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Archive for February, 2012

I never knew how much I loved my family until I moved to Chicago.

It would be an understatement to say that my family works hard on being a family.  We have literally gone to hell and back together more than once, I have seen any one of those trips cripple other families in similar situations enough to realize that the connection we have to one another is sacred.  That is not to say it is easy.  We work really, really hard.  Over the years, we have learned to be honest with each other, which is hard.  We have learned to be transparent with each other, which is hard.  We have learned that when we say “we’re sorry” to actually mean it and that saying “you’re forgiven” is not about forgetting the past but a step in working towards being reconciled with one another.  It has been a process, one that still causes us to stumble at times, but we keep on keeping on because our love for one another is based on more than blood ties.  I know that this is not possible for all families. I even know that this is not always possible for some members in my extended family, particularly on one side which is so fragmented that more people don’t speak to each other than the ones that do.

Coming to Chicago has been an awakening to me for all of these things.  Last night was the last night my mom was in town, and while we were at dinner, I asked her a lot of family system type questions, both about our immediate family and her years growing up.  In hind sight, I now realize what a bizarre conversation that was.  Over the years I learned that learning about your family helps you learn about yourself, but I never quite felt safe enough to ask them because I didn’t want to come across as a gossip.  Something has shifted, mostly in my trust level, and I know I can ask my mother about her mother without fear that she will think that my intention to be the paparazzi of my family.

Maybe it’s because I’m older and theoretically wiser.  Maybe it’s because I’ve healed wounds of my past.  Maybe it’s because being in seminary allows one to study human nature in a way that is based on trust, forgiveness, and perpetual new starts.  I don’t know why the shift happened, but I do know that I long for my family constantly and with each fleeting moment we have together I recognize how much they mean to me.

It makes moving forward hard.

Valentine from my niece, Phoebe

Over the past few days I have really struggled with where I should do my CPE (clinical pastoral education) field work this summer.  It came down to two choices, one site in Cleveland near my family and one in a different state.  There will be few opportunities over the next several decades that I will have a strong choice in where I will live.  The call process to pastor a parish is more often than not a process not based on individual choice.  When I have been practicing ministry for 15 years or so, then possibly, but even that is no guarantee.  So the notion that I can choose to be near my family and not take that choice is a really hard decision to make.  My niece and nephew will only be little kids for so long, and I miss spending time with my parents and sister.  Eleven weeks are not long when you’re studying, but it is forever when you are missing people you love.  How could I not choose them, even if I felt that I would learn more from another program?  I have already made such huge transitions on behalf of my sense of vocation, but when will the time come when the decisions will be more clear?

With my mom at my side and my friend on the other, this morning I accepted a position at one of those two sites – and it was the one away from my family.  My heart feels settled that I have made the choice.  In the midst of excitement of what this will mean I am also experiencing the small tinge of grief that comes with knowing I am missing out on more time with people who I love so dearly.  I am so excited about the summer and know this was the right decision, but I also realize that this decision came at a cost.  This joy is not without sacrifice, and even as I move forward into an exciting future I am still leaving a part of myself behind.

Once again, though, my dear four-year-old niece Phoebe saved me from my melancholy.  This afternoon when I checked my mail, I received a valentine from her.  She drew me a picture of me in my bed (thanks to my sister, Tricia, who wrote captions!).  Phoebe may have drawn that picture she knows that Aunt Tina needs a lot of sleep to be healthy against lupus.  Maybe she just learned how to draw beds.  But I’d like to think she drew that picture because when she comes to visit me we snuggle together in my bed.  I’d like to think she remembers how we used to read books together while lying underneath the covers.  I’d like to think she drew that bed because she knows that even though I’m not with her most of the time, she will always have a welcome place in my home – wherever that may be.

Tonight I give thanks for my family, and the hope that they know that even when I can’t hold them in my arms I hold them in my heart.

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Beautiful Ensemble

Tonight my mom and I went saw a jazz trio perform.  My mom is in town for the holiday weekend, and I have to admit going to a jazz concert was a new venture for the two of us to do together.  It was a lot of fun sharing that experience with her, and as I watched these musicians perform I started thinking of what it means to be fulfilled.

I was memorized watching the guy with the stand-up base.  There were times when you could see that he was totally wrapped up in the music, his leg jiggling, his eyes closed, rocking back and forth as his fingers flew across the strings.  There was no doubt that playing music was fulfilled his spirit.

One of the things that I love about my mom is that she is a person who is fulfilled by her work, which is teaching students with special needs.  I recently started a new job working for St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan’s Square, and for the first time since moving to Chicago, I am feeling fulfilled.  Like my mom, work fulfills me.  It is more than just the process of going to a job – I really enjoy being in service to others.  I love being a part of a system that is bigger then myself, seeing how that system will move forward because of my individual skill sets and the skill sets of others.  I love seeing these individual gifts brought by different people blend together into a common mission.

This is different then having others fulfill me, which I don’t think I realized before coming to seminary.  There is a difference between needing to be validated from an external source and seeing how the skill sets that God has validated internally merge with others.  It is very much like the bassist at tonight’s performance.  He needed the support of the rest of the ensemble to help showcase his skill sets, and it was only being a part of an ensemble that the uniqueness of his gift were really demonstrated.

I believe this is one of the gifts of being in Christian community with each other.  When we work together as one ensemble, we have the support to let our gifts ring out.  We have the freedom to make mistakes because the rest of our community will carry forth the tune until even when we miss a beat.

I am continually amazed by the joys that come with in community with one another, and how often I am reminded of those joys, even when that reminder comes from the notes of a jazz trio.

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Click the following link to watch an interview by Day1, Four Young Preachers on Reaching this Generation, from the National Festival of Young Preachers held in Louisville, KY in January 2012.

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Steadfast Humility

Today I said goodbye to an amazing woman who I have only known for a few hours but who has impacted me more than I think she will ever know.

Yesterday I began working as a part-time administrative assistant for St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan’s Square, and have spent the last two days training with my predecessor.  This kind, unassuming woman served St. Luke’s faithfully for 31 years, many of which as the only staff person, including pastoral staff.  It was partially in thanks to her steadfast devotion that this parish was able to take some risks which eventually allowed it to rebuild itself.  Looking at the three decades she was at St. Luke’s, at the highs and the lows, the challenges and the triumphs, and I can’t help but recognize that this parish would look very different today if she had not been a part of the process.

What I think is the most inspiring characteristic of this truly lovely person is how humble she is.  It takes a strong person to last 31 years in ministry.  It takes a resilient person to spend that time in one institution, especially when that institution came close to closing its doors.  One would think that someone who weathered the storm successfully for so many years may have some sense of entitlement, some sort of self-righteousness.  But not this woman.  As she passed what could be passed of her knowledge unto me, not once did she boast.  Not once in her stories could I separate her successes from the church’s.  Not once did she imply that the church would be at a loss without her.  Instead, she looked to the future of what my ministry would be at St. Luke’s, being excited about the work that is to come even as her time there ended.

I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution this year, but from this day forward I am resolving to try to embrace some of the humility of my predecessor.  It is all too easy to become a minister who is so self involved that they can’t tell the difference between church branding and ego stroking.  It is challenging to be progressive in this field while still keeping in check that the progression really has nothing to do with you personally.  There are times in ministry where we need to take a public role and to discuss the work that we’ve done, but our intention should not be to pat ourselves on the back but rather use that experience to help inspire the future of our community.

We ended our time with my predecessor today by reflecting together on her ministry at St. Luke’s.  If ever there is a time when one may seek a compliment of their work, I think the final moments of a 31-year-career would be it. But self congratulations were not her way.  Instead of thinking of herself, in her humility she prayed for the future of St. Luke’s, giving thanks for its people, the senior pastor, and surprisingly, even me.

Humility of that magnitude can only come from a deep love for God and the people of God.  The power of that love washed over me and has inspired me to rededicate myself to a life of service to others and not service to myself.  As I continue along in my time in ministry, I pray that at the end of my career my focus will be as centered on God as the woman who I have had the privilege of getting to know these past few days.

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“All we say to America is, ‘Be true to what you said on paper.'” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, referring to First Amendment rights in his speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountain”

The spring semester of seminary is in full swing, and today as I sat in my worship class I learned something new about juxtaposition.  My professor explained that in Lutheran liturgy we juxtapose two different things, like the Word and Sacrament or a Hebrew Bible or New Testament lesson, to see an underlying truth.  It is in comparing two things that seem completely unrelated that we are able to recognize a hidden truth that unites them intimately to one another, and ultimately ourselves.

I am not yet a week back from a trip to El Salvador where I was given the unique privilege of juxtaposing the Salvadoran experience to my own U.S. citizen experience.  I can say unequivocally that seeing these two cultures side-by-side in the context of my existence exposed a third and more pure truth.  The entirety of that truth is still unfolding for me, but a component that I cannot deny is that despite all odds, the grace and strength of humanity will ultimately ring true.

This cart pulled the casket of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at his funeral.

This past Monday I began a class on the theology of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  To be honest, I wasn’t entirely jazzed about taking this class.  I registered for it because I needed to fill a requirement and it fit really well within my schedule.  It’s not that I didn’t want to study Dr. King, per say, but in conjunction with my personal history, my overall love of liberation theology, and my past employment history, I felt that I have a strong understanding of the prophetic voice of this amazing American theologian.  I was hoping that I may be able to dig deep into a different American theologian to broaden my horizon, so to speak.  Unfortunately, that option wasn’t available to me at this point at my seminary, so I signed up for the Dr. King course.

I am so grateful things unfolded the way they have and I am now studying his theology at this moment in my life.  The very first day of class, we watched a moving documentary about Dr. King and the civil rights movements.  Coming off the heels of my Salvadoran experience, images I have previously seen and sermons I could quote by heart are now shed in a completely different light.  The juxtaposition of speaking to people who personally knew and worked with Archbishop Romero, a liberation theologist and civil rights advocate of El Salvador, my heart was moved in a way that it had never been before at the work of Dr. King and his contemporaries.

The body of Archbishop Romero

I watched as hoses were turned on African-Americans as they registered to vote, and I was reminded of monuments to the civilian Salvadorans who have disappeared or been missing for 20 years.  In the movie, I saw African-Americans kneel in prayer as they began the march on Selma, and I was reminded that Salvadorans celebrate a special liturgy at the foot of Archbishop Romero’s body.  I watched Dr. King’s casket being pulled down the street by a horse and buggy, the same buggy I saw in person in Atlanta not more than 5 months ago, and I was reminded of hearing the testimony of Catholic nuns who carried Archbishop Romero’s lifeless body out of the chapel where he had been shot into the bed of a truck.  As I listened to Dr. King tell people that we should hold our local governments accountable to the rights granted to every U.S. citizen in the First Amendment, I was reminded of the apology from President Funes to the Salvadoran people for the government’s role in the massacre of El Mozote.

Perhaps the most striking juxtaposition was watching Dr. King’s work in Chicago, recognizing that many of the same issues of racial injustice that promoted their march here are issues that my community is still facing today, issues that can be found in any major city be it Chicago, San Salvador or in the West Bank.

And while comparing these situations side-by-side may seem like there are more obstacles ahead of us than behind us, the third truth is still revealed.  No matter what our challenges, no matter how much we have suffered, been abused or let down, we still can unite together and make a difference.  The Salvadoran people are working together to try to rebuild their communities in healthy ways 20 years after the signing of the Peace Accords which ended their civil war.  U.S. Citizens still advocate for racial justice 40 plus years after the death of Dr. King.  The third truth is that no matter what the challenge, the strength of the human spirit when supported by other advocates can truly make a change in the world.

The road may be long, the challenges may be mountainous, but the ability to move forward is always before us because our efforts our supported by a God who loves us enough to weep when we weep, celebrate in our triumphs, and who has provided us with the comrades needed to carry on our journey.

There are times when our theologies will be different, when it seems like our plight is one that no one else can understand.  It is then we need to juxtapose those theologies and see the third truth, that truth of strength, which will help us keep on keeping on.

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Click the following link to watch an interview by Day1, Four Young Preachers Hope for the Future, at the National Festival of Young Preachers held in Louisville, KY in January 2012.

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