Thursday, November 27, 2008

Three Become Four

We announced it to our families around the table today, so I might as well announce to the world ("the world" being defined as you who read this blog) that Marcie and I are expecting our second child!

Marcie's due on July 6, and in case you're wondering, we won't find out the gender or tell anybody the names we've picked until after the birth. We're just jerks like that.

So needless to say, we're stoked.

But I feel like it would be an injustice to give this joyous proclamation without remembering what happened before. On August 8, 2008, Marcie lost a baby six weeks into the pregnancy. Six weeks is a short time, but it's enough time to get hopes and expectations up, and more importantly, it's enough time to create human life. It's been difficult to deal with miscarriage. It's not something people seem to talk much about, and therefore dealing with it can be a very lonely thing. Dealing with it alone isn't the best thing for us or for the dignity of this child, but it's been hard to navigate just how public we want to be. We are grateful for the loving support of our families and a few close friends throughout the past few months. Losing a child, no matter how far along, is heartbreaking. And thankfully the grace of a loving God comforts us in our grief, loves us in our anger, and heals us in our brokenness.

So we celebrate and give thanks for this healthy child growing inside Marcie, who's 8/9 weeks along already, but we also honor the life of this child we thought we would have in March. We remember our friends and family members who have been lost at any age, but specifically through miscarriage or at infancy. And we pray that God will be with all four of us as we continue on, this time with a little less naivete and a little more gratitude.

It is with overflowingly grateful hearts that we announce that we're going to be parents again. We are grateful for this new life, for our lives, and for all life. And for all of you who will do so, we thank you in advance for your prayers.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

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MWE3 | 10 Years

Please pardon me while I reminisce...

It was Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and there were nearly a hundred people crammed into the lobby of a community center in Belvidere, IL. The year was 1998, and the unmistakeable sound of ska was in the air. Appendages flailed about in attempt to master the fine art of "skanking," the shrill cries of a threefold horn section pierced the hearts of many, and a revolution had begun. MWE3 played their first show, and Quality Swedish Forest City Fruit Loop Ska was born.

For those of you who don't know, (which is probably most of you) I was the primary vocalist and lyricist for a ska band called MWE3 from Black Friday of 1998 until our last show on May 24, 2000.

It is nearly unfathomable to think that it all started 10 years ago. I was 16, a Jr. at Jefferson High School in Rockford, IL. I had recently discontinued my basketball career, and the possibility of forming a band grew out of a small group I was part of at the time. There had been a long, distinguished list of horn players with a penchant for ska music to come out of First Covenant Church, so the air was abuzz, but the initiative of a few of us dedicated folks led us to finally pursue the dream. I'm infinitely glad that we did.

With much effort, we were eventually able to wrestle together a complete band, and thanks to the artistic vision of Carson Fry and Chris Willey, we were able to come up with a really cool logo, and then a band name with which to turn our cool logo into an acronym (Men Walking Eternally with the Trinity).

MWE3 was and will forever be:

David Blomgren_Sax/Circus Peanuts
Jacob Eisele_Guitar/Bass/Rebellion
David Frisk_Trumpet/Access
Andrew Gates_Vox/Height
Ryan Johnson_Trombone/Da Bears
Justen Kirkland_Drums/Aquatic Sounds
Matt Moore_Guitar/Bass/Rawk
Also featuring:
Justin Johnson, Justin Dickerman and Joshua Havens_Faithful Fill-ins/Tiny Dancers

And I say all this not just to indulge myself in nostalgia, but to remember that this was the context in which I first felt like God was using me for the purposes of his kingdom. This was the place where my call to ministry first took shape, and my first attempt to really do ministry in my community. We didn't take ourselves seriously, and sometimes we didn't take the music seriously enough, but we had fun. We played like mad whether it was for four people or four-hundred (an accurate spread, actually). We prayed for the people who listened to us, we prayed for each other, and we prayed in song.

The memories make me grieve how serious I've become. There was a very pure freedom about those days in my life, and I'm unsure if I'm capable of that sort of freedom anymore. I've learned a lot in the last ten years. I've grown up a lot, becoming a husband and father; and in two weeks a seminary grad. I've grown a lot, but as I remember MWE3, I can't help but grieve the loss of a great deal of innocence and naivete in my life. Many days I miss it, though I thank God for who I've become and who He's placed in my life. Perhaps these lyrics capture the tension best:

I wish I could be Peter Pan
I'd fly away to Never-Neverland
Tinker would sprinkle me with dust
And my bones wouldn't grow old and rust
I wish I could be Peter Pan
And wouldn't deal with growing older
And life would be much simpler
But Peter Pan's not who I am

MWE3_Peter Pan

I'm not sure if bones can actually rust, but give me a break; I was sixteen.

Gentlemen, if you're reading this, I love you and I miss you...

And don't die in my Dunkin' Donuts.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Anathallo | Canopy Glow

Anathallo is one of my five favorite bands. They're in elite company with Sufjan, Radiohead, Wilco and either Sigur Ros or the Decemberists. Canopy Glow is their second full-length album, a follow up to my favorite album of 2006, Floating World. Though the album artwork doesn't compare, the music is just as moving and innovative, and perhaps even better for its concerted focus on the songs. Whereas the subtext, the Japanese folktale Hanasakajiji occasionally overwhelmed the individual songs on Floating World, on Canopy Glow, the songs simply breathe and speak for themselves.

And they speak volumes. I have yet to analyze the lyrics in depth, but the melodies, song structures and musical flow of this album are a force to be reckoned with. The backing vocals of lone female band member Erica Forman are brought into the lead at times, and brilliantly complement the complex tenor of lead vocalist Matt Joynt. As always, the percussion patterns are difficult to master (as I've learned trying to drum along on my steering wheel), the textured sound is woven together like a fine Persian rug (I'm an expert at simile), and yet the melodies are catchy enough to spark the interest of a two-year old (my daughter can't get enough of the opening lines of "Italo"). Also, "All the First Pages" may be my new favorite song. I've listened to it over a dozen times at this point, and each time I feel like I'm going to have a seizure as the music somehow threatens to deconstruct my physical existence.

So consider this a recommendation. But I'm not the only one recommending it. Buy it at your local indie record store or buy it straight from the band's website (here). Do it. Do it. Do it.

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First Funeral

This past Tuesday, I conducted my first ever funeral service. I knew Alice Mae Kinney since I was a little kid. She was my mom's best friend's mom, and she lived 85 years. It was an honor to be able to conduct the service.

It was a time for lament and grieving, and it was a time to witness to the resurrection of Christ. It was a reminder that death doesn't win. I had a lot of adrenaline coursing through my system that morning, as these are weighty matters, but I felt God's presence with me, and that's just what I needed. I pray that God will continue to bring comfort and peace to her family and friends.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

You're Never Too Old to Rock

The title of this post is the tagline to the film Young @ Heart.

The Young at Heart chorus is brilliant, the film is brilliant, and it's not just because a chorus of 80 year olds get on a stage and sing songs by Sonic Youth, the Talking Heads and the Clash (though that's a plus). This documentary, and the Young at Heart chorus which it follows throughout, is a picture of life in aging. We so often speak of aging alongside death, and death is a reality in this film, but aging also offers life. It offers life to these octogenarians, and it offers life to twenty-somethings like me who watch the film and are reminded that life can be truly joyful, simply because it is life.

This is the best film I've seen about community since Lars and the Real Girl, and it is encouraging for someone like me, soon to become pastor to people of all ages. Young at Heart reminds me that people do not always fit well into the boxes we shove them into. It also reminds me that people who have shoved themselves into boxes can step out and find great meaning.

Yet it's a bit absurd. These folks don't listen to Coldplay and Alan Touissant, but their director does, and he knows that this choir can do great things with their songs. Are these people "cooler" because they sing "cool" songs? I think the answer is no, but that is what it has taken for folks like me to give them a chance. How absurd is it to say that I love this choir of 70-, 80- and 90-somethings because they have "indie cred"?

Really absurd, but if they didn't, I would never have heard them. It's a good reminder that I'm am pretentious and ridiculous.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that this film is sad, and heartwrenchingly so. But it deserves a look. And in case you've never heard the Young at Heart chorus, here's a taste of one of their tame moments:

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Emotions Matter

In the times leading up to and immediately after a political election, emotions swirl about at every turn. Conversations seem more heated, people seem on edge, and in many cases, we show sides of ourselves normally kept under wraps. People who normally seem diplomatic, passive, or even spineless are suddenly revealed to be aggressive and emotionally invested.

[Below see me exhibiting emotion...with a massive beard.]

I've found that being attentive in these times is a valuable practice. We may feel awkward because of the heightened emotion, but we also experience ourselves and others in different and perhaps more authentic ways. A common mantra of the last week has been one of relief: I'm sure glad the election's over. I'm sure glad the election's over. I'm sure glad the election's over. But is this because after fulfilling our civic duties, we give ourselves permission to just go to sleep?
Perhaps we need to hold onto some of our election time passion. Now I admit that some turn completely pompous at election time. Some use it as an excuse to pick fights and sling mud around. I'm not advocating for these things.

What I do advocate for something particular which comes out of a climate in which we cannot help but feel something. Even the most raging of moderates have strong emotional responses either for or against the grossly exaggerated political language of election time and the reality is that citizens actually have something concrete to offer the process and the conversation. The combination of "state of emergency" rhetoric and an empowered people is explosive.

What I'm trying to do right now, and what I hope we will do together as a community and in the church, is to pay attention to those strong emotions we felt during this election. What made our blood boil? I think it's hugely important to talk through these things, because they say a lot about who we are as a person. Those things that hit our gut say more about our identity than the processed logic that often ends up coming out of our mouths after we've toned it down. What made your heart soar? What made you want to throw stuff at your TV?

Do we have safe places where we can be honest about these emotional responses? I'm not talking about places where everyone agrees with us, either. We need people willing to offer alternative interpretations of our emotional responses. If we do, I think we'll find that our common humanity is more common than we realize. Look behind our dogmatic interpretations and allegiances to the parties and the issues, and we find that we all have histories, relationships and experiences that made us who we are.

And in identifying the history and the experience which has made us so passionate, we just might be able to begin letting go of the idea that our particular vision of how to "fix it" is the only way to go. And maybe we'll come out of it with a greater understanding of our own identity, and who God has created us to be. I think it's a decent place to start.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

From My Poetic Archives

Before proceeding, make sure you're ready to have your mind blown.


I wrote this nearly four years ago, near the end of my first semester of seminary. Some things never change.

You may proceed.

]Be am is are was were a an the in on at with either or neither nor [fragmentary glimpse] do does did have has had [into kingdom life,] he she it we they [awaiting] over under on upon around with about concerning [consummation,] in out up down left right over under before behind [hope] ever never come go be become [amidst] yes no maybe what's up not much hi how are you [routine] and but for or in out [love prevails[


Saturday, November 08, 2008

Musical Aspirations

Just this afternoon I was considering pursuing music as a serious hobby again. I've had this on again/off again thing with music over the last ten years, and I've been constantly frustrated by the fact that I can't really write music or play it proficiently. Sure, I can sing a clean melody and write an occasionally witty or profound lyric, but I'm just not that hard core about it. I'm much more hard core about listening, discovering and memorizing obscure details about the music created by others. And I'm beginning to be more okay with that.

And becoming okay with that has led me to reconsider some things. Sure, I'm no Sufjan, Dylan, Tweedy or Sam Beam, but perhaps I have something they don't. Perhaps there lies inside of me something brilliant and courageous that could never come out of the great singer-songwriters to whom I look up. And I might know what it is; I may have discovered my unique contribution to the music world...

I love singing terrible pop songs at the top of my lungs. This could be totally cutting edge. I mean, I sing in my car, in the shower and with my guitar (but not in the shower with my guitar), and it brings me great joy. I even entertain others. I make a killing on karaoke night. So is there a niche in the music world for a decent (not great) singer who can sort of (but not really) play guitar, singing Top 40 songs in new and exciting ways?

I think so.

And did I mention that I'm six-foot-nine?

Bam. Dealmaker. That kind of height is very uncommon in musicians. It could sell. I mean, I could really make some coin for a struggling record label out there.

I'm just not sure if I want to commit yet. I mean, a hobby isn't something you just do for fun. It's a job, and it requires effort. If I commit to this, I can't just give up a month down the road. Anyway, we'll see. I'll consider the idea with sober judgment, but would appreciate any feedback in the meantime. But I gotta go. I got a really cool Enrique Iglesias medly dancin' around in my head, so I'd better write down some notes, in case I decide to pursue this thing.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Grant Park Pics

Here's a few pics from Tuesday night. As you can see, we were really far away, but we were there.

Waiting in line for 2.5 hours...

Barack is actually in this just have to squint.

Crowd estimates? Somewhere between 1 and a billion.

The Andrew's

Michigan Ave. and the Art Museum on the way back to the train

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Grant Park Reflections

Tuesday night I was in Grant Park, thanks to a guest ticket from Chris. I've never seen so many people in one place in my life. I have never been the most avid or vocal Obama supporter, but this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness history with hundreds of thousands of my closest friends. The energy was palpable, and the elation of some was simply overflowing. Hopefully I'll have some pics to post soon.

Yet towards the end of the festivities and on the trainride home, I began to feel sick and then sicker, and by the time I went to bed, I was shivering with the chills. The sickness served as a good reminder on this night. I believe that Obama's election is a huge step for a country built largely on the slave trade and slave labor, and I appreciate the excitement surrounding the election of a man whose father came from Kenya and his mother from Kansas. In an increasingly multi-ethnic America, Barack Obama represents a voice that has never been represented at the highest level of American politics. But as I watched the events, with nausea slowly building in my stomach, I was physically reminded that we still have a long way to go.

Most people who know me know that I'm a self-described raging moderate, and that this title suits me on multiple levels. I am friends with some raging liberals, some raging conservatives, and of course more raging moderates like me. At a moment like this, I urge all my friends not to overreact either way to this election. Obama is neither the Christ nor the Antichrist, though his supporters and detractors, respectively, seem to either implicitly or explicitly deem him such.

So whether you're elated, crushed, or "whatevs," I hope that you'll pray for President-Elect Obama.

And continue to do whatever you need to do in and with your community to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God. Because though the President may be very powerful, he's got nothing on the slaughtered lamb, our crucified and risen king Jesus Christ, the only one truly worthy of our hope.

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Reflections on Completing Seminary

I will complete my M.Div in less than...

...wait for it...

...keep waiting...

A little longer...

... ...

... ... ...

SIX weeks.

If you skipped to the answer before reading all the ellipses, you're no fun. And probably a communist.

Your political stances aside, I'm not entirely sure what to think or feel about this finishing of seminary. I'm excited, but a bit scared; relieved, but a bit apprehensive.

I've enjoyed the journey. I started in the fall of '04, just before the last election (the release of Bush version 2.0). We lived in Chicago for a year, Indianapolis for two, and now Grand Rapids for nearly a year and a half. Addison was born in Indy, and though it seems weird, she will forever be a Hoosier. I've been a full-time student, a full-time pastor, a full-time chaplain, a part-time student and a part-time pastor, not necessarily in that order.

In the next step, I'll be a full-time pastor. I've had a great experience so far working with the Evangelical Covenant Church to find a church that's the right fit for us and the church. The right fit hasn't come quite yet, but we've learned a lot from each conversation, each interview, each encounter. I've met great people from a few different search committees who demonstrate hearts for Christ and his church.

Early in the journey, I think my call to ministry suffered from a lack of mystery. I felt such a strong call at such a young age (16) that I just dove in headfirst, and honestly, it didn't always require that much faith. I've always felt pretty safe.

But now, being less than six weeks away from the end of seminary, I don't feel as safe. I'm excited for what God has for us, but we've reached a point where we must rely on faith. There's no other way. And no matter how much we prop up our faith with experiences and reason, it's still scary.

'Cause if there's one thing we know for sure about God (or at least Aslan), it's that he's good.

Not always safe.

But good.

He's the King, I tell you.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Anathallo: Bells

This is a new video from Anathallo. They are one of my favorite bands. Their new album is available for preorder here, and if it's half as good as their last one, it's well worth the $13.

The video was created by Anathallo guitarist Danny Bracken. I remember when Marcie used to work at North Park, and I'd visit her at various points throughout the day. Often there was a man at the desk behind her, diligently designing the recent issue of North Park's "Hands On Magazine." I was always impressed by his eye for graphic design, though I never really talked to him. That man?

Danny Bracken.

Enjoy the video, buy the album(s).

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

I'm Back

Perhaps I should start blogging again?

I've thought long and hard about it and decided that yes, I will return.

This is your proof. See you soon.