Archive for the 'Unusual' Category

Getting naked with the stakes never higher.

How’s that for a title? 🙂

News flash – the entry is just slightly more boring than the title…I’m just prepping to preach at my church this Sunday.

I’m procrastinating by blogging.

Can you relate?

I speak in front of students pretty regularly, but it is different speaking in front of my church. Students I can be a little more off the cuff and informal.

Not at my church.

It was nearly 20 months ago when I last preached at my church. The experience was memorable to say the least.

Imagine the leader and figure that meant the most to a church for 26 years leaving the congregation after things didn’t end as everyone dreamed. The one person who was the constant; the person who was there for baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals, and most every Sunday preaching from the pulpit.

Imagine the departure – the final sermon, the tears, the good-byes, the hugs, the kind words.

Now imagine being the guy preaching the next week after he leaves.

I was that guy.

Big shoes to fill? That’s an understatement.

I chose to bring my students with me to share about our experience living in a garbage village in Cairo, and how God met us in the midst of what many would consider the one of the most hopeless places on earth.

Hope was what we needed that day. I tried my best to share hope through the gospel that rainy November day. With tears, the pastors wife greeted me afterwards and thanked me. Even if it was just for her, it was a good day.

This week, 20 months later, I find myself in a very different place in the life of my church. I’m an elder. I’m helping search for our new pastor. I’m having conversations about diversity and missional church and everywhere I go I feel like something is on the brink of exploding – either as an outpouring of love or an imploding of frustration.

They don’t write dramas this good on TV. Except LOST. And 24.

(P.S. I am Jack Bauer)

Twenty months ago, I was on the fringe of the church. Now I feel like I’m in the center of a tornado. Now I’m about to speak about it.

Whenever a preacher steps up to the pulpit, the stakes are high. One of my favorite authors, Frederick Beuchner, says it this way:

So the sermon hymn comes to a close with a somewhat unsteady amen, and the organist gestures the choir to sit down. Fresh from breakfast with his wife and children and a quick runthrough of the Sunday papers, the preacher climbs the steps to his pulpit with his sermon in his hand. He hikes his black robe up at the knee so he will not trip over it on his way up. His mouth is a little dray. He has cut himself shaving. He feels as if he has swallowed an anchor. If it weren’t for the honor of the thing, he would just as soon be somewhere else.

In the front pews the old ladies turn up their hearing aids, and a young lady slips her six year old a Lifesaver and a Magic Marker. A college sophomore home for vacation, who is there because he was dragged there, slumps forward with his chin in his hand. The vice-president  of a bank who twice that week seriously contemplated suicide places his hymnal in the rack. A pregnant girl feels the life stir inside her. A high-school math teacher, who for twenty years has managed to to keep his homosexuality a secret for the most part even himself, creases his order of service down the center with his thumbnail and tucks it under his knee…

…and Henry Ward Beecher is there. It is a busman’s holiday for him. The vestry has urged him to take a week off for a badly needed rest, and he has come to hear how someone else does it for a change. It is not that he doesn’t love his wife, but just that, pushing sixty, he has been caught preposterously off-guard by someone who lets him open his heart to her, someone willing in her beauty to hear out the old spell binder, who as a minister has never had anybody much to minister to him…

…The preacher pulls the little cord that turns on the lectern light and deals out his note cards like a river boat gambler. The stakes have never been higher.

I wonder sometimes why in the world anyone would ever have the audacity to step into a pulpit and preach. Seriously.  I talked with one of my professors in this, and here’s how he described preaching:

“Next to love-making with one’s spouse, preaching is the most self-revealing activity you do.  It leaves you naked.”

Doesn’t that sound exciting?  Getting naked with the stakes never higher.

Why do I do this again?

Fear of Swine Flu vs. Knowledge

From graphjam.com

Courtesy of graphjam.com

Courtesy of graphjam.com

President Obama, can I ask a question?

 

Is it just me who finds this funny?

Is it just me who finds this funny?

Photo courtesy of http://www.superpoop.com.

Learning to Dream Again

I didn’t remember a single dream I had since the age of 8 until this last year.

Seriously – the last dream I remembered until recently was when I was 8 and I needed to learn judo in order to prevent being taken over by the evil people.  And I tried to convince my mom I needed to learn judo – especially since I was sandwiched between twin brothers on the elder end and a larger than average younger brother on the other end.  Apparently, the argument of a scrawny and scrappy 8-year-old boy wasn’t very convincing to my peace-loving mom.

So when people describe their dreams, I was always interested because it was like describing a different country or a different language of sorts.  I just didn’t have the receptors to understand.

How did I figure this out?  Well, my current line of work often times means communal sleeping arrangements with students.  Cabins, bunkhouses, floors, etc.  And my friends told me I had a weird snoring problem.  Not like a rhythmic snore – like a “whoa, are you gonna die dude?” snore.

It did have it’s benefits.  If I had to tell students that I wanted them to go to sleep, I often told them that I would give them a 10 minute head start before I went to sleep.  I advised them to take it.  They laughed the first night.  Then I turned on the snoring jets.

They stopped laughing and went to sleep the next night.

So I scheduled a sleep study and a couple nights before my then housemate and I were watching Top Gun one night, watching Maverick & Goose and dreaming of we joked about my snoring.  The idea of a sleep study was kinda funny, but also just weird.

Eventually, I went to the doctor to have a sleep study where they hooked me up with 20-some wires and told me they would probably wake me in the middle of the night and put what looked like a pilot’s gas mask on my face.  I went back to sleep.

The next morning I awoke, and the nurse was laughing under her breath.  I said, “What’s so funny?”

She said, “Well, you seem to be the kind of guy who can laugh at himself.  When I woke you up this morning to put on the CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) you looked at me confused and said, ‘but Goose is dead?'”

I laughed.  I asked if she thought I had sleep apnea, and she responded, “Well, that would be me interpeting the results of the test before they are analyzed by the doctor.  But here,” and she handed me a sleep apnea support group brochure.

I got the subtle hint.

The doctor later told me in a consultation that I typically got 10 minutes of REM sleep a night, which was well short of average.  When describing my condition over the course of the last 10 years, he said, “Andy, you have a sleep debt the size of a the national debt of a small African nation.”

Dreaming typically happens in REM sleep, and I didn’t get much for most of my teens and twenties.  I talked with my housemate about this, who has very active dreams.  We typically talk about them over breakfast.  He would describe this amazing dream with multiple recurring plotlines, irony, humor, color, action, etc.  He says that dreams are the mind’s way of processing our unprocessed thoughts and emotions.

Mine aren’t that exciting.  I told him I had a dream one night – it was of a cell phone under my bed.

“That’s it?”

“Yep, that’s it.  Dude, I’m like a baby dreamer.  Still life is all I got.  I didn’t dream for 10 years.  What do you think that did with all of my unprocessed stuff?”

“It probably altered your brain chemistry.”

Gasp.  That night I had a dream of playing Connect Four with Hurley from LOST in a mental institution.  Perhaps I was making up for lost time processing emotional baggage.

But I have been dreaming more lately – they are quite pleasant.  But I’m not sharing…they are too revealing for the internet. 🙂

I’ve had a lot of conversations with people lately about difficult things in life.  Divorce, break-ups, lost jobs, disillusionment – all are really shattered dreams.  Having my fair share over the years, they don’t seem to get easier.  You’d think that persevering gets easier with age. No way.  Because at first we persevere because we think it’s just a fluke we didn’t get what we wanted.  But after the second, third, or tenth times…you begin to question whether the dreams and desires will ever become reality.

I’m at a point in life where I’m beginning to dream again – both literally and figuratively.  Dreaming literally as an adult after not having so many for so long means that the images are fresh and new, and perhaps some day may come true.  It’s been freeing to dream figuratively again as well – to consider what opportunities might be out there, to dream of what the next 10 years could be like.

Daring to dream means destined to be disillusioned as well.  It’s not safe to dream.  But it’s good.

At least I hope so.  Hope is what keeps disillusionment from becoming despair, and perseverance is the way in which faith is refined. Love from our loved ones who remind us of our dreams is what keeps us going along the way.

*     *     *     *     *     *

Proverbs 13:12

Hope deferred makes the heart sick; but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

Psalm 126

1 When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion,
we were like men who dreamed.

2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”

3 The LORD has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.

4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like streams in the Negev.

5 Those who sow in tears
will reap with songs of joy.

6 He who goes out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with him.

Out with the old, in with the new? New Feet, New Year.

2008 felt like one of the longer years in my life.

When I was driving back to Chicago from Wisconsin, I called my good friend Sandra and realized that while I love being with my family, this particular year wasn’t a very “restful time.”  It’s especially so in this year that has been more weighty, impending, and ominous with the sun setting on the life of a cherished member of my family.

So, when I was talking with Sandra, she texted me the next day and said that she thought I could use a break and asked me to come over early to her husband and her’s new year’s party.  Karl knows my family well also – he was a student of my brother Josh and was a housemate with him his first couple of years out of school.

Sandra gave me directions to her new place on the west side of the city, and I drove to meet her.  She told me to meet her at the public library, and as I came outside of the door she greeted me, saying, “You know, there are times where I am stressed out and just need to be in a place that feels like home – where I can be myself and be among others like me.  Because life is just sometimes hard, you know?  So I thought I’d help you find a place where you can relax like I relax, and feel at home.”

I breathed a sigh of relief.  We started walking, me fully expecting to go to pub of sorts where I could grab a Guinness and enjoy another in a long succession of great conversations with my friend and partner in ministry.

Was I in for a surprise.

Sandra stops short into this trendy, refurbished building with all of these voices…but these voices aren’t deep like the droan you hear in a bar.  And the lighting wasn’t dark, either.  And the smell was what was most jolting…and then I realized I was in for something totally unexpected.

“Welcome!” I saw a woman who looked like a Hispanic Lucille Ball, who greets me with a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

(That’s not normal pub ettiquette, in case you didn’t know.)

I look at Sandra, probably with the look of a scared dog in my eyes.  I can feel my face turning red because I’m embarrassed.  Why?

I realize I’m in a beauty salon, surrounded by probably 20-some Hispanic women.  I’m the only white guy in the joint.

(The song from Sesame Street runs through my head, “One of these things is not like the other, which one is different – do you know?”)

And Sandra signed me up for a pedicure behind my back.  She said, “Andy, there was no way I could get you to do this yourself, so I surprised you. SURPRISE!”  A devious-yet-innocent smile comes across her face…

I got totally punked.

I think to myself, “Somewhere my father is hurting and he doesn’t know why.”

Do I have to turn in my man card for this?

I regain my composure.  I think to myself, “OK, Andy, this is just another cross-cultural experience.  Everyone is speaking Spanish, and you can pick up about half of what is being said. Almost everyone around you is a woman, so just smile and nod.  Just remember to have an open posture…ask questions…you know, all those things I’m supposed to remember in the approaching differences diagram… like a good cross-cultural student.”

That was a lot easier when the coffee and rice pudding came. I can do this.

So, for the next hour, I get a pedicure (I’ve since learned that this is abbreviated, “pedi”).  I have ugly feet.  They’re calloused and mangled…not exactly worth looking at. The poor woman pedicure giver-er…

But I must say, this woman did a phenomenal job on my feet.  They felt lighter as I got them out of the little foot-bathtub-thingy, and I realized that this woman sanded off my callouses…I must have lost a pound in the process.  And my ugly feet got a little less ugly.

So, here’s to a new year – to great friends, funny pranks, and losing the callouses from the hard walk of life that keep us from seeing what really is.

New Look for Less is More

I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, but really didn’t have the time until now. I reformatted the blog to make it look a little more like I originally intended.  And I went a little artsy on the photo.

BTW, for those of you who wonder about the title of the blog, check out the about section.

And if you are reading this as a note Facebook, the source of my notes is here.  You might try looking here instead.

Enjoy.

On Death, Dying and Ending Well

Grandma Lois and I

Grandma Lois and I

I’m quite fortunate in that I have a job where I can pack up my stuff and work from most anywhere when my students aren’t in session. I was planning on driving back to my folks place in Wisconsin on Friday, until I got home and my housemate told me that if I was considering leaving on Friday I should surely reconsider. The snow was a-coming, and blowing pretty hard.

So in the time it took to get a couple of loads of laundry done, I packed up and headed north trying to beat the snow. I succeeded.

My reason for going back to Wisconsin: my Grandma Lois has terminal cancer. She and my Grandpa have lived in my hometown over the past 13 years after living in 4 countries and 15 cities throughout their life. If Grandma had her way, she would have moved to be with her grandchildren years before, but such wasn’t the case.

Americans seem to have a hard time with death. Other cultures seem to embrace it – we don’t. I was invited to share about Dia de los Muertos by a joint programming endeavor with La Fe (InterVarsity’s Latino Fellowship), Sheil Catholic Center, and the Department of Hispanic Student Affairs at the end of October for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

(Does anyone else find it completely ironic that an evangelical white dude from southern rural Wisconsin was invited to speak at a Latino Catholic celebration? I do.)

Little did I know that the preparations I made would be for me more than anyone. I began to think of those in my life who would likely be passing to be at Jesus’ side. I grew up with a lot of “grandmas and grandpas” in my upbringing. I realized that in the next five years, I will probably be seeing the last of a generation that formed me.

Death is something we don’t like talking about in America. We hire people to prepare the dead when most cultures do it themselves. I wonder why that is. Any thoughts on why we are phobic of death?

As I’ve been sitting with Grandma, sharing stories over the last few days, I realize what a great treasure a life well lived is. I know very few folks who have “ended well” – whether it be in a job, a career, or a life.

Grandma Lois is ending well. We sat at her place for lunch, and she was still the consummate hostess, ensuring that we all had everything we needed. As I put my last bite of soup in my mouth, she asked if I wanted more. The woman can’t even stand, and she still is looking out for her grandchildren. A lump rose to my throat, and I told her I would love some more. She said, “Well, I’d get it for you, but i just can’t get up right now.” “I know, Grandma, that’s OK.”

We sit together and still laugh, cry, share secrets, and sometimes are just quiet as she holds my hand. There is something absolutely beautiful about a life well lived that is ending well – and for those those of us who are still called to press on, we need models of folks who have fought the good fight and finish the race. Because far too many don’t.

Grandma Lois is one of them. I’m proud to be her grandson, and hope I end well as she is.


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