30 May 2008

george carlin-stuff

Friday Five, Take Two: Summery

So, if one Friday Five is good, two must be better, right? HotCup ran this one at her place and it looked so fun I decided to play two. You know, like baseball - "Let's play two!"
1.) What first tells you that Summer is here?
The end of classes. Yeah, technically it's still spring, but when baseball practice is starting and kids aren't checking the clock every fifteen seconds for the last day of school to be over, that means summer has come, baby!

2.) Name five of your favorite distinctively Summer habits or customs.
Fire - either in the grill for cooking or in the pit for enjoying of a nice summer evening
Following the Minnesota Twins (although that's a bit harder to do here in Iowa)
Working around the house on the lawn/flowerbeds/etc. (hoping for a vegetable garden next year)
Spending time as a family on bike paths & trails (although the pregnancy is definitely limiting our time playing outside this year).

3.) What is your favorite smell of Summer?
Ooooh - tough call. Do I go with line-dried bedsheets, lilac blooms (technically Spring, but who's checking?) or meat cooking on the grill? Why not say all three? Okay - all three, plus lots of others.

4.) What is your favorite taste of Summer?
Burgers, sweet corn and homemade ice cream. Feed me that and I'll love you forever.

5.) Favorite Summer memory?
Oh, without a doubt my favorite summer memories revolve around my years at Carol Joy Holling Camp, both as a camper and as a staff member. No other summer experience has given me more joy or been more important. Even now, more than ten years after my last Fun Campfire, I'm still using skills I learned at camp and maintaining relationships from those days. Church camp ROCKS!

Well, there's the second Friday Five. Now maybe I oughta get some actual work done. :-)

Friday Five: Garage Sale!

Songbird and will smama are responsible for this week's Friday Five. I'm not much of a garage sale person, but it's a step in a different direction for the FF. So here goes:

Welcome to your irregularly scheduled Fifth Friday Five, hosted by will smama
and Songbird!Since will smama is preparing for a joint garage sale with her
parents, and Songbird's church had a Yard and Plant Sale last Saturday, we have
five enormously important questions we hope you will answer:

1) Are you a garage saler?
Umm, yes, but only for certain items. Like cheap clothes and tools, etc. I’m NOT a “go to every garage sale and grab whatever looks like a good deal even if I’ll never need it” garage saler.

2) If so, are you an immediate buyer or a risk taker who comes back later when prices are lower?
They do that? Why not price it low in the first place?

3) Seriously, if you're not a garage saler, you are probably not going to want to play this one.(That wasn't really #3.)

3) This is the real #3: What's the best treasure you've found at a yard or garage sale?
My parents found a horribly ugly chair at a garage sale my freshman year in college. Seriously, it was a block of wood covered in that ugly brown striped ‘70s upholstery – a real dog of a chair. But it was super-comfortable and I had it for nearly fifteen years. It’s now in the youth room at Peace Lutheran Church in Barrett, MN because I replaced it with my Grandpa Johnson’s recliner (also somewhat ugly, but not nearly so much).

4)If you've done one yourself, at church or at home, was it worth the effort?
I haven’t, and I don’t think I ever will, because for me it would definitely NOT be worth the effort.

5) Can you bring yourself to haggle?
Not in a million years. I have a hard time haggling over used cars, for crying out loud...

BONUS: For the true aficionado: Please discuss the impact of Ebay, Craig's List, Freecycle, etc... on the church or home yard/garage sale.
I don’t think they’ve really impacted garage sales that much. Let’s face it: when you reach the bottom line, it’s still just folks trying to get rid of their crap, and we’ve all got a LOT of CRAP. Thus the picture of my favorite comedian, George Carlin, and a quote: "A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff...Have you ever noticed that their stuff is shit, and your shit is stuff?"

28 May 2008

Big Shoes Girl

Hopefully she'll be a runner earlier than I was.

Memorial Day 2008

First, some cute pictures of my kid. Because, you know, it's my blog:

I posted last about doing un-homiletical stuff upon our return from Minneapolis. Well, the urge stayed upon me all day on Monday, which led to an all-out assault on the Honey-Do list. First, I split some hostas to fill in open space around the foundation of our house:

Kris wanted to do some cleaning in the house, so I took an hour and sat outside, reading while Ainsley played in the yard. Then I moved to Ainsley's room. Kris found some blinds on sale and I've not yet cut them to fit the windows. You can see in this picture the bunch of extra slats at the bottom of the blind.
After much cursing and mangling of strings, extra blinds and plugs, I was able to get one fitted correctly:

After that, I cooked brats on the grill, we ate supper, and we watched TV after Ainsley went to sleep. All in all, an awesome day.

Speaking of awesome, a story about my wife is in order. Our next door neighbors are three college-age women. Three very attractive college-age women. These things happen, normally there's not a lot of need for comment. But in the lovely afternoon sun on Monday, one of our neighbors and her boyfriend decided to wash their cars. Ergo, she was outside in a bikini top and shorts. Being a dedicated spouse, and determined NOT to be the creepy older guy who ogles the neighbors, I paid much attention to my magazine. But when Boyfriend started spraying his car down with his thumb over the hose nozzle, I did decide to be neighborly and offer our spray header to make his job easier. Boyfriend, Blonde Cutie and I had some small talk, they oohed and aahed over Ainsley, then we went back to our work. But Kristin saw me talking with the neighbors, and poked her head out the window to say hello. Here's the awesome part. My wife's only comment later was, "Boy, got some eye-candy over there, don't we?" Funny, completely non-jealous and yet aware that while I might be 34, I'm not dead and I'm not made of stone. That's a pretty awesome combination in a spouse - I'm a blessed guy.

25 May 2008

Festival of Homiletics: The Un-Homiletical Homecoming OR T-Minus 2 Months and Counting...

This is my final post from the Festival of Homiletics. I'm happy to say that the Big Lutheran Wrap-Up went very well - score one for the home team. Mary Hinkle Shore preached on today's passage from 1st Corinthians and had the entire assembly eating out of the palm of her hand within the first 45 seconds. Best of all, the body of the sermon was worthy of the great introduction. It was a sermon aimed at preachers, so while it probably wouldn't have flown in the congregation, I for one felt very, very edified by her proclamation.

David Lose gave a great lecture following worship. I'm pretty sure it was a short synopsis of his book Confessing Jesus Christ: Preaching in a Post-Modern World, but it was still good to hear from him. What I noted was an emphasis in his title that I hadn't understood previously: I had thought his book title was emphasizing Jesus Christ, but in actuality, his particular point of emphasis is on Confessing. His argument, which I endorse whole-heartedly, is that our preaching (and indeed, the whole life of the church) must now center itself on confession of our belief in Jesus. In the post-modern world, empirical rationalism has become quite limited, but the church, for some reason, continued to insist that her claims could be empirically proven through bigger and better arguments, making 'the case for Christ' (if I might borrow from a well-known apologetics book). Lose believes, as do I, that the church's witness is most effective when we cease our efforts at argumentative coercion and manipulation - the safe road - and simply state our faith in the boldest, most vulnerable means possible - in the same way that God once boldly, vulnerably came among us in the life of Christ. Well, at least, that's the story in a nutshell.

Between that lecture and the final worship service, I ran into an old friend from campus ministry at the University of Nebraska. Turns out he's in a call 35 miles from my hometown these days. We didn't have a chance to talk a whole lot, but it was nice to see him again, and I realized that even if the conference had been a complete bomb, meeting all these new friends and catching up with old friends would have made the time pretty special on its own.

Finally, Fred Gaiser preached a poetic interpretation of the crossing of the Red Sea for our closing worship. "Something There Is That Doesn't Love A Wall" was his title, and joining Robert Frost to the Exodus narrative Gaiser made a moving case for the end of walls between God's people. Powerful stuff, exactly what I expected from the good Dr. Gaiser. Throw in some beautiful music from Beth Nielsen Chapman and a celtic worship group from Westminster Presbyterian, and you had a lovely morning of worship. All in all, a great end to a great week.

After driving home Friday, I was all keyed up to do some stuff yesterday that involved anything but sitting. So, I took the kiddo shopping for tools, and then I

  • changed the oil on the car
  • sharpened the blade on the lawnmower
  • changed the oil on the lawnmower
  • mowed the lawn
  • sprayed the weeds in our walkway
  • cleaned some weeds out of some of our flowerbeds
  • cleaned up the garage
  • and started replacing the head on our string trimmer

So, that's how I spent yesterday's un-homiletical homecoming. Today we went to church, where I sang in the choir and did special music as well. We came home, had lunch, then the girls went down for their naps while I read the Sunday papers and watched Phil Mickelson tear up Colonial (he wound up winning on a birdie putt on the last hole. YOU DA MAN, PHIL!). After everyone got well rested, we went grocery shopping, I made pizza for supper and finally Kristin and I watched a movie after putting Ainsley down to bed.

During worship this morning, Kristin looked at her watch and noted that the due date for She-Who-Is-Yet-To-Be is two months from today. Yikes. Just thinking about it makes me excited and a bit worried all at once. I can handle one - indeed, most of the time I love taking care of our one kiddo. But two seems exponentially larger, like the complexity jumps by a factor of three or four or eight instead of one. I suppose there's nothing for it now but to just jump in and learn to sink or swim, huh? Should be a fun ride, at the least. Well, that's the word from Ames tonight. Tomorrow, it's long run and a long, hopefully sunny Memorial Day with the family. I foresee parks and grilled turkey brats in our future. Mmmmm - love me that grill.



22 May 2008

Festival of Homiletics: Almost Everyone Rocks, Except Me

I've had some great continuing education experiences over the past almost-five years of ministry. A week studying Bonhoeffer at Luther Seminary. A one-day seminar with Tom Long. But nothing has every been as completely rocktacular as this week's Festival of Homiletics. There's simply too much good stuff to thoroughly cover, so I'll give a brief summary.

First, the shirt experiment has been a partial success. I did wear the "Christians have the best sects" shirt to Wednesday's sessions, and because of the shirt I met Cheesehead, Grace By The Sea, RevKim and RevDave. But, like a schmo, I stumbled through my shower and dressing this morning and FORGOT TO WEAR THE JESUS SHIRT. So those who were looking for it went hungry today (cue the "stupid stupid stupid stupid" voice in my head, an all-too-familiar voice). So, the quest to meet lots of blogger pals here has only been a partial success.

I did, however, experience a rather terrifying moment when Dr. Mark Throntveit, one of my Old Testament professors, met me at the Luther Seminary reception with, "Hey, how are you? I read your blog!" Thankfully, he followed that comment with "It's good - you're actually doing theology with it." Nice to hear, especially from one whose opinion I've always trusted.

Today I got to have lunch with several Lutheran campus ministry colleagues at The Local, an Irish pub in downtown Minneapolis. Good time. And yesterday I ate lunch on Peavey Plaza with former colleagues from Minnesota while the Minnesota Orchestra played a lunchtime concert in their bandshell below. As a bonus, my friend Doug Carlsen walked by where we were standing after the concert and we got to do a quick catch-up. If you ever have the chance to hear the MN Orchestra perform, DO IT. They're great musicians and good folks, too, if Doug is any indication of the quality of their people.

Someone once described a class with Dr. Rollie Martinson as "drinking from a fire hose." Well, after Walter Brueggemann's lecture, I now have two persons for whom I think the metaphor is appropriate. WOW. I've got an entire page of notes from his lecture, and I don't generally take many notes at these things. Among the notable quotes were "Our modern pathology is marked by self-sufficiency, nihilism, autonomy and conformity," "The preacher's task is to present a case for hopeful resistance" and "well-framed people (framed by an understanding of God as a God of Exuberant Generosity and Inexhaustible Well-Being) can become protagonists in the contradiction of the world in which we live." Sheesh - no wonder my friend Justin says he has a man-crush on the guy.

Ditto Bishop Mark Hanson, who preached yesterday afternoon. Quotes: "Tranquility is not the sign of vital ministry." and "Nostalgia for an idealized past disparages the actual present." I was especially happy when the announced "coffee with the Bishop" produced several hundred ELCA pastors and preachers, enough that we were required to move from the community room to the sanctuary of Central Lutheran Church.

In that meeting Bishop Hanson talked about the filming of In God's Name and the generally positive reaction to his participation. Here's the thing I loved about the show: Bishop Hanson made us Lutherans look really, really good, the kind of folks I'd want to investigate if I were a person trying to figure out this faith and religion thing. But, as Lutherans are wont to do, Bishop Hanson's friends did have a bit of fun with this picture:

They suggested that the caption should read as follows: "Where the hell did I leave my car?" Yep, that's the kind of guy we've got in the big office in Chicago, and I'm pretty happy about it.

Bishop William Willimon also delivered the goods today. Notable quotes: "The Bible is content to let the complicated remain complicated." "Scripture is God's attempt to regain control of us." and "Preaching is training in following Jesus, not understanding Jesus." These are just the quotes I managed to write down - his lecture is one I'll be ordering on CD because it was funny and prophetic and provocative and lots of things I need to be poked on when it comes to my preaching.

Barbara Brown Taylor was also magnificent in preaching on the Great Commission, Matthew 28.16-20. She's just flat-out awesome.

In fact, thus far I've only been disappointed in one speaker, and I've heard some others who were happy with her presentation, so perhaps it was just me. I've skipped the evening sessions the last two nights because, frankly, I'm full - I can't take any more information in until I get a chance to rest and unplug for a while. So, I'm going to turn off the computer, get a Diet Coke and watch a movie with my beloved wife. Tomorrow is Lutheran Wrap-Up Day at the Festival, with Mary Hinkle Shore, David Lose and Fred Gaiser; should be a treat all around.


20 May 2008

Festival of Homiletics: Taxxis? We Don't Need No Steenkeeng Taxxis! OR Where the Hell is Scott This Time?

Let's call this the "Oops" post for my little trip to the Festival of Homiletics. (And let's pray it's the ONLY one, huh?) I was excited to consider the late afternoon that awaited Kristin and I. First, a brief sojourn in Taxxis, the restaurant at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, just a few blocks from Central Lutheran Church, where we would meet several friends from RevGalBlogPals for the first time. Then, in the same hotel, a reception for Luther Seminary Alumni, where we would see and catch up with old friends we haven't seen for a while.

Those of you who know downtown Minneapolis, and also those of you who know me and my penchant for not being particularly careful on most of the details in my life, know exactly where this is going. As it turns out, Taxxis is the restaurant at the Minneapolis HYATT, not the Minneapolis HILTON, so we were several blocks away from the RevGals&Pals get-together when we arrived in the Hilton parking garage promptly at 4:00, thereby making it into the building right when we were supposed to be there. Unfortunately, with a seven-months-pregnant wife, you don't just go tripping off on a five block jaunt and turn around and do it all over again 30 minutes later to make it to the Luther Seminary reception. So, due to my muddled understanding of where I was supposed to be, and the slightly enlarged and uncomfortable status of my beloved wife, we decided to forego the RGBP meetup and stay for the Luther reception. Which, I must add, WAS in the Hilton, thankfully, and had free beer to boot. And not just crappy domestics, either - some nice local microbrewery stuff. Doesn't make up for missing the chance to meet good friends, but it does numb the pain just a little bit. :-)

So, in the spirit of trying to meet the friends I was supposed to meet today, I'm going to try a little game tomorrow. If you're a RevGal blogger and you'd like to meet me IRL, as they say, look for the guy with a shaved head and red goatee wearing this shirt:

Pretty sure I'll be the only guy wearing that shirt at Central Lutheran tomorrow morning. See you there.

The day, other than the minor meal mishap, was very, very good. Dr. Thomas Long preached at morning worship and knocked a sermon out of the park - he preached about living water and trick questions, using the reading of the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well (John 4.5-15). After worship, Barbara Lundblad gave an inspiring lecture on preaching and racism (you shouldn't combine the two), then Anna Carter Florence gave an astonishingly good lecture on the preacher and preaching as testimony. She's rapidly becoming a favorite of mine - after one fabulous sermon and such a wonderful lecture I'm pretty sure I'll be buying a book or two pretty soon.

Tonight Walter Wangerin, Jr. spoke on storytelling and the place it has for children and the childlike imagination of an adult in crisis - moving stuff, especially considering he's fought cancer over the past few years and knows a thing or two about being in crisis as an adult. Very much enjoyed that as well. Basically, if I mention a name this week, you oughta just check them out.

So, in review:
1. It's horrifyingly easy to confuse "Hyatt" and "Hilton"
2. I'm wearing a clever orange t-shirt instead of a red hat, but the concept tomorrow is the same as "Where's Waldo" if you'd like to meet me in person.
3. People spoke well about preaching. Applause was given, and continuing education money was well-spent.

Thus endeth the day. Good night.

OOPS THE SECOND: I just realized that some of you RGBPs might not see this until after tomorrow's session. Thus, I'll be wearing this shirt on Thursday:
No, that's not me modeling it - just the dippy guy from the website. But I will be wearing that shirt on Thursday. Just so you know. As you were.

Sorry to the dippy guy in the shirt. But you just looked dippy. Maybe it's just me.

19 May 2008

Festival of Homiletics: The Lutherans welcome you to MinnesOta...

The Festival of Homiletics is this week, in Minneapolis. Since a) lots of my favorite preachers are on the schedule and b) Minneapolis is a three hour drive from Ames, I signed up back in January. If the rest of the week is anything like the first night, we're all in for a real treat.

What really struck me tonight, however, is how LUTHERAN the thing is thus far. The first 'official' event was a concert by the National Lutheran Choir in the sanctuary of Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. The first thing I noticed upon arriving to register was Kristin's former colleague from the church in Alexandria. Then I met three other folks from our former conference. I noted that Mark Hanson, the ELCA Presiding Bishop is one of the worship preachers, as are two of my own homiletics professors, Mary Hinkle Shore and David Lose. Mark Sedio, the Cantor at Central Lutheran Church in downtown Minneapolis and quite possibly the best Lutheran organist in the country at present, is playing organ for most of the week. Pretty soon I realized that there were literally hundreds of my Lutheran mates in attendance, which likely would not have been the case had the festival been held in, say, Atlanta, as it will be next summer.

I know, I know - anyone coming to Minneapolis for an event like this had to expect it would have a distinctive Lutheran flair. But I didn't expect it to be so overwhelming, nor did I expect to be so pleased at the thought. It actually feels as though the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is welcoming our Protestant siblings to a conference we're hosting, even though the Festival has always been very ecumenical in nature. Well, anyway, to those of you visiting the land of the frozen chosen, welcome, and we Lutherans do hope you enjoy your stay. :-)

We were in the sanctuary of Central Lutheran Church tonight for the National Lutheran Choir concert, worship and then a lecture. The choir was incredible. Simply incredible. There just aren't words to describe how well they sang together, and how well they responded to the direction of Director David Cherwein - we're talking exquisitely managed tone, tempo and pitch, along with wonderfully artistic interpretations of some neat work. There were many highlights, but my favorite was a musical setting of ee cummings' poem i thank you God for most this amazing day:

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

The composer who wrote the piece based upon this poem used tones and chords that just shimmered like the language for which cummings is so well known. I can't remember his name just now, but I'll post more info tomorrow on it.

Anyway, that wasn't the high point of the day for me. Here's a shot of Central Lutheran's sanctuary in 1928:
It hasn't changed much since this photograph was taken. Now, imagine the room filled with thousands of preachers singing "Give To Our God Immortal Praise" Oh. My. Stars. And Garters. That was powerful beyond imagining. I just wanted to soak in the singing. And then the preaching - Anna Florence Carter preached a wonderfully poignant sermon on Mary and Martha and basically illustrated what I saw happening at our Synod Assembly this past weekend (more on that later). And to top it off, Dr. Thomas Long gave an invigorating lecture on the gospel of Mark. The man stands behind his lectern as though he were being held back from attacking his listeners by a harness - and he teaches the same way. It was great.

A thoroughly wonderful evening, and I haven't even mentioned the wonderful afternoon with friends or the great long run I had with another friend this morning. But that'll have to wait - I need to get to bed.

14 May 2008

The Wednesday Homily: "Unreasonable God"

I recently spent a day at home, brought low by what was either an extremely short-lived stomach virus or food poisoning. I woke at my normal 6:00 AM, feeling a bit “off,” and by the time 9:00 rolled around, I was investigating breakfast and the morning coffee for the second time, in the toilet bowl. I spent the rest of the day shivering in bed and sleeping on the couch in the basement. As you can imagine, eating was pretty low on the list of priorities, and even the next day, I only ate enough to quench the light hunger pangs I was feeling, as I was anxious not to tax my stomach too seriously before it had time to recover.

The one benefit, I thought, would be losing a few of the pounds I’d been trying to drop. I’m running a marathon in late June, and my goal is to break the four hour barrier, which will be much easier if I have a few less pounds to carry around for those four hours. But it’s been a struggle. I lose a few pounds, I gain them back, and nothing seems to work. As I headed off to the gym this morning, I thought to myself, “at least two days of eating next to nothing guarantees I’ve lost some weight!”

Nothing doing. I’d actually gained three pounds since my last weigh-in on Friday.

A radio show that I catch via podcast sometimes advertises itself as presenting the “reasonable” message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and every time I hear their announcer say it, I want to slap those good folks around, just a little bit. It’s not that I don’t like being reasonable – far from it, in fact. In a world where a father gets arrested for choosing to use his seatbelt for his beer instead of his son, where the local chapter of Jedi is attacked by a drunk pretending to be Darth Vader, reasonable is an aspiration I’m happy to hold, most of the time. The problem is that “reasonable” has its limits, and sometimes we need the power of an unreasonable God to break through everything else that is unreasonable in our lives.

In a reasonable world, a man who throws up breakfast and doesn’t eat for most of two days will lose weight. In a reasonable world, the government of a nation devastated by a cyclone would welcome the assistance of other nations, not deny it to satisfy their own paranoid delusions about power and control. In a reasonable world, executives who exploit illegal workers would be as guilty as the workers themselves, if not more so. But it becomes increasingly clear to anyone who tries to see the world with open eyes that because of our bondage to sin, we do not live in a reasonable world, though we may try with all our might to make it so. In fact, sometimes the world is so unreasonable that we don’t even have the words to describe it.

It is in the midst of all this unreasonableness that God also acts unreasonably. Scripture is filled with testimonies to the unreasonable love in which God holds the children of creation. “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?” says the prophet Isaiah; “Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” Hosea says, “My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.” The Creator of all things, upon witnessing the destruction we stewards have wrought upon God’s creation and ourselves, refuses to indulge righteous anger and come in destruction and rejection. How many of us could say the same in our own relationships?

And, of course, Jesus Himself, in union with the Creator’s unreasonable love, said “Blessed are the poor in spirit… those who mourn… the meek… those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… the merciful… the pure in heart… the peacemakers… those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake… [and] blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account.” These are unreasonable words, to be sure, but would we expect anything else from the unreasonable Savior who proves God’s commitment by choosing death instead of rejection and forgiveness instead of domination?

Sunday will be Holy Trinity Sunday. In our churches we will celebrate the mystery of God as Three and One. We have words from God the creator and Jesus the Savior and Son of God in Scripture, but no directly attributed words of the Holy Spirit, whom we confess to be active within and among us in this time of creation. Yet Paul’s letter to the Romans ascribes one means by which the Spirit speaks: when we ourselves don’t have words to express the deep longings of our hearts. I don’t mean the longings for material wealth or rewards: I mean the spiritual longings for all that is holy, all that is righteous, all that should be reasonable in God’s creation. Sometimes being unreasonable is the only means by which what is needed is given, and, God be praised, the Spirit remains with us, the unreasonable voice of God speaking among and for God’s unreasonably sinful, broken, lost people. In an unreasonable world, the Spirit takes our groans and sighs and lifts them heavenward to the unreasonably loving Creator, who knows and hears them all. The Spirit intercedes for us, thanks be to God: It is unreasonable power for an unreasonable God, granting unreasonable access to an unreasonably blessed community. Amen.

13 May 2008

34: The Story So Far

Last Monday was my 34th birthday. I haven't posted since, for a number of reasons, most of which have to do with sloth, to be honest. It's been an interesting experience, though, - here's what I've been up to:

On my birthday, I got lost. Knowing that I'm a runner, one of the Lutheran Center students recommended the Iowa State YMCA Outdoor Center for a good run. Was she ever right. I just went out for an easy jog and wound up deep in the woods and hoping I was following the trail back OUT of the woods. Granted, the Outdoor Center only covers a few acres, but if you get going in the wrong direction the trees do run along a valley for several miles. The good news is that I know what I'm doing for the next time: I'm going to cover Peggy's Trail, a 2.14 mile trail that is clearly marked though their land. Even with getting lost, it was a COOL run, and I'm always glad to add new routes for running.

All in all, it was a good birthday: we stayed home, had fun around the house, I got some work done organizing our stuff that needed doing, I got in an awesome 5 mile run, and had steak for supper. Life was good!

Tuesday, I got the bird. As I was leaving the Lutheran Center around 5:30 on Tuesday, a car came zooming up Gable Lane and nearly hit me. Granted, I maybe could have looked more closely, but all in all, I was glad no one actually hit anyone. Not so for the driver of the other car. Since it was a nice day, we both had our windows down, so I could clearly hear him as he raised his right fist, popped up his middle finger and shouted, "Fuck you!" Then he floored his accelerator and zoomed away.

Now, I'm normally a pretty reasonable guy. I'm willing to admit when I make mistakes. I like to think that even when I'm not at fault, I'm willing to bear the mistakes of others graciously. But for some reason, that just pissed me off. I never understood the "weaving in and out of traffic throwing things" level of road rage until that moment. My heart rate climbed, I broke out in a cold sweat, and I was MAD. "Fuck me? No, no, my friend: FUCK YOU." So, being the rational, kind, non-confrontive person I am, I promptly changed my direction and took off after him. Not recklessly, mind you, but definitely in haste. About a mile later, I pulled up behind him at a red light, and by that point I'm thinking, "What are you going to do now?" It apears the answer was "nothing," as I just turned away and headed for home. I guess I wanted the guy to realize you can't just DO stuff like that and expect to get away with it. Except that he did, and all I wound up accomplishing was getting home late for dinner. Apparently older doesn't mean wiser for me, huh?

Wednesday, I got locked out. Went out for an eight mile run in the morning, and while I was out, my beloved packed up Ainsley and went out to run some errands. I got back to the house at 10:00 and realized I couldn't get in - we haven't hidden a spare key anywhere just yet. So, since the garage was open, as was the tool shed, I spent the next 90 minutes pruning bushes, cutting 2x4s for the new shelves in the tool shed, and sweeping the garage floor, all while waiting for Kris to come home. Yeah, that was exciting. It threw off my day so badly that I missed our last Campus Ministers' meeting of the year - grrrr. The spare will be made and hidden sometime this week, trust me.

On Sunday I enjoyed my first "just a guy going to church" Sunday in nearly five years. Since campus ministry here doesn't worship on Sundays in the summer, I was free to attend worship at our congregation like any other father with his family. It was great. Ainsley stayed in the nursery, so Kris and I actually got to listen to the sermon and pay attention during the service, a first for me in a long time. Good stuff, that. In the afternoon Kris took a nice long nap (the only thing she said she wanted for Mother's Day) while Ainsley and I took a good long walk around the neighborhood. That night I tried a new meal: fajitas on the grill. Worked great, and it was so nice we even ate outside.

Yesterday? Not so nice. Woke up feeling a bit "off,"but I figured if I had a bowl of cereal and my usual cup of coffee I'd be fine. I've started a practice of devotional reading in the mornings, with Bonhoeffer's Discipleship being my first book, and I went downstairs thinking "You've got two hours to 'get right' before you go to the gym. No problem." Uhh, no - BIG problem. By 8:30 I was achy, feverish and freezing, with stomach cramps to boot. What really sucks is that Kristin had been signed up to sub for three water aerobics courses yesterday morning, and I had to call her back after only one of them, as I was in no position to properly care for a toddler. So, she had a real "Mother's Day" yesterday: entertain the child, do the laundry and basically run the house while Daddy promptly threw up breakfast and spent most of the day sleeping or watching TV. Not fun at all. Thankfully, it appears to be a 24 hour bug, if it's a bug at all - today I'm feeling much better, and no one else appears sick at all. Time will tell, I guess, but it certainly wasn't the day I thought it would be.

Well, there you have it: A Week in the Life. As you were.

04 May 2008

First Words!

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday in Easter: "Transition and Termination"

Three years ago this week, Kristin and I went to a funeral. The funeral was for Pastor Larry Meyer, the campus pastor at the Lutheran Student Center at the University of Nebraska for the past 16 years. Larry was my friend and my mentor. Almost everything I know about being a pastor I learned from Larry – both good and bad. I was active in campus ministry for five of the six years of my undergraduate education in Lincoln, and I added a seventh year of work as an unofficial intern at the Student Center before heading off to seminary in 1999. That’s six years of partnership and education – two times the number of years that Jesus’ disciples spent with him.
From the beginning of my first call, I probably called Larry at least once a month for conversation and guidance. When you learn what it means to lead a congregation by watching someone as gifted as Larry lead a congregation, you tend to return to that source when you’re the one on the front lines. After losing Larry, I had to learn to stand before the congregation without that guidance and without that wisdom. Add that feeling of loneliness to our grief over the loss of our good friend, and you can imagine that it was a bit overwhelming. I remember feeling as though I could certainly understand the fear the disciples must have felt as they watched Jesus, their teacher and friend, leave them to return to His Father in heaven in his Ascension; when Larry died, I felt a little bit as though I would now be going out into the wilderness alone.
This is the life we live, however – a life of termination and transition. Try as we might to keep things the way they’ve always been, we are time-bound creatures who are forced to march toward the future, with or without the companions we thought we would have with us forever. Look at the things that are ending in our lives right now. Today, some of you begin your last finals week at Iowa State University. You’re preparing for exams and making plans for the next step: graduate school, employment, moving, moving back home, and everything else that goes with a massive change in your life. High school seniors will soon graduate and prepare to take your place at colleges around the country. Four and five year-olds will leave home and begin kindergarten next fall. People who are aging are leaving homes in which they’ve lived for decades. Others are dying, some “before their time.” Our lives are constantly surrounded by the presence of termination: everything that which once seemed permanent and eternal will end at some point in time.
At the same time, look at the things that are in transition all around us. Those same high school seniors will be moving away to college or finding work in our community – they will become the adults we’ve been raising them to become. Kristin and I spent yesterday with my family and some good friends from Nebraska. One couple just became parents for the second time, and my Kristin and our sister-in-law Donna are preparing to do the same this summer. Some of you are getting ready to be married, two people making the transition from man and woman to husband and wife – you are committing themselves to changing together for the rest of your lives. All around us, lives are in transition right now: children are learning to tie their shoes, parents are learning to change diapers, grandparents are learning to depend on others for their care, and fields that were brown and dead are being planted and will soon begin to grow and bear fruit in time. At the same time that many old things are ending, new things are beginning, and we find ourselves in the midst of transition everywhere we look.
God knows we would sometimes prefer it if things were always the same. God knows that I’m grieving this morning as I think of Larry and how going back to Nebraska has never been the same. God knows that parents hold their breath as their children take their first steps, drive their first car, or receive that diploma and step toward the future. God knows that the disciples might have stood on the Mount of Olives and looked for Jesus for the rest of their lives if it had been up to them. But God had a purpose for God’s own termination and transition, and that purpose is still at work among us today.
Here are some of the things that were brought to an end as Jesus ascended to His Father in heaven: it was the end of the barriers between Israel and the gentile world; it was the end of keeping the law to make yourself righteous; it was the end of God’s presence being limited to one space, one time, one person. It was the end of God’s personal witness to himself. Now: look at some of the things that changed as Jesus ascended to His Father in heaven: when Jesus ascended, the Spirit was promised, to come and give holy power and presence to ordinary human beings. When Jesus ascended, God’s presence would still be right here, among God’s witnesses, people like you and me who follow in the disciples’ footsteps. When Jesus ascended, God prepared to send the Holy Spirit so that the disciples could perform the greater works Jesus had promised to them (John 14). When Jesus ascended, the termination of the old world began, and the transition toward God’s kingdom began as well.
Let’s face it, folks: our whole life as Christians is a transition toward termination: we are in all our days moving toward our own death. But we do not make that transition alone, and in the church of Jesus Christ even our approach to termination and transition can be a powerful witness to the power of the Holy Spirit among us.
The first disciples were afraid after Jesus left them, but the church survived. The disciples’ disciples must have been afraid after the first generation of the church passed on, but the church survived. We are often afraid after our own teachers and loved ones leave us, but the church survives. Why is that? What is it that keeps the church of Jesus Christ alive through transition and termination? How is it that fear-filled people like you and I are called to be the ones to stand in the face of transition and termination and proclaim that God is here? There is something happening that we can’t explain, because if the church’s survival depended on us, it never would have left the Mount of Olives in the first place.
Lutheran historian Martin Marty once said that “the church is always one generation away from extinction.” The church survives because each generation is prayed over by a Savior who desires eternal life for His disciples and gives it to them through the power of the Holy Spirit. The church survives because God our Creator and Jesus the Christ will not let our fear overcome the faith God has given us. The church survives because people are called by the Holy Spirit through transition and termination to proclaim the gospel to the next generation. The church survives because God uses termination and transition as tools in this march toward the end of time and the coming of the kingdom of God.
In the midst of this ever-changing, ever-ending life of transition and termination, God’s steadfast love, which we receive through the power of the Holy Spirit, gives us witnesses to build our faith and MAKES us witnesses to build the faith of the next generation. As we grow deeper in our relationship with God through the Holy Spirit’s calling, gathering, enlightening and sanctifying, the never-ending, never-changing love of God in Jesus Christ breaks through all our transition and termination to give us eternal life: a relationship with God in faith that stands against all the chances and changes of life and says that God is good, God loves His people, God will not let God’s people slip from God’s hand.
This is the promise that God always gives to God’s people: “I will not let you go. No power in heaven or earth or anywhere else in all creation can take you away from Me. You are mine and I will be with you through every transition and termination of your life; and your life will be part of a great cloud of witnesses to the glory, power and strength of My love.” No transition can ever change this promise to you. No termination can ever end this promise’s hold on you. From the moment Christ ascended to His Father in heaven, this promise has been prepared for you, to hold you in ever storm and to comfort you in every sorrow. I hold on to it now as I grieve the loss of my friend and mentor, because this promise is greater even than the death of one I loved dearly. May this promise be a strength to you, too. It is a peace that passes all human understanding, this promise, but it is God’s peace, meant to hold you in the power of Christ’s love and in His unity with His Father, now and forever. Amen.

02 May 2008

Friday Five: Waiting

From Sally at RevGalBlogPals:

Part of the Ascension Day Scripture from Acts 11 contains this promise from
Jesus; "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and
you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends
of the earth.”
Then he was taken from their sight into the clouds, two
angels appeared and instructed the probably bewildered disciples to go back to
Jerusalem, where they began to wait and to pray for the gift Jesus had promised.
Prayer is a joy to some of us, and a chore to others, waiting likewise can
be filled with anticipation or anxiety....So how do you wait and pray?

1. How do you pray best, alone or with others?
Alone. As a pastor, of course, I do a lot of praying with others, but when it comes to prayer for just me and God, I feel most connected, most ‘in conversation’ when it’s just me and God. But I’ve been struggling with prayer lately, so perhaps I should be seeking out others with whom I can pray.
2. Do you enjoy the discipline of waiting, is it a time of anticipation or anxiety?
I. DESPISE. WAITING. Hate it hate it hate it. I’m not anxious, necessarily – I just want what I want NOW, which explains our terrible credit card debt, the lovely 2007 VW Jetta that I love and can’t afford (and can’t sell at the moment – anyone need a great German car?), and many, many other problems.
3. Is there a time when you have waited upon God for a specific promise?
Yes – in the healing time after my divorce. I knew that in time I’d be able to get through a day without thinking of and dwelling on the divorce, and that I just needed to trust and wait until it happened. Eventually, it did. In his video about forgiveness, Rob Bell says that true forgiveness is when you start wishing your enemy health and wellness and joy – thanks to waiting for God to help me forgive, I know how that works, and agree with him wholeheartedly.
4. Do you prefer stillness or action?
Oh, action, definitely. Why wait when you can do something? (Even if the something in question won’t help at all, at least you’re doing something!). Case in point: I’ve been known to take non-freeway routes to destinations in major cities to avoid sitting still in rush hour traffic. I don’t care if it actually takes longer and means more miles; if I can avoid sitting behind the wheel doing nothing, I’ll go farther and longer just to keep moving forward.
5. If ( and this is slightly tongue in cheek) you were promised one gift spiritual or otherwise what would you choose to recieve?
Patience, without a doubt. I just don’t have much of it at all. And I’d like it now, please. :-)

01 May 2008

Catching Up On Pictures

A friend told Kristin she missed the regular pictures of our Ainsley. Thus, I oblige:

Ainsley helping Grandma Johnson read a book:

Ainsley and Daddy with Ainsley's first car, courtesy of Grandma & Grandpa Johnson

Playing outside in the new back yard. Check out the boots!

Bathtime for Baby & Daddy!

Playing in the street at Uncle Jerry & Aunt Kimmie's house.

One Day of Running

I've often said that one of the primary reasons I've stayed a runner is the cool gadgetry. I love thinking about different types of shoes and how they work, looking for good deals on moisture-wicking shirts and shorts, waiting for my favorite double-layered socks to go on sale, etc. Right now I'm saving up to buy a combination stopwatch/heart rate monitor. I guess all of this indulges the boy in me who will forever be entranced by lightsabers, rings of power and the idea that a truck could become a robot commanding a huge robot army.

I mention this because one of the new gadgets I've discovered is the training log program that Runner's World runs through their website. It compiles your mileage, times, how many miles are on the shoes you wear, what the weather was like on your last run, and about as much detail as you'd like to add. They even have a mapping program so you can enter the routes you run where you live and know the exact mileage of each route, which is a marked improvement from my old method of driving the routes and using the trip odometer on my car (and guestimating the distance when I ran where I couldn't drive). AND they have a button you can add to your blog, so that others can keep track with you - you can see it to the right, just under the "About Me" section.

As I was entering tonight's tempo run (1.5 mile warmup, 4 miles at 8:23 / mile or faster, .75 mile cooldown), I noticed that my comprehensive running time for 2008 is 24:12:44. So far in 2008 I've run for just over one day, total. The thought of it just amazed me. I started running for fitness eight years ago, when I finally got fed up with wearing jeans with a 40 inch waistband and getting seriously winded walking up the hill from Burntvedt Court on the Luther Seminary campus. Back then, I couldn't run constantly for very long - I'd go 3 minutes running, 2 minutes walking, for 30 minutes or so. But slowly, I made progress. I got to where I could run without stopping for much longer than I thought I ever could. On my internship in Florida, running kept me sane when lots of stuff around me was driving me crazy (and, let's be honest, a fair amount of my own stuff was contributing to the craziness). I came back to seminary the next year so thin that my classmates didn't recognize me: one friend who'd been in a monthly marriage care group and several of my classes walked right past me in the weight room before doing a double-take and coming back to say hello. Two years ago, in response to a particularly rough stretch that included my first diagnosis of depression, I entered the Fargo Marathon to give me a goal to work toward. Today, I'm a little heavier than I was then, but I'm still running, and I still enjoy it nearly every time I go out.

Transformation is a pretty incredible thing to see in hindsight. One day you're running just to drop a couple of pounds, the next you're wondering how much weight you could drop and whether you actually could take a shot at qualifying for the Boston Marathon in a few years. I didn't get into this to do anything other than be healthier, but now it's become such a part of my life that I can't imagine myself NOT running. It'll be interesting to see where this takes me.

Anyway, since I don't currently have a book on the iPod (problems with audible.com), I did a random shuffle for the run today. (the iPod is, by the way, another great gadget) Here's the list:
1. "Satisfied Land" by Storyhill (a great start if you ask me)
2. "Light As The Breeze" by Billy Joel
3. "Come Back To Bed" by John Mayer
4. "Like a Child (Live)" by Jars of Clay
5. "Grace Is Gone" by the Dave Matthews Band
6. "Nightingale" by Norah Jones
7. "Begin" by the Wailin' Jennys
8. "Jill" by Harry Connick, Jr.
9. "Peaches & Diesel" by Eric Clapton
10. "New York Prophesie" by Blues Traveler
11. "Good To Have A Friend" by Peter Mayer
12. "Bela's Reels" by the Chieftains
13. "I Got Stripes" by Johnny Cash ("on a Monday, I was arrested...uh huh...")
14. "Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes" by Paul Simon
15. "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down (And Write Myself A Letter)" by Nat King Cole
16. "Peace Of Mind" by Boston (possibly the best intro to a song ever written. ba da da dum, da da dum da dum da diddly-a dum...)
17. "Rhythm Of Life" by Soul Support
18. "Let's Live It Up" by Brian Setzer
19. "Black & Tans" by the Wild Clover Band
20. "Jerry Was A Racecar Driver" by the Cornhusker Marching Band Drumline

Now, here's the funny thing about the last two - tomorrow the fam and I are off to Omaha to visit my brother and his family, to enjoy a birthday party for my nephew, AND to see the Wild Clover Band at the Brazen Head Pub. My college friend Aaron Svoboda plays bodhran and sings in the WCB, and I can't wait to see him and his wife. It's going to be a great weekend, made even better by the run I'm going to enjoy in Plattsmouth, NE on Saturday morning. So, in the best Irish I've got, let me wish you all:

More Holy Than Can Be Described

Gordon at Real Live Preacher has a guest blogger today. Here's a sample of the holy wisdom to be found there:
Interestingly, my bravest friends, be they Christian pastors or confirmed heathens, have tended to explain the least. Instead, they have quietly anointed us with their kindnesses. They have prepared meals for us in the presence of our bitter enemy. They are holding our hands as we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

You should go read the rest, right now.