Monthly Archives: August 2011

Liturgy for College Students

Pastor:        As you go back to college, we pray a special blessing upon you.

All:             We have enjoyed your presence with us this summer.  Your youth and your faith give us hope for a better future.

Pastor:        We call now upon the Holy Spirit to raise you up and keep you strong, safe, and secure.

All:             We pray for your safety and for your growth.  We thank God for your gifts and for this wonderful time of adventure and excitement in your lives.

Pastor:        We seek the Holy Spirit to keep your parents confident and at peace.

All:             We pray for your parents and families, for we know there is no greater risk than to allow children to grow.  We will do our best to support them with our presence and our prayers.

Pastor:        All this we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, Amen.

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The Team Photo

A childhood friend of mine, and self-professed “geek” and football fan created this picture.  She has a funny blog called Geekaroni, which is now the featured site (I’m hoping to make the butter beer cookies soon).  This has got to be the greatest collection of playmakers since the ’00 Rams.  To read about the full team, go to my blog called Fantasy Draft.

Back row (L-R) LG Donkey Kong, WR The Flash, RG E. Honda, LT Grape Ape, TE Goro. Front Row: WR Wile E. Coyote, FB Kool-Aid Man, WR Sonic, QB Superman, C Violet Parr, RB Walter Payton. Seated: Coach Professor Xavier. Not pictured: RT The Iron Giant, Bench: He-Man and Uncle Rico.

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Fantasy Draft

This is the time of year when people across the country are planning their fantasy football draft.  Fantasy Football is the place where geekiness and sports intersect, but I’m cranking up the geek factor with this fantasy draft.  I’m taking the term “Fantasy Draft” to a new level. Three rules for drafting this fantasy team:
1. All fictional characters (with one exception)
2. No one is allowed to bring weapons/tools/special outfits.
3. Flying is not allowed – even if it is a natural ability of the character.

Quarterback: The number one draft pick has to be Superman, right? I remember in the movie he can really punt the ball. I can only assume he can throw pretty well too. (I also considered Uncle Rico, because he could throw a pigskin a quarter mile).

Running Back: Walter Payton (So this breaks two rules. One, he is not fictional, and two, he can clearly fly. Still, he’s my guy).

Backup Running Back: He-Man

Fullback: Kool-Aid Man.  Have you seen the way this guy opens holes?  He would be great in the power running game and on goal line.  Probably wouldn’t be very good at catching passes.

Wide Receivers: The Flash and Sonic the Hedgehog on the outside.  Wile E. Coyote in the slot.  The Flash definitely has the speed on the outside to open the field.  Not really sure if he has the hands, but he’s worth the risk.  Sonic might be a little under-sized, but he can carry a bunch of rings at a time, so he can probably catch. He must have great hands. The Coyote has speed – not road runner speed, but he’s still fast and he clearly has a better chance of catching a football than a road runner.  Plus, he can clearly take a pounding, so he’ll have no fear going across the middle.  And finally, football fields have no cliffs, so I’m expecting 80 catches from this guy.

Tight End: Goro, the main bad guy from Mortal Kombat.  He has a great physique, and is athletic enough to be a martial arts expert.  And even though he only has three fingers on each hand, he has four hands, giving him two more fingers than the average tight end.

Offensive Line: Grape Ape at left tackle.  We’ll give Grape Ape a simian buddy and put Donkey Kong at left guard.  Violet Parr at center (she would be great at pass blocking).  I’ll put the 6-2, 304 pound, and extremely athletic E Honda from Streetfighter II at right guard.  The Iron Giant at right tackle.

Off. Coordinator: Professor Xavier. He would always be one step ahead of the defense.

Defensive Tackles: The Hulk and The Thing.  It is possible that Hulk could get out of control.  If he started to get too many penalties, he could be pulled for Optimus Prime.

Defensive Ends: Wolverine and Steve Austin (this one, not this one).  Wolverine would have to be careful.  Impaling left tackles would be considered a fifteen yard penalty. I would love to hear the Shh-na-na-na-na play as Steve Austin approached a quarterback in the pocket.

Linebackers: Panthro on the strong side.  Tygra on the weak side and Lion-O in the middle.  That’s right – a Thundercats linebacker corps.  They’ve got (dare I say) cat-like quickness, strength, agility, and toughness.  Not having the Sword of Omens limits Lion-O, but he’ll be all right.  Cheetarah can come in as a Nickelback on passing situations.   For years there have been rumors about a Thundercats movie.  I hope they are more than rumors.

Strong safety: Sideswipe  (the Transformer) has speed, strength and a little bit of cockiness.  If he transformed into the sports car, it might be a tell for the safety blitz, but I wouldn’t want to pick him up.

Free Safety: Mr Fantastic. Can you imagine how valuable he would be in pass defense. It would be almost impossible to get over the top of him.

Cornerbacks: Spiderman and Silver Surfer.  Spiderman would be an interception machine – even if he couldn’t bring his web shooters. The Surfer is sort second-class in terms of popularity, but apparently he’s kind of a bad-ass.

Defensive Coordinator: Darth Vader.  There will be no holes in his defense – not even a small hole the size of a wamprat.

Kicker: Anton Lubchenko, before this happened to him.

So there you have it – the truly great Fantasy Football Team.  By the way, if these guys played the ’85 Bears, the score would be Bears 46, Fantasy Team 10.  Do you have any substitutions to suggest?


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Why Church?

An Illinois country road. Photo by DeWayne Neeley. Click on the picture to go to his Flickr site.

A long time ago I wrote a sermon about a bike ride through the cornfields of central Illinois.  It was one of my favorite things to do when I lived in Chenoa.  I would turn left out of our driveway and just keep going.  It wouldn’t take long before I was on a road that looked a lot like the one pictured. 

When the corn was high, riding a bike down a narrow road like this was a slighltly harrowing experience because I couldn’t really see where I was.  When you’re in the middle of one of these corn canyons, you can see where the road leads – at least until the next hill – and that’s about it.  When the corn is high, you can’t really see anything but corn and sky.

That is partly why I loved those bike rides so much.  It was so peaceful and so calm.  I spent a lot of time in prayer on those country roads.  The reason I said it was harrowing, however, is because I could be riding along with cornfields on boths sides for quite some time.  And while country roads were usually straight, they were not always a dependable grid.  Some were deadends.  Some veered in directions I didn’t really mean to go.  Some took me to the highway (and if you ever want a lesson in white-knuckled prayer, ride your bike on a busy country highway – with semi trucks passing you at 60 miles and hour).

It could be really easy to get turned around amidst all the fields and right angles.  Yet no matter where I rode, I always knew that I could see the water tower.  As long as I could see the water tower, I knew I could get back home.  The water tower is the tallest thing poking out of the grove of trees that is Chenoa.  Whenever I rode – I knew I could make it home if I could see the water tower.  That is why those moments in the corn canyons were a little unsettling.

In life, we can go down a lot of roads.  Sometimes were are heading away from home.  Sometimes we are meandering around aimlessly.  Sometimes we hit dead ends, or go on courses we didn’t intend.  Sometimes we get turned around.  Sometimes we hold on white-knuckled just praying that things will be okay.  That is why it is so important to have that water tower – raising over it all, showing us the way home.

To me, that is church.  It is the place to which I can always turn.  It is not perfect.  The church has made mistakes – some historic, some personal.  The church has hurt people, hurt families, hurt nations.  Yet as far as I’m concerned, it is our best hope.  It is the best hope we have of finding our way.  It is the beacon that calls us home. 

At its best the church is a place of love.  If the church is being what Christ intended it to be, the church is a place of forgiveness, grace, invitation and mission.  It is a place to be fed, empowered and sent out.  It is the oasis of the Kingdom of God.  When I think of the churches I have been a part of, I don’t think of buildings or decor. I don’ t think of great sermons or well-organized Bible study.  I don’t think of perfect liturgy or music.  I think of love.

I think of people that cared for me as a child.  I think of people that loved me as an adult.  I think of people that helped guide me into ministry, that picked me up when I failed and allowed me to grow.  I think of people that loved me like parents and were grandparents to my daughters.  When I think of when the church has hurt me I do not think of wrong theology, or boring sermons, or bad music.  When the church has hurt me it has been when people failed to live up to the commandment Christ has given us – love one another as Christ has loved us.  Yet before I let the anger, resentment and hurt feelings get the better of me, I remember that I have failed to love as well.  I am in need of forgiveness for my carelessness, my thoughtlessness and my selfishness.

Through it all, I have found love in the church.  My heart breaks for those that have been wronged by the church.  My heart yearns for those that seek and do not find.  I don’t know where you are on your journey.  I don’t presume to know the path you need to take.  All I know is what I have found.  I have found a place to hold onto.  I have found a water tower in the bike ride of my life – showing me the way to get back home.  I pray you find your way home too.



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Why God?

The Starry Night, by Vincent van Gogh from the NYC MoMA

On a beautiful evening in northern Michigan, I was laying on the beach.  I was surrounded by  most of the people I love in this world.  My daughter lay asleep on a towel.  My other daughter was wrapped in the loving arms of a family member.  The sun had set.  The sky had done its marvelous shift from blue to red to purple.  The stars were beginning to appear and slowly. Almost imperceptibly, more were making their debut.  It is a scene that has been repeated since the dawn of humanity.  A group of people, surrounded in love, adoring the awesome specter of a night sky.

I don’t know about the rest of my family, but I knew that I was participating in the oldest form of religious ritual.  For as long as humanity has been walking, eyes have turned skyward at night.  The seemingly endless chaos of stars in the sky has inspired awe and wonder a thousand generations.  My little human mind started to do what little human minds do – I started to label and categorize.  I remembered little snippets of my Astronomy 101 class and was able to identify the Big Dipper, the North Star, Cassiopeia.  I thought to myself, “I think that might be Mars.”  We strained to see satellites, and were envious of those that caught a glimpse of a shooting star.  Even though my analytical mind knew that was not a shooting star, but a piece of space debris being burned in our atmosphere, my wondering mind wished I could catch a glimpse of one.   I was lost in a sense of wonder and astonishment, and couldn’t help but ask myself that age-old question, “How many stars are there?”  I tried in vain to count, but gave up quickly.  “I wonder what that bright star is?” I wondered.  “Is that a constellation?” I thought to myself.

Then someone, perhaps wondering the same things as me, pulled out their iphone.  In an instant they were using it to look at the stars, and it was telling them the names of each constellation, each bright star, each planet, each galaxy and nebula.  It was an amazing little app (and it was free).  There, on secluded beach in the midst of my naive wonder, technology came in to save the day.

My wonder was gone.  And yet, it was really gone before the iphone appeared.  I know that there are more stars in the sky than I can count. Google can tell me there are between 2,000 and 6,000 on any given clear night that we can see with no aid.  I know that what we can see is but a tiny speck in the greater universe.  There are about 100-200 billion stars in our galaxy, and we inhabit an average galaxy.  Conservative estimates say there are about 100-200 billion galaxies.

In ancient times people gazed at the stars and thought that they must be hung in the sky from a firm dome that covers the earth.  There were a few odd “moving stars,” and they just increased the sense of amazement.  Today we know better.  We know that stars are out in a seemingly infinite thing called “space.”  We know that there are more stars than we could ever name or group into neat little patterns.  We know that stars are not tiny pins of light, but instead are giant gaseous nuclear reactions.  We know that the stuff from which we are made – elements – are created in the great furnaces of stars, and more are made in the cataclysmic explosions that occur when stars die.

There are thousands of other mysteries that we have explained, riddles that we have unravelled, questions that we have answered.  All of our progress and discovery has taken us places that seemed unfathomable only a few generations ago.  In the span of 66 years humans went from Kitty Hawk to the moon.  As more and more is explained, there seems to be less and less need for God.  The myths of our ancestors, used to explain things like sunset and sunrise, seem like silly childhood stories.  More and more people ask, “Who needs God?”  Besides being the title of a wonderful book by Harold Kushner, this is a question that has been on the minds of modern people for decades.

I cannot answer that question for you.  Maybe you don’t need God.  I think it is perfectly possible to live a full, rich life without ever believing in God.  I also believe, however, that there is something in us that yearns for more.  I need God because when I look at the stars at night I see from two distinct perspectives.

When I gaze up into the stars I may, at the same time, participate in two of the most basic human instincts.  I desire to name, count, label and categorize.  There is a part of my humanity that makes me want to know more.  It is a driving curiosity that makes me want to get a star map.  I feel comfort in being able to order the seemingly chaotic universe.  I feel comfort in knowing that there is not pure mystery.  Discovery and advancement is a holy work.  Science, knowledge, technology have given us many wonderful gifts.  I am in awe of the capability of the human mind to create and of the human will to advance.  Yet there is something in me that is equally human that knows that there is more up in the stars than a vast collection of hydrogen gasses and nuclear reactions.

I stop and wonder at the sheer magnitude of it all.  I wonder about my own place in this vast and seemingly chaotic universe.  I am drawn into a deep conviction that there is more to all of this than one life.  There is more to this world than even our collective lives.  While at the same time feeling dwarfed by it all, I am strengthened in knowing that I have a place in it.  There is something for me here to do.  I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I know that it has a lot to do with loving one another.  I lay down on a beach surrounded by people I love and know that there is something powerful and real that is surrounding us.  I may not be able to name it.  I may never understand it, but I know it is real.

And for me, this is the beauty of being human.  You can call it the analytic and artistic – the objective and subjective – the intellect and the emotion – the yin and the yang.  I call it the sublime paradox of being human.  It is the mystery of faith – the drive to advance, to know, and to understand, held in juxtaposition with the humility of surrender, knowing that there are some places our intellect will not be able to bring us.  Ultimately it is there – the place where humanity’s drive to be more, and our humility to seek God, that is our greatest hope.  It is there – between the extremes of religious fundamentalist tyranny and amoral scientific advancement – that the Kingdom of God is realized.

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