ENOUGH! Time to Grow Up (Part 1)

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union …

~The Preamble to the US Constitution, 1789

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …

~ The Declaration of Independence, 1776

But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way …

~ Paul, to the Christians of Ephesus, 1st Century CE

After much of the year (and more) spent debating and legislating about our public schools, not just about mask mandates, but also how certain subjects – like history – are to be taught, it’s time we all took a collective breath.  Much nonsense has been made over the supposed teaching of “CRT!!!”, also known as Critical Race Theory, to hype this analytical perspective as the latest boogeyman or villain in some imagined culture war.  And as the transition from observing this second Monday in October as Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, now seems an appropriate time to address the stories we tell.

First. let’s all take a collective breath and stop the hyperventilating.  Critical Race Theory in NOT being taught in any public school at any level.  Critical Race Theory is an analytical approach that developed in a few law schools and gradually became a lens to analyze a number of separate, but interconnected, developments in laws and the application thereof, history and how we tell the story of us.  Critical Race Theory may shape how people approach certain topics, the understandings they develop and share with others including within the context of instructional opportunities.  However, the theory itself is not being taught outside graduate/professional schools and select college classes.

The confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers in an area known at B’Dote, a scared valley where the stories of the Dakota people begin

Once we’ve caught our collective breath, we really need to grow up!  I am talking to white people since we have played a dominant role in shaping the story we’ve been calling history, who have benefited from social structures that assume we are innately good, right, and above all else innocent of any harm or ill motive. We need to take a step back and take a good long look at what’s been happening … the stories we were once told and have been repeating … the events we have observed (and maybe tried to ignore) … the voices calling for their stories to be heard, insisting that their experiences have meaning and are just a much a part of this country, its history and heritage, the narrative that has prevailed throughout our lives to this point.

Before leveling any charges of “This is re-writing history!”, ask yourself this: Which is the true re-writing of history – putting back in chapters that we omitted, skipped over, or deleted all together OR cutting those chapters and events that actually happened from the story in the first place?

Commemorative Plaque recognizing the suffering and death of the Dakota people, imprisoned in their sacred valley at the end of the Dakota uprising in 1862

One of the tasks of maturity is to let go of an idealized past, let fall the illusions that no longer serve us well, and come to terms with who we really are, both the good and shameful. At nearly 250 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence that launched a new nation from British colonial efforts in this land … and over 500 years from the on-set of interactions between Europe and this land, it is high time We-The-People grew up. The highly sanitized, shallow story we tell about European settlement and the emergence of a nation calling itself the United States of America is on par with imaginings we cultivate as children, fit only for the children to whom we routinely teach this story and call it History.

The bare facts are what they are. However, history is about more than just the facts. Facts alone aren’t that interesting; the story we tell about the facts makes them interesting. In the story we have long been telling, unpleasant facts are treated as aberrations. Since they don’t fit with the greater narrative we wish to tell, we leave them out or gloss over them so that they don’t detract from the story we want to be telling.

It is not re-writing history to tell a fuller story; it is claiming the fuller truth of our country’s history and heritage. Telling the truth is an act of love. It is not hating our country to speak the truth of its faults and failings; it is an act of love … which is what patriotism, love of one’s own homeland, means.  In that spirit of love and truth, our history requires a fuller and more honest telling.  Fullness and honesty require attending to the stories and voices of two populations that are very much a part of the fabric of this nation: the people who were already here when the Europeans came and the people who were dragged here against their will or choosing.  Yes, I mean Native Americans and African Americans.

Clearly, this is a lot to cover.  In this part, I want to discuss the people who were already here when European settlers and explorers first arrived on the shores of this land we all now inhabit.  There will be a second part to discuss the people who were dragged here from Africa against their will as property.

Marker at Pilot Knob, a historic funerary and burial site for the Dakota people of the area

First, the land the Europeans began to explore was not largely uninhabited, a vast unknown pair of continents that stretched out like a blank canvas ready for new creative actions. The land was very settled with numerous nation-states who had lived for uncounted centuries on these lands which we now call North America and South America.  There were histories already here that the Europeans and their descendants never bothered to understand. To act as though the history of North and South America began in 1492 is both factually and intellectually dishonest.

Our usual telling of American history centers the national origins in the colonial efforts of Puritan separatists who came to a new place to live and worship in their own way, free from the trappings of formality that were part of the Anglican compromise. We treat these Pilgrims as the sum total of British colonization …  and even more, as though the British were the only ones with colonial endeavors in the Americas. In truth, the Spanish, the French, the Portuguese, and the Dutch all had numerous colonial projects.  To a lesser extent, Norway, Sweden, Russia, and Denmark also engaged in colonial operations. We fail to even tell the part that involves European activity in its fullness.

Fall colors in B’Dote, now part of Fort Snelling State Park, near MSP

The usual telling of our history allots only a marginal role to the native peoples of this land.  They appear when convenient in the story and then quietly disappear when they are not needed.  We tell of Squanto and his people who helped the Pilgrims survive their first hard years in Massachusetts Bay after they arrived at the worst time of year, lacked sufficient provisions, and had little idea how to grow their own food in the new place.  That initial settlement might have followed the same trajectory as the original Jamestown in Virginia had it not been for the assistance of the native people.

The native inhabitants make a sort of appearance in the story of the American Revolution as the inspiration for the costuming for the Boston Tea Party… and then, they more or less disappear from “American History.”  But in truth, the native peoples never went anywhere, at least not too far. Our telling of American history characterizes all native populations as though all were like the nomadic tribes of the Great Plains. In actuality, many of the native peoples were settled. They lived in communities and cities.  They had long interacted with each other, had defined territories and trade routes, engaged in treaty making and conflicts.  Although the European settlers regarded the native inhabitants as savages, these original peoples were actually very civilized.

Yes, the ways of dressing were different that European customs.  Yes, the technological sophistication was not equal to European development.  However, this was largely due to the different understandings of the relationship between peoples and the land.  Because the native relationships to land were different from European customs, the ways they engaged in conflict and resolved conflict were different as well.  Wars had been happening in the New (to Europeans) World, but these wars were waged differently than in the Old (familiar to Europeans) World. As a result, war had not been the engine of technological innovations in the Americas as it had been in Europe.

Daughter Trees from cuttings taken from the Four Grandmothers in B’Dote, the sacred valley of the Dakota

The native people were not uncivilized nor were they ignorant or stupid – the European settlers were merely dismissive of what they did not readily understand. Native communities had complex linguistics, literature (mostly oral story telling), arts, laws and mores for community behaviors, commerce and trade routes.  Much as we want to think the of the original inhabitants of the land naively trading huge amounts of land for shiny trinkets, that is a gloss intended to cover over the guilt of the European colonizers and settlers.  In reality, the native people understood treaties very well and expected both sides to honor those agreements.  Natives regularly pushed back to claim their rights when the nascent United States government (and other conquerors) broke those agreements.

The desire for more lands, which would require ending or at least renegotiating British treaties with the native peoples, was at least part of the impetus for the American Revolution. Religious freedom had nothing to do with it by the time the Continental Congress formed to explore a unified American-based governance among the British colonies.  The ban on settlements west of the Allegheny Mountains was one of the numerous issues that motivated the revolutionaries, including George Washington. Ascribing religious motivations seems more lofty and gives the now dominant narrative some sense of divine favor.  However, the true motivations were the usual commercial ones: land … and profits from the land.

American self-governance led to a long history in which the national government made a series of treaties with native people and then changed or broke those treaties entirely when national ambitions required more land. Native nations were typically given the choice of accepting the changed terms of a treaty or having the changes wrought upon them by military force. Even with the reservation system, Native peoples are still among us on their ancient homelands, in our cities and towns. The least step all of us can take is to honor the truth of our shared heritage and acknowledge the first peoples of the places where we live.

Although not universally true, many native peoples spoke (and continue to speak) of this land as “turtle island.”   This suggests some sharing of knowledge and information between the various nations and their territories that developed into a fairly accurate picture of the contour of what is now known as the North American continent.

Who was living on the land where you call home before the colonizers from Europe arrived?  What stories did they tell of their origins?  What did they know about the local environment that we late-comers never bothered to learn?  There are a number of ancient maps of this continent that show the difference peoples who populated these lands as far back as the stories go.  Here’s one you might look at.

Location of the concentration camp where the Dakota were imprisoned; the red ties are for prayers during a ceremony of commemoration

Who from the original peoples are still in your area today?  They did not all go away; they are not all living on reservations.  Here’s a fun fact: as of the 2000 Census, New York City has the highest population of Native Americans than any other city in the country.  What stories do they have to tell us today?  For a look at how Natives tell their stories of who they are today and how it came to be this way, check out the website of the 400 Years Project.

With recent discoveries of mass burials on the site of former boarding schools where Native children were sent, often contrary to the wishes of their families, to be “civilized” (which is to say, made into White people), that effort to eradicate Native cultures and communal identity is coming to light again.  The intentions of the people who operated the schools don’t matter now; the outcomes do.  There is a legacy of pain that runs through many native communities even generations later.

Remembering and Honoring …

As this terrible chapter in American history and native experience is investigated further … as more of these children’s bodies are found and returned to the lands of their ancestors, what traditions and stories and practices are bring brought into view?  How might we learn in this moment to honor the actual history of the land that we are privileged to call home … or even believe is ours?  How can we honor the memory and legacy of those who were here before our ancestors ever arrived?  We acknowledged that the land on which we live … gather … work … was first the home of … who?  What was the name the people who first lived there gave themselves?  Do you know?  How might you find out?

What places in your area were considered sacred, set apart, holy by the people who first lived there?  All the photos accompanying this post were taken at locations sacred to the Dakota people in the Twin Cities area.  To the original people of the area, the world began at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers.  Having learned those stories thanks to Jim Bear Jacobs and his Healing Minnesota Stories program, I had a greater appreciation for the area where I lived, worked, and commuted through for almost ten years.  I haven’t learned the similar stories in my new place – yet.  But I will.  Where can you learn those stories in your land?

In addition to links in the post, here are some other sources to explore:

Native America Calling – A call-in radio program described as “your national electronic talking circle. The program takes calls when it airs live (1-2pm ET); archived shows are available on the website and through podcast outlets.

News sites from a Native perspective — here are a couple:

Twenty Years Ago…

Statue of LibertyOn that sunny Tuesday morning twenty years ago, I was driving my minivan (which served as our household school bus) down I-35 from our home in Blaine toward MN36, planning (as always) to go east to the exit that would take us to the elementary school.  It was an old school day routine I was quickly redeveloping at the start of this second week of classes.  At some point, just north of the interchange, the news reader for the radio station came on with a report out of New York City that a plane had hit one of the towers at the World Trade Center.

At that moment, the only noteworthy element was that this wasn’t something that happened every day.  There had been a recent report out of Florida (Tampa, if I remember right) of a small plane crashing into a high-rise building after the pilot (and sole occupant) apparently suffered a major medical event while flying his plane.  That’s what I thought of when I heard the first report.  The plane would have to be a small one, not flying at higher altitudes, and the lone pilot had some kind of episode that caused him to lose his ability to control his plane.

Another song played on the radio.  After that, the news reader came back on with an update.  There were reports that a second plane had struct the other tower and that one of the planes was reported to be a 767.  That two planes had struck, one per tower, and at least one of them was a passenger jet (not the small plane I’d imagined), was mindboggling.  How in the world could the same sort of aviation mistake or malfunction happen twice like that?  I pondered the question in the back of my head as I navigated traffic, managed my own reactions for the good of my two children in the seat right behind me, and got us all where we needed to be that school day.

I helped my oldest out of the van at the elementary school and then proceeded to the seminary campus.  By that point, the radio station had stopped with the music and was carrying a national live news feed about the developing situation in NYC. Fall Bluffs 1After I checked my youngest into the day care, I tromped off on a new element to school morning routine: a walk through the neighborhood to get some exercise before the chapel service at 10:00am.  At one of the houses I passed, a construction crew was working in the front yard.  A radio was blaring.  That’s when I heard the word terrorism attached to what was happening for the first time.  My first thought was: It’s too soon for such a statement; we can’t know that yet.  My next thought was: I’ve been looking for an explanation of how two passenger jets could crash into the World Trade Center that would make some sense; as an explanation, terrorism does.

After the walk and a quick clothes change, I headed up the hill to the chapel.  Lots of people were crowded around the common space.  A couple of TVs had been brought in and were showing staticky images.  The snatches of reporting sounded a lot like I’d heard from the radio.  I went into the actual chapel for the morning service.

LS ChapelClearly whatever had been planned wouldn’t work.  (The Dean of Students would eventually preach her well prepared sermon three years later.) I remember we were asked to listen as the Seminary President read Psalm 46 (God is our refuge and strength…); however, by the time he was halfway through, we were reading out loud along with him.  I don’t remember much of what the Dean said, only that she attended to the fears and anxieties and grief – both from what was already known and what might yet be.  I don’t remember the prayers either … only that they helped.

I don’t remember when or how I found out about the other two planes … or when I heard that the towers had collapsed. My news in those days came primarily by radio, not TV.  I watched the footage of the plane flying into the tower once – late on the night of September 11, 2001, after the kids were in bed and everything that needed doing that night had been done.  I watched it that one time and never again

Terry FretheimWhat I remember most is that my class schedule on Tuesdays that semester had the lecture portion of a class called “God, Evil, and Suffering,” taught by the legendary “Heim Brothers,” Terry Fretheim and Paul Sponheim.  The class took place right after the chapel service. That day was the second time class had met for lecture.  Paul SponheimSo there we were, in a class built on pondering the reality of evil and suffering in the world as well as the activity of a good God and how humans act and are acted upon in all of this.  The events of September 11, 2001 would play a significant role in many of the discussions for the rest of the semester.

We were prompted and prodded to take a more expansive view of events like this … to see beyond a personal relationship with Jesus and envision God in relationship with the whole of creation … to consider God still active in the work of creation, refining it and continuing to draw forth the original and eventual fullness of God’s creative intention … God so in love with and committed to this creation as to get dirtied and bruised and bloodied in the midst of it (see also: Jesus), who could sit beside the hurting, receive all the pain, and be present with power and intention to do something … Morning Mist 1God working God’s will in the world in such a way as to allow space for the working of other wills – God’s will could be resisted and worked against and it could be co-operated with; as beloved, created co-creators, we could choose … a God who is not remote and far off, waiting to judge who gets into heaven/reward and who deserves hell/punishment, but rather God who is in the midst of this unfolding creation, ever working for wholeness and completion and perfection.  Where might this God be in the midst of such devastation and suffering?  How might we recognize God’s working and join in that effort?

Where is God in this?  What should be our response?  Those questions continued to be themes in daily chapel sermons for weeks and months … and they showed up in other classes as well.  The questions were ever before us.  Clear, specific answers were not.

Lav Pillar 5It’s the feelings I remember most … the grief and sadness … the sense of vulnerability and softness … the sense of universal hurt as though we were all walking around wounded … the care and concern people extended to one another because they saw the need or someone asked … the coming together in our shared sense of loss.  Maybe that one Tuesday class, more so than any other factor, forced me to be more reflective than most people were at that time.  Something needed to be done as a response; I recognized that.  However, what should be done was a much bigger question for me, a question with very unclear answers. I was growing less convinced that violence, retribution, revenge were the best or even appropriate responses.  I was appalled by the anti-Muslim sentiment and hostility toward people because of how they dressed and how they prayed.  I was haunted by the prayer that had been scrawled somewhere in an NYC subway: “God, save us from the people who believe in you.”

Yes … where was God in all this?  But for that matter, what was our role in the chain of events leading up to the September 11th attacks?  What had we done?  What had we failed to do?  Some people explored those questions looking for ways to prevent a repeat, a similar attack at some future date.  I pondered the questions to assess if we were really the innocent victims we so very much wanted to be.

9-11 Memorial NYCNone of this is to say that any of those who died that day, or as a result of that day, deserved to die.  None of them individually did any more than any one person deserves to die on any given day.  None of the families directly touched by the death and destructions deserved their losses.  None of the first responders, helpers, laborers who worked through the wreckage to salvage anything they could at tremendous expense of their very selves deserved those burdens.  Few of those who, it could be argued, bore more direct responsibility for our national role in the scheme of things were directly touched by this tragedy.

It is anathema to the American mythos of the rugged, self-sustaining, individual to think in a collective way rather than just about individual selves.  It is heresy to the American civic religion to suggest that our nation is anything other than a well-intentioned benevolent actor on the global stage.  However, forced as I was by circumstances at the time to think from a big, globe-embracing, history-spanning, creation-unfolding perspective, I had to acknowledge the reality that we, our nation as a whole, were hardly innocent in all of this.

Downtown 3We have used the more subtle power of dollars and wealth to force our way into other nations and bend things to our purposes and economic benefit, frequently to the detriment of many and the benefit of a few in these other nations.  While not as direct or wantonly destructive as military force, we have been willing to deploy that as well to defend and further our economic interests. We have played at proxy wars, using other nations as pawns to stymie our global enemies.  The US is hardly the only nation to have done this; it’s true.  However, we remain to this day the only nation that has ever used a nuclear weapon against another nation.

As in all things, we tell ourselves it was the only choice, or the least bad from the list of very few terrible options that could have been chosen.  But is it really true?  Or is it just one of the many stories we tell ourselves to reassure ourselves that we are ever and always the good guys in any conflict, the ones who unfailingly do the right thing … so that anything we do is right?

Homeless TentOur record at home has not been much better.  Basic needs like housing, food, medical care are not regarded as universal goods that everyone should have because we all need these things to live.  These are commodities to be acquired by the deserving, those who prove their worth by accumulating enough money to purchase them … who earn their keep … who pay their way.  We are told this is the way it ought to be; this system is perfect and we are enlightening the rest of the world by insisting on it, exporting it.

Where is God in all this?  More to the point, where are we?  How far have we wrapped the flag around the cross, equating the United States of America with God’s chosen people and the promised land, calling for God to bless our endeavors – all of them – throughout the world.  Yes, as a nation, we have done many great good things.  However, we have also done much harm.  Both are true.  Did we deserve to be visited with a heavy hand for our national actions on the global stage, for the neglect of poor and unprivileged in our own land?  I can only answer, Yes, we did.

I can’t celebrate “Patriots Day.”  I can’t join in the “Hooray for our side! We fought back and we won!” triumphalism.  I do mourn the losses.  People died … needlessly.  Families were shattered and broken.  No amount of warfare or vengeance can ever bring the dead back or undo the losses.  Nothing can guarantee that we, as a nation, will never be hurt like this again.

Votive on ScarfI can only ponder what we might have, but have not yet, learned in these past twenty years.  I see the hand wringing over the removal of our troops from Afghanistan, after nearly twenty years of trying to remake another nation into our own image, to have bases in that region from which to more effectively wield military might.  I see the Christian faith being welded ever more firmly to an increasingly militant nationalism.  And I recognize how alike it is to the distorted faith of those who flew planes full of passengers into buildings full of people twenty years ago.

I fear we have learned nothing in these last twenty years.

DAY OF PENTECOST – YEAR CoV: “For thESE holy houseS…”

Pentecost rolls around May 31st on the liturgical calendar, the end of May in 2020, 50 days after Easter.  This week, catching up on On Being podcasts, I heard Krista Tippett’s interview with Ocean Vuong that aired on April 30th.  However, the interview itself happened March 8th.   As she noted at the beginning of the program, how the world changed between when she interviewed him (at a festival gathering, no less!) and when the interview aired (at a time when large in-person gatherings are ill-advised).  Timing is everything, it’s said … and something Ocean Vuong said early in the interview caught my ear.  Speaking of his fascination with the story of Noah’s Ark, Vuong said:

“When the apocalypse comes, what will you put in the vessel for the future?”


When the apocalypse comes … We use that word (apocalypse!) so often; I do not think it means what most people think it does.  In common vernacular it is has come to refer to some sort of cataclysmic event that completely up-ends, if not totally ends, the world for everyone.  At this point, there’s no way of knowing for certain that the SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic will bring the end of the world as we have known it. (Stephen King is on record as saying “No, this is not The Stand.”)  However, if we take the true meaning of the word apocalypse, which is unveiling or revealing, we are indeed in an apocalyptic time.  Underlying assumptions about the way things work (or should work) have been laid bare.  Workers we regularly encounter, whom we frequently dismiss as being of little significance, have proven to be essential workers.  Some of our essential workers are some of the least paid, least protected employees in our communities.  There are glaring gaps in our healthcare system that have put certain groups and populations at more risk of harm in this pandemic than others – more than enough care for those who do not absolutely require it (see the layoffs from hospitals due to cancellation of nonessential procedures), not enough for those who need it (underlying health conditions are high in populations that do not have regular health care).  Business plans have been suddenly upended.  People who never had to ask for help in their lives trying to navigate unemployment, food shelves, and housing assistance.  More community services might be needed, but tax revenues to pay the workers are dropping rapidly.


Churches – often regarded as something apart and disconnected from business and daily realities – are also impacted.  Shelter-in-place orders have banned gatherings of over 10 people, especially indoors.  Singing together is strongly discouraged in the wake of an outbreak among choir members in northwest Washington State.  Sanitation concerns discourage baptisms – certainly no basins with water (even blessed, holy water) should be out for people to touch.  Communion practices are rife with exposure concerns.  Many congregations have had to scramble for ways to sustain community and worship services without in-person gatherings … Zoom meetings, Facebook Live streaming, YouTube videos … it’s been a steep learning curve for pastors and for congregants.  It’s also been a mixed bag – some people who haven’t been able to attend in-person now have easier access … but others, who lack computers or internet or smart phones or even push-button phones, are being left out.  Now that shutdown orders are being lifted, shelter-in-place guidelines are being relaxed, some groups are eager to regroup in buildings while others are holding back because SARS-CoV-2 is still very much active and will be among us for the immediate future.  Our relationship to our buildings, as well as to each other, is being revealed in this time.


Now that the apocalypse has come, what do we put in the vessel that carries us forward?


Sunday school teachers for generations have long taught children the finger play: Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people.  But the same finger play could be done with words like: The church is not a building. The church is not a steeple.  The church is the people!  Lutheran pastor, theologian, teacher Kelly Fryer made a splash almost 20 years ago when her doctoral thesis was published as a small book titled Reclaiming the “L” Word.  Among other things, she challenged the conventional operating formula that:

Church = Pastor + Building

The church, she (and others of the missional church movement) argued is the people of God coming together as community to learn, nurture, and support one another in living as followers of Jesus in daily life.  One of the things being revealed in our current situation is what is necessary for faith communities to be the people of God in this time and place … and what is not.


What do we put in the vessel that will carry us forward?… And that brings us to Pentecost, the celebration of the birth of the Church, and what it might mean in the current time and situation.


Because Ascension Day, which marks the turn of the Easter season from the Resurrection of Jesus to the coming of the Spirit, falls on a Thursday I was struck by the contrast between what’s envisioned for the Church as the Body of Christ on earth and what’s actually reflected in our faith communities by a regular prayer.  In a classic Lutheran Book of Daily Prayer, the Thursday Morning prayer (in both weeks) focuses on mission, the task of proclaiming the gospel to those outside the faith community.  The prayers focus on “those who labor for us” in God’s kingdom.  Pastors, missionaries, teachers – even referred to as “frontline workers” – are lifted up in prayer.  However, the one offering the prayer is praying on their behalf … which suggests most people offering this prayer do not have any role in actually doing this … which is pretty much how people see things.  Pastors and trained others study the scripture and communicate what they’ve learned to others (who don’t have the skill or knowledge base … or time?) to read and learn for themselves.  The church building is the congregation’s place of schooling where they gather to hear what the pastor has leaned …which will help them be better people in some way (if only to assure them they are already good people).  The people support the work of the pastor (and other frontline workers) with their offerings and also maintain a place to gather for learning and worship.


Yet, so little of this fits with what we see of the beginnings of the Church on the Day of Pentecost.  The bulk of the narrative is in the early chapters of the Book of Acts: The disciples want to know if it’s time to (finally!) have the messianic restoration of the Holy Kingdom.  Jesus tells them to stop fussing about times and specifics, advising them simply to wait until they receive power from on high.  Then Jesus ascends to heaven (or otherwise exits the scene).  Angels tell the awe-struck disciples to stop standing around staring and get back to doing what Jesus told them.  So, they start hanging out in the upper room (where they’ve been hanging out for weeks by that point) and the temple, praying, remembering Jesus and his words and actions.  Then ten days later, the Spirit comes to them in the rushing of a wind and flames of fire, and all heaven breaks loose in a chaotic scene of disciples speaking languages they don’t know … and people in the area who do speak those languages being drawn near to hear what is being said.  Whatever was happening, it was not happening in the temple – nor was it all happening inside the upper room.  It was happening out in the streets, in the neighborhood around the disciples’ hang out.


The truth of this came home (literally!) to me a couple weeks back when I was leading the Kyrie, a litany, in our congregation’s Zoom worship service.  Sitting in my own home, I read the line “For this holy house …” and realized a number of things.  First, yes, the house that I am in is holy; God is here and blessing this place and all who come under this roof.  Second, looking at other congregants on the screen in their little display boxes, I realized that they, too, were in their homes – houses just as holy and blessed as mine.  And third, that the rest of the line applied just as much in this virtual Zoom setting as within the church building: “and for all who offer here their worship and praise.”  So, I ad-libbed a bit: For these holy houses and all of us who are now gathered to offer worship and praise, let us pray to the Lord …


The church has left the building now … and maybe it never really belonged in one.  In the beginning, it was people, not a place.  The upper room was borrowed (rented?) space, not the permanent possession of any one of those gathered in that upper space.  When the Spirit blew through, out they all went … all of them, every single one of them … not just the special twelve … not just the men.  Mary was there, too, along with other women who had been among Jesus’ followers.  Jesus’ brothers were there, too.  And the people who heard and responded swiftly joined in the group as well.


Are our church buildings “the vessel that carries us into the future”? Are buildings something we should put in that vessel?  It was a long time before congregations, gathered groups of Jesus-followers (Christians) had buildings – several centuries, in fact, before they could come out of hiding places (like catacombs) and people’s homes (members well-off enough to have one) and have a public building.  And yet, despite no building, the faith spread: believers were supported with teaching, prayers, worship, sacraments … children were nurtured in the faith … new believers were brought into full participation in the community.  The congregation shared food and other goods, provided care to those unable to attend, gathered and scattered to live out the gospel in their everyday lives.


Buildings are beautiful things.  There is much to commend them in terms of beauty and design that works to provide a sense of sacred space.  Buildings can be places for vital ministry (like soup kitchens, shelters, food shelves) as well as for important community services (meeting spaces for recovery groups and other community needs).  A lot of good things can and do happen because we have buildings.  Virtual space is not a real substitute for meeting in person … and meeting in person requires sufficient space for the gathering.  But maybe they aren’t central … or “mission critical.”


There’s a lot of wisdom to be gained from the classic Orthodox icon of the Ascension.  Most of us moderns (Protestants, especially) would be somewhat surprised (startled? … shocked??) that Mary is front and center in the image.  She’s certainly not named as present in the account of Jesus’ ascension.  But she is there and the central figure because, as Christ once dwelt within her body, Christ will now dwell within the body of believers – gathered together and even individually.  Martin Luther hailed her as the first Christian and an example to us all for much the same reason.


What vessel will carry us into our future?  Does it even have to be a physical structure?  If we have the Spirit calling us together and sending us out, breathing in … breathing out, what more do we need?  God’s love is the vessel that carries us into the future, as surely as it has carried people of faith in the past. As Lady Julian was told, as God showed her all that is made as something small and round like a hazelnut and she marveled that it survived at all, “It lasts and will go on lasting forever because God loves it.”  We have the witness of those gone before us – and out own experiences – of the mighty deeds of God, how we have seen and experienced God bringing new life from dead ends.  We have the voice of the Spirit speaking all around us in all kinds of ways – through Scripture, through each other, even through people who might surprise us and the world itself around us.

Now the Lord said, “Church, you better love

     ‘cause it’s a wounded world that needs a healing touch.”

And he gave us a promise and he gave us a job;

     he’ll be with us but the work is up to us …      it’s up to us

~Rich Mullins, Allrightokayuhhuhamen

For the peace of the whole world, for the well-being of the people of God, and the unity of all, let us pray to the Lord … Kyrie Eleison

For these holy houses and all who dwell in them, offering up their worship and praise, let us pray to the Lord … Lord, have mercy

“AND IN THREE DAYS …”: Lent, 3 Sacred Days & Easter in a Time of COVID-19

Back when we entered this season, the congregation of which I’m a part embarked on a series of Mid-Week Reflections on Luther’s Marks of the Church.  One week after Ash Wednesday, March 4th, I spoke about the Mark of Suffering, little guessing what the unfolding month would bring.  By the end of the month, we were no longer congregating for worship as part of the physical distancing and safer at home practices encouraged to support our public health and collective well-being.  The things I said that night, expanded as we face a difficult transition from Lent to Easter, form the basis of this post …

 Here we are, near the end of Lent, at the final chapter of the of the gospel drama that shapes Holy Week and its final Three Days … the time when the sufferings of Jesus are front and center in Christian reflections on the life of Jesus.  Here we are, many of us still in the physical distancing and safer at home efforts aimed at reducing the spread of a new virus, SARS-CoV-2 … a virus that is new to human beings, at any rate.  We may never know how long it lived exclusively in animal populations or which animals served as earlier hosts for the virus.  However it made the jump from lesser animals to humans, the virus is now spreading rapidly in human populations around the world.  None of us has immunity to this; we become immune only by contracting the virus and successfully fighting off the infection.  Some of us may have no indications we were infected at any point.  Some will be very sick and need life-saving drastic interventions in the ICUs of our local hospitals.  Most people will likely be somewhere in between.  But until you have it, you won’t know how this will play out in your own body … and among those you care about and love.

As one wildly popular meme has it: “This is the Lentiest Lent I have ever Lented.”  The season of Lent, with the emphasis on suffering and sacrifice, ends with the celebration of the Easter resurrection.  Although we’re almost to Easter on the liturgical calendar, for the communities around us, the sacrifices for the sake of public health and the suffering – whether it’s someone known to be infected or struggling with a terrible case of COVID-19 or the various sufferings arising from lost income due to sidelined business during this time of shut-down and self-isolation – whatever form it takes, the suffering will continue long after Easter.

At Easter, we speak of themes of resurrection: the end of death … a glorious surprise so big and profound we could never have dreamed it possible … weeping and sorrow changed to dancing and joy.  Yet, the death rate from COVID-19 will continue to run high well after Easter.  People we know and love will be touched by this: loved ones seriously ill with all manner of ailments in the hospital and we are unable to visit … people dying in ICUs or care centers and we are unable to be with them in their final moments … next of kin forced to choose from burial options that do not conform to loved ones’ final wishes or our own preferences … funerals and customs of mourning disrupted by constraints on numbers permitted to attend.  It’s like Maundy Thursday and Good Friday … but then Easter is still an unknown future event, not just two days off.

In times like this … especially among those of us who have never really known deprivation, accustomed more to self-sufficiency and comfortable ease, able to go about our lives as we wished (more or less), able to do for ourselves, provide for ourselves … times ripe with fear, for ourselves and our loved ones, uncertainty about when this all we be over and if the old normal can ever return and if not, then what? … in these times, we need an Easter that is not just a well-loved, well-told tale but an Easter that is anything but the usual way of things – an Easter that is not what was expected to happen, but what should not have happened and yet, somehow did.  To get to that kind of Easter, we need a truly suffering, painfully crucified, dead, laid in the grave and buried Jesus.  The kind of Jesus alluded to in the fourth and last of the Servant Songs in the Book of Isaiah: The Song of the Suffering Servant.

While all the Servant Songs of Isaiah include some element of suffering and rejection, it is in this fourth song in Chapter 53 that the theme of suffering is strongest.  Like the other Servant Songs, this song was first heard among the exiles of Judah who had returned to their ancestral homeland after captivity in Babylon.  Suffice it to say, what they came home to was not the home they had been encouraged to picture during their lives as exiles.  The idyllic vision of a land of promise had been proven to be ruined mess.  “What are we doing here?” they cried; “what good is there in this devastation?”  The song of the prophet is, in part, God’s response to their cries.  The suffering of this servant people will yet bring forth God’s good purpose.

Early Christian writers took this theme of the servant of God who suffers much in himself in order to bring about a blessing to many and applied it to the story of Jesus.  There is much in this that fits – the rejection, the physical beatings, the perversion of justice, the dying.  These sufferings form key pieces of the story as we trace it each year through the season of Lent:

He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we considered him stricken, struck down by God and afflicted. …

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people.

They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. ~ Isaiah 50:3-4, 7-8

Suffering is something we typically resist until there is just no avoiding it.  More than just the obvious fact the pleasant is always the more preferable option to the painful, most of us are culturally conditioned to believe that we should not have to suffer at all.  Perhaps along with the listing of pursuit of happiness among the inalienable rights of humanity in the Declaration of Independence there is also an implicit right to be free from suffering.  We may not have all we need (or want) in order to be happy, but surely we ought to be relatively free from suffering, right?  But yet, as Christians, we are followers of a Jesus who suffered – who did not resist or fight against the suffering but embraced it and fully entered into it (“leaned in,” we might say.)  This the example we have been given … so, in the classic question from the Small Catechism: What does this mean?

In as much as the Church is called out and called together to be the physical Body of Christ on earth, and Christ Jesus suffered in his body while on earth, suffering is a part of being Church, being the people of God.  In so far as the Church is also called to the same task the people called out by God have always been called to do: be a channel of blessing through which God blesses the world.  And passing on the blessing means letting at least some of that blessing go on to others …  and letting go means losing out at least a little (in other words, suffering) … so it follows that the Church is called to suffer in order to do the work God gives it to do.  Furthermore, because the Church is called to live out the ways of the Reign and Realm of God rather than follow the ways of the world, to the extent the ways of the world diverge from the ways of God, the Church and the people who comprise the Church are going to suffer because when you’re not doing the same dance step as everyone else, your toes are going to get stepped on … people are going to push back when you step on theirs … and if you’re not where you’re expected to be in the dance, you may very well get hit by a swinging arm, unintentionally if not deliberately.  You are going to get hit.  You are going to get stepped on.  You are going to get hurt.  That’s just the way of things.

Let me make one thing crystal clear in all of this: God calls no one to suffer simply for the sake of suffering.  Jesus did not suffer and die just to show that suffering is a good or desirable thing.  It isn’t; suffering simply to suffer is never a good thing.  Jesus suffered and died for the sake of radical love that was out to change the world.  As followers of Jesus, as members of the body of Christ, as Church, we are called to that same kind of suffering: suffering out of love in order to bring about positive change.  If you are suffering for anything less than that, if no change is coming about as a result of your suffering, you need to stop that, get out of that, let it go.  The only kind of suffering any Christian is called to do is suffering that produces a positive change, that moves the situation a little closer to what God intends for people and for all of creation.

Around the time we started into Lent, there was the commemoration of the fifty-fifth anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” events in Selma, Alabama, the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  This march was instigated after a previous march in the area to protest an act of injustice had led to the killing of one of the protesters.  Those who marched on that subsequent Sunday in Selma knew there could be trouble.  They’d been warned not to do this; they’d been told not only would there be no protection for the marchers, law enforcement had been authorized to do whatever was necessary to stop the march.  But they went anyway, knowing what would happen.

And they suffered for it.  When talking about that day, now Representative John Lewis freely admits he thought he would die.  He was beaten so badly he very well might have.  Seventeen people were admitted to hospitals; fifty more were treated for injuries and released.  This could have been just more suffering for the sake of suffering, accomplishing nothing, changing nothing.  But news crews were there.  When the films of the violence were shown on the televisions in living rooms around the country, when the photos of beaten, injured protestors were displayed on the front pages of papers unfolded at breakfast tables, people were understandably shocked.  Lots of people saw a need for things to change … and you know the rest of the story, eventually change happened.  The suffering had a redemptive purpose; it made the people and the world around them different, better … not perfect, but better than it had been.  This is what suffering for the sake of God’s radical love that is out to change the world looks like.

In this time and this place, for many of us, the suffering we are called to is that of releasing privileges – learning to tolerate inconvenience, making do with less, waiting our turn instead of grabbing first place and top spots as though these perks are rightfully due to us.  It is madness to suppose an economy built of excessive over-consumption, acquiring more and more stuff with near-term obsolescence built in by design is sustainable in any way, shape, or form.  These complex systems cannot be reordered in a day and they will not be reordered without pain and sacrifice on the parts of those who are benefitting from the current situation.  It is insane to suppose that next-day delivery of anything to anywhere can be done free of cost.  You might not pay for it with your money, but the people involved in getting it to you and the environment are paying the price.  It is lunacy to make calories cheap and nutrition expensive and make the health care to offset the damage of cheap empty calories inaccessible to those who suffer because they cannot afford what would keep them healthy.  And it is becoming increasingly obvious a very few among us have been hoarding money and resources the way far more have taken to hoarding toilet paper lately.  If those of us who are benefiting from the current systems continue to assert the privileges of our place in society … if we don’t sit down and shut up and let the suffering ones have a place and say the truth of their experiences, especially when it hurts like hell to hear it, our world will continue to move farther from God’s dream of a world in which all life is flourishing.

That is what we’re called to as Church, as the called-out people of God who are blessed in order that through us, God will bless and heal the world.  It does mean that sometimes we are going to be out of step with the world around us … and we will suffer as a result.  Right now, everyone is suffering.  Many of us Christians are suffering because we cannot be together with others in our congregation, cannot worship in the familiar comfort of our sanctuaries, joining our voices with those of congregants dear to us, even gather with our extended families to celebrate any festive occasion.  These sufferings are hardly unique; everyone around us is suffering much the same … and some even worse.

When will end?  When will change come?  When will it really feel like we’re out of the tomb and the shadow of death and the Easter resurrection can be felt again?  I don’t know, but it won’t happen April 12th.  This year we will be waiting much longer than three days to have much of what we associate with Easter joy, some sense that the world has been put back to rights … if it ever gets put back to rights.  What will be is as much a question as when it will happen because, whatever “normal” emerges, it will be different from what we knew before.

Those first followers of Jesus didn’t exactly know that a resurrection was coming or for certain when it might be.  Yes, in the Gospels, Jesus does try to tell them what’s going to happen, that it will be three days.  But there are also plenty of indications the followers weren’t really hearing him, didn’t understand what he meant.  Likewise, when the resurrection time for this era comes, it might not take the form we expect … and we might have to wait longer than we think.

But in the meantime, we do have a part to play in helping to shape the world that emerges so that is moves a little bit closer to God’s dream of how it can be: all are welcomed, all are cared for, there is life and healing and comfort and plenty for all.  In order to do that, we have to engage with and enter into the suffering of these times.  We got this!  Christian people have done so before in times of communal suffering, through plagues and other disasters and societal dis-ease.  We can, too – because Jesus Christ died and rose again.

SATURDAY 6-PACK: June 16,2018

A weekly listing of articles, audio clips, and other tidbits I’ve encountered that seemed interesting, insightful, or otherwise useful


There is something of theme this week: divisions

Anyone else find it amazing that a sense of common ground, shared reality keeps getting harder to find?  People who get their news from FOX are skeptical of reports from other sources like NPR or long respected papers like the New York Times or the Washington Post.  NPR listeners question the veracity of what FOX reports.  The Republican Party was once considered the “country club” party, but now it’s the “country” (meaning rural) party … and the Democratic Party, once viewed as the party of the common people, is now seen as the party of and exclusively for the elites (meaning urbanites, city-folk).  How did this come about? And what might be done to bridge the divide?  This piece points to what just might the real source of all this polarization (hint: It’s the economy – or at least the personal one) … but it also suggests bridging the gap may be even harder than it already seems:




There’s been a lot discussion this week about the separation of children from parents by Immigration and Customs Enforcement … why this is being done … what the law requires … what options could be considered.  These two pieces sum up the reasoning (or lack thereof – YMMV) to regard all border crossings (even by those seeking asylum) as criminal, rather than civil, violations and how criminal incarceration of adults means the children cannot stay with them.  But it is very damaging.  Is this really the best approach?





Attorney General Jeff Sessions introduced the Bible into his arguments for his current course of action regarding people from other countries crossing our southern border, apparently as pushback against a number of Christians and faith-based organizations publicly condemning his policies.  Sarah Huckabee Sanders was also quizzed on this subject by a number of reporters (including one from Playboy magazine).  Any marginal Bible scholar can tell you it’s possible to proof-text just about anything if you do it right.  The deeper question is what kind of God do we seek … want … have?  Leonard Pitts, as usual, cuts right to the chase:




The current occupant of the Oval Office is trying to blame the Democrats for the policies (ie: if they would agree to fully fund the construction of his desired border wall, then he might reconsider the current practice), essentially using children as hostages in a power struggle that has nothing to do with them but is doing tremendous (possible irreparable) harm to them in the process.  (And whatever happened to the promise that not one cent of US money would be spent on this wall project?)  Here’s what is trying to pass for justification of this patently unjust policy:




They know the risks when then come.  They know what’s likely to happen.  If the policy doesn’t drive opponents to acquiesce and fund the wall, it should at least scare would-be refugees from coming here.  Or so the arguments go.  They know; why do they still come?  Because they judge the risks they face traveling to the border and in crossing the border to be less than the risks at home.  And as for the risks at home, well … we have a hand in those, too.  Our culture of gang violence gave rise to MS-13 … and then we deported it to Central America.  Since we helped create this mess, do we not have a part to play in dealing with the damage?




And finally on the subject of divisions, much has been made of the meeting between the current occupant of the Oval Office and North Korea’s “dear leader” … who apparently endeared himself to the occupant.  The meeting has been appropriately described as heavy on optics and light on substance … so much so that the signed agreement is reminiscent of cotton candy – the paper thing it comes on is the most substantial part.  However, the current occupant’s appreciation for dictators is far more disturbing than the agreement is assuring:



SATURDAY 6-PACK: April 21, 2018

A weekly listing of articles, audio clips, and other tidbits I’ve encountered that seemed interesting, insightful, or otherwise useful


The dominant stories in the week concerned James Comey’s press tour to promote his book … a storyline that culminated in the release of the memos he wrote after encounters with the Current Occupant of the Oval Office … none of which reveal much of anything that wasn’t known beforehand.  The Current Occupant kept an atypical low profile, aside from the usual early morning insult tweeting … not injecting himself into the Starbucks incident or Barbara Bush’s  funeral … content to go golfing with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe … and make a big reveal that current CIA Director Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong-un in North Korea weeks before being named as the next Secretary of State.  (Confirmation of that – as well as for his intended replacement at the CIA – is still very much up in the air.)


Here are smaller things … and better thoughts from the week that was.  Starbucks started it so, let’s start there.  I’m well aware that for a lot of people, Starbucks is THE coffee shop (maybe because you can have your coffee shop anywhere you happen to be), but I’ll take a non-standardized neighborhood coffee shop over any Starbucks any day … even before last weekend’s bad optics from Philly.  The arrest happened back on the 12th; by the weekend, the customer video had gone viral and it was a national story.  This week’s two-fer consists of the two columns Leonard Pitts wrote in the aftermath – one before the CEO of Starbucks announced the May 29th day for training and then one reflecting on that announcement:




Still on the subject of misadventures at Starbucks, here’s an amazing and amusing account of a real-life adventure in privilege.  Not sure white privilege actually exists?  Roll your eyes and bite your tongue whenever the concept is mentioned?  This might just change your perspective …



The brief press release came out on Sunday that Barbara Bush was in failing health, so news of her death Tuesday morning came as no surprise.  It has been said of her that she was as authentic as her signature pearls were fake.  As is true for all of us, such authenticity has both its praiseworthy and lamentable qualities.  She definitely had a number of gaffes, poorly phrased statements, and glib comments that should have been given more thought before said aloud.  But there was also much to appreciate and respect in this remarkable woman.  Here’s a three-fer in honor of a first lady and the two presidents related to her — notable for the little observations, like she didn’t “do metaphor” or her willingness to make direct apologies or the rug under everyone’s feet during an interview:





Lulu Miller, co-founder of the podcast Invisbilia, is coming to Saint Paul on May 4th.  To raise awareness of the program, Minnesota Public Radio aired several episodes of Invisibilia.  This is the one that was aired on Wednesday — a deep dive into the power of predictive factors and the application to one person’s life.  If you like this one, additional episodes aired on Thursday and Friday …



By now, everyone has heard about the Southwest Airlines flight with the blown engine and the incredible poise of pioneering aviator Tammie Jo Shults.  If you’ve read the articles, heard the reports, but haven’t heard her on the radio with Air Traffic Control, this story has audio clips.  The calmness she displays is breathtaking…



Story Corps can always be counted on to deliver a conversation to brighten a day.  This Friday was no exception.  A gentle and realistic reminder of the enduring nature of love and that there is always hope for a better future:



SATURDAY 6-PACK: April 7, 2018

A weekly listing of articles, audio clips, and other tidbits I’ve encountered that seemed interesting, insightful, or otherwise useful


Item #1================================
Brother Leonard Pitts has written much this week about the remembrances of the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of the Reverend Dr. martin Luther King, Jr. that took place in Memphis this week.  All are good, but this one best bridges from then to now (and you can find the other ones from there):
Item #2===============================
One of the biggest news events of the week is the back-and-forth between the Current Occupant of the Oval Office and leaders in China about tariffs that may (or may not) be coming.  With all the tweets and the tits and tats flying back and forth, it’s hard to keep up with it all.  However, some lessons from the past may be more helpful.  Here’s the three-fer this week.  First up is an NPR interview with Glenn Hubbard, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors under President George W. Bush.  That interview references a piece from the  Washington Post article involving Andrew Card, President Bush’s Chief of Staff when the steel tariffs were tried back in 2002; that article is included here as well.  And then, since I’ve heard several references to  Ben Stein’s rather memorable “lecture” on the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, here’s a piece from Marketplace (last August!) , with more insight than the lecture scene provided
Item #3 ===============================
The hit sitcom from the very late 80s/early 90s Roseanne has returned.  The show is no less controversial now than ever it was then.  Now the controversy is about the real-life Roseanne Barr’s support for the Current Occupant of the Oval Office … and how it carries over into her TV alter ego.  Part of the attraction that this show has had from the start is that the character of Roseanne is no one’s ideal anything … which helps make the family’s interactions seem oh-so real.  And in reality, people like Roseanne Connor are quite likely to have voted for the Current Occupant in the last election.  But he should be careful about claiming this as an endorsement.  Kareem Abdul Jabbar (yes, that Kareem) explains why:
Item #4 ================================
Speaking of blasts from the past and history lessons and the question of “When will we ever learn?”, here’s an interview with three key players during the financial meltdown at the start of the Great Recession ten years ago.  They explain what they did, why they did it, what more they would have liked to have done, think should be done … their regrets and what might have been different … and their concerns about the future.  The threesome consists of Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke, and Tim Geithner, who started out as President of the New York Fed and then went on to serve as Treasury Secretary under President Barak Obama. Kai Ryssdal interviewed the three of them together and aired segments on Marketplace the last week of March.  Here’s the whole thing.  It’s over an hour long, but the conversation moves and it is well worth the listen:
Item #5 ================================
We’re now two weeks past  the March for Our Lives … and some more actions are being planned to coincide with the 19th Anniversary of the tragedy at Columbine High School in a few weeks.  The student activists are keeping gun safety concerns active in the political environment and other places.  Here’s a long form piece with keen insights into attitudes and experiences concerning guns. From the New York Times Magazine,  Gun Culture is My Culture — And I Fear What It Has Become:
Item #6 ================================
Although mental illness is frequently invoked as a cause for the gun violence , the reality is that the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of than the perpetrators of violence.  What would be more helpful regarding mental illness is to recognize the crisis we have regarding care for the people who suffer from these conditions. All too often, police are serving as paramedics or nurses or physicians assistants (initial points of contacts) with jails and prisons filling in as treatment  centers.  This isn’t the way to do it.  Alisa Roth, author of Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness, explains why in an interview for Marketplace.  (Her comparison imagining if we were to treat heart disease the same way is chilling and provocative!)  The other piece in this two-fer is a local report on an approach that is working much better.


The 6-Pack: Christmas Weekend 2017

A weekly listing of articles, audio clips, and other tidbits I’ve encountered that seemed interesting, insightful, or otherwise useful …


Yeah, I missed Saturday … and I still haven’t started on the holiday cards (yet).  But here’s a list of pieces that might make you season just a little merrier … or a little brighter … or maybe just more peaceful.


First up, the Dominican Sisters of Mary… The sisters sing a couple of seasonal favorites.  There’s also a wonderful discussion about a sense of call.



I haven’t had a chance to listen to it  — yet!  But after discovering this gem of an annual program when I was in seminary, I’ve made a point to find it each year.  True, Hannukah has passed, but the stories read each year on Hanukah Lights are about identity and community, what it means to belong.  If you’ve never heard one of these, check it out:



If the commercialization of Christmas is getting overwhelming, you might find ideas of alternatives in Krista Tippet’s essay here:

Why I Don’t Do Christmas


Or if you’re looking for a more humorous angle on the whole mess, there’s always Crumpet the Elf (aka David Sedaris) telling it like it was with The Santaland Diaries:



If holiday gatherings have you dreading conflicts with other members of your circle of family or friends or coworkers or whatever, this TED Radio Hour episode has some insights for a very diverse group of speakers:



And finally, if the new year is more your thing, this piece by Sharon Saltzberg has some insights on things we may need to let go of … practices we might develop for more relief in the new year:

We Can’t Survive in a State of Constant Agitation


SATURDAY 6-PACK: December 9, 2017

A weekly listing of articles, audio clips, and other tidbits I’ve encountered that seemed interesting, insightful, or otherwise useful …

Well, it is all the news this week … “The Silence Breakers” (aka #MeToo) were revealed as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year with a cover featuring several women from different walks of life who have confronted various forms of bad treatment they received from men.  Leading men in the high profile worlds of entertainment and politics have suffered consequences for a range of sexual behaviors toward female victims (and in some cases, male victims).  Representative John Conyers, who was accused by former staffers of directly propositioning them, went into the hospital for stress and came out to resignation.  Then six women senators started a movement for Al Franken’s resignation because of a series of accusations about inappropriate behavior; they were swiftly joined by other colleagues; this stampede culminated in Franken’s resignation a little more than 24 hours later.  Rep. Trent Franks resigned a day after accusations surfaced from former staffers about being propositioned as possible surrogate mothers.  More accusations are coming in the entertainment world as well as the political one.
The conversations are necessary and will ultimately be helpful.  However, will the high profile examples (such as those featured on the Time Magazine cover) change things for the less famous, the less well-paid … cleaning crews and maid services, wait staff and clerks, others we rarely (if ever) attend to … the women at various levels on the corporate food chain who know that retaliation will follow if they report things that HR policies say should not be happening?
And of no less importance, if we do not follow any sort of process … if we set any and all forms of misconduct (from minor to criminal) as completely equivalent with one-size fits all consequences or punishments … once this rage-wave passes, what will be left in its wake?  Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post offers some keen insights through some very important questions:
Speaking of women who stood up – or sat down, in this case — daring to assert their rights simply to be and in so doing set into a motion waves of action that made a difference … Aiming to mark an important anniversary in the civil rights struggle on December 1st, Trump tweeted about Rosa Parks.  This is wrong on so many levels — and Leonard Pitts nails them all:
 If the connection with Colin Kaepernick strikes you as misguided or misplaced, please check out the article of Kap as Sports Illustrated‘s Muhammed Ali Legacy Award recipient in the current Sportsperson of the Year issue.
Following up on the themes of race, gender, and class, here’s a long-form heartbreaker: Black women _in the United States!_ are over 250 more times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy (during pregnancy, childbirth, or soon after birth) than white women.  One amazing  woman who was trying to find out why ended up being one of those statistics herself.  Here’s her story:
Also on the subject of gender, class and expectation, the movie I, Tonya came out this weekend to largely favorable reviews.  I remember my own reactions at the time of the attack on figure skater Nancy Kerrigan and the obvious involvement of people close to her rival Tonya Harding.  Apparently, unlike a lot of people, I actually liked Tonya as her backstory came to light (growing up poor, driving a pickup truck to the rink, sewing her own costumes … a real young woman, not a fantasy princess).  One of the commentaries written at the time questioned how much blame could really be applied to Tonya who worked as hard as anyone (and harder than some) to follow the rules that would take her to the top … only to find the rules did not apply in her case.  This commentary on the movie makes a similar point and calls into question our enjoyment of knocking people from their pedestals (and how much of that is behind the current bruhaha over the various perpetrators of various forms of sexual impropriety?)
One thing that is NOT in the forefront of the news as it ought to be – given that the House and Senate are working to find some mutually agreeable version of the tax proposals.  The claim keeps being pressed that the corporate tax cuts (along with tax cuts for high incomes)  will do wonders for the economy to the benefit of all – even though no study supports this theory and experiences indicate otherwise.  Here’s a very clear example of what the proposed tax cuts (especially for businesses) are quite likely to do (and no, this will not benefit workers):
NPR’s StoryCorps project consistently airs stirring and memorable stories.  But the one from this Friday was truly exceptional.  As the 5th anniversary of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School approaches, this deserves a listen:


SATURDAY 6-PACK: December 2, 2017

A weekly listing of articles, audio clips, and other tidbits I’ve encountered that seemed interesting, insightful, or otherwise useful …

First, the news we all should be watching: The Tax Bill.  Now that the Senate has also passed a version, the  next step will be to reconcile the version from the Senate and the version from the Hosue.  There are significant differences and the final form remains to be seen.  But here is a non-technical, understandable, not-too-wonky analysis of the economics around the proposed changes (especially with corporate taxes), the current economic growth rate, GDP and stuff like that.  It’s worth the read to understand why these proposals are a very bad idea:



Second, a three-fer: Three different interviewers … three different political leaders.  At different points, each interviewer asks a very direct, difficult question and each politico dodges, spins, or dissembles in one way or another.  Yes, it’s a dance and tracing out the steps furthers understanding:

Kai Ryssdal and Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee on Marketplace …

Robert Siegel and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) of the Seante Finance Committee on All Things Considered …

Steve Inskeep and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Morning Edition …


Third, although the parallels are not perfect (as noted in this piece from Marketplace), events in Kasnas under the leadership of Gov. Sam Brownback are instructive for the current national-level tax proposals.  Although the Kansas commentator is somewhat suspect (being from Wichita, which is home base of the Koch Brothers, who are the primary architects of this nonsense), even he has to concede things have not gone as planned in the Sunflower State, now known to some as Brownbackistan.  (Check it out on Facebook; it’s also a hashtag on Twitter.)



Fourth, another financially-related development that isn’t getting enough attnetion: the turn of events at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  First, let’s recall why this was created: abuses by various financial entities that misled consumers and set into motion the chain of events that culminated in the Great Recession of 2008.  Second, note yet another example of a politico attempting execute the artful dodge, tunring the focus from consumers who need protection from predatory actions by big businesses to consumers needing protection from their government.  Who (or what) is really being protected here?

David Grenne and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) on Morning Edition ….


Fifth – Sense and Sensibility (Part I) regarding what has been the lead news story most times this week (when other far more important stories should have been front and center).  This concerns the allegations regarding Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), but the points about varying degrees and keeping a sense of perspective can apply to many similar — and dissimilar — stories:



Sixth – Sense and Sensibiolity (Part II) on the same themse, but with the lens turned back at all of us and our current cultural setting with a view towards more mature (and quite likely healthier) sexual ethics: