Monday, June 25, 2012

Relaxation, Prairie Home Companion, and George MacDonald on Faith and Doubt

I am currently sitting in my bedroom on Monday morning very thankful that I do not have to get in an airplane or drive a long distance any time in the near future. My last two weeks in Boston, Seattle, and various parts of Minnesota have been good, but I have learned that I would make a terrible traveling salesman or anything that required frequent flights or hours of driving. I seem to have a knack for finding the seat nearest the crying baby, the neurotic teenager who talks from take off to landing, and the small lady who takes both arm rests and seems to expand like gas to the size of whatever container she is put in.  Anyway, today I will be reading, watching a Woody Allen documentary and The West Wing, going for a run, playing piano, doing a crossword puzzle or two, maybe taking a nap, and generally relaxing.

On Saturday, I made it back to Chicago just in time (seriously, I didn't even stop at my house - just went and picked up Matt and headed back North) to meet up with Matt and Elsa and the larger Wallgren family at Ravinia (an outdoor concert venue in the northern suburbs) to see Garrison Keillor and Prairie Home Companion. It served as a sort of halfway house that helped me acclimate back to Chicago from the beautiful and incomparable Minnesota. As a bonus, we stayed on the lawn and listened to the Philip Glass concert that was right after. Sitting on the lawn in perfect weather listening to his repetitive and beautiful music was like falling under a spell or trance of some kind. He did one piece set to an Allen Ginsberg poem, and they actually had a recording of Ginsberg reading of it, which I thought was really fascinating to hear Ginsberg's voice booming over the speakers.

So, I got a gift card from Amazon for playing at Kelsey and Tom's wedding and am wondering if people have any good suggestions for novels I should read? What's your favorite?

As I said in previous posts, I'm reading a bunch of works by George MacDonald, a 19th century Christian poet, pastor, and fantasy writer who heavily influenced C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, T.S. Eliot, etc. I find his voice so refreshing because he upholds mystery, fantasy, the love of God, and child-like faith and wonder as central to the faith. Not to mention he's one bad-looking dude:

When asked about doubt and faith, he wrote in a letter:

"Even if there be no hereafter, I would live my time believing in a good thing that ought to be true if it is not. No facts can take the place of truths; and if these be not truths, then is the loftiest part of our nature a waste. Let me hold by the better than the actual, and fall into nothingness off the same precipice with Jesus and John and Paul and a thousand more, who were lovely in their lives and with their deaths make even the nothingness into which they have passed like the garden of the Lord."

To me, that is a foundational truth that the Christian faith is not simply a ticket into an eternal paradise but a better way to live by the foundational truths (or truths that should be foundational) of love, wonder, and faith. It is probably exactly what C.S. Lewis was thinking of when he had Puddleglum the ever-pessimistic Marshwiggle stuck underground with Eustace, Jill, and a prince they have just rescued in The Silver Chair. They are escaping from the underground kingdom when they come face to face with the witch who rules this underworld. The witch is trying to convince them that this underworld is all there is, that what they thought of as the sun was only a dim lamp that they wished was brighter and more beautiful, and Aslan the lion was only a cat that they hoped could be bigger and stronger. Puddleglum turns to the witch and says, "All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have  only dreamed, or made up all those things - trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which likes your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."

And here it is in those terribly awesome BBC production of The Chronicles of Narnia:

On that theme, we have a new poll. What's your favorite work of fantasy? Feel free to comment. And now, my day of relaxation shall commence! Later.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Washington and Reflections on Sir Paul in Honor of His 70th Birthday

Well, my hosts are at Costco and I'm cooling down for a run, so I thought it would be a good time to blog. I arrived in Tumwater, WA after a beautiful wedding celebration in Seattle last night. The wedding was short, sweet, and authentic (very much in the spirit of the bride and groom), and the reception was a good mix of food (what could be better than wild salmon?), friends, and dancing. They even had a keg of a local IPA, so I was not complaining. It's good to see people in their homeland/element. I do have to admit, The bay area of Washington is really beautiful. I can definitely see the appeal.

Well, Sir Paul McCartney turned 70 today, which is pretty crazy. When I first became enthralled with the Beatles (and when will "Beatles" be recognized as a correctly spelled word in word processing programs?) in about 7th grade, I used to pretend that John was my favorite Beatle. He was the edgy one with the social cause, the sneer, the lyricism, the edginess - you know, exactly what an angsty adolescent finds appealing (It's like reading Catcher in the Rye as a high schooler and feeling such solidarity with Holden Caulfield and his cynical disillusionment with the world, and then re-reading it as an adult and thinking, "Your life isn't that tought; quit whining and get a job.").  Yet, it was always Paul's melodies that drew me in, even if I wouldn't admit it at the time. Who can write ballads, croon, or play bass and sing at the same time like Sir Paul (answer: no one)? In honor of his birthday, here are five of my favorite McCartney songs:

5. Junk. I love this song, which gives me nostalgia for these poor, discarded items that are no longer good enough to be of use. I first heard it on Anthology 3 where Paul only half of it and kind of hummed the rest. It was beautifully haunting. He didn't end up recording it until his first solo record.

4. Mother Nature's Son. This is quite an under-appreciated song from the White Album that always makes me think of some young guy traipsing through the Northern woods a la Tom Bombadil.

And here's a great version of it by Jack White performing at the White House.

3. Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End. I mean, it's really Golden Slumbers I love, but you can't stop listening to the whole sequence once you start. The story goes that Paul McCartney saw sheet music for a song called Golden Slumbers, but since he couldn't read music, he wrote his own melody for it and it became another classic.

2. I Will. Perhaps the perfect love song that I got to see McCartney perform live at the United Center my junior year. I went alone because I didn't know anyone else that would spend $150 on tickets, and I may have cried a little.

And the version by Alison Krauss is pretty beautiful as well.

1. Hey Jude. Yes, it was, is, and always will be my favorite Paul McCartney/Beatles Song. Written for Julian Lennon after John and Cynthia got divorced, it speaks to things getting better even when life feels heavy. It was also the first solo I sang in choir, I believe, during our 60s show my senior year.

Runners up include: Yesterday (obvs), Let It Be (duh), I'll Follow the Sun (doy), I've Just Seen a Face, and Mull of Kintyre:

Here's to Paul McCartney. So, what are your favorites? Okay, gotta go shower. Later!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Airport Adventures...and Kelsey and Tom!

Well, I'm currently sitting in Seattle on the morning of Kelsey and Tom's wedding day! I'm up a little earlier than the others due to my midwestern biological clock. Let me tell you, it was not easy getting here either. Yesterday Christy (my flying companion) and I arrived at the airport in what we thought was an ample hour and a half early. As we pulled up, we saw curbside check-in was swamped, so we walked into the airport and tried to get in line. First, we noticed that the chutes-and-ladders/amusement park style cordoned-off line was filled to overflow and began walking towards where we thought the end of the line was. Well, that end of the line kept going all the way to one end of the terminal, took a right down a hallway, and then took another right down an even smaller and more official-looking hallway before we found the end of this tortuous and snaking line. Things were not looking good.

So, about 40 minutes later we have are bags checked and hurry to security only to find another swarming sea of humanity. When we finally got through the x-ray machines and metal detectors, we sprinted down to our gate (don't worry, it was the furthest possible gate from where we entered) only to see the plane backing away from the gate. Strike one. So, huffing and puffing (Christy caught her breath somewhere over Montana) we headed up to the desk to see our options. The next flight was at 10ish, so we got on stand-by and went to have some breakfast.

Here our story took a short turn for the better when we ran into Austin and Ashley Bailey who were coming in to town for vacation. It was a great surprise to see them and be able to catch up a little. When they headed off, we went back to the desk and found out that we would not make this flight either. Strike two. Beginning to despair, I heard over the PA, "A Christian worship non-denominational worship service will be held in 15 minutes at the chapel on the mezzanine level." Well, if we had to wait, I at least had to see what an airport chapel service looked like. You only live once, right? The chapel was a conference room size with a drop ceiling and wooden chairs set up in rows. There was a communion table, a cross standing crookedly in the corner,  a small pulpit, and a kneeler in front of the tabernacle (where Catholics keep the leftover consecrated eucharist). 

We were two of four (a nun and a girl going to a Christian basketball camp) plus the pastor for a half-hour of interesting worship. We read out of the English Standard Version (a version one of my professors called "sinful"), prayed (in which the pastor mixed up the names and prayed that Kelsey and Tom would return to the faith rather than for their upcoming marriage), sang "Amazing Grace" acapella, and heard a very evangelical sermon that included a prayer of salvation at the end. I'm pretty sure he was trying to save Christy and me because one woman was obviously a nun (wearing a habit) and the other gave a prayer request in which she mentioned that she was going to serve at a Christian basketball camp. We were the only possible heathens left in the room. So, it was indeed an interesting experience.

Finally, we did make the 1:30 plane, arrived at 3:30 PST, and got to the rehearsal dinner an hour and a half late (I hope I won't miss any music cues this afternoon!). The rest of the evening was spent celebrating Kelsey and Tom, who will be married in about 10 hours! Congratulations to two of my favorite (Matt, Elsa, and Elise obviously included) pinochle companions. May your lives together be filled with more than a simple marriage, but also pairs of jacks of diamonds and queens of spades, double runs (nerdy pinochle jokes), and all sorts of adventures and blessings.

Now, I'm going to go for a run and then maybe find a church to attend in the neighborhood I'm staying in. Let's celebrate!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Call Me Maybe, Olympics, and Tacos

I don't think I've even heard the song "Call Me Maybe" all the way through, but every time I hear it, I picture her singing it:

Speaking of which, I am interested/excited to see what the new Arrested Development season and movie will bring.

Well, in the battle of the bottom feeders, the Twins beat the Cubs in their first skirmish. It's more like a war of attrition. This has not been a good couple years for Minnesota sports. All that could have made it worse was for the Vikings to get shipped off to LA a la the Minneapolis Lakers. And in other sports news, I keep forgetting that the olympics are this summer, and then I remember and get excited all over again! I love the way you can be root for your country without anyone being on the other end of a missile strike, the way Bob Costas sits cross-legged in front of a fire (I guess that's more winter olympics) and tells you what's on the agenda, the poignant feature story that has you cheering for a woman from a country formerly a part of the larger Soviet Union, the national anthems of the gold medal winners as you see someone achieve a life-long dream for themselves and their country. Really, what's not to love?

Also, I'm about to watch the Christmas episode of The West Wing, which, if you remember my earlier posts about Christmas episodes in general and West Wing in particular,  you realize that this could be a perfect storm of awesomeness.

My mom and sister are in town today and tomorrow, so tonight my mom is making tacos because she's basically the best mom in the world. As an added bonus, Matt, Elsa, and Lucia Johnson are coming over for dinner! Also, they will get to hear me preach tomorrow! I'm preaching on Psalm 130,  De Profundis, "Out of the depths." So, if you're looking for a feel good sermon, come on over to ResCov at 10:30!

And with that, I'm going to go practice my sermon. Later.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Lake Geneva and Politics

Well, I just got back from Lake Geneva in what was my last worship planning retreat as a part of the ResCov staff. It was great weather up at Covenant Harbor, and it was just the right mix of productivity and relaxation. Now I'm back in the city wishing I had a little more time in a place with less asphalt and concrete. This was only aggravated by my watching of the Ken Burns documentary on National Parks over the past few weeks. If that doesn't make you want to go to Yellowstone or at least your nearest national park, I don't know what will.

I started watching season 1 of The West Wing, and I think that could be bad for my overall productivity. If Leslie Knope can't be persuaded to run in 2016, I would definitely throw my support behind Jed Bartlet. If I had to get behind a third fictional president, it would probably be President David Palmer. Too bad we have to elect out of the non-fiction genre.

Speaking of presidents, why is Bill Clinton undermining President Obama on campaign tactics and on his decision (right decision, mind you) to not extend Bush tax cuts? Does he realize a) they're in the same party, b) his wife is in the administration, and c) former presidents are supposed to stay out of presidential policy decisions? I mean, George W. has done less damage to Obama than Clinton has. He really is an egomaniac.

So, I was disappointed by Wisconsin's choice to let Governor Walker stay around. Obviously when you outspend the opponent 30 million to 4 million (mostly out-of-state donations, thank you Supreme Court and your great Citizens United v. FEC decision that could go down as one of the worst in history. Simple anatomy tells me a business is not a person). Yet, it got me thinking about my conflicted feelings regarding unions, especially teacher's unions. First, let me say, I think unions are an integral part of allowing workers to stick up for themselves. I think they are a necessary balance in a capitalist society that already favors the CEOs, upper management, and general fat cats. They have been a cherished part of U.S. history. All that said, I found it troublesome when I student taught and substitute taught that terrible teachers (subjectively and objectively) were almost impossible to fire because of tenure/unions. They had obviously checked-out ten years ago, sat in the teachers' lounge and complained all through lunch, and were coasting until retirement. In my mind, poor teaching should not be safeguarded as a right. How this is discerned is obvious a difficult question, but how can we make unions strong yet flexible? That's what I've been thinking about...

Also, HuffPo needs to stop with the wardrobe malfunctions, "shear dresses," and all the other "news" items that are one step above soft-core porn. It seems like they are slowly devolving (or have slowly devolved) over the past few years. I expect better.

I wasn't expecting this to be so political, but things happen! Also, George Harrison is currently winning in my favorite Beatles poll. So, there's that. Okay, off to watch more West Wing. Later.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Wisconsin, Ordinary Time, and Wasabi

(First, please take the time to vote on my poll to your left. If you want to explain your answer, feel free to do so in the comments.)

Well, today Wisconsin has a chance to redeem themselves. Maybe if things go right, I won't complain the next time I have to drive through your state (see, I even avoided using a nasty adjective like "god-forsaken," "backwater," or "sinkhole" before "state" (hyperbole, of course. Many parts of Wisconsin are beautiful, just not many on I-90)). The choice is yours, Wisconsin; choose wisely. At least the Huffington Post put this all into perspective: "'Epic Battle' Tearing Friends, Families Apart." I believe you are referring to the Civil War, not to a recall election of a state governor. No southern boy is putting on the union blues and marching with Lincoln's army to face his brothers at Shiloh. Not to mention, it's all under the larger heading, "JUDGMENT DAY."

Also, Jill Biden hints that Joe Biden might run for president in 2016. Can we all agree that that's a bad idea? I think we might be able to unite the country around that!

How is it already ordinary time again? I feel like I was just complaining about being in the 947th week of ordinary time, and here we are right back where we started from. Although, I will say it is nice to have a little breathing room on liturgical planning...but it's a little sad I will celebrate no more feast days with the ResCov community.

I am convinced you taste wasabi first with your sinuses (That comment is a direct result of: a) going out for sushi with my parents and b) my mom leaving a Trader Joe's trail mix called "Wasabi Wow!" at my house when she left).

I don't want to jinx it, but the Twins have won 3 in a row and there last 6 of 7. I'm just sayin'. It gives me the creeps that the Royals are not at the bottom of the AL Central. If we can't count on that in this world, what can we count on?

August is fast approaching, and I am trying to get in all the things I will miss about Chicago. For you Chicagoans, what is one thing you miss or would miss about the city? Also, what is one thing (maybe a little less popular; don't tell me Millennium Park or something ridiculous like that) you recommend all Chicagoans do? Okay, church work time. Later!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Parents, Hippie Talk, and Knope/Swanson 2012

(I'm going to continue blogging as if I didn't take a 4 month hiatus.)

Well, my parents just left after a week visit. Within five days I went to Beverly (south side of Chicago where my mom grew up) to visit family, a Cubs game, Jersey Boys, Wendella boat tour on the Chicago River, the Botanical Gardens, Maifest, and a White Sox game. I feel like I should earn some merit badge from the Chicago Tourism Board. Not only is that a bunch of different activities, but I was all over greater Chicagoland. Needless to say, this weekend I laid very low trying to restore my depleted energy reserves that this introvert needs. Also, I better get restocked before my mom and sister come back through town Friday-Sunday! My sister and brother-in-law are moving from D.C. to Minneapolis, so this is part of the moving brigade as they head west.

If I have to watch the short version of this commercial one more time on Hulu, I'm going to go absolutely crazy (start at 30 seconds if you want to see the short version).

First, the "hippie talk" line is forced and crazy (a more apt line would use such words as "left wing," "socialist," "liberal propaganda/agenda," "tree-huggers") and the condescending tone in which he replies to his dad makes me want to throw something at the TV. It also might be the its repetition ad nauseam on Hulu. Who knows?

Speaking of TV, does anyone else get a little nostalgic watching the Christmas episodes of TV shows during the summer? I sure do.

I think I'm going to write-in Leslie Knope for president this year. She seems to be the only politician I'm excited about in 2012. I may even have to get a bumper sticker. If she could just put Ron Swanson on the ticket with her...a boy can dream! I guess one of the perks of living in Chicago is missing out on all the presidential campaign commercials since we're blue as Eiffel 65.

I've just started reading George MacDonald and am loving it. I'm a sucker for Christian mythmakers (Tolkien, Lewis, L'Engle, Rowling), and he seems to be one of the ancestors of all of them. I truly believe that good stories help people live their stories better. Everyone needs a good dose of fiction in their lives.

Also, new poll: Who's your favorite Beatle? Feel free to explain your answer in the comments section...especially if you pick Ringo.

Okay, that's all for today. Later.