31 May 2009

Running Report: Dam to Dam 20K, Des Moines, IA

I ran a dam 20K yesterday. [ba dump crash!]

The Dam to Dam is supposedly the largest 20 kilometer race in the country. I don't know if that's true, but there were 6,746 finishers, so you figure it's pretty big. All I know is I had a good time for being fat, slow and tired on race day.

The biggest drawback? Early start time + point-to-point course + sleeping at home Friday night = EARLY wake up call. As in 4:00. I met with our local runners group at 4:30 to pick up my race bag with timing chip and number, then drove to Des Moines with the group. We arrived at our parking ramp in downtown Des Moines and I promptly forgot my wallet in my car, so had to leave the runners group and go back. By the time I got down to street level the bus crowd was really big. I mean REALLY big. Crowds are the name of the game at Dam to Dam.

They dropped us off below Saylorville Dam at about 6:30. At this point I was thinking it would be a snap to get to a biffy, do my last 'business' before the run, lube up and get ready to go. Of course, that didn't happen. Biffy lines were long wherever you went, and they also didn't tell us that it was a walk of about a mile to the start on the Dam. So I got into line about 45 seconds before the starting gun went off, which wound up being okay since it was another seven minutes before I actually crossed the line and started the run.

It was a BEAUTIFUL day for a run. Temperature was about 60 at the start and was no higher than 73 at the finish. Light winds kept us cool as we moved off Saylorville Dam and wound through some countryside on our way into town. I can only remember four noteworthy hills, including the road over I35 where people were honking the whole time as they drove underneath us. Great day for a long run with 7,000 friends.

Personally, the day was just an endurance test. It's no secret that I've been struggling with training, my back and my weight since Alanna was born. So my only real 'goal' for this race was smart race management, as in: 1. No walk breaks; 2. Proper hydration; 3. Negative splits toward the end. I got the first two right on, but the third was just too much yesterday. I felt really good throughout the race, which indicates I hit a good pace for what was essentially a long, easy run. My feet and knees bothered me throughout, but never more than what I've become accustomed to enduring, and toward the end they weren't much of a problem at all. The only times I walked were at water stops and for one bathroom stop in mile 11. I only stopped for water twice, at mile 5 and mile 9, and I think that's about right for me. In previous distance races I've drank far too much and gotten sick at the end - yesterday, I felt just fine crossing the finish line and got some Gatorade in me right away to replenish fluids. Negative splits just didn't happen, for a couple of reasons. First, I haven't gotten enough rest lately, and the early start just sapped whatever energy I had to give from my limited sleep. Second, I'm just too heavy right now to run more than six miles at a hard pace, so by mile seven I could tell I'd just need to take it easy and grind my miles out to the finish. Third, I haven't run enough this spring, especially long runs. If I want to get faster, I'll just need to keep picking up miles until I'm back to where I was senior year of seminary. It was just tough to pick up the pace at the end - I covered mile 12 in 9:30-something, but miles 9-11 were all around 10:00. I just didn't have good speed in me yesterday.

But the course was great, the fans cheered us on and overall I was pretty happy. The post-race expo was really confusing, but I got my medal and some good food and enjoyed the post-race glow before changing my clothes and heading north to Ames. Next Saturday is going to be fun - a 10K charity race in Lincoln with college buddies. Hopefully this 20K will make next week a walk in the park - or maybe a jog.

Grace & peace,

29 May 2009

The Reason Why I Do This #427

I was privileged in conversation yesterday. It started with Ryan, a graduate of Our Fair University, who is in town and just wanted to grab lunch together. Then it was steaks and potatoes on the patio with Mikah, my campus pastor's son, who has grown from the squeaky-voiced ping-pong nut we all loved into an incredibly talented singer hoping to study abroad next fall, after his internship in Switzerland this summer. Finally, it was our Theology on Tap group last night, which included Eric, another alum who is now on internship and looking forward to being a pastor in just over a year.

I know I've shared before how I struggle sometimes with the more personal aspects of this calling to ministry. I still come home Sundays ready to crawl into my cave and not talk with anyone for a while, and probably always will. But the fact that some conversations take a lot out of me does not mean those conversations aren't enjoyable, meaningful and sometimes even life-changing. It is a great privilege to be given the gift of conversation, to be privy to the hopes, dreams, sorrows and frustrations of God's people, to be ushered through the doorway of someone's protective emotional barriers into the house where the unfiltered, exposed core of that person lives. Is it hard at times? For me, personally, it can be - but that does not in any way negate the holiness of these conversations. Dear God, don't ever let me trade, in a moment of weakness, these holy times. If I am called to be a tired, caffeine-mainlining denizen of every coffee shop in town, so be it: here I am, Lord.

Grace & peace,

The painting is "In Deep Conversation" by Pam O'Connell

27 May 2009

Connections and Community

I love Facebook, mostly for one reason: connections.

At the present I have over 700 friends from all sorts of different times and places in my life. My two best friends from high school are there. The guy with whom I share a brain is there. My 'little sister' is there. One of my best friends from seminary recently joined up. People I haven't seen face to face since elementary school are there. Music Camp friends. College Band friends. Family, of course, is there. One big happy mess of connections.

But is it community? I'm not certain. Actually, I'm of several minds on the subject.

On the one hand, the FB community allows me to keep up on who's sick, who's getting better, who's losing family, who's getting divorced, who's getting married, all of that stuff and more. I've discovered news that is important to me and to my friends because status updates can be a really useful way to get news out quickly. One friend who lives in South Korea at the moment had a prayer chain up and running within hours of the recent nuclear insanity on the part of North Korea. I truly believe these things are important.

On the other hand, some of these 'friends' are surface relationships at best, people with whom I have fleeting connections or, even worse, folks I just don't have the heart to turn down. I'm sure several of my FB friends felt the same way when I sent my request to them. Let's face it: as much as I treasured the company of X, Y and Z at music camp 17 years ago, we haven't heard from each other in all the years since - can you really call that a 'friendship?'

Jan E recently wrote about Twitter and what it can and can't do. I guess I feel the same way about FB (and no, I'm just not gonna tweet - it's not my thing): where it helps, great, but let's not mistake it for the real thing. Some FB relationships are an acknowledgement of a shared past - others are the signs of a hoped-for future friendship (I would put most of my blogging friends in that category): what really matters is the time we're willing and able to invest in each other in real, concrete terms.

We have a Lutheran Campus Ministry Facebook group, but, more importantly, we have Lutheran Campus Ministry. They are not equivalent - one is a tool to serve the other, and that's something for all of us to keep in mind.

Grace & peace,

25 May 2009

A Memorable Parenting Moment

She's watching Sesame Street while Mommy and Alanna nap and I read a magazine.

[deadly serious voice]: "Oh, no."

"What, Ainsley - what's wrong?"

"Oh, no." [pointing at me]

"What's wrong, Ainsley?"

"Oh, no - boogers."

Turns out she wasn't pointing - she was showing. And there was plenty to show.

Now she's back to watching Sesame Street. Me? I can't stop chuckling...

22 May 2009

Friday Five: VACATION!

I should be on my way home at the moment, but I haven't done a Friday Five in a while, so I'll just be a teensy bit late while I think fondly of trips and non-trips of years past.

1) What did your family do for vacations when you were a child? Or did you have stay-cations at home?
We did take vacations, but almost always with family in mind. I remember several trips to Des Moines to see family on my Mom's side, and trips to Omaha for family on my Dad's side. We went to Chicago when my Uncle K & Aunt A lived there, and also to Denver to see Mom's sister L, her husband G and their son J, who is just a year older than me. The longest trip together by far was the year we drove to Seattle to see my Dad's sister P and my cousin K. We drove through South Dakota and saw Mount Rushmore, drove through Yellowstone and saw Old Faithful, stayed with my Mom's Aunt E and Uncle D in Wyoming, then stayed for a week in Seattle before flying back to NE (my grandparents flew out and drove our car back). It was a great trip.

2) Tell us about your favorite vacation ever:
While the one mentioned above was wonderful, my favorite by far was our honeymoon in Germany. Kristin's family hosted an exchange student who is now a professional basketball player in Europe, and he was married three months after our own wedding, so we decided to go for the ceremony and then do some traveling. Using Rick Steves' tour guide (thanks to my sister-in-law and her husband, who'd done the same trip two years earlier), we drove around Germany for a week by ourselves, with stops in Rothenburg ob det Tauber, Nurnberg, Munchen, Hohenschwangau and Wurzburg before flying home. Great beer, incredible sights, a really fun rental car, great beer, good food, great beer and, of course, the wonderful company of my wife made it a trip that'll be hard to beat. Did I mention the great beer?

3) What do you do for a one-day or afternoon getaway...is there a place nearby that you escape to on a Saturday afternoon/other day off?
We haven't found it just yet. There's a really nice state park not too far from here that everyone suggests, but travel with our girls to anywhere like that is really tough. As they grow older, though, we'll do lots of camping and hiking and outdoors-y things with them. I'd love to spend a day or two riding along some of the great trails in the area once we get a bike trailer, or maybe spend the day at the Iowa State Fair with the whole family when they're older. For now, though, one day get-aways are for me, not for the family. :-)

4) What's your best recommendation for a full-on vacation near you...what would you suggest to someone coming to your area? (Near - may be defined any way you wish!)
Amana Colonies. You just can't do anything else in this part of the country, really. There is a neat wine trail that the local wineries have put togther, so oenophiles could certainly do that, but for most folks, this part of Iowa means Amana Colonies and perhaps Dyersville, the "Field of Dreams" field. I know others who live here would disagree, but chalk it up to my ignorance of Iowa and let me say I hope to discover more to enjoy the longer we live here (and we want to stay a good long time).

5) What's your DREAM VACATION?
A month in Ireland with Kristin, followed by another month in Germany. Could also be done in a cabin on the north shore of Lake Superior, much like the picture here. Unlimited money for Guinness and pub food. My guitar with me and a solid grasp of a goodly number of reels and jigs so I can sit in on sessions in local pubs. Time in the morning to drink good coffee and read good books. Afternoon visits to museums, castles, landmarks, what have you. Most of all, to fit into the local culture and not be so easily identified as American tourists - always a goal for me wherever I go.

Bonus: Any particularly awful (edited to add: or hilarious) vacation stories that you just have to tell? ("We'll laugh about this later..." maybe that time is now!)
When we got to Germany for our honeymoon, we thought we had good directions from the airport in Frankfurt to Bamberg, a drive of approximately 160K. What we didn't realize is that in Germany roads often cross and re-cross one another, so it's best to get directions by city, not by road numbers. For example, to get to Bamberg you go through Town A, then Town B, etc., not the A5 to A29 S to ... You get the picture. So, we got lost. Then, when we realized we were off track, we tried to get back on track, which is difficult with a dyslexic navigator and a driver who's not sure exactly where he's going. About two hours after we landed, when we should have been arriving in Bamberg, we were off the map in some hills southeast of Frankfurt, calling for help on what we soon realized was a phone only used for accidents or car trouble. As we sat in the car, frantically trying to figure out where we were, arguing with each other about how we'd gotten into that mess, windows down because of the heat and not wanting to run the engine for fear of running out of gas, a moth attracted by the dome light flew into the car and we wound up screaming, flapping our hands at it and finally opening both doors and shooing it into the night. Then Kristin was crying, but 30 seconds later we were both laughing our asses off. It was just so absolutely ridiculous. Pretty soon we got back into the car and just started driving until we found a road on the map, and eventually we found our way to Bamberg. The really funny thing? We were never lost again on that trip. Not once. And now we do indeed laugh about it.

The pictures, from top to bottom:
- On the shore of Lake Superior, north of Duluth, summer 2004
- Sharing a drink at this cute cafe near the Kaiserburg in Nurnberg, summer 2004
-"Our" cabin at Cascade River Lodge, north shore of Lake Superior, summer 2006
- The Panorama Trail Overlook at Yosemite National Park, summer 2004
-Hanging out with friends in Lincoln, NE, summer 2006 (and soon to be together again, which is the best reason for traveling these days.)

20 May 2009

Getting Comfortable

Day two of the great dog adventure left me thinking, "Why the hell didn't we do this before?"

We had a great day with Jack. I didn't go for my run with him this morning: sore feet and tired legs told me it might be better to take a day off. So we came downstairs and read for an hour before the girls started waking up. Then we all had breakfast, and Jack went outside to do his business (and what a load of business he did - a poop scoop is item one on the Target list for the week). I worked from home while the girls went to the gym, then Jack and I went to my office for the afternoon. We came home around 4:00, and at 5:00 Jack, Alanna and I went to pick up Ainsley from her first afternoon on her own at preschool. I grilled pork chops for supper, and for the past hour we've been downstairs together. Jack has finally barked - at Reggie, no less, and I'll admit to a fair amount of schadenfreude watching our seasoned pesterer get a taste of his own medicine from Jack.

Having Jack with me at the office felt absolutely natural, and a steady succession of visitors did little to change that feeling. The high point of the day was a sit-down with the recruiting chairs for Beta Sigma Psi, the Lutheran fraternity. While I'm very supportive of the fraternity, getting settled and focusing on ministry at the Lutheran Center didn't leave much time to get connected with the Beta Sigs last year. The new recruiting chairs took the initiative this week to introduce themselves to me and ask how we could work more closely together - and I'm very thankful for it. (I should note that the previous Beta Sigs did nothing wrong; I just didn't make those connections as I'd hoped to do).

I've thought often over the past months about how ministry changes as you get comfortable in a new call. The best comparison I can find is playing football in the NFL. You often hear people talking about the game "slowing down" as a player gets comfortable; you embed more and more the longer you play, until much of what you do is second nature. And the less you have to think, the more you can trust your instincts, the wider your perspective comes and the better you play the game.

There's a danger to this, of course. Whole denominations are in turmoil because they are gripping tightly to an outdated model of ministry with which they're comfortable, rather than changing to meet the needs of current generations. My church is one of those struggling with this aspect of our life together. I am only eleven years removed from my last campus ministry experience, but very little of what I knew then can be used now. No one uses Unix for email or internet anymore - why would we think that using horribly outdated ministry practices would be any more successful?

That having been said, there is something positive about a certain level of familiarity and comfort in one's environment. When we welcomed Pastor Luhwa to our house two weeks ago, we did our best to make him feel at home, and invited him to consider our house his own, but let's face it: no one actually takes the invitation to heart. Guests are guests, even when they've overstayed their welcome - only residents have the right and expectation to get comfortable.

We are no longer guests here - we are residents, and we're starting to feel comfortable. As you can tell from the picture above, even though he's only been here a short time, Jack is no longer a guest, either. And that, friends, is a good thing.

Grace & peace,

19 May 2009

Another Addition To The Family

Hi - I'm Jack! The Bald Guy brought me home from the animal shelter today and I've been checking out the new digs ever since. So far it's pretty cool. The Bald Guy seems to be the boss: I heard the Lady say something about "Alpha," but then the Bald Guy said something about church programs and laughed and I'm not sure what all that was about. The Lady is really nice; she spent ten minutes cuddling with me on the floor tonight while the Bald Guy finished getting the Shorties out of their bath. Speaking of the Shorties, Baby Shorty was so nice; she crawled right up to me in the yard and giggled and laughed and played with me - it was really awesome. Curly Shorty was sleeping when I came home, so I had to wait to meet her. When I did, she freaked out - crying and jumping and running away. But after a while, she warmed up to my charming personality and even asked to go on a walk with me.
I do have some doubts about these folks; they have cats. The grey one doesn't say much and pretty well keeps to himself, but the black one is all up in my junk and hissy. He's not real thrilled, and not only that: he's got a potty mouth to boot!
Anyway, I was really hungry and they fed me good, they gave me lots of treats, and the Lady just spent twenty minutes coaxing me down into this room they call the Base-Ment so I could write my first post. It's really cool here! But the Bald Guy says we're going running in the morning, so I'd better go to sleep.
Jack the Dog

18 May 2009

Two (OUCH) Steps Forward, One (OUCH - DAMMIT!) Step Back

Caution: whining ahead.

This has not been a stellar physical year for me. Two episodes of severe back pain have been really difficult to overcome, even with chiropractic care and what I thought was progress in taking care of myself. And lately things just seem to be getting worse. This morning I rolled out of bed with extremely sore feet, hips and back after having done nothing but sit on my ass and drive for four hours yesterday afternoon. Okay, well, I did preach yesterday and play with the girls, but that's nothing out of the normal for me.

Going to try to make a massage appointment today. We had a great therapist in Minnesota who went and abandoned us - something about a guy she liked, and would I do the wedding - I dunno, all I remember is she left us. We miss her terribly, both for her great work and for the friendship we formed. NM, anytime you want to move to Ames, we'll help you get started again, and even find a job for RM if he has to come along. I suppose I can support your need for marriage if you can support my need for pain relief. :-)

I know, this isn't the first time I've used this space to bitch about physical problems. But damn, this gets old after a while. I like being active, and I like running/biking/lifting weights, and right now I can't and I'm more than a little frustrated/scared about it.

13 May 2009

Baccalaureate Address for Colo-Nesco High School

I should start by offering a word of thanks to Pastor Fran Beyea for inviting me to speak tonight. It is an honor to be invited here; almost as much an honor as it was to change my daughter’s poopy diaper this morning. If you’ll bear with me for the next few minutes, I’ll tell you why.

Over the course of the next few weeks you’ll hear plenty of speeches asking you to dream big, to push your envelopes, to imagine bold futures for yourselves. I don’t mean to quibble with you at a time of such great excitement. The speakers who invite you to imagine possibilities? They’re absolutely right. You should look for challenges that inspire you. You should seek out experiences that will expand your mind and broaden your perspective on life and living. Go to college. Study in a foreign country. Join your parents and keep the farm in the family. Open a business. Love with abundance, even when it hurts. All of these dreams and more are good things, the kind of dreams that make us who we are. And yet…

You know that times aren’t good for a lot of folks. Some of you have watched your parents struggle to pay bills or keep their marriage together. My wife is a Family and Youth Minister in Ames; just yesterday she spent a long time talking with a family who’s high school daughter has been cutting. People are losing jobs, losing houses to floods and foreclosure, losing faith. Life can be bitterly, cruelly hard sometimes, and sometimes it makes you question whether or not anyone cares, whether you matter, whether the world would be different if you weren’t around.

This is where, for me, the poopy diaper comes into the story. I’m a Lutheran pastor, and one of my favorite sermons by Martin Luther has to do with marriage and faith. In it, Luther says this:
“Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool, though that father is acting…in Christian faith, my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all his angels and creatures, is smiling, not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith. Those who sneer at him and see only the task but not the faith are ridiculing God with all his creatures, as the biggest fool on earth. Indeed, they are only ridiculing themselves; with all their cleverness they are nothing but fools.”
My wife and I have two daughters: Ainsley, our two year-old, and Alanna, who was born last summer. About once a week, I have one of those moments when I think, “Holy crap, we’re parents!” I get those moments most often when I’m changing poopy diapers. I don’t know why – that’s just when it happens. In the midst of the most basic, disgusting task a parent has to do, revelation happens and I’m knocked off my feet by the holiness of the moment - this smelly, disgusting, sometimes surprising moment. In this holy moment, we matter to one another.

What Luther noticed was this: everyday, ordinary life is far more important than we realize, and everyday, ordinary work is far more holy than we know. Anyone here a fan of the show “Dirty Jobs?” My favorite episode takes place in a sewage substation underneath the city of San Francisco. The host, Mike Rowe, has to help one of the sanitation workers clean out a plugged sewage line. There’s a room in that substation that’s foul beyond belief: and if the sanitation worker doesn’t clean it out, who will? And if that work isn’t holy, what work ever could be?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who was part of the resistance movement against Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. On 21 June 1944 he wrote the following in a letter to a good friend:
"I discovered…and I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner…, a righteous person or an unrighteous one, a sick person or a healthy one. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God …”
Bonhoeffer knew as well as anyone what it meant to “throw ourselves completely into the arms of God.” In 1933, when Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany and he began making laws to persecute people of the Jewish faith, Bonhoeffer was one of the first to speak out publicly. When most of the German churches aligned themselves with the Nazi Party, Bonhoeffer was part of a small group of people who started their own seminary to train pastors. In 1944, Bonhoeffer was arrested for conspiring against Hitler and planning an assassination attempt, and in 1945 he was executed at Flossenburg Concentration Camp. Yet this incredible man, described by many people as one of the 20th Century’s few martyrs, was an astonishingly ordinary guy. He smoked too many cigarettes. He liked to play music. He also played a lot of sports. He enjoyed travel. And he was engaged to a woman he loved very much. Bonhoeffer is one of my heroes, not only because he was a brilliant thinker and a man of great courage, but because he saw the holiness in all aspects of human life.

You’re going to be surprised at how ordinary life turns out to be, how many of your days will not be filled with fantastic journeys and incredible accomplishments. Some of your dreams may come true. Many of them will not. That doesn’t mean you should stop dreaming – it means that you should include your ordinary life when you dream about what the future holds for you.

There’s a story told about a cathedral in Chartres, France. During its construction, a visitor from Rome stopped to see the amazing new cathedral being built in this small French town. As the workers were leaving at the end of the day, the visitor would ask them what they were doing in the cathedral. “I make glass windows,” said one. “I am a woodworker – I make those beams you see over there.” “I carve the stones for the altar.” Finally the visitor from Rome met an older woman with a group of young people, cleaning up and sweeping and organizing tools left lying on the floor. The visitor asked her, “What do you do?” She looked around, then looked at the visitor. “I am building a cathedral for the glory of God.”

They all had it right: but the woman who saw the holy in her work had it more right than the others. Life in itself, with all its intricacies and banalities, with all its pleasure and suffering, is a great gift from God and meant to be lived fully and lived well. So in this season of celebration, when you rightly commemorate one of the major rites of passage in American life, don’t forget the depth of your experiences here. Don’t overlook the small gifts each day has brought you. And as you prepare for your future, dream not only of days marked by high achievement, but also of days marked by great contentment in surpassing ordinariness. Throw yourselves unreservedly into all of life, and you will find a life of rich abundance awaiting you.
Pay your bills.
Drink coffee with friends.
Pay your taxes.
Clean the bathroom.
Call your mother.
Shop for groceries.
Pick up after your dog.
Clean the litter box.
Brush your teeth.
Take out the trash, and most of all,
change those poopy diapers – and look within it all for the holiness of the ordinary. God bless you all, and thank you for inviting me to share this special moment with you. Good night.

Sucky Internet + Tanzanian Visitor = Bad Blogger

The title pretty much covers the status of things at Chez Johnson. Here's possibly more information about our time with Pastor Luhwa than you'd like to know. I plan to return to regular blogging once I figure out what the starts-with-h-rhymes-with-bell is wrong with our modem.

We had the privilege of hosting Pastor Luhwa from Tanzania in our house Wednesday-Sunday of last week. Hosting a visitor whose primary language is not English can be a wonderful yet exhausting experience; spending so much time making sure you're understanding each other and trying to be a gracious host without being obsequious about it takes a lot out the most outgoing of folks like my Beloved, to say nothing of what it does to an introvert like myself. We have made a wonderful new friend in PL, however, and I'm so very thankful to have met him and learned so much from him; we would do it again in a heartbeat, and we're thinking and planning how to get to Tanzania sometime in the next few years to see this experience from the other side.

Pastor Luhwa arrived Wednesday night around 6:00, and we met Clement, one of PL's parish members, while we were greeting Pastor Luhwa. We gave Pastor Luhwa a completely American experience right away: we rushed through supper so we could get back to work quickly! Kristin and Pastor Luhwa headed off to Confirmation at St. Andrew's while our babysitter watched the girls so I could clean the kitchen. Then I left for the Lutheran Center and didn't see anyone awake until Thursday morning, since I usually arrive home at 11:00 or later Wednesday nights.

Thursday morning we had time for a good breakfast and some conversation with Pastor Luhwa. Ainsley and Alanna were a bit taken aback at our visitor, but they quickly grew comfortable with him. After Pastor Luhwa left for his day at the Iowa State Veterinary Medical Center, we went about our usual Thursday business. Thursday night was the Lutheran Center Choir Dinner at Dublin Bay, so I took our Tanzanian visitor to eat with our white midwestern kids at an Irish restaurant - a real cross cultural experience! He had the chicken sandwich, but found our discussion about Guinness and its merits fascinating. In the course of the meal Pastor Luhwa discovered that friends of his had visited Camp Ewalu and met one of our students, which delighted him to no end. He told me on our way home that he enjoyed the night very much. He also noted that my Volkswagen is a very nice car, and it took me a good while to explain that while it is a nice car, I probably shouldn't have bought it and the payments are more than I'd like to be paying. It was an interesting discussion at the very least.

Friday began with another breakfast and conversation and then Pastor Luhwa went to the doctor with Kristin and Alanna for Alanna's 9 month shots. After that they came over to the Lutheran Center and we all walked down to the Union for lunch. Pastor Luhwa had another chicken sandwich, and when I asked if he'd like to try some of my Panda Express, he told me that rice is what everyone eats in Tanzania and he'd rather stick with his chicken. He was interested that I was eating with chopsticks - I think he said he'd never seen someone do it in person before.

At noon Pastor Luhwa joined the "Theology for Lunch" crowd at the Center. He was obviously growing tired, but he did seem to be following our animated discussion, and he took notes several times. One of our gifts to him was the book we're currently studying, On Being a Theologian of the Cross by Gerhard Forde, and I hope he gets the chance to read it when he returns to Tanzania. At 1:00 eight of our students came to have coffee with Pastor Luhwa, which was a great turnout considering it was Friday of finals week and most of the University crowd were leaving town as quickly as they could. We had an hour of conversation about life at Iowa State and why campus ministry is important to our students.

After that conversation we came home and Pastor Luhwa took a nap while I read. Friday night we were joined for burgers and brats by our nanny, Lacey, her boyfriend , and Pastor Jesse Larson of Collegiate Presbyterian in Ames, who is a good friend of ours and an experienced traveler in Africa. The meal was a wonderful sharing of food and friendship, but the aftermath was even better. Jesse and I and Pastor Luhwa talked about politics African and American for at least an hour, ranging over many subjects and learning much in the process. We had a GREAT time with each other.

Saturday began with another big breakfast, at which time Pastor Luhwa mentioned how much he enjoys our "heavy" breakfasts. I didn't have the heart to tell him that most days we grab a bowl of cold cereal on our way from the shower to the door! Then we spent a leisurely morning puttering around the house before a shopping trip to Lowe's, where we bought potting soil and a few odds and ends I needed for yardwork. Then we had grilled chicken for lunch before entrusting Pastor Luhwa to another church family for an afternoon boat excursion near Des Moines.

Sunday morning we ended our time together with a final "heavy" breakfast and more conversation. Kristin and I both learned a lot about Pastor Luhwa's ministry over the week and consider ourselves very blessed to have had him as a guest in our house. As a matter of fact, our time with him will be the illustration I'll use for our campus ministry summer newsletter: just as we tried to provide kind hospitality in a strange land for Pastor Luhwa, so campus ministry seeks to provide kind, gracious hospitality and ministry to students in a new environment. We learned so much from him, and enjoyed his company tremendously. It was a great few days and I can't wait to join the AARLA meeting Thursday morning and see PL once again.

So, that's the story of our Tanzanian visitor. I'll close this with one of the few Tanzanian phrases I know: asante sana, Pastor, for blessing our lives last week!

Grace & peace,

05 May 2009

When Did I Become My Father?

Today is my 35th birthday. 35?

I remember my dad's 36th birthday. We had a barbecue at the farm and friends came. I asked my grandmother how old she was - she said "34" and I told her "My dad's older than that!"

I really don't have a problem getting older. Frankly, life has gotten better the further I go. Sure, I'm starting to lose my hair and my back has become a problem lately. But I've grown. I've learned. I'm still passionate about the things I love, but the more I live and love, the more I understand that passion and channel it in proper ways.

One of the most enchanting ideas from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is Bilbo's gigantic birthday party. I love the idea of the host celebrating by inviting friends and giving gifts rather than accepting them. If you were here, you'd be invited to dinner tonight. Life is good, even if I may not get a run in today because my back is hurting again. So, I'll celebrate. We'll grill some steaks and bake potatoes and peppers. I'll hug my girls lots. And, hopefully, we'll do this again for, oh, another 50 years or so.

With that, I leave you with today's Writer's Almanac. I share my birthday with some interesting folks. Have a great day, everyone - this one's on me.

Today is Cinco de Mayo, which celebrates Mexico's defeat of French invaders at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Cinco de Mayo has actually become a bigger holiday in the United States than in Mexico, where it is mostly a regional holiday in Puebla. There are large Cinco de Mayo celebrations; with parades, music, and food — in Los Angeles, Denver, Portland, St. Paul, and other cities across the country.

It's the birthday of philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, (books by this author) born in Copenhagen, Denmark (1813). He inherited enough money to be financially independent for his entire life, and he published many books, including Either/Or (1843), Works of Love (1847), and The Sickness Unto Death (1849). He was almost unknown outside of Denmark in the 19th century. But in the early 20th century, he was rediscovered by European writers and philosophers, and he is now considered the founder of existentialist philosophy.

It's the birthday of the novelist Kaye Gibbons, (books by this author) born in Nash County, North Carolina (1960). Her father was a tobacco farmer, and she grew up poor. She loved to read but the only books in the house were a Bible and a book on cattle castration, so every week she walked to the local bookmobile. Her mother committed suicide when Kaye was 10 years old, and her father drank himself to death a year later. The girl lived with a series of relatives. She said it was "the sort of childhood that encourages someone to either become a writer or to rob convenience stores." So she became a writer. She won a scholarship to the University of North Carolina, and while she was a student, she started writing a novel based loosely on her own childhood, called Ellen Foster (1987). It got great reviews, and since then she has written many books, including Charms for the Easy Life (1993) and Sights Unseen (2005).

It was on this day in 1891 that Carnegie Hall in New York had its opening night. The performer was Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

It's the birthday of Karl Marx, (books by this author) born in Trier, Prussia (1818). He got a Ph.D. in philosophy, but he couldn't get a job as a professor because of his involvement with radical politics, so he became a journalist instead. His columns critiqued local government practices, like a new law that made it illegal for peasants to gather firewood from the local forest. His writing made his newspaper so popular that the government shut it down. He was stuck without a job, so he decided to spend a few months analyzing the previous 2,000 years of world history, and he came to the conclusion that all historical events were caused by economic forces. He moved to Paris, where he was introduced to the basic ideas of communism, and he met Friedrich Engels. In 1848, they published Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei,the Communist Manifesto.

It's the birthday of journalist and social activist Nellie Bly, (books by this author) born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in Cochran's Mills, Pennsylvania (1864). She wrote columns about working women, she travelled through Mexico reporting on life there, she faked insanity in order to write an exposé of life in an asylum, and in 1890, in the spirit of Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days, she broke the world record for traveling around the Earth, which she did in 72

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

Grace & peace,