Friday, December 31, 2010

The sun shines for the last time on 2010

It was a very nice day

According to Douglas Adams, my age is now equivalent to the answer to life, the universe, and everything.

So it stands to be a good year.

And it got off to a nice start. Wrestling with the girls in bed is a good way to wake up. Then off to Marlene's Deli and lunch with my parents. And presents. The girls went off with grandma and grandpa, leaving me alone to play the rest of the day. So I did the most adult thing I could think of, and went to Seattle Center and watched the new Tron movie, in 3-D, at the Imax theater. Yes. Good decision. Good movie.

After the movie it was a stroll a couple blocks over to the Crow for dinner. I had the chicken wrapped in prosciutto. she had the fish. We sat at the chef's bar, a long bar facing the kitchen, and we enjoyed bantering with Steve and his crew all night. He even gave us a sample of the risotto. Heavenly.

About 7:45 I checked the current score of the Holiday Bowl, fully expecting to find UW behind by 3 touchdowns. Surprise. It was almost halftime, and they were up 10-7. So we paid out and hurried back to the car, stopped for some coffee on Capitol Hill, and then drove home, with the game on the radio. Seriously, this is the Huskies. They had to find a way to lose.

But no, a signature win, finalized just as we pulled into the driveway. What a way to end a birthday. Good times, all around. I am blessed in many ways.

Oh, and Susan - as to your presents, I'll cherish them, always. I think.

Friday, December 24, 2010

After all. . .

A Poem for Christmas Eve

Where is this stupendous stranger
Prophets, shepherds, kings, advise:
Lead me to my master's manger,
Show me where my Saviour lies.

O most mighty, O most holy,
Far beyond the seraph's thought!
Art thou then so mean and lowly
As unheeded angels taught?

O the magnitude of meekness,
Worth from worth immortal sprung!
O the strength of infant weakness,
If eternal is so young!

God all-bounteous, all creative,
Whom no ills from good dissuade,
Is incarnate - and a native
Of the very world he made.

Christopher Smart (1722-1771)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Book Review: What is God Really Like?

"What is God Really Like?" is a collection of sermons preached by a long list of pastors for "One Prayer," which was, according to the book jacket, "a monthlong, multichurch campaign unifying churches around the world." Each sermon focuses in on a different aspect of God's character. They include:
- God is Here
- God is Certain
- God is Encouraging
- God is in Control
- God is Big
- God is Not Like Me
- God is Father
and a host of others (17 chapters in all).

On the whole, it is a powerful collection, and a good reminder to the reader to keep focusing back on God's character in the craziness of life. It is the immutable aspects of God that give us hope, courage, strength, and the ability to keep moving forward. And with 17 different sermons expounding on 17 different characteristics of God (well, there is some overlap), this book goes a long way to painting a fuller picture of the God we serve.

Equally helpful is the way each pastor explains the impact of God's character on our lives. It's not just a still portrait of a God from across the universe, it's a dynamic, interactive picture that invites the reader to form his or her own according life to God's purpose, to understand how God touches us, works in and through us, carries us through hard times and places us in amazing, wondrous places and situations. Pieces of this book sing in adoration of a God 'who so wondrously reigneth;' others dig into the tough places and explore God's presence in the midst of pain.

As a collection of sermons, it reads much like a devotional; each chapter stands on its own, so it makes for a good book to have lying around for spare moments. And as a collection, it has some variety; each preacher has his own style, his own method, his own way of painting this picture. Which means not every sermon will speak to the reader in the same way; truthfully, some I didn't really care for. But overall, there's something in here for just about everybody.

However, the book does have a few weaknesses. Not every sermon in here would fit in the 'outstanding' category. If this were preaching class, some of these sermons would be fortunate to get a 'C.' And, even with a large variety of pastors, they all still come from the same general sermon mode. No exposition here, no strong textual work; these sermons are more in the 'Encouraging Talk' mode. Not that those sermons are inappropriate; just that the reader needs to recognize going in that this book represents one particular method of sermonizing, eschewing the rest.

In addition, the book has a strong regional flair. Two of the preachers are from Los Angeles, one is from Hawaii, and all the rest are based in the southeast United States. Lots of Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida. . .in other words, lots of Bible Belt. And while some may say 'preaching is preaching,' the truth is the Church is a different animal up here in the Pacific Northwest than it is in the Bible Belt. The Church in the northeast is different from the Church in Texas. It would have been nice to see broader representation from across the U.S.; in fact, since the book touts itself as part of a "worldwide" campaign, I would have liked to read preachers from Mexico or Canada or Thailand or Germany or India.

Perhaps as part of the regional flair, the book comes from a fairly narrow slice of Evangelicalism. Lots of Baptist and non-denominational, but lacking in a broader picture of the church. It would have been nice to see a Presbyterian or Episcopalian or Mennonite - something to prove that the Church is larger than conservative Evangelicalism.

And one more. Every preacher in this book is male. If you really want to claim to represent the Church as a whole, you ought to include some voices from our sisters, as well. Craig Groeschel, the book's general editor, serves in a denomination that ordains women and is home to many excellent female preachers. He wouldn't have had to look very far to find even one or two.

You might think I'm nitpicking, but some of that comes from the claim made on the book's back cover, that these are "Reflections from the Best and the Brightest." (I know, that's probably put there by some P.R. rep trying to sell more books, but still, there it is). Even while ignoring the hubris of that statement, one would still have to believe that all the best and brightest preachers are a)male, and b)living in the Bible Belt. And I just can't accept that as true.

In the end, however, the positives of this book outweigh any negatives. I'd gladly recommend this to anyone in my church, or anyone else who is trying to understand our God better. It's a nice choir of voices saying "Here is Your God."

Note: Thanks to Zondervan for providing me a free copy for the purpose of this review.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Lesser-known carols you should probably know.

In case you're sick of Jingle Bells by now.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

A quote worth pondering

From Fred Clark:

Whatever path you're on, God will meet you there. How you respond in that encounter matters far, far more than whatever path you happen to be on, or where you thought you were going, or whether or not the catechists think you have the correct answers to all the wrong questions.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Book Review: The Skin Map

The Skin Map Book Trailer from Magnus Creative on Vimeo.

I'm a big fan of Stephen Lawhead. If you read this blog regularly, you know he's one of the few 'Christian Fiction' authors I enjoy. I've read most, if not all, of his novels, and recommend him regularly over other, lower-quality Christian authors.

This time, not so much. Lawhead's newest release, The Skin Map, was disappointing. It's the story of a young man swept into an alternate universe, and the girlfriend he (literally) loses along the way. It's also the story of an ancient map, and heroes and villains out to find that map and the secrets it holds. It reads like time travel, since each universe is at a different point in history as the characters jump to and through them. We spend time in merry old England, an 18th-century Chinese port, and ancient Egypt. The primary characters are very much children of the 21st Century, but those they interact with include Bohemian royalty, salt-of-the-earth serving wenches, lords and ladies and footmen, priests and bakers and gentry.

And yet, it felt a little stifled. Colorless. More like random jumping from point-to-point than the grand, sweeping epics that Lawhead is known for. Many of the characters show great promise, yet come across as lifeless. Sometimes he paints vivid pictures of a particular scene, but create minimal action to fill that scene. And if there's one piece of fiction writing that irritates me, it's the over-use of exalted descriptives like "She was easily the most beautiful women in the world" and "It was the most beautiful scenery he'd ever laid eyes on" and "He was the most frightening-looking man in the world" (note: those are not exact quotes from the book, but there are enough of them in there). Because, really? How do you know she's the most beautiful woman in the world? And by whose standards? Far be it from me to criticize a master like Lawhead, but this is the sort of freshman-level writing employed by people who don't know how to write vivid descriptions, which Lawhead has already proven he knows very well how to do.

Of course, it was in many ways just the book I needed right about now - a mindless adventure roaming across the centuries and continents. It did require a modicum of brainpower to follow the various subplots, not to mention understanding the physics behind the plot of ley lines and travel between multiple universes. Yet it spritely moved along from scene to scene, with just enough intrigue and action to keep the pages turning. There's enough here that I look forward to the next book in the series. In the end, though, I hope Lawhead isn't simply going through the motions now that he's an established writer. He's built up quite a reputation and fan following, and The Skin Map just doesn't live up to the standards he's already set.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The problem with pain

and grief in our society is that we don't seem to know how to handle them well. I've been learning a lot about wounding, grief, and pain lately, and I've noticed a tendency to fall off the map in two different ways:

First, we become cynical. Angry. We give in to the hurt, seeking validation for our pain. I suppose this fits in well with Kubler-Ross's Anger stage. We have been hurt, we face grief, and we get angry. It's normal, it's natural, and it can be productive in the right time and place. But sometimes I think the world is full of people who've been hurt and never moved on from this stage. I meet so many angry people, people holding grudges, suspicious people who take offense at any perceived slight (have you noticed they all tend to come out at Christmas-time, those cynical, perpetually-offended folks who take every opportunity to downplay the joy and happiness of others?). It's so easy to dwell in the pain, to feel self-righteous in the pain, to cherish the pain, to wallow in the pain. Some of us are professionals when it comes to righteous anger.

On the other hand, the second area in which we fail is to deny the pain. At least, to pretend it doesn't matter. We're good at fooling ourselves this way; we're often prodded in this direction by well-meaning friends. "It's not that bad. . .you just have to get over it" is the repeated refrain. So what that somebody lied about you? So what that somebody is gossiping about you? So what that a trusted friend betrayed you? Just get over it! (note to readers: this isn't exactly autobiographical, so don't start trying to read more into this than is here. I'm not speaking of any person in particular, just situations common to us all) We often tell ourselves "It's wrong to remain broken; I need to pick myself up, dust myself off, and keep moving as if nothing happened!" Others tell us "you just need to forgive and forget." But that's denial. You would never tell a friend with a broken arm "just get over it." So, too, we can't "just get over" a place that's wounded in our soul.

The real challenge is to maintain hope even while owning the pain. Either of the above two picks up on one of those pieces but misses the other. We claim to 'hold out hope' by denying the power of the wound, or we hold on to the wound but miss out on the possibility of redemption and healing. The lesson I'm being taught these days is the necessity of naming the pain, of accepting the wound, of choosing reality over denial (yes, life hurts sometimes) even while holding out hope that God is in control, God brings healing, God is our defender, God will make something beautiful our of our brokenness. All of which allows us to live with peace and joy even while nursing a broken spirit. It allows us to look deeply into the pain and mourn the loss, to grieve and lament the hurt, but it doesn't allow it to defeat us. Instead it reminds us that God is a friend who sits with us in our pain but also carries the pain for us; it also allows us to lift our eyes and see that, even in the valley of the shadow of death, we don't need to be afraid. The day is coming when we will feel the anointing of holy oil upon us, when our cups will overflow again, when we will dine at the table he has prepared for us.

Truthfully, it's not easy. It's hard soul work, something we're not naturally inclined to do. But it's a sweeter  road to walk, this walking in the light, this naming the pain even while holding out hope for a better tomorrow. It's a lesson I gladly accept from the Lord's hand.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I'm Dreaming of a White. . .Thanksgiving?

Snow started falling last night, and continued on into the morning. Not enough that school was delayed, but enough to create a winter wonderland out here in the woods.

So off the kids went to school, and off I went with my mother-in-law to do some shopping.

That's when it really started to come down. I stopped in the Harbor, looking for a magazine, and almost couldn't make it back up the hill to the freeway. Picked up mom-in-law at Fred Meyer and left for Target. Quickly it became obvious that going straight home would be the better choice. Cars littered both sides of the freeway. I could feel our tires slipping underneath us. The other side of the freeway was completely blocked by 2 big rigs unable to climb the hill out of Purdy.

We made it home, but not without some drama going up our driveway. Which proved impossible, so we went around and tried going down the other way. Creating even more drama as we slipped and slided every closer to the ditch.

And now the snow continues to fall, the temperature continues to drop, apple cider is warming in the crock pot, a fire crackles in the wood stove, supplies are laid in should the winds knock out the power tonight, the kids are outside sledding, Christmas music is playing, and Karina's in the air toward the U.S.

I believe I have much for which to be thankful.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

It's all my fault

On Monday I was praying with a small group of pastors. We were using the Lord's Prayer as a framework for our prayer time. We were in the "Hallowed Be Your Name" section.

I was bemoaning the way our world has cheapened our understanding of God, of the loss of awe and wonder, of the abundance of "bumper-sticker God" and "Jesus nightlight God" and "plastic trinket God" and "T-shirt slogan God." And mourning the loss of the Isaiah 6, Holy Holy Holy God.

And so I prayed, "God, we need to see your power again. We need you to show up and remind us of your majesty and might. Holy Spirit, come and reveal your power to us."

And at that very moment the entire building shook as a deep rumble echoed across the water.

Yes, it was a little disconcerting. A few moments of nervous laughter. . .and I said "okay, I'm just going to shut up and let you do your thing."

And in roared a storm that socked the entire Puget Sound region, hours and hours of gale-force winds and lashing rain. All completely unexpected, unpredicted by the weather forecasters. We turned off our lights and watched the lightning show for the next hour. Then all the power went out, so we were forced to stay in the dark until the next morning.

By daylight, the destruction was pretty severe. Trees toppled, boathouses destroyed, cars smashed, branches everywhere. I heard today some people are still without power. And nobody saw it coming.

So there you go. God pummeled the entire northwest just to prove my point. And the lesson seems to be:

- Be careful what you pray for
- God listens to Dan
- We should have gotten to the "Give us this day our daily bread" part sooner. I might be driving a Porsche right about now.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Part of my childhood died today

Seven or eight years ago I was driving north from Fresno, headed up the 99 toward Turlock following a day at seminary. It was dark; the sun had long set, and I was scanning around the AM radio dial, wondering what I could pick up.

A baseball game came on, clear as day. For a few seconds I assumed it was out of the Bay Area, or maybe Fresno's minor league broadcast, it was that clear. But it slowly dawned on me that I knew the voice, I recognized the players. It was a broadcast of the Seattle Mariners, bouncing down my way across the atmosphere. It was the voice of Dave Niehaus. And suddenly, I was home.

I was that kid, going to M's games with my dad, brother, and sister, back in the days when you could park 1/2 a block from the Kingdome, when maybe 8,000 people showed up for the game, when it was fun, win or lose. A ship in the corner climbed out of its hole and fired a cannon shot with every home run. The floor would be littered with peanut shells and popcorn seeds. No-names ran the bases (well, they were big names to us, just not in the bigger picture of major league baseball).

But more often than not, we had the games on in the background at home. Dave Neihaus' voice filled our home, filled our summer nights. I just took him for granted, assuming he'd always been there.

During the eight years I spent in L.A., I only paid attention to the Mariners when they were down playing the Angels, or if they made it on TV (which they did during that amazing '95 season). But when we moved to Portland I found, to my delight, that they broadcast the M's games there. Many a summer day I was outside, working in the yard, and had Dave's voice to keep me company, to connect me to home.

Then there were those nights in Turlock. Once I discovered I could get the games, I listened every chance I got. Even there, in California, I could follow my beloved Mariners as if I were right there in Seattle.

Since moving back to the Puget Sound, I'm sure I've listened to 75% of the games each season (much to Karina's consternation, mind you). We don't have TV, so I turn the games on when I'm working around the house, or chopping firewood. Or driving home from Seattle. Or driving to the YMCA. Or anyplace else I'm near a radio. I can't tell you the times the girls have whined "Do we have to listen to baseball?" But of course we do. It's Dave. It's art. It's opera. Even as low as the M's have sunk in recent years, it was just comforting to have Dave's steady description of the game.

Last year somebody gave me a bottle opener. When you open a bottle it makes an electrical connection and plays one of Dave's famous calls, the Brett Boone "Grand Salami Time!" Olivia was playing it earlier today, over and over and over again. Then, tonight, Gene told me he'd heard Dave had passed away.

Truly, summer will be poorer without him. Baseball will be blander. The Mariners will simply stink (again). He was a connection to my past, to my family's past, to a Seattle that doesn't really exist anymore. To an innocent time when simply showing up to play was all that mattered. Wherever I went, it seemed Dave's voice brought me home again. I never met the man, but feel like I've lost a close friend. I suppose a lot of people are feeling the same way tonight.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Prayer for All Saints Sunday

Prayed at Lakebay Community Church 11/7/10

Almighty and compassionate God,
in Christ you have known the sorrow of our days.
Our losses are your losses, our pains are your pains.
Our grief is your grief.
In faith we believe that you know our tears,
that you hear our crying, that you know the
darkness stalking our dreams.
You who have known death, rejection,
pain and misery watch over us day by day.
Offer your comfort, O Lord, to those living
in the land of darkness. As you guided those who
have gone before us into your blessed home, guide
us through this dark and mysterious land.
Remember in your mercy those who have left us,
lead us into your Kingdom and grant us your peace.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

One of the things I like

is making my girls happy.

Like today, when Clara came to me and said, "Daddy, I hope you never have to become a Viking and kill people." To which I replied, "Okay then, I'll never become a Viking."

And she said "Good" and walked away with a smile.

Sometimes parenting is pretty easy.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Mary did you know - and when did you know it?

John 2. Jesus heads off with his mom to a wedding. His disciples are there with him. But the wedding planner hadn't planned very well. Long before the party is over, the wine runs out - a disaster with immense social ramifications.

But Mary has an ace up her sleeve. She's got Jesus there. "They're out of wine, Jesus," she tells him. He pushes back. "Why me? It's not my time yet." Mary isn't one to back down, however. In fact, she ignores her son's question. Turning to the servants, she tells them to "do whatever he tells you to do."

You know how the story ends. Jesus has them fill up some empty stone jugs with water; when they draw the water back out, it has been transformed into wine of the finest vintage. The day is saved, and Jesus has officially performed his first miracle.

The thing is, every time I've heard this story told, from childhood Sunday school classes on up to adult lessons and sermons, it's related with the assumption that Mary was pressuring Jesus into performing a miracle. She knew his mad miracle skills, so decided to use him in order to fix this situation. In essence, she's asking him to do something miraculous, he says he'd rather not do any miracle, but being a good mother, she pushes him into doing one anyway.

But what if that's telling the story wrong? After all, there's nothing in her initial request that implies an expectation of anything miraculous. It seems more like a mother simply saying "there's a problem, Jesus. Fix it."

By this time, Jesus had ascended to the rank of rabbi - he obviously was an intelligent man. And he had a group of disciples; he obviously had leadership skills. Regardless of his divinity, he was a man who could make decisions and deal with difficult situations.

So what if Mary herself wasn't expecting a miracle? What if she was simply proud of her intelligent son with good leadership and problem-solving skills. What if she really expected Jesus to say "Hey Peter and Andrew - they're out of wine. Could you run over to Safeway and pick up a couple of those Gallo boxes? Maybe a '95; that was a pretty good wine. Oh, and take Judas - he has the credit card."

If you read the story without making assumptions based on the end, doesn't it make more sense that Mary's request isn't for a miracle, but simply a desire for Jesus to take charge in the situation? To figure out a (human) solution? And thereby, maybe to receive a little glory in light of her wonderful son?

I think so. In fact, I think it better fits the reading of the entire gospel of John. There's a theme running through this book of Jesus showing up in unexpected ways. Of Jesus surprising people. Of Jesus baiting the hook, and then pulling people in. From the opening salvo of Jesus coming and setting up camp among us, to the woman at the well, to Nicodemus, to the sick man at the pool. . .time and again, people mistake him for a 'wise man' or 'good teacher,' and then, when least expected, he lets his divinity shine through.

Maybe there's just a little bit of humor in this story of the wedding banquet. It might be reading a bit too much into it, but imagine Mary asking Jesus to 'fix it' - she's thinking he'll use his management skills - and Jesus thinking to himself, 'You want me to fix it? I'll fix it alright, and won't you be surprised. . ."

By the way, Ben Witherington has made a pretty strong case that the gospel of John was written by none other than Lazarus. And wouldn't this have been the very lesson Lazarus learned? Jesus was a family friend, a man with whom he and his sisters had shared meals. But then one day Lazarus had the entirely shocking experience of being raised from the dead by this Jesus. I suppose that was just a little surprising, but an instant revelation into the true nature of Jesus.

And what a good lesson for all of us. How often do we look to Jesus to manage our situation, how often do we treat Jesus just like a teacher or parent or our extra-capable child, the one we expect to deal with our little problems. But Jesus' true desire is to let his divinity shine through, to surprise us with little miracles here and there - if only we have eyes to see it. Maybe we need to go back and read this story with fresh eyes, to see Mary's utter shock when, instead of managing the situation, her son does the unexpected - he creates a miracle before her very eyes. Feel her surprise, sense the dawning realization in her heart that there's a lot more going on here than she thought. Watch the awe and wonder bubble up in her heart.

And let it teach us something new about this man. Perhaps we ought not take him for granted so much.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Practice What You Preach

Sunday's sermon was on hospitality. We spent some time in Matthew 25 - the judgment passage, wherein the nations are divided into sheep and goats based on how they treated their fellow man. "I was hungry, and you fed me; thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was in prison and you visited me; I was a stranger and you invited me in" and so on.

(Side note: is it sacrilegious that I think the Keith Green version is better than the original?)

Hospitality, as defined in the sermon, is simply creating a space into which broken people can enter and find healing; a place wherein lost people can come home, lonely people can find friendship, people hungry and thirsty can find their souls (and stomachs) filled. It is an invitation to share a moment and space together. Hospitality can be inviting someone over for dinner; it can also be sitting with a person at the bus stop and giving a piece of your life to them. And this is our calling: as Christ has invited us to join him in friendship, as the Lord creates green pastures in which he invites us to lie down, as God has become our safe harbor in the storm, so are we called to create safe, warm, inviting, comfortable spaces into which others can come and receive healing and solace in their weary lives.

That was the gyst of it anyway.

And then we finished; the kids headed downstairs for Sunday School, the adults adjourned to the fellowship hall for cake and cheese and coffee and a discussion about creating inviting, comfortable spaces.

An hour later, Mike walked in. We didn't see him at first, but Duncan happened to be walking through the foyer and saw draped over the couch there. It was obvious Mike wasn't doing well. Incoherant would be a good word. He was looking for his grandmother, Delores, or his aunt or sister. But he didn't know their names. They supposedly taught Sunday School at our church, but none of us knew them. He didn't know his phone number. He was pretty wet and disheveled. And as much as we tried to figure out who he belonged to, he couldn't really tell us. But still, we sat with him for a bit. He didn't smell like he'd been drinking, which is (unfortunately) always the first suspicion out here on the KP. So we assumed it was medical, and wouldn't you know it. . .Sean was still around. Sean who works with the fire department, who's used to situations like this. So he came and joined the conversation. About the time Mike mentioned he's diabetic, and hadn't taken his medication in 4 days, we decided it was time to call the paramedics.

Eventually he decided he didn't like all the attention, so he wandered to the cemetary next door. I followed him up there, where he lay down and began weeping next to his dad's grave. And he showed me his grandmother's grave (the same grandmother he'd come to the church hoping to find. . .). And there he lay, sobbing in the wet grass under a steady drizzle. And there I sat with him until the medic units showed up. Thankfully, the knew Mike. He's a regular, you might say. They got him into the ambulance and took care of him. Many of our children had come out to see the fire truck, and they prayed for Mike as he was loaded in.

"I was a stranger, and you invited me in." Maybe today, Jesus might add "I was messed up, and you got me medical help." Or "I was incoherant and raving and soaking wet, and you let me sit on your couch and showed me love." All I know is, the message of the sermon was put to the test, and it was an honor for me to see some good people live it out, just because that's who they are.

Well, what the hey. If you've still got 8 minutes, here's Keith.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Get in the Bunker, Honey

Texas in the World Series? Oregon ranked #1 in the country?

Surely the apocalypse is upon us.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My Dear John letter

Sorry, but it's time to say goodbye.

I'd let you down easy by saying "It's not you, it's just me," but that would be a lie. It is you.

The thing that bugged me most was your two-faced nature. We'd be in town and you'd behave just fine; but we'd head home and you'd go quiet. There was no communication. No connection, as they say. You'd sit there, keeping to yourself, of no use to me. I'd want to talk, to find out what was going on, but you cut yourself off. And I can't live with that.

I know, it wasn't really your fault. It's more the way you're wired. It's not as if you didn't try. I saw you attempting to reach out from time to time, searching for some sort of signal, some sort of connection. But you just didn't have it in you.

I wish I was more patient, but in the end, I think I deserve better. I need more than you can give. So thanks for the memories, T-Mobile. You made for some good times, you gave me some good memories. But I'm going off with a new cell phone now, one that actually has some connections out here on the Key Peninsula. Let me know if you ever grow up; maybe we can be friends someday in the future.

a not-quite-satisfied customer

Monday, October 18, 2010

We have seen the enemy, and the enemy is. . .California

From the State of Washington Voter's Pamphlet:

Initiative 1053: . . .but at least we are doing better than other states. The two-thirds majority is a disaster in California, creating gridlock and making it impossible to balance their budget. . .California is a mess because of the two-thirds requirement. . .The two-thirds requirement is causing havoc in California.
Initiative 1100: Under this scheme hard liquor outlets will explode from 315 to 3,300, three times more per person than California.

Initiative 1105: I-1105 allows hard liquor stores to explode from 315 to more than 3,300; three times more per person than California.

I remember a number of times during the years I lived in Oregon where this tactic was used. Pick the issue; the only argument against needed to be "Well that's how they do it in California" and the conversation stopped. Somehow California became the official bogeyman against which all northwest ideas are measured. And the mantra becomes "whatever they do, we need to do the opposite."

I'm not making any political recommendations on the above initiatives, so don't read anything into this. I just hope we don't go down that road of measuring our ideas not by their own merit, but instead by "at least we're not like California."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Quick Update

I had my second eye-cutting-up yesterday morning. If you're following the story, the graft from the transplant I had 2 years ago settled a little off-kilter, so a few months ago the Dr. carved it up, hoping it would flatten itself out. But that didn't work, so he wanted to try it a second time before attempting anything more drastic.

Thankfully, this time around was a lot less painful. It took all of 5 minutes, where last time took half-an-hour. There was some pain, but I was able to take some Advil and sleep most of it off. Today it feels a little raw, but much better.

The doctor was hopeful this time around will do the trick. If so, 4 more weeks and I get set up with contacts and can see again. If not, we go back in for surgery, probably after the first of the year. You can guess which way I'm praying.

It was nice to have a day off today, though. Pretty much resting, but watching the rescue in Chile, too. It's like Christmas over and over again. This world needed some good news.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

It's this guy's day today

Kirk pointed out on Facebook that today is Leif Eriksson Day. Which gives me an excuse to share this picture of Leif, taken by Karina, during our stay in Iceland last spring.

Friday, October 08, 2010

We're in the news again? Why am I scared?

No, I don't mean our church. I mean Lakebay, the area where I live. It's gotten to the point that every time I hear that we're in the press, I automatically assume it's not good.

A couple years ago we made the Seattle news when the local food bank was robbed. I even got some airtime on a news broadcast on that one.

Then there was the time our local fire commissioner beat another fire commissioner over the head with a coffee mug. That one made news all over the country.

Last month we had the infamous vandalism case at the Longbranch Improvement Club and the Longbranch Community Church.

And now it's all about the "Wild-West-Style shootout" following a botched home invasion robbery last night. We've got all the big-time news crews over here now. Seattle must think we're really uncivilized.

If you look at this article in the Seattle Times, the bright red dot on the google map is actually sitting on top of my house. Which wasn't the crime scene, so don't worry about us.

For the record, I think Lakebay is a wonderful place to live. It's got its share of cranks and ne-er-do-wells, but it certainly deserves some better press for the sense of community, for the beauty of the area, for the local events and the people who work together to make this a fine place to live.

It's not a war zone out here, really. It just plays one on television.

Friday, October 01, 2010

You know what's not fun?

Opening up the local paper and finding a letter to the editor attacking your friends, your church, and you. Accusations that publicly excoriate you and those you love. Being on the receiving end of self-righteous condemnation, being held up as a misfit pastor and heretic. Having to sit back while another's anger and fear cause him to lash out and warn the community of a danger in their midst.

I get it, really. Whenever you take a stand, you open yourself up for criticism. It's the price we pay for leadership, for attempting to speak to the public good. Having been around fundamentalists for a large portion of my life, I also understand their need for 'defending the faith' against any and all who appear 'weak on the fundamentals.' Still, there's nothing like having somebody misunderstand your point, misread your intention, assume all sorts of untrue things, and then put it all in print for the world to see.

If only this gentleman would have called and asked to talk it over. If only he had spent a few minutes on our website. If only he had asked around, to find out what we really teach and believe. But, no. "Fight or Flight" kicked in, and the "fight" option was chosen. And that's sad, really.

The toughest shots to take are always the ones from inside one's own camp.

Still, the Lord is our defender, and ours is the high road to take.

Awake, and rise to my defense! Contend for me, my God and my Lord. Vindicate me in your righteousness, Lord my God; do not let them gloat over me. - Psalm 35

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Quote: Thom Rainer

". . .in our research of over four thousand churches across America, we have seen clearly that many congregations are abandoning the biblical model of pastoral ministry. Instead of allowing pastors the necessary time and encouragement to spend time in prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4), congregations are demanding time and energy from pastors for tasks that have no biblical foundation.

Like the leaders of the Jerusalem church in Acts 6:1-7, if pastors have to meet all the perceived needs and demands of church members, they will have little time to give to their primary call of preaching and the ministry of the Word."

- In Surprising Insights

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Entertainment for a good cause

The Gig Harbor Peninsula Symphony Orchestra is hosting a screening of Mr. Holland's Opus at the Galaxy Theater next Tuesday, October 5, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $10, with all proceeds benefiting the orchestra.

As a bonus, two groups will be performing live music prior to the movie. The clarinet quintet will be performing in the theater itself, while the brass quintet (that's me!) will be performing in the theater lobby. Both groups plan to start playing around 6:00 p.m., although the brass group is hoping to kick things off a little earlier, if the tuba player can make it from Puyallup on time.

We'd love you have you join in the fundraiser, but honestly, if you just want to hear some fun brass music, come on by from 5:45-6:30 and hang out in the lobby. I think you'll be impressed.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Said the wise older pastor to me

"If a cow takes a dump out in the back forty, you can pretty much ignore it until it dries up. But if it takes a dump on your front porch and everybody's tracking it through the house, then you've got to deal with it now, messy and smelly though it may be."

And said another,

"Never wrestle with a pig in the mud. You'll both get muddy, and the pig always loves it."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Degree vs. Category

Leftover thoughts from our Islam and Christianity seminar on Sept. 12.

While the seminar was positive and constructive, there were a few moments when tension and anxiety filled the room. At least two who attended weren't pleased with the overall message of reconciliation, hospitality, love and understanding. And one question that wouldn't seem to go away: "Do Muslims worship a different God than Christians?" Andy wouldn't quite go there; one woman who is a leader in the local interfaith movement seemed to balk at the idea that anybody would try to elevate one religion above another; and one or two seemed offended that Andy wouldn't categorically denounce Islam as a false religion, and Muslims destined for hell.

But it's got me thinking, this question of whether or not Christians and Muslims (or anybody else, for that matter) worship different Gods. The traditional answer is "of course." Behind that answer is the often unspoken assumption that, while we say we worship different Gods, the reality is that we worship the one true God, and they worship a false idea of a false god.

In other words, it's an issue of category. 'Our' God is over here in this category of 'true,' and 'their' god is over there in the category of 'false.' We worship a real God, they worship a thing that doesn't exist except in their minds.

I wonder, though, if we're looking at it wrong. That it's not an issue of category (real vs. false, true vs. fake), but an issue of degree. That we're all in some sense worshiping the same God, it's just that some are closer, and have a clearer understanding of God, while others are further away, and have only a hint of God - but worship God as much as that hint allows.

Christianity teaches that there is one God, and that the clearest representation of God is known to us in Jesus Christ. Jesus himself taught that the only true way to come to God was in following him. Our worship of God comes from the knowledge that God has saved us through Jesus, and now lives in us in his Spirit. I would make the case that this means, on the whole, Christians are closest in scale to worshiping God as fully as humanly possible.

But the Hebrew prophet wrote of God placing eternity in the hearts of humankind. The Psalmist tells us that the heavens declare the glory of God. There seems to be this belief within Christianity that only those enlightened by the Spirit can sense and worship God, and everybody else is worshiping either their own imagining, or a satanic misrepresentation. But could it be instead that people of other religions can still sense the working of God in the world; in their hearts and souls, there is some recognition of the reality of the One True God, and they are worshiping that One True God - just not to the same degree as those who have met God in Jesus?

Supposing Mohamed simply had a sensitive soul; supposing he spent hours under the desert sky pondering the nature of the universe and the working of God, supposing he sensed in his deepest places the marvelous reality that is at work behind all we see and hear and touch. . .supposing he truly was sensing the One True God only, in the absence of knowing Jesus, he couldn't grasp the true nature of God in Jesus. In the absence of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he couldn't come to see the reality that is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Paul, Peter, Luther, and me?

You could look at it this way: A lot of people around Washington see Mt. Rainier off in the distance, and have a distant understanding of what's actually up there. We all have a picture in our mind, but only a fraction of those people have actually climbed it, and know what it looks like when you're actually standing on it. It's still the same mountain, but we know it to different degrees.

I think perhaps this is a better way of looking at all the dueling religions: most (not all) have some sense of the reality of God, they are, in some sense, worshiping the real God. It's just that a relatively few have actually met that God and are worshiping him, in the words of Jesus, in Spirit and in truth.

Of course, the idea of degrees of closeness will still rankle people who don't believe any religion ought to claim a greater understanding of truth. Their are those who want to believe that every religion is legitimate in its own way, that none has a greater degree of 'correct-ness.' But I can't go there. I can learn to respect and love people of other religious faiths, but in the end, Jesus was the one who said "No one comes to the Father except by me." That's a claim to singular truth, a claim that all other paths are dead ends. So I hold fast to the truth that God is known to us in Jesus, that our salvation is won in Jesus.

But this idea that Muslims worship a false God. . .I'm not so sure. Maybe they are worshiping the God of the Bible, just not to the same degree of fullness that followers of Christ are.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Book Review: Stuff Christians Like

I've got a little section on my bookshelf reserved for Christian humor. It's little, because most Christian humor is lame. At least the stuff that gets published. But I've got a few of these little cartoon books, the kind that poke fun at Christians and the Church. I was looking through them a few months ago in a vain last-minute attempt to find something funny for the Alpha introductory talk.

The problem was, they're all pretty dated. I found them pretty funny, but that's only because they were poking fun of the church in which I grew up, a church of potlucks and steeples and choirs and pastors in robes. But I quickly realized they wouldn't translate to people coming in from outside the church, or to people more attune to the Church of the 90s to the present. Which made me sad.

But then, along came Stuff Christians Like, and the day was saved. This is that same book, only with three major differences:

1) This book is the product of the 21st-Century Church, not the 1950s church. Thus you have pieces discussing metrosexual worship pastors, hip youth group rooms, side hugs, church logos (the holier, the better), mission trip romances, Rob Bell, using "love on" as a verb, using the word "just" as prayer filler, and judging fundamentalists for being judgmental.

2) This isn't a comic book, although it has great illustrations.

3 This book often uses humor to make a serious point. Just when Acuff gets you laughing, he rips home with a zinger, challenging us in our blind spots to, you know, actually be better Christians.

Of course, the book is ironic in its own way. One of his pieces is on ripping off advertising and logos to make similar-looking T-shirts (think "Jesus: The Real Thing"). When, as even Acuff admits, this book is a knock-off of the wildly popular Stuff White People Like website. In fact, Stuff Christians Like began as its own website. So there you go. In (gently) mocking Christians for being unoriginal and derivative, Jonathan Acuff's book is unoriginal and derivative.

That's not to say it's not funny. Or worth picking up. It is funny, and it is worth picking up. It might not be the most important Christian book of the last decade, but is still a worthwhile way to pass some time, laughing at ourselves and the funny way we live our lives. But don't fear that it's a sarcastic diatribe against the church, as so many of these things are. It's more along the lines of Keillor making fun of Lutherans, or Foxworthy making fun or Rednecks. The humor is in seeing yourself somewhere in there, and saying "oh yeah, I guess we are a little goofy. Maybe we should stop taking ourselves so seriously."

Note: thank you to Zondervan for providing a free preview copy of Stuff Christians Like for the purpose of this review.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Christianity and Islam: A workshop

Do we need to be afraid of the growing presence of Muslims in our communities? Must Islam and Christianity be pitted against each other for supremacy in society? What should the non-religious make of the ongoing struggles between these two religions?

We invite you to join us for a critical conversation as we explore whether Christianity and Islam can peacefully coexist, and what the best of these religious traditions have to contribute to our communities. We will look at how to build relationships of trust with Muslims, extending hospitality to our new neighbors.

• Can Islam and Christianity co-exist in the same world, or must there be a “clash of civilizations?”
• What are some of the key differences and similarities between these two monotheistic religions? What are the core beliefs of Islam and what do Muslims believe about Jesus?
• How do Muslims view Christianity? Do we worship the same God? What should be our attitude to the Muslim community down the street?
• Is Islam compatible with democracy or capitalism? Does the Koran support terrorism?

Sunday, September 12
4:00-6:00 p.m.
The Key Peninsula Civic Center

Rev. Dr. Andrew Larsen has been an ordained minister with the Evangelical Covenant Church for over 20 years, experiencing extensive cross-cultural work in Latin America and now serving Muslim communities locally and abroad. He has also served as Pastor in the U.S. for 7 years, engaged in the broader work of the church in both local and global projects. He has taught classes on inter-religious engagement and is currently facilitating local churches across the U.S., Canada, and Latin America to serve their immigrant neighbors. He has traveled and networked with Non Government Organizations and churches serving in Europe, South & North America, North Africa and the Middle East. He regularly visits mosques, has many Muslim friends in the Puget Sound region and been involved in Christian-Muslim dialogue for over 5 years. He lives in Seattle with his wife and 3 children. He received his Doctorate in Ministry from Fuller Seminary in 2007 where he received his M. Div. in 1988. 

Dr. Larsen will also be sharing in the Sunday Worship Celebration at Lakebay Community Church. We begin at 9:30 a.m.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Eye am becoming annoyed

For those of you tired of reading the ongoing saga of my eyeball, feel free to ignore this post and move on to something more interesting. 

I went to the eye doc today for a followup to last month's torturous procedure, wherein said eye doc carved up my cornea with a scalpel in an attempt to relax some pressure leftover from the corneal transplant. That pressure left the cornea with too much astigmatism, making it impossible to fit a contact lens with any success. The procedure was supposed to flatten out the lens; today was the day to finally fit the eye with a lens, and, after almost two years, return me to the club of "people who can see out of two eyes."


Doc looks through machine and says "I need to do it again, and see if it works better this time."

Me: "Um, what? Do what again?"

Doc: "Relax the cornea, just like we did last time."

Me: "Is it going to be just like last time? The same amount of work, same amount of pain?"

Doc: "Yes. Why? Did it hurt much last time?"

So, to make a long story short, I talked him out of cutting me up today, since I had lunch plans with a friend I haven't seen in 18 years. But I now have an appointment to go in in mid-October, at which time they'll cut up the cornea again. Then wait another 6 weeks to see if that even works.

Ominously, the doctor said these things usually get their best results the first time; there's a much smaller chance the 2nd time is successful. And if the 2nd time isn't successful, he said, "we go back into the operating room." Not another transplant or anything that drastic; they simply 'reopen the wound and suture it back up again.' Oh. That's reassuring.

For now. . .it will be Thanksgiving at the earliest before I finally get a contact that works (over 2 years since the original operation); but if this 2nd procedure doesn't work, it could easily roll over into 2011 before I finally see well out of that eye.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Scourge of Self-Righteous Divisiveness

Back from a weekend at family camp. The weekend started with a conversation with a fellow Covenant minister. He related a story of a group of neo-calvinists who had joined up with his church, and then attempted to force the church to adopt their theology, and teach it, and nothing else, to their youth. Their suggested curriculum for the youth group was all 'Pure Calvinist theology" a la John Piper and J.I. Packer. Said one father to the pastor, "We have to teach our youth to be afraid of God, so they won't sin." When the pastor responded "I'd rather teach them about the love of God, so they will want to obey," that man left the church, taking quite a few families with him. And he took a parting shot, labeling this man of God a Liberal, and dangerous to the church.

Later in the weekend, I had a conversation with a Young Life leader and youth pastor, a man caught up in the current atonement debate within Young Life. Once again, a vocal group of neo-calvinists has taken control, declaring that Penal Substitutionary Atonement, being a good Calvinist position, be the only method of atonement/salvation taught in Young Life. A group of others, who hold to other models of atonement (mostly Christus Victor, but there are others), a group that wants to tell the story of a loving, forgiving God rather than an angry, vindictive God, have essentially been told to be quiet or leave.

Finally, I came home to read a heartbreaking email, telling the story of a seminary prof and personal friend being accused, slandered, labeled a heretic, and essentially being forced to defend himself before his denomination. . .all because he dared challenge the predominant, Penal-Substitution Model of the Atonement. And the charges. . .once again, strident neo-calvinist influences.


I don't have a problem with calvinism, really, although I don't agree with much of it. I do recognize the weight of their arguments, and don't deny that they may be right. I give them the right to believe, to teach, to hold to those positions. But time and again, they don't offer the same freedom to others, instead teaching that calvinism (especially as espoused by Piper, Sproul, and MacArthur) IS the gospel. And thus they divide the Body, a sin (in my opinion) far greater than choosing the wrong model of the atonement.

For a people who supposedly believe so much in grace, they sure don't show it much.

(and I know there are some good calvinists who read this blog, so feel free to join in the conversation. I don't want to attack the many for the sins of the few. . .it's just that, I know too many who have suffered too much at the hands of your fellow theological brothers and sisters)

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Church Reading

A couple of books I finished in the last month - David Olson's The American Church in Crisisand David Gibbons' The Monkey and The Fish 

Both books are by ministers/leaders in the Evangelical Covenant Church, the tribe to which I belong. Both books were gifts to Covenant Ministers at a previous Midwinter Conference, so thanks to Zondervan for your generosity.

Both books cover the same general ground: the world has changed, and continues to change. What was is slowly passing, what is is in flux, and what will be is anybody's guess. Regardless, the church finds itself in trouble - losing touch with society, losing members faster than we realized, losing influence in our world; and, where there is growth, often times it is shallow, narrow, lacking in the depth and breadth that ought to mark the Kingdom of God.

Olson's book is a statistical tour de force, based on substantial research into almost every nook and cranny of the American Church. The results of that survey are pretty disturbing. Church attendance overall is down; compared to population growth, the attendance figures are even worse. Almost every denomination is losing ground in every county in every state. Old churches are stagnating and dying off, and not nearly enough new churches are being planted to stem the tide. Too many churches are simply surfing on the final waves of Christendom, enjoying the remnants of the kingdom they used to control, even while ignoring the changing landscape around them.

Gibbons' book is more of a friendly chat, looking into the amazing cultural forces at work to chance the American (and world) landscape. Any semblance of a monolithic culture is quickly passing. Our neighborhoods are filling up with people from all over the world, and our young people are wired into the world even from their very bedrooms. The 'Seeker-Sensitive' church of the 80s and 90s, the church that tried to tap into singular cultures in order to draw like-minded people, can no longer be counted on to grow the Kingdom. In fact, Gibbons would argue, it's an unbiblical model in the first place. The Church is instead called to be cross-cultural in every way: crossing ethnic lines, social lines, and socio-economic lines. He says, "Here is the reality: if we really want to see our churches grow in the way Jesus would want us to grow, if we really want to see Christ revealed in our communities and through our lives and in this global world of ours, then we must focus our strategic initiatives of love on people who make us feel uncomfortable, who don't fit into our thinking and our conventions, who are marginalized and even considered misfits and outsiders."

He goes on to say, "When the world sees the church willing to forgo size and scale to love and embrace people who are not like us, treating them as neighbors, they can sense an expression of true and genuine love. It's a thing of miraculous beauty. And people know beauty when they see it."

Both books are realistic, but also hopeful. First of all, God is still at work in the Church, so we always have reason to hope in the future. Secondly, God seems to be raising up a new group of leaders, pastors, thinkers, and church planters who can help us all move into this new world. The challenges are real, and many will be tempted to bury their head in the sand. To those who are willing to take a risk, to be "liquid," as Gibbons says, to flow with the Spirit, to carry on conversations rather than making pronouncements, to listening and learning and loving and risking, these are great times. A new wave of the Spirit may be happening before our eyes.

The question is, are we willing to give up our false ideas of importance, our desire for comfort, our (false) belief that we have all the answers? Are we willing to give up the delusion that we can return to the 'good old days'? Or will we sit back, hide, and forgo our mission to the world?

Both Gibbons and Olson challenge the church to step out in faith, to learn anew what it means to minister in the world, and to be a part of this amazing work of God. We would do well to listen.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

the Short and Simple Truth

It's been a rough couple of weeks at Lakebay. It's tough when anybody leaves. But when 4-5 people/families all leave at the same time. . .it's difficult to keep your head up. Even when it's not really about you - people move for financial reasons, for health reasons. Still, as a pastor, you get one more of those phone calls and have to wonder what's going on.

And yet, God is good. Random words of encouragement. A wonderful lunch with another pastor in the area. A great lunch meeting with a denominational colleague, with words of hope and helpful challenge.

And then a breakfast with the core leadership of Lakebay, and a reminder of what amazing people these are. People who love the Lord, who love the church, people dealing with their own pain and struggles, trying to survive, but people who love each other and haven't given up hope.

And a larger, broader conversation with the whole church, and a reminder again of why I love this place. People who refuse to give up hope, who commit to rise to the challenge. People with a longer view of life than I possess, reminding us of God's faithfulness through hard times. People who aren't afraid to ask tough questions, to challenge, to critique, and yet do so in love and a desire to understand, not attack. It's a wonder to see God's Body living out the commands to Love One Another, to Honor Each Other, to Care for One Another.

So, yeah, it's been a rough couple weeks. I've had a few sleepless nights, I've had it out with God once or twice.

But already, tiny shoots of new growth are emerging from the ground. And I've seen clear evidence that our work will continue, that our ministry is far from over. And I've been reminded that I am in the midst of good people. Lovely people. Beautiful people. And that I am blessed.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Sitting around on a Friday, Rollin' in my Sweet Baby's Arms

Only because you can never have too much of a good thing. . .

Well, you get the idea.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I'm a fan

I've been working through David Gibbons The Monkey and the Fish, which will be the topic of a future blog post. But his essential point is that the day of monolithic culture is gone. America, as with the rest of world, is becoming a mystical, magical blend of cultures - ethnic, socio-economic, generational - and the best churches (or any institutions, really) will find ways to navigate this new world, seeking out the best in cultures, learning to be fluid as change and blending becomes the norm.

It's a little tough to put words around, but, like with so many things, art proves the way.

I went with some friends and family to the Olalla blugrass festival last Saturday. Now there's culture: banjos, mandolins, western twangs, fiddles, and blueberry pie. Yum.

The final band was the Canadian group The Paperboys. Have you heard of them? Have you heard them? Count me as a fan.

No, they're not truly bluegrass. No self-respecting bluegrass band would include a drummer, a saxophonist and a trumpeter. Or an electric guitar.

But what they are is marvelous. Take some Scotch-Irish pennywhistle, throw in French-Canadian fiddle reels, add in ska brass, Mexican rhythm section, and bluegrass guitar, and you have the Paperboys. In an instant, I had Gibbons "Third Culture" defined by one band, a group that could begin with an old Irish folk tune, morph into indigenous Mexican music, and end with a fiddle dance tune. A group that could pull off a Bob Marley-John Denver mashup. A group that turned "Rollin' in My Sweet Baby's Arms" into the most rockin' dance tune ever. Really. It was a veritable mixture of all sorts of worldwide cultures, and it was one of the most enjoyable sounds I've ever heard. And the crowd agreed. This American Bluegrass crowd was on its feet, dancing and do-si-doing and clapping and shouting and generally experiencing a great time.

If you want to hear what I'm talking about, go to their music page, and listen to La Primavera. Listen how it switches back and forth from Mexican rhythm to Irish fiddle tune. In fact, listen to how the fiddle tune plays over top of the Mexican rhythm. Neither gives way to the other, both carry on simultaneously, a mashup of cultures complementing each other, each existing in its own cultural form, but both coming together to create something beautiful and unique.

I couldn't help but think this is what the kingdom of God is supposed to look like: all sorts of cultures blending together in a joyful, spontaneous celebration of creativity and community and laughter. And fun.

Go check out their website, listen to their music there. If you ever get a chance, go see them. Be amazed, and see the future coming to us now; thankfully, it seems to be in good hands.

(oh, on another note, I also became a fan of Northern Departure. A bunch of kids, but they know how to pick. Plus they hail from my old stomping grounds.)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Um, ouch (part 2)

Warning kids: do not try this. At home or anywhere else.

Thursday night, the first night of our weekend camping trip. First campfire, first s'mores. The 9-year-old is excited to roast her marshmallow. Gets it flaming hot, almost dripping off the marshmallow roaster stick. Makes a quick turn to retrieve her chocolate and cracker. At the same moment I lean in to stir the fire a bit.

Molten flaming gooey sugary mass connects with my right cheek. Now I understand how napalm works. It sticks to you, burning through your skin even as you desperately try to get it off, pull it off your eyelashes, keep it from going into your eye.

Yeah. That hurt. 2nd-degree burns all-around. And all the kids staring at me, wondering why I'm shouting and flailing and generally making a scene.

Here's a picture 5 days later. The blisters have popped, thankfully. Interestingly,we had purchased freshly-made Whole Foods mallows, which are square-shaped. Which is why, if you look closely, the scar is in roughly a right-angle.

The way I figure it, at least this all made for a memorable camping trip.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Um, ouch

Took an early morning drive to Seattle yesterday to see the eye doctor. It's been 6 weeks since the stitches came out; the cornea should have settled to the point where we could (finally!) work out a prescription for a new contact lens.

But nope. Too much astigmatism left over. A "tightening" or "bunching" of the graft to one side. And you know how they release some of that tension, removing the astigmatism?

By carving into the cornea with a scalpal.

After the stitches came out, I mentioned that a great test of self-control is sitting still while a man pokes around in your eye with a small pair of scissors and tweezers. Nope. I had no idea. This was much, much worse. They put a little topical anesthetic on the cornea. Then they slice a crescent-shape slit into the cornea. And you're watching the whole thing, because it's being done to the front of your freakin' eye!

And then. . .they throw an eye patch on and say "come back in 5-6 weeks."

And then the drive home, with one eye on fire (and pouring tears) and the other eye much more sensitive to light. I had to stop and buy some sunglasses, and everybody stared at the 'weird guy with the eye patch.' Took the Bremerton ferry and lay under my sweatshirt the whole trip over. I gutted out the drive home, took a handful of aspirin, and slept the rest of the day away, dozing off and on through the Mariners' "We're idiots and we fired our coach" press conference. Tried to watch Clash of the Titans with Karina last evening, but suffered the whole way through. Each blink brought agony.

Today seems better, but that might be the Tylenol doing its thing.

I had this surgery 2 years ago October. And it was all supposed to be worked out within 6-9 months. I wasn't seeing well before, but the idea was to suffer a few months in order to see much better on the other side. Instead, two years later, we're still cutting and poking and prodding and experimenting. Yes, it's all a little frustrating at this point. Not to mention painful.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Turning Trials Into Joy

I received an email yesterday afternoon with some bad news. Longbranch Community Church, our brothers and sisters to the south, was the victim of a vicious vandalism attack Friday night. I threw on a coat and headed down to see if we could offer any assistance. It was worse than I imagined, worse than can be described. Most windows shattered, tables overturned, bookshelves thrown to the ground, fire extinguishers emptied in the office, broken glass everywhere, doors punched through, holes hammered into walls, "I Am the Devil" written in whipped cream on a table. Every room was affected. Broken glass was showered over the floors, and out into the parking lot. It was horrendous.

Lakebay had a similar experience a dozen or more years ago, a fact some of the Longbranch people remembered. We now had a story in common. Unfortunately.

But they had some people there just beginning the process of cleaning up. And I made a few phone calls, and they made some phone calls, and word got out, and a dozen of their people showed up, and 8-10 Lakebay people showed up with work gloves and willing hearts, and a local glass guy made an emergency visit, and the local diner (Lulu's Homeport) brought some soup and sandwiches. And the glass was cleared out, bookshelves were set back up, trash cans were run off to dumpsters in the area, floors were mopped and vacuumed, and I realized in the midst of it that people were having a good time. They were laughing. They were getting to know each other, and, this being a small community, everyone was figuring out all the connections they had with each other. Young people and old were on their hands and knees picking up glass shards and scrubbing tables. Men were up on ladders securing the broken windows with plywood.

Yes, more people came as they heard the news, and there were tears and cries of shock and anger. But a community developed. People gave up their Saturday evening to serve those who were in the midst of a tragedy. And before you knew it. . .we all shared dinner together in a cleaned-up fellowship hall. And prayers were said for victim and perpetrator alike. And love and service ruled the day. There weren't a group a churches gathered together; instead, the singular body of Christ showed up in sacrificial service. It was a beautiful sight to behold, and (I think even the Longbranch folks would agree) a marvelous blessing was borne out of a vicious attack.

A couple other items of interest:

- the vandals left the sanctuary untouched, which seems both a blessing and a little suspicious
- the vandals left some evidence behind. Perhaps enough to point a pretty sure finger at them.
- while we grieve for Longbranch Church, we also recognize the vandals hit the Longbranch Improvement Club first. They have their own pain and mess to deal with
- At least one Longbranch Church member pointed out to me, with a sure sense of irony, that the lectionary text for this morning from Luke 12 reads: "If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into."

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Hey Lakebay!

We're going to be singing this sometime soon in worship. Take a listen, enjoy, learn it so you can join in from the start!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

If I had to pick one verse to describe our world today

". . .all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes."

Judges 17: 6; 21:25

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Conversation of the day

Precocious 9-year old, to her younger sister: Right. Be nice to your brother and sister. It's one of the 10 Commandments.

Theologian Dad: Actually it isn't.

Precocious 9-year old: Well, it should be.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Book review: Incarnate Leadership

Incarnate Leadership by Bill Robinson (President of Whitworth University) was a gift given to Covenant Pastors at our last Midwinter Conference. Based on John's description of Jesus in John 1:14, Robinson explains what it looks and feels like to lead in the way of Jesus. Eschewing power and glory and privilege, Incarnate Leadership means stepping off pedestals to live among the people we lead; it means transparency and honesty, it means reflecting glory and praise to those who really deserve it (either the people actually doing the work, or the God who is the source of all we have), it means living in a marriage of grace and truth (showing grace while never compromising the Truth), and it means continuous sacrifice.

As Zondervan's press describes this book, it is "Conversational in tone and seasoned with real-life stories from his own successes and failures as a leader. . ." That describes the book perfectly. It's not so much sitting in a seminar under a professional leadership guru; instead, it's like sitting down with a friend who's picked up some good leadership ideas along the way (often learned the hard way), who wants to share it all with you. To that end, parts of the book were fantastic and instantly applicable (to me), whereas others didn't seem to resonate, nor seem all that useful (at the moment). But it's a quick, easy read, while at the same time being one of the best books on Christ-like leadership that I've read. I would have no problem recommending it to any pastor, college president, or business leader who wants to allow their faith to guide their leadership style.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Romance of the Rails is gone; or, How I Almost Got Arrested

Back when I was but a lad, once or twice a year we'd go camping up on Stevens Pass. One of the activities necessary to call it a complete trip was a visit to the Western portal of the 8-mile-long Cascade Tunnel. What could be more exciting to a young boy than watching 5500 horsepower of diesel-electric locomotive bursting into daylight from deep within the mountain? What was more mysterious than watching Amtrak's Empire Builder disappearing into the cold, dark mouth if this man-made cave? Hours were spent, first with my grandparents and parents, and later with my hiking buddies, standing outside the tunnel, wandering 100 yards or so inside, and exploring the remains left over from the 1920s construction camp.

So earlier this month I took Mike up there, he of the recently posted backpacking video. Parked above the portal, wandered down and took a look inside, showed him the gated Pioneer Tunnel left over from the original construction. Nothing seemed to be coming so we turned and wandered the tracks down toward the original site of the Scenic Hot Springs Hotel, covered over and abandoned during the line relocation in '28. Nothing to be seen there, so we wandered back. A railroad employee was cleaning up some paint supplies at the job shack in Scenic. He told us we shouldn't be on the tracks. Then added, somewhat sheepishly, "They make us say that. Tell us to tell any trespassers to get off."

He was friendly enough, and when I told him my grandfather used to work for the Great Northern (the railroad that originally built the tunnel), and that I had a lifelong history of visiting that place, and wasn't just some yokel lookyloo, he warmed up to us. Spend about 20 minutes regaling us with yarns of the railroad. Complaining about "management." Cussing at the idiots who didn't know how to clean up their messes.

But then. . .up drives an official-looking SUV. BNSF Police it says on the side. The guy inside rolls down his window and motions to our new friend to come over. "Who are these guys?" he asks. I quickly shouted (with a smile) "He did his job! Told us to get off the tracks!" Said policeman wasn't amused. "You know you're trespassing? You know I could fine you $250 just for being here? Nobody's allowed on these tracks. If a terrorist blew up that tunnel, you'd destroy the nation's economy!" (I refrained from pointing out that currently Stampede Pass to the south, as well as the mainline through the Columbia River Gorge, were in fine shape and under-utilized, so blowing up the tunnel would be sad and an inconvenience, but wouldn't actually hurt the economy very much.)

It turns out there's now a tall steel tower sitting there about 300 yards from the tunnel entrance. On that tower are no less than three video cameras, giving a direct feed to an office in Texas. Right as we were climbing out of the Jeep and I was enjoying giving Mike the tour, some guy in Texas was gazing into his computer monitor muttering "terrorists, by gum! Terrorists!" and calling up the railroad police to run us off their tracks. Which means no more standing outside the tunnel waiting for trains, no pictures of headlights piercing the darkness, no exploring the remains of the construction village. The whole area is off limits. Go there and they'll think you're a terrorist.

For what it's worth, it wasn't a total loss. The first gentleman we met had to give us a drive back to the Jeep, so we got some more stories. And we discovered the policeman is an avid RC airplane modeler. We ended up having a lovely conversation about model airplanes; he even showed us some pictures. However, when I asked him where we could stand in the future to watch trains, he replied, "Why does anybody care? They're just trains."

Although, it occurred to me that part of the historical romance of the rails was bums running from the railroad cops. Lots of old ballads written about that very thing. So I suppose we just experienced part of the lore of railroading, and got a good story out of it.

But Mike was glad we weren't arrested. He may never have gotten back to his family in Canada.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tuesday Stuff

- I was looking at the lineup of bands for this year's Creation Northwest Christian Music Extravaganza. Wow. I don't even know half these bands. Am I that out of it? Or is it simply that I have a more cultured and discriminating taste when it comes to music?

-  Good thought for the day: "The number one way to get the word out about any organization is through the words and actions of the people in the organization.Every person in your church is like a walking billboard. How they act, work, talk, respond, and treat people represents you and leaves a lasting impression on others. It doesn't matter if your music is great. Or, if you've got fantastic design skills. Or, if your pastor is the most intelligent person on the planet. If your customer service is average or bad, your church is replaceable"  Kem Meyer, "Less Clutter, Less Noise."

- The first mission trip I ever took part in was a house-building weekend in Tecate, Mexico. A large part of Karina's family is from Tecate, Mexico. The Work of the People just spent a weekend in Tecate, Mexico, and want to remind us the people there have dignity. . .and that God loves them. Watch the video here.

-"Life presents us with a choice of getting what we want, but not the way we might want it. It's disquieting when the long-sought improvements occur in ways we don't anticipate. We are challenged to give up cherished notions that keep us stuck. Facing that dilemma is part of becoming an adult."  (emphasis mine) - David Schnarch, Ph.D., "Passionate Marriage."

- Hooray! New Stephen Lawhead book due out the end of August.

- I'm currently working my way through two books: one is on marriage, and keeps repeating the point that conflict is good, because conflict is what spurs growth. It's how we handle the conflict, and not the avoidance thereof, that matters. The healthiest marriages are not the ones lacking in conflict, but the ones in which people learn to take responsibility for themselves in difficult times.

The other book is on contemplative prayer, and is working on the thought that we have this mistaken goal in prayer to reach out to God "over there," rather than stilling ourselves and finding the voice of God already present in our lives. So the work is toward stillness, developing a calm heart and mind in the midst of life's tumult. Learning to let stresses and anxieties wash away in the calming pools of God's love. Listening and responding instead of guessing and reacting.

In their own way, each book is saying "life is hectic: take responsibility for your own body and soul, learn to self-soothe, learn to be quiet when all of life is raging, learn to be intentional rather than reactionary." Somehow both books seem the perfect fit for life and ministry right now. . .

Friday, July 09, 2010

A night out with the Stringdusters

You know what?

There's nothing quite like real people plucking real strings that vibrate in the air. Nothing electronic (other than some amplification so's everybody can hear), nothing synthesized. Real harmonies without autotune.

And there's nothing like a concert on a grass lawn, under the open blue sky and the bright summer sun, and some nice, cold watermelon to keep you cool.

And there's nothing like the community that develops at a bluegrass show. Families, young and old. People dancing, clapping, singing along. Friendly people sharing food. Band members who mingle with the audience, sell their own CDs, sign autographs and pose for pictures. It's all so. . .nice.

Here's a taste of what you all missed last night. . .

And here's me, with the band:

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Movie Recommend

It's rare that I watch a documentary that really moves me; even more rare that I find one that leaves me with hope (ever watch a Michael Moore movie and come away happy?).

Pray the Devil Back to Hell is that kind of documentary. It tells the story of the end of Liberia's hellish civil war, the end of the reign of Charles Taylor, arguably one of the most evil men alive. It tells the story of tribal warlords laying down arms and choosing peace just moments before the final destruction of Monrovia, Liberia's capitol, was to begin. Yes, it contains much in the way of gruesome violence and disturbing stories that will leave you shaken. But it's ultimately the story of the coming of peace, and the unexpected force that brought not just the end of bloodshed, but a movement toward reconciliation and future hope.

Because when the men (boys?) of the country refused to talk peace, it was the common ordinary women, Christian and Muslim alike, who engaged in non-violent protest, shaming the fighters into giving up their games of domination and violence. Using every weapon in their arsenal, from sex-strikes to threatening to strip naked, to treating the men as the boys they were, to simply sitting, singing, dancing, and a lot of praying, these women transformed the future of their country, and perhaps the world.

It's a story that has mostly passed the American public by, which is a shame, because it's a story that deserves hearing. The power of women, the power of prayer, the power of religion, the power of non-violent protest to end one of the most horrific wars on our continent. It's a story of hope, of redemption, of great personal risk, of tyrants being tumbled by simple people who declare "enough." With echoes of Rahab at Jericho and Esther in Babylon, it is a tale of biblical proportions, and a strong challenge to those who declare pacifism idealistic and unrealistic.

Here's the movie's official website:

It's also available through netflix.