Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Psalm for Her City

Had to write my own psalm for a First Testament course this semester and the following is what I came up with... it's based on a conversation I had with a woman who used to call the Occupy Philly encampment her home.

Creator, nurturing mother;
     Your love and beauty fill all the earth.
Nurturing mother;
     You come to even the forbidden places,
     the merciless grid of the city street.
Yet the demons of poverty, and hunger and open-air death dealing
     press in on me.
The hellhounds of addiction, and depression and hopelessness
     seek to overtake me.
How could I remain without your guiding hand?
     What would I do without your comforting embrace?
May you vanquish my enemies O Lord,
     not with the sting of your sword,
     but with the wild shoots of your garden
     breaking forth through blood stained concrete.
I know your attentive ear
     will hear the groans of your child
     stripped of her humanity.
I am blameless Lord.
     I shout your name from atop tenements.
     I shout within burned out rowhouses.
     I shout both night and day.
     I shout you are my strength, my healer, and my champion.

Friday, February 10, 2012

David Beckmann, President of Bread for the World @ LTSP

On February 7th the LTSP community was privileged to hear David Beckmann, a Lutheran pastor and President of Bread for the World, speak at our first convocation of the spring 2012 semester.  The talk was an encouraging yet sobering update on what has occurred in the struggle to end global food insecurity since the publication of Mr. Beckmann’s book Exodus from Hunger in 2010.  Through Exodus’s inclusion in the “One Seminary; One Book” campaign, the LTSP community has learned a great deal both about hunger and what role public theologians have in leading our world out of what is very solvable crisis.  Much like in his book, Beckmann discussed how solving hunger can be a bi-partisan issue, evidenced by the fact that Bread for the World has both former Republican Senator Bob Dole and former Democratic Senator Tom Harkin on it’s board.”  He also stressed that public theologians have a responsibility to help faith communities see citizenship as stewardship and considering offerings of not only money and food but advocacy actions that work towards changing the system that causes hunger in our world.

While a great deal of work has already been done towards ending food insecurity, Mr. Beckmann discussed how given the current political environment, we need to help defend the “circle of protection” around the poor and vulnerable of our society.  Although maintaining church food banks is a great start, they only contribute 6% of what federal assistance programs currently do towards feeding hungry people.  As state and federal politicians continue attacking the federal safety net of food stamps, school breakfast and lunches, tax credits and other programs, the faith community must stand, the faith community needs to lend its voice to those who do not have one.  Here are only a few ideas of what folks at LTSP and elsewhere could do to help in this effort:

  1. Pick up a copy of Exodus from Hunger and read it to educate yourself on the issue if you have not already done so (it’s a really easy book).
  2. Check the websites of Lutheran Advocacy Ministries of PA and Bread for the World to learn more about current legislation and issues.
  3. Write, call or visit your local, state or federal representatives as indicated on those websites… even if you’re against their position, the people who work in legislative offices are generally pretty nice. Help folks at your congregations and field sites realize how important advocacy is as part of their faith.
  4. Let’s get creative on the LTSP campus! Figuring out how to do a well-publicized hunger fast during part of Lent might be a great start.
By engaging in these actions, we can both ensure that hungry people are fed and that we are doing our best to be the Church, Christ’s body on earth.

God's peace,

Thursday, February 02, 2012

A History of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia Campus

I'm deep in the midst of writing my J-term paper on the what "narrative" has been written about the LTSP campus over the years, and I figured folks would appreciate a preview of the first couple paragraphs.  If you have any questions (or construct criticism), please let me know!

          A few months ago while planning for an upcoming green certification program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, one member of the committee suggested it would be helpful to study how our campus identity has changed over the years and how it is currently perceived.  In following up on that request with professors and in the seminary library, I was astounded at the amount of information available.  Beside a nearly countless array of original sources, a number of histories had been published since the seminary’s founding, the most significant being Theodore Tappert’s History of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, 1864 – 1964.  While many of these sources provided valuable information about the names of professors and staff, the acquisition and destruction of various buildings and the character of the student body, they all stopped short of answering my committee member’s question.  I had to dig past such information to tell the story of how our campus community viewed its land, understood its urban setting and its relation to the surrounding neighborhood.  In doing so I hoped to discover how LTSP constructed a campus narrative over its nearly one hundred and fifty year history, the current state of that narrative and how that narrative has impacted the faith of our community.
It quickly became apparent that exploring the evolution of LTSP’s campus narrative would not simply be a historical enterprise, but would necessarily incorporate elements of psychology, sociology and theology as well.  With that fact in mind, my research took a variety of forms.  In order to develop a background for my study of original sources, I first read a number of books on Christian theologies of land, place and the city.  I carefully tilled the Tappert book and other similar works for background historical information.  Using Tappert’s bibliography as a starting point, I next examined minutes from Ministerium of Pennsylvania meetings, LTSP Board of Trustee meetings, transcripts of historical addresses and the like.  I am greatly indebted to the seminary archives staff members who helped me locate a number of early seminary publications and photographic slides (and often the near-ancient equipment to view those slides).  The staff of the Germantown Historical Society also proved helpful in providing old property maps and an outside perspective of the seminary through clippings of newspaper articles.  Finally, I sought to allow the diverse voices of the LTSP community to carry into my work through interviewing a number of staff, faculty, students, alumni and other key individuals.
After engaging in such research I propose that through many changes a “narrative of place” has indeed been constructed by the women and men who have lived, studied, worked and worshiped at here.  I have come to understand that this story has a complex plot which is centered around a single question: how can LTSP best serve the church, Christ’s body on earth, out of this place?  The seminary has generally answered this question somewhere between viewing campus predominately through a monastic tradition of separation and a more missional model of engagement with the outside world.[1]  With notable exceptions, our campus has been on a pilgrimage across that spectrum, slowly shifting away from some of the weaknesses of the monastic model while striving to retain the sacred character of its space and community.

[1] As the current Seminary President Rev. Dr. Philip Krey aptly reminded me, at it’s the best the monastic model can indeed be missional, as such institutions engage in a wide variety of ministries on behalf of their surrounding neighborhood and the church.  “Missional” in this paper however designates a disposition toward interacting with and recognizing the sacred in the wider world whenever possible.