Monthly Archives: July 2011

I take it back

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog called “I want to get punched in the face.”  Let me just say now that, “I take it back.”  I do not want to get punched in the face.  Getting punched in the face hurts.  It is not fun.

I’ve been going to about two boxing classes a week for the last few weeks, and it has been fun.  I love hitting the bags.  I love going through the combinations.  Until Wednesday night, I even loved sparring.  Guys have been really cool about taking it easy on me.  I’ve sparred with a couple of different guys, and we’ve traded some light punches, worked on some combinations and counters, but nothing real hard.  After each round I am wiped out.  Even though I know we’re not really fighting, there is something about sparring that turns up the adrenaline.

I said a couple of weeks ago that I wanted to get punched in the face.  Most of my sparring didn’t include very many punches to the face.  There were a couple, but none that were very hard.  Then came the shot I took last Wednesday night.  I made a few mistakes.

1. I was sparring with someone I didn’t know.  Big mistake.  The guys I had sparred with before were guys that I watched for three weeks before I stepped in with them.  This guy was a new guy (at least to me).  I watched him spar once, and he seemed like he was punching kind of hard, but I didn’t think much of it.  The guys I spar with punch each other hard, then turn it down a notch to fight the new guy.

2. I didn’ t wear headgear.  But I never wear the headgear.  It doesn’t fit (big surprise).  I think this guy interpreted my unadorned head as  a sign of toughness instead of what it really meant – a sign of big-headedness.

3. I let him punch me in the face.  We were sparring.  He was dancing around a lot.  Every once in awhile he would take some weird dipping punch at my stomach that meant nothing.  I was getting bored.  I decided to scrap with him a little.  Then he punched me in the face.  It hurt.  We kept going. It’s not like he knocked me out.  I wasn’t cut (though there was a distinct mark on my cheek the next morning).  I wasn’t injured.  It just hurt, and I decided that I had been terribly wrong before.

In conclusion: I no longer want to get punched in the face.  I tried it.  It sucks.  I will probably continue boxing.  I will probably keep sparring, just not with young kids that want to prove something against the Fat Pastor.


Filed under Personal Reflection, Sports

Birthday Reflection

I was going to start this blog by saying, “I used to hate my birthday,” but I realized that wasn’t really true.  I never hated my birthday.  Let’s just say I had a mixed relationship with my birthday.  I’ve never been one to dread the passing of another year.  My ill-will toward my birthday never stemmed from a fear of aging or lamenting lost youth.

It was just that if no one noticed that it was my birthday, I would not have minded.  I liked having a small party, but I didn’t like any of the parts where all the eyes were on me.  I didn’t particularly like the spotlight.  I liked the presents, but I didn’t like opening them up while everyone watched.  I liked the cake, but I didn’t really want the wait staff at the restaurant to serenade me.

I liked my birthday just fine, but I didn’t want to make a big deal about it.  I really liked that my birthday was in the summer.  That meant I was never on the bulletin board in my classroom.  It meant that my Mom never brought cupcakes to class.  I never had to wear a goofy hat all day.  That’s why I was so mortified the day my Mom showed up at basketball camp with a cooler full of popsicles.

I think I was turning 11.  I was at basketball camp, toiling on my birthday as if it were any other day.  A few of my friends probably knew it was my birthday, but I wasn’t going to tell anyone.  I just wanted to play ball and go home.  My party was probably later that night with a few friends.  When camp was over I didn’t find my Mom in the car waiting for me as usual.  Instead, she was right outside the door and had a big cooler.  As the kids filed out of the gym she was there handing them all popsicles, making a big fuss over my birthday.

Looking back now I know that it was an act of pure love.  She wanted to make a big deal on my birthday because to her, it was a big deal.  Her baby was turning 11, and she thought everyone should know and celebrate.  At the time though, I was humiliated.

For most people, their love for their birthday wanes as they get older.  What was once a big deal and cause for celebration becomes a source of stress and anxiety.  As we pass the big milestones of youth, we start to look toward those nice round numbers with dread.  Each decade becomes a symbol of aging that most want to avoid.

I’m the opposite.  I actually enjoy my birthday so much more as an adult than I ever did as a kid.  Why?  Because I like myself more now than I did as a kid.

Yesterday was my 34th birthday.  As one friend said, I “made it through my ‘Jesus Year.'”  So on the plus side, I wasn’t crucified.  But there is so much more that I can chalk up on the “plus side.”

The last year of my life was incredible.  I became a father again.  I went to Africa.  I played football.  I started boxing.  I started at a new church in a new community.  I believe I’ve taken my preaching to a new level.  I’ve made new friends and stengthened relationships with old friends.  My marriage is stronger than ever.  Relationships have been reconciled.  Tears have been shed.  Laughter has endured.  I’ve been forgiven and I have forgiven others.  I’ve learned.  I’ve grown.  I’ve fallen.  I’ve gotten back up.

Why would I not celebrate another year?  Why would I not look forward to the next?  I woke up on my birthday and held a strong, healthy, growing baby girl that loves to snuggle and coo and eat and crawl.  Another little girl came running into my room and hugged me and squeezed me and kissed me and just let me hold her tight because she knew that was all I wanted for my birthday.  She is brave and kind and compassionate beyond measure.  I held a woman that loves me with a strength and passion that I fall far short of deserving.

Above all, I woke up with a God that loves me unconditionally.  I think realizing that was the moment my attitude toward my birthday started to change.  When I realized that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus, I knew that a birthday is something to celebrate.  When I learned that I am created by a great and wonderful God that made me with a mission in the world, I knew that it was okay to be in the spotlight every now and then.

Yesterday dozens of people commented on my facebook page.  Each of them wished me a happy birthday.  I can say with conviction that I had a happy birthday – I had a party that was greater than my wildest dreams.  And what’s more, I have had a happy day-after-my-birthday.  And I will have a happy year, and a happy life.

I don’t believe that my life will be without hardship.  I know that pain and sickness and death will come to me and to those I love.  I will endure aging and stress and anxiety.  I will suffer injustice, hunger, sickness, and oppression  because the world does, and as long as one child of God is in pain, I should be too.  Yet I know with all of my heart, with all of my mind and with all of my strength that I love God.  God loves me, and there is nothing I can do about it.

So yes, I had a happy birthday.  Thank  you for the well-wishes.  Thank you for reading. Thank you for sharing this space on the internet with me.   Here’s to another year of striving to live well and do good in the world.


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Filed under Personal Reflection

Dude looks like a lady

The Fat Pastor at Hy-Vee

Okay, so maybe the title for this blog is hyperbolic, but when I went grocery shopping on Sunday evening with my nails painted hot pink, I felt a little odd.  And maybe it was just my imagination running away with me (another song allusion) but I felt like I had a few strange looks.  Its okay, I think I would have looked at me strangely too.  Picture this for a moment – a 6 foot 2 inch man with a big belly, a 56 inch chest and athletic-looking arms and legs wearing a pair of gym shorts, flip-flops, and a t-shirt, pushing a shopping cart with a 11-month old baby in it.  Then you see him reach for a bunch of bananas and you see it – hot pink fingernails, a few with purple glitter too.

I had to be a strange sight.  It was strange for me too.  Whenever I forgot that my fingernails were painted, I would see them out of the corner of my eye and have a double take – at my own hands!  It made me wonder, why?  What is so disconcerting about a man that – on the surface at least – is 100% masculine wearing fingernail polish (and what, I might add, does it mean to be 100% masculine?  Is that even a real thing?).

I mean seriously, was I somehow less manly because I was wearing fingernail polish?  Would someone see me wonder about my sexuality?  What if they connected my fingernails and the clergy sticker on my car?  Would they deem me unfit for the ordained ministry?  Nevermind the fact that my two most recent hobbies are playing football and boxing.  Did the color of my fingernails somehow change me?

To be honest, I don’t have the answers to all of these questions.  I’m not sure why I felt so out of place. Why does something as menial as finger nail polish seem to matter?  Why was I sure to remove it before I went into church on Monday?  It made me wonder about all sorts of gender issues.  What makes one thing feminine and another thing masculine?  Who defines these things?  It seems like some traits of gender are more about society than biology, but I think there are important evolutionary differences between our genders.  And why does crossing those gender lines make us so uncomfortable?  It made me think briefly of Jesus telling Martha to come and sit with him and the guys – breaking down important gender barriers. Like I said, the whole thing made my head spin a little, and I have more questions then answers.

The fact is, going out in public with my nails painted was probably one of the “manliest” things I’ve ever done.  My four-year-old daughter painted them.  When she approached me, the conversation went something like this:

“Daddy, I know that boys usually don’t where fingernail polish, but I think you should try new things.  You should try finger nail polish and see if you like it.”  She expertly used my own words against me.  I have told her dozens of times that it is good to try new things – whether it is food, games, or meeting new friends, I tell her all the time, “it is good to try new things.”  So how could I argue with her?

So I let her crawl up on my lap, and I helped her paint my nails.  Of course she picked out the loudest color possible.  She did a great job.  She was so careful and so proud of how great my nails looked afterward.  Later that day I was washing my hands, and she told me, “be careful Daddy, don’t wash the polish off.”  So I told her that I would probably take it off pretty soon.  She looked at me and said, “But I want you to wear it to church so everyone can see.”  I promised her that I would leave it on for the rest of the day.

That night when I was going to the grocery store, I was going to bring both girls.  I figured she would provide great coverage for me.  But then she decided to go with my wife, so it was just me, the baby, and my hot pink nails at the Hy-Vee.

Afterwards, I felt strange sense of pride.  I realized how silly it was to feel bad about how my nails looked.  It made my daughter happy, and she might always remember that lesson, “its good to try new things.”  I reinforced it to her in a very powerful way.  The next morning I told her, “Well, I tried it, but I don’t think I like it.”  She was a little disappointed that I wasn’t going to leave it on until next Sunday, but she respected that I at least gave it a try.  Plus there was a small consolation – I bumped into the head usher of our church at Hy-Vee, and he promised that he would “tell everybody.”


Filed under Personal Reflection

Come to the Feast

“The Five Thousand” by Eularia Clark, 1962. Click on the image to be taken to the Methodist Church Collection of Modern Christian Art.

As an athlete, one of my favorite times was the few moments before a game.  I loved the anticipation of getting ready – putting on the uniform just right, lacing up the shoes, sharing eye contact with a teammate communicating a sense of common purpose in nothing more than a nod.  I loved getting ready with music playing.  It was like I was in my own movie, and the song I chose was my soundtrack.

Come to the Feast, by Christopher Grundy

Today I go through a similar ritual before worship.  I get myself ready.  I breathe a little deeper.  My adrenaline starts to flow.  I sit in my office for a few moments, and sometimes I crank up the music.  Often it is the same song: Come to the Feast, by Christopher Grundy (Grundy is professor at Eden Theological Seminary and a great musician. You should go to the link and listen to and buy his music).

“Come to the Feast” speaks to the heart of the gospel.  “Come to the feast.  There’s always room for one more and there’s all you can eat.  Come and take some to go. Gather all you can hold and then go.  Go spread the feast.”  We are a people of the feast.  We are a people of the Table.

At the heart of everything we do as Christians is the table of Jesus Christ.  How we think about the table informs how we think about everything else.  Where does the pastor stand?  Behind the table in a gesture of welcome and inclusion, not with her back to the congregation.

What do we serve?  Bread and grape juice as a sign of hospitality to those that cannot have alcohol.

Who is invited?  Everyone.  Children?  Yes.  They may not understand what is going, but then again, are we kidding ourselves if we think we do understand?

Unbaptized?  Yes.  The moment of communion is so powerful that it can be a moment of conversion and transformation.

Democrats and Republicans? Yes. We don’t bar you for voting a certain way.

Rich and Poor? Yes – and they each get the same amount.

Black and White?  Yes, although we repent for times when this wasn’t true.

Gay and Straight? Yes, for God created all and said it is “good.”

The Lord’s Table is a table for all.  On it holds the feast which has transformed lives.  On it rests the bread that has been broken for us all.  Jesus broke the bread and told us to “do this in remembrance of me.”  It was not simply to remember that Jesus’ body was broken.  It was remember that his body held life.  When we break the bread we are to remember that Jesus was more than a sacrificial lamb led to the slaugher.

When we hear “Do this in remembrance of me,” we should hear Jesus saying: “When we got together in the home of tax collectors and sinners – Remember that.  When the women came to me and broke free from their man-made roles of servitude – Remember that.  When you guys tried to keep the children from getting to me, and I said ‘let them come’ – Remember that.  When we sat in the crowd of 5,000 people and all we had were five loaves and two fish and you all thought there was no way that we would have enough, and then everyone ate – Remember that.”

“Remember when the Pharisees tried to use the Law to put up barriers between who is in and who is out – Remember that I broke those barriers as easily as I break this bread.  When they used the Law to condemn and tried to trap me in legal issues –   Remember when they asked me what was the greatest commandment, hoping that I would trip on my words – Remember what I told them?”

“And things aren’t looking good right now.  The Romans and the leaders are coming.  They are going to beat me and crucify me.  After that happens I want you to remember me at this table saying to you, my body is broken for you.  And when I come back, maybe then you will get it.  Maybe then you will finally see.  Maybe then you understand all the things I did and said and showed you.  I break the bread so that you may have life.”

When we come to the Table of Christ we are invited to a feast.  We are invited to a table of plenty.  We are invited without merit.  We are invited without deed.  We are simply invited to come and be loved.

But when we are invited to come to the feast, it is imperative to remember that we are also sent.  We are not invited to get full and go home fat and satisfied.  We are invited to be fed so that we may feed. We are invited to forgiveness so that we may forgive. We are invited to be empowered so that we may go out and empower.  So, as the words of the song so elegantly say, “Come and then go. Go spread the feast.”

“Come to the Feast” is (c) by Hand and Soil Music.  Visit to listen to more music.


Filed under Christianity, Sermons