Current job title: Pastor of Grace Church of Bowling Green and part-time instructor of biblical and Christian studies at Western Kentucky University.
Hometown: Grand Rapids, Mich., by way of Seattle.
Family: My wife, Elizabeth, who is from Seattle and works as an registered nurse at Greenview Regional Hospital, and our children: Isabella (14), Oden (12), Iris (10) and Phinehas (7). We also have two dogs, Dakota Joe and Raven (Cray-Ray), as well as two cats, Senor Smoke and Stella – these four often serve to make things crazy and, routinely, to capsize our family vessel as we not-so-gently float along the river of our shared life together.
The one thing no one knows about me is … that I (barely) graduated from high school in 1989 with a 1.952 GPA, that I graduated as something like 192nd out of the 200 total students in my class, that I had to work hard to do that poorly, and that I remain somewhat proud of my (lack of) achievement. While I would go on to develop a deep appreciation for education, high school was a difficult and painful time for me and, although I will never be anyone’s shining example of academic success in high school, nearly 30 years later I may be able to serve as both a cautionary tale and as an encouragement (maybe especially for young persons) that, while important, for most of us life neither starts nor ends based on our lives in junior high or high school.
My dream job is ... I’m doing it, I think, although 25 years ago I would likely have laughed if someone told me I would be stumbling after Jesus someday and, I think, I would very likely have gone into horrific, terrifying, convulsive fits of laughter if that person told me I would be a pastor and a teacher. That said, I think this dream job remains hard work because, for all the diverse emphases and talk about love in our current cultural moment, really loving and learning how to love the world, other people and ourselves may be the hardest work we ever get the privilege and opportunity to do and pursue.
My first job was ... I worked a lot of odd jobs in high school, but I was too busy playing sports and figuring out how not to succeed in the classroom at that time, so my first “real” job was four years of active-duty service in the Marine Corps, including service in the Persian Gulf War. It’s hard to overstate how much I learned in the Marine Corps, some of it expected and, in the now antique words of Gomer Pyle, “Surprise, surprise, surprise!,” a fair bit of that learning quite unexpected.
The best advice I ever got was ... You know, I sort of wish that this question was about the worst advice I’ve ever received. I think that’s a far more interesting question because, generally speaking, some of the best stories and learning opportunities come from places where bad advice has been given, received and put into practice. Seriously, I’ve benefited from and am grateful for so much of the bad advice I’ve gotten over the years (which sometimes now tempts me to purposely offer poor advice).
However, I think the best advice I have ever received came from my paternal grandmother. Just a couple of months before she died, she called me as I was driving home from the gym. I pulled over into a parking lot off the bypass to talk with her and, at the end of our conversation she said, “Receive every moment as a gift, pay attention to it, appreciate it, enjoy it, and know that none of it is primarily about you – you were put here to serve and love others.”
Dying persons can be among the best (and worst) people to listen to, and I’m deeply grateful for my grandmother’s advice, even as I am still learning how to follow it.
My hero (and why) is … Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian (1906-1945), due to his commitment and courage to seek the truth, serve the truth and speak the truth – as best as he was able to discern it, with humility and boldness – in his efforts to stand up for the powerless and speak out against those who held power under the (false) leadership of Adolf Hitler in National Socialist Germany (from 1933-1945). He was executed in a concentration camp during April 1945, only a month before the end of World War II in Europe.
If I could do it all over again … maybe, just maybe I would take high school much more seriously but, really, if I’m going to serve the truth, that probably wouldn’t happen. Honestly, I don’t like this question, and I generally try not to let this type of thinking take up residence in my internal life for too long, because none of us gets a do-over and I’d prefer to think less about what I wish I could change and more about what I may have the opportunity to learn from a given experience. But since the Daily News has temporarily invited me here, if I could do it all over again I would have started learning how to play the guitar as a kid rather than in my mid-40s (though if I had done so back in the 1980s the whole high school thing may have been even more precarious).
The part of my job I could do without is ... Let’s keep it real, as the pastor of a church in the community where this newspaper is circulated, it may be unwise for me to offer concrete answers to this question. More seriously, I cannot think of any specific aspect of my work that I could do without, as I appreciate how the diverse parts make up the whole and I enjoy that, as a pastor, my work takes various forms and includes a wide variety of people. If anything, I suppose I would like to spend less time doing administrative work in order to spend more time developing relationships with people.
The one thing I always carry with me is … a sense of humor. I think a sense of humor is indispensable to human existence. To paraphrase one of my favorite Jewish rabbis and psychotherapists, Edwin Friedman, life is way too serious not to laugh at and way too funny not to take seriously. So, in all seriousness, I think laughter is one of the forms that love takes in healthy relationships and healthy communities, and those who cannot laugh at themselves are not to be trusted. The Swiss theologian Karl Barth (another one of my heroes) wrote, “Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God,” and I think that is just about right.
The best meal I ever had was ... On one level, this is the easiest question on this list. The best meal I’ve ever had is the Eucharist, the thanksgiving meal I get to celebrate every week in the context of Christian worship. On another level, however, this may be the most difficult question on this list, as I enjoy food and I have enjoyed many meals all around the world, with the best meals being those shared with family, friends and sometimes strangers (new friends). Final answer? I suppose the best meal I’ve ever had was at the wedding feast for my wife and I, surrounded by family, friends, great food, great beverages, all on a rainy late December afternoon in Seattle in 2001.
At the top of my bucket list is ... Not sure how to answer this one, as I don’t have a bucket list and I’m reticent to create one, mostly because I think being and becoming human involves much more than the accumulation or consumption of experiences during our lifetimes, valuable as they are and grateful as we may be for them. And I’m not sure I want to frame life so much in terms of “this is what I want to do before I die” as I would like to focus on “this is who I want to become, this is how I want to live and use the gift of life I’ve been given.”
So I suppose that, before foot meets bucket, I’d simply like to learn how to be content and, hopefully from an existence of growing contentment, I’d like to keep trying to practice that advice my grandmother offered to me shortly before she died: To receive every moment as a gift, to pay attention to it, to appreciate it, to enjoy it, and to recognize that none of it is primarily about me, to know that I was put here to serve and to love others, however imperfectly, starting with my wife and our children and continuing outward from there ...