Until I'm back, though, here are some of my favorite pics of a great family holiday in Nebraska.
Alanna & her cousin N discuss the finer points of Exer-Saucer care and maintenance, including improvements in the flavoring for plastic giraffes.
I'm happy to say this works exceptionally well. I went for a five mile run this morning, two days after a severe storm that cancelled school in the Ames district on Friday, with no slippage problems whatsoever on the trails and sidewalks. The only time I did have trouble was the last mile, where I ran on the street and the slush was just too thick for my new shoes to get any traction. The best part? When I did hit bare pavement, I got a nice audio remembrance of my high school football days - it sounded like the metal-tipped cleats I wore when I was a nose tackle trying to gain weight instead of trying to run it off. You know, the sound from the Under Armor ads: "Click Clack - you hear me comin'?" Pretty cool.
All in all, anything that gets me out on the road at this time of year is a good thing, especially on a day like today when the snow is falling and the wind hasn't picked up yet. It was one of the prettiest runs I've enjoyed in a while.
There are only five full days before Christmas Day, and whether you use them for shopping, wrapping, preaching, worshiping, singing or traveling or even wishing the whole darn thing were over last Tuesday, there's a good chance they will be busy ones.
So let's make this easy, if we can: tell us five things you need to accomplish before Christmas Eve.
I just think it bears remembering that institutional church CAN be a force for good, and for many of us it has been.The italicized text might be the most succinct explanation of the need for community and accountability I've ever read. It's one of the main reasons we do what we do in the church: because on our own we can really screw things up. (By the way, don't image search for Fred Phelps if you don't have a strong stomach). For me, part of living the theology of the cross is recognizing the capacity within myself to harm others in the name of the faith that gives me life, but that recognition only comes because I'm a part of a larger body of believers who take our corporate responsibility to one another very seriously.
It is disappointing that not all people have shared a spiritually fulfilling experience at 'regular church.' Certainly we can do a better job at that.
But interestingly, for me it was when I left the institution and went to a parachurch group that there was no accountability and no spiritual focus and my life started to fall apart. Christians turned loose on the world with no guidance can do incredible harm, just as Christians within an institution can. I feel, at least with the institution, we have a chance at keeping things together.
This Friday Five is inspired by my husband's Lasik surgery yesterday....He'd been contemplating it for a while and was pushed over the edge by the fact that we put too much money in our healthcare spending account this year and it would have been gone anyway. (There was only enough for one eye, but the kind people at the eye clinic figured out a way to divvy up the charges between surgery and followup in January=next year's spending account). So please say a little prayer for his safe recovery and share with us your thoughts on eyes and vision.1. What color are your beautiful eyes? Did you inherit them from or pass them on to anyone in your family? My eyes are very light blue. I don't think either of my parents have blue eyes - I know my Dad's are brown, and if I remember right my Mom's are hazel/green. But then again, neither of them are redheads, and I'm the oldest of two redheaded, blue-eyed boys out of three. Maybe Mom wasn't really kidding about the milkman? ;-)
1. Energy. I'm just worn out right now. I'm not unhappy, nor do I feel as though I'm shirking anything but my physical well-being, but I'm too tired to exercise this week and it is really weighing on my mind and my heart."Imagine a complex, multi-cultural society that annually holds an elaborate winter festival, one that lasts not simply a few days, but several weeks. This great festival celebrates the birth of the Lord and Saviour of the world, the prince of peace, a man who is divine. People mark the festival with great abundance- feasting, drinking and gift giving....." (Richard Horsley- The Liberation of Christmas)But this is not Christmas- this is a Roman festival in celebration of the Emperor....This is the world that Jesus was born into! The world where the early Christians would ask "Who is your Saviour the Emperor or Christ?"
The passage goes on, recounting the decorations that are hung, and the songs and dances that accompany the festival, how the economy booms and philanthropic acts abound....
And yet our shops and stores and often our lives are caught up in a world that looks very much like the one of ancient Rome, where we worship at the shrine of consumerism....
Advent on the other hand calls us into the darkness, a time of quiet preparation, a time of waiting, and re-discovering the wonder of the knowledge that God is with us. Advent's call is to simplicity and not abundance, a time when we wait for glorious light of God to come again...
Christ is with us at this time of advent, in the darkness, and Christ is coming with his light- not the light of the shopping centre, but the light of love and truth and beauty.
What do you long for this advent? What are your hopes and dreams for the future? What is your prayer today? In the vein of simplicity I ask you to list five advent longings....
“…it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him.” Ecclesiastes 3.13-14
I spent yesterday doing a lot of stuff. Of course, the morning was taken with worship and being with you all, which is always a great gift to me. Before that, though, I made a big breakfast of pancakes, eggs and bacon and we four enjoyed a nice Sunday morning meal together before going to our separate churches for work. The afternoon was one of those times I’ve come to treasure, also. First, the girls slept while I read the Sunday editions of the Ames Tribune and Des Moines Register. Then I headed to the backyard for a few hours of raking, vacuuming up and mulching leaves. The air was crisp and clear, and our neighbor had fired up his woodstove, so the tang of woodsmoke spiced the air with a delicious, familiar and beloved autumn scent. After the girls woke up from their naps (they take my preacher’s nap for me), we went off to the market to buy the week’s groceries, then returned home and had rice and stir-fry for supper. After finally getting the girls washed and down for bed,
The afore-mentioned yard, just prior to mulching the leaves.
I remember thinking how nice it is to have a small yard while I was raking yesterday. Our house in
The writer of Ecclesiastes talks about labor and work and reward and pleasure throughout the entire book, and not always with the sunniest outlook. But whoever the writer was,
he/she came to the conclusion that labor is good, that we should tend to the simple things in our lives and take pleasure in them. After a week of voting, celebrating/mourning the results, and looking ahead to the massive crises that lie before us, it’s good for us to be reminded that we need to care for our immediate environment, also. Mother Teresa once said, “We cannot do great things; only small things with great love.” Whatever your task may be this week, do it well, friends, and take pleasure in it, and remember that the eternal is held in God’s hands, not yours – we are stewards of this creation, not its masters, and we would do well to remember that God has entrusted the ministry of everyday life to us, and it is good.
Above and below: The "good things" over which I am called to care - about the best thing God could have given me. :-)
In December 1992, I was a freshman music education major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. My friend Mike and I were in the same section of Music Theory 101, and our final exam was Friday morning at 8:00 a.m. All semester, we had laughed at the choir people who were getting their first real work in music theory: being instrumentalists, we’d been dealing with notation and chord structures since we first started playing. But by the time the final rolled around, we’d moved into stuff that was advanced enough to require studying, which we didn’t do, of course. So, on Thursday night we decided we needed to do a bit of studying. We started by heading over to my dorm room for coffee, and spent an hour or so listening to the marching band CD I’d just bought the day before. From there we were drawn into a discussion of the finer points of Monty Python, complete with a listen to the Monty Python tape I’d just purchased at a local record story. Around 3:00 A.M. we finally actually started studying, and at 6:30 we decided we’d had enough and breakfast was in order. So, off to Denny’s we went, and at 8:00 we walked into the music building, arm in arm, singing Monty Python’s “Lumberjack Song” at the top of our lungs to celebrate the end of the semester.
The question I want to ask you this morning is, “How much of the information on that exam do you think is still with me today?” You know how this works: the classes you attend diligently, in which you read the assigned work and complete the assigned homework, are the classes that give you knowledge that remains with you. The classes you skip, the reading you don’t do, the homework you don’t complete, until you cram for the final so you can pass the test? Those are the classes that don’t stay with you. That’s the information you have to learn again. My brother Brian is an elementary school teacher, and one of his primary complaints about the “No Child Left Behind” education standards is this: he spends more time “teaching to the test” than he does educating young minds and teaching children how to think, study and grow. Nothing you’ve ever learned in a cramming session will change your life – you’ll pass the test, maybe, and move on, nothing more, and that, friends, is the tragedy of the Parable of the Bridesmaids this morning.
The word our New Revised Standard Edition translates “Keep awake” is gregoreo. Eugene Boring is a Matthew scholar who says that the translation isn’t quite right.
Matthew opposes the frantic quest for [information about the end of time], andHow many of you guys were Boy Scouts at one time or another? I was. Remember the Boy Scout motto? “Be Prepared.” I was a lousy Boy Scout, mostly because I was never prepared for anything. Why prepare when there’s always someone who’ll help you get things done when the time comes? But what does it mean to “Be Prepared?” As I recall, there was a Boy Scout handbook that came in pretty handy when it came to being prepared. Likewise a compass, pocketknife and other basic equipment when we went camping, not to mention sleeping bags and tents, since you’d be wet and cold at night without them. The Boy Scouts weren’t just talking about a mindset when they said, “Be Prepared:” you are actually supposed to see to it that you’ve got the things you might need with you. You pack the equipment you’ll need for the journey, and you know the skills that will come in handy should you need to improvise. You certainly want to make sure your lamp has enough kerosene to last the night if you go out in the dark, right?
he pictures faithful disciples as those who do their duty at appropriate times
and are thus prepared for the [coming of Jesus] whenever it comes. Such
disciples can lay down to sleep in confidence, rather than being kept awake by
panicky last-minute anxiety. Thus the Matthean meaning for gregoreo is "be
prepared," not "keep awake"/"watch," and it might be so translated in this
Boy Scout mottos and three-fingered salutes are useless when you’re in the middle of the woods: what you need is a compass and orienteering skills. Last-minute cramming fueled by Denny’s coffee and a healthy dose of Monty Python is useless when you’re a college student who’s supposed to be learning professional skills that will last a lifetime: what you need is knowledge embedded in your mind through practice, repetition and application. In the same way, we cannot find our way into the reign of God with empty lamps and the appearance of good behavior. The foolish bridesmaids are doing more useless cramming, and because they were not ready, they suffer the consequences of their lack of preparation.
So, what are we to do? How are we to “keep awake” or “be prepared?” There are three parts to what Jesus asks of us in this parable. The first part is simple: show up. Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” He’s right. You won’t truly learn anything here at Iowa State if you don’t show up for your classes. Likewise, you won’t be transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ if you don’t have a regular encounter with it. Read your Bible, with others when you can. Pray, again, with others when you can. Make time to contemplate what it means to live as a disciple of Jesus.
The next part is more complex: give up. Understand this and things are going to change for you, instantly. You live in an environment where your worth is determined by what you produce, by the tests you pass, by the honors and awards you earn through hard work. For the arena of college education, that’s fine – it’s as it should be. But that is not how life in the reign of God is structured. The kingdom of God is not marked by our accomplishments or our glory – it is marked by the cross of Jesus Christ alone, and all of creation, everything in this world, falls under its shadow. There is no test for you to pass: you were brought into the reign of God when you were brought to the baptismal font, washed clean in the name of Jesus and sealed by the Holy Spirit through water and word. The life of following Jesus isn’t even pass/fail: you’ve been marked for God forever and no accomplishment of your own can ever make you more worthy of God’s love or more beloved by Christ Jesus. Give up, folks: there’s no extra credit in heaven, and the only being in heaven that gets a summa cum laude is the one with the scars in his hands, feet and side. He earned those scars in love, and that same love is his gift to you – receive it gladly and offer it to others with joy.
Finally, wake up! Did you notice the funny thing about Jesus’ parable? All ten of the bridesmaids fell asleep! You are not being called to a life of endless all-nighters and constant worry about missing the moment. Let’s go back to the academic arena for a moment: why are you pursuing a degree from this university? Once you get that degree, once all the classes are done, what are you going to do? You’ll be contributing something to the world, whether it’s science or accounting or music or teaching or whatever. Your education here teaches you how to interpret the world in which you live and how to help others live in that world – is it so hard to believe that Jesus asks the same of all of us who come to him in faith? The church does not exist simply to help people pass some sort of exam: we’re here to be transformed by the Holy Spirit for life in the world God has made. This life has times of great celebration and times of great sorrow. This life has times of struggle and strife and times of peace and contemplation. This life has times of intense hard work, and times of sweet, blessed rest. When you give up your idolatrous quest for self-justification and show up to be transformed by the reign of God, you will know when the time has come to wake up. When the bridegroom came in the parable, there was a loud cry of welcome, and the bridesmaids all woke up and prepared their lamps. It’s a matter of trust, to know that, yes, the end of time is coming, that God will one day make all things new. But that time is not yet here, and while we wait for it to come, we do not wait in anxiety or apathy. We wait with joy, knowing that because Christ has invited us to be prepared, we are to be part of what is to come, and the feast with which this new creation will be inaugurated will be great indeed.
Be prepared, beloved of Christ! Don't wait for the end and think that more useless cramming is the answer: the reign of God is near! Show up and be transformed, give up and be made holy, wake up and welcome your Savior. Christ be with you all. Amen.
 Boring, M. Eugene. The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. © 1994, Abingdon Press, Nashville. P. 451 [my interpretations in brackets]
After an exhausting election here in the states it's time for some spirit
lifting! Join me with a nice cup of tea or coffee or cocoa and let's sit back
and read the Funny Papers!
I'd also add the folks who do cartoons for The Wittenburg Door - they've been doing funny Christian comics for years upon years.
5. From "a faithful reader from Minnesota": If you weren't a pastor, what could you imagine your occupation/calling might otherwise be?
On my "I could be a guy in another profession that requires advanced education" days, I think I'd be interested in teaching English at the university level.
On my "this job sucks like an Electrolux" days, I'd do just about anything to work for a landscaping or lawn care company. Ride a mower all day, outdoors, or plant the occasional flower/bush? You betcha.
Thankfully, I don't have many of the Electrolux days.
6: From Erik, one of my college roommates: On a more serious note, something I was going to ask you about is, how did you decide to go into campus ministry? You have mentioned several times that you are enjoying this assignment. I always had you pegged as one who would want to work with high school youth, so this is a bit older of a crowd than I thought you would enjoy. Thanks to Him, I think you are exactly where you ought to be.
I've felt a calling to campus ministry for quite a long time, but I should note that when Erik and I were sharing a dorm room, I was coming off two summers of church camp and really starting to think that maybe the ministry, not music education, would be my calling. At that time, I wasn't particularly involved in campus ministry; that came later, though Erik and I of course stayed close for quite a long time after we lived together.
I'm not opposed to the thought of doing youth ministry, but it seems as though it wouldn't be the best fit for me these days. I'm married to a youth & family ministry professional, and she has forgotten more good youth ministry stuff than I'll ever know or put to good use; it's a calling that requires some incredible gifts and a LOT of patience. I don't have a lot of the latter, so perhaps it's for the best that I'm in a slightly different place now.
6a: Another couple of questions: Did you ever think you would find true happiness in Iowa, of all places?
6b. After all of the bad things we said about those Iowa football and basketball teams, do you find your allegiance strained a bit?
7. And from my brother, Brian: How do you approach your role as developing future leaders of the church (and I'm not talking about the ones with M-Div's)?
I'm still figuring it out, truth be told. It's one thing to tell our college students they'll be "out there" in churches someday; it's another thing to sit down and help them find those churches and take up leadership there. I think a first step is to delegate, delegate, delegate: get people on board with projects and let them loose to make it work. A micro-managing pastor is a terrible blow to any ministry, but I think in campus ministry it can be a death knell. We do a piss-poor job of involving youth in our denomination: if campus ministry continues the trend, it dies - pure and simple. Beyond that, I think, it's a matter of opening eyes and expanding awareness. That's why I like our national campus ministry mission statement: "Expanding Minds, Deepening Faith, Inspiring Service." Three elements of growth in a ministry where growth is the primary currency? Brilliant - and we need to emphasize it even more than we've already done.
And for the adults in the room:
Bonus question from Shalom: I'm tempted to ask my favorite James Lipton question: What's your favorite swear word?
The F word. By far. Nothing compares to dropping an F-bomb when you just gotta let loose. But boy, you gotta be careful; it's like playing with gasoline in the wrong company.
"The Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."I remember sitting with my confirmation class in
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.