Friday, May 28, 2010

Damen Heitmann '09 Reflects on His Recent Call to Ministry

The evening before my candidacy sermon there was to be an “informal gathering” at the church. The idea was that I could meet a few folks so that when I led worship the following morning I would see some people I knew instead of an entire group of strangers. I considered this to be a good idea and consented to the whole thing. So on that Saturday, in my Super 8 hotel bathroom, I found myself looking into the mirror. I was preening my hair, brushing my teeth and making sure my clothes were properly aligned. I wanted to look formal in a casual way. I needed to be funny yet serious. What would make me seem approachably smart? How could I be solemnly silly? What is the theological reason for wearing jeans to such an event? Somewhere in the midst of the preening and grooming, sometime between checking and rechecking the zipper on my pants I realized that I was going through a familiar check-list. Rather unintentionally I was reenacting the final moments before a middle school dance.
For those who are not familiar with these rituals, let me assure you that they inevitably lead to the following series of questions. How do you dance? Will I make a fool of myself? Who will dance with me? Will I be brave enough to ask anyone to dance? These are the same questions I asked myself the night before my candidacy sermon. They are questions that sprang forth throughout my search process. And, I suspect, as graduation season draws to a close they may be the same questions you are asking yourself. 
Fortunately for me I managed to find someone to dance with as the fine folks at First United Church in Little Falls, MN have called me to serve as their pastor. However, I’ve discovered that while this does answer some of my questions and concerns it also opens and entirely new series of questions. How exactly does one do the dance of ministry? What do people expect me to do? How do I structure my day and manage my time?

As I begin my first call I realize that I don’t know what the dance will look like. Of course I have a great number of expectations but I really have no clue as to what I am getting myself into. The prospect of going to this dance, of beginning my ministry, is frighteningly enticing. It fills me with equal parts trepidation and eagerness. There is 
much I don’t know about what lies ahead, but this much I do know; I’m ready. I’m ready to begin. I’m ready to feel the music and join in the dance of ministry. 
Peace and all good,

Monday, May 10, 2010

Alum Lindsey Kluver on Art, Theology, and Discernment

“We want life to have meaning, we want fulfillment, healing and even ecstasy, but the human paradox is that we find these things by starting where we are, not where we wish we were.” – Kathleen Norris The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work”
I first read these words by Kathleen Norris the summer before entering undergrad. At the time I was filled with both excitement and mystery, not knowing what the next 4 years would bring. What would I end up doing with my life? Discernment for me has  developed into a persistent endeavor. 
In undergrad I focused on my passions: art and religion, and ended up majoring in both. As I moved through college, these areas of my life developed an uncomfortable level of separation from each other. Try as I might, I lacked the language to name the connections between my study of religion and creation of art. Nearing graduation I learned about United Theological Seminary and discovered a place where the two paths merge. 
After graduation, I was, again, at a place of wondering what I was going to do. The answer for the next two years would be to attend a place where thoughtful integration of theology and the arts can occur. During my time at UTS I was allowed to develop a language for my art and its theological significance. My study culminated in my thesis project on art, theology, ecology and the rural church. I created a series of collaged images that explore through art the connections between rural churches and ecology through farming. It wasn’t just the knowledge gained in the classroom that allowed this project to develop but also the friendships and work relationships with fellow artists at the seminary that allowed me to develop a language and skill for integration of my passions. 
Since graduating from United Theological Seminary I often still have moments where I wonder “what’s next?” It is because I attended UTS that I am able to approach the question with a new language and refined sense of self. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Graduating Senior Leslie Johnson

I originally came to study at a Christian seminary because I felt it was essential to learn, in part, the theological language of such a powerful world religion.  My own spiritual connection with the divine is a love for nature. I consider myself a non-theistic nature mystic with a Pagan-based liturgical expression of faith.  This expression draws upon traditions that have suffered damaging oppression by culturally dominant religious forces.  I made a vocational promise long ago that I would endeavor to be a voice for the sacred immanent source of pantheistic inspiration.  My desire to study a dominant theological language is based on a decision to seek dialogue concerning the, seemingly misunderstood, faith connection with nature.  Within the dialogue I seek reconciliation; a form of ecumenical inclusivity which would act as a dominant culture validation for the long-oppressed spiritual expression of such ecological connection.
I arrived at seminary with this assumption: that many mainline faiths did not revere nature as religiously valuable; and that in being debased within an overtly transcendent faith perspective Earth suffered as a result of its dislocation from the theological realm of sacred.  I reasoned that eco-abusive behavior of popular consumer culture was, in a subtle and long-standing somewhat insidious sense, endorsed by many mainline religious expressions which partnered with popular politics.  I believed this partnership created leadership of a national market which is rapidly transforming into a global enterprise—fed by the rapacious use of these “profane” natural resources.
While many of my assumptions remain true some have been proven wrong. It has been a truly great privilege to attend United Theological Seminary.  I am especially inspired by the strength of its mission to educate and promote faith and action concerning progressive social justice.  I have been taught patiently to open and express my voice by representatives of a faith that I once considered more of an antagonist than a source of spiritual mentorship.  I have been deeply humbled by the humanistic and religious commitment of Christians whom I have encountered at this seminary, and have been deeply impressed by the strength of the movement of Green Christianity which I hadn’t known existed.  The program of study has had the affect of altering my perspective and refocusing the intended thesis with which I began this educational journey.
Previous to my enrollment I had practiced spiritual attunement, studied comparative theology, and created ceremony for many who are outside the church. I believed that engaging in a degree program would allow me to better communicate my spiritual perspective through learning the specificity of theological language.  I was not fully aware of the powerful gift of guidance and insight that I would receive through the curriculum and community at United Theological Seminary.
At UTS I have been instructed in the ways of discerning my true voice; to decipher and create theological language that best expresses my deepest vocation.  Mine has been a consistent calling to give voice to the expression of spirit on behalf of ecology.  The ecological crisis we currently face, and the ways in which we can move into the future with hope and healing, depends in part upon our spiritual strength and consideration of Earth as sacred ground.  I believe that diversity is absolutely essential in this growing global discourse, and the ethos of UTS encourages this critical inclusivity.  It is my hope that the growth of ecologically based spiritual language will contribute to inspiring community involvement in the movement toward a greener communion with creation.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Alumni Update: Dixie Laube

Well, friends and colleagues of United Theological Seminary, it is my turn to write for the blog. Are you excited? Some of you have not heard from me since I graduated and left UTS back in July of 2009. I have been on an exciting journey since graduation and I will try to include some of that here. I know…I know…you don’t want to read a book.

Anyway, when I packed everything up on July 2, 2009, I moved down to Rochester, MN into a newly constructed town-home. I am renting it, because my length of stay in Rochester (at this point and time) was only a year. I have been working on my carbon-footprint this year, too. If Dwight Wagenius is reading this, he would be so proud to know, that I am taking the City bus to and from work—everyday! For those of you who don’t know, I was accepted into the Residency Clinical Pastoral Education program at Mayo Clinic and Hospitals shortly before graduation. CPE started on August 21, 2009.

I was ordained into the United Church of Christ on October 4, 2009 and have been walking on cloud 9 since then. I will be with Mayo until August 25, 2010. Along with 4 other residents, whom Gage Church and I met, I am enjoying my time down here. Though there are some days (and weeks) that Gage and I reminisce about how wonderful it would be to have a Reading Week or Vacation to help us catch up!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

UTS Alum Peg Chemberlin Responds to Glenn Beck

UTS Alum Peg Chemberlin responds to recent comments by Glenn Beck about the role of social justice in the Christian tradition.  Check it out!