30 June 2008


Well, Ainsley is a tough one, but we're working on it...

Monday Awesome Video: Tim Hawkins - Things You Don't Say To Your Wife

Thanks to my sister-in-law for sending this to us...

29 June 2008

Sunday Morning Breakfast at Chez Johnson

We've had an unexpected blessing here in Ames this summer. Campus ministry doesn't worship on Sundays through the summer - most of our student population has either gone to summer internships, to church camps or just home for the summer. Generally this is a time for the campus pastor (that'd be me) to get out and about to spread the 'word' about campus ministry. But since I'm new to the area, I haven't really been on anyone's radar for supply preaching. So over the last month I've had several Sunday mornings "off." It's a rare occurrence for us, one that likely won't happen again until I hang up my preaching jock for good (I'll wash it first.), so we've enjoyed this time by eating really big Sunday breakfasts and generally relaxing before going to worship at our "home congregation," St. Andrew's Lutheran Church in Ames.

Today was the last Sunday of this special time. I've picked up three supply dates for the next three weeks, then the baby comes, and by the time I'm off paternity leave, school will be in session and we'll be worshipping on Sundays again. So, this was a day for celebrating with good food, including:
Burgies' Espresso Blend coffee
Blueberry Pancakes made from scratch
Scrambled eggs (with green peppers & sharp cheddar cheese in mine)
Cran-apple juice
and, of course, bacon (everybody sing the bacon song!
"dead piggy, dead dead piggy dead piggy...")

All of this was accompanied by the wonderful sounds of Great Hymns of Faith, the beautiful compliation CD from the St. Olaf College Choir from Northfield, MN. Seriously, if you're a person from a hymn-singing faith tradition, you should own this CD (even if you're not, you should still own it). You can order it here.

One of our favorites is the classic F. Melius Christiansen arrangement of Beautiful Savior. As usual, youtube's embedding line is crap, so here's the direct link. The recording starts very softly, so crank up your volume and enjoy. A blessed Sunday, friends.

27 June 2008

Friday Five: Summer Reading

Hey, all,
So, getting my pictures from the marathon is going to be spendy - not sure if I'll post them anyway since, as usual, the pros took worse pictures than Kristin (or would have, since Kris wasn't in Duluth). So I'll post the marathon story later this afternoon. BUT it's Friday and I haven't done a Friday Five in a while, and this one seemed too good to pass up.

Back in the day, before I went to seminary, I worked in the Children's Room at
the Public Library, and every year we geared up for Summer Reading. Children
would come in and record the books read over the summer, and the season included
numerous special and celebratory events. As a lifelong book lover and
enthusiastic summer reader, I find I still accumulate a pile of books for the

This week, then, a Summer Reading Friday Five.

1) Do you think of summer as a particularly good season for reading? Why or why not?
Well, for me EVERY season is a good season for reading. But then, I was the kid whose first grade teacher said, "I've never told parents this before, but your son reads too much." Like Groucho Marx is rumored to have said, "Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."

2) Have you ever fallen asleep reading on the beach?
On the beach? No. In my lounge chair in the backyard? Yes.

3) Can you recall a favorite childhood book read in the summertime?
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were both summertime reads. Actually, I read them both for several summers in a row from ages 13-20 or so. As far as books when I was younger, I can't remember any summer favorites (because I can't remember the seasons), but the best books I remember were Where the Red Fern Grows, Charlotte's Web and The Grey King (that last one is the book that flipped the fantasy/science fiction switch in my head). Oh, and I do remember my friend Bill giving me the Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov one summer - great stuff!

Ooooh, wait - I just remembered a good one! The summer I turned 10, our babysitter gave us a box of books to look through before she sent it to a garage sale. I'm sure she didn't check it very carefully, as a copy of Cujo was in there and she was not the type to let 4th graders read Stephen King. But I grabbed it, read it and never looked back. Did a book report on It in 8th grade that really raised some eyebrows from my english teacher that year. So, there's your summer reading story: how my babysitter corrupted me forever. :-)

4) Do you have a favorite genre for light or relaxing reading?
Probably fantasy/sci-fi, though I wouldn't call it light reading. Authors I've enjoyed on vacation in Minnesota recently are John Grisham and John Sandford. When I need a "sure thing" instead of a new read, I generally turn to Stephen King.

5) What is the next book on your reading list?
You can see what I'm reading now in the sidebar list. Next for me is Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf (just watched the movie last night), Grendel by John Gardner (because it sounds cool), and on the serious side, Confessing Jesus Christ: Preaching in a Post-modern World by my homiletics professor from Luther Seminary, David Lose.

BONUS: see my 2008 book list 'so far' below!

My 2008 Books List - January to June edition

1. 1776 by David McCullough
2. Desperation by Stephen King
3. The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
4. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
5. Duma Key by Stephen King
6. The Sandman Vol. 1, Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III
7. The Centered Life by Jack Fortin
8. No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
9. Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
10. 1916: The War for Independence by Morgan Llywelyn
11. 1921: The Great Novel of the Irish Civil War by Morgan Llywelyn
12: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
13: 1949: A Novel of the Irish Free State by Morgan Llywelyn
14. 1972: A Novel of Ireland's Unfinished Revolution by Morgan Llywelyn
15. 1999: A Novel of Ireland and the Search for Peace by Morgan Llywelyn
16. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
17. World Without End by Ken Follett
18. Star Wars: Legacy of the Force: Betrayal by Aaron Allston (seriously, could we have a few more colons in that title?)
19. Mister B. Gone by Clive Barker
20. Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (in German, Discipleship is Nachfolge, the source of my blog title)
21. Star Wars: Legacy of the Force: Bloodlines by Karen Traviss
22. Dreamcatcher by Stephen King
23. Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card
24. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King
25. Cell by Stephen King

22 June 2008

Quick and Dirty Grandma's Marathon Post OR "I Ran, I Stopped, I Vomited."

Miles: 26.2
Official Race Time: 4:44:05
Chip Time: 4:39:34
Average Pace: 10:41/mile
Overall Place: 4198
Gender Place: 2930
30-39 Males Division Place: 1160
Sunburned Shoulder Differential: Left Shoulder +50%
Packages of Gu & Clif Shot Bloks Consumed: 2
Toenails Currently Turning Black: 3 (Left #2, Right Big Toe and #2)
Walk Breaks: 4
High-Fives from Al Franken: 2 (because I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me enough that I shold run for U.S. Senate...)
Post-Race Vomiting Episodes: 1
Feeling of Elation for Having Faced Down 26.2 Again: Beyond Calculation.

Pics and the story to follow in a couple of days.

19 June 2008

Giggly Running Girl

Hi - this is Ainsley. So, I woke up all happy & such yesterday, and after breakfast me & Daddy played upstairs while Mommy took a shower and got dressed. We played the "Chase me!" game - it was fun!

17 June 2008

Last Long Run and iPod shuffle

Okay, well, 5 miles isn't exactly a long run when you're planning to run 26.2 in four days, but this was the last run of significance before the big day on Saturday. It's been GO - HO - HO - HORGEOUS in Ames over the last few days, and today was no exception. 80 and sunny with just a touch of breeze to keep the sweat off while I ran - you really can't ask for much better in a late afternoon run.

[EDIT FROM THIS MORNING] I nearly forgot what caused me to think about blogging this run. As I was about a mile into it, I think I might have met an NCAA All-American on his own afternoon run. Hillary Bor placed fourth in the Men's Steeplechase last Friday, and that's him pictured above, flying over the steeplechase hurdle. As I was running, I met a thin African-American runner who was gliding far too effortlessly up 13th Street to be anything but a collegiate runner. It was beautiful to watch him stream towards me, and I turned around & watched for just a second or two after we met. Long, graceful strides and not a grimace of pain on his face. To run like that would be a dream indeed. [end of the addition]

While I am a supporter of iPod bans on race courses, I do enjoy listening to my music while I train. Frankly, I'm of the opinion that runners who need iPods to survive a race should question why they're running in the first place. You might disagree - fine. But it's my blog. :-) Anyway, here's the random run shuffle for today:

1. "Beautiful Day" by U2 - okay, that wasn't random - I usually kick off a run with it, and I listen to it last thing before checking in my bag at the start. Is there a better song for lifting your spirits?
2. "Long Journey Home" by the Chieftains with Jackson Browne
3. "Travelin' Band" by Creedence Clearwater Revival - "737 comin' out of the sky, oh won't you take me down to Memphis on a midnight ride": that was nice
4. "Our Love Is Here To Stay" by Harry Connick, Jr.
5. "Heart of Gold" by Neil Young
6. "A Blessing And A Curse" by Harry Connick, Jr.
7. "The Planets, Op. 32: Mercury, the Winged Messenger" by Gustav Holst, performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra - interesting that I should get Mercury, fleet of foot, while I'm running. Does Apple know something I don't?
8. "Under the Weather" by KT Tunstall
9. "Once" by Pearl Jam - My buddy Aaron will like that I've got this album on the iPod.
10. "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say / Blarney Pilgrim" by Michael Card
11. "I'll Fly Away" by Alison Krauss and Gilian Welch
12. "Astronaut Dreams" by Peter Mayer
13. "Dare You To Move" by Switchfoot - another "is my iPod tuning into me?" song...
14. "Reconsider Baby" by Eric Clapton - from one of my favorite albums, "From the Cradle"
15. "I Can't Get Started" by Dizzy Gillespie
16. "Gloria: Allegro Vivace" by John Rutter - this to end my run? Are you kidding? AWESOME!

The Reading Report

For the past month, I've been trying to get into Quicksilver, a book by Neal Stephenson, which comes highly recommended from others. A few years ago, a friend gave me paperback copies of Snow Crash and The Diamond Age, cyberpunk novels I really enjoyed, so I figured that Stephenson's writing style combined with Baroque age historical fiction would be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it's not so much fun at the moment.

I'm not sure why I'm not getting into the book at the moment. I can tell from reading it that I should enjoy this novel. The writing is crisp, the story compelling and the characters well-drawn. But I'm afraid that I'm 'just not that into' this book. After several nights of debating whether I wanted this or something else, I decided to give in and let the thing go. It happens sometimes.

One thing I do wonder is whether the attention-grabbing nature of parenting a toddler is preventing me investing the mental space necessary to enjoy a demanding novel like Quicksilver. I had a similar experience with Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell not so long ago, but this was before children and I was able to slog through a book that, in the end, was thoroughly enjoyable. So here's hoping that in a few years, I'll be able to come back and really enjoy a book that, for all my struggles, seems really enjoyable.

Until then, my Stephen King kick continues. Every now and again I feel the urge to break out some old favorites from the bookshelf and enjoy them all over again. Last week it was Dreamcatcher. Currently it's Cell. The difference between SK and other authors who've not captured my attention lately is mainly plot and characterization: King's got the ability to create compelling, sympathetic characters (which I've always claimed is his primary strength as a writer) AND keep the plot rolling along. I just don't have to work to enjoy Stephen King, and at the moment, that's a good thing.

I've finally settled into a good rhythm for morning devotional reading, too. The alarm goes off at 5:00, and by 5:10 I've settled into my chair with a cup of coffee and two books: Bread for the Day, an Augsburg Fortress book of prayers and readings from our new daily lectionary, and something a bit more theologically demanding. Currently it's Ethics by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. After this I'm going to find someone other than Bonhoeffer for a while: thankfully, I've got shelves of unread books in my office that will do.

The most enjoyable 'reading' I'm doing at the moment, however, is in the car. Orson Scott Card is, in my opinion, one of the best American writers of the last 30 years, in any genre. The Ender Quartet is an ethical journey that just happens to be set in the genre of science fiction. I'm currently listening to Children of the Mind from our local library, and even though this is at least my third time through the series, it's as enjoyable now as it was the first time. If you've never tried science fiction, you should give Ender's Game a shot - I'm willing to bet you'll at least last through the first, and it's probable that you'll be hooked for the series.

So, that's the reading update for this month. At the end of the month I'll post my 'list' for the year. Currently I've completed 22 books through various means (CD, iPod, and "good ol' reading"), the question is, will I get to 50 or not this year? Bleak House might have put that in jeopardy, taking nearly the first 90 days of the year, but only time will tell. As you were.

15 June 2008

*SIGH* Maybe Next Year, Phil

Thursday morning was a great moment for me. My day off, and Phil Mickelson v. Tiger Woods in the first two rounds of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, one of Phil's favorite courses and one on which he played often as a kid. What would be more poetic than the golfer who plays (and acts) more like a regular hacker winning his first U.S. Open on a course with $42 greens fees?

Alas, it was not to be. In fact, it was downright disheartening, from the failed no-driver experiment to the hole that summed up the weekend, the 13th on Saturday, where Lefty pushed a tee shot, hacked out, laid up, and sent four wedges toward the hole before three-putting for a 9 that guaranteed he was out of the running.

Actually, this has been a fun tournament to watch, and it's not over yet. Tiger Woods has been heroic, coming back from knee surgery and gutting out an incredibly gritty performance to force a playoff tomorrow morning. Rocco Mediate, 45 and the 158th ranked player in the world, is having a lot of fun chasing his first major championship, even if it means he'll have to beat Tiger in an 18 hole playoff tomorrow. Others have played well (bravo, Lee Westwood!) and not-so-well (what the hell happened to Vijay Singh and Ernie Els? When was the last major where either of them mattered?). But those of us who are dedicated Phil Phanatics will have to wait for that elusive U.S. Open title.

But there's hope, you know. The British Open is coming up next month, and even though it's generally the tournament least well-suited to Phil's game, you never know when Brilliant Phil is going to make an appearance. And next year's U.S. Open? Bethphage Black, where Phil almost got the major monkey off his back in 2002, riding a wave of supporters the whole weekend before finishing second to Tiger in the end.

Phil is looking good these days, too - the hefty lefty is decidedly less hefty. His butt seems to have fallen right off, actually. Perhaps the errant tee shots are a result of quicker rotation due to less bulk to rotate? Whatever it is, the new look is great, Phil - keep it up.

Some might say that backing Phil is a losing proposition. Rick Reilly described watching Phil play as "watching a drunk chase a balloon on a cliff's edge." But here's the thing: those of us who love the guy love him for more than the game - we love him for the way he remembers, "Hey, I get to play golf for a living." He signs autographs. He gives time to charities. He loves his family. Want a picture of sweetness? Go to youtube and find coverage from the 2004 Masters, and wait for the final shot, with Phil holding one of his curly-haired daughters and telling her, "Daddy won!" THAT is what we love, and that is why it's tough to see things go south in a hurry like they sometimes do for our man Phil.

John Rutter: For the Beauty of the Earth

I spent yesterday afternoon out in the yard again, and will likely get some time in the park today with my girls. This time of year makes me ponder God's beneficent creation and my place in it. So, in thanks to our heavenly Father, a dedication to all fathers as we Americans celebrate Father's Day.

13 June 2008

Uh-Oh - Second Baby Syndrome? OR Haven't We Done All This Before?

So, last Wednesday was the final ultrasound for Baby #2. I'm just now posting the pictures. Is this a sign of things to come? Hope not - and I imagine when she's a real, kicking baby as opposed to some alien looking thing on a computer monitor, things will be different.

Anyway, here she is! Everything is as it should be and where it should be, and it was quite a show. She sucked on her fingers and tried to wave at Mommy, Daddy & Grandma M while we were watching - it was precious. Still on target for the 25th of July, if not a bit ahead of that, which isn't surprising, as Kristin looks VERY pregnant these days and is even more ready not to be. Have I mentioned the awesomeness of my wife before?

In a really funny concurring development, Ainsley has taken to carrying her baby doll EVERYWHERE over the last two days. Her Uncle Kevin bought her a nice doll for Christmas, but for the most part she ignored it until just a few weeks ago. Then one day, she insisted we diaper the baby when Ainsley's own diaper was being changed. Now she takes it with her everywhere - outside, to the table to eat, all over the basement when she's playing, everywhere. We just hope she doesn't drop her little sister like she sometimes drops the baby!

Another somewhat-related note: we watched the movie Waitress last night after Ainsley was down for bed. It's a great little movie, with lots of heart. Some uncomfortable abuse issues and a remarkably talented group of actors make it a bit more than your everyday "woman with a bun in the oven having existential issues" movie. And the pies? Wow, do they look delicious. Good stuff.

Proud Papa

Friday Five at the Beach

In honor of summer, please share your own beachy memories, plans, and
dreams with a "Beach Trip" Friday Five.

1. Ocean rocks, lake limps? Vice versa? Or "it's all beautiful in its own way"?

I’ll admit that I love both, but living in Minnesota for eight years, four and a half of which were on the lake, created a love for lakes that is hard to shake. (It’s hard to believe it was that long, even though it seems like we’ve been here in Ames quite a while) Last weekend I drove into Storm Lake, Iowa for the Western Iowa Synod Assembly and thought, “Did I turn right accidentally and wind up in Minnesota?” It felt good to be driving in a town on a lake again.

2. Year round beach living: Heaven...or the Other Place?

It could be both, actually. For me, environment is not nearly as important as the company with whom I’m sharing it. But, all things being equal? Yeah, beach living would be really, really cool.

3. Any beach plans for this summer?

The only beach plans for us this summer are next Saturday, when I’ll be running along the shore of Lake Superior for 26.2 miles before enjoying a post-marathon afternoon with friends in Duluth’s Canal Park.

4. Best beach memory ever?

You know, for a Nebraska farmer’s kid I have a lot of beach memories – isn’t that odd? I remember walking on the beach in York, Maine with my ex-wife while we vacationed with her brother and his wife, spending the day at South Beach every New Year’s for three years while in the Nebraska Marching Band, and the Cliffs of Moher (which isn’t really a beach memory, but it is the ocean and it is SO VERY COOL to remember - see the beautiful pic above). But a really, really good one is from the honeymoon Kris and I took after we were married. We were in Grand Marais, MN, and we just walked on the beach and enjoyed an afternoon in the sun, with some poetry and a really good meal at a shoreline restaurant before heading back to our cabin for the night. Just a great afternoon.

5. Fantasy beach trip?

I’d love to go back to Titusville, FL, where I did my internship in 2001-2002, and while there, stay for a few nights along Cocoa Beach. I have some wonderful memories of some really great times at Cocoa Beach, and it would be really nice to catch up with my friends at Trinity Lutheran in Titusville. This is a trip I actually hope to make sometime in the next few years, after the kids are old enough to remember it (and the almost-required addition of a few days at DisneyWorld, of course).

Bonus: Share a piece of music/poetry/film/book that expresses something about what the beach means to you.

Well, to be honest the beach doesn’t mean nearly as much to me as the sea (again, how does a farmer’s kid know these things?), but the novels Bag of Bones and Duma Key, both by Stephen King, are beach novels, and I enjoy them both tremendously. Ooooh, wait, now that I think of it, Waking Ned Devine is a great beach movie – especially the scene of the old men skinny dipping and then racing off to beat the lottery man to Ned’s house. Funny stuff, that.

09 June 2008

Time and Priorities

As I was trying to get the Durufle video from YouTube working yesterday, I noticed that the countdown widget for Grandma's Marathon to your right was down to less than 14 days. My first response was, "Oh, shit." Second response: "Well, it's not like you haven't run the full 26.2 before, right?" Third response: "Where did all the time go?"

I entered Grandma's just after we moved to Ames. In the time since then, I've broken and repaired our treadmill twice. After the second breakdown we joined a gym and will be selling said treadmill soon (we bought it back in the days when the nearest gym was 30 miles away and winter lasted six months). So even though we've had some of the nastiest weather I've ever experienced this winter and spring, it's not as if I haven't had the opportunity to do the training required for running a marathon. Well, running a marathon well, that is.

There are a number of reasons I haven't trained as well as I would have preferred. Numero Uno on that list is the move. Putting all your stuff where you think it oughta go is difficult, frustrating and time-consuming; some of our items have moved three or four times since the three of us came to Ames. Reason the second is the child(ren). I love running, but I love being a good daddy even more, so my priorities have changed. Frankly, it's been frustrating; being with my daughter is wonderful, and the right thing for me to do, but it's hard to make that sacrifice. Helping Kristin with her pregnancy as I'm able also takes up a lot of time, and believe me when I say that in two months I'll be lucky to get out for a run at all for a while. Add in a bit of sympathy weight (it's hard NOT to eat when your life partner is noshing every chance she gets) and the lousy weather and it's not surprising that I'm going into this marathon just hoping to beat my 4:35:00 from the last time out.

This morning I tried something new. Kristin is teaching a morning water aerobics class that falls squarely, for me, on the most inconvenient morning hour possible. I like to get up at 6:00, do some devotional reading and sip a cup of coffee or two, then head out for my run at 7:00, but for this summer, that 7:00 hour is taken up with childcare while Kris goes out to make some money (which I don't oppose - we like money here). So, today was day one of the "How Freaking Early Do You Want To Run?" experiment - a 5:00 a.m. wake-up call followed by a 5:30 am run. All told, it went well, but if you'd have told me fifteen years ago that I'd be doing this I'd have either laughed in your face or punched you for a liar. Ah, how life changes.

Time and priorities - it all comes down to that, doesn't it? Do I want to stay healthy, or do I want to polish off the bag of barbecue potato chips? (Stay healthy - rats). Do I want to play with Ainsley, or do I want to dump her on Kristin so I can get my run in? Blog or Facebook? Read a book or watch Mike Roe fall into something icky on Dirty Jobs? We often think about morality as if everything were a choice between good and evil, but I'm finding more often that the choices are really between two different kinds of good (e.g. BBQ potato chips taste good vs. running builds good health and makes me feel good about myself). A few years ago my new year's resolution was to spend more time making things instead of consuming them, but it's a hard road to walk when it's so much easier (and quicker) to buy what you need/want. Sometimes good priorities come with a price that can be difficult to pay.

I ran out of time for really doing this marathon well, but for the most part that time was better spent, in ways more suited to my genuine priorities, and the cost is not so much I can't bear it. Instead of pushing myself and possibly earning an injury, I'll enjoy a long run down the Lake Superior shoreline with two good friends, which is a priority I'm happy to indulge. If you're in Duluth a week from Saturday, look for me at the finish line in Canal Park at about noon or so, and if I'm smiling, that'll be the proof that it was all time well spent.

08 June 2008

Maurice Durufle, Ubi caritas et amor

Not the version I'd hoped to post - the one I really liked kept disappearing. But this is a good recording nonetheless...

07 June 2008

Soul-touching Music, OR "Cue the Weepy Finale!"

Hi there. Been busy. Saw my daughter for all of about an hour in the last two days. Ergo, no blogging. Better now.

Every now and again I see a movie or hear a piece of music that makes me, well, get a little weepy behind the eyes. Sometimes it's my life circumstances, and sometimes it's just something weepy.

August Rush is definitely the latter.

It's a great movie. Lots of heart, lots of great music, and lots of great actors (Terence Howard is AWESOME, and he's only in a few scenes). Freddy Highmore delivers another solid performance as "the child who mourns and the world mourns with him." It was a curious sensation: the cynic in me knew I was being, well, manipulated, but the maudlin in me just didn't care. Yes, I cried just a little bit at the end, especially when I realized how it would end. Because that's what sappy guys like me do.

"What a [fireplace]ing nancy-boy," says my inner nose tackle, and I'm not so sure he's wrong, either. But they're both me - and I won't apologize for either.

My former colleague Erik and I both loved the musical aspect of Tolkien's creation myth from the Silmarilion (no, it's not in the movies - it's a separate book that mythopoeics like me & Erik love and most folks throw aside in disgust.). For me, there is something of God in all good music, and I think that was lurking under the surface in August Rush: there's a lot of talk about faith, hope and love, all of which I seem to remember someone mentioning in the Bible once or twice. A pox on the producers of the dvd we got from Netflix - it didn't have any "making of" special features, so the faith aspect never got addressed. But I'm sure it was there on purpose.

Anyway, good music = presence of God for me sometimes, and the video below is no exception. I'm not in the choir singing, but I wish I had been. All the same, Durufle's Ubi Caritas is one of those pieces of music that touches my soul, and if you've not heard it before, here are the 'main' lyrics:

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.

Exultemus, et in ipso iucundemur.

Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.

Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.

Where love and charity abide, God is there.

Christ's love has gathered us into one.

Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.

Let us fear, and let us love the living God.

And may we love each other with a sincere heart.

Amen, and amen. Peace, friends.

04 June 2008

Tuesday Lectionary Thoughts: Proper 5A

I've started a lectionary Bible study at the Center (we meet Tuesday nights at 7:00 if you're in Ames): each week I'll share what I've put together here.

University Lutheran Center Lectionary Bible Study - Proper 5A

3 June 2008

Though Jesus was a devout Jew who practiced his faith, he was criticized for eating with tax collectors and sinners—the religiously nonobservant. Jesus criticizes the self-righteous and reminds us that mercy is to be at the heart of our religious practices. God continues to be made known in those on the margins of society, like Matthew the tax collector and the hemorrhaging woman. As we gather each Lord's day we receive the healing that makes us well and sends us forth to be signs of God's mercy for the world.

Opening Prayer: O God, the strength of those who hope in you: Be present and hear our prayers; and, because in the weakness of our mortal nature we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, so that in keeping your commandments we may please you in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hosea 5.15-6.6

Historic background: The prophet Hosea lived in Israel in the 8th Century, just before Israel, the “northern kingdom” fell to the Assyrians in 721 B.C. The northern kingdom separated from Judah after the reign of David’s son Solomon, and that separation was the basis for Jewish prejudices against the Samaritans (the remnant of the northern kingdom, who worshipped at Mt. Gezirim because they couldn’t worship in Jerusalem at the Temple).

Chapters 4-11 of Hosea “contain the bulk of Hosea’s oracles against Israelite politics and cult.”[1] Worship of YHWH, the God of Israel, was suffering dilution from worship of other gods, such as the Canaanite gods El, Baal and Asherah. For Hosea, the chasing of other gods by Israel was symbolized by Hosea taking a prostitute, Gomer, as his wife. Gomer was continually unfaithful to Hosea, yet Hosea continually drew her back to her family. In the same way, God described Israel and Ephraim’s adultery with other gods who had not rescued from the hands of Egypt.

There are two voices in this reading: the first is the voice of God, speaking in 5.15 and again in 6.4ff. The second is the voice of the people, speaking in 6.1-3. Though these verses come to us together on Sunday morning, the separate voices should not fail to be noted.

Questions for discussion

  1. The people seem sure that God will heal their wounds and restore them to health in 6.1-3. What was their illness? Do you think God was likely to do as they wished? Why or why not?
  2. “Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early.” What is God saying about the love of Israel in these words?
  3. Hosea 6.5-6 describe God’s harsh work through the prophets. Has anyone ever spoken devastating truth to you? Could you describe the experience for the group?
  4. What would genuine repentance and redemption look like, according to this reading from Hosea?
  5. [Ask your own questions here.]

Psalm 50.7-15

9I will not accept a calf | from your stalls,

nor goats | from your pens;

I included the Psalm specifically because of this verse. A variant translation of the first half could read, "I will accept no bull from your house." 'Nuff said. :-)

Romans 4.13-25

N.T. Wright suggests that Paul’s letter to the church in Rome is “a symphonic composition: themes are stated and developed (often in counterpoint with each other), recapitulated in different keys, anticipated in previous movements and echoed in subsequent ones.”[2] But the essential theme of Romans is God’s righteousness and the gift of faith as its conduit and guarantor to us.

In chapter 4, Paul is arguing that faith, not circumcision, works or especially God’s Law, reckons God’s righteousness unto humanity. Paul uses Abraham as the example for this argument, especially the words of Genesis 15.6: “And Abraham believed the Lord, and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.”

Questions to Ponder:

  1. There is a lot of stuff here. Take a minute and try to trim the “fat” from the sentences Paul used to construct his argument. Can you restate Paul’s words in simpler form?
  2. Do you think Paul was being completely genuine in his description of Abraham? Is it possible that a biblical author could be tongue-in-cheek? Why or why not?
  3. Abraham’s name literally means, “Father of nations.” How many children did Abraham have when he died? What might this suggest about the nature of God’s promise and Abraham’s faith? About God’s promise and your faith?
  4. [Ask your own questions here.]

Matthew 9.9-13, 18-26

This pericope pulls in four stories, in which the fourth interrupts the third, so holding on to everything that’s happening can be difficult. But the focus of these verses is found in 9.12-13: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

“Matthew 9.1-17 is a single unit. Matthew’s call to discipleship and the resulting dialogue and dispute at the following dinner party are all integrated into one story, forming the second half of the literary bracket begun at 8.18. The broader context makes the general meaning clear: Jesus’ authoritative word and deed generate conflict and the beginning of a new community.”[3]

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What’s the issue with tax collectors? Why would Jesus calling a tax collector and dining with them be such a big deal for the Pharisees?
  2. What’s the deal with Pharisees? What do you know about them?
  3. Jesus said he came to call sinners, not the righteous. Is the synagogue leader a sinner? The hemorrhaging woman? The dead daughter?
  4. Jesus came for the sick and the sinners: if we assume he also came for the Pharisees, what might be their illness or their sin?
  5. Who are the “unclean” in your life?

[1] Yee, Gale A. from The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol VII. © 1996 by Abingdon Press. p. 198.

[2] Wright, N.T., from The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. X. © 1996 by Abingdon Press. p. 396.

[3] M. Eugene Boring, from The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII. © 1996 by Abingdon Press. p. 234