Monday, December 07, 2009

Why I believe the Manhattan Declaration causes more harm than good

One of my friends recently blogged about something called the Manhattan Declaration. It’s a 7-page letter drafted by 3 conservative Christians expressing their opinions on how Christians should respond to several hot social issues.

After reading it, I found myself shaking, vastly disappointed not only in those "Christians" who created the Declaration, but also those who choose to endorse it. The Declaration claims to speak for Christians. Instead, it makes me ashamed to call myself one.

With my frustration vented in those words, the easy course would be to stop here. Instead, I feel I need to go into detail, to explain exactly why I’m so upset. I write this out of my own frustration, but also because I care: I care about seeing reform in the Church, and I see the Manhattan Declaration as moving us in the opposite direction from where we should be headed.

The Declaration itself appears to encourage such a reflection:

We call upon all people of goodwill, believers and non-believers alike, to consider carefully and reflect critically on the issues we here address as we, with St. Paul, commend this appeal to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

And so, after many hours, here is my critical reflection:


The Declaration’s preamble lists some of the good things Christianity has done throughout history. There are some true gems in there: caring for the sick, fighting slavery, fighting for civil rights, etc. Yes, the Church has done some good. The authors conveniently forget things like the Crusades, the suppression of scientific advances (the earth is the center of the universe, remember?), the oppression of women (which continues in modern day Catholicism and several other denominations), etc. But in all fairness, none of those are core issues at stake, and being that this is a religious, not historical, document, I’m okay letting it slide. So, really, nothing terribly objectionable in the preamble.


1) Abortion

The authors deserve great credit for including this statement:

We will work, as we have always worked, to bring assistance, comfort, and care to pregnant women in need…. [The] truly Christian answer to problem pregnancies is for all of us to love and care for mother and child alike.

This is a well thought out and healthy response, they did well here. Because I’ve gone back and forth in my views on abortion, while I personally [currently] disagree with their viewpoint on the immorality of all abortions, I can, on this topic, simply agree to disagree. If the authors and signers fulfill this social promise to care for the pregnant women in need (or, if not completely fulfill, at least give a good faith effort), then more power to them, and kudos.

With that said, though, I must also acknowledge the necessity of separation of church and state, something for which I have only in recent years gained an appreciation. By this I mean: the authors, and the Church, are welcome to hold their stance against abortions, but they ought not decree law, because, at least in this country, we are not a theocracy.

2) Embryonic Research

Sadly, the church has often stood opposed to science and scientific advances, so to hear that view reiterated in yet another modern day context doesn’t really surprise me.

At issue here is the question of when life begins (vs "potential life"), for which, to my knowledge, no one has yet produced a solid, definitive, and scientifically credible answer.

Personally, I believe there’s great potential benefit in embryonic research. To imagine that we could one day rehabilitate spinal injuries, I think it would be irresponsible not to pursue these advances. But I also don’t see this as a core issue of Christianity (in fact, *nothing* in the entire Declaration seems to be an actual core issue… hmm…), so again, I’m willing to agree to disagree.

3) Euthanasia

Death is tricky. When it comes to end-of-life care, I generally put it in these terms: what would I want if it were me or my family? My parents and I had that discussion a few years ago when Terri Schiavo was in the news. We all agreed: none of us wanted to be in that situation.

Heart-wrenching, end-of-life decisions are difficult enough, and thus belong solely in the hands of the family, their pastors, and the doctors, not politicians or religious protestors.

The flip side: opening the door to any form of legal euthanasia quickly becomes a slippery slope issue. The Church is right to be concerned and to encourage just legislation... but along with that comes a responsibility to approach the issue with intelligence. End-of-life decisions for patients with no chance of recovery in no way equates to eugenics, as the Manhattan authors seem to suggest.

I believe the message here ought to be: leave this one in the hands of individual pastors, rather than trying to apply a blanket, catch-all rule. Life and death are far too complex for that.

What the authors leave out

Left out of the discussion are capital punishment and war, in my opinion the most important "sanctity of life" issue. (There is one passing mention of war victims, but it’s barely noticeable). If the Church ought to be riles up about anything, I would want it to be riled up about these two issues. Unlike the issues the authors do bother to discuss, capital punishment actually affects living people, is morally dubious at best, and promotes punishment rather than rehabilitation - these are not New Testament ideals. (yes, the Old Testament condones capital punishment, but set in context, the OT law is one of the most progressive ancient world legal systems, on par with the Code of Hammurabi)

Related to war, one of the most important questions we can ask: why is my life as an American any more valuable than that of a non-American? If the Church truly wants to be counter-cultural, this would be a good place to start.


I’ll lambast in a few moments, but first I must acknowledge some true pieces of gold. The Declaration rightly expresses concern over the dramatic increase in out-of-wedlock birth rate, infidelity, and divorces. They go on to state:

To strengthen families, we must stop glamorizing promiscuity and infidelity and restore among our people a sense of the profound beauty, mystery, and holiness of faithful marital love.

Amen. Well spoken. And I wholeheartedly agree. Hollywood and popular culture have cheapened marriage, and that saddens me. The Declaration authors are right to express their concerns.

Unfortunately, my agreement ends shortly thereafter. The Declaration goes on to, in my words, "lovingly condemn" homosexuals. Here’s what I mean. The authors do acknowledge that:

We, no less than they [homosexual persons], are sinners who have fallen short of God’s intention for our lives. We, no less than they, are in constant need of God’s patience, love and forgiveness.

On very basic principle, taken out of context, I agree with that statement… in that I agree ALL persons "have fallen short". And I truly must commend the authors on delivering what is perhaps the most gracious and loving language I’ve seen from the conservative’s camp on this topic. Seriously, their attention to nuance is inspirational, and at the very least, I pray that those who are more conservative would take what the authors have written to heart. There is some actual good that could come from it.

But the authors grievously err in their presupposition that homosexuality is inherently sinful. This is the hot button for me, since at least half of my closest friend group is GLBT, and some of them are in committed relationships more honoring to God than many heterosexual couples I know. I honestly can’t believe that the Church is still up in arms about homosexuality, seeing as it’s mentioned exactly 0 times in the Gospel (so clearly it was of fundamental importance to Jesus, the person we’re supposed to be imitating... wait…)

There are a few Biblical verses from Leviticus and Paul’s letters that are always used to condemn homosexuality, but these all speak of lustful acts performed in order to shame God (much the same as heterosexuals do all the time… except no one is persecuting them), and not about committed, monogamous marriages as we see them today. There are plenty of laws, for ALL people, heterosexual and otherwise, about sexual purity, but none that actually address homosexual marriage commitments. To any who disagree with me, the burden of proof is on you to provide any Scriptural evidence to the contrary. (I’d also add, if you bother to read Leviticus, in addition to sexual purity laws, it also commands believers to stone anyone who works on the Sabbath, to stone adulterers, and not to weave cloth from two different kinds of thread. I’m always curious why the conservatives don’t ever try to enforce these laws...)

The Declaration expresses concern about "family values". I would pose this question for consideration: how are "family values" threatened by monogamous, committed, publicly accountable marriage covenants between two people who love each other and want to raise a family? That seems like a pretty good definition of "family values" to me. Why should gender matter?

The Declaration goes on to purport that allowing equal marriage rights will lead to polygamous or incestuous marriages… I don’t know any effective method of arguing against irrationality, so my only response is for anyone who actually believes that to go out and talk to a gay person, rather than about them.

Now here’s what really doesn’t make any sense to me: in the Declaration’s previous section, discussing "life", the authors say the following:

We call on all officials in our country, elected and appointed, to protect and serve every member of our society, including the most marginalized, voiceless, and vulnerable among us.

The Bible enjoins us to defend those who cannot defend themselves, to speak for those who cannot themselves speak.

I can’t possibly be the only one to spot the irony: the authors first claim a desire to serve and protect the marginalized, those who are defenseless, but then proceed to attack one of the most commonly marginalized groups today: the GLBT community. Does Christian hypocrisy surprise me anymore? No, of course not, we’re all human. But it does disappoint me. The authors would do well to read their own work, perhaps it would enlighten them.

More importantly, though: how is a GLBT Christian supposed to respond? I’m a straight, white, middle class American male, I have it pretty easy in life, and this isn’t an issue I’ve personally had to wrestle with. But half of my closest friends have. How does one choose between their faith in God and their sexual identity? It’s as perverse as if asking an African-American to choose either their ethnicity or their faith. The homophobia and prejudice presented by the Declaration is as vile as racism, sexism, and religious intolerance. It’s saying that being the person you were born is a sin. I thought we’d moved past that in this country, and so it saddens me greatly that the Church, of all organizations, should be the one promoting continuing persecution. Have we learned nothing from the civil rights and suffrage movements?

For over 260,000 signers of the declaration to date, the answer is apparently "no".

I find it revolting when fear and prejudice try to hide behind God’s name.

If individual churches choose to oppose to equal marriage rights, I suppose that’s their prerogative. To those churches I say this: remember the separation between Church and State, and keep your hatred, fear, and prejudice out of my legislature.

Religious Liberty

I was hoping this section might have discussed the recent trend of saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas". Because I might have been in agreement with the authors had they touched that subject.

No such luck.

1) Conscience Clauses

The authors express their unhappiness that Christian health-care professionals are forced to refer or perform abortions. While I can appreciate such a person’s plight, each individual chose that profession, and with accepting their job agreed to do their job.

The Declaration also laments the closing of a Catholic adoption agency because they discriminated against GLBT adopters. I believe that’s referred to as "illegal discrimination"… I guess I don’t understand what part of "illegal" didn’t make sense to the authors...

One of my friends was fired from her job at a so-called "Christian" Bible camp last summer. It was her second year, she’d worked there the previous summer, was well-liked, had many friends amongst the staff. But it came out that she was in a loving, committed, Christian relationship. With another girl. She was told to choose: leave her employment, or leave the girl she was dating.

I wish she would have pursued legal action; unfortunately, the camp will get away with it.

2) Hate Crimes Laws

The authors are concerned that new legislation will prevent pastors from preaching against homosexuality and abortion from the pulpit.

I’m undecided here, because there is that line between Church and State. As for abortion, while I disagree with the view, I’m inclined to say such speech is protected under the 1st Amendment. I don’t particularIy see the church alienating those who have had abortions, but if that’s what the pastors really want to do, I think it’s their right. I can at least hope they’ll approach such a topic with a view of love and reconciliation.

As concerns anti-homosexual speech from the pulpit, this equates to no less than preaching about hating black people, or women, or Jews, or Indians, of Muslims, or anything. Whatever laws govern other hate speech ought also apply to sermons related to anti-homosexuality.

A couple years ago, one of my very best friends, who also happens to be homosexual, and an atheist, was hired as a church secretary. Since then, she has come to believe in God again. What would have happened if that church had turned her away?

The End

The Declaration ends with an invitation to incite civil disobedience against unChristian and unjust laws. Laws that give people equal rights and stuff. Because, of course, it’s not like that’s what our country was founded on or anything. Christianity ought to be defined by who we include, rather than who we choose to exclude from Jesus’ table.

The Declaration was written by leading conservative Christians, and cannot be assumed to speak for all Christians world-wide. Instead of bringing church unity, it instead alienates people like me - people who are already fed up with "the Church". It alienates and marginalizes those who have had abortions, those who are divorced, the GLBT and Christian GLBT communities, and those who have had to make difficult end-of-life decisions for their loved ones. Rather than offering reconciliation with God, the Declaration builds one more obstacle between God and the people He loves.

The Declaration causes more harm than good.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Once an Awaken Song, Always an Awaken Song

A few weeks ago, I was listening to music in the car from my iPhone. A few songs into the Genius playlist, the resurrection song from Awaken this past year played, and I instantly teared up. Months later, hundreds of miles away, that song still evoked those same emotions I felt watching the drama: watching Jesus be buried; the tomb lighting up; my friends Kayla and Jessie, the Roman guards, running away; Brandon/God/Jesus appearing on the stage and defeating Courtney/Satan, the song instantly brought me back to that place. Apparently, once an Awaken song, always an Awaken song.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

"Let's get this ball rolling!"

This afternoon three of my friends performed in an acting showcase, the culmination of weeks of training. Though I'm sure they'll critique themselves, I thought they all did splendidly (as anticipated :)

Afterward, one of them asked me when we'd be shooting my next film project, FAR AWAY. I replied that I'm hoping for next summer, but it really depends on how quickly I can raise $200,000 to green-light the production. Usually when I tell that to people they chuckle. But Corey did something different. Rather than respond with nervous laughter, his reply went something like this: "Well, I've got $10 in my pocket, let's get this ball rolling!".

This evening, as I've reflected more on that moment, I've once again come to feel truly humbled. Corey knew only the basic premise and overarching theme for the movie (the "elevator pitch", as I'm told it's called), and yet he believed so much both in the story and in my passion and ability that he made his pledge right there, no waiting around.

I feel inspired and invigorated, awed and humbled.

It's interesting, also - yesterday afternoon I was telling my parents how far things were coming along, and they made the same metaphorical reference: the ball is rolling already. To hear Corey independently make the same reference today may have just been coincidence, it may have been just a common figure of speech, but I choose to believe it's a Higher confirmation that this movie will happen!

$10 pledged, only $199,990 to go. In all seriousness, I see that as meaning we're well on our way. Praise God.

Thursday, October 01, 2009


During Awaken last year, before each performance, after rehearsal had finished but before the cast left to start putting on their makeup, we all took 10 minutes for quiet prayer/meditation/preparation in the sanctuary. During this time, Jon played two instrumental songs over our speakers: "Wonderment", by Kerry Muzzey, and "Ben" from the National Treasure soundtrack (essentially the theme song of the movie).

Before last night, I never really understood Kerry's song, "Wonderment." During Awaken it evoked for me a sense of preparing to run into battle, like in Narnia or Lord of the Rings. Last night, it had new meaning: in reflecting on my journey so far toward my next film project (a modern day retelling of Job from the Old Testament), I stood in wonderment of how far God has brought me. So many things fell into place this past week, I'm left with nothing but amazement at how God is working here. And so I understood: the "pre-battle" excitement I felt during Awaken – it doesn't necessarily need to be a battle, but rather, something wonderful, something Epic – the excitement of the adventure to come.

I'm left in Wonderment of God.

It's a good place to be.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Looking for a New Church

For several months I’ve wondered whether True Light Covenant would be my church “home”. Sunday morning I got my answer loud and clear: Absolutely not.

Ironically, when I walked in things actually felt better than normal - several people greeted me, very kindly, with smiles, shook my hand, and I truly felt welcomed. The worship set was good, also, and the sermon introduction sounded promising: the idea that God calls us to excel, not just get by with “good enough”. I had thought, if only for those brief minutes, that today finally things would turn around - True Light would become my home.

Unfortunately, the pastor took a turn for the worse while talking about sexual morality. And of course he had to go off on what I now commonly refer to as “the issue” (aka, homosexuality). And he railed on the ELCA for their recent vote to approve of partnered clergy, saying “they voted on a sin!”

I was ready to walk out then and there. Before I did, I prayed, and I felt God calling me to stay, that there would be something worthwhile for me before I left. And I suppose I also hoped the pastor might somehow finagle himself back out of this hole he had dug.

The latter did not happen; the former did… marginally. Unfortunately at this point I was fuming so terribly that I could no longer focus with any degree of clarity. I heard something about excelling in the work place… something something. And to the pastor’s credit, he did also spend equal time going off about premarital sex for heterosexual couples, so that was a pleasant change from how most off-the-deep-end conservative sermons go.

At this point I suppose I ought to explain why, exactly, I was so furious. The answer is really quite simple: while I myself am straight, half of my absolute closest friends are GLBT (and a significant number of my second and third tier friends, as well).

Secondly, hearing one too many conservative nut-jobs on the radio was what drove me away from the church several years ago, and it’s been a very long road coming back. It’s those sermons that make me ashamed to have any connection to “Christianity.”

Thirdly, I’ve spent more than my fair share of time studying the theology - I’ve heard all the arguments, I think they’re all bunk, and it’s fairly easy to systematically prove that… to any reasonable human being who’s actually willing to listen, rather than just regurgitate Old Testament theology (that, in my humble opinion, doesn’t really have a home in modern day Christian thought; count, for example, the number of times Jesus ever mentions anything that could even remotely relate to homosexuality: 0).

This is an important issue to me - I quit one of my web design jobs last year because of this. And so, as I said, I was fuming.

As soon as the service ended, while the congregation was singing along with the praise team, I scurried out right behind the pastor. In the back, he smiled and held out his hand to shake mine. I refused. “Well,” I said, “I’ve been wondering if this would be my church home, and now I have my answer. I can’t feel at home here, I will never be back.”

I began walking away, and he looked at me incredulously and asked, “Why?” I told him: “A few months ago, Dan [the former worship leader] said that he had met a lesbian who didn’t go to church and he told her that she’d be welcome at True Light. And now I find out that that’s absolutely not true. You just alienated half of my closest friends.”

At this point the conversation became heated. And people were starting to come out of the chapel, so I just wanted to leave and not make a scene. As I continued to edge nearer the door, he retorted that “of course they’re still welcome”. If I’d been thinking more quickly, my ideal response would have been akin to “Not after the gospel of hate you just preached”. Instead, my reply was less well-thought-out: “No they’re not” or something. What really hurt was his audacity to then declare that I “just don’t understand.” My reply was most definitely out of sheer anger, bordering on hate. I told him I would never come back to this church, and that I hoped never to see him again.

In retrospect, I know this was an overreaction. In the heat of the moment, emotions win. And there were some powerful emotions that day.

It’s very hard to separate the sin from the person. I’m struggling. It’s hard not to look at him and place blame for all that’s wrong with Christianity in America. It’s harder to remember that I’m no better, just in different ways.

In rehashing the memory in my mind, I reconstruct the scene similarly to a scene near the end of Star Wars III, where ObiWan is crying/yelling at Anakin: “You were the Chosen One!” If you know the scene, allow me to rewrite O-W Kenobi’s dialog: “You’re a Pastor! You’re supposed to be a reflection of God’s Love in this world, not one who fills it with hatred!” If only I’d been so quick-witted.

When I got home, I did the most logical thing anyone does after a traumatic experience: I updated my Facebook status.

Jeremy Gustafson is sad. And angry. And upset. God is good, and Christ is Good, so why are Christians such self-righteous and hateful jerks? (ie, I'm never going back to True Light Covenant ever again)

By the end of the day, numerous people had commented. And I want to respond to those now:

Comment 1: Good. Judging by the name of it, it's not a righteous place anyway (if there can be any righteousness in a place). The TRUE and the only light?

Truth be told, it’s not the place, it was just the one man. The people overall are friendly, and I harbor no ill feelings toward them. I honestly fear for the new Christians in the group, though.

Comment 2: Gandhi is often quoted as having said, "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

I have a Muslim friend who thinks the same of the Taliban. Whenever they come up in conversation, she asks, "are we even reading the same book?" I am beginning to think the same of Christians sometimes.

I completely agree. This quote came to mind even before you wrote it - it’s been a constant companion to me for a long time :)

Comment 3: Why even read the book? It's filled with hatred and stories of revenge... sanctioned by god. Gives me shivers.

The Old Testament is filled with such stories. The New Testament (which is most definitely not from where Sunday’s sermon heralded) tells a much different story… I’ve never really been one to actually recommended reading the Bible, but in this case I’ll break my trend: check out Luke (you can read it online for free at

Or, if you’re strapped for time, I’m sure there’s SparkNotes or Wikipedia entries that summarize it. My point is, the NT gives a dramatically different picture of God.

Lastly, from a secular point of view, it’s important to have basic Biblical literacy in order to understand the vast majority of English literature.

Comment 4: Hey Jeremy, just thinking about you and I hope all is well for you. Maybe someday you can visit my church. I think you would like it.

I’ll definitely check it out. I’ll message you soon…

Comment 5: Not all who claim to be Christians, are Christians...Real Christians will never make you feel the way you do now. So let's not loose our faith in Christianity because of a few pretenders. That line of thinking is the easiest way to justify turning your back on Christ.

You’ve nailed it. The last line in particular. The first time I dealt with this issue, that was my solution: to run away. This time, I know better. My faith in the church has certainly taken a significant hit, but my faith in God, in Christ, will not waver because of the actions of men. Thank you, sincerely, for the reminder.

Comment 6: I feel your pain, I have a similar situation here, but I believe God has called me to pray for them and help them repent. I will pray for you to love in spite of them.

It’s been hard - I’m not at a point yet where I’ve been able to pray sincerely for the pastor. Unless half-hearted prayers count for something… Blessings and peace to you as well, though, as you deal with your situation. Maybe we’ll form a support group for each other :)

Comment 7: These are the people being addressed in the book of Jude, I think. It's short - read it. Then come to Bethlehem Covenant. Ryan Eikenbary-Barber is back!

I’ll check out Jude sometime soon. And I might come to Bethlehem sometime; I find it very difficult to worship in traditional worship services, though, so I won’t promise being a regular attender.

That's enough for one blog post. New Church recommendations welcome. And prayers, also: for my former pastor, for that congregation, for the Church as a whole, for love and reconciliation.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Compressor and Qmaster Cluster

In preparation to create the Harry Putter 2 DVD, I borrowed (with permission) a number of Macbooks from work and set up my own little render farm at home. I installed Apple’s Qmaster package on each machine, which would allow my laptop to use them as a distributed computing network. In principal, it’s supposed to be really easy. In practicality, it sort of was, but not really.

The Qadministrator application is incredibly picky. If you do things right, it works great, but if just one variable isn’t to its liking, it beach-balls and won’t respond. Worse, it destroys the cluster you were trying to save and you have to start all over. After doing this several times, it goes pretty quickly, but still, it’s frustrating.

Anyway, here are some tips and tricks I learned while battling with Qmaster and Compressor (version 3, so yes I know this is already out of date, but may be useful for anyone who hasn’t upgraded to Apple’s latest and greatest)

Software Update

Before you think about doing anything else, before you even open up Qadministrator to create a cluster, update all your machines to the latest OS (10.5.7 as of this writing). Also, after installing the Qmaster package on each render node machine, run Software Update again and install any Pro Application Support or Quicktime updates. Without these installed on every machine Qadministrator will not be able to set up your cluster.

To set up you Qmaster cluster, follow this excellent tutorial:

Also, note that if you’re setting up machines that have more than one processor (any dual core MacBook or MacBook Pro, for example), you can highlight the Compressor service in the Apple Qmaster System Preferences pane, click “Options for selected service”, and choose as many instances as you have processors (so, dual cores = 2 instances). I’ve found it convenient on my master node (my personal laptop) to leave this at 1 less than the maximum so that compressord leaves me a little bit of processor power to check email, etc, but it doesn’t matter too much. The important lesson is to take advantage of those dual cores where you can.

Lastly, whenever you make changes to your cluster in Qadminister, do it slowly. And by that I mean one change at a time. Then quit. Then open Qadministrator up again and make another change, and so on. The alternative is that you might get an error message saying it’s unable to save the changes to the cluster, and next time you open Qadministrator your cluster has disappeared. Now you must go to every single stinkin’ machine, open the Apple Qmaster System Preferences pane, stop sharing, hold down option and click “Reset Services”, then start sharing again. On every machine. And a reboot doesn’t hurt then, either.

Audio Sync Problems

When rendering some of my videos I ran into audio sync problems. Specifically, I found them when compressing MPEG-2 and Dolby 2.0 streams for DVD, using a video that was either 23.98 or 24 fps. Oh, right, by the way, in Compressor 3, in order to use Qmaster to render a video, you need to export a Self-Contained-Quicktime-Movie file (SCQTM as I’ve seen it commonly abbreviated) first, then send that file through Compressor. I understand Apple fixed this in Compressor 3.5 so that you can use QT reference movies, but in v.3 it needs to be a SCQTM.

The issue I saw was that, even for short, two minute clips, the audio would be off sync by almost 1 second toward the end. But only when I compressed through the cluster. If I encoded the job on my local machine, no issue, looked beautiful (and obviously, I checked, the SCQTM file played correctly). Sidenote, I used a program called MPEG Streamclip to preview the renders without having to bring them into DVD Studio Pro, or, worse, actually burn a real disc.

After literally hours scouring Google, I finally broke down and called Apple’s “expert support” service (I’m not saying that sarcastically, that’s what it’s actually called). The guy I spoke to (Jon), recommended I disconnect some of the machines from the cluster and see if that made a difference. Apparently “network latency” can cause audio sync issues.

I was skeptical, and I still can’t wrap my mind around why that would make any difference, but nevertheless I tried it, screwed up Qadministrator, reset services and rebooted, and then sent the batch job through again, this time with only 1 extra computer in the cluster. Everything came out correctly. Hmm. I added computers one at a time until I realized that it was the computers networked on my second switch that would cause problems. Well, not the computers themselves, but the fact that there was a second switch between those machines and the master node. Thus I’ve determined you can probably have as many computers as you want in a cluster, as long as they’re physically all on the same switch. At least, for certain types of encoding - oddly, one timeline that was 59.97fps encoded perfectly fine with the entire cluster, it’s just the 23.98fps sequences that didn’t.

Incomplete Rendered Movies

Another issue I had was that some movies came through incomplete. The last minute or two of footage just hadn’t been encoded. The SCQTM was all there, but the MPEG-2 stopped about 95% of the way through.

I’ve finally determined this was my own ingenuity working against me. Early on in the process, I saved my Compressor batch file with all my sources, destinations, and settings for my entire DVD contents. This way I made sure I wouldn’t forget anything when I needed to render everything after I finished editing. Unfortunately, Compressor apparently keeps track of movie length, so after I added some clips to my FCP timeline and exported a new SCQTM, Compressor didn’t recognize the movie as being any longer than it was before, so it only encoded the length of the original movie. Deleting the job from the Compressor file and re-adding it solved this problem.

That’s all for now. Hopefully this will help at least one desperate person someday.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Shopping at Rainbow, a nearby grocery store, often proves to be a humbling reminder of how privileged a life I lead. A few weeks ago, the cashier asked the gentleman in front of me if he wanted to become a Roundy’s Reward member: ‘It only takes a few minutes and all you need is a name and phone number’. “Well”, he replied, “that answers that, I don’t have a phone.” He seemed like a very nice guy, it’s hard for me to imagine, though, what that life would be like not being able to afford a phone. Admittedly, I could be wrong in assuming that - he may very well choose not to have a phone, I’m just drawing my conclusion based on his state of dress, and also that he paid with cash and not plastic.

I rarely see plastic cards used at Rainbow, it seems like most shoppers are 'just getting by' financially. It’s strange, picturing that, because I’ve never needed to worry about having money to buy groceries - on this particular day I remember I didn’t even look at my total bill, just swiped my card and moved on. Definitely a life of privilege.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Honor vs Obligation

For the first time, this year I was privileged to march with the Minnehaha faculty and staff for graduation. I’ve looked forward to this event for 5 years, and now, finally, with my fancy college degree, I could don a black robe and look smart.

While all faculty are required to walk in the procession, staff are not, and, in fact, very few staff ever choose to. So it’s an interesting difference in perspective: for the faculty who have been around for a long time, this march has become just another obligation, whereas for me it was a great honor, an event I’ve anticipated for years.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

No More Yellow Pages

A few weeks ago I came home and found a massive pile of Phone Books on my front door step. Okay, it was only two books, but in my mind I was screaming at the injustice - why kill a tree to print a useless book that I'm just going to recycle and never use?

I found another blogger who adamantly agrees with me:

And he turned me on to this site to opt out of phone book delivery. I signed up. I hope it works.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Time for a Promotion

In The Devil Wears Prada, Nigel tells Anne Hathaway's character, "Let me know when your entire life goes up in smoke, then it's time for a promotion."

That quote has stuck with me ever since, because, well, last summer I pretty much devoted my entire life to work, and while the paychecks were very nice (I'm paid hourly, plus time-and-a-half overtime), I've made a deliberate effort since then to not let work consume me; my personal life needs to take priority, otherwise I run a very real risk of becoming a workaholic. The Devil Wears Prada resonated with me so strongly because, in the end, Anne's character finally makes this decision for herself, as well; moreso, we even see a glimpse of jealousy from Miranda, her [former] overtaxing boss. Miranda lost her family and has no real friends because she could not escape the lifestyle of the rich and famous and successful - that's not where I want to see my life going.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

51 Days of Uptime

This is totally geeky, but here's one reason I love my Mac: I routinely can go over a month between restarts. Okay, yes, I know there are some Linux nerds out there who can claim records of over a year, but still, my point: try doing anything comparable on Windows.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Class of 2009

Today was St Olaf’s Commencement for the Class of 2009. It’s been an entire year since I graduated college. Weird. It was great to see so many of my friends at one time, though. So proud. *Tear*.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Don't Panic

My friend Shawn posted this on his blog today, I think it's hilarious, and often quite applicable:

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t sweat the big stuff, either. Just go straight to the nervous breakdown.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Photoshopping Bloomington Campus

When we launched the new Minnehaha website a number of months back, we placed pictures on the home page from all three campuses. Behold below the power of Photoshop in first color correcting this photo of Bloomington campus, second removing the flag pole, and third adding in the sign that’s actually a few hundred feet away on the side of the street. I enjoy my job.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Live in Trust

Trusting God can be hard. It seems like it should be easy; I mean, really, if I’m going to trust anyone, God seems like a logical #1 choice.

And yet, in so many circumstances I find it difficult, if not impossible, to simply rest, be at peace, and trust. “God, don’t You know my plans? Can’t You see I’m supposed to...?”

A few months ago, after helping lead a youth group worship service in Northfield, I felt very discouraged. Musically it had been the best service we’d done all year, spiritually it felt like the kids just didn’t get into it at all, and essentially I felt like I’d failed. On my drive home, God challenged me, not with audible, booming thunder or anything, but it was definitely Him speaking: “Can you trust that I was at work, even though you didn’t see how?”

I didn’t have a good answer. Of course I had to assent, and not out of obligation or a feeling of “I’m-too-puny”, but because I knew He was right. I needed to trust God, not my own instincts and feelings. And I needed to believe that God is bigger than that singular event, that even if most of the kids didn’t take much away, maybe just one or two of them were touched, moved in a way more powerful than I can imagine. Maybe I just needed to trust that God can use even our selfish moments for His good, and make the best out of our messes.

It’s a struggle I still face today, but I’m learning to live at peace, and with trust.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Watch What You Say

Proof that what you say matters: during first semester this year, one of the seniors at Minnehaha interviewed me for her Advanced Composition class. Although I don’t specifically remember it, apparently I slipped in a comment to the effect of ‘most teachers are afraid of finding answers’. What I meant is that many teachers, at least in my experience, shy away from seeking answers to their technological issues on their own (say, by simply Googling), and instead decide a more prudent course of action is to seek out a “technology expert”.

At first glance, you may not see anything wrong with that, but a fair comparison comes from the classic, “give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime”.

The issue is that technology departments (everywhere, not only at Minnehaha) don’t have the human resources to offer one-on-one assistance for every single tiny issue that comes up, users need to take responsibility and try things on their own without hand-holding. Yes, of course there will be times when you need to call on the expert, obviously. But there are so many times when a simple Google search can solve the problem. This is how I fix almost everything on my own machine, and it escapes me why others don’t have that same mentality. It truly is an issue of mindset, not [perceived] capability.

I digress.

Each year the English classes at Minnehaha take over the library and, with real quills and ink, write some of their favorite quotes on parchment, er, paper, all of which are then hung in one of the classrooms. And so, amidst thought-provoking quotations from Emerson, Franklin, Twain, perhaps even Austin, my interviewer quilled my quote...

On the one hand, I was humbled for my name to appear in the same league as these literary powerhouses. On the other, it made me realize that I may need to watch what I say a little more carefully, or at least, be better prepared to explain myself. Don’t get me wrong, I stand by what I said, I think it’s true... but I say that with the caveat of my explication above.

Updated Political Compass

I took the Political Compass test again tonight, I've shifted a little more to the left over the last year and a half. The most recent results:

Economic Left/Right: -2.62
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: 0.10

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

One in a Million

Hannah Montana has a song called “One in a Million.” I was thinking about this the other day when I realized that being called ‘one in a million’ really isn’t that special, at least not statistically. If you’re one in a million in the United States, that means there are almost 300 people just like you. Worldwide you have almost 7000 twins. Shoot.

Now, granted, I can still see the appeal of being a limited edition, like the paintings hanging on my living room wall. But somehow that specialness diminished as soon as my brain took over.

The next time someone calls you “one in a million”, do yourself a favor and don’t analyze it.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

ffmpeg on OS X.5 Leopard

This is one of those geeky posts that I hope will benefit some random Googling soul when they stumble upon it in the future.

Quick backstory for context: we're getting ready to launch several "video tours" on Minnehaha's home page; to present these, I want to use the Shadowbox javascript library, and then also its preferred flash video player, JW FLV Mediaplayer. There is some limited documentation for both of these resources, though unfortunately not a copious amount.

I've spent a few days battling with Shadowbox and Media Player's configurations; in the end, my solution has been to hard code a flashVars value into the shadowbox.js file that points to a configuration file that Media Player will use. So, in shadowbox.js, near the top, in the list of option, I added


Because, as I found out, the lightcolor value doesn't seem to work if you put it in the config.xml file. That config file is just some XML that tells the flash player to load some plugins, which skin to use, and how one of the plugins should behave.

Eventually, I had a local copy of Media Player working, and I'd used QuickTime Pro to export FLVs of our videos (originally all HD QuickTime MOVs). Then I wanted to another one of the plugins from the Media Player site so that users could email a link to their friends from within the player itself. Well, the plugin I wanted didn't work with the version of the player I had - turns out there's a newer player (4.4) available, so I downloaded that. However, this caused a major issue: when I clicked on a video link, the player popped up and the audio played, but the video portion remained black. I found solace in discovering that many others were also experiencing this issue of audio but no video, but I was greatly disappointed that no one has yet come up with a definitive solution.

Obviously, I could have just reverted back to the old player and been done with it, but no, I decided to try to find a solution and make it work. Just 15 minutes, that's it...

5 hours later, I finally threw in the towel, put back the old player, ditched the plugin, and things work beautifully again. However, there was some value in that time spent, because in the process I ended up installing a free program called ffmpeg, and I will now be using it instead of QuickTime to convert all our videos to FLVs ("flash videos").

For anyone who might be trying to install ffmpeg on your Mac OS X.5 Leopard machine, the rest of this post is for you. It's not as easy, straightforward, or well-documented as it should be, but here's what ended up working for me. Please note, you need to use the command line for almost everything from here on out. If that freaks you out, well, you'll have to get over it, it's actually not that bad when you get into it.

Step 1: Download and install yasm:

Download the source tar file (currently version 0.8.0), uncompress it in Finder (by double clicking it), then open Terminal (in Applications > Utilities) and navigate your way to the folder (probably in your Downloads folder, in which case you would type cd ~/Downloads/yasm-0.8.0).

Type ./configure

Type make

Wait patiently.

Type sudo make install (you'll be prompted for your password at this point)

Step 2: Download and install Git:

Follow the same steps from above to change into the directory, configure, compile, and install.

Step 3: Download and install the FAAC encoder package:

Use this command to configure: ./configure --enable-shared

Make and install.

Step 4: Download and install the x264 encoder (this one requires yasm to compile properly)

In Terminal, type git clone git://

This will download it into your current working directory, after which you can cd into it
./configure --enable-shared
sudo make install

Step 5: Download LAME version 3.97 - the current version is 3.98, but it has issues with ffmpeg, at least on Leopard.

Lame source files:

Configure, make, install.

Step 6: Download ffmpeg:

This configure command worked for me, it may or may not work for you; if not, well, I'm sorry, you're on your own, I was lucky enough to get it working for me :) This site may or may not be of any additional help to you, otherwise, use Google. (NOTE: this command needs to be all on one line)

./configure --prefix=/usr/local/bin --enable-static --enable-shared --enable-gpl --enable-postproc --enable-pthreads --enable-libmp3lame --enable-libx264 --enable-libfaac --disable-ffserver --disable-ffplay --enable-nonfree

Make, install.

Step 7: Pour yourself a drink, you've earned it.

Step 8: Review the ffmpeg documentation. It looks nasty to start with, but it's actually not that bad. If you just take one flag at a time, it won't take more than about 15 minutes for you to figure out what's going on. If you just want to start converting movies right now, here's the command I've been using that seems to generate quality results with a decently small filesize:

ffmpeg -i /path/to/ -ar 44100 -r 30 -ab 128k -ac 1 -acodec libfaac -vcodec libx264 -b 400k -s 768x432 /path/to/DestinationMovie.flv

Whoa! That looks complicated! Let's step through it:

ffmpeg: the program, obviously
-i /path/to/ the input file (in my case, it's a QuickTime .mov, but it could be anything)
-ar 44100: audio sampling rate for the output file
-r 30: video frame rate for the output file
-ab 128k: audio bitrate
-ac 1: number of audio channels
-acodec libfaac: audio codec
-vcodec libx264: video codec
-b 400k: video bitrate (in bits/second)
-s 768x432: size / dimensions
/path/to/DestinationMovie.flv: the path for the output file (in my case, an .flv, but it could be anything)

The documentation on all these flags for ffmpeg is quite comprehensive and thorough, and Google also has a number of good resources.

Happy encoding!


After testing the FLV streaming from off-campus, I discovered the bitrate on my encoded videos was too high to stream smoothly. The videos worked beautifully on-campus, but watching from home was choppy.

With the help of Robert Swain's site and the ffmpeg documentation, I wrote a new command to encode FLVs in two passes. Surprisingly, though,the two-pass method didn't handle a shaky camera very well, so I had to try something else.

Here is the new command I'm using, which seems to generate files sufficiently small enough to stream smoothly through the Internet's tubes:

ffmpeg -i /path/to/ -ar 44100 -ab 128k -ac 1 -acodec libfaac -vcodec libx264 -s 768x432 -b 400k -bt 100k -vpre hq /path/to/DestinationMovie.flv

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Stolen Laptop Recovered

Last year my laptop was stolen at St Olaf.

Earlier this week, on a whim, I asked one of my friends who still works in Olaf’s IIT department if he’d check their network registration logs to see if my stolen laptop had ever been re-registered this year. Anyone using the laptop this year would have needed to enter an Olaf username and password in order to get onto the Internet, so I asked my friend to see if, by some happenstance, it had popped up.

Turns out it did. Someone registered it on the network back in December. Why did IIT not ever notice this? Excellent question, seeing as they allegedly had an automatic script that would alert them if the machine ever came back on the network.

In any case, Monday night my friend emailed me, and then the IIT management people, alerting them to the presence of the stolen laptop on campus.

My understanding is that the Northfield police department interviewed the student in question, and she of course denied any knowledge. However, Wednesday morning, my stolen laptop was found in a box outside the St Olaf post office, and was then retrieved by Northfield PD. I received a call that afternoon from one of the officers, telling me the machine had been recovered. He was very friendly and answered all of my questions adequately. Unfortunately, because the machine was returned anonymously, it's unlikely anything more will come of this case. The PD crime lab is checking for fingerprints, but he said it's unlikely they'll find convicting evidence. They will also attempt to retrieve ay incriminating data from the hard drive, but A) the hard drive was wiped clean before it was returned, and B) it may be several months before the crime lab even has a chance to look into it.

So, the good news is that whoever stole the laptop no longer has it; the bad news is we may never actually find that person to prosecute/seek justice. Honestly, I’m disappointed in that result; I’m not out to ruin anyone’s life, but I do feel that whoever perpetrated this felony (yes, the crime was legitimately a felony) needs to understand the seriousness of their crime, and also just how lucky they are that this [likely] won’t be making a mark on their permanent record. I was also hoping there might have been potential for community service or monetary payback to my insurance company. Alas, maybe in time, something more will come of it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Physical and Spiritual Health Update

My health has greatly improved in the last several weeks since my post about my Crohn’s flare-up. After my initial appointment, I was able to get in to see my regular doctor later that week, and he officially signed off on a prescription for Humira. There was some initial confusion with the Walgreens pharmacy - apparently they can’t order the starter package - but a very nice woman at MN Gastro helped sort everything out and a few days later a box appeared on my door step with the 6-pen starter kit.

Humira is injected similar to an epi-pen, and I had an appointment with a physician’s assistant yesterday who showed me how to operate the pens (not hard at all), as well as answered a number of my questions (like, “what time of day is best?”, etc). All in all a productive and fulfilling appointment. I took my first four shots yesterday (Monday), two in the morning at my appointment and two in the evening right before bed, just so I wasn’t jabbing myself four times all at once. In two weeks I’ll inject two more pens, and then every two weeks after that one pen, presumably for many years (ie, the rest of my life, or until the scientists come up with other medication options).

Over the last several weeks my Prednisone prescription has greatly helped control my symptoms, and also given me some extra energy for life and work. Spiritually I’ve come to terms with the temporary nature of my healing, and I’m okay with it. God gave me that gift, and nothing will take that away, even if the healing was not as long-term as I’d hoped it would be.

I have a follow-up appointment in a month with the really nice doctor I met a few weeks ago, and I’m looking forward to seeing him again. Hopefully by that time the Humira will have had a noticeable effect, since we want to be tapering me off the steroids. Unlike Remicade, whose effect was apparent within a day or two, Humira is slower-acting to start, so it may be a couple weeks before I actually notice the difference (although you’d think with a four-pen starter dose that there’d be something going on inside me :)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Hannah Montana: The Movie

One of my best friends (who wishes to remain anonymous) and I went to see the new Hannah Montana movie earlier this evening. You can giggle about that all you like, the fact of the matter is I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The movie is well-produced, the soundtrack is excellent, and the story entertaining, but beyond the technical aspects, I found a deep theological relevance to my own life from Hannah's story. You see, Hannah has some pride issues at the beginning, and, well, that's something I've been heavily struggling with since last summer. My fight against myself began while I was leading the worship team at Abundant Life: instead of finding time for worship myself, playing music instead reinforced this idea in my head about "look at what a good person I am." The music wasn't about serving God anymore, it was Jeremy trying to be cool.

Near the beginning of the movie, Hannah and her Dad fly home to their native Tennessee (of course, Hannah thought she was flying to New York for a concert). On the road to Hannah/Miley's Grandmother's house, in the midst of a heated conversation, Dad suggests it might be time to be done: no more Hannah, no more double life. Miley protests and insists she can't give up Hannah. This reminded me of myself.

A few months ago, God essentially told me I needed to shape up, or else give up my guitar. Like Miley, I resisted. Like Miley, being asked to give up something that's become an integral part of who I am seems an impossible, and unjust, task. Like Miley, I wanted to find an easier way that didn't actually involve any sacrifice on my part.

In the movie, Miley rediscovers her love for her home town; like any comedy, there are a lot of bumps and stumbles along the way, but in the end, after willingly laying down her wig, she is encouraged not to give up: she's found her balance, and as long as she maintains that, she can still have the best of both worlds.

I'm still struggling with my pride, but I'm seeking that balance. Worshiping in a church but not being the worship leader was the first obstacle - I'm able to do that now. Finding the distinction between using my talents for God, and using them for my own glory, this is still difficult, but I'm learning to deal with it, slowly. Like Miley, I hold onto that hope of having the best of both worlds. God willing, I'll find my place.

Monday, April 06, 2009

My Miracle

In 10th grade I was diagnosed with a non-life-threatening gastrointestinal condition called Crohn's Disease. For me, the symptoms included intense cramping after meals (anytime one of my female friends complains about cramps, believe me, I actually do know how you feel), low-energy, decreased appetite, and very frequent (and very loose) stools. As a first step toward treatment, my doctor prescribed Prednisone, a steroid that almost immediately put my symptoms under control, and allowed us time to pursue long term treatment options. Also, being on a steroid, I was unusually energized, and my room was never cleaner.

Sometime during 11th grade, I was placed on Remicade, a "miracle" drug if ever there was one. Originally used to treat arthritis patients, the FDA has also approved it as an alternative treatment for Crohn's when conventional medications don't work (as was the case for me). Since then, I've gone in to a clinic every 6-8 weeks for a 2-hour infusion, and this kept me leading a normal life. Aside from the few days leading up to each infusion (when I'd feel the symptoms start to return), I never needed to worry about my diet or health more than anyone without the disease.

Remicade is an incredibly expensive drug - administered at a clinic, the price is $6,000 per infusion. At a hospital (my most convenient option while in school in Northfield), because everything is more expensive, it doubles to over $12,000. Fortunately, under my parent's insurance coverage our out-of-pocket co-pay was only $150, that's it. However, this past summer, when I started working at Minnehaha, my coverage transferred into my own name, and as part of that changeover, the cost of an infusion dramatically increased: my first infusion would be a $2700 out-of-pocket expense, and, while every medical expense I incur after that would be covered by insurance at 100%, I didn't really have that much money lying around asking to be spent.

Mid-way through summer, I heard a sermon about healing. During the sermon, we also heard an audio clip of Duane Miller, an author and speaker who had lost his voice from a flu infection. The doctors were unable to help him and gave him no hope of recovery. Duane's voice had been reduced to a painful whisper at best, yet he still insisted on teaching Sunday school lessons when he was physically able. We listened to the recording of his lesson one day, as he taught from Psalm 103, barely able to rasp out the words, when his voice spontaneously came back. Miracles still happen.

As I drove home that day, I prayed to God for healing in my own life, as well. 'God, I would like to ask for healing. I don't need it, Crohn's isn't life-threatening, and I have a treatment option that is working for me, and there are a lot of other people in this world who deserve miracles much more than I do. But still, it'd be pretty cool if you healed me. My faith won't be shaken if your answer is "no", but Psalm 103 tells us we can ask, and so, I'm asking.'

I neared the 8 week mark since my last Remicade with anticipation, and perhaps trepidation. 8 weeks came, then 9, then 10, and so on. Wow. Around 16 weeks I was past the point of no return - there was no denying the miracle that had happened in my life, and I felt confident I would never again need another infusion of Remicade. As the weeks went on, I kept a counter in my calendar, all the way up until this last Thursday: 43 weeks.

On Friday afternoon, I started feeling some symptoms coming back. I prayed, I ignored it: I'd been semi-sick this past week, that might have explained the symptoms. By Saturday, though, there was no denying it: my symptoms had returned. In between trips to the bathroom I'd feel mostly fine, but always with that fear of when the next urgent trip would be needed (and they were all urgent: rarely did my body bother to give me more than 60 seconds of warning to find a porcelain throne). This was especially inconvenient because this past weekend I was in Iowa for Awaken, and my physical not-well-being was affecting my ability to do my job.

I prayed a lot. Emotionally, I was very sad - the physical aspect aside, I had believed I'd never need treatment again, I had believed my healing was permanent, and now, I found out, it wasn't. "God, please don't let this end after 43 weeks. And yet, not my will, but Yours be done. My faith in You remains." As I came to terms with what was happening, another verse came to mind: "The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21).

God gave me the miracle of 43 weeks, and nothing that happens now can ever take that away from me. God gave me a real-life miracle. Wow. Despite my disappointment that the healing had ended, I strove for gratefulness and trust - I knew, and know, no matter what happens, it's in God's hands, and I can think of no one I would trust more.

This morning, I called my Mom and told her what was happening. Then I called my doctor's office in the hopes of scheduling something today. Trying to get in to see my specialist is ridiculously difficult - normally they're scheduling out at least two months, so I knew the odds of getting something today, or even this week, were low at best. However, one of the doctors at the clinic had had a cancellation, and I was able to book an appointment with him early this afternoon. Because I'd been off Remicade for so long, I wasn't sure I could just start back up again; I also didn't even know if my prescription was current, so even if I was able to schedule an appointment for an infusion, they may not have had the orders they needed to actually give it to me. Lastly, I also wanted to find out more about a do-it-yourself-at-home alternative I'd heard about.

I was in such a bad mood this morning, but my doctor visit was nothing short of amazing. He was so friendly and compassionate, and he patiently answered all my questions about our options. I learned that going back on Remicade is probably not a good option for me - patients who have been off the medicine for longer than 6 months often develop an immunity to it, and worse, may also have a severe allergic reaction, perhaps similar to someone who is allergic to bees (throat swelling, etc). Why? Apparently one of the ingredients in Remicade is a mouse molecule that the human immune system (correctly) identifies as foreign, and can, if you stop taking the drug, develop antibodies to fight it.

Humira remains an option, though. It is commonly used with Crohn's patients who have stopped Remicade, and is administered by the patient at home, similar to an epi-pen, you just jab yourself in the thigh, wait 5 seconds, and you're done. Once every two weeks - no more taking half-days off work for 2-hour infusion appointments at a every couple months clinic. I have an appointment scheduled with my primary doctor in a month (his earliest available slot) to make the final decision on treatment, but Humira is the likely option.

Here's what's really cool about my doctor visit, though, and the part that has lifted my spirits so much: I asked at one point if he was a man of faith; he replied he was, and in fact his father was a minister. So I told him my story from summer, and he did something no doctor has ever done for me before: he shared a similar story of healing from his own family: his brother had been diagnosed with Crohn's around the same age I was, and then, after going to a youth conference and being prayed for, received healing for 7 years (with no medications) before the symptoms returned. In the end, my doctor not only gave me the medical guidance I needed, but also helped offer spiritual guidance from his own personal experiences. I could not have asked for anyone better to see me today.

So what happens for the next month? Today's doctor prescribed me a healthy dosing of Prednisone, which has already made a dramatic difference in the few hours since I took it. This will control the symptoms until the long term solution is determined.

I can see how some may be tempted to ask, "Where was God in all this? Why heal you just to take it away again?"

To answer the first question, God was pretty much in everything that happened: this flare-up waited until after I'd given my chapel speech at Minnehaha on Thursday; somehow there was a last-minute cancellation that I was able to schedule into, and somehow that just happened to be with this amazing doctor, himself a Believer, and who was able to understand and appreciate my story about my miracle. God was in my friends who called today to see how I was doing, in my parents who have always pledged their absolute support, both emotionally and fiscally (so that I wouldn't be left unable to afford medication), and God was in the community of believers who have been praying for me all weekend and all day today. I suspect God was also involved in the fundraiser signs at the high school Awaken performed at on Sunday: "Coins for Crohn's". Of all the random fundraisers, that they would have one this week for my particular disease... cannot be coincidence.

I also anticipate that God will use this experience in my life to give me opportunity to witness to others. It's one thing to say "God is good" when everything is fine and dandy, it's another to be in the midst of some form of suffering and yet still able to praise God. I love the book of Job, and while my situation is no where near as awful as his was (my family is still alive, my cattle haven't been burned by fires from the sky, my servants, or vacuuming robots, if you will, were not slaughtered by neighboring countries, etc), still in the midst of my brokenness I have found peace, and perhaps my story can be an inspiration to someone else along the way.

A Lesson Learned from “Chuck”

Chuck is a TV series about a computer nerd who works at a Buy More as part of the Nerd Herd (a take off on Best Buy and the Geek Squad). He also happens to have all the CIA's secrets trapped in his brain.

In tonight's episode we finally meet Chuck's father, who abandoned his family when Chuck and his sister were younger. Chuck's sister, especially, does not take kindly to her father coming back into their lives after so many years away.

What I found blog-worthy was this lesson: late in the episode, we find out that Chuck's father is actually a former CIA agent himself. In fact, he's the one who designed the computer program that gets stuck in Chuck's brain, and he left his family in order to protect them, not because he's a bad father. It reminded me how often I pass judgement on someone's actions when, really, I probably don't understand everything that's going on in their life, I don't have the backstory or context that might justify why someone has acted the way they did. And too often I have turned to condemnation, rather than trying to understand, rather than showing love.

I enjoy being entertained by the TV. I enjoy it even more when what I'm watching challenges me to change the way I live my life. Chuck didn't beat me over the head with any moral message here, it's entirely me reading my own issues into the episode, yet somehow I imagine I can't be the only one...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The End

Lent is only halfway through, but I have decided to stop sending daily donations. Suffice it to say I no longer feel called in this way, and the act of giving became more of a regimented daily burden than a joyful act of giving back. I feel I did some good during the first 21 days, and today, in fact, I will be donating blood to the Red Cross. This also isn’t to say I will never be donating to anyone ever again, but I feel a certain release from my ‘assignment’ during Lent.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Donation Day 21: True Light Covenant Church

This is the church I've been attending since I stepped down from the worship team at Abundant Life in Northfield. You can visit their website at

Donation Day 20: Gas Money for Friends

Today I didn't send money to a non-profit; I opted instead to financially support some of my friends who are Spring Break road-tripping to visit one of their houses in Colorado. Being college students, they have very little disposable income, so my contribution to their gas money fund was both appropriate and greatly appreciated.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Donation Day 19: Metropolitan Boys Choir

Years ago, when I was in middle school, I sang in the Metropolitan Boys Choir. In addition to the opportunity to perform at Orchestra Hall (quite an honor at any age, but especially to someone so young), being in the MBC helped teach me stage-presence. Even now, almost every time I sing or play in front of a group (which, after helping lead worship at a church this past summer, has grown to be a substantial number of times), some lesson from MBC comes flashing back to my mind. Bea Hasselmann and David Frank, thank you.

You can learn more about the Metropolitan Boys Choir at

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Donation Day 18: KLOVE Radio

KLOVE is a nationally broadcast Christian radio station, with at least two translators in the Minneapolis/St Paul area, and several on the road to Des Moines (there are many more, those are just the ones I happen to frequent). You can learn more about their station and ministry at

PS: I chose to forgo a donation yesterday. Partly I was feeling weary, mostly I felt as if I would have been giving out of obligation, which is not the right reason.

"Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have." ~ 2 Corinthians 8:12, NLT

Monday, March 16, 2009

Donation Day 17: Christ Church Preschool Food Collection

The Christ Church Lutheran Preschool (where my Mom teaches), along with the congregation, is making an extra effort to collect a “food mountain” during March, which will then be donated to the Minnehaha Pantry. An excellent place to put the cans of (not-yet-expired) soup from my cupboard.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Donation Day 16: Minnehaha Academy Library

While cleaning my basement I found several boxes of books with which I was ready to part, so I’ve offered them to the librarians at Minnehaha in case there’s anything useful in there they’d like to keep. The rest they will either sell to Half Price Books (and use the money to buy other books) or donated to MA’s Arena Sale.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Donation Day 15: The American Red Cross

The Red Cross provides emergency/disaster relief services, and is the largest blood supplier in the United States. You can learn more about them at To sign up to donate blood, visit

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Donation Day 14: KTIS

KTIS is one of the radio stations I frequent while driving. I may not always agree with their theology, but I'm grateful for the music ministry they provide in the Twin Cities. You can learn more about KTIS, or listen online, at

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Donation Day 13: Compassion International

Compassion International reaches out to impoverished children around the world; You can learn more about Compassion at

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Donation Day 12: MN Red Ribbon Ride

My friend Matthew Feeney will be riding 300 miles on a bicycle for the Red Ribbon Ride, an event which benefits seven local AIDS service organizations in Minnesota. You can learn more about the event at, or donate specifically to Matthew's fundraising effort.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Donation Day 11: Story Board

The Story Board provides educational opportunities for student filmmakers in the Twin Cities area. You can learn more about them at

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Donation Day 10: Hope Academy

Hope Academy is an inner-city Christian school in Minneapolis serving grades K-12. What's especially cool is that the majority cost of tuition is paid for by donors, making the school accessible to lower income families. Their Director of Development is Dan Olson, a friend and former teacher of mine. You can learn more about Hope Academy at

Fixing Safari 4 Beta's Tabs

Whenever a teacher asks me a question to which I either have no good answer or, even worse, no clue, I always point them to Google as the logical place to turn. Well, last night I myself was whining to one of my computer geek friends about how ugly the new tabs are in Apple's Safari 4 public beta, and how I wish there were a way to revert them to the old style. He recommended my own advice: Google it. Sure enough, there's an easy fix! Thank you to the LifeHacker site for putting my life back in order... at least as far as tabbed browsing.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Donation Day 9: Katherine Ann Olson Memorial Scholarship Fund

Katherine Olson graduated from St Olaf College in 2006, and she was one of the cheeriest people I’ve ever known. Katherine was murdered in October 2007. This scholarship was set up in her memory to benefit Latino students who might otherwise not be able to attend college. You can learn more about Katherine, the scholarship, and the upcoming benefit concert at

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Donation Day 8: The Clothes Closet at Central Lutheran Church

One of my best friends works at Central Lutheran, and since learning of the church I've admired their community outreach programs - this is a congregation that tangibly practices what they preach! Today's donation was a number of my old (barely used) sweatshirts and t-shirts; through the Clothes Closet ministry, they will be given freely to homeless people in need. You can learn more about Central Lutheran at, and read briefly about the Clothes Closet on

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Jury Duty

One of my coworkers has had to report for jury duty almost every day for the last two weeks (some were only half days). Until this evening, I found it an annoyance, an inconvenience, because by-golly there are computers that need fixing!

I've been amazed over the last several years at how keen I am on forming strong opinions (in this case, about jury duty), and then how keen God is at finding some relevant real-life event that makes me completely change my mind.

Tonight I read something about jury duty that gave me a new perspective. This is an excerpt from a Facebook group of which I'm a member:
I think it is important to mention something about serving on jury duty. Although I have never been summoned for duty, I understand the cultural annoyance with those pesky letters requiring us to take off work to serve our community. Some people have legitimate excuses for why they cannot serve; others do not. Because all of you have an interest in this case, you understand the importance of a jury and holding somebody accountable for their crime. Imagine if all the people summoned for this case, who do not know which case it is prior to opening arguments, didn’t feel like it was important enough to serve. Juries are essential for a functioning democracy. According to NPR’s This American Life, people who serve usually enjoy it once all is said and done.

For anyone who’s ever found jury duty an annoying civil obligation, I sincerely thank you for being willing to serve. My perspective has been changed.

I read that the jury selection for Katherine Olson’s murder trial will begin two weeks from now. Please pray for wisdom in the selection process, and for the future jurors themselves, that they will be able to enter the case without preconceived convictions, and that justice will be served.

Donation Day 7: Christ Church Lutheran

I grew up attending Christ Church Lutheran - my family has a long history there, and my Mom is also the director of their preschool program. You can learn more about CCL on their website,

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Donation Day 6: Minnehaha Food Shelf

The Minnehaha Food Shelf is an outreach of Minnehaha United Methodist, St James Episcopal, and Lake Nokomis Lutheran Churches, and distributes 9,000 pounds of food to nearly 150 families each month. You can read more on their website,

Monday, March 02, 2009

Donation Day 5: N. C. Little Hospice

N. C. Little Hospice is a non-profit care facility in Edina. My Grandma Ruth lived there during her final days, and our entire family was well-cared for by the hospice staff and volunteers. You can learn more about N. C. Little from their website,

(Sundays aren't technically part of the 40 days of Lent, hence why there was no post yesterday)

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Donation Day 4: Refuge Radio

Positive Hit Music The Refuge is a Duluth-based radio station with translators across the midwest, including 91.5 FM in Bloomington and 106.5 FM in Elko (which also covers Northfield). They are presets #3 and 6 on my car’s radio. You can learn more about The Refuge at

Friday, February 27, 2009

Donation Day 3: is a free, nonprofit web service that connects family and friends to share information, love and support during a health crisis, treatment and recovery. You can learn more about them at

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Donation Day 2: Minnesota Teen Challenge

MN Teen Challenge is a Christ-based drug and alcohol addiction recovery center. You can learn more about their program at

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

40 Donations in 40 Days

Ash Wednesday snuck up on me this year. For a few weeks I’d pondered the idea of giving up Facebook for Lent and actually deactivating my account for these 40 days (I’ve never been one to give anything up in the past, it’s just an idea I had). But then Lent was here and I hadn’t yet posted notice on FB that I’d be turning off my account for a while, so it didn’t seem appropriate to do. I’ll endeavor to spend less time online, though, perhaps that’s worth something.

Instead, this year I’ve decided to add something to my schedule each day: I’ve felt God calling me toward donations recently, and so this Lent, each day I will donate something to a charity, church, foundation, something worthy, something God-honoring. Most of the time I suppose this will be monetary, but I know at least one day in there will be a blood donation, another will be clothing, and God may surprise me with some other random opportunities (here’s praying for that!).

Today, (Day 1), my chosen charity is the Ruth Harbor foundation in Des Moines, IA; a few weeks ago, one of their director-type people gave a short presentation at Zion Lutheran Church, where our entire Awaken cast and crew were attending that Sunday. “Ruth Harbor is a Christ-centered home for young women who are alone and facing unplanned pregnancies.” You can find out more about them from their website:

I’ve got a dozen-ish charities on my list, but I need almost 40... any suggestions you might have are very welcome!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

By My Side (and yours, too!)

Tenth Avenue North plays a song entitled “By Your Side,” which has been quite popular on mainstream Christian radio of late. It’s also been popular in my personal iTunes collection, and also the iTunes playlists of at least two of my closest friends.

The song has been on the forefront of my mind because the lyrics really speak to me, as in, directly to me and my life circumstances (if you aren’t familiar with the song, Google for the lyrics).

I too often find myself doing things out of obligation to God, and not in a good way, but a "trying to earn grace" way (first verse).

Especially as concerns romantic relationships, I've a strong history of impatience and not letting God simply be enough for where I'm at (second verse).

Even in the midst of my faith struggle, which occupied the entirety of my senior year of college, I know Jesus/God was right by my side, walking along my road as He did with the disciples on the road to Emmaus (I acknowledged this even in my senior chapel speech, while I was still on that journey) - that belief is at the core of the chorus.

And drawing all these together, I constantly find myself in need of the reminder that God loves me. I know it academically, but to feel it emotionally is another matter. Therein plays the song’s bridge, and the comfort in knowing that no matter how badly I may sometimes screw up, no matter if I “get it” when it comes to so many theologically-based questions or not, God’s love is constant, and nothing I can do will change that.


Today, on my way back to work from lunch, I crooned along with the radio (as I normally do), but this time I changed the words around a little bit. There’s a danger of making songs “all about me,” but in this case, I think it’s perhaps fitting if only as that reminder to my own heart. If you’re so inclined, you might also give it a try sometime - changing the lyrics can have a profound effect on the song’s effect on your heart:

Why am I striving these days?
Why am I still trying to earn grace?
Why am I crying?
I’ll let You lift up my face
I won’t turn away

Why am I looking for love?
Why am I still searching as if You’re not enough?
To where will I go now?
Oh, where will I run?
To where will I run?

And You’ll be by my side
Wherever I fall
In the dead of night
Whenever I call
And I won't fight
These hands that are holding me
Your hands are holding me

I’ll look at these hands and your side
They swallowed the grave on that night
When You drank the world's sin
So You could carry me in
And give my life
You want to give me life

(Chorus 2x)

Cause You, You love me
You want me to know
That You, You love me
You'll never let me go

(Chorus 2x)

Saturday, January 24, 2009


I’m at the final Awaken attack before we start tour next month; during large group time we were asked the question: ‘what one word or phrase would you want to be remembered by after you die?’ It may be something you already feel you’ve achieved, or something you strive for. After you answer the question, three others from the group (whoever feels moved) respond, affirming you, or challenging you, in how they’ve perceived your eulogy in your life already.

While I’ve many ideas of individual particulars for which I wish to be remembered, narrowing those down into one single word proved difficult. The word that came to mind, though, was “minister.”

“Minister” could refer to the potential clerical collar I may pursue someday; it could refer to my ministry in musical leadership with various praise groups; it could even refer to the ministry I see in my filmmaking.

“Minister” could mean so many things, but my primary focus is on people: I want to be remembered for putting friends above work, for caring, for taking note when someone’s having a bad day and then taking time to listen or write them a card. I want to be remembered as someone who gave of himself because it was the right thing to do (as one small example: giving/lending money to a friend, not because I have to, not because they expected me to, but because I wanted to, because in my mind that’s just what needed to happen). I want to strive to go above and beyond societal expectations, and I refuse to lower my expectations just because society doesn’t place as high a value on this aspect of caring.

Lastly, I want to be the friend who shows up. Showing up, in my mind, is so much more important that anything else you can do. My favorite example is in the book of Job. Everyone harps on Job’s friends for unjustly accusing Job (and rightly so, they were most definitely in the wrong); but what’s rarely noted is what they did right: they showed up. In fact, the story says they sat with him in silence for an entire week! Even if there aren’t words to be said, even if there’s no action to be done, showing up, in my mind, remains the most powerful form of ministry there is.

Do I think Job ever really existed? No, of course not, but the moral of that story remains powerful, and, in my life, persuasive.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Grandpa Ray’s Funeral

Grandpa’s funeral service was last Sunday, December 28th, 2008, at Christ Church Lutheran in Minneapolis, where he was a life-long member.

My Aunt Judi, Uncle Dave, and cousins Krista and David flew in Friday night and stayed at my house for the weekend; Saturday was spent picking out items and photos for the visitation display, as well as simply having time together as a family.

Sunday morning I went to church, then met the rest of the family at the mortuary for a private “viewing”, I suppose you’d call it. This was the first time any of us, my Mom and Dad and I included, had seen Grandpa since he died. I’ll publicly admit, I was greedy; though I respectfully yielded to my elders in entering the room, when they dilly-dallied near the entrance I quickly advanced toward the casket to be the first person to see Grandpa.

But it didn’t look like Grandpa.

Honestly, this came to me as a shock, because both Grandma Sue and Grandma Ruth had looked very much themselves in their caskets three years ago. But this day, there was a kindly, but very generic looking, older gentleman lying there. It didn’t look like him at all. I’m still bothered, and disappointed, by this, because frankly it’s difficult to find closure when you’re not even sure you’re burying the right person.

Pastor Carlson put a positive spin on this for me later that day, offering a story from when her kids were younger and their Grandpa had died; apparently he didn’t look like himself, either, but she used that moment to remind her children that this was only Grandpa’s body; the essence of what made Grandpa Grandpa was no longer contained within, and this body was no longer their Grandfather.

Nevertheless, a week later I still feel a lack of complete closure.

After viewing the casket at the mortuary we proceeded to the church, I hopped into my suit and tie (which I tied well enough on the very first try, thank you very much!), and I stood my guitar at the front of the church. As I rehearsed my two songs that I would play, Grandpa was brought in the back of the church; though unplanned, it seemed quite appropriate, and moving, that the music was playing while he came in.

Ever since I wrote my first song a year and a half ago, I had planned on writing a song to play at Grandpa’s funeral, a tribute to both him and Grandma. Unfortunately, time ran out before I’d really even started, so in the initial days of funeral planning I proposed the next best thing: a song by Mark Schultz called “Walking Her Home”, the lyrics of which more or less perfectly describe my Grandparents’ love story. I changed only three numbers in the song to make the details specific to Grandma and Grandpa, but the essence of the song fit them perfectly as-is. I played that song as the service opener before the greeting, and many people were surprised to learn (after the service) that I hadn’t written it, that’s really how perfectly it described Grandma and Grandpa.

After an emotional conversation with my parents on Christmas night, I wasn’t satisfied not having a song as part of the “Remembrances” section in the service (when my Uncle Alan and cousin Krista shared stories and a poem about Grandpa), so that night I went home and wrote a brand new song to sing during that portion of the service. I based it off of a story Mom had told about Grandpa’s vision of what going to heaven might look like, ‘finishing the race’ with people on both sides of him applauding and cheering. It’s a cool picture. That was the fastest I’ve ever written a song, but in all honesty I think it’s one of my better ones. I got my wish and was allowed to play it after Alan and Krista shared. The lyrics are posted below.

I’ve been struggling a lot recently with "me worship," I’ve become jaded, and have had difficulty separating out the “performance” aspect of playing guitar and leading. That’s the short version, and so I was worried about how this might affect me at Grandpa’s funeral. Playing in front of a crowd, done that plenty now, not a problem; but playing with a heart of tribute and dedication, making the songs worthy of Grandpa and Grandma, that was the real struggle. I think I succeeded. Particularly as I played through the final instrumental chorus of “In Heaven Now,” it felt right, there was no doubt that was exactly where I was supposed to be right then, doing exactly what I was doing; it was a tribute, Grandpa deserved nothing less.

My final note from the service itself is something I will cherish as one of my most valuable memories ever. When we planned the service, I suggested it would be both appropriate and very special if the choir could recess following the family. Grandpa sang in the choir for 71 years, in my mind, having them as his ‘honor guard’ on the way out could not have been more perfect. At the end of the actual service, when the family reached the back of the church following the casket, I glanced up the aisle briefly and found myself in true awe. On an average Sunday, the CCL choir has maybe 8 or so people; this Sunday, for Grandpa’s funeral, there were at least 30 to 40 current and former church members in white choir robes following the family. Wow. Neither Mom nor I had a camera, but I’ve tried to burn that image in my memory forever, it was so powerful; that’s a lot of people who were there to honor Grandpa. Truly Awe-some.

Cemeteries don’t do burials on Sunday, so Grandpa was buried Monday morning. For my third and final time, I was privileged to drive a vehicle in my Grandparent’s procession (though this time we met at the cemetery, so the drive was significantly shorter than the previous times). I also was privileged both Sunday and Monday to serve as one of Grandpa’s pall-bearers.

Grandpa Ray served in the Army back in the day, and so he was honored with a military honor guard and three-volley salute at the gravesite. The honor guard bugle player played taps, and the flag draped over Grandpa’s casket was ceremonially folded and presented to the family. This was a ‘first’ for me, I am glad we (the family) elected to request the honor guard (it’s a free service, but it was our choice whether to have them or not).


Before closing, I need to publicly thank Kathryn, Marissa, Kate, and Amy for taking time to call me on the day Grandpa died, and also Kathryn and Ashley for calling me the day of the funeral, even though you weren’t able to be there in person. It meant the world to me.


"In Heaven Now", Jeremy Gustafson, December 25, 2008

Verse 1
I can’t imagine what it’s like running down those golden streets
Seeing saints on either side of me applauding all the way

And I can’t imagine what it’s like finally crossing the finish line
Entering those pearly gates just in time for Christmastime

But I know that you’re okay

Cause you’re in heaven now
In heaven now
Seeing Jesus now
Dancing with Grandma now

Verse 2
I can’t imagine life without you in this world with me
But your life still goes on living inside our memories

And somehow we will find our way through the darkness through the rain
Cause you’re never really far away, you’re still watching over me

And that’s why I know we’ll be okay