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Posts tagged ‘Theology’

Seeking Perfection

While reading some very creative and insightful articles for preaching, I had a thought that I wanted to share with you all. You may relate to the thought, or it may seem completely opposite to your nature. Either way, I hope it helps you to better understand me and something I still struggle with- perfectionism.

When I had my endorsement interview, I remember thinking that things were going really well. I enjoyed talking about my faith story, the ups and downs of seminary life, and was surprised to realize how far I had come in a year and a half. In the midst of talking about classes and which professors I liked (I said all, and I truly meant it) Pastor Scott hit me with a question that caught me completely off-guard. He asked me if being a perfectionist got in the way of my studies. WHAT?!? Me, a perfectionist? I remember sitting in a chair outside while they discussed their decision and writing on the pad of paper that I had brought with me “Am I a perfectionist?”

Pastor Scott’s question hit me like a slap in the face, and the next day when I spoke with Susan (my adviser) and asked her if she thought I was a perfectionist, she responded with a blatant “YEAH!” Since then, I have been slowly realizing that what was so obvious to them (and likely to many others as well) was completely hidden from me. Recognizing it and finally admitting to it has been a struggle. I encountered it again when discussing internship sites with Dr. Sayler. She told me that I’m too hard on myself and second-guess myself too much. After I stopped putting myself down for putting myself down, I realized it was because of that perfectionism again.

Being more aware of it, I’ve noticed that it has affected my life so much and kept holding me back. In dieting, I tried to be perfect in counting every calorie and watching every little thing that I ate. When I goofed and ate too much or scarfed down something unhealthy, all was lost in my mind. I screwed it up, so I might as well give up. Writing assignments, especially major papers, have been so hard because I worry so much about doing it right that I’m too scared to even start. Even in cleaning my room, I will put it off because I don’t have enough time to clean it to perfection. And it’s all so silly! I’m so caught up in doing it wrong that I can’t even do it at all!

I’m reminded of a trip last summer that I took to the cabin up north. I wanted to whittle something, so I got a pocket knife and found a large branch and started whittling away. The branch was a bit dry, so at times pieces would break off, and there was some discoloration in places. As I tried to fix all the mistakes and cut out the discoloration, it kept breaking and new spots kept showing up. Eventually all I had left was a tiny little piece of wood, about as long as my fingernail. The tip broke off, so I threw even that away. Looking back, I realize that my perfectionism is the knife and I’m the piece of wood. Whenever I tried to do something, that need for perfection would cut away at me until there wasn’t anything left.

So what does this have to do with the preaching articles? In reading them, they repeatedly remind the reader to keep the Word in mind. All too often sermon writers try to form some perfect masterpiece, or tell this perfect story, but at the expense of the Word. When they don’t keep Scripture at the center, it becomes all too easy to keep hacking away at it until there’s nothing left. The same goes for ourselves. If we forget who we are, as children of God, and forget that our goal is to share the Good News, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, help the poor, and love our neighbor, it’s easy to get caught up in life until there’s no real meaning left. We find ourselves constantly busy trying to find fulfillment in empty things. And what does that mean for us? Well, for me it means I have more schoolwork to finish. For you? Well, you’ll have to figure that one out yourself. If you figure it out, let me know. I’d love to hear what God’s calling you to do.

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Let me tell you a (Picture) Story!

Well hey there!
It has been great going home each month and worshipping with the people of St. John, having the privelege of sharing the Good News, and I’ve loved being able to write each month in the Newsletter to let everyone know what I’m up to. But in the midst of the fun, I’ve let something go for far too long. You see, I was asked to get some pictures of me. Pictures where I don’t look like a sourpuss. You see they wanted pictures that the church could use and hold on to so they remember me and can be reminded of what I look like while I’m away. It totally makes sense, but alas, I kept forgetting and when I did ask my friends for help (my camera broke) either they forgot or I did. But that time is now over, because I have sent some pictures to the church for their enjoyment.

Then I got to thinking… Why should they be the only ones who can look at my gorgeous face? Or what if one of the people from church needs a Paul fix but, woe are they, it’s ten thirty at night and the church is closed? So I decided it only fair to write a blog and tell a picture story at the same time with the pictures we took. A little fun now that the semester is over. I hope you enjoy!

So here I am, standing next to my good friend Martin Luther. We at Wartburg Seminary, being good buds with the man, like to call him “Marty” for short.

Me and my buddy Marty!

Here I am, chilling with Marty!

So what do I do during the week at the Seminary? That’s a great question. I start each day getting ready for class…

Getting Ready for Class

Getting Ready for Ethics

And we always have great discussions…

Talking with Classmate

Talking with Doug Dill. No doubt about the third use of the Law, Phenomenology, Christus Victor or some other scholarly subject.

And sometimes we work together in small groups, especially for projects or for brainstorming on paper ideas…

Peer Editing

Some Good Ol’ Fashioned Peer Editing

And of course, being future leaders in the church, we gather every day at 9:30 for Chapel.

Word of God, Word of Life

Today’s Reading… Word of God, Word of Life.

And sometimes I help out with the services…

All robed up!

Look at me, all robed up!

And we gather together in prayer…

Please Rise

“Please Rise for the Intercessory Prayers”

And silently reflect on our words and actions…

Silent Reflection

silently reflecting on the day…

Then after chapel and more classes it’s time to gather together again for a community and do what we do best. Talk and EAT!

Mmm...Lunch!

Mmm…they always have delicious food for lunch!

Then it’s back to the classes and of course, some studying!

Looking Things Over

Group Study is quite popular here. Yay, bonding!

And we make sure to have some fun and goof off at times to keep things light.

Getting Interrupted

I am not amused at your jokes… nah, I’m just kidding, that was hilarious!

But sometimes you have to find I quiet place to study and read…

Gotta Study!

Gotta study, study, study!

But it’s okay, because it’s pretty cool stuff we’re learning here…

This is Good Stuff!

This is Good Stuff!!! Look at all that highlighting!

And after the studying is done, it’s nice to be able to sit back and relax. I enjoy crocheting dragons and taking care of my plants.

Dragons and Plants

Isn’t he cute?!?! And look at that plant behind me!

Well, that’s all from me!

Merry Christmas!

From all the people at Wartburg, Have a Merry Christmas!

CPE…What a Gas!

Hello Everyone!

I just wanted to let you know that Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) has begun for me as of Tuesday. I’ve had a great time the first three days and really feel like we have a special group of people. Unfortunately, I can’t really go too much into the details, but I will tell you that we have already had some major breakthroughs. That after only three days? I can only imagine what we’ll have accomplished after eleven weeks!

There’s really only two major issues I see with this program… time and gas money. Don’t get me wrong, I’m having a great time, but with these two, I seem to be in short supply. Nothing I can’t handle, of course, but I guess it’s a bit more drastic than I originally thought. The gas money issue shouldn’t be as bad once the four of us going to the Quad Cities start carpooling together (if it works out) but the time is a bit rough. I get up at 5AM, leave by 6:20 for the drive to Rock Island and then am there until 4:30 when we’re able to start the drive back home. By the time we get back it’s almost twelve hours since we’ve been in Dubuque. And by then, I have time to eat supper, pack my lunch for the next day, and go to bed around 8:30.

Despite all the obstacles, I’m really looking forward to getting started with this program. At the end of last semester I had asked God to show me a way I could be a voice for the voiceless. That’s still a work in progress, but I realize this program will help me to be something else entirely. I’ll be a presence for the lonely, comfort for the distressed, someone who will listen and be present in the turmoil, in the questions and doubts. I’ll be a friend, a hand to hold, and a reminder of God’s ever-presence in our lives. I can be all those things because of God. God called me to follow, and instead of saying “no” again, I simply followed.

I still marvel over the fact that God chose me. Then I remember the words “God doesn’t call the equipped, but equips the called” and it makes sense. I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t have to. I just have to trust the process and open myself to the possibilities. I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. At this point, I hope Christ just works on strengthening my ability to shut up and listen. Because the biggest equipping I see that will happen in CPE is learning how to listen fully. With eyes, ears, heart, mind and soul.

Happy Holy Week!

I’m back  in De Pere! It feels so great to be back again, enjoying time with the family, going on walks with the puppy (she’s a full grown dog, but she’ll always be my puppy) and enjoying worship during this Holy Week! I got back into town Wednesday afternoon and enjoyed a delightful evening with the family, got a bit of reading in, and eventually crashed on the cot (much more comfortable than the couch. I love that thing!)

Yesterday I started the day with an adventurous morning of geocaching with my amazing brother Jim. We found four or five caches. The last one didn’t pan out, but it was a great time, nonetheless.  I had never gone geocaching before, and I must say it was a great experience! I am amazed at how tricky, sneaky, and ingenious people can be in hiding these treasure troves! It felt great to breathe in the crisp air, feel nature underfoot. During the last search, I spent a good bit of time barefoot, enjoying the feel of nature firsthand. It was truly spiritual to be able to feel the freezing water rushing around my legs, squish slimy mud between my toes,  feel the dry grass under my tread, even experience the sharp sting of prickly raspberry plants across my legs.

After a morning of fun exploration it was time to head home for a delicious lunch and then a well-deserved nap. When I got back up, I decided I should get some reading done, and battled a headache that was just present enough to be irksome. Then if was time to go to the first of many church services this week back home. I must admit, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was definitely looking forward to being able to say hello to the wonderful people of St. John’s and De Pere, but I was worried the assignment I have coming up on these services would hinder my experience.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised by how great the service went. Once I got into that sanctuary, it didn’t matter that I had an assignment coming up. This was God’s time, not mine. I had plenty of other time to worry about assignments. This wasn’t that time. I loved the songs we sang, the readings and the sermon seemed like they were speaking directly to me, and the choir was absolutely astounding!

Once again, I was able to feel the power of the Holy Spirit working inside me. Filling me with God’s healing love and guidance. It was like my skin was freezing and on fire all at once. little pricks of energy coursed along my skin, up and down my spine and scalp and all over my body. My senses seemed to burst into activity, and my emotions boiled over inside of me. As the tears once again streamed down my cheeks and my breath caught in my chest, I managed to whisper thanks to God for letting me know this presence.  I’ve tried to explain the experience to others, and it always seems to fall woefully short of the actual experience.

And so, it got me to thinking. How do others experience God’s activity in their lives? How would you describe what you feel? Is it a physical experience, emotional, does a calming voice resonate from within you? from outside? Let me know. I’d love to hear how you experience God. And don’t be discouraged if you don’t feel the same things I or other people feel. I’ve spoken with others who have experiences unlike anything I’ve ever felt, and it just amazes me even more that the Holy Spirit can be so unique to each person.

Have a Happy Holy Week, and God Bless!

God and Neighbor

Hello There!

I’m just going to get right in there and bare it all! I hope you’re ready because this could get intense!

Over the weekend I have been working on crossing off the readings for next week. I finished my From Text to Sermon reading, Ages of Faith and Reformation reading, and Pauling Letters and Mission reading and have a chunk of Sytematic Theology and Foundations of Christian Worship assignments done. Go me! While doing these readings some of the ideas kept nagging at me. Pulling at something inside me and really digging in. I even cried during a couple of them.

What really got to me was the realization (mostly through Systematic Theology and Foundations) that, as a sinful person I can never be good enough for God. Now don’t go all suicide watch on me because that’s not what this is about. The point is that, as sinful creatures, our thanks, praise, prayers, etc. to God all fall short of perfection. Because we’re imperfect and incomplete, our prayers and whatnot are as well. Duh. As imperfect prayers, they aren’t worthy of God’s perfect completeness. In one of the readings, Bernard of Clairvaux puts it perfectly by stating “My God, my help, I shall love you as much as I am able for your gift. My love is less than is your due, yet not less than I am able, for even if I cannot love you as much as I should, still I cannot love you more than I can.” (p.347 in Readings in World Christian History).

And yet (and this is this kicker) God still loves us and accepts us for it. Now this isn’t to say that we can just do whatever and sin galore. Nope, that would definitely sadden/anger/frustrate/ (who knows?) God and we certainly don’t want that. I feel like this directly correlates to Ephesians 2:8-10 “8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. ” No matter what we do, we cannot purchase our own salvation, but only receive it through grace.

It all really hit me, in a time where I feel like I’m struggling to keep up with all the concepts, that I am such a small, infinitesimal speck in the grand scheme of things. I’m not able to save myself, and I’m not able to give God the love that God deserves. So then what can I do? In this huge, crazy world, what impact to I have?

The answer came to me in a memory from my trip to Israel. In Abuna Chacour’s speech to us he said that “You Americans can travel to the moon, but you can’t knock on your neighbor’s door.” Aha! There’s the answer! I can go out and meet my neighbors, share in their hopes and dreams, discuss their fears, accompany them through the good times and the bad. I can be present in our conversation. In doing so, I am then able to show my love for my neighbor and, in doing so, show love for God as well. I may not be able to buy my salvation through my works, but I can darn sure show my thanks for that amazing gift by loving others. It may be imperfect, but it’s the best I’ve got.

God Bless!