Thursday, August 30, 2007

What to do with truth

When you seek truth, truth seeks you,
But be careful, you might meet each other;
When you meet, you will be tempted;
Do not tame truth,
For such violence leaves truth without life,
Do not run from truth,
For such fear scares truth far, far, away;

Join truth and let it join you,
For vulnerability to truth is growth.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


Tripped into a murky mess
Brought down, face down
Nearly drown;
Sinking in the Swamp.

Inhaling the sludge of Fear
Coughing, choking, heaving Fear.

Push, push up;
Elbows, now hands,
Knees, now feet;

The courage to stand,
And not bow,
In Fearswamp,
Is the difference.

Sad Loss

I have been sad since Friday afternoon. My heart does not believe what my mind cannot deny.

I received word Friday afternoon that one of the professor's in my department, Wayne Caron, died. That is all I know. I looked in the obit page this morning to see what I could learn. His name was listed, but the obit read that information was to bo released, or something like that. All I learned was that he was only 51 years old. Way too young to die.

I had several conversations with Wayne in my first year of doctoral studies. He was humorous, engaging, and was an outside the box thinker. I recall how, when we first met to discuss research, that he said he was not primarily interested in my research interests, although that was important, but that he was interested in me. That kind of thing matters.

I can't believe he's not going to be up there in the department Monday when I return. It all seems fake, like some sort of horribly cruelhumor. My heart does not accept this reality.

I am not sure how to say this next line, so I am going to say it like this: This loss has agitated other losses in my life, roused their pain nearer to the surface. Pain travels in packs - never alone. When one pain bites, they all bite.

Making sense of pain while it is biting is more than difficult. I suppose for most, certainly for me, it is not a realistic goal. Trying to make sense of it, perhaps. But actually making sense? Naw. Sometimes it seems like life is this process of collecting lots of things when you are young and losing them all as you age - with the gain of wisdom as the consolation prize. It's so hard to make sense of loss.

Today, I am sad. I am sad for Wayne's family, his friends, his students, his Teaching Assistants, for the Department, and the people he served at the Family Caregiving Center. Wayne's death is a significant loss to many, many people.

My prayer is for everyone touched by his death to grieve in a healthy way and to let the influence Wayne has had in their lives to live within them. The world will be better for it.

Monday, August 20, 2007

God and Family 1.0

Let's suppose that, before time began, there was just God. And let's suppose that when the Bible says that "God is love" that such a claim is true - God and love are synonymous.

OK, now let's imagine that God wanted to expand love. I am not exactly sure how God gets bigger or love expands when there is only God. If God is infinite, then how do you get more infinity? But let's suppose that God figured that there is a way to increase love despite the fact that God and love are already infinite.

Perhaps God needed to create a new category of reality which has a capacity for love and it could be filled with love. Perhaps God created a sort of "not-God" whch could become more like God, were it willing to do so.

So, let's suppose there wasn't anything but God when God starting plotting on the expansion and increase of love. So, in order to fulfill the dream of making more love God creates a universe. Let's also assume God could have done it in six days or God could have initiated a 6 billion year process, but that the "how" is irrelevant.

So, now there is God and "not God." The "not-God" kind of resembles the God, but it is clear that two are distinct. We must remember that love is being expanded, not just made more known for what it is already.

God creates humans in the midst of this incredible creation of plants and animals and waters and lands and skies. Within the humans, at least, and perhpas within everything comprising creation, there is an infinite capacity for love. So, rather than a single infinite location for love to exist, there are billions of potential infinite love locations.

Now, God decides to place these individuals in relationship with each other through biological, emotional, and spiritual networks called families. New people are added to the creation not from the dust of the eargth, but rather from the people themselves. Families are formed. Generations are formed. Now there is not merely infinity contained within a person, but infinity shared between two or even multiple people.

So, if this is all true, God has entrusted a capacity for love and by definition a capacity for Himself, to individuals and therefore through relationships, God has entrusted the perpetuation and expansion of love adn even Himself to families.

Step back and think about that for a moment. Why would God do such a thing? Was God naive and think that people would make only good decisions? Did God believe people would actually use that capacity to love and actually fill it with love? Was God wise in releasing such capacity for depth within and between people knoing that there was no promise by the recipients that they would even bother to try?

The risk to release love to the structure of family was huge.

But the risk was not lost on God. The bible clearly says that God knew of the risk. "The sins of the fathers will visit the third and fourth generation." This was no mystery to God. And oh how true it is that these sins pay multiple visits. Children who are abused, children of alcoholics, children of hate-filled marriages, children of liars (the list could go on for quite some time) - they all experiene something ranging from unpleasant to completely debilitating when their parents fail to fill their infinite capacity for love with love.

However, God saw that the results were better when love did fill that eternal capacity. God's faithfulness lasts for a 1,000 generations. Here is what makes it worth the risk. A little bit of love goes a long way. It goes a long way because we were made for it. Love is powerful because when it connects with the eternal capacity within each of us and especially between us within our families, it is making God's dream of the expansion of love come true.

Love entering into new ground is God's dream coming true.

This is why the two greatest commandments have to do with loving God and loving people. It is God's dream come true. The law and prophets hinge on these and rendered utterly useless without them.

God has placed people within families because that is the best and most likely context in which love can be learned. From there, it can spread to friends, to neighbors - to enemies.

Of course it is no guarantee. God is a fan of free will. And yet, God is convinved that people, when given the free will chance to choose love, will choose it. God is banking on families to be nesting grounds of the expansion of love and therefore the expansion of God Himself.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

God and Family: Intro

I am starting a short series on God and Family. This series is not going to be patriotic, as the title might sound to some. It is not going to be a preachy or moralizing about how people should be in nuclear families and people in "broken" families are less. It is not going to exalt one kind of family and diminish another.

Instead, it is going to focus on how God takes a tremendous risk in entrusting family, in its many forms, with the task, responsibility, and beauty to love.

Part 1 will deal with God as love and entrusting Hmself to families.
Part 2 will deal with personal identity related to family
Part 3 will deal with family identity
Part 4 will deal with family as a context for celebration and healing
Part 5 will deal with family as an unfolding story of love

There, that ought to whet your appetite and it ought to commit to me actually writing these thoughts out.

Friday, August 17, 2007

High School Musical 2: A Movie Review

Well, they did it again. HSM2 started with a bang and didn't quit.

OK, there was the totally predictable and the necessary unrealism, but my kids were G-L-U-E-D to it, commenting over and over again that "this is way better than the first one." They were right.

It was fun, set up conflict, resolved it and played on classic high school relationship pettines in order to culminate into a classic for years to come.

Taking the show off the high school grounds was genius. HSM1 took that backdrop about as far as they could. The country club backdrop was fun and afforded them more latitude for developing (OK, developing is probably an overstatement) the characters and moving the cliche into a fresh setting.

The best move was pitting Ryan and Sharpay against each other. There is good cause and effect in relationships and they did a decent job of exposing the consequences of selfishness, showing the seduction of fame, and the value of friendship.
There were lots of bathing suits, but I have to say that they were modest. There was no pushing of the envelope with the dress in ths show and that made a huge differece. In fact, there was no pushing of any envelopes. The classic comparison to HSM is Grease. But I think that there is no comparison. Grease pushed the envelope in order to be cool. HSM looked at the envelope and shrugged. Why? Because classic high school themes are not at the extremes of the adolescent experience, they are at the mean.
HSM2 is a hit and will be for years to come.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

8 Random Things

PHD tagged me, so here goes.

1. My last name is Gonzalez and I cannot speak Spanish.
2. I was the MVP 3rd baseman in the 13 year old Babe Ruth World Series.
3. It took me 2 decades to kiss a girl for real.
4. Once, when I was a youth minister, I baptized a teenager who fainted during the baptism.
5. I have frequent and bizarre dreams and sometimes I think they are trying to tell me something.
6. There is nothing more satisfying to me than telling a story that makes someone laugh, think, or feel.
7. My children still think I am cool.
8. 6 years ago, while driving on I35 with my wife and two kids in Iowa, we had a blowout. One of the rear tires blew out and the van swerved violently and then rolled twice into the ditch. No one was injured - not even a scratch. Later that night, when I went to the van to retrieve our belongings I got a deep gash on my pinky finger from a broken piece of glass. It took four stitches.

Let's see, I will now tag the following people:

Light and Salt
Blog In My Own Eye
Phil Wilson

Monday, August 06, 2007

Some people just don't get it

I had a few conversations with people today about the 35W bridge collapse. A friend of mine had gone down to see the ruin and was struck by the silence of the people there. He said, "I felt like I was at a funeral." People were quiet and somber. There was a sense of "we" there even though none of hte people knew each other. He said there was a colective, but silent, "that could have been me" that was very present, even without the need for words.

My friends is someone who gets it, who realizes that the human condition is such that we must grieve loss, that we must respect pwer that is mysterious and beyond us.

Because of strange power outage on the U of M St. Paul campus, I could not get done what I needed to get done (however, it is possible to use the bathroom by the light of a cell phone if you are really in a pinch) . My next meeting was 90 minutes away on in St. Paul, so I had some time to on my hands. I went to the collapsed bridge site, which is no easy task. The officials will not let anyone get close to it. But I did go down near the stone arch walkway to see what I could see.

There were hundreds of people down there occupying the street of the aparement flats nearest the river and the now collapsed 35W bridge. People were quiet as they carried their cameras and chatted somewhat somberly about their thoughts and ideas.

There were two people, however, who looked to be int heir early 20's who also appeared to live in the apartment complex who were clearly agitated by the all of the people coming down to look, to grieve, to be shocked.

"It's not a f***ing carnival," a young women shouted to no one specific.
"Yeah," shouted a young male brimming with sarcasm and wearing no short, "now playing, Bridge."

No one paid attention to them. They were so collectively ignored and dismissed by the crowd that most people did not even bother to burn a quarter of a calorie to move their neck or turn their head such that they would find out who was being so harsh. The non-reaction was so pronounced that it seemed scripted to make these shouters look like fools.

When you know better, you know better. You don't object to a person's attendance at a loved one's funeral. When a community has suffered loss, the kind of loss that is mysterious and seemingly random, you must process it. You must learn someonthing of it in efforts to make sense of it. There is a need, in large measure, to soak in the death.

Loss creates gigantic holes in people's lives and they repsond in some way such thatthe hole can be filled or at least they go on an effort to make sense of the hole and learn in painful ways how to go on with life now that this huge hole exists.

So, residents who live near the bridge, please allow the rest of us to experience now what you experienced the day after. Our need to understanding wilol require trips into your front yard. we do not mean to be a nuisance, but we do seek meaning.

Friday, August 03, 2007

My Marriage Turns 11 Today

Eleven years ago today I looked down the center aisle from the front part of the sanctuary of the West Houston Church of Christ and saw the love of my life standing there, radiant in white and backlit by the light of the sun, glowing in a glorious display of the greatest beauty I have ever seen. Emotion flooded my body. Her beauty brought me to tears.

When she walked down the aisle, I was so taken by her. I wondered if this experience were really true - this dream. The only way I knew that I belonged there was that I was there and it was our wedding and she chose me.

I recall this day with clarity and happiness.

Eleven years later I have no regrets. We've had some fabulous times togehter. We've had two kids together. We've traveled thousands of miles together. We have our own language and often speak to each other in movie lines.

We've had hard times, but we've had them together. We survived a horrific car wreck, several moves, and some excruiciating situations. We survived them together.

We've both changed a great deal. We've both become more of who we already were. We have served as a catalyst for each other, teasing out those special, but dormant, pieces of each other.

Our marriage is dancing lessons for a couple of amatuers. We've been learning to dance for 11 years. We are slow learners sometimes, but it sure is fun learning.

We're closer to old than we have ever been. We hope that we are blessed with old age and companionship with each other. God willing, we'll have 50 or 60 more anniversaries together.

Prayer in Tragedy

When tragedy strikes, people get praying. People were probably already praying, but when something so obviously out of control of the hands of people occurs in dramatic fashion, many people look to God. Help save the people trapped, give us comfort, calm our fears, show us your love, give us understanding.

It is entirely human to long for trnascendence when the unpreventable and surprise disaster occurs. When something like the collapse of a major bridge in a major city during rush hour happens, it is a reminder that even with all of the power and control we have as humans and with all of the technology there is available to us, we are most certainly not in control.

What we want in times like these is to know that there is a power that exists that is bigger than the disaster. We want to know that we are not just balls of carbon based cells subject only to the whims of probability and chance. We want to know that we are not only loved, but loved by someone or something that can do something in this world.

We turn to God. Not everyone does, but most people do. Maybe God is a human creation as a way of coping with pain and fear. Maybe God is real and listens to what we say in these prayers in times of tragedy. Maybe God created people with the need for God and that we do turn to God as a way of coping adn God exists. It takes faith to believe anything about God since there is no empirical proof solid enough to justify the belief in the existance or non-existance of God.

For most people, their faith rests in the existance and not the non-existance of God - especially when sudden tragedy strikes.

I believe in God. I believe God allows great freedom and intervenes on it at will and that intervention cannot be explained by ideas about how people believe God is supposed to love or care or act. God acts and is justified in doing so.

God is present at every tragedy humanity can create for itself. In all liklihood, most of the tragedies are intervened upon and no one ever knows it because it never happened. However, of the few that are permitted, God is there and willing to flow though anyone, believer or not, to help people.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Know Your Bridge Safety Rating?

When you hear that a bridge has a safety rating of 50 out of a possible 120, your mind automatically equates it educational standards. If you scored 50 out of 120 in math class, you fail - and badly. So, is the same true of a bridge's safety score?

I don't know. It is hard to know what a number assigned to a structure means. Even when the words "Structurally Deficient" are attached to the bridge, it just makes matter more confusing. Such a label, in my mind, is attached to a structure that should not be used at all.

I predict the following will happen:

1. Bridge safety scores will become common knowledge.
2. These scores will be easily accessible on the internet.
3. Billions will be spent on bridge upgrades over the next decade.
4. People will not tolerate bridge safety scores under a certain threshhold - higher than 50.
5. Vocal bridge watchdog groups will form and create websites and hound politicians on poor bridge safety.

One year from today, you will know the bridge safety score of the major bridges in your city.

Why do bridges collapse?


That is the big question today in Minneapolis. Wy did the bridge collapse?

Some people are answering the question with comments about the structural integrity of the bridge. It's 50 of 120 rating strikes fear into the hearts of people, especially when they hear a large percentage of bridges get similar ratings. They fear every bridge is going to collapse even though they have no idea what a rating of 50 means. Words like "deficient" conjure up pictures of crumbling structures.

Other people are answering the WHY question politically, blaming Bush for not funding bridges enough. I am proud to see that Norma Coleman (R-Senator), Amy Klobuchar (D-Senator), Ralph Ellison (D-Rep), and Tim Pawlenty (R-Governor) are all Minnesotans today. Others, however, are already finding a way to blame politicians, namely the president for this.

There are a few coming up with theological answers for this. I am not aware of any theology of bridges that can be derived from scripture, but that does not seem to stop people from making them up. There are going to be some, no doubt, who blame God or wonder where God was. Didn't God know the bridge was going to fall? Could God ahve held it off until 3 AM, when very few people are dirving? There will be lots of God questions here - more blaming of God than anything else. These questions that of course cannot be answered by people will be evidence for doubters to remain convinced of their doubt.

There will be an investigation and that investigation will provide evidence. That evidence will provide approximate answers. Those approximate answers will be politicized at some point. I do have hope, however, that Minnesotans can resist the temptation to blame. We all know that the government is going to throw a bunch of money at this thing and we Twin Citians are going to get us a pretty nice bridge when it is all said and done.

I can't explain why this happened. I tend to think that government is not perfect, structures age and strain, and that God has allowed freedom way beyond what makes sense to humanity. And yet, God does not leave just because freedom has been given. God is near.

35W Bridge Collapse: Eye Witness Report

The following is an eyewitness report of the bridge collapse that I received from a Lori Peterson.

First…I pray that none of you or your family and loved ones were anywhere near the bridge when it collapsed…

I was out running my usual course along the Mississippi river…I had ran underneath the bridge and was a few hundred feet on the other side when I heard this terrible loud explosion and continued creaking…and felt the rumble…I turned and saw the big cloud of dust and water and could only imagine that they were testing dynamite or something…until the dust began to clear. And then it took a moment for my mind to register what had happened…it was eerily still and quiet…like a movie set. The bridge just sat in the river and many cars were sitting on the level pieces of roadway like they had just stopped to park. People began opening their doors and climbing out…then you began to focus on the cars that were precariously hanging…or stopped at a steep angle. Miraculously, many of those people also opened their doors and came out…by this time many of us who were running or biking were accumulating on the walkway…and seemed in shock. Some of the passengers walked over to us as if they had just been out for a walk as well…many were obviously in shock. I comforted a girl in a Twins T-Shirt that had to be a new driver…her entire body was shaking…she was on the phone to her Mom trying to explain what had happened. Another woman described the feeling as sitting in her car and it just kept dropping in intervals…bam – bam – bam…her shoulder belt would put extreme pressure on her each time…like she was being suspended and held in a dropping parachute. A very old woman was led off by a young man…she was smiling and showing us her only injury…a bruised knee.

The silence was eerie…it seemed like forever before a siren could be heard – and then it was a lone police car on the other side of the river. Quite a few men started heading to the huge blocks of pavement that were now resting in the river…as we all realized that not everyone would be so lucky to walk to safety. I noticed several cars were almost totally submerged and could only see one wheelbase.

And then the silence turned to chaos and countless police and fire engines arrived on the scene…fires started and there was a lot of yelling. At first none of the police seemed intent on our crowd which had formed a tight band very near the first drop of bridge…a mix of bystanders and survivors. A terrible explosion and burst of very dark black smoke erupted and burned our lungs and eyes…and soon we were all pushed back another few hundred feet from the destruction. I’m not even sure the police realized there were survivors in our crowd. By this time I was crying…realizing what could have been and thinking of all the people and families that would be suffering. There was a school bus….and it wasn’t empty.

I couldn’t run back home the way I had come…I ran up to Washington to cross 35W and looked back to where I had just been. Again…it was like a movie setting – there were cars up to the point of the break…and many people just standing in the middle of the freeway. The bridge heading the other way had also become a parking lot of gawkers. People had just stopped their cars and were standing on the other bridge in disbelief. I kept running and headed back to the river on the other side – and I couldn’t stop crying. People were swarming to the river…I saw tons of people in Twins garb and realized there must have been a game. I ran to the top of gold medal park by the Guthrie and just tried to take it all in. I kept feeling this tremendous urge to pray…and not by myself. There were about 50 people gathered on top of the hill…I yelled out to the crowd, “Does anyone want to pray for the people on the bridge?” I’ll be honest…they kind of looked at me like I was nuts. Was I? I yelled it again…finally a young woman and her boyfriend (in Twins T-Shirts) raised their hands and said YES! And then more gathered in…we had about 15 people standing in a small circle on top of this hill…we held hands and prayed…

And then I watched and listened for awhile…I listened to the countless conversations of people around me.

“Mom…I’m fine…we had already parked our car.”
“It’s on the news in Texas? I’m standing right here man…you can’t believe it.”
“I’m ok…really…wait, I have another call coming in.”

Suddenly I had this urge to get home and make sure Mark and Travis were safe. I knew neither of them were in that area…but I needed to KNOW. I was the only one running away from the fallen bridge. There were now hundreds gathering all along the shore…people were coming out of the Guthrie…office buildings and the countless condos along the rivers edge. It seemed everyone was on their cell phone…

I turned up 4th and saw Mark coming down the street on his bike…I just stopped and cried. He held me and we just stood for what seemed like a long time. He told me he had just talked to Travis who was on his way to St. Cloud…he was safe. Mark had been headed to a softball game when someone called him with the news. He knew I had left to run…he came back to find me. Nothing mattered at that moment except knowing that we were all safe. And I began the inevitable ‘what if’s’? What if I had been one minute slower? It was really hot when I had stepped outside…I didn’t start running right away as I normally do…I was fiddling with my Ipod and even thought of walking down the one block to the river instead of running and changed my mind.

Life can change in a moment.

Later we watched the news in awe…as I’m sure many of you did. Calls from friends and family came making sure we were ok. And most ended with, “I love you – so glad you’re safe”. And nothing else really matters….

And as my mind tends to do in times of destruction and tragedy…it eventually turned to protection. I thought of how many cars were insured by State Farm…how many lives? Did everyone have adequate protection for whatever their loss would be? Had they spoken to their agent or team member lately? Did we do our job of taking care of them? Advising them? We have opportunities every day to take care of people. And we never know when tragedy will strike. We are confident that it won’t – just as everyone on or around that bridge was last night. But it does…and it’s our job to make sure we advise…and recommend…and most importantly care.

This was an experience I will always remember…I thank God I was that minute slower…and I pray for the safety and well being of all those who were there. And I pray that the closest you and your family were to the tragedy was through your TV.

Thanks for listening….

Bridge Collapse: The Response

Two cool stories of the response to the bridge collapse which I think give testimony to what a great city Minneapolis is.

1. There is a lock and dam just up river from the collapsed 35W bridge. They are using the dam to lower the river level in order to aid recovery work. Someone is super smart.

2. There was a Twins game in downtown Minneapolis, less than 1 mile from the bridge. The Twins ticketing system uses an infrared scanner to scan the barcades on each ticket. What this does is allow the Twins to know who is in the Metrodome. They used this information to locate people as they tried to identify how many people were missing. Genius. Smart cooperation.

Minneapolis Bridge Collapse Links

The 8 lane bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis Wednesday is a horrific reality. Read more about the collapse at the following links:

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Minneapolis Bridge Collapse

The Minneapolis Bridge collapse is every bit as dramatic and horrible as you have seen in the news. It's like the Twin Cities have had a heart attack.

It happened during rush hour. The news is running wall to wall here in the Twin Cities. Fifty or so cars were on the bridge when it fell into the Mississippi River. Seven are dead and dozens injured.

What is amazing is that everyone didn't die in this mess.

Just three hours prior to the collapse, my wife crossed that very bridge to meet me in Minneapolis at the University of Minnesota. How grateful I am that she was not there when it happened.

Terror has already been rules out as a cause, but no one seems to know what the cause of the collapse is. The bridge is old, but has passed annual inspections.

The great story is that a bus full of school children that was on the bridge when it collapsed all survived. Amazing.