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How Do I Preach On This?!

I had a chapel planning meeting today for the week that I will be preaching at the seminary. It was great to gather together with my fellow classmates and take seriously the honor of leading and forming worship for the community. Wanting to get a head start on the sermonizing process, I took a gander at the text for the sermon. Let me tell you, it’s a whopper of a text! In case you don’t have a bible at hand, here’s the text:

Zephaniah 1:7 Be silent before the Lord GOD! For the day of the LORD is at hand; the LORD has prepared a sacrifice, he has consecrated his guests. 12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs, those who say in their hearts, “The LORD will not do good, nor will he do harm.” 13 Their wealth shall be plundered, and their houses laid waste. Though they build houses, they shall not inhabit them; though they plant vineyards, they shall not drink wine from them. 14 The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter, the warrior cries aloud there. 15 That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, 16 a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements. 17 I will bring such distress upon people that they shall walk like the blind; because they have sinned against the LORD, their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. 18 Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD’s wrath; in the fire of his passion the whole earth shall be consumed; for a full, a terrible end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.

My first thought was of absolute terror. I had this image of me preaching doom and gloom to the people gathered together for worship. The next thought I had in response to this was “Nope, that ain’t gonna happen!” I’ll be working on this text on my own the next few weeks, but I’m curious. What message do you hear from this text? Are there good news nuggets that you sift out from the midst of the doom and gloom? Inquiring mind wants to know…

Before you get any further, I want you to look at the title of this post. See the “?!” at the end of the title? Did you know that this is a legitimate punctuation mark, and that there’s a word for that specific punctuation? And no, it’s not question mark-exclamation point. It’s actually called an interrobang. Who knew there was such a thing?! Just a special tidbit of random information from me to you.

Okay, enough about grammar, I wan to talk about another subject: BOOKS! As anyone who has attended Wartburg Theological Seminary can probably tell you, October is THEOLOGICAL LIBRARIES MONTH!!! Yay! Being the month in which we celebrate Theological Libraries, our very own Reu Memorial Library at Wartburg Theological Seminary holds a book sale every fall in October. There are also other fun events and activities as well, but the books always draw a big crowd. Seeing as how it’s my last year on campus and I’ll likely be moving in 7-10 months, I told myself I wouldn’t buy any books this year. I already have enough. My parents, who were so kind as to help me move yet again, would likely agree with that statement.

I was doing fairly well with that commitment, until the second to last day of the book sale. I had already perused through the books and saw some that held interest, but I assured myself I didn’t need any more books and walked away. This time, I was helping someone else find books, and then ended up looking closer at some of the books. I bought $2 worth (two hard cover and four paperbacks) and told myself that was it. When I went back later on, I noticed some more books that a professor had mentioned in class. I picked those up, and decided I should make it an even $2 once again. Now my total in sales was $4, and my total books purchased came to 14 (two hard cover and six paperbacks). So I was done. Not buying any more books, and that’s FINAL!

Well to be fair, I didn’t BUY any more books this time, but I did get some free ones on the last day of the sale. Most of them were some great classics, Like Robinson Crusoe, The Pearl, etc. Then I found some other mysteries and books by authors I believe my mom reads, so I picked those up for her. Finally, I found more books by another author that yet another professor had recommended.

I got some really great selections, but my book collection has gotten so out of hand that I have a box of books still stored away, my desk has three rows of books on them and books piled up on top of those books, and the new books I bought are sill in a box next to the desk. It’s not to hoarder proportions yet, but I’ll have at least another box of books now to move come next summer. Many of them are theological books or books that relate to working in the church or spiritual care. Still more are books I intend to read. The problem with all these books is that I can’t see getting rid of 95% of them. Maybe some day I’ll have enough money to buy them all in kindle format, but until then, my desk will be overflowing with literature of varying sorts. I’m still not sure how I feel about this, but I suppose there are worse things to collect than books.

So tell me, dear readers. What’s something that you keep accumulating, but can’t part ways with? I’m curious to see what you have to say. Anyone else a self-proclaimed bibliophile? And finally… anyone want to help me move all these boxes next summer?   😉

With the pastors at my home congregation moving on, the church will be entering the call process to eventually call another pastor or pastors for the congregation. This generally takes several months, even years, before the paperwork is finalized, the synod notified, interim work is completed, and the potential interviews are begun. In my head, I couldn’t help but think that St. John Lutheran would be ready to call a new pastor around the time my fellow classmates graduate. Since Brian and Andrea were first call pastors, it’s quite possible the church would consider another first call pastor. So one of my classmates may very well end up getting a call to my home congregation.

Upon realizing this, I started looking at my fellow classmates with another focal lens in place. I would hear them talk, teach, provide spiritual, emotional, mental support to others and think “would they be able to lead the people of St. John?” Time after time, the answer turned out to be yes. I realized that not only were these my classmates, but they were pastors, finalizing their classes and anticipating calls.It has been a pleasant surprise to see this calling strengthened and honed over the past few years, to the point that I would be happy if any of them ended up in my home congregation.

Along the same lines as thinking about them in regards to St. John, I also started thinking “could they be my pastor?” Again, the answer was yes. I realized that not only could they be my pastor, but on some level they already have been. I’ve gone to my classmates with my fears, concerns, joys, dreams, etc. and had them provide affirming insights time after time. I hope they are able to say the same about me, and look forward to seeing where we all end up. Looking back to our first days together, the growth and maturation is astonishing. This isn’t to say that we were all immature slackers to begin with, but that this process has managed to shape us all in amazing and wonderful ways.

I leave you with these words from the ELW Morning Prayer:

Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This past Sunday I said goodbye to Pastors Brian and Andrea. They have been my pastors for the past six years, walked with me through this journey into seminary, and helped my family through a lot of rough patches over the years. Pastor Brian officiated at my brother and sister-in-law’s marriage a little over a year ago. It’s sad to see them go, and I’m likely to be a bit spiritually unbalanced for a while as I adjust. Still, I have the great people of Wartburg Seminary and Pastor John at Lord of Life here in Dubuque to lean on. My thoughts and prayers go out to the people of St. John as they begin the search for an interim pastor and then work towards calling another pastor. I also keep Pastors Brian and Andrea in my prayers, as well as their family. Prayers for safe travels, exciting new ministry opportunities, and ability to discern how the Holy Spirit continues to move in their lives.

At the services, both pastors uplifted the church’s identity and mission in the world and community. Pastor Brian reminded us that St. John will still stand and continue to be a community of believers gathered together to worship God, be inspired by the Holy Spirit, and spread the Good News to all the people. Pastor Andrea emphasized the need for our actions to match our words, and used the illustration of geese flying in V formation as an example of our work together in the church. I couldn’t help but think that, even though Brian and Andrea will be leaving the front of our V formation, there are others within the community that will take that place, uplifting others in their service. Eventually the congregation will call another to fulfill that position and continue the work.

After the sermon, we sang the hymn “Borning Cry” together, a personal favorite of mine for several reasons. While singing the hymn, I realized that we sing of promises to be there at the borning cry, in searching where demons dwell, when hearts to joined as one, all the way to death. It became clear to me in that moment that no one person can be there for all those things for someone, at least not if they were to live a full and long life. I’m sure it should probably make us think of God’s presence in all those instances, and I still agree with that. But I also realized in that moment that we feel God’s presence in those moments through the presence of others.

At the 10:30 service, we celebrated in the baptism of a new member. I thought it was the perfect ending to a calling, to welcome a new member as the pastors themselves departed. It clearly showed that the work of St. John’s would continue, as well as the work of Pastors Brian and Andrea. Some day, when I take a call to a church somewhere, I will be taking on the leadership and guidance of members who had been baptized, confirmed, married by and received spiritual care from others. I will be picking up where others left off, and will eventually leave that others might come after me. The work of the church, of God’s work in the world, is bigger than any one person. I find a sort of humbling comfort in that. I don’t have to do it all, but I have a part in the work. As I stood there Sunday, welcoming in a new member to St. John’s and promising to help in raising this child in the Christian faith, I heard the words of “Borning Cry” echoed in my mind again.

I’m sad to see Brian and Andrea leave, but excited for the new ministry opportunities that await them in Arizona. Likewise, I mourn with St. John at the loss of pastors, but look forward to continuing on in the mission that God has called us to together. I have had to say some hard goodbyes to many people over the years, but also had the opportunity to meet wonderful and new people as well. While this will be a difficult process at times, I know that God will guide us through it, and we will work together to uplift one another. What wonderful reminders, in a baptism, hymn and sermon, of God’s constant love in the midst of change.

Trying to stay ahead…

Hello Everyone!

The last year of seminary is finally here! My reaction to this reality is…mixed. I’m excited to be going out into the world and actually live out my vocation every day, but at the same time there’s so much left to learn! I realize this is going to be an ongoing problem, as I’ll never manage to learn everything there is to know about ministry. I only hope I know enough to serve God and those God entrusts to me.

So far this semester, being only a few weeks into the semester, I’ve managed to stay ahead of the assignments and get all the required reading done. As of last night, I had all my homework for Monday completed, and hope to have Tuesday’s homework finished by tonight. Maybe even Wednesday’s homework as well. This, you might think, is fantastic news! I’ve been in school two full weeks already and am still two days ahead of schedule. Which, yes, it is good. But I’m hoping it’s also manageable.

I’ve heard from some of my classmates/friends that they never see me anymore outside of work, classes and worship. Technically, this isn’t true, but I understand what they mean. I haven’t spent as much social time as I have in past years out with everyone. Part of me thinks this is a good thing, that I’m more focused on my studies and don’t feel the need to cling to others all the time. Maybe I’m just different this year. Who knows? I guess only time will tell.

As I look forward to this next week, I see that, once again, my schedule is filled with extra things to attend to. All good things, but still. There’s meetings with Bishops, Castle Companion training, more work study (up to nearly 10hrs a week, YAY!) confirmation, and a few fun things as well. Like I said, all good things, and I’m excited about each and every one of them. Then there’s worship back home on Sunday, to say farewell to the pastors. It will be hard not having that spiritual support and guidance that I’ve grown to depend on over the past years.

Still, I know there’s more to life than homework (at least in theory) so I’m sure this year will be an educational, formational, and inspirational year! I would ask that you keep me in your prayers this week and into the future. I’m going to need as much help as I can get to stay focused and energized for all that lies before me! Please know that I’m praying for you as well, and always welcome prayer requests. Send me a message, facebook me, e-mail me, call or text me… whatever. Just don’t send a smoke signal or telegram. I have a really hard time deciphering them 😉

Peace in Christ,

Paul Andrew JohnSon

Stop the Stereotypes!!!

While talking with a few women at work yesterday, the subject of LGBTQ individuals in the ministry. I’m sure she only meant to compliment me, but she mentioned that I, as a gay man in this field, am better at relating to others and being sensitive to emotions. Like I said, I know it was meant as a compliment, and I felt honored that she thought so highly of me. However I was troubled by the the fact that she apparently thought my heterosexual male friends and classmates who are in ministry, being educated to go into the field, or waiting for a call, were less capable at dealing with emotions and making emotional connections with others.

Despite her good intentions, she was upholding a stereotype that gay men are more emotional and empathetic than heterosexual males. And while I’ve often heard of this as a negative aspect of homosexuals (ex: gay men are too effeminate or flamboyant) using it as a positive is still stereotyping, and thus flawed. I know plenty of gay men who would absolutely suck at dealing with other people’s emotions, and I know tons of heterosexual men who are waaaaay better than I am at dealing with other people’s emotions.

If you were to ask my CPE supervisor, he’d tell you how screwed up I was emotionally when I first began CPE. Well, okay he wouldn’t because he’s a professional and respects confidentiality, but I’m sure he’d say that I grew in several aspects of my ministry, just like everyone else in the group. It doesn’t matter that I’m gay and my classmate is straight. That doesn’t determine how effective we are at dealing with emotions. To be quite honest, emotional outbursts still tend to make me freeze in place, terrified that I’ll do something wrong and damaging. Same goes for some of my straight and gay friends.

It reminds me of when my friends, again, intending it as a compliment, would say that I was “such a good gay friend” for opening a door, going shopping with them, helping them choose which dress, whatever. I finally had enough one day and said “No. That doesn’t make me a good gay friend, it just makes me a good friend. Period. Being gay has nothing to do with it.”

Uplifting stereotypes to try to compliment a person based on their group is still wrong. And why? Because it’s over-simplifying things and just isn’t true. It also permits us to put others down or ignore their needs because of these supposedly “positive” stereotypes. Imagine an Asian student, struggling with math, or a woman who asks for help with baking, or an African American who isn’t good with sports. What does that say to them? It says “You suck. And in fact, you double-suck because this is something that is supposed to come natural to you.”

I understand that you might be trying to give me a compliment, but please, don’t say that I’m such a good gay friend, or such a good gay intern. Just say “hey, you did good. Thanks.” No stereotypes necessary.

Internship has begun!

Hello everyone!

Thanks for reading! As most (if not all) of you know, I recently moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to begin my internship. Well, the beginning has begun now as of church service this morning. I’m happy to report that, besides some mic difficulties and stepping on the hem of my alb once or twice, the services went fairly well.

Tomorrow I look forward to my first full day with both St. Luke’s hospital and St. Stephen’s Church. I’m hoping they go easy on me for my first day, but you never know. I’ll be learning the ropes at the hospital from 8-4:30 and then head back to St. Stephen’s for evening events including Bible Study. It’s going to be fun, I promise!

I’ll have more to report later (and hopefully some awesome pictures of my new place) when I post again. Hopefully sometime mid-week you should see another post.

Thanks again for reading!

God Bless!


– Intern Paul Andrew Johnson

I’m currently in the process of packing up all my stuff. And by packing, I mean throwing everything out into the open and organizing it into bins.

It’s amazing to see how much stuff I’ve accumulated over the last two years, and now I’m scratching my head over how I’m going to get it all into the aforementioned boxes. After several days of it looking progressively worse in the midst of organizing, I’m finally starting to see progress. I’ve fully packed five tubs and two cardboard boxes with books, toiletries and cleaning supplies, electronics, decorations, yarn, more yarn, and still more books!

I’m hoping to pack at least two more boxes tonight before bed and then get the room semi-cleaned until next weekend when I’ll clean even more! Little by little, I’m chipping away at the process. I’m hoping that by the time my moving weekend arrives I’ll be able to get in the car, drive home and load up the truck in De Pere, drive back to Dubuque and get everything organized so that Sunday morning we can load up, drive to Cedar Rapids, enjoy the church service, and then unload all the boxes and furniture in one fell swoop!

Until then I keep switching back and forth between packing things up and remembering all the stories behind each item.

The spider plant my Aunt gave me which became my first official houseplant.

The mug that, after serving one of my teachers for many years, was given back to me so that I could remember her. I still use it every morning with my coffee or water.

The microwave, refrigerator and towels my grandmother made sure I had so I’d be “all set” for school.

The cross painted and stamped by a dear classmate that didn’t continue with the program, but continues to be a close friend.

The poem given to me from someone who only writes when inspired and has managed to inspire me each day.

The Bible, Book of Concord, Memory book and several other mementos from my Sisters and Brothers in Christ back at St. John’s.

The drawing Jim made and framed for me, the beautiful cross my dad made, the journal from my mother filled with notes from her and spilling with love…

The memories go on and on, making each item a precious memento and a wonderful reminder of all who walk with me through this journey. When the people of St. Stephen’s church in Cedar Rapids help me unpack, they won’t just be looking at my personal effects… They’ll be looking at the loving support I have received and continue to receive from those whom I am proud to call my friends and family. Everything I own here, down to my underwear (Thanks Aunt Lynn and Uncle Larry!) have been from generous gifts of love from others.

And those items just scratch the surface of all the wonderful memories made on this epic and beautiful journey. Thanks be to God!


Goodnight, Jesus

With one of my responsibilities on campus currently being to lock up the Castle (Wartburg) each night, I’ve added in a little perk. Each night as I’m turning off lights and locking doors, I say goodnight to Jesus.

Let me explain…

It started several months ago (maybe even a year ago) when a good friend of mine, Sara, saw me in the chapel helping move some furniture and said hello as she walked past. She was showing someone around the campus (her mom, perhaps?) and this woman looked in with a puzzled expression until spotting us, and then said “oh, you were talking to them!”

Apparently, she thought Sara was waving and saying “Hey!” to Jesus.

Sara said that was crazy. I thought it was hilarious. And so when I would walk past the chapel, I’d wave and say “hey” to Jesus. Then when I started locking up at night I noticed they would leave the altar lights on during the day (which to me seemed like a nightlight for Jesus) so when I climb up the steps and turn of the light, I always turn to the crucifix and say “Goodnight, Jesus” before turning off the lights.

It may seem a bit weird, but I’ve come to enjoy these quick comments to Jesus each night. And while I was originally irked that the sacristan was leaving the altar lights on each night (one more light switch to flip) tonight I was saddened that they were already turned off and I didn’t have to say “Goodnight, Jesus.” But fear not, because even though I didn’t have to, I still did it.

Who knows, maybe at my internship site this upcoming year I’ll be turning out the lights and be able to say “Goodnight, Jesus” in a whole new setting. If not, I guess I’ll just have to say goodnight each day at home.

I realized, quite ashamedly in fact, that I haven’t really shared some great news with my friends and family near and far. So for all who haven’t heard, I’m sorry.

Proclaim Retreat, 2013

With that, I am happy to report that, beginning this Thursday at 1pm, I will begin my adventure to California to attend the Proclaim Retreat again this year. I am excited to see some familiar faces and get to know a ton of knew people as well during this trip. I only hope that I’ll have enough to do between flights on Thursday afternoon/evening and Friday morning as well as Monday afternoon/evening and Tuesday morning. Despite my best efforts, I’ll be spending nearly a day in airplanes or airports before and after the retreat.

If you’d like more information on the retreat, you can click here and it will bring you to Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries’ website on the retreat. Please pray for me on Thursday and Tuesday that my flights go well and send warm thoughts my way over the weekend. I’ll definitely be doing the same and will even try to send a bit of warm weather and sunshine along with it. It’s looking like mid to high seventies all weekend long. Ahh, I can almost feel it!