Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Miraculous Fall Break, Williams Sisters, and Crystal Pepsi

While I could spend the entirety of this post on the debacle that is the government shutdown and the absolutely ludicrous position of the Republican leadership in keeping us in an absolutely unnecessary predicament, I feel like I've done enough of that on Facebook recently, so off to more pleasant things:

So, one more day of class and then by a miraculous confluence of events, I'm off until next Wednesday evening! So, Monday is Columbus Day, which means my class at BC is cancelled. And at BU they have a thing called BU Monday, which basically means whatever classes you have on Monday get moved to another day (in this case, Tuesday) because they were worried that too many holidays fell on Monday and the Monday classes were getting the short shrift. Because I don't have any classes at BU on Monday, I'm scoring an extra day off! Then, my Wednesday morning class in cancelled because my professor is out of town. It's pretty amazing. Also, on Friday I'm leaving for Pilgrim Pines to help lead worship at a men's retreat (in which, amazingly, a woman is the main speaker!). Can you think of any more beautiful place to be during a New England fall than on a lake in rural New Hampshire?

I mean, that's New Hampshire. I have no idea if it's near Swanzey. Since I'm not that observant, fall is also the time I remember that trees exist because they change their color and stand out a little more. It's really beautiful.

So, the dream I had yesterday was too good not to share. I found myself in a class that was on a bus, kind of like Sankofa (for those of you who have gone on that trip) where one of us was at the front of the bus speaking to the rest of the group. Apparently, the assignment was basically a persuasive speech in which we had to convince the audience of whatever we wanted to. So, somehow I forgot about the assignment (you know, which is my biggest fear just before death), and I had to make something up really quickly. So, being the good liturgical studies student, I was going to persuade people that using a prayer book for personal devotion is a good thing. So, as I got up and began, someone called out from the back, "You did this last time!" Horrified and remembering that they were indeed right (you know, as you "remember" in a dream), I asked them to give me one minute to come up with something else. I walked into a secluded part of the bus (again, it was a weird dream bus with different parts), and I looked out on the audience and saw Amy and Jenny Williams (Carlson/Mecher - but I identified them both as Williams, maybe the dream was from some time just after college). So, quickly I decided to give a speech on why people should be friends with Amy and Jenny. Unfortunately, my alarm went off right as I was preparing, but here's some of the reasons I was preparing to talk about:

1. They are loyal. Once you're their friend, you're their friend (unless you do something crazy). Then, they'll be with you through thick and thin.
2. They will eat junk food and watch TV with you and not be judgmental about it. If you float the idea of a Taco Bell run, they'll be on board 9 times out of 10.
3. They both have pretty great taste in music and will listen to the Beatles with you.
4. They're very funny and will laugh hard at your jokes, making you feel like a comedian.
5. You don't have to guess whether they're happy or angry or sad; they'll let you know.

Anyway, I would post a picture of the three of us, but the last time I did they both hated the picture I posted for various reasons, so...

Something interesting I'm learning in my Pentecostalism class: the early Pentecostals were pacifists. Thinking of some 4th of July/Memorial Day services at my church growing up, that seems almost unimaginable!

I know I posted this on Facebook, but I am extremely excited that Gary Ross, the director of Hunger Games, is moving on to a two-part adaptation of East of Eden. Plus, he's keeping his partnership with Jennifer Lawrence going as she will portray the evil Cathy Trask, who abandons her children, runs a crazy whorehouse, and says such delightful things as, "I could make them do whatever I wanted...when I was half-grown I made a man kill himself." It will be interesting to see Lawrence play the ultimate antagonist after a few great protagonist roles.

Does anyone actually buy and drink Diet Pepsi? I had to suffer through one the other day at a coke-free restaurant and all I could think of was new slogans for Diet Pepsi. "Diet Pepsi: No One's First Choice"; or "Diet Pepsi: Sorry, We Don't Serve Coke Products," or "Diet Pepsi: It Could Be Worse; It Could Be Crystal Pepsi or Urine." Speaking of which, when I googled Crystal Pepsi, I found that you can buy one empty can of it on eBay for $15. That seems about right.

Well, I'm going to go and eat dinner and watch an episode of X-Files. Love to you and yours.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

New Hampshire, My HP Sermon Illustration, and Several Annoyances

So, I'm back in the swing of things after a nice weekend in New Hampshire. One of the highlights was taking a tour of of the Robert Frost Farm. We (including Sarah, TK, and Sawyer) had been there in the winter, but the actual farmhouse was closed. This time we got a tour of the farmhouse and some anecdotes to go along with it. One interesting one: Frost developed his linguistic style by eavesdropping on his neighbor's phone calls by picking up the phone (which was shared between 8 houses) even when it wasn't for him. When we got back on Friday night, Amy wanted to watch some TV via Netflix. She asked if I had any suggestions, and I recommended Parenthood. So, needless to say, by the end of the week we had finished the first season. I think I pretty much got them hooked. Sunday I did preach, and I think it went well. I thought I would include my HP reference for those who were interested. It's on the power of story in our lives. I've used it before at ResCov, so it may sound familiar to some:

And when talking about the power of story in our lives, the first story that came to this good pastor's mind to illustrate this point was the apocryphal Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  In the book, there are these evil creatures called dementors, who are spectre-like black-cloaked creatures that guard the wizard prison but also can cause severe damage to those they come into contact with.  As member of the Order of the Phoenix and one-time professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts Remus Lupin describes them, “They are the foulest creatures that walk this earth...they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope and happiness out of the air around them....Get too near a dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you.  It it can, the dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself...soulless and evil.”  Harry has several encounters with the dementors where he begins to lose hope, every good memory he has vanishes, and he is paralyzed within the hopelessness.  

However, there is also a spell that will dispell the dementors: expecto patronum.  Expecto patronum is a spell that casts a patronus, a burst of light that takes the form of an animal and protects you from dementors.  Yet, it’s not easy to produce.  As Lupin notes, “In order for [the spell] to work, you need to think of a memory, a very happy memory, a very powerful memory...allow it to fill you up...lose yourself in it and then speak the incantation, expecto patronum.”  Expecto patronum is actually latin for “I await a protector,” and the good memories serve as a shield and protector, they give hope and meaning once again in a world that seems meaningless. I think J.K. Rowling got it right on this one. Especially as Christians, our story becomes our protectors during times of hopelessness and despair. Negative memories paralyze and can only be combated with the deep, good, and powerful memories; it is the memory of the story we find ourselves in - the redemptive story that hinges on the life, death and resurrection of Christ - that becomes our protector, our patronus against those forces that would seek to draw us into despair."

One woman came up to me after the sermon and said, "Thank you for your sermon. I thought it was so interesting how you took even something like Harry Potter and made it fit." I managed to swallow my retort, which would have been something like, "EVEN Harry Potter? This is the order of reference for my sermons: a) Bible, b) hymns, c) Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Chronicles of Narnia, d) biblical commentaries" (okay, okay, commentaries are usually second...).

You know what annoys me? When the baby-boomer and older generation says things like, "I heard that on my first album; you're probably not old enough to know what an album looks like!" or "We used to have rotary phones, but I'm dating myself. Kids these days wouldn't even know what to do with them!" I was reminded of that today while listening to NPR. The interviewee made the comment, "For those of you old enough to remember Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild...". Now, what person has not heard of the song, "Born to Be Wild?" Do they think that songs, inventions, or books magically cease to be a part of human existence once they are no longer contemporary? I mean, unless your Brendan Frasier's character in Blast from the Past or a feral child raised by wolves, you've probably run across such things as rotary phones, 45s, and "Born to be Wild," along with other pop hits from the last 50 years.

Things that only happen in New England: Today one of the older men at church (during choir practice) looked back and noted that I was flipping through flashcards. I told him I was studying Latin, to which he replied, "Isn't that a little late in the game? Shouldn't you have done that in high school?" The man next to him chimed in, "Yeah, I did it in middle school." In Northern Minnesota, you'd be lucky to have two languages to choose from at your high school, but Latin is definitely not one of them. I would be surprised if any school (at least public school) north of the Twin Cities had anything besides German, French, or Spanish - let alone Latin.

On Friday I'm picking up Joe Schupbach and heading out to Cape Cod (or, "the cape," as they call it) to his mom's (Kathy O'Donoghue's) house. She already has a great itinerary planned, and it will be my first time on the cape! Speaking of which, there is a sign near BU's campus that shows a beach with the words "Leave for Provincetown and arrive the same day" superimposed upon it. For me, this seems like a bizarre ad since Provincetown is only 2 hours away. If it said, "Leave for China and arrive the same day," that would be something to talk about. If you leave for Provincetown and don't arrive the same day, you're either walking there or have a major problem.

Well, I think I've done enough for one morning. Maybe I'll celebrate with a nap!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Lectures, iPhone Evolution, and Guns

Okay people, it's Wednesday, and I'm really feeling the effects of hump day. It was one of those days when my alarm goes off and I wake up completely disoriented wondering what is making that horrid noise. After reorienting myself and figuring out who/what/where/why I am, I then was overcome by a depressive lethargy (I am a slothful 9 after all) that cried for me not to get out of bed. After five minutes of inner struggle and negative self-talk, I was able to drag myself to the bathroom to begin my day. I'm definitely looking forward to a weekend away in the wilderness of New Hampshire. All I have to really finish is the sermon, so I won't have to do it while trying to socialize this weekend.

This week in the Intro to Christian Worship class I get to lead discussions on the Church Year. All the students read Laurence Hull Stookey's Calendar: Christ's Time for the Church (which I think is one of the best pastoral books written on the subject) and then we're walking through the year from Advent to Christ the King Sunday. I mean, who can ask for a better job than getting to explain Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, etc., to people? Then, two weeks from Tuesday I'm giving a lecture on why hymnals are still important for the Christian faith. I'm just hoping other students and people in the larger Boston area don't start a stampede in their clamor to get a seat in the room.

So, I've noticed that there's definitely an evolution of thought and feeling after purchasing an iPhone. The first two months I was simply flabbergasted by all the stuff it could do, especially when it would sync up automatically with my computer through the iCloud (whatever that actually is). It was directing me all over the city, finding good restaurants in the area, and letting me send a quick email by voice if I wanted to. Then it became the new normal, and I took it for granted. Lately, I've found myself getting frustrated when the phone doesn't read my mind. "Why hasn't my notes synced up to my iPhone? I wrote it at least 13 seconds ago! If Steve Jobs was still alive, he would never let this atrocity stand. That's it! I'm switching to the Samsung Galaxy!"

It's so tragic that we're getting to a point in U.S. society where mass shootings are becoming the new normal. How many people have to be sacrificed on the altar of the second amendment? Do we ever get to the point where it might be good and right to give up some of our "rights" for the sake of human flourishing? My question for Christians is will there be guns and armaments in the kingdom of God? If not, shouldn't we be working toward that type of kingdom "on earth as it is in heaven?" I think we as a Christian community in the U.S. need more idealism and imagination and less pragmatism/cynicism in facing evil and violence and injustice in the world. We have enough people saying, "This is just the way things are," and not enough people imagining new ways of living. I just don't think Jesus is like this (aesthetically, ideologically, and racially):

But at least Grand Theft Auto V is coming out because I'm sure our culture's glorification of violence in the media has nothing to do with the increased level of violence around the country.

I'm going to change subjects fairly rapidly, so I thought I would put in this sentence so it wouldn't be quite so jarring.

Can I just say this weather has been absolutely wonderful. I could only ask that it would be a little bit colder so I could break out the sweaters and flannel (you know, my love language is cold weather clothing; buy me a sweater or flannel and I'll be loyal to you for life).

Oh, I had my first Latin class...and proceeded to get chastised in it. First, I was already feeling unprepared because apparently he had sent out an email (which I didn't get because it's a BC class and not a BU class) to read chapter 1 and do the exercises, so I was pretty much winging it from the beginning. Then I brought the text book in - John Collins' Primer for Ecclesiastical Latin - and since I had tried to go through the book before, I also had an answer key for the book so I could check my answers. During the middle of the class, the teacher spotted the answer book on the table and exclaimed in a stern voice, "Never bring this book to class again. It is not by the author and should not be used. It's full of mistakes." He acted like I brought Sauron's ring into the Shire. So, I thought it was a really successful first day of Latin. Luckily, I talked myself off the ledge by finishing the next week's assignment the next day and reminding myself that this comment did not mean he hated me or had it in for the only Protestant (and Evangelical at that!) in the room.

Well, I'm off to my Pentecostalism class! Later.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Greek Tragedy of Minnesota Sports, Denise Levertov, and Abraham/Isaac

So, yesterday I had to watch the Vikings blow another close game in the last minute. If you don't know this, the Vikings are renowned for their ability to blow late games. When they kicked the field goal to go up by 6 with around 3 minutes to go, I was pretty confident we were going to lose that game. As they say, the prevent defense usually prevents you from winning. Yet, you still cheer, even as you watch the other team drive down the field against a lackluster defense and wait for the inevitable touchdown. As I was ruminating on it, I realized being a Minnesota sports fan is like cheering for Sisyphus. If you don't know Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a deceitful king during his life, so his punishment in the afterlife was to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down right at its apex, forcing him to start the whole process over again. This is the perfect metaphor for being a Minnesota sports fan. Even when you're cheering, there's always that place in the back of your mind that is just waiting for the other shoe to drop. I guess it builds character. After the heartbreak of the '98-99 season and that terrible NFC championship game, I was ready to face life's varied adversities. Just ask our good friend Marshall:

Sorry for ranting. Life's just been really tough every since Elisabeth Hasselbeck left The View. Her cogent, educated right wing propaganda just got my day off on the right foot every morning. Now who am I supposed to get that from? Megyn Kelly? So, I decided the best way to get over the multiple heartbreaks was to have ice cream for dinner. Nothing gives you that end of the weekend boost like cookie dough drizzled with dietary self-loathing.

However, I do have to say, upon arriving at the Vikings bar the table next to me was discussing the merits of Labyrinth and The Wiz, so I was duly impressed. They also enjoyed when I broke out in "Dance Magic Dance." Speaking of the Muppets (Henson Studios did all of the Labyrinth puppets), there's this:

So, I'm reading (well, listening) a very interesting (audio)book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time about a boy with Asperger's who tries to solve the case of his next-door neighbor's dog who was killed. It's all written in first-person from the perspective of the boy, and it is really marvelously done. Although, after watching Parenthood, I can only picture the boy as Max Braverman. I feel like I'm stereotypecasting, but that's the mental image I conjure, and once that mental image is there, it's impossible to erase. I mean, how many people can read the Harry Potter books now and not picture Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, etc?

So, over the past year or two, I've been loving the poetry of Denise Levertov.

She was born in Essex, England to Jewish parents who had later converted to Christianity. Her dad became an Anglican pastor and specialized in Jewish-Christian relations. She started writing early, and when she was 12 she sent her work to T.S. Eliot for critique (he responded graciously with a two-page letter encouraging her to keep writing)! She moved to the U.S. when she was a young adult and continued writing. In the 60s and 70s, she got very involved in the anti-war movement and started writing scathing poems against the U.S.'s involvement in Vietnam. Later in her life, she surprised all of her friends and converted to Catholicism and began writing beautiful religious poetry. Anyway, I thought I would share two of her poems (and maybe more in later posts) that I think are great for grad students or anyone who finds themselves overwhelmed by stress, work, and the many demands of life:

I can lay down that history
I can lay down my glasses
I can lay down the imaginary lists
of what to forget and what must be
done. I can shake the sun
out of my eyes and lay everything down
on the hot sand, and cross
the whispering threshold and walk
right into the clear sea, and float there,
my long hair floating, and fishes
vanishing all around me. Deep water.
little by little one comes to know

the limits and depths of power.

and another:

As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and waters bear them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain 
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.

I think all of her stuff is great, but her later poems that wrestle with faith and life are truly brilliant (in my opinion).

Speaking of wrestling with faith, this week I have to preach a sermon on Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac. How do you preach a sermon when it seems that God is acting like a cruel monster in the story? Is there more to this story? How do you stay faithful to the biblical witness while underscoring the atrocities that have occurred when people thought God was talking to them? It may be a long week. If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them. The one thing I'm not going to preach: God wants us to give up our idols. I guess I'm off the opinion that children are not idols like greed, unhealthy patriotism, materialism, etc. So, I'm hoping to finish before Thursday so I can enjoy the weekend up on Daigle compound (as I attempt to forgive Amy her cruel joke about using hymnals as coasters) and the following weekend on the Cape with Joe Schupbach and Kathy O'Donoghue. Let's do this!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

It's Been a While

So, I just realize this is my 201st post since I switched to blogpost (RIP Xanga). I realize I haven't written in a while (since I left Duluth), but rather than focus on the negative, let's accentuate the positive! My time in Chicago was absolutely wonderful. I got to see so many wonderful friends and eat, do fun things, and eat at my favorite restaurants (most importantly), it reminded me why Chicago is my adult home. It was hard leaving, but it was great to be reminded that I do have indeed have a social life in some cities! Here's some of the pictures from the Chicago trip.

One of my many trips to Tre Kronor.

Trying to explain to Charlotte how to cast the spell "Wingardiaum Leviosa!"

Finally, this is a picture with some of my new friends at the Hymn Society Annual Conference. I know that it makes me sound completely nerdy to go to a Hymn Society conference, but I have to tell you, it was one of the highlights of my summer. Think of all the superstars of hymnody (I know you're listing off all the many names that come to mind), and put them in one place: that's the Hymn Society conference. Every day began with worship, moved on to the plenary speakers, and was rounded out by individual sessions on various hymn-related activities. I gave a paper on social gospel hymnody that went pretty well (at least from my perspective). I'm just finishing up the negotiates on the contract for the movie deal - stay tuned. Then, each night there was a hymn festival, which is basically a big hymn sing. Let me tell you, during the first hymn of the first night, I couldn't even sing because I was simultaneously choked up and shivering from goosebumps. To hear 300-400 composers, church musicians, and hymn enthusiasts sing with all their heart in four-part harmony is truly incredible.

And of course you want to see pictures of my incredible nieces, so here are two that were recently sent to me. First, Daphne. She's not a morose child, but I love this picture because I can almost hear her asking, "Why do I have a fricking flower pot on my head?" Plus, she really reminds me of Jessica in it.

And, as usual, Paisley is all smiles!

So, now I'm back in Boston trying to get back into the swing of things. I just finished the second full week of classes, and I think it will be doable. The big difference this semester is my TA responsibilities. The nice thing is sometimes you get randomly assigned to classes to TA, but I got lucky and was assigned to Intro to Christian Worship. So, the learning curve's not quite as steep. My first lecture is the first week in October on why hymns and hymnals are still relevant. I think I'm going to have an altar call at the end and hand out hymnals to all who respond. My latest favorite portion of a hymn is from the last stanza of Fred Pratt Green's "For the Fruit of All Creation":

"For the wonders that astound us,
for the truths that still confound us,
most of all that love has found us,
thanks be to God."

Oh, I forgot! I also attended Elise and Ben Steel's wedding in Seattle! Although it was my second time in Seattle, it was my first time really seeing the city, and I have to say, I was impressed. I could definitely write a dissertation there. So, Seattle people, find me a job. The wedding was beautiful, and it was great to see Ben and Elise preside at communion as one of their first acts as a married couple. In fact, the only part of the wedding that I got a little choked up was when Elise was praying the prayer of blessing/epiclesis over the elements. I guess that goes to show that I'm a liturgical romantic.

Well, the weekend is upon me (no classes on Friday!), and I have a nice reading weekend planned: rites of passage, the liturgical year, and quinceaneras (the rite of passage I was assigned to study). Next weekend I head up to one of my favorite places in New England: the Daigle household. Until then, another episode of The X-Files. Later!

Monday, July 1, 2013

So Long, Farewell

Well, the first part of my summer adventure has come to a close. Duluth, you are a fickle lover. Most of the time the weather makes one look to sailors for the right vocabulary to describe it (for instance, running a marathon in June under a hypothermia warning). However, when the day clears and the sun shines over Lake Superior, there is little that can match the beauty of the city. I got to see many people and places and simply enjoy Duluth and friends. Special thanks go out to Luke and Chelsey Harju, who quartered me for over a month and were the pinnacle of hospitality, inviting me into their lives with a rare combination of both warmth and space. And of course it was wonderful to have some time with Anna, Peter, and Paisley. Here's one last shot of niece and uncle before departing:

On Tuesday I will be back in the Windy City! I'm pretty excited to have a social life for an entire month before heading back to Boston.

Anyway, now I'm in the Twin Cities until Tuesday to hang out with Jessica, Isaac, and Daphne one last time before I start heading West. They were out of town yesterday, so I ended up having a few hours at their house alone. Naturally, I decided to journal and watch The Sound of Music. I've had a hankering to watch it for about three months, and I imagined that, knowing my sister, she would have it (it turns out my sister got it as a secret santa present from an Air Force lieutenant in Turkey; you just never know!) Two parts get me every time: Captain Von Trapp coming in and joining the children in their singing  of "The Sound of Music" for the first time (obvs) and his rendition of "Edelweiss" at the Salzburg Festival. Today I'm going to meet up with long-time friend Polly (Lund) Inestroza for lunch and then my sister for a four-mile run afterwards. Hopefully I use a little self-control during lunch so I'm not dry-heaving my way through a four-miler. If I had to put money on it, I would bet against myself. I call it Free Chips and Salsa Syndrome, and I have it bad.

This morning I also had the weird experience of reading one of my BU professor's (Dr. Chris Evans) blog posts on Huffington Post. He writes about the United Methodist Church's stance on homosexuality, and I think it is worth the read.

You know what I find really annoying? Getting unnecessary vaccinations. Last week I was attempting to register for classes for the fall (which I should have done about three months ago, but let's not split hairs at this point), and I found I had a block on my account. So, when I researched what was causing the block, I discovered that I was missing a varicella vaccine. Not being up on the medical lingo, I looked up varicella and found that its common name was chicken pox. Having already had chicken pox (I remember clearly having it in kindergarten because I missed the circus we put on for our parents; I was to be the ringmaster because I could read, and I was heartbroken to miss my big break), I thought a simple phone call would clear up this mistake. So, I rang up BU's student health and was informed that I either needed proof of the vaccination or proof that I had the chicken pox. Well, this was problematic. First, I'm sure my mom didn't take me in to the doctor when I had chicken pox because she purposefully infected all four children at once and didn't need a doctor to tell her to rub calamine lotion on us at $75 per appointment. Second, even if there were records, they were probably written on parchment and buried in some bureaucratic catacomb. So, after trying to figure out ways to circumvent the insanity, I finally succumbed to the inevitable and got a vaccine for a disease I am immune to. All I can say is the vaccine better be covered by my insurance...and I better not get some weird form of shingles.

Anyway, now I'm going to relax and do some reading before lunch (because up to this point I've really been working hard). I tried to pick up an american tea cake (the most amazing pastry in the world) from The Baker's Wife (the most amazing bakery in Minneapolis, at least), but they are closed on Monday. You can imagine my sense of disappointment as I pulled up and noticed the darkened interior and the unlit OPEN sign. I guess I'll have to pick one up on my way out of town tomorrow. Also, in case you are interested, an anagram for Dave Bjorlin is "banjo drivel," which happens to be one of my favorite genres of music. So, that about sums it up. Also, vote on the new poll to your left. Later!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Grandma's Recap

So, as I mentioned on Facebook, on Saturday I ran in Grandma's Marathon, Duluth's very own world-renown (maybe?) race. My observations started on Friday, the day before the race. All around Duluth I saw runners as they went out to eat, picked up their racing packets, shopped, etc. How did I know they were runners, you ask? They were wearing running clothes. I don't understand this. You aren't running, it's 50 degrees in Duluth, and you are wearing shorts, technical running shirts, and neon yellow running shoes. To my mind, your entire outfit is one giant cry for attention. You so desperately want someone to ask, "Are you running tomorrow?" So you can look slightly abashed and reply, "Why yes, yes I am. How did you know?" I mean, why not just throw on the headband and the compression socks too while you're at it. Maybe wear one of those water bottle holsters/fanny packs and munch on energy bars during conversations. Sheesh.

So, the morning of the marathon came much to early. I woke up at about 5:25 after a fitful night of sleep where I checked, re-checked, re-re-checked, and re-re-re-checked my alarm clock to make sure I would get up. I blame this Seinfeld episode with Jean Paul where he explains how he overslept for his Olympics race:

So, I headed to the mall for the shuttle out. The drive out to the starting line might be the worst part of the entire experience. As you're gliding along with the help of an internal combustion engine for a good half hour, all you can think is, "I have to run this whole way back? Can I just take the bus back to the mall and maybe go to Denny's for a grand slam instead (disclaimer: we really don't have a Denny's in Duluth, so it would probably be a Tremendous 12 at Perkins, but I thought Denny's would be more recognizable to my country-wide readership)?

So, the day was foggy and cold, which I thought was just fine for running. As we were all standing around the starting line people were doing what they could do keep warm. I've never understood the people that run to warm up. Isn't 26.2 enough? If I could get someone to push me in a wheelchair all morning up until the very point where I have to start running, I would. Alas, that service is not provided. Finally, the run started, and we were off.

The actual marathon went pretty well. I decided to stick with the 4:00 hour pace guy at the beginning, and I felt good. As I mentioned before, I had timed my audiobook so that I would be listening to the last 4 hours of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, so I was enjoying the beginning of the Battle of Hogwarts as I trudged along. At about mile 13 I realized that I really was going to have to go to the bathroom at some point, and I am just not going to be the person who just uses their spandex as a diaper; I am neither that competitive nor have the necessary disregard for hygiene. So, I took a  quick trip to my disgusting arch-nemesis the porta-potty around mile 14. That could be another whole blog post about the fierce battle between my OCD tendencies and my need for speed, but I will leave such potty talk in the porta-potty.

When I got out, I still found myself far back of the 4 hour pacers. I decided not to expend the energy necessary to catch up and kept on keeping on. As per last marathon the most difficult part was probably mile 18-23. During this point, you have run a long way, but you can't really say you're almost there. When I heard people yell, "You're almost there!" at mile 19, I wanted to retort, "Oh yeah? Then why don't you run it?" Instead, I listened to the history of Snape's love for Lily Evans/Potter in "The Prince's Tale." At about mile 23 I started seeing people I knew, which helped motivate me to keep running. The Right around mile 25 I realized that I could get under 4 hours if I hoofed it until the end, so I picked up the pace. The nice thing was (HP spoiler alert) that at around mile 25 Harry killed Volemort. I decided I should put some music on to finish the last .6 miles, put on my running mix, turned on shuffle, pressed skip, and "Born to Run" came on. It was the perfect musical inspiration I needed to hustle to the finish line. I still didn't know if I finished under 4 until I talked to my sister who had been tracking me via my racing chip (mark of the beast, anyone?) and she said, "You made your goal by 2 seconds!" So, a 3:59:58 marathon. Here's a picture of me at mile 26. I don't know what that smirk on my face is all about; maybe it's because I didn't have enough energy to control my facial expressions at this point, and my natural expression is a smirk. If my face was actually representing how I felt, it would be melting of my skull.

So, I thought it was a successful racing day, even if they put up a hypothermia warning on the last 7 miles (late June in Duluth!). Plus, I got to catch up with Greg and Kelly Johnston, Cooper Gillan, Steve Hawkinson, and Tim Lindstrom, which was wonderful, even if the latter three did make me go to Grandma's Sports Garden the night after the race (they were watching the Bruins/Blackhawks game there, even after I assured them that the "sports" in Grandma's Sports Garden is a misnomer anytime after 8 p.m.), something I vowed never to do again after 23. I now redouble my vow NEVER to do again. That place is a John Barleycorn-esque meat market. Anyway, here's my freezing family and me at the end of the race.

 Today I'm feeling pretty good as long as I don't have to make any sudden movements, walk up stairs, or get up from a sitting position. Also, today I got to watch my niece Paisley get dedicated by my dad, so it was worth getting out of bed for. I have no pictures of that yet; I'm sure you are all heartbroken. So, one more week in Duluth and then headed to the Windy City! Later.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Grandma's and a Family Reunion

Well, T-2 full days until the marathon! Today was the last day of running, so I obliged with a nice, easy 4-miler with the illustrious Eric Borndal. I have to say, I wasn't quite as vigorous with my training as I was last time, so Saturday could be an interesting run! However, I feel that the spirit of Lake Superior will give me the needed boost; that, and the shame of walking in front of so many people I know. Shame: motivating since 1984. Speaking of people I know, I am looking forward to Greg and Kelly Johnston, Cooper Gillan, Tim Lindstrom, and Steve Hawkinson - all friends from my Chicago university/seminary days - coming up for the race!

 As part of my marathon preparation, I've been listening to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as an audiobook, and I timing it so that I can listen to the last four hours while running the race. I mean, I may be wiping sweaty tears from my eyes, but it should keep my mind occupied from the stupid thing I'm doing to my body. (Speaking of which, you can still vote on your favorite of the HP books on my poll found just to your left.) I found my motivation to run years ago when I was running my first half-marathon and I saw someone wearing a t-shirt saying, "Run to Eat Club." It was deep crying out to deep, as something within me, in the very core of my being, resonated with that sentiment.

Congratulations to Jenny, Kyle, and Charlotte Mecher on the addition of the beautiful Evelyn Jane to their family! Although I was partial to the name Charlotte had chosen for the baby: Oreo Chili. Lately when I have thought about the wonder that is childbirth, this song always pops into my head:

I mean, besides the whole subtext of the dude getting Tevye to let him marry his daughter.

This past weekend I went down to the Twin Cities for my cousin Zack's wedding (Congratulations, Zack and Angie!). It was so wonderful to have all ten people from the Bjorlin/Graves/Kasper family together for the first time! We spent Friday at the rehearsal dinner and then hanging out at Jessica and Isaac's (where we had Part 2 of the Great Bjorlin Air Mattress Debacle; see Facebook for more details). Saturday we ate a decadent breakfast consisting almost exclusively of bacon (brought from the farms of North Dakota) and baked goods (doughnuts, almond cake, and American tea cakes from the Minneapolis bakery The Baker's Wife, which are basically the best thing I've ever eaten, which means they must be TERRIBLE for you) before heading to the wedding. Sunday morning we went to First Covenant Church (glad to have brought my sister and brother-in-law over to the dark side) and then Anna, Peter, Isaac, and I went to the Twins game! It was my first experience at Target Field, and it was amazing thanks to great seats given to Anna by her boss, Dan Urshan.Here are some of the highlights in pictures. Daphne and me at the rehearsal dinner:

The family after church (at First Covenant - Minneapolis) and before the Twins game. The nieces are looking at MJ because every time they aren't looking at the camera, she tells the person taking the picture to make a certain noise and then demonstrates, which invariably causes the nieces to look at their grandma instead. Apparently, I too was drawn by the noise:

And here's a rag-tag picture of the Szyman clan (my mom and her seven brothers and some of their kids/grandkids) at the wedding:

I love the photobomb in the lower right side of the picture combined with most of the family neither smiling nor looking at the camera. Pretty typical. Finally, this is the view from our seats at the Twins game:

Seriously, we were so close that I was nervous I might not be paying attention for a second and get tattooed in the kisser by a foul ball. Unfortunately, the Twins took it on the chin, losing fairly handily to the Tigers. So, all and all it's been a good week. Now I need to buckle down and get some writing done. Also, I'm going to eat whatever I want between now and the marathon, all under the pretense of "carb-loading." Blizzards/concrete mixers and hops are forms of carbs right? I'm going to let my ignorance answer a resounding yes. Happy Wednesday!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

North Country Ramblings

Well, still waiting for my background check to go through. Stupid government bureaucracy trying to keep people safe. Next thing you know they'll be overreaching some more and fixing our roads, arresting criminals, and giving old people medical handouts. Just one more way Big Brother/Obama (they're synonyms) is ruining my life. In other news, it has been gloomy and cold here in Duluth, or, as the locals call it, June. I'm ready for the sun to come out one of these days so I can go up the North Shore and see this:

Or this:

While listening to show tunes and watching the Twins game on mute last night, I thought, "This probably isn't a common combination of evening activities." Speaking of which, the Twins have won 7 of their last 9 and have crawled up to third place. That's why you must always expect very little from MN sports so you can be pleasantly surprised at mediocrity. That's also the title of my memoir, Surprised by Mediocrity, hitting stores sometime next year if I can motivate myself. It will mainly be about my daily struggle to reach easily-achievable goals toward normal human functioning and then my immense pride at reaching them. For instance, today I'm going to shower and brush my teeth. Boom.

I'm sick of national ________ days. Yesterday someone said I needed to run because it's National Runner's Day. That's not anything. Seriously, these national and international days are getting out of control. I think today is National Catch Your Knee on the Corner of the Kitchen Cabinet and Swear in Front of Your Kids Day and tomorrow is National Eat Something You Left Too Long on the Counter Before Refrigerating and Hope That You Aren't Racked with Stomach Issues and the Sweats Day. Tomorrow could make for an interesting day.

Only 25 days until I make my triumphal return to Chicago! If you want to plan a small parade or strow (I'm guessing this is the present tense of "strewn," so I'm going with it) rose petals in my path, I will allow it. Seriously, I'm already coming up with a list of the restauran....I mean, the friends I want to see.

In other news, I've finished all the "fun" books I brought home to read during the summer, so if you have any good suggestions for novels I should read, I would love to hear them. If I don't hear anything in three days, it's a sign from God that I should re-read the Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings series. Also, in my new poll I am asking which of the Harry Potter books is your favorite. If you can't decide, you may vote for more than one. You're welcome.

Yesterday (or the day before), Stephen Colbert said farewell to Michele Bachmann with a tribute montage. Ah, Michele, we hardly understood ye.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Northland Life, Minnesota Recent Successes, and Running Inspiration

Well, it's been a wild time up in the Northland. I've been waiting for a background check for the last week to start working, so I'm basically reading/writing in between. I brought up seven "fun" books to read during the summer, and I finished the last one a few days ago. I've also sent in a few papers I needed to finish and am not up to the blue hymnal in my neverending quest to index Covenant hymnals (which is a lot like the Neverending Story without the big flying horse/dog puppet and me screaming, "ARTAX!!" and more mind-numbing work with an excel spreadsheet). The weather hasn't been super cooperative, but I did have a wonderful run along Lake Superior on Saturday. It really is the best lake in the world.

I also have been attending First Lutheran in Duluth, and this past week I found out that the pastor, April Ulring Larson, was the first woman bishop in any Lutheran denomination within the United States. Further, she is friends with Gordon Lathrop, who is one of the liturgical studies big-wigs. So, it was an interesting Sunday!

Last week I also decided to take a trip down to the Twin Cities on the spur of the moment. I stayed with Jess, Isaac, and Daphne for a few days and caught up with them, which was obviously wonderful. Here's a pic of some uncle/niece bonding.

I also got to have lunch with the incomparable Leah Gunderson, who judges if our outing was successful by if I blog about it; so, yes, it was great!

Whenever I get hiccups that last more than five minutes, I think back to that ER episode where a man goes into the ER with hiccups that have lasted for some incredibly long period of time. It turns out he had AIDS. I'm not even close to a hypochondriac, but that always comes to mind during extended hiccuping. It almost makes me want to stop reaching into the sharps container in hospital exam rooms.

Why can't a blanket and sheets ever end at an even point just below chin level? I swear I have a sheet that reaches to my hairline and a blanket that barely reaches up to my waist. Even after lengthy reformatting, it never seems to line up. It's a lot like life that way. That'll preach (joke).

Don't look know, but the Twins have won four in a row! Granted they were all against a team from Wisconsin, so I think that counts as 2 wins. In other good Minnesota news, Michele Bachmann has decided to retire. I'm glad she will no longer be the face of Minnesota politics - wishing Elvis happy birthday on the day he died, thinking John Wayne was from her birthplace of Waterloo when it was the serial killer John Wayne Gacy, lauding the shot heard round the world in Concord, New Hampshire instead of Concord, Mass. While few if any of her bills became law, she did get to sponsor one of the house's 6.02 x 10^23 attempts to repeal Obamacare. I think she represents the problems with the Tea Party/right-right-wing of the Republican party (which is unfortunately becoming mainstream Republican): high on rhetoric, low on facts/results. Anyway, stepping down from my soapbox atop a high horse...

I should go for a run right now, but I'm thinking a viewing of Harry Potter 7.1 is in order to help me gear up emotionally for the run. Then, the run will be less this:

and more this:

I mean, without the Snatchers getting me at the end or my friend sending a swelling curse at my face (I'm obviously putting myself in Harry's shoes). Okay, I spent way too much time looking for those clips. Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Books People in the Church Should Read

So, if you know me, you know I like top-10/100/1000 lists. If I accidentally turn on VH1 and they are showing "Top 100 Heavy Metal Songs" or "Top 100 Music Videos" I am instantly hooked. This can be a problem if you come in at #93 and still have 4 1/2 hours of programming left. Yet, I've endured it before, and I'll probably endure it again. You may have noticed that my blogs often take the form of lists of one type or another. Recently came across an article in Relevant magazine about the ten books everyone should read by 25-ish. I whole-heartedly agreed with Gilead and Let Your Life Speak, but more importantly the list got me thinking about what my top 10 list would be for Christian non-fiction (I think I'm going to do a fiction list later) in no particular order. So here are the books I think every Christian should read by 25 or 30 or whenever they get around to it.

10. The Hiding Place - Corrie Ten Boom. For a greater part of my middle school and early high school years, I went through a phase of reading books that focused almost exclusively on the Holocaust (which my brother still points out as being weird). Without a doubt, the book that has impacted me the most during this period was The Hiding Place. In it, Dutch Christian Corrie Ten Boom tells of her family's role in hiding Jews from the Nazis during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. When they are discovered the Jews hiding in their house are miraculously able to escape, but Corrie and Betsy, her sister, are taken to a concentration camp. The story is one of courage, perseverance, and an incredible faith that believes in the power of love and reconciliation even in the most evil of places. One quote that has stuck with me throughout the years (I try to keep from quoting it every sermon; so it ends up being in about one of three) is what Betsy says to Corrie as she lay sick in the camp. She looked at both the other inmates and the guards within the camp, and exhorted Corrie, "Tell them there is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still." That, to me, is the pinnacle of good news and should be the message that Christians proclaim to the world.

9. Blue Like Jazz - Donald Miller. Yeah, I know this is so cliche to have on my list, but it's true. Donald Miller, like the Anne Lamott memoirs I would later read (Traveling Mercies, Plan B, etc.), was the first person I read that spoke honestly about many of their struggles and doubts about Christianity, specifically evangelical Christianity. The story is basically Miller's journey of losing faith and finding faith again, albeit a very different faith. In the process, he reflects on sin, grace, doubt, love, the culture wars, and many of the other things young evangelicals were struggling with but perhaps not getting the straight answers they were looking for in church. One of the highlights is definitely his story about the confessional booth he and his friends set up during a drug-addled festival at a very progressive liberal arts college. Instead of people coming in and confessing their sins (you know, like we think of a confessional booth), the role was reversed and the confessor confessed the sins of the Church and Christianity. While now the story has gotten plenty of airtime almost to the point of being cliche, at the time it was pretty amazing. This was definitely one of those books that first said what many in my generation had been thinking, which is why it was so hugely popular.

8. The Cloister Walk - Kathleen Norris. I mean, I think all of Kathleen Norris is pretty brilliant, but I believe this is the first one I read. The Cloister Walk is another spiritual memoir of sorts describing what Norris learned during her time at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, MN as a Benedictine oblate (lay monk/nun). Not only is her description of the liturgy of the hours and monastic life beautiful, it helps combat the Protestant stereotype (Norris herself is a Protestant) that characterizes Catholicism and the liturgy as lifeless or mere ritual. As someone who grew up with very little of the historic liturgical traditions of the church, this helped me reevaluate many of the assumptions I had about tradition and liturgy and discover the deep theological and spiritual insights that the liturgical tradition holds. I seem to especially remember her discussion of the difficult Psalms of lament and violence and her defense of the vow of chastity for monks and nuns. If you have never been exposed to the traditions of the Catholic church, this is a great place to start.

7. On Christian Doctrine - St. Augustine. So, everyone always raves about Augustine's Confessions: first spiritual autobiography, blah, blah, blah. I never could understand why he felt so bad about taking a few pears. For my money, On Christian Doctrine (OCD - perfect) is a better book. Basically, Augustine talks about how Christians should interpret scripture, but I love his discussion of love, especially in the first book. He talks about how all the streams of our loves - friends, spouses, neighbors - should be found in the greater river of our love for God. We should love others towards and through our love for God. One of my other favorite images St. Augustine uses is his description of God binding our wounds with "beautiful bandages;" even our wounds can be made beautiful through the work of God. Finally, I absolutely love this quote on the potential misinterpretation of scripture: "Nevertheless, as I was going to say, if his mistaken interpretation tends to build up love, which is the end of the commandment, he goes astray in much the same way as a man who by mistake quits the high road, but yet reaches through the fields the same place to which the road leads." I mean, he's Augustine; you should read him...granted, not for his view on women and original sin.

6. Calendar: Christ's Time for the Church - Laurence Hull Stookey. How can you resist this beautiful cover? I don't know what graphic artist thought that listing the word calendar a thousand times would make for a good cover, but don't judge a book by its cover, right? Stookey's Calendar is a wonderful description of the liturgical year and why we as Christians should follow the liturgical calendar. How we keep time reveals much about our priorities in life. As Christians, Stookey argues, the liturgical calendar helps us keep time in a distinct way that speaks to our particular Christian story - past, present, and future. Stookey also gives a good introduction to each of the Christian seasons (Advent, Lent, Easter, Christmas, etc.), what we are celebrating, why we should celebrate them, and how best to celebrate them in the Church. Over the past five years, the celebration of the Church Year has been one of the most fruitful spiritual practices for me, and I think Stookey gives the best overview of why all Christians should keep the distinct time of the liturgical year. Spoiler alert: Easter's the most important!

5. Anything by Howard Thurman - In my last semester at North Park, I (along with several of my favorite people) took Feminist Practical Theology with the venerable Dr. Phillis Sheppard. The last day of class we (all in our last year, I believe) were discussing the future and what we needed to know as pastors. One of my classmates asked Phillis, "What books do you think all pastors should read?" After naming a couple books I no longer remember, she said, "Oh, and everyone should have Howard Thurman on their shelves." Having never heard of Howard Thurman, I was intrigued and decided to pick up a book the next time I was out. When I did, I quickly found out that he is the man. He was pastor of the first intentionally integrated, multiethnic churches in San Francisco in 1944; he was a prolific writer and educator; and (which I did not know until I got to BU) in 1958 he became the first African-American Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University. What I most connect to in his writings are his often short meditations that seem to cut to the heart of faith and life. For instance, one of my favorite quotes (great for Advent): “[Waiting] is to watch a gathering darkness until all light is swallowed up completely without the power to interfere or bring a halt. Then to continue one’s journey in the darkness with one’s footsteps guide by the illumination of remembered radiance is to know courage of a peculiar kind - the courage to demand that light continue to be light even in the surrounding darkness. To walk in the light while darkness invades, envelops, and surrounds is to wait on the Lord. This is to know the renewal of strength. This is to walk and faint not.”

4. Liberation/Black/Feminist/Womanist Theology - I list these groups together not to glibly equate all of these varied movements as one; they are not. Each has its unique voice that is often very different from the other. Rather, I list them together because all the books that I have read from these different areas have worked commonly against many of the preconceived notions I held as a white man in the majority culture and have allowed me a greater vision of the God who sides with the marginalized and calls Christians to do the same. Some of the most important for me have been: Justo Gonzalez's Manana, James Cone's God of the Oppressed, Phyllis Trible's Texts of Terror, Renita Weems' Battered Love, Monica Coleman's Making a Way Out of No Way, and Marjorie Procter Smith's In Her Own Rite.

3. The Prophetic Imagination - Walter Brueggemann. Okay, I just finished this book last week after being recommended it many times (most notably by Aaron Johnson and Dominique Gilliard), so after all of my school reading was completed this semester, Bruegge's book (we're on a nickname basis) was first on the list. Boy, was it worth it. Basically, Brueggemann's argument is that most in our world/church have given in to either the numbness or despair of a world that does not allow people to draw on their past or look forward to a hopeful future. What we need, he asserts, its prophets that will confront our numbness by criticizing the dominant culture or empire and allow people go truly grieve/lament. Further, for those who despair, prophets energize people by giving them a vision of hope that the world can be different and our futures are not in the hands of the empire. Thus, the church needs leaders who are not numb or despairing, but those who are energized by the Holy Spirit to name and criticize the powers that numb us and imagine the immense possibilities of the church and world.

2. Improvisation - Sam Wells. This is perhaps the most influential book I read during seminary. In it, Wells discusses how the Christian ethical life is not about following a bunch of rules but about improvising within the story of God. Riffing off of N.T. Wright's concept of God's story as a five act play, Wells argues that we live in Act 4 of God's five act play (Act 1- Creation, Act 2- Israel, Act 3-Jesus, Act 4- the Church, Act 5- the Eschaton). Our role as Christians is to live in continuity with the previous acts in light of the future act we have been promised, improvising in the in-between time we find ourselves in. While he uses more acting metaphors, I find the musical metaphor more helpful. If a jazz musician is going to be successful, he or she must know the chord structure backwards and forwards in order to improvise well (continuity). This is continuity. Yet, a jazz musician cannot simply play the same melody over and over again. Even if this is the safer option, it is not improvisation; it is living in fear of a potential mistake. Thus, we as the church must improvise our present ethical lives together in continuity with our past and in line with our promised eschatological future.

1. The Covenant Hymnal - I can almost hear the collective eye roll with this pick, but I'm not going to back down. Over the past five years, it has been the texts of the hymnal that have spoken to me most and helped shape my spiritual/vocational life. The hymnal is this wonderful repository of God's story in the lives of thousands of people across generations and cultures, singing of God's grace, faithfulness, and love. What better calms the spirit during times of anxiety than the assurance, "Be still my soul: the Lord is on thy side" (#455; take the world, but give me the "Assurance in Doubt" and Comfort in Loss" section in the mid-400s)? What better describes our future hope than being "no more a stranger, nor a guest, but like a child at home" (#91, st. 3)? What distills the problems of our consumer culture better than the claim that it is "rich in things and poor in soul" (#608, st. 3)? Further, it has the boldness to say things that would probably get many in trouble from the pulpit. For instance, I love the fact that Fred Kaan's "For the Healing of the Nations" can proclaim, "All that kills abundant living, let it from the earth be banned." That's a sermon in a sentence. I think congregations and individual Christians are bereft of a living tradition when they reject the hymns, spirituals, and songs of previous generations.

So, that's my list - at least today. Are there any you would add?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Thoughts on Duluth

Today I went to a church service I neither planned nor in which I had to participate in, and I have to say it was pretty great. I knew I was in the right place (It was First Lutheran (ELCA) in Duluth) when most of the congregation was decked out in red for Pentecost. Nothing gets me quite like liturgically-appropriate dress.

If you weren't a little teary-eyed during the finale of The Office, I question whether your body is in fact bearing a soul and not just an animate and empty shadow. Also, if you are one of those people raising hell about Benghazi (besides the fact that a recent poll showed that people who thought it was the biggest American political scandal couldn't identify what country it was in) who didn't seem to mind the fact that an entire war costing hundreds of thousands of lives was started under completely false pretenses, I question either your integrity or soundness of mine. Finally, if you think Oblivion looks like a good movie, you're wrong. Oblivion should refer only to the final destination of the film. The first five minutes were like a satire of bad movie dialogue.

Things I have thought since getting back to Duluth:

1. I really need to change my driving habits. Driving like a Bostonian or Chicagoan for a month and a half in Duluth could be a very expensive habit - like a daily-coke-and-Cristal-habit expensive.

2. I forgot how foggy it gets here. The other day I woke up and thought there was a fire nearby.

3. The look is one part flannel, one part middle-aged, and one part anything to keep warm. That's pretty much consistent across gender lines.

4. I swear there's a new restaurant/microbrewery/art gallery downtown every time I come back. Keep it up!

5. Why can I only buy Top the Tater in Minnesota, and why is it so dang good? Along with Dylan, Garrison Keillor, hotdishes, and the Boundary Waters, it is one of Minnesota's gifts to humankind.

6. Yup, the accent is alive and well.

7. Northern Minnesota proms are the best. Besides the usual scene of teens looking uncomfortable in formalwear, one can see tuxes paired with a fleece pullover and choppers and prom dresses under Columbia jackets. It's that one part anything to keep warm I was talking about earlier.

8. There is still no way to drive 30 mph on Central Entrance. Ever.

9. Seeing Lake Superior from the hill has the power to change your entire mood for the day. So beautiful.

In other news, Yahoo! bought Tumblr? If Hotmail purchases Instagram and Juno buys Twitter, things could get interesting.

Okay, I need to run some errands. Later.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Homeward Bound

I am currently sitting in the basement of the Harju residence is Duluth, Minnesota exactly a week after I departed on my cross-country (at least half of it) trek from Boston. First, I headed to Rochester, NY where I reunited with my Mason City friends Paul and LeAnn Nelson and their kids/grandkids. It was great to be able to catch up after almost four years. I stayed Friday-Sunday, leaving Sunday after their church service. My next stop was Jamestown, NY where I caught up with my long-time friends and neighbors Sarah and TK Johnson, their son Sawyer, and their sweet new(ish) daughter, Hazel! In keeping with our customs, we headed to Southern Tier Brewing Company for some beer and pizza. It was great to catch up, even if it ended with a sick kid (more on that to come!). The actual tasting room is gorgeous:

At about 5:30, I left Jamestown and rolled into Chicago around 12:45 to crash on my brother's floor. I woke up at 10:15 and decided I just wanted to make it home, so I ate a quick solo breakfast at Tre Kronor (sorry everyone I didn't call!) and headed out. I got into Duluth at about 6ish, unpacked at the Harjus, and went down to the Brewhouse to celebrate my homecoming. Because my niece Paisley was getting over the flu, I didn't get to meet her until the following day. Anna recorded the meeting for posterity's sake:

She was way more into the Twins game then her deadbeat uncle. So, everything was going great, and then last night at about midnight I started to feel a little under the weather. I took my cure-all Alka-Seltzer and started to think I was feeling better. Au contraire, mon amie. At 2 I woke up, and the flu was on. I'll spare you the graphic details, but I think it's the worst I've ever felt from the flu. I thought about jotting down a last will and testament just to be on the safe side. From about 2-6  I was in pretty rough shape, and I've spent the rest of the day sipping ginger ale, napping, and watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. So, the homecoming has been somewhat dampened, but I think I'll be back on my feet by Sunday. 

I realize it's been quite a while since my last post, and more has happened that can be recorded in a blog post that anyone would have the endurance to read, so I'm going to hit on the highlights of the last few months:

1. This semester was perhaps my most academically challenging so far. Having three 30-page papers due at the end of it kept me on my toes, but all's well that ends well, and the semester did indeed end well. It's crazy to think that I only have one more year in Boston!

2. I got to spend a fun birthday in Chicago, even if I almost didn't make it out of the airport (snowstorm combined with a dead battery; I didn't know planes' batteries could die. I was waiting for AAA to come or a plane to pull up next to us with really long jumper cables). One of the most surprising birthday presents came from my sister, Jessica. She had meant to send me the following artwork:

It's a really great picture of Canal Park, which is where Duluthians spend a lot of their free time and where we all worked during high school/college. Instead, she accidentally sent me the following image:

Yep. Instead of sending me a picture of Duluth she not only sent me a picture of Wisconsin, but GREEN BAY! I was on the phone with her when I opened it up, and I think the conversation went something like:
Dave: (stunned silence)
Jess: What do you think?
Dave: Well, if it's what you wanted to send me, I'm not sure what to think.
Jess: What?
Dave: You sent me a picture entitled "Green Bay on a Sunday Afternoon!"

It almost ruined my birthday, but after hiding it in an appropriately dark and damp place, I was able to overcome the trauma.

3. I decided to spend my summer in Duluth and Chicago! I need a good dose of the Midwest, so I am spending May and June in Duluth substitute teaching and July in Chicago writing. So, I would like everyone to open their calendars and let me know when and where we are going to be hanging out. My favorite places in Duluth are the Brewhouse, Canal Park, and the North Shore. My favorite places in Chicago are rooftop restaurants, Ravinia, and karaoke bars. So, get busy. 

4. I'm also very excited to be taking an independent study on Covenant worship and hymnody from the one and only Phil Anderson, so hopefully I will get up to the cabin soon and begin that. I've already started indexing the Covenant hymnals, which I'm sure makes many of you swoon with desire or rage in jealousy.

Well, I can't look at the screen anymore. So, I'm out. Later.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Crazy Dreams, Chicago, and Etiquette

Last night I dreamt that I was stuck in some type of circular cage/prison, a bit like those cages at circuses that motorcycles drive around in except with more rusted iron, and there was a huge troll and this slowly descending giant screw that was eventually going to kill a prisoner chained underneath. It seemed inevitable until I suddenly remembered that I was a wizard, and Hermione and Ron showed up on my right and left (was I Harry Potter? I'm not sure. Either way, dream come true.). First, we took care of the screw by lassoing the troll into it with threads that shot from our wands, causing the screw to rip from its moorings and crash down (leaving the prisoner unharmed). Then, with my reminder to hit the troll in the head where it's most vulnerable, we all cried, "STUPIFY!" and took care of the troll. The remainder of the dream was spent trying to get off of the compound (Malfoy Manor?). At one point, I passed a bunch of kids (probably Slytherins) playing some outdoor game during a gym class, and I tried to stupify the professor, but I missed. Then, one girl from the sidelines  (who was actually fellow Hermantown-ian Sarah Miller - but she's definitely a Ravenclaw or a Hermione-like Gryffindor, not a Slytherin) yelled, "Someone's cheating out here! They're trying to stupify  the opponents!" So, apparently my dreams are really bad fan fiction, but I'm okay with it.

Sometimes you get excited when the 1905 Methodist hymnal comes in the mail, and then you reflect on your life and the choices you've made to get to this point and wonder at the trajectory.

All I'm going to say is Chicago better get this out of its system before Friday. If my flight gets cancelled, I'm going to be one unhappy camper (picture me in sweatpants and a worn out t-shirt sitting on my bed with a cheap cupcake with a single candle singing "Happy Birthday to Me" in a creepily monotone melody with my eyes staring unfocused at the wall). Also, while I haven't been impacted thus far by the sequestration debacle, if that screws up my flight, I'm going to go on the political warpath (by which I obviously mean writing snarky facebook posts about the incompetence of the government. You know, a real grassroots movement).

26 days until opening day! Once we're into baseball's regular season, that to me is the surest sign of spring and the promise of summer. I'm not holding my breath about the Twins this year. They're rotation is filled with the injured or recently recovered, and most of the pitchers you would think play for the Twins are pitching in Chicago (Baker, Liriano, Garza). It could be another long year for the Twinkies.

What I could use help with is the related "two sets of doors/bless you" etiquette. Let me explain. When I come to a set of doors with another set of doors right after them, am I required to hold the door open at both sets? Also, if someone does it for me, should I say thank you at both doors? Wait for the second one? Do only the first? Is it rude to open the door for the person, they then return the favor and open the door for you at the second door, and then you take a spot closer to the front of a line (like at a Chipotle, for example) looking like you set the whole thing up? How far back does a person need to be behind you to not feel obligated to hold the door open behind you? I don't know what to do. Sneezing is basically the same. Do you wait for the last sneeze to say bless you? What if they only sneeze once but act like they're going to sneeze again? How about serial sneezers (I'm looking at you, Elsa Johnson)? I had a teacher in high school who banned "Bless you's" from being said in his classroom. He was also the teacher who would randomly throw a candy bar (he was the softball coach, and they were constantly selling candy bars) into the middle of the classroom, and whoever came out with the candy bar got it. It was a battle royale/no-holds-barred/Hunger Games-type experience that turned friend against friend, family member against family member, and formed unlikely alliances - all in a game he termed the "hustle drill." He loved to witness people competing with their whole being in the achievement of any goal, no matter how trivial.

Tonight I will be watching the Wild vs. Blackhawks game. I'm hoping that I can find an establishment that will show the game so I can watch it amongst other human beings. We'll see if that can actually happen. Okay, time to go. Later.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Fruit Eating, Pat Robertson, and Popes

Well, another week of school in the books. Thursday afternoon always comes with a sense of relief and dread - relief that I have the weekend to work, dread because it's one week closer to deadlines for three large papers. Gotta hit the books (usually figuratively, occasionally literally).

So, my latest strategy to eat better is that each time I go to the grocery store, I pick up one more piece of fruit than I did the last time. So far, I've saved them all from their usual place on the compost pile and eaten every one. One small step for man, one giant leap for Bjorlin.

So, this is the real reason I don't do much shopping at Goodwill:

First, you know your asking a crazy question when the woman reading the question can't make it through without snickering and Pat Robertson just barely can take you seriously. Second, for once Pat Robertson and I are in total agreement if by "demons" he means "germs" and by "rebuking" he means "thoroughly washing." Also, I've heard that beginning story too, except it wasn't a Filipino girl, it was a hobbit; and it wasn't a witch, it was the Dark Lord Sauron. But boy, all hell sure did break loose when that ring came into his life!

One week from tomorrow I'll be flying to Chicago! If you are not busy on Friday the 8th come out to Sidekicks karaoke bar at 9 p.m!

Thoughts about the pope retiring:
-probably a good thing. I can't imagine JPII was really steering the helm those last couple years of his papacy.
-does papal infallibility carry over into retirement?
-does he still have some ex oficio powers?
-he's never going to have to pay for another drink in his life!
-How about a non-European pope under the age of 70 (or a woman. Too soon?)?
-I wonder if he snuck out with Vatican pint glasses up his billowing sleeves?

Last night I had my first chicken and waffles experience with the Right Rev. Christiana Tinglof. I have to say it was a pretty great experience. I mean, it's fried chicken and waffles with butter and syrup; what's not to like? If you ever need good restaurant advice in the Boston area, Christina's the person to call.

I got this picture of my niece (Paisley) in an email with the subject line, "Pretty upset she hasn't met you yet":

That's one way to get me to home to Duluth a bit more often, even if it is a bit manipulative on my sister's part.

Okay, time to get back to hymnal indices. Later!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Mystery Science Theater, Oscars, and Knowledge Bowl

So, where has Mystery Science Theater 3000 been my whole life?! I didn't realize how funny it would be. I was watching it last night (instead of that monstrosity they call the Oscars) and could not stop laughing out loud. Those three are what I try to be during the previews of every movie and, if it were socially acceptable, what I would probably do during the feature film as well (I have to resort to whispering too loudly in the person's ear next to me, much to their lasting chagrine I'm sure). Here's about a minute of an episode in case you have never indulged:

I think there should be a ten year moratorium on any actor winning an Oscar for a portrayal of an actual historical figure. We don't need to hear about how you immersed yourself in the person's life and made everyone call you by that person's name for six months so you wouldn't break character. I imagine conversations like this:
Stephen Spielsberg: Hey Daniel, will you gr...
Daniel Day Lewis (in Lincoln's voice): There is no Daniel here! Who is this man you spea...
Stephen (rolling eyes): Okay, ABE, will you gr...
Daniel (fierce indignation): How dare you address the President in such a casual manner! I am the president of the United States of America, clothed in immense power!
Stephen (eyes permanently stuck in back of head): I apologize. Mr. President, would you grab Sally for this next...
Daniel: Sally? I know no Sally. Mary Todd is currently in "a mood" as we call it, and is indisposed at the moment (Sally comes in in character crying like Mary Todd and raving like Sybil).
Stephen: Okay, that's it. We're done for the day. Mr. and Mrs. President, you two can go back to your hotel suites, order dinner, and check with the generals on how the war is going. Oh, by the way, spoiler alert, the North wins (Daniel pumps his fist in delight), but I wouldn't get too excited; there's a plot twist  at the end that does not work out in your favor.

I have a hard time trusting academics/writers who don't use the Oxford comma. What's next? Two spaces between sentences?

I just realized they showed both the Oscars and the Daytona 500 on the same day. First, that's a lot of snore material for one Sunday. Second, here's the Venn diagram on that viewing demographic. A is those who watched the Oscars and B is those who watched Daytona 500.

I'm always amazed at what I end up thinking about as I lay in bed struggling to go to sleep. For instance, last night it was a controversial Knowledge Bowl question/answer. Let me explain. Knowledge Bowl, for the uninitiated, was basically a quiz game (like Jeopardy) where schools would compete against one another in teams of five. Each rounded consisted of two other teams gathered around their own long, green sensor strip that you buzzed in on. All of these were connected to an old Apple IIe where a judge sat reading the questions and determining who buzzed in first. As you can imagine, this gathering was not exactly a who's who of high school cool kids. I remember one bus trip, perhaps after our tenth grade history lecture on the Donner party, a group of students in the back of the bus making a list of who they would eat first if we were to be stranded along the highway. Our group often went to Hibbing where we would gather with all of the other students in the auditorium, which is also the famed auditorium where a young Bob Dylan (then Zimmerman) played his guitar for the first time in public and had a principal/teacher come on stage and rip the cord out of the amplifier. So, you have that iconic moment and then this group of brainy misfits wearing Einstein ties and talking buzzer strategy. Here's a picture of a team, albeit with a yellow strip instead of green (must be a regional variation):

Anyway, this particular incident occurred in a normal meet (yup, they were called meets. Mind you, they were also held during the day, so you got to miss a day of class every other week or so, which was a big draw for me.) and the question began: "This Civil War hymn written by Julia Ward Brown to the tune of "John Brown's Body" was...". At this point I buzzed in (another subtle nuance of knowledge bowl is that you could buzz in at any point during the question, but if you got it wrong, the other teams could listen to the remainder of the question. Oh, the courage needed!) and confidently said, "Battle Hymn of the Republic." The woman checked her sheet and murmured, "I'm sorry, that's incorrect." The next team buzzed in and pronounced haughtily, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Yup, I got it wrong because I didn't put a definite article before the title (which it does not need, mind you. And do we really think I'm thinking of a different song. "Oh, yeah, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" is the one that goes, "Mine eyes have seen the glory..."; "Battle Hymn of the Republic" is the one that goes, "Load your muskets, Lee is comin' with that godless rebel horde..."). So, that's what I was replaying in my mind last night as I tried to go to sleep. That's when one reaches for the Benadryl.

So, today's research has me in 4th century Jerusalem celebrating the Epiphany octave (Jerusalem Christmas). So, I better get back to that. Later.