When I was ordained (set apart by the church to be a pastor) I still looked about 16 (I was 26). When I was called to a funeral home to meet a family I didn’t know, they invariably asked at some point if I was old enough to be a pastor. The truth is I wasn’t. I had experienced quite a bit of life already, and I was well trained in scripture and theology, but I had much more to learn.
It hasn’t all been fun. I have buried too many children. I have buried my own child. I have lived in the inner city and witnessed its injustices. I have seen great acts of generosity and great pettiness. I have felt the pain of divorce as a child and as a parent. I have seen lives changed by the message of Christ and I have seen evil. I have walked with people through the anguish of family violence and witnessed families of remarkable love. I have heard all manner of confessions and stories of God’s healing, protection and care.
What I have learned above all is 1) that the Gospel is a thing that happens to us not a doctrine to be believed, a promise spoken to us rather than ideas taught to us, and 2) that the grace and love of God are richer, sweeter, sterner, stronger, deeper, and far more eternal than we can ever begin to imagine.
As for the more conventional facts about my life:
I was raised in Palo Alto, California, and was graduated from Palo Alto High School, but also traveled widely in and out of the country.
I received my theological training at Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, after graduating with honors from St. Olaf College in Medieval Studies and Religion.
I didn’t set out to be a preacher – in fact I resisted it pretty strongly. I went to seminary mostly because I wanted to study scripture and theology.
I was a weird kid. I read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship when I was 17. I read Dante, The Voyages of St. Brendan, The Confessions of St. Augustine, and Anders Nygren’s Commentary on Romans during my breaks while working on the ramp at the Los Angeles airport during the summers of college.
I switched from a major in mathematics to Medieval Studies, taking up Latin in college then Greek and Hebrew in Seminary.
I spent the summer after High School with a mission organization in Taiwan. There I first began my struggle trying to understand what in Christian faith was Christian faith and what was American culture.
The day I began college my older brother was struck down by an aneurism. He was 22 and we had had a very special bond. Working through his death was a long process both theologically and emotionally.
I did a thesis at Seminary on the book of Lamentations, the five poems composed after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587/586 bce, and have been an ongoing student of the scriptures, their social context and their ongoing power to speak to human experience.
After graduation I was assigned to the then Michigan District of the American Lutheran Church serving parishes in Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan and on the east side of Toledo, Ohio. I then served nearly 8 years in an inner city parish in Detroit. I later took a call to a wonderful and a diverse community in Westland Michigan.
I was called to Los Altos Lutheran Church in 2002.
I was considering graduate school when I was asked to serve a congregation in inner city Detroit. It didn’t give me any extra letters after my name, but I learned more there about the scriptures and faith than graduate school could have ever taught me.
- I learned what it means for a people to be considered “unclean.”
- I learned what it means that the scriptures were written from the underside.
- I learned about faith that believes relentlessly in the goodness of God even though life around them is filled with terrible hardships.
- I learned that when folks said, “You spoke well, Pastor,” it meant something entirely different than when they said “You preached.”
- I learned that the scriptures preached.
- I learned that the music preached (or should preach).
- I learned that vestments and prayers and banners and crosses all spoke – and should preach.
- I learned that love wasn’t a warm fuzzy feeling but the resolve to see the humanity of everyone.
- I learned that offerings were not a way to pay bills but to speak to God and serve our neighbor.
- I learned that people who had little gave more than those who had more – but in every place there were great exceptions.
- I learned a lot about power and privilege, wealth and poverty, prejudice and fear.
- I learned about shame and honor.
- I learned about myself.
Anna was my eldest. She was a remarkable human being. She was 19 when she was killed by a driver who had been drinking.
They were doing everything they were supposed to be doing: wearing seatbelts, switching drivers every two hours, stopping for the night, going to volunteer in a grade school for their spring break. Three of the five in Anna’s car were killed.
I’m supposed to say something religious here. I think and feel many things. Mostly I am not interested in religion that is a band-aid. I want the message that redeems a broken world, that walks with me in sorrow and leads me to the mystery and promise of the empty tomb.