The Cleveland Tree

 “I think that I shall never see      A poem as lovely as a tree …”  Joyce Kilmer

Cleveland Tree Su4
The Cleveland Tree in Summer

I liked the Cleveland Tree long before it was possible to “like” this tree on Facebook.  One runner who shares the walking/biking trail along Mississippi River Boulevard at the southern edge of the Highland Park area of Saint Paul is clearly even fonder of this particular tree than I am.  He’s the enterprising individual who created the Facebook page – and a Twitter account – for this particular tree.  Initially, he announced these developments with a banner tied around the tree.  Now, there’s (usually) a little sign at the base of tree … and business cards at various places in the area.

The Cleveland Tree is a particularly twisted oak tree that stands by itself beside the walking path near the point where Cleveland Avenue ends at Mississippi River Boulevard.  If you want to visit, just take Cleveland south through Saint Paul to the all-way stop at Mississippi. The tree will be to your left.  It’s easily recognizable by its short stature, fully twisted trunk, and extremely gnarly branches.

My daughter likes the Cleveland Tree (in life, if not on Facebook).  She sees a tree that invites climbing with easy to reach branches and good spots to plant her feet on the trunk. My son does not like the Cleveland Tree – not in the usual sense or even the Facebook sense.  To him it is not a proper tree; it’s too short and stumpy.  A tree worthy of being liked is a tall, towering one … a monarch of the forest … which the Cleveland Tree will never be.  (Although if it were possible to straighten the twists of its trunk, the Cleveland Tree would be considerably taller.)

But that twisted stumpy stature and those extremely gnarly branches are precisely why I’ve always liked the Cleveland Tree even before there was a way to like it on Facebook. As someone who knows me pretty well once put it, there isn’t an underdog out there that I’m not for.  As trees go, the Cleveland Tree is definitely an underdog, not an overlord, among the trees in the area.

The Cleveland Tree in Spring

Many days I’ve walked along that section of the path, noticing the trees and wondering how it was that the Cleveland Tree came to be as it is.  Most of the oaks in that area do have similarly gnarled and kinked branches, if not quite so pronounced as those of the Cleveland Tree.  But none have that extremely twisted trunk with an almost 360⁰ twist before it splits into the two main limbs.  What makes the Cleveland Tree so different?

Botany was not an area of biology that interested me.  (I preferred the animal kingdom and the intricacies of anatomy.)  It’s possible that the type of oak trees in this particular area produce these gnarled branches because that’s just how they grow and develop.  If it’s all in the genes, then perhaps the Cleveland Tree received a stronger set of genes that make for such twisted growth. That might be all there is to it; however, I suspect that may, at best, be just a part of the Cleveland Tree’s story.

I wonder about the wind.  Trees do need wind for their growth and development; it’s essential.  Scientists discovered this with the Biosphere down by Tucson, Arizona.  After a rough start, the project was eventually taken over by scientists who saw plenty of opportunities for study in the small, fully contained miniature of the earth’s ecosystems.  However, after several years had passed, the trees inside the Biosphere started to fall over and no one could figure out why.  The soil had adequate nutrients.  There was sufficient water and light.  There were no indications of any kind of blight or fungus or pest.  For some time, the scientists examined everything in the Biosphere looking for the cause of this unprecedented event.  No one had seen or heard of anything quite like this happening before.  What were they missing?

The answer likely hit one of those scientists with a face-full of desert dirt as he or she walked across the parking lot after work – wind!  The Biosphere had everything earth has, including air circulation.  But it did not have actual wind … strong, hard-blowing winds that shake the tree tops and push against the trees.  As it turns out, trees need the wind blowing against them in order to develop strong trunks to support the limbs and branches and leaves.  Without the wind, the trunks don’t become strong enough to hold everything up.

So I wonder about the wind in times past as I walk through these trees on the bluffs of the Mississippi River.  While none are twisted like the Cleveland Tree, many of trees with trunks of similar girth to the Cleveland Tree’s are leaning considerably.  It’s possible they grew at such angles in order to find space amidst the canopy for their own branches and leaves to reach some sunlight.

But it’s also possible that way back in time, when these trees were much younger (and still developing their trunks) that some fierce wind tore through this area, blowing long enough and hard enough to forever shape these trees … bending a number of them … twisting the Cleveland Tree … and maybe even setting the then-young branches on their own twisted, kinked, and gnarled paths.  Such fierce winds have certainly tore through the area with storms earlier this year.  Tall, strong trees were ripped up by the roots in part by the force of the wind and in part because the soil was so saturated.  It’s not hard to imagine a similar event all those years ago forever twisting a young tree, shaping it into the unique form of the Cleveland Tree today.

The Cleveland Tree in Autumn
The Cleveland Tree in Autumn

Life has a way of doing that … shaping us, testing us, bending us … sometimes marking us forever.  Whatever whims of nature, whether by random genetics or wild winds or some of each and something more, the Cleveland Tree will always have that very twisted, stunted, unique shape.  But that doesn’t stop this particular oak tree from doing what all trees do.  Each spring, it puts forth tender green leaves and indiscernible flowers.  The leaves take in the sunlight and the carbon dioxide, producing the starchy food that feeds the tree and nourishes the growing acorns.  Those leaves breathe out oxygen and provide a cool, shady refuge for birds and squirrels and passers-by.  As fall approaches, the tree drops its acorns … food for the scampering squirrels and occasional chipmunk.  In times past, humans were nourished by acorns as well.  In some places, we still are.  With the fall, the leaves turn brown and eventually drop to the ground … perhaps becoming part of an animal’s winter shelter … or perhaps returning nutrients to the soil for the next year’s growth.  Then the tree stands dormant and silent through winter’s passing until spring comes again.  Year after year, the Cleveland Tree (like any other tree) does this regardless of whatever whims of life and forces of nature have shaped it into the way it is today.

For that, this particular tree, the Cleveland Tree, is an inspiration to me.  It reminds me the value of simply keeping on … keeping about the business of life … whatever work is given me to do … whatever season it happens to be  … through whatever happens.  Life shapes all of us a little differently.  Some of it we do to ourselves by the choices we make and the paths we follow.  But just as trees don’t have choices, some of what happens we have no say in, no control over.  It just happens and all we can do is make the best of it or give up and stop trying.  Like the Cleveland Tree, we can be forever shaped … scared, stunted, bent, even twisted around by things that happen.  But the tree reminds me it is possible to keep going, to keep growing, to keep living.

The Cleveland Tree in Winter
The Cleveland Tree in Winter

No, the Cleveland Tree will never be a proud monarch of the forest.  It will forever be short and stumpy.  But because of its unique shape, it brings joy and support to at least a few runners out there.  (How many trees can you actually give a high-five to?)  Although it’s not one of my dog’s favorite message exchange locations (just as it’s not my son’s favorite tree), no doubt plenty of dogs find it a good place to exchange messages and catch a cool draft on summer days.  Certainly trees were removed when the path and fencing were put in along Mississippi River Boulevard.  Could its unique shape be the reason why the Cleveland Tree was one of the trees to be spared and allowed to continue living and growing?  That weird shape may well be the very reason the tree is still here.

The Cleveland Tree is still here, doing all the normal tree things … but also providing inspiration to runners and walkers and wonderers like me.  Perhaps our own unique features and characters, the shape life has given us and the shape we have given to our lives provides similar joy, encouragement, and even inspiration to people around us … maybe even some we don’t actually know.

Bon Voyage, Voyager!

My husband wasn’t thrilled with the idea of getting a minivan.  But with one child in his toddler years and a second child on the way, neither my Plymouth Horizon nor his Plymouth Sundance would meet the needs of our growing family.  One of the cars had to be traded in for something bigger.  His sporty Sundance with the turbo was a two-door coupe … and it was the color of black cherries … and we were living in Mesa, Arizona at the time … and the Sundance was burning through air conditioners at a rate of one every 18 to 24 months.  His car was going to have to be traded in for the new family vehicle and, once we did that, he’d be driving my Horizon.  Given that he’d traded in his 1966 Fastback Mustang for that Sundance, it would be unreasonable to expect him to be excited about trading his somewhat less sporty coupe for a new minivan for me so he could drive the Horizon.imagesCAOS22TS

“Does it have to be a minivan?” he asked me.  I explained that I needed a vehicle that could hold two kids along with their car seats, the diaper bag, the stretch-limo style stroller for two, a full load of shopping from Target and the grocery store, and still leave me some space to change a diaper.  If I could get all of that in something other than a minivan, I was willing to consider it.  He couldn’t think of anything else that fit those criteria, so we cleaned up the Sundance and, equipped with an exact value for the car plus definite interest from a potential buyer, went off to shop for a minivan.

D9171After looking at both Ford’s models (the Aerostars and Windstars) and Voyagers and test-driving a Voyager model with just about everything, we settled on a basic Voyager model that was within our price range. There were two to choose from: one white, one “iris.”  The iris-colored one had a full-size spare tire … and I liked that color better.  My husband was able to drive a very hard bargain with the sales agent to get the final number where we wanted it.  (That accomplishment likely eased some of the pain of having to give up a sporty car for the mom-mobile.)  We drove our 1997 Plymouth Voyager for the very first time when we left the lot that evening. It had all of nine miles on it.

A few months later, we traveled together as a four-some for the first time when my husband drove me, our son, and our newborn daughter home from the hospital (with my mom along to help).  Just as I had expected, the Voyager had room for everything when I was out and about running my errands with the two kids.  When the baby was hungry, I could sit in the backseat and nurse her while the toddler sat in the driver’s seat and pretended to drive.  On one such occasion, he dropped a couple of quarters from the change holder through the slots of the speaker cover.  This produced a certain clinking when turning corners that lasted for several years until the need for some other work on the vehicle made it convenient to have the quarters removed.

My husband came to appreciate the minivan when we took our first trip to Albuquerque in it.  There was room for everything – the kids, their car seats, their stuff, the luggage, a cooler for snacks and drinks – everything!  We made several such trips in the van, the most memorable being the trip at Thanksgiving in 1999.  I came down with the flu on Thanksgiving and the kids were showing signs of becoming sick the next day, but we had to go back to Mesa that Friday.  (My husband was working up in Minnesota at that time.  The house had sold, but the kids and I were staying in Mesa until I finished my semester of school.  Then we would join him in Minnesota.  We had to get back on time so he could make his flight back to the Twin Cities.)  Although he did almost all of the driving, my husband did need me to take over for one hour.  Usually this is not a problem, but I was sick and that last ten to fifteen minutes of my turn behind the wheel were a hard struggle.  However, like a good horse who knows the way, the Voyager helped me through that last bit.

imagesCARXLIZ5For the move to Minnesota, both vehicles were loaded on the moving truck with all our stuff and hauled up to our temporary housing.  The truck had arrived a few hours before we landed at the airport, so the minivan and the car were waiting for us.  So we settled into Minnesota … found a bracket for a front license plate (which the Voyager hadn’t needed in Arizona) … and learned our way around our new location.

In the fall after the move, the Voyager became our school bus when my son started kindergarten and I began regular, daytime classes at seminary.  My son was enrolled at an elementary school near my school.  Each morning, I would drive him to his school, go the few miles to my school, drop off my daughter at the day care center there, and hike the hill up to my classes.  Then I’d pick them up at the end of the day – or pick my son up from kindergarten at noon, take him over to the day care center, and then go back up the hill to continue my classes.  imagesCAOITQYFSo it went the years we were all in school together.  The kids and I spent a lot of time together in that Voyager on those 30 … 40 … 60 (or more when it snowed) minute drives to and from our schools in Saint Paul and the corner of Blaine where we lived.  I was glad to be able to spend my commuting time with them, rather than apart from them.  It was in that Voyager on the way to school on a bright Tuesday morning in September 2001 that we heard about planes crashing into the World Trade Center.

We also took a number of vacation trips in those years … to the Wisconsin Dells and Port Washington, to the Soo Locks and across Lake Michigan on the Badger Boat car ferry, several trips down to the Quad Cities for the blues festival there (and to see family in that area), to Fargo on a lark for another blues festival, to Indiana and my old stomping grounds.  Early one summer, we had a hitch for a bike rack installed on the Voyager and so we took our bikes on trips.  The most memorable trip included visits to Laura Ingalls Wilder territory around Marshall … then out to the Black Hills of South Dakota, biking some of the George Mickelson bike trail and, of course, seeing Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse monument … and then biking around Sioux Falls on our way home.

In due season, I graduated from seminary and was called by a congregation in Topeka, Kansas.  Because of some scheduling quirks, I went down a week before the actual move.  For my trip, I drove the sporty Subaru that had eventually replaced the Horizon as my husband’s car.  He and the kids followed one week later in the Voyager, with my mom and beloved cat as well.  (A few years later, my dad would drive me and that beloved cat, along with my mom, in the Voyager for that sad, final trip to the veterinarian.)

The van continued school bus duties until we were able to move out of temporary housing and into our new home.  But once we settled into our home in Kansas, the kids rode the bus and the van was all mine as I went about my rounds and learned much of northeastern Kansas.  Meetings took us to Emporia, Atchison, Lancaster, Everest, Robinson, Valley Falls, Lawrence, and lots of trips to Kansas City as well as Saint Joseph in Missouri.  The years and the miles rolled smoothly along.

imagesCAVYP4AMThere was a problem in 2008 when the transmission was quickly failing.  Initially, my husband was inclined to replace the Voyager at that point.  But he did some checking and found a website where people were bragging about their late 90s Voyagers.  Reading the stories on that site persuaded him that all we’d have to do was replace the transmission and the minivan would be fine for years to come.  So we did.  But we did retire the Voyager from long driving trips after that.  The next time we went on a driving vacation, we rented a minivan and left ours safely at home.

imagesCA9WM13CThen in the fall of 2010, the Voyager became my only vehicle.  With both of us out of work at that time, my husband found a job back up in Minnesota.  That was the good news.  The bad news was that companies were no longer helping with relocation for new employees.  He’d be living with friends while the kids and I stayed in Kansas until the house was sold and we could make arrangements to move up to Minnesota.  Soon after my husband had gone to Minnesota, the van developed a radiator problem as I drove home one afternoon.  But at a reduced speed, the engine temperature dropped enough to limp to the repair shop within walking distance from our house.  After that, there were no other problems and the van continued to make the trips each month to and from the airport north of Kansas City to pick up my husband on the weekends he flew back home and to and from the airport again so he could fly back to his job in the Twin Cities.  During that time, we took trips to Salina for the Blues at Crossroads festival, to Independence (Missouri) to visit the Harry Truman Presidential Museum and to the Dwight Eisenhower Presidential Museum in Abilene.

imagesCA756YADSo it went until the time came for the move.  I knew the Voyager had at least one good trip back to Minnesota in it.  But I wasn’t sure how many more.  I rented a car for the pre-move trip, saving the miles for when I really needed them.  Then in August 2011, we made the move to Minnesota.  I pulled out of Topeka in the Voyager with both kids, the two cats and the dog we’d added to the family in Topeka, luggage, and other things my husband thought could go in the minivan rather than on one of the moving trucks.  North of Kansas City, we picked up a third driver for the two trucks and headed north to Des Moines to catch up with my husband and his brother, who were driving ahead with the two moving trucks we’d rented.  The Voyager’s carrying capacity was pushed to the max; the cat carriers were stacked one on top of the other.  Things were much more comfortable after we were able to move my son and our friend into the cabs of the moving trucks and a few of the extra items into the back of a truck.  My daughter and I made the rest of the drive in good time and the animals were a lot more comfortable.

Once we’d settled into our home in Saint Paul, the van was rewarded for all its years of faithful service with an engine block heater because it would be parked outside from now on.  Thanks to that block heater, the van started up every morning without fail.  The only time it failed to start was when the guys at the shop didn’t clamp the fuel line on tight enough after doing some maintenance work.  The next year, my son learned to drive in the Voyager and the following summer, he took his driving test in that minivan.

By this time, the van had developed a few quirks – the windshield wipers would start moving spontaneously, the cruise control would kick off on very rare occasions, and the instrument panel would not have power sometimes.  But other than that, the Voyager was holding up very well.  We were hearing from mechanics that the Voyagers like ours were developing a reputation for keeping running … and that it was rust that usually gets them in the end … and rust was starting to get to ours.

But rust was not to be the fate for this legendary vehicle.  On September 26, 2013, the final act of my beloved Voyager was to take one for Team Mom at University Avenue and Cleveland Avenue in Saint Paul.  I had been heading east on University and wanted to turn south on to Cleveland.  But the right lane was closed due to road work near the intersection.  While waiting for the red light to change to green, I was trying to see how and if I might be able to make the right turn once I passed the construction workers and their truck.  That’s when the accident happened.

Accident 4I didn’t notice the car until it was going up on the light rail tracks in the middle of University Avenue.  It came over the track area, shearing off a barrier post in the process, then down into the left turn lane next to me.  The car struck the front fender of my minivan with enough force to turn my Voyager 90⁰ and send it across the empty right lane and up onto the sidewalk – all four wheels.  I steered hard to turn away from the fence at the Kenworth lot and tried to brake to avoid hitting the car that hit me, which was then ahead of me on the sidewalk.  Accident 2The brakes didn’t seem to be working, so I threw the transmission into Park.  I turned off the ignition and got out to inspect the damage and call my husband.  My husband asked if it was drivable. I told him about what I’d had to do to stop and that I was afraid to try driving it.  He said he was on his way.

A police officer came, took the requisite information and statements from each driver.  While we’d been waiting, I got the name and phone number of the passenger in the car that hit mine and from one of women in the car that had been behind mine.  They all left.  I called the insurance company to report the claim.  My husband arrived as I was on the phone.  The claims agent asked if the minivan was drivable; I told her what I’d told my husband and the police officer.  She said it didn’t sound drivable and my husband, noting that some type of fluid was now dripping near the site of the impact, also stated it was not drivable.  The agent recommended a shop where the Voyager could be towed and my next call was to roadside assistance for a tow.

Accident 1 At ABRA 1My husband warned me that the Voyager was likely totaled.  The manager at the shop said the same when I called to let someone there know that the minivan would be towed there.  This was a 1997 Voyager; it wouldn’t take a whole lot of damage to exceed the value.  But it wasn’t until the tow truck arrived and the driver tried to start my Voyager that I realized it would likely never run again.  The next day I stopped by the repair shop to sign the papers.  One of the service managers and I went out to look at it.  He pointed out how far the front end had been shifted and said it was totaled.  It took a few days for the formal repair estimate to come in and for the insurance company to run the valuation.  I stopped by during the waiting time to take a few final pictures, remember the miles and the good times, and say good-bye.   Then there were the final papers to sign – the title, odometer statement showing 191,318 miles … keys to send in … and that was it.

Van PaperworkOver the years, I’ve often said that when the day came to give up that Voyager, I wanted to go back to the dealer and say, “Give me another one just like it.”  But there won’t be another one.  They don’t make them like that anymore.  They don’t make them at all.

Bon Voyage, my faithful Voyager; good voyage.  It has been a good voyage – very good, indeed.

Manic Wednesday

From two weeks ago, Wednesday, August 28th…

6:00 already – I was just in the middle of a dream …

This has to be the fault of the local DJ who decided to play “Manic Monday” by the Bangles just after 6:00 am on a Wednesday – not a Monday, a Wednesday … which like most Wednesdays around here was getting off to a slow start.  But no worries here; I don’t have to be at work until noon.

Nor was I “just in the middle of dream” at that time.  I was awake and nothing remotely romantic was happening.  It was just the usual routine of the household getting into gear, with my husband heading off directly to work, my son halfway through his very first week of college, and my daughter having some leadership training events to prepare for assisting freshmen starting at her high school the following week.

Besides, even if the Mississippi River near my house were an acceptable substitute for “a crystal blue Italian stream,” it was already too hot and sticky to be outside for long … which was leading to some changes in plans.  My daughter had been planning to bike to and from school.  But an excessive heat warning was in store for the afternoon when no one would be around to help her if things went badly.  So there was a last minute change to her plans.  I would drive her to school and she’d take the city bus home.  It’s a round-about way and takes a lot longer than biking or even walking (which is why the kids don’t like it), but it would keep her out of the excessive heat after a hot morning at the school.

While she was considering her options, I checked on my son’s bus card.  It needed more funds.  I went on-line to add the money … and found out it might take 24 hours to actually show on his card.  He had enough on it for one trip and I gave him the exact fare for the other. With that settled, I drove my daughter to the high school and my son went to the bus stop to head for the college.   On the previous day most of the traffic had been in the school parking lot; today it was on the roads the whole way there.  Good thing we left early (for once).

Both of the newspapers were late, so when I came back home,  I called to report the delivery problems and then started to prepare my breakfast.  The Star Tribune was delivered first, surprisingly fast after I called it in.  When I opened the door to get it, a little Yorkie came trotting over from our next door neighbor’s yard.  I knew it wasn’t one of his dogs, though.  So I looked at the tag and saw the address was nearby.  Midnight (my daughter’s cat) was at the door looking on at the scene taking place on the front steps and the Yorkie was very interested in the cat.  As I opened the door to go in to get my keys and our dog’s leash to take the Yorkie back home, he darted inside.  Much hissing (from Midnight) and barking (from our dog Jack) and yipping (from the Yorkie) and chasing ensued.

No real damage had been done before I was able to collect the Yorkie, my keys, and the leash.  I proceeded with the Yorkie across the street to the house where he belonged.  No one answered the door when I rang the bell.  But as I was going around the side to see about a back door, one of the neighbors (who was moving her car because of street work being done) saw me and asked about the dog by name.  I said yes, that’s the dog and, as she was explaining what the dog’s owner had told her, the neighbor who owns the dog, showed up and took her dog inside.  (She was very grateful)

Back home, I continued preparing my breakfast only to be interrupted again when the doorbell rang.  Another edition of the Star Tribune was being delivered.  I explained that the paper had arrived soon after I called and apologized that the agent came unnecessarily.  No problem; there must have been some delay with the delivery process.  By that time, I knew there had been a delivery delay with the Pioneer Press as well … which eventually showed up as I was finally eating my breakfast.

Then it was time to walk the oh-so patient Jack-dog (who had been most disappointed to see the Yorkie going out of the house on his leash instead of being taken for a walk himself).  We did cut the usual walk short on account of the heat and humidity (especially the humidity).  But because of the heat, it’s very important to water the recently installed landscaping … which took more time.

Now it’s 10:15 and I still have to wash the breakfast dishes from this morning and get cleaned up for work.  The bed still is not made … and making it to work by noon is looking really tight at this point.

Yeah, it’s been a manic Wednesday.  Blame it on the DJ.

Preaching on the Parable of the Rich Fool …

  … One week after the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial

Because the congregation where I’m providing extended pulpit supply this summer is using a Narrative Lectionary Format, we’re two weeks ahead of the Revised Common Lectionary right now.  Those of you who will be working with this passage in the next few weeks are welcome to anything you find of use.

IMG_0348 Luke 12:13-21 – The Parable of the Rich Fool

Jesus told them a parable, a story … The province of a wealthy man produced an overwhelming abundance.  The man looked at his harvest and his storehouses and asked himself, “What shall I do?  I don’t have enough room in my storehouses to store all of this.”  Then he answered himself, “I know!  I’ll tear down these storehouses and build bigger ones.  Then I will say to myself, ‘My soul, my life, you have plenty of goods stored up for many years.  Relax!  Eat, drink, and be merry.’”  But that very night God came to him and said, “You Fool.  Your soul, your life will be taken from you this very night.  Then all of these things you have saved up, whose will they be?”  So it is, Jesus said, with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich according to God.

Decades ago, preaching on this very parable, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Junior remarked: “There are a lot of fools around.  Because they fail to realize their dependence on others.  Do you know that man talked like he regulated the seasons?  That man talked like he gave the rain to grapple with the fertility of the soil.  That man talked like he provided the dew.  He was a fool because he ended up acting like he was the Creator instead of a creature.  And this man-centered foolishness is still alive today.”  Decades later, all that needs updating in this observation is a bit of the language: This human-centered foolishness is still alive today.

Some schools of spiritual direction hold that there are three universal energy centers that ever threaten to (and often do) become our gods: security, pleasure, and power.  As the original Martin Luther wrote in his Large Catechism regarding the First Commandment, you shall have no other gods: “Whatever you give your heart to and entrust your being, that, I say, is really your God.”  Luther characterizes God as saying “Look to Me for any good thing you lack … whenever you suffer misfortune and distress, reach out to Me.”  What we look to for help, comfort, security, and any good thing, that is our god.  The question is not so much do we have a god? as it is what sort of god (or gods) do we have for ourselves?  These three universal energy centers of security, pleasure, and power often do become our de facto gods, what we look to for all good and entrust ourselves to.

Where do we look for security, if we’re being really honest?  The rich man in the parable looked to his accumulation of crops for his security – what he’d produced, stored up, accumulated.  Are we that much that different?  Our sense of security is deeply rooted in our material resources, primarily money.  Security is the regular paycheck or benefit check, the money we’ve saved in the bank, the house that’s bought and paid for.  Our homes are the place of safety and security because we have made them so with locks and lighting and maybe alarms.  We rely on our own efforts and abilities to provide for ourselves and secure our provisions – hence our current cultural obsession with personal protection and self-defense and being ready at all times to protect ourselves (and others we might care about) because we cannot trust most others around us; we can’t even count on our designated protector, police officers, to be there to help us (or so we are told by the marketers of fear).

Fear undermines our sense of security, so we seek more power – the power to push back against the things that frighten us, the power to make things work out right for ourselves, to direct our own destiny.  In our parable, the rich man took counsel with himself to chart the course of his future.  As Reverend King observed, he talked like he regulated the seasons, like he had all power and control over the course of events … until, of course, God showed up and suggested otherwise.  We just don’t like it when things don’t go the way we want them to, when we find ourselves powerless to control our situations and direct our lives.  Many nights at work, a number of callers will become angry and hostile because I’m telling them that what they want is just not possible at this time.  It’s not about me; it’s that they are realizing how truly powerless they are in their situations – and they hate it, just like any of us would hate to be so powerless.

Powerlessness is unpleasant and so it has a way of driving us to seek pleasure as a distraction from unpleasant realities (not that pleasure and pleasant experiences aren’t attractive enough in and of themselves).  When we are pleased, we are happy and satisfied. Pleasure has a way of protecting us from unpleasant realities, insulating us from difficult situations we don’t want to be in, distracting us from real problems we’d rather not face.  So long as we are pleased and satisfied ourselves, the rest doesn’t matter so much.  We see this in the Rich Fool.  He’s pleased and satisfied with himself and gives no thought to anyone else.  But did he really bring in that overwhelmingly abundant harvest all by himself?  Had he worked his province, cultivating those crops, all by himself?  Was he about to pull down his existing storehouses and build bigger with just his own two hands?  I don’t think so.  There must have been others involved, but you wouldn’t know it by listening to his self-talk.

That’s the trouble of those universal energy centers of security, pleasure, and power.  They seek their own ends without regard for the effects on others.  As theologian Walter Brueggemann observes: “We must confess that the central problem in our lives is that we are torn apart by the conflict between our attraction to the good news of God’s abundance and the power of our belief in scarcity – a belief that makes us greedy, mean, and unneighborly.  We spend our lives trying to sort out that ambiguity.”  We are called to God’s vision of abundance, where there is welcome and plenty for all, where there is no need to fear there won’t be enough because the future is sure, where there is no reason to horde things now against some fear-filled future.  But we also live in this world where we are reminded in so many ways there might not be enough to go around, there’s no way to know what tomorrow might bring so it’s best to be prepared.

So long as we have enough for ourselves and our own, we are content enough to let others have theirs, provided it doesn’t diminish what we have.  This is what drives the man whose request opens our gospel reading: Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.  This man wants his fair share, same as we all do.  And the same could be said of the Rich Fool.  It’s his land, his crops, his harvest.  It’s his and he wants to keep it.  Is there any law against that?  He’s looking to his future needs.  Isn’t that right to do?  Maybe … but as Brueggemann observes, this concern about potential scarcity in the future can, and does, make us greedy, mean, and downright unneighborly.

That unneighborliness has been on display quite a bit these past few weeks as the trial of George Zimmerman and the subsequent verdict of a week ago and then the discussion of and reaction to that verdict have directed our attention to events in a gated community in a suburb of Orlando, Florida way back in February 2012. Those three universal energy centers – security, power, and the pleasures of wealth and prestige – are all tightly interwoven in this situation. Much of what happened that night can never be known for certain.  However, any attempts to explore why George Zimmerman was instantly suspicious of Trayvon Martin and unable to consider any other reasons for the teenager’s presence in his neighborhood are diverted or squelched when attention turns to the color of Martin’s skin.

In recent weeks, a number of prominent men of color have shared their experiences of moving through daily life with the sense that a cloud of suspicion is always hanging over them.  Their ranks include the host of the children’s TV program The Reading Rainbow, the Attorney General of the United States, and even President Obama.  To a man, they have described their experiences of frightened reactions from people around them throughout the day on the street, on buses, in elevators … how they are followed by security personnel in stores, stopped by police for no clear reason … how they teach their sons the precautions they have found vital to keep the police officers calm during these random stops.  But when they speak about these things, they are told “This has nothing to do with the Zimmerman-Martin case.  You clearly don’t know what you’re talking about.  This is only stirring up racial tensions; you’re just making things worse – not better.  Don’t talk about this.”  Why is it so hard to simply hear them on this subject?

One of the ways to read the word greed in our gospel, when Jesus says “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed,” is “Beware from every advantage one possesses over another.”  When men of color speak about their experiences of automatic suspicion and rejection, they confront us with the truth that most of us do not share these experiences.  We, of the ethnic majority, have advantages and privileges that they do not.  We may not like hearing this; it makes us extremely uncomfortable.  But Jesus tells his followers: Be on your guard against these privileges; don’t take those advantages, such as you have them.  Don’t be over-reaching, trying to grab as much for yourself as you can – especially to the exclusion of others.

Jesus warns us against seeking our advantages, gaining power over others and events, securing ourselves and our possessions against others, chasing after pleasure.  Life does not consist of these kinds of things, he cautions.  Like the Rich Fool, you can accumulate everything you possibly can – but to what end?  It won’t always be yours.  The end comes sooner or later, and then what?  What will you have?  Instead, Jesus advises, become rich in accordance to God.

What’s that supposed to mean?  Well, it isn’t exactly clear.  It definitely does not mean building bigger storehouses and filling them with an abundance of stuff.  It certainly does not involve collecting wealth or treasure solely for one’s self.  The opposite of these impulses would be to look outward, rather than inward … to share instead of horde … to invest in the greater community instead of our own household.  Surely the Rich Fool of the parable had a community around him – a community of people who worked his land, harvested his abundance of crops, and would (presumably) tear down his too-small storehouses and build the bigger ones he was imagining for himself.  If the problem is that he was all about himself, then the solution likely involves looking around us, looking at others.

To be rich towards God is to be invested in the work of God, in living out that good news of abundance with the simple trust that there is enough for all.  We need not grasp for all we can take for ourselves; we don’t need to build stockpiles of stuff against hard times.  We are called to share so that there is enough for all, trusting there will be enough in the future.  We are called to act with fairness and work for justice.  This does mean recognizing when we possess advantages over others, being wary of those advantages, and trying, as best we can, to forego them and undo them in our interactions with others.  We are called to, first, actually see others – not just ourselves, and second, to see the other as like and equal to our own selves.

To be rich towards God is to be invested in community, in the people around us.  It is to trust God for all we need – for safety and security, comfort and sustenance, every good thing.  It is to accept our proper place as creations of this loving Creator, who loves us and has placed us together will many other equally beloved creatures to be community, to show the face of God to one another, to invest in one another, to live into a vision of a world in which a George Zimmerman says to a Trayvon Martin, “Excuse me, son; I’m with the Neighborhood Watch.  Can I help you with something?” … and then gives the young man a ride home to get him out of the rain.  That would be beautiful and wise and rich indeed.  Amen.

Quote from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermon “Why Jesus Called a Man a Fool” from Sundays & Seasons, Year C -2013, p. 234

Quote from Walter Brueggemann from Hunger for the Word: Lectionary Reflections on Food and Justice – Year C, p.153

Telling a Better Story

Sandy-Hook-Elementary-School-elite-dailyI’ve been working on this one for some time and now seems like a good time to put it out there.  It’s been over six months – more than half a year – since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  Remember how so many vowed in the aftermath “This time is different; this time things will change!”?  Well, legislative sessions across the country are concluding have concluded.  How much action has there been at the state level?  And there’s been nothing at the national level despite intensive involvement by the President and Vice President.


untitledThe Church has not been entirely silent (even if its many expressions have not been as vocal as they could be.)  In my own denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA , the bishops wrote a letter on the subject of gun violence at their March conference.  Their letter has been widely shared since that time. The season of synod assemblies throughout the ELCA  has concluded.  How many assemblies took any action regarding this letter?  How many even had any discussion of this subject at all?  Our Churchwide Assembly will convene next month,  so perhaps this letter will receive some more attention in discussions and possible resolutions at that time.  It should be discussed and considered.  The letter is still timely; it is sensitive and well-written – especially if (as might have been the case) the bishops selected a few of their number to draft it then in March and there in Chicago, using whatever they might happen to have brought with them or have been able to access on this issue.  The letter raises a number of good points.  It’s a fine piece of writing … as far as it goes.

But that is the letter’s biggest problem; it doesn’t go far enough.  For example, it calls on congregations to help with the task of lamenting the victims of violence.  Lamenting is something we, as faith communities, know how to do and we do it well.  We know how to weep with Rachel who is weeping for her children because they are no more.  But we can do more than lament and weep with those who are weeping and mourning.

We are also prophets, like Jeremiah (who spoke those words about Rachel weeping for her children) and the others, messengers who are called to point to the idols and would-be powers and false stories of the time and say “This is not what God wills … this is not what God calls for … this will not stand.”

img1One of the most creative – and provocative – ideas that I’ve heard as a faith-formed response to gun violence in the aftermath of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School came from R Don Wright, an ELCA pastor whom I know only through Facebook.  He wanted to have a processional cross made from guns welded together to use much like Moses used the snake on the pole in Numbers – for much the same reason.  “Look at this.  See what is killing you.  Then turn and live.”  Our cultural idolatry of guns is killing us – literally.

The story we are being sold – and it is about selling, not telling – is that only guns can keep us safe.  Since “bad guys” have guns and will have them no matter what we do, the “good guys” (that’s us, right?) must have guns so they can stop the bad guys.  Good people who generally care about their own personal safety, about the safety and well-being of those near and dear to them, who want to do the right thing must have as free and easy access to guns as the bad people do.  It’s their sacred duty to be prepared at all times to protect their lives – and the lives of others – by being equipped at all times to stop a bad guy with lethal force before the bad guy can do harm.

This is the story we see played out time and time again in our entertainment. The saga of redemptive violence is the sacred story of our culture.  By punishing the wrong doers, paying them back blow for blow and life for life, justice is done; only the hero willing to use violent means in the proper way can set the world back to right.  How many of the hit summer movies and popular television programs play out according to this same story line of might making things right again through redemptive acts of violence?

Much as Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association has endeavored to blame violent entertainment (along with “unregistered” – actually, untreated would be a better descriptor – mental illness) for the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, the story he uses to sell his agenda is that same myth of redemptive violence.  Guns are celebrated in our culture as a source of power – the power to harm, sure … but also the power to avenge, make right, and protect (only if you, the aspiring hero, can do it to them, the evil doers, before they do it to you).

imagesCAFXM5L9imagesCANIKG5GThis is the myth, the sacred story, that George Zimmerman told himself on an April night last year when he accosted a teenager named Trayvon Martin.  For whatever reason, Zimmerman perceived Martin to be a threat to the peace and well-being (and maybe the lives) of his neighbors and himself.  So he acted to prevent the threat from becoming an actuality.  It’s the story he continues to tell himself and the rest of us … as his attorney attempts to show that, since Martin was less than a perfect angel of a kid, he therefore was a real and obvious threat to the community that night … because, if Martin wasn’t some sort of threat, then Zimmerman initiated an altercation with a teenager who had nothing more on him than iced tea and Skittles and had no other intentions than getting back home with his snacks.  Although Trayvon Martin may have very little in common with the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, he is no less a victim of gun violence than they are … as are the many, many other young people just like him who are being killed with guns in cities all over our country.  But will the jury recognize this or will they affirm the myth of redemptive violence by acquitting Zimmerman?

The only way the “good guy with the gun” stops the “bad guy with the gun” from doing any harm is to shoot first and ask questions later; otherwise, the “bad guy” always has the element of surprise … always gets the first move … always is more ready to act because he knows what he intends to do.  In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, the NRA-shaped fantasy imagined if the principal had been armed with a gun, she could have shot Adam Lanza before he shot a single person in the school.  Maybe … if she’d been able to get her weapon ready (since it’s unimaginable a school principal would always have a weapon in hand, ready to fire) … and if she could have gotten into a position to have a good shot (since I’ve yet to see a school entrance in which the principal would have a clear shot at any intruders from his or her office) … and if she could accomplish these two actions before the intruder saw her or recognized what she was intending to do … if … if …  All of this adds up to one humongous IF that is highly improbable.

But yet, that is the myth – the sacred story – of the idol we call guns.  Only guns can keep us safe.  In our guns we must trust.  Any gun is a good gun so long as it is in the right hands.  You can’t trust the police to be there for you; they take too long.  You can’t trust your neighbor; he (or she) might be one of the bad guys.  It’s a scary world out there full of bad guys who want to hurt you.  Only you can save yourself and your loved ones from all this danger.  Since insensate evil may very well be armed, you need to be armed as well.

imagesCAD9YIH3In the movie A Christmas Story, Ralphie’s fantasy of saving his family from the evil of Black Bart and his gang with his trusty Red Rider BB Gun is hilarious because it is a fantasy – a childish fantasy that is appropriate for a child.  But in adults, such childish fantastical thinking isn’t funny.  Oh, it can be aged-up … dressed up by pointing to some real, dangerous situations that happen on occasion and then presenting these events  as if they were commonplace, rather than  the rare episodes they actually are.  For example, one concealed-carry permit holder is convinced that he avoided being carjacked simply by having a concealed hand gun on his person.  While he was filling up his car at a gas station, another car pulled into the station and stopped at a nearby pump.  The lights on the other car were off when it arrived at the gas station, and there were three people in it.  From these signs, the gun holder realized that they were intending to take his car, so he stared at them for three full minutes until they drove off. (No one even tried to exit the car; no one approached him.)  He had the courage to stare them down because he was carrying a gun.  Even though he never had to touch it, the mere presence of the all-powerful gun prevented him from being a victim of a car-jacking.  [I wish I could find where I read this story.  If anyone knows the source, please let me know.]  That’s his story; it’s what he believes to be true.  But is it any more realistic than Ralphie’s fantasy?

It’s not.  However, when fed a diet of fear-inducing entertainment, we come to believe that the world is a scary, dangerous place in which we must be afraid … be very afraid.  We are alone and powerless.  To be safe we must get power and the ultimate power is a gun – a gun that will give us the power to take life (only when we must, of course).  It’s a sales pitch, really … a story spun to increase sales for gun manufacturers and related businesses.  Like most of our advertising and sales pitches, it’s built mostly on lies and half-truths.

Part of our prophetic role as people of faith (and particularly leaders in faith communities) is to name the idols as such and expose the lies of the stories sacred to the idols, the myths.  In this case, the idol is the gun and its sacred story is the myth of redemptive violence.

untitled (2)Christians have a better story to tell.  We are prophets … messengers … angels who say: “Fear not!  I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be for a people.  For unto you is born this day in the City of David, a savior who is Christ the Lord” … “Don’t be afraid.  You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified.  He is risen; he is not here!”  Do not be afraid; rejoice!  God is here in your midst.  God is not afraid to come among you … to embrace the outcast and broken, the struggling and failing.  God does not fear the worst this world has to offer: rejection, torture, violence, condemnation and death.  God is not afraid to enter into that … to go into even death itself … to overturn and undo it all.  Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us, is not in that tomb.  He is risen!  Life and love and grace will have the final say … not death and hate and fear.

imagesCAA3LWC6It’s a better story that leads to a better life.  We don’t have to be afraid of one another.   We are not left alone, helpless and defenseless in a scary cruel world.  We have been called out of death into life … into life in a community in which we demonstrate love for one another, trust in one another, and the peace that comes from knowing we are all in the care of a gracious God.

Yes, in our congregations, we can lament with those who weep for the victims of gun violence.  But we are also prophets to name the idols, unmask the lies they tell as sacred story, and tell the true sacred story.  We can be communities of moral deliberation where we weigh the ethics of gun ownership and use, our rights and responsibilities as people of God and citizens of this nation.  But we are also called to be communities that model the new life birthed through cross and resurrection, to love God with all we have and show our love for God by loving our neighbors … a way of life that takes us out of fear and into trust.  We are called to be safe places where the hurting and struggling – including the mentally ill – can find acceptance and help and healing.


Running from the Race …

This post started with a commentary in the Minneapolis Star Tribune by Brother Ali (a local hip-hop artist … but, if you’re not into hip-hop, don’t let that lead you to underestimate him; Brother Ali is very wise!).  The commentary had to do with the recent arrest of MC Hammer in the Oakland area which, for Brother Ali, touched off a reflection of how racial disparities really have not changed despite the obvious successes of MC Hammer, Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey … now JayZ, Beyoncé, and Barak Obama.  “Would a white person ever need to transcend their race to achieve mainstream greatness?” he asks.  (You can read the whole piece here … I highly recommend it.)

Maybe “we” (meaning “white people”) don’t have to transcend our race to be accepted in mainstream society – after all, we are “mainstream society.”  But we do need to transcend it nonetheless.  When we just accept racism … don’t recognize it … turn our deaf ears and blind eyes away from it, we allow this ugly scourge to perpetuate in our society.  Our silent refusal to transcend racism ensures its continuation.  That thought drives the rest of this.  A couple of things have come across my path since that commentary a few weeks ago.

If Obama were white …

First up was one of those ubiquitous Facebook posters.  That this one was shared by only one of my friends was one of the surprises.  But perhaps others are as reluctant as I am to share it because of the firestorm that will surely erupt.  The poster features this photo-shop version of Barak Obama’s official presidential photo. (I do admit it would have been more effective if the artist had chosen a more age-appropriate white male hairstyle; what’s in the picture is reminiscent of Justin Bieber.)  As used in the poster by Occupy Democrats,  the picture is accompanied by some points as to what would be different in people’s reactions to Obama if he were white and not black – starting with “there would be no questioning of his birth or his patriotism or his faith.”

I think it’s true.  A lot of the negative reaction that Obama has endured has to do with race.  But how can he say that without being accused of self-serving whining?  Yet, the examples are many.  For example, there was the outburst of “You lie!” from Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina during the President’s address to Congress on September 9, 2009 (a breach of protocol for which the congressman was subject to a Resolution of Disapproval that passed on essentially a party line vote).  There was Arizona Governor Jan Brewer wagging her finger in the President’s face as she “greeted” (if that is indeed the word) him on the tarmac at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix on January 10, 2012.  The President of the United States of America actually had to “show his papers” because of the endless – and needless! – questioning of his birth in one of our 50 states.  (To my knowledge, no one has ever questioned that his mother from Kansas was a US citizen … so does it matter where he was born?).  There was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell explaining that the top legislative priority for Republicans after the election in 2010 would be “to make sure Obama is a one-term president.”  (So much for working for the good of the country …)  Although there was some criticism about this from some conservative commentators and even some within the GOP, the criticism was quietly and softly done.   In all fairness, there also have been a number of times when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Representative Nancy Pelosi (whether Speaker of the House or House Minority Leader) have presented themselves as though they were ultimately “in charge,“ more so than the President.

Now leaders among the Republicans are claiming the President owes them an apology.  An apology for what?  For giving Mitch McConnell no other option but to set the President’s defeat in 2012 as a top priority?  For yanking the words “You lie” out of Congressman Wilson’s mouth?  For having his black face in front of Governor Brewer’s wagging white finger?

Or is it for trying to lead?  For all that he is the President of the United States … for all the votes he has won … for all that he has achieved, he is still a black man.  And a black man is automatically inferior to a white man … to any white person … or so goes so the subtle (ill)logic of racism.

But who should say this?


Word & World - Winter 2013
Word & World – Winter 2013

I was going to keep quiet … but then some more things happened. First, I finished the Winter 2013 issue of World & Word.  (Here’s the link to that issue.)  Among the book reviews was Clint Schnekloth’s review of The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone.  I read the book with a group this past summer and I recommend it just as much as Schnekloth does it.  To echo Schnekloth: “if you read only one piece of theologically informed nonfiction this year, make it this one” (if you haven’t already).  One of the strong points Cone makes in his book is the failure of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr to see the connection between the lynchings so common in those days and the cross that stood at the center of Niebuhr’s ethical thinking.  (If you aren’t into books, here’s a link to some YouTube videos of Dr. Cone discussing the book)

We discussed this point in the group with whom I read the book.  I wondered if perhaps Niebuhr didn’t say anything because he didn’t really see anything.  He didn’t have to.  As a white male of privilege, he didn’t have to see all the lynchings – or even think about them – unless he wanted to.  That’s true of those of us who are white; we do not have to see racism unless we choose to.  But when I do look and do see it, it is not my responsibility to say something? Being reminded of Niebuhr’s failure caused me to consider where my own silence might be a similar failure (even if a much smaller in range of impact).

Then there was the March 16thGod’s Pause” devotion from Luther Seminary.  Dr. Paul Sponheim (one of the teachers I am most fond of from my days there) had been writing that week.  The devotion for that Saturday was on the spiritual “Were You There” … and in his brief prayer, Dr. Sponheim used the word lynching.

Since I’ve been working on this post, there have been public comments that the actor cast as “Satan” in The Bible miniseries bears some resemblance to Barack Obama.  I’ve seen the pictures … and I can see a resemblance.  But I’m not sure I would have noticed it myself.  What I did notice is that the producers chose a dark skinned actor for the part.  Why not a gorgeous dreamboat of a white guy?  Why someone who has one of the darkest complexions in the cast?

It’s racism – whether we say so or not.  I frequently drive by the airport where there are signs all over the place reading: “If you see something, say something.”  I’m seeing something here; so I’m saying something.  I can be silent no more.  Back in the February 20, 2013 issue of The Christian Century, Peter Kane (responding to a small news article about petitions for states to secede) wrote in his letter: “The time is long past to name the behavior of certain members of Congress and their talk radio pals for what it is” [“it” being racism].  I agree.  And I’m saying so out loud and in public.This is racism.  It’s ugly.  It does no favors to any of us.  Our silence only feeds it.  We owe it to mainstream society to transcend it.


The Road to Blogging


Here’s the piece that started it all …

… sort of.  My road to blogging was driven by a need to have a way to post this piece that I’d written, which was published in the October 2012 issue of The Lutheran.  Of course, there is a backstory to this … a story that started just about a year ago.

In January 2012, one of my pastor-friends on Facebook shared an essay by Bishop Michael Rinehart of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod.  I read it and was moved by what the good bishop had to say, so I shared it on Facebook as well.  Then that same piece appeared in the February issue of The Lutheran.  I was delighted that this important perspective was getting such a wide audience.  (I still recommend reading it and here’s a link to Bishop Rinehart’s article:    http://

But my hopes that this might prompt a forward-looking discussion in the wider ELCA were quickly disappointed.  There were letters arguing that insiders matter, too … articles cautioning against “throwing the baby out with the bathwater by jettisoning our heritage” … yet another go ‘round on the contemporary vs. traditional “worship wars.”  All of this was completely aside from what Bishop Rinehart was saying: that the future of the church depends on learning to care about those who are outside of the congregation – and orienting everything we do towards them – instead of taking care of those who are already members.

I was frustrated that people didn’t seem to be getting it.  So I fired up my computer and wrote a response that I submitted for consideration for the monthly “My View” feature in the magazine.  First, I heard it was being considered; then, a few weeks later, I was told it would be published.  Shortly after that, I found myself face-to-face with Bishop Rinehart at the Multi-Cultural Youth Leadership Event prior to the 2012 ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans.  I thanked him for what he wrote and told him that my response would be in the October issue of The Lutheran.  He asked me to email him a link to when it appeared … which I did.  But most of what I wrote was behind the subscription wall … and now, months later, the entire issue is behind the wall.

So I needed a place where I could post it … a place where it would be more accessible.  I’d been thinking about blogging for years.  A number of people have complimented my writing.  I’m working on a book, so I need to “get my name out there.”  So why not?  It took some time to find possible host sites … think of a name that would be unique and frame my ideas … find the time to actually DO the work of setting up the site.  But here it is (at long last).  So I begin with The Piece that Started It All (in its original, unedited version).

The piece that needed a place …

An edited version of this piece was published in the October 2012 issue of The Lutheran.  This is my original submission ….

10-12 Lutheran CoverI shared Bishop Michael Rinehart’s piece about outsiders and insiders on Facebook weeks before it appeared in The Lutheran.  Although his choice of worship, especially hymns, as an example may be offensive to some, he is mostly spot on.


This is not to say that I’m in favor of dumping anything and everything just to catch the attention of the unchurched, dischurched, or otherwise uninterested population.  I don’t think the bishop is suggesting that, either.  But we have to evaluate every single thing we do in our congregations in terms of its eventual impact on the people who are not a part of faith community.  Before you react, allow me to elaborate; we can start with liturgies, hymns, and creeds.


If the creeds help us understand our faith in the God who has called us in baptism so that we can explain what we believe to anyone who asks, keep them.  If the hymns we sing overfill us with joy and the love of God so that this spills onto people around us Monday through Saturday, keep singing them.  If our liturgy gives us such a solid vision of life as it is under the Reign and Realm of God that we can go out and live by that vision, live in such a way to help bring that vision into everyday reality, then hang on to such liturgies.  Let us hang on to anything and everything that helps us live as followers of Jesus in a world that desperately needs the good news.


Jesus’ command to us is that we go out and make disciples, teach what we have learned.  That’s the main thing for us as Church.  Whatever helps us to be disciples of Jesus who can share the good news of what God is up to in the world is worth doing.  Whatever changes will help people around us to hear, understand, and be drawn into this good news are worth making.  But anything and everything we do that creates a barrier between others and the gospel, that distorts and distracts from the good news of God has to go – period.


Sooner or later, somehow, some way, everything we do on the inside is going to touch those on the outside … at least, it should.  How are we touching those around us, outside as well as inside, with the good news?  That’s what matters to Jesus, so it ought to matter to us.


About the writer …

I’m a wife, a mom, a working woman … a preacher, teacher, and student … an ordained pastor and a Certified Information & Referral Specialist.  Through it all weaves the theme that runs through the blog: a practicing disciple of Jesus … “practicing” because I’m still a work in progress.


I currently make my home in Saint Paul, Minnesota with my husband, our two teenagers, two cats, and a dog.  My roots go back to northeastern Indiana where I was born and grew up.  I went to college at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, NM.  Since my graduation with a Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering, I’ve lived in Texas, Florida, and Arizona before moving to Minnesota where I attended Luther Seminary.  After earning my Master of Divinity degree, I took my first call to a congregation in Kansas.  Now I’m back in Minnesota, thanks to my husband’s career, and looking for a call to a congregation … along with many, many other clergy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.


In the meantime, I raise my kids, walk the dog, keep up the house, work with other clergy, and provide information and referral services to people looking for help (which is a lot like helping lost souls find a way to go …).  Somehow it all fits together; sometimes, it actually makes sense.




 Why There May Be Goose Feathers…

This title comes about from two sources.

First, there’s my habit of thinking on things while walking Jack the Dog.  I pick up thoughts, ideas, and sometimes items I find along the way.  Some of it is interesting … leaves, nuts or other seeds, rocks, pieces of bark, and – yes, even feathers.  Some of it is not all that interesting …trash and, well, I’m walking a dog so you can figure out what I pick up a lot of.  Like things collected along a walk, there may be interesting bits here and there … and there may well be some trash and, uh, you know.

But, secondly, and perhaps even more to the title of this blog, I have a great affinity for the old Celtic association of the Wild Goose and the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes my life feels a lot like a wild goose chase!  What’s going on here?  What am I doing here?  What should I be doing in this?  Where do I go from here?  As I pick up stray ideas and things along the way and think things over, I am (in a sense) looking for signs of the Wild Goose.

After all, you can’t call a wild goose to come.  You can’t predict where or when it will show up.  All you can do is listen for its call and try to follow the path of its flight.  You might catch it at rest here or there, swimming in the water … resting on a shore or bank.  But a glimpse is all you get before it flies off again.  But, perhaps with careful watching, you might catch signs of its passage … something that suggests the Wild Goose has been here.

So I’m looking at things, mulling over events of my life in this world, pondering some common questions, and looking for some trace of guidance … some sense of place or purpose in all of this.  Sometimes these postings may be nothing more than my take on the moment.  Sometimes there might be real ponderings of calling and purpose and where is God in all of this.  Some of it might be insightful; some of it might be more of the other sorts of things I pick up.  But sometimes, perhaps, here and there, every now and then, there might be a goose feather or two.

You just never know, there may be goose feathers …