Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I turned 51 last week (Thursday). The day itself might be among my least memorable birthdays. I was in the Chicago area for a meeting of the United Methodist Church’s University Senate, for which I serve on the Commission on Theological Education. We met in the morning, and that was just fine. I enjoy the people I have come to know in this work. We even got done a little early, so I was at O’Hare early for my flight. When I arrived, the check in screen told me that my flight was overbooked and to see the agent if I might be willing to change my plans. Well, there were three other flights to Minneapolis scheduled to leave O’Hare before mine, so I thought I would graciously volunteer to get on an earlier flight. No such luck. The airport was crowded and busy as the day before weather led to flight delays and cancellations. I would have to wait until my scheduled flight left – so on my birthday I spent six hours in a crowded airport. I enjoyed the reading time, but otherwise not a terribly memorable birthday.
The next day, however, I was greeted on Facebook by a number of good wishes for my birthday. I am deeply appreciative of each one, and find myself pledging to do better at checking for others’ birthdays on the site. Each greeting was a gift.
I got to thinking a bit about gifts, and about all the gifts in my life. It seems to me that the essence of a gift is that it is something received for which the language of “deserve” does not apply, or doesn’t apply easily or well. I am the grateful recipient of many gifts in life:
Love – God’s love. The essence of God’s gracious love is that it is not about “deserving.”
A good marriage. Yes, there is work to be done in creating a good marriage, and I hope I have done some of that work, but there is also a quality of gift about being in such a relationship.
Children who are doing well. Again, one hopes they contributes to the well-being of their children. Again, I hope I have given something positive to my children which has helped make them who they are. And again, there is a quality of gift when your children are healthy and relatively happy and you have a good relationship with them.
Small joys: a good book, a baseball game, music (and this summer seems particularly rich with some good new music – The New Pornographers, The Court Yard Hounds, The Hold Steady – all previously mentioned; and more recently Teenage Fanclub’s new cd and Bruce Springsteen’s concert dvd), a walk.
With all these good gifts of life, who can complain about a day at the airport.

With Faith and With Feathers,


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Summer Music

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to burn a CD with some new music for this summer, most of it on recordings released this year. I am enjoying the music and wanted to share my summer CD with you.

Skyline, The Court Yard Hounds. The Court Yard Hounds are two-thirds of the Dixie Chicks – sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire. This is the first song on their CD and it is a song about finding peace and home. “I just look at the skyline/A million lights/are lookin’ back at me/And when they shine/I see a place I know I’ll find/some peace.”

Then Again, The Court Yard Hounds. Favorite line: “But then again, I never did understand me.” A song about the mysteries of the self and searching for deeper self-understanding.

Mass Romantic, The New Pornographers. The name of this group has disputed origins. One band member claims he named the group after watching a Japanese film. Some think the name comes from statements made by Jimmy Swaggart or John Ashcroft (or both) that rock and roll is “the new pornography.” In any event, this group makes good music and they released a new CD this summer. The song mentioned here is not from that CD, but from their first CD. “In the streetlight dawn, this beat turns on.” And it does.

Crash Years, The New Pornographers. This song and the next are from the group’s 2010 release, “Together.” “Light a candle’s end/You are a light turned low/And like the rest of us/You got those old eternity blues.”

Up in the Dark, The New Pornographers. “What’s love?/What turns up in the dark?” Good questions, catchy tune.

My favorite CD this summer thus far has been “Heaven is Whenever” by The Hold Steady. My summer CD finishes with six songs off this CD.

The Sweet Part of the City, The Hold Steady. “Back when we were living up on Hennepin…. We were living in. The sweet part of the city.” Turns out one of the band’s founders is from Minneapolis, where Hennepin Avenue is located.

Soft in the Center, The Hold Steady. “You can’t tell people what they want to hear if you also want to tell the truth…. You can’t get every girl. You’ll get the one’s you love the best. You won’t get every girl. You’ll love the ones you get the best.”

The Weekender, The Hold Steady. “But it’s not gonna be like in romantic comedies. In the end I bet no one learns a lesson.”

We Can Get Together, The Hold Steady. “They sang Love is the Answer. I think they’re probably right. Let it shine down on us all.” “Heaven is whenever we can get together. Sit down on your floor. And listen to your records.”

Hurricane J, The Hold Steady. Great song, catchy. “I don’t want this to stop. I want you to know. I don’t want you to settle. I want you to grow.”

Our Whole Lives, The Hold Steady. “We’re good guys but we can’t be good every night. We’re good guys, but we can’t be good our whole lives.” They may be wrong, but it still sounds great.

With Faith and With Feathers,


Saturday, June 5, 2010

Annual Conference

I was not looking forward to attending the meeting of The Minnesota Annual Conference this year (from which I returned yesterday). Let me be clear, however. I was also not not looking forward to it. The time just arrived and I had not given attending annual conference a lot of psychic energy. Anticipating something you are looking forward to can be a part of the joy of an event. It can also sometimes lead to disappointment when what you are anticipating does not meet your expectations. For whatever reason, and primarily it was because of the busyness of May, I had not invested energy in anticipating annual conference (which, for those of you who may not know, is the annual gathering of clergy and a lay people from United Methodist churches across the state of Minnesota).
Given that I had not spent time in anticipation, I can’t say that annual conference met my expectations. I can say that it was filled with joy. The trip down with Dale, our church’s lay member, was nice. Dale is not only a church member, he is a friend whose insights and opinions I value. After arriving I began seeing friends, clergy and lay, from across the state, some of whom I see only once a year. While I had not spent time this year anticipating conference, I began to see why I usually look forward to it. It is the people – the hugs, the smiles, the “how are you?s” It is also the opportunity to gather with a unique church community to worship and learn. There were countless moments of grace and joy in the three days we gathered – conversations, meals, worship, helping with ordination, working with the bishop as her parliamentarian.
While I was gone, however, I missed my daughter’s last three days of high school. Her commencement is this coming week and of course I will be there for that. It is difficult to believe that our youngest child has now finished high school and will be off to college in the fall. This morning she let me look at her year book. I asked if she minded my reading what people wrote about her, and she said “no.” What a delight to read such nice things about your daughter. As I was reading, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be great if there were some adult ritual that took place every few years where your friends could write nice things about you and wish you well in life?”
Then it struck me. One of the things I really appreciate at annual conference is that we gather to see and hug friends who are glad to see us, who ask us how we are, and who wish us well in the coming year - - - kind of like signing a year book. I am already looking forward to next year’s conference.

With Faith and With Feathers,