20 July 2006

100 Books - 80-76

I mentioned a while ago that I was having trouble training without a goal to motivate me. Well, now I have one: I've entered a half-marathon for September 9th in Detroit Lakes, MN. This is pretty crazy: six years ago I couldn't have typed the previous sentence, because I could never imagine running 3 miles, not to mention 13.1. Now, it's 'just' a half-marathon. Life certainly does change.

And now, on with the list.

80. Bag of Bones by Stephen King. I've often believed this was one of King's best. After reading/listening to it this spring, I've reaffirmed that belief. Bag of Bones is scary, touching, horrifying and wonderful all at once, and I really fall in love with Mike every time I read this book. I've gone back to this one three times now, and it just keeps getting better. Mike Noonan is a widowed writer trying to solve a mystery about his deceased, beloved wife, and not really getting anywhere until he moves back to their summer cabin called "Sarah Laughs."

79. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. After watching the movie version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe last December I wanted to read something by Lewis. This series of radio talks became Lewis' 'dogmatics,' if you will; his description of the essentials of Christian life & faith. But it has more to do with understanding what a Christian is than what it is a Christian must do, and for that I'm thankful. As a theologian Lewis never lost the connection to non-academics, and as a result his writing is witty, enjoyable and thought-provoking at all levels.

78. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Ahhh, back to Sci-Fi. But this is a story so much deeper! Ender Wiggin is a rare third child in an undeterminate future of earth, born to parents who were allowed to have a third child in the hopes that he might be the military genius Earth needs to destroy the Formics, an alien race that nearly wiped out humanity before being defeated. Ender is sent to Battle School at the age of 6 to be trained as Earth's next great general. I can't say more without spoiling this for you - READ THIS BOOK!

77. Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. Speaker for the Dead is the sequel to Ender's Game. Scientists on a distant planet have been tortured and killed by the pequeninos, the alien race they have been studying and with whom they have been communicating. The Speaker for the Dead is called to come and speak the death of Marcao, a sullen alcoholic whose wife has replaced one of the scientists and is keeping his research secret so that no others will die as he did. Another excellent novel by OS Card - his novels present the ethical and philosophical quandaries of scientific and religious practices as well as any fiction writer I've read.

76. Xenocide by Orson Scott Card. Xenocide is the sequel to Speaker for the Dead. Without giving away HUGE spoilers for all three, I'll just say that Lusitania, the world where pequeninos and humans have chosen to stand against humanity to save their lives, is in danger of being destroyed by the weapons that were used against the Formics thousands of years previously by Ender Wiggin.

On the last three, I'll just say that even people who don't normally enjoy science fiction should enjoy this series by Orson Scott Card. They are magnificently crafted stories that happen to be set in a future with space travel & alien relations. The value of Card's work here is the ethical, philosophical, religious and sociological questions that are raised: what does it mean to exist? Who gets to determine the right to life? At what cost do we protect ourselves? Great stuff - thought-provoking and challenging, to say the least.

18 July 2006

100 Books - 85-81

85. Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand. We listened to Seabiscuit on our vacation to the North Shore earlier this summer. We had watched the movie with our church kids just a week before and really fell in love with the story again, so of course I wanted to do the book. Kris doesn't really enjoy audiobooks but we both had fun listening to this particular book - it's well written and very, very interesting.

84. The Hammer of God by Bo Giertz. My job during my senior year of seminary was as a teaching assistant to Dr. Jim Nestingen. He recommended this book to me and to many others, and when it was announced that a new version was to be published I thought maybe I'd give it a shot. A good read for a new pastor - I wish I had read it before I started here in Barrett. I might have avoided some rookie mistakes. But then, I'm sure I would have made others. It's a good story about three generations of pastors in a small town area of Sweden, and their ministry and changes in the community over time.

83. Tolkien: A Celebration edited by Joseph Pearce. This was a collection of essays about Tolkien, his writing, etc. I'll be honest - there's nothing too remarkable here. I enjoyed the book, but can't tell you anything earth-shattering I learned as a result of reading it. Perhaps I need to read it again? One would think that as much as I enjoy Tolkien I would remember more about this book!

82. Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt. What a delightful audiobook this was: read by the author in all his lilting, northern Ireland glory. Of course, the story is terrible; growing up poor in Ireland in the early 20th century was about as bad as one could get. But Frank McCourt is a charming storyteller, and you get the feeling listening to this book that he's just telling you another tale over a pint and a pipe.

81. Stationary Bike by Stephen King. A novella I picked up at audible.com a few weeks ago. An interesting theme on reality, the psyche and where the two intersect. As usual, King's descriptive characterizations take unbelievable situations and make them come alive. The main character, a commercial artist, is significantly overweight and in poor health. He buys a stationary bike, paints a landscape to avoid pedaling toward a blank wall for hours on end, and that's where the insanity begins.

So, I'm looking at this list and realizing that I listen to a LOT of audiobooks these days. But I've put a lot of time in the car this summer, I think - a 7 hour trip out to North Dakota & back can eat up a lot of words, and I've basically hijacked our other car trips this year for good audiobooks. Maybe this is why I'm having so much trouble actually reading books? At any rate, these are the latest I can remember...

15 July 2006

100 Books - 90-86

My friend Nate celebrated the third anniversary of his ordination this week. Congrats! And it reminded me that today is the third anniversary of beginning this call in Barrett. My, how time flies. But I'll echo Nate's sentiments: I love this community. I love being a pastor. I love preaching and teaching and doing the things I'm called to do. It's a good day to think back on three years of ministry and give thanks to God for the many blessings that have come my way.

And now, on with the list:

90. Mr. X by Peter Straub. I listened to Mr. X while driving home from Newburg, ND for Kathryn's ordination this week. Not an especially good book, but it certainly helped the miles of North Dakota highway pass quickly. Beautiful country in parts, but sometimes a guy just wants a bit more variety.

89. The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower by Stephen King. I can't remember when I finished this series, but I know it was soon after all volumes were published last fall/winter. The Dark Tower was King's magnum opus, if you will, and for the most part I enjoyed it. But I don't think the Tower books rivaled his best work, more self-contained stories like It and The Stand. But hey, who's the multi-millionaire author here: me or Mr. King? The Dark Tower is the final volume in the series, in which Roland and his faithful companions finally reach the center of all existence and do battle to save all the worlds that have been or yet may be.

88. The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah by Stephen King. Song of Susannah was published earlier in 2005. One definitely gets to loving well-crafted characters, and Roland, Eddie, Susannah and Jake, not to mention Oy the bumbler, are some of my favorites. I've always said that King's strong point is character development - this book would be a primary example.

87. The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King. For all the majestic scope of the Dark Tower series, two of the volumes focus largely on short periods of time: DT IV: Wizard and Glass and DT V: Wolves of the Calla. But they remain enjoyable nonetheless. Wizard & Glass was my favorite of the entire series, but I haven't read that particular book in a few years. Wolves of the Calla was published last year and I devoured it as I devour most Stephen King stuff - now I need to read it again to find the good stuff I missed before.

86. Harry Potter VI: The Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling. I can't believe I forgot to mention this one, as it was my favorite thus far in the Harry Potter series. I really enjoy these books, and I'm glad Rowling has jump-started the desire to read among children. What I can't believe is that it's almost over; just one more volume to go. I do wish the press could avoid working so hard for the shocking spoilers: the news earlier in June that a major character, perhaps Harry, would die was a bit too, how shall I say it, Inside Edition-ish? Anyway, H-B Prince was dark, scary and definitely more mature, as it should have been, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Yes, I'm aware that I'm now listing series books independently - but I realized after I started this that the series books I tend to read are full novels and worthy of consideration on their own. Besides, it's my blog, right? :-)

14 July 2006

100 Books - 95-91

The list continues. Incidentally, this is going to be MUCH harder than I thought. I can barely remember the last 10 books I read, not to mention the last 100.

95. American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Another cheater - I listened to this book while running over the last month or so. But I read it about five years ago. It's a great story told by an expatriate Brit who now lives and writes somewhere in Minnesota (Cities, I think?). America, it seems, is a tough place for gods to thrive - and one of them is trying to help the old gods survive an onslaught of new gods. Interesting reading for me.

94. The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel. I think I blogged about this some time back. A story about small town people, ministry, and lots of other things, including a young minister. Can't seem to think why I might like something like that...

93. Black House by Stephen King & Peter Straub. The sequel to their earlier collaboration The Talisman, Black House is both more mature and less innocent. Jack Sawyer has grown up and forgotten much of his past, but a boy in trouble and a house with a dark secret are going to make him remember.

92. The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper. This is the title of both a five-book sequence and one of the books within the sequence. I read The Grey King in fourth grade when we were reading Newberry Award winners and I was HOOKED. 20 years later I still like picking this one up every few years and reading it through. It's a story of good vs. evil, obviously, but Arthurian legend and modern life get mixed together in a thoroughly gripping manner. These are stories I'll read to our kids.

91. The Gospel According to Tolkien by Ralph C. Wood. Kris gave me this for Christmas - what a neat gift! It actually piqued my interest in delving deeper into the mythopoeic stuff (one might wonder how I needed MORE motivation to read Tolkien), but unfortunately I haven't followed through on that just yet. Too busy reading other stuff I guess. :-)

How Great Thou Art

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
John 10.10

On Wednesday I drove 400 miles into western North Dakota for my good friend Kathryn’s ordination to the ministry of word and sacrament. She chose John 10 as one of the scripture readings for the night. It was a privilege to be part of a worship service that focused so much on the abundant life that Christ gives. I felt honored to contribute some music to the night, but I felt far more honored just being present.

One of the hymns Kathryn chose was “How Great Thou Art.” Between her ordination and our service on Sunday, that’s twice in the past week I’ve sung that particular hymn. Not a really modern hymn, “How Great Thou Art.” Most people would need a moment just to translate every “thy” and “thou” into “your” and “you.” Honestly, I was surprised that Kathryn chose “How Great Thou Art” for her ordination – I wouldn’t have thought she drew life from it the way I do. But I’m only me; if Kathryn finds life in this hymn, so much the better.

When I was much younger I would play my dad’s Statler Brothers records and sing along at the top of my lungs. Sometimes I think that the main reason I love “How Great Thou Art” was because the Statler Brothers recorded a version of it. I loved the Statler Brothers. But by the time I got to the age when it became important to like what my friends liked, the Statler Brothers got put onto a shelf in my heart and buried beneath a pile of stuff meant to hide my love for music that was so wretchedly uncool. It was years before I allowed myself to unpack that hidden shelf and rediscover music that still gives me great joy.

I was in conversation with someone at that ordination who had found something she genuinely loved, something that filled her with life and love and a sense of herself as God created her. It was the kind of thing that she could have with no cost to others, no injury to a third party, nothing but gain in her own life. But it was not the life others wanted for her, and so she struggled because she loved those others, and yet to give in to their wishes would be denying something that filled her with abundant life.

There are at least two truly painful components of becoming a fully authentic, fully human follower of Christ Jesus. One is seeing and removing the strings that bind us, the strings that the world uses to pull us where it wants us to go, all with our unknowing assent. The other is realizing that we have been busily tying strings ourselves, binding our neighbors to our desires and pulling them where we want them to go. We are puppets and we are thieves, all at once, bound to jump when others say jump, and bound to look for ways to steal life from others for ourselves. This is who we are.

But Jesus offers us something different. “I will give you life,” Jesus says, “an abundant life which no one else can give.” The life Christ offers comes with no strings attached. Real Christian life is a life of unrestrained joy. Whether you find your joy in cooking, music, art, accounting, farming, writing, reading, teaching, cleaning or anything else in all creation, if it is yours with no cost to others it is a part of the abundant life that Jesus wants for you.

Frederick Buechner once said that “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.” My friends, if “How Great Thou Art” gives you gladness, then sing it with all your heart, for the world is hungering to hear God’s name praised. Live your life abundantly, reserving no thought for what others may try to steal from you or destroy in you, and spend no time dictating joy to others who may have a different picture than your own. When Christ gives life, with all its heartbreak and passion and insanity and wonder, embrace it as the great gift that it is, love Him all the more for it, and spend it lavishly on the people and the pursuits in which you find great joy. Real, authentic Christian life awaits us: let’s enjoy it together, shall we?

In Christ’s abundant peace,
Pastor Scott

10 July 2006

100 Books - 100-96

A friend of mine is doing a list of 100 things about her. I wasn't really into that, but I thought that maybe a list of 100 books I've read and a thought about each might be okay. Obviously one can't do 100 all at once, so I'll do it five at a time, once each day, for the next 100 days. Series books only count as one, unless they don't. I'll be going backwards through the order in which I've read, more or less. Here goes.

100. The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan.
I'm reading this series through again. Right now I'm on book 5: The Fires of Heaven. When Captive Free came to Barrett back in April one of the girls was reading book 1, The Eye of the World, and it got my interest piqued again. I enjoy the series quite a bit, even if it does get a bit predictable after a while.

99. Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog by John Grogan. Okay, simply put, this was one of the funniest, most touching books I've read. Grogan is a great writer and dog lovers like me will find themselves crying just a bit a couple of times. Great read.

98. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. Robinson's second novel is a wonderful story of an aging, dying pastor, told through letters to his seven year-old son. Moving and peaceful all the way through.

97. A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN by Brian McLaren. This one is a bit of a stretch: I haven't actually finished it yet. But it's good, and I should finish it this week. McLaren identifies many aspects of a new orthodoxy that focuses on the proclamation of the gospel and the transformation of lives rather than narrowly defining who's in and who's out in the church. A thought-provoking book that I heartily recommend to anyone even remotely connected with the church of Christ.

96. Cell by Stephen King. I'm a huge Stephen King fan. This book is both good and not so good. It's formulaic. The central plot is a retread of other 'unexplained alien forces take over the world and bring about the apocalypse' King works. But there's some original stuff, too, and the book is much more lean than many other King novels. I enjoyed it, but it read a lot like a shorter, more vicious version of The Tommyknockers.

Group pic from 24th June

Here's us and our family on the weekend of the Old Settlers' Reunion here in Barrett. What a good looking bunch!

09 July 2006

Sermon from 25 June 2006 - "Calm In The Chaos"

This was supposed to be posted two weeks ago.
It wasn't. We've been busy.
Check out the news below to see why. :-)

Preaching Text: Mark 4.35-41

Living near Barrett Lake is a precious gift that just gets wasted on Kristin and me. I don't really like to fish. We don't own a boat, and we discovered on vacation last year that we can barely navigate a canoe together. I can't swim very well, and Kristin spends more time teaching water aerobics in Alexandria than she does in the water in Barrett.

I mention all of this because I’m terrified of drowning. I grew up in Nebraska, where there's only one man-made lake big enough that you can't see the other side. In my entire life I've never been on completely open water. For me, Freddie Kruger, Norman Bates and even Dracula don't hold a candle to the terror I feel watching "The Perfect Storm."

So when I read today's gospel reading from Mark, I can identify with the disciples. Fishing in Jesus' day wasn't anything like what goes on in New England today. Fishing boats rarely left sight of land. Traveling across the Mediterranean often meant traveling around the Mediterranean. Water was the great enemy. The people of the ancient Near East thought that the formless void of chaos that existed before creation was nothing more than open water, filling the entire universe. When God created the heavens and the earth, God actually separated the waters above and below the earth. Blue sky meant that there was a canopy holding back unrestrained water, and dry land was brought up from underneath more unrestrained water. When it rained, God was actually opening the canopy of heaven to let in some water. So, venturing out where you can't see land was like leaving creation for chaos, moving from a place where God is in charge to a place where you're at the mercy of chaos and disaster can strike at any time.

Is it any wonder, then, that the disciples were afraid when a storm blew them out into chaos and started to attack their boat? Is it any wonder that they thought Jesus was abandoning them to the mercy of the waters? They were beyond anything they could handle, in the midst of chaos, and their friend and teacher thought it was a perfect time for a nap. I probably would have been screaming right along with them.

I'm going to show you a video that has something to do with water, chaos and fear. Rob Bell is the pastor of Mars Hill church in Detroit, and "Rain" is the first video in a series called Nooma. I think he illustrates what God is actually doing in moments of chaos, and perhaps why Jesus felt safe enough to sleep while His friends were screaming.

At this point I played the video. You can find it at the Nooma website.

I can't say that I blame Trace Bell for being frightened. He had no idea where his father had taken him; he only knew that he was wet and afraid and he couldn't understand what was happening. We are not so different from that infant, you and I; we find ourselves far from home many times in our lives, lost in threatening, chaotic circumstances where we are at the mercy of the storms surrounding us, and we don't have any idea when it's all going to end.

Why, then, in the midst of all of this, was Jesus sleeping? He was very definitely in danger here. Jesus was completely divine AND completely human: He could have died from drowning as easily as He died of crucifixion. But He isn't worried: He's tired, and so He sleeps, and the disciples grow more and more worried about what's happening and whether or not they are going to make it home.

That last question the disciples ask is as important during the storm as it is after the storm. "Who is this, then, that even in the midst of chaos He can calmly sleep?"

Who is Jesus? He is a Son who has complete trust in His Father, enough that He can sleep while a storm is raging all around Him. He is a Son who can be calm in the chaos, completely confident that His Father will get Him where He needs to be.

Who is Jesus? He is also a teacher who listens to His disciples. He wasn't worried about the storm, but because His disciples were afraid, He calmed their fears and changed their reality. The disciples thought Jesus didn't care that they were in danger. He did care – enough that He calmed the storm. But Jesus was never afraid of the storm itself. It wasn't that He didn't care – He just wasn't worried.

The disciples at this point were still figuring out who Jesus really was. This story comes early in Mark's gospel, when Jesus was just beginning His ministry, and so the disciples were right to wonder about Jesus. But I'm also wondering this question: if Jesus trusted His Father so completely that He could sleep in the midst of the storm, what kind of Father does He have? What kind of love can inspire such ruthless trust? What kind of faith can create such calm in the chaos?

There are people who think that God causes storms to come into our lives, that chaos comes at God's command to teach or to restrain or to prevent even greater evil. I’m not convinced this is true, any more than I think that the sea is evil simply because it is more powerful than I. God created the sea as it is, and God set it free. Psalm 104 tells us that God created Leviathan, the great sea monster, for the sport of it! God made whales as big as submarines and giant squids who patrol the ocean depths and millions of other sea creatures just as they are, and God created the seas to hold them all and let them do what they do as God intended. Storms happen; God does not make storms.

Where then, is God in the midst of chaos? If God isn't behind the storm, what is God doing? God is in the boat with us. If you want to see the face of God in the midst of chaos, look for the real presence of God in Jesus Christ, who shares the danger with us. Look for the trusting presence of Jesus, who believes that His Father will never let Him venture into chaos alone. Look for the comforting presence of Jesus, who hears our cries and stays with us for the duration of the journey. Look for the transforming presence of Jesus, who listens to the prayers of our hearts and will sometimes calm the storm simply because we ask.

You are not alone in the ship that is your life. You have a Savior with you, One who will see you safely through to the other side, One who will never leave you alone, One who will give you calm in the midst of your chaos. Look for Him daily. Trust Him completely. Love Him unreservedly. As your ship sails into open waters, rest assured that because God is in the ship with you, you will safely reach the other side. Amen.

08 July 2006

Our wonderful, awesome, terrifying, fantastic news

Kristin and I are expecting a baby sometime around January 28th.

There - it's out. *phew* We've been keeping this news to ourselves for a few weeks now, since the first trimester is such a touch-and-go time for most pregnancies. We discovered that to our grief in March: our first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage at the end of the month. But so far this pregnancy seems to be going well. We had our 10 week ultrasound on Wednesday of this past week, and we actually saw the baby flailing its arms and kicking its legs. Okay, so they're 'buds,' not actually arms or legs, but hey, our baby is moving!

As you can imagine, we're excited and terrified all at the same time. Becoming parents is a step we've anticipated since we first met, but now that the day is hopefully drawing near, we're just praying God will give us all that we need to be good parents to our little one. It helps that we are surrounded by friends and family who are doing many of the things we would like to do for our kids - we can watch and learn from some good role models!

I was going to post a pic of the ultrasound, but I haven't scanned the picture yet. Hopefully I'll get that posted in a few days.

Kristin is not particularly enjoying the pregnancy. She's struggling with even more dietary issues than normal. Her gall bladder has apparently decided to go on strike in protest of the changing work environment; the least bit of greasy or fatty food sets off reactions that aren't pleasant at all. She's had a lot of nausea, but no vomiting yet. "Morning sickness" is such a lie - it's more just "sickness" in our case. AND Kris is gaining weight very quickly, which is healthy, but Kris is worried about losing it afterwards. I've told her she can marathon train with me when the baby is born, but she just throws stuff at me when I say it. I'll tell you, between dealing with nausea, diarrhea, irritability and a lack of sleep, this pregnancy has been nothing but an inconvenience for me. :-)

In other news, Kris is bound for San Antonio tomorrow with a busload of high school kids. They're going to the ELCA National Youth Gathering, and are we ever praying for a calm stomach for Kris over the next 10 days. For me, it'll be 10 days of watching the movies I like (horror & sci-fi, mostly) and wondering why the house is so quiet. I already miss my beloved and Lumpy, our impending arrival. Please pray for safe travel!


03 July 2006

The end of the show...*sigh*

Well, at least we ended the week with a bang. Since I last posted, I've done two weddings, three shows and now I need a nap. Lesson learned: the first thing I say when asked to officiate a wedding is "what date are you planning?"

I did enjoy the weddings this weekend. Both couples worked hard at their pre-marriage counseling and seem to understand the work it takes to build a successful marriage. When you get to the church the day of the wedding and you feel excited to join the couple together, it's a good feeling. All the same, it takes a surprising amount of energy to get through the wedding day, and I find that I really can't stay at the reception for too long following the wedding service. I would love to stay and celebrate, but something in me just needs to decompress. I never understood why pastors didn't always stay at the reception for very long - now I think I do. We wish the couple all the best, and immediately we start wondering if we did enough during our pre-marriage work to help them succeed.

Saturday night was the final show of "The Spitfire Grill." You can see pictures from this amazing production in my previous post. I've REALLY enjoyed being a part of this show and I know many of our audiences walked away feeling good about spending a night at the theatre in Barrett. If there's a community theatre where you live, support them! We work so hard to put on quality entertainment - it's wonderful when folks are appreciative of the work we do.

Prairie Wind Players was mentioned in yesterday's Minneapolis Star-Tribune in an article about theatre companies throughout the state. I can't say I was really impressed with the article - the writer made one glaring factual mistake and described our group from "tiny Barrett" as "decidedly lower key" in comparison with a summer internship program in Alexandria. Of course we're tiny - anyone driving into town can see that. Of course we don't put the same amount of work into our productions - we're a VOLUNTEER theatre company. If you're going to write an entertainment article promoting the arts statewide, it seems to me you could be just the slightest bit charitable. This is perhaps one problem living near Minneapolis/St. Paul, the arts mecca of the Midwest - 'outstate' artistic stuff often gets short shrift when compared with the Cities.

But that's what's happening in Barrett. It's sunny, I've got the morning to do some work on flowers, the lawn and our cars, and then we're going to have a short holiday with Beloved's sister & family. Life is good!