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?