the 3 c’s necessary for divinity school

it was just about a year ago, that a colleague and i were having lunch and talking about what i might do after my job came to end just a few months later. i shared that i’d always wanted to go back to school. and she challenged, almost dared me, to consider studying theology and to start by checking out the divinity school at vanderbilt.  i’ll always be grateful to lesleigh for that conversation. it was the beginning of what has been an incredible journey.

Vanderbilt Divinity Schoolnow, one year later, i’ve just completed my first year of divinity school and working towards a masters of theology. i’d like to share the 3 things that have helped me survive, and even thrive, in div school. and actually they aren’t ‘things’–they’re three categories of people: a chaplain, coaches, and cheerleaders.

it didn’t take me long to realize that in a university-based divinity school, one’s faith is going to be stretched and challenged.  divinity school is not for the faint of heart, nor faint of faith. to navigate this, i needed a solid sounding board as my faith has been challenged and has grown.  jim is my amazing senior pastor.  long before i started school, i respected his leadership and his theology.  and as he is a former youth pastor and military chaplain, he is also very direct which i also appreciate.  jim has been my chaplain. he has patiently listened and been a sounding board and helped me process things that have been challenging and sometimes confusing. and he’s also been direct about making sure i have stayed focus on the things that really matter in the midst of all this learning.

going back to school after many years away is a bit intimidating.  academia is certainly a distinct subculture and the transition brought a little bit of culture shock.  but i’ve had two friends in particular, amy jacober and andrew zirschky, who have helped me understand the culture and learn to navigate. and they’ve both been great about being resources as i’ve had questions about research or best practices or study skills.  and andrew especially has been an excellent sounding board for papers and projects. andrew and amy have been my academic coaches.

finally, there have been my cheerleaders who have been numerous! these are the friends who’ve encouraged me, supported me, reminded me that i’m capable and that i’m more than just a gpa.  they’ve let me vent and occasionally whine.  they’ve commiserated and celebrated with me.  i’m so grateful for the love and encouragement of so many who’ve cheered me on!

to my chaplain, my coaches, and my cheerleaders: thank you! you have made this first year of school so much richer because of your presence!

baking therapy

i find baking fun. i like to bake, and i like to eat. but sometimes, baking is more than fun. sometimes it’s therapeutic.

m & m cookie dough

in the movie julie & julia, there was a scene where after a bad day at work, julie tells her husband, “I love that after a day when nothing is sure, and when I say “nothing” I mean nothing, you can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick. It’s such a comfort.” as she baked a pie.

i totally resonated with that line. i love to bake as a stress reliever. it’s true–when baking, if you put the right ingredients together, in the right amounts, and bake it for the right amount of time, you end up with something beautiful and yummy. and when everything else in the world is complicated or stressful, the process of baking something is as comforting as eating the tasty result.

baking is more than stress relief. for me baking, especially from scratch, can be an expression of love. it means i care enough about someone to spend time making something i think they’ll like. it’s a way for me to show someone matters to me.

a couple of weeks ago, i made cookies. tonight i’m baking cupcakes. some will go for dessert at snack supper tomorrow night at church; some will go to my study group. tonight, i’ll have some fun baking. and tomorrow, hopefully some people i care about will have fun eating.

 

what about you? what do you find comforting and therapeutic? what makes you feel cared for?

“in the bleak midwinter”

the best words i think i heard all summer were “welcome to Vanderbilt Divinity School”! to be honest, i’m a month and a half into classes and it still doesn’t quite feel real. this is a bit of a dream come true. i’ve thought about going back to school for quite awhile and now that it’s actually happening, i’m still pinching myself to make sure i’m not dreaming!

my first paper came back and i received an a on it and i’m pretty excited about that. it helped that i liked the subject matter. i first learned the last stanza of this poem as 5 year old for our Christmas program at church; later i learned it as a hymn. for one of my classes we were to take a hymn and analyze the christology presented in it. here’s that paper:

The Christology found in Christina Rossetti’s “In the Bleak Midwinter”, originally written as a poem, is balanced between both the high and the low and tells the story of Christ’s birth.  Rossetti’s stanzas celebrate Christ’s transcendence as divine and vulnerability as human and ultimately pose to the reader a question of personal response. Verse one of the hymn sets the stage on earth.  Verses two and three move Christ from the spiritual realm to the earthly one.  Verse four reveals the response of humanity.  In this hymn, Rossetti shares a glimpse of her own understanding of Christ and her offering in response.
Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894) was a devout Anglican whose personal piety was reflected in her poetry.  Born in London to Italian parents, Rossetti became one of the most significant poets of the 19th century.  While devotional poetry was a part of her writings throughout her life, in her later years, devotional writing became more solely her focus.1  “In the Bleak Midwinter” was written as a Christmas poem for the magazine Scribner’s Monthly and for which she was paid ten pounds.2  The poem was set to music by English composer Gustav Holst and released as a hymn in 1906.3  The hymn has remained a beloved favorite.  In 2008, a new arrangement of the hymn by English composer Harold Darke was voted best carol by both English and American music directors surveyed by BBC’s Music Magazine.4  Rossetti managed in four short verses to paint a full portrait of the Christmas story.

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron, water, like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

     Verse one is reminiscent of an English countryside winter but can be seen metaphorically as a bleak, cold world in need of a Savior.  The frozen earth and water coated in layers of snow and swept by a frosty, moaning wind could also represent a humankind whose heart is cold and without hope.  Both the frozen landscape depicted and the hardness of human hearts are in need of transformation from an external source.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain;
heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter, a stable place sufficed the
Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

The intervention of God begins in verse two.  God transcends both the space and time constraints of heaven and earth.  The idea of heaven and earth fleeing “when he comes to reign” instills the idea that everything is about to change and life as it has been known will be transformed.  By choosing to name the God who arrives in a stable as “Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ”, Rossetti reveals Jesus identity as being both God and human.  Her use of “Christ” in particular alludes to the transformational and salvational nature of Jesus’ mission on earth.

Angels and arch-angels may have gathered there,
cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
but his mother only in her maiden bliss,
worshiped the beloved with a kiss.

The concept of angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim being present at Christ’s arrival on earth reflects Luke’s biblical account.  The use of this part of the traditional Christmas story also foreshadows the appearance of the shepherds and wise men in verse four.  Rossetti, by setting the majesty of heavenly angels against the simplicity and humanity of a mother’s kiss, effectively juxtaposes Christ’s divinity with his human fragility.  The heavens worship his divinity with the presence of angels while the earth worships his humanity with a mother’s tender affection.

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring him a lamb;
if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
yet what can I give him: give my heart.

A personal response by the reader to the Christ Child is the foundation of the final stanza.  Rossetti skillfully weaves the responses of those present in the Christmas narrative to the response each may make when encountering Christ.  It is in the line, “yet what can I give him: give him my heart” that Rossetti reveals the gift she gave Christ.  By opening the verse with an inquiry and closing it with a definitive answer, Rossetti’s personal answer also indicates she expects her reader to respond as she does to Christ.  Rossetti revealed her heart’s devotion to Christ by her refusal of marriage proposals twice in her lifetime.  The offers of both gentleman were refused by Rossetti on the grounds that their religious beliefs did not complement her own faith.5 6  Through her inclusion of an element of personal response, Rossetti expects the reader to acknowledge both Christ’s divinity and humanity.

Rossetti’s Christ in the hymn “In the Bleak Midwinter” is presented as a multi-faceted being, both divine and human.  The work reveals a more complete Christology, rather than focusing merely on the high or low.  The hymn paints a world in need of renewal, weaves together the images of angels and a mother’s kiss, and demonstrates the response to Christ made by shepherds, Wise men, and the author.  It concludes by encouraging the reader to also make a personal response to the Christ.  Through this hymn, readers are encouraged to become part of the full story of Christ Divine and Christ Human.

happy 4th of july?

i’m finding myself facing this particular 4th of july with some mixed emotions about our democracy.

first let me say i love the US and am grateful to live here. i’m especially grateful for the men & women of our military who serve selflessly. i’m in awe of their willingness to sacrifice for us all. i have family members who’ve served and i have huge respect for the families of military members who are just as brave and selfless as our service members.

but i have some significant concerns about our government. our country was founded by some folks with lofty ideals and i think for many years, as a society, we’ve improved on that, but i’m not sure that’s true any longer and it concerns me.

i’ve gotten a bit involved in some local government issues since i’ve moved to tennessee and i’ve noticed a few things which leave me concerned:

  • we have too many politicians and too few statesmen (statespeople). politicians revolve around making sure they’re re-elected and end up being so busy trying to gather the power and money necessary to stay in office, they get little governing done. and all too often their votes reflect the interests of the people who paid to get them elected rather than the populace that actually elected them. statespeople actually do the work of governing, which is hard and messy and requires the ability to compromise.
  • we have too few people in government willing to compromise. it’s all about being right and getting one’s own way which goes back to the point above of politicians working to stay in power rather than do the work of governing. our country has big problems that flag-waving and fireworks simply won’t fix. it’s going to take some statespeople who are willing to look at the big picture and find the best solutions for the most people. it’s going to take them standing by their convictions, truly representing the interests of all the people in their districts–not just the ones with money–, a willingness to compromise and not just be ‘right’ to start fixing any of our problems.
  • we’re too apathetic when it comes to government and way too into the rhetoric of politics. we have to elect people with enough sense and backbone to be statespeople. we have to elect people who can enact sensible laws that are in the best interest of the majority of all citizens. and we have to stay involved. we need to show up at city hall and learn what is going on. we need to insist the officials we elect to washington hold town halls and explain to us first-hand what is going on in a format that allows us to ask questions and understand issues.

so i celebrate this 4th a july with a mix of emotions: gratitude for a democracy and those who protect it; concern and a bit of grief that as a people we’re failing to do our best; and hope that we can improve on our current government record and create a better reality for the now and a better future for those who come next.

we are all in ministry

one of the things i love about being part of a methodist church is that when we join we take a membership vow that says we promise to uphold the church (meaning Christ’s bride) and this particular local congregation through “our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.”  we reaffirm these vows anytime someone joins our local church. but i’m not sure we always fully understand what that vow means especially as it comes to service.

despite all its flaws, fallacies, and foibles, i love the church. i love that God created us to be communal people and that through the church we have a way to live that out. but i think all too often the combination of  our consumerist society and the professionalization of all aspects of ministry, we have forgotten that we have all been granted gifts and talents and by our Creator that are meant to be used for ministry and in service of our community. quite simply, either we forget or never understand, we are all in ministry.

small group at retreat

in my case, i have some solid event planning and marketing skills. a couple of the pastors at our church are aware of this gift mix in me and asked me to lead our all church retreat. not only was i happy to have an opportunity to serve, i was able to serve in a way that let me use my natural gifts and talents. i had a blast and the retreat went well. it was a way for me to take what i do vocationally and use it for ministry. over the last year, i’ve also had the opportunity to use my gifts to serve my neighbors in the community by getting involved in promoting some positive outcomes on health and safety issues facing the community. again, i used my skills to serve and this service is a way for me to reflect Christ’s love in my community–a way to minister.

it doesn’t matter what our passion and skills are–there is a place for them to be used in service to the Church and your community and in doing so, we step into ministry. through sharing ourselves and skills and talents, we can reflect Jesus and the sharing and serving become ministry.

churches and communities alike are desperate for people to stand up and say like Isaiah, “here i am! send me!”  what are ways you can offer your skills and talents to serve your church and community?

voiceless

i spent most of the month of february voiceless. i had a horrible round of viral laryngitis which left my voice completely inaudible for a good 2 weeks; hoarse or barely audible the rest of the time. it’s just been in the last 2 days that my voice has sounded mostly normal. it’s not unusual for me to have laryngitis occasionally, but i’d never had a round of it like this. the inability to physically speak for most of a month despite other ways to communicate was surprisingly isolating and physically struggling to be heard left me pondering being heard emotionally and spiritually.

it happens when i’m out to lunch with a friend catching up in person and then we’re interrupted by a tweet reply or a text or a facebook message and we find ourselves distracted. or maybe i actually use the phone function and call a friend to ask a quick question and end up catching them in a moment where they need to talk but i don’t have the time. these exchanges happen far more often than i’d like to admit, both on the receiving and giving end of the scenarios. when i’m the one who’s been distracted from the friend sitting in front of me or didn’t really have time to listen when i called, i feel guilty. often not in the moment, but when i reflect on it later. and i probably haven’t properly apologized to those to whom i’ve done it. and i know when i’m the one cut short or put on hold, it’s easy to feel dismissed, disconnected, unheard, voiceless.

it also happens in at church. all too often, especially when i’ve been on a church staff, church is often one more place where i feel compelled to “have it all together”. i’m afraid to admit my personal failings and struggles. and sadly, i’m even more afraid to admit my questions and doubts. i’m afraid of appearing not good enough or not faithful enough or too messy. church should be one of the safest places to admit our failings and struggles and questions and doubts.

i have two lingering questions coming out of this month of laryngitis: how can i best create spaces to truly hear the ones i’m with and honor their voices? and how can i make church a safer place to voice the messier bits of life and faith?

 

6 years?!?

so i’ve been doing a bit of maintenance on my blog–namely categorizing all the uncategorized posts imported from my old blog site. and in doing so, i discovered something.

i’ve been blogging–albeit sporadically–for 6 years. and with just over 200 posts, i average about 3 posts a month. truthfully though, i blog in spurts. i go for a season blogging consistently and then it goes dormant for awhile. i was recently told that i should re-title my blog “the blog of good intentions”. i prefer to think of myself as being a ‘consistently inconsistent’ blogger.

as i mark this moment, let me leave you with a promise to remain consistently inconsistent… and with links back to a few of my favorite early posts. tonite here are my top 5 fave youth ministry posts. hope you enjoy them.

are we missing the point?

but what are we teaching our boys?

thoughts from a volunteer small group leader

a youthworker’s camp survival kit

object lesson: beanboozled


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