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When entering seminary (at least Lutheran seminaries), you are paired with a “contextual education” site–or teaching parish. Usually, the students have the opportunity to pick their own site, and are given guidance if they desire. When thinking about my teaching parish, I wanted to step out of my comfort zone a bit, and explore urban ministry. After many conversations and bit of exploring, I ended up at Redeemer Lutheran Church in North Minneapolis (off of Glenwood). Let me tell you a bit about Redeemer (forgive me while I gush a bit…).

Since then, Redeemer has been a home for me (and my wife, Kirsten, when she moved in). Redeemer calls itself a “Beacon of Hope” in the city, and it has played that role for me, as well. Redeemer gives me energy–it gives me life. And through Redeemer, God renews my faith each and every Sunday.

One thing about Redeemer that stands out is its diversity. After studying culture and sociology (a bit), I’ve learned that diversity is its own culture–different than simply white, or black, or Asian, or anything else. A group must be very intentional in creating a diverse and welcoming culture, refusing to cease in its welcoming of others. Redeemer is truly diverse, in just about every sense of the word.

One of my favorite things about Redeemer is its worship music, which certainly reflects its diversity. Redeemer primarily used the This Far By Faith hymnal, but often branches out. Whether through the choir, solos, or congregational singing, we sing and play (instrumental) songs from nearly every time period, genre, ethnicity, and musical taste. The songs (almost) always are tied to the Scripture for the day, and the music director makes a special effort to consistently try new things. That said, my love for Redeemer is partially based on two songs that are repeated every week.

Whenever there is a prolonged transition time (often at the tail-end of communion), we break into a somewhat-impromptu version of “Amazing Grace.” I must say…it’s awesome. Growing up in the upper-middle-class white suburbs, I never sang the “Praise God” verse at the end of the song, but I have grown to love it. The other song we sing each Sunday is “Till We Meet Again.” At the closing of every service, we grab hands across the aisle and sing it. When I first joined, I raised my eyes to the beautiful stained glass as we sang. Now, as I sing “Till We Meet Again,” I look each (or most) of my fellow members in the eye, and wish them God’s Peace until the following Sunday.

Thank you for allowing me to indulge my need to gush (or brag, or tell, or witness) about my love of my contextual education site. Is it perfect? No. Do I sometimes feel overwhelmed with my responsibilities there? Yes. But, when I take into account what I’ve written above, and throw in the 10-15 minute sharing of the peace (no joke!!) and a wonderful community of God’s people, I cannot help but give thanks for such a wonderful church.

Funny how a place that I deemed “out of my comfort zone” has now become like a home for me.

As many of you know, I love love. I am lucky to be in love and married to a great woman. I think often, though, about the nature of love. What is it? How do we notice it? Does it last forever? etc… In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, and a recent poll I heard on the radio about the “sexiest” songs of all time, I want to talk about love songs. It seems to me that the most popular love songs in music history are about the purest and most ideal pictures of love. I think, though, that the “best” love longs speak to the truth of love, relationships, and humanity.

There is certainly a place for celebrating and proclaiming “I will always love you” and “you are perfect (to me).” However, love songs take a step forward when they can speak to the uncertainty and risk of love, when they recognize and name the occasional irrationality or mystical nature of love, and when they suggest that deep love doesn’t always a great relationship make. At the same time, when a song can honor the truth of love while celebrating it in all of its passion, playfulness and power, then the best love songs rise to the top. Of course, if a song sounds good, it makes it all that much better.

VH1 did a ranking of the “100 Greatest Love Songs” a while back, this is their top 5:

1)Whitney Houston, “I Will Always Love You”

2) Elvis Presley, “Love Me Tender”

3) Celine Dion, “My Heart Will Go On”

4) Journey, “Open Arms”

5) Paul McCartney & Wings, “Maybe I’m Amazed”

My personal top-5 list is often changing depending on my current taste in music and new songs that are released (as well as how my views on love change, grow and mature). For now, here it is:

1) Wilco, “You and I”

2) Dave Matthews Band, “Steady As We Go”

3) The Pretenders, “I’ll Stand By You”

4) Journey, “Open Arms”

5) Dave Matthews Band, “You and Me”

It is really tough narrow down my list to just five, and the task of “ranking” songs is inherently difficult. Judging art is always such a struggle–albeit a fun, interesting, and often beautiful process.

I wonder, readers (if you didn’t ditch me after these past few weeks of slacking), what do you look for in a love song? And what are your favorite love songs? No need to rank them if you don’t want. Regardless of which love songs you like, I urge you to continue listening to them, whether as a reflection of feelings you have, have lost, or hope to have again.

Peace and love be with you all.

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