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Intergenerational Learning

16 Apr

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, my friend Michelle spent the summer taking care of her ninety-nine-year old grandmother. It was more difficult than she originally imagined. Taking care of her grandmother was similar, in a way, to taking care of a small child. Her grandmother had trouble communicating. She needed to stay on a schedule. Michelle was in charge of all of the meals and didn’t sleep well due to taking care of her grandmother during the night. She struggled feeling isolated and bored at times. But this touching video that Michelle made after her grandmother passed away, also shows the mutual learning and story sharing that happened that summer. They danced, taught each other languages, and laughed. Michelle’s grandmother’s spirit and health improved with Michelle’s presence and patience and care in the house:

Michelle feels lucky to have spent this intentional time with her grandmother. She thought it was important to help so she could continue living in her home. We can see in the video how sacred this shared time was for both women. Not everyone, however, has the time or means to spend this kind of special time with people generations apart from us. Society is no longer set up in a way where younger people have real encounters with older people. Young people are tending to get busier and busier, and older people more and more often are gathering in special living facilities to receive the care they need.

Intergenerational learning is one of the strengths of the church. Where I worship, a ninety-four- year old woman brings homemade cake to the staff once a month to celebrate the birthdays. She also volunteers at the front desk on a regular basis. “I have to get away from people my own age sometimes,” she says. “All they want to talk about is their health.” Kids at the church learn how to make lutefisk and lefse from the older members. While lefse is being rolled, women will tell stories from decades of being members at the church. The kids also volunteer in all the different parts of ministry to see what goes into making the church run smoothly. It puts them in contact with people they normally wouldn’t meet. In celebration of Palm Sunday and to raise funds for our trip to the Boundary Waters this summer, we prepared over 800 cinnamon rolls on Saturday and Sunday for the congregation. It’s pretty special to see an eighth grade boy rolling dough between his dad and a church volunteer or a seventh grade girl pouring a cup of coffee for a lifetime member of the church. We have a lot to learn from each other. I appreciate church as one place where people from born decades apart can come together, share, and broaden our perspectives on the world.

 

Female Leadership in Religious Academia

10 Apr

I like to watch trends in female hiring. I asked my brother, who is a stand-up comedian, if he thought there was anything to the fact that women are being asked to host the celebrity award shows. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosted the Golden Globes just before Ellen DeGeneres hosted the Oscars, all with extremely positive reviews. He said, “I think it shows that Hollywood has now seen (through the hard work of proving it by these women) that you can build strong female leads into a profitable industry. All of this obviously has been predicated by other talented women, but I think this generation has proven women’s humor for men and women can make money. Which I think opens a huge door for networks to take more chances on other female oriented pilots. Not to mention that these women are just good at entertaining.” There is a talent aspect, yes, but I agree with my brother that this too comes down to money. We now, finally, live in a world where women like Tina, Amy and Ellen can make money in a very male-dominated industry to the point where it is financially advisable to hire them for big award shows.

Being a woman who likes following trends in female hiring, then, my interest was also piqued when I got a note from my undergrad and graduate institutions that they both appointed female presidents. On August 21, my post Female Leadership in the Church discussed Rev. Elizabeth Eaton being named presiding bishop of the ELCA church. Her appointment made her the first ever female presiding bishop of the ELCA church. The post says:

She believes Jesus meant it when he said that all people can serve.  She speaks about asking young people, “What are you longing for?  What brings you joy?  What keeps you up at night?  Well, let me tell you a story.”  Her election to the position of presiding bishop is noteworthy.  It is an interesting time in the Lutheran church.

Now, ELCA Lutheran academic institutions seem to be following suit. On July 1, Rebecca M. Bergman will start serving as the first female president of Gustavus Adolphus College, my alma mater. Bergman shifts to Gustavus after a successful career as a chemical engineer. Also on July 1, Paula J. Carlson will be Luther College’s tenth president. Previously she was the vice president for mission at St. Olaf College. She, too, will be the first female president at Luther College. Then just in March, Luther Seminary, also my alma mater, announced that Rev. Dr. Robin L. Steinke will take office on June 1 as the first female president of the seminary. She is coming to Luther Seminary after fifteen years at  the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. It continues to be an interesting time in the Lutheran church when women are taking the call to step up into strategic positions of leadership.

It’s not just the Lutherans. On April 3, Le Moyne College appointed Linda LeMura as the school’s fourteenth president. The unanimous appointment made her the first lay woman president at any Jesuit college or university in the world. She joins the group of women making firsts and making news across denominations. Part of me is amazed that it took until 2013 for these institutions to elect female presidents. Women have been at the heart of good education for as long as we can remember. Put the truth is that presidents are responsible, too, for bringing serious money into these institutions, and well, men still have an inordinate amount of power in that sector. Men are still associated with being the face of power in religious institutions. The appointment of women as president in these religious academic institutions is a sign, I believe, that the workforce and access to financial power is shifting slowly toward equity.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. –Galatians 3:28

How To Claim Jesus Today

2 Apr

John 18: 1-27 tells the story of Judas betraying Jesus followed by Peter denying Jesus. Three time over, Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends and disciples denies that he knows Jesus. It was an intense scene that was escalating – Jesus was being questioned by the high priest and started being beaten by the police. To claim to know Jesus was to welcome trouble. Peter decided to avoid conflict by distancing himself from Jesus, the one in the center of the storm. “Nope, I don’t know him.”

I looked at this passage with a group of high school students. The young people identified with Peter.

“It’s way cooler to be an atheist than to believe in Jesus at my school,” one young man admitted. “A lot of the kids who say they are atheist don’t really know what that means. They just don’t want people to think they are religious and go to church.”

Another added, “Yeah, the vocal Christians at our school are homophobic, and that just isn’t cool. I don’t want to be grouped with those kids. It’s easier to pretend to not believe in Jesus at all.” (“Nope, I don’t know him.”)

Our context was public high schools in Minneapolis, but they also saw themes reflected on the national stage.

On March 20, Fred Phelps died. Phelps founded Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, in 1955. The church is most famous for picketing more than 53,000 events with signs that say things like, “God Hates Fags.” Phelps rose to national notoriety in 1998, when Westboro members picketed at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming man who was tortured and murdered because he was gay. He claimed natural and human-made disasters are God’s punishment for the acceptance of gay people and thought homosexuals should be put to death. His recent death brought his legacy back into the media. People responses were polarizing: silence, anger, sadness and joy.

On March 24th, World Vision announced it would begin to hire people in same-sex marriages. The announcement caused a backlash among conservative donors. On March 26th, World Vision reversed its decision. Richard Stearns asked donors who had pulled their funding to “forgive our poor judgment in the original decision. We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority.” The initial decision and the decision to reverse the policy was polarizing. Who is right? Who loses? What would Jesus say? The name calling, divisions and anger from all sides on social media were deafening.

In a recent post, Jon Huckins writes, “I’m not against healthy dialog, disagreement or even conflict. I’m actually quite for it. The mission of God is reconciliation and the vocation of God’s people, the Church. When we spend more time attacking each other rather than attacking the areas of brokenness in our world, we become a reflection of anti-kingdom.”

Today, Christianity is getting press for publicly fighting about gay marriage maybe more than any other thing. The high schoolers feel it. I feel it. And we were all a little sympathetic to Peter, who just wanted to side step the controversy through denying his love for Jesus altogether. What I heard from the students is a desire to exist in a world beyond black and white, beyond right and wrong, bigger than this one issue. They wanted to be able to claim their faith without being put in a constricting box. They want to change the discourse and ask a whole new set of questions that reflect the ministry of Jesus. Where some of their friends have given up, they are hanging on, but often in secret. Our work continues to be creating space for people to read the gospel together and form subversive community that are committed to the truth. To be brave, claim Jesus, and address the areas of brokenness in our world. To seek to know Jesus and be able to say, “Yep, I know him.” For Peter and for us, it’s hard work, it’s a little scary, but it’s also good.

 

Rest that Unites

26 Mar

All over the world, Orthodox and other observant Jews are inviting their Jewish brothers and sisters to join them in Shabbat. Here’s an example from South Africa:

The video gives me goosebumps. People choosing to turn their phones off, walk out in the street, make bread together, eat together, pray together and come together over religious observance. It is stunning. I am struck by how the project brought about unity. The religious observance of rest, of Shabbat, brought people together across Jewish denominational lines.

Currently, I work six days a week. This helps me take Sabbath seriously. On the day I don’t work, I try to really not work. I try to be stringent about no screen time and no sense of efficient productivity. If I don’t rest fully, I start my next work week tired and uninspired. But it’s hard, especially because I’m resting alone. My time off doesn’t coordinate with time off of my friends and family. I’m jealous of the people in the video who all chose to rest together in community. I have to hold myself accountable to rest. It’s easy to just keep working while others are at work. Our society values it. There’s always more to do. In a world that requires us to blur the lines between work and rest more and more, how can we ardently protect a time of rest each week as a way to honor God?

How do you find the rest of Sabbath in your week? What would a world-wide Christian Sabbath Project look like? How can we unite over our religious observance of Sabbath? How can we rest in community?

One Year of Pope Francis

20 Mar

On the day it was announced that Jorge Bergoglio was elected, the immediate reaction was, “Francis! Oh this is Revolutionary!”

A year later, we reflect. Is Pope Francis revolutionary?

He asks for our prayers before he blesses us. He hugs us, appears in selfies with youth and washes our feet. He continues to look to Pope Benedict for guidance. He speaks and acts with candor and charisma. Time named Francis Person of the Year in 2013, calling him “the people’s pope.” He also made the cover of Rolling Stone. He seems to know he is human like us. He speaks with reporters. He will set up a commission to deal with the sex scandals and abuse. He calls an elderly woman who had lost a child monthly to comfort her. He has spoken out against priests who belittle congregants. He invited homeless men to his home to celebrate his birthday. When asked about gay priests, he said, “Who am I to judge?”

In addition to showing signs of a more tolerant church and putting ministry to the poor at the forefront, Pope Francis is also clearly concerned with making the church accessible to all people on the margins. It is an echo of the action of the other Francis, the man of Assisi, rebuilding the church of Jesus,” Father Joel Camaya says. “Perhaps it is not a mere coincidence that his pontificate coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. If Vatican II opened the windows for the spring air to come in, the papacy of Pope Francis opens the doors for the church and her pastors to go out.”

Gayle Trotter adds about Pope Francis, “The fabulous thing about Pope Francis is that he challenges everybody. If you hear him from whatever perspective it is – left, right, observant, nonobservant, Protestant, Muslim – if you hear him and you are not challenged, then you’re not really listening to him.”

Some argue that many of his actions covered heavily in the media do not actually give us signs as to what his lasting affect will be as pope. It is also being reported that worldwide, Catholics seem to be excited to be Catholic. What do you think? After one year in the papacy, is Pope Francis revolutionary? 

Divine Spit

19 Feb

They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.” –Mark 8:22-26

I love this little passage. I come back to it all the time. It’s visual and tactile, it’s relational, and it seems to be a moment to pay attention to in the sometimes overwhelming call to “Follow Jesus.” Earlier in the gospel Mark, Jesus heals people by showing his very “God on earth” power. He snaps his fingers, says it will be so, and it happens. For example, he rebukes the unclean spirit at the temple in 1:23-28 and he tells the paralyzed man he is forgiven in 2:5. These healings that only require Jesus’ words draw a crowd, indeed. But instead of love and faith, people react to him with fear and awe.

via flickr user timparkinson

via flickr user timparkinson

By Ch 8, Jesus has shifted his approach. His tactics have changed immensely. With this blind man, Jesus touches him- he takes him by the hand and leads him away from the crowds. This is not about the spectacle or showing off. This is about the man being able to see. Instead of just words, and even more intimate than a touch, Jesus uses his own spit to heal the man. This always makes me think of a loving mother using her own spit to wipe some spaghetti sauce of the chin of her child. It’s very intimate.

But Jesus’ divine spit doesn’t work the first time. And the man is brave enough to admit it to Jesus. Can you imagine this man, being taken by the hand of the one who is whispered about as the Messiah, and saying to him that he didn’t fully restore his sight? Seeing people look like trees is not enough. What works? Jesus looking at the man intently. It takes relationship. Time. Intention. It takes Jesus fully seeing the man for the man to be able to fully see.

This is a gem of a passage. It is so accessible to me that if I were to read it every morning, I know I would become a better person. In a society that values independence and anonymity, intimacy feels counter-cultural. Friends take the time to see each other clearly. We grow to love each other deeply. Jesus shows us that we have to put some skin in the game if we want to come out transformed. We can form life-long relationships with people human-made boundaries are separating us from. Maybe most importantly, if Jesus didn’t get it right the first time, it’s okay for us to keep working every day to look intently and really see people clearly.

Part of the work of the gospel, I think, in our paid and unpaid life, to follow Jesus by taking unexpected and vulnerable friends by the hand away from the crowds, looking at them intently, and seeking mutual healing. By searching for the humanity of another, may we more clearly see the world and find our own humanity as well.

Living the Gospel Today: Have you no faith?

4 Feb

Presence

29 Jan

With the Superbowl coming up, I decided to look at John 3:16 with senior high students. I projected a picture of Tim Tebow with John 3:16 written in white on his eye black before a game. I gave them a little background on Rollen Stewart, the man in the rainbow wig who made promoting John 3:16 on national television a trend. Then I projected the verse:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.

I didn’t have to ask a single discussion question. The high school students raised and discussed all the questions and concerns I would have: “Why this verse above other verses? Is it good practice to promote one verse out of context of the story? Doesn’t this seem a little transactional? What does it mean to believe in Jesus? And what about the people who don’t believe in Jesus? They perish? I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that.” They were so ramped up they started cutting eat other off, and I was impressed with the rigor and curiosity behind the discussion.

I took all this energy and directed it at the first twenty-one verses in the third chapter of John, when Jesus speaks to Nicodemus. So far in John, Jesus has turned water into wine at the wedding and turned over tables in the temple. So if I am allowed to grossly oversimplify for brevity sake, we know he is about abundance, but not money.  He has raised some eyebrows. Then the third chapter. Nicodemus is a high powered Jew who came to see for himself if Jesus was the Messiah. He wanted answers. He sought clarity. Jesus would not be figured out so easily. Like we see him do so often, Jesus does not answer the questions of Nicodemus, but addresses them in a way that hints, “Dude, you don’t get me. You are asking the wrong questions. You are thinking too literally.” The interaction rubs like sandpaper. In John 3, we are left not knowing how Nicodemus feels. He fades away until the cross, when we know he believes.

87176790_7a62cf5aea

via flickr user jcgoforth

I see myself in Nicodemus. I catch myself going to God for answers. Instead, God gives me presence. Initially it’s annoying. I want answers. Then I realize presences is better. Not easier, but better.

John is famous for wordplay, and the greek word pneuma is used for wind, breath and spirit. In John 3, Jesus says, “The wind blows where it chooses.” The breath that gives humans life in Genesis is blowing where it chooses, is the Spirit in all of us. This story also used the phrase born again. The phrase can conjure up images of fire and brimstone, but also of baptism and mini, daily resurrection. We can die and rise in Christ daily. We so often think of John 3:16 being about life after death. But what about life before death? How are we perishing right now? How is the wind/breath/spirit offering us a chance to be born again right now? God so loved the world. That includes us. And like Nicodemus, we are left not with clarity but with the gift of the wind/breath/spirit that invites new life here and now. How will we respond?

Come and See (This Youtube Video?)

24 Jan

“Come and see” is repeated like a refrain in John 1. It’s a phrase I gravitate to, and live my life by. I believe God is calling us to come and see for ourselves. Every time I have been brave enough to do so, my heart has been changed. I think about people like Oscar Romero, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Pope Francis, who live a life defined by going and seeing how people are really living. I believe that curiosity, that seeking, that crossing of boundaries is part of the work of the gospel. We see Jesus going to see things for himself throughout his ministry.

via flickr user Alison Killilea

via flickr user Alison Killilea

Last week I looked at John 1 with senior high students. I asked them for examples of times when their parents or friends said, “Come here, you have to see this!” The overwhelming examples were funny or amazing Youtube videos. This is interesting. Today more than ever before, the entire world can be streamed into our home. We can see things – amazing things, beautiful things – with very little effort. But isn’t effort part of the process? Isn’t the journey, the discomfort, the waiting in lines, the climbing of the mountain, the getting lost on the way part of what makes going and seeing so pivotal? Does the seeing transform us if the coming only requires us to walk to the screen in the next room?

A good friend of mine** emailed me the other day from Ethiopia. Her husband is an eye doctor and is taking a year to travel to countries like Nepal, India, Ghana and Ethiopia to gain skills in eye surgery. There are more opportunities there because there are fewer doctors, fewer state of the art facilities and less country-wide preventive eye care available. They are spending the first year of their marriage answering the call to “Come and see” by literally helping people see. Here is a part of her email:

So watching formerly blind patients get their sight back sing and ulate and dance might be one of the greatest, most spiritual things on earth. I’m sure there are many others, but this definitely makes it in to the top 10. We have been kissed, hugged, danced with, and simply smiled at with unbelieving blinking eyes that register. There are many tears too – many of joy – today an Ethiopian man who was blind in both eyes for many years got sight back in one eye (his other eye was inoperable). He’s elderly, maybe in his 70s (most Ethiopians don’t know their age), and is alone. He worked for the Church before he lost his sight and now has been cared for by the church and also begs. He’s cute as most of the old men here are in a grizzled endearing way and quite dignified. He has this way of sitting and holding his hands crossed over the top of his walking stick and resting his chin that gives him a very professorial look, as if he were about to enter into an old theological debate.

This morning the bandage came off, and he stood silently and wept. Then, when asked, he reached out without hesitation and touched the nose of the doctor who did his surgery. Finally he laughed and smiled, it was if he’d forgotten those emotions ever existed in him and they just bubbled over and his craggy old face turned into something of the boy and young man he once was, full of life and hope.

My friend’s husband wanted to go to Ethiopia because there is more work there than in the US at literally helping the blind to see. Many doctors I know who have done work abroad speak to the fulfillment of work in places where there is more immediate need and more striking results. We are told that Jesus made the blind to see and the lame to walk. We are told to follow Jesus, but we don’t always know how to translate his ministry into our own context. In our world of Youtube, what does it mean to follow Jesus? There is so much need in our country, true. There are also more and more jobs mediated by screens that do not require us to actually move to see things. Does this coming-and-seeing-that-does-not-require-a-journey affect our ministries and our ability to be transformed, our boundaries to be crossed and our minds to be changed?

After laughing at the trending, viral Youtube videos with the senior high students, I asked them, “What is God asking you to come and see?” Silence. “I’m not sure either,” I said, “but let’s keep listening for the call.”

**worth noting both that my friend gave me permission to post her email and that she and her husband are Jewish and would not put their work in the context of Jesus’ ministry– that jump is my own.

Living the Gospel Today with Sister Joan Mitchell: Possumus

21 Jan

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