Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Why an Incarnation?

This was a challenge posted by emergent theologian Tony Jones on his Patheos blog Theoblogy:  

Why an Incarnation?  

He writes, "I'm most interested in what the incarnation tells us about God, human beings, creation, the Cosmos, the End Times, Heaven, Hell, salvation, or anything else from a Progressive Christian Perspective,"

This is some useful stuff for me to begin thinking about because I am preaching for my congregation on Epiphany, which is also my last Sunday in Denver.  

So, why an incarnation?  

Honestly, I think it is because we would not listen any other way.  When I am saying we, I mean humanity throughout all time and in all places.  We tend to think that we know best what we need, and generally that comes down to what we want at a given time.  The Messiah the Israelites wanted was a king in the Davidic line, a monarch of military might.  I think we still want the same kind of Messiah, a savior of our own personal choosing who is at our beck and call, who hates the same people we do.  I really don't think if left to our own devices we would have ever picked an infant born among farm animals in a stable to a teenage mother, with an earthly father who was a carpenter, and a heavenly father who is bound and determined to break through the walls we have constructed around our hearts and in our world.  It just doesn't make sense, and yet, I think that is precisely why God chose the person of Jesus Christ as Savior of the world.  

God in Christ broke into our world quietly with the birth of an infant on a dark night in Bethlehem.  And as the cry of a newborn shattered the silence of the night, the Word became flesh and lived among us.  This so thoroughly upends our assumptions about God, that we simply must listen.  Jesus Christ continued to smash our ideas about God as he kept company with unsavory characters, healed those who seemed beyond all help, and died the most undignified death possible, on a cross.  With the incarnate Christ we have a God who is fully human and fully divine.  Our God knows the fullness of human experience, including deep joy and deep pain, which means we are never alone.  

But why an incarnation?  Because of love.  God knew that humankind would ultimately reject (and crucify) the person of Jesus Christ, and yet still came into the world as a vulnerable infant, to attempt to reach our broken hearts, all the while knowing that our sinful nature would prevent us from seeing the gift that we were being offered. Yet he loved us so much that he did it anyway.  The incarnation of Word made flesh tells us that we have a God of love, who knows us far better than we will ever know ourselves, yet loves us anyway.  That is the gospel.  

Why Advent?

Credit: Gregory Walter (Occupy Advent)
The season after Thanksgiving has a name, and it is not Christmas.  Despite what Target would have you believe, Christmas has not yet arrived.  I went to Target last night to pick up a few things, and found that the entire back half of the store seemed to have exploded into a veritable cacophony of red and green and glitter and ribbon and beads and baubles.

This Sunday, December 2nd, marks the first day of Advent.  Advent is probably my favorite season in the liturgical year.  It is the start of the church year, in which we wait with joyous expectation for the coming of the incarnate Christ on Christmas.

With regards to holiday seasons, Advent gets perpetually skipped over.  Christmas is more exciting.  It is more fun to rush through the season of waiting because we are bad at being patient.  We want gratification and we want it now.  It is more fun to surround ourselves with things that are red and green, flavored with peppermint, and that comfort us in the midst of the darkest time of the year.

Advent is a season of darkness.  It is before the coming of the promise of Christ.  Waiting in the darkness is pretty countercultural to us now, but it was also countercultural to the first century Israelites who received a king that they never expected.  They wanted a fine king, in the Davidic tradition, but instead they got a infant born in a stable surrounded by farm animals, to a carpenter and a teenage mother.  Not your typical royal stock. And Jesus continued to smash assumptions throughout his life and through even his death on a cross. So just like those who received Jesus Christ at his first coming, we too await the arrival of a king who comes quietly and unexpectedly in the darkest time of the year.

The Occupy Advent movement blog, and their FaceBook site, is an interesting place to start.  Advent is outside our cultural norms.  What does it mean to wait for a blessing that we cannot even comprehend? What does it mean to trust that the promise will be fulfilled even if we can't understand how or why?

Luther Seminary (my soon-to-be home, as of about January 10th, 2013) publishes a daily meditation guide for Advent.   You can download it here.  This is how I will be shaping my spiritual life in this season of waiting.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


Scenic drive?  Probably not.
In seven weeks I will be making a big move.  I will be moving from Colorado, which has been my home for nearly 7 1/2 years, to St. Paul, MN.  I need to complete some classes at Luther Seminary in order to be ordained in the ELCA.

This is quite the pilgrimage.  I know just a handful of people in Minnesota, and moving there in January is probably the worst idea I have ever had. But there is a preaching class only offered in the spring, with an exceptional professor, Dr. David Lose, so I need to go now before my internship next fall.  However, I have very mixed feelings about my move.  Colorado is my home and the Midwest is not.

It is looking like I will be heading out from Denver on January 7th or 8th.  I am drastically downsizing my belongings right now, as in, if it doesn't fit in my Jeep, it is not coming to MN.  I will probably take it very slow on my drive, taking three days instead of two.  I am taking a whirlwind trip to Montana for Christmas, and will come back on 12/27 in order to finish packing and getting everything in order here.  I am not happy about this move, but I know that I need to do it in order to continue to pursue my calling.


I spent Thanksgiving this year doing something just a little bit different.  My church puts on a big Thanksgiving spectacular called "Operation Turkey Sandwich."  This is my third year participating.  The theory behind it is that many people have to work on the holiday and are not able to be with their own families, or they might not have families to spend the holiday with, and could use a little kindness on a sometimes lonely day.  We make sack lunches that consist of turkey sandwiches, stuffing muffins and pumpkin cookies.  Our church made and distributed 1,045 lunches to people working at 7-11's/other gas stations, hospitals, police stations, fire departments, etc.  It was a good time.  There was even a spontaneous dance party in the middle of the sandwich-crafting.

Buying bread for 1,000 sandwiches at Costco
I went to work in the afternoon at the women's homeless shelter where I work part-time.  I have some amazing coworkers, and along with a family of fantastic volunteers, we  pulled off dinner for 60 women.  Some of the food was cooked in advance, most of it was not. We had five turkeys, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, salad, pies, dinner rolls, and sparkling cider.  And in a nod to so many Thanksgivings spent at my Grandma Amy's house in Montana, I even put wooden bowls of olives and mixed nuts on every table.  I worked again last night, and the ladies were still raving about the holiday.  I really truly love these women at the shelter and it was a wonderful way to spend Thanksgiving.  Because I really think that is what it is about.  Surrounding yourself with wonderful people, stripping away extraneous stuff that doesn't really matter, laughing, and enjoying community.  So it wasn't a holiday in Montana with my family of origin, but it was with a family of my own creation.

With my friend Amy S, getting ready to make sandwiches

Monday, November 19, 2012

Advent Conspiracy

So every year for the past four years or so, in preparation for holiday gift-giving, I have been participating in something called the Advent Conspiracy.  Basically the concept is that the meaning of the season is somehow lost in the consumerism and buying of STUFF.  There is a video embedded below that describes this kind of alternative way to prepare for the holidays.  Black Friday makes me vaguely nauseated every year.  So I am vowing to not buy anything that day and spend time with people I love instead.

Essentially the idea is that instead of buying gifts for your friends and loved ones, you make them.  So I am getting started early this year with making presents.  There is something really profound about showing your love for someone with every stitch or bead or whatever.  So today I dug out all my yarn and knitting needles.  In addition to making gifts, you can also provide services for others.  Think like the coupon books that you made for your family as a child.  I especially love to cook for other people.  Just not for myself.  So I am planning on doing most of the cooking for my family while I am in Bozeman.  Hanson crew, get ready for falafel and tzatziki, chicken chili, pumpkin soup, quinoa, spaghetti squash, sweet potato enchiladas, and so on.  I also make lefse to eat on Christmas Eve.

So my gifts aren't always perfect, but I put a ton of myself into them.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Forced Rest

So this week I finished up finals but it took everything I had to do so.  Tuesday morning I woke up with the tell-tale scratchy throat.  By thursday I was coughing so much I was unable to sleep.  I deliriously took my Hebrew final at 5pm and then crashed.  It was like my body finally said, "That's enough, thanks for playing.  We are going to take a break now."

So I have spent the last three days sleeping and resting.  Because I am literally unable to do anything else.  I went to urgent care yesterday morning after a sleepless night of coughing and wheezing.  I have sickness induced asthma, and it hit me hard this weekend.  It is amazing how exhausting endless coughing can be.  I had a breathing treatment and got some oral steroids and more powerful cough medicine.  It is good that I went when I did because this was not going to get better on its own.  So I am living into my forced period of rest.  I have a couple friends who have been bringing me food and making sure I am okay.

So I hate being sick, mostly because I am impatient and prefer to be doing things at 75mph, so being forced to slow down is not my favorite.  But this is not always a bad thing.   So today I am going to be content with the fact that I managed to do a load of laundry and take a shower.  Accomplishment for today.  Off to take a nap.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


So last week I had my second major interview with my candidacy committee.  This step of the process is called Endorsement and is the second step in a three part process.  I was "entranced" in August 2011 as an official candidate.  This first step marks the transition into an intentional process of discernment with one's faith community and Synod.  The second step of the process is Endorsement and affirms that I have specific gifts and a calling for a specific ministry, in my case, the ministry of Word and Sacrament or ordained ministry.  What people call a pastor.  The third step of the process is called Approval and will occur after my pastoral internship is completed and shortly before I finish my coursework for my Master's of Divinity.

My endorsement interview included the director of candidacy, who is also a friend and mentor, a member of the candidacy committee who is also a chaplain, and one of my professors from Iliff, my pastoral care professor.  Back in August I wrote a 10 page essay that asked a ton of questions in preparation for this interview.  The interview was about 90 minutes long and while grueling, was an excellent experience.  I feel affirmed and encouraged in this path.

So what is next?  My next step is to secure an internship placement for next year.  Tomorrow morning I have a Skype interview with the contextual learning office at Luther Seminary and then will start interviewing with placement sites this winter.  Hopefully an internship will be finalized by March or April and then I will know where I am spending 2013-2014.  Goodness, I am getting awfully tired of moving every year.

I am moving to St. Paul in January to continue my Lutheran formation classes at Luther Seminary.  Lots of exciting things are afoot.