Celebrating Easter in Hyrule and Eden (UT)

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We are now counting down the days the end of the most wonderful season of the liturgical calendar year.  Now, I know, you all think Advent is the most wonderful season of the liturgical calendar year.  But we all love Advent for all the wrong reasons.  Advent is meant to be somber.  We force it to be festive, prolonging the 12 days of Christmas into 30+.

But the fifty days of Easter is and always was meant to be all festivity.  This is why as I have fasted the 40 days of Lent I have come to realize the Lenten cycle isn’t over until you have feasted the 50 days of Easter.

And I have certainly been feasting over the last 48 days!  It has been Easter in my life this past month and a half.  I have tried to enjoy and celebrate the Resurrection, Restoration and Redemption every moment.

Image result for hyruleThe first way I have done this is by playing Zelda.  Many of you know that I fast video games during Lent so on day 2 of the Easter season I began my feasting by dusting off my old copy of “Twilight Princess” and putting it in my aging Wii so that I could waste time riding across Hyrule, collecting gadgets and solving puzzles.

It goes without saying to you who have played them that the Zelda games are unlike any other video games.  The aesthetic and gameplay are incredible.  Even the darkest of Zelda games are still pretty lighthearted and cartoonish.   The graphics are incredibly beautiful, as is the music.

 

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Despite her awkward appearance the true “Twilight Princess” has one of the best stories in all Zelda.

But more than all that, the characters are diverse.  They come in all shapes and sizes and styles of clothing.  Most of them are downright weird.  This is probably because of Zelda’s Japanese origins but I love the characters nonetheless.  They resemble some of the weird people I know, many of whom have attended churches I pastor.  If you add to all that the over arching theme of driving darkness away with light, you might realize that Zelda is certainly a wonderful and beautiful gift.

This Easter season I taught my youth group that the secret to finding joy is Philippians 4:8 which teaches us to think and dwell upon whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely excellent and praiseworthy.  The Zelda games have so much of those wonderful attributes.  Enjoying these artistic pieces is one great way to celebrate the light of the world and the light that is in the world.

I also spent this Easter season training for a marathon in and around Eden, UT.  The road to Eden goes through, “Mountain Green” whiImage result for eden, utch is aptly named because green abounds on those mountains, especially this time of year.  To accent the green, the mountains were still snow capped.  The lake was smooth as ice, partly because some of it was still ice.  I spent hours running up there marveling at the beauty of it all and celebrating Easter by praying, reciting Scripture and smiling at the various wildlife.  The marathon was a couple weeks ago and we began running right as the sun was rising to illuminate a gorgeous, green day.

I can’t help but draw parallels between the fabricated world of Hyrule and the actual creation of our God.  Eden, UT resembles Hyrule in its beauty.  Actually, Hyrule resembles Eden but it doesn’t match it.  Real life is somehow always better than fabrication.

It also reminds me that, like Hyrule, darkness still threatens this world.  It makes itself known every time I catch myself striding over a dead deer on the highway.  Those carcasses remind me our world is indeed still broken.  Death is still the enemy and he has not yet been vanquished.  As the hymn, “My Hope is Built” reminds us, “Darkness does sometimes veil [God’s] lovely face.”

But so too, the light shines out all the clearer during Easter season.  After all, Jesus didn’t just save me.  He saved and is saving all creation.  Creation was and still is groaning under the oppression of futility.  Unfortunately the ground is still cursed because of Adam.  But Paul teaches in Romans 8 that all creation too “shall be liberated from its bondage to decay.” (Rom. 8:21)

And now as this wonderful Easter season winds down and we march into common time or Kingdomtide, the season for work, we are reminded that God has done God’s part against the darkness and the death.  Now we too must work out our own salvation (see Phil. 2:12-13).

Come oh Jesus, we long for, we work for, you.

 

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The Suicide Rate in Utah (And Elsewhere)

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Hey everybody.  It has been a few weeks since I have posted anything which is a testimony to how crazy busy the Spring is for pastor’s.  What that said, yesterday I attended a wonderful and enlightening presentation on suicide.  I tried to share some thoughts about it on Facebook but the status was too long.  Therefore, I decided this might be a better venue.

Those of you who do not live here in Utah may not know that Utah has the 5th highest suicide rate in the country.  In 2015, 648 people in the state of Utah committed suicide.  That averages out to one and a half per day which means that the news is constantly reporting it and talking about it.

Along with the suicide rate, Utah also ranks high in antidepressants and plastic surgery.  These are distressing realities to face while living in what is an otherwise great state.

The speaker explained a few fascinating notes about why people struggle with depression and suicide here more than other places.

The most fascinating has to do with brain chemistry alterations that happen at elevation.  It turns out the higher the elevation, the harder it is for your brain to secrete dopamine into your system.  This means people who live at higher elevations have a harder time feeling positive.  Our bodies just can’t regulate our emotions as well as they can at lower altitudes.

Another interesting note is that the suicide rate is higher in places where the overall population is happier.  This seems to be true all over the world.  The happier the people, the more of them commit suicide.  This is because misery truly does love company.  If you are miserable in a room full of miserable people you are all there for each other and can commiserate together.  In turn, if everybody is happy and you are miserable than you have nowhere to turn, or at least feel like it.  So Utah’s suicide rate is actually an unfortunate byproduct of an otherwise extremely healthy and happy populace.

With all that said, the most important point the speaker made had to do with media coverage.  It is true that 648 suicides is 648 too many.  It is also true that it averages out to one and a half per day.  However, if you divide 648 by the 3 million people living in Utah that is 2/100s of 1 percent.  That is .02%!  When a person and a half a day are committing suicide and the statewide news is reporting every single one it is so easy to think, “Everybody here kills themselves!  Why should I continue where everybody else has failed?”  But the truth is 99.98% of Utahns don’t kill themselves and we all go through the same things together.  We all live at the same elevation (mostly), struggle to make financial ends meet, strive to maintain a healthy-happy family, deal with the same stressors at work, and are driven crazy dealing with the ridiculous Utah drivers.

And so I end by repeating something I am quite fond of saying.  I admit I stole it from Red Green, “Remember I am pulling for you.  We truly are all in this together.”

 

A Sermon Somewhere: Doing Drugs

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This post is the latest in an ongoing series where I try to find the hidden sermons lurking beneath everyday experiences.  .  .and fail miserably.

I am an Evangelical Christian pastor.  This means I don’t like drugs.  Actually I despise them.  True, I like coffee but I always feel guilty for liking coffee, like I am betraying some sort of hidden Bible verse, probably in Proverbs, about caffeine being associated with short life and rebellious children.  When it comes to the other drugs, though, I avoid them all like the plagues they pretend to cure.

I am also a marathon runner and athlete.  This means I respect the character forming nature of proper pain.  Pain is gain and that which dulls pain dulls character.  Anybody who takes anything other than water and sleep is a wimp and probably a Pharisee.

I really don’t like drugs whether they be the big bads (cocaine, heroin, meth) or the regular over the counter meds (ibuprofen, Advil, etc).  I will suffer with a headache or muscle pain for days before it even occurs to me that Tylenol exists.

My wife is always the one that reminds me.

She is a bit more of a wimp.  If she feels the very slightest form of nausea, she is hitting up our medicine cabinet like it holds the gifts of eternal life.  She has the pharmacy section of the grocery store memorized and is familiar with drugs that I have never heard of.  When I get near that section, I pray protection over the demons lurking within and then rush in, find what I need, and rush out before any of them get on me.

In the 8 years of our marriage one of our ongoing “debates” has been over the use of drugs.  I will say something like, “I have a slight headache today.”  She will reply, “Take Advil.”  I will reply, “That’s what the heathens do, dear.”  She will say, “If you feel that strongly about it, then stop complaining.”  I let her win there but in my head I note, “I am not complaining.  I was just making conversation about how the changing weather pattern is affecting the pressure in my head and causing unpleasantness.”  So in the end I win.

That is until this last month.

We moved to Utah a year ago and, as I have noted before, everything is different in Utah.  That apparently applies to the allergens in the air.  Those who have moved to Utah in the last few years quickly remind us that it takes three Aprils for your sinuses to adjust to the unique climate.  They may as well be suggesting you just save up all your sick leave for April.

Sure enough around the second week of April my whole family started to feel miserable.  Stuffy noses, coughs and fevers swept over all four of us, causing an incredible amount of misery.  As always I vowed to muscle through it.  Surely the pollen would eventually settle and I could go back to normal.  In my defense, my wife binged on all of her medicines and still felt miserable.

Three weeks later I was not better but much, much worse.  One Monday morning, my will and strength finally gave out and I reluctantly drove to a clinic.  I was in and out in fifteen minutes.  After listing off my symptoms they told me I had bronchitis because the pollen in my chest had sat for so long that it had become infected.  If I would have just taken over the counter meds it would not have happened.  The doctor prescribed something called “Mucinex” twice a day.  My wife had heard of it but up to that point I thought “Mucinex” was the name of a 1990s rapper.

I followed my orders like a good little obedient heathen and took the Mucinex and felt better within 48 hours.

Then this week my son developed a fever and went lethargic on us.  We chose to let him sleep it off.  Truth be told, I actually enjoyed the peace and quiet from his 4 hour long naps that he took twice daily.  Even better, when he was awake he wasn’t that energetic either, just sat in our arms staring blankly into the abyss.  He drank little and ate less.  We gave him a small dose of Tylenol once a day but it didn’t seem to help and Tuesday, after watching him moan on the couch for an hour, my dad hormones won out and I dragged him to the clinic.

They spent four hours poking and prodding and running tests only to send me home on the fool’s errand of trying to get a urine sample from a not quite potty trained two year old.

We waited all day Wednesday and I reluctantly dragged him back Thursday morning without the urine sample, knowing that now they had to extract the UA in very ungodly ways.  Luckily he had developed a skin rash and an ear ache at that point which were the final two symptoms needed for a diagnosis.

The doctor who saw him was gruff and opinionated.  I could tell he fought himself greatly to not just rage about what his coworkers had done Tuesday as he said through baited breath, “They did what!?”

Not long after, he brought out doses of both Ibuprofen and Advil and fed them to my son, who perked up within the hour.  An hour later he came back and said, “You are free to go but I am just going to have to be mean right now.”  He took a deep breath and sighed before saying through the same baited breath, “You guys have to be totally on top of this, more than you are being.  Medicine every four hours!  Force feed him liquids!  If he won’t drink hold him down and force a syringe down his throat with water or juice.  Is that clear?”

I was just happy to be talking to someone who knew what he was doing though I find the insinuation that I am a bad parent for not giving my kids drugs a bit insulting.

Maybe in the end it turns out drugs might have their purpose, not just for blunting pain but for not dying.  Or they might not.  I am not sure I am willing to let my wife truly win this round quite yet.  After all, who knows about how much integrity my son picked up from suffering so miserably?  I basically just secured him a high school award for “Best Character and Conduct.”  That is an award I never won, by the way.  Probably because my lousy parents gave me too much medicine.

It is also possible that we would have gotten better without the meds.  But now we will never know.

Invincible ignorance truly is bliss.

Either way, there has got to be a sermon in there somewhere.

A Sermon Somewhere: Utah Road Fatalities

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This is the latest post in an ongoing series where I examine the menial stuff of life to try to find a sermon illustration.  .  .and fail miserably!

Last week I drove the 20 mile stretch of I-15 between my house and downtown Salt Lake City three times.  In that 120 miles of driving, I saw more people and cars than I probably saw in one year living in Eastern Oregon where there are few people and even fewer vehicles.

The roads are 5 lanes wide.  Those 5 lanes are surrounded by every vehicle we have yet invented from massive semis to tiny motorcyclists.  Some cars are going 80.  Others are going 40 for no discernible reason.  Every time you change lanes, there is a car in your blind spot.  Every time you go under an underpass there is a traffic cop hiding there.  I am not entirely sure why as it is impossible to speed in Utah, given that even in the city the speed limit is 75.

And there are signs everywhere.  There are merging lane signs, exit signs, mileage signs, speed limit signs and billboard signs.  Awhile back the highway administration, again for no discernible reason, decided to install a bunch of digital signs right above the lanes with messages they can change whenever.  They must have decided we didn’t have enough to look at.

Granted, some of the time those digital boards tell you how long they estimate it will be to important landmarks or junctions.  Other times they put really passive aggressive seatbelt warnings up like, “Click it or Ticket!” or even (and I am not making this up) “That Seat Belt Looks Really Good on You!”

But last week some guy at the highway administration must have lost a bet because the signs read, “There have been 4 fatalities on Utah roads in the last 7 days.”

I have no idea why I needed to know that.

Were they bragging?  Did we set a new record?  Did we beat Idaho and Wyoming who must have had 5 in 7 or, worse, 7 in 7 days?  Is there a ranking somewhere of state traffic fatalities and we are winning it?  After all Utah wins the other records like happiest state and most prosperous state and most Mormon state.

Or where they warning us?  We have a death every other day and we did not have one yesterday!  Today is day 8, watch out!  It could be you.  Under the likelihood that that was the case, I buckled my seat belt and slowed down to 40 behind a gray haired couple driving a white Buick who were doing the same.

Moreover, where did these accidents happen?  Notice the sign didn’t say Utah interstates.  It said Utah highways, which I think included most roads in the entire state.  If they all happened in southern Utah, then I don’t really care.  But if they all happened on the I-15 corridor, than I definitely am buckling all the seat belts in my car, whether or not they are occupied, and slowing down to 20.

Another possibility is that there is a geographical rotation of some sort?  Maybe the first one happened in northwest Utah (where I drive), the next in southeast Utah, then in southwest, then in northeast.  If that is the case, it is our turn again!

Whatever the situation I decided I am not going to cause or be fatality number 5 on day 8!  So I slowed down to 25 and took the next exit to use the back roads.  Based on the huge line of cars at that exit, I am guessing I am not the only one.

This might mean this was all a manipulative scheme to try to reduce traffic on the interstate.  Whatever their plan, it seems to have worked and I am praying for the families of fatalities 1 through 4 and avoiding the Interstate and all highways so my family won’t be joining them.

Meanwhile, did you know back roads are delightful?  There are houses, stores, schools, hospitals, and pedestrians everywhere.  I might get to where I am going a half hour late, but at least I will have had a bunch of people to wave at and houses to admire.  I also might get lost back there but at least I won’t die and after all, there has to be a sermon on those roads somewhere!!