In Lay Terms

Random Ramblings From a Church Nerd

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Camp Out

Is on in just a few hours. Tune in now!

Or try to find it at

I'm off to TNP camp tomorrow!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Headless Chicken

For someone who prides himself on being very organized, I'm not dealing with today like that at all. I keep lurching from one task to another. Part of it is that I'm trying to coordinate several different schedules and agendas at the same time.

A couple more TNP counselors are on their way over now to buy art supplies.

Fun day!

Packing and Preparing

I'm a bit overwhelmed today. We are on the brink of beginning the TNP camp for this year. I have one of the counselors from out of town staying at my house this weekend. I still need to pack and prepare for the week ahead. Tomorrow we will train all our staff and then go and watch Camp Out on Logo (did I mention that you could as well? Yes, OK then...). Campers arrive on Sunday.




I certainly have plenty of stuff to do, but I want to make today as calm as possible. I'm starting out by journaling my feelings (otherwise known as blogging). I'm spending some good time with my Other Half, as well as with the guest in our house. I can pack later on today. For now. Let's try to be as calm as possible.

I like to write and complain about stress a lot, but really, I enjoy it. I think it feeds me somehow. It gives me purpose. I am actually DOING something. I should learn to make stress my friend.

OK - pack first or shower first?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Internal Combustion

This week is my last "normal" week of the summer. Essentially, from here on out, I'm gone somewhere. Next week is the TNP Camp. The week after is the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. Just a few days after that, my family is taking a trip to Alaska. Each of these things are brining their own stress.

  • We don't have very many kids for camp, which is disappointing. We also are going to be very tight on money this year. We might attempt to raise some money at the Camp Out TV party on Saturday night (Did I mention that you should all watch that on Logo? Well do. And donate something on line.)
  • The ELCA Churchwide Assembly is probably going to be a very contentious event. We are making decisions as a denomination about the call and ministry of GLBT folks who are partnered. At one point, I was more optimistic, but now I'm not sure what is going to happen.
  • I'm supposed to be in charge of planning the Alaska trip, and there are aspects that aren't done yet!
But I'm not thinking about those stresses right now. No. This week, our stress is a 5 unit apartment building that we own. I spent yesterday cleaning in a unit. Most of our tenants are moving out at the end of August, so we need to replace. We aren't around a lot in August, so we are working to get some people in right now. We have a few leads, but no one is for certain. This is difficult, because the building has been a challenge ever since we got it. It consumes a lot of our conversation (including most of last night). We are pretty defeated.

If you want to help. Buy this building from us. Or at least rent an apartment. You don't have to live there, but send us money every month.

Think about it. Everyone needs a vacation home.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Camp Days (or, Going Back, Part 2)

I left my parent’s home on Sunday to head to the camp where I worked. I’ve been talking about this quite a bit lately, but the week finally came where I was going to be volunteering with a week of Fine Arts Camp. The Fine Arts program was set up by some friends of mine, who were also former staff at this camp.

For those of you who are not Lutheran (and for those of you who don’t realize this), I should explain that Lutherans have a thing for camping. We have a huge camping network throughout the United States. All camps are unique in governance and programming, but they are mutually supported and promoted by the ELCA. For example, this spring, one of my camps main rivals for doing trips into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area was badly burned in a wild fire. Prayers, money, and support poured in from others from all around Minnesota and the whole ELCA. Camping Ministry is one of the cultural aspects of Lutheranism in the United States. It’s just something we do.

Anyway, I was returning for the first substantial visit since I had stopped working there in 1999. I had been there for a half of a day on a few occasions, but I was never there long enough to participate in any of the programs. There were several reasons for this. First, by the time I stopped working at the camps, I was a bit burned out. Camping is a very high-energy job. You are “on” for about 22 hours per day. By the end of the summer, you get very tired. After four summers, I had given all I could. Another reason was that I wanted to be respectful of those who were doing my job after me. I didn’t want to be one of those former program coordinators who criticizes his successors.

I was invited to be a part of this week along with about a dozen other volunteers. At one point, it looked like we might outnumber the kids! In the end, there were 20 kids, three counselors, and us volunteers. We all have very small job descriptions. I helped with some drama and movement exercises in the afternoon each day, but other than that, I really didn’t have a lot of responsibility. It was the same way for many of the other volunteers. We would spend days being calm. We would watch and participate in the other activities, while trying not to be too intrusive.

I think the most difficult part for me is the urge to evaluate. I’m a program person, so I am constantly seeing what is good and what could be improved. I may be biased, but I think that we did quite well as a staff. I had heard from friends who went after I did that the staff has not always been so stellar since I left. The energy level was low. They were there for their own personal relationship with Jesus, instead of helping foster the faith of the campers. This made me leery about just sitting and watching a bad campfire or a bad worship.

However, I have to say, this staff was stellar! The program staff was excellent! They taught songs better than I have ever seen them taught (even from when I worked there). The camp was cleaner than I had seen it for a long time. They were also tireless. They spent late nights working on the next day or the next week. They wanted to write up song cards for many of the more “wordy” songs. When we wanted to teach some songs as a part of the drama component, they immediately started singing it at worship and at campfire. I was very impressed.

I decided that since I couldn’t stop evaluating, that I must share my findings. Often, working at a camp is a rather thankless job. I wanted to make sure that this staff knew that they were doing wonderful work to present a cohesive message of God’s call in our lives.

The program coordinator (the position I once held) grew up at camp, quite literally. Her father was the site manager during most of her childhood and youth. I think her love of the place and of the people she encountered there motivated her to work as hard as she could to make it a faithful place for others.

I have a goal to write letters to this staff to let them know that I think they are doing good work. They need to hear this so they do not burn out, as I did. Being a summer camp staff member doesn’t fit well into a cost/benefit analysis. I’m hoping that my encouragement will help to make their summer worth all the effort they are putting into this place and this ministry.

For many people, me included, camp is what the Celtics would call a “thin place” where our mundane lives on earth and the glory of God are incredibly close. I’m glad to have the opportunity to continue to contribute to the ongoing ministry of my camp.

I’ll end with our camp cheer:

It’s great to be alive in God’s great north woods!

I’m a Big Square (or, Going Back Part 1)

I like to think of myself of an urbanite. I now dwell in a metropolitan area. I like being in the city. However, I still enjoy the weekends at home with my parents. Their house has become a sort of retreat center for me. I grew up 15 miles from the nearest town, and five miles from the nearest phone line. Our location is great for things like picking blueberries that grow wild on a rock ridge, or in some recent logging activity.

Of course, there is another aspect of small town life. Our town hosts a district fair. It’s not quite the county fair, but it’s a pretty big deal. During my weekend at my parents, it was the fair weekend. I haven’t been to the fair since I was in high school. The fair is something that takes a bit of commitment from everyone in the community. My father drove in his ’55 Ford Crown Victoria for display on Saturday. My parents also did square dancing demonstrations. I remember my parents doing square dancing when I was a kid. We would go to the nursing home. My parents would square dance and us kids would try to amuse ourselves. As we got a little older, we were invited to be a part of the square dancing. Now, probably more than 20 years later, I watched my parents do some more square dancing in a barn on the fair grounds.

Eventually, my parents decided that I could remember enough to join in. Of course, I wasn’t dressed like the rest of the square dancers. I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. All the other men were wearing jeans and country shirts, usually matching their wives. I was probably 25 years younger than the next youngest dance (which I believe was my mother). I can remember your basic moves, like your do-si-do and your allemande left. But sometimes there was some move that I hadn’t ever heard of, or I couldn’t pull it out of my long term memory fast enough to execute the move.

The other dancers didn’t seem to mind much at all. They all asked me if I would be joining the local square dancing club. When I informed them that I didn’t like in our small town anymore, they told me that I could probably find a club in Minneapolis. I didn’t quite have the heart to say that it would probably be several more years before I attempted to try square dancing again.

After the dancing was over, my parents had signed up for a shift working at the church food booth. The booth was more of a mini-restaurant, with a very limited menu. When they got there, they discovered how short-staffed they were. I ended up volunteering for the rest of the evening. After picking blueberries all morning (in a hunched over position), I spent the afternoon hunched over a counter, taking food orders.

Whoever said that you can’t go back obviously never came from a small town. It was as if I hadn’t left. Of course, I don’t want to move back to our small town. But it was nice to visit my childhood days again (without all the awkwardness of puberty!).

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Little Blue Dots

I am at my parents house for the weekend. It's always a relaxing time with them. Their house (the house where I grew up) is waaaay out in the woods. We live 15 miles out of our tiny town, and it is in the woods.

The theme of these last few weeks for my family has been blueberries. They are ripe right now and the picking is good. When I got here last night, we ate ice cream with blueberries on it. This morning, I dumped a ton of blueberries on my cereal. Then, my mom and I went out to the woods near our house to pick some more. My mom has been doing this picking for a week or so. She told me that after picking for a day, she can still see little blue dots when she tries to fall asleep at night. That's dedication!

Of course, we can eat them a lot faster than we can pick them. After all the blueberries I've eaten, I'm getting a little concerned about what my future bathroom experiences are going to be like. If nothing else, they will be colorful!

It's also the fair this weekend. It's not the state fair, and it's not even the county fair. We have a district fair in our little town. There's some rides (they were way cool when I was a kid). There is a lot of 4-H stuff (I wasn't in 4-H, so I can't describe it very well. Think of it as scouting for farm kids). There are a lot of displays and some food. Our church runs a food booth, so my parents are going to work there for the evening.

Tomorrow, I'll head to camp to be there for a few days. It's Fine Arts Camp, and I'm either helping out or just hanging out. We'll see.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The E's Have It


I was just sitting here, writing a rather bland post about my upcoming weekend in the great north woods (short recap: I'm visiting my parents and then going to the camp where I used to work). When suddenly, the letter E took over. It was like an invisible finger was holding down the key. It looked like this:


I tried pushing other buttons. Nothing would stop the relentless march of the E's. I decided it would be best to shut off my Firefox. When I closed it, the E's just jumped on the Excel spreadsheet I was working on and began to fill up a cell with a long string. When I closed the Excel spreadsheet, the E's jumped into a Word document I had open. When I tried to shut the computer down, I could hear the ringing of the E's continuing.

I've turned the computer back on, and the E march seems to have subsided. But who knows when they might strike again...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Mixmaster Ross

A few months ago, we bought these drink mixes at Costco. We got piña colada mix and strawberry daiquiri mix. Yum. Anyway, we put them away and forgot about them for quite a while. You see, we tend to be wine drinkers. Usually, the most hard liquor we have is vodka, which we attempt to mix with everything. And since these two drink mixes require something OTHER than vodka, we didn't have a lot of opportunity to use them.

Until recently. My Other Half had noticed that we still had these drink mixes. We also noticed that we were getting somewhat past the "consume by" deadline printed on the carton. We also noticed that we had, more recently, bought some vanilla ice cream. So what did we do, we made the strawberry daiquiri mix as strawberry topping for the ice cream. Ingenuous, no? It was very good. I rarely have strawberry topping on ice cream, but understanding that I was really having a "Daiquiri Sundae" was an exciting new adventure for me.

One of our roommates, who is studying to be a chemical dependancy counselor pointed out that most of the people she worked with would have remedied the "no rum" situation in quite a different way...namely, they would make sure there was rum in the house!

Then, we ran out of ice cream. And we still had a half of the carton of daiquiri mix in the fridge, and the whole carton of piña colada left over. So what next?

We discovered that another roommate (yes, I have two roommates, a partner and a dog living in our half of the duplex...we won't even go into the whole family living in the other half of the building with us) had a two liter bottle of Tropicana lemonade sitting on the counter. I decided that I would also be inventive and use the mix to make strawberry lemonade. So I poured some daiquiri mix into two glasses, one for me and one for chemical-dependency-counselor roommate. I then poured the lemonade in the glasses.

The first issue was that the drink mix is much thicker than the lemonade. No matter how much I stirred the glass, there was this orange goop at the bottom. Then when we tasted was nasty.

So, I still have some daiquiri mix, no lemonade (I drank that) and some piña colada mix. Maybe I should just get some rum, huh?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Shameless Promotion

It's been a while since I've talked about Camp Out, the documentary film created about The Naming Project Summer Camp. After all the showings last summer and fall, it's been pretty quiet. However...all that's about to change!

Camp Out is scheduled to make its television premiere on July 28 at 9:00 Eastern (I assume 8:00 Central) on LOGO. LOGO is a cable channel devoted to GLBT programming. You may have it. Call your cable provider now! If you watch it, you will see me play the guitar poorly and try to sing by a campfire.

The coincidental thing is that the 28th is the evening before we begin our 4th year of the TNP Camp (Camp Out was filmed our first year). All the camp staff are going to go out to J's house to watch it (he's the only one who has LOGO). He's trying to invite as many people over to his house as possible. However, we hope that more people will be watching this in homes across the country. If you are willing to host a Camp Out party (because you have LOGO), please send me an email. I can direct other people to get in touch with you. If you want to watch it without having people over, that's OK too.

We've been trying to prepare for this. I've been brushing up the TNP web site. We now have an on-line donation venue, which we have needed for a while. We're excited to have more people get to see the film. We are proud of it!

If you have no clue what Camp Out is, then you should go here. To see more on LOGO, go here.

(then donate something)

I Was Once a Camp Counselor

I understand that the above statement is not that rare of an assertion. Many of us were camp counselors for a stint in high school or college. For about 10 years, people have been throwing around the statistic that 75% of ELCA church leaders got their ministry "start" in camping ministry. Since I am a churchy person and many of my friends are pastors or church leaders, many of us have had some experience with a camp.

Working at a summer camp is a wonderful experience. The pay is low, but they make up for it by feeding and housing you all summer. Usually, the camp staff can get really close and create a special bond. In my experience, I worked at the same camp that I attended as a kid. In fact, I'm one of those kids who goes from being a camper to a sr. high volunteer to SIT to counselor to program coordinator. I climbed the camping ladder, as it were.

When I was the program coordinator, my best friend was the waterfront director and health-care coordinator. She and I have remained close, even though she has moved to SD to live with her husband. We also were joined by another friend who was the worship/music coordinator. The three of us made the Triumvirate (we decided that calling ourselves the Trinity was a little too sac religious). I don't like to brag, but we were good. We kept the camp running. We were entertaining. We all had different gifts that worked well together. It was a good time.

Fast forward about 10 years, and I'm finding out what's wrong with this. We can't seem to see a camp staff without evaluating how good they are. Just yesterday, I talked to my former-health care/waterfront director friend. She now does youth ministry at a church in SD. She left me a depressed message, because her church has a day camp led by a local camp. The called me to tell me they were lifeless. They had no flow or order to what they were doing. It's like they were making it up off the top of their heads. I attempted to talk her through the experience, but I have to admit that I was also frustrated. It seems that these staff had no energy and no plan for how to get through the week.

I say this as I'm preparing to go back to my camp for a few days. They have created a Fine Arts Camp, and I was invited to be a resource person. Another close friend is coordinating the camp, and she's stressing out about it a bit. I'm not sure why so many outsiders are running this camp, but I'm looking forward to pretending that I'm just a simple college student who has chosen to work at this camp for the summer. Of course, it won't be the same. You can't go back. But I want to.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Farm Fresh Update

I've been gushing on and off about our Community Supported Agriculture farm share. I think it's time to gush a little more.

On Friday, I picked up our 4th 1/2 bushel of farm-fresh vegetables! I'm loving the CSA program we signed up for. I've been hesitant to name the farm, in case it goes south, but I think we are now at a point where I can endorse them. The farm is Rock Spring Farm, in Spring Grove, MN. They have been wonderful. Their newsletter tells us a little bit about how they operate their farm. They also explain a bit about the food we are getting and give us recipes on what to do with them.

We have spent a lot of time realizing how much flavor cucumbers and broccoli have when you don't get them from a supermarket. I recommend a CSA to anyone who likes good. Often, I've been chopping up a vegetable that we know quite commonly. We start picking at it to taste it, and then decide that we need samples for everyone in the house. Fresh organic food tastes differently. It's not bland at all.

We also get some stuff that we can't identify. The newsletter helps us out by giving us a little background on what the food is and what to do with it. Most often, we tend to make a salad with the items that we don't quite know what to do with. Our salads have had a very interesting flavor, because we are putting in a lot of herbs.

The main difficulty has been the herbs. We are not at all used to cooking with fresh herbs, so we are often at a loss of what to do with them. For example, we have a bunch of fresh mint. Now, I love mint, but I don't know what to do, besides making mint juleps. So the mint has sat, underused. Otherwise, it is thrown into the salad a mixed with everything else.

My new trick with the herbs is to marinate a few chicken breasts in whatever herbs we have. I try to do this on Sunday evening. That way, it will be ready to cook by Monday or Tuesday (our chicken breasts are all frozen, so they need some time to thaw in the herbs). We have grilled and broiled our chicken, but my Other Half thinks that a stir-fry would be a better option. That way, it allows us to keep the herbs for a second usage.

I've also been mixing in some herbs with my morning egg. Yes, I still have an egg and toast with our wonderful egg/toast machine. I've been putting thyme, parsley, or oregano in the one egg before I poach it. Not bad.

These are all good attempts, but I feel like I could be more creative. If you have any suggestions, I'll accept them. However, I highly suggest a CSA, either Rock Spring Farm, or one in your area. They are wonderful additions to your diet!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Who's Ready for a Big Dose of Church Politics?

There is certainly a lot going on in the ELCA. It's time ripe with angst.

Down in Atlanta, a friend of mine has been told by the Committee on Appeals that he is no longer a pastor on the roster of the ELCA. For a while, things were looking incredibly hopeful. The disciplinary panel had suggested that Visions and Expectations was a bad policy that has no effect other than to hurt people. They even gave suggestions on how to change the policy so that Pastor Brad would be able to continue to serve his congregation without being punished by the ELCA.

At the same time, there is a wonderful debate going on over at Lutherpunk's blog about Word Alone and its purpose and value. I was in college and seminary when a lot holy heck was raised about Call to Common Mission and its implications. However, as a layperson, I didn't ever get that involved in the debate much at all. It appeared to me (it remains to be seen how accurate this perception was) that this was something that only mattered to clergy. After all, it was primarily about ordination and who and who would not be giving the authority of the office of pastor. I also suspected that it had a lot to do with resentment of church hierarchy, primarily bishops and our Churchwide office.

I've always held these two debates side-by-side. For one thing, I was under the understanding that, at one time, Word Alone was pushing for less power to be held within the hierarchy. However, when it comes to the ordination and call of gay or lesbian pastors, these same people (I'm stereotyping here) are very adamant that the bishop come in to punish the pastor or congregation, or both. They do not want a synod office policing what they do, but they certainly want someone watching what other congregations do. This seems contrary to the idea of a more congregational-based polity.

Now, I'm not advocating for us to be a congregational-based denomination. In fact, I appreciate the fact that there is a hierarchy (or, as I like to call it, a system of back ups). I've been part of enough unhealthy congregations to know that sometimes someone needs to step in and referee the place.

In a few weeks, the ELCA will be having its Churchwide Assembly in Chicago. I will be there, not as a voting member, or as a visitor (I've been that in the past). I'm going to be there to help promote a change in our policy that allows folks like Bradley, and countless others, follow the call that God has given them. This will place me in the camp of Lutherans Concerned and Goodsoil. It also places me in (perceived) opposition to the Lutheran CORE, Word Alone, and the Rock Solid Lutherans (do they even exist anymore). It is a position I am not looking forward to.

I enjoy talking about church politics, but I hate having to live it out. I would prefer to talk, learn and grow in community. However, I was educated at a very polarizing institution (hint: It's in St. Paul.) that didn't know how to foster a community. Churchwide Assembly just seems like a bad extension of that.