Category Archives: Durango


Tonight went to a Christmas party at a house in a neighborhood in the hills west of Durango. Normally the drive takes about 15 minutes. Coming back down into town took maybe 30, 4WD and low gear all the way. It was so cool to see that much snow on the road! I’ve been complaining about how warm it’s been recently, and how little precipitation we’ve been getting. Last weekend we got a pretty good storm and Purgatory opened with a good amount of frontside trails available. Today the backside opened during a storm. So maybe all my complaining got us somewhere… or not. It’s just nice to finally have snow around. Hopefully the temperatures will stay down so we can keep it.

After we got home I took Rusty out to pee, since we had been gone about two-and-a-half hours. Now normally this involves a flashlight for any time later than 7:00. This was 8:30, and even though Durango doesn’t have a lot of glaring lights, what little there is was reflecting all over the snow and it was like a bright dusk outside. A wierd phenomenon to try to put into words. Just much brighter outside than one would expect it to be when the sun has gone all the way down.

I know I haven’t posted in a while, and this is a good excuse for me to write some, to get back into it. There’s been interesting stuff going on at work, but I’m carefully examining how much work stuff I talk about now that staff blogs are on their way to becoming a disputed topic. And that may have been saying too much, hahaha.

Well, hopefully February will bring plenty of blog fodder. Pending official acceptance, I’ll be taking an online class through University of Dubuque Theological Seminary (UDTS). “Theology of Mission and Evangelism.” Seeking to rethink these two major components of ecclesiology in the context of our ever-changing culture.

Thanksgiving Break

Thanksgiving vacation in Monterey has been great. Although this town is like Durango in the transient nature of its young inhabitants, I’ve been pleasantly surprised in how many people from the old days I’ve run into while here. A couple brief conversations with my closest friend Chris, and a longer hangout on the schedule for tomorrow. Great times with my brother-in-law Pat, wondering what it would be like to be Indiana Jones and halfheartedly plotting to drop off “the grid”. A pipe-smoking session with Uncle George, learning about his seminary days and hearing his stories of traveling to Brazil and moving around among parishes.

Went to church a couple times today. First, we caught a service at Shoreline, where I used to work. It’s definitely changed. They’ve built an impressive facility in an old warehouse. I’m really excited for Pastor Howie getting to see his dreams come to fruition. He started from scratch over a decade ago, and now the church has a thriving body of believers. What I admire most about Shoreline is its dedicated core of volunteers that keep at least some portion of virtually every component of the church running smoothly. They’ve got to be sold on the vision Howie’s casted. Major kudos there. Like I said before though, a lot has changed since I was there, as things do. The new facility, while impressive, didn’t quite resonate with me. The sanctuary is very spacious, and has who-knows-how-many thousands of dollars of technology, but it didn’t feel like a church. There were no Christian symbols anywhere. Really, this isn’t a rant… I’m a firm believer that you can’t make everyone happy. I just need my worship space to have some worship aids that push me towards an encounter with God. Anyway, the service was so-so for me, but I’m sure it’s great for the people it reaches. No faith community has a monopoly on how to reach and serve everyone.

This evening Anina and I went to a new house-church, Stone Harbor. It was planted by a respected colleague named Johnny Potter, and another humble Christ-follower named Tom Green. Johnny has this amazing quiet wisdom that makes him such a natural shepherd. Without any discussion, Anina and I both knew he was the one we each wanted to perform our weding (and he did). Johnny pastored at Shoreline almost from day one, but has felt called to start Stone Harbor very recently. The gathering is about 60 people that meet in the Potter home. Really cozy in there, hahaha. It was so organic and no-frills. Quite a contrast to how I felt while I experienced a Shoreline service. Fairly typical layout, with worship songs up front, followed by a brief and easy-to-take-notes-on message, then closed of with a time of singing and praying. After things ended, I was so amazed to see clusters of people spontaneously forming and praying for each other. The norm was for people to socialize for a few minutes, almost inevitably followed by a short but sincere couple minutes of praying for each other. But it was so low-pressure. Like, you know how sometimes people can be praying, and you feel odd if you’re not doing it too? Yeah, not like that at all. It was just what these believers wanted to do with each other. No pressure. Wow.

Originally this post was titled, “The Way It Should Be”. But I realized that I couldn’t use that if I really believe that nobody has the market cornered on ecclesiology. But I’ll tell you what… if I lived in Monterey, I would make my home at Stone Harbor. It was so refreshing.

A couple more days of vacation, and then back to work. More details to come…

The Wait Is Over

Wow, I’m so relieved. Our church just called a new pastor yesterday, which means I have a new boss. The Rev. Dr. William Mangrum. This guy and I get along so well together, too. It’s crazy.

Side note: In thinking about how to describe him, I almost just spouted off a bunch of labels. Emergent Village, Rob Bell fan, etc. Bad, Russell, bad!

Bill and I both love reading. He’s got a head-start on me though. One of the biggest logistical problems for bringing him here is what to do with his 15,000 books. I’m really excited to have a superior that is so well-read, and that can introduce me to new authors and titles that will challenge me in all aspects of life… personal theology, ministry practices, etc. Continue reading

Hell Houses

Recently I got a letter from a neighboring church, inviting me to send people their way for a special “Outreach” they’re doing. When things get sent to only me, I can ignore them pretty easily. However, this invitation letter was also forwarded to our Children’s Director and our church’s Outreach & Fellowship Committee. Since I have some objections to the program the letter describes, I decided it would be wise to go on record with the committee about my thoughts.

The committee moderators replied promptly after, echoing agreement with my basic reasons. Well, that was fun, but it was also too easy. So I’m offering my thoughts here at the blog to generate more discussion. Without further ado, the letter: Continue reading

Checked out

Tuesday, August 7:

My brain has officially checked out for the next 6 days. :)

I’m done! I survived today, a day that spanned the gap between being out of town with work for 2 weeks and heading out to Los Angeles and Santa Barbara for a much-needed vacation.

As far as traveling for work the past couple weeks…

I’ve been to Indiana, for an event called the Presbyterian Youth Triennium, which entailed rushing 15 sr. high students through 2 different half-hour layovers in major airports, only to show up at Purdue University to be melded into and herded around in a crowd of 5000 people. (Maybe I’m using a bit of overstatement… overall, it was a great experience.) Stressful from a leader standpoint, but positive nonetheless.

Upon returning from Purdue, I had a couple days in the office to basically sit in meetings and hear about what I had missed. Not that I could do anything about it; there’s just a set of stuff that has to be covered. The couple days in the office were about catching up. Then I took a couple days off, for a combination of resting from what I just finished as well as preparing for what was coming up. So for Thursday and Friday, I was focusing on what lay ahead. For the upcoming week, I was headed off to speak at a great camp that the kids from our church go to (Sonlight Christian Camp). Thursday consisted of getting the thematic skeleton laid out for how to address the week’s big idea. Honestly, I had had this on the back burner since January, but it really never got much thought because all the day-to-day pragmatics took priority. On Friday, I got the chance to attach some specific ideas and references and whatnot to the skeleton.

An aside techie note: For this speaking engagement, I tried out a new idea-mapping program, Compendium Open Learn. I’d recommend it; Open Learn is a great hybrid between left-brain outlining and right-brain visualization.

Wednesday, August 8:

So when I showed up at camp, I had a basic idea of what each day should consist of. Each day entailed a couple hours of making speaking notes, putting together a powerpoint, double-checking scripture references, etc. The week turned out to be great. I left with the impression that the biggest ideas I wanted to drive home really stuck with them. Thanks be to God! The content of the talks merits its own post later.

Mentioning powerpoint made me think of a post I read recently over at Out of Ur. It’s well-written, and makes me double-check myself to make sure I’m not using technology in a manipulative fashion (which is especially easy to do with media-inundated sr. high students).

This morning we left the house at 5:00am, to fly out to Los Angeles. Got out of Durango pretty smoothly. Saw some friends from church on our flight out. I love small towns. 14k people and you’re almost guaranteed to see someone you know at 6:30 in the morning at the airport. Anyway, the flights were pretty uneventful, which I guess is the ideal. Sitting on the runway at Salt Lake City, there was some super weird new-agey music that it seemed only Anina and I could hear. I was listening everywhere to try to track down its source. But I just looked goofy standing up, or putting my ear against the window, or feeling the vents for vibrations, because no one else could hear it. Turns out that somehow my armrest headphone jack was specially equipped to become a speaker instead of a jack. My armrest was emitting the offending tunes! It was definitely funny to witness, but basically, you just had to be there.

On the bus leaving LAX, I couldn’t help but overhear a fellow passenger calling home to let someone know he landed safely: “Oh honey you wouldn’t believe how beautiful it is here… 70 degrees, clear blue skies…” If by blue you mean gray, yeah sure, I’ll buy that. I’m not bashing LA’s smog or that guy’s definition of blue, but it’s just funny… it’s muddy gray here overhead compared to places like Durango.

I love being on vacation!

Plan B

July 1st. Wheee! …right? Yeah, kinda cool that we’re over the hump. 6 out of 12 months have passed. I blinked a few seconds ago, I coulda sworn it was mid-April then. Oh well.

I’m not excited about Monday (technically today). Summer’s been fun, but I haven’t been paying attention to as much around me as I should have been. Or, maybe enough, but not the right things.

I (and many others around me) have been planning on me beginning my graduate work this Fall. The plan was to enroll at University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, in Iowa. They have a great distance program that will allow me to keep my Durango life while I work on my M.Div. The thing is, since it is a distance program, it takes a bit longer. 5 years going full-steam every semester. And as much as I’m sure I’ll enjoy seminary just for all the great reading and discussion, earning my graduate degree holds significant practical importance. Down the road, formal ordination will allow a church to pay me a tax-exempt housing allowance on top of my salary. Now within the PC(USA), said ordination requires achievement of a Master’s degree. Moral of the story, ordination will make life a lot easier, in terms of raising a family and living expenses and all that.

Now, back to why the post is titled “Plan B.” I’ll know for sure in a few hours, but I have a hunch I may have missed the application deadline to enroll in Dubuque’s distance program for this Fall. If so, I’ll be kicking myself pretty hard. It was a simple date on the horizon, and I fill out applications well. I just would have had to make a note about July 2 sneaking up, and this would be a non-issue.

Continue reading


Reading my first Walter Bruggeman book , I’ve come across a great quote that fits the questioning spirit of this blog. Well, the ideally questioning spirit. Sometimes I notice that posts end on a note bearing more resemblance to an answer than a question. Anyway, without further ado, this snippet from The Prophetic Imagination:

The alternative consciousness to be nurtured, on one hand, serves to criticize in dismantling the dominant consciousness. … On the other hand, that alternative consciousness to be nurtured serves to energize persons and communities by its promise of another time and situation toward which the community of faith may move. …

In thinking this way, the key word is alternative and every prophetic minister and prophetic community must engage in a struggle with that notion. Thus, alternative to what? In what ways alternative? How radically alternative? Finally, is there a thinkable alternative that will avoid domestication? And, quite concretely, how does one present and act out alternatives in a community of faith which on the whole does not understand that there are any alternatives or is not prepared to embrace such if they come along?

The Prophetic Imagination, page 4

Could come up with quite a few posts’ worth of musings here, I suppose.

  • How can I carry out my work –ultimately a work of reconciling– in a fashion alternative to the dominant culture in need of said reconciling?
  • What aspects of the dominant culture beg an alternative? Are some aspects more than others urgently lacking an alternative?
  • Are the unhealthy aspects of the local dominant culture different than those of the overall (national? hemispherical?) dominant culture?
  • Within the local dominant culture, what is different for the students directly under my care, or for their age group?
  • Are the local or the larger aspects more important to promptly address? Are they addressed in the same way?
  • Can I offer alternatives piecemeal? Or must I require blanket acceptance on the part of members of the dominant culture?
  • Can piecemeal acceptance of the alternative grow into full acceptance? Is such a progression scriptural? Practical? Tolerable?
  • Does my alternative approach change with dominant culture? Or are there things about my approach that will forever be inherently alternative?


Today I’m getting a much-needed retreat. Thankfully I’m not one of those super-busy types that people try to track down even on days off, so I suppose I can tell you where I’m at. I’m up in a secluded little town called Ouray, about 70 miles north of Durango. I’ve passed through before, but never really stopped. The 12,000-foot mountains fencing in the town 360 degrees around are just mind-bottling. Durango looks like it’s in the middle of Kansas compared to the valley that Ouray sits in.

 The occasion for this retreat is a gathering of others within my presbytery who are also on the path seeking ordination. It’s called an Inquirers’/Candidates’ Retreat. So there are about 10 of us at various stages along that journey, and we’re each joined by our mentors from our local congregation, and there are some presbytery-level folks here too. Coming from a congregationalist background, I would have initially flinched to read about such a gathering: “Ugh, all sorts of committee business and meetings and whatnot.” I would have assumed it would be a lot of wasted meeting time and red tape and whatnot.

So far, it has been nothing but refreshing. For starters, once I finally cleared the north end of Durango (a 20-minute exercise in traffic navigation), I had an absolutely breathtaking drive this morning, crossing three 10,000-foot passes, and zig-zagging down switchbacks, spying abandoned mining camps off in the distance, passing along a ledge of a road through a steep canyon with absolutely vertical (if not inverted in some places) thousand-foot walls. When I arrived at First Pres. Ouray it was a pretty informal time of just chatting with folks while everyone arrived. A good number of the other Inquirers and Candidates are in youth ministry jobs as well. Also, I met someone preaching her ordination sermon this weekend whose call is as a campus pastor at a college in Edmonton, Alberta. (Cool, I hadn’t thought about attaining PCUSA ordination while working with college kids…) After the mingling time, we went upstairs for a great worship service. Some songs that I would actually call “contemporary,” as well as a few like “Come Thou Fount.”  Thankfully none of that Jesus is my significant other crap, though. Then the dude who just happens to be my presbytery-level mentor (not to be confused with congregation mentor), the Rev. Tom Hansen of First Pres. Grand Junction, shared some thoughts on pastoral calling. Tom mainly referenced Peterson and Willamon and read Moses’ and Jonah’s stories from The Message. His words penetrated to my core more than any message or sermon in recent memory. A lot about the idea of call vs. career, and the passage from Peterson’s book was awesome for that. Then a light lunch with friends also here from my home church, and topped off with a stroll downtown to a good cafe, which is where I’m sitting now.

I guess today probably counts as work, so I guess it’s safe to say work hasn’t left me feeling this refreshed in ages. You should find a way to have your work do the same for you.

Recent Decline in Blogging

My friend Stewart shot me an email this morning to ask if I was alright and whatnot, because it’s been a good week-&-a-half since I posted last. I anticipate to be able to knock out the final portions of the Scripture Interpretation Project early next week, and then hopefully Shedden and I will get back on track with some joint-blogging on a book.

I’ve been swamped at work the past couple weeks, and that’s where I do most of my blogging, because I can write it off as theological development. Last Saturday (my day off, mind you), I worked from 9:30AM to 11:00PM… scanning dozens of pictures and working on a slideshow for a lunch honoring our high school graduates, and having an interviewee fly down for our children’s director position. I’m not throwing a pity party, but that’s just an example of a couple big projects that were going on recently.

Also, Anina’s mom and stepdad are in town right now, so we’re playing host a lot when I’m not working (and even taking some time off work too!). Contrary to the popular stereotype, I’m having a blast with my in-laws in town. They’re staying at a beautiful bed-and-breakfast north of town, and the owners are always inviting Anina and I to come out for breakfast and to hang out. Sunday night will be cigars around the firepit! (Shameless plug: Country Sunshine is the name, and I’d highly recommend it. Walter and Jodi are the owners, and they’re awesome people!)

I finally finished Yancey’s Reaching for the Invisible God, a book I originally opened in 2003. I’ve read the first few chapters maybe 4 to 6 times because I’d start and then lose momentum and restart a year later. But now it’s done, and it was great.

Now I’m in Bruggeman’s The Prophetic Imagination. It was originally published in 1978, and I’ve got a 2000 edition, and just taking notes on Bruggeman’s thoughts in the Y2K Preface is a chore! Interesting material, for sure, but quite complex.


Ha! You thought I was going to get all mushy on you, didn’t you? Well actually, I was referring to the sticky substance excreted by our photosynthetic friends: sap from trees.

Mondays are my Sabbath. So yesterday Anina and I went for a great mid-day stroll out in some open space on the edge of town (Durango Mountain Park, for you locals). It’s usually not my habit to do so, but I left my cell phone in my pocket when we ventured out from the trailhead. No, I’m not going to give you some goofy excuse that I took it because we were going off-trail but were still within calling range in case of an emergency. Hey, that’s quality B.S. … I’m impressed with myself…

Anyway, while I was climbing a tree, somehow my phone got a good helping of sap smeared on its faceplate. At first I was kinda annoyed when I discovered it upon arriving back at the car. I tried to wipe it off, completely forgetting that this only spreads the sap onto more of the surface as well as my finger. Oops.

So now the front panel of my phone is crusted over with dried tree sap (not sticky anymore, thankfully). And whenever I’m making a call, I can smell the wonderful pine I climbed yesterday. It’s like potpourri for my phone… ooh!… phonepourri.

Just a nice reminder that all our little techno-toys will more than likely never be fully impervious to nature.