29 January 2010

Friday Five: Social Media

This week's Friday Five, courtesy of RevGalBlogPals:

I had the joy of spending time with Songbird last weekend, someone I would have never met had it not been for the blogosphere. Now we keep in touch using a large variety of methods: blog (hers a lot, mine not so much lately), facebook, twitter, text messaging, chat and email. So far there has been no skype.

It got me thinking of the pros and cons of these relatively new means of communication and interconnecting and so I ask you the following:

  • 1) What have been the benefits for you of social networking (blog, twitter, facebook, etc...)

First, I keep in touch with far more of my friends far better than I have in years. We joined Facebook sometime in 2007 on the invite of a seminary friend, but things really took off after we moved to Ames and I started really using Facebook as a means of communication and contact. I’ve reconnected with some friends I really missed, especially from high school and college, and even some family members with whom I’ve always wanted to be more connected. So, obviously, connection is a big deal, especially over the last two years.

I’ve been blogging since 2005/2006 or so, but much of what I once did on my blog is far more easily shared via Facebook. Now the blog has become more of what I thought it would be: an avenue to share more dedicated writing, such as sermons and the like. I don’t do as much as I want to right now, but I think once the girls get a little older and less supervision-intensive, I can get back to some more demanding writing.

  • 2) Which medium do you use the most? Or if you use them all, for what do you use each of them?

Facebook is what I use the most, by far. Everything we do as a campus ministry goes out over Facebook. I also use Constant Contact to do mass announcements, while the blog, as I noted before, has become more of a writing site these days.

  • 3) If you could invent a networking site (with no limits on your imagination), what would it provide? What would it not provide?

Honestly, I wouldn’t, because there’s enough out there already. I don’t think you could make a networking site that would be revolutionary enough to overcome the fact that it’s just one more login/network to suck up my time.

  • 4) Who have you met that you would not have met if it were not for the 'miracle' of social networking?

I’m Facebook friends with a number of fellow bloggers, some of whom blog anonymously. That, to me, is really freaking cool. And it gives me people to look up when I’m headed somewhere IRL.

  • 5) Who do you secretly pray does not one day try to 'friend/follow' you?

Honestly, I don’t think I should answer this, because you KNOW the second I do that person is going to look me up via Facebook, right? J Actually, I can’t think of anyone – is that a sign I need to live a bit more dangerously?

  • BONUS: What was the most random/weird/unsettling/wonderful connection you made that would not have happened if it were not for the ease of which we can find each other in the computer realm?

Last spring I was in Eugene, OR for my father-in-law’s retirement celebration. I arranged a few hours to get away and write my next sermon one afternoon, and I found a really neat local coffee shop online for my mobile “office.” While I was there I remembered that an old camp friend had lived in Eugene for a while, so on the off chance she was in town and free I dropped her a note via Facebook telling her where I was and how long I’d be there. Not twenty minutes later she walked into the coffee shop, which, as it happens, is only a block or two from her office. We had a perfectly lovely chat, and it was just wonderful. Now I look forward to hopefully meeting her again next time we’re in Eugene. There will be more random Facebook meet-ups, I’m sure, but this one wins for sheer coincidence and “only because of Facebook” randomness.

24 January 2010

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Epiphany - "TODAY"

So, there they were, gathered at the Water Gate into Jerusalem, the east side of the city, where anyone could gather, even those who were not pure. And they gathered as one to hear Ezra the prophet read to them from the law of the Lord, the great God. And he read: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."

And they read from the law, hearing all that God had told them in the days before their captivity in Babylon and their exile from the promised land. And the people of Israel saw their sin, how they had strayed from God, becoming strangers to him and a people without a Creator. They knew that the four hundred years of their captivity to foreign kings was of their own doing, and they knew that nothing could ever repay that debt. And they wept for their sin, in grievous sorrow, but also in the joy of a new opportunity to be God's people. And the prophet Ezra told the people "Do not weep, for this day is holy to the Lord your God, and God’s joy is your strength." So the people obeyed, hearing the word of the Lord from the prophet, and having it explained to them by those who could read the law and understand what it said, what it demanded, and what one could and could not do under the law to be right with God.

The psalmist wrote this about the law: "The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent. The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes." This is the same law that the prophet read to the people; the book of God for the people of God. And it reads: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God; the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." The psalmist is right: this is a good thing, to hear this commandment and follow it. And the psalmist continues: "Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get dominion over me." Yes, Lord, keep us from being presumptuous, from saying and doing things that are not ours to say, from being that which we are not. And help us always, Lord, to love you with all our heart, soul, and might.

Come forward in time with me, now, about 550 years or so. There they are, gathered in a synagogue in a small town near the Sea of Galilee; the men in their prayer shawls, observing the Sabbath and preparing for the reading from the book. There was a new energy in the room that day – Jesus, the son of Joseph the carpenter, had come home from teaching in many of the towns around the area, and he was going to read and teach this day, too. So when they handed him the scroll of Isaiah, a hush fell on the room, and everyone sat forward to listen. And he read from the scroll of the prophet, words they had never heard together before: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me…" He continued, reading about release, sight from blindness, and hope for the hopeless. And then, he sat down to teach, to interpret, to explain to the people what the prophet said, what he demanded, and what they could and could not do under the law to be right with God.

Keep me from presumptuous sins

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…"

Let the words of my mouth & the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight

"Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing…"

One might suppose that the people didn't know just how to receive this word of Jesus, this teaching from the law of God. The psalmist prays to be kept from presumptuous sins, a good prayer, a RIGHT spirit in the sight of God. After all, we must be humble and let God be God, right? And, on first glance, it seems that Jesus is doing just that. Note the story from today's Gospel text – Jesus is teaching in all the synagogues, but when he returns home, he goes to church on the Sabbath, just like always and just like everyone else. But when the word of God comes out of the mouth of Jesus, strange things begin to happen, and it's hard to know what one is supposed to see in this text.

Jesus says that the promises of the prophet have been fulfilled. That must have sounded as strange in Jesus' time as it does today. He says, "God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor;" and our welfare system still can't keep up. Jesus says, "God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives;" and still our prisons are overflowing. Jesus says "God has sent me to proclaim sight to the blind and the year of the Lord's favor," and still we can't see as a church which way God is calling us to go forward, and the church around the world is struggling with scandal, hypocrisy, and apathy. It would seem to be the height of presumption for Jesus to say these kind of things today, and I doubt that there's ever been a time when it would have seemed otherwise. The Spirit of the Lord may be upon Jesus, but he still looked like the son of Joseph the carpenter to them.

So, here we are: gathered in Ames, Iowa, listening to people read from the word of God, and trying not to be too presumptuous. After all, we can't free captives, can we? We can't give sight to the blind, or liberty to the oppressed, can we? We can't tell the poor anything but the truth, and we know from our self-help groups, Dr. Phil, and Oprah, that the captives need to break out of their bondage themselves, right? So for us to say that Jesus is right, well, do we want to be connected to this kind of presumption? In a word, yes, and for God's sake, we better be about it quickly!

It is NOT presumptuous for Jesus to say these things, and it's not presumptuous for us, either. Jesus isn't saying these words for some 'other' group of people who need God's help while we watch in approving silence – the word of God, when Jesus speaks it TO us, is fulfilled FOR US and all those who hear his voice. The people in our reading from Nehemiah needed interpreters for the word of God because they didn't understand what the law said, what it demanded, and where it directed their attention: Jesus, the LIVING word of God, is the end of interpretation because HE is the one of whom the word speaks, HE is the one the word of God demands, and HE is the focus of attention whenever the word of God is heard.

Here’s what I think Jesus is saying: “These things are true, I MEAN IT. It's a done deal – the gospel is now real and present – good news, release, sight, and freedom are fulfilled when I speak. I PRESUME to proclaim good news to the poor, sight to the blind, and the year of God's favor because I AM the good news, I AM the light to give the blind their sight, and I AM the embodiment of the year of the Lord's favor. Whenever and wherever my promises are spoken and believed through the power of the Spirit, there the blind will see, the captive will be set free, and even the poorest of the poor will believe that the joy of the Lord is their strength."

The word "today" means a lot in Luke's gospel:

  • In the days of Emperor Tiberius…
  • In the days of Caesar Augustus…
  • When Herod was governor of Judea…
  • "TODAY this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

Tiberius, Augustus and Herod are not the ones who will bring sight to the blind, release to the captives, light to the world: that is GOD’S work, and Jesus is the one who is doing it.

TODAY we have heard the same good news, and TODAY Jesus is still speaking and doing God’s work.

Not President Obama. Not Governor Culver. Not President Geoffroy. Only Jesus brings news of the year of God’s favor, and only Jesus can make us part of something larger than ourselves: His own living body, fellow children of God, at one with all the saints of every time and place. TODAY this is happening – because Jesus brings good news whenever we hear his word and receive his promises. TODAY this is happening. Right here. Right now.

What bondage, what blindness, what poverty could you be healed from TODAY?

  • Maybe you spend too much time with the idiot box
  • Maybe you have run up your credit cards and don't know how to get out
  • Maybe you bought into the idea that if you were only sexier, only thinner, only more glamorous the ones you love might notice you more.
  • Maybe you presumed that all the church should do is teach morals and provide coffee.
  • Maybe all your 'maybes' are keeping you from being filled with God's Spirit and believing that Jesus' words really are FOR YOU.

So, here we are, today. But today is different: Today you are not captive to the bad decisions, bad theology, and bad behavior of the past. Today, because Jesus has presumed to speak, you are set free, regardless of the bondage that may have held you in the past.

Today is different. Today you will not be oppressed by the fear of what will happen tomorrow. Today you are no longer oppressed by the future and its uncertainties. When you know that the hand of God holds the future in a firm, yet tender grasp, what worry is there about tomorrow?

Today is different. Today the spiritual poverty under which you have struggled is beginning to lift, and the good news is this: your spiritual poverty is being replaced by the opportunity to live for others, to work against poverty in all its forms, to be a child of God who is blessed to be a blessing to the world.

Today is different. Today you will see more clearly the world God has given you and your place in it. Today the Spirit of God is upon you and will be your sight in this present darkness. You can show the light of Christ to those living in darkness. You can

Today is different because Jesus Christ is here for you. Presumptuous? Heck yes – if Jesus can do this, you'd think he'd go even farther. Maybe he'll get really presumptuous and promise to raise the dead, too. That would be just like Him.

22 January 2010

Faith, Prayer and Drudgery

It has not been a particularly good week. In fact, I've taken to calling it my "FAILcation."

Every day this week has involved someone being home from day care, whether due to illness, holiday or some other conflict. The van was in the shop from Monday until Wednesday. As you've all noticed, the ice has made walking, the most mundane of daily activities, a task which requires hypervigilance. I've been able to work about a grand total of 12 hours this week, and right now I'm so frustrated I could just scream. (I won't, because the other folks working and studying here at Cafe Milo probably wouldn't appreciate being startled like that.)

The thing is, there's not much you can do about weeks like this. Kids get sick. Vans with 100K miles break down. The ice falls on the just and the unjust alike. Seems I've heard that somewhere before (psst: Matthew 5.43-45).

It's not fatalism to acknowledge that life will be life. If you think so, take a swing through the book of Ecclesiastes and see what the Teacher thinks about life. What I'm concerned with is this: is faith about getting out of unpleasant circumstances, or being able to live right in the midst of them?

See, here's the thing: faith is not about avoiding drudgery. It's certainly not a lot of fun to face the week Kristin and I have had, but praying for an escape from that feels more like praying to Santa Claus than to God. Faith and prayer are not about wish fulfillment; at least, not the kind of wish fulfillment that means running away from that which God has entrusted to us. Prayer is conversation with God about our lives, and faith is the power God gives to believe that the conversation is actually happening.

So I tell God, "Hey, it hasn't been an easy week."

"Yep. How are you holding up?"

"Not so great today. I'm frustrated, disappointed in myself, anxious about a lot of things and feeling like I'd rather just curl up in the basement and hide until spring."

"You know I can't let you do that, right? And that's not what you REALLY want anyway, is it?"

"I suppose not. It's just that I feel like the weather today: grey, icy, cold. I'm not sure I'm going to be a lot of good to anyone today."

"You might be surprised. Anyway, it's not about what you can do - it's about what I can do through you. I'll make sure what needs to happen, happens. You just trust in me and get back into the game. All right?"

"All right - but I'm telling you, what you get from me today might not be pretty."

"Like that's ever bothered me before?"

Faith, prayer and drudgery. As long as you have the first two, the last will never win.

Grace & peace


20 January 2010

To Ainsley, on her 3rd Birthday

Dear Ainsley,
Three years. How did we get here so fast? You'd think that after waiting 32 years to meet you, the next three wouldn't fly by so quickly. But, here we are: you're three, and I'm 35, and I pray to God we get at least another 40 years or so together.

We still talk about the day you came into our lives. How much fun it was getting to know you. That first bath. Introducing you to your family and friends. And how little sleep we got. And, of course, poop stories. But I wouldn't trade a second of it. Except maybe for that night Mommy was at work and you cried for THREE HOURS STRAIGHT and I had to put you in the car and drive around for an hour just to calm you down so I could calm down. But other than those four hours, it's mostly been incredible.

Ainsley, you've brought so much joy into our lives, most of which has come in surprising ways. Your infectious spirit and your boundless energy inspire me and your Mommy. The best part of my day, every day, is picking you up from pre-school and watching your face light up when you see me and your sister. The second best part of my day is sitting in my chair with you, you watching TV while I read the paper, and realizing, "Hey - Ainsley is my daughter. My little girl." Oh, how precious those moments can be.

You're an amazing little girl, sweetheart. Of course, I'm biased, but others have noticed your kindness and care for others, and have told us about you in words that filled us with pride. This morning kind of summed it up, didn't it? When I told you Mommy's tummy hurt, you said, "Mommy needs to take a BIG Tylenol." Then, when Mommy came out of the doctor's office, you went up to her, rubbed her tummy and asked, "Do you feel better now, Mommy?" Your concern for the people you love is obvious, and we're so amazed to watch you grow and learn how to be kind and caring, often without our help or encouragement.

I hope you enjoy your birthday today, honey, especially your new art station and the pizza and cake we'll share for supper. We love you so much, Ainsley Joy Suzanne - have a happy, happy birthday, and please, stop growing up so fast.

Love always,

15 January 2010

And Some Get Wicked Funny

I'm not a subtle person by any means, especially when I'm angry, and I was angry when I wrote yesterday. Lily Coyle of Minneapolis, on the other hand, was not angry. Or, if she was, she's much more cool-headed than I. Most people can only wish they could write satire this good.

Dear Pat Robertson,

I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I'm all over that action. But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating.

I may be evil incarnate, but I'm no welcher. The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished. Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth -- glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake. Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"?

If I had a thing going with Haiti, there'd be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox -- that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it -- I'm just saying: Not how I roll.

You're doing great work, Pat, and I don't want to clip your wings -- just, come on, you're making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That's working. But leave me out of it, please. Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract.

Best, Satan

Now THAT is good satire, folks. Prayers for Haiti continue to ascend.

14 January 2010

Agnus Dei, Qui Tolis Peccata Mundi, Misere Nobis

Mr. Robertson,
For the last several years, I've made the mistake of seeing you as a doddering, senile bigot whose rambling insanity and the forum which makes it possible is explainable only by sin and human stupidity. It appears I was too kind by half.

Make no mistake: I still believe everything I once believed, but I have a new perspective on your callous, inhuman bigotry. And the fault, for once, is mine, not yours. Every time you've issued your psychotic blamestorming on a population already suffering from natural disaster, I've laughed and reminded people how stupid you are, and how most of us in the Christian church believe you're an example of everything that could go wrong with our faith. But when the earthquakes ravaged Haiti this week, you blamed it on some supposed pact with the devil. For you, this was nothing but par for the heretical, vulgar course you've charted over the past twenty years. But for those of us in the ELCA, this one hit home, and so my eyes have been opened to the damage you've done.

You see, the bearded gentleman in the picture above was an ELCA seminarian, in Haiti for a January term course with his wife, his cousin and another classmate. He was less than six months from graduating and being called to serve a congregation as its pastor. By all accounts, he was a faithful servant of God, a loving husband and would have made an excellent pastor. I heard him preach just last summer, and I can tell you that your lunatic ramblings about God and evil have got nothing on the good news this young man could preach. Yet when the earthquake struck, only his wife and cousin escaped the collapsing building in which they were staying. While his death is not confirmed, all parties now presume that he did not survive the earthquake. He was taken from us in the earthquake, leaving behind friends and family whose grief you have insulted with ignorance, incompetence and inhumanity. I didn't know him well, but those who did deserve compassion and comfort in the face of this tragedy. Instead of Christlike compassion, you've poured bile and venom into their cup of sorrow.

Pat, you're not just a doddering nutcase. I was wrong about that. You, sir, are a cancer on the church. I'm ashamed to believe that Christ gave his holy, precious life to you. My faith tells me that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, yet I cringe to think that someday God will ask me to share eternal life with you. Fortunately for you, the decision of who gets in and who remains out is not up to me.

I hope God can forgive me for my anger. I pray, also, that in spite of your toxic tongue, the church I love and the God I serve can overcome your evil with good.

In Christ, reluctantly,

Those who would like to donate to Lutheran World Relief efforts in Haiti may do so here.

12 January 2010

Process for the Exorcising* of Negative Energy and Anger

  1. Drive to your gymnasium or exercise facility. If you're not a member, join.
  2. Punish an elliptical machine with 5-10 minutes of furious work. You will know when the machine in question has been sufficiently punished when the people to either side of you start to look at you with concern bridging on anxiety.
  3. Run three miles while watching a basketball game in which you are not personally invested (in my case, Ohio State v. Purdue. Probably not a good idea for you Buckeyes and Boilermakers).
  4. Cover all digital displays with your sweat towel and use the monotony of the run to free your mind to mentally process the situation from which all anger and negativity arises.
  5. While still running, arrive at a solution that seems reasonable, then develop action steps designed to bring about the desired solution.
  6. If, after three miles, steps three and four have not been completed, repeat those steps as many times as necessary. Keep in mind this may take a while.
  7. Immediately proceed to the sauna, allowing the heat and sweat to purge your body of any remaining toxins, including any lingering bits of anger that continue to cloud your judgment. If this step requires more than thirty minutes to complete, you may have rushed steps 3-5. If so, back to the treadmill you go. Hydrate first.
  8. Shower, go to the day care area, hug your daughters, kiss your wife, go home, eat supper and enjoy a night of Bible study with three college students whose company you enjoy.
  9. Blog.
  10. Beer.

Grace & peace,

*Pun ABSOLUTELY intended.

Community and Trust

We got to play a little bit this past weekend. Our congregation put on a Madrigal Dinner and I played a small role, while Beloved, as Youth and Family Ministry Director, waited tables with a bunch of her kids and generally worked behind the scenes (she's not the artsy type, so this was her choice - she could have been singing if she'd wanted).

It's a rough time for us and our congregation right now. Projected giving for 2010 is significantly below the projected budget, and it's looking more and more as if Beloved's call will be reduced to half-time or even cut altogether if the pledges continue to be so small. For the weekend, at least, that issue got put aside as we sang, ate together and enjoyed each other's company.

Unfortunately, this financial pinch is revealing some of the less-than-lovely aspects of living in a congregation. Tension has been high and, in an interim situation, the natives are restless. People's kingdoms are being threatened and Beloved has caught some blowback. Seeing the uglier side of a congregation we deeply love is not an especially enjoyable experience. We've had far too many conversations lately figuring out how Beloved can continue to work in a place where it seems as if every other week revolves around managing another set of unspoken expectations that didn't get met.

The thought occurred to us last night that the money isn't the issue. Money is remarkably impersonal, after all - you either have it or you don't, and it isn't money that's making the present situation so wretchedly uncomfortable for Beloved and me. The conflict isn't the core problem, either - conflict is going to happen in all sorts of ways in every part of our lives. What really hurts, what really causes us to wonder if it's time to find a new church home, is the broken trust, the sense that, no matter what Beloved says or does, someone is going to use it as ammunition against her. It's personal, it's unhealthy, and it is taking up far too much of our emotional energy over the past month.

No professional church leader expects carte blanche loyalty in every situation - at least, those of us who don't want personality cults don't. But there has to be a base level of trust for pastors and lay leaders to function effectively. In the healthiest communities, leaders are encouraged to be bold, visionary, to challenge members of the community to step beyond comfort zones and, most importantly, to feel as though mistakes will be addressed privately, compassionately and with the goal of strengthening the community foremost in mind. No community ever gets this completely right, but with grace and humility healthy communities can weather trying times and find themselves better for having faced the storm together. At the present time in our congregation, the storm is threatening, and it's hard to know if we can weather it together. Pray for us, and for our church, please.

Grace & peace,

11 January 2010

Just Gonna Say It

I'm growing tired of the church treating people I love like dogshit.

No, I can't say more. But I think that's enough, don't you?

Grace & peace,

08 January 2010

Friday Five: Dreaming

How funny - two posts in a row about dreams. Odd.

Anyway, Sophia at RevGals has the Friday Five today, and it's a good'un. I'll let her bring you in:

With the beginning of my college teaching semester I have been having some unusually intense and memorable dreams lately--especially related to my Women and Religion class. With the beginning of a new calendar year many of us are engaging with dreams of another kind: planning, brainstorming, setting intentions or resolutions, etc. And many churches will celebrate the baptism of Jesus this Sunday, reading the Gospel account of his vision of the Holy Spirit as a dove and the "beloved child" words of [God] that set him off on his mission sharing [God]'s dream for the world. So let's take a few minutes on this (where I am at least) lovely snow-blanketed Friday morning and share about the many different dreams and visions in our lives.

1. Do you tend to daydream?
Oddly enough, not as much as I once did. I am as absent-minded as they come, but my lack of attention to the here and now rarely, if ever, happens due to a flight of fancy. I'm usually thinking about something concrete, whether it's the church, faith, football, books, or something else I'm experiencing/pondering at the moment. When I was a kid, however, I often found myself getting scolded because I wouldn't/couldn't stop daydreaming about anything and everything.

2. Do you usually remember your night dreams? Do you find them symbolic and meaningful or just quirky?
I do remember my night dreams, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they are deeply symbolic and meaningful; these dreams come during the stressful times in my life (death of loved ones, during my divorce, moving, trouble with work for myself or Beloved). Sometimes I have nightmares, and for the life of me I can't identify a cause - they just happen and then they're gone. I've shared in the past about dreams (also here) that seem to be the mental equivalent of flushing toxins out of my system. And sometimes my dreams are just plain weird, and no, I can't say anything more than that.

3. Have you ever had a life changing dream which you'll never forget?
Yes. About a month after my Grandpa Johnson died, I dreamed he came and sat on my bed, healthy and much younger than I ever knew him, and we talked about life and how much he loved us. I had similar dreams when my Grandpa Janke and Grandma Johnson died as well, and I've often dreamt entire conversations with Larry Meyer, my campus pastor and mentor. I'm not saying every dream is a message from God, nor am I suggesting everyone dreams their prayers, but I will say this: my faith was strengthened by all of these dreams, because they seemed to be holy moments.

4. Share a long term dream for one or more aspects of your life and work.
I have a few. I'd like to be the campus pastor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln someday (relax, Eric, I'm in no hurry). I'd like to publish a book and sell enough copies to actually make a profit. I'd love to see if I'm up to the challenge of PhD level work on Bonhoeffer. But the dream overriding them all is to be a good husband, father and pastor first, and if that doesn't leave room for the rest, I'll be just fine.

5. Share a dream for 2010....How can we support you in prayer on both the short and long term dreams?
I'd love to see our campus ministry community double in attendance and activity by the end of the calendar year. I'd love to be pushing 100 in worship by December, with small groups meeting nearly ever day of the week in some shape or form. I'd love to have the sense that we're building leaders for the church, not just entertaining students as they pass through their years at Iowa State. I think that ought to be enough to pray on, don't you?

Bonus: a poem, song, artwork, etc. that deals with dreams in general or one of your dreams.
I've posted this many times before, but it's just so beautiful I keep coming back to it. I first discovered this poem in Garrison Keillior's collection Good Poems, and it always makes me think of those I love who've died, and how much I dream of seeing them again.

Four Poems in One

At six o'clock this morning
I saw the rising sun
Resting on the ground like a boulder
In the thicket back of the school,
A single great ember
About the height of a man.

Night has gone like a sickness,
The sky is pure and whole.
Our Lady of Poland spire
Is rosy with first light,
Starlings above it shatter their dark flock.
Notes of the Angelus
Leave their great iron cup
And slowly, three by three
Visit the Polish gardens round about,
Dahlias shaggy with frost
Sheds with their leaning tools
Rosebushes wrapped in burlap
Skiffs upside down on trestles
Like dishes after supper.

These are the poems I'd show you
But you're no longer alive.
The cables creaked and shook
Lowering the heavy box.
The rented artificial grass
Still left exposed
That gritty gash of earth
Yellow and mixed with stones
Taking your body
That never in this world
Will we see again, or touch.

We know little
We can tell less
But one thing I know
One thing I can tell
I will see you again in Jerusalem
Which is of such beauty
No matter what country you come from
You will be more at home there
Than ever with father or mother
Than even with lover or friend
And once we're within her borders
Death will hunt us in vain.

"Four Poems in One," by Anne Porter from An Altogether Different Language: Poems 1934-1994 (Zalond Books).

06 January 2010

Telling the Story in Different Ways

In perusing the reading list from 2009, anyone with eyes for it will notice that some comic books/graphic novels made the list. I've been reading Neil Gaiman for years now, and finally decided to check out The Sandman rather than wait and see if Gaiman will ever put the story into prose.

On the one hand, you could make the argument that, since I can easily read each of these volumes in a single sitting, they're more illustrated short story than books. But having gone through most of the series now, I'm afraid I'd disagree with you. For one thing, saying you're reading a comic book doesn't really do justice to the act: the words combine with the art to make something more than text, especially something as exquisitely artistic as The Sandman. For another thing, the story's the main point, and Gaiman is, in my opinion, one of the greatest storytellers of the present day, and he seems to be getting better the longer he does it. If you haven't read American Gods, Anansi Boys or Neverwhere, you're missing a lot of really, really good fiction.

It comes down to this: if you can tell the story, tell the story, in whatever medium works best. We in the church could benefit from focusing a bit less on our preferred medium of being and focusing a bit more on telling the story of Jesus in whatever medium works best. Not everyone can be a Neil Gaiman. Not everyone can be a Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, Marilynne Robinson. But Stephen King can't preach like Barbara Brown Taylor, either - and who's to say that there isn't an artist out there with the gifts and skills to tell the story of God and God's people with the same beauty, fascination and devotion as the folks who put together the wonderful world of The Sandman?

Some write songs. Some craft sermons. Some build stained glass. Some write icons. Some paint church bathrooms. Some balance budgets. Some teach Sunday School. Some sit by hospital beds. All tell the story of God in one way or another - and all are called to tell the story in whatever medium works best.

Grace & peace,

03 January 2010

2009: The Year in Review via RevGalBlogPals

Having left the charger to the MacBook behind while on holiday this week, I'm only four days behind on thinking about 2009 in review. Well, thinking publicly, that is. It was a crazy year, for sure.

It's not much of a stretch to say that there are times I resonate quite strongly with this song from Mary Poppins, which currently resides at the top of Alanna's Disney hit parade:

It would be lovely to live like this. But, alas, like Mr. Banks, my life is not so simple. In fact, upon reflection, the year more properly resembles this:

You know, minus the dead Nazis and such. Also, I didn't get shot. But it was definitely more crazy than predictable.

Last Friday's Friday Five at RevGals was about 2009 moving into 2010. Here's my answers.

1. What will you gladly leave behind in 2009?
Two children in diapers. Ainsley is mostly potty-trained at this point, with just nights to go, and she's doing great. I can't tell you how happy I am to be minimizing my daily contact with poo.

2. What is the biggest challenge of 2010 for you?
Living more purposefully. As any regular reader of this blog has noted, posting has become less frequent and of a lower quality, and that's been a snapshot of the year in real life as well. I make no resolutions for 2010 other than this: to live more in the place I am, in the moments around me, and to refine my use of Facebook et al so that it becomes a tool for connecting and not a crutch for living.

3. Is there anything that you simply need to hand to God and say "all will be well, for you are with me"?
Our financial situation. There's a strong possibility that Beloved's call as Family and Youth Ministry Director at our congregation will be terminated in May because right now the deficit between the 2009 budget and projected 2010 giving is so large it's impossible to ignore. We are making changes in our lives to prepare for the worst while hoping things work out for the best.

4. If you could only achieve one thing in 2010 what would it be?
Get my eating and exercise under control and weigh 200 lbs by the end of the year (I'm currently hovering between 225 and 230). Thankfully, I managed to hold off the holiday bulge, but I didn't lose anything, either. I want to be a sub-4:00 marathoner, and that's not going to happen unless I get serious about losing the weight and hitting the pavement. Plus, Jack has turned into a great running partner and I want to continue that bonding time with him.

5. Post a picture, poem or song that sums up your prayer for the year ahead....
You've seen it here before, but it's worth hearing again: "Steady On" by our favorite singers, Storyhill:

I might add that getting to a Storyhill concert in 2010 would be pretty sweet, too.

Grace & peace,

01 January 2010

2009: The Year in Books

Here's a list of the books I read in 2009. iPod and other audio books are noted with an asterisk (*), Kindle books (+) and books I'd recommend are listed in bold type. Happy reading!

1. Peace Like A River by Leif Enger
2. Atonement by Ian McEwan
*3. The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
4. Jesus Wants To Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile by Rob Bell and Don Golden
5. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Sabriel by Garth Nix
Home by Marilynne Robinson
*8. Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell
9. One Magical Sunday (But Winning Isn't Everything) by Phil Mickelson with Donald T. Phillips
10. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
*11. Imperium by Robert Harris
*12. The Mighty Johns And Other Stories by David Baldacci, Anne Perry, Dennis LeHane et al.
*13. Lirael: Daugher of the Clayr by Garth Nix
*14. The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier's Education by Craig Mullaney
*15. Abhorsen by Garth Nix.
16. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
17. The Gunslinger Born: The Dark Tower Graphic Novels, Book 1 by Stephen King, Peter David, Jae Lee and Robin Furth
18. The Long Road Home: The Dark Tower Graphic Novels, Book 2 by Stephen King, Peter David, Jae Lee and Robin Furth
19. 24 Hours by Greg Iles
20. The Sandman, Vol.2: The Doll's House by Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean et al.
21. The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean et al.
22. The Sandman, Vol. 4: Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean et al.
23. So Brave, Young and Handsome by Leif Enger
24. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
25. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
26. A River Runs Through It And Other Stories by Norman Maclean
27. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
28. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan
29. The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenberger
30. The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John le Carre
31. Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach
32. Rain Gods by James Lee Burke
33. Trinity by Leon Uris
34. The Sandman, Vol. 5: A Game of You by Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean et al.
35. The Sandman, Vol. 6: Fables and Reflections by Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean et al.
36. Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King
+37. Ur by Stephen King
38. Under the Dome by Stephen King
39. Redemption by Leon Uris
40. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright.
+41. The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time, Book 1) by Robert Jordan
42. The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

Best Book of the Year: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. A close race between this one and Peace Like A River, Sawtelle gets the win by retelling an old story (Hamlet) so well I wanted to skip work to read. Absolutely incredible. Bonus points for generating a furious discussion in Facebook about violence against animals (which I understood, but given that the dogs were major characters from the Hamlet story, you had to know it was going to be a bloodbath at the end).

Best Revisit: Dolores Claiborne. I think this was partially due to the wonderful narration of Frances Sternhagen, who gives an inspired performance and became, for me, the voice of Dolores for all time. I really liked the movie version of this book, but the movie is far different than the book, as much as Kathy Bates is different than Frances Sternhagen. If you've only seen the movie, you should check out this audiobook, as it will give you a completely different picture of King's novel. Eye of the World comes in second here.

Most Enjoyable Read: Bonk. I generally expect to enjoy books I discover listening to NPR, and this was no different. Mary Roach was interviewed on NPR, and I was so intrigued by the interview I went straight to the library and checked out the book. It is not a book for the shy or prudish, by any means, but it is laugh-out-loud funny at times, and I enjoyed the whole thing. I'm looking forward to delving into her other books Stiff and Spook after I catch up on some stuff I've been promising to read for a while.

A Tragedy in Reading: the cancellation of PBS' Reading Rainbow. I was already a dedicated reader when Reading Rainbow came along, but it certainly didn't make me want to read less. Anything that promotes kids reading more should be supported, IMO, and I was sorry to see it go. I hope two things: they'll keep showing reruns as long as they can, and that Pizza Hut keeps the Book-It program going long enough that our girls can take part. I'd love to share that memory with them.

Looking Forward To List for 2010:
  • Reading a draft of an unfinished novel and adding my editing thoughts
  • Hopefully reading through the Wheel of Time series before the second of the final trilogy is published
  • Digging into the stack of free classics I downloaded onto my Kindle a few weeks ago
  • Reading Cathleen Falsani's The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers while watching the movies themselves
  • In general, reading more as the girls require less intensive babysitting (especially in the backyard this summer?)
  • Reading more theology for continuing education, because I'm cutting my Con Ed budget as a cost-saving measure for our ministry