Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tuesday Tome - For the Beauty of the Church

For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts was recommended to me by a Christian friend who is stirring up dialog among artists in his church. They are working to establish an artists fellowship and recently read this book as a group, using it as a springboard for discussion.

If you are interested in the role of art in the life and mission of the church, and want to explore the intersections of faith and artistic expression, this book isn't a bad place to start. For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts is a series of eight essays edited by W. David O. Taylor. The two essays that stood out to to me as the best of the collection were by Andy Crouch and Joshua Banner. Crouch's essay presents philosophical perspectives on Christianity and the arts. Banner's takes a very practical and pastoral approach toward encouraging and empowering artists.

From Chapter 1 - "The Gospel: How Is Art a Gift, a Calling, and an Obedience?" by Andy Crouch:
Art is, perhaps, one way of naming everything we a cultural beings do that cannot be explained in terms of its usefulness. It is not the realm of the useless exactly, but the incapable-of-being-expressed-as-useful. That which cannot be turned into a means to an end, but asserts itself as an end––intrinsically, and in some senses inexplicably, worthwhile. (p. 36)
- - -
Art and worship stand together on the common ground of the unuseful. And this is why our attitude toward art ultimately has a great deal to do with our attitude toward worship. Much is at stake in whether we think that our worship is a free response to grace or an exercise in persuasion, an effort to get either God or people to do what we want them to do. If we have a utilitarian attitude toward art, if we require it to justify itself in terms of its usefulness to our ends, it is very likely that we will end up with the same attitude toward worship, and ultimately toward God. (p. 40)

From Chapter 6 - "The Practitioner: Nurturing Artists in the Local Church" by Joshua Banner:
The greatest gift the arts have to offer us is a lively attentiveness––a wakefulness––to the beautiful and interesting things our Father Creator has surrounded us with. The past five decades of popular culture have produced quite a bit of dehumanizing, banal art. The bleak prospect of what Carl Bernstein has called the "idiot culture" presents exciting opportunities for the gospel to inspire a thoughtful, alternative vision of culture that bears witness to Christ.

How can the gospel find a vibrant witness through the arts to transform our neighborhoods and cities? We must begin with a renewal of our churches before we have anything to offer the culture outside the church. And we begin this renewal not by asking what the arts can do for the church, to vary on John F. Kennedy's dictum, but how the church can serve the arts. As patient, careful stewards, we, as pastors and leaders, can nourish the soil of our culture by the way we love artists intentionally––loving not only their artwork, but who they are as persons in process. (p. 142)

Monday, December 30, 2013

Monday Music - Better Day

Abel made a sacrifice.
Enoch somehow never died.
Noah built an ark
And left the world outside.
Abraham didn’t have a son,
But by faith he traveled far.
His children now outnumber
The stars.

Take another step,
Breathe a little deeper,
Straighten up and take a stand.
Walk another mile,
You’re headed for a better land.

Isaac blessed and prophesied.
Jacob worshipped, staff in hand.
Joseph spoke of exodus from
Egypt’s land.
Moses chose to be mistreated--
Pharoah’s pleasures he would deny.
The Red Sea parted and the ground the children walked
Was dry.

Take another step,
Breathe a little deeper,
Straighten up and take a stand.
Walk another mile,
You’re headed for a better land.
Think about the joy,
Don’t forget the promise,
Let the Spirit lead the way.
Tomorrow’s gonna come--
It’s gonna be a better day.

Gideon, Barak, and Samson--
There’s not time enough to tell
Tales of Jephthah, King David,
And Samuel.
There were those who closed the mouths of lions;
Those who quenched the fury of the flames.
They suffered this world’s hateful scorn
And shame.

Still they took another step,
Breathed a little deeper;
They weren’t afraid to take a stand.
They walked another mile,
Headed for a better land.
They thought about the joy--
Thought about the promise;
They let the Spirit lead the way.
They gave a little more,
Hopin’ for a better day.

So take another step,
Breathe a little deeper,
Straighten up and take a stand.
Walk another mile,
You’re headed for a better land.
Think about the joy,
Don’t forget the promise,
Let the Spirit lead the way.
Tomorrow’s gonna come--
It’s gonna be a better da 

"Better Day" words and music by Dave Burkum from Breathe a Little Deeper. © Copyright 2000 by Dave Burkum.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sunday Supplication - Help Us to Press On

Eternal Father, you gave your incarnate Son, Jesus, to be our salvation. Place within our hearts, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world.

Thank you for the forgiveness and renewal you have given to us through Christ Jesus.  Help us to extend forgiveness to each other and help us grow into a redemptive and healing community. Help us to have a redemptive and healing impact on the world around us.

O God, help us to find our lives in you. Give us faith that makes us able to commit all things to you. Give us hearts to love your will and to serve your purposes. Shape and strengthen us to follow Jesus wherever he leads. Whether by life or death, may Christ be exalted in us. Help us to press on to take hold of all you have in mind for our lives.

We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Friday Favorites - Lefse

Lefse is one of my favorite treats during the holiday season. When I was a child growing up in Nebraska, we would frequently get a package of lefse around Christmas time from one of my dad's Norwegian aunts who lived in Wisconsin. Like many cherished holiday traditions and foods, the love and appreciation starts when your a kid.

Lefse isn't just for the holidays, but that seems like the time when I'm most likely to get some. I have a few lefse-making friends who are nice enough to pass along a little to me whenever they cook up a batch. If one of those friends is reading this blog post right now, wouldn't today be a good time to heat up your griddle? Call me!

Lefse is a bland but tasty Scandinavian potato flat-bread. It's great rolled up with a simple spread, sweet or savory. It's also a nice way roll up lots of other great things as an alternative to a sandwich. I love to roll up leftovers from the big holiday meals.

I've made lefse a few times, and it came out pretty good. I don't, however, have the official lefse iron the pros all tell me I need to really do it right. If you would like to give making lefse a try, here is a link to some scratch and short-cut recipes. If you're not ready to try making it, but would like to taste it, you can buy it in some Twin Cities grocery stores. Two places I can usually find it are Byerly's and Ingebretsen's.

God Jul to Everyone!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Thursday Thinking - Where Faith Is Born

Merry Christmas!

This day after Christmas, I give you good food for thought – the 2012 Christmas Sermon from Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. He calls us to stop, look, and listen to Jesus. The call of the carol, "O come, let us adore him," is a call to the place where faith is born.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Wednesday Words - Merry Christmas!


Every gift that's good for you
Comes out of heaven.
The gifts are rivers of light
Cascading down from the Father of light.
– James 1:17

I showed up with a wish list, hoping
For a gift or two, and walked into
A party lavish with light and gifts,
Light from parents and grandchildren,

Spouse and children, brothers and sisters,
Lovers and friends: light from the Father
Of light –– light gifts rivering
Out of faces and sky and making me

Light of step, light of heart,
The beauty of the Lord pulsating from
These icons of Adam, icons of Eve.

Light from the East, light from the West,
Winter light and summerlight.
We love and work and die in light.

"Lights" by Eugene Peterson, from Holy Luck (Eerdmans), © Copyright 2013 by Eugene H. Peterson.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tuesday Tome - The Christmas Wish

My Christmas wish is that this book arrives at my door very soon! Sadly, it doesn't look like Santa is going to make it by today. I couldn't find it at any local bookstore, and even the elves at Amazon have run out of copies.

The Christmas Wish is a beautiful picture book with amazing composite photos that, with the help of Photoshop (aka - Fairytaleshop), blend winter landscapes, Nordic animals, and a very cute little girl dressed with authentic traditional Norwegian garb and gear. The book is the first of a forthcoming trilogy from Twin Cities husband and wife team Lori Evert and Per Breiehagen, and the photos feature their daughter Anja.
This cozy Nordic tale filled with extraordinary photographs will have readers of all ages dreaming of magical places where wintry wishes come true. Long ago, a little girl named Anja wanted to be one of Santa's elves. Since she lives somewhat near the North Pole, she thinks about it quite often. One holiday season, she decides to do something about it. So she tidies up her home, straps on her snowshoes, and heads out into the snowy landscape. Enlisting the help of some woodland friends on her wonder-filled journey, Anja makes her way to Santa to see if he might grant her this special Christmas wish.
Listen to an Interview with the Authors on MPR

The Christmas Wish - Facebook Page

Monday, December 23, 2013

Monday Music - Sara Groves Christmas


Sara Groves recorded a wonderful Christmas album a couple years ago, O Holy Night. If you're looking for a new Christmas CD for your collection, get this one. You really can't go wrong with Sara – all her music is so good.

Here is Sara's version of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear." Incidentally, my son, Tyler, played the guitars on this album. I stopped by one night when they were recording this song, and I somehow stumbled into singing on the background vocals. That was really fun surprise!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sunday Supplication - Your Presence with Us

Heavenly Father, make us aware of your presence in our lives and purify our hearts and minds. We pray that we would find our identity and our home in your Son Jesus Christ as we await the Day of his appearing. Sustain us and shape us by the power of your Holy Spirit.

Thank you for your grace and mercy. Lead us away from temptation.  Deliver us from evil.  Forgive us our sins. And give us the grace and courage to forgive others just as we you have forgiven us.

O God, thank you for your promise to be with your people. Give us an awareness of your presence with us today. Grant us the strength and the faith we need to face the challenges and circumstances of our lives. When we are frightened, guard our hearts and minds with the peace of Christ Jesus. Protect us from discouragement, and encourage us, by your Holy Spirit, through your Word, your people, your promises, and all that is beautiful and true.

Through Christ, we pray. Amen.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Saturday Smile - This Is That Y2K Survivor

 I sure got a kick out of this from the CBC's "This is That" program.
January 1, 2000 was the day that our computers were meant to fail us and change our lives forever. It was also the day that 44 year old Norman Feller headed into his underground bunker over fears of the fallout from the Y2K virus. Remarkably Mr. Feller spent the next 14 years in isolation only to emerge this past September.

In this touching documentary, Peter Oldring visits with Norman to learn more about his unbelievable decision to live underground.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday Favorites - Chanhassen's Fiddler

Cheri and I finally had our first taste of the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre. We've heard a lot about it for years, but have somehow never managed to get there.

Last Sunday, at the invitation of our friends Travis and Sarah, we took in the current production of Fiddler on the Roof. Everything about this show was terrific – the singing, choreography, acting, orchestra, and set design. Even the food was good!

We thoroughly enjoyed our evening and we especially treasured the quality time with friends. Thanks again, Travis and Sarah, for hosting us. It was the best night out we've had for a long time!

If you're looking for a great night of entertainment, I highly recommend it. It might be a good Christmas present idea for someone you know. This Chanhassen production will be running through February 22, 2014. Get there if you can!


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Thursday Thinking - Unhappy Holidays

Earlier this month, David Brooks approached the very non-holly-jolly topic of suicide in his opinion column for the New York Times. His piece, "The Irony of Despair," cites some alarming World Health Organization statistics indicating that the global suicide rate has increased 60% over the last 45 years. In that same period, the rate of increase in the USA has increased 28% for people between the ages of 35 and 64.

The holiday season from Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day is filled with happiness and goodness for so many, but others experience it as a time of dark misery. For the person experiencing the numbing affects of depression, the sense of despair is only exacerbated by saccharin songs and smiles that seem so hopelessly absurd, unreal, and unrelatable. "Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart (Proverbs 25:20)."

What accounts for the rising rate of suicides? And why do highest rates occur in places where the development, education, and comfort factors are the highest? What are people thinking, and what can be done, if anything, to change their mindset? 

Brooks says, "If you want to prevent suicide, of course, you want to reduce unemployment and isolation, but you also want to attack the ideas and stories that seem to justify it." He then shares several insights from Jennifer Michael Hecht's book, Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies against It.

According to Brooks, the person contemplating suicide is in an ironical situation:
A person enters the situation amid feelings of powerlessness and despair, but once in the situation the potential suicide has the power to make a series of big points before the world. By deciding to live, a person in a suicidal situation can prove that life isn’t just about racking up pleasure points; it is a vale of soul-making, and suffering can be turned into wisdom.
The most recent statistics for the Twin Cities (Minnesota Department of Health - 2011) indicate that suicides surged in 2011 for the steepest increase in more than 13 years. The total of 684 suicides that year was a 13 percent jump in a single year. Clearly, this is a situation that hits very close to home.

It's time for us all give serious thought to the contributing causes of suicide. Some may have something to do with external circumstances, but I suspect that most are related to internal perspectives about life, purpose, and personal identity. There are consequences to the ways we think and feel. Therefore, it is necessary that we give serious thought to the ideas and perspectives shaping our thoughts and feelings. 

This holiday season, take care of yourselves. If you are dealing with depression and despair, be honest, tell a friend, and seek support. If you are happy and healthy, be mindful of those around your who may be doing well to simply endure the "Happy Holidays." Don't make them feel worse just because they are already feeling bad. Be ready to offer them the space, quiet love, patience, and support they need.

Read David Brooks' Column:  
"The Irony of Despair"

Read Pioneer Press Column: 
"Minnesota Suicides Up Sharply" (Bob Shaw - August 2013)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wednesday Words - Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung,
of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came, a flow’ret bright,
amid the cold of winter,
when half-spent was the night.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright,
she bore to men a Savior,
when half-spent was the night.

The shepherds heard the story, proclaimed by angels bright,
how Christ, the Lord of glory, was born on earth this night.
To Bethlehem they sped
and in the manger found him,
as angel heralds said.

This flow’r, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
dispels with glorious splendor the darkness ev’rywhere.
True man, yet very God;
from sin and death he saves us
and lightens ev’ry load.

O Savior, child of Mary, who felt our human woe;
O Savior, King of glory, who dost our weakness know,
bring us at length, we pray,
to the bright courts of heaven
and to the endless day.

Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming
German Carol, Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen, ca. 1500
Translated by Theodore Baker, 1894 (Stanzas 1–2),
Harriet R. Spaeth, 1875 (Stanzas 3–4), and John C. Mattes, 1914 (Stanza 5)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tuesday Tome - A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is one of the most popular stories of the Christmas Season. Movies, plays, musicals, animations, even Muppets--this story has probably been told and retold in more ways that just about anything besides the Bible. And just as the Bible is one of the most purchased and least read books in the world, Dickens' A Christmas Carol, though a well-known story, has not been read as a book as often and as widely as it deserves to be. That's too bad, because it is a truly beautifully written novella.

If you've never read the original before, let me encourage you to get a copy and make it one of the special things you do this Christmas season. It won't take you long to read, because it's only just over a hundred pages. You can download it to your Kindle or Nook for free, and you can buy paper and ink copy for less than $5.00.

My recommendation would be that you choose the good old-fashioned book option. Read it in the evening by lamplight in a comfy chair when the house is nice and quiet. Being near a fireplace and having a cup of hot tea close at hand are also recommended for best results.

You will find this classic story to be well worth your time. I think you will also discover there is much more to this old story than you may have expected.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Monday Music - Angels I Have Heard

I was down and on my front porch,
I said, "God are you still there?
I need to know you better...
I guess this is a prayer."
And I swear that in the silence
I could hear the Savior say,
"If you seek me you will find me;
If you look, I'll show the way."

And I'm sure that there were angels-
Angels in the sky,
Angels I could hear on high.

I was bruised and I was battered;
I was trying to serve the Lord-
Trying to live by faith in Jesus,
But I was dying by the sword.
On the road to Minneapolis,
I said, "Jesus, tell me why!"
I could feel Him in my sorrow,
I was sure He heard my cry.

And I knew that there were angels-
Angels in the sky,
Angels I could hear on high.

Peace in every earthly test.
Good will!  On you God's favor rests!

When my weary overtakes me,
When the dark of night descends,
When I'm lonely as a shepherd
In the hills of Bethlehem.
I think back and I remember
Another night alone out there
Where a great light filled the heavens,
Shouts of glory in the air.

Yes, I think about those angels,
Angels in the sky,
Angels I have heard on high.

"Angels I Have Heard" words and music by Dave Burkum, from the CD, IF I CLOSE MY EYES, © Copyright 1995 by Dave Burkum.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sunday Supplication - Move in Our Hearts

God of Promise, move in our hearts with your great might. Work in our lives with your power. Through your boundless grace and mercy, deliver us from the sins that entangle and destroy us.

Thank you for the forgiveness and renewal you have given to us through Christ Jesus. Help us as we extend that same forgiveness to others who have sinned against us. Help us to be a community of grace. Make us a church that has a redemptive and healing impact on the world around us.

O God, thank you for the forgiveness and life we have through Jesus. You have promised that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life. May all who seek you find you, Father God. Help us to recognize Christ as King. Help us to make room for his saving and shaping work in our lives.

It is in his Name that we pray all these things. Amen.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Saturday Smile - Wikidrummer

This is just a cool idea for music and audio geeks to enjoy. Getting good drum sounds is crucial to the overall sound of any recording. Natural sounds are preferable to digital reverbs. In this video, there are supposedly no artificial reverbs added, just the ambient sound of the places themselves. You'd have to listen on much better speakers than my computer or headphones to know for sure, but I'll take their word for it. Just for the record, my favorite sound of all the set-ups is the auto shop.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday Favorites - LEAGUES

Hey! What's that catchy tune I'm hearing on the BOSE TV commercials every night? It's a hit from my favorite indie rock band! I'm not the only one with LEAGUES on my list of favorite bands, they're also on Amazon's list for Best Albums of 2013. Congratulations, Tyler, Thad, and Jeremy.

If you haven't yet heard, You Belong Here, it's time to get on it. And don't forget, it's a great gift idea for the music fans on your Santa List!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thursday Thinking - Nelson Mandela

The story of Nelson Mandela is important and complex. Like most people who make a difference in the world, there is plenty about his life and work to applaud and plenty to question. Here are a number of thoughtful articles and quotes you may find helpful as you consider the amazing life and legacy of this man who managed to be a force for change and an influence toward a better world.

Nelson Mandela: Trouble Maker for Peace
by Paul Louis Metzger
Nelson Mandela brought peace to South Africa by making trouble. One cannot always make peace without conflict. Those who would shy away from conflict involving injustices are not about peace, but the status quo, for peace always entails advancing justice. Having been an advocate in his early years for non-violent resistance and then for armed struggle, Mandela became known in his later years for cultivating a culture of love rather than hate that entailed justice.

A South African Pastor Shares Why South Africans Honor Nelson Mandela
by P. J. Smyth
Adriaan Vlok (Minister of Law and Order 1986-1991) said, "When Mandela came out of prison he did not have a record of wrongs done to him because then he would have embarked on a road of revenge. What did he do? He embarked immediately on a road of forgiveness."
Mandela himself said, "If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness."
Former President FW De Klerk said of Mandela, "He is par excellence a peace maker". And as we know, there is never peace without forgiveness.

by David Heim
It is a measure of Mandela’s own integrity that, having once seen no way forward except through violence, he seized the opportunity of negotiation when it finally emerged.

Nelson Mandela Brought the World toward a Racial Reconciliation
by Washington Post Editorial Board
Mr. Mandela, who died Thursday night at age 95, seemed to understand that the motivating force behind ethnic, religious and racial hatred is not only, or even primarily, self-interest; it is fear, distrust, a lack of understanding. In his person and his policies, he set out to show those on the other side that they had little to fear. He sought unity rather than revenge, honesty and understanding rather than the naked exercise of power. These are all fine abstractions, of course, but never so clear to us as when there is a living figure to exemplify them. That's why Mr. Mandela’s influence extended so far beyond South Africa and was felt by so many of the world's peoples other than Africans.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Wednesday Words - Be Thou Our Vision

Last Saturday, it was my privilege to officiate the wedding service for Eric and Danica Wytcherly. As part of the service, we sang a marriage version of "Be Thou My Vision" with a new text I had adapted and written for the occasion.

Be Thou our Vision, O Lord of our hearts
Naught be all else to us, save what Thou art
Be Thou our best thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence our light.

Be Thou our Wisdom, O True Living Word;
Be ever with us, Our Savior and Lord;
Bind us together, Lord, bind us to Thee,
Bind us in spirit and true unity.

Be Thou the Keystone, the strength of our bond,
Our true foundation through life and beyond—
Through days of gladness, through trials we endure,
Be Thou the bedrock where we stand secure.

Be Thou the first love in each of our hearts–
Be love’s beginning – where each of us starts.
Loving each other by loving you best–
Living to bless you we find ourselves blessed.

Riches we need not, nor man's empty praise;
Thou our inheritance, now and always:
Master and Savior, whatever befall,
Still be our Vision, O Ruler of all!

"Be Thou Our Vision," Music: Traditional Irish Tune (Slane). Words: Ancient Irish text translated by Mary Byrne, 1905, and versified by Eleanor Hull, 1912. New verses and adapted text by Dave Burkum, © Copyright 2013 by Dave Burkum.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tuesday Tome - Seamus Heaney Poems 1965-1975

I recently completed my first reading of Seamus Heaney: Poems 1965-1975. This book is a compilation of all the poems from Heaney's first four collections or poetry. The first book, Death of a Naturalist (1966), was the the most accessible for me. I found the poems of Door into the Dark (1969) and Wintering Out (1972) harder to understand, and those of North (1975) to be the most difficult of all. The cultural, geographic, linguistic, and political references were often beyond my reach. It was a little frustrating that the book seemed to be less comprehensible the further I went, but I read every page with the expectation that at any moment a phrase, or stanza, if not an entire poem, would jump out and grab me. I was not disappointed. Sometimes there are wonders to experience and treasures to be found even when one is lost in the forest.

I purchased Poems 1965-1975 just a few months ago, actually on the very day Heaney died (October 30, 2013). The many tributes, accolades, and excerpts of his poems published that day prompted me to get to know more about the man and his work.

He was a native of Northern Ireland, grew up in County Derry, and lived in Dublin for many years. Author of over 20 books of poetry and literary criticism, Heaney won the Nobel Prize for Liturature in 1995. He taught at Harvard University from 1985-2006, and was Oxford Professor of Poetry from 1989-1994.

Heaney is widely respected as a major poet of the 20th century. At Ireland’s national celebration of Heaney’s 70th birthday in 2009, it was announced that two-thirds of the poetry collections sold in the UK the previous year had been books by Heaney.

Personal Helicon
As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.

One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.

A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
A white face hovered over the bottom.

Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall
Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.

Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.

"Personal Helicon" by Seamus Heaney, from Death of a Naturalist, © Copyright 1966 by Seamus Heaney.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Monday Music - This Wintry Night

The days are shorter now, the nights are getting long.
Snowy drifts are forming on the driveway.
We might just have to put another blanket on
As the mercury disappears;
It could be a record low-
The coldest night we have all year.

We share an afghan as we snuggle on the couch;
We've got lots of ways to beat the weather.
Old Man Winter isn't bothering us now;
We're as warm as we've ever been.

Curling up in rosy flannel–
Shadows dancing by the candle–
Chocolate kisses by handful–
While the moon is shining bright
Through the frosty panes this wintry night.

Aboard a seven-fifty-seven headed South
The snowbirds make their flight to Arizona.
They think they're lucky but I say they're missing out
On the warmth a North wind brings
When you're sitting by a fire
Or listening to the teapot sing.

The corn is popping and the cider's on the stove;
And we're all set to play a game of Scrabble.
So let it snow, we've got our cozy little cove–
Safe and warm as we've ever been.

Curling up in rosy flannel-
Shadows dancing by the candle-
Chocolate kisses by handful-
While the moon is shining bright
Through the frosty panes this wintry night.

The days are shorter now, the nights are getting long.
Snowy drifts are filling every sidewalk.
But we'll be fine, just put another blanket on
And we're as warm as we've ever been–
Safe and warm as we've ever been–

“This Wintry Night” words and music by Dave Burkum (written during a snowstorm on November 27, 1994), from the CD, Breathe a Little Deeper, © Copyright 2013 by Dave Burkum.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Sunday Supplication - Joyfully Welcome His Coming

Merciful God, we thank you every voice you’ve sent into our world to preach repentance and proclaim the way of salvation. Give us contrite hearts and help us to turn away from sin. And give us open and receptive hearts that joyfully welcome the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer.

Help us in this Christmas season to honor Jesus in thought, word, and deed.  Help us to follow him and to walk in the light as he is in the light.  We confess our sins, trusting that you are faithful and just to forgive us and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Thank you for the forgiveness and renewal you have given to us through Christ Jesus.  Make us able and ready to graciously forgive those who have sinned against us.

O God, restore and renew us today. And make our lives a testimony of your power to restore and renew us. Help us to live by faith. And make our lives shining demonstrations of your promise to save and restore.

Through Christ, we pray. Amen.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Friday Favorites - Pierre-Auguste Renoir

My favorite random find for the week is this video of the masterpiece artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir. He was filmed at age 74 as he painted with the assistance of his 14-year-old son, Claude.

Renoir suffered from rheumatoid arthritis the last three decades of his life. By the time this film was made (1915), he was unable to walk and his hands were permanently drawn and clenched. And yet he continued to paint! Reportedly, when the aged and debilitated artist was asked by a young Henri Matisse as to why he doggedly persisted to paint, Renoir replied, "The pain passes, but the beauty remains."

Read More about this film at Open Culture.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Thursday Thinking - Happy Holidays

Every year we hear cries of panic from the usual suspects as they get all discombobulated over the secularization of Christmas (as though that's something new). They perceive the use of "Happy Holidays" to be a cold slap in the face of their dearly beloved "Merry Christmas." But have you ever considered that, rather than an offense, it might actually be a step in the right direction?

Richard Beck, in an excellent post at Experimental Theology, suggests that it is more appropriate and even preferable for our commercialized and secularized culture to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."  Maybe we can leverage this shift and get the retail world to give Christmas back to the church.  Beck writes:
I think "Happy Holidays" is a way to be more hospitable and neighborly in a diverse culture. But tolerance isn't the main reason I'm okay with the shift to "Happy Holidays."
Again, the shift to "Happy Holidays" has mainly been seen in the retail world, as a way to not offend buying customers. Which means, for me at least, I don't really care what you say to me when I buy an Xbox. In fact, theologically speaking, "Happy Holidays" is a lot better than "Merry Christmas."
Well, if you tack "Merry Christmas" onto my Xbox I think that might be blasphemy.
I'm pretty sure it is blasphemy.
It's blasphemous to post "Merry Christmas" all through a shopping mall. It's blasphemous to slap the name of Jesus on all the Xboxs, Playstations, iPhones, and High-Def TVs. "Happy Holidays," while still not great given that I don't like the word "holy" being involved, is much better than "Merry Christmas."

...let Babylon--in marketplace and nation--greet you with "Happy Holidays." Let "Merry Christmas" be for the church. That helps clarify things. As Stanley Hauerwas provocatively said, the first task of the church is to make the world the world. 
Let Babylon be Babylon.
Let Babylon say "Happy Holidays." 

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Wednesday Words - Immanuel

O come, O come, Immanuel,
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lowly exile here
Until the Son of God appears.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel,
The gift of God has come to dwell–
He’s with us now in truth and grace,
The light of God, behold his face–
The light of God, behold his face.

O Christians come, and let us be
Good gifts of peace and charity,
Abundant life, and hopeful day.
And give until all people say-

Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel–
God’s with us now and we can tell–
We see his truth we see his grace,
Behold his church, behold his face.
Behold his church, behold his face.

In where we go, and where we’ve been,
O may we bring a sense of him,
Who came to us in flesh and blood,
Who blessed and did all people good.

Immanuel, the Name we bear–
The life that he gives is the life we share.
Immanuel! O may we be
The light of his presence for all to see–
The light of his presence for all to see.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel,
The gift of God has come to dwell–
He’s with us now in truth and grace,
The light of God, behold his face–
The light of God, behold his face.

"Immanuel" words and music by Dave Burkum, 
© Copyright 2013 by Dave Burkum.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Tuesday Tome - Letters to My Children

Last week, I finished a sweet and winsome little book by Daniel Taylor, Letters to My Children: A Father Passes on His Values.  While the words "sweet" and "winsome" are accurate, I would hasten to add that the book is also filled with humility, grace, wisdom, and insight.  I'd recommend the book to Christian parents and grandparents of kids between the ages of 10 and 15. It would also be good for teachers and church leaders who work with children that age.

The stories and insights Taylor shares serve as a good model and inspiration for the rest of us to write some letters of our own. Writing letters like this might be just the thing to help us parents and grandparents think through our values and beliefs, and prod us to remember the people, events, and experiences that formed those values and beliefs into who we are. Letters to My Children stirred my heart toward my own kids and grandkids and prompted me to be more intentional about sharing more of my of life stories and thoughts with them.

From the Preface:
I have a terminal disease. It is called mortality. It causes me, at times, to worry about my children growing up without me. I am not afraid they will miss meals or education or have to wear generic jeans (my oldest son's worst nightmare). I am concerned they will little remember who their father was, what made him tick, what was important to him, what he had to say to them. What will they know of me, of the man who co-created them, the one who loves them more than he will ever let himself say?

These letters are a partial response to this muted but persistent concern. They are, in theory, for my children, but in writing them I discovered they were for me, and perhaps for others, as well. It is not just the vanity of wanting to be remembered that motivates them. For better or worse, I am the only father my children will ever have. And as their father, part of my value is to pass on the eternal truths. Never mind that many of us are less sure of the exact nature of eternal truth than before we had children. Never mind that when the words come out of our mouths they sound suspiciously like clichés or, worse yet, like things we didn't like hearing from our own parents.

Despite our inadequacies, we fathers serve a crucial purpose by being there to say the unexpected, unexceptional, but necessary thing. What exactly we have to say will often be forgotten; that we are there to say it will never be.

Other books I've enjoyed from Daniel Taylor:
The Myth of Certainty
Read my previous post about The Myth of Certainty.

The Skeptical Believer
Read my previous post about The Skeptical Believer

Monday, December 02, 2013

Monday Music - Morning by Morning

The Sovereign Lord has
given me an instructed tongue
to know the word that sustains the weary.

The Sovereign Lord has
given me an instructed tongue
to know the word that sustains the weary.

He wakens me
morning by morning–
wakens my ear to listen.

He wakens me
morning by morning–
wakens my ear to listen
like one being taught.

"Morning by Morning" from Fireside, words (adapted from Isaiah 50:4) and music by Dave Burkum, © Copyright 2006 by Dave Burkum.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Sunday Supplication - Your Loving Presence

Almighty God, we ask you to help us turn away from sin and darkness, and instead to embrace the light of your Son Jesus Christ who came to live among us in great humility. We look forward to the day when he will come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, and raise us to immortal life.

Help us in this Advent season to honor Jesus in thought, word, and deed.  Help us to follow him and to walk in the light as he is in the light. Thank you for the forgiveness and renewal you have given to us through Christ Jesus.  Make us able and ready to give forgiveness to those who have sinned against us.

O God, save us from trouble and help us to trust you completely. Grant us a deep sense of your loving presence when the troubles of life threaten to overwhelm us. Remind us of your faithfulness. Calm our hearts. Help us to be still and know that you are God.

Through Christ, we pray. Amen.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Friday Favorites - Birthday Blossoms Next Week

Next week my favorite person and I will be celebrating her birthday with a little concert featuring two of our favorite sons. The Cactus Blossoms will be performing the CD release concert for their new album, Live at the Turf Club. You can get more info HERE. If you're there, be sure to say "Happy Birthday" to Cheri.

"Happy Man on a Gloomy Day" is one of the songs on their new CD. Here's a video of a live performance of that song from last summer.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thursday Thinking - Thanksgiving Prayers

The Lord be with you. 
    And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
    We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
    It is right to give him thanks and praise.

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

Let us give thanks to God our Father for all his gifts so freely bestowed upon us. For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and sky and sea.
    We thank you, Lord.

For all that is gracious in the lives of men and women, revealing the image of Christ,
    We thank you, Lord.

For our daily food and drink, our homes and families, and our friends,
    We thank you, Lord.

For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve,
    We thank you, Lord.

For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play,
    We thank you, Lord.

For the brave and courageous, who are patient in suffering and faithful in adversity,
    We thank you, Lord.

For all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice,
    We thank you, Lord.

For the communion of saints, in all times and places,
    We thank you, Lord.

Above all, we give you thanks for the great mercies and promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord; To him be praise and glory, with you, O Father, and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wednesday Words - Now Thank We All Our God

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

The text for this hymn, Nun danket alle Gott,  was written in the early 17th century (c. 1636) by Martin Rinkart, a Lutheran pastor who lived and served in Eilenberg, Saxony. The wonderful music we now associate with his words was based on a tune attributed to Johann Crüger, but later harmonized and perfected by J.S. Bach and Felix Mendelssohn.

Rinkart's life was difficult, to say the least. Eilenberg was a city of refuge for political and military fugitives during the 30 Years War and, as such, was subjected to deadly overcrowding, famine, disease, and war. During the worst of it, Rinkart performed as many as fifty funerals each day. One terrible year he officiated 4000 funerals, and one of those was for his own wife.

It is a testament of faith that this man who knew such heartache and misery should be best known for a glorious song of thanksgiving. I pray that I too, regardless of problems and pains, will be faithful to give God thanks for the blessing and promise he has given.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tuesday Tomes - Pinocchio and Moral Imagination

Last month, I attended the 18th Annual Paul Holmer Lecture at the University of Minnesota, sponsored by MacLaurinCSF. The speaker was Vigen Guroian, author of Tending the Heart of Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken a Child's Moral Imagination.

At one point in the lecture, Guroian made a few comments about Carlo Collodi's classic story, Pinocchio. This reminded me that I have never read the original story and piqued my interest. So, right there and then I opened up the Amazon app on my phone and ordered the Penguin Classic edition.

Several weeks later now, having read the original Pinocchio, I can report that it is a far cry from the Disney-fied version familiar to most people. It's a story that explores values, maturity, personal identity, spiritual weakness, self-deceit, and the struggle for self-control. It's a children's fantasy, but it focuses on the same human struggle the Apostle Paul describes in Romans 11 – doing what we know we shouldn't do, and failing to do what we know we ought to.

Here are a few words about Pinocchio excerpted from Guroian's book, Tending the Heart of Virtue.
Pinocchio is a wooden puppet, and as the blue-haired fairy says to him, puppets never grow: "They are born puppets, they live puppets and die puppets." The deeper meaning belongs to the metaphor of "woodenness."

This woodenness of his mind and will, and not the matter of being physically made of wood, is Pinocchio's greatest obstacle to "growing up." ... Collodi's Pinocchio is no mere innocent, and the wrongs he commits are, more often than not, not merely the mistakes of ignorance but the consequences of a hard head, undisciplined passions, and a misdirected will that resists good advice.

In the Disney version, real boyhood is bestowed on Pinocchio as a reward for being good by the Blue Fairy with a touch of her magic wand; or, as the Blue Fairy herself says, because Pinocchio has proven himself "brave, truthful, and unselfish." In Disney's imagination this is magic. In theological terms this is works righteousness.

By moral description, the Disney story presents the virtues as the completion and very essence of Pinocchio's humanity—once he has proven himself "brave, truthful, and unselfish" he is transformed into a real boy.

Collodi views things differently. In his story, Pinocchio becomes a real flesh-and-blood human child after he awakens from a dream in which the blue-haired fairy forgives him for his former waywardness and present shortcomings, while she also praises him for the good path he has taken by showing a son's love for his father. For Collodi, real boyhood is not so much a reward as it is the visible sign of a moral task that has been conscientiously pursued, a task that even at that moment when Pinocchio is transformed from wood into flesh and blood is not yet wholly completed. Pinocchio's filial love, obedience, truthfulness, and self-expenditure for the sake of others ultimately triumph over his primal propensity to be selfish and self-centered. His good heart with its innate capacity to love finally dominates over his wooden head.
 • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Tending the Heart of Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken a Child's Moral Imagination
by Vigen Guroian 

Guroian illuminates the complex ways in which fairy tales and fantasies educate the moral imagination from earliest childhood. Examining a wide range of stories--from "Pinocchio" and "The Little Mermaid" to "Charlotte's Web," "The Velveteen Rabbit," "The Wind in the Willows," and the "Chronicles of Narnia"--he argues that these tales capture the meaning of morality through vivid depictions of the struggle between good and evil, in which characters must make difficult choices between right and wrong, or heroes and villains contest the very fate of imaginary worlds. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Monday Music - If We Confess

If we confess our sins
He is faithful and just
And will forgive us our sins
And purify us from all unrighteousness.

If we confess our sins
He is faithful and just
And will forgive us our sins
And purify us from all unrighteousness.

O Lord, I have sinned,
Touch my life, make me pure again.
I wanna walk in the light,
Renew my spirit, make it right again,
Deliverer, Redeemer, and Friend.

If we confess our sins
He is faithful and just
And will forgive us our sins
And purify us from all unrighteousness.

"If We Confess" from Songs for the Real World,
Words and Music by Dave Burkum, © Copyright 1992.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Supplication - Fruitful Lives

Almighty God, we ask you to help us turn away darkness and to put on the armor of light.

Today, as we live in this place and in this time help us to hold fast to Jesus. Thank you that he came to live among us in humility. Thank you for the promise that he will one day come again in glory and raise us to eternal life.

Forgive us for the sins we’ve committed. Relieve our guilty consciences. Purify our hearts and transform us that by your Spirit we might turn away from what is wrong and, instead, love to do what is right. Make us ready and able to forgive those who have sinned against us. Make us merciful and forgiving toward others, as you have been merciful and forgiving toward us.

O God, thank you for the fruitful lives we are able to live through Christ. Help us to stay connected to Jesus.  By your power and grace, lead, teach, transform, shape and strengthen us, that we might delight in your will, and walk in your ways to the glory of your name.

Through Christ, we pray. Amen.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thursday Thinking - Women in Church

Mike Goldsworthy, Lead Pastor of Parkcrest Christian Church in Long Beach, CA, recently blogged about the roles and giftedness of women in the church in a post titled, On Women in the Church. Honestly, I wish this were old news, but it's not. We really should have worked through this issue by now, but in many Christian circles and churches we haven't. Some haven't moved at all, and worse yet, haven't even considered the need or possibility of moving.

Many churches, including the church where I serve, do not have any explicit policies limiting the roles of women, but may do so implicitly (intentionally or otherwise) by abiding denominational tradition, unspoken expectations, and unexamined assumptions. Moving beyond these old limitations takes pastoral care, wisdom, and patience, but church leaders must have the courage and conviction to help their churches do so. Churches may not do the same things in exactly the same ways or at the same speeds, but they need to thoughtfully, prayerfully, and humbly do something.

Scot McKnight re-posted Goldsworthy's article on the Jesus Creed Blog with this introductory remark: "One of the strategies to recognize, encourage and mobilize the gifts God gives to women is for males, in positions that can render decisions or empower women, to speak up, stand up and create opportunities for women to speak." I couldn't agree more, and I'm adding my "Amen" by posting about it today.

Here are a couple of excerpts from Goldsworthy's article:
"Today, I was challenged in a sermon by one of the best preachers I get to hear on a regular basis. That preacher happened to be a woman. ... If our church did not allow her to preach, we would be missing out on that gift. If she was relegated to only teaching children or women, I would have missed the challenge that I received today from her teaching, and so would the 50% of our congregation that happens to be the same gender as me."

"The church that I grew up in didn’t have space for women to lead and teach in that kind of way. In fact, I don’t remember a woman ever even doing something such as serving communion. I don’t know if it was an official policy or a stated theological position, but it was just known that didn’t happen."

"So, to my friends who lead churches where there are incredibly gifted women who don’t fit into the narrow roles that you have defined as acceptable for them. As you find yourself in battles as they try use their gifts, and you don’t have a place for them…Send them my way. We have a church full of strong, capable women serving and using their gifts, but I could always use even more role models for my daughter. I don’t know that I have a better answer than that. I can’t change your church, but I can keep making sure that there is space in the one I lead for people to serve with the gifts God has given them, regardless of gender."
Click Here to read the entire article: "On Women in the Church..."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wednesday Words - Forgetfulness

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

"Forgetfulness" by Billy Collins from
Questions about Angels, ©Copyright 1999.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tuesday Tome - Who Is This Man?

Who Is This Man? by John Ortberg is the reading selection for my current book club at Valley Christian Church.

Our third and final session will be next Tuesday night, Tuesday, November 5, at 7:00pm. We will be discussing Chapter 11 through the end of the book.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Monday Music - My Turning

I am standing at a crossroads
Where so many have stood before;
Fools and sages from all ages,
The rich and famous, the forgotten and poor.
And Joshua's voice still echos in the place,
Saying, "Choose who you’ll serve today."
I've got to follow one of two roads;
Will I turn or turn away?

This, this is my turn,
This is my turning.
This, this is my turn,
This is my turning.

This is where Saul stood on the road to Damascus
Blinded by a heavenly light.
This is where Stephen was stoned for the Gospel
And Bartimaeus received his sight.
Peter preached here at Pentecost–
Three thousand turned their hearts that day.
This is the place where a rich young ruler
Thought the price was just to much to pay.

This was their turn,
This was their turning.
This was their turn,
This was their turning.

And I can hear Jesus calling my name,
Saying, "I've got a purpose for you;"
But just like Jacob at Peniel
I am wrestling with what to do.
But there's a great cloud witnesses
Traveling down that road,
And I'm gonna follow in their footsteps,
I’ve decided the way to go.

This is my turn,
This is my turning.
This, this is my turn,
This is my turning.

This, this is my turn,
This is my turning.
This is my turn,
This is my turning.
This is my turning.

"My Turning" from So Far to Go, words and music by Dave Burkum. © Copyright 1993 by Dave Burkum (burkum.com).

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Supplication - Calm Our Hearts

Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your promise and plan to restore all things through your beloved Son, Jesus, the Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords. In your mercy, bring freedom and unity to all people. Save us from sin and divisiveness and bring us together under your gracious rule.

Forgive us for the wrongs we’ve done and the good we’ve left undone. Renew us by your Spirit. Help us to turn away from what is worthless and make us able to do what is right.

Show us how to live as Christ, and as you have forgiven us, make us merciful and ready to forgive those who have sinned against us.

O Lord, grant us a deep sense of your loving presence when the troubles of life threaten to overwhelm us. Remind us of your faithfulness. Calm our hearts. Help us to be still and know that you are God.

Through Christ, we pray. Amen.