My name is Jess. I believe in the power of a smile, in living for the moment and making people laugh. I love the way the air smells after it rains and the sound of fall leaves crunching under my feet. I believe in the power of life and of love. I believe in the ability of the church to speak up for those whose voices can’t be heard yet and empower society for good.
Some people call me old fashioned. I think it’s the new fashion.
I was baptized, confirmed and raised in an ELCA Lutheran church. I never questioned those roots until I, as a religion and social work major at Wartburg College, started studying the works of Martin Luther,the scriptures and modern liberation theologians. I fell in love with what I was learning but found myself in conflict. I was uncertain if what I was reading and learning had maintained its integrity on Sunday mornings. I found myself exploring other churches and ultimately becoming frustrated with the church at large. I found myself lost in a system I didn’t understand
Then, things changed.
I traveled to Tanzania and spent three weeks working with the ELCT (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania). I found a church that was vibrant, alive and growing. I found a people who were so dedicated to their faith that they spent hours each week sitting in church services that were conducted in a language that some of them didn’t even know. I traveled to Tanzania and brought donations of all sorts, expecting to do my part to help some of the people there. However, God definitely has a sense of humor and what actually happened is that they helped me.
They gave me hope. Hope for the church, for my faith and for the future.
After returning stateside I went to Rainbow Trail Lutheran Camp in Hillside, Colorado. Again the irony hit. I went to Rainbow Trail expecting to find a summer job and beautiful scenery. What I found was a family of over sixty people who loved me and who I grew to love. I found a second home and I found a community that was passionate, caring and who created the church that I longed for. When I left in August, I was not only okay with claiming my heritage in the ELCA, I was proud of it.
I will graduate from college in May with a degree in social work and religion. If there’s one thing I have learned in the four years I have been here it’s this: As a Christian and a child of God, it is not only my duty, but my incredible privilege to love the people around me unconditionally. This means pursuing social justice, speaking up for those whose voices can’t yet be heard, and living both simply and sustainably.
My personal creed is a prayer written by an unknown author,
We cannot merely pray to you, O God, to end war, for we know that you have made the world in such a way that man must find his own path to peace within himself and with his neighbor.
We cannot merely pray to you, O God, to end starvation, for you have already given us resources with which to feed the whole wide world, if we could only use them wisely.
We cannot merely pray to you, O God, to root our prejudice, for you have already given us eyes with which to see the good in all men, if we would only use them rightly.
We cannot merely pray to you, O God, to end despair, for you have already given us the power to clear away slums and to give hope, if we would only use our power justly.
We cannot merely pray to you, O God, to end disease, for you have already given us great minds with which to search out cures and healings, if we would only use them constructively.
Therefore we pray to you instead, O God, for strength, determination and will power, to do what we can, to do what we must, to do instead of just to pray, and to become instead of merely to wish.
Please walk with the 99 collective as we begin the journey. This is a movement that you’re probably all ready a part of, even if you don’t know it yet.