Saturday, December 13, 2008

Yes, Master


Last night I was filled with great pride to see my lovely bride receive her Master's degree at the Winter commencement ceremony. It can't be understated how hard Nicole has worked these last 3.5 years. She's juggled full time work, multiple part time jobs, a full load of graduate courses, and a pregnancy--all while putting up with a dufus like me. Her hard work kept us fed, clothed, and sheltered while we pursued graduate education. After going through so much last winter, Nicole committed to press on with her studies and this fall finished her coursework to earn a Master of Non-Profit Administration degree. I'm continually impressed with her diligence and her grace under fire. She is an inspiration to me. Congratulations, Nicole. You've more than earned it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Year is a Relative Thing

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your Presence?
If I ascend into heaven, you are there;
If I make my bed in the grave, you are there;
If I rise on the wings of the morning
or dwell on the farthest reaches of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me
and the night shall be light about me,
"
Even the darkness hides nothing from You,
but the night shines as the day;
the darkness and the light are both alike to You.
-
Psalm 139

Tonight marks an entire year since the night we held our daughter for the final time as she breathed her last. Easily, the darkest moment of our lives. Its something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. There are times when people pass away, and though sad, it is a holy moment to honor a life well lived. Many other times, premature death shatters all we know to be good and holy. The night Evie died was a night of bitter loneliness. I did not know where God was.

Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their Spirits rise up to praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave?
Why do you hide your face from me?
You have taken from me...
Darkness is my only companion
-
Psalm 88

In the following days, weeks, and months our friends surrounded us with care. They prayed when we could not. I grasped for faith, and occasionally, caught hold of something. Or perhaps, more accurately, someone got a hold of me. My mind still frequently remembers holding her cold body and wondering where God went. Eventually, I learned where God was. Here...

God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself
-2 Corinthians 5.19

Where was God? He was on the cross, befriending my daughter in his death. God the Father, grieving the grief that we know... that he knows. But that is not the final word.

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered... Since children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. -Hebrews 2.10, 14-5

God knows. God cares. More than that, God saves. The love demonstrated in the death and resurrection of Christ means not only that Evie is not alone, but that she and I and all who belong to him will not stay dead. Death has been swallowed up in Victory! Where, O Death, is your Victory? Where, O Death, is your sting? -I Corinthians 15:55

=======

Still, we miss her so much. The passage of time has healed a lot of wounds, but in some ways its painful to think about how long she's been gone. Grief is a curious thing. It ebbs and flows and shows up in unexpected ways. Today has been a mostly good day. We've spent it together just being with one another and also finding some holiday activities to lift our spirits a little bit.

Studies have shown that couples who lose a child might triple their odds of divorce. There might be a few different reasons for this. For one, the inevitable depression that accompanies the loss can put incredible strain on marriage. The adage might also be true that "hurt people, hurt people". While certainly the pain of losing Evie impacted our relationship, remarkably our love for each other has been an incredible source of strength for the battle. We know we need each other. We're blessed to have each other to carry one another. We're also blessed to have such a wonderful community of people who look out for us and have helped us along this last year: both our biological family, our many church families, and friends from all over. We'll never be able to thank you all enough.



Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Second Week of Advent

For a variety of reasons, I have been in a fairly significant spiritual "desert" place for the last few weeks. Life's circumstances, frustration, and guilt have taken their toll on my soul. As I felt my soul sinking lower and lower, this morning I was graced with the worship of the Church in Advent season. I have been gifted with some hope.

It was a morning where the hand of providence seemed to conspire circumstances that spoke significantly into my darkness. A time when many things come together from the music, the scripture, the sermon, and even the treasurer giving a stewardship report--all these things combined as the Spirit stirred something inside of me. It was something like this: though the checking account is precariously low, though the future is uncertain, and though my past is marked with pain--the dope is that there is still hope. You don't belong to this world and its vision of life, you belong to Jesus and his Kingdom- a place where money doesn't matter, where power doesn't influence, where status is out of style and all belong and are loved. We who are baptized into Christ have died to the old self and now live a new life. I need to live that new life.

The hours we spend on Sunday Morning in worship are a symbol and a sign that we believe the world is not as it should be. We bend ourselves to a breaking point to see the world beyond ours, to see the world through the eyes of Jesus. To look beyond the chaos and the sin and the tragedy and say, "there is meaning in this!" There is something out there beyond us! Trust, believe, and repent... and together we will wait for God.

So this morning was a time for me to hear the message of two prophets, Isaiah who says, "
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God... He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep," and John the Baptist who cries out for the people to confess their sin, repent, and be baptized. I needed to hear both. To know that God still cares, but also to know that I need to be reborn each and everyday--to put on Christ and live a resurrected life and reject the culture of death that is obsessed with power, status, consumerism, hollow sexuality, and cold hard cash.

Some refreshed hope makes waiting more enjoyable. Happy Advent!

Monday, November 17, 2008

One Year


She would have been 1 today. I'm not sure what to write. Its a tough day for us, but perhaps not as bad as we feared. Surely, there have been and will be tears; but while our hearts ache I think I can also say that I experience some measure of "peace that passes understanding". I've never been "Pollyannaish" about suffering and redemption, I read the bible too much to believe trite sentiments. Sometimes life really sucks. Still, sometimes grace gives you the strength to suffer today in order to see hope tomorrow. We love her and miss her so much, and today is yet another milestone robbed from us by the enemy. But we honor her short life by continuing to live ours. We spent some time away this weekend, just Nicole and I to be by ourselves and to escape. It was nice. We carry grief in our hearts, but also some joy at the privilige to have known and cared for her. We are also glad for the many kind words shared with us already as we face these painful anniversaries. Happy Birthday, Evie.

Children's Heartlink.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Present Now Will Later be Past

Whatever your politics (I don't intend to start or participate in any kind of debate), its an understatement to say that last night was a moment of incredible historic significance. Dylan's much over quoted song remains stubbornly about the only appropriate thing to say, "The times they are-a changing." The stain of America's original sin is not entirely gone, but 400 years later... the cynics are being shown the door. A black man named Barack Hussein Obama beat the Clinton machine in lilly white Iowa, and then went on to be elected to the highest office in the land. He didn't win in a squeaker, he won outright--he won midwestern states, he won in the mountain west, and he's even won in the old south. This morning columnist Thomas Friedman even went so far to say this, "And so it came to pass that on Nov. 4, 2008, shortly after 11 p.m. Eastern time, the American Civil War ended, as a black man — Barack Hussein Obama — won enough electoral votes to become president of the United States."

Rod Dreher notes the poetic symmetry of history in the new American political landscape:

The modern conservative movement began with the crushing defeat of Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential race. The modern conservative movement ends with the crushing defeat of Arizona Sen. John McCain -- who took Goldwater's Senate seat upon his retirement -- in the 2008 presidential race.

Modern liberalism began its implosion with riots in Chicago's Grant Park at the 1968 Democratic Convention. Tonight, modern liberalism is reborn at Chicago's Grant Park, where a black Chicago Democrat will celebrate winning the presidency.

Whatever your politics, what lies ahead are great challenges. But we can now say for certain that anything is possible. So that's enough politics for now--let's all just take a deep breath. I plan to have a cup of coffee and do some housework. In the meantime, trust that the universe will unfold as it should--under the watch of our creator.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Man in the Well

"Faith is not necessarily, or not soon, a resting place. Faith puts you out on a wide river in a little boat, in the fog, in the dark. Even a man of faith knows that we've all got to go through enough to kill us. As a man of faith, I've thought a considerable amount about a friend of mine (imagined, but also real) I call the Man in the Well.

The wooded slopes and hollows hereabouts are strewn with abandoned homesteads, the remains of another kind of world. Most of them by now have no buildings left. Everything about them that would rot has rotted. What you find now in those places when you come upon them are the things that were built of stone: foundations, cellars, chimneys, wells. Sometimes the wells are deep, dug to the bedrock and beyond, and walled with rock laid up without mortar. Those walls, laid underground where there is no freezing and thawing, will last, I guess, almost forever.

Sometimes the well is the only structure remaining, and there will be no visible sign of it. It will be covered with old boards in some stage of decay, green with moss or covered with leaves. It is a perfect trap, and now and then you find that rabbits and groundhogs have blundered in and drowned. A man too could blunder into one.

Imagine a hunter, somebody from a city some distance away, who has a job he doesn't like, and who has come alone out into the country to hunt on a Saturday. It is a beautiful, perfect full day, and the Man feels free. He has left all his constraints and worries and fears behind. Nobody knows where he is. Anybody who wanted to complain or accuse or collect a debt could not find him. The morning that started frosty has grown warm. The sky seems to give its luster to everything in the world. The Man feels strong and fine. His gun lies ready in the crook of his arm, though he really doesn't care whether he finds game or not. He has a sandwich and a candy bar in his coat pocket. And then, not looking where he is going, which is easy enough on such a day, he steps onto the rotten boards that cover one of those old wells, and down he goes.

He disappears suddenly out of the lighted world. He falls so quickly that he doesn't have time even to ask what is happening. He hits water, goes under, comes up, swims, or clings to the wall, inserting his fingers between the rocks. And now, I think, you cannot help imagining the way it would be with him. He looks up and sees how far down he has come. The sky that was so large and reassuring only seconds ago is now just a small blue picture of itself, far away. His first thought is that he is alone, that nobody knows where he is; these two great pleasures that were his freedom have now become his prison, perhaps his tomb. He calls out (for might not somebody chance to be nearby, just as he chanced to fall into the well?) and he hears himself enclosed within the sound of his own calling voice.

How does this story end? Does he save himself? Is he athletic enough, maybe, to get his boots off and climb out, clawing with fingers and toes into the grudging holds between the rocks of the wall? Does he climb up and fall back? Does somebody, in fact, for a wonder, chance to pass nearby and hear him? Does he despair, give up, and drown? Does he, despairing, pray finally the first true prayer of his life?

Listen. There is a light that includes our darkness, a day that shines down even on the clouds. A man of faith believes that the Man in the Well is not lost. He does not believe this easily or without pain, but he believes it. His belief is a kind of knowledge beyond any way of knowing. He believes that the child in the womb is not lost, nor is the man who's work has come to nothing, nor is the old woman forsaken in a nursing home. He believes that those who make their bed in Hell are not lost, or those who dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, or the lame man at Bethesda Pool, or Lazarus in the grave, or those who pray, 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani.' Have Mercy."

-Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

Monday, October 27, 2008

Spoiled

Louis CK gives some (hilarious) perspective:

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Linky Stinky

Some more things that caught my eye this week...

  1. The story of a really great dog.
  2. A fascinating photography exhibit of some of Chicago's tucked away churches.
  3. Rod Dreher on artistry, honesty, and "Christian movies".
  4. Michael Bird chimes in on Trinitarian debates.
  5. Our friend Becky Eklund recently preached at the executive board meeting of the Covenant church on what it means to be "In it Together".

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Good Times

We’ve had a full but fun weekend here in the Kennedy house. Saturday was a full day at the farmer’s market for the two of us, but Saturday night we had the pleasure to go see one of my newer favorite bluegrass groups at the Riviera: Old Crow Medicine Show.

OCMS put on a great show with high energy alternative-country that mostly classifies as bluegrass but occasionally reaches into Hank Williams kind of blues ballads. OCMS is definitely “old school” string music, but done with a bit of a punk attitude. OCMS’s self titled album is a quality piece of work; excellent musicianship that carries on the deep traditions of mountain music into the 21st century. Folk music of the American south in the 20th century was steeped in faith, populism, local culture, love of place, a sense of both outrage and resignment over the plight of the southern poor, and the metaphors of great journeys and great wanderings . Like Johnny Cash’s “Man in Black”, OCMS sings about solidarity with the disenfranchised in “I Hear them All”. While many of the great country musicians have sun g extensively about battles with drugs and alcohol, OCMS plays the contemporary version of the same battle with songs like “Methamphetamine”, “Tennessee Pusher”, and “Tell it to Me”—exploring the great struggle rural communities face against the scourge of substance abuse. The band played with unprecedented energy, speed, and skill that kept the crowd dancing throughout the evening. OCMS mostly tours the south, so their concert here in Chicago was a special event which brought out fans from all across the Midwest who raucously sang and danced to all the great music. They didn’t sing any louder than when the band played their hit song, "Wagon Wheel"—a song I can listen to over and over and not get tired of. Like some of the best country music, it’s a song about struggle that makes you want to sing loud in with a defiant hope. It makes you want to cry but also makes you want to sing out with joy.

Even though we were out late on Saturday, we decided to get up early on Sunday to head north and spend the day in Wisconsin to see some old friends and take in some brilliant fall foliage. We worshiped with our family at Anchor Covenant Church, and it was good to be among them again. We admired the brilliant colors of autumn in Lake Geneva, took a drive through the country, took a little hike in the Kettle Moraine Forrest, and then sampled some cheeses on the way home—getting home just in time to watch the Seahawks embarrass themselves on Sunday Night Football yet again.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Plateau

When a couple breaks up, its said that it takes as long as you were ever with that person to get over that person. If you dated for 6 months, it might take 6 months for you to finally get over them. They also say "time heals all wounds". To compare the loss of a child to a break up is a grotesque comparison (though that's obvious, I'll still elaborate later). What I would like to say is that time does not heal all wounds. Some wounds we will carry all our life. That's a lesson I'm learning as today is now 11 months since Evie was born. Its been much longer that Evie's been gone than we ever knew she existed. In just a few weeks an entire year will have passed. While my journey of grief has come along way (I am no where near the place I was in January or March or even June), in some ways I've found that the sense of healing has plateaued somewhat. In fact, pain and grief now show up in new ways and it stings worse than it has. They are fresh wounds.

So what is happening? How could things steadily get better and then not? I think a few things have happened. The first is a simple phenomenon: I have more free time. This spring I was breaking my back trying to finish incomplete work from the fall on top of a full load of spring coursework in addition to an internship. The "busyness" of life was a suitable distraction from the deep grief inside. Then with my new work this summer, I've still filled many hours with work, but its a different kind of work. Its a lot of time spent alone. Its a lot of hours alone in traffic. Its a lot of "body work", and a lot less "mind work". I now have the time for my mind to wander-- and it wanders back to Children's Memorial Hospital. I relive the frightening experiences in unprecedented detail. Images, sounds, smells, and feelings are as clear as day. Memories of these are not as frightening as they once were, but they still hurt.

There is a second phenomenon that is more unique to the premature death of a child. We mourn not only the past but the future. We will mourn the entirety of what Evie's life should have been. We mourn the those life-markers that will not happen: first steps, first words, first birthdays, first day of school... those are all little deaths that we must mourn in the wake of our great loss. While it doesn't bother me to be around the children of my friends, for some reason when I see a stranger with a child about the same age that Evie would be--it feels like a roundhouse kick to the stomach... and to the heart. We grieve the loss we experienced last year, but we continue to grieve the lifetime of joy stolen from us.

We feel anger, sadness, and a bit of "lostness". Still, I've considered this new phase of grief a necessary stage of the journey. Grief is work. Its work that I may have set aside in my busyness this spring, but like all things there is a time to collect on debts. What I'm realizing as I return to the work of grief is that the payoff might not be what I initially expected. Healing might not look the way I think. What I mean is that I now no longer ever expect to be "fully normal" again in this life. Everything is different. Its not unlike a physical injury. Surgery and therapy might return you to function, but it is still likely you'll continue to walk with a limp. The process of grief has and will continue to return me to functional, but I still live and love "with a limp".

As I have always said, writing about these things is not to fish for sympathy. Its merely that there is something cathartic about talking about it. It feels good to tell our story. Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Presidential Debates

I've come upon some exclusive advanced footage of tonight's presidential debate practice round...




Its good to see some civility return to political debate!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A gift of charity

You might have noticed the poll I put on the right side of this page about charitable contributions as alternatives for Christmas gifts. So far everyone that responded has said they would prefer this type of gift to something material. There are a lot of days left until Christmas, so please vote because I am really curious about what people think! It's anonymous, and even if it wasn't, I wouldn't judge you based on your answer. :)

This idea was introduced to me when I discovered a website a couple of years ago called Buy Nothing Christmas. I like this idea. Think of the people you buy gifts for, your friends and family. For many of them, if you're like me, you struggle to come up with something to give them because they have everything they need and a lot of what they want. Why not give them the gift of a charitable donation in their name to one of their favorite charities? Or something you put a lot of heart and only a little money into, like their favorite cookies or a craft? I haven't done a Christmas like this yet, primarily because I always procrastinate and then I run out of time to be creative. That's when you find me at Target and the mall. And I probably never will do a Christmas when I truly buy nothing, because I absolutely love gift giving, and even if I craft every last gift I would have to buy a lot of supplies. But I really love the idea of giving to a worthy charity at least for a part of a loved one's gift. I know I'll always end up buying things, and I'm sure most people will, but the idea of a "buy-nothing-Christmas" has got me thinking about how I can be more creative and thoughtful with how I give gifts, especially on the day we celebrate Christ's birth. If you have any ideas to share of how you've given gifts that are: 1.creative 2. frugal 3. unique, please share those ideas!

I'll be sharing some posts in the upcoming weeks about some of the charitable organizations that I think are impressive. I'd also love to hear who you like. In the meantime, speaking of charity, this website (WARNING: includes near-nudity) is quite funny if you are familiar with the Product(RED) campaign. Please know that I absolutely don't think there is anything wrong with the Gap or Dell or whoever giving a part of their proceeds to charity. I just like buy(LESS) for their tongue-in-cheek take on it.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Maps

I've always been fascinated by maps. As a kid, whenever we were on a road trip I would love to trace our route and note the things we might see along the way (I still do this now). Recently I've been following the election polls and examining the "electoral map" of the United States, noting which states turn "blue" or "red" with different public opinion polls (www.fivethirtyeight.com is my favorite site for this). Yet there are things about maps that are deceiving. For instance; on a world map North American and Europe are always at the top? As our planet floats in space is there any real objective way to say that North is up? Yes it could be a matter of aesthetics, but I think it mostly is a product of perspective. We who are wealthy and strong want to see our homes at the top of the map. You might also notice the way that taking a round globe and putting on a flat map distorts some of the preportions of the globe (is Greenland really almost as big as Africa? No, its only about 40% the land mass [see also Australia).

The subjectivity of our perspective can fundamentally alter the way we think. Hard data is not that hard to the human mind. Consider the fears we might have of terrorism, kidnappings, or freak accidents to our apathy about the mundane things that are more likely to prematurely kill us: heart disease, cancer, drunk driving, driving while texting. The odds are astronomically greater that the donuts I had for breakfast is the more likelier cause of my death than gang crossfire. But you wouldn't know it the way we talk about what scares us.

So as we consider the great threats we face in the United States of turmoil in our pocket books as well as geopolitical turmoil, it would do us well to try and get some perspective. Take a look at these maps.


This is our planet as it appears geographically. But look below as the map is altered to reflect what people suffered the greatest casualties of warfare in the 2oth century.


Its not hard to see how Africa, Asia, and the Middle East have suffered the most catastrophic war-time suffering even when you account for the devastation of Europe in WWII. Consider now what the future of global economics might hold...

This is a projection of the distribution of wealth through 2015. Notice that even though India and East Asia project to grow enormously, Europe and the U.S. still maintain a huge portion of wealth-- and Africa remains far behind.

I posit all of this to say, for us in the United States, all the fear we may experience as it relates to financial and national security might be overstated. It might be that the reality of our situation is not that we're "crashing", but that we're coming back down to earth. We've been insulated from so long from the violence and poverty of the rest of the planet that the economic and political troubles of our day feel more threatening than they really are. Don't get me wrong, I know things are tough for a lot of people-- many Americans are suffering the burdens of medical debt, unemployment/underemployment, or fear for a loved one deployed in a war zone. All I suggest is that as the world gets smaller, each of us should expand our outlook to consider not just quality of life here in America--but all over our small world.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Our vacation

Wow, this blog got kind of pathetic over the last few weeks. I guess I've either been too busy or too lazy to write! The most exciting thing of note to happen in the month of September was our vacation in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico with a couple of good friends. It was very refreshing to get away after a really hectic few weeks at work. We were really worried about the weather with it being storm season and all, but it would seem that Chicago ended up getting the storms we were expecting in Cabo. While we were nursing sunburns from all our time enjoying the outdoors, the North Park campus was being flooded! Luckily we came home to a dry basement.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Monday Morning QB

Football

The Seahawks did not have a good start to the season yesterday, getting blownout by the Bills 34-10. After Shawn Alexander's spectacular meltdown last year, Seattle fans hoped that a new running game would be the final missing piece to a great team. Instead the tandem attack of Julius Jones and Maurice Morris as running backs were pretty unremarkable. But the real challenge was that the passing game floundered with Hasselbeck only completing 17/41. It was bad enough when 2 of our starting receivers were out with injuries, but last year's touchdown leader and key return man Nate Burleson went out with an injury. That means we will possibly go weeks into the season without a single veteran in the receiving corps (the other wideouts yesterday had only four measly receptions between the three of them). The Hawks continue to have the advantage of playing in the threatless NFC west, but an injured Hasselback leading a rookie group of receivers does not look to be a powerful offense. Let's hope that Burleson, Engram, and Branch have quick recoveries... otherwise this season could be the end of our playoff run.

The biggest surprise from yesterday was the Bears upsetting the Colts. The Bears defense finally showed up to play like their reputation should indicate. Rookie RB Matt Forte played excellent, and while Kyle Orton doesn't razzle-dazzle with his quarterbacking, he's competent enough to convert some third downs and keep the offense on the field. For as bad as the Bears played last year and in the preseason, it will be interesting to see if this spark of great football continues and the Bears can actually contend in the NFC north.

Baseball

One of the few highlights of the Mariners season was this weekend's series against the Yankees. Relief pitcher Brandon Morrow was sent down to AAA to get stretched out to become a starter, and his time there wasn't real inspiring. But at his first major league start on Friday night he pitched a one-hitter through 7 2/3rd innings beating the Yankees. The Mariners took two of three from the Yankees and that all but eliminated New York from the post-season. Not too shabby, but my dream of a Bostonless playoff season seems to have slipped away.

The Cubs have been on an awful slide this week losing 7 of their last 8. Its been a team effort with the offense falling asleep (save for Saturday night's 14 run pounding) and the bullpen giving up a lot of runs (the cracks in the relief pitching I noticed at midseason are starting to show more). Last night Kerry Wood gave up a 2-run lead in the ninth, the night before three relievers gave up 6 runs in two innings. The Cubs still have a four game lead in the NL central. I expect the offense will shake this off and could still produce the best team in baseball, but the unreliability of the bullpen will make any playoff opponent a legitimate threat to the Cubs.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Can you guess who I'm voting for?

Has anyone been watching the conventions? I did, a little. But not much, cause I already know who I'm voting for. I'll give you a couple clues and see if you can guess. Illinois loves him, and he really strikes a chord with the nation's younger voters because, lets face it, he's kind of cool.

Guesses?

That's right, I am proud to say that I'll be voting for Ghettoblaster Lincoln.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Linky Linky

I haven't had much to write about this week, so I thought I'd share a few things I read that caught my eye in the last few days.

  1. Its hard to stop speculating about a cross-town series this October. Chi-Town would go nuts. It would be awesome.
  2. Fleming Rutledge on "Blind Boys of Alabama and the Living Jesus"
  3. Greg Boyd does a Philosophical review of The Dark Knight.
  4. Baby ducks + Danger + Happy ending = "Awwwwwww..."
  5. I suddenly don't feel so bad about my Bacon-Brat a few weeks ago.
Tonight is the Chicago Covenant Softball League Championship. Tuesday night was the divisional championship and the Seminary team beat Ravenswood Covenant in a dramatic contest that ended in a walk-off seventh inning win. Tonight we take on the surging Sojourner Covenant Church who are this year's Cinderella team. Go Sem Scholars!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Zaccheus' Baconfest '08






























We went camping last weekend near Tomah with some friends from MN and WI. Towards the end of the trip we titled the outing "1st Annual Baconfest" since we had bacon at almost every meal. The most unholy creation was the bacon-wrapped sausage (pictured). And since we were in Wisconsin, of course Matt and I had to stop at a cheese factory on the way home. We hiked, grilled, took a dip in the lake, got a tan, and just hung out. It was really fun!

Southside Baseball, continued



















These are pictures from our baseball outing. Yep, I wore my Twins hat and somehow didn't get killed (just a few jeers)!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Southside Baseball

Nicole and I went down to the Cell last night for the first of a three game series: Sox vs Mariners. Its the first time all season the M's have been in town, thus my first time this year I've had a chance to see the M's live. As is often the case, Seattle lost badly: 13-5. When the M's played the Cubs last year in interleauge, we saw a number of Seattle fans at Wrigley. Not too many at the Cell last night--no doubt the difference being last year we were only a few games out of first, this year we're one of the worst in the league.

Going into the game I had tempered my expectations. With our season long finished, you need to start watching baseball for other reasons than just winning. I was interested in seeing our call-ups from Tacoma, Jeff Clement and Vlad Balentein, who both have notable power swings but are only batting in the low .200s. Both actually did pretty well tonight with Clement going 3-4 and Vlad ripping a double down the right field line to drive in two. Ichiro did his thang, putting down some blooper singles and running out an infield grounder for a single. Beltre went 0-5, continuing to under-impress us with his offense--but making a great leaping grab to rob Paul Konerko of a screaming line drive. I'm still waiting for Beltre to be the offenseive contribution he has the potential to be-- but the guy can play great 3b. The Mariners racked up 15 hits, but the power and the timing was missing leaving us only scoring 5 runs. The lead changed twice in the game, but pitching and infield defense did not come through for us. Yunieski Betancourt let no less than three easy grounders get by him for hits (Jose Lopez looked a little lame at second base also). At one time Yuni was considered one of the best defensive short stops in the league. I don't think its an overstatement to say that he is now among the worst. And Finally, the suckfest of the night was Jarrod Washburn. After pitching way above his talent level in June and July, he's come back down to earth-- giving up seven hits, two homers, and eight runs in 4 1/3 innings. To be fair, the White Sox havethe AL's best offense in a homer-happy park; but Washburn is still one of the least likeable people in the M's organization for his on-the-field hackery and his consistent shifting of blame to other players. We know now that the Twins had claimed him on waivers late last week, but the deal fell through. Congratulations Twins fans-- you dodged a bullet on that one.

Nicole wore her Twins cap and rooted for the Sox to lose-- but surprisingly she got less crap from the southsiders than I did for wearing my Mariner's cap. Though the AL central has remained tight most of the season, I'm putting my money that the Sox will end up on top. Right now Chicago has twice as big a run differential as Minnesota, and although Minnesota has a solid young team, the White Sox have a well built team that leads the league in home runs and slugging percentage while having a solid pitching staff on the other side of the ball. What is most exciting about the AL Central is that there is a very real possibility that if both the Twins and Sox play well-- and if the Rays continue to dominate the AL East-- for the first time in years we might have playoffs without the Yankees and the Red Sox. While it will pain my Minnesotan friends to hear this, I'm rooting for both the White Sox and the Twins to do well in order to put the overpaid/overhyped teams of the NE out of the playoffs. If both teams play well in these last six weeks, one will win the division and the other has a chance to knock Boston out of the wild card spot.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Things I Notice When Grocery Shopping

  • Yesterday at Trader Joe's the woman in front of me in the check out line had a cart that had 5 jars of organic peanut butter, one jar of almond butter, three bags of slivered almonds, one bag of mixed nuts, and a couple of nut granola bars--and that's it. What she was planning to do with those was the question that bugged me all day long.
  • Ever since I could first eat solid foods, Ramen has been a staple in my life. The problem is that it is packed full of nutrionless calories and ungodly amounts of sodium. Behold a new healthy version of Ramen. My arteries are grateful.
  • I love hot dogs. Classic, all beef hotdogs done Chicago style. I also do my best to eat and shop ethically (we white people love this stuff.) Its surprisingly difficult to find socially responsible hot dogs to eat. Hebrew National are made by ConAgra foods (an irresponsible corporate monster), Best Kosher are made by Sara Lee (a slightly less evil but still not entirely ethical corporation), and God knows where Ballpark franks come from. Vienna Beef seems to be a quality local independent operation-- but I'm not sure they taste better than the others. What to do?!? Good thing I don't have real problems like other people.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Shut up and Drive!

Don't text message while driving 80mph the wrong way down a street. Talking on your cell while driving is a bad idea. A study a few years ago indicated that for many drivers talking on a cell phone is as much an impairment as drinking is. I'm quite serious about this for two reasons: (1) I've done it and nearly killed someone (2) I've seen someone killed by it.

Years ago when I lived in Gig Harbor I was leaving work one evening, pulling out of the parking lot with a cell phone to my ear. I was going to make a right turn. I looked right and didn't see anyone, I looked left and watched a few cars pass and then planned to turn right. With my hand and phone up to the side of my face I was not able to see that a bicyclist had appeared to my right and as I pulled out he ran into the side of my car. Had he been a few feet further along I could have ran over him. He was alright and I apologized profusely. A couple months later I greeted a visitor at our church who looked familiar, I asked him where I might know him from and he recounted the story of the time I nearly hit him on his bike. It was quite embarrassing, but luckily he didn't hold it against the church community and became an active member there.

The second story doesn't end so well and I'll warn readers right now this is gruesome, but its a point that needs to be made. The most difficult case I ever encountered at my internship at Lutheran General hospital was an accident that took place on a Sunday afternoon. Walking along Dempster Ave a beautiful young family was enjoying a lovely summer day when a woman lost control of her vehicle while talking on her cell phone. Her car careened up onto the sidewalk hitting all three family members; the father had his leg broken in two places as well as broken ribs, the mother sustained a massive head injury putting her in a coma that resulted with weeks in intensive care, and their only son--a four year old-- was scissored in half (traumatic amputation) by the car and bled to death on the sidewalk. It was the most traumatic event I had ever encountered in my hospital ministry. No one ever deserves to have that happen to them.

Nicole and I have written before about how our experience with Evie reinvigorated our understanding of the fragility and the preciousness of life. I'll admit that occasionally I talk on the cell phone when stuck in traffic, but when you are at the wheel of a 2,000lbs weapon like an automobile, the driving task deserves total concentration. Better yet, pedestrians deserve your total concentration. Children on the sidewalk deserve to live. Shut up and drive.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Decisions and Spiritual Reflections

Being in seminary was an experience that surprisingly limited the amount of decisions I had to make. Essentially the life of a seminary student is to show up, do what your professors tell you to do, and try and squeeze in a little sleep now and then. Sure, occasionally you had some life decisions to make carefully, but most of the time you're so busy just trying to stay afloat that you don't have time to consider other alternatives.

Now that I'm living a partway normal life again, I feel the pressures of making right and wrong decisions more clearly now. When prayer, reflection, dialogue, study, and critical thinking are part of you're assigned work--you do it. But now that I'm "free" from the watchful guidance of professors and colleagues, I find myself less and less practicing the art of moral discernment. In my day to day decisions, how do I decide what is right and what is wrong?

I've long believed that Christian life in its most basic principle is that God cares for us, thus we should care what God wants of us. It is that principle which shapes every decision of everyday. But this presupposes a couple things: one being that you believe God cares, and two being that you are willing to let your life be led by another--that you're willing to give up your freedom for the one who "took the nature of a slave... humbled... by becoming obedient to the point of death--even death on a cross!" (Phillipians 2.7-8). Christian life means admitting that you don't have all the answers and that you need someone else to show you the way.

For a Christian, the moral life must first and foremost be shaped not only by the example of Jesus--but by seeking to know Jesus intimately by way of prayer, devotion, and participation in Jesus' family (the Church). Here is where I've run into trouble. Without a disciplined life set up for me in the form of the seminary educational experience, I've found that on my own I've fallen out of practice in some of these things. Prayer life is too inconsistent, I've sometimes now gone weeks between times of good devotional reading and reflection, and since being finished with my internship in Lake Geneva its been hard to fully involve myself in the life of my local church--in fact, in two of the last three weeks I've missed Sunday worship for less than good reasons.

Now as I try and live my moral life I think I've been running and operating on some "moral capital" that I've built up in my life--but that my "tanks" are running a bit low without daily disciplines to know and follow Jesus. I still make the best effort to love and respect everyone, I still try and use my money and time as if they were gifts and not something owed to me, I try and live responsibly towards all. Not always successfully, but I make an honest effort a lot of the time. Yet nowadays, as larger decisions loom on the horizon of what direction our lives will go-- I find myself challenged to ask myself what does Jesus really want from me? Is what Jesus wants from me different from what society tells me is right? Is what Jesus wants different even from what my friends and family might think is right? Read the gospels and one finds that the moral commands of Jesus were often unpopular. The rich young man wants to follow Jesus and proudly admits he keeps all the commandments, but when Jesus tells him to sell everything and give all the money to the poor, the young man can't commit. I'm no different. Why should I think that Jesus expects less of me? All around us the world bombards us with admonition to seek out money, sex, and power. Jesus, on the other hand, invites us to seek out love, faithfulness, and service. That's not a good way to sell cars... or make friends.

When Evie was fighting for her life in the hospital, Nicole and I were prepared to sacrifice everything to give her the chance to live. We loved her and were prepared to do what it takes. The loving character of God is the same way, demonstrated in the loving sacrifice of Christ to give us the chance to live. After Evie died, Nicole and I took the break we needed to begin the healing process of grief and we've been consistent in finding ways to try and enjoy ourselves by taking time to recreate and relax--especially this summer. But at what point do we refocus our energy again to the loving sacrifice we were so prepared to make for Evie, this time for our friend Jesus? Have we crossed a line from "self-care" to "self indulgence"? Its not easy to live a good life right now. I've found vices creeping in more steadily. I have a feeling it not unrelated to the fact that my faith is still somewhat weak and that in the wound I felt at the death of Evie, I have not yet fully placed my trust back in my God. It is like a friendship strained-- you still know this friend and still have affection for them, but things just aren't quite the same between the two of you. In some ways I still struggle to know and love God in light of this tragedy. But I am nowhere near ready to give up. I know God has been patient with me. I ought to return the favor.

Our loving God is not some kind of fuddy-duddy from on high who doesn't want humans to have fun or enjoy themselves. God is for abundant life, God is the giver of good gifts. What God expects of us is that we use his good gifts responsibly-- for the good of both ourselves and others, trusting that the creator knows best where lasting joy and satisfaction are. Its a matter of trusting that lasting joy might exist elsewhere besides indulgence in physical and material pleasures or self-oriented human relationships. One only need look around at the abundance of self-destruction that happens among those who achieve all the money, sex, and power they want to see that lasting joy is not found there. If the good life is not found in such things, then perhaps St. Francis was right, "It is in giving that we receive... it is in dying (to self?) that we are born into eternal life".

Its not always a popular thing to talk about morality and there are a lot of self-righteous people out there who have tainted the discussion. These thoughts aren't about passing judgement on another--but rather an acknowledgement that all of us sinners who dare turn to Jesus have both a welcome embrace of his love but also an invitation to live a radical life of virtue. As Luther said of us who dare preach the gospel, "we're just beggars telling other beggars where to find bread."

Nurturing a good life takes practice: spiritual discipline. Creating daily habbits of charity, justice, faithfulness, self-control, and care will form us into the people who can make good decisions both big and small.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Weekend Adventures

Last night we took a road trip up to Milwaukee to catch a Steve Earle concert. Steve has a mastery of the entire spectrum of Americana music: country, folk, rock, blues, and bluegrass-- so when I found out that this was going to be just a solo acoustic show, I was a little disappointed thinking that the scope of material would be narrowed to the folkier songs in his catalog. I was gladly proven wrong. Steve Earle played over 2 hours and drew heavily from his extensive songbook. The first half was heavily "folky", just Steve and his guitar. Yet Steve does incredible guitar work that filled the Pabst theater with the bright and gritty sounds of his Martin guitar; Steve's vocals were equally powerful--not any thing less than the best he sounds on records. The second half of the show was Steve and the guitar paired with a DJ who spun some loops and samples for some more of the "rockier" stuff. I was skeptical when I first saw what was happening, but again I was suprised with the quality of the exectution. Some of Steve Earle's best songs are written as duets where his gravely voice contrasts with the pretty vocals of an alto singer. On this night they were beautifully supplied by Steve's opening act and wife, Allison Moorer. Steve writes some pretty heavy stuff-- blues and country inspired by his own battle with addiction, tales of the struggle of southern life, and fierce political convictions. Steve can sing a haunting ballad of lost love that'll make a cowboy weep in his beer. But it wasn't all doom and gloom. American Mountain music has deep roots in celtic music, and Steve is one of the greatest American musicians to tap the sounds of Ireland. It doesn't get better than "The Galway Girl", one of the funnest numbers of the entire concert.




We had a great time. The trip was well worth it, including a stop at the famous "Mars Cheese Castle" for some local Wisconsin delicacies.

We also saw a fantastic vanity plate on the way up I-94:
That's what I said when I saw it.

The night before we went out with a couple friends to see "The Dark Knight" which is about as cool as everyone says it is. Lots of action, a great performance by Heath Ledger as the joker, and great shots of Chicago. Did you know that Batman and Joker have also put together a helpful PSA for the summer.

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Cheese

Ah, cheese. This summer we're selling it and eating it. Some look awesome, some look nasty, but they all taste great!





Thursday, July 17, 2008

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's me!

In anticipation of going to see The Dark Knight this weekend, I took this quiz which I found on Patty's blog. I have to say I'm a little disappointed. I was really hoping to be Batman, but apparently he is my opposite. I guess I like being a do-gooder more than I like vengeance, which I suppose isn't such a bad thing! I wonder if I could find a quiz to tell me what super villain I am...



Your results:
You are Superman

Superman
75%
Spider-Man
70%
Wonder Woman
65%
Robin
60%
Green Lantern
55%
Supergirl
50%
Iron Man
50%
Catwoman
45%
Hulk
40%
The Flash
40%
Batman
30%
You are mild-mannered, good,
strong and you love to help others.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Beautiful Food















Strawberries! Matt brought home a ton from the market yesterday, and I guess they won't be in season very much longer so we've been enjoying them while they last. These are so good and sweet, there's no need for sugar. We had strawberry shortcake for a treat last night (well, more like strawberries and cream with angelfood cake--it has less calories than shortcake but it's still so delicious) and I made this yogurt parfait for lunch today. It tasted even better than it looked!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Nicole must die(t)!

Yes, Matt, I stole that joke from you!

In the last 2 months I've made the decision to adopt a much healthier lifestyle. My main objective is to lose a lot of weight, so I'll tell you with a lot of frustration that I haven't seen much of a result on the scale. It's really a bummer, but I'm confident that if I keep it up I'll have a breakthrough soon. And I can at least feel the benefits of greater endurance and strength and a better mood from all of the exercise I've been doing.

I was debating whether I should write about this, because I wasn't sure how interesting my diet and exercise routine would be to our billions of faithful readers, but what the heck. I know there are a great number of people doing battle with their weight, and maybe we can encourage each other! I'll share with you some things that have been helping me stay motivated:

  • The NPU Biggest Loser Challenge. This summer on campus we are having a weight loss challenge that is open to all faculty, staff, and students who have 10 pounds or more to lose. A lot of people are doing it and it's really fun! We are doing group workouts on lunches and after work.
  • Ali from the Biggest Loser TV show. This girl inspires me first of all because she is the first female Biggest Loser, and secondly because we have some things in common. We are a similar age, height and starting weight. I love seeing success stories from people who are like me!
  • Healthy snacks. The produce from the farmer's markets is the best of the best, and Matt has been bringing me some good stuff. Whenever I pack some of it with me to work, I have a good day. Speaking of which, I have determined that my morning routine makes or breaks my entire day. If I take the time to pack healthy snacks, my water bottle, and my workout clothes in the morning, I can't go wrong. If I don't do it, I leave a lot of room for error!
  • Spark People. Has anyone else found this website? I started using it yesterday and I absolutely love it. There are a lot of sites with food trackers, but this one is the best. It also has a fitness tracker and a bunch of other features including Spark Pages for networking with others. If you're looking for an online tool to help with weight loss, you should check this one out. If anyone has already, my page is nicolemgk.

Do any of you weight loss warriors out there have your own tips for motivation?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Thumbs Down Howard Schultz

Starbucks is closing 600 stores. I won't shed any tears for two reasons: never liked their coffee much, and the Seattle Super Sonics are now officially history. Despite the fact that Starbucks CEO is still suing the new ownership, I'm not really able to give him a pass for not being able to read the tea leaves. If he cared about basketball in Seattle, he should have known better.

In reality, I've never been much of a basketball fan. Still, I have fond memories of following the team in Jr. High when the Supersonics were a consistently competitive team throughout the nineties-- there were a lot of thrilling playoff series between 92-98. By some analyses, the Sonics were perhaps the second or third best team of the decade. Additionally, save for the 2004 WNBA championship of the Storm, the Supersonics were the only major sports franchise in Seattle to ever win a world championship. So even though I'm not a big basketball fan, the Sonics did have a special place in my heart. Posters of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp graced my bedroom walls for a long time.


Goodbye Sonics. Thanks for the memories.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Annual Meeting Reflections

This past week I had the privilege to attend the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church. The annual meeting is the yearly gathering of churches, leaders, and pastors from the denomination. In a supremely democratic church culture as the ECC, the annual meeting of the Covenant church is the highest authoritative body. No pastor, bishop, council, president, administrator, or superintendent has any authority granted them greater than the annual meeting where every church is invited to send delegates to voice and vote on the life of our denomination. In essence, the three-hundred plus people gathered for those three days are "the Pope" of the Covenant.

I did not attend as a delegate. I went because I had the time off, it was only a 3-hour drive, and the historic nature of this particular annual meeting was appealing. I knew it would be a chance to see some old friends as well as get some face time with some important people to further help discern where I might end up serving the church.

For the next six years the annual denominational events are focusing on the Covenant Affirmations, this year is "The Centrality of the Word of God". The first night of the meeting my friend and professor Dr. John Weborg knocked it out of the park with a powerful sermon on the "capital" of scripture--that in the Bible is great, great resource for life and truth that we are far too unfamiliar with. The evening concluded with a celebration of the concluding work of outgoing president Glenn Palmberg. Presenters highlighted a number of Glenn's achievements and contributions to the ECC (presidential seminary scholarships, a new department of Compassion/Mercy/Justice, church growth, Congo missions, etc.). Glenn was rightly praised for his great work on big important projects. But I admire Glenn for another reason. Glenn spoke to us graduating seminarians this spring about earning the trust of the people we serve by faithful service. Glenn had earned my trust in this way. The president of a denomination spends a lot of time with people who have great influence and deep pockets. By comparison, I'm a nobody. Yet though Glenn keeps a busy schedule with important religious leaders, on a cold December night he came down to the small Benson funeral chapel to share his condolences with us after Evie's death. Glenn didn't know me from Adam, but he came anyway with genuine care. He earned my trust. Congratulations Glenn, thanks for your work-- for your faithfulness to things both big and small.

The next day our incoming president was voted in and in a moving ceremony that night Gary Walter was commissioned and anointed by the living former presidents of our church. I think Gary will be a great leader for our denomination. His perspective is a good and needed one, as he was not born into the Covenant tradition but came into it as an outsider--one not raised Christian but converted to the faith. By his story I think he'll have insight as how the Church should engage an increasingly post-Christian world. His inaugural sermon that night was on a text from the Epistle of James, "be doers of the Word" and he highlighted the doings asked of us in scripture as an integrated mission of evangelism, compassion/mercy/justice, and church unity. There are great challenges in our denomination already here and still coming for all three of these arenas. Here's hope and prayer for Gary and all of us who will lead this family of the Christian church.

The annual meeting was sometimes quite boring, but I had the fortune of not being a delegate, so I could skip out on some of the meetings for a round of disk golf or a walk by the lake. I was glad to be there to see many friends, worship alongside sisters and brothers from across the country, and to be a part of looking forward in our collective mission.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Bright Spot in a Dismal Season

For the first time in a long time last night was a Mariners game to look forward to: the veteran 2-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana verses up and coming ace Felix Hernandez. Venezuela's pitching legend verses Venezuela's young ascending star. It was going to be an exciting pitchers duel, but instead something even more exciting happened. In his first AB Felix became the first AL pitcher in 37 years to hit a grand slam! No doubt a highlight in a year full of lowlights. Hernandez eventually left the game with an injury that now appears to be minor, but not before pitching five shutout innings of two-hit baseball. Despite the injury, Felix showed up to demonstrate that he is going to be the pitcher to beat in coming years. Step aside Santana.

Felix is the future of the Mariners organization. He's got nasty heat and a bevy of other pitches to employ. As he learns better how to mix it up, he has the ability to be the best pitcher in the major leagues. In his previous start against Detroit, he also pitched a two-hit shutout-- striking out the heart of the Tiger's line up in 9 pitches. I will not be surprised the morning I wake up to read "Hernandez Pitches a No-Hitter". In this dismal season where even our stars have been phoning it in, King Felix is about the only reason to keep following the Mariners.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Attention New Testament Geeks

Nicole and have been fans of Tom Wright for a long time. It started with a cheesy VHS series of his we watched at CBC, then sludging through his multi-volume magnum opus as North Park undergrads, and continues currently as we're both reading his newest popular book Surprised by Hope. He's a giant in the field of New Testament studies in addition to being an articulate pastor and theologian; so I was surprised and entertained to find out he'd be a guest on the Colbert Report...



Colbert demonstrates his own Biblical literacy in the interview, and Wright does a good run down of his new book. But the funniest segment of the show was actually Colbert's other guest, cookie monster. "Me have crazy times in 70s and 80s. Me like the Robert Downey Jr. of cookies!"

Friday, June 20, 2008

Summer in the Greatest City in the World

It's a little presumptuous, but that's how Chicago is frequently referred to by the DJ on one of my local radio stations. Some days I can almost believe it. My summer work requires me to awake at wee early hours to drive downtown before heading out to farmer's markets. Since today is the longest day of the year, it also happens to be one of the earliest sunrises. Having grown up on the west coast I've seen the sun set over the ocean a million times but I've never seen the sun rise over a body of water. Living in Chicago I've never been up early enough to watch it rise over Lake Michigan, and my job wakes me up too early most days for it (about the time he sun actually rises I'm down inside a sub-zero underground freezer). Yet this morning I got to behold the awesome sight. As I drove the expressway towards downtown, early morning light made the northern half of the skyline silhouette while the southern half of the skyline was still in enough dark sky to be illuminated only by the light of office windows. Very cool.

The summer I interned at Lutheran General Hospital I often volunteered for overnight shifts. I remember one particularly long night where six different deaths required some ministry from me. After all the sadness and pain of the evening I went up to the 12th floor caferteria to get some coffee to push through my last 30 minutes on call. I looked out the panoramic window worn down by a night of death but grace gifted me with a vision of hope, the sunrise over the city. Even though many living light's had been extinguished through the night, the sun still rose the next day and each and everyday. Long after I and everyone I love has passed on the sun will still rise each morning. The universe will unfold as it should. We are but a small piece of a larger symphony. The sun rises every morning--that does not change. Mercy is new every morning. Life goes on.

Its a lot like the promise of changing seasons. Long winter has now become welcome summer. Though I spent most of my afternoon stuck in traffic, I got to listen to exciting baseball as the Cubs and Sox played an exciting game ending with a walk off home run. A near perfect 72 degrees meant driving through the city with my windows down. Driving up Lakeshore drive I admired the city's fantastic architecture to my left, and summer fun in Lincoln park to my right... and Lake Michicagan beyond that. When the humidity is not oppressive, summer in Chicago is a lot of fun. There are an abundance of festivals and concerts--many free. For our birthday Nicole and I took advantage of the great ethnic diversity of our city to find some new cuisine to try (Ethiopian food has some charms, but we weren't entirely won over). Still, our city affords us lots of opportunities for adventure. Heck, there's even abundant wildlife! Just today they've found an alligator in the Chicago river. I've heard multiple versions of a North Park legend about a python in the north branch, but this is new. After our recent cougar incident, nothing surprises me.

I'm finding that this "in-between time" of being finished with seminary but not yet placed in ministry is just fine for right now. It's a great time to be in Chicago.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Baseball Musings

I'm no longer angry or sad about the hapless Mariners. Occasionally its almost funny how bad they are. Seattle is the worst team in the AL and they've just been swept at home by the worst team in the NL. Its ridiculous. I'm still pretty confident that a lot of our players will somewhat revert to their median level of play and its possible to emerge from the MLB basement (Beltre has put a lot of line drives in play that just end up unlucky, Ichiro always does better the second half of the season than the first). Still, this team sucks. We need the rest of the season to start to retool: make some trades, releases, and call ups.

So how do we build a team for 2009 and beyond? The elements for great pitching are here. Though he's not as good as advertised, Eric Beddard is still a very good pitcher. He and Felix will remain a great 0ne-two punch. Brandon Morrow should be stretched out to become a starter and a few replacement level pitchers can fill out the end of the rotation. Still, its offense that needs major retooling the most. Now is probably the time to trade Raul Ibanez. His decent offense of the last couple seasons will fetch some good prospects before age catches up with him and he regresses. Ownership won't let go of Ichiro or Kenji Johima, so we need to start working Jeff Clement out at first base. Wlad Balentien is a decent defensive outfielder and I think his plate discipline will improve with experience. The power in his bat is worth sticking with him despite the fact he's below the mendoza line right now. Essentially what needs to happen is that we need to start dipping into the farm system better. The Mariners have the 9th highest payroll and the worst record in baseball and have the potential to become one of the first teams to spend over $100 million and lose 100 games. That's idiotic. There are great young players out there who can make this team competitive for years to come at a much better price efficiency.

Perhaps what needs to change most is management. The M's have made atrocious decisions putting together their team. Richie Sexson may be an overpaid washup, but he's no worse a hitter for avg than Miguel Cairo and he's certainly got more power. To win games you need to be able to put the best team out on the field that you can. Benching a bad player in order to play a worse player is not good. Last year I was of the mind that we should put Ibanez in at first since he's played the position before and he's terrible in the outfield (the other option was to DH him). Now they're working Jeremey Reed to perhaps play first?!? Reed would be a fine fourth outfielder for this team, but he's never going to be an everyday player again. If Johima is to remain the team catcher (another questionable decision), then it makes better sense to work Jeff Clement out at first. Reed has nowhere to go offensively but down, Clement seems to have a lot of potential to excel.

So yeah, I'm hoping/expecting Bill Bavasi and John McClaren to be out of a job by the All-Star break. Then perhaps we can start working on 2009. The efforts to maintain an illusion that we are still competitive this year are insulting. I think fans are smart enough to know that now is the time to retool and they'll come out to Safeco to catch a glimpse of new younger players who the future of the team will be built around.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying watching the Cubs much more. They are a fun team to watch in part because they produce runs in all kinds of ways and all throughout their line up. The Cubs bullpen is sometimes a little shaky but still competitive. I don't anticipate the Cubs to be this ridiculously dominant for the rest of the season, but they are certainly are impressive and fun to watch right now. Its a fun time to be a Chicago sports fan as this is the first time in years both baseball teams sit atop their division in June. If there is potential for a crosstown series this October, I will not be disappointed that we are still in Chicago this fall.

On the state of baseball as a whole, there is a good take over at bizofbaseball.com where a couple dozen baseball writers all come to a general conclusion that baseball is thriving right now with exciting competition. But I also share some of the concerns that the revenue boom is not good for the game. I love baseball, but it frustrates me that local governments are subsidizing new ballparks that are more and more designed to cater to the wealthy. It may end up being that cash will taint the game more than performance enhancing drugs ever did.

UPDATE: Just across the wires the Seattle Mariners have fired General Manager Bill Bavasi. It will be interesting to see who will soon be sent to the trading block and what the new outlook is for rebuilding this team.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Land of 10K Lakes

I'm not much of a writer lately, but here's a random assortment of pictures from our trip to MN: