Monday, July 22, 2013

But We Had Hoped... (Brian E. Konkol)

The following was published on the Sojourners' God's Politics blog on July 22, 2013 and Living Lutheran on July 23, 2013, and can be found at and

In only four words, “But we had hoped” (Luke 24:21), we find one of the most profound expressions of human emotion in the entire New Testament. In the midst of all that was taking place around Jerusalem nearly two-thousand years ago, Cleopas “stood still, looking sad”, for his life had taken a surprising turn for the worse. He had hoped that Jesus “was the one to redeem Israel”, yet it appeared that such dreams were shattered, and because of it all, Cleopas was left to move forward into a reality that he had not previously imagined. But we had hoped. One can presume that Cleopas and his travel companion on the road to Emmaus not only felt shocked, lost, angry, and afraid, but we may also conclude that their collection of emotions were representative of most who have come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. While many had expected Jesus to be with them “mighty in word and deed” for many years to come, he was all of a sudden removed from their presence. And so, in light of all that took place, the dreams of those who believed in Jesus were abruptly dashed, and the community of disciples was left – both literally and metaphorically – wandering down the road into a future that seemed removed of joy and filled with despair.

But we had hoped. As recalled by David Lose, at various points in life we all have either uttered or pondered such words, as our existence is filled with unforeseen twists and turns that can lead to distress, discontent, and even disillusionment. When our lives contain unanticipated struggle we hope for it all to be made well, and when all seems to be well we hope that it all will continue for as long as possible. Through it all, while we as human beings are diverse in countless ways, we all have experienced sudden moments of unpredicted disappointment, and we all have felt the torrential downpour of despair: But we had hoped the cancer would heal. But we had hoped the marriage would work. But we had hoped the promotion would come. But we had hoped the legislation would pass. But we had hoped the money would last. But we had hoped the children would behave. But we had hoped… But we had hoped… But we had hoped…

But we had hoped…. With these four profound words, not only do we learn to relate with all that Cleopas and others were feeling immediately after the death of Jesus, but we are also inspired to name and claim those moments of surprising disappointment that we also often experience. When dreams appear to be shattered and our plans for the future do no match up with what has actually occurred, at times we react with anger and try to pass blame, yet perhaps most of all, we are left wondering – as did Cleopos and other disciples – where was God in the midst of it all? Was God not with us? Where was God when our secure and predictable future all of a sudden became insecure and unpredictable? Where was God when we felt pain by no fault of our own? Where was God when we cried, screamed, and shouted with sadness? Where was God when the path forward seemed to crumble and we were left to wonder how the pieces could be placed back together?

But we had hoped… When Cleopas and the other disciples experienced deep grief “their eyes were kept from recognizing” the presence of God in their midst, and this momentary spiritual disability kept them from seeing the awesome possibilities that were standing right in front of them. However, in an amazing twist of events, Jesus eventually opened Cleopas’ eyes, and in doing so Cleopas was shown a new way to walk an old path, for instead of disappointment and anger, Cleopas and his travel companion embraced the awesome new life that was awaiting them. Through it all, the two on the Road to Emmaus were shown how God was at work in the complexity of their daily lives, and no matter what the circumstances, they had nothing to fear and everything to embrace. Ultimately, the disciples were shown that the clouds of life will clear, the sun always rises, and the risen Jesus gives his followers burning hearts to keep moving forward on the path laid out before them.

As we collectively look to the future and wonder what it all may bring, we can listen deeply to the story of Cleopas and his companion on the Road to Emmaus, for just as God made their hearts burn within them back then, God continues to do the same for us here and now. More specifically, we are reminded that although most things in life never stay the same, we can be fully assured that one thing will: the promise of Jesus to accompany us. Whether the future brings that which was once expected, or even if the time ahead bring that which could not have been foreseen, in Jesus we are given the blessed assurance that all is well in our souls, we have nothing to fear, and we are set free to experience life in its absolute fullness. And so, regardless of which path we are all called to travel, may we continue to look up, reach out, and see the awesome presence of God in every face we look into and every road we travel onto, for it is with God’s Spirit that we are given all that we need for the journey ahead. Through it all, may we embrace the promise of God’s abiding presence, feel the comfort and challenge that comes with it, and together, may we move forward into an unknown future with confidence that all will indeed be well.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

When Robbers and Innkeepers Profit from Good Samaritans (Brian E. Konkol)

The following was published on the Sojourners' God's Politics blog and Patheos Faith Forward blog on July 2, 2013, and can be found at and

The “Parable of the Good Samaritan” is one of the most well known, beloved, and influential portions of the New Testament. As a striking narrative about care and compassion for others, the content of Luke 10:29-37 has reverberated throughout the centuries as a clear and profound call to public love through personal action. All together, the radical hospitality of the Samaritan has sparked various charitable acts and organizations around the world, thus one can argue that no other parable has offered a more profound impact on the course of human history.

While the Parable of the Good Samaritan is brilliantly effective for what Jesus seemingly sought to promote, one can argue that out-of-context misinterpretations have since initiated numerous incomplete social movements, which in turn has led to the survival of unjust social structures. In other words, the narrative seems to promote short-term aid without addressing long-term justice, and the appearance of such an omission needs to be explored more thoroughly. For example, what were the social conditions that led to such a dreadful act of violence on the road to Jericho? Why was the stranger so brutally victimized at that particular location and not somewhere else? Was the event merely a crime of momentary opportunity, or was it a predictable outcome of a deeper societal illness? In other words, was short-term aid all that was necessary in response to the incident, or was the Good Samaritan later inspired to engage the dilemma through advocacy? All together, the parable provides us with a number of important lessons surrounding acts of charity, yet it also leaves an assortment of questions in relation to the promotion of justice.

One wonders what would happen if the Good Samaritan traveled down the same road, day after day, and continued to find helpless victims at or near the same location. What then would be his response? At what point would the Samaritan do more than offer short-term aid for the victims? Would he start asking deeper questions about the social location? Would he seek solutions for long-term change? In addition, at what point would the Samaritan begin to critique the political and economic agendas of those in power in that particular area? One can assume that, if such a scenario took place, the Samaritan would not only seek to meet the immediate needs of those harmed, but he would also advocate for policies that provide for a better future. And so, we can safely conclude (because the Samaritan is, as Jesus shared, an example of love for neighbors), that – if he believed it was necessary – the Good Samaritan would show love for his neighbor not only through momentary acts of charity, but also through sustained advocacy for the promotion of a common good.

While the Parable of the Good Samaritan provides a wonderful lesson in response to a specific question (“Who is my neighbor?”), we are left wondering how to advance life-giving communities alongside our neighbors. For example, while people of faith are often spectacular at following the Good Samaritan model of providing relief in times of crisis, we too often fail at the long-term work that is necessary for lasting social justice. For example, if the parable from Luke 10:29-37 continued and the Good Samaritan decided to pay accommodation and medical costs for fallen victims day after day, the short-term relief effort would be centered around his relief efforts, but the long-term solution would be to try and prevent people from being victimized in the first place. And so, just as we can assume the Samaritan would have offered a common good approach to a larger scale issue, such wisdom needs to be applied to our current day and age. In other words, if we focus on short-term aid at the expense of long-term justice, not only do we fail to prevent people from being beaten, but we also create more wealth for the robbers and innkeepers.    

In reflection upon the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the time is upon us to more faithfully critique the policies and procedures that impact our neighbors, and in doing so, cooperate with advocacy organizations that assist in the countless efforts directed at structural change. Instead of allowing the robbers and innkeepers of our world to profit from modern day “good Samaritans” who focus solely on responding to the latest crisis, we recognize that the entire road to Jericho must be transformed so that no one is beaten and robbed. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” And so, while charity must continue because of the injustices of our present day and age, our ultimate goal is to reach a point of community companionship in which such acts are no longer required. In the mean time, may we be tormented by the ideal of a common good, and by God’s grace, may we trust that justice will indeed prevail.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Gustavus Adolphus College: New Chaplain Announcment

Gustavus Announces Two New Chaplains

The following was first posted on July 1st, 2013 by the Gustavus Adolphus College News Office, and can be found at:

Gustavus Adolphus College President Jack R. Ohle announced today (Monday, July 1, 2013) that the Reverend Siri C. Erickson and the Reverend Brian E. Konkol have accepted calls to become the new chaplains at the College.  They will officially join the college community on August 1, 2013.

“I am excited to welcome these two dynamic young pastors to campus to usher in a new era in the faith life of Gustavus Adolphus College,” said President Ohle.  “I feel Pastor Erickson and Pastor Konkol are particularly qualified to bring the entire campus community together under one ministry team that will celebrate diversity and embrace connectedness,” Ohle added. “As we worked to discern the future of the chaplaincy for the College, it became clear that the combined skills of Rev. Erickson and Rev. Konkol presented an exciting opportunity for the campus community.  They met to talk about the possibilities and made an instant connection, discovering that they shared an exciting vision for ministry together at Gustavus.”

“We are able to make this announcement today because of the work done by the chaplain’s search call committee under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Darrell Jodock,” President Ohle said. “The hours that the committee spent reviewing credentials and talking with candidates were important in being able to fully articulate the unique team ministry that Chaplains Erickson and Konkol will now enable us to live out on the Gustavus campus.”

Erickson is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Carleton College where she majored in chemistry.  In 2002, she received her master of divinity degree from the Claremont School of Theology.  While at Claremont, she was honored with the President’s Award for academic excellence and was also presented the Award for Excellence in biblical studies.

Since 2004, Erickson has been the Pastor of Lifelong Learning at Trinity Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Minn.  Her responsibilities have focused primarily around building learning systems and providing collaborative and visionary leadership to deepen the engagement of the community in spiritual development.  She taught classes, planned and led worship in four different styles, and facilitated small-group theological conversations with teenagers, young adults, and adults of all ages to help raise awareness and expectations about the theological capabilities of people in the congregation.  Erickson also served as a social media specialist for Trinity with expertise in Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, WordPress, and YouTube to name a few.  In addition, for the last year she has served as a leadership coach and strategical leadership consultant at the Center for Good Work in Stillwater.

“While I was on campus for my interview I had this feeling of a homecoming even though I am not a Gustavus alum,” said Erickson.  “It was a sense of coming home to a place where the values and mission of the College are in sync with who I am as a person and as a spiritual leader.  I believe that everything I have done in my ministry and my life up to this point has prepared me exceptionally well for this new role at Gustavus. I can’t wait to get started!”

Konkol is a graduate of Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wis., where he majored in criminal justice.  In 2005, he received his master of divinity degree from Luther Theological Seminary.  While enrolled in seminary he served a one-year internship with the Ebenezer Lutheran Parish in Guyana, and shortly after his graduation he returned to Guyana to become pastor of the Emmanual Lutheran Parish where he served from 2005 to 2007.  In 2008, he accepted the position of Country Coordinator for the Young Adults in Global Missions (YAGM) program with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa in Pietermaritzburg. As the first Country Coordinator of YAGM in Southern Africa, Pastor Konkol played an important role in the original formation of program operations in the region.  In addition to his duties at YAGM, he also served as a parish minister in the north and south parishes of Pietermaritzburg and was a lecturer at the Lutheran Theological Institute.

In the fall of 2009, Konkol began work on a master of theology degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg.  He graduated cum laude in the spring of 2011.  He is currently a PhD candidate with an emphasis on theology and development at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.  Konkol left South Africa in the spring of 2012 to accept a call as a co-pastor at Lake Edge Lutheran Church in Madison, Wis., with primary responsibilities for congregational leadership, public advocacy, and local and global social justice.

“During my visit to campus, I found myself surrounded at every turn by gifted people who seek common ground for a common good,” stated Konkol.  “To accompany the campus community will provide an amazing opportunity to mutually engage, transform, and set free.”

When asked together about their opportunity to be a part of the ministry team at Gustavus, Konkol stated and Erickson concurred, “It is exciting to become a part of the long and storied history of the chaplaincy at Gustavus and an honor for us to carry on the legacy of chaplains Richard Elvee, Brian Johnson, Rachel Larson and Rod Anderson.  We welcome the chance to discern the future of ministry at Gustavus that God is bringing us into together.”


Media Contact: Media Relations Manager Matt Thomas