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Archive for March, 2012

This past week has provided me with two powerful worship experiences.  On Sunday, I was officially installed at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square, the parish where I serve as their administrative assistant.  On Monday, I was part of a healing service that I helped plan with my dear friend.

When you spend as much time in chapel as seminarians tend to do, it can be hard to have your spirit feel fed.  I know for myself worship has felt an awful lot like business this semester.  I’m taking a course on worship, and I find myself examining the execution services;  Did the pastor hold her arms out when she greeted the congregation? Is the sermon based on the lectionary?  How does the assembly dispose of the left-over sacramental elements?  Add to these questions that fact that I have spent the last six weeks scouting congregations to complete my field work at next year, and it can be hard to set aside business and just worship.

So imagine my surprise when I was nurtured at the two services that were actually supposed to be work.

I had never planned a worship service before, and I was more than a little terrified for Monday.  I was fortunate to be working with someone I trust a great deal.  We planned this service with the intention that we would create awareness for sexual and domestic assault survivors.  This is a subject that hits very close to home.  In my own healing and work with survivors I have longed to be a part of service that did not back down from naming the evil that is assault.  I give thanks to my friend who knows that finding a voice for survivors in worship is important to the ministry of our church.  I also give thanks that our preacher on Monday was a pastor who did not try to dress up “sexual assault and domestic violence” with ambiguous and flowery words but to name it as it is.  Because we were able to name the evil, we created a space where people felt safe to come forward and receive healing for all sorts of pain, assault and beyond.  As I and three others sang “Grace Like Rain,” almost every person in the assembly went to prayer stations and were anointed.  I felt my knees buckle at the magnitude of our communities openness to feel God’s love for them.  The Holy Spirit was truly present in that place, and in that moment there was no doubt that the gospel reached our community.  I will carry the feeling of that day in my heart forever.

I will also carry the memory of being installed at St. Luke’s with me forever.  I loved working for Pilgrim UCC, loved how I was stretched and grew within that community.  I learned that God was calling me into pastoral ministry because of Pilgrim, and there will never be a time when I will forget that it was that environment that nurtured the journey I am on today.  But standing up in front of a new body of believers and committing myself to service in them in light of the scriptures and our shared Lutheran confessions solidifies my sense of vocation in a way that I cannot explain.  God has called me to the Lutheran church because God wants me to bear witness to our confessional doctrine that we are justified by grace through faith in Christ without works righteousness.  I can live out that vocation and discover what sort of leader I am being called to be in a Lutheran church in a way that I cannot live out in a different denomination.  It is one thing to say theoretically that I will uphold Lutheran confessional doctrine, but it is something else entirely to make that promise publicly before God and witnesses.  Making such promises makes my position not just a job, but a relationship.  It is humbling to realize that I have been invited into this relationship, and that God will continue to invite me into relationships in future communities.

It is a miraculous thing to be a part of a profession where doing your work enriches your spirit, and I give thanks that I can experience such miracles.

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The following article was originally written for the community of Divinity Lutheran Church of Parma Heights, OH

You never really know when the things you learn in second grade will end up helping you as an adult.

This semester I am taking a class called “Jesus and the Gospels,” where we are studying the differences between each group of authors for each canonical (found in our Bible) Gospel.  Each Gospel represents Jesus, the disciples and the communities in different ways, and has a very distinct style to it.  For example, did you realize that the Gospel of Mark has a sense of urgency to it?  We are right now in the year of Mark in our lectionary, and I urge you to be on the lookout for how often we see Mark use the word “immediately.”  Immediately Jesus rises, immediately spirits depart, immediately characters go forth and share the news of what Jesus has done.  There is no waiting.  For Mark, things need to happen right away, and we as scholars need to think about what that urgency means in our understanding of Jesus’ ministry.

My professor for this class is the noted Revelations scholar, Dr. Barbara Rossing.  Some of you may remember her as the person who wrote the book for the Revelations study group not too long ago, others of you may recognize her as being one of the editors of the Lutheran Study Bible.  It seems that Dr. Rossing is a bit like the authors of Mark, because she too wants things to happen immediately.  We constantly have to flip back and forth between the Old and New Testaments, and if you can’t remember the books in order, Dr. Rossing’s urgency catches up to you.

In fact, one day Dr. Rossing told us that as pastors it was our responsibility to get the books of the Bible memorized in sequential order, and to learn it fast.  She mentioned that she had learned a song for memorizing the books of the New Testament, and asked if anyone had any tricks for learning the Old Testament.  I tentatively raised my hand and told her that when I was in second grade my Sunday School teacher taught us songs for both the Old and New Testament.  My friend Angie, who is also from the North-Eastern Ohio Synod, also knew the tunes and we were commissioned to teach our class how to sing the books of the Bible.  As embarrassing as it is to be 27 years old and singing a tune I grew up with in a graduate class, I was never so grateful to have been a student of Terry Revelock as I was that day.  I think it’s ironic that the Ohio girls were the only one in a class of 31 people who had a jingle for both the Old and New Testament.

We never really know when the roots of our faith are going to prove to be helpful for our lives.  On that day, it was a tune I learned from my second grade Sunday school teacher.  Right now, as we continue to recover from the devastating effect of the Chardon High School shooting, the memories of our faith may be one of the few things that bring us hope in a challenging time.  We never know when one moment will impact a bunch of future moments, and because of not knowing we need to continue to take opportunities that will enrich our faith.

My life is a great example of this.  I was raised in a church, have worked for churches, been involved in church my whole life and for the first time am recognizing that the Gospel of Mark says immediately over and over again.  I don’t exactly know what that will mean for the larger formation of my faith, just like I didn’t know in the second grade that a simple song would help me connect to my classmates in seminary.   But it is really special to know that our faith continues to grow and expand, and that there is always a surprise right around the corner.

Wishing you God’s Peace and Blessings,

Rev. Sem. Tina Heise

P.S. Thanks, Mrs. Revelock, and all my Sunday School Teachers, for helping my journey down this road.  It means more than I can ever say.

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Over the past few days in Chicago and on my news-feed there have been a lot of commentaries regarding the tragic  death of Trayvon Martin.  Most of them are crying out at the injustice of this situation.  People are crying out that even though this young man died in February we are just now seeing the shockwaves hit social media sites and blogs. People are crying out that the fight against racism seems to be a never-ending battle.  People are crying out that despite saying that we are counter-cultural, that we are for the innocent, Trayvon’s death still hasn’t been preached about from many pulpits.  There is a great grieving in our nation, and in our grief we can feel alone.

I was struck by this sense of loneliness when one of my best friends and a dear colleague wrote about here fear for her African-American brother as a white woman.  She spoke of how hard it is to be a white person and see the unnecessary persecution her brother experiences solely because of the color of his skin.  I felt her loneliness, because I myself grew up in a multi-racial household.  My brother was black, and often a pretty challenging person to be around.  He was challenging not because he was black, but because he was just a difficult person.  Because of the racism that is so prevalent but we try to ignore, I cannot talk about those challenges without the fear that it will give people an excuse to condemn an entire ethnic group.  I have told the story of my brother leaving my family many times, and more often than I would like to admit people ask me, “How does this affect how you feel about black people?”  I am tempted to counter and say, “You don’t talk to your dad anymore. Does this affect how you see white people?”  It would be futile to ask such questions because the answer is obvious.  The fact that I am asked such questions when they would not consider to ask such questions to themselves shows me how we still need to work on equality.

While I ache for the family of Trayvon Martin, my heart burns with a fever for those who die that are not named, for the unknown victims that live in our own backyards.  Another colleague wrote about her struggle with knowing she is treated different because she is white.  In that same post, she noted that in one week on the Southside of Chicago, the community I call home, 49 people were shot and 10 people were killed.  It burns within my heart that I do not know the names of those people, and that I am only learning of the name of Trayvon now.  I am reminded how weeks after the Chardon school shooting I still only know the names of two of the students who died.  I long for the strength of Archbishop Romero, who at the end of every homily read the names of everyone who was reported to have disappeared or died within his country.

I find it ironic that the story of Trayvon’s death has become a fixture in Chicago news the same weekend that the Hunger Games hit the theaters.  This is a movie based on a book that points out the horror that can befall a society at the hands of the unjust being in power.  I think about the thousands of people, myself included, who watched that movie, thinking of how fortunate I am that I do not live in a world where I am entered into a death lottery every time I prevent myself from starving.  However, when I hopped into my car and drove home from the theater, I passed the homeless people begging for change and didn’t even bat an eye.  I can’t help now but think of the 49 people whose names I do not know, wondering if those people where people I overlooked as I left a $12 movie to drive home in my comfy car.  I further wonder, is it easier for us to know Trayvon’s name instead of those 49 because he was a good kid from a good home?  Would we be marching protests if Trayvon had been begging for change instead of buying skittles?

There are no answers to such questions.  There are no easy answers to why we know the names of some victims and not others, why it is easier for us to be appalled at a movie instead of appalled at our own  inept actions.  I do not regret knowing the name Trayvon Martin, nor do I regret that our community is using our grief over his death to serve as an example to our society that there is still much work to be done.  In times like this, when we feel so alone in our inability to move forward, we need to look at a picture of a sweet boy and write his names on posters and blog articles.  We need to be in solidarity with his family because it forces us to become accountable to one another, to give a face and name to the 49 and thousands of others who are forgotten within our midst.

This Wednesday, March 28, a group of seminarians will be marching from the 11am chapel service of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago to a prayer vigil in our community.  All who would like to attend are asked to wear hoodies in solidarity of Trayvon, and those with collars are asked to wear collars with their hoodies in solidarity to all of the lives lost within our community.  I would so love to be at that vigil, but I have other work that needs to be done.  I have other responsibilities to help bring justice to my community, and as much as I would love to attend it would do no good for me to fight the battle but forget the war.  But I can be in solidarity even if I can’t be in the trenches.  I will wear my clerics with a hoodie and remember the lives that were lost too young.

Today I stand in solidarity with the loved ones of Trayvon Martin, and I pray for the strength to continue being in solidarity with all of my brothers and sisters who suffer at the hands of racism and homelessness.

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“And this ‘real’ / It’s impossible if possible / At who’s blind word /So clear but so unheard” – Silversun Pickups, Lazy Eye

There are moments when it is hard to have blind faith.

I am at a point in my life where I can recognize that my spiritual faith is not blind.  It may not be built on something that I can always see and hold, but it is built on something solid.  It is becoming increasingly easier as I grow in my faith to hold on hope.  So I tend to get a bit blown over when my blind faith in people who I had an expectation of trust with falls short.

In my not-too-distant past I made what I thought was a deep and meaningful connection to someone.  The connection felt very real, and the despite the warnings and suggestions of friends, I believed that the impossible was possible and that I found a person to whom I could connect with on the deepest of levels.  I approached that relationship with blind faith, believing the the atmosphere of trust that I was experiencing, allowing myself to reach into recesses of my soul in human ways that I had not dared to explore in years, if ever.  Unfortunately, while that connection seemed concrete to me, I was missing the clearness that was unheard – that this person was indeed unsafe, and my heat was broken.

I had thought I had moved on.  After a series of truly unrelated events this weekend I discovered I had not.

One of these events was a realization that arose while riding home from church with a friend.  She mentioned that in any relationship it is ultimately up to the person who holds the authority in the relationship (be it romantic, familial, or professional) to be the person who does not violate the trust.  With authority comes responsibility.  Later that same evening, a different friend stated that the person who had the most control over the relationship was the person who cared the least.   When we care more, we have more to lose, and ultimately we have less power within that relationship.

Reflecting back on the relationship I thought was clear which proved to be rather murky, I believe both friends were right.  I took the bigger risk by being the most present in that relationship, and in doing so, relinquished my power/authority.  The person who cared the least, the person with the authority in our relationship, was the person who ultimately violated the trust.

This recognition is a challenging place for me to sit in at the moment because one of the most infinitely beautiful things about being in relationship with God is that the impossible is possible.  God loves me the most, more than I could ever think to love God.  If this theory were true and to play out, someone would have to loose.  Yet neither looses.  In my relationship with God, I am never let down.  My trust is never violated.  I am never manipulated, taken advantage of, disrespected, dismissed, ignored, cast aside, or will have to live in a state in which any of those things could happen.  The impossible is not only possible but it just is.

It is such a sacred relationship, and I recognize that for myself there is a part of me that wishes I could duplicate that sense of trust in even the smallest of levels here on earth.  I can clearly feel God’s love for me, I can see it, even if I’ve never heard some divine manifestation say, “I love you, Tina.”  The impossible is possible, and there is safety in intimacy.

I believe and will continue to believe that this impossible love will find its way to meet each and everyone of us in some form of a human relationship throughout the course of our lives.  I will continue to hold on hope.  I believe that God will continue to make the impossible possible with us to God, but also with us to one another.

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Within the past few days I’ve had a few really interesting conversation about self-indulgence and ministry.

The first was with my dear friend who was in Chicago for the weekend.  After a long wait to make her education a priority, she is now studying in the medical field, and hopes that when she’s done with her training she can do work outside of the US.  She feels called to  make health care accessible to all people, and while she’s in school she’s reflecting on what struggles her ideologies may bring up for her in her work.  This is a process I can relate to, especially as I prepare to go off to complete my CPE (clinical pastoral education) training this summer.  In seminary, we spend a lot of time working out our issues, with the hopes that this work will help us to provide the best, most unbiased care possible to others.  My friend and I shared with each other that we know that this sort of reflection is necessary, but that it feels awfully self-indulgent because we are getting so much out of it.

The second conversation I had was with a pastor here in Chicago.  In a cynical moment, I mentioned my fear of the ego (something that continues to haunt me).  I noted that at this point in my life I see colleagues spending a great deal of time reflecting on their personal theologies, which we on campus love to refer to as navel-gazing.  This pastor noted that seminary was the time we should be navel-gazing so that we could get clear on where we stand in our own theology.  I had heard similar statements before, always with the assumption that this would help us help others later.  He suggested that this also helps ourselves.  It is important for us to know what our theology is so that when we get into the moments of ministry where we struggle with balancing the pressures of the job, we can be reminded of why God called us to fulfill this particular role, and where our heart  lies within that calling.

Not only is it expected that we do this sort of inward thought, it is encouraged by the national church.  I’m in the process of working on an endorsement essay for internship that will be due on a few months.  The essay guidelines are divided into thirds; two about my personal vocation, one about the church’s vocation.

I’ve been reflecting quite a bit about these conversations the past few days.  Ultimately, I think both conversations spoke a voice of truth that I cannot ignore.  Yes, I am granted the luxury to be so focused on my own faith development right now, something that I wish all people had the gift of time to experience.  While that may feel decadent, this self-indulgence is different from other forms because the result ends up being a healthier person and leader.  It is not a bad thing to make oneself a priority, and there are certain times in all of our lives where navel-gazing builds up the strength to hold our heads up high in the future.

I find it really interesting that I am not comfortable with this indulgence.  I live a great deal in my head, and make it a point to hold myself accountable for my errors and recognize my weaknesses.  I do not shy away from self-reflection, but never considered embracing reflection as if it is something pleasurable.  It is also interesting that I welcome classes which promote such self-reflection a lot more now that I am working for a parish again.  Somehow the balance of ministry and education has allowed me to create space to explore questions in a new way.  I would never have thought that I would love studying Lutheran Confessional Heritage, but I do.  It is my favorite class, seconded only by my worship class, which has me reflecting on what makes worship meaningful to me.  I think I am enjoying these classes largely in part to being able to explore my beliefs in a ministry context.

Someone told me recently that discernment is like buying a new car.  Once you buy the car, you notice others like it on the road.  There aren’t more cars, we are just more aware, and it is our awareness that shows us it is a good fit.  I can’t imagine that this concept of seeking pleasure in self-reflection is new, but I do think there is a reason why I’m hyper aware now.  With that in mind, I’m taking action.  Lent is more than halfway over, but I am resolving to seek pleasure in theological self-reflection from now until Easter.  Maybe this way of thinking will be my new car.  I think at the very least its time to give it a test drive.

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This morning I was in a class about Lutheran Confessions, and we began a discussion about original sin – specifically, how in a post-modern world where the majority of people (including myself) accept that evolution exists do we account for “the fall” of Adam and Eve.

Ultimately, the discussion concluded that the proof is not in the fact that we can definitely verify that there was a woman named Eve and a man named Adam.  The proof is that brokenness, sin, is a surrounding presence in the world.  There is no denying that there are flaws in human nature.  There is no denying that  within our daily newspaper we read account after account of people committing wrongs against humanity and nature.  The proof of the fall is not in the story of Adam and Eve.  The proof is the existence of sin in our reality.

As this conversation evolved, my professor noted that at times evolution can often be an optimistic perspective.  Since only the strong survive, then clearly we are improving, right?  Nature continues to improve.  Starting after the healing that happened after Hiroshima, my professor talked about how the world started to become increasingly more optimistic.  Things got better.  For him, 1989 and the peace marches at the Berlin Wall was a moment of time that could be described as the “accumulation of optimism.”  The reality that evolution does not prevent human sin set back in during the Gulf War.

All around my class, I saw heads nodding, agreeing with the wonderful moment that was the Berlin Wall, remembering a moment where the world was at peace. I couldn’t help but remember that in 1989, El Salvador was in the midst of a civil war.  While the United States was celebrating peace in Germany, we were also contributing a million dollars a day to help support the genocide of the Salvadorian people.

I remember growing up hearing about the Berlin Wall.  I was only four when it fell, so my knowledge is solely through the memories of my parents and history books.  If I learned anything in my time in El Salvador, it is that during the armed conflict the United States media intentionally turned a blind eye on Central America and was encouraged to do so by a variety of financial powerhouses.  It is no accident that the World History books I studied in high school spoke of Berlin but not of El Salvador.

With that knowledge, I can’t realistically be upset that when most US citizens think about global politics in 1989 they think of the Berlin Wall rather than the Salvadorian civil war.  I also do not want to be such a pessimist that I cannot recognize the powerful moment in history that was peace in Germany just because another part of the world was suffering.  That would be like never celebrating the birthday of a child born on September 11.  One horror does not negate a tremendously joyful moment in time.

What I’m thinking, rather, is that my experience  in El Salvador calls me to draw attention to the history and present state of Central America.  This also means calling attention to the joys as well as the sorrow El Salvador had a day that represented the “accumulation of optimism.” For that country it was the the day the Peace Accords were signed.  Just as I in a post-modern world can’t point out one specific moment when the fall of Adam and Eve happened, I also can’t point out a moment in time when one form of genocide was worse than another, or one day of peace greater is then another.  It is not my place to rank such joys and travesties, just as it’s not my place to take away the wonderful memory from my colleagues because I have been granted insight into a culture of the world that our media has systematically hid for years.

It is my place to recognize that God was present at both places – battling on the mountainside of El Salvador while holding candles at the Berlin Wall.  It is beautiful to note that even when some of our humanity is in the midst of a fall, God is working to pull other parts up from the rubble.

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