Sunday, October 29, 2006

Martin Luther Bobblehead Is An Object Lesson For Reformation Sunday

Our Lutheran Pastor, Don Jukam, not only has a sense of humor, but he also knows how to illustrate a point.

At church today during “kid’s time”, Martin Luther - in Bobblehead form - made an appearance in the hand of Pastor Jukam, as we observed “Reformation Sunday.” (My cell phone cam caught the image shown at right following the service.)

All of us kids will not soon forget it.

The “theological” problem with the Bobblehead (where did he ever get one of Martin Luther?), suggested the Pastor, is that his head moves mostly up and down (indicating the affirmative). This is somewhat inconsistent with Luther’s famous declaration to his adjudicator, “No, I will not recant (my writings); here I stand.”

Perhaps a better Martin Luther Bobblehead would have the head only able to move side to side.

In his regular sermon, Pastor Don went on to shed some light on the Reformation. Luther, of course, was not the only Reformer but likely is the best known. There were some before him and many after him. Their shared anxieties were the transgressions of the medieval Roman Catholic Church.

Our pastor graciously pointed out that the then Roman Catholic Church was quite different than today’s Roman Catholic Church (with whom we share many scriptures and salvation through Christ.) Today’s idiom longs for unity rather than schism.

Pastor Don’s primary summarization of the celebrated Reformation focused on its three essentials: Faith, Grace and Scripture. All else, according to Luther, was “adiaphora” (matters that are "indifferent," that is, are not commanded or forbidden by God.)

The practices of the Catholic Church of the 16th century included a lot more than Luther’s stated requisites – among them penances and indulgences that could be purchased and papal infallability. Luther’s study of the book of Romans had convinced him that it was only the grace of God that justified humankind through faith in Christ and his provision of salvation.

That simple but profound belief by Luther was what we celebrated today.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A Café “From the Heartland” Right Here in Port Orchard

There’s a corner café in Port Orchard, at the south end of Kitsap County, that could be comfortably at home in most mid-America towns. It’s Myhre’s Café, pictured above.

My wife’s number was drawn for jury duty this week, and so our dog Buddy and I decided we’d chauffeur her the first day to get the lay of the land. We dropped her off at the hilltop County Campus just before 1pm, and so I decided to drive down the hill and find a spot to have some lunch.

At the bottom of the incline, I coincidentally came across Myhre's Café, on the corner of Sydney and Bay Sts, a block south of the foot-ferry terminal.

After making Buddy comfortable in the car, I walked over to the restaurant. The menu in the window looked good, and the sign said they served breakfast lunch or dinner all the time. My kind of place (I like breakfast food at lunch time).

Plus, I saw that they had “Joe’s Special” (a favorite sauté of mine from Original Joe’s in San Francisco) on the menu, and that sealed it.

Inside, it looked like any café from the heartland. A dark mahogany-stained counter with attached stools was surrounded by tall wooden booths of the same hue. Of course there was a pie-filled pastry case along with ever-moving waitresses who seemed to know everyone by name.

I wondered if my California bud Ed Wall had ever eaten here, as he lived in Port Orchard as a youth and teenager. I’d almost bet on it, as, from his travels, he knows every great eatery in most west coast towns.

The café was founded in 1927, but in 1963 a horrible fire gutted the place. If you look closely at the lousy pic at right (that I took in the dark cafe hallway with my cell phone cam) you might be able to make out the smoke billowing from the building. It was obviously rebuilt soon after and has been in continuous service ever since.

I didn’t know what to expect from a small northwest café with regard to the famous “Joe’s Special,” a hot-pan fried mix of ground beef, onion, scrambled egg and whatever.

Turns out it was delicious, just not quite as “Italian” tasting as down in the Bay Area. But definitely worth a return visit.

While Kay Lynne endured the jury selection process (she didn’t get picked today but must go back tomorrow), Buddy and I drove some seven miles down Beach St and around the point to Manchester State Park.

What a fabulous and beautiful place! The dog had a ball romping along the beach at water’s edge and enjoying every fragrance along the way as I tried to keep up.

Buddy mistook the salt water of Rich Passage for fresh lake water and quickly learned a lesson about life. His tail would be still wagging except that he’s exhausted and is sound asleep on my chair with a smile on his face. Such is a dog’s life.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

My Wife Tolerated LUTEFISK, and I’m Supposed To Be The Scandinavian

Today Kay Lynne spent most of the day at our church, helping serve Lutefisk and other Norwegian “delicacies” to over 1,000 diners who came from as far as California for the event.

The occasion was the 94th annual Lutefisk dinner (actually a fundraiser that has become a renowned event) held at the First Lutheran Church of Poulsbo.

Lutefisk is one of those (Scandinavian) “delicacies” that you either relish – or hate. Like caviar.

For starters, let me explain that the dish is basically a codfish carcass that’s been soaked first in cold water for five days, then in lye – you read right – (actually a caustic birch ash liquid) for two more days and then rinsed (soaked in water) for six more days, refreshing the water daily. It’s now ready for cooking (why would anyone want to eat this?).

On the day of the serving, the remaining fish glob is steam cooked for a time in the oven and then baked in a dish for an hour until it becomes creamy and jelly-like. “To enjoy lutefisk”, they say, it must be spooned onto Norwegian lefse (potato flat bread) that has been covered with soft, boiled potatos. Some require bacon, peppers or hot mustard (or all three) to be added before they can tolerate it.

CAUTION: If you don’t wash the cooking pots and pans immediately after usage, the fish (and odor) may never come off.

My wife said she actually liked it. She even brought home a sample carton of the “delicacy” along with delicious potatoes and lefse. I did eat some, but I much preferred the Norwegian meat balls that she also brought home.

How do you describe the taste and texture of lutefish? It’s not easy. I found this account on a blog:

“Lutefisk is pretty much what you'd expect of jellied cod; it is a foul and odiferous goo, whose gelatinous texture and rancid oily taste are locked in spirited competition to see which can be the more responsible for rendering the whole completely inedble.”

I don’t care for caviar in any form, and even though I’m a Finnlander, I’ll likely not look forward to eating Lutefisk again. I still have a fishy taste in my mouth.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Forgiveness… The Way God Deals With Evil

This past weekend my wife and I were in Oregon having fun with our granddaughters. Of course on Sunday we went to church at Newberg Friends Church (bell tower shown) where my son Gregg is senior pastor.

For the most part, for me, the sermon is the element in a worship service that speaks to me the most. The sermon Gregg delivered Sunday was powerful and impacting. If put into effect, it would be life-altering.

The sermon topic was “forgiveness”, and with all the recent media coverage of the Amish schoolgirl shootings by a madman, there was plenty of fodder for discussion. You can find a link to his sermon here or on his blog.

A common response to the Amish acts of kindness and forgiveness (by Christians as well as the general public) has been surprise and incredulity, as well as “he got off too easy” and “he should have had to face execution or spend his life in jail”.

Gregg, however, suggested that the Amish people lived out their faith as it should be. “I see forgiveness as capable of profoundly changing our lives,” he said.

Using a video film clip from Les Miserables, he showed us how, when the bishop voluntarily forgave the professional thief Jean Valjean, it altered Valjean’s behavior for the rest of his life.

We looked at the ancient Biblical example of Joseph, who forgave his brothers for selling him into slavery in Egypt (from which he became a powerful ruler).

In both of these examples, as well as with the Amish, forgiveness was imparted before it was even asked for. And this is the revolutionary, counter-cultural aspect of Christ’s teachings.

In Christ’s time, Judaism dictated that forgiveness was not automatic; in fact, it required earning by the wrongdoer with genuine attempts at atonement. In that context, a murderer was forever doomed with no opportunity for atonement to a dead victim.

However, God, through Christ, extended forgiveness and atonement to each and every one of us, “while we were yet sinners” and even before we asked for it. That’s the astounding way God deals with evil in the human race.

Does this mean evildoers get off scot free? Hardly.

One of Gregg’s seminary professors, Miraslov Volf, a native Croatian personally affected by the war in Kosovo, has written a poignant book titled, Free of Charge. In it, Volf says, “In the very act of forgiving, there is an act of condemnation.”

Gregg went on to paraphrase what Volf wrote with these words: “Forgiveness does not ignore or white wash or overlook wrong actions. It is not weak or whimpy or blind or fake. Forgiveness takes the bold, courageous first step of naming wrong as wrong, of condemning an evil action as being evil…and in the very act of naming it as wrong, forgivenss chooses not to demand payment of the debt the wrong act incurs.”

“Forgiveness,” Gregg taught, “names someone’s actions as wrong, but makes the choice not to forget, not to bring vengeance, but instead to release the other from the debt they owe.”

When a repentant wrongdoer does ask for forgiveness, the opportunity for reconciliation is then possible. But with or without repentance on the part of the wrongdoer, the act of forgiveness is a powerful and life-altering practice for our culture.

Thanks be to God.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Are Auto Extended Warranties Worth It? Only When Needed – But That’s the Point

Today I am singing the praises of automobile extended warranties. Of course it’s only because it paid off to the tune of 300%.

We seriously debated the merits of such a policy when we acquired our “pre-owned” Acura MDX almost three years ago. The main reason was the healthy chunk of premium – almost $1,500 – but it would last three years or up to 100,000 miles, whichever came first.

All drive line problems are covered, plus a few other things, but not including tires, batteries, etc. The only caveat is that you have to maintain the car according to manufacturer’s recommendations.

Hmmmm. No major car expenditures for at least three years. We decided to buy it.

As fate would have it, the engine warning light came on a few weeks ago while I was creeping in traffic approaching the Narrows bridge. I took it to a local guy who said the diagnostic code indicated I needed to take it to an Acura dealer. Uh oh.

Long story short, the entire transmission and 4WD transaxle needed to be replaced. The estimated tab? $4,895. Yikes.

“Is it covered by my warranty?” I asked. “I’ll check it out,” came the reply. After a seemingly "agonizing" wait of only a few hours, I got the news.

“You’re covered fully,” the technician said. “We’ll even provide you with a loaner at no charge”. Whew! Thank you, Lord.

Yesterday afternoon we picked up our MDX with a basically brand new drive line. It runs like a dream. The line of ciphers at the bottom of the invoice was icing on the cake.

Now I’ve got another “problem”. The loaner Acura had satellite radio on it. I only drove it for 10 days, but I’m hopelessly hooked. Gonna check it out for the MDX this afternoon.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Re-Drafting My Spiritual Formation – Log #11: Context is Critical and Perspective is Principal

Once again, our Lutheran pastor has shed new light on views I’ve likely misappropriated for most of my life. As we learned in the sermon yesterday, context is critical and perspective is principal.

The sermon text centered on Jesus’ rather explicit comments on marriage as recorded in Mark chapter 10: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery”. Yikes. Uncomfortable words in our culture.

The Pharisees had tried to get Jesus in political and religious trouble by asking him if it was “lawful” for a man to divorce his wife.

This text, along with others on interesting transgressions (like homosexuality and fornication), are often selectively used by conservative Christians as standards for behavior of their fellows, even at the ballot box.

Before you come unglued, hear me out. I am not condoning ANY sin. But in his comments yesterday, our pastor beautifully painted “the big picture” of God’s grace.

He indicated that we don’t know for sure, but the reason this issue may have come up at all, was because Jesus had traveled to Perea, the area governed by Herod Antipas, who married Herodias, the wife of his own half-brother.

It was Herodias who cunningly caused the death of John the Baptist. So, in this context, you can quickly grasp why the question arose where it did.

The perspective offered by our Pastor was what particularly hit home for me. He pointed out – as we should know only too well – that there is not one of us who doesn’t sin. The lesson from the above text, he suggested, should not focus on the particular shortcoming. Rather, it is broader than that.

The full message of the Gospel is overwhelmingly one of forgiveness and reconciliation, and that’s where our center of attention should be as well.

Christ died for our sins – every single one and for every single person. Our task as followers of Christ is not to focus on a few selective sins of church members or public officials or anyone but instead to communicate and participate in the encompassing Gospel message of pardon and restitution which is available to all.

The grace of God has freed us to so live. Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Does Our Living Reflect Our Faith Values? – Still More On “The Centered Life”

My current adult Sunday School class on The Centered Life continues to stimulate thought and motivate changes in the way I live. In a recent post I marveled how that it is God’s grace that frees us to live out our vocation (the Christian life).

Last Sunday our class broke up into small groups and we did some self examination. We made a list on the left side of the paper of five of what we considered to be our (faith based) values (e.g., family, devotion to God, kindness, service to others, etc.). Then on the right side of the sheet we listed the ways in which we spent our time, daily and weekly.

The point was to ask ourselves if someone else read the list, would they conclude that we lived according to our stated values? Try it sometime. It’s a revealing exercise.

Chris Bellefeuille, pastor of a large Minnesota Lutheran church observes the following:

“If you think of every moment of your life as a moment of discipleship, it can be a bit overwhelming. But every moment of your life is an opportunity for discipleship. God has given each of us many great gifts: time, money/material things, relationships and our particular talents. As Christian people, we use all of these gifts to live out our values in the world.

He continues, “Think of discipleship as minute-by-minute stewardship of these gifts: how are they being spent, to what purpose are they being directed?” (Bold mine)

This is the challenge I’ve been pondering so far this week.

Parker Palmer, a Quaker educator and personal friend of The Centered Life author Jack Fortin, has written a helpful book titled, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. He describes how we can look inward to reflect on our own life experience and listen for the inner voice that reveals our various callings. In it he states, “That insight is hidden in the word 'vocation' itself, which is rooted in the Latin for ‘voice.’ Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear.”

May my eyes and ears be open, moment by moment, to living in God’s grace.