Friday, July 12, 2013

Death and Life

I had a really interesting conversation last night with an incredible group of incoming Wartburg students. We were sitting around at a welcome event hosted by Spiritual Life and Campus Ministry and they started asking me the most amazing questions about why I became a Pastor and what such a life is like. Eventually we got on the topic of their own hopes and fears and I was absolutely blown away by their honesty and insightfulness.

At one point we were talking about a great class that my colleague Pastor Ramona teaches called "Living with Death". All of the students I hoped to one day take the course, and one young woman even admitted that she's terrified of dying. We had a great talk about why we fear death, the hope of the Gospel, and fear of the unknown.

Today I came across this article from a Hospice Nurse who shares the top five regrets of the dying patients she's worked with over the years. Nothing terribly surprising but I was intrigued by how many regrets had to do with going along with the expectations of others rather than living the lives we are meant to lead.

I'm so glad that I had that conversation with our new students. Moments like that remind me why I do what I do. I'm also glad for that conversation because these students are thinking about big questions even before officially starting College. That bodes well for the future.

I don't know that we ever get over the fear of death, but having fewer regrets seems to be a good place to start. If I could give one piece of advice to all our incoming students (and to myself) it would be to listen...truly the person God created you to be. There are so many voices competing for attention in our lives, both those of others and our own. It's hard to step back and listen for who we really are when you're worried about finding a job and living the American dream. And yet if we don't it's even harder to choose the things that matter.

One of my favorite quotes about vocation comes from Parker Palmer's book "Let Your Life Speak". He says "“Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.” I can't wait for another year of listening with students to our lives and what they are telling us about who we are.

Who knows...maybe knowing our mortality is the best way to live a better life?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Millenial Bashing

Check out this great cartoon from Matt Bohrs about the bashing the millenial generation has been taking in the media lately.

Seriously people. As someone who works with young adults I can tell you that they are not going to destroy the world.

As a wise person once told me..."remember you were young once and sometimes made decisions for stupid reasons. But I'm guessing you also made some pretty good ones as well. It's called learning."

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Listening to young adults

What's the most important thing the Church can do for young adults?

Stop talking and start listening.

I'll admit it's hard especially for us clergy types who have lots of theological training. We want to critique everything with the theological lens we spent so much time obtaining.

And I'm not saying that there isn't a time or place for such critique. But in order to truly welcome those who are not part of the Church we have to lead by example. And that means being open to critique and even repenting for the ways in which we have fallen short of the wide welcome of God's love.

The ELCA's Northeastern Synod did something bold and daring at this year's convention. They invited a group of "nones" (religiously unaffiliated) to tell their stories. They held the floor for an hour and a half and told the delegates things that they probably didn't want to hear.

One of the best comments came from a young woman who said, "“I bristle at someone saying ‘I’ve got this thing (religion) you are missing.’ as if I’m lacking.” Another persistent theme was the perception that the Church wasn't comfortable with theological questions and doubts.

Hopefully others will be inspired by the example of the Northeastern Synod. I know I am.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Young Adults: Sinners and Saints...just like the rest of us.

Last week's time magazine cover story "The Me, Me, Me Generation" argues that young adults are self obsessed narcissists who care only about themselves. This assertion is in sharp contrast with other generational studies that say Millenials (18-33 year olds) are idealistic, altruistic, and want to make a difference in the world.

So who's right? Are young adults narcissists or saints?

Well, according to Elspeth Reeve in "The Atlantic Monthly"they may be both. Reeve rightly points out that every modern generation has been deemed narcissistic at one time or another. "Basically, it's not that people born after 1980 are narcissists, it's that young people are narcissists, and they get over themselves as they get older." This doesn't necessarily mean that they aren't also idealistic and dedicated to helping others.

Martin Luther once famously said that we are "at the same time both sinners and saints". This is a human challenge not merely a generational one.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Guest Post: Kim Hesse '12

Kim shared this message at our final Chapel service of the year last month. It was a good way to end a great year of Senior Chapels! Kim is originally from Sheboygan, WI and is a Music Therapy Major/Worship Studies Minor. She's heading off to Cleveland later this Summer to do her Music Therapy Internship but first will be graduating at the end of the month. I had the pleasure of having Kim in my "Intro to the Parish" class last year. She's a thoughtful and kind young woman and we will miss her.

 So when Pastor Brian and Pastor Ramona asked me to give a senior chapel I was reluctant for a few reasons. 1, I don’t particularly love speaking in front of people and 2,  at the time they asked me, I wasn’t sure I even believed in God, and I was thinking to myself, great, how am I supposed to share a message in the chapel with people about my faith, when I don’t even know where I stand myself. As I started writing my message however, I realized that the hardest part was not going to be finding something to talk about, but finding ONE  thing, to talk about.
But I tried to narrow it down, and I want to start by talking about the idea of faith. Over winter break  I went to family video to rent Wreck it Ralph, but it was all out, so I ended up leaving with a move called Salmon Fishing in the Yemen instead.

Briefly, the premise of  involves a Yemeni salmon-fishing Sheikh (shake), which is an arab leader, with an weird dream.  He wants to go salmon fishing in the Yemen which is, of course, pretty much desert. Dr. Jones is a fish scientist who is pulled into the sheikh’s scheme despite his insistence that it is impossible. There was one conversation in the movie that really struck me and so I want to share that.

The Sheikh starts by saying: It would be a miracle of God if it were to happen
And Dr. Jone replies: I’m more of a facts and figures man.
 Sheikh: You aren’t a religious man, Dr. Jones?
Dr. Jones: No I’m not.
Sheikh: But you’re a fisherman Dr. Jones.
Dr. Jones: I’m sorry I don’t follow.
Sheikh: How many hours do you fish before you catch something?
Dr. Jones: Hundreds sometimes.
 And the Sheikh says: Is that a good use of your time as a facts and figures man.  But you persist, with such poor odds of success.  Why?  Because you’re a man of faith, Dr. Jones.  In the end, you are rewarded for your faith and constancy. 
Dr. Jones says: With due respect, fishing and religion are hardly the same thing your excellency.
And the Sheikh says: With equal respect, I have to disagree.

 I like that quote because I at many times have been caught up in the facts and figures. Against the standards of our society, the foundation of the Christian faith is strange to say the least. I was at a music therapy conference in Evanston, IL this past fall and I attended a session about spirituality in end of life care.  The leader of the session told a story about someone who they worked with in another country who had never heard of easter. They asked her what it was about, and after telling them the story of Christ’s death and resurrection the patient laughed and said, seriously?? People actually believe that?

 In the past four years I have been in that place many times, that place where I felt crazy for believing some of the things I claimed to believe, and I have experienced my strongest faith as well as my greatest doubt. Pastor Brian asked me when preparing for my chapel if I believed that faith and doubt were separate from one another and I replied that I believe it is faith that carries me through doubt.

Regardless of my perceptions of God, however, I seem to have always believed in the principle of love and that life-love=zero. I think that it is safe to say that to live by this motto requires faith because by the standards of our society, where the self is glorified, and money is reigning supreme, we have to admit it is not practical.  

 When I think about it too hard, I am often depressed by the sort of system that our world has fallen into, but the life of Jesus inspires me to believe that maybe there is another way, that we have simply lost sight of. Jesus, one of my good friends said, was a man with a plan, and one of the things I have come to admire about his life over the past few year years is the way he lived so that he did not submit himself to any  sort of system. He was who he was, and he was constantly suprising people and going against the norm. Even in his death, based on his track record of miracles he could have saved himself from the cross, but he didn’t. It was like his final blow to the system. He taught the opposite of societal norm, he said you cannot serve both God and money, and that we must die to ourselves in order to live. And he lead by example, Mark 10:45 says “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve”.

 I think it is easy for me to get wrapped up in theology, but when I think about Jesus in this way, as the historical figure, who lived among us, and I read about who the bible says he was, and the things he did and said,  everything kind of starts to fall into place in my mind, and that inspires me. I still have questions, but I’ve also learned during my time at Wartburg that God is not afraid of my questions and in fact encourages us to test what we consider to be truth in 1 thesselonians 5:20-22 Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.” And in 1 John 4: 1 “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world”.

The scripture that Sarah read said, what does the kingdom of God look like? And Jesus said, it looks like a mustard seed. And my grandma gave me this necklace when I was a kid and it has a mustard seed in it. Mustard seeds are tiny but if you plant them they can grow to be like 8 or 10 feet tall.  And so from this verse I understand that God doesn’t expect our faith to be huge and crystal clear all the time, but that he has promised us that if we plant the tiniest of seeds, if we have faith “this big”, he will gladly take it and nurture it and grow it until it becomes a place of shelter and rest, for ourselves, that we can then extend to those around us.

I’ve given my mustard seed of faith to God over and over again, and God hasn’t failed me yet. And I could tell you stories, but it isn’t something that I can prove to you by facts or figures, it’s something that can only be experienced through faith.
And so as we leave Wartburg and go out into the world I hope we will consider what it is that we put our faith in, and wherever we go I hope we will go with love, for God, for our neighbor and for ourselves, as God who IS love, has enabled us. I hope that we will strive to serve rather than to be served. And I hope that you will find inspiration in the reminder that even when our faith is the size of a mustard seed, even when we think we’ve abandoned God, his grace does not run out and he will never stop seeking after us.