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Archive for September, 2011

You first…

My brain seems to be running on overdrive this week with all the random, fascinating tidbits running through it. The lectures, small group discussions and one on one chats have certainly provided fuel for the brain fires. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of all that’s going on. Oh heck, I might as well admit that I have absolutely no clue what’s going on up there. Whatever it is, however, it’s certainly challenged me in many ways and made me think about how I respond in life and how others respond as well.

Through this whole process, I’d have to say that one phrase keeps coming to mind: “You first.” This can be in response to the ideas of sharing, caring, forgiving, repenting, talking etc. You name it, my brain has probably fired a couple neurons in response to it this week. In each and every one of these subjects, the idea of “you first” keeps coming to mind.

“I really want to forgive you for what you’ve done, but you go first.”

“I want to reach out to you and say that I’m there, but you first.”

“I want to discuss how I see God fitting into my life, but you first.”

“I need to tell you how scared I am, how helpless I feel, but you first.”

“I want to feel comfortable enough with you to cry, but you first.”

“I really think you’re cute and want to tell you, but you first.”

“I…”

 

Now I’m not saying that these are all things that the people here are saying or thinking. Rather, “you first” seems to be the knee-jerk response in our culture today. We want to put ourselves out there and tell others how we feel and what we’re thinking, but we’re so afraid to start that dialogue with others because we might get rejected for it.

Think about it. Coming from a background in the grocery business, I have seen it become taboo to talk about almost anything besides the weather. Sometimes even that. As human beings, we need to interact with others, share our hopes and fears, our ups and downs, but we’re constantly afraid to do so. Society has often told us this is not okay.

So how do we break this barrier and let it all out? You may not like the answer. In order to get over this faux pas, sometime we have to go first. If you are waiting for someone to do or say something, sometimes you just have to go first. And not just because you expect them to reciprocate, because sometimes they aren’t going to. Sometimes they won’t want to. Sometimes they’ll be too afraid to.

Look at those statements again. Can you see yourself thinking them at one point or another? I know I can. I still struggle, even with people I know and love, and know they feel the same, to start the conversation. I am so terrified of being rejected by others for who I am, what I think, what I say, that I’m often silenced by my own fear. I’ve definitely come a long way, and have even started changing for the better. But there is still a long way from me to go.

Who knows, maybe you’re not wired like that. Maybe you have no problem starting the conversation and putting yourself out there. Maybe you can tell it like it is, despite the fact that others may think less of you for it. If that’s the case, great. Go ahead and say it. Because there is always someone out there that is too afraid to say it first. It might even be me.

And when you do, enjoy it. When we finally break past this barrier, that’s when we can truly communicate with others and share ourselves.

Break the barrier. God Bless!

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Long time, no post!

Hey everyone!

Yes, I am still alive, just incredibly busy. I do apologize for not posting in a long time, but I’ve been so crazy busy with classes and readings that I’ve barely had enough time to sleep, much less post on here. I’m sorry. I’ll try to be better from now on.

Anyways, it’s time for some updates. Classes are really great, and I love all of my professors (even if some of them, like Dr. Priebe and Dr. Nessan, scare the heck out of me) and my adviser,Susan Ebertz,  is amazing! I would have to say the classes here have been extremely interesting and have already made me question some things in new and exciting ways. I even like my Foundations of the Church class, and I usually HATE history!

As far as my job, I’m working up to ten hours a week in the Library (the limit for a Grad student) checking out books, getting things ready for the book sale, and (OH SO MUCH FUN!!!) doing all the statistics for the library. Note the sarcasm. Yeah, they haven’t been done since about April of last year (some even earlier than that) and apparently there are nine different categories of stats to compile. But I’ve already finished three, so only six more to go! No wonder Susan loves me!

The last two weekends I was lucky enough to return home and visit with some (though sadly, not all) of my friends and family. I was able to return for these two Sundays to St. John Lutheran in De Pere, and worship with the amazing community there. I even managed to help out with the church picnic on the 11th, and enjoyed a lovely summer day full of laughter and celebration, mixed with silence and reflection in honor of those who were affected by the 9/11 incident ten years ago.

Spending those two weekends back home made me realize even more how lucky I am to be a part of so many amazing communities. Both back home and here in Dubuque. I hope to expand those communities as well since I am now a confirmation guide at Lord of Life church here. I also look forward to having regular conversations with a lovely couple here that are unable to make it to church. Pastor John suggested them to me for a class assignment, but I can’t wait to hear more about their lives, their faith stories, and be shaped by their influence.

As for on campus, I have been having a blast here with the other Juniors and have started to get to know the Middlers and Seniors as well. All great people. I honestly can’t say there’s anyone here that I don’t like. Perhaps some people click with my personality better than others, but it’s so great being surrounded by such caring, compassionate people. What’s even better is that when I’m freaking out about classes or worrying about how I’m ever going to pay for everything, there’s always people around that will listen, not to mention a good chunk of people who are feeling the same way.

We’ve shared so many ups and downs together, questioned our callings and reinforced the callings of others, laughed, cried, and prayed together. I can see why so many people graduate from Wartburg and remain closely connected with their classmates long after leaving this place. In fact, we just had the class of (help me out Wartburgers, was it ’59?) here for a reunion. Evan after half a century, they’re still connected to one another.

Which makes me wonder… how can I translate that strong sense of community to my first call? How will I manage to forge strong and healthy relationships, encourage spiritual growth, get more reserved people to speak up and join in? All while making sure I don’t stretch myself too thin and burn out? I guess I have four more years to find the answer, and if there is an answer to be found, I’m sure it can be found here.

In the meantime, I’d like to leave you with this…

You have been saved by grace through faith. This has already been done for you. You can’t buy your way to heaven, no matter how much money you have. And worrying about worldly things isn’t going to make it better. Instead, why not focus on the good for once? Now… how are you going to celebrate that with others?

As Always, God Bless!

What “Church” means to me

Hello there! Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoy what you see and come back for more!

Over the past couple of days I have been thinking about a lot of “how” questions. How will I pay for school, how can I keep from procrastinating in my studies, how will I ever remember all the names of the people here… the list goes on. One particular question seems to resurface more than others. Surprisingly, it isn’t “how will I pay for school” but  rather “how can I be a better christian?”

This question, paired with discussions on church buildings-more specifically the extravagance of some churches- has resulted in some quite peculiar streams of thought. I think about all the different ways $4 million + dollars could be spent rather than on Tiffany stain glass windows (a local church), how much more involved churches could be in the community (both here and at home) if they didn’t have as many debts or obligations. What could be done in the world to possibly end world hunger if more people helped fund programs rather than spend money on extravagant houses and expensive foreign cars.

I can’t help but feel guilty when I worry about money that it is because I still worship money too much. I am still tethered to money’s influence. I use it to buy new clothes (though my budget has plummeted since starting school) pay for food, pay off loans, even pay for school. It seems that money is always finding a way to creep into my life. I know I’m not the only one suffering from this, either. Everywhere I look these days money is making it’s presence (or lack thereof) known in one way or another.

Back to those stain glass windows. My first thought is “why.” I mean, I understand that they are truly magnificent to look at, even when the sun isn’t shining, but I can’t help but think that the money could have gone to better things. I have been in my fair share of church buildings in my life, and I must say that the ones with the pristine windows, polished to a shine, detailed woodwork and gold-covered everything don’t usually do as much for me as the cramped and simple rooms with just enough space for a plain altar. Maybe there’s something in the gold plating that screws up my Holy Spirit reception, but man can those little, plain-jane buildings pump out the good vibes and energy.

Don’t get me wrong, I have definitely felt the presence of God in a variety of places with a different decoration levels. I just don’t see having an ornate meeting place as a requirement for getting in touch with God. I mean, think about the early disciples. They were meeting in shabby houses of believers, secret areas of the cities, often in fear of being caught. They couldn’t afford to have some ornate building to gather in, or it very well could have been their last gathering.

I think one big thing people keep forgetting is that the true “church” isn’t the building. It isn’t the place with the wooden pews, a decorative altar, an organ, brick and mortar and Tiffany stain glass windows. Going back to Greek, I learned the original definition for Synagogue meant “assembly” or “meeting.” That’s what really makes up the church. The is in the people who gather together and praise God for all that he has done. It’s in the work done by believers to take care of the sick, the suffering, the poor, the needy.

I saw one church while watching the Churchwide assembly (in between classes and studying) that didn’t even have a building. They met in a square in the middle of the city with a simple table for an altar. Their “church” was comprised of many homeless people, and they worked hard to spread the word in whatever ways possible. Most of the time that meant a lot of walking and a lot of talking.

They went out into the community and engaged others. It didn’t matter that the people of the church didn’t have a lot (or in some cases, any) money to share. They still had a major impact on the community and brought the word to others. They didn’t just wait for someone to come through their doors to hear the Good News. They proclaimed it wherever they could.

So when I think about how I want my “church” to look, I don’t look to the outside or inside of a building. I don’t think about gold-plating or Tiffany windows. When I think of churches, I think about our actions, our service to others, the way we interact with other people in the world and how we can make this world a better, safer place for all.I think about how I can get out there in the community and become involved.

I am going to be a confirmation guide this year for Lord of Life church in Asbury so that I can reach the youth there and hopefully fill them with the Holy Spirit. I greet everyone I meet while shopping with a smile or a head nod, and love talking with strangers about my calling. This week I am told I will be going out into the community and talking with others about their lives to learn more about them.

I am being church in this community. Are you? God Bless!

 

What is a Leader?

Hello all, and thanks for tuning in! Whether you’re visiting for the first time, checking in on a casual basis, or a hard-core dedicated reader, thank you. I hope you enjoy what I have to say and know that I would love to hear what you have to think as well!

This post is inspired by a post from Mary, a fellow seminarian, Wartburger, and blogger. Here’s a link to her blog for all those interested. Yay for blog buddies!

The question posed by Mary was “What is a Pastor?” I’ve thought about this very question for a long time myself. Those of you who have heard my call story know that I rejected this calling on several occasions because I felt I wasn’t worthy enough to be a pastor. I pushed the idea aside with thoughts of “I can’t be a pastor because I don’t know how to…/I can’t…/I’m not good with…” insert excuses 1-473. Believe me, I tried a bunch of different reasons.

Funny thing is, that God fellow? You know, the one who was calling me? Every time I tried straying from his calling with one of these excuses, he put me on another path that equipped me with the skill/trait/knowledge etc that I had lacked. All that time I thought I was running away from my calling, but really God just kept guiding me through life and better preparing me. God never gave up on me. The only one who was doing that was me and me alone.

So now that I have accepted this calling (whole-heartedly, I might add) what exactly is a Pastor? Or, more generally, a Leader? Mary had some great examples on her blog. Even better, she commented on the stereotypical views on what a Pastor should be. Let’s just say that I don’t really see myself as the stereotypical pastor figure. I have a lot of traits that are not aligned with this persona. However several, if not all, of the individual traits (such as being caring, easy to talk to etc.) are definitely characteristics I hold.

Which leads me to the meat of this post. If so many great leaders (including, of course, pastors) don’t fit the stereotypical “leader” role, then why does this stereotype remain? Is it because the leaders are recognized as such, and are therefore seen through clouded sight? Do we ignore the characteristics that aren’t stereotypical and magnify the ones that do correlate? And if this is true, then how are the people who are truly meant to be leaders (including pastors) supposed to recognize this when they don’t see themselves as fitting the stereotypical leader role?

Perhaps it’s the undeniable calling we feel. That urging that beckons us to be leaders despite our perceived shortcomings. Maybe it’s because of the cries for help that we cannot, as caring and concerned individuals, ignore. Quite possibly we begin this path with a thought in the back of our mind, saying “I’ll just fill in until someone else comes along.” Is that not what a TRUE leader is supposed to do anyway?Is that not what we, as Christians (not just future pastors, but all called to be children of God) are meant to do? To lead others to the guidance of our Lord?

Through this process of just “filling in,” is that not where we truly gain the remaining skills to become leaders? None of us are perfect, and as imperfect people, no one is born ready to lead. Rather it is by remembering that we don’t have to be perfect and yet can lead that we are able to obtain the true makings of a leader. Remember Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Remember that later when you begin to reject that calling to be a leader. It could be something simple, like guiding someone with directions. It could be scary, like speaking out against discrimination. It could even be something you don’t think you can handle, like being called to become a Lutheran Pastor. (I wonder who I could be talking about…) But always remember that even the smallest acknowledgement of that calling can make a major positive difference in someone else’s life. It can make a major positive difference in your life.

Listen for the calling, look for a chance to lead, and as always, God Bless!

Hardcover Headache!

Hello again (or for the first time) to my blog! I hope you enjoy what you read! Please feel free to comment, subscribe, and certainly explore the older posts!

Well I unfortunately have some bad news for everyone. But bear with me through the bad and you’ll eventually get to the good! I figured I’d put the bad first to it’s out of the way. If you REALLY don’t want to, I guess you could skip the bad and jump ahead to the good. But where’s the fun in that?

First order of bad news is that I’m broke. I know, shocker, right? But wait it gets worse because I’m even more broke than before (otherwise known as being broke-er [which is also known as being a “student”]). You may be asking yourself (or me, through our internet-enhanced connection) why this might be. Simple reason? I had to buy books. A LOT of books. A lot of EXPENSIVE books. Even used (and believe me, I bought used whenever possible). The grand total was up there close to $3000. YIKES! To make matters worse, I just paid a deposit of $605 for my J-term class. Even more YIKES!

Now you could be thinking to yourself at this moment “well yeah that’s expensive and probably hurts him, but it’s now THAT bad.” To this I must say “wait, it gets better (or is that worse?)” Not only did I fork over all that money, but I also (because I had one-click payment on for amazon) inadvertently sent ALL the books to my address back home. I know, I’m a genius. I can’t blame Amazon for this, since it was my error, but it certainly adds to the frustration levels. It’s a good thing I’m headed home in September (WOO HOO! COME TO CHURCH AND SEE ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) so that I can grab my books while home.

Okay, that’s all the bad news, now on to the GOOD news!

First off, that J-term deposit? Yeah, it’s so that I can go to the HOLY LAND! I will be on a 16 day journey from January 5th to the 20th. Even better than this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? I’ll be celebrating my birthday in Bethlehem/Galilee! how cool is that?! I am already so excited for this amazing opportunity, and can’t wait to see the Holy Land up close and in person! I am sure I will learn a ton and grow spiritually through this process. The sticker price does scare me ($4,000 + additional expenses like Passport, meals etc.) but I can’t let money stop me from enjoying this magnificent opportunity.

Another good piece of news is that I got a 93% on my final exam for Summer Greek! This makes me so happy, because I managed to get an A for the class grade (I PASSED) and feel like I’ve learned a lot and acquired some invaluable tools for the future. I hope to be able to continue the trend through the next four years (though I doubt I’ll be able to manage A’s in all the classes) and prove that I have what it takes. I must admit that I have worried about my family, my money situation, my weight and a number of other things while here, but in all that time I NEVER worried that this wasn’t the path I was meant to take.

One last final piece of good news? I had an absolute blast with my mom and aunt while they visited me here. The only dark spot of the entire experience was not being able to watch the Packers game. We did manage to listen to it over the radio, so even that wasn’t TOO bad. We explored the area (sometimes on purpose, sometimes on accident) ate delicious food (both homemade and at The Athenian Grill) and enjoyed ourselves each day. Wednesday I introduced my home family to my seminary family at club oivos. Thursday were spent a good five or six hours exploring the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium before enjoying a delicious supper of pork chops and asparagus. The night was, of course, made complete by listening to the Packers game and discussing theology. Friday (today) we only had a little time, but made the trek up the tower here at the castle and enjoyed the picturesque view of Dubuque from above.

It would certainly seem that my highs well outweigh my lows this week. I am eternally grateful that God has been so good to me, and can only hope that he will use me to help out others in life who need support, guidance, care or even just a friendly face. I hope the good outweighs the bad in your lives as well. Let me know if there’s something you would like me to talk about in future blogs as well. I would love suggestions for topics, opportunities for personal growth, etc.

As always, God Bless!

P.s. Mom and Aunt Lynn brought delicious cookies for me! Another point for the positive side!

p.p.s. did you know p.s. stands for post-script? And, consequently, p.p.s. stands for post- post-script.