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.