Who Do You Think You Are?

We recently canceled our cable TV subscription. The main reason was because it was way too easy to waste way too much time watching mindless, senseless, junk. TBS would suck me in with three consecutive hours of The Big Bang Theory reruns and then all of a sudden it was 11pm. Nothing against these shows. We need mindless escapes from the realities of life and laughing is really healthy. Plus Anna loves to dance to the BBT theme song. But for as much as I love that show, ESPN, and other programming, I know I waste too much time staring at “the idiot box” (as my mother calls it).

But we do have the internet. And that means we can stream TV shows. So basically we can still watch TV if we’d like, and judging by our recent history–we like. I will say that I can only watch when Mihee is home because I don’t know how to set it all up (I am bad with technology).

Tonight we watched a show called “Who Do You Think You Are?” It features a celebrity and helps them trace their roots, often lifting the veil of mystery and allowing them to see “who they are,” at least in terms of their family tree. They are always surprised at some of the findings, which makes sense because otherwise it would be incredibly boring programming. The show is basically an hour long advertisement for ancestry.com, but I really do find genealogy fascinating.

I first saw the episode with Jerome Bettis, but only watched because he’s a retired football player from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tonight we watched the episode featuring the actor Rashida Jones, because, well, I like Rashida Jones. And no, she didn’t play for the Steelers. She’s on “Parks and Rec,” another of my favorites.

Her dad is Quincy Jones. Her mom is Peggy Lipton. The show focused on her mom’s side and her Jewish roots. Rashida started in NYC, then traveled to Dublin, and then to Latvia. Her powerful story moved her to proclaim that her life is “a miracle.” She makes this claim because many in her family were killed during the senseless and ruthless reign of the Nazis in Europe. Her branch of the family tree fled thus allowing her branch to live on. Those who stayed at home were taken to a forest and killed. She acknowledges that it could have just as easily of been her branch of the tree that was taken out into that horrible forest. But it wasn’t. Coupling that with her father’s ancestry, there are many reasons (slavery and the holocaust) why she could have never been born. But she was. And she calls it a miracle.

And I think she’s right. Life is a miracle. And it takes a million miracles to bring new life into the world. When Mihee was pregnant with the twins everything from conception to healthy growth inside the womb to birth was, in my opinion, a miracle. So many things could have, or have not, happened. Some people seem to think getting pregnant and giving birth to a healthy baby is easy. But it’s not that way for everyone. The more I talk to and listen with others the more I know that to be true. In our case it took a bunch of miracles for our two little miracles to be here keeping us up at night and running us (mostly Mihee) ragged during the day.

I think of my family’s story. My grandfather immigrated to the US with his family from Czechoslovakia when he was (I think) around 7. I’m not sure why they came. Where they fleeing something in Europe? Was it the hope of the “American Dream?” I don’t really know. I do know that Kort is a shortened version of the much longer surname they had as they pulled into Ellis Island. I’d love to learn more and about my mom’s side too. What all happened that led to my birth in Pittsburgh? I know there are hard stories, because I’ve heard some of them. But what haven’t I heard? What don’t I know? Probably a lot.

But in spite of what ever did or did not happen, here I am. Here you are. Alive and living this life. It’s a gift from God. And it’s precious. Identity issues abound for many of us. Are we are job title, our familial role, our interests? Who do you think you are? It’s a good question.

Ultimately, I think Rashida Jones is right. You are a miracle. And if we can somehow start seeing others as a miracle too, then maybe senseless things like the holocaust or racism or sexism or bullying or many of the other ills would begin to go away, buried deep in a forest somewhere. And just maybe the Kingdom of God would be that much closer.

Great Expectations

Now that the (men’s) college basketball season if officially over we can look ahead to next year. Considering that Kentucky literally just won the tournament very late last night, it might seem a little early to do so. But ESPN already has its pre-season rankings out for next year. They have Indiana University #1.

Living in Bloomington this past year has been a lot of things. Among them it has been exciting. I wouldn’t exactly call Indiana University fans “long suffering,” but it does seem that Hoosier Nation was getting a little itchy after a few years out of the spotlight that usually shines on the elite college basketball programs. And let’s be honest, IU is basketball royalty. So it was fun to go along for the ride of this season and cheer for a Sweet 16 team. True to the lore and mystique of the movie “Hoosiers,” this squad seemingly came out of nowhere to surprise a lot of people–much to the delight of many here in Bloomington.

But now as ESPN’s poll has revealed, there are some big expectations on the Hoosiers next year. A number 1 ranking is hard to live up to and certainly we don’t expect them to go undefeated. But there is a lot of optimism. There is a lot of hope. There are great expectations for great things to come. Midnight Madness can’t get here quick enough.

And isn’t that what hope is all about? That something (whatever it is) will take a turn for the better. That there are endless possibilities for good. That we have something to look forward to. Sometimes we have to hope for several months until basketball season begins again. Sometimes we end up hoping for years for some good news in a situation to come our way. Other times it is only a day or two that we have to hopefully wait before we get our answer. Sometimes the outcome we hope for does not happen.

Hope is significant for Christians this time of year (and always!). As we progress and go forward during this Holy Week we are reminded how the cheers on Palm Sunday quickly turned into shouts of “Crucify him!” later in the week. Then the sky darkened and Jesus breathed his last.

But Easter comes. It came three days later for the disciples and those who loved Jesus. He had told them how this would all shake out, but I wonder what was going on inside their heads in those in-between days. Did they hold onto hope? Was Thomas the only doubter? Had they made up their minds to just move on with life? Of course, we know how it turns out. We’ve been living and celebrating it for years. So we can have good Easter hope knowing that Good Friday isn’t the final word.

However you find yourself this Holy Week I do hope that you have hope. And may you have great expectations for the great love of God to continue to come your way. May you have much to look forward to. May you always be open to the surprising grace of God that can roll away a huge stone from the front of a tomb. May you remember that if today is rough there is always tomorrow…and for basketball fans, there is always next year!

We’re Dancing!

I meant to start this blog post a week or so ago when the NCAA tournament was actually starting. Here we are at the Sweet 16 and I’m just getting to it. This has been a strange tournament for me this year for several reasons. 1) After a very disappointing season Pitt is not in the Big Dance. 2) There haven’t been any huge upsets. The Lehigh win against Duke was not an upset. It was simply divine intervention as the Devils needed to be cast out and put in their rightful place. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a UNC Tarheel fan. Pitt is my #1 team, but they normally stress me out and living in Charlotte it was easy to jump on the Tarheel bandwagon. It was nice to finally pull for a winner. Remember, Pitt was mediocre at best until this past 10 years. Also, on a personal note the Lehigh win was surreal because in our last home we lived 2 blocks from Lafayette College (Lehigh’s main rival) and were only about 15 minutes away from Lehigh’s campus. But again, I believe in the goodness of God so I’m not surprised to see Duke go down. 3) We now live in Bloomington, Indiana home of IU and the Hoosiers. It’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement and I have a new team to pull for. Go Candystripes!

I usually like the earlier rounds much more than the later rounds. I know that as the tournament goes on and the stage gets bigger, the games take on more significance and you could argue the games are better. But there is something magical about the early rounds. All the teams with a chance, some more than others, to go on. All the games seem to be on all the channels all the time. It’s exciting. A #16 seed UNC-Asheville can scare a #1 seed like Syracuse. By  the way, I did pick UNCA in my bracket. Not good as Syracuse is now in the Elite 8. I like that everyone, even a team like UNCA, still has a chance and hope as the tournament begins.

I also love the humanity and the emotion that bubbles to the surface during March Madness. The passion and love of the game from of the guys on Michigan State. The tears from the Murray State players. The sheer joy of the Lehigh team. It’s a reminder of why I loved sports, and in this case basketball, as a kid. The competition. The guys on the team. The pure joy of a game that would cause my dad to force me inside on a summer’s night because my bouncing the ball in the driveway would wake up the sleeping neighbors. For me, there is an innocence that the NCAA tournament evokes, especially as the shenanigans of the New Orleans Saints comes to light. I’m not naive or blind to the ills of college athletics, as Penn St. and Syracuse reminded us this year. But still. This is a game. Games are meant to be played and enjoyed. In this case it’s played by passionate young men who will jump up and down and into each other’s arms as they celebrate. They will also cry on national television in defeat. Maybe it’s the pastor in me, but I’m always moved by the bench guys who provide a comforting arm, hug, or word to their hurting teammate as the clock winds down on the dream of playing another game. I remember how I cried in the locker room my senior year in high school as my team lost in the state tournament. I knew then that playing basketball would never be the same again. It would be pickup or intramural or something at the YMCA from here on out. I’d never put on an official uniform to represent a school/team again. I think that is the reality for most of these non NBA players too.

As a new dad I have really come to live into the mantra of “survive and advance.” Worry about the game/day in front of you and don’t look too far down the bracket. The babies don’t let us do that. I think Jesus talks about this too. Today has enough trouble of its own. Don’t worry as much about tomorrow. Easier said than done. Some days it feels like Mihee and I are upset victims, knocked on our heads by two little people. Other days it feels like we are cutting the nets down as we laugh ourselves silly. Like the tournament, it’s a wild ride to say the least. March Madness is full of the stuff of life. There is joy, laughter, passion, celebration, heartache, disappointments, surprises, tears, endings, and new possibilities. At the end of the day, the tournament reminds us that we are alive…and we should embrace it. It’s a gift to be able to keep on dancing.

Now, let’s go Hoosiers!

Words with Friends

A friend of mine recently invited me to play “Words with Friends” with him. For those who don’t know, Words with Friends is an online (downloadable app) version of Scrabble. What caught me off guard is that this particular friend is less into technology and social media than I am. He doesn’t have a blog, Facebook, or Twitter that I know of. So I was very surprised to get his invitation to play an online game. I downloaded the app and took him on.

It was ugly. I was killing him before he finally resigned and quit the game. We haven’t had a rematch yet. However, I quickly challenged Mihee. I won the first five games. A few were close, but there was a big time blowout in there too. I won’t post the score (out of fear–I mean love–of my wife).

I have to note that I usually crush her when we play real Scrabble too. Honestly, I think I’m undefeated against her in that version of the game. Needless to say, my victories in Words with Friends, both the heart-stopping nail-biters and the blowouts, were expected if not a foregone conclusion.

But then all of a sudden she either got really smart or she learned how to strategically play. I haven’t been able to beat her in nearly a week. Like my friend in the initial game, I am tempted to just quit and move on to something else.

But then I remember the game is meant to be enjoyed and to be something that is fun, not stressful. So I lie and tell her that I’m going to stop letting her win one of these days as I challenge her to a rematch.

More importantly, it is good for me to be reminded how to lose. Trust me, I’ve had my fair share of losing in life. But it’s always good to learn to handle defeat. It makes victory that much sweeter when it rolls around again…and it will roll around again (right?). I’m also mindful how struggle, disappointment, and despair are a part of life. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not in despair about Words with Friends. But during this season of Lent, and the quickly approaching Holy Week, I do know we are called in life to encounter the wilderness, to pick up the burden of our cross and follow, to understand the reality of loss and losing. Sometimes that does include despair, disappointment, and struggle…but we are to never lose sight of the hope that good news and brighter days might just be few short days ahead.

Back to the game, I think it’s my move. And by the way, she’s killing me in this game too. I hope that maybe one day I’ll get some letters to play other than the 5 “E”s I currently hold. Ah, hope–it’s a beautiful thing!

Leap Year

All of a sudden the month of February has become a significant month in my life. It’s a short month and one that usually is appreciated because there are no major holidays or events at the church. I usually just chuckle on Groundhog Day and then look ahead to March.

But February 2011 changed all of that. A year ago I was living in PA with Mihee and our boxer Ellis. We had just informed our respective church communities that we would soon be having to leave. That is never a fun or easy process. In some ways the more it hurts, the better it was. So in an odd way I’m thankful for the pain of having to say goodbye to my church, Mihee’s church, and our community.

Of course the biggest news of all was the birth of the twins on February 27. This alone catapulted February into the running as my all-time favorite month.

Since that day at 2:37 and 2:38 am life was forever altered. Sleep became a long lost friend. My schedule was no longer my own. More importantly, I realized how thankful I am to my parents, who were in their early 30’s when I was born. It never really dawned on me before that they probably didn’t know what they were doing with me either. And I think I turned out okay (mostly). It’s made me more sympathetic, less critical and more patient with my parents. It’s been humbling too. I’ve realized in the past year just how selfish I am. And helpless. How can two little things make you feel so clueless? Somehow they do it. They have also caused me, and us, to re-think and re-prioritize what is important in life. We’ve also had to let go of and reshape some dreams. Certainly Mihee has had to do this more than I have. I’ve also realized in the past year how lucky I am to have her as my wife and the mother to my children. She’s amazing.

Now that it’s the last day of February 2012, I find myself looking back at a year that was a blur. New job, new community, new part of the country, new role in the family. I’m still tired all the time. That hasn’t changed.

But February of 2012 has not been a cake walk. We’ve had a lot of stress and frustration this month. It has nothing to do with the babies, just the real life stuff of adulthood. So for some reason February has once again proven to be an important month that stands out on the calendar and in our lives.

This year is a “leap year” and today is the 29th of February. It’s felt like a huge leap from February 2011 to now. Most of all it has felt like a “leap of faith year.” I’ve never realized before how so much is out of my control, how dependent I am on others and community, how wonderful love is and how much it hurts. I’ve been reminded that I have to trust God and be at peace with the reality God is so great–and as we are reminded during Lent–that I am so small. I’m thankful for that. This year has felt like it’s taken a leap of faith for me to remember and understand that once again.

Unintended Absence

It has been a little over 20 days since my last post. I know (I think) that blogs etc. function at their best if they are updated, current, and not allowed to go stale. But honestly, I have not had the time or the energy to blog or to even think about blogging. In the past 20 or so days I’ve experienced a lot–from very fun and exciting to very stressful and exhausting. Even as I sit at the computer right at this very moment I would rather be on the couch relaxing with Mihee and Ellis (our dog) watching television. The kids are finally down for the night and it’s quiet. These are the seemingly rare moments of quiet that present an opportunity for rest that I long for during the day. Plus they could wake up at any minute now and who knows how tonight will go.

However, I began this blog as an exercise for me with the hope for it to be something like a spiritual discipline…something that I would do, at least weekly, to make me think, reflect, share and comment. In the past 20+ days it has been so easy to just not do it or to think to myself “I’ll get to it tomorrow or sometime later.”

My sermon this morning, “Peter Was Right,” was on the Transfiguration account in Mark 9:2-9. Part of what I was trying to say was that Peter was right in wanting to make a dwelling place for Jesus. Sure the mountaintop may not have been the right place for this, but I think the desire to build a dwelling for Christ is important. Peter may have been thinking about a dwelling, or tent, that was tangible and visible with the eyes, but building a dwelling place for the divine Christ in our lives is critical to the life of faith. Like when it’s easy for me to not keep up with this blog, or even want to, I know it’s easy to put other things of importance–friends, family, and yes, faith–on the back burner. Thinking I’ll get to it tomorrow or the next day can quickly turn into 20 days–or a lot more. Worst case scenario is we just drop them/it all together.

Lent begins this week with Ash Wednesday. If you are in Bloomington come to the church at 7:30. Rachel will be leading what should be a great service. Giving up beer or chocolate isn’t going to cut it this year for me. My hope and my challenge for myself is to build a dwelling place for the fully human/fully divine Christ in my life each and every day.

I can only pray I’m more diligent at it than I am at this…now it’s off to the couch.

Stomp!

Last night Mihee and I attended STOMP! at the IU auditorium. It was a gift on many levels, but maybe most of all because we were able to get out on a Friday night and do something with culture, art and music. It beats listening to Barney, the Wiggles, and Bob the Builder sing on the Toddler Music Channel. We saved that for this morning.

Stomp! is  great on so many levels.  The creativity, the simplicity and the complexity, the non-verbal communication, the unexpected humor, and the playful interaction between the performers all combined for an enjoyable experience. At various points throughout the show the performers would use instruments such as brooms, trash cans, lids, cigarette packs, lighters, basketballs, newspapers, plastic bags, sawdust, water, foam tubes, and inflatable rafts. I was amazed by how they were able to use these simple and everyday objects–a lot of it we would consider trash–and transform them into something that was in its own way very beautiful. I was captivated by the way they would engage and instruct the audience simply by clapping. There were times when we (the crowd) could easily follow along and keep up with the clapping, snapping and stomping . There were times when we got lost and confused. It was fun. It also made us, in some ways, part of the performance. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was struck by  how elaborate it all was. The set, the instruments, the costumes, and the stage was very ordinary. “Industrial” or “urban” come to mind as words to describe it. And yet when it was all set in motion it was a sight and a sound to behold. All at once there would be cans flying around with drumming, clapping and dancing. There would be coordinated passing, throwing, catching, lifting, and lowering that made this industrial atmosphere almost seem organic – fluid and alive.

For some reason, as all of this was going on for the hour and 45 minutes, I was thinking about God’s work all around us. I was thinking about how God takes some things that seem very simple and ordinary and makes them produce something strangely beautiful. I was thinking about how God uses something seemingly small and simple and yet when they are set in motion they are complex and often connected to something else. I was thinking about how long ago God spoke, but that God still communicates with us, mostly now without words like the prophets heard, but in many other (and unexpected) ways. Most of all I was thinking about how God engages us and calls us to not simply be audience members or spectators but to be participants in what is going on around us. Like the audience last night, sometimes we get it exactly right and the place is rocking…and other times we get lost, confused and it is easy to want to just simply stop participating. When the latter would happen, when we’d mess up, the expression on the cast member’s face was never one of white hot rage or frustration. There was always a quirky grin, a slight smile, and a chance to do it right was quickly offered. Sometimes it was very clear that we were to just relax and be still, as if he/she was saying to us, “It’s okay. I’ve got this under control.” But even to the very end we were called and engaged…clapping, snapping, stomping, thankful to be involved and hoping it wouldn’t end.