Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

I took a break from Holy Week preparations to see “Alice in Wonderland” with my daughter, Hannah, at the Andover Theatre last night.

I never read the story by Lewis Carroll when I was younger. But a person can’t live too long without coming across some of the images of the book.

The story shared in the movie was fairly simple. Alice is 19 and on her way to being asked to be married by a very dull snob, played by Leo Bill. At the engagement party Alice spies a rabbit, chases it and falls down a tunnel to Underland—not Wonderland. Underland is being ruled by the cruel Queen, played by Helena Bonham Carter.

At Underland Alice encounters a number of characters—the White Rabbit, the Dormouse, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Chesire Cat, and, of course, the Mad Hatter, played by Johnny Depp.

After a number of adventures Alice travels to the Red Queen’s castle. After the Mad Hatter is saved from execution Alice travels back to the White Queen (played by Anne Hathaway), the Red Queen’s sister. A huge battle takes place between the White Queen and Red Queen’s armies. Alice kills the dreaded Jabberwocky, drinks its blood, is transported back to reality out of Underland, and refuses the engagement of her suitor.

Ho hum.

I found nothing remarkable about the movie. It didn’t help that I fell asleep for ten minutes in the middle, and that the movie suddenly stopped about half way through the story. We were forced to take a five minute intermission. I guess the technician was bored too. I appreciate and understand that mistakes happen; however I would have liked it if someone had told us what had happened and then informed us when the movie was going to start again.

On the ride home I asked Hannah her opinion of the movie. She gave it three stars out of five. She thought the movie was too serious—she wanted more humor.

Alice in Wonderland strikes me as a magical story. I wanted more magic.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Remebering the story of Holy Week

Yesterday at Chain of Lakes we started Holy Week by focusing on Jesus getting on a colt, traveling down the Mount of Olives, and entering Jerusalem. As I shared in my sermon—a link to the sermon can be found on our web site,—this Palm Sunday story is one of the most powerful in the Scriptures. By getting on a colt, Jesus displayed that he would be a different kind of leader—a servant leader.

During worship yesterday we also waved our palms and welcomed Jesus, who was being played by a young girl; we sang traditional Palm Sunday hymns, hymns that tax the high register of our vocal chords. Amidst our celebration the sun shone brightly into our sanctuary at the Lino Lakes Senior Center. For me our worship experience was a beautiful way to start Holy Week.

Holy Week is the most important week of the year for our life of faith. Drilled down to its essential core, Holy Week is a story about Jesus’ last days. Though there are more, in the church we primarily remember three stories during this week. We remember Jesus sharing himself through what we call the Lord’s Supper as he celebrated Passover with his disciples; we remember Jesus choosing to go to the cross to die; we remember how Jesus was raised from the dead.

Celebrated rightly you and I will be different people next Monday morning than when we opened our eyes for the first time yesterday morning. We will be different because we’ve remembered and even encountered the story of Jesus’ last days.

However to be different people, you and I have to choose intentionally to celebrate the events of this week. We must make the choice because we have plenty to distract us.

The world around us will not stop or really encourage our choice to remember the story. The sports industry is operating at a high level. Next Monday morning I’m guessing that the local Minneapolis/St. Paul newspapers will be full of information about the Minnesota Twins first regular season game that will be played that night. I’m guessing we will also read about the NCAA championship basketball game that will be played next Monday night. It wouldn’t surprise me if many of my Catholic brothers and sisters will be checking scores of the NCAA games this Saturday as they celebrate Easter Vigil.

The media will undoubtedly stop and pause to remember Holy Week. But as of today the media’s version of Holy Week revolves around the Pope and his response to the priest abuse crisis. We will most likely see a picture or two in next Monday’s newspapers, but those pictures will be about the church’s celebration of the story, not about the last week of Jesus life.

The world is not stopping this week. To remember we have to choose to remember and even encounter Jesus’ final week on earth.

It’s a powerful story. No matter how often we’ve read or heard the story, it’s worth our attention this week. At Chain of Lakes I encouraged everyone to read Luke’s chronicling of Holy Week. A link to this devotion can also be found on our congregation’s web site.

If we follow the story we open ourselves up to new possibilities. Have a powerful Holy Week!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

That's not the American Way

I watched part of the Health Care debate last Sunday night when I traveled to Worthington to stay at my parents the night before my Aunt Ellen’s funeral. I could see and appreciate the joy the Democrats expressed during the debate. Some of them have dedicated their lives to reforming Health Care. Their efforts seem to have died when Scott Brown was elected as Senator as Massachusetts. Somehow they rallied and figured out a way to get the bill passed.

I can also appreciate the fury of the Republicans. Their constituencies aren’t served by the Health Care bill.

I haven’t followed the debate that closely, so I can’t tell you my opinion on every part of the bill. I am glad that the bill is supposed to reduce the deficit, that it will increase the number of people insured (especially the poor), and it stops insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.

I have concerns about the expansion of Federal government into individual’s lives and whether the taxes can really pay for the bill.

It doesn’t bother me if you disagree with my views or whether you support or don’t support the new Health care bill.

It does bother me deeply when anyone resorts to violence or hate speech when responding to the bill’s passage.

The reports of violence that have surfaced are deeply disturbing. According to the Washington Post ten Democrats have reported death threats, vandalism or incidents of harassment at their district offices over the past week.

Over the past 24 hours, thrown bricks shattered the glass doors and windows of party headquarters in Rochester, N.Y. and Cincinnati.

A propane gas line at the Charlottesville home of Rep. Tom Perriello's brother was severed Tuesday after a self-identified "tea party" activist posted what he believed to be the Virginia Democrat's address on a Web site and urged opponents to "drop by" to convey their opposition to his yes vote on the health bill.

I’m grateful that Republican leaders are condemning this violence.
"I know many Americans are angry over this health-care bill, and that Washington Democrats just aren't listening," John Boehner (House Minority Leader) told Fox News Channel. "But, as I've said, violence and threats are unacceptable. That's not the American way. We need to take that anger and channel it into positive change. Call your congressman, go out and register people to vote, go volunteer on a political campaign, make your voice heard -- but let's do it the right way."

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele told Fox News that Republicans have the right to be angry over the Democrat's health care bill, but "resorting to violent measures is exactly the wrong way to send a message."

No matter how deep our passion, violence and hate-speech are not the American way.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A tribue to Ellen Moore

Yesterday I helped my sister officiate at the funeral service of Ellen Moore in Estherville, Iowa. Ellen passed away last Thursday in rural Ringsted, Iowa. Ellen was the wife of my Dad’s brother Gene.

Her health had been declining, so I wasn’t surprised when my sister called me last Thursday to share the news about Ellen’s passing.

Ellen lived most of her life on farms in northwest Iowa. I have many memories of going to her and Gene's farm in rural Wallingford, Iowa. Her sons Rodney and Roger, my other cousins and I usually did something memorable on the farm. One time Rodney, Roger and I got stuck in the mud outside the barn on their farm. It was a spring day and the mud went up to our hips. We finally extricated ourselves from the muck and walked back to Ellen and Gene’s farm house. We were so filthy that Ellen had us strip off our clothes and then had us hosed down with a garden hose outside the house.

She was an excellent cook and gardener. My sister shared yesterday during the Funeral how she looked forward to the raisin, crème pies that Ellen baked for the Moore family gatherings. She had a huge garden on the Wallingford farm. She would can their vegetables and had a large assortment in their basement.

A few years back I spent a couple days with Ellen when her husband Gene was at St. Mary’s hospital. Amy, Hannah, and I hosted her for a dinner at our home in Rochester. She loved sharing stories about living on the farm and shared many that evening.

Ellen’s burial was at High Lake Cemetery. I shared the traditional reading from Ecclesiastes—“for everything there is a season …” Standing on the rich earth of northwest Iowa, surrounded by lakes that were brimming from the recent snow melt, cooled by the fresh wind of mid-March, I felt connected to the land. We were in the midst of agricultural people—folk who in their bones know about the seasons. Their lives are an illustration of the Ecclesiastes reading.

As my sister said a final prayer at the cemetery two Canadian Honkers ascended high into the sky. I’m guessing the two were a couple—Canadian Honkers mate for life. After the prayer we gave hugs to Ellen’s life-long mate. This strong bear of a man shed many tears. His life-long mate has flown away.

Monday, March 15, 2010

That went better

This past Saturday the Presbytery of the Twin Cities area had its March meeting at North Como Presbyterian Church. I arrived early to staff a table where I could talk about Chain of Lakes Church with people of the Presbytery. I plan on doing this at every Presbytery meeting until we are chartered. This is my favorite part of the meeting. I love talking to people about what is happening in our church and to answer people’s questions. This past Saturday I shared a table with Martha Rockenstein, the esteemed educator at First Presbyterian Church in Hudson.

I was having so much fun at the table that I walked into the Presbytery meeting about 15 minutes after it started. As I sat down Chaz Ruark, our Executive Presbyter, was giving his report. I was touched that Chaz shared his excitement about being at the Grand Opening of Chain of Lakes.

After sharing other highlights of his last month he spoke the truth in love—a refreshing departure from most Presbytery meetings. In particular he highlighted the following section from 1 Corinthians 13, “love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” 1 Corinthians 13: 4-6.

Chaz went on to say that we didn’t do well as a Presbytery in living out this Scripture at the January meeting. I couldn’t agree more with his statement—I shared my own thoughts in a blog on January 11 entitled, “That Didn’t Go Well.”

Chaz went on to take personal responsibility through an apology for the disorder in that meeting. In particular he shared the thought process that led to the timing of the announcement that Jin Kim was running for Moderator of General Assembly. At the January meeting Jin was also running for General Assembly commissioner. The Presbytery wasn’t informed that Jin was running for Moderator until after the vote for General Assembly commissioners. Chaz shared that withholding the information that Jin was running for General Assembly Moderator was the counsel of people he talked with prior to the January meeting. Apparently some people had shared with Chaz after the January meeting that this information should not have been held.

I have no problem with how this particular part of the meeting of the January meeting was handled. I really have no strong feeling either way on whether the Presbytery should have known if Jin Kim was running for Moderator of General Assembly when we voted on General Assembly commissioners. I think Chaz and others made a decision on what they thought was the best way to proceed. They acted in good faith and, even better, reported to us the thought process that went into the decision.

Even though I don’t think Chaz was responsible for the tenor of January’s meeting, I find it refreshing that he would address the issue and take responsibility. To me he displayed qualities of effective leadership—publicly speaking the truth in love in an attitude of humility and taking responsibility for something that went wrong.

If more of us in the Presbytery would do this, we would be a healthier place. As I shared in my January 11 blog I believe that we as a Presbytery need to: 1) learn how to disagree better; 2) value the process less. Lifting up our disagreements in a public setting in an attitude of humility is an excellent start to disagreeing in a healthier way.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Ever since I started at Chain of Lakes in February 2009 I've sent out a every-other month Prayer Newsletter. The aim is to encourage people in our Presbytery and beyond to keep Chain of Lakes Church in their prayers.

People tell me all the time that they are praying for us at Chain of Lakes. Thank you!! The following is the first page of the Prayer Newsletter that we E-mailed out today. If you would like to receive the entire Prayer Newsletter, send an E-mail to Thanks for all the prayers!!

During a talk in worship this past Sunday, a Chain of Lakes participant compared starting a new church to a roller coaster ride. He ended the talk by saying that if he was younger he would jump off the chancel and shout “Wheeeeeeeeee”

What a ride we’ve had during the past two months!! Consider how the Spirit is leading us:

We had a Grand Opening service where 110 people attended. Forty-three adults and youth attended from our community at Chain of Lakes. Nineteen Presbyterian churches sent representatives. We collected approximately 60 Haiti Hygiene kits which will be sent to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. In my blog I called the day a “Symphony of Wows”

Soon after the Grand Opening we started Sunday School. We’ve had between eight and thirteen children attend Sunday School. Most of these children and their families were not previously connected to a faith community

We’re offering three small groups for the people at Chain of Lakes and for the community. We had three people from the community attend our book discussion on “The Shack.”

During the past three Sundays we’ve ranged between 39 & 47 people in worship

We’ve seen the expression of joy among many people at Chain of Lakes. Last Sunday in worship a woman celebrating her 80th birthday stood up unannounced to share how much the people of Chain of Lakes meant to her. Then the woman sitting next to her stood up to say the same thing; afterwards she shared with me that she cut short her unsolicited talk because she would have started to cry

Your prayers are helping! The spiritual energy that we are experiencing at Chain of Lakes can only come from God. I was especially touched by all the prayer cards that people filled out at our Grand Opening. (See above picture) It is humbling to know that we at Chain of Lakes are a part of your daily prayers. Thank you for your spiritual support of Chain of Lakes! Your prayers are making a difference.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Reading Charlotte's Web

For the past two weeks, my daughter, Hannah, and I have read Charlotte’s Web. Earlier this year the two of us formed our own book club. She chooses a book for us to read and then I choose one. We read the books individually and then talk about them with each other.

Charlotte’s Web is a children’s book that all ages can enjoy. The writing by E.B. White is spectacular. The book is worth reading again just to savor how White puts words together.

The book has sold over 45 million copies since being published in 1952 and has been translated into 23 languages. It is 78th on the all-time bestselling hardback book list.

Reading Charlotte’s Web reminded me how each of us has a history with books. I first became acquainted with Charlotte’s Web when my third grade teacher at West Elementary School in Worthington, Minnesota read it to us. Each day she would gather us together and read a chapter. When I first heard a description of Zuckerman’s farm an image of a farm next to my grandparent’s farm came to mind. When I think of Wilbur and Charlotte and the animals in the barn I think of the barn on this farm.

I became immersed in the story when Amy & I bought the video of Charlotte’s Web for Hannah. We must have watched the video close to 50 times.

The tone of the book is so delicious. E.B. White presents a world that revolves around the seasons. The pressure of 21st century life is absent—he probably couldn’t have imagined a life like we have. It’s a life where joy comes in observing the changes in nature; of sitting in the barn and talking to the animals; of swinging on a rope attached to the barn ceiling. No Internet, I-Phones, Facebook, cable television. Entertainment is observing what nature shares.

E. B. White presented simple and powerful images of a culture that we have lost. Read how he described the County Fair:
“After the heat of the day, the evening came as a welcome relief to all. The Ferris wheel was lighted now. It went round and round in the sky and seemed twice as high as the day. There were lights on the midway, and you could hear the crackle of the gambling machines and the music of the merry-go-round and the voice of the man in the beano booth calling numbers.”

Writing that paragraph brought back many memories of my attending the Nobles County Fair.

I encourage everyone to read a chapter a day from Charlotte’s Web. For 22 days you’ll be taken away to a world that we don’t want to forget.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


On March 2, 1964 a 25-year old woman experienced labor pains late at night. She told her 23-year old husband that it was time to go to the hospital. They were teachers at the school system in Paullina, Iowa. She taught Kindergarten, and he taught High School English. She wasn’t sure if she could keep teaching when she became pregnant, but the principal said the little kids wouldn’t notice what was happening to her body. As others did at the time, she didn't have to quit her job because of her pregnancy.

The farm fields of Northwest Iowa experienced a beautiful day on March 2, 1964. A storm was forecast, though. So a little before midnight the two set off for a ten mile drive to Primghar, Iowa. They were going to the hospital. The driver of the car has never functioned well late at night, AND he grew up on a farm in Iowa. He had witnessed plenty of births on a farm, but somehow got confused about where a baby human is born. He drove to the Nursing Home in Primghar, Iowa. Even farm boys from Iowa can eventually figure out that babies aren’t born in a Nursing Home, so he drove to the local hospital. She checked in and went into labor around midnight.

Her labor went well. Her husband wasn’t allowed in the delivery room, so he waited anxiously in the waiting room. Around 1:00 p.m. on March 3, 1964 he was told that he had a son. He walked into his wife’s hospital room and saw his new son lying on his wife’s stomach. As he saw his new son, he was told the name of his new boy. “His name is Paul Harris,” his wife said. He agreed. Who is going to argue with a woman who just spent 13 hours in labor and was originally driven to a Nursing Home?

The middle name is the mother’s maiden name. The two didn’t know if their child would be a boy or a girl. The other boys’ name they had discussed was Thomas.

This is my story, and it’s one I’m celebrating today, 46 years later.

My daughter, Hannah, surprised me this morning with a beautiful sign to start out my day! As I wrote on my Facebook page last week, I get to share life with two beautiful red heads and I am working at my dream job. What else do I need? Life is good.

Monday, March 1, 2010


This past Friday my two favorite red-heads went on a Girl Scout cookie delivery mission to Rochester, so I went on a mission to find a movie to watch. After consulting with Jennifer Huehns, the movie maven at Chain of Lakes Church, I decided to see Avatar. Chaz Ruark and Bill Chadwick, two Presbyterian colleagues, both wrote about Avatar, so I decided to give the movie a try.

I watch a movie for the story. The story of Avatar is fairly simple. The evil humans from earth want to extract a precious mineral on the planet Pandora. The humans can’t mine the mineral without moving the Na’vi off their native land. The humans are able to become Na’vi through a mental link. The hero of Avatar is Jake. As a human he is a para-palegic. He becomes a Na’vi with a promise from Colonel Miles Quaritch that Jake can get his legs back as a human if he provides the right information for Quaritch. Jake predictably falls in love with one of the Na’vi, Neytiri. When Jake doesn’t work fast enough for Quartich he becomes the leader of the Na’vi. The entire movie predictably ends in a war—the Na’vi win and the evil humans are sent back to earth with their tails between their leg.

To put the story even more simply—aggressive imperialists want something from the natives; one imperialist falls in love with native; war breaks out; natives win; imperialists go back home.

The sequel is predictable because the imperialists won’t accept defeat forever.

The structure of the story forces us to root for the Na’vi. I'd rather that movies treat our emotions with more nuance. Seriously—most people aren’t going to root for the imperialists. It’s like rooting for the Russians when the Americans won the Miracle on Ice game.

Despite the simplistic story the themes of the movie are many. Wikipedia has done an excellent job of highlighting them:

The spirituality of the Na’vi intrigued me. The human biologists recognize that the planet is connected biologically in an extraordinary way. Sigourney Weaver’s character is a scientist who wants a sample of the Tree of Souls, a special place where the Na’vi gather to worship. One of my favorite lines in the move is when her character is close to death and is taken to the Tree of Souls. When she is told where she is she says, “Can we get a sample?”

I can’t help but view the spiritual themes of the film through my Presbyterian background. The connection of the Na’vi to each other, to the animals, and to their God prompted me to think about the Holy Spirit. The Spirit can connect us to God and to each other in a profound way. We humans don’t have the capability to plug in and be connected like the Na’vi. But we can connect through the Spirit.

We Presbyterians don’t embrace the Holy Spirit enough. We would rather be decent and in order than appreciate the chaos of the Spirit. The next time someone does a presentation on the Holy Spirit I suggest we watch Avatar. Not because our Reformed beliefs about the Spirit are the same as the Na’vi, but their spirituality presented in the movie can expand our way too rationalist faith.

I’d rather attend a prayer meeting where we sit and gyrate in a spirit of prayer than attend a Presbytery meeting where we argue about how we aren’t following Robert’s Rules of Order. I believe most people in the world feel the same way.