Wednesday, January 28, 2009

flying south

I'm about ready to head south. For real. I'm done with this winter, this subzero weather, the snow, the needing a space heater in my office so I don't freeze while I write my sermon.

So I'm flying south. To New Orleans. In a little more than 12 hours. And it's going to be GREAT!

And it's for work!

I will be attending the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza, an annual event held in various cities for youth ministry workers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It's an opportunity to network, to attend different workshops, hear speakers and listen to bands that are actually somewhat affordable, and this year it gives us an opportunity to scope out New Orleans which is where the ELCA National Youth Gathering is being held in July.

So I go from having never been to New Orleans ever, to being there two times this year. Kinda crazy.

Some of my best friends in the entire world will be attending this event, as well, and so I'll get the chance to hang out with them! Of course, that's secondary to all of the learning that I'll be doing there. Of course it is...

For once, all of my laundry is done, my bags are packed and I am ready to go before 5 minutes before I need to leave. Normally I'm yanking clothes from the dryer before they're completely dry and shoving them in my bag as I run out the door. But this time I was ahead of the game. I started laundry YESTERDAY! And they said I couldn't be taught!

So I have completely dry clothes in my bag, and I went entirely against my nature and made a list of the things I thought I'd need and so they are all packed, as well. My bags are sitting in the middle of the floor, waiting for me to zip them up and put them in the car. Then I'm driving to stay with some friends before we have to be at the airport around 4am tomorrow morning to head south. I think my mind is already basking in the southern sun in the Big Easy.

But I can't leave yet. I have to go over for our 5th and 6th grade Wednesday night pre-confirmation classes, and then I have a meeting about our summer mission and National Youth Gathering trips. But as soon as those are done, I am ON! MY! WAY!

oh, and i'm excited about it. in case you didn't know.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

thanks for calling

Yesterday I was supposed to drive a little ways away to a nursing home in another town to visit a member of my congregation. The only other time I'd been to this town was for a summer Christian music festival with some of the youth from church, and then I didn't drive and there was a lot of road construction, so we took a weird way, and I didn't really know how to get there. And, even when I did get there, I wasn't sure where the nursing home was, or if there was more than one, or if she had really arrived at the nursing home yet. So, I used Google and found a nursing home in the town and I called it to see if this was indeed where I needed to go.

When I called I got an automated response, telling me to enter the extension of the person I was calling or wait for more options. So I waited, and then the computerized woman kept going listing the options. I thought that #2 was admissions, so I figured that would be place to talk to so that I could see if she were there. So I pressed 2.

A guy answered the phone and sounded kind of like he was eating, and I didn't really understand what he said. So I said, "I'm calling to see if a member of my church has been admitted. Is this the place to call?"

His response was, "Well, I guess it'll work. Who ya lookin' for?"

I was a little taken aback by this response, so I stammered and stumbled a bit, and then I told him the name of the woman.

"Ok. And this is...?" he responded.

Really? Is this how this guy was talking to me? He had no idea who I was, but was supposed to be representing the nursing home to the public and he definitely was not being very professional. I felt like it was an inconvenience for him to talk to me.

So, I said, "I'm her pastor."

And then it was as if a switch was flipped and he was suddenly very friendly. "Oh! Yes! She's here!"

I've talked with my senior pastor about this experience. He said that staff at places like that are supposed to be a little leary about people who call asking if people are there. They are supposed to protect the residents and part of that is knowing who is inquiring about them and why. And that is why, when he has to make those sorts of inquiries, he always leads off with who he is. He plays the "pastor card" right away.

And I get that. I understand that they are protecting their residents and I support them in that endeavor. But, seriously, if you are answering the phone for your place of employment, and you don't know who is on the other end, I think it calls for some tact, for some politeness, maybe even some friendliness. If anybody from the public can call, and with the touch of a button be transferred to you, then you are serving as the public voice of your institution or place of employment and I think it calls for certain standards of behavior.

Does anybody else agree?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Adventures in cooking

I want to be a good cook. I think that taking all of these various ingredients, that may or may not taste good on their own, and putting them together to make something that tastes good is really cool. And maybe a good analogy for the church? Well, it's something to think about, anyway.

But, despite my best intentions, my attempts haven't always been that successful. Two prominent attempts that come to my mind are a time I tried to bake bread, and a time I tried to make vegetarian lasagna. The bread turned out kind of hard and tasted funny (or there was the time I think I killed the yeast). Then, with the vegetarians lasagna, I wasn't aware of the excess moisture that spinach can create. And so my lasagna turned out to be pretty soupy.

There have been times when things turn out good, and the food tastes good and everyone likes it. Of course, those times aren't as burned into my memory as the others are.

I'm still trying to figure out what my adventure today should be classified as.

I made lentil loaf, a dish that I got out of the Holden Village cookbook. It's kind of a running gag in the Village, but supposedly it can also be really good. Since, during my visits to the Village I have never been blessed to try it, I thought I'd give it a shot. It didn't seem like a lot of work, until I got into it.

First, I had to get the lentils. You think that sounds easy, but my first attempt was fruitless. Maybe it's because I don't know where to look for them, but I thought they'd be by the beans. That's a good guess, right? Well, they weren't. So I looked in the organic section. They weren't there, either. And this is at a grocery store. I looked up and down every aisle. But I couldn't find them. So I ended up buying the rest of the food, and then I drove to another place to look for them. It was looking like it might be hopeless, there, too (is it REALLY that hard to buy lentils?) but I was walking through the "Hispanic" aisle and happened to glance down by the black and pinto beans and there they were.

Well, once I got home I needed to start boiling the water for the lentils. And I needed to chop up all the vegetables (and I decided to add some other kinds not listed in the recipe). As I was boiling the lentils, chopping the carrots and celery, and sauteing the mushrooms and onions, I looked at the recipe and realized I hadn't started the rice yet. So I took the mushrooms and onions off the burner and put on a pot of water and instant rice.

Then I combined all of the ingredients and spices into the bowl and started mixing them. I even resorted to using my hands so that I could make sure it got mixed up.

There are two things I learned/was reminded about today in this cooking adventure: 1) When it says 3 cups of cooked rice, that does not mean you should prepare 3 cups of uncooked rice. It expands and ends up being a lot more than what you started with. And 2) A recipe in a cookbook is often intended for more than one person, and so to make a recipe by the book means that you'll have a lot of food leftover. So now my freezer is full of little rubbermaid containers of lentil loaf.

Well, I should say "lentil mush." You see, afterthe oven timer went off, and I took the TWO pans out and put them on the cupboard to set, and then sliced into one and moved it onto my plate, it sort of fell apart. It wasn't really understanding the whole "loaf" idea. I let them set a bit longer before I tried to put them into the containers, and each time they fell apart. But, it tasted ok. If I make it again, I might tweak the recipe, add some more vegetables, mushrooms and cheese (I added cheese as an extra that wasn't in the recipe), and maybe more tomato paste so that it will stick together better. Is that my problem? Does anybody reading this know?

Obviously, this is NOT how my loaf turned out. I had wanted to provide a picture to show off my culinary skills, but didn't think that, with the way mine turned out, it was all that worth showing off since it didn't look that great, but tasted ok. And you can't taste pictures. So, even though this is not my lentil loaf, it looks similar as far as color and texture and whatnot. So I thought I'd share it with you all so you could get some idea of what mine looks like. So picture that but a bit more crumbly and then you get mine! Exciting, I know! So, plans are in the works for my next cooking adventure, but I think I need to clean up after this one by both washing the dishes and eating all the leftovers. I have a couple cookbooks that I've been meaning to try recipes out of, so we'll have to see what I'm brave enough to try next!!!

Friday, January 23, 2009

our own version of Friends

Yesterday after work I drove up to the other side of the Cities to spend some time with good friends. Way back in the day during my first year of seminary, I got to be good friends with some people through our weekly Thursday night television viewing parties. We got connected through a program at seminary that tried to connect single people with families on campus. My friend Erin and I, who lived in the dorms and were good friends, got connected to two married couples, Mike and Tammy and Nate and Jill respectively. Mike and Tammy had three boys and, at that time, Nate and Jill were childless. We'd get together and have dinner, and then we'd watch Survivor and Friends and ER. We'd get pretty intense while watching Survivor, trying to guess who was going to get voted off and rooting for our favorites. These friendships morphed into pretty close relationships, and involved fun things like me accompanying Mike and Tammy and their family on a trip to Disney World, and then living with them for a summer in Duluth while I did my Clinical Pastoral Education as a chaplain at Saint Mary's Hospital there.

Well, as people do, we all moved away from seminary. Erin moved to Colorado, Nate and Jill to North Dakota. Mike and Tammy moved up to northeast Minnesota and then, last but not least, I ended up moving to where I'm at now. But then, Mike ended up taking a call at a church here in the Cities. When they were looking for someone to head up their youth ministry staff, he called Erin and she interviewed and ended up moving here to work with him. So, except for Nate and Jill, our original Thursday night group is close together.

So I ended up driving up there last night. Of course, our TV viewing has changed. We didn't watch Survivor, because the new season hasn't started, and Friends, of course, has long ago ended. We've since added Grey's Anatomy to our roster of shows and now Private Practice. Although last night we opted to record Private Practice so that we could watch Aladdin. Josh, Mike and Tammy's middle son, tried out for his school's production of Aladdin and was given the part of Jafar. So we had cake and pop and watched the movie last night to celebrate. Erin and I performed a duet of "A Whole New World" but were given instructions that she was to sing the part of Aladdin and I was to sing for Jasmine. There are some great pictures that were taken, but they are on Tammy's camera. If I can get a hold of them, I'll be sure to share them. Though I should tell you now, the microphones we are using in the pictures are empty bottles of IBC Root Beer and NOT any sort of alcoholic beverage container. We were in complete control of our faculties when we did this...

Then the rest of our night was spent playing massive amounts of Mario Kart. This takes me back to my seminary days, as well, as a group of us who lived in the dorms would get together to play Mario Kart and other games. We would get pretty intense in these games and, when I'm playing the game with an 8th and 5th grader, I need to remind myself to not be as ruthless as I was against my seminary classmate friends! One of the other games we'd play in seminary was a James Bond shoot 'em up game. One time, when we were playing, we happened to notice that the character of M (I think) happened to bear a striking resemblance to one of our seminary professors. This made me love the character even more, so I would often play as that character. We then named several of the other characters after other seminary professors, and sometimes after particularly stressful classes or meetings with certain professors, we'd meet for some stress relief in our friend Kevin's room and take out our aggressions on these professors (often we'd do "slappers only" which meant there were no guns, so we'd run around and open-hand smack each other which provides tons of humor to the game). One day, while we were venting about a certain professor, Kevin happened to get a phone call. As he was on the phone, I may have shouted "Die [professor]! Die!" as I attacked the character with my slappers. Well, it turns out that the person on the other end of the phone happened to be the registrar of the seminary. I should point out that I had and still have a lot of respect for this particular professor and would never actually hope for them to die. I am not sure that violence is ever a good answer for anything, but sometimes video game violence can be helpful in dealing with stress.

Anyway, I guess this rambling mess of a blog entry is just to say that, in many ways, my current life is echoing my seminary experience. Sure the characters have changed, they've gotten older and maybe a bit grayer (or in my case balder), but we are still finding ways to get together, share in fellowship, support each other and play together.

It's been great.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

lunch for the little ones

So, we had confirmation tonight. It was our scheduled visit to Feed My Starving Children, which is a Twin Cities based organization that partners with several organizations like Cargill and Pillsbury to package and provide nutritious meals for children in developing countries. They rely mostly on volunteer labor, which would be groups like our confirmation class coming to package and box up these meals to be sent. It is a perennial favorite. The kids love it, the parents love it, I love it and we get to do good work.

The meals are made up of rice, soy, vegetables and a chicken flavoring/ vitamin supplement. The kids work in groups scooping these ingredient into little bags, which are then sealed and put in boxes. My job, as it has been the past two times I've gone with the group, has been in the warehouse. This means that, when someone is running out of rice or soy or vegetables or chicken flavoring, I have to rush in and switch it out with a full bin. Then I have to take the empty bin back into the warehouse, fill it back up, and take it back out and put it with the other full bins. When they have a box full of sealed bags, then I have to take that box back into the warehouse, weigh it, tape it shut and then place it on the pallet. If they need more empty boxes, I have to go back to the warehouse and get them empty boxes. If there are no more empty boxes, I have to label and tape up more empty boxes. It is an active job, keeps me moving and doing something, and that's good for me. Luckily, I wasn't the only one doing it. It keeps several people busy and moving and running around.

The amazing thing about these bags of food is that they are pretty inexpensive, costing around $1.00 a piece. And this one bag, which is about the size of a bag of coffee from the supermarket, can feed six people. Sadly, I wasn't in the room when they told us how many boxes we packaged and how many people we would be providing meals for, so I can't relay that information to you. But I do know that those kids worked hard and I carried a lot of boxes back to the pallet in the warehouse. At the end, I was tired and sweaty from running back and forth and carrying so much stuff around. But I still felt good to know that I spent two hours of my life helping provide food for hungry children.

We watched a video at the beginning (I think it's the same one we've watched the past two years, too) and they interview this young girl who is having her birthday party there. Maybe I'll call and see if I can schedule my birthday party there this year. Celebrate 32 years of life on this earth by providing food for other people. I don't know any way that could be better.

for more info, head over to and check it out!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

lunch with the ladies

I should be better at posting on this thing. I mean, I like to write and it's not like I lead a boring existence! There is usually something worth mentioning that happens around this place, maybe not everyday but at least a couple times a week. I'll try to do better [imagine me giving my best penitent look].

So, today the quilters were at church. They always come in at some point during the day (my office is nestled back in the corner, away from the front entrance, so I'm never quite sure exactly when they make it here) and after quilting away for a good portion of the day, they convene in the kitchen for coffee and a light slunch? lupper? What IS the correct term for the afternoon equivalent of brunch? They always call down to the office when they're all ready and in the kitchen, to let us know that it's time and we should head up to join them.

I have learned that it is in my best interest to go to this. For several reasons. The first is that it is free food and it comes at a time in the afternoon when I'm ready for a snack. So it usually hits the spot to join the ladies, even though the food might not be what I would choose for myself. For instance, a regular favorite is braunschweiger (which, if you're not quite sure what it is, is this almost spreadable meat product made out of pork liver, I believe). Another is pickled herring, although that hasn't made an appearance for a while. There is usually this cream cheese based cracker spread that one of the ladies makes (and I must admit is pretty good), as well as a variety of desserts. Today, someone made rosettes. Yummy! So, although it's not exactly what I would choose for my own snack, it's all free food, and I've never been too picky when it comes to food. Especially if it's free. So I'll gladly join the ladies for some munchies.

Another reason is that they often give me leftovers. Many times I'll bring home a foil wrapped plate stacked with cookies and summer sausage and crackers and, yes, braunschweiger. It provides an evening snack for that day. Or, as is the case today, it vanishes pretty quickly. They gave me a plate of rosettes which didn't last very long. Truthfully, they were gone about 10 minutes after I was back at the office.

But the most important reason is what happens when I don't go. Several months ago I was in the middle of something, so when the call came I opted to not go upstairs. That afternoon, I happened to be heading home the same time one of the ladies was. Now this woman is a kind, gentle, friendly woman. One would not guess that she would hurt a flea. But when I exited the church as she was getting into her car, she fixed her eyes on me in a gaze that could stop a charging rhino in his tracks. Her eyes burned right into my soul as she said, "You didn't come for coffee today."

Frantically, I tried to come up with the words to somehow fix the situation, and to stop her eyes from boring into my soul. "No," I said. "I was working on something in my office, and wanted to make sure I finished it."

"Hmmph!" She grunted as she got into her car, obviously not satisfied at all with my reason for snubbing them that day. I slunk back to my house, with my tail between my legs. I'm pretty sure that since that day, if I am in the church building, I have dropped what I was doing and headed up to the kitchen to join the ladies for coffee. A snack of braunschweiger and pickled herring sure beats having a hole burned in my soul.