A few months ago I watched a VICE on HBO show that dealt with the issue of American Evangelicals and their perceived obsession with Israel. They asked this question: what do Evangelicals believe needs to happen for end times to begin? The program followed a group led by self-proclaimed Revelation expert Irvin Baxter visiting Israel and Palestine. It was an interesting look at how one faction of evangelicals interpret a certain set of Scripture. Here's a bit of Baxter and his teaching for those curious:

The program troubled me for two reasons. First, I find the opinions that Baxter espousing to be in error. Serious error, in fact. Very soon we will get yet another Left Behind film that will support and encourage much of this same thought. Many are fascinated [if not obsessed] with this type of reading of Revelation. But, is this the best reading of the text? 

Secondly, I know many evangelicals that don't support such ideas/theology. VICE painted this issue with broader strokes than are necessary. As a matter of fact, the church throughout much of our history hasn't supported this theology. Not all Evangelicals read Revelation in a similar way. What about them? Maybe those who don't read it similarly haven't taught on it enough or presented a case for alternative understanding. 

After watching the program, I started talking to some friends [including the staff at State Street] about what I had watched and many, much to my surprise, had [at one point] bought into these ideas. Some even joked about how they would be terrified going into a room without any people in it wondering if their loved ones had been raptured. A few mentioned about how much fear was instilled in them because of the effects of this theology. Interestingly, most [if not everyone of them] couldn't tell you about why the early church didn't support such theology or the evolution and development of rapture theology, but they knew that many of their teachers scolded those who didn't support an identical reading of Revelation. It was [and is] an essential doctrine in many Christian movements [someone please alert those in Nicea!] So, I think it's time to deal with this giant literarily-complex, theologically-rich apocalyptic elephant in the room at State Street. The goal is not to do this series in a combative, reactionary way [though much of it was birthed from a reaction], but in a way that hopefully illuminates and brings hope to our understanding of the narrative. 

My objectives for this series:

  1. To preach what I believe to be a proper and responsible reading of Revelation. You may not agree with such a reading, but at least you'll be familiar with other possible interpretations. Ultimately, it's fine to agree-to-disagree but it's best to fully know and understand the basis of the disagreements.
  2. To open up a counter-narrative interpretation of the text that combats a more modernist, dispensational reading with an understanding of the text that is, ultimately, more congruent with how the church throughout history has taught Revelation and fits better within the scope of the biblical narrative. We'll be looking at literary style, genre, functions of apocalyptic literature, etc. To make my former professors content, we'll employ a Wesleyan hermeneutic to Revelation: prima scriptura, tradition/church history, intellect, and guidance by the Holy Spirit. 
  3. To be encouraged and made hopeful by how Christ is bringing the world back to rights [to steal a N.T. Wright-ism]. This is our peculiar Christian hope. 

I hope you can join us.

Posted
AuthorNate Loucks
CategoriesState Street

Every Christian will need to reconcile the tension between love and justice. The Old Testament prophets over and over again encourage Israel to nobly "seek justice." The New Testament writers wax eloquently about the need for love in and amongst a community. Though they share a profound connection, they are concepts in which the biblical narrative seems to separate specifically and intentionally.

There is love.
There is justice.
But, what do they mean? How do they coalesce? Is there a tension?

Nicholas Wolterstorff is an 83-year old philosopher who has taught at Yale and Harvard. If you have 18 minutes, you should dedicate some time to him, for your betterment. Dr. Wolterstorff briefly discusses the tension between love and justice but also seeks to define them in a helpful but important way. In short, he says that the good of us human beings has two dimensions:

  1. concern about the well-being of someone (food, friends, books to read, proper education, etc.)
  2. honoring the dignity of your neighbor (treating your neighbor justly, paternalistic benevolence, etc.)

We talk often at State Street about Jesus' quoting of the shema as the foundational practice of those connecting to the divine [to love God with your whole being] but we also talk about the addition that Christ inserts [to love your neighbor as yourself.] Wolterstorff looks briefly at Jesus' source material in Leviticus 19: 

15 You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

We must understand a love that incorporates justice. Not a justice defined by a sense of modernity [read: retributive justice] but a justice that though is separated from love as a concept, has a significant and profound bond. Without understanding the connection between love and justice in the scriptures, we can never adequately understand those other concepts that are birthed from that connection like mercy, forgiveness, and generosity. He summarizes his point by saying, "Justice is always to be done out of love. But true love is never unjust."

I haven't done his 18-minute talk justice [a pun, fella]. Watch it yourself:

Posted
AuthorNate Loucks

Words are a passion of mine. Some people love to build great temples and buildings with their bare hands and mighty tools. My grandfather used to tell me that the most satisfying part of being a concrete man was that he could see what he built at the end of the day. His labor was rewarded with something tangible. Something real. Words are the same for me. When I write or read a perfectly organized and poignant sentence, there are few things I enjoy more. A perfect sentence shouldn't just say the premise, but saying it in a way that also scratches at that creative element of the self that rarely gets moved throughout the day. Sure, the most important part of a word is the essence of what it communicates; the actual thing of it all. But, what fun is it just living within the singular purpose of something? It's maddening and constricting.

There are days that I dream of moving to Montana and purchasing a cabin with countless acres and spotty electrical service just to write words and sentences that matter to me. It is a dream that those words may matter to others as well. But then I think, "I bet that's exactly how the Unabomber's dream started as well. You're playing fast and loose with your already frail sanity, Loucks." It always starts off innocently enough, I'm sure. But then when you realize that your dreams are far too closely paralleled to serial murderers, it's time to enter back into the real world. And quick. The world of mortgages and people and problems and kids is where I belong. 

We are now finished with the third day of my wife and son's trip to Romania. I'm happy to report that my two oldest children who stayed behind with me are both alive and well. Some would even argue that they're happy, though that argument would likely have some objectionable holes in it. Without my wife, happiness is a virtue that we have all sought to attain only in small blessed increments, not in sustained moments. She is the glue, we are her popsicle sticks. 

Yesterday was grocery shopping day. I picked Dino-boy up from the babysitter's house and Nora up from her after-school program. Immediately the complaints started pouring in: 

"Dad, I'm hungry." 
[we'll go to a restaurant and eat...]

"Dad, my legs are hurting. I think I'm growing too much. Can you do something about that?"
[yes, I can fix anything, I'm your dad. We fix this specific problem by not complaining about it anymore. It's holistic therapy. I read it on the internet...]

"Dad, Dino-boy won't sing the right words to the songs. Make him stop."
[I like it when Dino-boy sings. Let him sing the words he feels are the right ones. Stop stifling his fun, Captain Misery McComplain Pants...]

"Dad, my stomach hurts because I haven't eaten in a long time."
[she had, in fact, eaten that day... I think...]

We made a quick stop at a restaurant and headed to the grocery store. Dino-boy has been infected by a love for Taylor Swift songs as of late. He can't get enough of them. Because I'm dedicated and working extra hours for my "Father of the Year" coffee mug, our car rides have been filled with frivolity and T-Swift listening parties. After we parked and the radio was shut off, apparently the song "22" was still playing in Dino-boy's heart because he kept going with it. Loudly. We walked into the store and he's still singing, wearing his Dino-cap, because he's now the Singing Dino-boy. Then an older lady with bangs from the 80's looks down on me in pity. I smile politely back at her and she says, "Do we have an upset one here?" She mistakenly thought that the Singing Dino-boy was actually the upset and crying Dino-boy. Perhaps because his singing sounds remarkably similar to an out-of-tune and out-of-work lark with a slight lisp. No, ma'am, he's not crying or whining. That's just how he sings! Unfortunately for Dino-boy, he's inherited an awful curse. He is a part of a long line of music lovers who can't carry a tune in a bucket. But, darn it if it stops us from trying. 

A little later we were doing the ceremonial "walk-down-each-aisle-in-the-grocery-store-even-when-you-only-need-a-few-things-because-there-MIGHT-be-something-you-forget-because-you-didn't-make-a-list," and we were getting close to the live [and tremendous sad looking] lobsters. My kids love those lobsters and have yet to figure out that they are (1) sad and (2) someone else's food. For Nora and Dino-boy, it's like a small trip to a zoo. A few aisles away from the lobsters and Dino-boy proclaims loudly, "Daddy, something really smells like crabs!" I knew what he meant. You now know what he meant [for those not following, he meant 'lobsters' but said crabs, stay with us.] But, apparently, the three guilty-looking college coeds near us did not know what he meant. They heard 'crabs' and started laughing and looking around. I looked at them and shook my head. I played it off with a, "Haha, kids say the darndest things," and mumbled under my breath, "stay in school and make good and healthy sexual decisions." For a brief moment, I thought about singing for them a song from "True Love Waits: the Musical" that my youth group put on in the late-90's. There's hand motions, box steps, and the whole shebang. But, I didn't feel like the Dino-boy was an adequate backup singer [and we only had one shot and doing it right] nor did I really have time for such life lessons. I can't be sure because I haven't checked the security camera footage, but I'm guessing when I walked away, it looked something like this:

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I am finding that the secret to getting things done at night is to forego sitting down. It's not rocket science. If you just keep moving and doing, it'll be far easier than giving yourself a few minutes of rest and then starting to do something again. For me, it never turns into just a few minutes of relaxation. If I sit down, I turn the motor off. I tap out of productive living and work into more of an amoeba-state that doesn't communicate much and eats whatever it can find nearby. Before I sat down to relax for the night, I put the groceries away, swept and mopped the kitchen floor, did two loads of laundry, cleaned the bathroom, and vacuumed the carpet. The kids even helped... by going to bed. But, before Nora went to bed, she begged me to write a note. She told me that she had something she needed to write down and keep with her. After she was asleep and I was able to relax, I read her note. Here it is:

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For those that can't read the handwriting of a kindergartener, let me translate for you [I asked for her help]:

Things you are good at:
Dad you are good at taking care of children.
Finn you are good at cheering.
Mom you are good at love.
I am good at writing.

I miss my wife so much. She's my best friend and my partner in life. She has learned to manage all the ugly parts of me and I have learned to be less ugly because of her. Yesterday, however, without the safety net of my wife and familial glue, my daughter told me that I'm good at taking care of her and her brother. All my insecurities were met with a crushing blow of defeat by the misspellings and grammatical errors of a wonderful 5-year old. Honestly, I work hard at being a good dad. Good parents don't happen accidentally. Like any other life discipline, it takes time and energy that you don't always want to exhibit and give. There are days when I'm not a terrific example of love and grace and mercy but, above being a great writer or effective pastor, being a caring and engaged dad is something I really want to be. I went to bed with a smile on my face and thanking Christ for such a crazy, beautiful, and lovely life. 

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AuthorNate Loucks
CategoriesRandom
Tagsfamily

Finley wore his dinosaur hat to the babysitter's house today. He's been wearing it everywhere. My parenting philosophy for my Dino-boy goes thusly: he'll one day figure out that he's not, in fact, a dinosaur. Some kid or adult will undoubtedly be having a bad day [probably caused by their father who didn't allow them to be a dinosaur] and feel the need to rip that cold hard truth from his poor heart and it's not going to be me. So, I let him wear his dino-hat whenever he wants. It's actually the top to a costume my wife made for him a few years ago. It looks like this: 

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We have only been without my wife and youngest son, Harry, since Saturday. They are on a trek to Romania to test Harry's wizardry skills and to visit family. They'll return to us in 10 more [long] days. Until then, our stated family goal is "Survival is love. Love is survival." I've talked to them about putting each other's needs before our own and how we help each other when things are different [like when we're surviving without something really, really important to us.] If this mantra doesn't work out, our goal will simply evolve to: SURVIVE: EVERYONE FOR YOURSELVES! RUN!!! SAVE YOURSELVES!!!! WE'VE BEEN ABANDONED!!!!!! 

I'm really hoping it doesn't come to that, though. 

My alarm went off earlier today than normal. There are few things that I dislike more than being late, so I compensated by getting up well before the sun rose. My daughter tried to convince me that it was still night. I told her, "With that attitude, it is still night." No one really knew what I meant by that comment [including myself], but they didn't really question it either so I turned around confidently and went to make breakfast. It was clearly a moment that I needed to retort with something parental, but I'm not always adept at coming up with those bits of sage wisdom. I am learning that a key to successful parenting is sounding confident in bad advice and axioms. It doesn't necessarily have to make any sense, as long as it sounds true-ish and is said with the confidence of a brilliant scientist. "Make your bed or the trolls under your bed will eat your blankets." "Eat all of your food or I'll give it to the brother we've got locked in the basement that you've never met because he didn't eat his food." I'll probably never be asked to write a parenting book, though. 

Dino-boy started the day crying. He has yet to figure out that his brother will not be back anytime soon. He went to The Wizard's bedroom and found no occupants. Explaining the concept of time to a 3-year old is quite the exercise.

ME: Mommy and the Wizard won't be back for 10 more days. 
DINO-BOY: Oh. So, we'll all go grocery shopping tonight?
ME: Wait. Are you serious? 10 days. 
DINO-BOY: Is that soon? Or later? 
ME: It's 10 days. Not soon. A week from Wednesday.
DINO-BOY: So, they're coming back on Wednesday? 
ME: No. A week FROM Wednesday.

Tonight before bed, we're going to sit down and go over the intricacies of the Gregorian calendar. He'll have some fun facts to impress his friends at preschool on Tuesday. Either that, or he'll be crying on Wednesday when he finds out that his mom and brother haven't returned from the land-o-Romans. BUT, DAD, YOU SAID THEY'D BE BACK ON WEDNESDAY!! Nora and I will then take a vote to see if he'll continue in our newly formed familial alliance or not. Understanding the nuances of the Gregorian calendar is a must. 

Speaking of my lovely Nora, we strategically got her hair cut in a more management hair style before my wife left. We know my limits. Braiding hair is just not happening for me. Prior to her new do, she was sporting her best impression of Rapunzel. Trying to do something with her Rapunzel hair would be like starting out with a marathon after my lung surgery. It just wouldn't be prudent. You have to know your limitations as a parent, folks. Now she just looks like a miniature version of my wife. 

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Something happened to my daughter over night when I wasn't looking. I haven't decided what to make of it. Either she: 

1. survived a tornado
2. had a run-in with a vicious hair-messing badger, or...
3. was the victim of a weird robbery where the perp didn't take anything but gave noogies to the only 5-year old in the house. 

Her hair was a mess. I asked her if she knew how to fix it. She said that she did. But, here's the thing; she lied. Her attempts to fix her own hair was met with futility and disgust (on Dino-boy's face and my own.) I grabbed the comb that looks like it came from a horror movie and started going to town. There was tears and gnashing of teeth, possibly even some blood on the scalp. Dino-boy went to his room and changed into some sackcloth to denote the mourning that should happen for the fallen hair. But, after a few minutes, the chaos was starting to get tamed. The knots were out, the tears were dried, and we still weren't late for school. 

One problem. Though the hair was straight-ish and the wildebeest previously living on her head was freshly slaughtered, there was still a decent amount of renegade strands of hair that went rogue. They floated towards the ceiling and mocked the comb that I just used to destroy their will. I did the only thing I knew how to do to manage unruly hair. I went to get some of my "products." Now, we should probably get this out of the way; I am a man that uses a decent amount of hair products. Most of them are "old" hair products that your grandfather probably swears by. I love them as well. They work. Save your modern-man Crew gel for the next guy, I'm using Pinaud's Clubman and you can tell by the smell. If you look through my medicine cabinet, you'll also find some hair tonics that work masterfully at adding a bit of character to an uninspiring head of hair. 

I reached for the hair tonic. Nora looked at me with a sense of panic. 

NORA: Daddy, is this what mommy uses in her hair?
ME: No. Mommy's not cool enough to use this product. Only really cool people use it. Plus, she's not a huge fan of the awesome smell. 
NORA: Will it make me smell like a man?
ME: No. It will make you smell awesome. Like some men do. But, it will also make those lame stragglers in your hair be tamed. I'm out of other solutions, sweetheart. It HAS to be this way. 
NORA [resigned to the failure of this moment]: Ok. 

It ended up looking well and not smelling like a man. We got to school on time even. 

Tonight I will pick up my two Muggles and we'll attempt to grocery shop. So far, we're all missing my wife something fierce, but we're surviving. After all, survival is love. Love is survival. For now. 

Posted
AuthorNate Loucks
CategoriesRandom
Tagsfamily

For those curious about what helped form and move me in 2013, here is a list of my favorite things. I hope you enjoy!

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SONGS

It was a really good year for music. Highly anticipated albums from Josh Ritter, Arcade Fire, Shad, Typhoon, and Volcano Choir (Justin Vernon's side project) were released. Some new artists emerged on to the scene as well. Among my favorites are the Olms, the Lone Bellow, Jake Bugg, and Air Review. I've tried to limit my choices to no more than ten when applicable.

Favorite Songs of 2013

  1. Song for Zula by Phosphorescent [link]
    "Yeah then I saw love disfigure me into something I am not recognizing..."
  2. Weight by Mikal Cronin [link]
    "No, be bolder, golden light for miles, sing for love in colder portions of my mind, I'm not ready for the weight again..."
  3. Artificial Light by Typhoon [link]
    "But I have no other place to keep you safe, but in my shaky ever shaking melody..."
  4. Love Don't Go by the Family Crest [link]
    "Oh, old love, you wanna step outside, find a place to run and hide?"
  5. Broken by Jake Bugg [link]
    "I'm waiting for you for I'm broken down..."
  6. Light by Sleeping at Last [link]
    "I’ll give you everything I have. I’ll teach you everything I know. I promise I’ll do better."
  7. Ithaca by Tyler Lyle [link]
    "In a beautiful dream you were walking. In the city by the sea and you wanted me like I wanted you I wish that were true..."
  8. America's Son by Air Review [link]
    "Would the poor be on my mind? Would the wretchedness I try to hide carry me away, would I be saved?"
  9. My Love Took Me Down to the River to Silence Me by Little Green Cars [link]
    "So long you're gone just like I always knew but I'm still here waiting for you..."
  10. The Mute by Radical Face [link]
    "And through them days I was a ghost atop my chair. My dad considered me a cross he had to bear and in my head I'd sing apologies and stare..."

To listen to the rest of my favorite songs from 2013, click on this Spotify list. There are many, many more songs that I've enjoyed this year.

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ALBUMS

My favorite songs often differ from my favorite albums, though some collaboration may exist. There are some albums that I really enjoy from start-to-finish but don't really have a stand-out track on them. Yet, it's still one of my favorite albums. Conversely, there are some songs that locate themselves on albums that are just terrible. If not for one great song, the album would be terrible. So, the following is a list of my favorite albums of the year [in order]:

  1. Typhoon: White Lighter
    Typhoon is an indie symphony of terrific melodies, dynamic instrumentation, and aggressively cynical yet hopeful lyrics. And I love everything about it. This may be my favorite album of the last five years even. I was able to see Typhoon in Chicago in September and they were equally great in concert.
  2. Volcano Choir: Repave
    I'm a big fan of Justin Vernon. Not only is an accomplished front man and songwriter of Bon Iver, he's also a pretty great producer. He produced one of my favorite albums of last year; Kathleen Edwards' Voyageur. While the similarities to Bon Iver are fairly labeled against Volcano Choir, it's no doubt that through a few listens that this is something different. It's indie rock at its finest. 
  3. Radical Face: The Family Tree: The Branches
    I first fell in love with Radical Face after the 2007 release of "Ghosts." I love Ben Cooper's voice, his percussive use of instruments, and the poetry he weaves throughout his songs. Beautiful and lovely stuff. 
  4. Caitlin Rose: The Stand-In
    This album harkens back to the wonderful country and western singers that predates my time. Rose is like a more talented Zooey Deschanel [don't shoot me, oh violent She & Him'ers, because it's true.] I'm surprised at how under-the-radar that she's stayed, especially since this is her second great album.
  5. Hey Marseilles: Lines We Trace
    It's a band composed of a gentle and subdued vocals, an often prominent accordion player, and flowing violin and cello parts, among other things. You can tell that the band isn't just influenced by modern indie rock, but classically trained musicians that light up other worlds known to modern listeners. This all results in songs of depth in an increasingly shallow indie-rock world. 
  6. Josh Ritter: The Beasts in the Track
    I'm a big Josh Ritter fan. His music has been foundational to my emotional development over the years. Perhaps I'm being a bit too overdramatic, but still. He's been a constant in my headphones for quite some time. He's one of the greatest singer-songwriters of the modern generation. He writes of love, loss, war, peace, and everything in between. He's worth a listen.
  7. Jake Bugg: Jake Bugg
    I'm in love with 50's and 60's rock and roll. If you've got to the 70's and 80's, then you've went too far for me. Jake Bugg was 17 or 18 years old when he recorded his self-titled debut album. Yet, his vocals, song structures, and lyrics are reminders of the great songwriters from your grandparents age. Hipster-warning: This album is probably best listened to on vinyl.
  8. Keaton Henson: Birthdays
    Henson is reportedly a slightly reclusive sufferer of stage fright. Most of his performances are in small art galleries, clubs, and/or museums. He sings in a falsetto in many of his folk-rock songs, yet it comes together in beautiful ways. His music is fragile and delicate, but stands strong in the face of whatever he's writing against... love lost, painful pondering, and lies being told. 
  9. The National: Trouble Will Find Me
    The National's albums are meant to be dissected. They are meant to be enjoyed all the way through, from the first beat to the last lyric. When I was first listening to their latest album, I liked some of the songs but nothing really jumped out at me. Admittedly, I have a very high standard for one of my favorite bands. However, when I let the entire album play over and over again, I started to understand the flow and appreciated it in a new light. I really, really like this album.
  10. Mikal Cronin: MKII
    Mikal Cronin came out of nowhere to me. I think he was one of the great Spotify recommendations that I followed throughout the year. For those more versed in indie music, he's not new. I've loved listening to this indie rock album. It's well-thought, not overly produced, and refreshing in a crowded indie-rock genre. 

Other albums I've enjoyed but didn't make the top-10: Air Review [Low Wishes], Arcade Fire [Arcade Fire], Bombadil [Metrics of Affection], Brooke Waggoner [Originator], Evening Hymns [Spectral Dusk], Five Iron Frenzy [Engines of a Million Plots], Foy Vance [Joy of Nothing], Frightened Rabbit [Pedestrian Verse], Leagues [You Belong Here], Lily Kershaw [Midnight in the Garden], Little Green Cars [Absolute Zero], The Lone Bellow [The Lone Bellow], Mandolin Orange [This Side of Jordan], Noah & the Whale [Heart of Nowhere], The Olms [The Olms], Penny & Sparrow [Tenboom], Phosphorescent [Muchacho], Shad [Flying Colours], Twenty One Pilots [Vessel], Villagers [Awayland], 

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FILM

The following list will likely be lame. I didn't watch many films this year for whatever reason. There are some that I enjoyed, however. Notably absent from the list are the critically acclaimed films from this year that I haven't had time to see yet: namely 12 Years a Slave, Her, Gravity, and Captain Phillips among others.

Favorite Films I Watched in 2013

  1. Of Gods and Men [trailer]
    This is cheating as it was originally released in 2010. But, I just watched it this year and was profoundly affected be it. It tells the story of a group of monks living peacefully during the 1996 Algerian Civil War. It can be slow at times, but that's part of the monastic feel that appealed to me. Watch this film. 
  2. Undefeated [trailer]
    I'm cheating again. This was released in 2011 but I watched it on Netflix just this year. It's still on Netflix for those that want to enjoy it. The summary on wiki:  The film documents the struggles of a high school football team, the Manassas Tigers of Memphis, as they attempt a winning season after years of losses. The team is turned around by coach Bill Courtney, who helps form a group of young men into an academic and athletic team.
  3. Iron Man 3 [trailer]
    I loved it. RDJ's supreme confidence as Tony Stark is just so much fun to watch. 
  4. Sound City [trailer]
    My favorite rock-n-roller David Eric Grohl directed a documentary about the famous-but-now-defunct recording studio Sound City. Grohl's own band [a little known band from Seattle called Nirvana] recorded at Sound City in 1991. But, it's as much about history as it is about the signs of the digital times and the future repercussions of digital progression and advancement. 
  5. Warm Bodies [trailer]
    My guilty pleasure choice. The inner-teenager within us all loves a good young adult fiction piece from time to time. Warm Bodies is funny, creative, and tells the story of someone coming back alive from the chaotic mess of depression... or is it back alive from being a zombie? Or is it a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet? The zombie genre is overplayed, sure. But this was fun. 
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BOOKS

Like my film list, I will modify my "favorite of..." list for books to include the books that I've read for the first time this year. There are so many books that I never get a chance to read the year they are released. I want this list to include those that I've read for the first time this year even if they were released in 2012 or before. Most of the books I read are to help prepare for sermon series or education writing. Some were assigned by a professor, some were recommending by friends, and some were just found by chance. Here's a list of my 10 favorite books that I read for the first time this year:

  1. Gilead: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson [Amazon]
    Someone check my temperature: a Congregationalist Calvinist has the #1 book on my list this year. But rarely have I fell in love with literary characters as much as I did in the Gilead. I typically don't read a ton of fiction, but Robinson's talent at writing fiction is indisputable. I absolutely loved this book. It was written in 2004.
  2. Come Out My People!: God's Call Out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond by Wes Howard-Brook [Amazon]
    Originally released in May 2012, this book goes through the entire narrative of Scripture connecting the dots of empire and imperialism and the Kingdom of God. Howard-Brook was a lawyer but left law to become a theologian at Seattle University, a Jesuit Catholic University. Though I don't know this for sure [as I'm too lazy to look it up], I believe that Howard-Brook and his wife are now Mennonites, which would totally fall in line with the content of his book.
  3. Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman [Amazon
    It's unfortunate that you probably have never heard of Howard Thurman. Thurman's life is truly something remarkable. After growing up in the segregated south [b.1899], he graduated as the valedictorian of Morehouse College. He became a pastor and then the first dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard University. He helped found and pastor the first racially integrated, intercultural church in the United States. He then became the first black dean at Marsh Chapel at Boston University. He was profoundly influential on Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders while demonstrating what true racial diversity can look like in his life and career. This book was written in 1949.
  4. The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn't Say about Human Origins by Peter Enns [Amazon]
    The Evolution isn't a terribly long book at only 192 pages, but it's an important read to help clarify some rhetoric on the many sides of the cosmology debate that Christians have vigorously and admittedly maintained over the last few hundred years. Enns earned his Ph.D. at Harvard and teaches at Eastern University. This book was released in 2012.
  5. The Parables of the Kingdom by Robert Farrar Capon [Amazon]
    This book dates back to 1985, when I was four years old. No one read it to me then, so I decided to read it at 31. This is the first book in Capon's parables trilogy. Capon's attempts to connect Christ's parables with the entirety of the narrative is commendable and even enjoyable to read. I found this book very helpful in better understanding the often misunderstood implications of the Kingdom parables of Christ. 
  6. Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness by Jean Vanier & Stanley Hauerwas [Amazon]
    The Bible makes all sorts of peculiar statements about the last becoming first and the weak becoming strong in God's economy. What does this mean? It's tough to believe that this is true when everything I see suggests that the strong become stronger and the weak become weaker. Hauerwas is an ethicist from Duke (now retired). Vanier founded the L'Arche Communities. The do a great job at exploring this tension. This book was written in 2008.
  7. The Longing for Home: Reflections at Mid-Life by Frederick Buechner [Amazon]
    You can pick this book up on Kindle for $.99. It is a collection of some thoughts and essays by Buechner first published in 1996. Buechner talks about home being twofold: the place that we remember and the place that we dream about. This book served a purpose as we were fighting some of my health issues this year. 
  8. Community That Is Christian by Julie Gorman [Amazon]
    Gorman's book is a primer for small groups in churches, but it's really much more than that. It's about the nature of community and how relationships are formed. I'm a bit skeptical of one-size-fits-all small group models. This book helped solidify some thoughts on the importance of community and how to organically handle and foster community development in a place like State Street. This book was written in 2002.
  9. Theirs is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America by Robert Lupton [Amazon]
    We feel a sense of calling and vocation to the urban center of our small city. It's a transient and difficult area to work that often leaves us with frustrations and challenges. Lupton's words were encouraging and hard to read. They challenged the status quo of how ministry is done in urban arenas. They also gave hope that, though the Church has sought to abandon these areas, Christ has not. It's a good read for those passionate about ministry at the center of the city. This book was written in 2010.
  10. Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs-Christians Debate by Justin Lee [Amazon]
    I read this at the same time that our book club read Jeff Chu's "Does Jesus Really Love Me?" with our book club at church. Both seek to tackle a difficult question; how will the church proceed in a complex world with complex questions about the nature of human sexuality? It's no secret that the Church has not handled these questions well in the past. So much hate and division has happened that looks nothing like Christ. I found both books to be a breath of fresh air in this debate. This book was written in 2012. 

OK. It's your turn. What books/music/movies/albums did I miss that I should check out? Maybe it'll make my 2014 list. 

Posted
AuthorNate Loucks
CategoriesMusic, Random
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Yesterday was the first time in more than 61 years that her hand didn't reach for his. He tried to fight back tears. Men like him don’t cry much, especially in front of his grandson and granddaughter. He was taught to suppress these types of emotions. But, it eventually became too much.

My grandfather traveled the 45 minutes to the hospital to visit my grandmother. She had been in the hospital for weeks struggling to survive on a ventilator.  Her battle with COPD, congestive heart failure, and emphysema was coming to a head. He knew that the odds were stacked against her, they had been stacked against her for almost 20 years. Yet, it didn’t stop him from mail-ordering a present for her for Christmas. It is a little house decorated for Christmas that has lights and music and a scene that is reminiscent of a Thomas Kinkade painting. She really loved Christmas time. Though bits and pieces of her were slowly coming unglued in her caused by the progressing dementia, her love of Christmas never left. During the holidays, it was like she became her again. She loved looking out her big picture window and the neighbor’s light show and blow-up figurines. When she felt well enough, my grandfather would take her for a ride in the car to look at the different decorated houses in the area. My grandfather thought that perhaps she would make it to her favorite day of the year, Christmas Day. Maybe she would surprise everyone and survive this latest health complication. She has proven to be a surviver before when others thought her chances of survival were miniscule. Three years ago we were prepared for her to pass, but she didn’t. She kept fighting, but at great cost to her cognitive state.

Upon arriving at the hospital yesterday, my grandfather sat down by her side and, for the first time, she didn’t squeeze his hand in return. He squeezed her hand and there was nothing. The nurse contacted the doctor and told my grandfather to prepare for the worst. Hours later, my grandmother breathed her last breath. My grandfather is now without a wife, a partner, and a hand to hold. 

I ache and mourn for him. I cry for us. Our lives are less without her. I’m really going to miss her. She was a terrific grandmother. The world would be an even better place if everyone had a grandmother like her. 

FUNERAL ARRANGEMENTS
Funeral Home: Haverstock's Funeral Home
Visitation Hours: Thursday from 6-8pm, Friday from noon-1pm
Funeral Service: 1pm

Posted
AuthorNate Loucks

Wendell Berry should be the patron saint of those who are against GMO's and feel like sustainable farming is crucial to the world's success. Unfortunately, however, most evangelicals that I've come across know little about Wendell or his agrarian values. He is a tremendous novelist, poet, and farmer, among many other things to other people. When I feel the need to have a more cohesive theology of the land, he has been my source of inspiration. The following is a poem of his that he published in the 1970's. I find it beautiful and redemptive. Perhaps you will as well.

MANIFESTO: THE MAD FARMER LIBERATION FRONT
by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection

Posted
AuthorNate Loucks
CategoriesTheology

On the way to drop my daughter off at school this morning, we were going through our traditional morning chat; telling stories, counting numbers, rhyming words, etc. A few minutes from the school and Nora interrupts the conversation, "Dad, I want to tell you something. [she gives the most serious pause] I'm really proud of you and I'm glad you're going to be healthy again. I really love you.” It was just four weeks ago today they took out the lower lobe of my right lung and a 5x9 centimeter mass of sequestered lung tissue. We have really tried to protect the kids throughout this season of ill health. They’ve stayed with only a few select people to maintain a sense of continuity and security. We’ve been open and honest with them about what is causing my health issues. Yet, you can never know how much of an emotional experience a one year old, three year old, and five year old can absorb. How are they processing it?

When I awoke this morning I started thinking about the things that I though about right before I fell asleep; the problems that arise at a job when someone is absent for a few months, the sermons that need to be developed and thought about, the lack of knowledge of certain areas that should be remedied, how I haven't led well in the last season, etc.  On top of this, I think about the friendships that I’ve not properly nurtured and the people in my life that haven’t gotten the best of me in the last few weeks, months, and even years. My grandfather told me not long before he passed, "Nate, we [the Loucks family] are our own worst enemies. There's no one that disappoints us more than ourselves. But we're especially bad to ourselves right before bed." We are existential cannibals that eat ourselves alive. Perhaps it's that we are reminded that there is only so much time to live life and too much life to be lived. 

Who knows what was going through my daughter’s mind this morning that she would find it necessary to remind me of my value to her. Nothing in our conversation was leading to that point being made. It was more about what rhymes with "clouds" and "snow" and "car." But, ever since she opened her heart this morning to her dad, I haven’t stopped being grateful.

For her. 
For my sons. 
For my wife and her compassion and care.
For my friends who I see often and those I haven’t seen in too long.
For the doctors that have given of their time to see that I get many more years with my family. 
For the cold air I felt in my lungs when I stepped outside.
For the warm coffee that contrasted the cold air. 
For our old house that gives us shelter from the cold. 
For yesterday. 
For today.
For Christ.  
For life. 
For love. 

Today is four weeks since my surgery and without my daughter, I would have been too busy to notice. What a fool I can be. I hope one day Christ will resurrect my subconscious enough to allow me to not always have laser-like focus on tomorrow and to allow today to be good enough. These moments will never be able to be lived again. If that day never happens, I’m grateful for a little girl that brings me back into today’s reality and lessens the anxiety of tomorrow. There will always be things to fix, brokenness perpetuates itself. Today I'm not going to allow the brokenness of this world rob me of the ability to see the signs of grace I have been given. 

Posted
AuthorNate Loucks
CategoriesRandom

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message:

“‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. - Jeremiah 7:1-7 NRSV

I wonder how many times the audience of the biblical narrative was left wondering, "Are you serious?" In the above Jeremiah text, the prophet speaks to Israel about their future destruction by the hands of the Babylonians. Privilege, power, and comfort is most disturbed by exile. The Israelites were familiar with the Abrahamic covenant of rich blessing of a peculiar space and vocation. They understood that they were God's chosen people in a special land. It was as much a part of their communal DNA as anything else. Yet, the prophet's words speak about a striking discord between a once blessed people whose knowledge of the right beliefs met a cursed future. But why? The Israelites seem to know the right things to say, "This is the temple of the Lord!" There's more to it than their cultic expression of location, though. Jeremiah is standing at the gate of the temple [YHWH's space] proclaiming the message that Israel's beliefs had once again not translated into a particular action. It is the dance of faith that all must learn; how does our orthodoxy [right beliefs] affect our orthopraxy [right practices] and orthopathos [right feelings]? 

There is so much to love about the prophet's message, especially if you find yourself being oppressed, poor, or disenfranchised. For those in power, there will surely be consternation. The prophets make it clear that YHWH will be found with those sorts of people [the fatherless, the foreigner, the widow, etc], not just those that just speak the right language or visit the right places or know the right people. It was, after all, YHWH's covenant with Abraham that set the social standard with Israel; you will be a nation that is blessed by God so that you may bless the entire world! Israel's God makes it clear that though He has not abandoned Israel, He will not compromise the tragectory of justice, righteousness, and holiness especially in light of a selfish, bloated, and unfeeling people.

We tend to love the prophet's message because it helps to create a world in which we want to live. It's redemptive and holy. God is taking the cause of the oppressed serious enough to see to it that those who are oppressing will get their due diligence. YES! The patterns of brokenness and exploitation will be confronted. That which is broken is being restored. All will be made right in the unjust and uncivil world. I like that message.

Then there's Jesus and the part where my patterns of brokenness are confronted as well. 

Matthew 25:31-46 KNT
“When the son of man comes in his glory,” Jesus went on, “and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be assembled in front of him, and he will separate them from one another, like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will stand the sheep at his right hand, and the goats at his left.

“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come here, you people who my father has blessed. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world! Why? Because I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you made me welcome. I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you looked after me; I was in prison and you came to me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Master, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and come to see you?’“Then the king will answer them, ‘I’m telling you the truth: when you did it to one of the least significant of my brothers and sisters here, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left hand, ‘Get away from me! You’re accursed! Go to the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels! Why? Because I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat! I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink! I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me; I was naked and you didn’t clothe me; I was sick and in prison and you didn’t look after me!’ “Then they too will answer, ‘Master, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t do anything for you?’

“Then he will answer them, ‘I’m telling you the truth: when you didn’t do it for one of the least significant of my brothers and sisters here, you didn’t do it for me.’“And they will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous will go into everlasting life.”

Once again we have God dealing with a people who refuse to understand the social implications of His sacred movement in this world. And, again there are consequences to a disobedient and obstinate people who refused to locate God correctly. I've been meditating lately on this question, "Are you serious, Jesus?" If so, there are huge implications for those of us who claim to be a part of this redemptive, Jesus-following movement. 

Growing up fairly poor with a single mother and three siblings, this section of Scripture gives me an incredible amount of hope. It’s almost vindicating. Our struggles weren't ignored by God. Christ is on the side of the struggling mothers who are working to put food on the table. Christ is on the side of those who can't afford a coat in the midst of an unforgiving Northwest Indiana winter. Christ is with the lonely, the poor, the destitute. 

There's another part of me (most of my 225-pound, 6'4" self) that is firmly located in my own selfishness. I don’t live in a trailer any longer. I have more than one coat in my closet. We get groceries every week and fill our cupboards, often with so much food that it expires before we can eat it. My life is accustomed to not going without much.

If Christ is serious, then should I not be the person that seeks to meet him in the faces of those oppressed and hungry and destitute? I'm often looking for a great sign in the sky to awaken my spiritual apathy, but what if He's located squarely in the people that will cost something to do life with? Stanley Hauerwas puts the charge rather plainly, "All people, whether they are Christians or not, know all they need to know to care for "the least of these." The difference between followers of Jesus and those who do not know Jesus is that those who have seen Jesus no longer have any excuse to avoid "the least of these.””

[Sorry, Dr. Hauerwas, I have an earned Ph.D. in excuse making. I lettered in it my senior year.]

It's a good question, though. Have I found excuses to ignore this teaching of Jesus? Was that Israel's problem as well?

I'm busy. (who isn't!)
I'm tired. (always!)
I already know a ton of people. (I do!)
This person smells (yes, I've said it!)
This person doesn't have much in common with me. (they don't even know Arcade Fire! Neanderthals!)
This person makes poor decisions. (unlike me, I'm perfect!)
This person requires something out of me. (sacrifice is great, when someone is doing it for me!)

It reminds me of what John Wesley wrote in one of his fine sermons [On Visiting the Sick, Sermon 98], "One great reason why the rich, in general, have so little sympathy for the poor, is, because they so seldom visit them. Hence it is, that, according to the common observation, one part of the world does not know what the other suffers. Many of them do not know, because they do not care to know: they keep out of the way of knowing it; and then plead their voluntary ignorances an excuse for their hardness of heart." John Dubya's not playing around, folks! We can avoid those people and situations that make us feel uncomfortable if we so choose.

Being skilled at avoidance, I can estabilish many reasons to not do life with the poor, widow, and orphan, finding ways to make these reasons seem like they don't come from a selfish place. Yet, deep down, I'm left wrestling with the seriousness of Christ's warning in Matthew and feeling that my avoidance does not come from a just or holy place. Avoidance rarely does.

[side note: it seems like so much time is spent in books and blogs arguing whether Paul truly wanted women to be silent in the assembly or the right interpretation of John's apocalyptic vision or the complexities of God's foreknowledge, yet I find such a small demographic concerned with whether Jesus was serious about His sermon on the mount or taking care of the poor, widow, and orphan. Why is that?]

Allow me to confess that part of my fascination and obsession with being a community with social initatives to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and love the lonely is that I fear what we will become if we don't. There's some eschatological uneasiness for me. Like Israel, my brokenness and selfishness is confronted in this teaching. Unlike the turnabouts that plague South Bend, there's no way for me to get around this. The orthopraxis seems evident. What if, after all, Jesus IS serious? What if James the Just is serious about proclaiming that the foundation to the religious life is found in caring for orphans and widows in their distress, and keeping oneself unstained by the world? What if?

What if I've been looking for Him in all the wrong places? Or, better yet, what if I've been looking for Him in the faces of all the wrong people? I'm serious.

Posted
AuthorNate Loucks
CategoriesTheology

Most people will tell you that getting ill never comes at a good time. No one gets the luxury of scheduling their cancer or broken bone or disease. I have talked to many people who were in car wrecks and none of them work up that morning and planned the event. It just happens, often in the moments of time that could least use a boost of complexity. This is what life does to those who live it. This was true with myself. 

 The leadership at State Street has been aware of our space issues for quite some time. Last week we had a Sunday attendance of almost 350 including over 100 children, had a weekly meal for almost 100 on Monday, and fed 300-400 people during our food pantry. There are different groups that use our building during the week, some affiliated with State Street, some not. We make it work with only 6,600 square feet. But, it's not always easy. 

When we made the decision to start exploring building additions I had mixed emotions. The logical part of me knows that we need more space to further the simple mission of loving God, loving others, and loving well. However, I also know that we are a young church with limited offerings, many families that are struggling to make their monthly budget, and a ton of kids... who tend to be what we call in the business world "cash poor." ;-) 

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Some friends of mine have mistakenly thought that State Street is sitting on a gold mine because of the amounts of money we invest back into the community. Though my 2003 Eggplant-colored Chrysler Sebring may say otherwise, we are not sitting on a gold mine. It's true that out of the pockets of the individuals and families at State Street we will invest $80,000+ just this year in helping the hungry. It's also true that we have a limited amount of staff, a smaller building, and are very careful about what we purchase all because we want to make sure that feeding the hungry happens. It's not that we have an extra $80,000 sitting around and we thought, "Why not spend that money on feeding the hungry?" We've had to be far more purposeful and intentional than that. We have to ask what we are willing to sacrifice that other churches and communities have to further this unique vision in the urban part of LaPorte. Our staff has to wear many hats because we aren't willing to sacrifice our investment into the broken and poor of LaPorte just for a large staff. We have volunteers working 20-40 hours per week at State Street for free because they rightly believe that our investment into the poor, widow, and orphan of LaPorte is just too important to sacrifice for other things. 

All of these investments have gotten us to this point. Thanks be to Christ for His provision. And now it's time to continue on.  

Today I am meeting with our architect to talk about the potential cost of our addition. This addition gets us more classroom space for our expanding children's ministry, more foyer space for a multipurpose room, more community center space for our social initiatives, and a coffee house space (more about this later). Though we don't know exactly how much the addition will cost, I do know that it will cost actual money and not just boyish good looks and charm. I checked. Apparently the economy collapses on only boyish good looks and charm. Who knew?

We will soon know more about what it will cost to take our next steps towards Christ in LaPorte. I'm a bit nervous and excited. Building campaigns aren't fun for me. I'm just not a natural salesman. Yet, I know that our infrastructure is not set up to continue to grow. I also know that this will cost us something. Let's not pretend that a substantial investment won't be needed. It's been my experience that great movements and events rarely happen on accident. It often takes a person or group of people who are righteously obstinate and unwilling to let the status quo rule the day. It takes a people that understand the importance of Christ's kingdom being manifested here on this earth in small yet beautiful ways. It takes you and I and our families and neighbors. But, things can change. The hunger and loneliness and homeless problem in LaPorte can be solved by a people who are willing to be stubborn enough in the face of adversity to say, "Death and darkness and hunger and poverty, you don't have the final word here!" 

Now that my surgery is over and my auto-immune disorder is being managed, I am able to focus more attention on what we are doing at State Street. Thank you to all who have been patient with me over the last few months. We may have had a bit of lag in the schedule from being ill, but I promise our resolve is as strong as ever. It's time to move forward.

 

Posted
AuthorNate Loucks

Hey you! Yeah, you, one of my loyal dozens of readers of this blog, I thought it best to update you one last time on this medically-challenging chapter of my life. Let's pretend that you're not tired of reading about it.

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A QUICK SUMMARY

In late July, my wife and father convinced me to go the hospital as I had been sick for awhile. A week prior to that, I visited a doctor who ran some tests and diagnosed me with pneumonia. They ran an Xray and found that, in addition to the pneumonia, I also have a mass in (or near) my lung. The hospital saw the Xray and omitted me to the hospital. They believed it was lymphoma. It wasn't. 

Eventually the diagnosis evolved to having a broncho-pulmonary sequestration (a section of my lung didn't form correctly in utero) and Graves' Disease (an autoimmune disorder). A month or so ago I was treated with radioactive iodine for the Graves' Disease. Two weeks ago I had video-assisted thoracic surgery (a thoracotomy) in Indianapolis to remove the 5x9cm sequestration and the lower lobe of my right lung. It was painful, but has healed really nicely in two weeks. If you look at an Xray, I have a very healthy left lung and a shortened right lung. He goes by the name "Captain Stubbin'". Please do not confuse it with a nubbin' though. 

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Yesterday I returned to preaching. My lungs were a bit sore yesterday afternoon. They're still a bit sore today. But, it felt good to return to some normalcy. Over the next few weeks, I will slowly start assuming the roles that I have vacated while being ill. I've tried keeping up with most things, but there has been some stuff that suffered while I was away. 

Today I am going to start working out again. I'm on a 10-pound weight restriction for another couple of weeks, but I am allowed to do cardio exercises to help stretch the remaining parts of my right lung out. If all goes well, that remaining part of my right lung SHOULD fill the space that was left from taking the lower part out. The doctors believe that I should breathe better than I ever have in my life. Eventually. We'll see.  

In conclusion, I'm getting better. The sequestration is removed, my autoimmune disorder is being managed, and I feel pretty well.  

My wife has been a saint throughout all of these health issues. She's really the most caring person I know. For a few weeks, I was too sick to do much help around the house or with the kids. She managed to handle all of our dual-responsibilities mostly by herself, worked a part-time job, and looked great doing it. I'm blessed to be married to her. 

Finally, my wife took some videos of me when I was waking up from my surgery. Who knew that being on such a heavy sedative would turn me into such a whiny kid! [we all knew the potential was there] I also catch a serious case of being vain. Here's one of the videos. Enjoy! 

Posted
AuthorNate Loucks
CategoriesSickness

Today is a big day for us Columbo fans. May the patron saint of the American crime detective drama, Saint Peter Falk, bless you today.  Just one more thing...

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It has been a while since my last .gif-laden update. Since my last post, football season has started [the Chicago Bears and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are both sitting at a paltry 4-2], I celebrated my 32nd birthday last Thursday, and the government, taking a cue from Ross and Rachel, went on a break. It's good to be back. I've missed the caring dozens of you that have read this blog. "hey, how you doing? It's nice to see you."

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To those who have just stumbled across my little section of the internet because someone linked it in your Facebook wall and now believe it was a major mistake to click that link and don't understand or share in my affinity for communicating with moving .gif's, then I only have one thing to say to you. 

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 Welcome to you, too.  I'm sure we'll be friends... eventually.

RECAP

On the last episode of "Nate Has A Case of the Sniffles": 

  1. I got sick. Went to the doctor and they found a 'mass' on my lungs in an MRI. I also had pneumonia. 
  2. The mass looked, talked, and had the same general baditude of lymphoma. Oncologists were convinced it was lymphoma. 
  3. It wasn't lymphoma. It was a very rare congenital disease called bronchopulmonary sequestration (meaning: my lungs never formed correctly) and Graves' disease (meaning: an autoimmune disorder affecting the thyroid).  
  4. All in all, my friends say that I have the sniffles and this was all a ploy to get them to feel sorry for me. Me retort: if I had better friends, I wouldn't need to pull these kinds of stunts to get their attention. This is their fault. I am the victim.

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GRAVES' DISEASE

When I left the hospital, we immediately went to the pharmacist to get enough meds to start a small pharmacy ourselves. When you look at the amount of medicines that I take, coupled with the vitamins and supplements, you'd think I'm putting pills in my mouth all day, every day. You'd be exaggerating. Stop it with the exaggerations, fella. I put them in my mouth three times each day, every day. That's all. When I finally found the right dosage of my thyroid medicine and cocktail of supplements/vitamins, I started feeling pretty well. Last month was the best I've felt in many years (less fatigue, better concentration, less irritability, etc.)

Upon the recommendation of my endocrinologist and radiologists, we decided to opt into radiation therapy to ultimately kill my thyroid. It wasn't the only treatment for Graves' Disease, but we felt most comfortable with it after researching the benefits/downfalls and longterm success. A week and a half ago, I spent some time at Memorial Hospital in South Bend while they monitored my radiation uptake and built me a pill. The typical dose for Graves' Disease is 10-15 millicurie. For thyroid cancer, it's not uncommon to get a dose as high as 100 millicurie. My dosage was 18 millicurie. 

The radiologist recommended that, because I have young children that may be susceptible to radiation, it'd be best to find a place to stay for a few days outside of my house. Fortunately for me, I have good friends and was able to stay with Mark and Julie Secor (and their dog Tucker). It was nice to have a place to go where I didn't have to be alone all the time. It sucked for them as I'm sure I shortened their life with the levels of radiation that I emitted. The cost of friendship! 

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I continue with my thyroid medication [Propylthiouracil] until my thyroid dies a slow and painless death. Eventually [within the next 6 months] my thyroid function will drop to a level that the endocrinologist will prescribe a synthetic thyroid medication. I will be on a synthetic medication for the rest of my life, or until medical advancement supplants current technologies. If all goes as planned, my levels will be balanced within the year, my thyroid will be dead but the function will be synthetically manipulated, and we'll all be happy. 

The game plan now is to work out enough to not gain the requisite weight that many thyroid patients gain when being treated or without thyroid function. In my adult life I've weighed as much as 310ish and have been as little as 185 pounds (after I returned from China).  My family tends to make a sport out of commenting on each other's weight fluctuations. Since the holidays are coming up, my goal is to work out enough to avoid this comment. I like to eat. This is no small task.

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BRONCHOPULMONARY SEQUESTRATION

My other condition is a bit of an anomaly. There's not much written or published about it because of its rarity. UCLA wanted to do a study on it and it took them 17 years to get 10 patients, most of them being babies. It's a congenital issue, meaning that I was born with it. I've never had complete function of my right lung because some of the lung tissue separated from the lung in utero. 

To fix this issue, I will be having a video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery in Indianapolis on Friday. My surgical oncologist told me that it's basically just a lung-cancer surgery, but to rest assured that I do not have cancer. Technically, for those medical people that have asked, they'll perform a lobectomy to do a few things (1) remove the sequestration, and (2) remove any of the right lower lobe that has been compromised by the sequestration. 

Video-assisted surgeries are truly the way of the future. They are less invasive leading to a decreased recovery time. I'm glad they can do it in Indy. So, the name of the game is 'survive' and all will be well soon. People have been asking me if I feel nervous about the surgery. I do not... yet. Perhaps there will be a feeling of nervousness the moment prior to getting knocked out for the surgery. But, that won't last long. Literally. I'll be asleep quickly.

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THE FUTURE

Unfortunately, I'm going to be needing some more time off. I'm tired of time off. The worst part about all of this is that it's taking so long for me to get back to my regular routine.  

On Wednesday I will be preaching [via the mysterious power of the video camera] the first week of our "Story According to Coldplay" series. This will be a 5-week sermon series going through the biblical narrative [creation, repentance, redemption, resurrection, and restoration] while also having fun connecting some Coldplay songs to those themes. My plan is to preach the second week of this series live at State Street on November 3rd. If it looks like my recovery is a bit slower (they say to expect a 4-6 week recovery and that will be just two weeks at that point) then I will record another message on video. 

There's a chance that I'm being a bit optimistic about how quick I will be able to return. There's a chance. But, I like my chances. What's the worst that could happen from coming back too quickly? 

 

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Let the Kool-Aid man be a lesson for us all. I feel very fortunate to be a part of a church community that has demonstrated so much love and patience through out my case of the sniffles. I look forward to being back permanently with half the lung, but twice as awesome.

That's all for now. Stay classy, blog readers. 

Posted
AuthorNate Loucks

Last time we talked about my maladies, I told you the good news that they were not able to find any cancerous cells in the mass in my chest. My wife and I collectively Kip'd. 

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Since then I've met with my family practitioner who, in cooperation with my endocrinologist, has tried to balance the thyroid medication. They cannot do the surgery I need until my thyroid issue is handled. Currently, my medications aren't balanced enough. How do we know? I still exhibit many of the symptoms of Graves' disease; sweating, shaking in the hands, and irritability to name a few. Part of the reason why I haven't been around many people is because I have become a cynical curmudgeon in my spare time. Perhaps I've always had this untapped potential, but it has really shown its face brightly over the last month or so. I'm living at the intersection of Walt Kowalski from Gran Torino [without the racial anger complexities] and Michael Bolton [with the great displeasure for office equipment] from Office Space. This is the look that my kids have gotten a bit too often over the last week or so:

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But, there's hope for all of us in the Loucks house. My thyroid should be balanced soon and I'll be back to being a bit more like my usual self. Happy, jovial, and only ever-so-slightly cynical. 

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Most people probably wouldn't think of me as any form of cynic, but I feel it and it needs to get better. If nothing else, post-surgery I won't have a scientific and medical explanation for my curmudgeon-like tendencies and cynicism outside of me just not being a very good man. I'm a work in progress.

We met with a surgical oncologist today to talk about my upcoming surgery for brochopulmonary sequestration. We've been on such a high from the news about the cancer that we had not thought much about the inevitable surgery. I knew it'd be an invasive operation, but I didn't think it'd necessarily be overly technical. As the doctor was telling us more about what will happen to make sure that my lung doesn't collapse and how the pain will be excruciating afterward and that I should expect a 7-day stay in the hospital and that they won't know how much of my lung they need to remove until they actually get in my chest, my disposition started to change. Excuse me, sir, can we go back to the part about me not having cancer? That's my favorite part. 

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We have an appointment with the head of thoracic surgery at the Indiana University Medical Hospital in Indianapolis in early September.  If all goes as I have planned (which nothing has yet), I will be having surgery in Indianapolis in mid-September (so all my Indy friends get ready for the party in my hospital room that will surely take place while I'm on my epidural.) I'll be in the hospital for a week and can expect a 4-6 week recovery. If the surgery goes well, I should breathe better than I ever have in my life (this is a congenital issue that has been with me my whole life). But though it's been with me, mooching off my lung capacity for almost 32 years, it's time to evict this failure of lung tissue. You've been put on notice, Carl the Tissue-Failing-Failure-of-Tissue. 

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So as not to confuse the dozens of readers of this blog, I am in a good place. I'm tremendously happy to have spent so much time with my family the last month. They may be ready for my return to work, but I'm not ready for a departure from them yet. Next week I will be preaching a message at State Street. The first message I've preached in over a month. I can't tell you how excited I am for that to take place. I'll be preaching about making a statement about love and stability in the future of our community.

Finally, speaking of love and stability, I feel the need to show some appreciation to one of my best friends, David Cramer. David has been a friend of mine for 10+ years. He's a doctoral student in moral theology at Baylor University. He's also my own personal favorite theologian. When Dave found out I was sick, he asked some of my favorite theologians to send me a note of encouragement. And, they did! Every time I go to the mail and see a letter from an astute theologian:

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I've got really great friends, Dave being one of them. I'm also a part of a caring and tremendously gracious church community who has given me time to heal. They bless me beyond belief. And, to top it off, I've got the best family who doesn't stay angry at me even though I've been a bit too Clint Eastwood-y lately. Christ has been constantly reminding me that I am blessed. May I learn to be such a blessing to others in the future.

Posted
AuthorNate Loucks
CategoriesSickness
"Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was." - the Apostle Paul, Romans 16:7 NRSV
There have been long [and theologically significant] debates happening for many years about the role of women in the early church. In all brevity, most of the debate involves writings from the Apostle Paul. The great apostle can, at times, come across as a cantankerous man who has grown tired of hearing women speak (1. Cor. 14:34, 1 Tim. 2:12). But, then, he can also shake the foundation of the gender paradigm of the first century by referring to gender nonessentiality between man and woman in the kingdom of God (Gal. 3:28) and the need for mutual submission amongst the sexes (1 Cor. 7:3). Pauline theology [especially in regards to gender issues] can be complex and should be handled with the greatest among of humility [and a good appreciation for textual criticism and responsible exegesis.]
 
One issue in regards to Pauline theology that has been discussed eloquently and accessibly by scholars like Eldon Epps, Scot McKnight and Linda Belleville [among others]  is the person of Junia in Romans 16. Junia was an apostle, but not just any regular apostle. Junia was considered 'prominent' or 'great' amongst the apostles with Andronicus. Paul thought very highly of this person. The problem: Junia was also a woman. 
 
There are very few Christians who will have issues with Paul thinking highly of a women in the faith. He demonstrates his love and care for various females throughout all of his letters. But, to consider a woman to also be an apostle is quite scandalous for some, especially if Junia was given the same responsibilities as the other apostles.  
 
Some scholars have challenged the idea of a woman being an apostle. It further complicates the male-dominated gender paradigm that many believe is taught in the scriptures. The male leads, the woman submits, as it goes. Mutual submission is important, but there is a clear pecking order to church leadership. Humorously, there are those that have even suggested that "Junia" must be a scribal and/or textual error in transmission and the author truly meant to write "Junias." This theory would hold a bit more water if there happened to be any precedent in history of the name "Junias". No one was named Junias. It would certainly be odd for the Apostle Paul to meet a fellow named Junias. The only Junias. [though I have a good friend named Butter, but it is merely a nickname] Scot McKnight sketches four conclusions about Junia [McKnight borrows from Epp here]: 
  1. Junia was a woman.
  2. There is no evidence that any man had the name “Junias.”
  3. Junia is a not, as some have argued, a contracted name of Junianus.
  4. “Among the apostles” means Junia herself was an apostle and not simply that the apostles thought she was a good egg.

McKnight writes, "So, we conclude that there was a first-century relative of the apostle Paul named Junia; she entered into Christ before Paul did; and this Junia was an apostle. Which means (because this is what apostles did) she was in essence a Christ-experiencing, Christ-representing, church-establishing, probably miracle-working, missionizing woman who preached the gospel and taught the church." 

Why is this so important to me? I believe that a healthy church should have a multitude of voices present; young and old, new converts and old guard, and male and female. While I have been out with Tumor Gate '13 [herein effectively renamed Broncho-Pulmonary-palooza], other people in our community have filled in on Sunday to preach. This last week our community was privileged to have Becky Crain preach; our very own Christ-experiencing, Christ-representing, church-establishing, probably miracle-working, missionizing woman like Junia. We have also been fortunate to have Kristin Swartz-Schult preach in the past. In the future, we will be guided and taught by other capable Christ-loving and astute women. It's important for our community to be shaped by men and women who love Christ. 

I am glad that we let our Junia's speak in our community. Becky is the second longest staff member we have at State Street [10 points to anyone who can name the person who has been on staff longest!] She understands the vision like few do. More importantly, she is engaged in growing with Christ like few people I know. She will always have a place to teach me, my family, and our community. We were blessed by your teaching, Becky. Thank you.

 I'm proud of you, kiddo!

 
Posted
AuthorNate Loucks
CategoriesState Street

When I entered the hospital earlier this month, we weren't sure what was wrong. We just knew that I had a large tumor in my chest, I lost 30+ pounds in two weeks, I couldn't breathe well, and I had night sweats like a boy who forget to do their science project the night before it was due. Added to that was a persistent cough that wouldn't go away. 

After a few days, the oncologist believed that my symptoms aligned well with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. But, none of that can be certain until various biopsies are done to detect the existence of cancer cells. You can only go on inclinations. I got checked out of the hospital and my wife and I started reading about lymphoma. We bought a book, read peer-reviewed articles, and prepared ourselves with what could be bad, but certainly not devastating news. As it goes, Hodgkin's Lymphoma isn't the worst cancer one can get. It's actually one of the most treatable cancers. It's as if we won the cancer lottery (with apologies to those who have pancreatic cancer, you are in my prayers.) So, we weren't worried too much, knowing that with chemotherapy, I would be back to normal within a matter of 6-8 months. It was a blip on the radar of a long life. 

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After already getting a needle biopsy and having it come back inconclusive, I had another one done this week at another facility. Prior to this biopsy, we asked another oncologist if he thought that Hodgkin's Lymphoma was still probably the best guess of what could be wrong with me. He agreed. His exact words, "I see nothing here that goes against that inclination." So, we did another biopsy and hoped for the best. As the doctor told me, "We got quite a bit of tissue out your tumor. We should know for sure if it is or isn't lymphoma." 

Last night, they called.  There was no sign of cancer. 

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It was quite a surreal call. We had prepared ourselves based on what we had been told and the inclination was wrong (a quick note: I don't blame the doctors for their inclinations. They have been great. They never promised me they knew for sure, this is why they run tests. Plus, my mass/symptoms look A LOT like lymphoma. It was a good, educated guess.)  

So, you may wonder, how does it feel to know that I likely do not have cancer? 

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Being diligent and appropriately concerned, it would not surprise me if my oncologist still wants to do a surgical biopsy. Needle biopsies are fairly accurate, but the most accurate biopsy is still going in and looking at it through surgery. I'm waiting for a call today from my oncologist to see what our next step may be.  

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The next question is; what can it be then? My symptoms are still with me. There is still a large mass in my chest. We still have the lost weight to deal with. 

A doctor suggested to me yesterday that my condition may be congenital. It's called Bronchopulmonary Sequestration. It's a very rare disorder that is often times caught in utero. It's even more rare for an adult to have it. But, my symptoms also align with this issue. Here's a definition of BPS for those curious:  

Bronchopulmonary sequestration (BPS), sometimes referred to simply as pulmonary sequestration, is a rare congenital malformation of the lower respiratory tract. It consists of a nonfunctioning mass of lung tissue that lacks normal communication with the tracheobronchial tree, and that receives its arterial blood supply from the systemic circulation.

To fix this issue, they will need to go in and remove the excess lung tissue, cauterize the blood supply, and [likely] remove part of my functioning lung. It would leave me with 1.5 lungs, which if you think about it, is better than 1 lung or 1.25 lungs. Here's a nice video of the surgery if you're interested.  

On top of the BPS surgery, I'd also ask to have them remove my thyroid since they'll already be in my innards. I wonder if they can also take out any excessive fat in my belly or give me a bionic arm or James Woods' brilliant brain whilst doing the procedure. I'll ask. They'll oblige. This is how the medical profession works.

 

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As a caution, nothing is confirmed. Like I said earlier, we may still do another biopsy and then find cancerous cells. Or, the inclination of BPS may totally be off. There's so much that the doctors don't know. But, they told me yesterday on the phone that no cancer was witnessed on the biopsy results. I'm the winner. So, as of now I:

 

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Thank you to everyone who has prayed for my family and I. We feel tremendously blessed to know so many great people. Through this time, we've never lost site of the hope of the Resurrection. Even in more uncertainty, the hope of the Resurrection always stays with us. 

ps. the winner of the 'make-Nate-laugh' award goes to Alyssa Secor with this gem, "This issue [BPS] seems to mainly be in children, wow, now Nate has a little kid lung issue and an old ladies disease." I respond with a Walt Whitman quote, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Posted
AuthorNate Loucks
CategoriesSickness

Last year at State Street we did a series on theodicy called, "[Skubala] Happens." In that series, we discovered that because of conflicting wills in this world (the divine will, your will, my will, the wills of the past, etc.) bad things can just happen. Without reason or explanation, they just do. Not everything happens for a reason, though it is much easier to believe in such a world. The biblical witness doesn't give us much reason as to why bad things happen nor did the Christian community really try to answer 'why' for many years. The hope of the Church has always been that resurrection happens in the midst of the chaos, darkness, and sin of this world. Bad things are a part of this world. Christ has made a way that the bad things of this world do not have the final word. That though we can choose sin, and at times darkness may happen to us (by a biological cancer that we cannot control), our unique Christian hope is for resurrection; in this life or the next. I no more believe that God has given (and by implication caused) me an illness to battle than I do that my mother died when I was young so that I would have a powerful testimony when I became a pastor (as was once suggested to me). What a moral monster God would be if He was sovereignly picking winners and losers in life so that a sermon would preach well on Sunday morning. God has brought redemption and resurrection out of darkness, a business that He works miracles. However, to implicate God of the darkness of this world would be to suggest that He is not who He claims to be as the arbiter of love and life. 

I was re-reading a great book by Dr. John Sanders called the God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence. It has meant a great deal to me over the years. Since I will be in a biopsy and drugged this morning, I'll leave you with some quality reading. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. 

"According to the fellowship model of sovereignty God does not have a blueprint that we are to follow. God has a goal for our lives, but there are numerous open routes to its achievement. This is not to say, however, that God never desires a specific individual to do some particular act. After all, God requested certain people in the Bible to perform specific acts (for example, God asked Gideon to tear down the alter of Baal, Judg 6: 25). Yet for most of us there is no such specific guidance. The will of God for our lives is not a list of activities regarding vocation, marriage and the like. Rather, it is God’s desire that we become a lover of God and others as was exemplified in God’s way in Jesus. “When people talk about God’s leading,” says van de Beek, “it is usually not rooted in the way of Christ, but in a general concept of omnipotence and protection.” The way of Jesus is a way of life not concerned about blueprints but about being the kind of person God desires. God’s major goal is to renew us in the likeness of Jesus (with all the attending individual and social implications). [emphasis added by Nate] In this sense it could be said that God has a specific will for each and every situation: to live as Jesus would. This is not, however, what people usually have in mind when they seek specific divine guidance.

It is God’s desire that we enter into a give-and-take relationship of love, and this is not accomplished by God’s forcing his blueprint on us. Rather, God wants us to go through life together with him, making decisions together. Together we decide the actual course of my life. God’s will for my life does not reside in a list of specific activities but in a personal relationship. As lover and friend, God works with us wherever we go and whatever we do. To a large extent our future is open and we are to determine what it will be in dialogue with God. God does not simply turn us loose to do whatever we please. Rather, we are to seek God’s wisdom for our lives ( Jas 1: 5). For example, there may be a variety of vocations available to me with which God is pleased, not just one that is “best” or “perfect” in comparison to the others. I am free to make my choice in consultation with God and others in whom I detect godly wisdom. In my opinion, God is concerned about which vocation I select but is much more concerned about how I live my life in that vocation. Whatever vocation I choose God wants me to do it Christianly. [emphasis added]

Furthermore, according to the relational model explored in this book there are “chance” happenings and genuine accidents that God did not specifically intend. God has granted humans significant freedom such that we may do things to others that God does not intend us to do. An employer, for instance, may harass and fire Jane without good reason. Jane should not view this circumstance as a “sign” that God’s will for her life has changed. She may, however, be confident that no matter what others do to her God is working in her life to redeem the situation. Since the broad range of circumstances that we experience in life, from being in a train accident to meeting an old friend on the street comer, are brought about by human freedom, we should not typically think of them as divine pointers for guidance. God resourcefully works with us in any and every situation, but God is not causing all our circumstances because this would imply a great deal of manipulation of humans. God has sovereignly chosen not to practice that sort of providence as his normal way of dealing with us. Though God can (even unilaterally) bring certain circumstances about, God normally works with us in whatever circumstances we experience. Hence, according to the risk model of providence Christians should not attempt to read all circumstances as signs of God’s will for their lives. [emphasis added]

King Saul, for example, made this mistake when he had David trapped, exclaiming that “God has given him into my hand” (1 Sam 23: 7). Of course, God had done no such thing. When those who murdered Saul’s son told David that God had avenged David of Saul, David rejected their interpretation of providence and had them killed (2 Sam 4: 8-12). In the risk model it is possible to mistake a divine action and misconstrue guidance."

- John Sanders, from the God Who Risks

 

Posted
AuthorNate Loucks