Easter Gratitude: 50

50 Days of Easter Gratitude

50) Promises. It struck me again this Pentecost just how central are promises to our faith. Not guarantees, not proofs, but promises. We gather around the witness of the earliest Christians that Jesus – who embodied and taught God’s new kingdom of love and was crucified  for it – was raised from the dead and that God will in time redeem all things. There is no concrete evidence, no guarantee, nor sure proof. It’s a promise. But what a difference that promise makes! Perhaps that’s what the Holy Spirit is all about – coming to enliven our faith and nurture our trust that the promises we’ve heard are trustworthy and true. If so, perhaps every Sunday – and every day for that matter – should be something of a Pentecost, when the Spirit comes to keep us in faith.

49) Rest. It’s been a very busy couple of weeks with a lot of travel, end-of-the-semester matters, and more. And the next few weeks will be just as busy with summer teaching, more travel, and some transitions in our family. So it’s a joy to have just a little time to rest, take a breath, give thanks for what has been and prepare for what’s to come.

48) Everyday Christians. I left the wonderful gathering of preachers to be with the good folks of the East Central Wisconsin Synod for their Assembly and I was struck again by the sheer faithfulness of our people. I tend to prefer the term “everyday Christian” over “lay people” because we use the term “lay person” in everyday life to refer to amateurs, dabbles, non-professionals, and I think that tends to a) underestimate the gifs our people have and b) reinforce the idea that there are experts and non-experts when instead their are folks who know a little more (both clergy and everyday Christians) and those who are excited to learn more. In any event, I was again grateful for the fidelity, creativity, and energy of so many everyday Christians.

47) Teamwork. The event in Nashville has been tremendous. And throughout the week I kept thinking about how much planning and organizing it took, how many details were involved to make it all work. And things like that don’t happen without a great team like we have in Sally, David, Teri, Deb, Ben, and Joy.

46) Preachers. I am in Nashville this week for the Festival of Homiletics, an event started more than 20 years ago by David Howell and now operated by Luther Seminary in partnership with David. As I spoke yesterday to some of the 1800 preachers gathered from around the country I was again mindful of – and grateful for! – their creativity, passion, and dedication to the gospel. Not just these, of course, but preachers all over!

Note: the picture featured was taken by a pastor in attendance of Walter Brueggemann watching me quote him. 🙂 Fun! – Thanks, Michael.

45) Capable flight crews. May is always a busy travel month for me, with lots of time spent in airports and on airplanes. I am regularly impressed by how well the crews function, how capable and courteous they are, and how much they do to make these trips more enjoyable.

44) A finished book! Last week I sent a completed manuscript to my editor at Fortress Press and then discovered that the cover for the book had already been designed and can be seen online. That’s in part because of the great work of the staff at Augsburg Fortress, and partly because this manuscript is arriving so late! So perhaps a second element of gratitude is gracious publishers!

43) Encouragement. A reader asked yesterday “what happened to your Easter gratitude?”, and that was a wonderful reminder, prompt, and encouragement to catch up. Not that I haven’t been grateful, but I have discovered that this third daily post – even if brief – is the one that pushes me over the edge. At times like that, a little encouragement is just what you need!

42) Poetry. Near the beginning of this blog, I committed to finding a poem to share each Saturday. Not inclined to poetry naturally, that’s sometimes been a challenge, but a rewarding one, as I am regularly surprised, stretched, and delighted by the way poets can surprise you, remind you of things and even whole worlds you’ve never thought about, and take you places you’ve not been through their careful choice and arrangement of words.

41) Innovation. My time with our Alumni Council was given over to reporting on some of the grant sponsored work I’ve been privileges to lead studying congregational vibrancy. It reminded me again of how fortunate I am to be connected with an institution that values innovation and asking questions.

40) Prayer. At the end my time with our Alumni Council, they gathered around me, laid hands on me, and prayed. It was an incredibly encouraging, beautiful, and powerful gesture, something I won’t soon forget.

39) Our alumni. I had the opportunity to visit with the Alumni Council of Luther Seminary today. As I often am when gathering with our graduates, I am struck by their fidelity to Christ’s church and significant contributions to the seminary. These are not easy times at Luther, and the dedication and support of these folks — and so many more like them — is more critical than ever.

38) Minnesota. Okay, so middle-child that I am, I am always worried about keeping the peace, people’s feelings, and being fair. So having mentioned my delight at visiting Pennsylvania two days ago, it only seems right to share how great it’s been to enjoy somewhat warmer weather while driving around the beautiful lakes that adorn our fair cities like jewels in a crown.

37) My parents. My mom and dad have been, without a doubt, the biggest influence on my life. An all-too-brief visit with them reminded me of how fortunate I was to grow up with loving, patience, and incredibly gracious parents. A few years ago, I remember the ruckus caused by some research that suggested that we are more influenced by our peers than our parents. I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t believe it now. Yes, at different times in our lives different peer groups influence us, but nothing can match the long term effect of watching your parents live their values and nurture you to do the same.

36) Pennsylvania. It may sound odd to give thanks for a whole state, but I was able to add a leg to my flight home from Fresno that took me to the Philadelphia airport for some personal business. And as I drove from the airport toward my parents home a few hours away (and then back again the next afternoon!), I was struck by how beautiful the rolling hills are. Spring had sprung here a good two months earlier, so everything was green and lush and it all made me realize how much I miss this part of the world.

35) Professionals. I don’t mean “professionals” in the sense of degrees or status or something like that. I mean people who do their job with competence and care. And at this Assembly I’ve been surrounded by such folks – from the organizers and volunteers to the folks who run all the sound and video. What a delight to be surrounded by so many capable folks.

34) Hospitality. I mentioned yesterday my delight at the thoughtful gift of almonds on my arrival in Fresno. The next morning I realized that I had brought everything I needed except ties to go with my jacket. When I ran into Mark Holmerud, the Bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod, I asked where the nearest Target was, explaining my situation and my desire to run over there to get an inexpensive tie with which to get by. And what did the Bishop do? He asked me what color my jacket was, ran up to his room, and brought me two ties of his own to borrow. How remarkably kind.

33) Almonds. After about eight hours of travel, I arrived at my hotel room in Fresno last night for the Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly tired and hungry. And what awaited me? A gift basket with, among other things, raisons and almonds, some of the  produce that comes from this part of California. Perfect…and so thoughtful.

32) Guacamole. Cafe Ena is a Latin Fusion restaurant in Minneapolis and is one of our favorite places because of a) great salads (mangoes and strawberries on spinach – yum) and incredible, world-beating guacamole. Red and yellow tomatoes, fresh onion, and lemon-infused oil (I’m pretty sure). And that was lunch today! (And, yes, that really is a picture of Cafe Ena’s quac.)

31) Gracious readers. I’ve been way, way behind on my gratitude list – not because I’m not grateful, just because life is so “rich” just now that it’s been hard to make time to post beyond the usual. And no one’s complained, or even pointed that out. (I know, I know – that might also be because no one’s noticed or cared, but for now I’ll pretend it’s because everyone is so gracious! 🙂 )

30) Life in the Twin Cities. We spent a fair amount of time today driving our kids from various activities – swimming, musical practice, violin lessons, lifeguard training. Just another crazy day in the life of today’s parents. But even though from time to time I swear that we’re overcommitted (we are) and need to stop doing so much (we do), I’m still grateful for the manifold opportunities we’ve been able to provide for our kids by living in such a great metro area.

29) Craigslist. We’re doing some early spring cleaning. Actually, it’s more than cleaning – we’re trying to go through most of what we have and sort between what we use and want to keep and what we don’t and want to give away, sell, or throw out. Daunting! But in this venture, Craigslist has been incredible. I know folks have at times had difficult experiences with people they’ve encountered this way, but we’ve had  nothing but Minnesota-nice so far!

28) Emmy. So if I’m going to mention our two dogs, I should give equal time to our cat, Emmy. Not in my wildest dreams did I think of myself as a cat person until Emmy came along. She is very, very cool. Incredibly flexible, pleasantly aloof (a.k.a, not needy), yet very friendly. There’s been a fair amount of commotion and Emmy just takes it all in stride.

27) Warmth. It hasn’t been 60 degrees in Minnesota since the middle of last November – 5 months! And it hasn’t been 70 degrees since October – 6 months. But today, after 2 April snow storms and barely breaking 50, we shot through 60 to 70. Incredibly nice!

26) Jesse and Britta. We have two wonderful Golden Retrievers. Both came to us as part of the Helping Paws program that trains dogs to be companions for persons with disabilities. Jesse, our first, was eventually disqualified because of some digestive issues. It won’t impact his quality of life but made him a little high maintenance for someone with a disability. While we were sad that Jesse would not complete the program, we were very glad to adopt him permanently into our family. Yesterday we learned that Britta, who has been in the breeding part of the program, was disqualified also because she has mild hip dysplasia that while it shouldn’t affect her too much isn’t a trait to pass down. So once again, we find ourselves sad that Britta won’t complete her role in the program but grateful that she has become – and will stay! – part of our family.While we feel a little bit like the Island of Misfit Helping Paws Dogs, we’re awfully glad to have these two dogs!

25) Great TV. Long, long day. Got lots of work done, but not nearly enough. Should have worked tonight as well, but instead unwound by watching some favorite shows on demand. Which maybe should be two things to be grateful for – a) what many are calling the “golden age” of television and b) being able to watch programs whenever you want (how cool is that?). Tonight, Mad Men and Castle; last night, The Voice (yeah, I love The Voice).

24) More days to wear my Norwegian sweaters! Okay, so maybe this is making lemonade out of lemons. But one of my favorite things about our sojourn in Minnesota has been the strong Scandinavian culture and, in particular, Norwegian sweaters. My long-running joke is that I’ve bought enough of them to make it difficult to imagine moving to a warmer part of the country. And, just in case I didn’t feel like I was getting my money’s worth, Mother Nature sent 2 – that’s right 2! – winter snow storms in April.

23) Competence. We have so many talented staff where I work. I had a chance to spend a good deal of the morning working with one and was impressed and grateful for her sheer competence. But it’s not only that, it’s competence in service of something she believes in. What a gift.

22) Bedtime. Long day. But not long enough to contain everything that needed to be done. On days like this, I can’t wait for night to fall and for all the hustle and bustle of the day to subside and for the chance to crawl into bed. If you’d have told me as a kid that someday I’d actually look forward to bedtime, I never would have believed you!

21) Unity. The scenes in Boston were really quite moving, as the need for courage, compassion, and self-sacrifice in the face of tragedy brought people together in a tremendous sense of unity. Nor was it just in the city. “Boston strong” was something that summed up the feelings of the nation as we watched a city weather a terrible tragedy and come through together.

20) Law enforcement officers. Events in Boston have reminded me of just how important our law enforcement officers are and and how dangerous their profession is. I am grateful for all the men and women who regularly put themselves in harm’s way that we may enjoy such a great measure of security and peace.

19) Great colleagues. These are not easy days at Luther Seminary. The financial mess we’re in is both serious and significant. Which only makes me more appreciative of the great colleagues I have. A few, in particular, have been remarkably supportive of late as I try to make some important but challenging decisions. What a difference that makes!

18) New possibilities. I caught up with a friend last night whom I hadn’t seen for a while. He’s had a difficult year. And so it was wonderful to hear him talk about a new job, new apartment, and some new activities he’d tried out. That, and the promise that spring will eventually come :), was creating for him a sense of new possibilities. Which is one of those things, I think, we don’t always notice how much we need or miss until they come our way again. New possibilities make the future seem open, give us new colors to paint with, and invite us to look with fresh eyes at our life and the world. New possibilities are a gift that create life and, I think, at the heart of the promise of resurrection: that where God is present, all things are possible.

17) Prayer. Like all of you, I was incredibly shocked and saddened by the bombs at the Boston Marathon yesterday. The senseless violence, the injury and loss of life, and the creeping sense that these kinds of tragedies are becoming all to familiar combine to dampen our spirits. At times like these, it’s easy for me to feel rather helpless. And then I remember that I can pray – prayers for God’s care for the injured, diligence for those who seek justice, protection for those in harms way, and mercy and fortitude for all of us.

16) Quiet. My wife is at work, the kids are at school, the dogs are content to naps, and I’ve had two and half full hours of quiet to think and write. I generally love a busy, active pace of life, but today this rare stretch of uninterrupted quiet time was delightful.

15) Hymns. We sang some great hymns at church today. I’m always amazed at the way the pairing of music and texts lifts the spirit in a different way than either alone. And there’s something just plain powerful about singing in community. I suspect that church is one of the last places we do that, as even at sporting events the national anthem/hymn is now so often sung by a professional who improvises to the point of making it difficult to sing along. Ah, well, at least we can sing together on Sundays!

14) Less. We’ve been doing some early spring cleaning. (Or maybe it’s on-time spring cleaning but it’s spring that’s late.) In any event, we’ve decided to shed some of the books we’ve never read, the furniture we’ve been storing in the attic, the cards and mementos that we now realize are never, ever going to make it into a scrap book. It’s a daunting job that we’ve given most of April over to, but even though sometimes it’s hard – yes, I know I’ll never read that book, but still… – it’s also strangely liberating. Actually, it’s made me realize how often I buy things on a whim and has prompted me to vow to visit the library a whole lot more and the bookstore a lot less. Less. It’s the opposite of what we’re taught to want, but when you happen upon it, it’s really quite nice.

13) People who know things I don’t! We released the all new version of Working Preacher yesterday. But of course when I say “we” I really mean the talented web developers at Luther Seminary – Jim Dudley, Thad Dahlberg, and Pat Williams – who have been putting in tons of hours building, innovating, fixing, and creating code and more to make this thing work. Thank goodness for people whose competencies run so far beyond and afield of my own!

12) Faithful – and capable – municipal employees. We’ve had a mid-April snow storm that has snarled traffic and put a huge damper on the “promise of spring” I wrote about a few days ago. But as I traversed the roads to get my kids to school and pick up my wife from the airport (on time, not less – well, after they cancelled her first flight!), it occurred to me how fortunate I am to live in a city with great folks to plow and salt streets, to clear off runways, and all the rest. There’s something about living in a city that knows how to deal with the snow that can’t be beat – thank you, city transportation employees!

11) Great students. I just came from an hour with some of my students. Not in class, or chapel, or at a lecture. Just lunch…and fellowship…and time to talk about whatever. As we shared various elements of our faith and life – to hopes and concerns about placement for internship to why we hated Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the Hobbit to film – I was struck again by what a blessing it is to have great students. In fact, not much point in being a teacher without them!

10) Time to write. It’s been a crazy spring. Well, probably not that much crazier than any other spring. But you know what I mean – you get so caught up in managing day-to-day responsibilities that it’s hard to make much progress on larger goals or projects. Well, today I decided to try to reclaim a little more time to write – not just on this blog, though I love that, but to complete several larger projects that are way overdue. And you know what, simply deciding to make finding larger chunks of time helps. I’ll need to make some sacrifices – including, perhaps, being satisfied with shorter posts for a while – but the two hours I had to write this morning were glorious.

9) Rain. As much as I love the sunshine – especially at this time of year! – I was struck this weekend (which had its share of rain), of just how cleansing and renewing rain is. Martin Luther suggested that whenever we are dealing with water – the tap, the shower, rain – we take it as an opportunity to remember our Baptism. And this weekend as I watched the rain wash away several months of winter and renew the landscape – or at least prepare it for renewal – I was reminded of Baptism.

8) One-on-one time with my kids. I enjoy few things more than hanging out with my wife and kids. Whether we’re working around the house, playing cards or a board game, or watching a movie, I so much enjoy it when we’re all together. But in recent years I’ve also come to cherish one-on-one times with each of the kids. This weekend I had a chance to steal a little bit of that with each — to listen to their stories, their dreams, their concerns, and give all my attention to just one of them for a period of time. Grand!

7) Good work. I’ve told you earlier about some of the significant challenges we’re experiencing right now at Luther Seminary, where I teach and work. But whatever is going on right now, and whatever the future may hold, I’ve never been more grateful for the work I’ve been honored to share with students, faculty, and staff. We are about the business of educating leaders for communities of faith, inviting them to imagine the church of the future and to respond to the needs of the world. ‘Doesn’t get much better than that, at least for me. 🙂

6) Good friends. Last night I got together with a couple of friends from work. We used to gather pretty regularly every two weeks, but lately it’s been more like once a month, or every other month. Life gets busy. But each time we’re together I’m reminded of what a blessing good friends are. Friends you can share accomplishments with (one just had a book come out and had copies for us all), friends you can complain to (plenty to complain about at work these days), friends that make the way behind a little more comprehensible and the way forward more hopeful.

5) For truth-tellers and visionaries. Forty-five years ago today Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot dead as he stood on the balcony of his hotel room in Memphis. Though his life was cut short, consider what an impact his bold testimony, Christian faith, courage, and leadership had – the nation was never the same, not least because of those since for whom he has set an example.

4) The promise of spring. It’s only 40 degrees right now in St. Paul, but the sun is shining, temps may crack 50, and even if they drop off again this weekend within two weeks, the meteorologists promise us, the snow will be all gone and temps in the 50s and maybe, just maybe, the 60s! will be more reliable. Not the cherry blossoms of D.C., I grant. But given that it’s been a long cold winter in the Upper Midwest, so the warmth of the sun and the promise of spring are a pretty big deal just now. 🙂

3) An open future. It’s easy when life is challenging or painful to feel like the future has been narrowed, even closed off. But the empty tomb reminds us, I think, that what may seem impossible for us is not impossible for God. This has been especially important, of late, in both my personal and professional life.

2) Children who are happy in life and school. Not always the case, of course, as all kids go through tough times. But ours are at a sweet point in their lives and that’s a a joy to be treasured.

1) A healthy and vibrant faith community. Easter Sunday was a joyful celebration of color, music, and preaching for us; and I hope it was for you, too.