rather say goodbye to.  In the midst of all these discussions, I can’t help but ask myself if we can ever really go back and leave the past behind us.

Through the sanctification of grace and forgiveness that we find through Christ, I know our souls can go back and start over, but what about our heads?  Can we ever really say goodbye to the little nagging voice in our heat who tells us that our past is still with us?

I believe strongly believe that half of my problem is that I can’t actualize Christ’s forgiveness in my mind.  I feel it in my heart.  I know that I’m forgiven.  I rejoice in the fact that I’m forgiven.  But despite that knowledge, I still hold my past mistakes against me.  I worry I’m not worthy, I worry that I will repeat the same steps, I worry and worry and worry.

And further more, I worry that others will see me through this lens that I see myself from.  Even in a community of Christians who preach and teach forgiveness, I still don’t trust that forgiveness will transcend down from the heavens onto this earthly plane.

I made a promise to myself when I moved to Chicago that I would be diligent in trying to see the world for what it is, and not let my self judgements distort my reality.  I’m not entirely successful with this, but I’d like to think I’m making progress.

And when I fail, I come back another day and remember that I live in a state of perpetual forgiveness, and trust that through that forgiveness I will not repeat wrongs.

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Methadology of Safe and Good

Today was one of those days when I accidentally shared way more of myself then I had intended.

I’m taking a Pastoral Care course here at LSTC, and my professor asked me to roll-play with her about what it would be like to be in pastoral counseling session.  She asked me to share something personal about myself, and she would play the role of my pastor.  When she asked I thought sure, no problem.  I’m not ashamed to say that I have been in and out of therapy and spiritual direction most of my adult life, so I felt pretty confident I could share something personal without the situation getting intimate.  My professor is really, really good at her job, and before I knew it I was spilling my guts in front of a room full of friends and seemingly strangers and wondering how I got in this situation.

Overall, I know my experience was in good hands.  These students are training to be pastors, and have at one point or another signed some form of Vision and Expectations which outline their moral and professional integrity regarding confidentiality.  Add to it that while the experience went farther than I had thought it would go, it is by no means exposed the jucyist nuggets of my life, and let’s face it – I probably share more in this blog then I ever would in any pastoral counseling session.

That being said, I am feeling extremely exposed and I can’t help but wonder how I got here.

We spent some time talking in class about the formation of personal world-methodologies, and in that discussion I was reintroduced to the fact that how we view the world is determined by the time we reach the age of five years old.  These are core, fundamental, spiritual and emotional beliefs, and while they are subject to change upon introspection, they will always play a role in how we process information.

Looking back at my life, I’m left wondering how my formative years really shaped who I am.  By the age of five, I had two, very distinct lifestyles, and the change happened very quickly.  When I was just about to turn five, my family became a foster family, and for a variety of reasons that relationship was a traumatic and formative relationship in my life.  I learned about things that most likely never cross the mind of a child under five who was raised in a family with married parents, both of which had jobs, who attended worship every Sunday and still had an active relationship with their own parents.  Those things created a place in my methodology of trust and intimacy, where I knew the world was a good and safe place.   Then, by merely adding an abused person into our home, my whole world was opened.  I learned about racism, family segregation, assault, grief, repression, and struggles with inter-relational communication.

Looking back, now, while I am intrinsically grateful for my diverse and well-rounded experience, I am wondering how experiencing those two lifestyles in my formative years actually did form me.  How does the contrast between these two lifestyles conflict within my soul?  I believe that the world is a good and safe place, but I also don’t take for granted that goodness and safety are a choices that need to be made on a daily basis.  I know that love will prevail, but I also am aware that love needs structure, guidance and dedication.  I know that to truly be in a family means to love unconditionally, but I am also aware that with unconditional love comes a responsibility to protect, define, and treat with sanctity what is that love.

I also wonder how my methodology affects my ability to minister.  I’ll admit, I have to consciously work at not seeing my experience in the experience of others.  When I look at great pastoral care givers, who in a mere moment can take their parishioner on a journey where they uncover aches they didn’t know they wanted to express, I hope that I can live up to the integrity of that position.  I’d like to think I’m moving towards that goal.  I’m at a point in my life where I can share with people what it meant to be a five-year old, whose family suddenly became multiracial family and knowing that a loved one is damaged beyond repair.  I’m at the point of security with my family that I can write about my experience and know that they are hearing the reflective truth of my words and not reliving their own experiences.  I am at the point where I can recognize that I will always be changing and growing, probably always in some sort of therapy or spiritual direction, and that ministering to those things within myself will only help me better serve the people in my community.

I’m not sure where that falls in the history of my formative years.  I’d like to think they fall into the place where I learned that the world was safe and good – and that such a place existed before and after my family dynamics changed.  I’d like to think that it is in that belief that the world is good that empowered me to take a risk today and share a piece of myself that I had not intended to share.

And I hope that when my niece and nephew one day sit in a graduate class reflecting on their formative years, they can look towards their time with me and say, “Aunt Tina showed me that the world was safe and good.”

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A Strong Foundation

‘If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything” – Unknown

This past week a dear friend of mine has been engaging me in a conversation about all-inclusive language.  For those of you who aren’t familiar, basically all-inclusive language tries to remove all of the words and pronouns which could have a negative or dominating context for a specific group of people – changing God the Father to God the Creator, referring to God as a Sovereign instead of Lord, saying Reigndom instead of Kingdom.  While on the surface to an outsider, all-inclusive language may seem some feministic movement to equalize our liturgy, in truth it is to help create ideas in theology for people who may otherwise not feel safe enough to experience the freedom of God’s love.  For instance, imagine that you are a US soldier returning home after serving 18 months in a country where a lord or ruler actively brutalized and killed citizens and your fellow co-workers.  Instead of being transported to a place of peace, hearing “Lord” in prayer may take you to an extreme place of violence and oppression.  All inclusive language helps create neutral ground for people to experience God in a way that may otherwise be challenging.

I’m fortunate enough to have worked for a congregation who loves all-inclusive language.  Coming from a Lutheran background, where we actively refer to our Triune God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I’ll never forget the first time I heard Our Savior’s Prayer begin, “Our Mother and Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name…”  It was a bit jarring to my senses.  I was further shocked when a parishioner emailed me and told me that in meetings she would prefer if I referred to Jesus always as Christ, as for her the name Jesus reminded her too much that God came down as a man instead of a woman.  She would like to believe that if Christ comes today Christ would be a woman, and saying Christ instead of Jesus helps bring that alive for her.  For over two years I heard and lived a worship style that was based on inclusivity, and it is interesting now to study with people who are experiencing this for the first time.

My friend comes from a small, southern American town where all-inclusive language was never really talked about.  As such, she is actively searching for new ways to share the good news of God, and I greatly admire that she is being conscious of language choices.  She is seeking out people to help educate her about how to integrate all-inclusive language into her studies and teachings, and I have to say her passion for learning how to adapt to something that is so new to her and normative for the emotional safety of others is truly remarkable.   She has said to me, “It’s hard because thinking this way is changing the comfortableness I have of worshiping God.”  She followed that statement by agreeing that by changing her language she is opening her ability to bring others to God in a way that they might not otherwise experience it.

Knowing her zeal to be open to all people, as a person on the sidelines I am a bit shocked at how non-supportive a few fellow students are being towards her background.  Some people have chosen not to engage her in conversation.  Others say, “this is what we do here, so you need to adapt.”  Others still correct her mid-sentence,and in doing so, ignore other thoughts she may be expressing that are, quite frankly, more powerful than language.

The question for me becomes, how do we decide what we stand for?  I think all-inclusive language is about including all people so we can have an open dialogue about God together, despite our backgrounds.  As great as it is to drop the male pronouns, I don’t believe the real intention of inclusivity is to dismiss someone’s statement just because they accidentally used one as a force of habit.

Is our goal really to connect to everyone everywhere through the grace of God, or is it to make people think like us because our understanding of that grace is the right way?  Are we really so stuck in our own histories and experiences that we can’t appreciate someone who is adapting and expanding their comprehension of God, or is how we talk about God really what’s important?  Can it be both?  Can we be a people who stand for inclusivity while still acknowledging that sometimes referring to God as either man or woman, intentionally as a man or a woman, may help us experience that presence on a more intimate level?

I believe as Christians we are called to stand for something, and I have always lived my life with a state of mind that if we don’t stand for something, we are no stronger than the house built on sand.  But I’d like to believe that we can recognize when it is time to move to another rock, or at the very least appreciate that someone else’s rock has a stability, even if it isn’t directly supporting ourselves.

I know I am changing and growing, and I hope that in some ways I am being like my friend and actively trying to reframe my thoughts to help the most amount of people.  It is clear to me that my friend is rooted on the rock of Christ and that she has built her beliefs on trying to share that news to everyone, everywhere, in whatever language style that works for them.

Talk about a strong foundation.

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This is Insanity

I am in my second week of coursework as a seminarian, and the one thing that I’m confident I’ve learned as that there’s nothing wrong with being a “Crazy Christian.”

I knew seminary was going to be intense.  I knew I was going to be challenged and stretched.  I knew that Greek was going to be hard (although I had no idea that it was going to be THIS hard!).  I knew that who I was when my foot hit first hit the ground in the lovely state of Illinois that I would never be the same again.

But I had no idea that I would find such value in a little insanity.

Tonight I was reading a book about Pastor Care theories, and while I won’t bore you with the a lot of theological mumbo-jumbo, I would like to share a story about a man who was brilliantly insane.

Anton T. Boisen was the guy who created the whole Clinical Pastoral Experience, which we as seminarians lovingly refer to as CPE.   I hear it is super intense.  The program takes seminarians into a hospital or crisis center and helps them gain contextual knowledge of how ministry works both under pressure and as a physical component to the health of a patient.  I’ll be doing this next summer, and if the rumors are correct, I will be exposed to types of ministry situations that are challenging, humbling, and life affirming.  Many people who have successfully exited the program have explained that a person cannot prepare themselves for CPE situations, like the first time they were with someone when they passed away.  It’s important for ministers to be a presence to people in times of trial and confusion, and a CPE experience provides a structural education that helps the patients and helps the students learn how to be the most effective minister they can be.

Boisen clearly had something going for him when he started thinking about CPE.  He clearly was a visionary who understood that there is a spiritual relationship to health and health related occurrences (like for a family member) and transformed not only pastors but also hospital systems themselves with his vision.

So you can imagine my surprise to find out that this visionary, this leader for change and wellness, was hospitalized himself multiple times for mental health issues.  In this book for my class, I am reading an original writing by Boisen.  He describes seeing a vision of a cross in the moon for weeks, believing strongly that God was warning him of the Rapture, only to realize that said “vision” was actually just a rip in the screen of his window.

I can’t help but wonder how someone who was so gifted to recognize the need for a CPE system could possibly mistake a screen rip for a sign of the Rapture painted in the sky.  That is insanity.

But upon reflection, I think there is something really beautiful that God chooses to move through people and places that we would normally write off as insane, peculiar, less than, or unworthy.  God chose to steer the education process of seminarians through the voice of someone unexpected, and it is with that direction that I find solace tonight.

I spent today really struggling with knowing how to balance this workload when one class (Greek) was consuming all of my time.  I have been obsessed with trying to learn this language, and have so far only been successful at being unsuccessful in understanding it.  It is making me feel a bit crazy, and I’m sure that my panic is making me show the less-than-sane part of my personality.

But just as God spoke through Boisen, I have to trust that God will continue to speak through me, and more importantly speak to me.  I have to trust that in the dead in the night, when I worry about my future and stare out the window, I won’t see the Rapture but see a new beginning.  I have to trust that God will give me the strength of perspective and recognize the tear in the screen that is distorting my view.

This is all temporary.  This craziness of adjusting to a new way of life will balance out, and the insanity that I feel at figuring out my place will begin to adjust.  God sees beyond the insanity, beyond the craziness, beyond the panic and the fear.  God has equipped each of us, even those we would least expect, with the ability to change the world.

That is a craziness I can live with.

The text referred to is “Images of Pastoral Care: Classic Readings”, Robert C. Dykstra

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Today was a really good day.

I started the morning at 7:30am volunteering at this amazing organization called the Living Room Cafe.  They help provide food and resources to people in need, with the goal to provide these resources in a way that respects the humanity of their guests.

For example, this morning six of my fellow students and I cooked and served food restaurant style – taking orders, serving each dish to a table and calling each guest by name.  I worked in the kitchen under the direction of two fascinating men from the community.  I am proud to say I not only made my first successful pancake of my life, but made at least 100 of them.  I don’t even mind that I still smell like bacon after two showers – it was the best feeling to know that my morning helped people feel feed, both with respect and with food.  That sort of work is the thing I miss the most about my last job.  Even on a few hours of sleep and now sporting a few oil-splatter burns, it was the most energized morning I have had since moving to Chicago.

If that wasn’t enough, I spent the afternoon with one of the greatest couples I have the privilege of knowing.  One of them used to work with me at my last parish and quite honestly is the person who helped me the most when I first started discerning my call to ministry.  She gave me the freedom to see myself in this role, and it was so special to be able to show her around campus and talk about classes with her.  They both were eager to hear about my education, work, and future.  I didn’t realize before their visit that I needed to have someone from home up here – have someone from my former life see how happy I am in my new life.  My neighborhood came alive to me in a new ways as we walked around.  For the first time I didn’t feel that I was on vacation and began envisioning my next few years here.

My evening ended with a round of bowling and fellowship with some of my classmates.   Laughter led to sharing personal stories.  We built relationships tonight, relationships we didn’t expect.

What made today so special was that a feeling of home set over everything.  For the past few weeks, I have been wondering what my role is in this new place.  I knew that God called me to Chicago, and while I was feeling fulfilled, it still didn’t feel like me.  I felt like a guest star in the reality show of Hyde Park.

Thinking back to the joys of today, I realized that the part of me who needs to be here also needs to be grounded in what is me.  I am a person who needs to feel connected to a community of people who are working on new beginnings.  This morning, at the Living Room Cafe, I was surrounded by people preparing themselves for a fresh start.  Some were preparing their bodies with dietary nourishment.  Others were learning how to apply for jobs in a world that is ruled by computers.  There were a lucky few, like myself, who felt the nourishment of unusual places help us to rediscover the value of our personalities.

It was on wings of that nourishment which helped me remember those gifts my friend saw in me during my discernment. It was on the wings of that nourishment where I realized I am no longer the fringe of the tapestry of my community.  It was on the wings of that nourishment that I allowed laughter to be the start of new relationships.

Today was a really good day.

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Entrenched in Color

Tonight I saw the less-than-pleasant side of the South Side of Chicago.

Three of my friends were needing to make a Target run.  We had gone to the big Target on Roosevelt (the Target that dreams are made

Roosevelt Target

The Roosevelt Target is so massive it has an escalator for just for carts.

of) several times over the past week looking for a particular item.  We realized it wasn’t to be had at the Roosevelt store and so ventured to the illusive Cottage Grove Target, which is in a different neighborhood of the South Side.

The CG Target is itself a pretty nice store in a nice immediate community, but the neighborhoods on three of its four sides are infamous for being sketchy.  Recognizing that we are four, single, vulnerable women, we opted to take the long route off the highway, which had been classified as the “safe-route” to travel.

As luck would have it, or maybe just our poor directional skills, we ended up lost on an out-of-the-way toll road and needed to turn around.  As my friend Liesebet pulled off the highway and as we debated which way to turn, we heard Elise from the back seat calmly say, “Okay, we need to get on the highway immediately because there is a fight between four guys going down right outside my window.”

We hightailed it back to the highway, nervously laughing that our “safe-route” turned scary in an instant.  As we drove on safe ground, we all commented to each other how we were lucky Elise was so calm, that Liesebet was a good driver, and that we learned a new neighborhood to avoid after dusk.  We further remarked how it could have been a close call, not knowing if that fist fight would turn into a gun fight.  Knowing the dangers of the South Side, we were fortunate to be in a position to leave when we did.

Underneath the reality of that moment, we also were cautious not to say even amongst friends and fellow seminarians the thing that white, suburban girls know not to say – we were the minority in a black neighborhood, and that made us a target.

As Christians we don’t like to point out that we base our safety on things like race and gender.  But the truth of the reality is, those factors are important.  It is not just a theory that the African-American male community on the South Side of Chicago experiences violence.  It is not being racist, or being a separatist.  In the context of this community, this is where violence lives.  The problem is not that we notice that here, in the South Side of Chicago, race is complicated.  The problem is if we pretend it isn’t an issue.

The last parish I served in Cleveland serviced a community of people who were prone to drugs, alcohol, violence and as a whole were unable to hold a job.  This community was equally white and black, with an increasing number of people on both sides of the racial line reaching out for help.  To me it made sense that the number was growing because in the last few years Cleveland’s industry was disappearing and people were losing their jobs.  The people in the community who needed help came because they were living the life of the poor and abused, and in that context of Cleveland society that division was industry driven instead of racially driven.

Chicago sklyine depicted by Tiffany Glass Company, on display at Navy Pier

Coming to Chicago and seeing that many African-American communities are indeed poorer and less than safe then many other communities has been a bit jarring to my senses.  I hate that here many African-Americans are people of low-socioeconomic statuses.  I don’t know why that community has historically had a harder time in Chicago than other social groups.  I don’t really know how to minister to this context because I don’t understand the context of this society, and that in and of itself should be unsettling.

It should be unsettling that I don’t know why some communities are oppressed and others aren’t.  It should be upsetting that there are three unsafe ways to Target and only one safe option.  It should be unsettling that violence is erupting on the street corner and the only I action I have in that moment for my own safety is to drive away.

These problems aren’t race problems – they are human problems.  As a human who through Christ’s grace is equipped to love all people – man, woman, black, white, old, young, rich, poor, addicted, unaffiliated – I should feel empowered to voice the fact that it is not right that people are fighting on the streets while the privileged drive away.  I should voice the fact that I am currently unprepared to help the underprivileged of this community because I only really know about the underprivileged of my home community.  I should be so upset and haunted that there is a schism so great in the distance of a few mere miles that I would even doubt spending money in a less-than-affluent neighborhood.

We aren’t going to save the world today.  I’m not going to save the world today.  But I can save myself from the sin of neglect by acknowledging that often in the South Side of Chicago race and socio-economics go hand in hand.  I can remember that this example is not every community, but it is my community, and that by living in this community I am going to step up and do something to help neutralize the playing fields.

I don’t know how I’m going to do that.  I haven’t a clue.  All I know is that if I had gotten hurt in the car on that street corner, the news would think that my skin tone matters.  My story would have been told.  But tonight, as I watch the news, I’m not hearing the story about the homeowner who watched a fight break out on their lawn.  I’m not hearing how their safety matters.  I am privileged to seek out safety and expected to live in safety because of my skin.  It appalls me to know that privilege is not a reality for everyone.

Tonight I am praying for guidance to not ignore color, but rather be so entrenched in how it works here that I can do something about it.

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