Sunday, December 30, 2007

Good to be Home

All of our other staff (except Andrew, of course!) are away with family, so today was a weird day at church. But it is good to be back! Monica and our Deacon (Erin) each preached at one service this morning and I felt both went very well. Ran a little short, but better short than long!

It was good to have Erin at the service this morning. As she has been on maternity leave, we have not yet worked together. But she is back as of this week, and it will be great to get to know her better. I’m looking forward to changes that may bring this spring!

After it feeling so weird to be back at McCook Lake UMC this past week, it felt REALLY good to be back at Holy Covenant. It will be strange (for better or worse) if/when Mike (from McCook UMC) does make it to visit here (he is planning to be in Chicago over a weekend sometime this spring and wants to see the church I'm working in). It certainly is... ummm... different. But hey- ALL are welcome here, right? (remind me I said this when the time comes, as I'll surely be nervous about it!)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Dead Poets Society

After being told for many months how unacceptable it is that I had never seen “Dead Poets Society,” we watched it tonight.

Once again, my friends were right, and it was an amazing film. I can see why so many people have told me it changed their lives.

If you haven’t seen it, you should.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Going Home

I going to make it home tonight!!

I had a wonderful- busy- stressful- blessed time at home in South Dakota full of opportunities to visit with family and friends that I don’t often get to see. (This photo is of the frozen, snow-covered McCook Lake- taken from the window of my parents' house in SD)

After a long day of fog and snow here this morning and this afternoon in Chicago, I am finally going to make it home. I am on-board a plane that is heading for Chicago after a few hours’ delay. The flights are all backed up due to bad weather, so I’m going to be lucky to make it home by midnight (as opposed to the originally planned 7:30), but at least I’m going to make it!

It is good to be going home. I love my family, and it is good to see them. Yet the longer I was at home, the more I was itching to be back at my own home, warm and cozy in my own bed, in the comfort of my own home, with the wonderfulness that comes with it: my internet, the gym, friends I can call/stop by anytime for anything, my church, familiarity- heck, even the El!

I do love being home, and McCook Lake, South Dakota will always be “home.” But some things are best in small doses. If nothing else, I have been reminded on this trip that it is good to go away from a place (Chicago) to be reminded of how wonderful it is, and thus to learn to appreciate it all over again. (This is the snowy wonderland down by the river in Sioux City- the best photos are always those taken while the snow is still falling!)

It will be good to be home.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Blood:Water Wins $10K!


I just wanted to give an update on my previous shameless plea for all MySpace users to go vote for Blood:Water Mission for MySpace’s December Impact Award. Thanks to your votes, they WON!

Blood:Water is now going to be featured through MySpace, will hopefully receive lots of press… and of course- they are being granted $10,000!!! This money will be funneled directly to the ground efforts of building clean water wells in Sub-Saharan Africa!!

For more information, see the MySpace Impact Awards page or go to

Old Friends bringing Fresh Blessings

It has been great to be home and see old friends.

I was blessed to spend an entire day with Laura, a close high school friend who still lives in my hometown. Lunch with her family and an afternoon of Wii (my first time- it was SO fun!!!) was certainly as low-key as ever I could have asked for, and it was perfect. I really appreciate the opportunity to visit her “normal” household of children (her 2 girls are getting so big!!! And the 3rd is on the way!!!!), filled also with her 3 nieces this weekend. Sometimes, it makes me feel old that my closest friends are married and settled with children. Other times, like today, it relieves me that we are finally growing up, and while I’m not ready to have my own family yet, I feel increasingly blessed to be a part of theirs.

It was also good to see Amber- my best friend while in High School- who I only get to see about once each year. It is good to have friends who, no matter how seldom we are able to get together, never seem to change much. Even though we’ve both changed in astronomical ways since graduation, it seems we’ve changed in similar ways, which is amazing since we’ve always lived several states away from one another and never talk more than once every 3-6 months (that's probably an over-estimate).

I was thinking about this as I drove to have lunch with a college friend, Paula, who was also visiting family in the area. She’s such a great inspiration, and though she didn’t know it at the time, really was the first one to push me into considering more deeply who God is in my life and to the world. She’s one of those “crazy liberals” I love- she loves, and loves well, and can “speak the language” of a great diversity of people. As her ministry continues to grow, its going to be beautiful to watch. I can’t help but to wonder how very many people she has touched and blessed with her delicate, (at times unintentional?) ministry. I know I’m one of them… as we were discussing and recalling stories over lunch, I was reminded that she was the first person to “throw the stone” at me and wake me up to the fact that God is not actually a male (or a female)… and she always refers to God as “She.” Crazy to me to think that was then such an incredibly foreign idea…

Seeing old friends is absolutely invaluable. They know me from different places in my life. They have helped me to write new chapters of my book of life. They help me now to see the ways I have changed, grown, and even the ways I backslide. We all need people in our lives like that. I do not have many close “friends of the past,” but I am incredibly thankful for the ones I do have.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Love of Christ at Christmas

Merry Christmas, Friends!
This has indeed been an odd Christmas for me. I have seen lots of family, but as not all of us were together for the first time, it felt like yet another family gathering, not like Christmas. What can one do when their favorite uncle (and my Godfather!) decides to stay a couple thousand miles away (in the warm weather rather than snow) for Christmas? I only get to see them once each year, so it is indeed a very sad time when they can’t make it.

But might I also celebrate with them. Christmas is a time we are reminded of those we love and how invaluable their lives are to us. It is also a time- as we have been taught by our culture- to remember to be extra generous. (for better or worse). Doug and Theresa have decided to spend their Christmas with children who have nothing, taking them their only gifts they will receive this year. Their families are also provided with Christmas dinner. How selfish is it that I am sad not to see my aunt and uncle while a young girl is blessed by their presence, and at only 5 years old sees them and exclaims “we got food!”
What would it be like to be spending Christmas worrying about having dinner, rather than how much weight I will gain from the abundance of food we have? I am thankful for this story because it reminds me that while it is good to spend this annual time with family, there are bigger things in the world to be concerned with, even on Christmas. Doug and Theresa realize this, and the world is a better place because of them.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Gates of Heaven

This conversation really makes me sad for all of us, yet gives me much to think about...

My brother Aaron just came home and shared with me that he and some friends had been talking about heaven, and how "its crap that heaven is a 'gated community.'”

This conversation led them to paralleling it to our own gated communities:

What does it take to get in? Surely, you have to have “status.” And a password, of course. Yes. A password. So maybe to get into heaven, there’s also a keypad and you have to punch in the code for entry. For heaven, the password must be “SALVATION.”

At first, I thought this was pretty funny. But then… how sad is this? I think a lot of people would not see the cynicism he offered. Instead, they would say there is great truth to this… and many would (maybe will) ridicule me for thinking otherwise, but how can we live like that? As part of a community that believes God would “gate” people off? Perhaps my biggest problem with this idea is acknowledging who many of my more conservative brothers and sisters would say can never have that password if they don’t “change their ways.” (and more liberal brothers and sisters who would gate off people too- like the conservatives? This is not a one-sided problem, friends! I am probably in the middle somewhere, but equally guilty!)

But who are we to judge? Does not the very same Scripture that is used to push people away, also tell us we must LOVE our neighbors? PRAY for our enemies? Seek JUSTICE for ALL?

I have a dream that someday, God will mend all of our hearts, heal our wounds and give us a peace that is so deep that those of us who disagree, bicker, fight or otherwise hurt one another here on earth, will someday sit at a table in heaven together and in a love that only God can provide, join in fellowship and conversation with one another. At that table we will all be smiling, loving, and learning from one another.

In that place, there will be no need for gates, for all will be welcome. That is what I see when I think of heaven.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Inspired by Advent

As I sit writing a paper for my United Methodist Worship class, I cannot help but to think about how thankful I am for the opportunity for the first church I’ve worked in to be such a well-balanced church. Contemporary and integrating various forms of worship, music styles, etc., there is also a high regard for liturgy, which I appreciate. It has helped me to understand ways to maintain the important liturgies of the church without having to have a formal, “high church” service. Not many places can do this (and do it well). Certainly this church isn’t perfect, but I have learned a lot from it.

It has also made me fall in love with the wonderful season of Advent all over again. Perhaps this has nothing to do with the church- Holy Covenant- and everything to do with the "Church." Being involved on a new level is somehow very different, inspiring, and new kind of encouraging. It is an incredible thing to enjoy the hope and excitement of all that is Advent, rather than looking at it as the few weeks before Christmas. There is so much more to it than that, and seeing and appreciating that is a beautiful, life-giving thing!

I must get back to work now… writing on my theology of the Sacraments… good thing United Methodists only have 2!!!

Growing into Preaching

I had the opportunity to preach this past Sunday at Holy Covenant UMC where I am an intern, and while I have a long way to go as a preacher, it feels good to see and feel the improvement I have made over the last couple of months.

Preaching is something I have always taken for granted, thinking that it would be “easy” for me, as people have always told me what a great preacher they thought I would be. I am a natural-born story teller… telling stories is something I have loved to do since before I can remember. I once even had close friends tell me that they weren’t sure they knew me as well as they thought they did, because like the main character in the film Big Fish, if someone asks me a question, I often respond with an answer in the form of a question...

For me, this story-telling has been life-giving and I always thought it allowed people to see more of who I am, rather than keep people out. But we all learn and receive information in different ways, so it was good insight to understand that even my closest friends sometimes thought my “stories” were too much- or not enough- at times.

Back to this Sunday- for Advent, we are doing a sermon series on “The Unexpected Family Tree of Jesus.” This Sunday (Advent 3) was “Mary, The Pregnant Teenager.” It is both a blessing and a curse to be learning to preach in the midst of sermon series rather than following the lectionary from week to week (as my preaching professors would certainly prefer). It is also good to be learning in a congregation like this one, where I feel that people are incredibly honest- and helpful- in providing feedback.

There are lists of things I need to continue to work on before I become a “seasoned” preacher. To begin with, I have to be more comfortable with the eerie silence of the congregation. The silence is fine for the first 10 or so minutes… then I wonder whether people are with me, or zoned out, or…? And when you can hear a pin drop but have to keep talking, it’s a pretty intense feeling I’m just not used to. I wonder what it would be like to be in a congregation that responded to you as you were preaching? Certainly it would have its cons too (like when you KNOW someone doesn’t like what you’re saying), but I also think it’d be great- and perhaps easier? I never have a problem with silence/worrying about time when I had to preach in class- I wonder if that’s the atmosphere or if they’re more clearly engaged?

Surely these are questions of insecurity as I work through who I am as a preacher, how I will preach, etc. As I work through them and look forward to at least 5 more times to preach before the spring semester is up, I remain encouraged. Because no matter how insecure I may have felt about my sermon, it is good to know that those who were honest before with lists of things to work on, this time began with, “don’t be so hard on yourself- you should feel really good about this.”

Maybe they’re right. But on another token, it is good to struggle through. It is good that I have moved from thinking I “have it” as a preacher, to recognizing whether or not one is gifted, there is still a great deal of work to be done in preparation. For a dear friend so brilliantly reminded me a few days ago, that I should “never stop caring when it comes to the Word of God.” To continue to care is to continue to struggle and always want to do better. God help me if this struggle ever stops.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Vote for Blood:Water Mission to win $10,000!

MySpace is helping to do something useful!!

MySpace has something called "Impact Awards" - and each month they honor one MySpace member with an award for making a positive impact on our culture.

This month, the category is International Development, and Blood:Water Mission is up for the award! You can VOTE EVERY DAY for whichever of the three organizations you believe should be recognized. GO VOTE FOR B:W right now!!

The winner receives a $10,000 donation, media throughout the website, featured placement on the Impact Awards community page for one month from the date of the announcement of the winner, featured placement in the MySpace monthly newsletter (which goes out to all active MySpace users) and a bulletin announcing the Impact Awards winner to the community. This would be huge for B:WM!

Voting runs through Christmas... so if you're a MySpace user, log in and vote! It only takes about 20 seconds... so don't forget to do it every day!

One last time in case you missed it... the link to go vote is


Saturday, December 8, 2007

Holy Covenant In Timeout Chicago

It seems like Holy Covenant has been getting a lot of press lately... and you won't hear us complaining about it!

In this week's issue, Timeout Chicago had an article on local churches that have been engaging in unique worship experiences. One of those mentioned was Holy Covenant, who

..attracts younger folks with provocative sermon topics that sound like Gossip Girl episodes, including “David: The Manipulative Backstabber” (Sun 9) and “Mary: The Pregnant Teenager” (Dec 16).

"Our congregation is diverse in terms of age range and sexual orientation, so we don’t shy away from uncomfortable topics,” says office administrator and member Chris Hein, who adds that the median age of the congregants is 25.

Holy Covenant’s attendance spikes during its semiannual “U2 Eucharist” service, which features music by—you guessed it—U2. In support of Bono’s activism, pastor Trey Hall donates proceeds to local and international poverty organizations. The next “U2 Eucharist” takes place in spring 2008.

It is good to get press and to let people know that we exist, we are a young, welcoming congregation, and we are not afraid to talk about issues that are often avoided in church. To read the entire article, see Sunday party Sunday in this week's issue, available in print or online.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Chicago's first snow of the Season!

I made a promise (to Dion, I think) that I would post pictures of the snow when it arrived... so until I get more pictures loaded on Facebook, these will have to do!

I took the LONG way home from work on Tuesday so I could walk and enjoy the falling snow while chatting to Ruby on the she could enjoy the snow vicariously through me! (See all that snow accumulating on my hat!?!?)

This is the entrance view of my beloved Garrett- Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, only about an hour after the snow stopped falling.

Awkward Social Isolation to Comfortable Self-Isolation

Well, friends, the day I always knew would come (but have also always denied) has come. I can no longer deny that I am in fact an academic, and speak “the language” of “the scholars” that surround me.

Beginning in my days at Simpson College and heightened immediately upon my arrival at Garrett Seminary, I have often found myself isolated in the midst of conversations that happen in “obvious” places, such as the lunch table. I would engage in a conversation with peers… and then the next thing I know, they’re using words I have never heard before and arguing over theologians I’ve never heard of before. At the point I realized I had no idea what they were talking about, I would casually become “uninterested” or have a paper to work on, slipping on my headphones in order to make my isolation from whatever they’re talking about, become less obvious. Or at least it kept me from being so uncomfortable…

A few days ago, I was studying in the Northwestern student center with some fellow seminarians. With my headphones on as I worked diligently on an assignment, I found myself caught up in the midst of a (friendly!) debate between two friends. In great love, there was name-calling, use of words no normal person should know, and even comments like, “well do you know what this word means in Latin?” “Of course! It means…” As the debate continued, I took my headphones off and became intrigued by their discussion, finding myself to be in the middle of the two arguments. That’s when it happened.

They just weren’t hearing each other correctly. So I jumped in.
Me: “No, Kate, I think you misunderstood. What Audrey is trying to say is that…”
Audrey: “Yes! Exactly! Thanks, Jen!”
Kate: “oooohh…. well in that case…”
and it went on. As I had been in the middle of other work, I didn’t wish to become further distracted, so I slipped my headphones back on as I smiled and rolled my eyes at my beloved friends…

Then they called me on it. Jen- the one who claims for all that I am that I am NOT an academic- just took part in a very conversation she has sworn off. I took a step: I have moved from being isolated by such conversations, to isolating myself because I’m just not interested. From here on out, I can no longer deny that I am not an academic. They have promised to recall this very conversation next time I make such a claim, and I have no reason to believe they won’t…

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Pink- Dear Mr President

"Dear Mr. President,
Come take a walk with me..."

An amazing, emotional, factual song that gives me a renewed respect for Pink.

Amen. God help this country and its "leadership"...

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Long-awaited return to Blood:Water

As you may know, I have been volunteering for a wonderful organization, Blood:Water Mission, for several years. I initially discovered the organization because it was founded by a band I love and respect, both musically and otherwise. Upon further investigation, it took little time for me to discover that this is quite possibly one of the best organizations for me to work with/for. They are working at a grassroots level to coordinate the most basic essential of life for people of sub-Saharan Africa: clean water (see video below). Long story short, I fell in love with B:WM and in no time became a regular volunteer for them. This includes volunteering at events such as concerts, speaking engagements (such as high schools, etc) and taking part in a "sacrifice" of drinking only water during the Lent season to raise awareness and funds to build water wells. Indeed, it has been a time of growth and encouragement for me.

As chaotic as life has been, I have not been able to do much with B:WM this semester. And I miss it. In a successful attempt to reconnect with them, I discovered there is a need for more volunteers at all 3 of the Jars of Clay/Third Day concerts in the area this week. I have class one of those nights. One of those shows is 3 hours away... I've driven further to volunteer (its WORTH it!), but its pretty short notice AND finals season. So... next Sunday night. Anyone interested? (I can pass on details to anyone sincerely interested!)

This is a cause I have spent years fighting with/for. I LOVE it. It fulfills me. It helps me to see light and hope in God's great Kingdom. I can think of no better way to start off the Christian new year than to spend it working for a global cause that I believe in so strongly.

Here's to hope. Here's to a beautiful, life-giving 2008 as we kick off the Advent season. And HERE is to finding more time for the important events and causes in our lives. Being passionate about something gives us new life. Just ask my close friends, who have seen new life in me in the past 2 days as I realize possibilities of getting involved again. This may be a busy time of year, but God is good. and God will provide the time, energy, and way for God's people who serve in God's name.

There is no better way I would want to begin my new year. Happy Advent.

Blood:Water Video

This is an old video. But since I'm likely going to talk about Blood:Water in many posts in the future, I thought it might be helpful to also offer some background as to why this cause is so important. I hope this is helpful.