Scenes from a Bike Ride

Nils and I took a bike ride and picnicked along the Mississippi River today. Here are some of the sites we saw:


What Do You Know?

A few people I know posted links to a news article today about a survey by the Pew Foundation showing that Americans Don't Know Much about Religion. The quiz (found on the Pew Foundation's website) covers a few basic questions from the world's major religions. The study found that atheists knew more about religions that did most religious people.

Do we follow brainlessly? That's been the stereo-type of religious people for decades (popularized by Nietzsche). There is also the other extreme where we become so heady in our faith that we loose it at some point.

I heard someone talking a few weeks ago (it may have been on the radio--I've forgotten where I came across this) about knowing about how too often we know the written word, but we don't fully know the Living Word. The written word won't transform us--only the Living Word will.

It is important that we don't go into our faith blindly. We need to study--both our own faith and the faiths of others. But what is more important is taking what we know to heart. Some of us have a harder time doing this than others. What we know can't change anything unless we let it, unless we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, letting the Living Word transform our lives.


Get It In Writing

Nils: I'm going to be Iron Man for Halloween. I'm goimg to write that down.

No Camping, But The Sermon's Done

This weekend the boys and I was supposed to go camping with a friend from church and his kids. I also was asked to give the sermon at church tonight. In light of not getting much sermon work done during the week, I needed to have the weekend to finish writing and practice going through the sermon. So, we didn't end up going camping. Which was okay--though I did really want to go.

It was okay because on Thursday we had rain all day. Some parts of the state had 10 inches. Many roads were under water. I much prefer dry camping. Especially with two boys.
It was also okay because my aunt came up to stay with us for the weekend. She had a funeral to attend. It was good to have time with her. Plus, Anders had soccer yesterday, so he was able to go to that and have time with his best friend. We got to show her around our new and old neighborhoods on the way to and from the game, as well as a quick stop at the Sculpture Garden.
So despite some distractions this weekend, I'm mostly ready for church tonight (I'm hoping to go through it a couple more times). I'm praying God speaks, at least.


You Are What You Eat

This past year we've watched three powerful films about the food we eat: Supersize Me, King Corn and Food, Inc. They've given me a lot to think about lately, so pardon the jump from thought to though, here.

Supersize Me, King Corn and Food, Inc. are tough films to deal with--because you do have to deal with them; you can't just ignore them. They're tough for me because I grew up on a farm. I know the people whose livelihood depends on farming. Farming practices get blamed for a lot of things--and it's true that there are a lot of harmful practices out there. But it's largely a systemic failure--practices that the government has encouraged since at least the 1940s--and some of it that has been encouraged since farming became a capitalistic venture and not just a way to merely feed your family.

There are a lot of factors about deciding what to eat: unprocessed? hormone-free? organic? free-range? local? global? fair trade? from places that don't exploit their workers? from companies that don't hire illegal immigrants? Some things seem obvious: that it's better to eat local foods that aren't laced with chemicals and are as "natural" as can be. (Yet I acknowledge that some will say that we should be enhancing our foods and making them "better".) And while eating local and in season makes sense, the fact is I live in the north. I have six months where nothing is in season. And I like bananas. And avocados. And pomegranates. And other foods that can't be grown around here.

I heard a report on NPR today that said that recent research shows that being able to supply schools with locally grown foods is healthier for the students and better for the local economy. That seems obvious to me--like, why do we need to pay for research that pays for an obvious outcome?

I was reading a book--A Good Neighbor: Benedict's Guide to Community--in which the author responded to a quote by Annie Dillard. The Annie Dillard quote is, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing."

The author, Robert Benson, points out how the statement is obvious, but sometimes we need to be reminded of the obvious. We all know the obvious (like we need to love one another or that homegrown veggies are healthier for us than corn-syrup laden processed snacks), but way too often we neglect to let the obvious work out in our lives.

That's part of the point with food. We do sometimes need to be reminded of the obvious: eat more fruits and veggies, less processed food, more local, less chemicals, etc. Part of the obvious is knowing where our food comes from. It used to be obvious that milk came from a cow on a dairy farm, orange juice came squeezed from fruit trees in Florida and lunch meat came from the animal it was named after. It's not that obvious anymore (nor is it always true). It should be obvious that a head of broccoli at the grocery store should cost less than a Big Mac at McDonald's. Part of things being obvious is being educated.

I have more questions than I have answers. I'm for growing as much produce as I can. I do like foods that aren't able to be grown in Minnesota. I'd love to buy meat direct from small farmers who don't raise their animals in confinement lots, but that meat is expensive and when your budget is stretched as it is, sometimes you end up having to choose between buying enough food or buying one expensive thing that is of the best quality. I wish I had the money to buy better. The sad part is that the cheapest food is often the worst food for you. For some reason it has a lot of ingredients and spends a lot of time being processed, but it's still cheaper than one piece of produce. That doesn't make sense. The simplest (and healthiest) should be the most affordable.

I don't think it's bad to not have things figured out. It's bad if we're not thinking about it. And I know there are a lot of other issues we can focus our attentions on, so I don't expect anyone to spend all of their time solely thinking through food issues. But we do need to think about some of them.

So I encourage you, if you haven't, to at least check out Supersize Me, King Corn or Food, Inc. And I'm fully aware that there are other sides to the stories, that the films don't tell everything. But the do tell a lot that we seldom hear about. Let's at least keep the discussions going...


Communion: The Sweet & The Bitter

Confession: I don't like communion wine. I don't like much alcohol. Admittedly, I haven't tried much. Not because I'm a teetotaler; mainly because I've never like the smell of most of it, so I've figured the taste won't be much better. And when I was young there was a high school girl from our town who was killed because a bunch of friends were out drinking. I know I have some addictive tendencies anyway and don't want alcoholism to become one of them. But it's all personal choice--nothing religious or moral about it. The Bible is clear: drunkenness is a sin, drinking is not.

With that said, I found myself choosing the wine over the grape juice at communion at church tonight. I chose it because I don't like the taste. It always comes off being bitter to me. And the fact that Jesus' had to shed His blood for my sins should also be bitter to me. So it's a reminder.

I often take the grape juice, though. I dip my piece of flat bread in the juice because it's sweet and I like the taste. Forgiveness is that way. God's mercy is sweet.

Communion has this element of being celebratory and solemn (another one of those faith paradoxes). Sometimes I need the bitterness of the wine. Sometimes I need the sweetness of the juice.

Somewhere I wrote down a quote from the leader of the band Tenth Avenue North. When we were at their concert earlier this year, he asked us to raise our hands at one point. And he unapologetically told us to do it, even if it was uncomfortable for us to do. He said that sometimes worship needs to be uncomfortable. We need to grow beyond the places we're comfortable.

Another paradox: sometimes in worship we need comfort and sometimes we need to be uncomfortable.

We need the comfort of feeling God's presence with us. We need the rhythm of the liturgy to lead us into worship when we can't get there on our own. We need the comfort of a loving, non-judging community.

We also need to be uncomfortable. We should be uncomfortable in God's presence at times--fearing Him for the great and powerful Being He is. Sometimes we need the uncomfortableness of truth. At other times we need to do things outside of our comfort zones to experience God in knew ways and grow in our relationship with Him.

So rest in the sweetness and comfortableness in worship, but don't be afraid to chose the bitter or the uncomfortable at times. We need both the wine and the juice in our cups.



Today (after mowing the lawn and getting a start on some veggie stock for soup for supper) the boys and I headed over to the Harvest Festival in our neighborhood. It was a small event (only the 2nd year of it happening, I believe) but still enjoyable with artists, food vendors, farmers' market stands, music and a kids zone. We ran into a few neighborhood friends from Sanctuary there.

Then we had Anders' soccer practice/game in St. Louis Park. We're doing it there because his best friend is doing it. The two of them spend more time with their arms around each other as they do kicking the ball. And Nils played with the younger brother (they're the same age as well; Nils may consider him his own best friend in his own way) the whole time. And I got to hang out with their parents (whom we dearly love as well).

Then after supper we had friends from church over for movie night (it was initially going to include supper, but plans adjusted). A couple of us had been out late last night at a house-warming party for another friend from church so our kids were exhausted, but we decided we all wanted to hang out for a while despite the fact that our kids could go into meltdown mode at some point (which they didn't). So we opted for a shorter movie (Disney's Robin Hood)--but it really wasn't about the movie. The movie is just an excuse. The kids often go off and play for a little while at some point. The adults spend a bit of time talking. Tonight the women even did some sewing.

All of these events of today were about community. Each community was different: neighborhood, church friends, school friends, etc. Community is our calling (and in community there is room for solitude which I need at times). Community is a gift from God to help aid us in discovering more about ourselves through our interactions with others. We find encouragement, correction, friendship and love. There are times in my life when I've ran from community because I was afraid to be truly known by others (even though I deeply desired it at the same time). I'm learning to love community. It gives my day so much more meaning.



Today was the North Minneapolis Beautification Project in the Glengale Neighborhood where we live. The Pohlad Foundation spearheaded it, helping provide the resources for homes to spruce themselves up (they had helped fund new equipment for the Glengale Park earlier this summer). We planted 40 new plants around our house: barberry bushes, day lilies, cone flowers, hostas, sedum, ornamental grasses and others.

In other parts of the neighborhood, retaining walls were being put in and edging was put in and many other plants were planted. It's nice when an organization wants to come in and help provide the means for "beautifying" neighborhoods. There were many organizations that provided volunteers throughout the day, as well. We were helped by volunteers from Target as well as our friends from Urban Homeworks.

So thank you, Pohlad Foundation. And thank you to the others involved, which, according to the back of the t-shirt were: Pohlad Family Companies, Catalyst Community Partners, Jordan Area Community Council, NAIOP (Commercial Real Estate Development Assoc.), The Ackerberg Group, City of Minneapolis, Glengale Park Residents, Neighborhood Housing Services of Minneapolis, Northside Home Fund, RJM Construction, Urban Homeworks and Minnesota Internship Center at Unity House. And thanks to the countless volunteers who care to make a difference in sprucing up an often overlooked neighborhood.


Flow'rs & Growls

After three days in a row of watching my niece and nephew, Nils and I headed to the zoo today for an outing (I enjoy watching my niece and nephew, but I can't currently take three kids out very far beyond a walk to the neighborhood playground).

I am very appreciative of having a free zoo and conservatory nearby. And I especially love it this time of year when I can find parking and don't have to deal with crowds.


Buckeyes on Our Path

The boys and I went for a walk this morning through a bird sanctuary in park near us. It was a beautiful September morning. Flowers were still in bloom. Nuts were falling off trees. The weather was perfect. Anders gets credit for this picture.
This picture of a mossy log was the least fuzzy of the ones Nils took.
When we got home we had a backpack pocket overflowing with buckeyes (there was a spot on the trail where at least 50 nuts where scattered about--not to mention the ones off the trail), a few acorns and a couple of bottle caps (don't report us for taking the out of the park, please).
They didn't go out of the house too willingly at first. And for a while, Anders was crawling along the trail before we even got to the bird sanctuary. But after we got there (and despite the mosquitoes which seem to have come out all of the sudden in September), they enjoyed the walk (I tried doing a "scavenger hunt" along the way to motivate them). Fresh air, exercise and time in creation are always good for the spirit.


Let's Refocus

Now that the Quran burning has been called off in Florida, maybe we can refocus on real issues. Consider the following facts:

  • Approximately 9.2 million children under the age of 5 die each year, mostly from preventable diseases. That's approximately 25,000 children each day.
  • 2.5 billion people around the world do not have access to adequate sanitation and about 885 million people do not have access to clean water.
  • Every day, 4100 children die each day from severe diarrhea - as a result of poor sanitation and hygiene.
  • Approximately 600 million children live in extreme poverty.
  • Nearly 11,500 people die every day from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Nearly two-thirds of these people are living in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • 75 million children are out of school around the world, a figure equivalent to the entire primary school-aged population in Europe and North America. (from One Day's Wages - Statistics are from the World Bank and the ONE Campaign)
One child in every classroom in America is at risk of losing his/her home because their parents
are unable to pay their mortgage. – Based on information from the Mortgage Bankers Association
1 out of every 200 homes will be foreclosed upon. For a city like Washington, D.C., that
translates to 3,000 Washingtonians losing their homes to foreclosure each year. – Mortgage Bankers Association

27 million – Number of people in modern-day slavery across the world.
1 million – Number of children exploited by the global commercial sex trade, every year. (from the Polaris Project)

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 1.35 million U.S. children are homeless on any given night.

Everyday about 115,000 lives are terminated from abortions (from Center for Bio-Ethical Reform)

• At least one out of every three women in the world
has been raped, beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise violently
abused in her lifetime. (U.N. Development Fund for Women)
• Worldwide, up to one in five women report experiencing
sexual abuse as children. (WHO)
• Eighty percent of trafficking victims (from International Justice Ministries)

More than 200 million Christians in over 60 nations face persecution each day, 60% of
these are children. (from the WEA as reported on Voice of the Martyrs)

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me...I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Matthew 25:35-36, 40)


Koran Burning and Loving Enemies

I don't often chime in on current events, but the upcoming "Koran (Qu'ran) burning" that has been on the news every day has been hard to avoid.

Does Jones have the right to burn the books? Yes. We are, as we like to flaunt, a free country.
Should he burn the books? Many have weighed in on this--everyone from Hilary Clinton to Angelina Jolie. Everyone, of course, is trying to talk him out of doing so. They all have valid reasons, but none quite hit the mark. In a country where we allow our own citizens to burn the US flag, why are we that concerned about one man burning a few books?

I think the main reason a church should not be burning the Koran is because it isn't something a follow of Jesus should do. I don't see Jesus giving us an example of doing this. Whenever idolatry is attacked (literally) in the Bible, it is done so when it takes place within the community of the people of God. I don't see examples of Jesus attacking other faiths. The captives in Babylon didn't burn the golden statue, they just refused to bow down to it.

The pastor says he has prayed about it, but I seriously doubt he has prayed about it in community, asking others for discernment with the issue.

Maybe instead of burning the Koran, Jones should actually read. Maybe instead of calling September 11th "National Burn a Koran Day" he should call it "National Befriend a Muslim Day." Isn't that an action that Jesus would be more likely to do? Aren't Christians called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us? If we want to make radical statements to our "enemies," I think Christ would start with loving them. How radical of a message would that send?


Camping Up North

We finally got a weekend away to go camping as a whole family. It was much needed. Being Labor Day weekend, we didn't even bother trying to find a spot at a campground. We headed to Covenant Park Bible Camp on Park Lake where a good friend of ours is the director. He lets us pitch our tent on the camp grounds. Since it was a bit cold the first night he even let us stay in an empty cabin. But the next day, the tent went up.

We spent one day up on the North Shore, hiking around Gooseberry Falls. We got off to a rough start--frustrations over a confusing GPS unit we got at the park for geocaching, disagreements over where to go, basic poor communication. We've often had "rough spots" while camping. Ask me sometime about camping on our honeymoon.

I heard recently in a sermon a quote by some Christian psychologist, if I remember correctly (I didn't write it down, so you're going to have to hope my brain is recalling the details correctly), saying that camping is one of the best bonding activities for families. The pastor reflected on that probably being true because of all the things that tend to go wrong while camping. It's usually rain for us (which held off until we were driving home).

But every camping trip--even our honeymoon with its disasters--is a good memory for me. The issues that arise are never bigger than the fun times and the beauty of God's creation. Often those rough spots bring us together--hopefully learning to relate better, forgive and admit faults. Anyway, the time at Gooseberry Falls was good. We enjoyed the falls and time along the shore.

The boys love time in a tent--even if it was a cool weekend. Campfires, s'mores and seeing the stars come out add to the appeal of camping for the boys. So, as summer unofficially ends, I'm dreaming of camping trips next year (and maybe another one or two this fall if we can fit them in). I believe camping is a far better way to build family memories than most vacation alternatives. Even if it's not, I'll be going again.