Campfire Community

When I took the boys camping earlier this week, they asked who we were going with. This is a new thing. We haven't done much camping with other people outside of our camping weekend with my family. For various reasons, we've usually gone by ourselves (often because of when we can go and the budget that necessitates our time away). So our vacation this summer with another family was something new--something enjoyable. And we do need some family camping trips as well, with just us (or just me and the boys).

This weekend we went camping with our small group (our Chapter House) from church (all but one person who was on vacation elsewhere). Because of the need for a cabin-type lodging for some of our group and not being able to find them available in most state parks, we ended up going to Covenant Park Bible Camp where a good friend of ours has been the director. It was a nice setting--we were able to set up our tents and have a campfire just a short distance from the lodging (which was nice with a group to be able to have a fridge and not worry about ice).

We did some kayaking (Anders even tried going by himself and did quite well), swimming, playing of kubb and bocce, and of course just sitting around the campfire and relaxing. And eating--I can't forget that.

Community is important to us. It is a core part of our church. Camping together was a great way to continue building that community together within our group. I'm also thankful for a group of people with whom I can build community in a deeper level.

We happened to be there the same time that a Covenant Church from Duluth was doing their church retreat. I enjoyed getting to talk with their pastor and a few of their members. They were building community, too. They even invited us to join in with them at times. I love that about our denomination (and I know others are the same way): we're a wide family. Where ever we go and run into each other--even if we don't know each other previously--we can converse like old friends. We can do that because we know our community expands beyond our tent site, our church and our neighborhood. Where ever blue sky or twinkling stars shine above us, we are in a place of community--if we allow ourselves and take the time and effort to be with one another.


Boys Only Campout

Yesterday I woke up with the intent to load up the car, buy a few groceries and take the boys camping. Just me and the boys. I've been trying to do it all summer. We haven't had a "just the guys" camping trip before. And Beth had Doxa Soma last night and was supposed to have grad school orientation today (she ended up skipping it because none very relevant), so it was a good opportunity for us to get away.

But Nils got sick. He threw up. Twice. But it wasn't very sick-looking puke (which that sentence would only make sense if you've been around a lot of sick kids). So we were cancelling the trip. But then by lunch time he was hungry. And acting normal. So we ended up going. We were only planning on going to Baker Park, which is 30 minutes away, so I figured if we need to we could just come home if needed.
We got there later than I hoped, obviously, but were still able to get in a quick swim in the lake and some time on the bikes. The weather was nice enough we didn't need the rain fly, so we slept looking at the stars (while keeping the bugs away and allowing some breeze through).
This morning we got up, ate breakfast, packed up our gear and biked down to the lake. It was very windy, so there were some good waves forming (good for a lake at least). The boys had fun jumping through them and trying to float on them. We then headed into Delano to hit the buffet at Pizza Ranch (an Iowa chain that we love and haven't been to one for a while). We checked out the nearby Lake Rebecca Park. They had a wonderful big-woods-themed playground that the boys loved exploring.

We had to work through some discussions along the way: why we expect the boys to help do chores (especially when it's setting up the tent and getting everything ready and mamma isn't around), obeying the first time they're told to do something, having a good attitude and not complaining, etc. They're things we've been talking about for a while--I just hoped not to have to do it all on a camping trip. Parenting is work--hopefully some of it pays off and sinks in soon. In the meantime, we had fun. Though, when we prayed tonight the thing the boys both said they were thankful for was their bike ride with mom after supper. Which is validating for her, of course.

It was nice to be able to have a night to get away in this last week before school starts. Summer always goes so quickly--especially in the upper Midwest. It was good to get out in nature and have some time with my boys there. And we learned that we need a wife/mamma (I forgot bug spray, water bottles and a few other things that she would have remembered).


Asthma, Genetics & Sin

My son got an asthma inhaler today. It wasn't a big surprise--my wife has used them since she was little, so we were just waiting for one of the boys to need one. Anders has been coughing a lot at night and in the morning when he's in bed. He started doing it more during the day. So we got him into see his doctor today.

It's not confirmed, but that's the suspicion. He's supposed to use the inhaler for a month and see how things are. I didn't get to go to the doctor, so I wasn't in on everything. It's a bit scary, even though we were expecting it. And my wife has had it, so it's nothing new to her. But it's still not what you want for your kid.

When I think of asthma, I think of the book The Lord of the Flies and the line, "Sucks to your ass-mar, Piggy." For it does suck. While it's not as hard to deal with like Anders' best friend who has diabetes, it's still not fun to have. And it sucks that those bad genetic traits get passed on to our kids who have no choice in the matter.

Of course, there are worse things we pass on to our kids. I know my kids have gotten plenty of my sinful tendencies. I'm trying to work on some of my bad habits still, and all the more as I see my children doing them. I'm all the more conscious of my sins when I see my children falling into the same patterns. I don't want them to go down some of the same roads I have gone down. I want them to be better than I am.

Thankfully, there's a cure. Thankfully, God loves us, the Son died for us and the Spirit transforms us each day.


Of Houses and Souls

I love biking down the neighborhood streets around our home. On pretty much every block there is at least one old home that has been beautifully kept (often several). This isn't unusually. Many areas have beautiful old homes.

But I live in North Minneapolis. We're not known for our beauty. When the rest of the Twin Cities metro area thinks of North Minneapolis, they associate it with violence, crime, murder, poverty. We're "the hood." And yes, an occasional murder does happen here--just like they happen in other parts of the metro.
We may have more of a history in this area since this part of the city was originally designed to keep the "undesirables" out of the nicer parts of the city. But we also have the tenacity and hope to rise above how others view us.

Some may not be surprised to find nice houses in North Minneapolis. There are areas (along the parkway that boarders the suburbs to the west for example) that are lined with nice homes. But the houses in these pictures are on the blocks near our home--in the heart of North Minneapolis.
When you take the time to go slowly, to bike or walk, through a neighborhood, you can see the beauty in it. There are little architectural details on many of the homes that you don't see if you're driving by. There is stonework and masonry, woodwork and ornamental details that are easy to miss.
You also miss out on the people who live there. The hope they have. Their dreams. The fact that God loves them, that Christ died for them. It's easy to miss all that through the stereotypes of people in "the hood." The baggy pants, drooping so their boxers show way too much. The drug dealer. The welfare mom.

Those people exist. But they also have potential. They, too, can be redeemed and sanctified. Like many of the old houses that have taken work and effort to turn them around and maintain their beauty, a little attention and work can do the same for the people in the same neighborhoods. Yes, they need Jesus. They also need us--not to come be their savior, but to be an empathetic friend who can understand how hard it is to turn our right when your mom was a teenager who tried to raise you by herself without anyone to raise her. They need us to be a role model for their kids when their father hasn't been in their lives at all. They need us to give them a chance and look beyond the stereotypes and prejudices. They need us to not look at them as "theys" and "thems" but as people created in God's image with a soul that longs to be made whole.

We just need to bike down the side roads and pay attention to the details and the beauty therein.


Shoebox Apartments and Hospitality

I came across this video of an architect in Manhattan living in a 78 square foot apartment (and paying more in rent than we do on our mortgage for our home--but I guess that's New York for you). It's an amazing video to watch; I marvel at how he can live in such a small space and how he has devised his own furniture to make it work for him (plus the fact that he works from home!).

I've posted before how I admire people who can pare down and find comfort in small living spaces. But I guess finally growing into a strong community of faith has effected me. Despite my fairly strong introvert pull, I found myself thinking during the video, "But he can't have people over for dinner!"

While I'm not becoming an extrovert, I have definitely come to see the importance of community and our home as a place of hospitality. Of course, a 78-sq ft apartment can't limit your hospitality and your belonging to community--only you can do that.

So make the most of your living space, but make even more of your giving space--your opportunities to share with those around you, to create community. It is where we, together, become better than we could be on our own.


Living Hell; Living Heaven

"While hate for our fellow man puts us in a living hell, holding good thoughts for them brings us an opposite state of living, one of happiness, success, peace. We are then in heaven."
- George Washington Carver



Our sermons during the summer have been using the lectionary readings to look at some of the driving principles of our church. We've looked at hospitality, stability, contemplative living, obedient listening, being inetergenerational and being missional. Last night we looked at discernment using the story of Daniel interpreting Nebuchadnezzar's dream.

Pastor Jan described discernment as "the process of sacred listening that weighs and separtes what is true fromwhat is illusionary freeing us to love and serve God with our whole selves." She talked about some of the presuppositions involved with discernment.

First, we must be open to God. We can't discern God's will if we aren't open to Him.

Second, we must desire to do God's will. "God does not reveal His will to us if we don't want to do it."

Third, we must have an active knowledge of God. To discern His will, we must know Him.

Fourth, we must be (at least willing to be) free from our attachments. Attachments could be food, sex, music, solitude, new clothes, thrift stores, spirituality, exercise, entertainment, money, volunteering, politics, social issues, and so much more. If we are attached to education, for example, any discernment made about pursuing a new degree for example, would be skewed. Likewise, if we think education is a waste of time (an attachment toward anti-intellectualism) then our discerning of someone's dilemma to go to college or not would be bent. Pastor Jan noted that this is probably our biggest hurdle. We have attachments. They can get strong enough to become addictions. All are idols. These attachments keep us from fully knowing God and His will for us.

After having worked on some of those attachment issues, it's easy to feel like you're in the clear. It's also easy to let other attachments sneak in and find their way toward gaining strongholds. They require disciplined, honest examination of your life as well as a community where others know you well and you are open to having them speak to your life as well.

It's a wake up call to know I can't fully discern God's will if I'm working outside of those perameters above. I know I've missed out in the past. May the future be clearer.


Table Ettiquette

"The world was my oyster, but I used the wrong fork."
- Oscar Wilde


I'm to Blame

I confess: I'm the reason the economy hasn't improved.

As I understand it, the way we as citizens are expected to help the economy is to go out and buy things we don't need. I'm not doing that. Not much anyway.

We're all going to spend money on the things we do need: food, mortgage/rent, utilities, car insurance (if you have a car), transportation to work, health care, etc. We pretty much have to do those things.

Now, we can cut back in those areas, of course. We don't have to buy potato chips; we can stick to buying just the healthy food our body needs and not the junk food. We can drive less and save money on gas (and we can bike/walk more and spend less money on health care). We can downsize. We can use less electricity and water and heat. We can be frugal and spend wisely. Personally, I think we should be doing most of that no matter how the economy is doing.

But it seems like we're expected to spend money where ever we can in order to boost the economy. Buy your espresso with added flavor shots. Detail your car. Get that new "As Seen on TV" product. Those things apparently are supposed to help the economy.

But then, I don't get our economy. It seems to go against a lot of what I believe. As I understand it, the economy does well when we're spending money. Then there are supposed to be more jobs with better pay so we can spend more money. All that is supposed to keep our economy healthy. Except that it hasn't.

Those who know me know that I'm a pretty frugal person. We don't rent movies, we wait until it's our turn on the reserve list at the library to get the DVD. If we see a movie in the theater, it's at the cheap theater a few months after it's been out. We don't subscribe to cable. I've only bought one app for my ipad (a word processing program). We attend free events and get passes from the library for museums, zoos and the like. We seldom eat out--we usually bring a packed lunch. We buy our food fairly cheaply and buy plenty of things at thrift stores.

If I could, I would be more self-sustaining: growing more of my own food, having a power source like a windmill or solar panels, making the things I need. And I would, if we had much more money, do more "splurges" on things I enjoy. I would also give more away. And I'd still be frugal.

So I'm clearly not going to be a stimulator of the economy. I also don't have the solution on how
to improve it. I personally think we need a whole different economic system (what was wrong with the trade-and-barter system of yore?), but, again, I don't have the answer for what that should be. However they did it on Star Trek seems to be the logical answer (I also think we need to work on getting their medical and transport technology). Of course, they never explained how their economy worked...they just showed that money didn't seem to be an issue for the crew at least. The Enterprise crew just seemed to all do their jobs (and enjoy them), have all their needs taken care of and enjoy life without worrying about stimulating the galactic economy. We're not there. Nor will we be anytime soon.

So don't expect the economy to improve because of me. I don't expect it to improve because of you, either. I think we're all best off learning to learn more within our means and help those who need help. If you've got other solutions, I'd love to hear them.


Of Being Published and Ego Trips

I've been tweeted. Or something I wrote has been. I was just published in an online article ("The Selfish Network" on Relevant Magazine). The quote was, "Is all our social networking about communicating with people, or just using them as a means to an end?"

I'll admit right off that I don't really get Twitter yet. And I'm fine with that.

I'll also admit that it feels good to be published (even if it's not for a paycheck). I've been working hard, and it's nice to see an article come to fruition.

One more admission: I have a hard time with criticism. Mainly in that I tend to take it too personally. This isn't a good trait of mine. A good trait would be to accept helpful criticism and use it to grow while letting unhelpful criticism just roll off my back.

But I too often let my ego get in the way. I like to feel loved, and sometimes I search for that through people liking what I do. So when people don't like what I do, I tend to stretch that into feeling that I'm not liked. And while that may or may not be true, it shouldn't matter. Who I am is not centered around what I do. My self-worth is not found in my actions or others' opinions of me or anything else related to my ego. It is rooted firmly in God's love for me.

I think I've written about this more than once before. But I forget. So I remind myself (and hopefully others who need to hear it as well.

One last admission: I wish I hadn't written the article on the "sins" of networking right now as I'm looking for a job for this fall.