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


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

Wonder Woman
Green Lantern
Iron Man
The Flash
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.