On the bus

I’m on the bus. ¬†We just passed Newark and are heading down the Jersey turnpike. ¬†K is curled up next to me and is taking a nap. I’m enjoying the free wifi. ¬†I’m living the high life.

From my standpoint, on the top deck of a double decker bus, we’re making good time. The traffic is moving quickly and we might actually make it to Philadelphia on time. ¬†When I have taken this trip in the past, it has only been on time once so I’m not holding my breath.

I didn’t start packing for seminary until late yesterday afternoon and, while sitting here, I’m already remembering the things I forgot. ¬†I really do need a towel. ¬†I might need bed sheets. ¬†And I was only able to cram half a dozen books in my small suitcase. ¬†I’m going down there bare bones. Like I told my friend, I don’t view my dorm room at seminary to be my home away from home. ¬†I view it as an extended stay in a hotel room. ¬†I’m not sure the view will be as nice and there probably won’t be a mint left on my pillow when I check in but the room will do. ¬†It’ll suffice.

K is coming with me for the day but she’ll be heading back to NYC tonight. ¬†My Uncle Mike will be picking us up from the station and driving me to my new digs. ¬†The seminary has a two week long orientation that starts tomorrow night. ¬†In the orientation, along with details about financial aid, the student handbook, and how to use the library, is a course called “Introduction to Public Theology”. It’s a warmup course to get myself oriented to the rest of the semester. ¬†I’m curious how it will go. I’m curious to see who my fellow classmates will be. And I wonder how long it will take before I get use to reading constantly. ¬†It will be weird having semesters where I never have to turn in a problem set.

I’ll report later on a few of my recent back-to-school purchases, my adventures with Amazon, and some of the advice people gave me before I left. ¬†I won’t see NYC for two weeks. ¬†I won’t see K either. ¬†I know that, by day three, it will be weird that she isn’t around. ¬†But I’m off on a new adventure. ¬†I’m pretty sure this is going to be fun.

More shoes and BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS

Ahhhh. Seminary.

Over the last few days, I have become officially entrenched in seminary. ¬†I received my email account and my login information into one of the most basic online student information tool I have ever seen. ¬†The tool I used at Cornell in 2000 was incredibly detailed which makes the tool at LTSP look really really sad. However, they promise to unleash new features soon so I’m looking forward to that. At least I’m now able to see that I really am enrolled at LTSP and that, in a lot of ways, is all I really need. ¬†It made me comfortable enough to add LTSP to my facebook page. ¬†I can’t get more official than that.

Today, the book list for my classes arrived and – well – it didn’t shock me too much. I expected to spend close to $500 a semester in books and, if I did the math right, I won’t reach that amount this semester. I am, of course, completely ignoring the ‘suggested’ book list for one of my classes. ¬†If I bought those books, my total book cost would double. ¬†Two of those books I will most likely buy (for fun) but I’m very curious to see if my professor is the type of professor where ‘suggested books’ are really ‘required books’. ¬†If yes, I might end up spending most of my time in seminary at the library reading those suggested books. ¬†I don’t think I have the physical space in my bags to carry those books between home and seminary every week.

The email containing the book list also included a small plea from the administrators that I purchase all my books from the seminary bookstore. I understand the sentiment. ¬†I fully want to support the book store. I have, already, purchased some items from there even before I was enrolled. ¬†The book store does have a 20% discount on most titles I am required to pick up which, in some cases, is less than amazon.com’s prices. ¬†And that’s great. ¬†And for those few books, I will be picking them up from the store. ¬†But if I’m going to save $20 bucks buying a new copy from an amazon.com partner, I have to take that deal. ¬†I hope the bookstore can forgive me.

And being the engineer that I am, I quickly threw together a spreadsheet of the books I need, their price points on various websites, and whether buying the books on a Kindle was a possibitly. ¬†I don’t have a Kindle yet but I want one – ooooooh, do I want one. ¬†Only a half a dozen titles, or so, are available for the Kindle and the savings between buying a new/used copy and the kindle copy does not make up enough to justify buying a Kindle right away. ¬†Over the long term, I’ll probably save money. And I’ll probably save money on any future back problems that I’ll develop while lugging those books back and forth. ¬†But, sadly, too few of my books are un-kindle-ized at the moment. I hope that changes.

After placing a small book order, I then went out to TJ Maxx and bought some more Chucks.  Getting those shoes 40% off is a deal I will take advantage of all day, every day.  Thus, my total seminary cost is, at the moment, slightly north of two hundred.  So far, so good.

I love my Iron Man pajamas.

In three weeks, I will start seminary.  In three weeks, my budget and my financial planning will be torn to shreds.  But I refuse my financial discipline to be as damaged as it was when I went to university as an undergrad.  I want to know how much seminary really costs me. I want to keep track of EVERYTHING.

And I need to share.

Every school year begins not with registering for classes, paying the tuition bill, or waiving health insurance. Oh no.  The school year officially begins when you start buying new clothes. BOOYAH! I am really excited about this part.

So far, I bought new shoes, one new vest-hoodie from Forever 21, and something from wal-mart.  I will share my wal-mart purchase with you because it is the greatest.  I give you my Iron Man Pajama bottoms.

The amazing thing is that I use to own everyone of the comics depicted on the pants. From Iron Man Submariner #1 (from 1968) to earlier Tales of Suspense issues and through the picture frame covers from the late early 70s. I loved those issues. The stories are ridiculous, the writing dated, but the art was just fantastic. ¬†K found this for me yesterday and I’ve been wanting to wear them outside every day. ¬†I, however, won’t because I also refuse to be the grad student who wears his pjs to class. ¬†What would Stacey and Clinton say?

So, so far, my clothing cost is currently at $72.94.  My first book for my intensive course (Shopping Malls and Other Sacred Spaces by Jon Pahl) cost $28.16 .  Total seminary expenses : $101.10.  That will go up.

Urban Leaders Institute

Late last week, Pastor Paul and I headed into Manhattan and the Inner church building to enjoy the Urban Leaders Institute, a conference organized and run by the Black Pastors group of the Metropolitan New York Synod.  I, sadly, was only allowed to attend two out of the three days (day one was only for clergy it seems).  Around 100 people registered for the event.

Day Two (but day one for me) started with breakfast which is always a good way to start a conference. The fact that I ate breakfast before I came did not stop me from buying everything I could. ¬†Well, that’s not entirely true. I would pick up a bottle of diet coke (nectar of the gods) and a piece of fruit. ¬†The cashier would always hesitate to ring me up, stare me straight in the eye and go “that’s it?” ¬†I love commentary with my dining choices.

What’s great about this kinds of conference is, for me at least, isn’t the workshops or the keynote speakers or the like. ¬†What I love is meeting different pastors and lay leaders – hearing stories and struggles and the struggles pastors have leading their congregations. ¬†This is research for me. ¬†Since the conference was organized by the Black Pastors (and the Asian Pastors were in attendance as well), I got a window into a world that I will be entering in four years. ¬†The ELCA is not a racially diverse organization – the Metropolitan New York Synod’s diversity is an exception to the rule. ¬†The struggles of race permeate through the entire organization – from individual congregations through interaction with the bishops office and church wide. ¬†And much of it is coached in the language of black struggles since before the days of civil rights. ¬†It was quite interesting to see the fact that the Latino Pastors were not in attendance, that the third day of the conference was less well attended than the first, and – in the stories with the individual pastors – how congregations do self-segregate. ¬†I find all of this fascinating and it will always be a big part of my future ministry.

One other thing that I love seeing what the different languages that were being spoken at the conference. I don’t mean that spanish was heard or korean or anything like that. Rather, the black cultural religious experience was on full display. The names of big black pastors were dropped easily, with the assumption that everyone in attendance would know who was being talked about. Bishop was a common descriptor of pastors by other people. ¬†The use of praise and worship songs, the call-and-response preaching style, and the active participation of the congregations were all part of a language that I don’t experience quite often. And it’s all a language I love to be a part of. ¬†Many years ago, when I first began church shopping, I attended a black baptism/pentecostal church for several months. Three hour long services, call and response, lots of shouts of “Amen!” and Amen being used as a language convention like “right?” – I enjoy it. ¬†It wasn’t where I was called to be but that’s okay – the service was always fun for me.

Pastor Iglata, in his sermon during opening service, mentioned something that drew me in for a moment and leads into something I’ve thought about quite a bit recently. ¬†As long as Jesus is being proclaimed, how the service works isn’t THAT important. ¬†I, personally, go to a high church Lutheran service. ¬†It is how I prefer to worship. ¬†But the low church service down the street or the luther-costal service out on Long Island doesn’t mean that my church experience, what I need, is everything that everyone needs. ¬†The Church is large enough to include what I need. ¬†And that’s a comforting feeling. ¬†That, to me, is the important of being at the Urban Leaders Institute. ¬†It’s a reminder of how BIG the church is – the variety of worship, of views on leadership, and on different ways to praise and proclaim Jesus. ¬†But the church is also very small – something that I experienced in spades while at the conference. The Black Pastors group opened up to me, supported me, and gave me a million pieces of advice before I head off to seminary in 3 weeks. ¬†I might have experienced something many seminarians don’t but I did feel like the pastors actually cared about me and want me to succeed. ¬†The future pastoral leaders of the church need that kind of support – a support that comes from the ministerium and not just one individual pastor or their own congregations. ¬†It’s a big affirmation of calling, of direction, and purpose.

ELCA in the New York Times!

It’s not everyday that I read about the ELCA in the New York Times. But, this evening, there was an article, linked to on the front page, Lutherans Offer Warm Welcome to Gay Pastors.

Nothing surprising or new in the article. There’s a short description of the ELCA’s move last summer (though it makes the mistake of not including the phrase life-long, monogamous relationships) and there’s a one line blurb about how each congregation is allowed to choose who they want to lead them (which is very true and this is something that tends to be ignored when discussing sexuality in the ELCA). The article even briefly mentions that the LCMS and Wisconsin Synod do not ordain gay ministers. And Lutheran CORE gets a brief mention. The article is brief, quick, and tries its best to water down an extremely long process into one-sentence sound bytes. It could be worse!

I will admit that the headline grabbed me

Posted in its entirety because I find it funny : Cops: Man Uses Crucifix to Break Into Donation Box

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Police arrested a man they said used a crucifix to pry open a donation box and steal cash from a Fort Lauderdale church. Surveillance video captured a 48-year-old man breaking into St. John the Baptist Catholic Church last month and removing a crucifix from the altar.

He was arrested Tuesday and charged with burglary and theft.

My First Sermon – Luke 10:38-42

Today at Trinity Lutheran Church, I was in the pulpit for the very first time. It was odd seeing my name in the bulletin listed as “seminarian” even though, in less than six weeks, I’ll be Lutheran Theological in Philly. My lovely wife recorded the whole eight minutes for posterity.

The reason I’m all robed up is not because I was preaching today. I was also the crucifier (and a chalice bearer). And it was really really really really hot under the robes today. Trinity retains the heat VERY WELL which is miserable during the summer months. I swear, Trinity feels hotter this year than last. And, no, adding central air to Trinity isn’t reasonable so we just need to suck it up.

I’ve received many lovely comments after I preached today and after the video was posted online. I’ve really touched. One of my favorites came from an older woman at Trinity who only came out into the heat today because I was preaching. And, afterwards, she said it was worth it. She then melted into a puddle in our church’s undercroft.

I had no working title for the sermon though I think I labeled it as “Grounded” before I headed off to church this morning. I’m just happy with how it all turned out. One down, a million more to go.

More thoughts on the MNYS – young adults and the ELCA

As a member of the “young adults” demographic of the ELCA, one thing that I noticed at the Metropolitan New York Synod Assembly, besides the lack of young adults sitting at the tables, is how us young adults have become trendy. With the ELCA sending out recommendations to synods to create a “young adult” council seat, we’re suddenly hot. Project Connect and other programs are specifically targeting my generation and asking us to serve. Programs, books, reports, and studies are now filling pastors and other church leaders with the idea that the 20 year olds in America don’t want to go to church. We are stuck in an emerging adulthood, a place that churches currently struggle to reach. The churches that seem to primarily attract young folks tend to feel like a meat market and have a Logan’s Run feel to them (when you’re told old, you’re past your prime). The goal is to get us young folks, the millenials, into churches or else the churches will die. We are a really big deal now. The church wants to talk to us. The Church wants to invite us in.

In terms of church trends, young adults are now the new “teenagers”.

And that’s the problem. Why is the language that I’m hearing the same language I heard as a teenager a decade ago? Why are we now getting council seats after the teenagers did? Why are we getting a young adult category at the church wide voting assembly after the teenagers did? Why are us young adults still saying “take us seriously” – the same words that we used a decade ago? In ten years, why are we still being forced into carving out our own special categories to fight over? Why did five young adults fight for the 1 young adult church wide assembly spot when I was the only one (I believe) to fight for one of the eight lay member spots?

I understand that young adults, the 18 to 30 year olds, are not being active in the ELCA. The prime age group for the development of pastors, deacons, and other leaders, is not making church a priority (or, that’s the claim at least). The ELCA demographics are skewing older. Our pastors are getting older and we need young adult leaders to take their spots. So why is the church using the same language and tools to reach out to us that they used fifteen years ago when we were teenagers? If it didn’t work then to inspire us to make church a habit and a priority (thus the current problem would be less about getting our butt into the pews and more about how to affectively minister to those already inside), why does the Church believe that language will work now?

I don’t have the answers in regards to the young adults. Sure, we would love to be taken seriously. We would love to be involved on church councils. We would love to be active lay leaders in our neighborhood churches. Congregations, obviously, will need to take the lead in giving young adults a seat at the table. Some will, others won’t, and still a few more will become focused only on young adults. But I’m not sure if the tools that failed to inspire a generation of teenagers will work on us now that we are a decade older. And, if ten years from now, we’re still standing around and the church starts asking to engage the “young family generation” of 30 year olds, and we’re still asking for seats at the table, and if a special Synod council seat is made for a 35 year old – then I would take that as a sign that the last 20 years of engagement hasn’t lived to expectations. It could very well be that the baby boomers and older generations are to blame. Or it could be that what enticed the boomers into churches, what brought gen-xers in, is not the same thing that will bring us millennials into the doors, regardless of how old we are. And it is also quite probable that the language we are hearing now is the same language used fifty years ago. But, man, those two days up in Tarrytown, NY, I felt like I was going through deja vu at times – which is ironic since, a decade ago, I wasn’t even apart of the Church. But I could hear what the churches were saying through tv, media, and my fellow teenagers in youth groups. And now, ten years later, it sounds the same. Something didn’t work.