Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Morning at the O'Donnells

Here is a picture of the O'Donnell family Christmas tree taken early in the morning of 25 Dec 2008. The tree is lit and decorated beautifully, and in the foreground on the left you see the TV tray that was left for Santa, with some milk, cookies, and gifts. Proceeding from the fireplace to the right side of the tree are Santa's magic footprints and a few gifts he left for us.

Out of view, hung from a branch in the middle of tree, is a large iron nail, a gift from my vicarage supervisor eight years ago. Here, in the words of a lovely hymn, is the explanation for that nail:

What child is this, who laid to rest,
On Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the king,
Whom sheperds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary!

Why lies He in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear; for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The babe, the son of Mary!

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh;
Come, peasant king, to own Him.
The king of kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise the song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby;
Joy, joy, for Christ is born,
The babe, the son of Mary!
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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Remembering James Earl O'Donnell--19 April 1942-9 December 1992

It is December 9, 2008. The sixteenth anniversary of father's death. I have spent a bunch of time at hospitals the last few days and will do so again tomorrow. 

I had hoped to post a bit of a tribute to dad, but I think he would be pleased at a few things I learned from him that are very regularly put into practice. For one, he had a great respect for his elders and was a beacon of light for my late maternal grandmother, invalid in the nursing home. Dad would enter the place and smiles would come out because he treated the people at the home with respect and as real, valuable human beings. He would go to visit my grandmother at the nursing home on his lunch hour on occasion, and when he did he would almost always call ahead and have the staff get her in her chair and up and ready to go. 

Dad would enter the place, take grandma outside and have a smoke. I can't tell you what a treat that was for that woman, who smoked most of her life but then after a series of strokes was unable to move her limbs voluntarily, or even speak. He would get her outside on the porch of that nursing home, light up a cigarette, and place it on her lips. Some may be offended by that, but the woman couldn't move, couldn't speak, and was fed by a feeding tube for a decade. She was gorgeous, without a trace of gray hair, and in her youth a classical violinist. That cigarette, which she could barely inhale, was the tinniest of pleasures.

My favorite sight of him at the nursing home, though, was when he would go over with my sister, Brooke, who sang. Brooke would get out her portable system, sing along to whatever she was working on, and dad would twirl grandma in her wheelchair, dancing and rejoicing in the music. The other folks in the home loved it, and he'd dance with them, too. 

My father was a "complicated" man. On this anniversary it would be wrong to portray him without flaws, but he was a really remarkable father, and full of life in ways, now that I'm older, that I rarely see.

I really miss him.

Thank you, Lord, for a father who showed my unconditional love and encouraged me to discover and use my God-given gifts.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Austin Hatch Dunks

Last week my crew had the opportunity to spend an evening with my cousin Steve and his family. The evening including catching the second half of my young cousin Austin James Hatch's basketball game. 

Austin is an eighth grader and, like his dad, a fine student-athlete. I remember, as a kid just a few years behind Steve, traveling with my father from Frankenmuth (MI) to watch cousin Steve play ball over in Saginaw. Steve was a great student and a fine athlete, playing Div.III football (and basketball, I believe) at Alma College. If I remember righltly, he even considered walking on at Wake Forest for basketball when he was in medical school there....

In any case, my kids thought watching eighth-grade cousin, Austin, was a big time event, and an inspiring one. We also got to spend a bit of time with Austin after the game. He's around 5' 10" and though tired after the game worked hard to put down a dunk for the poor mortals gathered who enjoy living vicariously through him.

I had my video camera at the event and promised Austin that if he put one down that I would post it on my blog. Here, with his father's permission, is an early Austin Hatch dunk. God-willing, there will be many more to come! 

It is a joy to live near family and have the opportunity to share some time with them. Thanks to Steve, his delightful wife, Kim, and congratulations to their daughter, Maria, who in June 2009 will be married to the fine young man, Zach, whom we met for the first time at the festivities.

Her's a pic of cousin Steve with our little man, Brenainn, after the game:

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Re-reading George McKenna's "On Abortion: A Lincolnian Position"

Here is a link to an article in the September 1995 issue of The Atlantic Monthly  ( It is entitled, "On Abortion--A Lincolnian Position."

It is hard to believe that it has been 13 years since this essay was published. I read it right away, having seen the cover with the impressive picture of the Lincoln Memorial, and the huge title reference for the article. I wish that that The Atlantic would put it up online in PDF so that all the original graphics could be seen. It was impressive in a variety of ways.

During my college days and up until my rescue by Christ and return to the church in 1993 I held what might be called a "libertarian" position on abortion. This article by George McKenna played a key role in the reformation of my position, and I encourage those on both sides of the political debate to give this article a very serious read. Certainly, I would like to hear what my readers think about the argument Mr. McKenna presents.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Inspired by the Armstrong Museum

I had the opportunity to spend a couple hours today with my kids on a field trip to the Neil Armstrong Museum. Here is a video slide show that I quickly put together using Picassa this evening while the kids were watching "The Bee Movie."

It was really inspiring to be reminded of what I consider one of the great feats in human history. At the same time there was a touch of sadness at a lost opportunity. As the video noted, I was born just after the first moon landing; thus, I was given the middle name "Armstrong." My wife and I have spoken of promises during our childhood about colonies on the moon and manned missions to Mars and beyond. By the time we reached middle school those promises were abandoned. Too bad. Tragic, really.

Though the international space station is a great cooperative venture (See this link:, it lacks some of the visceral appeal of a human adventure to the far reaches of the galaxy; it doesn't inspire in the same way that "one small step for man-one giant leap for mankind" did. That is part of the reason that you send men on the adventure: it fires the mind. Or, in the words of Plutarch that I heard quoted by an astronaut (Dave Scott, I believe, Commander of Apollo 15): "The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be ignited."

Learning German . . . Again!

I began learning basic German seven years ago during my first year of Ph.D. (Missiology) studies at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. For myriad reasons--the trajectory of my studies, family commitments, the call to the parish, lack of discipline, etc.--I totally dropped the ball.

Now I'm starting over again.

I'm starting over again because the original focus of my dissertation research totally changed when it became clear that I would not have access to the necessary primary sources. Over the course of time, perhaps especially since I took a call to the parish, my focus has both narrowed...and broadened.

Focus Broadens

As a parish pastor I have come to see the necessity of developing a consciously evangelistic ethos among the people. In my writing and teaching I have defined the vogue term "missional" (in the personal sense) as being "concerned that your neighbor regularly hear the Gospel preached in its truth and purity." Thus, in a sense, my dissertation focus has broadened in that I see the parish as the locus of evangelism. In the parish Christ-crucified (1 Cor 1) is proclaimed day-in and day-out in the worship and catechetical life of the congregation, and God's people proceed forth serving their neighbors in their various vocations and giving an answer for the hope that is in them (1 Pet 3) as the Lord provides opportunity.

Focus Narrows

In seeing the parish as the locus of evangelism I have come to see how deeply I have been molded by my parish experience and how truly insightful was Rev. Wilhelm Loehe, the pastor responsible for the missionary settlement of my home town, Frankenmuth, Michigan. In the mid-1800s Loehe (the pastor of a small Bavarian village called Neuendetteslau) set in motion some of the great "mission experiements" in Church history. In the interest of spreading the Gospel he planned not to send just a missionary or two, but a living, breathing missionary community. Frankenmuth, for one example, was not settled by a missionary but by a missional pastor and missional laypeople. They didn't just send a missionary, they sent husbands and wives and their children; they sent butchers and bakers and farmers to settle a Christian community and bear witness to the Native Americans in the then frontier territory of Michigan.

I know that some evangelical-types are trying this, even in the United States, but the progenitor of this type of thing--as I understand--was Loehe, and no one, to my knowledge, is using the mission-colony concept with anything like Loehe's ecclesial-sacramental vision. I want to investigate whether a thoroughly Lutheran mission-colony concept can't be revived in the 21st century. (Incidentally, I had a great conversation about this with one of my "ecclesiastical supervisors" from the West Coast. He was v-e-r-y interested in the project, which gave me great encouragement.)

Now, the people of what became known as The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod eventually came to theological odds with Loehe, and a sad separation resulted. Even so, I contend that there is a great deal to learn from him. Unfortunatley, very little of Loehe's voluminous writing is translated into English. Much of the missiology, as I understand, is "embedded" in Loehe's correspondence. Thus, I am belatedly returning to learning German, that I may have access to the minds of Loehe and his contemporaries and participate, possibly, in the revival of a truly confessional Lutheran missiology.

Language learning is a tough sled for me. Please pray for my patience and discipline!

Yours in Christ,
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Monday, November 17, 2008

A Welcome Rebuke

I have been rebuked twice now in the last week. And I here shall publicly thank both of the men who did so . . .

On Tuesday, November 11, 2008, the area pastors of Northwest Ohio Circuit Number 1 gathered for our monthly "Winkel" (from the German word that means' "corner," I believe, and alludes in this case to a gathering of clergy for mutual consolation). Our topic of study was the Word of God, which was led ably by Pastor Jeff Patterson of Zion Lutheran Church in Schumm, Ohio (one of the founding churches of The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, by the way). One of the concluding questions of our study went as follows:

Our pastors and lay people may well agree that Scripture is inspired; but there are times, as we deal with a changing culture, where some will say, "But who can know what it means?" How do we relate the perspicuity [clarity] of Scripture to life in a postmodern world within our congregations?
I was--and am--particularly interested in the question, and in the course of bringing up the question I attempted to answer the postmodern flailing at wisdom with my own philosophical reflections. Finally, after a minute of my bumbling, my good friend Pastor Michael Saylor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Convoy, Ohio said to me, basically, "Lance, just preach the Word!" We had been talking all morning, as men who have pledged themselves to the authority and truth of the Scriptures, about trusting the Word, and my answer to the question basically expressed doubt in the Word. Pastor Saylor called me on it, though I didn't realize it fully until almost a week later . . .

On Monday, November 17, 2008, I returned to my desk after lunch and checked my Facebook page. I noticed a post there from a newly-added "friend" (On the Facebook social networking site you allow your "friends" to view posts and information about you. I was skeptical at first, but I keep in touch with a lot of friends through Facebook now.). I followed a link he posted to his blog and there found video of a recent address of his at Concordia Seminary's "German Days." This presentation by Rev. Matt Harrison, in response to a German theologian's paper, was for me a stern rebuke of my doubt, a clear call to repentance in this regard, and also a great message of truth and hope in the Gospel and concerning the Church's place in a "postmodern" world.

Here's a link to Rev. Harrison's blog: Look for "Replenish the Glass."

And here also is a big THANK YOU to my friends for speaking the truth to me.

"Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief"--Mark 9:24

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Toddler Racing & the Joys of Fatherhood

Here is a clip of our new little man being chased around the house by his older brother and sister.

What a joy to have a little one among us again! He is fitting right in with the older three and they are maturing wonderfully in their love and care for him. Watching this transpire is one of the great joys of fatherhood.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Rhythm of Worship

To the left is the latest derivation of an image that I use to explain a right or "orthodox" understanding of worship and the Christian life. It centers in the fantastically succinct passage from the First Letter of John, verse 19: "We love because He first loved us."

Learning to understand worship and the Christian life in this way is transformative, which is why I like to say that to be "orthodox" is "to be transformed by the fact that
God is the primary actor in worship."

I will let my readers ponder the implications of this truth, but it has been transformative for me and for many whom I have taught. Indeed, if the first purpose of worship (and of life for that matter) is to
be loved by God through Jesus Christ, then "our" approach to worship takes on a different character for all of those involved.


For those who find this image helpful, here's the link to a downloadable copy:

N.B. I want to give special thanks to Rev. Dr. Arthur A. Just, Jr., whose "Lutheran Worship" class will always be for me--to borrow the title of a book--the "all I ever really needed to know I learned in kindergarten" class.
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Monday, November 10, 2008

An Interesting Alternative for LCMS Structure

Pictured on the left is the cover of what appears to be an important contribution to the discussion of LCMS structure by The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod's Executive Director for World Relief & Human Care, Rev. Matthew Harrison. I haven't yet given it as thorough a read as I would like, but my preliminary reading suggests a foundational agreement with much that is written. I have thought since serving as a 2007 Synodical Convention delegate that a lot (but not all) of the structure and bylaw discussion masked deeper issues. And at our recent Ohio District pastor's conference our District President and many at the conference, even after months of revisions, noted that they still weren't clear how the proposed structural changes from President Kieschnick's task force would actually help us do what we all want to do: Focus on The Mission.

 In this document Rev. Harrison offers what appears to be a stunningly honest diagnosis; one that will pierce the souls of those on Missouri's right and left. That alone is helpful, but the great contribution is his proposed "Koinonia Project." Here's one pull quote from the essay that I believe hits the nail on the head:

"We must finally admit that going the route of political coercion to secure Synod unity has failed, is failing, and will always fail. Our only hope is repentance, and then looking to the Word of God." (p.11)

 Do I dare say that I'm a bit jealous? Rev. Harrison has here put into words what I have thought but been unable to articulate yet, even for myself. I had intended, some time ago, to offer an alternative proposal to the task force. What I was thinking of suggesting has now been done, and with the sort of documentation and insight of which I am not yet capable.

Last year many of us discussed the President's task force study document, Congregation-Synod-Church. This summer and fall I have been mulling the President's task force proposals, all along with a feeling that we were missing something, that these structure issues were "tinkering" more than anything. I think Rev. Harrison has proposed a substantive alternative to tinkering with the structure of the Synod, but--again--I have not read the document as thoroughly as needed. I, for one, am looking forward to reading this and thinking about the diagnoses and proposals more deeply, and I would welcome the opportunity to continue the discussion that began last year.

Yours in Christ,


P.S. Here's a link to the Harrison document: For those interested in President Kieschnick's structure task force proposals, see

First Article Gifts

I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth...--the First Article of The Apostles' Creed

What does this mean? I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.

He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.

He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from evil.

All this he does only out of Fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey him.

This is most certainly true. --
Explanation of the 1st Article from Luther's "Small Catechism"

I made my first trip to Hocking Hills in southeastern Ohio on Saturday, 8 November, A.D. 2008, at the invitation of my friend and neighboring pastor, Michael Saylor, of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Convoy, Ohio.

All I can say is: if you get the chance to spend some time at Hocking Hills,
do it!

What a beautiful place and a great "guys" day. We left just after 6am from northwest Ohio where we reside and drove the 3.5 hrs. to Hocking Hills in the Saylor's big blue family van (their license place says something like "7 FRHVN" in reference to their seven kids). I hadn't taken a "road trip" with a bunch of guys in a while, and it was a real treat. I enjoyed making some new friends and seeing a new a beautiful part of the state that I have called home now for six years. On the way back I also enjoyed the great German buffet and local brew at Schmidt's Restaurant in the German Village area of Columbus, Ohio. After a day hike a smorgasboard of German sausages, potatoes, sauerkraut and well-brewed beer was perfect. The gargantuan German cream puff to top it off wasn't all that bad either!

Thank God for good friends and the opportunity to enjoy the creation together!
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Thursday, November 6, 2008

McCain the Tooth

My eight-year-old lost another tooth on election night. (The poor kid is missing at least four right now!) In view of the election, and following Sen. McCain's "Saturday Night Live" example of ability to laugh at himself, we named it, "McCain the Tooth." It made for a good laugh after what was in some respects a dissappointing night.

This makes me think of my late father, who would've loved my clan, and he would've loved the fact that his eight-year-old grandson got the joke when we decided to name the tooth he lost "McCain."
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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Further Thoughts on the 2008 Presidential Race

I thought Senator McCain gave a gracious concession speech last night.

He is a great public servant, and I pray that he will continue his service to the people of Arizona and the United States of America. I am particularly thankful--in light of a previous post--for his defense of life's sanctity.

Below is a revision of a Facebook note that I sent to an old friend shortly after the last 2008 presidential debate. Since I believe "process" issues are important I offer it to my friends and readers...

I was a McCain guy in 2000. I'm one of those social and fiscal conservatives who opposed the conduct of the war and never thought Gov. Bush had the gravitas for the job. He had a great record in TX of working across the aisle, so I thought in 2000 that he was a fine VP pick, but that's not what happened. I think the world would be a far different place today if the 2000 Republican ticket had been McCain-Bush.

There are parts of me that are thrilled the Obama candidacy. For one, wouldn't it be great to have the race stuff behind us and just be human beings? The man is bright and articulate and in terms of personality seems to actually value differences of opinion. Though I will disagree with President Obama on many issues (some to these gravely), he may be a great president.

However, campaigns matter. Here's the reality as I see it for these two men, and for an Obama presidency.

I had great hopes that these two fine men would finally allow us to have a substantive, real, honest campaign. However, these men made what I believe are fateful decisions. For one, President-elect Obama knew (even before the financial meltdown) that the Democrats would have to really screw up to lose the presidency in 2008. The Republicans governed terribly (though the Dem congress hasn't done very well either) and deserved some sort of chastisement. President-elect Obama knew the mood, but he also knew what most people knew: John McCain is a very different sort. I think Sen. Obama knew that if he decided to do a Lincoln-Douglas style campaign it was a risk. I think his advisors said something like, "Take public funding and do the Lincoln- Douglas thing and you may lose. Go private funding and we can almost guarantee a win." McCain did something similar. He sensed early on that he wasn't the "it" guy any more, and rather be true to himself and do the "straight talk express" he and his people decided to try and take Obama down. I think both men violated their principles.

A lot of people are talking about how the campaigns were conducted, but with all the excitement I do not believe there has been sufficient discussion of the Obama decision to forego public funding. Many on the left call up the Kerry 2004 funding situation, saying, "turnabout is fair play." That is, "Now it's the Republicans' turn to feel the sting." Thing is, it's not fair play, because it poisons they other side and impacts governance.

I'm not as versed in all this as I once was, but I do know that campaigns make a difference for governance. President-elect Obama has promised a new kind of politics (and I for one, would welcome it), but I think the decision to go private (Obama) and negative (McCain) was old-school hardball, and I think it will have unfortunate consequences for the Obama presidency.

I believe that if these two men had done a debate every week that over the course of the campaign Sen. Obama would have shown himself more articulate, more able to convey complex issues to the average citizen, more level-headed. . . in many respects, more presidential. Obama won, but the decision to pummel the Republican rather than debate him will have some consequences. Because of how he campaigned, in truth, because he violated his own principles, President-elect Obama will find it more than difficult to usher in the "new kind of politics" that he and so many of us long for.

I ask myself, "Why didn't they just do a simple debate every week and have it out over the issues?" The answer it appears is that there's too much at stake for too many people and interest groups, too much at stake to trust the men and the individual voter. That would've been a great campaign . . .

The above being said, I also thought President-elect Obama's speech was powerful and moving.

I know that words make a difference. The current President was greatly impaired by his inability to articulate himself well and convey complex issues in terms and tenor that people would understand and assimilate.

And President-elect Obama has shown himself a quick study, capable of nuance, of speaking the truth about the past, and even of changing his opinion. I am especially hopeful that he will come to understand the following paragraph from our Declaration of Independence applies to human life from conception to death:

We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Post-Election Pancakes

Pictured here are the O'Donnell family post-election day breakfast pancakes. In view of the election, you'll see that the number of blue pancakes predominates. :)

We had a great time involving the children all day long on November 4, 2008. From our breakfast prayers to the family outing to the polls to the dinner in the living room watching the results come in, it was a long teachable moment, and in spite of disappointments a time for thanksgiving.

It is a gift of God that in the United States of America common people have a say in who their leaders are, and around the breakfast table we gave thanks for that. In view of our Lord's command through St. Paul (Romans 13) and St. Peter (1 Peter 2) to honor those in authority, we also prayed for the candidates this morning. We thanked the Lord for Senator McCain's years of service to our country and prayed that the Lord would comfort him and his supporters in their disappointment and give them resolve to continue their service. For President-elect Obama we prayed that the Lord would grant him wisdom. We also remembered that he has shown the capacity to grow and learn and even the courage to change his mind. We prayed especially that he would change his mind on "sanctity of life" issues.

I, myself, once held an attenuated libertarian position on these begininning and end of life issues and a more pragmatic position generally on bioethical issues. Life experience and much reflection, especially reflection on all life as a gift of God, led me to totally alter my positions on these "social issues." The sanctity of life issues have become, for myriad reasons, a defining concern for me and thus for my participation in "the public square." As such, they are a regular part of my --to use Luther's baptismal language--"life of daily contrition and repentance," a regular part of my prayers, and so shall they continue to be . . .
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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Six Cubes of Thanks

This is a glass of juice with six ice cubes in it. Allow me to explain . . .

In the summer of 2006 my wife, Carrie, was engulfed with adoption paperwork and fundraising preparation. She had taken on a part-time job to help raise funds for the adoption paperwork, she was always working in the basement and the garage to get ready for the next garage sale, and she was filling out mountains of paperwork. All this she did in addition to managing our household, homeschooling three children, and serving the church and community in various respects.

I, of course, was not just sitting on the couch. I'm a pastor and that is a time-consuming job, but Carrie had taken on a lot. I could sense her stress and together with the children at morning prayers around the breakfast table there was always a little uncertainty about the task our family had taken on. Each morning we prayed something like, "Lord, if it be your will, help us to adopt a baby brother. Enormous effort--physical, emotional, spiritual--was being expended in the work to adopt a little brother, and we were not sure it would even happen.

I was frustrated and my wife was stressed, and so I began--late in the summer of 2006--to have my morning juice with six ice cubes . . . and a prayer. As each cube clinked in the glass I prayed some derivation of, "Lord, thank you for the family you have given me. Have mercy on us, and make us a family of six."

So, this morning I continued the routine that began late in the summer of 2006, but now I say, "Lord, thank you for making us six. Thank you for my family."

Today I am also thankful for the opportunity to take part in the government of my city, state and nation by casting my ballot, and I am thankful that the young children the Lord has given us to parent will have the opportunity to witness this and thus be encouraged take up the responsibilities of citizenship themselves.

And I am thankful, to the core of my being, for the new little U.S. citizen who is with us.

For the nation:
Almighty God, You have given us this good land as our heritage. Grant that we remember your generosity and constantly do Your will. Bless our land with honest industry, truthful education, and an honorable way of life. Save s from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil course of action. Grant tht we, who came from many nations with many different languages, may become a united people. Support us in defending our liberties, and give those to whom we have entrusted the authority of government the spirit of wisdom, that there may be justice and peace in our land. When times are prosperous, may our hearts be thankful, and in troubled times do not let our trust in You fail; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. --Prayer 224 from Lutheran Service Book (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006)
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Saturday, November 1, 2008

First Halloween: What a great country!

Carrie and I took the kids trick-or-treating in a neighborhood near Grandma's house. It was the first Halloween for our newly-adopted son, whom we attempted to dress as a sheep. He wasn't fond of the ears and he kept wiping the cute pink makeup off his little nose, but with Pocahontas and princess sisters and mariachi-boy brother we ventured out.

What a treat! We feared the little man would freak out at all the costumes and new people, but he clearly thought the whole thing as a-ok.

A comment from Carrie summed it up: "Hey, I walk up to a door looking cute and people give me candy. God Bless America!"

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Presidential Candidate Rally in Defiance, OH (30 Oct 2008)

Some of my earliest memories are of my mother and father arguing back and forth over whether Gerald Ford or Jimmy Carter would make a better president. I was seven years old, and I remember it well. In particular, I remember our trip to Florida that year at Christmas time. On our trip down from Michigan we made a swing through Plains, Georgia, then President-elect Carter's home town.

Whether by design or not, the President-elect was having a meeting at a local elementary school, if I remember correctly, so my parents drove us over there and we stood outside and waited for the opportunity to personally see the man who had just been elected President of the United States.

How exciting it was to see Jimmy Carter wave to the crowd and be a part of it! It was very formative for me, to see that a man from a little town like mine (I lived in a little farm town called Mayville, MI at the time.) could actually rise to be the most powerful political leader in the world.

So, when we got an invitation to attend a McCain for President rally in nearby Defiance, Ohio today (Oct 30, 2008) I decided (though I have a lot to do) that we had to take the opportunity. We have been doin a lot of things in homeschool about campaigns and the American political process, so the whole trip was filled with teachable moments. From the discussion of campaign finance on the way up to spotting the secret service come out before Sen. McCain arrived.

The current President of the Ohio District of The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod lives in Defiance. I called him after the event and he told me that the last presidential candidate to visit Defiance was Dwight David Eisenhower. I heard a number of people around us say, "This is great for Defiance." Indeed, it is. Times are hard around here and a visit from a presidential candidate says loud and clear, "You are important." I think it was really important for the people of this area to hear that, as simple confidence can do a lot for a community.

Thanks to Sen. McCain, Sen. Graham, and Sen. McCain's wife and daugter for coming to northwest Ohio and giving my, I pray, the same sort of memory--and encouragement--that I had as a young boy from a small town.
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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Joy of Reading

Reading literally opens new worlds.  Watch the joy of discovery in this clip of my youngest daughter as she reads her first short story from Hooked on Phonics:

Sadly, this joy is denied many children. In my area of Ohio, for example, there is a surprising literacy problem. I am pondering ways in which my congregation may assist the community in this regard, and thus provide what is truly the opportunity of a lifetime.

Yours in Christ,

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

More on the Financial Crisis and Christian Contentment

I friend commented in another forum about my post, "Financial Crisis and Christian Contentment" with the following comment: 

I read your blog...I think the fundamental problem with the financial markets is trust. There is none. All of these banks were playing hot potato with these unknown financial instruments and now they have no trust in the value of each other's assets or the people they have to deal with. Hence, no lending occurs.

I agree with your idolatry hypothesis on the household level, but I don't think it scales up. Even people like me, who have no debt and are good savers, are hurting in this economy. 

It's a helpful comment. Here is perhaps the beginning of my response...

I agree that trust is a key issue, perhaps the key issue, as the whole economy runs on trust, but I think it does scale up as well as down. Sen. Obama said as much the 2nd debate with Sen. McCain (and Sen. McCain has basically said the same thing in other venues). Back in 2001 we were told to "go shopping" and we did, both as individuals and as a a nation. The government took on piles of debt and encouraged us to borrow our way out of recession. We bought couches and tvs, etc. with home equity, or if we didn't have that they let us borrow for it anyway. The recent "stimulus package" in my view is just more of the same: take out the national credit card so people can buy tvs and video games or toys. I don't know what to make of the current Wall Street bailout yet, but I'm deeply troubled by the degree to which we are a debtor nation. 

That's the citizenship side. The other side of this for me is the ecclesiastical side. The Scriptures from beginning to end discourage the kind of reckless indebtedness we have been encouraged to undertake and for a variety of reasons, from the idolatry issue about which I wrote to the want of mercy. Theologically, both are huge issues, and the latter stems from the former. If one is consumed with riches (i.e., one's whole life and trust are built upon one's financial status) then riches or wealth (the Greek "mammon" encompasses all of this) is one's god. The 1 Tim 6 passage states what everyone knows, whether they're a Christian or not: you take none of your wealth with you past the grave. In addition to the idolatry issue is the related mercy issue. If a Christian (St. Paul was writing in particular to Christians.) is loaded down with debt he is unable to show hospitality and mercy. If, for example, a Christian gave in to the temptation to put a huge new 50" plasma tv on credit at Best Buy and the next day his neighbor loses his job and can't buy food, then the indebtedness at the very least impedes his ability to be of help to his neighbor. On the issue of materialism I am afraid that Christians have been just as guilty as non-Christians, and that is a tragedy. I won't command people outside the community of faith, but for the Baptized it's one thing to have the money and buy the big tv; it's another thing if you don't have it and you borrow effectively at your neighbor's expense. 

My case is not particularly egregious, but I think quite frankly that I have sinned, and my family and neighbors are suffering the consequences. We borrowed money for "all the right reasons." I was going to be a pastor with a special expertise in missions, so we borrowed with the idea that it was "for the greater good." I think now that I took things a bit too much into my own hands. We should have approached the financing of my Ph.D. the way we later approached the funding of my son Brenainn's adoption costs: "Lord, if this adoption is your will, please have mercy on us and provide the resources."

Here's the short story of how the adoption funding went . . .

Two summers ago we needed $1,196 dollars to pay for the "home study" and state-required education class for prospective adoptive parents. So, we had a garage sale, and people from the congregation, along with other friends, gave us stuff to sell. Our quietly uttered prayer was, "Lord, it would be great if we could pay for half of the home study." Well, my wife worked her tail off and baked cookies and the kids help sell pop and all kinds of knicknaks for five and twenty-five cents a piece. After a long, exhausing weekend we added up the nickles and quarters, again, hoping for maybe $500.

Needed for home study and adoption education class: $1,196
Net garage sale proceeds: $1,200

That night I cried in front of my wife and children . . . and confessed that I doubted.

I could've just taken a loan, but with my grad school debt it was just the wrong thing to do. Like grad school, it would've been "for all the right reasons," but, to quote a friend, "we would've missed out on the miracle." Now, two years, several garage sales, lots of hours for my wife at a part-time job, and lots of donations later, the adoption costs of over $30,000, including our trip, are almost fully paid for. In two years God has provided the rough equivalent of my yearly salary.

"Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief." --Mark 9.24

Financial Crisis and Christian Contentment

It has been v-e-r-y easy in the last few years to overextend ourselves financially. I, for example, stupidly allowed my family to take on a pile of consumer debt in 2002 when my student loans ran out and I was trying to finish my Ph.D. coursework. I should have held to principle: "No, you cannot go into debt to buy food and clothing and pay the rent." When we got to the point where I had to use the credit card to pay for necessities I should have taken leave of school to work for a while, or simply take a call to the parish as I finally ended up doing. In certain ways I am still paying for the decision to live on credit, and many, many millions of others are likewise paying for overextending themselves. 

I have been thinking a lot about this over the past few weeks as I have watched my parishioners lose jobs and income, and as I have watched our nation finally begin to reap the harvest of debt overload. Though my wife and I have worked hard to pay down our debt, the hole that I allowed us to dig has made it all the more difficult. I am sure that the national macroeconomics will mirror my family's microeconomics: we piled up a lot of unnecessary and unsecured debt; it's going to take us a while to get out of this.

As I was preparing my homily last week on Ephesians 5 and the Christ's call to "wisdom" I couldn't help but think of the national financial crisis to which I and so many millions of others were participants. A passage from 1 Timothy 6 struck me particularly hard. It effectively calls overextension what it really is: discontent. And discontent is--deep down--idolatry.
 Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. --1 Tim 6.6-10 (ESV)

Friday, September 26, 2008

"Taft" and the homeschool experiment

Ok, I had promised a more serious post, and I will do that, I just think my wife is a great teacher and my children are a treat . . .

The other day my eight-year-old son, Aidan, was his usual squirmy self at the dinner table. Tired of it, I said, "Where is the turtle?" Moments later one of the kids presented me with a blue, American flag-covered cloth turtle stuffed with heavy pebbles. It's a teacher's tactile tool used to help kids remember when they are to be seated. 

So I take the turtle, put it on Aidan's lap, and say, "Hey, we need a name for that fat little thing." I'm thinking, then, "gordo," "tubby," "lardo," or someting like that. But then I hear from the ten-year-old seated to my left, "How about 'Taft'!"

We all started cracking up. It was PERFECT! "Taft," as in the corpulent former President and Chief Justice, William Howard Taft. (see picture below)

As a parent, I thought this was just great. I'm thinking about synonyms for "fat" and  my ten-year-old is beyond that, thinking abstractly, searching her mind for something large and American,  easily-recognizable and personal. In a moment she had it: TAFT!

There was a day when neither my wife nor I would have even considered homeschooling. I thought the folks I had met who did this were monk-ish fools. But this episode with my kids reminds me that I had ignorantly charicatured homeschooling; in addition, it illustrates some of the joys I have found in homeschooling:
  1. Carrie is the primary teacher and she's an incredibly talented woman across the whole spectrum of knowledge and aptitudes. If I were a wealthy man looking for a private tutor for my children (as they did in the old days) I would pick Carrie. I mean, I look at this woman and think: How could I not have her school the children, at least for a few years!
  2. We all learn together and have fun doing it.
  3. We're able to cover a breadth and depth that regular school can't.
  4. The kids are learning together and in the process learning to teach others and in the process better learning the material.
  5. The kids, much more like real life, are not divided according to peer group and communicate confidently with people of all ages. 
The kids have a lot of interaction with kids their same age through the local home school association field trips and through their various community and church activities. They're in group piano lessons and swim lessons; they play sports and visit friends, but my ten-year-old does not conduct herself as a higher form of human being than the little children she meets, and that--quite frankly--is something a see a lot of in the other ten-year-old girls that I meet. I am--if I may dare to use the word--exceedingly proud of my children for the joy and grace with which they typically interact both with their peers and people of all other ages.

We're not planning to homeshool forever. At this point our debate is whether to begin public school in 5th or 6th grade (Van Wert Middle School is grades 6-8), but (getting back to title of this post) I love it that children ten, eight and five all got the joke about a fat, American-flag-covered turtle named "Taft."

Yours in Christ--Lance_+

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

New "Race Relations" and "LCMS Structure" posts coming soon

1. Race Relations
A while ago I published a short piece on race relations and some lessons learned on the adoption pick-up trip. I have been thinking a lot, for several months now, about the historic Obama candidacy, and I hope to have a piece on that by Sept 27, 2008.

2. LCMS Structure
The following week I'm planning to begin taking a more systematic view of the LCMS structure proposals that were the subject of my first post back in August 2008. Because my picture from the recent theological convocation in St. Louis ended up on the cover of The Reporter, the monthly LCMS newspaper, I have received a number of requests to speak or comment on the convocation and the proposals. Starting in October I hope to begin offering my thoughts to those who may want to read.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Dick Allen & Lance O'Donnell reflect on the Adoption pick-up Trip

This clip, also taken during dinner on our last night in Guatemala, includes the reflections of my father-in-law, Richard Allen and myself on the pick-up trip. My wife, Carrie, is holding the camera and little Brenainn is sitting between us.

Carrie and Lance reflect on pick-up trip

In this clip, taken at the "Los Ranchos" restaurant in Guatemala City, my wife Carrie discusses the trip wherein we picked-up our new little man, Brenainn. We had such a marvelous trip and saw so much, but for both Carrie and I--as you will see in an upcoming post--the most important things were the relationships...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Calculated Risk

Last night I had another of the great joys of parenting: watching one of our little ones brave his first steps from a standing position. You'll notice in viewing the clip that at first he was just standing there in the middle of office, getting his bearings on the standing upright-by-myself thing. Then he heard my voice, turned, and heard me say, "Come!" He didn't actually brave the steps, though, until I extended a hand and re-issued the invitation, "Come!"

The analogies are numerous here and I will let my readers draw some of them for themselves, but at least one analogy is that growth in life involves risk, calculated-risk. My voice and my hand out said, "Try this. I will be here if you fall." He did, and I was.

What a privilege to be the parent of a toddler again and to learn more lessons from the little ones!

Yours in Christ--lao_+

Monday, September 15, 2008

Race Relations, Part 1

Part 1 of a series...

The picture here is of two eight-year-old boys. On the left is Kevin Barrios of Guatemala City, Guatemala; on the right is my son, Aidan O'Donnell, of Van Wert, Ohio. Aidan and Kevin met in June 2008.  a

I wasn't there for the initial meeting in June. Aidan went with his mother and grandmother to Guatemala to visit his little brother, Brenainn, whom we were in the process of adopting at the time.  After Carol, Carrie and Aidan got off the plane and got settled in the hotel, they made arrangements to meet-up with the foster family through the in-country staff of our agency, Families Through International Adoption. Soon thereafter Kevin arrived with Sylvia, his mother, Vladimir, his father, and his older sister and brother (Carolina and Vladimir) and little Brenainn (or "Manuelito"--"little Manuel"-- as they called him).  Carrie had arranged for the whole group to visit the nearby Zoo in Guatemala City with the help of our friend and translator, Claudia. 

Upon arriving at the zoo, I am told, though they could not understand a word the other said, Aidan and Kevin were like brothers from the get-go. Quickly imaginary swords emerged and these two eight-year-olds were Jedi warriors. Then they were playing tag. Then they were target throwing pine cones. All the while, again, barely a word the other said was understood.  

As you can see from the picture, we got the two boys together again in August 2008 when the whole O'Donnell clan arrived for the pick-up trip. We invited Kevin's family to spend a few days with us at the Lutheran Center in Antigua, Guatemala. Kevin, Carolina and Sylvia were able to come along, and Kevin and Aidan picked-up right where they had left off. Within five minutes they were throwing imaginary spears, fighting off enemies, and getting their pants dirty from wrestling on the lawn. Gradually Kevin learned a few English words and Aidan learned a few Spanish words. They had a great time together, got in a little trouble together, ate and played and learned together.

Look at the picture. Kevin's got a much better tan than Aidan.That didn't bother either of them. In fact, indications are that they didn't even think of it. Isn't that wonderful!

As a Christian, I am so TIRED of the race issue. It is genetically and theologically irrelevant. Yet, here I am writing about it, because in this world it still does. I long for the day, pray for the day, in church and civic life, that like Kevin and Aidan we can interact with one another without thought to our different shades. Wouln't it be great, in the civic and ecclesial realms, if race simply didn't matter?

This is, of course, a heavenly longing, a longing that truly can only be fulfilled in Christ:

A Great Multitude from Every Nation
9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.They have washed their robes and lmade them white in the blood of the Lamb.
     15     “Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
     16    They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
     17     For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
          and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” 
 --Revelation 7.7.9-17 (ESV)

Lord, thank you for that marvelous trip to Guatemala, and--in the play of these two young boys--a glimpse of the glorious unity of Christ's Kingdom.