Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Advent Stuff

December is a difficult month for those of us who have an uneasy relationship with stuff.

Family and friends ask, “What do you want for Christmas?” and we’re supposed to have to hand a list of things we’d like to own, but don’t really need. A sweater, or electronic gew-gaws, or maybe a kitchen widget. The things on the list can’t be too expensive, or too luxurious, lest one appear greedy and craven. Nor can they be too common, lest one appear needy (or, in an insult to the consumer gods, indifferent). And of course, the gift ideas have to be real – you can’t tell your sister who drew your name out of the hat at Thanksgiving that what you really want is for all the children of the world to join hands and sing together in a spirit of harmony and peace. For some reason, family members tend to scoff at holier-than-thou gift requests.

Meanwhile we struggle: Should I want anything? Aren't I filthy rich already by world standards? Does giving away end-of-the-year donations balance out the stuff under the tree? Aren't we supposed to be using this time of year to not to get-get-get, but to get rid of stuff, to empty our homes and hearts to make room for Christ's coming?

So it has been good during this season to think a bit more deeply about stuff. We had opportunity to do so this past week through some correspondence with good friends of ours, faculty at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, who lost their homes and (nearly) all their worldly possessions in the California Tea Fire.

Academic goobers that we are, we grieve with them especially for the loss of their books. We know that books are like good friends who shape your soul, whose company you enjoy repeatedly and whom you long to introduce to others. Losing them is a big deal.

We all have our stuff-fetishes, the physical objects that we cling to most tightly. Perhaps one of the hardest spiritual tasks for this season is to remember that no thing is permanent, nothing is ultimately ours. We can hold our stuff with gratitude and appreciation, but we have to hold it lightly. Our friend Lisa De Boer--one of those Westmont faculty who lost her home in the fire--wrote this to us about a discussion she had with her students once classes resumed after the fire:

I was teaching about Gothic cathedrals this morning, and a student asked if workers ever died, falling off the scaffolding of a cathedral. Well, the short answer is “yes, of course they did.” The longer answer involved taking a poll of students who had ever had a serious infection, or an appendectomy, or any other illness that could easily have led to death…naming the number of medieval occupations that involve regular hazards to health, life and limb…and talking about general life expectancies.

Our assumption that we will have a long and healthy life is so strange and modern. So is our assumption that our homes are durable and our possessions really ours. How many people in earlier ages and even today, haven’t been burned out of their homes in war or disaster and have had to pick up again, often in a different city or country, with no insurance and very few supports?

While I do feel and grieve my loss, there is also a strange “lightness of being” that I experience at times, of being just a bit more aware of my basic humanity—minus the trappings—than I was before.

"Lightness of being." Our friends, though their trauma, offer us this wisdom and this reminder. May we all find that lightness of being as we await the coming of the light.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Another Casting Announcement

Earlier we announced that someone, perhaps connected with the Kohls corporation, is evidently planning a made-for-TV movie about our lives. The two starring roles have already been cast, and now the producers are cleverly leaking photos of some of the other casting choices.

Here, for example, we see a young fellow who is apparently going to be playing the role of Philip. Quite the impish little moppet--and well dressed, too!

We're also cluing in to the idea that the daily dullness of our actual lives will have to be jazzed up to make this sucker sell on the Hallmark channel. So our real-life, mostly-mutt Maizey will become not one but two radiant purebred yellow labs. Meanwhile, apparently Ron will be commuting to work not in a 1998 Geo Prizm with 100,000 miles on it, but instead will be roaring along astride this painfully hip vintage road machine. In fact, maybe he doesn't work at all, since we appear to live now somewhere in the Scottish Highlands.

Tune in next week for previews of "our" smiling family handing one another food processors and cozy socks under a 10-foot Douglas fir laden with hand-crafted ornaments--all on sale!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hermeneutical Sophistication

A few weeks ago Debra and I - along with the estimable Nathan Bierma and his wife, Andrea -- visited our friend Nick Overduin and the wonderful people at 1st CRC in Toronto. They've made use of Deb's books and Nathan's in their small groups, and so wanted to meet and chat with them. Meanwhile, I came along to give Nick a week off from his pulpit duties. We had an enjoyable ride up on Saturday, and a lovely evening eating some fabulous Ethiopian food (our fave).

The worship service and other events on Sunday were very satisfying, but I was entranced by a display in the church's narthex.

It is the product of a children's Bible study of the story of Noah. Next to idealized Bible school pictures of an ark full of elephants and giraffes and so forth are comments the students made, like these:
  • "The water could not have been this calm."
  • "The animals could not have been this familiar to us."
  • "They must have taken animals on the ark to be eaten, not saved,"
and my favorite:
Instead of fostering a childish view of scripture (not childlike), whoever was in charge of this study encouraged the children to read their Bibles with their brains turned on, working alongside their faithful trust in Scripture's trustworthiness.

To paraphrase someone I admire a great deal, I've not seen such hermeneutical sophistication in all of... well, in a lot of places I would expect to find it. Children taught this way are much less likely to fall into biblicist patterns of thinking about inspiration, or have their faith shaken to the core when they learn, for example, in their Religion 101 classes, of the documentary hypothesis.

Mark it up as one more thing 1st CRC in Toronto is doing well.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

My Grandpa Always Told Me...

...that you've got to toot your own horn, 'cause no one else is going to toot it for you.

Guess Grandpa wasn't right about everything.

Or he didn't know anything about the CICW.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Not to compare ourselves to the poor folks on the Gulf coast, but we've had a bit of rain here the past few days. Not enough, however, to stop die-hard sports fans...

Monday, September 08, 2008

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Fruits of their Labor

While all the rest of you were lounging around at the beach this past weekend, we put our kids to work in the fields. It was, after all, Labor Day.

And here is their reward: A runner-up trophy for Pip's team, and the championship trophy for Jacob's.

(Sad to say, Mia's team, while displaying lots of potential and improving markedly from game to game, was unable to rack up enough points to be bling-worthy. But she's got a head start on her brothers anyway.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

No More Boring Sunday School

If you're in charge of adult education at your church, check out this hot new curriculum from the good people at Faith Alive, the publishing group at CRC HQ. Available just in time for fall programs! Buy it by the truckload!

Full disclosure: we won't make any money if you do. So never mind the truckload. But still, here's an adult ed. curriculum on worship that we think turned out pretty well.

Ron was working on it last December, when we should have been out shopping for Christmas presents for our children (sorry kids! that doggone kingdom work again!). The task was to write an engaging, five-week study guide on worship for regular folks in a regular congregation: individual lessons for five days each week, then a group lesson for the end of the week.

So Ron took all his best, most tried and true worship talks (let's have a show of hands for how many folks reading this blog have heard, for example, Ron talk about the participate-o-meter); he zazzed them up with nifty stories and examples, then condensed them into this attractive little package, complete with Bible study sections, discussion questions, the whole bit. It fits into the Disciples series as part of year 2.

The daily readings walk, step-by-step, through a typical four-fold worship pattern (Gathering, Word, Meal, Sending). Along the way, alternating lessons explore key adjectives that describe faithful, vital worship. These don't function prescriptively ("Listen to the worship wonk who will tell you exactly what to do!"), but descriptively -- they are extended meditations on virtues and values no congregation would wish their worship to do without.

Of course, if you do want a worship wonk to come to your church and tell you what to do, that could be arranged. (Ron has been known to do a bit of itinerant work from time to time).

So if your church needs a Sunday-service makeover (or even if it doesn't), this study guide is a nice way to build grass-roots understanding of worship basics. A little understanding can go a long way toward quelling pointless debates and toward opening a congregation to the Spirit's work in cooking up lively, meaningful worship. (Maybe that accounts for the otherwise perplexing photo of a burner on the cover. But does the Spirit use natural gas? A non-renewable fossil fuel?? Wouldn't the Spirit use wind energy?)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Happy Trails

One would think that after making four trips back and forth to California in the past few years, we might head out in some other direction for a summer odyssey, but... no. We've just returned from the wild west yet again. Not all the way to Cali this time, but still far enough and long enough to explain the posting drought since July 4.

Before hopping in the van for the frontier, we spent a fun weekend with Ron's family out at Lake Michigan. The lake was swimmable (or, for our hardy Pipster, surfable), but for the wimpier women, hey, the hot tub is always fabulous.

One evening we gathered on the beach for the traditional bonfire/s'mores combination. I think we've had s'mores about twenty times this summer. At some point, ya know, s'nuff.

Sunsets like this, though, we could handle every night.
Then after a brief pause for a week of soccer camp (Mia) and string camp (Jacob) and blessed freedom from siblings (Philip), it was time to cram into the minivan for hours of family togetherness on the way to: Colorado.

Along the way, we visited many old friends. It turns out we are lucky enough to have friends, if not in every port, then at least in a good number of Midwestern towns, including St. Charles, Illinois; Bloomington, Minnesota; Willmar, Minnesota; Sioux Center, Iowa; and Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

While staying with our friends the Kleinhuizens, the children discovered all the fun things other kids get to do and they don't, such as tubing and fishing (though Jacob found that the infamous "grass bass" was a more common catch than the elusive walleye).

In Sioux Center, Ron got a chance to golf with old friends Todd and Curtis (can you tell the golf course is carved out of the cornfields of the midwest?).

In South Dakota, we visited old friends Dawn and Andrew, whose precious daughter Althea took a shine to Jacob.
At last, we arrived at our destination, Snow Mountain Ranch, where we got to hang out with the Calvin students on staff there this summer and serve as their official professors-in-residence-of-the-week. Besides running around the ranch indulging in camp-style fun, we took a hike one day in Rocky Mountain National Park, and marveled, once again, at how close to the sky one can feel at 12,000 feet above sea level.
After our week at SMR, we zinged home to our little tiny baby puppy Maizey, only to find that somehow, in our absence, she had become... a DOG. We're grateful to the two Calvin students who house-and-dog sat for us, but also suspicious: steroids maybe??
So much for another westward odyssey. We're pretty good at it now. But next year, maybe we'll head east. Crabcakes, anyone?

Friday, July 04, 2008

The Cheesecake-to-Chard Challenge

And now, another installment in our continuing series on the Rienstra family table. Deb's three years of researching the politics of food for her English 101 classes continues to incur collateral damage at home. That is to say, the Rienstra children are suffering from a more and more severe shortage of hot dogs, pop-tarts, and cheez-its. Meanwhile, they are opening the fridge to find it stuffed with things like kohlrabi and organically raised eggs.

So today we will address directly the commonly perceived relationship between the yumminess and health benefits of food. Everybody knows that the better something tastes, the worse it is for you. Scientifically speaking, as yumminess increases, mortal danger also increases. Likewise, as nutritional benefits increase, alas, so does yuckiness.

This is the perception. But is this really the case? A close examination of the following chart reveals a couple of outliers:

Blueberries, for example, rank high on the yummy scale and have also recently been proven to cure major diseases and promote the development of superpowers. On the other end of the scale, lots of fast food products are both disgusting and fatal.

It is possible, of course, to strike a strategic balance. Note, for example, the dish at the precise center of the chart. The classic American tuna casserole with broccoli has been shown in scientific studies at major research universities to balance taste and health in perfect equilibrium. The tasty cheesy sauce, though a little fatty, can be counter-balanced by whole-wheat pasta; the health benefits of the omega-3 oils in the tuna and the roughage in the broccoli can be yummied up with crumbled potato chips or fried onions layered on top of the dish.

Nevertheless, perhaps we need to change our misconception about yumminess and health. In an effort to do that at our house (and also to promote the development of the local foodshed, know our farmer, and build community with crunchy granola types), we have purchased a share in a CSA farm. That means we paid in February for a share of a local farm's harvest from June through October. So now, every week, we bring home several grocery bags (the re-usable kind, of course) full of green stuff like this:

We're trying to eat, in other words, as much as possible in the upper left quadrant of our chart. And perhaps to coax some things in the lower left quadrant into inching upwards. It turns out, for example, that Swiss chard, if prepared correctly, falls higher on the yumminess scale than we thought.

So Rienstra children, take heart. You may dip your kohlrabi in some standard American super-processed, corn-byproduct-infested, overpackaged ranch dressing. At least, for now...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Summer Fun at General Synod. Seriously.

The summer began this year with about three weeks of what I thought was great fun at the RCA's meeting of General Synod in Holland, June 5-10.

"Fun" isn't a word that many would use to characterize these large meetings where the denomination does its business. (Those of you who have been to such meetings can leave your favorite adjectival descriptors in the comments.) But by God's grace, I wasn't reading sub-committee reports and analyzing debate on contentious topics -- I was preparing for, and then leading, daily worship every day. Hooray!

The opening and closing services, held in the gothic Dimnent Chapel at Hope College, were rather substantial affairs: a congregation full of elders, ministers, and guests; a whole phalanx of pastors to read and lead, to preach and pray and preside at the table; a group of outstanding dancers to physicalize scripture or key liturigcal moments; an organist and choir, brass and string quartets, my old pals Bob Keeley on guitar and Rachel Klompmaker on piano, and my super-friend partner in all this, Greg Scheer ("Worship-twin powers activate! Shape of... an ice-harp! Form of... a gorilla!")

A number of my WTS worship students were there, and noticed that the services reflected an emphasis we'd discussed in class: to worship as voluminously as possibe -- to shape our celebrations so that they were diverse in expressive styles, engaging people on many levels, speaking as fully as possible (in words and more) of the extravagant covenant love of our faithful God. They also noticed that we were intentionally faithful to the RCA's liturgy. While I might offer some suggestions for improving it, it is ecumenical and reformed, rich and beautiful, and therefore - not surprisingly - impossible to do voluminously in anything less than 90 minutes: and on those days in early June, 90 really hot and humid minutes.

Yet the services were deeply satisfying, praise God, and my deepest fear -- moments of logistical terror ("The service starts in one minute -- Oh no! Where's the bread and the wine?") -- were minimal. Those we had were ably managed by an old friend and former student Tim TenClay who stepped in like the Christ-like servant-hearted pastor he is, and took those burdens from my shoulders.

Because these 'festival' services were such hefty and hearty affairs, and because during the day the delegates spent hours and hours and hours talking about God-stuff, it seemed good to Greg and to me to plan the every-day morning and evening prayer services to be just as deeply participative, but a bit less wordy, a bit more stripped-down liturgically and musically.

It helped that we met in a beautiful worship space: a slice of the DeVos center (a large sports venue where the delegates did their work each day) that had been curtained off and shaped for our purposes. The morning services followed a simple daily prayer pattern rather than the more typical word-and-sacrament-without-the-sacrament service ordo. My favorite new worship-wonk friend, Rosanne Barton-DeVries, helped us to worship with our whole bodies and not just our heads, Bob Keeley again helped out on guitar and djembe, and my newest best keyboard-playing friend, Jeremy Simpson, helped to lead the music, with selections largely taken from Sing! A New Creation, a copy of which every delegate took home.

The evening prayers were even more stripped down: one well-chosen song, with each sung verse prompting spoken and silent prayers for ourselves and the world. So, for example, one evening I used a JT-infused guitar riff to accompany our singing of the classic gospel song, "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands" -- grounding our petitions in God's providential care. For example, when we sang about the "little bitty baby," we then prayed for our families. When we sang about the "wind and the rain," we spent some time praising God for care of creation, etc.

But the key to what we did that evening was this: instead of singing about God, we tweaked the lyrics so that we sang the song addressed to God: "You've got the whole world in your hands." Changing just that one pronoun alters the way one experiences the song, shifting it from testimony to prayer, and prayer that even while earnest or even desperate, has an undertone of confidence in God's power and love. (Bonus result: excising the overt and exclusively masculine language for God.) Interested worship wonks can learn more about this prayer/song on the related post over at WorshipHelps.

All told, preparing and leading worship this past month was delightful and exhausting and invigorating -- and because it was all resting in God's hands, it was fun.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

An Instructive Comparison...

Go West -- A discotheque semi-hit by the Village People (and another semi-hit when covered by the Pet Shop Boys in 1993).

Give Thanks -- a worship mega-hit by Henry Smith. Covered a gujillion times by every praise band on the planet.

Timing? BOTH songs were written in 1978, and released in 1979.

Coincidence? You be the judge.

(Of course, it's not like this particular chord pattern is unique.)

Disclaimer: Listen at your own risk. The authors of this blog are not responsible for the onset of worship-impairment syndrome brought on by viewing these clips.

Monday, June 16, 2008

That Sermon Needs a Bigger But

So yesterday we're all at the dinner table, talking about the morning's church service. The conversation turned to the sermon, titled "Unjust suffering," and offered by our fabulous pastor, Jack Roeda (happy 25 years, Jack!). The text was 1 Peter 2:13-25, a passage addressed to slaves about appropriate submission. Next week he's tackling the next pericope: submission of wives and women. Gee, good luck with that one, Jack.

We all agreed that Jack did a great job explaining what the passage says and proposing how it might apply to our lives. Yet we also agreed -- especially given the history of a troubling text like this one and others like it -- that sometimes it's important to articulate what the passage doesn't say. It means this, BUT not that. Deb was the one who encapsulated our thoughts so memorably: "I guess the sermon needed a bigger but." I'm going to be using that one in my preaching classes this year, I'm pretty sure.

And it's not a bad way of talking about those occasions in sermons or political speeches or, heck, English 101 papers when the possible objections are so near the surface that they need to be addressed. Deb says that from now on, instead of telling her students "You should add a section in which you refute possible objections," she's going to write, "This paper needs a bigger but."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Chew or No Chew

Welcome to another episode of "Chew or No Chew," the entertaining new game show for young puppies! That's right, it's the game in which young puppies wander around the house grabbing random objects and trying to figure out whether the objects go in the "chew" or "no chew" category. Fun for the whole family!

Here at the Rienstra house, we seem to be living a perpetual episode of "Chew or No Chew," with a certain fuzzy yellow contestant.

So, Maizey, in which category would you place these objects?

Obviously, Maizey is still in the learning stage when it comes to chewing. Her way of thinking could be represented by the following Venn diagram where P = playing and B = biting.

We, on the other hand, would like her to see the world more like this.

She is catching on, slowly. Meanwhile, we are getting very very good about keeping our shoes and socks put away. Oh, we're also learning to keep the door to the bathroom closed.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Resilience (or Ruth's Revenge)

So first thing after they moved in
the neighbors dug up Ruth’s old garden,
a front-yard oddity that had appeared —
shaggy, extravagant, sprawling — wherever
her springtime sweat cast its charms.

The new people pulled out
her spindly jungle of asparagus; tore up
the nasturtium border whose sensuous petals,
like mangoes, you could pluck and eat;
they hacked down six-foot sunflowers;

mowed over silky native grasses that flowed
on breezy days like a woman’s hair.
The little paw-paw tree they decided to keep.
They mowed around it.

Grinning and waving at us as we strolled by,
they spent a hot September weekend
digging and seeding, laying straw,
staking off squares of flat, potential decency.

The straw muddied, winds came,
snow fell then melted, the weather warmed,
and Ruth’s earth took its revenge:

A hundred tulips shot up
in the feeble spring lawn,
raising first their cocked leaves,
then their green, defiant heads.

(c) 2008 Debra Rienstra

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Pitter-Patter of Little Paws

It's been a whole week now and we're still giddy with the excitement of adding a new member to the Rienstra family: an adorable little canine fuzz-ball. Yep, last Monday we adopted a puppy.

She is a yellow Lab on the mom's side, and on the dad's side... well, let's just say there's a suspicion a Retriever was involved, but as sometimes happens with these situations, no one's entirely sure. Whatever stock she's from, she's loaded up with the "cute" gene.

Though I was initially lobbying for some clever/geeky professor-type name (Ophelia or Egeria or something like that), wiser family members insisted on something plainer. After much palavering, we settled on Maizey, not after the illustrated mouse, but as a nod to our alma mater.

So far she's super sweet and gentle, at least most of the time. She does have what we call her "crazy Maizey" moments, especially late at night, when she bounces around, chewing anything small, clamping onto loose socks and thrashing them into submission. But as a typical puppy, she also has her "lazy Maizey" times when she curls up in her crate -- or in someone's lap -- and nods off after a loving look and a little lick on the cheek.

We don't have much animal experience, but we've puppy-proofed the house, are reading lots of relevant books, and projecting our best calm-assertive energy.

Welcome to the pack, Maizey!

Friday, April 04, 2008

A Little Dating Advice

Mia turns 15 this week. That means driver's training, obsessive Facebooking, ipod-assisted parent ignoring, and (*gulp*) boys. Fortunately, the giddy terrors of dating remain, for Mia, largely unexplored as of yet. This is giving us time to slap together some parental wisdom on this perennially puzzling topic, filled as it is with risks, with unknowns, with new life and new civilizations.

Not being experts on dating ourselves*, we figure we need to consult the source of our most valuable life-wisdom: Star Trek. (Sample: never beam down to the planet while wearing a red shirt!)

Wesley Crusher, for instance, the ST character in the tender teenage demographic, has a couple of alarming encounters with "young women" who are not what they seem to be. In fact, many a promising space romance has been cut brutally short by some groaner of a revelation. Picard, Riker, Kirk, Bev Crusher, Troi, Jake Sisco--just about every starfleet character with a smidge of libido has discovered that love can bring, shall we say, unexpected challenges.

As with so many things in life, a lot of these complications could be avoided with some careful screening beforehand. So here we present the "Wesley Crusher Pre-Date Quiz." All Rienstra children will be required to administer this quiz to all interested parties before anybody backs out the driveway.
  • Are you now or have you ever been a being of pure energy?

  • Are you a psychic projection, a transporter reflection, or a sophisticated hologram?
  • Are you a shape-shifter? (this does not necessary disqualify you)

  • Are you ferociously guarded by a shape shifter? (this does disqualify you)
  • If we innocently kiss, will I be impregnated by your alien spawn?
  • Do you reproduce in some unexpected way that you really should inform me of right now?
  • Are you a symbiont being, and if so, do both your parts agree in their affection for me?
  • Do you only like me because I'm the first thing you saw when you emerged from your maturity pod? (this doesn't necessarily disqualify you, either).
  • Do you, in fact, exist at this point in the space-time continuum?
Of course, in addition to this filtering system, all would-be suitors will also be required to cite, from memory, the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism. Let's see Wesley's space girlfriends do that.

*By the way, not being dating experts and being Star Trek experts -- total coincidence!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Ream o' Fun

Yes, there have been some cobwebs accumulating on this blog, and now it's time to explain the neglect and brush the cobwebs aside (thanks for the metaphor, Mary).

After about three years of labor (sure, let's have another metaphor) we have at last managed to give birth to the manuscript of a book. It may or may not end up being called Worship Words: Attending to the Power of Language in Songs, Prayers, Sermons, and All of Worship. The good people at Baker will make the final decision on title. But it is a book about language in worship, and it has indeed been a collaborative effort.

Now that we've finished it (and quick--before it comes back to us for formatting decisions, proofreading, permissions fuss, etc.), it feels good to move on with life and maybe get back to all the other things that we have been neglecting. Such as blogging, raising the children, and even brushing the very real cobwebs out of the corners of our scruffy house.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Answer to Prayer

Back in 2002, Deb and I took a long hike in Colorado and discussed a crazy notion that was just beginning to dawn on me. Prompted by some friends, I was wondering about getting a Ph.D. I thought that train had left the station years back, and at my age and stage - well, it was too crazy. Well, maybe it wasn't so crazy. Was it crazy?

In the months that followed, we found we could not ignore the nudgings. They seemed kind of, well, divine. So we committed to everything it would mean to travel this road, including a two-year sojourn in California and other related adventures.

But all along, there have been many moments of wondering "Am I SURE this is the right thing??" These moments did tend to occur just before major papers were due or major bills needed to be paid. Always (eventually) I would return to the need to trust that this was right, that I hadn't mis-read the signs, and that it would make sense in the end. And often enough there was a remarkably well-timed affirmation that would make me feel dopey for having had those doubts in the first place.

Which brings us to today. Since moving back to Grand Rapids, I've been doing a bit of adjunct teaching here and there, writing and preaching, doing research, planning and leading worship. Oh and of course, there's that one big paper I still have to write. And while all this keeps me from robbing liquor stores to pay the bills or squandering my freetime on too much frivolity, it hardly seems like God would send us down this Ph.D. road so I could end up patching a professional life together from such bits and pieces.

Today, however, I feel as if things are starting to make sense. I am glad and grateful to announce something that I never imagined or guessed when we started on this journey: I have been appointed Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan.

I've taught several classes there already and it feels right to be at an RCA school, among my peeps, my tribe. I'm thrilled and honored that they're entrusting the covenant youth bound for their pulpits to my care.

But now I'm beginning to wonder if they're thinking: is this crazy? not too crazy, maybe a little bit crazy?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Warning: Indulgent brag-post ahead!

Everyone knows that athletes get all the glory. Even on this blog, we spend a disproportional number of column inches on the family's soccer exploits. Fortunately, those who love other fields of endeavor have their ways of shining, too.

Jacob, for instance, has become quite the Mathlete. Now, I don't entirely understand the allure of this extra-curricular activity. For me, doing math problems under time constraints in competition with others sounds like a hot little corner of hell. But Jacob loves it. And the good teachers at his school happily give extra time and energy to help their students excel.

So last Friday while Deb and I were driving to Chicago, Jacob was doing slide-rule calisthenics in the city-wide "Math Counts" competition. And of all the kids from the 23 competing schools, Jake snagged a 5th place individual score and an invitation to the state competition next week. We were pretty proud when the "Home Bulletin" from GRCMS arrived yesterday and we saw the write up on Jacob's achievement. Especially since last week's Home Bulletin also included a top-left write-up on another area of Jacob's scholastic achievement.

So here's to the normally unsung exploits of math and English lovers, the decathaletes of the calculator and the word processor.

Monday, February 25, 2008

A Weekend Snapshot

This past weekend, Deb and I temporarily experienced an alternative universe. We handed over our usual life to my good friend, one-time student and mentee, and present Teaching Assistant, Rachel Klompmaker. Rachel climbed in the mini-van and took over. Here's what her weekend looked like:

Friday night involved two soccer practices, two trips to the mall, and a late dinner of frozen pizza. Saturday began bright and early with a soccer game for Pip at 8:40, then a brief break before the afternoon madness: Jacob's game at 2:50, Mia's first game at 4:00 and her second at 7:30. Then Mia went to a high school dance with some friends. Sunday morning meant getting everyone to church, working around Rachel's early morning rehearsal for her own role in the service.

All in all, a pretty normal weekend at our house. Rachel found it pretty exhausting, although it must be said that she was doing this as a single, hardcore soccer mom, whereas we usually (but not always!) have two parental units to spread the love/load around.

Meanwhile, Deb and I lived the life of carefree, big-city, no-kids adults. Friday afternoon, we jumped into our hot little sports car (well, it's a GEO Prizm, but hey, we can pretend) and took off for the Windy City. Car wash: $4.00. Full tank of gas: $33.74. Three hours in the car with just the two of us actually able to sustain an adult conversation for the first time in weeks: priceless.

Once in the city, we met up with my brother and sister and their respective spouses in downtown Chicago where three of them work at Double-click/Performics, soon to be part of the Google Empire. We toured that particular iteration of Cubicle World and then went to a fabulous Chinese dinner. We aspired to big city night life: lingering over dinner talking about politics, Lost, careers, etc. We did, of course, discuss our children and their many exploits and accomplishments. One can't leave it all behind...

The next day I had a meeting of the Liturgical Conference Board (the ostensible purpose of our visit). Meanwhile Deb... well, Deb pretty much slept in, had breakfast, worked out, and read a little bit. No responsibilities, no logistics, no schedule: nice.

That evening and the next morning involved even more eating out, at a Greek restaurant (opa!) and a classic diner. And then,

it was back to our regular lives. Sigh. Still, it's good to visit another universe once in a while.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Caption This Photo

Inspired by an offhand comment made at Calvin's Symposium on Worship, some friends of mine persuaded me to pose for this picture.

You may guess the phrase which prompted it, or make up your own. A few options to get you started:
  • Ron is Riding his Homiletical Hobby Horse
  • The world Meijer is my parish
  • The Word straight from the Horse's...
  • Penny for your Thoughts

Monday, February 04, 2008

Embrace Your Inner Geek

A normal Saturday night around here most weekends involves one or more of the following elements:
  1. Driving back and forth to an indoor soccer game. Or two. Or more. At different fields.
  2. Scrounging around in the cupboard and the back of the 'fridge to find something random for supper.
  3. Contenting ourselves with whatever crapola happens to be on TV 'cause we're too tired to do anything creative and soul-nourishing.
  4. Laundry--always the laundry.
I'm proud to announce, however, that last Saturday, we did something utterly wild and crazy: we had a party. Yup, it's true. With friends and party food and the whole bit.

Admittedly, this was a party with a geek quotient that was off the charts, but this will surprise no one. The occasion was the news that Ron passed his Ph.D. comprehensive exams, as described in the previous post. So naturally we invited people who would appreciate such a geeky occasion and who would consent to play games fitting to the day.

For instance, we had a "name that dissertation" contest. We divided into four groups and handed out a list of theological and academic buzzwords. Each group worked the jargon, and now Ron has four excellent dissertation titles to choose from. See the poll on the sidebar and cast your vote for your favorite!

Personally, I prefer the one about "post-post-post emergent nuhomiletic," but that's because my group, which included Jenny "Slash" Williams and Laura "Orthoparadox" Keeley, lovingly crafted it.

We also played "Liturgical Balderdash" -- a worship-wonk version of the game "dictionary," wherein Ron gave us obscure liturgical terms and we came up with proposed definitions.

Never mind what these words really mean (look 'em up if you must know). Here are some highlights culled from the group's suggestions.

Thurible -- adj. When the Maundy Thursday service goes south (speak with a lisp to get the full effect).

Synaxis -- noun. The mathematical calculation of snacks needed per person during fellowship time, taking into account hunger, need for energy (in terms of sugar), mood of hungry people, length or sermon, bitterness of communion wine, etc.

Insufflation --noun. The heavy sigh made by long-suffering congregants when the sermon is insufferable (this never happens at our church, Jack. No worries). It could also mean the sharp short inhale when the pastor makes an unexpected reference to sex (this -- maybe).

So all in all, the party was a success. The kids were having their own geeky fun downstairs playing "Settlers of Cataan"(the apples don't fall far...), but let the record show that Miriam and Lynnae hung around with the grown-ups, and they also gave every indication of enjoying themselves.

Let the record also show that while I refrained from switching loads during the actual party, I nevertheless still managed to get some laundry done on Saturday night.