Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas Come

Day of light,

Day of birth,

Here is God

Come to earth.

- Joanna M. Weston in Graces

Monday, December 11, 2006

Advent Two

There are stories
embedded in our skin
and words enfleshed in us,
and so may you bless us
with those who by tender touch
release the tales,
trace the lines,
free the words
one by one.
Give to us those
who will listen us
into our own language
till we are hoarse with the telling
and with the laughter
at being released
from the silences we had kept
so long.
- Jan Richardson, Night Visions

Many blessings,
Pastor Joy

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Now is your time

Not to one
but to many you have called:
come on the dancing wind
come from the deepest forest
come from the highest places
come from the distant lands
come from the edge of darkness
come from the depth of fear
and become the bearer or God.
- Jan Richardson, Night Visions

On the first Sunday of Advent, Jubilee Faith Community, the newest ELCA congregation in Metro Chicago, called Pastor Michael Russell to be their pastor. But that was not all. Newly installed Pastor Russell installed the leadership team of Jubilee. The message of the day at Jubilee was a deep and spirit-filled one, "You don't have to wait any longer. Now is your time!" Even in this season of waiting, God is calling us from wherever we might be hiding out--calling us to come and become. In this season, may we become (again, for the first time) bearers of God.
Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

With you in this spirit-filled time,
Pastor Joy

Enter In

We are coming close to the celebration of Las Posadas, a traditional Mexican Advent celebration meaning "the inns." In this celebration, the whole community follows children dressed as Mary & Joseph who go from house to house asking, "In the name of God we beg: will you let us enter?"
The party moves from house to house, turned away at every door, until at last they come to a place where they can at least use a stable and manger. There, the fiesta begins.
In this photo, members of the Multisynodical Candidacy Committee in Wisconsin welcome in a new student at Wartburg Seminary.
In our ELCA candidacy process, for those preparing for rostered ministry in the ELCA, the first step is "Entrance." This group of volunteers enter into relationship with people discerning God's call, for the good of the person and of the church, and labor with candidates to help in their discernment. They listen with that person considering this call from God and ask questions to evoke the Spirit's talking, not only to that person but through him or her. It is a tension-filled and exciting process to see God's Spirit working, even with all the ways it is hard to clearly hear God's call.
We rejoice when we can say to women and men, "Come in! Enter into this process of bewilderment and questions, of wonder and joy." Just like the journey through Bethlehem, it is not an easy journey. It can feel discouraging at times, like doors are closing in our face. But, we journey together in the hope that we carry Jesus in and with us.
Come and enter in!
Pastor Joy

Advent One

Move over the face of my deep,
my darkness,
my endless restless chaos,
and create, O God;
trouble me, comfort me,
stir me up, and calm me,
but do not cease to breathe your Spirit
into my wakening soul.

- Jan Richardson, Night Visions

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Night Visions

As I watched in the night visions, I saw.
Daniel 7:13a

We're coming again to the season of more night than day - Advent - what a perfect time for night visions. Today we have ended the church year, looking to the Ancient One, the Lord who is forever and forevermore, the Alpha and the Omega.
And at this ending, there is a new beginning - an opportunity to hear the truth once again, an opportunity to listen to Jesus' voice, an opportunity to see in the night a vision of who Jesus is and who Jesus is calling each of us to be.

Night Visions: searching the shadows of advent and christmas
by Jan Richardson
This is favorite of mine - an Advent book that we used each night in Advent 2000 with our close friends and neighbors, Daryn & Kristen. Each evening, we padded in stocking feet down to our neighbors' apartment and we shared readings and songs in the dark evenings. In the first pages, we read this, "The season of Advent means there is something on the horizon the likes of which we have never seen before. It is not possible to keep it from coming, because it will. What is possible is to not see it, to miss it, to turn just as it brushes past you. And you begin to grasp what it was you missed... So stay. Sit. Linger. Tarry. Ponder. Wait. Behold. Wonder.
There will be time enough for running. For rushing. For worrying. For pushing.
For now, stay. Wait.
Something is on the horizon." - Jan Richardson

Isn't this how God's call is?
So easy to miss...
so stay. sit. linger. tarry. ponder. wait. behold. wonder.
This is the season of night visions - of gentle, persistent growth in the darkness of Mary's womb; of darkness giving birth to light; of seemingly endless waiting and that which lies at the end of our waiting.

Lingering with you,
Pastor Joy

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Giving all

In memory of husband and wife team, Pastors Carillo, who were murdered last Saturday in El Salvador and are remembered in a Memorial Service in Milwaukee tonight.

For all who suffered on this night years ago in the events of Kristallnacht and throughout the Shoah, remembered and mourned in chapel today at LSTC.

For all who suffer and die because of faith and that our grief, fear and anger may be transformed to deeper commitment in the struggle for justice and peace. That we may continue to raise up leaders who are and will be part of the transforming reign of God - leading us into a new way of living with one another.

The LORD sets the prisoners free, the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down. The LORD watches over strangers, upholds the orphan and widow.

We remember, we believe.

Pastor Joy

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Sacrament of Vocation

Lately in several of my classes I've had the opportunity to talk about vocation from several different perspectives. It seems that normally when we talk about vocation it appears somewhat detached from the rest of our liturgical life. Where does it connect in our theology? Perhaps it connects in our baptism, in our very (re)creation. It connects in the first article of the creed when we proclaim God as the maker of heaven and earth. In creation, God calls us to be who are to be. It connects in the Lord's Supper as we partake of the body and blood of Christ. Instead of digesting what we eat, it consumes us. Jesus' very body and blood moves us to where God is calling us.

God calls us wherever we are to be the love of God in and to the world. That is our vocation, whether we are students, pastors, diaconal ministers, accountants, brothers, sisters, and so on.

How does God's grace come to you? How does God's grace move you to live out your vocation where you are? My prayer is that we might all hear God's grace calling us to acts of love, peace, and justice towards one another.

In Christ,

Ben Sheets
Visit Coordinator

We remember, we believe

All Saints' Day

Today, the admissions directors of the ELCA seminaries joined in worship at Augsburg College. The flames from many, many candles flickered and glowed as we participated in a service of rembrance on this All Saints Day.

President Pribbenow remembered one of those saints who, near to the end of her life, drank down the communion wine offered to her in one joyful gulp... and smiled. She had not smiled for many days but when she drank it she smiled broadly. Perhaps because she would meet the One who first offered this gift to her very soon, perhaps simply enjoying the delightful draught of the fruit of the vine.

For what do you thirst, for what do you long, for what do you wait?

We sang "Jesus, remember me" and we remembered those who have died. They were named and a bell rang. It is powerful to remember... Emilie, Joseph, Janet, George, Tavia, Ben, Hattie...all those who have gone before us. Sweet Honey and the Rock sing, "I don't know how my mother walked her trouble down. I don't know how my father stood his ground. I don't know how my people survived slavery. I do remember, that's why I believe."

Who do you remember? How have they led the way on the path that you travel today?

Remembering with you,
Pastor Joy

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Shining, surprising light

On this hallowed eve, I remember how God has created both light and darkness, each a gift. Without one, how would we experience the other?

Jesus comes in surprising ways, sometimes not unlike the child jumping out in a costume and shouting "Boo!" We look and wonder, "Who are you? Is that you?"

In this night of hidden identity, flashlights and jack o'lanterns, may you see the hidden and revealed light of Christ. Even as children gather up treats, may you sense the gathering of the great cloud of witnesses that we recognize and remember tomorrow - those who surround you in loving embrace and cheer you on as you walk the way of Jesus.

Happy hallowed eve,

Pastor Joy

Monday, October 30, 2006

Seminary Sampler: A taste of LSTC

Here are a few of the people who gathered to share conversation, learnings and abundant good food over the weekend at LSTC.

Discernment is not always easy - so we pray for each one who gathered, those who have come this fall and those who are still coming - that each one will experience Jesus' presence in word, along the way, and in the breaking of the bread.

My heart was burning within me at the opportunity to experience Christ's presence in these guests and in all those who shared of their time and themselves this weekend. May you taste and see that God is good throughout this week.

Pastor Joy

Monday, October 23, 2006

Athlete of God

This week, I was reminded of my love for the dancing and wisdom of Martha Graham, who revolutionized modern dance.
Read how she articulates the value of each one of us coming to know our calling:

"There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost."

For those of us who believe in the Holy Spirit's quickening, this is a powerful image. God has created you uniquely. What do you love to do? What are you longing to do? What is it that God is longing for you to do so that it may not be lost?

If you can name it, then the task is to figure out how to do it. Sometimes, we don't get to living out our dreams in one quick jump. Often, it takes many daily steps to get there. And Martha has some words about living a life of practice, too.

"We learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. One becomes in some area an athlete of God."

An athlete of God. I love that phrase. I'm not really even much of an athlete but I am still learning the value of living with disciplines. What is it that you want to say "no" to in order to say "yes" to something else? What do you want to practice? Something life-giving, something new, something that helps you not only "find" yourself or your purpose but create yourself...

Today, there are snow flurries over Chicago. The leaves in the sugar maples are shockingly red and gold. Many leaves have already fallen underfoot. It is cold and gray outside and warm indoors. It's a moment of the year when many grow quiet and reflect on life and death. In the midst of all this, may the Spirit come and quicken your spirit. May you sense a place where God helps you to learn to live and coaches you on in the disciplines that give you life. May you run and not grow weary, walk and not faint. I hope you dance.

With you in the gym, track, dance studio,
Pastor Joy

Monday, October 16, 2006

Setting a table

This past week, it was my privilege to host admissions directors from all eight seminaries of the ELCA right here in Chicago. We meet together annually to plan how we can work collaboratively throughout the year because even though we each believe in the unique wonderfulness of the place where we are inviting people to come, our goal is the same... to be inviters of people into ministry, in all its forms, and especially to ordained ministry of word and sacrament.

One of the things we did together was to visit two college campuses. Together, we set up a table with materials from each of our seminaries. On top of a shared banner about God's bold call, we invited people to take something from the table - viewbooks, pens, brochures. Take something home, think and pray. Leave your name so the conversation can continue.

Another thing we did together was eat. We shared noodle dishes with students at Valparaiso University and a buffet with students, staff and faculty of Carthage College. We shared boxed lunches and beautiful buffets. Around these tables, we shared life questions, "What's next for you in life?" "Where have you come from and where are you going?" "What drew you to come tonight?"

Around these tables and many other tables, our bread-breaking Jesus is present. The table is set, the feast is ready to begin. Jesus invites, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." Come. Take. Believe.

And don't forget to leave your name so the conversation can continue.

Your conversation partner,
Pastor Joy

Monday, October 09, 2006

Just the Beginning

Today I bought a card that features this quote from Louis L'Amour,

"There will come a time when you believe everything is finished.
That will be the beginning."

This reminds me of an email I read today from a prospective student who is trying to imagine, in spite of the calling he senses to come to LSTC, how he can uproot from the life he knows and make such a dramatic change. How can he move to Chicago and eventually far beyond this place to who knows where? It seems like a pretty big leap of faith, but as a wise person once said - we leap and the net appears. One ending births a new beginning.

Last night, I realized toward the end of a long car trip that I had forgotten an important item. This meant extending the trip to go back and meet up with the person who could pass on the item. Just when we thought we were almost done, there was more driving to do. And during that extended driving time, I began to remember other details left untended... the new week began in the twilight and gave me clarity about how to start the morning.

If you are facing an ending today, if everything is finished, could it be just the beginning?

On the journey with you,
Pastor Joy

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Willful Listening

"Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening."
~Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

I remember going to my advisor in college week after week, trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. Communications, Computer Information Systems, Theatre, Toxicology/Chemistry-I was all over the place; I was working so hard to find the right major. Then my advisor, an agnostic microbiologist with an interest in Zen-Buddhism, said words that changed my life. "Ben, you know what you want to do, you're just not listening to it."

These words freed me to listen to myself. I had been encouraged by others to enter the ministry, but I was unable to listen to what was being spoken inside of me. The words spoken by my advisor gave me persmission not to "find" my vocation, but to "listen" for it.

Sometimes the hardest thing for us to do is to stop doing; simply to relax, to find a sense of calm, to sit in the lap of the Saviour. And then in that space to hear God calling us to be the people we were intended to be. When we start to listen, we will begin to recognize that God has been speaking to us all along. What is God speaking to you?
Ben Sheets, Visit Coordinator

Monday, October 02, 2006

Hearing God's voice - new place, new perspective

With her permission, I want to share with you the sermon Elaina Salmon, one of our LSTC seniors, proclaimed last week. Notice what she did first. She invited everyone to change their seating. We all gathered and sat around her and she shared the gospel from the middle of the huddle. What a change of perspective! Suddenly, the energy and connection in the room changed. There was excitement and laughter as we moved forward and together. Our neat little walls (not sitting in the front row, giving everyone plenty of personal space) came falling down. Through Elaina, Jesus reminded us who we are - the gathered children of God in community. Hooray for preaching that reminds us who we are! Thank you, Elaina.

This may be a bit long for blog format - but I promise it's worth it, read on!
Wherever you may be along your vocational journey, may you hear God's voice today, reminding you that you matter to the one who created you, who breathes life into you, who shows you the way.

Sermon: Mark 9:30-37
September 28, 2006
LSTC Chapel Service
Elaina Salmon

Good morning, dear friends! We’re going to do things a little bit differently today. I’d like to invite you to come up front to sit. I invite you to gather around as children do in a children’s sermon. So, yes, I am giving you permission to come up here and sit on the floor. If you’re not so inclined to get your pants dirty or don’t like the feel of a stone floor, I still invite you to come up front and sit in the front row, or pull up a chair. So, come on down.

Well, thanks for trying something new. Seminary certainly time of new experiences. One that I am now finding new appreciation and gratefulness for, but one that has also at various points had me shaking in my shoes. I can think of that first semester of trying to make my way in a theological program at the masters level. I remember sitting in Ralph Klein’s Pentateuch class, my very first class of my seminary career...I sat in the back row, in the back corner, hearing words that I hadn’t heard before or perhaps heard but didn’t have any idea what they meant. It was words like...Pentateuch...TeNaK...and there was talk about a priestly writer and these other writers, nicknamed “J” and “E.” All news to me. And I remember sitting in that class, sometimes on the edge of my seat thrilled by this new knowledge, and at others times cowering in the corner, shrinking into my seat, hoping that I wouldn’t be called on. And of course, if I was called on, my heart would start to race, in a way that I’m sure was not good for my health. And then I’d spend the next twenty minutes analyzing my answer, wondering if I had spoken a heresy, but also knowing I still didn’t know what heresy was. After all, we weren’t that far along in church history only covering a few of the heresies of the past 2000 years. And I remember looking around at these new classmates, men and women that I was hoping to call “friends,” and yet I was sure that someone who didn’t know what the word “Pentateuch” meant might surely be called a nitwit from the beginning be left out of the friendship circle. There were days were I felt small, a bit inconsequential in this place called seminary. Days were I longed to cuddle up in God’s presence and just be, as that small child, fearful and courageous and timid all at the same time.

Perhaps this is part of our journey...this feeling of being inconsequential. The ironic thing is we spend so much time trying to prove that we are not inconsequential. There is of course the Candidacy Committee. A place where we have to articulate a consequential sense of call...even though it seems that Greek has us questioning if there is a God and CPE lays out on the table the parts of us we may prefer to hide and internship has us wrestling with our sense of call. And in an odd way, sometimes we vie for that first place, to have the greatest handle on truth, to speak the most essential and crucial words on the doctrine of the trinity, and to form the eloquent prayer for chapel services. We may feel like we’re last, but we long to be first, and yet we may find ourselves occupying both first and last and the same time.

We’ve always got the disciples to look to, don’t we. What was it that Amy said last week...a rag tag band of Jews, following Jesus. Not far before our text today, we Mark telling the story of Transfiguration, where Peter and James and John were with Jesus on the mountaintop, the glorious day when Jesus was transformed and the beloved Moses and Elijah appear. Even though, Jesus ordered Peter and James and John not to speak a word of it, I’m sure there was a weak link in this chain. So, no wonder the disciples were talking about who was the best! Peter and James and John were invited by Jesus to the top of that mountain. They had seen the glory of God, surely that would win them first place. Perhaps they felt courageous and excited as they argued with the others about who was first.

And yet perhaps they felt fearful and timid when Jesus confronted them with the question, “What were you arguing about on our journey to Capernaum?” Perhaps this is when those disciples cowered in the corner, shrinking into their seat, hoping that the teacher would not call on them, because no one volunteered an answer to Jesus’ question. Perhaps a moment of feeling inconsequential.

But what perhaps speaks more profoundly is Jesus’ next move, when he opens his arms to a child, the most inconsequential of all in antiquity. A child, one almost invisible, but to her mother who nurses her and waits for adulthood. A child, practically a non-person. Jesus wraps his arms around her, embraces the inconsequential, the invisible, the non-person. And this child matters, curled up in the arms of a savior.

We come to worship just as we are, with confidence and questions, burdened by failure and celebrating success while fearful of the future. Caught between, or perhaps moving back forth from feeling first and feeling last. But it is God who embraces the inconsequential of our lives.

I now know what the word Pentateuch means, but there are other words like epistemology and soteriology which often trip me up. My heart no longer races and at an unhealthy rate when I speak in class, but I sweat a class presentation. And there are moments when I hear about the first call process and envision my life as pastor, when I start to feel fearful, and courageous, and timid and excited all at the same time. And that is when, I long to sit in the presence of God. As that child, curled up in the arms of a savior, as one who matters.

God embraces us in the moments that we are between first and last or the moments that we are just stuck in last. And the gift beyond that, is that God shows us that first and last is inconsequential, and rather, God shows us our sisters and brothers in the same place we find ourselves, in the arms of a savior, as ones who matter.


Friday, September 29, 2006

Kitchen table witness

This morning, I sat around the table with a phenomenal group of students who are speaking together with Pastor Ray Legania about African Descent Spirituality and we tuned in to the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

He spoke of an instance in the beginning of the movement when he was awakened by a threatening and abusive phone call, one of many he received. But on this night, however, Martin had had enough. Here's how Coretta tells the story:

After the call, he got up from bed and made himself some coffee. He began to worry about his family, and all of the burdens that came with our movement weighed heavily on his soul. With his head in his hands, Martin bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud to God: "Lord, I am taking a stand for what I believe is right. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I have nothing left. I have come to the point where I can't face it alone.
Later he told me, "At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced before. It seemed as though I could hear a voice saying: 'Stand up for righteousness; stand up for truth; and God will be at our side forever.'" When Martin stood up from the table, he was imbued with a new sense of confidence, and he was ready to face anything.

--Coretta Scott King from "Standing in the Need of Prayer" as published by The Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster.

I am struck by Rev. King's immense courage but in this moment, even that was stripped away. "I have nothing left," he cried. And in that moment of desperation, God spoke. How did God speak to Martin? I don't know for sure but the point is -
God is still speaking.

God speaks audibly, God speaks through the Spirit. God speaks through ten friends telling us the same thing. Sometimes, God speaks in the stillness with only a whisper. Sometimes, it's as if God is silent but maybe that's because we're in process, held in the palm of God's hand. God is still speaking.

Where is God calling you? When you're at your kitchen table, surrounded by loved ones with a feast or sitting alone at midnight with nothing left, God is there. God is still speaking.

Listening with you,
Pastor Joy

Monday, September 25, 2006

Me, a leader in the church?

It’s September, the beginning of the harvest season, time to make a fresh start, a time for remembering all that has been and dreaming of the future. During this beautiful month, we are so glad that you are considering God’s call to the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

“Me, a leader in the church?” My call from God to be a pastor came very gradually, step by step, day by day, throughout the seminary process. In the beginning, I didn’t know if I was called to be a pastor—all I knew for sure was that I was called to come to LSTC. This was the community where I wanted to continue to develop my spiritual and intellectual life. This was the place where I was challenged through classes, through real-life challenges in a real community, through practicing ministry. This is the place where my understanding of the Lutheran faith, the faith in which I was raised, was deepened and clarified. This is the place where I took advantage of the ACTS consortium of seminaries and took a wide range of classes in various areas of interest. I learned from faiths and perspectives that are not my own. I developed friendships to last a lifetime and had difficult experiences that prepared me well for the challenges of ministry. I loved daily worship, singing in the choirs, the global community gathered here, the Hyde Park neighborhood and the city of Chicago.

This is why I am so thrilled to be back at LSTC, as the new Director of Vocation and Recruitment, because it’s a joy for me to share the good news of this community of learning and leadership with you. After five years as a pastor in both congregational and campus ministry settings in Wisconsin, my family has moved back to the city of Chicago and I have accepted this new call to welcome people to LSTC.

Our LSTC Admissions Office, my colleague Dorothy Dominiak (Director of Admissions and Financial Aid) and myself would love to have you come and visit LSTC. Get an idea of its professors and students, classes and worship, surrounding neighborhood and broader city setting. We want you to come and have a few days to ponder God’s call for your future, to discern whether this is the place God is beckoning you. We’ve designed a weekend for you to come together with others asking these same questions: “Is God calling me? Is God calling me here?”

Seminary Sampler is a long weekend, Saturday through Monday, October 28-30, 2006 in which you’ll have time to have conversations, hear stories of God’s call, think about your life path and how you’ve been brought to this place. You’ll hear the nuts and bolts of admissions and financial aid processes. You’ll get to interact with LSTC administrators and students, share a meal in their homes, visit their congregations, tour the seminary, housing and Hyde Park. If you’re able to stay for Monday, you’ll visit classes, attend daily worship and be treated to lunch with the faculty. Of course, you’re welcome to visit LSTC anytime, but this is a weekend created especially for you.

We hope to see you there!

May God bless and guide you,
Pastor Joy


“I am blessed, I am blessed… I am blessed to be a witness.”

Ben Harper sings these words in one of my favorite songs – and this is my job at LSTC.
I am blessed to be able to experience the gifted people who make up LSTC, the gifted people who are thinking of coming here and the wider church that keeps raising up leaders. Then, I get to tell the story of what I’ve seen – I am blessed to be a witness, that word that has such an expansive meaning. See it, hear it, share the good news.

Blessed to be,
Pastor Joy