We’ve made it to Austin! The boxes are unpacked, the books are shelved, the loft is built, LauraAnn has started her new job, and I can’t wait for New Student Orientation at Seminary of the Southwest on August 18th. Thanks to everyone who helped get us here through prayers, financial contributions, verbal encouragements, and good wishes. We couldn’t have done it without you. Continue to keep us in your prayers over the next few weeks and the next three years! #seminary #ATX #TheEpiscopalChurch #tinyliving#happyliving
Hi all! It’s officially July and we only have 22 days until the big move! Today was our last Sunday at St. George’s Church and I had the opportunity to share the reflection on scripture. Next week I’ll be heading to another seminary, The University of the South, to work at SUMMA Student Theological Debate Society camp for high school students. When I get back, we’ll be loading up and moving to Seminary of the Southwest!
Everything is finally coming along and fitting into place. We’ve started packing, enrolled Bear in an Episcopal Day School down the road from where we will be living, and most recently, found out LauraAnn has been hired as an Assistant Teacher at Bear’s new preschool in another class! We are feeling blessed.
We certainly could still use your help though! LauraAnn’s salary will be our primary income while I am in school full time and we will be taking a significant pay cut. We could use help with Bear’s tuition, rent and utilities, groceries, the cost of insurance, and other everyday expenses that add up quickly. Seminary is expensive!
We could also use help paying for our moving expenses which include a truck rental, apartment deposits, gas, license and car registration fees, etc. Moving is expensive!
Please consider sharing this page or making a donation to our seminary fundraising site. YouCaring will be shutting down at the end of the month, so I am encouraging people to contribute by July 15th (just 10 days away!).
Thanks for all your love and support!
Today was my last Sunday (at least for a while) worshiping with St. George’s Episcopal Church in Griffin, GA. Next week I’ll be on my way to SUMMA Theological Debate Camp at Sewanee, and when I return we’ll be on the road to Austin!
Today, before I embark on my journey, I had the opportunity to share again a reflection on the scriptures. Read it here by clicking HERE.
8th Grade Celebration, May 2018
St. George’s Episcopal School
Derek M. Larson, Chaplain
Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek, the hungry, the merciful. Blessed are you when people hurt you. Blessed. At the end of every year we gather and hear these words. For some reason we’ve decided that in this celebration and recognition of this class, the beatitudes are what we want to hear. And it makes sense. It’s a great and challenging passage of scripture. It’s one of my favorites. This passage sums up most of Jesus’ message. I often tell people that every Christian should have it memorized. And some of you do! Blessed.
As I was preparing for today I was thinking, though, why is it appropriate for this celebration, in particular. I think one reason is that it’s quite a familiar scene. Jesus is, after all, a teacher. And his disciples are students. And here we have teachers…and students. The passage begins, “Jesus saw the people, sat down, and began to teach them.” I know what that means. Over the last two years I have learned well what it means to teach a classroom full of students. Think about it! What do you think it was like there that day? We see Jesus’ words here on the page, but what did the disciples say? What were they thinking? What kind of expression was on their face? I imagine maybe it was a bit like this:
Then Jesus took his disciples up the mountain, and gathering them around him, he taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are they that thirst for justice. Blessed are you when you suffer. Be glad and rejoice for your reward is great in heaven.”
But then Peter raised his hand and asked, “Are we supposed to know this? And Andrew, Do I have to write this down? And James “Is this gonna be on the test? Can you picture that? And Philip “How much is this worth? And Bartholomew, “Do we have to hand this in? And John, “the other disciples didn’t have to learn this!” And Matthew, “Can I go to the bathroom?” And then Judas, “What does this even have to do with the real world? And Jesus wept. I’m just kidding, but can you imagine the dynamic? Jesus teaching his students out there?
That last question though is pretty spot on. “What does this have to do with the real world?” That’s a good question! What DOES this have to do with the real world? Because when I look out there or turn on the news, sometimes I don’t see very many blessed people. And when I do it certainly isn’t the people that Jesus says are blessed! In this world, it isn’t the poor who are blessed, it’s the rich! In this world it isn’t the mourning who are blessed, it’s the people too privileged to worry about pain. It isn’t the meek who are blessed, it’s the ones who demand what they want and push their way to the front. Who in this world would ever say you’re blessed if you are persecuted for what you believe? What does this have to do with the real world? But the beatitudes are not about the real world. They are about a new world. An imagined world. An upside world. A world to be hoped for.
How many of you got to see our Presiding Bishop give the sermon at the royal weekend this past weekend? Wasn’t it great? And that’s our presiding bishop! He leads all the Episcopal Churches in the Americas and sits on the board of the Episcopal Schools Association. He was once a school chaplain. And by the way, the Biennial Conference for Episcopal Schools will be in Atlanta in November and Bishop Curry will be preaching, so you might want to look into going to that.
At the royal wedding Bishop Curry started his sermon with a line from Martin Luther King Jr. “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way.”
We will make of this old world a new world. THAT is what the beatitudes are about. The beatitudes are not a description of the world as it is, but a call to make it what it should be. To make it what God had always intended for it to be. Through love. We are being called to make the world new, to comfort those who mourn, to stand for peace and justice, to show mercy for those least in society, and to hunger and thirst for God’s way. This isn’t about the real world as it is now. It’s about the world as it could be. It’s about the world as it was made to be. The world that Jesus is making it to be, the world that Jesus is asking us to make it be.
That’s why we’re here! That’s why we call ourselves an Episcopal School! We want our students to not only absorb information and facts about math, science, and English, we want them to grow into authentic human beings bent on making the world a better place. Our mission statement is right there on the front of your programs. “Inspiring children to LEARN with passion, SERVE with respect, LIVE with purpose, and LEAD with integrity.” Right after the Beatitudes Jesus continues teaching and says, you are the salt of the earth! But if salt loses it’s saltiness, what good is it? The whole point of salt is to be salty. The whole point of the human life is to love. What a waste if we make our lives all about me.
It took a while. There may have been questions or people asking for clarification. But eventually Jesus’ disciples got it. Eventually Jesus was able to pass that work onto them and they changed the world. They cared for those who were hurting, they shared the gospel around the world, they stood up for what was right and just even when it cost them pain, suffering, and persecution. It took them a while, but they got it, and they passed these words—this mission—down to us. And in each moment they lived into the words of these beatitudes, the real world as it is, got a glimpse of the hoped for world as it can, and should, and will be.
Today as I look at our 8th graders. They’re getting it. I see their gifts, their passions, their wisdom. Jesus said the kingdom of God belongs to young people and I believe it. These are the people right here that will make that old vision of Christ become fresh and new in the world they live in. These are the people that will come alongside the hurting, show mercy for those in need, work towards peace, and be called God’s children.
So eighth grade, as you make this transition into high school, I have two things to share with you. If you notice, the beatitudes are written as a poem. Each line has two parts. The first part is who is blessed, the second is what they are blessed with. Those who mourn are blessed, someone will comfort them. So these are the two things.
First, know that you are blessed. Know that you are loved. When you feel lost and confused, you are loved. When you cry and mourn, you are loved. When you are pushed around, you are loved. When you are put down for standing up for what is right, you are loved. I love you. This community loves you. God loves you. Remember that. There will be times over the next four years when you’ll need it.
Second, it is your job to bless others. You have that power. You have that gift. Don’t wait for someone else to help a person in need. You can do it. You be the one who comforts the mourning. You be the one who shows mercy to someone who doesn’t deserve it. You be the one to stand up when no one else is standing up and demand a better world where God and God’s love reigns. Too often we adults lose sight of God’s call. We get caught up with our own careers, family, bills, ambitions, societal norms, or whatever else tugs at our attention. I’m sorry, but looking around at the world, you can’t always depend on adults to lead the way. But if you take God’s call seriously. If you stand up and be a blessing to the world. You will find even adults inspired at the way you live and we will come alongside of you and share the load.
You are blessed. You are loved. Be the blessing. Be the love.
May you, as you enter high school, and all of you who will later, and all of you who already have, know what it means to be blessed and loved, and to be blessing and loving. Amen.
Pentecost update! Things are moving along quickly! This week will be my last as chaplain at SGES, and we plan to move to Austin the last week of July. We should have housing in place shortly, but plan to be in a seminary apartment. We also got word this week that Bear has been accepted into a wonderful Episcopal day school just 2 blocks from where we’ll be living! LauraAnn continues to look for a new job, and we have a couple prospects that look good. As for finances, I’ve recently been awarded a $500 book scholarship, and will be hearing back from some other scholarships within a week or two. St. George’s Church has also generously contributed to our seminary fund. We have loved being part of such a wonderful church. Our last Sunday with the church before moving will be July 8th. I’ll be sharing the reflection on scripture that day.
We are still looking to raise quite a bit of funds for the moving expenses coming up, as well as housing and Clinical Pastoral Education. Would you consider helping? Even $5 would be so special for us. We appreciate how much loving support we receive from all of you.
As always, continue to stay updated on our journeys here and at www.Youcaring.com/derekmichaellarson.
It would also be a great help to us if you considered sharing this post on your own social media page. Thanks!
Last day of Bible class for the year! This week we looked at examples of how Christ has been portrayed in art through history, and then created our own pieces. Each piece emphasizes a different aspect of Christ’s character and tells a story through symbols. @ St. George’s Episcopal School
5th Sunday of Easter, 2018
St. George’s Episcopal Church
Derek M. Larson, TSSF
This week as I reflected on our readings for today, I was particularly struck by what they had to say about the call of God. Many of you know that I have been in discernment about becoming an Episcopal priest for a few years and will be moving in just three months to attend the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, TX as a postulant in the Diocese of Atlanta. Perhaps its because discernment has been so present on my mind lately, but so much of today’s readings remind me of my own call. Three lessons of discernment especially stand out to me.
The first comes from a line in the middle of our story from Acts about Philip and the Ethiopian man. Philip felt drawn by God to speak to the man, and after sharing with him the meaning of scripture and the story of Jesus, the man promptly asked to be baptized in a ditch on the side of the road. “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away.”
Have you ever felt snatched away from something? Perhaps you were in the middle of a project or the climax of an invigorating book and you heard the cry of a child, the knock on a door, the ring of a telephone. Or perhaps you’ve had something snatched from you? A job promotion was given to someone less qualified. A friendship ended after some silly argument. A close friend or family member taken from life too early. It’s not a pretty word, snatched. We don’t like being snatched or having things snatched from us. It’s jarring and surprising. It makes us feel out of control. But sometimes God doesn’t just call us, God snatches us. “The Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away.”
Seven years ago, in my final semester of college, I stood at the front of a room behind a pulpit, annoyed at the assignment I had been given and this class I was required to take. In fact, I was so unenthused by the prospect of taking the course, I had intentionally avoided registering for the class until the last possible moment. And yet there I stood, the eyes of the professor and all my peers pointed at me. What was the class? Preaching 101!
It’s not that I didn’t like religion or spirituality. I was majoring in it! I loved the academic study of scripture and theology. Eschatology, Soteriology, Christology! Existentialism, Mysticism, Postmodernism. I loved it all! But at the time I had made up my mind that I would never become a preacher.
I grew up in the Church. My dad was an Evangelical pastor; my mom helped with the children’s ministry. By the time I was 18 I was the music minister! But the thought of being the pastor of a church? It made me shudder.
Part of that is because I honestly didn’t feel like I fit in at the churches I had grown up in. In those churches the pastors all seemed to be extroverted, hyped up, aggressive people who took everything in blind faith and asked very few questions. The scripture was always preached literally, dogmatically, and, honestly, with little depth. As I looked around the room at the aspiring preachers in my Pentecostal University’s required class for religious majors, they all fit the bill. But for a quiet, introverted, academic person like myself, becoming a pastor seemed out of the question. Instead I was set on becoming a religious studies professor where I would keep my nose in books and pass my fingers over the pages of ancient manuscripts. What could be more fitting for me than that?
In that last semester of college, the assignment was for each of us to write and give a sermon while our peers took notes offering constructive criticism and support. Aspiring professor that I was, I preached my sermon wearing a brown suitcoat complete with elbow patches while standing in front of a white board, explaining the scriptures with diagrams and the exposition of Greek words. If I was going to preach, I’d do it my way. When I finished, the students were invited to share their thoughts. Overwhelmingly and unsurprisingly the most common thing shared was that I seemed more like a teacher than a preacher! To which I responded, “Precisely. I have no intention of becoming the pastor of a church.”
But then the professor spoke up, “Don’t put yourself in a box,” he said. “God very well may be calling you to be a pastor, and I think you’d be a wonderful one. God doesn’t need every pastor to look exactly alike. In fact, God is a God of surprises. You may think you know exactly where you are going in life, but God may just snatch you up for something else.”
God is, indeed, a God of surprises.
I can relate to Philip’s experience with the call of God. It’s a lesson I’ve learned in my own discernment. So often God’s call is a surprise that snatches up from whatever we are doing.
Three times in our short passage Philip is called to something surprising and unexpected. Often when God calls us, God calls us to surprising things, and we must be intentionally open to hear and follow the call.
A second lesson I have learned through my own discernment is that thankfully while the call of God is often unexpected, we never hear it alone. We discern God’s voice in community, as today’s passage also points out. When asked by Philip if he understood the words of scripture, the Ethiopian man responds, “How can I, unless someone guides me.”
That sounds so much like the many conversations I’ve had since that day in preaching class. I had been so sure about the direction of my life, but my professor’s words had moved me in a way I had not expected, and now I was unsure. I needed help from others to make sense of what he said and the voices battling within me about the direction my life should take. Since then I’ve spent years in prayerful conversation with family, friends, pastors, committees, and spiritual directors to come to a better understanding about where God is calling me, and I’m so thankful for the community that’s grown from it. Many of you have been such a crucial part of that journey. As I wrestled with which vocation to pursue, it was through the voices of others that God continued to speak to me.
Finally, this week I am struck by the emphasis on love in the passage from 1 John and the gospel, especially the words, “there is no fear in love.” While my professor’s words immediately resonated within me, it took a good amount of time for them to fully sink in. I felt the Spirit speaking through those words and I carried them with me, but I also carried with me the baggage of my own bias, prejudice, anxiety, and fear.
Anytime my heart beckoned me closer to God’s call in my life, my brain would counter with reasonable arguments for why I could never be a pastor. Almost 4 years after that initial call to pastoral ministry, while on retreat at a local monastery, I noticed that all my hesitations about pursuing priestly ministry were surface-level and attached to fear, anxiety, or worries about fitting in and being good at it, while the draw towards the priesthood was deeper, more consistent, and peace-centered. I felt God asking me to step out beyond my fears as so many in scripture had done upon their calling. “Perfect love casts out fear.”
So, the three lessons I am sharing with you today. One, often God’s call is surprising. God loves to snatch people out of their comfort zone and bring them to a place totally unexpected. God doesn’t call the qualified; God equips and qualifies the called. So where might you be surprised by God’s voice? Where are you attached to comfort and routine? Where might you find God snatching you up to something new?
Two, God’s call always comes in community. You aren’t expected to figure it all out on your own. Look around. Who are the people that support you? Who are the people that pray for you? Many of them are even in this room. If you feel that God may be calling you to something, find a community of people to discern with you. God speaks through those around you.
And three, while God’s call may at times be intimidating, it always bears with it the fruit of love. Perfect love casts out fear. Trust that God’s loving call is deeper than any surface feelings of anxiety and fear.
May you hear the call of God in your life. May you be surprised and snatched up to new and unexpected places. May you hear the voice of God in those around you. And may God’s voice be a never-ending presence of love in the depths of your being. Amen.
You’ve heard of the Easter Bunny, but how about Alleluia Butterflies? While the bunny and the egg represent new life, the butterfly represents TRANSFORMED life, a perfect symbol for these 50 days of the Easter season. Our students created their own butterflies decorated in signs of Christ’s resurrection. They hang with the cross in the chapel, a daily reminder of God bringing transformed life to the world!
Derek has been engaging in ministry for more than 15 years. Now, he will be training to become a priest in the Episcopal Church at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, TX (see post below)! Derek and his family are so excited to take this next step in their journey, but they need your help to make it possible! Will you consider donating to Derek’s training and ministry?
Find out how you can help here:
Many of you know this past January I was made a postulant for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. The biggest part of being a postulant is receiving formal training and education. Over the last few months LauraAnn, Bear, and I have been immersed in seminary research and conversations with the bishop’s office, and we’ve discerned that God is calling us to the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, TX. We’ll be moving around the first of August and will be there for three years before returning to the Atlanta area.
Obviously we are excited about taking this next step, but of course all moves come with some sadness about what we are leaving behind. It’s bittersweet to leave my position as chaplain at St. George’s Episcopal School. I’ve developed some meaningful relationships and poured my heart and soul into my ministry there. I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunity to gain so much valuable experience in a place like SGES. It has been a crucial part of my journey towards the priesthood, and I’m thankful for that. We’ll also miss being so close to family. We don’t know very many people in Texas and its difficult to leave the community we have here.
At the same time we are so looking forward to all of the great things ahead! We fell in love with the Seminary of the Southwest when we visited; its going to be the perfect place for us to live, work, and pray over the next three years. I am sooo excited.
Wish us prayers, blessings, luck, and all around good vibes for what’s ahead!