Thursday, December 24, 2009

Why I Do Not Like Raccoons

This is an attempt at video blogging, or Vlogging. Let me know what you think!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sermon for 12/13/09

I am not one to normally post my sermons online. It kind of makes me nervous. But I got a lot of response from this one that I preached this morning. And so I thought maybe if it could be a blessing to others, then I'd go ahead and post it on my blog.

The texts for today (that I use for this sermon)are Zephaniah 3:14-20 and Luke 3:7-18

At least when we read the Gospel for today, we get some reassurance that we aren’t the only ones who get it wrong.

John the Baptist was quite a guy. He dressed in camel hair, his diet consisted of bugs and honey, and he lived out in the desert by himself. He was a fiery and passionate man who wasn’t afraid to speak out and make a scene. He saw the injustice of the Roman empire, he witnessed what he believed to be spiritual weakness among the people who he was baptizing, and he was not afraid to call them out.

So in today’s Gospel, he’s preaching at the people gathered and he’s really kind of giving them the business. I mean he starts by comparing the people there to a bunch of poisonous snakes. Now, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t take that as a compliment. Then he tells that that just because they say that they belong to Abraham, just because they claim to be a part of that promise that God made to Abraham way back in the book of Genesis, that won’t be enough to save them.

He says that the ax is laying at the foot of the tree and any one that doesn’t bear good fruit will get cut down and tossed into the fire. He’s telling those people that they are one step away from being punished. They had better get their act together or, like that tree, they are going to be cut down and thrown into the fire.

And if they think he’s bad then they’ve got another thing coming. John starts to warn them of one who is coming who will be even tougher than he is. John tells them he just baptizes them with water, but there is one who is coming who will baptize them with fire. John compares the one who is to come like someone who works in a granary separating the chafe from the wheat, separating the worthless part of the plant from the important grain. He tells the people that this one who is coming will take those who are the grain, the ones who are considered important, and will gather them to himself. But those who are the chafe, those who are worthless and unimportant, will be tossed into unquenchable fire.

John is expecting the coming Messiah to be a take no prisoners kind of guy. Either you are good and important and worth keeping, or you are bad and unimportant and you’re gonna burn. John was definitely not expecting the kind of Messiah that we got.

Jesus was not born to powerful and important people. Jesus was born to a poor, young couple who could only find a barn for shelter. The only people who showed up for his arrival were dirty shepherds and wise men from a faraway land who would have been considered unbelievers.

And then, when Jesus and John meet for the first time, Jesus wants John to baptize him. John tries to say it should be the other way around, but Jesus persists, and so John, who claimed he wouldn’t even be worthy enough to tie the sandals of the coming Messiah ends up baptizing him in the river.

But John is excited, and he thinks that now that Jesus is around things are going to start happening. So John goes after King Herod, who was not a good king. He was too close with the oppressive Roman army. King Herod was benefitting from the oppression of his own people and John is sure that now that Jesus is around, it’s gonna stop. John goes after Herod and ends up getting arrested, and he realizes that Jesus isn’t fighting back. Jesus wasn’t there to back him up, he didn’t come as reinforcements. So John has to send a couple of his followers to Jesus to ask him if he really is the Messiah. Are you the one we’ve been waiting for, they ask. Or should we wait for another?

But Jesus was the Messiah. He just wasn’t the kind of Messiah that people were expecting. He came to save his people, but not with a winnowing fork like John said. He didn’t come to gather some people up but send the rest off to be condemned. Jesus came so that no one would need to be condemned. He took the punishment that was meant for us. Jesus took our sins and died on the cross for us, so that we might escape the unquenchable fire. Our Messiah came not to save some and condemn the rest, but he came to be condemned so that the rest of us might be saved.

Today is the third Sunday of Advent. Advent is a time of hope and of expectation. It’s a time where we remember how the people long ago hoped for and expected the promised Messiah to come and save them. And it’s also a time when we hope and expect for Jesus to come again. But Advent is also a time of surprise. Because the people long ago were surprised by the Messiah that they got. Just like John, the people were expecting someone different. So when the Messiah showed up, and he didn’t look or act like they were expecting, they were shocked and surprised.

As we journey through Advent and wait for the big Christmas celebration, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, I think we’d be shocked and surprised at how many times we come across Jesus and don’t recognize him.

You see, it’s because we’re like John. We expect Jesus to be like us, to look like us and to act like us. Of course he will like the same things and the same people that we like, and of course he won’t like the same things and the same people that we don’t like. We expect Jesus to believe the same things we believe, to support the same causes that we support, and to make us feel comfortable and safe and warm and fuzzy.

But the truth is, more often than not, Jesus looks like the people we would least expect. He looks like a homeless person on the street begging for money, or a teenager with strange hair and facial piercings. He looks like a single mother in the welfare line, or a gay man dying of AIDS. He looks like a gang member, or an Arab, or a starving child, or an elderly person suffering from dementia. He comes to us as an abused woman, or a man suffering from addiction. He comes to us with tattoos and a big beard and riding on a motorcycle. He comes to us with skin that is a different color than ours, speaking a language other than English.

These are ways that Jesus comes to us. And more often than not, these are times we ignore him because he’s not what we were expecting. We get so caught up in who we think Jesus ought to be that we miss him when he is right next to us. We get so caught up in what we think Jesus ought to say that we fail to hear him when he is speaking right to us. And we get so caught up in what we think Jesus ought to do that we miss all the wonderful things that he is doing around us and through us.

Advent is a time of hope and expectation. But it is also a time of surprise. Our God is a God who surprises us, who comes to us unexpectedly, who is revealed in ways we would not expect, and loves us in ways we could never deserve. Our God is a God who is coming to gather us all together, not like John proclaimed where some were saved and others sent to the fire, but our God will gather us together the way that the prophet Zephaniah proclaimed in the Old Testament reading, where God will gather us all together, every one of us, including the lame and the outcast, and God will change our shame into praise and renown in all the earth.

This is the God who is coming for us, and this is the God we wait for during Advent, and this is the God who is revealed to us every day. Amen.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

snow day!

So, we were on the northern edge of the big huge snowstorm that has been blowing across the midwest. We were not far enough south to get hit as hard as many of the places, like Nebraska and Iowa, but we were far enough south that school was cancelled today! It's a snow day!

So that means that all of our Wednesday activities here at church have been cancelled. Well, at least our youth activities. I guess our bell choir and worship choir are still planning to meet for rehearsal tonight. So, my entire evening isn't free (I sing with the worship choir) but all of the stuff that I am responsible for has been put on hold.

Because of that, I have a day free when I normally would spend it making sure everything is ready for Confirmation. Of course that doesn't mean I have nothing to do. I have a wedding this weekend, and I preach on Sunday, so there is plenty that I COULD be doing. But, as I sit here in my office, basking in the warmth of the space heater and drinking a nice, warm cup of coffee, I can't help but look out the window at the snowy, white, picturesque scenery.

That makes me remember the snow days of my childhood when it meant that, as soon as we were done eating breakfast, we'd pile on our winter coats and our snowpants and our hats and mittens and gloves and scarves and boots and we'd charge out of the house and burrow through the snow. We'd build snow forts and snow men and we'd make snowballs and mercilessly pelt each other with them. We'd play outside, free from the restrictions and work of a school day, until we couldn't feel our noses or fingers and then we'd charge back in the house, leaving our cold and wet coats and boots in a pile by the door. Then we'd traipse into the kitchen with our red faces and runny noses and make hot chocolate with those little marshmallows floating in them. Then we'd spend the rest of the day inside the warm house watching TV and relaxing. It was a great way to spend a snow day!

Now my snow day consists of bundling myself up and charging out of the house to cross the street and go into the church. Instead of snow forts and snow men to build I have sermons to write and meetings to plan. Instead of hot chocolate with marshmallows I'm drinking hazelnut coffee. It's definitely not a bad way to spend a snow day. It does have its benefits. But part of me really does want to go outside and build a snow fort. Wanna help?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Happy 40th Anniversary, Sesame Street!

Sesame Street turns 40 today. One of the most innovative, and the longest running, shows for kids. So to celebrate, I recorded another ukulele video! Hurrah!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

It probably could have gone better

I think my problems started when I woke to my alarm with a start, with a deep fear in my stomach that I was supposed to have written a sermon for today. I lay there, gripping my pillow, eyes wide with fear. Then I realized that I wasn't preaching, so I tried to go back to sleep for a bit. But that wasn't successful.

Well, I guess I could say that they started before that. I had this long, graphic dream about going to the dentist. Now, many of you know I'm not a fan of the dentist. And the dentist has, historically, not been a fan of me. In fact, in grade school I actually had one refuse to see me anymore. Yeah, so that's kind of my deal with the dentist. But I had a dream about it which involved a lot of drilling and a lot of time spent in the dentist chair and all sorts of yummy goodness.

But enough about that. Over at church, the first service didn't go so badly. I managed to do all of my responsibilities well. But, in between the services, I was in the kitchen talking with the group of confirmation kids that were in charge of coffee hour. As I was talking to a couple of the parents, I leaned forward against the counter, only to notice a couple of minutes later that I was leaning against a wet towel. I moved backward, looked down, and saw a large wet spot on the front of my pants, in an especially inconvenient area. So I had to walk around like that for a while.

Then, when we were getting ready for the next service, I put my robe on. Now, the way you put my robe on is you slip it on like a coat or a jacket, and then there are snaps on the shoulders that hold it in place. Then, near the waist there is a string on each side so you can tie the robe and help it stay in place that way, too. As I was tying the strings, one pulled completely off of the robe. Luckily, with the shoulder snaps and then also with the cincture (rope belt) that I wear, it managed to stay in place. But it was an inconvenience.

As I was getting ready to set up communion, during the service, I thought I should use some hand sanitizer. So I stepped off into the sacristy (room right off of the altar area) and took a squirt of hand sanitizer. Only it didn't shoot down, as it should, instead it arced upward, spraying my sleeve and then the front of my robe. Luckily, it's almost all completely alcohol and so it evaporates quickly, but I still had to go out and preside over communion with a large wet blotch on the front of my robe. I'm fairly certain no one really noticed, but I certainly knew it was there.

Overall, despite these small snafus, I think things went well. The Gospel was proclaimed, sins were announced as forgiven, 5th graders participated in their first communion, a baby was baptized, and I had a chocolate cupcake. God was, is and always will be Good.

So I'm going to enjoy a nice relaxing afternoon. I hope you do, as well.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

In all fairness

I should say something about our synod youth event adventure. We ended up leaving on schedule, despite a couple junior high girls who seemed to try their best to prevent us from doing so. We waited as long as we could and just as I was getting ready to leave them behind, there they were on the bus.

We made it up to the city without hitting much traffic, and got to our parking spot at the convention center with no problems. We were one of the first groups there, and it was pretty easy to register and find our seats. Now, looking at the map of the facility, and seeing that our seats were in the bleachers, did not give me an accurate picture of how far away we'd actually be. Thankfully, we were much closer. The people on the stage were actually several inches tall rather than only one.

The speakers were good, of course I am biased, as one is a good friend. He did a good job preaching the Gospel, if I may say so. My kids wanted his autograph. The other speaker was from Malawi and is doing great work providing clean water for the people over there. However, with his accent it was a bit hard to understand what he was saying. They showed a video of him first, and it was with English subtitles and that was easy to follow along with. But then when he came on stage and began to talk, I found myself getting lost and not being able to understand everything he was saying. Then, at the end of his talk, he opened it up for questions. In an auditorium with 500 or so kids in it. Probably not the greatest idea, but I'm not sure if he was used to speaking to such a large group of people.

The musician was fairly good. I've heard good things about her, and so I wanted to like her more than I did. She seemed very folksy and artsy, and shared some of her own original music about water and the need for clean water. I like folk music, so I'm not saying this because I didn't like her style of music. I just think if you are with a large auditorium of junior high aged kids, the best way to keep them paying attention and engaged is to sing songs that they can sing along with, either songs they already know or songs that are easy to learn and catchy. Her songs were good, and they had a good message, but a few bars in and my kids were fidgeting and whispering.

They had a group of youth dancers that performed a couple of times, too. They did this last year and my kids loved it. They were instantly engaged. Last year the music was a little faster and heavier and the dance moves were more hip hop. This year, the music was slow and the dancing was slower and more interpretive. Once again, it was hard for my kids to stay engaged with what was happening.

In conversation with a friend, we agreed that we weren't very keen about the presentation of the theology of the event, either. The theme was about water, and right from the beginning they started listing statistics and facts about water and bottled water and how that affects our environment and wildlife. They also talked about providing clean water for people in other countries. It was water, water, water,Jesus. It should have been Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, water. We conserve our resources and we share out of our abundance and we help others receive the blessings of clean water because of Jesus and what he has done for us. We help quench others' physical thirst because Jesus has quenched our spiritual thirst. But it seemed like the event was more focused on recycling and using reusable bottles, which is important - don't get me wrong - but it should have just been secondary to the Gospel message, not primary.

Now, I don't like to be someone who just states the negatives about something and doesn't do anything to make the event better. In fact, a year or so ago, I was supposed to be a part of the team that helped plan this event because I had spoken up about my concerns. However, the group kept planning meetings for days and times that were not convenient for me, and they also planned them at places where it would take nearly two hours out of my day just for driving time. I don't say that as a strike against them, just as a reality of my current situation.

So, I was thinking of how I would do the event differently. I think I would keep the dancers, just speed up the tempo a bit. I'd have musicians, just switch up the music a tad. Make it a little quicker, a little more upbeat, a little more catchy and singable. I'd switch up the speakers, a bit. Instead of two blocks of two speakers, maybe have each speaker split their speech into two parts, interspersing a song or a video or something in between. And maybe hear from someone who is closer to the age of the youth. Don't get me wrong, adults are smart and important, and it's good for the kids to hear the Gospel message shared well from an adult (especially my friend), but I have noticed that if the person who is talking is younger and closer in age and experience to the kids, they tend to listen more.

One of the words in the title of the event is "celebration." I think, then, that I'd focus more on celebrating. Have a good time. Play some loud music. Get the kids dancing and singing. Have fun. Make them laugh. Share the Gospel in an engaging and age appropriate way. Make the Gospel message the focus. Build off of that.

That's what I'd do, anyway.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Adventures in Synod Wide Youth Events

So, this coming Wednesday we head up to The Cities for a big youth event. It's an annual event put on by both synods for Confirmation aged youth. This will be my fourth time attending, and I'm always trying to decide whether it's worth the effort or not to go there.

You see, we are in one of the more remote churches included in the Minneapolis Synod. We are about as far southwest as you can get and still be in the boundaries. This event is held at 6:00pm, usually at an auditorium in St Paul. If you factor in traffic, that means we have to leave here by about 4:30 to get there on time. This also means that we have to figure out some way to feed the kids after school before we leave, which means we have to get the kids to come to church right after school. Last year we went with our normal meal of pizza, and asked the pizza place we work with to deliver the pizza earlier than normal. Except they forgot. So we scrambled and called them and they delivered it about 30 minutes late.

Three out of the four years we have gone we have also been assigned seats in the nosebleed section. The one year we weren't was because it was at a different (closer) venue and there weren't really assigned seats. So we end up going to all of this trouble, spending close to an hour and a half on the bus in traffic, so that we can sit way up in the balcony and watch performers and speakers that look about an inch tall to us.

Now, I know what you are saying: Get your registration in early. My response to that is that I have. The first year I went we sat in the nosebleeds so the second year I sent it back right away. Pretty much the day after I received the registration form in the mail. We still got put in the nosebleeds. I'm not quite sure how they figure that seating stuff out. Maybe they arrange the seats to resemble where we are geographically within the synod. That would make sense, then, that we would be put so far away from the stage.

I want to be a team player. I want to support synod-wide ministry because, to me, there really isn't a lot of that here. We are a big synod of big congregations that don't often play well with each other. So I want to be a part of the stuff that we DO do together (yes, I'm aware I said do do). But part of me wonders if it's worth the hassle. By the time we get there we have 40 junior highers who have been forced to sit in the same place for more than an hour, who are then expected to sit in the same place and listen to speakers and musicians for another hour or two, usually in a place so far away from the performers that it's hard for them to become engaged. Several of my returning adult volunteers have suggested we not do it. But I've said I think it's good, or I want to give it another try, or maybe this year it will be different. But it has yet to do or be those things.

This year we are going because one of my best friends in the entire world happens to be one of the speakers. I survived my first year of seminary because of him, I went to Disney World with him and his family, I lived with them in Duluth when I did my Clinical Pastoral Education at the hospital there, he preached at my ordination. I think he will be a good speaker and the kids will like him. Unfortunately he'll be an inch tall.

Last year it happened to be at a venue in Minneapolis, which was a lot closer than the normal auditorium. We got started late but ended up getting there at a decent time. We got decent seats close to the stage. The kids could actually see the people performing. They stood and clapped and had a good time. So I know the event can be worthwhile, which is why I keep giving it chances and keep going. Hopefully this year's event will be another good one.

I'll let you know.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

a new hobby

A couple of weeks ago, in conversation with another church nerd type friend, I decided I was going to try a new hobby. So, under her guidance (as she's a pretty great player) I picked out a new ukulele and, since then, I have been practicing and recording videos about once a week. Here is my latest one, for your viewing pleasure!!!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me...

I don't remember how I got introduced to the writing of Henri Nouwen. I think, being a church person and friends with other church nerd types, I just sort of fell into it. But at once I was drawn to his openness. Especially in the book Wounded Healer he talks about the need to embrace our own weaknesses, our own wounds and hurts, and in so doing we are able to reach out to others in healing. It is in embracing our own places of hurt that we are able to minister to others in their places of hurt.

I am not a perfect person. Far from it, in fact. I have never been very good at pretending to be something I'm not. I've not been very good at pretending to have it all together, or to be perfect or to be extremely self-confident. These things are not always who I am, and I have tried to be honest about that as much as I could. So to read Henri Nouwen, who is honest about his own faults and issues, was refreshing.

In his writings he often speaks of his time spent living at L'Arche Daybreak in Ontario. L'Arche is a community centered around people with developmental disabilities. These people are at the heart of the communities of L'Arche, and so they are called core members. Then there are assistants who live in the communities, as well. They don't just come and spend 8 hours a day, or overnight, at the house. But they strive to make a life in the communities, living and working with the core members and helping them to live a full and meaningful life. I was particularly touched by Nouwen's book Adam: God's Beloved, which chronicled his time spent with Adam, a young man who was a core member at Daybreak.

Since then I've expanded my reading on L'Arche, and I've started reading some of the works of Jean Vanier, who is the founder of the L'Arche movement. I don't know that he was planning on starting something that would someday include 135 member communities in 36 countries and include 5,000 people with and without developmental disabilities who would be sharing their lives together. I think he was just reaching out to two men with developmental disabilities in the town where he lived in France, hoping to offer them a better life than the one they had previously been living in an institutional setting.

But, regardless of what his intentions were, that is what L'Arche is today. It's an international community of people who believe that people with developmental disabilities are exactly that - people. They aren't just a burden, or just people that we need to take care of, but they are people with gifts and wisdom and love to offer.

To me, the more I read about it, L'Arche seems to be an embodiment of the Gospel as Jesus preached it and lived it. The broken, the sick, the weak and lowly ones, are blessed. They are where we meet Jesus face to face. It is in the places and among the people that society often ignores or despises where we will interact with Jesus. It is in reaching out to these people where our own hearts will be transformed.

"Every child, every person, needs to know they are a source of joy; every child, every person, needs to be celebrated." -- Jean Vanier

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Watch my head spin!

The other day I pulled down the old Occasional Services book from my shelf. That's the book that has various services that we don't do as often in the church, so we do them occasionally... hence the title. You can find the service for a Funeral in there, or blessings for various occasions. I didn't need it for any of those things. No, my friends. I needed it for something far more dire.

An exorcism.

Unfortunately, I did not find what I needed. So, I'm afraid that my house is still being tormented by an evil spirit. An evil spirit with fangs and claws and yellow eyes that seem to glow in the dark. An evil spirit in the form of...

a kitten.

You see, several months ago I decided to adopt a kitten. So I got this furry little guy, and I named him Winston, and he was a little crazy but he soon mellowed out (I think after his most recent visit to the vet, where they did a little snip, was what really did it). But a couple months ago I decided I needed to get Winston a friend, and a family from church just happened to have a cat that had kittens. So I went over to their house and met the three kittens and picked out the one I wanted, and a few weeks later she showed up at my door. When she was born, the family thought she might be a boy so they named her Stewart. Then they found out she was, in fact, a girl but the name stuck. I thought it was cute, so I kept it.

For the first few days she was adorable. She was still checking out the place, and she was a little afraid, so I'd find her huddled under blankets or in little nooks and crannies. But she soon adjusted to me and the house and Winston.

And that, my friends, is when all hell broke loose.

She is constantly knocking things off of shelves and off of the table. If there is one place she shouldn't be, that is where I will find her. I was emptying the dishwasher the other day, I opened it up turned my back for a second and when I turned around she was already trying to climb in. She spends most of her time hanging from the curtains and when she's not doing that she's trying to shred the couch or devour my shoes. She mercilessly chases Winston through the house. I have a scratches on my arm from her that look like they could have come from a mountain lion. For a while she refused to use the litter box and decided to relieve herself in as many places that weren't her litter box as she could. I woke up one morning to see that she had knocked a houseplant off of a shelf and proceeded to spread the dirt all over the dining room floor. I mean all over. It was like wall to wall carpeting but with dirt. And if that wasn't enough, that same morning I went to put on the sweater I had laid out and she apparently had decided that was the best place to pee that morning. Friends told me that to discourage her bad behavior I should use a spray bottle full of water. So I tried that. It didn't really seem to deter her much, no matter how many times I would spray her. She'd be climbing the curtain, I'd spray her with the bottle and she would jump down and run away. Not two seconds later she would be back on the curtain, thrashing around as if she were in the fight of her life. So I would spray her again, this time twice rather than just once, and she'd retreat again. But just as soon as I sat back down she'd be back up on that curtain. Eventually, I'd have a soaking wet kitten who was still attacking the curtains. One of her worst offenses, however, is when she tore into a bag of my powdered sugar donuts and ate some of them. I know it was her because Winston refuses to eat anything that isn't his cat food. Stewart will eat just about anything. I've had to stop her from eating styrofoam peanuts.

The thing that really makes me believe she might be the devil is that she's so darn cute. Her little grey, fuzzy body and her cute white, fuzzy face. Her big eyes that look up at you and her cute little meow. You'd look at her and wonder how something that cute could ever do anything bad.

But that's just what she wants you to think.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

full blast

I haven't been the best at blogging lately.

So, here's a rundown of what has happened since last I've written.

Camp was good and great and a lot of fun. It was very different from the last time I was there, new buildings, new landscaping, new roads... I even got turned around at one point, which is something that has never happened and I never expected to happen. It was a little tough to see these changes, to know that camp is not the camp it was when I worked there. But people change, their expectations and needs change, the times change... camp has to change, too. It's a pretty great, state of the art facility there now, but in my conversation with the fulltime staff, they still have a deep love for camp, and the spirit has stayed the same.

Also while I was there I reconnected with some friends and met a few new ones. It's weird to see people that, when last we spent time together, they were young and single and now they have kids. I kind of attached myself to two of my friends, and their family. They said I became their fourth child that weekend. I got along quite well with their 9, 6 and 4 year old kids. We had a great time. After the reunion I got to spend some time with good friends who were unable to make it. We met up and had good italian food and sat on the deck and reminisced and shared stories of what is going on in our lives now.

Then I got back to church and work exploded in my face and I've been running around like a mad man trying to make sure everything is ready for the arrival of fall scheduling. And I feel like I'm barely treading water at this point. So I really shouldn't be blogging at all. But it's almost lunch time, so I think I can afford a couple minutes.

Confirmation has started, Sunday School has started, and we're trying to come up with some events and activities to get the high schoolers to stay active. We can get 25 or so to go on a mission trip in the summer, but we lose them during the year. Stupid school and extra curricular activities get in the way and kids give them priority over church. I sent an e-mail to a group of high schoolers asking what they'd like to see us offer here at church, what would they be interested in doing, and then I told them I miss them. Because I do. I can't spend a week with you, getting to know you and having a good time, and then all of the sudden stop seeing you and not miss you. It's not the way I work.

So now I have to finish planning Confirmation for tomorrow, plan the worship service for Sunday, and write my sermon. Maybe I should get on that.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

on my way home

This year marks the 12th anniversary of my first summer as a camp counselor. I know I've written about this numerous times, and if there are still any faithful followers of my blog they are probably tired of hearing the story. Or they could tell you it themselves.

But I, like a good portion of other professional ministry types, can trace my call to ministry back to those days as a camp counselor. I whole-heartedly believe that camp was what set that ball rolling, what ignited that spark inside me.

I ended up working there for three consecutive summers and then decided to enter the real world and become a youth minister. So I missed out on a summer, but then the following year is when I ended up leaving that congregation and I headed back out to camp for the second half of the summer. Immediately after that summer I moved up to seminary, took the scenic route through and graduated in five years, and then came to my current congregation where I have been for three years. It has been eight years since I worked as a camp counselor. It has been eight years since I had the opportunity to work at one of my favorite jobs ever. Sure, I've visited other camps, and I've done other work with youth. I've taken my confirmation kids to camp for a week every summer that I've been here. I have started serving on the Board of Directors for that camp (although they have a knack for scheduling meetings for when I am unable to attend...). But none of that has quite captured the magic of working as a summer camp counselor. There's that sense of community, of being united in a purpose, of enthusiasm and energy. And, of course, there is the fact that you're putting a bunch of college aged kids together for the summer. All sorts of craziness is bound to happen!

So, it's been eight years since I have worked as a camp counselor. And probably about half that since I have even visited. Much has changed since my glory days there. There is a new state of the art retreat center, the office building has been changed from a small, rambling house to a very nice and modern (yet with that camp vibe) resource center, and the retreat center that was well-loved and used before the new one was built has been renovated and added onto.

And now, eight years later, I am headed back. Not to work or to spend the summer, but just for a couple of days. They are having a celebration of their 30 years of ministry, and they are hosting a big event and inviting all the past staff to come and celebrate. I am excited. I have been looking forward to this day since they had their 20th anniversary celebration and reunion in 1999, when I was a counselor. I cannot wait to be in that place, to set my feet on that holy ground, to breathe in that air and to reacquaint myself with this place that has meant so much to me.

I've also been asked if I would share a message during a campfire one evening. I have done this before... but at other camps. And this campfire is taking place at one of my favorite places at camp, a place that I remember being as a counselor and listening as pastors and youth directors got up and shared reflections and messages during the summers. And now I will be the one standing in the middle, in that same spot, sharing a message with those gathered. I know it will go well, but I am still nervous!!!

I head out tomorrow to drive back to Nebraska. I will be visiting family for a couple days before I make my way to camp. I'm not sure if I'll be able to wait that long, though, and I might stop in on my way through. But you can expect another update about my time and perhaps even pictures! I am sure I will take plenty!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

the promised follow up

I said, in my previous blog post, that I was going to post more about my experience with the Denver Rescue Mission. What better time to do that then the day before I leave on another trip when I should be packing or going to bed? I'm not sure I can think of one!

We were only there for two short days, but they impacted all of us. I'm not sure I can adequately put into words the effect that this experience had on me. But I will definitely try.

Let me start by telling you the basics - what we did while we were there. As soon as we got there, which was around 10, we got to work getting ready for lunch. Some of us chopped fruits and vegetables for fruit salads and lettuce salads. Some of us made lemonade or cut pork and potatoes. Some of us sorted bread and desserts. Some of us rolled silverware into napkins. Some of us also spent time in the laundry room folding sheets. But we kept working and moving doing stuff to get ready for lunch. Then we got everything in place so that we could begin serving when 12:00 rolled around. As soon as it did, we opened the doors and began ushering people in to eat.

When lunch started, I was in charge of handing out silverware and using a clicker to count how many people came in. We served five at a time, so I'd pick up five pieces of silverware and hand them out as the people walked in, and then I'd click the clicker 5 times. This gave me a great opportunity to chat with the people as they entered. We didn't really have time to talk about much, but we'd talk about the weather, or the food, or how it was important to have a clicker to keep track of numbers. We served more than a hundred people each day, I think the second day had more with around 170. The other people working there said that they were slow days, that they usually had over 200 people coming in for lunch.

When lunch was over, we'd clean up and then go back to working on other things. The first day we were there, they got a huge donation of food so I spent a lot of time sorting bread. We'd separate them into categories such as sandwich bread, french bread, hot dog buns, hamburger buns, etc. and then we'd stack them on pallets against the wall. At one point I said that I was surrounded by more bread than I'd ever seen in one place in my life. Our second day we went out and got a tour of the neighborhood and picked up garbage.

It was surprising to me how much of the work we did surrounded food. We were always chopping and mixing and sorting and slicing and getting stuff ready for the different meals. But then I guess that makes sense, that if they feed 150-200 people three times a day, that a lot of work would go in to preparing the food. And it was good food. We would make sack lunches everyday, but when we were at the Mission we were given the option to eat there for lunch. Both days I chose that option, and I was pleasantly surprised with the food. It was good, considering how much of it they made everyday. If we didn't eat our sack lunch, we had the option of taking it across the street to Triangle Park and sharing it with the people who were over there.

Denver Rescue Mission also has a residential drug rehabilitation program as part of its ministries and we worked alongside of the men in this program in our daily duties. It was amazing, and eye opening, to hear the stories of these guys, what they had gone through, often times how they had almost died, and then how they had ended up at the mission and how they were working to turn their lives around and what their dreams and hopes were now. One guy I got to know quite well said that he hoped to be a youth pastor in a church, so that he could work with kids who were the age he was when he fell into drug abuse. It was awesome to hear these stories of resurrection and redemption, and I hope that these guys continue on the path toward new life.

One thing that hit me after seeing the people that the Mission serves is how alike we were. Many of them had good jobs and families and friends before something unpredictable happened, before circumstances in their life took a turn for the worse and they were unable to cope or to recover from them, and then they ended up homeless and living in Denver. It's like that quote, "There but for the grace of God go I." As I looked around at all of those various faces and people, I realized that I was lucky to be on the other side of that crate of silverware. I was fortunate to be the one handing it out. But I could very easily be on the other side, as the one receiving it. Life is unpredictable. You never know when you might get thrown a curveball.

It's like I said before, I don't think I can adequately put into words the effect that those two days had, and continues to have, on me. Those experiences continue to weigh on my heart, and continue to make me ponder and pray about a lot of things. I'm not sure what this means for my journey, but it will be interesting to find out.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

i have returned!

I came.

I saw.

I'm tired.

We returned from our mission trip to Denver today. As in about 4 hours ago. It was quite the experience. Allow me to tell you a bit about it.

We set off last Sunday at 4am. We took three 15 passenger vans (one with a rear seat taken out to allow for extra storage space), a trailer and a car. The car came along because one of our adults had a relative who was not doing well and she brought her car just in case something should happen during the week and she would need to come back for a funeral.

We drove through southwest Minnesota, northwest Iowa, most of Nebraska and eastern Colorado. In my van, we were excited because for the beginning part of the ride we were ahead of schedule. That meant we might actually make it to one of our mission trips early, instead of rolling in right at the last minute when they are wanting to start serving supper. And we were doing good until about lunchtime when we were in Nebraska and were wanting to stop at a Runza, which is one of my favorite restaurants and are only found in Nebraska, except for a few other locations (like, four) in Iowa, Kansas and Colorado. It wasn't even my idea to stop there, it was another adult leader in my van. So that made me even happier.

So on our way to Runza we noticed one of our vans was not following us. Turns out that the people in that van had to use the restroom, so the driver had pulled off assuming we'd continue to follow the directions we had printed out, not realizing we were planning on a lunch stop. So about 45ish minutes later they arrived at the restaurant and ordered their food. So much for being ahead of schedule.

After driving through Nebraska, and eastern Colorado, and after a few more restroom breaks (a few too many, if you ask me) we rolled into the church parking lot right when they were wanting to start serving supper. It never fails. This is our way, apparently.

After supper we had an adult orientation meeting (I knew what was going to happen. This is my third mission trip through this organization. I'm an old pro.) and then we had to assign our youth and adults to work crews. I knew that one of the sites was the Denver Rescue Mission, and I desperately wanted to go there, so I made sure I was the adult assigned from our church to that crew. Then we placed everyone else in a fairly quick and random way. Our main criteria was not putting large groups of friends in the same crew. This turned out to be a fairly serendipitous process. How's that for a big word?

Then after our meeting we went downstairs for Club (singing and listening to a speaker) and then church group time before heading for bed. Then Monday began our work days. And Monday is the day I first ventured to the Denver Rescue Mission. This was an amazing experience, which I'm still processing and thinking about, and it will get a post of its own. So no more about that now.

Monday night we ended up heading to Lookout Mountain, in the foothills of the Rockies, for some fun and we also had club out there. It was a great experience for the kids, many of whom had not been to mountains before, and even those that had enjoyed it. I love mountains so I was happy to be there, as well.

Tuesday I went back to the Denver Rescue Mission in the morning, and then in the evening we had guest speakers come and talk to us. The main guy used to work at the Denver Rescue Mission and I think all of the other guys had gone through the Mission and shared their experiences of being homeless and/or addicted to drugs. The kids were mesmerized by the speakers and I got a chance to talk with the main guy afterwards for a bit. It was good to talk to him and to process some things that I had experienced.

Wednesday we changed work sites and worked with Brothers' Redevelopment, which is an organization in Denver that works with elderly, disabled and low income people to help them do things that they are either unable to do or cannot afford. So Wednesday we drove over to an older couples' house and painted the trim on their house for them. This took us until about 11am. I guess we finished much earlier than they were expecting, and so we spent most of the rest of the morning and afternoon in the car. After eating our lunch we set out to join the other crew who was working with Brothers that day, but due to an accident on the highway, and our foreman trying to avoid it, it took us nearly an hour to get to the other crew. So we filled in for them painting a stucco house while they took a break and ate their lunches. Then we went back to wash off our brushes and unload the truck before going to take our daily showers.

Now providing showers for this many people can be tricky, I know. Often times they rely on community centers and schools to open their spaces to them for such reasons. The first two days we showered at a community center in communal showers. When we switched work sites we were told that we would need to go to a different facility for showers. This was a recreation center and we had been told that the showers were private. So we were excited about this. When we walked into the locker room, we were greeted by a small, cramped room with about an inch of standing water on the floor. About five young boys had come in from the pool and were just standing under the four nozzles of the shower, which was very much communal and not at all private. As we stood there, after our long and frustrating day, wanting nothing more than to take a shower, we stood there and looked at these boys in defeat and disappointment. But, we showered, and were thankful for a shower, and then we went to a Sonic Drive-In for food afterwards. I thought the kids in my crew deserved it.

That night we went to a church service at a local congregation. It was packed full of kids and parents and was abnormally hot. Us poor Minnesotans thought we were going to melt. They had a lot of music provided by young men and women from the congregation, and they had some really great young dancers strut their stuff. The outreach pastor got up and shared a message which was good, although I was a little disappointed in him because, in an attempt to get the kids to be quiet during his message, he said, "Remember, no talking when I'm talking. If I see you talking while I am trying to talk I will embarrass you." Nothing better than embarrassing a kid to get them excited to go to church.

On the way back to the church, I witnessed an automobile accident. The jeep in front of us (luckily a little ways in front of us) hit the front end of a car that had pulled out into the intersection too far. I just happened to glance up and see it right as it happened, and I said, "Holy S***, Kirk, that was just an accident!" The driver hadn't noticed it right away and he slammed on the brakes. Yes, I admit I cursed, but I had just witnessed an accident. And besides, the kids in my car didn't hear it. I got out and saw that everyone was ok, and we waited around for the fire fighters and police officers to arrive. Because I hadn't seen enough of what had happened prior to the accident I didn't need to stick around very long, but it was long enough for the staff members and our other church members to drive by and see the firetrucks and police cars around our van. So, needless to say, they freaked out. But when they saw that everything was ok, they were thankful, and I got thanked numerous times for being calm in the midst of this.

Thursday we went back to Brothers and actually spent an entire day painting one house. We then went back to the same shower facility, but we were prepared for it this time. Thankfully (maybe) there was already a guy showering when we got there, and as he was naked this discouraged the boys from coming into the shower. As I was getting ready to go into the shower one young boy came in from the pool, walked into the shower, stopped in his tracks and declared "Ew! Nasty!" Before running back out to the pool. After showers we drove back out to the Rescue Mission to say hi to our friends and to invite them to our community cookout that night. I'll write more about this in my other post, as well.

Thursday evening is always footwashing worship. After we hear the story of Jesus washing the disciples' feet, the staff members wash the adult leaders feet and then we wash the feet of our young people. It's always a moving experience. It seems to bring a lot of emotion to the surface and the kids can start to cry. We had our share of tears, but not as much as we had when we took our mission trip to Pennsylvania. That was a little crazy that year.

Friday we cleaned up the church and said our goodbyes and took a drive to Pike's Peak. We figured since we were near the mountains it would be a shame not to go there. So we did. And it was a lot of fun and the kids enjoyed it. Afterwards we started our drive home and 25 hours of driving later, we made it.

Needless to say, I am thankful to not have to ride or drive or sleep in a van for a while. But I miss the experiences and people of this past week, especially those from the Rescue Mission. All of our kids had great experiences and many of them are already talking about our trip next summer. I have to say, you can't beat doing a mission trip through an organization that provides for all the details, feeds and houses your kids, sets up the mission work opportunities, and also helps the youth process what they've done and seen, all while doing it in such a way that makes our kids want to keep coming back and also invite their friends. But most of all it is amazing to see the changes in the young people after they experience a week of Christian service. I feel like I should copy one of those Mastercard commercials and talk about how much we spent on registration and van rentals and whatnot, but the overall result - the changes in the lives of our young people - is priceless.

Friday, July 31, 2009

How's that for a day off?

Because of being gone for a week last week, and being gone for another week next week, and both of them being for work reasons, I decided to take an extra day off this week. So, that was today.

Silly me for thinking that it would work out that way!

You see, we have 32 people interested in leaving for our mission trip on Sunday (which, by the way, we're heading out at 4am. Seriously? 4am? Ugh.). However, we only registered for 30 spots. This is probably something that we should have talked about and figured out prior to the week before leaving for the trip, but it is kind of par for the course with the way things have been going.

Anyway, so today on my day off, I had to call the organization we're going through to see if there were two extra spots available. Well, I guess at that time it was 3 spots because we had 33 potential people going. So I called to see if they had three extra spots available. Well, no they didn't. And they don't allow any overbooking at their site in Denver, which is where we'll be heading. So the kind and helpful person on the other end of the phone suggested we call the other churches to see if they had spots that they hadn't filled that we could buy off of them.

On my best day I am not a fan of talking on the phone. I don't really know why, I just don't care much for it. So the prospect of talking on the phone to these other people on a day I wasn't planning to work at all didn't seem like such a fun idea. So to avoid it I sent an e-mail to one of our other adult leaders to see if he'd be able to do it, but then it occurred to me that he's at work and we should probably get going on this as quickly as possible. It looked like I would need to be the one to make the phone call. But then it hit me. Aha! Church secretary! I ran over to the office and talked to our secretary about it, and she said she'd be willing to make the phone calls. So I gave her all the info that she'd need, my user name and password for the organization's website so she could access the info about the other churches to call them.

Then I left to grab some lunch and buy a couple things at Target. On my way the secretary called and said that the info I gave her wasn't working. It wouldn't allow her to access the site. So I repeated the info, and she said that's what she had. I asked if she was exact with the capital and lowercase letters, because it's case sensitive. She said she was. I said maybe I wrote the password down wrong and she should go look at the post-it note I have stuck to my computer monitor that has the password on it. She said she had already done that. I was baffled. I had been on the site earlier this morning and it worked. Our other adult leader had been online last week using that same info to print off some forms. I have had this info for more than two years now and it has always worked. I couldn't imagine why it wasn't working now. So I told her that I would come into the office to figure it out when I got back.

When I got back into the office she had figured it out. She was putting a space in my user name where there shouldn't have been one. I was relieved to see that was the problem.

Well, to make an already long and uninteresting story a little shorter, after calling the various churches we found four unused spots that we could purchase from these other congregations. And in the midst of this, one of the high schoolers who was going had called me earlier to let me know that he would no longer be going. So now we only needed two spots.

So I was able to enjoy my day off with only three stops in the office and a couple more phone conversations with the secretary. But I guess that's what I get for thinking I'd take some extra time off right before we head out on a mission trip. Maybe tomorrow, my actual day off, will seem more like a real day off. We shall see.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

...and so it continues...

This past week was another week on the list of things that are making my summer crazy busy, but also crazy fun.

We left, with groups from two other congregations, at 2:00pm on Tuesday, July 21st and headed out for New Orleans. Upon my first consideration, driving all night sounded like a good idea. We didn't need to coordinate any place to stay, we'd just stay on the bus for the 22 hours it would take us to get to our destination.

Flash forward to sometime around 11pm on the 21st as I'm sitting there in my small bus seat, trying to find a way to recline and relax that doesn't involve my legs jammed up against the seat in front of me, or folded up to my chin. About that time I began to reconsider the validity of this decision. But, by that point, it was a bit late. So I made the best out of it.

We arrived in New Orleans at around noon the next day. We stopped at the Convention Center and I, along with the primary adult leaders of the other two congregations, got off the bus and registered our groups. The next stop was our hotels. In hindsight, I can see the value of registering our groups together so we would be assigned to the same hotel which would make the whole process of dropping off go much more smoothly. We did not take advantage of this option when we registered so, of course, we were in three different hotels. So after we returned to the bus we now had to be driven and dropped off at our respective hotels. Had I known the lay of the land a bit better, my group could have removed our bags at the Convention Center and walked to our hotel. However, I did not know the lay of the land. So we stayed on the bus. We decided, though, that since we knew my hotel was closest we'd get dropped off first. Well, 45 minutes later, after trying to drive the bus through the narrow streets of the French Quarter, getting lost, and dropping the other two groups off at their hotels, we arrived at our hotel which was a mere two block from the Convention Center.

Luckily, our week greatly improved after that. We got to do some fun sight seeing, eat at some great restaurants, meet some cool people, see some great speakers and musicians, participate in some lively worship, and partake in many of the opportunities offered by the Youth Gathering. Jay Bakker, Spencer West, Anne Mahlum, and Viola Vaughn were just a few of the speakers, and they shared messages that really resonated with me. The Flying Karamazov Brothers, Guyland Leday, Agape, and Amanda Shaw were some of the great performers that were there. The message that was shared was one of love, of hope in the midst of tragedy and disaster, and of reaching out to others and serving as Christ served. New Orleans, still recovering from the affects of Hurricane Katrina, was the perfect place for this to take place. Besides the mass gatherings which featured the above speakers and performers, the youth also went out into the community and served through various organizations and projects. The group I was with was sent to a local elementary school where we worked with the kids who were there for summer school and then painted a couple hallways in the school after the kids left. Other groups did more manual work, some gardened some helped out at houses and other areas affected by the hurricane. New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin said that after a storm comes a rainbow, and he said that the ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans was Katrina's rainbow.

When not out in the community, the youth participated in learning centers and workshops which focused on various things such as images of Jesus in popular media, discernment and vocation, global issues and other topics. They also had the opportunity to visit the Interaction Center which had a high ropes course, self-pedaled bumper cars, and even more opportunities to serve, such as through donating blood.

It was a great week. There were various issues and concerns that come anytime you go somewhere with high school students. There was the occasional attitude and a few disagreements, but overall the kids I brought got along great, listened well (most of the time), and particpated in much of what the Gathering had to offer. There was an incident involving easy cheese and my leg in a dark bus while I was sleeping, but even that could be overlooked and laughed at... after I cleaned up the easy cheese using moist towelettes I had randomly taken from the bus restroom earlier that day... And also after the gross smell of processed cheese goo and lemon scented moist towelettes disipated. But we made it there and back safely, the kids had a good time (and I did, too), so overall it was a great experience.

Now I have to focus on going about the final details for our upcoming mission trip. We leave for this trip bright and early Sunday morning, so I will be home for five full days before heading off for another week. This time we will be in Denver, and going through an organization that is very good and will have all of our arrangements figured out for us. So really all we have to worry about it getting our group there, which is nice.

I'm guessing my access to a computer and the internet won't be that likely while I am there, but I will give all of my readers (more likely it's just my one reader) an update when I return!!

Monday, July 20, 2009

i'm the robot king of the monkey thing

Tomorrow is July 21 which, besides being my dad's birthday, is not a very special or unique day.

Except this July 21 is the day that I, and eight other people from my church, will load up into a charter bus and head down to New Orleans for the ELCA Youth Gathering. I've been calling it the National Youth Gathering, but apparently that's wrong and not so politically correct, because youth from many other nations will be attending.

This will be my third one. The first was in 2000 at St Louis. I had just graduated from college and taken a job as a youth director at a church in Lincoln, Nebraska. I mean JUST taken the job, really. My first day on the job was July 1 and we left for the Gathering around a week afterward. It was a fluke opportunity. Most churches start planning for these Gatherings at least a year in advance. So all the details had been figured out, and I was told when I took the job that all of the adult chaperones had been selected and there was no room for me to go. And I was ok with that. I had never been to a National Youth Gathering before. At the church I attended in high school, the youth group consisted of me and Derek, who was three years younger than me. So, we never really did anything. I was not heartbroken to not be going, I was just excited and nervous to head out into the real world of youth ministry. But then one of the adult males found out he would need shoulder surgery a week or so before they left for the Gathering, and so he would be unable to go. A spot for a male chaperone opened up and they asked their new youth director if he'd like to go. I said Yes, of course. And it was pretty amazing. There were thousands and thousands of ELCA youth in one area. We had large group worships and all sorts of fun activities. I spent a lot of quality time in a van with these high schoolers that would now be mine.

In 2003, the Gathering was held in Atlanta. That year I happened to be on my Clinical Pastoral Education, which is a requirement for seminary and is a summer spent in a clinical ministry setting such as a hospital or a nursing home. It's a concentrated and intense experience and so to ask for a week or two off would be asking to miss a large chunk of the experience. So I didn't. But my friend, Pastor Mike, whose family was hosting me that summer went. I don't remember if he was taking a group or volunteering, but he was gone for those weeks while I trudged through the deep work that is CPE. I have to admit I was jealous. Very jealous.

So when 2006 rolled around and the Gathering was being held in San Antonio, I knew I HAD to go. But the only problem was, even though I was graduating from seminary in 2006, I most likely would not have a congregation by that point. And even if I did, it would be a situation similar to 2000, where they would have all their details in place and I could not expect emergency shoulder surgery to play a crucial role in me going. So I decided I needed to volunteer. I remembered that when I went to the St Louis Gathering that there were people in our hotel whose only role was to be hospitable. They were there to welcome us and to help us if we had any questions or concerns. They were called the Hotel Life team, and it seemed like something I could do. So I applied for this team, that was transitioning to the new title Community Life, and ended up being accepted as a volunteer.

I have to say that it was a pretty great way to spend two weeks of my summer. I ended up being in one of the hotels that was the farthest from the main hub of activity, and while that made me upset at first, I ended up enjoying it. I was part of a small team, just me and one other guy, and we had a great time. We schmoozed with the adults and youth in our hotel like we were getting paid for it. We patroled the hallways like the very safety of the hotel depended on it. We were there in the morning until the last groups got on the shuttle bus and headed to the convention center, and we were there towards the end of the night to wish them all sweet dreams. We hung out at the hotel closest to the convention center and spent a lot of time staffing their Community Life events. My favorite job was supervising dances. Being a church event we strongly discouraged the bumping and the grinding. So several of our female volunteers would stand up on the stage and observe the crowd. When they would see a young couple getting a little too friendly they'd point or nod, and my teammate or I would dance and boogie our way through the crowd to the overly amorous couple and remind them that there needed to be a bit more space in between them. Since our hotel was one of the distant properties, and there were no actual Community Life events held there, we were able to spend most of the day and evening at the convention center and the interaction center. We'd take the last bus in and wander around, check things out, visit the Community Life office and schmooze with the planning team, enjoy snow cones and check out the River Walk, and then go see all of the speakers and musicians and worship services. It was a great time, and an amazing two weeks.

So then the 2009 Youth Gathering started to get closer. I did mention to my Senior Pastor that I would like to volunteer for the Community Life team again, but he thought it would be better if I were to be in charge of our group. Since I wasn't in charge in 2000, I could see the value of experiencing the Gathering in a different way, and so I willingly, but reluctantly, decided not to volunteer again this year. And, I have to admit, this has been a completely different experience. All the fundraising and details and paperwork and phone calls and e-mails and checking and double checking and triple checking, the informational meetings... all these things that go into an ELCA Youth Gathering that I have never been a part of before. And I readily admit that I have not done it the way it probably should be done. I am sure that many people are far more organized and detail oriented than I am and that they have everything figured out to the minutest detail. But I know that we are registered for the event, and I know that we will have hotel rooms when we arrive, and I know that we have a bus to ride on to get there. So I am sure that things will work out.

To quote the Christian mystic Julian of Norwich, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harry Potter and the Early Morning Movie

I just went to a 3am showing of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. After finally going to bed at 11:00 last night, and getting up at 2:00 this morning, I know that I should get some more sleep before trying to tackle what this day might bring. Everyone else in the house (not mine) is asleep right now. So, I'm the only brainiac still awake and typing on a computer. I should get some shut-eye and then drive back home to get some work done.

But the movie was pretty good. Not as good as it could have been, but still worth watching. It's been a while since I've read the book, so I couldn't tell you for sure what was different, but there are parts that were in the movie that I don't remember being in the book. Also, with the books, we get to follow along with JK Rowling's amazing story telling. She has ways of using words that wrap you up and make you feel like a part of the story. When reading the books I get emotionally invested in a way that I don't with the movies. Also, it's never been the same since the actor who originally played Dumbledore passed away. He was just perfect for the way I pictured Albus - wise and gentle and intelligent and quirky. The newer Dumbledore just seems a bit gruffer and rougher around the edges than I imagine him to be. Also, Tonks and Lupin, two of my favorite characters in the books barely appear in this movie.

But there are good parts, especially Ron Weasley. Rupert Grint, the actor who plays him, does a fantastic job. He is a great comedic actor, especially during the scene when Ron accidentally eats a love potion meant for Harry. It was priceless.

And the actor who plays Professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) also plays Professor Kirke in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I like him a lot.

The actress who plays Lavender Brown, the young girl that is smitten with Ron, does a great job, too. Hilarious.

Anyway, I need to go and try to get some sleep. I recommend going to see the movie, and even though it wasn't as great as I had hoped it would be, it was worth getting up at 2am to go and see it with some good friends.

(oh... during the previews, there were previews for two movies that I cannot wait to see: Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief [see earlier post where I talk about that book] and Where the Wild Things Are. I am super excited to see both of them!!!!)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

ELCA and the NYG in NOLA

We leave for New Orleans, for the ELCA National Youth Gathering, in exactly one week. We are taking a charter bus, along with youth from three other congregations, and driving straight through from up north here in Minnesota to down south there in New Orleans (sorry Becky, not stopping in St Louie).

I am excited as all get out for this. It should be a lot of fun. It's an opportunity to jam 37,000 youth and adults into one place and we can all let our church nerd flags fly. For example, the travel slogan for Virginia is "Virginia is for lovers." Well, in 2006 at the San Antonio gathering, all of the people from Virginia were sporting "Virginia is for Lutherans" shirts. They were pretty awesome and ever since then I've made it my goal to get one of those shirts for myself. I have had no luck at all. I was so close, though, because that year I was volunteering for the Hotel/Community Life team, and one of the women in charge of the team was from Virginia and she said she'd help me get one. But they didn't have any extras with them there. I've even communicated with some of the Virginia synod staff members and they weren't able to help me out. Drat.

But that is an example of the stuff that goes on at the Gathering. We makes jokes about Lutherans, there are lots of jokes about Minnesota (because of our high concentration of Lutherans), we wear our Lutheranism with pride and excitement and enthusiasm. There is even a song, written by the group Lost and Found, about the ELCA to the tune of YMCA. At San Antonio they had people in big letter costumes get up and dance. Our Presiding Bishop even got in on the fun and with a few other "ELCA celebrities" got up on stage and danced to the song. There were five of them dancing, each with a letter of the ELCA on their shirt. Bishop Hansen was the exclamation point.

It is bound to be a great time with a lot of fun people. The only problem is - I'm not a great detail person. Little things that I should think about or take care of slip by me because I'm too busy thinking about the big picture. So right now I'm trying to be calm and relaxed about the whole situation, but I'm starting to get a wee bit panicky about things. I don't want to get down there and realize I missed something with the hotel, and so we don't have rooms, or that I didn't send in a form and so we're not fully registered. All these little scenarios play out in my head about how I could possibly ruin everything. It's not a lot of fun.

Once we get there and dive in, it will be great fun. But right now, for the next week, I might lose even more of my already thinning hair...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

still kickin'

I am hopeful that you, my faithful reader, do not mistake my lack of posting for a lack of excitement. You see, there is an awful lot of stuff going on in my life right now. Some of it is work related... some of it is not. Some of it is bloggable... some of it is not. Some of it is interesting... some of it is not. A lot of time I fear that the interesting stuff is also the unbloggable. There is a lot going on that I think you'd find interesting. But I'm not at liberty to share it with you. Drives you kind of crazy that I'm even mentioning it, doesn't it? Don't you hate it when someone does that?

But life moves ever onward. We are a couple weeks away from leaving for the National Youth Gathering in New Orleans, and I often feel like I am completely unprepared for it. But I think it should be a lot of fun, we are taking a good group of kids and adults, and sharing a bus with two other churches. I think it will be a good experience for everyone involved. Plus, I get to go to New Orleans again. So that's exciting in and of itself.

I led three services at our various nursing home and senior apartments today. I like these people, and I'm glad that we can bring the worship service to people who are unable to make it to church on their own. But I have found that one service at a nursing home takes more out of me than two services on a regular Sunday morning. We all have different gifts, I guess. (See what I said about the interesting stuff being unbloggable?)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

What's on my mind tonight

So, Michael Jackson died. In case you haven't heard. But I'm not sure how you couldn't have heard about that by now. It's been on every TV station, and today as I was driving and listening to the radio, every break between songs the DJ talked about it. I think MTV even preempted their regularly scheduled programming to run a program about him. American Idol is going to re-air an episode for the first time, and it's going to be the one from this season where they all sang Michael Jackson songs. So I'm not sure how anyone could have gone this long without knowing something about Michael Jackson being dead.

And I get it. He's famous. He sang songs and made good music and cool videos. He did some pretty sweet dance moves and wore a sparkly glove. He lived at a fun park and had a pet chimpanzee and was friends with Emmanuel Lewis and Macaulay Culkin. I understand that.

But he was a person. No better or more important or any more special than anyone else. He wasn't any more special than one of my church members who I just found out died today in a car accident. His family mourns his loss. His wife and children and grandchildren now have a very big hole where this important and special man once was.

I just think it's wrong to lift up the death of some people as more important, more worthy of attention than others. We are all children of God, equally loved and cherished by God. It doesn't matter if we had best selling albums, or if we were on posters on every boy's room in the 1970's or if we were on one of the best late night talk shows, or if we lived in a small house in rural Minnesota. We are all special. We are all equal. We are all loved.

Friday, June 19, 2009

a list of highlights (creative title, i know)

Well, two weeks of Busy Summer 2009 are over. They were, indeed, busy. But they were fun nonetheless.

Some highlights of the past two weeks:

- Meeting Pastor Christie, a fun and funny fellow clergyperson, at church camp. She was there with her senior pastor and their middle school youth, and was at camp for most of the week, and was my partner-in-crime for the week. We now even have matching sweatshirts to confirm this.

- Canoeing with Pastor Christie and trying to catch pelicans on the lake. Even though they appeared to be sleeping they were able to get away from us. Though we did worry about being gangbeat by a bunch of them for disturbing their chillaxing.

- Playing "jackolight" at camp. It's a game original to this camp, that involves campers running around outside in the dark, and various counselors, staff members and other assorted adult-type people jumping out, shining flashlights at them and shouting "Jackolight!" Apparently there was a object that the kids were trying to find. I just thought it was an opportunity to jump and scream at the kids.

- Having kids raise their hands if they liked various food items, and when I said "Raise your hand if you like cheese curds," little Joey came tearing from across the room, looked at me with consternation and asked, "Did you say turds?"

- Eating at an end of VBS potluck and having little Becca standing behind me and say, "You have hair like my grandpa!"

- Taking another group of camp staff to see the two-story outhouse in town.

- Having a week at confirmation camp that did not involve threats of physical violence, mustard packets emptied on sleeping bags, kids tipping their canoes on purpose, or kids carving in their arms with safety pins.

- Playing Bonkers (also known as Biffer, or Biffer and Medic, or Boof or countless other names) and being a Bonker for the entire time and not dying. Although several kids taunted me, knowing they could easily outrun me. But it was a personal achievement. Don't try and take that away from me!

- Watching Sam and Aiden put pillows on their heads and dance to entertain the people behind our bus on the way home from camp.

- This isn't an actual highlight from camp or VBS, but it's related, so I'm including it. Getting to lead "Giants, Wizards and Elves," one of my favorite games ever (and I learned it at camp) at a meeting with the other churches with which we'll be traveling to the ELCA National Youth Gathering. It's a group "rock, paper, scissors" type game, and I learned it as "Giants, Wizards and Dwarves" but have changed it so as to be a bit more PC.

- Playing watergames during VBS in my backyard, and getting countless cups of water poured on me and more than several water balloons thrown at me. I try to remind myself that the sadistic attitude my young people have toward me really means that they like me.

- Finding and buying a camp hoodie that I had been envying and coveting for the past three years. And finding it on the clearance rack at the camp store. Granted, it's not the color that I would have chosen, but I still like it and am wearing it right now.

So those are just a few of the many highlights of the past two weeks. I've been enjoying a much needed day off, doing a whole lot of nothing all day. Tomorrow looks like a very similar day.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

and so it begins

Summer is officially here. Well, not according-to-the-calendar official, but In-the-life-of-me official. Because tomorrow I head three hours north, with a busload of 7th graders, to spend a week away from their parents, at confirmation camp.

Now, if you know anything about me, then you know I spend most of the entire year looking forward to this one week. I won't go into my deep love for all things summer camp, that could be an entire post of it's own. Maybe even an entire blog. But, let's just say I really enjoy it and look forward to the opportunity to go there.

This will be my third summer at camp as Pastor Mark. I'm hoping that it will be a great week, the weather will cooperate, and the kids will have a good time.

Note: The previous paragraphs were written the day before I left for camp. I got back from camp on Friday. What follows, is obviously written post camp.

So, the week was good. I took a great group of 7th graders up to camp for the week, and I'm pretty sure most of them had a good time. Some of them even had a great time.

The week started out chilly and rainy, but got better as it progressed. By the end there was sun, although I think I'm wearing a sweatshirt in every picture. This year at camp we did not have any major issues, such as we had my first year. Which was nice. All of the kids were low drama, mixed well with the other kids, and had a good time. Several of them even mentioned wanting to go back to camp next year.

I had a good time, too. There was a new pastor friend this year, who I had not met before. She is in her first year of pastorhood and we had a good time hanging out and causing mischief. We went canoeing and tried to harass the pelicans on the lake, but they avoided us all too well.

It was a great time. I love camp, I love being in the midst of that atmosphere and in that environment. So even though it was, technically, 24 hours of work a day, it was a refreshing and fun experience.

The day after we got home, we had a car wash. I was out in the sun washing cars from 10 until 4, and I was even an hour late. This was a fundraiser for our mission trip to Denver and our trip to the ELCA National Youth Gathering. It was a great day for a car wash. Not a cloud in the sky, it wasn't too hot, but it was nice and sunny and warm. Which, of course, means sunburns. I got one on the back of my neck and my bald spot. Luckily it's not a very bad one. I made out far better than some of the others that were there.

Today, the camp counselors arrived for our week of Vacation Bible School this week. Luckily, none of them are staying at my house this week, I'm just not sure that I'm up for that right now. I feel like I've got a lot of stuff going on and I need to be in all these different places, and the condition of my house reflects that.

This afternoon we had a get-together with the churches we'll be traveling with to New Orleans for the ELCA National Youth Gathering. I got to lead Giants, Wizards and Elves - one of my favorite games ever. It's sort of a big group version of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Then we chatted for a bit and worked on covenants for the trip. It was a good time and gets me excited for our upcoming journey to New Orleans!!!

Now I have to get ready to head over to church to eat supper with our camp counselors and get ready for worship this evening. Tomorrow we start our week of VBS. It's going to be a busy summer!

Friday, May 22, 2009

a week of friends, family and fun!

I had the wonderful opportunity to take some vacation time and head down to Illinois to visit my brother, sister-in-law and two nieces. The plan was just to hang out and relax and enjoy their company. I got to enjoy their company a lot, because my wonderful, amazing nieces would come in to my room and wake me up at around 5:30 everyday. And that is just ungodly, if you ask me. Now, by ungodly, I mean immoral, wicked and unreasonable. I do not mean of or denoting the absence of God.

We had the opportunity to do some fun stuff. One of those things was visiting the Jelly Belly warehouse in Wisconsin. We got a "tour" which included riding in a little train around the perimeter of the warehouse and watching videos about the origins and production of Jelly Bellies. It was neat, and I've decided my goal is to become one of their Master Confectioners. After the tour we got free samples of the Jelly Bellies. I tried some normal flavors like mango and pomegranate (that's a really hard word to spell) and red apple (which was really good!) and I also tried some weird flavors like booger (although I opted away from the vomit flavored one because, as I told my sister-in-law I have too many stories involving me actually vomiting to be able to enjoy a jelly bean that simulates that flavor... oh, and I've tried it before...).

On my way back home, after visiting my family, I drove the long way and visited my old internship congregation and went to church there on Sunday. Then I drove through the Quad Cities and visited my internship supervisor (that's where he has moved since he retired, although with the congregations he's serving as an interim pastor, and the organization he's working with as their interim director, I think he might work just as much if not more than he did as a fulltime pastor...). It was great to see Ron again, and to chat about all the things that are going on in my life and ministry. Ron was probably one of the best supervisors I could have had as an intern pastor. He was like the yin to my yang. I was inexperienced and impulsive and had a lot of energy. He was experienced and thoughtful and grounded. I'd come into his office freaking out about something, frantically trying to come up with a solution for it immediately, and he'd calmly talk about it and think about it.

While I was in the Quad Cities I also visited my friend Christie, ate some great pizza, and then went to Ross's 24 Hour Diner in Bettendorf, IA and ate their Magic Mountain for breakfast. I've had it before when I was in the area, and I really enjoy it even through I know it's not the healthiest thing I could have. It's grilled texas toast, piled high with eggs, hasbrowns and sausage and then covered (I mean COVERED) in sausage gravy or cheese sauce. The first time I had it, I almost got the cheese sauce but the waitress informed me that it was much better with the gravy. So I do that, although I am always intrigued by the cheese sauce. I do love me some cheese (but I recognize that "cheese sauce" is probably more sauce than cheese...)

Then I drove home and made it back to the Cities in time to have supper with some great people. Erin is a friend and classmate from seminary who has recently moved to the area to serve as the Director of Youth Ministry at a large church. And Casey is the son of other good friends from seminary who recently moved to the area so Mike, Casey's dad, could be the Executive Pastor at this same congregation. Casey has recently enlisted in the army and was getting ready to fly out for basic training so Erin and I took him out to eat and it was nice to have that time with him. And Erin paid for dinner at Outback Steakhouse, which included french fries covered in cheese and bacon, so I can't complain!!

Also, on my drive home, I had the window open and the sun was beating down on me for most of the drive. Well, and when I say "beating down on me" I mean it was beating down on my left arm and left knee for most of the drive. So now my left arm is tanner than my right arm, and I have a small spot of sunburn on my left knee, although that's already faded. Pretty awesome, though, huh?

All in all, it was a great week of fun and family and friends!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Book 'em, Danno!

So, I knew my summer schedule was going to be busy. It usually is. But until today, when I went across the hallway to make sure my Senior Pastor knew what dates I was going to be gone for trips and whatnot, I did not realize quite exactly how busy I am going to be. Let's take a glimpse at what is in store for Pastor Mark!

Right off the bat, in June, I will be gone from June 7-12 with our 7th graders at Confirmation Camp. This goes from Sunday until Friday. It's an all day thing. I will ride the bus with my 7th graders for a three hour trip (as I was typing this, the theme song for Gilligan's Island popped into my head... "A three hour tour, a three hour tour..." I hope our trip is more successful than Gilligan's...) up to the camp. That means I am there for the duration. There will be no day trips elsewhere, or drives in the country to get away from the kids. Luckily, I will have a room in the retreat center while they are all in the cabins, so I will have time to get away.

Then, as soon as I get back from camp, camp comes to us! We have our Vacation Bible School from June 15-18, and the counselors will arrive on Sunday, June 14. So we will have four days of action packed Vacation Bible School for our kindergarteners-sixth graders.

Then comes my biggest break of the summer because, besides a wedding and, oh, I don't know other normal pastoral duties, I don't have anything until July 21-27 which is the ELCA National Youth Gathering in New Orleans. We will be taking a bus down, along with three other local congregations, and headed down to New Orleans where there is going to be around 35,000 other youth and adults from all over the country, and even some other countries. We'll be doing some massive service projects around the city, as well as participating in some LARGE group gatherings and worships, and taking part in some community life activities.

I'll get back from that sometime around July 27th, at which time I'll have to do laundry and pack to get ready to go on our mission trip to Denver on August 2-7. This is through the group Youthworks, so luckily everything is figured out, I just have to worry about getting the kids there. While there, we'll do some service projects, work with neighborhood kids, volunteer and nursing homes and homeless shelters and other service organizations. We'll be taking vans down to Denver, to transport our 30 youth and adults who are attending.

Then, I get a ten day break (TEN DAYS! WOO HOO!!!) after I get back to recuperate and do laundry before I need to pack my bags and head up into Minneapolis for the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. The Churchwide Assembly is the largest legislative body in the ELCA, where voting members from all 65 synods gather together every two years to vote on resolutions, recommendations, proposed amendments and other motions. Each synod is responsible for electing a certain number of voting members to represent them at the Assembly. This year, I have been elected to be a voting member! So I am excited to participate in this way!!

Whew! And there we have it, folks. That is what my summer is shaping up to look like. Somewhere in there I want to enjoy the summer, as well as figure out Confirmation curriculum for the coming year, and maybe even relax a little bit!! My summer is looking BOOKED, folks!

p.s. I should say that even though I will be busy, I am very excited. All of these things that I get to do this summer are things I enjoy. I LOVE camp. So camp and VBS will be no problem for me. I love the mission trips, they are great experiences and are not too stressful on me, because Youthworks always has capable and friendly staff to head things up (except for that time in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania when they ran out of tortilla chips before I could make my nachos and I had a meltdown and gave myself a time out in the van... It had been a long day). I am SUPER excited for the National Youth Gathering. This will be my 3rd, I've been to St Louis with the congregation I served as a youth director, and to San Antonio as a volunteer on the Community Life team, and now to New Orleans as a pastor! It should be a great time! And the Churchwide Assembly excites me to no end. I am an admitted church nerd. I love to go to Synod Assemblies and whatnot, and this will be my first time to attend a Churchwide Assembly. And I had to choose to be nominated for the voting member spot, so it's not like I was chosen out of the blue or that it's like jury duty and I have no say in the matter. So, while this will be a busy summer, it is bound to be a fun and exciting and amazing and memorable summer, too. I'm sure I will blog a lot about it!!!

I'm hooked

So, I was visiting a pretty cool local bookstore a few weeks ago, and I picked up a new book that caught my eye. Now, I have to admit that it's a book geared toward young adults, but once I started reading it, I've had trouble stopping.

It's the story of Percy Jackson who finds out he's not a normal kid. He suffers from ADHD and dyslexia, and has been expelled from a number of schools. But he soon finds out that this is not because he's a bad kid, it's because he's a demi-god. He has never known his real father, and that's because he's a Greek god.

So, for his own safety, Percy ends up at Camp Halfblood which is a protected training ground for kids who are demi-gods like him. He is accompanied by his friend Grover, who is a satyr and assigned to watch and protect him, as well as Annabeth, the daughter of Athena. There are other characters, like Luke the son of Hermes and Clarisse the daughter of Ares.

There are some similarities to Harry Potter - a troubled lead character, a booksmart female, a goofy and sometimes bumbling sidekick, they all live at a place apart which those on the outside (mortals or muggles) cannot find, etc. But for all of that, this book so far has managed to find a niche and a story that is its own.

It's a pretty funny read, it moves along fairly quickly, and if you like Greek mythology (which I admit, I do) you will probably get a kick out of this book. Lots of characters and monsters from the pages of mythology make appearances in these pages, and get a humorous and modern twist. I'm just glad that it's the first in a series, so I can keep reading them as soon as I'm done with this one!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Bat Crazy

I was at a Jr/Sr High Ministry team meeting yesterday and somehow we got on the topic of bats. Not the wooden kind that you use to hit a baseball, but the furry kind that fly and have sharp teeth and rabies. One of the people at this meeting knows how much I dislike bats. The others might not have been as aware. So I had to share my stories as to why I don't like them. Then I realized that I haven't posted these stories on this blog, yet, and some people who read this might not know them. And I like to share my stories with people! Now, some of you might have heard these stories before. But I like to share my stories multiple times!

All of these stories take place my senior year of seminary. I was living in the residence hall, which was part of the main buildings on campus, which are all connected. Although recently renovated, these buildings are old, and connected to a tall bell tower. So, of course, there are bats in the buildings.

One day I was doing laundry. The laundry room in the residence hall is located in the basement of the building. I was going to check to see if my load of laundry was done, so I pushed open the door and entered the stairway. That's when something fluttered to the ground but not before brushing me on the head on its way down. I glanced to see what it was. It was a bat. And it was now curled up on the ground. That's when I let out a scream-yelp type thing (that was very manly I assure you), ran down the stairs and out of the building. When I got outside, I saw my friend Mike walking toward the family housing. "Mike!" I shouted, as I ran over to him. "You will NOT guess what just happened!!!" He didn't guess, so I told him. I think I was hoping for him to offer to come and help me extract that bat from the building. Instead, he said, "That's too bad. See ya later." and continued his walk home. As I stood outside, I realized that I couldn't just leave that bat there. I needed to do something to get it out of the building. So I mustered up the little amount of courage that I could find, walked back inside, saw the bat on the floor and walked back to my room. Once there, I grabbed a sweatshirt and headed back to the stairway. Since it was still day outside, and the stairway was well lit, the bat was not very active and hadn't moved at all from where it had landed after hitting me in the head. So I walked over to the bat, placed the sweatshirt on top, and scooped it up. At that moment, this very inactive bat decided to become a very active one, and it began chirping like crazy. I tried to hurry down the one flight of stairs that was separating me holding this bat from me being bat free, but somewhere in the middle of the staircase, that crafty little devil managed to squeeze out of the sweatshirt and began flying in frantic circles in the stairway. At this point, I started making many more noises similar to the one I had previously made, as I ducked and crawled up the staircase to get away from this upset and confused bat that was flying in circles and, according to my panicking brain, trying to divebomb me. I made it back up to the door to my hallway as the bat flew up the stairs and disappeared from my sight. At that point I determined that both the bat and I were sufficiently traumatized, so I was not going to pursue it anymore.

The second story happened a week or two before I was moving out of seminary to head up here to Minnesota. I was sitting at my desk in my room, checking my e-mail on the computer when I heard a noise. Tic-tic-tic... I turned to see what it was, but all I saw was my dorm fridge. It had been known to make weird noises, so I was not concerned. I turned my attention back to the computer. Then I heard the noise again, but it seemed to be closer. So I turned and looked again and saw a bat crawling across some papers that I had on the floor. I'm pretty sure I made a noise similar to those others, and my mind began racing as to what I needed to do. So, acting in a purely rational manner, I tossed a sweatshirt on top of the bat and ran out of the room. Halfway down the hall it occurred to me that that probably wasn't the best decision, as now there was a bat in my room and I was not. At least when we were both in the room I could monitor where it was. Now, if it got out from under the sweatshirt, it could be just about anywhere. So I walked back into the room to see the bat climbing to the top of the sweatshirt. I knew that the quicker I acted the sooner the bat would be gone, so I grabbed another sweatshirt (luckily I happen to have a lot of hoodies) and tossed it on top of the bat and the other sweatshirt. Then, without allowing myself to think about what I was actually doing, I scooped up both sweatshirts and bolted for the door. I made it out onto the back steps where two other students were chatting. I leaned over the edge of the stairs and shook the bat loose from the sweatshirts. It fluttered to the ground and laid in a small heap on the grass in the sun. One of those fellow students came over and said, "What happened?" I told her that this bat was in my room. So, calmly and compassionately (sort of the antithesis of how I had been acting up to that point) the fellow student took one of my sweatshirts, carefully picked the bat up and walked it over to a shady spot by the trees and laid it on the ground in a safe place. I quickly retrieved my sweatshirt and ran inside and threw them in the laundry.

My third story takes place just around a week after my second one. It was late, I had been spending a lot of my time packing hoping to be ready to load stuff in the U-Haul truck which I had reserved to move out of Iowa and into Minnesota (that's another story entirely). My room was starting to look bare, and I was physically tired and emotionally drained from saying good-bye to good friends. I was sitting in my room at the computer, once again, when I heard a noise and saw something out of the corner of my eye. I turned and looked into the little hallway in my room, to see what it was. Nothing happened for a few seconds, but then a bat flapped against the wall, and rose up a couple feet from the ground. This time I did not make any screamy/yelpy noises, but I think I said something like, "Are you %@$^ $$% &&%#% $@#$% **&^^% KIDDING ME?!?!" I didn't think that I had it in my being to handle something like that right at that moment, so I picked up the phone and called my friend Shana. "You will not believe this." I said into the phone. "What?" Shana asked, probably thinking I had something fun or exciting to share with her. "There's a bat in my room!" After a brief conversation, Shana said she would come up from the apartments and help me take care of this bat. So a few moments later she came into my room, and we figured out what we needed to do. I suppose I should tell you that until Shana arrived in my room, I was perched on a chair wieldng my tennis racket should the bat get any ideas. When she got there we took a small box and placed it over top of the bat, who was now lying still. Then we took an empty cereal box I had in the room and flattened it and slid it under the box and the bat. That's when the bat started to get active and to chirp and to move around. As we made our way to the back door, the bat tried to escape, and it's wings kept slipping out in between the box on top and the cereal box. Thankfully we made it outside without the bat escaping and we set it free. It flew around in circles for a few times and then raced off. As we were throwing away the boxes, we noticed that the cereal box happened to be for Boo Berry cereal, which has bat shaped marshmallows. We thought it was quite fitting.

So those are the stories I shared with the ministry team yesterday. I have to admit, though, that they are better in person because there are actions and noises that accompany them. But those are a few of the stories as to why I don't like bats and have considered them to be my archnemesis for the past several years.