My name is Jeff and I'm a pastor of a small, local, Christian fellowship

It's a wonderful thing to love your work; to know that when you do it you are doing something that you were born to do. I am so fortunate to be both. I don't say I am the best at what I do. God knows that are so many others who do it better. But I do feel fairly lucky to be called by such a good God to do work I can only do with his help, to be loved by a beautiful woman, and to have a workshop where I can work my craft. These musings of mine are part of that work.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Leaving on a jet plane soon

Abraham leaving Haran
"Sinabi nga ng Panginoon kay Abram, Umalis ka sa iyong lupain, at sa iyong mga kamaganak, at sa bahay ng iyong ama, na ikaw ay pasa lupaing ituturo ko sa iyo: At gagawin kitang isang malaking bansa, at ikaw ay aking pagpapalain, at padadakilain ko ang iyong pangalan; at ikaw ay maging isang kapalaran: At pagpapalain ko ang mga magpapala sa iyo, at susumpain ko ang mga susumpa sa iyo: at pagpapalain sa iyo ang lahat ng angkan sa lupa. Kaya't yumaon si Abram, ayon sa sinalita sa kaniya ng Panginoon; at si Lot ay sumama sa kaniya: at si Abram ay may pitong pu't limang taon, nang umalis sa Haran." Genesis 12:1-4 in the Tagalog Bible

Last fall, our friends, Duane & Lois Pederson, who are the Directors of the Crossroads Discipleship Training School and the Co-Directors of the YWAM-Baguio campus in Baguio City, Philippines, invited me to come and teach a week at their school and then join Duane for a week in Palanan in remote north-eastern Luzon among the Agta. The Agta are the equivalent of our North American First Nations tribes, the indigenous people of the Philippines who have been living there long before the first Europeans arrived in 1521. I immediately accepted their invitation providing I could find the money to get there. That was early November. I began to share with our leadership team my intention to go mid-December as a way to solicit their prayer support. Throughout the month of January, Lois and I exchanged emails regarding the exact dates and details of my journey but I had yet to buy my airline ticket. In my heart there was a "yes" to their gracious invitation but what I needed far exceeded the credit line on my credit card. So I continued to pray and hope that there would be a proverbial "check in the mail." But none arrived. Last week, with my designated departure date getting closer on the calendar, I asked a close friend if he could buy the ticket for me and I would pay him back. He agreed and last Wednesday night around 10:30 p.m. it became official. I leave a week from Thursday.

It's funny. I have not a clue how I am going to pay him back but I have a remarkable peace about this whole matter all the same as if some way or another the money will come, as if I am being sent there as opposed to just picking up an international teaching gig (sounds prestigious, doesn't it?) And the minute after I agreed to the purchase price of $1,606.50 I did not experience the ancitipated "Oh-God-what-did-I-just-do?" moment. Rather, I walked home from Refuge that night full of joy.
So, I'm going to the Philippines. I've been asked to teach five days on "Lifestyle Evangelism" in three hour spurts to their students at the Crossroads school. And then the second week, Randy, another man from our fellowship, will be joining us for our week-long stay among the Agta. The particular region that we're heading to is centered around Palanan, a remote "municipality" in the Caygayan valley in Isabella Province on the big northern island of the Philippines. As I googled the Agta this is what I found at one site (Solidarity South Pacific):

An Agta family
"The Sierra Madre mountain range runs along the North East coast of Luzon, the largest island of the Philippines. The more remote mountain and coastal areas of this region are home to the more isolated of the Agta groups. Many of them are increasingly assimilated into mainstream society but still retain a strong attachment to their land, communities and traditions."
Duane's class from 2008

Last year a Super Typhoon with winds clocked as high as 200 m.p.h. devastated the region. Duane's nipa hut that his Agta friends had built for him in 2008 was among the casualties. These people are hunter-gatherers who have been reached with the gospel over the last decade or so. As Duane tells it, there are entire villages that came to Christ and three years ago he and others led the first Discipleship Training School there.

I haven't started packing yet. More on my mind has been this question: What possibly could a guy from northern Wisconsin bring to either Duane & Lois' Pacific Rim students in Baguio City or to these nomad-like aboriginals? Certainly not my expertise (such as it is) of pastoring a local Christian fellowship for almost 20 years. That may be impressive in some places but if I rely just on that little bit on my resume I fear I'm going to end up looking like a vacuum cleaner salesman trying to pitch my product among a group of people who only have electricity at certain times of the day and who, by the way, don't own a rug among them.

Yesterday, however, as I was kneeling at the altar during our worship gathering, Jeff G had a word for me. It's a word I have preached at Refuge before. I don't know if he was quoting me or The Message where it came from but it was God's word to me all the same: "Don't worry about what you are to teach. You are the message." At the end of Matthew 9, after making the circuit of certain towns and villages, Jesus' heart is breaking at the need that he encounters in every locality. So he gathers his friends together and commands them emphatically to pray - NOW - for more help to care for the aimless and wandering sheep he sees. They do and when they open their eyes they find they have been volunteered. They are the answer to their own prayer for help. Jesus' instruction to them are simple and to the point:

"Don't think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don't need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light." (Matthew 10:9-10, Msg)

"I am the equipment" the Lord is reminding me. It's not my experience. It's not my knowledge of their culture or their language or their history. It's just me and what the Lord has instilled in me. Relying on anything else would be foolish. So I guess it's time to pray that great 8-word prayer that a guy once taught me to pray:
"OH, GOD, OH, GOD, OH, GOD, OH, GOD."

When God called Abraham to leave what he knew to go to where he had never been before to receive a blessing and to be a bearer of blessing for all who would have it, the biblical author's description of Abraham's response to this call is a marvel of literary terseness: "So Abram left..." (Genesis 12:4). There is no reference to the conversations that had to have happened in his camp that night between he and his wife or the herdsmen that worked for him. But south he led them somehow intuitively trusting in this God he hardly yet knew. His story is our story as well. God calls out of what we know, the familiar and the well-worn, and invites us to join him on a journey that can only be made by exercising faith one step at a time.

P.S. While I was writing this, my parents called and informed me that they were donating $500 to the cause. Awesome. Only $1,206.50 to go.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Sins of Sodom

(Note: I realize I just posted something in reference to Genesis 19 but that was more on the order of a Scriptural meditation. This post is commentary)

"The cries of the victims in Sodom and Gomorrah are deafening; the sin of those cities is immense. I'm going down to see for myself, see if what they're doing is as bad as it sounds. Then I'll know."
Genesis 18:20-21, The Message

When the messengers who have been dispatched by Yahweh arrive in Sodom, their mission is simple to gauge whether or not things are as bad as they have heard. Shortly after their arrival they learn things are as bad as they have been led to believe - or perhaps worse.

   
  "Before Lot and his guests could go to bed, every man in Sodom, young  and old,
     came and stood outside his house and started shouting, 'Where are your visitors?
     Send them out, so we can have sex with them!"

    "Lot went outside and shut the door behind him. Then he said, 'Friends, please don't
    do such a terrible thing! I have two daughters who have never been married. I'll bring
    them out, and you can do what you want with them. But don't harm these men. They 
   are guests in my home." Genesis 19:4-8, CEV

As I read the story again, I don't know what creeps me out more: the fact that the men of Sodom have gathered outside of Lot's door hungry for fresh meat or that Lot offers his two virginal daughters to the crowd that they might satisfy their lusts on them. Something is very awry here. And where is Lot's wife in all this? What does she think about Lot's way of appeasing the angry crowd? And why would you want to stay in such a place or be reluctant to leave it? (see vv. 15-16)

Since the beginning of the year I have been reading Abraham's story and as as I have slowly turned the pages of it, I've pulled various books and commentaries off the shelf in hopes that those with a greater understanding of Hebrew and ancient Bible practices might point some things out to me that may be literally lost in translation. But this episode in the story is one of those places where I have had to pick my way carefully because my guides at times have offered me different conclusions as to why judgment ultimately consumes these communities.

As long as I can remember, I have believed (as most Christian people have believed until recent times) that these twin cities were destroyed because of rampant homosexuality - like an ancient San Francisco amped  up on steroids. But not so fast or so say a few of the guys I have been referencing. For example, Thomas Cahill, an Amerian scholar and writer, who has written some wonderful books like How the Irish Saved Civilization and The Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus believes that the sin of Sodom was not homosexual practice but inhospitality. I love how he spins words so here's his take on this tawdry moment in the square of Sodom from his book The Gifts of the Jews:
     Fade in: Sodom's main square, where Lot, encountering the angels, invites them to stay at his house. (Though not as generous to his guests as Avraham, he's undoubtedly a good guy.) But the men of the city surround the house like the ghouls in Night of the Living Dead and demand that Lot bring out the two handsome young men so they can, well, sodomize them. It becomes all too clear that there aren't ten innocents here. There's only Lot, who tries to buy time with a ploy that might not have occurred to most of us in this situation...

    Of course, the Sodomites aren't interested and roar that they will bugger Lot, too, once they have broken down the door. But no one gets buggered; and the Sodomites get theirs - fire and brimstone from heaven - once Lot and his family are out of the      way, save, unfortunately, for Lot's wife, who looks back on the raining destruction, even though she has been told not to, and gets turned into a pillar of salt... (pp. 76-77)
   ...
   It is only somewhat mollifying to realize that the sin of Sodom was not homosexuality
   but inhospitality. You can't tell from this episode whether God is against buggery, but 
   you can be sure he takes a dim view of raping perfectly nice strangers who come to
   visit. (my emphasis) (pp. 77-78)

Okay, maybe he knows better about these things but how he can claim that you can't detect God's feelings about such behavior from this text is beyond me. Read it and it gives you (or should) the shivers. Besides in the context of Genesis 18, we already know what God has heard of the goings on in Sodom and Gomorrah. Certainly it is more than being malicious toward outsiders.

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann (whom I wonder if Cahill consulted) follows a similar train of thought in Genesis: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Says this erudite man who has authored nearly 60 books
   It is possible that the offense of Sodom is understood with specific reference to sexuality. But if such a reading is accepted, the turbulent mood of the narrative suggest gang-rape rather than a private act of either 'sodomy' or specific homosexual act. (p. 164)

Personally, I don't follow his reasoning. Reading the story I get no sense of 'something good' that has run amok like a river breaching its normal channel due to spring flooding. Smart though the guy may be, isn't he just a prime example of someone who wants the Bible to say what he thinks it should say. I wonder.


Thank God for good evangelical scholarship. Derek Kidner is a guy who not only can parse Hebrew but has a high view of Scripture as well. In his commentary on Genesis (Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary from the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries produced by IVP) he addresses the likes of Cahill, Brueggemann, et.al., who want to put emphasis on the inhospitableness of Sodom's citizenry as the cause of their demise. One particular advocate of this theory suggests that the mob became incensed because the angelic visitors couldn't produce the proper I.D. They were illegals, as it were, and so when they call out "bring them out unto us, that we may know them" (KJV) they are just looking for the proper credentials. Really? To this Kidner counters by pointing to contextual evidence. If the men do not want "to know" the men in a sexual way what sense would it make for Lot to offer them his daughters so that they would be appeased? Why indeed? (This is simply a synopsis of his entire argument found on pp. 136-37)

Of this incident before Lot's house he says:
  At this early point in Scripture the sin of sodomy is branded as particularly heinous. The law was
  to make it a capital offense, grouped with incest and bestiality (Lv 18:22; 20:13), and the New
  Testament is equally appalled at it (Rom 1:26, 27; 1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10). (p. 134)
So clearly the sins of Sodom, which may touch on other matters, have something to do with unnatural relationships between men that had become the norm in that area. The fact that a whole mob is attempting to break down Lot's door to have their way with his guests is merely an indicator of just how perverted the city had become. If this is the kind of town you live in, why would you need to be practically dragged from it come morning? I mean, wouldn't you have enough motivation to run for the hills?

But Brueggemann has other things to say about the sins of Sodom, things we should consider. While he doesn't believe that their crimes were "specifically sexual" they were
    ...a general disorder of a society organzied against God (my emphasis). Thus in Is 1:10; 3:9,
   the reference is to injustice; in Jer 23;14, to a variety of irresponsible acts which are named; and
   in Ezek 16:49 the sin is pride, excessive food, and indifference to the needy (p. 164)
If you're starting to feel a little uncomfortable, you should be, for here is the prophetic record that he references:
Isaiah 1:9-13, CEV
  9 Zion would have disappeared
  like Sodom and Gomorrah, if the LORD All-Powerful
  had not let a few
  of its people survive.

 10 You are no better
   than the leaders and people
   of Sodom and Gomorrah!

  So listen to the LORD God:
  11 "Your sacrifices
   mean nothing to me.
   I am sick of your offerings
   of rams and choice cattle;
   I don't like the blood
   of bulls or lambs or goats.
   12 "Who asked you to bring all this
   when you come to worship me?
   Stay out of my temple!
   13 Your sacrifices are worthless,
   and incense is disgusting.

Isaiah 3:8-9, CEV
  8 Jerusalem and Judah,
      you rebelled against
      your glorious LORD--
     your words and your actions,
     made you stumble and fall.
   9 The look on your faces shows
    that you are sinful as Sodom,
    and you don't try to hide it,
    You are in for trouble,
    and you have brough it all
    on yourselves.

Jeremiah 23:13-14, NLT
  13 I saw that the prophets of Samaria were terribly evil,
        for they prophesied in the name of Baal
        and led my people of Israel into sin.
  14 But now I see that the prophets of Jerusalem are even worse!
        They commit adultery and love dishonesty.
       They encourage those who are doing evil
         so that no one turns away from their sins.
       These prophets are as wicked
         as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah once were

Ezekiel 16:49-50
   49-50 The sin of your sister Sodom was this: She lived with her daughters in the lap of luxury -
      proud, gluttonous, and lazy. They ignored the oppressed and the poor. They put on airs
     and lived obscene lives. And you know what happened: I did away with them.

Okay, score one for Walter. The sins listed here are ones of overwhelming pride, deceit, a callow attitude to those who are oppressed and a remarkable indifference to human suffering. It should make every American tremble for we are guilty on all counts. I don't agree with Brueggemann's opinion that Genesis 19 is off-limits in the "homosexual" debate in our country because those who would reference it as an example of heaven's referendum against such acts miss the point. But I do get what he's trying to say: there is way more than misbehaving going on here.

Conservatives like to boil matters down to a few guilty parties as to what is wrong with our country. We want straw men like "liberals" or "gays" or "media moguls" to rage against and get the crowd to "Amen" us as we do. But if the increase of homosexual activity - or, at the very least, the acceptance of homosexual behavior being perceived as a viable alternative to hetersexual practice - is symptomatic of a society that is losing or has lost its moral compass, there are even bigger fish to fry than GLBT-ers out on a lark. For starters, those who are proud, obese, lazy and do nothing to alleviate oppression. Or those who profess religious devotion but who are in reality just going through the motions.

Isaiah 5:5-7, NLT
  5 Now let me tell you
     what I will do to my vineyard:
    I will tear down its hedges
     and let it be destroyed.
   I will break down its walls
     and let the animals trample it.
  6 I will make it a wild place
     where the vines are not pruned and the ground is not hoed,
     a place overgrown wiht briers and thorns.
    I will command the clouds
     to drop no rain on it.
  7 The nation of Israel is the vineyard of the Lord of Heaven's Armies.
     The people of Judah are his pleasant garden.
    He expected a crop of justice,
     but instead he found oppression.
    He expected to find righteousness,
     but instead he heard cries of violence.

If Lot were still among the living he would counsel us to run for the hills or, if we can't make it that far, to Zoar, at least. The clouds are gathering and it can only be a matter of time before the fire from heaven falls again but this time it won't be the kind that ignites hearts. It will be the kind that incinerates bodies, towns, forests, all. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Before the wastes of Sodom

"Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the LORD. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace."

"So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived." Genesis 19:27-29, NIV

The morning after Abraham had pleaded with Yahweh for the righteous of Sodom and Gomorrah, he stands from a high vantage point to learn what has come of his intercession. The dense smoke says it all. "Not even ten," he murmurs to himself in resignation. Soberly, he wonders if his nephew and his family made it safely out of the valley before the fire fell for what is left is desolation.

The land has been wiped clean of all living things. All that can be heard is the wind blowing over the empty plain that at one time had been as well waterd as mythic Eden and thriving with people and commerce. It is now a dead land, a vast tundra of slag that will bear witness in perpetuity of the totality of Yahweh's judgment against wickedness and sin.

He thinks of the day years before when he and Lot had chose to separate their growing herds. Abraham had given his nephew first choice of grazing grounds. Lot, spying the lush, green fields near the Jordan, had chose them. Something in that choice had given Abraham a presentiment of trouble, a deep foreboding that lingered as he watched his nephew and his herds move toward the eastern horizon. He had stood near this very place and feared that his kinsmen would live to regret the day he had moved toward Sodom. Now that day had come.

Later word reaches him that Lot arrived in Zoar, a small village near the southern end of the great plain wherein the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah had once stood, just before destruction had rained down from heaven. He breathes a sigh of relief even though the message also indicates that his nephew's wife has also perished in the cataclsym. She and Sarah had always enjoyed each other's company. Even though they have not seen Lot in years, the news will be hard for Sarah to bear.

As he leans on his staff and mulls on the demise of the residents of the plain, he is suddenly struck by a thought: Lot was saved. Though he had been a resident of that wicked city so rife with sin, though there had not been even ten innocents among them, Lot and his daughters were safe. He had pleaded for restraint, for mercy before the One who had dined in their tent the night before. Even though he was but a man, who maybe was wise in matters concerning the nurturing and caring of herds, how did that knowledge compare to the knowledge of the One who is just in all his dealings with men? Compared to Him, what did he know of such things as who was deserving of God's mercy and who was not? And yet last night as He got up from Abraham's tent and made ready to leave there had been something in His demeanor that had provoked him to explore just what it meant to be in convenantal relationship with Him. When He had informed His host that He was going down to see if things were as bad in Sodom and Gomorrah as He had heard, Abraham finds he cannot keep mum and risks offending His guest. Besides, he thinks he knows already what they will find anyway and what's more, he has family there. And so a strange dickering begins but in this case he is not bartering for goods on market day but for the lives of those who may yet be untainted by the sin that plagues these two cities.

"What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?"

"What if only forty are found there...?"

"What if only twenty...?"

"What if only ten...?"

The agreed upon amount for His restraint had been ten righteous, a ridiculously small number considering how many thousands lived in the region. But He had concurred with the amount. In the end, even that number was high. The citizens of Sodom and Gemorrah had been found wanting and the Judge of all the earth had justice meted out swiftly. But Lot...was safe which means that though He was El Shaddai, all knowing and all powerful, He had been mindful and respectful of His relationship with Abraham and had rescued his family there.

The revelation struck a chord of awe within him. Yahweh had listened to a man's argument and had concurred. What could this possibly mean? Who was this One who though He was God Almighty did not rebuff Abraham's posture of intercession for the inhabitants of the plain on the eve of their demise?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Slides: Seeing my reflection in a hazy mirror

One of the many fond memories I have of growing up were those Saturday nights in Milwaukee when Dad would get out the projector and show slides on a stand-up screen in the living room. It was almost as good as going to the movies but in this case it was our faces up on the big screen as opposed to say, John Wayne's or Steve McQueen's. Dad would work through trays of slides of his days in the National Guard or of family gatherings past. So on my 18th birthday when my parents gifted me with a Canon AE-1 35mm camera it only seemed normal to have the pictures I took developed into the same form. In fact, my first two years' worth of photographic images with that camera were all done in slides. But I soon learned that hauling out the projector, setting up the screen that was often uncooperative at staying up and getting any audience to sit down and watch slides with me was a dead-end proposition. In time all those boxes of slides got relegated to a bigger box, which became some of the assorted baggage that our family would lug around whenever we pulled up stakes and migrated elsewhere. But since we haven't done that in nearly 18 years, it's been sitting in an alcove in the guestroom practically forgotten about.

In December, however, I purchased a digital film and slide converter and a few weeks ago I finally took it out of its box and began working its magic. Images that I took back in the early 80s are finally seeing the light of day. As I have worked my way through the cache I have felt at times something like an archeaologist on a dig of some ancient ruin that no on else knows about. And as I see what has been hidden for nearly 30 years my emotions have run the gambit between excitement and ambivalence, laughter and chagrin, embarrassment and surprise depending upon the image and the feelings that the memory that it touches evokes. It's been like unearthing a certain stratum of my life after decades of benign forgetfulness and being reminded of moments that I can scarcely write about without feeling a certain wistfulness or melancholy. Or shame.

I began breaking in my camera almost from Day 1. The very first picture I took was of my brother, Jim. It's late afternoon in early May and he's out in front of the house swinging away with his bat no doubt listening to Bob Uecher give the play-by-play of a Brewers' game on the radio. He strikes a batting pose for me that is reminiscent of one of those Topps baseball cards he used to collect. He's wearing his Brewers' batting helmet with the funky logo they introduced in the late 70s. At the same time, he's wearing his Packers gold-sleeved warm-up jacket. Yeah, that was Jim: ready for a fast ball or a long bomb. It's hard to believe that he's been gone nearly ten years now.



The next assorted images were taken in the backyard. Here's one of my dad working in his garden. In those days, I could have cared less what he was doing back there but now that I have a garden of my own to tend, I can't help but think maybe I might have learned something had I been paying attention. Other slides I took that afternoon captured permanently the splashes of color from all that was in blossom behind our house during that spring of 1980 - the apple tree and the hydrangea and lilac bushes.

I took several pictures of my dog, Star, that day. She was a shepherd-collie mix who clearly enjoyed having her picture taken. She strikes a regal pose and waits patiently as I click away. She was always a temperamental dog that you could never be comfortable with strangers around. A few years later when I went off to college in Chicago, a month afterward she had to be put down for mangling up our neighbor's Schnauzer. I had no way to get home and Dad was at work so Mom was alone when she made that last trip to the vet with Star. All I have left of her are these pictures and her collar now sitting in one of the many boxes that are marked "memorabilia" moldering away in my basement.

A week or so must have passed before the next two pictures were taken. They are of my girlfriend at the time, Vicki. They capture her wading in the waters of Lake Monona in Madison. If I remember right, it was a warm Sunday afternoon in May and we must have gone for a drive. We stopped at Law Park to sit by the lake and impulsively she decided to wade in. I don't remember anything else of our afternoon together othre than she whispered in my ear if I had noticed that she was going bra-less. I hadn't. But, of course, I did now. Nothing unseemly happened following that revelation. There is no other story that lies behind those images. We sat by the lake and then I took her home. But it's funny to me that all these years later that when I saw that picture again for the first time in nearly 31 years on my computer screen at home a few weeks ago, I instantly heard an echo of the fear and awe I experienced that afternoon of hearing such a disclosure. No other girl had ever been so forward with me.

It was, of course, totally unfair of her to share such a secret with a young man who is attempting (badly) to be cool on the outside as if he heard that quite frequently while on the inside he's like Spock undergoing Pon farr. A woman can say such a thing and in the same breath talk about how her parents annoy her but a guy - especially one like me - hears nothing more of whatever else she says. That's all he hears and tribute to this is that 30-some years later all I remember about that afternoon is her off hand comment: "It's fun to go bra-less." At the time I was fully persuaded that she was "the one" (as if an 18-year old can even have a grid for such a thing.) We've remained friends over the years - (Facebook ones, too) - since those days when we dated and (briefly) were engaged. I will always be grateful that our two lives intersected because it was through her family that I was introduced to Jesus.

That May all sections of Mrs. Erickson's Senior English class took a coach bus down to Chicago to pay a visit to the Art Institute there. Mrs. E was all about getting us immersed in culture. It was my first visit to the Windy City and I was wowed by the sheer height of the buildings downtown. I snapped off pictures of Chagall's Four Seasons Mosaic Wall, a few from inside the Institute, several from atop the Sears (now Willis) Tower. My favorite of that journey, however, was the image I serendipitously captured of a pigeon aloft above the Calder's "Flamingo" sculpture outside the Federal building. It reminds me of the image the Gospel writers convey of the Holy Spirit coming to rest like a dove upon Jesus. Even the few pedestrians making their way across the plaza seem captivated by the sight as if this sort of thing happens only once in a century.



Every Memorial Day as long as I can recall, our family drove up to Lake Lucerne located in Forest County in northern Wisconsin right on the edge of the Nicolet National Forest. My grandparents had a cottage there and time immemorial aunts, uncles, cousins and assorted relatives would gather "up north" on Memorial and Labor Day weekends (and for us, every other 4th of July weekend) and squeeze into this oversized shack for a three-day lark. I took my camera that Memorial Day weekend of 1980 and went for a walk in the woods on the west side of County W. The trilliums were in bloom and trilliums were Grandma's favorite. The woods were alive with color - and ticks. Following my hour long trek, I managed to harvest a host of them that my mom or dad or grandma picked off of me for the rest of the weekend like I was a little monkey out on th savannah.

As I continue to feed slides to the converter there is the lake glistening under the late spring sun, there are the islands that always seemed so mysterious to me, there is the gathering place where countless bonfires and "Indian ceremonials" were held and there is the black lab Pal, faithful companion of my grandparents from my boyhood to adulthood. Every image is rife with memories of afternoons spent out on the lake fishing or swimming out to the rock pile or skinny dipping at night under a sky bespectacled with stars.

After my grandfather passed, my grandmother, who did not drive, had no way to keep going there and so she sold it to some young couple. Wanting something far more spacious and modern they tore down the old cabin and built a new one but because of some archaic zoning law they had to leave one of the old walls standing. They left the south wall up where the kitchen sink had stood and, on the other side of the refrigerator, the old oil furnace. In the early 90s, Linda and I were driving through the area and decided to make a detour over to the lake. No one was home but the light was on so I looked in through the door. It was strange seeing this little living space that once was so full of Grandma's presence so empty of it now. I then did something that I probably should feel a tinge of guilt over but I don't: I lifted some rocks from Grandma's old rock garden that was on the east side of the cabin and put them into our van. There were still plenty and to spare and I wanted a few memorial stones of my own. They later became part of a rock border of one of our flower gardens out front of our home in Chetek. This past fall I rid our yard of most of them and after nearly 15 years I could no longer recall which were "Grandma's rocks" and which were from other places. All but a few now may be found at the landing at the "D" bridge over the Red Cedar River a few miles north of here where one Saturday afternoon last fall I dumped them unceremoniously. I hope Grandma would understand.

Later that summer, Vicki, her sister, Cindie, and I drove over to Milwaukee to attend the State Fair. I took a few shots of them enjoying corn on the cob that since posting them on Facebook they have indicated to me this sort of treasure should have remained buried. Ah, well. I love the one I took of them hamming it up in front of the swine enclosure (pun intended.) Those girls were a lot of fun. After we left the fair we drove over to Whitefish Bay, my hometown and I'm sure I drove them through the old neighborhood. We stopped at Big Bay Park, an old stomping ground of mine from my youth. Situated on the shores of Lake Michigan, we walked the very beach I had tromped hundreds of times when I was a kid. Vicki had her black swimsuit underneath her clothes and quickly stripped down to it. Oh, that black swimsuit...I confess there is a hint of wistfulness as I look at the few images of her out on the breaker. She was ravishing in that suit and, I suspect, she knew its power over me.

The rest of that box contain images from early fall - pictures I took of Madison from a high vantage point when I was a student at the University there and then an image or two from Sugarbush Hill near my grandparents' cottage. There's a great shot of my dad clowning around with my brother on the streets of Eagle River. It had to be Labor Day weekend and we were up north again enjoying the fellowship of the cabin one more time before Grandma and Grandpa closed the place up for the season.

There were other boxes in that carton of slides that I have since converted into jpegs: images of my trip to the Boundary Waters with Soma Christo, my Lutheran youth group, in that Summer of 1980 or the kids that were under my care when I was an employee at Campus For Kids Day Care (1981) or of some of the kids and counselors from Spencer Lake Bible Camp (1982) or of my classmates from my first semester at Christian Life College (1982). Posting them on Facebook has since led to a lot of traffic to my profile page as friends and acquaintances from those days have electronically gathered around these digital photo albums to scroll through images of themselves to be thrilled or embarrassed or curious or perplexed by what they find there.

I think of myself from those days. I struggled with poor self-image, with lust, with doubt over what I should do with my life and with fear of what others thought of me. Everything familiar had changed. I had become a Christian and had left the Lutheran church I had been raised in. I was trying to learn a new vocabulary (e.g., "saved", "redeemed", "blessed", and something called the "tith-ee".) The songs were new. The liturgy was new. The people were new. Most of the time I despised myself for my inability to think purely about women in general and spent a lot of time comparing myself to a number of the guys at our fellowship who seemed so much more spiritual than I was. So to see these pictures after all these years is to be reminded of the way I was. I was young and immature and woefully in need of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. But I was also 18 and just beginning to learn the ropes of this new life in Christ. So that being said these images also provoke me to gratitude for what the Lord has done in me and (thankfully) what he continues to do in me. I'm glad he loved me then awkward and sinful that I felt and that he still loves me some 30 years later. With God's help, I think I'm going to make it.