Monday, February 28, 2011

Well, that was sad

Saturday I took the family out to run some errands and get some dinner. One of our stops was at the Gig Harbor Borders, one of the 200 Borders set to close in the next month. I did get some great deals on a few books; it seemed a lot of other people were doing the same as the store was pretty crowded. But shelves were emptying and being stacked to the side, the Seattle's Best Coffee shop upstairs was already cleaned out and closed up. It all felt so forlorn.

I'm not a big fan of box stores, and try to shop the local, mom & pop place whenever possible. But there really isn't any place like Borders in Gig Harbor - place to check out some music, peruse a wide range of books, pick up some Christmas presents for the kids, and sit down with a cup of coffee for some quiet reading. So I'm sorry to see this one shut down. We have a wonderful used book store down in the harbor; I've bought a number of books from him. I hope the loss of Borders sends some business his way. But I felt a little sad walking out of Borders on Saturday, knowing we were losing an important asset and piece of our culture.

And I have the suspicion I'll be even sadder when a generic clothing store opens up in that space, selling stuff I'll never want to buy.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Just a couple quick dates

Our brass quintet, the Signature Brass, has a couple of gigs lined up in the next few months:

On Saturday, April 9, the Gig Harbor Peninsula Symphony Orchestra is hosting its Spring Concert. The first half of the event will feature the symphony's clarinet choir, and the second half will feature the Signature Brass playing a variety of music from baroque to pops. The show will begin at 7:00 p.m., and be held at St. John's Episcopal Church in Gig Harbor.

On Sunday, May 22, the Signature Brass will make our feature debut - our first full-length concert. We are performing as part of the Haller Lake Music Series, at Haller Lake United Methodist Church in North Seattle. That show begins at 3:00 p.m.

Both shows are free, although donations are accepted.

Friday, February 18, 2011

What happened to theme songs?

Quick: start humming the Indiana Jones theme song!

Or, the Star Wars theme song. Or the theme from Rocky. (duh duh dududduh dududuh dududuh).

Are you older than 40? Then start singing the theme from the Greatest American Hero ("Look at what's happened to me. . ." Can you hum the theme from the A-Team? I know I can still sing the MacGyver song. And then there's the classic theme from Cheers.

Too old for you? Maybe you can join in the chorus of the Friends song?

And yes, I know it got way too much airplay, but I'd bet most of you could start singing along with that Titanic song.

So where did they all go? Are there any movies or TV shows with sing-alongable theme songs? Theme songs that dig deeply into the American conscious? Can you sing the theme song from Avatar? How many people sit around at parties and start singing the theme song from Lost (you'd do better with the Land of the Lost)? It's not like you can really hum the theme tune to The Office. I suppose the theme to Dr. Who is pretty epic, but really, how many times does it pop into your head at random moments? Do you hear people "do-do-dodod"ing to the 30 Rock theme?

So what happened to transcendent, memorable theme songs? Are producers purposely choosing to avoid them? Or are today's composers and musicians just lame?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

At least one important lesson to take from Egypt, et al

Last week a woman in our church came up and asked "what's this 'postmodernism' I keep reading about?"

In some ways, Egypt and the continued chaos across the Middle East sheds some light on the question. And it teaches us all an important lesson about leadership. What you had in Egypt was a power clash between two distinct worldviews, aided and abetted by technology unforeseen a generation ago. Mubarak, like so many other leaders in the Middle East and around the world, ruled because he was the ruler. His authority was in his position. The world has a structure, with leaders (often divinely-designated) and followers. Kings/presidents/Prime Ministers/Despots/Juntas rule because, well, because they're the rulers. And the rules of civilization state that the rest of society will follow these rulers, because that's the way it is. Mubarak's claim to authority was mostly that he was the leader; therefore, everybody else should follow.

A new world is upon us, in which the playing field has been leveled. No longer are rulers divinely appointed, no longer does their position hold any authority. They can say whatever they want, but the power of the individual voice, magnified in the massive echo chamber that is the internet, holds equal sway. In fact, in Western Culture at least, the voice of the leader is suspect simply because he or she is the leader. The voice of the common person, tweeted for all to hear, is seen as the voice of reason. Experts and politicians and authorities are distrusted, they are held in contempt. Public Opinion as culled from Facebook and Twitter is much more trustworthy than anybody with a degree or experience.

Thus, the leader says "follow" and the masses get on their twitter feed and say "rise up in revolt." And the masses win.

Sometimes this is a wonderful thing. The story on Egypt (as well as the other Middle Eastern countries) remains to be written, but we may be seeing the dawn of a new age. We may see freedom and openness in societies known for secrecy and internal violence. We may see some form of democracy plant its feet in the deserts of that ancient land. Our 'enemies' may move closer to our own worldview. Some are already comparing this to the fall of the Iron Curtain 20-some years ago. These are historic days and, for Egypt, they may be very good days.

But there is a difficult lesson to be learned for those of us who are called to leadership in our lives/communities/churches/organizations. Too often the Church behaves like Mubarak. We in pastoral/priestly leadership carry a divine authority to speak truth and righteousness, to call people to a certain moral behavior, to challenge false belief and action. And for too long the justification for our pronouncements has been "because the Bible says so." Or "because God says so." Remember that lovely song in the 1970s - "God says it, I believe it, and that's good enough for me"? That's Mubarak-type thinking.

We say "same-gender sexual activity is a sin." Our kids ask "why?" And we say "because the Bible says so."

We say "abortion is a sin." Our kids ask "why?" And we say "because God says so."

We say "you need to tithe" and people in the pew ask "why?" And we respond, "because I said so."

And we think we're going to win the argument that way.

Unfortunately, our kids all go home and get on facebook and find 1000 other people who think "Church is lame" and "Christians are bigots and haters." And even if we've spent countless hours studying the scripture, seeking God's face, discussing theological trends and meditating on God's work in the world, the countless online choir chanting "church is for losers" will still win.

Authority and leadership based on "because I said so" no longer works, as Mubarak just found out. Authority based on "because the Bible says so" pretty much stands the same chance. Which is going to be a monumental difficulty for established, institutionalized churches to overcome.

The good news is this. We don't serve a God who said "I'm God because I said so." Our God isn't like Mubarak, resting in his position of authority. Ours isn't a God who rules because of an Office or a Role. Ours is a God who climbed out of that presidential office and got his hands dirty. Ours is a God who ruled by washing the feet of his followers. Ours is a God who proved his authority not by coalescing power, but by giving power away; God doesn't rule by making edicts and then waiting for everybody to obey. Our God rules by loving, even to making the ultimate sacrifice.

It seems to me that too many Christian leaders want to lead according to the autocratic, Mubarak-style of leadership. It also seems to me that, rather than being frightened by this new, postmodern, voice-of-the-masses, bottom-up leadership issue, we can find our answers still in the pages of Scripture, in the face of Jesus, who led by being a servant, and didn't care about the trappings of power. Jesus built up quite a following that way, and he certainly remained a leader in spite of his lack of a P.R. campaign.

To be certain, there is a dark side to all of this. Sometimes, as we just saw in Egypt, the voice of the masses can be a good thing. But all too often the masses are idiots. You can prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that mankind landed on the moon, and still have a large percentage of the population believing its a hoax. You can prove that continued burning of fossil fuels is bad for the environment and bad for our children, and still the masses will demand their over-sized pickup trucks and SUVs. You can give an award to a talented musician known for her dedication to her craft, and still have hundreds of thousands of 12-year-old girls rise up in a twitter frenzy calling for a Biebolution. And this is where it becomes difficult.

Again, Jesus didn't seem to worry about that. He spoke truth, he humbly lived out the truth, he challenged misguided thinking, but he didn't seem to need to prove his point beyond that. When others rejected his teachings, he let them walk away. When the masses abandoned him, he remained faithful to the task, trusting that God was working behind it all and would take care of the details. His only work was to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God.

And this is the leadership challenge to us all. Those who want to hold on to their authority, a la Mubarak, will eventually lose it. But those who give up their need for power and authority in exchange for the opportunity to love and serve others, will eventually find themselves leading, because the world is drawn to those kinds of people. In this postmodern world, the authentic voice of love and compassion will win over the authoritarian 'because-I-said-so' leader every time.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Worst Date Ever

In honor of the upcoming Valentine's Day, Jonathon Acuff over at Stuff Christians Like tells the story of his worst date ever, and asks readers to respond with their own stories. I thought I'd get in on the action and tell a not-so-fun tale of my own romantic past.

I was at a Bible College where romance was mostly frowned upon. You had to get permission to go on a date. Fill out forms and promise to be good, stuff like that. So there wasn't a lot of dating going on in the first place. But my friend and I got to talking and realized I sort-of-liked this one girl, and he sort-of-liked her friend. Neither of us had the gumption to ask our lady-interest out alone, but a double-date seemed a good idea. More fun, less pressure, plus maybe the powers-that-be would see fit to give us permission, since it's probably harder to get into trouble in a group of four than when a man and woman find themselves alone together in a public restaurant.

We asked and - glory be! - they both said yes. We went to the dean and asked permission and - glory be! - he said yes. And so we had our first date with real college women, and cute ones, at that.

The big day came; we had arranged to meet them at the new pizza place in town. The time came, my friend and I were waiting, when we saw our dates outside, talking on the payphone. They seemed to be having an argument with somebody. Eventually they came in.

"Everything all right?" I asked.

"Fine," said my date. "It's just my mom's birthday today, and she's mad at me because I'm not staying home to celebrate." And things were off to a, ahem, great start.

Which lasted all of five minutes. Pleasantries were exchanged, pizza was ordered, and a cold gust of wind blew in as the front door opened. In walked two young men. Our dates responded with shrieks of delight. Turns out these two young men were former high-school classmates of our dates, and they hadn't seen each other in 5 months. So it was reunion time.

These two young men sat at the table right next to us. Our dates spent the entire evening talking with them, and basically ignoring my friend and me. They were all old friends talking about the old times, catching up on the latest smalltown gossip. My friend and I, so recently eagerly anticipating an evening of fun and romance. . .we were the proverbial third wheel. At one point our dates just left our table and joined their friends (although first they finished off the pizza my friend and I had paid for). And after a couple hours we all said goodbye and went home. No sweet nothings shared over pizza and root beer, not even a light-hearted conversation. In fact, no conversation at all. Just us sitting there listening to them all have a great time. And the pizza wasn't very good, either.

So there you go. The only date I ever went on in Bible College, and my worst date ever.

Happy Valentines Day, everyone!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Dan's trip to Chicago and back: the picture book!

The plot may not be exciting, but the graphics are pretty spiffy!

Leaving Seattle on a Rainy Monday Morning

A Snowy Morning at the Hyatt
More Snow at the Hyatt

Lots of Snow at the Hyatt

But then the sun came out

 Dinner With Pastor Jim

Worship with Pastor Jim
Coffee with Pastor Andrew
Leaving Chicago (5 hours late)
 Morning View
St Paul, Minnesota
A Junk Yard in St. Cloud, Minnesota

Staples, Minnesota

 Detroit Lakes, Minnesota

Fargo, North Dakota

 Rugby, North Dakota

Minot. In Nightvision. 

Waiting for Breakfast


Browning, Montana

Marias Pass. Continental Divide. Note the gray marker. 

Apgar Mountain, Glacier N.P.

Whitefish, Montana

An old engine in Whitefish, Montana

 Me looking grizzled in Whitefish, Montana

The end of The Gut, Libby, Montana

Snoqualmie Pass Rest Stop


Monday, February 07, 2011

The BiPolar Express

I love trains. I love riding trains. I also needed some time to myself, time to process and dream and relax and pray and sleep, so the idea of riding the train from Chicago to Seattle post-Midwinter was the perfect connection between those two.

And in many ways, it was everything I'd hoped for. I read a lot, I sat and watched endless North Dakota prairies roll by, I was amazed at the grandeur of Marias Pass and the Snow-covered Rocky Mountains. I watched a deer, startled by the train, swimming across the Kootenai River (I also saw a deer that wasn't so lucky, laying headless in a ditch beside the tracks). I saw bald eagles perched high in aspens, I watched the snow falling in Minot. I woke to a fog-shrouded Minneapolis and a ghost town in the Montana flatlands. I waved at ice-fisherman in Idaho. I read some more. I planned out my sermon schedule for the rest of the year. I did some journaling and praying. I slept on and off. I enjoyed a dinner conversation with two sisters heading to Wisconsin to see their mother, suffering from alzheimers. I sat and talked with a roofer who fell off a roof last summer, breaking both his feet. I watched young men racing snowmobiles beside the train. I turned my mind off and watched Minnesota slide by. I got out and walked around in Fargo and Whitefish. I arranged some music parts for our worship team. It was nice.

On the other hand. . .
- the train was five hours late leaving Chicago. Five hours spent in a stuffy, low, uncomfortable room, sitting on the floor waiting for the train to come. At least they gave us some crackers and bottled water.
- outside of Milwaukee, somebody discovered some boxes lining the tracks; boxes suspicious enough that they called the police, who called the FBI, who called Homeland Security, who called a bomb squad from Chicago. And so there we sat for 4 more hours. Apparently it was all a hoax.
- The train alcoholic sat in front of me. And his friend sat across from me. They were drunk before they got on the train. They sat and talked about the $200 they'd spent at the strip club before getting on the train. In great detail.
- The young man next to me hooked up with a young lady on the train, in the restroom. The porter caught them and almost kicked him off the train. Which led to a shouting match at midnight. The next morning I sat and listened to this fine young man talking to his girlfriend on the phone, telling her just how much he loved her and couldn't wait to see her. Except when he got off the phone he kept asking the guy in front of me where the girl from the previous night went, because he wanted to go see her again.
- A traveler from Switzerland connected with the alcoholic in front of me. They shared beer after beer. They were so drunk the porter told them they couldn't be together any more. So they sat in front of me and cussed about the porter. Did I mention they reeked of booze?
- Somebody next to me was sound asleep. And their alarm went off. They slept. For 20 minutes it went off.
- When we got to Minneapolis, we were 9 hours behind. By the time I woke up in Shelby, we were 12 hours behind. By the time we reached Whitefish, we were 16 hours behind. Needless to say, I missed the Super Bowl.
- Because the train was so late, they made us get off in Spokane, where we boarded buses for the rest of the trip. Thus, I missed my favorite part of the journey, the part I was most anticipating - the Cascade crossing. But they did give us Subway sandwiches.
- We made it to Seattle after 10:00 p.m.

Still, on the 2nd night I'd had enough, so upgraded to a sleeper car and left the alcoholics behind. And because we were so late, we crossed the Rockies in daylight, whereas usually it's done at night, in the dark. So the scenery was a blessing, and the sleeper car made all the difference - especially when they ran short on food, and only gave lunch to the sleeping car passengers.

It was a marvelous trip; it had no shortage of challenges. I may even do it again next year. I just may need to get a sleeper from the start. Truthfully, the Amtrak staff on board were marvelous, considering they were in the same predicament we were. They handled it well, and even most of the passengers took it in stride. Seriously, consider airplane passengers delayed 12 hours - they'd be freaking out. But everybody on the train took it as part of the adventure, laughing it off.

I'll post some pictures later.

Friday, February 04, 2011

So the fun is over. . .now the fun begins

Midwinter 2011 is over. In my experience, it was one of the best I've attended. I'll probably post some highlights later. But now the next part of this journey commences. I decided a couple months ago to take the train home from Chicago - a 45 hour journey. Call it a mini-sabbatical, a personal retreat, a chance to think and process and do some long-range planning. . .and maybe just to sit and watch the country go by.

So here I sit at Chicago's Union Station, waiting to board the Empire Builder. . .and it's already delayed an hour. We're off to a great start!