Thursday, January 24, 2008


My course in Luke is currently looking at various artistic renditions of stories that appear in Luke's Gospel. Growing up Protestant, one isn't exposed to a great number of religious icons. Even the stained glass windows in the 1st Presbyterian Church in Winneconne were strictly ornamental, a few had names of church founders but that was about it. I find these icons pretty fascinating, but see them largely as a means for the artist and the commisioning agent (usually the Catholic Church) to pass along these stories in a way that people of the time could relate. For example, the one I wrote a little about was "The Annunciation" by Da Vinci. It certainly doesn't resemble a picture in my mind of how Gabriel interacted with Mary. It certainly doesn't reflect the humble beginnings I would put Mary into. But maybe that's partially the point - that we need to think about these events beyond our current vision/version.

There is a great deal of symbolism within many of these paintings. Some I can "buy" some seems to be a stretch. For example, here Gabriel is holding a lily in one hand, symbolizing Mary's purity. The book on the lecturn is supposedly open to Isiah - demonstrating that Mary was well versed in scripture. For me, like I mentioned before, everything is a little too perfect.

I don't necessarily find these icons useful in interpreting the scripture, but I do find them very enriching for my appreciation of scripture.



Friday, January 18, 2008

Change in Plans ...??

It's been an interesting week - getting back to school, the nice cool weather (I really love a -20 degree day every now and then!). Just when I thought things were rolling along smoothly, it looks like I'll be doing a little shuffling with my schedule this semester. A couple of conflicts came up with my weekend class and understandably the instructor wasn't thrilled with me missing a few hours of class on a couple of Saturdays. (Although one absence was to give a presentation at the American Academy of Religion meeting - you'd think there'd be a little leeway for that.) I guess this is one problem with trying to cram all kinds of material into a weekend class like. I'm a little disappointed but being totally honest with myself, I don't learn as much from intensive classes like that anyway. You get so much material thrown at you that there is little or no time to really digest it before you move on to the next topic. Last fall was an exception - I was pretty well versed in a lot of the material we were covering so that made it much easier. This is one reason that the intensive diaconate programs that are offered at various UMC seminaries really don't appeal to me. (Not to mention that there are a number of high-profile studies that show I'm probably the norm [that might be a first] when it comes to learning from courses like that.)

The predicament I'm in now however, is that I may need to refocus my emphasis/major a bit. I was working towards the emphasis in Spirituality, but it may be that I need to look at changing that to Scripture; something I would have never dreamed of a while ago. I'd still like to do a thesis and was going to work towards a topic related to spirituality and how that influences our practices (or lack thereof) sustainability, but that will need to change now. Perhaps something on how scripture calls us to be sustainable? The Old Testament is really full of wonderful accounts of caring for the land. We'll see, the folks here are incredibly accomodating with things like this (note to UMC'ers, ummm, we could be a little more flexible with our programs .... ).

I'm really excited about my other courses - Pauline Letters and Luke/Acts. I'm becoming fascinated by exegesis, due in large part to reading Bard's Brushstroke. Dr. Bard has provided some very thought provoking insights into what now amounts to most of the New Testament. (You can link to it from my favorites.) Perhaps the change is happening for a reason. It's late, I'm tired. Thanks for stopping by.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Round Two

Today is the first day of spring semester at St. John's. I'm taking another "full load" of classes this semester: Moral Theology, Luke/Acts, and Pauline Letters. It's going to be a very different semester - much heavier on the theology and less so on the spiritual/pastoral applications that were part of my coursework last semester. From the looks of it no exams either - that's good because I've always pretty much stunk at exams and being 44 hasn't helped with my memory. I'm much better at writing and conceptualizing bigger ideas.

On a similar note, our son Anthony got his third acceptence letter to college today. He's wanting to pursue a career in violin performance and has been accepted by UW-Eau Claire, UM-Duluth, and now UW-Madison (where his sister is studying biology). We were fairly confident he'd be accepted anywhere he applied - he's a smart, well-rounded young man. However, he now has to go through the audition process - starting Thursday in Eau Claire (then consecutive weekends in Madison and Duluth). Understandably he's fairly stressed out about the whole process. I'm sure he'll be fine. (My final plea for him to get a business degree at UW and run a violin company fell on deaf ears again this morning. Oh well - he is also an excellent barista; I'm sure that's a skill that many musicians wish they had during the "lean" times.)


Sunday, January 13, 2008

It's all about ..................

Rabbi Rami Shapiro posted a blog yesterday reflecting on a recent study on "unchurched" folks that was put out by the Southern Baptist Convention (link is on my "favorites" listing). His conclusion: "God is Heaven, and the Hypocrites are in Church", that's not the first time I've heard that or a similar quote. As a member of a mainline protestant church, it's likely that I will hear it again as well. He wraps up his blog by talking about alternatives to traditional church - retreats, contemplative experiences, discussion groups, etc. I think he's probably right that people are seeking those venues as alternatives to a traditional church setting. Yet the growth in mega-churches tends to lead me to believe there is something else going on. (I should note, that while I'm interested in church growth and such, I don't really follow much of the latest "research" surrounding the topic.)

Based on conversations with friends, coworkers, etc., there seems to be two groups of people that shake out as "casual Christians". The first are those that want to belong, but don't want to be involved. These are the people I see attending the bigger churches in the area. They actually attend regularly, like the status of going to a big church, kids do the Sunday School and Wednesday night program etc. Yet they themselves keep their distance. Committees? No way. Teach Sunday School? Forget it. The second group doesn't belong to a church and goes irregularly - usually to the same church however. These are the folks that would belong but just don't see the need to be financially obligated to a church; particularly if that money isn't going to someplace they see fit.

I'm not going to get critical about anyone that might fit into either of these categories. That's their choice. I would, however suggest that the criticism lies on those of us that are leaders in the church. One, we haven't done a very good job instilling the service part of Christianity into our messages. Maybe I'm old fashioned, (maybe I'm just really, really bad at saying "no"!) but in my mind, being a Christian entails service to others. This morning, we sang "Brother, Sister, let me serve you, let me be as Christ to you...." (The Servant Song, Faith We Sing Hymn #2222). I certainly think things like discussion groups, contemplative outings, and coffee meetings have a place in our religious experiences yet they are about the individual and individual growth. That is vitally important, but so is outreach, mission work, fellowship. That's where the body of Christ truly comes alive!

On giving. People should question where their money goes and churches should be held accountable. Yet again I think we've missed opportunities to demonstrate our service if people have to question where money is being spent. Granted, people are overwhelmed with information and requests for money - but when tangible examples are available, we need to point those out. In my opinion, we shouldn't be giving examples of how many new churches we're building, or how many new converts we've had. We should be talking about how we've improved living conditions for children with HIV/Aids, or how many kids are safe from malaria from Nothing but Nets, or how we've helped alleviate homelessness somewhere. People do want to give, we just need to provide them a platform to do so.

So, what is it all about? The answer can be "me", but that's really incomplete. The answer is "me, and you, and you, and you, .. and you too!


Monday, January 7, 2008

Some Random Thoughts that have been floating around ..

They don't seem to be enough (at least at the moment) to write a complete blog about but they're still there, rattling around in my head (there's a great deal of room there and it gets kind of noisey with all this rattling!).

1. I noticed that the UMC is concerned over the rising cost of holding General Conference. It was reported in Christian Century and you can read the UMC news story here, that estimates of this year's conference in Ft. Worth is going to run about 6.6 Million dollars. I know there are important issues that need to be discussed, but that seems like a lot of money. What really disappointed me was the lack of any mention of the environmental effects this meeting will create. If it is anything like MN Annual Conference - it will be substantial.

2. The proposed state park on Lake Vermillion. This one has been bugging for some time now. Governor Pawlenty want's to purchase a large tract of forest on Lake Vermillion to be developed as a state park. At first I thought it was a pretty good idea, but on further reflection I think its, well, just dumb. Our state parks have suffered from neglect for about 25 years - adding another one isn't going to change that. Developing the shoreline for 250000 to 300000 annual visitors isn't my idea of protecting the land for future generations. This is an excellent opportunity for private development to work with an NGO, like the Nature Conservancy, to protect the land and lake from overdevelopment. Spend the $30 million on upgrading the parks and trails we have.

3. Corn. I've gone beyond a general disdain for corn. I've about had it. I won't buy ethanol, any type of soda, and the only beef (we eat about 10lbs a year) will be from a local butcher ...... we are more addicted to corn than to foreign oil. We're on a slippery slope with this addiction. The economic effects are disasterous for small, rural communities and the environmental effects are becoming immeasureable. You can refer to my previous blog for more information - or pick up Micheal Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilema: A Natural History of Four Meals. As the snow melted away this weekend, revealing the plowed earth, I was again struck how poor we are treating the land.

That's about it for now. A little less rattling going on upstairs.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Fish Houses

For the most part, this has been a good winter for ice fishing. There are lakes across the state that got too much snow early on and the ice isn't that great, but overall, things have been good. Here in Glenwood, they're catching fish too, lot's of nice bluegills from what I hear. I've never been a big fan of ice fishing, too much sitting around, so that's a second or third hand report at best. As I sit at my desk at work, eating lunch and looking out over Lake Minnewaska, I can honestly say there are probably more fish houses out on the lake this year than I've ever seen since I've been here. That's covering some 17 winters now.

During that time fish houses have changed considerably. They used to be largely home-made affairs, put together from scrap lumber, a few old windows salvaged from somewhere, and a dangerous LP gas stove to keep things toasty inside. People would spend weekends and beyond out at the fish house, and little communities often arose out on the ice. About 15 years ago, portable shelters came the rage, and are still very popular. Instead of putting a house out on one lake for the entire season and hoping the fish would bit, anglers were able to move around to different lakes - most often to "hot" bite lakes. The portable shacks are small, and don't offer the amenities found in the larger houses though. I'm fairly certain this mobility dramatically changed the landscape of ice fishing. It probably didn't do our fish populations a lot of good either.

The more recent trend as been a combination of portable houses and the more livable houses of the past. These modern houses are usually made of lightweight aluminum, have kitchens, bunks, and can run all kinds of appliances off of a small generator. I can see two from my office window that have satellite dishes! Anglers are trailering these houses from lake to lake, just like the smaller canvas portables. It's rather amazing.

I also find it somewhat disturbing. Not soley for the possible over exploitation of the fish resources either. The least expensive of these fish houses runs about $7000. (Personally, that's a little more money than I'm willing to spend for something I can use for 3 months a year (in a good winter). What concerns me is that we can accept spending that kind of money to catch a couple of meals of fish from what amounts to a home, yet we can't afford to solve the problem of homelessness, or hunger, or underfunded schools. There are probably enough fish houses on Lake Minnewaska alone to house the majority of homeless people in greater Minnesota. I know that sounds socialist, or even Marxist, but where exactly are our priorities?

Seems to me, a good number of them are sitting out in the cold.