Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

People tend to believe that the Advent/Christmas season is the most difficult for pastors. This pastor creates most of his own grief this time of year, heaping on expectations I cannot possibly meet. Even though I gave myself some space to not work as much, I still tried to do too much. This week I have paid a price. I think I have been sick in the month of December at least 80 percent of the time since 1995. I think I need to learn something about how I care for myself and what I expect from myself. I hope that with age, comes wisdom, but I keep doing the same thing. With old and new surroundings in the Pacific Northwest can come better life practices.

At least when I exhale upon arrival in Minnesota on December 28th, I won't have to do much. I can't do any home projects, or do much financial planning--all I can do is read and write, talk with family, run in the snow and ice, and play with my kids. I look forward to giving you more posts to Madhousegazette, or at least figure out the direction with this blog. One thing I won't do is let it sit with "Merry Christmas & Happy New Year" with a 2009 date until July of next year.

May your holidays be full of peace, joy and a connection with what is holy.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Football, music, and my evolving relationship with coffee (part 8)

I recently accounted for Daughter #2's assertive calls for particular songs. Stephen Colbert is probably the favorite now. The other night we had some good friends over to our home for a little surf and turf. We thanked them for being on our team of hospice respite caregivers for our late dog, Hunter. While playing some music to enhance the festivities, Daughter #2 had to chime in for her own requests. It was easier to heed those requests. Once we made it through most of her own personal play list, she made another request, a bit far afield from the usual songs. I didn't understand what she was saying, until I discovered she wasn't asking for a song at all. She asked for the "College Football Podcast." I wonder who taught her to listen to that?

Also from the "where did she get that?" file, we were shopping at Fred Meyer yesterday, and Daughter #2 had the privilege of riding in a shopping cart/toy bus. She extends her neck out of the bus window and shouts, "I NEED and iced mocha!" I had a hard time containing my laughter thinking of her observing me trying to keep my energy up while taking on my new work life. I've had way more coffee than I'd ever imagined I would drink, and at least enough for Daughter #2 to engage in her own brand of mockery. The folks in Fred Meyer weren't exactly sure what she was saying, but someone told me she's getting early training as a Pacific Northwesterner with coffee acumen.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Song Watch for Daughter #2 (December 4, 2009 edition)

Another Christmas Song--Stephen Colbert
Cold, Cold Christmas--Stephen Colbert
Alright--Darius Rucker
What A Wonderful World--Louis Armstrong
General Taylor--Great Big Sea
England--Great Big Sea

Daughter #2 is an assertive little girl. She doesn't hesitate to ask for a song. The problem lies in that she has to hear the same song loop several times, making it hard to introduce new songs, and making me tire a little of my own favorites. She almost always says to a new song, "I don't want that song. I don't like that song (which means, 'I want to hear an (relatively) old favorite'). If I sing the song with enthusiasm and the song has an understandable tag line, she will ask for it, and it will make it on the loop. Louis Armstrong has stuck, and she knows to ask, "Daddy, do you miss Hunter? Is he with the angels?"

Tough to say the exact reason she likes the Stephen Colbert songs. Is it because we used to watch The Colbert Report while I folded laundry as a stay at home dad? Is it because she recognizes his voice? Is it because she likes the big band sound of "Another Christmas Song?" The funny thing for me about listening to Colbert Christmas is its Ray Stevens quality. My Dad and I used to listen to albums often--I think it was cheap entertainment during my youth. One of my favorites was Ray Stevens' Guitarzan album. I just liked the songs as a child, they were probably funny for my Dad. Good family entertainment has a little something for everyone--I wouldn't have classified Stephen Colbert as family entertainment, but I'll take it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Listening...(November 23, 2009 edition)

General Taylor-Great Big Sea
The Chemical Workers' Song (Process Man)-Great Big Sea
England-Great Big Sea
What A Wonderful World-Louis Armstrong
16 Days-Whiskeytown

The first two Great Big Sea songs address my new discoveries after my first GBS concert Saturday night in Bremerton at The Admiral Theater. My dear wife and I enjoyed that the sound wasn't at ear bleed level. The venue was intimate, but not too small. GBS played for nearly 3 hours, and didn't just hit the songs of their newer release, Fortune's Favour, but a wide-variety of their discography. The first two songs of this list were not previously known for me, but their harmonies were instantly addictive and the stories of the songs were compelling. I love Great Big Sea songs for their narrative value as well as the musical quality. I will write more on GBS on a later post.

Daughter #2 has picked up on GBS as well, and her favorite song is "England." I haven't identified the trend that gets her attached to a song. She focuses on one line and gives incorporates that into the title. She calls the Louis Armstrong song "I Think To Myself." She calls "England:" "Wind Cuts Like A Knife." She calls "16 Days:" "Ghost Has Got Me Running." She is not bashful about letting me know, "I don't like that song, play Wind Cuts Like A Knife." We spend about 5-10 hours per week in the car, so we're sharing a lot of music together, though she prefers we listen to a song about 3 consecutive times before we move on.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Getting back on track (literally and figuratively)

Grief and lack of exercise mean lack of writing in my life. It was a strain to put out what I did in the last week. I had to force myself to write something, lest the memories of Hunter drift away into abstraction. Writing makes those memories tangible.

I've run three consecutive days now, which is no small feat considering my recent schedule. I know that exercise is supposed to take priority in daily life, but good habits dwindle quickly, especially when tens of thousands of dollars are on the line in the closing of a house and a beloved dog dies. I've learned that I can't get my running habit established in the winter without a set alarm clock--one of the big transitions between warm and cold weather running in a northern area of the country. I usually wake up on my own, but I also take my time getting up and moving. It's one of my few peaceful times alone during the day--so I like to savor it in the time I carve out around the run. I hate the quickie brand of run.

Writing and running go hand in hand for me, I suppose those linked variables are related to expanded blood flow to my brain and what that combination does for my outlook on life.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Politics (entry #6 in the Madhouse Gazette South Dakota Lexicon)

South Dakota has a strange love affair with U.S. Senator John Thune (at least as seen by the rest of world). Many people can't understand why South Dakota would vote out Tom Daschle, someone with seniority, clout, influence and good leadership (okay, he had a hard time doing his taxes, but what politician doesn't), and vote in John Thune.

For any South Dakotan, the political move from Daschle to Thune makes perfect sense. The folks of the Northern Great Plains strongly believe in their values and way of life, yet they struggle with their image when their perspectives move to a national stage. This conundrum of belief and identity are residual effects of the Scandinavian concept of Jante Law. Jante Law is an interesting variable considering Daschle's political fall: I remember that South Dakota public discourse and conventional wisdom said that Daschle was getting "too big for his britches." He needed to be voted out. It didn't matter that Daschle was Senate Majority Leader, accomplished much for South Dakota through his position, and was a marginal presidential candidate--Daschle had to be taken down a peg or two. It didn't help matters that he was a Democrat, either.

The love being articulated for Thune sounds a little like Brokeback Mountain, with which people in the state tried to distance themselves through vitriol and condemnation. I had to laugh when I read the commentary on Thune's rising prominence in the aforementioned link. While I lived in South Dakota, I found the politics maddening. Now that I'm on the outside looking in, South Dakota politics are interesting.

Thanks to Allison Kilkenny's recent blog post referencing Thune for the inspiration to reflect upon my life with South Dakota politics.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Hunter Chronicles (part 2)

I couldn't write anymore about Hunter today. The grief is exhausting. In place of writing a longer entry of The Hunter Chronicles, I sent a donation to the place where we adopted Hunter in Waukesha, Wisconsin. I sent the accompanying note with the donation (I also sent the above pictures):

Hunter was a 2-year old (almost 3) chocolate lab my wife and I adopted at HAWS in April 2000 (29th? 30th?). He was about the best birthday present I ever received. I had never had a dog in my home. He was the best dog I could ever imagine--great with everyone in our growing family. He loved rides in the car, walks, chasing a ball and cuddling. We had two daughters while we had Hunter--he loved them and tolerated them (very necessary).

We were his third owners, and my wife told him we would be his "forever family." All he ever wanted was to be with us. His health declined over the last 2 years, he lost about 30 pounds, and we put him down on Veterans Day (Nov. 11) after 12 1/2 years of life. We had a good day together to say goodbye. We took Hunter on some of his favorite nature walks, gave him some of his favorite treats, a trip to the beach on the Puget Sound, and a bath. He wasn't alone his last 72 hours of life. We have holes in our lives and hearts because he is gone.

I've dedicated a song to Hunter's memory in my own daily living, "What A Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong--I think of him all the time. If I knew what Hunter was thinking, the song seems to match his thoughts. I wanted to share a little bit of Hunter's story and offer a small donation because of the great experience we had at HAWS, and thank you for holding on to Hunter for us before he became part of our family. We are thankful for what you do.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Waiting for Klosterman

I have a short list of authors whose books (in various genres) I would buy soon after release, in hardcover, and possibly at regular price (but with Amazon, this is foolish).

1. Chuck Klosterman
2. Douglas Coupland
3. Bill Bryson
4. James Wellman
5. Nancy Ammerman

Klosterman makes great appearances on Bill Simmons' B.S. Report Podcast at Pastors generally don't get into weddings, but I would have loved to officiate at Klosterman's wedding. He tells about the event in his October B.S. Report podcast interview. My favorite part was the music at the reception done by an ELO tribute band. That would have been AMAZING. If money was no expense, I imagine that my wife might have enjoyed an ABBA tribute band at our wedding reception, maybe someone like Bjorn Again. I'm considering taking her to one of their shows in the Puget Sound region.

I ordered Klosterman's new release Eating The Dinosaur and should cruise through it in a few days, probably wanting more, and wishing Klosterman would blog, tweet, something. He has great material, but my voracious web appetite leaves my expectations too high, thus he is able to get me to buy a hardcover copy of his book. Nice move on Chuck's part, he can get people to pay for his content, while Bill Simmons writes about stuff I can't care about anymore, the NBA. I hope he enjoys his book tour--at least he stuck up for the Seattle Sonics.

The Hunter Chronicles (part 1)

The story of our life with Hunter began like this: my dear wife had been dropping hints during the first few years of our marriage that she wanted a dog. It wasn't going to happen during our time in seminary, but the hints became more frequent as we moved into a large parsonage in Wisconsin. There were times she walked into a dark, empty house with fear about what awaited her. With a dog, she wouldn't have to worry as much. When she called me upon entering our home while I was at work, I knew that she wasn't kidding around. Security is important.

I learned that getting a dog as a gift for my wife, either for a birthday, Christmas, or an anniversary wasn't going to fly--so I volunteered the idea of receiving a dog for my 30th birthday. Even though my dear wife wanted the dog, the dog would be mine. I don't recall how we decided to look for a Lab, but I think it had something to do with the size and temperament. I merely didn't want a yippy barking dog. Protection and security, but not dangerous to the household. We decided to go to the Waukesha County Humane Society to find our new family member, our first child, our training in team parenting. This was a new experience for me--my brothers and I never owned a dog in our childhood household--and I was a little bit afraid of dogs. I had German Shepherds and Dobermans in my neighborhoods as a child that terrified me. I also had relatives who owned dogs with temperaments not suited for children--a Poodle, a Chow, and some German Shepherds. I have memories of them growling behind closed doors near the bathroom, or nipping at me, or chasing after me in a yard, or savagely barking at me from behind a fence. For years I wanted nothing to do with dogs.

Hunter changed my attitude of dog fear rather quickly. One day I went to look at dogs on my own and found a dog that seemed interesting. Almost every dog in the Humane Society was barking or yipping or jumping up and down as I walked by. Cheyenne was a 5-year old female black lab. She wasn't barking in the cacophony of dog conversation, but she was active and excited to greet me in a playful way behind her cage. Cheyenne had been there awhile--I think I read somewhere that they keep dogs at that Humane Society for approximately two weeks (?) before they are euthanized. Cheyenne had been there for over a week. Her time seemed short. The Waukesha County Humane Society set up dog interviews for their prospective owners and had a few rooms to accommodate these interviews--an opportunity for owners to meet and interact with an animal. When my dear wife and I walked through the Human Society and saw Cheyenne again, we were both interested. We also notice one more dog who didn't bark. His name was Hunter, and he sat there, sitting down watching us walk by. He didn't jump, he didn't bark, he only looked at us. He was 2 years old--a beautiful Chocolate Lab. We thought we'd take a look at him as well.

Cheyenne came into the interview room first and was a nice dog, very playful and energetic. I can't say we were particularly drawn to her. Hunter came in the room next, gave us each a little bit of a sniff, curled up in a compact ball and laid down in between our chairs in the room. We knew Hunter was the dog for us. After a two day waiting period, Hunter joined our family on April 30, 2000. We bought him a few accessories--a large burgundy dog bed, a leash, a collar, some good food (Eukaneuba), and some chew toys. He was always sad to see us leave the house, and exceedingly excited to see us return from wherever life took us, almost singing every time we were reunited. We originally set up his bed in a spare room near our bedroom, but quickly learned that he wanted nothing to do with separation--he wanted to be as near to us as possible. We placed his bed near ours--sometimes that wasn't even good enough--on chilly evenings he would move his way from the drafty floor to inside our bed. He wanted to be by our side--a common theme for his behavior and how he became a part of the family.

As I remember the details of Hunter becoming part of the family, I remember another young man, about my age, carrying a dog and sobbing as I sat waiting to talk to someone from the Humane Society. It was clear the young man was giving up his dog because he couldn't care for him anymore. This appeared to be a normal occurrence--we were Hunter's third owners before he turned 3 years old. His previous owners both wrote they didn't have time to take care of him anymore. My dear wife reminded Hunter that we were going to be his "forever family." I wonder if he knows that. We were brought together for a reason. I've learned much from Hunter. This morning as we took a longer walk in the woods than normal, I realized how much more I have to remember. These days have been devoted to remember someone who has been in our family longer than our children. I don't know how long The Hunter Chronicles will be, but the memories are filling a blog library. Such is life with my first dog. I am continually awed by my relationship with God's creation--and Hunter expanded that understanding.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Giving Thanks for the Family Dog, Hunter

Hunter is a our 12 year old chocolate lab who is personally crushed when he disappoints someone, especially his people/my family. It may seem to him that he has let us down over the past two years as his health has declined. He throws up relatively often, been incontinent several times in the last few weeks, he has challenging food allergies that make his skin a mess (literally and figuratively), his joints have significantly deteriorated, he has declining liver function, his body is covered in benign tumors, his cataracts are worsening, his anxiety is growing, and maybe he has a little doggie dementia (he walks and stands in unusual places in the house over the last several weeks). He paces throughout our home in the evening (a recent development), and has lost about 25 pounds in the last two years--he can't seem to keep quite enough food down. Because of his increasing anxiety, he now barks most of the day while we're gone at school and work (we heard from the neighbors, and noticed that he's barking when we get home). Hunter has never been much of a barker in his life, usually only when the doorbell rings. All of these changes have been hard to manage while we have moved and tried to make a stable and healthy environment for our family. The hard part has been making life good for Hunter--and attempting to do so has become an extremely expensive venture. We are at the point where the only option for Hunter to have a peaceful life is to keep him on heavy drugs most of the time, and that is no way for him to live. In the past two years I have learned new lessons (for me) about patience and compassion. I have become easily frustrated with Hunter, and I haven't been very fair with him. He would never intentionally do anything to disappoint any of us (unlike some of the cats I have known)--and I took his good nature for granted. He truly doesn't ask for much, only a little food,love and attention. I could have been much better to him.

My dear wife and I have been seeing the writing on the wall about Hunter. We have been about pushed over the edge when it comes to his anxious behavior related to separation anxiety. The barking is a bad situation in a rental. If the barking was the only problem we were facing with Hunter, then we would find a way to deal with it. The problems are mounting, and they aren't getting any better. This post is the first time I've written them all down--it's quite a list. We're going to have to say goodbye, and it breaks my heart. I try to keep my emotions directed to places like showing Hunter a little extra love, or taking some time to myself. I don't know what it is about Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World" and death, but that is one of the greatest pastoral care songs I know. I've heard it used at multiple funerals as a pastor, and I played it 7 times on my morning run. The experience of physical exertion, that song and reflection this morning was cathartic, thankful, but also deeply sad. I don't ever remember a time in my life when I ran and cried at the same time.

Hunter is truly the first child for my dear wife and me. We have so many memories of him. Putting him down is going to be really hard. In the end, I hope he knows he is loved. In the midst of that love and the questions about life, I know that God is there. That is what really matters. I was planning on writing out some of the memories, stories and lessons from Hunter's life, but I can't do it right now. I knew this transition wasn't going to be easy, but I'm hitting waves of sadness that are difficult to bear. I wish I could be at home, outside, playing with him. But it is raining outside to the tune of a downpour, and Hunter hates the rain. I think we know each other well.

Adding insult to injury

While traversing the Kitsap Peninsula for work this weekend, I wanted to catch a little bit of the Washington-UCLA game. Having them on television is still a novelty to me after 20 years in the Midwest. When the Huskies were good during that stretch--I might be able to get a nationally televised game, but for many years I was stuck with mediocre Big Ten football, and once in awhile I could occasionally watch the Jayhawks, but would usually get stuck with Nebraska or Iowa State. Yawn.

I finally found the Applebee's in Silverdale and caught most of the fourth quarter. I found myself hopeful, even after a big missed field goal. UCLA was not playing the role of a juggernaut, and Washington had the best player on the field in Jake Locker. Having seen in person "The Drive" against USC, I thought good things were possible and the Huskies would mature and pick up a needed road win.

Interesting crowd at Applebee's at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon--not the Dawg-watching hotspot I was hoping for, more like the elderly early-dinner crowd. My cheers for the Huskies were somewhat muted, but I could at least watch the game. I wanted a beverage, but not a pop--I was already strung out on caffeine for the day. I still needed to work and drive, so I opted for an O'Doul's. Even the taste of beer and football sounded good. I was about halfway through that near-beer when Locker threw the interception and the game was essentially over. Throwing the bottle through the television would not be an appropriate response.

I reconsidered the beer throwing position when I got the bill. $4.60??!?!?!? For a 12-ounce O'Doul's???? I am not a bar patron often enough to know what the going rate for a beer is, but that price was brutal. Go ahead and kick a Husky fan when he's down, Applebee's.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Action-packed week

Closing on a house, attended a conference, leading a stewardship campaign, preparing to lead a retreat. I think family laundry needs to get done at some point. Mercifully, someone else is preaching this Sunday. I didn't deal with too many deadlines outside of getting my daughter off to school in the morning and picking her up after school. I don't mind the deadlines--I am only recognizing the big mental shift. I am thankful for the peaceful moment this morning staring at the Pacific Ocean waves and listening for the sound of the surf as I walked in between each conference activity. I am a West Coast guy.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

My relationship with the National Football League

After 11 years of ordained ministry, with much of my weekend energy devoted to be ready for Sunday worship services, and fatigue taking most of my energy from Sunday afternoons, I have realized that the NFL and I are drifting apart.

To the NFL: it's nothing personal. It's not you. It's me. Listening to constant breakdown of a Seahawks game that I either don't have the energy to watch, or I completely miss, only emphasizes that we don't have much of a relationship. Our relationship really started to fade when the officials became the game during the Seahawks-Steelers Super Bowl. I'm sure you didn't plan things to happen that way. But I look at that and see that event as the beginning of the end.

Sure, you, the NFL, have more popularity than ever before. You are the best run professional sports entity in the world. Good marketing, good executive leadership, good product on the field. I don't have time anymore to follow you. My relationships have been better cultivated with the Edmonton Oilers, Kansas Jayhawks basketball and football, the Seattle Mariners, anything with the University of Washington (especially football). I will smile when I see Huskies and Jayhawks play in your league and I will pull for their success. I will occasionally peek and listen to bits about the league. I know I'm missing out on one of the biggest leisure activities in the world. I no longer have the time. It doesn't mean I won't watch a portion of a game or even a whole game if time allows, the calendar aligns, and the Seahawks are interesting. But I cannot carve out any time for us to have a relationship anymore. We will be acquaintances with memories from our past.

Maybe after my children move out of the house and I am retired from ministry, maybe you and I can get together a little more often and even be friends again. I might even jump on a bandwagon briefly if the Seahawks surge back into relevancy (I have no shame in that--we at least have a history together). I realized that we weren't really friends anymore when I turn the radio station or turn on my iPod whenever the talking heads start talking Seahawk intricacies.

I wish you well, NFL and Seattle Seahawks. I am thankful for what we had, and hopeful for what you can be, but I cannot give you my passion or energy any longer. God speed.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Deepening theological poverty

Looking back on my posts over the past two months, I've noticed that my posts have become less explicitly theological. Now that I'm preaching again on a regular basis and talking about God with adults--my need to write about these things has shifted to other forums. This blog has been an outlet for me when I had no congregation and I needed to keep my sanity in the midst of moving and talking with a three year old for most of the day. I may still hit some theological themes on occasion, but today I wanted to reflect the deeper theological poverty of my writing.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Autumn (Entry #5 in the madhousegazette South Dakota Lexicon)

Autumn in South Dakota is a season that can produce some of the most glorious colors on the planet--about every 6 or 7 years, or if you don't blink during a few choice days in the month of October. South Dakota specializes in Earth tones, especially Eastern South Dakota--with the dearth of evergreen trees and lack of sizable aqua-topography--one has to learn to appreciate Earth tones or go crazy.

The leaves changing color can be quite beautiful. However, multiple variables must align:

1. Wet summer. Possible.
2. Cool and/or low wind September. Less likely than #1.
3. Low wind October once the leaves actually turn color. Almost impossible.

In order for autumn beauty to last more than 3 days, these three variables must align. A stiff wind (almost constant) can take down awe-inspiring color in about 3 days. I remember being thankful to be in South Dakota during the autumn months--when the cool down finally comes (ahhh)--then I have my hopes dashed with the first big wind from the Northwest comes and the leaves fly through the air in a Technicolor (fall version) display (amazing in its own right) and the landscape turns to a depressing drab that is only moderated and made peaceful and calm by the first beautiful snow.

I didn't realize the brevity of glory in a South Dakota autumn until I returned to the Pacific Northwest, where the fall colors have surrounded me in what seems to be like strategic stages of color turning for about 3 weeks--with one tree on WA-16 that continues to greet me in varying lipstick shades of red for going on 2.5 weeks. I keep waiting for the autumn glory to be complete, but it keeps on going. South Dakota colors are comparable, but maybe their short annual visit has made me appreciate my return to the PNW even more.

Not sure I will make a purchase at The Sports Authority again...

My running and fitness habit was in a shambles after a packed vacation week and general chaos about the house in preparation and recovery from the trip. I needed a plan to make positive changes.

Logistics were not working in my favor for reinvesting myself in running. It didn't help that my gear was no longer functional or appropriate. I need gear for cool weather, but not frigid. I really needed new shoes--the cushioning was shot and holes had developed in the forefoot region. Unfortunately, I never found myself near a place to buy my trusted Asics 2000/2100 series, the shoe I have purchased as many as 3 times per year for about 14 years. Running an errand in a different part of the metro, I thought I might find a store that carried my shoes. I found The Sports Authority near Southcenter Mall in Tukwila. I found everything I needed at a fair price (not great, but fair). While checking out, the clerk offered me a buyer protection plan for my new Asics 2140 running shoes for the low, low price of $10. She told me if anything goes wrong with the shoes over the period of one year, then I could get a refund for the shoe. A supervisor came to the register to affirm the great offer The Sports Authority was making me. Now, I know that one year for a running shoe is a long and productive life, and with regular use, one year is a bit too long. For me, I can only afford about a six-month life span for my running shoes, though about 4 would be ideal. If I had a shoe that went kaput after 6 months of good use, I wouldn't return the shoe--because I had received what I paid for--an above-average quality trainer (in a category just below top of the line). I couldn't in good conscience return the shoe after getting what I paid for.

What bothered me about this "protection plan" was why they wouldn't give me a refund if the shoe was defective without an extra 10 dollar payment. These protection plans are scams in the first place to separate you from your money. That was irksome enough. What is more troubling is that basic knowledge and trust in the products a store carries and relationships with customers has mutated into a faux assurance gesture. With all of the running enthusiasts in Western Washington, I think I'm going to find a specialty running store and buy my gear there. I would rather build a trusting relationship with a quality merchant that costs a little more than deal with someone who is trying to dupe me out of extra money with a bait and switch.

Though I'm sure the clerk was well-intentioned and was only given a flow chart to sell this awful air of assurance, I had to let her know, "I've been buying these shoes for 14 years and have never had a problem. No thank you, I am not buying the protection plan." If the shoe falls apart too early, I'm taking it to the manufacturer, not The Sports Authority. I'm sure the size of the company makes it that they don't care about my business, but I will not make a purchase at The Sports Authority if I can at all help it.

I'm practicing to be a curmudgeon. How did I do?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The fun and joy of college football

This is one of the reasons I enjoy college football.

Of course one could complain about the resources wasted on bottled water, or that football is a game that causes brain injuries (something I still attempt to reconcile in my somewhat healthy brain), but sometimes it's really fun to watch Nebraska lose, and to see a jubilant team see the fruits of their labors and that team work really matters. I'm with Pat Forde from ESPN--this is a great celebration for college football.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

I thought we've had her much longer...

Check out our growing little girl scooting around our vacation in South Dakota and saying good bye to our former home.

Daughter #2 celebrated her third birthday yesterday. She's hit a language explosion--and I can hardly keep up. The conversations are a little repetitive, but I am thankful for the conversations. We still talk about messes and things that are broken along I-5, the Tacoma Dome and the "castle (cathedral)." We talk about school, which direction we can go, the merits of an immediate hamburger purchase, inquiries about the day's schedule involving Mommy, her sister, church, grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles and aunts, etc. All the talking she's doing and the words and phrases she accumulates makes me wonder what I'm missing during the day--and I miss her. Though its years before I do some serious letting go, she is in the beginning stages of going off and having some conversations of her own. Yet I love that when I walk in the door to pick her up, she drops what she's doing and SPRINTS toward me with a smile on her face and a shout of "Daddy!" from her mouth.

Daughter #2 received a scooter for her birthday, fulfilling a longtime desire to do something like her sister. Now they can scoot together at the park. We might have done that today before the Husky game, but there are bigger fish to fry today. Another birthday party and a trip to the pumpkin patch. I think the girls like Halloween more than Christmas. In some ways, it's debatable. I love autumn--but I've already written that.

The treats have been a challenge so far as the celebrations of fall and early winter accumulate, with Daughter #1 remaining on the Feingold Diet. Dr. Oetker baking products have helped us keep desired treats in the house. The girls don't like them as much as the additive-laden treats, but they are marginally acceptable. There's not a strange ingredient in Dr. Oetker products, and I don't feel funny after eating them. But they do taste different--and actually pretty good once aware of the original differences. I think they added to the celebratory nature of a third birthday--she's having a good time.

It seems like longer than three years with Daughter #2--in a good way.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Favorite Autumn Drives and the Fall Soundtrack

I have driven copious miles recently. Some open road driving with my family (about 3500 miles) and the most frenzied set of back and forth, traffic-weaving, kid-toting, commuting I've ever done. What keeps me more than sane in that environment is my favorite time of year--the fall color display. I will plan my life around seeing some fall colors. Sometimes I take pictures, sometimes I soak in the cool atmosphere with those I love. I could easily say the Northeast US has the best fall colors (always great, but somewhat impractical for me), but I also have other favorites:

+ Northern Minnesota around Bemidji
+ The Minnesota River Valley between Mankato and New Ulm
+ The Cumberland region in Middle to East Tennessee
+ Virginia, especially around the Blue Ridge Mountains
+ Heading toward Northern Wisconsin from the Milwaukee metro toward Ripon and Green Lake.

I forgot how great the fall colors could be in the Puget Sound region. WA-16 on the Kitsap Peninsula has quite a display of fiery orange and red fall maples with a nice contrast to the evergreens. This display reminded me of how much I did take for granted--Mt. Rainier with the Puget Sound, color burst maples, evergreens and the Olympics--all mysteriously cottoned with fog, as if Bob Ross and God worked together to burn the images in my brain. My photography can't do this justice. I need to stop and at least try.

Some songs play better for me during the autumn months. I like bluegrass this time of year and almost anything with steel guitar. I don't know why. There's a few other songs that seem to register as well. My Fall Soundtrack:

Let Me Touch You For Awhile--Alison Krauss
Gravity--Alison Krauss
Jessica--Allman Brothers
Ramblin' Man--Allman Brothers
September--Earth, Wind and Fire
Best of Luck--Nickel Creek
Lonesome Wind Blues--Rhonda Vincent
It'll Never Be Thru With Us (Until It's Thru With You)--The Wilders
That Old Time Religion--The Wilders
Green and Gray--Nickel Creek

Monday, October 19, 2009

Worn-out blogger (the October 19th edition)

I spent over 50 hours in a car this past week. I know some ride for a living, so I know the amount of time in car travel is relative. We took a fun family trip. It's the getting to the fun family trip that can be painful. Amazingly, I think they still love me.

We were a few degrees away from a blizzard, so I will consider us blessed to be home alive. I'm looking forward to returning to the writing rhythm.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Worn out language (October 12, 2009 edition) "Just Saying"

"Just saying." Or as Rev. Run (yes, formerly of RUN-DMC) likes to tweet, "Jus sayin'"

I quickly tired of this little colloquialism. "Just saying" reared its head in forums from Twitter to the publications of some of my favorite journalists. I've ascertained this phrase somewhat parallels IMHO (in my humble opinion). The spirit of usage is softening a sharp observation--"I'm merely stating what I observe, so what I see is not necessarily my problem, but I've got a problem with what I see." I think this opinion/observation disqualifier was spawned by a hyperbolic outrage culture that screams opinions. People still want to share their opinions and observations, but they don't want to look like jerks doing it. Therefore stick a "just saying" on the end somehow makes the observation uttered with a little more decorum. I think it falls flat. Just saying.

Consider the Southern U.S. cousin to "just saying," "bless his/her/their little heart(s)." They may not have the exact same function, but they both serve as opinion softening agents. Though the Southern version can be much more nasty, yet somewhat compassionate--(for example, "What a jerk. Bless his little heart.") the Southern version has had staying power, probably because of its charm. Though the phrase can be abused as a license to say anything you want about anything or anyone, there is also a spirit of recognizing the sinful potential of one's own tongue. "Just saying" has quickly become annoying. This phrase is well-intentioned, but the spirit of communication should be clear in tone and/or body language (more challenging online) without adding the phrase.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sportswriters in Husky Stadium scramble to rewrite stories

I almost turned off the television and got to work on important things like paying bills, packing for our family trip and cleaning up the house. Steve Sarkisian's Washington Huskies are an advertiser's dream because you can't turn off the television during a game, lest you miss some drama. Drama is the lifeblood of college football. I had to rewrite my own evening story as the Huskies through their continuous effort rewrote the story of the game with little time to spare. The sportswriters are scrambling, the fans are celebrating, and once again, I'm looking for someone to hug. I called my Dad, and he had given up the game to slumber. We enjoyed the outcome for a few minutes while he scrambled for highlights.

The earlier game against USC doesn't look so much like a fluke now. I can watch that Immaculate Reception Junior interception tonight repeatedly.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

An evolving relationship with coffee (part 6)

Now that I am fully in the swing of working life again, I find myself more desperate at times to stay alert. More shuffling of kids, more immediate demands, more necessary generation of ideas. I'm not a full member of the coffee or caffeine cults, but the trend moves in that direction. Whenever I do drink coffee, I must doctor it up with ice, silk and sugar (my preference), or chocolate, motor oil, or whatever I can stick in there to make the coffee tolerable. Because I'm in charge of coffee consumption and don't use it as a social lubricant, I control the taste.

However, I got lazy the other day. Whizzing through McDonald's the other day (I'm a sucker for their Monopoly game) I bought a coffee and had cream and sugar added. With one smell and one drink I was reminded of all the years of coffee loathing in my lifetime--the coffee hater's version of the dying person's life flashing before them. I gagged. I gave it three chances, thinking that settled, then shaken cream and sugar would somehow make it taste better. Yuck.

Coffee loathers, stay vigilant. Get your caffeine (if you need it) and get out.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Getting ready for another vacation

After almost 6 weeks of solid work in the office and the community, I'm getting ready for another trip. Six weeks of working outside the home has turned me back into a morning person. I am way too tired at night to function. I gather rally my gumption and give the girls a quality evening for bath time, homework, reading and prayers. I could barely bring myself to fold any laundry last night. I feel like I'm making up for lost time in adult conversations--so work energizes me at this point, even though I'm an introvert. I haven't earned a vacation in terms of time served, it will be good for pacing to get away. I'm glad my congregation gave me some grace so I could travel back to South Dakota with my family. My dear wife has a reunion to attend, so we're making a family trip out of it.

Thinking it's been almost 6 months since we came to the Pacific Northwest, it sometimes feels like a long time, yet other times--we just departed. Days have rarely flown by for me--I don't know if it's a gift I have, something I have yet to experience, or what it is about my brain that gives me an even pace to my days. I'm looking forward to seeing a few friends and watch my dear wife enjoy the glory of her college days and friends.

What needs to be accomplished before departure is what feels oppressive.

+ Dog needs a major health check up and prep for being kenneled.
+ Honda Element needs new tires. Especially with all the mountain snow across the Cascades and Rockies in recent days.
+ My home office is in a shambles. I barely know which end is up in there.
+ Small thing, yet still time consuming--I need a haircut, for what hair I have remaining.
+ Pack for the 1500 mile drive--kid provisions, dog provisions, contingency scenarios, temporarily cleaning the vehicle.
+ Communicate with service providers and educators about absence.

I will be adding to this list, no doubt.

I've learned enough lessons over the years that I provided a preaching-free zone for 2-3 weeks around my trip so that my all-consuming weekly task of speaking in front of 400-plus people, plus a television audience, will not eat me alive while I try to haul my family across hundreds of miles. I'll be glad when we actually get in the car--but it's really time to buckle down.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Alas, Poor Theology

Recently I've found that I get plenty of theology at work in my new congregation--and therefore this blog serves as an escape for me from becoming a complete theological nerd. The trend in my writing here moves more toward implicitly than explicitly theological.

Regardless of explicitly or implicitly theological writing, rest assured, the theology will remain poor. I have a reputation to uphold.

Forget Limbaugh and Olbermann, the comedians are a lot closer to reality

The United States is sitting at a high level of anxiety if political commentary screamers have the most power. They're only accountable to their own power bases, and not to the general public. The louder they scream, the higher ratings they get. What greater good is served in watching/reading/listening to already agreed upon commentary?

I enjoyed Saturday Night Live's take on Obama's presidency, even if PolitiFact gives Obama a little slack on some of Obama's promises lampooned on SNL. What I like about PolitiFact is that it steers clear of ideological based critique and hold Obama accountable for what he said he was going to do--which is much more interesting and at least more objective than ideological screaming heads like Olbermann, Beck and their ilk.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

I think my Husky elation has turn into deflation, then maybe to wisdom

Almost nothing could diminish the joy of watching the UW Huskies beat USC in person. I think it would end up hurting if they didn't win another game the rest of season and that win ends up merely in upset lore among my football brethren, like Mississippi State beating Florida a few years ago and getting Ron Zook fired. I don't want that game to be only a fun victory in an otherwise lost season.

The game today against Notre Dame was a dagger, because the victory over USC is looking more like luck all the time (though I really don't believe that). The Huskies have the talent at QB and receivers, and a mere few on defense, but it's not enough to play with the big boys. To secure momentum, they almost have to win next week at home against Arizona. The games don't get any easier. I want them to give Arizona a beat down and get some momentum back.

Though my life doesn't hang on the Huskies success, it's fun to follow the UW and gives me a little bit of reflection about from where I come. It represents my Granddad and his GI bill, a dream, and being the first member of his family to graduate from college, my father and him scraping by to build some vocational hope through his education, young men learning about responsibility, work ethic and grit. Husky athletics represents some pride in a region and a particular way of doing things. Husky athletics represents the higher education experience. I know from my own personal experience as a collegiate athlete about the dark side of athletics, but I will always come back. Even if I feel deflated for a few days.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Is it worn-out language? Will it be worn-out language? Snarky

The word "snark" anecdotally has picked up steam in public discourse. Keith Law calls himself a "deliverer of snark." One of my favorite twitter feeds is SnarkyJesus. Keith and SnarkyJesus have a following because of their snarkacious abilities.

I have to admit, I like the word snarky. I'm not sure I like snarky as a general posture or attitude. I like how Keith Law tends to use it for instances when he receives a statement that has little or no thought behind it. I'm not sure snark inspires growth in the snarkee, but in this newly expanded idea of "all the world's indeed a stage (imagining Geddy Lee rockin' out to one of my favorite songs of all time, Limelight)," I enjoy watching someone get snarked. If I receive snark, it needs a foundation in thought to be enjoyable.

Hard to tell what the shelf life of this word will be. Time to go read some Keith Law for my Recommended Daily Allowance of snark today.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Worn out language (September 30, 2009 edition) "No question"

This worn out language catch phrase has a limited scope, but it's a doozy. Sports talking heads get so passionate sometimes about a topic that they lose their ability to work with the English language. Granted, the talking heads are a step above grunting, which is a layman sporting fan's response of choice.

I am amazed how a quickly a sporting catch phrase explodes in usage, then turns into droning. This happened a few years ago with the term "thrown under the bus," a phrase referencing that a sin of disloyalty had been committed. The phrase quickly became the hyperbole of choice in sports talk, which is also prone to happen in any testosterone-driven verbal exchange. Watching the movie "Patton" with my Dad as a child was my first encounter with this kind of conversation. The great thing about the screenwriters for Patton was that George C. Scott was given a variety of testosterone-driven hyperbole that was enjoyable. Sports talking heads just drive phrases into the ground until intolerable.

Such is the case with the phrase "no question." This is a testosteronic method of declaring a statement of fact or opinion that should be considered on a higher level of truth--such a high level of truth that it can't be debated. Sometimes that level of affirmation about a theory is warranted, but the talking heads can't be selective with this high level of truth. Their analysis hit the airwaves, and immediately vaults itself to a higher level of truth.

"Brett Favre looks good in a Vikings' jersey. I think purple is his color."
"Hey, pass the cheese curds."

I hope the over use of the term gets called to account by sports broadcasting leadership soon. I'm sure they don't care that I'm turning off my radio or skipping the podcast.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Worshiping at the Cathode Cathedral: House 9/28/09

Whereas Desperate Housewives is on a writing slide, House is going in a better direction.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that House's relationship with his therapist from the season premier would continue and that the show would not merely be a medical drama, but also about the relationships with just enough snark and twists to be true to some of the original House concepts. I enjoyed House's little foray into cooking that tapped into a lingering romantic involvement with Cuddy while dissecting his battles as an addictive personality--also this guy can do almost anything, but has some major personality flaws. Foreman and Thirteen also have some chemistry while they balance relationship and professional issues.

My dear wife and I have figured out how to balance relational and professional issues--we won't serve in the same congregation. We can then admire each of our gifts from both up close and from afar.

For all you Mariner fans out there...this is fun

I know Dave Niehaus is not at the same level as in earlier days, but this call is a reminder of why Dave is so awesome. I want Kevin Calabro in the booth eventually, but this is vintage Dave, and I don't want him to go. He's a Pacific Northwest classic and a baseball legend.

The barfing has subsided, but we took a trip to the ER anyway

Daughter #2 gave my mother and father a barfing show yet to be matched in her short lifetime--my dear wife and I managed to avoid it (though not intentionally), we were working. With lethargy, a low grade fever, and crankiness still present, we were concerned about H1N1 or flu in general. I tried comforting the little squirt, but she frowned at me and said, "Stop being nice to me, Daddy."

Off to the ER--I had flashbacks of my last trip there with her--we were there around 7 hours. I wasn't in the mood to relive that episode and wanted to hold out for the pediatrician. My dear wife persuaded me that it was the right thing to go in last evening. For an ER visit, we had an expedited process. Great nurses, great doctor--the anti-nausea medicine and the intravenous fluids did the trick. She wasn't jumping for joy when she got home--but that 3 hour ER visit was a good investment. We even had more TV channels available, and the hospital was a lot cleaner this time. It doesn't look like influenza of any strain, but we still need to be vigilant.

Thanks to my Mom and Dad for being on the front lines this weekend. Wow.

Worshiping at the Cathode Cathedral: Family Guy

Note: The title of this blog series is based on a professor who said he spent entirely too much time watching television. This is a brilliant man--said he would get his book projects, journal articles, and research done in a more timely fashion if he didn't spend so much time "worshiping at the cathode cathedral." It gave me hope that a brilliant man could be a television watcher. Especially when I know other brilliant people who don't even have a television in their house.

It's hard to watch Family Guy in my household these days. My daughters are adept at repeating catch phrases and actions, and Family Guy is laden with material I don't want them to repeat. I'm sure there's nothing like a pastor's kid repeating lines from Family Guy in choice situations. I usually catch Family Guy on Hulu when the kids are sleeping or otherwise occupied.

Maybe it's a bit premature, but I think the season premier of Family Guy was one of the best episodes ever. I'm much more interested in what is formulated in Stewie's mind than Peter's lower than sophomoric humor. The episode progressed well for anyone with the attention span of a gnat, and some of the pop culture references were brilliantly nuanced at a level rarely seen in any episode. The Disney alternate universe was hilarious. I let out several hearty guffaws during the entire episode.

Sure, Family Guy is vulgar. But Seth McFarlane is one of the most comically nimble minds out there. I'm not sure if The Cleveland Show will pass the test--love the name of the youngest kid, Rallo. Hitting the Sanford and Son reference was nice. But the jury is still out on the show. I may give it a chance.

Worshiping at the Cathode Cathedral: Desperate Housewives

Desperate Housewives has been a roller coaster ride for me. Sometimes I have hated it, other times I marvel at the high quality writing--the dialog can rank up there with Sex and The City. I still think it's a better than average show, with some very high peaks of enjoyment and good story telling.

DH is one of the shows that I watch only because of the conversations I share with my wife. Another factor is that after a full Sunday at church I don't have much energy to do anything else besides watch television. I have heard or read that this is the last season of DH, and if the season premier was an indicator of what is to come, then DH can leave my watching with a whimper. The story lines I enjoy feel tepid and the disappointments have potential for highly annoying.

+ Lynette's (Felicity Huffman is by far the best acting talent on this show) fear that she won't love her new twins.
+ Gabby (I still don't get the fascination with Eva Longoria Parker) is learning to be a mature parent/adult as the guardian of Carlos' niece.

- I am so sick of the Susan and Mike drama, I would flip the channel when they come on if I could get away with it. Very tired storyline. Even if Katharine is going to go all psycho on them this season.
- I think the idea of the "evil person/family moves to Wisteria Lane" theme each season is now officially boring.
- Orson hasn't been an interesting character in a long time, and Bree's affair doesn't make Orson any more interesting.

I will probably continue to watch DH because my wife is much more faithful to particular shows than me, and I like to continue the conversation with her. DH has not quite jumped the shark, but I hope the story telling this season gets better.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Washington Huskies and reality

I still haven't come down from Washington taking down USC last week. Though television technology has taken sports to a new level, a live event still offers a unique shared experience.

The rebuilding project will still take some time for the UDub--and Stanford looked like a pretty good team. I tire of the bromides about being a physical football team, but Stanford brought an extraordinary level of toughness that the Huskies couldn't match last evening. The Pac-10 is going to be a blood bath this season, and 6-6 or 7-5 or 5-7 looks about right for the Dawgs. Maybe they'll do better (still hoping). The play of the Huskies yesterday reminded me of the volatile psyche and performance of my days as a late teen/early adult years. It's even tough to learn as an older adult about preparing for solid, consistent performances in the midst of adrenaline rush. I applied that wisdom last week as I almost stopped cheering in the 3rd quarter so I would have a voice left and be able to do my job with integrity on Sunday morning. Some student athletes are wise beyond their years and can accomplish this--which is why I appreciate my lessons as a student-athlete that much more.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Beck may be "arguing with idiots," but doesn't exactly encourage intelligence

I don't waste a lot of time reading or watching Glenn Beck. I don't understand why a public event protected by free speech needs to be stopped.

Thousands will gather today in Seattle and Mount Vernon to hear and meet a man who is puzzling in his vitriol at best and maniacally foolish at his worst. I don't understand the petition to cancel his appearance in Mount Vernon. People are free to protest his appearance, but seeking cancellation? I suppose Beck is broadly adept at attracting foolishness--which means I should never write about him again.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

More barf, with a bonus gift

Usually I get home to meet Daughter #1 at the bus with anywhere from 0-25 minutes to spare, depending on traffic in Tacoma. Today it was closer to 25 minutes, so I stopped to pick up a snack. Daughter #2 is in the back seat--I have my snack and she starts crying, for no apparent reason.

Then I realize what is wrong. More barf. No projectile vomiting, but it's bad enough, covering her body and of course, the car seat. One small benefit, taking the seat out to clean it took the smell out of the car. Here I have my child screaming, "Daddy, I barfed again! I'm sad!" Figuring out what I'm going to do and realizing I have less than 10 minutes to fix the issue, I get home, leave the child in the car and pull out our worst beach towels so I can wrap the child and clean her up in time to either: a) give her a bath or b) wipe her down well enough to get her into the stroller and pick up Daughter #1. I didn't think I could pick up Daughter #1 given the circumstances because I thought I could end up with a Stand By Me style "barf o rama." While I went up stairs to triage clean, I discovered that the dog pooped all over the upstairs spare bedroom.

What a bonus gift.

I managed to get Daughter #2 cleaned up and the upstairs bedroom and we made it to the bus with zero time to spare to pick up Daughter #1. Adrenaline can work really well in a tight situation.

Post Script: After all that trauma, Daughter #2 asked me if she could have macaroni and cheese for supper...


Barf is a new favorite word for Daughter #2. Our 12-yr old chocolate lab occasionally has a hard time keeping food down. One time I announced that "the dog barfed again!" She picked up on that word and its connection, so she's become a barf detective. She has an instinct to follow the dog around when he starts making a noise that could produce barf, the she will call out that the dog has barfed again, and that I need to clean it up.

At about 3 am this morning, we heard a cry from her bedroom. Apparently, she joined the dog in the barf club and barfed on her pillow and sheets. I think it was technically an acid reflux, but in the midst of her discomfort, she was a little bit pleased that she shared a bond with her barfing dog. She spoke for about 20 minutes regarding the details of the barfing episode.

This is probably more than you ever wanted to read about barf today (or any day).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Worshiping at the Cathode Cathedral: House

Last year I was drawn into the medical drama "House" courtesy of my Confirmation students in South Dakota ranch country. I was amazed that it was the most mentioned show when I unscientifically polled them on their favorites. I don't just go looking for shows via channel surfing, I find a few diamond in the rough recommendations and give them a try.

During the long, dark, snowy winter in South Dakota, I looked forward to carrying a load of House DVD's or getting a few episodes on Hulu. I ended up watching 4 complete seasons in about 3 months. What drew me to the show was an intelligent man's quest for meaning under the guise of nihilism. It helps that House has an unused verbal filter and is often funny in bypassing the filter. I've always hoped that someone with a more intelligent faith could challenge House, but that has yet to happen. I believe he's met with a teenage quack faith healer, and an overly pious and naive nun--but that's about it. One of the doctors had attended seminary, but had is own crisis of faith. He ends up being the religious apologist when the ladies aren't staring into his dreamy eyes.

The House season premiere reminded me of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," though it wasn't quite as good. My favorite interaction involved House and his psychiatrist--meeting his match in the category of insanely intelligent, yet a bit relationally immature. It was also good that the writing ventured off the medical mystery track for just a bit so we could connect with House beyond his cantankerous shell. He also developed a romantic connection with a visitor to the ward that eventually broke off. What I appreciated about the contrast of characters is that the brain, though resilient, can be very fragile--and that we are all a step or two away from mental illness. The characters who came to the mental illness institution were an interesting mix of everyday and extraordinary people: a world-renowned doctor, a concert cellist, a man who suffered from massive delusions after witnessing his wife's sudden death all overseen by a psychiatrist with his own relational brokenness. What I appreciated about the episode over and against "Cuckoo's Nest" was that the mental illness in House was not mere caricature as it tended to be in "Cuckoo's Nest."

In recent years I have found a passive interest in faith, relationships and the brain. Pete Steinke first got me interested in brain research, and he plugged me in to many resources. I saw Dr. Daniel Amen speak several years ago and found his work intriguing in terms of how the brain affects congregational dynamics. Some are skeptical of Amen's work. The neo-atheist Sam Harris and his contributions to The Reason Project move into brain research to show how the brain is related to faith and religion. I deeply appreciate the complexity of the brain and amazed how often it is taken for granted in human interaction. The season premiere of House revealed something of this complexity, which is why I enjoyed it's diversion from the typical medical drama path.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Seattle Mariners, Washington Huskies and Elation (part 1)


I'm with Seattle Times columnist Jerry Brewer and UDub Football Head Coach Steve Sarkisian. Wow.

After attending the Mariners-Yankees game Friday night and the Huskies-USC game Saturday afternoon, I think my legs are still shaking. Our group of 4 on Friday was looking more for a good night together to see the Yankee juggernaut and entourage--always baseball history in the making. We were looking for a good hanging out activity.

This year the Mariners have their own history in the making with arguably the best pitcher in baseball (Felix Hernandez) and two future Hall of Famers (the still productive Ichiro and the larger than life Ken Griffey, Jr.). The Mariners are still a compelling storyline despite their exit from playoff contention about 6 weeks ago. No one really saw (except for my brother) Ichiro winning the game off of the rarely beaten Darth Vader of relief pitchers Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the 9th with two outs. I still have chills when I think of watching it live and seeing them all celebrate.

What was also fun was that our group of four sat behind a cohort of Yankee fans. I am not a Yankee hater, though I like them less and less as the years pass. I can't hate them because one of my baseball heroes was a Yankee--Don Mattingly. I modeled my own game and preparation after his. I even celebrated his birthday as a high school athlete (April 20, BTW). The Yankee fans were a bit obnoxious (must have been that they sucked down copious amounts of beer and passed around a flask). But they were popping off to the Mariner fans around them--a game 10 year old boy sitting in front of them took the best approach and just cheered louder for the Mariners. I basically ignored them for most of the game (actually, didn't respond to them). I took note of some of their ramblings, but this joke typifies their banter:

Q: What's the difference between a Mariner hot dog and a Yankee hot dog?
A: You can eat a Yankee hot dog in October!

In my first of two responses during the contest, I pointed out to the Yankee fan that one could eat a Mariner hot dog in October this season, because with the World Baseball Classic being held this spring, the final Mariner home stand of the season took place in October. One could buy a Mariner hot dog then. And technically, one can buy a Mariner hot dog at any Costco in Western Washington, as one can buy the Mariner Dog brand there and serve them at home. I told him that if you really want to create an accurate joke, he could say that a Yankee hot dog can be eaten in November, since the recent advent of the opening round of the playoffs now is a best of 7 series, the World Series can fall on the first week of November. But that would also be inaccurate, since the dawn of the expanded playoff series, the Yankees have either been inept in the playoffs or the regular season. Therefore, he can't really tell a joke, and he was just popping off.

My second response was delayed after he said the game was over after the Mariano Rivera entrance. I can't say I held out too much hope for a response. But I did openly call for Mike Sweeney to pinch hit in the 9th, since he's been swinging such a hot bat in the past few months and would be one of the least likely to be intimidated by Rivera. My friend who flew in from Kansas City, part of the hapless KC Royals fan base, was at least happy to see someone with Royals connections do well. With Sweeney's double in the gap, and Ichiro coming to the plate, all things were possible to tie the game. I thought he would double in the gap to tie the game. My brother declared Ichiro was ending it and going yard.

My brother was right--and we went berserk. Pandemonium. Pure elation. My dad and I each shared that our legs were shaking. Such a calm evening turned into a gigantic celebration. No one wanted to go home. We soaked in the moment and gave thanks we didn't have to run around like Jim Valvano looking for someone to hug. We had our troupe right there. We were the re-incarnation of the High Five'n White Guys.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Washington Huskies vs. USC Trojans, 9/19/09 & hope

Listening to an abundance of local sport pundits cannot be good for mental health, but sometimes taking in sports hope has an addictive quality. I think sports hope trumps political hope or even spiritual hope in the euphoric rush factor (at least in this life)--though I'm not sure why. I know the other hopes have more meaning, but sports hope is more fun.

A tangible belief is brewing in Western Washington that the UW Husky football team can beat the University of Southern California Trojans. Steve Sarkisian and his staff have worked, planned and produced a team where the effort, execution, intelligence and passion inspire hope. As a fan produced from a family tree of a UW alumni--that is what a Husky supporter expects and takes pride. I am attending my first live game at UW in over 20 years with family and friends--I HOPE I will see more of what I have seen in the first two weeks. I don't know if all of this sports hope will be accompanied by a win for the Huskies, but hope hasn't been completely eclipsed by iron-clad expectation for a football dynasty.

The fun for all college football fans should be magnified in the UW-USC game tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Driving Miss Daughter #2

About half of my commuting days to work involve daughter #2. She seems to like music (though she doesn't like to hear me sing) and talk with me about what she sees. She may talk a lot, but she has a narrow focus of topics:

1. "Hey Daddy. That's broken. You need to fix it." Usually this means she sees a construction site or a decaying urban structure.

2. "Hey Daddy. That's dirty. You need to clean it up." This means she has seen anything involving dirt--from a large dirt pile, to anything that looks disorderly.

3. "Hey Daddy. There's the Tamoma Dome. It's a castle." She refused to believe that the Tacoma Dome wasn't a castle, but I eventually convinced her it's a dome that hosts music, basketball and football games. This now sounds plausible to her.

She will also point out airplanes and the many cars on the road.

After our commute, I drop her off at the preschool/child care facility. She is generally excited upon arrival, but she's shy when she gets in there. The teacher says it takes my little girl about 30 minutes to warm up to everyone. She's back to taking an afternoon nap, which is probably a relief to the teachers--they need some peace, too. She's learning letters A and B these days and the accompanying sign language.

Listening...(September 16, 2009 edition)

Landslide--Dixie Chicks
Ready To Run--Dixie Chicks
Stone Inside My Shoe--Animal Logic
Love Is Dead--The Lovemakers

In preparation to sell off the last of my CDs, I found a few Dixie Chicks CD's and realized their enduring qualities. My dear wife went through a long stage of newer country music in the 1990's, and since she did most of the driving, any car trip involved YOUNG COUNTRY, or HOT COUNTRY HITS! I latched on to a few artists on that type of radio station, but discovered the songs lacked any staying power, like Shania Twain or Alan Jackson. These aren't bad artists (some would argue with me on that), but their songs lack endurance. I may have enjoyed a song like "Chattahoochee" for a couple of weeks or months, but I'm not going to pay a dollar for it to store on my iPod. I may even turn the station if I hear that song on the radio. I like the whole idea of musical endurance and how it occurs.

Some Dixie Chicks songs are aging like a fine wine--I have admired the musical complexity of these songs repeatedly over the past few days. I will find myself searching for some deeper Dixie Chicks songs--to save some time I will consult my Dixie Chicks aficionado friend in Pennsylvania.

I was on an Animal Logic kick late in college and early in seminary on the recommendation of a good friend who was a Stewart Copeland (Police percussionist) fanatic. I think this band only put out 2 albums after The Police took off to do their own projects. I find the lyrics uneven at times--lines that appear to be throwaways in the middle of a good poetic thought. The bass (Stanley Clarke) and percussion are excellent, and vocalist Deborah Holland is a musical cousin of personal favorite Mary Fahl, but not nearly as haunting or tone rich.

The Lovemakers appear this week as the free track on iTunes. The review compares it to 80's synth-pop, but it's a lot more refined. The harmonies are far better than most 80's synth-pop--it sounds like a combination of Roxette if they were actually any good, with a touch of Hugh Grant singing with his faux band Pop! in the film Music & Lyrics, with a touch of 70's arena rock with a current lyrical sensibility. I'm not sure the song has any enduring quality, but they're interesting, and I think I find 4 decades of music in their art.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Favorite show this summer: Design Star

My dear wife and I tend to cut ourselves off from the world for a period of time on Sunday afternoon. Preaching and connecting with the crowd is draining for me, the early morning is draining for her. Sunday afternoon or evening becomes our biggest veg out day, next to Thursday evening.

We didn't miss a week of HGTV's Design Star, airing Sunday nights at 10pm. I liked the new ideas and the personalities. I admire the creative class and how they are able to weave ideas into beauty and function. I admire their work even more because congregations seem to have a problem with pulling this off. I'm not sure where the problem is rooted--maybe it has something to the Protestant ethic and frugality. Someone I knew years ago would talk about this topic in terms of Truth and beauty. Protestant churches didn't embrace that cross section, while Roman Catholics employed these ideas in partnership. If God created a beautiful world, beauty cannot be synonymous with poor stewardship.

Antonio Balatori was the season 4 winner. I pulled for him most of the season. When it came down to it, he may not have been the BEST designer, but he was the most interesting. The other finalist, Dan, looked too much like the other men who host shows on HGTV, a perfectly unshaven pretty man. Antonio will always be interesting, and I'll probably give his new show a try--though I know I'll get overruled by Desperate Housewives in a few weeks. I know, we should get a DVR or TiVo, but we're still adjusting to the plunge of digital cable. And TV isn't all that important.

Friday, September 11, 2009

What I'm learning about thematic preaching

It's Friday, and I can't blame any struggles with sermon preparation on the Revised Common Lectionary. I would never complain about the RCL during a sermon, but the RCL gave me a great excuse to gripe or grumble on a Friday or will my weekends change?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thanks, Jeff Galloway (and my youngest brother)

Though my first half-marathon at the Super Jock n' Jill On Labor Day was no display of speed or endurance, maybe I am getting a little wiser as well as older. By following Galloway's program of walking and running, after three days I have completely recovered from the race. I am injury free, and ready to run again.

When I woke up this morning, I still felt a slight soreness from the race in my quads, but I knew I was ready for a run. I didn't feel like actually doing it, but I got out there for about 3.5 miles. To my surprise, I felt even a slight spring in my step, like I gained some strength from the race.

Thanks also to my youngest brother, who offered encouragement in training, but also bought me the Galloway Book On Running for Christmas about three years ago. I don't think I'd still be running without it--because I probably would have done something stupid and suffered an injury or given up because I would try to pile on mileage without a plan. Even though I did hit a wall, the race was enjoyable and challenging.

I'm going to look for another race at

Enjoying Google Chrome

In office exile I have been relegated to using a PC again, to which I end up having to ask questions of the resident computer expert to get basic things figured out. Forget intuition and learning things on my own, I am stuck with this computer.

My oasis has involved installing Google Chrome as my default web browser. This is the first time on a PC I've felt like I have a Mac-like interface with intuitive movement on the computer. It's interesting working with Microsoft products that sputter, lock and frustrate. This is not to say that I am never frustrated with my Mac, but we are able to resolve our issues together 95 percent of the time. With Microsoft, I usually need a mediator.

I am a Mac, and I believe in direct communication.

Thank you, Google for making a fine browser for me to survive the PC world.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

This Show Stinks: Mr. Tony is back on the radio, boys and girls!

After listening to Tony Kornheiser on the B.S. Report podcast last week, I learned that after leaving Monday Night Football and the Washington Post, Mr. Tony is back on the radio. I am glad for this. I have completely gorged myself on local sports radio this summer. And though I generally like the local radio personalities, especially Kevin Calabro, Mike Salk and Brock Huard, with a smattering of the KJR personalities if I can't stand what's going on with the other guys. I can't say that I feel more intelligent after I listen to my local sports pundits, but they provide the background conversation to some chores where I need to concentrate--and I love the daily rhythm of baseball in the summertime for which the radio is a great companion.

Kornheiser is different than most sports pundits. Like Colin Cowherd and Keith Law, I feel a little smarter after partaking of his material. He doesn't confine himself to game breakdown or emotionally fanatic rants about a particular team--he brings in his own cultural niche. Cowherd appeals to his target demographic in a smart way with cultural features other than sports. Keith Law also comments on books and food/cooking/restaurants. Mr. Tony hits politics, relationships, movies, news, a little pop culture, a little feature called "Old Guy Radio," and sports, in no particular order.

The show announced that the iTunes link is not quite working yet, so here is a link to listen to Mr. Tony. I'm looking forward to listening to this on my commute or in the office when I'm doing the more mindless section of work as a pastor.

If you don't know anything about Tony Kornheiser on the radio, just know this: THIS SHOW STINKS. It stinks.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Fall TV

My television habits have evolved since my family finally joined the 20th century and subscribed to cable TV. I watch way more TLC and HGTV than I imagined, and they are great conversation pieces for me and my wife--especially as we think more about a household for our children and as we move into new seasons of our vocational lives.

I'm still looking forward to new fall television. We don't watch something every evening. Last night we each did a little work, played Husker Du (the game, not the band) and Perfection, and completed some chores. We don't often just turn on the TV to see what is on--though that sometimes happens after a particularly hard day at work or just about any Sunday afternoon. My dear wife and I don't necessarily like the exact same shows but we share a few for the sake of community. Habits will also change because I can imagine watching more shows online because 10pm is sometimes too late for me to watch a show. Here's the list for the fall.

Won't miss/community shows
Desperate Housewives
Grey's Anatomy

I Won't Miss
Friday Night Lights

Looking to try
Mad Men

Enjoy if I have the time, no big deal if I miss
Big Bang Theory
How I Met Your Mother
Family Guy
Daily Show/Colbert Report (not new fall seasons, but something I enjoy and don't feel dumber after I watch it)

Popular shows I tried, but just can't get into
Any Law and Order
The Office
My Name Is Earl
Brothers and Sisters
Private Practice

I am glad the ER juggernaut is finally over. Sometimes I wish that Boston Legal was still on, but I think some of the story lines were deteriorating quickly, so it's probably better that it's done.

One of my brothers is a Mad Men fan, and Bill Simmons from ESPN is a huge fan. He definitely didn't steer me wrong with Friday Night Lights. So that may be my next TV show DVD rental. Once FNL starts again I will write about that, and all the buzz about Mad Men will probably lead to some reflection on that storyline.

Memories from first half-marathon

Race day is a top ten adrenaline rush experience. The anticipation and nerves, athletic ability of competitors and challenge, and the variation in people watching for me is fascinating. The running crowd is not like the usual crowds I see. I am not part of a running club, and church isn't exactly a fitness haven, though my dear wife and I have noticed that Northwest pastors are a much more fit bunch than Midwest pastors.

Memories from the Super Jock and Jill Half-Marathon (run and walk) and 4-mile run:

* I ran across a female runner nursing her baby before she ran the half-marathon.

* The atmosphere produced varying degrees of rain for about 3/5 of the race. I found it refreshing most of the time, though the accompanying humidity kept me plenty soaked.

* This was a large half-marathon--I think they said it was the 33rd annual race. It takes quite an effort to pull off something like that. I think I saw at least 20 police officers directing traffic on the course that traveled through Woodinville and Bothell. When I had the energy, I said thank you to the police officers and volunteers sharing a cool cup of water. One police officer said I was doing a good job. I gave him a thumbs up and said thanks. He said "keep it up. You're doing what I can't do." He smiled his encouragement was one of the many things that kept me going.

* I hit a wall about mile 10. I was by no means going fast during the first 10 miles. But the last three miles about all I could manage was jogging 200 yards and walking 100. I think what zapped me was that I was a little dehydrated--I hit all the water stations, but I could have used a few more sips. I lost 7 pounds during the race, and after my recovery I'm still down 4 pounds. I didn't do any hill training for the race and I could have used some. The course hit the hilly UW-Bothell campus--I didn't attack the hills, and I only ran about 2/5 of them, but I need to do a few more hill workouts for my next race.

* My last 3 miles put me in somewhat of a competition with a race walker. I didn't get a look if he was registered for the walk or the run. But I would go into my slow jog and pass him. Then I would walk and he would pass me. I wasn't totally dead by this time of the run, because I still managed to pass a few people in the final 3 miles.

* There was an odd free food offering at the end of the race. I picked up a hand-crafed chocolate raspberry doughnut. I couldn't bring myself to eat it, but someone in my family appreciated it.

* I missed my cheering section during this race. I didn't know the course all that well, nor did my dear wife--and with the rain, it seemed like it would be a wasted effort to have a cheering section. But my dear wife and daughters took the trip with me to Woodinville, sent me off with love and encouragement and welcomed me back. Daughter #1 really likes these races--I think I'll sign us up to volunteer sometime.

* My recovery is going well. I feel a little achy, which is helped by some ibuprofen and some short walks to keep out the stiffness. I must have been clinching my shoulders, because my trapezius ache a little. During the race all I could feel cramping was my hip flexors. I will be ready for a short run either tomorrow or Thursday. Thanks to .Jeff Galloway's training program I'm not going out of commission just because I ran a race. I'm spent, but I can function.

* I'm going to look for a 5k to run sometime around Thanksgiving. I want to do some longer cross training, so I definitely don't want to train for a longer race. I'm looking to go biking on Fridays with my new day off and pull along daughter #2 on the copious trails in the area.

I will compete in another half-marathon, I'm just not sure when or where it will happen.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

An enjoyable Saturday of chores, family and football

Though the outcomes to Saturday's games were not ideal, that was a relaxing and productive Saturday. I watched bits of several games:

Navy/Ohio State
Notre Dame/Nevada
Oklahoma St./Georgia

I washed, dried, folded and put away 7 loads of laundry, cleaned, put the finishing touches on my sermon and went for an outing to the park with a little puddle jumping nature walk. The girls, my dear wife and I had a nice early evening. We were fueled by a dinner of fish or chicken tacos with avocado, grilled veggies, Jack cheese and corn.

After a ghastly 0-12 season last year, the Huskies are on a much better trajectory now. They made good calls on offense, showing some flash and talent at the skill positions. Though the defense seems a bit under skilled, Nick Holt had good schemes and a plucky, hard-working attitude injected into the entire defense. I have tickets for the USC game on Sept. 19th with my Dad, brother and some friends--I don't know if they'll be able to offer the same effort against USC, especially when Pete Carroll knows Coach Sarkisian so well. I'm hoping for another good effort with a shot at the win in the 4th quarter.

I will always root against Notre Dame. That nemesis developed in college during the era of the Miami/Notre Dame rivalry known as the Catholics vs. The Convicts in the late 80's. I remember statements by Notre Dame fans that ND represented God and Miami represented Evil and Satan. Those kinds of statements lit my torch, and I could no longer be indifferent to the school from South Bend. I don't loathe them as much these days, but my favorite teams are still Washington, Tennessee, Central Michigan, and whichever team is playing Notre Dame. I have little tolerance for righteousness attached to a football team.

I watched the Minnesota and Navy games only because I could while folding laundry. The Navy game was more enjoyable. I admired Navy for their efficiency, getting the absolute most out of their resources and almost sticking to the boring football of the Big Ten power THE Ohio State University. If forced to pull for a Big Ten team (which I really don't have to do anymore in Pac-10 country) I go for the Badgers and the Gophers. Wisconsin, because the are the best football celebrators in the USA, and Minnesota, because there are alums in my dear wife's family, and they gave my daughter top-notch medical care.

Fall weekends are hard to beat--this was only the beginning. Easily my favorite season of the year.

Friday, September 04, 2009

College football viewing will be different

I remember the simpler days when I could roll out of bed on a Saturday morning of my youth and catch the early SEC Football game on Jefferson Pilot Sports. About 830 or 9am, that first game aired on the in the Pacific Time Zone, and I could watch football all day if I wanted to, highlighted by a big Washington Huskies game with my Dad and brothers. Three or four games per day began some football watching glory days.

I don't take over the television on Saturdays as an adult, though I have found ways to get a college football fix--Sirius was a big help or listening to games on the Web. I could do chores or errands and still get out a shout with my girls in the car, while I worked in the garage, folded laundry or gathered sermon materials. Rare are the days of total sports couch potato. I usually save a day like that for the NCAA Basketball Tournament in March. There's something about being outside on a crisp fall day, working in the yard, preparing for winter among the changing leaves.

This year I return to going to a college football game with one or both of my brothers and some friends. The gathering around a college football game is like no other event.

Though the Thursday night games were big this week (quite a skirmish between Boise State and Oregon), tomorrow marks the beginning of a great season, and I can taste the promise and joy of the cooler weather along with the drama of football and the close of baseball season.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Thematic preaching topic: time

Sunday marks my first sermon as the new pastor at my new congregation. This is not a lectionary congregation, so I've been working on a sermon series that will cover 4 weeks in September and October. The problem is a preaching hole left by Labor Day weekend. This is not the Sunday to count on a critical mass. Though I'm certainly game for surprises.

I found a text because I had to meet the needs of the worship materials producers. I came to the topic of time because time intentionally marks the boundaries service as an interim pastor. I also came to the topic of time because I was digging for a text and found Ecclesiastes 3: 1-13 referenced in an interim ministry journal. Most pastors go into a congregation with an open end to their time boundaries. My time is not fixed in a congregation, but a definitive boundary is set: whenever the next pastor comes. Typically, in a Lutheran congregation, that takes about 1 year, give or take a few months.

Time drew me in because in every interim congregation, I face a similar statement uttered by congregational leaders. Whenever we talk about an opportunity for ministry, inevitably someone will say "we should wait to do X until the next pastor arrives." At one time, I thought this ministry holding pattern was a good idea. It got me off the hook for a lot of extra work--and why would I want to make things difficult for a colleague who comes and serves after me. However, I think if someone is going to try something new, maybe that time is appropriate. I like to wait as much as the next person, but in the presence of the provocation of the Holy Spirit, how is that not the time to pass on the grace of God in a creative way? Does a pastor have to make a seal of approval on everything that happens in the congregation? I can understand the sentiment that a person, group or congregation would like to have a sense of their new pastor's way of doing things, lest something new openly contradict a technique or philosophy of the new pastor.

Theologian Paul Tillich in his writing/sermon on the aforementioned Ecclesiastes text talks about how God's timing breaks into human timing. Ecclesiastes is a wisdom text that in chapter 3 shares a poem about the breadth of human existence and that it all comes down to timing. Tillich states that Jesus reveals the in-breaking of God's time when he says, "the kingdom of God is at hand," and eventually renders Ecclesiastes' words about human timing as something to reconsider in the light of Christ.

What is "white culture"?

Once before I have referenced the oddity that is Glenn Beck--not nearly as many times as Keith Olbermann--but I don't need to beat a dead horse in order to get people to watch my show. Olbermann beats up on Beck to help his ratings. Beck does the same kind of thing, but Beck sometimes adds tears.

Beck is on his way back to the Northwest, returning to a town of his youth. Beck was not a controversial figure in South Dakota because many people share his perspectives on the world. But in the Northwest, Beck will often be vilified, and some folks in Mount Vernon, Washington are angry about a Glenn Beck Day in Mount Vernon. One of his more recent controversies involves calling Barack Obama a racist and hold a desire to dismantle "white culture."

Regardless of whether someone believes Obama to be racist, or whether his leadership is detrimental to the country, my question is what is "white culture?" An who is white? Are Italians considered white? How about Greeks? Does one have to be completely white, like a native, but non-aboriginal Norwegian? If all of these aforementioned cultures are grouped as white, then what monolithic "white culture" do you have? If there is a white culture, I'm not sure how I participate or influence white culture. Please Mr. Beck, help me understand.

One of my favorite blogs is "Stuff White People Like." The Canadian author Christian Lander is not necessarily proclaiming a white culture per se, but identifies proclivities that are hard to deny. Race, culture and skin color aren't interchangeable words, and to call Obama a racist attempting to dismantle white culture is a poor choice of concepts to criticize Obama's body of work.

But hey, Beck gets the ratings.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

First days in preschool for child #2

We've been talking for weeks with daughter #2 about going to school. She doesn't exactly know the scope of institution--but she wants to do the things her older sister does, yet she wants to be independent. She had to acquire "Skechers" just like her older sister--picking out her own style but the same brand at Fred Meyer. Before she started on Tuesday, every building we passed brought the inquiry: "Is that my school? Is that my school?"

After 2 days, her ebbed enthusiasm makes me wonder if this is the right course, but we're already traveling this road. I can't quit my job now, and hers is a natural reaction to a completely different social situation. It's only three days per week, and her days aren't always full. I also admire her skepticism about the whole socialization process, I can relate to looking at any crowd with apprehension.

I miss the small, regular interactions throughout the day, and I look forward to Friday when we can hang out together at home. I will be off doing my chores somewhere in the house and she will come find me and say "Hey, Daddy!" Then, all will be right with the world.

Monday, August 31, 2009

My kind of beach

The beach always ranks as a top destination spot for my family and me, but to what kind of beach shall we go? I have traveled to beaches in Southern California, Nicaragua, Virginia, Massachusetts, Florida and Rhode Island. I will always love the lower development cool, drizzly, and cloudy beaches in Washington. Sunny and warm is my least favorite weather pattern. If you're looking for sun 'n' fun, I would recommend going somewhere else.

My family made fun of Moclips, Washington, growing up. We drove there once for I don't know what reason--our destinations of choice involved places that had more services available, like Ocean Shores and Long Beach. As a kid I lived for the trip to the Ilwaco Bowl bowling alley. I prefer Moclips now. Even though we saw people walking along the beach and even saw a wedding party a few hundred yards to the south of our little spot, it felt like we had the place to ourselves. My dear wife and I escorted our children to their favorite kind of outing in the world. It doesn't matter if we hit the Puget Sound or the Pacific Ocean--they can spend hours at the beach running around, picking, digging and exploring. The boundaries are natural and wide. They run, and we kind of follow them.

However, this trip to Moclips was also about family gathering and celebrating milestones--this time, my parents 40th wedding anniversary. I once had this image that perfect family gatherings were possible, if not at least expected. I observed in my childhood that this was a fleeting desire. An attempt to hit a moving target. Family gatherings are not perfect. We all have our imperfections and brokenness, and we do our best to recognize the blessing of family and enjoy the presence of one another. We prepare meals, we play cribbage (my youngest brother trounced me), watch baseball, share stories, and of course--play at the beach. My parents got to watch the whole imperfect, but blessed conglomeration of relationships that is our family.

The reason I like going to Moclips and the Washington beaches is I get to be in my favorite weather and contemplate the gentle yet powerful process that is erosion at work, and I get to do it in a peaceful way. It's the best witness to God I've had in a long time--the evidence of God's action is all around us, yet so subtle, like the undercurrent as it peels the sand away from the bottom of my feet. I can't do a thing about that sand that moves from under my feet. With that movement of sand, I am reminded that my time of two years of part time ministry, full time parenthood and their gently rhythmic yet powerful day are coming to an end. I return to full-time employment tomorrow. I have written more than I have in years, and I've realized that writing is a foundational activity for my balance. I've learned that writing is not a good activity in and of itself--most message boards have made "the pen is mightier than the sword" concrete. Where my writing will go from here, I do not know. Though the erosion may take away the resources from one place, surely they will be deposited somewhere else.