Monday, February 17, 2020

Transitions

February is more than half over.  It's been a busy month so far. The big event, of course, was my daughter Mathea's wedding out in Seattle. I had the privilege of traveling with my older daughter and her husband, and we kind of took over the Grand Hyatt in downtown Seattle. The wedding itself was at a tiny little venue (someone's backyard, really) about an hour north of the city. Lovely setting, and a very powerful, intimate gathering. We carpooled back to Seattle and the hotel and had another couple dozen close friends and family in the penthouse suite. All in all, though sometimes family gatherings can be a little tense, it was utterly beautiful and far better than I could have imagined. And Mathea and Matthew are now married in grand fashion. I am so very excited for them.

So the last couple weeks I've been trying to figure out life in Minnesota again. It's been a challenge to go from such a conversation-saturated four days around the wedding back to the quieter pace of Decision Hills. Work. Writing. Snow. Dog-sitting. You can feel the days turning toward spring, though we have a long way to go yet. It is still most definitely winter. One still needs lots of patience (or mindless television) for the long, dark evenings.

I'm nearly finished with the interior work on reissuing my Exodus book. Mathea and I are working on cover designs, and that's probably the biggest remaining task. Erica and Eric have been just amazing with the editing process. I suppose it should be the case that a second edition should present new challenges and that updating needs to be a current-state-of-the-heart kind of thing. But I hadn't expected that to be as much of a challenge as it turned out to be. Good, healthy, introspective; but challenging.

One of the very necessary parts of this life, I'm realizing, is intentional community. The week after the wedding, I felt like a razor's-edge addict going to AA meetings. Each day that following week I had some kind of community gathering, Life Group, staff meeting. Each of those gatherings was so very necessary to help me transition back to a more solitary life. We are made for community. It is no accident that the first comment God makes about humanity, even before sin breaks in, is that "it is not good for the man to be alone." (See Genesis 2:18.) I'm incredibly thankful for the friendships and communities here.

But right now I'm dog-sitting, and it's time for me and Kenai to go for a walk. That's all for his sake, you understand. ;)


Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Relationality

One of the enduring joys of my life in the last decade is an ongoing conversation I've shared with my daughter Mathea. Years ago she came to the deep conclusion that Christianity is only true if it's absolutely relational. That might sound simple, but very often we treat Christianity as a religious system. I put in my repentance, and Jesus dispenses forgiveness. It's a transaction.

This kind of transactional religion drives people to ask questions like, "How much do I need to do to be saved? How much commitment is enough?" That's like a groom asking his bride at the altar, "What is the minimum I need to do for you to stay married to me?" If we put it in relational terms, suddenly it looks abundantly foolish. As it should.

Mathea is getting married this weekend. I'm very excited. And it seems timely that Scott Sauls should post this blog during a week when I'm reflecting with great joy about the relational nature of both love and faith.

Winter writing

I've been writing, though it doesn't feel like it.

More specifically, what I've been working on is editing the manuscript of a book I wrote a decade ago, and I'm planning to publish a second edition. The book takes the Exodus story and applies it to our lives, asking the question: What does it look like for God to set us free today?

The editing process can be grueling. Simply said, it's not my favorite part of writing. My older daughter and her husband have been incredible in this whole process. They've combed through the manuscript with a fine-toothed comb, asking all kinds of hard questions and suggesting needed changes. The final product has taken longer than I anticipated, but it's also far better. They confront simple things that need to change stylistically, like the fact that the original manuscript consistently had two spaces after each sentence. That convention has absolutely changed since I wrote the original manuscript. They also confront places where I've shied away from dealing with difficult questions in myself and others. Because of their kind, firm probing I have addressed some hard questions in the updated manuscript. So the topic of what it means for God to set us free is now much more current than I expected. It's always a challenge to write in the vulnerable present rather than the somewhat settled past.

We're coming into the final stages of the manuscript work. My younger daughter does an amazing job with graphic design, and she's working on a cover for this book just like she did for New Wineskins. Little by little, we are making progress toward publication. Originally my optimistic goal was mid-January; I'm guessing the book will actually come out sometime in February or early March.

In the meantime, there are other projects on the burners as well. Some of these are directly related to my work at The Open Door. Others arise out of my fascinations with theology and leadership and biblical truth but aren't directly work-related. Still others are just stories for fun, though I haven't been taking much time for those lately.

We held a fishing tournament here at Decision Hills last Saturday, hosted by some of our middle school boys. They did a great job. Spending many hours focused on the fish living below the ice, I realized that this winter feels a little like that to me. Life has slowed down as the temperatures drop. It's a necessary season of slow work, churning out new words and editing old ones. But my mental processes are frustratingly slow these winter days. Most of my energy is going to my day job, and that's a good thing. Writing fills in the gaps and provides a challenge for the long evenings when a lingering conversation or a game of Scrabble might be more fun.

It is a joy to see a project coming to completion. I'll keep posting here as this Exodus project moves toward publication. Meanwhile, it might be a good day to get out on my snowshoes and cut some brush for the deer to feed on.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Just for fun

Had a guest in my yard this afternoon. I was working at my computer, glanced up, and guess who was a few feet away?



He worked his way around to the back of the cabin and munched on the leftovers of my Christmas tree for a bit, sniffed at my birdfeeders and tasted a few morsels, and wandered off into the woods. Looks like he's weathering the winter just fine.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Fotos de Colombia


Here are a few pics from my lightning trip to Bogotá last week. I had a couple of meetings with our mission partners there on Thursday and Friday and was able to spend some time getting to know the city and its culture in the afternoons.

Monserrate is the obvious tourist destination in Bogotá. It's a high overlook on the east of the city. Like any such location, it's set up with all the kitschy photo ops. I gave in and paid a few dollars to have my pic taken with this tolerant llama before we boarded the tram to go up the mountain.


Said tram. We took this up, and the cable car down. I stood right at the window on the downhill side, contemplating what it would be like if the cable pulling us up the mountain should snap. Not comforting. However, everything went fine and we didn't die. Thank God.


The view of Bogotá from the top of Monserrate. It's a huge city and has swelled recently with a million and a half refugees from the crisis in Venezuela. More on that below.


My guide, Diego, and I walked around and through the marketplace atop Monserrate talking about culture, coca tea, tourism, missions, and more. I tried eating ants and we turned down food from multiple vendors (we'd just enjoyed a massive lunch). Around the back of the marketplace, we found these workers who bring supplies up for the restaurants on horses and donkeys.


The climb is truly intimidating, and I have no idea how long it takes them to get these supplies from bottom to top.


Back to downtown Bogotá. This picture doesn't seem like much at first. Look closer. All these intricate paper figurines on the street are folded from Venezuelan currency. The piles of cash at the center of the display are not outdated, they have simply lost their value in the economic crisis in Venezuela. They are literally not worth the paper they are printed on. This enterprising vendor uses the bills to fold handbags, animals, and decorations in order to try to convert cash into something with value. Colombia is reeling under the weight of so many who have fled Venezuela. Yet even in that, we heard stories of how God is working in the midst of this crisis to spread his word through evangelical Christians who have fled Venezuela and are sharing about Jesus wherever they go. It sounds almost like Acts 8:1.


Me and Simon Bolivar hanging out in the square at the heart of Bogotá. So few North Americans know any of the history of South America, and that is a tragedy. Reading just a few quotes of Bolivar's political and personal philosophy on the statues and in the National Museum, I was very impressed. Furthermore, it's a little humbling to look at the history of other countries in comparison to our own. For example, Colombia passed an edict freeing African slaves (much like Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation) a full decade before the United States.


This gets at the heart of the reason I was in Colombia last week. These are a few of the church leaders working to reach indigenous peoples in Colombia. The whiteboard is covered with names of tribes and individuals who might be key to this work. I have tremendous respect for these leaders, most of whom are themselves from various indigenous groups, for the wisdom, care, and passion they bring to this gospel work. It is a privilege to be associated with them.


These are avocados. The size of your head. Well, almost. Amazing.


Bogotá is in the throes of dynamic change, and this is one example. It's the bull ring where up until a few years ago, matadors played out the traditional business of bullfighting. These days the bullfights have been shut down, though one recent leader tried to bring them back. The effort was drowned in protests. There are lots of protests in Bogotá over various issues. On the whole, though, the Colombian people have a strong sense of what is good and important in their city and country. They work hard to make life better for themselves and for others (like the Venezuelan refugees). I was impressed and look forward to my next chance to visit.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Letting go of the season

Even though I haven't taken my Christmas tree down, we've moved on. It's mid-January now. All the markers of the post-Christmas transition have passed. Sales have ended. Those post-Christmas parties that we couldn't squeeze in before the holiday have happened. The radio stations went back to non-Christmas music on the 26th, of course. I just need to get that tree down.

It's a real tree, not artificial, so there's some urgency. Within a matter of days, it will be dry enough to start dropping needles. I'm already a little intimidated to think about what will happen when I take the decorations down. What a mess.

I'm headed back to Colombia for a quick trip, and I should probably buckle down and get rid of the tree before that.

Why is this so hard?

It's not, really. I can screw up my will to do hard things, whether it's pushing a needle through my own skin for a necessary insulin injection, finishing off a wounded animal, or having a difficult conversation with a friend. But part of me hates taking down the tree.

This reluctance balances out the irony my daughters would be quick to point out, of course: I hate putting up the Christmas tree until just a few days before Christmas. Once it's there, I want to hang on to the season longer than most.

At the risk of both anthropomorphism and excessive sentimentality, let me say: Goodbyes are hard. They are more difficult yet when there's not some shiny new thing to be looking forward to. The Colombia trip is a good thing. I have some more travel coming up in February for my daughter's wedding. It's not like life is bad.

I just know I'm going to miss sitting in the evening with the Christmas lights on and enjoying the twilight out my window as the sun sets beyond the lake.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Epiphany 2020

2020 has been glorious thus far. Contrary to most years, the weather has been nearly perfect for a Minnesota winter. Oh, sure, there have been a couple ice storms and some annoying blowing and drifting. But the temperatures have been pretty consistently above zero, and the sun is shining more days than not. Today it's an amazingly bright and glorious day outside. I'm going to go enjoy it in a bit, maybe breaking my snowshoes out for the first hike of the year.

My daughter and son-in-law just drove out. They were working like mad through Christmas, so we enjoyed the weekend together, celebrated a late Christmas, and just generally hung out and talked about stuff. I can't begin to express how precious conversations like that are to me. As I've written here before, I desperately need that conversational mirror that helps me see reality more clearly. The encouragement, correction, and delightful humor they brought this weekend was such a gift.

So much of what makes life meaningful is the web of relationships that give us a place. Love anchors us to each other and to the world. In essence, that's what today is about. Epiphany is a celebration of Jesus coming into the world as light. In 1 John you can read two unequivocal statements about the nature of God. They're not contradictory but complementary.

1. God is light and in him is no darkness at all.
2. God is love; the one who loves is born of God and knows God.

I think sometimes on Epiphany about the interrelationship between light and love. We use both of these words to describe the very best of relationships. (And for those of you who idealize the 1970's, here's a link to get the song thoroughly stuck in your head.)  Instinctively we associate light with love and vice versa. On this day when you can finally feel the days getting longer, it's appropriate to think about Jesus coming to be the tangible presence of God's love among us. It is this same Jesus who said, "I am the light of the world."

The sun is starting to drop in the sky as I write this, so I'm going to get my snowshoes strapped on. I hope your Epiphany is full of light and love!

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Visions of 2020?


Happy New Year!

I have to admit, I'm a little awed to be here at the outset of 2020. At various times in the last decade, I figured I knew exactly what 2020 would bring. When I was leading a big church in the Twin Cities, this year served as a benchmark for my thinking and planning. And when I burned out in spectacular fashion, I had a very clear (but very different) picture of what 2020 would bring.

What was Shakespeare's line? "The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go awry." Yeah, that.

In the last few weeks, I've felt drawn (and sometimes chased) toward the idea of trusting God. I don't usually pick a word for a new year, but I have a deep sense that this year is going to be all about trust. I've even got a theme verse to go with it, from Psalm 37:5:
Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. (NIV)
God has indeed brought me into good pasture. This place and the community of the church I serve are such a gift to me. Being rooted here drives me deeper into my particular God-given roles. (That's the part about "do good" in the verse.) Finding a voice here continues to be a challenge and a blessing. If I was to hazard a guess about what 2020 will bring at this point, I suspect it would have a lot to do with exactly that: Finding a voice and having the confidence to sing out loud. How people take that song, and who is harmonizing with it, those things belong to God. Trust.

I suspect it will be an interesting year. And I have no idea what it will bring.

On a slightly different note, Scott Sauls made me want to jump up and down and cheer with this post. I highly recommend it if you are pondering how to observe the outset of 2020.

Whatever your visions for this new year, may God bless you and keep you and make his face shine on you.


Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Noel

I am sitting and drinking coffee and pondering this morning. So much to be thankful for this Christmas: beautiful relationships with family and friends, meaningful work, the opportunity to live in the presence of amazing beauty, and so much more. Writing these days is taking up a ton of my time, and I'm excited about that. 

Even so, I find myself stirred at Christmas (and so often), longing to reach out beyond my limits and say things that cannot be said. Some of this stirring borders on grief and loss, both that which is current and that going back many years. Some of it grows out of things I wish were different, in spite of the blessing of my circumstances. The book of Ecclesiastes says that God has set eternity in the human heart. I suppose that's part of it as well. Admiring starlight from a distance seems so inadequate when the heart is yearning for the stars themselves. 

That's the miracle of Christmas in a nutshell, I suppose: In our incompleteness, brokenness, we long to reach out and touch the face of God. Some of that is hubris, but some is set in the human heart by God. Per aspera ad astra. That yearning is given by God himself. In his mercy, he came to us rather than us reaching him. He finds us in our incompleteness and longing. 

This is a little-known poem by J.R.R. Tolkien, written in 1936:

Noel

Grim was the world and grey last night:
The moon and stars were fled,
The hall was dark without song or light,
The fires were fallen dead.
The wind in the trees was like to the sea,
And over the mountains’ teeth
It whistled bitter-cold and free,
As a sword leapt from its sheath.

The lord of snows upreared his head;
His mantle long and pale
Upon the bitter blast was spread
And hung o’er hill and dale.
The world was blind,
the boughs were bent,
All ways and paths were wild:
Then the veil of cloud apart was rent,
And here was born a Child.

The ancient dome of heaven sheer
Was pricked with distant light;
A star came shining white and clear
Alone above the night.
In the dale of dark in that hour of birth
One voice on a sudden sang:
Then all the bells in Heaven and Earth
Together at midnight rang.

Mary sang in this world below:
They heard her song arise
O’er mist and over mountain snow
To the walls of Paradise,
And the tongue of many bells was stirred
in Heaven’s towers to ring
When the voice of mortal maid was heard,
That was mother of Heaven’s King.

Glad is the world and fair this night
With stars about its head,
And the hall is filled with laughter and light,
And fires are burning red.
The bells of Paradise now ring
With bells of Christendom,
And Gloria, Gloria we will sing
That God on earth is come.

Friday, December 20, 2019

It's about time!

First off, thank you to so many of you who have encouraged me with this new book coming out! You're the best.

It's been a busy week. The first case of New Wineskins arrived on Monday. I hadn't seen a hardcopy of the book, so I was nervous. But it turned out great. I am so pleased with the cover my daughter designed, and several of you have commented on it as well. It's crisp and clean and appealing, and far better than what I had in mind! There are a few minor tweaks to the inside of the book that I wish now I'd done differently, but overall I'm very, very happy with it.

When I wrote my book on the Exodus story a decade ago, the world of publishing was very different. At that time I wouldn't even consider paying to have my book published. I thought self-publishing was for people who couldn't write well enough to sell their book to a traditional publisher. Since that time, self-publishing has changed in major ways. So has the entire book publishing industry, for that matter. As I researched how best to put New Wineskins out there, it became clear very quickly that self-publishing was my best option.

A major part of this experience has been learning how to self-publish a book. It's been an education! While (as I said above) there are things I will do differently next time, the real encouragement is that I really want there to be a next time. I'm already working on an updated, expanded version of From Slavery to Freedom, my book about the Exodus. When I first wrote that book, I completed the manuscript in mid-2007. Going through a traditional publisher, it came out in print almost exactly two years later. One of the miracles of self-publishing is that I'll probably have the second edition in print by mid-January. Amazing!

I've realized that this season of my life is about finishing projects I've started. I've got so many rough drafts and book outlines stored away here and there. I'm eager to pull out those manuscripts and outlines and get some books available. There's always a little fear in that process; it's like an author I know said: Putting a book out is like walking on stage, taking off all your clothes, and saying, "What do you think?" But I've also realized that I'm eager for the conversations that come with writing a book. Sometimes those conversations are joyful and affirming. Other times people want to argue and critique. Both are absolutely important and necessary.

So... and I'm hesitant to say this out loud because then I'm accountable, right? My goal for 2020 is that by the end of the calendar year, I'll have half a dozen books in print. Deep inside, part of me is shivering at that. But the stronger part says, "It's about time!"

One of the joys of this season of life for me is finding the tools to let me pursue that goal. It's exciting!