20 September 2017

The Hilarious World of Depression

With a nod and apologies to the excellent podcast of the same name. (Which I recommend.)

One year ago this week I met with a counselor. OK, let’s call him a therapist—that’s what he calls himself. It was early in my third year of teaching on a one-year contract. (That’s another story; don’t get me started.) Obviously in a tentative professional position, four years after leaving full-time ministry I was still “in transition,” and I had some issues I wanted to talk through with a professional. It seemed innocuous enough: I would tell him my concerns, he would give me some assignments, I would go on my way stronger and able to meet whatever was next.

I was so young and naïve.

In some 37 years of full-time work (most of that in ministry) I found that there were issues I kept bumping up against. Things I didn’t do well. Mistakes I kept making. Clues I wasn’t getting. I wanted to untangle whatever all that was so when I went looking for the next job I would have my eyes open and my best game on.

A year later, and I am still seeing the therapist, and am now in my fourth year of teaching on a one-year contract. But I have to say, “what a difference a year makes!” Am I all straightened out? Not by a long shot. There have been surprises, light-bulb moments (“aha!”), and I guess we’d call them breakthroughs. No longer weekly, we now meet monthly—I guess a sign that I’m in a better place.

It has been quite the adventure. And since many people walk around with issues they feel they can’t talk about, I thought I’d write a little about this adventure here.


There, I’ve said it. When it first came up in my sessions I thought: “OK, here we go.” I do not feel stigmatized with the diagnosis. I do not feel that the label contradicts my status as a child of God. I do not believe my depression betrays a spiritual condition (sin). What the diagnosis and therapy have done for me is the Adventure.

But before I write more, I hope that anyone who may read this will feel that they can talk to someone about their feelings. If you are depressed—or think you may be—see someone about it. If you aren’t sure, let me draw your attention again to the excellent podcast, “The Hilarious World of Depression.” Listen to a few episodes and see if anything there resonates with you. If it does, find help . . . a good friend, a pastor, a counselor, your doctor, a therapist.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Mine began looking for answers to a problem I didn’t understand. I don’t know how far along I am on that journey, but I’m glad for the loved ones who are on the journey with me.

29 May 2016

That's a lot of flying

. . . for me, anyway.

From May 15 through June 20, I will have been on ten flights:
Chicago to Berlin
Berlin to Vienna
     Dusseldorf to London
     London to Chicago
     Chicago to London
     London to Dusseldorf
Frankfurt to Geneva
Geneva to Frankfurt
Frankfurt to Leipzig-Halle
Berlin to Chicago
and techically I have a Lufthansa ticket for a high speed train from Dusseldorf to Franfurt. 

I know there are people who fly frequently, and whose trips are more complicated. Anyway, I'm still such a child when it comes to aero-planes, that all this excites me more than tires me out.

Traveling with the Trinity International University Music Department, we flew out of O'Hare on May 15. The beginning of our long-awaited Europe 2016 tour took us through the night to Berlin, where we had enough time to go through customs, get Euros from the Geldautomats, buy espressos, and board for the short hop to Vienna.

My next legs were to be "in-country" connections to meet my Karen in Geneva after the tour, then go over to Leipzig for the BachFest. A flight home from Berlin on June 20 completes my travel on the university ticket.

But life - or in this case, death - intervened. One week into the 3-week tour my father-in-law let slip the bonds of mortal flesh, and passed into his eternal reward. Joe had been in hospice, and my Karen and I had talked beforehand about options should this happen during my trip. Karen was with him for several days - and at the end - and we talked (thank you Google hangouts!) on Sunday afternoon Germany time. I bought a round-trip flight to be home for Karen, attend the service, and linger a bit before returning to the university music tour. The 2-legs-each-way trip got me thinking about how much I was going to be in the air - and in airports - this summer.

Observations so far:
AIR BERLIN: the most comfortable economy class I've ever been in for an overseas flight. Not to mention, German, and English with German accent!
EURO WINGS: it looked like it was going to be more of a no-frills flight than it actually was. Nice, if cramped. But it was only a 1-hour flight to London. And it is supposedly a United partner, so . . . miles?
UNITED: well, it's United, it's economy, and I was pretty near the back of the plane. Short notice, you see. It would have been OK for all that, except at the last minute a college group had booked all the seats around me when their flight to Newark was canceled that morning. So, I might have had an empty seat next to me, and no one sitting behind me (seat backs down, anyone?); but I didn't.
HEATHROW AIRPORT: I had carelessly left my carry-on bag on the EuroWings plane when I got off in London. When I realized that, I began a 2-hour process of finding out what I needed to know and to do, then getting it done, then getting to my Chicago flight. Whew! Long story, best told in person, but the upshot is that everyone who I talked to in this airport was kind, patient, and helpful -- from airline employees to customs, to baggage claim helpers. Truly, I felt blessed (if more than a little stupid).
O'HARE AIRPORT: So that made my arrival in Chicago, my home town, arriving with a U.S. passport where my native language is spoken in familliar accents, such a disappointment. Honestly, could we be any less hospitable? Terse, curt, rude, perfunctory . . . these just begin to describe the ways I heard airport personnel speak to arriving passengers. "Welcome home," indeed.

But, here I sit, eager to get back on a plane again in two days. I'll leave through O'Hare and retrace my route to Dusseldorf. There I will catch a bus for Stuttgart and rejoin the TIU tour. One week from today I will pick up my own personal travel to Geneva, where I will meet my Karen and spend a week with friends there. Karen will have had her own travel adventure - if only she could appreciate it the way I do. (Chicago - Stockholm - Copenhagen - Geneva) In her short trip she will have fully 60% of the flights I am logging this month!

28 May 2016

How Not to prepare

Finally in the air! The week has not been what one would normally wish before a 5-week trip.

Monday: give 2 finals; be careful to include 2 essays on the longer test.

Tuesday: grade the exams and write a third.

Wednesday: give your last final: again, include essays.

Meanwhile keep checking your packing list and plan your last errands.

Thursday: try to finish grading, begin to compile course grades. Discover you have cracked a tooth - but not until the dentist is closed (panic when you learn that this week the office is closed both Friday and Saturday). Try to enjoy your last dinner before the trip, alone with your spouse.

Friday: Thank God for a dentist who will come in on his day off and look at the tooth; have some work done. Run other errands - they will take longer than you think they should. Go to campus to play the first commencement ceremony. Drag to bed late after finishing grades.

Saturday: Get out the door early with your spouse and go play the second commencement ceremony. Together  rush immediately to a surprise birthday dinner 4.5 hours away. Have a ball, but leave much earlier than you'd like. Drive partway home to sleep in your in-laws' house.

Sunday: Enjoy the only relaxed morning you've had for a while - or are likely to have for an even longer while. Drive 3+ hours to campus to help get the show on the road.

If it ever comes up, take it from me: This is not the way to prepare for a 5-week trip!

09 May 2016

Longest Adventure Yet

Well, apart from the adventure of marriage, parenting, and - you know - life . . .

I head out Sunday for a five-week junket in Europe.

It begins with this.

Then, God willing, my Karen joins me to visit with friends near Geneva, Switzerland.

And it ends here. Ten days of here.

Then I return, just in time for the 41st anniversary of my greatest adventure: Life with Karen.

29 July 2015


For reasons to be disclosed at another time, my cycling goal this summer is built around “century” rides – day trips of 100 miles.

And because of that, I am thinking a lot this summer of my friend, Steve, “the first friend I almost killed on a bicycle.”

I met Steve 30 years ago. He was a leading musician at the church that hired me to be their pastor for worship. In August, 1985, Steve picked me up on his motorcycle, to take me with him to the Twin Cities summer choral music workshop. We stopped at Hiawatha Falls – with Steve there was always time for beauty and sight-seeing. I asked Steve if we shouldn’t take our helmets with us as we walked to the Falls. He seemed a bit puzzled . . . why wouldn’t we leave them on the bike? Well, I was on notice that I wasn’t in Chicago anymore!
 Image result for hiawatha falls minneapolis

But it was a different kind of bike that created a bond with Steve. And while we never rode together enough to suit me, Steve was my cycling buddy for a decade. He would call and ask “Can you come out and play?” That meant, ride! Then he would swing by my place across town and lead me on another adventure in the still-rural parts of Dakota County, Minnesota.

I had done a little touring with my brother, Lew. We didn’t carry much, because Lew’s wife and children camped with us along the way; we just had to ride. But Steve introduced me to touring with gear. And again, we did not get out together enough to suit me. But it was enough to teach me the basics. And it always felt safe to go with my unflappable, indefatigable, cheerful cycling buddy. I remember especially two three-day camping trips. Lots of stories; fond memories; a taste and a hunger for more.

Steve introduced me to the concept of the “century ride.” Three times we rode the Headwaters Hundred together—a century ride out of Park Rapids, MN, that crosses the headwaters of the Mississippi and rambles the surrounding lake country. 
Image result for mississippi headwaters hostel itasca state park
The Headwaters is held the fourth Saturday of September, and/so the weather is quite unpredictable. I think in my three trips with Steve, we got a little bit of everything.

Of course the day that stands out in my memory is the day I almost killed Steve. We were in Itasca Stake Park, on a one-way road through the beautiful autumn woods. 
Image result for mississippi headwaters hostel itasca state park
I was enjoying the downhill way too much for safety; Steve was pretty close on my rear wheel. (Our pastor, Roger, wiser and more cautious, was far enough behind Steve to avoid any potential hazard.) I hit a patch of leaves, and my front wheel turned under me; I went down, hard.

As I fell, I looked up and back and called out, “Steeeve” . . . Steve shouted, “Chuuuck,” and went over me. They call it a 360—he did a complete turn over me and landed on the dirt and leaves of the road’s shoulder, within inches, really, of the slightly raised asphalt edge. Roger rolled to a stop behind us. We got bikes off the road, and within moments faster, more intense cyclists roared by.

Steve was in trouble. It became clear that he was not going to get back on his bike. The next details are fuzzy for me. Somehow we got Steve to a place with an emergency vehicle . . . or did they send a vehicle to where we were? I should remember that detail. I do recall (to my discredit, I think) that once Steve was in the care of medics, and on his way to the hospital, Roger and I decided to finish the ride. We had more than half the ride left.

When we finally rolled in at the end, we met Jackie, Steve’s wife, and learned the extent of Steve’s injuries: broken collarbone, punctured thorax, and—well, something else I also can’t recall at the moment. He got home (a 4-hour drive usually, I have no idea how Jackie drove it the next day) and his recovery took 8–10 weeks.

This always amazes me. Steve remained a faithful friend, and still chose to ride with me. We only had a couple of years after that before I moved to Wheaton. Was it our last century ride together? I can’t even say that for sure. It definitely was not Steve’s last century. He made the trek most Septembers, and even got out on the course with grandchildren.

Steve’s final, fatal illness did not keep him off the bike. Last week was the second anniversary of his home-going. We had talked about me getting up to the Headwaters that September; it wouldn’t be the full ride for him, but another chance for us to ride together on this beautiful route. Steve’s family found a recumbent cycle so Steve could ride nearly to the end. His joy on his final ride, on his street, was lovingly captured on video; it distilled all the joy he got from and brought to cycling.

This summer, as I plan to ride six centuries, Steve is constantly on my mind. Among all the things I learned from him on the bike, that joy of riding, his smile under a bike helmet, is the most enduring.

Photo Credits: all photos from Google images. I cannot attest that the one with cyclists on an autumnal road are from Itasca State Park; I can say it is not the area of our wipeout. The Looney Valley Lutheran Church and its sign are one of my enduring memories from the second trip Steve and I took together. I love that name for a church. Also, as we rode through Looney Valley, the area farmers were harvesting corn, and waved us down to share their hot-dog lunch. Great day on a bike, great human experience, fun to see Steve work a crowd of strangers.

29 December 2014

That old New Oxford Book of English Verse

. . .  has got its spell on me.

In January I set out to read through this 945-page, 884-item anthology of English verse (1250–1950). A manageable 3-pages per day would give me ample time, accounting for vacations that I would not travel with a large hardcover volume, busy days when I couldn’t sit down to read at leisure, and days when I just plain forgot to pick it up. There was the occasional panic—that the days had passed and I wouldn’t hit my marks. But when I came back to it and read a little, and did the math on completing it this year, I always magically still needed only 3 pages per day to finish.

I think my math skills are not all they might be.

In any case, just before Christmas I finished the anthology. Much of the last hundred years’ poetry was tough slogging. But a lot of it was timely: the poets of World War I, coming up in my reading on this centenary year of The Great War, for example. I was reminded of earlier flings with poetry and poets, and now especially wish to revisit T. S. Eliot.

There must be a comparable anthology of American verse—though not, of course, dating back to 1250—so I’ll look that up and keep it on hand. I don’t think I’ll undertake another year of reading through a collection. But I’d like to think poetry will occupy a more significant role in my reading and reflection than it has for many a year.

Wendell Barry beckons, as does Dante in that John Ciardi translation that came out around the same time I picked up the NOBEV. The poetry and drama of Antiquity forced its way into my year of reading poetry (fascinating to me that classical references continue well into the 20th century); and well look, there on my shelf is an anthology of the same, so I don’t have to go to my grave ignorant. Or ignorantly . . . as the ars moriendi poetry has taught me.

In a year of writing, editing, and teaching, words have provided a great adventure. Poetry keeps the wonder in the adventure. Excelsior!

02 November 2014

Now, that was a year!

In the year since my last birthday, I . . .

Finished writing my MA thesis

Took on a second adjunct teaching job

Edited, my thesis

Took on an interim church choir job

Defended my thesis
. . . and edited it some more

Took my first selfie

Accepted a one-year teaching appointment

Prepared to teach a full course load

Prepared to direct a college band

Received a bound copy of my thesis

Pulled off my first photo bomb

Visited adult kids in Kentucky, San Francisco, and Boston

Officiated my son's wedding
At rehearsal, Covenant Presbyterian Church, Chicago
Began to teach music full time

Took on a guest chorus master post with a symphony chorus

Somewhere along the way squeaked by last year's cycling miles

Ran my personal best 5K and won the 35+ division in the same event

Stayed married to the most patient woman in the world.

I can't wait to see what the coming year brings!