30 July 2008

29 July 2008

The Family 365: Old Man Alanna

"I told you kids to get off the lawn!"

27 July 2008

The New 365 Project: the Family

I have no idea if this will work or not, but since we're a new family, it seems sensible for me to take on a new 365 project: our family. So, here's some more pictures of Alanna's birth to get us started.

Daddy's first diaper change:

Alanna & Kris in our new minivan; proof, according to some friends, that we've joined the "Breeder" class:

Ainsley discovers that Grandma M has a REAL LIVE BABY - HI!:

A nice quiet moment for Dad & Alanna:

Finally, picture #1 in the 365 project, my girls:

25 July 2008

Friday Five: You Can't Take It ALL With You

From Singing Owl over at RevGals:
We will be at a chaplain's convention when you all are answering the
Friday Five Questions. I'll look forward to reading your answers next week when
I get home. At the moment we are trying to get the car loaded so we can hit the
road, so this will be a simple F.F. This running around madly in order to leave
has me wondering: what are the five things you simply must have when you are
away from home? And why? Any history or goofy things, or stories?

We're home from the hospital with our newborn - YAY! Of course, that means we're not likely to go very far for the next few days. In two weeks, however, we're going back to my hometown, Wakefield, Nebraska, for the 125th Anniversary Celebration at my home church, Salem Lutheran. So, maybe some of these items will make the list at that point.

1. iPod. Frankly, I don't leave the house without it anymore. LOVE that little gadget. Great music, audiobooks without the requisite 84 CDs, several hours of battery life without carting along a big recharging cradle or filling landfills with dead batteries - what's not to love?

2. Running shoes & clothes. I can't always guarantee I'll use them, but I always pack at least enough shorts & shirts for a run every other day. Unfortunately, I don't sleep well in strange beds, so sometimes my runs go lacking in favor of more sleep. But there is truly no better way to get a feel for a new place than to go on a run and investigate it.

3. A good book. Like the iPod, I rarely leave the house without reading material.

4. Cell phone. Okay, so this is rapidly becoming a "stuff I SHOULD take with me" list. Yes, in an ideal world I'd never leave the cell behind, especially now that I've gotten my PDA phone. But I don't live in an ideal world, do I?

5. Coffee. Never, ever leave home without good coffee. 'Nuff said.

22 July 2008

Ainsley Meets Alanna

Just in case you needed a cute baby video:

More Alanna Pics

Big sister got her first good look at Alanna today, and was very excited. Unfortunately, "excited" translates to "Why does she cry when I poke her nose? My doll doesn't cry when I poke her nose!" But a hug and a kiss goes a long way towards making things better:

21 July 2008

Now We Are Four

So much for baby widgets - we had a baby girl this morning!

Alanna Sophia Faye was born at 9:23 AM via c-section. Kristin started having light contractions around 11:00 last night. When contractions hadn't stopped this morning, we went to the hospital and discovered that yes, Kristin was in labor, so the doctors elected to do the procedure this morning rather than put things off any longer.

Alanna (pronounced ah - LAH - na, Gaelic for "dear one, darling child, beautiful child") weighs 7lbs 8oz and was 21 inches long. She has brown hair and brown eyes, cause for much rejoicing from Mommy as it is proof that we aren't just cloning Johnsons around here. She beat big sister Ainsley's score of 9 on the newborn evaluation scale with a 10, which I'm sure is only the first of many sibling competitions to come. She is a very alert little girl, but also likes to nap and appears to be very content when swaddled tightly. Feeding has gone just fine so far. Mommy is uncomfortable, as you might imagine, but doing well and very happy to be done with this pregnancy. Ainsley was very excited to hold Alanna - she even said "Hi" when they first sat together in the chair at the hospital. But Alanna doesn't do much, so Ainsley wasn't too impressed after the first few minutes. Daddy is vacillating between being extremely happy and completely freaked out - holy cow, we have another newborn. :-) Now we are four. Life is good.

18 July 2008

The Writer's Almanac Gets Hot Under The Collar

GREAT poem in The Writer's Almanac this morning - just had to share:

The Young Watch Us
Donald Hall

The young girls look up
as we walk past the line at the movie,
and go back to examining their fingernails.

Their boyfriends are combing their hair,
and chew gum
as if they meant to insult us.

Today we made love all day.
I look at you. You are smiling at the sidewalk,
dear wrinkled face.

Friday Five: Blogging on Blogging

A somewhat navel-gazing Friday Five, but fun nonetheless:

If you are a regular reader of Songbird's
, you know that "The Princess" has requested a new name. Her
older brother changed his "secret identity" a while back and now this lovely
young lady is searching for a new name on her mother's blog. This got me to
thinking. How do we come up with all of these names? There must be at least a
few good stories out there.1. So how did you come up with your blogging
name? And/or the name of your blog?
2. Are there any code names or
secret identities in your blog? Any stories there?
3. What are some
blog titles that you just love? For their cleverness, drama, or sheer, crazy
4. What three blogs are you devoted to? Other than the
RevGalBlogPals of course!
5. Who introduced you to the world of
blogging and why?
Bonus question: Have you ever met any of your blogging
friends? Where are some of the places you've met these fun folks?As always, we
want to read what you have to say. I will check in at least once in the morning
before getting in my car to drive home from a business trip. But I promise to
read everyone's post when I get to my own little house.

1. My blogger name is no big secret: Rev Scott is pretty self-explanatory. My blog name comes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Discipleship, which is Nachfolge in German. It means “Following After,” and I chose it both because it’s German (which I love, though I actually speak very little) and because it’s a fair description of how I see life – ergo my blog subtitle, “Following Jesus in the Real World.” Being a Christian is not a matter of hiding away from anything, or trying to change the world to fit my Christianity; it’s a matter of being faithful in all places and with all people, trying to live as Jesus lived, meeting people where they are but caring enough to help them become something new. Not that I’m Jesus or anything, or that I’m always successful, but it is the lens through which I try to see my life and the world in which I live.

2. My blog has never been particularly anonymous, certainly not where I’m concerned. For a while I tried to keep the names of my family out of it as well, but frankly, I’m not smart enough to do the anonymous thing well. Generally, if it’s not appropriate to share publicly, I don’t post about it anymore. I’ve made some mistakes along the way, mostly out of hurt or anger, like most of us, and I’ve learned to blog with the same rules as email: never, EVER blog angry (unless it’s Pat Robertson who’s making me angry. YOU SUCK, PAT!)

3. I’ve always loved Gordon Atkinson’s Real Live Preacher. “Freshly Ground & Freshly Brewed” by Hot Cup Lutheran and “New! Now In Lutheran Flavor!” make me smile, as does Tripp Hudgins’ “Conjectural Navel Gazing: Jesus in Lint Form.” My friend Matt’s “Confessions of a Lutheran Husker” gets him about as close as you could get him, and I suppose that’s the goal all of us are after, huh? There are others – Milton’s “Don’t Eat Alone” is a good one. I know I’m leaving folks out but it’s early and I want to try to get this done before Ainsley wakes up.

4. The cool thing about using Mozilla Firefox is that you can open up an entire category of websites under the Bookmarks Toolbar, so I’ve got a TON of blogs filed that I just open up all at once, and I try to hit them every day. A Church For Starving Artists and Don’t Eat Alone always provide something great to read. Heather Armstrong over at Dooce is a foul-mouthed, artistic, loving parent and writer, and really, really funny. Hot Cup and I have much in common even though we’ve never met, so I always check in on her (but I’m not so good at leaving comments). But there are about 40 or so that I regularly check, so this is just a sampling.

5. My camp buddy Jeremy introduced me to blogging, which is funny because he’s not been posting a lot since he moved to Berkely to attend PLTS – he used to be a once-a-day poster at the least. Why? I dunno – because it was cool?

Bonus: I met Cheesehead, RevKim & RevDave at the Festival of Homiletics in Minnesota this year. Other than those three, I’ve yet to meet many, though I’m always up for coffee and conversation – if you’re in Ames, stop on by!

17 July 2008

learning to talk - sort of

We're a work in progress...

16 July 2008

Wednesday Reflection: On Heaven and Work

“So, then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for hat we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Romans 8.12-25

What’s your vision of heaven? What does it look like to imagine heaven?

I’ve been intrigued this week by Paul’s words from Romans 8 and a quote from Joel Stein, which was printed on the side of a Starbucks cup and received some publicity a while back:
“Heaven is totally overrated. It seems boring. Clouds, listening to people play the harp. It should be somewhere you can’t wait to go, like a luxury hotel. Maybe blue skies and soft music were enough to keep people in line in the 17th century, but heaven has to step it up a bit. They’re basically getting by because they only have to be better than hell.”

I asked you about your vision of heaven because I’m not so sure my old vision of heaven is going to suffice anymore. Even before I heard Mr. Stein’s words on a sermon podcast this week, I was struck by the thought that eternal relaxation and leisure might not be the plan God has in mind.

We worship a God who chose to begin creation out of a desire to create. Forming existence as we know it was not a masters’ degree project for God: all that exists, exists because God has willed it so. Our God is not just an awesome God: our God is a creating, energetic, dynamic God – and we are made in God’s image. We are made to work, to envision, to create, and so I wonder: in the world to come, when all things worship their Creator as they were made to do, it seems logical that the children of a creative, energetic, dynamic God would be at work, in a creative, energetic, dynamic heaven. What we might be making is beyond my imagination, but as the adopted children of God the Creator, it seems certain that we will be reborn into eternal life with a creative purpose, to do more than lounge around and play our harps on fluffy clouds.

Creation and work and all of that are on my mind with this passage because Paul mentions labor pains, too, how the creation is groaning with the work of bringing forth that which God has envisioned. Of course, for me and my 38-weeks-pregnant wife, the term “labor pains” brings up a lot of thoughts, most of which have to do with waiting these days. It seems like all of our friends are either new parents or expecting kids in the next six months, so we’re all in this constant state of waiting for what will be coming forth. In our case, we know there’s a baby almost ready to come into the world, but we have no idea what she will look like (or even if she is definitively she, though the ultrasound folks seem pretty certain). And there is a certain amount of suffering here, too: not only Kristin’s suffering in her body, but also the knowledge that we are bringing forth something that will change our lives forever. There is something of God in the experiences that change our lives, the things for which we suffer, whether it’s bringing a child into the world, earning a degree from a university, running a marathon, envisioning a mission for campus ministry: all of these creative, energetic, dynamic endeavors are in some sense holy because in them we experience something akin to what God experiences suffering the work of creation. I wonder: if you asked God what it feels like to create the world, would God tell you that it is an experience of suffering? Perhaps so, for in our own work we suffer as we bring something new into being – and we are, after all, created in the image of God.

One fear which I find myself addressing quite often in my life is a fear that I’m not creative enough, that I am too much the consumer and not enough the creator. With the way this week’s readings and my thinking on them have moved and worked, I wonder if this is the voice of God reminding me that we are made for more than just satisfying our own desires – that we are creatures made to create, to work for the good of the world, even when such work might bring suffering into our lives. This, I think, is the calling of every Christian: to discover the unique gifts for work which God has given us, and to use them for the sake of the world. As J.B. Phillips translation of the New Testament says, “The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the [children] of God coming into their own.” The mercy of Christ sets us free to be creative, to work in God’s world for the benefit of others, and in so doing, we stand on tiptoe, waiting for the glory of God that is coming into the world. Amen.

15 July 2008

Majoring in Minor Frustration

These are the days that try my soul.

Okay, that's perhaps a bit melodramatic. But the last 48 hours or so have been, shall we say, less than stellar for the Johnson family. Some good things happened before then, but since yesterday morning-ish it's been a study in frustration and those nippy little problems that really don't matter except when all 94 of them are nipping at you without end.

We bought a minivan over the weekend. Huzzah - we've joined the Breeder class! (Thanks to LeeAnn for that one). We were pre-approved for our loan, just needed to do the necessary paperwork with Kristin's credit union, get the check to the dealer and in a day or two, "Voila!" Did I mention that Kristin's credit union is in Oregon? And that they mailed the check yesterday? Thus we are a one-car household for the remainder of the week. grrrr

Our internet access at the Center was unavailable over the weekend due to our ISP changing something in the DNS and not telling us about it, which meant checking email via webmail from home and not having any of my contact information available when I needed it. GrrrrRRR

Ainsley had a rare cranky day yesterday. She fell - constantly. Like seven or eight times in the hours I was home. Once she was trying to get Kristin's attention, turned around, lost her balance and fell onto the end table, nearly knocking out one of her teeth. Much crying ensued. But she was NEEDY like you wouldn't believe - clingy and crabby and just an all-around pain in the tuchus. This is all the more noticeable because she's normally an unusually agreeable child. At one point Kristin just looked at Ainsley and said, "You're just having a Monday, aren't you, sweetie?" To which Ainsley continued pouting and crying and whining until Daddy picked her up AGAIN. GRRRRRRRR

Today my boss called to tell me that when we submitted our report by July 1st as required, I neglected to fill out my portion. Oops. So, instead of working on this blog post, or Sunday's sermon, or even tomorrow night's Wednesday Reflection, I've been navel-gazing about our accomplishments from last year and goals for this year. Necessary work, to be sure, but stuff I should have been doing in May, not now. GRRRRRRRRRRR!

The phone has been ringing - the church at which I preached last Sunday forgot that the mileage rate for the IRS has changed, and thus didn't send the check - my hostas are dying and need water - these things and everything else here are problems that individually matter very little, but taken together add up to one heckuva messed up week thus far. I've developed the practice of turning off my web browser and email when I'm working on my sermons, to encourage better focus, but I could have turned off the computer this week and it wouldn't have mattered one bit. But that's the life we live sometimes - frustrating and petty and unimportant stuff rises far above its station to derail us, and GRRRRRR is the result. Or worse. Sometimes harsh words get spoken, or, God forbid, tempers flare and fists fly and abuse becomes the end result. Thankfully that hasn't been the case for us, but it is for many, and I would do well to remember how easily it can happen to all of us.

Okay, so this has been one long bitch session of a post. I'm not asking for sympathy, mostly because in the grand scheme of things none of this matters very much. But the next time you see a friend or a complete stranger who has that GRRRRR look on their face, maybe you can remember this post and cut them just a little bit of slack. In the midst of all these minor frustrations, I've found major grace in the kind people around me who've heard my complaints and offered words of kindness. I can do the same even when I'm most frustrated. In fact, trying to be graceful when I'm not feeling particularly grace-full might be the healthiest course of action. I dunno - it's just messy and that's the way life goes sometimes.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've forgotten to leave early for gymnastics class with Ainsley. grrrrr...



12 July 2008

Sermon for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost: "Dumbest. Farmer. Ever."

Hearers of God's scattered Word, grace and peace to you from God our Creator, Christ Jesus our Redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit, living and moving within and among us this day. Amen.

My father farms 300 acres of rented land on the southwestern edge of my hometown, Wakefield, Nebraska. Wakefield is a town of about 1400 in northeastern Nebraska, approximately halfway between Sioux City, IA and Norfolk, NE on Nebraska Highway 35. The farm where I grew up is about three miles west of town, in the hills that make this one of the prettier parts of Nebraska, but the additional land my dad rents "down by town" is pretty flat, with one exception: the depression we've come to call "Johnson Lake."

If winter has been normal and the spring hasn't been too terribly wet, my dad can usually get into Johnson Lake with a field cultivator and a planter, especially if last year's corn stubble can help hold the tractors up as they roll through the wet spots. But every year, when the spring and summer rains come, Johnson Lake shows up whenever a nice sprinkle turns into something more. For a few years it seemed like my brothers and I were competing to see who could get stuck the deepest in that muckhole – one year I remember getting stuck so bad it took two tractors and our Chevy pickup to get the tractor out. I can only remember one year in the last ten that Dad's been able to harvest anything out of that depression: most years there is still standing water to freeze when November rolls around and everything else has been harvested.

It might seem wasteful to plant seeds in this ground that so rarely produces anything worthwhile. To be truthful, I've often wondered why Dad even bothers to plant it, because the odds are pretty strong against any kind of worthwhile harvest. But my dad has been farming for almost forty years on his own, even longer if you count the years he helped my grandfather before getting married and setting up his own farm. He might seem a little foolish, sowing seed in a Nebraska mudhole year after year, but compared to the sower in the parable from Matthew, my dad's a genius. The sower? He's a real piece of work. In fact, he might just be in the running for the title of Dumbest Farmer Ever.

No one farms like this – ever. Not today certainly, with GPS navigation to take away the risk of leaving what my brother and I called “Buffalo tracks” when we’d cultivate Dad’s corn, with herbicides and fertilizers to eliminate weeds and maximize yields. We’ve got agronomists to analyze our soil and advise us on crop rotation. And, best of all, there’s the Conservation Reservation Program for those acres that just don’t produce – you can let them lay fallow and still earn money. Farmers today are far more educated than farmers in the days of my grandfather, who could remember when his dad bought his first tractor. But even the farmers of Jesus’ day would not have farmed like the sower of Jesus’ parable. True, they would scatter the seed, then rake it into the ground – but that’s not so old-fashioned; I can remember doing it myself in the years we planted oats on our farm. But throw seeds into thorny soil? Not a chance. Cast seeds onto rocks? No way. Scatter seeds on the path? Would you throw seeds on I-35? Not at all – but this sower did. Dumbest. Farmer. Ever.

This, of course, leads to that good Lutheran question: “What does this mean?” Why would Jesus teach with such an improbable parable? More importantly, where am I in this? Am I the seed that is scattered on the soil? Am I the good soil, the rocky soil, the weedy soil or the path? Who is this sower? Who are these birds snatching the seed away? What does this mean?

Well, here’s the thing: this parable isn’t necessarily meant to be easily grasped. Jesus says it himself: “The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’” Do I think that this means Jesus is purposely trying to keep people from understanding? No. But I do believe that Jesus’ teachings were meant to be more than just the latest self-help fad, instantly digested and just as instantly forgotten. It’s the difference between taking up the Atkins Diet and trying to follow a healthy lifestyle as a whole. The first is just a means to a superficial end, and not a very good means at that. But becoming more healthy as a whole is not so easily grasped; it is something that has to be teased out of our lives on a daily, hourly, sometimes minute-to-minute basis. In the same way, Jesus taught in ways that changed lives, that transformed souls, with words that were meant to confront and upset and even afflict in order that they might be more than the latest fashion for the trendy set in Galilee. It is still grace, what Jesus offers, but it is not cheap: as Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “it is grace that must be pursued.” In the same way, understanding what Jesus meant in today’s parable is not a matter of getting our heads in the right place or solving Jesus’ words as if they were a story problem in 11th grade algebra class. Good thing, too, because I barely passed algebra and it was the last math class I ever took.

The truth is, I can't tell you where you are in this parable, how to read it, how to understand it exactly mostly because wherever you are, you're not likely to be found in the same place tomorrow, or next week, or next year, or in the next decade, if you live that long. Maybe you'll leave the church building today with God's word bursting forth in your soul, producing fruit and claiming your life forever. Or, so you think, until Monday's bills come due and your new-found faith is swallowed by the worry about how to pay for that new minivan and keep your cable television at the same time. Maybe you've already stopped listening to anything that I have to say, but at Bible Study on Tuesday with Pastor Myron you'll find yourself captivated by what God is saying to you, and your soul that is a hard path today becomes a freshly tilled and planted field on Tuesday. But I'm not going to stop by saying I can't tell you where you are in this parable – I'm also going to insist that I WON'T tell you where you are in this parable. It doesn't matter if you're rocky ground or a weedy, thorny mess. It doesn't matter if God's Word has been snatched away from you like birds snatching away seed, or whether you've been made so ready for planting that you reek of that wonderful, loamy scent that I remember from all the days running a disk on my dad's farm all those summers while I was growing up. None of this matters.

What does matter is that the sower is still sowing, the seed of God's Word is still being scattered lavishly upon you, and God has promised that this seed, this Word, shall not return empty. To the educated eye, to those of us who supposedly know how these things work, the lavish scattering of good seed on substandard, unprepared soil seems reckless, foolhardy, the kind of thing that only the Dumbest Farmer Ever would do. Yet these seeds, God's Words cast into our lives, take root in the unlikeliest of places. God's Word invades the concrete barriers of our cynicism and our hopelessness. God's Word overcomes the thorns and weeds of our greed and our complacency. And, in the end, we find ourselves bearing fruit the likes of which only the most ignorant of farmers would have predicted.

How do I know this? Because I’ve lived it. I’ve seen seed scattered on unfertile ground – some of it was mine. By way of example, let me tell you about a guy I’ll call Dave Brown. Dave agreed to be the Sunday School teacher for our senior high youth group when I was about fifteen years old. Now I wish I could tell you that Dave was one of those adults who just “clicked” with kids, who had that gift of being able to relate without pandering and without becoming just another kid. But that’s not who Dave was: Dave was an adult, and very much disconnected from our youth group, through no fault of his own. We were terrible to him. We didn’t listen. We didn’t enjoy our time together. We resented our parents for making us show up for Dave’s lame classes. Finally I told my mother (with all the pomposity and narcissism a teenager can muster) how ridiculously boring our time with Dave was, and my mother, to her credit, wouldn’t just let me off with complaining to her: she told Dave what I had said in the hopes that together we could fix things. One Sunday at church Dave cornered me in a hallway and we had a little chat. “I know this isn’t working for you guys,” Dave said, “and I’m sorry. But I want you to know that I’m not giving up on this, because it’s important. Your faith is important to you, and you are important to us as a congregation.” We were unworthy soil for such dedication and commitment – yet through the work of this one man God was scattering seeds where no one could have expected anything to grow. Only now, years later, do I see how the seeds of that faithful man are bearing fruit in me, and it gives me hope for our ministry today and for the fruit it will bear in years to come.

This parable of the sower is not an agricultural object lesson teaching us how to be good soil: it is a parable of patience and hope, promising us that the soil which today seems unworthy of its seed may someday produce a bountiful harvest. If God is the sower in today's parable, then God truly is the Dumbest Farmer Ever, but you didn't come here looking for farmers, did you? There are plenty of smart farmers here, and you could call them whenever you want. Whatever you came looking to find in this place, what you've got is a God of hope, a God of promise, a prodigiously generous, lavish, reckless God who throws hope and love beyond measure into lives that often seem ill-prepared to receive it. It might look wasteful. It might look foolish. It might look like nothing good will ever come out of it. But still the sower shoulders his bag, making ready for yet another day of scattering the precious seed of his Word because He cannot, he will not allow that Word to return empty. From the days of Abraham and Sarah’s laughter at the thought of bearing children in their 90s, to the days of Isaiah’s words of hope to a people living in exile in Babylon, 400 miles from their homeland, to the days of a carpenter from Nazareth who had the audacity to preach and teach with the authority of God’s own Son – in those days and in all the days leading up to this day, God’s word has been sent forth and it has NOT returned empty. You, my friends, are soil onto which the invading, uprooting, transforming Word of God has been scattered: go now, you who have been seeded by the Dumbest Farmer Ever, and bear His good and redeeming fruit for the sake of the world in which you live. Amen.

11 July 2008

Friday Five: Summer Camp

Closing Worship at Inspiration Point, Camp Carol Joy Holling, Ashland, NE, June 2007

A great Friday Five from the RevGals: CAMP!!!!!
We're settling into our new new apartment, and after a
lifetime at Montessori Katie is having a fantastic summer at YMCA day camp.
Meanwhile, Nicholas is packing up for a week at Camp Julian, shared by the
Episcopal dioceses of Los Angeles and San Diego. His lists of supplies and
rules--except for the ropes course available to the teenagers and the ban on
IPODs and cell phones--bring back memories of my own happy times weeks at Y camp Ta Ta Pochon, funded by selling countless cases of butter toffee peanuts. So, in celebration of summer, please share your own memories and preferences about
1. Did you go to sleep away camp, or day camp, as a child? Wish you could? Or sometimes wish you hadn't?

I went to two camps as a kid: church camp at Carol Joy Holling Camp in Ashland, NE, and Camp Cedars Boy Scout Camp near Fremont, NE. Both were incredible experiences, but the more lasting impact came from my time at CJH, definitely. I went for five straight summers, and every year I'd come home and be "camp-sick" for a couple of days afterwards. Loved it loved it loved it!

2. How about camping out? Dream vacation, nightmare, or somewhere in between?

Kris and I have done some camping since we've been married and generally enjoyed the time together. We have different ideas about camping in some ways: I like to get into the woods and hike, while she'd rather find a ranger and do a guided tour, but we both enjoy doing the activities our partner enjoys. We haven't camped in the past two summers due to little ones, but in three or four years we'll be back in the woods with our tents and backpacks. My DREAM vacation is to packpack the John Muir Trail in California - I'm hoping to make that a sabbatical experience sometime in the next ten to fifteen years (provided I can find someone to accompany me, since you don't do stuff like that alone, and Kristin has no interest in that level of backpacking whatsoever).

3. Have you ever worked as a camp counselor, or been to a camp for your denomination for either work or pleasure?

Oh, the five summers I spent as a staff member for Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministries were both work and pleasure! Really, anyone within 200 miles of Carol Joy Holling should take advantage of it - it's one of the best camps in the country in my ever-so-humble (and, of course, completely un-biased) opinion. For me, that time in camping ministry was life-changing; I wouldn't be a pastor today if it weren't for those experiences then.

4. Most dramatic memory of camp, or camping out?

Nothing REALLY dramatic for me in my memory. Oh, of course, there were the thunderstorms and tornado warnings every midwesterner learns to observe, but nothing really threatening ever happened. The most bizarre was the rapid temperature change around 3:00 one morning in 1997. I was site manager at Tipi Village that summer, so since I was sleeping outdoors I woke up sweating and scared because the light was weird. Got outside my tent to see an orange sky, really strong winds and the temperature rapidly rising - from 65 to 85 or so Farenheit in the space of 30 minutes. Crazy weird weather. But nothing else happened, so I just kept an eye on things and waited for morning to come. There's a meteorology term for what happened - I read about it in the paper that weekend - but for the life of me I can't remember it, of course. The most dramatic thing that ever happened to me & Kris was setting up our tent in the rain at Tettegouche State Park along the north shore of Lake Superior two summers ago - inconvenient, yes, but not dramatic - we've been lucky, I guess.

5. What is your favorite camp song or songs? Bonus points if you link to a recording or video.
As I think back on my days as a camper, Day Is Done was always my favorite "camp" song. Which is funny, since as I look back I realize that most of our camp songbook was actually '70s folk songs: Free To Be, Day Is Done, Pass It On, etc. Makes me wonder what my campers from the 1990s think of the songs we sang.

Let me also add my least favorite camp song here: if I get to heaven and the angels are singing Pharaoh, Pharaoh, I'm going to be one very unhappy saint.

10 July 2008

Back From My Nice Trip To Lousybloggerville - Didja Miss Me?

I don't know why this happens sometimes. It's not as though I haven't had lots to blog about lately. There's this and this and and, as always, my girls. But I find that it's just tough lately to get focused enough to write coherently. The good news? I seem to be finding my way back into a writing groove. After a few hours this afternoon I've got most of this weekend's sermon written and the remainder blocked out, so finishing up tomorrow and Saturday morning should be a snap.

On This #1, let me just say that in a perfect world this would not be worthy of the salivating coverage provided by ESPN, et al. What has especially irked me this week is the "distraction" question (Will Alex Rodriguez' divorce prove to be a distraction for him and the Yankees as they try to get back into the AL East race?). Look, the AL East is a sports title - the Rodriguez marriage is a family thing. In my book, the problematic distraction was whatever led to the breakdown of the marriage - baseball, especially the Yankees, can step to the background for all I care.

On This #2, it is yet one more reason I'm proud to be a Husker. And, lest you think that my take on This #2 invalidates my take on This #1, I'm a faith guy first, family man second, and a Husker third (Granted, it's a close third sometimes, but how close is my business to figure out, right?).

As to the girls, they're fabulous. When I came home to pick up Ainsley and go to the gym while Kristin went to teach water aerobics, Ainsley came running, leapt into my arms and gave me a big hug. Could life be any better than a moment like that? I think not. Kristin is still GREAT WITH CHILD - heavy emphasis on the GREAT these days. Two weeks to go as of tomorrow, and frankly, I'm hoping and praying we make it that far, because she looks about as ripe as a pregnant lady could get without the baby actually falling out onto the floor vis a vis Monty Python and The Meaning Of Life.

Well, that's the good word from Cafe Diem in downtown Ames - see you tomorrow, I hope.

06 July 2008

Sermon for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost: "Yoked In Peace And Truth"

During the summer months I'm free to go out and preach in local congregations, since our student community at present does not worship together on Sunday mornings. Today was my first supply experience in campus ministry, at Palestine Lutheran Church south of Huxley, IA. Here's the sermon:

Hearers of God’s Word, grace and peace to you from God our Creator, Christ Jesus our Redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit, active here in our midst this morning. Let us pray: We who are weary and carrying heavy burdens come to You, Lord – even when we don’t know our weariness and we can’t admit how heavy our burdens really are. In this moment, in this place, give us the rest and peace You have promised. Amen.

When I was in the last few years of elementary school, my friends and I discovered Bill Cosby. We would memorize entire albums of his standup act, including the ones about his childhood and his relationship with his mother:

“’Day and night, night and day, work my fingers to the bone, and for what?’
‘I don’t—‘ ‘SHUT UP! Don’t you talk back at me when I’m talking to
you? Think I’m talking just to hear myself talk? ANSWER ME!’”

As I read the first few verses appointed for this morning from the gospel of Matthew, I couldn’t help but think that Bill would understand the frustration Jesus was expressing. “John came and didn’t eat and drink, and you called him demon-possessed; I come eating and drinking, and you call me a glutton. What’s with you people?” But this is who we are, unfortunately: we are people who work very hard to define ourselves by what we are not, especially when it comes to finding our place in society. The late, great George Carlin, who might have been our best social critic since Mark Twain, once asked, “Did you ever notice how everyone who drives slower than you is a moron, and everyone who drives faster than you is a maniac?” Maybe the morons and maniacs aren't the problem - maybe the problem, hard as it is to admit it, is me.

This kind of self-justifying life is an elaborate, expensive, destructive illusion, you know, and we Americans have become masters, virtuosos at living it. In success we glory in our grand accomplishments, and in failure we lament the cruel world conspiring to defeat us. We’ve set up a celebrity culture in which we worship the famous and delight in their downfall at the same time. It is hard, hard work, creating this elaborate illusion in which my own needs and wants get satisfied and I neither feel guilty for taking too much or cheated if I don’t receive what I’m due. This is what we’ve created for ourselves: a world where only the strong survive, where each man IS an island, and where love really does mean never having to say “I’m sorry.”

My colleague Brian Stoffregen, a Lutheran pastor in California, had some thoughts about our 4th of July weekend and being followers of Jesus Christ. He quotes theologian Roger Fjeld, who points out that "the Fourth of July is the first [and perhaps most sacred] of our civil holy days. Fjeld also mentioned that [American] civil religion removes the need for repentance -- the central proclamation of Jesus. We believe that we are right and good -- the best nation on earth -- beliefs that don't lead to repentance. Repentance means admitting that we are wrong and bad and haven't lived up to God's expectations of us and we don't have the power to change ourselves or make ourselves better. Remember how unwilling some former presidents were to admit their faults (think Watergate and Monicagate)?" [1]

There’s been a lot of talk this year about the role of pastors and churches in the presidential campaigns, and for me, the most intriguing has been the reaction to the Reverend Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, a congregation where Senator Barack Obama was a member for more than 20 years. I struggle to find the right words to describe some of the sermons Pastor Wright has preached over the years. “Incendiary” might be one – “accusatory” might be another. Pastor Wright spoke passionately about America’s struggles with racism and violence, struggles which continue to this day. The media, of course, had a field day with Pastor Wright’s words and his relationship to Senator Obama, but what I found most disappointing was our collective American refusal to listen to those words from Pastor Wright and see if maybe, just maybe, there might be a morsel of truth within them – the words of a prophet to a people who had long strayed away from the God who loved and created them. Instead, our quest to maintain the illusion of peace, security and conformity drove Senator Obama to leave his church, and religion in America moved a little more toward a religion that looks a lot like the Platte River in my home state of Nebraska: a mile wide and an inch deep.

When we look at the eleventh chapter of the gospel of Matthew, we often do ourselves a disservice by reading only the parts which comfort us, without understanding the context in which they were spoken. Matthew 11.28-30 is one of the most well-known passages from the gospels, beloved by many, and for good reason; but if we read those verses alone, we don’t get the full message, the deep truth of what Jesus is saying to the church. Even our own lectionary folks have shied away from the power and passion of Jesus’ words in today’s gospel: they cut out verses 20-24, which we included this morning, the verses of condemnation for Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum. I can’t tell you why those verses weren’t included in our readings today, but I can tell you a little about those cities and what Jesus might have been saying about them. Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum were Jewish cities that had not received Jesus well – they refused to listen to His preaching, they didn’t believe in Him when people were healed by His touch, and, worst of all, they chose to continue to believe in their own justification rather than to repent. In other words, Jesus went to the churches and found them less willing to repent and believe than the unchurched. If you want to know where you and I fit in this story, it isn’t in the crowds of people meekly listening for Jesus’ words of rest and relaxation: we are the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida, the people of Capernaum, the insiders who struggle with repentance and believe that our status as insiders is what guarantees our good standing with God.

Jesus, like all the prophets before Him and all the prophets who followed Him, had to use harsh words at times to make sure His message was heard. We work so hard at constructing our illusions of security, comfort and invulnerability; when Jesus comes to remind us that we have limits, it’s awfully easy to just refuse to listen. But we Iowans have discovered our limits in these last few months, haven’t we? When tornadoes and floods can destroy our homes and kill our loved ones in the blink of an eye, when the government can swoop in and scatter our friends and neighbors as has been done in Postville, our illusions of security, comfort and invulnerability disappear pretty quickly, don’t they? Think about all the things over which we’ve argued as a church these past ten years or so: sexuality, full communion agreements, all of those kinds of issues. How important are those things, really, when our houses are crumbling and our communities are falling apart?

This weekend, my wife and I took my nephew out to breakfast with his best friend so my brother and his wife could have some down time with their newborn son. We went to IHOP in Omaha, and as we were leaving my four year old nephew, who might weigh 30 pounds soaking wet, tried to push the door open so the rest of us could walk out. He couldn’t even move it an inch, but when I helped him push, he told me “I almost got it!” This is the illusion we create for ourselves: the illusion that “we’ve almost got it!” We know in these days of immigration arguments, flood damage and tornado repairs that we are not secure, that we are not invulnerable, that comfort is not the primary need in our lives. Times such as we have lived through in the past six weeks kill any and all of the illusions that we can indeed make it “on our own.” But now, having spoken harsh words and afflicted the comfortable (that’s us), Jesus’ words of comfort and hope become the words of power they were always intended to be. My colleague Brian Stoffregen makes the argument that “on this ‘Independence Day’ weekend, we might need to stress our need to be ‘dependent’ on God – like an infant is dependent upon parents.” [2] If the comfort and security of this world were really up to us, the work before us would be back-breaking, hopeless and futile – so, shall we not give thanks to God that our illusion is not, after all, the reality upon which the world is founded?

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens,” says Jesus, “and I will give you rest.” All you who carry the burden of security, who struggle under the load of ensuring your survival day by day, trusting no one but yourself; lay it down, and trust in God for the daily bread which God promises to give. All you who carry the burden of comfort, who stagger under the load of boredom mixed with superficial voyeurism and worship of inconsequential things; lay it down, and believe that God has a deeper, more meaningful life to offer you. All you who carry the burden of invulnerability, who groan under the load of pretending that no one could hurt you, that you’re “fine” when you’re weeping inside from pain you’ve denied your whole life long: lay it down, and trust that in the pain of breaking your heart of stone wide open God will be working to give you a heart that moves, lives and loves in ways you could have never imagined possible. To all of us, carrying yokes of grief and sorrow, yokes of anger and rage, yokes of wealth or of poverty, Jesus says, “Take MY yoke upon you – for MY yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” We who gather here in the name of Jesus are given His yoke, together, and in our corporate repentance we are yoked together, to carry our burdens with each other and with Christ, who walks the road in the yoke with us and will never let us walk alone.

Dr. Tom Long, professor of preaching at Candler School of Theology at Emory University, has said that we need to remember that this offer from Jesus is not the kind of “rest” we usually prefer. “He offers us a yoke, not a hammock,” says Dr. Long, and he’s right. There is work to be done here, but it is work that fulfills us, that gives us life instead of draining it away. As I was finishing up my thoughts on these verses last night, the thought occurred to me, “You know, Scott, Palestine Lutheran Church and Lutheran Campus Ministry are yoked together – maybe you should say something about that.” So, I will. We are called in campus ministry to the mission of “Expanding Minds, Deepening Faith, Inspiring Service.” You are called here in Huxley to “Reach Out In Christian Love To All.” These are the places where our ministries fit into the yoke of Christ, and we carry out these missions together, in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another. I thank God that we in campus ministry share this yoke with you, and I pray for the work you do in Jesus’ name, as we covet your prayers for our work as well. Thanks be to God, that we can lay down our illusions and false hopes in ourselves and take up, together, the yoke of Christ which provides such a joyous burden of faith, hope and love. God bless you in this yoke we share in Christ, now and always – Amen.

[1] Brian Stoffregen, http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/matt11x16.htm
[2] Ibid.