Monday, January 31, 2011

Beargrease with the Boys

This past weekend I had a fantastic winter weekend with my son, Tyler, and his sons, Søren and Östen. We headed north for the start of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. It's the longest dogsled race in the lower forty-eight states—373 miles this year. The race is in progress right now and you can track it online at the Beargrease website where they post race stats and keep a really nice video blog. They even have streaming video at some points in the race.

We headed to Duluth on Saturday morning. Our first stop was the Fitgers complex for the cutest puppy contest. Søren and I voted for a Siberian Husky named Dakota. Östen and Tyler voted for a St. Bernard named Bob. After voting, we had lunch at the Fitgers Brewhouse.

Next, we headed north to Knife River where we settled into our cabin at Island View Resort. It was a wonderful little cabin in the snowy woods overlooking Lake Superior. It's far enough north that the lake is open water with waves striking the frozen shoreline. Rocks are covered with massive ice formations. Tyler and the little boys played in the snow banks around the cabin for an hour or so while I ran to Two Harbors for provisions.

That evening we snuggled up by the cabin fireplace and watched the movie Iron Will, a dogsled race movie (1994) that was filmed on the North Shore. As we watched, we were amazed to notice date of the race in the movie matched perfectly with our trip—the last weekend in January. Toward the end of the movie we all had a bowl of rocky-road ice cream. Then off to bed.

Sunday morning we packed up, cleaned up, and settled up. Then we headed to Perkins on the north edge of Duluth for some pancakes and eggs. Next stop, was the Beargrease starting line for "Meet the Mushers," a chance to go around and talk to the mushers, racing team members, and get close to the dogs. Søren and Östen were even given a chance to stand on a sled and see how that feels.

Next we watched the first five or so teams take off at the starting line. After that, we hopped in the car and headed north to watch the race in progress at several points in the open country along the way. Finally we headed north of Two Harbors to the first official check point on Hwy 2 to watch the first teams arrive there. Then we headed for home where Ali had hot soup and bread ready for dinner.

All in all it was about as perfect of a weekend as I can imagine—great time with my boys; beautiful weather along the beautiful North Shore of Lake Superior; and lots of fun experiencing the bold, rugged, and hearty culture of Minnesota's frozen arrowhead. I'll never forget it. Hope it turns out to be unforgettable for the boys too.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Light at the End of Winter's Tunnel

By this time in January, some of us Minnesotans get pretty tired (understatement) of the short days, gray skies, and the freezing cold. Last night my soul was refreshed as I read some very encouraging weather facts on MPR's Updraft Blog by meteorologist, Paul Huttner.

In this world we will have snow, but take heart, spring is closer than you think! There's a light at the end of winter's long dark tunnel.

Find some wintry solace in these heartwarming statistics:
• Daylight is now rapidly increasing! We're gaining more than 2 minutes a day now. We'll be gaining 3 minutes a day starting next week!

• Daylight increases 1 hour 18 minutes in the Twin Cities in February!

• The sun angle increases noticeably in the next few weeks. In less than a month the sun at noon will be 34 degrees above the southern horizon at solar noon. That's a full 12 degrees higher than the 22 degrees on the winter solstice last month.

• Temperatures respond to the increasing solar energy in the next month. Our average high temp reaches 30 degrees in just over 3 weeks, and 45 degrees in the next 60 days!

• In just 6 weeks daylight saving time resumes...and the sun will set after 7pm (7:16pm) on March 13th!

• Meteorlogical Spring begins on March 1st, just 34 days from now!

• Asronomical Spring begins on March 20th at 6:21pm!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Christianity: The First 3000 Years

One of the books I'm reading and enjoying a great deal these days is Diarmaid MacCulloch's Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. It's about 1200 pages long, so I'll be reading a little each day for quite some time. The scope and detail of the book is impressive, and though it is quite academic it is extremely readable. The paperback edition comes out next month and it is now available for pre-order at Amazon.

Here is a short review from Booklist, the review journal for the American Library Association:
MacCulloch signals the parameters of his prodigious scholarship when he brackets the Resurrection as a riddle no historian can resolve, then marvels at how belief in the Risen Lord has transformed ordinary men and women into martyrs—and inquisitors. Despite his refusal to affirm the faith’s founding miracle, MacCulloch demonstrates rare talent for probing the human dynamics of Christianity’s long and complex evolution. Even when examining well-known episodes—such as the Church Fathers’ fight against Gnosticism or the stunning conversion of Constantine—this capacious narrative opens unexpected perspectives. Readers encounter, for instance, surprising connections between Christian doctrine, on the one hand, and ancient Greek philosophy interlaced with Roman politics on the other. As the chronicle fractures into Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant strands, MacCulloch exposes unfamiliar but unmistakably human personalities who have shaped the worship of the divine. Readers meet, for instance, Gudit, a savagely anti-monastic Ethiopian queen, and Filofei, an irrepressibly ambitious Russian monk. Much closer to our time, we confront Christian enthusiasms that militarists harnessed in World War I, Christian hatreds that Nazis exploited in World War II. Concluding with the perplexities of evangelists facing an implacably secular world, MacCulloch leaves readers pondering a problematic religious future. A work of exceptional breadth and subtlety. --Bryce Christensen

Friday, January 14, 2011

New Teaching Series at Valley

This Sunday I begin a new teaching series at Valley Christian Church. The series is entitled, Immeasurably More: The Purpose and Possibilities of Prayer.

If you live in the Twin Cities I hope you'll be able to join us at one of our three services: Daybreak (9:00am), Wellspring (10:30am), or Evensong (4:30pm). If not, we'll be posting sermons online here.

Sunday, January 16
Asking and Imagining
Ephesians 3:14-21

Sunday, January 23
Relationship and Religiosity
Matthew 6:5-18

Sunday, January 30
Places and Patterns
Luke 11:1-4

Sunday, February 6
Petition and Persistence
Luke 11:5-13; 18:1-8

Friday, February 13
Helps and Hindrances
Isaiah 59:1-2; Hebrews 5:7

Sunday, February 20
Joyful, Patient, Faithful
Romans 12:12

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Two Scary Documentaries

If you want to scare yourself silly with the full spectrum of just how stupid people can be, you can do what I did one day last week. Sick in bed with pneumonia, I decided to watch a couple of documentaries in my Netflix queue.

The first was a documentary called Waiting for Armageddon. It's an exploration of a frightening strain of last-days-rapture-obsessed-Israel-centric-fundamentalists and their horrifying worldview. These people have a form of "Christianity" that makes them excited and even hopeful at the thought of violence escalating in Jerusalem and the surrounding region. If the success of the Left Behind series of books is any indication, an alarming number of people share these beliefs to some extent or another.

The next documentary was called Yes Men Fix the World. The Yes Men are a couple of guys who use a strange combination of subversive stunts and con games as a form of social activism against large corporations and the evil forces of greed. The things they get away with are astounding. What they do would be funnier if they weren't so successful. Watching them work their plans was hilarious but nerve-wracking, and in the end, depressing.

The moral of both stories is something you probably already know—humanity has a breathtaking capacity for idiocy. If you're looking to feel more optimistic about the future, don't watch these documentaries. They both sent a shiver through my soul.

Not Hard to Love Bazan

I love singer songwriters, and occasionally try to be one, because I love words and music. Mostly I love the words, but if you can add music that serves to elevate and enhance the words, then so much the better.

One of the saddest and most beautifully written lyrics of 2010 is Dave Bazan's "Hard to Be." The entire Curse Your Branches project is a masterpiece of words and music. Bazan weaves the wrestlings and woes of his faith journey into songs of brutal honesty and confession.

I grieve the darkness post-moderns endure as thoughtful criticism forces them to turn away from the simplistic theologisms of contemporary churchianity, but I embrace their courage and honesty. I also hope and pray they are able to find a Christianity worth believing. That includes praying that one day I'll get to hear some new Bazan lyrics from that point of view.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Don't Rewrite the Past

Here's an excellent commentary that appeared on the Minnesota Public Radio website today. I posted a comment on the piece.

N-word in 'Huck Finn' Starts a Conversation We Need to Have
by David Cazares
Minnesota Public Radio
January 12, 2011

I sat with my daughter last weekend to discuss a book I thought she hadn't yet read, with no intention of choosing my words delicately.

Though she's only in middle school, I wanted her to know all about a controversial plan to remove the word "nigger" from Mark Twain's novel "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" -- and that she should read the unchanged work. Click here to read the whole commentary.

My posted comment:
You're so right. It's ludicrous to think that we should rewrite historic books and documents in order to make them more accessible to contemporary readers. Better to have the conversations and work through the ugly realities than to cover them up.

I would add that this is as important for young people of all races. I don't want my white grandchildren to be "protected" from learning and understanding the racist and hateful attitudes, words, and experiences of American history. Better for them to read with discomfort, dismay, and even shock at how things have been in the past. Integrity and character for today is best served by an honest view of history.

Thank you so much for sharing your perspective.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

2010 Book Wrap-Up, Part 2

Your God Is Too Small
J. B. Phillips
This little classic was first released in 1961. Written as a popular level book, it has dated references to the 60's, but they do not diminish the basic ideas Phillips is trying to convey. In fact, post-moderns of today may be more ready to receive what he has to say. I think it may be available as a free eBook.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
Malcolm Gladwell
I'm about ten years late on getting to this one, but it is so often quoted and referenced that I finally got a copy. Great stuff. I'm hoping to read his book, Outliers, in 2011.

The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry
Wendell Berry
These poems were selected for this volume by the poet. He did not include anything from his collection called A Timbered Choir because it had so recently been released. Deeply contemplative and profound, Berry's work is the rare combination of a voice that is both prophetic and pastoral. "The best teachers teach more than they know." (p.134)

A Timbered Choir: Sabbath Poems 1979-1997
Wendell Berry
Eventually I hope to have everything Berry has written in my library. I'll certainly keep reading his poetry, but I'd like to also read some of his fiction in 2011. "Now you have slipped away / Under the trackless snow, / To you the time of day / Always is long ago. / You're safe among the dead, / Alive, your death undone. / 'Come and dine,' Christ said. Consenting you have gone." (p. 197)

The Attentive Life

Leighton Ford
This is a book of meditations and reflections organized by the liturgical hours of the day. There were some nice moments, but all in all I found it to be a bit of a long ramble. I'm not as familiar with Ford as perhaps others are, so I found it a little too personal for me to relate too—Ford, in fact, says he wrote it for himself. What I mean is that I think friends, parishioners, colleagues, students, and family members of Ford will find the book much more compelling.

Even in the Quiet Places
William Stafford
Stafford is a poet I first discovered just a few years ago. He was prolific, but I find his poems to be pretty uneven in terms of craftsmanship. This little collection of poems, however, edited by the poet's son, Kim Stafford, consistently hits the mark. I think Stafford is an acquired taste, but there's something about him that I really like.

Rumi: In the Arms of the Beloved
Trans. by Jonathan Star
I love the work of this medieval Muslim poet and Sufi mystic. Christians who have never read any of his poems are likely to be startled by what they read, as I think they'll find the Sufi heart remarkably easy to relate to. "One who is frozen and withered is lost in his own affairs. Don't be lost in your affairs– be lost in mine!" (p. 35)

The Teaching of the Twelve
Tony Jones

This small book includes the entire text of the Didache, which Jones calls "the most important book you've never heard of." Tony is one of the leading writers and speakers on the subjects of the "Emerging Church" and post-modern Christianity. This book illustrates how those who are deconstructing modernistic concepts and forms of contemporary Christianity find plenty of support and inspiration from ancient sources. It's not really a book I'd recommend, unless you're a fan of all things emergentish. If you'd like a more straightforward academic approach, I'd recommend: The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians.

The Human Faces of God
Thom Stark
This is not a book for those who are close-mindedly Christian or faint of heart. The subtitle of the book is: "What Scripture Reveals when It Gets God Wrong, and Why Inerrancy Tries to Hide it." I think it's probably the most important book I've read in recent years! Stark methodically dismantles simplistic approaches to the Bible and demonstrates why there really isn't any such thing as innerancy. He calls for a much braver and honest approach to the Bible than most Christians are willing to entertain.

Has Christianity Failed You

Ravi Zacharias
I have read many of Zacharias' books and have enjoyed hearing him speak on several occasions. When I saw this title, I was encouraged by the conciliatory tone of the title. Let's just say, that's not the tone evangelical apologists usually take. I'm sorry to say that having read the book I was very disappointed. The book is not conciliatory at all. In fact, I would subtitle this book: Of Course Not, How Could You Ever Come to Such a Stupid Conclusion. Maybe Ravi is getting a little testy in his old age. I had hoped this book might actually be useful for someone who truly feels failed by Christianity, but it misses that mark by a million miles. His book, Cries of the Heart would be better for such a person.

My Prayer Book
Concordia Publishing
There was an estate sale at the house across the street from where I live. The old couple who lived there for many years have both passed away, and their children ran the sale to dispense of the may things none of them wanted or needed. I found a little prayer book on the shelf in one of the rooms and bought it for a quarter. It has morning and evening prayers for each day of the month, arranged by weeks one through four. If you've never used a prayer book before, this might be a nice one to try. A newer version (with less King Jamesy language) is still available. "In prosperity keep me humble; in adversity keep me strong; and at all times give me a deep devotion to duty and confident trust in Thy mercy." (p. 6)

To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings

John O'Donahue
A book filled with well-written blessings for a surprisingly wide variety of circumstances. It also includes essays on the lost art of pronouncing blessing. "We bless this year for all we learned, / For all we loved and lost / And for the quiet way it brought us / Nearer to our invisible destination." (p. 160)

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

2010 Book Wrap-Up, Part 1

I have neither the time nor the inclination to blog about every book I read, but I thought I'd at least mention a number of books I've read in 2010 before retiring them to the shelf.

Flesh & Blood Jesus: Learning to Be Fully Human from the Son of Man
Dan Russ
I really enjoyed this book. It was released in 2008 and appears to no longer be in print. That's too bad, because it's very practical, creative, and pastoral. I stumbled across the title while I was preaching my Advent/Christmas sermon series, Flesh & Blood: Why Would God Become One of Us. I got my copy for only $1.50 on Amazon.

The Trouble With Poetry
Billy Collins
A poem by Billy Collins goes great with my morning cup of coffee. Such a creative and fun poet.

In Search of God and Guiness
Stephen Mansfield
A fascinating history of the Guinness family and the charitable initiatives that accompanied the the growth of their company. I wish Mansfield would do a similar book about the Cadbury chocolate dynasty.

Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional
Jim Belcher
A good read for those of us who are post-evangelical, but struggle to not let all doctrine get thrown out with the modernist bathwater.

Empty Cradle, Broken Heart
Deborah l. Davis
A very helpful book I would recommend to anyone who is surviving the the death of their baby.

How (Not) to Speak of God

Peter Rollins
This book explores a postmodern approach to faith that has resonated with many in the Emerging Church Movement (or non-movement as the case may be). Interestingly, it echoes some of the via negativa approach of the ancient Eastern church fathers. In addition reading this book, I was able to hear Rollins speak at a conference in Washington D.C. last Spring.

The Only Necessary Thing
Henri J. M. Nouwen
A collection of contemplative meditations arranged by topic. My wife enjoyed reading these to each other at our morning coffee times.

Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior
Ori Brafman & Rom Brafman
In this fun and easy read, the Brafmans explore the ways humans short-circuit their own ability to think clearly and make sound decisions. They illustrate their points with loads of great examples and anecdotes.

Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives
David Eagleman
What happens when a neuroscientist happens to be a very creative writer? You come up with all kinds of alternate realities. I heard about this book on the RadioLab podcast (WNYC) and immediately ordered the book. I was NOT disappointed. If you enjoy an occasional trip down the rabbit hole, you'll like this.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

You'll Be One of 7 Billion in 2011

This year, National Geographic magazine will be offering a 7-part series examining specific challenges and solutions to the issues of world population. The series begins with their January cover story, "7 Billion," which will give a broad overview of demographic trends.

How much space would it take if we could get all 7 billion people to stand shoulder to shoulder? You might be surprised. Check out this promotional video to find out.