Sunday, April 19, 2009

Oasis, part 2

I feel as if I would be remiss if I were to skip talking about my seminary retread now that I'm home. So, this is going to be my attempt to put some things into words.

Seminary is many different things for many different people. For some, it's a mean to an end. They feel called to some sort of ministry or higher education, and they see seminary as the way to get there. Maybe they feel called to be a pastor, and to get there they know they need to go to seminary, and so it becomes a set of hoops to jump through so that they can achieve their goal.

For some it might be a stumbling block. They feel called to ministry, and know they need to go to seminary to achieve this goal. But, once they are there, it just seems to get in the way. Maybe it's the academics or the academic approach to theology. It could be that it stands in opposition to the theology they came with, or to some of their deeply held truths. Maybe they manage to get over the hurdle, maybe they don't. I've seen it happen both ways.

For some it's a place to be while their spouse goes to school. Maybe they see it as a family calling, and they feel as called to be there as their husband or wife. Or it could be they came with their fair share of struggle or disagreement.

For some it's a place of learning and growth. They are encouraged to think and question and theorize. Their knowledge is expanded, they are introduced to new ways of interpreting Scripture and looking at God. While, ideally, this would be true for everyone who attends, I have to say that this is not always the case.

And for some it's a strong community. The shared experiences and the common goals unite people in a way that many other communities are unable to do. As the seminarians and their spouses and families journey alongside each other, it strengthens bonds and creates friendship and kinship where it might not have otherwise formed.

For me, I'd have to say that it was a bit of all of them (except for the spouse thing). Naturally, I came to seminary because I felt God was calling me to be a pastor. And while I had my fair share of struggles, of times I wanted to shake the dust off my feet and leave, times I told my academic adviser I wanted to take a leave of absence, nights I had terrible dreams about upcoming Hebrew tests, through it all I managed to learn and grow in ways that I hadn't imagined at the outset. And the friendships I formed there are some of the strongest and most trusted that I've had.

So Wartburg Seminary has quite an important place in my life. And pretty much since the day I have departed I have been anxiously looking forward to the day, three years later, I would be returning along with all, or most, of my classmates. I could not wait to reunite with this particular community who had come to be an important part of my life. I wanted to reconnect and renew those bonds. I wanted a reminder of that fellowship that we had shared during our life together.

And I was not disappointed. Although the three days we shared was a bit more scheduled than I would have liked, and we were in sessions from after breakfast until the evening most days, there were opportunities to talk and reminisce and remember and enjoy the company of friends. I got to see good friends and play with their children. I was able to break bread (figuratively and literally) with them, to laugh and talk and cry with them. I got to hold babies and to worship alongside my friends. There were moments where it seemed like the past three years had not happened, as if it had only been yesterday that I had talked with my friends, because the connections were still as close and as strong as they were when we saw each other everyday.

Like my last post said, it was like an oasis. A place set apart to offer refreshment and renewal. It is a bit surprising that something I waited so long to arrive passed by so quickly, but then it isn't really because, unfortunately, that seems to be the way it goes. Time flies when you're having fun, apparently.

Toward the end of our time together, someone spoke up and said that 3 years ago, our good-byes didn't seem so final because we knew that in three years we'd be gathering together again for our retread (although it didn't make them any less tearful). We said that as we neared the end of our time together, it was beginning to seem a bit more final because we weren't sure when we would see each other next. The only other reunion that the seminary sponsors is the 40 year anniversary and, truth be told, there are many people in our class (much loved people) who probably won't make it to that one, as they are second (or third) career pastors. So in our discussions we decided that we needed to get together again, even if it meant planning it on our own. And so we've agreed to meet again in 2012, in three more years, to reconnect again, to get together with all of our friends and classmates in a broader and more intentional way.

And so now I begin the journey of this next 3 years, excited to see where I'll get to go and what I'll get to do, but always aware of that bright spot on the horizon where my friends will be waiting for me.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

my oasis

So, after a busy season of Lent and a lot of worships in a very short time during Holy Week and Easter, I now find myself away enjoying some relaxation and reconnection.

Wartburg Seminary invites its graduates back for a three year retread. So, three years after you've graduated you're invited to come back and reconnect with your graduating class, as well as help the seminary evaluate its curriculum.

I have been excited about this for almost three years. I knew that this would be the first time I would see many of my classmates after graduation, as we've been spread hither and yon. And seminary friends are great because even though you might be separated by great distances, and you might not be the best at keeping in touch, once you're together again you are able to pick up where you left off. It's like the time in between when you last saw each other and when you see each other again seems to shrink and fade.

Except, it's still obvious that the time has passed. Children who were a little more than a year old when we parted ways after graduation are now four. They are talking like crazy and running around. There are many new kids among us, who have arrived during the in between time. And we've all had a lot of experiences and adventures in the past three years.

But it's been good to reconnect, to see each other again, to share our stories and hear the stories of others. It's comforting to hear that we share many of the same struggles, and that we've all experienced great joys. It's fun to hear and see the many ways that God has blessed each one of us since we graduated from seminary.

And as I sit here typing this, tired from a day of much activity and learning, and after having had a great supper with a large group of friends, and then a much quieter evening sharing stories and jokes with a smaller group of four friends, I can't help but think that our time here is short. In only a day and a half many of us will be parting ways again. Who knows, this time, when we'll get back together in such a large group or in such an intentional way. There will be many more experiences and adventures to face, many more sorrows and struggles and joys to experience. There will be much ministry given and received. As much as I don't look forward to the end of this time together, I am excited for all of the potential and the amazing gifts for ministry that have gathered together at this place for this short time, and I am excited for the people and the Church with which we will share these gifts, and I can't wait to hear about the stories that have not happened yet.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

were you there?

It's that time of the church year... The time when we pull out that old standard song "Were You There?" In fact, with all of the Good Friday services I've been to, we've already sung it twice. In one day.

Now don't get me wrong, I can appreciate it. It's an old spiritual, it's got some meaning and history to it. We can sing it, that's fine with me.

But you have to understand, I have some history with it, too.

We all have those moments. Those times in our lives that are just burned in our memory. It seems that no matter how much time passes, they will always stand out to us like they recently happened. Well, one of my moments involves this song.

You have to understand, that growing up I was never much of a singer. It wasn't until my senior year of high school that anyone ever told me I had a good voice. And it wasn't until college that I felt comfortable enough to sing by myself in front of people. Growing up, my mom always said I had a voice like her's, and we couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. I argue that it's because the most experience I had with singing was at church, singing the hymns in the pew next to her and trying to match pitch!

Anyway, in 5th grade during this time of year our children's choir director decided we were going to sing "Were You There." Only not as an entire choir, but as soloists. And she needed people to volunteer to sing the solos. Now, I'm not sure how I ended up with one. I don't know if I volunteered or if she chose me because no one else wanted to. It doesn't matter. What matters is that I was assigned the third verse.

So it came time to sing it in front of the congregation. Now, being a boy and being tall, that always meant I was in the back of the choir. But when it came time for me to sing my solo, the director wanted me to come to the front. So I did, and I started to sing.

"Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?" I started singing, and it was going ok.
"Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?" It was going well. I was gaining confidence and getting stronger.
"Ooooh, oooh, oooh ooooh. Sometimes it causes me to tremble... tremble... tremble..." I was really on a roll now.
"Were you there when they crucified m-" And that's when it hit me I was singing the end to the first verse and not the third verse. I had messed up. And, rather than finishing it out like that's what I was supposed to do, I stopped. And then I started to cry. And then I had to force my way back to the back of the choir and stand there and blubber until we were allowed to go sit back down.

People came up to me afterwards sharing all sorts of stories of how they messed up in various things they did. There were stories about pants unknowingly being unzipped, or people passing out during choir concerts. There was no shortage of stories. But the fact remained that I had messed up. And not only had I messed up but I had cried. In front of the church and my classmates and my friends.

So, to this day, when we sing that song I immediately go back to that church. I can see the sanctuary, the pews made out of blonde wood, the red carpet, my choir director's face. It's all there like it happened only days or months ago and not years upon years. And when it gets to the third verse and we start singing, the closer and closer it gets to that last part, I can still feel a little lump in my stomach that doesn't go away until I sing the right words to finish the verse.

And that's the story of my relationship with this song. It's not that it's a bad song, although it never has been one of my favorites. It's just that when it comes up, so does one of the many moments in my life that remind me I'm not perfect!