Hello all! You have reached the ministry webpage for Derek Michael Larson. Below are blog posts updated frequently with my thoughts on faith and my current engagement in ministry. Above are links to pages with more information about my faith journey and how to connect with me. To the right is a link to my fundraising page for seminary and a place to sign up to receive email updates each time I post on this site. Let me know if you have any questions! I look forward to connecting with you.
This semester I’m taking a preaching class and we recently had to record ourselves giving a sermon without notes. In the Episcopal Church it is very common for preachers to read from a manuscript, which is how I am most comfortable preaching. I like the feeling of having planned exactly what I want to say. There are some draw backs to this method though and we’ve been experimenting in class with how to preach with limited or no notes at all. It’s been challenging, but surprisingly it has also given me much fodder for theological reflection in my continued discernment of the priestly vocation. Who am I as a preacher? Who could I be? What are my comfort zones? What are my insecurities? What is the role of preaching? These questions sure do have me thinking deeply about preaching in a way I’m not sure I ever have.
Here a my recorded video for class commemorating the Feast of St. Teresa of Avila, which was on October 15th.
Our readings today are about borders. We have our own national border not too far from here. And it is something, I’m learning, that deeply forms the culture of south Texas. In her book, Borderlands/ La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldúa describes the border as una herida abierta. A place where the implications of our nation’s prejudices are fully visible. To live in the borderlands means to live in a complicated place, often full of pain, but also great beauty. Anzaldúa also points out however, that there are many kinds of borderlands. I didn’t grow up in south Texas. Though I was born less than 150 miles from the Canadian-U.S. border, a place vastly different than here. But I have gone through different kinds of borders in my life. I’ve passed through the borders between employment and unemployment. Between the church I grew up in and the church I’m in now. Between health and mental illness. Borders are hard. And I know my borders have been easy compared to what others have had to face. But living in some type of borderland is a fact of life. The borders in our lives are always changing, and sometimes we are on one side, and sometimes we’re on the other. Here in south Texas, we are especially aware of this reality.
In today’s first reading, we encounter the people of Israel in the borderlands of exile….
Here at the seminary we have something called a CISs (Community Initiated Services). These services provide seminary community members the opportunity to come up with creative expressions of prayer and worship in Christ Chapel. Last year I helped put one together for the Feast of St. Óscar Romero, which was so great.
Last fall I found an old book of plays in the library about St. Francis by Laurence Housman. I thought it was so cool and decided to dream up a Transitus service that used short plays in place of the traditional readings by Bonaventure and Thomas of Celano. Tonight that dream became a reality!
I’m so grateful for everyone who helped put this together. There were 20 of us involved in this one service from presiding to acting to baking bread and cookies. It was so, so special.
This semester I’ve taken on the role of facilitating the music for Seminary of the Southwest’s Thursday night Community Eucharist. I say facilitate because there is an amazing group of musicians with whom I collaborate each week, and I’m not nearly the most talented or the most visible or the most vocal. Even so, I’m really loving playing the part of a minister of music again. I spent over a decade in the Church of the Nazarene leading and writing music and when I joined the Episcopal Church, I sort of thought I left that all behind. In most Episcopal Churches you walk into these days, the organ (or maybe piano) is the only instrument. And while that’s beautiful, it’s been fun to practice some creativity about what music can look like in an Episcopal context. I’m especially enjoying playing with the less used hymnals from the African American and Spanish language traditions in the Episcopal Church. Thursday night Eucharist is incredibly special and I’m so grateful to participate each week.
Here are some videos that give a glimpse of what we do:
Our gospel reading today is the beloved story of Jesus’ visit with Martha and Mary and after a year of seminary I feel like I have about a thousand ways I could approach the text. With my Pastoral Theology class in mind I might analyze the family system at play between Mary and Martha to discern the most appropriate way to provide pastoral care. Using what I’ve learned in my Liberation Theologies class, I might speak to the socio-political-economic culture of capitalism and its dehumanizing idolization of busyness and productivity. Having taken Liturgical Music 1 (and 2!) I might point out that Mary’s posture of listening to Jesus was not unlike listening to a beautiful piece of music. With Church History 1 (and 2!) in mind, I might speak to the contemplative Benedictine charism of Mary and the active Franciscan charism of Martha. And having taken Mujeristaand Latina Feminist Theologies I might finally call for the end of the debate on a woman’s role in society by pointing to Jesus’ response to Martha and saying, “El lugar de la mujer no está solo en la cocina!” “A woman’s place is not relegated to the kitchen!”
In college I picked up the practice of praying the Jesus Prayer, an ancient Eastern mantra which comes from stories in the gospels where people cry out to Jesus for healing and mercy. I picked it up from the 19th century Russian classic, The Way of the Pilgrim. Anyway, I always keep a set of prayer beads in my pocket (I use a rosary) and at times pull it out and pray this prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
This afternoon I went to our Holy Saturday liturgy at the seminary and found myself there after the service praying with my beads and without even thinking too much about it praying a different prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, the dead God, have mercy on us, sinners.
Today, in Jesus, God is dead. We, in our hunger for power, in our allegiance to the status-quo, in our fear of others, in our prejudice, discrimination, and bigotry have killed God. Today God is in the tomb.
God is in the tomb with Trayvon Martin, whom we also killed. God is in the tomb with Felipe Gomez and Jakelin Caal. God is in the tomb with Roxana Hernandez, Dana Martin, and Ashanti Carmon. God is in the tomb with Matthew Shepherd. God is in the tomb with Oscar Romero and Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. God is in the tomb with those who lived most of their lives on death row. God is in the tomb with the teenagers from Parkland, FL and the children from Newtown, CT. God is in the tomb with the families in Afghanistan bombed by drones. God is in the tomb with those in the World Trade Center. God is in the tomb with the Rohingya in Myanmar. God is in the tomb with those who starved in South Sudan. God is in the tomb with so many of the indigenous people of the Americas. God is in the tomb with the soldiers in Vietnam. God is in the tomb with the millions of Jews who suffered the Holocaust. God is in the tomb with the millions of Africans who died on ships of enslavement and the millions more who died by the hands of their oppressors and under Jim Crow. God is dead. We killed God right alongside so many others.
In his book The Crucified God, theologian Jurgen Moltmann wrote, “When the crucified Jesus is called the ‘image of the invisible God’, the meaning is that this is God, and God is like this. God is not greater than he is in this humiliation. God is not more glorious than he is in this self-surrender. God is not more powerful than he is in this helplessness. God is not more divine than he is in this humanity” (295).
Black Liberation theologian James Cone also wrote, “But when the poor of North America and the Third World read the passion story of the cross, they do not view it as a theological idea but as God’s suffering solidarity with the victims of the world. Jesus’ Cross is God’s solidarity with the poor, experiencing their pain and suffering” (“An African American Perspective on the Cross and Suffering” in The Scandal of a Crucified World).
Lest we relegate the death of Christ solely to an historical event or a theological idea, Moltmann, Cone and many others remind us that in the poor, marginalized, and oppressed of the world, God is still dying. God is still being killed. If Jesus is the least of these as Mt. 25 reminds us, God is being crucified, starved, hung, shot, bombed, and poisoned everyday. Holy Saturday is everyday. The question is, if the Church wants to be a resurrection people and the hands and feet of Jesus, will Easter be everyday?
Lord, Jesus Christ, the dead God, have mercy on us, sinners.
In addition to seminary, one of the requirements for ordination in the Episcopal Church is participation in a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program. CPE programs are designed to help people develop skills for pastoral care, especially in the context of crisis. Most CPE students work in hospitals, but some also work in prisons, churches, homeless ministries, hospices, etc. The program is designed not only to develop interpersonal skills, but to also develop some deep self-reflective practices which will help a pastor stay healthy and better personally process the crises of others. It’s typical for seminarians to participate in a CPE program after their first year of seminary, and I have been working on preparations to make that happen for myself. Last week I sent in my first application to a CPE program, and it was a lot of work! For example, the first question was: “Provide a reasonably full account of your life.” I ended up writing 10 single spaced pages for the entire application. One of the questions I found interesting was about describing a “helping incident” and I thought I’d share my response with you.
You can listen to my audio response or read my written response below.
5. An account of a “helping incident” in which you were the person who provided the help. Include the nature and extent of the request, your assessment of the issue(s), problem(s), situation(s). Describe how you came to be involved and what you did. Give a brief, evaluative commentary on what you did and how you believe you were able to help.
While in graduate school I worked as a contractor for gas companies. The work consisted of knocking on doors unannounced and asking if I could update their gas meters or make an appointment to do so. In order to complete my work I had to go inside the house and often pull out their stove and other appliances to check for gas leaks. Surprisingly, the nature of the work involved an intimacy with people. I would often catch people vulnerable in their own home before they had the chance to clean up or put on their “public” self and found it important to hold that space as sacred. I often got caught up in conversations with people, and they shared with me much about their lives, fears and all. The work didn’t seem much different from giving pastoral visits besides working on their gas meters. I have a lot of stories from the time I worked there.
One of these visits was at the apartment of an older woman. I had finished my work outside and came inside to check her appliances. As I worked we talked and she asked if I was in school and I shared with her I was working on a MA in Theology and hoped to become a priest. Often when I shared that information, people would either close off or open up. There was always a definite change in people’s demeanor, but most of the time it meant they opened up as it did in this particular case. The woman began to share with me how lonely she was. It had been 9 months since the passing of her husband of 40 years and she still hadn’t gotten used to life without him. I could tell she deeply missed him. When I finished my work we continued talking and she took me through her home telling stories and sharing pictures of her husband. She showed me nicknacks they had acquired throughout the years and even showed me where he had died in that very apartment. She asked me what I thought about the afterlife and where her husband might be and I talked about the mystery of what’s next and the eternity of God’s love. She shared with me her own faith. We probably spent 45 minutes to an hour talking and in her tears we ended our time with a brief prayer and I went on my way.
I think of this as a “helping incident” because even though she didn’t directly ask for help and I wasn’t there specifically to help, in her loneliness she needed someone with whom she could talk. She needed reassurance of her own life and purpose and the eternal destiny of her husband. I wasn’t there as a clergy member, or a friend, I was there simply to work on the gas meter but I made sure I was attentive to her as a human being and not simply a customer. I could have finished my work and left right away and it wouldn’t have been inappropriate. We were paid by the meter and I could have been off to the next one to make more money, but I felt in that moment God’s Spirit leading me to simply listen to the woman, which is what I mostly did. I didn’t actually say all that much. I just listened. I let her show me pictures and tell her stories. I just paid attention, and I think that’s all she wanted in that moment. I was able to give that to her, and it wasn’t hard to do. It was certainly intimidating for me. I don’t have a lot of experience with that kind of pastoral care and it tends to take me time to connect with strangers, but I really felt like this was an important moment for me to share with her and follow the Spirit’s leading. My only regret is that I didn’t keep in touch with her. It wasn’t my role to keep in touch and I don’t know if it would have been appropriate to stay in touch with a customer or not, but I wish I had at least given her a follow up call later. Whatever the case, I believe that was an important moment for both me and her, and it was particularly so because neither of us expected it in the moment. I was just there to change a gas meter. But sometimes God has other plans.