Who will love me for me?: Broken in a broken world

Questions and doubts…the world and our lives are full of them. In the sermon at Sunday’s service the senior pastor at the church where I work spoke about questions he had heard throughout his career, questions usually asked while sitting by the side of someone who had just experienced a great loss. People who answered him when he told them that Jesus is with them that they “didn’t want Jesus!” They wanted their loved one.

Here is where I have to stop and admit that I am terrible in church. Going to seminary basically ruined my ability to sit through a service without making some kind of comment. I am incredibly lucky to have found the church I am at because it is the first time in a long time that I have been able to sit through a service without wanting to get up and leave due to a bad sermon. Trust me, in my time I have heard some interesting ones that had little, if anything to do with God.

Anyway, the first thought that passed through my mind when he said that Jesus was with the person he was trying to comfort was, “Jesus is always the answer.” This is the smart ass comment my friends and I came up with in seminary. When you didn’t know the right answer to a question in class the safe bet was to simply go with Jesus. The thing is…there is some validity behind that answer.

For those following along in the online reading of the Bible in a year that I am doing we have made it all the way to Genesis 39. This is fitting because on this same Sunday one of the members of my youth group came up to ask me a question. She had been asked by one of her Sunday school students about Adam and Eve. Basically the question ran that if Adam and Eve were the first humans then did their children have children together? I knew at some point I was going to get one of these questions. These are the questions that young people struggle with. When you are still trying to figure out how the world works throwing the Bible into the mix is…well…confusing at best.

I started to think earlier this week about that question and about Sunday’s sermon. Along with the stories of loss, the senior pastor also shared some of the questions asked by the 8th and 9th grade confirmation students. They asked questions like, “Was Jesus really human?” and “Why does suffering happen?” Not an easy one in the bunch. In fact, some of the most difficult questions of humankind. The kind of questions that theologians have been struggling with for centuries. It does no good to answer these questions with platitudes or vague statements of “everything has its season” or “difficult times just make us stronger.” When you have lost someone important or you are struggling with whether or not God is really there vagueness is not enough.

Reading Genesis, in particular, we see that we all live under the burden of sin. The lack of trust that Adam and Eve showed in the garden and their striving to be like God has left us all sinful people in a sinful world. The Bible does not answer the question, at least not in a satisfying way for most 5th graders, where the people of the world came from, but then again, it isn’t meant to. What it does show us is that we are all sinful and we are all broken. Not even Abraham, who is the father of our faith, who had his faith reckoned to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6) trusted fully in the Lord. Abraham lied about his relationship to his wife Sarah in order to protect himself from Pharaoh when they were living in Egypt (Genesis 12:12-13). He did not trust God to protect him. No, even the greatest of the ancestors wasn’t perfect. He was broken and sinful.

Though we say it in a somewhat sarcastic tone the statement, “that’s why Jesus had to come” is true. Our sin and brokenness have created a rift with God. We live in a world that is full of sin and suffering, suffering that we created. We live in what Luther called “the already but the not yet.” We live in the old sinful world that is filled with pain and suffering. But, God still shows us mercy. Countless times in our Genesis reading we have seen that God has granted mercy to those who do not deserve it. He made Abraham the father of nations despite his lack of trust. He saved Lot from the destruction of Sodom despite his lolly-gagging (yes, I just used that in a sentence). He sent his Son to live among us, to be both fully man and fully God, and to die on the cross and rise again for the sake of a sinful world.

Suffering continues because we live in a world that has already seen and experienced the saving work of Jesus Christ, but this sinful world has not yet been put to an end. We all have, what my teacher (and Luther) call, an old adam/eve. It is this old adam/eve that is constantly being put to death in our everyday lives. It is through Christ that we become a new creation, but we will not be a completely new creation until our earthly life has ended. And so, we suffer and our mortal lives end.

But here is the important thing: God comes to us in our suffering. Often times, it is in our suffering that is the only time we can actually hear the word of God. It is often the only time we do not trust our own power to save or protect us. Despite our sin, despite our lack of trust, Christ has come. He has come to heal our brokenness.

So what do we tell those who suffer? What do we tell those who have lost someone? We tell them God hears them. God is with them. That God is always merciful, has always been merciful. As Paul says in Romans 8, “He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?” In our suffering we cry out to God because nothing, not even our sin, can separate us from the love of God. God loves us for who we are, the sinful, broken people we are. And nothing, nothing can keep us from the love of God. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). And his love is like nothing we have ever experienced.

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Starting the conversation…or why I am reading the Bible in a year

As I posted yesterday, my life has been undergoing quite a bit of reinvention lately. One of the major pieces of reinvention that has happened is that I am now happily employed in my dream job. Unexpected though this may have been, finding myself as the new Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Austin, MN gives me an opportunity to do some of my absolute favorite things: engage with people of all ages and to teach. Since November, when I began this position, I have had a chance to teach my students everything from Martin Luther’s “Freedom of a Christian” to giving them an Instagram photo challenge to take photos of various aspects of their faith life. We have had a lock-in and performed a pantomime during a Sunday sermon. And all of it has been great.

This week the biggest project I think I have ever taken on, if you don’t count the mammoth work that is the Spiritualizing Sherlock project on Sherlockian.net, begins. My students and I, along with many other people from church of various ages are taking on a year long reading of the Bible. It sounds more daunting than it actually is. I was able to find a reasonable daily breakdown of the text that takes the reader through an Old Testament text, a New Testament text, a Psalm, and a portion of a Proverb each day. Thanks to the wonder that is the Children, Youth, and Family’s administrative assistant, Emily Blain, I was able to set up the dates to begin the 1st of March. The entire study of the Bible will take place online, in an attempt to make such a reading a no pressure sort of thing. 

I’ve decided to use my blog as part of this project in the hope that more people will have access to what we are doing, that perhaps by posting content here this study could be easily shared with anyone who might be interested. While the Bible can often be an intimidating text, it is also the word of God that communicates to us the overwhelming and life changing love of God. Are there portions that won’t make sense to us, or portions that will challenge us to our very core? Sure. Of course. But, wrestling with the text, immersing oneself in the text is what people of all ages and faiths have been doing for centuries. Returning to the text again and again, the thing that will always continue to be central is that God always shows mercy. Even when God intended to destroy the entire world by flood due to its wickedness…there was Noah, who found favor in God’s sight (Genesis 6:1-8). God sent his Son to not only preach his word, but to die on the cross. Despite the overwhelming sin in the world God gives the promise of life. 

So, I hope this will garner some interest among varying groups. My intention is not to shove the Bible down anyone’s throat. Almost the exact opposite. I hope to do this reading to remind myself why I studied the Bible and theology for so long in a formal setting. To remind myself that I didn’t go to grad school for nothing. To show my students that their faith is based on something beyond powerful, despite the fact that God’s word is often twisted to suit our own needs.

This is a project about learning, about asking questions. I don’t have all the answers. Far from it. But, maybe we can start a conversation. An ongoing, open conversation about the word of God.

I will post the readings at the beginning of each month in order to not overwhelm anyone too much. I hope this opens up the conversation. I will do my best here. As one of my teacher’s likes to say when he doesn’t know the answer, “How about we have coffee later this week?” You know, gives me time to find a worthwhile answer. Now you know the secret to how theologians stall. 😉

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March 1 Gen 1:1‐2:25, Matt 1:1‐2:12, Ps 1:1‐6, Prov 1:1‐6

March 2 Gen 3:1‐4:26, Matt 2:13‐3:6, Ps 2:1‐12, Prov 1:7‐9

March 3 Gen 5:1‐7:24 , Matt 3:7‐4:11, Ps 3:1‐8, Prov 1:10‐19

March 4 Gen 8:1‐10:32, Matt 4:12‐25, Ps 4:1‐8, Prov 1:20‐23

March 5 Gen 11:1‐13:4, Matt 5:1‐26, Ps 5:1‐12, Prov 1:24‐28

March 6 Gen 13:5‐15:21, Matt 5:27‐48, Ps 6:1‐10, Prov 1:29‐33

March 7 Gen 16:1‐18:19, Matt 6:1‐24, Ps 7:1‐17, Prov 2:1‐5

March 8 Gen 18:20‐19:38, Matt 6:25‐7:14,Ps 8:1‐9, Prov 2:6‐15

March 9 Gen 20:1‐22:24, Matt 7:15‐29, Ps 9:1‐12, Prov 2:16‐22

March 10 Gen 23:1‐24:51, Matt 8:1‐17, Ps 9:13‐20, Prov 3:1‐6

March 11 Gen 24:52‐26:16, Matt 8:18‐34,Ps 10:1‐15, Prov 3:7‐8

March 12 Gen 26:17‐27:46, Matt 9:1‐17,Ps 10:16‐18, Prov 3:9‐10

March 13 Gen 28:1‐29:35, Matt 9:18‐38,Ps 11:1‐7, Prov 3:11‐12

March 14 Gen 30:1‐31:16, Matt 10:1‐25,Ps 12:1‐8, Prov 3:13‐15

March 15 Gen 31:17‐32:12, Matt 10:26‐11:6,Ps 13:1‐6, Prov 3:16‐18

March 16 Gen 32:13‐34:31, Matt 11:7‐30,Ps 14:1‐7, Prov 3:19‐20

March 17 Gen 35:1‐36:43, Matt 12:1‐21,Ps 15:1‐5, Prov 3:21‐26

March 18 Gen 37:1‐38:30, Matt 12:22‐45,Ps 16:1‐11, Prov 3:27‐32

March 19 Gen 39:1‐41:16, Matt 12:46‐13:23,Ps 17:1‐15, Prov 3:33‐35

March 20 Gen 41:17‐42:17, Matt 13:24‐46,Ps 18:1‐15, Prov 4:1‐6

March 21 Gen 42:18‐43:34, Matt 13:47‐14:12,Ps 18:16‐36, Prov 4:7‐10

March 22 Gen 44:1‐45:28, Matt 14:13‐36,Ps 18:37‐50, Prov 4:11‐13

March 23 Gen 46:1‐47:31, Matt 15:1‐28,Ps 19:1‐14, Prov 4:14‐19

March 24 Gen 48:1‐49:33, Matt 15:29‐16:12,Ps 20:1‐9, Prov 4:20‐27

March 25 Gen 50:1‐26; Ex 1:1‐2:10, Matt 16:13‐17:9, Ps 21:1‐13, Prov 5:1‐6

March 26 Ex 2:11‐3:22, Matt 17:10‐27, Ps 22:1‐18, Prov 5:7‐14

March 27 Ex 4:1‐5:21, Matt 18:1‐22, Ps 22:19‐31, Prov 5:15‐21

March 28 Ex 5:22‐7:24, Matt 18:23‐19:12,Ps 23:1‐6, Prov 5:22‐23

March 29 Ex 7:25‐9:35, Matt 19:13‐30, Ps 24:1‐10, Prov 6:1‐5

March 30 Ex 10:1‐12:13, Matt 20:1‐28, Ps 25:1‐15, Prov 6:6‐11

March 31 Ex 12:14‐13:16, Matt 20:29‐21:22,Ps 25:16‐22, Prov 6:12‐15

 

A little reinvention…

I have been in the process of a little reinvention lately. So, in that spirit, I have written a new “About” section for my blog. Take a look. Looking forward to getting back to writing….a lot of writing. Oh, and if anyone knows a good website designer, send them my way. 😉

Much love,

Lindsay

About The Overeducated Girl

“I am Lindsay Colwell. I am The Overeducated Girl.

I’m a Minnesota girl through and through, which means I am in love with a MN farm boy (TJ) and I wear sandals more months out of the year than I wear socks. I’m a rebel, what can I say?

I am an unconventional academic with two masters degrees in theology and the New Testament.

I spend my days as a youth leader to high school students, college students, and young adults at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Austin, MN. I teach, wrangle, lead, follow, equip, and accompany some amazing young people on their life and faith journeys.

I am a Sherlockian, which means I am a fan of all things Sherlock Holmes. I tweet about, write about, and research everything Sherlock Holmes. In particular, I spend my time considering how and where the world of Sherlock Holmes intersects with religion and theology over at www.sherlockian.net/religionproject with one of my favorite people, my partner in crime Chris Redmond.

I am all about reading and writing. Reading everything from the classics to my friends’ fan fiction. Writing everything from sermons to the next great American novel (which may or may not be in a folder somewhere on my desktop).

I am about saying exactly what I mean. I am about truth. I am about love in all of its forms. I am about spreading the love of God in a way that is actually Christian, not just another means of excluding people. I am about proclaiming the gospel of Jesus.

I am both a sinner and a saint. I am everyone’s big sister.

I am about loyalty and friendship. I am about forgiveness.

I am about living every moment of life, the sad ones as well as the ones filled with joy.”

Excommunication: Not Just For 16th Century Monks

I knew the day would come. I knew that one day I would finally be called out as the “heretic” I am. I just didn’t think it was going to happen on a Friday morning. In public. In a Caribou Coffee. While I was wearing yoga pants of all things.

Well, maybe not a heretic, but certainly I always knew the day would come when I would be asked to leave the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Church (WELS). For those of you who have no knowledge of church bodies it is one of the more conservative branches of Lutheranism in the United States. Here is a link to give you a little more information: http://www.wels.net/about-wels/doctrinal-statements/introduction. In a nutshell, I grew up in this church. When you glance through their beliefs on the roles of men and women you can see why I have always had a difficult time being a member of such a church. Nothing like being a member of a church, but having absolutely no voice or authority.

It all started when the pastor of the church I grew up in called me out of the blue because he had found out from my parents that I had moved back to town. I have never changed my membership to a different church partly because I have never felt settled enough to actually choose another church home. But, a big part of me always wanted a confrontation. In my life the number of wounds and scars inflicted on me from a place that should have been a safe place are too numerous to count. Needless to say, I was somewhat hesitant about going to this coffee.

The other interesting piece in this whole situation is that just that week (all of this having taken place a little over a month ago) I had started my new job as Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry at an ELCA Lutheran church in a nearby town. Again, for those not familiar, the ELCA is the most liberal Lutheran body, so I was earning no points.

I knew that I was going to go away from this meeting feeling terrible. I knew the minute he walked in the door that I was not going to be able to remain a member at the church I grew up in because of my new job. What I wasn’t prepared for was the conversation. The conversation that was guised in the form of a question of what the differences were that I had noticed in the two church bodies. I was not prepared to have my gender thrown in my face again. In particular, I was not ready to have my entire vocation called a mistake.

He told me I had made a mistake in taking my new job. He told me that my job as a Christian was to warn those in the ELCA of the sins that they were committing and then walk away, as though to preserve my own purity. I wish that throughout the conversation that I could have been more coherent. I wish that I could have used my massive amounts of education to defend my beliefs. I wish that I hadn’t crumbled into a weepy mess. I wish that I had felt like the 32 year old accomplished theologian that I am, and not the frightened and doubting 16 year old that I used to be.

However, there is one point on which I can hold my head up high. When he told me my new job was a mistake I could fix I looked at him hard and said, “I have been called to work with these kids. They need me. I won’t abandon them.” Moments like that I know the Holy Spirit hasn’t forsaken me. Also, me turning my back on this call would be a little like Jonah running away from Ninevah, and frankly I have no desire to end up in the belly of a whale.

And so I can now say that I have been excommunicated. As a friend said when I told him, “Are we in the 16th century and no one told me?” Or as another close friend said, “You should be proud! You are younger than Luther was when he was excommunicated!” Yep, I have dorky pastor friends. Lots of them. It sounds more dramatic than it is. The WELS church has closed communion, only members of the church can participate, so now that I am no longer a member I cannot commune there, hence, excommunicated. But, I am a rogue. I will find someone to hand over the sacraments to me. I’ve got lots of rebel friends. 😉

I have thrown myself into my new job. I work with high school students at the moment, but the ministry has room to grown into a college ministry as well as those in the first third of life. The students I work with are amazing. They are bright and energetic. They are talented young people with questions that push me to be a better teacher. One of my students asked me the other day about what it meant to be blessed. I think to be blessed means that you are given a clear sign that God has not forsaken you. It doesn’t mean that things will be easy for in this “old world” (our earthly life) sin and suffering run rampant. But, despite all of this God does not forsake us. God sends us hope. In this time of Advent we remember that God sent his only Son to save us from our sin. God sends us hope in the form of his servants, however they may be dressed, whether that is in the form of a listening ear or providing our next meal. These blessings don’t always come on our timeline, but they come.

I’ve heard lots of people at my new church say they are lucky to have found me. What they don’t know is that I am luckier to have found them. I was led to them when they needed me. God waited until I was finally ready and then put me in the place I was meant to be. If excommunication is my punishment for listening to the call of God, well then, I can live with that. As I say, I’m a rogue and a rebel. Might as well scream it from the rooftops.

A little perspective…not angry anymore

“I just want you to understand that I’m not angry anymore. No, I’m not angry anymore.”–Ani DiFranco

It has been a little under a week since I turned 32-years-old on the 13th. The last several days I have been able to celebrate with friends and family both in person and through the wonders of technology. I have also spent most of the last week in contemplation. It is completely natural to take stock of one’s life when another year passes us by. Most people do such things at the changing of the calendar year, at the turn of the seasons, or on holidays. Birthdays are no exception to this, in fact, they are probably when we examine our lives most closely. We see another year pass us by and we think, “What have I done with my life? Where is my life going?”

I’ve been considering the last year and a half of my life. My life has taken some interesting, often times painful, turns since March of 2012. I’ve been thinking about where I was in the scheme of my life during the summer of 2012. I was mired deep in the anger and shame of not being accepted into the PhD program at my seminary despite what I would call glowing recommendations by 2 well known professors, one of whom was keen to work with me as my advisor. I had no immediate job prospects and no real clear goal about what I wanted out of a professional life. Everything was uncertain. Then of course, only a month after my 31st birthday my beloved grandmother died suddenly. Her death changed my whole world.

While I was in the midst of being 31-years-old I would have told you that very little made sense, that I had every right to be angry and disappointed. It is quite possible that my 31-year-old self would even be right, but as I think back on that year I think things have gotten clearer. You can call it perspective gained or hindsight is 20-20, but I prefer to think of it as clarity.

Clarity that a PhD is neither something I want to pursue right now, nor should I have been trying to pursue it at the seminary. Clarity that despite the sadness of losing my grandmother I had been given the lifelong gifts of the things she taught me, as well as a home of my own to ground myself. Clarity that something bigger was on the horizon. Clarity that I would finally be given useful work in the world and the feeling that I can make a difference.

I began the age of 31 in a daze of confusion, overcome by the mania that comes with having no clear plan for the future. I felt alone and set adrift without a community to fall back on. I was so angry. There were days when I thought that anger would take me over completely.

Instead, I was given grace. I was given the gift of a home that my husband and I could call our own, that our lives would be different. I fell in with a community of Sherlockians (fans of Sherlock Holmes) online completely by accident. Within that community I was given four women in particular who took me in, lifted me up, and reminded me of who I am. They reminded me that I have something wonderful to contribute to the world. They helped me see that a new life could work. Despite the death of certain friendships this last year I have been bolstered by the most amazing people who seemed to come out of nowhere only to take their place deep within my heart.

In the course of one year the whole trajectory of my life has changed. I have gone from being hurt and angry to calm and optimistic, well as optimistic as a realist can possibly be. I have been engaged in conversation for the last few months on Twitter with several academics about the current state of academia. In particular, Kelly J. Baker and Rebecca Schuman have been extremely influential in helping me see what life outside the norm can look like, as well as why it is important to shine a light on the inequalities in the academic world. I have been inspired by them. Their stories made me anxious to tell my own, but then I realized, I have. I’ve been telling my story here for the last year. I realized that I can contribute to the world of alternative academia without rehashing the mess that was the end of my life as a conventional academic. Most of all, I realized I am ready to move on. I’m ready to have a new life. A life bolstered by friends and family. A life full of connecting with people who are passionate and honest. I don’t need to tell anymore of my story because I have moved on. Finally, finally I am not angry anymore.

Digital Birthday Party

Ladies and Gentleman! This is your e-vite to my virtual birthday party this Saturday!  A group of my Sherlockian friends have agreed to watching and tweeting along two Sherlock Holmes movies Saturday, September 14, starting at 8pm ET/7pm CT.  We will begin the evening with the Granada series The Hound of the Baskervilles starring Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke.  We will then take a short break of about 30 minutes to replenish food and/or beverages, use the facilities, or as my friends in college used to say “smoke ’em if you got ’em” (cigarettes, that is, but only if you HAVE to). After the break we will reconvene with the 1970 classic film, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Join us for the witty banter, camaraderie, and you know, to celebrate my leveling up to 32. We will use the hashtag, #LindsayHolmes.  Hope to see you all there!

(The Granada series can be found on Amazon Instant or iTunes. It is no longer available on Netflix. The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is available to stream on Netflix. You can also rent it from iTunes or Amazon.)

The Wait is Over!

We are officially in our new house in Rochester! We have had many visitors in the week and a half that we have been here. My best friend, Sheryl made a trip down from St. Paul the day after we moved. Hard to resist the call of our favorite high school Chinese take-out place and early morning tea on the side porch. Labor Day brought with it grilling out on the patio, seminary friends visiting, and thankfully cooler temperatures.

Patio grill out

Labor Day: a day for grilling, sweet corn, and Scott attempting to climb…everything.

Smiling man in apple tree

No, for real. Scott was climbing everything. First the apple tree. At one point I had to jump on his back to keep him from trying to climb up on the roof.

The house is coming along slowly now that we are completely moved in. Soon, TJ, our roommate Dave, and I will not be living on top of each other. Thank God.

This morning I decided to get out of the house for a little while to have some time to myself. I walked five blocks down our street to the house that I grew up in. Yes, growing up my parents and my grandparents lived on the same street. I am always curious to see what the old house looks like, but my intended purpose of walking that direction was to go to the elementary school I attended. The old house is right next door to the elementary school so I didn’t have far to walk. I sat down on a swing and closed my eyes.

There are days when my life feels so hazy. Days when I don’t know what I am doing or where I will end up. Other days, I could close my eyes and open them to any point in my past, present, or future. I sat on the swing thinking about how it was the same swing I sat on in kindergarten when I got my first “kiss” from a boy. (He ran up and stole it from me before running off again.) With that thought in my head I started to pump my legs to make the swing go higher.

2 days away from turning 32 and there is still nothing better in the world than the feeling of getting a swing to go as high as possible.

There are good things on the horizon, both personally and for The Overeducated Girl. I am planning a relaunch in the coming months with a new look and more focused content. In the meantime, thanks for sticking it out with me during the craziest time of my life. I am really looking forward to sharing my new adventures with you all.