Tonight I watched a documentary about what happened to ethnic Germans in Eastern Europe after the end of World War II in 1945. As an American, I’ve always viewed the end of the war as a time of great happiness, when we as a people could get back to simply living life. Of course there were scars--literal and figurative--but as a nation it was a time of relief and joy.
I knew things were different in Europe, especially in the East. The German occupiers were replaced by the Soviet occupiers. I have a unique perspective from many Americans, having lived in Ukraine for a while—I saw the residue of Communism. The decades following the war were a time of oppression, but at least there was peace, right?
I knew German prisoners of war from the Eastern front didn’t fare well, but I never thought about the civilians. According to the documentary, the end of the war ushered in an era of bitter reprisals against anyone who could be construed in any way as associated with Hitler’s Germany.
Survivors told story after story of brutal atrocities against people whose only crime was that they had something in common with the hated Nazis (in some cases just being able to speak German was enough to make them guilty). The world turned a blind eye as the victims of the Nazis became the oppressors.
Their logic was simple: Do to others what they (or at least people vaguely associated with them) did to us. In the name of justice, revenge--whatever—the liberated now turned the very tactics used on them against their formers tormentors. Never mind that these were predominantly women and children.
Those innocents who witness these reprisals—survivors and bystanders alike—watched in horror as they realized the “good guys” were no better than the Nazis.
This film was really upsetting for me. There’s a depth of spiritual darkness I encounter when confronted with these things that’s palpable. I always get a yucky feeling any time I study things relating to this subject, from visits to the concentration camps at Dachau and Auschwitz, to books, documentaries, etc.
I think it’s because this is what rejecting God looks like. I wrote a book a few years ago where a character made a statement along the lines of this: Taking God (as the source of absolute Truth) out of the equation is like trying to do math without the zero. It never has worked, and it never will.
The evidence of this was on full parade in Europe during the 20th century. After a bloody “world war” in 1914-1918, the response was to punish Germany for starting it. As Germans languished in economic hardships that made the Great Depression look like a cakewalk, much of their culture turned to gratification of the peoples’ base desires. In that climate of moral relativism, the message of National Socialism sounded just fine to a lot of people.
We all know what Hitler and his followers brought about over the next decade and a half, but it was the stories of those who helped defeat him that really has me shook up. They were our allies—and they really did suffer at the hands of the Nazis. But did that make it okay to do what they did once they were in power?
I couldn’t stop thinking about how different things would’ve looked had the Truth of the Gospel and God’s way of doing and being right (righteousness) prevailed among the people of Western Europe.
It’s true that by and large the Americans (and our British allies) treated the Germans much better than the Soviets did. But it’s not because we’re somehow inherently superior. The only difference is that the influence of Christianity has shaped this nation. I don’t care if you disagree—that’s the truth. Apart from the influence of Jesus, we’re all lost and prone to revenge and hate.
In “Fiddler on the Roof,” the character Tevye says if the policy of “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” is followed, the whole world would be blind and toothless. There’s a beautiful truth in Ephesians 4:32: when we are in Christ, God forgives us completely. But it doesn’t stop there. We’re told to do the same thing: forgive each other.
There are no exceptions, either. There isn’t a certain line of offense that’s just too much. God doesn’t limit His forgiveness for us, so we have no right to limit our forgiveness for each other.
Recently, I read about a murder trial close to my home. A woman was found guilty of taking part in a grisly murder. At her sentencing, the aunt of the victim spoke. She said she was a Christian, and because of that, she forgave the accused.
Not stopping there, the victim’s aunt went on to say that she will be communicating with the murderer. She stated that she spent time in prison and knows how lonely it is. I couldn’t help thinking that she’s probably going to save that woman’s life—both here and for eternity.
How different would this world look if each of us acted like her?
This is hardly the first time anyone has addressed this issue, but it’s so prevalent that I can’t shake it—I feel like I need to say something.
So, what is the curse of our age? There are many, actually. A glance at the twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy will clue you into some things that can be considered curses: disease, sickness, a broken heart, weakness, lack, fear, and so on. But what I have in mind as the Curse of Our Age is also found in that same chapter. Words that relate are “confusion,” “frustration,” “panic,” “no peace,” and a lack of “rest.” The word I use is busyness.
We live in a time when technology is exploding at an exponential rate. My dad was born in a farmhouse without electricity or running water in the spring of 1925. He worked harder than I can fathom on the farm, including hand-milking cows and plowing with horses. In fact, my parents spent about a year living in a farmhouse without electricity when my oldest sister was a toddler. That’s not so long ago. It’s understandable that my dad marvels at the changes he’s seen.
My life is so much easier, and yet, for all the time-saving devices and inventions…I just don’t have time. There’s SO much to do!
How often do you say, “I’m sorry—I just don’t have time”? How many more times do you hear it from others? Has it always been like this? How did this happen?
Could it be that sayings like “Carpe Diem!” and “Live life to the fullest” are having the opposite effect? I remember hearing of a seminar once entitled, “Why settle for more and miss the best?” I prefer that slogan to the former ones.
Or maybe “seizing the day” could mean spending a day relaxing at home. Or maybe a full life doesn’t mean packing in so many activities that your full schedule is bursting at the seams…
There does appear to be some push-back to this busyness problem as revealed by the “minimalist” movement (which is probably what you think it is) and a general attitude among increasing numbers of people taking tangible steps to slow down and simplify their lives.
I make no bones about the fact that I’m still largely in a hurry, going for quantity over quality. Impatience, even when held at bay, often lurks just below the surface.
So…what’s the answer? Another slogan comes to mind: “Be still and know that I am God.”
I was going to write a blog about how busy life is, but I didn't have the time to do it. Sorry.
A couple blogs back I tortured you with a detailed version of the birth of my “illustrious” drumming career. This time I’d like to discuss some random observations I’ve made over the years.
I was twelve years old when my big brother graciously gave me his drum set. Actually, I think he initially let me "borrow" it, but I kept it and eventually sold it. Thanks, Bro! Anyway, it was a junker kit with cymbals that cracked easily and drumheads that were slightly better than notebook paper. But it was something to hit. Even more important than the drums was the advice that came with them: “Don’t just mess around; work at it!” I took those words to heart, and I’m glad I did. Thanks again, Bro!
Over the years, I’ve been blessed to play in a wide variety of musical situations (from pit bands to wind ensembles to chamber orchestras to bands ranging from country to rock, blues, and jazz) with a broad range of people (beginners to internationally-acclaimed artists).
Here are some observations I have from my experiences:
NOTE: Before you read this, I have to confess that I wore out not one, but TWO devil costumes as a kid. I can’t believe my mom bought those…
Today is one of my least favorite days. My family and I have chosen not to celebrate Halloween. If you want to know why, the short answer is that we are Christians, not Wiccans, Pagans, or devil worshippers. Obviously most people who celebrate Halloween aren’t those things, either, but like I said, that’s my short answer.
If you want a longer answer, I encourage you to do some research. Here are some links to get you started:
My purpose in this blog isn’t to discuss the history of the holiday or reasons for either celebrating or boycotting it. Instead, I’d just like to write about the experience of living outside the norm.
The fact that that my wife and I didn’t celebrate Halloween wasn’t a big deal before we had kids. Back when I was a classroom teacher, kids would sometimes ask what I was gonna dress up as for Halloween. I just said “myself.” Well, sometimes I said, “as a totally cool guy” or something and then clarify that I was only dressing up as myself. This was good for eliciting eye rolls from my teenage students.
The whole issue was slightly more problematic for my wife when she taught general music classes. She chose not to do Halloween songs in class, unless it was something particularly benign that the kids really wanted to sing. She simply chose not to sing songs glorifying the creepy spiritual aspects of the holiday.
It’s been trickier (no pun intended) since we had kids. We’ve often been asked what our kids are dressing up as, or if they’re excited for the Big Day. People have asked them the same questions. We just politely reply that we don’t do Halloween.
We’ve been chastised by other adults who have accused us of robbing our children of a treasured holiday institution (same thing with telling them the truth about Santa. We explain that we celebrate the Jewish holiday Purim instead (yeah, I know that’s kind of weird, but it’s actually less weird than Halloween if you think about it). Part of celebrating Purim is dressing up in costumes and eating yummy treats. Also, our kids continually have a couple buckets full of candy from non-Halloween occasions, so what are they really missing out on? Going to strangers’ houses and asking for candy?
Thankfully, our kids are almost beyond the trick-or-treating age, so we can avoid some of those awkward conversations.
Halloween makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like it. However, I’m not offended by those who celebrate it. If someone says “Happy Halloween” to me, I’m not offended. I realize they’re just being nice, and I appreciate it. If people put up Halloween decorations on their property, their business’ property, or even--gasp--public property, I don’t really care. I don’t like it, but I’m not traumatized by it, either.
I don’t think people are going to hell if they celebrate Halloween. I don’t think Christians who let their kids dress up and go trick-or-treating are bad parents. I don’t judge them, but I just choose not to participate.
Frankly, it would be easier to just go with the flow and celebrate like everyone else, but my conscience won’t let me. If you want to celebrate Halloween, that’s fine. Two things I ask: don’t come down on me for not celebrating, and don’t come down on me for saying “Merry Christmas.”
NOTE: I was planning on writing a blog full of "brilliant" observations about music, but I ended up writing about how I started playing drums. Oh well, I hope you'll enjoy it anyway!
One of my greatest joys in life is music—both listening to and playing it. I owe this in large part to my mom. She loved music and passed that love along to my siblings and me.
The summer before I turned eleven, I started school band, following the example set by my aforementioned siblings. The previous spring, the band director at my school held listening tests to help gauge musical aptitude in the kids my age. This helped him determine who got to play which instruments.
I REALLY wanted to play percussion, just like my big brother. I remember taking the rhythm portion of the listening tests with a great deal of anxiety. I kept second-guessing myself and checking with my classmates to see how they answered each question.
When the results came back, I did quite well on all the tests…with one exception (I’ll let you guess which). I was distraught. The band director recommended I play trombone, but my parents went to bat for me, advocating that I get to try percussion, and he reluctantly gave in. I was relieved more than anything.
On the first day of summer band, the new percussion recruits gathered in the band room at Lincoln Elementary school. I don’t know how many of us there were, but my memory suggests there must have been upwards of twenty eager wanna-be drummers.
We took our places in a large circle, with each of us positioned behind a metal music stand. The director used masking tape to mark a square target area on the stands, which were tilted flat as makeshift playing surfaces.
I clung carefully to my new pair of size 2B drumsticks. My brother had previously taught me how to play using the “rudimental grip,” where the left hand holds the stick at an angle, different from the right hand. I was mildly dismayed when the band director instructed us to use “match grip,” in which the grip is the same in both hands. I thought rudimental grip was way cooler.
The clamor that erupted when we played our first exercise caught me off-guard. I can only imagine what it was like for the director, standing in the middle of the ring of cacophony.
Over the course of the coming days, the group was whittled down, and we were able to enjoy more personalized instruction.
I can vividly recall my pride at receiving the director’s evaluation at the end of lessons: “Watch out—gonna be good!” I was happy not only to avoid playing trombone, but to know my parents’ efforts were not in vain.
I was on my way.
I recently returned from a family trip that included visits to Glacier National Park in Montana, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, and Devils Tower National Monument (also in Wyoming), along with several other places. I offer some random thoughts inspired by this trip:
God is real, and He loves you! Seriously.
A while back, I had a dream. Not an MLK-type dream, but the kind one has while sleeping.
As is usually the case with something like this, many of the details have been lost, but the main point remains. In the dream I was attending a reunion at the school we taught at in Ukraine: Kyiv Christian Academy. I remember I was playing volleyball, and one of my former students (we’ll call her Sally) was there. This is already weird, because I don’t remember the last time Sally crossed my thoughts.
I asked her if she was doing okay, and she responded that she was having some sort of problem. I don’t remember if it was a physical problem or something else. I asked Sally if I could pray for her and she said “Sure,” but she thought I meant later on, when I was at home. However, I meant I wanted to pray for her right then and there!
She was a little freaked out, but I prayed for her anyway. That’s all I remember.
I woke up and thought, “Wow, that was weird!” I think I prayed for Sally and left it at that.
A few days later, Facebook told me it was Sally’s birthday. I thought maybe I should tell her about the dream, so I sent a private message describing the dream and asking if she would like prayer for anything.
Her response gave me goose bumps.
Sally wrote back that she had gone through an “emotional breakdown” a few days earlier because of peer pressure and insecurities regarding her future. She continued, telling me she didn’t have a dream (the other kind) so she didn’t know what she was living for. Sally felt like the Holy Spirit told her she was feeling insecure because she didn’t have God in her life.
She continued to share that at that point it hit her that she couldn’t remember the last time she prayed and did devotions. Sally wrote, “I’ve been away from God for too long and it was the time to come back to him. Now I am in the process of trying to build a relationship with God again.” She recognized that my dream was one way God was speaking to her.
I could hardly contain myself! Jesus loves this girl so much that He gave me a dream about her. Sally and I hadn’t communicated in over two years. This was no coincidence. What an honor to be a part of something like this!
And a crazy as it may sound, this should be normal for those of us who call ourselves Christians. Let’s start expecting God to use us in this and other awesome ways!
Very little happens in a vacuum (no space pun intended), and this is true of my perspective on Star Wars. I’ve always been a fan—the first movie came out when I was five, and though the only one I remember seeing in the theater was Return of the Jedi, the films were part of my youth. I had some action figures, and I always thought Star Wars was cool. It wasn’t until I introduced my kids to it in 2012 that I entered the ranks of Star Wars nerd-dom. I blame it on my son, who quickly became obsessed with it.
With my “back story” out of the way, here are my thoughts on Star Wars, circa 2016.
Back in the early ‘70s, a young director named George Lucas wanted to make a movie of Buck Rogers, but was unable to get the rights, so he decided to make up his own space movie. He said he simply wanted to make a “fun, wholesome action movie.” I love the fact that he only had a vague idea what it would be about when he started laying the production groundwork for the first movie. He continued to modify it, making major plot/script changes even while filming.
The first movie was unlike anything anyone had ever seen, and it was a sensation.
In some ways, I wish he would’ve left it at that. But there was more to the story, so he made two more. The movies changed the film industry and popular culture itself. The original Star Wars trilogy fulfilled Lucas’ vision: they were fun, wholesome action movies.
But as is often the case with people, he couldn’t leave well enough alone. By cryptically numbering his movies as episodes IV, V, and VI, Lucas left the impression that he had a much larger story in mind. It was rumored that there were nine (or at one point even twelve) parts to this epic.
Yet, for all that, there were no more movies. Again, a part of me wishes Lucas would’ve left it at that. Those three movies would’ve remained as mandatory viewing in pop culture, and its characters and iconic moments (“I am your father”) would have passed into legend. Besides, Star Wars was cooler than Star Trek. The latter was for nerds, and had such a sprawling, complicated universe that only die-hard fans could really follow it.
Star Wars wasn’t like that. It was more hip, because one didn’t need to devote themselves to learning all the minutia of its world to appreciate the films.
That all ended in November 1994, when George Lucas sat down to start writing episode I (the movie wouldn’t hit theaters until 1999). At that point, Star Wars moved from fun pop culture phenomenon to geeky super-fandom institution.
Lucas wrote and directed episodes I through III, with the last installment released in 2005. He then said that was it—no more Star Wars movies. The common take on these movies (the “prequels”) is that they’re bad. The storylines are complicated and hard to swallow, the acting is terrible, and the dialogue is worse. The most hated aspect of the prequels is the character Jar Jar Binks, a clumsy alien with a prominent role in episode I.
Although I much prefer the original trilogy over the prequels, I don’t think they’re that bad. They’re still generally fun, entertaining movies with creative characters, locales and stunning visual effects. And while Jar Jar is by no means my favorite character, my kids love him and think he’s hilarious. Take that, critics!
Despite any shortcomings of the prequels, I was happy with six Star Wars movies. I did often dream of what it might be like if they made episodes VII, VIII, and IX. However, Lucas insisted it was over, and that was that.
Then suddenly one day in late 2012 came the galaxy-shattering news that George Lucas sold his company, Lucasfilm, to Disney, and that they were indeed going to make episodes VII-IX, which would include many of the same beloved actors from the original movies! I actually felt a little light-headed when I heard this. I was in the middle of teaching a class when I first heard the news, and had trouble thinking of anything other than Star Wars the rest of the day.
As exciting as it was, George Lucas’ decision to sell the franchise to Disney marked the death of Star Wars as we knew it.
If there’s anything Disney isn’t known for, it’s restraint. Not only are they making a new trilogy, they’re also making “spin-off” movies focusing on individual characters and events outside the main episodes. A few years back, Lucasfilm gave us a computer-animated TV series called The Clone Wars, which takes place between episodes II and III, and now they’ve moved on to a new one entitled Rebels, that takes place five years before the original movie (episode IV). I’ve really enjoyed these shows, but now I think they’re just the tip of the iceberg. It seems inevitable that the slew of upcoming feature films will be joined by more television series.
If following the Star Trek storyline is roughly the equivalent to a graduate-level course (thanks to numerous movies and TV series), then Star Wars may well take a PhD in nerdology to understand.
I thoroughly enjoyed the newest movie (episode VII), and will probably watch all the upcoming films, but I also mourn what we are losing. Some of the iconic characters, lines, and music from the original movies will gradually become lost in a sea of new movies and characters who, no matter how good they are, just won’t be the same. It’s like ice cream: it can be a delightful treat, but if you eat it every day, it’s not so special any more.
We’re now being told that there will be a fifth Indiana Jones film, and that Harrison Ford will reprise his role. He’s currently 73 years old. I understand that movies like Star Wars, Star Trek, and Indiana Jones are cool, but sometimes you’ve got to be able to say enough’s enough.
I don’t think Hollywood will ever figure that out.
One of the best things about living where I do is the wonderful variety of weather. There are four distinct seasons here in Minnesota, and while each certainly has its drawbacks, I’d like to focus on the positive aspects of each.
Let’s go chronologically from the first of the year. January is notorious around here, but I think it’s beautiful. I read somewhere that it’s the sunniest month of the year (November is the cloudiest). I’d take a bitter cold sunny day over a mild dreary day any time (well, most of the time). God could’ve made snow ugly, but I think He gave us its beauty to make winter easier to handle. And while it can get pretty cold here in January, it usually doesn’t last too long. There was a stretch in 1936 where the temperature never once got above zero degrees Fahrenheit for over a month, but I’ve never experienced anything like that.
By the time February comes around, one can feel the change in the air. While it may still be pretty cold, temps gradually start to rise, and if you pay attention, the light starts to look different as the days emerge from the darkest two months of the year. This continues through March, when our hopes for spring grow as we typically get a few tantalizingly warm days.
If I have a least favorite month, it’s probably April. I know I said I was gonna stick to the positives, but April can be downright cruel. One day it’s sixty degrees and glorious; the next it snows. I remember in 2008 we seemed to have a blizzard every weekend, with a doozy the last weekend of the month, which actually closed lots of things down. By this point I’m tired of winter and just want warmth.
But by May those cold, yucky days give way almost entirely to spring. It’s so exciting to see buds start to open up, smell lilacs, and spy the first robin of the year. Another favorite spring experience (usually occurring in March) is the smell of EARTH. It’s amazing how one forgets the smell of wet dirt, and how enchanting it is to re-discover it each year.
Spring around here is often very windy, as winter seems reluctant to give up its dominion, and summer has to fight to return. June can be pretty tempestuous, but by the end of the month, summer finally reigns supreme. There’s almost a violence to the intensity of the green bursting forth as summer dawns. The sky also takes on what I call “That fourth of July look,” which is a happy, fresh, light blue. The days are so long that it’s light by 5:00 a.m., and sunny until after 9:00 p.m. I love it!
July is usually hot (for a Minnesotan) and humid, but whenever it gets real sticky, I just remind myself what’s coming in a few months. Like January’s cold, any hot weather around here usually doesn’t last long. With a well-insulated house surrounded by trees, we don’t have air conditioning, and that’s just fine (although there’s usually a couple days a year when we wish we did).
By August, things have settled down, and while the days may still get plenty warm, the nights usually start to cool off. The wind that wouldn’t quit finally loses its breath, as if caught up in the spirit of the dog days of summer. It’s this month that the light again starts to change, and the green of the trees is dark and rich, but fading. We’re coming to my favorite time of year.
For my money, you just can’t beat September in Minnesota. The days are warm and sunny, while the nights are cool and crisp. The first “frost warning” of the season sends panicked gardeners into action, laying out tarps over their delicate plants in hopes of staving off the coming cold. The deciduous trees turn, usually reaching their peak of colors around the last week of the month. I always wish it could last longer.
October can be anything from a wonderful continuation of September’s beauty to a soberingly premature return of winter. It can be pretty depressing to get measurable snow that month, and not just because annoying people start blaring Christmas music the second it starts snowing. But overall it’s not bad to feel a biting wind, because it feels good to be cozy again, wearing a warm sweater and eating hot soup.
November is brown and dark, but all that sun and warmth wasn’t long ago, so it’s okay. It’s also exciting to look forward to the holidays and the excitement that winter activities can bring. The late afternoon light is weak, but has that “Thanksgiving look,” as we gather to count our blessings.
I still get excited by the first snowfall of the year (even if it IS in October), maybe because it was always so fun as a kid. I love sledding with my kids and playing hockey, which helps make winter more tolerable. The dark days of December are a great time to snuggle up with a book or movie, or to play board games on the floor next to the Christmas tree. And yes, it’s even nice to listen to Christmas music.
There’s a lot to love about Minnesota’s four seasons, but that doesn’t mean I won’t someday want to spend my winters somewhere warm!
I've included some old blogs along with the new. Should you ever find yourself suffering from insomnia, this is the place for you! That's as poetic as I get...