Suffice it to say I’m happy to have August 2020 in the rear view mirror.

We have completed our house repairs after the derecho. Having a brother in construction sure makes that easier! Repaired the cracked rafter, rebuilt the broken dormer, reshingled the roof… Tree guy is working this week to take down the trees that won’t survive (which is most of them).

School in Cedar Rapids is starting three weeks late due to all the storm damage, and will then be 100% virtual rather than 50/50 in person. This change has probably been harder on the kids than the storm was. They are so ready to have a routine again and see people.

Wonder where we’ll be when October 1 gets here? In 2020 every month feels like a year. I wonder how long that’ll last.


It’s Sunday night. By tomorrow afternoon we’ll hit a week since the storm hit. No power yet. The power crew was relaxing a pole on a main line two blocks down this afternoon, so I’m hopeful maybe they’ll work their way down my street tomorrow. 

Of course it’s also possible that they work the other direction, or work north before east, or any other number of things. I want to be unselfish and see my neighbors get power back and at the same point I’m so ready to get it back myself. 

The noise of the generator is incessant. It’s a big one — 8000 watts — and it runs from when I start it in the morning at 7:30 until I turn it off around 10 in the evening. I’ve been thinking of it in some ways like a farmer’s work horse. Put it in the garage for the night, hope it rests well and feels good again tomorrow because I’m relying on it. So far so good.

Its noise is reminding me of running the Shop-Vacs in the basement during the flood of 2008. For one brutal night we had three vacs going to keep the water at bay. They had to be emptied every 30 minutes or so through the night. I sat upstairs with earphones on watching videos to try to stay awake, but I couldn’t get away from that wall of noise. The generator feels that way, too. Even inside the house with the windows shut, it’s there. Finally at night we shut it down and the quiet is so nice… but then of course there are no fans to cool us while we sleep. 

We walked the neighborhood tonight and it looks like a war zone. Every house has trees down. Almost every house has either missing siding or a tarp on the roof or a fence down (or all three). Normalcy is years away, not months. 

Tonight I’m sitting in a lawn chair out front of the house drinking a beer and watching the sun go down. It’s a little bit of partial peace at the end of a long week, disturbed only by that incessant noise of the generator. 


It’s the Friday after the Iowa derecho. What a week. After the devastation of the storm, the cleanup began. Monday night I had friends here to get the limbs on the ground and a tarp on the roof. Tuesday and Thursday they were back cutting up the trees that fell into our yard. By tonight all the trees are cut up and the limbs to the curb. All that remains is a backyard full of small branches and leaves which will be easily enough dealt with tomorrow.

The power company officially announced yesterday that power would be “substantially restored” to the county by next Tuesday. But the power company guy who was driving through our neighborhood last night informally told us to expect at least a week, maybe more. We have a tree on the line behind our house which affects at most about 6 homes. Fixing it is obviously a lower priority than fixing other downed lines that affect more people. It’s hard to argue with the logic but it’s a bummer to be at the end of the list. Thankfully we do have a generator which keeps lights, fans, and internet going.

The town is slowly reopening. The Chick-Fil-A our daughter works at reopened the drive through on Wednesday and is slowly expanding their open hours as they get staff available. Gas stations are now open enough that the lines have mostly gone away. Grocery stores are open. Schools are another story. School plans have moved from half-time attendance (thanks, COVID) to now potentially full-time virtual for the first few months of the school year. All the buildings in the district are damaged, and our girls’ high school is among the most badly damaged.

Now that the initial shock has worn off, the word that characterizes much of what I’m feeling is fragile.

The power to the house relies on a generator that needs to keep running. The fiber cable that brings internet to the house is suspended across the backyard by a few shepherd’s hooks. The roof over my daughter’s bedroom has a sizable chunk missing, with only some plywood and a tarp covering it. We have a cold front coming through tonight. The cooler temps will be welcome. The potential thunderstorms will not be.

The whole city infrastructure is fragile, so if anything else were to break or go wrong, it’s that much harder to get any help. It’s not like I need an electrician or a plumber every day, but it’s nice to know that I can generally get one if I have an emergency. This month? Not so much.

At this point in these kind of posts someone usually brings out an inspirational hashtag. I’ve seen #IowaStrong going around this week. (It’s been employed plenty of previous times, including the floods of 2008 and the floods again in 2016. I’ve seen the community rally, and I’ve had friends who’ve been great help. But I look around and see all the pain in my community, and tonight I’m having a hard time rallying. This just sucks, and will for a long time.


Where to even start? Monday, August 10, somewhere around 12:30 PM, eastern Iowa got hit with a storm like no one had ever seen before. Technically known as a “derecho”, this storm brought 100+ MPH straight line winds along with torrential rain. 45 minutes later Cedar Rapids was transformed into a disaster zone. No one had power. Everyone had trees down, most of them on houses or cars, on power lines and across streets. As if 2020 wasn’t bad enough already…

I was working from home when the storm hit. Bouncing between the basement for safety and the upstairs so we could see what was going on, we were horrified at the storm, and then we started hearing things crashing. Then the house shuddered as a limb landed on it. When things cleared and we could go outside, we found a complete mess. Our huge locust tree in the front yard split down the middle, with the near side falling between the house and driveway. (The car in the driveway was spared, hallelujah.) The neighbor’s oak tree snapped in two and half of it lay across our front yard. The shared oak tree on our property line only dropped one limb, but it fell across the corner of the house, damaging the roof and some plaster inside.

In the backyard we lost a big limb from other other locust tree, lost most of our apple tree, and have the top half of the neighbor’s pine tree laying on our chain link fence. (And also on the power line.)

We’ve spent the last two days cleaning up branches and debris, scrounging the region for gas for the generator, and making temporary repairs. Nearly everyone in this city of 150,000 people has similar and worse damage. It’ll be months and years to get things repaired. It’ll be days if not weeks just to get power back on.

Tonight we’re trying to coax the cooler outside air into the house after it got to 85F outside today (81F in the house), listening to the generator hum, and catching up with the outside world. Blessedly, our internet line stayed up and we still have service from our ISP. Tomorrow morning a friend is coming with chainsaws at 8 AM and we’ll keep cleaning up. One day at a time is about all I can handle thinking about right now, anyway.

Ten Years

Note: I originally wrote this post in January 2019. 18 months later we made the decision to leave this church. It feels like now it’s time to let this post see the light of day.

We were ten years at our first church out of college.

After those ten years we recognized that we had poured ourselves into the church to the point of exhaustion. I was leading the worship ministry; my wife was leading behind the scenes doing meals, funerals, kitchen stuff – the practical glue that holds a small church together. We had two kids and a third on the way. I had a full-time job outside of the church. It was just too much.

We went around and around trying to figure out how to lighten the ministry load without throwing it off altogether. When I tried to shed tasks my pastor would tell me that he sympathized, but that the church just needed me, that I was almost indispensable, and that they would be in a bad place if I quit.

We watched our handful of real friends at church move out of town or to other churches. When we finally decided the only way to get out was to, well, get out, I found that the pastor who I thought was my friend really cared more about the ministry than about me. The day he called to ask how it was going and I told him that I was leaving the church, he said he wanted to sit down and talk about it… but he didn’t have time in his schedule until two weeks later. Maybe he was just cutting his losses.

We landed at another church, a bigger one this time, where it’d be harder for us to become indispensable. Our new church had a full-time worship pastor. He listened to my tale of burnout and was protective of my schedule. We developed what felt like a friendship – at least, we’d meet for lunches semi-regularly where we talked about life and ministry for 2 – 3 hours at a go. (Is that what passes for friendship when you’re an adult?)

18 months ago the creative and philosophical differences between the worship pastor and me got great enough that, no matter how much we discussed them, I just couldn’t stay on board. So, I documented my issues, sent my regrets, and bowed out as gracefully as I knew how. And once again, a pastor who I thought was my friend cut his losses, told me we should do lunch sometime, and then never talked to me again. (Note: six months after originally writing this, that pastor did get in touch and we met for an hour so he could get clarification on some things I said. It was a weird and awkward meeting. We haven’t talked again.)

Three months after I left the worship ministry, that worship pastor left our church to serve in another ministry and I got asked to be the interim worship ministry leader. I’ve been doing that a year now, with probably at least another year to go before we get someone back on staff to lead it up. Nobody’s yet told me that I’m indispensable, but if I were to bail, the next guy in line who’d pick up the slack would end up just that much closer to burning out, too.

We’ve been ten years now at our current church.

It feels like a familiar path. My wife is back to organizing the kitchen, doing luncheons for funerals, quietly helping hold things together. I’m leading the worship ministry. One by one the handful of people we counted as friends have moved out of town or to other churches. And I’m sensing the exhaustion start to creep back in.

At this point I start to wonder – what am I doing wrong? Or, more painfully, what’s wrong with me? Is this just some sort of built-in ten year cycle, and it’s time to go find a different church? Does that mean that ten years from now I’ll be 50, an empty nester, and starting to look for yet another church? I don’t think I really want that.

But then what’s the lesson? Never befriend pastors? Never agree to lead a ministry? Follow your friends to their new churches? Resign myself to the idea of serving because I can and assuming that this sort of lonely weariness is just what God has for me?

It’s a hard decision to even start considering, with kids involved in student ministries and investment in the current people and church efforts and the difficulty of finding and fitting in someplace else. But how much longer should we wait? It’s been ten years.

Walter Wink on nationalism and the myth of redemptive violence

Walter Wink, writing in 1992 in Engaging the Powers, with paragraphs just as relevant today:

The myth of redemptive violence thus uses the traditions, rites, customs, and symbols of Christianity in order to enhance the power of a wealthy elite and the goals of the nation narrowly defined. It has no interest in compassion for the poor, or for more equitable economic arrangements, or for the love of enemies. It merely uses the shell of religion — a shell that can be filled with the blasphemous doctrine of the national security state. Emptied of their prophetic vitality, these outer forms are then manipulated to legitimate a power system intent on the preservation of privilege at all costs.

Why then do large masses of the non privileged submit to such a myth? Why, for example, do blue-collar workers, who are among the most victimized by the ruling elite, continue not only to support their oppressors but to be among their most vociferous fans? The answer is quite simple: the promise of salvation.

And then a little further down:

The myth of redemptive violence is nationalism become absolute. This myth speaks for God; it does not listen for God to speak. It invokes the sovereignty of God as its own; it does not entertain the prophetic possibility of radical denunciation and negation by God. It misappropriates the language, symbols, and scriptures of Christianity. It does not seek God in order to change; it claims God in order to prevent change. Its God is not the impartial ruler of all nations but a biased and partial tribal god worshiped as an idol. Its metaphor is not the journey but a fortress. Its symbol is not the cross but a rod of iron. It’s offer is not forgiveness but victory. Its good news is not the unconditional love of enemies but their final liquidation. Its salvation is not a new heart but a successful foreign policy. It usurps the revelation of God’s purposes for humanity in Jesus. It is blasphemous. It is idolatrous.

This is only chapter one. I have a feeling there are more quotes to come.

Weekend project: bookshelves!

One of the challenges a significant reading habit provides is where to keep all your books. While nearly all my fiction and a portion of my non-fiction comes from (and goes back to) the public library, when it comes to theology I still end up buying a fair number of books. And since book sales are no respecter of reading plans, my book inventory grows regularly as book inventories are wont to do.

For the past several years my to-read pile has grown next to my bed. It started on the shelf under my bedside stand, then became two piles on that shelf, then added a pile in front of the bedside stand, and then a second pile next to that one. This approach became not just a tripping hazard but also a purchasing hazard (I have bought at least a couple duplicates) and a reading hazard, since it’s very easy to forget what you have available to read when it’s buried in a pile.

This weekend provided time to finally do something about it. Becky helped turn my initial concept into something actually workable for our bedroom, and this afternoon I was able to put up two shelves and populate them with books.

A row of hooks under the lower shelf provide convenient spots for a robe and pajamas, and with the books right in my line of sight every day I will have regular opportunities to be reminded of books I own and want to read. (And to be reminded of how many unread books I have and that I should really think twice before buying another book.)

The shelves are simple from a design standpoint. Shelf brackets from Home Depot purportedly hold 150+ lbs per pair. They are well anchored into the wall – one side directly into the studs, the other side using heavy-duty drywall anchors into a double layer of drywall. As an engineer I’m fairly certain I over-designed them and they’ll hold up just fine; as a cautious engineer I’ll still be mildly nervous for a week or two until I get comfortable that they are, indeed, holding up.

Now I have some reading to do.

(Yes, I know I have Infinite Jest on the shelf. And that it’s a book everybody buys and nobody actually reads. I read about 50 pages of it once. Maybe I’ll get back to it. It’s a sunk cost at this point.)

July 4, 2020

America’s Independence Day seems a strange holiday to “celebrate” this year. Our country is in turmoil with racial protests in cities both large and small. Our government’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic has left our country first meriting the world’s scorn and eventually its pity. Our people are so polarized that even wearing a mask is viewed as a political statement.

Yesterday President Trump gave a speech in front of Mount Rushmore, a site where white Americans literally engraved their political heroes on top of the sacred hills of the Native Americans they displaced. In his speech he declared that this summer’s protestors – a group that includes me – are a “dangerous movement”, a “radical assault”, “far-left fascism”, a “left-wing cultural revolution designed to overthrow the American Revolution”, resulting in “the very definition of totalitarianism”.

Me? I’d just like to see some responsible leadership. I’d like to not have black people get killed by police at ridiculous rates. I‘d like to have more white people like me start coming to grips with how recent (and current) our racist systems were and still are. And I’d like us to start changing those systems.

My Christian faith should be common ground even with those who see politics very differently. Yet this year there are so many, especially among the white evangelical group, who don’t even seem to share a common reality. Inconvenient facts are “fake news”. Any wrong that the President does is either overblown by the media or justifiable. (The ends are what are important, right?)

How can you sit quietly to maintain the perception of unity in the fellowship when it requires you to not talk about applying your faith to current events?

That thing where Jesus said he would set brother against brother seems a lot more real when your brother is so frustrated with your application of faith to your politics that he isn’t talking to you. But then I wonder whether he’s quoting the same verse thinking about me. And I wonder how we ever get past it.

There is no city fireworks display this year and I’m finding no joy in the neighbors’ best attempts to make up for it. Not so many Independence Days ago I would drag the kids out into the oppressive humidity and battle mosquitos just so we could enjoy the fireworks with oohs and awe. Tonight the explosions just bring acrid smoke and unwelcome noise late into the tired night.

What will next year’s celebration look like? What will we be celebrating? Will we be any less tired? Any more hopeful?

Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace. I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war.

2020 Reading – First Half recommendations

July 1st means that we’re halfway through 2020 already… what a year. I looked back and realized I haven’t posted any reading compendiums yet this year. And to be honest, the reading has been a little slow. You’d think a work-from-home pandemic would mean more time for reading, but in reality it’s turned out to leave fewer brain cycles for processing books. But I have done some reading. Rather than list everything I’ve read (which you can see on Goodreads if you really want to), I’ll just list some highlights.

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar
An inventive short sci-fi novel from the voices of two competing people engaged in some sort of, well, time war. Hard to describe, but it was short and easy to read and I enjoyed it.

The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir by Samantha Power
I loved this book so much. Power is a fascinating woman. Born in Ireland, came to America as a child, became a journalist and human rights advocate more or less on her own in her 20s, latched on to the Obama campaign in 2008 as an adviser on human rights issues and ended up serving as the US Ambassador to the United Nations. Really well written and engaging read. If Joe Biden gets elected this fall, Power seems like a great candidate to be Secretary of State in his administration.

With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman by Howard Thurman
A fascinating memoir of a black man from the South who ended up as a progressive pastor in San Francisco.

Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World by Tom Holland
Holland makes the case that Christianity has remade the world over the past two millennia – that most of what we consider western human values today – care for human rights, the dignity of all people, regard for the poor, etc – were not considered virtues before Christianity.

I’ve got several books in progress at the moment which should provide some more good recommendations… I’ll keep you all posted.