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Why There Must be a Difference: Social Justice, Activism, & the Church

I’ve struggled with this question ever since I became a pastor:

“What makes the church different from social justice activism?”

Social justice is important to me.  I’ve been drawn to it ever since I entered seminary in 2009 and began to think more deeply about the deeper meaning behind the Christian concern and care for those who are pushed to the margins, ignored, exploited, and discriminated against.  Yet, there has always been a deep hesitation that has accompanied me along this journey into social justice work and conversation.

I recently came across the following article, “Excommunicate Me from the Church of Social Justice.”  I resonate with much that the author, a social justice activist herself, has to say.  A couple great excerpts:

On moral purity:

“There’s so much wrongdoing in the world that we work to expose. And yet, grace and forgiveness are hard to come by in these circles…..I’m exhausted, and I’m not even doing the real work I am committed to do. It is a terrible thing to be afraid of my own community members, and know they’re probably just as afraid of me.”

On dangers of colonization:

“The experiences of oppression do not grant supremacy, in the same way that being a powerful colonizer does not. Justice will never look like supremacy. I wish for a new societal order that does not revolve around relations of power and domination.”

On preachiness:

“Discipline and punishment has been used for all of history to control and destroy people. Why is it being used in movements meant to liberate all of us? We all have made serious mistakes and hurt other people, intentionally or not. We get a chance to learn from them when those around us respond with kindness and patience. Where is our humility when examining the mistakes of others? Why do we position ourselves as morally superior to the un-woke? Who of us came into the world fully awake?”

The last paragraph of the article is so good, I’m going to let you read the rest of the article for yourself.

I’ve often been asked why, despite my hesitation, my reservations, and my suspicions, I care so much about issues of justice, diversity, and inclusion and why I think the Church should care and participate in such things.  The easy answer is just to point you to Micah 6:8 and call it a day, but the answer for me is deeper than that. 

So what makes the Church different? Church can never exclude or leave people behind in the effort of a more just, inclusive, and diverse world. Church continues to be prophetic, courageous, and bold in its longing for a more just world, and it’s desire to work along side God in making that a reality in the present.  Yet, Church never has the luxury of casting aside those who might differ, who resist, who avoid, or those who are indifferent. Even if it means the movement is slower or doesn’t happen in the manner we’d like. It’s sometimes really inefficient and messy, and relationships are complex, but the invitation is always open. 

The distinguishing line, of course, is that there is a difference between those mentioned above and those who intentionally disqualify themselves or become subversive because of their opposition. Whether they leave or try to sabotage efforts, neither can lead to the Church  suspending its participation in justice work. Like Jesus, as the rich young man went away unable to bear the personal cost of discipleship, as Judas made the choice to betray him, we let them go freely and without a word of condemnation or shame. Although it is with great sadness that we allow them to go. 

Just as Christ does in the gospels, we as Christ’s Church can be both prophetic and gracious. We can be insistent about justice and empathetic to those who resist. We may not always move together but we can still be Church together. We can push and challenge each other and still maintain respect and preserve their dignity. As hard as it may seem, we must still embrace each other’s humanity, just as God in Christ has embraced our humanity.  Like Christ, we can still love. For the sake of Christ’s Church, we must still love

That is the real difference, and one that crucial in our striving towards God’s justice today. 

 

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I am Tired.

I am tired.

I’m tired of being thrust into the race and diversity conversation simply because I’m a person of color.

I’m tired of being excluded from the race and diversity conversation because people don’t think I’m a person of color.

I’m tired of being excluded because I don’t push hard enough, but at the same time others think I push too hard.

I’m tired of whites – religious and non-religious; liberal or conservative; young and old; male and female – explaining to me what is proper, correct, and important in the race and diversity conversation.

It is well-known that Asian-Americans are pushed into what is known as the “model minority myth“.  The idea that Asians don’t struggle with discrimination and assimilation to an “American” way of life as other “problematic” minorities is a lie.  Here’s the thing though: sadly – and this is primarily something that’s been perpetuated within the church more than any other place – “model minority” status has allowed those in places of power and privilege to define what my role is any conversation about diversity and racial justice.  Add to this that I am a transracial Asian adoptee whose parents were of Scandinavian decent, it compounds the myth….and the control over me.

Those who know me well know that I typically don’t do well with those trying to control my role and place in the world.  I typically rage against such action the moment I feel I’m being manipulated or exploited.  On one hand, I hate being thrust in front of folks as part of the celebration of racial diversity within the church.  On the other, I hate being told I have nothing to offer (and this actually happened) because I am not an actual person of color.  

I’m exhausted by it.  I am tired.

A big part of my wants to completely withdraw and let the talking heads (read: liberal and conservative white people) fight their little war of ideology as they always have.  I’m not African-American, and their history isn’t mine either, so why should I care? But then I find that I do care, because I’m tired.

I’m tired of people dying.

I”m tired of hearing and seeing the Philandos, the Trayvons, the Michael Browns, and countless others who have died.  I’m tired of people turning them into a simple hashtag to perpetuate their argument, all the while keeping themselves at a distance from the reality of tragic and senseless death.  I’m tired of people not caring enough about people that pulling a law enforcement officer off the line who is a risk to others and himself isn’t an option for an institution that prides itself on “taking care of its own.”

I’m tired of people dying….

….needlessly,

….due to the carelessness of others,

….and because people don’t really seem to care people are indeed dying, suffering. 

And I’m tired of wondering when I’m next. 

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Sermon 2 July 2017: Emmanuel Lutheran, Virginia Beach

Text: Genesis 22:1-14

This story bothers me.  Maybe it bothers you too.

This story, known as the “near sacrifice of Isaac” is troubling.  It raises so many questions: Why would God demand Abraham offer his only son Isaac to be sacrificed?  What kind of God tests people’s faith in that way?  Why would Abraham just go along with the plan blindly, without questioning God?  Or was Abraham simply delusional…was the voice not God’s but just in his head?  And why would God allow the test to go as far as it did?  How traumatic must that have been to Isaac, to be bound and tied, seeing the blade of a knife so close, and on the other end of it his father ready to plunge it into his flesh?

Considering all these questions, I’m not so sure reducing the story to a lesson of exemplary obedience to God or connecting it as some pre-story to Jesus as a sacrifice on the cross makes the story any less troubling.  But perhaps this morning, and like most days, we’d prefer a simple explanation…..we can avoid being uncomfortable, sing the closing hymn and go merrily on our way.

Pastor Aaron asked me to preach on mental and physical disabilities this morning, and to be honest, I’d love to give you a nice answer about how God wants us to embrace those who bear marks on the inside and outside that don’t resemble what most of us consider as bearing the image of God.  I’d love to simply tell you that faithfulness is simply embracing these people, enduring their imperfections, and that we’ll find immeasurable joy in doing so…..one big happy ending to the story of being church to those less fortunate than us.

Yet that sermon wouldn’t take away the nagging, troubling questions that I think persist with us when we see those who bear mental and physical scars – whether born with or caused by living in this world.  You know, the questions that live in the back of our minds, and cover up with statements like “they’re God’s little angels” or “God never gives us more than we can handle.”

Such a sermon wouldn’t help me make sense of my week:

A couple sailors returning from year-long deployments in combat zones this week, finding their way to my office because a wave of irrational anger swept over them to the point they were about to grow a chair at the nice lady giving the insurance benefits brief. They’re not sure why, but they then tell me stories of what happened on their deployments, and I know why. 

Walking into a store and watching a weary mom try to calm their mentally handicapped child, because they simply do not have the ability to comprehend why they can’t have a certain box of cereal that caught their eye.

A man, head bent, half-burnt swisher sweet in hand, slowly walking through the cross-walk where I was stopped, oblivious to the rapid countdown of the crosswalk timer and chaos of traffic impatiently waiting for the signal to turn green.

Mid-way through seminary, ELCA wannabe pastors have to go through something called Clinical Pastoral Experience, or CPE.  For most of us, this is done in a hospital setting, and the goal is to teach us practical things like bedside manner and to hone pastoral care skills.  The hospital I did my CPE at asked us at the beginning what units we wanted to be assigned to.  Me, not really knowing but being open to anything said, “I’d like to be challenged.”

So they placed me in the two inpatient mental health units for the summer.

I can tell you as hard as that summer was, it was also rewarding, but not for the reasons you’d probably expect.  In caring for those suffering from depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorders and a whole host of other things, I found out this rather troubling truth: the line that defined why they were there and why I wasn’t was much thinner, and not as clear as I assumed.  A few life circumstances, a few poor decisions, the random chance associated with what qualities we’re given at birth…and I just as easily could have been locked up on the units.

Here’s the thing: as much as we might want to convince ourselves that we can distance ourselves from the troubling and disturbing things of this life, the truth is that our lives are bound much more closely to them…perhaps too close for comfort.  But in that discovery, that my story was somehow closely bound to their troubling story, I learned something about my own humanity as well as theirs.

In the Jewish tradition, this story from Genesis is known as the “binding of Isaac.”  To bind here means in the sense of binding up a sacrifice, an offering.  Yet I wonder if we can’t also think of binding in the way that no matter how we slice this story, the characters – Abraham and Isaac – can’t seem to escape the troubling events of it.  Escaping what is troubling, disturbing, what makes us uncomfortable is an unescapable part of life.  

Yet God is also one of the characters right alongside Abraham and Isaac.  God is just as bound up in the troubling and disturbing story as Abraham and Isaac are.

Such troubling stories, such disturbing things…..they are caught up in the life of God.  God doesn’t avoid them.  God is an active part in them.  We don’t face them alone.  God speaks, protects, and provides.

But to be caught up in the life of God isn’t just to have faith that God delivers and wipes such things from our lives, but to trust that God sees such things.  God doesn’t avoid them.  We don’t have to avoid such things, we don’t have to look away in discomfort or even shame because we know that God is right there with us looking at them because God binds God’s life to ours – even the most troubling parts of it.

Perhaps what we learn – as I learned during my summer of CPE – that binding ourselves closer to people who so publicly bear the disturbing things in life actually draws us into a deeper understanding of ourselves….and into a deeper relationship with God.

And perhaps this little, inescapable truth makes our prayers, our singing, our eating and drinking  around the Table this morning mean just a little bit more.

And it makes us a bit more hopeful in the inescapable things we see, the inescapable things we must face each and every day….because God has bound godself to our story, to our lives, to us.  Amen.

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Signs of the Apocalypse: A “Dislike” Button on Facebook is a Bad Idea

So apparently the day us normal people have been dreading is around the corner.

Facebook is working on adding a “dislike” button.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explains that this is something people have been requesting for a long time, citing the example that people want an option when someone posts the death of a loved one.  That’s something people want to express their sadness and condolences, not “like it.”  Hence, a “dislike” button.

However, would it really work that way?  Writer and Filmmaker Jon Ronson suggests something to the contrary.  His TED Talk from June, “When online shaming spirals out of control” is well worth 17 minutes of your time to watch:

Jon Ronson TED Talk

Surveys and studies have been done over the past few years, chronicling the link between frequent social media use and higher rates of depression and suicide in teenagers and college students.

All this evidence is great, but here’s my greatest fear: in a time when our self-worth is already being eroded in way too many ways, can we afford yet another avenue for that to happen, and on the most widely used social media site in the world?  Of course, the “dislike” button itself is not the problem, rather it’s our all too sobering penchant to build up our own self-worth by degrading others.  We noble as Zuckerberg might think, and as good intentioned as we think we are, the truth is, when the chips are down, the majority of us would rather hit that dislike button so that people might know – we think they suck.

I wish I knew a way forward….having recently disabled my Facebook account, I can’t say that I’ve missed it all that much.  This news about a dislike button does in fact feel like a sign that the Apocalypse is coming; we just that much closer to destroying the humanity in each other and the humanity in ourselves.  Frankly, I don’t really have a whole lot to offer in the way of a solution or resolution.  I know we need to teach and advocate for more responsible and accountable use of social media from ourselves and each other…..but again, I just don’t think we’re all that good.  I know I’m not.

For now, I think it’s just enough to seriously take the time to think about the implications that when someone posts about a new job, a picture of a new haircut, numerous selfiies, “check-in” somewhere, and of course offer their social and political opinions….with the click of a button we can destroy those less resilient souls out there.  With the click of a button we can crush the life from those who are so starved for affirmation that they would be vulnerable enough to seek it in the toxic environment of social media.

A “dislike” button….it’s a bad idea.  Plain and simple.  And Lutheran HONEYBADGER’s Facebook exile will continue, for now.

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Bi-Vocational Pastor: Reflections on the Virginia Synod Assembly & “Liturgical Movements”

This past weekend, I headed to Salem, VA to take part in our annual Assembly of the Virginia Synod.  It’s my second Synod Assembly in Virginia, but my first as a pastor (I missed last year for a valid reason, I promise!).  People show up starting Friday morning, and we conclude on Sunday at noon.  Each year, the culmination of the Assembly is Saturday evening worship at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Roanoke, VA.  It’s a pretty grand worship in a beautiful sanctuary – the procession of pastors across the Synod, full organ and brass ensemble, and over 300 voices singing hymns and speaking liturgy together as one voice.

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I took the opportunity to not process with the rest of the pastors, primarily because I don’t get to simply worship much anymore.  I appreciated that time, but I also have to admit, there were times during worship that things seemed, well, mundane.  Tedious.  Grandiose.  Performative.  As beautiful as the worship experience was, I found myself not just drifting, but disconnecting.

My thing about worship like this past Saturday night is that for me, it just feels so disconnected with what typically happens in my day-to-day life.  It doesn’t seem to resemble anything I see or do.  And I suppose that’s the point; that’s what makes worship like this special.  Our presiding bishop of the ELCA has written, “At the heart of what we do is worship,” but I wonder, what does this mean?

And it doesn’t remove the feeling of disconnection that I feel.

I admit, my attitudes towards worship are different from most pastors.  Having grown up in Minnesota farm country, folks appreciated a nice, “efficient” service because they had been up since 4am milking cows.  Don’t preach too long, don’t sing all 6 verses of that hymn, and it’s ok to skip the full Eucharistic prayer and Sanctus in the communion liturgy.  However, through that experience growing up I came to understand that worship was something well beyond Sunday morning and the doors of our little church.  Our whole lives are worship and in that way, worship was at the heart of who we are and what we do.

Liturgy means generally, “The work of the people.”  What I’ve come to understand about my life is that it is an act of worship to God, and that my daily activity is a series of “liturgical movements” within that worship.  What I’ve come discover in the journey through seminary and since I’ve been a pastor is that I’m focused and aware of these liturgical movements occurring in daily life.  This past weekend at Synod Assembly was no different.

I heard laughter and excitement as people registered on Friday morning.

I watched people – long time friends and strangers – gather over meals and have meaningful, life-giving conversations with each other.

I caught up with folks from Bedford Lutheran and heard about their hopes and challenges in becoming an established congregation in the Synod.

I learned what other congregations are doing, ideas they’re trying as ways to be more missional in their communities.  And more important, I noticed their passion and desire, alongside their anxiety and uncertainty.

I got to watch my good friend “hover” around his 7th grade daughter as she participated in the Youth Assembly – the struggle of every parent who watches their kid shift to a time of independence.

I watched congregations wrestle with the questions raised about getting to know and understand their neighbors around their churches better and what that means for them.

I saw two old pastors engaged in a late night conversation as I headed to my room – clearly they were good friends who didn’t see much of each other.

I watched my Synodical Bishop read the list of saints departed, pastors who have died this past year – one among those names being his own father.

I listened to a man’s response, his frustration about race relations in this country and the helplessness and pain he feels.  I also listened to his concerns for the future about the farm he operates and if there will be anyone willing to take it over.

I witnessed the representatives from the two congregations I serve have meaningful discussion about the future of their churches, and their future together.

And I got to play racquetball with that good friend of mine too (although I kicked my ass and that bothers me!).

I could continue on, but do you see it – Worship?  Confession, thanksgiving, sharing of the peace, hymns and sounds of praise, prayers of intercession, and blessing.  People nourished and refreshed, not just in Word as preaching and Sacrament as Eucharist, but Word proclaiming that Christ, the incarnate God, is among us and Sacramental presence that unites saints and sinners around God’s Grace.  These liturgical movements are the work of the people happening in the routine, the ordinary, and the familiar.  It is in these liturgical movements that people come to know a God who is deeply with them and acting for them, and for the sake of the world.

I wonder if others feel that disconnect between what happens in the pew and from day-to-day, and struggle with what seems like competing priorities, too.  David Lose, President of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and a former professor of mine at Luther Seminary was fond of saying, “Today, weekly worship needs to be thought of as the practice rather than the actual game.  The value in weekly worship is that it trains us to know what God’s presence and action look like, so that we might identify it more easily in our lives.”  What this suggests is that worship is indeed at the heart of what we do as Christians – but it’s a worship that encompasses all of life, both in the pew and in our daily routines and activity.

This past weekend affirmed and reminded me that this connected and integrated truth about Christian worship is true, and it is this truth that strengthens and sustains us both in faith and vocation as Christians living in the world today.

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The Struggle of Having Nothing to Say…..

I have this list of things I wanna blog about; it’s pretty long really.  It’s got at least 7-10 things on my mind about life, the church, faith, how much I hate the “millennial conversation,” leadership and how much I think pastors suck at it, and the upcoming wrestling season, of course.

But when I sit down to write, the words just aren’t there.

The ideas and words are there in my head – they’re edgy, brutally honest, thought-provoking, insightful, profound.  They really are.  In fact, it feels like they’re already written; I just have to type them out.  That’s when the problem starts.  I start to type, and…..nothing.  Or at least, two or three rambling sentences that make no damn sense.  So I hit delete, close the laptop, and start playing a game on my iPhone.

It’s frustrating as a pastor, to not be able to write.  To feel like you have nothing to say.  Honestly, it’s hard enough just to crank out a sermon for each week.  I think to myself, “I just have nothing to say….what the hell is the point?”  I’ve always had this hate-hate relationship with preaching.  I remember in my first preaching class and on internship, there would be sleepless nights I stare at a blank screen, freaking out, needing to crank out a sermon for class or worship that next day.  I had plenty of thoughts, but when it came time to put them down…..nothing.  Zilch.  I swear, if writing was a wrestling opponent, it’d be that skinny kid who looked weak and clumsy, but would be kicking my ass about 30 seconds into the start of the match.  Frustrating as hell.

And as I sit here right now – typing words ironically – the words aren’t there.  Yet I still want to be profound, smart, useful, prophetic – especially when I read a lot of the crap out there.  Those “popular” people out there who write all these seemingly smart, insightful things that honestly are full of clichés, polarizing and unhelpful generalities, and sensational half-truths that just perpetuate what pisses me off about religion, faith, society, and politics in this world today.

Yet I have nothing to say.  I can’t seem to write a single word down…one that matters.  One that will make people sit up and take notice.

Maybe it’s the fact I’m so drained….four funerals in the past four weeks.  Struggling along with the two congregations I serve as they try to decide what the future holds, and not having the luxury of “taking their time” deciding it.  Planning worship and providing time to observe communal rituals and traditions so that people can heal from the loss of loved ones this past year.  Praying and reading scripture in a room with a 94-year old woman who is obviously dead in every way except that her brain is still sending a signal for her lungs to breathe…..but doing so because the mystery of what happens in that intersection of life and death draws me in.  Sitting with young men who are fighting internal battles that I’ve fought years before….all while fighting through the grind of yet another wrestling season beginning.

And trying to figure out just why the hell I’m here in this particular place, doing what I’m doing….while trying to remain fully present and committed to the people I feel called to serve and care for.

I just went back and read what I typed.  I still feel like I have nothing to say.  But maybe that’s ok…..because it isn’t about me.  It’s not about how profound or provocative or insightful or cutting-edge my words are, and that people see them as such.  Perhaps the only word that matters is the Word that dwells in and among us when we struggle through life unnoticed, seemingly insignificant and trivial, but do so together, fully present and committed to one another.

The Word that acts and speaks…….when I have nothing to say.

 

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What Birthdays Teach Us

Well, it’s my birthday today.  36 years old.  It’s hard to believe I’m actually THAT OLD.  Thankfully, the “Asian gene” is alive and well in me, so I look like I’m 25…..perks of winning the ethnic lottery!

Anyway, per the usual these days, Facebook announces to the world (should you choose to include your birthday) the big day.  For one, I hate birthdays….not a big celebrator of them.  But the posts on my Facebook wall, the text messages, and even a few phone calls today have been a nice reminder of this simple truth:

You don’t get through this life on your own.

That’s the gift that each birthday brings for me: the gift of wisdom.  That as much as I’d like to think I’ve worked my ass off and earned every single thing in my life, the truth is, I’ve gotten there with the support, care, challenges, and lessons that come from others.  I wouldn’t be where I’m at because of people…and as I sit here and stare at everyone who’s posted on my wall to this point, that fact is evident.  So evident in fact, that I feel obligated to say thanks in the Facebook comments.  And even in this blog, as a count back, I want to say thanks as well.  Disclaimer: I’m not going to get everyone….but know each and every person who can honestly say they “know” me….know you’ve had an impact on my life and without you, I wouldn’t have gotten through this life on my own.

Here goes:

All those folks who I’ve had one-to-one conversations with about faith…..reminds me why the gospel matters and why being church matters – it’s worth the struggle.

My congregations, St. Andrew Lutheran & Holy Communion Lutheran, who have given me the space to be the pastor God’s called me to be, and who struggle alongside me in this task of being church.

Rocco Mansueto, who helped bring a lot of closure to my wrestling career and pushes me in thinking about this life and what’s important.  And we share trauma from Jack Effner beatings on the mat.

Steve Martin, who gave me an opportunity to explore and develop as a coach, and form strong bonds with ODU wrestling and the wrestlers there.

Mark Matzek, maybe one of the strangest guys I know, but also one of the most courageous and character-driven people I know.  Enjoy our friendship and coaching time together.

The rest of the Augsburg Wrestling family.  I may not be an Auggie…..but you guys are like family for me.  The bonds of brotherhood on the mat define me every day.

Mark Morton, who exemplifies what I love about the US Marine Corps and again, a guy of the highest character and faith I’ve met.  And deluded as he is about thinking he can break me, I appreciate the mentality to push limits and never accept mediocrity. : )

Jacqui Thone, pastor and friend who I share a passion for questions with – deep questions of faith.  You are a wrestler Jacqui, whether you care to admit it or not.

Deb Walker…..reminding me to let people take care of me, and not to resist that…ever. : )

Sharon Long & Barb Schulz….both church administrators, both sarcastic, both courageous….and both full of wisdom and empathy when I start ranting.  Truly a gift.

Kelly Chatman & Chip Gunsten, pastors who are really spiritual fathers to me.  Men whose passion for mission and ministry I strive to emulate in my life.

Chris & Cynthia Bowen, and their kids…..proof that the bonds formed in and through Christ matter…because I’m not sure in what life we would’ve been friends otherwise!

Matt & Nichole Bahen….proof that again, I can’t pull youth ministry off on my own, and needed your help every step of the way.

Andy Root, Eric Barreto, Rolf Jacobson, Walter Sundburg, Gracia Grindal, Matthew Skinner, Craig Koester, Alvin Luedke, Hollie Holt-Woehl, Heidi Albers, Terri Elton, Nancy Lee Gauche, Tim Coltvet, Rick Foss, & Rick Bliese….folks in the Luther Seminary community that listened to me, pushed me, and shaped me…even today.

Adam Butler…..I love your rants.  The world needs more passionate men like you.

Matt and Jacinda Shields….two people who are so faithful to God in ways I’m not.  You serve as an inspiration to me.

Josh & Kristina Jabaut….the first couple I married, and I now believe in divine intervention.

Angie Denker….I might not be where I am today if it wasn’t for that walk and talk Spring Semester that first year of Seminary.

Erika Benson…..for reminding me that trusting people again wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

All the folks I served with on Active Duty – Norfolk Naval Shipyard, NROTC Hampton Roads, USS JACKSONVILLE, NPTU Charleston & NNPTC…and my USNA classmates.  I learned Servant Leadership isn’t just a name of a book or a good idea….but it’s a way of life for a leader.

Paul Joyce…how we coached 60 kids in that small gym is beyond me, but I discovered my passion for coaching there.

Lee Pritts…who taught me passion is more important than credentials when it comes to doing what you love in this life.

Willie Stravino….you’re a weird son of a bitch.  But you, Caitlin, and Foster teach me daily that faith in God matters only in how it shapes the way you live….and the rest is bullshit.

Phillip Morrison….who reminds me that bonds of brotherhood sometimes die, but to still be thankful for the time and presence we shared.

All the wrestlers I’ve coached….thanks for allowing me to be part of your lives sharing that passion for wrestling.  Thanks for teaching me it’s not the W’s & L’s, but the character that’s formed that matters. And for your parents who entrusted me to do so.

All the youth and families I’ve ministered to and with over the years. You’ve taught me so much about God, faith, and what it means to struggle with it…and that it matters to do so. You gave me a home in the church when frankly, I had none.

The Wadzitas, The Patricks, the Watrous families for taking me in on my stops along the way….being my family away from home.

Jerry Riewer….my old Cross-Country coach showed me my temper and anger is something to face and overcome rather than let it consume me.

Ron Kurpiers….whose passion for teaching gifted students and pushing learning beyond “reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic” made me smarter and pushed me to pursue places like the Naval Academy, and to become a lifelong learner.

Jim, Betty, Steven, and Matthew McManamay….my USNA sponsors, who really taught me everything about being a good Naval Officer on those weekends in your home.

My family…who loves me no matter what, and who reminds me I’m not that big of a deal….I’m just a kid who was raised on a farm in Central MN.

My grandpa…..who taught me about values.

My dad….who I miss every single day and is still the best human being (not perfect) I know.

My mom….who taught me what forgiveness and grace are really about.

And my wife…the one person I know that at the end of the day, doesn’t think I suck.  And that counts for more than she knows.

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