Monday, November 23, 2009

Welcome Back

It's been quite a while, but I'm back... I started this blog in August, had a couple of posts in September, and I've been pretty quiet since then... it's been a busy few months.

A couple months ago I decided to leave my finance job, leave New Hampshire, and move home to Manchester, CT. Now, at over two months into the whole ordeal, I can happily say that I definitely made the right decision.   Living at home has been satisfying- it feels really good to be there for my dad and help out around the house with my mom gone.  My path towards discerning my call to ministry seems to be going well too- we're getting the youth group restarted at my old home town church, I'll start a church immersion experience in February, and I've gotten going on my call process application as well.

The two toughest parts of the last couple months have been getting health insurance (more about that in future posts) and of course finding a job.  The health insurance part has finally been resolved, and later today I'll be heading over for substitute teacher training.   I'm leaving for Thanksgiving week in Colorado tomorrow, but when I get back, I'm hopeful that this season of transition in my life will be pretty much over.

Now for a bit more info about the blog: first, the layout is slightly redesigned.  I added a "Books I'm Reading" and a "Blogs I'm Reading" section, so you can all know a little more about what's currently effecting my thought process.  I'll soon add an "Album's I'm Listening To" section as well... ever since I watched Easy Rider with my dad last week, I've been on a huge 60's kick.

The focus of this blog will be shifting a bit too.  As I begin to explore deeply the concept of the post-modern or "emerging" church movement, that will certainly be reflected here... take this interesting (although overly combative) video from Dan Kimball's Vintage Faith blog for instance:

Well that's about it for now.  One thing that won't change however, is that I'll take it out with a righteous tune.  Here ya go:

Welcome back folks,

Friday, October 09, 2009

...with each gift that you share, you may heal and repair...

Life's been pretty crazy lately for me lately (as you'll read below), and thus I haven't been blogging that much.   Look for some new original posts here soon, but until then what's follows is something I recently wrote for the by the way blog.   Enjoy friends!

Wow, I've heard it said countless times throughout the by the way community, but I just have to say it here again: it's amazing how often our weekly Bible passage feels so pertinent to what's going on in our individual lives. When I offered to write this week's blogpost and lead Bread for Your Journey (as long as my car allows me to get there), I had no idea I was signing up to write about exactly what I've been feeling over the last few weeks. Maybe I'm just bending scripture too much to my own individual experience, but maybe not... you can be the judge :)

At any rate, we're picking up right where we left off last Thursday in chapter ten of the Gospel of Mark, this time in verses seventeen through thirty-one:

17As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18“Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. 19But to answer your question, you know the commandments: You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.”
20“Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”
21Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
23Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” 24This amazed them. But Jesus said again, “Dear children, it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God. 25In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”
26The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.
27Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.”
28Then Peter began to speak up. “We’ve given up everything to follow you,” he said.
29“Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, 30will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. 31But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.” (New Living Translation)

Jesus has a great way of turning the world upside down, and he definitely does just that in this passage. It's easy to think of those who are "the greatest" or "most successful" (whatever that means) in this world to be the most blessed by God... I'm sure it was easy for many in Jesus' day to think the same.

I personally made a decision two months ago to give up what was a fairly financially lucrative job (working 80 hours a week) to find another job that would allow me more time to pursue a couple voluntary ministry opportunities while also preparing to start seminary in a year or two. After seven surprise car breakdowns and a tough economy slowed my new job search to halt though, I'm still unemployed and now moving back home... For the first time in my life I think, I wouldn't be what most people would call a "success." I began almost thinking like Job or something, sort of angry at God for my situation, but only over the last couple of days have I really come to see that in many ways, I've never been so blessed.

When you have a lot of money, you also have many more options and it's a whole lot easier to entertain yourself (at least in a shallower sort of way). Also, when you have a lot of money, you can seemingly be completely independent... having financial means and independence certainly isn't bad thing in and of itself, but Jesus was right... it does make it a bit harder to find God. Having more free time lately has given me a lot more time to read, write, pray and contemplate my relationship with my Creator. Not being financially independent has done a couple of great things: 1) it's made my relationship with my father much closer, and 2) it's made me realize that even when I can become "independent" from my father again, I should never try to be independent from my Father (if you dig what I'm saying).

Not having much in the way of resources also really makes you think more about how you use those resources, which is the other thing I think Jesus was getting at in our passage this week. Due to my new-found lack of resources, stewardship, in every sense of the word, has really started to become a central tenet to my faith. As we'll talk about more this Thursday at Bread for Journey, as Christians we can't just concern ourselves with saving souls... we need to concern ourselves with being good stewards of God's creation here on Earth as well. Messages, a song by Xavier Rudd, one of my favorite singer/songwriters really touches on that fact:


At first listen it seems like Xavier Rudd is just talking about being a good steward of the environment, but I think he's digging quite a bit deeper here too... we need to start seeing ourselves as part of God's creation again... a really important part of it. Taking care of our bodies, making the most of our time, and realizing that whatever resources we do come upon during that time (financial or otherwise) are just being borrowed from God, are essential aspects of stewardship as well. And finally, with the caveat in mind that we need some of our borrowed resources to take care of ourselves and our families, we should use whatever we can to help other folks, the environment, and the rest of God's beautiful creation. I look forward to talking more about all of this @ Bread for Your Journey this Thursday.

God's peace,


Friday, September 04, 2009

Would God Back Universal Healthcare?

I don't know, I can't know, but I think so...

I was never a big fan of mixing faith and politics (despite those topics being my two undergraduate majors).  As I've started digging deeper into my faith since my mom's passing though, I've realized that my faith completely informs my sense of morality.  I think one's morality is (or should be) at the center of one's political convictions.  Thus, at least for me, it's impossible for my faith not to inform my politics.  

We should never assume to know God's will.  I've spent nearly all of my politically-conscious life under an administration that in my view completely did so, and it obviously didn't work out that great.  That said, a central part of our struggle as people of faith is to try and discern what God's will might be.  Coming from a Christian perspective, I don't think Jesus was a politician... he wouldn't vote Democrat or Republican.  I certainly don't think Jesus was a policy wonk either... he wouldn't be for or against an American Plan, a single-payer plan, or a completely market driven plan.  I do however see Jesus as an inspiring community organizer, and I think he would call strongly for universal health-care as a moral obligation:

 34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
 37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
 40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' (Matt 25: 34 - 40, NIV) 

God's call is for all of us to help the least of us... it's that simple.  As people of faith, it's our moral obligation to help society figure out how to get there.  I don't think we're called to support any particular side of the debate, but we are called to support the need for a respectful debate.  Click here for a great post from Pastor John Hopkins on that point. 
Oliver Thomas, in an editorial for USA Today, makes a much more eloquent argument for universal health-care than I can.  Rev. Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association has some good thoughts on this as well:

As a Lutheran, I was really interested to learn that the ELCA way back in 2003 took a stance on the issue.  They created a social statement called Caring for Health: Our Shared Endeavor.  Finally, here's the best (as in most non-partisan) online petition I could find about the issue, which the ELCA is a signatory of:

In the end, as our nation debates how to provide quality health-care for all, realize that most parties really are trying to do what's right.  Get educated, stay respectful, contribute to the discussion, and encourage others to do the same... it's what we're called to do.  Let's get this done.

As always, here's a little exit music for ya:

God's peace,

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Faith to Question God

(as posted on by the way's blog)

by Dustin G. Wright, with a HUGE contribution by Crystal Mohrmann

The central passage of this week's upcoming Bread for Your Journey is Matthew 15: 21-28, the famous "Story of the Gentile Woman," who confront Jesus and questions his calling:

21Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  22A Gentile woman who lived there came to him, pleading, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely.” 

23But Jesus gave her no reply, not even a word. Then his disciples urged him to send her away. “Tell her to go away,” they said. “She is bothering us with all her begging.”
24Then Jesus said to the woman, “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.”
25But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, “Lord, help me!”
26Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”
27She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.”
28“Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed.

Man, this passage is certainly a tough passage to preach on... there's so much go on here, and so much to question as humans.  In my undergraduate Old Testament class, my professor said that this story (and it's counterpart of the Syrophoenician woman in the Gospel of Mark) was besides Jesus's death and resurrection, the most important part of the Bible.  From a scholarly perspective, I'd tend to agree- it's the point where Christ saw his call to save as expanding from just the Jewish population to humanity as a whole.  As most scholars believe the Gospel of Matthew was written for a primarily Jewish-Christian audience, it really serves to highlight Paul's later argument that Christ was for all of humanity.

From a more theological perspective, this story is really important as well.

In all of the gospels (at the least the ones included in the Bible), we get to see very little of the human side of Jesus growing into his ministry and strengthening his sense of purpose.  Matthew 15: 21-28 definitely provides a glimpse into that process.  The persistence of the Gentile/ Syrophoenician woman, someone who would have been historically looked down upon by most Jews, had a faith strong enough to question Jesus, and thus she changed the world forever.  A second-class citizen, this strong woman encouraged Jesus to expand his ministry to all of humanity about 2000 years ago, and we're all saved by grace because of it.

Here's what Crystal wrote for this post:

The readings for this week’s bread for your journey are from Matthew, Chapter 15:21-28, and both discuss Jesus and his ability to heal.
Personally, I find this a particularly difficult scripture to reflect on because it is one among others that my family and I held on to when my mom was dying from cancer.  I held on to hopes of Jesus healing my mom, thinking that if anyone was worthy of a miracle, it would be her.  Unfortunately God had a different plan for her and one week from today, it will be five years since she passed away.
I share this personal connection to this scripture because I think it’s important to consider not just the many ways God answers our prayers through healing, but also the ways in which we are impacted when there is not healing and our prayers are not answered in the way we’d hoped they would be.
These people asked for healing for their loved ones and it was granted.  But, I wonder what their reaction to Jesus would have been had there not been healing.  Would they still say, “Everything he does is good!”?  Or would they back away angry and feeling forsaken?

I've lost my own mom in the last year, and I've certainly had some of the same questions that Crystal has... both of our mom's were great people.  It's easy to ask why good people die over people that we judge as not as good.  There's two final points I have to make.  First, this simply reflects that we're saved by grace and faith in God, not simply by our actions, no matter how great they may be.  Second, and in some ways I think even more importantly, God welcomes us questioning Him, strengthening our faith and understanding.

I'll conclude with one of my favorite songs called "Blessed," by Simon and Garfunkel.  Paul Simon's anguished questioning of God is really powerful here, and while some of the lyrics are challenging it really reflects on our Bible passage for the week... in the end, even the worst people can be saved through faith:

The last line is the only one I think Paul Simon got wrong... he wasn't 'tending his garden much to long' on his own... God was there with him, but he just might not have recognized it.

God's peace,

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

God What Do You Say?

(as posted on by the way's blog)

When I started preparing for this Thursday's Bread for Your Journey, I really had no idea what I was going to talk about, as I found this week's Ephesians verse very hard to understand:

Ephesians 6: 10-20 (New Living Translation)
10A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

13Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. 16In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.
19And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. 20I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should.
Coming from a contemporary context, isn't it sort of difficult to rap your head around at first? I've always focused on the more practical aspects of Christianity in some ways, and very rarely have ever thought of a personified "Devil" or evil demons flying around, etc. I've also always seen Christianity as a religion of peace (even if it hasn't always acted that way), and thus I was surprised by much of the author's imagery. I started looking around the web for different interpretations of the passage, and this one by William Loader really made the passage clear: Ephesians 6:10-20.

In his interpretation, William Loader talks about how God calls us to a spiritual struggle, but one of peace rather than a violent one. Even more importantly, God calls us to an internal spiritual struggle, to put on the "belt of truth and body armor of God's righteousness" and fight those personal devils that we all have as human beings.

Amazingly, right after I read Pastor Loader's interpretation, a good friend of mine sent me a link to this quote:

"A Native American Elder once described his own inner struggles in
this manner: 'Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean
and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all
the time.' When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and
replied, 'The one I feed the most."

While this exact wording was published in Experiencing the Soul by Elliot Rosen & Ellen Burstyn, it's supposedly derived from an old Cherokee saying, and it really fleshes out what we all go through internally on a daily basis.

When thinking about the dual internal/ external implications of the Ephesians passage, it made me consider how the traditional, non-fundamentalist Muslim notion of jihad is really quite similar, especially concerning the "greater jihad," or internal struggle. This of course, is a really interesting correlation considering America's current worldly external struggles.

As an end to my long train of thought, one of my favorite Pearl Jam songs came to mind, called "Marker in the Sand:"

While I don't necessarily agree with all of Eddie Vedder's lyrics, the song really does touch on a key issue: when taking up God's call to the external spiritual struggle (whether as a Christian, a Muslim, or of any other faith) it's easy to "walk tightrope high over moral ground," and forget the internal struggle. Without that internal component, God's call to peacefully spread his Good News can easily become judgmental and violent. Well I hope that gives you all a lot to think about, and I can't wait to hear your opinions this Thursday at Bread for Your Journey.

God's peace,

Monday, August 17, 2009

To Hike A Mountain, You've Got to Wake Up

I had a very interesting weekend. Both days I planned on going hiking, which I haven't done yet all summer because of how much I've been working. Both days, I didn't go hiking and slept till about noon. It's partially because of my insomnia for sure that I slept through my alarm, but I'm sure it's also partially because I didn't have the enthusiasm/ will to get out on the trail. I did still get to see a sweet (and free) Wallflowers concert at LL Bean in Freeport, ME on Saturday, and got to go to the beach yesterday evening, but I still missed out on a lot.

With what's been going on in my life as of late, I've been doing a lot of thinkin about the Divine. What I experienced this weekend really ties into what I've been thinking about. So without further ado, I present to you the beginning of an ongoing blog series entitled...

What Dustin Thinks God Is, At Least for Today
I've come to see God as a REALLY big mountain, with a lot of different trails and paths that frequently cross each other to get to the top. The different paths are different faiths, religions, beliefs, or whatever you want them to be really. The top is full realization of your relationship with God or the Divine (personified or not). Much as human relationships must always evolve and change to prevent them from becoming stagnant, one's relationship with God should always be continually explored and evolving. Thus, I don't think the point is to get to the top of the mountain, or what trail you take. Instead, I believe the only thing that matters is whether or not you've woken up and are on the Mountain.In my own life, I've spent most of my time on a Christian/ Lutheran trail, and occasionally have left it, but have always come back. My time off the Christian trail though was still very valuable... my exposure to other faiths (particularly Theravada Buddhism) has added a lot to my understanding of God, and has helped reinforce my Christian faith as well.

God's peace,

Friday, August 14, 2009

Bad Insomnia

Despite almost falling asleep on my way back from bread for your journey, a service put on by a Christian faith community I hang out with called by the way, I have some really bad insomnia. The worst part of insomnia for me is that I always feel like I want to be productive, but only in things that its not particularly productive that I do...I've spent the last two hours reading wikipedia articles on Hellenistic-period mystery religions for instance... WOW.

I haven't really been able to sleep particularly well for the past couple nights though... life is a bit wild nowadays. It's an intense story and I'm too mentally worn to tell it, but over the last couple weeks I've felt one hell of a call to go into the ministry a lot earlier than expected... and the hardest part is that I'm trying to follow that call. Maybe that's why I'm not sleeping that well... all this "following God's call stuff" I guess can keep you up at night.

At bread for your journey tonight, it was funny how pertinent our Bible passage from Ephesians was to my current predicament, particularly verse 5:17 (CEV):

Don't be stupid. Instead, find out what the Lord wants you to do.

I spent my first half of college just trying to have a good time. I spent my second half of college trying to build a great resume. I spent my last year trying to quickly pay off all of my student loans from having that college experience. I want to spend the next few years actually discerning what that Big Daddy in the Sky wants me to do, and not being stupid anymore :) Maybe that is something to lose a bit of sleep over. At any rate, you should check out by the way's blog to read a bit more about what I experienced tonight. Also, if you're up really late reading this, I highly believe Sigur Ros is the best insomnia music:


- Dustin

Thursday, August 13, 2009

No Cash for My Clunker.

Everyone knowadays is talking about the Car Allowance Rebate System, commonly known as the 'cash for clunkers' program. Some people love it, some people hate it, and some people like my grandpa just got a brand new Toyota Corolla for around $500 using the program, combined with other deals. For those that know me, you know I definitely have a clunker... it's a 1994 Buick Regal Custom, and it sucks. It's so much of a "clunker" that my family's long time mechanic recently told me that it would last another month or two at best.

Still, despite the fact that every time I turn the car on I'm afraid that I'm going to explode like that woman in The Godfather, the "CARS" program doesn't consider my old Buick a clunker. To check out if your car is a clunker, click here.

When I found out my car wasn't a clunker, I immediately decided to blame our president, Barack Obama... I mean seriously, who else's fault could it be? I mean, researching an issue before taking a side and assigning blame would be unAmerican right? Don't get me wrong, I love the guy... I worked for him in four different states, got to shake his hand after the South Carolina primary, cried during his inauguration... the whole deal. Still though, I've been working a lot lately, and haven't been watching the news nearly as much as I would like. This whole "cash for clunkers" issue really made me start to reflect on what else my beloved hero was up to that I didn't support. To be honest, I need to catch up on the real issues, but here's a few others things so far that I don't like about Barack Obama:

1) Obama's Choice of Beer w/ Skip Gates

This was a huge political blunder. If you're going to host the most famous White House happy hour in history, at least have some good brews. Instead, President Obama decided to drink Budweiser (unspecified whether it was Light, Heavy, or Ice)... WOW! Does Obama think he's a frat boy the first semester of freshman year? Get some class... perhaps a nice Red Hook or Smuttynose from the great state of New Hampshire would have served much better. And of course, if he did have to go for the cheap stuff, Obama could have at least followed in the footsteps of a great American like Walt Kowalski and had a PBR.

2) Minor Issue with the Stimulus Package
Great program I think, at least as much as I can tell so far. There is one issue though... for a guy who's job depends on driving all over New England, it's kinda a pain that every road in New England is getting paved at once. Furthermore, not only are some interstates being repaved, but some are being widened. One late night while driving up I-495 on my way home to New Hampshire, I saw like twenty big construction vehicles ripping trees out of the ground... talk about a shovel ready project. Seems like good human progress or something right? There were a whole lot of trees being killed though, so I was afraid the Lorax might pop out of somewhere and start 'speakin for the trees.' It was late, and I wanted to get home, so I was moving pretty fast in my "clunker." I like the Lorax a lot... it's one of my favorite books. If Barack Obama's stimulus package had resulted in me running over the Lorax while he was "speakin for the trees" on I-495, I would have been pretty upset.

3) Barack Obama WOULD NEVER DO THIS (which is really funny):

Frankly friends, that's all I could think of. I still love Barack Obama, despite the fact there will be no cash for my clunker.

God's peace,

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Like the Title?

Ya know, I'm really surprised no one snagged "It's Only A Northern Blog" for their own blog title yet... all the kids are online nowadays, talkin' about all sorts of mumbo-jumbo, and frankly I was afraid there wasn't any good real estate left. But yeah... the title was pretty clever huh? I was trying to find something deep sounding for it, to make up for what I assume will be the lack of any real substantial content here, but who knows... maybe it'll be great!! In pursuing a good blog title, I listened to a bunch of Dylan songs, looked at a few Bible passages, and read some intellectual-ist beat poetry... really dug into my leftist-group think roots ya know? I couldn't find anything! How are you supposed to be a big cool cat in the blogosphere without a good title?

Next, I thought of my favorite Beatles song as being a good title, but then I realized "I'm Only Sleeping" would indicate to my readers that I was fairly lazy, which isn't something I wanted added to my online persona. My second favorite Beatles song is "I've Just Seen a Face," but by using that I figured people would think I'm a stalker or something... even worse than being lazy in most circles. Thus, I came to the third Beatles song in line, and it actually worked pretty well.

So here's the deal... it's only a northern blog. I'm just a guy living in New Hampshire with a few ideas that I think a few other folks might be interested in. I like things like religion, music and politics a lot, so I'll probably write about those things a lot. Also, a close friend recently told me I was cartoon character. I, on the other hand, would consider myself a "former hippie, former yuppie, current freelance life artist", but who needs titles anyway? Whether or not I am like a cartoon character, I guess I do tend to fall into some pretty wild stories fairly often, so at least when it won't ruin whatever future I have in this world, maybe I'll be able to tell ya some pretty great stories too!

At any rate, I do think I communicate best through citing songs, so I'll always end each of my posts with a copyright-infringing YouTube clip that really does dig a bit deeper into what I'm talking about and how I'm feeling at the moment. For right now, life's pretty confusing and a little bit wild, so I think this new blog's namesake will do the trick. God's peace.

- Dustin