Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dead Sea Scrolls at the Science Museum

This past Sunday a group from Chain of Lakes Church went to visit the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit at the Science Museum in St. Paul.

Many of us prepared ourselves for the exhibit by attending a lecture by Joe Imholte the previous Thursday. He is one of the curators for the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit. This lecture was sponsored by Chain of Lakes Church and was held at the Senior Center. Mr. Imholte focused much of his talk on the science of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is quite amazing to think that these documents still exhibit. Many of them consist of ink written on goat skins. He also talked about some of the theories surrounding the Dead Sea Scrolls. One theory states that the scrolls were written in Jerusalem and then taken to the caves near Qumran by people who were fleeing the Romans; another theory states that the scrolls were written by people who lived at the community in Qumran. On Thursday night we had the opportunity to view a power point presentation and ask questions.

After worship this past Sunday, a good-sized group from Chain of Lakes went to the exhibit. We started by listening to a short introductory talk about the Dead Sea Scrolls. We were given phones that provided audio help to viewing the exhibit. The exhibit is made up of 15 rooms—the first 13 focus on the Scrolls; the last two focus on the Saint John’s Bible.

At the talk on Thursday, Joe Imholte said that the exhibit is set up to facilitate the flow of people. What he meant is that at the beginning of the exhibit participants are willing to spend a lot of time viewing what is shared; however at the end of the exhibit participants are tired and ready to go—thus they spend less time viewing. I found this to be the case for myself. I spent about 20 minutes in the first room, digesting everything I could read. I spent time talking to a person who shared some fascinating information on the geography of the Dead Sea area. By the time I got to the room that contained the Dead Sea Scrolls, I was tired. I only spent ten minutes viewing the scrolls. And viewing the scrolls was the reason I came!!

Quite frankly I found the exhibit to be more about the history and religion of the time than about viewing the Dead Sea Scrolls. We were able to view only five of the actual scrolls. They are being rotated in groups of three. This emphasis in the exhibit wasn't at all a negative for me. I was fascinated to learn about the historical and religious context that led to the writing of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I purchased a number of books about the Dead Sea Scrolls. I’ve already spent some time reading two of the books this week.

I strongly encourage everyone to go to the Science Museum to view the exhibit. I learned quite a lot about first-century Judaism, how faith was practiced, the story behind the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and was able to view these documents. Just growing in this understanding was worth my time and the cost of admission.

Friday, June 25, 2010

English-only in Lino Lakes?

I worked for the farm workers in California for two-and-a-half years in the late 1980's. I came to learn that the phrase “English-only” was code for “you are not welcome here.”

So when I read that Lino Lakes council member, Dave Roeser, used the term "English-only I couldn't help but hear these code words. Roeser wants to establish English as the official language of Lino Lakes.
The Star Tribune wrote an article about the story at this site, http://www.startribune.com/local/north/96979259.html.

The Pioneer Press wrote an article at this site: http://www.twincities.com/ci_15362682?source=most_emailed&nclick_check=1.

The Quad City Press wrote an article at this site: http://presspubs.com/articles/2010/06/22/quad_community_press/news/doc4c20dcab494f6843091782.txt.

Roeser said that he wanted to establish English as the official language of Lino Lakes as a cost-saving measure. Apparently the city would save money if they didn't have to translate documents into non-English languages.

In the Pionner Press article Roeser was quoted as saying that the city doesn't spend any money right now on documents in languages other than English. His proposed policy would guarantee that the city wouldn't be required to spend money in the future on translation services.

So let me get this straight. Roeser wants to save money to solve a problem that isn't costing the City any money. He's using words that minority groups have come to understand to mean, “you are not welcome here.” And he claimed that this proposed policy is not anti-immigrant?

That doesn't pass the smell test.

I don't know Dave Roeser, I've never met him, and I would be happy to grill a steak for him and try to understand his rationale for having an English-only policy in Lino Lakes, a city where the church I serve worships.

It wouldn't surprise me if the City of Lino Lakes passed an English-only policy they would end up paying more in court costs than whatever amount they would save in the future.

I would like every person in our country to learn and know English; however I've never been convinced that passing English-only policies causes people to learn English. I've seen the English-only rhetoric for what it is—a way to make immigrants, legal and illegal—know that they aren't truly part of the community. If any politician was deeply concerned about people learning English, they would go out of their way to fund ESL classes.

All of the non-English speaking adults I have known have wanted their children to learn English. In fact I don't know any child of non-English speaking parents who doesn't speak English.

As a person of faith my final test is what would Jesus do. He spent much of his time with the people whom his first-century culture ignored. If he lived in the United States today, I believe he would go out of his way to spend time with people who didn't speak English. I believe he would encourage this group to learn English, but he wouldn't do it by passing a law.

Immigrants do have the responsibility to assimilate; just as politicians have the responsibility to be frank about their motives.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dead Sea Scrolls event tonight!

The community is invited to come hear Joe Imholte, a spokesperson from the Science Museum, talk about the Dead Sea Scrolls. This event will happen this tonight, Thursday, June 24th at 6:30 p.m. at the Lino Lakes Senior Center, 1189 Main Street. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was one of the most significant biblical archeological events in the 20th century. In addition to the presentation, we'll be able to view photographs and ask questions. I’m looking forward to learning more about the Dead Sea Scrolls. If you have some time tonight, come join us!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


This past Sunday, I preached on Relevance, one of the eight Core Values at Chain of Lakes Church. A Core Value is a principle, quality, belief, and or/attitude that is foundational to our community. A list of our Core Values can be found at: colpres.org. The sermon I preached (and all sermons I have preached) can also be found at colpres.org.

We have an explanation for each of our Core Values. At Chain of Lakes we adapted this explanation for Relevance: “Jesus successfully communicated his message by using examples and symbols of first century culture. We will be open to using examples and symbols of our culture to communicate Jesus’ message.”

I also think of Relevance as adaptive leadership. We will take our message and use different techniques to communicate it to our culture. We don’t adapt our message; we do adapt our delivery systems.

Relevance is one of the hardest values for churches—especially Presbyterian churches—to adapt into our ministry.

For me this is hard to understand as Jesus was one of the most relevant leaders in the history of the world.

We Presbyterians have deep troubles with Relevance.

How often does the following happen at a Presbyterian church?

Someone comes up with a really creative idea at a church meeting. Then someone throws cold water on the idea by saying the last seven words of the church. “we’ve never done it that way before.” The idea is not only not embraced, but the message is communicated that creativity is not welcomed.

A group gets together to do some planning for an event. The group has done the event before. The first question they ask themselves is, “How did we do this event last year?” They don’t ask the question, “What are we trying to accomplish with this event and what do we need to change the event to achieve this accomplishment?” The group ends up doing the event the same as the year before. And the trend continues. Over time churches have annual events that are pretty much the same each year.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with developing traditions. Our traditions have to be living, breathing, and flexible traditions; not traditions of cement. The problem is that we develop events that worked well in 1990 or 1970, but we find the event doesn’t work in 2010. Why? Not because the event is a bad event. Life in 2010 is a lot different than life in 1990 or 1970.

Being relevant requires us to trust how the Holy Spirit is working today; it requires us to follow the Holy Spirit into the future. Being relevant is a deeply spiritual task.

May we in the main-line commit ourselves to the challenge of Relevance!!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The best day of my life

I awoke on June 16, 2000 for the last time at 360 2nd Street SW in Plainview, Minnesota. I had lived in that church-provided house for seven years—but my life was changing forever on that day.

June 16, 2000 was a beautiful June day—a Friday. Bill Clinton was president; it was the second day of Tiger Wood’s romp at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach; Brad Radke pitched a four-hitter as the Twins defeated the Mariners at the Metrodome. Community Presbyterian Church in Plainview broke ground on a 1.1 million dollar building the Sunday before.

But none of that mattered as I awoke that day. June 16, 2000 was my wedding day.

I had met Amy Gilman on the Monday after Father’s Day in 1998. We walked around Silver Lake in Rochester. I was immediately in love. I got down on my knees and asked Amy to marry me at a bench near Silver Lake on the Monday after Father’s Day in 1999. We were married at First Presbyterian Church in Rochester on the Friday before Father’s Day—June 16—in 2000.

That day—June 16, 2000—was the best day of my life.

We were surrounded by all sorts of friends and family in the sanctuary at the church. Many in the congregation I served at Plainview attended the service; many of my friends from around the country came to celebrate this day. Amy’s friends and family were all present.

Amy and I had carefully planned the wedding service. We wanted to mix properly our Catholic and Presbyterian traditions. Our wedding service was the most powerful service I’ve ever experienced.

I’ll never forget Sister Rosemary singing “There’s a place for us.” The song from West Side Story is one of my favorites. As I heard the song during the wedding I freely wept. It’s one of the few times I’ve cried in my life. Later Rosemary sang a Psalm for us. As she looked into our eyes and sang the Psalm I felt like an angel from heaven was delivering a message to us.

Later we heard Sister Carlan Kraman read a passage from Ruth. The story was Ruth’s response to Naomi when Naomi asked Ruth to leave here:
“Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
Where you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—
There will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
And more as well,
If even death parts me from you.” Ruth 1:16-18

This Scripture shares my feelings about Amy. The two of us wrote our own vows based on Ruth’s devotion to Naomi.

A memorable part of the service was when my sister—who officiated—dropped my ring. The ring rolled at least ten yards on the hardwood floor. I can still hear that sound. It provided needed comic relief to the strong emotion in the sanctuary.

Being married is the hardest thing I have ever done. I believe that God called me into my marriage. When I experience the inevitable struggles of marriage I remember this call.

I can’t imagine being married to anyone else. This morning I made a top ten list of my favorite qualities about Amy. I’ll share them with her tonight as we celebrate our tenth anniversary. I am a fortunate man to be married to her. At our reception on June 16, 2000 I invited everyone in attendance to Amy and my 50th wedding anniversary. I look forward to at least forty more years of marriage to her!

Monday, June 14, 2010

What makes a teacher stand out?

Yesterday the Star Tribune had a prominent collection of short articles in its Opinion Page. The question that was asked was, “What makes a teacher stand out?” Six staffers from the Strib’s opinion page shared short responses to the question. Their response can be found here, http://www.startribune.com/opinion/.

My parents both worked as public school teachers, so I grew up in a home that valued education and teaching. I shared last week that I would love to see a national holiday—similar to Memorial Day—where the public would gather on the last day of school and give thanks to all the adults who gave their time in some way to providing a quality education.

The Strib’s question prompted me to reflect on which of my teachers stood out. My parents were my most important teachers. Besides them I remember, in no order of importance, the following three teachers:

My first violin teacher, Ed Wilcox. He was a taskmaster who only accepted my best effort. He was insistent on disciplined practice. When I first started taking lessons from him, he re-did my bow stroke by making me play “Perpetual Motion” for six weeks. He was certainly capable of instilling fear in me. But the fear I experienced energized me to give my best. I ended up practicing my violin for two hours a day every day from seventh through eleventh grade. His obsession on discipline says with me to this day.

A math teacher in high school, John Forsyth. He taught me to love math. He was a combination of encourager and task master. He wasn’t afraid to push us, but he wouldn’t chew us out for a poor effort. He was always available. Once I remember studying for a test with a friend. The two of us were confused by a math concept. So I called Mr. Forsyth on the phone and asked him to help clear up my confusion. He was willing to explain the idea. Little did I know during the phone call that a significant part of the test was on that concept. I aced the test because he was willing to spend 15 minutes on the phone to clear up my confusion.

My college football coach, Bob Sullivan. He was a risk taker who wasn’t afraid to compete against the best. Because of his leadership Carleton College moved from the Midwest Conference to the M.I.A.C. He was up-beat, resilient, and not afraid of a challenge. If he hadn’t recruited me to play football at Carleton, I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have attended the college. I remember my first face-to-face visit with him. It was on a Sunday morning. The night before I had been completely unimpressed by the parties that took place all over the campus. I went to bed on that Saturday night looking forward to visiting another school the following week. But on that Sunday morning he took all the time I needed to tell me how Carleton was the right fit for me, his exciting plans for what he wanted to accomplish at Carleton, and how I could fit into these plans. I was sold. During my four years of playing football for him, I learned from him to never, ever give up on a project—even when the odds seem overwhelming.

I have many other teachers who stood out for me. I carry their lessons and the lessons of the above three with me. For better or worse, I wouldn’t be the person I am without their help.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A thanks on the last day of school

Today is our daughter’s last day of third grade at Johnsville Elementary in Blaine. Rebecca Darda has done an outstanding job of being her teacher.

One of my wife Amy’s and my concern about moving from Rochester to Blaine was how Hannah would adjust to her neighborhood and to her new school. A year ago May the two of us toured Johnsville school. Amy grilled the principal about the school and how they teach their students.

We quickly discovered that quite a lot of pride exists about Johnsville Elementary. Last year the school received a national award. This year many families are upset because the district boundaries are changing and these families won’t be able to attend Johnsville next year. In the past year our family has yet to find anyone say anything negative about the school. That is high praise!

This is a tough time to be in public education. Budgets are flat; classroom sizes are large—Hannah was in a class of 31 kids; test scores seem to overshadow everything; everyone has an opinion about education—often a negative opinion; politicians can’t seem to help but criticize the state of education, the quality of administration, or the teacher’s union.

I think the last day of school should be a day to make a tribute to everyone involved in education. Just as our country gave a tribute on Memorial Day to our veterans who died, I think our country owes a tribute to everyone who has dedicated their lives to educating children and youth. I don’t think it would be out of line for our communities to gather at our local school with a honor guard and give a rousing ovation for everyone involved in education.

Thank you, teachers, bus drivers, custodians, coaches, para-professionals, administrators, librarians, crossing guards, and everyone else involved in education. Your commitment deserves our thanks. Thank you!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A tribute to Jan Noller

Yesterday I received word that Jan Noller passed away. I got to know Jan in the early 1990’s when she served on the staff of the Twin Cities Area, and I served Community Presbyterian Church in Plainview. Our congregation was then going through a process of changing the way we do Sunday School. I was relatively new to parish ministry and Jan patiently helped the congregation and me successfully negotiate our changes.

Ironically we had an Education meeting last night at Chain of Lakes. At the meeting Gary Wassam shared a prayer of thanksgiving for Jan’s life and for her ministry. On the ride home we laughed and shared stories about Jan. Basically we remembered a woman who was a valued educational mentor to both of us.

Jan went out of her way to encourage people in educational ministries. She introduced me to A.P.C.E., a national conference of Christian Educators. She was able to get me a scholarship to attend my first A.P.C.E. conference which was held in Atlanta. I never knew about A.P.C.E. Discovering this conference was important to me. For a while I attended the conference almost every year and eventually took people from my congregation.

This was my experience of how Jan developed leaders. She got me interested in something in hopes that I would get other people interested.

Just recently I experienced Jan’s influence. As we continue to develop our educational ministries at Chain of Lakes we pulled out a book that Jan helped write with Pat Channer and Kathy Waugh called, “Help, We need to organize an educational program.”

Jan was part of a generation of women who are passionate about Christian Education in the PC(USA). I’ve always believed that our denomination has not valued these Christian Educators enough. Most Educators don’t have full-time jobs in the church, they don’t have job protection that pastors have, and they aren’t paid as well as us ordained pastors. I believe we Presbyterians treat these Educators as second-class citizens. But they still toil away with persistence and determination.

In my conversation last night with Gary, I mentioned Jan’s unique conversational style. Jan was an excellent listener. When I talked to Jan, she would often say the word, “yes.” She said it as a way to encourage me to say more. She would say, “yes,” and I would make another statement. As the two of us would talk the intensity of our conversation would rise with each statement. We would often end in laughter.

The last time I saw Jan was in the early 2000’s when my wife, Amy, and I were visiting the northwest. Jan was a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Portland, a church served by one of my seminary roommates. She had never met Amy or my daughter. We had a wonderful conversation of catching up.

Even though I hadn’t seen her since then, she was still a part of my ministry. As a wise mentor her influence guided my decisions in educational ministry. I know that many folks in our Presbytery were touched and influenced by Jan. I hope that at some time in the future we can gather to share recollections and stories about Jan.

Praise God for committed servants like Jan Noller.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Welcome Home!

Amy’s son, Drew, his wife, Nikki, and Nikki’s son arrived early this morning after a very long set of flights from Okinawa. The three of them flew from Okinawa to Tokyo to San Francisco to Chicago to Minneapolis/St. Paul. Drew serves our country’s army in Okinawa as a medic. For the next couple weeks they will be visiting friends and family in Minnesota.

I told Drew this morning that he should go to the bus stop dressed in his army uniform and tell the kids in a drill sergeant voice that some there will be some changes at the bus stop. We all laughed at the thought. Hannah was thrilled to eat breakfast with Drew and have him with her friends.

Welcome home!