30 April 2007

Closing Out National Poetry Month

If they told you I'm mad, then they lied.
I'm odd, but it isn't compulsive.
I'm the triolet, bursting with pride;
If they told you I'm mad, then they lied.
No, it isn't obsessive. Now hide
All the spoons or I might get convulsive.
If they told you I'm mad then they lied.
I'm odd, but it isn't compulsive.
What Poetry Form Are You?

Monday Meme: 100 Things

The 100 Things meme was going around a few weeks ago and I started working on it. When I've had a minute or two, I've been answering a question or two. Finally finished it today. Here it is.

I have lived
1. in the same house on the same farm for the first 18 years of my life, a mile away from where my great-grandfather was raised.
2. with a pre-med major who flunked out of college in six weeks. (Pre-med? Really?)
3. in four states: Nebraska, Minnesota, Florida and California.
4. in a canvas tipi for two summers.
5. in a farmhouse, three different dorm rooms, various tents and cabins at church camp, a second story apartment, a brick duplex, two studio apartments and my present house just off Barrett Lake.
6. in Minnesota for almost eight years.
7. within sight of Kennedy Space Center.
8. without a dishwasher for ten years.
9. within walking distance of Monterey Bay.
10. in a house with electric hurricane shutters that came down like the window armor on the Urban Assault Vehicle in "Stripes."

I have witnessed
1. my wife's intestines being moved aside so our baby could be born.
2. three Nebraska NCAA national championship game victories (well, they only gave us the two - Free Shoes University "won" the 1994 Oranga Bowl).
3. the birth of puppies, calves and pigs (not all at the same time)
4. Larry Meyer, my late mentor, smash a table tennis forehand so hard it bounce off the table for the point, off the wall, back on the table, over the net & off Larry's side of the table into his hand.
5. beautiful sunsets on two continents.
6. an attempted bank robbery (in Dublin, while trying to cash some travelers' checks with my roommate).
7. our local high school quarterback pump-fake, drop the ball, catch it on the bounce and throw a 55 yard touchdown pass.
8. an 80 year-old woman finish a marathon.
9. Scott Frost winning the all-class shot put and 110 high hurdles at the same Nebraska State Track Meet.
10. an entire band bus breaking into four-part harmony while singing the "alternate" lyrics to the Colorado fight song (said lyrics not to be printed here due to pervasive obscenity).

I have heard
1. my favorite seminary professor compare the death of a beloved colleague to an eschatological premature ejaculation - causing most of his students to simultaneously think, "what the f$%@?"
2. Storyhill in concert three times, which is not nearly enough.
3. my daughter laugh for the first time (just yesterday!)
4. "Hail, Varsity!," the fight song for the University of Nebraska, so many times I think it's now hardwired into my DNA and my daughter will likely be able to hum it from memory once she develops the ability to hear music.
5. Garrison Keillor in person - the only man alive who actually LOOKS like he SOUNDS on the radio.
6. the sound of nothing but wind blowing through prairie grass.
7. the church bells of Munchen, Germany (Munich) come alive on a Sunday morning.
8. the roaring water of Niagara Falls.
9. the Minnesota Orchestra play Mahler's Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection." It brought me to tears.
10. the beautiful sound of my daughter's first cries - I listened for an hour and fell completely in love.

I have lost
1. my one and only opportunity to score a touchdown because I couldn't hang on to the screen pass I intercepted.
2. lots of sleep lately.
3. my patience with a three month-old child.
4. a lot of respect for Senator John McCain.
5. any respect whatsoever for Pat Robertson (YOU SUCK, PAT!!!)
6. a 48-disc CD case on an airplane in Amsterdam.
7. pairs of sunglasses beyond number.
8. about seventy pounds from my heaviest weight.
9. some of my hair (but still less than my younger brothers - insert Nelson laugh from the Simpsons here: HA-HA!)
10. my Caribou Coffee card, only to find it again and rejoice.

I have found
1. a perfectly good filing cabinet offered for free in Bockman Hall at Luther Seminary.
2. that good pizza and good beer makes Scott a happy man.
3. that no TV and no beer makes Homer go crazy...
4. that running can help me solve a lot of problems.
5. that nagging injuries from not running properly can cause a lot of problems.
6. that life is really NEVER black and white, but always comes in shades of grey.
7. that European traffic engineers kick the collective asses of their American counterparts and we're just too stupid and stubborn to admit it and do what works (hello, roundabouts work WAY better than four-way stops and the rest of the world uses kilometers - why don't we?).
8. that if it weren't for the distance from my family and friends I'd be perfectly happy living in Europe.
9. that simple treasures like my daughter's smile, holding my wife's hand and enjoying time as a family give me far more joy than 'stuff.'
10. that music makes life far more bearable and if I had to sacrifice my senses, my hearing would be the last to go.

I love
1. my wife.
2. my child.
3. the Cornhuskers and, slightly behind, the Ducks.
4. my iPod.
5. my Jetta.
6. my guitar.
7. cooking.
8. running.
9. reading.
10. BEER! (as Franklin said, "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.")

I can
1. sing the "Fifty Nifty United States"song.
2. find a movie quote to fit nearly any occasion or occurrence (example: "You gonna do somethin' or just sit there and bleed." Name the movie, character who spoke and object of the insult. Bonus points if you can identify the actor playing the character who receives the insult).
3. affect a fairly decent British accent.
4. crack all the knuckles on both hands in less than three seconds.
5. "tell you her favorite stores and where she likes to park / and why to this very day she's scared of the dark...I'm the official historian on Shirley Jean Burrell."
6. Tell you just about anything you'd like to know about the Lord of the Rings, the Hobbitt, the Silmarillion and many other Tolkien-related tidbits.
7. run a mile in less than seven minutes (possibly six - I haven't done a mile time trial lately).
8. change a diaper faster than my daughter can spit up (sometimes).
9. cook all sorts of fun, interesting foods.
10. bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan... :-)

I loathe
1. sanctimonious, holier-than-God Christians.
2. Terrell Owens, Joe Horn, Chad Johnson, Randy Moss and all other overpaid, egomaniacal jocks.
3. Donald Trump. There is no "the" Donald - just another sad egomaniac multi-millionaire.
4. dropping definite articles from Twin Cities sports venues. What the hell is "Metrodome" or "Target Center?"
5. the grammatical gerrymandering that comes with singular team names in sports, as in: "the Wild is on their way to Vancouver for a series this weekend." It just sounds stupid. Stop it, please.
6. Pat Robertson (YOU SUCK, PAT!)
7. pretty much EVERYTHING on MTV and VH1 at the present. I can't remember the last time I actually watched anything on either network.
8. gore-nography flicks like "Saw" or "Hostel." At least "Reservoir Dogs" had a plot of sorts, though Tarantino is not what he used to be. Yeah, building suspense like Hitchcock is way harder, but it's also less soul-deadening than watching this crap. Seriously, you people are messed up.
9. the sheer amount of crap I get in the mail, at home and at church. Don't matter if you sign up for "no solicitation" lists or not; somehow it still gets through. Frankly, I'm more offended at the waste of resources than I am swayed by the whopping thirty cents I can get off fabric softener at your store. STOP SENDING ME CRAP.
10. people who drop the f-bomb at least once in ever sentence they utter. Folks, you're sapping the strength out of a wonderful profanity - stop stealing from those of us who still use the f-bomb for emphasis!

I hope
1. my daughter loves me as much when she's 32 as I do today.
2. my wife and I enjoy a long, life-giving marriage sharing the burdens and blessings of life.
3. that I can finish this meme before the two previous items take place.
4. that my beloved Huskers win a fifth national championship in the next ten years.
5. that said national championship comes at the end of a Division 1-A playoff (this might more properly fit under "I'm dreaming for...)
6. that the Chicago Cubs win one World Series in my lifetime (but only one - we need the Bums to keep hope alive!).
7. that my dream call becomes a reality someday (and no, I'm not telling you what it is).
8. to run in the Boston Marathon by the time I'm 40.
9. I get to travel in Ireland, Scotland and Germany someday, and also to backpack the John Muir Trail in California.
10. my next car is either a Mini Cooper or something even cooler that hasn't been developed yet.

I am trying
2. to get my daughter to sleep through the night.
3. to watch a movie with my wife without interruptions.
4. not to worry too much about being a parent.
5. to rein in spending money on stuff I don't need.
6. to lose 20 pounds.
7. to sleep more and watch TV less.
8. to plan a summer of outdoor activities that our whole family can enjoy.
9. to keep my sanity when things don't go as I think they should.
10. to remember that until Jesus comes back, I will always be simul iustus et peccator, but also that I am baptized and God's child forever.

29 April 2007

A Very Tardy Friday Five: What Are You...

1. Wearing
Sunday "after work" casual clothes - blue tank top, khaki shorts. Earlier today I took AJ for a walk and while we were walking I wore my awesome khaki floppy hat and my trail running shoes. As of this moment it's no shoes a la Rich Mullins

2. Pondering
Where the hell does the time go? It's almost May and I've got bupkis of what I wanted to get done this spring accomplished. I have a major work assignment that needs doing and I can't find the time to get to it. I love my babydoll, but her arrival has seriously pinched our available time. Priorities getting resorted as we speak.

3. Reading
For pleasure, I'm reading The Story of the Irish Race by Seumas MacManus. For our conference pastors' monthly gathering, we're reading The threefold art of experiencing God: The liberating power of trinitarian faith and its companion volume by Christian A. Schwarz. For summer prep I just read the script for Inherit the Wind and I'll now start reading The Vintage Mencken and Mencken: A Life for research - I'm playing E.G. Hornbeck, the journalist the authors of Inherit The Wind based upon H.L. Mencken. I can't wait for rehearsals to start!

4. Dreaming
That someday I'll be fast enough to run the Boston Marathon.

5. Eating
Mmmmm - popcorn and a beer in a few minutes, once Beloved gets the Child down to sleep and we can start a movie...

Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Easter - "Sheep"

Preaching Texts

Loving and Wondrous God, in humility and faith we offer the prayers of our hearts and the needs of this day. We give thanks for the blessing of this day and for the gift of knowing that in all our joys and trials, we are not alone. We thank you for one another, and for the courage of those who act as shepherds of faith, guiding us toward a deeper knowledge of you and your way of love, justice and peace. We pray for all who are named in this place today and for all whose needs are known only to you. God, bless and keep your beloved children – grant comfort and peace where it is needed and strength to face each new day with just a bit more faith, just a bit more light. God, walk with us through whatever valleys we find ourselves navigating. Take us by the hand and lead us toward each new day, with the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.[1]

I always thought it was a good thing when Jesus called us "his sheep." That is, until my dad got us some sheep. Sheep, as we discovered, are not the white, fluffy cuties you see in children's books and promotional videos for Scotland & Ireland. My brothers and I discovered sheep are messy – their wool catches every last thistle and dirt clod, not to mention other stuff that we won't discuss here. My brothers and I discovered sheep are stupid – we spent most of one fine summer weekend fixing fence because one of them stuck his head through to get to the grass on the other side and panicked when he couldn't back out of the fence. My brothers and I discovered that sheep are stubborn, too – that fine summer weekend was the first time I fixed that fence, but it wasn't the last.

So, when Jesus calls us his sheep, it's not some lovely pastoral image or a disguised form of flattery for those who follow Jesus. It's a description of the work Jesus has to do as shepherd, and it ain't pretty work, either. We are, after all, a messy folk. We aren't always a joy to be around. Much of our living is rough, dirty and smelly, but we're so used to it that we hardly ever notice. We also tend to be less than intelligent about the blessings around us – I'd be willing to bet that all of us have chased after what was out of our reach, gotten stuck and panicked. Finally, we are also a stubborn lot – we have a long history of chasing after stuff on the other side of the fence, and that chasing will continue into the foreseeable future.

But the funny thing about sheep is that they do know when they've got a good thing going. When it was feeding time, all we had to do was holler and they would come running. In fact, our sheep would follow us anywhere if we carried feed with me and kept calling them along. You could say they understood that if my brothers and I made a promise to them, they knew we would keep that promise. We were, after all, the ones who provided what they needed. They didn't always understand, but they knew our voices, they knew the things we brothers had done, and they followed us, even when things around them were uncertain. Our sheep knew our voices, and they followed us. This is where we are this morning, too. You are the sheep who know the voice of your shepherd, and you follow Him.

How do I know you hear Jesus' voice? I know you hear Jesus' voice because you're here this morning. "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them," Jesus says. We gather here to hear the voice of Jesus, to be shepherded and kept by the one who joins us hers. The Spirit has called us here, as it calls the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps us united with Christ our shepherd in the one true faith. We are here because the good shepherd called us in to be fed by his Word and his promises. We hear Jesus' voice and come running to be fed.

I know you hear Jesus' voice because I know that you trust and follow him also. The world can be an uncertain, frightening place. But Jesus promises us this morning that nothing in the worls will be able to take us out of his care. We confessed it in the psalm we sung this morning: "Though I should wander the valley of death, I fear no evil, for you are at my side; your rod and your staff, my comfort and my hope." That beautiful song helps us to confess to Jesus that we are uncertain but trusting ourselves into his care. Of course, the fear still lurks within us, but we believe more boldly still because we know the voice of the one we follow through the darkness into the light. We trust Jesus' voice in the shadow of death itself.

I know you hear Jesus' voice because your works tell the world whose voice you follow. In fact, the depth of our faith in Jesus is far more evident in how we live outside of this building than what we do and say inside this building – just as the trust of the sheep is revealed far more clearly when they follow their shepherd through the wilderness. But this is there the metaphor ends and the actual living begins. Sheep do not call other sheep into their flock, nor do they tend to members of other flocks, yet we believe we are called to do so. We believe that good works flow from faith in Christ, that faith without good works is not faith at all. We believe in Jesus' voice and obey, and we obey because we believe. As God's sheep, we are given the opportunity to be public witnesses to Jesus Christ, whose voice we follow, and we are called to be shepherds to one another as well, to be the voice of Christ to one another as we follow him.

It turns out that it is a good thing when Jesus calls us his sheep. It's a good thing because it's Jesus who's doing the calling, not because we are any better than sheep. To be a member of the flock is to know Jesus, to trust him, to hear his voice and follow where he leads. Peter followed and found a woman named Tabitha who needed resurrection. John followed and found a vision of how faith in Christ can survive a host of threats and dangers too great to be understood by mortal minds. We follow today and see the hands of Jesus holding out the promises of forgiveness, life and salvation to the flock he has called together today. May you be blessed to listen to his voice, to follow his call and be found in his keeping, now and forever. Amen.

Baby Ainsley 365: Trip to the Cities

We took our first big trip this week - a couple of days in the Twin Cities visiting Auntie Kim, Uncle Jerry, Cousin Quinn and a whole host of friends. It was lots of fun!

We started off the weekend with a long night Thursday. Ainsley has a new tent for trips and she isn't used to sleeping in it just yet. Thus Ainsley and Daddy needed time in the recliner on Friday morning.
We went to visit some friends from Beloved's former congregation. We met Dale and Carrie and their kids at a mutual friend's house for brunch and had a wonderful time, except for Ainsley's 30 minute crying jag due to much, much mucus. (Yuk!)

Then we stopped by the church where Beloved and Dale worked together while Beloved was in seminary. We saw Judy and the rest of the office staff, who were very taken with our little girl and very happy to meet her in person.

Later that afternoon, me & Ainsley got some quality time and decided to show the world our best smiles.

Saturday morning was a real treat - the "PKs" of Bethesda Lutheran Church in Eugene, OR met at Kim & Jerry's house to meet each other's children. That's Rachel & Liam, Beloved & Ainsley, and Auntie Kimmie & Cousin Quinn. We had lots of fun - until it was picture time, of course...

But Daddy & Ainsley were somewhat taken with Liam and his daddy, Wade - what a cutie!

Finally we headed home, but not before stopping at REI to pick up some running shoes for Daddy and Costco to pick up lots of stuff for everybody. With Daddy in the back seat playing with Ainsley, you know our ride is gonna be interesting - but apparently, Ainsley's just too cool for that:

And that's the story of our big weekend!

26 April 2007

Paging Mel Kiper, Jr...

Is it me, or does it seem like ESPN started talking about the NFL Draft roughly 2.7 nanoseconds after Indianapolis won the Super Bowl?

Finally, someone displays a healthy attitude about this weekend's NFL Draft. Of course, Jay Moore is a Nebraska Cornhusker, but if there are any other potential draftees out there who aren't living and breathing the all-important difference between getting $700,000 or $600,000 to play a game for a living, kudos to you, even if you had the bad judgment to play for a program like Texas or Ohio State. (Pardon me - THE Ohio State University).

25 April 2007

Baby Ainsley 365: Coughing Up, Catching Up

We are a sick house this week - Ainsley has RSV and thus Mommy & Daddy are tired and very cranky sometimes. :-( Hence the catching up - we've been so busy tending to AJ's sneezing, wheezing, hacking and wailing that it's been tough to take, download and post pics. But here are a few from last week.

Friday morning she fell asleep on the bed while we got dressed for the day. This was when we thought she just had a little bit of a stuffy nose. But cute nonetheless.

Reggie is still trying to figure out what this little noisemaker is all about, and why she keeps stealing quality lap time. As these pictures show, he's not giving up without a fight.

Nice to know that even when we're sick, we still love to smile for Mommy & Daddy, huh?

John Bloom on Imus

I love the folks at the Wittenburg Door. They always seem to provoke deeper thought from a church that sees black and white far too often. This is yet another example.

23 April 2007

Baby Ainsley 365: Standing Strong

Momma and Ainsley were playing this morning, and look who's standing!

My New Running Blog

Yeah. Because I haven't been wasting enough time lately...

Anyway, I've wanted to start a running blog for quite some time. Now I have done so. If you'd like, check it out here.

I'll keep my running stuff there for now, though I'll post here about major stuff from time to time (like when I run the Lincoln Half-Marathon next weekend. Yes, I said "Half." Find out why at the running blog).

22 April 2007

Sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Easter - "When Will We Dance Again?"

There really aren’t words to describe the events of the past week. Tragedy has stretched out its long arms and gripped the heart of our nation. Thirty-three dead in a senseless, bloody tragedy at Virginia Tech University. Two dead in a senseless, bloody tragedy at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. In Iraq, the death toll is rising. Sectarian violence claims as many lives every day as were killed at Virginia Tech in a tragedy that brought our nation to a halt. And for the people of the Darfur region of Sudan, the nightmare of genocide continues into its fourth year, while the international community continues to do little to aid the innocents who suffer there.

I’ll admit that I find it hard to preach this morning, hard to find within my heart a capacity to rejoice in this Easter season. So much in this week has been tragically wrong. How could we rejoice when young people are cut down less than two weeks before finishing a college degree? How could we rejoice when a college professor who survived the Holocaust is murdered holding shut the door of his classroom, providing his students a chance to escape? How could we rejoice when thousands live in daily turmoil and danger, where a trip to the market can easily be a trip to the grave? How can we rejoice?

Nikki Giovanni, a poet and professor at Virginia Tech, spoke to a convocation assembled Tuesday to address the horror and grief brought about by Monday’s heartbreak. This is part of what she said:

We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning. ... We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it, but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army, neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory, neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water, neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.[1]

Yet tragedy comes to us all in time. We are no more guaranteed a life without tragedy than we are guaranteed a life without death. Sorrow and grief are, unfortunately, companions on the journey of this life we travel.

The psalm this morning is poetry to which Ms. Giovanni’s words bear a striking resemblance. “We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while,” says Giovanni. The psalmist says, “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to death? Will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?” “We not moving on, we are embracing our morning,” says Giovanni. The psalmist says, “Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning.” When we live in the night of morning, the darkness can seem endless, but we hold on, because we know that someday there will be daybreak again; someday the light will burst into the darkness and we will feel joy again.

Peter knew tragedy. Being a man of his time, Peter probably knew tragedy better than any of us here today. Peter lived in a time when life was not guaranteed. Children could be swept away by illness in the blink of an eye. A cut that seemed insignificant could develop an infection and lead to death. Peter was a fisherman by trade; the sea could claim his life and no one would ever know where to find his body. But the greatest tragedy in Peter’s life was one Peter brought on himself through fear. On the night Jesus was betrayed, as Jesus was being questioned by the powerful Sanhedrin, the high council of the church, Peter denied even knowing Jesus three times. Hours earlier Peter had sworn that he would never abandon Jesus, that he would go to the grave with Jesus if he must, but Jesus had said, “No, Peter, I tell you, before a rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny knowing me three times.” Here is a tragedy for you. Peter was a friend and confidant, a student who lovingly and enthusiastically served his teacher for three years; but Peter was afraid, and in his fear Peter did the very thing he swore he would never do: he abandoned Jesus to save his own life.

Yes, Peter knew tragedy; but Jesus knew tragedy even better. Jesus knew the tragedy of the children of God, who chose darkness to hide their sin rather than risk living in the light of God and having that sin exposed. Jesus knew the tragedy of how we live in fear, how we live denying pain, denying sorrow. Jesus knew that if Peter was ever going to feel joy again, Peter needed to stop denying what had been done, and start living his life with his sins behind him. So Jesus called Peter to a breakfast fire, and over a feast of grilled fish and bread, Jesus confronted Peter with the tragedy of his denial. “Do you love me, Peter?” asked Jesus. Not once, and not twice: three times Peter denied Jesus, and three times Jesus asked his own question. “Do you love me, Peter?” Here Peter could not deny his tragedy. Here Peter could not pretend ignorance. Here Peter was confronted by the Messiah he denied, the Anointed One of God who should have been dead but was risen and asking him, three times, “Do you love me, Peter?”

Here is tragedy addressed by reality. Jesus didn’t spend any time looking into Peter’s soul for the cause of Peter’s denial. There is no false forgiveness here; no “don’t worry about it” offering grace that never forgets the sin it supposedly forgives. There is no refusal to address the sin itself, as if pretending Peter never denied his friend would somehow heal the wounds that denial inflicted upon Jesus and upon Peter himself. No, here there is confrontation with tragedy. Here the evil that was done is faced head on, and tragedy is exposed and embraced by Peter and Jesus both. Here Peter and Jesus are sad, and will be sad for quite a while; but here also Peter and Jesus love one another, and the love is all the more deep and true and real because the wound has been exposed, the infection of sin brought to the surface like poison from a snakebite, and now love can begin to heal what tragedy had once sought to destroy.

Here is the incredible work God does: God takes us, with all our sins and in the midst of all our tragedies, and begins to heal us. The power of God is nowhere more apparent than in the deep joy that comes to a person who has embraced tragedy, walked with God through a time of deep mourning and grief, and come out of the valley of the shadow of tragedy into the light of a new day. Such a person knows that even though tragedy and sorrow will come, and darkness will overshadow each of us in our life, they do not have the final word, and we need not feel that tragedy, sorrow and darkness will forever hold us in their grip. More than that, we learn that we can extend the light of God to those walking in darkness, providing them hope in the midst of suffering and grief. The grace of God is far more miraculous and powerful when it works through fellow sinners who follow Jesus into the darkness, tending to one another in the love with which Christ once tended to us. It is this power that makes the story of Paul’s conversion so incredible. The miracle of Acts 9 is not God’s call or Paul’s blindness and healing: the miracle of Acts 9 is the willingness of Ananias to put aside his fear and anger and heal the wounds of the man who had been hunting, persecuting and killing those who followed Jesus. Ananias was a man who had learned to dance again, and was willing to risk tragedy in order to follow God’s lead.

The psalmist says this morning, “You have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my funeral outfit and clothed me with joy.” In this week of tragedy, I know that many have wondered, “When will we dance again?” For those of us on the periphery of tragedy, the healing will be swift and mostly unremarkable, but someday we will face tragedy again, and we will know the anguish felt by the communities who suffer today. Will we, like Dr. Giovanni, be given the grace and courage to face that tragedy head-on, to embrace our mourning? Will we, like Peter, be confronted with the tragedy of our sins, left with no hiding place where we can deny or pretend that our tragedies never happened? Will we, like Paul, be brought to a moment where we are blinded by God so that we must learn to rely on those around us for comfort and support? I hope so – I hope for that with all my heart and soul and mind and strength, for this is the only way we will ever be able to dance again. The power of the resurrection is weakened when we pretend that death will never touch our lives. The depth of our joy is lessened when we pretend that sorrow and grief can be ignored and rejected. The miracle of grace is cheapened when we pretend that our sin was never so serious as to cause God any kind of injury or harm. Only when we admit and embrace the honest reality of our lives of sin and death can we experience the blessed daybreak of forgiveness and repentance, the coming of the morning of joy. Tragedy cannot cripple us permanently if we admit that it exists, for God will have the last word, and when God has that last word, then tragedy will be no more, and joy and resurrection will come; then we will learn that yes, the morning has come, and it is time to dance again. Amen.

20 April 2007

Friday Five: Surprised by Joy

From RevGalBlogPals:

Jesus said to them, "Children, you have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No."
He said to them, "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.
(John 21:5-7)

Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
(Psalm 30:5b)

This week I've been watching parents of the young people slain at Virgina Tech trying to make meaning out of the lives of their lost children, and each one seems to begin by focusing on something joyful about that child. It's a gift that most humans have brains wired to respond in that way. For some of us it can be harder to work our way out of dark places, but I believe joy remains the key. It is the spirit of resurrection.

Tell us about five people, places, or things that have brought surprising, healing joy into your life.
1. Shocker - I'm going to go with Ainsley Joy:

(she's wearing our new "baby wipe hat" - all the rage in baby fashion...) I get to see this face almost every morning when she wakes us up 'cause she's hungry. How could you not feel joyful? But even when she's fussy or out-and-out angry, she's our little babydoll and we've fallen head over heels in love. I can't imagine the pain the parents of Va Tech students are experiencing this week - but I know the love they feel in their hearts for their children.

2. Music Music Music! Lately I've been on a serious Celtic & Irish kick, most likely thanks to my friend Aaron's group The Wild Clover Band. I've also subscribed to a cool Irish & Celtic Music Podcast and found myself purchasing the odd Chieftains cd as well. Music has been my first and most reliable refuge for healing and surprising joy, from Rich Mullins to Caedmon's Call to Beethoven to Wynton Marsalis to Storyhill to Marty Haugen and many, many more.

3. The Stand by Stephen King This might seem a little strange, but anyone who's read The Stand cover to cover knows that it's an inspiring and emotional epic. I've always said that King's real gift is character development, not scary stories. That gift might be at its strongest here; I felt like I knew Stu Redman and Frannie and Mother Abigail and many of the others from the moment I began to read about them. I surprised myself by bursting into tears at the climax of the tale: normally I'm not an emotional reader. But this one got to me, and I think that anything that strikes such a deep emotional chord brings joy, even in the midst of sorrow.

4. Carol Joy Holling Camp in Ashland, NE I was a camper for five summers at CJH; it was the first place where I felt like I truly was important just because I was there. In college I worked at CJH for five summers straight and volunteered many other times until I left Nebraska. I remember so many details about those summers: sleeping under starlit skies, playing Hunker Houser and Blob Tag, campfires, learning to play guitar, campers whose names and faces I will never forget. I discerned a call to ministry at CJH, and made friends for a lifetime. It truly is "a place set apart to grow in Christ."

5. Running I was not a runner until I turned 25. In fact, I was seriously overweight for most of my college years, due to eating like I was still playing football and throwing the shot instead of sitting on my rapidly-spreading can and smoking far too many cigarettes. But one day when I was 25 or so, I looked at my size 40 jeans and thought, "What the hell are you doing to yourself?" I stopped drinking real soda and bought my first pair of running shoes. When I started I could only go two minutes before I'd have to walk for two minutes. But I slowly became a better runner. Running kept me sane through some pretty crazy stuff, and helped me lose about seventy pounds and cut my jeans down to a 32 at my thinnest. Today, I'm a bit heavier than I'd like to be again, but considering all the early morning feedings and other bits that go along with caring for #1 on this list, I'm okay with where I'm at. In three weeks (three weeks? Zoinks!) I'll be running the Lincoln Marathon, my second; it will be a great day!

Note: I just realize that I never said anything about my faith or specific scripture passages or anything like that. I guess it seems to me that God is wrapped up in all of the above and more as well. Sometimes I think that Jesus would have been okay with living in the background a little more often, where people enjoy the gifts of life for what they are and see God in all of it.

19 April 2007

Broken Glass and Thorns

"God spoke to me. I seen a window open in my life...I see a clear path [where] before it was broken glass and thorns."

I received a letter from an organization which helps prisoners avoid re-offending and acclimate to freedom after their time of incarceration is complete. One of the participants in the program said the sentence above when describing a prison chaplain’s sermon.

“Broken glass and thorns.” I don't know if anyone could be more poetic in describing the hopelessness under which some of us suffer. What must it feel like, I wonder, to have lived in such a way that you would describe your life in these terms? What was the history behind that description of misery and despair? Obviously, time in prison means a history of crime; where and when did this person cross the line, and to what purpose? Was it drugs? Money? Alcohol? Violence revenged or simply uncontrolled? Where were the parents, the loving family God intended to surround this person and guide them in good ways of life for the sake of God’s name? Where was the community called to clothe him when he was naked, feed her when she was hungry, visit him while he was in prison? Most importantly, if this person could sense the presence of God in the chaplain’s words, where was God during all that came before?

The image that leapt to my mind was a neglected acreage here in Barrett. Weeds have choked the life out of anything else that tried to grow. Junked out appliances and automobiles of unknown origin or purpose sit rusting inside stands of tall, ugly weeds that do little to hide the ugliness they surround. A house sits crumbling at the end of the driveway, as uninviting as it is unappealing. Plastic sheets from a half-hearted winterization project years ago flap in the breeze, drawing attention to the peeling paint and the sagging roofline.

This kind of choked, trash-strewn ugliness doesn’t just happen. The word “neglect” might imply inaction, but the owner, and our town, has actively taken a course of not caring about what happens there, or at the very least not doing anything to alleviate that neglect. I wonder: does the same hold true for the neglected person? When life has become broken glass and thorns, can the community be held culpable for its neglect of those in need of help?

I wonder if we have perfected the art of semi-conscious neglect in the church, both here in the congregation I serve and in the body of Christ throughout the world. I hate to say this: I love the people to whom I minister, and I know that I myself fall under the same sentence of condemnation. But I also know there are lives all around us that are slowly becoming glass-strewn and weed-choked, and we do little to stop it for those who are not members of our congregations (indeed, one could even draw the circle more tightly and observe that some members of our congregations are suffering from neglect as well). For many Christians, avoiding the “wrong” sort of people is part and parcel of the practice of their faith. I know that I myself have questioned whether we should provide emergency assistance to a family where both parents are heavy smokers, as though the brief respite from despair that nicotine offers should be grounds for immediate denial of aid due to some perceived weakness or moral failing. Every decision like this involves a discernment of worth that God has never intended to be part of the life of faith, yet it happens time and time again in faith communities of every denomination.

Yet I also know that, in spite of our unwillingness, God is indeed at work through some of God’s people who do provide “a clear path [where] before it was broken glass and thorns.” During college in Lincoln, Nebraska I had the opportunity to worship several times with a Lutheran congregation inside the walls of the Nebraska State Penitentiary. Those worship experiences remain some of the most Spirit-filled moments in my life of faith. I was humbled by the deep joy that I sensed in the men who warmly welcomed us and humbly shared how their lives were being transformed by the grace of God; never before and rarely since have I felt such a deep appreciation of forgiveness (offered to those who understood it least) and repentance (the practice of daily turning away from sin, not merely expressing regret for sins past). I know that the same is happening in the church I serve and in other places where God’s transforming word is remaking lives, one piece of broken glass at a time.

The lot in question in our town will take much work to reclaim, work that will not likely happen soon in a rural community with more attractive properties nearby that will require a much less arduous process of reclamation. I hope the same will not be true about this unknown former inmate who has so provoked my thinking and my conscience today. I don’t know the history that led to that description, but I do know the hope that now springs forth from what was once despair. I am a brother to this thought-provoking unknown poet; I also follow of the One who provides the clear path, the narrow way.

I also know that even with that hope, reclamation will be a long process, full of advances and setbacks, and those who observe that reclamation will not always be kind, nor will they understand. Broken glass is notoriously hard to remove without injury, and thorns can require hours of hard labor to dig out, only to have the roots regenerate and the thorns to reappear. I know that as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I come into contact with such reclamation projects on a daily business; may God give me the grace to end my own course of neglect and to cheerfully join in the process of reclamation.

“Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15.10

Three Bad Habits

Little Bro says, Tell us about three bad habits you'd like to break.

1. Procrastination I've always struggled with this. Taxes don't get done until April 18th (or is today the 19th?). Sermons get done at 5am on Sunday morning (thankfully, not as often these days). I intend to run at 7:00am and don't get to it until 5:00pm, if at all. It's just so damned easy to get distracted!

2. Dehydration This sounds silly, but drinking straight water is so BORING that I often don't get enough in a day. As a runner, dehydration can be a serious impediment to good training, so I should work hard to get better at this.

3. Buying Books/CDs/Movies I don't need We've really worked hard to rein in our spending with the addition of AJ to our family, and I think thus far it's working. We have actually given away almost 20 movies out of our collection this year, and will likely cull more out of the shelves as we get better at recognizing our favorites from ones we bought on impulse. Memo to others: your public library likely has a good selection of movies on DVD or VHS which you can check out for free - take advantage of it!

18 April 2007

Baby Ainsley 365: Spring Cleaning

Saturday was "Spring Cleaning Day" at the church - Mommy and Ainsley joined us for lunch and stayed to help clean up my office for a while.

17 April 2007

Why? Because It's Us

What happened yesterday in Blacksburg is beyond description - a day that was beyond tragic for many, and more pain and sorrow will come. Words can't describe what has happened, and these wounds will only heal with much time, work and faith.

One comment that immediately got me furious, however, was this, from a national media source: "How could this tragedy happen in this small, peaceful community?"

Let's make one thing absolutely clear: this happened because we are human, in bondage to sin, and no community or society will ever be free from such things. Yes, the horror is great, but none of us has the right to think, "I'm so glad that could never happen here."

Because it could.
Because it will.
Because it's us.

Whoever he was, let us not fool ourselves into thinking he was a shooter who somehow became something you and I are not. This was a person. Living & breathing. Child of God gone horribly, tragically, senselessly astray into violence. But still a human being.


God, keep us ever mindful that we are not disconnected, that the sins of one are the sins of us all. Send your Holy Spirit to comfort all who have been affected by this devastating tragedy, and where we can be your hands and feet, show us the way.

Baby Ainsley 365: Master Blaster

I told Beloved that when I carry AJ in the Baby Bjorn, I feel like Master Blaster from "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome." You tell me:

16 April 2007

Monday Meme: Weirdo

Rules: 1) Post six weird things about yourself; 2) Tag six weird people to do the same.

Okay, I'll bite. Here goes.
1. When I was 13, my friends and I went completely gangsta. Yup, that's right: a bunch of farmers' kids from Nebraska spent most of junior high and part of our freshman year blasting Easy E, N.W.A., Dr. Dre and others at full volume. I think it had more to do with the frequent profanity than anything else.
2. I have a small birthmark under my right eye. I think it's called a hemangioma.
3. I would be really interested in competing on "Survivor" except for one thing: there's no way I could ever do the contest where you eat stuff like pig snouts, cockroaches, etc.
4. When I was a music major at the University of Nebraska, I had a five step pattern for walking from the Student Union to Westbrook Hall, the music building. I would step on every other crack, and only every fifth step. I still find myself doing this pattern when I walk down that particular sidewalk today.
5. When I'm driving and the song "Ants Marching" by the Dave Matthews Band plays, I have to remind myself not to drum with my feet. I nearly made Beloved sick doing it once. Same thing for the song "Captain Kidd" by Great Big Sea.
6. I love Drum Corps International and would love to go see the DCI World Championships someday. If I'd known about DCI at an earlier age, I would have tried out for the Concord Blue Devils for sure.

I tag LutheranHusker, RuthRe, LutherLiz, Church Nerd, Mother Superior, ThirdFuerst and Little Bro (yes, I know that's seven; I also have a preference for prime numbers) - be weird!

Baby Ainsley 365:

Huh - what is that big guy with the red hair doing now?

14 April 2007

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Easter - "Fanning Flames, Building Faith"

There's a story about a young girl named Alice who lived with her parents in rural Illinois. Besides a house and a tool shed, the other building on their small acreage was a chicken coop where the egg-laying hens roosted. When young Alice found some matches, she took them into the chicken coop to see if she could figure out how to strike one. She did figure it out, and held the burning wooden matchstick until it got too hot, then dropped it. Instead of burning out, the bit of flame fell on a piece of straw, which came alive with fire.

Determined that no one know about the matches, Alice covered up the flame with readily available material -- a handful of straw. For a minute, it seemed to work, but then the pile began to smolder. She decided to smother the whole thing, so she scooped up a full armload of straw to bury the evidence once and for all. Satisfied that she had finally taken care of the matter, she ran out into the yard to play. Soon the chicken coop had burned to the ground.[1]

By the time Peter appeared before the Sanhedrin in this morning's first reading, the chicken coop, so to speak, had just about burned to the ground. The people opposed to Jesus' teachings had tried to silence him through intimidation, but the flames of his teaching continued to spread. They tried to trap Jesus with theological debate and trick questions, but that didn't put out the fire. So the powers opposed to Jesus tried to smother him once and for all by crucifying him. But the flames that died with Jesus were brought roaring back to life with his resurrection.

Most years we think of this 2nd Sunday of Easter as "Doubting" Thomas Sunday. The text from John comes one week after Jesus' resurrection, so our three year lectionary uses this text every year for the first Sunday after the Resurrection. But every year I feel as though I need to defend Thomas – the nickname "Doubting" really belongs to all of Jesus' followers. Doubting Peter, who was so concerned with his own safety that he denied knowing Jesus three times. Doubting Mary, who was so distraught at finding the tomb in the garden empty that she thought Jesus was the gardener when she met him on the day of the Resurrection. Doubting James and John, who were more concerned with their place in heaven than what Jesus had been teaching them about servanthood. Doubting Judas, who might have been forgiven his betrayal if he hadn't doubted the love of Jesus and killed himself. All of Jesus' followers doubted him at one point or another. In fact, Thomas provided a remarkable example of courage in the face of doubt. In John 6, Jesus' friend Lazarus died in Bethany, a town near Jerusalem. Jesus was preparing to go to Bethany when his disciples warned Jesus that he would be in great danger in Bethany. Thomas, "doubting" Thomas, was the only disciple willing to go and die with Jesus at that moment. Thomas was on fire with courage in the face of uncertainty and doubt.

When my brother Brian and I were young, we liked playing with fire. Like many people in rural Nebraska at the time, our family burned most of our trash in a steel trash pit, and we would actually fight over who got to take out the trash and burn it. As we got older, we discovered the amazing power of gasoline to burn trash even faster. Soon we were putting gasoline on everything we burned, including the day we nearly blew up our dad's fuel tanks playing "Flash Gordon."

I mention all of this because there are different types of fire and different types of faith. Gasoline burns, of course, but you can't use it to build a log fire very easily. It burns too quickly, tends to be hard to control and is dangerous in large quantities. If you want to build a strong, long-lasting campfire, you can't just douse a bunch of logs in gasoline and throw a lit match on top: the gasoline will burn up before the logs can catch fire. If you want a campfire that will give warmth and light and burn long into the night, you have to start small. You build a small base of twigs and paper and light them on fire with a match, protecting them from too much wind. You add larger sticks and kindling slowly, making sure that as the fire grows it gets enough oxygen to keep growing. Finally you can begin to add the big logs, and if you've done your work right you can build a log cabin around your kindling that will burn for quite a long time. But if your fire begins to go out, you only need to fan it a bit and it will roar back into life, as warm and bright as ever. Why? Because the fire has worked deep into the wood at this point, and it only needs a little breath of air to burn bright and strong.

Perhaps Jesus brought about faith in his resurrection in the same way. If he had appeared in a glorious blaze, would the faith of his followers have exhausted itself as quickly as gasoline on a campfire? Possibly. What we know for certain is that Jesus started small: he appeared to Mary, then a week later to the followers in the upper room, then to those same followers and Thomas the next night. He started people thinking and talking about his resurrection in small ways, and in the gospels it almost seems like Jesus is tending the spread of that story very carefully, feeding it slowly and making sure it takes root in each person. By the time Peter appeared before the Sanhedrin in the months after Jesus' resurrection, the blaze of the resurrection was burning so brightly that nothing could put it out – not even the threat of imprisonment or being beaten for witnessing to what had happened.

Today, however, those flames are fanned and our faith is built in different ways. In many ways our world has changed since the time when the flames of faith were beginning to blaze in the church. I sat down last night to write this sermon on my laptop in my living room. My house is large when compared to those of Peter and Thomas' time, and it was snug, warm and dry. I was watching the Twins on my television as I typed. My wife and child slept peacefully nearby, with no concern for where today's food will be found. None of us questioned whether we should come to be with you this morning – no one will threaten us with public beatings or jail time for our attendance here. Standing here before you this morning, I preach and teach in the name of Jesus. It costs me nothing. As a matter of fact, I will be compensated for the witness I bring today.

The danger we face today is losing the fire of faith in our lives. In the culture in which we live, religious faith is no longer a basis for persecution. Comfort and apathy can give false warmth and shelter. The idols of wealth, national security, and nationalism seduce us into thinking that we have no need for faith beyond making us feel as though we're good and moral people. We run the risk of forgetting why the fires of faith in Jesus Christ must be tended and kept alive: because there is safety in Christ and in Christ alone. Every other fire will burn out in time: only the fire of faith will always be available to us.

It is not the danger of the first weeks after the resurrection we long to experience. What we long to experience is the faith that drove these men and women to spread the word about Jesus in spite of that danger. Every once in a while we get an experience of that deep, profound, energizing faith. A phrase from scripture speaks to us in a new way or with direct bearing on a situation in our lives. A hymn or a song blazes beautiful images of Jesus into us, and so we sing with all our heart. Friends call to let us know they are praying for us in a difficult time. We pray for those same friends in the midst of their own struggles. A neighbor turns to us as we share the peace and says, "the peace of Christ be with you," and it's really there. Every time this happens it feeds our souls and fills us with faith that matters, faith that transforms, faith that works in us and on us and through us until the embers that had seemed dead are fanned into life again, blazing with the light and warmth of the Spirit. This faith is what Jesus began building when he appeared on the day of his resurrection. This faith is what Jesus continued to build in the upper room, first with the ten and then with Thomas. This faith is what blew through the disciples on the day of Pentecost. This faith is what lit the fire in Peter and all of Jesus' followers, and this faith is what filled Jerusalem with the good news of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.

The danger and the doubt are part of the story, but they are not the part that matters. What matters is faith – faith that has been brought to life and is blazing within. Thomas was filled with faith when he confessed, "My Lord and my God!" Peter was filled with faith when we told the authorities, "We must obey God rather than any human authority…we are witnesses to these things." The faith that was buried with Jesus on the day of his crucifixion is still being fanned into flames in us today, flames that will be the light of the world until the end of time. No doubt can ever smother what God will set alight in you, and no danger can ever extinguish those flames, that burning faith in Jesus Christ, who is still risen today. Alleluia! Amen.

[1] Heidi A. Peterson is pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Missouri. This quote appeared in The Christian Century, April 11, 2001, p. 14. http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=2185

Baby Ainsley 365: Sleepy Time

13 April 2007

Baby Ainsley 365: Foxy Lady

I wanna take you home, my my,
I won't do you no harm, no.
You gotta be all mine, all mine.
Oooh - Foxy Lady


Friday Five: Dental Edition

Cheesehead and I are both laid up this week with various tooth maladies. This one's in honor of us:

1. Are you a regular patron of dentists' offices? Or, do you go
a) faithfully, as long as you have insurance, or
b) every few years or so, whether you need it or not, or
c) dentist? what is this "dentist" thing you speak of?

2. Whatever became of your wisdom teeth?

3. Favorite thing to eat that's BAAAAAD for your teeth.

4. Ever had oral surgery? Commiserate with me.

5. "I'd rather have a root canal than _________________."

Bonus: Does your dentist recommend Trident?

1. I'm regular because Beloved insists, and yes, because I finally have dental insurance. I have a permanent retainer on the back of my lower incisors and let's just say that getting the plaque out of that bad boy after six years of brushing alone during college and seminary was NOT an enjoyable experience. I got to know our hygenist really well during those two (yes, two) appointments.
2. My wisdom teeth are still buried deep in my gums, thank the Lord above. I remember when my Dad had his wisdom teeth pulled and how miserable an experience it was for him - thanks, but no thanks.
3. Wow - EVERYTHING I like to eat is bad for my teeth. I suppose I'd have to pick the one I've gone the longest without enjoying: a "Gotta Have It" size German Chokolatekake from Cold Stone Creamery. Wow - I'm drooling just thinking about all that sugary, chocolatey goodness. Zer koestliche, ja?
4. Oh, yes, at age 14. My eyeteeth weren't coming down quickly enough for our orthodontist, so they went in, peeled the gums back, chipped away the bone, wrapped the teeth with wires and chained them to my braces. Of course, fool that I was, I chose the local anesthetic and nearly passed out when I saw all the blood on the first gauze pad.
5. Is this like the "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy" statement? Having never had a root canal (please God, don't let that particular creek rise), I can't compare it to anything, but I do remember the horrors of years of orthodontics and can't say anything was less enjoyable in my life. How about "I'd rather have a root canal than revisit the horrors of being a teen-age patient of an orthodontist with large, hairy fingers?"

Bonus: I don't know about my dentist, but I'm addicted to Extra Polar Ice, so it's a moot point anyway.

Ish - that's enough of that! Talk about a horror show on Friday the 13th!

They're Taking The Hobbits To Isengard

Awesome. Simply fireplaceing awesome.

12 April 2007

Brian's Thursday Three

As the school year begins to wind down, I always wonder what my students will think of 1st grade in the future. What will they remember? What will they remember about me?

For this week's Thursday Three, list three things about yourself that you want others to remember.
1. Passion - God has given me the great gift of life, and I want to live it fully. Why be a part of something if you're only going to be half-way dedicated to it?

2. Authenticity & Integrity - I know that's two things, but they are somewhat related. As I look at the culture in which I live, one of the most infuriating aspects of it is the continual parsing of statements and "framing" of issues; in my opinion, window-dressing that has become more important than the content of one's speech or character. I am who I am and I say what I say because I believe it. You can certainly disagree, and I could certainly be wrong, but let's have the cojones to at least be real and speak the truth to each other. I should note that this is one for which I have been working for quite some time, as I was neither authentic nor a man of integrity for a large portion of my life. It is a growth area for me, one which I hope is developing into a real ministry strength.

3. Family Man - Beloved was confronted (kindly) by a youth committee member last night for rescheduling a Bible study while we are away in Nebraska in a few weeks. I think she handled it beautifully; she made it absolutely clear that our family time together was more important than our professional obligations, and that when they come into conflict occasionally, the family will always win the day. We are united in this, as we are in most things, and I hope she treasures that in me as much as I do in her.

Baby Ainsley 365: Straight outta Barrett

This is how we roll...

11 April 2007

Baby Ainsley 365: Pink Vest

All ready for MORE SNOW. Grrrrr. At least the baby seems happy these days.

National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month. Click on the poster below to receive a poem-a-day email from poets.org

Meanwhile, here is today's selected poem.

Atlantis—A Lost Sonnet

by Eavan Boland

How on earth did it happen, I used to wonder
that a whole city—arches, pillars, colonnades,
not to mention vehicles and animals—had all
one fine day gone under?

I mean, I said to myself, the world was small then.
Surely a great city must have been missed?
I miss our old city —

white pepper, white pudding, you and I meeting
under fanlights and low skies to go home in it. Maybe
what really happened is

this: the old fable-makers searched hard for a word
to convey that what is gone is gone forever and
never found it. And so, in the best traditions of

where we come from, they gave their sorrow a name
and drowned it.

09 April 2007

Baby Ainsley 365: Wow!

We took this picture just after AJ accidentally slurped down a bit of my morning coffee. TWEEK!


Monday Meme

I'm stuck upstairs finishing the financial catch-up from last week's computer meltdown and finalizing our tax paperwork (may the IRS catch a really itchy virus, and a pox on its house). And OF COURSE my money program is working as fast as an 85 year-old church organist; thus, I'm doing the Monday Meme while the computer wheezes its way closer to oblivion.

Make a mini-playlist for Spring. Five songs about Spring, that sound like Spring to you, make you think of Spring, or are good to listen to in Spring.

1. "The Color Green" by Rich Mullins. "Look down upon this winter wheat / and be glad that You have made / Blue for the sky, and the color green / that fills these fields with praise." The song that first made me love Rich's music.

2. "The Parting Glass" - various artists have recorded this over the years. Possibly the quintessential Irish drinking song; it was the tune playing behind the final scene of the movie Waking Ned Devine. "But since it falls unto my lot / that I should rise and you should not / I'll softly rise and gently call, / 'Good night, and joy be with you all.'"

3. "The Hills of Connemara" by the Wild Clover Band. Just a fun little ditty that my friend Aaron & his mates recorded on their last album. The hills of Connemara are famous for hiding the stills of "mountain dew" from the English.

4. "Weave the Yarn" by Mary Knickle. A fun, hard-driving tune about a lass who is to be married and how she got that way. I suppose it's traditionally more of a summer song, but I've listened to it often this spring.

5. "Captain Kidd" by Great Big Sea. Heard this one months ago on Marc's Irish podcast and loved it from the start. Accoustic maritime rock, with a marching snare lick thrown in over the top - what's not to like?

Now I know this is mostly Irish music - even Rich's song is heavily Irish-influenced. Well, spring makes me think of Ireland, I guess, especially since I had the opportunity to spend a week there in March 1996. Can it really be ten years already? Anyway, spring and Ireland go hand in hand in my mind - thus the music does as well.

Consider yourself tagged if you're reading. Happy Monday!

08 April 2007

Baby Ainsley 365: Yup, It's Been That Kind Of Day

This Easter Sunday brought to you by the makers of Dreft, Boudreaux's Butt Paste and the American Diaper Manufacturers Association...

Sermon for Easter Day - "From Idle Tales to Resurrection Life"

The Greek word lhvro" that our New Revised Standard Version Bible translates as "idle tale" is generally defined as "utter nonsense," or "humbug." Deciding how to begin an Easter sermon is a pretty daunting task – so sometimes just getting the title is a good start. But sitting at one's laptop to write an Easter sermon with the words "Idle Tale" in the title makes one understand how a sculptor must feel, standing with hammer and chisel in hand, staring at a block of stone and wondering if the end result will be "Beautiful!" or "bah, humbug!"

Every year this happens to me on Easter Day. The Easter sermon is perhaps the hardest one to write. The anxiety does not rise from the scripture passage – the anxiety rises from a desire, this Sunday more than any other, to stay behind the story. No matter how conscientious we may be, we preachers know that we very often put our own spin on God's Word when we step into the pulpit. The temptation to overwhelm God's Word with our own idle tales is a constant threat, but it is most dangerous today, on this holiest of holy days, because of the importance of what we remember here today. A preacher who stands between God's people and the story of the Resurrection is a preacher who is getting in the way – and that preacher is turning the glory of the Resurrection into an idle tale.

Now, the most recent issue of Newsweek printed a conversation between atheist author Sam Harris, the author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, and Baptist minister Rick Warren, the author of The Purpose-Driven Life, which may be the best-selling Christian title ever. The topic of the Harris & Warren conversation was, “Is God Real?” As you might imagine, the conversation didn't really "go" anywhere. The publisher disclosed during the introduction that Pastor Warren's faith remained unscathed and Mr. Harris remained opposed to what he called the "ludicrous obscenity" of religious faith. In fact, these two intelligent people were well-intentioned and obviously trying to be respectful in their conversation. But for each of them, the words of the other remained an "idle tale;" words that were utter nonsense to the other. In the end, this is what will happen in such situations, because the reality of God is not something established under such conditions. It's like a woman who speaks American English & a woman who speaks Portugese debating the reality of the German umlaut – they are using two different systems of speech, two different sets of meaning and experience, to establish the reality of a third, and it's just not possible to make it work.

I wonder if what happened on the morning of the Resurrection was a similar problem. We read the gospel accounts of the Resurrection with 2,000 years of faith and practice heaped on top of the story. It is next to impossible to mention the words "empty tomb" without everyone in the church immediately knowing exactly what to expect next: an angel telling the women that Jesus has risen from the dead. But the disciples, the ones who lived that moment, had none of our pre-conceived notions about what Jesus ought to be doing when he ought to be dead. The only way we can understand what the disciples went through would be putting ourselves in their shoes. Imagine someone coming to you to say that the grave of someone you loved has been opened and the loved one is no longer dead, but living. What would you say? Nonsense? Humbug? An idle tale? Now you know what it meant to be a follower of Jesus on the day of his resurrection.

But we believe that resurrection is exactly what will happen, don't we? Don't we confess every week to believe in the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting? Of course we do – but until we experience that resurrection, it will in some ways remain an idle tale to us; not because we don't believe, but because the reality of Resurrection has not yet broken in upon our experience.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm going to give you a moment of unvarnished honesty. The Biblical accounts of the Resurrection, on their own, aren't enough for me to believe that the Resurrection is not an idle tale. Resurrection stories are found in nearly every religion in every tribe, race or nation the earth has ever known. The Egyptians had one; the Sumerians had one; the Greeks had one as well. The Gospel stories of Jesus' resurrection, on their own, don't go beyond idle tale for me, and I hope they don't for you, either, because I don't think God intended it to be that way.

Is God real? Is the Resurrection more than an idle tale? I cannot answer those questions for you. I WON'T answer those questions for you. But - I can tell you what is real to me. I can give you my answers to those questions. For twenty-one years my grandmother has celebrated Easter in the shadow of her husband's death on Easter Day, 1986. She clings to the hope of being reunited with him, and with her son, my Uncle Denny, because of her faith in the resurrection of Jesus. Three summers ago, I sat with my mentor, Larry Meyer, and we talked about the cancer that was slowly killing him. He faced his death with hope and peace because of his faith in the resurrection of Jesus. Twelve years ago I stood on a hilltop in central Nebraska, pouring my heart out to a starlit March sky and hoping, praying for some kind of sign that there was someone listening, because if there wasn't anyone listening I didn't know if I could go on. Something gave me the strength to go on, and face my life and my mistakes – and that something gave me faith in the resurrection of Jesus.

What I know from my life and the ones I love makes the Biblical account of the resurrection real and true and the moment that gives me life. But the resurrection of Jesus is about more than my life: it is about Resurrection Life, life lived under the sign of the cross that sees all things through the shared story of Jesus the Christ, Savior of the World. Forty-odd years ago, a Baptist preacher from the South named King changed the course of a nation and its people because of his faith in the resurrection of Jesus. Sixty-two years ago, a German pastor named Bonhoeffer calmly walked to his death in a Nazi concentration camp because of his faith in the resurrection of Jesus. Thousands upon thousands of people in Calcutta, India, with no way to care for themselves, found healing and hope in the care of a woman named Theresa, who cared for them because of her faith in the resurrection of Jesus. Five hundred years ago, a monk from northern Germany named Luther changed the course of Western civilization because of his faith in the resurrection of Jesus. And two thousand years ago, a group of women and men started sharing an incredible story: they believed in the resurrection of Jesus, even if saying they believed it would cost them everything.

It is these things and more that bring me to believe that the resurrection of Jesus is more than an idle tale. This cloud of witnesses has convinced me of the utter truth of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son of God, Messiah and Savior of the world. But I cannot stop there. I cannot rest on the reality of the resurrection. It is something in which I must immerse myself, again and again, because the story of the resurrection of Jesus has become more than just a story – it is now Resurrection Life, the very thing from which all that I know and all that I am arises. And because of everything the Resurrection has become to me, the gospels become truth as well, words that are not an idle tale, but rather the place where I find my Savior's life revealed and living in me. I need to hear these stories because they fill me with life itself, no matter how many times I've heard them. As my friend and fellow blogger Milton says, "One of the reasons I’m glad life circles around to the Resurrection every year is I know I need to hear the story again because there is still much about faith and life that needs to dawn on me." [1]

So, does all of this mean anything to anyone? I hope so, but that's not under my control. Perhaps someone could make the case for the resurrection of Jesus in a more empirical fashion, but I think that would be an exercise in missing the point. Faith can only come through shared experience filled with the Spirit's breath and life. As Diana Butler Bass says,

The resurrection is not an intellectual puzzle. Rather, it is a living theological reality, a distant event with continuing spiritual, human, and social consequences. The evidence for the resurrection is all around us. Not in some ancient text, Jesus bones, or a DNA sample. Rather, the historical evidence for the resurrection is Jesus living in us; it is the transformative power of the Holy Spirit, bringing back to life that which was dead. We are the evidence.[2]

If you want to know what it is that moves the story of the resurrection of Jesus from idle tale to life itself, look around you. We gather here because the story is not just an idle tale. We gather here because the resurrection of Jesus is what gives us life. Amen.