27 January 2018

A Faithful Future

For the last day of our travels, we flew back to Iceland for one last day with Gunnar.  After a morning at the Blue Lagoon, we were graciously invited to lunch with Rev. Sigurður Grétar Sigurðsson at his home.  In addition to gaining another perspective on the Icelandic Church, it was also a final opportunity for our group to debrief.

The final question we were invited to share before departing for the airport to fly back to the states, was “How has this trip changed me?”

I recall saying that this trip has broadened my understanding of the importance of relationships in ministry.

Like the ELCA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland is wrestling with what the emerging church will look like.  However, I did not sense a great deal of despair in the national church of Iceland.  Even when we met with students studying theology to be pastors and deacons at the University of Iceland, there was not an overt fear about the future of the church or the availability of employment/call opportunities.

But why?

In Iceland there is an interdependence embodied in the people and culture that, despite individual differences, maintains reverence for the dignity of all people.  Being a remote island in the north Atlantic meant that mutual support for survival was vital to the well-being of the people.

It didn’t take long for us to see that the people of Iceland can strongly disagreed with the positions and opinions of their neighbors, yet maintain the relationship out of genuine care for the other.  This cultural reverence for the dignity and inter-connectedness of people is built into the foundation of the church of Iceland. 

In the states, conversations regarding the future of the ELCA is often bleak.  As a young person attuned to the voice of the millennial church, I often hear that if we don’t relinquish traditionalism and embrace the emerging social-political ideologies, the church will become obsolete.

However, even those same social-political issues are popping up in Iceland, they are not cause for alarm.  Because at the heart of the church is the Gospel, and if Christ’s church is faithfully preaching the gospel, then everything else will fall into place.

This is not to say that we get a free pass to ignore the important social-political issues of the day, but rather it is advocating on keeping our focus and vision on Christ.  Loving the Lord our God, and our neighbors as ourselves is what follows when the Gospel of Christ is shared and lived faithfully.

To that end, I hope someday to return to this “holy land” of fire and ice.

God of every time and place, in Christ you are making all things new.  Give us courage to trust in your vision, that we might faithfully proclaim your love throughout the world.  Broaden our horizons to the infinite ways you encounter us on the journey.  In Christ's name we pray.  Amen.

Naked as we came

Y'all may be wondering whats up with my titles to my publishings. They are all titles to songs by a band called "Iron and Wine" that happened to be in Iceland and Norway the same time that we were. During the driving parts of the trip, to make me feel like I was more at home, i'd listen to this band. There are so many things about these places and people that made me feel like I had stepped into a completely new reality. The more obvious elements of these places was the way that people treated each-other. It seemed to me, and perhaps it may have been just a presentation, that life was a cooperative endeavor in the nordic lands. Perhaps maybe it's because of the old mythologies, or the landscape, or how these countries came to consciousness,whatever it was, things are very different from America.
In Iceland, we had a particular experience in that we were accompanied and guided by the only cowboy in the country. We went from place to place learning about the church structures, meeting people who's names I can't pronounce, but somehow remember. Everyone seemed so genuine to me, that i felt an instant connection with them. I got to shake a variety of folks' hands, such as: a careful storyteller, a jack of all trades, a modest knitter, a serious informant, a ukulele player ( who also preaches), a world traveler, and a person who shared with us the gospel according to Luke (Skywalker- that is)
We also got to experience the new shifts and turns of the world with the incoming tourists, and the decline in church participation. In the midst of all that, I was amazed how the people were appreciative of what they had, what was in front of them, and not eager to be somewhere else.

In Norway, there was a whole new vibe. We were in the city and a bit in the country, but everywhere you went, there was art. Art that seemed to make no sense, and art that stared right into my soul. we also had the opportunity to go to a concert where I heard the most delightful music. The church structure was a little different here, but it seemed to me like the people who were in ministry were very energetic, and had no complaint about their job and the demands that came with it. I also learned that great pastoral preparations are best done with a trusty cat keeping you company.

All in All, if you were to ask me what I learned about myself on the trip, it's that I can definitely love more, and that real beauty approaches when you stop thinking/worrying/fretting about yourself.
Most of the observations I can make are mostly apples to oranges. It will take me a long time to process and reflect on what the trip was all about.
The title "Naked as we came" was also in direct reference to a park full of statues that we encountered in Norway. Here is one of my favorites!----

26 January 2018

Lets Talk About How Big Your World Is

Lets Talk About How Big Your World Is 

Its amazing how traveling opens your eyes to how big the world is and at the same time how small it is. Traveling to Iceland and Norway was a reminder that there is a whole world of people living differently than myself. They face different challenges than I do in the US, they eat different food, they speak a different language. But its not the differences that made my world bigger it was similarities. We worship the same God. We sing praises. We reach out for the bread and wine of communion. We love to spend time with friends and family. We love deep meaningful conversation. We love to laugh and play. We are children of God. It is these realizations that make our world bigger than it was before. While this is easier to see when you are six time zones away, it is also something you can see without leaving home. It is easy to never leave home and make your world small by not seeing all the people who make up the collective “we” or you can never leave home and open yourself up a range of experiences with people by instead of viewing others as “they” and instead change it to a “we.” I hope that you all get a chance to travel and see God’s creation all over this great big world, but in the mean time I hope you make your world big by embracing all that is around you now.

I don't have the words to express what this trip has meant to me. I am aware of the fact that it is honor and privilege to travel this world. This trip is one that I will cherish and ponder for years to come. I am so grateful for the hospitality that was offered to us in both Iceland and Norway and all the hard work that went into planning this trip. It was truly a gift. 

Gracious God, open our eyes to your creation. Help each of us to learn from those around us so that our world can get bigger. Instill in us a curiosity to see how your children live around the world so that we become even more in awe of all that you have made. Create space for us to share our experiences with one another. Amen.

17 January 2018

Lets Talk About Being You

Lets Talk About Being You

I am a mere semester away from being done with seminary. After three and a half years of theological study I find myself in the final months of my education and reality of becoming a pastor is right around the corner. All over Iceland I have been asking the questions, “What advice do you have for a soon to be pastor?” and all over Iceland the response has almost always been the same, “be yourself.”

At first this was an unsatisfying answer. It seemed like a platitude and a pat on the head. But then the next person I asked said the same thing, and the next one, and the next one, and I started paying attention. That sentence has been rolling around in my head because the more I think about it the more I think about how it applies to more than new pastors. It is a piece of advice that should be applied universally.

Be yourself. Don’t pretend to be something you aren’t. Surround yourself with people who have skills and knowledge that you don’t have. Be confident in the things that you are good and be willing to be a support for other people. Be yourself.

In a few months I will be interviewing for jobs at churches, and at the core of this interview I am beginning to understand that the questions will all be pointing to, how will you be who you are? Which means now is the time to start thinking about that question. In my preaching, how will I use who I am to be faithful in preaching the Gospel? In pastoral care, how will I use who I am to connect with people and meet them where they are? In all the duties of the pastoral office, how will I use who I am to lead a church?

This question extends far beyond the office of pastor. When people show up in life in authentic genuine ways we can all work together the way that God designed us to. I invite you to also spend some time thinking about the ways that you can live even more fully into being yourself. How will you use your specific gifts to help those around you today?

Creator God, you made each and every one of us. Help us to remember that we have skills that can be used to further the message of your life for creation. Help us to not focus on the areas where we are not gifted and instead help us to surround ourselves with people who have gifts that complement ours. Help us to live in harmony with each other helping one another in love. Amen.

15 January 2018

Walking far from home

I appreciate so many things about Iceland , but what I have admired the most is the people . It has appeared to me that the folks here place a large amount of attention and value in their connection with  other people : be it neighbor , or guest. all of the churches I have been to have gone out of their way to welcome us in their own special way . In most of our conversations with the local pastors , two subjects have been reoccurring : "be yourself" and "do your best". I've heard these phrases many times before , and yes , I agree that they are important phrases to live by, but I feel like in many of my situations at least , that I easily forget what my best is and shift into "just get by " mode . This is dangerous for many reasons but most importantly , it takes the life out of relationships. It is a good practice to walk far from home to learn your strengths, your limits and your weaknesses. I find that mine is that I " try to get by " too often. I also find that it is important to "show off" your gifts from time to time , just to remember what your best can look like. If done properly, your best can inspire others to do their best, and perhaps we can bring some flavor to this old spinning rock we live on .
Dear Creator of Salt,
Let us all spare no expense in our relationships with one another, whether we are leaving footprints or settling down . 
Amen .

Lets Talk About Tourists

Lets talk about Tourists.

I have really been struggling with the idea of tourists for the past couple of years. First I have to acknowledge that I have been a tourist, am being a tourist right now (in a way), and will be a tourist in the future. I have seen amazing places because I have gone out of my way to land in specific destinations. But over the past few years I have begun to be more aware of the effect that this has on the land. On this trip I am becoming more aware on what effect it has on the residents. Tourism in Iceland has boomed in the past few years. The consequences of have been obvious, more tourist shops moving in, crowded popular locations, and more cars on the roads. Tourism can also bring wonderful things as well. There is money flowing into the country in new ways, more people get to understand a new culture, and the beauty of Iceland is being shared.

But I am left wondering what role we are called to play in all of this. Ultimately we are talking about caring for God’s creation that has been entrusted to us and it seems to me there is a fine line between enjoying God’s creation and consuming God’s creation. When I stand in a line (anytime I am a tourist) to take a picture of God’s creation how much time am I spending actually enjoying it and how much is about seeing what others have seen? Creation is not meant to be consumed.

I feel comforted by the fact that this trip is not based on tourism. We have been meeting with people and hearing about life here in Iceland, we are experiencing more than standing in lines, and we are truly listening about a new culture. This has brought with it a realization of the importance of the difference between the word “tourist” and “visitor” when you are in a new place. When you are a visitor somewhere there are manners involved. You clean up after yourself, you listen to the directions of your host (obeying signs and warnings), and you ask questions that are not only about yourself but also about your hosts. When you are a tourist there is a temptation to gather experiences rather than information. Tourists leave in their wake destructions, visitors leave an area as nice as when they arrived both for the residents of the land and the visitors to follow.

We are not owners of this planet. We are caretakers. We have been blessed with amazing creation more complex and beautiful than our minds can comprehend. No matter if we are visitors to a new area or enjoying creation at home it is time to take some time to embrace the responsibility of caring for creation.

God of creation, remind is that your creation is not for sale. It is not something to be consumed and destroyed. Instead it is something to be cared for enjoyed. Help each and every one of us to take better care of what has been placed in front of us. Move us to action to take better care of what you have entrusted to us. When we find ourselves with the privilege of visiting a new place help us to slow down, enjoy, and always remember that our responsibility to care for creation is always with us.