Archive for the ‘Love’ Category


June 3, 2016

This is a great little article that examines the results of a rather informal survey of the songs people play at their wedding receptions.  The author’s theory to explain the distribution of music by style and age – and which makes sense to me – is that the various generations present at a wedding – the couple, their parents and grandparents – each have at least a few songs that represent music popular in their late teens or early 20’s, with the remainder of the set list made up of current hits.  Music that is popular today and high on play lists today may fall off for some time, only to reappear in 20-30 years on play lists as the children of the couples getting married today start getting married.

What music did you have to have at your wedding?  What music was forbidden?  What sort of overlap do you see with the data in this article?  And yes, you certainly can justify including ABBA at your wedding reception.


Sunday Is Coming

December 25, 2015

I don’t know about you, but right about now, or more accurately, in a few minutes from now, is my favorite time of the entire Christmas season. The moment when I can breathe a sigh of relief. Good or bad, right or wrong, brilliant or mundane, I will have survived Christmas. I will have discharged my duties as your pastor. You might think I did great or awful, but it will be too late to change any of that. You might be seething or dumbfounded or in shocked, pained silence, but I’ll be smiling on the inside anticipating watching my family open presents, enjoying a Christmas nap, and relaxing the rest of the day. It’s the same sort of feeling I get most every Sunday just as the sermon wraps up. Assuming I haven’t preached heresy and nobody has died mid-sermon, I can relax. It’s the most relaxing time of the week for me.

My seminary homiletices (preaching) professor was fond of saying repeatedly through the course Sunday is coming. Three little words that strike terror into most pastors’ hearts. For Sunday is of course a day of holy obligations. Of bringing God’s Word to God’s people. Of leading and guiding people through the rituals of worship that the people of God have engaged in for two millenia. The responsibility of exercising publicly the private rights of a particular group of followers of Jesus the Messiah. As such, it is a day, or at least a morning, fraught with responsibility, privilege, honor.

Sunday is coming. And the words of that prof ring in my ears more than a decade later. They weren’t said as a threat, necessarily. Simply a reminder. A reminder that once we were out in the parish we wouldn’t have 20 hours a week to spend researching and writing our sermons. In the real world we would have obligations. The resposibility, the privilege, the honor of shepherding God’s people. That would take time, as it should. But whether the week was filled with appointments, hospital visits, calls on the homebound, administrative duties, fixing the church plumbing, and cooking for the men’s breakfast Bible study, Sunday is coming.

While most of you have never given a sermon you understand this feeling of joy and dread, fear and awe, because for every single one of you, year after year, Christmas is coming. Played out on a larger calendar, you deal with the same thing that pastors do week after week. The resolutions to be more organized next year. To start the shopping early. To buy the Christmas cards when they’re pennies on the dollar the week after Christmas. To hit the home décor shops on Christmas 28th and scoop up all those gorgeous little decorative Christmas doo-dads when they’re 80% off. The resolution to finish the Christmas shopping in July, to get the Christmas cards out Thanksgiving weekend, to have gifts in the mail by the first weekend in December. Next year will be different, better. Next year you’ll be able to relax and really enjoy the meaning of the season. Next year you’ll decline some of those Christmas parties. Next year you won’t cave in to the pressure to present a Norman Rockwell-esque Christmas Eve dinner while still attending both the grandkids’ Christmas performance and the candlelight service later. Next year you’ll have lost 15 pounds and fit back into that outfit you love so much.

It’s a warm afterglow that first week of Christmas. And then the next thing you know it’s December 1 again and you haven’t done anything the way you vowed. Everything has to get done, everywhere is crowded and crabby, prices are jacked sky high, the family won’t commit on when they’re going to come – if at all – for Christmas, you’ve lost your address book and gained 5 pounds. None of which really matters, because Christmas is coming.

Every year this reality stares us in the face. Every year we feel unprepared, and every year Christmas arrives regardless. Memories are made and shared. Photos are snapped. Christmas hams are kept away from eager dogs. Babies get fed and wrapping paper gets cleaned up and stockings get filled and bicycles get put together regardless of missing three screws and the directions being written only in Korean. Every year we sit crumpled on the couch afterwards listening to the sounds of laughter or the sounds of silence, amazed that, regardless of how ready we weren’t, Christmas arrived anyways.

This is God’s gift to us each year and each week. Christmas is coming. Sunday is coming. And you and I being sinful and broken and pretty self-absorbed, we hear that as a call to arms, a call to man the battlements and prepare ourselves. To provision the larder and ensure that there’s enough brandy and eggnog for Aunt Karen. We hear it as the nails -on-the -chalkboard whispers of Satan telling us it’s all on me. I have to get it right. I have to pull it together. If I’m not ready it will be a fiasco so epic that my great-great-great-grandkids will walk by the still-smoking crater of what used to be our home and whisper about the year they failed Christmas. Christmas is coming. Sunday is coming. As a gift.  But Satan wants to steal this present off of our front porch like one of those people who steals UPS packages this time of year, and leave us instead with a flaming paper bag of steamy, stinky guilt that we try desperately to stamp out only to find out that our shoes are covered with it and we can’t get it off.

But today is a gift, not an obligation. It’s a present from God not a responsibility to shoulder. And it arrives whether we’re ready or not. Whether we’re happy with how we look or feel, or how the person next to us looks or feels. It arrives not because we caused it or created it or deserved it, but only and always because our God loves us and cares for us and desires to give us good things.

He gives us the best thing He can give us – his Son. Our Savior. Sure, the present isn’t wrapped very well by our aesthetic sensibilities. We might have preferred something a bit more sparkly, a few more bows on it. But He gives us his Son as a gift, and as anyone with any manners knows, you need to pay attention to the gift on the inside rather than the wrapping job on the outside.

He gives us his Son as a gift, as good news, as peace and joy and reconciliation. There’s nothing more to be done than to receive this gift. No need or ability for us to improve upon it. There are no batteries to be installed, no assembly required, no exchanges and no returns. One size fits all. It is the gift of God’s peace on earth, quite literally, his goodwill towards humanity.

Sunday is the day we observe the Sabbath, also a gift. A weekly reminder of God’s peace, God’s grace, God’s provision. It’s as easy for pastors to forget this every week as it is for you to forget this once a year. It isn’t about me. It’s about the God who gives good gifts to his people, and the response that naturally comes about when we receive a good gift. We can take the gift and put it on our back as another burden or responsibility, as another means of making ourselves feel good about our own efforts, but that’s ludicrous. Irresponsible. Rude. It’s far better to receive the gift and settle down to enjoy it. To really examine it. To really appreciate the magnitude of the thought, the depth of our need, and the goodness of our God who truly loves us. Christmas has come. Sunday is coming. Thanks be to God, go home and enjoy it. Amen.

A Little Insight

June 8, 2015

So I hear people talk about how they aren’t going to get married.  Marriage is a failed institution.  Marriage only leads to divorce.  Maybe they’ve already been through a divorce and don’t ever want to face that horror again.  The reasons and rationale are all fairly similar.  Somehow, not getting married is going to avoid the devastation of divorce.

I don’t think this makes a lot of sense.  It’s not as though you’re going to prevent yourself from becoming emotionally attached to someone just because neither of you intend to marry.  It’s not as though you hold back a part of yourself, whatever part that is (since it clearly isn’t sexual intimacy any longer), and holding that back somehow protects you or is less emotionally devastating than if you had given that part of you as well.  We don’t make such distinctions.  Or at least, some of us don’t.  Girls should be very, very aware that many guys are very capable of making this distinction.  And while I’m sure that there are plenty of women who make this distinction as well, I’m old-fashioned enough to believe that guys are worse.

I was out this evening with some guys and they were talking, as guys will do.  Being the only married one (and considerably older), it was a conversation between the two of them and not me.  One guy has been in a relationship with a woman for years.  Years.  His girlfriend at one point in the not-too-distant past was threatening to end things with him if he didn’t propose, but to my knowledge he hasn’t proposed yet.  The other guy was excited about a new girl in his life.  She was very motivated (which he was happy about because he didn’t want to support her), very busy (which he was happy about because he didn’t want to be expected to  spend all his time with her) and very fit and thin (which he was happy about because he hoped to be sexually intimate soon and expected his girl to take good care of herself so he didn’t get bored with her).

Now, it could be said that guys – particularly younger guys (if you consider late 20’s and early 30’s young, which I don’t) will talk and boast and say things that they don’t really mean to one another.  On another level, it was clear that they were telling the truth at least at a certain level.

They agreed that really marriage was pointless.  There was nothing to be gained by permanently binding themselves to one person, and plenty to lose.  Which implies that they both understand that marriage is fundamentally something different than long-term dating.  Most telling was the guy in the long-term relationship’s statement – As long as you don’t get her pregnant you’re not committed to her.   Wow.  Years together with the same woman and yet he still sees himself as essentially not committed to her just because he hasn’t gotten her pregnant.  Years together and yet he can still consider walking away if someone better comes along, because he is committed.  He isn’t married to her.

I wonder if she feels the same way?  If her Facebook feed is any indicator, she seems pretty committed to him.

I think about my daughter and about the guys she will meet in her life.  I think a lot about how to prepare her for those encounters.  For their charm and their handsomeness and for the giddy rush of emotions (and hormones).  I think a lot about how to give her insight, how to give her wisdom about the decisions she will make.  I could get very cynical and despair that she’ll even find a guy who has his head screwed on straight and won’t simply be looking at her as a means of fulfilling himself with no thought ultimately to her.  But I won’t go there.  I just pray that we can help provide her with the good sense to weed out the boys from the man.  That we can help her see that words don’t mean a lot unless they are backed with commitment.  That we can show her that while a marriage license is no guarantee of a guy’s intentions or worthiness, it goes a long way towards clearing out the wheat from the chaff.

And I hope that the guy she marries won’t be out complaining about her to his friends, or acting as though she’s some sort of nose wart that he puts up with reluctantly because the benefits are too compelling or nobody better has caught his eye yet.  A guy that talks like that when he’s out with his friends, even if he’s mostly bluffing, doesn’t deserve my daughter.  Or anyone else’s, either.

Basking in the Shade

July 9, 2013

Today is our thirteenth wedding anniversary.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t really impress either of us, numerically speaking.  Both our parents have logged over 40 years together and are still going strong.  More than a few couples in our congregation have over fifty years of marriage together.  And we know a few folks who have topped the sixty-year mark.  
While marriage may be suffering as a whole in our culture, we personally are blessed with an inferiority complex in terms of anniversaries.  Not that we’re calling it quits at thirteen, mind you.  We pray for many more to come, and hope to one day attain the more impressive numbers of our parents and parishioners and trust we will.  We just feel kind of silly making a big deal about the number thirteen, compared to all of these other more impressive numbers.
I guess it’s a good kind of inferiority complex to have.  Maybe the best kind.  Whatever it is, we’re grateful for it, and for all of you who have been, are, and will continue to be part of our story. 

I Can’t Be it All

March 19, 2013

How do you determine who you are, what you do, what you say no to and how in general you prioritize your life?

I suspect that for many people, there is no good answer to these questions.  The result is stress.  Mind-numbing, paralysis-inducing stress.  Without a filter of some sort, we are deers-in-the-headlights of data and culture.  
Others seem to agree that something is wrong.  
I vividly remember a snippet of conversational exchange as a young child at my grandparent’s house.  Thumbing through a book of science and nature facts, probably with Nixon or Ford on in the background.  My grandmother made the comment to me (as I was viewing a page on cryogenics) that I could grow up to be the President someday.  I remember thinking that this was an odd thing to say, an odd thing to be true, and an odd thing to aspire to.  
I grew up with realists – people who worked hard to achieve what they had in life.  I don’t remember a lot of conversations about me going to Harvard, or heading up the UN, or changing the world in any mind-numbing and socially glorified way.  Goals were modest.  Perhaps that’s more a testimony to the lack of direction I showed as a youth rather than a particular philosophy of life, but regardless, I grew up assuming I’d figure out a job to do and do it.  I wasn’t going to be the Next Big Thing.  
I suspect this conflicted with my adolescent, overly-romanticized views of The Meaning of Life.  Didn’t I have A Gift to share with the world?  Some deep insight into the nature of human existence?  A Great American Novel waiting to spring forth from my inexperienced mastery of what it means to be human?  
Apparently not.  I may not like admitting that still, but it’s a truth that is hard to avoid as well.  By the grace of God I’m blessed to do and be so many wonderful things, but very few (if any) of them are recognized by the world as being worthy of adulation.  I can’t do it all and be it all.  
Nor do I expect my children to, either.
These days, it seems tantamount to child abuse to say that I don’t have grand visions of my children graduating from an Ivy League school or becoming President or curing cancer.  They may do any or all of these things and I’ll be thrilled and proud and supportive of them each step of the way.  But I don’t think that healthy parenting means attempting to micro-manage their route towards such things.  
We live in an affluent part of the country, but I don’t think that the effort to do-all and be-all personally and for your children is exclusive to areas like ours.  Parents jockeying years ahead  of time to get their kids into just the right preschool, which will prep them for acceptance into just the right private schools, which will prepare them for just the right private high schools, which will best position them for Harvard or Yale or Berkeley.  Which will give them the best shot at a hugely successful and lucrative career.  
I have my biases like anyone.  There are things I’d prefer (and not prefer) to see my kids do when they grow up.  But most importantly I want them to love God.  I want them to be happy with themselves.  I want them to be able to identify things they’d like to accomplish and have the tools to accomplish them.  I’d like them to be realistic, but also enjoy dreaming, since sometimes dreams can become reality.  
Is it wrong to not only acknowledge that you can’t have it all, but to also say that at a very practical level, you don’t even want it all?  Is this just a sign of aging?  A malaise and lethargy of existence that beats our youthful energies and passions into mediocrity?  Or is there something more at play, something perhaps, healthier, than the lives of stress that so many people seem to be living – and teaching their children to live?  
I see the answer to the problem the above-linked article poses.  How do I filter the world and myself, and thereby hope to provide my children with healthy filters?  I have faith in the God who created the world, and who created me and my children without any of my input or guidance.  Who has declared that I am loved and have value not because of where I graduate from or how much money I earn, but simply because He created me and sacrificed his Son for me.  
I don’t have anything to prove.
Without this filter, what would my expectations for myself and my kids be?  How could I ever find a sense of peace with who I am, what I’ve done, what I’m likely to do, and how I can best help my children launch their lives?  I don’t know.  For many people (whether Christian, other faiths, or no faiths), I suspect the answer is that they don’t find that sense of peace.  They bounce from expert to expert, trend to trend, always feeling inferior and behind the curve, always envious of and competing with their friends and family for the best spots and the top honors.  Life becomes a race because if you aren’t racing then what are you doing and how do you know if you’re any good unless somebody else tells you that you are?  Unless your children are beautiful and gifted and grinding away at satisfying your own needs for validation, let alone theirs?  
When I was younger, my cousin told me
Boy you’re gonna be President.
But just like everything else
Those old crazy dreams just kinda came and went.
– John Cougar Melloncamp – “Little Pink Houses”

Living Together

February 15, 2013

It’s hard work, isn’t it?  Even in the best relationships, being with someone every day, all the time, is difficult work.  

Is it any surprise that it is difficult for those in the Church, living together throughout our lives?  I’m privileged to serve a congregation where some folks have known each other and been church family for over 50 years.  That’s a long time to live together in the Christian faith, to worship together every week, to wash dishes in the kitchen after potlucks or share the stove in preparing food beforehand.  It’s a lot of voters meetings to weather, potentially a lot of contentious decisions to live through.  Yet like those lifelong marriages we all admire, the Christian life together is inspiring and a thing of beauty.
But hardly easy.  Far less easy than breaking things off when things get difficult.  
I sat with brothers in the ministry this week and we talked in frustration and pain over the division within our denomination as evidenced in the past couple of weeks and referenced here at my blog.  We were fairly unified in our unhappiness with what happened.  But what struck me is that it is very easy to resort to the same tactics in discussing those you disagree with, when what you’re upset about are the exact same tactics employed by them.  In other words, it is easy to get caught up in righteous indignation at someone you think is acting self-righteously.  
Easy, but not very helpful.  Certainly not helpful when cultivating a life together that spans individual as well as communal lifetimes.  As such, the excerpt this morning in my daily devotional from Luther’s writings seemed very appropo:
“Receive your disreputable and erring brothers and put up with them patiently and take on their sins as your own.  and if you have anything that is good, let it be theirs.  if you think of yourselves as being better than these brothers, then do not take yourselves so seriously as if anything good could only belong to you, but, instead, humble yourselves and be like one of them so that you can carry them along with you.  For it is a wretched form of justice when Christians will not put up with people they regard to be worse than they are.  And you take flight from them and go into solitude instead of being of immediate use to them by your patience, prayer and good example.  If you are either a lily or a rose, then realize that your life must be lived among thorns.  Take care that you yourself do not become a thorn on account of your intolerance and outrageous judgments or secret pride.  The Kingdom of Christ is situated in the midst of His foes.  What fantasies are you dreaming up then with your kingdom amidst friends?”

– Martin Luther – 


October 30, 2012

It’s always interesting to see the things that people stand for – or won’t stand for.

This Wall Street Journal article describes the trend among well-to-do singles (though the article indicates that the trend isn’t exclusive to the affluent).  They won’t date across political lines.
I wonder if these folks would be as adamant that they won’t date someone outside of their religion?  It’s amazing how often I hear young people assert that what someone believes about the nature of the universe and their place in it isn’t a major consideration in terms of dating, courtship, and marriage.  Yet at least for some, sub-genres of political ideology are grounds for exclusion.  Interesting.
I guess I’m somewhat encouraged in that at least it’s a starting point.  Something where people are willing to say that truth is not merely subjective and where differences of belief need to be taken very, very seriously.  

Is Bigger Really Better?

October 2, 2012

A lovely story I stumbled over thanks to a Facebook friend.  

My question is stimulated by what happens towards the end of the article.  When the children are told of what these ladies have been doing for decades.  The kids encourage the mothers to go online to sell their cakes “so they could raise money to help even more people.”  Of course, with greater scale goes greater needs for infrastructure, so they have to utilize a different kitchen and hire someone to help them organizationally.  
There’s nothing wrong with this, of course.  It’s our natural reaction.  If something is working, if something is good, why not amp it up?  Why not expand?  More is better, right?
I dunno.  What if more – quantitatively – isn’t necessarily better?  The article doesn’t provide any details on how their expansion has impacted their activities.  But it does indicate that they had to change the way they were doing things.  Something that worked for over 30 years was tweaked – not because it wasn’t working just fine the way it was, doing everything they had intended it to do and more – but because it was possible to get bigger. 
I think that what I struggle with particularly is the assumption that is easy to make.  If something is good, it would be sinful and wrong not to do more of it, right?  I mean, if you could conceivably help twice as many people, why wouldn’t you?  Wouldn’t it be wrong of you not to?
I suspect that the answer to this question ought to be It depends.  Something that once was purely a labor of love has now become a necessity – there are orders to be fulfilled and at least one salary to pay.  There’s the necessity of keeping things going.  Which means that there could potentially be guilt for not being able to meet a certain day, or not fulfill expectations.  What once was a joy could easily become a burden.  It doesn’t necessarily have to and I pray that it hasn’t and doesn’t – but the nature of what they’re doing has altered for the sake of scale, for the sake of perpetuating what they’re doing.  Motives have begun to shift and change, and I suspect that when this remarkable group of ladies is no longer able to do what they have so faithfully done for so long, there will be a strong impetus to create a business, and the nature of what they were doing will completely alter.
Is there a lesson for the American Church in all of this?    

Happy Happy Joy Joy

March 14, 2012

First off, and not directly related to the rest of this point, let me reiterate my growing hatred of Facebook.  A friend posted a link to the article this blog is actually about.  When I went back to comment on the link he posted, I couldn’t find the entry he had made on it.  Despite having just clicked on it ten minutes earlier.  Grrrrrrrr.

In any event, read this essay, quickly, in case it disappears too.  It’s somewhat of an abstract of several surveys on young adults and marriage.  If you don’t have the patience to read the whole article (which you really should if you’re a young adult, related to a young adult, or know a young adult), the upshot of it is that personal happiness is sort of the overriding goal of the respondents.  Marriage is desirable inasmuch as it fosters and contributes to their personal happiness.  If that happiness begins to tarnish, it’s evidence that the marriage isn’t valid, and that they were probably mistaken in their earlier feelings of love and commitment to their spouse.  
My concern with the essay comes from the conclusions it draws.  The last five paragraphs attempt to deal with ways that we could make an impact on the ideas of marriage that young adults have.  The problem is that none of them deal with the major issue – that marriage has become primarily a mechanism for providing personal happiness, rather than a partnership of give and take where there will be times of greater and lesser happiness and satisfaction that are to be expected and weathered rather than bailed out on.  
Their first recommendation is that we stop telling young adults (who are likely cohabitating and are increasingly likely to have children, even though their cohabitating as opposed to marrying is a sign they aren’t yet convinced the other person is the right person to marry) to just get married.  Acting as though the legal act of marriage carries any significant weight in terms of behavior modification and expectation modification is flawed logic.  
I tend to agree with this at one level.  But it begs the question.  What is marriage if it is not the sharing of oneself financially, physically, emotionally, and (whether intended or not) procreation?  The article highlights that these functions are somehow separated from an idealized concept of marriage, rather than being linked inextricably with it.  While acting as though legal marriage will have any sort of real effect on a cohabitating couple with children may be flawed, it may be less flawed if we try to disabuse some of the odd concepts that people have of what marriage actually is.  In other words, if we begin linking marriage expectations to objective actions (sexuality & fidelity, procreation) rather than to subjective feelings (happiness), we could go a long way in demonstrating that what is being defined these days as just part of the process of searching for the right spouse (living together, sexual activity & intended or unintended procreation) is actually marriage.  Regardless of how we feel about it.  
Their next recommendation is to talk about marriage as the way of safeguarding things that young adults truly value and desire – stability, family, love.  Much agreed.  But only if we are also working to disabuse the notion that love is only an emotion, rather than an act of the will as well.  According to case studies the authors themselves cite, young adults feel that if they no longer have the feeling of love (whatever that means), then it’s evidence that they never really were in love to begin with, and therefore they are justified in dissolving the marriage in order to find that love with another person. 
Up until the last 40 years or so, the unrealistic portrayals of love in film, books, television, etc. were mitigated to a great extent by actual examples of love.  Parents who remained married, bickered and fought without ever rejecting their marriage vows.  Congregations filled with people who have been married for 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, even 70 years.  Living testimonies (and hopefully honest testimonies) to the enduring nature of the commitment of love between two people as opposed to the feeling of love.  
Kids don’t have these examples any longer.  Many kids don’t have two parents in their home.  Many more don’t have the same two parents who conceived them in the same home.  Congregations are often devoid of other parental role models – people the age of a child’s parents who serve as another example and testimony of marriage & fidelity.  And increasingly, congregations are devoid of the next generation back – a child’s grandparents – who further model that sort of commitment.  Kids have fewer friends who have parents who are married and are their actual birth parents (or adoptive parents).  
If we don’t have places where the reality of married life is demonstrated against the fantasy of media, are we surprised that younger people have a skewed sense of reality?  
Their final recommendation is to emphasize the binding nature of marriage and the importance of personal honor in making that sort of commitment.  While I think this is definitely on the right track, it also won’t work well without other groundwork.  The reason more young people choose to live together and delay marriage is because they want their vow to stand and last when they finally make it.  The problem is that they seem to think that there will be this magical moment when this is the case – when their vow will somehow of it’s own volition stand and last, despite the fact that they are still viewing that vow as a means of personal happiness and fulfillment that they are free to invalidate whenever they don’t feel that the happiness is adequate or the fulfillment as deep as they once measured it.  
Young adults do want to be people of their word.  But they have to be taught what that means.  That living by your word may well require a great deal of unhappiness from time to time.  It certainly entails focusing on more than just your own personal happiness, and rather seeing yourself as part of something greater and stronger and more fulfilling – a marriage and perhaps a family of your own.  
We need to be able to speak honestly about struggles, rather than strive to pay homage to the Cult of Happiness that demands we sacrifice everyone and everything to some vaguely defined sense of personal happiness.  That is something that has to start in the home and be reinforced elsewhere – in the extended family and in congregations and other social institutions.  In other words, it’s not just about ‘fixing’ young adults.  It’s about taking a good hard look at ourselves.  

Cuteness Quotient Reached?

March 9, 2012


Even a grouch like me found this touching.