To Olivia, on the Occasion of Her 17th Birthday

Dear Olivia,

What a gift it is to be your father! I know that you’re supposed to be the one receiving the gift for an occasion such as this — but it really does feel like a privilege for our family to have received you on this date in history, now seventeen years ago. I’m glad for these annual observances of that joyous occasion. And I hope you are, too. We welcome all of the happiness that this birthday can bring.

I love the way that your birthday falls in this season of transition: right around the autumnal equinox, when the whole northern hemisphere is switching from summer to fall. I love the colors and scents in nature around late-September. And I love that you love these things, too. You see the shading in the leaves of the sugar maples. You appreciate the delicate designs in the wings of a monarch butterfly. Even after experiencing it a dozen times, you thrill to catch the flash of a goldfinch in a meadow. And I hope that you’ll be able to continue cultivating this spirit of awe and inspiration for many years to come.

I pray that you’ll continue to experience Creation as a reliable pathway to worship and communion with the Creator, as I have. It all points back to Him! He is the Author and Perfecter. He is the ever-present help in times of trouble. God is the truest and best reference point for appreciation of the world’s natural beauty. “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8). It seems to me that we can appreciate the transitory more, when we have our eyes on the eternal.

Speaking of transition, it feels like you’ve grown up a lot in the last year! Getting your driver’s license and suddenly feeling way more independent… Taking jobs at Handel’s Ice Cream and the Great Harvest Bread Company… Fortifying healthy relationships with other young women… Preparing for college… I’m so proud of you. I think you’re a triumphant example of a godly young woman rising to meet the challenges of your generation and forge a faith-filled path into the future. I sincerely hope and pray that you will keep up the good work and carry this momentum even further.

You remind me of a beautiful butterly — een mooi vlindertje — and not just because you’re so pretty. More because you are a pollinator and a peace-bringer. You have a unique mix of personality traits, life experiences, and heart-held passions which uniquely qualify you for this butterfly business. I love the way you develop deep convictions about current events — like taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — but you also maintain close friendships with people who hold drastically different convictions. You demonstrate self-confidence and clarity of thought to an extent that’s rare for women your age; still, you have a gift for empathy and staying sensitive to others, even when they’re going through really hard things. You love Jesus, but you challenge many of the conventions that have settled into “White Evangelical” culture.

These are only a small sampling of the ways you bring life from one part of the “meadow” to another. “Blessed are the peace-makers,” Olivia, “for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Olivia, I love you so much. I’m excited to watch you finish your senior year of high school and start your freshman year of college. It’s fun to watch you rock my old Montreal Canadiens T-shirt and to share the Olympic National Park sweatshirt with you. It’s an honor to have a front-row seat to your next act; you seem to be absolutely poised for greatness. Mom and I are here for you, as you need help and support. But we also bless you and release you to become the person God has made you to be. Let’s just keep walking by faith, with plenty of hope and love along the way.

Forever Yours,
Dad

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Single Gay Christian

I recently finished reading Gregory Coles’ memoir, Single Gay Christian. It was recommended to me by my friend and colleague, Lauren. She said it was a very quick and engaging read, and I completely agree with that assessment. Even as a slower reader during a busier time of the year, I managed to finish this book within ten days of borrowing it from the library. A total of about 2.5 hours of reading time. And I thoroughly enjoyed the story — both for its writing style and for its candor in approaching a challenging topic.

The book’s title may actually be one of the most provocative points. It’s a label of self-identification for the author. But it’s not an easy tension, for him or for others. Some will find greater offense in the “Single Gay” combination. They’ll say that it’s unhealthy for someone with clear sexual desires to not act on those desires. Others will find greater offense in the “Gay Christian” combination. They’ll say it’s unhealthy for someone to claim identity or membership in both the LGBT Community and the Faith Community. But I found Coles’ thoughts and experiences on these matters to be highly persuasive. I appreciate what he’s trying to do in marking out these tensions.

I think it’s important to remember that this book is a memoir. It’s not a research volume (though it’s well informed). It’s not a theological treatise (though it’s full of spiritual content). The story being told is one man’s perspective regarding his own, personal journey. But I personally feel like that’s the perfect way to approach a topic like this, and I commend Coles as a humble, authentic, empathetic story-teller. He doesn’t claim to speak for a wider community. He just seems to be putting his perspective out there for others to consider.

But for whatever it’s worth — coming from a straight, cis-gender man — I really resonated with a lot of the points that Coles makes in this book. A surprising number of his musings jive with my own musings, through the years. In particular: the way that the Church may be uniquely positioned to provide a sense of family and belonging to people from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Communities who want to follow Jesus without feeling like they’re exiling themselves to a life of loneliness. We all have an important role to play in loving our brothers and sisters, as they pursue holiness. And I think this book does a good job of sketching out some of the hopeful possibilities for the future.

Coles is still quite young (in his 20s). Consequently, it’s hard to know exactly how the bigger story of his life will turn out. But I pray that he will continue seeking God through all the twists and turns of life. At the very least, Single Gay Christian is powerful reference point. I’m glad, in any event, that I got the chance to read this book. And I highly recommend it to other Single people, Gay people, and/or Christian people.

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A Bumper Crop of Acorns

We’ve got a bumper crop of acorns this year. I don’t know how, and I don’t know why. But this year, things are bumping! More than most years. Bump, bump, bump, on the roof of our house. Day and night; night and day.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “a bumper crop?” Not too long ago, I used that phrase in conversation with a Kent State University student, and he was genuinely perplexed by the wording. From context, he guessed that it meant “a lot.” Or, I told him one might say: “an abundant harvest.” But I guess my vocabulary has been influenced by the fact that I grew up among farmers. But I think it’s just a good phrase, normally used for corn, or soy, or wheat, or tomatoes.

It’s especially fun to use the phrase for acorns, though. Because of the way they literally bump and bounce at this time of the year. I like living in this neighborhood, with so many towering oak trees. I even kind of enjoy the sound of the acorns falling. But picking them up can be a pain. Squirrels do some of that work for us, but they’re not very reliable workers. Let me know if you want to come and get some one of these days.

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College Game Day at Dix Stadium

The Kent State University Football Team had its first home game this weekend. And I was invited to attend as a guest of a Kent State University student: my son, Elliot! It felt like the first fully-normal “college thing” we’ve gotten to do together. After a year of COVID-19 and three weeks of beginning-of-the-semester chaos, it was just me and my boys hanging out together for a College Game Day at Dix Stadium.

I was impressed by the energy at the stadium. The marching band… the cheerleaders… the jumbotron… the football team… They really put on quite a show! And it was especially fun to see the student section jam-packed with Kent State students again. (Although, I have to admit that I found myself thinking: “I hope they were all vaccinated, like we are!”). The football team seemed to feed off that energy, too. By halftime, they were ahead 39-0.

At times, I can feel annoyed by American football culture. It can be annoying to observe the way it dominates the thoughts and schedules of our lives at this time of the year. It can be annoying to deal with all the tribalism on display at these football games: team versus team, region versus region, and even a lot of “USA” versus “the world,” too. Still, I have to admit that it’s a fun and invigorating environment. It feels like college. Like the fall. Like “American life.” And in the era of COVID-19, I’m thankful we can get glimpses of this every now and then.

It does my heart good to see Elliot thriving in his new environment. He’s a good student, a good roommate, and a good adult. I’m proud of him. Go Flashes!

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My Heart is an iPhone 8

My heart is an iPhone 8. Still fully functional. But maybe not fantastic.

It’s at its best early in the morning. After a night of rest on the charger. Followed by closing all the apps and performing a hard reset. For a couple of hours after this routine, it works practically perfectly. I don’t tend to notice any issues. Well, unless I’m using the phone’s GPS function and/or its camera function (no matter what time of day, using a combination of these two systems gets real laggy real quickly).

If I just stick to my Bible app, my Messages, and my Gmail, I manage just fine. And as the day goes on, even when I listen to some podcasts or music, or fill out my food diary on MyFitnessPal, or uploading a video to my TikTok, I’m often surprised by how well my iPhone 8 hangs in there. Its battery drains quickly, though. I can’t make it through the day without little power boosts, little charging sessions. And there are certain combinations of apps that make things crash, so I try to avoid those.

I’m not sure how much longer it will last. But I’m hoping to at least get to the end of September and reassess. At that point, there will likely be some new updates in software and hardware that could help. Until then, I persevere. And remember that I’m pretty privileged to have such a high-tech device to begin with.

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When the English Fall

I recently finished reading David Williams’ novel, When the English Fall. It was recommended to me by my daughter, Olivia. The primary reason for her recommendation was because she simply found it to be an interesting read. And she thought I might, too. But I wonder if she might have remembered (at least on a subconscious level) a similar novel that I tried to write about ten years ago. The premise to Williams’ story is striking in its similarity to the book I had in mind! (Though, to be clear, I’m not at all accusing him of plagiarism). It’s about a high-tech world brought to its knees by the failure of its electric and electronic systems.

In my unfinished novel, the cause of the failure was war. In Williams’ novel, the cause of the failure was a natural disaster. During this time of chaos and confusion, the path to survival becomes questionable for all humanity. But the greatest hope seems to rest with the Plain people of North America. The Mennonites — and their near neighbors — in Richland County, Ohio, in the case of my story. Or the Amish — and their near neighbors — in southeastern Pennsylvania. It really is interesting to see an author who had a similar idea to what I was considering years ago. But Williams, of course, took that concept to completion. And that was also interesting.

I like the way that Williams developed the setting for his story. He addresses themes of climate change and cultural complexity in ways that are intriguing and instructive. Consequently, it becomes a cautionary tale about the dangers of a society so disconnected from the natural world around it.

I didn’t love the story-telling device employed for this book: an Amish farmer writing in a secret journal. I think the story may have worked better from an omniscient narrator “looking over the shoulder” of the protagonist and his family. The “Plain folk” voice could have worked better in dialogue than in narration. The farmer’s daughter, Sadie, was by far the most interesting character. But I wish she could have been more developed. And finally, the ending of the book was disappointing. Unless, of course, it was designed to create space for a sequel.

All that being said, I enjoyed this book. It was easy to read. And if a sequel were to be published, I’d be very likely to pick it up. In the story that I was originally imagining, myself, I put far more emphasis on the resettlement than on the uprooting. I think there’s a fascinating future to consider, where all the “backwards” becomes “forward” again. I’m not likely to ever write that book, myself. So I hope that Williams does.

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To Cor, on the Occasion of His 14th Birthday

Dear Cor,

Sometimes, I worry you ended up with a birthday at the worst time of the year. The weather can be so hot and humid (like it was at the beginning of this week). And the start of the new school year makes everything busy and restless: always running to and from, from home to school to soccer practice to church activities… just cramming in food and sleep wherever we can… This time of the year doesn’t lend itself to thoughtful affirmation or laidback celebration.

But then again, other times, I wonder if you ended up with a birthday at the best time of the year. When the weather makes that shift towards Fall instead of Summer (like it’s done this year, in these last 48 hours leading up to your birthday), it’s just glorious. Really and truly some of the finest weather of the year! And there’s also a fun energy to this time of the year that actually suits you really well. It’s kind of a “New Year” for everyone — especially soccer teams, football teams, and schools — but it’s extra-special for you because it’s a whole new year of life for you.

All that to say: Happy Birthday, Cor! My fourteen-year-old son. Man, I love you so much.

One of the things that I really love about you is your heart. You’ve got such passion for the people, places, and things you love. Your family… the YMCA of the Rockies… AFC Ajax… America’s Test Kitchen’s recipe for Brown Sugar Cookies… bicycling…the color orange… short car rides and long car rides (but not medium-length car rides)… You’re just so easy to love because of the way you so fiercely and demonstrably love the world around you.

I admire the way you lead with your heart, more than your head. I wish I could be more like that, sometimes. While I’m caught up in my thoughts, you’re getting down in the dirt and playing with a little toddler in the park. You’re inviting your friends to church. You’re laughing with those who laugh and crying with those who cry. I see the Spirit of God alive in you, Cor, when you let Him guide your heart.

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Leading from the heart has allowed you to play a valuable leadership role on your soccer team. When it comes down to a late-game penalty kick (as it has already twice this season), you confidently grab the ball, line it up, and slot it skillfully. It’s not the coaches’ directive. It’s not because of the position on the field that you play. There seems to be nothing cerebral about it. You take the penalty kicks because of your heart, your intuition, your feel for the game and for your team. I think this is amazing. So different from the way that I process the world around me (largely through a lens of logic and protocol). When I ask how you know that it’s your job to do this, you just shrug and say “I just want the ball in that situation, and everyone else wants me to take it.”

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You’re amazing, Cor. I’m proud of you. And the soccer stuff is really only a very small part of that.

As I’ve been thinking, praying, and drafting this letter, my mind keeps drifting back to the Book of Ecclesiastes, from the middle part of the Bible. I think especially of chapters 11 and 12, where the Wise Teacher says, “Young man, it’s wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it. Do everything you want to do; take it all in.” But he also cautions: “Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator.”

Keep running hard towards God. Keep pace with the Spirit. Let your heart be filled with His goodness and grace — towards yourself and towards others — and persevere through the challenges that come your way. I’ll try to keep in step beside you as long as I can, but feel free to surge ahead. You’ve got what it takes. Your heart is strong. You’re well on your way.

I love you, Cor. Happy Birthday.

Dad

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Newness

The new school year at Kent State University has started. And indeed: everything feels new. Both for better and for worse. Mostly, though, I just have to say that it’s good to be back. Even with the general sense of newness, as students are walking around for their first full week of classes, I feel like yelling Kent State’s trade-marked promotional slogan: “You Belong Here!”

Our church has really appreciated the opportunity to make new connections with new students. We’ve done surveys…

We’ve handed out promotional materials…

We’ve organized sports activities, social events, and a scavenger hunt (like we’ve done in other, pre-pandemic, years)…

And of course, we’ve started worshipping on campus again.

When we pulled out all the stuff we use to pull together a weekly worship gathering on campus, we found an old chalkboard that we typically set up next to the coffee and tea we provide for guests. And it still listed the date of our last full-church worship gathering on campus, in Bowman 133: March 8, 2020. That’s 533 days since we were last together in our normal meeting space!

I actually kind of hope that the sense of newness will wear off sooner rather than later. Exhilaration and exhaustion always seem to go together at this time of the year. But I feel especially “out of shape,” socially, emotionally, and spiritually. I get more easily overwhelmed by all the new / old campus dynamics. And it seems that I’m observing this in other students, as well. It makes sense, with a 533-day period of atrophy. Still, we have lots of reason for new hope.

Please pray with me for God’s strength and glory, during this strategic stretch of the new school year.

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The History of H2O T-Shirts

At the front end of this “Welcome Week,” our church gathered at the park for the last of our summer session worship gatherings. And it just so happened that people from our staff team were wearing seven different designs of H2O T-shirts! I made us all pose for a group portrait, of course (see above) — but then I decided that I wanted to look back on all the individual iterations that I’ve collected through the years. A “History of H2O T-Shirts,” if you will.

And it’s a pretty cool collection of shirts!

2014

The church started its annual tradition of printing and distributing H2O T-shirts in August of 2014. And honestly, this edition is still perhaps my favorite! I like the design with the name “H2O Kent” and all the circles, hexagons, and triangles that have become a part of our branding. And I like the look and feel of the shirt, too.

2015

In August of 2015, we went with a simpler design: our horizontal wordmark in black and yellow, on a classic gray T-shirt. I think a lot of other people from our church consider this to be the best of the H2O T-shirts, and I would probably also place it in my Top Three. Because there’s just not much to dislike about this shirt! Still, I can’t put it at number one because the fabric of the shirt is not as soft and smooth as some of the others.

2016

The design of the 2016 T-shirts is probably my favorite. The color combinations are very pleasant, too. But while the fabric on the shirt is super-soft, it also feels a little thin. So I sometimes feel a bit insecure about my body when I’m wearing this one (which, I know, is a pretty vapid consideration, but still…). All the costs for these shirts were covered by the parents of a Kent State student, however, so it’s hard to complain about that.

2017

The T-shirt from August of 2017 is lower in my personal rankings for a few reasons: its design isn’t as immediately recognizable as some of the other iterations of “H2O Church.” The mono-chromatic effect isn’t my favorite, either. And the material of the shirt is that same thin fabric that we used the preceding year — but again, the costs were covered by the generosity of a family in the business. So they were still a blessing.

2018

A Kent State student designed our 2018 T-shirt. I like the design concept, with an emphasis on the triangles alluding to the three directions we want to take students on their spiritual journey at Kent State: Upward, Inward, and Outward. And this shirt was more comfortable to wear, too. Something about the overall effect, though — coming across like an inverted jack-o-lantern — makes me only tend to wear this one in the second half of October.

2019

We went more simple and bold in 2019. Back to our vertically-stacked wordmark. And the fit and feel of this shirt was great. I’ll be curious to see how my perception of this T-shirt evolves over time. But sometimes, I feel like it might be a little too bold. Like, there’s something to be said for subtlety. Even so, I’d put this one in the top half of H2O T-shirt designs we’ve done.

2020

Ah, the pandemic school-year… We didn’t know if we would do T-shirts at all, for fear of virus transmission on the fibers of the fabric (or something like that). But in the end, we decided to run back the design from the preceding year. We just adjusted the color scheme to try and capitalize on current trends. I really like the look of this T-shirt, but I have a harder time figuring out how to match this one with the rest of my wardrobe, so it doesn’t get worn as frequently.

2021

This year’s H2O T-shirt features a map of Kent superimposed with our horizontal wordmark. It’s a neat effect. We had originally hoped to get the shirt in forest green, to keep in step with current trends. But apparently, we’re still dealing with supply chain shortages that have started (and persisted) through the COVID-19 pandemic. White was our fifth choice, but still better than nothing. The material is pretty similar to the stuff we used in 2016 and 2017, so I’m not sure how well it will age. But still, it’s a great shirt.

Special Editions

Circa 2009

This shirt came from before my time in Kent. Almost so long ago that it’s faded from memory. I don’t have this particular shirt in my collection, but my friend Tyler does. He says, “The color is so faded. It was a blue semicircle and black text.”

November 2017

Some Kent State students spearheaded an effort to design, print, and sell H2O sweatshirts in the winter of 2017-18. This shirt is dark gray in color, and it features a small version of our horizontal wordmark with larger triangles, circles, and hexagons positioned around it. I chose to purchase the hooded version of this sweatshirt, but crew necks were also available. I wear it pretty frequently when temperatures are cooler — so it’s a very welcome complement to my H2O T-shirt collection.

October 2018

Our church celebrated the ten-year anniversary of its establishment in October of 2018. We hosted a big reunion celebration and made special-edition T-shirts for the occasion which turned out to be one of my favorite H2O T-shirts of all time. The orange color is an homage to our church’s Bowling Green roots, and the text is positioned in a way to suggest a banner subtly blowing in the breeze.

Circa 2019

These shirts were made for the team of people who help to set up, operate, and tear down all the Production equipment (audio, video, lighting, etc.) for our Sunday morning worship gatherings. This is another shirt that I do not have in my own personal collection, but my friend Tyler does.

Circa 2019

These shirts were made for the team of people who help to run the H2O Kids Team (children’s ministry) for our Sunday morning worship gatherings. I don’t have one of these for myself, but Marci and Olivia do. And I really like both the color and design of this shirt.

October 2020

In spite of all the low points presented by COVID-19, our church’s shift to outdoor, regional gatherings led to a high point in a very nice, special-edition crew-neck sweatshirt. The region with which I was involved came to call ourselves the Fellowship of the Hawk. And, of course, we eventually decided to make a sweatshirt! My daughter Olivia and I collaborated on the design. And if I do say so myself, the sweatshirt turned out pretty well.

Other Artifacts Out There?

It’s entirely possible that I’m missing some H2O T-shirts from this collection. (I’ve already updated the post with three additional T-shirts from the first round that I posted). Please let me know if you have any further information about any of these historical artifacts!

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First Day of School 2021

Olivia and Cor had their first day of school today. They still have to wear masks within the school building, as a precaution against COVID-19. But still, it’s good to remember that things are way better than they were at this time last year. They get to be in class five days a week. They don’t have to deal with plexiglass barriers dividing the lunch tables into quarters. And they don’t have to worry about catching COVID-19 themselves (since they were vaccinated back in the Spring).

Olivia is starting her senior year at Kent Theodore Roosevelt High School today. She’s also going to be taking two “College Credit Plus” courses per week at Kent State University. She’s especially excited about some art classes that she gets to take at the high school this year. And Olivia will also be a part of the school’s top choir — which should finally get to have some performances again.

Cor is starting his freshman year at Kent Theodore Roosevelt High School. He’s excited about playing a leadership role on his Soccer Team, and he continues to look for a sponsorship deal from Adidas. He’s actually kind of excited about his math, and social studies, and language arts classes! And he’s switching from band to choir this year, so it will be kind of fun to have two siblings in the same music program at the same time.

We didn’t get to watch one of our kids board a big yellow school bus for their first day of school this year. Instead, Olivia did the driving in the little yellow Sonic she’s borrowing from her grandparents. It’s crazy to watch time pass and suddenly have our youngest two children in high school. But we’re proud of them! We’re wishing, hoping, and praying for the best this school year!


(In case you were wondering, Elliot will start his freshman year at Kent State University tomorrow. He still has a blend of in-class lectures and on-line learning this semester. But he’s very excited to be living in an apartment with friends.)

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