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Archive for the ‘Safety’ Category

Yesterday was one of those days that years from now we will look back and ask, “Do you remember where you were when…”  The history of our lives are filled with those days.  Do you remember where you were when the Challenger exploded?  Do you remember where you were when you heard about the Oklahoma City Bombing? 9/11?  Sandy Hook?  And now, yet another – the Boston Marathon bombing.

It never ceases to amaze me how un-noteable the medium for which we learn life changing news.  Somehow it feels like the way we learn of such powerful moments in our nations history should be equally powerful, and yet isn’t.  I found out about Sandy Hook through a phone call at church.  Yesterday I learned about Boston through a story on my Facebook news feed.  An action that couldn’t seem more normal carried news that the world was tossed upside down.

There are no good words at a time like this.   There are no cute phrases or short sentences that can soothe the ache of a nation who is shocked by pain and unnecessary violence.  In years to come we will look back at this moment and still feel haunted by it’s memory and the impact it made in our world.  We will always remember where we were when.

But this is not the end of the story.  I read a beautiful article in the Huffington Post proclaiming how God has the last word in moments like this and that last word is love.  I was moved by the truth in that article, and I will be forever grateful for such a strong word of hope in a time of great uncertainty.

God’s love is what prevents this moment from being the end of the story.  There can be a hesitancy for us to want to avoid gathering together, celebrating the achievements of a our neighbors and friends when running a marathon, from gathering in historically significant tricycleplaces on historically significant days.  But that hesitancy is not the end of our story.  Instead, how we choose to move forward empowered by God’s love will lead our story on a path that we cannot imagine.

This upcoming Friday, my five-year old niece will be in a trike-a-thon to raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.  I can see her in my mind’s eye riding around the gym on her tricycle, her hair blowing behind her while her little legs peddle as hard as they can.  I don’t want her to be afraid of doing a good thing for someone because of an evil person evoking terror at another marathon at another place.  I want her to remember that her actions and choice to ride in that trike-a-thon are an example of how God’s love is greater than death, greater than illness, greater than people evoking terror in what should should be a safe and joyous occasion.  Most importantly, I want her to remember that she in her actions help to show that God’s love is real, it is constant, and it is something we can embody with every action that we take.

I will never forget where I was when I learned about the Boston Marathon bombing.  I just hope I never forget where I was when my niece tells me how she showed God’s love to sick children at a trike-a-thon when she herself was just a little girl.

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welca_boldThis Sunday is Bold Women’s Sunday.  On Sunday, February 24, the Women of the ELCA (WELCA) are encouraging people to celebrate bold women in their lives – women who boldly live, proclaim and embody the message of Christ in their lives.

I find it a bit ironic that Bold Women’s Day is the Sunday that marks the center of two weeks of internship interviews for myself and my heavily female populated class at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.  In no less than four interviews this week, I stated with confidence and dare I say boldness my beliefs in God, my hopes for the church, and areas that I think I can grow to best embody my vocation as baptized believer in Christ.

It is also ironic that Bold Women’s Day comes a few days after a horrific terrorist attack in Hyderabad, India, the city where just a month ago I and 17 other students lived, breathed, and learned.  If you have ever been to India, or have ever met anyone who has been to India, you will know that you need to be bold.  Telling a US traveler headed to India to “be bold,” is the perfect word of encouragement to help overcome culture shock and embrace the beautiful, welcoming, challenging and non-western country for what it is.  Throughout my time there, the mantra of “be bold” rang over and over in my head, and as I keep updated on reports on the aftermath of the terrorist attack, I find myself praying, “Be bold, people of India, be bold.”

Being bold in Christ is very different than being be bold by normal social means.  Secularly, being bold means having courage, being confident, and trusting your instinct.  Being bold in Christ is very different.  It means forgiving the terrorist in the midst of seeking safety.  It means trusting that God has not forsaken you when the bank account continues to dwindle.  It means naming your insecurities about how you will be at as a pastoral intern.

I am continually being taught wisdom by my five year old niece.  She is one of the truest reflections of the embodiment of Christ I have ever known.

A few weeks ago, my niece came home from kindergarten and wanted to practice “Lock Down” with my parents.  In the wake of recent school shootings like Sandy Hook, her elementary school is taking safety very seriously and training kids how to best protect themselves in case the unthinkable becomes a reality.  They learn how to hide under tables and in closets, learning how to wait and not be duped by fake police officers.

My sweet niece didn’t just take her lesson and set it aside.  She boldly came home and taught her grandparents what she learned because she wanted welca_bold_2them to be safe.  She had my parents take turns being the student and being the “bad guy.”  When my mom played the student, my niece took her under the table and boldly gave her directions on how to be safe.  “Okay, Grandma.  You need to stay very, very quiet.  You can’t say ‘move over, this is my space’ because you need to stay quiet to stay safe.”  After my mom’s turn of being trained was done, next it was time for my dad to learn “Lock Down.”

We can choose to look at my niece dragging my parents under the table to go into “Lock Down” as a symbol as how far our world has declined.  We can wallow in how sad it is that five-year old girls know the gun  drill so well they can teach a grown up.  I would rather focus on the boldness of that training session.  My niece – the one who eagerly waits to say grace, the one who can’t wait to go to Sunday School, the one who will tell you it’s okay to be sad on Good Friday because in three days Jesus will rise again – my niece is bold in her faith.  She loves to talk about Jesus.  She understands that Jesus asks us to treat others well.  She loves the world so much that she wanted to keep her grandparents safe.  She loves the world so much that she will boldly tell people she cares about how to be wise when evil knocks on her door.  My niece loves the world so much because she knows she is a beloved child of God.

Being bold doesn’t always mean doing the courageous thing or having confidence.  Being bold in Christ means protecting your neighbor.  It means looking at the realities of the world and coming up with a plan, even when that plan is basic safety and avoiding revenge.  Being bold in Christ means knowing that trouble is around the corner but living with confidence that God will not forsake you when it comes.

Today we celebrate the bold women in our lives, be they 5 years or 105 years old.  We celebrate women who are not afraid to embody the love of Christ in everything they do, even when it is teaching others the importance of “Lock Down.”

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In three days I am packing up my home for the third time in the past year and moving to New Hampshire to begin my CPE training.

Looking around my house, my home kind of matches my head.  There are stacks of clothes and books in almost every room, little lines of organized chaos.  I know in what container everything will be packed by the time I leave on Thursday morning, but right now, all I see is clutter. 

I am so grateful for this ride that is the seminary experience.  Even still, as I drove my closest campus friend to the airport this morning for her own CPE journey, I realized that I am nostalgic for a little stability.  I have changed so much since moving to Chicago last August.  My theology is different, my preaching is different, my writing is different, my body is different, the way I communicate with my loved ones is different.  In seminary, every day is an opportunity for transformation  While it is exciting, this fast paced change can be intimidating at times.

CPE will be twelve weeks of even more change.  These weeks will be spent learning how to provide spiritual care within the context of a hospital setting.  I’ll be working with people of all faith traditions in all walks of life whose lives transition as a result of life-changing medical moments.  Some people will be expecting the changes their health situation brings, like a senior who has been preparing for the end of this life.  For others, like those in a car accident, change will be unexpected.  CPE will teach me to how to faithfully be with people from all edges of the spectrum.  In that process of learning, my expectations of what it means to be a pastor will become something very different then how I understand it to be today.

The irony is, I begin my CPE unit exactly one year after my final day of employment at the congregation which opened my heart to a life of pastoral ministry.  It is also ironic that one year later, I learned that this congregation is also transitioning in its life as I transition in mine, as I learned via a social media announcement this morning their senior pastor has accepted a call to a new congregation. There is a part of me that wishes I could go back to that parish and we could wade in these unsure waters together.  But in my heart, I know that our simultaneous transitions need to travel on separate currents to end up where we need to be.

There is no shame in acknowledging that these currents feel uncertain at times, and that our uncertainty has us reaching for the familiar.  We all crave stability in times of change.  I know right now I am searching amongst the stacks in my home and head , searching for some metaphorical life preserver that will ease the fear of the ambiguity of what is to come.  It is natural for us to quake when we feel the tide of our lives shift directions, even when that change will bring goodness, knowledge, and peace.

But in these moments when we wade, not quite understanding how the water laps at our feet, we should remember that we were called into a relationship of security through turbulent waters.  We were called into a life of faith through baptismal waters, waters that while appear gentle in the font yet powerfully remove the bondage that comes from being victims of a fallen humanity.  Such waters brought a change so strong that we went from being dead in sin to alive in Christ with a few drops and the seal of a cross upon our head.  It happened quickly, in the blink of an eye, and in that blink gave us a life preserver that will never waver no matter how strong the current.

The tide is changing.  Who we were yesterday will inform how we will move tomorrow, but not determine who we’ll be tomorrow.  A change is coming.  Praise and thanksgiving to the One who equipped us to brave the storm through the waters of our baptism.

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This afternoon I and four other friends from seminary attended an event called Occupy Palm Sunday.  This event, sponsored by four congregations in Logan Square, talked about housing, immigration, healthcare, and food justice from a Christian community perspective.  United together, we sang songs, broke bread, and learned about different ways we can be involved in creating equality within our home.

I’ll be honest, in general I’m not someone who totally get’s the whole “Occupy” movement.  I admire the goal to help bring awareness to the difference between the 99% and the 1%, and my heart simmers with joy at knowing that people are trying to find away to work together.  However, the deepest recesses of my identity recognizes I am a planner.  When I look at the overall “Occupy” movement, I get overwhelmed with knowing how to move from information sharing to the next steps of problem solving.  I see the people camped in tents and want to know their plan, even as I recognize that for some “Occupiers” their main plan is to inform.

This past January when I was in El Salvador, I was granted access into the cathedral in San Salvador which was at the time occupied by a para-military group.  This cathedral is the Catholic Church’s Salvadoran epicenter, the place where the Archbishop of El Salvador resides and works.  This space is also important because the mausoleum of Archbishop Romero is found inside its basement.

The January occupation occurred by people who fought in the civil war.  The war had ended with the signing of the Peace Accords.  20 years later aspects of that agreement had not been upheld by the current government, resulting in ex-soldiers and their families starving to death.  They tried to negotiate change peacefully, but 20 years later were still starving.  So in January, with firepower, they forced the Archbishop out of the space and closed the cathedral off from the community.  The occupation prevented anyone from the community to enter to worship.  The occupation caused pilgrimages hoping to visit Romero to cease.  Yet I, a privileged US citizen, someone whose income would place me in the 1% if I was a Salvadoran, was invited into the cathedral where native citizens could not go.  Granted, there were shotguns pointed at me the entire time I took pictures in of the tomb, and I was unable to leave until I heard the para-military groups demands.  But the fact remains that because I came from a place of privilege I was safe in God’s house when people of the community were not.

Since that day, I look at the word “occupy” quite differently.  I now recognize that at any moment I could slide between the barriers between the 99% and the 1%.  At any moment I could be the oppressed or I could be the oppressor.  I could be the person who needs to be uplifted or I could be the person who steps on others as I rise the top.  That experience also showed me that sometimes the separation between church and state also have barriers that slide back and forth.  It was a para-military group that stopped the Salvadorans from worshiping in their Cathedral, and in the United States the limitations of our laws at times are what stop us from being able to provide care to all who need it.

This afternoon, a speaker mentioned that to live in Chicago, the average person would either need to work 81 hours a week at a minimum-wage job or get paid over $18 an hour at a 40-hour-a-week job to be able to afford housing.  I know I don’t get paid anywhere near $18 an hour at either of my jobs or even work close to 81 hours a week, and I consider myself secure in my middle class status.  Then again, I am fortunate enough to be in school and receiving scholarships, and my home parish helps to cover some of my tuition.  Where would I be if this was three years down the line and I was still at the same jobs at the same rate?  I know where I would be — homeless.

Knowing that the barrier between safety and insecurity can so easily slide back and forth for any of us, noticing that the separation between church and state is not as stable as I once thought, I need to have a plan.  I need to know that there is something secure to set my sights on, something that will stand the test of time and the roller-coaster of our economic system.

That something is the love of Christ, and my plan is never to forget that love.  It is through the love of Christ that I have people helping to support me while I am in seminary.  It is through the love of Christ that my income comes from my employment in serving a Christian parish and serving a Christian periodical.  It is through the love of Christ that I was able to car-pool with fellow students to worship in the square with four very different congregations. It is through the love of Christ that today each person who was able brought a few snacks to share and we not only fed the large crowd but had leftovers.

I “occupy” because the message of the good news of God’s love for us transcends the limitations of our barriers.  This message and sacred love is what gives us the fuel to keep striving for justice, learning how we can work with one another so that we all can feel as fortunate as the 1% of the community. I “occupy” because my God loves me so much that even in my darkest hours I am never alone, and this is a message too good to keep to myself.

This Palm Sunday, my occupation is one of praise and thanksgiving to the one who rode into our midst to transform our lives.

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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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“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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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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