Saturday, December 27, 2008

Manly Garage

Last night my family had a gathering at my aunt and uncle's new home in Salem. The house was built with numerous custom features, including a urinal in the garage made specially for my uncle's Harley-Davidson. I've seen bigger, more outrageous garages before, but this one takes the prize for being the "manliest."

Friday, December 26, 2008

Home for Christmas

It's been exactly a year since the last time I came home to Keizer, Oregon. It feels strange to be absent for an entire year from a place that is so familiar. Although I am unmistakably home, the little things that have changed since my last visit scream for attention. Like how the dog no longer jumps into my arms, and now uses a "stepping stool" to get onto the couch. Like how the cat is fatter, and my dad drinks Coors Light. There's a new dishwasher in the kitchen, and a wire-less internet router. My bedroom is, well--no longer my bedroom--now it's simply a place to lay my head for the duration of my stay.

Life sometimes changes in an instant: a graduation, a move across country, a new job, a new home, meeting a girl. But for the most part, life changes in small, subtle ways. And then you come home for Christmas and you realize that all these little things amount to something that makes you want to update your neglected blog.

To my faithful few: I hope your Christmas celebrations were met with a sense of expectation and joy. If you're a strange combination of person who lives in Keizer and reads my blog, I hope we meet in person.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Frozen Morning

I woke up freezing this morning. At what time I don't know, because my bedside digital clock was not illuminated. The power had turned off at some point during the night, I assumed. But just in case, I flipped several light switches on and off throughout my place (why do we do this?) to be sure the power outage was not isolated to my bedroom. Peering outside for the first time, a world of frozen trees, telephone lines, and car windshields was revealed. It looked like Mr. Freeze from The Incredibles had battled an evil villain in the front yard. Despite the world being frozen over, I needed to make my way into work.

Reaching into a dark refridgerator, I found a barely cold carton of vanilla soy milk for my Just Bunches cereal. With my hair severely disheveled and my teeth unbrushed due to the lack of running water, I threw on a beanie and shoved my tooth brush and tooth paste into my coat pockets.

I felt like a mouse inside a maze trying to find my way to the wedge of cheddar as I drove into work. Because of all the fallen trees and broken branches, the road I usually travel was closed off. The length of my communte was roughly doubled as I struggled to find roads that were passible.

It's December 12th and winter has finally arrived.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Morning Pukes

This morning for our worship service I gave a children's sermon. I invited all the youngest children to have a seat on the steps in the front of the sanctuary. As I was asking my leading question of: "Does anyone know what holiday is coming up this week," one of the five-year-old boys threw up all over the place. And this wasn't just a little spittle. The torrents of Niagara flowed from this kid's mouth. I'm not really sure what I said after that, but I'm sure no one was listening. I think everyone's attention was on the kid being escorted to the bathroom and the two adults trying to clean up the mess. But I guess that's just the way it goes sometimes...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I Did It

I did it. This week I purchased and cooked with tofu for the very first time. And this isn't some random experiment. I'm sure that I will be purchasing and cooking with tofu more in the future. For you see, the incorporation of tofu signals a larger change in my overall diet.

Some time ago I read a book written by best selling author Michael Pollan called In Defense of Food. For someone who rarely ventures outside the realm of religion, I found the book to be a fascinating read that made me reconsider the kinds of food I put into my body. Although quite profound, the thesis of the book can be summarized in seven words: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. By "Eat food," the author means eat food that is made from ingredients that you can actually pronounce. By "Not too much," he means stop stuffing yourselves you chubby Americans. And by "Mostly plants," he means don't forget to eat your veggies. This book sparked my reevaluation of what I put into my body. As a result, I started eating more fruits and vegetables.

Starting a few months ago, I began to think more seriously about the pros and cons of eating meat. Beef, pork, and chicken (the big 3) are rich in nutritional value and are a prime source of protein, but most of the meat we consume in the U.S. comes from livestock and poultry that have been raised in cramped facilities where they do not have the ability to move around and graze freely. And since these animals are crammed into confining areas, their bodies are prone to atrophy from the lack of mobility and from being in such close contact with so many other animals. To compensate for these sub-par living conditions, farmers inject the animals with antibiotics and artificial hormones to defend against sickness and to keep the animals alive just long enough to make it to slaughter. So I asked myself, "Do I want to be eating animals that have never seen the light of day and that are pumped full of drugs?"

Right now you might be saying to yourself, "I can't believe Ric is one of those wussy vegetarians." Well, I might be a wuss, but I'm not a true vegetarian. I continue to eat meat on rare occasion. My criteria for eating meat is as follows: 1) If not eating meat puts me in a position of being totally rude (like if I get invited to dinner and no vegetarian options are available) and 2) if I know that the meat is certified naturally raised, meaning humanly raised, organically fed, and free of antibiotics and hormones.

You may ask, "Where do I find naturally raised meat that doesn't cost an arm and a leg." For starters, one of my favorite restaurants, Chipotle, has a very high commitment to providing their customers with naturally raised meats. What all started with an attempt to find better tasting pork has turned into "Food With Integrity." You can read all about it here. Chipotle and its many patrons are largely responsible for changing the food industry at large. And that's why I want to eat meat at a place like Chipotle, because I believe I actually can have a greater impact on the improvement of our food industry by eating naturally raised meat as opposed to if I refrained from eating all meat.

So mom, it's not because I don't like your cooking any more, it's just that I don't trust what has gone into that cow, pig, or chicken... And you know what? Tofu ain't that bad.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tickle (and) Me

I hate talking about last week as though it is breaking news…

A few days after returning from my DC/NYC adventures, I attended a conference for east coast pastors connected to the Evangelical Covenant Church. The conference was held at a retreat/conference center that I have grown quite fond of and the keynote speaker was Phyllis Tickle. Tickle is regarded as one of the most respected authorities and popular speakers on religion in America. She is also one of the more prominent voices contributing to the emerging Christianity conversation.

After reading Tickle’s book, The Great Emergence, I already knew that I would enjoy whatever she had to say. But I was not anticipating how lively and hilarious this seventy-five-year-old woman with a southern accent would be in person. Her depth of knowledge about the sociology of religion, and how every five hundred years the Christian Church goes through a massive upheaval, was made all the more impressive by her ability to balance it all with humor and witty social commentary.

I became so enamored with Phyllis that I just had to get my picture taken with her. I'm also proud to say that we are friends on Facebook (I told you she was cool) and that she has since been a tremendous source of encouragement to me.

Although hearing from and becoming friends with Phyllis was certainly a highlight, it wasn’t the most significant thing to occur last week. The details I don’t find appropriate to share by this medium, but suffice it to say that it has something to do with the girl standing on the other side of Phyllis.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Goodbye My Friend

On Friday morning I said goodbye to Jake on the subway. I was headed to New York City's Penn Station to catch a bus, and Jake was headed to Central Park, later to catch a plane to Seattle. I don't know if it's cool to hug in the subway, but it didn't matter.

After a whole month in New Hampshire together, Jake and I headed down to D.C. and then to New York. Traveling by Mega Bus, we arrived in D.C. on the eve of the most significant presidential election of our life-time. I won't go into much detail, but I think we definitely made the most of our two short days in D.C., seeing nearly all the major attractions.

We got into New York on Wednesday night and made our way up to Spanish Harlem, where Beth Anne and friends live. Astounded by the expanses of concrete and the strange absence of trees, we tackled Beth Anne's ambitious check-list of things to see.

Jake, thanks for your friendship and for experiencing the east coast with me.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Relational Ministry of Place-Sharing

Last week I was on the campus of Gordon College for a youth ministry symposium. The lecturer for the symposium was Andrew Root. Root is the assistant professor of youth and family ministry at Luther Seminary and recently released a book called Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry: From a Strategy of Influence to a Theology of Incarnation.

What this guy had to say has pretty much rocked my world.

To begin with, Root is all about relational ministry. This may sound redundant to you—like saying ATM machine—but it’s been my experience that we can’t assume that all ministry is relationship oriented. Nevertheless, he draws a stark distinction between a relational ministry of influence, and a relational ministry of place-sharing.

According to Root, when relationships are used to influence we treat relationships as a means to an end. In other words, relationships are a vessel that we use to arrive at some other desired outcome. In the context of youth ministry, this “other desired outcome” could be getting a kid to come to youth group, attend a retreat, or make a decision to follow Christ.

On the other hand, a relational ministry of place-sharing is one that values relationships for what they already are. The relationship is itself regarded as the end goal and the desired outcome. Root insists that place-sharing is what is at the heart of the Incarnation of Christ—the mysterious melding of man and God who shares the place of us all to the fullest extent of what it means to be human.

I found this rather convicting. How many times have I befriended a student because he or she was potential to grow the church’s youth program? How many times did I start a conversation with a kid because I needed to fill more seats in a van for our next youth activity?

The next day following the symposium I had dinner with a family from the church who has two boys in high school. Throughout the evening I learned a lot about the family and even helped stir the Risotto. I learned a lot about their family dynamic, the challenges of a blended family, and what life is like for them on a day-to-day basis. I wish I could say that these two boys attended youth group later that week. They were no-shows. But that’s not what it was about. I didn’t come to recruit more kids for youth group. I came just to share in their place—to share a place at the dinner table and hopefully a larger place in their family.

In some ways it's a lot easier this way. I don't have to worry so much about how many kids come to youth group. Christ never called me to that. Christ calls me to exist in loving relationships that give witness to the God's love through the Incarnation of Jesus.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Live Free Or Dodge

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was going to be playing in a semi-competitive dodge ball league through the New Hampshire Sports and Social Club. We're now two weeks into the season and so I thought I'd share about how it's going so far.

Before I even signed up I heard stories about people literally breaking their arms last year because they threw the ball so furiously. On the night of our first match I was told by several other dodge ball veterans to be sure to warm-up my arm. But of course I didn't heed their warning and I just started heaving the ball as hard as I could.

Turns out this wasn't such a great idea. You see, the balls we use are not the classic red rubber balls one might think of using when playing dodge ball. Instead, they are smaller, softer balls that have little resistance when thrown. Pretty much it's like throwing a ping-pong ball as hard as you can. The lack of resistance on the throwing motion kills your arm!

I can't believe how sore my arm was the next day. Even lifting the smallest of objects proved difficult. But I was more surprised that my arm was still sore four days later. I've learned my lesson; next time I'm going to do some serious stretching and warm-up exercises before giving 'em the heater again.

The after game festivities at the sponsoring bar are pretty good, too. I don't think I can do the $2 Bud Lights, though. I've never tasted a more disgusting beer. Oh, and by the way, "Live Free Or Dodge" is the name of our amazing is that!?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

It's October and Jake Lives on My Couch

It's been about 2 weeks since my last post. Unacceptable, I know. To my mother and my 3 other faithful readers, my deepest apologies. Moving on, my transient friend Jake is currently living with me and we're doing our best to make the most of October in New England. Last Saturday Jake and I and my two friends Jen and Abby hiked a 9 mile loop called the Franconia Ridge. During the car ride north we appreciated the colorful foliage. By the time we reached Franconia's exposed ridge we were enduring snow, ice, and powerful wind gusts.

On Monday and Tuesday I dragged Jake along to a youth workers retreat at a camp in western New Hampshire. We stuck around a little longer after the retreat and canoed around Swanzey lake while my friend Carol shared "little known facts" about the lake and the surrounding houses.

Jake and I are also planning a trip to New York and D.C. and we hope to meet up with our friend Adam who recently moved to Delaware.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Surfing Haiku

Today I had an inspiring AM session riding super clean waist/shoulder high waves. Desperate to express my enthusiasm, I decided to write a haiku.

Sea breeze, waves breaking

Breathing heavy, shoulders burn

Drop-in, pop-up, carve

I hope I did this correctly. Joe and Drew, let me know how I can improve.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

After the Canary Dances

Once every two months I lead an informal “worship service” at Webster, an assisted living and retirement community in Rye, NH. We have our service in a room equipped with several couches, a big screen T.V. and a baby grand piano. In addition to the 12-18 live-in residents that make it to the service each month, I’m usually accompanied by several members from the church. Most are members from the choir and do an exceptional job of leading us in singing a few hymns. Many of these hymns are in a tune I’ve never heard before. I’m no worship leader, so I’m there to say a prayer, read scripture, and give a brief message. The service typically lasts about a half hour.

This week I had a tough act to follow. Prior to our worship service, the Webster residents were being entertained by a man with a dancing Canary. As I arrived the man’s act was just finishing and he was trying to corral his dancing bird into a dog kennel for the car ride home. I think the old folks were really wound up afterwards and had a difficult time immediately transitioning to what was going on in the worship service. As usual, I began the service with a prayer that I don’t think anyone heard. A woman in a wheel chair was squawking almost as loudly as the dancing bird. It was distracting, but I said my prayer and an “amen” that was not repeated. Almost the same could be said for my message. Oh sure, there might have been a few in the room that could track with what I was saying, but for the most part, nothing but blank stares.

I’m reminded of Henry Nouwen who went to work at a home for the mentally disabled. Although a highly educated theologian, author, and well respected leader in the church, Nouwen’s credentials were meaningless to the mentally disabled. The only thing his disabled friends desired from him was his presence, time, and consideration. My times spent at Webster, I’m learning, are not really about my message or the songs or my prayers that everyone seems to talk over. That’s not the point. I think the greatest ministry happens when all that is over and when it’s time for me to leave. On my way out, I greet the residents and shake their hands and ask them for their name. To them this seems to be the best part. Maybe I’ll drop the sermon and stick to learning more names.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I Found It Just Recently

I recently made a startling observation about myself: I finally have a life. Alright, I realize I’m being a little dramatic, but for a while there I was wondering if I had made a serious mistake in moving to rural New Hampshire. It’s been more than a year since I officially relocated to the east coast. It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. No family. No friends. No nothing… Yes, I realize I’m just a little on the dramatic side again. But it’s true! How does one spend his evenings in a place he has never known? Trust me, there is only so much time one can spend at Gold’s Gym. But now—now things are remarkably different. No, it didn’t happen over night. But now, life seems to be so…. Well, I’m not exactly sure how to put it. One thing is for sure: I’m a lot busier than before. I gave up my gym membership about 5 months ago and don’t think I’ll be getting another. Sure, I’m turning scrawny, but there are just so many other things to be doing instead of carrying around dumbbells. Is there more work to be done at the church? Did Greek do this to me? Do I have more friends now than before? Yes. At last, I think it’s just about doing the hard work of building community, and becoming acclimated and involved. Some people can jump right into this. Others, I suppose, never find it. But me—well I think I found it just recently, which probably means I was there 6 months ago.

Now to move on to a few life updates (don’t you just hate that term—“life update”?).

1. I’m driving down to Boston tomorrow night to see Sigur Ros in concert. I’ve never anticipated a show like this before. I know it’s going to be good, I just don’t know how good.
2. I joined a semi-competitive dodge ball team through the New Hampshire Sports & Social Club. From what I understand it to be, grown adults chuck rubber balls at other grown adults on Tuesday nights and gather afterwards at a sponsoring bar for $2 drafts. I heard last year a couple guys literally broke their arms because they were throwing too hard.
3. Jake is coming. Yes, Jake Buter is coming to New Hampshire. I think he’ll be here for about a month. Jake, where were you 9 months ago!? Oh, I remember—you were in China.

That’s enough for now I suppose.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

That's What Catholics Do

At Rye Congregational Church we celebrate the Lord's Supper every first Sunday of the month. Typically, congregants receive the communion meal by ingesting a small waffer the size of a Tic-Tac breath mint, and Welch's grape juice served in a small thimble sized cup. The congregation remains seated while the elements are distributed.

This Sunday was different. We served communion by intinction, whereby the wafer is dipped in the cup and then received. Receiving communion by intinction was the custom of the last two churches I attended, and quickly became a much anticipated way of celebrating the sacrament for me personally. But it's so much more than personal preference.

On the rare occasion that we do serve communion by intinction at my church, we break one loaf of bread. And although we have two cups in order to accommodate the size of our congregation, there remains a sense of a common cup that is shared by many. Intinction also involves coming forward, action, response. Moreover, intinction gives certain people the privilege of serving their brothers and sisters in Christ the elements. These servers say the words, "The body of Christ broken for you" and "The blood of Christ poured out for you." These words, we must remember, are the very words of Christ as they were shared with His disciples, appropriated now by the communion servers. And if you're fortunate to know the names of the people you're serving, you address them by name. We miss so much with our passive reception of individualized wafers and cups of juice.

The above is probably best considered a theological understanding of intinction in contrast to another custom of serving communion. But maybe we need to give greater consideration to those who are unable to come forward under their own physical strength. Are we running the risk of discriminating against the elderly and physically handicapped of our congregation? The answer is no. And this is unabashedly the correct response because it is always in weakness that we dare to partake of this meal. The Lord's Supper is properly received when our frailty and humility are most apparent.

So why don't we serve communion by intinction more often? Because longstanding members of the church become terribly upset with the custom of intinction and leave the fold in search of congregations that do not coincide with the practices of the Roman Catholic Church. Sad, I know. Such is ministry in a New England congregational church.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Learning Greek

In high school I recorded a twenty-six percent on a Spanish quiz. Yeah, we're talking 26%, in as "F" minus, minus, minus... In college, I struggled through yet one more year of Spanish. And now, I've decided that since I did so well with the easiest language for an English speaker to learn that I'd try my hand at Greek. Despite my former disappointments in learning a second language, I am happy to share that I have already mastered ten percent of the words found in the New Testament. Are you impressed? Well, you shouldn't be impressed. The Greek word transliterated "kai" means "and," which happens to be 1 out of 10 words found in the NT.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

What the Democratic National Convention and My Super Sweet Sixteen have in common

On my way into work this morning, I started piecing together commonalities between The Democratic National Convention and MTV's popular show, My Super Sweet Sixteen. I apologize for the randomness of this post...

The Democratic National Convention (DNC) is all about one person. Technically, it’s about a political party, but all the attention is on one person.

Every episode of My Super Sweet Sixteen (MSSS) is about the great lengths parents go to throw their sixteen-year-old son or daughter a party to remember.

The DNC is an extravagant event, featuring former presidents and other political elites, celebrities spreading across a wide spectrum, and the best musical talent available.

On MSSS, one spoiled brat and his or her submissive parents spend outrageous amounts of money on the hottest venues, whatever hip-hop artist is most popular at the time, and a vehicle nicer than most Americans will ever own in their lifetime.

The DNC is about the party and their presidential candidate impressing their constituents, still undecided voters, and making the Republican Party look like a bunch of idiots.

MSSS is about a sixteen-year-old having the entire universe revolve around him or her for one day. It’s an opportunity for the spoiled brat to receive acclaim from friends and to create greater enmity between those that did not get invited to the party of the century.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

My Church in the News

Earlier in the summer I participated in a short-term mission trip to Mexico. Our church partnered with the Baptist church down the road. Apparently, our trip caught the eye of the prestigious Seacoastonline. Check out the full article.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Shack'n Up

Over the weekend I helped out with a One-on-One Father-Child retreat at a summer camp in western New Hampshire. My responsibilities were to assist with icebreaker games, organize a game of Crazy Kickball, perform the hand motions to the kid-friendly worship song, “Pharaoh, Pharaoh,” give a Bible lesson, and facilitate a craft. Sounds like a lot of work, but it was seriously a chill weekend. Both Saturday and Sunday left me with entire afternoons left to nothing other than swimming in the lake and relaxing in the sun at the waterfront beach area.

In addition to eliminating my farmer’s tan line, I used the time at the lake to read a book that I picked up last week called The Shack. The book has received a good deal of notoriety and has quickly climbed to the top of best seller lists. Reading this book is kind of a big deal for me because it’s fiction. I realize that probably sounds dumb, yet rarely do I explore the realm of fiction.

If you ask me, The Shack is a funny name for a book. But it’s appropriate considering that in the book a dilapidated old building in the woods is where a tragic and bloody event occurs. The shack is central to the story. Anyway, the reason I share this bit of information is because my stay at the summer camp had me sleeping in—you guessed it—a shack. No joke, this old staff cabin was a creepy place to lay my head and its striking similarity to the shack depicted in the novel had me nervous.

Regardless, I think I want this post to have more to do with the book than my weekend at Camp Squanto.

To my surprise, The Shack is very theological. It’s full of commentary on the nature of God, human freedom, relationships, sin, and hierarchy. The following is a passage from the book where God is talking about the difference between the relationship that exists between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the social order that prevails in human relationships:

We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command or ‘great chain of being’ as your ancestors termed it. What you’re seeing here is relationship without any overlay of power. We don’t need power over the other because we are always looking out for the best. Hierarchy would make no sense among us…Humans are so lost and damaged that to you it is almost incomprehensible that people could work or live together without someone being in charge…It’s one reason why experiencing true relationship is difficult for you…Once you have a hierarchy you need rules to protect and administer it, and then you need law and the enforcement of the rules, and you end up with some kind of chain of command or a system of order that destroys relationship rather than promotes it. You rarely see or experience relationship apart from power. Hierarchy imposes laws and rules and you end up missing the wonder of relationship that we intended for you.

I guess it's ironic that I believe humans are made in the image of God, and yet it is unimaginable for me to picture human society without any hierarchy. "Lost and damaged"--that is what we are.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


I just spent the last 4 days in Acadia National Park with several youth group students. Acadia is probably the most naturally beautiful area in all of New England. The park doesn't have the same "wow" factor as other parks like Yosemite or Yellowstone, but the combination of the mountains and the Atlantic Ocean make it a really unique place. I made the kids hike Cadillac Mountain. Reluctantly, we all made it to the top. I wish my kids liked hiking as much as I do.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

As Summer Comes to a Close...

I’ve played a good deal of catch-up in the office this past week. It feels strange to already be focusing on the fall, and the beginning of the church’s program year. It always amazes me how quickly summer passes. But this summer has gone by especially fast. And what an amazing summer it’s been. I’m grateful for the wonderful opportunities I have had in the last three months to travel domestically and overseas, to see best friends, officiate a wedding, play host to my visiting parents, and surf the biggest and cleanest waves I’ve ever seen in person thanks to tropical storm Bertha.

Tomorrow (Sunday) will also be kind of a memorable day. The two other pastors on staff are away on vacation and I’m in charge of the entire worship service. It’s an odd feeling. It feels similar to when my parents left me home alone for the very first time. But at the same time, I have this preliminary feeling of being totally comfortable. I have never had this large of a responsibility before, yet I’m confident that all will go well.

Sunday also means that the summer fun continues as I head up north to Acadia National Park with a handful of youth group students. This will be the first time I’ve been camping since last August. Although I’m looking forward to the four-day get away, I’m just a little nervous about taking student into the semi-wilderness. Pray that they all come back alive.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Tres Equis Tire Change

Last week was spent mostly in Juarez, Mexico. I participated in a multigenerational short-term mission trip with members from my church and the Baptist church down the road in Portsmouth, NH. I have a million things running through my mind right now. I don’t know where to start…so I won’t. Instead, I’ll just share a funny story and a snapshot to match.

As I drove the 15-passenger van full of youth group kids to within a mile of the Mexico/USA boarder, I got a call on my cell from Todd who was riding shotgun in the mini van behind us. Todd informs me that the van had two flat tires. At this point I’m wondering how a car gets two flat tires at the same time. Nevertheless, no van gets left behind. We circle back and find our companions in the mini van pulled off in an empty parking lot right off the road in front of a….oh, what is this? The irony is inescapable: A church sponsored mission trip group numbering twenty-five corralled around a deflated Chevy Uplander in the parking lot of a strip club. Although the kids in the back of the van are laughing hysterically, I demonstrate unparalleled pastoral maturity by quickly jumping out of the driver’s seat to snap this picture:

Friday, August 1, 2008

European Rendezvous

I’m back in New Hampshire. Well, for now I am. However, in a little more than 36 hours I’ll be back on a plane and headed to Mexico to co-lead a week long mission trip. But for now I’ll suspend my thoughts on Mexico and give a little recap on Europe.

Flying out of Boston’s Logan International, I was supposed to catch a connecting flight to Zurich, Switzerland in Philadelphia. But that never happened. Unfortunately, an isolated thunderstorm system meant that my flight was not going to get off in time. My plane sat on the tarmac for an hour-and-a-half which meant there was little hope for reaching my connecting flight.

But I was determined. I literally sprinted as fast as I could through two terminals only to see that the plane I was supposed to catch had already pulled away from the gate. But this was not all in vain. I had a really great conversation with an openly gay mathematics professor from a Cal State school about religion and numbers while standing in the special services line to find another way to Zurich.

I finally reached Zurich. Unfortunately my checked bag never made it across the Atlantic. To make matters worse, I had no way of reaching my friends that were supposed to be picking me up, and didn’t know if they had received my sister’s message through Facebook that I was coming in later on a different flight. However, as I’m filling out the paperwork to reclaim my lost luggage, I look to my right and see on the other side of the glass windows seven smiling faces. These are my friends—and I’ve waited all year to see them. I hardly recognize Jake because he is so hairy, but everyone else looks just as how they did when I said good-bye to them a year ago.

And then I was running again. I wanted to find my friends as quickly as possible, but only one problem: I could not find the exit. Slightly embarrassed, I eventually found my way out of the maze that is Zurich airport’s baggage claim, and into the warm embrace of my friends.

That first night in Switzerland would set the tone for the next week: Dinner outside in a trellised enclosure with bunches of grapes hanging above a large picnic table surrounded by friends enjoying cheese fondue and white wine with the glow of a fire in the back ground as the sun slowly set.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


I left the reception laughing out loud, careful not to let anyone notice.

The four o’clock wedding didn’t get off to a great start. The mothers of the bride and groom forgot to light their candles and, assuming they had already lit their respective candles, I led the groom’s side of the wedding party to the front of the sanctuary to move forward with the rest of the ceremony. But it was too late. Sorry moms, but we were moving on. The bride and groom will just have to improvise.

I just gave you the bad news first. The good news is that everything else went off without a hitch; exactly as how we had practice the night before. The ceremony ended with me declaring, “It is my great privilege to introduce to you for the very first time, as husband and wife, Mr. and Mrs…”

The whole experience was a delight. I never could have imagined that officiating a wedding could be so much fun. Seriously, seeing the look on the bride and groom’s faces made it all worth it. The only downside to the whole event was that the sanctuary was uncomfortably warm, made all the worse by the fact that I was wearing my thick black clergy robe. I was soaked in sweat!

One aspect about the whole occasion that I became suddenly aware of during the special music, was the fact that through my vision of the bride and groom standing right in front of me, beyond them I could also see the bride’s mother and father sitting next to each other in the front pew. But they weren’t really sitting next to each other. There was enough room for another person to sit between them. It was one of these rare moments where beauty and depravity (thanks, Eugene) are perfectly framed together. As two people were mere minutes away from being their new life as a married couple, painfully evident was the love of her parents long ago lost.

Although slightly awkward at times, the wedding reception was tons of fun. I met a lot of strangers and left the reception with at least a few more acquaintances than before. I was served a number of kind compliments for my role as the officiant and lots of good food. I was supposed to be seated at a table with several single nursing friends, but instead I sat next to a guy who is the food and beverage manager for the private restaurants inside the Boston Garden. He had some pretty good stories to share about post-game 6 celebrations with Kevin Garnett.

Overall, it was a night not soon forgotten. The whole thing felt unreal. My only response was to laugh like Sari after overhearing that she would give birth to a son in her old age.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bertha, My New Love (And Other Interesting Life Updates)

I’m not sure where to start. Somewhere between seeing a moose in northern Maine a week and a half ago, and the clothes I just folded and shoved into my bag for a twelve day journey to Europe—life has occurred.

This is what happens when I forget to write or put forth any kind of effort to remember yesterday. My last post dated July 8th is starring me in the face, and I only now feel like I’ve caught my breath.

“So, get on with it,” you say, “what have you been doing with your life?” “What’s this about a moose?”

The moose story is a decent place to start. Actually, it has more to do with a rafting trip on the Kennebec River near the Maine/Quebec boarder. I saw signs for moose everywhere, so I decided to sharpen some sticks and go on a moose hunt with some anxious youth group kids. Actually, we just drove around at night and saw them on the side of the road.

I must have been in Maine a lot recently. Last Sunday I visited my friend Lindsey who is home in Maine for the summer. I have had lobster dinner three times in my entire life, and all three dinners have been at Lindsey’s house. Imagine this: 6 or 7 one pound hard shell lobsters, corn on the cob, two dozen steamers (clams), potatoes, onions, and a few hard boiled eggs, steamed to perfection and served on one very large platter. Red Lobster has nothing on this traditional Mainer meal.

And then there’s Bertha. No, I didn’t finally go out on a date (still going strong in that department, thank you very much). I’m talking about Bertha the tropical storm. Bertha’s benevolence has given the eastern coast some of the best waves I seen since I’ve lived here. We’re talking over head high and very clean. I surfed four days in a row. My arms feel like cooked noodles from all the paddling.

Bertha almost catches me up to speed.

For nearly a year now, I’ve been talking about having to officiate a wedding as if it were make-believe—something I conjured up in order to impress my friends doing more exciting things than me. But now that wedding is tomorrow.

Tonight I did the rehearsal. It just happened, so I don’t even know what to say about it, other than the fact that I can’t believe that tonight I did the rehearsal for a wedding I’m officiating tomorrow.

I leave for Switzerland on Sunday. I don’t think I’ll have time to post again before my departure, so suffice it to say that I am so pumped to be hanging out with so many good friends from college. In some ways this trip has only been a year in the making. But in other ways, it fulfills a desire that has been many years in the making. Having been born in a military hospital in Frankfurt Germany, and having lived my first three years in that country, the trip doubles as an opportunity to revisit childhood memories never had.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Prophets of Old and the Wealthy of Today

A few days ago I finished up Jim Wallis’ book God’s Politics. I thought the book as a whole was really great. However, one paragraph in particular has seriously grabbed my attention—I can’t get it out of my head. A major topic presented in the book has to do with the ever widening gap between rich and poor. Wallis shares about a conversation over dinner he once had with Bono from U2, a big advocate for overcoming poverty and HIV/Aids. Wallis writes:

I talked to Bono that night about a subject surprisingly pertinent to his mission—biblical archeology. He smiled and confessed that he’d never studied it, but he became very interested when I shared what some of the biblical archeologist had found. When they dig down into the ruins of ancient Israel, they find periods of time when the houses were more or less the same size, and the artifacts show a relative equality between the people, with no great disparities. Ironically, during those periods, the prophets were silent. There was no Micah, Amos, Isaiah, or Jeremiah because there was nothing to say. But then they dig down into other periods, like the eighth century, and find remains of huge houses and small shacks, along with other evidence of great gaps between the rich and poor. And it was during those periods that the voice of the prophets rose up, to thunder the judgment and justice of God.

Not too long ago I read an article about the world’s first billion dollar home, owned by Indian businessman Mukesh Ambani. Once the 27-storey skyscraper is completed it is expected to cost more than 2 billion dollars. Check out the video below for more information about the home.

Clearly, the discrepancy between rich and poor has never been more pronounced. In a world where billion dollar homes are built, and three billion people now live on less than $2 per day, and one billion people live on less than $1 a day, I wonder what Micah, Amos, Isaiah, or Jeremiah would say if still alive today?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Just Give Them the Bible

A couple months ago I attended a Willow Creek Association seminar called Reveal. Reveal is the result of research that heard from 118,000 people from a diversity of Christian churches. The research was concerned with one thing: What causes spiritual growth?

I was not surprised to learn that reflection on stricture, prayer, and service were all catalysts to spiritual growth. But there’s more. When participants in the research were asked the question, “Below is a list of benefits a church could provide, please indicate how important it is to you for your church to provide each benefit?” they indicated “Helps me understand the Bible in depth” as being the most important. The Bible won out over other benefits such as “Provide compelling worship services,” Provide strong programs for children,” and “Helps me develop relationships that encourage accountability.”

To some of us this comes as no surprise. But what I find interesting is that many of the research participants also indicated they were dissatisfied with their church’s ability to help them achieve in depth understanding of the Bible. Similarly, they were dissatisfied with how relevant Bible teachings were incorporated into weekend services.

People want more Bible. Despite what some will say, most people that would find themselves anywhere near a church on a Sunday morning genuinely want to have a deeper knowledge of the Bible and have a strong desire to have it applied to their lives in relevant ways.

I think that most people are frustrated with their ability to interact with the Bible in any meaningful way. I would even argue that some have a debilitating fear of the Bible, even though they would love nothing more than to confidently read it for themselves.

Reveal’s findings also suggest to me that many churches—although affirming the importance of the Bible—have failed to follow through with this conviction. Perhaps the allure of creating finely-tuned programs has replaced less than glamorous just-give-them-the-Bible tactics. Or maybe churches just lost faith in the Bible. Maybe we’ve forgotten its captivating story.

Regardless of why people are dissatisfied with their church’s ability to help them understand of the Bible, I have witnessed first hand people’s hunger to have a deeper knowledge of scripture. Recently, our senior pastor issued a “Bible Reading Challenge.” Surprisingly, over half the congregation has signed up to read the Bible in a year. I myself didn’t even think a Bible reading challenge would be so well received.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Human Lifetime and the Promises of God

Today I received word that I will be conducting a graveside/committal service completely on my own this Thursday, for a man named Paul who died this morning. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have to take on this responsibility alone, but the other two pastors happen to be on vacation. I pray that I will be effective in communicating the assurance of God’s love for the deceased, and the loved ones he leaves behind.

In less than three weeks I will officiate my first wedding. Marriage is the sacramental act in which God’s promise to bless, sustain, and strengthen human love is manifested in the union of two people. Few events in life are more joyous than the occasion of marriage.

The graveside and the wedding are two big milestones for me as a young minister, and the fact that they come in the same month is interesting to say the least.

The human lifetime is a remarkable mixture of both blessing and pain. How is it that we as humans have the capacity to experience unimaginable joy and beauty, and in the same lifetime, undergo immense sorrow and suffering? It seems almost cruel.

But what keeps us from going all the way and saying YES THIS IS A CRUEL LIFE, INDEED!? Is it mere optimism that keeps us away from making such a pronouncement? Is it believing that life contains more blessing than curse? By diluting death to the extent that it is no more than a passing into the next room?

If death is as real and as savage as we know it is, then why hesitate in saying that life in the end is in fact cruel?

But what if death—instead of being the ultimate mark of cruelty—was actually the unveiling of yet another one of God’s promises—the most audacious of all promises? What if the cruelest of all human experiences was pregnant with unspeakable blessing? And what if this “unspeakable blessing”—which some have called the resurrection of the dead—was more than just fanciful thinking? What if this promise of God has already been confirmed in the raising of the first born? What if the promise of the resurrection was a reality extended to all of creation?

Death, where is thy sting?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Epic Post

The past two weeks involved a short trip to Seattle overlapping with my parents coming out to New England for a 10-day stay. A lot has happened since my last post, so I won’t bore you with every detail. Instead, I’ll keep it pithy and include some photos which involve, for my sake and yours, a lot less effort than reading and writing. In chronological order, a few highlights of the last 10 days are as follows:

Boston: In my last post I shared about how I took a Boston Duck Tour and that a Prius tried to pick a fight with our amphibious vehicle named Beacon Hilda and lost. But what you don’t know yet is that the Celtics’ parade of downtown Boston following their game six victory over L.A. gives me more to share about the Duck ride. While watching the local news, my mom spotted our beloved Duck transporting finals MVP Paul Pierce (well, I’m pretty sure it was him) through the streets of green and white confetti. And just when you didn’t think it couldn’t get any better… Mr. MVP himself is standing exactly where I was in the Duck less than a day earlier! Okay people, I know, I know, but please try and keep your composure.

Acadia National Park: Acadia is small compared to other national parks like Yellowstone or Glacier. But it’s definitely one of New England’s most naturally beautiful areas. I’m taking a group of students camping there in August, so it was nice to preview the park. My dad and I hiked Cadillac Mountain, the spot from which you can view the earliest sunrise in North America.

Birthdays: My parents were born exactly 364 days apart which means they celebrate back-to-back birthdays ever year. It was great being with them to celebrate their birthdays. Folks from the church say they look more like my siblings than parents. I might have to agree with them.

Bike Ride: Dad and I took a pretty epic bike ride along the coast of Maine, finishing at Nubble Light; thought to be the most photographed light house in the world.

VBS: All this week my mornings were spent at the church doing Vacation Bible School. I didn't know if I would like working with three, four, and five-year-olds; but to my surprise I really liked working with this age group. I think I finally understand the whole having kids thing now.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Prius vs. Duck

Today the parents and I went into Boston. The three of us took a tour via the Boston Duck Tours, which offer land and water sights of the city on vintage World War II amphibious landing vehicles. We weren’t more than 10 minutes into the land portion of the tour when all came to a halt, and our driver quickly exited the Duck. Apparently a Toyota Prius collided with the hull of our amphibious vehicle. While hanging out the side of the Duck, I snapped a picture of the incident with what seemed like all of Boston backed up behind us honking their car horns. We soon made our way off the main road where our driver exchanged information with the driver of the Prius. Before we knew it, we were on our way again.

So who one the fight--Prius or Duck? Well let's just say there was hardly a scratch on the Duck and the Prius I'm sure will be in the shop for a while.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I'm Tired

Although the trip to Seattle was great, I'm tired. And for a second I forgot which side of the country I was typing this post from. Traveling across country and back again in less than 72 hours is far from ideal, but it was definitely worth it. Saturday night I got to hang out with my sister and friends at Maggie Bluff's (see picture). Although seeing friends was great, the main purpose for the retreat was to debrief the first year of my internship. It was great to verbalize my experience and talk at length with others that have also been doing youth ministry work throughout the year. After the "debriefing retreat," I got to hang out with my good friends Gary and Joe. Joe helped me prepare for my trip to Switzerland and Germany next month by enjoying with me a delicious half liter of Franziskaner Weissbier. I also discovered that the US Airways in-flight magazine had a cover story on visiting Zurich. Carolyn, Drew, Nick, Jake, Josh, Bethany, Maren, and Sarah... I can't wait!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

To the Land of Evergreens and Geoducks

I'm off to Seattle today. This year I have been a recipient of a "post-baccalaureate" grant funded by the Lilly Foundation to put towards my student loans. I also get to attend a "debriefing retreat" in order to talk about my internship experience with a small group of peers that I graduated with last year. It's a pretty great deal for me because it's an opportunity to talk about my experience at length with other ministry-minded people that have been in very similar positions. It's also a chance to connect with my sister and some friends from college that I haven't seen in about a year.

My parents are also coming out to the east coast on the 16th, which should be interesting considering I will at that time still be in Seattle. How am I supposed to host my parents in New Hampshire while being in Seattle you ask? Good question. One that I'm still working on.

Anyway, mom and dad are here for about 9 days. They both are celebrating birthdays next week which should be fun. I've got some fun activities lined up for us including a trip to Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine, a couple of fun tours of Portsmouth, NH, and surfing and an epic bicycle ride for my dad and I. I'm also preaching again next Sunday so that should be interesting to have my parents sitting in the front pew while I espouse doctrinal truths. My next few posts will be highlighting some of these adventures.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hello Summer

The northeast is in the midst of a heat wave. With temperatures over the weekend reaching nearly triple digits, I've determined that summer is officially here. I'm a big warm weather fan, but I really can't stand trying to fall asleep with night time temperatures well into the eighties and a window air conditioning unit that struggles to blow cold air. Although the weather has been miserable at times, I'm realizing anew that I really do live in a great part of the country. One of the main reasons I say this is because between home and work I'm either 5 or 15 minutes from the beach. Sunday and Monday were beach days and the surfing was great even though the waves were small. Below are pictures of the New Hampshire coast.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Under the Microscope

After nearly 10 months since coming on staff with the church, today I underwent my first significant evaluation. I often feel like the "golden boy" of the congregation--like I can do no wrong. I receive lots of affirmation on a weekly basis, yet little constructive criticism. I asked my evaluating committee to give me honest criticism, and I received exactly what I asked for. Oh sure, there were plenty of words of encouragement, but I also got some less than flattering feedback. When considering first impressions my committee stressed how "green" I was when I first started. I was also told that I needed to be more out-going and create a sermon outline when preaching. I appreciate the feedback, but I don't know if I agree with all of it. Nevertheless, it's not easy having your work scrutinized and criticized. I wish I could say that I absorbed every word dispassionately, but the truth is that it's hard not to feel just a little defensive. But this is how we grow, learn, get better, and become more self-aware. However, my plan for tomorrow is to go hang out with some of the little old ladies for a little self-esteem boost!

Random: As I write this Obama is about to address a crowd of 20,000 in St. Paul Minnesota, and his wife Michelle just gave him "knucks" before he approached the podium. What a woman!

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Audacity of Peace

The other day I received a forwarded email that had been sent out to a group of politically conservative members of my congregation. The email featured a video (see below) of Senator Barack Obama stating his views on the war in Iraq, military defense spending, and goals toward global nuclear missile disarmament. I actually don't know who was responsible for sending the original email, but there were several remarks about Obama's plans as being "scary" and "incredibly naive."

After watching the video I must admit I was a little confused. I didn't find anything at all "scary" about the senator's position. In fact, I really liked it. I understood him to be holding out a peaceful vision for the future. Now before you say to yourself: "Oh, here we go again—just another young, white, educated guy caught up in the rock star status of Obama," bear with me for a moment. I happen to like Obama, but this isn't about Obama's candidacy as much as it is about a Christian perspective on peace and what it means to be people who witness to the Kingdom of God.

Although the Old Testament is not shy about strife between nations and the Israelites often times being right in the middle of all the war and bloodshed, we can’t overstate the vision that one day peace would eventually fill the lands. The prophets testified to this future hope of a peaceful world. Perhaps the most enduring image the Prophet Isaiah lifted up was that found in Isaiah 2:4-5:

“He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!

The prophet’s vision for a peaceful world would be reinforced in the person of Jesus, Israel’s long awaited Messiah. On the night he was betrayed, Jesus refused to fight and refused to have any of his followers engage in acts of violence. I hear it often quoted, but let's not forget that Jesus was the first to choin the phrase, “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.”

When I consider the thrust (thank you Dr. Spina) of the biblical narrative, I have to say a vision of peace is one the most central features. The prophets talked about it. Jesus talked about it. Even the book of Revelation talks about it. And as those who follow in the Way of Jesus, giving witness to the Kingdom of God, it would seem that we too should work towards peace. So why are Christians, out all people, so reluctant to believe that a day would ever come where we could be making political strides with other countries to jointly dismantle nuclear arsenals? Why is peace such an audacious endeavor?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Making

It’s Sunday morning, the second Sunday after Pentecost, right in the middle of Memorial Day weekend. My responsibilities this morning are relatively light. However, I do have the task of delivering an award winning children’s sermon. I’m going to try and engage the kids over this idea of making memorials.

One of my favorite passages out of the Old Testament comes from the book of Joshua. The Israelites have just been instructed to cross the Jordan River while at flood stage. The passage to the other side of the river is seemingly unattainable, yet when the people come to the water’s edge the river stops flowing and all the people walk across on dry ground. After everyone had crossed the river, Joshua gives instruction to have twelve stones removed from the river and has them set up as a memorial so when the descendants ask about the stones their parents can recall the time when God held back the Jordan.

Memorials work in two ways: 1) Memorials help us to remember important people and events of the past, and 2) memorials give us guidance for the future. For the Israelites, the stones that came out of the Jordan were not just about reminding the people of a past event; the stones were about shaping the future identity of the people. If you’ve ever gone hiking you’ll know that many trials are marked by stones piled high. These piles of stones demonstrate that others have been here before, but they also mark the correct path to follow.

As I write this I’m thinking about my friends around the globe that are nearing times of transition; the year abroad is almost over and it’s time to come home or move on to something different. To these friends I pray that many stones would be piled high.

I hope the kids get it.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Making the Pilgrimage

I can't claim to be a big Red Sox fan, however, going to Fenway Park to watch my first Red Sox game today was kind of like entering baseball's holy of holies. It's a pilgrimage every fan of baseball ought to make. Major League Baseball's oldest ballpark has a very distinct feel, especially when compared to some of the newer parks like Safeco. The game was action packed, seeing not one, but two grand slams from J.D. Drew and Mike Lowell! The folks in the lower grand stands also got a pretty sweet wave going. Besides the "Monster Dog" I immediately regretted eating, it was a very good day.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Old Friends

The first half of the week I was host to old family friends that I traveled to South Africa with back in 1998. Since that trip I think I have seen David and Lynn (just newly weds at the time of the trip) only a handful of times. The last time I had seen them their daughter was only 2 years old. Margret is now 8 and since then Madeline has been added to the line-up. It's crazy how time flies and how you can go 6 years without seeing the same people you used to see on a daily basis. I guess this is a part of growing up? Going years and years without seeing people only to get a random phone call: "Hey, I'm in the area!" Anyway, it was great reconnecting with them and becoming and instant "uncle" and being able to play host, even if their family of 4 didn't really fit in my apartment.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Sailing Trinity

Recently a women from the church suggested that I try and get on the crew of a sailboat. I've had some experience sailing with my dad and have enjoyed it, so I figured it would be worth looking into. Tonight I attended the 2008 Summer of Sailing Kick Off Party at the Captain Simeon's restaurant in Kittery, Maine. I knew I couldn't stay long, but I was still nervous about walking into a crowded room alone, wondering how I was going to finagle my way onto a boat. Luckily, the woman who had suggested the whole crewing a boat idea had supplied me with the name of a skipper belonging to the Portsmouth Yacht Club who was to be in attendance. All I knew was that I needed to talk to Doug. But here's the weird part: People wanting to crew a boat were to wear a bright yellow rist band while skippers wore matching baseball caps. The social standings of the sailing community were clearly drawn, and I was unmistakably at the bottom of the caste. Eventually I found Doug. Doug entered my number into his phone's contact list. I think I'll be crewing a 47 ft. Sailboat this summer named Trinity.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

I Have To Do What!?

Way back when, when I first learned that I would officiate a wedding within the first year of my internship I was pretty much scared to death. Why you ask? For starters, I have never been married and I’m nowhere close to being married. Furthermore, I’ve never been involved in a relationship that ended well—they’ve all been rather disastrous. “Disastrous” may be too strong of a word, but I’m feeling eccentric. I've always wondered, "What do I have to offer these people?" Anyway, despite all my anxiety surrounding the inevitable duty of officiating a wedding, I am extraordinarily pleased to say that my experience with the couple whose wedding I will be officiating July 19th has been far better than I could have ever imagined. They have been extremely laid-back throughout the whole process and the dialogue that has emerged out of the pre-marital counseling has been very constructive, if not exciting. During our third meeting yesterday it was fun to talk about how we will always have a special connection. Forever I will be the young minister that officiated their wedding, and I will always remember them as being the first couple I ever had the privilege of declaring husband and wife.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Eucharist Community

In less than a week’s time I have had two distinct glimpses—scratch that—more like high definition images of what I think the church is called to be in this world. The first experience involved moving two sisters out of a condemned mobile home that I wrote about in an earlier post. The second experience happened after the worship service last Sunday. Pastor John had just given a message about prayer and healing and invited the congregation to receive prayer in the chapel. I was one of several people in the chapel that had received “training” to pray for healing and to anoint with oil the sign of the cross upon the foreheads of those seeking prayer. After praying with several near strangers, my favorite member of the Rye Over 55 Club walked into the room with eyes full of tears. Being one of those men with a rare but serious overactive tear glad disorder (ok, I just cry a lot for a dude), the downcast look on my elderly friend’s face brought instant tears to my eyes. She wanted prayer for her deteriorating joints, emotional stability, and for her friend dying from cancer. She was overwhelmed to say the least. Then I was overwhelmed. I started to pray but tears flowed more freely than words. So I stopped talking, and there we sat, huddled in the corner of the chapel, filling the trash can with used tissues. In this very tender moment our humanity lay raw. But in the midst of all this I was conscious of what was transpiring. This was an expression of the Eucharist Community alive and well. Here we were, two people three generations apart, being broken and poured out for our hurts and the wounds of the world.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Going Organic

In recent months I've taken an interest in sustainable growing. Through many conversations with vegetable enthusiasts, a professional tomato grower, a compost maniac, and a book called In Defense of Food, I have officially caught the organic bug. I've also had the opportunity to create a garden with the help of several others from the church. Yesterday we built 4 raised beds and filled them with 12 yards of "superloam" (fancy compost/dirt mix). I think we'll plant some peas next week with many other veggies to follow. I'm really excited to see what this little garden can produce. I'll post more updates and pictures in the future as the garden grows.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Dirty, Uncomfortable, and Awkward Work

Every now and then the church's office will receive a phone call from someone asking for help. This past week it was a call from two sisters with zero connection to the church needing to move their personal belongings out of a deteriorating mobile home and into a storage unit. Short the eighty bucks to cover the cost of the storage unit, and without access to a pick-up truck, they were pretty much desperate. Last week, Pastor Chris preached from James chapter 2:
15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

Chris pulled eighty bucks out the church's benevolent fund, relinquished the truck from his wife, and recruited my muscle. We met the sisters at a motel they were paying weekly rates until they could find permanent housing. We were supposed to drive over to the their old place of residence separately, but their ride was unavailable. So, the four of us drove the 20 miles together in the truck. The sisters shared openly about spousal abuse, divorces, car accidents, physical handicaps, loss of jobs, car break downs, psychological disorders, and financial ruin. Their collective stories were not overly embellished, but simply a window into their life experiences. The whole experience was completely out of the ordinary for Chris and I. Here we were, two guys that work at a church helping out two chain smoking sisters with bleached-out blond hair and blue eye-liner. We didn't know them and they didn't know us. We were from two completely different walks of life. It was dirty, uncomfortable, and awkward work; yet through it all there was a strong sense that what James was saying was being taken seriously and the church was being the church.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


I'm very much aware of the differences between the churches I have attended throughout high school and college and the church I now attend. For example, the churches I have attended in the past have been faith communities that have gathered in gymnasiums, warehouses, and storefronts. In terms of style of worship, "praise and worship" bands have been the norm, and it hasn't been uncommon to see people wearing sandals and T-shirts on a Sunday morning with coffee in hand. In most of these churches I would describe the worship experience as "informal," or to use a word I don't like at all: "contemporary." Although each of these churches had their unique identities, they would all be considered (conservative) evangelical churches. At the church I currently worship at (and work for) we sing hymns, and instead of a worship band we have an organist. We sit in pews and the choir wears robes and no coffee is allowed in the sanctuary. I guess you could say it's just a different way of worshiping--a more "traditional" style--or something.

But I'm also becoming more aware of other differences. Compared to the evangelical churches I grew accustomed to in high school and college, my current church, several generations ago, was part of the United Church of Christ (UCC). Although the formal affiliation with the UCC dissolved some time ago, the identity of the church I think still most closely resonates with what we might describe as Mainline Protestant. Besides styles of worship, here are some other differences I perceive to exist between evangelical churches and mainline churches: First of all, mainliners seem to be more dependant on clergy to perform certain rites. And I'm not talking about the sacraments or anything, I'm talking about praying over a meal. In my experience growing up in evangelical churches there seemed to be a more robust doctrine of the priesthood of all believers at work in the community. Secondly, mainliners are biblically illiterate. I'm sorry but I don't know how else to put it. Whereas most evangelical Christians would be happy to share their favorite book of the Bible, or recite their latest "memory verse," or tell you what N.I.V. stands for, many mainliners have little knowledge of scripture. Lastly, (and this is probably an obviouse one) mainliners have little ambition to tell others about their faith or their involvement with a faith community. I don't think most would know what it means to "witness" to a neighbor or co-worker, whereas many evangelicals would have handy a book mark with the "Romans Road" on it or something more clever like an evangicube. Ohhh evangicubes.... I guess I'm glad I know what those are.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Casper the Cannondale

I want to introduce Casper the Cannondale. Casper is an old school 14 speed road bike with a bum rear wheel that's missing a spoke. I've decided that automobiles are overrated and now I'm relying on peddle power whenever I can avoid driving. Today was my first ride into work (approximately 9 miles). It was sweet.

Any other proud peddlers out there?

Monday, April 21, 2008

This One's For You B-Will

I took these pictures of the Leftist Marching Band at the Portsmouth Sustainability Fair. If you don't understand the title of this post you didn't live on 6th West Ashton. I miss you boys.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Looking the Part

People tell me all the time that I look young for my age. And it's really not about me looking younger than I ought to, it's the fact that I'm recognized as a pastor, and pastors are supposed to look older I do. I simply don't fit their mold. To be honest, these kinds of remarks bother me. Today, after the service, I had a woman tell me that she still can't believe I'm really 23. I blew her off in the most pastorally way possible, but her words still linger in my ears. The truth is that for some people, my age (or at least my appearance) doesn't allow for my work at the church to be taken seriously. It's my vocational handicap.

After my encounter with the obtuse woman, I drove to a presentation on climate change at a neighboring church where I was introduced to pastor Michelle, a woman in her mid to late thirties. And then it hit me. Eventually I will grow out of my youthful appearance. Eventually I will get a few distinguished grey hairs and a few pronounced wrinkles. Some day I will fit the mold of pastor and forget these frustrations of my "early years". But Pastor Michelle may never in her lifetime know relief from the constant scrutiny derived from her gender and role as pastor.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Celebrity Bonds

Everybody has a celebrity bond. Perhaps you're a celebrity look-a-like, share the same name of someone famous, attended the same high school a movie actress did a generation earlier, or something else coincidental. Well, I just discovered a new celebrity bond for myself. My friends that appreciate Seattle professional sports will enjoy this one. Last night, while helping out with a middle school production of Grease, I met the daughters of former Seattle Mariners catcher Dan Wilson. Crazy, eh? Turns out the Wilson family moved from Seattle, WA to Rye, NH back in July 2007. And yeah, guess who else moved from Seattle to the seacoast of New Hampshire last summer... yup, you guessed it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Blood & Guts in the Bible

Last night I covered a Bible study class that my senior pastor usually teaches. He was going to be out of town so I happily agreed to teach the class. Then he told me the class was working through the book of Deuteronomy and that I could pick up where he had left off in chapter 7. I honestly don't know much about Deuteronomy and as I read through this seventh chapter I was slightly alarmed. The following is just a few verses that pretty much sum up the whole chapter:
“When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations… and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.”

Ouch! Nobody wants to teach from a text where God is portrayed as a merciless war monger. Fortunately, this particular text turned out to be a really great teachable moment for the class. A passage like this just goes to show why we need to know the whole biblical narrative and refrain from parceling out certain verses from their larger context. As a class, we talked about how this passage makes more sense considering there was good reason for no treaties to be made with other nations because it was Israel’s kings after all that were lead astray from God because of intermarriage and because they worshiped the God's of other nations. Moreover, we read a passage later on in Deuteronomy where God tells the Israelites to provide care for the alien within the covenant community. Connecting Deuteronomy 7 with the rest of the biblical story brings more to light. Difficult texts like Deuteronomy chapter 7 can be a bitter pill to swallow, but I like how they can also be very helpful in bringing us into a fuller understanding of the biblical story.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Happy Anniversary, Grandma!

Some of you know that my widowed grandmother remarried last spring on March 31st—my good friend Joey’s birthday. Well I’m happy to announce that Grandma Roz just recently celebrated her 1st wedding anniversary. They celebrated by taking a trip to Vegas. Check out the cool picture below. I find it a little strange that another woman is in the picture with them, but then again, it is Vegas… Happy anniversary, grandma!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

OK with Being Evangelical

I’m affiliated with a smaller denomination called the Evangelical Covenant Church. But I must admit that I shy away from using the word evangelical when describing my identity as a Christian. When I share that I am connected to a denomination with the word evangelical in the name, it’s always accompanied with a fear that people will get the wrong impression of me. In my opinion, the word evangelical for many is synonymous with the religious Right and organizations like the Christian Collation and controversial figures like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Without wanting to sound judgmental or condescending, let’s just say I would rather not claim the same label as these folks. However, as I’ve been reading Jim Wallis’ book, God’s Politics, I have been encouraged by the many distinctly evangelical organizations around today that have shown a deepening social conscience while avoiding some of the more negative stereotypes often associated with evangelicals, including my own denomination which receives special mention on page 83 of my paperback edition. Wallis writes: “Several conservative evangelical denominations, like the Evangelical Covenant Church, have now made the critical links between evangelism, compassion, and social justice.” I’m becoming more comfortable with my label.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Looking Back

Exactly 8 months ago today I moved to New Hampshire. Right now I’m trying to figure out what I think of this milestone. In some respects 8 months is a long time. By other standards 8 months deserves nothing more than a shoulder shrug. Regardless, the move out east has been a huge change in my life. Leaving the familiarities of life in Seattle and the many friendships created while in college has been very difficult. I never imagined the loneliness I would experience from saying good bye to my friends and family. Nevertheless, I have been thoroughly blessed to have come to this new world. By virtue of my work at a church, I inherited a whole community of people pledged to support and encourage me during my internship. On any given Sunday morning, wearing a clerical robe that I still don’t feel quite comfortable wearing, I see the pews full of beaming grandparents, smiling aunts and uncles, curious little cousins and new friends.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Labor of Love

Last week I visited a sugar shack. Prior to this I had no idea what a sugar shack was, so if you’re wondering right now what a sugar shack is don’t feel bad. A sugar shack is a small building where the sap from maple trees is magically transformed into delicious maple syrup. Alright, so it’s something short of magic, but I find the whole process of taking the life-blood of a tree and making it into the sweet stuff I put on my pancakes for breakfast absolutely fascinating. The process begins by taping maple trees and then collecting the sap into buckets that hang from the taps. Then the sap is poured into a metal basin called an evaporator. The evaporator sits on top of a giant wood burning stove and essentially boils down the sap until you have nothing left except the finest syrup you’ve ever tasted. What I find most fascinating about the whole process is the fact that it takes 40 gallons of sap to yield 1 gallon of syrup. It’s definitely a lot of sap and a lot of work for not a lot of syrup. No wonder practitioners of this trade call it a labor of love. If you have supplied me the courtesy of reading thus far you are probably wondering why I think anyone should share my fascination for maple syrup production. But I find maple syrup production to be a great example of how some things in life are worth our devotion despite the seemingly small return. For me this would be youth ministry. Sometimes I feel like all my lesson preparation, program planning, phone calls, and conversations over lunch bear little fruit in the end. However, like maple sap, when it’s all boiled down, the realization of lives being changed is very sweet.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Bounce Passes & Poodle Skirts

In the town of Rye, New Hampshire the old church in the center of Rye’s historical district is only a stone’s throw away from the Rye Junior High School. It has been my goal to be involved as much as possible at the school. Over the winter I filled a vacant spot to coach 7th & 8th grade boys basketball. In many respects, the very notion that I would even attempt to be a middle school basketball coach is hilarious. To begin with, I have never coached basketball. Secondly, I didn’t play organized basketball past the 8th grade (I got cut from the freshman team). Thirdly, I’m just not very good at basketball. But I wasn’t going to let this stop me. My team went 3-5 for the year including a buzzer-beating loss to a private school from Portsmouth. Overall, it was a great experience; I learned a lot and got my “in” with the school in Rye.

Last week I started helping out at the school in Rye again. For this next gig I have exchanged the whistle and clip-board for a script book. I’ve assumed the roles of back stage supervisor, set design assembler, video camera operator, and push the play button on the CD player guy for the school’s production of Grease. Again, like the coaching gig, I have no idea what I’m doing.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Never a Dull Moment

Today I co-officiated a funeral for a man named Bill who died at the age of 83. My participation in both the grave site ceremony and the funeral service was limited to reading scripture and sharing a prayer, but it was enough to make me wonder “Am I really doing this?” It also forced me to ponder the Christian response to death.

For the funeral service, I read from Romans 8:18-25. This passage speaks of creation’s bondage to decay and its groaning to be set free. It also speaks of the anticipation of the redemption of the body.

Personally, what I find most fascinating about this passage is the absence of heaven. I have become more aware of the fact that most Christians today speak of heaven as the final resting place for those who have “fallen asleep” in Christ. In other words, getting to heaven is the goal in mind. But this is simply, to borrow the title of a recently published book, UnChristian. N.T. Wright talks a lot about this in his latest book called Surprised by Hope. He says that most Christians, as well as non-Christians for that matter, have a very muddled view of what exactly happens to a person after they die.

According to Wright, the historical Christian belief is that heaven is a temporary resting place that precedes the greater event of the resurrection of the dead and the redemption of the entire cosmos. But why all our talk of “Going to heaven”? Why is it that when Billy Graham asks, “If you died today, do you know where you would go?” his question is preoccupied with getting to heaven?

If you ask me, the resurrection of the body and the redemption of the entire cosmos is a hope worth celebrating which gives us a joy-filled response to death.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

New England, Playa

Sometimes I have a hard time articulating to my friends from the west coast what living in New England is like. But at last I have found something that perfectly describes what life in the northeast is all about. Please take a couple of minutes to watch this video. Enjoy!

Monday, March 24, 2008

New York on a Dime

This past week my sister came out to visit along with a friend of hers that I had met over the summer. We planned on doing some serious traveling: 5 states in 6 days including a two night stay in New York City. Of course, the three of us had little money to back up our ambitions to travel so we needed our dollar to go far. Lots of people we’re telling me how expensive New York is (and it is), but surprisingly there are some really inexpensive travel and lodging options:

1. I live about 50 miles north of Boston and by far the cheapest way to travel between Boston and New York is via the infamous Chinese buses. There are several of these so-called Chinese bus companies that offer direct travel from China Town Boston to China Town New York for a mere $15 each way. Granted, these are older coach style buses with dated upholstery and seats with a protruding metal bar that runs across your back; but if you’re not concerned about traveling in style or comfort and just need to get to New York cheaply this is the mode of transportation for you.

2. Hostels in Harlem are cheap. You can’t find any where cheaper to stay in Manhattan. Okay, so I’m totally not racist or anything but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t slightly concerned about walking the streets of Harlem with two girls. But being the only white people around wasn’t all that intimidating and for $17 a night we couldn’t let such a deal pass us by. $17 included a bed, linens, a towel, and all the knock-off brand sugary cereal you could eat for breakfast.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


There’s a niche market for just about everything nowadays. The church is no exception. I was recently sifting through a pile of catalogues and other “ecclesial junk mail” in the church office and came across a church supply catalogue called Living Grace. The cover was announcing Stoles For All Seasons As Low As $19.99 (Wow what a deal!). The attractive-obviously-not-a-pastor model on the cover sporting the white clerical robe and purple stole led me to investigate further the catalogue's contents. As I flipped through the pages of the catalogue I was taken back by all the Christian junk being sold for a discount rate if ordered by the case. Here are just a few of my favorites:

1) The “Noisy Offering Can” is advertised as having a “metal bottom" which "makes taking of offering NOISY! Listen to the change rattle in the pot and watch the giving momentum grow!” I bet the Pharisees had a Noisy Offering Can.
2) “The Gospel in a Nutshell”? You can’t be serious. Someone’s going to get punched.
3) Oh thank God we finally don’t to have to settle for the same ole boring clear communion cups. Now you can get them in “Bronze” and “Cherry”.
4) The “Golf-style polo shirt with embroidered Ichthus" now gives me something to sport on the week days.

My hat’s off to Living Grace for providing affordable church supplies since 1948.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Emergent Church

Much has been said about the growing Emergent Church movement, especially in recent years. A lot of enthusiasm as well as criticism have surrounded the movement and its major proponents. Since the unveiling of Tony Jones’ new book The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier, there has been a significant spike in the amount of dialogue around Emergent Christianity. Although I have had some exposure to the movement through reading books written by some of the more recognizable Emergents such as Brian McLaren, I didn't feel confident that I understood what Emergents or their churches were all about. I decided that I needed to learn more so I read Jones’ book. To my surprise, as I moved through the book, I self-identified with almost all twenty of his descriptions (what he calls "dispatches") of Emergent Christianity. I guess that makes me Emergent, or at least Emerging (I was reminded just recently that we have to be careful to acknowledge the difference between Emerging and Emergent, since the latter is an official organization). How about you? Do the Emergent dispatches resonate with you?

1. Emergents find little importance in the discrete differences between the various flavors of Christianity. Instead, they practice a generous orthodoxy that appreciates the contributions of all Christian movements.
2. Emergents reject the politics and theologies of left versus right. Seeing both sides as a remnant of modernity, they look forward to a more complex reality.
3. The gospel is like lava: no matter how much crust has formed over it, it will always find a weak point and burst through.
4. The emergent phenomenon began in the late 1990s when a group of Christian leaders began a conversation about how postmodernism was affecting the faith.
5. The emergent movement is not exclusively North American; it is growing around the globe.
6. Emergents see God’s activity in all aspects of culture and reject the sacred-secular divide.
7. Emergents believe that an envelope of friendship and reconciliation must surround all debates about doctrine and dogma.
8. Emergents find the biblical call to community more compelling than the democratic call to individual rights. The challenge lies in being faithful to both ideals.
9. The emergent movement is robustly theological; the conviction is that theology and practice are inextricably related, and each invariably informs the other.
10. Emergents believe that theology is local, conversational, and temporary. To be faithful to the theological giants of the past, emergents endeavor to continue their theological dialogue.
11. Emergents believe that awareness of our relative position—to God, to one another, and to history—breeds biblical humility, not relativistic apathy.
12. Emergents embrace the whole Bible, the glory and the pathos.
13. Emergents believe that truth, like god, cannot be definitively articulated by finite human beings.
14. Emergents embrace paradox, especially those that are core components of the Christian story.
15. Emergents hold to a hope-filled eschatology: it was good news when Jesus came the first time, and it will be good news when he returns.
16. Emergents believe that church should function more like an open-source network and less like a hierarchy or a bureaucracy.
17. Emergents start new churches to save their own faith, not necessarily as an outreach strategy.
18. Emergents firmly hold that God’s Spirit—not their own efforts—is responsible for good in the world. The human task is to cooperate with God in what God is already doing.
19. Emergents downplay—or outright reject—the differences between clergy and laity.
20. Emergents believe that church should be just as beautiful and messy as life.