Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Advent Wreath DIY

     Sunday marks the first Sunday of Advent, so I came up with a few options for how you can make your own Advent Wreath at home. So before we get started, let's go over a few things we need to know before we start making wreaths. 

First, one of the most important parts of the wreath is the candles. We use candles a lot in church. Not only does it help set the tone, but we can also use it to help invite the Holy Spirit into our space. For Advent, it helps represent Christ’s coming into the world. Plus, if we look at the Gospel of John, we see how Jesus is often associated with light, and Jesus even declares it himself in chapter 8. So basically, candles = Jesus. 

Next, let’s think about the wreath itself. The circular shape is what is important here. The circle represents eternal life that is promised through Jesus. I have seen a few alternative wreaths that aren’t in a circle, for instance, people have put their advent candles on a log or in some sort of a line. You’re not going to go to advent jail for using one of those alternatives, but at least we have some background on why we use the round, wreath shape. 

Another thing to keep in mind is using some sort of evergreen branches. We use these to remind us of God’s faithfulness, even in death. You will notice if you’ve been to a funeral here, Pastor Repp will have some sort of evergreen branch with him, and dips it into the baptismal font, then sprinkles the water on the casket or urn of the departed. It’s the same connection with the wreath here. Now, I got really lucky and the maintenance people at my apartment complex actually trimmed a lot of the trees and bushes and forgot to clean up after themselves, so I have lots of trimmings. But, if you don’t have access to real evergreens, fake is fine. But I will say the real stuff smells really good and so it adds that aromatic reminder as well to the whole wreath. 

The last thing we need to talk about is the colors. You will notice at Grace we always use blue candles and use blue for anything advent related. Blue is used to represent hope, which is perfect for advent. In Advent, we wait at home for the coming of Christ. Now, you may notice other places will use purple or even pink for their candles. Purple is used to represent royalty. Obviously, that fits right in with Jesus, seeing as though we think of him as the King of Kings, or even remembering the Sunday right before Advent when we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. However, you may remember that purple is also used during Lent. In that season, purple is seen as a color of repentance. While repentance is still important all the time, it's a different focus for a different season. Therefore, we tend not to use purple candles. There is also often a pink candle that would be used on the 3rd Sunday of Advent. This is associated with rejoicing, coming specifically from Philippians 4. That reading used to be read every year on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, but now we have gone away from that and only have it once every 3 years, so that’s why we don’t use the pink candle. So even though we use blue candles here at Grace, you will totally be OK if you use the purple and pink candles. 

So today I have 3 different examples of wreaths I have made that I think you will be able to do at home. 

The Bowl Wreath

   The first option I did was what I call "The Bowl Wreath." This checks a lot of the boxes we need for a wreath. The bowl itself is circular, so that takes care of the roundness we get from a standard wreath. I also really like this bowl because I'm pretty sure it's made from natural wood. I found it at Goodwill for $2, but it had a name and date on it, so my assumption is that it was someone's shop project from school. I also filled the bowl with some of the clippings I found. I will note that I added some moss to the bottom, just to give it a bit more filling. Then all I needed to do was add my candles. Now, you may notice I didn’t add any blue to this wreath, but that is an easy fix. Blue can be added to the glass part of the candles, by painting them or adding washi tape. Or if you have any other small blue decorations to add in with the clippings, that works too!

The Plate Wreath

    The second option I made was what I call “The Plate Wreath.” Again, since the plate is round, we get the circular shape that we want for our wreaths. Then I added the clippings to make a base for my wreath. You may notice I tried to lay them down in a circular pattern to keep with the theme. Then I added my candles. The jars that are holding the candles are actually old yogurt jars. So if you want, you can use any sort of jars you want, like mason jars, or I’ve even seen small terra cotta planters used before too. With my jars, I also added a band of blue washi tape on them, so I was able to sneak in the blue that way. Again you can use blue candles, or even a blue plate to get the color in if you want.

The Foam Wreath

The third option will give you the most traditional looking wreath, and it’s what I am calling “The Foam Wreath.” I start out with a foam wreath base that I got at the dollar store. You can also get similar bases at any craft store. The first thing I did was to take a box cutter to make little wells for the candles to sit in. Then, to cover up the green foam, I first wrapped it in white ribbon. Now, the ribbon doesn’t need to be perfect, because we will be adding more later. Also, since I made the little wells for the candles, I cut into the ribbon so the candles would be able to go through. The next step after the ribbon is to add the evergreen garland. Now, if you have trimmings and you want to take the time to add real evergreens to your wreath, go for it. I just do not have the skill or the time to add all sorts of little branches to this kind of a wreath. So, I got the garland from the dollar store as well to still have the evergreen feel. The nice thing about the garland is that’s basically just wire, so to attach it to the wreath, I just have to twist it like the ties we have on bread bags. Then I just kept wrapping until I ran out of garland. It’s not incredibly long, so you don’t have to cut the garland if you don’t want to. Now the last step is to add the candles. I would say that for mine, I would prefer to hot glue the candles in place or have some sort of stabilizer like that. You may not need to do it on your wreath, depending on what kinds of candles you use, but for mine, I will add that later.

I will also note that for all of these wreaths I used real candles. I know sometimes when we have little members of our family, having real flames around isn’t the safest option, so feel free to use battery-powered candles as well.

    Now you have a few options to choose from, but the last question is, when do we use these? The first option is to light them when we light them during Sunday morning worship. We will do this in the beginning of the service. There will be a prayer, then the candles will be lit, and then will sing Light One Candle to Watch for Messiah. That would be the time to also light yours at home. 

We will also be having midweek Advent Evening Prayer services. When you join us for that, you can light your wreath then as well. 

The other option is to light your wreath during dinner time. If you keep your wreath on your kitchen or dining room table, you can light your wreath, do a table blessing, and have your wreath there for your meal as well. 

If you want more information about Advent Wreaths, the ELCA put out a great resource for us to use, and you can find that here: 

I hope this gives you some good ideas for how to make an advent wreath for your home if you don’t already have one! If you do make one, feel free to send me pictures!

Watch the YouTube Video here:

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

40 Songs for 40 Days

I'm one of those people who always has to have some sort of music playing. At work, I'll have my headphones on all day, I can't workout without my playlists, and I even have song selections for when I'm just cleaning around the house. I'm not always the most precise when it comes to expressing myself and my feelings (we all know I'm not shy, this is a whole other issue). If I become frustrated it's easier for me to show it than to explain it. Music gives me a way to put words to what I'm feeling or experiencing. Because I'm not the only one that connects to their favorite songs in this way, I've been looking for more ways to incorporate this in church.

Last year, I made a playlist with covers of all my favorite Christmas Hymns. I was really inspired by our Hops and Hymns events we put on. Everyone knows the songs and sings along, but we were in a whole new context of being located inside of a bar instead of a sanctuary, and we also have this cool dynamic when we have our assortment of musicians who come with everything from mandolins, and flutes, and various percussion instruments. It's this really cool version of church where everyone truly comes as they are and only offers what they can. With that in mind, I was looking for covers of these hymns, trying to find a way to put a new spin on all of our favorites. 

Once that was done, I started looking forward to Lent. My first thought was to do the same thing - find covers of all my favorite hymns. I learned that while many of the hymns are available on Spotify, most of them are performed by choirs or organs. Now, I have a great appreciation for both versions, but the songs I was finding were very similar to what we typically hear on Sunday mornings, which defeated the purpose of trying to put a new spin on these songs. 

Then I noticed a new trend emerging in youth and young adult ministry - taking the secular songs we already know and putting them in the context of our faith. I saw many different advent playlists along these lines. While I haven't seen many for Lent, I'm hoping this trend continues. So, when I saw this kind of playlist, I knew this would be right up my alley. 

So here we are, now with this playlist of 40 songs for 40 days. Now, this isn't all hymns, or all secular songs, but rather a mix of those and some contemporary Christian songs as well. Sometimes when you find a good song, you just have to include it and not worry about the rules you set for yourself. I tried my best to get a mix of different genres and decades, but if you look through the playlist, you'll definitely see the bias of a Millenial who listened to a lot of alternative throughout high school. To balance that out, I'll list my songs below, highlighting a few of my favorite selections and why I included them. Then, if you have your own favorites you think should go on the next playlist, feel free to comment or shoot me an e-mail at 


1. Dust in the Wind - Damned Anthem - Dust in the Wind is one of those songs that every youth director, pastor, or religion professor loves to use to show scripture in popular music. It's one of those songs that has become a cliche for a reason. While I agree this song belongs on this type of playlist, I've already heard the Kansas version a million times, and plus I think this cover is a pretty cool and different take on what we normally hear. 
2. Shake It Out - Florence + The Machine
3. Ghosts that We Knew - Mumford & Sons
4. Why - Skinny Living
5. I'm with You - Avril Lavigne
6. Washed by the Water - NEEDTOBREATHE -
 I will admit when I first found NEEDTOBREATHE I had no idea they were a Christian band. They pulled a Switchfoot on me, where you think they're this cool alternative band, but really there's lots of hidden theology in some of their more popular songs. This one is a little bit more obvious than others, but I would highly recommend checking out more of their stuff.
7. What I've Done - Linkin Park
8. All These Things That I've Done - The Killers
9. Fix You - Coldplay
10. Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season) - The Byrds
11. You Found Me - The Fray
12. Wherever You Will Go - The Calling
13. Your Guardian Angel - The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
14. Wake Me up When September Ends - Green Day
15. Everyday - Dave Matthews Band
16. Hero - Enrique Iglesias - I'm sure this is one of those songs, where when you see it on the playlist you think, "Really Caitlyn??" YES! REALLY! Is this one of the cheesiest love songs of all time? DEFINITELY. Does it still have a spot on this playlist? YES! There are lines in there where he's sympathizing with the one he loves. Would you die for the one you love? We don't always have an answer to that question, but we 100% know Jesus would.  Would you swear that you'll always be mine, or would you lie? Would you run and hide? Hmm, that sounds an awful lot like something Jesus wants to know before he gets arrested. And guess what, the disciples do lie, they do run, and they do hide. All in all, I can see this as a last plea from Jesus, trying to tell us how much he loves us, but knows we can never love him the same way. Yet despite all of that, he will continue to love us and sacrifice for us. 
17. She Will Be Loved - Maroon 5
18. Wake Me Up - Avicii
19. Bring Me To Life - Evanescence
20. Shelter from the Storm - Bob Dylan
21. Don't Carry It All - The Decemberists
22. Creation Song - Josh Garrels
23. Jesus Walks - Kanye West - I will admit, I have a really hard time with putting Kanye West on this playlist. However I think this song does a great job of calling out the sins we have in our society, and Lent is all about repentance. Not only does Kanye tell us that "We at war/We at war with terrorism, racism/But most of all we at war with ourselves." He also reminds us that "the hustlers, killers, murderers, drug dealers, even the scrippers/(Jesus walks for them)/To the victims of welfare feel we livin' in Hell here, hell yeah/(Jesus walks for them)." The people in our society that are in the margins still are loved by Jesus, Jesus is there for every single one of them. We should be too.
24. Dust to Dust - The Civil Wars
25. Change on the Rise - Avi Kaplan
26. I Want Jesus to Walk With Me - Sharon Irving
27. Life is Hard - Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
28. Through the Night of Doubt & Sorrow - Luke Morton
29. Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord) - Johnny Cash
31. Brokenness Aside - All Sons & Daughters
32. Welcome to the Black Parade - My Chemical Romance - I'm 1000% sure this is not what MCR intended with this song, but you know when you make a great song people use it for all sorts of unintended reasons. Right off the bat, I see Jesus as the father in this story. He knows he's going to have to leave, but wants to make sure his child will remember him and carry on his legacy. The part that really gets me is "Give a cheer for all the broken/Listen here, because it's who we are/I'm just a man, I'm not a hero/Just a boy, who had to sing this song/I'm just a man, I'm not a hero." I think a lot of times as Christians we feel this pressure that we have to be perfect. If we aren't the hero, if we're broken, then there's something wrong with our faith. I don't think that's the case. If it were so easy for us to be perfect and heroic we wouldn't need church, we wouldn't need Jesus.
33. Blackbird - The Beatles
34. Mercy Now - Mary Gauthier
35. Demons - Imagine Dragons
36. Shallow - Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper
37. Resurrect Me - Skrizzly Adams
38. Float On - Modest Mouse
39. Dreaming with a Broken Heart - John Mayer
40. Beautiful - Christina Aguilera

Now, I didn't put a synopsis for every song, but I did carefully select each and every song on here. If you want more info on a song, feel free to hit me up!

One way I recommend using this is listening to this playlist with your family - which songs really resonate with you? What songs do you see the Lenten connections? Which connections are harder to make? Another way to use it is by doing what I do - keep it on in the background intentionally. This way when I'm doing ordinary daily tasks, like doing the dishes, I still have this thing that I know I have a spiritual connection to pushing me throughout the day. I can really focus on the music and the words when I feel drawn in, but I can just have it there supporting me throughout the day even when I may not be as focused. 

Thank you to all those who sent me their ideas while I was creating this! I definitely could not have done this alone. If you have your own ideas for songs that could go on this playlist or future playlists, please let me know! They are so much better when it's a collaborative effort. 
You can check out the full playlist here:

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Thanksgiving Sermon

            Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It’s great because the whole point of the day is just to eat and hang out, and that’s it. Not only that, but it includes all my favorite foods, like mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and pies. It’s also a great day to be a sports fan, with NFL and NBA games on all day. If you’re lucky, your team will play your rival and you can watch them embarrass themselves with a play like a butt fumble, like Mark Sanchez did when he ran into his own lineman and lost the ball when he played my Patriots in 2012.  
            Overall, I find this to be a great time of the year. It’s right before all the craziness of the holiday season comes up. This makes it a great time to just feel really good about everything. Even these readings today can help bring up the mood. Joel goes on about how God will provide, and Matthew has Jesus telling us not to worry. But, of course we don’t listen to Jesus and worry about all the things he explicitly tells us not to.  
            If any of you have tried to host a Thanksgiving dinner, I’m sure you’re well aware of how hard it is NOT to worry. There are worries about travel, the cleanliness of the house, and of course, making sure everyone has their favorite dish ready and there’s enough to share. But let’s be honest, most thanksgivings end up with more than enough food and everyone goes home with enough leftovers for the rest of the week (if not more). In the end, most of these things we worry about turn out to be just fine.
            The amount of food we have, especially on a day like Thanksgiving, can be something that is easily taken for granted. When Jesus says not to worry about food, that’s normally not much of any issue anyways. However, for those without food, it becomes the only concern, the only thing to worry about. Unfortunately, we know that is a reality for many people in our community. According to Feeding America, around 1 in 8 Americans struggle with food insecurity, or don’t have the resources to properly access enough food for their household. Looking at Champaign county, we’re a little above the national average, with about 1 in 6 people in our area being food insecure. So, this is a real problem for us. This is something we need to be worried about.
            When it comes to this issue of food insecurity, one of the most eye opening experiences I’ve had was a poverty simulation I experienced in college. The process starts with everyone being given new identities and put into families. Each person and family is unique, and each has its own set of circumstances. They’ll tell you if you have a job, how much you make, if you have a car, and any other information that may influence your experience. Throughout the simulation you have to do normal daily tasks, like going to work, sending kids to school, or paying bills. During this experience, you see not only how hard regular day to day life can be, but how many more obstacles come up when you live below the poverty line, or even just close to it. Eviction notices are put out, people get arrested, companies can fire their employees, and yes, kids are even taken by DCFS. Everyone feels pretty defeated by the end of the simulation.
            At the end of our simulation, we all realized we had made a mistake. Out of all the stations, there were certain stations that were consistently bypassed. While everyone was frantic to pick up kids, buy groceries, and paying all the bills, people missed the assistance programs. There were food pantries, finical assistance programs, and education opportunities, but they were never used. No one stopped by and asked for help.
We see this in real life too. There are so many people that could benefit from programs or other forms of assistance, but they either don’t know they exist, don’t know if they qualify, or just simply don’t think they deserve the help. Not to mention how many hurdles come with some programs. Sometimes the work to apply for these programs just doesn’t seem worth it.
We are called to bridge these gaps, and we work to answer that call. There’s not one person here who isn’t heartbroken knowing that there are people in our community that are hungry. Our church communities turn that heartbreak into motivation to get food out into the community. Here at Grace, our food pantry helps numerous people every week, but we’re not the only ones working on this issue. Good Shepherd also has their own food pantry, and St. Matthew does a lot of work with their Sola Gratia farm. Those ministries are just part of what we do to make food more accessible in the CU-area.
While food security is a major issue, it’s not the only way hardship comes into our lives. We can have full pantries, live well above the poverty line and still experience hardships. Life can throw us all sorts of curveballs that we feel like we can’t handle, and we each have our own unique experiences. On average, each person will experience at least 3 traumas in their lifetime. So, it’s not a matter of if you will experience some sort of hardship, but more of when and how. Traumas can be a wide range of incidents, anywhere from being a victim of violence, illness, natural disasters, losing a job, or even having someone close to you experiencing their own trauma. No matter what it is, we often find it hard to ask for help, to be vulnerable. Realizing not only is there a problem, but the problem can’t be solved on your own can be a difficult conclusion to come to.
            What can we do knowing that we’re all dealing with different struggles? A lot of times we forget that God didn’t makes us to be alone, we are made to be in community. God didn’t just make Adam, God made Eve as well because it wasn’t good for humans to be alone. We are given friends who are willing to listen when you need to vent, we have family who will bring casseroles when you just can’t cook, and we have communities in place willing to clean up when the weather turns on us and damages our neighborhoods.
While we know what we are called to do, we are still a sinful people. We can’t escape it. We all have our own versions of the butt fumble - we all make embarrassing mistakes we wish we could forget. We do all sorts of things because it’s what we want, is only beneficial to us, rather than following God’s will for this world. Our sinful nature is exposed both by what we have done and by what we have left undone. Problems like hunger aren’t new, yet somehow, even with all the great work we are doing, there are still hungry people all over the world. Sin wants us to be selfish and believe that helping others is an impossible task.
Thankfully, we have Jesus, who through his death and resurrection releases us from those sins. Sin doesn’t get to have the last word, Jesus does. We don’t have to worry about what sin wants, but instead can focus on the love we find in Jesus. Jesus tells us not to worry, because we can trust instead. We can trust that God created this world with the ability to make enough food for everyone, and that we can find ways to make sure everyone has access to it. We can trust each other when hardships come into our lives, that we can be vulnerable with one another and depend on those around us to help pull us back up. We can trust the gifts that God has given us, knowing that we have our own unique ways to be God’s hands and feet in this world and that God will work through us to show God’s love to everyone.
When we trust like this, we are working with God to usher in this Kingdom that God wants for us. This is a world where the focus isn’t on us as individuals, what our own wants and needs are, but instead the focus is on our love for our neighbors and the love we receive from God. We can display God’s creation in us, how we are made in God’s image, by loving each other as God loves each of us. God is using to turn that love in to actions, where we work together to solve whatever problems we may face. We know we don’t have to do this work alone, and neither does God. God is already working through us. This Thanksgiving, we can be thankful for this partnership that we are constantly being invited into, for a creation full of resources for us to share, and our communities around us that continue to work to support one another.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018


Podcasts have become my new favorite thing. They're great for long drives back to Iowa, and as someone who needs to have some sort of noise before going to sleep, they're a great alternative of the blaring screen that comes with streaming. There are a lot of great people to listen to out there, but here are some of my favorite faith-based podcasts. All podcasts are available on apple podcasts. The hyperlink for each title will send you to their website where you can also listen to these podcasts and get more information on them as well.

#1 The Bible Project - Tim Mackie & Jon Collins

I got into the Bible Project because we started using some of their videos for Confirmation. Since our focus for this year is on the New Testament, we've used the series on the books of the Bible. Each video takes a book and dives deeper into what's really going on, other than what you see when you just read it at face value.

So, I didn't accidentally put a YouTube channel on my podcast recommendations. The Bible Project actually uses a variety of platforms to reach people and help make the Bible accessible to people no matter which denomination they are. They describe it as a "desire to help other understand the scriptures and all their complex themes in a way that is engaging, approachable, and transformative."This includes taking into account the literary design and the historical content that is also within the Bible.

The podcast is used as a way For Tim and Jon to talk through the premises of the videos they want to make. For instance, the current video series they are working on is literary tools used in the Bible. This includes setting, characters, and design patterns. So, before you get your 6 minute video on design patterns, there are 3 podcast episodes on the topic, where they discuss the idea for a total of almost 3.5 hours. So, in essence, if you want the just get "Spark Notes" version of these topics, check out the videos. However, if you want an in depth look, the podcasts do a great job of diving deep into these topics.

#2 The Bible for Normal People - Peter Enns and Jared Byas

This podcast has a similar approach to the Bible Project - trying to find a way to get the best Bible knowledge out to normal people. The biggest difference I've noticed between The Bible for Normal People and The Bible Project, is that the latter's main demographic is to young adults (18-45), while the Bible for Normal People has broader appeal. They also like to say at the beginning of each episode that they are the only God ordained podcast on the internet (I'm still waiting the fact check on that one).

So what do they actually talk about in their podcast? In the available 45 episodes, they cover a variety of topics including deeper looks into books in the Bible and the bigger themes they relate to (Understanding Deuteronomy & the Story of Israel’s Kings), how the Bible relates to current events, (“Moving Beyond Patriarchy,” with Carolyn Custis James), and other issues that Christian face in their faith (Faith and Doubt: No, You’re Not the Only One).

This podcast does a really good job of addressing both sides of an issue they discuss. Let's take "Moving Beyond Patriarchy" as an example. When reading the title, you would probably assume its a podcast with a far left, feminist agenda discussing why the patriarchy ruins the Bible. However, James does a great job of explaining how patriarchy is the backdrop of most of the Bible, and while that may not be what we strive for in today's society, it's something we need to take into account when we read the Bible. The idea is similar to why lambs are such an important symbol in Biblical society, even though in today's agricultural standards we depend more on pigs, cows, and chickens. It was just different then, but we need to understand that difference to get to the root of these stories.

#3 - The Liturgists

This podcast describes itself as "creating a global conversation, blending science, art, and faith to explore the most vital issues of our time. In an age where the Church is mainly known for culture wars, we send a different message: there is room at the table for all who are hungry." So while the first two podcasts look more at Biblical themes and how we use the Bible today, the Liturgists takes issues of today and look at them through a Biblical lens. For instance, I mentioned before that the Bible Project is currently doing a series on literary tools in the Bible such as setting, characters, and plot. On the other hand, the Liturgists have podcasts that include topics like body image, shame, and media literacy.

In short, this podcast is great if you're looking more focused on how to apply our Bible knowledge and faith into the "real world." Sometimes we struggle with how our faith can be incorporated into our everyday lives. For instance, the Bible never directly tells us how we should relate our faith to science, so how do we make that connection?

The other thing I really like about this podcast is that they make a point of saying that The Liturgists are not just the hosts of the podcast - it's everyone in the conversation. They have Facebook groups, live meetings, and a whole lot of different ways for this community to connect with one another to keep the conversations going. In this day in age, it's really easy for each of us to stay in our lane and keep our ideas to ourselves rather than truly collaborating. This group and this podcast really challenges this idea and strives to make it a true community.

Honorable Mention

Inglorious Pasterds 

The only reason this isn't in the top 3 is because it has such bad language and talks about some pretty inappropriate things at times . While it doesn't bother me, I know there are lots of people out there for whom it does matter. So, if you are sensitive to foul language or discussion topics that are necessarily "church appropriate," this is not the podcast for you. However, I will say, this podcast will make you go through all the emotions in every single episode. While they are some of the funniest guys I've listened to, they also talk about real topics and get deep into the issues that people face every day.

The premise of this Podcast is that it's 3 burned out, former pastors who all come from conservative Christian backgrounds who explore new, more open-minded ways to experience faith. They talk about current events, their own church experience, and bring in guests to talk about various issues within the church today, all while enjoying beer or other adult beverages.

CXMH - Robert Vore

The only reason I don't have this as part of the top 3 is because its a much more specific topic than the other 3. However, this is probably my favorite podcast to listen to right now. I started listening to this since I am continuously becoming more of a fan of Steve Austin's work, who is a former host of this podcast. (I read his book From Pastor to a Psych Ward in one sitting, something I don't think I've done since I was a kid) My appreciation of his work comes from his story hitting a little to close to home. For those of you who don't know, I lost my best friend to suicide, so being able to listen to Steve Austin about his struggles has really helped me understand my friend's struggles so much more and has helped me cope a lot. 

So, even though Austin is off working on other projects, Robert Vore still continues the important conversations about mental health and where the church comes in on those conversations. Vore will bring in different mental health experts and Christian leaders. Topics include things like grief, trauma, self-care, and family. While this podcast talks about specific diagnoses, such as anxiety or bipolar disorder, it also talks about struggles everyone has to deal with, like self-image or recognizing our own emotions. Everyone can get something out of this podcast. I believe mental illness is something we don't discuss enough in the church, and I think this podcast does a great job of getting that conversation started.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

There's an app for that!

One of the biggest things I struggled with when I went off to college,and aged out of youth group and other faith formation activities at church was having resources for every day use. I had a hard time finding good books in a sea of Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer publications. If I wanted to listen to Christian music, which artists used good theology in their songs? Christianity has so much influence in so many different aspects in our life, but how do we sort through all the different voices to find the ones that resonate with us?

Now in ministry, there is a struggle for making time to explore our faith. Sometimes it hard enough to come together on Sunday mornings, much less for faith formation classes on Wednesday nights or small groups on Tuesdays. Even our youth already have grueling schedules.

This is where my new project comes in. I'm going to start posting lists of my top 3 recommendations for different things where you can bring your faith outside of the church building. It will be a variety of things, there are no limits to what the 3 can be. It could be books, podcasts, simple service projects, or anything else we can think of. 

So let's start off with my first three - my top 3 phone apps. Let's be honest, we're probably all on our phones way more than we should be. Why not use them in a productive way?

#1 - Bible Gateway (you can also visit their website here)
This is my go-to app for everything! They have 49 versions of the Bible on the app, and have a variety of other languages like German and Spanish, but also have the Greek and Hebrew translations as well. There are also audio versions of the Bible (unfortunately, not all 49 translations). 

Bible Gateway also includes some great tools on the app. You can take and save notes as you read. They also have a variety of reading plans that you can follow, such as New Testament in a Year or Bible in 90 days. Under resources, you'll find tools like maps, devotionals, and dictionaries.

#2 - Our Bible 
This one was actually recommended to me by one of my favorite podcasts (that list will come another day) The app has two main categories - devotions and library. You can save things from each category to make your own home dashboard or "my stuff." I really like the devotionals because their series are short and sweet. Most are only a few days long. There is also a vast variety of topics that they have for devotionals, from mental health, parenting, and even for those who are less "churched." For those of you who are interested in the #decolonizeLutheranism movement, they also have the #ShutTheHellUp advent devotionals that they promoted, with writings from people like Lenny Duncan who is currently a seminarian and vicar with the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. They also include a variety of media with their devotionals, including video blogs and podcasts.  Their library is also a great tool, because not only does it have a variety of downloadable Bibles, but they also have book recommendations listed as well. 

#3 - Frolic 
 For those unfamiliar with Frolic, it started out as a curriculum for children from birth - 3 years under Sparkhouse, and Sparkhouse is a division of 1517 Media(formerly Augsburg Fortress) the ministry of publishing within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Spark house makes faith formation resources for people of all ages, not just Sunday school resources. However, people may know them best for their curriculum like Whirl or coLABorate confirmation.

So with their app, they have it set up so it is customized to help your children learn based on their age. I made up a pretend child - Castiel who is 21 months old (that's why you see it in the picture on the right). You can add as multiple children as well. The app will give you updates each month in 4 different categories - Your Developing Child, Growing in Faith, Celebrating the Season, and Just For You. The picture on the left explains each category more. Each category will explain some sort of way you can connect with your family. So let's look at the Growing in Faith and what it means for little Castiel. You can see below that each category will be listed and you can click to read more if you like. Each one will only be a few paragraphs, so it's quick and easy to read. Perfect for busy families! So with Castiel, Frolic addresses the "whys" that come with a curious toddler and how you can use that to talk about faith with them. How cool is that?

Honorable Mentions:
Luther's Small Catechism - Luther created the small catechism as a tool to teach about faith and the Bible at home. I know I've had many copies over the years, and they're so small so I always end up losing them. Now, there is no excuse!
Book of Common Prayer - sometimes is just really hard to pray. While the Book of Common Prayer is not necessarily Lutheran, it does come in handy. It has both daily and occasional prayers. You can even set reminders for daily prayer if you so choose. 

So I hope this and future lists will be helpful! If you have any ideas or requests for a Three on 3, you can comment here or e-mail me at 

Monday, February 5, 2018


At the end of January, I was with the ELCA Youth Ministry Network's Extravaganza in Houston. This is an annual event that the Network hosts every year to learn, renew, connect with other church leaders from all over the country. Some of the ways this event makes this happen is through workshops, general sessions with keynote speakers, and regional and synodical meet ups.

The theme for this year's E was "Finding Forward" - what do we need to do to help move the church forward? This challenges the comfort of the status quo. Changing the focus from "that's what we've always done," to "what's a new way we can reach people that we haven't been able to before?" or "who within our community is being left behind that we can help?" or "What are the gifts of our congregation that we haven't been able to showcase yet?"

Friday night we had our first General Session. There, we heard from Enrique Morones from Border Angels. The goal of Border Angels is "to ensure that all people are received with a sense of humanity and compassion, and that the cycle of death along the border does not continue into the coming years" They are driven by Matthew 25:35 - “When I was hungry, did you give me to eat? When I was thirsty, did you give me to drink?” Border Angels works with many issues related to immigration. They bring out water to the desert where people are known to travel, they help those here who don't get fair wages because of their immigration status, and they do a whole lot of advocacy. One of the biggest points that Enrique made was that immigration is a world wide issue. In the US, we hear a lot about a the boarder wall (which according to him has killed at least 11,000 people already. Think about how many animals that would kill and displace as well). However, its not just a US/Mexico issue. In America, we also get a lot of people from Central and South America. Its also important to note that most of the migration deaths are happening around the Mediterranean Sea - people escaping from places like Syria and washing up on the shores Greece. The Border Angels are doing everything they can so we don't have to see any more pictures of dead kids washed up on any shore. It's a tough and complicated issue, but they are doing whatever they can to show compassion to all of those who decide to immigrate not matter how they chose to do so.

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On Saturday I was a part of two main activities. We had our Region 5 touch point in the morning, then had the Gathering tour in the afternoon. For our regional touch point, we met with all the participants from region 5 - including Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, and part of Michigan. It was a great chance to not only catch up with people from our Central/Southern Illinois conference, but also all my old friends from Iowa!

That afternoon I went on a 4 hour tour around Houston to see some of the things we will get to see this summer as part of the National Youth Gathering. First stop was was near downtown that was full of beautiful murals since it was great for photo ops! Luckily, when Grace Lutheran comes to town, our hotel is downtown so we won't be far.

Then, we were off to see one of the service learning sites for the week. The goal of these service learning projects is to have a mix of learning about Houston and the people who live there, as well as getting our hands dirty to help with the work organizations are already doing in the area. While each bus went to a different site, my bus went to the neighborhood of Freedmens Town. This is an area of Houston that was allocated to slaves who were freed after the Civil War. However, because of Jim Crow laws and the lack of acknowledgement from local and state government, these people were left to become self sufficient. For instance, one of the biggest issues was healthcare. Hospitals in the area and time where either Whites Only or Coloreds Only. The closest "emergency room" that this neighborhood had access to would be a 2 hour drive today from this area of Houston.

Luckily, they came together and used the skills they learned while they were slaves and built beautiful houses, paved their own streets, grew their own crops, and eventually even had their own doctors and lawyers. Unfortunately, since then the neighborhood has not been well maintained and is undergoing major gentrification. Now, the Rutherford B.H. Yates Museum foundation is working to reclaim and refurbish these homes and showcase all the amazing things that went on in this neighborhood.

This is a model of what the neighborhood is to believed to have looked like before reconstruction. The frames of houses represent houses that have been torn down to create new buildings in the area

So to bring it back to the Gathering, a service site like this would include a few different things. Firstly, the students would get to experience the museum like we did, hearing stories about the people who lived there and how they inspired people all over the country. Then, they would work with the organization with projects like archaeology. They would excavate the area with local archaeologists to try to find artifacts that help them understand what life was like for these families. This would have the learning component tied in with literally getting our hands dirty.

"Being safe is risky, and being risky is safe," that was one of the points Saturday's speaker, Marlon F. Hall made during the General Sessions. Hall is a pastor in the Houston area, but the impression was that he spends very little time in an actual church building.

Hall pushes the boundaries for what ministry means. Does it have to be confined to Sunday mornings? Do people have to sit in pews? Does it have to be in our church building?

One of the first ministries he described was the Eat Gallery. This was a restaurant created to host local chefs who had great talent, but may not be able to house their own restaurant quite yet. Not only did this support local culinary artists, but the community got a chance to come and enjoy a variety of foods all in one spot. Unfortunately, his congregation took a huge hit, losing most of their members because they didn't want their pastor to also spend his time as a restaurant manager. However, he stuck with this ministry because he knew it benefited his community and made a real impact.

He's started other ministries since then, including Project Row Houses where they showcase local artists, such as writers, musicians, and filmmakers, to reflect what is going on in the community. They display this art in local row houses to, again, curb the gentrification of these neighborhoods. He also started Folklore Films to help share the stories from the community, specially the hard stories that are sometimes either hidden, ignored, or hard to come by. Nonetheless, these stories need to be told in order for the city to heal.

He tells this story about a screening he had with the mayor of Houston.  She loved the screening and was deeply moved, so she knew there was more to Hall's story. Hall tells how the mayor kept asking him about his work, and who he was. He started of with the fact that he is a husband and a father, then he went on to talk about his work with Folklore Films, then he finally broke and said, "you know what? I'm a pastor." He was terrified because Folklore Films was given a grant from the city, and it wasn't supposed to be used for religious purposes. However, the mayor was thrilled. She told him how she had been looking for a pastor, looking for a church, and she may have finally experienced true church through his film.

There was a funny trend that happened all week. Every time someone from E ran into a local, the first thing they would always be asked was, "So what brought you to Houston?"
Almost every time, the E participant would go, "Well... (deep breath) we're here for a convention." "Oh what kind of convention?"
"Well... (another deep breath) we're all youth directors and will be bringing 30,000+ youth here this summer for our National Youth Gathering" (as they scream on the inside while thinking please don't think I'm a crazy person)
"Oh that's so cool!"
We were all scared to be ourselves. Sometimes I really hate talking about my job. There's been a time or two where I've just told people I'm a teacher to avoid the subject. I know every time I meet anyone and say I work in a church, I'm instantly flooded with questions. Some people are truly curious, while others are looking for a debate. I know I personally never want it to seem like I am trying to "convert" someone, and I think that's true for a lot of people throughout the ELCA. I will do my best to answer questions, but I get leery when people start with questions like "does your church think gay people go to hell?"
So one thing I'm going to try to do from now on is be more bold with these conversations. Jesus preached love and acceptance. I think that's pretty darn cool. I think it's time we do our part to take back the Christian narrative and focus it back on love.

Sorry I got a bit off topic. Back to Houston :)

At another one of the General Sessions, our speaker was Jamie Bruesehoff. She is known for her blog titled "I am totally *that* mom." Her husband is an ELCA pastor, and they with their 3 kids live in rural New Jersey. Their daughter, Rebekah, also happens to be 11 years old and transgender.

Jamie shares how their family went through this transition together. They always knew their daughter was different. Before coming out as transgender, their son would write things on his notebook like "Girls Rule!" He also loved the color pink, and eventually gave up on the boys section of target and found pure bliss in the newly explored girls section. Through all of this, they sought the help of a gender specialist, and discovered that Rebekah (formerly Benjamin) was transgender. She finally got to start living as herself at 8 years old.

My favorite story that Jamie shared was the dress dilemma. One year, Rebekah wanted to wear a dress for Easter Sunday. This would be the first time that Rebekah would ever wear a dress to church. As we all know, you can do one thing in the public world, but its a whole other issue to try it in the church. So Jamie and her husband tabled it. They wanted to support their child, but also didn't want to put her in harms way. They had no idea how the congregation would respond. Pastors kids have it hard enough, and transgender kids have it hard enough, much less a transgender pastor's kid.

Eventually, they let her wear the dress. They didn't want to hold her back, and wanted to let her just be herself. Jamie talks about all the joy that came from that Sunday morning. One congregant even noticed the huge boost of confidence that came with allowing Rebekah to be herself. He mentioned that before, she would be shy, hiding behind Jamie. Now, with that dress she was approaching all sorts of people, twirling and dancing to show off her new dress. Something so simple brought so much happiness and love.

If you want to hear more about Rebekah's story, you can watch the video below:

Sunday started off with worship. We had liturgy performed by Romantica and Ben Kyle, with a sermon from Bishop Michael Rinehart on the Road to Emmaus Story. Also, since I haven't mentioned this yet, all of the General Sessions gave us ALL THE FEELS. I don't think we had one session where they didn't make someone cry at some point. I know one of the most powerful parts for me was they set up grief prayer stations. These included stations for personal grief, grief in ministry, for creation, for injustice, and for Houston. You would to go as many stations as you wanted to and would write your prayer on basically a giant piece of confetti. So, once everyone wrote their prayers, we had our own prayers of intersession where each bundle of prayers where lifted up (via fan and giant glass tube. I apologize for the lack of picture. Imagine a giant T-Shirt gun for prayers, but much gentler). Just seeing all of our prayers, all the different colors floating through the room was pretty cool to see.

Then the rest of Sunday was for workshops. Over the day I attended one about bring confirmation home, then about youth-led VBS, and then one titled "A Case Study in Overcoming the Monochromatic Membership of the ELCA." While all were wonderful workshops that will influence my work here at Grace, this last one was the one I found the most motivating.

So I've mentioned before that the ELCA is the whitest denomination in ALL of American Christianity. We are 96% white. NINETY SIX! Even Missouri Synod is better than us (sorry LCMS friends). COME ON!

Our presenter, C.J. Clark is the executive director for Living Waters ministry in Michigan. He describes it as a mission that happens to have a camp, rather than a camp with a mission. The programs started basically just because he needed to fill beds. Camp was going to cost the same to run whether or not they were filled, so he thought he might as well just give them away. He connected with the local Lutheran Services organization and worked with them to get foster kids to come to camp for a week with no cost to them. He got the beds filled, but ended up expanding this idea to other organizations. His question was always "If we were to just give you a week of camp and let you do whatever you wanted, what would you?" and would then give them that week of camp. Now, one of the opportunities that has come from this is Bridge Builders. This camp works to create leaders within the ELCA, while also discussing the issues of race. The goal is that these campers will eventually become camp councilors, then camp leaders. Having this model has increased their staff diversity while also giving campers a great experience and creating leaders for the whole ELCA. It's proof that we don't have to be stuck at 96%.

So how does this impact Grace? How Living Waters created this camp was by working with local organizations. They changed the focus from what Living Waters wanted camp to be to what they could provide with their camp that other organizations wanted. We already have so many people at this church trying to reach out to our local community, we just need to keep our eyes and ears open to be able to help in any way we can. You never know when the spirit will inspire you.

Also, I just want to put in a plug for my friends who think that since they live in a small, white town, that they may not be able to work on the diversity issue at all. Check out your census stats. If your town has any sort of diversity, reaching out to the community so your church reflects your city or county could have a huge impact. For instance, Grace Lutheran is 97% white, while Champaign County is about 73% white. If we kept our current members, but changed to reflect the diversity in our own community, our active membership would increase by over a 30% (or over 100 people). And for those who have been pushing membership increase to also help with our stewardship campaigns, it could help our bottom line as well. If they reflect the average county income of a little over $46K a year, and they averaged 5% giving in their income, that would be and additional $230,000 for our budget. Not saying that would all automatically happen, or that we should see increasing our diversity as a way to increase our revenues, but its just some food for thought.

This weekend didn't hold back. We discussed the hard issues. We were honest about our brokenness - personally, communally, and nationally. The weekend was an emotional roller coaster including bearing our grief while also supporting one another with amazing love. There was learning about all different aspects of ministry including worship, VBS, family learning, and camp. The last two years I've left feeling more informed, supported, loved, and motivated that before I came.

Ministry can be really hard, so I'm thrilled that the ELCA not only has this Network set up to support one another, but that we also have the Extravaganza to come together to learn from each other, worship together, and just love on each other through everything. So thank you ELCA and Grace Lutheran Church for making this a great experience for me.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Review of "The Trouble I've Seen"

Before I dive into what I love about this book, let me give you a little background on my relationship with racial justice. Also, I am a fairly affluent white woman, which means I rarely get to see the negative side of these issues. This also means I am not an expert on racial justice in any sense. What it does mean is that I am becoming more and more aware of the unwarranted privilege that I receive in abundance, and trying to find ways to make sure I don't get special treatment - that everyone has the ability to have the opportunities that I get every day.

I grew up in Des Moines, IA (and yes, Des Moines proper, not West Des Moines, Johnston, Ankeny, or any of that nonsense). Because of where my home is, I went to King Elementary for the first 3 years of elementary school, and then finish the last 3 at Perkins. King Elementary, named after Martin Luther King Jr, was expected to talk about civil rights and racial justice more than your average elementary school. Even to this day, I'm amazed at the lack of knowledge on the Civil Rights Movement and other events leading up to it present in my fellow Iowans. It just always made sense to me growing up why it was so important, that I couldn't understand why anyone else wouldn't put it as a critical piece of our education.

Continuing my education, I went to Callanan Middle School and Roosevelt High School. It's safe to say that being a white person at those schools, you were in the minority. That was never a problem. Honestly, I never thought about it until after I graduated and starting talking to more people who grew up outside of Des Moines. The vast amount of languages spoken in those schools is astounding. In both schools you really do get people from all walks of life. We had the wealthy kids from South of Grand, to the kids who lived closer to the school that didn't always have it as good.

In high school, since I was very involved at Windsor Heights Lutheran Church, I got the opportunity to take many mission trips to Jackson, Mississippi. These trips were probably the biggest catalyst to my passion in racial justice. Growing up, I was surrounded by diversity, and it was great! Racism was over, all the problems were solved, and life was good. When you go to a poor black city in the south, your opinion changes on that. The biggest lesson I learned that has stuck with me to this day was when two ladies were trying to open a coffee shop next to the church we worked with in Jackson. The black lady would constantly call banks, trying to get a loan for the shop, but was always denied. The white lady then called one of the same banks, with the same application, and was actually approved! Funny how that works.

Now recently, I've felt really empowered by a lot of things going on around me. The ELCA is starting to feel the counter current of #decolonizeLutheranism, my current church is involved with the community coalition, who has many goals including improving race relations in Champaign-Urbana, and you know, there's this little thing going around the country called #BlackLivesMatter and all the controversy surrounding the killings of unarmed black men and women, but that's a story for another day.

So, long story short, when I saw this book The Trouble I've Seen, I knew I had to read it. The ELCA is one of the whitest churches in America, at about 96% white according to Pew Research Center. Yikes. Even Missouri Synod is doing better than us (by 1% but still). This didn't make any sense to me. The ELCA is one of the most inclusive denominations out there, at least on paper. What's going wrong?

Well here are a few takeaways I got from this book:

#1 Race isn't really a thing. I mean, think about it. I had this problem growing up. In Des Moines, we had a large population of Bosnians come before/during/after the war. There was a common theme of "I'm not white, I'm Bosnian." This confused a lot of us. They were literally straight from Europe, where white people come from. If they weren't white, who is? (this was also middle school logic, so I apologize to anyone who doesn't like how 12 year old me thought. She was kind of naive). Now, it makes sense. Their skin was similar to mine, but they didn't feel like they quite fit in. Drew G. I. Hart makes a great point about this. Who gets to be white always changes, depending on how well it "helps the cause." Irish, Italians, Jews, and other "white" people sometimes don't make the cut. Even trying to define black or African-American can be confusing too. Not every black person in America has African decent, and not every person with African decent looks black. People from Morocco look white, but would technically be African-American if they moved here. Race doesn't make any sense, unless your white and get the benefits of it.

Now, I will put a disclaimer that I don't think having race is always a horrible thing that we have in society. We can use it to see things like black men are more likely to be imprisoned than white men. Is it a perfect system? No, but it at least gives us a way to see where the problems are a lead us to solutions. But, if you don't work for Gallop, maybe you just shouldn't focus on it.

#2 We all do a lot of racist things unknowingly. We can only help what is ingrained in us so much. I still catch myself getting nervous if I'm out in my own neighborhood and see a black guy approaching me. Now I know more than likely he's just out being in the area just like I am, but I'm still at the point where I have to remind myself of that, fighting what society has taught me.

Now on the flip side, I've also seen my privilege through unknowingly racist actions. For instance, when I went to Target, I went to try on clothes, but I had a basket with maybe one or two things in it. I asked if I should set it down before going in to try on the clothes, but the attendant told me, "no, I trust you." What? You don't know me, I thought. I would never steal anything, but she doesn't know that. But, that's one of the perks of being a young white woman in America. I seem trusting in our society.

Now, when we do things like this, does that make us a racist? Not necessarily. I would argue we all have a little racism in us because of how our society is currently constructed. Now, the issue is whether you embrace that racism and build on it, are apathetic to it, or try to fight it and change society.

#3 Assimilation is a big problem Hart makes many points about what he's had to learn about white culture in order to be successful in America. Think about it - literature is filled with white authors, the history we learn in school always has a Eurocentric bias to it. When you learn about African culture, its always either an elective, or a special chapter in the whole book. Most of the time, you can get through life without knowing about the history of black music, but you almost always need to know white, European history of music. Since whiteness is currently at the top of the racial hierarchy, white culture is what is what is the "norm," what we perpetuate. Us white folks don't notice it, because its what we're used to, and its all valuable information to us. But just like how a reporter innocently stated that Sam Querrey was the first American to reach Wimbledon semi-finals since 2009, we forget Serena Williams. The reporter was focused only on the male half of tennis, just like we focus on white culture and forget about all the other great and important things that go on in the world.

This overflows into church. Lutherans have a history of being of Northern European decent and being proud of it. Things like "You know you're Lutheran if you have green jello salad at every potluck." Even with the Reformation 500 coming up, we've been EXTRA German this year. Now don't get me wrong, being a German I love a good Oktoberfest and seeing other traditions carry on, but just because Luther was German doesn't mean we are ALL German. We expect people who come to our churches to buy into this tradition, and don't always make room for new ones.

A good example of this is Shrove Tuesday. Since I am a Midwestern German Lutheran, it was a shock when I first came to Champaign and didn't know what Shrove Tuesday was. I'm told it's a tradition from England full of pancakes and even sometimes jump roping and lots of other things, held the night before Ash Wednesday. I'm a card holding member of the Lutheran club, and even I didn't know what this was. I can't imagine what that would look like for someone outside of the club. Now I love my church, and I think its great that they have these traditions everyone loves. However, if we do something as simple as re-naming it to a Mardi Gras celebration, it would make a lot more sense to newcomers. I could be wrong, but who doesn't know about Mardi Gras?

Long story short, we do a lot of things in society and in church especially where we don't realize we are excluding people and their culture. We focus on the fact that we like what we're doing and its great that we don't always take the time to look at it from an outsiders perspective.


Sorry, this one can get me fired up.

But really, the whole point is to LISTEN. You may not understand someone else's story, but that doesn't make it any less valid. Like my Dad, he thinks the Packers are the greatest team in America. He's wrong. The last Superbowl proves that my Patriots are the best in America. That still doesn't make his passion for his team any less valid.

But we can make this point with a more extreme case. I had a friend that I grew up with. We both went to the same schools growing up, lived in the same neighborhood, similar family structure. I am now working in the church, while he died from a heroin overdose. How did that happen? Now, just because I have never even been around heroin, doesn't mean he only made dumb choices and that's how he got there. Who knows how that track started. Maybe he thought it would make him look cool, maybe he had more demons he had to deal with that we will ever know, and that was his only way to escape them. Somehow, things happen and tragedy follows. It's too simple to say he had all the same resources I did, so must have just been a bad kid. No. If you ask anyone, he was one of the funniest people you would ever meet. He was a great friend to every single person he knew. His story isn't less valid because him and I made different choices in life. He isn't worse or better because of his vices verses mine. It would be wrong to think otherwise.

It's easy to think this way when it comes to race, especially in an urban Midwest setting. "But I went to high school with guys like that, there's no reason they should be getting arrested more unless there was good reason for it," or "Why should they get more scholarships? I figured out how to pay for college on my own." Everyone has a different story, and different struggles. Just because you have different struggles doesn't make theirs any less real.

#5 Jesus was here for the outcast and oppressed, and we should be too. Our society keeps a lot of people down. Jesus never said, "pull yourself up by your bootstraps, that's what I did." Instead, when 5000 people show up, he finds a way to feed EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.

My favorite quote from this book was, "We are not seeking to merely be the church for the poor and oppressed... we hope to be the church of the poor and oppressed." I've never been to a church that didn't think helping the poor was a top priority, but I've been to many churches where there doesn't seem to be much variety in socio-economic status. Everyone is more than happy to lend a hand, but are you willing to open your doors, too?

I think same can be said for racial disparity. I would never classify any of the churches I've been to as "racist," but at the same time, the pews tend to look awfully white. That's why I think things like Decolonize Lutheranism is so important. First we need to recognize our own bias, that sometimes we lean on our Northern European heritage a little too much, which doesn't feel too welcoming to those who aren't of Northern European heritage. Does that mean we should stop singing A Mighty Fortress? By no means! But we need to be be conscious of those song selections, of our events and how we promote them, and how we truly connect with the community around us. Are we here just to help the community, or are we here to be a part of the community? Jesus is here for everyone, and the Lutheran church should be here for everyone, too.

So, overall, this is one of my new favorite books. I will warn people that this is not a light read. This should not be your first book when starting to understand race relations, especially in the church. He is not mean or condescending in this book, but he is very honest. Sometimes that honesty is hard for people to accept. He even shares how during one of his invitation-only meetings he had on race relations, a white woman found her way in anyways and was upset about the conversation going on around her. She thought she had a firm understanding on race relations, but was still very much a rookie. Don't be this woman. Go in with an open mind, and a willingness to learn and improve, and this book will definitely be worth your time.