Thor & St. Benedict

Our boys have been on the farm for a week with the grandparents along with their cousins. Which ended up being terrible timing because one of my cousins was in a diving accident and was in the hospital with spinal injuries. His parents were on vacation overseas at the time, so my dad was at the hospital. Which left my mother at home with six kids under age nine (and without a vehicle large enough to be bale to go anywhere with them). So I don't think their time on the farm was what they were hoping for.

But it left us with some time alone for the first time in a long time (seriously--I sadly can't remember when our last real date was). We of course had work and meetings and other things going on during this time so we didn't have a lot time together. But I took time on Tuesday to bike (11 miles!) over to Beth's work. We had some time together and went to see an afternoon matinee of Thor (yes, I know the movie was out two months ago, but haven't had time to see a movie for several months and we usually wait until they're at a cheap theater).

Thor is based on a comic book which is based on Norse mythology. Thor is the son of the king of Asgard (a "god" if you will) and in line for the throne. When the time comes, however, his father Odin finds Thor to be too prideful, arogant and full of himself. So Odin strips Thor of his powers (much of which comes from his hammer Mjolnir) and banquishes him to Midgard (earth) until he is worthy of ruling his people.

His hammer, thrown to earth, is stuck in the ground. Like Excalibur, it can only be pulled out by the one worthy of it.

Only once Thor has learned humility is he worthy of his hammer again. It takes him a while, but by learning to care for others, Thor finally gets it. He is even willing to sacrifice his life so that innocents may live.

Right after seeing the movie, we stopped at a grocery store to get som salad ingredients for having supper with friends. While my wife ran into the store, I happened to pick up Joan Chittister's book Wisdom Distilled from the Daily in the car. The chapter I had left off in was on humility as well (sometimes God seems to be none too blunt in getting His message across).

St. Benedict has a lot to say about humility. After all, if you're going to be living in community, humility goes a long way. We sometimes think of humility as a weak trait. Thor showed it isn't. Jesus did the same. Humility is knowing you're no better than anyone else (nor are you the worst). It is remembering that God is always with us--because in doing so we know where we stand. We are a sinner. We are also dearly loved. Everyone else is in the same boat.

Joan Chittister points out, "Humble people walk comfortably in every group. no one is either too beneath the or too above them for their own sense of well being." Through humility we live in reality, knowing our place in the world. And we are also free to love unconditionally, sacrificially knowing that all others deserve to be loved as much as we are.


Camping Vacation: Part 2

We just returned from our second camping trip of the week. This one was with my parents, siblings, nieces and nephews at Clear Lake, Iowa. It's becoming an annual tradition. We celebrated Anders' birthday together, but mostly it was about hanging out and having fun.
At one point one of the boys asked me why we camp. A good question. I couldn't answer for everyone in the campground...we saw several people who just sat in their RV and watched television. I'm not sure why they bother leaving home.

But for us, it's getting back to nature--enjoying being out under the stars, under the trees, near the water. It's also about a "simpler" life--without technology. No television, no computers & we try to not use the phone. Cooking over a fire keeps meals simpler (somewhat). The biggest worry is the weather and keeping a fire going. And it's also about time together as a family. Camping builds a lot of memories. And despite Nils' four yellow jacket stings and getting his finger caught in the well pump earlier in the week, I think he has good memories of camping, too. If anything else, seeing them sleeping is worth the camping trip.


Camping Vacation: Part 1

Day 1: After packing all our gear, we went to our friends' (the Laceys) house and caravaned together up to Bayfield, Wisconsin (with a few stops along the way, of course). We took the ferry over to Madeline Island. Driving onto the island it felt like our burdens were left behind.

We drove out to the campground at Big Bay City Park, picked out a spot and set up camp. The weather was much more comfortable on the island than the heat and humidity we left behind in Minneapolis (with heat indexes above 100). Nils managed to find a yellow jacket nest in a downed tree while the kids were exploring the woods behind our campsites. He received four stings (and I got one as well pulling him out of the tree).

We explored the beach a little that night and decided to return the next day.
Day 2: We spent the majority of the day at the beach. It was gorgeous. At the city park campground where we stayed, a lagoon feeds into Lake Superior. An almost tidal phenomeno
n exists where water from the lagoon will run out into the lake, but at times it will reverse and go back into the lagoon. The current could be quite strong--we had fun floating down it and trying to walk against it. The water from the lagoon tended to be warm; the lake water was significantly cooler, but still nice. The beach had wonderful sand and smooth, rounded stones. The water was shallow for quite a ways out in the bay; I waded along it and did some exploring of the sandstone cliffs nearby. Some kayakers said they saw a black bear above one of the cliffs. I never found it.

We were at the beach almost all day. Until we heard some thunder in the distance. Then we headed back to camp, set up a tarp and got supper going. It rained most of the evening. We weathered it fairly well.

Day 3: We biked over to Big Bay State Park, which was just on the other end of the bay from where we were, but we had to go around the perimeter of it to get there (about seven miles one way). We all had a bike with a tag-a-long behind it which the kids rode. Pete also had a Burley trailer in tow for their dog to ride in (which Marmalade did not like at all). We arrived to discover dogs weren't allowed on the beach (we still snuck Marmalade down for a lit
tle bit). And the water was a lot colder (most likely because of the rain).

We biked back, making a vow to drive into town to award ourselves with ice cream later that night. We were so hot and sweaty after the bike ride, we hiked down to the beach once more to cool off. While we were working on supper, Nils managed to get his finger pinched (and cut pretty well) in the water pump. Ice cream in town that night was a good way to end the day.

Day 4: We had to pack up and head home. My family is getting together to camp in Iowa tomorrow. We didn't want to do the entire drive in one day, plus we needed to do some laundry. So we said good-bye to the Laceys (whom are staying one more night) and got on the ferry. Nils cried for the first half of the ride because we were leaving his friends behind. It was sad--we could have stayed another week. It was extremely relaxing. And beautiful. And fun.

I love camping (if that wasn't obvious). It was good to get to share it with friends. It was good we were all laid-back and go-with-the-flow kinds of people who were able to get along for four days. It was good to not have to worry about much--just getting a fire started for supper and keeping the rain out of the tent. We could just sit/swim/wade along the beach all day and enjoy. That was good for the soul (as well as the rest of me).

But tomorrow holds another camping trip...



I haven't written for a while. I preached tonight at church, so my focus was on that. We're also leaving in the morning for a camping trip (the first of two this week). It's our first "vacation" with other people (other than family members). There's a handful of friends we could envision spending a week vacation with (let alone a family who would be willing to camp and go at our level of affordability for vacationing). So we're thankful for friends we don't have to feel anxious about spending several days with--and who have kids ours can spend all that time with as well. We're coming back in time to wash clothes and re-pack for a camping trip with my family next weekend.

In the midst of all the preparations, I was focusing on a sermon on stability. I talked about how stability, biblically speaking, isn't so much about "balance" in life. (My friend and former boss Joel Rude used the following imagery often, so he gets credit for the balancing analogy.) If you imagine a see-saw with the fulcrum in the center, we often imagine life that way--a balancing act. You need to have the same amount of mass on each side. If you add more mass to one side, you need to balance out the other side or shift the fulcrum closer to the side with more mass. We can talk about God being the fulcrum that we need to center our lives on, and this is all good imagery. But we all know how difficult it is to keep life balanced--especially if unexpected things come our way.

I talked about how our issue is that the fulcrum only touches one small point. If we widen it, eventually spanning the entire width, then it becomes a foundation instead of a fulcrum. And whatever gets added to our lives--whatever storms come our way--we can handle it without getting out of balance. If we claim to have God as Lord of our life, then He should be in contact with our whole life anyway--not just one small juncture.

Stability is a central part of St. Benedict's Rule. When a new monk is formally admitted into the community, he takes vows. "When he is to be received, he comes before the whole community in the oratory and promises stability, fidelity to monastic life, and obedience" (RB 58:17). Stability is rooted in place (the monastery--for us, our church and neighborhood), obedience to God and community (intentionally inviting our faith community into our lives). Our foundation is strengthened when we practice our faith disciplines: following the rhythms of the church (liturgical calendar), praying the hours, investing in our small groups (chapter houses in our church), etc.

That foundation helps us weather the storms of life. We do not need to run when the tough times come. We can stand firm, knowing that God is with us and He is steadfast.

And so, in the midst of a hectic week, we can have stability. And it'll be nice to take part of our community with us on vacation.


The Cynic And the Ice Cream Truck

Ice cream trucks frequent our street. And I mean frequent. We can see six or more different trucks in a day. And some of those come by more than once (I think being close to the Boys & Girls Club is a factor).

You can hear an ice cream truck coming from several blocks away (one of Beth's friends tells her kids that if they're playing music, that means they're out of ice cream). They all have the same chimey music--like music out of some psychotic kidnapping movie.

Often it's something like "London Bridge is Falling Down," La Cucaracha" or "Pop Goes the Weasel." Once in a while I'll hear something like "When the Saints Go Marching In." The music that always grabs my attention is the out of season melodies. A couple of times I've heard "Easter Parade." More often I hear "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" or "Silent Night."

I admit that my thoughts seldom focus on how "Joy to the World" has come or how I could be included in the throngs of the faithful who come. I typically think about how silly they are to be playing such music (though, it is probably a great marketing ploy in many ways) or how annoying it is to hear Christmas music in July.

Now, I'm not promoting blind religious fanaticism that sits meditatively awaiting an ice cream truck to approach playing a religious hymn and joining along singing at the top of your lungs. I'm starting to realize, however, that it's not helpful for me to turn instantly to cynicism. I could let the music be a reminder of God's gift of His Son to us. I could let it remind me to be "joyful and triumphant." I could let the music be a cue to connect with God at anytime during my day. Maybe, just maybe, that would be a better posture of the heart to be in than cynicism.

So bring on the glockenspiel-based music box of the ice cream truck. Maybe it'll point my heart in the right direction. Unless it's "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer." That just deserves a little cynicism.