Tuesday, September 22, 2009


The ELCA portion of feautor.org is easily the coolest thing I've seen in a while. Andy Arnold (the ELCA Youth Ministry Network "Tech Geek") pointed me to this amazingly simple and powerful resource.
There are currently over 900 contributions in the ELCA section of this site. This could be a great resource for those who write their own curriculum and wish to share it and those who need a push in their own planning. I know that we, as a church, have lots of great programming ideas and there are many ways where others can help fill in our own growth areas.

The ceiling for this kind of open-source file sharing site is virtually unlimited. Imagine how we could change how we "do church" differently if we could tap into each other's creative gifts...for free!

In the spirit of koinonia, I encourage everyone to think of at least one concept, program, file, or resource that you could share with other church leaders at feautor.org...and take some time to see what shared items you might benefit from.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Images of Greatness

When I was in 7th grade, one of my class projects was "Images of Greatness". The purpose was to do extended research on a person we considered to be great. Then, near the end of the year, we would dress up like our person and offer clues to the audience who had gathered (mostly parents). We would end our speech with a standard question: "Who Am I?" The audience would call out the famous person's name after the question was asked. Almost every person was easily identifiable, if not by their costume than by the descriptive clues offered by the 12-year olds. (It's not difficult to find distinguishing costumes for Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jordan, Ben Franklin, or Betsy Ross.)

However, there was one obscure "famous" person that stumped the entire crowd. My friend Matt chose his great uncle as his image of greatness. Matt spoke of how his great uncle had won the Nobel Peace Prize and was credited with saving over 1 billion people from certain death due to starvation and famine. He gave clues about how this man grew up the small town of Cresco, IA and eventually became a world-renown leader in agronomy and would be called the "Grandfather of the Green Revolution." He had recently started the World Food Prize to recognize other people who were finding ways to improve food security in developing nations. The list went on and on. The biographical clues were thorough. Matt's attire - denim and flannel with a straw hat on his head and a stalk of wheat in his mouth - was spot-on.

And yet when he asked "Who Am I?"...the crowd was silent.

The audience members looked around with confused looks on their faces. Certainly someone in the crowd had heard of this man's heroic feats. Finally, Matt's parents both exclaimed, "NORMAN BORLAUG" as the audience nodded with equal parts embarrassment and awe.

I received similar responses yesterday when I told some of my friends that Dr. Borlaug had passed away on Sunday night at the age of 95. In one sense, it's a shame that more people don't know about this life-saving miracle worker who worked tirelessly to end world hunger. On the other hand, it's rare to find genuine humility in a truly great man.

Dr. Borlaug's life (along with the lectionary text from Mark 9:30-37) is the subject of a Faith Lens study that I wrote for the ELCA. You can read it here. The New York Times ran his obituary on Monday. Borlaug will be honored with a memorial service at Texas A&M University on October 6. Let's give God thanks for the life and ministry of this true image of greatness.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Time and Place

I didn't know what to do. I was in my first job, just a few months removed from the cocoon of a private college. Some maniacs had just flown planes into the WTC towers. I was the youth minister on a two-person church staff. The pastor was in the hospital recovering from surgery.

So I decided to hold a prayer service that night, as so many other churches were doing. The purpose was to sing hymns of lament and trust, offer silent and spoken prayers, and be in the presence of God and one another. This was way out of my league...but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

The sanctuary was packed. Allison (my wife) played piano. I read some prayers. A few people sang. Everyone cried. After about 45 minutes, I offered a benediction and encouraged people to linger in the narthex if they want to talk, shared, and reflect. As I was about to have everyone "go in peace", Mike stood up and started talking...

* * *

Mike was a son of the congregation who had recently discerned a call to ordained ministry. He lived with his wife and two daughters across the street from the church. Mike had enrolled in a local community college to get the necessary undergraduate credits before heading to seminary. Though some in the church had their reservations about Mike's prospects as a pastor, everyone was supportive of him.

* * *

Mike was speaking to those assembled at the prayer service about his own anger, confusion, and doubt surrounding the events that took place earlier in the day. He went on for more than 10 minutes. A few people started leaving. Others were becoming noticeably agitated by his impromptu sermon. I interjected by thanking Mike for his reflections and encouraged him to continue the conversation in the narthex. But he kept talking. And talking. 15 minutes...18...20...25...30. More people left. Most stayed. I sensed it was out of courtesy.

Finally, an old man stood up. His white hair and large glasses covered most of his face, looking like Santa's disheveled brother. He stood hunched over, but spoke with a resonance.

"I believe it's time for us to go home, Mike."

These words seemed to offend our prodigal pastor-in-waiting. Mike rebuked the old man, who didn't back down either. They gently barked back and forth at each other a couple of times. The mood was tense. At this point, most people were grabbing their personal items and heading for the door. I interjected a word of thanks and then left the sanctuary. It was an unfortunate end to the prayer service, but, in many ways, it captured the raw emotion that everyone was feeling at the time. Nobody really knew what to do. Everyone was scared...confused...angry. I, for one, was grateful for the old man who helped Mike to see that there was a better time and place for such a rant.

A few weeks later, Mike drove out to a local park and shot himself in the head. The end of his cryptic 9/11-themed suicide note simply said, "The Devil wins again".

My heart immediately ached for Mike's wife and children...but it didn't take long before I thought of the old man who had the courage to say to Mike what everyone else was thinking. I worried that he might blame himself for contributing to Mike's emotional unraveling. Worse yet, I feared that this small town would look for someone to blame for Mike's suicide, and would make this old man - who kept to himself and lived out in the country - the scape goat.

I came to find out that the old man was an ELCA pastor who did interim work in another synod. He had wrestled with the way he handled Mike ever since the prayer service, and had become even harder on himself after Mike died. He found refuge in the local auto body shop; a one-man operation run by a born-again Lutheran. They shared many conversations and cans of Pepsi in the weeks ahead. Eventually, I'm told, the old pastor was able to forgive himself for doing nothing other than speaking the truth in love.

I had forgotten about the old pastor until this past summer when he was recognized at synod assembly for celebrating an ordination anniversary. I was happy to know that he had stayed in ministry and even came to the assembly. He received our applause with solemn appreciation. I wonder if he was thinking of Mike.

I was...and I am today, too.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Today is one of those days that I have a ton of strange thoughts in my head...for example:
  • The separation between church and state is juxtaposed when the voting for public officials takes place in churches...like today at the church where I work
  • Nothing encapsulates the current Lutheran drama more than the existence of two distinct Lutheran Study Bibles.
  • The people in the Midwest towns of Milan, Tripoli, Guttenberg, New Prague, Madrid, and Orion must have difficulty learning phonetics
  • If your computer crashes in the midst of typing something, is that God trying to tell you not to write it?
  • Can we please limit the number of special edition / director's cut / extended footage versions of movies on DVD? I don't want to buy a movie and then find out 2 years later that it's not the complete version.
  • My 1st grader is already asking for an iPod
  • I'm starting to think that it's harder to understand the formula for credit scores than the BCS college football rankings
  • I could easily do 85% of my job away from my office
  • Adults are usually worse at handling inter-personal conflict than kids
  • 4 children died of hunger in the time it took you to read this...and over 100 died in the time it took me to write this random crap
  • When someone says, "you look just like _____" I always feel bad for the other person

What's on your mind today?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

WE ARE sparkhouse

As someone who is unapologetically Lutheran, and as one who is excited about renewal movements within the church, I'm really stoked about sparkhouse.

Click here to see what they're all about. I'm taking my two young boys to visit sparkhouse on Friday. I'll let you know what we find out.