Saturday, March 31, 2012

So you're in Seminary...

For some reason I have been having a ton of conversations lately about what I am doing with my life.  So here is a typical exchange:

Someone else: What do you do?

Me: I'm in grad school. Seminary.

Them: For what?

Me: MDiv.  Master's of Divinity.

Them: What is that?  Does that make you divine?

Me: (inward eye rolling)  I am studying theology.

Them: Why?  What do you do with that?

Me: I am studying to be a pastor.

Them: Oh.  (Awkward silence)

Sometimes followed with one of the following questions:
People go to school for that?
Why do you want to do that?
So, are you like, holier, than other people?
Women can be pastors?

I am never sure what to make of these conversations.  Sometimes they are asked out of genuine interest.  Sometimes they are asked out of a lifetime of emotional baggage around religion, and the person legitimately needs to air their grievances about the institution of Christianity.  Sometimes that other person wants to try and push their own religious agenda.

But whatever the reason, it opens up the opportunity for real conversation.  If we keep talking about the way that we can be and do Church in/for the world, we have the opportunity to be of service.  It is when we stop listening that we become stagnant.

But in the meantime, my sarcastic self wants to answer the "What do you do?" question with a snarky answer that provokes the same shocked response.  So I have thought about telling people that I am a tattoo artist or proctologist or lumberjack or exotic dancer.  (just kidding, Mom)  My actual part-time job, working at a homeless shelter, tends to also elicit a similar response.

There is not one set "look" for a pastor, and if there was, I would probably not be it.  I am kind of loud, very sarcastic, can curse like a sailor, and sometimes I'm just not very nice.  But I have seen God's incredible grace at work in my life and in the lives of others and I want to share that.  I have been a part of powerful Christian communities that serve God both inside and outside their walls, and I want to help create that same space for others.  I want to listen and laugh and cry with other people as we walk this crazy journey together.

So that's why I feel called to do this thing.

Friday, March 30, 2012


Labyrinth at Montview Presbyterian Church
My Lenten discipline this year was to make Friday mornings a time of intentional sabbath.  From internet, schoolwork, etc.  Although since it is friday morning, and I am on the internet writing this post, I'm not doing so great at it.  But yesterday I ended up taking an entire day of Sabbath, and it was fantastic.

I worked the early shift at work, and got off at 7am.  I was absolutely exhausted, so I decided that instead of going to the library or spending the day at my desk getting work done, I went back to sleep. Ah, blissful sabbath.  Then I made tortilla soup from scratch.  Then, having finished reading a book cover to cover (FOR FUN!) I walked over to the library and picked up some more books.  When I was over in Park Hill, I decided to take the opportunity to do something that I have wanted to do for a long time, walk the prayer labyrinth at Montview Presbyterian Church.  What a beautiful, peaceful oasis in the city.  I might just make this part of my routine more often.

When 5:00pm rolled around, and it was time to go back to work for the dinner shift, I realized that I had not checked my email or Facebook account all day.  One thing that I work hard at, because it is so very hard for me, is taking a break when I need a break.  Practicing Sabbath in the midst of chaos and obligation.   Because I feel like if I am not doing something or accomplishing something or working towards some goal, I am going to fall behind.  I am not sure what I think I will miss, but honestly, in always running towards something, I do miss things.  Like the present.

I have had an exhausting few weeks.  First, finals, then moving to a new house, all the while my grandmother was sick, then she passed away two weeks ago, and then last week I made a whirlwind trip back to South Dakota for her funeral.  And I am tired.  So, even though my exhaustion took me down yesterday, I listened to myself and took an entire day to just be.  And it felt wonderful.

I think God created the concept of a Sabbath for a reason.  We just do not know how to listen to ourselves about rest and taking time, until we are absolutely leveled with weariness.  God knows we will run and run, and by setting aside intentional time each week for quiet, we can grow closer to God.  So I am keeping this Lenten discipline after the end of Lent this year.  I owe it to myself.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hijacking Jesus

The professor of my Gospels class posed the following question on Monday: "To what ends are we using Jesus?  Jesus was not an evangelical Christian.  Jesus was also not a progressive liberal Christian."  Indeed.   Jesus was not a Christian AT ALL.

Yet, we hijack Jesus for our own purposes CONSTANTLY.  Convicted.  Right here.  That's me.  I am ashamed to admit that I have said the following thing more than once:

"Jesus was the original social radical.  Jesus would be on the side of the progressives.  The evangelicals have it wrong."  

The fact of the matter is that there are no sides, and if there were, Jesus would not be picking one.  Jesus loves those with whom I disagree just as much as Jesus loves me.

A few years ago, when I participated in the Urban Servant Corps here in Denver I was really humbled by the friendship I built with my house mate Jeff, who happened to be an evangelical Christian.  In the course of my friendship with Jeff, I learned that I was pre-judging him before he could judge me.  Then, when he never ended up passing judgment on my beliefs, I looked like a fool.  Learned a pretty important lesson there.

When we use Jesus as a wedge to put space between ourselves and our brothers and sisters in faith, we are hijacking Jesus.   Which serves no purpose and is counterproductive.  When we use Jesus as a weapon, we miss the chance to love.  So while I intellectually can look at this, actually doing it, and remembering to do it, when I am in the throes of a disagreement with another Christian.  So, I ask that God come in with radical grace, and help me to love those with whom I disagree.  And for heaven's sake, to help me stop hijacking Jesus.  Because I can only keep my own side of the street clean.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Comparative Pilgrimage

I am taking a course in Comparative Pilgrimage this quarter (in fact, we are halfway through today's lecture class).  We are watching a documentary on the Hindu "rolling saint", Lotan Baba, who literally rolled most of the length of India as a pilgrimage and to demonstrate devotion to the goddess Devi.  This is a really interesting study because of just how different this religious practice is from my own.

In July-August 2009 I went on a two week pilgrimage to the village of Taize in east-central France.  Taize is often described as a "pilgrimage of trust on earth" and is the residence of the world's only order of ecumenical monks.  At first glance, it seems like it would be odd for Christians to have a pilgrimage site, since God is in and through all things.  Yet, there is a need for Christians, in fact, I would hypothesize that a need for all humans, to go somewhere to experience the closeness of God not found in ordinary life.  For me, this was my experience with bible camp in my youth.  However, this "mountain-top" experience of sorts is not sustainable for the long-term, and one must find the closeness of God in daily life as well, because it matters for being in community.  I look forward to this class to further explore some of these themes.  And how as a future clergy-person I can help my parishioners implement parts of this in their life of faith.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Gospel of Luke: Claiming authority and the consequences

The following two posts are short essays for the online Luke seminar that I am currently taking through Luther Seminary.  

No specific location is given for the Sermon on the Plain described in Luke six, but Luke is careful to emphasize that Jesus descended from the mountain to speak to the crowd of people gathered there. To get a better understanding of Luke 6:17, I read both the NRSV and KJV translations. Both versions indicate that the people there were from all of Judea, the city of Jerusalem and the coastal cities of Tyre and Sidon. Geographically, this is a significantly large area, particularly for people who were traveling by foot. The KJV 6:17 includes the phrase, “which came to hear him, and to be healed of their diseases.” In the NRSV, this phrase is a part of verse 18. The verse that follows in the NRSV is “they had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.” An examination of the Greek translation of these verses can draw our attention to what Jesus is up to in this sermon and illustrate why he might draw the attention of the authorities. 

In 6:17, the word “heal” in the original Greek is actually iavomai , which means to make whole or free from sin. The word “cure” in 6:18 is qerapeuvw , which means to heal. Prior to this sermon Jesus had drawn the attention of the temple authorities and accused of blasphemy for forgiving the sins of the paralytic, because only God was able to forgive sin. This nuance is lost in the English translation, but it important in understanding that the authorities now were closely watching Jesus. 

While not a lot of information is given about who this particular audience was, only that some had “unclean spirits,” we can theorize that they were probably people who were marginalized and oppressed, suffering from leprosy and other diseases that branded them as socially untouchable.  The sermon itself would have just been further evidence to be used by the authorities against Jesus. The culture of the time maintained order by strict social standards of honor, shame, and privilege. The beatitudes described in Luke would have upended this order, and Jesus’ clear exhortation to care for the poor would have created unease for those who are in the top social strata. They attained and maintained power with possessions, social standing, and favor with influential people. Jesus’ words would have been threatening to them. 

This sermon agrees with the meaning of Luke 1:46-55. In this chapter, Mary sings the magnificat, a song foretelling the upending of the social order that is coming with the birth of Jesus Christ. Mary’s words directly parallel those of the sermon on the plain, with blessings and corresponding woes. Mary speaks of a new era that is being ushered in, and Jesus expounds upon it with his message. This message is controversial, and along with other actions such as the healing on the Sabbath and the forgiving of sins, means the authorities are watching Jesus, waiting for him to misstep.  

The Gospel of Luke: beginnings of the ministry of Jesus

Chapters three and four in Luke are rich with Old Testament references. In chapter three, the ministry of John the Baptist is used to point to Jesus’ mission. John himself uses a reference from the Hebrew scriptures that would have special importance to his audience. Luke sets this ministry into a historical context, which according to Gonzalez (48), was a time of oppression for the Jewish people under the Roman empire. It is fitting that John would quote a portion of Isaiah (40:3-6), that also spoke to the people during a time of hardship, the Babylonian exile of the 6th century BCE. In this pericope John the Baptist is affirming that he is not the Messiah, but that the Messiah is coming and will fulfill all the promises of the prophets. 

 Another important part of chapter three is the genealogy of Jesus in vv. 23-38. Luke’s account of Jesus’ ancestry differs from that of Matthew’s, in that Luke traces Jesus’ ancestry backwards to “…son of Adam, son of God.” (3:38) Luke utilizes this list to show that the promise of Jesus is for all people and that the fulfilling of this promise has been a part of God’s plan since creation. 
 Chapter four has other important parallels to the Hebrew scriptures. The temptation of Jesus conjures up images of the temptation of Adam in the garden and Jacob along the river Jabbok. Luke places this story at the start of Jesus’ public ministry in order to show that he is filled with the Holy Spirit and doing the work of the Lord. The devil tempts Jesus three times, which Jesus rebuts with texts from Deuteronomy (Spencer 119). First, in an interesting parallel with Adam, and an allusion to the time the Israelites spent wandering in the wilderness, Jesus fasts and is tempted by the devil to turn stones into bread. Utilizing Deuteronomy 8:3, Jesus states “One should not live by bread alone.” This parallels Adam’s story, because while Adam was forbidden to eat from a certain tree, Jesus was instructed to fast for 40 days, and disobeying that would be disobeying God. Jesus defeats evil and begins to undo some of the history of Adam. 
 The second temptation has the devil offering Jesus the opportunity to rule over many kingdoms of the world if Jesus will worship the devil. Jesus responds with Deut. 6:13, “You should worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” In this, Jesus is saying that he will not serve anyone but YHWH, not worldly kingdoms, also serving to set up his later crucifixion at the hands of the Romans. 
 In the final temptation, utilizing Psalm 91, the devil asks Jesus to throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple and command that his father save him. Jesus answers, “You should not tempt the Lord your God” (Deut 6:16). In the Hebrew scriptures this passage originally commanded the Israelites not to test God in the wilderness, and by stating this, Jesus is affirming that he will not be tempted to test God in his own wilderness. This is a poignant allusion to what will come later as Jesus hangs on the cross. 
 The final portion of chapter four narrates the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He finds himself back in Nazareth, reading aloud from the prophet Isaiah, which Luke uses as an opportunity to further illustrate that Jesus is coming to fulfill the promises made to the people. He quotes Isaiah 61:1-2, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” With this, we learn that Jesus is filled with the spirit, commanded to heal and reconcile the people. With his use of Old Testament references, it is clear that Luke is emphasizing Jesus’ role as the Messiah and by carefully constructing the narrative, he is helping his audience to understand the story of Jesus as part of an ongoing story for all of humankind.