The Posts

Thoughts on Installing a Pastor

Yesterday afternoon, I was able to take part in one of my favorite worship services: the installation of a new pastor. I’m not the first to use this analogy, but the relationship between a pastor and the church he is called to much more closely resembles a marriage than a job/hiring, and the Installation service is very much the wedding.

As worship services go, it’s pretty standard fair most of the way, but the themes heard in the songs and readings chosen echo the great responsibility placed on those called to preach the Good News of salvation, as well as their willingness to walk in those enormous shoes.

My favorite part comes right after the Rite of Installation: other pastors who have gathered for this moment (some from the area, some friends who have traveled for this) surround the new pastor, lay their hands on him and bless him. Usually a scripture is given by each, along with a prayer or word of blessing, but each pastor in turn lays this blessing upon the new pastor. In this way, each pastor is visibly brought into his office not by his own desire or declaration, but by the blessing and authority of his peers. It is a powerful moment to participate in, as well as to witness.

This vocation – being a pastor – is incredibly unique. We are called to be servant-leaders. We are shepherds who are also sheep. We are asked to be Counselors who sometimes need counseling ourselves. We are blessed with the capacity to love and care about even those who refuse it or revolt against it – though we are also human and sinful, and none of us manages this at all times. We can be thanked, complimented and loved, but we will dwell on and lose sleep over a single harsh word. We balance the needs of home with the needs of the members, the staff and the business of the church. It is simultaneously beautiful, ugly, impossible, easy, overwhelming, inspiring, humbling, disappointing, frustrating, rewarding and more adjectives than are in my mind to write at this moment. It is often beyond description.

It is comforting, then, to know that we are not alone in this. We are strengthened by the Holy Spirit, surrounded by the saints, held aloft by countless prayers – and supported by our peers. Even when we disagree on some point of theology or practice, we can still come together and lay hands on a brother as he enters into this sacred relationship – and let him know that we understand what he is about to take on – and that he is not alone.

God bless those who pastor His church, Amen.

 

Thoughts On a Confirmation Service

Today, our church celebrates confirmation. Confirmation in the Lutheran church is just that: confirmation by these young people of the faith that was given to them in baptism, taught to them by their parents, grandparents, godparents, pastors and teachers, and grown and nurtured in them by the Holy Spirit. Today, they stand before their church and say without shame: this is my faith, my church, and I am walking in it.

Our church encourages them to lead the worship service; to choose a personal expression of their own faith that means something to them, and then to present it as part of the worship service. Some read Scriptures. Some write and deliver statements of faith. Some sing, some play instruments, some do sketches, some get still more creative.

It’s a brave and powerful moment, and it makes me so proud of them as their pastor. This particular group I have known (mostly) since they were in fourth grade. Watching them grow is an honor. I see parents beaming and crying, family surrounding them and church family applauding them, and I have to work to fight back the tears.

Confirmation makes me cry, and I think it always will. I go from blessing them as children at 8:30 to communing them as fellow members at 11:00. Lord willing, I will one day confirm and commune my own children, though not my Daniel, whose faith has already been confirmed, perfected and completed. I think about the confirmation I will never see, every year, and it adds tears of sorrow to the tears of pride.

But I am so humbled and honored to be the one to confirm the faith of the children of our church. Other churches give their children first communion months or years before they are confirmed in their faith, while others withhold baptism until after their faith is confirmed. I have theological reasons I disagree with both, but mostly I think both miss out – on the beauty of baptizing an infant; of offering your child to God in complete trust to His care – and on the impact of a young man or woman publicly declaring their faith, and then receiving for the first time the sacramental gifts of God through holy communion.

It is humbling and exciting to see young people stand up and show what their Savior means to them, and to see an congregation of mature believers convicted and compelled to be equally unashamed of their own faith. These are just some of the many gifts our great God delivers through worship services such as these, and I am so thankful to be a part of them.

God bless all those who teach children the faith, and God bless all those who are taught the faith, that they would not depart from it.

Fitting In

I remember a trip we took when I was growing up. I was probably seven or eight years old, and the trip was to King’s Island in Cincinnati. The overall trip included Mammoth Caves and the Air Museum in Dayton, but what really stands out in my mind, is how much I despised King’s Island.

First of all, I loved Cedar Point, so I didn’t understand why we had to drive so far to go to a different amusement park. But much, much worse, was the discovery that I was too big for the little rides… and too little for the big rides. It was a miserable visit, and to this day I am convinced that King’s Island is the amusement park of Satan, designed specifically to torture innocent children. I’m talking, when I picture King’s Island, I picture the amusement park from Pinocchio, where all the boys turn into donkeys and get sold off into slavery. Please, I’m begging you: do not take your children to King’s Island!

In all seriousness, though, that feeling of being too big for the little rides and too little for the big rides is a reality in life more times than just at the amusement park. There are times when you just don’t seem to fit in anywhere.

When you are young, you can’t wait to be bigger so you can do all the fun stuff, like have a job and have money of your own. When you get a little older, you wish you were young again, so you could do all the fun stuff, like not have a job and have parents who pay for everything. One of life’s greatest thrills is when you finally turn 21 and get carded to prove it. One of life’s most crushing blows is when you stop getting carded…

Getting older is an odd thing. We spend half our lives wishing we were older and the rest of our lives wishing we were younger. But no matter what age you are or where you are in life, there will always be people older than you – and people younger than you. It’s important, then, that we respect and look out for those who are younger than us, or who have less advantages. It is likewise important for us to respect and look out for those who are older than us, from whom we might learn. Look out for, teach and mentor those who would benefit from it, but never lord it over them – remember you were younger once, too. Respect and value those who are older than you – why learn everything the hard way, when you can benefit from experience? All of us could stand to ease up, smile more, and treat others with respect – whether we think they deserve it or not.

There are a lot of times in life where you feel like you don’t fit – like you’re too big for the little rides and too little for the big rides. But that should never happen in the church, where we all belong, regardless of our age, our height, our race, our clothes or our hairstyle. We are united in Christ Jesus, covered in His blood, which covers a multitude of sins. You can help make sure the people around you don’t wonder where they belong – or if they belong. Love and respect the people around you, no matter who they are. And for the love of all that’s good and holy, don’t take your kids to King’s Island!

Grief

There is something else you should know about me: I struggle with depression that stems from the grief of losing my son. Daniel was six years old when he died on September 11, 2013. He was a special needs child: stemming from an overarching diagnosis of cerebral palsy, he struggled with many things, including quadriplegia (he could move, but not control, his arms, and he was learning to walk with a walker, but was largely wheelchair-bound). He was vocal but non-verbal, he was pure emotion with an incredible depth of love, the hardest worker I have ever met, and he was my mini-me. I wrote this on the three-year anniversary of his death, and it was published by both The Federalist and Michigan In Touch:

Grief makes no sense.

I mean, of course grief makes sense, in that something so precious, so beautiful—something we just took for granted would always be there—was ripped away from us. We are not meant to be torn apart by sin, death and the devil, but we are. We are not whole, and so we grieve when we suffer genuine loss, because we become still less, with even less to hold onto in this fallen world. Another light goes out, and we are left in still more darkness; the world becomes a little less bright. So we cry, we rage, we hide, we shake, we avoid, we indulge, we run, we fight; we do whatever it takes to cope with this pain that is so impossible to cope with.

And therein lies the nonsense. Because we can’t cope with it. We can’t carry it. We can’t live with it. And yet, we can’t escape from it. It rends us, pierces us, impales us, and decapitates us. It rips our heart from our chest, tears out a chunk and then shoves that mortally wounded muscle back into our shattered rib cage.

And then we have to go on living, knowing we will never again be the same. We read books, we talk about it, we hear advice (we are given still more that we don’t hear because we can’t or won’t). We face it head-on, we avoid it at all costs, but none of it helps. Not really, because the one thing we want—the one thing we need—the one thing we can’t live without—can never be again, at least not in this life.

So we go on. Our grief fades with time, but this is not the same as getting “easier” or “better.” In fact, there is cruel irony in this, because the pain that makes it so hard to draw breath is the only real tie we have to what is lost. And as that pain fades, so, it feels, does that tie—which is a betrayal beyond reason.

Why should life get easier? Why should life go on?

Why should I have to learn to live without what I have lost?

And this makes no sense, is incomprehensible, inexplicable. Because grief is not objective or comparable, in any way. You cannot say one’s loss is easier or harder, better or worse than someone else’s, because you have no idea what they’re going through. The flip side of this is that there is no one who can possibly understand what you’re going through.

No one, save God. And because He does know, and because He defeated those great enemies of sin, death and the devil, our grief will one day be over.

Thus, we do not grieve as others who have no hope (ref. 1 Thessalonians 4:13). I believe this, and yet…

And yet, I still grieve. We still grieve. With heads bowed, we grieve. With cheeks dampened by tears, we grieve. With throats tight and chests crushed, we grieve. With silent pain and anguished groans, we grieve. With desperate screams and heavy brows, we grieve—yes, we grieve.

For my son, Daniel, I grieve. My joy, my heart, my passion still evade my grasp since he was taken from me, three years ago. Three years. The cruelty of the passage of time never ceases or eases. Three years makes me feel as though I have no right to hold onto my grief. Three years makes me feel as though I need to move on. But three years without my son is impossibly cruel.

He has been gone half as long as he was alive. While his brother and sister grow; while other families with three children continue to live on together; while other dads get to laugh and play and hug and teach their children … I grieve. Alone. And not alone. But also alone.

You, who grieve: you are not alone. You are, of course, alone. But also not alone.

As I said, grief makes no sense. Thank God, then, that it will one day be wiped away.

Ordination: July 17, 2011

Here’s another blast from the past (last year) that answers the “why” and “how” I became a pastor.

Hard to believe, but five years ago this Sunday (July 17) was my ordination as a pastor in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod at Community Lutheran Church. It was an incredible day (Heidi says it is her all-time favorite day because she’s awesome), full of celebration and memories, and a welcome I can only believe because I was there.

It’s an interesting thing, ordination in the LCMS. In fact, it all has to do with submission, surrender and service. I hold no authority that hasn’t been granted to me. I’ve never taken any for myself. In fact, as some of you may know, this was defining for me in terms of my journey to becoming a pastor.

I was lost and broken, back in February 2007. I was teaching religion and philosophy classes at what is now Lone Star College in Houston, TX, but without a PhD, I knew there was not enough security to provide for my family. Heidi was making excellent money, but her growing desire was to stay at home as we neared the due date of our second child. I had been rejected from the PhD programs I had applied for, and I just kept feeling like I was meant for more than I was doing… but what?

When Daniel was born not breathing and nobody was sure if he would even survive, let alone what sort of life he would have, I was utterly broken. I numbly went to the hospital chapel and asked God what I was supposed to do.

I believe I received an answer – not some booming voice from on high, but a thought that grew in my mind until it was all I could think about: you’ve always tried to control everything – it’s time to be sent. I had no clue what that meant. So I asked my friend, Matt, who also happened to be my pastor.

What he suggested as part of an incredible conversation… was seminary. Whahuh? He explained how being a Lutheran pastor works (I didn’t want to be a pastor, but that’s a story for another time):

You have to have approval from your pastor. From the leadership of your church. From the district. Oh, and your family had better be on board! You have to apply to seminary, with essays and personal interview questions. You have to pack up and move your family across the country with no guarantee of income and a limit on how many hours you can work to provide for your family. And it costs money. A lot of money. Insane, right? But that’s not all! You have to pass your graduate level classes. Serve a church under the supervision of an active pastor. Do a year-long internship at an active congregation under the supervision of its pastor. You have to have the blessing of those two pastors, and then you must be certified for ordination by the seminary faculty (the degree I earned does not make you a pastor – some guys earned the degree but were not certified for ordination). Then, you are sent (remember that word?) to your first congregation, which has to call you (they have to offer you the job). Finally, the District President where you will be serving has to sign off on your ordination, which is performed by the laying on of hands by active pastors! If I were truly meant to be a pastor, I would have to surrender control, submit to church authority and be truly sent by the church.

And I’ll be honest: it was a scary thought, surrendering that kind of control… but it was also strangely liberating! In fact, it was hugely freeing to place my future in God’s hands by means of the hands of His Church! And I could not be more thankful that I did.

Five years after I was ordained and a full nine years after I began this journey (though, truth be told, I unknowingly began this journey long before that…), I continue to be amazed at the things God has blessed me to be able to do.

I have baptized and brought people into the promise of salvation. I have married couples who have gone on to become families. I have buried people I have loved and people I never had the opportunity to know, each time speaking God’s comfort into the lives of grieving families. I have met amazing people whose faith has blown me away. I have seen real strength and true joy, even in the darkest situations. I hold genuine love and compassion for those entrusted to my care – even those who have broken my heart. I have brought God’s Word and Sacrament to His Church nearly every week for five years, and I continue to be amazed that I get to do it.

I am so thankful for all of you, who have held us aloft with your prayers and words of love and support.The journey has been an incredible one, and I hope there is much more to come. May God bless His whole Church on heaven and on earth, and may we all walk the paths we have been called to walk, Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

 

The Schmidt Family Home (3rd Edition!)

Hard to believe, but five years ago this Sunday (July 17) was my ordination as a pastor in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod at Community Lutheran Church. It was an incredible day (Heidi says it is her all-time favorite day because she’s awesome), full of celebration and memories, and a welcome I can only believe because I was there.

It’s an interesting thing, ordination in the LCMS. In fact, it all has to do with submission, surrender and service. I hold no authority that hasn’t been granted to me. I’ve never taken any for myself. In fact, as some of you may know, this was defining for me in terms of my journey to becoming a pastor.

I was lost and broken, back in February 2007. I was teaching religion and philosophy classes at what is now Lone Star College in Houston, TX, but without a PhD, I knew…

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A Lighter Note: Early Erik

I’m going to share a few things here that I had written for the longer-running family blog but which also seem appropriate for this one. Here are some thoughts I had on being a writer a few years back…

I remember a moment in the first grade, when we were each writing stories – the kinds kids write, drawing pictures above the words. My teacher, Miss Neu, came and stood beside me and told me I was going to be a writer some day. That is one of the earliest school memories I have, and the moment has always stuck with me. I envisioned myself writing books or as a sports writer. In fact, that’s what I went to college to become – a journalism major. Of course, my college admissions officer lied when she told my parents and me that Carthage College had a wonderful journalism program. It had no journalism program. Not even a single class. The Communications major was entirely theater-driven when I arrived on campus in the fall of 1993.

Oh, well. I loved college. I wish I had taken a business class or two, but I loved being a Religion major. At any rate, I have always loved to write – and I have always had my own, unique style. I have more than once, while a student, been accused of plagiarism because of the way I write, and I was once told by an academic adviser that I was not a well-developed writer because he didn’t like my style. I learned after that to be able to write academically/formally, as well as my informal, personal style. I don’t know if I will ever get around to writing a book or anything that will be published, but writing 1-2 sermons a week keeps that ability challenged and polished.

Anyway, I share all this because I have been looking back lately at how I got here. My journey (which is ongoing) and the way my life experiences have prepared me for who I am today are fascinating – I hope it’s that way for everyone. When we live it, it all seems so random and chaotic, but when we look back it all somehow makes sense. Okay, having said all that, I thought I would share an early piece of my writing – the first piece I remember being proud of. I believe I won some sort of award for it, or was at least entered into some sort of contest, but what I really remember is feeling like this was truly me – that my personality had come through in my writing and I was proud of what I had written. At the time, I was a junior in high school and the Sports Editor of the high school newspaper. This was published in our Christmas edition, and it is extremely autobiographical. And I received the highest honor I could imagine: I was invited by the extended Schmidt family – the same people lampooned in the column – to read my piece before Christmas dinner, the very thing it was about. I was a little nervous, but I was far more excited, honored and proud. Considering it was written by a high schooler, it still holds up pretty well, apart from bad comma usage… I hope you enjoy it! Oh, click on the first photo to be able to make it big enough to read, then you can click through to the right to finish it.

The Schmidt Family Home (3rd Edition!)

I remember a moment in the first grade, when we were each writing stories – the kinds kids write, drawing pictures above the words.  My teacher, Miss Neu, came and stood beside me and told me I was going to be a writer some day.  That is one of the earliest school memories I have, and the moment has always stuck with me.  I envisioned myself writing books or as a sports writer.  In fact, that’s what I went to college to become – a journalism major.  Of course, my college admissions officer lied when she told my parents and me that Carthage College had a wonderful journalism program.  It had no journalism program.  Not even a single class.  The Communications major was entirely theater-driven when I arrived on campus in the fall of 1993.

Oh, well.  I loved college.  I wish I had taken a business class or two…

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Movie Review: Wonder Woman

Welcome to the new Blog! This isn’t about family photos or updates, it’s just me writing. Sometimes it’ll be theology, sometimes, it’ll be random thoughts, sometimes, a review of something I’ve seen or read. Like this one! I figure I’ll let the first post be a movie review. Advisory: I am not a film critic, and I am easily pleased, though I do have a few idiosyncrasies when it comes to certain philosophies that drive me batty. So now you’re warned. Let’s do this:

I went to see Wonder Woman with my 8-year-old daughter, my wife, and friends of ours. We were all unanimous in our loving the movie. It seems DC can make a good superhero movie this century after all (though I did actually like Suicide Squad) and, even more shockingly, they can do it without Supes or the Bat.

Although I get all the “girl power” and feminism happy feelings this gave some people, I don’t think it was that, at all. In fact, if it had been that, it would’ve suffered. It was just a straight-up kick-butt superhero movie, and it really didn’t matter that it was a woman (I know it matters because there just aren’t female superhero movies made – but my point is that, purely as a superhero movie fan, I loved it as much as a Captain America, Spider-Man or Batman movie – it didn’t make it any more or less cool that it was Wonder Woman – and that, my friends, is how you make a good movie!).

There were plenty of theological angles to draw from, too. Actually, one of the things that makes this movie not a “girl power” movie is that the Amazons, from whom WW comes, are not human. They are a special race made by the (Greek) gods to protect humans, and we learn that (no spoilers here) WW is actually even more special than her Amazonian family. So the idea that “girls can do anything” is no more or less true than the idea of Superman inspiring boys to be heroes. Sure, if you happen to be an alien or a god and possess superpowers, you can do anything you want. Sign me up?

That simply was not the point – the point (theological and philosophical) was summed up in the quote by Captain Trevor, “It’s not about what they deserve. It’s about what you believe.” This was the transformational moment in the movie for both WW personally and for the battle that was raging. No matter what someone else deserves, you still have to do what you feel is right. This is the powerful message of Wonder Woman, and girl, boy, man or woman alike can take that moral to heart.

[THIS NEXT SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS – SKIP AHEAD IF YOU WANT, I’LL WAIT]

One more thing: since my undergrad, I’ve learned to look for depictions of Christ in film. The hero sacrificing his or herself to save others, perhaps even dying – this theme runs throughout many films (and, incidentally, speaks to the power of the Gospel story). A dead giveaway is that the hero making the sacrifice will usually take the cruciform position (or, to quote the late Chris Cornell and Soundgarden, the “Jesus Christ Pose”), where the body is straight, but the arms are cast out to the sides.

WW takes the cruciform shortly after Captain Trevor (as the sacrificial savior) sacrifices himself to save the world, but then WW, after striking the pose, without sacrificing herself, proceeds to blast the crap out of the badguy, defeating evil and saving the day. In theological terms, we would say that Captain Trevor played the role of Christus Vicar (the atoning sacrifice on the cross), while WW was Christus Victor, the conquering king who defeated the enemy and won the victory.

[OKAY, WELCOME BACK – HERE IT BE SAFE AGAIN]

I really don’t have any criticisms of the movie, except that I think the talented Lucy Davis was largely lost in her bit part of Etta, Captain Trevor’s secretary, and one could make the argument that Wonder Woman borrowed many elements from Captain America: The First Avenger. All in all, though, it was a great movie, and DC has redeemed themselves and once again gotten hopes up for the upcoming Justice League film. As good as Wonder Woman is, and as well as it will do at the box office, I have to ask: why on earth did it take this long to finally get this movie and why is it the only female superhero standalone movie we have as of this point (hello, Marvel, I’m talking to you and Black Widow)?

Alright – if that meant anything to you, I’d appreciate a follow, especially on Twitter. Thanks!

-RevErik