Thursday, February 25, 2010

PARODY: Coffee Is My Friend

I don't know if you've ever seen the video for the song "Jesus Is My Friend" by Sonseed. It's a rather cheesy Christian ska song that has made the rounds on YouTube lately. If you want to understand the context of the parody (or if you just want to see a really cheesy praise song), click here. If you haven't seen it . . . well . . . just watch it. I'll leave it to you to form your own opinion.

Special thanks go to my friend Susan Buetow, whose Facebook status this morning inspired me. Even though I don't drink coffee myself, as a former Pepsi and Mountain Dew addict, I can certainly understand the need for that little extra something to get going.

And so, without any further ado, here is my tribute to "the other Lutheran sacrament".



Coffee Is My Friend

(Chorus) Coffee is a friend of mine
Coffee is my friend
Coffee is a friend of mine
I have a friend in coffee
Coffee is a friend of mine
Coffee is my friend
Coffee is a friend of mine

1. It helps me through my day when people get to me
I don't know how I'd live my life if I were caffeine-free
I've tried other drinks and nothing works as well
Starting days without it can be hell (Chorus)

2. It gives me extra pep for dealing with my kids
It helps me when I feel my life's about to hit the skids
The coffee may be bitter but with milk it's not so bad
And think of all the sugar you can add (Chorus)

3. Once I tried to quit--I tried to drop caffeine
But after just an hour I found myself becoming mean
Coffee is like garlic--it gives you nasty breath
Give me coffee, please, or give me death! (Chorus)

4. I drink it in the morning and just before I sleep
I drink both when it's fresh and when it's had some time to steep
I drink to calm my nerves--without I get the shakes
Just think: if not for coffee, there would be no coffee cake! *GASP* (Chorus)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Great Deflate

This is a bit of a departure from my usual fare, but I hope you don't mind the presumption. Your prayers would be appreciated in this matter.

The danger in living in a house which you don't own is that sometimes you inherit things you'd rather not have. On the door of our bathroom we have a full-length mirror. In an of itself, this is not a bad thing. It's good to be able to tell when you're walking out of the bathroom if you have toilet paper on your shoe or a big piece of lint on your behind. But when you're overweight--or, to be more accurate, morbidly, disgustingly fat--it's not a nice thing to step out of the shower and see all 800 pounds of your body in all its morbid glory. It's like a train wreck: you want to look away, but you can't. I used to be overweight--somewhat pleasantly rounded with a beer belly--but still able to pull off surprising feats of speed and agility if the situation demanded it, usually with my youth group. These days I find myself breathing heavy when I pick up my son (who, admittedly, isn't tiny) and carry him twenty feet from the living room to the bedroom.

This is unacceptable. I look like a slug. I have little energy. I have been a lousy steward of this gift God has given me. If my body is a temple for the Holy Spirit, He may end up suing me as an absentee landlord. For the first time in my life I have a lot of self-confidence, but the condition of my body does not match the condition of my psyche. I don't care what other people think about my weight, but I do care what *I* think. It's time to do something about it.

An acquaintance of mine is losing a lot of weight following gastric bypass surgery. That's not the route for me. I want to earn my weight loss if at all possible. Another acquaintance has lost an incredible amount of weight by eating right and by exercising. That's the right way to do it when you're able, and that's how I want to do it.

I started doing the Power 90 workouts at the Rec a week ago. I had to stop about a third of the way through the workout to make space for taxpayers (the next day I moved the DVD player to the banquet room for some privacy), but I needed the break anyway for the sake of my belly, which felt like it was going to rip off the front of my body. I continued on when the taxpayers left. But I could feel the burn already after that first segment.

Here's the statistics.
My starting weight: 343 (How did I let this happen?!?)
My first weight goal: 290
My "final" weight goal: 250 (This number may drop lower if I can lose more weight safely, but this is a good number for now.)

Here's the ugly truth.












It's a week later. I still look like a slug. It's going to take a lot of work to change that. But the work has begun. Today I completed my sixth day of the 90-day routine. It's a two-day cycle that repeats: the first day is cardio and abs, and the second day is weights/resistance work. This was my third day of the resistance program, and it has started to get a little less difficult. I won't say that it's gotten easier, since it's not easy and probably won't ever be--the price of fitness is constant vigilance--but I'm growing accustomed to the hard work. Six workouts and a long walk on Saturday. Feel the burn? That's not someone shooting a blowtorch at me; it's my muscles doing work they haven't done since I graduated from college.

I've also been doing more sensible eating. Carrots and pretzels for snacks instead of half a bag of Cheetos. Very limited sweets. Low-fat yogurts. No fast food. No pop ("soda" for you weird people). Meals with low fat contents--though I don't count calories, I do check the fat content in what I eat. Today I made myself a low-fat crawfish chowder which got more delicious with every mouthful. (I hope my grandfather-in-law isn't spinning in his grave, God rest his soul, with his Yankee grandson-in-law making a seafood "soup".) I've been a lot better about portion size, too. I'm not letting myself be hungry, but I'm not eating until I feel like I'm going to explode. I'll probably struggle with that for a long time. (But NO MORE TURKEY BURGERS FOR ME. At least, not the brand they sell around here. Blech. No amount of seasoning, no condiments, no cheese could make that . . . that thing . . . taste good.)

A week ago I weighed in at 343 pounds. Today I weighed in at 337 pounds. Six pounds in one week! I can't tell you how excited that made me. I've got a long way to go, but the start is very encouraging. I'm not stupid enough to think that every week will be like this, and I know I'm not going to be perfect when it comes to keeping the diet. But I've committed myself to this, and I intend to see it through. I can't keep living the way I was--not for myself, not for my family.

God help me. And that's not just a figure of speech.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Hymn: Sustained By Faith Among the Rubble


I came to the greater New Orleans area a few months after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the area. The devastation was horrendous. Knowing how so many people in our church body stepped up to aid the people and communities of the gulf states in the aftermath of the storm, I've been very interested to see how the people of the LCMS would step up in the aftermath of the earthquake that annihilated Haiti. To say that I've been impressed would be an understatement. The blog posts from Pastor Matt Harrison and his staff from LCMS World Relief and Human Care have recorded their efforts and the efforts of others (like Pastor Ted Krey, my friend and a former classmate) in what continues to be a dangerous situation.

I'm not in a position to play a big role in Haiti's recovery. The people of Haiti and those who are working tirelessly on their behalf are in my prayers daily. That doesn't seem like much to me, but God gives us our vocations, and right now mine have me working where I am.

Like I said, I've been following the blog posts of Pastor Harrison and of Pastor Carlos Hernandez, Director, Districts and Congregations, LCMS World Relief and Human Care. One of the latter's recent posts caught my eye--specifically, the title. It was called Among the Rubble, Sustained by Faith. The fledgling hymn-writer in me saw that title and ran with it. This is the result.

(By the way, thank you, Pastors Harrison and Hernandez, Krey, and all those who are working in the heart of the devastation. May God sustain you as you bring both earthly blessings and the blessings of heaven to the people of Haiti.)


Sustained By Faith Among the Rubble


1. Sustained by faith among the rubble,
God's children face calamity.
Earthquake or storm--whate'er the trouble,
Christ will your strong defender be.
Even in times of great distress,
We know in all things God will bless.

2. God does not promise earthly pleasure.
Sin and its wages take their toll.
Yet He gives comfort without measure.
Baptismal waters soothe the soul.
Christ will forever faithful prove.
Trust in His grace, for God is love.

3. In His great mercy God has given;
In His great love He takes away.
When thunder rolls, when waves are driven,
When illness falls, when buildings sway,
Assailed by Satan's demon band,
We rest in God's almighty hand.

4. God hears the prayers of all who seek Him.
Boldly approach the mercy seat.
Call on His name--fear not! Bespeak Him.
His grace is sure, His love complete.
God answers prayers--so says His Word.
"Thy will be done", we pray, O Lord.


(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.
98 98 88
Tune: O DASS ICH TAUSEND ZUNGEN HATTE (DRETZEL) (LSB 590)
or WER NUR DEN LIEBEN GOTT (LSB 719)

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Give me liturgy, or give me death!

My apologies to Patrick Henry for borrowing his thunder, but I couldn't resist. After doing a google.com search, I find that I'm not the first to make this statement (though in all fairness, I had never heard it before). But regardless of the originality of the statement, there is as much need for these words today as there was for Patrick Henry to speak the original words over two centuries ago.

Perhaps some might view this as hyperbole. Oh, that Kornacki character doesn't take things seriously. On the contrary, there are few things in this world that I consider with more gravity than the divine liturgy of the Mass. I have always loved the liturgy. Outside of baseball achievements, one of the things I remember most about my youth is the day I realized in the midst of the worship service that I knew by heart all the words of the liturgy, both for the congregation and the pastor. I was eight at the time, and the congregation had just made the move over to the "new" hymnal, Lutheran Worship. This was a major accomplishment for me. Instead of reading the words, I could recite them--pray them--and consider their meaning. Of course, at eight years of age, those considerations were hardly profound. Nevertheless, it was the start of a time of spiritual growth for me.

Having the liturgy in my spiritual toolbox was especially important a few years later, when I got into my car accident. I don't remember much about that evening. But in what to this point in my life was my darkest hour, when I was laying terrified on a gurney in an ambulance, on a day of which I remember precious little, I remember praying parts of the liturgy, including the Lord's Prayer. I remember singing "Abide With Me". These gifts, these treasures which so many in the Church disregard and dispose of with nary a thought, took me to the feet of my Savior in the midst of tribulation.

A year later, on vicarage, my supervisor took me to visit one of our shut-ins. This beautiful woman welcomed us with open arms, even though she didn't know who I was and couldn't remember who her pastor was. She remembered very little. But when Pastor began the liturgy in preparation for Communion, this child of God who remembered so little otherwise began to pray the liturgy with us, word-for-word.

It is in the liturgy in which we are given the Sacraments, where we receive the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. Some might complain that the liturgy is boring because of all the repetition. But it is that very repetition that makes the liturgy so important for the Christian in his daily walk with Christ. When we walk out of the sanctuary, we walk out into the world, where Satan, "this world's prince", is looking for someone he can lead away from the rest of Christ's flock, someone to devour. In returning to the liturgy, we return to the waters of Holy Baptism, where

I've experienced the generic Protestant service. I will say this: there's a lot of excitement. Some have the dancing, some the arm waving, others the exciting new music, still others the incomprehensible rambling from the people "speaking in tongues"--which, by the way, are never interpreted for the congregation--and these things are very emotional. But there's not much substance there, and I'm hard pressed to figure out how I could rely on any of these things to help me to pray while I was laying dazed in an ambulance. After all, so much of what happens without liturgy is that we tell God what we do for Him, how much we love Him, how we lift His name high, how holy our desires for him are. And those moralistic sermons are informative, but when your life is in shambles and you feel like you can't make it right, how can it help to hear that you have to do even more?

I find great joy in the words of Scripture upon which the liturgy is based. I become very emotional during a number of our "dull" hymns and at points of our "boring" liturgy. We sing about "Easter triumph" which destroys sin and brings us "Easter joy". We sing that Jesus ". . . lives and grants me daily breath. He lives and I shall conquer death." What comfort, what joy those words are! We sing about Christ who is "the life of all the living". We sing about vocation, which is lives as Christians which are lived in response to what Jesus has done for us. We hear sermons which tell us that we are forgiven children of God, relieved of the burden of "doing more" because Christ has done all things necessary for our salvation. These are beautiful things, and I literally weep tears of joy for the wonderful blessings God delivers to us in the Divine Service and the words we have been given to speak and sing in response to what we receive.

After all, the Divine Service is, first and foremost, about what God does for us. It's not meant to focus on us and how we feel or what we do. Instead, the Divine Service points us to Christ and what He gives to us there: forgiveness, life, and salvation. The gifts we receive in the Divine Service are vital to our lives as Christians, and we take those things with a deadly seriousness, even as we experience great joy in what we receive.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Music, Politics, and Me


I have always been fascinated by music. When I was young, I wanted to be in a rock band (in those moments when I wasn't sure I would be starting for the New York Yankees, of course). I sang constantly. I tried taking up numerous instruments, though I've never succeeded with any of them. I took music theory in high school, which I loved and would like to take a refresher course one of these years. I took a history of church music course in college, and I enjoyed it thoroughly despite my lousy grade.

And I have always appreciated music. What the Lord didn't give me in musical talent, He gave me in spades in the realm of music appreciation. From a very early age I was exposed to various kinds of music. We listened to "classic" rock in the car when I was a child. We were treated to classical music in grade school. I started listening to country music when I was on vicarage in rural Missouri. We had a fine organist at my home church, and when I worked in the chapel in college I was treated to student organists (and their teachers!) who graciously allowed me to do my work while they practiced. I have over a thousand compact discs now, and I've got a lot of some things and a little bit of almost everything.

But these days, I haven't been listening to a lot of what's new. And I think I know why. When I was younger, I could listen to music for the sake of the music--in other words, I could listen to the melody and harmonies, the rhythm and percussion, and appreciate it apart from the words or the artist. A fine example of this is Ani Difranco. Her (ultra-liberal) politics, her (lack of) religion, her (somewhat ambiguous) sexuality--I could overlook these things because of her superior musicianship. And sometimes, mixed in with the ideological crap, there are nuggets of pure gold.

But as I've gotten older, it has become difficult to separate the music from the mess. Looking at the list of this year's Grammy nominees and winners, I see a bunch of names of artists and groups whose political leanings and political music I find, frankly, disgusting. One such nominee this year was Green Day, whose 2004 song "American Idiot" on the album of the same title denigrated conservative Americans by saying that we're part of "a redneck agenda", living in "the age of paranoia". Add to the list from this year's nominees Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Bono from U2, and Dave Matthews, people with political, religious and social ideologies radically different from my own. Now, most of those listed are older artists, but their influence continues, and their message is incendiary. I won't even read Rolling Stone magazine anymore, considering their distrust of anything conservative and their ridicule of Middle America.

Maybe I'm missing out. Despite my dislike of what has become so popular today--American Idol's over-produced big voices with too many frills--that's not all there is out there. Maybe I'm influenced too greatly by pop music's impact on the pap that is excruciatingly popular in so many churches today. Maybe I let the politics of the artists and the politics of their music carry too much weight. Maybe I should just shut up and listen to the music.

Then again, maybe I'm on to something. But if you'd like to recommend some music that won't make me want to throw my iPod against the wall, I'm all ears . . . so to speak.