Welcome to my site!

68765016_10217807307708869_1004279932102115328_nHello 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.

Pax et bonum,

Derek

New Homily, “Borderlands: La palabra de Dios no está encadenada!”

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“Gloria Anzaldúa” by Angela Yarbor,    www.holywomenicons.com

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….

Click here to continue reading or to listen to the audio.

The Transitus of St. Francis

71076481_10218166025796597_7986049073352278016_nHere 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.

It was streamed live on the seminary Facebook page here. 

You can also see the service bulletin here: Transitus Bulletin Final

Practicando para la Euchartía de este juenves/ Practicing for this Thursday night Eucharist

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:
https://www.facebook.com/derek.m.larson.9/videos/10218094789775741/

https://www.facebook.com/derek.m.larson.9/videos/pcb.10217959092703399/10217959075862978/?type=3&theater

https://www.facebook.com/derek.m.larson.9/videos/pcb.10217959092703399/10217959076943005/?type=3&theater

New Homily, “To Be With Jesus”

 

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Icon by Cláudio Pastro

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!”

Click Here to Continue Reading or to Listen to the Audio.

 

Holy Saturday: The Dead God

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.

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Our Lady of Ferguson by Mark Dukes Www.requiemfor10000souls.com

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).

77D8C6CB-5BDF-4C01-85F4-931291D8E8A8 Lamentation by William H. Johnson http://American art.si.edu/artwork/lamentation-11815

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.

A Helping Incident: “I was just there to change a gas meter…”

hero-Clinical-Pastoral-Education

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.

The Surprising Nature of Call

Tomorrow my son, Bear, starts his first day of PK 3, and as excited as he is about school, my wife and I are feeling weighed down by his fear of being in a new place without us. Bear is a very shy little boy, and although he can be very social, he doesn’t have much experience being outside the presence of family. Tomorrow is also his birthday! Three years ago we were living with my mom, grandmother, and brother and brought our newborn baby into a home with their loving support. Two years ago we moved to Atlanta and lived in the basement of LauraAnn’s parents where Bear continued to be in the loving presence of close family. Moving to Texas is of course a big step for myself, but it might just be an even bigger step for Bear who has never been anywhere in his life without family, and yet now, his mother will be working, his father will be in seminary, and he will be in preschool!

As I mentioned, Bear is very excited, but already twice since moving we have had to leave him with a babysitter where he screamed and cried for hours until we returned. So we are nervous about how school will go. It’ll be easier with time, but it sure is heavy on our shoulders at the moment.

Tonight, the night before school begins for Bear and orientation begins for me, I am feeling something weighty, and I’m not sure what it is. It’s part emotion, part thought, and part physical sensation. It’s a mix of deep gratitude and pain. It feels like birth and death. I can sense it pulsing in my shoulders and down my arms into my hands, and I can’t quite place its meaning. After some time in prayer it drove me out of my new home barefoot into the streets to walk and listen and sense late into the night. So much is going on in our lives right now and I think I am simply feeling all of it bearing down on me.

And while I say it feels like pain and death, I also say it feels like gratitude and birth. After walking around the block I sat on the steps leading up to our seminary’s place of worship, Christ Chapel, and I just felt an incredible amount of gratitude for being here. I whispered into the night, “why the heck am I here?” I say those words with a sense of fear and confusion as in, “why did I come half way across the country instead of stay home?” But I say them also with a sense of unworthiness and gratitude as in, “why am I here, in this holy place, where you have invited me?”

Like Bear, I have spent my whole life seeking the shelter of family and the protective presence of the things I know and with which I am comfortable. At Bear’s age, I too, cried for hours in the church nursery. In Kindergarten I remember my dad sitting for a while in the back of class because I refused to let him leave. I was shy growing up. And while now I may be able to go to school without dad sitting in the back of my classroom, I have found other ways to gravitate towards comfort and security.

When I was visiting seminaries to choose where might be a good fit, the bishop’s office asked me to be aware and open to surprise. When we came to Seminary of the Southwest, I initially felt no connection or desire to move here. For one, I had no intention of moving to TX, but also, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the ethos of the community. I was looking for something solid in a seminary. I imagined being in a place as close to a monastery as I could get. I wanted tradition, formality, high academic expectations, depth, and a sense that I was connected to an ecclesial tradition that went all the way back to the great councils of the church. But here in Austin, the chapel doesn’t look like a chapel, the professors go by their first names, and smells and bells seem to be in little demand. I was not looking for a place like this. But upon spending a day or two visiting, my family and I felt a deep sense of peace and a great desire to be here! Where on earth did that come from? We were indeed surprised! Later that week we visited another beloved seminary that met the marks on all those “solid” things for which I was looking, a place I had already spent a good amount of time and knew I loved, and immediately upon arrival, we mysteriously felt completely out of place. I truly believe that God has called us here to Seminary of the Southwest.

I have a book entitled, “The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton.” It’s a bit of a funny premise because for those of you that know Thomas Merton, he was a Benedictine, Cistercian monk, not a Franciscan friar. While Franciscans are known for being more casual, doing active work, and planting themselves right in the middle of the insecurity of the world, Benedictines are known for planting themselves away from the world in a very disciplined and structured life of prayer and work. Both Franciscans and Benedictines often value very similar things, but they tend to put their emphasis in slightly different places. Benedictines tend to be solid and Franciscans tend to be fluid. To put it entirely too simplistic, Benedictine communities could be characterized as introverted and Franciscans extroverted. Thomas Merton, as a Cistercian monk, was in a very solid place. And yet, the book points out, long before he became a monk, he pursued a life as a Franciscan. Thomas’ personality was extremely extroverted, artistic, and fluid. He loved experiencing all the world had to offer and had no intention of leaving it. But through an interesting series of events, somehow God surprised him and led him to the Cistercians. If you know much about the life of Merton, you’ll know that he certainly didn’t become the typical monk and he greatly challenged the balance and ethos of the community. He constantly pushed the norms and found himself the exception to the rule. And yet Thomas, himself, was also deeply stretched by the experience. God had called him out of the world for a while to a place more solid than his fluid personality, and found his big personality countered in a way that brought a new balance he never could have experienced while in the world. Thomas Merton may have been Franciscan spirited, but God called him to a Benedictine community to perhaps prod that community out of spiritless routine a bit and bring discipline and structure to his free spirit.

Sometimes God calls us to a place that might be the opposite of where we feel like we most fit in. I have always craved stability, structure, and discipline—some place solid and away from the world. But God has consistently led me to the very opposite.

After college when I was looking for a spiritual community I was deeply attracted to the Benedictine way of life, but somehow God led me to the Franciscans where I have been stretched, challenged, balanced and loved in a way I couldn’t have been somewhere else. As a Franciscan tertiary in the Third Order, Society of St. Francis, I am continually finding myself in places I least expect and most need to be. I think the same thing is happening here at Seminary of the Southwest.

Sitting there on the steps of Christ Chapel, I noticed how much the building represented this tension in me. I’ll be honest, the chapel, architecturally, has been a disappointment to me. It doesn’t seem to make sense. It doesn’t look like most churches. It only has windows on one side and the roof slopes not to the center, but to the side without windows. Nothing is balanced or symmetrical about it. The chairs and setup of the furniture shifts according to season, but no matter how they are set up, they never seem to look quite in place. There is no crucifix or cross on the inside, and it has sliding glass doors. When I first entered I felt disoriented, out of place, and honestly wondered if the building had been badly converted into a chapel after a previous life as some kind of storage facility. Besides the stones themselves, there is nothing solid about this chapel. And yet, I realized that is entirely the point. Christ Chapel invites us into impermanence, flexibility, movement, fluidity, and openness to the world. You cannot retreat from Austin in Christ Chapel. Even the cross is intentionally placed outside of the structure beckoning the worshiper back out into the streets. With that little shift in understanding, my eyes opened to the great beauty of the building. While sitting there on the steps tonight, I became so keenly aware of the holiness into which the building invites us. Christ Chapel is an absolute work of genius (And I can’t wait to read more about its architect, Arthur Fehr, who has other works in the Austin area. Read a description about Christ Chapel from our Dean, here.).

Impermanence, flexibility, movement, fluidity. These are the exact things I need in being formed as a priest. If left to my own devices, I’d retreat from the world and never come back. Some people (like perhaps Thomas Merton) need to spend some extra time away from the world. But I am not one of them. Sure everyone needs to take a retreat sometimes, but I am the one who naturally wants to run from the world and bury my face in my mom and dad’s arms. I am the one who too often wants to hide from the world. I am the one who wants to feel sheltered in the Power and Strength of an Age-Old and Time-Tested Church. I want everything to be firm and solid!

So I don’t need to work much on being more solid. I need to work on being more fluid. I need to work on engaging the world. I need to experience what it feels like to be in flux and in the street. And in doing so, I think I will continue to find a deeper balance between the internal and external, the contemplative and active, the Benedictine and Franciscan. Not everyone is called in this way, but I am certainly noticing it becoming a common theme in my life.

I am incredibly grateful to be here in this place and surprised by the great wisdom, mercy, and calling of God. I am so utterly grateful. I pray that I continue to be open to surprising things and the unpredictable moving of the Spirit.