Two off to High School, One off to Middle School

It was a strange sensation, having the house so quiet and empty by 7:05 AM. There’s no staggering of schedules this year because none of our children are in elementary school any more.

They all wake up around the same time, eat breakfast together at the same time, leave on the bus at the same time, and simultaneously take their classes at the “big campus” out on the north edge of town: two now at Kent Roosevelt High School and one at Kent Stanton Middle School.

Elliot is going into his junior year (11th grade) of high school. He’s following a college preparatory curriculum, with a couple of Advanced Placement courses and starting to get involved with a Business and Marketing program called DECA. Outside of class time, he’s also involved with the soccer team, the marching band and wind symphony, the track team, a youth group at Riverwood Community Chapel, and regular involvement with H2O Church.

Olivia is going into her freshman year (9th grade) of high school. She’s taking Honors classes for everything except Algebra. Outside of class time, she’s also involved with choir, Art Club, babysitting, youth group at Riverwood Community Chapel, and regular involvement with H2O Church.

Cor is going into the 6th grade at the middle school, joining the Megaminds (Blue) Pod. He doesn’t have many people that he knows in his pod, outside of three former soccer teammates, but he generally makes friends very quickly and should be fine within a few days. Outside of class time, he plays soccer — and he’s thinking about trying out for a basketball team this winter. And he’s also starting to get involved with Middle School ministry at Riverwood Community Chapel alongside regular involvement with H2O Church.


We’re proud of the way our kids are growing up. As they head off to start this new year of school, we’re praying that this will be a strong year of development for them: academically, socially, emotionally, and spiritually.

Posted in Children, Family, Traditions, Transition | Leave a comment

Weekend in Bowling Green

It’s always fun to go back to Bowling Green. It’s the place where I went to college. It’s the place where I experienced a spiritual transformation. It’s the place where our family got started. And it’s a place where there are still a long of people, places, and things I love.

But it was more fun than I expected to travel back to Bowling Green for the “Blitz Conference” they host. The content was solid. But even more than the session and workshops, I appreciated the opportunity to build community among the staff and students who came from Kent. And it was even more encouraging than I expected to connect with others from the H2O Network and observe the synergy, vision, and passion that gets stirred in a weekend like this.

We’ve got our hands full, as each of our churches transitions into its busiest outreach season of the year. But it feels exciting to know that we’re doing it together.

God’s love compels us to action (2 Corinthians 4). At times like this, it’s really valuable to be reminded that it’s a privilege that we get to be on mission with our best friends (v. 1-4). It’s all about God’s glory at this time of the year, not ours (v. 6). We’re merely vessels for God’s work (v. 7-10). We just have to let him speak through us (v. 11-14).

If you’re interested in joining up with our crew at Kent State University this fall, we’ve posted all our Welcome Week events on the H2O Events page. There’s even a link there to a sign-up form, if you want to officially volunteer. Let’s see what God will do this year!

Posted in Church, H2O Kent, Transition | Leave a comment

Breaking the Ice like a Gray Orca in a Vast, Uninhabited Fjord

“Ice-Breakers” are a tool of my trade: a way of getting to know new students at small group gatherings and such. I’ve used a lot of different ice-breakers through the years, but I learned a new one this last year — and it’s become one of my favorites. Here’s how it goes (I’m including the questions, along with my answers, for demonstration purposes):

Question #1: What is your favorite color, and why?

I would say gray is my favorite color because it’s calm, versatile, and simple. It makes me think of my favorite flannel shirt in the winter time.

Question #2: What is your favorite animal, and why?

I would say the orca (or “killer whale”) is my favorite animal because it’s strong, agile, and intelligent. And it just looks cool.

Question #3: What is your favorite aspect of nature, and why?

The answer to this question would be a bit more complicated for me, personally, but I’d have to say that I’m attracted to any sort of natural space that conveys a sense of vast, visible isolation. Like a rocky mountain top or wide open prairie. As weird as it sounds to some people, I enjoy the sense of feeling small and alone in a space that feels very large and impressive.

I like these questions at face value. They’re fun and intriguing. They create space for follow-up dialogue, even if it’s just about colors and animals and natural phenomena.

But what’s really cool about these questions is the way that they might provide grounds for speculation (and conversation) about deeper, underlying dynamics in our lives. It’s been suggested that the answer to Question #1 reveals something about the way that a person views himself or herself. Question #2 supposedly reveals something about the traits that a person finds as desirable qualities in a mate. And Question #3 seems to reveal something about the way that a person connects with God.

I don’t know if these parallels hold true for everyone — but I thought they were actually quite insightful about my own inner world. And honestly, with an ice-breaker, it’s not so much about pegging another person for one thing or another; it’s more about starting a conversation. And I like how this particular ice-breaker does that.

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Blitz Welcome Kick-Off

“Blitz” is the German word for lightning.

The German armed forces pioneered a military strategy they called “Blitzkrieg” — or “Lightning War” — in the late-1930s and early 1940s, and a variation of this strategy was employed in their highly-successful campaign to conquer much of Europe (though their conquests were relatively short-lived).

Since the term became popular in the English language during the Second World War, variations on the word “Blitz” have been used for all sorts of “attacks” (often metaphorical) involving speed and intensity.

One particularly popular usage that has remained a part of the English language is in American football, where “Blitzing” or a “Blitz” is used by the defense to sack the opposing team’s quarterback — often creating spectacular collisions.

I was a gangly, geeky kid who enjoyed etymology, sports statistics, and World War II history, when I started college at Bowling Green State University. My social skills were rather underdeveloped — as is often the case with teenagers who love etymology, sports statistics, and WW2 history — but I somehow managed to get involved with a Christian community full of hockey players and pranksters. They were fun, but they were also intellectual and authentic. They were idealistic and serious about the Bible, studying the book as if it was something new and revolutionary. And soon the Bible felt new and revolutionary to me, too. We also joined together to share the Good News of the Bible with others on campus.

August is a special time of year for making new friends on a college campus. So our church organized a lot of special activities to connect with new students and establish new rhythms and relationships that would help others to pursue Jesus like we were pursuing Jesus. We helped people move into their dorm rooms. We passed out free bottles of water (or H2O) featuring our church’s logo and website. We gave out coupons for free pizza to anyone who would fill out an interest survey for us.

And with my affinity for etymology, sports statistics, and WW2 history, it was only a matter of time before I started calling this intense flurry of activity at the beginning of the new ministry season our “Fall Blitz” or “Blitz Week.” Others may have played a role in pioneering the use of this terminology concurrently (it may be pure vanity that I claim any part in the origin story!). But in any event, it didn’t take long before the language caught on. And to this day, many of the church’s in our network talk lovingly and strategically about our Collegiate ministry “Blitz” season. I’m proud of this legacy.

Over time, however, I’ve become uncomfortable with the terminology that I helped to establish.

Some of the reason for my discomfort involves the passage of time. American thought has shifted over the last couple of decades, and it’s become unfashionable for Christians to appropriate war imagery. No one sings the old hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” anymore. Christian schools whose sports teams used to be called “Crusaders” have become “Cru”s. Even the Salvation Army has backed away from its militaristic traditions, such as leaders wearing uniforms and adopting titles of rank, to emphasize charity work instead. Suffice to say, I wonder if “Blitz” language and imagery is out of touch with our times.

Another part of my discomfort with Blitz terminology is cultural. While living overseas, I met a lot of different Christians from a lot of different cultures — and I learned that a majority of Jesus-followers around the world are actually pacifists. Whereas many American “Evangelicals” have come to identify strongly with the Republican political party and strong support for gun ownership rights and the U.S. Military, believers in other parts of the world vote for politicians who espouse demilitarization and cautious diplomacy instead of aggressive posturing and armed conflict. They’re doves, not hawks. Even the Germans, who originally devised the “Blitzkrieg” language and imagery, typically shy away from such ways of talking and thinking these days! Doesn’t it make sense to wonder if we should do the same?

Last but not least, I have theological reasons for my discomfort with “Blitz” terminology. The more I read the Bible, the more I’m convinced that Christians are called to lead with love. Jesus lived this, and he taught this. He said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). And this love was not limited to fellow believers. He said, “I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44). In dealing with “others” and “outsiders,” Jesus consistently refused to speak in oppositional language. In fact, he said “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Even if one were to divorce oneself from the military associations with the “Blitz” terminology, the sports associations are still violent and oppositional. So again, I wonder if “Blitz” language and imagery is out of touch with the heart of Christ.

At Kent State University, the official language for beginning-of-the-year activities has been “Welcome Weekend” or (our slight adaptation) “Welcome Week” — and I’ve found that to be a healthy alternative. It emphasizes making new friends. It feels warm and neighborly. There’s a pleasing element of alliteration, with softer sounds from the “W”s. The only drawback in switching from “Blitz Week” to “Welcome Week” is that it can be interpreted as a more passive posture, as opposed to an active posture. But I haven’t found this to be the case with our Staff or students.

Now: Kent State is making things a bit trickier for us this year, as they’ve adjusted the Fall Semester schedule to include a Fall Break and thus start classes on a Thursday. Consequently, all their beginning-of-the-year events now fall from Sunday through Wednesday (instead of a Thursday through Sunday), and they’ve officially rebranded their “Welcome Weekend” to “KSU Kick-Off.” I get it. I think it’s a good move for the University schedule.

Since the University is now adopting football imagery for its beginning-of-the-year activities, we may eventually decide to follow suit and choose for “Blitz” terminology again. Language is constantly evolving, from one generation to the next — so “Blitz” may mean something entirely different for young people in the 1940s, versus young people in the 1990s, versus young people in 2018. More than anything, I want the emerging generation of leaders to seriously weigh these matters in their own minds.

But for now, at least, I want to at least question the use of “Blitz” terminology and champion our “Welcome Week” terminology, as a student of etymology, sports, history, and culture.

Posted in Church, Culture, H2O Kent, Language | Leave a comment

This is What’s Wrong with America

An elderly couple opens the door to wheel an umbrella stroller inside the cafe. They’re smiling and proud to be out on a walk with their “someone special,” and my initial instinct is to look for a grandchild in the stroller. Instead, it’s a very small, curly-haired dog. It’s strapped in and nestled beneath a blanket, eyes bright and beady taking in the cafe scene.

“This is what’s wrong with America.”

I gesture towards the doorway and say it quietly — half-joking, half-serious — so only my friends will hear. Confrontation is not the goal, but I’m inexplicably uncomfortable with the baby-dog thing. No one else seems to make much of it, though.

The cafe crowd seems to be a mix of tourists and locals. A cheerful chatter fills the relatively-small space, while television screens flicker in each corner. One screen is playing an animated film. Another screen is playing an old episode of NCIS: New Orleans. And a third screen is playing muted baseball commentary. We’re in a historic neighborhood of Winchester, Virginia, but there’s nothing historic about this establishment. It seems to be a brand-new place that brings out all the quirks of contemporary culture.

We are perhaps an hour removed from the baby-dog thing when I notice a car creep into a new parking spot just outside. A man in the driver’s seat is holding a smartphone, in camera mode, and he seems to be testing out different angles to take a picture of himself. He tries using the far side of the street as his background, and then apparently decides that the near side of the street is a better background. He inches the car forward until he gets his shot just right — and then he starts recording a video.

In the video, he’s talking (or singing, or rapping) and gesturing freely with his free hand, and he goes on for a minute or two before pausing to check the results. It would seem that he’s not satisfied with the results, though, because he backs up the car slightly and starts again from a slightly different angle. He looks kind of silly, like he’s holding an intermittent conversation with an imaginary friend. But his body posture makes it seem like he thinks he’s pretty cool. But I don’t think he’s very cool at all.

“This is what’s wrong with America.”

I point and get my friends to laugh with me. It seems comical — and kind of pathetic — that this guy is so caught up in his social media while being so unaware of the real world around him. I bet his Instagram story makes it seem like he’s funky and fresh, but I also bet he lives in his parents’ basement and has a hard time maintaining conversations with anyone outside of the virtual environment. He goes on and on with the smartphone, twisting and tweaking things until it looks just right online. In real life, though, it seems his reality is sad. How lonely does someone have to be to go cruising until just the right parking spot opens up, with just the right background for a video?!?

The next time my attention is drawn back to the car parked outside the cafe, there’s no sign of the smartphone this time. Instead, my eye is caught by the driver’s left hand waving out the window of his car, with a gold wedding band flashing in the sunlight. A young woman (presumably his wife) notices the wave and trots towards the car with a shopping bag in hand. She jumps into the passenger seat and greets her husband, and then they drive off together. Maybe they’re out on a date. Maybe they had to stop downtown to pick up a gift on their way to a party. The narrative I had constructed for the driver is instantly adjusted, as I realize he was just trying to fill some down-time while waiting for a loved one: just like I’ve done a million times, checking sports news… or catching up on social media… or reading a book.

I’m instantly embarrassed by my self-righteousness and judgmental attitude toward these strangers. Who am I to look down upon an elderly couple with a baby-dog? Why should I assume that anyone with a smartphone in selfie mode is a narcissist? What gives me the right to summarily dismiss those who use their time or money or social circles in a way that’s different from how I choose to use these resources? I’m the problem. My pride is the issue here. I can only point at myself and say:

“This is what’s wrong with America.”

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

The movie opens with a familiar face in an unfamiliar setting: Mister (Fred) Rogers sitting at a grand piano, sleeves rolled up, talking to the camera about his philosophy regarding children’s television. The footage is black-and-white, poorly-lit. The tone and cadence of speech he uses in addressing the adult just off-camera are surprisingly similar his manner with children on his television program (the audience eventually learns, over the course of the film, that this is simply how Mister Rogers communicated). But his words make it clear that he’s thought with depth and complexity about the dynamics at work in his apparently-simple show. I’m immediately impressed by his innovative thinking and his compassion towards others.

My respect only increases as the rest of his story plays out.

I had heard positive things about the new documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” But the actual experience surpassed expectations. I laughed. I cried. I ruminated on culture, faith, and the future. I was inspired to be a better friend, a better pastor, and a better father. And I didn’t even like Mister Rogers Neighborhood all that much, back in the day!

I used to think Mister Rogers was antiquated and out of touch, but after seeing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” I’m inclined to think he was a genius and a visionary.

The parts of the film that grabbed me the most were the ways he embodied his Christian faith and the way this came out with people like Francois Clemens (“Officer Clemens” on the show) and a crusty old crew member on the set at WQED (whose name has been surprisingly difficult to track down on the internet!). It would seem that Clemens’ homosexuality and the crew member’s crude language and practical jokes would challenge Mister Rogers’ “Neighborliness” — yet instead of antagonism, their interactions created endearment. Even beyond the kindness to children and the forward-thinking approach to race relations, which seem to typify most discussions of Mister Rogers Neighborhood, there was a genuine, behind-the-scenes embodiment of loving his “Neighbor” that set Mister Rogers apart.

I’d love to see the Church of today grab onto some of these same principles and practices. We Christians haven’t seen a lot of great examples over the last couple of decades since Mister Rogers Neighborhood went off the air — as we’ve gotten caught up in “Culture Wars” and political entanglements and polarizing perspectives — but Mister Rogers seems to have been the real deal: someone whom we can emulate in looking to the people around us and saying, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

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Life and Light on the Farm

We went back to Richland County for a family reunion this weekend: a low-key, potluck picnic-at-the-pond kind of thing on Sunday afternoon. The reunion itself was fine (though the kids and I couldn’t stay very long because of commitments back in Kent), but I especially appreciated the opportunity to be reunited with the experience of a “summer night on the farm” on the preceding evening.

It was a beautiful summer night: cool, quiet, sweeping views of the setting sun, lightning bugs flickering just above the fields of soy, corn, and grass. Marci’s father had kept some simple fireworks on hand to share with the kids, and we all enjoyed swooping across the yard, spitting sparks, and signing our names in light — though I couldn’t figure out how to slow down the exposure time on my smartphone camera, to capture the experience (photographs never do justice to these sorts of experiences anyway).

After the fireworks were spent, we decided to catch some lightning bugs.

We used to be so impressed by these insects when we first moved back from Europe, but now it’s become commonplace and easy to forget how magical these creatures really are.

With some help from the grown-ups, each kid managed to capture a jar-full, and then they put the crude “nightlight” on their bedside tables to flit and flicker as they drifted off to sleep (to be released back into the wild in the morning).

Summers on the farm are so lovely: so full of life and light. Weekends like this one pass so quickly, but we’re grateful for them while they last.

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Amsterdam Recommendations

I love Amsterdam. Seriously, it’s one of my favorite cities on earth. I lived there for almost ten years, and I would be enthusiastic if I got to live there for another ten years at some point in the future (though there are no plans for this in the foreseeable future)!

These days, I don’t get to travel to Amsterdam as often as I’d like. Sometimes, though, I get to live vicariously through others who are planning to travel through the Netherlands and ask me for recommendations of good things to see or do in Amsterdam. I tell my friends, “Let me be your travel agent!” And I hope I get to keep playing such a role for my friends into the future: talking face-to-face or over the phone, sketching out more of the details on the specific areas of interest for each individual… But I’ve also seen enough similarities in these conversations to think that an online resource like this could be useful.

So I’ll start with practical stuff like accommodations. If you haven’t yet found a place to stay in Amsterdam — and you’re trying to see Europe on a budget — I would highly recommend a Christian Youth Hostel called The Shelter, and I’d specifically point to their location in the Jordaan district.

I would recommend you rent bicycles to get around while you’re there in the city. There are tons of places around Amsterdam where you can do that. You’d probably get the best rates and feel the most like a local if you got them from a regular old bike shop a few blocks away from Centraal Station — but any bike would work.

“Must-see”s are so subjective, based on each individual’s interests… But here are a few of my favorite experiences to have in Amsterdam:

Appeltaart met slagroom (apple pie with whipped cream) and a coffee drink of your choice on the outdoor terrace of Cafe Winkel in the Noordermarkt (Jordaan district)…

Biking along the Amstel River from the heart of the old city out into the countryside, past an old windmill at the fringe of the city, all the way to a little village called Ouderkerk aan de Amstel…

The Huis Marseilles (photography museum). It’s in an old canal house in the center of the city. I think the exhibitions they choose are always really interesting, and the venue itself is a beautiful example of a 17th Century canal house.

Playing soccer or frisbee on the Museumplein (big grassy area between the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Stedelijk Museum). Going into the museums is cool, too (though they all cost money). But just being there in the center of those grand buildings and interacting with some locals is fun, too.

There’s a place on the Bosboom Toussaintstraat (not a major street, you’d have to look it up), where they make really good tomato soup. It’s thick and chunky, with fresh basil, and big chunks of fresh mozzarella cheese cut up into the soup. They serve it with some really delicious bread. And all the drinks in this cafe are delicious (I’m partial to their fresh mint tea). Anyway: it’s a true Dutch cafe experience, not likely to be populated with many tourists. The place is called Cafe Toussaint.

If you wanted to see a show while you’re in town, I would recommend you to to the Last Minute Ticket Shop on the Leidseplein (the signage might say “Uitburo”). They sell tickets at crazy discounts for all sorts of shows in town. The Royal Dutch Orchestra also gives a free lunch concert once a week (though I can’t remember which day). It’s in the Concertgebouw on the Museumplein.

There are so many other things to do in Amsterdam — but these recommendations are a start. If you’re planning a trip, whatever you decide to do, I just want to say: Veel plezier! (Have fun!) and Goede reis! (Have a good trip!)

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Running as Discipline

I understand now why people hate running.

I stayed  pretty active while our family was out in Colorado this summer: hiking, biking, playing tennis, and just generally moving and breathing at an altitude of 8,000 to 13,000 feet above sea level. But I did not run much. I forced myself to make an attempt at running  / walking / running up a small-but-steep hill to a look-out called Bible Point about once a week — but the total mileage for most weeks was five miles or less.

So my running muscles atrophied, and it seems like I’ve I slipped to a level of running fitness (or lack thereof) which I haven’t experienced for almost six years.

Now, I just feel weak and unmotivated when I get to the spot in my schedule where I’d like to be running. I know my legs and lungs are going to feel like they’re on fire when I get out there, even for a short jaunt. I know I’m going to sweat a lot (especially at this time of the year). I know I’m never going to be a world-class athlete — so I wonder: What’s the point?

Meaningless! Meaningless! A chasing after the wind!

I know from experience that running can be different. It can be a space for mental processing and spiritual renewal. It can help me to lose weight, which can in turn help to make my running more efficient. It can get to the point where I’m sad when a day is not a running day, when I get to the end of a training cycle and I have to rest for a week following the conclusion of a long-anticipated race. Running can be refreshing.

But that’s not what I’m feeling right now. I’m feeling lazy.

Still, I’m choosing to be disciplined, starting today. I’m choosing to build back up to 20-25 miles per week, with faith that I’ll eventually find my rhythm and rediscover the joy that comes with regular running.

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Helpful, but not Essential

I averaged 53.2 hours of ministry per week during my time at Estes Park Leadership Training, so I wasn’t exactly twiddling my thumbs out there. Still, it feels like my roles largely landed in the category of “Helpful, but not Essential.”

Part of this was circumstantial: arriving a few weeks after the start of the program, after rhythms and relationships had been established.

But I’m choosing to believe that another part of this phenomenon had something to do with what God wanted to teach me. I felt like God wanted to bring my heart to a place of resting instead of striving. I heard God telling me that He’s got everything under control — and my best role is to enjoy, ascribe, and celebrate the glory of what God is doing: in ministry at Kent State University, in the fund-raising that supports our ministry work, in parenting and marriage, in everything.

The truth of the matter is that God’s purposes are going to be accomplished. With or without me. If people don’t step up to fill the roles God has appointed for them, he will use animals or inanimate objects. We really are “Helpful, but not Essential,” when it comes to Kingdom work. We can choose to be depressed by that or encouraged by that. But it’s something we need to get into our heads.

You know what’s funny?!? Later on the same day that I wrote some of these thoughts down in my journal, ministry dynamics started changing rather quickly. I’ve been coaching and caring for some European missionaries (from afar) ever since I moved back to the United States in 2012. It’s been pretty low-key for the last six years, but all of the sudden there has been some unexpected chaos and confusion brought about by personal circumstances — and they suddenly need help. On my last day at Estes Park Leadership Training, I had two separate — but equally intense — conversations about lives in turmoil. These conversations included elements of emotional trauma, spiritual pain, and existential angst. In essence, they were sending out clear cries for help. Then on the drive back from Colorado to Ohio, I learned that two other young women from our project were brought face-to-face with sudden tragedy at their job site and struggling to make sense of it all. Again, in this situation, my heart longs to help. But I have very little to offer, considering the circumstances.

In all of these situations, I’ve been reminded that I cannot take on any sort of “Savior Complex” or “Hero’s Cape” — though, believe me, I’m tempted to try. This is where it’s cool, though, to see the way that God has orchestrated things. My summer of learning to be “Helpful, but not Essential” has been preparing me to trust God — and spend my energies joining the battle in the spiritual realm, in prayer, while He does the heavy lifting in the lives of each of these people.

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