August 2019

As this year of internship finishes, I am reflecting on my experiences here at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Iowa City.  I have been challenged and encouraged to grow into the pastor I am called to be, and this has happened through all of you. I am so grateful for this chance to learn from all of you and to see just a glimpse of the amazing ministry God is doing through you all. 

When I began this year of internship, I was so excited and nervous to begin this phase of the journey.  I had studied in the classroom, but this was a new time, a time of greater leadership and responsibility.  A time of deeper exploration of what it means to be called to ordained ministry. A time to experiment and explore, and to walk with a congregation through the joys and sorrows that come over the course of a year.  To see the “day in and day out” of church leadership, and to witness how this congregation lives faithfully in the community. I am exceptionally grateful for the chance to see how the LEAD process works. I plan to take what I have learned from participating in a LEAD process to any congregation I serve in the future.

Thank you all for your part in this experience.  For walking with me as I have grown in confidence.  For bearing with me as I lost my voice so often at the beginning, and for celebrating with me as my voice grew stronger and stronger.  Thank you for experimenting with me through different sermon presentations, through different styles of teaching, through suffering together through making over three hundred pieces of origami together…  Thank you for affirming my call to ordained ministry and for helping me to grow into my own pastoral identity. Thank you for supporting Pastor Connie and the time commitment that it took for her to have an intern as well.  To those who are a part of the initial test group of home communion visitors as part of my internship project. To my internship committee for their dedication to giving me feedback and support throughout this year. To all of you who have prayed for this ministry and for the new leaders in the church.  Thank you for your ministry of support, and hospitality. Thank you for blessing me through this time of internship.

As we part, my prayer for you is that you continue to be a blessing to each other and to the world as you have been to me.

Shalom

June/July 2019

It’s hard to believe that this year is coming to a close. This year has been such an incredible year and time for me to learn more about my calling to ordained ministry. It seems like such a short time ago that we began this journey together.

Throughout this year, I have had opportunities to try new things, to explore my own pastoral identity, and to live what it means to have my own pastoral identity with others in shared ministry. I have been able to sit in on all of the committee meetings of the church to understand the behind the scenes of church leadership. I have learned about another structure of church management that lifts up the skills of lay leaders. I have been encouraged to experiment with different styles of preaching and teaching, exploring the possibilities of each style and becoming more comfortable with the different options. I have had opportunities to try teaching in front of people and through printed instructions (and offering encouragement as the origami projects have been wonderful surprises and challenges). And now I am preparing for my final interview with my home synod as my seminary journey begins to give way to the next adventure.

Thank you all so much for making this a wonderful experience. I have grown so much through this year. I feel much more comfortable and confident in my ability to lead a congregation, and my sense of call to this ministry was affirmed over and over again. Thank you for being so encouraging and willing to try new things with me as we figured out this dance of internship together. Special thanks to Pastor Connie for all the work she has put in to being an amazing supervisor, for the weekly supervision meetings as we walked through what I have learned and what is coming, for the framework to explore what it means to be a pastor on a practical level. Special thanks also to the members of the internship committee who have been met monthly to support me and offer constructive criticisms, for their work with all the evaluations and continued encouragement. Thank you, people of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Iowa City, for being a part of my training to be a pastor. Thank you for being a blessing on this journey.

Shalom,

Nicole

May 2019

A Note from Intern Nicole

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

But how hard is it to hear or say those words.  We proclaim that death does not get the final word, but we cannot deny that death does get plenty of words, and often very loud words.  The stories we hear during the season of Easter are of shock. The women at the tomb are shocked; the disciples are shocked; those Jesus walked with to Emmaus were shocked; infamous Doubting Thomas was shocked.  Growing up, I found myself surprised and confused by the confusion of the people in these stories. Didn’t they know? We decorate the church and sing happy songs; what do you mean they didn’t understand that Easter is when Jesus is raised?

As I’ve had more time to think about it, though, I find myself sympathizing more and more with these earliest witnesses to the resurrection.  Resurrection seems too good to be true. And even if Jesus is resurrected, it’s hard to see that hope in the midst of daily tragedies reported on the news, broken hearts, and shattered dreams.  Oftentimes, I find that the season of Lent is easier for me than the season of Easter; lament feels more natural than praise.

But yet, our church season recognizes that as hard as it can be to see, the hope of the resurrection really is what our faith hinges upon.  We have forty days of lamenting and preparing for Holy Week, and then we take fifty days to celebrate, to praise. And importantly, we take the time to offer that praise even as we are in the midst of the pain.

We offer praise to God in thanksgiving, surely, but we also offer praise to God in trust.  In trust that God is moving in ways that we cannot comprehend. In trust that God keeps God’s promises.  In trust that God is faithful.

And so, over these fifty days, let us proclaim: Alleluia!  Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

April 2019

A Note from Intern Nicole

 What’s in a name?  Language barriers are funny things because not only are the words themselves different, but the cultural ideas behind the words are different too.

 When I was speaking with a Chinese friend of mine, she shared with me that Christians in China do not refer to the Friday before Easter as “Good Friday,” but rather as “Great Friday,” “Holy Friday,” or in some places, even as “Bad Friday.”  This puts an entirely different emphasis on the holiday.  Eastern Orthodox Christians also call this day “Great Friday,” or “Great and Holy Friday.”

 When I was speaking with my Chinese friend, she questioned how we could call that day “good.”  How can the day of Jesus’ death be a day that we consider “good”?

 For her, the emphasis on that day is in the penitence, recognizing the tragedy and brokenness that led up to Jesus’ crucifixion.  To Jesus’ followers, not only was this the death of a friend and teacher, but also the death of their dreams.  One of them laments a few days later, “but we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21a).  While this is a high holy day, it is a somber one, full of the grief and the anguish of Jesus’ earliest followers.

 In contrast, one of my seminary professors preached a Good Friday sermon about the rebelliousness of calling that day “Good Friday.”  Certainly, the events were gruesome and horrific.  Certainly the brokenness of the world that led to Jesus’ crucifixion is desperate.  But God steps into that moment of history, transforming it.  This professor proclaimed that it was in Jesus’ crucifixion that God transforms the cross from a tree of death to a tree of life.  The day becomes good by God subverting our expectations and setting us free from sin.  We rebel against the forces that say “this is all there is” when we look at the events of Friday and remember that Sunday comes. 

 Both of these ideas (and more) are integral to the identity of the holy day we call Good Friday.  The idea that there are truly horrific elements to the day, that it is a day to remember our sin, to repent, to lament our own brokenness, and the idea that this is a day to proclaim that God brings new life through death.  It is not to belittle the death, nor is it to remember only the death.  We hold both sides together in tension.  And it is often a painful tension.  But that is the tension of the day, and often of our own lives.  To remember that God brings new life out of death, even the deaths of our hopes.  Whether we call it “Good” or “Great” Friday, that tension is important.  It is in recognizing the severity of this day that we recognize the hope it can bring to all others; no pain is too great for God to transform, so we can name the pain and bring it before God.

March 2019

These past few weeks, I have been reading a book by Frances Fitzgerald entitled The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America. Fitzgerald explores the history of the American evangelical movement (and the huge diversity that almost makes it difficult to call it a “movement”), noting several important themes that link the various groups involved. “Evangelical” is not synonymous with “fundamentalist;” fundamentalists are one group in a wide spread, grouped together mainly by understanding the Bible to be authoritative, that God has been active in human history, but particularly through Christ’s saving actions, and the importance of a transformed life and evangelism. Pretty broad strokes! In fact, Fitzgerald reports that some historians believe that the overarching category of “Evangelicals” was created more so by journalists and charismatic political leaders than by those belonging to the groups themselves.

Fitzgerald begins with a history of the American religious movements in the early Great Awakenings. These awakenings tended to impact oppressed peoples, and as such, these early groups tended to have emphases on social justice issues. The leaders of the Second Great Awakening were early abolitionists, argued for racial equality (in the early 1800s!) in schools, and one seminary became a stop on the Underground Railroad.

As the movement has grown, it has developed new branches into the wide variety it is today, with fundamentalists often claiming the loudest voice. While this has been a fascinating history, I am reminded of our own, different understanding of “evangelical.”

The word “evangelical” comes from a Greek word that means “I tell the good news.” That’s it! We put a lot of emphasis on the good news, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and so we share that good news with the world. This word is our word too. We are called to share this good news in stories and in actions, to proclaim the hope that we have been given. Not as a means to our own salvation, but out of a response to that salvation. It moves us. It transforms us. Our spiritual ancestors have been modeling for us how to tell our stories for generations: just tell it. Tell it in whatever way we have to, whether that is narrative, poetry, dialogue, living out the story. We are evangelical in nature. Let us share the stories together.

Shalom,

Nicole

February 2019

A Note from Intern Nicole

Throughout January, we have been reading together Andrew Root’s biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker: A Theological Vision for Discipleship and Life Together. I am reminded of Bonhoeffer’s emphasis on lived theology. I confess to you that I have a tendency to “live in my head.” I get really excited about ideas, words, stories… But Bonhoeffer reminds me that theology is not just thinking about God, but living out my baptismal calling. Theology is asking the question, “Where is God?” in the wonderful events, in the mundane events, in the painful events. Theology is asking, “Where is God calling me now?” As disciples, we are theological people, but that identity calls us into the world. It calls us to name the brokenness of our world, but also to name God in the midst of that brokenness.

As we continue into Epiphany, we listen for God to be revealed to us, and for us to also be revealed to ourselves. There’s a discernment to that. There’s a faithful questioning. What is God up to? How is the Spirit moving? Part of our discipline is as disciples is to observe and notice those moments. The word “martyr” comes from the Greek word “to witness.” Witnessing has two parts: sharing a testimony (for the martyrs, sharing their testimony even to their deaths), but also seeing.

February is a month that many of us celebrate love with Valentine’s Day. We know from loving other human beings that love is more than a feeling: it is a conversation that happens with words, but also with support, with showing up when the other needs us. Love, like faith, is lived; it’s a relationship that goes two ways. One of my spiritual advisers recommended that I try centering prayer as a spiritual discipline: this is a time of quiet, a time for me to spend in silence, simply listening for God. It is a time separate from my normal prayer practices of speaking to God; it is a time to listen. This has been a lot more difficult than I had anticipated; it turns out that I struggle a lot to quiet my mind, to simply be. But, it has also been a rewarding experience. My life is full of information coming from advertisements, articles, conversations, etc. To take the time to stop and listen for God has changed the way that I think about life. As the name would imply, “centering prayer” re-centers me; I still am surrounded by the same barrage of ideas and information, but I am centered in it. I can see in and through it better. Even on the days when I find centering prayer to be a struggle, when I spend the whole time trying (and feeling like I am failing) to be quiet, I find that I am more willing to look for God, more prepared to witness God’s action around me.

So, sisters and brothers, let us be on the lookout. Let us witness God’s work in this world, and let us bear witness to our God with our hands and feet and voices. Let us live our faith and love for others to see.

Shalom

January 2019

Epiphany comes from a Greek word that just means “appearance.”  It grew into our current idea of an “epiphany” as an insight, but it originated with the idea that those insights come from God, that they are revelations from God.  This same word is used to describe Jesus, as God’s “appearance” in the world.

But, as we’ll continue celebrating the appearances of Christ in our world, we’ll read stories this Epiphany of all the ways that Christ’s presence surprises us.  Jesus miracles are surprising; his teachings are surprising; his journey takes surprising twists and turns. It is in the places we least expect to find Jesus that there he is bringing the Kingdom of God, in the everyday things.  One of my favorite projects in Seminary was when we were all given half an hour to wander around the campus. We were supposed to take a picture of some place where we saw God doing something at Luther Seminary and share with the rest of the class what we saw.

In Advent, we followed LEAD’s Advent resources with the theme of living intentionally, taking the time to notice the gifts of God around us and wonder about the ways we can be gifts for others.  We can continue that into Epiphany. As we go out into our lives, where does God appear to us? In song? In art? In a kind word on a busy morning or the face of a friend we have not seen in a long time?  In a good book? We believe that God is most fully revealed in Christ, but that God’s work and God’s love touch everything around us. Where is God moving in our neighborhoods? The answer may surprise us.

Taking it a step further, the apostle Paul tells us that we are the body of Christ.  How do our actions reveal the love of God for the world? Our own stories of faith are shaped by others sharing their faith with us; the same is true for those we meet in our jobs or at school, on the bus, on the freeway, in our homes.  Our lives tell who God is to the world; we “show” Christ to the world.

December 2018

There’s something truly beautiful about moving directly from Christ the King Sunday to the opening chapters of the gospel of Luke.  From celebrating the reign of Christ to the birth of this vulnerable baby in a vulnerable family. To celebrate the promise that Christ is lord of all and then move to the beginning of the incarnation, where God flips all our expectations on their heads.  The barren will have children. The blind will see. The hungry will be fed. But the tyrants will be overthrown. God’s reign is not one of “might makes right,” but of love, compassion, justice, and mercy. The king comes not with armies and terror, not as a conqueror, but as a baby, as a crucified savior.  Dwell in these reversals throughout Luke and in these days of Advent. Expectations are flipped on their heads, and power structures are reversed.

The gospel of Luke opens with the stories immediately leading up to Jesus’ birth.  We read about John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, born to a family too old to have children.  We read about the angel visiting Mary, a woman who wasn’t even married yet. This beautiful nativity story we love from Luke begins setting up the great reversals in this story.  The people of Judah, God’s chosen people, have been conquered; they live as an occupied Roman territory, with Rome imposing leaders and policies. And in the midst of this, an angel appears to an unmarried woman in Nazareth, saying that she will bear the promised messiah.  This child will be named Jesus, from the Aramaic for “he saves,” but Luke does not tell us about visits from far away kings or wise men who recognized and celebrated this child. Nor does Luke tell us of a frightened and jealous King Herod who fears this baby. Instead, the ones who notice in Luke’s telling of the story are shepherds who have been visited by angels.  The Magnificat, Mary’s song, celebrates the idea of reversals that will continue to be important throughout Luke’s gospel. She sings,

“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:52-53)

In this Advent season, as we begin our year of studying the gospel of Luke, we remember these great reversals and surprises, and perhaps the biggest surprise of all: God with us.  

Shalom,

Nicole