Death of a Tree

On Tuesday night Minnesota (along with most of the Midwest) one of those "storms of the century." The state recorded the lowest pressure on record. We had winds up above 70 miles per hour. It was a good time to see how airtight our house is. We didn't notice any drafts. And the house didn't shake much (we could always feel my parents' home slightly sway in heavy winds growing up). Just a little rattling of the windows.

At 5am, though, I awoke to the sound of our doorbell ringing. Our neighbor was letting me know that the tree by the driveway and garage was leaning over. So, I went out in the wind and the snow and moved the car which was right under the tree. The tree stayed at about a 45 degree angle (it seemed to be held up by one strong electrical wire and a few branches of another tree. The city came and removed it this afternoon (not quite soon enough for us, but we're not going to complain much since we didn't have to pay for it).
I'm not going to try to make some spiritual connection with the event. Usually I could make some connection about how if we need to grow deep roots to anchor us through the storms, but the tree should have had a fairly good root system. I don't know why it fell over while other trees on the block didn't (there were trees down in places across the city). It just fell.

It's kind of one of those why-do-good-things-happen-to-bad-people kind of questions--like the book of Job poses. There is no simple answer, other than we live in a fallen world. The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.
Too many people try to sell a "health and wealth gospel," deceiving people into believing that if you follow God all your woes will go away. If you're poor or sick, you just need faith, then you'll become rich and healthy.

Frankly, that's a lot of bunk. Try telling that to the thousands of people who are martyred each year for their faith. I don't see health and wealth anywhere in the Bible. Instead I see promises of persecution and being hated by the world if we follow Jesus. It's not a good lure to draw people in, but it's also the reality. However, God does promise His presence with us. He promises to give us strength. He promises the riches of eternity with Him.

The storms will come in life. And there may be times when we do our best, but we get blown over. No matter how deep our roots are. No matter how strong we are. But we're not abandoned--God is present. Sometimes He feels more present then than ever.



According to the classic college developmental psychology subject, Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, security (safety) is one of our main basic human needs. We need to feel that there is order, fairness and stability in our world. We want to be healthy, have job security and feel safe in our community.
When we moved into our new house we were sent a brochure soon after by a home security company wanting us to install their alarms so that we wouldn't have to worry about burglars or other unwanted guests. Part of that was appealing--just to know we didn't have to worry about our place when we were away, or that I could feel at ease when my wife was home alone.

I just finished Christ Seay's book The Gospel According to Jesus: A Faith that Restores All Things (a book I received in exchange for writing a review about it). As I was reading it, at one point I began to wonder--I don't remember what provoked the thought, but I jotted this down in my notes--if security at times becomes an idol to us. Do we seek security more than we seek God? Do our fears drive us to God or toward locks on our doors?

Part of feeling safe and secure for many of us is not allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. We want people to like us; we don't want them to think we have problems; we have to give the appearance of having it all together. Security seldom builds community--neither the deadbolts on our doors nor the locks on our hearts.

I am grateful for a church community that takes risks. Safety is important, but it doesn't trump trusting God or being authentic. Last night at church instead of our regular prayer time where we partner up and share our needs with an individual our pastor felt the Spirit saying to do a time of prayer where those who needed to could enter into the center circle and say, "God, I need your mercy because ________."

Of course, we all need God's mercy. We all have sins. We all have struggles. It's easy to generalize those, but it's hard to stand before others and put a name to your struggles and sins. But people did. And it was powerful. And it was vulnerable. In many ways, standing in that circle wasn't secure. But it was safe nonetheless. Sometimes there is safety in taking risks--risks like opening your soul to others or in stepping out in faith to give away a large sum of money or to leave a comfortable job. The safety comes in knowing you're in God's will.

In His will--in His love--there is no fear. But to be there we can have no other priorities (idols), not even security. In Him alone must we trust. And only in His arms will we truly be secure.



Last night we were at the annual meeting of the land trust that helped us purchase our home (it was really a bowling and pizza party with door prizes). As we met people and shared our stories, we realized we now have a home (this , obviously isn't news). But with that comes the fact that we'll be in one place for a while--or at least we intend to be, and we need to be here for at least five years for some of our loans to be forgivable. In our thirteen years of marriage, we've lived in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, British Columbia and Minnesota. Five years was the longest we've lived anywhere. We've made a purchase that in many ways, forces us to plant ourselves for a while.

Staying in one place is rare in today's culture. We move around from city to city, job to job, church to church. Stability is one of the core principles of our church.

Stability creates an environment to grow and mature, rooting us deeply within and without, through endurance and perseverance, with a particular community and location.

Stability calls us to a committed way of life with a certain group of people for the long haul. Stability in monastic tradition would also add the willingness to be grounded in a geographic location from which mission and ministry is birthed. From a place of deep listening to God and connection to the people around them, the community’s charism and calling is discovered.

In particular, stability requires a interior stay with-it-ness when external or internal forces toss us about, making us want to flee.

The principle of stability is deeply rooted in God’s faithfulness to us. It is promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” It is in this promise of God with us through His constant abiding presence we are able to commit ourselves to each other in God.

Abbey Way claims this principle of stability as its own. Antidotal to non-committal and individualistic forms of church attendance, stability names the real work of creating a community which is able to reflect the glory of Christ. As Abbey Way embraces stability as one of our core principals, we hope to create a consistent and accessible embodiment of the Gospel, enabling others to find Jesus and experience new life in Christ. (From
The practice of stability poses great promise. It also poses many questions. I am, by profession, in ministry--though I'm not employed right now. Traditionally, ministers move from church to church every so often. And my wife would have better job opportunities if we could move elsewhere. But even though we're willing to go wherever God sends us, I don't want to move around every few years. Sometimes better job opportunities aren't worth uprooting. Sometimes.

We've been in places where we wanted to root ourselves before (most of them--some we would have stayed around longer in if there were employment opportunities), and we've been in places where we haven't (Chicago was fun, but we would have had a hard time raising kids there). Right now we're in a church community we love and a neighborhood we want to be a part of transforming. Still, I don't savor the prospect of living in the middle of the city my whole life (I'm still a country boy at heart).

Putting down roots can be hard. When a seed starts to send out a root, the seed has to crack. Sometimes we need to be broken--and feel the brokenness of our neighborhood--for us to get to the point of growth where we are. And right now we're sprouting not in a field of alike crops, but in a prairie of wildflowers--each different, but each adding to the landscape.

(Photo by Amy Mingo)


Theater & Sports

We were able to score tickets not too long ago through the Free Night of Theater Event, so we took the boys to see Robin Hood this morning at the Children's Theater Company. Anders' best friend was even able to go with his dad. The boys really enjoyed it. It was an imaginative production--told through the view point of hobos struggling from a rough economy (sound familiar?). Five actors played all the parts with little scenery (mainly trees, logs and stumps) and few props. It required a lot of imagination and fairly good mental capacity to follow which character the actors were playing. And it was quite interactive. It would have cost our family $64 to go if we hadn't been able to get the free tickets (which is not in the budget right now), so we're grateful for those who made that possible.

We made a stop at the Farmer's Market on the way home from the play, picking up some good veggies (and running into some friends there as well).

Then the next stop for the day was soccer. Anders' is doing it because his best friend is doing it (though soccer is the sport he's most likely to sign up for right now, so he may have been interested anyway). He's not a very focused player. He's more likely to be talking to someone or pointing someone else to the ba
ll. He is more defensive--he'll try to guard the goal if the other team is getting the ball near it (they don't play with goalies at this age). His best friend's dad and I joked that we're better off focusing on the SATs for our kids now because they're not getting to college on athletic scholarships. Still, I'm glad he's willing to do it. He needs the exercise and the team interaction. And if he ever got drive (to practice or play) and athletic focus, he could do alright. He's fun to watch, though. And he enjoys it. And I enjoy it, too (albeit as much for time to talk with our friends as for the sport). Of course, mainly one kid on the team has soccer focus and skills, so Anders probably isn't that different from most of the kids.

And that was our day. It was actually almost too hot while we were at the soccer game. The parents had to move to the end where the shade was, and the kids were constantly running over for water breaks. October in Minnesota--you never know what you'll get.


Breast Cancer Awareness

Last year at this time, women on facebook were posting colors for their status. Those of us out of the loop found out later that it was their bra color of that day. It was meant to raise breast cancer awareness. Somehow.

I guess I can see how it's drawing attention to the area. But most men don't really need to know what color bra a woman is wearing. It's the wrong kind of attention.

This year women are encouraged to post "I like it in the/on the __________," filling in the blank with where they leave their purse. So you get results like "I like it on the sofa," "I like it in the closet" and "I like it on the dining room table." Basically, it's like adding "in bed" at the end of your fortune cookie's pronouncement. Unintended, but de facto innuendo nonetheless. Neither the location of one's purse, nor an innuendo about it's location do anything to raise awareness of breast cancer.

If you want to raise awareness, let's state the facts (these come from Komen Foundation) :

From the 1940s until recently, the rate of new cases of breast cancer (called incidence) in the United States increased by a little over one percent a year. In the 1980s, the rate of new cases rose dramatically (likely due to increased screening), and during the 1990s the rate of new cases leveled off. From 1999 to 2006, there was a decline in the rate of new breast cancer cases. Although mammography screening rates fell somewhat over this same time period, recent studies show these changes were not likely related to the decline in breast cancer rates. The decline appears to be related to the drop in use of postmenopausal hormones that occurred after the Women's Health Initiative study showed that their use increased risk of breast cancer and heart disease. About 207,090 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the United States in 2010. In 1975 the incidence of breast cancer was 107 per 100,000 for white women and 94 per 100,000 for black women. Thirty years later in 2005, the number of new cases per year had risen to 126 per 100,000 for white women and 114 per 100,000 for black women.

In the past 35 years, mortality (the rate of death) for white women has decreased. In 1975, 32 per 100,000 white women (including Hispanic women) died of breast cancer, but by 2005, that figure had dropped to 23 per 100,000. For black women (including Hispanic), though, mortality increased somewhat over the same period, rising from 30 per 100,000 black women in 1975 to 33 per 100,000 in 2005.

Breast cancer in men is rare. However, an estimated 1,970 new cases of male breast cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2010. Overall incidence of breast cancer is 1.3 per 100,000 men, compared to 123 per 100,000 women.

Cancer as a whole is a terrible plague. We do need awareness of it--especially in the warning signs and prevention (diet plays a big part). Both of my parents have had cancer (prostate and thyroid). It's a scary thing to go through.

Instead of playing a game with cancer awareness, let's just encourage our loved ones to get the check-ups they need and to take preventative measures. But let's make the awareness about the cancer and not bras or purses. It'll do us all good.

In the News

It's pretty rare that I comment on events going on (yet alone really know what is happening in the world), but two "news" items caught my eye today:

1. Sun Chips are no longer going to sell the majority of their chips in 100% compostable bags. Apparently, people complained about the noise the bags made. I personally was enthralled with the bags. I have one in my compost bin. And yes, it is a noise bag. But can I point out that it's a bag of chips? Is the noise our packaging makes really more important the benefit of them not sitting in a landfill for years? The fact is, that we as consumers have a lot of clout. How could things change if we started using it for the benefit of society instead of to meet our selfish needs with snack foods?

2. A group of high school cheerleaders in Connecticut lobbied for more modest uniforms. Way to go, girls. The article notes how another group of cheerleaders had to get permission earlier this year to wear their uniforms to school because the uniforms violated the school's dress code. Thank you to those who stood up for modesty, and for their parents who instilled them with those values and healthy self-worth. Let's keep focusing on providing our children with those sorts of life-lessons.


The Blessing of Storms

At the end of worship every Sunday, we close with this song from the Northumbria Community:

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,
wherever He may send you.
May He guide you through the wilderness,
protect you through the storm.
May He bring you home rejoicing
at the wonders He has shown you.
May He bring you home rejoicing
once again into our doors.

We had some discussion in our household over whether the lyrics are "protect you from the storm" or "protect you through the storm" (it is, indeed, "through"). There is a difference. Neither one is a bad thing to ask God to do for someone. But the reality is that we are going to have storms in life. We can ask God to keep them from us, but that's probably not a prayer He will answer in the way we want. In His infinite wisdom and goodness, God knows we need storms. Though they may suck to go through, they can be good for us.

The jackpine produces pine cones that need high temperatures for the cones to open up in order for new growth to occur. That heat usually has to come through the form of fire--a forest fire which in many ways devastates the landscape. But it also provides the opportunity for new growth to occur.

The storms in life (job change, loss of a loved one, betrayal from a friend) are terrible to go through. And I'm not necessarily that God creates those situations for us. But I also don't think He always wants to protect us from them either. God doesn't like to see us hurt, but I think He knows that sometimes we're better off going through those situations. We grow. We rely on others. We depend on God more. They help us be able to show compassion to others, because we have been through tough times.

So while we may not want to go through the storms of life, we will. But God is there with us, like a parent sitting next to their son while in the hospital with cancer or hugging their daughter after her first break-up from a boyfriend. May we go through the storms of life knowing God is with us, and asking for his protection as we go through them.