Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Here is an extremely hopeful thought for the future from the always inspirational Carl Sagan–not just a sunrise, but a galaxy rise–four hundred billion suns, the rising of the Milky Way! Take courage, my friends, as the New Year dawns. The sky calls us!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Max McLean - Mark's Gospel on Stage

Mark's Gospel on Stage with Max McLean is a terrific new resource for reading and listening through the Gospel of Mark. Max McLean is the voice for the Listener's Bible - New International Version and has also brought C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters to the stage..

Devoting to memory the entire text of Mark, McLean brings the gospel to life with clarity and craft. His dramatic approach to the text is engaging and yet measured. You can watch the entire performance for free online. It's also available for purchase on DVD. Product Description:
Two thousand years ago, a drama unfolded that would change the course of history. Many have called it the 'greatest story ever told.' Now one of the great storytellers of our time presents this life-changing saga in a compelling video version of Mark's Gospel. Max McLean's powerful stage performance takes us inside the story of Jesus so we can experience the events and characters that have inspired and challenged people all over the world. This award-winning performance of the Gospel of Mark was recorded live with newly improved special effects and lighting. Max McLean's life work is making the Bible come alive for his audiences. Since 1983 he has performed Mark, Acts, and Genesis to millions of people on TV, radio, at theaters, colleges, and houses of worship across the cultural and religious spectrum.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Even Atheists Can Eschew Smugness

S. E. Cupp, an atheist, has a thoughtful and generous article in today's New York Daily News.

"The militant atheist wants nothing more than to spoil the believer's spiritual journey. That's both meanspirited and radically unenlightened."

Read the Whole Article

Unfortunately, most of the response she can expect to receive from atheist fundies will simply prove her point. Here is one such example that popped up in my google reader this morning.

It mocks her for being The Good Atheist and suggests she may not even be a real atheist. Evidentally, for true unbelievers, smugness isn't just an unfortunate trait, it's a requirement and a badge of authenticity.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas at Our House

We're having a wonderful day with our family. Everybody is here except for Jack and Meg who are in Austin, TX. Jack called so we got a chance to talk to him too.

This morning Søren (grandson #1) read the Christmas story. Then we opened presents and after that enjoyed homemade cinnamon rolls and Wedding Egg-Bake (we renamed this gourmet dish after serving it at Page and Sara's wedding in September).

We've set a new record in Minnesota for the snowiest December, breaking the record set back in 1969, so not much to do outside. This afternoon we played games, listened to music, and relaxed. Snacked on Christmas goodies, pickled herring, crackers, cheeses, and braunschweiger.

The kitchen is hopping right now with preparations for a feast. I'm reviewing sermon stuff for Sunday services tomorrow. Maybe we'll watch a movie later tonight.

Merry Christmas from our house to yours.

Emmanuel - God with Us!

This was the first sound in the living room this morning. I've been hearing this on Christmas morning since my childhood. Ancient hymns, choral music, and quiet worship have a deep and permanent place in my soul. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Flesh & Blood: Empathy

Each week of my Advent teaching series, I'm exploring biblical answers to the question of why incarnation is central to God's plan to redeem humankind.

Last Sunday I preached Part 2: "To Be Known By Us" based on John 1:18. On Sunday, December 12, I'll be preaching Part 3: "To Empathize with Our Weakness" based on Hebrews 4:15.

I hope you can join us for one of our services at Valley Christian Church. If not, remember that you can download or listen to podcasts of the sermons.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Bible, Jesus, & History

Yesterday, I came across these excerpts from an interview with biblical scholar, Ben Witherington III. The guy doing the interview is a little hard to take, but I thought I'd post the clips for two reasons. First, Ben's remarks are very interesting and accessible. Second, for those of you not familiar with Dr. Witherington, this might be a nice introduction.

Dr. Witherington is Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary (Wilmore, Kentucky) and on the doctoral faculty at St. Andrews University in Scotland. You can find out more about him, his books, and his blog at

Jesus and History from CPX on Vimeo.

Jesus and Wisdom from CPX on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

200 Years of Stats in 4 Minutes

I ran across this remarkable animation of global health statistics today. Useful, understandable, and very creative. I love this kind of teaching and communication.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Flesh & Blood: Keeping Promises

Sunday, November 28th, is the first Sunday of Advent. I'll be presenting the first part of my new teaching series, Flesh & Blood. Each week I'll be considering a different answer to the question, "Why would God become one of us?"

This week I'm starting with Mary's words from Luke 1:54-55, "He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.

What promises of God make it necessary for God to enter humankind and become flesh and blood?

FLESH & BLOOD • Part 1
To Keep His Promise
Luke 1:54-55; Genesis 3:15

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee to-night.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Why Would God Become One of Us?

November 28th is the first Sunday of Advent. Christmas will be less than a month away! I'm looking forward to my new Sunday teaching series at Valley Christian Church. If you live in the area, I hope you'll be able to join us at one of our Sunday services. You can also find sermon sketches and podcasts online.

Click on image for full-size view.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Psalm 100
1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
2 Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
3 Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Scarecrow on Fire

My son, Page Burkum, will be playing with the House of Mercy Band in Scarecrow on Fire this Thanksgiving Weekend at the Fitzgerald Theatre in St. Paul. Performances are Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon. I'll be at the Saturday night show.

As part of the Fitzgerald Theater’s Centennial Season Minnesota Public Radio has commissioned a new theater piece from storyteller Kevin Kling and Theater Latté Da director Peter Rothstein; “Scarecrow on Fire” will premiere at the Fitzgerald Theater on Friday, November 26th at 8:00 p.m., Saturday, November 27th at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, November, 28th at 2:00 p.m.

The show will be a hilarious, heartfelt, and sometimes haunting set of tales rekindling the trilogy of Brains, Heart and Courage. It's the Oz story picked up by Kevin Kling where the original tale left off, and told with music, theatrics and a backdrop of silent-era Oz movies. The audience will reunite with Dorothy at points in her life as her Oz friends stay in touch over the decades.

Tickets are available for $25.00. There will be an additional $2.50 facility fee added to the price of each ticket. Minnesota Public Radio members receive a discount.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lewis, Kennedy, Huxley - d. November 22, 1963

Did you know that C. S. Lewis, JFK, and Aldous Huxley all died within a few hours of each other on November 22, 1963?

Peter Kreeft has a wonderful little book that imagines a Socratic conversation among the three after they have crossed the threshold of death. Kennedy speaks from a modern humanist perspective, Lewis as a Christian theist, and Huxley as an advocate of Eastern pantheism.

C. S. Lewis—one week shy of his 65th birthday—collapsed and died at 5:30 PM (GMT) at his residence at The Kilns, outside Oxford, England.

Two hours later, U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, TX, pronounced dead at 1:21 PM (CST). He was only 46 years old.

Exactly six hours later, Aldous Huxley, the English writer and author of Brave New World, died at 5:21 PM (PST) in Los Angeles. He was 69.

Book Recommendation:
Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley
by Peter Kreeft

Greg Boyd - Christianity vs. Contantinianism

Do you know the difference between Christianity and Christendom? Is your Jesus a general or a servant? Here's a helpful video clip of Greg Boyd teaching about the Constantinian perversion of Christianity.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Cactus Blossoms on MPR

Several friends contacted me this morning saying they heard the Cactus Blossoms (my sons, Page and Jack) on Minnesota Public Radio. After a little digging I discovered they were featured on the Art Hounds segment from MPR's State of the Arts Blog.

St. Paul musician Peter Karman isn't shy about heaping praise on his favorite group in the world right now, the Cactus Blossoms. Peter says the brotherly duo incorporates exquisite Louvin Brother-style harmonies in its original songs and resurrects the sound of 1950s AM radio.

The boys will be playing at the 331 Club during happy hour on Monday, November 8th, 6:00-7:00pm. It's a nice opportunity to hear them without having to stay out late. Glen Hanson and the Roe Family Singers are also playing later that night.

The Cactus Blossoms will also be playing a free show with Pop Wagner and his brother Bodie on Sunday night, November 8th, 8:00-10:00pm at The Celtic Junction, 836 Prior Avenue,St. Paul MN 55104. That should be a really fun show!

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Gil Shaham and the SPCO

It's a bit overdue, but I'm finally getting to a quick post about the wonderful concert I was able to take in on September 16th. My wife and I were lucky enough to get third row seats for this SPCO performance at Ordway.

I'm always expecting something good when I head out the door to a St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. But this time, I have to say, my usual high expectations were greatly surpassed. Violinist Gil Shaham and the orchestra delivered amazing performances of two concertos: Haydn's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 2 in G (H. Vlla: 4 / 1769), and Mendelssohn's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in E Minor (Op. 64 / 1844-45).

This was my first time to see Shahan in person, and what a treat it was. The Haydn concerto was a delight, and the Mendelssohn concerto was a sensation. The virtuosity demanded by the Mendelssohn piece is almost superhuman, and Shahan delivered, demonstrating a breathtaking combination of prowess and ease. I hope he has recorded these pieces so I can add his performances to my music library.

Gil Shahan would be a wonderful artistic partner for the SPCO. I wonder if that would ever be a possibility at some time in the future. Maybe some Shahan-SPCO collaborative recordings for the Canary Classics label? Sounds like a win/win situation to me.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Valley Teaching Series

I began a new teaching series Sunday, September 12, which will run through mid-November. The theme for the series is More than Words. It's basically a call for putting faith into action.

There are so many things that Christians say they believe, but fail to live out. I think most of us are acutely aware of this disconnect, but we're not sure what to do about it. My goal is to provide motivation and practical suggestions for how we can move from belief to action--from talking to doing.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

A State Fair to Remember!

Yesterday was a chilly and windy day at the Minnesota State Fair. Who knew it would turn out to be such a fun day! Two of my sons, Page and Jack (Torrey), decided to throw their hat into the ring at the Duet Championship sponsored by the Minnesota Bluegrass & Old Time Music Association (MBOTMA), and ended up taking first place.

First place came with a cash prize and two Taylor guitars. We knew about those prizes, but what we didn't know was that they would be invited to sing on the Prairie Home Companion show at the State Fair Grandstand later that same evening. A few friends and family members were given passes to watch the whole show seated on the stage. The boys did a great job and I was so happy for them!

The Grandstand shows at the State Fair always end with fireworks, and I've gotta say, the view from the stage is pretty special. It was one of those magical moments I'll never forget.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Science, Religion, and Mystery

Marilynne Robinson is perhaps best known for her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Gilead. Her new book, Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self, looks like a fascinating and helpful read. Here is a brief interview she gave about her new book on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Marilynne Robinson

Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Book: Mere Churchianity

Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus Shaped Spirituality
by Michael Spencer

Mere Churchianity, the long-awaited book by the late Michael Spencer, our beloved Internet Monk, was released yesterday. I pre-ordered the book, and so my copy should arrive today or tomorrow. I encourage you to order your copy today. I hope to start a book club at my church in September. This will be the first book of the year.

“Michael Spencer was a self-described ‘post-evangelical’ Christian. He pointed out what already was obvious to many: that too often, churches practice ‘moralistic, culture-war religion.’ And sadly, their members are ‘church-shaped’ rather than Jesus-shaped. Almost prophetic in his railing against the prosperity gospel and efforts to turn God into a ‘convenient vending machine,’ Spencer’s book offers a timely and difficult reimagining of what living as a person of faith really means.” —Jennifer Grant, journalist, columnist for The Chicago Tribune

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Movie: Departures

Directed by Yôjirô Takita

This is a fascinating film about a young man, Daigo, who is forced by economic factors to give up a career in music performance. After selling his cello and returning to the town where he grew up, he unexpectedly finds himself in the most unusual career of preparing bodies for encoffinment.

Though the profession is undesirable in many ways, and is misunderstood and derided by society, the formal, ceremonial washing and clothing of a loved-one's body in the presence of mourners proves to be an important cultural role. Daigo comes to see how treating the departed with beauty, dignity, and reverence brings closure and comfort to their families.

In Ecclesiastes 7:2 it says, "It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart." The truth of that verse is certainly borne out in the moving story of Departures. It's a story of a young man and his wife who learn a great deal about themselves and the beauty of life by looking squarely into the awful face of death.

The screenplay was written by Kundo Koyama and is loosely based on Aoki Shinmon's autobiographical book Coffinman: The Journal of a Buddhist Mortician. Koyama artfully weaves other types of departures into plot and character development: a father who forsakes his wife and son for unknown reasons; a son who left his mother behind to pursue a dream in the big city; a wife who leaves her husband returns to her home because she cannot accept his work; a co-worker who years ago abandoned her husband and six-year-old son because of an affair.

Deeply moving and provocative, this artistic and graceful film is not only worth watching, but also worth adding to my library. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Love Listens

The point of my Christianity and Homosexuality post was NOT to declare a position, but rather to encourage dialog, listening, and understanding. It's not that I don't have a position; I'm just tired of positions being more important than people.

Love and dialog are needed from all directions and perspectives. The issue is far more varied and nuanced than the oversimplified FOR or AGAINST approach most people try to force upon it. We need to wrestle with who we are, what the Scriptures are, what they say, what it means to follow Jesus, what it means to be transformed, and how to do this in community.

Among Jesus followers, we have wildly divergent views about the Bible, the intricacy of human physiology, the complexities of personal identity, and the meaning of personhood. Love and humility demand that we take each other seriously. This can't be done if we stop caring for each other and stop listening to each other.

Truth is usually found right in the center of tension. That's why it is so important for people who have formed opinions to keep themselves in check by staying in the conversation and continually testing their conclusions.

Some of you may be familiar with the late Michael Spencer who gave us the Internet Monk blog and podcast. He was a great example of how to have a conviction and a conversation at the same time. The Christian community lost a charitable and constructive voice when he died earlier this year. Fortunately, friends are keeping his blog up and running, and his posts are still available to read. I would encourage you to read this post: . It's right on topic and probably says what I'm trying to say better than I can say it.

Grace and Peace!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Christianity and Homosexuality

The questions and tensions surrounding Christian perspectives on homosexuality loom larger every day. It is the constant subject of news headlines: Jennifer Knapp's music career; disgraced evangelical leader Ted Haggard's new church; violence against gays in Uganda; the appointing of Anglican bishops in the US and Canada; and constitutional challenges to same-sex marriage laws, just to name a few.

Major denominations are being stressed and divided over the issue. Social norms, civil rights laws, and religious views are increasingly being disputed, advocated, and argued in legislatures, courtrooms, pulpits, and political campaigns. It's everywhere, and it's not going away any time soon.

As a pastor of a small church in Minnesota, I can tell you that questions about homosexuality are more prevalent and persistent than ever. It is no longer a private concern, but public. It is no longer something distant and theoretical; it's close-up, personal, and practical. It's not an individual issue; it's a community concern.

In the last year it has become common for people new to our church to ask about policies and positions on the subject. They frequently raise questions at our welcome classes. They want to know where we stand, what we think, and what we're doing.

Christians and the churches they are a part of will not be able to navigate their way through these stormy waters apart from God's gracious help. We must be humble, honest, loving, patient, faithful, and teachable. We will need to listen, think, and pray. Even when there prove to be unresolvable differences, we will need to live graciously and redemptively in the tension and conflict.

It's important to remember that this is more than a matter of theology and politics. Beneath all the rhetoric and rancor, this is an issue about people. People with needs, desires, fears, doubts, and questions. Learning to understand and love "the other"—those whose experiences, beliefs, and perspectives are vastly different from our own—is a good place to start.

Here are a few things I've been reading and watching to gain insight and perspective while seeking to have a have my personal, pastoral, and theological perspectives shaped by Christ. They've been very helpful in putting a human face on this controversial issue.

Experimental Theology Blog
Dr. Richard Beck, professor and experimental psychologist at Abilene Christian University, has posted a short series of helpful articles entitled Thoughts about Homosexuality.

Part 1 - Is Being Gay a Choice?
Part 2 - Is Being Gay Genetic or Learned?

Part 3 - Is Being Gay a Sexual Dysfunction?

Homosexuality: Three Christian Views

Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community
by Andrew Marin (Intervarsity Press)

Andrew Marin and his wife live in Boystown, a predominantly GLBT neighborhood in Chicago. His organization, The Marin Foundation, is conducting the largest-ever research study on religion in the gay community.

From the back cover:
Why are so many people who are gay wary of people who are Christian? Do GLBT people need to change who they are? Do Christians need to change what they believe? Love Is an Orientation elevates the conversation from genetics to gospel and builds a bridge between these two communities—a bridge straight to the good news of Jesus Christ.

The Bible Tells Me So
In this Sundance documentary, director Daniel Karslake tells the story of several Christian families who have had to confront the challenges presented when a loved one's sexual orientation is at variance with the religious beliefs and traditions the family has held.

Interviews include V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion, and Chrissy Gephardt, the lesbian daughter of former U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt.
The interviews with the Reitan family of Eden Prairie, MN hit especially close to home.

The movie is decidedly pro-gay in its handling of the subject, which is an important perspective to hear. The best reason to watch the film, however, is the opportunity to hear people telling their own stories.

Jesus Freak

by Sara Miles

This is not a book about homosexuality, it's a book about being a Christian. It's a book in which the author "tells what happened when she decided to follow the flesh-and-blood Jesus by doing something real."

I'm including this book in this particular post because Sara Miles is an openly gay person who is pouring herself heart-and-soul into Christian ministry. Theologically conservative Christians who read this book are likely to find themselves both inspired and disturbed.

Sara Miles is the founder and director of The Food Pantry, and serves as Director of Ministry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Book: The Cross Shattered Christ by Stanley Hauerwas

The Cross-Shattered Christ is a short book of meditations inspired by the the seven last words of Christ as he died on the cross. Hauerwas, Professor of Theology and Ethics at Duke Divinity School, scrutinizes each of these crucifixion sayings and thoughtfully explores the questions and mystery they provoke.

I read the book during Lent and Holy Week this year and appreciated many of the new ideas and insights Hauerwas presents. I'm thankful for this thoughtful little book and the ways it encouraged me rethink and reflect on the cross of Christ—the crux of our faith. Rather than write more commentary, I think I'll just give you a taste by sharing a short quote from each chapter.

The First Word - Luke 23:34
"Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing."
"To so be made part of God's love strips us of all our presumed certainties, making possible lives...[that are]...lived in the confidence that Jesus, the only Son of God, alone has the right to ask the Father to forgive people like us who would kill rather than face death." [p. 33]

The Second Word - Luke 23:43
"Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise"
"How could we ever think we need to know more than this thief? Like the thief we can live with the hope and confidence that the only remembering that matters, is to be remembered by Jesus." [p. 44]

The Third Word - John 19:26-27
"Woman, behold thy son!" ... "Behold thy mother!"
"So may we never forget that we, the church, comprise Mary's home. A home, moreover, that promises not safety but rather the ongoing challenge of being a people called from the nations to be God's people. A people constituted by faith in the One who refused to triumph through the violence the world believes to be the only means possible to achieve some limited good..." [p. 54]

The Fourth Word - Matthew 27:46
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
"...any account of the cross that suggests God must somehow satisfy an abstract theory of justice by sacrificing his Son on our behalf is clearly wrong. Indeed such accounts are dangerously wrong. The Father's sacrifice of the Son and Son's willing sacrifice is God's justice. Just as there is no God who is not the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so there is no god who must be satisfied that we might be spared. We are the spared, because God refuses to have us lost." [p. 66]

The Fifth Word - John 19:28
"I thirst."
"...the thirst of the Son through the Spirit is nothing less than the Father's thirst for us. God desires us to desire God. We were created to thirst for God (Psalm 42) in a 'dry and weary land where there is no water' (Psalm 63)." [p. 77]

The Sixth Word - John 19:30
"It is finished!"
" 'It is finished' is not a death gurgle. 'It is finished' is not 'I am done for.' 'It is finished' will not be, as we know from the tradition of the ordering of these words from the cross, the last words of Jesus. 'It is finished' is a cry of victory. 'It is finished' is the triumphant cry that what I came to do has been done. All is accomplished, completed, fulfilled work." [p. 83]

The Fifth Word - Luke 23:46
"Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."
"Jesus has become the Father's Psalm for the world, fulfilling Israel's undying hope that death, and the judgment death must be and always is, is not the last word." [p. 101]

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Book Review: Untameable Heart by Sara Wheat

Earlier this year, I heard Sara Wheat interviewed on the The Nick and Josh podcast. She answered questions about her faith and the new book she had written and self-published: Untameable Heart: Confessions of an Emergent Christ-Follower. Her winsome personality and humble spirit were refreshing as she spoke about her life experiences and the process of writing her book.

Having taught college for five years and worked as a campus pastor on the University of Minnesota campus for fifteen years, I'm a sucker for a young adult faith story. I love young people and I like to encourage them in creative endeavors. So I hopped online, bought her book on Amazon, and became a fan of her Facebook page.

Untameable Heart isn't exactly a memoir, but it leans heavily toward being one, and that's when the book is at its best. To tell you the truth, I'm not convinced Sara really is "an emergent Christ-follower," and it would not surprise me to learn one day (perhaps even now) that she regrets having labeled herself as such. That being said, she is most definitely someone who is openly and humbly allowing the
"emergent conversation" to challenge and deconstruct the version of Christianity she grew up with.

To understand the questions that shape the emergent mindset, you'd be better off reading Doug Pagitt's A Christianity Worth Believing or Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christianity. But if you'd like to get a front row seat of what it looks like to see a young Midwestern woman's evangelical fundamentalist background pulled apart by honest questions, Untameable Heart is a book worth reading.

While Sara rightly questions the naive certainty and legalism of her childhood old-time religion, I'm not sure she has yet learned to rightly question her new-found emergent ideas. I have no doubt that she will eventually. Her untameable heart will discover soon enough that the new pat answers aren't really any better than the old pat answers, and then she'll be able to simply savor the questions and live in the mystery.

Sara is so likeable and her writing style is unpretentious and exuberant. She strikes me as someone I would enjoy having as a friend. I'm glad she is telling her story and hope she will continue to tell it as it grows and matures. It's a story sure to unfold in wild and wonderful ways as she follows Christ, learns to wear his name alone, and casts all other labels aside.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Mozart and the SPCO

For the last two or three years, my wife and I have enjoyed season tickets to several series packages offered by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Two weeks ago, May 14, we attended the last concert in our Friday Evening Chamber Music Series. It was terrific, as usual.

The brightest spot in the concert was Mozart's Quintet in E-flat for Horn, Violin, Two Violas, and Double Bass, K. 407. The piece was quintessential Mozart--perfection in form, orchestration, and voicing. This piece is typically performed with cello rather than double-bass as Mozart's orchestration note allows for either. The grace and agility needed to pull it off on double-bass is considerable, and Christopher Brown's performance was perfection.

If you've never attended SPCO concerts, now is the time to start. Visit their website and check out the wide variety of series options available. You'll be impressed by the choices you have for dates, venues, and pricing. The SPCO is on my list of best things about life in the Twin Cities.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Books: Two Little Gems

I'm about twenty books behind in posting about books I've been reading. I'll be trying to catch up in the next couple weeks. I'll prime the pump today with a mention of two little book gems I enjoyed in recent months.

The first is an old devotional classic by Henry Drummond entitled The Greatest Thing in the World. The book is really more like a long essay--only 55 tiny pages in all. Drummond was a 19th century Scottish preacher, and the book reads like a sermon from those days. It's really a collection of sermons on the preeminence of love. I found it to be a beautiful and inspiring reminder and I would encourage everyone to read it. Thanks to my friend, Kelli Fredin, a fellow book lover who was nice enough to give me a copy of the book for my library.

The second is a book of essays (and one short story) by Joey Earl Horstman entitled Praise, Anxiety, and Other Symptoms of Grace. Joey Horstman is a professor of English at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota. More importantly to me, he is the son of my good friend Jerry Horstman who serves as an elder in the church I pastor.

The book is a collection of entertaining and insightful essays and stories that first appeared in The Other Side magazine. Horstman has a wry sense of humor--think Dave Barry--and a keen, no-nonsense approach to faith. Many of the cultural references are a bit dated by now (the book was published in 2000), but the insights he wrestles out of everyday experiences are timeless.

My favorite part of the book was the short story, "Pete's Dig." Putting aside the demeanor of a witty columnist, Horstman demonstrates he is a first-rate storyteller (move over Dave Barry and make room for Flannery). That story alone was worth the price of the whole book. I say this with absolute conviction even though I didn't have to pay it because, as I said, I mooched my signed copy from the author's dad.

Bottom line: I want an entire book of short stories from Horstman. I'm sure you've written them, Joey. I hope you're trying to publish them. I'm ready to buy, unless I can get your dad to get me a free copy.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Happy Birthday, Bob Dylan!

Bob Dylan celebrates his 69th birthday today. He was born in Duluth, MN in 1941. When Bruce Springsteen inducted Dylan into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame in 1988, he said, "Elvis freed your body, Bob freed your mind."

While neither of those proclamations is true for me, I will say that Dylan has delighted and intrigued my mind and my ears for many a year. It's hard for me to imagine a world without Bob.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Dylan.

Monday, May 10, 2010

AVHS - Les Miserables

The Apple Valley High School Theater did a fantastic job with their production of Les Miserables. You don't have to take my word for it; read Gary Sankary's review that appeared on the MinnPost news site. The whole production was a wonderful testimony to the quality of the AVHS program, the wonderful teaching staff, and the fantastic kids who worked so hard. Bravo!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Quirky and Brilliant

Thanks to Jad Abumrad and the good people of the Radio Lab podcast, I've been introduced to Buke and Gass, a quirky and brilliant band.

Hailing from Brooklyn, the musical collaboration of duo, Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez, is named for the hodgepodged instruments they've invented and mastered--the Buke, a bass ukelele, and a Gass (pronounced "gase"), a stringed instrument equal parts bass and electric guitar. Throw in an array of drums, shakers, sleigh bells, and other percussion instruments played by feet and legs, and you have the latest incarnation of the one-man band. In this case, a one-woman-and-one-man band.

Buke + Gase both woo and assault my ears with music that is one part power pop and one part car crash. Their complex layering of meters and polyrhythms delights my inner geek to no end. The sharp turns and twists make ADD an asset, but the colorful and bumpy ride makes me hang on for the whole trip.

Listen and get a free download of their song Medulla Oblongata here.

Saturday, May 01, 2010


I just completed two days of conversation and fellowship at the TransFORM East Coast Gathering in Washington DC. The conference was well organized and seemed to go very smoothly, which is good news for my friend, Steve Knight, who headed up the conference planning team. I thought the host site, Wesley Theological Seminary, was just perfect for the event. Even the weather was picture perfect.

As I expected, the conference provided much to think about, much that provoked, and much to question. I saw a lot of angst and frustration at work in many of the participants, much of it there for good reasons. I heard a lot of good questions, most of them very important. And yes, I saw some disturbing assumptions and some misguided thinking I would say is as simplistic as the wrong-headed modernistic certainty it is reacting against. But I also saw a lot of soul searching and a great deal of desire for finding and living a Christianity worth believing--one that engages real issues and makes a real difference in the lives of real people in the real world.

My favorite workshop leaders were: Samir Selmanovic (Learning to Love the Other in God, Self, and Society), Russell Rathbun (Sustainable Faith: Telling Stories that Compost), and Mark Van Steenwyk (Cultivating Liberated Spaces).

Of course, one of the best parts of any conference is the opportunity to meet and talk with people. I met a lot of new friends and had some great conversations. I was also able to renew friendships with some of my old CSF friends--Steve & Becky Knight (who worked at the conference), Josh Hunt, and Juan & Chloe Sole (who all live in the DC area).

Friday, April 30, 2010

Mike Hamilton Preaching

Mike Hamilton will be filling the pulpit for me this Sunday at Valley Christian Church. I'll be attending church in Washington DC where I'm attending a conference. Mike is our Associate Pastor of Student and Family ministries, and I'm sure he'll have some great things to share.

Sunday, May 2
The Worshiping Church
Living with Reverence for Christ Jesus

Matthew 28:16-20

Friday, April 23, 2010

New Teaching Series

I'm beginning a new teaching series at Valley Christian Church this Sunday. If you live in the Twin Cities, I hope you'll consider joining us on Sunday mornings. Driving directions and service times are available on our website.

You can also listen in to our podcasts. Here's the ground we'll be covering over the next nine weeks.

Sunday, April 25

The Learning Church
Living with Readiness to Understand
Luke 24:33-53

Sunday, May 2
The Worshiping Church
Living with Reverence for Christ Jesus

Matthew 28:16-20

Sunday, May 9
The Christ-Centered Church
Living in Faithful Obedience to Jesus

Acts 1:1-11

Sunday, May 16
The Biblical Church

Living with Passion for the Scriptures

Acts 2:1-35

Pentecost Sunday, May 23
The Proclaiming Church
Living with a Message of Good News
Acts 2:36-41

Sunday, May 30
The Tangible Church

Living with Faith that Takes Action

Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-35

Sunday, June 6
The Subversive Church

Living with Loyalty to God above All Else

Acts 5:17-41

Sunday, June 13
The Giving and Caring Church

Living with Generosity toward Those in Need
Acts 9:32-43

Sunday, June 20
The Boundary Breaking Church

Living with Grace that Heals and Unites

Acts 11:1-18

Spiritual Growth for Family

I ran across this article today. It has some good suggestions for those who want to be intentional about cultivating spiritual growth in their family life. Intentionality and effort are central to all spiritual formation. If you don't have goals and a plan of action, you won't get far. Aim at nothing, and you'll probably you hit it.

I'm not a fan of this website or the NeoReformed camp it comes from, but this is a good little article. Not everything in it will appeal or resonate with everyone, but certainly the idea of setting goals and taking action should. Give it a quick read and see if there isn't a suggestion or two you can act upon. Maybe you can share this with a friend.

How I Pastor My Family
by Justin Hide

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What's the Right Thing to Do?

Here's your opportunity to join a class on ethics and justice at Harvard University. Michael Sandel's series, Justice, is available for viewing online. Why waste your time with TV shows when you could be discovering just how fun it can be to think and learn.

Sandel is a master teacher who is able to work a large lecture hall as though it were a small group discussion. The filming and production quality are first class, and the content is superb. Watch the trailor and at least the first session, and you'll likely find yourself drawn into this wonderful course. You may also be interested in Sandel's book, Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Icelandic Opera!

Long ago, as a music undergrad at the University of Nebraska begrudgingly fulfilling the degree requirement for science courses, I was surprised to find myself really enjoying a course in meteorology. I discovered just how fascinating weather and atmospheric phenomena can be.

Well, everyday there is something new to discover. And today, thanks to a volcano in Iceland and Minnesota Public Radio's Updraft blog, I learned about a most impressive weather wonder. Volcanic lightning! Very volcanic! Very Wagnerian!

Music and meteorology may actually go together better than you think.

Monday, April 19, 2010

John Cleese on Philosophy

Here are some entertaining thoughts about philosophy, recorded by John Cleese (in 2003?) for the "Philosophers of America" who were apparently "celebrating 100 years of thought."

You've got to admit it; philosophy sounds more interesting when you hear John Cleese talking about it. Thanks to Josh Hunt for the link suggestion.

I highly recommend the John Cleese audio book for The Screwtape Letters (C. S. Lewis).

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Scott McKnight at Cincinatti Bible Seminary

Scot McKnight posted today about a recent visit to Cincinatti Bible Seminary where he spoke at the Stone Campbell Lectures. He had some very nice things to say about the churches who share the Restoration Movement (or Stone-Campbell Movement) heritage, and he concludes his remarks with: "...they are doing excellent work in Bible and theology and church ministry. And neglecting this movement has weakened the robustness of the evangelical voice in the USA."

I grew up in this tradition, and the church I now pastor has a Restoration Movement heritage. Scot is right in observing that these churches have never really been "evangelical" insiders. Their steadfast commitment (perhaps overemphasis) regarding the importance of baptism and weekly communion has always been out of step and worrisome for most evangelicals. In my younger years of ministry, that was a source of frustration to me. Today, with evangelicalism finding more ways to implode upon itself every day, I'm just fine with not fitting in.

I'm happy to say that Valley Christian Church values its heritage--so much so that we are not bound to it. We're not Restoration Movement Christians, we're just plain old Christians. We're just happy to be a group of people doing our best to follow Jesus--seeking God, sharing our lives, and serving others. I hope we're making a contribution to the Kingdom that merits some of McKnight's generous praise.

Scot McKnight is a Bible teacher and author of many books, including two of the books we recommended during our recent Lent and Easter teaching series: The Jesus Creed and 40 Days Living the Jesus Creed. He also writes the popular Jesus Creed Blog.

Book: The Whispering Walls

The Whispering Walls
J. E. Hunt

A friend of mine, Josh Hunt, is currently releasing a four-part book series called The Wanderers. What follows is a review I posted on You can find out more about the series at Carius Books.

When you read book one of a four-part series and enjoy it, you're instantly ready to move on to book two. The problem with reading book one of a NEW four-part series is that book two isn't available. I guess that's also part of the fun.

The Whispering Walls is beautifully written. The places, events, and people are compelling and believable. I think Hunt is especially good at explaining the feelings and motives of his characters. Many times, I found myself thinking, "What a perfect description!"

The further I read, the more I wanted to read. I finished the last four or five chapters in one sitting. My only serious complaint is that I want book two, and I want it NOW! So while I wait for book two, I'll be encouraging as many others to read book one as I can. Misery loves company.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Questions and the Quest

Brian McLaren
Minneapolis 2010.04.15

I attended the Twin Cities Emergent Cohort meeting this month for the first time. Brian McLaren was in town to speak at the Westminster Town Hall Forum the next day, and he was good enough to spend a few hours with the cohort on Wednesday night, speaking and fielding questions. I'm guessing there were about fifty people in attendance. I enjoyed bumping into some old friends and meeting some new ones.

McLaren got things started by giving a thumbnail overview of his new book, A New Kind of Christianity. The book is organized along ten critical questions he believes it is important to ask as we consider the future of the Christian enterprise. The first five are more theological in nature, and relate to: the overall message of Scripture; Biblical authority; the character of God; Christology; and the Good News of the Kingdom. The last five are more practical in nature, and relate to: the Church; personhood and sexuality; the theology of future; Christianity in relationship to other religions; and practical ways to turn questions and conversation into constructive action.

After this quick overview, McLaren spent the rest of the evening entertaining questions. The questions were very thoughtful. In most cases, they revealed the questioner's desire to find ways to experience authentic Christianity and live it out in the world. There was a real sense that the people gathered really wanted to find a Christianity that could change the world.

While McLaren's answers to these questions may be controversial, it is clear that every one of the questions resonated with his audience. My own pastoral experience over the last 20 years confirms the importance of these questions. They are questions the world is asking, and with good reason. Christians may not all arrive at the same answers, but we must wrestle with the questions. We must be willing to think and talk about these questions with each other, even those with whom we may not agree.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Music in Minneapolis

Parker Quartet
I enjoyed an evening of wonderful live performances last night. First, I caught an early show, The Parker Quartet, at the Varsity Theater in Dinkytown with my son, Tyler.

I got quite a shock when we walked into the Varsity; it has been completed remodeled and redecorated à la Loring Pasta Bar. The transformation is impressive. We got some comfy seats about halfway back, but the acoustics and PA system buzz were annoying me, so we moved to seats right next to the stage.

I first heard the Parker Quartet perform at the SPCO's Music Room on the third floor of the Historic Hamm Building. They played Dvorak's string quartet in E-Flat, Op. 51, and I was blown away. They play with such energy, feeling, and precision! They played two Dvorak pieces last night as well. The second Dvorak piece was my favorite of the concert.

The PQ hail from Boston, but we've been blessed to have them in the Twin Cities for the past couple years. They have played with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and are just completing a stint as Artists in Residence for Minnesota Public Radio. I hope they will stay with us for a long time to come. I think they make the Twin Cities a better place.

Ben Rosenbush / Brighton
Later, I went over to the 331 Club where Tyler was playing a set with Ben Rosenbush / Brighton. I have listened to Ben's CD many times, but this was the first chance I've had to hear him perform live. It turned out to be a fantastic show.

Ben's songwriting and singing is absolutely fantastic. The band of players he pulled together for the night was just great. The word needs to get out about this guy! Buy his CD and go to his shows before the rooms get too packed and the tickets get too expensive.

Books: The Jesus Creed

The Jesus Creed
Scot McKnight

40 Days Living the Jesus Creed
Scot McKnight

During Lent and Easter this year I preached a series of sermons I called The Jesus Way. The whole series of sermons was based, just as McKnight's books are, upon two short passages of scripture: The Jesus Creed (Mark 12:29-31) and The Jesus Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13).

I encouraged people in our church to use McKnight's 40 Days of Living the Jesus Creed as a Lenten devotional guide. We also made The Jesus Creed available for purchase in our resource center.

You can only teach so much in weekly 30-40 minute sermons. That's why I frequently package my sermon series in ways that encourage people to read good books. I try to write and preach sermons that cover the same topics and themes as the books, but with a different approach. The intent is for the preaching I do and the reading I encourage to serve as good companions. I hope that my sermon series will enhance the reading of the books, and that the reading of the books will in turn help people get more from my sermon series.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Concert: St. Paul Chamber Orchestra

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra
March 21, 2010
Benson Great Hall - Bethel University
Conductor - Roberto Abbado
Violin - Dale Barltrop

Requies for Chamber Orchestra (Luciano Berio)
Violin Concerto in D Minor, WoO 23 (Robert Schumann)
Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 120

An amazing afternoon of music. Dale Barltrop's execution of Schumann's violin concerto was simply stunning. It was the first presentation of this piece for the SPCO, and the crowd responded with a long and loud standing ovation.

Abbado's introductory comments preceding the performance of Berio's Requis were helpful and served to make the piece more accessible. The performance of Schumann's Symphony No. 4 was flawless. I left the concert hall feeling happier and more alive than when I arrived.

Have you purchased tickets for the 2010-11 season? Now is the time. You won't be disappointed.

Poetry: A Glass Half Full

A Glass Half Full
Felix Dennis

TED Talks is one of the podcasts I enjoy. That's where I first heard Felix Dennis reading selections of his poetry. Dennis is an enigmatic character to say the least. His poetry is thoroughly 21st century in it's content, but is written with the meter and rhyme you would expect from a nineteenth century poet.

The poems range from profane to profound--from provocative to proverbial. There were more poems in the collection that I enjoyed than not. The book also comes with an audio CD of Dennis reading his poetry.

All men know themselves a fraud,
Society or hoi polloi;
Strip the polish off a lord,
You will find a frightened boy.
from The Mask, p. 45

And wise the man who will not lend,
But in the dead of night will send
A gift. And thus, will save a friend.
from "Neither a Lender...", p. 153

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Book: Manhood for Amateurs

Manhood for Amateurs
by Michael Chabon

Last November, just a few days after I heard Michael Chabon interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air, I saw this book strategically blocking the entrance to the Barnes and Noble store in Apple Valley. I happened to have a gift card in hand and so made my purchase. Score another one for the book marketing machine.

Chabon is a gifted writer. These essays, all framed from the vantage point of manhood, come across as part confession, part memoir, and part social commentary. I really liked it for the most part. There were parts that disappointed and others that made me squirm, but overall I was glad to be reading. I laughed. I learned. I was moved and even inspired. My favorite essays were: The Binding of Isaac; The Wilderness of Childhood; Faking It; Sky and Telescope, and Normal Time.

"...Maybe my children will just look up and remember the weight of my hand on their shoulders as they stood beside me on a warm summer night, the rasp of my beard against their cheek, my voice soft at their ear, telling them, Look."
--from Sky and Telescope