Tag Archives: Discernment

THE TIMING JUST DIDN’T WORK OUT… By Paul Johnson, Final Year M.Div. Student

In the past, I have been honored to participate in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) both as a youth as well as an adult leader. I earned the rank of Eagle while a member, fully knowing that the rank could be taken from me if the BSA found out I was an openly gay individual.

With recent discussion in the BSA on homosexuality, I held hope that they would allow openly gay youth and adults to participate as much as their heterosexual members. I was on internship when the latest decision to allow gay youth but not adults was passed. Having been approached several times from local troops, I tried, nicely, to decline requests to serve in a leadership role. Usually I gave other reasons, such as having an already full schedule or time conflicts with meetings.

Then I was approached by a Council member back home, asking if I would lead a worship service for an upcoming Jamboree. Since this gentleman knew me and my orientation, I told him that the BSA wouldn’t let me lead as an openly gay individual. “Then don’t lead as a gay man,” came his reply. “Lead as a child of God.”

I told him I would get back to him on the worship service, needing time to process what he had said. Could I separate my identity as a child of God from the rest of who I am? It wasn’t a question of whether I could lead without incorporating rainbows and glitter, or if I could go a weekend without mentioning my orientation. I appreciate rainbows and glitter about as much as (perhaps less than) my heterosexual male friends. My call story and identity as a child of God have been influenced by my sexual orientation and struggles with my identity as such.

Still, in my future ministry I don’t want to be the “gay pastor” or the pastor of a “gay church.” I just want to be a pastor who happens to be gay, and hopefully lead a congregation who is welcoming to their neighbors, some of whom happen to be LGBT individuals. I am more than my sexual orientation, and identify as gay among a myriad of other attributes and qualities.

But could I, a child of God and future pastor in the ELCA, regardless of my orientation, lead a worship service for scouts who may be struggling with the same issues, all while representing an organization that clearly rejects me as being fit to lead? Could I share the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection for ALL while standing for an organization that only accepts SOME?

In the end, the timing of the event just didn’t work out with my schedule. Still, it leaves the question in my mind of what I might do. Would I claim my identity, my full identity, and decline the offer based on the BSA’s policies, possibly resulting in someone more conservative taking the position? Or do I accept, preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection for all, staying silent on my orientation? I don’t have an easy answer, and likely won’t know unless the situation arises again. My hope is that I will be asked again, and soon. An even greater hope is that the policies of the BSA will have expanded by then.

TWO WORLDS: A DIALOG BETWEEN ANN WALSVIK AND JULANE NEASE, Final Year M.Div. Students

Julane Nease and Ann Walsvik

Julane Nease and Ann Walsvik

In the following dialogue, conducted through an ongoing email exchange, Julane and Ann, who began seminary in the  WTS Distributed Learning program, reflect on the reality of living in “two worlds” during  their final seminary year while living on campus during the week and commuting home to family on weekends.

________________________________________
Sent: Tuesday, October 07, 2014 8:02 AM
Subject: Journal with ears
Good morning,

Ann, I’m thinking about this conversation as a sort of ‘journal with ears.’ This year on campus is a new exciting opportunity, but also poses some real challenges for us both. We’ve talked plenty about being a two-legged stool: one leg in seminary, the other home with our families. When I’m here I’m thinking about there; when I’m there, I’m thinking about here. By writing things down, we can sort through thoughts and emotions, pulling together random strings of feelings and ramblings, and because we have the chance to “listen” and respond, it’s like a journal with ears.

How was your weekend? I was ill for the first time this semester. I must say, I was glad I was home. I kept thinking how glad I was to be in my own bed feeling bad, rather than in my little dorm bed. Something sweet: My son even made me a cup of tea yesterday morning, and brought it to me in bed. I’m sure that if I’d been on campus, people would have looked in on me, checked up on me, but it isn’t the same as being home, is it?

Hope your day is good–hoping to be there tomorrow.

Peace,

Julane
________________________________________
Sent: Wednesday, October 08, 2014 9:34 PM
Subject: RE: Journal with ears
Hi Julane,

Sorry I wasn’t able to reply yesterday. It was a busy day for me. I am sad you are sick and cannot imagine how difficult that is not being here for classes. There is something about being home when you are sick! What a thoughtful gesture from your son.

Although I can relate to your metaphor of the two-legged stool, I have a rather different experience in many ways. I tend to put myself so much into what I am doing in the moment, that I can tend to put off or let the “other” fall by the wayside. I can be so caught up in my life at home that I do not get any school work done, even though, I plan to do some. When I am at Wartburg, I can lose track of the schedule my son has at home and struggle to keep in contact and even know what is going on in his life.

The travel time between is actually a blessing and is something that I find helps

Road

Photo by Tanner Howard, Final Year M.Div. Student

with the transition between the two. When I come on Sundays after 6 pm, I have had the pleasure of listening to NPR’s “Simply Folk” and have found that to be very enjoyable, lighthearted and thought provoking. The song you played in Spiritual Practices today reminded me of the music I hear during those times.

Sometimes I feel like a split personality – I love being home and I love being at Wartburg. I guess we have other areas of our lives about which we can say the same. How about you?

Luke went to Homecoming and I did the Mom thing and took all kinds of pictures with all the other Moms and Dads. We celebrated Luke’s 15th birthday with my family and it was nice. It has been awhile since we have gathered together.

It is a pleasure to host people in our homes, isn’t it? I enjoy visitors in my dorm room too. I bet others enjoy the same! Maybe I will go knocking on some doors tomorrow….

Sleep well. Peace,

Ann

________________________________________
Sent: Tuesday, October 14, 2014 9:18 PM
Subject: RE: Journal with ears
Hello Julane,

I have been wondering if Jesus ever felt like he was a part of two worlds. Are we always while human a part of two worlds and then we divide them up even further?

I have had several emails from high school teachers in the last two days and that takes me out of my reverie of study and moves me into the role of parent and the feeling that I am not being as present as I would like with my son. I am thankful for email as an option for being in contact with teachers. It is typically easier to receive a response via email than a phone call nowadays.

Wartburg Seminary

Photo by Tanner Howard, Final Year M.Div. Student

How is it going for you at home this Reading and Research week? I am thankful I am here on campus, but still finding it a struggle to stay focused on my studies. There are some fun things happening here, all done in a more relaxed atmosphere.

Still balancing the two-legged stool.

Shalom,

Ann

________________________________________
Sent: Thursday, October 16, 2014 11:32 AM
Subject: RE: Journal with ears
Ann,

Yes, Jesus must have felt conflicted often. The story of the raising of Lazarus always moves me. “Lord if only you would have come sooner our brother would not have died”– what a pull; what a conflict! I could so relate to that moment! How often I’ve felt pulled in ten directions at once! Being wife, mother, student, neighbor, daughter, sister, and friend, and feeling like I’m doing none of them well! And this year doing it all from a distance, over the phone or in an email.

Tim and I had our 29th wedding anniversary on Sunday. I arrived home from WTS on Sunday afternoon and we had a quiet dinner out, just the two of us. The fall I started at Wartburg we had our 25th anniversary, and when we were married Tim had no idea he would be marrying a pastor. I am grateful and count my blessings every day that he is supportive of me, my call and this crazy process. It may not be so for everyone.

fallleavesMy time at home this week is good, but being productive is tough. There are things to do: doctor’s, dentist’s, and hair appointments, housework and time with my family–all important, but the academic work won’t take care of itself. I feel tempted to return to Dubuque early so I can get more done, but feel guilty that I will be leaving home. I think this sounds like whining. I don’t mean to be. It’s the reality of the dual world existence I’m living in right now.

Peace to you, Ann, in your motherhood and call to ministry existing side-by-side
Julane

________________________________________
Sent: Thursday, October 23, 2014 12:42 AM
Subject: RE: Journal with ears
Julane,

I wanted to build on our face-to-face conversation of the other day about those special moments. Moments we often take for granted, but because we are away, we see them more vividly than before. Moments like I had watching my son Luke run cross country in a conference meet on junior varsity. I recorded him coming into the final shoot, neck and neck with a friend of his. He said he wanted to push his friend to run faster, but Luke was hoping to beat him. Luke lost by .01 of a second. Even though he wasn’t happy about coming in behind his friend, he felt he had a hand in his friend’s good race. His friend came in 2 minutes faster than he ever had the entire season. Now that’s a win, win! I was so thankful that I had taped him. Special moment that I will remember for quite awhile.

How about you?

I wish to offer you a heartfelt thanks for being my family tonight as we shared our joy, trepidation, relief and affirmation upon receiving our faculty approval language. It meant so much that we could share that together. God is good and always before us.

Shalom,
Ann

________________________________________
Sent: Thursday, October 23, 2014 01:22 AM
Subject: RE: Journal with ears

Dear Ann, what a night–what a journey! So proud that we’ve walked together all these years. I am so blessed by your friendship and presence in my life!!

How thrilling that you were able to be home and present at Luke’s race. I know that if you hadn’t been there, it would have been fine, but the fact that you were there to have that shared experience has produced a powerful memory. Thanks for sharing it with me.

It was nice to be home last week, and while I had so much to do and was trying to bounce back from the crud that had invaded my body, I still had some “moments”, too. Andrew has really stepped up at home while I’m gone with doing cooking and shopping. He wanted to try making a dish that I have made for them 500 times! He asked for my help. I did help, and it was so special. At one point I felt overwhelmed by it. We were there together, he’s all grown up and I was passing on to him this dish that my family loves. Food produces powerful memories. So there we were side-by-side, past, future and present coming together in perfect synchronicity–ah…

So, today with the thoughts of conversations and approval language still filling the space in my brain, I head home–you, too! And I’ll drive and think, and enjoy the beauty of the trees and the solitude of my car. Tonight I’ll sit at the family table and eat with my family, talk, catch-up, and then as I go to bed, Wartburg will be on my mind. The two-legged stool will be wobbling again in these two worlds. But that’s the way it is, for now. It’s a challenge–but I’m blessed. This is my reality. I love my family and home, I love this place and the faculty and friends who are such a part of my life, and the solitariness of my dorm room that is my own, for now. The Holy Spirit is at work in ways we cannot begin to comprehend.

Love and peace to you today, Ann, and in your time at home.

Peace,
Julane

BEFORE GLASS CEILINGS By Susan Anderson, 1st year M.Div. Distributed Learning Student

How far the Lutheran church has come and how far we have yet to go! Not quite 50 years ago I was entering college for the first time. I was not sure where God was leading me. I felt called to enter the pastoral ministry, but the Lutheran church, like most other denominations, was not yet ordaining women. I talked with my pastor, but, as a traditional conservative minister, he did not encourage me. He directed me toward the occupations he thought more appropriate for women, but they did not appeal to me. As a young woman with an intellectual bent, I wanted to study theology and serve as a leader in the church. I saw young men in my congregation preparing to enter the pastoral ministry and wondered what it was that they possessed but I lacked.

I entered Wartburg College, which had a strong pre-seminary program. I wanted to take theology courses, but my advisor would not approve and suggested that I enroll in the social work or education curriculum instead. But that was not what I wanted. After exploring several possible majors as diverse as German and biology, I eventually ended up with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and went on to graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in psychology.

You might ask why, if I felt such a strong calling to ministry, I did not pursue it anyway. Surely there were roles I could have played in the church that I would have found fulfilling. To understand my response, it’s important to be aware of the mindset of the times. I grew up in a conservative Midwestern town, in a conservative home, a conservative church. The women’s liberation movement was barely beginning when I entered high school and it would be many years before we would feel much effect from it in small town America. Young women, especially those raised in church-going families, were taught to respect authority, not to question the status quo. We didn’t have role models to follow who were breaking down barriers. We were expected to become wives and mothers. If we had to work, we could be a secretary, a nurse, or a teacher. So pursuing pastoral ministry was just not an option.

During my four years of college I gradually became more and more disillusioned by the church.   Attending a church college, there were religion courses that I was required to take. These were taught entirely by males, many of them ordained ministers. And what I heard learned from these professors was disappointing. Women were not encouraged to become involved in leadership roles; it wasn’t proper. The rhetoric was sexist and misogynistic. I quit going to the campus church and went to an off-campus church. The rhetoric was the same, just less intellectual. So I quit going to church entirely for a number of years. I graduated from college in 1970, the same year that the Lutheran church approved the ordination of women. But I no longer cared.

A number of years later I found my way back to the Lutheran church. I had been feeling that something was lacking in my life, but I still wasn’t sure that I could be comfortable in a church that was strongly dominated by males. A few years later, my congregation called a younger minister who was fairly progressive. Through conversations with him, my faith in God was gradually restored only to be nearly destroyed again later by an older, domineering and manipulative male minister. But the embers were not totally put out and my faith has slowly been rekindled and grown stronger. It is a far different faith than I had in high school, scarred and battered, but more resilient. My beliefs are not so tied to conservative church dogma. I focus on loving God and loving my neighbor. And once again, I feel called to serve. I am not yet sure where that call will take me, but I find that I have come full circle. I am enrolled once again at Wartburg, the seminary this time rather than the college, and I am finally getting to take those theology courses that I was interested in so long ago. My goal of obtaining an M.Div. degree and becoming ordained seems possible after all, God willing.

How far the church has come in the last 50 years! The seminary is no longer a closed male society. There are female faculty and about half the seminarians are female. Many females serve in pastoral ministry. But the leadership at the synod level and above is still predominantly male. The election of Elizabeth Eaton as presiding bishop of the ELCA last year marks another milestone in opening the church to women. The church is changing.

I welcome the fresh breezes blowing in the church. I pray that new generations of young people will be encouraged to find a place in the church where they can use their talents to lead and serve regardless of gender or other artificial barriers. “Come, Holy Spirit.”

STAINED GLASS WINDOW by Mary Wiggins, M.Div. Middler

This reflection is one of four offered at the re-dedication of the central stained glass window in the Loehe Chapel at Wartburg Theological Seminary on 4 Feb. 2013.

Stained glass windows have always fascinated me. They are beautiful art regardless of how well known their maker is. There is something mystical about light mixed with color and steeped with symbolism and history. The windows are a beautiful interplay of the creation of people and the creation of our God. Their beauty changes with the turning of the day into something new. It’s something great to contemplate when sorting out deep emotions and discerning dense thoughts. Or something to just stare at when the mind is tired or the attention span is short. All in something as simple as a window. The window we welcome back today does that for us and even more. It is part of our life here. The image of Christ points outward beyond our view, symbolizing our formation.

I first glanced at the chapel window when I was discerning a call to ministry. I saw a photograph of the image on a computer screen of my friend’s Macbook. It was strikingly beautiful even in its 8 by 10 inch form. What was more strikingly beautiful was how this image was the reminder of this place that my friend took with her way out west for her internship. Such love and passion for this place, Wartburg, was represented in the image she saw almost every day in her life in this place.

I myself soon saw the window in person as my discernment lead to a “GO and start visiting seminary and see if the time is right.” This window plays an important part in our life at Wartburg even before we become a part of this place. As a community that worships together daily, the chapel window’s image is ingrained in our experience, just as much as the other elements of the community in which we live.

The image of Christ summoning the disciples is our past

It is our present now here at Wartburg

Ultimately it is our future as we will eventually leave this place.

We will all “Go” and we will proclaim regardless of our degree track. Our callings to discern and embody our vocations lead us here. And this window upon which many a student has gazed during worship epitomizes our experience. We heed God’s call, pick up our lives and “GO” to Wartburg.

In our life here at Wartburg we pick up and “GO” quite often. We “GO” on J-term trips near and abroad with some of us proclaiming in words and others in actions of service and learning. We “GO” on CPE and proclaim the Gospel as the listening chaplain offering comforting presence and sometimes words to those in crisis that we meet. We “GO” on field work and internship and proclaim the Gospel. Each time we return again to this place. And eventually we all GO to Preach the Good News as the leaders that we have been formed to be.

DISCERNMENT IN SLUMBER by Christa Fisher, M.Div. Junior

 The curriculum and faculty of Wartburg Seminary are constantly challenging us to broaden our awareness of the human experience and recognize the danger of assuming our experiences are the norm that should be applied universally.   At the same time, we are challenged to effectively communicate the message of Scripture in a contextually relevant way to a wide variety of people, without diluting the message. How do we meet this challenge when there are an infinite number of “others” and our grasp of the human condition is limited to our own experiences?   I recently had a dream which wove together complex ideas about race, ethnicity, gender, class, language, identity and reverence for the Word of God.  I understand this dream to have been my psyche attempting to process these complicated ideas. However, I wonder if it might have also been a visual representation of my calling within the Church?  While the location, languages, and people of my dream are quite specific, the message and themes could be applied to most any situation.  Imagine yourself as the main character of this dream.  What aspects of this dream resonate with you?  In what ways would your dream be different? 

Loaded down with many heavy bags, I slowly venture into the church where I have been invited to serve as a guest preacher.  It will be my first time giving a sermon.  Meeting me at the door, the junior pastor introduces himself to me and quickly leads me to the sanctuary, where I take my seat in a side pew and wait for the service to begin.

Midway through the greeting I realize I do not have a copy of my sermon and cannot recall the sermon text.  Anxiety sets in.  Am I to preach on a text from 1 John?  Is 1 John even in the Bible?  Am I unable to recall 1 John because it does not exist or because I am biblically illiterate?  How can I give a sermon on a text I can’t remember?  I assure myself it would be alright.  The Bible on the lectern will be open to the sermon text.  There is no need to panic. 

Looking at the assembly I note that the congregation is divided into three sections.  The right-side consists of Spanish-speaking immigrants and first-generation families.  There are men, women, and children of all ages dressed in faded blue jeans, plaid oxford shirts, polka-dot dresses, tan polyester pants and mid-riff tops.  “Don’t forget these people,” I tell myself.  “Make sure the sermon speaks to their situation.”

Taking a deep breath, I prepare to read the sermon text.  To my surprise and bewilderment the Bible is in Spanish, a language I do not speak.  What am I to do?  I look to my host for clues and he motions for me to read from another Bible. The lectern is a light-pine, circular kitchen table, much like the table my parents have in their dining room, and it is covered with a multitude of Bibles.

Selecting another Bible, I once again look at the congregation.  This time I focus on the center section of the assembly which consists of white, Midwestern men and women, old and young, wearing sweater vests and blazers, slacks and pant suits, blue jeans and Green Bay Packer shirts.  “Remember these people”, I tell myself, “make sure the sermon has relevance for them.” 

I open the Bible, only to discover it is a Children’s Bible.  If 1 John is a biblical text, it will likely not be in this Bible.  Or, if it is, it will be an illustrated paraphrase in a juvenile vocabulary.  This will not work. 

Taking a deep breath, I select another Bible.  Before opening it, I again turn my attention to the congregation.  This time I see African-American women, men, and children, in elegant dresses, pressed suits, polished shoes, and fancy hats.  With conviction, I tell myself “Remember these people; speak to them.” 

Looking down, I realize a dish towel is hanging from my cincture.  It is a damp, wrinkled white towel with blue stripes.  I have no idea where it is from but feel strongly that it needs to be part of my message.  The towel serves as a reminder of the women in the assembly.  “Don’t forget the women.  Don’t forget you are a woman.  Speak from your experience.  Speak the truth.” 

All of these people are sitting, waiting for me to tell them something important.  Something which will change their lives.  They deserve to hear something fresh and meaningful – not a regurgitation of something they already know.  They yearn to know Christ in a way which offers them wholeness and shalom.  With my dish towel in hand, standing at this holy kitchen table, amidst a community of individuals united in their Christian heritage, I decide to tell them a different story.  I will tell them John’s story of the Adulterous Woman.  Though this story is not part of the lectionary calendar, it is an important story.  It is a story of liberation and life.  Liberation from the restrictive judgments, identities, and expectations imposed upon us and which we impose on others. Life reclaimed through the practice of a perpetual and intentionally intimate relationship with God.  These are important messages for all people.  People who may impose judgment on others and people whose lives are dictated by such judgments.  People in need of the unconditional and life-affirming love of God.   

Once again, imagine yourself the main character of this dream.  What would words of liberation and life would you offer this assembly of people, each uniquely shaped by their life experiences, yet united as heirs of Christ?

POETRY by Jenn Collins, M.Div. Senior

Untitled

Please. Please. See me. I’m not hiding.
See me deeply. My walls are thick. Please.
What shall I show you? I don’t want to wave.

Please. Please. Hear me. I speak plainly.
What I’m saying is clear. Soft. Simple. Please.
What shall I say? I don’t want to scream.

The D word
I would like to be many things…
An author-either a poet, a novelist, or a journalist.  A professor of theology. A student life worker.  A pastor.  A campus pastor.  A camp director pastor.  A singer-a lounge singer, or a Broadway star, or a diva.  An actress.  A social activist.  A social worker.  A politician.
Also, a wife.  A mom, maybe.  A soul mate.  A strong example.  An independent woman.  A free thinker.  A faithful servant.  A hard worker.  Not bitter.  Not angry or fake.  A genuine person.
Currently waiting for the person I will be to find the person I am.
Hide and seek?
No.  Discernment.