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Awkward, Again.

So, I’m by myself in Sheboygan, Wisconsin at a bar that is waaaaaaaayyy too hip for me (and, quite frankly, I cannot believe there are places in Sheboygan that are too hip for me). Ten minutes ago, I asked the receptionist in the hotel lobby where the “cool kids” grab dinner (I, by the way, did not sound like a “cool kid” when I asked that question). She sent me here.  
I’m desperately trying to fit in. The only problem is it is awkward. No, actually, I’m awkward. I want to order a beer but based on the tap handles it looks like my options are clown juice, buffalo something, or Budweiser (and I’m not ordering Budweiser). 
I say, “Can I just have a pale ale?” The bartender asks if I want circus-something or bison-whatever. “Whatever most people like,” I say. He asks if I want a pint or a mug. I say, “Whichever is bigger.” A moment later he approaches with a beer in the biggest mug I have ever seen. As I take my first sip, I look like a toddler trying to drink milk from a gallon jug. I…

Paddle-less

They didn’t teach me this in seminary, was the only thing I could think while standing in a flooded kitchen at church with water pouring in from the drains in the floor. (Yes, you read that correctly. Water was pouring IN from the drains that are supposed to let water OUT.) I was overwhelmed, at a loss, and quite literally up a particular creek without a paddle. I didn’t know what to do or where to start. I felt inadequate and resented the world around me.   I’ve thought that a lot lately: they didn’t teach me this in seminary. I’m nine years into my call at the church I serve and by now I expected to have things figured out. Unfortunately, with every passing day, week, and year I have found myself confronted more and more with situations that are beyond my control and questions for which I do not have the answer.  And I know a lot of people who are not in professional ministry who feel that way too.  There are many times in life when we find ourselves feeling like we missed the cours…

Mustard.

“Lord, increase our faith!” the apostles begged of Jesus. 
Increase our faith. 
As I read the disciples’ request it struck a chord in my heart. I’ve been there. I’ve felt that. And I know many of you have too. 
There are many points in life when we, like the original apostles, find ourselves crying to the LORD: increase my faith. There are inevitably – for all of us– times of doubt, struggle, and confusion. There are times when hope, peace, understanding, and confidence seem scarce.  
When we are confronted with death we may cry: Lord, increase my faith.  In the midst of a storm we lament: Lord, increase my faith.  Surrounded by nonsensical violence, anger, and hatred, we beg: Lord, increase my faith.                  In times of struggle and sacrifice, when we are worn down by worry, we whisper: Lord, increase my faith.  When our loved ones or we struggle with depression, addiction, and anxiety, or find ourselves/themselves battling cancer, illness, or dementia, we plead: Lord, incr…

Dragons, Kings, Queens, & Horses

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My kids and I play make believe often. We take turns being dragons and knights, princes and princesses, wizards and trolls, and kings and queens. In one of our recent playtimes they introduced a new character: a horse. I was sitting on my throne made of pillows in my castle made of cushions protected by walls formed from blankets when my kids collectively agreed, “Dad, you’re a horse.” 
After a bit of arguing and negotiation it became clear that my short-lived reign was at an end. My new role was to crawl around my house on my hands and knees with a kid on my back while the two other kids shouted instructions from on high. My knees ached, my glasses got bent, my back was bruised, my shirt collar was stretched beyond repair and I loved every minute of it. 

Regardless of our age, I think we all like to dream about being kings and queens. We seek autonomy and power. We long for the freedom to make our own choices, set our own schedules, and chart our own course. We want to surround ours…

Too.

My children have entirely way too many books (and stuffed animals and toys and crayons and clothes). And so, recently in an effort to clean their rooms and teach them a lesson I challenged them to find all the books they weren’t going to read again and put them in a pile so we could donate them to kids who don’t have any. I explained to them that when you have a lot it’s always nice to help people who only have a little. 
When I left the room I expected to return to a short pile of pathetic looking books – books without their covers and with pages torn out, drawn on, and dog-eared. I figured they’d each grab one or two of these old books, throw it in the pile and call it a day. I was amazed to discover the opposite. Not only did they create a large pile of books, but also their pile contained some of their best, newest and most favorite stories. 
Then, I panicked a little bit. 
I said to my daughters who are four and six years old, “Hey guys, good work here but are you sure these are…

What?!

My children ask a lot of questions. A lot. They ask why. They ask where. They ask who. They ask when. They ask how come. And more than anything else they like to ask: What?! What?! What?!
Their favorite time to ask questions is when we’re on the road. Trapped in their car seats, my kids immediately become little detectives. With nothing to do but think about and look out at the world around them they become exceedingly inquisitive. They ask both simple and existential questions. They inquire about the mundane and the magnificent. They ask questions that are fun to answer, difficult to respond to and – admittedly – tricky as all get out to address. In fact, more often than not, on the ride home from school I am stumped and tripped up by the questions of my four and six year old daughters. 
I got to thinking about my kids and their questions when I read the gospel lesson assigned for Sunday. Jesus is on the road with his disciples and he’s prepping them for the things to come (namely, …

Words, Sticks, and Stones

My daughter came home from her first week of school chanting that phrase they taught us all as kids. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me! And all I could think as I watched this innocent kid defiantly not giving other people the power to hurt her was: yeahright. And I got sort of sad – for her, for me, for you, for us all – as I reflected on how hurtful some words can be. 
See, sticks and stones my break my bones, but words… can harm a friendship. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words… can end a marriage. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words… can break our spirit. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words… can hurt forever.
We tell our children that words will never hurt us, but that’s not true. Words have the power to hurt. Words can be wielded as weapons. Words can be put together in ways that break down and beat down. Bullies use words to degrade others. Politicians use words to slander others. Racists and sexists use words…