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Archive for October, 2011

“Wait a second, Jesus does love you!” – Evan Pelecky

For the past few hours I have been enjoying a rare and unexpected treat.

The past week has been really, really rough.  Some stuff has come up with being a lupus patient that really has disquieted my soul.  In many ways, these frustrations are not new nor completely unexpected, but I am being forced to make some really intense life decisions at a time when I would much rather be avoiding them.  Add to it that I am away from everything familiar – my regular team of doctors, my family, my pastor, my friends who have been with me through years of lupus-related complications – and I can say at the very least I am feeling a bit overwhelmed.

So when I unexpectedly got a phone call from my dear friend Evan who is applying to a school across the street from seminary, my heart skipped a beat.  When he asked if he could spend the night on my couch tonight, and that we would really only have about 12 hours in the same city together, I immediately started washing my sheets.

Evan got here at around 11pm, and for the past few hours we have been sitting on the couch, eating Pringles, watching re-runs of Friends and talking.  It has been so nice to talk in short sentences.  I don’t have to explain all of the nitty-gritty details that is making health decisions.  I don’t have to search my brain to remember what he knows and what he doesn’t, or worry that if I over-share he will back away.  I can say, “I’m going to have to have surgery,” and he responds with, “The usual spot or the second usual?”  It is so nice to just be with someone who is familiar, someone who knows me beyond the context of this shaky present that is my current state of health.  It is really nice to have someone sit beside me while I research new physicians and hospital centers, someone who (although we haven’t seen each other in six months) is okay with just sitting beside me while the TV plays.

This past weekend I went with 25 other seminary students from Chicago to Gettysburg for a flag-football tournament called Lutherbowl.  Within 48 hours, I drove past my home city of Cleveland twice, and I have to admit, a part of my spirit broke a bit to be so close to home without actually being able to be home.  I love Chicago, I love my seminary, I love my classmates and budding friendships, and as a whole, I really love the new life I am building here.  But when things get a bit grey, I really miss the familiarity of my home.

It was really sacred for me to have a piece of home here with me today.  Today my sister turned 30 years old, and I wasn’t there.  Today I struggled inside my apartment to physically move around, and no one was here.  But tonight I have someone who loves me sleeping on an air-mattress on my living room floor.  When I wake up and head off to meet a new doctor, I will have someone familiar sharing that morning coffee with me.  And when I return home with more decisions to make, I will have an hour with someone from my home to talk that process through with.  It will only be an hour before he heads on his way, but an hour in the familiar is worth just as much as three days in the unfamiliar.

Tonight I bask in the glory of the familiar, and give my thanks to God for providing me with someone who loves me when I needed it the most.

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Authentic Intimacy

“But tell me now where was my fault, for loving you with my whole heart?” – Mumford & Sons, “White Blank Page”

Someone once asked me if I understood if and when I created a false sense of intimacy.  At the time, this was a friend asking if I was escalating romantic relationships in my mind over what was actually happening.  She challenged me to see the relationship for what it was, and not to over analyze of or imagine an emotional trust that was not yet there. 

These were really wise words for me at the time.  I had been desperately seeking a strong, intimately emotional relationship with another person, and there were times when I viewed those relationships through a Nora-Roberts-romance-novel set of eyes.  

I have come a long way since those days when a first date would make me think I had found a life-time confident.  I have come such a long way, in fact, that I think I have an almost overly realistic perspective of what romantic relationships may be.

However, I am in the pressure cooker that is what we call the seminary experience.   It occurred to me today that while I am entering relationships with potential beau’s with a better sense of reality, there is a small part of me that still wants to create a false sense of intimacy with my female friends. 

Coming to Chicago has been an interesting transition for me on a variety of levels.  In addition to the change of moving here and having all of my friends and daily associates change, this move happened at the same time my best friend got married.  An honest and open marriage asks for each partner to make each other their priority, and I want to be respectful of the fact that her priorities are different now.  When other friends have gotten married, I was not as prepared for that change, so I promised myself upon her marriage I would be the friend that is a true best friend – honoring that sacred change in her life. 

While she is still the best friend a girl could have, I am still missing the regular BFF communication.  I am an external processor.  I need to not only see my thoughts as they flow across the pages of my journal, I also need a didactic exchange of those same thoughts.  There is something about the dialogue that helps me grow and evolve, and as much as I love talking to God in prayer, I also like to have my listener respond back to me.  

It is in moments of craving that external processing that I need to remember my habits of wanting to create a false sense of intimacy.  While being in the pressure cooker may make it feel like I have known my neighbor and fellow students for a life time, in truth, I have actually only known these people for a few weeks.  Despite the fact that we are together almost every second of every day, in the context of our lives we have really only been with one another for the blink of an eye. 

The problem of creating a false sense of intimacy is that we create bonds that are non-authentic.  The pressure of those bonds wears on the relationship, putting a strain that neither person can support.  The relationship can be worn down to the point that they will never be able to support new levels of intimacy when they actually are at a place where they should be introduced. 

It’s a balance.  As Christians sharing our lives with one another, we want to trust everyone with everything all the time.  We want to show God’s love to each other and be the presence of Christ to our neighbor.  Those are good ideals, but we need to allow ourselves the time for the relationship to develop by its own volition.  

I am fortunate that I have been able to share so much of myself with these people in my new community.  I am fortunate that I have people who want to engage me and process with me and grow with me.  I am forming intimate, meaningful relationships, and it is wonderful that for the most part, there is nothing false about them.  The intimacy that we are sharing with each other is real, and has the potential to grow.  The goal is to continue letting these connections develop on their natural course, setting aside the assumptions of intimacy that comes from being in the pressure-cooker of seminary.  I also have the goal to hear people when those lines do get crossed, and to vocalize when others cross mine.  Honest and respectful vocalization takes intimacy to the next level, allowing us the opportunity to form Christ-like relationships.  

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Hold on Hope

“I know my call despite my faults and despite my growing fears.  But I will hold on hope.” – Mumford & Sons, The Cave.

I had an unexpected treat today – a friend from Cleveland was swinging through Chicago and stopped by Hyde Park to have lunch with me.

It is always so nice to see a someone from home, and it was especially nice to see him because we had met each other when I was at a very different point in my life.  He and I had worked together at the library, which was the last job I had before I began my life in ministry.  I remember spending hours and hours with him at a local coffee shop talking philosophy, or having dinner at a nearby brewery where we debated morally ambiguity.  When I look back at that time in my life, I’m really grateful for his accepting friendship especially because I was unaware of how frantic I was to find my true self.  I was unable to see my spirit haunting for a sense of identity until I found my place in God’s church.

Seeing my friend today reminded me of how whole I feel now that I have accepted that God accepts me.  It was really beautiful, in fact, to be able to share this sense of calm with someone who really knew me when I wasn’t.  So you can imagine my surprise when he asked me, “Okay, don’t take this the wrong way, but outside of work where’s your passion?  When you look at the end of your life and you take work out of the equation, what do you want to be?”

His question took me by surprise.  My passions are so tied up with my sense of call and how that will play out in my work in God’s church that I didn’t really know how to answer him.  Before – when we met – I wanted to write.  Now I write all the time.  I wanted to be around great music – music is a lifeblood of the Lutheran church.  I wanted to listen and be present with people who are often overlooked – I have been privileged to be present to so many powerful moments than I ever expected.  I was passionate about going new places – I now live in a city far away from anything I have ever known.  Almost every major passion I have ever had has started to fulfill when I realized that God saw me in this role.

All my passions except for one.  When my mind stopped reeling, I looked at my friend and said, “I know this is something you never expected me to say, but when I one day look at my life, I want to know that I was a good wife.”

The part of me that was raised to be an independent woman sort of cringes at the thought that my one passion to obtain is that of being a wife.  I have always struggled with women whose entire sense of identity was wrapped up in another earthly person.  I never wanted to be someone who was defined by someone else.

Oddly enough, I have been defined by someone else.   Unlike many examples of women I know who picked a living/breathing man to fill that role, that someone else who defined me is our Triune God.  I’m not looking for someone to complete me because my someone else has validated and shown me that I am complete just the way I am.  Sure, I have things I want to work on and growing edges on my soul, but when push comes to shove, I’m a pretty solid person.  I want to get married and be a wife because I want to know what it is like to share that complete self with another person.  I want to learn how to grow with someone else, how to experience that sacred intimacy that I have with God in a relationship here on earth.

For me, that’s what my intention upon entering marriage will be – to celebrate God’s love and acceptance with another person.  My passion is to unite with that person because we recognize and cherish together how God helps us live out our passions in our every day lives.  Figuring out how this will play out in my life terrifies me.  I wonder if I have what it takes to be the kind of wife who treats each day with her spouse as a sacred blessing.

Today, meeting with my friend, I realized that my life today is already light-years away from anything I ever hoped my life could be.  My reality far outweighs any ideal I was ever passionate about.  In my heart, I believe that when I am with the person I am supposed to be with, I will one day look back at this time in my life and feel the same way, and that feeling will be a sense of astonishment of the joy in my life.   I will continue to hold on hope, having faith that my passion is before me.

Looking back, maybe my passions haven’t changed.  My passions back then were based in hope, and in hope they still remain.

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“In a murderous time/the heart breaks and breaks/and lives by breaking./It is necessary to go/through dark and deeper dark/and not to turn.” – Stanley Kunitz, “The Testing Tree.”

The wind is howling, the rain is splattering the windows and the cold air is sneaking through a crack in my storm windows on my sun porch.  It is also 2:15 in the morning and the night is so dark.

I have just spent the past five hours writing a family narrative for my pastoral care course, and as exhausted as I am, no sleep in this moment would prove restful.  Spending time reviewing the major relationships in your life is one of those bittersweet blessings.  We are who we are because of where we’ve been, and that path is neither right or wrong – it just is.  In the aftermath of that self introspection it is a murderous time for reflection, and I need to wallow a few moments in the things left undone.

We Lutherans use this phrase a lot.  When we confess our sins, we pray for what is done and what is left undone.  We recognize that inaction can be just as harmful as uncensored action.  We own our lack of claiming ownership.  But on a night like this, when nostalgia and melancholy remind us that our pasts are not perfect and still impact our futures, I can’t help but think about the things left undone.

Like the relationships I didn’t nurture.  Like the sleep I’m currently not getting.  Like the money I didn’t tithe or put into savings.  Like the things I didn’t say to a person I loved that I will never see again.  Like the things I can’t bring myself to say to a person I know I could love.

We are constantly in search of balance, of blind faith and steadfast reason.  There are moments when we take leaps that our hearts couldn’t imagine, while other days the most simplest of decisions haunts us the our core.

Perhaps haunting is a bit extreme, but on a late October night when hallowed eves shadow our paths, it is easy to get lost in the thrill of the darkness.  There is a part of our essence that loves the anguish, loves the tension.  When we leave things undone, we are often inviting ourselves to live in the state of unknowing for a bit longer, building the tension that stops genuine healing from happening.

There are some things left undone that need to be done, some wounds that need to be tended and some relationships that need to be formed.  There are some people we need to allow ourselves to love so we one day do not look back and regret that we didn’t take the chance on something that could turn our darkness into light – even if that person to love is ourselves.

It is necessary to go to dark and deeper dark and not to turn, as long as we remain moving, not leaving our futures undone.

 

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Why Are We so Angry?

“Ignorance and understanding – we’re the first ones to jump in line.  Out of step for what we believe in, but who’s left to stop the bleeding?” – Sum 41, Still Waiting

Why can’t we all just get along?

Don’t hate me for writing such an overly used sentiment, but as we talk about Christians working with other Christians for the goodness of God’s church, why can’t we get along?  Perhaps that isn’t the right question, maybe a better one to ask is why are we so angry?

Tonight I was blessed to be on the receiving end of a free meal thanks to the generosity of my friend’s mother.  This mother is a music director for a church and had come into town for a Hymn Festival held at my seminary.  I’m not even sure how the conversation traveled in the way it did, but towards the end of the meal, those of us at the table were talking about how hard it is to work ecumenically with some denominations because “they just don’t accept us.”

Us and them.  Their way and our way.  Right and wrong.  While no one tonight said the last couplet, I can think back to hundreds of times over the past few years when I have heard people who are untied under Christ draw lines in the sand between one camp and another.  What hadn’t occurred to me before today is that we are not only frustrated with these barriers, but we are downright angry about them.

We are angry that in some denominations women are called to the pulpit where in others we aren’t.  We are angry that because of our confession styles we can’t participate in communion in one parish while we invite that church to commune with us.  We are angry that some parishes even within our own denomination won’t call openly gay pastors while we struggle to create a reconciled church.  We are so angry.

I personally love a little bit of indignation.  I think it is not only important to know what you stand for, but I also think it’s vital for the progression of our church to take a stand in a public way about how we feel we can help connect others to Christ.  But I struggle quite a bit when the anger of barriers keeps us from remembering that our whole mission is to connect others to Christ.

If we are so  busy beating up on each other (or being heart-broken every time we feel we are being theologically beaten upon) that we are in a constant state of injury, who is going to bandage us?  We are to angry with each other to heal each other, and we often turn our backs on the nature of rest that would take away the need for a bandage to begin with.

We claim to preach and teach of a world where all are welcomed into God’s family, but we seem to forget that no family sees eye-to-eye all the time.  It is asinine to think we are going to agree on everything, and while I don’t think anyone is suggesting that we will, we still revel in the state of being angry on what we don’t share far more often than celebrating together what we do share.

I myself am guilty of this.  I like all-inclusive language, contemporary praise and worship music, communion every Sunday, and public confession.  I believe that women and same-sex couples can share the Gospel with the same authority as any heterosexual male, and I believe that people should tithe to their church.  These are all things that I’m sure someone, somewhere will take issue with.  Not only is that okay, but in some ways it is a good thing.  Being questioned and having to explain my faith to others helps me better understand how that faith transforms my life, even when it is not always welcome to transform others.

That sort of self-awareness shouldn’t make us angry, but should make us crave opportunities to explore our hearts through the pondering of anothers theology.  That is the gift of ecumenism – the never-ending opportunity to participate in discussions on how we know that we are loved.

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“We are not called to legislate people’s hearts.  We are called to spread the good news.” – Erik Christensen

This evening I went with a few of my friends to see the new Jason Statham movie, “Killer Elite”.  We picked this movie for a few reasons – I had a coupon, my one friend looks as if he could be Jason’s kid brother, and nothing makes you realize how normal your life is like an action film.  True to just about every Statham movie ever made, the main character was a former-bad-guy who was trying to make a new start but because of outside circumstances just couldn’t get it together until he exacted revenge.  You know, the every-man problem, only with car chase scenes.

For some reason, this movie got me thinking about a lecture I heard from an openly gay pastor who has a parish on the North-side of Chicago.  Rev. Christensen spoke a great deal about having patience with justice movements, and realizing that even though a situation can be frustrating, that doesn’t necessarily give us the authority to impose.  The only authority we are truly given as ministers of God is to spread the good news of Christ.

That in and of itself is no easy task.  I hate being patient, hate being steadfast in the wait for people to come around to my way of thinking, which obviously (*sarcastic cough*) is the right way to think.  Not only do I want to prove to people that my way is the easy way, my way is the high way, my way is the right way, but I want to exact revenge on the people who won’t give me the chance to help a situation get it together.

Maybe revenge is to harsh of a word.  I don’t want others to suffer, but if success is the best revenge, then I want my efforts to be the most successful so people can see that I’m right.  It’s for the glory of God, after all.

Or is it?  Do our actions speak to people from the outside, commanding that others experience God?  Or do our actions walk into the midst of where people are uncertain, and travel along side them as they experience God in a way that is authentic to them?

I don’t think there is an easy answer to this question.  I also don’t think there is an easy answer to why certain people are called to public ministry while others are called to lay ministry.  I can’t speak to what will be the thing that helps someone show God’s love and grace to the world, and I can’t always be sure that my actions are the ones that will be a demonstration for it.

There needs to be room to allow it to be okay when we don’t hit the mark, when people don’t quite get it right.  We need to recognize that our way is not always the right way, and that no matter how just we feel in supporting a cause or ideal God will find a way to rewrite the law that lives in people’s hearts.

I will never forget my experience in Atlanta, Georgia, this summer when I studied with the Academy of Preachers.  For five days I heard the word of God shared through the outlet of mouths whose theology’s are totally different than mine, whose laws of morality are the polar opposite of everything I stand for.  And yet, in the midst of being diss-similar to one another, I not only heard the voice of God but heard God speak directly to me.  In that hearing I was reminded that I am loved, valued, and protected.

That’s the good news that writes is beyond any law or idea.

 

The following is a prayer for clergy about honest service written by Randall L. Hyvonen, based on Isaiah 50:4-9a, and Psalm 116:1-9

O God, help us understand that, as we answer your call to serve others, there may be those who will not respond as we hope – those who may want to humiliate us or insult us or strike out against us.  Help us to remember that when we reach out to you, you will hear our cries and give us the gifts we need: You will give us lounges to teach; you will open our ears to hear; and you will give us the strength to be firm like flint…all so that, as we respond to others, we mirror your constant grace and mercy.  Amen

Hyvonen’s prayer comes from Maren C. Tirabassi &  Maria Tirabassi’s “Before the Amen: Creative Resources for Worship”, Pilgrim Press, Cleveland, 2007

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“(Church) Politicians instinctively seek the middle – but this is not necessarily where the best solution is to be found!” – Dr. Mark Swanson

Today has been a strangely prophetic day.

After totally bombing a Pentateuch quiz, I attended a lunch for a student group called Thesis 96.  This group helps to provide support for the LGBTQI community in seminary, and helps people who identify themselves as straight learn how to speak publically in an accountable way on behalf of our non-straight brothers and sisters.  It also is a place where we can talk about how we can continue the reconciliation movement when we are no longer in the safety of seminary (aka, a real-life parish).

Today’s lunch featured a speaker who was “ordained under extraordinary circumstances” – which basically means was one of the 9 people in the history of the ELCA to be an openly straight man who was ordained before the 2009 Church-wide decision to call openly gay and lesbian clergy to parishes.

He spoke a message of peace and non-violence, advocating to my fellow students and I that there needs to be patience and compassion when trying to reconcile a church.  It was so powerful to hear this amazing man’s testimony, and I can’t help but feel ironic that it happened on the same day when the “Occupy Wall-Street” demonstrations were going on throughout Chicago and the rest of the country.

What is the balance between peace and action?  When do we rally, and when do we wait?  What is our call as public leaders of a church to speak out about injustices – be they race, financial, related to gender, or sexual orientation?

In my history class tonight, there was a great discussion about the importance of theological fury.  It’s what motivated Martin Luther.  It’s what motivated Martin Luther King, Jr.  It’s what motivated the speaker today at Thesis 96.  It is what motivated my fellow students who protested why I sat in a class learning about how it motivates the world.

I am proud of my fellow Christians who are not afraid to take a public stand and proclaim what they know is right, and at the same time I think we need to be cautious that we don’t get lost in our zeal for change that we block the roadway for making that change a reality.  We also need to be authentic to ourselves.  Some of us are called to picket and risk being arrested, and some of us are called to go into a seminary and speak about change that comes from a quiet, forgiving resistance.

I’m not quite sure where I fall in this.  I write letters to my congress person, and I share my social justice views in conversation and blogs.  I am proud of my friends who will march the street with signs, but I don’t know if I’m ready to take that stand.  I don’t know if that is the stand I’m called to take.  I think I’m called to go to meetings, oversee websites, and publish literature about the people who are marching on the line.  And today, listening to the kind speaker I witnessed at lunch, I realized that was just as important of a calling as when Martin Luther nailed his theses on the church doors.

Solutions are found in not in the middle, but on all edges of the spectrum, and I am proud to be part of a community who tries to show the beautiful range that spectrum can be.

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