In Lay Terms

Random Ramblings From a Church Nerd

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Clean Up and Change

On this Saturday, I figured it was high time to update my blog roll. Many of the new additions are from the blogging workshop I attended back in January. I'm still figuring out which ones I'm going to visit on a regular basis, but I'm excited to be this networked and hooked up!

Today, we are trying to get stuff done. It's my first weekend of 2008 that I'm at home. We are trying to accomplish stuff and still take a little sabbath time. We are planning to sit and watch a movie at 8:00. It will be a good reward for a full day.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Math Madness!

I've made reference to my MBA program. Often, people ask me why I'm in such a program.

The short answer is, "I don't know."

The flippant answer is, "It's a fun degree to get on the side."

The more thoughtful answer is, "I can challenge myself and learn some new skills that could be handy, no matter where I work or what I do."

I am still thinking/planning on pursuing my PhD in the coming years. This PhD would be in practical theology, social ethics or Christian Education. I've been scoping out a few different schools and programs.

On one level, the MBA is a momentum-builder. I've been out of school for a while (I finished my first Master's degree in 2003). Maybe I need to re-immerse myself in an academic environment, and that will propel me through a PhD program.

On the other hand, I've been told that you only have so much energy for graduate school, and the MBA might be sapping my energy that could be poured into a PhD program.

The reality is that I won't be able to start my PhD program for at least another year. I haven't started applying again. I'm just sitting here. I'd rather be busy than just be bored. So why not do a program. It's offered by the school where I work. I get a steep discount. It's a one night a week class for 21 months. I don't have to put any significant effort into it.

For example, right now, we are studying Quantitative Decision Making. We've been going through probability, forecasting, and inventory. The interesting thing is that these are going to help me understand statistics that I would be reading later. Of course, math isn't easy, but it's challenging. It hasn't killed me yet. This class is probably the most beneficial one that I've taken so far.

See, the MBA can be worth my time.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Pool of Lotion

I suffer from dry skin in the winter. Ergo, I use a lot of lotion on my skin.

Now, I'm not a lotion user so that my hands can stay supple and soft all the time. Rather, my skin gets so dry that my knuckles can spontaneously bleed if I don't soften it up with a little lotion.

I've discovered that there are people who don't like lotion, or it grosses them out. My sister is one of those people. My Other Half has often been one of those people.

When you have dry skin, strange thoughts start running through your head. I fantasize about wading in a pool that is filled with lotion. These fantasies often come when the skin on my legs and arms are raw from scratching. Now, when I share this fantasy with someone like my sister, I get a little gag and a look of repulsion from them. However, when your skin feels like it's about to flake off, it makes sense to dream of an abundance of cure.

Here's my question, is there a place with a pool of lotion? I could totally see this being a health spa thing.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Another Birthday Miracle!

The final miracle is that the piano player decided to play organ today, just for my grandmother! That means that she could still hear the organ, even though I preached.

I don't know if any of you are interested, but I'll post my sermon below. It's not my best sermon, and I certainly don't want to get into the habit of putting those up here all the time, no offense to those of you who do (ahem...J...Scott). However, since I harped on this so long, I'll let you see what the end result was...

John 1: 29-42

Grace to you and peace from God our creator and our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Just to make sure I get it out of the way. Happy Birthday, Grandma. I love you.

I know that my grandmother doesn’t like a lot of undue attention, but I think that it’s fitting that we are celebrating an 80th birthday today. My grandmother is here, surrounded by her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. At one time, she has been in all these roles, she was once a child (it was a while ago) she had a mother, a grandmother and great-grandparents.

As she grew, she transitioned out the child stage of life. She grew up and had children. During this transition, her mother helped her when she became a mother herself. She has had people to mentor her as she grows into all her different roles. And eventually, she has mentored others as they grew into roles that she has held.

Of course, I’m not just talking about my grandmother (and I’m sure she will be happy to have the attention diverted away from her). This is true for all of us. We have people who lead and teach and mentor us. Eventually, they lead us into new roles, even as they move out of their former roles.

The same thing is happening in our gospel story for today. We are seeing the Holy Spirit as it spreads from one person to another. There is a transition from John to Jesus, and even a little preview of what happens beyond Jesus’ earthly ministry. In this story, we witness John’s ministry decrease as Jesus and his ministry increases.

Here’s how the transition happens. John knows that he is not the Messiah, the Lamb of God. But he can identify who is. The task for John is to make people realize that the Messiah is among them, but not let them think John himself is the Messiah. Was that confusing? Probably.

The Jews had been waiting a long time for a Messiah. This was the one to deliver Israel from all its enemies. The Messiah was expected to reign in a new era for Israel. So there is an eager longing to find the Messiah. Over the course of time, there had been many who have claimed to be the Messiah, so it was hard to know who to believe. John has the gift to know who the Messiah is. He is sent to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah. John knows who it is, because he has met Jesus and seen the Spirit of God rest upon him.

Since John’s ministry is one of preparation, he must transition people away from himself just as Jesus takes up the mantle of his earthly ministry. John is one of the rare people who can speak the truth to people, but then take a supporting role as Jesus takes the lead.

How does this transition happen? It happens over a series of relationships, interactions, and personal testimonies.

The transition starts well before this story begins. We read a portion of the story last week in church. Jesus approaches John to be baptized. The two have an interaction with one another, where John is the first one to recognize Jesus as the Son of God.

This is the story that John tells his disciples when he sees Jesus pass by. When John sees Jesus, he points him out to the disciples, identifies him, and then talks about the baptism experience. If John hadn’t told the story in this way, I believe there would be no reason for these disciples to follow Jesus. They had to know and trust John to trust his testimony about Jesus.

Let me be clear, Jesus does not have some sort of magnetism that just draws people to him. People need to know, need to hear who Jesus is and what he has done. They need to hear it from a source they trust. They are slow and skeptical. In fact, as it was, it took two days…two separate “Jesus sightings” for these disciples to step out to follow Jesus.

They leave their original teacher, because he has pointed them to the next best thing. The transition continues…

Almost immediately, these two disciples have their own personal encounter with Jesus. This interaction begins a whole new relationship.

Jesus asks these two new disciples, “What you are looking for?”

Their response: "Where are you staying?"

This is not an answer to the question. In fact, it’s one of those annoying “answering the question with another question” tricks that Jesus likes to pull. Who knows, maybe this is where he learned that….

But let’s look at the disciples’ response a little closer.

Did they not know what they were looking for? Where they scared to say what they were looking for? They really just left John after John declared Jesus to be the Lamb of God. They could have said, “We are looking for the Lamb of God, and that guy over there says it’s you. If it’s not you, can you point us in the right direction?”

Maybe they are looking for Truth (with a capitol T). Maybe they are looking for salvation. All these things are probably right, but it’s not the sort of thing that you can sum up quickly in front of someone who you just met (and, who you think might be the truth and salvation). It’s intimidating.

So, they ask Jesus where he is staying. On one level, this may seem like a cop-out answer, or a non-answer. But it’s not. This question opens up a whole new relationship. They are asking where Jesus is staying, where he is dwelling, where he is resting himself. When they ask him where he is staying, they are using the Greek word “MENO”. This word means resting, abiding, or dwelling. It is the same word that John uses when he describes what the Holy Spirit did during Jesus baptism. “The Holy Spirit REMAINED on him.

Clearly, asking where Jesus is staying is more than a stalling technique. This is a way of inviting themselves to be with Jesus and to continue into a relationship with him. And they spend the day listening to Jesus. They discover that John was right.

These disciples would have never known it had they not experienced it for themselves. Again, this is not the “Come and follow me” sort of approach. These disciples spend time listening and learning before they start the spread the word. It was John’s direction that initially got them involved with Jesus, but after an experience with them, they don’t need John’s testimony. They now have their own stories to share. In fact, after having stayed with Jesus, one of the disciples, Andrew goes to get his brother, Simon. Andrew is so moved by his own personal experience with Jesus that he goes to share it with his family.

Jesus meets Simon and immediately gives him a new name, Peter. And he becomes the Peter that we hear about and follow through all the of Gospels and into Acts. Peter, the rock of faith. Peter, the one who can confidently name Jesus as the Messiah (much like John the Baptist). Peter, the one who will deny Jesus at the crucifixion and declare his love for Jesus following the resurrection. Peter, the one who gives that great sermon on the day of Pentecost.

We started this whole story with John the Baptist, the first one to name Jesus as the Messiah. From John, we moved into a relationship with Jesus (which gets fleshed out more as you continue to read), but we end today’s reading with Peter, who establishes the church following the resurrection.

This is the amazing transition that we get to witness. In our Old Testament reading for today, we hear, “The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb, he named me.” The Spirit of God rests upon each and every one of us. However, we are all placed in a different time and space and given different abilities. We lead others to live fully in Christ, just as we have been lead to live in Christ.

If the story had stopped with John, then we would never had known that the Messiah had come into the world. If the story had stopped with Jesus, then he would simply be a historical figure. The story continues through Peter and through history to each of us today. We are also called to live out a calling that points other people to Jesus. We are called to help people understand that the Spirit of Christ dwells in each one of them. We are called to invite people to form their own stories and testimonies. We live that calling in our workplaces, our schools, our stores, and within our families. And the story doesn’t end with us. As we move out of our current roles, God will place more people to continue the story, long after we are gone.

Thanks be to God!

Birthday Miracles!

Today is my grandmother's 80th Birthday! Happy Birthday.

Yesterday was the extraordinary ordination of Jen Nagel. Happy Ordination!

Since I'm in my home town with my family for the birthday, I'll report on that.

A good number of my relatives came. At one point, it sounded like there weren't going to be too many people here. At first some had work commitments. Then, my grandmother called each of us (at least me and my sister) in a panic about driving up North for 5 hours when the whether is this cold (it's -25 this morning at 7:00). What's odd is that I grew up here, and -25 is pretty normal. Even with wind chill. My grandmother was concerned that we would get into an accident and be stranded in our car for a week. I tried to tell her that we have an emergency kit in the car, and a cell phone and AAA (which she got for us). It still took a little convincing.

Last night was the birthday dinner. My grandmother invited her friends around, so there were about 30 people there. Really, we just ate. Then we were done.

Here's where the miracle came in, all of the present grandchildren and great-grandchildren agreed to sing some special music sometime during the service. That's right, all the "kids" are going to sing something. Our choir will range in age from 4 to 45. And what are we going to sing? "This Little Light of Mine."

When my grandmother heard the selection, she gave me a look and asked me if we could sing something more...(she couldn't figure out the right word to put in there). I told her that this was like brokering the Middle East Peace Treaty, so we shouldn't go back on any of the terms of the agreement.

I'm still preaching (and I think I finally have something to say). I am not playing the organ. My uncle is reading. My aunt and cousin are assisting with communion. My parents are ushering. And we are ALL eating!

Then, we'll start the long drive back to Minneapolis to resume our normal lives. I'll probably be doing MBA homework in the car. Wish me luck!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

It's Butt Freakin' Cold

Back in my singer-songwriter days (they were few), a friend and I wrote a little ditty. It was entitled "Butt Freakin' Cold". I've posted this song before, back in the early days of this blog. Since the thermometer I read this morning in Northern Minnesota read -25 degrees (with a wind chill factor of -50), I think that song is appropriate for this weekend, so I will share it with all of you.

I don't have a YouTube video of us singing or anything cool like that. You will just have to live with the lyrics.

It's butt freakin' cold.
I can't feel my nose.
It's butt freakin' cold.
Snot is freezing in my nose.
It's butt freakin' cold.
I feel numb.

Stanza 1:
I went to bed just the other night
And I woke up before the dawn's early light
Because the covers fell off and I could see
That the cold was really getting to me
And I was curled in a ball in the middle of the bed
And if I couldn't find my blanket, I knew I'd be dead

Stanza 2:
I jumped off the dock and into the lake.
And as soon as I did, I started to shake.
I looked at the lifeguard, and what did I see
A big pair of mittons, clapping at me!
because... (chorus)

I can't remember if there are more stanzas or not. Stay warm this weekend!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Preacher Man!

This weekend is my grandmother's 80th birthday. Happy Birthday Grandma (she reads this blog).

We are having a bigger celebration this summer, but several of her family members are going to be in town this weekend. Our family is going to "take over" the Sunday morning worship service and fill it with her descendants reading, communion, and singing. Originally, I signed up to play the organ. It's sort of my role when I go back to my small town.

However, I got an invitation from the pastor to preach this Sunday. I was interested in the idea. I don't get to preach very often, since I'm not clergy (hence, the name of this blog). I do it occasionally, and I enjoy it. I also thought that preparing a sermon and giving it would be easier than trying to find time to practice the organ during this hectic week.

Here's the other factor that needs to be taken into consideration. Apparently, I'm the only person who plays the organ in my home church. Everyone else who helps with musical leadership plays the piano. Whenever I come to town, my grandmother (and her friends) all get so excited when I play the organ. It's not that I'm really any good. I took lessons a long time ago, and I plunk it out however I need to. They tell me how much they miss the organ, and they love to hear it.

If I preached, I wouldn't play. That's just too complicated. It's hard to run from leading one portion of the worship to lead a completely different aspect.

I decided that I would preach (sorry, Grandma!). However, my week is still pretty busy. I haven't even had time to read the texts properly. I'm hoping I can set aside a little time tonight to live into the text. I want to make my clergy friends proud!

Do you think that the greatest gift you can give an 80-year old is a sermon?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Working in San Francisco

Yes, I'm still making you believe that I have this glamorous lifestyle where I jet-set from one coast to the other. Trust me, it's not like that...not at all.

I've been in San Francisco since Thursday, doing preparation for Hearts on Fire. This weekend, I walked several local planners through the university where the conference is going to be held. We realized that this is a big, confusing campus, so we will need to mark our path quite well. I also hope that we have some golf carts to help people with transportation.

Registration opened last week, and we have four registrations so far! Yea! From now on, I'm going to be a bit obsessive about checking that number. I love to see it go up, and I want to look at the new folks who registered. I don't know some of the people who have registered, which is a good thing. They are not the "usual suspects", but some new people with some excitement!

I'm trying to get a lot done, because classes begin tomorrow and my time will likely run out. In fact, I'm too late. My MBA class already met last week, and I have a ton of homework dumped on me from that. This is my last chance to work on this somewhat uninterrupted.

As I work, my excitement for the event grows. I've let it be known that I consider the last Assembly that I worked on to be one of my greatest accomplishments. Not that I haven't done other cool stuff, but I had such a great feeling from that event. I want to re-capture that feeling again.

I communicated with the director of the GCN conference that I went to last week. He detailed exactly what I feel about the Assembly. When you are leading up to it, you have increasing stress. When it happens, you want it to be over, so you can get your life back. When it's over, you are devastated!

Maybe my addiction is conferences?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Hands in the Air

PS just questioned me as to what my aversion is to praise and worship music. It's a worthy question and deserves a fair response. I think there are a few things going on here.

For one thing, I should mention that the hight of my Christian music experience was probably in college. Growing up, there was a Christian radio station, but it was a lot of talking. I also grew up quite isolated from a lot of media. We had no telephone and very limited television (mainly a Canadian station). This means that I wasn't exposed to a lot of popular music of any genre (except for country) until I was much older. This means that I didn't grow up listening to Michael W. Smith or Amy Grant or any of the rest. I mainly got exposed to Christian music through my time with the Lutheran Youth Organization. By then, I was probably 16.

With no background, I went to college and worked at a summer camp (PS knows it well) where I met others who were more into Christian music. Because many of my friends listened to Christian music, I did as well. By now, this was the late 90's. The popular music was Jars of Clay and Jennifer Knapp. I still like some of this music. The genre appeals to me.

At the camp, we learned "camp songs". I'm not sure when "camp songs" transitioned into praise and worship music, but somehow it did. Even when I was at college and a part of a student-led worship, we often described it as "camp songs". At some point, I realized that these songs were too complicated to teach to campers around a camp fire. They were complex songs that had a lot of words. People who knew them had learned from listening to them elsewhere (or with the aid of PowerPoint).

I can sing with a lot of gusto. If I know a praise and worship song well enough, I'll sing out with all I have. But I've never understood the raising of the hands, closing of the eyes, and swaying. I tend to put my energy into joining the group in praise, and not having my own experience.

When I traveled with Youth Encounter, we had a policy that we don't close our eyes as leaders. They wanted us to be leading the worship, not going into our private space. I think that policy stayed with me.

Probably the last part of my feelings about praise and worship music has to do with my experience with Youth Encounter. A lot of people in the organization were into "worship". I came to realize that they were not talking about the act of worship, they were talking about a genre of music. It became very rigid as to what qualified as worship (particularly for one individual on my team). Most of what we attended on Sunday morning didn't qualify for her. I had a hard time with that.

Then, when I got kicked off Youth Encounter, I started to associate praise and worship music with folks who didn't know how to deal with me and my GLBT brothers and sisters. That is probably what affects me the most today. I tend to have memories of Youth Encounter, and they are painful memories. So I just get through the song.

So there are my thoughts on praise and worship music. The problem isn't so much with the music, but more with my journey and where that music has played a role. However, on Facebook, I have joined a group entitled "Praise Bands Annoy God". There are some great pictures in it! I'll leave you with a photo from the group.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

DC Baby!

I have returned home from a conference in Washington, DC. I know that some of you think that I travel entirely too much...but you are wrong. I love my travel. This trip was extra special because it was held in Alexandria, VA. Upon my return, I can now color in Virginia as a state I have visited. Also, I can color in the District of Columbia, since I ate dinner and drove around for a while in our great capitol. These were new places for me to visit. Yea! Only four more states to round out the US of A!

This conference was for an organization called the Gay Christian Network. Um, basically, it's a network of Gay Christians. So, I guess the name is pretty accurate. Actually, the GCN (as the cool people call it) began as a web-based discussion board where GLBT (oh, let's be honest...mainly G) people could have discussions about life, faith, and religion.

I was invited to attend the conference because of my role on the board of directors of Lutherans Concerned/North America. I am the Director of Youth, Young Adult, and Family Ministries (we call it YoYaFam). I went with the Executive Director, the Grassroots Coordinator, the Communications Director (who lives in the area) and our Intern (who is helping me with YoYaFam). The conference was an interesting experience for several reasons. Let me highlight a few.

  • These people all primarily know each other from the on-line community. When I first met someone, they would ask what my screen name was. I had to confess to everyone that I registered for the web site the day before leaving for DC, just so I could get an idea of what sort of thing I was getting myself into.
  • I went to a workshop about blogging. And now I'm blogging about my blogging workshop. That's meta-blogging. Be careful, if you think about it too much, your head might explode! Maybe I'll be able to update my blogroll with the new blogs I heard about.
  • We were able to make a pitch for Hearts on Fire and The Naming Project Summer Camp. After the session when we made these announcements, I was swamped with brochure requests and conversations. When I reported this back to the others, I was informed that they didn't get as many brochure requests as I did. The Executive Director attributed this to the fact that I was "young, cute, and had a penis."
  • I was asked several times if my camp was like the camp they saw on a show on LOGO. I said yes, and began to reference the film right away. Yes, that's right, many of these people had seen Camp Out (the documentary about The Naming Project Summer Camp). First of all, I've never met so many people who have LOGO at home (my parents have 300 channels and don't get LOGO). It was helpful to talk about the camp, since many people had seen what it looks like.
  • I observed our Executive Director sweet talk the Metro DC chapter of LC/NA. It was a whole different persona than I had ever seen before (and I had thought that I had seen all her sides).
  • I'm not a great fan of praise and worship music, and this was pretty much all praise and worship music. They followed an evangelical format where we sang for 30-45 minutes and then had 45 minutes of a keynote (or sermon, depending on your point of view). However, on the last day (today), they sang a string of "traditional" hymns. We sang about one stanza of each hymn in a pretty "praise and worship" style, but at least these were traditional hymns. Then, the worship leader said that they tried to find a hymn that would be embraced by the whole conference. They wanted something that rings true for all the conference attendees: Pentecostal, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Baptist, Catholic, Orthodox, and Methodist (and probably many more and some non-denominational folks). They finally decided on the song that could do that: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. Yup, that is the great ecumenical hymn (apparently). They used archaic language (not what I'm used to from the LBW or the ELW). However, Kate pointed out that they spelled the word "thru", so it had some contemporary touches.
  • I'm sure I met all current and former Lutherans who attended the event. There were even a couple pastors in the mix. I continue to pray for them and their future steps.
  • Our Grassroots Coordinator (who is straight) made the observation that gay men have small hands and nice shoes.
There is a lot more analysis, but for now, this will suffice. Tomorrow I go back to my regular job, so I need to get a little rest tonight.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

2008 is Here

Just so you know, I returned from Chicago all safe and sound. I came back a little earlier, because my lunch date had the flu. So, I got back on the plane that just took me to Chicago (same crew and everything) and flew back to Minneapolis.

Life is going to return to normal soon. It is now a sprint to summer...well, not quite, but summer is always my goal!

What do I have to look forward to in 2008?

  • My grandmother's 80th birthday
  • Another Spring Break of doing hurricane recovery work in New Orleans
  • The next installment of the Summer Theology Institute
  • Hearts on Fire
  • Continued work on my MBA
  • Applications to a PhD program (I should start working on those now)
  • A wedding/retreat to the North Shore
I'm sure there is going to be more than that (there always is). I'm looking forward to what 2008 has to hold!