Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wednesday Words - Shoveling Snow

After spending an hour clearing my driveway and sidewalks this morning, this seems like a fitting poem for today. Enjoy the day, and be careful out there on the roads.

Shoveling Snow

If day after day I was caught inside
this muffle and hush

I would notice how birches
move with a lovely hum of spirits,

how falling snow is a privacy
warm as the space for sleeping,

how radiant snow is a dream
like leaving behind the body

and rising into that luminous place
where sometimes you meet

the people you've lost. How
silver branches scrawl their names

in tangled script against the white.
How the curves and cheekbones

of all my loved ones appear
in the polished marble of drifts.

"Shoveling Snow" by Kirsten Dierking, from Northern Oracle.
© Spout Press, 2007.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tuesday Tome - Mere Christianity / Faith

Tuesday, March 12 (7:00pm) will be the third and final session of the Mere Christianity Book Club I've been leading at Valley. You're invited to join us, even if you have not made it to the two previous sessions. There is so much to discuss that each meeting really stands on its own. This next time we'll be discussing the fourth section (Book IV) of the book.

The study questions I provided at our last gathering turned out to be really helpful in our discussion. If you would like to get a copy of these questions prior to our next meeting, please send me an email message. I would be glad to send you a pdf of the study questions for the entire book.

Here is a provocative passage from the section of the book we discussed at our last meeting.

From Book Three: Christian Behavior, Chapter 11, Faith

Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods ‘where they get off’, you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.

The first step is to recognise the fact that your moods change. The next is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious readings and churchgoing are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?

Lewis, C. S. (2009-05-28). Mere Christianity (pp. 140-141). Harper Collins, Inc.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday Media - Paul Soupiset / Lenten Journal

Paul Soupiset is a graphic designer and illustrator who lives in San Antonio, Texas. He is also a songwriter, liturgist, youth media consultant, journalist, mentor, typophile, husband, father, and self-described armchair theologian.

For several years, now, I have enjoyed Paul's Lenten Sketch Journals. They amaze and inspire me with their simplicity and depth.

You can keep up with what he's doing with this year's journal and see his past journals at

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday Supplication - First Sunday of Lent

Almighty God, we ask you to help us when we face temptation.

We remember that Jesus was tempted by Satan during the forty days he fasted and prayed in the wilderness, and so we know that Jesus understands our weaknesses and temptations.

As you strengthened Jesus to overcome temptation, we pray that you will strengthen us by your Spirit, that we too might overcome temptation and escape the sins that entangle us.

Thank you for the forgiveness and renewal you have given to us through Christ. Help us to extend forgiveness to each other in his name. Help us become a redemptive and healing community. Help us to have a saving and healing influence on the world around us.

Dear Lord, help us to be in the world as Jesus was in it.
Help us to be truly engaged with our world, and yet to be truly different from it.

Help us to be instruments of your grace and power.
Where there is hatred, let us bring love. Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is discord, unity. Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is darkness light.

Lead us away from temptation and deliver us from evil.

Through Christ, we pray. Amen.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saturday Smile - Kuwait Flash Mob

Thanks to Jordan Peacock for sharing this video with me.
It most definitely put a smile on my face.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday Friends - CSF Friends Tomorrow Morning

If you are one of the friends I've made through CSF over the last twenty years, I hope you'll try to attend one of these Mission Strategy Forums. The first event is tomorrow, February 25, 10:00am at the MacLaurinCSF Center on Cleveland Avenue near the UMN St. Paul Campus.

CLICK HERE for all the details and RSVP. In addition to event information, you'll find some fun stuff--old pictures and alumni updates. Got any questions? Let me know.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Thursday Thinking - Personal & Political Integrity

As a pastor, I find it incredibly difficult to address political issues without hurting my ministry. Politics are so divisive these days that a political difference, misunderstanding, or disagreement can too easily become convoluted into something that undermines my pastoral priorities. On the other hand, one of those pastoral priorities is to help people become such committed and transformed followers of Jesus that it impacts every aspect of their lives, politics included.

I will not allow myself to be overtly political because doing so would subvert my calling. I would much prefer to pursue my calling to help people become spiritually mature. And in doing so, I believe that the gospel and spirit of Jesus will inevitably subvert the political views and actions of those who follow him.

2012 is going to be a very political year. We should expect the cheap shots, distorted spins, hyperbolic rhetoric, propaganda, and fear-mongering to be as polarizing and uncivil as ever.

Just after the last presidential election, Mark DeMoss of the launched an initiative he called "The Civility Project." His goal was to have a bipartisan movement toward civility. He asked 585 political leaders (535 congressional leaders, 50 governors) to sign the following pledge:

“I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior. I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them. I will stand against incivility when I see it.”

Two years and $30,000 later, after getting only THREE politicians to sign his pledge, he scrapped the whole endeavor. Why on earth would such a pledge be so difficult for politicians to sign? On the other hand, I wonder how many pastors (or Christians) would be willing to sign that pledge.

For the record, let me say that I am ready to sign on today. In fact, I will make that pledge right here and now.
I hereby promise to be civil in my public discourse and behavior. I will treat others with respect, whether or not I agree with them. When I hear or see incivility, I will take a stand against it and do what I can to promote patience, understanding, and cooperation.
Having said that, let me stress that this is not a pledge to be apolitical. It is not a pledge to have no political views. It is not a pledge to leave politics alone. How could I be committed to having God's will be done and his Kingdom come if at the same time I ignored politics? You can count on me to be civil, but you can also count on me to provoke your thinking about political issues, values, and people. I hope you will join me, both in the pledge to be civil and in the pledge to be engaged.

So let's get this party started.
Let's think about truth telling.

It's one thing for a politician to change his/her views on any given policy or issue. In fact, an honest and thoughtful person will find that the complexity of navigating and understanding our world and our lives will at times necessitate a change of heart and mind. The problem is not when politicians change their views, but rather when they change their stories to pretend that they have not changed their views.

Yesterday, Slate Magazine published a story about Mitt Romney and his political handling of the abortion issue. Below is a video featured in that story. Try not to get distracted by the fact that the story is in Slate, and try not to get distracted by the important topic of abortion. Instead, try to focus on Romney's own accounts of his changing actions and views. What do you make of his stories? Is this a problem of opinion or a problem of integrity?

I'm not looking for a lot of talk on this; I'm just trying to provoke your thinking. If you do make a comment, please be thoughtful and civil. Those are the only kind of comments I will allow to be published.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wednesday Words - Ash Wednesday

As today marks the beginning of Lent, I thought I would share a beautiful poem by Walter Brueggeman. My favorite thing about this poem is the way Brueggeman turns Easter into a verb, which is, of course, something every growing Christian comes to discover.

I'll be leading an Ash Wednesday Service at 7:00pm tonight at Valley Christian Church. If you live in the area, I hope you'll join us.

Marked by Ashes
Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day . . .
This day — a gift from you.
This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
halfway back to committees and memos,
halfway back to calls and appointments,
halfway on to next Sunday,
halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
half turned toward you, half rather not.

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes —
we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
of failed hope and broken promises,
of forgotten children and frightened women,
we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.

We are able to ponder our ashness with
some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.

On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you —
you Easter parade of newness.
Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
mercy and justice and peace and generosity.

We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.

Walter Brueggemann (b. 1933) has combined the best of critical scholarship with love for the local church in service to the kingdom of God. Now a professor emeritus of Old Testament studies at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, Brueggemann has authored over seventy books. This poem is taken from his Prayers for a Privileged People (Nashville: Abingdon, 2008).

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tuesday Tome - Mere Christianity / Behavior

Tonight at 7:00pm I will be leading the second session of a Mere Christianity Book Club. You're welcome to join us. We'll be discussing Section 2, Chapter 5 and all of Section 3.

Last month we had a large group. I tried to cover too much ground and would have planned for more structure had I know such a large group would be attending. We're only going to cover one section of the book tonight, and I have prepared a discussion guide that should be helpful.

In case you haven't caught it in previous posts, the entire book is available for free online. The entire text is there, downloadable as a pdf, and available as audio. CLICK HERE.

Here is an excerpt from the first chapter of the section we'll be discussing tonight.

From Book Three: Christian Behavior, Chapter 1
The Three Parts of Morality

Some people prefer to talk about moral ‘ideals’ rather than moral rules and about moral ‘idealism’ rather than moral obedience. Now it is, of course, quite true that moral perfection is an ‘ideal’ in the sense that we cannot achieve it. In that sense every kind of perfection is, for us humans, an ideal; we cannot succeed in being perfect car drivers or perfect tennis players or in drawing perfectly straight lines.

But there is another sense in which it is very misleading to call moral perfection an ideal. When a man says that a certain woman, or house, or ship, or garden is ‘his ideal’ he does not mean (unless he is rather a fool) that everyone else ought to have the same ideal. In such matters we are entitled to have different tastes and, therefore, different ideals. But it is dangerous to describe a man who tries very hard to keep the moral law as a ‘man of high ideals’, because this might lead you to think that moral perfection was a private taste of his own and that the rest of us were not called on to share it. This would be a disastrous mistake.

Lewis, C. S. (2009-05-28). Mere Christianity (pp. 69-70). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Monday Music - Cactus Blossoms at the Dakota

This ought to be a fun night of music downtown at the Dakota.
With only an $8 cover to boot!

March 8, 2012 7:00 pm
Cactus Blossoms with
Foghorn Stringband

7:00pm $8 Cover
Classic Country & Old-Time Music
Call 612.332.1010 for Reservations
DAKOTA • 1010 Nicollet Avenue • Minneapolis

“It’s easy enough to phone in a cornball imitation of old country … It’s another thing entirely to live and breathe the craft of writing and singing a good country and western song as The Cactus Blossoms have done” -City Pages, Best Minnesota Albums of 2011

Brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum write songs like Hank Williams, weave sweet harmonies like the Everly Brothers, and their earnest performances revive the sound of country and western’s early days.

In the summer of 2010 Jack and Page won first place in a duet contest at the MN State Fair, which led to a guest performance on A Prairie Home Companion. In the boys’ introduction, Garrison Keillor proclaimed “This is just the beginning of big things for you.” Just a month later they found themselves opening a sold out show for Marty Stuart. Maybe Keillor was right!

The Blossoms’ debut record came out in October 2011, and features fiddler Mike “Razz” Russell (Mark Olson, Creekdippers, Joe Henry), steel guitarist Randy Broughten (Gear Daddies, Trailer Trash) and bassist Liz Draper (formerly of DitchLilies).

“Portland’s Foghorn String Band stands at the top of today’s vibrant old-time music revival and a fine example of what an unending revival it is. Each album finds them deeper into the tradition, more familiar with the rich resources of roots music, and more focused, but still propelled by that undercurrent of punk energy.” —Art Menius, WMMT

Wowing audiences across the country and across the pond playing over 200 days a year, Foghorn String Band is one of the most sought after acts for festival stages and music camps, and are band mates for world renowned master old-time musician Dirk Powell and Cajun legends Joel Savoy and Jesse Lege.

Their material is drawn from the tunes and songs of the American South, from the hollers of Appalachia to the early days of country music. Together, they blend voices, repertoire and instruments to create a diverse performance true to the roots of American music, throwing some Cajun songs and Caleb Klauder’s vintage sounding originals in the mix. Performing live, these multi-instrumentalists gather around a single microphone in the middle of the stage.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday Supplication - Glory to Glory

O God, you have revealed your grace and truth through Jesus your only-begotten Son. We have seen your glory revealed in his birth, his life, his words, his transfiguration, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension.

Give us the faith to truly see Christ, and by his light, help us to see our own lives and our purpose. Strengthen us to take up our own crosses, to walk in his ways, and to be changed into his likeness from glory to glory.

We are thankful for your forgiveness and we ask that, as you have forgiven us our sins, you would help us to be quick to forgive those who have sinned against us.

O God, we thank you for the grace and comfort you extend to us. We praise you for being a God of comfort and consolation. Help us to always look to you for the strength and hope needed to face our troubles. Give us eyes to see the hurts of those around us. Give us hearts of compassion, and make us instruments of your peace.

Through Christ, we pray. Amen.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Saturday Smile - Object Lessons

A minister decided that a visual demonstration would add emphasis to his Sunday sermon. During the introduction of his sermon, he took four worms and placed into four separate jars.

He put the first worm into a jar of alcohol. The second worm he put into a jar of cigarette smoke. The third was put into a jar of chocolate syrup. But the fourth worm was put into a jar of good clean soil.

With the jars all placed on a table beside him, he preached his heart out on the virtues of clean living and the dangers of bad habits. At the conclusion of the sermon, the minister revisited the worms and the jars he had put on display before his sermon. He reported the following results:

The first worm in alcohol - Dead.
The second worm in cigarette smoke - Dead.
Third worm in chocolate syrup - Dead.
Fourth worm in good clean soil - Alive and well.

"So," the Minister asked the congregation, "What can we learn from this demonstration?"

Everyone just sat there quietly. No one wanted to be the first one to speak up, but the preacher was determined to wait for someone to answer his question. He asked again, "What have we learned?"

Finally, a little old woman in the back raised her hand and said, "As long as you drink, smoke and eat chocolate, you won't have worms!"

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday Family - Kitchen Concert

A couple of Christmases ago, my brothers and sisters and I all went in together to buy my dad a baritone ukulele and my mom a little melodica because we thought they'd get a kick out playing old tunes together.

My niece, Maggie, caught this priceless little video of my parents goofing around. Pretty darn sweet! It's one of those special moments I'm glad she was lucky enough to capture. It reminds me of the kind of fun I grew up around. Music has always been (and continues to be) a form of family entertainment for the Burkums.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Thursday Thinking - Human Trafficking

A few days ago, a friend of mine tagged me in something he had posted about human trafficking. In his post, he mentioned some things he had read recently about the problem in Canada. He also shared how in recent conversations with relatives in Bemidji, MN he had learned the problem was impacting Native Americans in that area.

It's no secret that the Twin Cities metro is an area where women, especially within the immigrant population, are suffering from trafficking. A number of news headlines have exposed some startling cases. [A, B, C, D...]

My friend closed his post with these statements:
This is real, and it's serious, and far too few people are aware that it occurs here; they think of southeast Asia or someplace "over there." But fighting human trafficking and violence against women needs to begin where you are.
This is not a new idea for me, but his post got me thinking about it. I agree that I should join and support anti-trafficking efforts in my area. But how do I "begin where I am?" What can I do to fight human trafficking? How could my church family make a difference and work against this injustice?

With a little digging around on the internet, I was very pleased to discover an upcoming program on the very subject. It is scheduled for Monday, February 27, 6:30pm, at a church in Burnsville. Unbelievably, it's exactly what I was hoping to find. Sponsored by the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition (JRLC), the program is entitled, Protecting Dignity, Ending Slavery: A Discussion on Human Trafficking in Minnesota.

Now that I've found a good starting point, there is another problem for me. I am not able to attend this program because I have regular Monday evening church responsibilities. I do, however, hope that I will be able to find someone (maybe several someones) within my church community who will be able to attend.

If you are someone who is interested in attending, please let me know. I would be very glad to know about your plans and may even be help you connect with others would like to join you. Check your calendar and let me know asap.

Here is the information you'll need:

Protecting Dignity, Ending Slavery
A Discussion on Human Trafficking in Minnesota

Join us for a panel conversation about the issue of human trafficking in Minnesota. Hear from experts on the issue, and learn about local efforts to combat this modern form of slavery in our community.

Panelist Speakers: Dr. Lauren Martin, University of Minnesota; Suzanne Koepplinger, Minnesota Indian Women's Resource Center; Michele McKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights; Joy Friedman, Breaking Free.

When: Monday, February 27, 2012, 6:30pm

Where: Presbyterian Church of the Apostles, 701 E. 130th St. Burnsville, MN


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wednesday Words - The Better Part of Me

The Better Part of Me
More than forever, seems like yesterday–
You gave your love; you took me in.
Woven together, we're a tapestry.
Where does my heart end
and where does your heart begin.
In a world where selfish gain is everything,
You keep giving your everything to me.
And I know–

No one could ever hope to find a love more true.
My heart delights in the bride of my youth.
To the very end, I'll keep holding on to you
'Cause you're the better part of me–
O Darlin', You're the better part of me.

Sometimes I wonder if you'd marry me
If you knew me then like you know me now.
We've seen some rough roads; we've had hills to climb.
But by the grace of God our love grows stronger somehow.
In a world so full of empty promises,
You keep standing by your promises to me.

And I know–
No one could ever hope to find a love more true.
My heart delights in the bride of my youth. Yes love,
To the very end, I'll keep holding on to you
'Cause you're the better part of me-
O Darlin', You're the better part of
A walk around the park,
Secret whispers in the dark;
The better part of my sweet home,
And every happy day we've known;
In my dreams and in my prayers,
In the memories we share;
You're the better part,
The better part, and I know–
No one could ever hope to find a love more true.
My heart delights in the bride of my youth. Yes love,
To the very end, I'll keep holding on to you
'Cause you're the better part of me–
O Darlin', You're the better part of me.

The Better Part of Me
Words & Music by Dave Burkum
© Copyright 1995.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tuesday Tome - A Timbered Choir

My wife and I love the stories and poems of Wendell Berry. Many is the time we have read aloud a favorite passage to each other. If you're interested in checking out his poetry, A Timbered Choir might be a good place to start.

Cheri and I are looking forward to when the weather warms up and we'll be able to move our daily 7:00am conversations to the Adirondack chairs on the patio near the front door. I think that's where I read this particular poem to her for the first time. It's a sweet poem about the sweet old couple we are becoming faster than we ever expected. Happy Valentines Day, Honey!

They Sit Together on the Porch
By Wendell Berry

They sit together on the porch, the dark
Almost fallen, the house behind them dark.
Their supper done with, they have washed and dried
The dishes–only two plates now, two glasses,
Two knives, two forks, two spoons–small work for two.
She sits with her hands folded in her lap,
At rest. He smokes his pipe. They do not speak,
And when they speak at last it is to say
What each one knows the other knows. They have
One mind between them, now, that finally
For all its knowing will not exactly know
Which one goes first through the dark doorway, bidding
Goodnight, and which sits on a while alone.

From A Timbered Choir by Wendell Berry.
© Copyright 1998, Counterpoint Press.
From Library Journal--
Winner of the T.S. Eliot Award, Berry spends Sunday mornings in walking meditation in the forests and fields around his Port Royal, KY, farm. During these walks he writes, and he has brought many of these poems together in the present volume. Berry has long been an articulate and passionate defender of the environment, and his "Sabbath poems," spanning 20 years, bring the reader close to the earth, the fields and flowers, richness of the soil, and diversity of the seasons: "Too late for frost, too early for flies,/ the air carries only birdsong, the long/ breath of wind in leaves." The poet has a marvelous ear for interior rhyme: "Horse and cow,/ plow and hoe, grass to graze/ and hay to mow have brought me/ here, and taught me where I am." These poems are not uniformly pastoral; Berry reflects, too, on war, technology, and the economy in these pages, but always with a heartfelt devotion first and foremost for the earth. A contemplative treasure; highly recommended. --Judy Clarence, California State University Library.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Monday Music - The Cactus Blossoms

A couple of days ago, the City Pages published a great little article about The Cactus Blossoms. It talks about their new residency at the Turf Club (Mondays, 9:00pm-midnight, $3), mentions some of the good press they've been getting, notes that they're pictured in the new mural on the outside wall of the Turf Club, and even posts a nice video of a recent performance at the Aster Cafe.

Click Here to Read It for Yourself.

Here's an excerpt:
They're no longer our little secret. Since releasing their first self-titled album late last year, the Cactus Blossoms have not only caught the attention of scores of Minnesotans young and old -- read: those who know not how to two-step, and those who do -- but they've also garnered accolades from the folks over at Country Music Television. [More]

This just in: The Cactus Blossoms on the 89.3 Local Current Blog.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunday Supplication - The Purposes God Has for Us

O God, you are our strength. We put our trust in you.

We come to you in prayer because you are merciful. We come to you in our weakness because you are gracious and faithful and able to help us do what we could never do on our own.

Help us to fulfill your purpose for our lives. Help us to walk in your ways. Help us to please you in our attitudes and our actions.

We confess our sins and ask you to forgive us.
We ask that you would change us and strengthen us.

Help us overcome temptation and escape the sins that entangle and destroy us. Give us the grace and generosity we need to forgive others, just as you have forgiven us.

O God, you have fearfully and wonderfully made each one of us. You know the purposes you have for us and the gifts you have given us to accomplish those purposes. Help us, as we seek you with whole hearts, to discover our gifts and to understand how we can use them to serve you. Give us good things to do and willing heart to do them.

Through Christ, we pray. Amen.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Saturday Smile - Helpful Chart

As a person who puts together a powerpoint presentation every week, effective graphics and charts are always of interest to me.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday Friends - CSF Alumni Event

This is the oldest digital picture I could find of Cheri and me at the U of M. Do you have an older one? Send it my way.

For fifteen years (1992-2007), I served as a campus minister for Christian Student Fellowship at the University of Minnesota. The fall semester of 2012 will mark the 20th anniversary of my first days of campus ministry.

Today, Christian Student Fellowship has combined efforts with the ministry of MacLaurin Institute, another ministry with a long history at the U of M, to form MacLaurinCSF. I'm happy to be serving on the MacLaurinCSF board of directors.

Currently, I'm working to invite CSF alumni to attend one of three events designed to help them catch up on the ministry and discover ways to get involved. If you are one of the friends I've made through CSF over the last twenty years, I hope you'll try to attend one of these Mission Strategy Forums. The first event is on February 25, 10:00am at the MacLaurinCSF Center on Cleveland Ave. over on the UMN St. Paul Campus.

CLICK HERE for all the details and RSVP. In addition to event information, you'll find some fun stuff--old pictures and alumni updates. Got any questions? Let me know.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Thursday Thinking - How to Fight the Man

Two weeks ago I posted some thoughts about a video by a young man named Jefferson Bethke. The video was titled Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus, and as of that date it had been viewed about 17,000,000 times. Since then it has had nearly another two million views.

Not only has the video been watched millions of times, it has inspired millions of words from people writing their reviews, responses, praises, and criticisms. It has even inspired the production of copycat videos--some taking differing views, some taking cheap shots, and some just taking advantage of the opportunity to ride the Bethke's viral coattails.

David Brooks, op-ed writer for the New York Times, wrote a column that I think deserves to be the last word on the subject. Brooks' insights are right on the mark as he considers not only Bethke's message, but also his motivation and effectiveness.

Click Here for Brooks' article.
Give it a read and let me know what you think.

Here is teaser excerpt to pique your interest:
Bethke’s passionate polemic and subsequent retreat are symptomatic of a lot of the protest cries we hear these days. This seems to be a moment when many people — in religion, economics and politics — are disgusted by current institutions, but then they are vague about what sorts of institutions should replace them.

This seems to be a moment of fervent protest movements that are ultimately vague and ineffectual.

We can all theorize why the intense desire for change has so far produced relatively few coherent recipes for change. Maybe people today are simply too deferential. Raised to get college recommendations, maybe they lack the oppositional mentality necessary for revolt. Maybe people are too distracted.

My own theory revolves around a single bad idea. For generations people have been told: Think for yourself; come up with your own independent worldview. Unless your name is Nietzsche, that’s probably a bad idea. Very few people have the genius or time to come up with a comprehensive and rigorous worldview.

From: How to Fight the Man by David Brooks, New York Times, February 2, 2012.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Wednesday Words - Minor Prophets

It's another late night post today. My schedule has been a bit overloaded the last couple of days, so I've had to wait to take care of blogs until just before calling it a day.

Wednesday nights I teach a Bible reading workshop at Valley Christian Church. The Bible Pathways Class is intended to encourage people to develop consistent reading habits and to journal personal responses to the texts they have read. The reading plan we follow is available on the Useful Breath site.

With that in mind, it seemed appropriate to post a poem about the Bible. Enjoy!

The Minor Prophets
None of the minor prophets
knew that he was minor, of course. Habakkuk, I imagine,
thought that his visions earned him
standing as Ezekiel's peer, if not indeed Elijah's.
Then there was Obadiah,
who could be forgiven if he thought he might be a Moses.
How they would be remembered
Providence concealed from them all, though they could see the future.

Maybe it doesn't matter.
If you're on a mission from God, sent to rebuke a city
or to redeem a nation,
where by canon-makers you're ranked may be inconsequential.
Nor is the voice within you
any less authentic for not having a distant echo.
Seers of the world, be heartened.
Even minor prophets can have genuine revelations.

by Michael Lind, from Parallel Lives. © Etruscan Press, 2008.

PS - I like Lind's poem and think he makes a good point about life in a whimsical way. Just for the record, however, the only reason the prophetic books of the Old Testament canon are referred to as "major prophets" or "minor prophets" is their word-count, NOT their importance. Major = Long, Minor = Short, it's as simple as that.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Tuesday Tomes - Carefully Chosen Words

I thought it might be good to post a little more information about the two books I mentioned in yesterday's post. One I've read, and the other I plan to read.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is a series of essays that combines scientific observation, philosophy, daily thoughts, and deeper introspection with glorious prose. On the surface, Annie Dillard is simply exploring a place called Tinker Creek and its inhabitants: "It's a good place to live; there's lots to think about." But as her observations range well beyond the landscape into worlds of esoteric fact and metaphysical insight, each paragraph becomes suffused with images and ideas. Whether she is quoting the Koran or Albert Einstein, describing the universe of an Eskimo shaman or the mating of luna moths, Annie Dillard offers up her own knowledge with reverence for her material and respect for her reader. She observes her surroundings faithfully, intimately, sharing what can be shared with anyone willing to wait and watch with her. In the end, however, "No matter how quiet we are, the muskrats stay hidden. Maybe they sense the tense hum of consciousness, the buzz from two human beings who in silence cannot help but be aware of each other, and so of themselves." The precision of individual words, the vitality of metaphor, the sheer profusion of sources, the vivid sensory and cerebral impressions - all combine to make Pilgrim at Tinker Creek something extravagant and extraordinary. -- From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Kirsten Backstrom

Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies
Concern for the abuse, misuse, inflation, and depletion of language is by no means new. Indeed, Orwell and Steiner both issued warnings on the topic linking the state of language to dominant political agendas which may seem strangely prophetic to contemporary Americans. In Caring for the Word, Marilyn Chandler McEntyre’s reflections on public discourse begin with similar concerns and then move into possible solutions.

McEntyre begins by inviting readers to recognize the forces that affect language in America culture. She examines the many ways in which commercial and political special interests have co-opted and expropriated language, leading to widely tolerated forms of deception and spin. She then offers twelve “strategies of stewardship” for those concerned with preserving the vitality and precision of the spoken and written word. These strategies include reflections on the complexities of truth telling, the importance of challenging lies, the art of conversation, and the importance of playfulness.

Drawing on a wide range of sources—both critical and literary—Caring for Words is addressed not solely to academics or professionals, but to all thoughtful users of language in an attempt to remind them of its essential character as a gift and a calling. --Publisher's Description

Monday, February 06, 2012

Monday Music - Penny Annie

Bear with me while I explain the stream of consciousness that resulted in today's post.

My wife is participating in a MacLaurinCSF book group that is discussing Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre. She has been getting a lot out of the book and has been reading excerpts to me now and then. Which brings us to this morning, when over coffee, she read a passage from the book. The particular passage she read quoted another book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. I'm very fond of that book, and hearing the quotation brought to mind a song that I wrote about fifteen years ago after reading it.

Here is the excerpt from Dillard's Pilgrim:
A rosy, complex light fills my kitchen at the end of these lengthening June days. From an explosion on a nearby star eight minutes ago, the light zips through space, particle-wave, strikes the planet, angles on the continent, and filters through a mesh of land dust: clay bits, sod bits, tiny wind-borne insects, bacteria, shreds of wing and leg, gravel dust, grits of carbon, and dried cells of grass, bark and leaves. Reddened, the light inclines into this valley over the green western mountains; it sifts between pine needles or northern slopes, and through all the mountain blackjack oak and haw, whose leaves are unclenching, one by one, and making an intricate, toothed and lobed haze. The light crosses the valley, threads through the screen on my open kitchen window, and gilds the painted wall. A plank of brightness bends from the wall and extends over the goldfish bowl on the table where I sit. The goldfish's side catches the light and bats it in my way; I've an eyeful of fish-scale and star.

Here is the song I wrote:

Penny Annie
She took a penny-
Hid it at the bottom of that tree.
She loves a mystery-
Loves to pique my curiosity.
White chalk arrows on the sidewalk
Say hidden treasure lies this way.
She’s got a childlike kind of wonder,
It’s something more than childish play.
And I’m sure to find that penny
If I look around with eyes that see like Annie.

Stillness and starlight,
Dragon helicopters in the reeds.
Earthworms and planets,
Mantis prayers and long forgotten creeds.
I can lose myself in wonder,
I can lose the time of day,
But if I ever lose the mystery
I will surely lose my way-
And the key to finding pennies
Is living life with open eyes that see like Annie.

Are you a pilgrim?
Well, I’m a pilgrim too.
Are you finding pennies?
I've found quite a few.

We can lose ourselves in wonder,
We can lose the time of day,
But if we ever lose the mystery
We will surely lose our way-
And the world’s a shiny penny
For anyone with open eyes that see like Annie.

Yes, the world’s a shiny penny
For anyone with open eyes that see like Annie.

Words & Music by Dave Burkum © Copyright 1999 by Dave Burkum (admin. by

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Sunday Supplication - Abundant Life

O God, set us free from the bondage of our sins. Save us and give us the liberty of the abundant life your Son Jesus Christ came to give.

Forgive us our sins. Help us to leave the darkness and love the light. Make us willing and able to forgive others as you have forgiven us. Help us to think, speak, and act in ways that restore lives, nurture relationships, create peace, and bring honor to you.

O God, give us hearts that are quick to worship you. Give us a love for your church. Help us to appreciate the time we are able to spend with each other.

Help everyone in our church family to seek you wholeheartedly. Help us to become a beautiful and attractive witness of your grace and presence. Help us to be an encouragement and joy to each other.

Through Christ, we pray. Amen.

John 10:10
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Friday Friends - Christian Student Fellowship

From 1992 to 2007, I served as the campus pastor for Christian Student Fellowship at the University of Minnesota. CSF has now joined forces with the MacLaurin Institute to form what is now called MacLaurinCSF.

I serve on the MacLaurinCSF board, and I'm happy to announce that we're going to be hosting three events for CSF alumni. It's a great opportunity for us to renew our friendships and learn more about what's happening at MacLaurinCSF. We'll also have a chance to talk strategy--to consider ways that those of us who have been a part of CSF's past can be a part of helping MacLaurinCSF move forward into a strong and effective future.

I've been working on a website to help MacLaurinCSF alumni stay connected and involved with our ministry. Please check it out.

I hope you'll plan to attend one of the alumni events too.
All the info you need is on the events website.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Thursday Thinking - Attitude Check

Ever find yourself stuck in a bad mood? You know what I mean. For one reason or another you've got a case of the doldrums. You've got a lot to do, and you realize that you need to get your attitude in check if you're going to get it done.

Good news! There may be some very practical steps that could help you turn things around.

On his Intentional Leadership blog, Michael Hyatt, suggests three actions people can take to adjust their emotional state. He says it's possible to instantly shift your attitude by taking the following three actions:

1. Shift your mental focus. We can choose what we think about.
Hyatt says we can look at our day with an "Argh, I have to..." sort of perspective, or a "Wow, I get to..." perspective. He has written a script for himself to recite as a way to frame and shape his focus. His "script" is pretty specific to his own situation, so I've adapted it into something more general you might be able to use:
• I am not here by accident. God can use me here, with these people, right now.
• That’s because He has a purpose; therefore, I have a purpose in being here.
• Through Christ, I can do all things. He has given me every resource I need to succeed.
• With the energy, the heart, and my gifts, I can make an impact—now and for eternity.
• I have something important to share. What I do matters.
• Something I do today could matter for years from now. Someone may look back on this day and say, “It started there.”
• By God’s grace, I can make a difference!
2. Change your posture. We can choose how we act.
Hyatt suggests that every emotion has physical attributes. He says:
For example, if I say to you, “act like you are depressed,” you would likely slump your shoulders, tilt your head down, and rub your face. You would frown and your breathing might slow down. If I say to you, “act like you won the lottery,” you would likely jump up and down, thrust your arms up into the air, and scream with joy. You would smile and your breathing might speed up.

Does the emotion cause the action or does the action cause the emotion? The truth is, it doesn’t matter. If you smile, for example, and hold it for several seconds, it will change your biochemistry.
In an article published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a team of psychologists at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, showed that simply having people put their facial muscles in a configuration typical of a given emotion produced the feeling that the expressions represent. (See this article in the New York Times and this one in Scientific American.)

3. Watch your language. We can choose what we say.
Hyatt says that our words are more important than we think. They reflect our thinking. But they sometimes influence our thinking as well. He says:
Words have tremendous power. King Solomon reminds us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit (Proverbs 18:21).

But rarely do we apply these words to the language we use in talking to ourselves. For example, you ask someone, “How are you doing?” They respond, “Well, I’m surviving.” Strangely, those words shape their reality—or at least their perception of it. They end up barely getting by.

Conversely, I have another friend who always replies, “Outstanding!” This too shapes his reality. He always seems to be doing well. I know he has challenges, but his words empower him and give him the resources he needs to overcome them.
What do you think? Is Hyatt on to something here, or is it just a bunch of positive-thinking-self-help nonsense?

From my point of view, there really is something to all of these. My personal experience has proven all three of these attitude shifters to be helpful and effective.

It's important to note, however, that a healthy person in a funk on any given day is something very different from an unhealthy person struggling with clinical depression. We should be careful not to confuse people adjusting their attitudes and perspectives with people who truly struggle with a emotional wellness. It's one thing to shift an attitude, and quite another to address depressive disorders. One requires advice, the other requires treatment.

If you think you are suffering from something more serious than a bad attitude, please seek the help of your physician or a professional counselor. If, however, you're a generally healthy person who occasionally suffers from the blahs, you might want to try Hyatt's approach. Make a choice to change your focus, your posture, and your words.

As always, your thoughtful comments are welcomed.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Wednesday Words - Joyce Sutphen

I am delighted to be discovering the poetry of Joyce Sutphen, who is currently Minnesota's Poet Laureate. I'm jealous of students at Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, MN) who get to have her as their English professor.

The poetry I love most somehow connects the everyday with the timeless, the personal with the universal, and the mundane with the wonderful. I like it when a poem comes across as simple and straightforward, and yet stirs up deep and complex feelings and thoughts. I enjoy poems that make me want to be a poet.

It's no surprise, then, that Joyce Sutphen's writing is appealing to me. I'm sure I won't be satisfied until I have all her books of poetry on my shelf. Even then I'll still be unsatisfied because I will wish that there was another.

At the Moment
Suddenly, I stopped thinking about Love,
after so many years of only that,
after thinking that nothing else mattered.

And what was I thinking of when I stopped
thinking about Love? Death, of course—what else
could take Love’s place? What else could hold such force?

I thought about how far away Death once
had seemed, how unexpected that it could
happen to someone I knew quite well,

how impossible that this should be the
normal thing, as natural as frost and
winter. I thought about the way we’d aged,

how skin fell into wrinkles, how eyes grew
dim; then (of course) my love, I thought of you.

“At the Moment” by Joyce Sutphen from Naming the Stars (Holy Cow! Press).
© 2004 by Joyce Sutphen.

Purchase on Amazon:
Naming the Stars (Joyce Sutphen)