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April | 2012 | The 'CURE' for your Vocation

Archive for April, 2012

Well, McReaders, this is the last blog you’ll get from me. Wes will be taking over soon, and I’ll be done with seminary after 3 glorious years.

Thinking about the past 3 years is a bit overwhelming. As I’m leaving seminary, I’m not one of those prefect Presbyterians who passed all her ordination exams in the first try; I’m not walking out of seminary with a job in hand, ready to become ordained; I’m not in the minority. I am, once again, in the majority. I’m walking out of seminary with debt, no job, very little idea of where I am going to live, and a car that requires prayer each time to drive it down the Dan Ryan (which, given the shape it’s in, I don’t go down the Dan Ryan with it if I can help it). It’s not that I don’t have skills, I have mad skills. It’s just, there really aren’t many jobs out there. Recently, several people have asked me, “So, if you had to do it over, would you do it all again the same?”

Yes. I’d do it all over again and I would not do it differently. Here are a few reasons why:

1. I met Megan, Alex, TC, Sylvia, Tracy, Jon, Joe, Holly, Kim, Jason, Bong, Lilit, Ching Boi, Tyler, Ken, Lora, Matt, Jenny, Hannah, Amber, Molly, Han Kook, Dave, Kristi, Meredith, Kristin, Robyn, Tina, Karl, Michele, Vimary, Abby, Nathy, Nancy, Jeanine, Sergio, Kristin, Deanna, Mo, Stephanie, Melva, Kathi, Wes, Liz, Albert, Mike, Monica, Daniel, Sarah, Sarah, Katie Jo, Kate, Kirk, Jamie, Matt, Allison, Casey, Phil, Jeff, JC, Honna, Jake, Kelly, Megan, Sarah, Melvina, Delores, Kay, Sheila, Chris, Brenda, Peter, Heather, Jamie… the list is endless. This only includes the people that I could think of in 5 minutes and doesn’t include staff, professors, students from other seminaries, people in the community… Need I say more?

2. The friendly folks at the Starbucks at 55th and Woodlawn know my name.

3. I now know that Joel is an actual book in the Bible.

4. Ted Hiebert taught me Hebrew and Sarah Tanzer taught me Greek.

5. Janaan Hashim and Bob Cathey answered all my ridiculous questions and never told me to shut up. Ever.

6. I got to be Lib Caldwell’s EA.

7. If you ask nice enough, Luis will put on his Dracula cape.

8. Christine Vogel lets me cry in her office and Frank Yamada lets me cry in the halls.

9. Dr. Daniels made singing “Welcome Table” my favorite communion tradition.

10. Deb Mullen helped me accept who I was on my first day of classes.

11. Joann Lindstrom has a puppy in her office.

12. Sam Evans talks in a French accent when he’s in the office.

13. David Crawford is my friend and I know how hard he works for the seminary and the people there.

14. My classmates are fabulous dog-sitters, bird watchers, fish sitters, and plant waterers.

15. Melody Knowles taught me how to write a better paper.

16. Ted Hiebert made me re-think how I read the Bible.

17. Jennifer Ayers made me appreciate food and be thankful that I have it.

18. Ken Sawyer.

19. Ken Sawyer’s Mustache.

20. David Esterline’s wife’s cookies.

21. Knowing that Priscilla Rodriguez is always laughing at my facebook posts and understands my existential angst and will always have a hug for me.

22. Christine Vogel has a constant and steady supply of chocolate in her office.

23. No one reads the Psalms quite like Nanette Banks.

24. Dr. Frank Thomas taught me how to preach like I was on fire and then he made us go play in the snow.

25. Joann Lindstrom has my back.

26. Deb Kapp is an awesome cook at Iron Chef.

27. Monica actually smiles, you just have to know how to make her do it.

28. Natasha thinks I’ve already graduated.

29. I sort of have teacher crushes on Bob Cathey, Ted Hiebert, Lib Caldwell, Melody Knowles, and Janaan Hashim.

30. Community meals are always better food than I have in my apartment.

31. David Crawford often confuses me and Abby Mohaupt.

32. Boundaries don’t actually exist at McCormick despite Joann Lindstrom’s attempts at educating us.

33. Kimchi and Chapchae are two of my new favorite foods.

34. After being her EA, Abby Mohaupt and I now know that Lib Caldwell drinks Diet Coke at break and her Starbucks order is a grande unsweetened passion fruit iced tea.

35. I learned more about YAV’s than I ever imagined was possible.

36. I learned that Frank Yamada used to be in a band.

37. Anna Case-Winters lets me call her A.C. Dub.

38. Ken Crews can eat ungodly amounts of fast food in one sitting.

39. Deacon retreats aren’t the same without Christine Vogel present.

And last but not least…

40. The University of Chicago has a library. Thank God, or none of my work would have ever gotten done.

Well, that’s it. There are other things I could have talked about on here, but this is all I had time for, I have to finish a project for Bob Cathey. Go figure. Graduation, here I come!

Peace – Shelley D.

“So You Want to Start a New Church”: An Interview with Dr. Brad Braxton

Christine’s Corner – April 2012:

“So You Want to Start a New Church ….”: An interview with Dr. Brad Braxton
For the past two years Dr. Brad Braxton has served at McCormick as a Distinguished Visiting Scholar. He has taught classes in homiletics and New Testament, offered leadership throughout the seminary as a preacher, workshop leader, public lecturer, and all around vital member of our community. Now, he is preparing to leave McCormick for TWO (count ‘em) positions: one at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology as the Lois Craddock Perkins Chair in Homiletics, and the second as the founding Senior Pastor of The Open Church, a new congregation in Baltimore, Maryland, where he served in his first pastorate nearly 20 years ago. As part of my ongoing exploration of the emerging church in the 21st century, I sat down with Brad in mid-March to talk with him about this exciting endeavor.

So what was the inspiration for a new church plant and what kind of church did Brad envision?

Brad had a vision nearly a decade ago; he dreamed of starting a church. His ministry has taken him from Emory and Oxford Universities to his first pastorate at an urban church in Baltimore, MD; from the faculty at Wake Forest and Vanderbilt Universities to the historic pulpit of Riverside Church in New York City. His Riverside pastorate was a difficult one, and he resigned after less than a year. Yet he continued to hold fast to a vision of a radically diverse church committed to creative spiritual inspiration and courageous social justice activism. In spite of the disappointment about his brief stay at Riverside Church, he knew in his heart that he had another pastorate in him; his tenure at McCormick has been a healing time that allowed him to reconnect with that vision.

The church dreamed of would be “a church of the broad open daylight;” that is, it would be open to radical diversity in its theological positions, would welcome both Christian and interfaith dialogue, and would be both prophetic and persistent in its advocacy of social justice issues, including GLBTQ issues. The church would possess “a dialectic that balanced spiritual enrichment with community formation, grounded in a basic organizational “trinity” which he named as: the Bible, the by-laws, and the budget.
Brad’s previous pastorates have taught him that many congregational disputes involve the by-laws and the budget. He says that pastors need to be more insistent on emphasizing the theological nature of by-laws and budgets. In a recent meeting with leaders at The Open Church, Brad remarked, “Many divine dreams are derailed by demonic ‘hijackings’ of congregational governance structures.” Thus, he is working collaboratively with the leaders of The Open Church to create governance structures that promote congregational and pastoral creativity as well as management and fiscal accountability.

What makes Brad’s vision for The Open Church unique?

Brad has always been a leading advocate of social justice issues; in fact, he is one of the most visible African American heterosexual advocates for GLBTQ issues and believes that advocacy and evangelism are critical pieces of his ministry. He says it’s no accident that his vision for The Open Church would value radically diverse religious contexts and promote and support both ecumenicity and inter-religious dialogue. He envisions a church that will be deeply committed to teaching, global ministry, advocacy and supporting diverse models of family life that promote abundance and wholeness.

What obstacles did you encounter? And what made “the rough places plain”; in other words, what smoothed the way for this vision to become reality?

In his mid-twenties, Brad’s first pastorate had been at Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore. Over the years, he had maintained positive relationships with many of his former congregants. After his departure from Riverside, he rekindled the vision that came to him nearly a decade earlier and began to seriously consider the possibility of starting a new church. As part of the vision-casting process, he “cultivated conversations” with a number of his former congregants, many of whom still lived in Baltimore. While it seemed a long shot at the time, he “cast his bread upon the waters” hoping to find resources which would make the realization of his vision possible.

But where to begin?  During his past two years at McCormick, as our Distinguished Visiting Scholar, Brad had continued to dream without having any financial assurance that the dream would become reality.  He was almost ready to let the dream go when he was approached by Southern Methodist University and offered the endowed Lois Craddock Perkins Chair in Homiletics.  The university was willing to work out a flexible commuting arrangement, which would allow Brad and his family to live in Baltimore while Brad carries a full-teaching load, mentors students, and works with faculty colleagues.  What had seemed like an impossibility at the time began to take on the contours of reality because, in the words of Rev. Martha Simmons, one of Brad’s mentors, “God can always dream a bigger dream for us than we can dream for ourselves.”

In the interim before the offer from SMU came through, Brad called an October 2011 “interest meeting” in Baltimore for people interested in establishing a new, radically inclusive congregation.  55 people attended that three-hour meeting.  The theological foundation for the meeting was a 10-page vision statement Brad wrote in March 2011.  He first shared the statement with his most trusted confidante, his wife Lazetta.  After she significantly enhanced the vision statement, he shared it with other key members in his wisdom circle, some of whom attended the October 2011 interest meeting.

During the interest meeting, they prayed, sang, read scripture, and assembled in small discussion groups.  The positive spiritual energy in the meeting was palpable, according to Brad.  He knew then that something special was about to happen.

Realizing that this meeting could be a watershed moment in the life of The Open Church, he made two intentional moves.  First, he ensured that there was a video recording of the meeting.  Second, he invited Heather Cronk, his long-time friend and former student at Wake Forest Divinity School, to read the first quotation on the meeting agenda (the quotation consisted of the famous words from the social justice activist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”).  Heather is a white, lesbian GLBTQ social justice activist in Washington, DC, who has a Master of Divinity degree and at times has described herself as agnostic.  Brad proudly declares, “The first voice other than mine to speak officially at The Open Church was a white, agnostic lesbian.  When we say The Open Church is open, we mean open…to all!”

In the six months since the interest meeting, the group began to hold regular meetings.  Since December 2011, fifteen leaders have been having weekly telephone conferences with Brad.  Six leadership teams have been created to provide a basic structure and begin implementation of the vision of The Open Church: 1) steering team; 2) prayer and worship team; 3) congregational relations team;
4) stewardship team; 5) fiscal management team; and 6) social justice and civic engagement team.  The mission of the church is clearly evident in the focus of each team.  There are three dimensions that Brad considers essential in the establishing of this congregation.  The Open Church will be: 1) progressive;
2) prophetic; and 3) pluralistic.  He eagerly says it will be a place of “messy eclecticism.”

What’s your biggest dream for The Open Church?

Currently, the church meets once a month in a space rented from the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity in Baltimore; both worship and business take place at this meeting time.  By July of this year, when Brad and his family are completely relocated and settled in Baltimore, the leadership team is planning to move to twice monthly Sunday worship.  Brad envisions that this initial church plant in Baltimore will ultimately be the “mother church” of The Open Church.  He dreams that the model developed there will be contagious and give birth to satellites across the United States and eventually across the world.

Brad’s ultimate dream is that The Open Church will make an indelible mark on progressive Christianity, all to the glory of God.  And by the way: since Brad = Broad Meadow in Old English, it’s safe to say that Brad Braxton is, in his own words “living into my name!”  Much peace and blessing to Brad and to the future of The Open Church.

Next time:   “So You Want to Start a New Church…”   Brad Braxton’s Pointers on what you need to know beforehand.

Envisioning the Future: The Gift of Sharing

As we continue our discussion of our vision of the future church we welcome Stephanie Levan and her vision:

Here at McCormick, we worship together on a weekly basis.  Our worship is held in the common room, which is transformed from classroom to sanctuary every Wednesday afternoon and the lobby into a cafeteria for a community meal.  Recently, in honor of Maundy Wednesday/Thursday, our worship leaders decided to have the meal during the service rather than afterwards.  This set-up combined with a sermon that encouraged and provided ample time for a fruitful discussion, sparked my interest in sharing this particular blog.  At the end of the service we sang, “I Need You to Survive,” and it was one of the more moving experiences I’ve had in worship in quite awhile.

Here are the lyrics that struck me the most:

“I pray for you, you pray for me
I love you, I need you to survive
I won’t harm you with words from my mouth
I love you, I need you to survive”

Simple enough, right?

…and yet there is something so profound there — hidden among the simple words that were sung.

This song is about sharing:

the sharing of self.

Today’s churches offer many different things: refuge, beauty, education, help, support, programming, financial assistance, etc. etc. The list goes on and on. In my own church, every Sunday many people attend worship services in the morning. They smile. They ask the standard questions and make the standard comments: ‘How are you this morning?’ and ‘Good to see you this morning’. And while there is nothing really wrong with this line of standardization, I wonder what it might be like if we actually stopped and listened to the person we were conversing with. What if we actually listened for the answer, and sought to share part of ourselves with them as well …  in this community where we are taught that we are all people seeking redemption and salvation.

In Anne Jackson’s book, Permission to Speak Freely, she speaks of the gift of going second. The gift of sharing a piece of your story, your vulnerability or brokenness, first … and allowing that vulnerable piece of yourself be an invitation for the other person to share their own struggle.

If you’ve ever had that nagging feeling of struggle, discontentment, or even discombobulation of the mind or soul, then you know what I’m talking about. The gift that someone gives to you of sharing their stories of faith and struggle is sacred. This gift can give you the relieving ability to share your own story. On the flip side, I’ve had this gift shared with me, and then not taken advantage of it. Someone has shared their story with me and I have listened intently and still been reluctant to share my own story.  Why?

Where does that fear come from?  Where do we learn this?  How can we reconcile this as a community of faith?

Start sharing. Start sharing your story with your sisters and brothers. Share your joys and share your concerns. Laugh when you’re happy and cry when you’re sad. Allow others to help and support you. Ask challenging questions. Accept the love that is available around you. Take risks. Do what you need to do … but start sharing. Your openness might be the doorway to another person’s path to healing. How wonderful would it be to worship in a space where we can truly bring all of our struggles to our God, alongside our neighbors?

My challenge for myself and you, dear reader, is to start small. Share with one person. Reflect. Support. Share again. Come. Come unguarded in the presence of your God and allow your brothers and sisters to share in your sorrows and rejoicing.

Wouldn’t this be a great vision of the church for the future?  A place where we can share freely and without fear of judgement or condemning … a place of love, warm welcome, and invitation.  This is the church I long for …. and this is the safe space we can all start creating.

“you are important to me,
I need you to survive….”

Since Spring has sprung and the weather is warming, I thought it would be nice to introduce you to McCormick’s urban classroom: the city of Chicago. Chicago is a city of many incredible neighborhoods, each with its own flair. Once or twice a month I’ll highlight a new neighborhood, give a little history and introduce you to some of the fun things to do there. This week: Pilsen.

Pilsen is located near the heart of Chicago, bordering the Chicago River on the East and South sides, 16th Street to the North, and Western to the West. Originally named for a city in the Czech Republic, Pilsen is now home to Chicago’s Mexican community. Served by the Pink Line, Pilsen is easy to reach from just about anywhere in Chicago.

Me taking a really awkward picture in front of a garden, in Pilsen of course

My first visit here was last Friday, Good Friday, to participate in a Mexican tradition : Via Crucis Vivente (Link goes to a YouTube video of last year’s march), or “Living the Way of the Cross” which has been taking place in Pilsen for 37 years. The Via Crucis take place down 18th street, and provided a great opportunity to see much of the neighborhood. After that taste of Pilsen, I had to go back, so my wife, a friend and I went and spent the afternoon looking in the vintage shops and enjoying Mexican food and adult beverages.

My friend in front of a public art installation entitled, "Before I die"

Pilsen has an up and coming art scene, which is evident by its many art galleries and public art installations. Near the intersection of 18th and Halstead is a line of art galleries, open by appointment only, but really interesting to look at. If you come in by bus, don’t miss them. Another don’t miss gallery is the National Museum of Mexican Art. An added bonus, it’s free!

Coffee shop - and an example of some of the great architecture Pilsen has to offer!

One of the best things Pilsen is known for is food. Being a predominately Mexican neighborhood, you’ll be able to find some of the best authentic Mexican dishes Chicago has to offer. A favorite for many, or so I’ve been told, is Nuevo Leon, located on 18th near Ashland. Not only does Pilsen have good Mexican options, but Barbecue, Asian, and many more. Some of the best tortilla chips in Chicago are also made right here.

Lastly, Pilsen’s architecture is wonderful. There is a mix of old and new, everything is colorful and there is a lot of exciting history. For great examples, check out some of the churches in Pilsen, like St. Aldabert’s Catholic Church.

Check us out later this week for an update on visions for the Church, with a guest blogger, Stephanie Levan! Until then!

Iron Chef!

Iron Chef.

It’s not just a Japanese (or American) game show, it’s also how some of us from McCormick have a good time! Once a semester, Residence Life sponsors a cooking competition: Fall semester is for students, Spring for faculty and staff. The faculty/staff competition was held last Friday night, and was a blast. Here is a recap for those of you who missed it (all photos credit Sergio Centeno):

Students taste Team Food Processor's entree: Carrot and Goat Cheese Tart

The teams

Blender Team: Professor Lib Caldwell; Professor Deborah Kapp and Jamie Wasowski, Associate Director if Recruitment and Admissions

Can Opener Team: JC Cadwallader, Director of Recruitment and Admissions; Professor Joanne Lindstrom and President Frank Yamada

Food Processor Team: Jeff Japinga, Associate Dean Doctor of Ministry Programs; Lisa Radetski, Vice President of Seminary Relations and Development and Diane Sinish, Director of Residence Life

Rice Cooker Team: Marsha Lockwood, Assistant to the President; Alicia Rhine, Senior Administrative Assistant and Natasha Gaines, Director of Building and Grounds .

Can Opener Team prepping their entree: Carrot Ravioli

Secret Ingredient

CARROTS – All teams had to create at least 3 courses (Appetizer, Entree and Dessert) with carrots as the main ingredient.

Blender Team's Moroccan Carrot Dip


As a judge, I had the distinct pleasure of tasting each and every item lovingly prepared by the faculty and staff chef-testants. Everything was impressively good and it was a tough decision to make. Here’s a run down of what we had:

Blender Team: Moroccan Carrot Dip, Carrot Sliders with Plum Sauce, Sesame Carrot Slaw, Carrot Halwa (an Indian pudding) and Carrot Mimosas.

Can Opener Team: Citrus-y Carrot Salad, Carrot Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter Sauce and Carrot Cake Cookies.

Food Processor Team: Potato and Carrot Pancakes with dill sour cream, Carrot and Goat Cheese tart, “Drunken Bunny” (Carrot and Rum) Ice Cream and Carrot Mojitos.

Rice Cooker Team: Raw Carrot Dip (Not just raw carrots, but Marsha is a certified Raw Food Chef, so made with all raw ingredients), Quinoa and Carrot Pilaf, Pecan, Maple and Carrot Pudding and a Carrot Spritzer.

The Winner

Like I said before, it was a super tough decision. Each team did such an amazing job, using the secret ingredient in creative and tasty ways. In the end, though, there could only be one winner:

Senior Jennifer Ikoma-Motzko shows her support for the Rice Cooker Team

Rice Cooker Team!

McCormick takes community very seriously – we work hard together and we like to play hard together. We hope you can join us next Fall when my team will take home the trophy!

Happy Easter!

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