Friday, September 30, 2005

Oh, well, it was a nice try...

Well, that's too bad.

My home church, Atonement Lutheran in Overland Park, KS, is still hosting a concert with Denver & the Mile-High Orchestra on Friday, October 7th. But they have cancelled the encounter with Len Sweet - basically because it would be impossible to justify his fee, even if registration doubled over the weekend (they had only 22 confirmed registrants as of this morning).

I understand the church's decision - even though I really regret it. It kind of takes me off the hook, though, since I was really struggling with the cost of the trip. I may still take a Thursday and Friday off to go to West Des Moines to experience the Immersion post-modern worship service at the Lutheran Church of Hope. But it won't be this coming weekend.

Well, I left at 8:30 to pick up a guy and go to my regular Saturday morning meeting up in Wicker Park. Thanks to some kind of marathon downtown, and road closures elsewhere, it took nearly two hours to make it back to Hyde Park to drop him off - so it's now 3 PM and I haven't even begun to start my Saturday routine. Oh, and I'm committed to a gig tonight from 6-9:30.

Tomorrow - nothing, absolutely NOTHING is happening tomorrow. I am taking care of me, and my stuff, tomorrow - period, paragraph.

Livin' for the weekend...

I knew a man - back 20 years ago - who was curator of antiquities at the Toledo Museum of Art. He was reasonably well-compensated, but frequently would say that he would do his job for free, because he loved what he did. He often said that he was one of the luckiest people in the world, because he got paid to 'play' for a living.

I envied the snot out of him then. Still do, to a degree.

Chuck Chamberlain, author of A New Pair of Glasses, talked about the men who worked for him in his retail-store-fixture company. There were the men who loved what they did - who found joy in creating and building - for whom work was not a burden. And then there were the people who were "living for the weekend" - slogging through five days of "workin' for the Man" to get two days of joy. That, he said, was a lousy place to be in.

Don't I know it.

This last week, I have allowed myself to get sucked dry - both by work and by social requests from friends. For ten days straight I've worked longer hours than usual, and then every night I have been gone doing something - and my life shows it. My laundry isn't done, the boxes I have unpacked are sitting untidily piled in a corner - it's just a mess. And I woke up this morning, knowing that my boss will be out of town this weekend, and this weekend will be just for me. My thought was, "One more day..."

I'm not sure the next job will be the one like my former friend at the museum. But I hope I can find one that is less of a joy-vampire than this one. Still, it is a job - and it looks like they're going to be able to meet payroll this week (it wasn't at all certain, as late as yesterday morning). So I'll take it and run with it. I'm not enjoying work, but I am grateful for it. It beats the hell out of not working...

God, help me to find strength to do what needs to be done at work this day - and then to spend the time this weekend to clean up the wreckage of my immediate past. I need your guidance, and your strength, to change my heart and my attitude. There is both heaven and hell ahead in this day - help me keep my eyes focused on "the hills from whence come my strength." Amen.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

A late night catch-up

Well, it's been an insane week here - I just seem to be pulled a half-dozen different directions, and the proof is that I still have half-a-dozen phone calls to return, and it's 11:22 PM already. Yeesh. Still, these are fairly high-quality problems, so I won't whine much.

Lots of stuff to think about, and write each entry will necessarily be brief:

The Celebration blog has brought up some interesting comments, and experiences. I'm actually looking forward to a weekend fast - although it goes against virtually every fiber of my being to even consider it. It will be interesting...

By the way, if you check out this week's program notes for This American Life on public radio (consult your local listings!), you'll see that one of the featured articles will be about fasting as a spiritual discipline, which should be interesting. In Chicago, we can hear TAL on Friday night and Saturday at 11 - but for our international contingent, it will be available for free as a RealAudio download in a week or so. TAL tends to be fairly secular, yet at the same time willing to encounter the divine, so it will be interesting to see which way this plays.

The Katrina/Rita aftermath - First, if you didn't get to listen to "After the Flood" on This American Life, detailing three powerful stories of the horrors of surviving Katrina, you can either listen to it in RealAudio, or you can read the transcript via this Adobe PDF file. I'll say it again: you really need to do this.

In all the blaming and finger-pointing and scapegoating going on, the larger issues of how people in power dealt with people of lower economic status seems to have been shunted to one side. There is a quote from this transcript that is informative:
TAPE OF BILL O'REILLY: If you're poor, you're powerless. Not only in America, but everywhere on earth. If you don't have enough money to protect yourself from danger, danger's gonna find you. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina should be taught in every American school, if you don't get educated, if you don't develop a skill and force yourself to work hard, you'll most likely be poor, and sooner or later you'll be standing on a symbolic rooftop waiting for help. Chances are, that help will not be quick in coming.
This may sound stupid and simplistic - but this should not be happening the world in the faith-based United States of America, boys and girls. Red state, blue state...wherever you are, we need to get angry, and stay angry, about this.

And I don't care how expedient it may seem to use the armed forces for disaster recovery...the folks who passed the posse comitatus act did so for a reason. And it's still a good one - especially given the power that a president could wield by moving the military into one area or another for whatever reason. Don't screw with what's not broken, folks...

Working in limbo - I've been putting in long hours to do three weeks worth of bank-reconciliations in one week - and until tonight, I truly believed that this Friday was going to be my last day at my current employment. But no one was saying tonight, I finally said to my supervisor, "Is it a safe assumption that I'll be done here after Friday?" And she said, "No...not really... if you don't have anything else going on, there's probably a couple weeks worth of stuff to do around here." Well, there are a couple strong "maybe's" but no definite "yes" on the horizon, so this was a blessing. But it also ended up strengthening my resolve to find something else - anything else.

In related news, I heard through several folks who are connected in the accounting world that the payroll-outsourcing firm that sounded like my best bet so far "has a tendency to have some high turnover," as one person put it. While there's lots of reasons for why employees leave after relatively short durations, mostly it's because the employer tends to chew people up and suck them dry - which is exactly not the environment I'd like to get into. So it's "just keep looking..."

A tragic situation - my home congregation, Atonement Lutheran in Overland Park, KS, has been promoting their Power In The Spirit conference, which was slated to have Leonard Sweet as the keynote speaker and Denver & The Mile-High Orchestra as the Friday-night opening concert. Well, ticket sales for both have been slow, but for the conference it has been, well, abysmal. So the organizers are asking questions about "what's plan B" if there isn't a stampede of folks in the next 48 hours who want to attend the conference. It's been pretty heartbreaking for them - they were dreaming big, and so far their hopes and dreams have not been fulfilled. I'd believe that any person in ministry within a hundred miles of KC should want to be there - but evidently no one's listening to me out there.

That's it - it's after midnight, and time to put my sorry butt to bed. More tomorrow, hopefully...

Monday, September 26, 2005

Living "between the times of plenty"

Once there was a river in the valley
With water clear as crystal casting diamonds in the sun,
Now the river bed is dry and empty
And no one knows where all the water's gone...

But somewhere from the East there come the memory
That weaves the morning sunrise with the river's sacrifice
And those who trust the movement of the centuries
Can still see the river's flow between the times...

Between the times of plenty,
When the water's just a trickle in our lives,
At the time that we must grieve
Because the words that we believe
aren't coming true...
What shall we do between the times?

(Marty Haugen, Between the Times, from the CD
Turn My Heart: A Sacred Journey from Brokenness to Healing, GIA Music)
I was sharing Marty Haugen's CD Turn My Heart with a friend on Friday, and somehow this song just struck me powerfully. Earlier that day, I'd been listening on Chicago public radio to an emergency services worker from Texas talking about having been nearly drained by one hurricane relief effort, and now facing yet another natural disaster in their back yard, and wondering where the strength will come to deal with this new crisis.

God help me, but I understand just a tiny bit of that.

I would never be so grandiose as to compare the mini-dramas in my life to the challenges of leaving house, home, job, and possessions to flee for one's life. (Let's face it - I am grandiose, but that's just a bit much, even for me...) But in talking with my friend Tom last night, it came to me that I've been living in a state of "not-really-there and yet not-really-here either" for a year and a half. And to be honest, it's getting damn old.

A year ago, I was so annoyed that I couldn't be present for my home congregation's Power in the Spirit conference on evangelism and outreach, and I really hoped I would be able to attend this year's conference (a two day extravaganza with noted author Leonard Sweet and a concert with Denver and the Mile-High Orchestra).

But with the potential of my current work ending as soon as this Friday, and the one possible/probable position I have not starting for two or three weeks, it really seems like "the next right thing" would be to stay put, to save my sheckels, and continue to work to find the next new position (or find another temporary position in the interim). It just doesn't seem to be the right thing to be spending $150-plus in gas alone to drive to KC (although it would be preferable to flying, and not having a car when I got there).

The damndest part of this is that I was really looking forward to some time away. I haven't been out of the Windy City since Easter - I'd hoped to be in Toledo for Memorial Day, but then the whole move drama started, and now, all of a sudden, it's the eve of October. And to be honest, as much as Chicago can be a fun place, I'm just ready for a break that doesn't have to do with unpacking or boxes or job-hunting or anything else. It woulda been nice to have some real "sabbath time" to rest, relax and worship - not to mention seeing some great friends.

The other annoying part was that I'd been inspired recently to plan the trip so I could stop in West Des Moines to visit Lutheran Church of Hope, pastored by my late mentor's son Mike Housholder, and to experience their Thursday night Immersion post-modern worship service. (To be honest, I've wanted to do that since before I left the seminary.) But while this time away could be restful and encouraging and all that crap, it just doesn't seem very damn responsible to do it. And recognizing all this just makes me kinda cranky...

Now, before any of you start with the "Well, you certainly have some high-quality problems in your life, Mr. Whiney-Pants" comments, trust me - I've already said them to myself. Daily, in fact. I know my own tendency to be "King Baby" when I don't get my way, and I really do try to resist it. I really, really, reeeeaaaaaalllllly do appreciate that there are no dead bodies (or parts thereof) floating in my street or alley-way. I really do give thanks for employment, and cash flow (be it ever so meager) and a place to live that's not threatened by either man-made or natural disaster. I'm grateful to be sunny-side-up, suckin' air and sober (that one's for you, Tom...).

And maybe this is just me being a whiney ass. God knows, I've had enough practice that it should be second-nature. When I was sharing these thoughts with my friend Natalie by phone earlier tonight, I said, "Yeah, well, folks like me need to do some bitchin'-n-moanin' at times, just to keep our 'chops' in shape."

Staying here would be the adult, responsible thing to do. I just don't want to do it.

The answer to the questions Marty Haugen asked in his beautiful song and meditation, Between the Times is sometimes simply to get still, quiet down my thinking, and accept that I am "between the times of plenty." Hopefully this is not my last stop on the merry-go-round, but it's also probably not the time to do something rash, no matter how well I can justify and rationalize away the objections.

For now, the "next right thing" to do would be to clear off my bed, get to sleep, and get the day started ealier than usual tomorrow. And to offer up a heart-felt prayer for serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change thing things I can, and the wisdom to know the differece.

The latest "Celebration" posting... up over at A Virtual Celebration. It will be an interesting week's read, given it's a topic that I know next to nothing about...

Friday, September 23, 2005

Today's posting.... actually over here, at A Virtual Celebration. Talking about prayer, and the need for simplicity and honesty. Check it out.

It's gonna be a busy weekend - I've got two AA committments Friday night and Saturday night, and a friend from school whose grandfather died - the visitation and funeral both occuring during the two previous committments. And the job that's supposed to end in a week wants me to work all weekend. Never rains but that it pours, eh?

But I'm not fleeing for my life today, so I can't help but give thanks for safety, and offer prayers for those in dire straits. God, clear a path to safety for all of them...

Thursday, September 22, 2005

No, I haven't died....

...or been hospitalized, or anything else. It's just been four very busy days.

My last day in my old job was Monday, and I was there until almost 11 pm tying up loose ends and making things a little easier for the transition, if they ever get enough funds to hire a membership person again. For now, their highly-compensated development director is going to be taking time from her work to do the clerical stuff. I feel sorry for her - she was hired to do a nearly-impossible job, and now faces the same drought of fundraising that happened after 9/11. The organization is not yet talking about cutting staff - but their payroll is very much in doubt at this point. Which makes me a little nervous about my next check...

I've had a couple of what seem like good interviews, even though the potential positions won't start until mid-October. Part of the goal for this weekend, besides apartment-stuff, is blasting out more e-applications (especially on the government side). And praying a lot more....

I had a late night Tuesday talking with two AA sponsees, and Wednesday had dinner with another sponsee that lasted until 9:30, so I got home about 10:15, and just kinda crashed. I've had my fall allergic problems, which means that my CPAP isn't helping me breath as well at night, which isn't helping my energy levels. So I'm just running on low battery.

Tonight is the AA meeting I chair on the U of C campus, tomorrow I'll be with a friend shopping for our men's meeting breakfast on Saturday. But Saturday afternoon and Sunday are mine, and I hope to get a lot of cleaning and organizing done. So more will be coming, soon....

Monday, September 19, 2005

Love, belief, action

In the Scriptures, belief works in tandem with action. Our actions are reflective of our beliefs, but our beliefs drive our actions. So what I'm interested in reclaiming is the importance of these two together.

Sometimes faith becomes all about what people believe, and how you act doesn't really matter. But in the Scriptures, how you act very much matters. Like it says, what does God require of you but to love justice and mercy and to walk humbly? Those are all actions.
(Rob Bell, author of Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith, quoted in a Dallas Morning News interview. Hat-tip: emerging sideways

Luv is a verb. (from a song by dcTalk)

The definition of love is the same at seven AM as it is at midnight! I believe that you can't prove love...if you love someone, you do things for them. Love is not a feeling; it is an action. (Chuck C., excerpted from A New Pair of Glasses).
This weekend, in between unpacking boxes (yes, dear God, there are still more than a few of THOSE to be dealt with!) I've been checking out a number of blogs that seem to have this theme of love, belief and action involved.

First, Rick Luoni's powerful post at a new life emerging talks about using love to heal the results of unloving actions or attitudes. Then Damien's Spot has an interesting interview with the pastor whose church sign announces that THE BIG EASY IS THE MODERN DAY SODOM AND GOMORRAH, and how escapees from New Orleans - who, I'm sure, often include faithful Christians - are justifiably irked by this Texas welcome.

[Theological aside: most discerning students of scripture will tell you that the "sin of Sodom" is not gay sex, but lack of hospitality - which, it seems, would make Woodland Hills Baptist Church in Tyler, TX the "modern day Sodom."]

Also, this weekend, in the process of following a Google bunny-trail I stumbled across Recoveries Anonymous over here. This group seems to believe that the mainstream of AA has ceased being about having a spiritual awakening through the practice of the 12 steps of recovery. They even believe that the book Alcoholics Anonymous has become somehow corrupted, and instead they favor using the original "multilith copy" of the AA textbook - which is, presumably, more closely aligned to wha the 12-step programs should be than the final draft of the text.

I've not read the "original manuscript," and so I won't comment there. But I understand that it's important to actually pick the book up and follow the original instructions in it, rather than just sitting around moaning about problems and buying into psycho-babble solutions to immediate problems. One of the many truisms in the 12-step community is that the 6th chapter of the "Big Book" is not titled "Into Contemplation," or "Into Preparing to Plan to Consider..." but instead Into Action. Another salty old-timer would often say to me, "Steve, if nothing changes, then nothing changes..."

That's what I see in these postings, and in so much of what surrounds the struggles to help people in the Gulf Coast. The things that have been most hurtful are the posturing, the sound bites, empty claims of concern and promises of action. The only thing that will heal that, as Rick points out, will be actions of service and restoration that will demonstrate love and care, rather than just talk about it.

God, in everything we do today, help each one of us put our talk into action. Let actions of love and kindness demonstrate what our words, in the end, will never show. Amen.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Anybody got air-sickness bags?

My friend Sandy M. is looking for about 200 airline/bus airsickness bags (vomit bags, to be crude). She needs then before October 5, 2005, and would prefer that someone who had a mess of 'em donate some to Atonement Lutheran Church in Overland Park, KS. Anyone got a clue?

Not "What am I?" but "Whose"...

Click here to take the M*A*S*H quiz!

I'm an Aston Martin DB5 - Which James Bond Vehicle Are You?

To quote my friend Poor Mad Peter, "ohforgodssake."

In the Harry Potter world, I'd be in Gryffindor house. In Emeril's world, I'd be southern-style garlic mashed potatoes. In the James Bond world, I'm a wore-out Aston Martin. In the M*A*S*H world, I'm Father Mulcahy.

Maybe it was the tag that did me know, the one that says, "I took the LAME M*A*S*H quiz, and I'm..."

Maybe that's the real fear. I took the LAME M*A*S*H quiz, and according to it, I'm...lame.

The first couple times I took these on-line quizzes, it was kinda cute. A couple were even theologically challenging, just to see if I could really either support or reject the reasons why I got labelled as "post-modern/Emergent," or whatever.

But the thrill is gone, it seems.

Or maybe I just see this as an extension of the world's effort to rubber-stamp and pigeon-hole me. "You're a liberal." "You're a Democrat." "You're a Christian." "You're one of those pro-life nuts." "You're one of those pro-choice nuts." So many people are more than willing, based on some sound-bite or some comment or some affiliation I've had, to label every part of my life as pertaining to some stereotypical image they hold dear.

I'm all of those things. And a lot more.

My friend Tom loves to razz me about being Lutheran; there are times when it feels like he really believes I buy into the whole Lake Wobegone BS. Yet there are a number of Lutherans who feel I am anything but one of them. There's more than a few people who call themselves Christians who look at my attitude toward gays and lesbians, or any number of categories of so-called "sinners" in general, and conclude that I'm not really a Christian. There are an equally large group of folks outside of the church community who hope that I'm the way most Christians ought to be.

They're probably all at least partly right, depending on the day. But there's one thing I know I am.

I am a child of God. A child of a loving Power and Life that says to me every moment of my life, "You're my kid. I love you, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it."

I am a lot of other things - based on my employment, my credit score, my age, my physique, my sexual orientation, and my personal history, to name a few. But in the end, none of them matter. Millionaire or struggling ex-student, 48 or 28, with a physique that is stacked or one that is just piled - none of it matters. Because what I am doesn't mean nearly as much as Whose I am.

Some of my deepest spiritual struggles and weaknesses have been around the phrase, "Gee, I wish I was..." And the sickness begins. And then I start filling in the blank, and the sickness grows. "I wish I was" younger, thinner, richer, smarter, more entertaining, better endowed...the list goes on ad infiniteum. None of these things draw me closer to God, but only to the world and its hollow expectations.

The God of my misunderstanding, of course, doesn't care anything about any of that. God just says, "You're Mine." Not "Get yourself right with Me, and then I'll admit to holding your soul."

So, unless I see one of these little blog-side tests that is really hysterical, you won't find me spending my time on 'em. Because, in the end, there's only One opinon that matters. God, help me focus on that opinion, and not anyone else's, just for today.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

A quick catch-up

I have been working more the last couple days, as my time at my current employer is winding down. Tomorrow was originally supposed to be my last day. Then, one of my two bosses asked me to work Friday and Monday. Then she intimated that boss #2 might have work for me for another week or more, working on the firm's audit preparations.

Then I get a call from a major temporary-to-permanent firm here in Chicago, saying they have openings for a temp-to-perm payroll specialist position - that could be an ASAP hire. Add this on top of seeing an ideal position - in Columbus, OH, of all places - and I just don't know. There's part of me that hates to even think about finishing unpacking, because I'll just have to leave again. (How's that for projection?) Of course, part of me just doesn't want to unpack because I'm the epitome of sloth...

Last night, at 10:15 it was still 83 degrees. Tonight, after a light rain and a cool front, it is 64 F, for which I give great thanks to God. Woo-HOO!

I have no idea what tomorrow may bring - endings, beginnings, who knows. So I'm just going to trust that God will walk with me through it all, and go to bed. Peace, y'all.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Does God have a targeting system?

Then Abraham approached him and said: "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
The LORD said, "If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake."
(Genesis 18:23-26, NIV)
Joe Klein wrote an article (which appears in the Sept. 12 Time magazine and here on quoting a group called "Columbia Christians for Life," who looked at satellite images of hurricane Katrina and saw an unborn fetus in the image. Based on this revelation, they sent out a storm of emails proclaiming God's judgement on New Orleans for operating abortion clinics, and their website has two articles praising God for the destruction of the clinics. (Thanks to Eileen for the hat-tip about Joe Klein's article.)

On a lark, I went to, an online "yellow pages" site, and found that there were more than 1,200 churches in New Orleans, most of which (I would assume) suffered the same fate as the abortion clinics.

I only point this out because the passage I opened with, from Genesis, seems to indicate that God understood the concept of "collateral damage" a lot better than we do. The concept that hundreds, if not thousands, of people would die and hundreds of places of Christian worship would be destroyed so that five abortion centers would be shut down is an obscenity of massive proportions. Not only is it obscene, it's just not Biblical.

The idea of a God who knows us so intimately that God knows the number of hairs on our heads (Luke 12:6-8) having a Smiting-Target-Acquisition-System that has to take 1,200 churches with it in order to wipe out five dens of iniquity is beyond stupid. It's just a variation on the same crap which I wrote about in January that John Piper was preaching about the tsunami - that the deaths of thousands of believers was an "acceptable loss" to the Almighty for the privilege of sweeping infidels and pagans to their death.

The blog Eve's Apple has a good sample of the backlash from this nonsense.

If there were half as many people preaching God's love, forgiveness, and acceptance as there were people loudly proclaiming that they know who God is going to smite, there would be a whole lot more Christians around.

Just so you know: God does not have a targeting system. This, instead, is what God has for you:
For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV)
It's just so damn sad, because the message of Christ is so vastly different than what what these folks are hearing from morons like the so-called "Columbia Christians for Life."

Your actions speak so loud, I can't hear what you're saying. (anonymous)

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable. (Brennan Manning)

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

We all need to hear this

Today...or tonight...set yourself up with the beverage of your choice, and go to the website of the NPR program This American Life. Go down to "Last Week: After The Flood," click on the RealAudio (RA) link, and start listening. It will take about an hour.

No political ranting here - just the stories of real people in the heart of the storm. These are not sound bites, but extended narratives of the experiences of people walking through hell.

A woman who was at the convention center talks about some things she says were widely misreported and misunderstood. Two people explain how armed police from neighboring Gretna actually prevented them from leaving New Orleans at the height of the crisis. A teenager talks about what it actually feels like to go without water for two days. And more.

These are stories that need to be heard. It will be a difficult, but worthwhile hour - trust me.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A holy moment with Garrison Keillor

Well, I have yet another reason to envy my friend Natalie back in Kansas. It seems that she and her parents managed to both worship and have dinner with Garrison Keillor today. Even though they served lutefisk, it would still be enough to envy her.

Keillor, host and main-man for A Prairie Home Companion, was in Hutchinson, KS (Nat's ancestral hometown) for another stop in the PHC late-summer state-fair tour. Last weekend, they were in Minneapolis, pulling everyone's leg about cheese curds. But this week, they were at the Kansas State Fair, always hosted in Hutch. I didn't even know about it until I heard a sliver of the radio broadcast Saturday night, with a song about Hutchinson set to "Down in the Boondocks." I've seen Keillor live a couple times, and just seeing that would have been worth it. But here's where the fun came in...

Evidently, when the original announcement came out that Garrison Keillor was going to be in town, Emmanuel Lutheran Church (one of two ELCA congregation in town) started negotiations to have him come to worship with them on the Sunday after his performance. Since he's gotten so much mileage at the expense of Lutherans over the years, it seemed only fair to make the appearance. So it was that the bard of Lake Wobegon was reading Scripture in Hutchinson this morning ("a reading from the letter of the Apostle Paul to the Kansans..."), and singing along with the children's choir and the rest of the congregation. Given that "Singing With the Lutherans" is one of his better mini-monologues, it only made sense that the congregation would end up singing "Children of the Heavenly Father."

I'd bet there were smiles in heaven. I'm told (by Natalie) that there were smiles in Hutchinson.

Ah, but into every scene from heaven, it seems a bit of hell must sneak in. And Hell, in this case, appeared during the Scandinavian dinner, where I am told they actually served lutefisk. Now, they served lots of other Scandinavian delights - Swedish meatballs, lefsa, you name it. But lutefisk...gaaah.

(Lutefisk, for those who are blessedly unaware, is an absolutely ghastly concoction that is basically salted, jellied cod. An interesting side-note is that they "jelly" it by soaking it in lye. Yes, as in drain cleaner. Want to know more? Here's a classic, if somewhat vulgar, description of an innocent's close encounter with lutefisk.)

And to be honest, I have only smelled the vile stuff; I have never tasted it, and purely hope to go home to Jesus without having that experience, thank you very much. As far as I can tell, 25% of all lutefisk is eaten once a year by 1st-or 2nd-generation Scandinavian residents; 25% is eaten by unsuspecting friends of those Scandinavians; and the rest is thrown out by decent folk everywhere.

But from the sound of it, even the presence of lutefisk didn't dampen the enthusiasm at the dinner, nor did it cramp Br'er Keillor's monologue afterwards. I think the Lutherans had the last laugh - they gave Keillor a t-shirt with a cute message (and a great play on Philippians 4:7): "Lutefisk - The Piece of Cod That Passes All Understanding."

So not only do I really wish I'd been in Hutchinson this weekend, but just sitting here writing tonight I've had a truly awful craving flung on me for Swedish meatballs. [Yes, I know, they're almost as bad as sausage-gravy-n-biscuits from a nutritional standpoint. I don't care. I love Swedish meatballs; I could sit down with an entire crockpot full of them, all by myself. For me, it's one of the universe's all-time great comfort foods.]

Somehow, that refernce (along with the yo-yo's in my former home state trying to teach creationism alongside evolution) reminded me of a wonderful scene in one of my favorite sci-fi series, Bablyon 5. In the scene, one of the main characters, the alien warrior and philosopher G'Kar, is having a meal with a fellow Narn. The other alien looks down at his plate, smiles, and they have this exchange:
"You've managed to import breen from our homeworld. How?"
"It ... isn't actually
"But the smell! The taste!..."
"It's actually an Earth food. They are called Swedish meatballs. It's a strange thing, but it seems that every sentient race in the galaxy has its own version of these Swedish meatballs. I suspect it's one of those great universal mysteries which will either never get explained or which will drive you mad if you ever learned the truth."

(Na'kal and G'Kar in the Babylon 5 episode "Walkabout")
To me, if ever they found this to be true, it would be the clearest, firmest piece of scientific proof for intelligent design throughout the universe.

That's it. We've had just a few commenters on the Celebration of Discipline blogging adventure, but it's been good for me to be reading (along with digging back into "How It Works" from the AA recovery text). I'm posting a couple links over there later on this evening/morning. That, along with finally starting to deep-clean the apartment enough to cook in the kitchen, has taken a bunch of time this weekend. But it's been time well spent.

The good news is that there may be a temporary reprieve on the end-day at my current place of employment - which is good, because there are still only dribs and drabs of things showing up to replace the job, as of yet. I did find one seemingly perfet position - that would be very akin to what I'd been doing for Sprint for years. But it's in Columbus, OH - and I'd like to avoid having to move (again!) if I don't REALLY have to.

It's 9:22 PM, and still 82 degrees and humid. Not what I would choose - and it's supposed to be even hotter Monday and Tuesday. Yuck. (I know there's some otherwise-sane folks who love hot weather, and delight in humidity. God bless 'em - but I'm sure not one of 'em. If I could put in an order for weather, it would definitely be for 70s, breezy and dry.)

As far as I'm concerned, this is an "Indian summer" that wouldn't even be enjoyable in India, let alone among my Native American friends. Oh, well. For all my sweating and whining about the humidity here in south Chicago, there is no standing water - and there is a significant lack of water damage, raw sewage, or bloated dead bodies in my neighborhood. So I'm still gonna call my weekend incredibly, incredibly blessed.

Friday, September 09, 2005

A stunning indictment of the so-called "rescue efforts"

I've taken time out to follow just a few of the links in the blogosphere about the reaction to the Katrina relief efforts (or the lack thereof). An amazing indictment of the government's reaction comes from Shakespeare's Sister. In part: Take a look at the international analysis of what’s happening in America right now—the entire world is appalled, watching the richest country in the world let its people die of thirst, and yet that is the inevitable result of a ruling party who feels little obligation to its citizens.

But then I read this post by ThinkProgress, where the president of Jefferson Parish in New Orleans, Aaron Broussard, issued an emotional appeal on NBC’s Meet the Press. By the end, he was completely broken down, sobbing uncontrollably. Read the post. I did - and then I followed this link to watch the video feed (the QuickTime link is faster).

If you're not angry after hearing this, I don't know what to say.

Way too blessed to be stressed

It's been an interesting day - certainly not the day I would have chosen, but all in all, a challenging yet good day.

The events of the day have been tragicomic - everything technological I touched at work broke today (copier, PC, internet connection, network printer) at the precise moment of maximum need/urgency. It was yet another confirmation of the sign I saw on a copier twenty years ago...
WARNING: this machine has been equipped with an automatic criticality detector designed specifically to cause breakdowns, jams and other interruptions of service at precisely the times of greatest need for functionality. If the machine can sense that you're really desperate to use it, it will almost certainly fail. So just stay calm...
Of course, the more the machine fails, the more unlikely it is for me to remain calm (or to not act desperate) it's a losing spiral, after a point.

And the adventure continued - delays getting out of the office, insane traffic on the way down to Hyde Park to the AA meeting... just a series of classic potential serenity-busters. By the time I picked up my sponsee to get the meeting set-up, I was 15 minutes late, and my mood was somewhere between Oh, for God's sake! and WTF?

And that's when I had to laugh. It's all about my perception, after all. A week and a half after Katrina, just shy of the 4-year anniversary of 9/11, and I'm whining about finances, traffic and technology. I had a warm shower, two good meals, plenty of gas in my tank, and lodging that is absolutely devoid of rats, corpses, E.coli, or heavy-metal contamination. Yet I could easily have talked myself into believing I was having a bad day.

And that's when God reminded me of exactly what I needed to hear...

Nearly eleven years ago, as an on-site consultant for Sprint working in Des Plaines, IL on their Centel merger, I was in an AA meeting at the First Step House in downtown Des Plaines. At work, I was the new-guy-in-charge, and things were not going well. I was afraid of failing, afraid of a high-profile failure, you name it. Fear was everywhere. And I made the mistake of bringing it up in a place where we were literally meeting between the cots in a men's halfway-house...a setting that should have inspired gratitude from the get-go, but didn't, somehow.

The old-timer sitting next to me was the next person to speak. I don't remember his name, but I'll never truly forget what he said. It was exactly what I need to hear, that day and this one, too:
Boy, let me tell you a little secret. If you haven't been drunk, high, naked-in-public, or shot-at, and you haven't used the word "asshole" in the final draft of a memo, then you're still havin' a good day. Because most folks that are still out there qualifyin' for our little club here would take any three of the five I just mentioned. So get over your cheap self and find some gratitude, y'hear?
I've lost sight of that thought any number of times, over the years - but I've never truly forgotten it. And by that man's simple measure, I've had a very good day.

Now, I don't want to blue-sky the situation, however. After all, I have (at best) 7 days of assured paid employment at my current position, and a dearth of alternatives. Living here in Pullman will eventually be cheaper than living in Hyde Park - but the first month of moving out has been an expensive one. Just because God loves me and I'm sunny-side-up, suckin'-air-n-sober doesn't mean I don't have lots of "opportunities for growth" that I have thus far failed to rise up to.

But I'm a very, very blessed man. As I told my young friend on the way home tonight, I've had an awful lot of 24-hours "in the bonus round," and it's all been a gift. If I shuffle off this mortal coil tonight, my financial record will read all in red ink - but I'll still be one of the richest men I know. In my youth, I had to memorize a poem, which contained one of the best scorecards for my life:
So count your garden by the flowers,
and never by the leaves that fall.
Count you days by golden hours,
and don't remember clouds at all.
Count your nights by stars, not shadows,
count your life by smiles, not tears.
And on this night, when you we honor,
count your age by friends, not years.
Thank you, God, for the reminders. I needed to hear 'em.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Need a little more Life in my day

There's a song by the Christian group Newsong (I think) that talks about the need for more time - which is definitely what I'm struggling with, right now. There's just too much to do, and too little time to do it.

Of course, their answer is that I don't need "more time in my life," but that I "need a little more Life in my day." The fact is, I could have come home and unpacked and wrote for an hour and a half, rather than taking a car-less co-worker grocery shopping and to get food for her dog. That was a choice I made; but this morning, needing at least 90 minutes between now and 9 AM, it's just a little annoying to see the price of my choices.

In the meantime, check out today's post at Damien's Spot about a young gay man who set fire to himself in St. Peter's Square. The portion of Alfredo Ormando's letter posted there is the secret cry of many, many closeted gay and lesbian Christians, and explains a lot about why he took the action he did. While I never believe that suicide is the answer, I certainly understand how one can get to that place. I've been near there a time or two myself...

Oh, well...gotta run. "God, grant me the serenity..."

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Blogrolling problems?

Is anyone else having problems with It seems that it's just no longer available in the morning or late evening - the Blogroll just times out each time I try. Suggestions? Alternatives?

Rev. Shanks and God's bad targeting

Rev. Bill Shanks, pastor of New Covenant Fellowship of New Orleans, also sees God's mercy in the aftermath of Katrina -- but in a different way. Shanks says the hurricane has wiped out much of the rampant sin common to the city.

The pastor explains that for years he has warned people that unless Christians in New Orleans took a strong stand against such things as local abortion clinics, the yearly Mardi Gras celebrations, and the annual event known as "Southern Decadence" -- an annual six-day "gay pride" event scheduled to be hosted by the city this week -- God's judgment would be felt.

“New Orleans now is abortion free. New Orleans now is Mardi Gras free. New Orleans now is free of Southern Decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion -- it's free of all of those things now," Shanks says. "God simply, I believe, in His mercy purged all of that stuff out of there -- and now we're going to start over again."
(from this article in the Agape Press)
Of course, Rev. Shanks, New Orleans is free of just about everything - including almost all of the Christians, who seemed to get washed away just as often as the sinners in this supposedly-holy deluge.

My favorite response to this particular proclamation was over the weekend, from the folks on Chicago Public Radio's Wait, Wait - Don't Tell Me!, the NPR weekly news-quiz program. They noted that while Rev. Shanks is proclaiming that Katrina is God's vengeance for all the sinfulness of New Orleans, that somehow God's devastating blow somehow didn't hit the French Quarter as bad as some of the rest of the city, because the FQ sits on slightly higher ground than the rest of New Orleans.

So the suggestion was that if God was really behind all this, He needed to tighten up the sights on His targeting computer - because the most sinful areas were the ones that got hit the least. (Or at least throw in an earthquake to level it all before flooding it...)

If my choice is to be with the "sinners and sodomites" or Rev. Shanks and his brand of godless, loveless Christianity, I'll take the S&S crowd.

On a related issue, check out Rick Luoni's post about Led Zepplin, Jesus and Love. Once again, Rick's reading my mail in a big, big way.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Plenty of work on this Labor Day

I don't come from a union background - but I hold a great deal of respect for the work of organized labor for creating much of the prosperity of the 20th century. Even as it seems that the labor movement is up against the ropes these days, with corruption and conflict threatening unity, and government and international commercial giants like Wal-Mart working hard to break the power of unions, I still celebrate the accomplishments of organized labor - and I'm grateful for their work to protect those who individually would not have a voice.

Today begins another labor - as we begin the task of blogging our way through Richard Foster's classic Celebration of Discipline. In the upper right corner of this page is the link to A Virtual Celebration, which will be where I will be writing my reflections (though I will also be linking to it from here, as well). If you're part of the group that said, "Yeah, sure, I'll do it," welcome. I'm excited about it.

The last three days have been pretty labor-intensive around here - moving my belongings out of the garage, up a very steep flight of stairs, and dumping them in the "somewhat ready for habitation" new apartment. I did 90% of the hauling upstairs myself - with the result that my lower back is somewhat more tender than it should be, and my knees and lower arms are both screaming. But at least it's now a task of putting things in place, and cleaning, and not of living as a transient, as I have for the last four weeks. I'm sure I'll still be living out of boxes for a while, anyway, but as the Beatles wrote, I've got to admit it's gettin' better - it's gettin' better all the time...

The move tasks have pushed my job search back to job #3, but that will have to change in short order, too. I've had some interviews, and sent out a bunch of resumes. We'll see. The next ten days are going to be busy ones in any number of ways...

For now, back to the boxes, assembling the bed, and the fun tasks of re-establishing residence...

Friday, September 02, 2005

It's not really ALL about me...

I promise, after the weekend - especially with the beginning of the Celebration of Discipline study - you'll be hearing more spiritual stuff and less of the mundane day-to-day stuff from me (at least for a while). It's been kinda frustrating, but the process of getting this apartment ready for human habitation has been more time consuming (and more frustrating) than I could probably describe.

I know it will be good when it gets done (95% of which will happen this weekend), but it's just really annoying right now. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change...courage to change the things I can...and the wisdom to know what the heck to do next...

I had the opportunity last night to talk to a person newly back in recovery - after more than 15 years of dry time. (Needless to say, as a guy coming up on that mark, I found his story a little scary.) He'd moved to Chicago a couple months ago, and was visiting for the first time at the Thursday night meeting I've been chairing. He'd been to some other meetings in town, but this was his first time at that particular meeting.

I was told, a long time ago, that when someone's new, that I need to get them my phone number and a chance to talk - which I did. But I was surprised when this fellow called me last night - usually the new guys aren't that eager to get connected.

It's strange - this fellow still has much that I could envy - at 36, he's still a good lookin' fellow, very fit, with a great deal of brain power still remaining, and ready to take on a 1-year masters' degree at the University of Chicago. He's got enough money to be living in a high-rise in Hyde Park overlooking the lake, despite being unemployed for a while. All in all, what folks in recovery might call "a high bottom."

But he made the point-blank declaration that his addictions had "kicked his ass," and I know that feeling. So I wouldn't trade lives with him - not today, anyway. And God gave me enough sense to just shut up and listen. The result seems to be that I have a new friend. And since those who know me are well aware that "just shut up" is not something I often do, I choose to see that as the proof of God still being able to "get through" to me...

For now, it's back to getting ready to get to work. I'll leave you with this meditation from Henri Nouwen's Bread for the Journey, this one from August 6th:
Being Joyful Witnesses

To speak about Jesus and his divine work of salvation shouldn't be a burden or a heavy obligation. When we go to people feeling that unless they accept our way of knowing Jesus, they are lost and we are failures, it is hardly possible to be true witnesses.

It is a great joy when people recognise through our witness that Jesus is the divine redeemer who opened for them the way to God. It is a true cause for gratitude and celebration. But we should also be able to live joyful and grateful lives when our witness with deeds and words does not lead people to accept Jesus in the way we do.
Amen, br'er Henri - amen.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Tragedy, saints, and bastards

One of the things I haven't moved into the apartment yet has been the's packed in the back of the garage where my stuff is stored (safe, but inaccessible). So most of my news about the tragedy in Louisiana and Mississippi this week has been through the colorful imagery of public radio. Thankfully, one of the NPR flag-ships, WBEZ-FM, is here in Chicago (think of Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me! and This American Life).

Several images I heard yesterday touched me deeply - either with joy or anger. The first was a fellow who lived well out of the blast-zone of the hurricane, but who had a small motorboat. He heard how the search for survivors was happening by helicopter, but mostly by boat, and told how he'd thought about disasters in the past: "If I could get there, I'd be glad to help out." Well, it seemed he could get to this one - and his wife said, "If just one person could be helped, it would be worth it, wouldn't it?" So off they rode, bass boat in tow, and he's probably out on the waters in New Orleans, even as I write this.

The images of power and utility workers from all over the country streaming into the affected area - just because there's a need - makes me tear up, as well. Yeah, I'm sure there's bonus money involved - but the folks I know don't do that kind of work (and risk those kinds of risks) because they're hungry for money. In any storm situation I've ever been in - the hideous ice-storm of several years ago in Kansas City, where more than a third of a million people were without power for a week comes to mind - I've always given thanks for the men and women who wade through the water, climb the icy poles, working in the worst of conditions to restore power to an electric-dependent community. They, too, are saints to me.

And then there was the image of a little girl, coming out of the broken door of a beauty supply shop - with beauty supplies with which her mother had clearly filled her arms. As so many commenters yesterday said, I can understand and accept people stealing food, formula, flashlights, batteries, grocery items - the survival stuff. But the people who broke into a Wal-Mart and were carrying off vacuum cleaners, TVs, DVRs, and the like - those are the folks I'd love to slap into stocks and publicly spank...for about a week. Maybe more.

I saw on the ELCA's website that their Disaster Response team was there - but I haven't heard yet a Matthew-25 call from the churchwide office to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty. I heard the McCormick Tribune Foundation was already coordinating fundraising and matching donations 50% - but I haven't heard any of the Christian denominations standing up and saying, "We are called to serve - and this is what we're going to do." (I am, of course, waiting to hear that Pat Robertson has declared the hurricane to be the judgement of God against the sinful city and all the homosexuals that live there - but that's old news, any more...)

It's so easy for me, in a dry (if chaotic) apartment, under sunny skies, with power and clean drinking water, to judge what I would and wouldn't do. At best, I can hope for what I might do, and pray against what I hope I wouldn't. For now, all I can do is pray for everyone down there - especially for the ones who are displaced, homeless, hungry and thirsty...and hope that people of faith will vote both with their feet, their wallets and their prayers to help.