Last Saturday night I had the opportunity to attend a UTEP Miners men’s basketball game for the first time. I got tickets from a member of the congregation, and so Andrew and I went and watched the Miners defeat Rice University 66-43.

Three years ago, just days after making the decision to come to El Paso, Sara and I sat down to watch a movie that had come in the mail from Blockbuster (like Netflix). Neither of us had heard of the movie before, only knowing that it was about college basketball. We were surprised to see “Texas Western College – El Paso TX” on the opening screen. The movie was “Glory Road” about the 1966 NCAA championship basketball team.

Miner basketball (and other sports) is a fairly big deal in El Paso. It’s a pretty large city—nearly 700,000—but has no big league professional sports teams. If I needed a reason to take in more UTEP Athletics, I think I found it—of all places—on my bookshelf.

Many of you know that I have lots of books. I have dozens of books on my shelves that I have never read. I have a shelf that is just translations of the Bible, several shelves of grammars and lexicons and dictionaries. Of course, Luther’s Works takes up a few shelves and then there are my Luther biographies. I had read most of them, but for years I have had one volume that I never read, but always thought it sounded interesting. I don’t even remember where I got it. It is a book on Luther’s life, in German. Half of the book’s cover is torn off, and hand-written on the binding is “Luthers Leben—Mathesius.”

Until this past week, I didn’t realize that this Mathesius is the Johann Mathesius who was the pastor in Joachimstal. Joachimstal is the Bohemian town which was the subject of the book “Singing the Gospel” by Christopher Boyd Brown, which I read this fall. This is quite an interesting and enlightening book about Lutheran hymnody, especially in the home, and how the singing of hymns among Lutherans kept the Reformation alive.

“Luthers Leben” appears to be a series of sermons which Mathesius preached on the life of Luther—which is interesting, considering that Mathesius was just twenty years younger than Luther. I presume that much of it is drawn from content which he heard Luther speak at the dinner table in Wittenberg (Mathesius is one of those who recorded what we know as Luther’s “Table Talk”) On the opening pages there is a drawing of Luther, followed by this drawing of Mathesius. It’s a similar image to the one in Brown’s book. But do you notice what Mathesius has in his hand? In his right hand he has a book—that makes sense. But in his left hand? A miner’s pick.

Joachimstal was a mining town. “The silver recovered by the Joachimstal miners was minted into the standard silver coin of sixteenth-century Germany, the Joachimstaler or simply Thaler, whose name lives on in the modern dollar” (Brown, p. 26). Because so much of the town was involved in mining, the people sang songs and even hymns that referred to mining. Pastors like Mathesius referred to mining in their sermons. And Mathesius may have even had a personal interest in the mining as a mineralogist. But certainly he never had to carry a pick and work in the mines. So why is he pictured with it?

I suspect that it simply identifies him with the people he served. I’ve remarked before about how much of a privilege it is to serve people in such a way that I am allowed into their lives at its most critical moments. As a servant of Christ, the pastor carries the business and affairs of the people he’s called to serve on his own heart. And when he serves among them, with time he begins to understand more and more the cares and concerns of his flock—even if he never actually steps foot into the mines.

So as I do this work—which is essentially no different than Mathesius’ work in the 1500’s—I figure if that pastor can be called a Miner, so can I.

First Week in Advent

It’s been an interesting week here in El Paso. It all started with rain that started to fall on Sunday. (Rain is always exciting here.) But the wind was picking up and the temperatures were dropping. By mid-morning on Monday it had turned to snow. Big, clumpy snowflakes. On Monday evening everyone was canceling activities (UTEP, the county courthouse, etc) By Tuesday morning we had couple inches on the ground. The public schools started two hours late. And even though the roads were all pretty good, we also waited until 10:00 to start.

This actually isn’t our first snowfall of the year. It snowed a few weeks back and the mountains got a little white on top.

It was on Tuesday that I also realized that the furnace didn’t seem to be working in church. Apparently, other people noticed it on Sunday, but hadn’t said anything. I tried to get someone to look at it, but that didn’t work out, and so our first midweek service was a bit chilly.

What concerned me more than Wednesday’s service was the funeral scheduled for this morning. So last night we had a couple members at church working on the furnaces, but the units are outdoors on the roof, and it started snowing again around 7:30pm. They worked hard at it, but the snow kept them from finishing. Overnight, it laid down a nice layer of snow and ice that made this morning just as interesting. I left for church about 6:30. Since the car I’m currently driving parks in the driveway, the ice layer covered the car. I can’t remember the last time I have had to scrape ice off a windshield (2005, I suppose). Of course, I don’t even own an ice scraper or snow brush any more. Fortunately, a neighbor came to my rescue (who recently moved from Chicago). The roads were iced over and the sand trucks had not been out. It was 20 MPH all the way to church, but it was a little comical to watch the panic of people who really didn’t know how to drive on this stuff. The public schools delayed their start by two hours. But we had the funeral this morning at 9:30 and we had planned on having the school kids sing for the funeral. So we let parents know that we would start at 9:30.

When I got to church I discovered that it was 50º in church, so I did what I could to get a little heat in there and then tried to find a way to get some ice off the sidewalk. Of course we have no shovels or salt or ice scrapers. So I found a hoe and dug up some sand from the back of church (we do have plenty of sand out here). The hoe worked surprisingly well, and I used a broom to sweep away the broken ice and then sprinkled sand to provide a little traction.

The funeral seemed to go rather well, though a little cold. The funeral was for a 92-year-old WWII vet who survived the sinking of the troopship Leopoldville on Christmas Eve 1944 (look it up). He earned a purple heart for that and a second for being wounded in Korea. He was born in NE and raised in Minneapolis area (sound familiar?) but moved to El Paso to get away from the cold. Ironic that he was laid to rest on what should be the coldest day of the year, with snow still on the cacti.

Ours Paso

When we lived in California, our kids thought that our house was California. When we moved to Texas, we had to explain that other people also live in Texas, but they have a different number (house number).

Now, Isaiah says that we live in Ours Paso. If you don’t live in El Paso, you live in Yours Paso. We live in Ours Paso.

It’s kind of cute the way a two-year-old tries to express his understanding of places. But even if he doesn’t fully understand it all, he gets this: Ours Paso is the place we call ours, that is, it’s home.

Anniversary Slideshow

For tomorrow’s anniversary celebration, I put together a slideshow of pictures that people brought to me. I ended up including around 100 pictures—of the pastors, fellowship events, school activities, confirmations, etc.

Anniversary Slideshow

The music is from the album The Heavens Declare His Glory by Kirk Meyer (Buy in iTunes). I use these piano recordings of hymns all the time. And you can’t beat getting 80 songs for under $10.

Strings & Choir

Yesterday I attended another performance by the Bruce Nehring Consort of El Paso. This one featured Charles Gray, a violinist and conductor from St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, and substitute violinist with the Minnesota Orchestra.

The concert focused on choral and orchestral works of Haydn and Mendelssohn. 2009 is the 200th anniverary of Haydn’s death and Mendelssohn’s birth.

Once again I was impressed with the Lutheran music. The concert began with a double choir Sanctus by Mendelssohn. Later on they also sang a Kyrie by Mendelssohn and Herzliebster Jesu (O Dearest Jesus) in a setting by John Ferguson.

One thing that especially struck me this time is just how much a difference good acoustics make. Professor Gray spoke about a few of the pieces—sans microphone or sound system—and you could hear him just fine. I just thought to myself how much easier it would be to preach in such a space. I know that the ideal acoustics for music are not the same as for speaking, but I regularly feel like I need to shout in order to be heard. 

Bruce Nehring, the director of this group, is a consultant in church acoustics and pipe organ design. He is apparently very concerned about the acoustics of the spaces in which they perform. He had actually received some criticism for using churches for many concerts—not only because much of the music was originally written for the church, but also because the churches were frequently spaces that enhance the sound of the music. Here is a quote from the program from yesterday:

“This belief in architectural proportions to musical sound piqued Nehring’s interest in using spaces not usually thought of as concert halls which led to his use of the Union Depot for concerts.”

The Union Depot is El Paso’s train station, built by the same architect as Washington D.C.’s Union Station.

Interesting Things

I recall Professor Deutschlander talking about the wisdom of using personal stories in the pulpit. His comments pointed out that the things in a pastor's life that are really interesting are not the kind of things that you can share with a lot of people. And so the stories that you are free to tell are probably not as interesting as you might think. If that's the case, people will probably think that you lead a pretty boring, shallow life.

I have sometimes thought about that in regard to this and other weblogs of pastors. I sometimes feel as though I have nothing to write—even though there are plenty of interesting things going on in my life and ministry. (Or at least I think they are!) But so many of the really interesting things would not be appropriate to share.

I suppose the good thing about this format (a blog) is that I can tell you all about the things that seem interesting to me (that I can share), and you can decide for yourself if it's interesting to you. This is not a sermon, where the stakes are a little higher and where the things that I share ought to really be significant—and not just to me. So I guess by reading this you are taking the risk of reading some rather trivial things, but hopefully not all of it.

Now ordinarily, talking about the weather would be a triviality, but frigid temps in some parts of the country is a pretty serious deal for some of you. I heard on the news that some colder weather might be headed our way in the next couple days, but it hasn't yet. I didn't even put a coat on today, and I ate my lunch outside at church today. It was quite nice in the sunshine. 

I've never been one to complain about the weather—wherever I have been. But I have been enjoying the weather here this winter. I understand that it usually gets a little colder here, but I'm appreciating the regular sunshine. Modesto had more clouds and fog and rain in the winter, even though the temps were about the same. I don't remember minding Midwest winter weather, either, and there is a part of me that misses it—even when the temps are as frigid as they are now. And if I ever live in that climate again, perhaps I'll appreciate it again, but for now I'll just appreciate 60's in January.