I’m doing what I normally do during my holiday break – grading.

For over ten years while my family has these days around Christmas and New Year’s “off” (or at least some version of being on vacation), I have work to do. It’s hard to see my work because I do not head into the office or have meetings, but my time between the fall semester and J-Term is filled with something important – grading papers. With a January 4th deadline looming, I have work to do and people waiting to hear how their semester turned out. Yet during this holiday season, the thought of grading does not get me excited. (In fact, I can usually find many things to do to put off grading each and every day.) But grading is part of my job, and it is part of the learning process that I value. So I press forward.

When I finally get mentally (and physically) prepared, I open my computer and lean into the work. Looking at the rubric for the assignment, I remind myself of what we were doing in the course and I open a paper – glancing at the student’s name, I start reading their work. These assignments are their final ones, so I not only read the words on the page, but also see their faces and remember the encounters we have had throughout the semester. I now have a relationship with these students having spent 13 weeks together. Therefore, these assignments are rich; there is more to them then what I read on the page. Maybe one of the questions a student asked in class has found its way into their paper or echoes of the ministry situation we talked about in break sits behind what is described in their work. I read aware of how personal and taxing this work of ministry is for many – and the price some have paid to lead and study Christian public leadership. Grading these assignments is only partially about the content of the course, it is more about their call to lead. Over time I stop watching the clock and let myself be transported to various ministry settings – literally around the world – and into the lives of these students.

Grading in my line of work is never solely about a grade. Grading is simply one way I join current and future leaders of the church in discovering who they are, what is happening in the world (and church) today, and wondering what God is up to. Assignments provide the opportunity to reflect and put on paper new learnings on a particular topic and grading is one way I offer them my feedback. Both are snapshots in a dynamic learning process that breaks down previous understandings and opens new possibilities. The tearing down is real, and hard. Deconstructing – understandings of the church, the world, and ourselves – opens up wounds, is confusing, filled with pain, and is a journey of letting go and lamenting. Building up is exciting and scary. Constructing is creative, filled with joy and epiphanies, invites dreaming and makes space for new possibilities. Learning needs both. And learning in a seminary recognizes that both movements are truly human or embodied (they are not just theoretical) and God is present. The pain and the joy are real. The tears flow from deep within, the people involved have names, and the situations matter. And at the same time God is with us. Healing happens, hope is found, and love expands and is deepened.

So as I grade, holding these assignments as a sacred trust to be stewarded. I treasure the way students offer their lives to this calling and trust me with their stories. And I try my best to faithfully serve my calling as a teacher of the church. #thankful #blessed #WeAreLutherSem

Changing Education Paradigms

Many of us are living in the transition from summer mode to school mode. For me that means preparing lessons for new courses. For you it might be supporting people going through this transition or preparing yourself for this transition. No matter your place in this transition, this transition is in the air and we can sense it almost like shifts in the sky before a rain storm.

In my preparation, I’m thinking deeply about how the ways we learn are different today than the ways we learned thirty years ago. These changes impact young people, for sure, but they also are impacting me, both as a teacher and learner. Teaching and learning use to be delegated to a particular realm of my life – formal education environments. As a lifelong learner that meant I spent many hours (and dollars) engaged in learning in academic institutions. (SCHOOLS!) Now my teaching and learning is more integrated in all aspects of my life. Like when I get a new piece of technology, I go into learning mode and seek out teachers. Some teachers I pay (Geek Squad, for example) and some are people within my regular networks (my kids, colleagues at work, friends, neighbors, etc). Sometimes I’m clearly the student and someone is clearly the teacher. In other cases, I can be both teacher and learner. Like as a knitter, I sometimes ask others to teach me something, a new stitch, and as they do they may ask something that I know and I shift into teacher mode. When I step back and look at my life today, teaching and learning, learning and teaching is a regular, normal part of all areas of my life. Sometimes my teachers are people and sometimes my teachers are videos of teachers or posts of interesting articles. With all the digital tools we have today, I have access to so many more places and ways to learn then ever before.

As a lifelong learner, I’m wired to learn and I will seek out learning opportunities. Given the flattening of learning and access to learning tools, learning is so much more integrated into life. This reality means formal learning (the school-like learning environments) have to revisit the ways they engage people in learning. Sir Ken Robinson has been studying learning and education for some time and has some great insights into the shifts taking place in learning and what it means for education. Here’s a great video on his discoveries. Watch, learn, and perhaps let it ignite your rethinking of learning.

This RSA Animate was adapted from a talk given at the RSA by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert and recipient of the RSA’s Benjamin Franklin award. (If you want some other videos on teaching and learning go to the video section of my website and see the teaching and learning tab.)

How will you use your words today?

i am a person of words. I use words at home. (And usually more words then my family would like!) I rely on words at work. As I teach, write, and engage students words are the primary vehicle. And as I wrestle with the current problems of our world today, where do I go? To words.

Today I saw this video and it challenged me to think about my words. As a realist that wants to lean into a new future I often think my job is to state the problem. But maybe, just maybe, recasting my words in light of the new future I picture might help the world move a bit closer to making it come true.

A visit to South Carolina

I’m wrapping up my time in South Carolina. It has been a great opportunity to teach seminary students located in a different region of the country. I have learned from them in class, I have discovered a bit of South Carolina’s history, and I have even tasted some southern cuisine. It has been nothing but delightful to join another learning community, even if for a short amount of time.

In class we have been talking about, rather wrestling with, ministry with children in this time. So many forces are shaping children today – consumerism, digital media, social networking, athletics – and it can be overwhelming for parents and ministry leaders as they try to engage in faith practices and learn about God’s story. While we are ending with more questions than answers, a few things have surfaced:

1. Our identity as people of faith comes from God, not society. Ground kids, ground us all, in that promise. Our identity as children of God never changes. While the world wants to commodify life, tell us what to wear, try to influence our values, and turn us into objects, God claims us and makes us subject of God’s love. That’s pretty cool.

2. Subjects need to live in community. As subjects of God’s love that means living in a relationship with God and with other of God’s subjects. Being in Christian community we are reminded of our identity and of the one who loves us and created us. In community we are formed and shaped as subjects of God’s love. In community we are informed of who is God is, and we grow deeper in our love for God, ourselves, and the world. And in community we are transformed, made new and empowered to love and serve others. And that leads to…

3. As subjects of God’s love we are also agents of God’s love. Yes, we gather with other Christian periodically, but we spend most of our time scattered in the world. And when we are scattered in the world, we have a role to play. We are to embody God’s love in the world, we get to give God’s love hands and feet and hearts and ears.

What if, at the heart of ministry with children (and their families), we helped children know theses three things? What if we shared these ideas with words and actions? What if we helped families do this as well? I don’t know what a typical week would look like in our congregations, but I’d hope we’d be spreading God’s love in the world.

Oh yea, and we have a guest who joined us. Check this out.

Curiosity and Inquiry

We, at Luther Seminary, are preparing to roll out a new curriculum in the fall. It’s a shift spurred on by changes in theological education, in the need to reduce cost, and a recognition of the dynamic nature of Christian public leadership today. It also takes into account the changes in the way we learn. While a lot of things will be different, the biggest change is at the center – we are shifting from a content-driven series of classes to an inquiry-driven learning process.

For many, it’s exciting. Exciting because there is more flexibility in the curriculum and more choices for students. Exciting because it recognizes students already enter as leaders, with unique gifts, experiences, and questions. Exciting because it takes into account the whole person, not just their head.

For most, it is also scary. Scary because it’s moving into unknown territory. Scary because more is left “to chance” then to a list in the registrar’s office. Scary because we are on the front side of a new education paradigm. It’s exciting, and scary, for teachers and students alike…but it is the right move – for the church.

This morning, as I was working on some of the details, imagining how students will receive this and getting a bit concerned, I came across a chemistry teacher who calmed my nerves and encouraged me to keep moving ahead. I share it with you with hopes of encouraging any of you who also are imagining a new way and trying to push into a new future of teaching and learning.

a new paradigm for education … educators as cultivators of curiosity and inquiry

Identity and Way of Life


Yesterday I finished teaching one of my favorite courses – Discipleship and Vocation in Children, Youth and Family Ministry. Not a sexy title, and there are no gimmicks in the class. In fact, the class is pretty simple, it is about exploring Christian discipleship and vocation. In everyday language that translates into what does it means to be and live Christian? It’s about identity and way of life.

Now just because a course can be summarized in a sentence does not mean its subject matter is easy or simple. In fact, each week we gathered we discovered some things can be reduced to a simple statement, but putting such statements into conversation with our everyday experience is often complicated.  Life is messy. There is brokenness and pain. People are selfish, and self-centered. The world is noisy and vying for our attention. But there is hope, and promise. We all do have a purpose, gifts and agency. And while there are BIG things in life to figure out, there are also little ways we can make a difference everyday. Knowing the basics can be really helpful. And having conversation partners along the journey really matters.

But there is another thing we discovered.  Some of the ways we have been “doing” church (or at least practices those of us in the class grew up with) are not actually helping people get at what it means to BE Christian and LIVE Christian.

Perhaps that’s troubling news. It once was for me. But now my attention has shifted from being disappointed to being curious.

Why am I curious? Because I know, at least the way any gut knows things, many of our current ministry practices are not going away. In fact, many have a very long track record. Take worship, for example. It would be very surprising if worship suddenly became meaningless for Christians. Why? Because as I look back across time, I can’t think of one Christian community that didn’t exercise some worship practice. Does it look like the worship I am familiar with? No. But they drew on many of the same elements we do today.  The same can be said of prayer and serving others and telling the Christian story.  In addition, I think Christians are more open to asking questions these days. And I find that encouraging. Like the two-year old who wants to know why or the teenager trying to discover the deeper meaning of family practices, many Christians are hungry to know why congregations do what they do, and they are not content being passive participants. They want more, they not only what to know the meaning, they want participation to be meaningful.

So what does this mean for ministry? As I play with, and imagine, ministry in the years ahead, it seems more critical now to ground ministry in the basics of what it means to BE Christian and then help people discover how such an identity IMPACTS and SHAPES life. For preschoolers that might include reading stories about God’s people in the past, telling stories about Christians today and helping them wonder about what it will mean in their life. For adolescents it might be reminding them, day in and day out, that they are a child of God…loved as they are…gifted and capable, with the ability to make a difference in the world and impact the lives of those around them. For young adults it might include helping them form really good questions about life, and love, and relationships, and work, and the world. And it’s questions shaped out of an honesty about our limitations and selfish desires, yet full of possibility and with an eye to the future. It could include learning about prayer, as one prays, or engaging Scripture with an eye to the world and an eye to God, or serving others, not to fulfill our needs, but because someone else needs us to. And the list could go on.

Ministry today, for people raised in the church or new to the Christian faith, is both more basic…starting and ending at who we are as Christians…and more organic….in that it takes seriously the lived experiences and questions of each person and their communities.

This summer I turn 50. And, like many, am going to need to be reminded of who I am and what it means to live out of that identity in this time and place (and at this age). I hope the communities I am apart of will remind me of the basics, as they also join me on the journey. And I hope to do the same for them, curious and open to whatever the future brings.




Would love to hear your thoughts on this TedTalk on creativity by Elizabeth Gilbert. It begs lots of questions … and provides openings for rethinking creativity – not only for those in which it is in the center of their work, but also for those of us who dance in and our of it periodically.

So watch…and share!

Access to Information


It was a Sunday afternoon and my daughter and I were running errands. We were halfway between home and a store I wanted to stop by. In a “senior” moment, I asked my daughter if we could stop by home to check on how late the store was open. Before I even realized what I had said, (I wanted to go home and call the store or look up their information on their website) she had taken out her phone, searched for the store and told me we had an hour before they closed.

I grew up in an era with phone books – yellow pages for businesses and white pages for home residents. My mom loved phone books, and she taught her kids well. As the saying goes,”She let your fingers do the walking” and made use of this valuable tool located right in our kitchen cupboard. In the 1980s, phone books were a source of information.

My kids don’t know the difference between white pages and yellow pages, and laugh at the idea that a book, updated once year, could we valuable for getting people’s numbers, findings specialty stores or even discovering a shop’s hours. This information, as witnessed with my daughter, is all at their finger tips. All the time, everyday.

So what, you might ask. What does it matter how one finds phone numbers or store hours?

It matters because the world has shifted. My daughter doesn’t only have access to the yellow pages in her phone, she’s got “the world” in her hands. Think I’m over exaggerating? Think again.

This fall, while said daughter was in a class on Martin Luther, mom became a great resource. For about five Tuesdays or Wednesdays in a row, I’d get a text, email or even a call, asking for help. My daughter was struggling with the assigned reading in her religion class, usually a reading I had in print in my office. She’d written a 2 page reflection, but wanted me to “look it over” and offer critical feedback. (A theologian’s dream – quite possibly!) To offer good feedback, I needed to “refresh” my own reading of these texts. And guess what I did? I Googled it.  And, lo and behold, I found the texts I needed. All of them. Imagine that.

Today, all kinds of information is available at our fingertips – in our Smartphones, in our iPads and in our laptops. Getting essays by Martin Luther, for example, is not a problem. The issue at hand is, like it was for my daughter, finding a good conversation partner. What does this mean for faith formation? What does this mean for Christian education?

This experience with my daughter has helped me rethink what it means to be a teacher of the church. Yes, I’m teaching church leaders, but I don’t think it matters if it is a “soon-to-be” pastor or a 13-year old or an educated lay person. Studies show, we can get access to information. But who will be a guide? Who will help people make their way through the maze of information? Who will ask good questions? Who will be there for conversation?

The world has shifted. As one “teaching” about the Bible, theology and what our church believes, I have to remember, I am not the dispenser of information – my role has changed. These days, what’s needed is a guide. one to accompany learners in their journey of faith. I don’t know exactly what that means yet, but I’m trying. And I’m making mistakes along the way.

Two easy things to do to get started:

As you ponder what this means for you, think about an area you don’t know anything about, but want to. (I recently needed help with some aspect of knitting, for example.) Maybe  you have a particular “situation” or problem you want to address. Maybe it’s a really big issue, and you want to know how to get started. What did you do? Where did you turn? What would you need? What kinds of questions would you have? Maybe the exploration is a place to begin.

Next, listen. In the “normal” places and in the “abnormal” places. Listen to what people talk about in the coffee hour between services or before or after confirmation. What insights do these comments have for you as you think about being a guide. But also listen at coffee shops, at the basketball game or when you are out to eat. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll get a clue as not only the questions, but what tools these folks need to access the information they are looking for.