Saturday, July 29, 2017

Beauty in the Broken

The last week was a difficult one for my colleagues and me at Calvary Memorial Church, and for much of our congregation as well. Two Friday nights ago, Gillian Lundgren, a fifteen-year-old daughter of one of our staff, took her own life. I did not personally know her well, but I did know her, and found the news an utter shock, not least as someone who works with students in my other and previous jobs. Not 36 hours later, our senior pastor, Todd, in a breaking voice shared the news with the congregation during our Sunday services.

Then came Monday morning. It quickly became clear to me that all of our employees, the majority of whom might not even be fully aware when we host memorial services, were not only devastated by this tragedy but already going above and beyond the call of duty to prepare for the Thursday evening visitation and Friday morning memorial service. There was a communal dedication and attention and effort given to this task that I have never before experienced.

Needless to say, all of us dearly wish we would not have had that work to do this past week. On this side of eternity, however, our task is to be the hands and feet of Jesus when (not if) tragedy comes. And I think that is just what we saw this week: the redeeming power of the Lord Jesus energizing our work. It was the Holy Spirit driving our collective accomplishment of hosting over two thousand guests for the visitation and the memorial service, allowing the Lundgren family and hundreds of Gillian and her parents' friends and peers to mourn the loss and yet hope in the promise that she, to quote her obituary, "is now whole and in the presence of her Heavenly Father."

In the midst of this awful tragedy, the grace of God flowed and was manifested in our staff community's rallying to the cause to support our colleague and friend.

This coming Monday will likely be a "normal" day at work for us staff. There will be emails to read and write, meetings to attend, sermons and lessons to prepare, congregants to meet and visit, programs and events to plan, bills to pay, and more. But there's the grace of God in that, too. The grace that redeems our brokenness, sanctifies our work, and enables us to minister to those who are still grieving and to proclaim the power of gospel, bringing the only real hope we have into a dark and broken and yet beloved of God world.

"He has made everything beautiful in its time."
Ecclesiastes 3:11 (ESV)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Vermont Vacation

Last weekend, Naomi and I spent four days vacationing in the Green Mountain State, Vermont. It was the first time there for both of us. Naomi had registered to run the Mad Marathon, so we made a long weekend trip out of it.

We flew Southwest Airlines to Manchester Boston Regional Airport, New Hampshire, on Friday, and after lunch in Manchester drove to the Seasons Resort in Warren, Vermont. The Seasons was a quiet and convenient location to base our Vermont explorations. It is just 10 minutes driving from the start and finish of the marathon in Waitsfield, Vermont, and an hour or less from the other locations we visited.

The Seasons Resort, Warren, Vermont

The Seasons is about half a mile from the Warren town center, so after check-in we went to see the town. Warren has all of 1,705 residents, per Wikipedia, and the town center is, proportionally, a quarter-mile stretch along which one finds the real estate agency, the general store, the inn and restaurant, the post office, the fire station, the town hall, and one church. No stoplights. Very peaceful, and I enjoyed morning runs along the main street and through the adjacent residential streets twice during our vacation.

On Saturday, we went to Waitsfield (population 1,719, also no stoplights, but does have a busier and denser central business district) for packet pick up, where the race staff gave me some tips for the best spots to spectate, and the Waitsfield Farmers Market, which is also a craft fair and had samples.

That afternoon, we went a little farther up the road to Waterbury, Vermont, where we saw our first stoplight in 24 hours and visited the Green Mountain Coffee store and museum at the Waterbury Amtrak Station.

Sunday was race day! As an aside, the forecast had called for lots of rain over the weekend, but we had very little. A short shower here and there, but none during the race morning. After seeing Naomi off, I enjoyed driving around to the various spectator points and joining the other runners' friends and family members to enjoy a beautiful morning in the mountains of the Mad River Valley.

She's off!

3 mile mark!

In the afternoon, we went back to Waterbury to visit the Ben and Jerry's Factory, and have some ice cream. After, we went to Montpelier to stroll the main street and have dinner at the Positive Pie. I had a delicious burger and also decided who I would vote for in the next elections.

Ben and Jerry's Factory, Waterbury, Vermont

The party of deliciousness

On Monday morning, we went to Burlington, Vermont's most populous city, and the least populous city that is the most populous city of a state (Montpelier is also the least populous state capital city). We strolled the main outdoor shopping district and then walked over to and along the Burlington shore of Lake Champlain. Lunch was at New Moon Cafe, an indie version of the Panera Bread concept.

Lake Champlain, Burlington, Vermont

Tuesday we cleaned and packed and checked out and headed again to Montpelier to get coffee and tour the Vermont State House, which allowed self-guided tours.

Vermont State House

Then we were on the road back to Manchester for lunch at the Portland Pie Company and then over to the airport for our flight home. It was a great vacation! I highly recommend Vermont if you have never been.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Overture Council Completes Its Wildly Successful Eighth Year

A year ago today, I publicly (i.e., via Facebook) announced my appointment as Communications Chair on the Executive Committee of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Overture Council.

A week ago yesterday, I marked the end of the first year of my two-year term as the Overture Council marked the end of its wildly successful eighth year at our end-of-season celebration.

With obvious, bias, let me brag a little on what transpired in our eighth season.

Soundpost: Exploring the World of Composition

The Overture Council's signature program is Soundpost, a pre-concert series featuring guests talking about music from different angles each year; this year, from the angle of composition. We had such guests as musical theater and film composer Sam Davis, as well as CSO musicians, providing a unique exploration of music. These events are a key component of our audience development mission and we brought many new patrons to Symphony Center.

Civic Orchestra Pre-Concert

The Overture Council has an ongoing relationship with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, part of the Negaunee Music Institute at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. We started a new custom this year of meeting for a happy hour before each Civic Orchestra concert and then enjoying the concert together. These were possibly some of the most-appreciated member-specific events, and a valuable perk of membership.

Membership Growth

We ended the season with approximately 150 members, a new high point, representing a diverse selection of Chicago-area young professionals.

Speaking of which, are you a Chicago-area young professional? Consider joining us for our ninth season! Annual dues are $50, we require a minimum contribution the CSO of $50 and attendance at two Symphony Center events, and that is all for great benefits including invitations to special events, ticket discounts, and more.

Monday, June 12, 2017

My Listening

I have done a handful of recaps of my reading on this blog over the years, and I have done a handful of concert reviews as well, but I have never done any report on my podcast listening. Probably because it has only been the last year or so I have actively listened to podcasts. But in any case, here we are...

There are probably ten different podcasts of which I have listened to at least a few episodes over the last year, but here I would like to highlight the three that I listen to regularly and attempt to hear every episode.

This podcast began in March 2016, just under ten years since the end of the Emmy-winning series The West Wing concluded its original run on NBC. The West Wing is without question my favorite TV show, having discovered it midway through its original run when I was a teenager.

The hosts of this podcast are actor Joshua Malina, who was part of the show's main cast for the last four seasons, and musician/composer Hrishikesh Hirway. Each week's episode focuses on one episode from the show, in sequence, and in addition to discussing the plot, production, and trivia of the episode, the hosts and their guest discuss related public policy and sociocultural issues. More often than not, an issue explored in the original episode of The West Wing is either still an issue today or else still relevant in some other way. Guests have included The West Wing cast and crew members as well as current and former real-life political, military, and NGO figures.

Listen to the 1 minute, 23 second intro episode, "0.00 Cold Open" for the hosts' explanation of their project.

This podcast began just last December. The co-hosts are Ed Stetzer and Lynn Cohick, both Wheaton College faculty members. Each week's episode examines one of a myriad of theological issues, from the major timeless questions and creedal statements, exegetical commentary, comparative theology, and everyday Christian life. Highly relatable and gives a fresh introductory look at the different issues.

To date all their guests have been other Wheaton College faculty, but they've promised to have guests from other institutions and organizations as well.

Church Politics

This podcast began just this past May. The co-hosts are Michael Wear, who worked in the Obama White House as well as for the 2012 re-election campaign and is now a consultant and author, and Atlanta-based lawyer and political operative Justin Giboney. The first few episodes were groundwork, including two insightful podcasts examining the history and current focus and status of the Democratic and Republican parties, and thereafter they recap the week's political news and examine the issues based on their Christian convictions. Worthwhile listening for Democrats, Republicans, Christians, and those of other or no faith tradition all.

The podcast, presented by online arts and culture curator platform Forth District, does not (yet?) have its own website, but the first episode can be found at the Forth District website.

What podcasts do you listen to regularly?