In Lay Terms

Random Ramblings From a Church Nerd

Saturday, August 30, 2008


Next weekend, I was to go to New Orleans for the Many Stories, One Voice conference. I just got word that the conference was canceled due to Hurricane Gustav.

Another strange thing happened. I had some email correspondence with a pastor from Slidell, LA. She sent a message to everyone in her address book (I'm assuming) that asked her congregation to let her know where they were. She also included a litany for a hurricane. Several people have hit "reply to all" and told of their plans, including cell phone numbers. I'm a witness to their action, but I don't know any of them. I'm sincerely hoping that these people who I know only by name will be safe and out of harms way.

My disruption in travel plans isn't really the big deal here. We need prayers and action going to the Gulf Coast right now. I am sincerely praying that people are evacuating and getting outta dodge so that they can be safe...safer than before.

I'm praying that we don't bungle this up again. I'm praying that our president will decide that working with people in life-threatening peril is more important than making a personal speech at the RNC, which happens to be in the other Twin City.

I pray that we have learned how to move into a disaster and help people, instead of just throwing bombs and blaming another country.

I pray that those who blame the hurricane on Southern Decadence will have their hearts turned. That someday they will learn that a hurricane is caused no more by a party than by a political convention.

This has me worried. I've been working in the Gulf Coast since Katrina, and I don't want the progress that was made to be erased. Many of these people can't take it again.

This is a prayer that will be too deep for words.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Whatever Happened to Baby Ross?

I don't spend a lot of time watching old movies. I don't watch a lot in black and white, and I don't even watch very much from before the '80s.

However, maybe I need to start. There are campy movies that have been lifted up as "must see" films for the gay community. Apparently, we are all in love with Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and Judy Garland. I get that, but there are enough recent movies that I want to watch. I don't need to spend a lot of time with overly dramatic movies that are defined more by somber music than by plot.

Last night, I may have changed my attitude a little bit. We went to a stage adaptation of "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" that featured Craig, a good friend of mine, in the role of Blanche. My friend is male, so played the roll in drag. The young Blanche was also played by a boy. It was so overly dramatic, that it was funny. I guess that was the appeal.

The photo above came from the Star Tribune, which also had this article.

A friend that we went with told us that our friend as Blanche was being campy, but that the Jane role was played spot on. Apparently, the campiness is just a part of the role.

So now, we've moved "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" to the top of our Netflix list, along with "Mommie Dearest" (I did try to watch that once), and "Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte".

I'm going to try to make my way through these films that are considered "classics".

Sunday, August 24, 2008

ABBA-solutely Fabulous!

I realize what a lame title I've given to this post. It's cheesy and makes you want to take a shower. Of course, if you scroll down through my other post titles, you won't find any great phrasing there, either. At least I'm trying.

Yesterday, Richard and I met up with my sister and her husband. We went to go see Mamma Mia!

Thoughts will follow:

  • I guess we should consider ourselves lucky to have found the movie still playing. Often, we stall so long that we miss the theater run and have to watch it on DVD. Not this time, we got into a 3:30 matinĂ©e and spent a lot less money.
  • I need to stop trying to compare the movie to the stage musical. They just need to change things to make the move work, but it always bugs me when songs are changed or the plot is rearranged. I have the stage version in my head, and I get disoriented when a song doesn't come when it's supposed to.
  • I think that Amanda Seyfried is beautiful and sings so beautifully. In fact, of the whole cast, her voice was the most beautiful. It was clean and had just a touch of soul in it. I liked her in Mean Girls, and I had no idea that she could sing so well.
  • Pierce Brosnan: He had the look for the part, but that was about it. He was good when he was standing there, looking brooding and sexy, but the second he opened his mouth, there was a problem. First, he was trying to do a New York accent. That's right, they got a British guy to play a New Yorker in a British play set in a Greek isle. Didn't need that.
  • I need a whole second bullet devoted to Pierce Brosnan's lack of singing ability. He looked so pained when he was was almost constipation. I felt so bad for him. When he sang "S.O.S", I would grimace every time he sang. Then my sister started laughing, and her husband would elbow her to stop her from laughing. It was painful.
  • Do you know what was worse? They gave Pierce an extra solo to sing at the end. That's right, a song that didn't appear in the stage musical was given to the guy who had the least ability to sing. What was that all about?
  • Meryl Streep was fine. They really used her real voice, which sometimes worked really well and sometimes didn't work so well. But it added a shade of reality to a musical. It wasn't glossed over, but she can pull it off. Case in point:I loved the group numbers (is that any surprise?). The bachelorette party was phenominal! The spinning and dancing was so much fun to watch.
  • Colin Firth is amazing. He's played parts like this before (the uptight guy who is trying to let his hair down), but he is so good at it. He also has a really good rapport acting with young women without looking lecherous. In my opinion, it's easy for guys to get into "creepy old man" mode.
There, you have the complete Lay Terms review of Mamma Mia! Go for the enjoyment of the situation. Don't take it (or yourself) too seriously. Have a dance party with your children. Laugh at Pierce trying to belt those solos out. Have a good time. Or, if you want the original, you go here:

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A New Church Home

On Sunday, Richard and I joined a new church. This had been a long journey for both of us. It took a lot of discernment on my part to figure out if it was worth it and how best to do it.

I don't take the decision to move my membership lightly. In fact, part of why I waited so long was because I didn't want to be someone who would drag his membership across to any "flavor of the month" congregation.

Growing up, I was a member of the Lutheran church in which I grew up. The name of the church is also the name of the town, which shows you how small the town was and the identification the church had with the town. I was happy keeping my membership there through high school, a year of being an exchange student in Belgium, and college. After college, and after Youth Encounter, I knew that I would likely be living in Minneapolis for quite a long time. I felt like it was time to move my membership to within the synod where I was going to be residing.

I had worked a summer at a large church in Minneapolis, and I had found a pretty good community there, so I decided that I should join. I also got really involved in the church. However, the church had a lot of struggles, and these sometimes came out in unhealthy ways. I feel that I put up with quite a bit, but the difficulties were overshadowing the very positive worship experience I was having. I was getting tired. I don't want to shame this church, so I'm leaving details vague. Needless to say, I dropped out of the worship life of this congregation.

Then, I spent the next five years worshiping at different churches around the Twin Cities. I had friends who were pastors or youth staff, so I would visit their church. There were several churches that had great reputations, so I would visit those places. Then, one winter, Richard and I attempted to drive to worship in Edina in a snowstorm. After 45 minutes, we were barely 1/3 of the way there. We decided it was time to give up driving all over creation.

We decided that it was time to try the churches in our own neighborhood. These churches were relatively unknown. They didn't have the big reputation that some of the other congregations had. We had simply overlooked them. However, in our neighborhood, there were 8 ELCA churches and one LCMS church. We could walk to most of them. We decided to visit the church three blocks east of our house (as opposed to the church three blocks south of our house). It was a pleasant experience. The people were nice. The preaching was timely and topical, with a gospel message to wrap it all together. Best of all, we were relatively unknown.

We continued to worship there occasionally, until we were recognizable. We couldn't be anonymous in this small church. The pastor got to know us, and would chat quite a bit. Sometimes he would bring up membership, and we shared our concerns with him. The fact is that I spend a lot of my time and energy trying to make TNP work. I also have a background in congregational leadership, so I can recognize struggles happening behind the scenes. I wanted to be a worshiper at this place without getting in over my head with activities galore. I had activities. I had community. I had a ministry.

This went on for a few years (like four). Eventually, we decided that we should move our membership to our primary worshiping community. The next delay was that I was doing a lot of preaching and temple talks at other congregations for TNP. I was never around when they were doing New Member Sunday. Finally, on Sunday, everything came together for us to be able to join our new church home. It was a good day. I'm hoping that I can keep a healthy level of involvement at the place, and still keep my primary focus on TNP and other ministries that I work with.

But it feels good. It's a small congregation. We can walk to church. The preaching is good. It feels like home.

Welcome home.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Little Dry

I'm a little dry, creatively, that is. This morning, I don't feel like I have much to report. Of course, I'm doing things, but I don't want my blog to simply be a log of my daily activities.

I guess if I were to choose an overall theme, it's the transition from summer to fall. My time off for the summer is coming to an end. All those summer projects that were supposed to get done...they are due. I few weeks ago, I scraped the eves on our house, with the intention of repainting them. Now they look all scraped, and I haven't yet found the paint. Gotta get it done.

There are some other household projects like that. Back steps in the yard, trimming bushes. House-type stuff.

And then there is reading for me. I'm on a month break from the MBA program, so this was my chance to read books that had interest for me. Also, looking ahead to a PhD program. I did some work, and I still have a lot more to do, but my time is running out.

I've started going back into work pretty regularly. It's not full days yet, but I am feeling the beginning of the year crunch. September always is nuts, just because there is so much activity, and projects that should have been completed in the summer. I scamper around quite a bit. Add too the fact, that I've agreed to teach two classes (one by myself and one team taught with a co-worker), and I think I've made a very busy fall for myself.

So, that doesn't make for exciting blog posts, but it's where I'm at. Can you relate?

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Direct Approach is the Best Approach

I got responses to the emails that I sent. My comments were both well received, which is somewhat of a relief. Especially with my friend, I was concerned that this would ruin our friendship. But it was taken in stride, with some good dialog.

As for my letter to the guy in Connecticut, I got a short reply that addressed some of my concerns. He's not printing a retraction, or anything like that, but he did respond:

Thank you for the thoughtful note. Yes, I even know a Greek family in Minnesota -- and a stray Italian or two. The humor was broad enough not to offend, I suspect, but your points are well taken. Cohen
I'm going to have to keep trying to say what's on my mind. This might be a good thing.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Lashing Out

I've been in a snarky mood lately. I think I've felt that I need to share my feelings with others. Last night, I wrote a difficult email to someone to stop sending me email forwards that I was finding offensive. Today, I took on a total stranger. This article appeared in I was so bugged, that I felt the need to write back. Read the article first, and then read my response.

Mr. Cohen,

On my Google News page, I have a section for "Evangelical Lutheran Church in America" to keep up on what is happening in the ELCA, a denomination of which I am a part. Your column showed up in that area tonight, and I clicked on it to read more.

I'm assuming that you are not a Lutheran, and that you have a quaint disdain for the Upper Midwest. We are cute, simple, smiley (and blond...can't forget blond) people. Minnesota, North and South Dakota has undergone a major shift in the last few years. Yes, there are plenty of us with a Scandinavian background (I've had two full-blooded Swedish grandparents), but we are also home to the largest Somali, Hmong, and Native American concentrations in the United States. If you look back in the news last year, you will find an immigration raid on the Swift Meat Packing Company in Worthington, MN. Those illegal immigrants didn't get sent back to Norway.

And now the Lutherans. Yes, we are the quaint, humble people of Garrison Kellior lore. However, you don't seem to understand that this is a major denomination in the Christian faith. Since I'm a part of the ELCA, I'll speak for them. The same day that you published your article, we learned that the ELCA membership dropped by over 62,000 members and 22 congregations. Here's what paradoxical: we are giving $67 million more. Interesting, huh? And not at all related to being Scandinavian.

Trust me, Lutheran Campus Ministry is a special job that can only be filled by the certain type of pastor. You need to relate to students, you need to run a congregation, and you need to participate in the political life of the church. I work in Campus Ministry, and I see how it burns people up pretty quickly. My former boss was the Executive Director of Lutheran Outdoor Ministry in South Dakota. He was also burned out and left to run a small camp in Northern Minnesota. It's more complicated to manage a network of camps than it might seem.

So, yes, you are a long shot for running Lutheran organizations, because you don't understand what Lutherans are. I hope you come back and see more of Minnesota and more of the Lutherans. We are a dazzling bouquet with tremendous diversity.

Ross (note the Scottish name, despite being 1/2 Swedish)
Minneapolis, MN

You can also interview our Jewish senator (Norm Coleman), our Muslim representative (Keith Ellison), or the Jewish man running against our current Jewish senator (Al Franken) to get a better perspective on being blond and Lutheran in Minnesota. They might remember former senator Paul Wellstone (also Jewish).

Monday, August 11, 2008

On the Move

Today, I'm balancing two of my jobs against one another. I'm heading into my normal, day-type job. The issue here is that it is still summer. I'm not quite supposed to be in work yet. But there is a conference on academic support for students in recovery, and I was asked to be there. Plus, one of my best friends is going to be there and presenting. I just couldn't pass that up.

But then I'm leaving early for Washington, DC. I'm going to be scouting out the location of the next LC/NA Assembly in 2010. I'm excited for some of the changes that we might be implementing. I won't talk about them here until I know they are going to happen, but I think it brings us to the next level! Very exciting!

I'll be in DC until Thursday. Have a good week, kiddos!

Saturday, August 09, 2008


Today, Richard and I worked on a small apartment building that we own. This building was an investment we made about five years ago. In retrospect, it was a poor investment. We are not building management-type people, and this building has sucked up more time and money than we want to put into it.

Often, we go to the building, and leave rather depressed that we spent more time working on a building that isn't getting any better. There are other times when we get ourselves mentally prepared to go and perform specific tasks, when those tasks are complete, we head home.

Today was one of those days. We prepared a to-do list that was pretty manageable. We went for about four hours and worked hard to get those things done. We also looked, and prepared a to-do list for next weekend. We also have some bigger projects that need to be done. We are deciding that we should probably contract out those bigger projects, so we need to get bids on those projects.

Today, the building did not leave us defeated. We left feeling like we got stuff accomplished. I'm sure it won't be like that every time, but it felt good to leave the building in a good mood.

Of course, if someone came by to offer $750,000 for it, we wouldn't complain too much either!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

On Being Lutheran

This song reminds me that I am in good company.

The Routine

Yup. Life is pretty calm at the moment. Soon, all that will change.

In a few short weeks, the school routine will begin again and I will be working my two jobs and teaching two classes, and taking an evening class (finance!). It's going to be nuts. I'm going to be going insane.

That's why I'm enjoying myself now. I don't think I'll get a chance to work at my own pace again for quite a while. This sleeping in, and handling tasks as they come to the forefront of my mind is not a luxury that I normally get to have. Instead, I handle things in the order of the crisis they present me.

I'm trying to do some work now that will make my fall easier, but I know that there is still going to be a ton going on.

I'm also adjusting to a routine without some of my friends. They moved away at the beginning of the summer. However, because I don't have a routine, I don't think I really noticed the change. Once I get back into work and classes and busy, I'm afraid that I'm going to lose touch with them.

Fall will bring with it its own stresses. If I can take care of myself now, I can handle whatever comes at me.

I will be OK.

I am cared for.


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Post Camp and Camp Out

The Naming Project Camp was, once again, a great success. We had a really good week. A highlight was getting to see all the new buildings on the camp site. Since we were there last summer, Bay Lake built a lodge with 12 bedrooms (and a bathroom in each bedroom), a new dining hall, staff quarters, construction shed, and manager's cabin. It was amazing to see.

If you watch Camp Out, you can still recognize some of the buildings, but the place looks totally different now.

Speaking of Camp Out, I got my copy in the mail yesterday. We got a copy sent to us by the producers. For everyone else, it's available now. Of course, I jumped right into the bonus features. They showed Tim and Christine taking a walk in the woods. They also showed more of our closing day, where we did a blessing for each of the campers. That was fun to see. The interesting part about watching the bonus features is that, over the last 4 years, my memory of the camp is pretty shaped by the movie. I've forgotten about a lot of the camp that wasn't on the movie. Seeing the bonus features made me think about the blessings, and the campfires, and the more casual times that didn't make it into the movie.

There was also a production commentary. At one time, I proposed to the producers that they let the three of us do a commentary. They said no, but then they did their own (!). It was cool to hear the two producers talk about their experience and their interpretation of what was happening at the camp. I got my shout-out from them as well. During one of the last worship services, we had them walk partway with rocks, and then sit in the woods to meditate. When they came out of the woods, we greeted them with a campfire and songs. The kids were pretty emotional, and it's a powerful moment. I cringe all the time when I watch this because I'm primarily the one you can hear singing, and a week's worth of yelling and singing had taken its toll on my already mediocre voice. So, there I am, singing "Sanctuary" in a raspy, broken voice. On the commentary, they were discussing how emotional the kids were. Then, to break the somber-ness, one of the producers said, "On a lighter note, nice singing, Ross!"

I'm pleased with the DVD, and I hope that people use it as a resource. My experience from this last week of camp has reminded me that there are still a lot of struggles out there for GLBT kids. We dealt with a lot of painful emotional issues, family conflict, and difficulty. Not all kids can come to our camp, for a variety of reasons. Many cannot come because they are not out to their parents, or their parents do not let them attend. Hopefully this film will find its way into a DVD player near them.

I'm hoping that J will post his thoughts on Camp and on Camp Out. Of course, that means that he will need to post, huh?