Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A sad realization: web browsing with Safari 4 (my first meager attempt to comment on tech)

I generally appreciate Apple products--their interface, their functionality, their ease of use. I strongly dislike Safari 4, mainly because I can't use it--it feels like I'm partying on my computer like it's 1999. That is, I'm waiting for what seems like minutes to get into the browser. Even when I get into it, eons elapse before I can navigate anywhere.

Granted, my Mac Mini is going on 4 years old--filled with music, pictures and software. I thought I was doomed to buying more hard drive space or, perish the thought, a new computer (not possible on the Frugal Rule right now). My back up option for web sites that don't want to work with Safari has been Firefox for about 3 years. Firefox opens and navigates quickly and is now my first choice for browser over Safari for the first time since I left Internet Explorer around 2003. The difference was negligible with Safari 3, but it's a huge difference now. I'm not sure why Safari performance on my Mini has slipped so much--did Mozilla do better work or is Apple with Safari dealing with its Apple Luddites?

Though I haven't investigated much, some find hangups with Safari 4, but with Apple prices coming down so much, maybe I will remain behind the times longer until I can save enough money for the Apple power I want. I am not willing to sell my soul for something that will be cutting edge for 2 weeks. My relationship with Apple is not in jeopardy--I began my relationship with Apple around 1980 at computer camp in Seattle, where I sat around writing simple programs with an Apple computer and printing things on a dot matrix printer. Talk about brand loyalty, I came home and got my hands on a computer whenever I could. When I couldn't do that, I made computers out of cardboard boxes my Dad brought home from Albertson's.

I'm disappointed with Apple because I've never been disappointed with anything Apple. They've had me for almost 30 years (You had me at 'Hello!'). It would take a lot to lose me, especially after that ghastly 2-year relationship with a PC.

Really Behind The Movies--The Devil Wears Prada

I recall seeing the novel upon which this film was based everywhere--maybe it was a time I spent many days in bookstores spending money I did not have. I must have had something in common with the film's main character played by Anne Hathaway--someone who knew little or nothing about the world of fashion. I recall web searching "Prada" during the apex of the book's popularity; if I was going to avoid pop culture, I needed to know a little more about what I was avoiding. I had no desire to read the book or watch the film, but this was another opportunity for a discussion topic with my dear wife. Wonderful thing about these films is that they provide some detachment from church topics, yet also provide theological grist for the mill should we decide to go in that direction. At the very least, I get to snuggle with my dear wife on the sofa.

I originally believed this movie would go toward the dark side of the Sex and The City series, a vapid depiction of gratuitous consumption in the fashion world. Thankfully, I was wrong about the story line, and it moved toward the good side of Sex and The City, which is sharp dialog, intriguing relationships and insightful social commentary. Though I don't know the book, the storyline avoids vapidity partly from the strong casting of Stanley Tucci and Meryl Streep. There is no way Anne Hathaway could carry this story on her own, and she is teetering on future typecasting with mere clumsy/awkward/tentative charm. She is uplifted in her films by some powerful and talented actors, like Tucci and Streep, and also Julie Andrews in The Princess Diaries (no need to review this one--it's like Prada but with no depth of social reflection). I hope Hathaway has taken copious notes on her colleagues' work with such close observations, for Tucci and Streep only magnify their versatility in this film.

It seems that Streep gives a screenplay writer of a popular novel a fighting chance for public discourse to proclaim that the movie matches the ethos of the book. A few Streep monologues ring powerful in this film above the craft of the story itself. In one scene that gives a primary lesson to Hathaway's fashion neophyte, Streep deftly, elegantly and implicitly describes that fashion does not deserve all of the critique from the masses: fashion is where art and beauty meet utility and accessibility. This convergence of beauty and utility also provides thousands and thousands of jobs, a point that couldn't be lost on Hathaway's character, who had won an award for covering a janitor union labor dispute in Chicago. Streep's character does this plausibly and beautifully (with just enough smugness) in a 3-minute scene while glancing at Hathaway's cerulean sweater.

Certainly this film will be entertaining for the fashion gawkers, and Hathaway provides plenty of fodder for that kind of entertainment. In the end, the wonderful surprise of this film is that different social perspectives come to this story, they meet and mingle, confront and question, and come out going their separate ways without acidic and destructive critique. For a story and film that reflects on image, the story is not preachy or overtly critical. It is possible for empathic feelings for all the characters, a rare feat in a story or film. This film was a pleasant surprise during this past week of a surreal and odd look at image through the deaths of 3 oddly different, yet similar public figures, Michael Jackson, Farah Fawcett and Billy Mays.

Image is much more complex than the over-simplification that can happen in popular media. This is not to say popular media doesn't play an important role in public discourse, only that it is incomplete. The Devil Wears Prada adds to the depth of discussion about image. I am currently reading a book by Chuck Klosterman that will take that depth to a new and enjoyable level. I will write on this book soon.

Monday, June 29, 2009

An evolving relationship with coffee (part 3)

Just when I thought coffee culture couldn't reveal any more to me, I was thrown a curve ball. As a young adult seminary student and intern, the coffee klatches were merely apoplectic about my avoidance of coffee. As a pastor, elderly women of Northern European descent became outright evangelistic (though with differing techniques) about coffee consumption.

Some statements by the Coffistas created a nuanced persuasion that I somehow missed something in my earlier experiences with coffee:
"Nothing tastes as good with a pan of my turtle (or insert any type of cookie or bar) bars like a cup of coffee (watch out when you find a Coffista Food Pusher)!"

"Sure, you may have tried coffee, but you've never tried EGG coffee!

I didn't want these elderly evangelists to know that I did taste their egg coffee. I don't think the egg does a damn thing to the taste (it still tastes like crap), but for them, adding the egg makes it a special occasion--which I think is the most important aspect of this recipe. The coffee tastes like licking the bottom of a recycle bin because the ultra-cheap coffee (coffee brands with names like Butter Nut) sits for hours in their 40-year old metallic percolators. Maybe the egg knocks down the beverage toxicity around five percent.

Sometimes the coffee evangelists took on a Big Brother tone: "You'll be drinking coffee before you leave this church." This type of statement from the Coffistas of the NGP/UM annoyed me more than any other, and made my anti-coffee stance even more resolute.

There was also the side of coffee culture that made me laugh. One day at a local cafe in which I used to frequent, I inquired about the status of Oliver's day. His reply. "Oh, I've been here most of the day talking with my friends. I'm on my 7th pot of coffee."

Seventh pot of coffee?!?!?!?!?

Here I learned the lesson about coffee strength. My loved ones tend to go for deeply black coffee that looks like gas tank sludge. The darker color speaks to coffee efficiency--the beverage remains a social lubricant, but also operates as a charge for the day. No drinking seven pots here. Conversely, Oliver and his ilk use a coffee not so much concerned with efficiency, but it's warmth and drinking motion that fills the time gaps and provides space to think. This type of pregnant pause to drink and swallow allows time to prepare statements and responses that solve the problems of the church, world, and discussing "prayer concerns (aka gossip)." Drinking coffee provides a tactile motion similar to prayer. I still struggle with the arithmetic that 90-year old man can drink 7 pots of coffee in 4 hours. In this equation I discovered a new paint color or J Crew clothing fabric hue: "Old Man Lutheran Coffee." This "coffee" is almost the shade of Lipton tea, but is not quite as red. Old Man Lutheran Coffee is almost transparent; certainly one can see the bottom of the cup when the coffee is poured. I don't marvel at the weakness of the coffee, but that a 90-year-old man would be willing to urinate with the frequency necessary to consume 7 pots of coffee.

Since Oliver is now sipping coffee with the heavenly court, maybe I'll figure out the mysteries of this culture on the other side of heaven when he greets me in heaven's basement. Heaven's basement wouldn't be hell, just the place where Oliver probably prefers to be after a full day of praising God.

I served in 7 congregations throughout the NGP/UM Lutheran Holy Land, walking a wide enough circle around the Coffistas to be able to observe coffee culture with a bemused detachment. Until 2009.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Listening...(June 26, 2009 edition)

My music playlist has shifted a bit in the last two weeks. Between Starbucks, the free iTunes downloads, and splurging about three dollars on downloads, I'm putting a little variety in my listening habits. It's not a large departure, but at least the songs are different.

No listening habit can eclipse the songs going on in my head, thanks to my daughters and PBS Kids. I learn I am not the only parent suffering from the infinite PBS playlist. We get together and sing the Sid The Science Kid opening song. Jingle writers and children's TV song writers are the greatest under the radar artists in society. Their ability to get something in the heads of millions is uncanny. When I think of all the songs that make my playlists and compare them to jingles and children's TV shows, the latter makes many more tracks on the soundtrack of life.

If the CD/playlist/album was called, "Moving Back To King County" the track list would look like this

"Rug Time" Teacher Suzie from Sid The Science Kid
"Curious George Opening Song"
"Martha Speaks Opening Song"
"I'm Looking For My Friends" Sid The Science Kid
"Word Girl Opening Song"
"Dragon Tales Opening Song"
"Earn Enough For Us" XTC (We're still trying to sell our house--big theme song)
"Revival" Me Phi Me
"Everywhere" Michelle Branch (Those damn Chase commercials)
"Into The Great Unknown" Mary Fahl
"Bad Day" Barenaked Ladies
"Jai Ho" Slumdog Millionaire Soundtrack (A favorite of child #2, "Listen to Jai Ho, Daddy?)

The PBS songs are far more infectious, and sometimes the girls and I will sing these songs like we're living in a musical. We can see a rug, or go sit down somewhere to talk, and we break into singing "Rug Time." I used to think musicals were silly in my younger life, but I'm beginning to understand their artistic value more and more each day.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Surreal lives

It's a strange day when Michael Jackson and Farah Fawcett die on the same day. I never owned a Michael Jackson cassette or album, nor did I have the quintessential Farah Fawcett poster on my wall, but these two celebreties were two of the most difficult public figures to avoid in the 70's (Fawcett) and 80's (Jackson). One had to crawl in a cave to avoid hearing something about them, and this was even in the days before the Internet. These two figures are case studies on the effect of celebrity on society, and on the individuals themselves. When I learned the news, I immediately thought of the Barenaked Ladies' song Celebrity, and its lyrics that highlight the only thing we ever see in the person is the celebrity itself, and that celebrity has tenuous meaning.

I write this reflection as an observation rather than judgment, but it makes me wonder about how we look at any celebrity, whether that person is a musician or actor, athlete, or even a religious figure. How do people (how do I?) look at Jesus? How do congregational members see their pastor? I will never forget the four-year old child who didn't believe that I ate when I shared a meal with her family one Sunday afternoon. Our images of the other are always incomplete, if not constructed by what we want to see. Some days I live a surreal life.

An evolving relationship with coffee (part 2)

I thought the cultural attachment to coffee in the Northern Great Plains/Upper Midwest (NGP/UM) strange as I moved more deeply into congregational life. The relationship to coffee appeared different in the Pacific Northwest in my simultaneous regional observations. In the early 90's coffee developed into a heavy commerce/status/survival commodity in the Pacific Northwest. Commerce, because coffee stands sprung up like rainy season mushrooms all over the PNW, in any old place. As a non-coffee drinker, I saw it as a status/commerce thing at the time. However, after repeated visits to the PNW, my dear wife commented that coffee was more of a survival drink, offering a means to get through mind-altering and numerous overcast days. I found that argument persuasive, though I still could not relate. So much money and effort placed on something that tasted like something brewed from dishwater, dirt and acid.

Coffee in the NGP/UM Lutheran culture became annoying--it was a social ticket in any congregation with which I came in contact. I literally received gasps when I refused coffee. What does one do with their hands and mouth during a conversation? How does one stay awake during an Adult Bible Study on a Sunday morning? I joke that I almost wasn't ordained or graduated from seminary because part of the examination period involved being offered a cup of coffee. If I didn't accept, I failed and would be removed from the program. This joke was not completely baseless; I had one instance where I thought I was failing on my internship because of coffee. A local pastor was visibly offended when I refused coffee at a meeting and insisted multiple times I had a cup. "What do you MEAN you don't drink coffee (can't Baptists enter into anything without judgment--I'll have to talk with my friend Theobilly the Baptist about this one)?!??!???" Having a weak self-esteem bubble, I gagged through a cup and 1/2 and felt a racing heart mangled taste buds the rest of the morning.

Marriage offered me no shelter from coffee culture--my dear wife loves her coffee. Few things solidify and care for our marriage like the dependable cup of coffee brewed in the morning, it speaks something about the commitment of love. She taught me the art of working with espresso--and I have developed into a decent amateur barista. We've worked our way through two espresso machines in nearly 12 years of marriage, and are in need of a third. I attempted to resurrect our last machine, but broke it beyond repair in that attempt. The Frugal Rule is so strong that we are holding off on a new machine purchase until our budget can help us acquire a higher quality device. But we have our basic Mr. Coffee to get us through the interim period. My dear wife has never been a militant coffee activist. She has never derided me for my simple freedom to reject coffee--only that I tolerate her simple(?) pleasure and not look down on keeping it as a household staple. No problem there. Though I don't like the taste or smell of coffee, it doesn't evoke the gag reflex like the banana or paper mache.

After ordination and graduation from seminary, I became more resolute in my personal rejection of coffee, but it wasn't merely the coffee institution, but the entire idea of caffeine. I wondered about the need for such a stimulant. A very good friend of mine used to carry large gas station containers of java wherever he went at the seminary--I could identify a place he landed, because he left his coffee jugs all over campus with his papers and books. One day in a real smart-aleck tone I told him--"I don't need coffee, I just sleep. It works a lot better for studying." Part of this declaration involved what I learned trying to pull all-nighters...but I still had (have) a lot to learn.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

An evolving relationship with coffee (part 1)

I live in a borderland region between idealism and pragmatism. Nothing has made me realize such borderland living than raising children.

Life in idealism says that I have control in my life. I do not need the typical human aides for day to day life. Life in pragmatism says that I need to make choices that will allow me to uphold my values even when those choices may go against personal preferences in the short term. I do not write of a deep ethical deliberation, I write about my evolving relationship with coffee--from the place of idealism to pragmatism.

The prominent adults in my life, except for my father, began their day and jolted their mid-day with a terrible product I knew as Taster's Choice instant coffee. The brown crystalline powder smelled of landfill dirt laced with acid. My Mom and Granddad drank it, and it was the one drink in the house (besides booze) that it was easy from which to keep me. Despite its mysterious aversive qualities, that green or red decorated glass jar was a morning icon of sorts. This instant coffee, in all its putridity, signified grown-up culture. The grown-ups knew something that the children did not know. For all I wanted to know about being a grown-up, this coffee substance was a mystery for which I had no complaint. Occasionally I tried to drink from this mystery, only to send shudders throughout my nerve endings. It was something that my love for straight sugar could not serve. Though I could eat straight sugar cubes and spoonfuls of brown sugar, not even piles of sugar at the church coffee stop could make that dirty liquid taste appealing, even with a deep desire to be a grown-up myself, it still tasted terrible.

I avoided coffee throughout most of my teenage years. When my friends started drinking coffee on late night trips to Denny's or local coffee houses, I discovered a more palatable bitter beverage. Earl Grey became my bitter beverage of choice--it provided an enjoyable jolt and for some reason I enjoyed its bitter better. I think it may have tasted better because it became the beverage of my ever expanding ideas of the world--late night discussions with friends.

For some reason, I moved away from Earl Grey during my undergraduate days at the University of Kansas. Somehow the name Earl Grey doesn't match Kansas. While some drank coffee at all night study sessions, I surmised I needed to make the cultural leap toward coffee. At the church that opened its doors to late night studiers with coffee and donuts in Lawrence--I took a sip of coffee and thought I needed to find something else--all of the awful memories of this drink did not change. The commercials for General Foods International Coffees gave me an image of hot cocoa with a jolt. This beverage still tasted putrid to me. I moved on to Mountain Dew to get me through the study session. After attempting 4 all night sessions, falling asleep during one of my Russian History final examination, I learned that studying throughout the semester and sleeping well was a better equation for academic success than stimulant beverages.

When I continued my academic career in Minnesota, I was more immersed in Lutheran culture than ever before, and that jokes about coffee culture that I thought were exaggerated were not tall tales. Some said that along with Baptism and Communion coffee was the "third Sacrament." Coffee appeared to be a social pillar like cigarettes or alcohol--I wondered if a group of Minnesotans couldn't get together without sharing coffee. I loved Minnesota, and it represented a huge positive shift in my life, but this was a cultural institution I wanted to avoid. Looking back, I still wanted to maintain my own identity in this powerful cultural milieu. If you don't believe that Northern Great Plains/Upper Midwest Lutheranism is not a powerful cultural milieu, consider Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion. I once believed this was a comedic exaggeration I would never understand, but learned in 16 years of living in the heart of Northern Great Plains/Upper Midwest Lutheran culture, that it is no comedic exaggeration, but only highlighting cultural idiosyncrasies with gifted storytelling with a willingness not to take self too seriously. Avoiding coffee was my way of still maintaining self in the midst of strong formational cultural presence. These cultural distinctions appear not to matter much, but I think these cultural interactions we witness in the midst of a mobile society offer all kinds of points about how we create culture and how we as humans build relationships and societies.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A trip to the park and lunchtime texture issues

The girls and I just returned from a picnic at the park. I'm still a bit in the nesting stage of the family move, so it takes an intentional effort to get out of the house. I may find peace in organizing and pitching some of the undesirable stuff (I can't believe we moved some of this crap), but I look over at my girls and see their listlessness (even if they are doing good developmental activities) and know that a trip outside for play would be the best thing for all of us.

We are blessed to have a decent park about 1/4 mile away. It's not the best jungle gym, but it has a nice track, nice fields, and lots of places for the girls to roam while I can still see them from some bird's-eye views. The 6-year old moves along in her scooter while the 2-year old lounges in the baby jogger on the way. We swung by the post office to pick up the cheapest Seattle Times in town ($0.50), and we headed to park.

I packed a simple lunch of peanut butter sandwiches, Toasted Corn Doritos, bananas, and water. To even carry a banana on my person is a step forward. I have traumatic memories of bananas as a child. I recall biting into one an responding with a Technicolor yawn. Now the even the smell makes me despondent. Our oldest didn't eat many bananas growing up, mostly because I wouldn't buy them, let alone prepare them for her. But child #2 is a really picky eater, and would live off of chips, French fries, chocolate and milk if we let her. She won't touch a vegetable. She doesn't even eat grapes. A few months ago we discovered she likes bananas, and I learned I had to hold my nose and make a sacrifice if this child was to take in any nutrients at all outside of a multi-vitamin. Today's banana was over-ripe and smelly. I can still smell it, even though I have washed my hands 4 times since the picnic.

I have texture issues. Not only with bananas, but with any cooked vegetable--peas, carrots, zucchini or any other squash. The less cooked, the better. Overcooked is the trigger. It took me years before I could eat potatoes, and I still have a hard time with the sweet potato/yam cousins, unless my dear wife makes them a little crispy, like oven fries. I don't know from where this texture/sensory aversion comes--but all I know is that overripe banana for lunch sent a chill up my spine, sending a warning signal to my gag reflex.

The champion enemy to my texture gag reflex hasn't surfaced in almost 30 years. For some reason I had two elementary school teachers with unnatural relationships with paper mache. It seemed like any project we had involved paper mache. Art projects, science projects, geography projects, all seemed to involve paper mache with these education professionals. For me, these projects may as well have been made with a large vat of vomit. Sometimes I would leave the room, as my gag reflex would go wild, and one art project, smelling the chunky, thin oatmeal-like substance, with my classmates dipping their entire arms holding strips of newspaper, and pouring cups of the substance over the drying formation to solidify the structure sent me over the edge.

Paper mache and bananas turn me into Wendell Borton from the Simpsons. The only factor in my survival with these bananas is love for my children. I honestly find it easier to clean up poop. Maybe it's because people eat bananas and enjoy working with paper mache. Poop is always disgusting. But, I suppose you get used to it and can work beyond it to do what needs to be done.

My mother-in-law says that a seasoned nurse becomes so accustomed to changing bed pans that they can change a bed pan with one hand and eat a sandwich with the other. The memory of the latrine dive in Slumdog Millionaire also serves as a reminder that certain loathings can be overcome to achieve a goal. My daughters need their nutrition--and neither of them will need a banana for several hours.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Weather joy!

Today I am thankful to be living in the Pacific Northwest instead of South Dakota. A nearly 30 degree difference in the projected highs in South Dakota and the Seattle metro. If I was in South Dakota, my only trip outside would be to go get the mail, and then I would retreat once again to my basement. I completed my 30-minute run today in the cool comfort of 53 degrees.

I realize I am in the minority by enjoying cloudy and cool weather, but it feels good to not be crabby today because of the weather.

Downshift preaching

Yesterday was a very satisfying day of preaching, mostly because I worked harder on this sermon than I had any other sermon in a long time. Some of this hard work could be attributed to fear of looking like a fool if I didn't have the Revised Common Lectionary standing behind me. Some of the hard work could be attributed to a desire to to other things besides laundry and other household chores, and a longing for some intellectual stimulation. I was also not subject to the tyranny of the urgent last week, something that often happens in congregational life--funerals, complainers, preparing for a special service, a complicated leadership meeting, staff unrest, etc.

I think the real reason I had to work harder was that the resources and themes for a local, thematic sermon were not readily available. This week I am back on the Revised Common Lectionary, the congregation where I preach this coming Sunday uses the RCL in its worship life. All I have to do is go to textweek.com and I have numerous resources, I could attend a lectionary text study, I can listen to podcasts about text interpretation at workingpreacher.org. These are great resources, but sometimes they have become excuses for me not to think through texts and do some of my own study. That's not the RCL's fault--it's mine. The reminder is that I need to change gears and gain a new perspective before I get in a preaching rut.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Really Behind The Movies--"Gran Torino"

Watching Clint Eastwood gives me hope for my older years. Eastwood wrote, directed and produced the 2008 film "Gran Torino." I hope that my creativity, talent and work ethic is lived out like Eastwood when I am in my late 70's. I can't remember dialogue so well crafted throughout a two-hour film. Usually during that length of film, there is some drag in conversation. If anything, Eastwood's character and his gigantic lexicon of head-shaking racist titles for his Detroit neighborhood neighbors offers enough anticipation for the next scene. However, there is much more to this story.

One thing should be said about this film that will probably not be said in any review--and it's actually something I have some authority to address. Gran Torino offers one of the best portrayals of a clergy person I have seen on television or film, if not the best. The Roman Catholic parish priest in this neighborhood is a strong, but young presence. He attempts to show that he is worthy of his charge, while revealing his inexperience even more (been there, done that). Though the priest shows great courage with his persistence in talking to Eastwood's character, and even though the cantankerous man calls him "over-educated" and doesn't want him to come around anymore (despite the priest's promise to his Eastwood's deceased wife), the priest persists. This persistence is also linked to his work with local Hmong gangs that are gaining a foothold in Eastwood's neighborhood, with whom he continues to interact. The priest seems to have the sense that he has a vigilante on his hands, but he is realistic regarding what can be done about the escalating racially charged violence in the neighborhood. The priest balances his understanding of the pastoral office, while also showing a believable humanity that I can't recall ever seeing.

In the end, what I appreciate about the priest in this film is that he bucks about every image of clergy on television, whether real or fictitious. Televangelists may attempt to craft an authentic image, but it appears to be a public relations campaign or a dramatic script. They may attempt to be more authentic because they wear jeans, or employ images from popular culture. For actors playing clergy, they're too one dimensional or predictable, they're monolithic--overfocused on being cool, moral, or they look like a lovable loser-- a buffoon. There's also the actor playing a clergy person who has lost their faith, and we watch their fall from vocation. The priest in Gran Torino changes and learns. He has gifts and deficits. He is courageous and fearful. He is idealistic yet realistic. He is a peacemaker, but also resonates with vengeance. Though my experiences as a clergy person don't mirror the priest in Gran Torino, the character is depicted in a way I was taught creates a story; the character changes. Change is important to me, because if change in people isn't possible, I should pack up all of my stuff and find another line of work. I believe transformation is possible. I believe Jesus is the best way that transformation is possible. I have learned not to be surprised by people's actions, but I try to learn the best way to redirect energy, with hope for transformation--I know there will be pain and suffering along the way.

The other angle I appreciated in Gran Torino is in its depiction of violence. The story of people and relationships woven with violence in Gran Torino serves as a reminder that violence is not a simple topic as pacifists or the NRA crowd would like the public to believe. I can't say anymore about this point without a spoiler for those whom have not seen this film. The topic of violence is presented with realism and care. Though the film is violent at times, it is not gratuitous.

In the end, I have also gained an appreciation for what I have seen as a clergy person. I have seen cultures, people and relationships I would have not otherwise seen. In some ways I see less than say a barber, bartender, or cosmetologist sees or hears. People try to put their best foot forward with us. Inevitably, a clergy person ends up in the cross hairs of life. Often times, I don't have the courage to be in the cross hairs. Sometimes God puts me there. The viewer of Gran Torino finds themselves in the cross hairs of life--I believe it is a film to be deeply appreciated, if not for the angles on which I have focused, but also for many more that can be discovered.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Common Sense (Worn-out language, June 18, 2009 edition)

The initial buzz of digital cable is still present in my household, though it slowly dies down with each passing day. I do my best to see what is available on the media spectrum, and the shouters from differing political commentary perspectives shout one piece of lingo that lost its meaning: Common Sense.

What pushed me toward declaring a new term for the worn out language list involved a digital cable viewing of Glenn Beck. I should have known he was promoting a book, because he was screaming and shouting about common sense, and how politicians, especially liberals, need to have more common sense. Beck has written a book based on Thomas Paine's treatise, Common Sense. I'm not sure how much of a screamer Paine was, but Beck has decided that when promoting his ideas, the shriller, the better.

People believe that they need to scream and/or shout in order to be heard. I have learned screaming is foolish, and my children are the perfect testing ground for this proverb. The more I scream, the less they listen. They may respond to my screaming, but nothing of it is postive. They will scream at their mother. They will scream at me. They will scream at each other. They'll scream at school. It's all part of a vicious cycle.

If a good idea exists, screaming won't advance the idea, the idea should have its own merit. I'm not against marketing, but screaming is not marketing. This is only a small portion of the problem with political commentary. The idea of common sense may or may not have it's own merit--that may be for another post. The interesting thing about how this terminology is used is that "common sense" is presented as a value-neutral term. But the political commentary screamers from various viewpoints use the term, scream it, attempting to shock a viewer/listener into believing that their perspective is normative. Beck screamed that even random liberals thought his writing on common sense is common sense.

Please excuse me for not trusting anyone, regardless of political persuasion, for proclaiming the verity of their common sense. If screaming appears to be necessary, the more screaming uttered, the less thought has gone in to the depth of the idea. I'm sure Glenn Beck will sell a lot of books. Though I'm sure I will contribute in some way, because sometimes I love to watch a train wreck. Sometimes I can't practice what I preach.

Celebrating my Dear Wife's birthday

The Frugal Rule has moved its way in to birthday celebrations in our household, but the Rule has not hurt the outcome.

Today my girls and I sat down at the kitchen table and created birthday cards for our favorite member of the house (if everyone took a poll ranking favorite mammals, my Dear Wife would easily be ranked number one). I am not an arts and crafts guru (a shame to the stay at home parents out there) we sat down with crayons and white paper and made cards. Daughter #1's card had a face on it with a single statement, "Mom is good." Daughter #2 is emerging out of a scribbling stage and moving toward forms. Though I can't distinguish the forms, she identifies her work: "It's a birthday party!" I drew a beach scape on the Puget Sound, where we have enjoyed a few trips during our 7 weeks here. I slipped in a Nordstrom gift card in anticipation of the Nordy Anniversary Sale next month. I have high hopes that she can find something that does her good looks justice.

I just put a pan of brownies in the oven, and after I clean up a little bit, I'll start dinner. I'm struggling to be creative on the Fiengold Diet, but I'm making some chicken tortillas with an avacado spread, extra sharp cheddar and romaine. Maybe I'll throw on a few stir-fried veggies and a salad. We talked about going to the beach tonight, but we'll see what the birthday girl wants when she returns. I am thankful for her today, and every day. We look forward to her return from work.

Tomorrow we reap one of the benefits of family close by--my Dear Wife and I have a date to a fabuolous seafood restaurant, courtesy of a thoughtful congregation I used to serve who knew how much I loved the Pacific Northwest and the seafood cuisine. The girls get to spend the weekend with their grandparents, and we don't have to rush through a date, worrying about the sitter, paying her, and getting her home at a decent hour. Once in a great while, we go back to remembering what our bodies felt like when we did not have children. We'll still talk about them and check in with each other, but the muscles are different looking after their well being--both the long-term and the immediacy of watching them, wondering what they're getting into, and noticing how much of each of us is in them.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I'm going to miss her: pondering joyful, simple daily rhythms

Reflecting on nearly 2 years of being a stay-at-home dad most of the time, preaching has forced me to ponder my relationship with my 2-year old. I am closer to going back to work than I am to being at home. I told my dear wife and mother how much I'll miss this little girl. The responses:

Dear Wife: I think you'll miss her. She'll miss you. But you'll miss her more. Any day care situation is going to be like a party to her. You won't be so lucky.

Mother: Well, yeah--she's been in your hip pocket for 2 years.

What little time she has spent in day care, those places are more of a novelty than a routine, so she dives right in with a smile, yet is thrilled when I pick her up. Most likely, she'll only need three days of care per week. So there's still hip pocket time. I think she'll be able to keep up her average of 50 conversation starters "Hey Daddy!" per day. My line of work leaves me to long periods of pondering (much like Mother Mary), in which I will feel melancholy about the lessening the simple, joyful rhythms of home life. We just returned from walking to the Post Office and the park. It took me a few months to deeply savor these moments, and now I find meaning in what appears to be the mundane. I honestly didn't believe I had it in me.

Balancing the serious

Thank you, Onion, for giving me material so that I don't have to be too serious with posts. Even I can only read and write so much moderately serious, poor theology.

Dipping my toes into thematic preaching: inheritance (for Sunday, June 21, 2009)

In the past 24 hours I have sprinted my sermon preparation in order to participate in thematic preaching for my context on Sunday, June 21, 2009.

Working through this sermon preparation, I realize that I am more out of my comfort zone than I have been in years with a sermon. This lack of comfort is not a curse--I suppose that almost any preacher does not like to have their preparation routine altered. The big changes:

1. Producing a sermon title. It's not a very good title, but I agonized until about 1:30 am on a theme. I am facing a deadline today.

2. Producing a theme. As I have previously shared, one of my preaching caveats is to keep my own agendas in check. Sure, agendas come out, and I am attempting to be real with myself and God about my biases and hope that God does something with the word I speak.

Once I owned the fact that I have biases, I ask God to do something with my thoughts and put out something gracious and useful that is faithful in my preparation and preaching. I find it hard to turn away from provocation of James Wellman's study in any of my reflections of life in the Church, especially in the Pacific Northwest. One of my significant discoveries in this book is how mainline liberal and conservative evangelical Protestants respond to the religious landscape in the Pacific Northwest. The liberals tend to respond with complaint, and the evangelicals see the religious landscape as ripe with opportunity--Wellman goes so far as to call the evangelical response to the religious landscape "almost giddy."

I know that the congregation to which I am preaching is working toward expanding their physical plant and ministry in the area--a bold move for a liberal Protestant congregation in the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, I have to make more assumptions than I normally would about a context, and I will need to offer rhetorical questions to the congregation about how they see their place and life in the region, their relationship with God, and their call to ministry in that place. With the crux of the issue being response to ministry in a particular place, I consulted my study tools.

This homiletical preparation also represents a passion that I continue to refine, and I'm not sure what to call it. I finally have an opportunity to preach and teach with my desired audience, Christians in the Pacific Northwest. Call it a Geography, Sociology and Theology of the Pacific Northwest.

Returning to one of my most reliable theologians, Walter Brueggemann. I consulted three of his books:

1. The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith
2. Reverberations of Faith: A Theological Handbook of Old Testament Themes
3. Old Testament Theology

Based on the title of the first book--Brueggemann's premise is that Torah proclaims land as a gift from rather than a personal possession. With land being a gift and supported with the language of inheritance in the Old Testament, it would appear that the evangelical response to the land and its opportunities for ministry as a gift. What is the appropriate response to a gift? Certainly this is a challenge in today's culture, when gift card giving has exploded in popularity and gifts in general have become less thoughtful even though they remain an important social currency. The response to a gift with a complaint would probably still be frowned upon, but regardless of social stigma, what does a complaint about the gift say about the relationship between giver and receiver? Since children are probably more likely to complain about a gift, a complaint says something about the maturity level of the receiver. The giver has a teaching moment about thankfulness and grace to the receiver. Assuming that the receiver of the gift is not a child, a complaint about a gift reveals that the relationship has broken down--whether it is mistrust, anger, selfishness, etc.

I see complaints from mainline Protestants about their context, their inheritance of their context as a disposition of living by unquestioned assumptions and entitlement. Wellman lifts up these unquestioned assumptions among mainline Protestants in the conclusion of his study: "Grace...is readily available...one must simply awaken to the fact that one is fully accepted and loved by God. The beauty of this is God's extravagant generosity. The unintended problem comes relative to the church: Why come to church for this spiritual resource? Why is the church a unique instrument of this spiritual resource? The answer is that the church is not necessary...What is important about the church? How is it an essential resource for this form of spiritual capital? Why should one dedicate one's life to the church (281)?" When I hear a complaint about the gift of land/context, I see church leaders who believe they are entitled to people's hearts and minds without deeply considering the questions that Wellman so astutely poses.

Without at least wrestling with foundational "so what" kinds of questions, why should anyone consider being a part of a mainline Protestant Christian congregation? I think some of Wellman's statements are misplaced on Lutherans because our theology diverts from overarching liberal theology on some points, but his central challenges for mainline Protestants fit, and sometimes they are hard to examine. It is hard to have a life time worth of work challenged, not to mention one's own culture. What makes these challenges a little easier for me is that I am not deeply entrenched in the cultural side of Lutheran life. Most of my family lives outside Lutheran circles, and I have a support system not wholly invested in Lutheran culture. My dear wife was raised in deep Midwest Lutheran culture, but her sense of vocation has led her to examine assumptions and not enmesh Lutheran theology with Lutheran culture. I admire my dear wife for her insight and courage. Where there may be some consequences if I challenged the Lutheran establishments' assumptions and attitudes, I will not lose all of my significant relationships, as a Muslim converting to Judaism or as an Orthodox Jew converting to Christianity might experience ostracization. My wife would not lose her relationships, either, but the challenges that she addresses represent a more significant cultural diversion. The challenges for Lutheran Christians in the Pacific Northwest in the mainline Protestant milieu are daunting--but these challenges are possible to address with God.

One of my preaching professors always assigned us to boil our sermons down to a single sentence--here is my first attempt. I leave with this sentence in order that I may take these thoughts and marinate them with the texts:

If the land/context is a gift from God, can we in the church be faithful to God if we put our energy toward complaint?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

More on homiletic marinades: to Lectionary or not to Lectionary--is that the question?

Sunday morning came quickly last week, with sermon muscles somewhat atrophied and a minimal understanding of context, I had a hard time centering on my approach beyond my prayers for wisdom and guidance. One benefit I have in the pulpit supply realm of preaching is that I can recycle stories. I don't recycle sermons per se; during multiple service Sundays, I can change the sermon without even planning on doing so.

I hold on to some tried and true stories--some stories operate as their own marinade because of their tenderizing and flavorful features, like lemon or soy. I pulled out a story Sunday for approximately the 5th or 6th time. Maisie DeVore's story of persistently working to give her rural community a place for children and community members to play, relax and rest during hot prairie days with a swimming pool is not only inspiring on many levels, but it also carries several baptismal images. Baptism brings families, the community of faith, and the body of Christ together in powerful ways. The story appears to resonate with worshippers no matter in what context I tell it--the story serves as a good ingredient in the homiletic marinade.

The homiletic marinade recipe changes again this week--I am preaching in a congregation that doesn't use the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), a three-year cycle of Bible readings. The RCL has been a helpful preaching resource for me over the years, mostly because it is a check (though not fool proof) on making my agenda the foundation of the sermon. I am forced to consider the text and what it says. Using the RCL weekly, I have 4 texts from which to choose, and I can sometimes avoid what God may have to say on a particular Sunday. I'm not against preaching off the RCL--I've tied myself to it also as a survival mechanism. As an interim pastor I often place my energy into working with a congregation's transition than expanding my preaching horizons beyond the tools I use, such as projection screens and images, and moving away from manuscript preaching.

A few years ago, I was persuaded by Bill Easum and Thomas Bandy that the RCL was an insider cycle of Bible readings, assuming that hearers were at least acquainted with the Biblical narrative. I tend to work with congregations that are already inwardly focused because of trauma or decline, and therefore I used that as an excuse to not create Bible readings and sermons closely related to the community and its relationship to the word of God. Easum and Bandy advocate for preachers to create an "Uncommon Lectionary" that is context and community specific. Honestly, I haven't had the gumption or the courage to move in this direction. Now my hand is nearly forced. I think it looks weak for me to go back to the RCL in this non-RCL congregation. I've preached off the RCL maybe 10 times or less in the past 6 or 7 years--that number may be generous. I'm almost at a loss for how to marinade this sermon, especially when I have an artificial deadline--the congregation has a bulleitn to produce and a sermon title to promote. I haven't worked with this type of artificial deadline since my internship. I resented my supervisor--it seemed to serve his need to control things than to do anything specific for my development. How do I marinade this sermon beyond some of my core practices?

I have some themes I have been pondering, many come from reading James Wellman's latest sociology of religion book and some key themes in response:

1. What do you/we make of Mainline Protestants' uneasyness with the Great Commisssion?
2. When you look at the Pacific Northwest and its relationship to the Church, what is your reaction? Do you tend to:
a) complain
b) see opportunities
c) want to give up
d) don't care one way or another
e) all of the above
f) none of the above
3. What does our relationship with the land mean in our relationship with God and our neighbor?

I've considered theme #2 more of something that drives me close to graduate work, teaching opportunities and leadership development. Theme #1 has more preaching potential, but it also assumes a great deal about a community of which I know little. I still have at least 18 hours to arrive at my theme--and I will probably use a lot of those hours. I'll take input where ever I can receive it.

Examining my screen time

Thanks to the Onion for bringing to light the foolishness of my daily living in this recent report. Just like I need to keep a food diary, I should gauge my screen time, better yet, "glowing rectangle time."

A few time investments in my favor:

1. I'm back into reading. After about a six-week layoff from my reading projects (Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and a sociology of religion book by James Wellman) and a mostly longer layoff from the Bible, I am back to all three.

2. I have too many chores around the house to spend too much time in front of a computer or television--but that could be a problem since we have "bundled" media services, with more channels pumped in to our living room. I admit, I was lured by the opportunity to watch the Mariners on tv and college football in the fall.

3. For my own sanity and my children's health, we are getting in the habit of going to the park and/or pool twice per day. With this pool, our children may think this will be the best summer ever. Too bad we'll have to let them down in the future with our own home--even with a pool pass or neighborhood pool, I don't think we'll ever swim this much again.

4. I have no laptop, and trips between the computer and television involve climbing stairs--at least I get a little exercise.

5. Being a stay at home dad, I didn't see the need to keep a smart phone. That's one less consistently viewed glowing rectangle.

Still, my dear wife and I watched 2 hours of HGTV before we went to bed. We had some fun conversations about our own domestic layout, but the junkfood feeling of 2 hours of television is painful.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Really Behind The Movies--"Bottle Shock"

Another bullet point to my declining awareness of movies is that I run into movies of which I was never aware of their release. I attribute part of this decline to living in South Dakota and its lack of independent film houses. The independent film houses are outside of Sioux Falls, and they will stick with popular movies because of the survival need. Sioux Falls film houses must not have a market for a wide variety of films--even the Oscar-nominated films generally do not run until the nominations come out, or the awards are given. This film scene did not matter so much for my dear wife and me, we were at the point of our family life and vocation that we weren't going to view many films anyway. The schedule rarely gave us 2 hours where weren't exhausted or occupied. My dear wife's schedule has changed a bit. Though we will never catch up, we are becoming reacquainted with films-three in two weeks is almost unheard of.

We learned about Bottle Shock as a preview before viewing "Religulous." Bottle Shock is the behind the scenes story of California wines bursting on to the world stage at an unassuming blind taste test in Paris staged by a smarmy British C-List wine critic, educator and merchant. The value in this film is the story behind the story of wine--the people and relationships involved in making wine. It has some popular appeal in that Americans love an underdog victory story, and Bottle Shock delivers on multiple layers. I found particularly disorienting a story of America being the underdog in the 20th century, but apparently this was the case for American wines as late as the 1970 (shows how little I know about wine). The film is a bit slow at times, but I was held by the whole idea about America being an underdog in recent history and how electric that concept. The father-son relationship takes an important role in this film. The key figure vintner and his son is a typical dynamic of son not living up to father's expectations. This relationship stands out more when contrasted with a brief look at a (term?) Latino vineyard shop steward and his artisan/laborer father who never had the true opportunity to practice his craft, presented a powerful picture of the father-son dynamic, opportunity and vocation.

A key theme in the film is a particular brand American ingenuity is in danger because socialism is on the rise. Though sometimes this propeganda carries a level of persuasion to it because Americans also extraordinarily market their ingenuity and whose history is filled with innovation--this doesn't mean that American-style capitalism is the only societal system that can be innovative. Indeed, the history of the Soviet Union is filled with stories of how innovation is killed by misguided central planners. I studied some very bizarre projects in college--factories placed in the middle of nowhere, places with decayed or non-existent infrastructure. I was recently intrigued by a story about how Sweden has created an urban structure that reduces traffic congestion. American innovators at IBM have recognized the waste presented by traffic congestion and are encouraging the United States to take up the same cause as we consider the hopes for our recent public investment, and that our party politics can be put away in favor of recognizing that innovation will not be encouraged by the ideologies of Democrats and Republicans.

I am glad that this film powerfully directed me toward a reflection on innovation--and that Washington can be a good partner, despite some of the party politics blather.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Preaching for me is like marinating

Pastors in the region must be getting the itch to travel--I have three preaching opportunities the next three Sundays. I am curious about the effect on my writing. Will I use writing to help my homilietical reflections? Maybe. Will I use writing to procrastinate from real preparation? Likely. Will I avoid writing because I am so swamped with preparation? Doubtful.

I don't believe my sermonic work takes a procrastinatory arc. An outside observer might see my work this way, but preaching is like marinating. It doesn't look like much is going on, but it's still an important part of food preparation--the question is whether I do too much, or not enough. I get a core idea based on a text, and I let it sit with my experience or community experience, and pray and wrestle with the Holy Spirit that the Gospel comes out of my mouth. I have marinated a sermon too much on occasion--I'll get a really good idea, do a lot of research, pray, study--and then realize I have too much material. My problem is that when I find good material, I want to use it, and then trimming becomes painful. Or, I get caught up in the idea to the point where I forget I'm a geek and spend too much time with information and ideas that will not connect with people, and I have served myself, failing to serve God's people.

Tomorrow is my first sermon since Easter Sunday, April 12. I haven't gone this long without preaching in 4 years, though it seems to be the usual gap in between interim ministry congregations I serve. The difference in this preaching segment I have in June is that I know I won't be preaching for more than 1 Sunday in each congregation. I haven't preached single Sunday supply in several years.

The break for me has been beneficial, not least for the reason I do not always miss the hectic Sunday mornings and I appreciate the opportunity to go to worship with my family. I wonder if the marinade of rest from preaching has sat long enough, or too long.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Politics does make strange bedfellows and can expose weak journalism

I miss one of my favorite television shows, Boston Legal. I looked forward to Alan Shore's social critiques through the practice of law and his interactions with his arch-conservative best friend, Denny Crane. I've been picking up the re-runs recently on ion television and came across a rant about how journalism became divided by liberal and conservative and is no longer "the news."

However, I do have to hand it to the Fox Business Channel for interviewing Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (could an American pick him out of a line up?). Fox's Cavuto was attempting a to bait a conservative to say Obama's economic plan was foolish. His move fell flat in the interview. Someone other than an American conservative has to think Obama is an idiot, right? I guess Cavuto has to go fishing for support somewhere else. Harper didn't bite, and even went as far to say that Obama acted appropriately considering the recession that Obama didn't create.

I'm not completely sold on Obama's economics. I would prefer that most of the energy and borrowing and resources would go toward infrastructure. I don't think the spending goes far enough in that direction. What I enjoy about this Fox-Harper interaction is that it exposes the foolishness of a liberal-conservative dialectic in journalism. The public deserves better, but in some ways, we get exactly what we want. It's hard to be challenged, and we have the journalism that reflect our fear of challenge.

A temperature paradox

After living in Swelterville, USA (South Dakota) with no places to hide from the heat (except my basement), I have a few things better and a few things worse in the Puget Sound area.

1. Not many homes have air conditioning in the Puget Sound area, so the house is cooled off with fans and strategically opened and closed windows and blinds. Sometimes this technique doesn't do the trick.

2. My daughters and I had a nice nature walk in a shaded wood to a lake, that was some relief from the warming sun.

3. At least in South Dakota, the air conditioning in my basement was a dependable refuge, but there was literally no place to hide: few bodies of water for cooling purposes close by, and few tree covered areas to provide helpful shade.

4. We always have the beach nearby with the cooling waters of the Puget Sound.

I'm a wuss. I still love my air conditioning, and for the mean time, we will enjoy the pool at our rental. Not a bad Friday night!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mr. Mom 2.0

Mr. Mom was a household favorite growing up. The movie had some favorite one-liners to which guys gravitate. My Dad's favorites:

"You want some chili?"
"Kenny, don't paint your sister!"

My favorite (regarding re-wiring the house):
"Are you going to do it in 220?"
"220. 221. Whatever it takes."

Making any Dad out to be the lovable loser is big in the entertainment business. Everybody Loves Raymond, According to Jim, Yes Dear (you can probably name others). Mr. Mom was on the cutting edge of this father image trend. Interesting, there's no such thing as the lovable loser mother, although they have their own set of lousy images, like the controlling shrew in Desparate Housewives.

I don't think the father image is served well by more serious images of fathers either in Leave It To Beaver or in Seventh Heaven. These fathers don't seem real. They're always right and wise. Today I faced a day at home where it seems like my biggest accomplishment was taking a nap. I did a little laundry (didn't "finish" it), filled out some medical forms for my oldest daughter (didn't finish those, either), created a blog post (sure I finished that, but is this worthwhile writing?), cleaned the kitchen, talked with the 2 year old, made lunch, paid bills, read the Bible. Now that I write all of these things out, it doesn't appear so bad. I remember days working outside the home when it seemed like I didn't accomplish anything--so staying at home does not have its own category of a low sense of accomplishment.

My self-esteem bubble functions well without entertainment affirmation, but I am interested in the experiences of other fathers who stay at home. Though I am still an idealist, being a stay-at-home father has eliminated my notion of the idealized self. This view of myself is not a negative, in fact, maybe I have grown in a way similar to pruning. I have been cared for in a way that I will grown in the future. When I do serve in a congregation again full-time (I'm not sure when that will happen), how will my experience dealing with poop, talking a lot with a two-year old, serving as a full-time home economist, creating a good environment for child development, and supporting my dear wife in her employment affect my next chapter of service?

I don't know if I will ever learn more about the other experiences of stay-at-home dads. The role was far from being insitutionalized in South Dakota, and my current transportation situation in the Seattle-Tacoma metro doesn't lend itself to easy day dad connections. Most days I feel good about what I have been doing for the health of my family. Our children needed the stability of a parent at home. This role application was for the health of our family. The days where it doesn't feel like I accomplish much take on a different weight. If I have a bad day at church, maybe I can leave that at church. If I have a not so good day at home, my children are more directly affected.

My former spritual director told me that stay-at-home parenting was a lot like living a cloistered life. The activities of the day may be mundane, but they are also prayerful--they uphold the health, well-being and growth of children. I will not wax romantic about the stay-at-home mothers or parent's roll. My dear wife and I discerned at length the best path for our family. We assess the gifts and resources of our household, pray that God will give us wisdom, and chart a path. We hope to teach our daughters the value of shared family discernment, and I believe we have modeled that in these days. I will never forget these two years of Mr. Mom 2.0.

NBC scares Americans about Brazil stealing American children: consequences of resting on laurels

No, Brazil does not want to steal your children. I shook my head this morning after I learned why Brazil was making American news. I'm not surprised, but I worry about the state of American journalism when the only way a story about Brazil can appear on network news is when there's a dramatic American child custody battle happens to take place on Brazilian soil. NBC has acknowledged that Brazil exists.

The United States is isolated enough. Sure, we do business all over the world, and we are free to access all kinds of information about the world. But Americans do not. We may have quite a knowledge of the breadth of plastic crap that can be produced in the far corners of China, and Today Show viewers know a little more about fashion in the Brazilian Supreme Court. As newspapers and media outlets fail, we slowly lose our contact with the rest of the world. Not that Americans were all that good at keeping contact in the first place. Without New York Times the Christian Science Monitor, I would have little knowledge about world events from some American perspective--and those outlets for news are on shaky ground. I also rely on media outlets outside the US--namely the CBC and occasionally The Economist. The BBC regularly looks more like an American outlet these days.

Is information only valuable if it can survive the American marketplace? NBC's Today Show contains a lot of junk food journalism, appealing to tabloid sensibilities with just enough news to call itself news. The Today Show is a formula that has greased the wheels of commerce and made a lot of people wealthy. What is the alternative? I certainly don't want a State-run news market--but what can Americans do to support good reporting and a solid, diverse and innovative information society?
I wish I knew the answer and I hope this question is being asked in the halls of academia and in corporate board rooms and charitable foundations.

The newspaper and journalism industries appear to have operated for 50 years much like the American automobile industry--they rested on their laurels and did little research and innovation during their fat cat days. I suppose each of these industries, as well as churches, congregation live this cycle. While doing some graduate work in organizational sociology several years ago, I began to delve into the organizational life cycle and its application in congregations. I found several similarities, but never completed the trajectory to say anything definitive. My experience and limited study says that an important part of any life is reflecting and studying about who you are and where you think and discern where you should be going.

In the Christian tradition, identity growth comes from basic, disciplined practices like Bible reading and prayer. Discernment is the word used for determining where the individual or group is going by the power of the Holy Spirit. To engage in these activities may seem simple, but the discipline to execute is difficult. This is why so many individuals and organizations die. This death is part of life--no self or organization is complete. To strive for endurance is noble, but to place our entire hope in that endurance is futile. On my better days, I place my hope in the eternal nature of God. Therefore I can seek the good based on the gifts that God has given me and not place my energy in trying to make myself God. That's on my better days, of course.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Listening (June 10, 2009's special Bail Out Banking edition)

Here is a different angle on today's "Listening..." post. I'm listening to Michelle Branch's pop hit "Everywhere."

The song is stuck in my head for many reasons, not only because I have it on my iPod and it helps me with run pacing, but because marketers know what song to play on their commercials, and their recent strategy for a particular client intrigues me. Chase Bank has incorporated Branch's song into enticing bank customers into becoming clients for Chase Bank's services. The message: we may be a massive bank, but that comes with benefits--it's a powerful relationship and we can help you in ways that you have never imagined. This imagery may not seem strange at the outset, but Chase has taken over local financial icon Washington Mutual Bank, a fixture in the State of Washington since the late 19th century. Regardless of whether Chase's claims are truthful, they are saturating the airwaves to get Washingtonians to believe they belong as a trusted member of communities throughout the state.

I must confess that it's weird to drive around and see familiar Washington Mutual Bank buildings with Chase banners covering remnants of the Washington Mutual iconic logo. I know, Washington Mutual was just another bank that lost its ethics. It's only a bank. However, there's something about institutions on the landscape, my grandparents were Washington Mutual customers for at least as long as I can remember. I received checks for my birthday or other special occasions with the familiar "W" logo--it signified community, family, faithful resources, and the Pacific Northwest. Eventually WaMu became a leader in stupid mortgages--they even held my dear wife and my first mortgage in South Dakota (it wasn't a sub-prime), and thousands of mortgages like it, both prime and sub-prime. It's a sad commentary on human greed when the icon became that much bigger on the backs of those mortgages went to people who couldn't repay the loan. There is certainly shared blame in this equation, Washington Mutual became a house of cards, a bank tale not unusual in today's financial landscape. Chase swooped in with enough resources to make the risky move and take on WaMu's debt. I don't trust Chase as far as I can throw them--as long as banks are publicly traded companies, I essentially do not trust them to act in my financial interests. I've moved on to a credit union.

My interest in Michelle Branch's song and Chase makes me wonder if Chase will thrive here in Washington. They've put a lot of energy and resources into this acquisition. It's a skilled and attractive campaign. The song is almost unbelievably catchy, the color scheme in the television ad is alluring, and the radio spots are hitting a plethora of niches. Will locals in Washington stick with Chase? Anecdotally, I've observed the answer to be "no"--but marketers are exponentially intelligent people and skilled at tapping into our desires and establishing powerful brand identity. Michelle Branch is making some serious royalty cash on this campaign.

Consider how Washington Mutual got me to think about their logo.

POST SCRIPT (June 11, 2009)

More news about Chase's deeper media saturation in Washington. They are sponsoring one of the biggest 4th of July celebrations in Western Washington (if not the biggest), taking over for Washington Mutual. Turns out many other locals are taking notice of Chase's community activity; one in particular is deeply suspicious.

Looking at life through psalm reading

Recently I developed a good faith habit--reading and praying a few psalms on most days before I get highly involved in activities. When I have hit a dry period of Bible reading, Psalms offers me a breadth of human experience in relationship with God. The Psalms give me a helpful reflection for what I experienced and what I will see. I greatly appreciate the wisdom-type psalms that give me the perspective of experience in living faith in a complex world.

The psalms are deeply emotional at times; when I hit a streak of emotional psalms, I can't read very much, and when I am emotional myself, the last thing I want to do is read. Therefore psalm reading is like building muscle; it may not seem beneficial in the midst of the exercise, the benefit comes when the task requires more effort--like during an emotional time when it's hard to focus on what needs to be done.

I'm currently reading a stretch of psalms in which I find difficult to dig deeper. The psalms in the middle 50's depict borderline paranoia. I guess I worry more about the zealots than the apathetic. The paranoid are those who end up making bad decisions on national or world stages, which could include delirious Muslims, Christians, Jews or any religious tradition. This is where I resonated with the film Religulous. Bill Maher was deeply concerned about religious zealots making decisions for the United States. I tend to agree. However, if the pendulum swings the other way from religious zealots making decisions, a neo-Platonist class of an elitist philosopher king oligarchy might emerge. I think we're far away from that problem, but at least this strain of Maher's ideas is worthy of discussion. A representative republic is still the best place for a balance of interests. Maher tended to focus on one senator from Oklahoma in the film, who had a hard time articulating the relationship between faith and his vocation and public service (the senator even made up words on occasion). This is where I become an advocate for more publicly-funded elections, where ideas have a better chance to be heard, and money is not the highest factor in developing ideas.

Regardless of the psalm content, at the very least my thoughts are provoked in a way that I ponder what God is up to in the world. I find it hard to explain why I drift away from good faith practices, but I'm always glad when I return.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Changing the family's pattern of consumption

My dear wife and I have not been as desperate as others trying to change our developmentally challenged daughter's life through various treatments. Part of the reason behind this action plan is that our daughter functions pretty well. She struggles relating to her peers, sometimes her behavior is a problem in public, and her learning is interrupted not because of her cognitive ability, but by her ability to work with others. My dear wife and I do as much as we can to give her every opportunity to thrive--occupational therapy, speech therapy, special education in the public schools, and now we are changing her diet and intake on the whole. Not just for her, but the entire household.

My wife and I knew that implementing "The Feingold Diet" was going to be a challenge. I didn't realize how long it was going to take to plan, coordinate, and purchase goods. We've spent a little extra money and time to give this a try--like any other parent, we want to do what is best for our kids.

In a nutshell, the Feingold Diet removes artificial flavors, colors and preservatives from contact and consumption. The scientific community is divided, with some downright hostile. I think those calling out the diet as scientifically suspect have some good points--but this is one lifestyle change that is possible and worth seeing if it helps our daughter's development. Our observations will certainly be anecdotal, even (naturally) colored by a desire to legitimize our investment of time and money. We have to do what we can to improve our daughter's life.

Today's Feingold adventure included buying a non-Deet insect repellent, non-petroleum jelly, finding a new toothpaste, and planning dinners for the rest of the week:

Veggie Burgers (Amy's) on a bun
Doritos Corn Chips

Tuna Melts on Ezekiel 4:9 bread
Romaine Salad

Trader Joe's Chicken Noodle Soup
Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Uncured Turkey Franks on a bun
Ruffles Potato Chips
Peanut Butter Celery

Baked Potato Bar
Baked Beans

We also have some treats here and there for the kids to enjoy--but this is the Feingold Diet in a nutshell. I've still looked for lower prices and deals--shopping at WinCo Foods, Trader Joe's, with an occasional walk to Fred Meyer (this morning's trip), with occasional trips to Safeway and Albertson's if they have a special deal. We will see what happens.

Monday, June 08, 2009

A Puyallup pronunciation update (Thanks, John Keister)

I'm a bit pathetic for following up on the Puyallup pronunciation issue but I have a little more time on my hands than usual these days. Time to continue building a house on my childish impulse.

While sitting with my youngest daughter in the ER a few weeks ago during the beginning wee hours of the morning, I discovered that KING-TV in Seattle was playing re-runs of Almost Live! at 1am. I'm not usually awake at that time, and with accumulating preaching opportunities in the summer months, Saturday night TV viewing will be further on the decline. Almost Live! is a PNW cult local sketch comedy favorite--KING-TV would delay Saturday Night Live even longer because Almost Live! was such a hit. The sketches have mostly local appeal, like "High Five'n White Guys," "Cops in Wallingford (imagine a population of combination upper middle class/hippy/new age intellectuals--where you can get arrested for not having sprouts on your sandwich or giving a "bad vibe")," The Ballard Driving Academy" and "The Lame List." Many of these sketches can be found on YouTube.

Ross Schaefer was the first host/head comedian of the show, but it gained it's edge and expanded popularity with John Keister. Keister was the leader of the local comedy cult that met on Saturday nights, both in Seattle and in homes all over the Puget Sound area. I remember interrupting Saturday night activities to check out what Keister, Pat Cashman, Nancy Guppy and the rest of the troupe could deliver that evening. This was not a flashy production, as Keister's Weekend Update modeled news show revealed, simply called "The John Report." Keisters opening: "This is the John Report. I'm John. Here's my report." Then he proceeded to make fun of places like Tukwila, Kent and of course, Puyallup through local news stories. No one would ever doubt John's Puget Sound region cultural cred--I have noted in my recent and expanding longitudnal study of Almost Live! that John pronounced Puyallup both with the "Al" sound and the "All" sound. I call on anyone in the Puget Sound region to challenge the cultural authority of John Keister.

Really Behind The Movies--"Slumdog Millionaire"

Now that I accepted the fact that I will not be on the edge of film watching again in my lifetime, I can title my film blog entries, "Really Behind The Movies."

"Slumdog Millionaire" was interesting to follow leading to the Academy Awards in 2009--so many other films appeared to be destined to win, like the Benjamin Button film. I was glad that Slumdog won so many awards, only because it expanded cultural discourse in the United States, if but only for a short time and by a small percentage. I think the nation benefits from expanded perspective, especially from a place to which Americans do not pay attention, and is becoming more of a force on the world stage.

The depictions of poverty, life as an orphan, life in India, crime, pop culture, the lure of money, the captivation of love, and sibling bonding are each powerful in their own right. What makes this story so gripping is how events shape the life of Mumbai orphan Jamal Malik, and how they are revealed through the pop culture sensation of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. It is the craft of layering these stories and the camera work capturing the effects of these events on Jamal that left me still thinking about film after I watched it. I am also reflecting on how I tell stories, both my own and the stories of God's people. Slumdog Millionaire made me reflect on the power and scope of relationships--these were not caricatures in the story, but people that I both cared about, yet also frustrated me with their actions. It was easier to see sinner and saint, joy and pain in these characters.

The music only enhanced the story; I downloaded the song "Jai Ho." A song that means "Victory, hooray," and pulses as it does belongs on my running mix as soon as possible.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Maher: worthy atheist or merely a comedian dabbling into theological inquiry?

I confess--my mind is tied to nesting activities, caring for my children, trying to find a job, and mediocre comfort-food radio. Or, I am too lazy to read the neo-atheists Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris. I declared hope and intent for reading some of this philisophical strain, but it's so much easier to go to my local Hollywood Video and rent Bill Maher's comic religion documentary Religulous.

I have disappointed myself that I am intellectually lazy and procrastinating working with the aforementioned authors. However, at the very least, Maher has made me think more about contemporary agnostics and atheists than I have in a long time. Before anyone takes Maher too seriously, one must remember throughout the film that he is primarily a comedian. Yes, he has some of the best guests in the field of mainstream news commentary--I am continually amazed who he is able to get as a guest on his show, Real Time With Bill Maher. Even if you do not subscribe to HBO, you can get a podcast of his full show, plus extras on iTunes. I listen to the show every week. I can't tell if Maher is disingenuous, but his mix of comedy and serious inquiry falls flat. He calls for atheists (which he claims is 16 percent of the US population) to be more part of the public discourse on religion. Maher has a poor foundation in that he claims he is an athiest, though he also proclaims that he doesn't know about God, that God cannot be proved or disproved. This is an agnostic view. The purpose of this call is that the Earth hangs in the balance--that the good that religion produces is not worth the danger and terror created in the world by religous fundamentalists of all faith traditions. Maher may have been better off if he would have explained his call and his intentions at the beginning of the film, but then again, I have to remember that Maher is a comedian trying to get people to buy and watch his film--he wouldn't have been able to do that if he was authentically trying to do a scientific study of religion and its affect on society. But I will bite on what I believe is his foundational premise (though I don't want to put words in his mouth): agnostics and athiests should be part of public discourse regarding religion and society.

Instead, Maher exposes several fools of many different faiths, skewed more toward Christianity. Only one of Maher's many interviewees seemed to carry on an intelligent conversation with Maher (an astonomer from the Vatican). Maher cherry-picked these numerous conversations so that almost all of his interviewees looked like boobs, and Maher displayed a look of gotcha, followed by some kind of funny clip to highlight the gotcha. My dear wife looked at me and said, "Couldn't he have at least interviewed some intelligent Christians?" Maybe an intelligent Christian wouldn't dare talk to Bill Maher on Maher's terms, because the only result is that an interviewee will look like a boob. Maher even got the lead scientist of the Human Genome Project (a Christian) to look like a boob. I probably would have also looked like a boob if interviewed by Maher. This may be part of Maher's point--that intelligent religious folk really don't amount to enough societal benefit to offset the fools and sometimes dangerous fools that he highlights. It's especially not worth it, when it goes back to Maher's foundational understanding that God cannot be proven or disproven.

My summary response to the film:

1. Remember, Bill Maher is primarily a comedian..
2. The movie has some very funny parts.
3. Bill Maher is an agnostic and uses comedy to provoke people of faith, other agnostics and atheists into public discourse regarding religion--it really can't be seen as a scientific study of religion or even a journalistic venture, and it's hard to say it's a documentary. The closest identification I can make is: Religulous is a non-fiction religious comedy (and definitely in the Rated R category).
4. If Maher was really making a genuine academic or at least journalistic effort, he would have at least had some appropriate advisors checking his facts and pointing out that the last book in the Bible is not "Revelations (a mistake he made at least 3 times.)"

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Stimulus Package (Worn Out Language: June 4, 2009 Edition)

Stimulus Package just pushed me over the edge. As I was clipping coupons, I saw an ad for Newman's Own Dressing that stated its greens condiment was a "Stimulus Package for your salad." I thought this usage was wearing thin in February--it's not so much annoying as it displays a lack of creativity. If you're going to get money out of my wallet to spend on your product, I deserve a little more creativity. I would expect such lack of creativity from all of those male amateur comedians and political humorists who have probably uttered in the last 4 months: "I've got your stimulus package right here!"

Listening...(June 4, 2009 Edition)

Today's edition of Listening...comes with a twist and a story.

Even though I have plenty of music to which I can listen, sometimes my collection seems a little stale and needs some lift. How do I do this while living by the Frugal Rule? Though the beginning of this new personal trend met the Frugal Rule, I don't think it's sustainable, especially when it involves picking up new and free music at a place Dave Ramsey affectionately calls, "FiveBucks." I use Keith Law's "Charbucks (probably not an original coining)."

A few years ago, my dear wife, who basically lives by the Frugal Rule without too much thought, had one big hole in her Rule living: coffee. After beginning intentionally living the Frugal Rule a few years ago, she dropped splurging on coffee--buying smaller sizes, and less expensive drinks and definitely less frequent stops at coffee merchants while packing her own in reusable container full of her java drink of choice. She still finds stopping at a coffee merchant a simple pleasure and a jolt for her day. We came to a mutual conclusion--skip greeting cards for special occasions (birthdays, anniversaries, other card holidays) and put that money toward a coffee card. I have strategically made these coffee card purchases throughout the Seattle-Tacoma metro so that my dear wife can get her jolt in strategic locations and be reminded that her husband is thinking of her.

Back to the direct music reference: Charbucks started giving away free iTunes songs in their stores (uh-oh), and while taking a trip to get my wife a coffee beverage a few weeks ago, I found the iTunes songs, and I am just about hooked. It seems to happen about every other year or so, I buy something to get attached to something that is supposed to be free. I can be a real sucker: 4 years ago I ate boxes of crappy cereal so I could collect a pile of "free" mini baseball bobbleheads that I ended up selling at my garage sale for 7 bucks. At least, collecting "free" music from Charbucks doesn't take up the physical space that bobble heads do. And, if I want to create a coffeehouse ambiance in my house, the songs I have collected fit the bill:

The Rake's Song--The Decemberists
Who Will Comfort Me--Melody Gardot

What is it about a song that makes it scream, "play me in a coffee house (although a coffee house song would never scream, screaming is not cool--maybe a sub-muted loud)!"? My sample size is still small, and we will see how much of a sucker I am for "free" music before I can answer this question. I don't know if Coffee House music can be its own sub-genre, but I can tell you one thing about some of these songs--it makes me smile to look at a picture of the band and their pose and remember South Park's Eric Cartman (satirizing) naming the essentials of posing for an album cover in the episode Chrisitan Rock Hard. (Watch the full episode here) The Decemberists and Gomez essentially fall into the Cartman trap--bands should avoid being pictured on most promotional materials.

After a few listens, Melody Gardot has the best song, but it's damn depressing. I don't mind depression affirmation or drifting into melancholy, but a steady diet outside a time of mourning is a little tough to digest. All of these songs may get a little more play with me over the next few weeks in order to validate my fabulous find (ha). If they make a regular rotation, I'll let you know.

Post Script

Now I know why the Melody Gardot song is so depressing even though the music isn't necessarily that way. This biography and song is authentically depressing and hopeful. This song would resonate with me during a theological reflection in a church service than any crappy praise song ever could. This is a good song.

Getting Together with Stay-At-Home-Dads

Yesterday I drove 90 minutes round trip to meet with a group of stay at home dads (aka SAHDs). I will limit my comments on this segment of the population until I can observe a larger sample size. But I have a few comments on the day.

1. The heat yesterday was almost torturous. I would have never gone outside in this kind of heat while living in South Dakota unless I was going to work or executing an essential errand. The limited waterfronts didn't seem worth visiting, the air conditioning was oh, so inviting, and trying to get sunscreen on the moving targets that are my children did not seem worth the effort. But the natural surroundings of the Pacific Northwest beckon. Even the promise of tall trees or a breeze offers some respite from the sun (in case you haven't noticed, I'm not a big fan of the sun).

2. Sports radio personality Colin Cowherd reminds his listeners to say things out loud before engaging in a particular activity. Saying out loud yesterday's activity would not have fit in South Dakota on multiple levels, but for some reason, it worked here: "Get together with other stay-at-home-dads, walk in 90 degree heat over 3 miles, and have a beer at the brewery." Say that out loud--does that work in your context? In South Dakota, I imagine the thought process might be: a) stay at home dads? b) dude, let's drive... c) what would people think if we were caring for our children while drinking a beer in public?

3. I'm having a hard time judging the worth of traveling to meet with other SAHDs. They seemed like good enough guys. Economics 101 taught me about opportunity cost. Monetary cost of yesterday's activity: about 40-50 dollars in gas, food and beverage. I could lower that cost significantly by packing my daughter and I better for provisions. I missed out yesterday on applying for jobs, cleaning the house, taking a nap (like I really could with our home like an oven). It will take me at least two more meetings before I can judge whether I'm contributing to the conversation and I could actually make a few friends.

In conclusion, I need to gather a larger sample size and percolate my observations. At the very least, this story is worth telling from a sociological and writing standpoint. Stay cool.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Does place really make a difference for the Church (Part 2 of an occasional series)?

The relationship between between place and religion is more than an academic question--it's also personal.

Last night my family and I traversed up Washington Highway 16, across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and to Port Orchard with a colleague and his family (friends?). Our daughter is not the only one trying to make new friends, we are making our way through the friendship field as well. Vocationally, our observations of the region and its communities carry a lot more weight than they used to. We had a great exchange on the trip, not to mention the pure beauty of what we saw.

My experience with travelling up the Washington Peninsula in my youth usually involved baseball. My most frequent visits included Port Angeles and Bremerton. My team usually kicked Bremerton around, but Port Angeles represented a strong challenge. They were our equals in talent, each of our teams had some low level college and pro talent. I loved going to Port Angeles for the hotel stay, some extended time of comeraderie with my teammates, and the great views of the Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I liked playing Port Angeles because they were a hard working team and had players with good sportsmanship. I appreciate quality competition.

All of these thoughts came to mind as we travelled up WA-16, and I heard the new observations of my dear wife. She has a great knack for challenging assumptions about the relationship of place and religion. Her skepticism and willingness to inquire is an asset to my own thoughts and to the Church as a whole. My dear wife is more vocationally engaged in the Church these days, I am dealing with keeping our daughters healthy, giving them every opportunity to learn and thrive, while managing the household and its resources. Someday I will be more vocationally engaged in the Church, though I'm not really sure about the timeline or capacity.

In the meantime, while my wife attended a leadership meeting, the girls and I sauntered toward Downtown Port Orchard. Though not remembering the particulars of that town, I have a common memory of coastal towns--the variety of boats, the briny air, the presence of good old salts working on their trade and/or avocation with the sea, the whitewashed buildings of merchants and restauranteurs, the cheap, nautical-themed decor, and the hospitable breeze. The girls and I examined tiny crabs, barnacles and seaweed. While the girls later played on park toys, I examined the horizon. The Olympics, the bay, and the sunshine hitting the Puget Sound accentuated the blessings of the day and a stunning backdrop for our exploration and play. What I appreciated most about the day was the discoveries for my girls. What are they thinking about the difference of the land that we inhabit now? What are they learning? They pick around the land with their hands and examine its parts more than I have ever seen--jagged crab claws, ovalesque clam shells, contitents of bumpy and sharp barnacles, squishing wet sand in hands and toes. Why did we not do this kind of thing in South Dakota? Was it the climate? Was it the hospitality of the terrain? Did it have to do with my own lack of familiarity and how to explore the land with a child's eyes? I made sure that I took our eldest daughter to memorable tours of South Dakota. I want her to remember something. I feel I can teach her more in this region about the land--but our time in South Dakota is a unique part of her history where her memories are important for who she is.

I am interested in how our new place is affecting who we are. The relationship with place and religion is both an academic and personal pursuit--regardless of how the academic path goes the value and power of my seeking will never be stripped, and the life my family and our relationships will always live in appreciation of where we live and God's blessing of life.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The weather is playing tricks on me...

Of course, I move to Washington and it's in the mid-80's today, and back in Summer Sweaty Swelterville, South Dakota, it's only supposed to reach 70. Still little humidity here in Washington, and the cool breeze should be coming off the Puget Sound in a few hours...so that keeps my crabbiness at bay (pun intended).

Hey! I don't have air conditioning!

A powerful moment for a faceless bureaucrat: a base desire or admiration of analysis?

What is it that appeals to me about the story of U.S. Government bureaucrat Brooksley Born?

An abstract before my list of reasons: for over a decade, Born warned some of the highest economic officials in the U.S. about the financially shaky foundation of the then growing economy, over-the-counter derivatives. She wasn't merely crying wolf, she gave details based on experience and research about the dangers of the economic conditions during her term of service. Current economic advisers to President Obama also decried this Born's theory. Now that Born's insight is celebrated, she declines the "I told you so" utterance.

This story's appeal to me?

1. I like stories that contradict the pejorative term of the faceless "bureaucrat." I don't necessarily celebrate the expansion of government, but those who make their living off of making the government their punching bag make an army of mountebanks.
2. I admire reading about someone who a split their working life in the public and private sector.
3. I admire the cooperative use of experience and research that benefit the public good.
4. I appreciate the example of courage--Born stood resolute and in contrast to some very intelligent and powerful people and graciously told them they were wrong.
5. This story appeals to base desires. If this story is true, I would love to be able to say "I told you so" related to a discovery backed by testing, theory, knowledge. I would love to be able to say those words of vindication, but also help in creating a better, healed world as a result of those tested ideas.

The financial content of the story doesn't interest me as much as the relational and vocational aspect. I love the world of ideas--testing, discussing, theorizing, and picking the ideas apart, imagining and planning application of those ideas. I admire Born's analytical skill and execution. I hope to use my analytical skills in the same way--to serve God in the world and make it a better place. I needed a little optimism today in my job search and my work as a father and home economist. I'm generally an optimistic person, but I have noticed it's hard not to navel gaze on the tail end of moving, transitioning, parenting at home and home economizing. I believe Manuel Roig-Franzia of the Washington Post executed a piece of journalism at its best: the story provided detailed information while providing insight for living. For me, that is well worth the $1.50 I paid for my Sunday newspaper.

Monday, June 01, 2009

The ELCA in Wichita endures extraordinary pain

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has experienced tough times as a member of the Body of Christ in Wichita, Kansas. The infamous "BTK Killer" was a leader in his ELCA congregation in Wichita while he wreaked havoc, fear and panic in the Wichita metro for over a decade, while the memory of his terror remains. Abortion practitioner Dr. George Tiller was serving as an usher at his ELCA congregation in Wichita when he was shot and killed yesterday--right before worship. My dear wife and I pondered together the scenario.

We were once considering relocating to that area, so I imagined the ramifications of this occurrence a little more deeply than most news stories, wondering how my family would be affected, how we would respond. The thoughts scramble my mind.

I have a hard time imagining the pain in those congregations--I have cared for congregations as an interim pastor that were torn apart by sexual misconduct by their former pastors. The pain is palpable and the healing seems incredibly far away--basic trust and faith are intertwined in a way that little in a faith community can be achieved, let alone the simple grace of God be felt when the most basic trust of safety is violated. For some reason, fatal violence goes beyond even sexual misconduct. Sometimes we tread with God in places we never thought we would go. My dear wife and I never would wish to go into a place where such suffering as in Wichita has occurred, but we do know that God is there. Shivers went up my spine when I read the news of Dr. Tiller's death, and I pray for the people of Resurrection Lutheran Church, its pastor, the bishop and the staff, and the people of Wichita in general. Healing seems too far off to imagine.