Saturday, December 22, 2007

My last class.... ever

Well, I suppose there is a slight possibility of post-doctoral classes or another PhD, but I seriously doubt it. Which means that last night I finished the last assignment I will ever do for a class. Crazy! I know many of you would be jumping for joy, but I am a little sad. I really enjoy learning in the classroom environment. I love the discussion. I love learning from a professor. I love being asked to read things I might never have considered and how it always leads me down paths I never expected. I will miss learning in community in a formal way. I realize that academia has a way of preserving this sense of a learning community for most of us, but it will be different and I am sad to see this phase of my life over.

I was looking for something to post from one of my last papers. Believe it or not I wrote over 80 pages in the last two weeks. Topics included: the relationship between a Buddhist temple and secularization, civic engagement in the early Mission Friends, an analysis of Ed Lehman's study on women clergy entitled Gender and Work, and a dialog between several contemporary theologians and the Covenant Affirmations. If you are interested in any of those topics, I'd be happy to send a few things along! Otherwise, my ramblings were far to lengthy for a blog.

I will provide some book recommendations though:

Letty Russell's The Church in the Round is a great introduction to feminist ecclesiology. Russell uses the image of the table (a round table, a kitchen table, and a welcoming table) as her primary metaphor for the church. Her work is very approachable and asks very practical questions I think it would provide some great metaphors to guide a discussion within a congregation about what it means to be church.

Mark Chaves has published an extensive sociological study of Christian churches entitled Congregations in America. His main question is "What do congregations really do?" Not who do they say they are or who do they want to be, but how do they actually spend their time. His conclusions are challenging. He argues that congregations are primarily about the expression and transmission of religious meaning. This means that while social justice issues are important, they are secondary. Pastors and congregations spend most of their time involved in worship and formation with the arts as a significant part of the life of the church.

Finally, I'll recommend Mark Juergensmeyer's Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence. This book looks in detail several religious groups who have been involved in terrorist acts in the last decade ands asks why. In reading this book, some may conclude that all religion is violent. Juergensmeyer doesn't leave anyone out. But it is important to remember that the author was not asking if religion was violent, but rather when a religious group engages in violence, why do they do it? What motivates them?

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Letter 2007

God’s voice thunders wondrously!
God does great things that we cannot comprehend.
For to the snow God says, “Fall on the earth”
And the shower of rain, God’s heavy shower of rain,
Serves as a sign on everyone’s hand, so that all whom God has made may know it.
Job 37:5-7

Merry Christmas! I doubt there was snow present on that first Christmas morning, yet God’s voice thundered wondrously even in the wail of a newborn child and in that moment we were shown how great our God’s love is for each one of us, those whom God has made.

If you have been reading my blog regularly, much of the information in this letter will not be new to you... but I thought I would post it anyway. Some of the information regarding my nieces has been edited out for their protection. If you are a friend and want more details, please e-mail me. And now, on to the Christmas Letter of 2007...

If you have not heard, in July of I quit my job as dean of students at North Park Theological Seminary and went back to school full-time… again. The seminary was very gracious in my send-off, presenting me with a brick in the pathway in front of the school honoring my years of service. This fall I am completing my last semester of classes in the Ph.D. program at Garrett Evangelical Theological School. This spring I will be studying for exams and, if God provides, next year I’ll be writing my dissertation. My research will focus on women, race, and pastoral leadership. Following that… God only knows, but hopefully it will involve teaching at a seminary.

In April I celebrated my 40th birthday with friends and family… all of my family! My parents stopped by to pick up Sandy and her family (Josh, Amber and new baby Sienna) and drove up to my house. My brother and his family (Jim, Nicole, Brenna, and Jordan) surprised us all by flying in from the West Coast! I feel blessed to have had lots of time with family this year. Sandy's to meet Sienna soon after she was born. A summer vacation on the beach in San Diego with Sandy, Jim and their families. Thanksgiving with parents and Jim’s family. I will return to my sister's in a few weeks for Christmas with the Cherry’s and to celebrate birthdays (Amber: 4 years, Sienna: 1 year).

It seems that I spent most of the last two years traveling. In April 2006, I made a spur of the moment decision with my friends, Cathy and Jim Stanley-Erickson, and a few weeks later we were in Guatemala. Highlights of the trip? A walk through the mountains outside Santa Apolonia with Julio who shared his role in defending the village against government death squads in the 1990’s. A private boat tour of the villages surrounding Lake Atitlan. And a pre-dawn hike into Tikal, the Mayan ruins in the jungle’s of northern Guatemala.

In March 2007 I co-taught a class on Church Leadership in the United States and Sweden which involved a trip to Stockholm as part of a student exchange. Afterwards I spent a few days sightseeing with a friend in Stockholm and Copenhagen. The two cities were so different! One neat, orderly, and polite. The other more rough and tumble, but full of life. Both beautiful! Then in May, I made my way to Northern Minnesota with the Wilderness and Faith Class at North Park. The class focuses on ecology and the Christian response to creation and involves a few days at a cabin on the shores of Lake Michigan then a five day canoe ride into the Boundary Waters. I have missed Minnesota and being so close to nature. The trip reminded me of the love nature instilled in me by both my parents.

Finally, in October of this year Cathy, Jim and I embarked on one more adventure… Peru. The jagged peaks of the Andes. The jungle-covered hills surrounding Machu Picchu. The Colonial city of Cusco. A bus ride through Mayan villages and a boat ride to the floating islands in Lake Titicaca. It was definitely an adventure! If you want to hear more about my trips, there are stories and pictures posted on my blog, And a link to my flickr sight (auntjojo).

May you hear the voice of God thundering wonderously during this Christmas season and throughout the New Year!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

What Are We Waiting For?

This morning in church we celebrated the first Sunday of Advent. The sermon was on waiting, a topic which I am intimately familiar with. It led me to ask the question, "What are we waiting for?"

In the theology class that I assist with we are in the midst of studying eschatology. Eschatology is the study of the "last things." It has to do with our concept of where the world is headed and where we are headed, both in this life and beyond. Hans Schwarz, our primary text on this topic, reminds us that many other religions see life in a cyclical nature, a never-ending process of birth, death, and rebirth. Christianity on the other hand sees life headed towards a goal, towards the fulfillment of God's purposes and God's promises for this world. We may only have a dim picture of what the end looks like, but we trust that God knows where we are going. And, as Christians, we believe that those purposes and promises are intimately connected with Jesus Christ.

I ask the question "What are we waiting for?" because much of Schwarz's discussion of eschatology focuses on just that... hopes and expectations. Schwarz reminds us that before the time of Christ, the Jewish people had hope, though much of their hope was based in the past. God had acted on behalf of the Jewish people. God had rescued them out of Egypt and shown God's face to them. God loved them and covenanted with them to love and guide them. Some of them awaited a messiah, an anointed one, a king who would once again lead the Jewish people, but none of them awaited a baby. There was no season of advent before the coming of Christ. Yes, there were some who were awaiting his birth. Mary and Elizabeth along with their families knew that something was coming. It is suggested that the three wise men began their journey to Bethlehem long before Christ's birth. There must have been others who had seen the signs. Yet they did not know quite what to expect.

Our Advent season is a bit different than those first days of awaiting Christ's birth. Our waiting is a season of reflection, a reminder to slow down and focus on this tremendous act, the incarnation of God in human form on this earth in a manger in Bethlehem. We know what we are waiting for, because it has already occurred. Yet, in many ways our hope is also similar to that first advent season. Our hope is now grounded in the person and work of Christ as well as in all the mighty acts of God of behalf of God's people before and after that event. Christ's life, death, and resurrection make God's purposes a bit clearer, God's promises a bit more tangible. And we know of a new promise, the second coming of Christ, an event that we again wait for. It is this second coming that reminds me of the first advent. Some see the signs clearer. Others have a vague sense, but trust in the graciousness of God. Others don't have a clue that there is something to wait for. But on the day that it occurs, it will be clear.... At least to some. For the coming of Christ as the Messiah was not immediately known or recognized by all... not even all who would eventually be called the first Christians.

May God give us hearts to hope... to wait expectantly... a waiting grounded in what we have already seen and heard. And may we not move too quickly to claiming that we have already seen the truth or heard the answer. This is a time of waiting, a time of listening, a time of allowing God to speak to us in new and miraculous ways.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Searching for a Home in the Academy

This past weekend I was at the American Academy of Religion in San Diego. Initial observations? Picture a thousand theology professors all wandering around a convention center carrying little canvas tote bags. The same professors are almost giddy with joy as they wander through a huge exhibition hall full of books at discount prices. And then... ours of wandering from room to room listening to paper after paper on a wide variety of topics. Some are interesting, some inspiring, some incredibly boring! Given the location just north of the border with Mexico and recent political debates, many of the practical theology sessions focused on immigration. My favorite... a group called "Bible, Theology, and Postmodernity" with presentations ranging from theological reflections on Algerian migration to France, a personal reflection from someone who recently migrated to the United States to teach, and a reflection comparing Exodus to the Japanese internment. Most frustrating? A panel on Asian reflections on ecclesiology made up of five white men... and one Asian man. Most interesting? A debate between two womanist scholars on issues of power and pedagogy in the classroom. One argued that you must establish your authority in the classroom before you begin to share power. The other argued that you must create a classroom of equals... with all the chaos it entails, from the very beginning.
As usual, the conference leaves me feeling a bit unsettled. I don't know yet where I belong in this vast world of academia. Who is interested in the same topics as I am? Who is committed to the same values regarding gender and ethnicity? Who shares a commitment to the church and the scriptures? Where will I find a home? I want to argue both that an academic home is essential andjavascript:void(0)
Publish Post that I must hold it loosely. The academy is meant to be a community of those pursuing truth and wisdom... together. Yet, we must hold the idea of a home a loosely. Otherwise we determine who the community is ourselves and it often ends up looking a lot like we do. We end up with the like-minded, with a little chance of really being challenged or stretched. When we hold the idea of home loosely, perhaps God can form a family that is much wider, more dynamic than anything we could ever hope for or imagine.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

"All" Inclusive???

So, as usual, Sundays leave me with a lot to think about.

Last week it was All Saint's Day. And as has been the pattern for the last few years at our church there was also an infant baptism. It is always a challenge for me to feel a part of the church on these days that emphasize family. Generally central to those feelings are my own sorrow at not having a nuclear family of my own... since this generally seems to be the family that is being talked about at church. Infant baptisms raise grief for all sorts of people, including those of us who are facing the reality of never giving birth for a variety of reasons. But tie that to All Saint's Day... and some feel caught in a crunch between life and death. I celebrate being a part of the communion of saints. I try to remember that this day is about my being welcomed into that communion, a remembrance of my own baptism and coming to faith. I rejoice that many of my family members are part of the communion of saints. Yet, I also know that as someone not born into the faith, I will always mourn those who are not part of the body, those who do not believe, could not believe, never had a chance to believe.

Today, during the service, the word "all" was used many times. It is meant to be inclusive. It is meant to indicate that we "all" share similar experiences in life, that we are all a part of a fellowship of believers. But as one who has always been a bit of a contrarian in life, "all" has more often than not only highlighted my feelings of exclusion and alienation. All to often the experiences that we "all" have shared are not experiences that I have been a part of.

I have thought back to my own usage of the word "all" in sermons and lectures. I realize that I have become much more careful about assuming that everyone in a room has shared the same experiences. At North Park Seminary, it was important to remind myself that not everyone was a part of the same denomination. We did not necessarily have a shared experience of the Covenant Church. How important this was did not hit me until I ended up at a primarily Methodist seminary where I have been reminded over and over again that I am in the minority.

This use of "all" exclusive is rarely meant to cause harm. It is a part of desire we "all" have to connect with those around us, to be reconciled with one another, to emphasize how we are similar, how we are one in Christ. Yet too often the "all" excludes by not recognizing the diversity within our unity. The "all" can cause us to oversimplify our faith and our experience of the kingdom of God.

This is where my own "all" bias comes in. I am a person who is seeking to know a more complex God. It is comforting for me to know that God is beyond all we can think or know. It makes me feel included when we break down the universal nature of "all" and consider the wonderfully complex diversity of our community. For many, this complexity makes God seem out of reach. It brings instability to an already destabilized world. So perhaps I need to make room for those who need "all" inclusive, who need to emphasize our similarities rather than our differences... Perhaps...

As we use the word "all" in an effort to include everyone, though, I would ask you to consider who is not a part of "all." For someone is always on the outside. And sometimes the outside is where Christ is dwelling. And sometimes the outside is exactly where we are called to bring Christ... to welcome "all" into our family of faith.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Long Journey Home...

On Monday morning, we woke up early to confirm all the details for our long journey home. The tourist office in Puno was very helpful! We confirmed flights, found shuttles, and got some directions for around town. We found out on our first day in Peru that the one agency we used to book a few flights and bus rides was not always that accurate ( We arrived at the airport two hours before our first flight only to find out that it didn't exist and the next flight was not for five more hours! Luckily the AeroCondor people were incredibly helpful and switched us to another airline... we ran through the airport to catch our flight, setting off metal detectors, paying airport taxes, and scrambling across the tarmac. This time we found out that our flight was two hours later than expected! So, we had a few extra hours in Puno to look around.

We were blessed with incredibly beautiful weather... perfect for photography. The clouds were amazing and left Cathy and I gazing up and tripping over our feet much of the time.

Both Cathy and I have dozens of pictures of this cathedral on the central plaza (Plaza de Armas). It had incredibly intricate baroque detail on the outside. Within was quite sparse. Several caretakers were sweeping the wooden floors and moving pews following Sundays services.

Cathy, of course, also made friends with everyone in the square and outside the cathedral.

From the cathedral, we made our way to an internet cafe, grabbed some yogurt for lunch, stopped in another plaza to eat, and then headed for the Artisan's market near the lake.

After finding a few last minute gifts, we headed out to the pier for a last look at the lake.

Our journey home was interesting... to say the least. We made our way by shuttle to Juliaca, a much more industrial city about 45 minutes from Puno, to the international airport. Along the way we befriended Tom, a young man from Canada is was cutting his two month journey about a month short due to illness. His girlfriend had already flown home after the first week in Peru. This was not a good omen... as the bus wound its way up the mountainside out of Puno, my altitude sickness changed into something entirely different. Some 24-hour flu was apparently going through the tourists in Puno and hit me just as we began this journey. Luckily I did make it to bathrooms when needed and was able to sleep for most of the flights.

Of course, when we arrived in Lima our flight to the states was delayed for two hours. Our 11:30 pm red-eye became an early morning flight. I believe Jim was the one detained by security on this leg of the flight. I just had to pay a small fee since I had neglected to save the small piece of paper that I received in customs on the way into the country. We did board the plane in plenty of time... plenty of time for an emergency medical landing in Ecuador. Just an hour or so outside of Lima a woman began having heart palpitations and panic attacks. She was forced to leave the plane in Ecuador. Since we landed heavy with most of our fuel, we our plane had to be inspected before we could take off again. An hour and a half later, we were finally in the air to Houston.

By this time, Cathy was beginning to feel sick. Luckily she would have a few seats to lie down on for the flight to Chicago. Before that flight, though, we had to make our way through customs again and this time I was pulled aside to have my bags checked. I had bought a bag of quinua at a market in Aguas Calientes. Quinua is apparently a legume and some type of superfood that is incredibly healthy, but difficult to get through customs. The TSA people were going to sift through it all (it looks like rice) to make sure that there were no seeds or bugs. Unfortunately our next flight (we had already been rebooked twice due to delays) was about to take off... so, leaving my quinua behind we made our way to our final uneventful flight to Chicago.

It has been difficult being home... so much to transition back into. It is very hard to focus. Plus, there is so much to process from the trip and so little time to do so. I would prefer vacations that were less of a whirlwind, that involved some type of educational component, that were a bit more grounded in the reality of the place where I am visiting. I have come to the conclusion, though, that if I were to wait for the perfect travel experience I would never end up going anywhere. A whirlwind week in Peru is better than never experiencing that beautiful and at all.

I believe that living globally is important for me... I will never be able to live as a global Christian with a theology that truly reflects global Christianity (even if it is just a dim reflection) without experiencing other cultures and other parts of the world. Granted, you don't need to travel around the world for such experiences. And there is always the inherent danger of traveling as a consumer rather than one who is there to learn and experience. Experience itself can become a commodity for consumption rather than an opening up of oneself for change. Yet, as a tactile learner, I find that traveling like this leaves an indelible mark on me. Somehow geography becomes real and tangible... not just geographic placement on a map, but the relationship of one country to another, the geographic history of time and place, the topography and how that impacts economies and cultures. All of that becomes more real and lives more deeply within me through these experiences. For me, these travels are a tremendous gift, both expanding my understanding of the world and recognizing the limits of my own place within it.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Lake Titicaca

The name sounds better if you pronounce it like the locals... think Hebrew with the "c" in the back of the throat.

We arrived in Puno and headed to our hostel, El Manzano (The Apple). It was a true hostel, versus the small hotels we were staying in before. Small rooms surrounding an open courtyard with an apple tree. The bathroom was down the hall with limited hot water... turns out a bit more limited than we expected which would have been all right had the weather been a bit warmer. Did I mention that I wore most of my clothes everyday during the trip? Sweaters, sweatshirts, jackets, t-shirts... layers and layers. Long underwear to bed under flannel pajamas. Few of the rooms had heat and the ice cold shower did not help at all!

But I digress... we headed to the main square for dinner and a little blogging then an early night. We had another early morning ahead of us. A boat ride on the Lake Titicaca... the sacred lake of the Inkas and the highest navigatable lake in the world. The boat made its way out into the reeds that filled one portion of the lake. Slowly we made our way down an open channel until we came upon a lagoon surrounded by a small village of floating islands.

The Uros Islands are literally built upon the reeds in the middle of the lake. Layer upon layer of reeds laying a foundation for a village of reed huts and watch towers.

The islands originally served as a hideout from the Inkan forces that were conquering the area surrounding the lake. Our guide was intentional about reminded us that the Inkans were not the only people or even the first people to inhabit Peru. There were others before them and those on the Uros Islands are remnants of these people.

We stepped off the boat onto the spongy surface of the island. The women were in beautifully colorful outfits and welcomed us with open arms.

We received a short lecture on the history of the island. During the presentation, one of the women came over and sat next to me and began sewing a beautiful tapestry. She was so incredibly friendly. Where do they get that? The ability to reach out over and over again to us tourists who make our way into their homes to gawk, take pictures, buy trinkets, and consume their lives? Where do they get that? But they did... they opened their hearts and their homes. They were beautiful in that way. A hospitality that I have never possessed. I realize it is not as simple as that. We provide money for their economy... they gain as well as give. Yet still... I can learn from them.

From this first island, we boarded a reed boat to sail across the lagoon to one more small village.

A group of women and girls sang to us as we left the island. I realize it was a complete tourist fabrication, but it seemed magical nonetheless and sometimes I think allowing yourself live in the magical moment is not such a bad thing.

From there we sailed out for another 90 minutes to Taquile Island. I didn't see much of the island. The altitude sickness nearly took me out as we climbed the steep rocky path to the plaza at the top of the island. But the views were incredible.

Beautiful archways marked the entrances to the plaza and the city. Some were topped with crosses. Others with various local symbols.

There was a small church. A cultural center with a photographic exhibit. An artisan's market. You'll have to check out Cathy's blog for more about all of that. I simply sat on the stone wall at the edge of the plaza, gazing out at the lake or watching the people in the square.

A lunch of typical Peruvian food at a small restaurant. And, of course, the hike back down the hill. I had a nice long talk with Alan, our tour guide. Cathy befriended a few more of the locals... and took lots of pictures. We climbed back on the boat for a long ride home. Tomorrow we would have a few hours to explore the city and then begin the long adventure home. And what an adventure it was!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Inka Express

After hiking all morning in Machu Picchu, we returned to the little town of Aguas Calientes for some final picture taking, some shopping, and coffee before boarding the Backpacker train to Cusco. For a few brief moments we thought we would be joined by a very nice guy from Argentina named Jose, but just before leaving he was asked to change seats with a woman who wanted to be in the same car as her grown children. Cathy is convinced he is the one that got away for me and will be posting his picture on various travel sites in her tireless attempts to help me find the perfect guy.

We returned to Cusco for a brief night of sleep in our home away from home in Peru, the Hotel Belvidere (or the Quri Inn, depending on who you ask). The Hotel was in a nice little plaza with a pizza place playing Bossa Nova, an internet cafe, and a small market. We were up again early in the morning for our adventure on the Inka Express. Cathy shares the tale of our near mishap that morning in her blog.

The Inka Express took us on a 10 hour bus ride south through Peru to Lake Titicaca. The views were breathtaking and the stops fascinating... even if the tour guide was a little stingy with free time and a little overly generous with the information he had to share with us!

Our first stop was in Andahualilillas to see the "Sistine Chapel" of the Americas. The beautiful interior was in the midst of restoration.

I was more fascinated by the exterior. So different from the cathedral and large churches in Cusco. This church was in a little village in the midst of nowhere with incredible murals and a floor to ceiling altar covered in gold leaf. A much simpler exterior. The next church would strike me as even more amazing. Raqchi (also in the middle of nowhere) is a little town set next to the ruins of a huge ancient Inkan worship site.

This was the center wall of a huge temple several stories tall. The roof sloped down on either side and was supported by giant columns that no longer exist. It is said to be the site of Wiracocha's palace, the creator God of the Inkans. It may seem strange for three Covenant pastors to travel to the ancient temples of foreign gods. I was taught as a young Christian that there would be evil spirits in such a place that might possess you or lead you astray. Instead, these sites serve to open my eyes to the beauty of God's creation, especially in an through all of humanity, even if in veiled form. My faith and the one I have faith in are strong enough to learn from other religions without feeling threatened. In addition, though, there is a sense of loss at these sites, religions and cultures that disappeared... perhaps religions and cultures that might have brought new expressions of the Christian faith.

As mentioned above, adjacent to these huge stone walls was a small village and we were lucky enough to arrive just in time to witness one of the festivals taking place at the Catholic Church. The church itself was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen... I loved the natural stonework.

The festival itself was in celebration of the Virgin Mary. The priest led a procession around the town square, stopping at each corner for a blessing.

Yes, the priest was American... from Boston. He has been serving in Peru for most of his life. I had mixed feelings watching all the people of the village following him around the square. I am amazed at his commitment and calling to this place. I wonder when someone from within the village itself might rise up to lead the people themselves.

The Peruvians were in beautiful, colorful costumes carrying elaborately decorated floats bearing the Virgin.

Given a choice, I would have stayed much longer. They had just processed the Virgin back into the church and now the young people were gathering to dance in the square. Alas, the pitfalls of being on a guided tour. Instead, we made our way up to the highest point of our trip, La Raya at 4313 meters above sea level.

The views along the way were spectacular. Ragged mountain peaks covered in snow. Sweeping plains filled with herds of llamas (YES! Llamas!) Small villages. Spectacular!

There were a few more stops... a lunch buffet in one town and an archeological museum in another... before we finally came upon the delta of Lake Titicaca and began our descent into the town of Puno. Past the giant statue of the puma on the mountainside , though the bustling city, into the bus station on the shores of the lake. That night would be spent in one of our more interesting accommodations, but that story will have to wait for another day.

What I loved about the tour... though I hate pulling up to a small town along with several other big tour buses to consume a village, we saw places we probably would have never seen on our own. I love being surprised by beauty. I still remember rounding a corner in Paris one night and coming upon the Hotel D'Ville all lit up. I remember finding St. Chapelle and climbing up into its amazing stained glass chapel. And I will probably always remember this part of the trip, especially Raqchi where we stumbled upon a community celebrating in worship to God, full of joy and exploding with color in the midst of a desert landscape. While the Holy Spirit is always with us, I love to think of the Spirit bursting into our lives in unexpected moments like this... full of joy and exploding with color. And I am challenged by the call to be those moments of joy and color for those who live continually in a desert landscape.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Climbing Wayna Picchu...

We are sitting in a dark little internet place (I don´t think I would call it a cafe...) catching up a bit before we take the shuttle to Juliaca and begin our long journey home. It has been an amazing adventure... though, and I will share this now that the trip is almost over, I have struggled with altitude sickness for most of the trip. Just headaches and nauseau, but enough to keep meet at a much slower pace than I would like! Believe it or not, Machu Picchu was the best portion of the trip being a bit lower in the Andes. It is set in the midst of mountainous jungle and we, being slightly crazy, decided to hike up to one of the high peaks overlooking the ruins. What is nice about being slightly crazy is the fact that you meet other slightly crazy people to bond with along the way... a young woman from Iceland and her family who sang songs at the top of the mountain. A couple that were engaged in one of the buildings at the top. The all-American snack team... a father and three grown sons who pulled out pringles, m&m´s, a jar of jelly and wheat bread, twizzlers, and just about any other type of junk food you could find... all carried to the top of the mountain. And two young Australian guys who literally ran to the top and back... sweating beer, they later told us. We would run into these people and others throughout the trip. Cathy and Jim are great at making friends with just about anyone!
Below are a few pictures from the hike to give you an idea of just how crazy we were!
Did I mention we had to get in line at 5:15 am to catch the first buses up the mountain.

View of Machu Picchu. The mountain in the background is Wayna Picchu, the destination of our hike.

View of the mountains in the morning.

Some of the thousands of stairs we climbed to reach the peak. It was all stone stairways that wound up the side of the mountain.

The beautiful views along the way.

We made it to the top!

View of Machu Picchu.

The ruins at the top of Wayan Picchu.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Machu Picchu

I wish I had a bit more time to reflect in my blog on this trip, but that will have to come later. Internet access has been limited by slow computers and long days of travel and sightseeing.

We arrived in Aguas Calientes (now Machu Picchu Pueblo) on Thursday, a town nestled in a little valley up and down a river just outside of and several steep switchbacks down from the ruins of Machu Picchu. After dropping our bags, we headed out to the ruins at about 11:00 am.
As the bus climbed up the mountainside I was struck again by how crazy this all is.
I never would have dreamt that the little girl I was would be the woman who has been trekking around Peru this fall.

It still doesnt seem real to me. As you near the sight, suddenly, sitting on the side of the mountain you see terraces with rock walls and then the walls of several small buildings clustered together. You catch glimpses of this over and over, building your anticipation until you finally pull into the parking lot. Then, through the gates, and a hike up to the funerary hut that provides a panoramic view of the ruins laid out on the mesa before you.
A central plaza with a few llamas grazing.

A few small temples along the ridge. A quarry of stone.

And my favorite, the hitching post of the sun.

If ever you believed that colonists were civilizing the world... or that the world continues to evolve, a sight like Machu Picchu or Tikal (Mayan ruins in Northern Guatemala that we visited last year), a sight like this gives you pause.

Apparently there is a sundial set within the ruins that can point not just to north, but also to magnetic north. As much as the people of Peru might have learned from Spanish Colonists, that much knowledge was probably lost in the process as well.

Advanced civilizations have arisen throughout time. Most have fallen or disappeared in mysterious circumstances or in the midst of war. If ever we felt that we were indestructible as a nation, a sight like this gives you pause. They had conquered much of South America. Ruled a tremendous, wealthy empire. And with the might of foreign germs going before them, they fell to the Spanish Colonists. An entire civilization was "civilized".

There are signs of the culture hidden within the Catholic Cathedrals and in many of the festivals and rituals of the people. There is a desire to restore and recover what was lost. One can never go back and recreate from the old. One can only rebuild from what one has been given, seeking to reclaim what was lost and allow it to be more fully intergrated into what has become.

I guess I had a little time for reflection after all...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A few pictures of Cusco...

The internet cafe across from our hostal is a bit slow uploading and it is getting late. We leave at 6:00 am on a train for Aguas Calientes and a day in Machu Picchu. But, here are a few photos of this amazing city.

We saw an archway over a street in the distance. Through the arch was this view. We never made it to these churches, but it gives you as sense of the city with the red clay tiled roofs climbing up into the hills surrounding the city.

The city was rebuilt by Spanish colonists right on top of the anciet Inkan city. Throughout the city you can see the stonework of the original Inkan foundations.

This morning we hiked up the hill to San Blas, the name of the church and the artisan´s district surrounding it. The church has an immense, intricately carved pulpit. Carved into the base are several ¨heretical¨ figures such as Martin Luther, Zwingli, and Henry VIII holding it up in great agony.

We have spent both afternoons and one evening in the central plaza, the Plaza de Armas. On one end is the great cathedral... this picture, though, it of the CompaƱia de Jesus. We were sitting on a tiny balcony in a coffee shop overlooking the plaza as the sun set over the square.

These next two pictures are of the main cathedral on the square. As you can tell from this photo, I spend a lot of our trip looking up. I love the intricate carvings at the tops of all the churches.

Fewer adventures today. I feel like we saw very little of the city, but our time here has come to a close. The next pictures should be of Machu Picchu.

Let the adventures begin...

Well... we are here! At 11,000 feet in Cusco, the ancient Inkan capital of Peru. So far we have met a Norwegian business man who works with oil rigs, a Peruvian industrial engineer who works for a sustainable development corporation, a couple from England who work for a non-profit organization, and a young Peruvian man who is starting his own hostel... our first stop in Peru. He has renovated an old building in the warehouse district adjacent to the Lima airport. His mother makes the breakfasts. His friend drives the cab that picks people up at the airport. He designed the logo.. a trekking Inkan. And made sure the rooms were fairly large and the beds very comfortable. It was a quick night. We were up early to catch a flight to Cuzco. Found out upon arriving that our flight didn´t exist. And after some polite persistent requests on our part were put on another flight that had us running through the Lima airport and out on the tarmac... the last ones on the plane. We arrived an hour and a half earlier than expected! Our taxi driver was great... he insisted that we change hostels. We were a little leery at first, but are happy with our choice. A little cheaper, but only a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas, the central square. I´ll try to post pictures later. Or you can click on the ¨Cathy´s Pressed¨link to the right for pictures and many more details. We have a full day wandering around Cusco today and then tomorrow we are off to Machu Picchu!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A Gendered Society

This past week I have been reading Julie Ingersoll’s Evangelical Christian Women: War Stories in the Gender Battles. The title betrays Ingersoll’s bias… one I probably share a bit more than I’d like to admit. I have my own war stories to tell. Much of the sociological information was familiar to me, but the analysis was interesting… and challenging. Ingersoll explores how gender is constructed in the evangelical world. Now before you start arguing about gender, creation, and biological differences between men and women, let me state that I agree that there are differences. I also believe that gender is more than our biological differences. It is also a social construction… the way we live out and interpret those differences. The values we place on them. How we structure economies and societies around them.

Ingersoll describes the gendered nature of the evangelical world… the segregated small groups, the men’s and women’s ministries, the gender-specific social events. She goes into great detail describing a Christian bookstore with its Victorian knick-knacks designed to harken back to an imaginary time when gender roles were so much clearer. With its “Jesus loves Me” plaques with sports figures for the boys and angels for the girls. The books for women that deal with relationships, healing the pasts, building friendships. The books for men that talk about leadership and servanthood. Ingersoll argues that within the evangelical culture, the gendered body has become something symbolic. And the pressure to conform to gender roles, both explicit and subtle, can been extremely powerful and at times extremely wounding.

How does this gendered-society impact women clergy? We can see from other studies (ie. Clergy Women by Zikmund. Lummis and Chang) the pressure clergy women are under to be good Christians by fulfilling traditional roles as a wife and mother as well as fulfilling their duties as a pastor. And that these expectations are significantly different than that of clergy men. We also see differences in how congregations expect women to lead and how they interpret the ways they leave. While a majority of male and female clergy feel that they are democratic rather than directive leaders, congregations feel that their male clergy are more directive and female clergy are more democratic.

I am raising questions that I don’t have answers to. One’s I’ll probably continue to explore in this blog in the next few months. But for now, that will have to wait. You can anticipate the next blogs to take a turn in another direction… reflections on my upcoming trip to Peru. Maybe when I return you’ll have some additional insights into all of this to help guide my way.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Sociologist of the Week...

The sociologist for this week is Max Weber. While Durkheim looked at a particular expression of religion in Australia, Weber tried to take in the entire scope of religious history and through his observations draw out themes. His main concern was to study how religion was a force for change in history. Somewhat more encouraging than Durkheim’s more static view of the world.

The more negative aspect of Weber’s work is his assumption that religion essentially developed out of magic. He believed that magicians essentially worked individually and they were at great risk of losing their clientele if they were not able to continue performing magical feats (magical in the sense of providing food or healing a sick child… not escaping from a block of ice hanging over Times Square or making the Statue of Liberty disappear). In order to protect their “interests” (key Weberian term), they had to come up with some other possible reasons why their magic might not work. One solution… create a god that had to be pleased for magic to work. If the magic didn’t work, perhaps the client had displeased the god. This creation of god (an abstraction) eventually developed into a whole system of beliefs. The magicians became priests of this new religion and dogma and beliefs were part of their way to stay in power.

So, I’ve significantly oversimplified Weber’s thesis… but he does highlight something very important to consider. How our own interests shape what we believe and how we act. Maybe more accurately, how our interpretations of the truth can be influenced by our own interests. Some might argue that white evangelicals, while very sincere in their beliefs, are blind to racism because it serves their best interests. This is not necessarily a conscious decision or an individual one. If it is in the best interest of those in power in a community to preserve certain beliefs, they have a way of influencing interpretations and translations. This is not necessarily always the case, but it is worth considering. What interests are served by a particular interpretation of scripture? How have your ethics or the way you live out your faith been affected by your interests? I know that I have made myself fairly comfortable in a middle class lifestyle in the United States. I don’t have a very radical ethic regarding wealth or poverty. Do these things not concern God? Is it possible that my own interests… and that of our capitalist economy… have had some impact on how I live out my faith in these areas?

Weber also felt that there were moments in life where revolution was possible. In those moments, he saw key ideas form in a society, key leaders arise and key events take place that somehow just fit together. He called it elective affinity. When these things came together, the sum was greater than any one of the parts and the world shifted a little on its axis. Weber’s key example was the Protestant Work Ethic and capitalism. Religion often played a key role in these momentous movements as did something Weber termed “charisma” or “the prophetic.” Interestingly, Weber is using these terms sociologically. Rather than linking them to faith, he links them to how they function in society.

I suppose I choose to believe something different. I believe that these moments when everything comes together are more than just matters of human interest or historical accidents. I think they are moments when God is at work in this world. Having said that, I need to consider if at times they are also caused when some other force was at work for not all these momentous changes have been for the good of humanity or this earth. Weber asked about the role of religion in these great movements of history. I would ask the same question, but from a slightly different perspective. Not simply how did they happen, but why did they take the direction they did? Why do some things that start out so beautiful turn out so destructive? Why do some small movements become great works of good in our world? Does our faith, individually and corporately, shape the world for good or evil? We all want to say for the good, but can we prove that? Would a sociologist observing us agree?

Monday, September 10, 2007

World Relief in Peru....

Just a quick note... I'll be heading to Peru in a few weeks with friends. No, it isn't disaster relief following the earthquakes. We are just going as tourists. But we do want to support the relief efforts in Peru. So here is a link to one organization that is trying to help:

For those interested in a bit more information about the earthquake in Peru, here is a news story with most of the information.

If the link doesn't work, you can also go to the Covenant World Relief website by clicking to the link to the right.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Does Society Equal Religion?

This past week classes started up again. This year I am a student rather than an administrator! I thought I would miss my work, but I have been too busy to really dwell on it. Plus, I am really interested in what I am taking.

This past week I have been reading Emile Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. It is a seminal and controversial work in the field of sociology of religion. In a nutshell, Durkheim was searching for the basic fundamental building blocks of religion. To do so, he read the notes of anthropologists and sociologists who had studied what he felt to be one of the most basic and simple forms of religion in the world at the time, the Totemic religions of the tribal groups in Australia. His conclusion, very simplified, was that human beings are fundamentally social people. As they gathered together into social groups, they experienced the force of the collective. You might say they felt “peer pressure.” They had no way to articulate what they were feeling, this pressure that seemed to come out of no where, and so they created symbols to represent what they were feeling. These symbols became attached to certain elements in the world, totems. Over time, these totems that symbolized the force of social pressure were thought to embody that force and became objects of worship. Those objects of worship eventually became gods. Those gods represented, or were equal to, society or the people themselves.

There is one clear issue with this theory. It presumes that there is no God. There is no outside force that acts upon humanity or this world. God is just a manifestation of ourselves collectively, of society. So, I fundamentally disagree with that. But his theories are helpful. While I disagree with his conclusions, Durkheim highlights the nature of social forces in this world. As one who is concerned about issues of racism and sexism in our society, this is a helpful step. Racism and sexism, while embodied in individuals, also has a collective social component. It becomes embodied in our rituals, our structures, our organizations. There is “peer pressure” that seems to perpetuate these sins in society even when we are trying to fight against them. I am not trying to deny individual agency in these particular sins. We still have free will and the ability to make choices. But individual changes are not sufficient.

In thinking of religion as a social force, I was drawn to two parallel theological concepts: the trinity and the body of Christ. Regardless of Durkheim’s presuppositions, he was right. Religion is social. Religion is not social because it is a manifestation of society. Religion is social because God is fundamentally social. Some theologians point us to the relational nature of the trinity. God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is always in relationship with God’s self. God is three in one because God is inherently social. The social aspect of God is manifested in the world in the Church. We are individual created in the image of Christ, but even more fundamentally, together, as believers, we are the body of Christ. God is manifest on earth in society, in the gathering together of believers. Part of Christianity, then, is to preserve this unity of the body of Christ. For Durkheim, ritual was central to this process. As a tribe gathered together for worship, they reestablished connection with one another. In the act of coming together, the power of the society was palpable. The people left feeling stronger, safer, empowered for their life.

The body of Christ needs ritual to exist. Not individual ritual, but collective ritual, the coming together for worship. It is the act of gathering that unites us. And when that gathering is focused in worship, we gather strength as the body of Christ.

I haven’t done justice to Durkheim… or to Christianity for that matter. But perhaps this will stir something for a few of you. For me, it has helped me to understand why I continue to gather in worship each Sunday. Honestly, I feel very little in church these days. I miss the emotional highs of my youth group days or the contemporary worship that has been a part of my past. While emotion serves to form community, it is not central. The very act of gathering is efficacious. While I might not always feel it in my heart, knowing it in my head helps. Sometimes we have to act ourselves into belief.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Courageous Travel

Well, I am heading on another trip this fall… The Stanley-Erickson’s and I are heading to Peru in mid-October. I am grateful to have friends like Cathy and Jim in my life. They dream things I would never dream of and then bring me along for the ride. Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca (if you don’t know… ancient Incan ruins in the Andes Mountains and the highest fresh water lake in the world).

It was a difficult decision for a number of reasons. The first… I just quit my job so I have all the time in the world and none of the money. When I was a student in my previous life, I never had a budget. Rather, I just tried not to spend any money. Great idea. Bad lifestyle. Not in the area of life choices, but in my attitude. Always acting like I didn’t have any money. Missing opportunities that would never come again. Like this one. This may be our last chance to travel like this together. Cathy and Jim will be adopting a child in the next year. I will be working on a dissertation and then working again. We aren’t spending a lot of money. We used frequent flyer miles. Hostels are about $15 per night (the nicer ones). Most of our souvenirs are in the form of photographs. I am trying to do this student stint a little differently. I don’t want to be unwise, but I also don’t want to be afraid all the time. Afraid that I don’t have the money. Fearful that I won’t complete my assignments. I want to live abundantly. Isn’t there something in the Bible about that? I want to make good, balanced choices. Ones that value my relationships as well as my studies.

Having said that… two days after we booked our tickets, there was a horrendous earthquake off the coast of Peru. Hundreds of people were killed. Cities along the coast were devastated. None of the areas we are visiting were impacted directly. Yet… I am not sure what my hesitation is. I am not concerned about more earthquakes. Of course it is a possibility, but I travel to California to visit families all the time. I suppose it has more to do with the concept of being a tourist. What does it mean to treat someone’s home as an object of entertainment? I am hoping to learn something. I want to expose myself to more of this world. I think I have enough sense to see the people of the country as fellow human beings created in the image of God rather than objects to study and observe. Yet, still…

Is leisure travel giving glory to God? Does it depend on how you travel? Your attitude? Does it depend on what companies you work with? We work with local business people. We take pictures and not pieces of ancient ruins. We look into eco-friendly hostels and those that support charitable causes. Is that enough? We are not traveling to serve anybody. We are not on a mission trip or a service project. Is that all right?

I am still going. But I wonder. I think expanding my understanding of the world expands my understanding of who God is. I see beauty in unexpected places and know they reflect the image of God. I see the grandeur of people of various faiths and, while remaining committed to the centrality of Christ, I must approach these people with respect. I must admit that I see something of Christ in them. And if I am willing to look, I see the struggles of the people. I hear the complaints about the global economy. I am forced to ask questions about the inequality of resources in the world. And my heart grows in seeking the kingdom of God for all people, not just those in my own family or my own country.

It is a choice, though to see those things. The book, Divided by Faith, is a great study of how the white church in the United States somehow remains blind about racism despite overwhelming evidence. In my own life, as I learn more about the world, in particular other people’s experiences, I am amazed by how blind I have been and how much I don’t want to know. So, if this trip is in any way to glorify God, I must be willing to go into it with open eyes. I must be willing to allow God to reveal more to me of who God is and who the world is. And my place in this world. I must allow my heart to expand… to fill more with love for other and to make space for more sorrow. For to see with the eyes of God is to allow your heart to be filled with both.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Generous About Worship

Yesterday morning I went to church with my brother and his family. It is a large church north of San Diego. Contemporary worship. Multicultural. Young and casual. Centered on preaching. It is just the type of church I would probably have been very comfortable with fifteen or twenty years ago. A basic bible message. An altar call. A series on Revelations. I found, though, that I was critical from the moment I walked in to the room. This is not a bad thing. Theological education trains you to look at the world with a critical eye, to ask questions, to discern meanings and implications of church and worship.

As I sat in worship, I prayed for a generous spirit. It helped a little. My brother struggles to believe in God and I am grateful he goes to church with his family at all. I don't want to discourage that. I thought of Paul's words regarding those who were preaching the gospel with impure motives. Paul believed that it was better for the word to be preached whatever the motives. God's word would be efficacious regardless of who delivered the message. The moment I thought those words I realized how arrogant they would have sounded. I cannot judge this pastor's heart. I cannot judge his motives.

I tried to look for the positives. I found several. While they emphasize saving souls and the end times, they also talked about going to Uganda for a service project. The pastor emphasized the need to meet physical needs so that people might be able to hear the message of the gospel. The pastor also talked a lot about suffering and while there was a tinge of health and wealth in the message, mostly he emphasized that suffering happens in this world. He did not blame the victims. He did not say that those who suffer are evil or sinful. He was miraculously healed from cancer, yet he did not assume that all faithful prayer heals. Others in his family died from the same cancer. He recognizes that suffering is present in all our lives.

Yet there were some things about the message that bothered me. The emphasis was on a pre-millenial view of eschatology. The pastor believed that all Christians would be raptured before the end times. So, he preached the horror and devestation of the end days and then repeatedly stated how grateful he was that he wouldn't be here when all that suffering occurred. His gospel message, at least for this weak, was accept Christ to escape the violence of the end times. Something seems twisted about that reasoning for two reasons.

First, it seems that if we believe the world will be going through incredible suffering, shouldn't we want to be present to minister to the people during those awful days? Can we abandon the earth when it needs us the most? Some would argue that it will be too late, that they had their chance. I disagree. Perhaps I love this world too much. I do think that is possible. There are times that I would rather be here than in heaven. I don't want the end of days to come. I want to see my nieces grow up. I want to fall in love and have a family. I want to grow old. I want more time for all of us to live and love and learn. But perhaps, if this love for the world is born out of less selfish motives, out of a concern for people, out of a desire to end suffering, it is a good thing. And it should not wait until the end of days.

Second, I don't think the desire to escape the destruction of the end times is exactly the right reason to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Back to my generous spirit for a moment... I was only at this church for a week and realize that this is not the whole gospel message as presented by the pastor. I only saw a small slice. Also, I must admit that very few of us come to faith for the right reasons. I wanted love. I'll admit it. I wasn't seeking forgiveness. I didn't know much about lordship. I wanted unconditional love from God. Yet, how does that initial decision shape our faith for the rest of our lives? Does it lay a foundation that determines what type of building our faith will become? It seems that those initial ideas about Christ can provide areas of strenght and weakness in our faith, areas where we understand the truth and areas of blindness.

In this case, in the classic liberal critique, salvation becomes simply fire insurance. The reason that is unappealing to me has more to do with the lack of understanding of who Christ is and the purpose of Christ's death and resurrection. There is so little about grace, truth, love, sin... As I write, I wonder how much my own decision was shaped by those ideas. Mine was just as selfish a decision. It was only later that I could understand more clearly who was loving me and what that might require of me in this world.

Perhaps it doesn't matter as much where our faith begins. Perhaps what matters most is where our faith develops after that... if it develops at all. If we view conversion as a decision, it is over and done with. If we view our decision as entering a relationship, then there is the opportunity for growth and change as we learn more and more about this Jesus we have come to believe in. Yet we must have discipline and courage in order for this growth and change to occur. We must allow God to be God, not exactly who we thought God would be when we began the relationship. We must not fear the parts of God we don't understand. We must not avoid the parts of God we don't like. But we must grow in this relationship. We must allow ourselves to be changed. And pastors and lay leaders in the church must model this to the congregations.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Reflections on a Mammogram

Turning 40… it brings all sorts of new experiences. Not the least of which was my first mammogram. All I have to say is clearly men invented this device and if you want proof that there is not sufficient funding going towards women’s health issues, consider the process of getting a mammogram. Your breast is treated like an object… okay, that may not be new for women in our society… perhaps the difference is that suddenly your breast has no sexual or social implications whatsoever. The doctor pokes and prods it. The nurse lifts it up and pushes it this way and that. Then this contraption squeezes it harder than you ever imagined was possible. And they take a picture. As one who has never really had anyone poking or prodding my breasts, it was a bit of an uncomfortable experience. I imagine that pregnant women go through similar experiences with various parts of their bodies suddenly assuming different roles and/or significance in the world. I knew that our bodies were culturally as well as physically constructed, but this brought that understanding to a whole new level. It is amazing how our culture has shaped the significance of various body parts. How that construction is related to issues of power, race, and gender. How a body part can have a different meaning in a variety of contexts. As someone interested in art and photography, how can you tell the difference between art and pornography? Who gets to draw that line? Is it the person begin filmed, painted, or photographed? Is it the “artist”? The government and its laws and legislations? Our various cultures? The cultural construction of the body is significant theological discussion in feminist and womanist circles as well as among black theologians and others who reflect on issues of slavery and abuse. We tend to devalue the bodies that we want to use for our own benefit or pleasure. Perhaps we do the same to individual parts of our bodies. Perhaps we do it to ourselves as well as others. It seems clear that God values us as material beings, created with bodies that are to reflect the image of God. It seems clear that we are to treat others, and their bodies, as if they are bearers of God’s image. It seems clear, too, that I must be concerned about how we have constructed our world in such a way that others bodies don’t seem as valuable as mine. When traveling outside of the United States, I am constantly aware of the fact that my body is often more protected than the bodies of people from other countries who don’t have the power and influence to demand that their bodies be treated with respect. I am also aware that my body can become symbolic… one United States Citizen… or one Iraqi… or one Mexican… treated in such a way as to communicate something to the whole… in such a way that the individual body, the individual person disappears… All that from a simple mammogram.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Formerly Known As....

Today was my last day as dean of students at North Park Theological Seminary. It has been a very long good-bye! It all started with an announcement last January to free up the seminary to search for a new dean at Midwinter. It was followed by goodbye's with students in Mid-May, with faculty and staff in late May, with NPU staff in June, and finally... a quiet exiting of the building at about 3:00 pm today.

There are so many different feelings associated with leaving a position like this. As with most jobs, the work is on-going and so much is left undone. Yet, unlike many jobs, there has been a sense of accomplishment over the years. Watching students graduate, find their first call, and live into the ministries they have been called to. Students, faculty, and staff were incredibly generous with their support and praise over the years. I realize how much of a blessing that has been. And it is a privilege to be in the depths and at times mess of people's lives and to see them come through, grow, and change through the process. And of course to see God at work in the midst of it all.

I am leaving a community that I have been in the heart of for the last seven years. I am scared about moving into new communities and trying to start over again. I am unsure at times how to negotiate the changes in roles. I wonder which of my friendships were based on work and which will endure. I wonder how to negotiate the move from dean to.... well, it will be different for different students. For some I will always remain the dean. For others a mentor. For others friends and peers. Some, I am sure, will be my mentors in the near future. Yet it is always difficult to explain to some students that I am different as a friend than as a dean. That I expect different things. To be honest... I am not nearly as compassionate as a friend! I don't really enjoy being the care-taker all the time!

Some of you know me well enough to know that I am a gift person... in the sense that meaningful gifts are important to me. I like to give... and to get... gifts that are thoughtful and appropriate. And I was overwhelmed with the gifts that were bestowed upon me by the seminary. I'll just share three:

The first was a stone.... yes, many people were confused by this! The Association of Covenant Clergy Women sponsored the art stone project. Various organizations commissionsed artists to decorate paper mache stones and then they were auctioned off at Midwinter and the Annual Meeting. Three of our students were commissioned to decorate one of the stones: Katie Rose (from Alaska), Katia Kozlova (from Russia), and Ileana Garcia-Soto (from Puerto Rico). Here is a picture of the result... the words of a poem by Edward Munch are written on the stone. Jay Phelan went to a lot of trouble to make sure he was the highest bidder on this stone!

The second was a book complied of letters from students, faculty, staff, alumni, and even a few from denominational leaders. My staff did an incredible job putting it together. It was perfect. I was moved by stories of moments where I had touched people without even knowing it. I was also amazed that others had seen and valued the things that were most important to me in my work... especially in the areas of advocating for women and students of color.

The third was a brick. Yes... a stone and a brick. They gave a donation to the seminary and had my name engraved on a brick to go in the pathway in front of Nyvall Hall. Next to those honoring former deans of the seminary, this one has my name, title, and tenure.

So now I am know as the person who was "formerly know as" the dean of students at North Park Theological Seminary. I have no new title to replace it. I am just a student again. It is a little difficult to adjust to! But probably good for my ego.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Quote of the Day

“We tend to repeat customary actions unaware that when we do today what we did yesterday we actually do something different since in the interval both we and our environment have changed; unaware also that we now do without conscious definition of purpose and method what was done yesterday with specific ends in view and by relatively precise means."

From the forward to H. Richard Niebuhr's The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry, 1956

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Outdoor Education

When I moved to Chicago seven years ago, I felt like I was losing something. For those of you used to the outdoors, you might understand what I am talking about. I knew that nature was important to me, but I don’t think of myself as an outdoor woman. I don’t do a lot of hiking or camping or fishing. I don’t own hardly any outdoor gear. But there are little clues around my house… the vases full of shells from California and Florida. Another full of rocks from the north shore of Lake Superior. The plants that fill my dining room. And, of course, the jeep I own.

The wilderness and faith trip allowed me to reclaim some of the outdoor in me… and to explore some of the reasons why nature is such a part of my soul. A lot of it has to do with where I grew up. Our house was surrounded by untouched hills filled with oak trees, poison ivy, and deer… Deer everywhere. So many that they spilled over into our streets and gardens. Less than a mile from our house was the San Francisco Bay. We’d climb the rocks that protected the roadway. My brother would fish out on the points. For a few years we had a boat in the harbor.

My school nurtured this love of nature. One of the benefits of growing up in Northern California. There was a salt marsh out back we would explore. Several times a year we would go on field trips to see Mrs. Terwilliger, a local naturalist who would gather us kids in a circle and teach us to flap our wings like the various birds from the area. We’d explore Ducksbury Reef, wandering through the tidal pools looking at anemones, mussels, and small fish. I still remember when the bee keeper came to school and I was the one who got to dress up and attempt to smoke the bees out of their hives (there weren’t really any bees, but I didn’t know that at the time!) And there were the trips to the aquarium, wandering along the ledge that allowed us to be eye level with the fish. I was sure I wanted to be an oceanographer. I even did one of my junior high reports on Jacques Cousteau.

And my parents added to this love of the outdoors. Some of my favorite memories are camping with the family. They were always short trips… but my family would drive down a dirt road in the midst of nowhere and park alongside a stream. Trout fishing. Campfires. And projects. I remember gathering leaves and making them into a book. Each page labeled with the name of the tree. We also used to go on an annual hike to see the Salmon spawning in Samuel P. Taylor State Park. It was almost always a misty or rainy day. We would pull off on the side of the road and start hiking up the trail along the stream. Back into the damp woods.

My mom had nature projects for us all the time. Collecting driftwood and making them into little creatures. Digging molds for sand candles. Making sun catchers with leaves, melted crayons and wax paper. Spray painting spider webs and mounting them on paper. She may have gotten some of her love of nature from her parents who do a fair share of birdwatching.

It is a heritage I am very grateful for. This love of nature. It is part of my culturally constructed understanding of the wilderness. It is part of the privilege of growing up in a world where wilderness is for beauty and recreation, not an entity to struggle with for survival. Those who struggle with wilderness may also have a love of nature, but it will be different, formed in a different context.

I wonder how Israel’s understanding of the wilderness was formed? Certainly witnessing to the plagues in Egypt, experiencing God as a pillar of fire, wandering for years in the wilderness shaped a generation’s understanding of nature. And their understanding of God. Jesus carried with him this heritage and then added his own experiences of the temptation and a life on the Sea of Galilee. Where do my understandings of nature and God intersect with those of Israel? And how does that change or enhance my reading of scripture?

It is this attempt to read context that I think is so vital to our understanding of scripture and theology. By examining my own context and that of those who are different than me, my own understanding of God is enhanced, widened, deepened. My own perceptions are questioned and I am able to consider and question the perceptions of others. And together, perhaps, we can come to understand more of this vast God that we worship and serve.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Limiting God

Setting boundaries… “God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness… And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ And God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’” The forming of the earth was a process of setting boundaries. Of giving the light and the dark, the land and the waters, a place of their own.

Setting boundaries seems to be a theme that characterizes God’s sovereignty in this world. Isaiah write:
“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of their hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?” (40:12)

Psalm 148: 3-6 states, “Praise the Lord, sun and moon; praise the Lord, you highest heavens and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for the Lord commanded and they were created. The Lord established them forever and ever; the Lord fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.”

We pushed against those boundaries over and over in our Wilderness and Faith Class. So many of the issues in our world seem to be caused by our own lack of understanding of boundaries. Our desire to live beyond our means, beyond our limits. God seemed to know this would be our weakness. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve transgressed the only limits God set for them. We often speak of this as trying to be like God…

In our evangelical world, we speak regularly of being created in the image of God, the imago dei. It is a vital concept. One that reminds us of who we are. Yet so often, we forget to apply this concept to all of humanity. As we study the wilderness, we are reminded of the people who were driven from the land because we did not consider them equal in the eyes of God. We live in a country that continues to consume more and more, refusing to live within the limits of our world’s natural resources. In doing so, we refuse to see that others created in the image of God are suffering because of our greed. We have difficulty imaging a world in which all people are seen in the image of God.

Boundaries… key to raising children, living a holy life, living in community… We are to live into the boundaries God has set for us, including the limits of our resources, and to create communities that help us to live into those boundaries.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Constructing Wilderness

One of the first articles we read for the Wilderness and Faith class was “The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature,” by William Cronon. The article explores how the idea of “wilderness” has been constructed by our culture. Cronon argues that while as late as the late eighteenth century wilderness as seen as “deserted, savage, desolate, barren, -- in short, a waste” by the late 1800’s wilderness was romanticized as a part of the foundation of the United States. With the frontier disappearing, with the development of urbanization, the wilderness became a place where white men (primarily) “rediscovered their primitive racial energies, reinvented direct democratic institutions, and thereby reinfused themselves with a vigor, an independence, and a creativity that were the source of American democracy and national character.”

Many people think Cronon was challenging or weakening the environmental movement. They believed that he was arguing against conservation. I disagree. I think Cronon was simply exploring how our culture has shaped our idea of wilderness and how that can, at times, distort our relationship to it. He writes of how the ideal wilderness was a place without people, pristine, untouched. To romanticize the wilderness and frontier allowed us to pretend that we didn’t drive the Native American people from the land. To assume that wilderness is most ideal when not in relationship to humanity allows gives us no place to explore ways of healthy interaction with nature and reclaiming our tie to the land. Wilderness in isolation allows us to continue to take land from the poor and those we devalue for a “higher good.”

I am not arguing against the need to preserve pristine landscapes. I think it is valuable for us to recognize our limits in this world and our place sharing this planet with all of creation. Cronon points out, though, that our concept of wilderness was tied to an idealized beauty, a sense of the sublime. Early on, this meant that we preserved spectacular landscapes before attending to the less striking. Yosemite becomes a national treasure, but the desert Central Valley of California only a few miles away is turned into one big irrigated, farmland.

I think this idea has changed in the last few decades. I grew up with an appreciation of a variety of types of wilderness. California is full of striking national parts, but surrounding our house were rolling brown (years of drought) hills covered in oak trees and poison ivy, full of deer and chipmunks. They had been set aside by the utility company and full of fire trails. Behind our elementary school was the marsh, a salt-water wetlands that was part of our educational experience. I remember how ugly I though it was. Yet I learned to look for the red wing blackbirds that would try to lure us away from their nests by feigning injury. I remember the smell of the fennel and the fuzz of the cattails. I remember how out of place it looked when the built a tennis court right in the middle of it all. I was taught early on to appreciate a variety of wildernesses.
This seems quite biblical. Recognizing the value of all of creation. Not valuing those who seems more valuable or beautiful on the surface. But recognizing that we are all connected, the body of Christ. In the same way, all of creation is related to one another. One great organism. At times we have overlooked the parts that have seemed less valuable, but as God reminds us, often those parts that look the least valuable are to be valued the most.

Below are a few of my attempts to find beauty in the "less spetacular" parts of nature: