Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Read All About It

One of my greatest joys is being surrounded - whether digitally or physically - by theological and creative geniuses.  My friend Jake is one of those people.  We've spent a lot of time the last few months dreaming and scheming about a variety of collaborative projects.  Some of these ideas aren't any good and die on the cutting room floor (or disappear into the coffee-and-bread scented ether of the West Des Moines Panera).  

Something that has endured thus far, however, is the concept of an e-newsletter that shares articles we like.  We're calling it Recommended Reads. 

Recommended Reads is a twice-monthly email that contains links to five articles you may have missed.  We scour the depths of the web and hand-pick articles that spotlight creative voices with unique perspectives on religion, culture, and ministry.

Nobody wants to be inundated with a barrage of e-junk that clogs up inboxes and never gets read.  However, we think that people might find value in being directed to a handful of thought-provoking articles every couple of weeks.  At least we hope so.

Jake and I plan to send a new issue of Recommended Reads on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month, starting January 10, 2012.  

CLICK HERE to subscribe to Recommended Reads.

Blessing the New Year

New Year's Eve 2011 landed on a Saturday, which gave me an excuse to try something new at church.  We offered a Festival of the New Year which included worship, supper, board games, puzzles, karaoke, and a late-night blessing.

Each family was given a biodegradable sky lantern to decorate with their hopes for 2012.  Some wrote with words, others drew pictures.  

Prior to igniting and releasing the lantern, our pastor offered this prayer:

Another year has turned its page, O Lord.
We feel promises about to be fulfilled, hopes that may be realized,
And sorrows unknown – that may become ours to bear.
All of this, we carry into a New Year.
We declare at the doorway into this year, that our trust is not
In any man or woman to fulfill us,
Nor is our trust in circumstance,
Or a belief that the days ahead will be easy.
We do not expect, in this New Year, for our every prayer
To be answered in a way we would like.
You are in control, and we release our lives to you.

We then proceeded outside and sent one lantern at a time up into the sky.  As the Ullestad family lantern floated away, a Christmas lyric kept running through my head...

"The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight."

Happy New Year everyone.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Iowa Pride

The eyes of American politics are fixed on my home state today for the Iowa Caucus.

For many of us, this is a day when we rejoice in our newfound freedom from political surveys, phone calls, and advertisements.  It's also a day when we receive a disproportionate amount of praise and criticism as the unofficial launching pad of the 2012 Presidential Campaigns.

I love living in Iowa.  I've had several opportunities to leave in recent years, but I can't imagine living anywhere else.  (For two years I lived in Illinois, but my wife worked in Iowa and we spent most of our free time West of the Mississippi.)  That isn't to say I don't occasionally dream of moving to places like Denver, Portland, or  Chicago...but I don't think I could ever leave.

A group of filmmakers made a clever (albeit, crass) video extolling some of the great things about Iowa.  For example:
  • The first female lawyer in America came from Iowa in 1869
  • 4 out of 5 Iowans live in the city
  • 1 Iowa farmer feeds 155 people
  • The average Iowa farm is larger than 300 football fields
  • Iowa has the 6th lowest unemployment in the nation
  • Des Moines was ranked the richest metro in the country, and the 2nd happiest
  • The computer was invented at Iowa State University
The video, as well as dozens of other pro-Iowa articles, have likely been in response to an unfortunate piece written by Stephen Bloom in The Atlantic online a few weeks ago.  An essay that had lots of helpful observations, but was mired in inaccuracies and unnecessary generalizations. 

For my part as a resident of the Des Moines metro, I appreciate the quality education my children receive at public schools, reasonable cost of living, increased ethnic and religious diversity, and progressive business strategies that attract new companies in the area.  We don't have to drive far to spend a day in the country; nor are we more than a few hours away from major cities.  Yeah, the weather sucks at times and I wish we had a professional sports team.  But our housing bubble didn't burst in the last few years, we can get anywhere we need to be in 15 minutes, and I can go to a Farmer's Market almost every day and talk directly to the people who grow the food I eat.

Iowa is a pretty sweet place to live.  I'm proud to call it home, and I'm happy that (at least once every four years) millions of other people get to see how special it is to be an Iowan.