Sunday, October 31, 2004
Not only did they call with that encouragement, they also left the number of the Chicago Board of Elections, and the webpage where one can find their polling place in Chicago. And, since my voter registration card says that I'm registered, but not where to vote, that was very helpful information.
So thank you, everyone who works on the Faithful Citizen project, and the NICWJ in general. I give thanks to God for people whose faith has both hands and feet! Check out their site, and maybe contribute to their work.
Friday, October 29, 2004
1)Who needs a Lutheran book of praise songs, since traditionally they don't ever really use them? (The unspoken corollary was, "If the "Green Book" was good enough for Luther, it's good enough for us!") :-)I've been thinking of this tonight, after reading my friend Lisa's posting about preventing one from falling into the doldrums of worship. Because, you see, from September 1999 to May 2001, at Faith Lutheran in Prairie Village, KS, a group of us (jokingly known by some as "Friends of Faith," and by some others as "Lutheran Jihad") presented a "renewing-worship" service around music from this same much-maligned Worship & Praise songbook. And silly as it might sound, we found much freshness, renewal and affirmation within all those "lightweight, cheap-theology" songs...
2) If these are really "praise songs," you don't need a songbook anyway - you just need a screen and a PowerPoint presentation, right? It's a waste of paper and ink.
3) They're all kind of lightweight songs, with no real enduring beauty or theological basis to them, so why bother?
You know...cheap, forgettable, empty theology like this...
I am strength for all the despairing,
Healing for the ones who dwell in shame.
All the blind will see, the lame will all run free,
Come and rest in Me...
Do not be afraid, I am with you,
I have called you each by name -
Come and follow Me, I will bring you home...
I love you, and you are Mine."
(#158,"You Are Mine," by David Haas, in Worship & Praise (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1999))
Come! Open your heart!In fact, for about an hour today, I just sat in my desk-chair, singing my way through a verse or two of each song I could remember that we did from what one professor called "that failed bit of unnecessary publishing by Augsburg Fortress." And I am not ashamed to admit that there were tears of joy and of remembrance, recalling just how much of my theology-of-the-heart was set in those rowdy days of renewing worship. Even today, my hope and prayer for the Church (not just the ELCA, but the family of Christ) is that one day, we can all sing this song together:
Show your mercy to all those in fear!
We are called to be hope for the hopeless,
So hatred and blindness will be no more!
We are called to act with justice,
We are called to love tenderly,
We are called to serve one another,
To walk humbly with God. (#147, "We Are Called," by David Haas)
Give us a thirst for love, give us a hunger for justice,
Make us one with the mind of Christ.
God, you have moved upon the waters,
You have sung in the rush of wind and flame;
And in Your love, you have called us sons and daughters:
Make us people of the water and your name.
(#127, "Song Over the Waters," by Marty Haugen)
Now with praise and thanksgiving, we join the songMay all our theology, and all our Christian practice, get this "lightweight." Make it so, Lord. Amen.
All are welcome! We gather to sing loud and strong.
Not enslaved, but set free! From now on, all will be
One in Jesus, one in water, baptized and set free.
(#14, "Baptized & Set Free," by Cathy Skogen-Soldner)
Thursday, October 28, 2004
I called two different people yesterday, and read them the first 3 pages of the book - and their reaction was the same: a gasp, variations on "Oh, my God," and a resolution to pick up the book themselves. Want to see what evoked such a reaction? Go here and check the introduction to the book, or go here and see the whole website for the book. (For anyone who has suffered any kind of abusive treatment, I will warn you - this can be triggering. I'll also tell you that though the introduction is in pain, there is hope and recovery in these pages.)
I don't know how Renee lived this long, or how she endured what she did without killing herself (or anyone else) - but I thank God for her bravery in writing what she did. If the books I have rattling around in my head ever hit the presses, it will be because of Renee's example, her courage and her inspiration.
Obviously I have not encountered the depths of horror that Renee has. But there is a central theme, a part of her experience that I identified with so much that it hurt: the experience of coming to the church with doubts, fears, reservations, wobbly-kneed faith - and finding complete rejection by the church, unless I could buy into everything that the church folks said they believed in.
I, however, was blessed by the gift of my friend Craig Lindner, who led me to Faith Lutheran Church in the spring of 1991, and by the gift of of Tom Housholder, the pastor there, who had the courage to be honest and humble in the first sermon I ever heard him preach, as best I remember it:
There are many times when I am standing up here in the pulpit, and I look at you, and I know that I am speaking a message and that you are hearing it. I know I am making a connection with you, and that you accept and believe what I'm sharing with you. And then there are times when I feel that connection, I see it in your eyes, and still a small voice in the back of my head, asks me, "What if everything you are saying is a lie?" (May 5, 1991, Faith Lutheran Church, Prairie Village, KS)I remember, ever so vividly, wanting to jump to my feet at the back of the church and yell, "NO [kidding]?!?!" (Had to clean that one up for Mom Housholder, in case she reads this.) I had never, ever heard anyone in the church ever express any kind of doubt or uncertainty - and it was my first hope of real salvation. I was absolutely flabbergasted…and overwhelmed with the possibility that maybe - just maybe - that if this man could be a Christian, then maybe I could be a Christian too.
Tom's sermon was anything but a sermon - it was a testimony, a humble confession by a man who struggled, and wasn't too proud to admit it in public. It galvanized me. It was also the first time I'd heard a sermon that didn't have the traditional "three-points-and-a-poem" structure to it, with some slick and alliterative formula for salvation and Scriptural understanding. It was the first time I really heard someone "share their experience, strength, and hope" anywhere other than in an AA meeting. It was amazing.
Years later, I stood in the new sanctuary of the Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines. It was the dedication of their new building, and another Housholder - Tom's middle son, Mike - was senior pastor there (he still is, too). We had just finished saying the Apostle's Creed - one of the confessional statements of the church - when (as best I remember it) Mike stood before the congregation and said:
There's probably more than a couple people in this room who are thinking, "I don't know if I can say those words…I don't know if I can even believe those words." We want you to know that it's OK to not say those words - that it's OK to be here, and be unsure of what you believe. We want you to know that this place is a safe place to discover the answers to your questions, and the anchors to your faith. If you're doubting...if you're seeking...if you are wondering...you are welcome here.I may never get to be an ordained pastor - the odds seem kind of stacked against it, right now. But if I ever do, I want to be a pastor like that. I want to be a pastor that doesn't have to "save" God from God's "infidel children," but who wants to introduce those same stumbling kids to a God big enough to love them exactly the way they are. And no matter what kind of ministry life God has planned for me, I hope that someday I can share that kind of love and acceptance with someone who needs it...someone, perhaps, like Renee.
Or someone like me.
[A note: this is not the first time I've written about this...you can see the original post here.]
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Good moanin' - Got an email from my friend Kevin C. and Doug K. - one of those "you know you're from Chicago if…" kinds of things. For someone who's only been here 14 months, I scored pretty well on their little test. I still don't know my cross-streets well enough to know where many intersections are yet (thank you, God, for MapQuest and Yahoo Driving Directions!), and I still don't know which rail stations are Amtrak and which ones are Metra. But I'm gettin' there.
Moanin' - has anybody else picked up on this? Under our current administration, we've poured an obscene amount of money into our military over the past 4 years, even excluding the war effort. (In fact, even under Br'er Clinton, we poured an obscene amount of money into that segment of our government. It's just a much bigger obscenity, now.) And yet when we hear about the various failures of equipment, communications, etc. on the battle lines in Iraq, it's all about how the equipment or the networks (or whatever) weren't good enough for battlefield operations. Thus, bad decisions got made, and more people got killed than should have (however anyone figures out what that number is supposed to be...).
Does this seem problematic to anyone else besides me? Why isn't every thinking person throwing up their windows, leaning out and screaming, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it any more!!!"? How could we spend that much money, year after year, and still have insufficient means to wage war?
The news is full of this nonsense - $70 billion more for the war voted this week; a $136 billion corporate tax-cut bill approved, as the AP wire said, "without fanfare on Air Force One, quietly signing the most sweeping rewrite of corporate tax law in nearly two decades." Wonder what the working poor (of which I am now officially a member) are getting from the White House this year? Even if we split $136 billion by the 220 million Americans who aren't at the top of the heap, that's still $618 a person...I'd take a check or EFT transfer, personally.
Moanin' - Second verse, close to the first....the news tells me that the Army has agreed to a Pentagon investigation about Halliburton deals for war contracts.
Isn't that nice? I'm so glad they agreed...
Who's running this country, anyway? Why in the name of all that's holy does the Army have to agree to anything in this case?? Just go in and investigate the mess, wouldja please? There is every indication that somebody broke more than a couple laws - and trust me, they sure as the devil would never ask me politely if I would submit to an investigation! If I even park in the wrong spot, no one hesitates to haul my car off to the impound lot. (No resentment there, you understand...) Seems to me that the old "sauce for the goose" rule ought to apply here. But "the reasonable man rule" seems never to apply to government….Grrr…
Makes me want to dust off Tom Paxton's great marching song from the Chrysler-bailout years - too bad Halliburton doesn't fit the meter...
OK, I'm done. Much more of this, and I'm gonna get toxic. (or more toxic…)
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Uncrowd our hearts, God, until silence speaks to us in your still small voice. Turn us from the hearing of words, and the making of words, and the confusion of much speaking. Let us possess ourselves for these few brief moments undistracted, waiting, with all our hopes listening for your footsteps. (Samuel H. Miller, Prayers for Daily Use [New York: Harper & Bros., 1957], page 35)
I suppose there are several reasons for my "retro" mood....there have been several blasts from my past in recent days, and one "close encounter" that really made me think about life, and what I've done with it so far. The "blasts from the past" have come from reconnecting with several people from my days when I was active in the Order of DeMolay, a youth fraternity, back in Toledo in the 70's and 80's. As a leader of my chapter, and later as chapter advisor, I had the blessing to encounter an amazing cross-section of high-school-aged guys from a variety of area schools. From time to time, I've wondered what ever happened to a number of them - so hearing from one young man, and the wife of another, has been a real blessing.
My "close encounter" was a brush-with death involving one of those monstrous, 70's-vintage Cadillac deVille. I was out in Naperville at a church concert, stopped for gas, pulled out into traffic, and was narrowly missed by this black Caddy driving with no lights. It was one of those "oh, $&%#" moments, when I realized how close I came to getting rammed by this rolling battering-ram. And then reflecting on what kind of damage that thing might have done to my little Camry...and to me...well, let's say it provided a significant amount of personal reflection on end-of-life issues...
The rest of the day is going to be filing new job applications, and cleaning and straightening out stuff. One interesting thing is that in my sister's move, we uncovered my father's old Argus C3 35-mm camera. When we rediscovered it, it was kind of a blast from the past, as well...but then the question became, "What do we do with it?" It turns out that in the days from 1940-1956, there were about a bizillion Argus C3's made - the camera, known as "the brick" (because of its shape and weight) was one of the most durable and (for its time) easy to use 35-mm cameras ever. The problem is, in this age of single-lens-reflex and digital photography, what do you do with a range-finder camera? I emailed one of the collectors' club reps, and his reply was, "Keep it for the bookshelf."
The problem is, I don't need any more trash on my bookshelves. I'm trying to weed out the books on my bookshelves, to be honest. I've got a couple friends who shoot black-n-white film, and perhaps they would be interested in it. Otherwise, even on Ebay people are only getting $2-$3 for 'em - it would hardly be worth putting it online. But there's still this voice in me that still says, "But it's your father's camera," like preserving it would somehow preserve his memory.
I hate that voice. "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain..."
Ah, well, it's time to get back into life-or-something-like-it....
Saturday, October 23, 2004
Proof of "Rule 62" - don't take yourself so !%&@ seriously.
Friday, October 22, 2004
Lord God, you promised that you would make all things new. Start your work with me this morning, would you?
Let the Light of the World chase the clouds from my soul, and let Your light shine in me, and through me - for of and by myself, I am a force of darkness and chaos.
Help me leave my resentments, my fears, my doubts, and my envy in Your care today, and let me walk by faith, not by sight..because on my own, I don't see too well.
Let me be Your instrument of peace, and not just a blunt instrument of my own will. May every action today be guided by Your will, and not my own self-centeredness and selfishness. You know, O Lord, which one I am most likely to choose - just help me to choose differently, today.
Remind me, minute by minute, of Your love, and your mercy - and that the people I meet today are Your children, who struggle every bit as much as I do, most days.
I cannot do any of this without Your help. So shepherd me, O God, from all my thoughts, and all my wants, and all my fears, from death into life. Amen.
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
This may sound stupid, but why don't we hear things this clear-cut in church?
Maybe if we did - if we as pastors and lay leaders and people of faith could really, really be rigorously honest about our confession, and our failures to live up to "our confessions of faith" - then maybe (just maybe) our churches would be less irrelevant to the outside world, as well as to our members.
In the last couple weeks (despite having changed my email) I have been assailed by messages (many sent by otherwise sensible friends), most of which essentially say "If you love God, you'll...."
- vote for Bush
- vote for Kerry
- vote all the &$%'s out of office
- condemn homosexuals
- welcome homosexuals
- save the institution of marriage
- support this or that cause
- "forward this email on to at least 10 people! (don't break the chain!)"
And unfortunately, every one of the messages I've received at least imply that if I don't, I'll be a failure as a Christian.
Well, duh. Too late for that one.
Been there, done that. Still there (most days).
I've said it before, but I'll say it again - despite my pursuit of a more Godly life, and my status as part-time seminarian, I still do not wake up in the morning with "Hosanna!" on my lips. (And it's not just because I'm "not a morning person.")
"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me" needs to be in my first 15 minutes of wakefulness, or I can stay there in the spiritual sewer most of the day. Admittedly, I'm pretty sure I'm a vast improvement over the man who first walked back into church on Reformation Sunday, 1990 after a 17-year sabbatical (my adopted "mom," Delphine Housholder, can attest to that) but trust me - I ain't got "holy" yet, folks. To use theologi-speak, I trust that I am "justified," but I know I am a couple o' country miles shy of "sanctified."
If I lived between the 2nd and 4th centuries after Christ, I would have been excommunicated, tortured, or killed so many times there wouldn't be enough ashes left to sweep together - because at one time or another (all in my supposedly Christian life, mind you) I have commited virtually every heresy that they put folks to death for back then. (The good news is, I have plenty of company - as most of my seminary sisters and brothers have been right there with me, as well.)
Please do not misunderstand - there is no pride in my sin. I am not proud of my failings - in fact, were it not for the words of Paul, I'm afraid I would have already exited this world, marinated in self-horror and self-loathing:
As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (RomansWithout that, I don't know how I could live with my past, or even most of my "present."
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly....God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6,8 NIV)
People have asked me, "What is the heart of the Gospel?" I've given a variety of answers over the years, but the simplest one is the one I'd give today: I try to live my life as a Christian, but overall, I suck. But believing in this person Jesus Christ, and confessing my suckiness, and striving to be better (even when I predictably and regularly fail) I am promised eternal life. Not just what might seem as the hell of this life, for eternity - but an eternity of joy and love in fellowship with God.
Simplistic? Probably. Worthy of a master's-level student? Who knows. Is it true for me?
As an aside: the article mentions another book that I will look forward to reading: When Bad Christians Happen to Good People, by Dave Burchett. Sounds like another book I wish I had written...
And while you're at it, peruse the Relevant Magazine web-site. Their mix of "God, Life, and Progressive Culture" is a neat place to spend some time. It's not perfect - nothing is, really - but there are some eye-opening things on their site.
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
The "should Kerry have mentioned Cheney's lesbian daughter?" stink - was answered, for me, for all time by Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn (see it here). Short version: mentioning that Cheney's daughter is a lesbian is only "cheap and tawdry" if you feel that way about GLBT people in general. It's only shameful to talk about someone being gay if you believe it's a shameful topic. It would be just as "shameful" to mention in public that I'm overweight...it's not comfortable to hear someone say it, but hey...it's true. Move onto something more substantial, folks - there's plenty of real stuff to get excited about out there.
Chicagoans are dancing-in-the-street happy over - the reopening of 47 Chicago-area Fannie May candy stores. Since I'm not a chocolate fan, and only had Pixies around when my former wife got a box from her father, this is about as exciting to me as "How'bout dem Bears (Cubs, Bulls, Chiefs, etc...)?" Woo-hoo. But trust me - I'm happy if you're happy.
Anglicans ask for Episcopal apology - over the American Episcopal Church's ordaining a gay bishop. And I think they should, too... just as soon as the Anglican communion apologizes to the entire Christian world for what its founders did to "the sanctity of marriage." Makes one wonder whether Britney Spears is an Anglican... Grrr.
A transplant arranged by MatchingDonors.com - has been cancelled by the Denver hospital where it was to happen, over concerns about the ethics of how the transplantee/donor match was made (see the article here). The hospital administration questioned the rightness of having a for-profit Internet PR agency essentially promoting the cases of potential transplantees, thus giving an advantage in arranging an organ donation for those who are willing and able to pay to have their transplant needs publicized on a web site. I agree - only because I'm more than a little afraid of the slipperly slope of commercialism in transplants. Yes, it's true that people can't get into bidding wars over organs - yet - because paying for donated organs is illegal, so far. But this concept makes me more than a bit nervous.
Identity badges worn under the skin OK'd for health-care - so, is this a blessing to folks like me, who (as a diabetic) might be misdiagnosed about passing out in public? Or is it just the first step down the road to "the mark of the Beast," a universal identification to destroy our freedoms?
Having known of one diabetic who died in jail because she passed out in public (from low blood sugar) and was tossed in a drunk tank instead of taken to a hospital, I'm all in favor of the proposal to have a little chip set under my skin that could unlock my medical records in a flash. But several friends have told me how much this kind of technology sounds suspiciously like the brand of the Devil that is mentioned in end-times scriptures. Of course, there are darn few folks asking to trade in their cell-phones because of the GPS locators in them - not to mention all the OnStar vehicle tracking systems. (But I'm sure those are different, right?)
I guess so long as it is entirely voluntary, then those of us who could benefit from it could use it. Making it mandatory, however, would be a big deal. Wonder what Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye would say about me getting a medical implant to save my life now, and whether it would damn my soul if it were made mandatory later? Nah, strike that...I can guess what they'd say.
These all may be news, but I'm sure findin' it hard to find Good News in anything I read in the news today - online, or on hard-copy. Sheesh.
Over this last weekend, I took a trip up to the Wisconsin Dells area to be part of a very special event. My friend and fellow seminary student Mike Willis planned to ask his girlfriend (and fellow seminary student) Michelle Sabovik to marry him Saturday night at dinner - and had invited a number of friends and family members to join him for a surprise party and gathering immediately afterwards at the Whitetail Ridge lodge
Mike, Michelle and I started class together at LSTC a year ago, beginning our journey in Pentateuch class, and all three of us were part of the Gospel Choir last year. Mike and I survived Greek, Pastoral Care and Worship classes (not to mention the Gospel Choir gala and recording sessions) together; we were part of study-groups that alternated between serious study, hysterical laughter, and foxhole prayers with some regularity. But with me not in class, and not really connected to seminary this semester, I let my "feeling-apart-from-ness" push me away from a number of friends here - including Mike and Michelle. They only lived a block away...but in my feeling lousy about my finances and my status with the candidacy process, I let that distance get much greater than it should have, I'm sorry to admit.
But when it was time to get planning "the weekend" for his proposal, Mike made sure I knew I was welcome...and I was grateful to accept his invitation to join them "up north." So it was that after breakfast Saturday morning, I got my Camry rolling north on I-94 on a four-hour "driving retreat" towards Lake Delton, Wisconsin.
Now, some folks would not find four hours of driving (let alone playing dodge-em-cars at 75-85 miles an hour on I-94) as any kind of calming spiritual time. But I'd made sure that I had plenty of time to get up there, and I had a pile of Christian music to accompany me up there. I also knew that my home congregation, Atonement Lutheran, had two big projects going last weekend that needed some prayer. Not only was it their Alpha session's "Holy Spirit Weekend," but my friends in the Atonement prayer ministry were hosting their second "Power in the Spirit" prayer conference, and I wanted to make sure that I took time to be praying for them, and the success of both events, as I traveled.
My family has always lived where the trees turned colors in the fall, and I have wonderful memories of just going for drives to see the colors. (In fact, for many years the only use that I could remember our family Bible getting was in pressing fall leaves for autumn decorations around the house.) So being on the road and seeing fall colors was a pleasant reminder of days gone by. This trip was a little late to enjoy the change of colors - an hour north of Hyde Park, it was clear that the colors had definitely peaked in the last week. Still, there was enough color to remind me of the truth that Nature provides wondrous testimonies to the existence of God.
In literature and music, the message of the day seemed to echo the prophet Joel: "Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity" (Joel 2:13). I heard it in the reading from Emilie Griffin's "Wilderness Time," saying that when we encounter troubles, that they are not punishment or a judgement sent from God, but rather trials to form and shape us. I haven't felt that way for quite a while, I guess...for some reason I just don't hear it or feel it that way. The struggles and depression I've fought with have felt more like "incineration" than "the refiners fire," I'm afraid. So I'm trying to think about my experiences differently, I guess...trying to look more through Heaven's eyes than through my own.
I heard it again from the radio - this time, in the words of the group Third Day's song "Come On Back To Me." In the refrain of this great, classic-rockin' song I found the words of the prophet Joel take on new meaning as I rolled northward. But I also heard the prayers of the father for the prodigal son - and found much encouragement yet again in the ways God reaches out to wandering, ragamuffin kids like me.
Going past mile marker 340, just over the line into Wisconsin, there was one of those "oh, wow..." moments of pure laughter, as I saw the sign for "Bong Recreation Center." Now, I'd seen a picture of this as part of a couple of email image collages, but I always thought it was some made-up thing. Seeing it for real was hysterical! (God knows that in my misspent youth, I'd been looking for that kind of recreation site for years!)
Up between Milwaukee and Madison, some beautifully powerful images. The sky was very dark and stormy to the north-east, but to the north-west was sunshine and blue sky. Sunshine poured down like God's own spotlight from my left, causing the gold of the cornstalks, the green of the winter wheat and the yellows and reds of the leaves to pop out in amazing beauty. I truly believe that there are no golds, no oranges, and no electric reds that can compare with what God offers in nature's color palette in the fall.
One hillside along the highway was almost aflame with what looked like red sumac branches, standing out in the sunshine even more dramatically against the dark blue-grey of the storm clouds behind them. What incredible beauty I was witness to (although I have to admit that if I had been doing this drive during the driving rain, I might have thought differently!). But the promised rains never came to Wisconsin, and it turned out to be a great (if cold!) afternoon and evening, and a beautiful day Sunday.
By exit 108, the countryside looked so much like my father's family homestead in upstate New York that it brought tears to my eyes. Hills, trees, fields of corn, farms, and splashes of color among the evergreens...I'd not realized how much I missed the natural beauty of upstate New York (even the little you see from the interstate). And as I got into the Wisconsin Dells area, I saw flashbacks from Niagara Falls, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge...if you've been to any of those, you've been on the main drag of the Dells. Ripley's "Believe It Or Not," gift and souvenir shops, "hand-made" moccasins for sale, all-you-can-eat buffets...you name it, it was there...
I got up to the lodge - they called it "a log cabin," but in reality it was a 4-plus bedroom log house. Trust me, this "log cabin" came with Corian countertops, leather sofas and recliners, and a home theatre setup with a 50-plus-inch plasma HD-TV. (Ah, what Abe Lincoln might have been with a setup like this...) I got some pretty pictures of the area around the lodge...even more reminders of the amazing extent of God's creation and beauty.
Most of Mike's family and friends were in their 20's - which meant that the whole "I'm old enough to be your father" thing was quite literally true. But it didn't seem to matter much - except when they were talking about tastes in music, or listening to their various drinking war stories. The supplies for the weekend were typical of 20-somethings...some easy-to-prepare spaghetti and meat sauce, some bread, some fixings for S'mores...and about 8 cases of beer (!). Fortunately, it didn't turn out to be that kind of party - most everyone was more focused on celebrating the new fiancees than in getting loaded (for which I was very grateful).
The suspense as Mike brought Michelle down the stairs to the theatre room was almost unbearable - and the look of surprise on Michelle's face as the lights came on was entirely worth the journey up there. There was much hugging, much laughter, and all the elements of celebration that I think Mike had hoped for in the evening. And it was great to catch up with several of my LSTC friends, who have been going about 100 miles an hour with class, ministry-in-context work, and the like. We spent some time outside around a fire, toasting S'mores - but it quickly got too cold for me, and I wimped-out and went back inside.
We didn't really hit the hay until about 1 - and my poor friends Susie, Emily and Tom had to leave at 5 AM to get back for their ministry-in-context church services Sunday morning. For me, I was content to "worship at St. Mattress" (as my sister Sandy says) and to wake up to a wonderful Czech blend of coffee, milk, and cinnamon prepared by Mike's friend Hannah. Then off to Paul Bunyan's for a lumberjack-sized breakfast, and then the crowd headed off to one of the indoor water-park. Not knowing the attractions in the area, I had not thought to bring a bathing suit to Wisconsin in the late fall (gee, wonder why?) so I just got into the car, drove around the area and moseyed on home.
Looking back, I thank God for so many things - for the gift of nature's beauty, for the freedom to be able to relax and make the drive, for time away in a place where there is real water pressure in the showers, and no screaming sirens through the night. But most of all, I give thanks for the gift of friendship, for the bond of love that was celebrated that night in Wisconsin, and for being able to be there and be "a part of" instead of "apart from."
Congratulations, Mike and Michelle...and thank you for letting me be a part of your special weekend. May your love for each other only be exceeded by God's love for each of you.
Friday, October 15, 2004
In a New York Times article, you can read how a new ad shows a farmer plowing a racetrack in his cornfield in order to race his new 2005 Mustang. In a direct rip-off of the movie, out of the cornstalks materializes Steve McQueen (who brought the original 'Stang to prominence in his 1968 movie "Bullitt"). The farmer throws "Shoeless Steve" the keys, and the resurrected pop icon hops in the Mustang and tears up the track.
I think it just might work if the 700 Club or Liberty University did a version of the ad where the farmer builds the track, then Jesus appears on it, and calls McQueen forth... then Jesus hands McQueen the keys to the Mustang. Not sure who would actually be doing the "product placement" in that situation... it would probably work well on that TV show that the BBC is airing about Anglican ministers (see Micah Jackson's posting here).
I know...it's irreverent. Those who know me are not surprised, at this point.
I hope the moron who did this has a lot of friends. Because he's gonna need every one of 'em to save himself from the people who will be ready to hunt him down. And God help me, but I'd be ready to cheer the hunters on. So much for reacting with compassion, eh?
If ever there was a time when I would take up arms, this would be it. Why do we have to go to freakin' Iraq to fight terrorism? Just drive south on the Santa Monica freeway.
Only the knowledge of the unsaved souls around me who haven't been reached by the Gospel keeps me from saying, "Come quickly, Lord Jesus, and take us all home...'cause evidently we can't play well on our own down here."
Thursday, October 14, 2004
Is that really so darn bad?
As a friend of mine once said, "It's sad when the 'Bugs Bunny-Roadrunner Show' had to retreat to cable channels, and 'Sex & the City' made it onto TBS." Do I really, really want to be a part of "the mainstream"?
Of course I do.
I mean, I'm not stupid...I have wanted to be "a part of the 'in' crowd" ever since someone figured out that there was an "in" crowd. And to be honest, I've always wanted to live the life of the moderately-well-off, and be able to just revel in pleasure-seeking, self-serving behavior like others I see doing it with impunity. If I thought I could get away with it, I'd have four TV's - one with the Cartoon Channel, one with the Playboy Channel, one with Food Network, and one with SciFi - and sit in front of them in sloth 24/7, eating cheese curls.
I just doubt I could stand myself, morally and spiritually, after much more than 30 days in that neighborhood. (If I could even keep from slipping into a diabetic coma with the cheese curls, that is.)
We don't often hear pastors preaching about how truly hard it is to be "in the world, but not of the world." Jesus told his disciples to "take up your cross and follow me," but I don't think he was expecting a stampede of followers, at that point. Why? Because they - like I, and many like me - were/are adept at taking "the easier, softer way." If it had been me in the Garden of Gethsemene, I would not have been the one saying, "If it is possible, take this cup away." I'm pretty sure I would have said something like, "Listen - You and I have evidently had a simply horrific misunderstanding...Sure, I said I'd follow you, but I never meant this!"
How, on this day, can I strive to be both in this world, but also an arrow or a pointer out of "the mainstream," and into the Kingdom of God? Lord God, show me how to live deeply in Your will, and not in my own for these 24 hours! Amen!
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
As a man who sees hope in the seemingly most lost of souls, I can only say, "We'll see." I've never lost any money betting low on network TV accountability.
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
At our first class, Tex walked into our class...I don't remember, anymore, that he even introduced himself that night. What I *do* remember was the genteel drawl of this Mississippi oil-field-worker-turned preacher, pastor, sociologist and evangelist as he said, "Gentle persons - let us pray..." And he pulled out a well-thumbed little book, opened it to what was probably a very carefully pre-planned "random" page, and shared with us what seemed to be a marvelously appropriate and wonderful prayer.
That's how I became acquainted with Prayers for Daily Use by Samuel H. Miller. (Miller had been Dean of Harvard Divinity School when Tex had gone for his doctorate.) Each class I had with Tex (I rarely every heard anyone call him "Dr. Sample") began with the Mississippi fox and his little book - and somehow each prayer seemed to hit home. So when I found a copy of Miller's little volume (which had been published in 1957, the year I was born) out on the Internet, I couldn't help latching onto it.
So from time to time I will share some of these gems with y'all. Some are short - some are longer. Where some the language is more contorted, I may adapt them to a more comfortable style. But this one seemed particularly appropriate to me this morning. So take a sip of your favorite morning beverage, and share in the blessings handed down across the generations from teacher, to student, to student...
...and bless you, Tex, for sharing with us. Your lessons and examples just "keep on keepin' on," brother.
If we turn to you, God, and find our lips silent -
If we seek to praise you, and our hearts are strangely empty -
If we yearn to pray, and our lives lie like lead in our hands -
Then in mercy, let your Holy Spirit teach us how to wait upon you until you come. Protect us from the distraction of every novelty until we learn how to meditate upon the plain miracles which sustain us all day long. Discipline us by such training of our souls that we may find the communion of peace and joy in which spirit speaks unto spirit, and all our depths are awakened by the sound of your still small voice. Amen.
(Samuel Miller, Prayers for Daily Use (New York: Harper & Bros., 1957), page 33.
For me, it's about the same difference as between "solid white albacore tuna" and "Spam."
If you want more details, you can find a factual description here, and a humorous (and sadly familiar) description here. As a young friend of mine would say, "Yuck-o-rama." Guess I know what's going in the next canned-food drive...
Two additions I would have made to the list. First: delete any email immediately if it includes any of the following phrases:
>"TELL EVERYBODY!" or "SEND THIS TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW!"Second, if there is a virus threat, sick child, missing child, prayer request from a stranger, or anything not directly related to someone you know, go to Google first, and type in the subject of the email in the search field and hit "enter." If any listing shows the word "hoax," do not forward it on. Period.
>"THIS (fill in the blank) WILL DESTROY YOUR PC!"
>"YOU'LL GET A (free vacation, cash amount, new girlfriend, etc) IF YOU FORWARD THIS TO (some number greater than 5) PEOPLE!
Yeah, I'm griping - but receiving the same hoaxes over and over is a pet peeve of mine. And I believe that knowing these things is part of the task of being a responsible "net-izen." In fact, it's much easier (and quicker) to check the truth of a possible hoax than it is clicking on the 50 email ID's of the people you would forward it to....
Saturday, October 09, 2004
But while there is drama to spare in the race downtown, my heart has been drawn over and over to another marathon, going on in my former hometown, Kansas City, this weekend....
...a four-day marathon for lost souls.
The Billy Graham Crusade is in Kansas City this weekend, bringing with them the Charlie Daniels Band and MercyMe, Third Day and Tait, Michael W. Smith and the Gaither Vocal Band, a comedy troupe, and even an extreme sports team. A 1,500-member choir and an army of volunteers, composed from churches around the Kansas City area, have been preparing for months for this crusade - originally scheduled for June of this year, but delayed when Graham suffered a hip fracture which has kept him in bed most of the year. More than 1,200 churches - not people, but churches - in a five-state region have been providing volunteers and support for this crusade.
My friend and brother Eric Amundson is one of those volunteers. He has been preparing for months to be a part of the teams that counsel those who come forward to make a decision for Christ. This last week has been a whirlwind for Eric, as business, church, and family activities have had to be arranged around the final preparations for the crusade. He's been updating us on the progress of the Crusade, and I've also been following the results on the Kansas City Star website.
It rained Thursday night - Arrowhead Stadium is famous for raining on more than Chief's fans hopes - and only 7,750 people showed up. But as the massed choir finished singing "Softly and Tenderly," the rain stopped as Billy Graham stepped up to speak. And more than 700 people came forward that night - 203 of them for the very first time. The Star quoted 23-year-old Andy Wheeler as saying, "It's just rain. It's not about being comfortable. It's about coming to meet Jesus, man."
The soul-athon continued Friday - I talked with Eric just as the choir had finished warming up, about 6:30 last night. In his 2 AM email update to us, he reported that clear skies brought 39,751 people into the stadium, and 860 first-timers were among the 2,111 who came forward last night. Eric said one of the men he was counseling lived not far from his home church in Shawnee...proof that these events reach people in ways that traditional churches can't.
I guess my heart has been with the Crusade this weekend, because of my own experience with the Graham crusade in Cleveland in June, 1994. I was working with Sprint in Mansfield (about 70 miles away), and the assignment was supposed to wrap up a week earlier. But a last minute reprieve allowed me to stay in Ohio for the next week - and so on Thursday night, I walked into what was then a brand-new baseball stadium, and joined tens of thousands of people who wanted - needed - "to hear the old, old story" of Christ's love and redemption.
In his musical ministry that night, Steven Curtis Chapman premiered his song "Remember Your Chains." Over the last 10 years the chorus of that song (and the memory of the grace I received the first time I heard it) has saved me from the depths of many a dark night of the soul:
And then Billy Graham stepped to the microphone.
Remember your chains...
Remember the prison that once held you
Before the love of God broke through
Remember the place you were without grace,
And when you see where you are now,
Remember your chains....
And remember...your chains are gone.
(from the CD, Heaven in the Real World)
And my life changed.
I'd been back attending church for almost 4 years, at that point - and been pretty faithful about it. But no one had ever asked me to step forward and profess my faith - they all assumed that I had it, that it was a given. After all, I'd been baptized, so I'd belonged to God ever since then, right?...
But I had walked some dark roads in the 34 years since I'd been washed in the waters of baptism, and since my Lutheran community didn't practice any kind of remembrance-of-baptism service (now included in the Renewing Worship materials from the ELCA), my soul felt pretty dirty at that stage of the game. So when the call came to commit our lives to Christ, I went down. Not because it would look good - because there was no one I knew there to look good for. Not out of guilt, or pressure - because nobody but me knew that I really didn't think I'd made a decision to follow Christ before that. Instead, the words of AA's Third Step echoed in my head that night:
[We] made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood him.So I "made a decision" - and I went.
It took me a while to get "down front," and then it took a while to find an available counselor to speak with me. But I finally got it out (through the tears) that I needed to "make a decision," and that was enough. He prayed powerfully for me, gave me a New Testament and a "decision card" to fill out, and then went on to the next person who needed him.
It was just that simple. There was no water present, but it was in every other way a "believer's baptism" for me. In retrospect, it was the way I always believed "confirmation" should be...not something my parents made me do, but something I chose to do, because I believed it, and I meant it. I'd been a practicing Catholic (including most-valuable-altar-boy) for 17 years, been an agnostic for 17 more, been an active, church-going Lutheran for another four. But I decided to follow Christ that night in Cleveland.
That night - as I did last night, and I will tonight and Sunday night - I prayed for all the people who came to faith, and to trust in Christ, for the first time. And once again today I give thanks to God for the ministry of Billy Graham, and for the army of God's kids who have made his crusades possible over the years. In the words of Ray Boltz:
Thank you, for giving to the Lord, for I am a life who was changed...
Thank you for giving to the Lord - I am so glad you gave!
Friday, October 08, 2004
It's particularly poignant this year because two different friends of mine have been reflecting on their own "former lives," and finding it particularly unpleasant to reflect on all the waste - time, effort, money, relationships, you name it. And I have to admit that about this time of year, every year, I always find myself wishing that in some way, somehow, it could have worked out where things didn't have to get quite so bad before I stopped being stupid. Even after all these years, it is still hard not to wish that God, in his mercy, could rewind the tape, and have it play out just a little less unpleasantly. "Then," the thought often goes, "you wouldn't have to be going through what you are now. It would all be different."
It's at times like this that I'm grateful for the words of the prophet Joel:
The threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and oil. I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten - the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm - my great army that I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the LORD your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed. (Joel 2:24-26, NIV, emphasis added)I wish I could say that I'm there, all the time...but I'm not. The thing I do know today is that by God's mercy and grace, I have never been as ashamed of those days, and those events, as I was fourteen years ago today. And I also know that in God's hands, those horrible times have become a bridge of recognition, understanding, and fellowship between me and other people whose lives have distintegrated - and God has used those awful times for good. The AA textbook says it best:
No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 84)I have seen the truth of those words played out over and over again - and I am grateful that the hands of the Master Craftsman can use even a broken tool like me. Thank you, God, for the gift of that knowledge, and the experience of the truth of these words in my life.
Wednesday, October 06, 2004
"Oh, there's nothing as sweet as fellowship, as we share each other's lives..." (the musical group Acappella, "Sweet Fellowship")
Part of not having to be engaged in the Ministry-in-Context (MIC) program at school means not having an assigned place to be at church on Sundays...which allows me to visit congregations as I choose. It also leaves me in the role of ongoing "first-time-visitor."
Part of being both a seminarian (whose business includes the study of the church as an institution) and a church-visitor is the chance to observe how congregations engage (or fail to engage) first-time visitors. At one extreme is what I call the "vampire/leech greeters," where people stationed at the door zero in on any unfamiliar face, and once their visitor-targeting-systems acquire a target, they never let go of them until they agree to go to new-member classes. I've experienced that, and it is (to put in mildly) a bit uncomfortable.
Last Sunday, I experienced the extreme other end of that continuum - and trust me, all you leech-haters: that alternative was far, far less preferable.
I'd been to the physical building before - a Lutheran (ELCA) congregation in the southwest suburbs of Chicago (which will remain nameless). The church building is host to a number of 12-step organizations that meet through the week there. So I knew what door to come in, and where the gathering space and worship space were located. But as I came in, about 5 minutes before the 11 AM service started, I was astonished at the greeting I didn't receive. In fact, though I hung around in the narthex (or lobby) of the church, looking at the various displays on tables around the space, it seemed as if I had been sprayed with some kind of spiritual or social form of Teflon, or Pam...a kind of "newcomer non-stick-spray" that allowed the congregation members to slide right past me without even acknowledging that I was there.
Oh, the fellow who handed out the bulletins for the service said "Good morning." So did the person who I nearly bowled over, the last time I left the building. But between 10:55 and 1:30, with the exception of "sharing the peace" at the beginning of the service, receiving the communion elements, and being offered a donut during the workshop I had gone to attend after service, not one other person attempted to engage me in any way. Evidently they all assumed that if I was there, I belonged there, and was connected to someone, somehow.
In fact, before church, I walked out of the narthex to put my phone in the car, and walked back in. No recognition. After church, I walked back out to the car to get my book, and came back in. I hung around the tables set up to promote the program for which I'd come to participate - but while people at those tables spoke to others around me, no one said a word to me. Now, to be fair, I really didn't need any information - I knew when the session was, I had the book, etc. But it was that "sweet fellowship" that I was hoping someone would share - a word of welcome, wondering if I had any questions..."step away from the donuts, Mr. Flower"...anything.
In fact, from a pure safety standpoint, after church was out there were a number of kids (including young ones) who were hanging around the narthex and the entrance to the church. No one asked who I was, or if I was supposed to be around the young ones or not. It might have been easy pickin's if I'd been looking to abduct a child or two. But fortunately for them, my tastes lie elsewhere! :-)
And to be fair, I also know what to do in situations like this. I know, from my earliest AA days, that "it's exactly as far from my-hand-to-their-hand as it is from their-hand-to-my-hand." I could have engaged the people I saw, and forced myself into their circles of acquaintance. (People who know me would assure you that I am not normally either shy or retiring in any way.)
But last Sunday, I was feeling a little adrift...a little "at sea"...a little "apart from." And I was hoping to find some place that was looking to be invitational, to be open or welccoming to a stranger...some place where each "day of purpose" might be rooted in being the hands and feet of Christ to those who just might not know Him...or perhaps to those who might need to be reminded who He is, and Whose they are.
So sure...it might very well be the responsibility of us visitors to march into church, announce our visitorship, and say, "Sir, we would like to see Jesus" (John 12:21, NIV). But I'm gonna suggest that if we, as the community of faith, have the gift of the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and the gift of the "sweet fellowship" that exists between us, shouldn't we be the ones who are ready (and eager) to give those gifts away?
All are welcome, friend and stranger, at the banquet of the Savior -
All are welcome...all are welcome here. ("All Are Welcome," from the Augsburg Fortress Worship and Praise songbook)
Tuesday, October 05, 2004
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Sunday, October 03, 2004
I've known at least five people who have benefited from the gift of organs and tissue - including one teenager, burned horribly in a car crash, who received the gift of living skin from donations by the driver, who died in the crash. (He has fully recovered, and you have to look hard to see where the skin grafts were...it's pretty amazing.) I've also known several absolutely tragic deaths, where the only immediate saving grace was that the organs that were donated brought life to others, and at least some meaning to an otherwise senseless loss.
I have a dream - that the students, faculty and staff of LSTC and McCormick seminaries engage this Sabbath project, and through their leadership, encourage the pastors and chaplains they train (and the ones trained by the rest of the ACTS consortium) to build a groundswell of organ and tissue donation commitments. Now that would be a "recycling project" that would pay dividends for years to come! (Hey, GreenZone members - how 'bout it?)
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America affirms that it "regards the donation of organs, tissue, and whole blood as an act of stewardship and as an appropriate means for contributing to the health and well being of other persons" and "urgently encourages its members to consider donating organs, tissue, and whole blood" (emphasis added; see the link here for the 2004 social policy resolution.)
Mark November 12-14 on your calendars - and on the worship schedules of the churches in which you participate. It's the cheapest, most valuable gift we can give - let's encourage people to do this. Check it out - pass it on - get involved...and sign your own donor card.
Rare Earth, "I Just Wanna Celebrate"Yup...thirty-three years ago...just some of the music playing during my freshman year of high school.
War, "All Day Music" ("Musiiiiicc....is what we like to play")
Aretha Franklin, "Spanish Harlem"
Dramatics, "Watcha See is Watcha Get"
The Guess Who, "Rain Dance"
Five Man Electrical Band, "Signs"
Al Greene, "Tired of Being Alone"
Paul McCartney & Wings, "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey"
Cat Stevens, "Peace Train"
Yes, "Your Move/I See All Good People"
In a way, I don't know what to feel about that. As DJ Bob Stroud said, it was a time of immense diversity in music (click on the link above to see the whole list for October 3rd to really understand what diversity is!)...and I'm glad I was exposed to it and got to live in it. But there was also that little voice (that usually lives in the back of my head) that jumped up to my forebrain, and exclaimed...
"DANG, bubba...you're old."
But, as a wise friend often says, the only thing worse than getting to be this old...is not getting to be this old. I'll take it, today. Thanks, God, for another day in "the Great Adventure."
Saturday, October 02, 2004
But God has a sense of humor...
...because now I'm working for 'em.
Yup - two plum assignments for Accountemps fell through because the clients weren't quite ready to commit to a long-term temporary employee. So, Thursday afternoon, I got the call - would you take a part-time assignment, instead of just waiting for a full-time one? Well, any assignment beats no assignment, so Friday morning I ended up trundling downtown on the Red Line to State and Kinzie, to do accounts payable entry work at Harry Caray's corporate HQ. Oh, well...what price convictions now, eh?
I finally surrendered to a couple things this week.
First, I'm tired of fighting spam on my email address. I don't know what site I visited to attract such a bombardment, but even with Yahoo's spam-blocker, it's annoying. But more than that, I guess it also reflects my second surrender...that whatever ministry work I do in the future, it probably won't involve a Masters of Divinity degree any time in the near future. Nor will it likely include ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America...although I hope that some day it will include some sort of ministry leadership position in something that looks like "the ministry of Word and Sacrament."
So I started sending out the emails to change my address...now if I could just email my mind to make that realization less painful, it would be a real blessing...
In the ELCA, the candidacy-for-ministry process takes four big "steps" - "entrance" to seminary (the decision that was postponed indefinitely for me), "endorsement" to go forward on internship, "approval" to be ordained, and the actual rite of ordination. This last week has been a number of my fellow students' endorsement meetings, and my only real connection with the process was to offer to pray for those who were having their meetings in the foreseeable future.
Well, a number of folks had their meetings Thursday and Friday, and I did pray for them (and their committees) - it seemed like the least I could do (in fact, about the only caring ministry I am doing, outside of the recovery communities). And it was great to hear that a bunch of 'em got endorsed. But yesterday evening, as I came back from my first day at the Harry-Caray's gig, I heard that a group of the endorsees were headed to a "View & Brew" night at the Vic theatre downtown - and that I was more than welcome to join them.
And God help me, but I just couldn't do it. On the one hand, I was drawn to be part of the fellowship...but on the other, the huge longing to be "a part of" the journey was just more than I could bear, at the time. So I begged off...fixed myself dinner, watched some TV, and went to bed early.
This morning, the day looked better...a meeting, some prayer, some reasonable eating, and some house-cleaning action (physical and spiritual) has helped immensely. All I can do is walk forward in faith, I guess.
But I've never dealt well with feeling "apart from," and this not-being-connected with the seminary community is just kicking my butt. I keep asking for some direction - other than just running away and leaving the seminary community - but so far, the silence has been deafening. But I'm sunny side up, suckin' air and sober - which is a great blessing - and I'm grateful for that. I guess that God will restore me to sanity (at some point) about being around (but not in) seminary - and I'm just gonna "wait upon the Lord" for that acceptance and resolution. "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Any time You're ready, Lord....