Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Ink and Paper are a Step Forward

Is blogging dying?

During recent reflections of the life of 41st U.S. President George H.W. Bush, many people have remarked on Bush's use of handwritten notes to connect with people. Will people a generation from now remark on how good someone was at e-mails, e-cards, or blogging?

Anecdotally, blogging seems a less popular medium to share ideas these days. Everyone who is someone probably has a podcast now. I have enjoyed several bloggers and podcasts in recent years, and made my own contributions to these media projects.

One of the ways I have processed my thoughts in 20 years of ordained ministry involved blogging. It was a helpful exercise to intermittently write, pray, think, and meditate over a keyboard as I prepared for Sunday mornings. However, in the past 2 years or so, I have drifted away from typing and moved toward writing in Black n' Red notebooks. I don't mind making mistakes that come with ink and paper, and the pace of writing fits with the pace of my thought processes. My sermons have improved, I am less anxious when I preach, and with the hardcover journals, I have something that easily fits on a bookshelf for future reference.

Granted, if anyone dares to pick up one of my notebooks in the future, they won't be able to make much sense of my writing. I am neither producing crafted prose or even sentences toward a coherent speech or sermon. My notebooks are not journals. I write ideas that both belonging to me and to scholars. This mélange eventually becomes a sermon--and the same sermon could not be identically preached from these notes. Sometimes I look at these notes when I preach, sometimes I don't. The importance of writing by hand for retaining information has been worthy of study. At the very least, recognizing that typing and writing involve different brain processes says something to me about how I write and work with ideas. I have long wanted to publish short stories, but I have not found the appropriate process for me. With a developing sense of patience and improved self-understanding, I may have a story or two in me in the future.

I am glad I have opportunities each Sunday to ruminate on the stories of the Bible with my fellow people of faith. I thought part of my job was to bring the church into at least the 20th century with technology. While this may still be true, pen and paper are not going away any time soon, and have enriched conversations with people in my congregation.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

An Evolving Lent: From Soup to Poetry

When I was a child, Lent always meant soup and bread. For Wednesday evenings during a six-week period on from February-April at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Renton, Washington, I could have as much soup and bread as I wanted. I loved that, because those years of my memory were lean years in my household. Church was a place of plenty, with women and men telling me, "of course you can have more." There was a worship service, but I barely remember any of that. The idea behind soup, I was told, was simplicity, and Lent was a time of simplicity. I did not ponder simplicity much. I liked being full, and people seemed happy to be together.

After I became a pastor in training and then ordained, I found that many of my colleagues were burdened and miserable, and seemed to enjoy saying so. I became more aware that people "gave something up" for Lent--representing fasting. People starting using the word "journey" often, which sounded more like a death march. Sure, we would tell the story of Jesus' death, but the agony seemed misappropriated or misplaced. I was not quite sure what to make of all the piety.

With nearly 20 years of ordained ministry under my belt, I am letting go of some of the piety I once thought I had to embrace during the 40 days of Lent. I will share the stories of Jesus' last days with my congregation, but I am not going to tell them how to feel. When it comes to facing mortality, whether it is Jesus, someone we love, or our own, experiencing such stories of mortality is a call to reassess priorities--maybe we will answer that call, maybe we won't. Such reflection can't be programmed to happen over a period of time. Grief happens not as part of a recipe, but organically.

The idea is to shake up the routine, cultivate the soil of our lives, and see what is revealed and what will grow in this next season of life. There have been times I have planted a garden, and other times I have planted trees. Sometimes it is enough for me to go on a hike and kick up the dirt. The Old English "lent" means "spring". Lent seems to be the time to stir up the soil of life, and see what will grow. Maybe that involves a solemn piety, but this season, I am pondering creativity. I am considering writing a story, a poem, or learning some of the basics of a new musical instrument. We shall see how these forty days unfold.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Reflecting on the Meaning of Reformation, 500 Years in the Making

Lutherans and other Christian traditions worldwide have directed their attention toward the meaning of the Reformation, which has been marked as a 500th anniversary year in 2017 (culminating this week). The Reformation was a perfect quake of ideas, politics, media, and language that changed the course of the Church and the world. Martin Luther was at the epicenter of that quake. Some people recognize this day and time with 500-year old German hymns. Martin Luther both taught about God’s love in Christ, and built up the Church through writing hymns (some of them we still use today). But the Reformation is far more than a type of music or worship.

In one of his most widely used texts, The Small Catechism, Luther taught the basics of Christian faith that were not the exclusive possessions of priests and pastors, but a tool for Christians to pass on the faith at home and in their communities. The Catechism taught the 10 Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer were to be part of daily living, in the language of the people, and focused on God’s love, the Bible, and neighbor.

I believe that what continues to make the Reformation important today is that Luther emphasized worship and teaching in the language of the people, and directed our attention toward our neighbor. For centuries, the Church had (and has) emphasized its own power. Luther redirected followers of Jesus away from fear of the power of the Church, and toward their neighbor. This neighbor focus is especially reflected in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which poses the question, “Who is my neighbor?” This teaching directs me as a Christian and as a pastor in my actions at church, and with my household. It is not so important that we at St. John’s build a church full of Lutherans. What is important is that with a congregation that is called Lutheran, we welcome our neighbor in building a community in Christ that continues to welcome neighbors, no matter who they are. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Grief and Opportunity of Lost Plans

I am not one to believe that God foils our plans. I do believe that God hold us in love, regardless of how we think we need it.

This summer has not been easy. For years I have looked with some envy at my colleagues and friends who have had sabbaticals, wondering how that time could be invested when I had such an opportunity. This is my first sabbatical. Melanie had one soon after our youngest daughter was born over 10 years ago. She rested, bonded with our daughters, finished her Doctor of Ministry thesis, and took a few continuing education trips. We have colleagues and friends who traveled the world on their sabbaticals and had extraordinary adventures. Melanie and I dreamed of our own extraordinary adventures and made plans. Very few of those plans have become reality. While this time away from the pressures of work and the tyranny of the urgent has brought me closer to my family, much needed rest, positive health practices, and some reconnection with friends, our dreams have significantly shifted. This happens in life, but that knowledge does little to slow the grief. I do not want to go on in great detail about what caused us to cancel/postpone our trip to South America. There are health concerns that are not life or death, but led us to decide that we could not roll with the punches of these issues on another continent. It hurt to make the decision. We recognize the great privilege and gift of the opportunity to do what we were doing, but it still hurt.

I had made promises that I would write more frequently, and share some insights to this time of Sabbath that scripture regularly addresses, yet remains an elusive mystery for us moderns. Writing is an important exercise for me—as a creative person, and for my overall health. I have been numb, and not sure what to say. Almost every ounce of creative energy has gone toward the wellness of our household and the relationships therein. Melanie and I are well. We invest a lot of energy communicating with each other and working to enjoy a simpler schedule. We have discovered some of the joys of Tacoma and Pierce County that we had probably taken for granted. We both have a history of adventurous travel, even with our children. Close proximity outings are things we usually see as something to be done someday. Today has turned out to be that nebulous someday, for the good of our household. There are lessons learned and that will be learned from this realization, and I will write about some of those in the days ahead.

You need not worry about us. You may pray for us, if that is what you do. Know that your friendship is important to us, and that God is in the midst of that love.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Needed Space to Breathe

The plan is falling apart. I haven't yet figured out how to pick up the pieces.

I have been following some of my friends and colleagues online, and summers for a child living with autism are profoundly disorienting. The loss of a school routine is jarring. We regularly ask the question in our household--is this teenage or autism stuff? Or some combination thereof? Behaviors and responses do not fit into tidy categories, and we become alchemists with food, sleep, health care, and structural variables. Our daughter is getting ready for high school, which adds another layer. Her life is amiss, and we aren't sure how to help. It helps when our friends and family ask us how we are doing. I get choked up even thinking about the question.

I do not write about these struggles willingly. I tend to shy away from topic specific support groups. My challenges seem small compared to the plights of others. Sometimes ASD parents and I give each other knowing glances and encouragement on occasion, which at the right time can be pain relief. We move forward.

We had big plans for this sabbatical in my household. We thought the time and space would allow us extended time for new adventures. Those dreams and expectations have been curbed, and in some cases--slashed. It's hard to say whether they will completely crumble, or whether we regroup and rally. At the very least, we are thankful that we do not have to wonder about whether we can survive a day at work because today...we have time. And while this sabbatical may not turn out to be the stuff that dreams are made of, maybe I can appreciate some space to breathe.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Shoulder Conversation, Baseball, and Social Media

Regardless of how you feel about baseball as a sport or an activity, going to a baseball game provides some of the best shoulder conversation available.

While many decry social media and what it's doing to our ability to relate, I appreciate the communication opportunities social media provides. I get to craft what I share. To be sure, I still share stupid things on social media as much as I do in face to face conversation. But I prefer to have some sort of mediating presence, or else the communication can be overwhelming. Social media is good. Baseball is good. Sitting shoulder to shoulder with a friend or colleague takes a little bit of the edge off. Not that I am scared or intimidated. But I need time to think and reflect. Might as well be at a baseball game. Social media can't do it all, nor do I want or expect it to.

Over the past few weeks I've hit 4 baseball games at various levels of play. Ryan is much more extraverted than I am, but he also loves baseball. Even though it was crazy hot, that was overlooked for a day of watching the AAA Oklahoma City Dodgers. Ryan and I met on Twitter years ago. We have collaborated on a few projects, most notably the logo at St. John's. It was good to hang out.

I sat in the bleachers of a Little League game in Independence, Kansas, where I watched the son of my good friends Zach and Melissa pound the strike zone. It was seriously impressive. Zach and I had not seen each other in nearly 7 years, and the baseball game was a great way to begin the reconnection.

I've been to Safeco Field more times than I can count, but it's a regular ritual with a friend whom I met on social media. Adam returns to his home Seattle area stomping grounds on occasion, and we usually go to a game. We both wanted to see the new Griffey statue. The outing is a ritual, with good conversation.

One of the goals of the Midwest swing was to reconnect with my old friend, Don, and his family in St. Louis. For some reason, my National League team was always the St. Louis Cardinals growing up. In college and beyond, I went to several Cards games with Don. I had not yet been to the newer version of Busch Stadium. Sometimes the ritual and rules of a baseball provide a good entry point to connecting. A Cardinals game is almost like church. It moves at a similar pace--liturgy, singing, and particular dress. The place is always decked out in red. Before the trip, I did not have an appropriate red shirt. I had to look the part. Don and I talked all afternoon, but he was also a tour guide, reminding me that the contexts in which we connect come with many stories.

While some people don't get the benefits of baseball or social media, they have contributed to what it means for me to be human--investing in relationships. I am thankful to have the space to continue those investments this summer.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

St. Louis Begins the Pilgrimage to Old Friends

One of the trips I wanted to take during sabbatical was reconnect with some old friends who were instrumental in surviving some of my transitions of early adulthood. St. Louis, Missouri is like a second home. Don Volansky and his family took me in when I was a terrified 18 year old who had moved to Lawrence, Kansas from the Pacific Northwest. I was wondering what in the hell I had gotten myself into at the University of Kansas; the Volansky family made sure I had a home away from home, even if only for a few times per year. This Roman Catholic family joyfully adopted a Lutheran son.

When I lived in Sioux Falls, it was a little easier to pop down to St. Louis. With kids, work, and distance, it's not as easy anymore. What was a visit every 1-2 years has become more like every 5, give or take a few years. Don and I parent children with similar struggles. We both enjoy sports. We laugh for hours upon hours.

Going to a worship service is a different process with my Catholic friends than at home. We went to a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game yesterday and sat in the 90F heat--going to a mass after the game all hot and sweaty and in shorts seemed like a weird proposition to me, but why not?

It's hard to turn off my critical eye in a service. I corrected a point in the sermon in my mind. A bit of a foolish habit. But the homily was 5 minutes, and the priest described the Trinity by eventually saying, "It's okay to say, I don't know." It was great to sing in that grand space. I knew the hymns, and almost startled the people near me. It felt good not to have to worry about the details of the service. I suppose that is what part of my sabbatical is about, to actually feel some release. This decompression will be a slow process, but the pilgrimage to see old friends has put me in a better place.