Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Can I get off the bus? Can I stand outside myself and look at my way of thinking as a critic of it? More specifically can this book, one among millions of books which we call the book, the Bible, call into question the whole way in which I, as a member of this society, understand the world? This is a point at which the experience of a foreign missionary has something to contribute. [...] [As] I have mentioned earlier, a portrait of Jesus can be happily accommodated in the premises of a Hindu missionary establishment, because Jesus has been painlessly incorporated into the Hindu worldview. The foreign missionary knows that this is not the conversion of India but the co-option of Jesus, the domestication of the gospel into the Hindu worldview. He only slowly begins to realize that the same thing has happened in the West. Jesus is understood in the light of the assumptions which control our culture. When 'reason' is invoked as a parallel or supplementary authority to 'Scripture' and 'tradition', what is happening is that Jesus is being co-opted into the reigning plausibility structure. But the business of the missionary, and the business of the Christian Church in any situation, is to challenge the plausibility structure in the light of God's revelation of the real meaning of history."
-- Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving Feast

David's elementary school has a long (i.e. 38 years!) tradition of hosting the kindergarten "thanksgiving feast"! The class has been preparing for weeks! The kids prepared costumes, butter, practiced songs, and did "grass-roots marketing" (i.e. we have been hearing about it the wholetime).

The picture below is the whole group of kindergarten students (all three classes) in position for their singing. They performed a number of great pieces, such as "What Were the Indians Doing?" and "Mr. Turkey!"

Here's a picture of David before the front rows filed in in front of him. (I had to crop him out from a group of other students. Sorry for the awkward picture.)

The event was a family affair. Just like most of the other kindergartners, the whole family showed up. Here's a shot of Emily and Mommy clapping and singing along!

Geocaching in Forest Park

This past weekend, David, Emily and I struck out into Forest Park with nothing more than a set of coordinates, a GPS receivers, a compass and ... well, okay, we also took the truck, our winter coats, and directions to parking that was within a quarter mile of our final destination.

I know I have mentioned it before on this blog, but the kids and I are occasional geocachers. We have not taken many opportunities to do so since coming to St. Louis, but we certainly enjoyed our two excursions into Forest Park this weekend! (The picture below is from Sunday, which was the second of our two excursions.)

Friday, November 21, 2008


Before the start of the Fall quarter, I offered to serve as a tutor through the Student Services office! It's an awfully good thing that I didn't know how busy the quarter was going to be: I thought that tutoring was a volunteer activity (it is not) and I figured I would have ample time to work with a fellow student or two (that was debatable)!

As I just pointed out, it turns out that tutoring is a student worker position, which was nice. Of course, I'm not going to accumulate a fortune working as few hours as I did this past quarter.

Early in the quarter, the Director of Student Services, Rev. Dr. Wally Becker, asked if I would be willing to work with a Hebrew student. I agreed. Before I'd even met with my first student, he gave me an opportunity to work with a second Hebrew student. I agreed. (Like I said: it was a good thing I didn't realize how busy the quarter would be.)

Tutoring is excellent! I get to be of help to other students who are working through the challenge of a new language, and I get to sharpen my own language skills through continued synthesis and re-presentation. And did I mention I get paid to do this?

In the coming quarter, I'll have the opportunity to continue with the two classmates who are taking Hebrew. (Basic Hebrew runs for three weeks into the Winter quarter, and then converts into the Hebrew Readings class for the last seven.) Moreover, Dr. Becker asked if I'd be willing to work with a student in Greek.

This last opportunity came as a pleasant surprise. Although I have a decent command of Biblical Greek (for a novice, that is), I did not score well on the qualifier. I had thought of retaking the qualifier to open up the possibility of tutoring Greek. But when the Fall quarter bogged down, I decided I was better off just sticking letting things ride as they were.

At any rate, I'm looking forward to working in the languages again during the Winter quarter. I hope it continues to be valuable for the poor guys stuck with me as their tutor!

"I am sure that he who is to preach and expound the Scripture and has no help from the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages but is to do his work solely with his mother tongue will certainly make many a pretty mistake. St. Augustine felt that too and held that there ought to be men in the church - especially those who are expected to deal with the Word - who are conversant with Greek and Hebrew, since the Holy Spirit has written the Old and the New Testament in these two languages. - Martin Luther, "To the Bohemian Brethren (1523)"

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Little Wonders

One of the things that never ceases to amaze me about the seminary community is the constant flood of unexpected encouragement and support.

I do not want to diminish the importance of regular supporters who express their love for our lives and labors through their prayers and gifts - these are invaluable as well! But these are commitments that faithful Christians have made and told us about. We never take these for granted, but they are of a different character. In one sense, we "expect" them.

Here are a handful:

* There have been countless "short-notice babysitting swaps" between us and other families out in the Woods. People bounce between apartments and are quick to supplement your refrigerator when you are missing something you need to save the trip to the market. Kids bounce in and out of the apartments (especially during the summer) and the parents keep an eye on one another's kids. I have seen others' loan one another cars to solve the "single family car problem" when it comes up. I would love to list all of the examples we have experienced or observed, but there isn't time or space! It would end up being a directory of everyone living in the Woods!

* In the middle of the quarter, I was struggling with the question of being here and feeling wholely inadequate. At that point, every waking moment had been devoted to studying if it wasn't spent in class or having meals with Heather and the kids. Despite this, I had received a round of "grades" that were ... um ... not what I was accustomed to. Dr. Utech, my professor for Pastoral Ministry, stayed after class to talk to me about it one day. He did not try to blow it off. He did not try to diminish the significance of my concerns. He encouraged me with the knowledge that I had been encouraged in this path by my church, my district, the synod and my peers. He observed that I seemed to be going through one of those periods of heightened "tentatio" (i.e. temptation). He shared with me from his own experiences in the earliest years of his seminary education. At no time did it seem like he had any other place he'd rather be. It is a great joy that we are being formed by men who are themselves pastors.

* One of the seminary's evaluation techniques is an instrument called the Millon Index of Personality Styles (MIPS) test. While the feedback provided by this instrument was accurate (based my own results and my classmates' observations), it was blunt and picked at some real scabs. Most of us walked out of the sessions where we receieved our results in a state of shock. Tough love, indeed! Mine poked right at those areas that had given me the greatest pause when contemplating even coming to seminary in the first place. It was as though the test results were saying: "You were right to worry about this! What ARE you doing here?" A week of thinking them over helped to soften the impact somewhat; most of us realized the question was now "Okay, what have we learned and what are we going to do about this?" But the best encouragement I received was from Professor Egger, with whom I read Hebrew on Monday and Thursday mornings. When I shared my distress about the feedback I had received, he said: "Remember that you are the same person today that you were when you walked in to receive the results of the test." Did I mention that the faculty here are top notch lovers of God's children?

* There is a couple on campus (Concordia Seminary also forms women for service as Deaconnesses) that I met over the summer. Both of them (their names are JJ and Sarah) are wonderful people who seem to be everywhere doing everything. (In another walk of life, I would have called these two a "power couple", but the label does not fit two such servants.) Early in the quarter they offered to come by and watch David and Emily so Heather and I could have an evening out. (How many places do YOU know that turn up free babysitting?) We had a good time; they had a good time with the kids; I think David and Emily are ready to trade up for a new set of parents!

* I received an email from Pastor Adam Parvey, the new pastor at my parents' church in Springfield, MO. He wrote mid-way through the quarter to introduce himself, ask how he could be praying for us, and asking how things were going in general. As a recent seminary graduate himself, he is naturally very understanding about the experience here. But he wrote us! And he's praying for us! Someone I've never met is praying for my family and me. God's gifts never cease.

John 21:25 (ESV)
25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Strange Thing Happened

As I've already mentioned elsewhere, I've been assigned to Lutheran Senior Services for my institutional field work assignment. Throughout the quarter, my fellow detailees and I have been hoofing it out to Breeze Park in St. Charles. Because of the I-64/40 construction, this is a forty minute trip (one-way)!

I was on my way out this Sunday, but I needed to work on a few "pastoral care reports" which we fill out when we enjoy repeat visits with the residents. I decided to stop by Starbucks on my way and fill them out over a cup of coffee. (My Starbucks consumption has gone WAY down during the past year! But I had not celebrated the "end of the quarter" in any way, so that was my excuse.)

I ordered my cappuccino (told you I was celebrating!) and when the barista brought it to me, I tried to give her my money. She said, "Don't worry about it." It took me half a second to realize what was going on. I was dressed like this...

It turns out that Dcs. Pitkin had encouraged us to "try visiting residents wearing our clericals to see how the residents' reactions would change." I'm not sure what kind of change she was expecting, but I received a range of reactions: from ambivalent to very positive. So I continued to wear them as I visited with residents throughout the quarter.

Now, I'm not going to tell you how I responded to the offer of free coffee at Starbucks, because there will be as many opinions about what's appropriate as there will be readers of this post. However,here is a quick run down of my thoughts:

1) I think it is marvelous that there continue to be clear demonstrations of appreciation (whether corporate or individual, I cannot say) for clergy. There are many possible explanations for this, but almost all of them are good.

2) There is the very real possibility of someone else seeing this as "taking advantage" of a position of public trust. I would never dream of going into a Starbucks with my clerical garb on with the goal of getting free coffee, but nobody else knows that just to look at me.

3) If an individual were to respond in this way from some sense of guilt or out of an inappropriately high view of the clergy (as earthly authority figures), then accepting the offer would reinforce that.

As you can see, there was a lot that flashed through my mind at that moment. As you can imagine, it was not appropriate to stand there with the barista and conduct an impromptu Q&A to figure out WHY I was being extended this generosity. The offer was there, and I had to decide how to respond. So I did what I ended up doing and trusted the Lord would sort out how it was received by those who were close enough to see or hear it transpire.

I welcome your comments...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Looking Ahead through the Rear View Mirror

As I was walking to campus on Friday afternoon for some last minute studying in the library for my Hebrew final, I witnessed the Greek students taking the traditional "dip in the fountain" that marked the successful completion of their competency exam! The Concordia Blog Cabin has a new post with video of the latest batch of "competent" Greek students. (You may remember a recent post describing a similar event. Of course, it was a LOT warmer then!)

A lot has happened since then. Here were my classes:

Pastoral Ministry - an introduction to the Office of the Ministry and its modern context. Readings included Loving the Church you Lead by David Hansen, Becoming a Contagious Christian by Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg, Ministering Cross-Culturally by Sherwood Lingenfelter, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, and Bo Giertz' The Hammer of God.

Lutheran Mind - an overview of key Lutheran hermeneutical lenses, such as: law/Gospel, two kinds of righteousness, two kingdoms (or realms), proclamation versus explanation, etc.

Introduction to Historical Theology - a methods course focused on reading and analyzing primary sources in light of their historical context

Greek and Hebrew Readings - intended to be intermediate grammar classes in both languages; we would translate pericope-length passages outside of class and review our work together in class

I'm looking forward to classes for next quarter:

Confessions I - the Augsburg Confession and the Apology to the same

Worship I - introduction to the theology and history of Christian worship in general and its Lutheran expressions

Theology of Missions - introduction to the theology of... well, just guess! I am working through one of the books for this class over break. For one of the book review assignments in the class, we get to pick from a long list. I chose Lesslie Newbigin's The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. (We'll get to read another book by Newbigin during the quarter called The Open Secret.)

Hermeneutics - the name says it all... (or at least the hyperlink to Wiktionary should help)

More to come... stay tuned...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

"It is obvious that the story of the empty tomb cannot be fitted into our contemporary worldview, or indeed into any worldview except one of which it is the starting point. That is, indeed, the whole point." "One does not defend this new perspective by trying to demonstrate its compatibility with the old. One challenges the old with the demand and the offer of a death and a new birth."
-- Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society

A Stack o' Things to Write About

My first regular academic quarter came to an end with the completion of my last final (in Hebrew Readings) at 3PM on Friday, 14 November.

For those who will immediately ask: I have no idea how my grades turned out, and I won't know until the first week of the next quarter. But perhaps you've hear the running joke: "You know what they call a seminary graduate with a C average?" "Pastor."

For what it is worth, I believe I did better than carry a C average, but the experience has been interesting, exciting and challenging! As you probably noticed, I haven't posted to the blog since before the quarter started... it really has been that busy! But my plan is to make up for it over break. I have been accumulating a set of "reminders" and information next to my computer about the things I've wanted to write this quarter. So I plan to start publishing them day-by-day over break.

So stay tuned, and I'll try to catch everyone up on the activities of the "Rosenkoetter family at seminary"...