Auld Lang Syne

Whatever "auld lang syne" means... it's a pretty melody.  Don't worry, I don't sing in this clip.  I just show some proof of the guitar lessons I've been taking.

P.S.  No, I do not play left-handed.  Apparently Photo Booth records the mirror image; anyone know how to change that?


The Gospel for Salt Lake City

It is always energizing to see a group of people catch a vision, roll up their sleeves, and dig in to the grim, joyous work of reaching a specific area of Utah with the gospel.  Though Salt Lake City is only forty miles north, it has a very different culture and needs than Provo.  I am not affiliated with this church plant, but I wish them Godspeed.


Through the Windshield

Bubbles and I logged 3,300 miles through eight states last month.  That's a lot of tanks of gas (ouch), a lot of "traveling mercies" (thanks, Lord), and a lot of time to contemplate the scenery.  Here are some of the sights I enjoyed at 65 mph.

Colorado on a sunny fall day.

A few weeks ago, I told a native Coloradoan (Coloradite?) who I'd just met that theirs is my "drive-through state."  I think this was taken negatively, but that's certainly not how I meant it.  Those eight hours on I-70 are scenic and thoroughly enjoyable, minus the Denver traffic.  West to east, desert to mountains to plains, I find Colorado provides just the transition I need, physically and mentally, from Utah to Kansas.  Plus, I have not yet grown out of the stage where it's exciting to drive through the tunnels and hold my breath.

A Colorado cottonwood: "...the light-reflecting, wind-loving trees of the desert, whose roots are always seeking water and whose leaves are always talking about it, making the sound of the rain."

That's a quotation from The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather, which I had finished reading just a few days before this trip.  The book is set partly in a small town in eastern Colorado, and the windswept landscape plays an important role in the story.  As I left Denver and the Rockies behind and made my way across the prairie toward Kansas, I couldn't help but think of Cather's vivid descriptions—the lone, stalwart cottonwoods in particular.  And it occurred to me: I could learn a lesson from the desert cottonwood, how it yearns after water and speaks of it unceasingly.

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
That I may tell of all Your works.  (Psalm 73)

Grain elevator west of Susank, Kansas.

"I love the prairie!  So often have I seen the dawn come and the light flood over the land and everything turn radiant at once, that word 'good' so profoundly affirmed in my soul that I am amazed I should be allowed to witness such a thing."  (from Gilead, Marilynne Robinson)

Wyoming, in all its snowy, windy, foggy, freezing glory.

While I was staying in LaGrange, Wyoming, a storm blew in and dumped several inches of snow on top of a layer of ice.  So I postponed for a day the last leg of my trip.  I should have waited another day or two for the roads to clear, but I was itching to get back to Utah and I just plain didn't know what I was getting into.  The first two or three hours were... an adventure.  I lost count of the wrecked or abandoned vehicles along the way.  Still, there was no denying the beauty of snow-covered southern Wyoming—a cold, treacherous sort of beauty that I was glad enough to leave behind and reach Utah.

I drove west through Provo Canyon as the sun was setting.  The Utah horizon was the only "welcome home" I needed.  Thank you to the many who prayed me through this trip.



Blogger's guilt: I've got a bad case, Doc.

And so I should, considering it's been a scandalous 3.5 months since my last post.  But I'll skip the excuses, since none of them involve a life-threatening illness, or the loss of all ten fingers, or a whirlwind romance culminating in a three-month honeymoon at a wifi-less Swiss chalet.

Instead of writing excuses, I'll write—hang onto your hat, now—I'll write a post.

There.  I've committed.

Silence, prepare ye to be broken forthwith and heartily.  Yea, verily and amen.


An Open Door at Bryce Canyon

Every year at Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah, 1.5 million tourists are told that the remarkable geology was formed 13 million years ago.

What if there were a way to reach these people from all over the world, with the truthnot just about creationbut also about the good news of Jesus Christ?

Last I heard, $40,000 of the total $110,000 is still needed.  Donate to the "land purchase fund" here.
For more details on how you can help, contact my visionary colleague Rob Brannon at: robert (at) bryceoutreach.com

Summer Travels: Weeks 5 - 7

Let's play a game.  I'll show you photos I took in the last couple weeks, and you guess where I've been.  Ready?

#1  Fried green tomatoes.  Scrum-diddly-umptious!

#2  Turnip greens, flavored with Bruce's tabasco peppers in vinegar.  First and last time I order this.

#3  A Baptist church with an auditorium roughly the size of a football field.  The music reminded me of a Gaither homecoming, and the Bible preaching was fantastic.

#4  Police directing Sunday traffic.  There are so many people going to church services that this is a matter of routine.  I couldn't believe it.

By now, you should be zeroing in on the South: land of fried foods and a church on every corner.  But where in the South?  One more picture:

#5  The World of Coca-Cola.  I got to sightsee here and at Stone Mountain with my new friends, Nathan and Kristin.  We also managed to squeeze a visit to Chick-fil-A into this very full day, and a quick walk through Olympic Park.

That should give it away.  The answer is, of course: Atlanta, Georgia.

I was in Atlanta for two weeks of training at the international office of Biblical Ministries Worldwide.  There were 26 of us preparing for service in South Africa, Australia, Ireland, Vanuatu, and a creative access country (traditional missionaries are not allowed in a CAC, and they must enter as professionals in some trade like medicine or education).  And don't forget the U.S.Utah, to be exact!

Julie (left) and her husband joined the Utah/Idaho field.  Elaine (center) is the wife of our Area Director.  These ladies are not just my co-laborers, but also dear friends.

It was an encouraging and challenging time at BMW, made all the better when my dad flew in to participate for a couple days as my sending church's pastor.

Upon my return to Kansas, there was a commissioning service at Hoisington Bible Church.  Although they already sent me to Utah several years ago, I will now be working in a full-time ministry capacity, so this was a special service.  It was wonderful to be among these believers who have known me, prayed for me, and supported me for over half my life.

A rare reunion with old friends.

During my final few days in Kansas, two last-minute opportunities presented themselves.  The first was being "camp missionary" at Solid Rock Bible Camp.  Eight years ago, I was a counselor during the inaugural summer of Solid Rock; it was very special to return and share about ministry in Utah.  And the last evening I was in Kansas, I was given the chance to speak at the meeting of a church's missions committee in McPherson.

Now I'm back in Utah.  Looking back on all my summer travels, I'm deeply grateful to God for safety, unlooked-for opportunities, practical training, special reunions with friends, time with my parents, andbest of allseveral new daily prayer partners.  I'm sure those prayers have something to do with how energized I feel to tackle the piles of catch-up work and to implement some new ideas for ministry.  Onward and upward!


Summer Travels: Weeks 3 & 4

Quick!  What am I naming here?  Cracker, shredder, chisel, probe, strainer, spear.

No, not names of WWF wrestlers.  Kitchen utensils?  Getting closer.  How about types of bird beaks?  Ding ding ding!

Yes, each and every bird species has a beak custom-fit for the type of food he eats, crafted by our endlessly creative God.  Birds and their beaks—a case in point of the amazing variety in nature.

Exhibit A: a handsome little screech owl at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center.  He winked at me and I was smitten.
Exhibit B: a baby (grackle?) that was sitting on the sidewalk in front of my folks' house a few days ago.  There's a certain point when extreme ugliness becomes cute, no?
And Exhibit C: the chicken which lives in the backyard of my Provo duplex.  I call her... Fluffy Head.  I also think she looks like a "Veronica," but that's harder to explain.  I miss her.
Yes, the last several weeks have been curiously bird-filled.  I wasn't even surprised when I attended vacation Bible school at Newton Bible Church and the theme that day turned out to be... bird beaks.  They were using Answers in Genesis curriculum, which emphasizes the wonders of our Creator and His creation.  And that's how I learned the difference between a cracker and a shredder.

The night before, I taught NBC's kids' club about Jim Elliot (an inspiring true story—very much not "for the birds").  Then Thursday morning, it was my privilege to share with the 60-some VBS attendees a little about KEY Radio.  Their offerings all week were collected to assist me with promotion around the listening areas—how encouraging is that?  Thanks, kids!  You made me happy as a lark.  Uh... Clark.
Mrs. Unruh and her class at Newton Bible Church's VBS.


Part of my purpose statement is "to share God's grace through radio, church planting and evangelism"—so how fitting it is that two of my supporting churches are named Grace.  Sunday, July 1, I spent with Grace Community Church; they are located in Great Bend, Kansas, and have been supporting me for four years.  I shared briefly in both their worship services, and taught the junior high Sunday school class.  Then about thirty people stayed afterwards to view the hour-long movie produced recently to show the progress and challenges of church planting in Utah.   It's a fantastic, engaging film, and if you haven't seen it yet, contact me for details.

Between all the hugs and the scrumptious sloppy joes and the ubiquitous "technical difficulties" and the questions about Mitt Romney—it was such a busy day that I failed to take a single photo.  Rats.  But special thanks to the GCC missions committee for all their work hosting me.


What's a summer road trip without a little car trouble?  It's as unthinkable as Laurel without Hardy and roast beef without Arby's sauce.  If your trip goes by without being towed at least once, you have missed half the adventure.

This is the sort of pep talk I give myself while standing in knee-high grass by the highway, in 110' heat, waiting for someone to come tow my dead car.

But, really, I feel more like this:
I had spent part of the day in Hays, Kansas, visiting some churches and KPRD. On the way home, Bubbles suddenly died—right there at the intersection of two highways.

Thankfully, a kind man in a truck came along and pushed my car to the side of the road.  Thankfully, I had my cell phone and had just purchased a AAA membership.   Thankfully, the AAA dispatcher bumped up my status to "priority" due to "the location and extreme heat," so I had to wait less than an hour for help.  Thankfully, my mom came to wait for the tow truck with me and brought a bottle of ice water.  Thankfully, I was only a few miles from home and incurred no towing expense.

And the biggest "thankfully": my star of a father was able to get Bubbles running the next day!  A simple battery replacement was needed—and it was covered under warranty.  I am happy to report that Bubbles is still with us.  Long may she roll.


Now I'm in Georgia, beginning Candidate Orientation with Biblical Ministries Worldwide.  Not that I'm a new candidate, but with my switcheroo from tentmaking to career missions, I was encouraged to attend these two weeks of assessments and training.  Some of the info is repeat.  Some is not applicable (I'm able to write this while everyone else is taking a "marriage assessment").  But it's good to be here among people I love.  I know I'll come away with new ideas and new friends.  Also, the food is amazing.  Tally ho.


Summer Travels: Week 2

When I was about thirteen, the grand opening of the factory outlets in Newton, Kansas included a concert by none other than Johnny Cash.  It was the first and only time I got to see my favorite singer in person, but it was just the beginning of a strong connection with this little city near Wichita.  I am fascinated by this area that has a strong Mennonite influence, an impressive number of solid churches, and a zeal for missions.

And so June 17 found me rising early and making the two-hour drive again, to spend the day at Newton Bible Church.  NBC has been faithfully supporting my ministry in Utah since 2009, and it was high time to reconnect.  I wasn't scheduled to speak until the evening service, so I got to just enjoy the Sunday school hour and worship service.  The preaching was spot-on and the music, while not quite Johnny Cash: outstanding.

That afternoon, Marisa and Ginger hosted me for delicious pork chops and good conversation.  Oh, and a perfect caramel latte from the coffee house which is practically in their backyard.  Totally jealous of that.  Many thanks, ladies!

I'll be back at NBC this Wednesday-Thursday for their kids club and vacation Bible school.


The following Monday began four days of Bible clubs in Hoisington.  Two CEF-trained young ladies came to lead the two clubs, so my involvement was minimal.  They did a good job teaching, and the twelve-or-so boys who attended had a great time—especially on the last day when they got to put a plate of whipped cream into Miss Kris' face as a reward.  I like this picture of the kids engrossed in a story about John Paton.


Over the weekend, I helped my folks host a reunion for my mom's cousins.  Here we are modeling the t-shirts that everyone got to take home as souvenirs ("Hoisington, Kansas: the heart of Cheyenne Bottoms").

All eighteen of us visited the nearby Kansas Wetlands Education Center, and some also toured Ellinwood's Underground Tunnels.  It was my first time at these two local attractions and I highly recommend both if you're looking for something to do in central Kansas.

How hot is it here?

A few degrees warmer and the thermometer would be useless.
How would you like to be dressed as a fireman on a day like this?  Oofdah.
Hats off to these guys who responded to a call
a couple houses down from my folks' this afternoon.


Summer Travels: Week 1

My summer trip began a week ago with the trek east through the deserts of Utah, over the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado, and down into the plains of western Kansas.  It's a beautiful drive, every inch of it except the minor congestion of Denver.  I know many were praying for my safety; thank you.  Bubbles purred like a kitten the whole way, and even her tape deck was functional most of the time.  Nothing makes the miles fly like Gordon Lightfoot tunes and Jungle Jam episodes.  I reached my folks' home in Hoisington at nightfall.

The next day, I was off again—this time to Garden City, Kansas, for a weekend of ministry at Grace Bible Church.  They were the first church (apart from my home/sending church) to start supporting me, but it had been four years since my last visit—too long to stay away from these dear missions-minded, prayer-committed people.  Pastor John and Joyce Zoschke were wonderful hosts.  I loved spending time with them, exchanging ministry stories and ideas, and even eating sourdough bread from Pastor John's starter rumored to be a couple decades old.
I spoke during the kids' Sunday school class and the morning worship service, and also taught at the church's summer Bible school on Monday.
Grace Bible Church has a unique ministry among the Karen (pronounced Kuh-RIN) people who have come to Garden City for jobs.  From what I understand, the Karen (and other ethnic groups) have been displaced from Myanmar (Burma) due to civil war.  I was surprised to learn that many of them come from a Baptist background, thanks in large part to missionary pioneer Adoniram Judson.  When I spoke during the worship service, I had a Karen translator (thank you, Sheila Paw), since many of the adults are not yet fluent in English.

Pastor John and Joyce and their church have welcomed this cross-cultural ministry, though it's not always smooth sailing.  I was amazed by how they remember all these foreign names (my favorite was a child named Bleh Bleh) and truly care about the kids and their families.
VBS crafts: always a hit, no matter one's ethnicity.
Crayons and glue transcend cultural barriers, I've decided. 
Has the U.N. picked up on this yet?

I left Garden City Monday evening with that peculiar mix of weariness and refreshment that ministry so often brings.  Thank you, Grace Bible Church, for a great weekend.


There is a particular lonely stretch of Highway 156 east of Garden City that grabs my attention every time I drive it.  The scene is the same on both sides of the blacktop: wheat fields stretching unbroken to the horizon.  No irrigation systems, no farm houses, no wind breaks or drainage ditches, not even a lone tree.  Elsewhere along the drive, the custom combiners were out in full force, but this wheat was just patiently waiting its turn to be cut.  I had to pull over and take a photo, though it doesn't begin to do the scene justice.  All that gold is positively dazzling in the summer sun.
"Wheat that tall and ripe has its own sound in a Kansas wind, pushing across the fields without a single tree to break its flow.  The wheat moves in the wind, and it sounds like the sea, only better because there's something of the earth in it and something of man's work as well.  It's a strong sound, always changing and a little wild." (Reed Arvin)

Well, hello there.
Nothing brings back that childhood feeling like riding
around the hometown in the back seat of the folks' old Buick.

We like our gasoline pumps analog in Hoisington.
Credit card swipe?  Heavens, no.  One must go in and exchange
small talk with an actual human being while paying.

Looking over Main Street with the parental units.
What a refreshing change from the traffic and noise of city life.


Radio and the Immediacy of God's Word

Recently I posed the question on KEY Radio’s Facebook page: Fill in the blank: “I listen to the radio while _____.”  What would you have answered?  Responses from Facebook users included, “driving,” “working,” “driving and washing dishes,” and, “driving, running and cleaning.”

These responses reminded me of God’s instruction to the children of Israel: You shall teach [My words] to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up (Deuteronomy 11:19 NASB).

The ancient Jewish people were told to incorporate the learning and applying of God’s word into every activity, no matter how mundane.  Isn't this still the best way to live?  Use of Scripture should not be confined to an hour on Sunday, nor to those times when we reach desperation.  God’s word holds power, wisdom, comfort, hope—why would we not access that frequently throughout each day?

Driving a car, of course, was unknown to the Israelites.  So was radio.  But I can’t help but think that there’s a modern-day parallel here.  In streets and highways, in homes and workplaces across Utah (in this case), over half a million people can flip a switch and hear clear, compassionate Bible-based programs and music.  We listen as we drive, wash dishes, go for a run, or clean our houses.  In so doing, the mundane becomes eternally significant.


And now a word from our sponsor-seeker

As I enter full-time ministry, I'm seeking support of several different types, the primary being prayer.  Would you consider making a one-year commitment to my Prayer Force?  That means waging war every day via intercession with Almighty God.  It's impossible to overstate the importance of a missionary being fully supported in every sense.  I'd love to tell you more; Facebook me or email: kclark (at) biblicalministries (dot) org.


My Tornado Story, Part I

"Have you ever seen a tornado?"  It's one of the standard questions I have fielded over the years, when people learn I'm from Kansas.  The answer is no, and the disappointed inquirer usually moves on to other topics.  But few people have thought to ask me if I have been in a tornado, to which I would have to answer yes—at least, within two city blocks of one.

Mine is not a spectacular story.  Most people who survived the Hoisington tornado, or any other large-scale twister, have far more amazing accounts.  Like Heather, my former classmate in the purple jacket above, who was providentially out of her house that night when it was lifted off its foundation and a neighbor's car was flipped into the basement.  These stories are still told around town.  Any time there is a lull in conversation, one can always bring up "the tornado."  Some of these stories were featured in national news coverage, and NPR's "This American Life" even aired a 25-minute feature.

I can't compete with those.  And I'm glad!—boring is better when it comes to personal involvement in natural disasters.  But it's my story, and I tell it on this April 21 anniversary to remember God's steadfast watch-care, and to honor the tenacity and good will of folks in America's heartland.  And also to remind you to heed your local weather man when he tells you to take cover.

It was a Saturday evening like this, eleven years ago.  I was a high school senior but since I was homeschooled the last few years, I wasn't heading to the prom like most other kids my age.  The day had been exceptionally windy and conditions were ripe for violent weather.  A tornado watch had been issued, but I don't think a tornado warning.  (A watch signifies that tornadoes could form; a warning means a tornado has been confirmed on the ground nearby.)  If the city sirens sounded, they were too late, drowned out by the powerful storm that abruptly slammed into the town.

Mom and I were watching from inside the house as the wind and rain picked up.  There was little to see, as the sun had set and the storm reduced visibility to a minimum, but the noise was tremendous.  I noticed suddenly that it was not just rain or hail pounding the windows any more; it was clumps of mud and debris.  Later, we figured out that was from the tornado touching down less than a mile away and rapidly moving closer.

Above the wind Mom yelled, "Let's get downstairs."  We quickly made our way toward the stairs, where we met Dad, who had the same urgent idea.  That's when the 2x4 came crashing through the patio door and landed at our feet.

If there had been any doubt left, that eliminated it.  Fifteen seconds later, the three of us were huddled between boxes and the water heater in our small basement.  The electricity was out, but Dad switched on a battery-operated radio and we listened to the familiar voices of the nearby station urging Hoisington residents to take cover.  But by then, the tornado was headed out of town, having changed it forever in the span of three minutes.

After a short time, Dad ventured upstairs again and returned with a wet and shivering Trixie, who had survived the storm inside her blessedly sturdy doghouse.  "It's too dark to see, but it seems like there's a lot of damage," he reported.  We waited a while until the all-clear was given on the radio, and then emerged from the basement to the sounds of neighbors exchanging shouts of "You okay over there?"

Our immediate neighborhood had survived, but the streets were impassable and there was nothing to do but wait for morning.  I lay in bed for a long time, sweltering in the still air and listening to the unusual silence, punctuated occasionally by the distant sounds of people shouting, and the glints of far-off flashlights.

I don't think anyone in town slept much that night.  One man had been killed in the tornado.  Those who had been hit hardest were being pulled from basements and bathtubs.  The rest of us braced ourselves for what daylight would reveal.


Still the Atoning Blood is Near

Still the small inward voice I hear,
That whispers all my sins forgiven;
Still the atoning blood is near,
That quenched the wrath of hostile Heaven.

Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

from "And Can It Be That I Should Gain"
by Charles Wesley, 1738


What are you doing on my patio?

I live in a town of 112,000.  So when I hear a rustling noise out my back door on a spring afternoon, I assume it is a city-dwelling robin.  Or maybe a squirrel.  Certainly not this.

Since this taping, this perky little creature has been hanging around my place a lot.  Today she (?) came bustling over to greet me when I got home.

Where does she come from?  What is so yummy on my patio?  And more importantly: how can I get a jaunty little hat like that?


Motives (The Post That Survived)

"Mis-sio-nary (noun): someone who leaves their family for a short time, so that others may be with their families for Eternity."

This is a plaque I saw for sale at a local thrift store, and it got me fired up.

It was more than an editor's reaction to the incorrect possessive pronoun (the first "their" should be "his").

I mean... "Leaves family"?  "Short time"??  (Yes, I just used double punctuation.  I feel strongly about this.)

So I drafted three different posts in response.

But the first was far too snarky, the second was chock full of nauseating righteous indignation, and the third was both extremely boring and embarrassingly juvenile.

Thus, I'll cut down the commentary.

If you're a Latter-day Saint, you may not understand what my problem is with this definition.  That's okay.  I would rather spend the time on more crucial definitions, like "grace" or "saved".

And if you're a Christian...  Oh, dear Christian.

There are over 50,000 missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints currently serving around the world.  They do this, at least ostensibly, "so that others may be with their families for eternity."

May I ask: what drives you to participate in missions (pray, give and/or go)?  Is it a biblical motivation?    

Lord, lay waste to our pride, our pretenses, our fears, our mindless habits, our feelings of obligation, our faulty concepts of success—and all other wrong motives as we seek to live the Great Commission.

This is why I keep returning to II Corinthians for a realignment of my motives:
Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. 
He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. 
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.


Of Ministry, Modifications and Marveling

(In which I lie lay down aside my instinct and laud praise something quite very much beyond my help.)

As a compulsive editor, I am constantly reanalyzing pieces I have written or things I have said.  (I just rewrote that very sentence five times before moving on.  Sigh.)  But occasionally I say or write something that I still agree with the next morning.  And every once in a great while, I believe in it even more strongly as time goes on.  This is one of those rare instances.

A couple months ago, a new acquaintance found out I'm a "preacher's kid".  He immediately inquired whether I felt obligated to enter the ministry for myself.  My written reply:

No, I don't think I ever felt obligated to go into ministry.  It was a very natural progression and Lord-willing I'll spend the rest of my life in some sort of ministry role.  It's all grace, though, that any of us is useful in any way to the King, isn't it?

Soon I'll be transitioning from serving as a tentmaking missionary to a full-time missionary.  In one sense, it's a big step: resigning from a career that I love, likely leaving Utah temporarily to raise more support, participating in additional training, taking on more responsibility for KEY Radio and possibly Provo Bible Church.  And then there are the increased spiritual battles... I expect these demons of doubt will invite their friends and relations for a party or two in Karisa's head.

Then again—in light of what I wrote (and still believe!)—this is no change at all.  It's still grace.  No more, no less than before.  And I still marvel at the thought that the King finds me (me! for goodness' sake) useful in any way.

Tomorrow I will re-read this post and wish I had better punctuated a sentence or chosen a crisper adjective.  But I will not think differently about the substance.  So faultless, so generous, so strong, so trustworthy is God's grace that I cannot improve upon it one iota.


The Prairies Calling

Encircled though I am by mountains and city, I can feel the quiet pulse of the prairies today.  I can almost hear the wind whistling through last year's corn stalks standing in the field, half-covered by snow.  I sense the winter wheat lying close to the ground, patiently, patiently awaiting the spring thaw.  And I, too, await a day when I will shed the coldness of this world, this body, this heart so prone to wandering.

Maybe it's because I've been re-reading the classic Giants In the Earth, a story of Norwegian pioneers in Dakota Territory.  The land in Rølvaag's novel is vast, stark, and richly fertile, and it leaves no one unchanged who seeks to survive it, much less tame it.

After 130 years, the land had been survived and peopled and maybe even slightly tamed, but it still inspired awe for Rich Mullins, who wrote a song to the Keeper of the Plains.

And so, in belated celebration of Kansas Day (I spent the majority of yesterday sick in bed, alas); and because there are some days when I just miss the prairies, and even more days when I long to be "shaken free of this old world"; and also because this is a beautifully poignant song and a good cover that begs to be shared...


Reflections on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday

What does it mean to be pro-life?

For me, it means I vote in every possible election in my district, with the primary consideration being the candidates' position on moral issues.  Not the economy or foreign policy; not their business experience or endorsements.  Those are secondary.  What I care about most: which candidate will do the most to protect and value human life?

It means I actively support my local Pregnancy Resource Center, through my time and finances.

It means I sign petitions and participate in respectful, gracious public demonstrations.  I contact my elected representatives about related issues.  I choose health care sharing instead of medical insurance.

But being pro-life means so much more.

It means I volunteer in my church's nursery on a regular basis.  I wipe noses and I wipe bottoms; I read books aloud and go to great and goofy lengths to make the new toddler giggle.

It means I go out of my way to spend evenings with an elderly, home-bound friend.  I listen to her stories even though I've heard them before.  I do her laundry and her errands.

It means I seek out employment where I can directly serve other people, improving their quality of life.  Currently, that means helping people obtain better vision.  My favorite cases are the children from low-income families who, through a philanthropic program, are able to receive their first pair of glasses.  Their faces light up when they realize what it is to see shapes, colors, and faces with clarity for the first time.

It means I try to stay informed on human trafficking, sex slavery, unjust imprisonment, child labor, government-enforced one-child policies, and the rise of Christian martyrdom around the world.  I refuse to give into my desire to remain ignorant of these ugly facts.  I weep when I encounter stories of injustice.  To the best of my ability, I boycott businesses who do not properly address these issues.

It means I support the men and women who serve in my country's military, placing themselves in harm's way to preserve the life of freedom I enjoy.

It means I send money every month to missionaries who are faithfully serving their communities in Asia and South America, sharing the life-giving Word of God in places characterized by poverty and persecution.

It means I choose to live in a place far from family and familiarity, to serve a cause bigger than myself: spreading the message of God's grace that leads to eternal and abundant life for all who believe.

And it means I pray to a sovereign God for others' needs, physical and spiritual, when they are made known to me.

Are any of these actions extraordinary?  Nope; lots of people do them.  Could I be doing more?  I'm sure.

But don't miss the point.  Being pro-life is not merely a "right-wing" political stance.  It is a fundamental worldview that touches every aspect of life.  When you believe in the inherent value of each and every human from conception through eternity, every decision you make, every action you take will be driven by it.

Nor is it an original idea.  My Jesus fed the hungry, healed the sick, raised the dead, embraced children, protected women, and went so far as to lay down His own precious life that you and I might be made alive forever.  Without ever signing a petition or endorsing a political candidate, He is the ultimate pro-life activist.  May our lives be patterned after His.

"I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep."  John 10


Valleyisms: The Ratio

The Ratio.  It never ceases to amaze me: the number of Latter-day Saint congregations versus other churches here.

This is a photo I took after climbing Squaw Mountain in November.  It shows a section of north Provo along with a sliver of east Orem.  Near the center of the picture is the building where I work part-time.  If you zoom in and you know what to look for, you'll count at least nine LDS meeting houses.  Each of these chapels hosts two or three LDS wards (congregations).  (The size of a ward varies, but if we can trust Wikipedia, it's typically between 200-500 people.)  To the best of my knowledge, the only church of any other type located within the frame of this photo is the lone small Lutheran church in the city.

That's a congregation ratio of something like 21:1.  Do you know of anywhere else in the U.S. like this?

To live here, one must all but dismiss any notions of American diversity.  But you can always, like me, work out the angst of this by climbing a mountain.

Only in Utah Valley.


Valleyisms: Alma and... Coffee Shops?

If you had to get your CatchPhrase team to guess the phrase alma mater, what would you say?  How about: "The first word is the longest book in The Book of Mormon!"

That's how it went down at a game night I went to recently, the token Gentile in a circle of Latter-day Saint young adults.  And yes, it worked; Team 1 quickly guessed their teammate's word.

But I am proud to say my Team 2 won two out of three rounds, despite the challenge I had of hurriedly describing my phrase,"coffee shop", to people who have probably never been in one.  Oh, the irony of that!  Not unlike describing a cut of pork to an Orthodox Jew.  But my teammates were good sports and guessed the answer within a few tries.  Then: "Coffee shop?  What's a coffee shop?" one guy, nineteen days away from beginning his two-year mission, jokingly asked as I passed the game piece to the next player.  Kudos to those of us who can laugh good-naturedly at the quirks of our traditions.  Indeed, respectful humor is not a bad place to start a conversation between or about vastly different belief systems.  At least I'm pretty sure he was kidding.

Next time, maybe we can play a rousing game of Book of Mormon WHO?

Only in Utah Valley.


Valleyisms: Missionary Shoes

Missionary shoes.  Google the phrase and you'll get sites like MissionShoe.com.  They have a clever logo, a catchy slogan ("Helping you serve, one step at a time"), and a page of glowing testimonials ("I have worn them everyday since I got out of the MTC [Missionary Training Center] and they rock").

But for those local Latter-day Saints who have received their mission callings and who prefer a brick-and-mortar store for their footwear needs, there are shops like this one I photographed.

If you're wondering what exactly a "missionary shoe" is: it's black, pricey, nondescript, and ultra-sensible.  It must stand up to two years (or one and a half for the ladies) of almost constant wear by a Mormon missionary going door-to-door in Boise or Buenas Aires or Bangkok.  It has also been paired for time and all eternity to a matching shoe for the opposite foot.  <---This is a joke.  I think.

Only in Utah Valley.