31 August 2007

Friday Five: Seasons Change...

reverendmother has the Friday Five this week at RevGalBlogPals:
It's Labor Day weekend here in the United States, also known as Summer's Last Hurrah. So let's say goodbye to summer and hello to the autumn. (People in other climes, feel free to adapt as needed.)

1. Share a highlight from this summer. (If you please, don't just say "our vacation to the Canadian Rockies." Give us a little detail or image. Help us live vicariously through you!)

Wow - can I share two? First, playing the role of E.K. Hornbeck in Prairie Wind Players' Inherit the Wind. It was a thoroughly enjoyable (and immensely cathartic) role and a real treat to work with some of my fellow cast members. Second, bringing a group of campers to Carol Joy Holling Camp in Ashland, NE, where I went to camp when I was a kid and where I served five summers as a counselor and Tipi Village site manager. It was the fulfillment of a dream thirteen years in the making: ever since I began to feel called to ordained ministry, I've wanted to do this. Glad it happened this year.

2. Are you glad to see this summer end? Why or why not?
I am and I'm not. I'm always excited about September because I'm an autumn person, but we had a pretty good summer. This summer went SO very quickly; I'd hoped to plant a garden this year (only got a garden tilled), hoped to have several woodworking projects completed (one is halfway cut and not at all assembled) and wanted to lose some weight (pants are still tight). But we've had a lot of fun with friends and family and are looking forward to a great autumn nonetheless.

3. Name one or two things you're looking forward to this fall.

I've got lots of things to be excited for this year: Husker football, the beginning of school, high school sports, Husker football, cooler weather, the beauty of Minnesota in September and October, Husker football, Husker volleyball, running the Siouxland Half-Marathon on 20 October with some good friends, Husker football, watching Ainsley learn to crawl and maybe walk, oh, and let's not forget, Husker football. :-)

4. Do you have any special preparations or activities to mark the transition from one season to another? (Cleaning of house, putting away summer clothes, one last trip to the beach)
Not really: the change in activity level at our church and getting involved at school is enough of a transition to manage. We've gone to the Minnesota State Fair the last few years (AKA Scott's End-of-Summer Gorge-a-thon-on-a-stick), but didn't make it this year; that's about as transition-y as we get.

5. I'll know that fall is really here when __________________________________.
we have a fire at night and I feel the need to put on a sweatshirt. That's the BEST time of the year. Also, when I can smell harvest in the air, when our walnut tree goes that cool, insanely red color before its leaves drop, and when Notre Dame loses to Michigan (sorry, Irish fans!).

30 August 2007

Huskers - Wake Forest

I know, I know, I said I'd post more content and fewer links. But this was just to cool not to pass along.

Wake Forest - Army Tickets

There's a big military hospital (Womack) at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, which is about 100 miles from Winston-Salem. A large number of GIs wounded in Iraq are treated or rehab there. They also have a "Warrior Transition Battalion" for wounded who are no longer in-patients but who will not be returning to regular duty and will eventually be discharged from the army.

If you are a Husker fan who bought Wake Forest season tickets please consider mailing your Wake Forest - Army game tickets to be donated to the troops. I spoke to Shannon Lynch at Ft. Bragg on August 30th and they have received around 25 tickets so far. Let's see if we can do better than that.

Here's the mailing address (use all CAPS):

FT. BRAGG, NC 28310.

They did say they'd be happy to receive all the tickets we won't be using, not just the Army game.

So, before it slips your mind, unless you have a better use for them, please get those tickets in the mail to Womack. Thanks.

If you do mail tickets please let me know so we can add to the total.

29 August 2007

Baby Ainsley 365: The High Point Of The Day

This will come as no surprise to anyone who's read this blog even semi-regularly. But I have to say it again: even the worst days can be made better by feeding my daughter and putting her down to sleep. I wouldn't trade anything for that pleasure.

It's been a rough month or so. Lots of stuff has been happening that's been less than positive, and some of it is ongoing. Finances are tight, due to some adjustments we didn't see coming and a few mistakes we've made along the way. Summer is over and I'm wondering how in the hell that happened so quickly: did I sleep through June or something? I'm restructuring some of my priorities at the church to meet some needs that have been identified through this summer's evaluations by our church council. But we are healthy and happy and our family feels tight to me, like we belong to each other in all the good ways a family should belong to each other.

(Speaking of family, Beloved just drove up and wanted a glass of wine ready when she got home. BRB)

Okay, Beloved is be-wined and I'm be-back. :-)

The point I was making is that recently I've not posted much beyond memes, sermons and links. Looking back it seems a desperate attempt to hide behind a flurry of activity: if I throw lots of shit onto the blog, maybe that means I'm still alive and kicking! This from a guy who's been preaching about slowing down and paying attention, that sometimes one more activity isn't the answer to our problems. Physician, heal thyself!

Sunday's gospel text is one in which I think Jesus is speaking with heavy satire about our propensity for narcissism. I'm playing with the sermon title, "An 'I' in Humility" as a means of drawing out the wholeness and self-realization which Christ desires to create in us. To be wrapped up in being "more humble" is just another way of being wrapped up in what others think of us: I get the sense that Jesus wants us to realize that we were created for more important things than what others think, positive or negative.

I need to remind myself that living authentically in my own skin is an important part of following Jesus, that false humility is as hypocritical and spiritually dangerous as despair or pride. To know myself better, to look within and call myself what I am - that is one characteristic of discipleship I need to emphasize if I'm going to be a better husband, father and pastor.

I'm listening to Dune by Frank Herbert right now, and I'm more intrigued than ever by the awareness and consciousness displayed by Paul Atreides. Even though it's fiction, I wonder: could I train myself toward that level of conscious existence, where fear blows through me and only I remain? Something to consider.

Anyway, I feel like I'm drawing back toward being "me" again - that my compass is again fixed where lately it's been wandering. Now, as to the course being charted for me? Who knows? But the voyage awaits, nonetheless, and I'm anxious to be under way.

College Football Wisdom

Well, the most wonderful time of the year starts tomorrow night: College Football Season! In honor of said season, I give you this collection of wisdom from some of the great coaches of the game - and a lot of other people not named Devaney. :-)

"At Georgia Southern, we don't cheat. That costs money and we don't have any."
Erk Russell, Georgia Southern.

"Football is only a game. Spiritual things are eternal. Nevertheless, Beat Texas." Seen on a church sign in Arkansas prior to the 1969 game.

"After you retire, there's only one big event left....and I ain't ready for that."
Bobby Bowden / Florida State

"The man who complains about the way the ball bounces is likely to be the one who dropped it."
Lou Holtz / Arkansas

"When you win, nothing hurts."
Joe Namath / Alabama

"Motivation is simple. You eliminate those who are not motivated."
Lou Holtz / Arkansas

"If you want to walk the heavenly streets of gold, you gotta know the password, "Roll, tide, roll!"
Bear Bryant / Alabama

"A school without football is in danger of deteriorating into a medieval study hall."
Frank Leahy / Notre Dame

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."
Woody Hayes / Ohio State

"I don't expect to win enough games to be put on NCAA probation. I just want to win enough to warrant an investigation."
Bob Devaney / Nebraska

"In Alabama, an atheist is someone who doesn't believe in Bear Bryant."
Wally Butts / Georgia

"You can learn more character on the two-yard line than anywhere else in life."
Paul Dietzel / LSU

"It's kind of hard to rally around a math class."
Bear Bryant / Alabama

"No, but you can see it from here."
Lou Holtz / Arkansas...When asked if Fayetteville was the end of the world.

"I make my practices real hard because if a player is a quitter, I want him to quit in
practice, not in a game."
Bear Bryant / Alabama

"There's one sure way to stop us from scoring-give us the ball near the goal line."
Matty Bell / SMU

"Lads, you're not to miss practice unless your parents died or you died."
Frank Leahy / Notre Dame

"I never graduated from Iowa, but I was only there for two terms - Truman's and Eisenhower's."
Alex Karras / Iowa

"My advice to defensive players: Take the shortest route to the ball and arrive in a bad humor."
Bowden Wyatt / Tennessee

"I could have been a Rhodes Scholar, except for my grades."
Duffy Daugherty / Michigan State

"Always remember..... Goliath was a 40 point favorite over David."
Shug Jordan / Auburn

"They cut us up like boarding house pie. And that's real small pieces."
Darrell Royal / Texas

"Show me a good and gracious loser, and I'll show you a failure."
Knute Rockne / Notre Dame

"They whipped us like a tied up goat."
Spike Dykes / Texas Tech

"I asked Darrell Royal, the coach of the Texas Longhorns, why he didn't recruit me and he said: "Well, Walt, we took a look at you and you weren't any good."
Walt Garrison / Oklahoma State

"Son, you've got a good engine, but your hands aren't on the steering wheel."
Bobby Bowden / Florida State

"Football is not a contact sport-it is a collision sport. Dancing is a contact sport."
Duffy Daugherty / Michigan State

After USC lost 51-0 to Notre Dame, his post game message to his team: "All those who need showers, take them."
John McKay / USC

"If lessons are learned in defeat, our team is getting a great education."
Murray Warmath / Minnesota

"The only qualifications for a lineman are to be big and dumb. To be a back, you only have to be dumb."
Knute Rockne / Notre Dame

"Oh, we played about like three tons of buzzard puke this afternoon."
Spike Dykes / Texas Tech

"It isn't necessary to see a good tackle. You can hear it."
Knute Rockne / Notre Dame

"We live one day at a time and scratch where it itches."
Darrell Royal / Texas

"We didn't tackle well today but we made up for it by not blocking."
John McKay / USC

"Three things can happen when you throw the ball, and two of them are bad." Darrell Royal / University of Texas

"I've found that prayers work best when you have big players."
Knute Rockne / Notre Dame

"Gentlemen, it is better to have died a small boy than to fumble this football"
John Heisman

27 August 2007

Monday Meme: Slainte!

You Are Guinness

You know beer well, and you'll only drink the best beers in the world.
Watered down beers disgust you, as do the people who drink them.
When you drink, you tend to become a bit of a know it all - especially about subjects you don't know well.
But your friends tolerate your drunken ways, because you introduce them to the best beers around.

Passionate Poetry Post

Milton at don't eat alone is a wonderful writer, a former ordained minister and an excellent chef (at least, he talks like one, which is the closest a guy can come without actually eating his food).

He is also a poet, and last Thursday's poem was a doozy. Here it is.

26 August 2007

Sermon for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost - "On the Healing of the Sabbath"

The Third Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and God’s Word, but consider it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

But what does that mean?

Let us pray: You give us mercy, Lord – still our lives so that we may receive it. You give us freedom, Lord – calm our hearts sot that we may embrace it. You give us healing and peace, Lord – show us our brokenness, our bondage, all that holds us captive, so that we may be healed and believe that You are healing and peace itself. Amen

When I was in college I was a member of the choir at the Lutheran Student Center. Every Wednesday night at 7:30 we’d meet in the chapel at the Student Center for an hour of rehearsal, and most of us would hang out afterwards until it was time to go home. We sang almost every Sunday during worship and two or three times a year we’d go out to a congregation somewhere in the Nebraska Synod, usually the home church of someone in the choir. It was a great time for most of us – we got to sing, laugh and worship together, and frankly, it was good to have some ‘down time’ in the middle of the typically hectic week of a college student.

One fall, a friend of mine named Kelly decided to withdraw from the Student Center choir to focus on other things. Kelly was that rarest of sopranos: she had good pitch, a clear tone and a beautiful voice that was confident but not overpowering. So losing Kelly was a great blow to our choir. Frankly, I wasn’t all that impressed by her reasoning. In fact, I think you could safely define my reaction as a combination of ignorance and open hostility. I remember saying something to the effect of how stupid it was that someone with such gifts should refuse to offer them to the church because she felt “too busy.”

When I said this, I was a full-time student, living off-campus and working 20 hours a week taking surveys for the Gallup Organization. I also put in 20 hours a week on marching band meetings and rehearsals, had at least one concert a month for Jazz Band or Wind Ensemble, sang in the Student Center Choir, sat on the council and was an active member of two Bible study groups. I was not getting enough sleep, drinking way too much coffee, feeling short-tempered and irritated most of the time and sleepwalking my way through college, getting by on luck and instincts instead of study and intellectual passion. Now, who was the stupid one again?

At first glance it might appear that the synagogue leader in today’s gospel reading is making the same argument that my friend Kelly once made. After all, the Third Commandment does insist that the Sabbath is a day to be honored and kept holy. God does insist that we honor the seventh day of creation, the day in which God stopped working, by observing a work stoppage of our own. But there is a bondage buried beneath the synagogue leader’s loud protests; something holds him, and us, captive, and Jesus is as anxious to remove this crippling bondage as he is anxious to remove the infirmity of the woman he heals. Where is healing taking place in this reading? Is it only the woman who gets healed, or are there others? We must recognize that many of the people in the synagogue that day experienced healing through the words and actions of Jesus. Healing occurs wherever Jesus removes the burdens and barriers from human life, and there is an abundance of burdens and barriers falling away in our reading from Luke this morning.

The crippled woman would be the first to mention, of course. The healing he gives to this woman is immediate, genuine and driven by compassion. Eighteen years is an eternity to be held prisoner in your own body. We must not make the mistake of looking past the miraculous physical healing Jesus gives to the teachings that often follow upon them. Jesus did not heal as a means to the end of teaching: Jesus healed, and when people questioned the healing, then Jesus taught. The woman was in need of healing, and so Jesus healed her, and if no one had said anything, then Jesus’ work for that day would have been complete.

But the crowd also was healed that day. They were healed of their predisposition to see the bent-over woman only in terms of her infirmity. It is in our nature to see our neighbors in broad terms; to seize upon their identifying characteristics and use them to define the entire person. Thus Mr. Hartman, my elementary school principal, is forever defined in my memory by the empty sleeve that hung from his right shoulder, the result of a farming accident from his youth. Thus my dad’s best friend, Butch, is now born-again Butch, because he has come to a vibrant evangelical faith in his later years. These are only parts of the whole of these two men – but because I am human and in bondage to sin, I’ve allowed the pieces of these lives to become the entire life itself. That is a mistake from which Jesus would heal us, as he healed the crowd in that synagogue long ago from seeing a woman only in terms of her infirmity.

The Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus’ opponents were put to shame by his arguments against them. Here is another kind of healing entirely: a healing from arrogance and from wrong ideas about the Sabbath itself. This is not a gentle healing at all: this kind of healing hurts. When burn victims live through the immediate danger from their wounds, they often begin a more painful process of healing known as debridement: the dead and decaying skin is removed so that new, living tissue has a better chance to grow. It is intensely painful, but necessary for the growth and well-being of the patient. In the same way, Jesus’ strong words against the synagogue leader and his opponents are words intended to heal, though at the outset they would have been incredibly painful to bear. Jesus’ harsh words were always intended to heal, to tear away that which was slowly poisoning the people around him, so that health and wholeness might take its place and be allowed to flourish and grow. In healing the woman and then speaking out against his opponents, Jesus healed many who had wandered away from a healthy understanding of Sabbath and healing.

Our reading from the book of Isaiah offers us a vision of what Sabbath can be when it is embraced as God has intended. “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted…If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honourable; if you honour it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs… then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth…” This passage comes from what we know as Third Isaiah, the section of the book that was written after the people of Israel returned from their captivity in Babylon. They were praying and fasting and they couldn’t understand why God wouldn’t bless them in their new home and in their new work. But God used Isaiah to say, “Yes, you fast, but you do it to impress Me. Yes, you pray, but you use flowery words because you think I’ll listen more closely if your prose is impressive. Meanwhile you oppress the workers in your house and you fight with one another. You’ve taken the Sabbath and turned into a means to an end – you use the Sabbath to get My favor and to oppress the people around you. Why would I listen to you when you dishonor Me like this?”

Jesus knew that the Sabbath was a day intended to give life. After six days of hard work, God took a day of rest to be rejuvenated and refreshed. Is it any coincidence that the activities we pursue for pure pleasure are often called re-creational? It is these things which give us life and joy and make the world in which we live a place of freedom and rich blessing; but we do a terrible disservice to all of it if we make any of it a burden to be carried rather than a gift to be shared.

When order and structure become things to be protected instead of a good upon which we agree, they need to be broken, and this is exactly what Jesus did in our gospel reading this morning. The leader of the synagogue was using the Sabbath as his own personal kingdom, a place where he set the rules and he determined what was right or wrong. But protecting the Sabbath because it is the Sabbath was never what God intended, and the synagogue leader committed a sin by using the Sabbath as his own personal power trip. The Sabbath has always been meant to free us from our sins, to invigorate us with joy, to equip us for ministry in God’s creation and to recharge us with passion of the Holy Spirit: how can that happen when we use the Sabbath to protect our personal interest, deny others the right to be healed, require our neighbors to meet our needs and restrict the abundance of the Sabbath by piling on rules and regulations? Isaiah’s message from God can be summed up like this: if you stop pointing fingers, you'll be healed. Isn’t it time we stopped pointing fingers and using the church as our personal kingdom and started focusing on what actually brings joy into our lives?

Jesus breaks the rules in order to heal. He breaks bonds that hold us captive to set us free. Maybe it’s time to ask the question of ourselves: is our captivity to certain behaviors or ways of being allowing injury and disability to continue? We lament that it’s hard to get visitors and young people in the doors of the church: are we creating that problem by our insistence that there is one absolute and certain way to go about honoring the Sabbath? The Sabbath is a GOOD thing, and so were the Pharisees and synagogue leaders who protected it, but they still needed a chance to break free from their bondage to “what we’ve always done.” Could the same be true for us today?

Finally, let’s look at the woman who was healed one more time. She was bent-over, incapable of anything but mere existence – thanks to Jesus, she became free, able to move and breathe and live. Do we feel the same way after hearing the words of Jesus? Has the church become just one more item on the checklist of our incredibly hectic lives? If so, is it possible that we might actually need to stop adding more church duties and simply find Sabbath again? Is it possible that saying “No.” to the church might mean saying “Yes.” to God? It could be. Whenever we get the idea that the church or our job or our family or anything else God has created wouldn’t continue without us, we’ve lost our way and forgotten the point of the Sabbath: You are not indispensable – you are God’s creation and only God is indispensable. When we think the Sabbath can’t happen without us, we need healing, and maybe healing that hurts, because we’ve traded life for a burden and made the church and its duties into an idol that takes the place of God. When anything, even the church, takes you to the point of near-exhaustion, where you’re burdened beyond your strength, remember these words of Jesus and see if maybe you’ve forgotten something: Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”

May you be healed this Sabbath. May you find your back straightened, your load lifted, your shoulders un bowed and your strength renewed. May you find rest for your soul, an easy yoke, a light burden. May you be healed. Amen.

24 August 2007

Baby Ainsley 365: More Pictures from Grandma & Grandpa's Visit

Some more shots from Grandma & Grandpa M's visit to Minnesota. First, Ainsley teaches Grandma M how to read:

"No, Grandma, it's I before E except after C!"

And what member of the Johnson family would be complete without a little "concentration tongue?"

A Cultural Friday Five

This week's Friday Five from RevGalBlogPals:

I have spent the week at Summer School studying the Gospel and Western culture, we have looked at art, literature, music, film and popular culture in their myriad expressions. With that in mind I bring you the cultural Friday 5.
Name a
1. Book
2. Piece of music
3. Work of art
4. Film
5. Unusual engagement with popular culture and tell how these cultural encounters have helped/ challenged you on your spiritual journey.

1. As far as books go, there is much in my faith that springs directly from the books I've read. One that has come up in my reflections prior to nearly every funeral over which I've presided is Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. Yes, I know it's science fiction and certainly not orthodox, but I find in the character of Andrew "Ender" Wiggin much to admire in terms of pastoral honesty. When Ender "speaks" the death of someone, he describes them as they are, not in the glowing, saintlike terms so many of us (myself included) tend to use as we eulogize the dead (eulogy being, of course, "good words" in Greek). The entire Ender series, in fact, deals with ethics, politics and faith in thought provoking ways; I've rarely felt more engaged by both story and philosophy.

2. When I entered the University of Nebraska I intended to be a music educator, and even after I felt drawn to ordained ministry I continued to be active in the music department. I spent three years as a member of the Wind Ensemble and played lots of great music, including the Nebraska premiere of Johan de Meij's Lord of the Rings Symphony in its entirety. But the piece that continues to bring me to tears and joy is David Maslanka's Symphony 4 for Wind Ensemble. Here are selections from Maslanka's notes on the piece:

The roots of Symphony No.4 are many. The central driving force is the spontaneous rise of the impulse to shout for the joy of life. I feel it is the powerful voice of the Earth that comes to me from my adopted western Montana, and the high plains and mountains of central Idaho. My personal experience of the voice is one of being helpless and torn open by the power of the thing that wants to be expressed -the welling-up shout that cannot be denied. I am set aquiver and am forced to shout and sing. The response in the voice of the Earth is the answering shout of thanksgiving, and the shout of praise.

Out of this, the hymn tune "Old Hundred," several" other hymn tunes (the Bach chorales "Only Trust in God to Guide You" and "Christ Who Makes Us Holy"), and original melodies which are hymn-like in nature, form the backbone of Symphony No.4…

Out of chaos and the fierce joining of opposite comes new life and hope. From this impulse I used "Old Hundred," known as the Doxology – a hymn of praise to God; Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow, Gloria in excelsis Deo – the mid-sixteenth century setting of Psalm 100. Psalm 100 reads in part:

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord
with gladness; come before His presence with singing... Enter into
His gates with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise: be
thankful unto Him, and bless His name.

3. Salvador Dali's The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus has always intrigued and challenged me. There's a majesty to this painting, especially when one considers that the original is more than 14 feet tall. The imagery is complex and I'll admit that I know little of the analysis needed to fully appreciate this work of art. But it reeks of both grandeur and empire, which would obviously seem to speak to our modern context, wouldn't they?

4. American Beauty is not a happy film. It isn't inspiring, fulfilling, redemptive or even remotely enjoyable in the traditional sense by which I measure movies. But I've yet to discover a film that better captures the absolutely hollow nature of so many 20th and early 21st century Americans. Gorgeous on the outside and without substance within - isn't this why, in a time of unrivaled prosperity, we suffer more depression than anyone else?

5. I really don't have any engagements with popular culture - we don't run in the same crowds. J But I did have an unusual engagement in theater this summer: I played the atheistic journalist E.K. Hornbeck in our community theater's production of Inherit the Wind. Hornbeck was based upon Baltimore's H.L. Mencken, the critic who wrote scathing reviews of the "Scopes Monkey Trial" to a national audience. Even though I don't share Hornbeck's distaste for matters spiritual, I did find myself relishing the pointed barbs he loosed against hypocrisy, religious zealotry and ignorance; even though Hornbeck wasn't a sympathetic character, he was definitely interesting to play and (I hope) observe from the audience!

Bonus: Is engagement essential to your Christian faith, how and why?
Yes, I think so. I've always said that my primary sermon aid is a daily newspaper, though I'll admit I'm growing tired of the self-serving aspect of the media, especially the television media (are you listening, CNN?). I would say rather that engagement is essential to ministry - it's like learning the dialect in a foreign country, so that you can communicate more clearly.

23 August 2007

Baby Ainsley 365: One Circle Closing

This was a picture I meant to post several weeks ago. Ainsley is posing with Megan, a counselor at Carol Joy Holling Camp in Ashland, NE, where we took our Confirmation kids in July. Megan was a camper at Tipi Village both of the summers I served as Tipi Site Manager - running into her at the pool one day and finding out she was back at Tipi was a great moment for me. Cute picture, too!

Baby Ainsley 365: Misty Morning

It feels a little like Scotland or rural Ireland/England in Barrett this morning:

Just for fun, a Me-and-MiniMe pose:

22 August 2007

Baby's First Bodhran

Okay, so it's not a genuine Irish bodhran - but it IS a drum we made at church camp a few weeks ago, and Ainsley LOVES playing it! (more)


Why? Because it's almost that time again. HTB RFL, baby!

No, I wasn't in the band in '91 - I started at NU in 1992. But this is the only decent video I could find on YouTube. BTW, Banned geeks, let's get some decent footage posted, esp. drumline stuff if we could?

Monarch Moments

Barrett is on the migration path of the North American Monarch Butterfly. Last Thursday my mother-in-law and I stood outside and just watched them fly around for at least twenty minutes - it was incredibly beautiful. Here are some pictures, and I'll post two videos if I can get them to work on YouTube.

21 August 2007

Baby Ainsley 365: Family and Friends

Grandma & Grandpa M celebrated their 40th Anniversary with us this year. They came to stay in Barrett for a week and last weekend we joined Beloved's sister & family for a night on the town in Minneapolis: dinner at Cafe Lurcat (tres spendy but tres delicious!) and Triple Espresso - what fun!

Before we went out we took this family picture:

Here's Grandma & Grandpa M with Ainsley at our house in Barrett:

Our friend, the Divine Miss Kathryn, came to visit at Kristin's sister's house on Friday afternoon:

And Ainsley was all wrapped up in rolling around:

20 August 2007

How to Find the Perfect Pastor

If you're after the perfect pastor, this may be the answer to all your problems.

For the rest of you who aren't stuck in lalaland, I'm sorry to report that I and a few thousand other flawed individuals are the best you're gonna get. Deal. :-P

Funny Pool!

Monday Muppet Meme - Wocka Wocka Wocka!

You Are Fozzie Bear

"Wocka! Wocka!"
You're the life of the party, and you love making people crack up.
If only your routine didn't always bomb!
You may find more groans than laughs, but always keep the jokes coming.
The Muppet Personality Test

So a priest, a minister and a rabbi walk into a bar. The bartender says, "Hey, what is this, a joke?"

19 August 2007

Running 2007: Can't Win for Tryin'

So running this year has been a huge bust. My New Year's Resolution was running the Lincoln Marathon in 4 hours on May 6, 2007. Well, that didn't happen because I got tendinitis in my right foot. I wanted to re-dedicate myself to regular training in June, so I promptly went and threw my back out of alignment and spent the better part of a month trying to figure out why things weren't healing right. After three trips to the chiropractor, I was finally pain-free and ready to make August the start of my training for the Siouxland Half-Marathon I'll be running on October 20th. But since I've done so little running this year, I've gained a lot of weight and lost a lot of training ability. So I wanted to start from scratch - I figured this would be the healthy thing to do, a rebuild from the ground up, if you will.

Thursday night I sneezed and felt a twinge in my upper back. "Huh, that's odd," thinks I, "wonder what that was all about?" Friday I ran my five miles and felt great. By Friday evening my back was hurting a little bit, but not overwhelmingly so. Yesterday the pain got worse as the day progressed. Today I can barely turn my head and I'm having pain when I swallow, yawn and sneeze. Tomorrow it's off to the chiropractor again, I think, though I'll admit I'm afraid that I've sprung a rib or something - this breathing and swallowing thing has got me a bit worried.

I'm 33 years old and so far this year I've been sidelined by picking up the Child and sneezing. Anyone care to hazard a guess as to what's next?

But, to close on a positive note, Baby Ainsley is now sitting up, and so I'll leave you with a cute baby pic:

Sermon for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost - "Signs of the Times"

Preaching Text: Luke 12.49-56

Let us pray: Holy, almighty and ever-living God, You bring a word that shatters us into pieces, so that we may be remade in Your image. You bring a word that burns us with its intensity, so that we might be set ablaze with Your passion for the world You have created. You break the relationships we cherish, so that You can rebuild them in love that is deeper than we can imagine and grace that stretches far beyond our ability to give. Shatter us – set us ablaze – rebuild us as the grace-filled body of Your Son, Jesus the Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

I have not particularly enjoyed the last week. As a matter of fact, I’ve been dreading this moment since about 9:00 Tuesday morning (give or take a few hours). There are Sundays when the preacher’s mantle is a joy to carry: weeks when the words of Jesus are filled with love, compassion, mercy, kindness and peace.

Then there are Sundays like today. There are Sundays when I feel like the Word is hounding me into saying something I’m scared to say. There are Sundays when I feel like I have to choose between being the honest pastor or the well-liked pastor, because the Word I’ve been given won’t let me be both at the same time. Today is one of those Sundays.

I have written and re-written this sermon 100 times in my head this week, testing different ways of saying what needs to be said. Some of those sermons in my head started out angry, got angrier and devolved into full-on temper tantrums by the end. Others avoided the clear crisis of Jesus’ time, and in so doing they avoided our own crises today as well. As some of you know, it’s hard to be honest about crisis without getting upset OR upsetting someone else. But sometimes we NEED to get upset. Sometimes we NEED to get angry. Sometimes we NEED to have a crisis, because “crisis is the edge where change is possible.” And friends, there’s some things here in our church that are building into a crisis. The time has come for us to recognize and admit that the crisis is there – otherwise, we can’t change, and if we can’t change, then we die; it’s as simple as that.

When Jesus confronted the crowd with these hard words about the “signs of the times,” He was talking about recognizing danger in its many forms. If he’d been speaking to us in Barrett, He might have said, “you know that when it rains in Fargo, there’s a good chance it’s going to rain in Barrett, and when there’s a strong wind from the north, you know the temperature is going to drop. How is it you will protect yourself from the weather, but you won’t do anything about the spiritual danger all around you?” How many of us knew enough to put on a sweater before we left the house this morning? How is it, then, that we can’t admit that there are problems in our church that need addressing as well?

Let’s be honest and get some of the signs of our times out in the open this morning, shall we? Can we talk openly about the dangers we face as a congregation? I hope so, because the alternative is continuing down the path we’ve chosen, and that path isn’t going to lead us anywhere good. What are some of the dangers you see as a “sign of our times” here?

At this point I opened the floor for suggestions: the numbered items in BOLD below are the ones our congregation members identified without any assistance from me.

1. We have become a church that bleeds our most dedicated volunteers dry. We depend far too much on a group of people that is far too small and far too tired to keep up the present pace.

2. If our present financial patterns continue, we will soon be forced to cut back on programs. Our savings are almost depleted, and while our giving has increased over the past few years, it hasn’t increased enough to keep pace with the expense of doing quality ministry in Barrett.

3. Our Sunday School program has come to a screeching halt. I don’t have any statistics, but I do know that the average attendance in Sunday School has dropped precipitously in recent years, and the vast majority of the families who do bring their children to Sunday School do not attend worship regularly afterwards: the kids are dropped off at 9:00 and picked up at 10:00.

4. We have come to believe that “faith” means agreeing with the Apostle’s Creed and the Ten Commandments, and that Confirmation marks the end, not the beginning, of faith development. Adult faith education and exploration in this congregation is, from what I can see, almost completely non-existent.

5. Inter-generational conversation and fellowship is a huge problem here. Seniors receive graduation quilts from quilters who don’t know their names. Confirmation students sit at tables with neighbors they don’t recognize. We choose to remain strangers instead of asking each other who we are and how we’re doing.

6. Community outreach is coming to a halt as well. We’ve traded welcome wagon visits for complaints about how many strange people there are in Barrett these days, and folksy reminiscing about the days when everybody knew everybody else.

7. Finally, there is a marked deficiency of trust within these walls. Leaders are second-guessed at nearly every opportunity. Triangulation, where person A goes to person B to complain about person C, runs rampant here. Instead of addressing issues and problems honestly, face-to-face, we engage in gossip, we bury our disagreements under passive-aggressive hostility, and all the while we hamstring the ministry we could be doing if we could just get past our fear and learn to trust each other again.

These crises aren’t caused by the world around us. These crises live in our walls and in our houses. These signs of the times come within our families. Jesus said that His word would cause division between fathers and sons, mothers and daughters. Our crises involve precisely that group: our family. Our children are the ones who don’t bring their kids to Sunday School or worship. Our brothers and sisters are the ones who have chosen to remain strangers to the people in our congregation. Our friends are the ones who think that 10% of whatever you’ve got in your wallet when you do come to worship once a month is the tithe God asks. We are the ones who think that Barrett just ought to go back to the way things were in some imaginary paradise from 50 years ago. We are the ones who think that everyone else needs to change – and so we ignore the signs of the times and choose the sin-slicked path of self-righteousness and fear.

Is it any wonder Jesus loses his temper with us? Do you understand why I struggle against losing my own? On top of dealing with Jesus’ angry words this week, I’ve been dealing with my own guilt when it comes to these signs of the times. I’ve seen some of them coming, and done little to change. I’ve played the passive-aggressive game, too, avoiding unpleasantness because I want to be the town pastor with the good reputation, the guy with the quick wit and the pleasant disposition who never says a bad word about anyone and, most of all, never rocks the boat. That guy I’ve wanted to be has taken a lot of blows this week: some from God’s Word, some from honest folks right here in the church who see the signs of the times as clearly as anyone. God has a reason to be angry with us, to be the hammer breaking the rocks of our false hopes and reckless dreams into pieces; that doesn’t mean, however, that the process is comfortable or particularly enjoyable.

But there are other signs, you know. There are signs that stand against this litany of danger. What are the signs of hope for you here? What makes you think that God is still among us?

  1. We’re here this morning – there’s an expectation that God has a word for us and will not let us down today.
  2. Confirmation camp: our youth ARE interested in God, they ARE asking some of the same questions we are, they ARE sure that God is up to something in their lives.
  3. We’ve seen the need for change in our past and have been willing to step into that need boldly. We aren’t captive to “we’ve always done it that way;” if we were, I’d be the pastor of Bethesda, Our Savior’s and Fridhem Lutheran Churches.

Finally, there’s one gigantic sign of the times that tells me it’s not too late. It stands on the wall behind me, I wear it around my neck, it gives me comfort in times of sorrow and peace in times of insecurity. That sign is the cross. The cross is where the signs of the times are conquered by the sign of God’s love and power. When the world refused to change; when we put Jesus to death instead of listening to the truth of His message, when we the church turned inward and chose a course of self-righteousness instead of forgiveness, God refused to let us have the final word on the matter. The cross was the hammer that broke all our pretenses and pleasant dreams into pieces. The cross was the word that confronted us, divided us, burned us with its condemnation of every way we had gone wrong. But that cross also shows us that resurrection is possible. When we killed Jesus, the one who revealed the signs of the times, God raised him to new life and promised the same resurrection to us as well. God took the sign under which we thought we had conquered and made it a sign of all that is good and righteous and life-giving and joyful and miraculous. The sign of our times is the cross, a reminder that when we were dead in our sins, Christ died for us, gave his life for us, and just as He was raised to new life, so we shall be raised to new life as well.

But that’s the big picture: the question is, where do you fit into the little picture? Where do you change and grow and serve and love under this sign of the times? What is your next step? Now that you know that Jesus died for you, now that you know that the sign of the times is the cross under which your life was redeemed and through which you are set free, what are you going to do? Will you answer the call and discover how your gifts might be used in this place for the sake of the gospel? Will you live as one who’s been set free from fear and doubt and give yourself away for the sake of your neighbor? The signs of the times bring us to the point of crisis, where we are asked these questions: what change is possible? What might happen? Now that the cross has claimed me, where do I go from here? The choices we make tell the world which sign we have chosen as the sign of our times: may your choice be the cross, and freedom, and service, and change for the sake of the gospel in this place. Let us pray:

Holy, almighty and ever-living God, You bring a word that shatters us into pieces, so that we may be remade in Your image. You bring a word that burns us with its intensity, so that we might be set ablaze with Your passion for the world You have created. You break the relationships we cherish, so that You can rebuild them in love that is deeper than we can imagine and grace that stretches far beyond our ability to give. Shatter us – set us ablaze – rebuild us as the grace-filled body of Your Son, Jesus the Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

18 August 2007

Friday Five +1: Word Association

reverendmother has the Friday Five this week. We're in the Twin Cities with family, so I didn't do web stuff yesterday. This FF was so intriguing, though, that I felt like I HAD to do it.
This one is patterned off an old Friday Five written by Songbird, our Friday Five Creator Emerita.
Below you will find five words. Tell us the first thing you think of on reading each one. Your response might be simply another word, or it might be a sentence, a poem or a story. (Each of these appears in one of the readings from this Sunday's lectionary.)
1. vineyard
A place of peace, where seasons come and go and work is measured in quantifiable terms (at least, it is for the laborer - the owner may see things differently).

2. root
Whatever provides the basis for a deep, nourishing life. A deeply rooted being can withstand storms and drought and all manner of problems. The flip side of this is that deeply rooted "weeds" require a lot of work to remove.

3. rescue
Oh, this sounds like a dangerous word to me right now. Do we absolve ourselves of our responsibility in our hope for rescue? Do we hope for rescue from situations which don't require it? Jesus came to save the lost, but does that include the times and places where we've just gone willfully into danger and refuse to change our course?

4. perseverance
The rarest and most precious of all spiritual gifts? (Possibly the least rewarding as well?)

5. divided
A state in which we find ourselves far too often.
A state in which I find myself at the present time.
A state in which it is hard to know who to trust and what to do.
A state which Christ says will come about as a result of faithfulness to His word.

15 August 2007

Soul Searching

So, before anything else, I need to show you a picture of "Today's Happy Things:"

These are my girls. Aren't they precious? I'm blessed beyond words to have them both. Thanks to Hot Cup Lutheran for the reminder that "Happy Things" do exist.

It's been a rough, rough day. I've spent the better part of the last 15 hours doing a lot of soul searching about the ministry of our congregation and my leadership in that role - how have I contributed to problems, how have I tried to solve some recurring problems in the past, what can be done at this point, and most importantly, how do I speak the truth about the change and growth that needs to happen without a) losing my temper or b) hurting the members of my congregation needlessly?

Sunday will be a day for conversation about where we are as a congregation. The gospel reading for this week is Luke 12.49-56, which ends with Jesus asking those around him, "You can read the signs in the weather: why can't you read the signs of the times as well?" The call to speak the truth in love is hounding me today - it seems that, as Jeremiah 23 also reads this week, the word is "a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces." Right now, I'm the one in pieces, and I need to be honest about that. But there are other rocks that need to be broken here, and wielding the hammer will not be pleasant. Not that I see myself in the role of Jeremiah or, heaven forbid, Jesus here: it's just that the Word is after me this week and I don't see any way of breaking free other than speaking the truth.

Why We Do What We Do

Jan at A Church For Starving Artists is always provoking me to think about how it is we do church. This post is yet another example of how she challenges me to think about the ministry we do.

14 August 2007

Monday Meme + 1

Your Brain is Green

Of all the brain types, yours has the most balance.
You are able to see all sides to most problems and are a good problem solver.
You need time to work out your thoughts, but you don't get stuck in bad thinking patterns.

You tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the future, philosophy, and relationships (both personal and intellectual).

We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties

Our lovely new Dell has a faulty network adapter, sez Local Computer Shaman. So blogging might be a bit of a stretch for a bit.

Please stay tuned...

11 August 2007

Good Poetry

From today's edition of The Writer's Almanac:

Take Care

When a man dies, it's not only of his disease;
he dies of his whole life. -Charles Péguy

Our neighbor Laura Foley used to love
to tell us, every spring when we returned
from work in richer provinces, the season's
roster of disease, bereavement, loss. And all
her stars were ill, and all her ailments worth
detailing. We were young, and getting up
into the world; we feigned a gracious
interest when she spoke, but did
a wicked slew of imitations, out
of earshot. Finally her bitterness drove off
even such listeners as we, and one by one the winters nailed
more cold into her house, until the decade crippled her,
and she was dead. Her presence had been
tiresome, cheerless, negative, and there was little
range or generosity in anything she said. But now that I

have lost my certainty, and spent my spirit in a waste
of one romance, I think enumerations have their place,
descriptive of what keeps on
keeping on. For dying's nothing
simple, single. And the records of the odd
demises (stone inside an organ, obstacles to brook,
a pump that stops, some cells that won't,
the fevers making mockeries of lust)
are signatures of lively
interest: they presuppose
the life to lose. And if the love of life's
an art, and art is difficult, then we
were less than laymen at it (easy come
is all the layman knows). I mean that maybe
Laura Foley loved life more, who kept
so keen an eye on how it goes.

"Take Care" by Heather McHugh, from Hinge & Sign I Prefer © Wesleyan University Press.

10 August 2007

Friday Five: Stress Busting Edition

Sally has the RevGalBlogPals Friday Five this week:
I am off to spend a few days at the beach chilling out after a hectic few weeks and before I head off for Summer School...
So with that in mind this week's questions are looking at how you deal with the stress monster!!!???
1. First, and before we start busting stress, what causes you the most stress, is it big things or the small stuff ?
Oh, man, it's the small stuff, definitely the small stuff. Problem is, what I consider small is often what others consider HUGE (new hymnals, confirmation schedules, baby showers, bridal showers, "cultural/ethnic Lutheranism" and power point in worship are a few examples that have recently risen to the surface). At the same time, the things I consider big (adult discipleship and faith education, family involvement in worship/church activities, stewardship, meaningful worship) seem to be unimportant for many, if not most, of our membership. I get stressed because there's a low-grade impatience and frustration (do I really have to spend my time worry about this?) that just builds until it's no longer low-grade; then it is time to take a break and regain some perspective.

2. Exercise or chocolate for stress busting ( or maybe something else) ?
Exercise, definitely, though a smidge of chocolate can do wonders. I also bake, mow the lawn and find hands-on chores around the house that I enjoy, like changing the oil on our cars, working on carpentry projects or something similar. I've also been known to get home from a particularly trying day, fire up the CD player, grab a good book and a good dark beer and relax, or pick up Red, my Ovation six-string and bust out some music, especially if Ainsley can listen in and try to sing along.

Oh, and the Friday Five is a big favorite!

3.What is your favourite music to chill out to?
Storyhill, Rich Mullins, Wynton Marsalis, the St. Olaf Choir, Sarah Hart, Norah Jones, Allison Krauss & Union Station.

4. Where do you go to chill?
I "cave": I go up to the office we've created in our house, sit in my grandpa's old recliner and read Christian Century, Word & World or, sometimes, just a good book. When I've had a particularly trying day at the church, this does wonders.

5. Extrovert or introvert, do you relax at a party, or do you prefer a solitary walk?
I am becoming more of an introvert the older I get. I definitely prefer my "alone" time. Sunday mornings wear me out so much that I need to just go home, find the Twins game on the television and read the Sunday paper. I get grumpy if this doesn't happen.

Bonus- share your favourite stress busting tip!
Go home and hide in my "cave": put on a pot of good coffee, pick up a good book, load the CD player with soothing music and just drop out of the world for a while. If I were a D&D player I suppose I'd call it my portable hole. Sometimes I imagine I live in Bag End and I've just GOT to hide from the Sackville-Bagginses - that usually does the trick.

Good movies on DVD are great, too, though when I'm stressed I find that comedies don't do the trick.

One should note that part of this is caused by depression: I do take a pill daily to combat the more debilitating effects of depression, and I've found that it does help to be aware of my need for solitude and try to honor it when healthy and conquer it when I've just been "caving" too much.

06 August 2007

Thoughts on Harry Potter [HAVE NO FEAR - NO SPOILERS HERE]

For some reason, Beloved went on a Harry Potter kick this weekend. I suppose it's because last Sunday we all got to see "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" at the movies.

Anyway, we watched the first four movies on DVD this weekend, in between doing our other stuff. Having read the books, I've always thought that the movies really did a good job capturing the essence of the story. But Beloved hasn't read the books, and until I had to use the movies to explain the story, I didn't realize exactly HOW well the movies had been done.

What really struck me last night was the incredible emotional depth of the story. Watching the friendship between Ron, Hermione and Harry develop is truly wonderful. At the end of the first two movies, the trio is reunited after one of them is separated due to injury or danger. The love that is so apparent in the three actors in the movies is also there in the books - this is what friendship should be! The same goes for the relationship between the trio and Hagrid, which I'd forgotten because it isn't as important to the plot in the later books.

Watching the relationships between Snape and the other characters is also fascinating. Knowing the doubts and questions that arise in book 6, and how they are resolved in book 7, makes watching the early movies even more fascinating.

One item that continues to annoy me, however, is the blatant favoritism Harry Potter receives from Dumbledore and others who really shouldn't be so permissive. Yes, Harry's intentions may be noble, but sometimes the treatment Harry receives is blatantly unfair; I hate to say it, but Draco Malfoy has some justification for thinking that Harry really is 'Saint Potter.'

But finally, I remain overwhelmed by the ethical considerations throughout the story. Two statements by Dumbledore are all I need to recommend this series to anyone:
"The time is coming when all will be forced to choose between what is right and what is easy."
"It is not our abilities that make us who we are - it is our choices."
When I think of the day when AJ will want to read these stories (or perhaps have someone - Daddy, perhaps - read them to her), I think how happy I will be for her to read a story with genuine sacrifice, loss and love, a story where characters are three-dimensional and flawed, yet do the best they can in the circumstances in which they find themselves. J.K. Rowling stands with Tolkien, Lewis and the best of the mythopoeic writers in this respect: she has created a world whose beauty is enhanced by its reality, and I'm looking forward to entering it again very soon.

05 August 2007

Monday Meme: Personality and Intelligences

Click to view my Personality Profile page

Funny - I took one of these a few months ago and scored an INFP. I remember when our camp staff used to do these every summer; it always seemed like we were more likely to use the test as an excuse for excessive behavior, as in, "I can do this because I'm a XXXX and that's just who I am."

But it's still kinda cool to think about.

Here Come the Big-Horned Boys...

Here's one for all you Band Geeks out there:

The Onion: Activision Reports Sluggish Sales for Sousaphone Hero

04 August 2007

Sermon for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost - "Treasures Worth Treasuring"

Leo Tolstoy wrote a wonderful short story entitled "How Much Land Does A Man Need?" in 1886, a story which author James Joyce called "the greatest short story ever written." In the story, a Russian peasant farmer named Pahom says to himself, "If I had plenty of land, I shouldn't fear the Devil himself!"

It should go without saying, of course, that in the course of the story, fear and greed drove Pahom to greater and greater lengths to find happiness and security in his land. Pahom certainly isn't the only literary figure to chase a treasure. Captain Ahab had his Moby Dick, Pahom had his land, Lord Voldemort has his Harry Potter.

Me? I've got my shoes.

This is a pair of shoes from the shelf in my closet at home. I bought them on sale a few months ago, even though I won't need them for running until October or so. When it comes to shoes, many of us runners are closet shopaholics. We compare websites, we email one another, we spend lots of time looking for the perfect shoe, preferably at a low price. And when we get it, we're mollified for just a day or two: pretty soon we're back on that computer like Takeru Kobayashi on a plate of hot dogs.

But there is that moment when I'm satisfied. There is that moment when I'm holding the box, inhaling the intoxicating scent of new shoes, and I think, "Now I'm okay. Now I'm set." That moment is the moment of real trouble for us – and Jesus hit that moment right on the head when he told this parable to the crowd around him.

But what was the rich man’s mistake? What was the brother’s mistake? Most, if not all of us, believe that an inheritance should be divided evenly, right? As far as the rich man is concerned, grain that isn't stored properly is ruined, right? So: what is Jesus correcting with this parable? What is he teaching us to avoid when he talks about how we store our treasures?

The mistake of the rich man had nothing to do with grain. The mistake of the brother had nothing to do with inheritances. Their mistakes were made long before this stuff was ever part of the problem. Their mistakes were their misplaced treasures. The possessions they treasured held them captive, while the freedom in which God created them was buried under their fear and greed. When the brother treasured his inheritance, and the rich man his grain and barns, they stored up treasures that can never be truly treasured. It is this mistake that Jesus is teaching us to reject.

But what is it that drives this mistake? Why do we treasure things that can never truly satisfy? What causes such great fear in us, that we should put all our trust in possessions or money or stuff? Is it a fear of inconvenience? I don't think so: inconvenience isn't pleasant, but it is definitely survivable. Is it a fear of discomfort? Again, no, for the same reason. Are we afraid of a loss of social standing? This might be nearer the mark, but again, a loss of social standing or reputation might be unpleasant, even painful, but we can survive such things. Even a fear of poverty, which can certainly be painful and even harmful to us and to our families, is not what drives our misplaced trust in things and possessions.

Our need for stored treasure has to do with one great, overwhelming fear: the fear of losing control. We are afraid that we are not in control of our world. We are afraid of the random, the uncertain. We are afraid of what we cannot control – and we fool ourselves into thinking that the treasure we can control are the treasures that matter, that they are, in fact, the treasures that will save us.

Our fear can lead us into all sorts of sins and trouble. Think of some of the commandments we break in our lust for treasures we think we can control. Our fear of commitment and authentic relationships leads many of us into committing adultery, reducing God's gift of sexuality to a cheap physical encounter that can break up families. Our fear of not being compared favorably to our neighbors leads many of us to covet our neigbor's possessions – "keeping up with the Joneses" is an expensive sin, but it is also one of the most common among us. Our fear of speaking the truth to those who spread lies leads us to gossip and false witness, and not only that, but our fear leads us to think that the only way we can improve our own reputation is to bring down our neighbor's reputation. Our fear of risking peace, which makes us vulnerable but also makes us more completely God's children, leads us into thinking that harming our neighbor physically, even killing him, is justified if the circumstances can be defended adequately. And our fear of poverty, chaos and loss of control, as we've already seen, leads us into satisfying our greed and hoarding treasures, stealing those treasures if necessary.

Now, of course, we all fall into different places when it comes to our fear and what it can do to us. I am far less afraid of the commitment and demands of marriage today than I was in the first year after my divorce. A soldier in Iraq has far more justification for fear of violence than I do in Minnesota today. But no matter how close or far away we may be from that which causes us to fear, we are all afraid, and deep down it comes back to our fear of losing control, of what may happen to us.

Friends, we need only look around us to see how little control we have of the world around us. How many of the people on the I35W bridge this week were in control of that situation? My brother-in-law crossed that bridge less than two hours before it collapsed: it could have very easily been our family on the news, grieving a loss we couldn’t control. For nearly six years we’ve been living under a cloud of fear that formed when the World Trade Center was destroyed on a normal, ordinary Tuesday morning. Fear of a recurrence of those terrible attacks has led us to fight wars around the world, wars that take our family members away from us and into situations where an enemy wears no uniform, where control is far more uncertain and illusory.

Here’s the thing: control is not the primary value in the life of a Christian. Jesus told the parable of the rich fool to teach us that control is not our problem – fear is our problem. The primary value in the life of a Christian is faith. The opposite of faith? Fear. Fear can lead to greed, to envy, to lust, to violence; fear can lead us astray in many, many ways. But Jesus offers us the treasures that can fight the power of fear: faith, and out of faith, love.

It would be easy to think that managing our possessions better is the teaching point of this parable, but it’s not – the possessions, and the inheritance, are meaningless; they are, after all, just stuff. What Jesus wants his disciples to understand is the fear that drives us to treasure such meaningless things. Learning to manage things better doesn’t solve the problem of our fear – only faith and love can do that, and faith and love are what Christ comes to give.

Here are the treasures that must be pursued: the treasures of faith and love. To believe that God is always present, that even in the worst of circumstances God is there: that is a treasure worth treasuring! To believe that our lives consist of the presence of a creating, redeeming and sanctifying God: that is a treasure worth treasuring! To believe that our souls are far more important than our possessions, that each of us bears the breath of a loving Creator within us: that is a treasure worth treasuring! To know that out of love God did not withhold himself from us, but came in the person of Jesus Christ and lived among us, living in love even when it cost him his own life: that is a treasure worth treasuring! It is faith, and love, and far more, that Jesus offers in place of the treasures we have stored up for ourselves in our possessions. Our lives are created for the treasures of faith and love, and without them, as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “all is vanity, a chasing after the wind.”

I have one more prop to show you: this marshmallow roaster. Most of you know that my grandmother died in January 2005. We cousins watched our parents divide their inheritance amongst themselves, and they invited us to request anything we’d like to have from Grandma & Grandpa’s house in town and also the farm. Among the list of things I requested were these marshmallow roasters (we have four of them). They’re pretty ingenious, if you ask me: the handle extends. They can be short when you load them up and long when you want to roast stuff in the fire. Looking at these roasters the other night, while we were sitting by our own fire, I realized that as inconsequential as they may be, these roasters have now outlived my grandparents. Properly maintained, they will outlive me. But they’re roasters! They are not a treasure – they are things. Our family’s treasure is wrapped up in the faith my grandparents handed down to their children and then to us grandchildren. Our family’s treasure comes in the love we have for one another, a love that rises out of our faith and casts out fear. Because my grandparents treasured faith and love above things, my dad and his siblings had little to fear from one another, and so the work of dividing what was left behind really didn’t threaten their relationship as siblings. Faith, and love, cast out fear; the treasure worth treasuring frees us from our misplaced trust in shoes, grain bins and marshmallow roasters.

I want this life of faith. I’m not there yet: my eyes still sparkle too much at the thought of new running shoes, guitars, books and new cars. But I’m learning. I’m learning that possessions are meaningless without faith and love. I’m learning that what I have is not nearly as important as what I believe and who I love: these are treasures that give life in ways I never thought possible. Whatever you treasure in your own life, ask yourself: is this to be the sum total of my life? Am I to be treasured for this? Your life is meant for faith, and love, and the treasures worth treasuring, and with joy Christ offers them to us freely. Treasure what you’ve been given, and behold – all things are ours in Christ, now and forever more. Amen.

Here's a picture of the shoes and marshmallow roaster in question:

Anyone interested in reading the story by Tolstoy can find it here. Thanks to earthchick for the suggestion!

03 August 2007

Another Squandered 15 Minutes...

But at least I now know what I'd look like on "The Simpsons!" Here's how you can do it for yourself.

Friday Five: Post-pilgrimage edition

reverendmother from RevGalBlogPals has the Friday Five this week:
Hello friends, I am just back from a lovely time of pilgrimage in the isle of Iona, "cradle of Scottish Christianity." It has provided much food for thought, to say the least, and so, to keep the pilgrim mojo going:

1. Have you ever been on a pilgrimage? (however you choose to define the term) Share a bit about it. If not, what's your reaction to the idea of pilgrimage?
I think my trip to Wittenberg, Germany would definitely qualify as a pilgrimage, though of course dear Martin would cringe at the thought. In January 2003 I and four fellow students from Luther Seminary joined several students and a professor from Wartburg Seminary in Iowa for three weeks in Wittenberg and Berlin, with a few overnights to Eisenach, Erfurt and Eisleben. We saw more than I can tell here, but a few memories are very dear to my heart:
A. Worship in the areas of Germany where Martin Luther lived. Time spent in the Schlosskirche (Castle Church) and the Stadtkirche (City Church) of Wittenberg, where Luther preached and taught for most of his life (Luther and Melanchthon are entombed beneath the pulpit and lectern of the Schlosskirche);
B. Our stay in the Haus Heinstein, a hotel in Eisenach with a view of the Wartburg Castle on the hill above us;
C. The city of Erfurt, with its bridges and majestic Marktplatz and our stay at the Augustiner Kloster, where Martin was first a monk and priest - I especially remember our worship service in the sanctuary, where it was so cold we could see our breath as we sang;
D. Buchenwald Concentration Camp, which is not a dear memory but rather seared into my soul - I've never felt the palpable power of evil as I did on that frozen ground;

E. the friendship of the group with whom I traveled - we really did have an incredible cross-cultural experience. Not to mention a LOT of kostliche dunkel Bier. If you're ever in Wittenberg, the dunkel beer at the Kartoffelhaus is divine.

2. Share a place you've always wanted to visit on pilgrimage.
Well, Iona will do as well as anything, I suppose! I would like to travel to Jerusalem someday, but I know that a)travel in the Holy Land is dangerous and b)I would really struggle with the commercialization and tourist-ization of the places where our faith story was first written. Scotland would be wonderful, especially Edinburgh and the highlands and St. Andrews (a pilgrimage of a whole other kind). In my home country, Holden Village in Washington state has always been a goal for a long-term stay.

3. What would you make sure to pack in your suitcase or backpack to make the pilgrimage more meaningful? Or does "stuff" just distract from the experience?
1. camera
2. journal
3. Bible
4. clean underwear ;-)

4. If you could make a pilgrimage with someone (living, dead or fictional) as your guide, who would it be? (I'm about this close to saying "Besides Jesus." Yes, we all know he was indispensable to those chaps heading to Emmaus, but it's too easy an answer)
I'd love to see Cologne and the surrounding countryside with my great-great-great-grandfather, August Spengler, who was born and raised there. Ditto for Smaland in Sweden on the Johnson side. How about Dublin and Belfast with Michael Collins? Of course, I'd give just about anything to see Wittenberg with Katie & Martin.

5. Eventually the pilgrim must return home, but can you suggest any strategies for keeping that deep "mountaintop" perspective in the midst of everyday life? (don't mind me, I'll be over here taking notes)
Hard to say. Jesus himself struggled to 'keep the feeling' when he descended following the Transfiguration, and Luke tells us that Jesus often left to go away and pray. Could it be argued that mountaintop experiences are transformative rather than strengthening experiences? That is, our outlook on the rest of the world should change as a result of a pilgrimage, but it shouldn't be an escape - God hasn't intended the world to be a place from which we escape! Luther thought that holiness is found in everyday life; changing diapers, brewing beer, teaching, preaching the Word, forgiving sinners. If a pilgrimage shows us the rest of the world in a different light, maybe that was the point all along.

Pictures (all from my trip in January 2003):
1. The Schlosskirche in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, as seen from the Town Square.
2. The Schlosskirche pulpit, and the tomb of Martin Luther below it.
3. Luther's tomb up close.
4. That's me in front of the Thesentur (Theses door) of the Schlosskirche. The actual door burned during the Thirty Years War; this replacement was a copy of the 95 Theses cast in bronze.