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:











Monday, June 2, 2008

Blood & Prayers

If you live in the Chicagoland area, have an AB+ blood type, and are willing/able to donate, please contact me! I have a friend who is having heart surgery in 2 weeks and LifeSource is having a blood drive for her type. If you fit the description, you can e-mail me for details at nicolemgk (at) gmail.com
If you live in any area, have any blood type, and are willing to pray for her, please do so!

Thanks!