Feeling Betrayed by the Wisconsin Man

There is a guy who walks in our neighborhood that Noah and I called Wisconsin Man. The reason for this is that rain or shine, cold or hot, sunny or overcast he wears red Wisconsin Badger gear head to toe as he walks all over Plover. Seriously, I can’t see his shoes or socks too well as I see him when I am driving but everything I can see is UW-Madison gear. If I were a betting man I would place money that the socks are Badger socks. Usually it is warmups that he wears, but it can be other things too, as long as it is Badger gear. Seven years of seeing him and I’ve never seen him dressed in anything except red Badger gear. It is kind of fun to see him and Noah and I both point him out as soon as we see him. It’s kind of like a Plover version of Where’s Waldo.

Yesterday he betrayed us. He was wearing black warmup pants. That was a big enough deal but I was at least initially able to assum that they were badger gear too. It was strange enough that I slowed down so I could get a look in for any logos. Oh there was a logo and it was for the RAIDERS!

You have crushed me Wisconsin man. Crushed! Judas!



I am not entirely sure that I really knew what Spring was in my BW (Before Wisconsin) life. Yeah, I went through the calendar time period  that is called Spring BW. Yes, I noticed flowers sprouting and romance in the air BW. Sure I could tell a difference in the temperature each day and the lengthening of the day BW. But Spring in Wisconsin is different.

I am not trashing on the other places I have lived BW. I have pretty much loved certain things about every place I have ever lived. Being raised in Alabama there is something special about driving and seeing dogwood trees blooming all over the woods. The wildflowers that grew like waves of color along the roads in Texas were an amazing part of Spring. The opening of trout season in Missouri with anglers “fishing” shoulder to shoulder, while odd, is an intrinsic part of Spring in the Ozarks in my mind. Finally, the Mardi Gras season in Louisiana (and Alabama since Mardi Gras in the US started there) and the community that forms around bringing a King Cake to the office every day are linked with Spring for me.

But Spring in Wisconsin is different and it has to do with the Winter we just went through. In the Winter many people up here do just like many people in the South do during the Summer. They hole up in the homes. This isn’t true of all. Lots of us loved the outdoors during the Winter. Still being outside in the Winter is different than the Spring (and Summer). You don’t really lounge around outside during the Winter, or if you do it doesn’t usually go that well. We enjoy Winter activities, but I am not sure that is the same as enjoying the Winter environment. That changes when Spring starts to show up. People get excited about the longer days and the warmer weather. I am typing this in Zest coffee shop while I wait on an appointment and I have already heard two people greet each other by saying something similar to ” Spring has finally arrived. Isn’t it wonderful.”

People in Wisconsin LOVE the Spring. When we moved to Wisconsin and Pam started working at UWSP she was told that at one time the university had an unofficial holiday called “50 degree day.” This was the first day of Spring that the outside temperature hit 50 degrees or more. All the professors would cancel class and/or the all the student would skip their classes and everyone would party on campus. Imagine 10,000 people celebrating the weather.

This still sort of happens. Yesterday everyone flooded outside. It is whats happens in Wisconsin when Spring starts to display itself. Everyone goes outside. Maybe they are running or biking. Lots of dogs are being walked. People work on cars and yards. Frisbees are thrown by grandparents and grandchildren.  Supper becomes a house optional experience. Really, it feels like EVERYONE is outside. Yesterday while running I saw a couple of people who had actually moved their recliners outside. They were just sitting outside talking.

That’s what Spring feels like up here in Wisconsin. A time when everyone rushes outside for whatever reason they can think of and the roads feel kind of like a parade because of all the people walking around on them. The rush outside is infectious. Even tough the calendar says Spring started a few weeks back, yesterday it felt like it really had begun. Happy Spring.


Crash Helmets in Church

I am presently reading Practice Resurrection by Eugene Peterson (an author who always   challenge me) and Peterson just quoted the following statement from Annie Dillard:

Why do people  in churches seem like cheerful  brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … On the whole I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us oout to where we can never return. Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk

Reminds me of much of what Mark Buchanan says in Your God is too Safe. The real God of the Bible (YHWH) is not a god to be handled. He is not the god that works things out for your life and guarantees that the harvest will be good this year as long as you know the correct religious rituals. He is not the god who is always on your side of an issue and against your enemy. He is the One Who says “follow me” and then leads us into worlds that we would have never gone to on oour own. He is the God Who we need to wear a hard hat around because He often needs to destroy some part of our lives and world, before He builds something much better. He is the God Who says that we only find true life when we loose our life in Him. To quote Mr. Beaver from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

May you and I remember to wear our crash helmets when we approach the true God, and may you and I both run away from images of Him that aren’t this dangerous.

Learning to Listen

I get to listen to a lot of very interesting podcasts during my drive to the various companies for which I chaplain. To The Best of Our Knowledge by Wisconsin Public Radio. Today one of their segments that I listened to was Touching Sound, an interview with Dame Evelyn Glennie who is one of the world’s leading percussionist and profoundly deaf.

While she is talking about music she is primarily talking about listening. She makes great points that we listen with our being, not just with our ears. She talks about learning to “touch sound.” To rephrase her words a little, I think we have to constantly focus on learning to be touched by the sound from the people and environments in our lives.

Christ's descent into Hades to free the righteous from death

“Living the Resurrection” by Eugene Peterson

Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday LifeLiving the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life by Eugene H. Peterson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is a quick read. It is also a very good read. Peterson does his normal work of simple to understand depth. I haven’t started his other, longer work on resurrection yet so I don’t know how much crossover there is. This was a great start.

So Peterson’s basic point is that living in the resurrection is the basis for spiritual formation. In other words spiritual maturity is a matter of programs or methods but instead it is a matter of wondrously responding to the act of God bringing about moments of life in a culture of death.  Some could take this and turn it into an excuse to do nothing, but that is by no means what Peterson is writing about. Nope Peterson is calling for spiritual formation that is based off dependency rather than control. Programs, formula, and methods of spiritual growth can be all about control. Like a math problem or a computer programming language.  IF I do this THEN that will happen. Dependence is different. It involves a lack of control and based off trust and response. I have to look for what God is doing and respond to it.

What I am trying to say is that Peterson offers some good examples of living in resurrection by responding and the book is worth reading.

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The How I Met Your Mother Finale

I was late to liking this show. HIMYM is one of those shows that has made me think Netflix is the greatest thing around for media. I believe we started watching it because of Noah, though I am not completely sure. What I know is that it became a show that we watched as a family. Even with the screwed up morals in the show, it was a show that really connected with us. I think the reason for this is that for all the relational bingo that happens within the show it is still focused on the value and importance of a strong marriage/relationship. Ted wants what Marshall & Lilly have and he is telling a story to his kids which has as its trajectory the achievement of such a relationship. The group’s relationship fits into this too. Robin & Barney might stink at dating relationships but they are tight with the group. The entire time I’ve been watching the show I’ve felt like Ted was telling the story to his kids with the hopes that they would one day achieve the loving relationships in their lives that he has in his. I guess that is probably my main problem with the ending. It felt to me like the ending turned the story  from a joyous focus on others (i.e. Ted’s hope for his kids for a spouse like his wife and true friends like his, and his need to brag on how great the kid’s mom is and how worthy she was of all the struggle) to another selfish explanation concerning why Ted wants something/someone.

Here are the other things that drive me nuts about the ending:

  • Robin – the end turns Robin into an object that is basically passed around between Ted & Barney. The ending kind of fakes being romantic. Ted goes and grabs the blue French horn trying to bring everything back full circle. Of course, we have been through this scenario several times before. We know the plot line. The only reason that this ending seems romantic is because the story stopped, but if you think about it you will probably admit that Ted & Robin will most likely go through the same process they have gone through before and their relationship will become destructive once again. As a matter of fact, when I think through the continuing story my imagination has Robin going back and forth between Ted & Barney kind of like Sisyphus
    with his stone. I really liked Robin’s character throughout most of the series. The end kind of reduces her to an object.
  • Ted – the story arc of HIMYM is focused on the strong relationships in Ted’s life. In the finale pretty much all of those relationships are no longer around. The story of each of the main relationships in Ted’s life is “finalized” and then kicked out of the script. Marshall becomes Supreme Fudge & Lilly is preggo with baby number three and then they are wiped out of the story. Barney’s life is changed by finally meeting a girl he really loves unconditionally, his daughter,and he is wiped out of the story. Ted’s kids agree to Ted going after their “aunt” and they are wiped out of the story. In the end Ted ends up standing on the street, rather than in one of the many familiar places of relationship in the show (Ted’s den, the bar, etc), staring up at Robin, a woman who has also basically been wiped out of the story too. That’s not a real Robin that Ted is staring up at, not a flesh and blood character of depth. That character was pretty much written out of the script when she became engulfed in work, too busy for the group, and merely briefly came back for Ted’s wedding. Nope Ted is staring up at an idealized, romanticized object. The series ends with Ted alone with his fantasy rather than surrounded with the strong relationships he has been bragging about for the rest of the series.
  • Barney – Barney’s character grew a lot during the show. His character is one of the best parts of the show. Yes he is comic relief but he also developed a ton. Which is why the quick fix that happens in the finale drives me nuts. The guy who struggles on his wedding day, claiming that he has a better tie (a corn flower blue tie) at home and tries to climb out the window to escape his wedding day,  holds his daughter for the first time and everything is fine. End of story. The real fun would have been seeing how Barney handles a whining female who he can’t dismiss from his apartment in the morning. Or watching the maker of the playbook develop parenting styles.  Can you imagine how much fun Barney’s “plays” to protect his daughter from jerks like him would have been? So HIMYM spends all but one episode of its final season focused on the wedding day of Barney & Robin, a relationship that will end after three years because neither one of them is really changed by it, and 2 minutes on the relationship that supposedly really changes Barney. PLEASE.
  • Marshall & Lilly – I don’t have a big problem with the ending of their story. I’m really just more surprised that since HIMYM was messing up all the other story lines that they didn’t decide to screw up Marshall & Lilly’s also. I’m surprised that the show didn’t decide to have Marshall cheat on Lilly and reduce Lilly to a weak, quivering blob of a woman. Two things that wouldn’t fit their characters. Why not be consistent HIMYM? If you were going to mess up everything else, why leave out Marshall & Lilly?

I know this has been a long post, but I thought the ending really stunk. It was almost as bad as the Lost finale, and I am still really mad about that ending. HIMYM was such a good show and it deserved a better ending. I know that real life doesn’t always work out nice, but I wasn’t watching HIMYM for real life. I was watching it for entertainment and a reminder of how important good relationships are important. Instead HIMYM trashed all that in the last season and tried to redeem it by going all “Sixth Sense” on us with a surprise ending in the last few minutes of the finale that would supposedly change everything that had happened in the show before the finale. Well it did change everything, just not for the good.


Busy Day, But A Good Day

Today was a busy day and it was a great day. One of the things I love about being a pastor is that I get to do a variety of things, from the mundane to the dramatic. From the administrative to the impactful.  Basically on any given day I get to do a lot of different things. Today was one such day.

Here is what my day looked like.

  • Continued studying for the Resurrection sermon series I am doing for Tapestry.
  • An hour of prep work for the jambalaya for tonight’s Place of Peace meal.
  • Drive 40 minutes to a funeral, attend the funeral, drive back home
  • Cook the jambalaya.
  • While I let the jambalaya simmer I deal with Tapestry administrative stuff, making contact with two couples for premarital counseling, getting all the initial stuff taken care of (I use the Prepare/Enrich survey with couples and ask them to read a few books), and scheduling our sessions together, and finally dealing with chaplaincy administrative stuff.
  • Answering a ton of texts concerning the Place of Peace meal (I love answering these texts because they are all about getting people involved in helping others).
  • Finishing the jambalaya.
  • The Place of Peace meal – serving food and eating with people who look a lot like Jesus. A pretty awesome night, as always.
  • Getting home and cleaning up.

Right not I smell like pig fat (from the ton of sausage in the jambalaya) and I’m tried.  I am also happy as I sit beside Pam watching Parenthood and blogging together. I have known some ministers who complained pretty frequently about how busy they were.  I have mentioned before that minister complaining/bragging about being busy drove me nuts and it still does. Why? Well for two reasons: 1) Because the variety of what I get to do is awesome and significant, and 2) my schedule is amazingly flexible.  I am blessed to be a minister and the ministerial schedule, both during busy times and slack times, is a part of that blessing.

I will take a sabbath sometime next week but tonight I am thankful for a busy day.


Romanticizing the Past

A Distant Mirror:  The Calamitous 14th CenturyA Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara W. Tuchman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So thanks to my friend Clint in Baton Rouge I picked up “A Distant Mirror” and started reading it. Then I put it down and picked it up again to start reading again. Then once again I picked it up and this time I finished it. I didn’t put the book down those times because of the book being boring. Nope it was great. It is just that it is rather long and the French names, for one who has never studied the French language, can be a little taxing to focus on. Therefore, I gave myself a few breaks in finishing the book.

I had forgotten what a monumental century the 14th century was in European history. You have the Black Plague, the Hundred Years War, various uprisings, the advancing of the Islamic forces of the Ottoman Empire, and, most interesting to me, the Papal Schism where at one time you have three different popes claiming to be the legitimate claimant to the Apostolic See. It really is a fascinating period of history.

One of the things that I was most intrigued by was Barbara Tuchman’s description of the 14th century tendency to romanticize the past. In other words they looked back at the blurry past through rose colored glasses, remembering and exaggerating the positive points of it, while minimizing and often forgetting the negative aspects. In the 14th century it wasn’t uncommon for people to claim that the present age was falling a part and the past was actually the model for life. Sound familiar?  Yeah it would seem this is a pretty common human trait. <SARCASM> Not that anyone would do this now</SARCASM>.

Anyhow it was a great book and well worth the read even if it did take me a year to finish the book.


Diploma Mills vs. Earned Authority

Many years ago I developed a fascination with diploma mills because I worked with pastor who had a degree from one. Diploma mills are often defined as different from degree mills in the sense that you in a degree mills you directly buy a degree, where as in a diploma mill you put in a small to insignificant amount of work in order to “earn” a degree. What does “small amount of work” mean? Well it depends upon but the place but it is usually something like watch a sermon series and write a one page paper saying you watched the video. Often you receive most or all of credit necessary for the degree through your life experience.

Every now and then I go through kicks of searching through various diploma mills on the internet. This is usually because I discover someone I know, or more often someone who knows someone I know, who has such a degree. The place I spent a lot of time yesterday looking at was Andersonville Theological Seminary, which in my opinion is a diploma mill. The “seminars” you need to take for their Doctor of Ministry degree (the degree I worked my but off to complete) usually don’t require books. Out of the 10 seminars only 2 require books. The great news is that at Andersonville you can actually pay for your undergraduate, masters, and doctor degrees all at one time and get a discount. Yep that’s a tough degree and quite a bargain right there my friends.

I see diploma mills, and the ones who get “degrees” from them, as examples of positional authority versus earned authority.

  • positional authority – I demand you respect and listen to me because I have a certain position or title
  • earned authority – you decide to respect and listen to me because you have seen evidence that I might have some idea what I am talking about

I’ve seen both of these forms of authority in practice. Both actually have their place. If I own the company you work for, and therefore sign your paycheck, you better pay attention when I say something. That’s just common sense. Still such positional authority augmented with earned authority is much more powerful. People willingly follow others with earned authority. People follow some one who just has positional authority only as long as they must.

I guess the thing that fascinates me about these diploma mills is that while they are a false source of authority, they also seem to be an oft quoted source of authority for the people who have degrees from such institutions. The people I know who have degrees from diploma mills (and thankfully they are few and far between) are also the ones who usually make a big deal of the title associated with their meaningless degree. They are the ones that demand to be called “Dr.” This is pretty odd to me because ministry is an amazingly merit based profession.

Ministry is one of the most merit based professions I have ever been around. If you are a good minister you will succeed no matter what your qualifications are. If you aren’t a good minister your qualifications and degrees will only get you so far. I have known several highly respected ministers with very little formal education. The first pastor I ministered with was when I was a Summer Missionary as a college student at the Temple of Faith Baptist Church in Detroit. Rochelle Davis was and is one of the most respected ministers that I have ever been around. The guy had limited formal education but had learned Greek so well on his own that he was invited to lecture at Michigan State University. Davis had an amazing amount of earned authority and still does in my life even though I haven’t seen him since 1987. I would have forgotten about Rochelle long ago if his only authority had been positional authority.

The following saying is often attributed to Francis of Assisi:

Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words.

While Francis didn’t say those words (go ahead, try to find an original source) he did live them out. He practiced what he preached in such a manner that people followed him as he followed Jesus. His life earned respect and therefore people attributed authority to him.

I hope I live in such a manner that people want to respect and listen to me. I hope I live in such a manner that I earn people’s trust. Positional authority is a very weak authority for a pastor to function out of. Earned authority, on the other hand, is a powerful way to lead people into living out the promise of the kingdom of God.

SIDE NOTE – Diploma mills and fake degrees aren’t just a problem in the religious world. They happen in all sorts of places where people want an easy route to a claim, no matter how false, to positional authority. Here’s an interesting article from CNN talking about the glut of fake degrees now made easier by the internet. The reason I mention fake religious degrees is because it is the professional world that I have been most involved within and therefore it is easiest for me to see the signs of such fake positional authority in the religious world.

My Thoughts & Ravings As I Try To Follow CHRIST

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