09 December 2011

Random: Posting a Friday Five

One possible way to get back to more regular posting is to use the memes like I had done in the past.  One of my favorites was the Friday Five at RevGalBlogPals - which is just random this week.  Count me in!

1.  I might actually reach my goal of 50 books read/heard/digested this year, if I work particularly hard over the next few weeks.  Unfortunately, some of the books on my upcoming "to read" list are rather thick, but they aren't particularly taxing, so we'll see if I get it done or not.  This year 50, next year 60, right?  In the next few weeks I'm going to go through my book list for the year and give short reviews of everything I've read - hopefully I'll get through it all before New Year's Day.

2.  The past few months have been pretty rough in the exercise department.  It's hard to find the energy when you're only getting 5-6 hours of sleep per night, but I don't know any other way to do what I need to do in a day.  Here's hoping sometime soon I can look back on the past few months as one of those "it was rough but we lived through it" times in our life.  At any rate, I'm back up to "hefty" size right now.  I'm hoping to drop five pounds in the next month by choosing my moments for holiday splurging wisely.  Task #1 on that list will be getting all the leftover cookies from last night's Open House out of the kitchen, right?

3.  I had a lovely hour reading by the fireplace at the Lutheran Center this morning, even if it did get interrupted a couple of times.  I haven't had time to sit and read at work in a long, long time, but there was time and a need for it today.  Hopefully I'll find some time to do more of it after finals week.

4.  Ainsley will be 5 in January.  That just doesn't seem possible.

5.  Alanna has to have her tonsils and adenoids removed on the 23rd of December.  On the good side, at least we get it in this year and insurance should cover most of the cost.  On the bad side, that means no trip back to Nebraska for the holidays.  After our wonderful Thanksgiving in Oregon on vacation, we were looking forward to quality time with the other half of the family for Christmas.  Here's hoping we get back sometime soon!

13 November 2011

For those with rambunctious children in church, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

My earliest memories of church revolve around two things.  I was four when the Lutheran Book of Worship was published, so I remember the old, worn red Service Book and Hymnal giving way to the new green book.  I think I learned to read going to worship with my family.  I know I learned to sing in church.  I remember standing and singing, first on the pew, then at my parents' side, holding the book and saying the creeds, the Lord's Prayer, the wonderful hymns.  Earth and All Stars!, Children of the Heavenly Father; Love Divine; All Loves Excelling; these are some of my happiest early memories.  That's the one thing I remember.  The other?  Being regularly dragged out of church by my parents for misbehaving.  Dreading Sunday mornings and getting dressed up, knowing at some point I would be in trouble.  Not wanting to go to church at all.
See this?  This is not my child.  Not even a little bit.

Sermon for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost - "Having Nothing and Having Everything"

I have to make a confession: I really, really don’t like this parable. This story of the three slaves and their master raises as many questions as it answers. The profit-seekers walk away righteous and the one who plays it safe is cast out of his master’s house. There is nowhere to hide in this parable: the master is as harsh as he seems, the prudent slave is punished, and the rich get richer. But perhaps this is a chance for us to think about what we have and what we do not, and how our fears, prejudices and trust can shape the life we live. Let us pray: Heavenly Father, the life you’ve given us is one of uncertainty. We don’t know if we’ve been given seventy more years or seven. We can’t see to the end of the day, much less the end of time itself. But we know that you have blessed us with gifts beyond believing, and we ask you to help us number our days in wisdom and trust. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

27 October 2011

Why We SHOULD Celebrate Reformation Sunday

It's Reformation Sunday this week in Protestant circles, which for us Lutherans means we're into the season of questioning the benefit of the thing.  One particularly well-stated article was posted by Clint Schnekloth at LivingLutheran.com:
As it stands, Reformation Sunday is the only Sunday of the entire church year that commemorates a moment in the history of Christianity rather than a moment in the narrative of Scripture itself. It is elevated and idealized precisely because it is so unique. This needs to stop.

23 October 2011

Creative Morality: A Non-Ideal Kingdom - Sermon for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost

There’s a quote attributed to Otto von Bismarck:  “If you like laws and sausage, you should never watch either being made.”  I will add one exception to the rule:  when it’s God who is creating, it’s always a good idea to watch carefully.  Let us pray:  Lord, you give commandments and we ask Your power to obey.  Create Your will in our hearts, that we may love what you love, serve those whom you would have us serve, and live forever under Your reign.  In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

02 October 2011

Sermon for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost: "Who Do You Play For?"

            In our reading from the gospel of Matthew today, there’s a question that goes unasked and unanswered.  The fact that we don’t ask it shows that this parable was, is and always will be about us.  The answer, when we finally have the eyes to see it, reshapes everything. 

18 September 2011

Sermon for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost - L20A - "Unfairly Loved by an Unpredictable God"

Preaching Texts

            My friend Brittany and I had a funny little Twitter exchange this week.  First she said something about “another 14 hour work day” (she’s an English teacher and they’re in the midst of their first round of parent-teacher conferences).  I replied “you get summers off – kwitcherbitchin – sez the guy who works one hour per week.”  And just like that we were off to the races.  She told me I could do her conferences for her if I liked, and I told her if I did they’d be a lot shorter and to the point: “Your kid rocks/Your kid sucks.”  She said she didn’t know many pastors who’d be satisfied saying things in one sentence when an entire paragraph would do. 

14 September 2011

01 September 2011

22 August 2011

To Walk the Lonesome Valley - But By Ourselves?

"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."  Matthew 16.24

I have always loved this spiritual - but today I wonder if its message is entirely correct.

16 August 2011

A Day at the Iowa State Fair

This is what our most recent family trip looked like.  My goodness, it's been a while since we've gone and done a day for just the four of us.  What a wonderful time we had.

We disembarked for the Iowa State Fair at 8:30ish yesterday morning, returned in the late afternoon and watched a little TV together before bath, books, prayers and bed.  Many, many pictures follow.

07 August 2011

Sermon for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost - Matthew 14.22-33 - "Ready for the Storm"

            In the mid-1990s I worked five summers at Carol Joy Holling Camp, a Lutheran church camp in Nebraska.  Toward the end of my time there, our program director became enamored of the works of John Ortberg, particularly a book entitled If You Want To Walk On Water, You Have To Get Out Of The Boat.  I will admit to being a sucker for a clever book title, particularly when it comes to books about the church.  Some of my favorites are Sacred Cows Make Great Hamburgers and When Bad Christians Happen To Good People.  But as much as I admire Ortberg’s title, and as much as I admire my program director, there has always been one assumption made by this title that has bothered me:  who said anything about any of us wanting to walk on water? 

21 July 2011

Parables Re-interpreted

In going over the Gospel text for this coming Sunday, I'm struck by a need to contemporize what Jesus is saying for modern ears. 

17 July 2011

Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, L11A - Weeds and Wheat

A few years ago, my wife Kristin and I took a group of kids to Sault Ste. Marie, MI for a service trip.  My work group was assigned to weed flower beds along one of the main thoroughfares in town.  From 10AM to 3PM.  Under the sun, with no shade.  In a week that set records for high temperatures.  

13 July 2011

Speaker for the Dead

I had one of those odd pastoral experiences yesterday - a funeral for someone I never met.

10 July 2011

Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost - Isaiah 55

This is not an exact copy of my sermon from this morning.  I preached from a series of notes and included some improvised reflections based on conversations I'd had with people prior to the start of the service.  But as I noted on Facebook, I was mainly preaching to myself today - thankfully, the folks to whom I was preaching seemed to be in a similar state of being.  
As you know, it’s been a bit dry around here lately.  Last night I got our sprinkler out for the first time this summer and gave the backyard of our house in Ames a good thorough soaking.  If it doesn’t rain today the front yard gets one tonight.  When it’s been scarce, rain is a good, good thing.  My dad is a third-generation corn and soybean farmer in Nebraska.  I know what it means to get the rain you need, the rain that can do exactly what the prophet says it will do in our Isaiah text this morning. “…the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater…”
            I wonder how this text is being received in Minot, North Dakota this morning. 

25 June 2011

Hope Reframed, Trust Re-founded

Subtitle: "The 2011 Lutheran Campus Ministry Staff Conference in Review"
God is our refuge and strength, our safety in times of trouble.
We are calm though the whole earth trembles, and the cliffs fall into the sea,
Our trust is in the Unnamable, the God who makes all things right.
Come see what God has created the miracles God does for humankind.
God puts an end to our wars and snaps our weapons like twigs.
God offers us God’s abundance and God’s peace, to the ends of the earth.
God whispers to the heart, “Be still and know that I am within you.”
Our trust is in the Unnameable, the God who makes all things right.

23 June 2011

A Gathering of Spirits, A Flashlight, And A Talk With Larry

Oh, Larry - I thought of you often tonight.  And I really wish you were here.

09 June 2011

Evangelizing Ourselves

Sunday night meal at University Lutheran Center

According to some statistics my denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, accounts for some 62% of Lutherans in America.  Every year, Iowa State University compiles and distributes the religious affiliation, if any, of its students to their respective denominational campus ministries.  For the 2010-2011 school year, the “Lutheran list” had about 2,500 names on it.  62% of 2500 is 1550, so one could say that as the ELCA campus ministry at Iowa State, we are a “congregation” of 1550 members. 

We average 25 people at worship.  That’s less than 2% of our own young people making worship, much less dedicated membership in a faith community, a priority in their lives.  There is only one way to interpret those numbers:  we, as a whole denomination, have failed, miserably, to live out the vows we make at baptism to nurture the spiritual lives of our young people. 

We are our own mission field.  We are called to evangelize ourselves. 

I love my church.  I love being a Lutheran by birth and by conviction.  I love telling people my church encourages cultivation of mind and spirit.  I love explaining how we believe God’s children are always simul justus et peccator.[1]  I love dropping Luther’s thesis from The Freedom of a Christian:  “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.  A Christian is a perfectly bound servant of all, subject to all.”  I love being a spiritual descendant of Augustine, Luther, Melanchthon, Bach, Muhlenberg, Kierkegaard, Prenter, Tillich, von Rad, Bonhoeffer, Forde, Marty and many, many others.  I love so many things about my church.  I just wish to God I could love my church for nurturing and cherishing and intriguing and challenging and forgiving and receiving and sending our young people and the families in which they are raised.  But I can’t – because we haven’t. 

I started making notes about this post in a conference hall in Iowa City at the Southeastern Iowa Synod Assembly.  I often make jokes about how much I despise Assemblies, but those jokes are not entirely true.  It’s great to see colleagues and old friends.  I get a chance to tell people about the wonderful work I get to do on campus.  This year, for the first time, I was a co-sponsor of a resolution our Synod considered in assembly.  The ELCA Church Council has proposed a budget for 2012 which includes a 38% cut in churchwide support to campus ministry throughout the denomination.  This proposed cut is far greater than that asked of any other churchwide ministry, and takes the highest percentage of financial support away from the ministry least able to absorb it.  We in campus ministry are currently organizing to attempt to amend the budget so that cuts are equitably shared among the vital ministries of this church.  But regardless of whether our attempt is successful or not, it is becoming abundantly clear that our denomination is divesting, on a national level, from support for ministries to, with and among those between the ages of 18 and 25.  This is why I’m having a hard time loving my church just at the moment.

Churchwide budgets won’t be the answer, however.  Even if we had all the financial support for which we could ask, that would only be one failure averted, and a minor one at that.  The far greater failure is this: our young people and their families are abandoning the church in droves, and we are letting it happen. 

Another example:  as a member of our campus ministry association at Iowa State, I’m one of several religious leaders who staff a table at Resource Fair, where incoming students can meet businesses, service organizations and other community folks they may get to know during their time at the University.  It’s a great chance to meet face to face with students, and to live out the ecumenical nature of what we do on campus.  Yesterday, I had a conversation with a young man who asked about one of our local non-denominational ministries; a friend had invited him to come check it out when he got to campus.  Let’s call him “Alex” (not his real name).  I gave Alex the information he requested and asked him to fill out our information sheet so we could send his contact information to the ministry in question.  When I looked over the info sheet at the end of our day, I noted that in the “Faith Community/Denomination” section, Alex had written “Lutheran.” 

I wish I could say this is an unusual occurrence, but it’s not.  Pastors and families tell me their Alex stories over and over again, and I don’t have a satisfactory answer when they ask “Why?”  What it comes down to is this: we have failed to present a compelling case for our church to Alex and thousands like him.  Alex’s friends evangelized where his own church, his own family, his own faith had not.  Alex’s friends gave him “good news” about their faith community, while we failed to do the same in an even remotely effective manner.  Because of this failure, the chance that he’ll consider campus ministry as a locus for faith formation has become infinitesimally remote, and the difficulty of our calling to tend to his faith is raised a hundredfold.

This crisis in our church is far bigger than campus ministry funding, though I would argue that our Churchwide divestment is a symptom of the crisis.  For the sake of our young people, we must create and nurture communities of compelling, life-changing, authentic, forgiving faith.  We must re-discover why “Lutheran” is a good thing to be, and we must communicate that goodness in everything we say and do.  We must live our faith in such a way that the good news of Jesus Christ becomes infectious in our daily living.  We must accept that our church is, in itself, a mission field in serious need of tending.  In these times, when the attrition of our young people is an epidemic that will take years to cure, we must be about the work of evangelizing ourselves.

[1] Latin, “simultaneously saint and sinner.”

18 May 2011

Dwelling Places

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.

12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.     John 14.1-14

05 May 2011

My Birthday Wish

This was supposed to post first thing this morning, but before I could finish it, I had to take our 13 year-old cat Ike to the emergency vet clinic.  I didn't get back until 2AM, and my Beloved let me sleep in, so I'm just now getting started on my day.  Ike is okay - damaged nerves and broken ribs from what was likely a fall somewhere (we didn't see it happen).  Anyway, here's the post that was halfway finished before evening prayer last night.

27 April 2011

Wednesday Night Reflection - The Allergic Body of Christ

12Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. 14Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. 15Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. 16Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.  1st Timothy 4.12-16

My campus pastor died six years ago this week.  When we went down to Lincoln for the funeral, I had what I thought at the time was the world’s WORST cold:  completely stuffed up nose, scratchy throat, watery eyes, lost my voice the week before and the occasional sinus headache.  It was at its worst the night of the visitation at the funeral home, so in I walked looking like I’d been crying non-stop for like a week, blowing my nose every 30 seconds or so and actually spending a few minutes talking with one of Larry’s daughters with a shred of Kleenex stuck to my moustache until my wife came by and whispered the news into my ear.  I mean, not that I was embarrassed to cry at the funeral, but you’d rather people knew the whole truth at times like that, right?

24 April 2011

Sermon for Easter Evening - "Ever Walk With Me, Lord."

On the third day, after he’d risen from the dead, Jesus…took a walk. 

21 April 2011

Sermon for Maundy Thursday - "Belonging in Love"

God uses the church to show the world what God’s reign looks like.  The church observes Holy Week to remind itself of the full story of Jesus Christ, the one who we follow, worship, and adore. 

23 March 2011

Jesus, Self-Awareness and Stones In Need of Dropping

3The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.  John 8.3-9

09 March 2011

Ash Wednesday - Giving Up

"Create in me a clean heart, O God,
     and renew a right spirit in me."  Psalm 51.10

Gerhard Forde, one of my professors at seminary, was famous for saying, "Whenever I get the urge to do a good work, I lie down until the urge passes."  I've been thinking about that a lot this Ash Wednesday.

27 February 2011

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany - "Foundations"

How many of you have seen a sign like this in the various places you’ve worked or studied so far in your life?

23 February 2011

13 February 2011

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany - "God-Centered Life"

            I hung a BC comic strip on the door of my study at my last call, in Minnesota.  When we moved, I accidentally ripped it in half, and without thinking I just threw it away.  Now I can’t find it online, but I remember that it said, “ser-mon: An inspired message directed mainly at those who are not in attendance.”  It’s been informing how I preach ever since I first read it, laughed out loud, and then winced. 

03 February 2011

2011 Books: The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Eleven years ago I fell in love one long, hot summer.

FW was away at her second round of Army Reserve training, and I was working for the summer on the grounds crew at Luther Seminary.  No classes, just hours upon hours riding a lawnmower, moving sprinklers and the like. Work was done every afternoon at 4:30, which left a lot of daylight hours to fill.  On a whim, due to the advice of a friend, I picked up The Eye of the World, the first book of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series.  Within a few pages, I knew I'd found something really, really wonderful.  I spent many of that summer's late afternoons on an old wooden church folding chair outside our apartment, smoking cigarettes and devouring the first few books in the series. 

02 February 2011

Minnesota Blogger Con-Fab Thingy (In Which I Forget Proper Documentation, But Consume 1X1023g Saturated Fat. YUM)

I'm a good blogger, I'm a bad blogger.  But you knew this already.

2011 Books: The Inextinguishable Symphony by Martin Goldsmith

My goodness, am I ever on a roll for books this year.  First Driftless by David Rhodes, now The Inextinguishable Symphony: A True Story of Music and Love in Nazi Germany by Martin Goldsmith.  Both are books you should read (or hear, if you're doing audiobooks like me) soon.

30 January 2011

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany: "All the World's A Stage?"

         Did any of you have to memorize Shakespeare when you were in high school?  I did.  Mrs. Sundell made us memorize a few things, and one that has stuck with me over the years is the soliloquy from “As You Like It:”  “All the world’s a stage / and all its men and women merely players / they have their exits and their entrances / and one [person] in [their] time plays many parts…

26 January 2011

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

This was the weekly email to our students in LCM this week.  The Quadrennial Review process is something I'd love to see required of all ELCA churches, and I wish I'd known how to do it at the congregation I served prior to this call.  Anyone care to share review procedures at their own congregations?  

Our LCM Board spent Saturday morning and afternoon beginning the Quadrennial Review process for our campus ministry.  Every four years, each campus ministry in the ELCA goes through a review process where we look at the previous four years, evaluate what's gone well and what hasn't, look at our context to see if we have a good view of the environment to which we are called, and (I might say, most importantly) identify a few strategic goals for the next four years. 

24 January 2011

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Epiphany: "Unitas, Libertas, Caritas"

             If you hang around long enough in the church, you start to hear a lot of things more than once.  Some of us pastors call it the book of Hezekiah: the stuff that isn’t in the Bible, but sounds like it is.  “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints.”  “The gospel is meant to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”  “Those who sing pray twice.”  One that I heard quite often during seminary was this:  in necessariis, unitas; in dubiis, libertas; in omnibus, caritas.  “In necessities, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.”  According to Wikipedia, it is often misattributed to St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the great early theologians of the church, but the earliest known use of the phrase was by a  Croatian archbishop in the 1600s, more than a thousand years after Augustine was dead and buried. 

19 January 2011

Random Wednesday Is Random

M.C. Escher.
This is a pretty good approximation of my life right now.

Just a few random observations throughout the day today.
  • I watched the movie "Shutter Island" Monday night.  I thought it was really good, especially after overcoming a clumsy first act.  Beloved would have hated it, for reasons I won't go into here, as they'll spoil the movie for those of you who haven't seen it.  But when I went to check out the book at our library this morning, I couldn't find it.  The library computer insists there are copies in the building, but not on any of the shelves on which it's listed.  Considering the movie deals with our perceptions and the nature of identity and reality, I found the experience just a bit unsettling.  Which, I'm sure, would make the author very happy to know - any time art impacts life that deeply, the artist should be proud.
  • It's no secret I'm quite the europhile.  Matter of fact, if I hadn't met Beloved during seminary, I might have tried to find a call in Germany or Ireland.  I believe very deeply in the roundabout, government-run health care, pension and social benefits, and much of what I've seen in trips to Ireland, the UK and Germany.  That having been said, I stopped reading Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? by Thomas Geoghegan about halfway through.  I agreed with his central argument:  the European way of life, particularly the German version, is a far better fit for people like myself.  But his writing was so convoluted, and his argument so incredibly subjective and lacking statistical analysis (other than the ones that prove his argument, of course) that I just kept getting more and more annoyed.  It's bad enough when I find someone with whom I disagree annoying; it's much worse when it's someone who tends to see things the way I do!
  • If you're looking for good "sit in my office and get lots of work done" music, the Palestrina channel on Pandora is a good place to start.  Sometimes I think I was born 450 years too late.  Then I go use the toilet, take a drink out of the tap without wondering if it'll kill me, and give my kid some medicine instead of wondering if she'll survive her most recent infection, and I remember why I've got it so good now.
  • The switch to Sunday nights for worship is mainly going well.  I particularly enjoy the opportunity to break bread together, worship, then spend time around the fire talking theology (our schedule is Sunday Night Supper at 5:00, Worship at 6:00, Fireside Theology at 7:30).  I'm surprised at how much I enjoy having Sunday mornings free at the moment, but I'm also nervous that none of the congregations I've contacted about supply preaching have even responded to my queries.  And, as you might expect, our student numbers have dropped for worship.  More promotion seems in order, and as with most changes, steadfast patience during the uncomfortable first days.
  • I went for my first run in over a month Monday morning.  Chris' post about running was so inspirational I decided my kvetching about running this year just needs to stop.  Now I read that he's struggling a bit, too.  This is the running life: you can only enjoy it one or two strides at a time, it seems. This could also be a metaphor for real life, not just the part of it I spend schlepping my fat ass around Ames.
  • Tonight will be our second week using the "Prayer Around the Cross" liturgy from Susan Briehl and Tom Witt.  Last week I put together a very basic cross using planter boxes filled with sand, and arranged kneeling pads around the cross.  Unfortunately, there's some sort of short in our lighting in the sanctuary, so the central floods remain lit at all times.  Hopefully this will be fixed tonight and we'll be able to worship by candlelight alone.  I hope the students were as moved by the experience last week as I was - this is a wonderful addition to our worship life.

11 January 2011

2011 Books: Driftless by David Rhodes

Every once in a while, you take a chance on a book without having a single solitary reason for doing so.  No one recommended it, no one mentioned it, you've never heard of it, but something about it grabs you.  That's rare for me - I usually have a list of recommendations far longer than I have time to even contemplate.  But last week I took a chance, and was rewarded with an even less common experience:  a literary surprise. 

Driftless is David Rhodes' first novel in 30 years.  He came back strong, if you ask me.  This was an incredible novel from start to finish.  Rhodes creates characters so accurate, so pitch-perfect you'd swear he's writing a biography of Words, Wisconsin and not fiction.  Any resident of any small upper Midwest town will recognize and appreciate the honest portrayal of small town living Rhodes composes.  Driftless is neither petty nor apologetic:  it is populated with characters who feel as solid as the dirt, trees and hills for which the novel is named. 

It's not just the characters that make this novel wonderful, however - the story is also worthy of praise, from the laugh-out-loud moments (of which there are several) to the heart-stoppers (only one or two, but they are whoppers). 

I won't say more so as to preserve the story for you to enjoy.  Driftless is the finest novel I've read since The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, and I hope to see it on your reading list soon, friends and neighbors. 

Grace & peace,