30 December 2008

Taking A Bit Of A Break

I've been out of town at my parents' farm for the past few days, and tomorrow I'm leaving for the Lutheran Student Movement National Gathering in Chicago. So, I likely won't be blogging much for the next week - and that's okay, I'm feeling a need for a bit of a break at the moment. Many cares requiring my attention, taking away any hope of being reflective or creative for a short time.

Until I'm back, though, here are some of my favorite pics of a great family holiday in Nebraska.

Alanna & her cousin N discuss the finer points of Exer-Saucer care and maintenance, including improvements in the flavoring for plastic giraffes.

Daddy prepares to literally scare the snot out of Ainsley by sledding down a hill Grandpa Johnson made while clearing the home place of snow. Daddy had fun. Ainsley did not.

Daddy must have told Alanna one of his excellent jokes, right? :-)

This was a great moment for me: watching Ainsley help her Great-grandma Janke open a Christmas present. I remember doing something similar for my Great-grandma Spangler many years ago.

My girls, Christmas morning, in my parents' living room. It doesn't get much sweeter than this for me.
Happy New year to you all!

22 December 2008

Favorite Christmas Albums

There's a discussion going on over at RevGals about favorite Christmas music. I thought I'd post a few of my favorites here.

The first has appeared before on this blog, but it's worth another mention. The Bells of Dublin is fantastic from start to finish, with one noticeable exception (those of you who own the album already know exactly which track is the one in question). Highlights include Elvis Costello singing "St Stephen's Day Murders," "The Wren," "Don Oiche Ud I mBethil"and an absolutely beautiful version of "Once In Royal David's City."

Because we liked the first album so much, I picked up A Christmas in Rome two years ago. It has grown on my quite a bit. It's a wonderful album overall, with another exception that isn't as awful as the one on Bells of Dublin, just a curious "how the heck does this fit?" track. Highlights include the Overture and Lullabies.

Some would insist that you can't be a Lutheran musician in the U.S. without loving the St. Olaf Choir. I'm one of them, for many reasons: the tradition, the incredible "St. Olaf Sound," and a dedication to furthering the art of a capella choral singing. This CD, however, has very little a capella work, but it's still worthy of mention. It was recorded in Trondjeim, at Nidaros Cathedral, and if I remember right a video performance has been broadcast a few times over the past few years on PBS. Here the highlights include "O Come, All Ye Faithful" (the descant WILL be sung in our Lessons and Carols service next year!), "Light Everlasting" and "Hope for Resolution," the last of which is a jazz treatment of Divinum Mysterium (Of the Father's Love Begotten) mixed with an original composition. That's good stuff, there.

So, there you have it. Three albums guaranteed to treat you better than one more version of "The Christmas Song" or "Little Drummer Boy." You're welcome.

Books That Mess With Your Head

It's been pretty good reading here lately - if I continue plugging away over the next two weeks, I might actually get the 50 Book Challenge completed this year. But the book I just finished and the one I'm currently reading at home aren't light writing in any sense of the word - I might just need to find something in the style of John Grisham or Tom Clancy to finish out the year, as these last two have really been messing with my head.

came highly recommended by just about anyone who reads good books. It's the story of Cal Stephanides, who was once Calliope Stephanides, and how that happened. But it's also a story of immigration, assimilation, Detroit and other conflicts which revolve around identity. It was painful reading at times; what can you say about a person who calls his brother "Chapter Eleven?" But there is also great love; Chapter Eleven is the quickest to renew the relationship after Calliope became Cal. It's a funny, endearing, challenging book that I enjoyed quite a lot.

The Omnivore's Dilemma
is not a book I like, per se; it is a book that I'm experiencing more than I am reading. I'm only about halfway through, and I'm already finding myself rocked by a punch coming off of nearly every single page. Here's just a sampling of the thoughts I've had since beginning this book:
  • Oh, shit! I'm never eating THAT again!
  • You know, most municipalities allow a certain number of laying hens per household - I bet we could raise our own chickens and eat their eggs, right?
  • Dad should read this book.
  • Dad should NEVER read this book.
  • I'll never shop at Hy-Vee again (insert Piggly Wiggly, Publix, Albertson's, whatever mega-food-mart your locality might include).
  • When am I going to find the time to cook all our meals from scratch, since I don't want to eat all those frigging preservatives?
Like I said, this is a book that definitely raises a LOT of questions, especially for people with farming in their blood (hence the "Dad should/should NEVER read this book." thoughts). But that's what good literature can and should do: when we are challenged by what we read, we learn better what kind of people we are, and perhaps more importantly, what kind of people we yearn to be. We're not going to start raising chickens (I don't think for a second that Kris would go for that), but will The Omnivore's Dilemma change how I look at food? It already has - and maybe that was the point.

20 December 2008

You Did WHAT To Your Running Shoes?

Yeah, I put sheet metal screws in my running shoes this week. What's so weird about that?

The tip came from a Runner's World article and, from what I've heard, it's pretty common to do this if you run outdoors in a snowy clime. What I can tell you is that a) it's more complicated than it sounds, b) use sheet metal screws with a Phillips or Hex cut, not Flatheads (they're a pain in the ass to keep on the bit), and c) be sure you use 3/8" or even 1/4" screws. I used 3/8" screws and I can feel them ever so slightly on bare pavement.

Here's how it worked for me: I started with the screw pictured here:

Since my adidas Supernova Cushions have a pretty soft sole, it's really hard to just drive the screws into the sole. So, I broke out my cordless drill and drilled pilot holes for the screws wherever the sole was wearing down, since that's the part of the shoes that hits the pavement most regularly. Here are all the tools I used:

In the end, this is what it looks like:

I'm happy to say this works exceptionally well. I went for a five mile run this morning, two days after a severe storm that cancelled school in the Ames district on Friday, with no slippage problems whatsoever on the trails and sidewalks. The only time I did have trouble was the last mile, where I ran on the street and the slush was just too thick for my new shoes to get any traction. The best part? When I did hit bare pavement, I got a nice audio remembrance of my high school football days - it sounded like the metal-tipped cleats I wore when I was a nose tackle trying to gain weight instead of trying to run it off. You know, the sound from the Under Armor ads: "Click Clack - you hear me comin'?" Pretty cool.

All in all, anything that gets me out on the road at this time of year is a good thing, especially on a day like today when the snow is falling and the wind hasn't picked up yet. It was one of the prettiest runs I've enjoyed in a while.

Saturday Morning Cool Stuff

Even if you don't have a clue about music or percussion, this group, the Top Secret Drum Corps of Basel, Switzerland, is incredible.

Friday Five: Countdown to Christmas

Songbird had the Friday Five yesterday. One thing I've noticed is that as a parent, I get more done when it's NOT a snow day: we spent most of yesterday managing kids instead of relaxing and taking it easy. And the parental weirdness continues... By the by, I swear that every time I navigate away from this page the spacing between paragraphs gets larger. Sometimes Blogger does some crazy formatting stuff...

It's true.

There are only five full days before Christmas Day, and whether you use them for shopping, wrapping, preaching, worshiping, singing or traveling or even wishing the whole darn thing were over last Tuesday, there's a good chance they will be busy ones.

So let's make this easy, if we can: tell us five things you need to accomplish before Christmas Eve.

Let me start by confessing that we have sucked at Christmas the last couple of years. In 2007, we were preparing to move and chasing an 11 month-old around the house. So, no tree, and the holiday photocards we ordered from Snapfish sat around our old house and our new one until we threw them out sometime in March. This year, again, no tree, though I don't feel bad about it because I'd rather spend December doing pretty much anything BUT chase two girls away from the tree all day long. So, the goal this year? Don't suck so much. Thankfully, that sets the bar pretty low.

1. Write the Christmas letter and send the cards to our friends and family.

2. Get Kristin's present (going to do that this afternoon - I know what I'm getting her, I just need to buy it locally so as to save on shipping).

3. Start working on 2008 Taxes (because I WILL NOT file an extension for a third straight year)

4. Enjoy the start of the college football bowl season (please, God, let there be some decent games - January through August is the longest time of the year!)

5. Continue to enjoy a remarkably angst-free Advent. Thankfully, it appears that the Society for the Preservation of Advent finds its work much less demanding in the midst of an economic downturn.

Bonus "to-do" item: maintain a good sense of humor - it makes everything else so much more enjoyable. Thus, I give you the following cartoon:

18 December 2008

The Power of a Photograph

As far as sports pictures go, this is a good one. It was taken last Saturday night, when the Nebraska women's volleyball team was celebrating a remarkable comeback victory over the University of Washington in the NCAA Regional Final match. Nebraska had been down two sets to none before winning sets three and four to tie the match. Then, down 9-3 in the fifth set, the Huskers rolled off eight straight points to take an 11-9 lead. Finally, senior star Jordan Larson served an ace to win the set 15-13 and the match. NCAA volleyball is all rally scoring these days, making a comeback from 9-3 next to impossible. But there I sat, after midnight, glued to the internet broadcast of the match and celebrating with some bulletin board fans - after all, we Cornhuskers love our volleyball team almost as much as our football team, and unlike the football team, the volleyball team has not relinquished its status among the nation's elite over the past ten years.

This team in itself is a great story. But an even better one can be found by clicking on the photo. Cindy Lange-Kubick, who wrote for the Daily Nebraskan when we were both undergrads at UN-Lincoln, reminds us that there was a time when a photograph like this wouldn't be possible. It's worth your time.

Tonight, if you're not busy, you might want to take a gander at the four teams competing in the volleyball final four in Omaha this weekend. I, of course, will be rooting for my Huskers, but all four reached the pinnacle of the sport, and deserve recognition. Forget the BCS and all the hype surrounding it - here's a sport where champions are decided on the court, as it should be, and these student-athletes are very much worthy of the title.

Postgame Note: Oh, so very close. Four points away from an upset worthy of the '80 U.S. Hockey team. Penn State is an incredible team; they hadn't lost a set all year, hadn't lost a match since September 2007, but our Cornhuskers nearly took 'em. We ultimately lost, after coming back from two sets down. Without a doubt, that was the finest volleyball match I've ever seen, and I haven't been this proud to be a Cornhusker since the Fiesta Bowl after the 1995 football season. Way to go, ladies - you did us all proud.

12 December 2008

Eyeing a Friday Five - AND Why I Think We Do What We Do

I have a folder of blogs on my computer here at the office, and I try to do the "Open all in tabs" investigation of bloggers at least two or three times a week. I do this for many reasons: good friends have blogs, some bloggers have become friends, and so on. The great thing is when one of the group posts something that really gets my mind going.

Today I had a first: a comment on another blog reminded me why there is a church, even with all her scars and stumblings. Here's the post that originated this comment:
I just think it bears remembering that institutional church CAN be a force for good, and for many of us it has been.
It is disappointing that not all people have shared a spiritually fulfilling experience at 'regular church.' Certainly we can do a better job at that.
But interestingly, for me it was when I left the institution and went to a parachurch group that there was no accountability and no spiritual focus and my life started to fall apart. Christians turned loose on the world with no guidance can do incredible harm, just as Christians within an institution can. I feel, at least with the institution, we have a chance at keeping things together.
The italicized text might be the most succinct explanation of the need for community and accountability I've ever read. It's one of the main reasons we do what we do in the church: because on our own we can really screw things up. (By the way, don't image search for Fred Phelps if you don't have a strong stomach). For me, part of living the theology of the cross is recognizing the capacity within myself to harm others in the name of the faith that gives me life, but that recognition only comes because I'm a part of a larger body of believers who take our corporate responsibility to one another very seriously.

Well, there's your big theological topic for the day. Now, on to the Friday Five!
This Friday Five is inspired by my husband's Lasik surgery yesterday....He'd been contemplating it for a while and was pushed over the edge by the fact that we put too much money in our healthcare spending account this year and it would have been gone anyway. (There was only enough for one eye, but the kind people at the eye clinic figured out a way to divvy up the charges between surgery and followup in January=next year's spending account). So please say a little prayer for his safe recovery and share with us your thoughts on eyes and vision.
1. What color are your beautiful eyes? Did you inherit them from or pass them on to anyone in your family? My eyes are very light blue. I don't think either of my parents have blue eyes - I know my Dad's are brown, and if I remember right my Mom's are hazel/green. But then again, neither of them are redheads, and I'm the oldest of two redheaded, blue-eyed boys out of three. Maybe Mom wasn't really kidding about the milkman? ;-)

2. What color eyes would you choose if you could change them? I wouldn't change them, just as I won't take Rogaine now that I'm starting to go bald. Life is too short to spend so much time hiding who you really are!

3. Do you wear glasses or contacts? What kind? Like 'em or hate 'em? I wear soft contacts and glasses. The glasses are only for early mornings, late nights or travel; they're about five years old and not looking so great anymore. I'm not overly fond of either, but considering my extreme nearsightedness and astigmatism, what am I gonna do?

4. Ever had, or contemplated, laser surgery? Happy with the results? I've contemplated it, but frankly the money isn't available right now, and to be honest, the surgery makes me nervous, too. Some friends have had excellent results with their lasik experiences, but I'm just skittish about it for now.

5. Do you like to look people in the eye, or are you more eye-shy? A few years ago a trusted friend told me, "I know the moment you've checked out of a conversation - your eyes start to wander." Since then I've consciously tried to keep my eyes focused to stay in the conversation.

Bonus question: Share a poem, song, or prayer that relates to eyes and seeing.
From Rich Mullins, one of his last concerts. Starts out really rough but comes together quickly.

Storyhill: Parallel Lives

Big news: the Storyhill documentary has been released! I'm really excited to see it, but just in case someone might make it a Christmas gift I'm going to hold off ordering it for myself. Here's a clip for those of you who are interested:

11 December 2008

Christmas Meme

From LutherPunk

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?
Ideally, I use my dad's trick and recycle the funny pages as giftwrap.
2. Real tree or Artificial? Real, please, and I'll cut it down myself, thanks.
3. When do you put up the tree? The day after the year's worst ice storm, of course, so we have to put a tarp down to catch all the melting water. (Okay, maybe that was just that one year.)
4. When do you take the tree down? After Epiphany.
5. Do you like eggnog? Absolutely not. No way, Jose. Gluhwein is my holiday drink of choice, thanks to my ex-wife.
6. Favorite gift received as a child? Honestly, the part I loved the best were the family gatherings and holiday meals. I have awesome aunts and uncles and cousins and we still enjoy spending time together when we can. If I have to pick a gift, it would probably be the Atari 2600 we got one year - at least, that's the gift we got the most hours on!
7. Hardest person to buy for? My youngest brother.
8. Easiest person to buy for? My wife - if you can light it, she'll love it.
9. Do you have a nativity scene? Yes - but with two girls under the age of three I'm not sure we're going to see it for a few years yet.
10. Mail or email Christmas cards? Last year, neither - they never got labeled and we eventually were too embarrassed to do it. I have high hopes for this year, though!
11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? The stomach virus my brother-in-law gave us all in 2005.
12. Favorite Christmas Movie? White Christmas.
13. When do you start shopping for Christmas? Whenever the urge strikes, but usually sometime in December, whenever I get a coupon for a local bookstore.
15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? In no particular order: potato sausage, christmas cookies, goose, stuffing, krumkake, ost kaka, and pretty much anything else that isn't nailed down.
16. Lights on the tree? As if there's any other way?
17. Favorite Christmas song? "Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming"
18. Travel at Christmas or stay home? Travel to my folks' or my in-laws', one of the blessings of campus ministry for sure.
19. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer? Rudolph and the eight reindeer for whom the scenery never changes...
20. Angel on the tree top or a star? Angel. (Hey, fat man - where do you want me to shove the tree?)
21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? One on Christmas Eve and everything else that morning. (Eerie - LP had the exact same answer.)
22. Most annoying thing about this time of year? The radio stations that start playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving (yes, it was before Thanksgiving this year) and keep playing it until the 25th.
23. Favorite ornament theme or color? Right now, anything that can't be ingested or otherwise cause harm to my children.
24. Favorite food for Christmas dinner? Well, my mom's making prime rib this year, so we'll go with that!
25. What do you want for Christmas this year? To watch my kids and my nephews playing together Christmas morning. Oh, and a new iPod - 4th Gen Nano 16mb, if you're wondering. Black, please!

10 December 2008

E'en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come

Tonight I asked our students to list the bad news they know about right now. Here are a few items they mentioned: the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe; the ongoing suffering in Mumbai; a double homicide here in Ames (one of the victims had recently finished and moved into her Habitat home, and some of the students worked on the house); the economy; the corruption arrest of the governor of Illinois; the ice coating every surface on campus; the projects, papers and tests looming between tonight and the end of finals next week...

It went on for a while. There's not been a lot of good news lately. It feels like we're waiting for something better. And I wonder if that's what this Advent season is about. Perhaps that's why I don't feel out of place this year: it's not the orgy of materialism and manufactured festivity that usually turns my stomach. Why rail against secular consumerism when no one can afford to buy gifts in the first place?

In his book Loving Jesus, Mark Allan Powell writes,
Somebody once asked me, "What does it feel like to be a Christian?" That seemed like an odd question, but I tried to answer. I said, "It feels like being in love with someone who has gone away." They said, "That can't be very pleasant." Well, no, I don't think it's supposed to be pleasant, but it is pretty powerful. I am in love with my wife, and when she is gone, I think about her constantly. I perk up at any news of her and I am energized by the slightest connection (a letter, a phone call). That's what being a Christian "feels like." Of course, it is a confident sadness..., but for now let's just admit this much: we love Jesus as a bride loves her groom, but our bridegroom has been taken away from us, and that makes us sad. The love can be real and powerful and overwhelming, but the absence is real too. And, sometimes, it's just hard.

As we gathered tonight, we remembered that in this season of Advent, we do more than remember the birth of our Messiah: we also gather in anticipation of the day when He will come again. As good as this life can be (and when there are twenty college students gathered for evening prayer on an icy Wednesday night, it's good indeed), the day we hope is coming will be better still. As Isaiah says, "The Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Even now, as our hollow human strength is broken, Isaiah reminds me that we are not alone. Those who heard these words from the prophet were surrounded by the wasteland that had been Jerusalem, but they stood on holy ground: the place where God would begin making all things new. But we pray that the day of remaking may come, soon, that night will be no more. E'en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come. Amen.

09 December 2008

Prayer for the End of a Good Long Day

The lights are still burning
here in this study where we have palavered,
You and I.

Schedules, announcements, task lists, meetings, reminders;
these, I had thought, were not the makings of this calling,
but rather the minutiae, the thoughtless means
by which I could excuse myself of responsibility.

"No," You said, "here is where the Holy begins:
caring words of gratitude,
humble invitation,

"'Come and see' are the words through which
My Kingdom is come and
My Will is done.
The hand extended in welcome,
not the shoulder turned in contemplation,
so easily mistaken for rejection."

And here I kneel, in the presence of the Holy,
whispering thanks for these few moments of
abundant joy,
learning yet again
the wisdom so simply displayed
in my father's fields:
without plowing,
without sowing,
without weeding,
without watering,
without sunlight,
there is no harvest to be reaped,
and the world, and I,
shall go unfed.

06 December 2008

Today, We're All Bulls Fans

Turner Gill was one of the greatest quarterbacks of the Tom Osborne era at the University of Nebraska. Some of my earliest memories of Cornhusker football come from watching Turner Gill, Mike Rozier and Irving Fryar dazzle the country with their speed, power and athleticism. As I grew up, Turner Gill never really left the hearts and minds of Cornhusker fans, and when he returned to the staff at Nebraska, we all knew it was just a matter of time before Coach Gill became HEAD Coach Gill.

That didn't happen, and it might never happen. This post is not about those circumstances.

Last night, the University of Buffalo Bulls, led by head coach Turner Gill, defeated Ball State University in the Mid-America Conference Championship Game, 42-24. Ball State was undefeated before last night, ranked #13 in the country. Buffalo was 8-5, not ranked, just beginning to climb into the ranks of respectability. Matt chewed some numbers over at his place detailing the magnitude of what has been accomplished at Buffalo in the past two years.

All I will say is this: the victory won on Ford Field by the Buffalo Bulls could not have been won by a better coach, a more deserving man. Here's to you, Coach Gill, from the Husker Nation, who are proudly proclaiming an additional allegiance today: today, we're all Bulls fans, too. Congratulations, and well done, Coach Gill!

05 December 2008

Friday Five: Advent Simplicity, Light and Beauty

A wonderful FF from Sally over at the RevGals site:
"Imagine a complex, multi-cultural society that annually holds an elaborate winter festival, one that lasts not simply a few days, but several weeks. This great festival celebrates the birth of the Lord and Saviour of the world, the prince of peace, a man who is divine. People mark the festival with great abundance- feasting, drinking and gift giving....." (Richard Horsley- The Liberation of Christmas)
The passage goes on, recounting the decorations that are hung, and the songs and dances that accompany the festival, how the economy booms and philanthropic acts abound....
But this is not Christmas- this is a Roman festival in celebration of the Emperor....This is the world that Jesus was born into! The world where the early Christians would ask "Who is your Saviour the Emperor or Christ?"
And yet our shops and stores and often our lives are caught up in a world that looks very much like the one of ancient Rome, where we worship at the shrine of consumerism....
Advent on the other hand calls us into the darkness, a time of quiet preparation, a time of waiting, and re-discovering the wonder of the knowledge that God is with us. Advent's call is to simplicity and not abundance, a time when we wait for glorious light of God to come again...
Christ is with us at this time of advent, in the darkness, and Christ is coming with his light- not the light of the shopping centre, but the light of love and truth and beauty.
What do you long for this advent? What are your hopes and dreams for the future? What is your prayer today? In the vein of simplicity I ask you to list five advent longings....
1. Energy. I'm just worn out right now. I'm not unhappy, nor do I feel as though I'm shirking anything but my physical well-being, but I'm too tired to exercise this week and it is really weighing on my mind and my heart.

2. Silence. I am really longing for silence right now, the deep, long kind of silence in which you can calmly hear the snow falling outside and know that God is with you. Between two kids, a loving wife, and a campus ministry full of busy, energetic students who are a joy to behold, I'm not getting much silence these days, and I'm definitely feeling the need for it.

3. Restful Nights. Both Kristin and I have commented lately on the fact that by the time we get the girls down to sleep, we're too exhausted to do much of anything. I'm not sure if we're sleeping as well as we could be, to be honest, because I've never been this tired this early for this long before, and even though I know the girls have something to do with it, I'm not convinced they are the entire cause.

4. A Sense of Liturgical Rootedness. I'm struggling to convince myself that it is indeed Advent right now, and I can't figure out why. It might be due to the fact that I haven't preached in three weeks; for the last eight years, if you count seminary (and I do), my life has revolved around the weekly texts, but with classes out for Thanksgiving and a personal holiday for my niece's baptism, I haven't been forced into the weekly texts as usual of late. Thus, all those cries of "Prepare ye the way" have been much less noticeable this year.

5. One Free Day. No obligations, no classes, no kids activities, no shopping, just a free day in which we four can do whatever we want. And, of course, no poopie diapers, spit-up or tantrums in that free day. And a unicorn. :-)

Life is good - we are happy and healthy (but I am a little concerned at how often I find myself feeling a need to repeat that statement lately!). But my Advent heart is indeed longing for a change to some present darkness; here's hoping some time away during the Christmas season provides some healthy changes for all of us!

03 December 2008

All-Around Wednesday Catharsis

I did not have a good morning. I also had a great morning, and I'm having a good afternoon. Let me explain.

The past month you might have noticed a certain sense of angst in my posts. Truth be told, it's not been the best time for me or our family. Now, before any of you start worrying, all is well: we have a roof over our heads, more food than we can eat and everyone is healthy. In fact, Alanna's 4 month check-up was today and she is apparently another Lake Wobegon baby: 75th percentile for height and 85th for weight.

The problem has been our time, or lack thereof, over the last four weeks or so. Between juggling two church careers, dealing with sick kids and a sick nanny, a retreat for Kristin, a three-day conference for me, and an extended holiday with family, we've basically been reacting to whatever might be the most recent crisis, and it's been that way since about the first of November. In the latest Newsweek Fareed Zakaria made an excellent point about the incoming Obama administration needing to hit the ground with an over-arching strategy, lest they be overcome by reacting to the many inevitable crises which will arise. Had he asked, I could have offered Mr. Zakaria the past month of our lives as exhibit A proving his point: I've had no strategy, and I've been reacting far too much lately.

Feeding the baby this morning, as I pondered yet another day of just managing to get done what MUST be done, without any thought for what lies ahead or managing the growing pile of debris in my office and in my house, I hit a breaking point. It might have had something to do with the fact that I was into my third shirt by 7:30 A.M., thanks to Alanna the Vomit Vixen; I'm assuming her contribution was a factor, at any rate. I ordered Kristin and the girls out of the house. I'm not an ogre, mind you: I sent them to the gym, where Kristin could get some time to herself while someone else watched the girls for her. But in essence, I asked the world to "leave me the hell alone" for 90 minutes this morning. Thankfully, the world obliged. I finished a book, started some laundry, and worked in the garage so we could actually use it as a garage for the minivan. Most importantly, I dealt with some things that I had identified as problems, not with stuff someone else needed me to handle for their sake. I was amazed at how badly I needed to get that garage squared away - and how good it felt to finally get it done.

To add blessing upon blessing, Ainsley was a good girl this morning and allowed me to make some changes to the decorations in the basement, also. Again, I hadn't realized how badly I wanted these things done until I actually took the time to do them. Moving pictures and figuring out a way to hang and display an old trombone are minor things, but somehow the sense of home
those changes allowed have made me a much calmer, content man this afternoon.

I think one of the things that drove me to this moment over the last month has been the constant element of distraction in my life. Whether it's kids, the telephone, email, television, or my own scattered nature asserting itself more boldly than usual, I have felt pulled from one moment to the next lately, as though I were living without purpose and without direction. Today I took some steps to alleviate that feeling. I've put myself on a two day Facebook hiatus. I turned off the email program while dealing with the annoying pile of stuff on my desk. I sat in my easy chair and finished reading this week's Newsweek before doing anything else this afternoon. And in all of that, I've felt more at peace and like I'm actually doing something worthy of focus and reflection.

AND as if this weren't enough, we had a wonderfully unexpected moment today in our monthly campus ministers' gathering. One of my colleagues is ministering to a family who recently lost a daughter in a car accident. Hearing him tell the story of the past 30 hours slapped some perspective into me right quick, but that wasn't the unexpected moment. That moment came when another colleague asked if our troubled colleague would lead us in prayer for the situation. My gracious friend who opened the door to prayer comes from a church that does not generally pray with others, yet this friend provided an opportunity for us to gather with one another for one another in Jesus' name. It was both a surprise and a blessing; on a day when I have much for which I'm thankful, this was another unexpected gift.

So, it was a cathartic day all-around, and I haven't even gotten to the fun bit yet. That's the time when I get to gather with our student community for worship and fellowship tonight. After a morning that started with my pulse rate climbing at the thought of yet another day chasing the wind, the actual day has turned into something positive, and for that, I'm thankful. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to get pizza. After all, campus ministry does have it's privileges. :-)


02 December 2008

People of the Book

I just finished this book today, and I have to say I found it utterly enchanting. I started listening to the audio version on my way to and from Chicago two weeks ago, but ran out of road before running out of book. Since my iPod is kaput at the moment, I wasn't able to finish the audio version, so on Monday I checked out the print copy from our local library to finish it.
The advantage of well-done audiobooks is that the characterizations can lend an even more authentic voice to the author's script. The woman performing the audio version of People of the Book did exactly that: she nailed nearly every accent, in my opinion. There are many: an Aussie conservator, a Bosnian librarian, a Scottish imam who works for the U.N. (yes, that's right), an Israeli conservator and many others. I found myself missing the voice as I finished the book.
The story itself is utterly enchanting. Hanna Heath is called to Sarajevo to examine a recently recovered Seder Haggadah, and in the course of her work the author fills in the back story of the Haggadah and the signs and clues to its history. Well written, exquisitely detailed, but not nearly so copious and elaborate as, say, Umberto Eco or Neal Stephenson (who are excellent writers in their own right, mind you). This is good reading for everyone, even if you've no interest in learning how vellum is made or the history of Carnivale in Seville before the Inquisition. To sum up, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Now, off to something new!

01 December 2008

Two Great Thanksgiving Week Reads

Hey, everyone - back again.

We were in the Twin Cities last week for Thanksgiving and our niece's baptism - and a lovely time it was. Wish we could have spent more time with my in-laws, but the time we had was lovely, and that's all one can ask for, right?

I'm trying again to get back to some good reading, and I connected on a couple of doozies this week. Here are some very brief reviews.

The Road is the best book I've read this year. Nothing even comes close - not by a long shot. In addition to this being my Ireland year (The Irish Century series by Morgan Llywelyn), it's apparently becoming my Cormac McCarthy year, with No Country For Old Men (in both literary and cinematic form) and, now, The Road. No Country For Old Men was a suspenseful, driving, macho course filled with gunshots, psychotic hit men and Texas pride. Thankfully, the Coen brothers more than did the book justice in their incredible movie - I've rarely seen a movie that better captured the feel and tone of the book on which it is based. The Road, on the other hand, is every bit as suspenseful, but far more claustrophobic and surprising along the way. It's a post-apocalyptic tale, but at the same time it reminded me of Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls in style and tone. You know you've picked a winner when the book you're reading makes you stop breathing; The Road contains several such moments. AND, to make matters even better, the movie version that will be released in early 2009 features Viggo Mortenson in the lead role. Outstanding! Highly recommended reading for anyone who can immerse themselves in a very grim future for the sake of an extremely well-spun story.

Just After Sunset marks Stephen King's return to short story, and this Constant Reader is pretty happy with the result. His recent fascination with Florida continues - several stories are set in Florida, and he admits that his new home in the state plays a part in this. But they're good stories, nonetheless, especially N., Stationary Bike and A Very Tight Place, the last of which features an extremely disgusting yet totally enjoyable encounter with a biffy tipped onto its door with a person trapped inside.

And that's the literary story from Ames for today. Up next is Rob Bell's new book, Jesus Wants To Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile, as well as the final book in the Star Wars: Legacy of the Force series. I might get over the 50 book bar this year, or I might not, but it's been a pretty good reading year nonetheless. Hope you enjoy some of the stuff I've posted here, and look for more book postings in the future.