30 January 2009

Somebody Had To Say It

I like Claire McCaskill's take on the present financial crisis and the use of TARP funds to pay executive bonuses in excess of $18 BILLION. "Idiots" is one word a person could use. "Criminals," unfortunately, is not a word you can use at the moment, but it seems like something about this mess ought to be against the law.

When an executive spends $1.2 million redecorating his office while his company is circling the drain (said decorations including "an $87,000 'area rug,' $28,000 for curtains, a $68,000 credenza and ... a $1,400 wastebasket," according to CNN's Campbell Brown), it is made perfectly clear that the executive class in the USA has largely lost the ability to police itself and must be reined in through other means.

I like the idea of capping all salaries at $400,000 per year, though I don't think there's a snowball's chance in hell that this bill will even make it out of committee. And no, this isn't about jealousy (okay, well, maybe a little of it is). It's about the good of the entire society. It's about the growing gap between labor wages and corporate wages. It's about 2% of the population holding a vast majority of the capital. It's about our lack of public will to eliminate poverty, hunger and lack of access to proper medical care, and people with the means to contribute the most lavishing themselves while children freeze to death on our streets this time of year.

In the Old Testament, care for the dispossessed and the lowest classes was one of the measures by which God judged the faithfulness of the people. Just so we're clear, that didn't cease to matter after the resurrection, folks - we still need to take care of each other, and if it takes handcuffs and prison time to bring certain portions of our population into line, so be it.

Friday Five: House Porn Edition

Okay, maybe this is a bit crude - but it's definitely true, at least for some of the stuff on HGTV. ANYWAY, it's a fun Friday Five, because while I do have some issues with HGTV, I love home projects and definitely have some ideas for our house. Here goes!

1) If you could, what room in the place you are currently living would you redo first?
The dining room. While the wallpaper border isn't really as awful as we make it sound, we'd like to do something different, and we hate wallpaper in all its forms and manifestations. A bold color behind the door and a nice neutral to set it off would be great, and we're going to replace the ceiling fan with a worn-out motor with something a bit quieter and less icky (we're not much for gold lacquer or fake wood grain on the fan blades).

2) What is the most hideous feature/color/decor item you have ever seen in a home?
The Pepto Bismol walls in our master bedroom. Here's a shot, before we painted it. 'Nuff said.

3) What feature do you most covet? Do you have it? If not, is it within reach?
A double garage with room for a small woodshop. Don't have it, don't have room for it, won't be happening in this house. But I want it all the same.

4) Your kitchen - love it or hate it? Why?
I'm indifferent. Good appliances, though I'd prefer a gas range. Lots of cupboard space, but outdated and in need of some serious facelifts. Will be installing slide-out cabinet racks sometime in the next year, hopefully, which will help. Eventually it'd be great to have a built-in dishwasher instead of the portable one we have at the moment. But it'll do for now.

5) Here is $10,000 and you HAVE to spend it on the place you are living now. What do you do?
Rip out the wood paneling in the basement, and the unvented gas heater. Install a corner gas fireplace, put up insulation on the concrete block walls, and drywall everything, building in cabinets and cases for audio & video equipment and books. Mount a flat-screen TV of approximately 50" and install a surround sound system before replacing the ugly suspended ceiling with something nicer, which includes recessed lighting. Paint and enjoy. The nicest thing about this project is that it actually could happen if we ever saved enough money.

BONUS: Why do you think there was such a surplus of ugly bathroom tile colors showcased in all homes built from the 1950's right through the early 80's?
Just more evidence of the complete lack of style and taste during those years. The only art that showed any promise throughout that time period was rock and roll music, frankly, and disco damn near ruined that, too.

29 January 2009

Thursday Thoughts: No More Magic Jesus

In reading and thinking about the texts this week, I've been struck off and on by the thought that the last thing Jesus wanted to be was a magician. Unfortunately, we seem to really prefer him in that role: one wave of the magic prayer wand (or one turn of the "Answer me Jesus," I guess) and you get whatever it is you want or need. If you don't get it, of course, "God has something better in store for you."

We would do ourselves a heap of good if we could get past this faulty picture of God. Maybe all the time we've spent in Job this year has colored how I'm looking at things, but it seems obvious to me that in creation God has chosen to act with a certain amount of restraint, in order that the whole creation might be free to interact with itself. Sometimes those interactions have adverse consequences, and maybe that's the frustration we have: on the one hand, God promises great love and desire for the well-being of humanity, but on the other hand, cancer fucking sucks, and it doesn't appear to be going anywhere just yet. That's just one example.

The reason this comes to mind is the man possessed by demons in this week's Mark passage. How do these things happen in a world where God is love? But they do. Worse, even though Jesus stays in Capernaum for a while and heals a lot of people, he eventually moves on - and you know that the day after he moved on, someone else got sick, or fell under the power of demonic forces, and those people didn't get healed.

What does this mean? I'm not sure yet. What I'm sure is that Rowan Atkinson's performance below, while really, really funny, is unfortunately a pretty good example of the false picture we have of Jesus - and I'm terrified that I'm going to paint the same kind of picture if I'm not careful.

28 January 2009

Enjoying Our Not-So-Idiotic Box

I've been on a particularly good streak of television lately. I don't know what it is, but some oldies have gotten new life breathed into them, while two newer shows are really delighting both Kris and I, enough that they get a blog post. Yay!

The Big Bang Theory on CBS is a really, really funny show. The premise is somewhat believable, which helps, but what makes this show a lot of fun is the cast and their unbelievably good comedic skills. Simply put, these five actors really know how to make funny "funny." I've been reduced to tears of laughter in each of the last few episodes. Look for this one to continue for quite a while if they can figure out how to work the "Penny & Leonard's secret love for each other" properly. And how to keep people from just killing Sheldon.

Fringe on Fox is a lot of fun: it's The X-Files meets Lost (without the time-travel stuff). The cast is outstanding, especially John Noble as Walter Bishop and the guy from Dawson's Creek as Peter Bishop. Last night's episode dealt with liquefied brains, but they had enough guts to juxtapose a character's brain melting with her mother cooking spaghetti in the kitchen at the same time - THAT's good writing. I'm glad I got in on this one early - I won't be catching up for years the way I was with X-Files.

Friday Night Lights is finally back on NBC, though it remains to be seen if they've got the sense to keep this one around. Frankly, the couple playing Coach Eric Taylor and Principal Tami Taylor are the most realistic married couple I've ever seen on television, and two of the most positive role models on TV as well. Last week they jerked us around by our hearts quite a bit - I remember looking at Kris about halfway through the show and saying, "this f#%$ing show; they do that on purpose!" But it is good television, well worth the agony of watching an entire town succumb to the idolatry and obsession that is big-time Texas high school football.

The all-around prize winner for jerking heartstrings, at least this week, goes to Grey's Anatomy. I stopped watching at the beginning of Season 3 because the show seemed completely self-indulgent and whiny at the time: "oooh, my super-rich hottie doctor boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/husband is sleeping around, and I'm so mad I could just...sleep with him/her!" Whatever magic they lost, it's back, big time. Last Thursday's episode might just be the finest hour of television I've ever watched, except for Dr. Mark Green's final episode on ER. Finally, the real world has returned to Seattle Grace Hospital, and not a moment too soon.

All right, that's the DVR workout this week for you. Back to sermonating...

Grace & peace,

26 January 2009

If You've Moved Your Office To A Coffeehouse, Does That Mean You're Emerging?

We're out of internet at the Lutheran Center - apparently I used it all up stalking students on Facebook. KIDDING! Actually, our router and the whole darned network went out on Friday, so the planned upgrade this week just got redefined, from "would be nice" to "gotta have it." Since I
  • can't print,
  • can't email,
  • can't use the online worship planner I usually use,
  • can't download the form for my annual report to the bishop, and
  • can't do pretty much anything else;
I grabbed the old lappy, hopped in the car and headed out. Now I'm comfortably ensconced by the gas fireplace and getting ready to do all the stuff I listed above.

I know people who are doing exactly what I'm doing right now, only permanently. Rather than spend time building, renovating and maintaining a building, their congregations meet in various places, and their pastors spend a lot of time doing exactly what I'm doing today. In some ways, I envy them (especially when we're out of internet). They don't have to spend time recruiting folks to shovel snow, vacuum lounges, or clean bathrooms; they certainly don't have to come up with several thousand dollars worth of internet connections, since they're piggybacking off the locals who offer the service for free.

But I also know that there is something incarnational about being a worshiping community that has a place to call home. Abraham might have been a nomad, and David might have worshiped God in a tent, but God also "dwelt among us," and I think there's something to be said for having a place our faith community can call "home." The price we pay, of course, is vigilance in two ways: tending to the needs of the building, and avoiding the temptation to think the building is the church. Having a long-term home says, "We're not going anywhere: we're in this for the long haul." Being faithful isn't just about Bible studies and coffee shop conversations; sometimes we're faithful by being good neighbors, too, and it's hard to be a good neighbor if you don't know where you live.

25 January 2009

Thank You, Captain Obvious

You Belong in Dublin

Friendly and down to earth, you want to enjoy Europe without snobbery or pretensions.

You're the perfect person to go wild on a pub crawl... or enjoy a quiet bike ride through the old part of town.

The Word in the Moment

You may have noticed I'm not posting sermons anymore. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, a colleague told me a story of how she discovered someone had been plagiarizing her work fairly regularly. While it would be the height of arrogance to think one's own work worthy of plagiarism, I'd still like to avoid the chance it might happen. We preachers work hard at putting together something original each and every week, and frankly, I do have enough selfishness to want to say, "This is my work, and not yours for the taking!" (I also cite my sources when I quote someone else in a sermon, mind you, for exactly the same reason.)

Secondly, I find that my preaching is changing here in campus ministry. While I do still work up a fairly detailed outline most Sundays, there are more occasions when I find myself moving away from the manuscript to engage our community more fully. It seems to me that there is a far greater impact when I can let a student speak the good news through conversational or interrogative preaching. Perhaps I'm merely reflecting the atmosphere in which I'm preaching, but the curious pendulum of my preaching is moving in a different direction at the moment than it did just a year ago. The amount of preparation remains the same: I spend several hours researching texts and working out a theme/thesis every week, and I know precisely where I'm being led on Sunday morning. But the delivery is vastly different than Marty's style pictured above. (The emphasis remains the same, however - both Brother Martin and I are pointing solidly to Christ and Christ alone).

I do hope to begin podcasting my sermons sometime in the near future, but some technical snags are in the way at the moment. A sermon is a curious thing: it is not a story, nor is it a speech, though it bears some resemblance to both. It is a product of its moment in time and in the intimate knowledge the preacher should have regarding his or her hearers. And I use the word "hearers" on purpose: we are more than audience or listeners when we gather for proclamation. A sermon is a doing of God's word, in the moment, and reading a text on the internet is not a sermon. I'm hoping that a podcast might better capture the Word in its moment, doing what it says, and I hope it's helpful - beyond that, I remain a humble servant, amazed that I still get the privilege of preaching God's Word.

Now, since it's after the Sunday morning hustle, and the girls are asleep, I'm off to my Sabbath rest. Peace, everyone.


23 January 2009

The Church I Know, The Church You Know

I just finished His Dark Materials for the second time, this time in audio format. While I enjoyed the story again, and I think Philip Pullman is a remarkably talented writer, I found myself also frustrated yet again with his narrow-minded approach to religion and the Christian church. It is unfortunate that so many people base so much of their anger against organized religion on what appears to be such a small portion of the church.
Pullman's characters discover that the Church, in Lyra's world in particular, is firmly dedicated to grasping and holding power, to controlling wills and even to taking life to protect their position and power. I remember thinking as I read, "if the Church I serve were really like this, I'd want to join Lord Azriel and take it out, too!" There is nothing wrong with wanting to do away with a corrupt, power-hungry, politically driven church. The problem comes when one takes one's picture of the whole from a snapshot of the lunatic fringe.
This is not the church I know. The church I know is dedicated to creation, to nourishment, to helping people discover their gifts and use them for the benefit of the world. Have we always wanted to do this? Not at all: in some periods of time, the church was guilty of exactly the type of sins Pullman levies in his fiction. But not presently, not in any way, shape or form that resembles the characterization in this series.
It is disheartening to think that a mind as obviously gifted as Philip Pullman's has been so clouded against this church I love so dearly. The church we see is the church we know, and someone (or, more likely, a whole congregation of someones) gave Philip Pullman a vision of the church that is far different from the church I know. That, unfortunately, leaves us with very different views of the church, even though we agree about corruption, legalism and the danger of mixing power and religion. It takes a great story and makes it merely good, with the caveat that could have been offered magnified into an outright condemnation I'm not sure is deserved. The church Pullman knows deserved rebuke: the church I know would accept it gladly. It's too bad we'll likely never have the chance to see that happen.

Cabin Fever Friday Five

Here in snow country we are settled in to what is a very long stretch of potentially boring days. The holidays are over. It is a very long time till we will get outside on a regular basis. The snow that seemed so beautiful at first is now dirty and the snow banks are piling up. Our vehicles are all the same shade of brownish grey, but if we go to the car wash our doors will freeze shut. People get grumpy. Of course, not everyone lives in a cold climate, but even in warmer places the days till springtime can get long. Help! Please give us five suggestions for combating cabin fever and staying cheerful in our monochromatic world?

Okay, here are my thoughts.
1. The best way to avoid cabin fever? GET OUT OF THE CABIN. I go running outside as often as possible, unless it's really freaking cold or I'm really freaking sick. Last night I got out for a nice five-miler in tights, shorts and two t-shirts; the exercise keeps me warm. So, get out for a walk or a run - you'll be better for it!

2. This year I'll be basking in the glow of a Cornhusker Gator Bowl victory over Clemson, the perfect finishing touch to a 9-4 season and, hopefully, the first of many more successful seasons. Thanks to the wonder of our DVR, I've got several classic Nebraska games to watch as well - which will help me survive the longest season of the year (off-season, not winter!)

3. I bake bread. Lots of bread, especially when it's Friday and I'm stuck on sermon prep. This one, unfortunately, has gone by the wayside this year due to moving/a new campus ministry/dealing with a toddler and an infant. But I still try to find time for baking when I can: it's homey, you can eat what you make, and NOTHING smells better than a mix of freshly-brewed coffee and freshly-baked bread.

4. Speaking of coffee, winter is a time to catch up on reading. Find a good book and a comfy chair at your local coffeehouse, and while away an afternoon. That's just a whole day of awesome right there.

5. Campus Ministry. Seriously, my call is invigorating, so I spend the winter looking at ways to challenge and encourage our student community. Sometimes I can incorporate many of the items listed above. Sunday morning we'll be baking communion bread; we have a book group; tomorrow we might be having a Lutheran Center group run. They don't go in much for the Nebraska football here at Iowa State, though. :-)

Well, there you have it. Oh, and I forgot sledding. LOTS of fun. :-)

20 January 2009

To Ainsley, On Your Second Birthday

Dear Ainsley,
This was supposed to be one of those super-sweet, super-sappy love letters, kind of like Heather or Matt write to their kids. But today I've either been chasing you around, giving your sister a bottle, or tending to the million-and-one things the usual Wednesday brings to a campus pastor. Plus, while I've been uploading some pictures, you've pulled all the movies out of the cabinet, same as always, and now it sounds like you're upstairs grabbing the silver out of the drawer again.

So, let me quickly say this: I love being your dad. I love the fact that in your two years, I can count the number of mornings you've woke up grumpy on one hand, with fingers left over. I love that you will laugh your head off if I pretend to bump my head into the wall (and you'll laugh even harder if I do it for real). I love the sight of you and your sister smiling and laughing at each other. I love that tonight, you got out one of our old photo albums and asked me to sit and look at it with you. I love giving you Supermans, Big Squeezes and Zurberts, and I even love how you never, ever slow down.

Thank you, baby doll, for bringing such joy and love into our lives. We're so very, very proud of you, and your mother and I love you more than anything except Jesus, each other, and your sister, so you've got that going for you, too.

Now I'm going to close, because it sounds like you just fell off the chair and bumped your head on the floor. Good thing you got a thick skull from Daddy: it looks like it's going to come in quite handy.

Love always,

The Dumbass Moment Of The Day, Or, The Early Bird Gets The Mess

If they can make coffeemakers that can adjust for temperature, brewing strength, even grind their own beans, why can't they make a coffeemaker that knows the pot is not under the water spout? Because that's apparently too much to ask of the moron who brews the coffee around here.


No, the picture is not my mess - my mess was bigger. And spilled onto the floor.

19 January 2009

Chock Full of History

It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day – which for our students means a day off, but for me, means a day to think on the changes we’re seeing this week. I’ve noted more than once this week that I would be happy to live to see a day when the election of an African-American, or a woman, or a Latino, or whatever non-white male as President would be commonplace, so unremarkable that it generates no commentary whatsoever. Because, if I should live to see such a day, it would mean that the person elected to that office would be elected strictly for the quality of their leadership, for the passion they invoke in those who support them, for the integrity and honor with which they approach such a public trust. I think it is these qualities that drove Barack Obama to victory in November, and I look forward to the day when, in the words of the late Dr. King, all people shall be judged "by the content of their character.” To dream those dreams is the birthright of every American citizen, and tomorrow we commemorate another step towards the fulfillment of those dreams for all people; and, I pray, we take a step toward the rebuilding of our relationships with the world as well.

15 January 2009

On Wisdom and Friendship

Crappity - Blogger just dumped this post and now I have to redo it all over again!

I'm in Minnesota for the Mid-Winter Convocation at Luther Seminary, and having a blast. The theme is "Engaging Scripture for the Sake of the World," and our keynote speakers are Walter Brueggeman and Terrence Fretheim, quite possibly the two most prolific and well-regarded Old Testament authorities in America today, at least amongst us mainline Protestanters. So far we've covered the Flood, Pharaoh and the Ten Commandments, Job and Daniel. You know, the lighter side of that kind of stuff. I've got enough material floating around in my head to fill several months worth of sermons and Bible studies (cue the groans from our campus ministry students).

I've also had the chance to reconnect with good friends. Last night I took two of our ULC alums out to dinner and heard how they like their new life in graduate school at UMinn. This afternoon I met a fellow blogger, one I've admired for several years, and discovered she's as kind in person as she is online. I had coffee with some of the friends who are responsible for me & Kristin getting together, pictured right, and this morning we rejoiced together when we heard that a third member of that group had a healthy baby boy last night. And as soon as I get done REtyping this entry, I'm going to go to our 2003 Luther Seminary Class Reunion banquet, which I'm really excited to attend.

It's been a good conference, even if I've basically ignored my sister-in-law and her family while sleeping at their house (sorry, guys!) and missing my girls. Wisdom and Friendship - both are hard to come by, but both are that much sweeter when you can enjoy them in the highest quality. Blessings, everyone - and stay warm!


13 January 2009

Putting the "Student" Back In "Student-Athlete"

Hold on to your seats, those of you who've known me for a while: I'm about to praise someone from Florida State University. :-)

Heard two bits of interesting news yesterday. Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh (pictured above) and Florida State's Myron Rolle (pictured below) have both chosen to return to delay entering the NFL draft for academic reasons.

Suh, a projected late-first/early-second round defensive lineman, came on like a BEAST at the end of the year, but every story about his decision to stay for his senior season mentions his family's dedication to academics and their desire that he leave Lincoln with a degree in hand. Rolle, also projected to be a first- or second-round pick, has elected to pursue the Rhodes Scholarship he was awarded earlier this year rather than enter the draft immediately.

Sure, both of these men will probably make millions in the NFL eventually, but it's refreshing and, I'll be honest, personally pleasing to think that there are still players in major college football who believe so strongly in pursuing academic accomplishments. Makes a guy who works on campus feel a bit better about things, to be honest. So, to the two of you and all the other athletes who are staying put in order to finish degree programs or do something remarkable without a football in hand, from all of us who want you to do well academically AND athletically, let me just say this: thanks.

12 January 2009

Today's Treat

No - not that. I'm trying to lose weight, remember?

Nope, today's treat was of the calorie-free variety, but almost as sweet. I just got off the phone from a long conversation with a campus ministry alum here at Iowa State. He and his wife were married in our building, lived in the student apartment (back when it was an apartment and not just a room) and he served as the ISU Lutheran Student Association president for a year or two. We talked for roughly twenty minutes about campus ministry, what it's like for me being here, how things have changed since his time as a student, and how he and his wife could help us financially with some basic ministry needs.

One of the things that most concerned me when I accepted this call was the necessity of fundraising for campus ministry. Frankly, I despise the use of the "f-word" in relation to our ministry here; I much prefer to call it "Stewardship." But one of my bosses says that what we're actually doing is FRIEND-raising, and though the term is a little cutesy for my taste, I understood what he meant when he first mentioned it to me. After today's conversation, I think I can do it, too.

Was the phone call about a significant financial gift? Well, yes, that was part of our conversation. But the far sweeter treat was the chance to talk with someone who thinks enough of campus ministry to support our work, 50 years after his own time in our ministry. He asked me to greet "all my fellow students that I haven't met yet" the next time we get together, and you know, I'm going to do just that. Simply put, this fellow gets why we're here, and he wants to help make sure we stay here for a while, and that's a treat.

The other part of these kinds of treats is this: I get to start making calls to our supporters next week, to thank them for their gifts to our ministry. We're going to get students to make some of the calls, also, which I think will be a real treat for them. I wonder if maybe this will be the place where some of our students start to learn what the "cloud of witnesses" is all about - if so, that'd be a treat, too.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go try and think about something other than hot fudge sundaes for a while - finding that picture set my mouth a-watering.


09 January 2009

Finding My Spot By The Fire

One of the most endearing memories I have of Larry, my mentor and campus pastor, comes from this time of year. Larry hated winter. I mean, he despised being cold with every fiber of his not-so-well-padded being. Skinny Germans with high metabolisms do not fare well north of the Mason-Dixon line, and even in Lincoln, Nebraska, winter can get cold. So, for a few months every year, Larry would come to the Student Center and immediately throw on the burgundy sport coat he kept in his office for just such weather. Then, when one of us pyromaniacs in the Student Center community would come in and build a fire, he'd come out of his office and find his spot by the fire. He'd warm his hands in front of the grate, and have a seat at the table. If it was really cold, he'd stand just to the left of the fireplace, with his skinny butt pressed up against the stones to keep himself warm.

One of the things I first noticed about the Lutheran Center here in Ames was the fireplace - it's almost exactly like the one in Lincoln. In fact, I have my suspicions that, given the similiarities in construction and the roughly concurrent construction dates, our buildings share the same architect and/or designer. Today, in a burst of inspiration, I finally figured out where my own spot by the fire will be. I've moved two of our wingback chairs on either side of the fireplace, set up a reading lamp, and made myself cozy. With a cup of hot chocolate at my side and a fire burning merrily in the fireplace, it's a nice spot to be.

And so goes the continuing saga of campus ministry for me. Ames is beginning to feel more and more like "our town," which is very good. The campus ministry game is slowing down for me, in football terms: like a quarterback who's learning a complicated offense, I'm starting to see how things fit together and the subtle nuances that can really make or break our ministry. Today, as I sat here writing my sermon, it occurred to me that perhaps someone will remember me in this spot like I remember Larry in his, and if that were to happen, well, I'd be pretty happy to be remembered so fondly. (Except for one of our students, who can't come into the building when there's a fire in the fireplace because of soot and airborne particulate allergies. So, I guess there's only one guarantee, and that's that D will NEVER remember me like this. :-) )

So, here are warm Friday wishes to you all, from my comfy spot by the fire. Peace, friends.


ps: if you are of the praying sort, please keep my friend Ellen in your prayers - she's received a pretty scary bit of health news today. thanks.

07 January 2009

Last Year, In Review: A Belated Friday Five

I didn't play the FF last week because I was at the National Gathering of Lutheran College Students in Chicago - but when LutheranChik posted it on her blog, it was far too intriguing not to do it, even late. So, here you go.

This Celtic Mandala represents life, noting how days and years turn from one to another. As we have stepped from 2008 into 2009 some of us look back with joy and others with saddness; probably most of us with a mixture of the two.

As we look back we may come to understand how God has worked in and through us in joy and saddness. how we have grown against what may seem impossible odds. As we look forward we may do so with expectation, and we may do so with fear and trembling. As we look back and forward in New Years liminality I offer you this simple yet I hope profound Friday Fivein two parts:

First list five things that you remember/ treasure from 2008

1. The day in July when Alanna Sophia Faye joined our family. Put that memory right in the file with Ainlsey's birthday in 2007 and our wedding day in 2004, and you've got a file full of happiness right there.

2. Buying our first house. No, it isn't the Taj Mahal - but it's ours, and we love being homeowners (most of the time). Getting in before the market went into the crapper and all the loans went dry was nice, too.

3. Discovering that the urge I felt for campus ministry was the pull of the Holy Spirit. True, I'm still a few days short of completing my first year in campus ministry - but it's been so rewarding (and, without being arrogant, we've been so successful here) so far that I can't NOT believe God is wrapped up in this somewhere.

4. Finishing my second marathon in June. Even with a less-than-stellar training effort, I shuffled my way from Two Harbors to Duluth in less than five hours. Next June I make the big push to break 4 hours, and hopefully take the next step to Boston sometime in the next decade.

5. Feeling our family bonds grow stronger. I've mentioned this before, but it just feels as though we're becoming a family in all the good ways. Driving home from Christmas with my family in Nebraska, I was struck more than once at how 'right' it felt to be driving a van filled with my wife and our children. I'm also amazed at how much we love spending time with our siblings and friends and all their children. The move from crazy college kids to grown-up people happened so fast (said the guy in his mid-30s who took ten years to finish his degrees and actually GET A JOB.)!

Then list five things that you are looking forward to in 2009

1. Spending the summer outside with the kids. By the time May rolls around, I'm pretty sure Alanna will be close to walking and we'll be ready to put in some serious time in the backyard and at many of our local parks. That's going to be a LOT of fun.

2. Getting a dog. Hopefully soon.

3. Continuing the work of building our ministry at University Lutheran Center. Specifically, enlarging our community and finding more ways to divest my ownership of the ministry and increase the participation on the part of our students. It's a great privilege to watch them grow and discover their gifts and abilities.

4. Family time with the grandparents. Whether it's a trip to Oregon or a visit back to the farm in Nebraska, watching the girls learn about Grandma and Grandpa and Grandpa and Grandma is about as good as I could have hoped.

5. Grandma's Marathon, June 20, Duluth, Minnesota. The day I go for a sub-4:00 marathon (cue the "Rocky" theme).

Finally, Sally left this great blessing from the Iona Community for 2009, which I'm going to work into our liturgy for this Sunday, the first of 2009 for our student community:

We stand to face the future:
God behind us in the past
Christ before us; the way ahead;
Christ beside us in this moment;
Christ beneath us in our weakness;
Christ above to shield us-
beneath the shadow of his wings we are safe;
Christ between us to bind us in the unity of his love;
Christ in us equipping us with his all sufficient grace.
Thus armed and guided, and protected we face the new year.
Now we arise and go forth on the journey before us,
knowing that, where Christ leads, life is a journey home.
Therefore we travel in faith, in hope, and in love,
in the name of the Father/ Mother, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
May the blessing of God
be upon us
all this year
and into eternity. Amen.

06 January 2009

Why I Posted My Weight On Facebook

Well, here's the deal. Since becoming a father twice over, the war on excess weight in my life has mostly been a retreat. True, it hasn't become an out and out bloodbath yet - I'm holding steady at the same weight over the past month. But I'm tired of just getting by and being disappointed when I look in the mirror. So, hopefully, a little public accountability will go a long way.

Before I go any further, it should be said that my sense of well-being is fine, and I do NOT find any sense of personal worth in my weight or lack thereof. I'm a child of God, and will be at whatever weight I might happen to weigh. I'm not starving myself, or taking on any unhealthy practices to lose weight. You won't find any diet drinks, fat-blasters or funky herbal concoctions in our house. Some of my friends have struggled with anorexia and/or bulimia, so you won't even find me joking about taking any harmful steps to lose weight. Healthy eating, regular exercise, plenty of sleep - that's the prescription, and hopefully my status update will show some progress over the next few months.

I have more than one reason to do this. First, I just want to be healthier, and I don't want things to get out of hand as they did in my early twenties (I think I topped out at about 270 pounds back then). Second, I'd like to get back into some of the clothes I've outgrown in the past year or so, and to feel better in the ones I'm wearing now. Third, and most importantly, I'm going to run Grandma's Marathon again this summer, and at 190, with proper training, I think I should be able to break the 4 hour barrier at last. I don't know how this will go. I love a beer or two at night, and frankly, it can be really hard to prepare healthy foods with two babies in the house. But I'm hoping this might be one more tool to bolster my discipline, and let's face it - a little transparency goes a long way.

Not too much transparency, though - you don't want to see that. :-)

01 January 2009

Going For Two, After Twenty-Five Years

Well, so much for not posting for a while. I think the break I needed was from the almost-two-year-old who would rather hit my arms while I'm trying to type! :-)

Today is the 25th Anniversary of one of the foundational moments of my childhood. The voice in my head says, "Twenty-five years?" Yep. Twenty-five years ago tonight, the Cornhuskers went for two. The 1984 Orange Bowl, #1 and undefeated Nebraska played #5 Miami in their home stadium for the national championship game. That 1983 Nebraska team had the best offense in college football that year, possibly the greatest ever assembled (until this year's Oklahoma team, that is). They beat Minnesota 84-13. They crushed nearly every team they played, and I was nine years old and wanted to be Turner Gill when I grew up. (I still want to be Turner Gill when I grow up, but for vastly different reasons now.) But with 42 seconds left, Nebraska scored to make it 31-30. A tie probably would have given Nebraska the national championship, but Tom Osborne went for two, and the rest is history.

Here is a YouTube clip of that fateful series of plays at the end of the game. And here is a nice article in USA Today about the game.

What I remember is feeling great sadness that we didn't get the job done, but even greater pride that we took the honorable route and went for the win. Back then, there was no overtime in college ball, so it was a do-or-die choice, either way; you take the tie and the national championship, but also the knowledge that you took the easy way out, or you go for it all and risk losing everything. In all the years since, with Husker greatness in the '90s, Huskers betraying the Nebraska Way with criminal behavior, and of course the downfall of the dynasty in this decade, we've always pointed to this game as emblematic of all that is great about Nebraska Cornhuskers Athletics, all that we aspire to be and become.

Today, the Cornhuskers play Clemson in the Gator Bowl, and I get to watch it in Chicago with a bunch of Lutheran students from Clemson and their campus pastor, who is a good friend. It's going to be a real treat, and I hope they show the '84 Orange Bowl highlights as part of the broadcast, because it'll give me a chance

2008 Books List

Well, here's the list for the year. You can see that I fell a bit short of the "50 Books" goal, but it's still a pretty hefty list, if you also consider I gave the old school try on Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson in addition to everything on the list. It was a good reading year, that much is certain: there are some really good volumes on this list. My recommendations are in bold. Happy reading!

1. 1776 by David McCullough
2. Desperation by Stephen King
3. The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
4. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
5. Duma Key by Stephen King
6. The Sandman Vol. 1, Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III
7. The Centered Life by Jack Fortin
8. No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
9. Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
10. 1916: The War for Independence by Morgan Llywelyn
11. 1921: The Great Novel of the Irish Civil War by Morgan Llywelyn
12: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
13: 1949: A Novel of the Irish Free State by Morgan Llywelyn
14. 1972: A Novel of Ireland's Unfinished Revolution by Morgan Llywelyn
15. 1999: A Novel of Ireland and the Search for Peace by Morgan Llywelyn
16. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
17. World Without End by Ken Follett
18. Star Wars: Legacy of the Force: Betrayal by Aaron Allston (seriously, could we have a few more colons in that title?)
19. Mister B. Gone by Clive Barker
20. Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (in German, Discipleship is Nachfolge (following-after), the source of my blog title)
21. Star Wars: Legacy of the Force: Bloodlines by Karen Traviss
22. Dreamcatcher by Stephen King
23. Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card
24. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King
25. Cell by Stephen King
26. Ethics by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
27. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
28. Beowulf - translated by Seamus Heaney
29. Hero of the Underground by Jason Peter
30. Druids by Morgan Llywelyn
31. Star Wars: Legacy of the Force: Tempest by Troy Denning
32. Star Wars: Legacy of the Force: Exile by Aaron Allston
33. Star Wars: Legacy of the Force: Sacrifice by Karen Traviss
34. Star Wars: Legacy of the Force: Inferno by Troy Denning
35. The Irish Civil War by Tim Pat Coogan & George Morrison
36. The Greener Shore by Morgan Llywellyn
37. Star Wars: Legacy of the Force: Fury by Aaron Allston
38. Star Wars: Legacy of the Force: Revelation by Karen Traviss
39. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
40. Brisingr by Christopher Paolini
41. Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions by Neil Gaiman
42. The Sandman, vol. 2: The Doll House by Neil Gaiman [graphic novel]
43. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
44. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
45. Just After Sunset by Stephen King
46. Star Wars: Legacy of the Force: Invincible by Troy Denning
47. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
48. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
49. Peace Like A River by Leif Enger