Spring 2012: My 2nd Semester at Wartburg Seminary

Now that I am two weeks into the Spring Semester I want to share a bit about my classes and schedule in general this semester. It is going to be a very busy semester, and yet I am so excited about the possibilities.

My classes include:

  • From Text to Sermon
  • Pauline Letters & Mission (Lecture and Small Group)
  • Systematic Theology
  • MA Colloquium II (primarily on research — prep for writing our MA research paper; great discussions are a bonus)
  • Diaconal Ministry: Formation for Ministry
  • Reformation History
  • Gender, Power, & Leadership (4 week module course on Monday afternoons)

I knew going into the semester, that I would almost certainly love my Diaconal Ministry and Gender, Power, & Leadership courses (and I do); however, I have to admit I am a bit surprised at how much I love the rest of the classes too. I was a bit intimidated by the thought of Systematic Theology (at 7:30 a.m. no less!), but I am LOVING the reading and finding the class discussions very interesting. Next week is the first time we meet in small groups (in part, to evaluate our first papers, gulp!), so we’ll see how that goes as well. Now if there were enough hours in the days to really read and dig into all the books recommended (not just the required ones) for these classes, that would be awesome! 🙂

Unless you happen to be a classmate (or Wartburg grad?), you may not think that this is a light load, but it is (10 graduate school credits), and I did it on purpose. In part, as someone living with auto-immune disease, I needed to give myself the time and flexibility to respond to the cues my body gives me (like chronic muscle pain, exhaustion and more recently chronic headaches) to slow down or do (time-consuming but effective) alternative therapies. In a way the fact that I live with chronic illness gives me a valid reason for simply balancing my life. The times I go into a “flare” condition are likely the times any individual should slow down and do some good self care. I just have the blessing of having no doubts about it, and generally no choice in the matter! So, in order to still put everything I can into my academic work (which I LOVE), and take care of myself and my family, I decided cut back on classes just a bit this semester.

The decision to cut back a few credit hours was affirmed when I needed to start working the five Work Study hours I am allowed. I am still grateful I did not work them last semester as settling in as a family along with our first semester of seminary classes was challenging enough; however, this semester it simply was not an economic option not to work them. I am trying to keep an open mind and heart as I am working at the St. Mark’s Community Center in downtown Dubuque with the before and after school programs at one of the “downtown” schools. This morning I had several bright smiling elementary students teaching me how to play new games, and quite enjoyed it. I am sure, as usual, I will be blessed beyond my expectations.

It may not happen consistently until I finish my module class, and can devote a bit of time on Monday afternoons, but I do hope to engage this blog more with what I am reading and learning. I imagine that there will be many things to share from my Diaconal Ministry class, and I have already started keeping track of what I call “Diaconal Ministry” sightings in my other classes (servant ministry and the theology behind it is practically everywhere when I start looking!).

If there is anything you would like to hear about, especially those of you following along from “back home,” please let me know!

Love and belief ~


DMFE Paper Response 4: Diaconal Ministry and Theology of the Cross, Vocation, and the Two Realms

How does diaconal ministry relate to two of the following important confessional concepts: the theology of the cross; vocation; or the two realms?

The theology of the cross is the foundation of justification by grace through faith, and if we want to understand God we have to start where God is most fully revealed–the cross. Since diaconal ministry is a ministry that embodies the cross of Christ it is crucial that we are able to relate it to and articulate the theology of the cross, including contrasting it to what we refer to as the theology of glory. Ephesians chapter two reminds us that we do not DO anything to make this relationship come into being: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2.8-10 NRSV). Faiths origins are worked into us. God decided this on the cross and what has been termed ‘decision theology’ is not a theology of the cross, but rather part of what we call a theology of glory.

We embrace the cross and its paradox of being the center of God’s power, wisdom and glory, and yet at the same time being the height of human weakness, foolishness and shame. It is on the cross that God embraces powerlessness and those on the absolute margins of society. Our call as diaconal ministers is totally entwined with the theology of the cross in part because we are called to minister to the marginalized.

The cross is the epitome of of the enactment of divine live as God seeks to deconstruct human wisdom and all ideas of what God is and isn’t about are tipped upside down via the cross. Theology of the cross informs our ministry in three particular ways: first it gives us the proper evaluative point of view and work out pattern for ministry, second we minister as servants of Christ and to God’s agenda for others and not others’ agenda for others (we are called to do more than just help people), and third we are called to a ministry of love as we cannot embody the cross without love. To love is to make the cross real to another and embody God’s love as shown in Christ on the cross (Romans 5.6-8; Galatians 2.20; 1 Corinthians 12.31-13.13) . We are reminded that God so loved the world and God is sending the people God loves to us!

As explained when discussing the Biblical background for diaconal ministry Jesus came to serve (diakonia), and as a ministry that embodies the cross of Christ we also come to serve. Our call is to serve from Word and Sacrament (as well as to Word and Service). Every time we celebrate the eucharist we are celebrating diakonia, and as we carry out our call to diaconal service we are enacting eucharist. Our call to enact Jesus’ service is embodied in the Eucharist and now embodied in our service.

When thinking specifically about vocation I turn to the story of separating the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25.31-46) and am reminded that we find Christ in the hungry person (not in the sheep), and that the “sheep” do not feed the hungry and perform other service ministries in order to find Christ, but rather they just do it. The sheep in the story as equally as surprised as the goats are. The people we serve in our ministries cannot become simply vehicles for doing our “religious thing” but must be an end in itself. In order to keep this perspective I return again to finding Christ in surprising places on the margins of our world, and look through the lens of Christ’s love for each person as demonstrated in Christ’s death on the cross. When I look at an individual as someone Christ died for I am able to let the Spirit guide me in that love and in my ministry.

Concerning the two realms or kingdoms I relate diaconal ministry to this concept because it teaches us that God’s work is not confined to church. God is at work in the world. The two realms are not defined as church and world, but rather two modes of governance: gospel or unconditional love and promise) and compulsion or force (conditional). While force and compulsion have no place in the Gospel, God is also at work in places where governance needs to be exercised in other ways.

**Disclaimer? — please remember that I am sharing these as first response answers to questions to my Diaconal Ministry Formation Event and not as polished, researched essays. Although I welcome responses, please do keep this in mind when you respond (as well as the fact that my current schedule limits how often I can reply to comments) **

Additional links some may be interested in (I try not to assume readers know my background and yet cannot address this myself in my posts):

Luther’s Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms (Realms)

What do Lutherans Believe?

DMFE Paper Response 3: Diaconal Ministry in Relation to Theology of the Trinity and the Incarnation

How does diaconal ministry relate to such important theological concepts as the Trinity and the Incarnation?

The Trinity as we express confessionally as God the Father, the Son incarnate in Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are the very foundation of any ministry, and I think especially of diaconal ministry. We are called to the boundaries of church and the world, and to minister with our perspective always on that boundary and those living on the edges or marginalized in our world. This call means that we minister neither fully within the church nor fully outside of the church. These are the same places we continually find God.

We don’t create the communities within we minister, rather God creates the community, and our call is to nurture and give expression to that community, and to extend community into the world. Yet, the world’s needs, those needs we find throughout our community of context, are not our prime motivation for ministry. Rather diaconal ministry addresses the hurts and needs of a broken world through the divine love manifested on the cross. As Diaconal Ministers we must discern, integrate and articulate how, within a particular context, our call embodies the cross of Christ. Diaconal ministry as an embodied reality of the cross of Christ must also remember that the Cross of Christ is about Christ’s whole life brought to the cross, and not only what happened on the cross. The particular life that Jesus lived is important and it can be dangerous to assume that others are remembering this life of Jesus that brought him to the cross. We need to tell the stories of Jesus, and not only the abstract theology. These stories of Jesus include Jesus going out into the community, and can be of particular use within our diaconal ministry contexts.

I also think it is very important to remember that Diaconal Ministry is a call to ministry of word and service (not just to service). A ministry of the word includes a ministry of Jesus Christ incarnate; John 1. 14 says “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (NRSV) As ministers we must be prepared to share the Word of God as we find it expressed in and by Jesus Christ incarnate, the Word of God as proclamation of God’s message to us (the living word), and the written Word of God as found in holy scripture.

Looking at the Pauline Epistles the foundation for Diaconal Ministry are found not in Paul’s linguistics, but in Paul’s Pneumatology. The Holy Spirit is at work in all Christians, and is at work in each person, including diaconal ministers, the same way the Holy Spirit worked through the Apostle Paul (and other scripture writers). This also means that there is no hierarchy in who is doing the work of the Spirit. Having no hierarchy between rosters holds us accountable for our ministry.

The pattern for ministry is found in Paul’s Christology. Looking at what Jesus had done forms and shapes our ministry. As we intentionally engage in cruciform leadership we remember that above all Christ acted in faithful obedience to accomplish righteousness (right relationships), redemption (liberation), and reconciliation (end of enmity). We are ministers of God’s reconciliation. This cruciform leadership must always be formed by the cross and in the form of the cross.

The Holy Spirit gives us gifts, grace gifts, for ministry in order to empower us to bring the reality of the Body of Christ into the world. Romans 12.6 tells us “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith.” While the Holy Spirit, in helping us discern our gifts, can harness our human talents as gifts these are not synonymous. Rather our gifts for ministry are given to us (we do not create them) to build the body of Christ and take Christ out into the dark and messy world. As diaconal ministers we embrace that role and acknowledge that our call to word and service is going to be more intentionally messy.

I am reminded that these gifts of grace are not given for our sake, but to help the body of Christ function. Also that justification by grace includes the gifts of the spirit for ministry, and that faith is that which the Holy Spirit produces through Christ crucified. It is through the cross of Christ that we are transferred from sin’s dominion to Christ’s dominion, and that my cruciform leadership began at my baptism. Through this message of Christ crucified the Spirit forms faith in us. I am reconciled to God and others in order to be given a ministry of reconciliation. I am no longer in charge of my life; Christ is in charge.

In addition to being gifted by the spirit we are fruited by the spirit:

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.
Galatians 5.22-26 (NRSV)

While the gifts of the spirit are intended for this age only in order to build up the body of Christ and its mission, the fruit of the spirit is eternal and meant for both this age and the next. Every Christian receives this fruit of the spirit as it is holistic and inclusively worked by the spirit in each Christian.

Remembering that I am ministering as part of the larger body of Christ and being led by the Spirit makes me bold as I minister on the edges of community and church and address the needs of the broken and hurting world. It especially makes me bold when I think of my ministry to those carrying grief and broken with the weight of loss in this world. There is not a cure in this world, and yet there is healing.

**Disclaimer? — please remember that I am sharing these as first response answers to questions to my Diaconal Ministry Formation Event and not as polished, researched essays. Although I welcome responses, please do keep this in mind when you respond (as well as the fact that my current schedule limits how often I can reply to comments) **

DMFE 2012 Paper Responses: 1: Biblical Sources of Diaconal Ministry

What are some main Biblical sources of diaconal ministry?

While there is little evidence for a formal distinct order of the diaconate in the New Testament, there is much evidence of the importance of diaconal ministry. Deacons are mentioned in the New Testament including in Acts 6.1-6, Romans 16.1-2, Philippians 1.1, and 1 Timothy 3.8-13. New Testament writings emphasize the importance of a variety of ministerial gifts and activities within a non-hierarchical, egalitarian spirit of imitating the example of Jesus and waited for his imminent return.

Although Acts 6.1-6 cannot be used to describe an official office of Deacon, in can teach us much about the importance of diakonia, including that addressing conflict within the community can create new opportunities for ministries, we are called to foster just structures in church and community, division of labor is crucial for both inward and outward mission, diaconal ministry is multi-dimensional, the qualifications for becoming a diaconal ministry include community discernment and the wisdom of individuals, and the Holy Spirit remains sovereign to direct our ministry as we observe in Acts 8 that these diaconal ministers were also called to teach and preach as needed.

The gospels also emphasize servant ministry in Jesus’ teachings including in Mark chapter 10: “but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (verses 43b-45, NRSV), and again in Luke when the disciples argue over who among them is the greatest, Jesus flips the order upside down and tells us that Jesus came as one who serves:
But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22.25-27, NRSV)

When studying diaconal ministry in New Testament scripture it is useful to go back to the new testament greek use of the words connected to diakonia. The noun form, diakonos, “one who gets something done, at the behest of superior, assistant to someone.” (BDAG) is the form used, for example, in Mark 10.43 “But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.” We translate this to simply servant; however, the meaning expands for me when looking at that translation of the Greek I quoted above and realizing that the superior I am serving is Jesus Christ. The verb, diakoneo follows this passage in reference to Jesus’ own ministry: “For even the son of humanity did not come to be served [diakoneo] but to serve [diakoneo], and to give his life as liberation for many.” (Mark 10.45; Rick Carlson translation handout). Diakoneo is defined as “to function as an intermediary, act as go-between/agent, be at one’s service” (BDAG). The same word, diakoneo, is also used in Luke 22.24-27 as Jesus refers to himself as one who serves. In Jesus I interpret this service as his work being an intermediary for us. When I think of this definition in terms of the service that a diaconal minister does I think of our role, sometimes seen as a bridge, between the church and the world. Although our role is not limited to being a “go-between” it does affect our world view as well as our church view, and is the lens we interpret our ministry through.

**Disclaimer? — please remember that I am sharing these as first response answers to questions to my Diaconal Ministry Formation Event and not as polished, researched essays. Although I welcome responses, please do keep this in mind when you respond (as well as the fact that my current schedule limits how often I can reply to comments) **

Prolog week: Theology in Context

The blog post is to let those of you NOT a part of the Wartburg community know a little bit of what is going on here this week.

The first week of the fall semester at Wartburg consists of something called Prolog week. Prolog week is the four days after Labor Day, so 4 days of classes and assignments that constitute a 1-credit class. All first-year students (referred to as Juniors as part of the M.Div track) take IN100W: Theology in Context. This means that Shawn and I are both in this class together. We are, thankfully, in different small groups (and will be for other classes we share this year, which is most of them).

While I find this week to be a very intense one I am finding the lectures, field exercises and experiences very interesting.

Tuesday after both a large group plenary session focussed on defining religion and a small group focussed on religious reflection, as well as sharing about ourselves and how we ended up at Seminary, we went out into the Dubuque community on a “walkabout” to get to know the culuture that surrounds us. We also were able to practice being an active observer. Later we combined our observations with reflections on our assigned readings and the morning lectures to write our first seminary paper (only 2 pages).

Tuesday night was interesting in our home because it was our first experience balancing everyone’s needs. In addition to Shawn and I both needing time to write our respective papers and complete our readings for the next day, we of course still had to oversee Nessa’s homework, fix supper (kind of) clean-up and hopefully get Nessa peacefully asleep. I think it was actually harder than it will often be simply because we could not really plan ahead with this assignement, but instead we both had to complete it pretty much at the same time. It was interesting.

This week has also reminded me (and Shawn) of how fragile my health still is at times. Because of circumstance I’m going longer than I would like between acupuncture apointments, and between that and simply the way my body can react to stress (good or bad), and the fact that something I am eating or otherwise exposed to seems to have bothered me this week (I haven’t figured out what yet), made me feel sick and exhausted by Tuesday afternoon (both with acute sore throat, etc. and my pain reaction in my leg and knee). I used the tools at my disposal to help with it, but could not simply rest like I would have otherwise. I ask anyone reading this to send prayers for me to maintain my health as much as possible! (As of Thursday I’m feeling much better, but not 100%.)

Wednesday was similiar, but our field activity took us out into Dubuque area churches. We split up into three different groups and each visited an assigned downtown church to interview them in order to observe and hopefully identify their congregational identity. My small group went to St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Dubuque, and spent two hours there with thier passionate pastor. Afterwards we met briefly to organize our report on the experience that each group had to present the next day.

Wednesday night there was no homework, but there was our Convocation on Life Together. I find it interesting that during this event, which reviewed and reflected on how we live together as a community, was when I was so thankful for this community. A new friend and neighbor (a middler spouse so not required to attend the convocation) watched Nessa for us while Shawn and I both attended the event. She’ll tell you that it was the easiest thing she’s done since Nessa just played at the community playground the entire time, but it was HUGE for us to be able to comfortably leave Nessa for the hour without disturbing her schedule really at all since what Nessa wanted to do was play outside on the gorgeous evening. We also have huge shout-outs of thanks to those that have been taking Nessa to and from school this week!!! (No bussing here!) Our fall schedule starting next week will allow us to take Nessa to and from school most days ourselves as needed (or to drive a car pool), but not this week! So, while this post isn’t written for the Wartburg community, any of them reading this anyway should know how much we appreciate them. And the rest of you should send of prayers of thanks for these wonderful people that make the community so special!

Today we continued the pattern of lectures and activities by interviewing one of our classmates concerning their theological experiences. And then we write a paper on the interview (and readings of course). I can’t quite put that in the past tense yet, because my paper is still waiting for a final edit before sending it off to the professor.

Tomorrow includes a similiar pattern of small group and lecture time for the first half of the day. However, the afternoon is filled with other activities. Shawn and I both plan on trying a ropes course for the first time! Later we have the Wartburg community picnic to attend, and I am sure there will be lots of informal fellowship throughout the weekend.

That’s probably more than anybody except our mothers want to know about what we did this week! 🙂

Next week I’ll give an overview of my courses in general, and then throughout the semester share more in-depth as I am able to. So far I have appreciated the sharing, the dialouge, and the welcoming of theology as questions because the questions keep coming!

Love and belief,