Friday, January 20, 2012

A tasty burger…

This week, I’m driving north to spend time with my good buddy Mark. He’s the pastor of First Congregational UCC in Moorhead. We met while living in Kentucky, together cheered for the local basketball team. So after he moved to Minnesota, we’ve made a point of carving out regular time to hang out. Usually, he comes south to the Cities. But fair is fair, so it’s my turn to drive up.

And this time, Mark and I will have a mission: Evaluate the food and atmosphere of several burger joints in Fargo/Moorhead, and identify which merits the title of “Best in Town.” Not only will this accomplish a basic human function (eating), but also give us something to talk/argue about during our time together. Win-win, as they say. We’re also considering creating a tin-foil trophy, and after we’ve made our decision, return to the winning restaurant to ‘present’ the manger-on-duty with our prize. Maybe film the encounter; post it on Youtube. Surely we’d receive incredibly confused smiles, but perhaps they’d also deem it free marketing, so give us a 10% off coupon, or something. I’ll let you know.

You may think this a strange topic for a weekly pastoral letter, and you may be right. But I hope it spurs your own memories of times did something ridiculous with a friend just because. I have another buddy who looks exactly like a guy in a Vikings/beer ad I’ve seen around town recently. Knowing he’s decidedly not a Vikings fan (Patriots…grrr) I find that ironic and funny, and so email him a picture of this ad every time I see it. We live in different cities, rarely get together. But at least we can stay connected with goofy photos and emails.

Does that sound familiar? Are there simple, quirky, personal ways you connect with friends or loved ones? One of the great lessons of my life occurred a few nights after my brother-in-law died. I was eighteen then, he was twenty-three, as was my sister, his wife. Being a motorcycle accident, the situation was dreadfully tragic. So she and I, the following week, stayed up late many nights- talking, processing, bawling, praying- and one night, she said this: “Shane, know what’s funny? My clearest memory of that day is calling Jeff on his lunch break. It lasted five minutes; I did most of the talking, telling him how excited I was about this great deal I’d just found on kids shoes. He said he was happy too. I said, ‘I love you,’ and hung up. That was the last conversation I ever had with my husband.”

We remarked how unlike a Hollywood ending it was. No profound words about life’s meaning; no final revelations; just an overly exuberant chat about saving fifteen bucks on shoes. But what she said next made all the difference. “I’m glad that’s what we talked about, because I wouldn’t have that conversation with anyone but Jeff. I mean, who cares that much about finding a great coupon?! Well, I did! And sharing with him something that goofy and trivial, but personal and important is what made Jeff my husband.” My beliefs about what makes relationships meaningful have never been the same.

So I’m going to Moorhead this week to invest more meaning than is objectively important into the textures and tastes of burger joints in my friend Mark’s hometown. Why? Because I like burgers, of course! But mostly because I’ve come to believe that even the simplest things, the quirkiest things can provide our lives richness and grace. If we open our hearts to loving others, that is, to sharing what moves us, no matter how trifling. To be honest, I still struggle with that more often than not. But sometimes I do alright and will soon have the burger receipts to prove it!

And since this a pastoral letter, let me leave you with a question. If you think I’m right about this dynamic being valuable for our intimate relationships with friends or family, then tell me- What are the quirky, simple but profound experiences you share with God?

Grace and Peace,



  1. now on your blog, the year is correct but on the e-mail I think it said 2011

    1. Ha! I automatically typed 2011, it seems. Always happens a couple times after each New Year, doesn't it?! Oops.