Wednesday, March 18, 2009

pickin' and grinnin'

A couple posts ago I mentioned that we've been doing Holden Evening Prayer for our Wednesday night Lenten services. Well, I have something to add to that.

Tonight I played guitar at our services.

Now, I've been going to guitar lessons for a little while, but I have to admit I'm a bit of a slow learner, and my schedule hasn't always allowed me to make my weekly guitar lessons. So I'm probably not quite up to the level that I should be for having been in lessons as long as I have. But the woman who teaches my guitar lessons has been accompanying the services on her guitar, and after some conversation and practice, we both played tonight.

Now, my playing was not like her playing. She strummed some parts and she played arpeggios on others. While I, on the other hand, just strummed some chords, and not even all of them. I skipped some of them that I thought were too hard, or would take me too long to get my fingers to cooperate. But I played along as best I could.

But I was proud of myself because this was my first public display of my guitar playing. I've been hesitant because I'm not the most confident in my ability, and I like the safety of playing in my house. But I thought I'd step out of my comfort zone and play along at the services. And I'm glad I did.

Many people were very supportive and expressed that they liked seeing me playing up front and were glad that I was taking guitar lessons. Several made comments like, "You rock!" and "Good job, rock star!" In fact, one of our custodians actually made a sign that said "Rock Star" and held it up so I could see it after the service.

So, overall it was a great experience. It was a boost to my confidence as a guitar player, and encourages me to practice harder so that next week I can play it even better!!

Monday, March 16, 2009

a welcome guest

The sun has been sticking around longer and longer each day.

A couple of days ago I saw geese flying overhead.

Yesterday I was able to go for a long walk outside wearing shorts.

Today I was able to go outside wearing shorts, again.

Tomorrow I'm planning on liberating my bike from the garage and going on a nice, long ride.

All these things add up to mean one thing: Spring is coming!

And I cannot wait.

You see, my friends, I don't pretend to be some mighty winter warrior. I will gladly tell you that I love warmer weather, where I can go outside in shorts and sandals. My brother says he prefers the cold because you can always add a layer of clothing, but when it's hot there is only so much you can take off. But I would rather be hot and sweaty than cold and shivering. I am, undeniably, a warm weather person.

But I realize I live in Minnesota. Cold winters come with the territory and so I try not to complain. I try to buckle down and make it through the winter. I put on long underwear. I wear sweaters and fleece and sometimes multiple socks. I wear a stocking cap and gloves.

But I have to admit, I am ready for this winter to be over. I have been cooped up inside and have had to trudge through snow and ice for too long. I have longed for bike rides and warm breezes. I have had my hopes dashed again and again by heavy snowfalls. So this warm weather is a much anticipated and extremely welcome guest.

Although, as I said, I realize I live in Minnesota. I am not so foolish as to believe that winter has breathed its last for the season. But I do know that Spring is coming. I can feel it.

And for that, I am excited.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

top o' the morning

Yesterday we had our annual St Patrick's Day celebration. Two years ago, at my first St Patrick's Day here in town, I was excited to go downtown to see the St Patrick's Day parade. All sorts of people talked about it and were planning on being there. As the weekend approached, I was thinking of all the parades that I had seen or participated in. I thought of floats and marching bands and horses and maybe even Shriners.

So I made my way down the street a couple of blocks toward the parade route. I ended up seeing a family from church, so I stopped and chit-chatted with them for a bit and then the parade started. It was led by a fire engine, then there was a horse drawn carriage bringing the grand marshalls (that year I think it was three women from the community), then there was the car carrying the mayor of the town.

What happened next was unlike any parade I've ever seen. Family after family bearing Irish last names paraded down the street, led by banners or signs carrying their names and sometimes their family coat of arms. Some were on wagons or trucks. Most of them just walked. People were dressed in green clothes and kilts and funny hats. They were waving and throwing candy. Then came the bag pipers, a troupe brought in from the Twin Cities, and then it was over and people dispersed to the restaurants and the bars for food and green beer.

Like I mentioned, it wasn't like any parade I had been to. I stood there for a minute, not sure what I had just seen and wondering if it was really over. No floats? No marching band? What kind of parade was that?!? I wasn't upset very long, however, because not ten feet away from where I stood was a booth selling cheese curds and corn dogs, and I was able to drown my sorrows in delicious greasy foods.

Since then, I have come to enjoy the parade. Sure it's nothing fancy, but we save our big parade for later in the summer, and then we go all out. The Saint Patrick's Day parade is just a day set aside to celebrate family and community and they do that pretty well here.

A couple months later, that first year, I went to my first German Day parade which is basically the same thing, except it's for the Germans and we wear red. Although on that day I was an honorary Schmidt and got to ride on their family's wagon. It was a lot of fun.

Oh, and on German Day they have professional wrestling set up in the street.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

a place apart

One Sunday morning, way back in the day (think early nineties), I was sitting in the basement of our church in our 8th grade Sunday school room. I don't remember what we were talking about that particular day, though I do remember we called ourselves the LYON cubs (LYON stands for the Lutheran Youth Organization of Nebraska, which is the high school youth organization and since we weren't yet in high school, our teacher thought it would be fun to call us the LYON cubs... which caused a ruckus with the high schoolers, primarily my older brother, because we hadn't asked permission to use the name LYON). Anyway, back to my story, we were sitting there going through whatever lesson our teacher had planned for that day when our Pastor came in.

Now, I was very familiar and friendly with our pastor, Pastor George, because his family was good friends with our family. My dad is a pastor, as well, and was currently the Program Pastor (fancy name for chaplain, really) at the Martin Luther Home in town, which was a residential facility for adults with developmental and physical disabilities. So we attended this church as members.

Even though I have no recollection of what we were supposed to be learning that day in class, I distinctly remember what Pastor George was there to talk to us about. It seems that every summer they would take their 8th grade confirmation students to camp, so he was stopping in to talk to us about it and see who was interested. I definitely was, and so I wrote my name on the list of people who were.

That summer, it finally got to be time to go to camp. My parents brought me to church, where the van was sitting in the parking lot, and we loaded our stuff up and then set off on the road. Pastor George was driving, and then there was me and four girls. I was the only boy that had signed up to go and, while that made me a little nervous, I was still pretty excited to be going to camp.

When we arrived at camp, the minute we stepped out of the van we were greeted by some of the loudest and happiest people I had ever met. These counselors bounded up to us, offering to carry our stuff and to help us get registered and situated at camp. I remember we walked up to a table where more loud and happy counselors were seated, and there were two boards. Each board had hooks on them, and hanging from these hooks were little wooden tags designating what bunkhouse we'd be living in for that week, and then what group we'd be doing activities with during the day. One counselor, whose name was Daryl, was a big African-American guy. He was cracking jokes left and right, giving the campers and other counselors a hard time. I liked him right away, and so I looked to make sure that I picked to stay in his bunkhouse. He told me later that he noticed me looking at his nametag and he thought I was trying to avoid being in his cabin. Pastor George was standing by me as I made my selections and he told me that he had seen two of the girls from our church pick one of the camper group (we called them villages) and he pointed out which group they had chosen, so I took that one, as well.

That week was pretty amazing. Our village was a lot of fun. Our counselors Daryl and Jen were awesome, they were friendly and seemed like they really enjoyed hanging out with us. The other campers in my village were pretty funny and we all got along really well. It was a great way to spend a week of my summer. I had such a great time that by the end of that week I was vowing to come back and be a counselor there when I was old enough.

Well, then I entered high school and my summers became filled with working and hanging out with friends. Summer camp got pushed to the back of my brain and I never did go to senior high camp or sign up to be a Counselor-In-Training like we had said we were going to do on the van ride home. Camp was slowly becoming a distant memory in the back of my mind.

And then I moved to college. I enrolled at Dana College, a private liberal arts ELCA college, which was appealing to me because it was small, it was Lutheran, it was far enough from home, and my older brothers weren't there. Immediately I became involved with the campus ministry at college, and I met some fun and faithful people there. One day, as I was walking out of our campus center after breakfast on my way to class, I saw a poster on the door. It said, "We are looking for 75 ordinary people to do extraordinary things." I was intrigued, so I stopped and read the rest of it. It was advertising for summer camp jobs at the camp I had attended in 8th grade. It said at the bottom if we were interested in working there then we should contact our campus recruiter who just happened to be one of my new campus ministry friends.

So I mentioned to her that I was interested and she got really excited. We talked a lot about camp, and she let me know when the Program Director from camp would be on campus recruiting. So I filled out an application and sent it in, and then when the Program Director was around I met her for an interview. We had a good conversation, and I ended up with a job offer, which I gladly accepted. So when the summer arrived I packed a couple rubbermaids full of clothes and other necessities, put them in my parents' car and we drove out to camp.

The minute we arrived at camp and I stepped out of the car, I was met by some loud and happy people. They bounded over to our car, offering to help carry my things. I think my parents were relieved that the place they were dropping me off at was filled with such nice and friendly people. So we unloaded my stuff, I hugged my parents good bye and they drove away.

And my life was never the same.

Those summers spent at camp were some of the most amazing of my life. It was at camp that I was exposed to the idea of full-time ministry. Even though my dad was a pastor, it had never occured to me that maybe I was called to some form of ministry. We had always gone to small, solo pastor churches where my dad was the only staff member besides the secretary. I had never met a full-time youth director or even known that it was a real job. But at camp I met so many great and unique and fun pastors and youth directors. It was really those summers that I felt God calling me to a life in the Church.

One of the youth directors that I met, and really liked, just happened to work at the church just down the street from where I went to college. Because of our connection at camp, I ended up attending that church and volunteering for several years with their youth. I helped lead Sunday morning youth group, I chaperoned trips and events. It was a great way for me to continue to be involved in youth ministry outside of camp.

I ended up working at camp for three amazing summers during college. To this day I believe that they were some of the greatest times of my life. Camp provides an amazing atmosphere for both the campers and the counselors. The campers get the experience of Church outside of the walls of the church. They get to engage in Bible study in the midst of God's great creation. They have the opportunity to be in a place where, hopefully, they don't have to have the same identity or labels placed on them that they do back in their regular lives - they have the chance to have a clean slate. It also gives them the opportunity to meet Christian young adults who are taking a summer of their lives to spend time with them, foregoing other summer jobs that might offer more money for the opportunity to live and work and play in that setting.

And it's good for the counselors, too. It gives them the opportunity to come together in an intentional community, to live together with people with a shared purpose. Like what happened with me, it gives them the opportunity to meet and engage with all sorts of church workers and volunteers, and maybe plants the seed of a call to ministry in their hearts. It gives them the opportunity to stretch and grow and practice their leadership abilities. And, like the campers, it often gives them the chance to have a clean slate, to start over, to be someone new and different in this place set apart. It also gives them the chance to meet some great new people and form some amazing new friendships.

To this day, camp remains an important part of my life. During my time in seminary, while I wasn't able to be as involved as I would like or in the ways that I would prefer, I did have some great opportunities through Wartburg Youth Leadership School as well as the Two By Two program which was a partnership between all eight ELCA seminaries and many of our outdoor ministries to experience several different camps and retreat centers. Now, as an associate pastor, I get excited for the summer, when I'll have the opportunity to take a busload of 7th and 8th graders out to the camp we attend, so that they will have the chance to have the same sort of experience and life-changing relationship with camp that I have been fortunate enough to have. And for the past year I've also served on the Board of Directors for the camp we attend.

So, what it boils down to is that I think camp is an amazing place. One which I think everyone should have the opportunity to experience. As a camper, as a counselor or other staff member, as an adult, as a volunteer... Camp is amazing because it provides a place set apart for us to experience being Church outside the walls of the church, and it continues to be important not only to me, but I believe to the life of the entire Church.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

let my prayer rise up like incense

One of my favorite worship settings is Holden Evening Prayer. It was written for the Holden Village winter community in 1986 or 87... I can't remember which. In fact, at Holden Village where it is still done on a weekly basis, it's simply called Vespers '86 (or 87, depending on which year it is. I'm almost positive it's 86).

My first exposure to this service was my freshman year at college. We had our weekly Wednesday night vespers service and we always worshiped using Holden Evening Prayer. It's an amazing setting, the music just flows and the lyrics are well written. I like the melody and the whole service just has a nice, relaxed flow to it. I almost always feel like I've worshiped well after participating in this service.

Since college, I've had the opportunity to do Holden Evening Prayer at other places, such as retreats and conferences, and even at Holden Village itself. It continues to be a meaningful worship experience for me.

So, on a whim, I suggested to my Senior Pastor that perhaps we could do it for Lent this year. Now, I understand with the texts and the lyrics in this service that it's more appropriate for Advent, as it talks about the Light of Christ and one of my favorite parts of it is a musical setting of the Anunciation and Magnificat (when the angel announced to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus and then her response). So Lent is not the most appropriate season of the church year to do it, but as it's the only season that we meet for worship in the evenings, we can make it work.

And we have been making it work. Today was the second week that we did it (Ash Wednesday was a more traditional Ash Wednesday service), and I think it went well. It's a very new service to our congregation, but they have done well with it. I'm not sure how they feel about it, because I think I have been pretty vocal about how I'm in favor of it, so I don't know people would let me know if they didn't care for it. But the responses I have gotten, even on the sermon note responses from our Confirmation students, is that they like it. So, that's good.

It's been a nice change, to break away from the same format that we've had the past couple years and to expose our congregation to something different and encourage them to try it. There are so many fun and creative and diverse ways to engage in authentic and meaningful worship and I love helping our congregation explore and find ways to do that. Hopefully this is just the start of something...

i never was a big fan of the teeter totter

On the playground, I was never a big fan of the teeter totter. I preferred to run around and play active games. The idea of sitting on the end of a plank and bouncing up and down, up and down, up and down was never high on my list of priorities. I had too much energy and too many places to be and too many people to talk to and I didn't want to spend any of my recess time rising and falling.

Now I'm much older and I don't see very many teeter totters anymore. But, even if I did, I probably still wouldn't use them. Besides my height, which takes away a lot of the intended fun of a teeter totter, many of my reasons are the same. To me, the idea of rising and falling and rising and falling and rising and falling... is not that appealing.

And that goes doubly so with this weather.

We've had a long and cold winter. Now, as spring is approaching, we've had several days that were warmer and nicer. There were days I went outside with no coat, and even days I considered wearing shorts. They were days that were full of the promise of spring, when we were on the high end of the teeter totter.

But then, these days have been followed by cold weather and more snow. Right when it seemed like my yard might be finally free of snow, the warm weather and sunshine doing it's best to melt all of it, we'd get dumped on again and my yard would be a barren tundra once more.

Now don't get me wrong. I don't hate the snow and cold weather. If I did, then I don't think I'd be living here in Minnesota. I like snow, and am a fan of winter activities. The thing that I don't like is this teeter totter weather. If you want to be cold, then stay cold. Don't tease us with these warm days only to snatch them away and cover us with more snow. I say give us the warm days when you're ready to keep going with the warm days and stop with the cold days. This whole teeter totter business is just no good.

But I'm consistently reminded that I am not in charge of the weather. Try as I might, there is nothing I can do to make it do what I want it to. Spring will eventually come, and that will lead into a beautiful (and much longed for) summer. But, until then, I imagine I'll have to put up with a couple more rises and falls of the teeter totter... regardless of how I feel about it.