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The following article was written for the June 2013 issue of the Digest for Divinity Lutheran Church of Parma Heights, OH.

silence2In a handful of weeks I will beginning my internship year at Bethel Lutheran Church in St. Louis, Missouri.  It is hard to wrap my head around the fact that this point in my education is almost before me.  It seems like just yesterday my mother and I went seminary searching together.

Every ELCA pastor I know has told me that internship year is the most formative point in seminary education.  I already feel that I have changed and grown so much since the beginning of this seminary process, yet I know that these pastors are probably right.  I will be working, living, and breathing with a new community for an entire year.  Together we will celebrate births and deaths, marriages and divorce, merriment and travesty.  It will change me in ways I cannot imagine.

There was a ceremony at the seminary chapel the day we received our assignments.  It was also the same day of the Boston Marathon Bombing.  Merely moments after our community learned of that devastating attack, we gathered together for word and prayer.  My friend Kara who is awaiting first call preached a powerful sermon of how assignments can feel a bit like the empty tomb of Easter.  They are wonderfully exciting moments, but they are still filled with uncertainty.  They are moments of hope and new beginnings, but the darkness of the tomb reinforces that while some parts of our future are clearer, they are still unknown.  Kara reminded us that while we wait to enter this empty tomb, we should take comfort in remembering that Jesus has already gone before us and is waiting for us at the other side.

As we gathered around the chapel’s font and were handed our envelopes that contained the name of our internship congregation, tension filled the air.  You could almost hear the questions of our minds fill the chapel.  Will I be a good intern?  Am I prepared to move across the country?  What if my supervisor and I don’t get along?  What if something like the Boston Marathon Bombing or the Texas fertilizer plant explosion happens in my new community?  Will I be prepared enough?  Will I be equipped enough to provide comfort?  Am I strong enough as a pastoral leader to face these unknowns?

I looked into the empty tomb that was my assignment envelope.  Inside I found Bethel Lutheran.  While it can at times be hard to see, Kara is right.  Jesus is indeed waiting for me there.  Jesus was present when I first called my internship supervisor, with whom I had a warm and welcome conversation.  Jesus was present when Bethel’s current intern reached out and filled me in on the neighborhood and community.   Jesus was present when the office admin asked for my bio, letting me know the congregation is eager to get to know me.  Jesus will be present when my cat Cozmo and I pull up to our new home, and Jesus will be present that first day in the parish.

Transitions are layered with a variety of emotions.  There is a bit of uncertainty with an unknown, even when you are eager for the new beginning.  It is comforting to know that Jesus has already gone before me and is there now, waiting for me.

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The following article was written for Divinity Lutheran Church of Parma Heights, OH for the March 2013 Divinity Digest. 

This morning I and 33 of my fellow classmates signed up for internship interviews.  As candidates for ordination (i.e. pastors-in-training), the ELCA biblemaprequires a three year Master of Divinity degree, a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, a variety of training on healthy boundaries, and a year-long internship that has a strong congregational component.

While most of these specifications are common among all mainline Protestant traditions, the year-long internship is something that is somewhat unique to the ELCA.  Because of this internship year, our program lasts four years instead of three years like many other traditions. That is not to say those traditions don’t require field training and internships, but that training tends to be congruent with course work for a section of a year.  They balance internship with their student life.  The ELCA requires that our ordination candidates take an entire year and do nothing but full time, supervised ministry with a strong congregational component.

As I sat in the first of many internship prep meetings today, I began to fully realize how special it is that we students are given this opportunity of a year-long internship.  Ministry is not something that just happens overnight.  When we are baptized, we are all called and equipped to be ministers of God and to share the good news of Jesus Christ to others.  I don’t think that it’s any surprise that we are all called with different gifts to serve in different ways.  Yet we do seem to be surprised that ministry takes time.

It takes time to assemble a budget.  It takes time to learn a new setting in the hymnal.  It takes time to see if the best night for the youth board to meet is Tuesday evenings or to realize that perhaps a better night is Thursdays.  It takes time to accept that while we may prefer to teach we are better at fundraising.  It takes time to build relationships, to build momentum, or to learn a stranger’s sense of humor.  It takes awhile to embrace new leaders, or to encourage the tone deaf person to sing in the choir because singing brings them joy.  It takes longer still to accept that a ministry that once was vibrant now needs to end, or to celebrate that the community around our church walls is changing.

Ministry doesn’t happen overnight, and it is because of what happens over a longer period of time that the ELCA requires candidates for ordination to complete a year long internship.  The internship time is set aside from school books and tests because this year is special.  This year is sacred.  This is the year that ministry can begin to form deeper roots and be a part of a community that is changing as they grow in their ministry.

The internship year is more than just a requirement to become a pastor.  It is more than an opportunity to strengthen a set of skills.  It is an opportunity to understand the ministry and relationships that come over time, and to have an active role in them.  It is a time to see God in the world through a new set of eyes and to experience new ways of proclaiming the redeeming love of Christ.

I look forward to sharing with you where God is leading me, and give thanks for your continued love and support while I continue to grow.

Wishing you God’s peace and blessings,

Tina Heise, Seminarian

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

I am currently living in New Hampshire as I complete my clinical pastoral education unit (CPE).  This field experience is required between your first and second year of seminary when you are in the ordination process of the ELCA.  For twelve weeks, I will be serving as a chaplain intern for Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, working with patients and families and studying how to provide spiritual care in a hospital setting.

Upon moving here, I learned that New England is one of the most secular areas of the United States.  Organized religion is not only hard to find here, but often frowned upon.  Just this weekend, as I was shopping for my dad’s Father’s Day present, a sales clerk heard my Midwestern accent and asked me what brought me to the upper valley.  I explained that I was a chaplain intern at the hospital, and very quickly she told me that she felt my role was unwelcome.  “We don’t like people telling us what to believe, especially when it comes from one of you ‘flat-landers’ (meaning non-New Englander).”  It was a surprising reaction mostly because I didn’t say anything else than, “I’m a chaplain intern”.

Even more so, this reaction is counter to what I’m doing here.  The role of the chaplain is not to evangelize but rather to accompany.   A large part of my training is to learn how to recognize my own cultural and religious perspective, and set that perspective aside so that I can hear what the patient and their loved one is trying to express about their own faith.  My role is not to tell them what to believe, but be with them as they uncover what they believe in the most trying of times.  Of course, it was clear this sales clerk was not invested in learning about my profession.  Instead, she was telling me something very clear about her own faith journey.  That journey deserved my respect even if I didn’t love the avenue in which she expressed herself.  Part of this CPE experience is being open to read between the lines even when those lines are as sharp as razors.  Her hostility towards religious figures is itself a testimony of her life, and in that moment I was called to set my reaction aside and listen to the deeper truth beyond her words.

All chaplains and chaplain interns must answer to calls in all areas of the hospital when we are on call, but we are also assigned a primary unit.  My units are the Birthing Pavilion, Infant ICU, and the Emergency Department.  As a chaplain, I need to be available to provide care to people of all faiths in times of trauma.  Sometimes that will mean baptizing babies before they are removed off of respirators.  Other times, that will mean standing in an operating room to make sure that I uphold the belief of a Jehovah’s Witness whose faith dictates they cannot have a blood transfusion.  There will be moments that I will need to pray with a Jewish person after their spouse had a heart attack.

Part of becoming a pastor means mean trusting in the grace of God even when I am fulfilling a role that has me upholding the beliefs of someone whose faith is different than mine.  Part of becoming a pastor is learning how to embody Christ’s example to show forgiveness and affection to all people, even when they bristle at the idea of organized religion.   Part of being a pastor means accompanying people when they are experiencing the most difficult moments of their lives.  Part of becoming a pastor means bearing witness to the good news of God’s steadfast love for us in the most unlikely of spaces.

CPE will help me begin to develop those skills.  I have no doubt that this will be hard.  I am barely into my second week here, and already I am feeling my faith stretch and grow.  There is a time in my education to preach the good news, but now is the time to listen to the news that is coming out of the experiences of this New England community.

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

Guillermo Cuellar.  Archbishop Oscar Romero.  These are two names that I think for most Lutheran do not seem very Lutheran.  In January of this year, I spent ten days in El Salvador on an academic delegation of solidarity, and while there, I learned that these very Catholic figures have a large impact in our Lutheran worship.

One of the things that I love about the ELCA is that we are considered to be one of the most ecumenical Christian traditions.  We share Full Communion with five denominations (Presbyterian, Moravian, the Episcopalian Church, United Church of Christ, and the Reformed Church in America), and open our table to anyone who is a baptized.  We work on social statements and public health ministries with people on every continent.  Our red hymnal, the ELW, is composed with music and liturgy from around the world.

Last summer Divinity worshiped with a Hispanic setting in our red ELW.  I was surprised to learn while in El Salvador that the bulk of this setting did not come from Spain, but from El Salvador.  I was surprised to learn that the bulk of the music and liturgy was written by Guillermo Cuellar at the request of Archbishop Oscar Romero.  I was surprised to learn that some sections were composed merely days before Romero was assassinated for preaching Christ’s non-violent love in a time of war.  I was surprised to learn this liturgy was written not solely for the glory of God but also in mourning of the deaths of millions of people who died from the Salvadorian genocide.  There was an evening where Guillermo put on a private concert for my delegation (see picture included), explaining how the same liturgy that we sang last summer in Parma Heights remains the popular Catholic mass in El Salvador today.

When I began my worship class this semester, I asked my professor, Dr. Mark Bangert, about this setting.  Dr. Bangert was one of the primary editors of our hymnal, and shared with my class that we integrated the Salvadorian popular mass into our worship as a continued effort of ecumenism.  Lutherans may not be in Full Communion with the Catholic Church, but we when we sing one of their popular masses, we are professing that we stand in solidarity with our Catholic brothers and sisters.  We profess that we our lives are impacted by the ministry of their leaders. We profess that while we do not yet come to the Holy Communion table with one another, we do celebrate with one another that God brings good news to people in the darkest of times, even during a time of genocide.

On Mother’s Day weekend, I will be leading an adult forum about my time in El Salvador, sharing pictures and stories about that ten day delegation.   We will explore one of our core Lutheran theologies, the Theology of the Cross, through a liberation lens.  Examining the current state of El Salvador, we will uncover how to stand in solidarity with our Catholic and Evangelical brothers and sisters and discuss the current ministry of the Lutheran Church in that nation.

I hope that you will join us on Sunday, May 13 at 10am.

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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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Embrace the Deception

“Embrace the deception, learn how to bend.” – Steve Frank

Last night I finished my last paper of my first semester of seminary.  It has been a long few months of some of the hardest work I have done in my entire life.  The only thing that really got me through finishing my papers this past week has been watching old episodes of “Psych” from the USA network.

It’s rather ironic that I like this show because basically the main character lies all of the time, and there’s nothing I dislike more than a liar.  Steve Frank, the creator, knows how to take a little deception that in other contexts would have you running to the door and transform it into entertainment that has you laughing on the couch while you finish typing up research papers on illuminated gospels, hagiography, and family system issues.

It is ironic that despite my best intentions and my utter distaste for deception, I am intrinsically drawn to people who run the border between lies and truth.

I’m a big fan of transparency.  I need to know what’s going on with others.  I like people to know what’s going on with me.  I think the testament to a trusting relationship is including another person into intimate moments of your life.  Let me be clear, when I say include, I don’t mean give the other person permission to decide how you should react or feel.  Including for me is sharing experiences with the knowledge and trust that the person who you are revealing information to will do nothing more than listen.

The thing is that we don’t really trust people to honor what it is we are revealing.  We think they will dismiss what we say, striking a blow to our humanity that many of us can’t bear to withstand.  This is why we tell half-truths, carefully selecting what will be shared.  This is why we tell little-white-lies, cleverly masking our true feelings with words and phrases that are diplomatically elusive.  This is why we keep secrets.

Some of our reservations are rightly earned.  Too often I have been transparent with people who have not gone that same distance with me.  I have traveled far on the limb thinking someone was walking by my side, only to realize that I was standing alone.  We all at one point or another have walked by ourselves on that limb, and once we realize the risk we have taken we vow never to take that risk again.

If lack of transparency is indeed deception, then we need to learn to embrace the fact that we will be deceived and bend our minds around the possibility that elusiveness may not seem like lies to the person who is eluding us.  To them, it just may be a mode of protection.  We also need to accept that perhaps such deception is formed to embrace the person who can’t be transparent, to shelter them from the fear of that unforseen risk.  As such, we need to bend ourselves around their fear, embracing the person who embraces deception.

This is what Christ’s forgiveness is for us.  It is the encompassing embrace around those of us who deceive because we are fearful to trust, believe, or become transparent.  As Christians we speak often of the single footprints in the sand, God carrying us through the hard times in our lives.  But maybe instead of carrying us, God is embracing us from above, allowing us the room to bend our hearts and minds towards a new way of intimacy with those who surround us.

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Catch and Release Love

“You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something.”- Psalm 139:16, the Message.

Despite my best efforts, I cannot get my nephew to like me.

Alex is 18 months old, and almost from the first time I met him, when he looks at me he bursts into tears.  Maybe it is the fact that my voice sounds too much like my sisters, maybe it is the fact that when I usually see him my sister is leaving to go to work or something.  Whatever the reason, my presence makes him uneasy.  There were a few months before I moved to seminary where we seemed to have an understanding of sorts – he wouldn’t cry every time he saw me, and would even at times let me hold him if my sister, her husband, or my parents were in the room.  But at my sister’s birthday part tonight, Alex would have nothing to do with me.  This time it was worse than just crying – he would actually run to any other adult and hide from me.  Watching my nephew run to the arms of my sister’s friends to avoid looking at me was a hard pill to swallow.

I know one day this phase will pass and Alex and I will be the best of friends, but in the mean time, this sucks.  I’ve thought about it long and hard, and truly, no other word works than suckiness.

Alex has no idea how much I love him.  There is nothing I would love more than to hug him, snuggle with him, have him sit on my lap as I read him a story.  I’ve loved this kid more than I ever thought possible even before he was born.  My sister struggled quite a bit at the end of her pregnancy, and for the last few weeks was on bed rest.  She had extremely high blood pressure, and there were many days when I sat with her in the pregnancy ward triage, watching monitors beep and blink, hoping that we wouldn’t have to make the decision between her health or his.  I loved him more and more through each beep, each test, each hour of waiting for him to finish being sculpted within my sisters womb.  I prayed and fretted waiting for him to be born safely, and a piece of my heart bruised when I was unable to be there at the hospital when he was because I was in a hospital across town dealing with a lupus procedure.  My love for Alex has only grown since then.  While I understand that he needs to trust me in his own way, the waiting can be really trying.

I can’t help but notice this to-and-fro with Alex is very similar to the catch-and-release game we play with God’s unconditional love.  God loves us more than we can ever imagine, in ways that we’ll  never really know or understand.  God waited for us to exit our mothers womb and be welcomed into this world, and bruises each time that we push away opportunities to be enveloped by his love.  Perhaps when we turn away from God it isn’t as obvious as Alex hiding behind another person’s legs, but I believe the cut is equally as deep.

But just as there will never be a time when I will stop reaching out to Alex, there will never be a time when God will stop reaching out to us.  We can run and hide, we can cry, we can turn our backs and wrap our arms around the false senses of safety that tempt us throughout our existence – but God will still remain, unconditionally and forever.

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