Wednesday, February 25, 2009

BNL "moves forward:" feeling melancholic (part 1)

Barenaked Ladies say they have not "broken up." Barenaked Ladies will continue to exist, but not as my dear wife and I have known them from our early days of dating. While traveling home from Ash Wednesday worship this evening, I tuned in to one of my favorite radio programs "As It Happens" on CBC Radio (my computer's home page), and learned that Stephen Page has left the band to pursue a solo career (You can listen to this interview if you're patient with this audio file). I may lay awake tonight feeling melancholic about this change. It feels like a divorce of friends with whom I went to college. If there was a soundtrack for my life since graduating from college in 1994, Barenaked Ladies would take up a plurality of songs. I think this subject may take more than one post...

I haven't followed BNL as fervently as in years past. At the end of the CBC interview with BNL founding member Ed Robertson, they played a song from their last CD as we knew the band, "Snacktime." I hadn't listened to any of the songs from their first children's CD yet; I missed out. The song "Bad Day" hit me hard--I got a little misty, remembering many times when a BNL song spoke to me and offered me better understanding and pastoral care than most sermons. Songs that fueled longing for my wife or elevated a joy of the day, or gave me insight to someone else's struggles. Bad Day became a soundtrack song for my eldest daughter just 45 minutes ago. Though she has developmental challenges and I look to those challenges as why she has a bad day and why we struggle with each other, sometimes she just has a bad day, like any human being. I remembered something of what it was like to be a kid, and I see my six year old differently this evening because of hearing that song.

Here are the lyrics for Bad Day.

I wish the band members well in their new ventures. I may like the new BNL, but they will never be the same. These kind of relationships move on--though their fans may perceive it to be like a marriage--vocation changes. Robertson is a bit evasive in his interview, but I respect that. I think he wants to honor the creative and powerful relationships of the past 20 years in BNL, yet also be communicative with their fan base. I appreciated the As It Happens approach--they eventually stopped probing. (In addition, check out As It Happens if you find American radio personalities too shrill. Carol Off and particularly Barbara Budd have some of the best voices in radio and do some of the best interviews with a curious precision and class.) Too bad the BNL guys weren't my friends--I would love to hang out with these guys over a beer and just talk.

Ash Wednesday

Though Lent is a painful experience for me, Ash Wednesday is a different story. I don't take joy or twisted pleasure (as it seems some Lutherans do) in reflecting upon my finitude or death: "remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." I don't believe I subscribe to a theology of glory, either.

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

I find peace in this Ash Wednesday proclamation. How?

1. "Remember that you are dust." Some might interpret this to be a sort of worm theology, as if to say "you, human, are basically nothing. Worthless dirt. Get used to it." In the biblical narrative, I would take this statement to mean--you and I are made of simple things, we are carbon life forms, simple dirt. But we are also more than dirt, wonderfully complex yet from very simple beginnings. A wonder--from the mind and heart of God. Something so simple, yet so complex, that contributes to the wonders of life. To be sure, life is can be just as painful as it is joyful, but it is wonderful. Reflecting upon humanity's (and my own) beginnings communicates to me a generous God who makes life to be full of possibility--because I am so simple, yet so complex.

2. "And to dust you shall return." Though Christians believe in an afterlife, some still seem to take pleasure in emphasizing the pain of death (see Mel Gibson and the Sad Dane Lutherans). The story of Jesus' life, death and resurrection highlights the pain of death. Yet, the second half of our Ash Wednesday statement is a reminder to me that I need not be crushed by the burdens of my beginning or my end. My sin and shortcomings certainly contribute to the pain of the world. God holds the mysteries of my beginning and end. I don't subscribe to the idea that the time of my death or a death is God's will. I believe our Ash Wednesday statement lifts up the mystery of life and God's crafting of it. The ashen cross placed on my forehead reminds me that God overcomes my destructive tendencies in the resurrection of Christ.

As this blog only contains middlebrow theology on its best days--I know I have colleagues who would challenge my observations and constructs. My experience of Ash Wednesday is a powerful reminder of God's action in the world--both on a grand scale, and my place in that world. I am reminded of my finitude, yet that my contributions add both suffering and joy to the world and that the mystery of God holds this all in wisdom and care.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Crescendo Crabby...

February 23rd...I can feel myself getting crabby.

Either I'm tired because it's Monday, or, it must be time for Lent. Must be time for another Lenten rant..

When I used to talk about Lent with my Spiritual Director, she tried to convince me that Lent was something for me in which to find joy in the opportunity for spiritual growth and that Lent was such a fulfilling time for her. I wanted to slug her (not a common feeling, but that's what I thought). Don't try to convince me that Lent is supposed to be enriching, fulfilling, good for growth or my relationship with God. Or that I should be a good Lutheran and love Lent. It always means more work for me and not enough of a shared workload. This is, of course, partially my fault. I enable this kind of expectation on the congregational level.

Lent feels like another programmatic venture based on expectation rather than something the aids spiritual growth or maturity. I get weary providing energy for programmatic ventures, their organization and implementation. Sometimes I can cultivate a shared energy for something programmatic and I find some joy and growth. Lent doesn't seem to work that way. This year, I have recused myself from a significant obligation this Lenten season--I have given up Wednesday Lenten services for Lent (!). I will be at home or at my dear wife's congregation on Wednesday evenings and my current preaching locale will be hosted by the members of the parish. Maybe this arrangement will clear the space in my cold heart for God to enter in.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Literature Glitch and a Book Conundrum

For all intents and purposes, I should have been reading Tess of the D'Urbervilles by now. I hunted through my book collection all week and found that I do not own any of the Keith Law top 100 books. I have read about 10 of them, though I only remember about 5. I hoped for some redemption reading Tess after failing to appreciate it in English 209 at the University of Kansas.

I learned a few things about my book collection.

1. I need to get rid of some of these books. This is a difficult exercise. The fact that I got rid of Tess indicates that at times I may get rid of things that I later want to use. Sometimes we have control over these decisions, other times we don't (Thanks, Mom, for getting rid of my Star Wars Cards). I must have discarded Tess because I never wanted to relived the memories of English 209--although I found some of the other books from that semester--Ironweed and Invisible Man.

2. Once I get attached to an author, I stick with them for a long time--Barbara Kingsolver, Bill Bryson, Douglas Coupland, Raymond Carver.

3. I have lots of books from the Alban Institute, MBTI, Natural Church Development, and Healthy Congregations. By the sheer size of this library, I would love to trim down this collection. But the skills from these books have put some food on the table.

I started a stack last night of books to give away, sell on, or garage sale this spring.

In this process, I did find a novel I have meant to read, but passed over for required reading or other interests. The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter was a National Book Award Finalist in 2000. I am also a Charles Baxter fan. I made a good start on this book last night and should get through it quickly--it doesn't pose too many complications. I'll either give an update or write a little review in the next few weeks.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Long Run

The biggest adjustment in becoming a more intentional runner has not been moving away from the "go-all-out-as-far-as-possible-run" to the shorter run. The weekly "long run" is the new frontier for me. I ran cross-country in high school because I enjoyed running. I found any excuse possible to get out of the occasional 10-mile run. I even faked a few injuries to get out of those runs. To accomplish the long run, I learned to take walk breaks. Now I look forward to them--through these long runs, I look at my first race in 9 years with positive anticipation rather than doubt. I have nothing to prove to anyone regarding my athletic ability. I look forward to a racing atmosphere. I look forward to testing my progress. I look forward to see if I have gained any wisdom about my ability and its application.

Tomorrow I will run 9 miles--I look forward to the time to think, pray and test myself.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Griffey back to Seattle: let the media swell continue...

Ken Griffey, Jr. is back in Seattle.

Sure, I didn't think it was the best baseball move, but Jack Z. has done a lot to earn my trust as a GM (like he cares). Leadership needs the trust of those who invest their social capital in organizational life so that they are able to survive when they inevitably make a wise, but unpopular decision. I know this in my own experience as a pastor. If this was the first move he made and had paid more money--this would have been a horrific baseball move. But this is a good situation--and I will join in the celebration of his return. Maybe I'll even take my daughter to a game this season when I head on out to the great Pacific Northwest.

I can resonate with my fellow Seattle sports fans after one of the worst sports years in the history of sports. It's important for personal morale to have something to look forward to in life. The Mariners will probably not be very good this year, but there are plenty of interesting story lines. I don't think many fans believe Griffey is the foundation for the transformation of the organization--but this is a great condiment for the hopeful baseball feast that is spring training.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Found--a long, lost favourite cover by Annie Lennox

About 14 years ago, I bought a cassette single for my now wife; we were dating (still are), and I wanted to let her know I was paying attention to her favorite things. She is an Annie Lennox fan. On the day her new album was released, I went to local Best Buy and bought her the new single that we had heard on the radio "No More I Love You's." We still have that single in the few cassettes we have saved. The B-side of that single was a cover of the Joni Mitchell song, "Ladies of the Canyon." I ended up liking that song even more. I like songs that tell stories. Annie's voice adds so much to this song with her rich and haunting voice. Joni Mitchell is great--but Lennox is better for this song. In my opinion, this is one of my favorite cover songs of all time--I tend to not like them.

As far as I could find, Lennox's version was not available anywhere outside of the B-side. I have looked for this song often--to no avail. Until now.

I cut down on my music purchases over the past year or so, but I had to get this song. I enjoyed reading some of the publicity for this release. Lennox appears to be one of the most centered and sane popular musicians of her generation (I know this could be a PR fabrication--but I'm optimistic). I may have to check in with her blog on occasion. Not sure if I'll purchase the entire collection.

My dear wife still likes Annie Lennox, and we now enjoy a musician with some similar qualities (though not as prolific), Mary Fahl. A nice memory of my wife and a good listen for the day.

Building a baseball team like I would try to facilitate building a congregation

Stories about regarding how the American Civil War divided families between supporting the Union and the Confederacy.

Fast forward 150 or so years--will my family be split about whether it is wise for Ken Griffey, Jr. to return and play for the Seattle Mariners. I don't want Griffey back. My youngest brother wants him back. My Gram probably wants him back--she's into nostalgia. Not sure what my mother and father think--but I'm sure my father and I will talk about it soon. In building my favorite baseball for 2009 and beyond, I admire the Mariners' new General Manager Jack Zduriencik's plan as I see it. Building relationships, analyzing data, finding good people, and basing decisions not on former glories, but good fits for the organization--its context, strengths, and resources. In a very tight equation, Griffey might fit. There's probably better solutions.

As an interim pastor, I see congregations make many decisions based on their former glories. They have a hard time distinguishing their principles, theology and mission from cultural preferences and emotional connections of the past. I am not against cultural preferences and emotional connections--I have my own deep connections with the faith of my youth and what conditions help make it so. If I remain stuck in those connections, I will not be able to grow and flourish.

Mariners fans get stuck in the period from 1995-2001, when Griffey, A-Rod, Edgar, Jay Buhner, Norm Charlton and Randy Johnson roamed the Seattle Mariners baseball diamonds. They were blessed with favorable draft picks, a few good trades, and a manager who caught lightning in a bottle. Mainline Protestants tend to get stuck in 1950's, days when social, cultural and political conditions favored their growth and flourishing.

Nostalgia is fine and appropriate in individuals, congregations, baseball or a variety of other situations. The point is not to get stuck in that place. I believe that a fixation on Griffey is getting stuck in nostalgia. Jack Zduriencik will only make the move if it fits for the flourishing of the organization. That is why I like him.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Listening...(Feb. 16 edition)

Feeling That Way...Journey
Before The Worst...The Script
Megamanic...Bob Mould
Jackson...Johnny Cash
Lost Myself...Jason Falkner
Soul Meets Body...Death Cab For Cutie
A Living Prayer...Alison Krauss + Union Station
El Capitan...Idlewild
Ariel...October Project
Ready To Go...Republica
I Will Wait...Hootie and the Blowfish

Some of the songs on this list are repeats from the Feb. 2 edition, but hey, some songs stick. Eighty-five percent of my informal playlists rotate on 2 weeks bases, the rest stay on the list most of the time. Part of it is looking for that running song that will propel me to either move or press on to the endorphine release. The Republica song hasn't been on my rotation for several years--I forgot what a good running song it could be.

I find it amusing to discover what song will register with my children: I would have never pegged my two year old as a Mould fan, but I find it hard to resist walking around the house chanting the catch phrase to the rhythm of my chores: "I never panic, I'm megamanic...MEGAMEGA, MEGAMEGA." She likes to say with me, "MEGAMEGA, MEGAMEGA."

I don't know many Hootie/Darius Rucker fans. I know I'm not the only one, I just don't know any others. I admire his dabbling in R&B and Country. He's also an interesting interview. He recently played a solo show in Sioux Falls (a small miracle--Sioux Falls is THE place to see washed up hair bands and little else). I like to support that kind of show--but our schedule didn't allow it.

Bathing my skin and life in water, cool and cleansing: connection at the water park

If I ranked my moments as a father (don't worry, I'll spare you), our family's recent trip to Minnesota would be up there.

I haven't done much research on this, but indoor waterparks are all the rage in the Upper Midwest (maybe they're all over the country). Going to the waterpark is one activity outside of Christmas and Halloween that captures my oldest daughter's attention every time. We make a little pilgramage about twice a year to a water park, and she will look forward to it for weeks, discussing it often with her teachers, even to the point of interrupting me in the middle of a sermon on Sunday morning: "Dad, can we go to the water park now?"

We've found a place that suits our family well for price, size of park, quality of hotel accommodations, and proximity to other things we want to do. What made this trip so great was that I connected with my daughters in a rare way. One thing I have discovered as my household manager is that when I am at home, I find it difficult to concentrate, because I am always thinking about the next household project--whether it be a little task such as moving the laundry along, or a big task like gathering the outgrown clothing and sorting them into donation and selling piles. Rare is the moments where I have a pure connection moment with my daughters. I attribute this lack of concentration on my role, part of it is my weak ability to hold a conversation with a child, as well as my yet to arrive skill of appreciating the moment. Being away from home, engaged in an activity both of my girls love (it took awhile for child #2 to find the joys of the water park), I connected with my daughters without a thought of the other burdens and responsibilities of my life. We played and talked--simple, unadulterated connection time. I never would have guessed how hard it could be. Or how joyful it could be.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Variable of the "Open Religious Market": Mainline Protestant Entitlement

Ever since I left the cocoon of my upbringing in the Pacific Northwest and witnessed a different life in the Midwest, I have wondered why things are the way they are. The why didn't really matter to how I was living my life--it was more of a curiosity. I commonly spoke out about my observations: this is different here! This comparison/contrast was no teleological exercise: I like information for its own sake, maybe for an occasional joke.

During seminary, my observations developed a nascent purpose. Does context matter? This question was driven by defensiveness. My surroundings living in St. Paul, Minnesota, implied a cultural/theological superiority for Northern European Midwesterners--my adopted culture. I admired my hosts' passion for their culture, finding their ethnography patterns, observations, thoughts, music, celebrations, and social patterns mostly compelling and joyful. These are my wife's roots--they are a part of me. However, my experience was different. Though my family became passionately involved in the Church for some years in my youth, only half of my life in my parents' home was connected to congregational life. Religious studies observers have known for years that religion does not have as strong a weave in the social fabric of the Pacific Northwest as other regions of the country. So what?

In posts from previous years, I cogitate on implications that somehow because the Pacific Northwest is less religious or less Christian, that somehow it is less moral. I am much less angered by this implication these days. I think people's morality will always be unjustly challenged regardless of where one resides or calls home--I don't have to be a Northwest native to be subject to that kind of scrutiny. I am still sorting out what my upbringing and context taught me and what its contribution to religious discourse can be. James Wellman's book offered me a key insight to understanding religion in the Pacific Northwest, maybe even to contemporary Mainline/Liberal Protestantism as a whole. Context matters. Though he didn't coin the phrase (I'm not sure who to credit) he does like to reference the Northwest as an "open religious market." This means there is no dominating or prevailing force on the religious ethos of that region. Name other regions of the country, or faith traditions in the United States, and you could probably name a corresponding tradition or region. Not so in the Northwest. Though some religious traditions may hold particular niches in the region--the religious market is open. So what?

In Wellman's study sample, Wellman distinguishes the relationship between Evangelical and Mainline/Liberals with the open religious market of the Pacific Northwest:

"Thus, while liberal leaders might complain that the [Pacific Northwest] had no tradition of church going and tended to discount organized religion per se, evangelical leaders would often comment with excitement about untapped opportunities in the region. The reality of the region's open religious market was not so much a problem but an opportunity for the evangelical churches (49)."

In the realm of social science, I wonder how I could measure "open religious market" and decipher more of what this variable means.

As a pastor and person of faith, I think about my relationship with the continuum of a religious market. I don't think I should make a value judgement of the religious market regardless of where the locality sits on the continuum. I make no value judgement on the concept of "open religious market." It just is. The question becomes, "How do I respond to this open religious market?" Therefore, I begin to question my adopted culture's sense of entitlement regarding people's commitments, both in the Northwest and Midwest. The Northwest is not the only place where church people complain about their congregational culture and its relationship with the surrounding community. For years serving in the Midwest, I have heard both clergy and lay people bemoan people's lack of commitment to the church and surrounding cultural deterioration. In my more courageous moments I ask, "Why should they commit? Why should people go to church around here (let alone this one)? What do they see that deserves commitment?" The cultural infrastructure of the Midwest has historically upheld congregational life. I believe this has produced a sense of entitlement for mainline liberal Protestant congregations--the consequences may play out differently in the Northwest than in other regions of the country. I was once angered by the morality challenges and judgments I heard in public discourse. Through Wellman's observations I have discovered that my frustration in 11 years of ordained ministry has not been rooted in morality questions, but in Mainline Protestant entitlement. Those congregations who question their own behavior and practices have a chance to break through and be faithful to their respective callings.

I have to let these reflections percolate for awhile.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My neighbor, John Thune

If I ever have the opportunity to move away from South Dakota, I am comforted to know that I can still find Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota) on C-Span (and The Daily Show) making goofball presentations and representin' South Dakota. He represents South Dakota better as an athlete. He could pass me in a whirlwind, as we occasionally run on the same paths in Soo Foo. Apparently he could kick my butt (and President Obama's) on a basketball court. But his talk about the stimulus bill is foolish. Why? Talking about the physical size of 1 trillion dollars does nothing to help public discourse. The point does not even clarify ideological economic differences. Thank you, Jon Stewart, for lampooning this presentation.


That's right in Huron, South Dakota! Home of the Pheasant, our beloved South Dakota State Fair, and a dual pronunciation. Yes, some residents pronounce it: Hyur-on. Others pronounce it: Urine.

I'm not making this up.

But The Pheasant is a fun place to go visit. It represents the sporting life here in South Dakota--a connection with God's creation and an opportunity for cameraderie. The Pheasant will be an enduring memory of South Dakota--taking my family to a hot, humid day at the Fair. Despite coming close to spontaneous combustion on that 97 degree day, we enjoyed the rides, pet the animals and chugged some of the best refreshing milkshakes of our lifetimes. On the way home, we stopped for a photo at The Pheasant. It was a great day--and a story we will share every time we speak of the great days of summer fairs.

Make fun of Thune all you want. Just don't try to box him out or outrun him. Don't EVER make fun of our Pheasant.

Narrowing my literature pick to 3

I have read a lot more than I thought. Unfortunately, I struggle to remember what I read.

Three out of the Keith Law top 100 books have caught my eye. If you feel like offering an opinion--feel free.

I've never read this book. It's supposedly funny. No other reasons.

Tess of the d'Urbervilles
I had to read this book for a second year English class at the University of Kansas. It was my real "welcome to college-level study" courses. We had to read about a one novel per week (never accomplished that in my life), with quizzes and papers along the way. The rude awakening was that I love English--and this professor was busting my chops to the point where I hated the subject. There were plenty of classes I hated in my freshman year--it was easy to dismiss those demands of my study. I was in pain hating this English prof. I was failing the class at midterm. I still had not learned the lesson of never missing class, and how hard I had to work--even if it was a subject I loved. This prof just about taught me how to be a student. I was failing the class at midterm, met with the professor, worked my ass off--rallied--and finished with a high C. I almost made a B. Tess was a book from early in the semester when I was pissed at this professor. All I can remember about this book was how pissed I was at him.

Funny thing is, as I taught To Kill A Mockingbird this fall in high school English, I used a few techniques I learned in English 209. I'm leaning toward Tess.

On The Road
I will give any book a chance that deals with wanderlust. Why did I not read this sooner?

I hope to start reading next week.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Looking forward to the youngest being out of diapers

Maybe this hit me too close to home, after all the diapers I have changed. I am nowhere near the number the woman who gave birth to octoplets will change in her lifetime, but I will be ready to be done with that aspect of parenthood. I laughed so hard at this SNL commercial, I wet myself. Good thing I wear Chewable Depends.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Memories of South Dakota (First in an occasional series)

Sometimes it feels surreal that my wife and I have lived in South Dakota for 8 years. South Dakota is home, yet not home. It is home because this is where my wife and children live with me. Our children were born here. I have lived here longer than any city since I was 13 years old. I have packed more experience in this place, this culture, this region than I ever could have imagined.

South Dakota is not home because I have never really resonated with perspectives of the majority of citizens. The people here have welcomed me as their guest and respected my contributions. I don't think I am one of them. Maybe it is because I have kept them at arms length, maybe it is because I can tell that I don't fit and in some ways been told as such. Maybe South Dakota is my home and isn't my home because of this combination. The mark the people of South Dakota has made on me is indelible. I thank my wife for the introduction to this place. I will always remember it.

While serving a congregation, I remember traveling into town for a youth group gathering. This town always had good youth group attendance--there wasn't much else to do in town. Even the local school had closed--kids travelled at least 10 miles to go to school. That night, the kids and parents staged a potluck of appetizers, snacks and desserts. It was kind of a game/movie night.

The adult presence for youth events in the congregation were one degree of separation from the local volunteer fire department. The crackle of a walkie-talkie could be actually heard at almost any congregational event outside of a worship service--this event was no different. The night of our gathering, the radio talk was a bit more frenzied. A fire had broken out at a hog barn outside a few miles outside of town. The call had gone out four other surrounding departments. This fire could have been big. Not only was someone's home in danger, but their livelihood as well. I saw an amazing response not only from the firefighters present in town, but the youth group in general. I don't know if it was common practice, but the next thing I know, we were loading up food into vans and cars, and we were travelling out to the site of the fire. The quick response kept the fire contained, but livestock was lost. The youth group and several parents set up food so that firefighters could take a break or have something to eat after they finished. I was amazed at the seamless nature of this service. No real planning, no arguing--only multiple layers of help (sacrificial help) for people in need. Before I knew what was happening, the kids and their parents gave me an example of service I will never forget. This kind of service is not unique to South Dakota, I am sure, but I had never seen anything like it.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Nation Building (Worn-Out Language...Feb. 5th edition)

In a bit of a tribute to George Carlin, my Granddad, and Gannett--who gave me practical training in language and journalism (though I don't always live up to my training); I present Worn-Out Language...

Tiger Nation, Gator Nation, Vol Nation, Trojan Nation (USC, not the prophylactic), Bruin Nation, Buckeye Nation, Sooner Nation, Longhorn Nation and many other nations collectively grunted for NCAA College Football Letter of Intent (LOI) signing day--where college football junkies celebrated the lure of their respective institutions to the top football athletes and their commitments. I kept up with my favorite college football teams: Washington, Kansas, Tennessee and South Dakota State. But the "Nation" language makes me cringe. After LOI day, only one more week until public sports discourse turns to baseball's Yankee Nation, Red Sox Nation, Dodger Nation, etc.

Do not get me wrong, I enjoy the liturgical grunting of the most passionate college football fans. I make as many pilgrimages as possible to watch a college football game. Local games or traveling hundreds of miles away--I love the atmosphere, the passion, the strategy, the bravado, the athletic prowess, the celebrations, excitement and noise. I tend to put away the poor academic performance, the cheating, the lack of integrity, the poor leadership of the NCAA, the misplaced priorites, etc. I lived the life of a collegiate athlete--I have seen many angles. Though the aforementioned troubles in collegiate athletics are bigger problems than language, language matters. I make my living off of language--it's interpretation, proclamation and meaning.

Calling a team and its followers a nation makes me cringe because it's a big nail in the coffin that what sports fans watch is no longer a game, but Empire, and the desire to be Empire. I still appreciate the charade of the student/athlete (indeed, there are great student athletes, but on the whole? I'm not so sure), and the idea that competition is at its heart friendly and that all parties participate in a GAME. Sure, institutions and programs have sold their collective souls for fleeting glories. I still believe in hard work, the satisfaction of accomplishment, friendly competition, team work, and athletics teaching life lessons. I am also glad that many people support athletics. I will continue to keep track of my favorite teams and institutions, their hard work and accomplishments and passionately wish them well.

I am not a part of:

Husky Nation
Jayhawk Nation
Mariner Nation
Oiler Nation
Seahawk Nation

I will still cringe every time I hear a team identified with "nation."

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

100th post/Reading...(the Feb. 3 edition)

It took me almost 4 years to reach 100 posts.

I have almost reached as many posts in the 5 weeks of 2009 as my total between 2007 and 2008. I struggle to predict when the writing will flow. Maybe the Nike proverb of just do it applies to more than exercise.

On to Reading...

Jeff Galloway. Galloway's Book On Running (Shelter Publishing)

Jeff Galloway has been writing for Runner's World magazine for years. He was an Olympic marathoner in the 1972 Munich games. My brother gave me this book for Christmas a few years ago. For a couple of years I only skimmed this book at best. After ACL surgery about 5 years ago, I thought my basketball and running avocations were over. Basketball--yes, it's over. Running has returned to my fitness scene, years after I thought I was doomed to the elliptical trainer and the occasional cross-training activity. I was inspired by a 2008 Stanford study about how long term runners can have better joint health than non-runners. If this Stanford study is true, then Galloway's book is even more important for the prospect of becoming a long-term runner (being a runner for decades). He not only coaches runners for performance, but his website also speaks volumes about the wisdom of running and the truth of the Stanford study: I never gave much thought to injury prevention in fitness--I always used to be young (not so much so any more). I don't know why the epiphany now--I've had my share of injuries. However, most of those injuries were not consequences of bad training or preparation--only being overly aggressive. I didn't realize until reading Galloway's book that my approach to running--finding the best combination of distance and speed--was foolish. If you take a look at this book, prepare to have your ego and conventional wisdom about running and fitness challenged.

James K. Wellman, Jr. Evangelical vs. Liberal: The Clash of Christian Cultures in the Pacific Northwest (Oxford University Press)

Wellman teaches in the Comparative Religion program at the University of Washington. For me, he is one of the top 5 writers in the Religous Studies field today. I'm a bit geeky about anything dealing with the Pacific Northwest and Religion. That doesn't mean that anyone who writes on the subject is good--he challenges assumptions (including his own) about tired methodologies and frames about religous topics. Within the first 30 pages of this text, Wellman challenges public discourse dichotomies of liberal and conservative. Ever since I read James Davison Hunter's sociological study of the Culture Wars during my Sociology of Religion class at Wesley Seminary, I have also pondered the deficient language that left and right, liberal and conservative offer to public and academic discourse. Someday soon I hope to take on this questions more in depth--but at this time, my interest in Pacific Northwest religion is hobby that I can build into a vocation

Richard Swanson. Provoking the Gospel of Mark: A Storyteller's Commentary (Pilgrim Press).

Swanson does not produce a typical preacher's commentary. His mind works differently than many biblical scholars. First of all, he doesn't try to rub intellectual prowess in a preacher's face. Second, he avoids churchly and cultural taboos that may inhibit getting to the heart of a biblical text. "Provoking" is the operative word here. Swanson practices interpretation of the text through playing out biblical scenes with drama. This provides fresh insights to a particular gospel lesson. Provoking also entails preachers and other interested parties to consider numerous angles of textual meaning. I don't often come out of reading Swanson with a specific homiletical drive, but my mind is always expanded. Shouldn't any commentator be able to do that? Unfortunately, most commentaries are deficient in pondering the depths of a biblical text.

By the next time I offer a reading list, I hope to add a piece of literature from Keith Law's top 100 books.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Listening...(Feb. 2 edition)

"Let's Dance To Joy Division" The Wombats
"Jackson" Johnny Cash
"Earn Enough For Us" XTC
"Flirtin' With Disaster" Molly Hatchet
"In The Great Unknown" Mary Fahl
"I'll Be That Girl" Barenaked Ladies
"Light Up The Sky" Yellowcard
"Old Polina" Great Big Sea
"Classifieds" Bob Mould
"Life Less Ordinary" Carbon Leaf

Some of these are really good songs for my morning run. The rockabilly "Jackson" makes me feel like a real runner. "Light Up The Sky" works for a running motivator all the time. Mary Fahl's songs almost always help me forget any pain or desire to quit too early on a run that was probably hard to get started in the first place. "Old Polina" is great to sing to during a run.

"Flirtin' With Disaster" is dedicated to the band at the St. Dysmas congregation in Sioux Falls.

The Wave -or- A Northern Great Plains Guide to Vehicular Hand Greetings

In January I began a new preaching opportunity in South Dakota ranch country. I recall my first introduction to rural farming areas--I found joy in watching corn and soybeans grow traveling to the congregation several days each week. The residents of these small South Dakota towns and I exchanged perspectives. I gained a new perspective on human relationships with the land, and the people refreshed their perspectives with my ebullience about...growing corn!

This is my first time preaching to a crowd of men where the majority wear cowboy boots and flannel shirts. What I see in the attire and their attitude toward me is that what you see is what you get. I see an integrity about their presence. Not that they wouldn't act differently in a bar or at a party than they would at church, but the tone of conversation and their presence in the life of the church is that the church is a part of who they are, rather than merely a place that they go. Five weeks may not be enough time for me to observe time out on the ranch, but that is what I see to this point.

One unmistakable part of ranch culture, or at least the more sparsely populated areas of the Northern Great Plains is "The Wave." I speak not of the stadium or ocean variety, but the greeting. One need not know a resident of these areas, all you need to do is pass by one of these rural residents in your vehicle, and you will be greeted by a wave. Most of the waving seems to be done by males, though I'm not sure if only same-sex waving is socially acceptable. I cannot recall ever seeing a female wave from their vehicle. I also notice that each male resident develops a signature wave. I cannot verify the unique wave--whether each male is designated a style of wave when they receive their driver's license, or waving is a motion that develops over the years, or the wave is assigned at birth, only to be taught by the male mentor.

What types of waves can be seen in the Northern Great Plains? After almost 18 years of exploring the Northern Great Plains, here are some components I have seen in wave style:

1. Finger Raises: Raise one, two, three or four fingers. This is the minimalist approach greeting, but remains a sign of respect, unless, of course, that one finger greeting is the middle one.
2. Sweep: Can also be done with 1-4 fingers or an entire hand--a single sweeping motion.
3. A gripped or non-gripped position on the steering wheel.
4. The Halt Wave: Hold up your hand as if you want the oncoming driver to stop (you don't have to stop if you receive this greeting)
5. Nod: Can replace a wave, but can also be done in combo move.
6. Combo move: put together several of the aforementioned moves. One classic combo example: Single finger raise sweep, connected to the wheel with a nod combo. My wave is a halt-sweep combo with an occasional nod.
7. The Miss America: Just kidding. This wave does not exist except for maybe homecoming queens or queen of the local festival. Even then I have yet to see this wave.

This wave exchange diminishes the closer one gets into higher population towns. I'm not sure what the population cutoff is, but my best guess would be about 2,000 people. Another variable might be degree of town isolation. I think if a town doesn't have another significant population center within 50 or so miles, then the wave percentage might go up. An isolated town of 3,500 might have a high percentage of vehicular wavers, where as an exurb of 800 may have a low percentage of wavers.

Until I become accustomed to spending time on rural highways, I find myself waving like a high school kid trying to catch up to a 90 mph fast ball: I'm a bit too late. After 5 weeks in ranch country, my wave percentage has gone up from about .333 to about .750. I'm not sure what the Guy Hall of Fame credentials in waving might be, but I have accumulated enough experience that my time in the Northern Great Plains has been more than a cup of coffee.