Things I Dream About

Another staff member brought up stress dreams about Higher Things conferences today, which reminded me of one I had a couple years ago that was so vivid and memorable, I wrote it down and emailed it to the conference staff members who were in it. As I read through it again today, I could still picture every scene, and all the emotions that went with it.

I figured I’d share it with the world, because…why not?


To: Crysten, Patrick
From: Sandra

I was just TICKED at you two so much I couldn’t even see straight.

Probably because I was asleep and dreaming.

And Honey Boo Boo was on in the background.

I got to the Purdue conference, only it wasn’t Purdue but it was a huge campus. And somehow I got there later than I had wanted to, but I knew you had things under control so I wasn’t too worried. Borghardt was doing something at church and was going to be even later, but Patrick was making sure he got there.

I got to the main plenary space and the opening was starting! I didn’t realize I was that late and didn’t know where I was going, but the flow of the crowd brought me to the gym/auditorium. So I followed authoritative-looking people from the campus up to the booth on the 3rd floor and figured I’d see you there. I got there in time to see some woman dressed up like an angel jumping off the balcony in the catwalks. Before I could finish thinking, “Oh no she didn’t…” she swooped by, on wires. Doing some sort of acrobatic trapeze like act. As a warmup.

I marched out to try and track down Crysten to find out WTH was going on with this conference but was hushed by a stagehand before I got far. He was having a crisis because there was something that was set out as a prop that wasn’t supposed to be and didn’t they know that his actor was wearing a white tux (WHITE TUX!)?? It was some sort of giant bowl of something in tomato sauce. Beans and weenies I think. He was all afraid to take it off the stage (still unlit) because it was too hot to touch, so I walked up and grabbed it and took it to the back area. What a wuss, it wasn’t hot or even heavy at all. There was no danger of it spilling on the actor’s tux.

That’s when the spotlight fired up and landed on Ryan Seacrest. In a white tux. “Seriously??? This is a Higher Things conference! Who planned this?” The angel lady was still swinging around overhead. Then I ran into Tracey, who was backstage, madly passing out bunches of glow stick things to a few dozen people for the next act. Someone had just dropped out – all I had to do was run around like a madwoman and wave the glow sticks and we’d be fine. “Oh heeelllll NO.”  This better not be the opening worship service, because we always opened conferences with a worship service, not a stage show like this…Tracey knows better than this. She’s SOOOO FIRED!

As I went back to the staging area trying to think of how to get the glow stick people off the stage, I ended up going the wrong way against a stream of African dancers. Once they had passed, I looked back to see what they were doing and it was some sort of running and jumping thing, sling-shooting each other across the stage and into the aisles, and back.

By this point I was seething. Where the hell was Crysten? Where was Patrick?? I got lost as soon as I left the building and couldn’t even find a CCV. If I couldn’t find my way around, Borghardt was going to be seriously lost. And where was Borghardt anyway?? I pulled out my phone to text someone but couldn’t figure out what to do and was so mad I couldn’t even read the screen on my phone to text anyone and didn’t want to send the wrong message to the wrong person. Why hadn’t Patrick set up the staff or even CCV lists yet? Where were the CCVs anyway?? Seriously?? And there were people for the conference everywhere so I couldn’t look mad or upset or they’d know things weren’t going according to plan.

I went back into the building and before I knew it I was swept up again by the African dancers and a Dr. Seuss hat put on me and a bunch of glow sticks put back in my hand. And then I found myself on some sort of swinging platform, sandwiched between a sweaty Patrick (there he was!) in a wifebeater (seriously, Patrick??) and some other sweaty hairy guy I didn’t know — but his armpit was in my face so I automatically didn’t like him, whoever he was. We flew by the crowd and Patrick yelled, “Oh, there’s Borghardt — with the kids…of course…” At least he was found and safe. But he was supposed to be helping me stop this fiasco, not joining in!

We swung around and all the lights went off and the show was over. I still hadn’t found Crysten, but this was NOT how to pull off a Higher Things conference in my absence. What was she THINKING?? And where was everyone? How did I not know what was going on? What was next on the schedule? I couldn’t even find anyone with a conference book or a bag or a shirt! They must not have checked in! CRYSTEN — how can they not be checked in??

And then I woke up.

Thank God.


The Imposition of Repentance


I’m a pretty terrible Christian. As people are posting on social media about what they’re giving up (sometimes social media!), what they’re adding, what they’re doing to try and practice some penitent self-control through the season of Lent, this fact becomes all the more clear.

I am really bad with self-discipline. Like, seriously bad. I rebel against any and all constraints put on my freedom — even just to follow through with the basic necessities of life and have things scheduled on my calendar. Oh, I can do reasonably well for a few days, but then it’s almost always back to what suits my mood and desires at the time.

So Lent is a difficult time for me. I know we’re supposed to be repentant, feeling sorrow for our sins and contemplating Christ’s sufferings. But most of the time, I’m just feeling guilty for being so weak as to not be able to participate in the season as I think I should, and like everyone else does. I don’t think that’s really the kind of sorrow I’m supposed to be feeling. More like self-pity.

And if I’m honest enough, it’s not just during Lent. That’s just when it’s most obvious. I’m selfish, greedy, irritable, contentious, lazy, prideful…I’m sure many readers can come up with a few more things I am! I can never seem to make this Old Adam to stay drowned. He has such control over my mind and body. Like Paul says, “I do the things I don’t want to do, and don’t do the things I know I should do (and even want to do). O wretched man that I am, who will save me from this body of death?”

Wretched, indeed. But the reality is that I can’t drown my Old Adam. I can’t make myself stop sinning. Just when I think I’ve got one under some semblance of control, a bunch more pop up somewhere else. Or worse, I eventually screw up and go right back to doing exactly what I didn’t want to do anymore. Ugh! I can’t even come up with proper repentance for just 40 days. And what pitiful amounts I do manage to muster up still come with a smug pride telling me that at least my repentance is better than someone else’s. I went to church on Ash Wednesday. I got ashes on my forehead. I am being good and Lent-y. At least for a few moments.

But then it hit me, as I was sitting in church with ashes fresh on my forehead and crumbling into my eyelashes, listening to the Gospel lesson that tells us not to look gloomy and disfigure our faces (some translations add, “with ashes”) so that our fasting may be seen by others.


Wait. Even while I was trying to be piously gloomy and penitent, I didn’t disfigure my face. I didn’t put ashes on my own forehead. I didn’t come up with my own repentance. That was imposed on me by my pastor with ashes in the smudgy shape of a cross —like the sign of the cross that marked my forehead (and my heart) long ago at my baptism. That wasn’t just my pastor’s hand waving over me, that was God marking me as one who had been redeemed by Christ the crucified. Those weren’t just my pastor’s words spoken over me, it was God’s Word that baptized me into His name, the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, adopting me as His own dear child.

The gifts of God come to us from outside of us (the fancy Latin term there is “extra nos,”). We listen to God’s Word read in our worship services so that it can come into our ears from outside of us. (Incidentally, that’s also why we use the liturgy — because it’s more of God’s Word and who can improve on that?!) Baptism, the Lord’s Supper…more gifts from God through His Word tied to means, all come to us from outside of us. We even believe that the faith itself to receive these gifts isn’t of ourselves, but also a gift from God. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel…”

Today, God’s Word came to me from outside myself through the voice of his servant, along with the ashen reminder that, “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” On Ash Wednesday ashes are imposed on our foreheads precisely because we cannot repent on our own either. And then, repentant, our sins are absolved with the Gospel and faith receives the Word with the bread and body and wine and blood — even more forgiveness in our mouths, in the Lord’s Supper!

In our new, absolved, baptized life in Christ, then, we can wipe off that reminder of the dusty and dead Old Adam so that our fasting and repentance is not seen by our neighbors but only our new lives of love and service for them. We have been given life not for ourselves, but for them, after all — to serve them and put their needs before our sinful need to be seen as good, Lent-y Christians. God knows what’s in our hearts. He’s the One who has given us our new, clean ones.

Thanks be to God that He has saved us from making even repentance about us, and that He imposes it on us today with the ashen reminder from His own Word.

“Almighty and everlasting God, You despise nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and contrite hearts that, lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, we may receive from You full pardon and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”

Hats and other Headcoverings

In a culture where it’s commonplace to see bare bellies, tramp stamps, and both bra and thong straps, pictures of ladies wearing Easter hats stands out. Well, maybe not so much compared to the sea of (rather ostentatious) hats in Westminster Abbey for the royal wedding this morning. But women adorned with hats are still noteworthy.

Sure, we might see women once in a while wearing headcoverings in everyday situations. It’s becoming more and more common to see Muslim women in their hijabs out and about, especially in more sub/urban areas. In some parts of the country, there are Amish and Mennonite communities with the women in their starched bonnets. But aside from the occasional woman in a baseball cap (which I’ve always found a little strange looking), that’s about it.

If you go into a very traditional Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic church, you may see a few particularly devout women wearing scarves or mantillas. But those coverings are generally doffed as soon as the head under them exits the church doors.

Once upon a time, not all that long ago, a woman wouldn’t even think of leaving the house without a hat or at least a scarf on her head. What changed? Is it part of the women’s liberation movement? Does a woman covering her head in public just not mean the same thing anymore?

I don’t remember any suffragettes marching for our right to vote…and go out with our heads uncovered. Sure, shorter hair and shorter skirts (up to the KNEES!) was all the rage at the turn of the 20th century, but ladies still commonly wore hats. But sometime between WWII and Roe v. Wade, women just stopped covering their heads.

I’ve heard (and even made) the argument that, according to Scripture (1 Corinthians 11:2-16), women covering their heads is supposed to express the principle of submission to their husbands. In “Bible times” that was how a woman showed that she was married. Now in our “enlightened” age, we don’t cover heads anymore…but wives do wear wedding rings. That’s kinda the same thing. Only it’s not.

I actually tried doing the headcovering thing a few years ago as an experiment for a Lenten fast. And I didn’t just pin a doily or kerchief on my head, I tied on a tichel that covered all my hair. I lasted only a few days. It was very disconcerting. I didn’t realize how much of my self-identity and self-confidence was tied to my hair.

When I went out in public, I got sidelong glances of pity – as though I was wearing the scarf to hide a balding chemotherapy head. One friend asked if I had started telling fortunes and looked around for my crystal ball. Another later said she thought I just had dirty hair that day and didn’t have time to wash and style it before going out. To my already surprisingly vulnerable confidence, these well-intentioned comments were too much to take and in my weakness, I stopped.

But I did notice that my demeanor changed for those days. It was hard to let my temper fly with my hair covered. It was a constant reminder on my head to be more patient and put others before myself and trust that they would also do their vocations for me.

Everyone acknowledges what it means when a woman wears a hijab, babushka or starchy stiff bonnet. She’s not doing it because it’s fashionable. She’s doing it out of a religious belief about what it means to be a woman of faith. So it’s not like it doesn’t mean anything.

Or maybe that’s the reason right there – it does mean something and we just don’t like confessing what it means. That women have heads, people in authority over us. People the Lord has given us to be Christ for us and take care of us. And those people are men. And it’s scary

We live in a pretty androgynous culture – we don’t like there to be differences between men and women and we certainly don’t like anything coming close to interfering with  our independence. And headcoverings…well that just shines a spotlight on women being different from men, and that we were created to be in relationship with them as Christ is with the Church.

In my experiment, this feminine tradition ultimately lost out to fear. It’s pretty scary to make such a bold confession of faith, to make such a drastic change to your appearance. And I guess I wasn’t ready for it yet. My personal value is still too tied up with outward adornments – with doing my hair, wearing pretty jewelry, and attractive clothes. In Baptism, I was given that gentle and quiet Spirit that’s so precious in God’s sight, when Jesus Himself made me pure and sinless, with out spot or blemish. Yet it’s easy to give way to fear of letting others see that person I am in Christ.

Maybe the ladies in the Easter Facebook pictures and at the royal wedding experienced something similar. If not, why bother wearing them? If so, why don’t we do it more often?

Top 20 Unfortunate Lessons Girls Learn from Twilight

From a male point of view, the only redeeming feature of the Twilight books and movies is the ammunition they provide against female claims of innate moral superiority over men.

Whenever a woman criticizes a man’s lust, aggression, shallowness or any other lesser angel of his personality, the quick-witted fellow can point to the millions of women addicted to the base, insipid, bad-boy-worshiping, misogynist syrup so many female viewers of all ages knelt to this past weekend, when The Twilight Saga: New Moon raked in $147 million at the box office, setting several records.

In the spirit of speaking truth to diamond-skinned power, enjoy this list of unfortunate lessons girls learn from Twilight. (The list operates under the principle that any grownup female who embraces Twilight’s junior-high dreck temporarily sacrifices her “woman card.”)

And so, with an insincere “love is forever,” we begin.

  1. If a boy is aloof, stand-offish, ignores you or is just plain rude, it is because he is secretly in love with you — and you are the point of his existence.
  2. Secrets are good — especially life-threatening ones.
  3. It’s OK for a potential romantic interest to be dimwitted, violent and vengeful — as long as he has great abs.
  4. If a boy tells you to stay away from him because he is dangerous and may even kill you, he must be the love of your life. You should stay with him since he will keep you safe forever.
  5. If a boy leaves you, especially suddenly (while telling you he will never see you again), it is because he loves you so much he will suffer just to keep you safe.
  6. When a boy leaves you, going into shock, losing all your friends and enduring night terrors are completely acceptable occurrences — as long as you keep your grades up.
  7. It is extremely romantic to put yourself in dangerous situations in order to see your ex-boyfriend again. It’s even more romantic to remember the sound of his voice when he yelled at you.
  8. Boys who leave you always come back.
  9. Because they come back, you should hold out, waiting for them for months, even when completely acceptable and less-abusive alternative males present themselves.
  10. Even though you have no intention of dating an alternative male who expresses interest in you, it is fine to string the young man along for months. Also, you should use him to fix things for you. Maybe he’ll even buy you something.
  11. You should use said male to fix things because girls are incapable of anything mechanical or technical.
  12. Lying to your parents is fine. Lying to your parents while you run away to save your suicidal boyfriend is an extremely good idea that shows your strength and maturity. Also, it is what you must do.
  13. Car theft in the service of love is acceptable.
  14. If the boy you are in love with causes you (even indirectly) to be so badly beaten you end up in the hospital, you should tell the doctors and your family that you “fell down the steps” because you are such a silly, clumsy girl. That false explanation always works well for abused women.
  15. Men can be changed for the better if you sacrifice everything you are and devote yourself to their need for change.
  16. Young women should make no effort to improve their social skills or emotional state. Instead, they should seek out potential mates that share their morose deficiencies and emotional illnesses.
  17. Girls shouldn’t always read a book series just because everyone else has.
  18. When writing a book series, it’s acceptable to lift seminal source material and bastardize it with tired, overwrought teenage angst.
  19. When making or watching a major feature film, you should gleefully embrace the 20 minutes of plot it provides in between extended segments of vacant-eyed silence and self-indulgent, moaning banter.
  20. Vampires — once among the great villains of literature and motion pictures — are no longer scary. In fact, they’re every bit as whiny, self-absorbed and impotent as any human being.


From WIRED online.

Twilight: Love and…Blood? (Part 1)

(This series of posts is my attempt to put into writing the In-Depth sectional I taught on this subject at the 2009 Higher Things conferences.)

The image chosen for the cover of the first book in the Twilight series foreshadows what is to come in the subsequent books.  What is behind this symbolism? 

The apple, the woman’s hands…take us straight to Eden and that fateful day with the serpent and the tree and the fruit they were forbidden to eat. That tempting, shiny, red, ripe, juicy and tasty looking apple, here being offered to…whom? 

The Original Forbidden Fruit

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

Then the eyes of both were opened…

(Genesis 3:1-7)

We know what that apple carried with it in Genesis – the entire fall of mankind into sin and death.  What does this apple symbolize and bring into fruition?

Effects of the Fall

The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 

(Genesis 3:12-13)

The blame game. That’s something we got from the Fall. In Genesis 2, it, Adam can’t get enough of woman and she’s the most amazing and beautiful creature ever to exist and how wonderfully amazing that God made her just for him so they aren’t alone! He even bursts into song over it. A matter of hours after the fruit, it’s a completely different situation. It’s everyone’s fault but my own. There were extenuating circumstances. You made me do it. It’s her fault, I wouldn’t have done it myself but she TRICKED me!  In fact, it’s YOUR fault, God, because YOU made her and YOU gave her to me.  What were you thinking?  What a stupid idea!

And it’s not just Adam, Woman follows his lead. She can’t very well blame Adam, since she manipulated him into eating the forbidden fruit and she knows it. Oh, but there’s the serpent! It’s the serpent’s fault – she was deceived into eating it by the serpent.

The Lord doesn’t buy it one bit. You just can’t fool an omniscient God. Duh. (Apparently sin makes mankind somewhat less intellectually savvy too.) God starts where the blame game left off and curses the serpent. He puts enmity between the offspring of the serpent and the Offspring of the woman, and foreshadows the defeat of Satan to come in Christ.

Then it’s the woman’s turn on the hot seat. There’s the stuff about childbearing and the pain of passing a watermelon sized object through an opening the size of a grape. Personally, I think it goes far beyond labor and delivery, but that’s the stuff of another post. Then there’s the more ambiguous proclamation,

“Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

(Genesis 3:18)

This is an interesting situation if you think about it. Woman was specifically created to be a partner for the man and humanity’s work to tend to creation, and be an essential participant in human reproduction. She really blew it with that whole apple thing, didn’t she? God had every right to erase her from history and start over. Or He could’ve just exiled her and cut her off from the man.

He doesn’t do that.  In the Fall, she retains those vocations most unique to womankind – that of wife and mother. But those relationships would now be twisted, corrupted, sinful versions of the ones that would’ve existed before the Fall. Childbearing would be fraught with pain and her relationship with man would be framed terms of power.

That innate desire with which God created woman when He made her specifically for the purpose of being in relationship with man is now commonly known for young women as being “boy crazy”. Girls will do just about anything to get and/or keep a boy’s attention. Getting involved with drugs and drinking, eating disorders, wearing clothing that advertises the availability of their most nubile and fertile body parts, going all the way (or almost all the way), compromising morals and values and standards, putting up with being treated poorly and even abusively etc. That’s that good desire to be with man gone sinful.

Back to Twilight…

“I intuitively knew – and sensed he did, too – that tomorrow would be pivotal. Our relationship couldn’t continue to balance, as it did, on the point of a knife. We would fall off one edge or the other, depending entirely upon his decision, or his instincts.

My decision was made, made before I’d ever consciously chosen, and I was committed to seeing it through. Because there was nothing more terrifying to me,  more excruciating, than the thought of turning away from him.  It was an impossibility.”

– Bella


To be continued…

So the Words DO Matter!

Actual LCMS Praise BandIt looks like the Baptists are starting to get it.  We’ve known this for centuries – literally.  So why do so many Lutherans seem so eager to abandon our wealth of hymnody in favor of vapid praise ditties?  And if lex orandi, lex credendi is true, what does this move confess about what many Lutherans (and Lutheran congregations) believe and teach?

Combining simple language, theological substance and poetic richness “is a challenging task,” said Tim Sharp, executive director of the Oklahoma City-based American Choral Directors Association, the national professional association of choral conductors and others in the choral music industry. “Hymns were meant to pack theology into a tight, memorable suitcase that Christians could take with them.”

Sharp, a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., is struck by an irony.

“The great hymnists of the 19th century were always sort of apologetic about hymnody, because a hymn is one of the simplest musical compositions that exists,” he said.

“Actually, when you look at the profound nature of the text and the meters you realize it’s a complicated thing to write a good one, but they were always saying it was simple, was easily accessible to a congregation and the text was memorable in the way that the mind tracks it.

“It’s kind of scary that in the following century we had to get even more simple in praise-and-worship choruses.”

Worshipers want more than simplistic words, Sharp said, noting recent surveys indicate Americans are becoming more literate, not less. But worshipers still long for spiritual depth.

“I think congregations are more engaged than some composers assume,” he said. “I’m seeing in people a hunger for thought-provoking text work. A mantra doesn’t seem to be satisfying them.”

Hayes warns against music that undercuts the words.

“You really want to avoid an ‘entertainment’ quality, because if it goes too far with jazzy rhythms — and I’ve done this myself — then it gets in the way of connecting people with God,” he said. “The music overwhelms the text.

“That’s not to say that there aren’t times when you want to feel [in music] the full force of God’s majesty. But the style, groove, vibe — whatever you want to call it — can’t supersede what the words say. That kind of music doesn’t instruct.”

One way to test it? “Set those lyrics in strophic [stanza] form and accompany them with a pipe organ, and see what impact they have.”

Just for fun, download a recording of 900-some teenagers singing HYMNS at the recent Sola conference in Grand Rapids.

Oh, and read the rest of the article.