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?)