A Little Meta and a Few Apps

The is my second post in a five-part series for my seminary course at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg on Media and Religion.
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For my “Religion and Media” course that I’m taking this week at LTSG we’ve been learning about how people use or can use various forms of media to create community and proclaim the Word. As part of this we are reading Click2Save by Elizabeth Drescher and Keith Anderson, and it has had some great insight and guidance on things to keep in mind as you blog and Tweet (among many other forms it addresses). The most challenging? A blog post in 500 words or less. I’m an elaborate writer, brevity is not my strength. But I think there is often wisdom in the art of being succinct.

I have been reflecting on what media I actually use day to day, and while at first I only thought of the obvious ones– calling on the phone, Facebook, Twitter and e-mail, there are many more ways I live digitally. The ones that have been most helpful the past week IMG_3283has been MyFitnessPal, a smartphone app that lets you log the food you eat, your weight, and your exercise habits, and Pinterest, where you can find recipes for healthy foods, among crafts, humor, fashion, and of course everything related to weddings. Between those two forms of media, I have been far more successful with having healthy eating habits than I ever could with more traditional forms of food-based media, like cookbooks. A lot of times we focus on (generalizations) about how digital media may build community or tempt us to not be full-present at physical events, but digital media is helping me to be a better steward of my body.

The popular critique of media, social media in particular, often goes something like this: “Those people are always on their Facebook, they aren’t building real relationships.” Let’s save the debate about what a “real relationship” is for another time, and in the meantime, follow me for a second. While I think that relationships are at the center of our calling as children of the Triune God, I don’t think that something has to be primarily focused on building positive relationships for it to have value for us as Christians. Which is where MyFitnessPall comes in– it helps with stewardship of the body. Apps that track your running routes do the same thing. Sure, there may be ways to add friends and share your progress with others, but the main point of these apps is health. Another app I use quite often is Mint, which lets you track your banking and credit accounts as well as set up a budget. Financial stewardship. Bam. A third app that I used a lot over the summer was the National Geographic Bird app. It became my little hobby and way of enjoying God’s Creation.

Sure, you can make arguments about how physical and financial stewardship or watching birds is relational, but I think that primarily these apps were things that did not necessarily build my relationship with others.

And that’s my point. We often complain about social media or other digital technology because it sometimes gets in the way of building physical face-to-face relationships, as if that is the sole benchmark for whether or not media is useful. But I think we need to expand how we think about media and its usefulness or faithfulness.

What are ways that you engage in media or digital technology that you find worshipful or related to your Christian discipleship in ways other than primarily fostering relationship-building?

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Importance of Transparency in Social Media for Pastors and Church Leaders

The first post in a five-part series for my seminary course at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg on Media and Religion.

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No one likes being duped.

Wile E. Coyote never seems to learn, does he? The Roadrunner beats him at his own game every time and inevitably in every episode there will be that famous scene where Wile E. Coyote runs off a cliff, spinning his legs in the air for a few seconds before falling. That doesn’t actually happen in real life, though. I mean, perhaps coyotes pursue roadrunners in the wild, but as for any animal failing their legs, defying the laws of gravity as they are suspended in air for a good few second…well, we know not to try that at home. But the thing is we aren’t upset about these “lies” of sorts because we know it is not meant to be realistic. We expect what we see in cartoons to be beyond our experience; we are willingly suspending our belief. We find joy in the absurd antics of Bugs Bunny or Larry the Cucumber because we understand how cartoons works.

The same goes for one of my favorite tv shows, Once Upon a Time (ABC). It has “real life actors” but it’s a fantasy drama. I expect it to have real people (most of the time), in a physical setting that is more or less similar to what we know or could image, but I also expect there to be magic that defies our laws of gravity/time/space, magical creatures, and an occasional talking puppet. What wouldn’t make sense is if it started acting in ways that did not align with its genre– like if all the characters suddenly broke out into song, or if the characters suddenly started talking into the camera to address the at-home audience. Those things wouldn’t make sense because they don’t fit into what we have come to expect as the reality for this show.

These seem like no-brainer ideas. Of course we don’t expect a mockumentary (think: The Office) to act in the same way as a PBS special on the “Making of Downton Abbey” or the same as a primetime drama like Gray’s Anatomy.

But we aren’t as good at keeping genre in mind as we’d like to think we are. It happens with the Bible, it can happen with books (“I don’t like Harry Potter, it’s so unrealistic”), and it happens a lot with various forms of media.

After all, how many times have we seen someone outraged about the contents from an online satire news website like The Onion? Sometimes we assume (or are led to believe) that certain media are conveying factual truth, when in reality they never intended to in the first place. It’s the difference between watching Looney Tunes and seeing Wile E. Coyote get smashed into a rock wall, only to walk away bouncing like an accordion vs. watching the NBC Nightly News and having Brian Williams tell you, deadpan, that scientists have discovered the necessary flaps-per-minute needed for humans to fly with only their arm, thus creating an economic implosion because of the sudden independence from fossil fuels. While the latter would get my arms in awesome shape for my upcoming wedding, it would both confuse and then disturb us because the nightly news is expected to convey fact (allowing of course for the acknowledgement of the limits of perspective and slant of agenda). When go in with expectations that something is true only to find out that it was not, we’re not happy campers (check out the MTV show Catfish). (The exception to this, for some, is with situations where one is misled for one’s own entertainment, such as with movies that have surprising twists or when one is pranked. Even then, many do not like this plot elements.)

That’s why transparency is important. For many, there is a feeling of violation when we find out that that which we believed to be true is, in fact, not.

How much more important, then, is such transparency when we are dealing with people’s faith lives and their trust in us as pastors? 

As leaders in the church, we hold positions of power because people trust us. They trust us with the intimate details of their lives, both good and bad, and expect us to hold onto these stories with care. When it comes to leading them, the people we serve expect and quite often assume that we are tellers of truth. That’s why stories of clergy abuse (in whatever form) often elicit more of a sense of broken expectations than the story of some random person who does the same thing. Both are seen as wrong and sinful, but as leaders in the church we are expected and assumed to tell the truth. Whether you agree with it or not, we are held to a higher standard.

So what does this mean other than we should be truthful and never knowingly mislead someone into believing something false for the sake of their harm? I think it means that we need to be transparent, especially when it comes to our presence on social media.

We may not get a direct response from folks, but people notice what we post on Facebooks, what we tweet in Twitter, and what we share with them in person. If we, when we represent ourselves and not a larger group or church, are only sharing the good things going on in our lives, what does this say about us? For some, the feeling behind this is that it is the professional response. Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your boss seeing, is the normal mantra of anyone posting anything online.

Obviously, there is a need for tact, wisdom, and appropriate boundaries, but we’re human. Not everything in our lives is perfect and to portray it as such– well, I wonder if this is a way of misleading people. Of presenting more of a fictional account when they are assuming/expecting a real person. Could our inability to authentic portray on social media who we are (read: sinners and saints) harm our ability to lead as pastors?

While social media is used in a variety of ways within the life of the Church, I think we need to pay attention to how we, as church leaders, engage with people electronically. There is always the caution for people to reflect on what appropriate boundaries are best kept, not sharing every intimate detail of their life. But being scared of sharing anything, especially that which makes us human (our mistakes), can cause unhealthy expectations of perfection and ultimately lead to a sense of betrayal when people realize the genre they came to believe (non-fiction) is closer in truth to the antics of Wile E. Coyote.

Approved for Ordination

Dear friends and family,

I am excited and humbled to share with you that I have been approved for ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America!

Was ist das? What all this means is that I have completed most of what needs to be done in order for me to be a pastor! In mid-February, Ben and I will find out what region of the ELCA we have been assigned to (which is a process that involves us giving our preferences, too). After that, depending on the specific processes involved with that region, we will know which Synod we have been assigned to by mid-March at the latest. That is so soon! After that, one or both of us could start interviewing with a church as soon as immediately. Of course, we also need to graduate from seminary in May, and then get married in June 🙂

In some ways you can think of this as 4 ½ years in the making. It was September 2009 when I began the process to officially discern a call to ordained ministry. So much has happened in that time: beginning seminary at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, working at a chaplain in Newport News, Virginia, taking a year to serve through Young Adults in Global Mission, returning to seminary with a new class, going on an internship adventure to Lincoln, Nebraska, and then returning to seminary for my final year of study.

But really, it hasn’t been 4 ½ years in the making– it’s been 27ish. My call to ministry started in December 1987, when I was claimed as a beloved child of God, baptized with the water and the Word, and sealed with the cross of Christ forever. Without that, I would certainly not be where I am today. It was then that I was called into the ministry we all share. The same ministry that so many of you have taken to mean giving guidance and walking alongside me.

So thank you. Thank you to all who have formed and guided me along the way. I hope you all know who you are. It doesn’t just take a village, it takes the body of Christ. I thank God for all of you– my pastors, colleagues, mentors, supervisors, friends and family.

Please keep me and Ben in your prayers as we journey through these next stages together (Ben goes for his Approval Interview tomorrow!). This adventure of serving the church as a (almost) pastor is quite beautiful.

Thank you!

Link to my article, “Millennials ARE in the Church”

This past year I was the seminary intern at The Lutheran Center, the Nebraska Lutheran Campus Ministry-Lincoln campus. One day while I was at work, I came across an article that listed out six/ten/a billion reasons why Young Adults/Millennials are not in church. I started to read it but was quickly interrupted by one of the young adults that was hanging out in our church/campus ministry building. After talking with them for a few minutes (about classes, a program, or life’s quandaries), they went back to the lounge to talk with a few friends that were also in the lounge/narthex doing homework (or, let’s be honest, watching Netflix). I started to read the article when, again, I was interrupted by one of the college students who wanted to have a question about vocational discernment. A half hour later, I tried yet again to read the article about why Millennials are not in church, but had to have a conversation with some of the student leaders who do ministry at our site.

All this to say, I’m not too convinced that Millennials are not in church. In fact, during my internship, they were in church more than they were out of it. I wrote the following article about how “Millennials ARE in the Church”, which was published on the Nebraska Synod website. Enjoy!

http://www.nebraskasynod.org/reflections/millenials-are-in-the-church/

 

The Christ child on the cross

On this Good Friday I am pondering the words to a familiar hymn. For me, it best captures the sorrow of today: the pain of the cross, the despair in death, the question “Why?” and the foolishness of a King come to die.

 

What child is this, who laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet while shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the king, whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
haste, haste to bring him laud, the babe, the son of Mary!

Why lies he in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear; for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross be borne for me, for you;
hail, hail the Word made flesh, the babe, the son of Mary!

So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh; come, peasant, king, to own him.
The King of kings salvation brings; let loving hearts enthrone him.
Raise, raise the song on high, the virgin sings her lullaby;
joy, joy, for Christ is born, the babe, the son of Mary!

 

At birth, Jesus laid in Mary’s arms, innocent and defenseless.
At death, this same Jesus laid in Mary’s arms, innocent and defenseless.

So often I have thought of the adult Jesus on the cross, the Jesus who is God. Powerful and in control. And yet this is the same Jesus who was born and laid in a manger. This same Jesus chooses to give up control and become weak.

This Jesus is God and man– with a human family. A family mourning a loved one’s death. A mother holding her son one last time.

The fleshiness we celebrate at Christmas is now mourned in death on the cross.

 

Pietà, 1498-1499, Michaelangelo

Pietà, 1498-1499, Michaelangelo

What Does Faith Look Like?

The following is from my blog post on The Lutheran Center website which you can visit here.

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As part of my seminary internship at The Lutheran Center, I spend time visiting residents at Tabitha, an elder care center here in Lincoln. Some days I sit with folks at morning chapel and help them get back to their rooms; other days I visit with those dealing with various stages of memory loss. Today I was able to help distribute Holy Communion to those throughout the facilities following the chapel service.

Entering into the lives of those who are struggling with aging, sickness, and end-of-life situations is amazing work, but it’s tough. The question many seem to wrestle with is how to be faithful to God during a time when it may be difficult to discern where the Holy Spirit is at work. For those who can no longer say the Lord’s Prayer, for those who haven’t been to church in decades, and for those whose realities are more colorful than our own, what does it look like to have faith?

The answer is quite simple, and yet so profound: we show our faith when we open our mouth.

Some of the residents I visited with today were eager to take Holy Communion. One woman, when asked if she would like the Lord’s Supper, replied with a smile, “Whenever it’s offered!” Another resident could not answer or shake her head, but when the wafer dipped in wine was put up to her mouth, she opened it. This is what faith looks like.

The same thing happens at The Lutheran Center. Students will get into conversations for hours on end in the lounge about God, the Bible, and what it all means. We can wonder what it looks like to have faith when there are so many questions swirling around in our heads. This, too, is faith.

We don’t have to understand the intricate theologies of the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion. We don’t have to be able to profess the Apostle’s Creed from memory, and we don’t have to run from our questions. The simple act of opening our mouths, to participate in the mystery of Holy Communion and to discuss our questions about God’s presence in our lives—that is what faith looks like.

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Make sweet hosannas ring

One of my distinct memories of church during my childhood is of processing with the children’s choir on Palm Sunday. It was one of the few times during the year that the children’s choir got to sing with the adults, and they were so cool! On Palm Sunday we would line up holding our palms and our hymnals and march in from the back, singing our little hearts out:

All glory, laud, and honor
to you, Redeemer, King.
To whom the lips of children
made sweet hosannas ring.

To this day, “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” is one of my favorite hymns to sing and it always gets me in the mindset of Palm Sunday. Lent without getting to sing this hymn just isn’t the same for me.

Fast forward from elementary school to 2012 when I found myself living in Palestine when Palm Sunday rolled around. You were in the Holy Land for Palm Sunday, Courtney, how cool! you may think. It was, but not for the reasons you may think. As far as I know, all the other volunteers woke up early to get into Jerusalem for Palm Sunday in order to process from the Mount of Olives into the city with hundreds of other Palestinian Christians. There were readings, musicians, hymns, and many palms. Or so I heard. I wasn’t there.

Instead, I was invited to spend that Sunday with my Palestinian family at the church we all went to in Beit Jala, just outside of Bethlehem in the West Bank. While I was excited to spend this holy day with my family away from family, part of me wondered if I would regret not doing the huge Palm Sunday processional for what could be the only time I spend Palm Sunday in the Middle East. It would be like living in Bethlehem all year and spending Christmas in Jericho. Of course, it ended up being one of the best Palm Sundays ever, and I would go back to spend the holy day with my Palestinian family in a heart beat. Jerusalem’s processions are lovely, I’m sure, but place does not make memories, people do.

Last year, my Palm Sunday consisted of a fairly regular service (in Arabic) with children processing. Their palms were a bit different from ours: instead of having one long palm leaf or a small branch, each child had beautifully woven palm leaves a few feet tall, sometimes bigger than the child himself/herself. What I remember from my last Palm Sunday was not singing “All Glory, Laud, and Honor”, but seeing it acted out as people worshipped and children helped us to celebrate Christ.

Earlier this Spring, for Palm Sunday 2013, I found myself in a Lutheran church with a palm branch, sitting next to a fellow seminary classmate and her two young girls. We gathered for worship and were instructed that every time the word “hosanna” was spoken or sung that we should wave our palms. Then the service began: the Sunday school kids processed in with their palms and we began to sing that familiar refrain:

All glory, laud, and honor
to you, Redeemer, King.
To whom the lips of children
made sweet hosannas ring.

We finished the hymn and were just about to start the prayer of the day when my classmate’s youngest daughter, who is an adorable 3 years old, lifted up her palm branch, stood up and said “HOSANNA!”

This, my friends, is it. Worship. This is it. Did this child know exactly what hosanna means, or why we lifted palm branches and sang? Maybe, maybe not. In time she will learn, but until then the Spirit will move her to worship God and say hosanna whether her understanding is great, or whether it seems little.

Palm Sunday has meant a lot of things to me over the years: inclusion, serving, hospitality, and worship. The common thread I have taken away from my Palm Sunday experiences is that children of all ages, from newborn to 107, are not just welcome in worship, but necessary. Our entire community should be involved in worship.

God allows each one of us, regardless of our talents, abilities, or age, to teach one another what it looks like to follow Christ. God shows us through the lips of children shouting sweet hosannas the gift of worship.