Friday, October 14, 2016

Wedding FAQs, October edition

Are you getting excited?

Sure? Right now we are both fairly stressed with how many "to-dos" we have left to turn into "been-dones", that it's hard to feel excitement (or any other emotion, other than stress). I'm more excited for life together after the wedding, which is probably a good thing. Like I wrote in June, I hope our wedding day isn't the best day of my whole life!

How is planning going?

If I can manage to wrestle my emotions out of the way, honestly we're doing pretty well. As I'm sure everyone else has experienced with any major project, every detail feels like the most important thing in the moment. For instance, two weeks ago I was panicking over what we would do for trash bins. Reality check: if 5 weeks before your wedding you can devote energy to panicking about rubbish bins, you're probably in a good place.

On a related note, though, I do have a pet peeve I'd like to get off my chest. Many folks, in an effort to be helpful, have offered the advice "remember to enjoy this time of life," or, worse, "remember to just keep it simple!" While I reserve the right to change my mind on this later, for now I remain convinced these people have either never been involved in planning a wedding, or it's been so long since they did, that they've forgotten just how not-simple even the most simple wedding is. In an effort not to get angry at truly well-meaning friends and family who say such things, I choose to interpret their remarks as instead saying "I care for you, and I'm thinking of you, and I'm excited for you, therefore I wish you less-stressful times as you deal with what will be one of the most stressful times in your life."

A similar sentiment, though one I do actually agree with, is "it'll all get done. Or it won't, and it won't matter, because at the end of the day you'll be married and that's what matters." I think that sentiment is much more useful (though if you're someone saying this, I'd appreciate if you'd be willing to tack on one more line: "what can I do to help?"). This reminds me to have another look at our wedding mission statement that we drew up 6 months ago, to inspire and calm us in times when we found ourselves mired in details: "Joining together our two lives, celebrating with our community of family and friends, and focusing on God, service, and social responsibility."

What does social responsibility look like for your wedding?

Okay fine, once again I'm including an alleged "FAQ" that no one's ever actually asked. But I want to answer it anyway, because these details are particularly important to me.

All our plates, cups, and flatwear are compostable, in order to bring us as close as possible to a no-trash wedding (and reduce water consumption from not having to wash dishes). Instead of a dance we will be hosting a service project to make sandwiches for people experiencing poverty and homelessness this winter. For decorations, we are borrowing as much as possible, and buying as little as possible (aka financial stewardship). We won't be using balloons because of their environmental impact, and for the ceremony we will ask our guests to pull up the program on their smartphones, to save on paper. We have chosen vendors who (to the best of our knowledge) are GLBTQ-friendly. And our caterer is a locally-owned restaurant on Lake Street, Abi's Cafe, whom I found after a news story months ago about the owner (Abi) going out of her way to hire a panhandler, rather than giving him a free hand-out. (and, their food is delicious - I highly recommend checking the cafe out if you're local!).

Lastly, though we do have a registry for tangible gifts, we are asking our guests to consider instead donating to one of the charitable organizations we support:

When and where will you be going on your honeymoon?

We'll be going to Europe (all of it, all the things!) in summer 2017. Exact details are TBD until after the wedding planning chaos has wrapped up, but if you have suggestions of sights to see (or not see) in Europe, please let us know! This is your invitation for offering unsolicited advice :)

What will the Ring Bear be wearing?

A baby tuxedo from Target. Mr Bear will be looking quite dapper.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Mr. and Mrs. Last Name

If you'll recall, I recently got engaged.

One of the conversations Alissa and I had rather early on in our relationship was about last names, and how, at so many weddings, I objected to the concluding phrase, "I now present, for the first time ever, Mr. and Mrs. His-First-Name His-Last-Name." I objected because the woman, who often was my friend or relative - aka the reason I was attending the wedding - had been reduced to the name of "Mrs." I recall attending a wedding with my friend Jessie, and when the "Mr. and Mrs." pronouncement was made we both groaned to each other, "and there it is."

Alissa saw my point, but stated in no uncertain terms that if we got married, she'd want to take my last name and be introduced as "Mr. and Mrs. Last-Name." Her reason was to form a new identity as a couple, separate from her former life as an individual. Frantically I explained to her that if I did that at my own wedding, Jessie would never forgive me! She retorted, "who would you rather have upset at you, your friend Jessie or your wife?"


Fortunately, Alissa has since changed her opinion about taking my last name (she realized she actually likes her last name, and doesn't want to go through all the legal hassles of changing something she likes), and now plans on keeping her own, so I've managed to escape the trap! Jessie can be happy with me, as can Alissa.


Monday, September 12, 2016

Have I?

Half my lifetime ago, history happened. Rather than write my personal story of that day, I think it's more important to ask some challenging questions:

If I call myself a follower of Jesus, the same Jesus who says "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," have I truly lived that? Have I prayed for the hijackers who, 15 years ago, following the rhetoric of men who had twisted the peaceful message of Islam for their own destructive means, also lost their lives alongside their victims? Have I prayed for their families who, whether they perceive their loved ones joyfully as martyrs or mournfully as victims, have in both cases still lost someone they loved? Have I prayed for the thousands of victims who have died in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world as a result of my own country's acts of terroristic violence, air raids, invasions? Have I prayed for the leaders, followers, and families of ISIS? Have I written to my legislature asking for saner foreign policies that don't involve dropping bombs, which inevitably kill civilians, therefore inciting more fires of radicalism? Have I reached out to the Muslims in my local community to say, "you are welcome here. You, and Islam, are not my enemy"? Have I in fact done anything to help promote peace, understanding, camaraderie?

This is what's on my mind today.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Sermon - Part of Jacob's Well's Godflix Series 2016

Each summer Jacob's Well does a series of sermons about movies (we call it "Godflix"), and this year I got to give a sermon about Star Wars!!! As an ├╝ber-nerd who fell in love with Star Wars at a young age (and also fell in love with some fictional Star Wars characters, like Jaina Solo), having an opportunity to share some theological thoughts about the saga was an incredible honor. Thanks to Jacob's Well-er Nate who brought his camera to video me, and special thanks to Greg and Chris for brainstorming with me and helping me feel more confident that I had something worthwhile to say.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Wedding FAQs, June edition

Have you picked a date yet?

Yes! November 4, 2016

Jeremy, I noticed you're wearing a ring now; did you elope?

Nope, that's my engagement ring! I've long lamented in this country that women get to wear engagement rings and men don't, so I bought myself one and asked Alissa to give it to me.

If you're already wearing a ring, what will you use for your wedding band?

For both Alissa and me, our engagement rings will also serve as our wedding rings.

Is it true there's going to be a Ring Bear at the wedding?

It's true! We were hoping to dress up Alissa's younger brother in a bear costume, but that got veto'd, so instead we plan on having a Beanie Baby bear sitting up front, as our Ring Bear.

Jeremy, why are you so involved in wedding planning? Shouldn't Alissa be doing all that and just tell you when/where to show up?

Alissa and I have basically flip-flopped traditional gender roles when it comes to wedding planning - while she's still very involved, I've been taking the lead on much of it. This has in turn led to a fair number of conversations about making it "our" wedding vs "my" wedding, which we've mostly worked through.

Do you need any help?

If you have creative (and inexpensive) ideas how to decorate a gymnasium to look nice for a reception, then yes, please email me! Or, if you'd be available on November 3rd and morning of the 4th to help decorate said gymnasium, let us know, because we'd love to have your help.

What shenanigans will you get into for your bachelor party? Is there going to be a "Gus Bus"?

My Best Woman Marissa is in charge of planning all shenanigans for the bachelor party. All I've done is suggest that I love laser tag, and key lime pie. The rest is up to her!

Is your wedding going to be the best day of your life?

I certainly hope not. Our wedding day will be phenomenal, absolutely, but if it's the best day ever, then that means everything afterward is all down hill, and then that sure doesn't give me much to look forward to. I'm excited for our wedding day, and I'm also excited for the days of real life that come after it.

Monday, June 13, 2016

An assortment of recent thoughts

I've neglected my blog-writing time for the past few weeks, leaving me an eclectic assortment of thoughts I'd like to share tonight (writing night).

Perhaps you've heard the Christianese saying that the devil's greatest accomplishment was convincing the world he didn't exist. I'd like to append onto that: the devil's second greatest accomplishment is convincing people they face their struggles alone.

I've come to believe this because a couple weeks ago my engagement was in serious trouble, and I have to confess I was tempted to believe the lie "I'm alone; no one else has ever faced relationship challenges like this." I chose to ignore that lie, reaching out to several family/friends to ask for prayers. Nevertheless I remain awestruck by how easy it could be to convince oneself that, "I'm in this alone, if I tell anyone they will judge me, no one will understand." I'm still figuring out what to do with that and how it plays into how I relate with the people around me.

To clarify: everything is better between Alissa and me. Like every relationship, we have issues that we need to work through, but we are both committed to that work, and we know that we have family and friends who wholeheartedly support us and want to see us succeed. We know that we are not alone, that our friends won't judge us, and that other people do understand. (and relatedly, I owe my manager so much thanks for her incredible understanding when I tearfully told her "I need to go home and cry now," and she instantly said "go! Take care of yourself.")

On a happier note, Alissa and I will be emailing out Save-Our-Date's soon! Yep: emailing. Part of our wedding mission statement talks about social responsibility, and for me, that includes: 1) not spending an excess of money on printing and postage, and 2) minimizing our use of paper, and the gasoline (and environmental impact) required to deliver it. Hence, the vast majority of Save-Our-Date's will be emailed, with paper going only to those very few who don't use email. (spoiler alert for those special few who read my blog: November 4, 2016).

"Hang on, Jeremy. Why are you calling them Save-Our-Date's instead of Save-The-Date's like normal people?" Ah, good question, dear Reader. That's because Save-The-Date's carry a rather unfortunate acronym, and since we don't want to be sending STDs to all our friends, we'll be sending everyone a SOD instead.

Incidentally, I've recently had my aging retaining wall removed from my front lawn, and went searching for sod last Friday before company arrived. Turns out Menards gets sod every Friday morning... except for last Friday, because reasons. After talking with four different employees, one of them discovered that, in fact, every other Menards was sold out, too, except one in Oakdale. Thus, sans enough time to find a Home Depot (rumored to be a powerful sod-dealer) I returned home Friday night, sodless.

Having nothing at all to do with sod, Ramadan began a week ago today. Last year at the start of Ramadan I was in Saudi Arabia, mere hours away from Mecca. Though I wasn't required to fast last year in Saudi (simply needed to avoid eating/drinking in public), I did choose to fast many/most days of Ramadan. True, I sort of cheated, because I didn't wake up before sunrise for breakfast, but after breakfast I would fast from food and drink until sundown. This year I decided to try it again on a day-by-day basis.

I discovered the days are longer in Minneapolis than at KAUST. While sunset there was usually around 7 o'clock, here it's been pushing 9 o'clock. So... my first day, I only made it about 12 hours ('til 7:30) before I needed to drink water to ward off my oncoming dehydration headache. After that, I decided for health reasons I would fast only from food, but not water/tea.

A few people have asked me, "Jeremy, you're Christian, why are you fasting for a Muslim holiday?" When I first heard Ramadan described to me by my eye doctor probably... 5 or 7 years ago, I learned it was not only a season of fasting from food and water, but also negative thoughts, anger, gossip, a cleansing of the mind as much as a physical exercise. Ever since, I've always thought that idea was beautiful. And so that's part of my answer. (anyone who's heard me go on a rant when I'm frustrated probably agrees I could use a good negativity-cleanse :)

The other part of my answer: just this year, I learned that the physical portion of Ramadan fasting is related to keeping in mind those who are experiencing hunger and don't have access to safe water or a stable food supply. What I choose to do with that, is pray throughout the day each time I feel hungry. I know I can end my own personal hunger very easily, and so my prayer is gratitude for that privilege, and also supplication for the many people living in poverty for whom "fasting" has never been a choice.

Today at work, a water main burst outside our building, and so from 10:50 a.m. onward we had no running water. Soon after it was discovered the air conditioning had also failed (I guess it's at least partially liquid-cooled). By 2 o'clock when I left for a doctor's appointment, my floor was mostly vacated - almost everyone had gone home to work from there. It made me grateful for the privilege we have of expecting running water, and air conditioning, and for that matter: constant electricity. These are things we take for granted. What an amazing privilege, that I think most people (often myself included) consider more of a "right" than "privilege."

Finally, I still feel feelings of sadness. The big news item this weekend was the shooting in Florida Sunday morning, and that's had plenty of press coverage. What I'm sad about is another shooting, also in Florida, that happened the day before (Friday night / Saturday morning), taking the life of musician and sister-in-Christ, Christina Grimmie. Truth be told I couldn't even tell you a title for one of her songs; all I can say is I happened upon her YouTube channel a few years ago, and was uplifted by her cheeriness and truly beautiful singing. She was 22. I'm sad that her news story has been buried by even more sadness. I'm sad that we, as human beings, have created tools meant only for the purpose of killing one another. I'm sad that this has become the new normal.

When Alissa and I met up two weeks ago to resolve our conflict, we started out by listening to this song that she'd sent me many many months ago. It sings of the miracles Jesus performed. For me, these are much-needed reminders of hope.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Struggling to love

In his last lecture, Randy Pausch posits that "the best gift an educator can give is to get somebody to become self reflective." That, combined with the wisdom my best friend Marissa has shared with me - "preach the sermon you yourself need to hear" - means tonight's blog post is more about what I need to learn, and my hope along the way is that someone else, whether you're friend, family, or a stranger on the Internet, will join me in my journey toward trying to have a little more understanding a little less judging. It's a journey on which I frequently stumble and trip and fall.

I am struggling to love. I am struggling to act like I believe I, as a Christ-follower, should. And I am struggling to have mercy and compassion and understanding toward those whom, in my hurt and broken judgement, I do not want to extend Grace.

In short: three of the past four weekends have each beaten me down emotionally, and quite severely. The details of each incident aren't that important, because I'd rather dwell on my response, than the hurt. (Also to be clear: this isn't about "oh poor me." This is about documenting my struggle, because while I wish I had it all figured out, I think it's more edifying to be honest.)

In each case, my natural desire was, and remains: lash out. I've been wronged, after all! Shouldn't I defend myself? Isn't that fair?

It probably is "fair" by most people's definitions. But it's not Jesus-like.

Last week at Upper Room, Stefan (our worship leader, who is preaching for a 4-sermon series this month) presented a beautiful sermon about violence. Not only physical violence; also emotional, sexual, economic (like sanctions against other countries), social, cultural, and psychological. And at the end he talked about what our response, as a Church, and as individual Christians, might look like. I think it's worth sharing:

  • Recognize and confess our own violence.
  • Seek to understand the violence of others instead of condemning it. There's a message they're trying to tell you. It's hard to condemn if you're honest about your own violence.
  • Disrupt the law of necessity. When you put God in the mix, it changes the scenario. For example, we think work is going to give us fullness, and so the Christian response is Sabbath, which cuts off the lie of necessity. Everyone thinks money is going to give us freedom, and Christians instead give, to resist that lie of necessity. We need to do the same with violence.
  • Absorb the violence we deserve and don't return it. The only way to stop the cycle is that it has to stop with someone. This is really hard. This is redemptive for the self.
  • Absorb the violence we don't deserve. This is the picture of Jesus, of the cross. This is redemptive for the world. And the world won't be able to make sense of it. It's the most Christ-like thing we can engage in.

That last one on the list. Wow.

Less than a week after Stefan preached that, I would have the opportunity to put it into practice.

And let me tell you, it sucks.

It's going through withdrawal from an addiction I never realized I had: self-righteousness. Fighting against a deep-seated need to prove why I'm right, and the other person is wrong. Restraining myself every hour from the urge to whip out my phone and start drafting a scathing response.

In the end, my addiction to "rightness" was defeated only by God's grace, not my own strength. This frustrates me, because it makes me dependent (on God), and I don't like knowing I'm dependent. (though isn't that exactly what Christian doctrine teaches me I should be, even from the earliest stories in my book of scriptures?)

Even though I'd given myself a hard-pass on seeking reconciliation, God hadn't. I rarely invoke the "God Called me to such-and-such," because I think the words lose their power when over-used. This is one case, though, where I believe I can say God was tugging at my heart to seek peace. I can say that because, well, it didn't come from inside of me, and it certainly didn't come from my spiritual enemies, so that really leaves only one other source. With this intent in mind, last night at church I asked two separate prayer-warriors to pray over me, because I knew I didn't have strength to fight the devils whispering constant streams of anger into my mind.

While the final outcome is yet to be determined (both in terms of this specific relationship, and in general about my addiction to proving myself right), I can say that for last night, the prayers worked. I was able to collect my thoughts into a letter that turned out calm, thoughtful, compassionate, thankful, and also, sincerely apologetic for the wrongs I had committed. How the other person responds is well beyond my control. I only can control my own words and actions, and the choice to respond with love, rather than escalating violence.

I even got to share my story with a coworker today, too, and who knows the reaching effect that may have in his interactions with others?

Jacob's Well played this song a few weeks ago, and the lyrics have been resonating around my head ever since. It's well-worth a listen, if you need a few minutes' break from the day:

I used to think I needed all the answers.
I used to need to know that I was right
I used to be afraid of things I couldn't cover up in black and white.
But now I just want to look more like love..."

Monday, May 09, 2016

Jesus in McDonald's

A couple weeks ago I flew to visit a customer site. I had a bit of a drive from the airport, and after consuming a large quantity of juice and water I was feeling some pressure to give those liquids safe passage out of my body. And also I was hungry. It was getting late, and I didn't want to spend a lot of time at a fancier sit-down restaurant, so I made the next-most-responsible and healthy adult decision: McDonald's.

As I stood admiring the lists of tasty (and I'm sure healthy) food items, I observed a man and woman ahead of me in line, wearing bright red shirts with ginormous black lettering on both front and back proclaiming "JESUS SAVES". I eyed them up, wondering what flavor of ... well let's be honest the first word I thought of was "whackos"... Christians they might be. But the truth is that at the same time as I gawked, a feeling of peace descended upon me in that place.

I chose a table nearby them where I could casually observe (there's nothing creepy about that at all, right?), and what I saw every time I looked over were two people so incredibly joy-filled, that I was forced to start asking myself "what am I missing in my own faith? I want some of THAT!"

After consuming my probably-wasn't-that-healthy-for-me-after-all meal, and channeling my inner Elwood P. Dowd, I approached the red shirts, apologized for interrupting their conversation, and inquired, "I have to ask: obviously you're missionaries, what're you doing?" (blog text doesn't emote, so to clarify: this last clause was asked with a tone of genuine curiosity, not accusatorially).

Their names were Jerry and Cheryl, they had just married 6 months ago, and they felt God calling them to embark upon a weekend trip up into the city with nothing but their sleeping bags, to minister to the people they met in the community, and sleep under the stars like Jesus did in His ministry. That day already they'd witnessed to a dozen or more people (in English and in fluent Spanish!), many of whom experienced God in those moments and chose to embark on their own Christian journeys. That afternoon while visiting a yard sale, after the seller asked the story behind their shirts, she donated to them two hiking backpacks to carry their things. Jerry shared with me story after story of God's provision in their journey, and it reminded me of the verse about "take nothing for your journey, no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt." (citation: in the bible somewhere, in red text). I shared with them about my sense of peace in the restaurant, simply being near their presence. And Jerry gave me the Words he felt God speaking to him for me. We talked for probably half an hour or more. (and, living up to my Elwood P. Dowd aspirations, we ended with me saying "here, let me give you one of my cards...")

I consider our meeting a Divine appointment, a spiritually-uplifting encounter I hadn't realized how much I needed until afterward. And having had that encounter, I wish I carried an aura like Jerry and Cheryl do, one that brings peace to the people around me. (I could also describe my coworker Tom in this way, for he is the most serene man I've ever met; and I'm not just saying that because I know he reads my blog :) This is something I hope to improve on, because while perhaps some of the time I do [bring peace], I fear that too often I instead succumb to negativity, or at the least, intensity, which lends itself not toward peaceful and serene living. God, grant me grace, that I would be as full of You as were my brother and sister whom I met in a McDonald's two weeks ago.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

The Book of Job as written by a lawyer

I follow a legal humor blog called Lowering the Bar, not because I love law but simply because I find the guy's writing style hilarious. I also love the Torah / Old Testament book of Job (which is why any time a sermon or article mentions Job, it instantly grabs my attention... and sets my expectations high, because I like to make-believe I'm extremely knowledgeable about the subject). So you can imagine my excitement about today's LtB headline: "And Then Job Spake, and Said, Let a Restraining Order Issue Against the Lord".

After stifling giggles from my cubicle (for example, this sentence: "The reporter apparently has a transcript of the hearing, and yet has failed to link it, which hath caused me to rent my garments and wail in frustration (working at home today)."), I followed a link at the bottom of the article with the words, "If Great Literary Works Had Been Written by Lawyers." Here I found a 2-page Lawyerly retelling of the book of Job that was hysterical (namely, Job's now-infamous words, "Indeed, this sucketh") and also, as all great parodies should, showed a deeply intimate knowledge of the original source text.

As I read Job's law firm woes, I starting picturing the Venn diagram of how extremely narrow a population this particular piece of prose might appeal to: lawyers (and also real people) who enjoy law, have a sense of humor, and who are at least passingly familiar with the book of Job (aka likely "religious" people). While I have no solid statistics, I suspect that total number world-wide to be ... rather small. Yet Kevin wrote the piece anyway, and I think that's beautiful.

My friend Michelle writes frequently on her blog how vitally important it is for authors to write the stories that are yearning to burst onto the page, rather than wasting time worrying how many readers may read them:

"You love writing fantasy? Then write it. You have a passion for Westerns? Pen a saddle-buster of a tale. The point is that whatever genre makes your heart go pitter-patter is the genre you should be writing."
- From Writer Off The Leash

Which, from my view, is exactly what Kevin did. And I thoroughly enjoyed reading the end product.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016


I'm'a let you finish, but...

One of my pet peeves in being interrupted by the person I'm talking to. I know I do it myself, too, sometimes, though, so I'll confess to a minor hypocrisy there.

One of my pet peeves of greatest egregiousness, though, is being interrupted by someone else who wasn't ever part of the conversation (and wasn't invited in). Now to clarify: it's not that they're interrupting for the sake of contributing something into the conversation (a fact-correction, or a jog-your-memory when you're struggling to think of a movie title, for example; those interruptions I will oftentimes value). I'm talking about, just to use an example from this past Sunday, when I'm listening to a story from a friend after church and a stranger-to-me comes up, interjects him/herself into our conversation, and begins talking to my friend about a completely different topic, cutting off my conversation and excluding me.

If you pay attention, you'll start seeing people do this all. the. time. At church, at work, at weddings, in the lunchroom, basically anywhere and everywhere social. It irks me when I see it happen to others, and drives me nuts when it happens to me.

When did this behavior become an acceptable social norm?

I've struggled for years about what to do in this situation. On the rarer occasion I'm the person who the newcomer is engaging, rather than being the odd-man out, then I tell them, hang on, I was just talking with so-and-so, let me finish that conversation up first (or, if the newcomer brings urgent news that must be addressed immediately, then I'll apologize to my first friend, and promise to follow-up with them later; this is less preferable, but sometimes necessary).

But most of the time I'm the one not being approached, which typically leaves me standing by uncomfortably until the 3rd party finishes and walks away, allowing person #1 and I to resume. By then I've wasted 5 minutes waiting (and awkwardly eavesdropping) on another conversation to resolve in order to continue the conversation I was already having. Frankly, I'm sick of this solution.

From now on, I think I'll try implementing some new approaches:

1) Walking away. Clearly, if my friend thinks the newcomer's conversation is more interesting than the one we were having, well, then sadly the odds are they were already disengaged from our conversation anyway.

2) That solution won't work all of the time, though, because sometimes I still need information from the friend I was talking to. In that case, I need to work on a polite and direct way of asking the newcomer, "may we finish our conversation first, or is this urgent?" Actually, that right there might do it...

People checking their phones in the middle of a conversation is also a pet peeve, but I've probably ranted enough for one evening.