Two Favors

February 6, 2009

I don’t ask much out of you, my faithful godsnowhere reader.  But, just this once, I’m asking two favors of you…


#1 – Watch Friday Night Lights

I think this is the best show on television (which isn’t saying much because I don’t watch any other shows on TV, other than Sesame Street and Sid the Science Kid).  The best thing to say about FNL is that it’s real.  Really real.  Like, the realist real you can really imagine.  The football scenes aren’t overly choreographed.  The depiction of football’s place in a random Texas town, from what I’ve read, is dead-on.  Even the interactions between parents/children, teachers/parents, coaches/parents, parents/parents, and teens/teens are brutally authentic.  You could do a lot worse on a Friday night…and probably not a whole lot better.  It’s only 3 episodes into the season, so it’s easy to catch up on.  Sadly, it seems that FNL might be in its last season, which means that 21 Jump Street, My So Called Life, and Boomtown will have a new comrade at the Table of the Criminally Underappreciated.  That is unless you start watching!


#2 – Read About the Gospel According to Willie

Emily did a great job recapping a random encounter we had with a homeless dude in New Orleans named “Willie the Bike Man.”  Take a few minutes to read her story and listen to the audio of our 2am songfest.

(Note, the recording was made on my BlackBerry Curve 8330; played through the speaker on the phone; recorded through the air with Garage Band on my MacBook; converted to an mp3 file; paired with pictures of homeless people on YouTube.  Hopefully we can get a more “pure” version of the original digital file, once my phone & computer start playing nice with each other.)



Now, was that so difficult?  I didn’t think so…


Music Video Divina

February 3, 2009

Chris Scharen, my new favorite scholar / theologian, introduced a new term to us at the Extravaganza — music video divina.  (Similar to lectio divina.)  We used the U2 / Green Day video “The Saints Are Coming” as our focal point.

Some additional input on the intended meaning behind the video (from Wikipedia):

A music video for “The Saints Are Coming,” directed by Chris Milk, was released on video site YouTube on October 27, 2006. The music video shows the two bands playing at the Abbey Road Studio and at the Louisiana Superdome (though the footage from the live performance at the Superdome has been overdubbed with the studio version of the song), intermixed with news footage of the displacement of residents after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. The second half of the video shows an alternate history in which George W. Bush redeployed troops and vehicles from Iraq to New Orleans to help victims of the hurricane, with the military personnel fulfilling the titular role of the “saints.” According to Chris Milk, this was done to “make a commentary on the Katrina disaster … from the standpoint of how things can and should be done in the future.”[4] The video ends with military support vehicles fading out as the camera pans to a sign that reads ‘Not as seen on TV’, alluding to the criticized response to Katrina while also parodying media deception on rescue coverage. The video had more than two million views on YouTube five days after its initial upload. Various critics, including some YouTube viewers have commented on the logistical impossibility of the hypothetical movement of certain pieces of military hardware from Iraq on such short notice as well as the actual functional capabilities of the aircraft digitally edited into the video.

Amazing.  Powerful.  Prophetic.

Teaching vs. Learning

February 3, 2009

Bethany Stolle (citing Andy Sahl‘s Extravaganza presentation) pointed me to a sweet video (created in an open-source, Google docs environment) by the Digital Ethnography group at Kansas State University:


February 1, 2009

I’ve had such a rich experience at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza this week.  I’m not sure where to start…so I’ll start it off with some early-week reflections from my friend Emily Harkins:

I am currently in New Orleans. Watch out Bourbon Street, there’s a new girl in town! Lock up your stray cats and dogs, I’m on the prowl.

Actually, I am here for a conference in Youth Ministry. Imagine a hotel filled with crazies, all running around with lanyards and name tags, loving on each other and Jesus Christ.


Here’s a little something to tide you over until I get back and have a blogathon. Miss you Blog World!

My new friends, El and An at “Mothers”
Friend E likes Bread Pudding. I don’t know why.

McLos and E representing Iowa and the color brown in the land of jazz.

Who loves citrus fruits? We do. And mouth guards.

Yes. Being in my presence is that joyous. Eat your heart out blog world.

More to Come.

I Swear

January 23, 2009

An interesting post over at Stuff Christians Like about Jesus followers who use swear words.  Since I’ve never uttered a single curse word in my entire life (ha!), I have nothing to worry about.  

According to Christianity Today, evangelist Tony Campolo told many audiences in the 1980s, “I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a (shit). What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said (shit) than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”

I agree with that idea and dig Tony Campolo. Children dying is a whole lot worse than swearing. And I have friends that are incredibly unloving, the second most important commandment, but would never, ever swear. So I think it’s easy to get wound up too tight about swearing. At the same time though, if I swear and then get called on it by a friend, I’m not sure saying, “Yeah well kids are starving,” is going to be a great excuse for me.


Apparently, I’m one of few people that I’ve talked to today that hasn’t heard that Tony Campolo story.  Either way, it’s a compelling discussion.  I wonder how many swear words I’ll hear while hanging out with Lutheran youth ministers next week…

Unexpected Inspiration

January 23, 2009

I’m a sports junkie; as much as any church worker I know.  This is not something I’m bragging about.  Sometimes I wonder how much smarter I’d be if a significant part of my brain hard drive wasn’t already bogged down with names, stats, and stories related to sports.  In the grand scheme of life, my devotion to the world of sports is completely and utterly worthless.  I know this; and yet I can’t cut the cord.  

I listen to sports talk radio whenever I’m in the car (the kids HATE it!).  In the past year I’ve subscribed to no less than eight daily or weekly sports podcasts.  I’ve gotten it down to a more manageable number lately — 3 hours a day of the Dan Patrick Show, 30 minutes a day of PTI, and 2-3 hours a week of the B.S. Report.  I just finished listening to Bill Simmons (aka, ESPN’s “The Sports Guy”) and J.A. Adande from the L.A. Times talk about two of my favorite topics — basketball and socio-political culture.  If you are even remotely interested in these topics, or if you just like hearing intelligent people talk with each other, you should carve out some time to listen to the podcast.  (iTunes or Sports Guy’s World)

I realize I sound like a meat-head when I give props to degenerate sports writers for their political insights…but trust me on this.  I have no problem saying this is one of the best sports / race / American culture / Obama conversations ever recorded.  (I didn’t agree with everything that was said – but it was entertaining and enlightening.)

This is especially relevant for people who might be flying in the next few days and want to listen to something on the plane between…say…I dunno…Iowa and New Orleans!!!  Only 4 more days…

Something Fishy About Sea Kittens

January 21, 2009

I wrote a Faith Lens study for the ELCA Youth Ministry website this week.  Here’s what I came up with…



Faith Lens

January 21-28, 2009 – Something fishy about “sea kittens”

Warm-up question: What’s the strangest name you’ve ever heard for a pet?

There’s a new creature swimming in our rivers, lakes, and oceans. Well, sort of. The folks at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) have launched a campaign to rename fish “sea kittens.” The strategy is one of several attempts by PETA to discourage people from eating certain kinds of meat. Past projects included referring to McDonald’s and Burger King as “McCruelty” and “Murder King,” and the 2003 “Holocaust on Your Plate” slogan, which compared some farming practices to tactics employed by the Nazis in World War II.

PETA launched the Sea Kittens page on its Web site ( with the intent to appeal to children and their parents. The friendly animated characters link to interactive pages where users can create their own sea kitten, read sea kitten stories, and sign a petition. The term “fishing” is replaced with “sea kitten hunting.” Fish are portrayed as intelligent, adorable, and as experiencing emotions of pain and loss.

The Sea Kitten campaign hopes to create awareness about brutal fishing practices. PETA also wants to discourage people from eating fish in general. The petition, which has over 5,000 signatures, asks the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to “stop allowing our little sea kitten friends to be tortured and killed. Who’d want to hurt a sea kitten anyway?!” The site goes on to declare, “The promotion of sea kitten hunting is a glaring contradiction of FWS (Fish and Wildlife Service) mission to ‘conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats.’”

Discussion Questions

  • How do you feel about the “Sea Kitten” campaign?
  • What are some ethical ways of fishing? How about unethical ways of fishing? Would you sign a petition that asks the FWS to “stop promotion of fishing?” Explain your position.
  • As stewards of God’s creation, what stance do you believe Christians should take on this issue?
  • How does changing the name or identity of something alter your opinion, understanding, or view of an issue? (e.g., Sea kitten instead of fish, conflict instead of war, online advertisement instead of spam, hate crime instead of freedom of expression, protective coating engineer instead of painter, etc. Think of some others.)

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, January 25, 2009.
(Text links are to 
oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.)

Gospel Reflection

Mark seems like the kind of guy who would rather study Cliff’s Notes (an abbreviated overview) than read an entire book. His gospel is short and to the point. The first chapter (45 verses) tells of John the Baptist’s ministry, the baptism of Jesus, the temptation of Jesus, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the calling of the disciples, Jesus teaching in the synagogue, removing demons, cleansing lepers, and even Jesus’ first preaching tour. So much for beating around the bush!

The gospel text for today tells of how Jesus called his first disciples — Simon and Andrew; James and John. Two sets of brothers. All were fishermen. This is significant for many reasons, not the least of which was the social standing of fishermen. People who caught fish served an important purpose in society, as they provided one of the major food resources for the community. However, fishermen had very little connection with most people, other than their fellow fishers. They kept to themselves. They were dirty and smelly. Many fishermen had no home — they just lived in their boats. They were rough-and-tumble, salt-of-the-earth kinds of people, certainly not the kinds of people that would be thought of as religious leaders!

Yet these were exactly the kinds of people that Jesus wanted to have around.

Jesus called these two sets of brothers to help him show the world that God is a God for everyone; not just the educated, wealthy, religious folk. He turned the word “fishermen” around into “fishers of men” (which we know includes ALL people, not just men). Imagine the confusion that Simon, Andrew, James, and John were experiencing. Not only were they leaving behind the familiar life of fishermen, but they were now going to have to fish for people. This is just the beginning though. Jesus would lead these men on a three-year journey where everything was turned upside-down. Swords would be turned into ploughshares, rough places made plain, lowly are exalted, sick made healthy, and dead were raised to new life.

Though these young men were the same people, they had a new identity. There were no longer fishers of fish, they were fishers of people. In the same way, Jesus changes our identity from “lost, broken, sinner” to “child of God.” It’s amazing how one little name change can make a huge difference in our lives and view of the world.

Discussion Questions

  • What would you say if a strange man showed up at your school and said, “follow me, and I will teach you to fish for people?”
  • Why do you think Jesus chose fishermen to be his first disciples? Why not highly educated, publicly recognized religious leaders?
  • How does changing the identity of the chosen disciples (from fishermen to fishers of people) change the way they viewed themselves?
  • Whether they’re called “fish” or “sea kittens,” the animal is the same. Whether these men were called “fishermen” or “fishers of people,” they were still the same men. All that changed was other people’s perceptions of them. What kinds of labels do you put on other people? How do those labels impact the way you treat them, respect them, or trust them? How would you treat people if you gave them all the same label, “child of God?”

Activity Suggestion

Fishing for people is not about sticking a hook in their mouth and dragging them into your boat (the church). It’s also not about sitting in the “boat” and hoping fish will just magically jump into it. Being a fisher of people means two things:

  1. engaging
  2. inviting

Ask everyone to think of one or two people they would like to go fishing for this week. Give each person some construction paper, marker, and a pair of scissors. Have everyone cut out a fish and write the name(s) of the people they want to go fishing for during the upcoming week. Talk about ways to engage these people in conversation about Jesus. Share ideas for how and when to invite them to your church. Encourage everyone to keep their little fish cut-out in their planner to remind them to go fishing for people.

Closing Prayer

God, you have given us a new identity as your children. Help us to trust in your promises, and to share them with others. Amen.

Contributed by Erik Ullestad
West Des Moines, IA