Camping in the Shadow of Carl Sandburg

A nearly-round moon illumines the night
I can almost see each individual leaf
On the trees towering over our tent.
The land is parched, but no rain has fallen
For several months so I leave the rainfly off.
As I lay on my sleeping bag--the air has not
Cooled enough to be in it yet--
I listen to the sounds around me.
The night is still, but it is not silent.
Man-made sounds like a passing freight train
Rumble in the distance, but overhead
A cacophony of the noises created by
Insects and frogs rolls over me.
I try to isolate just one sound,
But it is almost maddening to try.
A shooting star flashes by overhead.
I know it is not actually a star
But a burning chunk of space rock.
Yet "meteorite" is not as romantic to say.
I track a satellite's orbit across the sky,
And am stirred from near-slumber
From the shrill chatter of a raccoon pair
That comes to take advantage of
Any crumbs we dropped during supper last night.
I watch the pair scampering about,
Chasing each other as if the moon
Bids them to come and play.
Then I lay back in repose, ready for sleep
 As the hunter Orion watches over me.
 -July 27-28, outside Galesburg, Illinois, birthplace of said poet.



Last night at church we talked about being desperate for Jesus. The lectionary texts talked about the crowds gathering around Jesus wanting to be healed. When Jesus took the apostles across the lake in a boat to get a respite from the crowds, they walked around the lake to Him. They were desperate to be with Him.

It made me wonder why isn't our Jesus today the same as the real Jesus? By that I mean that when we present Jesus to the public, people aren't desperate for Him like they were 2000 years ago. Jesus hasn't changed. So it seems that it must be because of the way we present Jesus to others. I think we tend to present a Jesus who is more concerned with rule following than a Jesus who loves and wants to bring healing.

So if I'm not presenting Jesus as He really is, I must not be seeing Him as He really is.

And I know I don't see Him as He really is all the time. There are times I'd rather run from Him than run to Him. I think there are times I see Him as pointing fingers at me for my sins, rather than standing with open arms in love. If I saw Jesus as He really is, I think I'd be more likely to run to Him.

But I also wonder if I'm just sometimes afraid to be desperate for Jesus? To be desperate for Him, I'd have to face my brokenness to see my need for healing. I'd have to admit I'm in need.

And I am these things. I do need Jesus. So I'm learning to be more desperate.

Of course, as we were reminded at church, desperation isn't attractive. Desperate people aren't pretty. But this is who Jesus came for. He came for those who could acknowledge that they can't do life well on their own, for those who are empty and want the fullness that Jesus offers.

I must unleash my unattractiveness and ugliness and be willing to run to Jesus. It doesn't come easy for me, but desperation is my desire.


Family in Town

My parents never get to enjoy the Twin Cities whenever they visit. They're either here for a family event or work, so we've been trying to get them up for a while just to enjoy some of the fun things around town. They were finally able to come up Sunday night--with my niece and nephew. They were only able to be here two days, so we packed a lot of fun into the past two days. We never left Minneapolis and did completely free things.

We started the time together by taking a bike ride along the  Mississippi River  down to  the Stone Arch Bridge and to the Guthrie Theater.
In the Yellow Room on the 9th floor of the Guthrie,  enjoying some air conditioning.

We headed down to Minnehaha Falls to cool off in the water.

After enjoying time in the river, we still finished the day going for a swim in the lake at Theodore Wirth Park. The river was restful--the kids played with the rocks, swam down the current, and tried to catch small fish in their hands. The lake was one last cooling off on a 101 degree day with energetic swimming.

This morning we went to the Minneapolis Institute of Art and enjoyed getting cultured.

On our way home we stopped at the Sculpture Garden.

Ethan ate the giant cherry.

We finished off the day driving down around the Chain of Lakes so that Mom could enjoy the homes along the way. We stopped at Wild Rumpus bookstore; the animals and fun decor in the store were a hit. Then we made our way to Lake Harriet for a picnic supper, but got sidelined by the grand opening/ribbon cutting of the new playground there (free coupons for ice cream!). After supper we finished off the night enjoying the concert at the bandshell.


Of Rain and Tents

We went camping for the first time this summer yesterday. I know. It's sad. Already the middle of July. 

It was also the first time we've purchased a state parks pass for Minnesota in the five summers we've lived here. We've been camping...just not in Minnesota state parks (we were going to last summer, but the government shut down, and so did the parks).

Before we left on Friday, I looked at the weather app on my ipad. It said there was, at most on Friday, a 40% chance of precipitation. For like an hour or two. The rest of the day was forecasted with only a 10% chance.

Needless to say, it rained from the point we started making our campfire for supper through a large chunk of the night (maybe I need a different weather app). The fire, which had just gotten started with a nice blaze, was quickly dowsed with the rain. We ended up having our breakfast for supper, and then our supper for breakfast this morning (nothing like beer brats and grilled sweet corn to start your day!). 

Removing the tarp that we laid down under the tent helped remove the water that was seeping through the floor, and placing that tarp over the tent helped take care of the few leaks that were going on. Did I mention that I grabbed our old tent that fit the four of us when the boys were little and we could stuff them in the side vestibules meant for luggage? Yeah, there was that, too. 

Somewhere in my family's history--and I don't know how or where this started--we apparently came under a curse that meant it would rain every time we went camping. Every time. And some of them were big, full-on storms. Now Beth and I, up till now, had done fairly well at avoiding this curse. We've had a few small rain showers, but very seldom have we had to deal with much rain.

So, I'm hoping that this event isn't a sign of things to come. Because we enjoy camping. And we enjoy rain. Just not together. 

Actually, it was a nice, pleasant rain. If we had packed extra clothes (or rain gear!), it would have been a great time for a rain hike. 

Still, we enjoyed it (or at least I did. The boys had their moments of whining ["this hike is too far!"] and Beth did something to her neck that made today miserable for her, but otherwise I think we had fun). We enjoyed a lot of swimming (maybe too much: a few of us have a little red around the eyes--that's never an easy place to apply sunscreen). After some coaxing, we enjoyed a nice hike.

And there were raspberries along the trail to our hike-in campsite and all around it (those aren't them in the picture--I do know what raspberries look like). Fresh raspberries are my wonderful. 

We spent the rain time in the tent, and even that was kind of fun. We worked on the boys' addition skills by teaching them to play cribbage. Not that they actually know how to play it yet, but they were each enjoying playing with one of us. For the first 75 points, at least. Then it got to be a little long for them. 

So we also spent time reading from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Over all, I think we were able to salvage the experience. Which is important. Sometimes the most memorable experiences come from those times when things don't go as planned, but you get to spend quality time together as a family because of those circumstances.

Plus, exposure to nature is always a plus. Even if it's rain.


Encountering Minnie, The Lake Monster

On My Childhood Church's Anniversary

The church I grew up in (baptized, confirmed, etc.) celebrated their (I use "their" instead of "its" because the church is the people, not the building) 125th Anniversary this past weekend. Because of it being Anders' birthday and other summer busyness, we didn't make the drive down for it. I fondly remember the centennial celebration, however.

No church is perfect (if you think yours is, something is wrong). The Evangelical Covenant Church of Albert City, Iowa, is no exception. But I still fondly embrace my childhood there. It was my family's church (when I was born there were 4 generations of my dad's family in the church, and numerous cousins of various degrees). I was baptized there. My (third) cousin and I went through confirmation together. I can still remember the Bible verses and some of the catechism questions Pastor Wells had us memorize.  In Jr. High we started singing in the choir. My teenage cousin and I amidst men in their 70s and 80s--and it was great!

As I was doing a web search for the church to find a picture, the majority of the pictures that came up were of people from the older generation who had passed away in the past decade--obituary pictures. That part is sad for me. When I do go home, there are many new faces (which is great), but many of the faces I grew up with are gone--Sunday School teachers, choir members, and others who impacted my life grown up aren't there any more.

That's the legacy of a good church, though...the older generations invest in the young generations who keep passing it on. When the church was first formed, much of the service was done in Swedish. That eventually changed, of course (even back then, though, immigrants didn't give up their language right away), but I still learned to sing songs in Swedish from the older generation. The church changes, but it also honors its heritage. Not for the sake of rigorously holding to tradition, but to honor the past and acknowledge where we have come from. No church exists solely in the present. We are connect to two millennia of saints, church teaching, and faith (as well as a few millennia before that connected to Judaic tradition). 

So I congratulate the Evangelical Covenant Church of Albert City, Iowa, for its past 125 years. For a small town church, a number of pastors and ministers (myself included) have come out of that congregation. Many lives have been changed. 

I pray that will continue for generations to come. It only happens with fervent faith, walking in the Spirit. May God continue to bless, guide, and lead you.



Pipers in the parade

It's been a week of celebrations.

Wednesday, of course, was Independence Day. We left home early to head out to Delano (home of Minnesota's oldest and largest 4th of July parade) where some friends live on the parade route. They invite family and friends over for a day of watching the parade and eating. This year the host along with his father and some friends got together and played some blues songs in the alley behind their house in the afternoon. Despite nearly 100 degree temperatures, we all had fun.

On the way home, we stopped at a lake to cool off for a quick swim (along with a couple hundred other people). Then we headed down to our old stomping grounds in St. Louis Park for fireworks with friends and friends of friends. We still love watching them there--you get to sit up close and personal, and they're really good fireworks for a smaller suburb.

Yes, that would be our child in a Canada
shirt on Independence Day
Yesterday Anders had friends from school over to celebrate his birthday. We (as usual) went simple and set up a pool, slip-and-slide, and a sprinkler in the yard for the kids to cool off with on yet another hot day (all week was upper 90s with at least one day in the 100s). My wife made a superb ice cream cake (we made the kids eat fruit first). Water balloons may have also been involved.

Today was Anders' actual birthday. After breakfast in bed (a tradition) we headed down to the Mall of America (I tried to persuade him to do something outside--the zoo or anything besides the Mall, but he wanted to go to the Lego store and we had four tickets for rides at Nickelodeon Universe). After a new Lego set and getting to ride a few things, we headed across the street to Ikea where a birthday lunch of Swedish meatballs had been requested. 
Picture by Anders

Pizza was requested for supper, so we sacrificed and cranked up the oven to make a couple homemade pizzas (Anders' half was ham and pineapple--his favorite), but ate outside which was slightly cooler than the kitchen by that point. We ended the evening with some archery (Beth had made him a quiver for his arrows for his birthday) and a dip in the lake (both boys have gotten good at swimming despite having only gone a few times this year).

Tomorrow we're off to celebrate another birthday party--this time for one of Nils' classmates.

The 8-year old
There is much to celebrate...(including the cooler weather that rolled in last night)


Revival Tents, Exorcisms and God's Love

As I was driving Nils to the beach the other night to swim to escape the nearly 100 degree temperature we drove by a big white tent with probably a few hundred folding chairs and a big stage inside it. Near the street was a sign that said "Revival" with the time it was happening each night.

Part of me was a bit nostalgic--almost wanting to stop and see what was going on (but I didn't). A few centuries ago, tent meetings in America would have drawn hundreds of people. They were the thing to do. Maybe it was just the going form of entertainment back then.

I'm not sure if there were even twenty people in the tent as we drove by. Mind you, it was nearly 100 degrees outside. Without a breeze.

But I don't know that a revival meeting is that effective anymore either. Of course, if one person walks in off the street to find relief under the awning and find Jesus' love for them as well, then it's worth it.

I just think the gospel is more effective when revival comes from our homes, not a tent. Not necessarily even a church. But then again, I'm not a good model of that.

I'm not one to go about starting religious conversations. It's not my gift. For me to do it would feel intrusive. I don't always like to be a part of them when they come up, either. Many of us tend to either get defensive of put up our guard when religion comes up in conversation. It's a touchy subject. It gets to the very core of who we are and what we believe.

A few nights ago we were over at the home of some friends for supper. Their newish neighbors stopped by and ended up staying for supper as well. The husband neighbor was a conversationalist. When a running book that our friend was suggesting came up, he started discussing The Exorcist, which he was currently reading. And from Catholicism and exorcisms we got onto the topics of hell, Satan, and evil.

My friend doesn't like to believe that hell is a reality. She doesn't think a God who is all love could send people to hell. And I can totally understand this universalist bent. God shouldn't do that to people. Isn't His goal to save everyone? Isn't that why Jesus came--because God so loved the world?

The neighbor was very philosophical about free will. If free will exists--if how we live is our choice instead of being puppetted by God--then evil is a choice, a fallen angel such as Satan must be a possibility, and hell must be a necessary outcome.

Now, I know I haven't stated either of their positions fully or articulately, but the basics are there. (As is my nature) I listened more than contributed. Neither was arguing, but dialoguing about their spiritual beliefs. And this is good to do.

I do believe Satan exists. I don't believe he is behind every single evil in the world (otherwise we become puppets of his and loose that free will option), but he has done plenty of damage (more in the way of getting us to believe his half-truths and sweet-sounding lies than through actual evil). I do believe there is a hell. And I do believe God is loving.

He is also just and righteous. For him to be so, there must be consequences for injustices. But this doesn't necessarily warrant the existence of hell. We often experience those consequences in life. A loving parent will discipline their child in some form for misbehavior, but those consequences aren't permanent.

I think that hell exists not because God has to send us there, but because we choose it. I do believe God loves everyone and desires for them to spend eternity in Heaven. I don't believe that everyone will be there.

I do believe God tries to do everything possible to save people. He sent His own Son, for crying out loud. And I don't know what goes on in the spiritual realm after death...Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). That means it is in His hands. I will not dictate how people are saved. He will do (and has done) everything possible, I believe.

But it is all still our choice. We can choose to accept God's love for us and give Him our lives. Or we can try and keep our lives for ourselves (or whatever else we might give it to: our jobs, money, etc.).

The Bible refers to God's love and salvation as a gift. It is free (not earned). It is also our choice whether or not we accept it. Someone can give us a gift for our birthday. It can sit on our table, neatly wrapped with our name on the card. But we can choose not to accept it. We can choose to exchange it or return it. We can choose to simply ignore its existence if we want to. The gift is there, the choice is ours.

I think, maybe slightly simplistically, but with validity, that hell is what happens when we choose not to accept the gift. God can't force Heaven on us. We have to want to be there.

And ultimately heaven/hell/faith/salvation isn't about having a "fire insurance" card when we die. God is just as concerned about how we live. Not to impose rules and commandments on us, but that we might "have life and have it to the full" (John 10:10).

Somehow, instead of big white tents with powerful speakers, I think we need to figure out how to show people the fullness of life that God desires for us. If we can figure that out, I think Heaven could be pretty full.


Pilgrimage and Living Faith

So, I normally don't blog much about movies (mainly because we don't watch them too often...mainly ones we get from the library or ones in our personal collection), but here I am posting two in a row. This one, however, is a diversion from the blockbuster movies that are all the focus right now. Both of these are a few years old now (but we just got them in from our requests at the library in the past month). You may not have heard of them, but I often find great value in the quieter independent movies  out there, and I enjoy the differing views shared from international films.

The Way came about after director Emilio Estevez's son along with his grandfather (Martin Sheen) walked the Camino del Santiago--a pilgrimage route from France to Galicia, Spain, where the remains of St. James are said to be located. Their journey inspired the movie in which an ophthalmologist named Tom Avery (Sheen) unexpectedly ends up in France after his son dies shortly after beginning his pilgrimage. Though their relationship was distant, Avery makes a spur-of-the-moment decision to finish his son's journey, depositing his ashes at various places along the way. 

Avery is reluctantly (he seriously does nearly everything he could to alienate himself along the walk) joined by three others who are making the pilgrimage for various reasons. Their serendipitous journey together helps each of them to open up and see the real reasons they are on pilgrimage. They also find the value of community--not a community of like-mindedness, but of variety.

Last night we watched Of Gods and Men (Des Hommes et Des Dieux). It is based on the true story of a small group of monks living in Algeria during the civil war that occurred during 1996. Part of the beauty of the movies is how little dialogue there is. Instead, we are shown how the monks live in harmony and peace among their Muslim neighbors by scenes of their daily life. 

As civil war erupts (largely because of a rogue Islamic fundamentalist group), the brothers find themselves in danger. They are divided at first as to whether or not they should return home to France, join another monastery in Africa, or stay. Their is real fear as they hear about and see the assassinations that are happening. Their Muslim neighbors tell them that their village exists because of their presence. As a community they seek the will of God. 

In The Way we see a faith (of sorts--the movie really doesn't try to advocate for a certain faith, but rather shows the importance of journey) discovered; in Of Gods and Men we see the struggle and beauty of
faith lived out. Both movies are simple, delightful, and provocative. Whatever your background or beliefs (there isn't any proselytizing), both movies help look more deeply at living a fuller life.