Monthly Archives: October 2006

Turtle: 90 feet at a time

When I was in seventh grade, I played baseball for the Roseau Rams. Chigger called me Turtle. Let me explain.

halfahead.jpgI was one of only three seventh graders playing that year. It was my friends Todd, Aaron, and me. The team being short players, the three of us (rookies in every sense) each played for the Junior Varsity team. In my case anyway, it wasn’t because I played exceptionally well. Really, they just needed somebody to fill a pair of cleats.

Anyhow, there was this guy in eighth grade (infinitely older than me then) who saw it as his responsibility to initiate me in the social psyche of high school sports. He was bigger, and far more coordinated than I was (he was also a hockey player, which in north country was akin to being a god). For some reason, one afternoon during our first week of practice (probably because I wasn’t trying very hard), he called me “Turtle.” We were running sprints.

Ignorant rookie that I was, I asked him why he had called me that. He spat, “because you’re slow.” That was all it took.

For the rest of the season, you couldn’t have made me run faster if you were shooting a gun at my feet. I ran as fast as I could all the time. Come to think of it, that may have been Chigger’s intentions exactly. But sometimes my effort was just plain inappropriate: a casual jog around the ball field, and there’s Turtle running 100 yards out front as though he’s got something to prove.

bucksshoes.jpgWell, I did have something to prove, and I think I did all right doing so. I stole bases all the time, most often without a signal from either coach. Of course, they didn’t mind it much, and never said a thing about it. Until I got thrown out at second base three quarters of the way through the season. They still called me Turtle, but I’d like to think it actually became a sort of paradoxical way of showing respect. Like calling a seven-foot basketball star Shorty (we can talk about my broken nose from trying to catch fly balls without corrective lenses some other time…).

So I wasn’t bad at running sprints. I could run my heart out for 90 feet – occasionally 180 – at a time. And I was fast enough, anyway. But once I crossed home plate, I’d collapse on the bench wheezing. And when my friend Woody got on me to run cross-country in the fall… I said, “Forget it!” It’s one thing to run sprints and have an out or an inning to recover, it’s another thing to keep a steady pace for hours or miles between breaks.

This week’s been much like those moments in the dugout… catching my breath on the bench after crossing homeplate. Only the bench has been the futon in our den, and the homeplate, a little green house on fourth avenue south. And the sprinting was two weeks worth of gratifying activity on the road and here in the Twin Cities. Lastly, instead of exercise-induced asthma making me wheeze, it’s been the wearying effect of ongoing chemo-treatment that has rendered me fatigued on the far side of this inning. Yet in spite of this, short of breath as I may be, the run was so worth it.

(Disclaimer: for those reading for largely edifying or entertaining purposes, the following may prove to be too trivial, as it’s hardly more than a glorified list of what I’ve been up to lately. For more thought-provoking material, one might be inclined to pick up Augustine’s Confessions, Dostoevsky’s Karamazov, or navigate over to my Musings Blog, where I’ve recently posted a casual review of Eugene Peterson’s latest book. However, if you liked Transformers as a kid, read on…)

lacrossebluffs.jpgTwo weeks ago I packed a bright red duffle bag with enough clothes for four days, and cruised onto the Interstate heading south and east to LaCrosse, Wisconsin. There was a church there that wanted to hear my story. So for an hour on a Wednesday night I told it to them. Later that evening I crashed at my friend Dan and his wife Kelly’s house. We stayed up too late watching eighties Transformer cartoons and playing with his toys (typical Gen-X grown-up activity). He informed me a “live-action” Transformers movie was due out next summer, and we browsed the Internet for crazy transformer videos made by amateurs and the like (check out this You Tube page for a very cool clip of what Aedan calls “the robot”).

me&dannyK.JPGThe next day, after doing breakfast with D & K and their pastor (another friend, PJ) at this tasty little Chinese joint (I’m a new fan of pineapple chicken), I drove further south to Illinois (Morris area) to visit good friends Rick and Steve. Steve had the flu, and was so sick that, with my immune system running half-throttle, the closest I got to seeing him was a drive by the church where he pastors. But as a result, I was able to spend a whole lot of time with Rick and his family. And that was very good.

On Friday I drove to the Quad Cities on the Illinois/Iowa border. The Intervarsity at Augustana College had sent me an invitation earlier this year to come speak for them. So that’s what I did (and their worship team graciously let me plug in my keys and play along). Again, it was good. One student from the Kansas City area (I swear this is the first time this has ever happened) bought one of each of the seven albums I had on my table that night – and I hadn’t performed a single song! So I decided from then on my approach to doing concerts would be to sing less and talk more. What? What do you mean I already do that? Do I?

Later that evening, I crashed at the IVCF regional director’s home. Dan and his wife Lisa have a genuinely effective ministry there – in the community as much as the campus. This was evidenced to me at ten o’clock that night when three guys (from the neighborhood, not the college) stopped in just to chat. Two hours later I had heard their stories, having been challenged and blessed by the newfound faith in two of them, and the honest searching of the third. A great night.

prime.jpgI drove home Saturday (listening to Rob Bell, Derek Webb, and Donald Miller podcasts) and slept away most of the weekend and the early part of the following week – when I wasn’t playing with my boys or the new Optimus Prime toy that friend Keith brought over for me (oddly the only weekend this year I’ve thought about Transformers… I quit Saturday morning hockey in grade school because our games were the same time as the cartoon).

bensparty.jpgSometime Tuesday I began a focused (and caffeinated) effort to prepare material for Spiritual Life Week at Heritage Christian Academy in Maple Grove. Good friend Ben is the Dean of Students there (we welcomed him to the 30-club recently at Old Chicago on 1st Ave.). He asked me to be their featured speaker this year: 3 days, 5 sessions, 250 students grades 6-12, for a sum total of 3 hours worth of yapping. Yap, yap, yapping… about some real essential stuff: God being God and God being good, and the necessity of grasping this as best as we can to endure hardship in faith. It was an extremely rewarding week for me. And I think the school got a bunch out of it, too. I was deeply impressed by the student body there, and the faculty. The atmosphere at a Christian school can be so disappointing – weak in either academics or sincere life-changing faith – my experience at HCA communicated honest strength and humility across the board.

And as further fruit of preparing for the week and fleshing out the content in conversation there, I think I may be able to put it all to the page sometime this year.

sweetaschoco.jpgMeanwhile, my superhero of a bride cared double for two boys at home, one of which was sleeping only half as much as he should have been (this was finally remedied by a 40-minute cry down last Sunday… now he sleeps soundly through the night). In the process, Jen got sick with a cold. Nasty cough. Finally she gets the chance to be the patient, and I’m bringing her medicine rather than the other way around. I do love waiting on her.

So at the end of all this, Jen and I somehow managed to score tickets for the Lord of the Rings soundtrack at Orchestra Hall. Friends Jon & Danka hung out with our boys while we hung out with other Tolkein fans listening to Howard Shore performed by 200 musicians: orchestra, chorale, and boys choir. Plus a host of folk instruments otherwise not normally present on stage, including the hammered dulcimer. Though it wasn’t Beethoven, sitting there that night was very enjoyable.

Now since then, I’ve tapped out. Wheezing on the bench, as it were. Recovering from another sprint, another stolen base, perhaps. But I’m sure glad and thankful to have had the opportunity and strength to have done what I’ve done these past weeks. And I’d gladly do it again. It feels good to be doing this again.

elibibs.jpgThis weekend I’m spending a night with our youth group at their fall retreat, and teaching them on Sunday morning. Next weekend, Aedan and I will be heading north to do a Father/Son banquet with my dad. I’ll be speaking there, too. Then come mid-November, I plan to fly out to Washington for a week with a handful of CLBA churches. Thanks to Mark J for that.

So as exhausting as life is from time to time, it is still rich with the grace and goodness of God. And it is his grace that both enables us to enjoy the good and sustains us when there’s not much good to enjoy. I’ve been sustained, and now it seems, in spite of occasional exhaustion, there is much good to enjoy.

Grateful for the time to rest,

Still His,


mockingbird.jpgBy the way, three things: 1) If you haven’t already done so, jump on the opportunity to get an entire quality album for free! Go to for his Mockingbird album. Good art. Free only through October.

2) I should have a new download up soon/now… “Philosophia” is one of my favorite tunes. I feel clever when I sing it. Except for the embarassingly erroneous Greek at the end of the song. And I hear Steve from Avidus insisting I really should’ve used some electric guitar on the recording… I’m starting to agree with him. What do you think?

3) A few weeks back I considered posting a blog dealing with what I do and don’t believe about sickness, suffering, healing and the Christian. Truthfully, as I’ve thought more about it, several things have happened – I’ve somewhat lost the desire to do so; it’s occurred to me that I’ve partly communicated bits and pieces of this already through the course of this last year and a half, though it’s scattered throughout some hundred blogs; I’ve recognized how fluid and changing my understanding of this stuff is; and I’ve found much of it to be present in the content I’ve been speaking on recently – which I intend to put to the page soon anyhow. In the end, I’m not sure I want to write a separate blog about this stuff, as it may just be more confusing than it is clear. But if there are enough of you who think it may be helpful somehow, I’m willing to give it a shot. So let me know.

Categories: Cancer | 7 Comments

Eat This Book

Eat This Book: What I think of The Message Bible

eatbook2.jpgOne of my primary texts for life, from here on out, is Eugene Peterson’s “Eat This Book.” I read it through quickly this summer, and intend to spend more time with it soon. In “Eat This Book,” Peterson makes an elaborate and tangible case for a hermeneutic of action. He says that HOW we read the Bible is as important THAT we read it.

Drawing from John’s apocalyptic experience in Revelation – the one in which John is told to “eat the scroll” rather than copying it word for word – Peterson strongly suggests that scripture is to be so integrated into our life that it becomes both what we are and what we do. The question to be asked (and answered) of the text with as much gusto as “What does this mean?” is “How do I live this?”

A common theme of contemporary Christian conversation is what John Eldredge refers to as “Epic.” Though it is not new (Peterson regularly quotes Karl Barth along these lines), in “Eat This Book” we hear with clarity and conviction the invitation to enter into “the world of the Bible” (Barth) – to recognize and play our part in the story that God is telling.

Whether Eugene specifically made this point or not, I recall at least the implication that an approach to scriptures that addresses them solely for purposes of systematic theology is extremely deficient. And I know that I’ve done this: it is reading every word through the filter of our doctrine, and sorting the verses into categories or theological systems that have been pre-established. This is not a bad thing to begin with, and as it is fleshed out in the relational experiences of our lives it actually plays an essential role in God being seen in the world. But divorced from living, or taken to the all-too-common extreme of discarding, ignoring, or explaining away verses that don’t fit into our systems, this approach becomes the bane of true God-blessing faith.

Instead, Peterson reminds us to engage the narrative that is the Bible – the story that God is telling, the revelation it is of Him – so as to become part of it, or better said, to recognize that we are part of it already. Story is how the human race and individuals in it throughout history have found meaning, and learned what they most remember. This is evidenced in the oral traditions of nearly every people group prior to Guttenberg’s printing press. Since then somehow (perhaps arm in arm with Enlightenment rationalism), we’ve lost the sense of wonder and bigness that we are both born with and drawn to within the context of Epic.

When we were kids in Sunday school, we heard of a shepherd boy who slain a giant with a rock and we learned that God plus one is a majority. We heard of a man with a boat full of animals and learned that God takes seriously his desire for the families of the earth to live as he made them to. Stories teach without stating plainly the truths that they convey. And as such, we come to understand these truths in a way that is much deeper than merely being able to reproduce how’s and when’s and who’s. The ability to recall simple facts can lead us to believe we know something that we don’t yet really know. We may be able to answer the question, but are we living the truth affirmed with that answer?

thinking.jpgI remember when it first occurred to me I could read the Bible like I read a novel: start at the beginning, read until I get tired or distracted, put it down, pick it up where I left off the next day, and do it again and again until I am done (I don’t feel badly if I don’t read three chapters a day of whatever novel I’m reading). I realize this may not be a particularly new idea to most of you, but it was to me. Like an old idea made new. I had been taught somehow that scripture was supposed to be used to make points, and the best way to do that was to find the verses that proved your point and ignore the rest. So this was how I read the Bible.

Until January 1998. For whatever reason, I thought I’d try reading the Bible this other way – as a story. It wasn’t that I abandoned “daily devos” or stopped thinking about doctrine or theology or anything like that. I just added to that an effort to enjoy reading the Bible. Just enjoy it. I got engaged in the story. I imagined. I saw. I felt. I wondered. And I enjoyed it.

And as I enjoyed it, I began to realize that I was a part of this story – that this God who was doing all these things with and through all these people knew me. And I was coming to know Him. And what is scripture, if not a revelation of God and his dynamic relationship with his creatures?

I should mention that, while I started with Genesis in 1998, I just finished Jeremiah this spring, eight and a half years later (that is, within the context of this progressive reading… I’ve read more elsewhere). But what I have read this way has gotten deeper inside me than what can be absorbed by study alone.

Peterson does go to great lengths to affirm the necessity of study, however. His aim is not to discredit serious scholarship. Peterson himself is an educated student of the scriptures, and “The Message” Bible (which he describes translating/paraphrasing in “Eat This Book”) is subsequently a serious work of scholarship as much as it is a work of art. He merely seeks to enlarge the spectrum of our interaction with the text.

eugene.jpgI’ve long understood the responsibility of an artist (and a preacher, for that matter) to “make truth new:” to expose us to what we may already know or have already heard in a way that causes us to “notice” it again, or in a way we hadn’t before. This is one of Eugene’s intentions in “The Message.” He says himself of the work, “Writing straight from the original text, I began to attempt to bring into English the rhythms and idioms of the original language. I knew that the early readers of the New Testament were captured and engaged by these writings and I wanted my congregation to be impacted in the same way. I hoped to bring the New Testament to life for two different types of people: those who hadn’t read the Bible because it seemed too distant and irrelevant and those who had read the Bible so much that it had become ‘old hat.'”

It is commonly acknowledged that “The Message” is not a study Bible, but a readers Bible. It is aimed in part at reintroducing those familiar with the text to the wonder and amazement of it all… the bigness… the grandness of the story of which we are a part. (Walter Wangerin’s “The Book of God” does this in similar, though more liberal, fashion).

message.jpgFor those of us either critical or merely curious of Eugene’s “translation” of the Bible into “The Message,” he provides context and explanation for the work and his approach in the final chapters of “Eat This Book.” Referring to two archeological discoveries of the last century, he makes the point that much of the original text was written in a language that was part and parcel of the common everyday life language of the people for whom it was originally written. He makes a strong case for the translation process including an application of the cultural idioms of the currently addressed people group.

Acknowledging that many have preferred a more “formal” language in their interpretation of scriptures, he traces this to the assumption that the original text actually included certain words intended specifically for the purpose of speaking things of God. This assumption had been made historically on account of certain words that appeared only in the scriptures, which were absent in other pieces of literature from the same time period.

The two pertinent archeological discoveries uncovered these words, however, on shopping lists and personal correspondence (letters between family members), suggesting that, while the words were not used in formal literature, they were very much a part of the common tongue – the everyday life language of the people. The conclusion of these discoveries affirmed for Peterson his efforts to convey the message of the scriptures in language and form that does for us what the original language did for its original hearers.
eatbook.jpg The sum effect of his dissertation for me was liberation. Suddenly, in at least one way, I was off the hook. If in reading the Bible I read a verse that caused tension between it and my current understanding of systematic theology, it wasn’t my primary responsibility to reconcile the two in the realm of explanation, but to live what I did understand in the realm of experience. For Peterson, the best way to come to understand what we don’t know is to live what we do. It is, in essence, how we “eat this book.”

Lastly, while it might be simple for a critic to write off “Eat This Book” as a defensive move by one striving to vindicate (and perhaps sell) his paraphrase of scripture, I sensed Peterson to be far too pastoral in his writing to be accused of such capitalistic and egocentric motives. And I mean “pastoral” in the best possible way: one who cares as deeply as we understand a good shepherd to care for his sheep. I am one sheep who feels cared for as I read “Eat This Book.”

(Consequently, I also purchased Zondervan’s NIV/Message parallel Bible with a snazzy blue leather duo-tone cover. And I like it very much.)

Categories: General | 1 Comment

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