Clean & Unclean

This semester, I am taking Witness of the Gospels, a class where we look at all four Gospels and how they came to be, as well as what they are actually saying through the original language. At the beginning of the semester, we were given one text from each Gospel and were asked to choose one to work with for eighteen weeks. I chose Mark 7:24-30, the story of the Syrophoenician woman:

From there [Jesus] set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. 

During my drama class in January, we worked a little with this text, and I wanted to know more about it. We did quite a bit of exegetical work (figuring out what the Greek is saying), and then wrote a heady, academic paper that was actually really helpful in deciphering the real message. Then, we were graced with the integrative project. The task? To use what we found in our exegetical work to creatively present the text. Some of my classmates wrote really insightful sermons, some wrote beautiful and/or hysterical songs, and some created visual art. It has been a huge blessing to see my friends use their talents to creatively preach the word of God.

For my project, I took a cue from the Woman at the Well video that I found a few years back. If you haven't seen it, watch it immediately, it's incredible. Anyway, I wrote a slam poetry monologue based on this story, and then recorded it for the project. I've embedded the video below and included the text. This helped me learn quite a bit about the story of the Syrophoenician woman, and I really enjoyed creating this.

I am a woman, of no distinction, of little importance.
I am a woman who they say is unclean.
I avoid you in the street, if I’d touch you, you’d recoil.
And you can’t even see that I’m a person too,
I’m a person who is so much more like you,
Because clean and unclean may not mean what they seem.
This demon in my child, it has ripped us apart, cursing, beating, swearing, tearing, condemning, hating, shouting, doubting.
I have prayed and I have paid, in every way you could imagine, but this spirit haunts my daughter and shows no sign of release.
They say that you’ve healed others:
You can remove a leper’s spots and make a paralyzed man get up and walk, and give a withered hand new life and stop bleeding, pain and strife,
And I heard you healed a man who was unclean just like us;
We can’t help where we come from, and we don’t know why we weren’t chosen, but we know that we deserve to be loved like the rest,
Because clean and unclean may not mean what they seem.
They said that you would come to this house;
Close the curtains, lock the door, rest your feet, take some time, take some time just for you.
But there’s no time for my daughter, how much longer can she bear it?
I’ve sat across the road, hoping, wishing, praying, doubting, needing, for you to appear and release us from this pain.
So imagine my pain when you brush me off and cast aside
Comparing me to the dogs who roam the streets where they reside
I won’t bark but I’ll beg, and I’ll beg but won’t bite.
I’ll take what you can give us, crumbs and scraps from off the floor
That they would step on, sweep up, throw out, disregard, even ignore
I’ll take what you can give us, we haven’t gotten much before,
Because clean and unclean may not mean what they seem.
Now there’s a change in your eyes.
Did I offend, affront, insult or taunt?
I wait for the cold shoulder I’ve come to know so well, the one that chills my heart and lets my daughter’s demon dwell.
But then you do what I asked; you say my child is healed, that from here you made the demon yield.
I want to thank you or to kiss you or to show you what you’ve done
For me and for my daughter and our new life that’s just begun
But I can only turn and run
And when I see her I’m undone
Because she’s smiling, laughing, blinking, talking, doing all the things we’d missed.
I never saw your face again, but I heard about your words and deeds, the things you did for people like me
So when everyone asks how my daughter got well,
I tell them about the man who knows
That clean and unclean may not mean what they seem.
All items in this post ©Julie Stecker 2010. May not be used without permission.


Endorsed & Edified

Recently, I wrote about processing the process. At the time, I was struggling with penning my endorsement essay (endorsement being the next step towards rostered leadership in the ELCA). At the time, it seemed overwhelming and scary and I wasn't sure I could jump that hurdle. Luckily, I finished the essay the next day, giving me time to sit with it, have colleagues read over it, make the necessary revisions and submit it to my synod. Then, I began the waiting game; for two weeks, I went about my schoolwork, trying not to be nervous about the interview that loomed in the near future.

This past week was particularly stressful. I had a comprehensive exam on Monday, a book to be read and a paper to be written by Tuesday, and on Thursday, I handed in a huge exegetical paper that kept me in the library until 3:35 a.m. I was exhausted by the time Thursday night rolled around, and try as I might, I could not fall asleep for hours. Chalk it up to nerves or the copious amount of coffee I consumed on Thursday, but while I lay awake, all I could think about was my pending interview. I had no idea what to expect and was terrified that I would give an incorrect answer or make an unintentionally heretical theological statement.

Friday came soon enough, and after reading through my essay several times and receiving the affirmations of classmates and professors, I walked confidently to the location of my interview and was delighted to see the two members of my committee with whom I am most comfortable. After talking amongst themselves for a few minutes, I sat down with the members of my committee and a faculty member, and we engaged in one of the most life-giving conversations I've ever had. I'm not sure if I'm allowed to post what they asked, so we'll play it safe and just say that we talked about the various areas in which I have grown over the past year, and how my theological education has impacted my understanding of youth ministry. I realized new things about myself during the interview, and it has given me a renewed understanding of my own call to ministry. My personal victory? I didn't cry once. If you know me, you understand the significance!

Going into the interview, as I said, I was scared and overwhelmed. I came out on the other side refreshed and excited. The exact opposite of what I expected to happen. This says something about not letting our expectations dictate our experiences, and I think it was an important lesson to learn. But even more, I think I finally realized the core benefit of the Candidacy process. Certainly, it is in place to evaluate our qualifications to be rostered leaders and track our progress during theological education, but I think it's much deeper than that. The process can edify us. It can point to our baptism and remind us of how deeply it is connected to what we are doing now, and what we will do in the future.

Maybe I have a fantasy-like picture of how endorsement should go, but I can only speak from my own experience. My advice, for what it's worth, is to go into these interviews with an open mind and a willingness to learn new things about yourself, all while being true to who you are. Trust the process and seek the support of the great cloud of witnesses who are praying for you to have a positive experience. Breathe in, breathe out, and remember that you are a child of God.

Oh, and the results of my interview? I was recommended for endorsement by the members of my committee, and they will take their decision back to the full committee, who will vote on it in the near future. God is so faithful :]


Just sit

Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes...When [Job's friends] saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They sat with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. [Job 2:8, 12-13]
I have some dear friends who are struggling with significant pain right now, mostly due to loss of a loved one. Some are faring better than others, but pain is pain and grief is grief.

In the book of Job, a man has everything taken from him. His livestock die, his land is ruined, his health is shattered, and his children are killed. His wife tells him to curse God and die, just to end all of the suffering. But instead, Job takes a potsherd (literally a shard of pottery), scrapes off the sores that have plagued him, and sits in the midst of the ashes. In his grief, he can do nothing but sit.

His friends come along shortly thereafter, and while they will prove to be unhelpful later on, in that moment when Job can do nothing but sit, they in turn sit with him. For seven days and for seven nights they sit. Not because they were good at sitting or only desired to sit, or even because they thought that's what God was telling them to do. They sat for they saw his suffering was very great.

I'm not a sitter by nature. I'm a talker or a sympathizer or a fixer. But I'm learning to be a sitter. I've been blessed in the past by those who sit, when my suffering was very great. To have someone join me in the heap of ashes and practice the ministry of presence has brought healing to my soul without a single word uttered. So now, when it is my turn to comfort a friend in need, I am reminded that it is not always in the loving words we say or the sage advice we offer, but in the being with the ones we love.

Learn to sit. Let others sit with you. And start to be healed by the knowledge that you are loved and cherished and worthy of the time spent just sitting.


StuffChristiansLike Scorecard!

One of my favorite blogs is StuffChristiansLike.net. As if the blog weren't hilarious enough, there's also a book, and I'm just going to let you go ahead and read the blog/buy the book so you can split your sides and never forget to give a good Christian side hug.

Today, those of us who read SCL and also blog are putting together an incredibly important and helpful post today. It is something that every Christian needs to read and take to heart, because it the topic will have resounding impact on our culture for all time. The question you have all been asking: Is that contestant on American Idol a Christian?

John Acuff, the brains behind SCL, has linked back to all of these posts today, as we are each posting a different piece of the scorecard. Check them all out and and evaluate your favorite American Idol  contestant for how devout a Christian he or she may be ;]

67. They wear a promise keepers t-shirt that says “I love my wife” just to make sure everyone knows they’re taken = +2 points

To add up your score with over a 130 other ideas on this scorecard, visit stuffchristianslike.net!


One More Time With Feeling

I may or may not have mentioned that one of my favorite musicians is Regina Spektor. I saw her in concert many many moons ago (okay, in 2005) when she opened for the Killers and Keane, and I was less than impressed. Then Begin to Hope came out, and Fidelity is just so darn catchy and Samson so clever and gorgeous, I couldn't resist buying the whole album and falling in love. Begin to Hope is really a gateway Regina album: it's mainstream enough to have wide appeal, but once you've acclimated yourself to her sound, you start to love the quirkiness of Mary Ann Meets the Gravediggers and Soviet Kitsch and then you're on a slippery slope of looking for all of her unreleased concert tracks that are kinda weird but completely ingenious. I saw Regina in concert at Messiah in 2007, and it. was. increds. One of the best shows I've seen. If you can catch her live, DO IT.

So anyway, this summer, Far was released, and it's even better than Begin to Hope. It's more accessible and insanely catchy and good Lord I cannot stop listening to it. Go out and buy it right now and import it into your iTunes and watch the play count eclipse the play counts of all other albums. Except for Wicked, let's be honest. But anyway, I'm not getting paid to endorse this (I wish), I just want to spread the love. Especially the love for Human of the Year, which I would put on my top ten favorite songs of all time (and that is a hard list to break into). Here's a lyrical sampling:

Outside the cars are beeping
out a song just in your honor,
and though they do not know it
all mankind are now your brothers

And thus the cathedral had spoken
wishing well to all us sinners,
then with a sigh grew silent
'til next year's big human winner

Go get your life changed by the musical stylings of Miss Regina Spektor, resident antifolk goddess.