Tuesday, February 24, 2015

why i love (and will miss) parks and recreation

One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD.  And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
                                                                                                   -mark 12:28-31
Jesus was pretty clear about it.  when you boil it all down to its rawest, most basic form, the rules for good living are pretty plain: love God, and love your neighbor.  these ideas are pretty counter-cultural.  i mean, you don't find these "laws" written into the fabric of the way we do politics or business, do you?  in those, and most other, arenas, the primary law seems to be "love yourself and those whom you choose to love."  and this "platinum rule" seems to be reinforced everywhere you look, from wall street to pennsylvania avenue, from the silver screen to the golden globes.  
and that's why i love parks and recreation.  
after all, how many 30-minute sitcoms do you know that celebrate the possibilities for living life differently that we are offered when we love our neighbor?  
in case you are one of the (apparently) many who never watched this show, or who did and just chose to reject its hopeful worldview, here's the deal:  the show is centered on leslie knope, director of the city of Pawnee, Indiana's parks and recreation department.  the cast is mostly made up of her staff, which is a ragtag group of employees who mostly want nothing to do with city government, but who find themselves inexplicably drawn in by Leslie's passionate, if also slightly insane, leadership.  Leslie is driven and goal-oriented and focused, but never to the end of self-gain, but rather for the good of her friends, her neighbors, and the city of pawnee.  she serves them relentlessly.  no matter how many town meetings she holds in which the citizens parade every sort of inane complaining, disappointing selfishness and political ugliness, leslie never gives up trying to serve these people, continuing to believe that she can do something good in pawnee.  no matter how much april rolls her eyes or ron disdains the nature of her work, she loves them.  she makes them homemade gifts and remembers their birthdays and turns pits into parks and lovable losers into hopeful heroes.  
tonight, the series comes to an end.  when it began, i thought it was derivative.  after all, it followed "the office" and seemed to be riding its coattails, with its "mockumentary" format and cinematography style.  but somehow, when the office crashed and burned with michael scott's departure, parks and recreation showed that it had something very valuable to offer, and not just laughter.  but hope.  and thirty minutes of your day that didn't make fun of a lead character who believes she can be successful by loving and serving her neighbors, but celebrated her.  i will miss ron and andy and tom and gerry and chris and april and all of them, but especially leslie.  i will miss her wild hope and her dogged determination to love others.  
we would all do well to love better at our workplace.  to serve our neighbors, even when they annoy us.  to put personal gain at the end of the priority list, because, as Leslie herself said, "your priorities ought to be friends, waffles, and work; or waffles, friends, and work; either way, but work should be third."  we might have a slightly different list, but we would do well to remember that our neighbors come before ourselves.  like Leslie Knope has done on national television for the last 7 years.  
and that's why i will be sobbing on my couch tonight.  

Monday, February 23, 2015


"lent 1, 2015: connected"
mixed media collage on stretched canvas (tissue paper, string, acrylic paint, gel medium, wallpaper glue)
10" x 8"
gregory a. milinovich

sunday we began our lenten series called "journey to hope."  we began by talking about two parts of the journey, roadblocks and companions.  as far as roadblocks go, sometimes there are things that block our progress in the journey of faith.  whether it be the refusal to forgive someone, or to receive forgiveness from God, or the pride of being unwilling to admit the selfishness of your choices or behavior, or something else altogether different, there are many things that impede our forward movement, and keep us still and stagnant.  but it doesn't have to be that way.  God has made a way where there seems to be no way, and every possible roadblock can be overcome, by the grace of God.  the question is are you willing to do your part in overcoming it?

secondly, we discussed the importance of spiritual friendships, or what an old celtic proverb calls "soul-friends."  we talked about our innate need for companionship (literally sharing bread with another), and how our spiritual journey, if it is to be the best journey possible, needs the help, the blessing, the accountability, the laughter, the strong shoulders to lean on, and the iron-sharpening-iron which only spiritual friendship can provide.  the problem is that most of us have many friends, and very few soul-friends.  we can talk at length about work or about our favorite team or the stress we are under or our new diet or whatever, but when it comes to talking about our faith, we suddenly get quiet.  we are afraid to disagree with one another, or to offend someone.  we are afraid we will look stupid, or say something wrong. heck, i don't know what all we are afraid of, but the sad reality is that most of us have no idea how to discuss our faith with our friends.  and that's a crying shame, because we desperately need to.  for our sake, and for theirs.  for the sake of the world and for the sake of the kingdom, we need friendships that are founded in God's truth and marked by God's grace and love.  so, who are your soul friends?  who are you connected to with an unbreakable bond?  if it is no one, how will you go about meeting some new companions on the journey?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

ash wednesday, 2015

"ash wednesday 2015: with dirty hands"
mixed media collage (tissue paper, acrylic paint, gel medium, chalkboard paint)
10" x 8"
february, 2015
gregory a. milinovich

tonight in our ash wednesday service we will talk about how sometimes, although we begin a journey with a clean car, we sometimes end up with pepperidge farm goldfish scattered throughout every orifice in our minivan, even ones we didn't know existed.  there will be several gummy snacks permanently embedded into the carpet, and every possible beverage will have spilled, even ones i didn't know we brought with us.  

journeys just get messy.  

that's part of the journey, isn't it?  

on this journey of lent, which begins today in the somber awareness of ash and dust, we will not have any different experience.  just like a family road trip, this journey will be marked by mishaps and messes.  in fact, we start right there.  we start right in the thick, sticky, powdery mess of it all.  and we will either get stuck there, like some grape gummy snack, or we will roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty (not just our foreheads!), and journey forward with determination, with expectation, with anticipation, and - most of all - with hope.  

Saturday, February 14, 2015

happy valentine's day from the milinovich's!

this is my 1,900th post on this blog!  who would've thought i'd be at it this long?  i'm thinking that if there is a better way to celebrate this milestone than these pictures of my family on this day of love, i can't imagine what it would be!  we are so blessed!  love wins!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

footsteps in the snow

crunch.  crunch.  crunch.  the sound of my slippery-bottomed dress shoes as i trudged through the snow on my way home from church.  i was looking down at the snow, at first so i wouldn't slip, but then because i noticed the footprints of all three of my sons alongside Shannon's.  i could see where they had stepped, both on their way to church, and home again, some steps obscured by others, bearing witness to the traveling circus that is our family.  but the shape and direction of each little print revealed its maker.

three little boys.  following their mother.  through the snow.  in their dress shoes.

it's enough to make a dad cry.  and it was certainly enough to make this dad think.  where will these footsteps lead?  at the moment, they were leading me home from church, where those three precious boys and their mother would likely be sorting laundry, getting lunch ready, and already making preparations for the afternoon's soccer game and monday's return to school.  and so in just a few hours these footsteps would fill soccer fields and school buses.  what then?  the possibilities are at once stunning and terrifying.  field trips...doctors' offices...school dances...concerts and colleges...and still they will step on.  to the country?  to the city?  off to war?  down the aisle?  there are so many steps to take, even as the shape of their prints grow longer and deeper.

and as i continued to sludge through the snow, bracing against the icy wind, i couldn't help but wonder: wherever their feet lead them, will they still be stepping to and from some sanctuary?  will they always find it worthwhile to walk, even through the snow if necessary, to worship with others?  in a cultural climate where the word "church" wound more and more like something you read about in a history book or buy at an antique store, will these little footprints someday become bigger ones on this same path?  can i truly teach them what i believe?  that there is no substitute for gathering together with other Christ-followers, as bruised and broken as we are, for the sake of helping one another to pull back the curtain, even if just for a moment, so we can remember what really matters.

oh, believe me, i've seen how the church can be a rotten failure.  and i've been a part of it, in spite of myself.  i have always seen how tempting it can be for us to turn the church into a refuge for escape rather than an opportunity to invite.  for many, it is a place to build walls to keep out, instead of opening up new ways of getting in.  i am reminded of something brennan manning wrote or said once (i have forgotten where), "you go to church, while the world goes to hell."  sometimes that is very true.  that kind of insular, comfort-seeking, tradition-worshipping, rapture-ready "church"-going is sickening at best, and, more accurately, the kind of religion that Jesus was table-flipping fired up about.  i really wouldn't care if my children ever stepped foot in such a place.

but it doesn't have to be that way.  it was never supposed to be that way.  church is a place where sinners and saints gather together, and each owns the truth of the other in themselves, even if they rarely show it anywhere else.  it is a place where we remember that the rain falls on all of us the same, and that the rain is called grace.  it is a place where we say and hear the words until something like Spirit shows up and points us to the Word, a capital kind of movement, like a mysterious finger in the sand, an etching on the heart, saying something like, "neither do i condemn you," or, "nothing can separate you from my love.  nothing."  it is a place we trudge to, through the detritus of our days, because once we are there, we rediscover mystery.  and magic.  and meaning.

that's something worth walking to.

as i neared my home, i saw a stretch of my own footprints in the snow, facing the other way - pointing towards church - and inside each one was a smaller one, harder to see, because the snow had already been compressed, but visible nonetheless.  this went on for several strides, and i could see that one of my children had been making the effort to jump from foot to foot, staying in dad's footprints.  and i could only pray that god would help me lead them to places of life and love; that they would learn the importance of wearing out a well-worn path to worship, and that, wherever their feet take them, they would continue to step out in faith and hope in the One who walks with them.

i wrote the above a couple of weeks ago.  yesterday, as i was going through the registrations from sunday morning, i found this picture, and it was as if God was somehow answering my prayer, letting me know that i am blazing a good trail, and, despite my complete and utter failures at times, my children are following and learning and growing and walking with me.  i am so blessed.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

a steelers hat changes everything


i actually like winter, but every year there comes a time when i've simply had enough.

and that time has come.  when i saw that the stupid groundhog was predicting 6 more weeks (might as well be months) of winter, i felt like i could punch that rotten rodent in his smug little snout.  i wanted to wring his whiskery little neck!  i wanted to turn him into groundhog gumbo and eat him while sitting outside on some new orleans patio, where i'm perspiring because of the temperature, and wearing flip flops so that my tanned little toes can breath in the warm air.  i was mad at that wannabe meteorologist mammal.  and then i saw this picture

and i calmed down.  i mean, he is pretty cute, now that i get a better look at him.  i think we could be friends.  look at those adorable little ears!  i guess i could live with a few more weeks of ash-gray snow all over everything, if that precious little creature thinks its best.  (a steelers hat changes everything).

still, brrr....

anyway, while winter rages on, there's always this:

and so, hope remains.

to sum up:
1. it's too cold
2. i hate that stupid groundhog
3. oh wait, he's wearing a steelers hat...
4. i love that adorable groundhog.
5.  it's still too cold
6. baseball is coming!

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

things to say at my funeral, part 1

sometimes you read something about someone and you think, "man, i really wish someone would say that about me someday."  

well, at least i do.  

and that happened this morning.  i was reading frederick buechner's words about a teacher he once had who taught the old testament with passion and pizazz, just close enough to foolishness to be memorable and meaningful in a way that only a person possessed with conviction can really do.  anyway, buechner is writing about this man, "james muilenburg," and he writes:

"'Every morning when you wake up,' he used to say, 'before you reaffirm your faith in the majesty of a loving God, before you say I believe for another day, read the Daily News with its record of the latest crimes and tragedies of mankind and then see if you can honestly say it again.' He was a fool in the sense that he didn't or couldn't or wouldn't resolve, intellectualize, evade, the tensions of his faith but lived those tensions out, torn almost in two by them at times. His faith was not a seamless garment but a ragged garment with the seams showing, the tears showing, a garment that he clutched about him like a man in a storm." (from Now and Then)

if words like that ended up on my tombstone, i wouldn't be disappointed.  if i would come back as a ghost and see those words and hear people say such a thing about me, i would be proud of such a legacy.  i would also wonder why i was a ghost roaming the earth, but that's another matter entirely.  anyway, i would love it if people would call me a "fool" in the sense that i don't have to have every detail of this magical marvelous life detailed and organized and filed away in the cabinet of reason and rationality.  i want to be known for living in the tensions between brokenness and redemption, questions and answers, journeys and destinations, hope and a broken heart.  i don't want to pretend like my faith is a seamless garment, without doubt, without wrinkles, without wonder.  no, i want the truth to be known and to be told, that my faith is, even at its best, a dirty rag, but one that i cling to as truth even so.  that it sustains me.  that it emboldens me.  that it inspires me to live with abandon.  

and so it occurs to me today, that if i want people to think such things about me when i'm gone, i'd darn well better make sure i'm living that way now: being honest about my doubts as well as my convictions, and living all of it intentionally, abundantly.