In Lay Terms

Random Ramblings From a Church Nerd

Sunday, October 29, 2006


Except for a few places in the US, we have moved all our clocks back one hour. It's a great American ritual. I have to say that I was finding it very difficult to get up in the dark of the morning. However, I wonder how I'm going to react when it is dark by the time I get home from work.

I really like daylight. That's why I prefer summer. I like that the sun is out past 8:00 at night all summer long. These short, dark days really get to me.

However, I had my bout with fall blues earlier this fall. Does this mean I'm done? Or does this mean that I have more to face now that it's darker even earlier? I have yet to see. I think that my work and my involvement in activities will also determine how I feel about these shorter days.

I guess a better question is this: what am I going to do about it? Our newspaper had an article about the exercise routine falling off when the days get shorter. I'm wondering if exercise might help me feel fit and energized through these winter months. We have started a routine at the end of the summer, but it has fallen into a bit of a lapse. Maybe the change in the clock will be another reason to start up again.

I'm praying for a better fall and a more positive attitude as these dark days go forward.

Hootie & the Blowfish
Album: Cracked Rear View

Time, why you punish me?
Like a wave crashing into the shore
You wash away my dreams
Time, why you walk away? oh, oh
Like a friend with somewhere to go
You left me crying

And you'll teach me 'about tomorrow
And all the pain and sorrow running free?
'Cause tomorrow's just another day
And I don't believe in time

Time, I don't understand
Children killing in the streets
Dying for the color of a rag
Time, leave you red and blue
Wash them in the ocean, make them clean
Maybe their mothers won't cry tonight

Can you teach me 'about tomorrow
With all the pain and sorrow running free?
And tomorrow's just another day
And I don't believe in...

Time is wasted, time walking
Time, time
You ain't no friend of mine
I don't know where I'm going
I think I'm out of my mind
Thinking about time

And if I die tomorrow, yeah
Then lay me down to sleep

Time, you left me standing there
Like a tree growing all alone
The wind just stripped me bare
Stripped me bare
Time, the past has come and gone, gone
The future's far away
An hour only lasts for one second, one second

Time without courage, time without fear
Is just wasted, wasted, wasted time
Oh, oh, oh, ooh ooh ooh

Time, why you punish me?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Let It Go

Last night, a friend and I were talking about the new Lutheran Hymnal. She was in a setting where a colleague was complaining about the new hymnal. Neither one of us can figure out what the big deal is. Are we perhaps getting our undies in a twist over something that isn't that big of a deal?

I've only had one glance-through, but isn't that enough to make me an expert?

Here are my observations about the complaints about the hymnal:

1. There is no ELCA Army that will forcibly take away your green, blue, red, or black hymnals and replace them with the maroon hymnal. If your congregation does not want to use the new hymnal, you don't have to use it! This is a resource, not a mandate.

2. There have been complaints that the new hymnal includes a lot of global hymns, including "from the southern hemisphere." Does that strike anyone else as more than a little racist? Why must all our hymns come from northern Europe? Because the Lutheran church started there? Unfortunately, those countries where the Lutheran Church began are some of the most secular places in the world. Why do we want to emulate them as models of vibrant faith? Plus, Martin Luther was a great contextualizer. He translated the Bible into the vernacular. He made hymns out of drinking songs. In that same spirit, we should be singing hymns that reflect the faith and experience of the people who are worshipping. We should NOT be forcing people to adapt a faith that is foreign to them. That's what brother Martin was against.

3. Inclusive language: We still sing, "The King of Love, My Shepherd Is". We don't sing, "This Is My Parent's World". Yes, they changed the Psalms to say "you" instead of "he". Get over it. It makes the Psalms prayers to God. Isn't prayer a good thing?

4. Let me stress this again, because it is important: NO ONE IS FORCING YOU TO DO ANYTHING! If you want to continue to use the green hymnal, you can. If you want to project praise and worship songs with thin theology onto a screen during worship, you can. However, I would like something that bridges the old favorite hymns with some new exciting hymns. I would like resources for more creative worship. Get off my back if I want to sing a new song! I won't stop you from worshipping however you like, so LET IT GO!

OK - my rant is over.

...for now.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Where Am I in October?

I'm buried under a pile of paperwork.

October is typically a very busy time for me. Most of my programming happens within a few weeks within October (and February). However, this year there is a bit more going on. The grant I work with is ending, and a new grant is beginning. That means that I need to make proposals about what to do with this grant money. I'm supposed to come up with a plan to stretch this money (not much of it, by the way) to create two new programs, while keeping the old ones going.

I also need to fill out a performance appraisal in the next week or so. I don't often enjoy writing about myself and my job description. I guess I have the attitude that if I'm doing good work, it should be evident. Why do I need to comment on it? I know that it's important in the decision-making process of what to do with me later, but I just don't want to do that right now.

So, this next week, I'm writing two proposals for what to do with new money. I'm also trying to write two proposals to keep some of my programs from dying out completely. All that, plus a performance review, and still meeting with students. It's a little much for me.

Of course, that's just my paying job. TNP is still going. We are talking about going to follow our film in Chicago in two weeks. We still haven't figured out travel. The three of us are never available at the same time, so communication is difficult. I hope I make it through this busy time unscathed.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Lifting My Spirits

I wrote a while ago about feeling down and unmotivated. I won't say that I'm completely back, but I seem to have some motivation again. When I'm busy, and there is a lot going on, it seems to give me more of a sense of purpose. My job had a lot going on last week. It was very stressful, but it seemed to invigorate me.

It's also been a good help to think through what I'm going to do with my life (or what I'm going to be when I grow up). This last weekend, my other half and I had a conversation about the future. We both have plans, and we talked about how to do those plans together. I wrote out a rough time line of my life. It only covers the next five years or so, but it seems to give me a greater purpose. At last, I have direction!

Even though I've been out of the blogging community for a while, I've still been reading your entries. It really helps to put my life into perspective. I read about your joys and struggles, and I think that my life is pretty much on par with everyone else. Of course, it's always fun to read J create a theological treatise on whatever song is playing at the time. Mark has now moved from being a student under authority to a pastor learning to manage his new authority. Joe continues to wonder what the future will hold for him as he journeys through the closet. Even reading my mom's descriptions of her travels makes me get to see how wonderful her life has turned out.

I'm also getting theologically challenged, particularly by The Lutheran Zepher and Lutherpunk. I appreciate their comments on what is happening in the academic world. While Lutherchick offers her own devotional perspective on the simple events of life.

Thanks to you all for sharing your lives in some way. Even though I don't know you, I'm glad to know you.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Gayest Youth Gathering Ever

I probably will re-visit the sorted affairs of "The Disciples" at a later post. Basically, I want all of your seminary (and parish) stories. They can be real or made-up. I can turn these into plotlines for my exciting new drama.

While you think of those crazy stories, I wanted to share an essay I wrote earlier this summer. This is more of documentation than essay, but you get the drift. I wrote this summer about my experiences at the National Youth Gathering in San Antonio. I decided that something should be shared. So I wrote this following piece. Enjoy.

The Gayest Youth Gathering Ever:
Personal Reflections on Cruzando

Every three years, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America holds a youth gathering for senior high youth. The Gathering has become immensely popular, with over 30,000 youth attending. At one point, the Gathering had to split into to distinct weeks to accommodate the increasing number of youth participants. The program is very well done. Lots of time, money, and energy is poured into making the Gathering an event that is theologically sound, relevant to youth, and spiritually engaging. In short, the Gathering is meant to get youth to be excited about being the church, particularly the ELCA.

I love going to the Gathering. I only went one time as a youth (Atlanta in 1994), but I have gone three times as an adult chaperone. This summer the Gathering was held in 2006 in San Antonio, Texas. We filled the Alamo Dome and the Convention Center with youth who are (mostly) excited to be there. The theme was “Cruzando: Journey with Jesus”. Cruzando means cross or crossing. It does NOT mean cruising, as was suggested to me at one point.

At the previous Gathering (2003 in Atlanta again), the Lutheran Youth Organization passed some resolutions regarding GLBT folks in the church. They supported the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy who are in committed relationships and the blessing of same-sex unions. They also voted overwhelmingly to designate themselves as Reconciling in Christ. These decisions by the young people caused quite a stir in the larger Lutheran world. Many people believed that ELCA staff was brainwashing the youth. The ELCA would not allow the LYO to keep the designation of RIC.

This is the backdrop of my story. Now for a little about me and my journey. I am the Program Director of The Naming Project, a faith-based youth group for GLBTQIA youth. I am also involved with the work of Lutherans Concerned/North America. I felt that it would be important for The Naming Project to share a workshop on the process of coming out in the church. We could help discuss how important it is to have support along the way. I went through the channels with the workshop team leader. Eventually, I was told that there was a moratorium on speaking about sexuality, particularly homosexuality. Lutherans Concerned, for its part, also attempted to have a presence at the Gathering. They tried to get a space in the interaction center, with the same result.

Our only break came, when I was invited to give a workshop at the LYO Business Convention. This is a separate event, held about the same time as the gathering. It was the Business Convention that passed the resolutions about sexuality and RIC in the last triennium. I believed that I would be co-presenting with my colleague and friend, J. However, we were informed that J would not be invited to attend, due to his lack of standing within the ELCA. You see, J is a pastor in a same-sex relationship. His ordination was outside the oversight of the ELCA. So, I would be traveling and presenting alone. However, I was also chaperoning a group of kids from the Twin Cities Metro Area.

Even with the moratorium on all things gay, the gay subtext at the gathering was everywhere! In the morning sessions, when a speaker was entering the stage, the DJ would play "Somewhere over the Rainbow". Not the Judy Garland version. No, that would be too obvious. Instead, he played the version by the Hawaiian guy. One night, the evening was opened with a song and mass cast dance to the song "Travelin'Through" featured in the film Transamerica. "The Rainbow Connection" was played as we left one evening session. Again, not the Kermit the Frog version, but some hard rock version. In short, the background music was speaking to me personally.

But probably the gayest part of the gathering was when someone re-wrote the words to "YMCA". Instead, we had some Lutheran musicians (and for the second week, Bishop Mark Hanson) dancing on the stage to "It's good to be in the E-L-C-A!" There were even dancing letters, spelling out ELCA. I mean, come on!

Many of the speakers addressed social justice themes across the spectrum. One speaker, Dr. Kristin Gebbie, was invited to speak to us about the situation of AIDS in Africa. Instead, she brought AIDS much closer to home for many of our kids. I had an opportunity to meet Dr. Gebbie. I thanked God that she was present. Her talk was the closest that frank conversations about sexuality made it into the main stage. She, in turn, was thankful that groups like Lutherans Concerned and The Naming Project were still present, even in an "underground" capacity.

Lutherans Concerned and The Naming Project need to have a presence at the National Youth Gathering. I was convinced of this early on during the gathering. J called me to let me know that one of his former classmates knew a kid at the gathering who was feeling very isolated and alone. He was convinced that no one in the ELCA understood what it was like for his to be a gay youth in the midst of this church event. I was already walking around with brochures about The Naming Project in my back pocket, but when I learned there was a kid who needed support, I did my best to find him. How do you find a random gay kid from Nebraska at a Lutheran youth event? You spend a lot of time on the phone. I did everything I could short of stalking him. He was given my phone number and encouraged to call me. He never did. The prospect of meeting a stranger to talk about his feelings was probably too overwhelming for him. I feel like I missed out on a great ministry opportunity. If we could have had an official presence, then our meeting with him (and probably dozens of other GLBTQIA kids) could have focused on their own journey.

I was able to share this thought when I presented my workshop for the LYO convention. My workshop title was "What It Means to Be Welcoming of All Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities". I recognized the great work that LYO has done. I also pointed out all the gay subtext at the gathering. Subtext is a great first step, but sometimes it helps to make things a little more obvious. Instead of dropping hints that people are welcome, perhaps our congregations and the ELCA need to define what it can do to help young people who are figuring out how to come out in the church.

My experience at the ELCA National Youth Gathering was not a complete loss, nor was it a total victory. I left challenged and energized for the next steps. I learned a lot from the kids I worked with. I would like organizations like Lutherans Concerned and The Naming Project present to provide pastoral care to youth who have questions about sexuality and gender identity, who are thinking about coming out, or who are supporting a friend or family member who is out. This needs to be carefully planned and executed. We cannot take our work with youth lightly. However, the church will be that much richer if we can help kids understand and thank God for who they are.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Hottest TV Show You Will Never See!

OK - after reading my last post and this one, you may come to the conclusion that I have gone off the deep end. No fear, I'm probably just the same person you have come to know and love...or at least know.

Yesterday, I was walking my dog. As I was walking, I thought about the only television show that I've seen lately. Our roommate is very into Gray's Anatomy. Thus, we end up watching it with her. The plots are pretty good, and they have a lot of complex characters. There is also a good cast ensemble feeling. For those of you who don't know, Gray's Anatomy follows medical students on their first rotation.

That got me to thinking about other potential shows that would follow a similar structure. Students who are trying to learn on-the-job skills while still trying to maintain some semblance of personal life. Then it hit me: The Disciples (or The Call, I'm not sure which yet). This would follow a group of students as they go through seminary.

Brilliant, no?

These students would be at a mid-sized seminary. I'm not sure if it would be better to be ecumenical, or to focus on one particular denomination. If it were one denomination, then it would have to be a mainline denomination that the general public doesn't feel like it understands very well. Lutheran!

So, let's go with Lutheran. Our students are at a seminary, entering their first year. Along with taking Greek, Christology, and Pastoral Care, our students also participate in a weekly conversation with their advisor, called Discipleship. The plotlines would not focus on their classes or their theology, but on their personal lives. At times, our students would like to keep theology out of their personal lives, but they are not successful in doing so.

Among our cast of characters would be:

The 1st years:
Jill: She has a high level of personal piety and tends to be more evangelical than her classmates. While she is still Lutheran, she does not understand why Lutheran worship has to be very dead. She is more of a Biblical literalist. Her social views are quite conservative. She would never drink or do anything that may cause a scandal. She came to seminary because she wants to spread the love of Jesus to everyone. However, she isn't sure why there are so many hoops to jump through in order to be a pastor. She just wants to get out there and do ministry.

Brenda: She is the social justice character. She loves liberation theology and moving the church in a more progressive direction. She came to seminary because she feels that she can affect more change from the pulpit, just like Martin Luther King did. She often clashes with more traditionalists, but she enjoys the debate. She is willing to discard biblical or traditional arguments in order to create a more just world.

Rick: Rick is a former bad boy. He has had problems with addiction in the past, but he has done well in recovery. While in recovery, he discovered religion. The call continued to be stronger for him all the time, and now he finds himself at a seminary, studying to become a pastor. He feels a bit out of place here. He secretly feels that he was at his height during his "bad ass" years, and wants to find a way to relive those while still staying sober. He struggles academically, but can provide excellent pastoral care when he needs to.

Doug: Doug is an older student. After his divorce, he started his life over and realized that he always wanted to be a pastor. He is figuring out how he is going to fit into a seminary where he is older than the average student. He also still grieves his divorce and questions if his divorce taints him from being a good pastor.

Cindy: Cindy has felt that she was called to be a pastor since she was seven years old. Her entire life goal was spent getting to ordination. However, she still has some interpersonal issues to work out with her family before she is able to move forward. She is trying to present herself as a good candidate, but she struggles with her own feelings of self-worth. She believes that once she is a pastor, she will finally be fully herself. Until that point, she is incomplete.

2nd Year Mentor:
Stuart: He's a very attractive fellow who is in his mid- to late 20s. He is very orthodox. A confessional Lutheran. Has his concerns about conversations and practices that are not clearly defined within the Lutheran heritage. Very low on the personal piety (read: he drinks lots of beer and enjoys a healthy dating life). He is not a biblical literalist, but rather views scripture through the lens of Lutheran teachings.

Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Theodore Lindstrom: Professor of New Testament. He holds an advising group with all the above named students. He is very intelligent, and delivers wonderful lectures. However, he is concerned with the level of power that he has over people's future. He doesn't enjoy faculty meetings, but would rather spend his days in research or in front of a class.

I can picture a variety of situations. Imagine our students trying to meet people at a bar:
"So what do you do?"
"Oh, I'm a...graduate student?"
"What are you studying?"
"Ummm...I'm studying at the seminary to be a pastor."
The reactions could be a variety from this point! The ideas are limitless.

I know that this plan is not yet complete. I don't have the token lay student involved. I also don't have any married students. However, this is what I could come up with at the moment.

What do you think? Any feedback? Are these people you know? Would you like to see The Disciples on your local network?

Stop Light?

I had a dream last night.

I dreamt I was back at the house I was growing up in. We were attempting to find people to tutor these really hard courses in chemistry and biology (which is part of my current job). I was asking high school classmates if they could take any of these classes on. For some reason, we went out to the mailbox to get the mail.

Here's where I need to explain something about the house I grew up in. We lived deep in the woods. My parents have (yes, they still live there) 10 acres. While they have a huge lawn, it is buried in a very wooded area. The mailbox is on the highway, so it can be quite a long walk to get to the mailbox.

So, anyway, we were at the mailbox, and these cars are all stopped on the highway. They seemed to be waiting for me to get the mail. Usually, cars can just drive by (when there are actually cars, which isn't that often). I thought this was strange, until I looked up. Then I saw that there was a huge traffic light to direct the traffic from the highway, the small county road opposite of our driveway, and our driveway.

Why on earth did we get a traffic light? As I said, there is barely any traffic on our highway. There isn't even a stop light in town. What was going on there. I was shocked and surprised.

Of course, now I realize that it was just a strange dream. Everything is back to how I remember it.