Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2009: A Review

I apologize for the long absence from blogging. Life got busy and the blog got neglected, but I am here for a triumphant return. Which is odd because I was told by one of my friends that I triumphantly returned to life again at the beginning of 2009.

The end of the year is almost here and with it comes a reflection of what has past. It is something that I have done for a number of years and each year seems to bring about different changes, different revelations about myself and the people around me. Now I could probably look back with great concentration and see different lessons from some of the more recent years to compare, but I honestly don't have the energy so I will focus on what has happened in the last 365 days, give or take a few.

In the year of our Lord, 2009, day one began with heartache; or at least the lasting effects of heart ache. But at the same time it was counteracted with the arrival of new friends. New Years Day was spent with my family, watch the Rose Parade and eating some sort of wonderful hot breakfast cooked by my father. The conclusion of New Year's Day proper meant that I was to be returning to St. Paul, to continue with school for the rest of the year.

It was here that new friends were to be found through the arrival of my January Term cross-cultural class that took place in South Minneapolis. It was a wonderful experience, in an old and cold church, that involved many lively discussion and an even greater amount of churros. I met some wonderful people there, people that I probably never would have got to know if it wasn't for the class. And even though the course was spent largely in a cold room, the people were loving and warm and full of life. A wonderful experience no doubt.

February brought with it two beginnings: the beginning of the semester and the beginning of a long weight-loss journey that I am still wondering my way through. Academically the semester was hardly out of the ordinary (although I did complete my first fully online class), but the weight-loss was a totally different story. I actually had started this journey back in August, but due to illness and certain involvements in my social life, it came to a bit of a halt. So I started again. I found myself weighing at just around 250 pounds and I set a goal of 210 by the Fourth of July. It gave me a weekly goal of just about two pounds per week. So I started getting up a little earlier than I had before and going to the gym. This wasn't always the easiest of things to do when it was freezing cold in the morning, but I went none-the-less. It was a hard that first month, but I hit my weekly goals each week.

Month-by-month the semester went by. And there were two classes that I thoroughly enjoyed: (although I think that all of my classes in the spring were great!) my online Holy Spirit class and my creative writing class. My Holy Spirit class was one of the most work intensive courses I have ever had. Being that it was online, there were large amounts of reading and even more writing to be done (I averaged about 12 double-spaced written pages per week, just for this Holy Spirit course). But at the same time I think I learned more from that Holy Spirit course than I did from any other. Granted the burden of learning was on my shoulders. If I didn't read or reply to the postings online, then I wasn't going to learn anything. It was a great challenge and I only wish that all online courses were that well done. And then there is the creative writing course, which was entirely less work intensive, but equally as rewarding. The class was small and it was spent entirely in discussion about how to write creatively and religiously. Our creative outlets were through hymns, poems or short stories/vignettes. It was a good opportunity to flex some creative writing muscle in the middle of a world dominated by dry academic writing. It also provided a nice counter-point to the very work intensive Holy Spirit course.

The spring semester of 2009 also brought with it the fulfillment of two plus years of course work and learning as I was to finally find out where I was going to be headed for internship. This was a process that I had started and inevitably had to delay in the spring of 2008; which meant that going through the process again was bittersweet. It meant that I had to going through some of the same orientation, listen to some of the same questions and read through some of the same congregational profiles again. It was a stressful process and I really just wanted to get it all over with and find out where I being sent.

But I still went through it all. I went to each of the orientation sessions. I read through dozens of congregational profiles. I rewrote my internship application and when all was said and done I had my heart set on one congregation in particular. Now before you get your hopes up like I did, I didn't get assigned to the church that I had my heart set on. I wasn't even told that I didn't get one of my four preferred congregations. Instead I opened up an email and I was assigned to a congregation that I had only read the profile once: Family of Christ Lutheran Church in Vancouver, WA. I was shocked and I didn't know what to do. I was crushed. (Before any of you readers out there get any ideas, I have loved my internship site and I have been blessed to be here, but I didn't know that this was going to be the case at the time.) It felt like I was dumped; which is ironic if you know how 2008 ended.

But life went on, and so did the semester. I finished my course work and was looking forward to a nice summer, a summer of rest before life to a left turn at Albuquerque and I started internship.

The summer of 2009 was full of travels; and with three different driving trips that were no less than 500 miles each, it was a lot of traveling. The first was a trip back home. Normally going home would mean jumping on a plane, but I had to get my car back to California for an emissions test so it was a road trip this time around. My Dad flew out from California and we drove across the country and back. The drive out to California was great. We had great weather, and even managed to get a free stay at a hotel for the return trip. The return trip, that was another story. But first, I should say that I enjoyed my time at home. I knew that I didn't know when I was going to make my way back home again so I made sure that I took extra time at home. But after almost three weeks at home I was ready to get back to my friends. The return trip. The return trip was nice until we made our way into Nebraska and then the fecal matter hit the rotating blades. The check engine light turned on not shortly after we entered Nebraska and it wasn't able to be fixed by a dealership until we got to the other end. Which really only temporarily fixed the problem as the check engine light came on again in Iowa. Long story to a short story; it was $1200 and three dealerships later until the car was completely fixed. I was not happy about it, but there wasn't much I could do. The next few weeks were a blur of activity.

I went camping to Lake Itasca, MN with some of my friends from the seminary. It was great fun, even though it rained practically non-stop. Basically the only times it didn't rain was when we set-up and took down camp and the hour or so that we spent on the lake canoeing. I should be happy to say that I managed not to tip the canoe even though I hadn't been canoeing since the 5th grade. It really was a great trip and I thoroughly enjoyed my tent bound trip with my friends.

I should pause this story to make note of the Fourth of July. It wasn't anything particularly amazing, fireworks and all the regular stuff that you expect from the celebration of our independence; but it is worth noting that I made my weight goal. In fact I had surpassed it by four pounds, weighing it at 206 pounds. It was a long and hard journey, but from August of 2008 to July of 2009 I went from 275+ pounds to 206 pounds. It was a net loss of approximately 70 pounds. I actually lost more total weight than that as I was down to 228 pounds in December of 2008 but gained the weight back by the beginning of February of 2009. My gross weight loss was approximately 92 pounds. Now granted some of that weight loss can be attributed to having mono at the end of 2008 and into the beginning of 2009. But I would like to think that I did most of the work.

After my trip to Lake Itasca it was a short rest before I had to back my life into boxes and head out west again. My last week in St. Paul was spent packing and organizing my life in to various size containers and figuring out what I was to keep with me and what was to stay back in storage. My final full day in St. Paul was marked by many good-byes and tears and packing up my car for the journey across the country.

My drive out to Vancouver, WA went without any sort of problems (thanks be to God!). I arrived at my new place of residence and was met by a few eager pair of hands to help me unpack. It was odd to not be living on a campus of higher learning any more, but I welcomed the site of a full kitchen at my disposal.

I arrived in Vancouver about a week before I was to officially start my internship and so I took advantage of the time and visited some friends in Seattle and took some time to set up and rest before a twelve month journey of learning and ministry.

At first start, internship was more questions than answers and I think that the first month I spent more time just trying to figure out what was going on than I did anything else. I spent much of that first month sitting in my office not know what it was that I was supposed to do, but that soon changed.

With the beginning of October came the beginning of what I think was my full swing of ministry. I took over the Adult Education hour (Adult Forum) between services Sunday mornings, as per the request of my supervisor; I continued working with the confirmation class; I started preaching on a regular basis; started thinking about my internship project; I started working with the youth; and much more. All of a sudden life didn't seem so boring, and I started to know what was going on at the church. This continued on into November, as I planned my first worship service (Thanksgiving Eve) and I finalized what my internship project was to be: a youth leadership program called F.L.Y. or Family's Leadership in Youth. In October I also met the other interns in the area and have been befriended by the other two that are here in Vancouver. I look forward to our Monday night gatherings and I am thankful for their opening their hearts and homes to me.

And that brings us to December. This month has been hard for many reasons. Not only is the season of Advent full of new challenges (mid-week services and many many get-togethers) but there is other turmoil, turmoil that I will not mention here in a public space. One of the bits of inner conflict that I can mention is that my family, for financial reasons is not exchanging gifts this year nor are they able to make it up to visit me for the holidays. This marks the first Christmas (of probably many) that I will have to spend away from my family. It has been hard to deal with but I know that this is something that I will have to understand sooner rather than later.

But I am not alone with my personal conflicts. I have a friend that has had many hardships at work; another that has had to deal with death and another that has had to deal with great illness. Great conflict is all around me at a time of the year when I am supposed to be filled with and surrounded by joy. It's a duality that I have found hard to deal with. So 2009 appears to close in the same way that it started, with heart ache. The only difference being that of the source.

But I look forward to 2010 with great joy and some trepidation. I look forward to see how ministry plays out here at Family of Christ. I look forward to seeing my friends graduate from Luther Seminary in May. I look forward to seeing multiple friends start a life-long journey in marriage. I look forward to my return to Luther to see how their internship experiences went. I know that it is going to be difficult to leave Family of Christ at the end of the summer of 2010. But it is something that I will have to do.

But most of all I look forward to the rest of 2009 and the promises that are brought forward each Christmas.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Things Present and Things to Come

When I first found out about where I was going to be doing internship I was a little less than happy. To be completely honest, I had to fight back the few tears that were trying to escape in the middle of class. It was not where I wanted to be, it wasn't even one of my preferences. I was in shock and after reading the congregation's profile, I felt like I was thrown into the exact place I didn't want to be. The congregation wanted someone enthusiastic about Youth and Family ministry as well as Mission and Outreach. When I read that I what was really being said, "Glorified Youth Director." That was exactly what I was trying to avoid. I knew almost nothing about the congregation and could find nothing out online as their website was all but broken. I knew that this was a site I didn't want to be at. I knew that I really wanted to be somewhere else. The only thing that I truly liked about the site was that it was in Washington State.

At first glance I thought that this was just another adversity for me to overcome in my seminary journey. I whined and moaned and complained (thanks to those that were willing to listen, you know who you are) and it got me absolutely nowhere. I realized that there was no way for me to change where I was going so I tried to make the best of it. It wasn't easy, and by the time I darkened the door of my office for the first time I couldn't honestly say that I was completely crazy about the idea of being.

I'm now two months into my internship and I don't know if I could have found a better place. Oh sure, there are things that I might wish to have different, but I still am doing all the things that I wished I could do on internship and more. I am on a committee to discuss the recent changes in the ELCA. I get to teach confirmation just about every other week. I've been leading the Adult Education hour between services since the first week of October. I'm preaching at least twice a month. I'm helping to develop services, working with council, leading worship, working with the youth and more. It is so amazing to me that a place that I had no desire to be at is the place that I probably needed to be at the most.

Of course I shouldn't be surprised, this seems to be my life since I felt the call to seminary/life of ministry. I ended up at Luther Seminary instead of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. I ended up doing my Clinical Pastoral Education (chaplaincy for those who do not know) not in California close to home but in the Twin Cities in the coldest and snowiest winter they have since I've been there. I ended up doing internship my fourth year of seminary instead of my third. Nothing seems to go as I planned it to be. And a little bit of pop-culture/theology might have something to say about it.

So I started reading The Shack. After months of trying to avoid it I felt that it was finally something that I should do. And even though I haven't finished it yet (so no spoilers please!!!) I can see the value in the book. At one point in the book there is a conversation about conforming to the will of God and how we must be willing to do what God wants even if we can't understand why. It's a hard lesson to learn but it is so key. Now this particular conversation in the book was also talking about freedom, but I won't go there. My point is that my wants, my will is broken by sin and therefore self-serving. I can't possibly know that is the best thing for me because I can't see beyond myself. God on the other hand is not handicapped by sin and God's will is perfect. It is only until I am willing to see that fact that I can be able to move freely in his will. And until I learn this I must continue to wander through the desert (metaphorically speaking).

This last Sunday the topic for the Adult Education hour was Old Testament themes, one of which being wandering and wilderness. One of part of the themes is that it is a vital part of one's faith to wander through the wilderness. It may seem that this is contradictory. To wander is to be lost, but in the Bible to wander is to be closer to God. The wandering in the wilderness is a time of discernment, grow, learning and faith. Even Christ had to wander in the wilderness for forty days before he was able to fulfill his ministry and ultimate task of death on the cross. Now I'm not trying to say that I am Christ, I am far from it, but I have recognized that this time is a time of discernment for me. I need this time as it is vital to my faith. Before this time I took at face value what was presented for me. If someone said God is good, I believed them because it made sense, but I had never thought how or why God is good. If someone told me that such and such was a sin, I believed them for the same reasons, never challenging the perspective to see if it truly fit with my own, to see if it fit with my relationship with God. Now I cannot make right my relationship with God through wandering, but I can be lead to a better understanding during my wanderings by the Holy Spirit. And I think that is were I am, wandering with the Spirit as my guide.

And so I wander, I don't know what the rest of this year is going to hold for me. Sure I can look at the calendar and see what is coming up and I can see the relationships of the people in this congregation grow and change as my time goes by, but I don't know what is going to happen with 100% certainty. And the great part is that I don't have to. All I need to do is be present in the moment, right now, and know that whatever is going to happen God will guide me. In the end all I can hope for is an experience that is as good as the one that I've had so far. And so far the experience has been great.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Decemberween (sorry Strong Bad)

“I'm torn between what keeps me whole and what tears me in half
I'll fall apart or stay intact

With tired eyes I stumble back to bed
I need to realize my sorry life's not hanging by a thread
At least not yet”

-Merry Christmas, Here’s to Many More – Relient K

I’ve stumbled upon listening to the Relient K Christmas Album Let It Snow Baby…Let it Reindeer; and to be honest I have enjoyed the quirky twist on familiar carols and Christmas tunes along side some of Relient K’s very own original Christmas songs. It isn’t the first time that I’ve listened to these songs out of season, there is something comforting about listening to Christmas music, it is nice to hear that warm and up lifting music…

This afternoon I got back from the Fall Cluster Meeting for the Vancouver/Oregon region of interns. I wasn’t sure what to expect and there was a large part of me that wanted to speak out against the $90 fee that came alongside it. But I decided to give the 17+ hours we had together the benefit of the doubt (we met at 7pm on Tuesday and were over at lunch today). I am glad that I spent the time and energy to go to this retreat/meeting because it allowed me to meet the other interns for the first time since I’ve entered the great green Northwest. There was a total of five intern/internship supervisor pairs plus the contextual leadership coordinator for the region, we were missing one intern/supervisor pair but hopefully they will be able to make it in the spring. The retreat was a time to get to know the other interns in the area and their pastors and see where each other was in the process. And let me say thank God for the fact that I was able to interact with my peers for the first time since I left the seminary in August! I have been deprived of interaction within a peer group for the most part and I was really starting to notice the fact that I was lacking any sort of social life.

The night started as one might expect, introductions and a quick discussion and then the group split, interns in one room and supervisors in another. It was such a treat to be able to hear the other intern’s stories on how they got out to Washington or Oregon and how they have been able to do ministry in each of the different congregations. For some of us, the Pacific Northwest was a brand experiences and for others, well they had lived here a number of years before they started seminary or internship so it wasn’t as new and exciting. And as different as each of our sites were, there were so many common experiences between us. It was nice to know that there were people like me, seminary students on internship that were experiencing the same things that I was.

After our small group discussion we gathered back together to discuss what we had shared. It was a nice little discussion but what I really appreciated was what happened next, free time! I know that sounds like a junior higher at bible camp, but it was true. I just wanted to talk and find out more about these people. But the first thing we did was play a game of pictionary that had the most fluid rules I had ever seen in a game. It was fun and it made way for discussion after the game was over. We started chatting about beer and baseball and it soon took the form of the ever changing conversation that could have possibly gone on until sunrise, it didn’t but it did go until 1am.

The morning was quick in coming and not well received by myself. I was ready for another 1-4 hours of sleep and I really wished that I could have spent the morning just talking with the interns; instead we spent the time in a mini-workshop on Spiritual Direction which included a walk through the labyrinth and guided listening/discussion. It was soon lunch time and I thoroughly felt refreshed (if not extremely tired) from the 17 hours with my peers. And even though I had to go to the office for a few hours to work and I still have more stuff to do tonight, I am renewed and ready for the rest of the week.

…It’s so easy to forget that we need to be lifted up and to be in relationship with other people. And I really hadn’t received either of those since I’ve started internship. Sure I’ve been told that I’ve done a good job and that people appreciated my internship but I have yet to make any new friends or really feel like I’m in a true relationship with those that are around me. And maybe that is what’s so inviting about listening to Christmas music, it reminds us of family, friends and times of warmth, relationship and being lifted up. And I think that is why I’m so attracted to this particular Relient K song right now; the final two verses go:

So look at me now
It’s finally Christmas and I'm home
Head indoors, to get out of this weather
And I don't know how
But the closest friends I've ever known are all inside
Singing together
Singing merry Christmas, here's to many more

Deck the halls with mistletoe
May all your heavy burdens go
Up the chimney in a cloud of smoke
The fire's burning bright
Strike up the band and play the tune
Cause Christmas will be here and soon
You'll hear our song in every room
This merry Christmas night

To be around our closest friends and family is definitely the greatest gift of the holidays and I can only hope to be so lucky as to have one or two of my closest friends and family near me this Christmas.

Either way, I know that I’m not hanging on by a thread and that I’m not being torn in half. I know that I have close friends and family. I know that no matter where I am and where my friends and family are, they will love me with a love that knows no bounds or space. I know that once Christmas comes, they will be with me even if I cannot see them. And I know, with every fiber of my being, that there are many more Merry Christmas’ to share and enjoy with my friends and family. And in the end, I’ll be okay.

So here’s to listening to Christmas music, any time of year.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Corner Turned and There's No Turning Back

Last night was the first council meeting for me at my internship site. It was full of the regular council stuff, old and new business. Reports from the various committees. General concern about certain goings on at the church, but there was something else that was unusual. There was a report from two women of the congregation that were not part of the council. The unique part of the report is that they are the only openly gay couple that are in the congregation (at least from what I can tell). I won't go into the details of why they were there (there was a very distasteful action as well as come good conversations for them to report on) but it ended in a resolution for further communication in the congregation, especially in light of the recent actions in the ELCA. The corner has been turned and there is no turning back.

In the two plus weeks that I have been working at this church, this is the first time that a large group (approximately 15 people were at council) had discussed this in my presence. And I could tell from the reactions of the people in the room that this was not going to be an easy conversation to have. Just amongst the council there were people that seemed as if they wanted to engage in honest, open and respectful conversation; while others seemed to not care about what was going on, doing their best to not engage in what is going on. I would hope that these conversations bring the congregation closer, but I know by their very nature that they can cause divisions.

There were encouraging parts to the meeting. There were some very strong voices of support. The president of the council said that the church needs to continue to focus on the fact that all are welcomed in the church, no matter what they've done or who they are. He sighted the mission statement of the church that all are welcome, saying, "When we stop welcoming people we seriously need to reconsider what we are doing as a church." I seriously hope to be a part of this group that is discussing this, but I don't know if that will be possible.

It's interesting. I was thinking about writing a post on Monday and I didn't get around to it. It was going to be inspired by the fact that on Sunday during the second service I saw a small boy (whose name I cannot remember) literally ran/danced up to the communion rail and held out his hand eagerly awaiting the bread and grape juice that would be coming his way. And I thought that if a small boy could be that excited about going up for communion then this is going to be a great year. And it still could be, but this conversation(s) that is about to take place could cause some conflict and it is not going to be resolved by the time that I leave here almost a year from now. I hope that the conversation brings growing and closer relationships between the church's members, but I have no gauge of how it is going to go. People here seem content with ignoring the issue. But I am afraid that this is something that can no longer be avoided; and my fear is seeded in the fact that people don't know how to react. But I am hoping for the best. I think that internship just got a lot more interesting.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Installation...what am I a shelf?

This past Sunday I was installed as the second intern of Family of Christ and when it was all said and done I didn't feel any different. Granted, I am now officially the second intern and I now officially have to pay attention to Sunday mornings, but I don't feel any different. After the second service was over on Sunday I went an socialized with the 20 or so people that stayed after service and talked for a bit, but I didn't feel any different. And I have to say that this whole, start at a new church thing is weird.

I am getting to know a whole new community of people and it is a bit overwhelming. It's really easy for all of them to remember my name but I only know the names of a handful of people. I need to learn little bits of information about them. I need to learn who to contact in different situations. I need to learn who are the leaders and who likes to stay in the shadows. I need to learn my own responsibilities, all of this in a year. And I am learning, but it is slow. When you are drinking out of the proverbial fire hose it is hard to remember who you've met and what their names are and what they do and this and that and the other thing. But I guess this is just part of the deal. You are expect to stumble through this first part of this chapter of life, there's no way around it. Even if I were to sit with the "mostly complete" church directory I would still be at a loss. Life is going to keep going and I will do my best to keep up. And this week will help with that.

With my supervisor out of the office most of this week. I am going to need to be really proactive to be able to do what I need to do and actually find work to do. I know that there are people I should go and visit, just to get to know the congregation a little better and I have an article due for the church newsletter, so it's not as if there is nothing for me to do. But at the same time I just want to go take a nap and enjoy what looks to be a very nice day.

On the bright side, I found a wonderful little Mexican restaurant that I can see myself frequenting quite a bit while I'm here. Until next time...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lions and Tigers and Interns! OH MY!

Yesterday was the official start of my internship and to be completely honest it hasn't quite sunk in yet. There is still so much for me to understand and figure out. Like: When is my day off? What are my learning goals? Who's on my internship committee? What is it that I am supposed to do while I sit here in my office? When do I get paid? When do I tell the pastor that I want to go on vacation in May? And more questions. Some things are slowly starting to fall into place and I am slowly (emphasis on the slowly) learning peoples names. So far it has been like someone handed me the directory and told me to know everyone all at once. I know that it is going to be a gradual process but I feel so overwhelmed with the whole enterprise. And I'm not entirely sure what it is that I'm doing right now. I feel lost. But I'm not sure that I should be feeling anything else. I mean, isn't that the whole point of intership? To throw someone into the mix and not just let them dip their toes into the shallow end? (Sorry for the mixed metaphor.)

And yesterday was a long day. I got to the office at 8:30 or so and started to begin the process of making my office mine. It is a humble beginning but I already have stupid Jesus paraphernalia (Jesus Band-aids!) and all of the books that I brought with me in my office. It is a rather sad looking book case, but hopefully I will fill it with pictures and other fun stuff soon. But after that I had my first staff meeting, which was kinda quick and didn't really do much besides have me meet the staff. I also met with the Preschool staff over coffee. It was an interesting group. Then I go back to my office and do some work and I soon realize that I didn't bring a lunch. So I go back to my place and make a quick lunch so I can bring it back with me.

I eat my sandwich and then try to look busy for the next couple of hours and decide that there is nothing left for me to do so I go home and start making dinner. After I eat dinner I have just enough time to finish watching the episode of How I Met Your Mother and change and head back to the church and met with the deacons and diaconal candidates. I felt a little out of place as I have very little experience with the subject but was still able to offer a little to the meeting. I get back to my place at about 8pm and I have to clean up dinner, which gives me just enough time to relax for a little less than an hour before I should go to bed.

Now today is much like yesterday. Morning prayer, me trying to figure out what I'm supposed to do, but today I brought lunch. But like yesterday I have more meetings in the evening. So I'm debating as to when I should leave for the day so I can come back tonight rested. I'm sure I'll make that decision soon. I have to say it is weird to know that I should be doing something but not knowing what that something is. Hey, at least with writing these blogs I look busy. And that counts for something right?

Tonight I meet my internship committee (which they have decided to call the Intern Task Force, which sounds like it belongs in some sort of ELCA published comic) and I'm kinda nervous. I know that they are here to support me and offer me advise, etc. But both the committee and myself have no idea what we are doing so I wonder how things are going to start. But for now I guess all I can do is tread water until I know where it is that I am supposed to swim.

I Only Wish I Would Have Seen a Horse of a Different Color

On August 29th I decide that I am going to go up to Seattle. The day before I make a phone call and meet up with Doug Oaksford in the Emerald City. Now I will admit that I was not particularly happy with how the day started.

The day started with me waking up at 5:45 in the am. Now I will admit that I was going to wake up at 6am anyway but there is something about waking up in the 5 o'clock hour and earlier that just does not settle well with me. So I decide to watch some way early Saturday morning TV (which is mostly infomercials fyi) and then went on to getting ready and the on the road. First of all, it is almost a three hour drive to Seattle from Vancouver. I was thinking it would be two hours, but evidently my guess of distance between Seattle and Vancouver on the atlas was off by a good 40-50 miles. Secondly, it was raining. Go figure, it was raining in Washington, the problem was that when you are tired and kinda sleepy you don't want to be driving under grey cloudy skies and the occasional shower. But after almost three hours of driving I finally make it to Doug's house in Seattle and the adventure begins.

First thing we do is make our way to a monorail that starts (or ends?) near the Space Needle and makes its way into Downtown Seattle and a round trip ticket is $4. So we ride the monorail for 90 seconds (really, that's all it took) and head down to Pike's Place. We walk down to the first Starbucks, and I have to admit, it was a little disappointing. It looked like every other Starbucks and didn't really show much if any indication that this the first Starbucks. Anyway we walk around the market for a while and look at some cool shops and then make our way to Pioneer Square where the underground tour of Seattle takes place.

It's about an hour until I tour so decide to eat lunch at the very same place where we bought our tickets. I had some wonderful crab cakes and fries while Doug had a bowl of mac and cheese. I have to say that my lunch was better, but I'm not a fan of mac and cheese, so just about anything would have been better than that. After lunch we were herded into an adjoining room and were told some brief history of the area where the tour would take place. And then we are divided into different groups to start the tour.

Now let me start by saying that we had an amazing tour guide, she was witty, funny and just excited enough that it got others into the tour without being oppressive. She could be a jungle tour guide at Disneyland. But I digress; the tour was pretty cool and I found out that Seattle (at least large portions of downtown) was built on the second story of Seattle. The first floor (the ground level) actually is underground due to unfortunate events, but now it makes for a cool tour. Evidently all sorts of dastardly deeds happened at the turn of the 20th century when the underground came to be, including prostitution, gambling and other haberdashery (I'm pretty sure that is not what I want it to mean, but it sounds bad).

So our next stop on our downtown adventure was a store near the Sound that had all sorts of oddities and weird things in it. It really was a tourist store but the owner had some how been able to come across and own all sorts of oddities. You may be asking, what kind of oddities? Well, I'll tell you: four-legged chickens, human bones, two headed lambs, shrunken heads, mummies (not the Egyptian kind) and that's just the beginning. It was way cool and full of all sorts of different things. And our next stop didn't really happen. Let me explain.

I was in Seattle four years ago on choir tour with CLU's University Choir. A few of my friends met up with a mutual friend of ours and some of her friends and they took us to a place called Rainbow Condom (at least that is what I think it was called) and it was a pretty funny little store that had more condoms than any one store should have. But they literally had condoms in just about every imaginable shape and color. Now here I am four years later and Doug had never been to this place and I think that it would be great to take him there. So now I have a general idea as to where it is, so I look it up on my phone and I find an address. So now the search begins. We go to where it tells us to go, and it's not there. We walk up and down the streets, looking in different little shopping centers and no dice. So as we are walking down the street I look at my phone again to make sure we are at the right place. And as we are walking down the street a woman with a baby asks us if she could help us with directions. I look at Doug and we both say no. Now I know that this is Seattle and it probably was not the weirdest thing that this woman had seen or heard but to me, the two of us asking the woman with a child where a condom store was, was a little beyond where I was willing to go. So we never found the place, and it's sad because I think it would have been fun.

So we go back to the Monorail and head back towards the Space Needle. Now I didn't go up the Space Needle, every person that I've talked to has said that it is way over rated and too expensive. But we did go into the Sci-Fi museum that is right there by the Space Needle. Now I will admit that the $15 dollar price for the museum was a bit pricey for what I saw, but it was a pretty cool little museum. After a little over an hour of walking around the museum we made our way to what Doug called the Gas Works, which is a park in Seattle that over looks downtown Seattle. Now the reason that the park is called the Gas Works is because the park is built around and in an old Oil Refinery. It was a pretty cool little place and I got some pretty cool pics.

After this we went to get dinner. We got pizza. Now, normally pizza isn't too exciting. But this was not your normal pizza place. The small pizza weighs about oh...2-3 pounds. It was fully loaded with toppings and I could see why this is Doug's favorite pizza place. The two of us couldn't finish one small pizza, it was that loaded. After pizza we made our way back to Doug's house and we watched one of the Futurama movies that has recently came out and then it was time for me to hit the road so I could make the long ride back to Vancouver.

All in all it was a pretty fun day and it was great to visit with a friend.

A Three Hour Tour...Hike...Whatever.

So on my way into the great city of Vancouver (Washington not British Columbia) I drove by a beautiful falls that was by the highway. It was huge and I would have stopped right then and there if it wasn't for two things: a) I had no idea where my camera was and b) I just wanted to get to Vancouver so I could unload my car and be a little less stressed and get my life a little more organized. So I drove right on by and decided that one day I was going to go back and look at the wonderful falls and take pictures and generally have a grand ole time.

Now I need clothes (but Doug, what do clothes have to do with beautiful and wonderful falls? I'm getting there), more specifically I need dress clothes. So I needed to find an outlet mall and get said dress clothes. So I find a place online and I realize that it is in the same general direction of the falls that I saw on the way in. So I decide that I will go there when I go shopping for clothes. So on August, 28th I go and head out to the outlet mall. After a few hours and a few hundred dollars I finally am able to move on from the outlet mall and go to the falls. Now I don't remember where the falls are exactly but I do remember two things. They weren't right off the interstate, they were on a historic (or something like that) highway and there were signs for the falls off the interstate. So I have a decision to make, I can drive on the old highway hoping to find the falls or I can drive on the interstate and hope that I don't pass it and totally screw myself by passing it. I go down the old highway.

I come upon a parking lot and a smaller falls that I had not seen before so I decide to stop (oh, and I did bring my camera). Now I hadn't thought the whole trip through, I should have a) brought better shoes and b) brought a water bottle, but I didn't and so now I need to figure out those two things. Oh and it's lunchtime and I've had no lunch; hurray for old pretzels and jerky that I found in my car. So I go to look at the falls and they are full of pretty and nature and I see a sign for the falls that I really want to see, it's a quarter of a mile away, no big deal. So I walk on down the path, snapping pictures along the way and finally make it to the falls. And I'll be honest, it was pretty darn cool. But I was hungry and I needed hydration stat.

So I stop at a little snack stand and get a pastry and a water bottle. The water was better than that pastry (I know, it's sad). Now from the little stand I can see that there are two way better viewing areas for the falls, a viewing area at the base of the falls and a bridge. So I go up to the viewing area (photo, photo, photo) and I decided that I could take way cooler photos (photo, photo) from the bridge. So I go up to the bridge and see along the way a sign for a trail that leads to the top of the falls (the TOP of the falls!) that is a mile up the trail. I'm thinking sweet! So I go to the bridge (more photos) and I make my way up the trail to the top of the falls.

Now let me explain something about this trail, it starts off about wide enough for two regular size people to walk side by side (which was fine until you want to walk by some old couple that is putzing up the side of the mountain and refuse to let you by) and then gets to the point where two small children would have trouble walking side by side (then the same old couple goes from being annoying to a potential 911 call). But after 11 switch backs and about a mile and a quarter of hiking (the sign lied, lied I tell you). But the old people weren't even the worse, as I am hiking up there is a family that is hiking down. Not a big problem as there were many families hiking, this family was different though. They thought it would be a good idea to bring their huge stroller to the top. Now I have nothing against infants. But I do have something against idiot parents that think it is a good idea to bring a stroller up a trail that is narrow and has 11 switch backs. The dang thing took almost the whole path way and I'm sure that I was not the only one with this opinion: next time forget the stroller. I finally get to the top of the falls. And it kinda sucked. Now it was cool to be at the top but you couldn't really look down over the falls at all, in fact I was able to see more of the interstate than I was of the lower falls and the area around the falls. I was not particularly happy, but there was some come things just before the falls.

So now I begin my decent down the trail, thinking great, downhill is a lot easier than up. Oh how quickly I have forgotten how hard long downhill hikes are. I start the hike down by going behind these two young women (about my age) and I forgot how stupid some idle conversations are. One of the women had a small Pomeranian and whenever a large dog would come close, she would stop the dog (hers not the big one) and pick up the dog and say the following thing, "I know I shouldn't worry, but I do. I do worry." She would never say why, although it was implied that she was worried about the large dog eating her small dog as an appetizer for lunch, and then she would repeat that same phrase at least a dozen times (really, this is no exaggeration) and her friend would simply say, "I know, I know." And the conversation was never any deeper than that. It made my brain go numb. But at least the view was nice.

I finally make it down the trail to the bottom and I see a little fudge stand offering free stands, this is bad. And so I look at their selection and they have Amaretto fudge and it was divine! So I get three pieces of fudge (raspberry chocolate, the Amaretto and standard chocolate fudge) and am quite happy with my purchase and then I realize that I need to make my way down to my car still. So I make my little hike back to my car and finish my trip with some fudge as I drive along. And after three hours of hiking I was happy to be sitting and driving back to my new place. All in all it was a good day.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Next stop: Miles City, Vancouver and Internship

I really want to keep up with this blog, so I am writing this blog in a word document right now so that I can keep current. In my last blog I talked about my day’s travel experience, this one will be a little more varied as I have a few days to cover as I write. So I will be a little more selective in my ranting. Also, I apologize right now for any disjointedness that may come from this blog as I have certain things that I want to cover but no real idea as to how to get from thing to thing. So…here we go…

I left from Miles City, Montana earlier than I wanted, for whatever reason I woke up at 6am again. After almost twelve hours of driving evidently I wasn’t tired so I only got a little less than six hours of sleep. Anyway I get on the road and already begin to appreciate today’s drive much more than I did the previous day’s and for one reason, in fact one word: mountains. Let me explain; there is something about the mountains that always brings me comfort. It doesn’t matter where the mountains are or what they look like or what the state of the mountain is; there is just this inner that comes from the mountains. Mountains are like a security blanket or being held in the arms of a parent. I don’t know how to explain it and I don’t mean to quote George Bush, I make it a point not to, but if you don’t know I can’t tell you what that feeling is like. It is hemmed into my being. It is more than hemmed in, it is woven in from hem to hem; from top to bottom, front to back. The mountains provide a calming presence that I don’t know how to explain and I know that part of it comes from being born in a place that is quite literally under “purple mountains majesty.” And yet when I try to explain this, when I try to get people to understand this feeling that I get from mountain, and not the foreboding feeling that they get when they see mountains I just don’t have the right words to get them to understand. It’s more than just coming home, a part of me is filled when I see them, when I am driving through or standing on or camping in or *insert your verb here* while on a mountain. I just don’t get it anywhere else, and is something that I have missed the last three years while I was at Luther and it is something that I am reminded of while I am driving through the mountains here in Montana. It’s so mind boggling how people don’t take the time to appreciate what is that the mountains do for us as spiritual beings because I think that there is something very spiritual about them; they are the silent but living, growing and huge piece of earth that comes from the very depths and soul of this planet. Coming through hell and high fire to come and be and live on the surface of this beautiful world that we call Earth and we take it for granted. Most mountains don’t just come out of nowhere, they were formed by great amounts of force and are the results of quite catastrophic, almost apocalyptic actions and yet they provide some of the greatest splendor and majesty that we can possibly imagine. I can’t just lay down one thing that I love about the mountains, but I know that they are a part of who I am. And they will continue to seep into my very being until the day that I die. And I hope and pray that somewhere along the way of this pastoral journey that I am on that I will be able to spend a good chunk of my life living under mountains just like the ones that I could see. I pray this to be because I love mountains; my soul yearns and cries out for the mountains and looks out to them like a lost lover. I truly hope that this to be true. It is one of the things that I am looking forward to with this internship, that I am going to be amongst the mountains again and I hope that I never take that for granted.

I can’t say that all of my drive of the next two day was so serious. I saw quite a few hilarious things along the way. I wish that I could remember all of what I saw, but here are some of the few things I thought I should share as I had a bit of a laugh.

As I was driving through Montana I saw billboard on the side of the road (their normal spot to congregate; although recently they have been seen near streams, lakes and ballparks. Scientist think this is due to summer vacation plans.) and it said to call 511 before you drive to get some sort of road information; but how are you supposed to know to call this number when the billboard is on the highway and you are already driving? Doesn’t seem to be too well planned on the part of Montana’s D.O.T. It seems to me that it would be more fitting to place that billboard in someone’s driveway; so as I go out the door I see it and go, “Oh, call 511 for road info. I would have forgotten otherwise.”

Let me start this paragraph by saying that Montana doesn’t seem too keen in coming up with clever names for just about anything. I saw a 9 Mile Road and a 2 Mile Road, but one of the names stuck out, Crazy Mountain. Crazy Mountain. How does a mountain go about to be qualified or even named to be crazy. Red or Pink or Sandy or Rocky or whatever other adjective you want to think of I can understand; name them after some person or you can be French and call them Grand Tetons. But how do they become crazy? Did they smoke some pot and steal some cop car and paint the town red? I would love to have been there for the discussion of naming mountains in Montana for that one, “Okay, so we’ve decide this mountain will be called Granite Mountain. Now since Ted just name the last mountain it is my turn to name the next and I would like to name it Crazy Mountain.” “Crazy Mountain?” “Yes. Crazy Mountain.” “Why?!” “I would name it something else but it is long and reveals things, half of which are illegal in the state.” “Alright, Crazy Mountain it is. Chris it’s your turn.” I just don’t understand how that came to be.

As with many long road trips you will see many signs for all sorts of tourist traps, one of the most famous being the world famous whatever. The sign that brought this thought along was a sign for (and I quote), “World Famous 50,000 Silver Dollar.” First of all, I have no idea what this means. Is it 50,000 silver dollars? Or is it a silver dollar worth 50,000 dollars? Or is it a silver dollar shaped to be the number 50,000? I have no idea, I couldn’t make any sense of the sign. The second thing that came through my mind was: what constitutes “World Famous?” Because I had never heard of this silver dollar and I wondered how many people had. And it made me think of all of the other world famous things that are out there and how they got to that point. For this particular world famous item (the silver dollar or dollars) was it because some Canadian came down one year and saw the silver dollar and thus was world famous? Is there paperwork for one to claim world famous status? That would be an interesting application. “Have you or your item ever had your picture taken by a Japanese tourist?” “Is your or your item’s sole existence based on tourism?” “Are the post cards of you or your item?” I have no idea. I wonder if I qualify to be world famous. Maybe I need to get an application…

And then I saw something that I haven’t seen in a long time on my trip: hitchhikers. It was only one couple (at least I assume that they were a couple) and the woman was standing on the side of road out, thumb out and showing off her leg. I then thought how much more successful hitchhikers would be if a) people weren’t driving 75-80 miles an hour on an interstate and b) we didn’t live in an over-sexed culture. Because let’s be honest, showing a little leg isn’t going to do much for anyone who ever has walked around during the summer. And then I thought to myself, I wonder if they have a towel.

I spent my second night in Spokane, Washington. Technically it was in Spokane Valley, but I don’t think it really matters. It wasn’t a very interesting night, but Wolfgang caught up with me so we were able to converse a little. It was nice to catch up with someone that I knew and have real human interaction for the first time since I left Sunday morning. And after a good nights rest I left Spokane Valley (and shortly after Wolfgang as he continued to head west and I went south) and started my final drive. The third day of driving was the hardest. A good chunk of Western Washington (at least the part I drove through) was desert like; and not very interesting. It wasn’t until I got to the Columbia River that things got more interesting. When I was getting closer to Portland things got more interesting, and I even saw a couple of waterfalls from the road. And I hope to get back to take some pictures.

But after almost three days of driving I arrive in Vancouver, WA at about 3pm PST and was relieved but only a little as I knew that I still had work to do. So I go on and unload my car (with some help for which I am very grateful) and start to get organized for my up coming year. After taking some time to organize I am invited to dinner with my supervisor, his wife and a friend of theirs. It was a great dinner of pork chops, baked potato, bread, and two different salads with a dessert of two different apple pies. I go back after dinner and do more organizing, watch a movie and then go to bed after a long day. Oh, I also went to Target and the grocery store before I went to bed (at about 8pm).

Finally we get to today (at least the day of which I am writing this). Today was a little more relaxed. I had to run some more errands and I’m sure that tomorrow will bring more of the same. I also did some more organizing, figured out how to work the TV (it didn’t want to turn on the night before) and enjoyed my new place a little more. I spent most of the day in my new place, but I figure that is going to be the case until I figure out more of my surroundings and as my internship starts. I’d say more about today, but not a lot happened. So…until next time.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

700 miles and counting

Today was a long but good day with only a couple of hiccups. The first hiccup came when I woke up an hour before I wanted to. It really wasn't that big of a deal; I tried to stay in bed for a bit, but ended up watching television for one last time in the Bockman lounge before I left. But after getting ready, I threw the last of my things in my car and at around 8:30am I left and headed out west. I made my first stop at Sauk Centre, MN; just to stretch my legs and to help wake me up. (Okay, a side bar: I HATE Minnesota drivers. I know I've said this before, but they don't know how to drive on any sort of freeway/interstate. Everyone wants to drive at the same speed and they all refuse to signal. Oh, and when they do want to pass someone it take four hours (okay really only like 5 minutes but it shouldn't even take that long, sorry for dual parenthetical statements) and not one of them seems to know where they are going. Okay, I'm done.) I stopped next in Fargo, to go stretch again, get some gas and hopefully get food. I missed the fast food exit, but I wasn't really hungry anyway so I kept going.

So now I'm in North Dakota and it hits me, this is the farthest that I've ever driven by myself. Now I've driven long distances but there was always somebody else in the car to share some of the responsibility. And then it hits me that I still have to get through this state and drive about 100 miles into Montana, it was a bit overwhelming, but I wasn't going to let it bother me, I like driving and I was having fun listening to my music. So I drive on and try to enjoy the long flat view that is ahead of me (I am glad that I am no longer driving in the great, flat Midwest).

My next stop was Jamestown, ND. This is where I had the slowest service ever at the Burger King where I had lunch. There were only about four other "groups" (couples, families, etc) in the restaurant and yet I still had to wait over 15 minutes to get my food. I was completely baffled, it was the slowest service that I had in a fastfood restaurant that was not at peak times. In fact, I have been in fast food joints that were packed wall to wall that had fast service than that. After a long, uneventful and slow lunch I got back onto the road, chasing the westward sun.

My next stop was at a rest stop between Bismark and Dickinson, ND. This is where I had my second hiccup. I got out of my car so I could stretch my legs and use the restroom and enjoyed the refreshing wind. After my short, but enjoyable stop, I got into my car to get going again and start the car and it did, briefly. Once I had shifted it into gear it stopped. So, I put it into park again and I started it, again, and once again it was brief. So now I'm feeling a bit concerned, so I try one last time but after I start the car I give it a bit of gas and it stays started and I head back on down the road.

I made my next stop mile marker one in North Dakota; Beach, North Dakota to be precise. Now this is where I feel like a real idiot. So I knew I was going to need gas before I made it to my destination for the night, so I saw this billboard for a Flying J that had a Wi-Fi hotspot. I thought, "Great, I can check email, facebook, etc. and then get back on the road." I gas my car, pull into the parking space in front of me and go inside, no Wi-Fi signal. I walk around, no signal. Outside, no signal. So, now I'm frustrated, mostly because I was going to have a clever status on facebook (Doug Johnson can see Montana from his car.) So I leave and start driving down the road, and here is where I feel real stupid, I remember that I turned off the Wi-Fi on my phone before I left because I was having trouble with Luther's wireless. So now I'm frustrated with myself and even more frustrated that I couldn't put a funny little status on facebook (which really shouldn't be that way, but it was).

So now I'm in Montana, the final stretch for the day. I get through into Glen Dive, MT; no problem, only 70+ miles to Miles City. And the next 50 or so miles went rather quickly but the last 20+ miles seemed to take forever. It's fascinating that I could go almost 700 miles without much trouble, but the last 20 was torture. I finally make it into Miles City and check into a Super 8 motel at about 7pm GMT (8pm in St. Paul). And I finally feel like I can relax.

Overall it was a good day, but I am tired after almost 12 hours of travel time and around six hours of sleep. So I am going to stop writing this blog and get some rest.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

One Last Night

This is it, my last night in Bockman Hall before I set out for Washington. I have to say that it is eerie to have my car jammed pack, completely full, while my room is all but empty; only holding the essentials that I need before I start my trek across the country.

I have to say that this departure is a little bittersweet. On the one hand I have waited for over a year to finally go on my own internship journey. Yet on the other friends that have been on internship for the last year are finally returning back to campus and I am going to miss spending any time with them before they leave. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

This last week can best be described as organized chaos. During much of the last week it had looked like my room was hit by a tornado (which wasn't far from being truth with the weather this last week) and then proceed to land mostly in boxes. And when I actually started packing on Tuesday I thought for sure that I would end up frantically trying to get everything done Saturday night. But that wasn't what happened. In fact I was able to get my car loaded and have it read to go, clean my room and type this blog all before I go to bed. Of course this is not to say that I haven't worked hard to get my life sorted into various boxes, bags and bins all sorted to go to various places.

And with all my packing done I know am faced with the task of thinking about what is coming next, and to be completely honest I'm not sure. I don't know much about the congregation and I don't know a whole lot about what it is that I'm going to do. I know that I am going to fill out some evaluations, got to some staff meetings, lead some worship, and other such things, but what that is going to look like I have no idea. I have no idea what my responsibilities are, what is expected of me, what it is that I want to do. I feel like I am going into this situation blindfolded. And when I sit down and think about it, I find it a bit overwhelming.

And for the first time this whole week I find that I am sad that I am leaving. I think that the reality of my being gone for the next whole year has finally set in and I hope that my friends know that I will miss them all over the next year.

So with one more night I will sit with a heavy heart and ponder what will come over the next year.