Cameroon, Here We Come!

We are leaving for the airport in just a couple of hours!!!  We are sad to leave South Africa, and all our friends here, but we are super excited to go to Cameroon and experience new things!

Katie and Will

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A New Way to Look at My Church

We have been hanging out with a lot of non-denominational people/churches here.  The top four questions I think I’ve heard in the last eight months are:

1) When are you leaving?
2) Why are you here?
3) Do you know ___? He’s really big in the States.
4) What is your church back home like?
The first three I could answer in my sleep – or even in a coma.  The fourth one I wrestle with how to answer.  Almost always I start out by saying that we’re from the Lutheran church in the States.  There are about 4 million people who call our churches home, and the “Lutheran” here isn’t a great description of the “Lutheran” there.  We have all kinds of worship from nearly Catholic to non-denominational in style.
But this has become boring to me – and I think that most of the people I’ve told this to don’t entirely get it.  Their church experience is so far outside of the denominational existence that it doesn’t make sense – not to mention that the diversity of our worship styles and what a Lutheran is, doesn’t make sense.  I’m not judging them, it’s just true – the structure of denominations, especially ones in the States and Lutherans specifically, is just outside of what they know.
So I’ve come up with a new way to answer the question, one which I hope can bridge the gap between our cultures, and our church cultures.  (I may not use it much soon since we are about to leave South Africa…)  “What is your church back home like?” someone will ask.  “Well,” I’ll respond, “my church is kind of like yours.  It’s a multi-site church – we even have them all over the country.  Every few years we spin off a couple more churches.  Some of them don’t make it, but some do and lots of people come to relationship with Jesus.  Oh, and our preaching is similar to yours, too.  We do sermon series just like you do – ours are titled things like “Hey Everyone – God Lives!” (Easter), “Jesus Stories” (Time after Pentecost), “Re:flect/think/new” (Lent), and “Jesus Is…Wait for It, Wait for it…” (Advent).  And our worship is similar to yours, too.  We call your “preach” a “sermon” or “message”, and we have songs, too.  We have time for people to come right with God that we call “Confession and Forgiveness” – not too different from you.  And we do baptisms, and communion, an offering, and pray a lot.”
And then, depending on how I’m feeling I might add in: “Oh, yeah, all those church sites I told you about?  My church has about 10,000 of them.”
Not only is it a new way to describe my church for other people…it’s a new way for me to think about my church.  We do sermon series, like non-denominational churches…they are just different.  We plant new churches, like they do.  We bring people into relationship with God, too – we just don’t talk about it in the same way.
Sometimes it’s good to rethink and reflect on my own church.  Sometimes it’s good to renew how I look at it and perceive it.  Sometimes it seems like Lutherans and non-denominationals, or even denominationals and non-denominationals, are millions of miles  (or kilometers) apart in how we do worship and church in general.
But sometimes a re-framing of who we are and who they are can show how similar we all really are.  Not the same, for sure…but we have common ground on which we can stand and where we can be in relationship.  The non-denominational churches we’ve been a part of here – RedPoint and Urban Life – are very different than my Lutherans…but they are still our brothers and sisters in Christ.
And I thank God for them, and for the new view of my own Evangelical Lutheran Church in America that I now have.
Will

Identities Are Who We Are.

I’ve been thinking a lot about identity this year. Specifically, my own identity. I’ve been having trouble finding ways to define myself this year and as I reflected on that, I realized that I have had a hard time in that area for the past 3 years.

In America, we are what we do. When people ask, “who are you?”, the first thing given is a name and then an occupation. When you file forms for taxes or apply for visas or passports or any number of other paperwork, they ask for your occupation. We are usually defined in our lives primarily by what we do, not who we are in the rest of our selves.

This reality has been a huge struggle for me since I graduated from seminary. For over a decade leading up to that point, I had already started telling people that I was (going to be) a pastor. I had my eyes on that prize and I knew who I was and could see who I was going to be. I was excited and I felt complete in that calling, in that identity.

When I graduated and didn’t receive a call…I was devastated.

Well, at first I wasn’t. I was dating a really great guy. I had been assigned to the synod of my dreams. I was willing to wait a bit longer to see my dreams come true and not sacrifice my authenticity to take the first call that came my way just because I was desperate. I was trusting the Spirit had it all figured out. I was still a pastor. I was just a pastor on hold. I would just find a job (or 3) to make ends meet until I got to live into my true identity.

But then the hits really started coming spiritually and personally. The process was taking too long. My paperwork got lost. I was told of things I was supposed to have done after the fact, instead of before they happened in the call process. I was tossed around and torn apart. I was pushed aside and pulled under. And suddenly I started to realize that I wasn’t a pastor. I wasn’t going to be a pastor. The system didn’t think I could do it. God didn’t think I could do it.

I went from pastor to victim.

And that was the way that others saw me as well. I was looked over for friends’ weddings and pulpit supply because I wasn’t ordained. I was watching the students in the classes behind me graduate and get calls…twice (now going on three times). I went to their ordinations and cried-happy for them, hurting for myself. I am looked at by others in and around the system as “the girl who didn’t get a call”. As others haves struggles with their call processes, they are afraid to talk to me because they say their story doesn’t compare to mine, so they can’t complain. I am known as a victim.

And victim is who I have been for the past 3 years. Victim has been my identity.

So, who am I when that situation changes?

The months of March and April have been a bit interesting in the realm of call processes for Will and I. As I wrote about before, we didn’t get assigned in February so we have been spending the past two months sort of figuring things out. We got assigned to the Montana synod. We had some interviews. They have gone well. And now these two parishes are both making moves to call us. It actually looks like I may be a pastor again. But I’m not sure I know how to do that anymore.

See, these past 3 years have really taken a toll on my faith walk and my identity. I have done a lot of soul-searching and have always felt like God was still calling me to be a pastor. Yet, with all the negative things that were happening in that process, I began to doubt myself. I began to doubt my call. I began to lose my confidence and my compassion for the system. If it took this long, how can I actually be able to do this? Do I even remember what I’m supposed to say and do? What if I fail? What if I have lived too long in the identity of victim that I don’t know who pastor Katie is?

So, depending on how things go, we’ll find out.

The center of our theology as Christians is death and resurrection. We cling to it with all that we have. We believe that God has the ability to turn anything around, even up to changing death to life. We have been crucified with Christ and we rise again in him. I preach this as the focus of my personal theology. The Spirit moves us to let death come to some things so that brilliant new things may be born.

The Spirit is calling me to kill the victim in me. My identity as victim must die because my identity as pastor must be born anew. And it will be. This identity will not be that of only the future of myself. It will not be like the old Katie pastor. Something new is being born in me.

I am a crucified and claimed child of God first and foremost and that is where my identity must stem from.

I am a pastor. That is my job, my station, and my vocation.

I am Katie.

It’s who I am.

Much love (and prayers as we move forward in these call proceedings and we move to Cameroon this week)

Katie

Spitting in the Face of Xenophobia With Love.

As some of you may have heard, the past few weeks have been a bit scary for those who live in South Africa-especially those who are not originally from here. Even the peace rallies and marches have mostly ended in violence or some sort of opposition. It’s been a little crazy here knowing that all of this is happening just a few kilometers away from where Will and I stay, but last weekend you wouldn’t have known that was happening in this country.

Last weekend, Will and I (finally) made a trip to Rustenburg. This is something we had been planning on doing since last February when we found out that Will had received the Preaching Fellowship. The plan was to spend an extended period of time- at one point we had planned on as much as 4 months- in and around Rustenburg working with and learning from the Lutheran churches in the ELCSA-Western Diocese. As the months of us coming to South Africa approached, we hadn’t gotten a hold of the bishops here. Then through our time in the Durban area, we still couldn’t make connections. Then we moved up to Midrand, two months after we had originally planned to, and still, nothing. So, two weeks before the date of leaving South Africa, we decided that we couldn’t wait for permission anymore. We went to Rustenburg.

See, Rustenburg is an important place to me. It is the place that my parents stayed when they were in South Africa. It is the city that houses the synod office of the ELCSA-Western Diocese. And, most importantly, it is the place where the only people I knew before coming here live. It is where some of my very close friends live and I had to see them, and boy am I glad I did.

When I worked as a camp counselor in Wisconsin, my camp had a partnership through the synod with South Africa. Every summer that I spent there, I got to meet, learn from, and become close friends with South African camp counselors. And every year at the end of the summer, I would have to say good bye to them, not knowing if I would ever see them again.

Gontse Ernst is the exception to that rule. He worked for Crossways in 2005, my second summer as a counselor. We got quite close that summer through our work together, especially on day camps. I felt a strong connection with him. I think everybody did. Gontse is very personable and warm and outgoing and loving. People can’t help love him and see the work of God in him. His faith exploded from him. At the end of that summer, we had a going away party and he went back to South Africa. But, in 2008, he showed up again at camp, along with the two other people Will and I visited this weekend, Lesego and Sbu. And again he was in Minnesota a few years later visiting people from camp. Gontse has a way of making people feel like them matter. He is going back to the States again this summer to visit.

Anyway, that’s just back story

Last weekend, Will and I drove to Rustenburg with the plan of seeing these people and going to church. The warmth with which we were received was beyond powerful. For 2 days, Will and I were the only white people. For 2 days, in a country being torn apart by racial and colored differences, Will and I didn’t feel unsafe for a moment. The thing is, we were loved. Wholly and completely. We laughed and praised God. We ate and made conversation. We were welcomed with open arms into multiple homes of people who had never met before. With the exception of the way people were staring at the white woman singing in setswana and dancing in worship, there was no awkwardness about our being there. Cultural and racial differences aside, we belonged there. We made countless new friends just because we showed up. And that is life here.

Saying goodbye again was perhaps the hardest thing I’ve had to do in South Africa.

I do not understand xenophobia. I don’t understand hatred of other people based on something that they cannot help. I don’t understand ending another person’s life intentionally. And I wish that I could say that I was accepting of all people, but I learned this weekend that my ability to love and accept pales in comparison to that of my South African brothers (and sisters).

You hear about the violence of Africa, of the numerous wars and battles that are waged every day on this continent and I hear about how afraid people are for us. You hear of the hatred against people of other religions and skin colors and you worry that we are not safe here. But that is not the whole story.

You tell me of the dangers of Africa and I will tell you of the boundless love.

Thank you, Gontse, Sbu, Lesego, and Naticia, especially. I love you and look forward to the day that I can truly show you how great that love is and to return the hospitality you have shown me.

Until we meet again.

Much love,

Katie

Excrement, statues, foreigners, and riots

A strange assortment of things in the title, I know.  But trust me, I can connect them all.

While a lot of what we’ve been doing has been studying churches and preaching, all of that is done within the South African cultural context, which is quite different from the overarching US context.

For a VERY brief background, which some of you may know some of, here is probably the briefest history of South Africa ever.

Blacks (it’s ok to say that here) were living here when Europeans first arrived in the 1400s.  Whites slowly came until the 1600s, when the first “colony” was started by the Dutch.  The British took over the colony around 1800, then there were independence wars between Zulus and Whites, and British and Boers, and individual republics.  Lots of bloodshed.  Indians (from India) came in the 1800s.  Early 1900s, South Africa becomes a country (under Britain).  Post WWII it became a republic and the apartheid government took over.  There are about 50 million people in South Africa – 80% black, White about 9%, Colored about 9%, Indian 2%.  (500 years in about 100 words – it’s a pretty rough modern history)

But all that to bring the title into a little bit of context.  The large majority of South Africans are not white, the history has been one of war and injustice toward different groups – white against white, white against black, white against non-white.  But it has also been a history of independence of spirit, fighting against the odds, and coming together to get things done.  It is a rich and varied history, but 20 years after democracy, one still fraught with the ghosts of the past.

Just last week, the University of Cape Town council declared that they would take down a statue of Cecil Rhodes, a white 19th century businessman and politician, after about a month of protests from black students who see the statue as a sign of white imperialism.  At one point excrement was poured on part of the statue.

There were protests as well last week about the Nelson Mandela statue at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.  The crowd that gathered in protest of the statues claimed that Madiba (Mandela) sold out to the whites when he became president.

Statues of King George, Queen Elizabeth, Mahatma Gandhi, Paul Kruger, and some others, have all been vandalized as well.

But that’s not all that’s been going on here in recent weeks.

There have been a series of xenophobic attacks in different cities.  Crowds are targeting immigrants from other African countries, hoping to drive them out of South Africa.  At least part of this is because some South Africans believe these foreigners are stealing their jobs.  Stores have been looted; there have been protests, riots, beatings, and killings.

Just yesterday about 10,000 people took part in a peace march against this violence in Durban.  The march ended in chaos, however, which you can read about here.  (The BBC has a few articles on all this if you’d like to check it out more.)

There are many people who have come to this country to seek a better life, who work hard, who just want to be able to live in peace and support their families.  Many are now scared to go out and to go to work.  They’re scared to go to church, to go to the shops, or anywhere.

Please, please pray for this nation, for its people, and for the foreigners here.  Please pray for peace, for understanding, for safety, for those who can’t defend themselves and for those who don’t know how to.  Pray for whatever else may be on your heart.  Keep this country in your thoughts, your prayers, your hearts.

Thanks,

Will

Happy Easter, Mephibosheth gets to eat!`

When you grow up going to churches that celebrate the big church holidays in the year in relatively the same way, it is odd spending those holidays in places that don’t celebrate or mark those occasions in the same way- or at all.

Christmas was odd. It was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and we didn’t do anything church related. The only reason that we got any church in on Christmas Eve was because Will and I sought out an Anglican church that happened to have a midnight service. At least we got a taste of our normalcy.

Not so with Holy Week and Easter.

The church that Will and I are staying at near Jo-burg is also a non-denominational church, loosely connected to the church we were primarily working with in Durban. Every year for Easter this family of churches puts on a production to bring people into the church and “see those far from God encounter the abundant life of Christ…”. There are movie clips that they film and testimonies. We put together banquet tables and there were free hot-crossed buns and coffee. It was really cool and hip and interesting and any other week could have totally impacted me, but is this really Holy Week?

On Good Friday, the focus story was about Cain and Abel. Though we would all like to be Abel, the devoted victim of [a] cruel and hateful acts, we are Cain. We are the attackers, the evil ones filled with hate. We are the condemned. We are not innocent.

Okay, I can get on board with that. We are all in need of grace. We are all sinners. But Abel wasn’t perfect either, which seemed to be the implication. And it’s Good Friday. Cain and Abel can be a really powerful story to prove the point that the pastor here was trying to prove. It was actually a pretty good sermon. The video that accompanied it had people in tears. It was great! But it was not Good Friday to me.

I don’t think Jesus’ death was mentioned even once. As Will wrote in his previous post, the grief in Good Friday is supposed to be there. Our God died that day. It’s important to sit in that. Without the death, what do we have? There was no resurrection without true, complete, undeniable, death.

Then on Easter, again, really neat things happened. I was even in charge of the food decor. There was a really impacting testimony of one of the congregation members that was beautiful and moving and a perfect example of the life-changing power of Christ. The Bible story that was preached on was about David welcoming a lame man, Mephibosheth, to his table for all time because he was Jonathon’s son. What an amazing story of generosity! And then it was tied into how we are welcomed, lame as we are, to the banquet table of Christ. Again, this was fairly well done and the message was incredible, but it wasn’t Easter to me.

There was no “CHRIST IS RISEN!!!” That fact was not even mentioned. Yes, Christ was already risen in the past. But we were all born in the past too. We still commemorate our birthdays. We still mark the 4th of July with fireworks. Some things are worth remembering and making a big deal of every year. We celebrate the risenness of Christ on this anniversary every year because it is important! Though we know Christ is already risen, the fact that he has completely come back from total deadness is the reason that we call him Savior. This is the reason we have Christianity. This is the reason we live and breathe and have new life!!!! It is important, nay imperative that we make a big deal out of Easter. We are Easter people.

Granted, as a “denominational” I have certain expectations that go along with Holy Week. I revel in hearing the earth-shattering story of all that happened to my Lord that week. That he was honored and adored on Palm Sunday for the glorious man/God he was. That he ate dinner with his betrayer and said that the salvific power of Holy Communion was even for him. That his friends both stood up for him and denied him. That he was beaten within an inch of his life and still would not deny the love he had for the world. That he promised the criminal he was dying with that they would be together in paradise. That God died…

….and then kicked death in the face and rose again.

This story is a story that I could never take for granted. A story that must be told over and over again. We must write it on our hearts and proclaim it with our lips.

Holy Week is not just another week. Easter is not just another Sunday.

It is the week for Christians. It is the Sunday for Christians

and for the whole world.

I’m all for creativity and am super impressed with the time, effort, and heart that was put into the production of last weekend. But I wish it would have been a different weekend.

The most important, the only message that matters on that day is this:

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

HALLELUJAH!!!!!

Much love,

Katie

Scrum! Ruck! Maul!

We went out to a rugby game last Saturday.  It wasn’t your typical rugby game.  It was a dirty, muddy, knee-wrenching, bone-crushing, head-banging, dog-piling game with broken scrums and long-running rucks.

Ok, so it was a typical rugby game.

It was the Blue Bulls of Pretoria against the Lions of Johannesburg.  It’s only an hour between the two cities, so the stands were full of both teams’ fans.  We went with one Bulls’ fan and one Lions’ fan, which made the night awesome.

But that wasn’t the only thing that made the night awesome.  It was held at Ellis Park, the same stadium that the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final was held in.  Ellis Park, where just after the transition to democracy, South Africa defeated the All Blacks of New Zealand in overtime of the final.  It was a moment captured well (according to many South Africans) in the movie Invictus.  It was cool to be in a place where history was made, and such an important history for a country.

In the pre-game last Saturday, a man in only whitey tighties ran onto the field, evading three security guards for quiet a while before finally being pulled down.

Finally, the game began, going back and forth for the whole first half (40 minutes).  Three points here, three points there.  At half, it was 9 to 6.  The second half continued much the same, until the final minute of the game.  With the score tied, the Bulls scored on a penalty kick to take the lead at 18-15.  But just a few seconds later, the Lions pounded over the try line to go up 20-18.  The subsequent kick ended the game at 22-18 as the time clicked off the clock.

Back and forth, down to the wire, dramatic finish – that’s a good game to go to.  I’m so glad we could go and experience it!  I’ll add some pictures of the game later – my camera and the computer are not communicating well with each other…

Will

Religion’s Bad Taste

Last week at Urban Life, someone prayed to this effect:

“God, we pray that we won’t be overcome by the religiosity of the somberness of Good Friday next week.”

The prayer continued, but my mind stuck on this line.  The “religiosity of the somberness of Good Friday”.

I didn’t say anything, but my insides were roiling.  I was confused, upset, unsure of what was going on.  Here’s why.

In non-denominational churches here, “religiosity” is something they try to avoid.  As are things that are “traditional”, things considered “religious”, and according to the leaders, formal theological education.  They don’t want to get bogged down in something that keeps them from focusing totally on Jesus and worshiping God.  Things that are considered religious, traditional, traditions, symbolic items, rituals, and not in the Bible, are not encouraged or are actively disdained.  (Clearly I am speaking in general – not every individual thinks exactly this way.)

So “religiosity” is a bad thing.

So being somber on Good Friday is a bad thing.  It’s bad because it’s traditional, “religious”, what churches normally do, empty of meaning.

And I get it, at least somewhat.  I don’t like religiosity.  I don’t like doing tradition or ritual for the sake of doing ritual or tradition.  Traditions that are empty of meaning, that are done “just because we’ve always done it this way”, are stupid.  Symbols that are used and no one knows why should not be used anymore, or the meaning should be taught.

But I also don’t think that the “somberness of Good Friday” falls into the “religiosity” category.  Sure, at some churches it might just be tradition, ritual, whatnot.  But I don’t see it that way.

Good Friday is somber.  It’s somber for a reason.  It’s somber because Jesus died – God died.  We wear black, we dim the lights, we leave in silence, we don’t say joyous words like “hallelujah”.

It’s not religiosity, it’s real life.  We are remembering that someone died, God died, as though it were happening again this year.  It’s not old, staunchy religion – it’s real, in the moment, I’m torn up inside because the one who’s supposed to be messiah, savior, hero, God…is getting brutally killed.  Not that Jesus is dying again – he died once for all – but we remember it as though it is our reality now.

Because it is our reality.  Jesus’ death is our reality.  On Friday we recall that as humans we mess up, we hurt our neighbor, our relationship with God, ourselves.  And because God loves us so very, very much, God came to earth and died to save us from death, so we can live with God.

But we killed God.  God died.  It’s sad.  It’s somber.  It’s not religious.  It’s life.

This Friday, Good Friday, the church here will be partying, trying to avoid the religiosity and somberness.  They will celebrate Easter on Friday and Sunday.  I will probably be cheerful on the outside as well on Friday.  But inside I will be somber, not for the ritual of it all, but because Jesus had to die before he could rise, darkness had to reach it’s deepest before the light, and there had to be grief before the joy.

Will