Sunday, January 31, 2010


I was working on a Sunday School lesson for tomorrow focusing on the theme of calling. It's a topic I've done several times before, often selecting from one of the many biblical examples and perhaps throwing in something fun like a Bruce Almighty clip.

Anyway, I was thinking about how all the examples tend to emphasize the supernatural. Sure there are the all to human responses of denial by the 'callee', but that doesn't stop the whole experience from seeming rather unbelievable. Then I came upon this story.

I found this on NPR's Storycorp, which is just a fascinating collection to browse through anyway, but here is the story of a 9 year old that new he wouldn't reach "double digits". This strange premonition helped the last weeks of his life prepare those around him for his departure. Here is the story:

Now I don't want to say that his calling was to die or that God chooses some to die to serve a 'greater purpose' or anything like that. That road always seems to be paved with bad theology and ignored or unnaturally stinted times of mourning. Rather I just want to insert this story in the conversation to say that sometimes God can speak to us in very real ways. As if we need a reminder...

Thursday, July 2, 2009

It's been a busy summer. I just finished moving out of my Kansas City apartment and into Katie's until we both leave for Berkeley in a little over a week. My last day at work was the 14th of June, but have spent the time since then packing, going to Dallas to help Katie with a mission trip, and spending this weekend in St. Louis with the fam so haven't really had much time to kick back and relax in the midst of it all. Then after we move out there I will have only a couple days before starting intensive German. So yeah...

Sorry that's all a little random, that's just kind of how I am this summer. I have been able to get a lot of good reading in though, which makes me happy. Reading theology just reconnects me with that passion for knowledge which is the reason I'm headed out to California in the first place. So far finished Judith Butler's Gender Trouble, Karl Rahner's Foundations, and am about done with Ruether's Sexism and God Talk. Rahner was a particularly good read and would recommend it heartily to anyone.

That's about it for now. Don't have any real deep thoughts, just thought I'd check in.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


So, obviously haven't been on here for quite a while, but due to Katie's prompting I'll see if I can make another go at it. Here's a quick rundown of all that is currently going on:

1) About a month or so ago in early May I got engaged to the love of my life. Emily was great in helping to pick out the ring and I got to propose to Katie over a dinner of Valifornia rolls (sushi was our first date and we are moving to California), Napa Valley wine, and Vhristopher Elbow chocolates. Perfection!

2) Graduated with my Master of Divinity (coolest degree name ever!) from Saint Paul and got accepted into the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA where I will start my PhD in the Fall. GTU is a great program. When I went out and visited I absolutely fell in love. Plus it's in one of the most beautiful places on earth, which doesn't hurt. I'm quite excited! Will continue to update on that one as it occurs...

3) Just had my last service at church on Sunday, June 14. I preached and they had a little reception for me afterwards. It was really sweet. Tough saying goodbye to everyone though. The pastors 5th grader who would have just been going into the youth group next year wrote me a note about how I was his inspiration, cutest thing ever. I took the youth to World's of Fun today for one last hoorah and have been on the verge of crying ever since. Leaving is tough :(

4) Moved into Katie's place this week and starting to see how this whole living together thing will work out. Two days in I'm still loving it. She's the best :)

5) Nothing beats a late night happy hour with friends.

That is all for now, maybe I'll get better about this as I move on. Night kids.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Decisions, decisions...

It's been quite a while since my last post. I started off strong, but it has kind of petered into nothingness. Now that Reading Week/Spring Break/whatever has arrived hopefully I can get back on track with all those useful rituals of life (cleaning, blogging, gym, etc.). We'll see. 

For the moment I just thought I would give the blogging world a quick update. If you've talked to me at all you probably know that the past couple months have been filled with a lot of anxiety. I graduate from Saint Paul this May and have applied to 7 different PhD programs for the Fall. At the same time I have been running the maze that is the candidacy process in the UMC. As I have been waiting .... and waiting.... and waiting to hear back from the schools, the stress has only grown not knowing where I would be living or what I would be doing only months from now. 

Anyways, I got into one program at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. GTU is a consortium of 9 different seminaries in the San Francisco area that does a joint PhD program with the University of California. Then on Friday I finally received their financial aid offer which pretty much covers all but a small portion of the tuition. It's not a perfect situation where I receive a full tuition grant and a living stipend, but such things are pretty hard to get in this economy, coming out of a small seminary like Saint Paul, and not being a whiz at standardized testing. 

So now comes the decision: do I go for the PhD or do I work for a full-time appointment. I know I've been vocally in support of PhD work for a long time, but this really is something that I have been on the fence about. It's a tough call since each is a valuable ministry of the church. Also, being involved in both academia and church work here in KC, I have thoroughly enjoyed them both. Plus the thought of learning two new languages, writing some ridiculously long papers, and taking some pretty intense tests is kind of intimidating right now. Not going to lie on that one.

Right now I have to say it's looking like I'm going to go to GTU. It's still quite the choice to make (I really don't know if I'm old enough to be making these kind of life decisions, ha!), but am definitely leaning that direction pretty strongly. For a while there I was pretty pessimistic about my prospects for grad programs and started shutting down the academic part of my brain that had been driving me forward. However, once I got that acceptance and began to consider PhD work once again I really figured out what I had been missing. 

These are exciting times. For once, I am looking toward the future with a hopeful mind and don't have the weight of the unknown bearing down on me. God is good! 

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Merely Clothes

In what little spare time I have, I was reading up on some Lacan the other day and stumbled across this quote:

"I can tell you a little tale, that of a parakeet that was in love with Picasso. How could one tell? From the way the parakeet nibbled the collar of the shirt and the flaps of his jacket. Indeed, the parakeet was in love with what is essential to man, namely, his attire. The parakeet was like Descartes, to whom men were merely clothes (habits) walking about. Clothes promise debauchery when one takes them off. But this is only a myth, a myth that converges with the bed I mentioned earlier. To enjoy a body when there are no more clothes leaves intact the question of what makes the One, that is, the question of identification. The parakeet identified with the clothed. 

The same goes for everything involving love. The habit loves the monk, as they are but one thereby. In other words, what lies under the habit, what we call the body, is perhaps but the remainder." (Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book XX: On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge 1972-73)

I find this passage incredibly interesting. What better way to sum up the postmodern situation than the picture of men (and women) who are "merely clothes walking about"? We create for ourselves images and projections of who we want to be and display that to society. We take on identities, whether it be a monk's habit or business suit or what have you, and let them control us to the extent that we become synonomous with them. We have a desire to break through, to view our authentic selves, but even this is 'debaucherous'. In many ways the so-called 'relativism' of the postmodern context simply speaks to this plurality of identities as well as to the schism between identity and truth.

Now, by no means to I want to return to a monolithic view of truth that is imposed upon others. We are not healed by changing clothes, but by reconciling with them. Brad did a great job in advocating for our identity ('who we be') to be viewed in an iconic fashion, as a window and a mirror, that points to the truth of God and yet forges our own unique self-identity. Truth is the iconic connection between our bodies and our identities, who we are and who we are called to be, the now and the not yet, which is forged in faith.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


If you know me at all than you know my love of video games. A couple months ago I stumbled across this one as a download on the 360. It is called Braid and is kind of a high-brow artsy take on the whole Mario storyline (Save the princess, who always is in the next castle).

Anyways, the game introduces the protaginists quest with this text blurb:
"Tim is off on a search to rescue the Princess. She has been snatched by a  horrible and evil monster. This happened because Tim made a mistake."  "Not just one. He made many mistakes during the time they spent together, all  those years ago. Memories of their relationship have become muddled, replaced  wholesale, but one remains clear: the princess turning sharply away, her braid  lashing at him with contempt."  "He knows she tried to be forgiving, but who can just shrug away a guilty lie,  a stab in the back? Such a mistake will change a relationship irreversibly,  even if we have learned from the mistake and would never repeat it. The  princess's eyes grew narrower. She became more distant."  "Our world, with its rules of causality, has trained us to be miserly with  forgiveness. By forgiving them too readily, we can be badly hurt. But if we've  learned from a mistake and became better for it, shouldn't we be rewarded for  the learning, rather than punished for the mistake?"  "What if our world worked differently? Suppose we could tell her: 'I didn't  mean what I just said,' and she would say: 'It's okay, I understand,' and she  would not turn away, and life would really proceed as though we had never said  that thing? We could remove the damage but still be wiser for the experience."  "Tim and the Princess lounge in the castle garden, laughing together, giving  names to the colorful birds. Their mistakes are hidden from each other, tucked  away between the folds of time, safe.""
This reflection both introduces the story (to save the princess) as well as the primary game mechanic (you have to reverse time in order to solve puzzles). Later, other such reflections are introduces. For example, one level addresses the topic of time and space where as you move forward and backward in the level all the monsters/objects similarly move forward and back in time. It's all rather interesting.
However, I don't intend this to be simply a review of the game (although I do highly recommend it), but rather just a shallow inquiry into the state of our entertainment. It is possible to do a lot with small, simple elements. Sometimes our games/movies/art/books/whatever are filled with flashy gimmicks while not reaching deeper into the human condition. Again, I am not trying to be critical of anything in particular. But, why do we settle for less when we can acheive so much more?
Alain Badiou, a contemporary French philosopher, wrote 15 theses on contemporary art which can be found here: . Particularly interesting is the last couple points. For example, #13:
"13. Today art can only be made from the starting point of that which, as far as Empire is concerned, doesn't exist. Through its abstraction, art renders this inexistence visible. This is what governs the formal principle of every art : the effort to render visible to everyone that which for Empire (and so by extension for everyone, though from a different point of view), doesn't exist."
In many ways, this mimics our own challenge in ministry. How can we make sure that what we are doing is not simply mimicing the commercialism we are immersed in? How can we take seriously Jesus' radical challenge to build the Kingdom of Heaven from the perspective of the 'least of these'? How can our ministry and worship (which really is an art form) be continuously challenging our perspective?
I may have strayed from my original thought, which was on a game of all things, but I do believe there is a depth to everything and we just have to take the time to draw it out. As Badiou reminds us, it's dangerous to settle for less.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


At the last General Conference of the UMC, the call to witness was added our membership vow in the church. As a member of the UMC, we commit our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. Witness has always been a conflicted term for me due in a large part to my evangelical upbringing (and all it's instructions on how to save souls) that I have since moved away from, but this post is not about that. Rather, I think beyond all our divisions there is a base passion that drives the human soul and a key part of our spirituality is the act of identifying and expressing that passion.

This past week I was looking for a lesson for Wednesday Night Youth Group and I came to the idea of witness or testimonial. I will preface this with the fact that Trinity's youth group (Journey) is amazing. There never have been problems of cliques that often plague such groups and I have witnessed many friendships with new members. There has never been a discipline issue so our activities can be much more relaxed and I trust them to care for themselves. They are always open to learning and new ideas and indeed have taught me a lot in the few years I have been there. However, there is always room to move deeper and really learn their stories. Thus I came to the topic of witness.

NPR has a program called 'This I Believe' in which they invite anyone to submit a short essay sharing their life philosophy. A week or so ago there was the ubercute submission of a seven year old who wrote 30 things that he believed. The examples are endless: a high-school girl describing her belief in diversity embodied in her choice to wear a muslim head-scarf, a man describing life's ridiculousness and the beauty contained therein, Wayne Coyne's (lead singer of Flaming Lips) belief in finding your own happiness in all of life's moments. All of these, and many more, can be found here: . Anyways, I had the youth read some of these stories as well as the story of Paul from the Bible speaking about how his own experience of conversion drove his ministry and asked the youth to reflecting on a simple question: what do you believe?

The response was amazing. Many wrote several pages that went quite in depth into their own experience. They spoke of a desire for love and equality. They wrote about the need to stop violence based on the violence they had seen and experienced. Some took a more silly approach as well, but even then filled pages with their list. It was quite inspiring to hear them share. To conclude the exercise we all traced our hands on a sheet and wrote one word summarizing our beliefs. I wanted to use this as an altar cloth, a covering for our shared table that carries an imprint from each one of us.

The whole activity greatly inspired me. When planning youth stuff, I never know how it is going to go. The impression this left on me is that we all have issues/beliefs/whatever that we are passionate about. This is our witness, living out our calling to make a better community. The church as a center for our spiritual lives should be a place of connecting with and sharing these passions with other believers, but too often we replace these with empty ritual or pithy life lessons.

How can we as the church be better about sharing our passions and connecting with them in worship? What are the next steps to bringing these about? Perhaps it is a true sign of success when an activity raises more questions than it answers.