Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Things I Love About My Church - #1

I've been on the staff at Windsor Heights Lutheran Church for over nine years.  There's a lot of cool stuff about this church, and, though I can't possibly share all that's great about WHLC, I'd like to blog about a few of my favorite things.  For example...

Men's Fellowship Group

It began over a year ago when a new Bible Study for women was established.  The participants took turns meeting in each other's homes for food and conversation each month.  After a while their husbands decided to get together for their own sort of small group.  Instead of an official church-sanctioned Bible Study, they opted for dinner and drinks at a local establishment.  A few months later, they invited me to join them (which was very kind, since my wife is part of a different Bible Study).

The group consists of about 2/3 recent empty nesters (with children in their early-mid 20s) and 1/3 grandparents of teenagers.  Much of the conversation centers on current events and/or whatever happens to be on someone's mind.  It's a diverse group, and opinions are not hard to come by.  Inevitably, the conversation will to religion, church culture, and the Bible.  All of these men have been leaders in the church for 20+ years (some more than twice that).  They are faithful in worship, prayer, generosity, and study...and yet they come together to wrestle with questions, doubts, and curiosities.

The most beautiful part of this group is the deep and abiding affection (dare I call it "love") that these men have for one another.  They root for different sports teams, live in different parts of town, work for a wide array of vocations, vote for different presidents, and express their faith differently...but they care about each other enough to engage in the kind of conversations they may not be able to have anywhere else.

For example, I arrived a few minutes late tonight, so most of the people had already gathered.  Before I sat down, I was asked about my opinion the previous night's congregational meeting (where, among other things, we voted to move forward with the design phase of a $3.2 million dollar building project).  How did I think it went?  What surprised me?  Am I excited about the building project?  From there, we shifted to the Newtown, CT tragedy.  We debated the nuance between the presence of "the devil" and the presence of "independent evil" in the world.  Does the devil exist?  Is there a hell?  If so, does the person who killed all of those children belong there?  What about mental health issues?  Did the shooter need help and, therefore, does he deserve our sympathy instead of our hatred?  Do we want to be in heaven if murderers are there?  Should people with mental health problems have access to guns?  Should anyone have access to the kind of guns used in Newtown?  Do we need stricter gun control laws?  Do we need looser gun control laws?  Where was God in the midst of the shootings?  Did this happen because teachers can't pray in school?  Is this one of the signs that the world is coming to an end?

All of this in the 20 minutes before our food arrived.

From there we engaged a variety of topics -- social media, raising children, politics, sports, and whether or not the University of Iowa should find a new president.  The group adjourned after a couple of hours, with a commitment to meet again next month.

I don't know if it's commonplace for other churches to have a group of 12-15 people who are committed to one another in the same way as this men's fellowship group.  I certainly hope so.  Sharing dinner and drinks with these people has certainly blessed my life and given me hope that civil discourse is possible in our world.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Propped Up by Culture

Every once in a while a blog post comes along that appears to be speaking directly to me.  Such was the case with Pastor Keith Anderson's Pastors Stop Complaining About Sunday Morning Sports.  If there's one common theme that has come up in youth ministry circles (with greater frequency) is the idea that we are in competition with sports, music, drama events.

At some level, we are.  Young people have a finite amount of time to give to various activities.  The extrinsic consequences for missing a basketball practice, for example, are greater than missing youth group.  The coach can reduce playing time or even remove a player from the team if they appear to have a divided loyalty.  The youth leader, by contrast, isn't likely to bench a young person because they missed youth group.  At worst, the young person might get a "hey, we missed you" or "you haven't been to church in a while"...but nothing like what might happen after missing a practice/rehearsal.

It's like every activity-group is a plastic containers of food.  Everything aspect of life is compartmentalized.  A sports team is one container.  Same for a music ensemble, drama troupe, academic club, social group, etc.  Some containers are bigger than others.  Many consider their faith-related activities to be in a similar container -- something they do when they're not doing those other things.  Maybe, instead, we need to help people think of their faith life as the refrigerator; the appliance that keeps the food in the other containers from spoiling.

Pastor Keith points to the need of church leaders to emphasize vocation in their interactions with people.  If, instead of becoming bitter about being on the losing end of our competition with sports/music/drama, we encouraged those young people to consider the way they approach those activities is connected to their faith life.

* * *

Another fascinating concept Pastor Keith broached is this:

The emergence of Sunday morning sports is just a symbol of a shift that's happening in our society where the church is no longer accommodated or propped up by our culture.

I never thought about the church as being propped up by culture - but I have to admit there are a lot of ways it has been and continues to be.  I've grown up in a time and place where almost all of my friends went to a Christian church.  I knew some nones, but I knew even fewer people who practice a different religion than Christianity.  Additionally, I recall a strict "no homework" policy at my school on Wednesday nights, because that was Church Night.  Music contests, sporting events, and other extra-curricular activities took place on Saturday; never on Sunday.  Lots of stores were closed on Sunday, some even explicitly indicating it was "in honor of our Lord."

As this trend continues, it's understandable that some church leaders will become depressed.  It will also become easy for parishioners who long for the good-old-days to blame their pastor or youth leader for why young people aren't flocking to churches like they did in previous generations.  (Something I touched on in this post.)

I have hope that an emphasis on vocation will renew our church members and staff to being about Christ's presence in the world.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Biblical Purity

Some of you may recall me writing back in February about a biblical purity resource called Wholeness & Holiness.  I'm thrilled that, after more than a year of collaborating with Jake Bouma and Ritva Williams, W&H is finally available for church leaders to purchase and use in their context.  It's only been a week and we're already hearing great feedback from people who plan to use it with youth, parents, and other adult groups.

One of the hurdles we are already facing is the notion that "biblical purity" is only about sex and sexuality.  From my perspective, Wholeness & Holiness is about sex in the same way a grocery store is about selling vegetables.  When you enter a grocery store, you can find a lot of varieties of vegetables prepared in different ways (fresh, canned, frozen, etc.), but there are many other kinds of food in that supermarket.  In the same way, W&H has a robust lesson called Holy Sex! and includes an extended supplemental resource for leaders to delve into deeper conversation about sex...but W&H is about much more than sex.  The purity laws found in the Bible touch nearly every aspect of individual and communal living — food, clothing, hygiene, jewelry, and much more.  When crafting this resource we tried to reflect the expansive nature of biblical purity, dating back to the time of Moses.  As one commenter put it, "so you really do mean BIBLICAL purity!"

I hope people find Wholeness & Holiness to be a helpful resource in telling the whole story of biblical purity.  It's exciting to be part of the conversation that is already unfolding.  For example, the concept of calling behavior "biblical" is a hot topic right now.  (One needn't look any farther than the thousands of comments related to Rachel Held Evans' recent post, The danger of calling behavior 'biblical'.)  I hope W&H can debunk some existing purity myths and be part of the larger discourse about holy/pure/biblical living.

If you want to know more about Wholeness & Holiness, please check out our web site, like us on Facebook, and/or follow us on Twitter.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Drinks & Hymns

A few years ago, some of the cool churches started doing a "Beer & Hymns" event — a time for the spiritual-but-not-religious and the religious-but-not-spiritual to meet in a locally owned pub for a hymn sing.  The allure was two fold: (1) a chance to debunk the impression that Christians are stuffy prohibitionists, and (2) a proclamation that songs of faith can/should be sung outside of church.

In September my friend Nate Houge came down from Minnesota and led a coffee + beer + hymns event in Des Moines.  The venue was perfect -- a slightly rundown theater owned by an adjacent coffee shop which also seves food, wine, and beer.  We promoted it across several Lutheran churches and two local colleges, hoping to snag the notoriously de-churched Millennial crowd.  About 30 people came - many of whom were church workers.  I'll admit to being simultaneously disappointed with the turnout and blessed by those who came.  It was a fun night, but I wondered if my circle of influence wasn't "urban hipster" enough to pull off this kind of radical project.  I totally get it.  Singing hymns in a public non-church place is weird...especially if alcohol might be present.

I'm not sure why, but we decided to do another one...with a few tweaks.  We held it on a Friday night (instead of Thursday) and changed the name to Drinks & Hymns which is a little more church newsletter friendly.  We also relied on local musicians to perform a brief concert and lead the hymn sing.  This time around, there were 75+ who attended, which made for a loud and satisfying evening.  It was truly a cross-generational event involving people in their 70's on down to a five-week old baby.  The full spectrum of drink varieties were consumed.  Some tears were shed.  Harmonies were sung.  The feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

There seems to be some energy around doing Drinks & Hymns again in Central Iowa...which makes my heart happy.

If you're thinking of starting your own beverage/hymns event, Pastor Keith Anderson has some helpful suggestions.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Give Me Shelter

Last night I had the opportunity to serve supper with some high school students at the Central Iowa Shelter & Services in downtown Des Moines.  The congregation where I work provides dinner to nearly 200 people at the CISS on the 11th day of each month.  It's a powerful reminder that Jesus calls us to give food, drink, clothing, and shelter to people in need.

This was my first time in the new 42,000 square foot shelter facility.  The building has a large dining room, two smaller gathering rooms, laundry, computer classroom, clothes closet, food pantry, and a weekly medical clinic.  These upgrades help CISS pursue its mission "to provide free shelter and meals to homeless adults regardless of physical or emotional conditions, and to facilitiate their move toward self-sufficiency."

I recall visiting the St. Francis Center in Denver, CO in 2004 and wishing that Des Moines had a similar place to provide holistic services to homeless people.  Though the operations at CISS aren't nearly the size of St. Francis, I'm proud to live in a city that has devoted significant resources to reaching out in love to people in need.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Everything Is Public

In preparation for a presentation I'm making with my friend Jake this weekend ("Parenting Teens in a Social Media World") I've been compiling examples of how people use and misuse sites like Facebook and Twitter.  These web resources are often used for good (if they weren't, why would Facebook have over 1 billion active monthly users worldwide?).  However, there are plenty of examples of how online missteps have resulted in people jeopardizing their jobs, friends, marriages, and standing in their communities.

If I had one bit of advice to people who use social media it's this: assume everything is public!

Yes, Facebook allows you to limit the scope of your status updates (words, links, pictures, videos) so that only your *friends* can see.  Twitter has something similar with "protected tweets."  However, once those people see what you've posted, they can print that page or take a screen cap of what you posted.  From there, that information can be shared with anyone.  There are too many tales of people who posted "private" data and got burned.

Whenever I post something on-line, I scroll through my list of friends/followers and imagine myself in the same room with some of those people.  Would the information I'm about to post on line be something I'd say aloud to my boss...my next door neighbor...my aunt...the elderly lady from church...the person who seeks to do me harm?  If the answer is "no" then I don't post it.

Assume everything is public.

I may sound a tad paranoid, but in the world of social media, you lose control the second you publish something.  If you don't want some people to know about it, don't post it.

Monday, November 5, 2012


By most standard measurements I'm not a very patriotic person.  I don't have a flag hung on my property.  There are no political signs in my yard.  I have not served in the military (I've never even fired a gun).  I'm a believer in what Thomas Jefferson called the "wall of separation between church and state" - and because most of my time is spent in church endeavors, there isn't a lot of time left for state stuff.

My lack of overt patriotism should not be mistaken for a lack of gratitude for the freedoms provided to me in the United States.  I look forward to participating in one such freedom on November 6 - the right to vote.  It's difficult for me to consider that some people don't have that opportunity...and, as recently as a few generations ago, there were voting limits on some American citizens.

I'm also a person who will be relieved when this political election cycle is over.  I believe the level of vitriol and anger being spewed the last few weeks has been unprecedented - way worse than 2008 or 2010.  It seems that this election has brought out the worst in people.  Every day for the last month I've been unpleasantly surprised by the hateful things shared / endorsed / instigated by "friends" of mine on Facebook and Twitter.  Apparently civil discourse and respectful disagreement are passe concepts in 2012.

Despite my frustration with how this election cycle has played out, I will be proud to cast my ballot on Tuesday.  It serves as reminder of how lucky I am to have been born into a country where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are considered "unalienable rights" and not the luxuries that they are in some places.

Lord, have mercy.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Reggie's Sleepout

Last Saturday I spent a chilly night under the stars at the Drake University Stadium as part of Reggie's Sleepout.  This annual event is a way to raise money and awareness for youth homelessness in central Iowa.  Around 1,500 people participate in this event, which generated over $150,000 for Youth & Shelter Services.  Reggie's Sleepout is named in honor of Reggie Kelsey, who died a few months after aging out of the foster care system.  He was active in homeless youth programs prior to his death.

The best part of this event is the timing.  Reggie's Sleepout is held in late-autumn, when overnight temperatures are near freezing.  If you're cold by 10:00 p.m., it's unlikely you'll warm up until the morning.  Participants sleep in cardboard boxes to, in some small way, simulate a night of homelessness.  Most groups keep it simple.  Some create impressive structures in an attempt to win prizes.  (Personally, I think the contest for best design distracts some groups from being in solidarity with homeless youth.)

I was pleased to see so many church groups involved in Reggie's Sleepout - including at least six local ELCA congregations.  It's a good event that keeps homelessness-related issues in the public consciousness as winter approaches.

Friday, October 26, 2012


Someone from church recently reminded me that I have a "blog."  Allegedly, there's a time in which I would write articles for this "blog" on a semi-regular basis.  I'm also told that I used to find "blogging" to be a creative outlet and a way to participate in conversations about things that were important to me.

That kinda sounds like fun.  Maybe I should try it again.

I haven't written an original post since July 12.  Since then, I've

  • traveled to New Orleans with people from my church for a Lutheran youth event
  • seen my friend Jake become cancer-free
  • watched my house become emptier, with all three kids in full-day school
  • done a handful of consultations / speaking gigs
  • listened to a lot of Mumford & Sons
  • worked on projects for Faith Lens, sparkhouse, and Wholeness & Holiness
  • spent time in Denver (my favorite city)
Probably the most significant change in the last few months has been my role at church.  After nine years at Windsor Heights Lutheran, I worked to develop a new job description.  It's a ministry mutt position in the areas of children, youth, family, young adult, music, and communications ministries.  This new role comes with a 12-month trial - with the plan to evaluate how / if the leadership and I feel this position effectively combines the needs of the congregation with the gifts and interests of the staff person.  It's been quite a transition!

So, that's a quick update on my life.  Moving forward I hope to continue sharing stories, insights, and questions about what's going on in the world.  As always, I'm grateful for the participation of those who read and interact with koinonia.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

You Can't go to New Orleans Without Tasting the Food

Last week, I was with a group of 16 youth & adults from Windsor Heights Lutheran Church; the congregation I serve in Des Moines, IA.  I asked the group to offer their reflections throughout the week on koinonia.  In this entry, Brett "Big Daddy" Toresdahl shares our group's culinary experiences. 

As the self appointed “food tour guide” for the WHLC Youth Gathering crew, I felt the responsibility to review some to the incredible cuisine that we experienced in the Big Easy.  Let me first start with a word of thanks to my fifteen traveling companions for their eagerness and willingness to explore the food of New Orleans with me.  Often, when traveling in groups it is hard to come to a consensus as to where to eat for a variety of reasons, but for the most part All were game to try new places, setting aside any dietary pickiness that they may have brought with them.
Before setting out on the trip, I attempted unsuccessfully to get a clause added to our covenant that would put a moratorium on the eating at any fast food, chains or joints that had more than one location and could be consumed had we stayed in Iowa.  But being realistic, traveling by bus, keeping schedules, battling 33,000 others for food and convenience sometime made this difficult.  I regretfully report that there was some McDonald’s, Taco Bell, KFC and Subway consumed.  Lord, forgive us our sins. With this said, I set my sights on the group experiencing the food, atmosphere and culture that is truly New Orleans.  If anyone has ever been there, you know what I am talking about and I think our group left with some memorable food experiences.
On the day of our arrival, following registration and check in to our hotel, we set out by trolley for our first food experience. Our destination was Dooky Chase, a restaurant rooted deep in the African American community and the Civil Rights movement of New Orleans.  Our walk from the trolley took us six or seven blocks through a neighborhood which still had the footprints of Katrina.  We walked past boarded up homes next to newly build townhouse complexes next to overgrown vacant lots next to small businesses struggling to survive.

Right in the middle of blight, poverty and now construction is this incredible restaurant that's been cobbled together by an amazing ambassador of New Orleans, Leah Chase, the 88 year old matriarch of Dooky Chase who still oversees the kitchen starting at 7am daily.  The restaurant is part old world, part gallery and everything New Orleans.  Dooky Chase is one of those places you hear about as being quintessentially New Orleans. From the amazing food to the beautiful art, it did not disappoint.  Dooky Chase, was known as a gathering place during the 1960s among many who participated in the Civil Rights movement.  The restaurant is also known as a gallery due to its extensive African American Art collection.  The distinguished collection represents powerful symbols of a history this restaurant both survived and altered.

As you step thru the door you know you're leaving the challenges outside the doors behind you.  The tables are covered in white linen and the main dining room is a deep red.  While many tourist flock to Dooky Chase, it regularly attracts a professional crowd at lunch as well as a number of local politic types. Ms. Chase's traditional southern fare food is as good as the atmosphere. Everything you'd expect to be on the menu is; fried chicken, fried catfish, smothered cabbage, red beans and rice, peach cobbler. We went for the buffet and everything on it was delish.  The fried chicken was golden crunchy, moist and not greasy.  My mouth is still watering thinking about it.  I believe that I can claim it as the best I have ever eaten. The andouille sausage, green beans, mac and cheese, red beans and rice were all stars.  And when the friendly wait staff announced that the dessert for the day was peach "cobbler", we all answered in unison, “yes”.  

All of us left Dooky Chase with huge smiles on our face. We saw some amazing art, ate some incredible food, and enjoyed getting to know each other better.  A side note of trivia: Ms. Chase was the inspiration for the main character in Disney’s animated movie “Princess and the Frog”.

The next morning, the group determined that the only way to start a morning in New Orleans is with a plate of beignets and a cup of chicory coffee.  So we ventured into the French Quarter in search of the place that is on everyone’s “to do” list.  All we had to do was follow the brightly colored t-shirts of other Lutheran youth headed for the same destination.  The Original Cafe Du Monde is a traditional coffee shop. Its menu consists of dark roasted Coffee and Chicory, Beignets, White and Chocolate Milk, and fresh squeezed Orange Juice. Beignets are square French -style doughnuts, lavishly covered with powdered sugar.

When we arrived, the dining room was crowded and the lines were long.  But the experienced and seasoned staff kept the tourists flowing in and out.  Our patience paid off as we were rewarded with what we had come for, the beignets.  Hot, fresh and drenched with powdered suger, our eyes bulged as they were placed on our table. The group quickly concluded that beignets should replace donut holes at WHLC coffee hour.  After a brief discussion with Megan about the merits of recycling the excess powdered sugar, our group was off to the Convention Center for our day of peacemaking.

Lunch time brought us our first food dilemma of the day.  Do we eat expensive convention center fare or do we venture out in search of a place that has not been found by the other 33,000 in attendance?  The decision was made to divide and conquer.  Part of the group headed in the direction of Mother’s (more about this to follow) and the rest of us set out for the new WWII Museum where we knew that they had an old fashioned soda shop complete with sandwiches and homemade ice cream. Not more than a block into our journey we cross the street into the arms of a woman standing outside of a sketchy neighborhood bar & grill and encouraging us to stop and try the food.  “Kids are welcome”, she exclaimed.  The chalk written sidewalk sign promoted cheap po boys and $2 bread pudding.  After a slight hesitation to change our plans, we told the woman we would be back.  A few more steps up the street, Megan and Emily couldn’t resist and turned around to go back for fresh shrimp po boys.  They reported that the little dive joint was as charming and delicious as we suspected.  And two days later, we kept the promise to the woman and returned there as a group for a lunch that I will describe later.

About three blocks away we found the Soda Shop.  Opened as part of the WWII Museum, local award winning chef John Besh uses his famed culinary expertise and creativity to turn a traditional looking soda fountain into a very interesting place for lunch.  I think Caroline may have had the most interesting PB&J in her life with a grilled version, oozing with gooey peanut butter.  Several of us had the devil dog which was a homemade hot dog topped with a ground sausage mixture reminiscent of a coney dog.  The parmesan wrap was reported to be very satisfying as well. Most of us topped our lunch off with house-made ice creams and milkshakes. They offered flavors such as Bananas Foster, Sector Candy Bar Crunch and Creole Cream Cheese Red Velvet among others.  The Soda Shop was definitely worth the walk.  But this brought about my second food dilemma of the day; how was I going to walk past the $2 Bread Pudding sign again?

More to follow…

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Citizens WIth the Saints - Julia Recap

" This trip will only be as fun as you make it" - Erik 

I heard Erik say that and new that I wanted to have a really good time on this trip, I knew that how much fun I had was entirely in my own hands. So instead of complaining about the long lines and the weather and the lack of sleep, I completely embraced it. That is why sitting here on the bus on my way home, for the first time in my life, I really don't want to go home, I want to still be in New Orleans with every single person in our group. I'm finding it extremely difficult to come up with the right words to accurately describe what happened this week, and I'm not sure if the words will ever come. But here's my best effort at explaining what happened to me over the past week.

I learned a lot about myself and my faith over this week. It was our first night in the dome and the service started out with welcoming all of us. The speaker used the analogy of us all being the ingredients to God's pot of gumbo. Saying that no matter what our race is, our sexual orientation, whether you're poor or rich, smart or not, strong in your faith or still figuring things out, we were all welcome in God's pot of gumbo, and we were all needed in his pot of gumbo. It was after he said that that I knew the gathering was exactly where I needed to be. I have struggled with my faith for many years and I knew at that moment in the dome that that was perfectly okay. For the first time, I was perfectly content with where I am with faith. 
A big theme within the gathering was tearing down walls, walls the we had built up and created, and how we need to tear them down and encompass everybody with love and God's grace. I think this is something that for the rest of my life I will take with me and continue to work on and try my best to do. Walls that are extremely high, and very thick, made of the worlds strongest materials. And if I am able to make even a small dent in one of these walls, I know that I have made a difference.
My faith may still be on a roller coaster ride, and may potentially be for my entire life, and that's quite alright. But living out my faith, and using it to help others of all kinds is where my faith grew and became stronger. 
Many unexpected things happened on this trip also. For instance, my ability to go with the flow, and embrace everything that happened, instead of worrying about what we were going to do next, or if we were going to make it in time, trying to plan everything, i just went with whatever happened. If you weren't able to find your inner patience, the gathering was going to be hell for you. Simply trying to get on the elevator to get to your room was a 20 minute task, resulting in 20 people in the elevator at a time, and we being in the back of it, but naturally being the first ones who needed off. Getting food wasnt a quick task either, McDonalds moved us through the fastest and with the line halfway to the door it still took over 15 minutes. 

One aspect of the trip that I wasn't thinking was going to have such an impact on me was New Orleans itself. I think by the end of the week I'd fallen in love with the culture and history of it.  I can honestly say that I believe New Orleans has been through some very rough times, and we in Iowa have been through nothing compared to them, and yet the people of New Orleans seems to have a bigger heart, and the ability to let loose and have a great time and truly embrace who they are. Sure, they have their rough spots, Bourbon Street in itself is like nothing we have in Des Moines, but the again, Des Moines has nothing like the true soul jazz that emcompasses New Orleans, and it's people. Going to Preservation Hall changed my entire opinion of jazz. I have never liked jazz, jazz band was always something my parents made me do, not something I wanted to do. I still dont like the sound of jazz in Iowa, it's too Midwestern. But, if I lived in New orleans, jazz would be my thing!

From Daisy Dukes, to Cafe du Monde, Mothers, to Dooky Chase, there was no shortage of opportunities to try the real taste of New Orleans cuisine.  I found that I really like gumbo, beignets, and po boys, and that if I just try things, I might realize how much I really like food of different cultures.

I realize that in this blog I left out one of the biggest aspects of my trip, and that was the friendships I made with each person from our congregation that went. I have left this out on purpose. Not because I dont want to share them with you, but because I don't have the words to explain it correctly to you. They're too important to me and too close to my heart to falsely represent them to you all. If you are at church you will see these friendships and how close we all got on this trip. You will hear us laughing at the jokes that were created, and reminiscing about the trip and the great time we had together. And my hope is that instead of reading about the friendships that were created, you will be able to see them and watch them.

This short blog hasnt even made a dent in sharing the experience that happened to me on this trip. If you want to hear more about what happened on the trip and how it was for me please don't hesitate to ask, I'd love to share! This trip is something that I'm so greatful I got the opportunity to take part in, and so glad that I embraced the trip the way I did, I have absolutely no regrets. 

May I be the change to help tear down those walls. 

~ Julia Ratekin

ELCA Youth Gathering - WHLC reflections

I was in New Orleans for the ELCA Youth Gathering.  I invited participants from Windsor Heights Lutheran Church to offer their reflections throughout the week on koinonia.  This article was a shared effort among the 11 youth participants.

We are on the bus and our week has been "fantasmical." We all got super close, like family.  All of us have gotten to know a little bit more about each other and ourselves. Hopefully we will be able to bring what this whole experience taught us back to Windsor Heights. However the experience we had in New Orleans may not be able to translate to those back home, finding the right words to describe how our lives all changed in different ways, and the ways they changed is extremely hard. But that’s the beautiful thing about it. 
Through crazy awesome concerts, worship, and conversation, we all learned more about our personal faith as well as the lives of Lutherans all over the country. Also, the food was fantastic!  The motivational speakers got a lot of everyone’s attention.  All of them talked about subjects that touched everyone and they were able to get their point across even though most people in the audience have not, and will hopefully never have to go through what some of the speakers went through.  One of the messages was that everyone is a child of God.  No one should be turned away because of race, financial situations, past history, etc.  

Coming from a multi-generational church, with a lower number of youth members right now, it was amazing to see so many youth participating in the songs, speakers, and activities. The energy was outrageous in the Superdome! We hope the energy can be spread through the pews at WHLC and you will see the energy in our eyes and hearts, and feed off it!

When we first arrived in the Superdome, I remember thinking that I had never seen so many people gathered together in for the same reason. But that wasn’t even the most impressive part. I had never seen so many young people excited about God. Back in our everyday lives, God often falls to the background and things like relationships and friends and drama take the forefront; but it was like once we all set foot in NOLA all the worries of our home lives melted away and our attention was 100% focused on how to love like Jesus.  Overall everyone had an wonderful time. We learned many things such as “to be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known”... and also, “be the the change you want to see in the world.”

NOLA has been through a lot, but so have communities just like it across the country.  We need to be mindful of the needs of people back home.  It takes all of us to be citizens with the saints.  As one speaker described gumbo and all its ingredients to the crowd, I thought of WHLC and all the ingredients that it has to make our own version of gumbo back home.  

Kirsten Benson, Rylee Freise, Rebecca Ihnen, Julia Ratekin, Travis Reinders, Emily Roose, Brian Rye, Petir Thompson, Hannah Toresdahl, Madison Ward, Caroline Warmuth

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Let It Shine

I'm in New Orleans with a group of 16 youth & adults from Windsor Heights Lutheran Church; the congregation I serve in Des Moines, IA.  I invited our group participants the change to offer their reflections throughout the week on koinonia.

The friday night mass gathering in the dome was particularly moving. The speaker was the Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee. She talked about hope. Hope is a word that has such a different meaning to many people. Some know what it is like to need or want hope, others hope for things. Her message was a great definition of what hope actually is. She talked about the need for hope  because hope was lost in their life from anything such as bullying to parts of the world that are stricken with poverty. But, here is the key to hope, Jesus. We are all loved by Jesus and we are God’s children. Spreading God’s love gives hope to people. However she acknowledged that even though one person can be a light in the darkness, one can’t change the world. Next came the most moving part of the trip; she asked everyone to turn on their cell phones. The light from the phones lit the dome. It looked like a little city. She then started everyone singing “This Little Light of Mine”. Suddenly the little light that couldn’t change the world became bright and all the little voices became one big voice. Tears were impossible to hold back at this point. I am pretty sure that if a person was having trouble finding hope in life, they could’ve felt the Holy Spirit then. But the question that everyone is asking; how do you keep that hope and energy strong when you leave the magical Lutherdome? You keep your little light shining and giving hope to one person at a time (by standing up to a bully, giving someone a hug when they need it, or just giving someone a smile and a word of encouragement when they look like they could use one) and then their light will shine, and the “pass it on” theory starts. Soon we will have a little city again, and just maybe the world will begin to change. I have HOPE that it will. My little light is shining. I hope that when I tell you this next part, your light will become lit; Your are loved by God. He knows you, every part of you (the good and bad, the perfection and the flaws) and He loves YOU.  ~ Megan Seifert

Saturday, July 21, 2012

100 Wells

I'm in New Orleans with a group of 16 youth & adults from Windsor Heights Lutheran Church; the congregation I serve in Des Moines, IA.  I invited our group participants the change to offer their reflections throughout the week on koinonia.

Water, created by God, is essential to our existence on this earth.  Water can save lives, water can take lives.  
For the Practice Peacemaking Day I learned about carrying water.  Most of us walk into a kitchen or bathroom, turn the faucet on and KNOW that hot or cold water will gush our.  As much as we want, whenever we want.  
My task was to carry a 5 gallon jug of water one-tenth of a mile. At points along the way, poster told four different stories about the paths people take to get water.  My storyline followed a mother who had to make a choice each day, go for the water herself or send her daughter.
If the mother went, that meant she had fewer hours in the day to work at her many family duties.  If the daughter went, she would miss school that day.  What a choice! 
About halfway around the course a volunteer placed a round red sticker on my arm.  “That’s a mosquito bite,” she said.  “At the end of the course, you will need to be checked to see if you have malaria.”  This was a way to introduce people to the ELCA Malaria Campaign, which, by the way, we have already begun at WHLC.  
At the 3/4 mark, we had to climb some stairs with the water jug to simulate uneven terrain.  Then rounding the corner toward home, the sign informed me that I had fallen and now should drag my foot to indicate a leg injury.
With a few last steps, I completed the journey.  The final sign informed me that a typical trip to get water would be 2 miles or more, 20 times my tiny trip.  Oh, and I forgot to tell you that the 5 gallon jug weighed 41 pounds.  Ouch, it was very hard to carry.
As part of our offering, this Youth Gathering Group gave $250.00 to the 100 Wells Project.  The totals from each Synod are being tracked all week.  I’m excited to hear how much will be raised.  
The power of water is still being demonstrated here in New Orleans today.  Our service project was delayed for 3 hours due to torrential rain and street flooding.  Our group was wishing we could sent this storm to Iowa, and the group we worked with today from Ohio, had the same thought for their parched state.  I wonder how the power of water will change people’s lives tomorrow?  I pray that we can make our goal of 100 Wells and start to raise funds for the next 100.  

Peace, y’all. 
Pastor Robin.

Youth Gathering Reflections - Day 1

I'm in New Orleans with a group of 16 youth & adults from Windsor Heights Lutheran Church; the congregation I serve in Des Moines, IA.  I invited our group participants the change to offer their reflections throughout the week on koinonia.

The bus ride started with a walk across the street to the Kum-n-Go to get nail polish remover for Kirsten...they didn't have any.

We then loaded the bus and headed to the back and got situated, then we left for New Orleans, LA.  It start out with Megan being really hot.  Then we met some interesting people sitting in the seats in front of us.  They seemed most interested in our friend, Petir.  We attempted to sleep on the bus as we drove through the night.

Then we arrived at the Convention Center, which caused a major Chex Mix situation.  (Don't ask)  The adults went to orientation while we went into the huge Interaction Center.  While in there we saw Allison and Caitlyn from our church, who are volunteering with the Gathering.  We went to play mini-golf, but quickly noticed that mini-golf was something we weren't the best at.

From there, we went to our hotel to check in.  While waiting for an hour to get our room keys, we played spoons and other card games.  After putting our stuff in our rooms we took the trolly and walked to Dooky Chase, where we ate lunch.  We learned that the founder was the inspiration for "The Princess and the Frog"!  We had a delicious meal of authentic New Orleans food, laughter and conversation.  The walls were covered in various art pieces collected over the years, all very native to the culture of New Orleans.  Walking back, we felt with our skin color and a big group, we definately look like tourists.

Parts of New Orleans look renovated and new, while some places distinctly show the damage of hurricanes, along with the large poverty here in the city.  The southern accent has been fun to listen to, along with all the different pronunciations of "New Orleans".

We are back at the hotel now, relaxing and getting ready for the Superdome tonight.  We are all very excited and can't wait for the fun to begin.

     ~ Julia, Becca, Emily, & Kirsten