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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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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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“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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I am currently in El Salvador, exploring with other seminary students (one a dear friend from Chicago, five from Philadelphia, and a spouse) about the current state of this Latin America country and how their experience shapes their spirituality.  I have been in the country for about five days, and the differences between this fine nation and the fine nation from which I come is astronomical.  It is not just the poverty.  It is not just the fact that minimum wage is $5 a day.  It is not just the fact that when it comes to pedestrians crossing the street, the driver has the right-of-way.  It is not just the fact that potable water is practically non-existent.  It is not just the fact that the juices here are the most delicious beverages I have ever drank.  It is not just the fact that private security guards carry shotguns and dogs wander the streets almost as regularly as squirrels climb trees in Chicago.  It is all these things in addition to one fundamental feeling and social ideal that is so thick I can almost taste it – hope.

My group and I spent the last 48 hours in a city of El Salvador named Suchitoto.  This community is about 90 minutes away from the capital of San Salvador, and in its municipality houses the survivors of a horrific masacar of civilians that happened during their civil war in the eighties and nineties.  I had the great privilege of hearing the testimony of two of the masacar survivors.  Sitting on the remnants of homes that have been destroyed, it was beyond heart-wrenching to listen to these brave souls share of torture so extreme that I would have thought I was listening to a holocaust survivor.  I had no idea that El Salvador went through a civil war that was as brutal as it was, had no idea that our government contributed financially as much as it did for fear of communism, had no real understanding that the fear of communism was really as awful as it apparently was.  Listening to these survivors, actually seeing what this war meant and the people it affected, all the while recognizing that this seemed to many like the best option at the time, was life changing.

I also didn´t realize how much I projected my U.S. history on other things.  For example, my father has many friends who fought and survived the Vietnam War.  When I hear guerilla warfare, I think about people I know and the trauma they felt.  I think about what that word means to U.S. soldiers who fought in an Asian war.  I didn´t recognize that my lens on that word is so focused to my culture.  Hearing the testimony of these survivors, people who were caught between the Salvadorian government and guerilla fighters, I struggled to let go of my Vietnam-associated connotations.  El Salvador is not Vietnam.  Similar words mean different things here.

In addition to hearing the testimonies, we ate lunch with our speakers.  I have never been so frustrated at being a foreign-language flunky as I was at that meal.  Sitting next to two of the most courageous people I have ever met, I couldn´t speak with them without an interpreter.  I couldn´t tell them from my own lips how grateful I was for the gift of their story, share with them that I will never be the same person for having heard it.

After lunch, we went to their new settlement.  After being refugees in Guatemala for almost two decades, the survivors were able to move back to El Salvador and rebuild close to where their original home was.  We hiked a half a mile into the mountain, and saw their houses (63 families returned) and visited their library.  We saw their memorial monument and dodged chickens that were running around the streets.

I was able to witness the crucifixion of their community, and celebrate in the beginning of its resurrection.  It is a feeling I wish all people could experience, and one that I can never explain well enough to do it justice.

We returned this evening to a guest house in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador.  My group reflected on what Suchitoto meant to us, how we are now forever changed.  One member of our group began singing “Amazing Grace”.  In true Lutheran style, we broke out in four-part harmony on that patio in the warm evening, the haunting words of a spiritual from our home nation filling the silence of the house that is serving as home while we explore another nation.  Suchitoto´s resurrection made those words more powerful to me then I could ever have known.

This place is what God´s tranformative love looks like.  It is such an amazing grace inside an amazing place.  I pray that I never forget the feeling of this night, or forget the faith of those survivors.

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On November 9, 1938 Jewish homes and businesses were attacked in Nazi Germany.  51 years later to the very day, the Berlin Wall fell.

Today at chapel, LSTC remembered the travesty of Kristallnacht, and honored the survivors and their loved ones in a commemorative worship service.  I was only able to attend the service for a short while as a result of a work commitment, and it was hard to leave a service recognizing the impact of such a fateful day.  Clearly my colleagues felt the same way, and as we opened our meeting one of our team members, Kurt, pointed out to us all that Kristallnacht and the Berlin wall are intimately connected by the impact of this powerful day in history.

It is poetic that a day of peace and restoration would occur on the same day of such horrible travesty.  It is humbling that these two parallels relate to the turmoil with descendents of the same community.  It is with God’s grace that a day of horror could also host a day of healing.

It is important for as Christians to acknowledge that many terrible crimes against humanity have happened under the misuse of God’s name.  There is no excuse for distorting the message of Christ, salvation, and redemption in such a way that its mere presence could evoke fear and trepidation for others.  We need to remember where people have not only failed to do God’s work, but have worked against God’s covenant for the sake of their own agenda.  We need to remember and honor such moments because those choices all too easily could have been ours.  Living in the safety of a majority status within a country such as the United States, it is hard for me to fathom how anyone could have lived through such an experience as Kristallnacht.  I similarly cannot fathom what it would be like to have been in Berlin in 1989, having access for the first time to a part of the world that I had been oppressed from experiencing.

We must not forget the brokenness of humanity, the fragile balance of what it means to live in the same world with one another.  The balance between oppression and freedom is perhaps a finer line then we’d like to acknowledge, and it in a hope of awareness of that line that we have remembrances like today.

But the Wall did come down on the Kristallnacht.  It took a long time, 51 long years, for that day to share a memory of celebration alongside its memory of pain.  Even in the midst of those years, God stirred within the people, helping them to take one step further from oppression and closer towards acceptance.

Today, as I remember the brokenness of humanity, as I morn on behalf of the Jewish community for the oppression they have experienced by people who claimed to carry the cross of Christ, I remember that God tears down the walls of separating us from the divine bit by bit, one brick at a time.

The following is a declaration for peace, written by a teenager by the name of Gabriele S. Chase:

Not in my name will you wage war on people I do not know, on men, women and children.  Not in my name will you label our country a victim, and turn it into an aggressor.  Not in my name will you drain my future by creating deficits and financial aid for the rich.  Not in my name will you steal my children’s inheritance by drilling and killing and exploiting.  Not in my name will you use my money to kill.  Not in my name will you take my flag, my symbol, and soil it with blood.  Not in my name will you justify violence with arrogance and oil.  Not in my name will you claim holy sanction to kill God’s children.  Not in God’s name, nor in mine.

Chase’s declaration is from “Daybook for New Voices: a Calendar of Reflections and Prayers by and for Youth”, edited by Maren C. Tirabassi and Maria I. Tirabassi, Pilgrim Press, 2004

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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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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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