Friday, December 10, 2010

On Judgement


It seems to me that I have a new gauge for myself.  It’s unfortunate, but it still runs through my mind.  
I have written volumes on “Legalism,” and I don’t think anyone that’s a regular reader will be surprised by me saying that I hate it.  It goes against all things ‘love’. There is no grace, there is no mercy, there is no forgiveness, and all things judgement when we fall into the realm of legalism.  But enough about that, and onto the topic at gauge.
Recently I’ve been working a job with men and women that would probably be considered rough around the edges.  Just to give you an idea of my job; most use the F-word as a noun, adjective, and verb...some all in the same sentence.  No joke is funny unless it’s either racist, sexist, or both.  Most smoke like a chimney.  And our annual Christmas party consists of an open bar and karaoke with many poor renditions of ‘Friends in Low Places’.  But I love these guys and gals.  It makes me happy to see these people make light of a dirty, hard job.  It’s not easy to tear down a burnt, four wheel drive John Deere in under a week.  But the man that can and still end the week with a smile on their face (even if he’s smiling because of the last off-color joke just said) and still punch in on time Monday morning is more a man than most.  It takes a lot of commitment and humility to work at a place like Ag Parts.  It’s not a pretty job, it’s not a clean job, there’s no parade or ceremony if we make budget, but these guys have worked hard for more years than most, and can go home and enjoy their families.  This is what I like.  These people I don’t feel judged by, these people I’d call on a weekend to hang out with.
Now the gauge.
This past weekend my roommate from college and close friend, Garrett, held his bachelor party.  Seven of us were in attendance.  We visited the Leinenkugel’s Brewery in Chippewa Falls, WI.  It was a great time.  Last year Garrett, two other friends, and I toured the Schell’s Brewery in New Ulm, MN.  It’s become a good reason for us to spend a weekend together in brotherhood and learn a little bit more about something we  Many times through college we’d have our beer and Bible study nights drinking our favorite brews while engaging in study and Christian fellowship.  Basically it was what kept us accountable through our massive hormonal and maturing process that takes place in college.
This last weekend was a great weekend.  We caught up on what was happening in each other’s lives.  We spent long hours talking through different things we were worried about, struggling with, and anything in between.  We did this of course while drinking nice brews, sipping fine whiskeys and enjoying some great cigars.  All the while we were growing deeper in what I would consider Christian brotherhood.  And here’s where the gauge falls in.  The whole time I was wondering, “Is this what I got fired at the church for?” or, “The church would fire me for sure if they knew I was doing this,” and the most frequent thought was, “If they knew about this, for sure they wouldn’t think of me as a Christian.”
My question is: in our world of progressive Christianity, Christian conservatism, and general immorality throughout, why do we still feel it necessary to judge others?  Now I’m no saint in this either.  I’ll be honest, there are times where I’ll hear about someone, see how someone’s dressed, or just a general first impression that basically amounts to me looking for the speck in their eye.  And this isn’t a rare occurrence either. Maybe some of you saints will think me a dirty sinner, but that’s kind of been par for the course.  Maybe we’re just preprogrammed to think of ourselves better than others? Or maybe we see ourselves as sacrificing so much for the church and therefore when we think of somebody that may not be as holy as us, we look down upon them?  Or maybe it’s just a big barrel of hog wash and we should get over ourselves.  We’ll tell the world that our lives should revolve around Christ.  So why do we still think that everyone needs to live up to our standards?  Why do we still compare ourselves to everyone?  Do we not truly believe it when we talk about living sacrifices and the continual pursuit of righteousness?  Or maybe we believe too much that righteousness is a destination and not the journey that it actually is.  If righteousness were a destination in this world, then we’d have those that have achieved it and those that haven’t, and either/or situation.  If this were the case, then there would definitely be a place in this world for judgement.  But if this were the case, it’d just boil down to our silly illegal immigration debate that we seem to never get through in our country.  
So what’s the answer?  We need to truly look at ourselves, judge ourselves properly first.  Do exactly what Christ did with the men who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery.  Those that are blameless, cast the first stone.  If you’re not blameless, drop your stone and come join the rest of us.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thus ends the drought...

It's been weeks, and darn near three months.  But today, I end my writing drought. 

First off, a couple updates on me personally.

The past three months have been busy.  I was hired back at Worthington Ag Parts at the beginning of September, right at the beginning of harvest season.  Therefore it was a two month sprinted marathon at the store.  The weeks were full of long days, short nights, and a lot of Ibuprofen.  The last month has been spent doing various inventory stuff.  Not quite as tiring, but it still wears on a guy.  Now there's white stuff on the ground which dictates many layers.  This is honestly the first time I've ever worn Long Johns in the winter time.  Hooray for new experiences!

Now, I understand a lot of you, if you're still out there, may be thinking, "I bet he's miserable, is he going to go back into ministry, what's this have to do with spirituality/ministry/youth/life/etc.?" Well, actually, it has everything to do with all of those things.  Over the past three months God has slowly been patching the wounds left by the fallout of my previous position.  Sure there are times when memories of those two months swell up and I feel overwhelmed with negative feelings.  But those times are fewer and further between.  I never knew how hard true forgiveness would be.  I always use to think that people should just buck up and get over it.  But I didn't really know what it was like to be scarred in the very place you hold dear.  I hold my faith and my relationship with Christ at the very core of my heart.  What I was told by a parent were things like, "We need a man of God, and you're not it," and, "You ruined our youth," and, "You are obviously not cut out for ministry," and, "You're using our kids to make yourself look better," and, "You obviously have no idea what you're doing," and, "You have made this youth program all about you," I was obviously wounded. (And this was all in one phone call which defined Proverbs 29:20 and 22 to a T.)  These are the worst scars I have to overcome.  But God turns all things for good, right?  So what do I have to worry about?

Now, on to the ministry question.  Currently, Corrine and I are still "shopping".  I know I've written many times on confronting conflict within a church instead of just leaving for another church.  But in this extreme case, it seems a must to find our church community elsewhere.  Wherever we land, I assure you we will look for ways to contribute to the community instead of just being seat warmers. 

One of the churches that we're looking into, Journey, seems pretty promising.  It's a far cry from the place where we were.  Journey holds their worship service in a local coffee shop, BenLee's (by the way, if you're ever in town, stop and get a Mocha...wonderful!).  Journey has a very informal, fellowship focused service.  It seems that their focus is not so much in the preaching and teaching from the pulpit, but rather through interaction and community outreach.  Corrine and I are going to meet with the pastor sometime in the next couple weeks to talk more on the mission of Journey.

There are a couple other places we're going to check out.  But since churches only have a weekly services, it takes time to actually check them out.  Hopefully by mid-January we'll know where we'll be going.

Now, since this is where Corrine and I are at, as far as finding a church goes, it's going to be some time before I can get back into ministry.  And even when I do, it will almost assuredly not be professional ministry.  And honestly, I dont' know if that's such a bad thing.  Here's why.  Before I got the job at First UMC here in Worthington, I was working at Ag Parts and volunteering with another local youth group.  The connections made with the youth and Corrine and I were amazing.  It was awe-inspiring watching God work.  We still have close relationships with a lot of the youth (now college students).  When I started at FUMC, there was a noticeable shift in how the new youth responded to me.  At first I thought it was just that they were new kids and new relationships had to be formed.  But as time progressed, I noticed that it was something more than that.  It was more like there was an expectation for me to build these relationships, and as such, they were more willing to keep their distance.  It was harder and harder to build authentic relationship since building relationships was my job.  Whether it was blatant or not, the youth didn't respond.  If I look back on my ministry as a volunteer, there was no expectation of a guy working at a tractor salvage to have any interest in the lives of youth.  They saw this, and therefore relational barriers fell earlier.  It seemed that at FUMC, the very fact that my job title was Youth Director sabotaged my ministry. 

So will I go back into full time ministry?  Maybe...someday...who knows?  Not right now though.  If I can be more effective and not be a "minister", then I think that's the route to take.  As far as working at the tractor salvage goes, I'm loving it.  I like the work, I like the camaraderie with the co-workers, I like being outside and not trapped indoors for 40 hours a week.  The pay could be better, but that's what raises are for.

As for me: I am Kyle, I am a youth minister, and I work at Worthington Ag Parts.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Just an update

Sorry I haven't had anything to post in the last month.  It's not that there's been any lack of writing.  Just a lack of good writing with good points.  Mostly just rants about trivial items that no one would find interesting.

So here's the update:

Back in June I upset a parent from my church.  Well, as per the request of my church board, I have resigned as of August 31.  It's been an ugly past couple of months, but God is still on the move.  I just finished two weeks of uber-stress trying to find a new job, any job, that will pay the bills.  For the next couple months I will be working with a friend laying dranage tile in some fields in SE South Dakota and SW Minnesota. 

I do believe that God has set this time aside for me and my wife to heal from the events of the last couple months.  That healing being both emotional and spiritual.  I've never had someone out to get me like this and without close friends and family with good advice and mentoring, I don't think I'd know where to start. 

Up until the board asked for my resignation, I thought forgiveness was simple.  I could not understand people that held life long grudges against people over one simple event in their lifetimes.  I don't think I've ever really known true anger and hate up until now either.  Let me tell you, these are scary emotions to deal with.  And forgiveness is turning out to be one obstacle that I will be focusing on in the coming months.  I do think that I will be able to come to a place of forgiveness, but the only way I will is through time spent with my Savior. 

I will write more on my journey to forgiveness over the next couple months.  Who knows, maybe I'll write so much on the subject that you'll get bored with it. One thing I do know is that forgiveness is my goal, and as a goal it is yet to be acheived.  Pray for me and my family and close friends that have been in the thick of the muck we call "Anger", the mire we call "Hate", and the ashes we call "Division".


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Chapter 5 - Studying the Bible

I’ve always shied away from the term devotions.  I’m the one that gets uncomfortable when people talk about their devotional life and how God’s been uncovering massive, life-changing things through their 16-hour morning bible study marathons.  I’ve always felt like a failure when people say things like, “I’ve been struggling with my morning devos.  I missed two days this week!”  All the while I’m thinking if you have to have your devotions in the morning and every day, then I’m a total failure.  I’ve never felt quite up to snuff when comparing myself to my best friend Brian.  His Bible is always worn out and full of highlights.  He reads his Bible so much, pages are falling out.  Just the sight of his rugged, falling apart Bible is enough to remind me how little I measure up to his devotional life. 
                I became a Christian in high school.  Sure I attended Sunday School, church, and even the prayer meetings my pastor would hold with us.  The times that I would read my Bible I was usually left confused and not fully understanding what the passages really meant.  I mean sure passages like “Love your neighbor” were easy.  But then when you get to when Paul is talking about being able to do “All things through Christ…” what does the world “all” entail?
                I remember one time when I was a senior in high school I was leading the Junior High Sunday School class.  Being the “Real” Christian and one of elevated biblical knowledge, I decided to let the class decide which passage they wanted to talk about.  I had convinced myself that any passage could be fully understood by what’s in the text.  I said, “Pick any verse that you want to talk about, and we’ll discuss it.”  One of the class members jumped at the opportunity.  “Ok.”  He flipped his Bible open to one of the books of Kings and blindly pointed at a verse like he was picking who to prank call in a phone book.  Here’s how it went down.
                “Kings?” I don’t know anything about Kings.  I don’t think I’ve ever even read anything from the books of Kings.  Well, we’ll see how it goes.                 
                 Student, “Yep, you said anything!”
                “Ok, we’ll let’s look at it.” 
Oh thank God it’s just talking about genealogy.  This will be easier.  “Well, right here it’s just talking about the different Kings during this time in the Bible.  There’s not a real big lesson in here to speak of but follow God’s commands.  Ok, how about this, let’s flip to Philippians 4:13.  This is a verse that’s really helped me through different things.”  Good save Kyle.  Now I’ve read Philippians like a thousand times, it’s going to be easy to build a lesson around this verse.  It’s so easy to understand and the lesson is right there on the top!  “Ok, the text says, ‘I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.’  As you can see, this is Paul telling us that if we depend on Jesus, he’ll allow us to make it through everything.  We’ll be able to do all things.”
                Student, “ALL things?”
                “Yep, all things.”
                “You’re telling me that if I believe in Jesus, I’ll be able to fly?”
I’ve never thought of that.  If I believe in Jesus, can I fly?  Well, I believe in Jesus but I’ve not been able to fly yet.  Maybe it’s just a matter of faith.  Maybe if I have more faith, then I’d be able to fly.  But now I’m stuck and the room’s silent.  They’re looking to me for an answer that I don’t have.  Let’s see if the answer is here in the text or the study notes…hmm…nope, it just says ‘all’.  Well, they need an answer and I don’t want to question the scripture’s authority or the truth therein.  So here goes.
“Well…I guess if you believe in Jesus enough, you’ll be able to.  The scriptures say ‘all’, so I’m assuming ‘all’ means all things.”
                That’s right.  I told a student that if he believed in Jesus enough, that he’d be able to fly!  Needless to say the student didn’t really buy it.  I didn’t really buy it.  But in the name of preserving the inerrancy of the scriptures I had to answer the way I did.  I don’t really believe that we can fly if we believe enough.  It’s just my view of scripture and my failure in looking at any sort of context led me to that belief.  Maybe that’s why many Christians and non-Christians think that Paul hates women.  Or the same reason that many churches think drinking and smoking are sins, or the reason the same was believed about dancing and playing cards.  Maybe all these legalistic claims of sin are just a broad misinterpretation from poorly informed church leaders…well, wouldn’t that be unfortunate.  The result might be a liberal use of the word ‘heathen’ or a broad condemnation of a people group that’s already marginalized in our American society.  Nothing screams ‘love’ like ‘HEATHEN!’ or ‘SINNERS!’ or ‘YOU’RE GOING TO HELL!’  Hmm…I’m feeling more warm and fuzzy as we speak.
                After this Sunday School experience I felt skeptical about what I actually knew about the Bible.  Then I went off to Northwestern College in St. Paul.  Surely I was going to find a unity of thought and spirit at a Christian College.  There were a bunch of Christians that went to the school.  I even had to discuss my testimony on the application.  You can’t fake a testimony.
                Brian and I arrived at NWC the same day.  We were able to room together with another guy from Illinois.  Brian and I were convinced that our roommate was going to be black.  First, his last name was Watts.  Second, when Brian talked to him on the phone, he had an ‘urban’ sound to his voice.  And finally, and this was the kicker, he was from Illinois, which had Chicago, which had an exponentially higher African American population than Southwestern Minnesota. 
                So Brian and I were at the dorm room first.  We moved all of our stuff into the room and claimed the bunk beds.  Brian got top bunk, which I wasn’t too upset about.  We were all prepared for Sam to come and make bestest friends with our new, African American roommate.  So we were a little shocked when Sam walked in and he was as blazing white as the snow in the middle of January!  He didn’t even have a tan, he had blonde hair, AND he was from a town in Illinois that was even more rural than Southwest MN.  So there went Brian and my hopes of entering into diversity.
                At NWC I learned a few things about Bible study and prayer.  They can become stale.  Really stale.  When my first fall semester began, I was excited about the opportunity to go deeper in the Bible.  I made a point to attend our hall’s weekly bible study.  It was fun, but I didn’t know anybody there and felt out of place and so my attendance became irregular.  Then when my Old Testament class began I stopped going all together. 
                In my Old Testament class we’d talk about the history behind the books, the meaning underneath the text, and different ways we can interpret different passages.  To say the least, the scriptures became an intricate ball of string that couldn’t be undone within the confines of a semester.  I remember thinking that it was a never ending puzzle of ancient history.  And if it had this much depth and confusion within it, how can we think we can gain any sort of understanding within the confines of a half hour in my RA’s dorm room?  I thought my RA was vastly under qualified to be teaching anything from the Bible.  But even though I had a class where reading the Bible was a homework assignment, I still couldn’t bring myself to sit and read it.
                It was a week before Final’s Week and I had a lot of reading to catch up on.  Sure there was only one question to answer on the final regarding your reading, “What percentage of the OT have you read?”  And it would have been really easy to just forget about reading the whole thing and mark 100% down on the final.  But I had my integrity to think about.  Is an extra few points on the final worth lying for?  Could I look the professor in the eye afterwards?  He’d know, and even if he didn’t, I’d know.  So I had about ten days to read three fourths of the Old Testament so I could hold together my personal integrity.  It’s lucky I didn’t have a whole lot of other homework, otherwise I would have never gotten through it.  But I read, and read, and read.  I’d sit on our couch with my Bible, which was a NASB and not easy to read, and plow through it.  I’d wake up in the morning and read.  I’d eat lunch and read.  I’d come home after class and read.  I’d read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open at night.  And then, two days before the final, I finally finished it.  I read every last word in that testament.  I read through Numbers, through Psalms, even through all of the Minor Prophets. 
I went to take my final and was able to write, ‘100%’ down on my test.  But something didn’t feel right.  I should have been able to proudly write my accomplishment down.  It should have been a crowning achievement to acknowledge that I had completed that work.  But something wasn’t right.  It might have been that as I looked around the lecture hall I knew that there were probably any number of students that would lie about their reading, probably just like they more than likely lied about their testimony on their college application.  Or it might have been that I had let the reading drag and was embarrassed that I had to catch up so much at the end of the semester.  But what I think the biggest reason is that even though I had read every single verse in the Old Testament, I didn’t recall any of it.  I couldn’t tell you anything about the book of Job, or what the Psalmists were writing about, or what any of the prophets had done.  I had spent the better part of two weeks pushing through the Old Testament and even though I had read the words, I didn’t read the scriptures.  This was the first time that I had realized that simply reading your Bible isn’t good enough.
When I realized that my reading of the Bible was futile, and that it took a deeper, more in-depth approach to learning what it said, I lost heart for it.  Not to say that I renounced my Christian beliefs.  Far from it.  But I stopped reading the Bible altogether.  Sure I’d read it if I had to for class, and I read all sorts of books about the bible through my various classes.  But as far as searching out meaning within the scriptures goes, I was done.  That is, until Racine.
After my second year at NWC, I decided that I should probably get a job at a summer camp.  Corrine and I were pretty steady at that time and I didn’t want to be far from her for the summer, so I settled on Camp Shetek only about a half hour from her place.
Camp Shetek is a small Lutheran camp that sits on an island linked to the mainland by a series of dikes.  I had a lot of friends that went there while I was growing up.  I was Methodist, so I couldn’t go.  But I’d heard many good things about Shetek and thought it’d be a good source of summer fun and income.  I was hired that May and arrived for the most life-changing summer that I’ve had apart from the summer I got married and the summer that I had my first child.  This summer would change my motivation for everything.
Life at Shetek was a blast.  There were a bunch of people that worked there that were attending Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD.  So many of them knew each other.  I had convinced Sam to come work at Shetek also, so I wasn’t flying solo.  It was easy to make friends at Shetek.  The camp director, Chad, was also a big movie buff, so that also helped. 
The summer started.  The kids flooded in and organized chaos ensued.  It was a very spiritual time for me.  This was the first time that I’d been in full time ministry.  Sure I had volunteered at my church and helped with various youth groups.  But this was the first time that I was, as a counselor, in charge of the spiritual formation of young kids.  It was a pretty daunting task when you think of it.  You have one week to befriend, relate to, and then nurture this child’s faith.  And then at the end of the week, you get to do it all over again.  It was fun, but it definitely went by at lightning speed.
For one week of camp, I was chosen to help lead one of the mission trips out to Racine, WI.  Two other counselors and I took fifteen youth out for a week of working with the Lighthouse ministry in Racine.  It was an inner-city mission organization that was centered in the very worst of the city.  It was the first time that I’d done any sort of urban mission trip.  I had gone to Crow Creek, SD for a week.  But Crow Creek is far from urban.
What we experienced in Racine was life changing.  One of the aspects of the Lighthouse ministry was to help rebuild a historical building that had been abandoned and subsequently purchased for pennies.  I know it seems weird, but in this particular part of Racine, there is nothing for the people to take any community pride in.  Here was a building that was on the verge of being demolished.  Years prior, Pastor Ron had come in and decided that rebuilding this place would provide a sense of community pride.  And on the plus side, it would be used as a community center and also housed his ministry called Wrap Kidz.
Wrap Kidz was a summer afternoon program for kids in first through fifth grade.  Pastor Ron’s intent was to educate the kids of the community and show them that there was a different way to life than just drugs and gangs.  Many of the kids lived in various drug houses in the community.  Pastor Ron could walk down the street and point out the different houses that were being used to sell drugs.  On one block there were three or four in a row!  To say the least, this was a community that was far from my rural, middle-class upbringing. 
At the house, we’d work all morning doing various tasks around the building.  Sometimes pounding nails out of boards, sometimes sweeping and mopping.  There was a wall that had to come down that our team was able to take out.  Then in the afternoons we’d split up in groups and canvas the community picking up kids.  The community wasn’t safe enough for the kids to walk to the Lighthouse on their own, but we were never messed with in our groups.  When asked about if we’d be questioned, Pastor Ron replied, “If you announce you’re from Wrap Kidz, you’ll be fine.  Wrap Kidz is respected in the neighborhood.  The people can see the good it’s doing and if anyone tries to mess with you, you’ll have many angry relatives flood the streets to protect you.”  On one occasion, Pastor Ron told us that after him and his wife had been working in the community for a year, someone had vandalized his car.  He didn’t have the money to fix it, but when the community caught wind of what had happened, the neighborhood came together to root out the vandal and forced them to pay for the repairs.
Now you may be asking yourself, what does this have to do with studying the Bible?  Well, up until this time, my faith had never been stretched.  I had a nice little faith that kept me safe and made me feel good.  I did the right things, said the right things, and went to church on Sunday.  I didn’t have any money to give to the church, so I helped out where I could.  But up until now, my faith had been very convenient.  Up until now, ‘sacrifice’ was a word I would have used to describe giving up pop for Lent, ‘gospel’ was a word I used to describe the four books in the Bible, and ‘faith’ was a word I thought could maybe give you the power of flight.  Not until this week in Racine did I realize that Sacrifice, Gospel, and Faith were words to be lived out in life.  Like I said, up until this week my faith was convenient.  But after this week I would come to realize that our faith cannot be convenient.  A convenient faith is no faith at all.  A faith that doesn’t lead you to hard conversations, short funds, and an appreciation for the simple things in life like shelter, food, and sanctuary, that faith is no faith at all.  That faith is holding up words in a book as idols.  A faith that leads you into the hell of this world is a living faith.  The gospel that begs to be brought into the living hell of a teenage girl that is contemplating suicide, that’s a living gospel.  The sacrifice of all things convenient, all things ‘success’, that’s a living sacrifice. 
Before my week in Racine, sacrifice, faith, and the gospel were all things that I could learn in a book.  And I’m a pretty good student, so I thought I was doing alright.  But if we boil our faith down to book work, then it’s no faith at all.  Before my week in Racine, James 2 was a nice concept, but I hadn’t seen it lived out.  But working with Pastor Ron and the Lighthouse ministry taught me that the concepts that many people with many degrees that have written exhaustively over the years, cannot be understood until they’re put into practice.  Studying the Bible makes no sense unless you’re living out the messages contained within the pages.  It’s not ancient history, it’s not a compilation of fairy tales.  It’s a book that rich with life changing stories and themes.  Can we fully understand the love and romance written about in Song of Solomon if we fail to engage in love and romance in our lives?  Can we fully understand the betrayal of Adam and Eve if we don’t relate it to a time when we were betrayed?  Can we fully understand the faith that is written about in Hebrews if we refuse to have the same faith?
Have you ever wondered what it means when someone says that the scriptures are alive today?  Nothing has changed since the time of Abraham, David, or even Jesus.  Suffering is still suffering.  Pain is still pain.  But thankfully, love is still love, compassion is still compassion, and faith is still faith.  Never before have I believed more fully in James 2:
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.James 2:14-18 (NIV)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Chapter 4 – Becoming a Man

I have two brothers.  One two years older than I and one six years younger.  On my dad’s side of the family I have four cousins, three male and one female.  One my mother’s side I have 7 cousins with only two being female and the rest male.  My dad has one sister and my mom has one sister.  So as you can see the Y-chromosome is strong in my family.  So to say that there’s a bit of testosterone floating around family get-togethers is an understatement.  At family reunions there have been things such as arm wrestling tournaments, regular wrestling matches, foot races, and of course many, many hands of cards played.  I even remember a top spinning contest at one family reunion.  Tops…you know, the gentile version of the dradel. 
                I grew up playing all sorts of sports.  Baseball, basketball, football, golf, racquetball, whatever.  Basically if there was a ball involved and played by men, I played it.  I never got into soccer.  My town was a farming town after all, and we didn’t want our football to be mistaken by that poser of a game called futbol.  I was never really good at any of these sports.  Sure I played, and started on the varsity football team in high school.  But I never really felt like I was an athlete.  I had way more fun in the school plays and pep band.  Oh, pep band was amazing!  I am a drummer.  As drummers in pep band, our goal was to blast the competition out with our awesome drum beats.  As if we could beat the opponent into submission through the rhythmic beatings of the “Hey Song” or “Centerfold”.  You got that visiting team?  Fear our drums of war.  If we allow you to leave our gladiators’ ring, you’ll be bleeding from the ears.  Cower below us…na-na na-na na-na na-na…HEY!

                I was also a young cub scout.  I started out as a Tiger Cub and made it all the way to Wolf Scout before everybody else had too much going on to lead our pack.  I had a lot of fun being a Cub Scout.  We’d get to play with cool things like our Swiss Army knives, learn to tie cool knots, and of course build cool fires in either the cabin or tee-pee form.  When I first became a Tiger Cub, my grandpa Galle challenged me.  He said, “Kyle, if you stay in scouts and make it all the way to being an Eagle Scout, I’ll give you $100.”  One hundred dollars?  Are you kidding me?  I was 7 years old and the prospect of a hundred dollar bill was enough to keep me in the pack.  If I could earn those hundred dollars I’d be set for life.  Who gets one hundred dollars?  A rich person, that’s who, and that’s what motivated me to be a scout.  Until I got to the backwards roll.  Part of progressing through scouts is being physically fit.  Well I was a big kid.  I’m still big.  But then, my Achilles heel was the backwards roll.  I remember spending full evenings trying to roll backwards.  I could go forward, do a cartwheel, even a head stand.  But the backward roll was too much.  I’d stand in our living room; start rolling backwards and then BAM!  I’d hit the back of my head on the floor.  I guess I was anticipating the roll to come naturally, that if I could get enough momentum moving backwards, I’d just roll over.  What I failed to realize, and others failed to tell me, is that I had to keep my knees tucked and bring my legs over myself.  Many, many failed rolls, headaches, and probably a concussion or two, I finally rolled backwards.  I did it, twice and earned the achievement.  Later that year the pack folded due to lack of leadership. 

                I always enjoyed fishing and hunting.  Hunting not as much as fishing, but I still enjoyed it.  I like the idea of carrying a gun around the wilderness and shooting animals to eat for supper.  I didn’t like all the walking through tall grass that it usually entailed.  But I still really liked it.  I liked the time spent with my dad and brothers.  I like duck hunting the best.  I think this stems from one of the first times I went duck hunting with my dad and older brother.  It was somewhat of a wet year and all the wetlands close to town were full of ducks.  We were able to sneak up on a small flock of ducks in the pot-holes.  For about a half hour there were ducks flying, guns shooting, and hoots and hollering.  We weren’t able to stay out as long as we wanted, but it was a good hunt.  In fact, even though we shot as much as we did, we didn’t connect as much as we should have.  We each only brought home one duck.  JJ’s was the biggest, and my dad’s had had its head severed somehow.  But it was a good hunt either way. 
                I enjoy fishing even more.  My dad used to take us fishing quite a bit.  When we would take family vacations, we’d always bring the boat and all the fishing gear.  I remember one trip to a Minnesota State Park by Mille Lacs.  The week before, Brian and I had gone out to a local small lake to try our hand at fishing.  My dad had given me permission to take his tackle box.  His tackle box may as well have been filled with gold, and his putting it in my trust was a huge step of faith on his part.  Well, when my family got up to the campground, almost the first thing we did was get the boat in the water.  Before we could launch the boat, we always did a check to make sure all the fishing gear was in place.  Fishing poles…check.  Life jackets…check.  Tackle box…  Uh-oh.  I soon found myself being questioned by my dad about where his tackle box was.  In all the years that I’ve known my dad, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him more disappointed in me than that moment. 
                “Kyle, where’s my tackle box?  Did you put it back in the boat?”
                “I thought I did…I don’t know where it is.”
I very quickly hid under a rock as waves of sadness and disappointment flooded through me.  I had let my dad down.  Luckily his tackle box had been packed in the Suburban instead of in the boat.  So I was off the hook.  Even through this though, we still had a lot of fun fishing.  We’d have fishing tournaments at family reunions; I’d go ice fishing with Brian and his brothers during the school year.  Imagine my joy when my parents decided to move to Northern Minnesota where the lakes are clear and stuffed at the brim with walleyes. 
My dad and I have had many adventures fishing.   There was one time when my dad and I were taking my younger brother and two younger cousins fishing on Lake of the Woods.  We launched the boat and got halfway out to the spot my dad was planning on fishing when the steering cable broke on the boat.  I remember my dad stopping the boat and saying, “Well, we’re halfway to where we’re going.  The steering cable has broken.  Do we keep going or do we turn around and call the day a bust?”  Of course we all voted to continue on.  I held the motor straight while my dad was slow on the throttle.  We made it out to our spot and had a great day fishing.  On the way back we were able to wedge an oar alongside the motor as a tiller and made and easier way back to shore.
There was also the time that my dad and I spent 8 hours on the lake without being able to coax a nibble on the line.  The day was dry and calm.  We tried a half a dozen different areas of the lake.  We’d drift, we anchored and used bobbers, we’d bottom bounce, we’d cast, we did everything to seduce the fish into biting our lines.  I think my dad missed one hit.  Otherwise there was nothing all day.  It was coming up close to supper time and we decided to make one last pass over the reef before calling it a day.  Right as we were going over the rockiest part of the reef my line snagged.  Great, not only have we not caught any fish, but now I’m more than likely going to lose my lure and leader too. 
“Hey Dad, I’m snagged, turn the boat around.”
                “You’re snagged? Ok, let me get my line in…”
All of a sudden my line runs and my reel starts zipping like I’ve never heard.
                “Holy…uh Dad, I’m not snagged…I got a whale on here!”
                “I’m not snagged!  Either that rock grew fins or I’ve got a hog of a fish on the line.”
                As I was reeling my line in, and while my dad was trying to figure out whether he should cast his line again or grab the net, the fish surfaced.  Now if you know anything about fishing, you know that you never want a fish to surface.  Fish will surface and jump to try and get slack in the line and thus throw the hook loose.  Well, this fish didn’t surface like any I’d seen before.  This fish poked his nose up above the water, and then the rest of his head, like a massive whale would do to take a breath.  My jaw dropped, my dad said something like, “Holy shit!”  Well, eventually I was able to get the leviathan up to the boat.  My dad made a comment about how he wasn’t sure his net was big enough, but we were able to wrangle the monster into the boat.  The Northern Pike measured out at 41 inches and just less than 20 lbs.  That whole day of boring suffering on the lake proved to be well worth it in the end.  I think I won a $20 gas card at a local gas station because of that honker.
                One of my best friends is a mixed martial artist.  I’ll admit, I’ve never been a fighter and the closest I’ve ever been to actually being in a fight is when JJ and I would wrestle on the floor while watching the WWF’s Monday Night Raw.  It was all staged of course.  Both on the TV and in our living room.  But when my friend Nick started fighting I was kind of shocked.  It didn’t really surprise me, he’s always been the aggressive type, and he had the mentality.  But he’d never done any sort of wrestling or boxing of any sort.  When I heard he was fighting, I wondered how much his style would resemble that of the ancient and perfected Bar Room Brawl style made popular in small rural municipal bars.
                Nick turned out to be a pretty good fighter.  He went undefeated in his first few fights.  With each win I could sense myself becoming more and more interested in the sport.  Nick even gave me a heavy bag bought some gloves for my basement.  Corrine had informed me that I’d never be allowed in a ring, but I told her it was for the exercise. 
                Every month or so we’d get the UFC pay-per view and cheer for our favorite fighters.  When Nick’s favorite fighter won the title, Nick tore of his shirt and went running down his apartment building hallway screaming.  I don’t think the rest of the building was as excited as he was since it was well past midnight.  With every fight we’d watch, we’d both get more and more into the fighting.  I never fought anyone, but I sure taught that heavy bag a thing or two.  I’d get done hitting the bag and be dripping with sweat feeling like a gladiator champion ready to be adorned with gold and jewels and a night with my gladiator wife.  Of course Corrine generally had other ideas.  I don’t think gladiators ever had to do the dishes or vacuum the living room.
                Nick was unstoppable in the octagon.  He’d train tirelessly.  He’d run for an hour on his treadmill, go through a full boxing workout and then hop right back on the treadmill.  He’d only eat healthy food and dropped enough weight to be in a lower weight class.  He’d work on his grappling with his twin brother.  He was invincible…until he met a guy named Storm.
                On one fine fight night, Nick had drawn a guy in his weight class.  As would usually happen, Nick was able to get the guy in a hold in the first round and won without even touching the guy.  Nick was a bit bummed even though he won.  He wanted to lay that perfect punch, get that Rocky knockout that had been so elusive.  He wanted to feel challenged.  Enter Storm Soto. 
                Storm Soto was a big guy.  Storm fought in the heavy weight division.  He was in the area playing football for the local college.  I think he was a fullback or something.  Well, at age 21 Storm Soto was the defending amateur heavyweight boxing champ in his hometown.  The two problems that Nick ran into were: one, Storm’s hometown wasn’t anywhere close; and two, Nick didn’t know any of this.
                 After Nick got out of the hospital with a concussion and a broken toe, he decided to rethink fighting.  He figured out that he’s not invincible, and also that a night in a local hospital can be a little more than one thinks.  Being KO’d in the first round by a guy that bigger and scarier than you can really bring things into question.  Things like: should I be fighting? Should I fight this guy?  Do I have to fight?  How can I best improve my fighting in light of this KO?  Are my motivations and mindset really what they should be going into the fight?  And of course, did someone open a window?  Because there’s been these birdies swooping my head since I woke up.
                All of these things have made me feel like a man.  They’ve made me feel macho and in charge.  Who doesn’t like hearing a good fishing story?  But none of them have affirmed my masculinity.  None of them have left me reassured that yes, I’m a man.  There’s only one time that I’ve known that I’ve arrived at manhood.  It was at our rehearsal dinner for Corrine and my wedding.  As is customary, we ate, and then were handing out gifts to those that are closest to us.  We made our way through our siblings and close friends and then saved the parents for last. 
                Corrine and I are both some of the lucky few that have had great examples of parental love.  Both sets of our parents are still married and desperately in love with each other.  We didn’t have to deal with the hardship of loss and separation that so many young people have to deal with as their parents fight and eventually separate.  Sure we saw our parents have the occasional dispute, but in the end they always made up. 
                Corrine and I wanted to make sure that our parents knew just how much we appreciated and envied our parents’ devotion to each other.  We explained that they have been huge influences and models for how we want to be when our kids get married and move out.  We thanked them for the true example of loving one another.  We thanked them for all the support through school and our upbringing.  We thanked them for being everything that we wanted to be as a married couple.
                The tears were flowing from our parents and Corrine.  I was able to hold it down.  I have only seen my dad cry on a few occasions.  The instances when I’ve seen him cry have been during moments of extreme pride and happiness, like during our graduations and weddings.  He’s not a blubbering fool, don’t get me wrong.  But when his emotions overtake him, he can clear a Kleenex box with the best of them.
                Now the moment that I knew I had made it to manhood wasn’t when my brother JJ and I were living on our own, paying our own bills, and earning a good wage.  It wasn’t even when I was engaged; it wasn’t when I completed college.  The moment I knew that I was a man was that moment at the rehearsal dinner.  After the tear-jerking speeches I went in to hug my mom, she squeezed me really hard.  Then I hugged my dad and he leaned in close and through tears whispered, “You’ve done it.  Thank you.”  It may seem a little inconsequential and petty.  But these few words had affirmed me as a man.  They meant, as simple as they may have been, that I was no longer a child.  It meant in no uncertain terms that I was a man, an adult, and most important that he was proud of me. 
                I feel blessed to have a father that is not only still with my mom, but is as involved and important in my life as my mom.  The distant-father brand of fatherhood never made sense to me.  I see those playing that part and wonder why they play it.  Is it because raising kids is, “Women’s work,” or is it because they don’t know if they’ve made it?  Are they distant because they’re not sure if they’re good enough?  Are they trying to teach their kids that Daddy is distant to keep their kids from finding out that Daddy is just as vulnerable as they are? 
                I’m not saying that manhood has to be given through marriage or even through having children.  But a man needs to find his masculinity.  It’s the core of who he is.  The problem is that he doesn’t know that he is a man unless he’s told by another man in a father-figure role.  I was lucky enough to have an involved father.  Many men aren’t as lucky as I am.  But I think that every man has, within himself, the wherewithal to be a man.  We were created to be a man, to be masculine but also to love endlessly.  To be able to scale large mountains, but also to appreciate the wild flowers along the way.  We were created to fight for the beauty, but also to love that beauty passionately, intimately, and unceasingly. 
                Manhood isn’t about climbing the bigger mountain; it’s about the mountain period.  It’s about overcoming adversity and fighting against injustice.  It’s about chivalry and all the good things we read in the old stories of the High King Peter, Beowulf, and Aragorn.  It’s about fighting for your family, loving them endlessly, and rejoicing in making memories.  It’s about loving your God, loving your woman, and loving your children.  Anything short of this is not manhood; it’s just some silly old guy on a horse’s back.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Inner Demons and Other Freaky Stuff

Service is heavy on my heart these days.  Just today I read an article in Relevant magazine that talked about the continuing struggles in Haiti, their needs, the church’s role in the matter, and the continued perseverance of a population that has dealt with hardship and despair throughout the last 300 years.  (You can read the article HERE.  It’s long, so print it off if you have to)

I also started reading Richard Stearns’ book, The Hole in our Gospel.  Stearns is the president of World Vision and so far in the book has talked about his coming into his current position and how as the American church, we miss the idea of reaching out.  He discussed the idea in the Lord’s Prayer of, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.

Couple that with two books that I’ve just ordered, The Wisdom of Stability and AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church.  Both books deal with being a Christian to the fullest extent of the word within you current community. 

So to say the least, service is heavy on my mind. 

But then enters the conflict: Are you even qualified to attempt what you’re thinking?  Do you think that you have what it takes to actually be the person that you want to be?

At the end of June I took my youth group to Thunder Bay, ON for a mission trip.  It was a great trip, we accomplished a lot.  Like each summer missions trip I take the youth on, I saw growth and determination in their character.  I saw great things that we were doing for the community of Thunder Bay. 

On the way home from Thunder Bay, we were going through Duluth, MN.  I have a close friend that is a piercer, and I decided it was time to get my lobes pierced.  It was something that I’ve wanted to do since my friend and I were roommates in college.  Well, long story short we had to do it in his house…which was the straw that broke the pony’s back.  You see, in my weariness and exhaustion of the previous week (and really previous three months of a full schedule) I let my guard down, my character down and my responsibilities down. 

The parents of some of the youth didn’t think this was something that I should have done, and spared no words in describing their anger and disapproval.  For the past three weeks, I’ve been doing nothing but spewing humble apologies and words of regret.  With each conversation I have with a parent about the event,  I get to relive my weak moments of guilty selfishness that lead to a month of hot tempers, sleepless nights, and utter disappointment. 

Silently the voices start whispering more and more, “See?  You’re a failure!  You can’t lead a mission trip; you think that you’ll be able to minister to these kids?  They’ll see right through you!  You’re a joke, a liar, and a selfish piece of crap!”  The longer I dwell on the whispers and the more I relive the painful parent meetings and phone calls, the angrier I get.  The longer I let it go on, the more justified I feel.  It becomes an issue of me against them.  Do you know who wins in a fight between parents and a youth pastor?  The parents, each and every time.  The more hopeless I feel, the more helpless I become.  Because of pierced ears I start rethinking my entire call and career.  Do I really think that I can do this forever? 
I know I’m not the only one that has a moment of failure.  In fact, I don’t believe this little thing is going to be the last from me either.  But the question remains: why do some things hurt so badly?

I used to not be able to comprehend people that had lifelong disputes with friends and family.  Someone said something to their brother/sister/whatever 50 years ago and they still haven’t forgiven each other.  Chances are they don’t even remember who said what to make each other so mad at each other.  But yet here they are, divided.  And that’s why I think some things hurt so much.  They cause division.

Through this whole thing with the ears, there were times where I was considering resigning and moving on to something else.  What would this accomplish?  It would get me out of a lot of hurt feelings and hard conversations.  But for the furthering of the Kingdom of God, what would it accomplish?  Nothing.  It’d be a hindrance.  It’d be a division.  Where in the Bible is division an ordained plan?  It seems to me that almost exclusively Jesus talks about unity within the church and between each other.  It seems to me that he says “Love your neighbor” and not “Love your neighbor until they really piss you off, then move or stop talking to them.” 

The main theme of the Bible seems to be reconciliation.  Reconciliation between us and God.  It seems to be about us sinning and God paying for that sin so that we can be reunited.  If in the Greatest Commandments loving God entails reuniting and unifying ourselves with God, then wouldn’t loving your neighbor consist of reuniting and unifying ourselves with others?  And since these are the famed, “Greatest” Commandments, shouldn’t they be numbers one and two when it comes to how we live our lives?  I don’t read anywhere in there to “Love your God and Judge your Neighbor.”  I don’t read anywhere in there, “Say what you want and ask for forgiveness later.”  Or, “Judgment is acceptable under the guise of ‘I’m concerned for their souls!’”  Or maybe even worse, “I hate that people suffer and live in poverty, and I’d help fight it, but really I can’t fit it into my schedule.”

Now this isn’t me saying we all need to drop everything, move to Africa and care for orphans.  Some are called there.  Some are not.  This is me saying that in every area, there are people suffering.  It may be from outward abuses of poverty and hunger.  Or it may be from inward demons of depression, isolation, loneliness, abandonment.  This is me saying that we all suffer.  There’s nothing we can do about it, we started suffering when Adam and Eve ate the fruit.  We nailed a dividing stake between us and God by going against his perfect will for us in the Garden of Eden. 

But there is hope.  There is hope in the unifying love of Christ.  There is hope that comes through loving God and loving others.  There is hope through grabbing onto Christ’s tassels like the lady in Matthew 9.  There is hope that comes from Christ, through Christians that are concerned for others.  There is hope if when we decide to touch Christ’s cloak, fully embracing his redemptive and healing power through his love.  But then, from the feet of Jesus, living as a beacon to those still hurting, those still suffering.  We won’t achieve perfect unity this side of heaven.  But maybe, just maybe, if we work together, we can bring small slices of heaven to those that need it most, both down the street and around the world.

My 2¢

Friday, June 18, 2010

On Community

A little less than a year ago Corrine and I joined a bible study group.  A couple of our friends had an idea to start a small, in-home bible study group with us and a few other close friends of ours.  We thought it was a great idea.  We started our bi-weekly, child free, bible study shortly after. 

When we first started it was a bit awkward.  This is mostly because nobody really knew where we were going to start, what we were going to be studying, and how deep we were going to go.  So our first meeting was pretty much setting the foundational ground rules for our group.  We hummed and hawed about how we’d like it to be this or that, all surface level stuff.  Finally someone said, “I want this to be deep.  I’ve been in a lot of surface level bible studies that I get bored with.  I want this to be life changing.”

Why is it that we feel that we have to be over protective of ourselves?  And is this healthy?  Is it healthy to hide our emotions, our thoughts, our ambitions with others?  Is it healthy to hide our pain and fears from others?  I think to a certain level.  But I think we need to really rethink why we’re doing it.  We each have a past; we each have things that we feel guilty about, things that we’re embarrassed about.  But what is it that keeps us from sharing ourselves, and more so, what is this hiding keeping us from?

I transferred to Oak Hills halfway through my junior year.  Now transferring so late isn’t recommended.  It added another year onto my education, which meant more school loans.  When I transferred, Corrine and I were six months into what turned out to be a two year engagement.  It was very hard for me to enter into the community at Oak Hills.  I figured I’d be out of there soon enough, I didn’t have to try and make friendships that were going to dissipate after two years.

The first couple months were tough for me.  I had a dink as a roommate (who flunked out after only a month), everybody had their own cliques already, and I was the new guy.  I could see how everyone else was relating to each other.  My semester at BSU I had a dorm room all to myself and an Xbox, so I didn’t make any friends there.  I grew to be content with living alone, it was comfortable, I didn’t have to watch what I said or who I said it to.  I was the King of my domain, which was a 12’ x 12’ room across the hall from the bathrooms.  So when I moved out to Oak Hills, and they had different things set up to encourage community, I grew into a wall flower.  It was the loneliest I have ever felt.  Luckily one of the community building programs they have at Oak Hills is a small group program.  

Once a month during chapel time we’d split off into small groups.  The small groups had a wide variety.  There was trail hiking to playing Rook to poetry to cooking.  The small group I chose was the Men’s small group.  The OHCC Director of Men, John Weir, was leading a small group.  Some of the guys that I had started to befriend were joining this group, and like the tag-a-long I was, I went with them.  What I didn’t know is how this small group was going to change me. 

I attended the small group thinking it was going to be a bunch of guys burping, farting, talking sports and hunting, and maybe even tearing a wall down just to rebuild it again.  Well, I was wrong.  We met in John’s office on couches.  We’d talk about feelings, emotions, why we feel we have to be macho.  We’d talk about how we validate ourselves as men.  I was hit by a ton of bricks.  Never before had I entered into this sort of personal evaluation. 

I didn’t say as much as some of the other guys.  Both my parents were still married and loved each other.  My father was a huge part of my life and I didn’t have to deal with the idea of fatherlessness like some of the other guys.  When that semester ended, I walked away a new, contemplative and emotionally healthy man. 
I tell you this story because if it weren’t for the community that I lived in at Oak Hills, I don’t think I’d be the same today.  Community is set up to be life changing.  It’s set up to improve us, help us grow, and better us as people.  The question we need to ask ourselves is, do we feel that same community in church?  And if not, why not?  And the biggest question is how to we change the way we’re doing things to better improve our church community?  The answer is not to leave our church and find something different.  The answer lies within each of us; it’s the blessed spirit of unity that comes through the gospel.  That’s why the Bible talks so much about marriages between men and women, God and his people, Christ and the church, etc.  It’s the same reason that the Bible talks against division.  Christ calls us into unity as a community.  It’s through this community that we grow individually and change lives.  And if we don’t change lives, then we’re just another meeting on the calendar.  And that could be the furthest thing from Christ as anything.