7.14.2019

The Wind in the Willows

Long ago - in a land far, far away - I blogged every day. The content of the blog was basically a diary/travelogue. I shared photos and outings and reflections. It wasn't fancy. But it was a record of life. I miss that style of blogging and use of the Internet.

I'm going to experiment a bit and see if a return to a more "scrapbook style" of blogging feels good.

Let me tell you about yesterday (Saturday). My husband, Justin, has one brother, Brian. Brian is married to Mandie, and they have three kids. Their oldest was in a musical over the weekend in Iowa, and we were able to drive down for the day to see it (and celebrate two family birthdays).

The musical was "The Wind in the Willows."

Here's a summary.  The novel was originally published in 1908. It was first adapted for the stage in 1929. It was first animated in 1949. A second adaption for the stage was completed in 2016, and that's the version we saw yesterday produced by Bell Tower Theater. Prior to seeing yesterday's production, I had not read or heard "The Wind in the Willows" before.

The main characters are Mole, Rat, Mr. Toad and Badger.

Here were my favorite songs:

  • Messing About in a Boat (link)
  • The Hedgehog's Nightmare (link)
  • A Friend is Still a Friend (link) - This song basically sums up the essence of the musical.  
We got back about 11:30PM last night. We were so glad to get to see our nephew on stage and also thankful to celebrate family birthdays. On the way home we stopped at the Culver's in Decorah for a sweet treat. Magnificent!

Uncle Justy and Max



Way to go to this whole cast - entirely made up of youth! So cool! 

Sophia (age 5): "Please take a picture of my blanket." 



7.07.2019

Book Launch Party: July 25 from 6-8PM

Hi! What are you doing on July 25 from 6-8PM?
Please join me for a celebration!

More details in this week's column.

6.23.2019

Sermon for Sunday, June 23, 2019






Sermon:

At the outset, it’s a starkly strange story. A naked man chained in a tomb. Demons. Pigs. Outraged community members. Miraculous healings. 

But keep digging under the shocking elements of the reading and we discover that at its core, it’s a story about how fear and isolation impact a community. It’s also a story about how Jesus responds to complicated situations. In encountering this story, we gain new insights about what it means to confront the forces of evil and fear in our community and world today. 

As a bit of context, this reading comes from the 8th chapter of Luke. Earlier in the chapter, Jesus is doing lots of preaching and proclaiming. He has his disciples and other friends with him. He’s telling parables. Then he gets into a boat with his friends and calms the giant waves during a storm. Right after the boat incident is today’s story. Jesus and however many friends are with him have crossed into a new region. It’s a Gentile area - another way of saying it’s not Jewish people like Jesus and his disciples. They step out of the boat and immediately encounter a man with a serious illness.

Luke, the author of the Gospel, goes into a lot of detail in describing the man’s terrible situation. For a long time he’s been without clothing - not comical but tragic. He’s shouting and lives chained in the tombs. The town has apparently hired some kind of guard to watch him so he doesn’t disrupt life. But even the guard can’t handle him and he breaks away. 

This man is in complete isolation. In a completely communal, family-oriented society, he has nothing. No one. It’s a tragic story. We have no idea how long he has been sick or the nature of his psychosis. Luke understands the illness to be demon possession. Maybe it was. Or, also likely, perhaps he had a severe psychological illness and no available treatment.

The community apparently didn’t know what to do with him so they chained him to a tomb. They stuck him away from the rest of society and tried to look the other way. And maybe, if we pause long enough to be honest with ourselves, we get it. We understand the inclination to avoid daunting, complicated situations. 

The story raises questions for our own consideration 2000 years later. What do we do in situations that feel big and complicated? What do we do with realities that make us uncomfortable? What do we do with people and groups of people who don’t fit societal conventions? 

If we watch the local news or listen to the NPR headlines or read today’s New York Times, we’ll encounter a multitude of big, complicated realities happening in our community, country and world. How do we respond? The same is true in our congregations - workplaces - and families.

Sometimes we are tempted to do what the Geresenes did. We try to stuff all those complications in a big ol’ tomb and chain them up. We shove it all in the closet and lock the door. We send other people to deal with it (like the guards referenced in verse 29). 

Whether we’re talking about refugee families in holding centers without enough blankets or toothbrushes - or the mass extinction if insects crucial to the ecosystem - or a lack of affordable housing in Rochester, there are times we just want to put it all in a cave and shut the tomb. It’s hard to acknowledge complicated, scary, broken situations. 

This hesitancy to lean toward hard stuff is part of why systemic evil is so difficult to confront. Father Richard Rohr writes, “Evil lurks powerfully in the shadows, in our unconscious complicity with systems that serve us at others’ expense. It creates worldviews of entitlement and privilege.” 

Jesus’ approach is different than our general human inclination to avoid. It’s the opposite. Jesus gives us a model for what to do when we encounter brokenness and tension - in family, workplace and the world. 

Jesus doesn’t run or hide or avoid. Instead, he leans in. He asks the man his name. Then he removes the toxic, evil forces from his life. He returns the man to the fullness of life and community. The man begs Jesus to be with him, but Jesus gives him a different assignment: “Go home and declare what God has done for you.” Essentially, he’s calling him to go and be a missionary - spreading the good news - telling the story back home. 

Good news for the man. Everything about his life changed in a very short time. But there's another part to the story that's also important. 

In this same story of a man who is healed, there’s also a story of immense disruption for the townspeople. When Jesus responds to complicated situations, he generally doesn’t just put a pretty pink bow on them. Just as he heals and comforts, he also disrupts and provokes. In casting the evil out of the man into a herd of pigs, everybody in the town gets riled up! They ask Jesus to leave and they’re full of fear. The fear of the community is mentioned on multiple occasions. Jesus healed the man. He freed him. And the people in the community don’t know how to make sense of the new reality. Instead of wanting more of that freedom…they just want to feel comfortable again. So they ask Jesus to leave. This element of the Gospel is important, too. 

Jesus cares about people at the margins - like the man in the tomb. He also cares about people who are not at the margins - everyone else - the people who put other people in tombs. The people who perpetuate oppressive systems. Jesus loves them, too. And sometimes that love shows up as a disruption. The story doesn’t end with that whole community worshipping God and asking Jesus to come hang out. Instead, the story ends with Jesus getting back in the boat and leaving because they don’t want him and his disruptions around. 

As individuals and as a congregation - there are times when we are like the man in the tomb - and we long for healing. Sometimes, we are the ones who need to be healed and restored to a sense of community. And there are times when we are like the community of outraged citizens, and we need something to disrupt our lives and routines and wake us up to the injustice we perpetuate. A lot of the time, we’re in both groups at the same time. 

What I find so very hopeful is that regardless of where we find ourselves in the story, Jesus is there, too. That’s the good news. Jesus shows up and steps in. And then Jesus invites us to declare how much God has done for us. 

Member missionaries of People of Hope Lutheran Church, maybe you’re feeling some kinship with the man in the tomb. Maybe you’re feeling isolated and in need of a renewed sense of community. Or maybe you’re identifying with the people of the town a bit today...and wondering about the ways in which we are collectively complicit in participating in systems that oppress other people. Maybe you’re pondering new ways to respond with compassion and boldness. Wherever you are today - Jesus is there, too. 

Jesus is there with us - inviting us to step closer. We can hide and avoid. Or we can step closer. In moving nearer to the parts of life we find confusing, what we’ll find is each other…a community with whom to journey….and a God who walks with us as we navigate the storms and broken parts of life. 

Thanks be to God for the brave, responsive love of Jesus. May today’s reading remind us that Jesus is not afraid of brokenness. He’s not afraid of tombs. Perhaps this is because he knows firsthand that it is through stepping into the uncertainty of the tomb that new life is found.

6.17.2019

Life lately

Hello friends.
What a very full season of life it has been!
Some highlights since 2019 began....

  • participated in the Border Immersion Experience in El Paso and Las Cruces with Border Servant Corps
  • Visited Napa and Sonoma with Justin
  • Started a new treatment program for my ITP (That has led me to a current Nplate dose that is just 5% of what I use to get every week! So close to an injection-free life and remission!)
  • Led a women's retreat at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Hopkins
  • Pulpit supplied for a few months at Homestead Methodist Church
  • Was nominated as a candidate for bishop in January
  • Attended a Lilly School of Fundraising course in Indianapolis
  • Annual Lenten column series for the Post-Bulletin (this year with a special twist!)
  • Celebrated my sister-in-law by attending her defense for her PhD in Ames at Iowa State! Way to go, Sister!
  • Led a couple Boundaries workshops for the synod
  • Began a one-year leadership training program called SHAPE
  • Served as a confirmation mentor during the season of Lent at Zumbro
  • Presented for the April Rochester Chamber Women's Roundtable on "Incorporating Spiritual Practices into Daily Life"
  • Iowa Easter weekend
  • Preached at St. Olaf College
  • Celebrated Megan and Jeremy's Wedding in Dubuque 
  • Planned the 2019 Spring Communications Workshop
  • Celebrated Mother's Day with our moms in Forrestville
  • Participated in 3 Discernment Events with the other 6 nominees for bishop at different locations around the synod
  • Attended niece Sophia's dance recital in Iowa
  • Ran a half-marathon in mid-May
  • Technical production manager for 2019 Synod Assembly with an outstanding tech crew
  • Participated as a nominee for bishop during the 2019 Synod Assembly
  • Final staff retreat
  • Began the #summeroffun on June 2 (goal: time in the garden, time with friends, new deck furniture)
  • Celebrated my 36th birthday in Clear Lake, Iowa with Josh, Sweta, Justin, Mom and Bob
What a very full and glorious season it has been. 

Also...tiring. 

This has been the most spiritually formative and exhausting season of my life. We're now a few weeks into what Justin and I are calling the "Summer of Fun," and I'm grateful! It's taking me a bit to really "relax" and trust that it's okay to live in a time of unknowns. I'm learning that actually the unknowns are a kind of gift. 

I'm hoping to get back into regular writing and photography (with my real camera). And maybe some typewriter time (and a return to last year's "Summer of Stillness"). 

Thank you for your friendship! 


4.27.2019

This week's Post-Bulletin Column



For this week's Post-Bulletin column, I focused on awe. 

4.23.2019

Sermon on Salt and Light


This sermon was preached on Tuesday, April 23 at St. Olaf College during chapel. 

In the Gospels of the New Testament, we repeatedly encounter Jesus reminding groups of humans that they have the capacity to transform the world.

In readings like today’s passage about salt and light, Jesus invites his community to be a presence in the world that empowers people to have the courage to witness reality as it is.

When Jesus says, “You are light” - he’s calling us to be a force of illumination. When we are able to really see at world around us with all our senses - to examine it - to understand it… in those moments new possibilities are created.

Jesus believes in the capacity his followers to be a transformative, illuminating force.

Today’s Gospel reading falls in the midst of a much larger training session Jesus has with his followers. He’s early on in his ministry, and he’s describing to his disciples the core nuggets of what it means to be part of what he’s doing.

He uses two metaphors that were part of every life - salt & light. Salt was integral to life - it was a preservative, a purifier, and it added flavor. Light, too, was central to life and it set the rhythms of each day. Salt and light were central to middle eastern life in the first century.

Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t say, “If you’d like to become salt….” or “I’d like you to consider being the light.”

He declares, instead, “YOU ARE SALT” and “YOU ARE LIGHT”!

He’s revealing to people a permanent identity they likely didn’t realize they had. He’s saying, “You are a force of illumination in the world. You can help people see reality as it so they can courageously respond.”

It is when we’re able to courageously witness reality…especially life’s difficult realities like racism, gender discrimination, injustice, inequity, a broken immigration system, climate change, and white privilege…When we can witness those realities without defensiveness and fear, transformation happens. When we are able to acknowledge brokenness…and see it…we can then address it with a renewed sense of urgency and purpose.

This is why the influence of illuminators is so important. They help us all to see.

When we stop avoiding and denying and hiding in shame, we can more fully hear the Spirit’s guidance - empowering us to respond to the needs of our communities, world and planet. To be a follower of Jesus is to illuminate the world in such a way that we can collectively and courageously look around without fear.

Here at St. Olaf, you’re doing it.
  • Through poetry and art. 
  • Through music. 
  • Through protest and prayer. 
  • Through your essays and explorations. 
  • Through your questions and contemplation. 
In all these ways, you are being a force of illumination, and you’re empowering one another and those outside this community to see the truth and to be set free.

As a member of the staff of the Office of the Bishop of the Southeastern Minnesota Synod, I want to affirm you - for your work. Your courage. Your worship. Your commitment. And I want to say concretely: you are salt and light - and it’s transforming the world. The ripples of what happens here in this chapel, on this campus, in your library and classrooms…these ripples spread and empower us all.

I love this Gospel reading because it’s a commissioning. Jesus has brought his crew together, and he’s getting them ready for real life….a life in which they will be constantly formed and reformed. This passage is a commissioning for us, too.

Within the next month, another school year will wind down. In these next 3-4 weeks, where in your life is the Spirit calling you to be light? To be salt? What about this summer? How will you use this season of your life here on this campus to illuminate the world in whatever chapter comes next?

As you navigate the road ahead, remember this….

When Jesus coaches and empowers his disciples, he doesn’t say “be likable” or “be brilliant” or “be beautiful” or “be agreeable.” He doesn’t describe how they should grow their following and become more successful.

Instead, Jesus proclaims a truth “You are light!” He wants people to recognize that the world is illuminated because of them and through their collective efforts as Jesus’ followers.

Let this truth soak in. The world is illuminated through you.

Thank you for the ways you empower us all to see beyond ourselves. May the Spirit continue to guide and infuse you with all the courage you need as you continue to usher in the kingdom of God in this community and beyond!


Amen.

4.22.2019

Post-Bulletin Column Series: Lent 2019


Easter Monday greetings to you! I hope that you had a peaceful, joyful, radiant weekend. Justin and I were down in Iowa to celebrate Easter, and it was great. The photo above was taken by my 4-year-old niece, Sophia. Nancy and Jerry, my in-laws, planted some garlic last week, and Sophia captured this photo of the garlic peeking through. Resurrection! 

Each year throughout Lent, I focus my weekly Post-Bulletin column on a particular theme. I pitched a new idea to my editor, Jeff, for 2019. "What if I write each week from the perspective of a different person who encountered Jesus in the gospels?" Jeff gave the go-ahead, and I was excited! Writing creatively in this way was totally new territory for me, and I underestimated how much I would love it. Lent 2019 was one of my favorite Lenten seasons, and that was in part because each week I got the opportunity to encounter the story of Jesus' life, death and resurrection from a new perspective as I prepared to write the column. The other reason Lent was so great was because I got to be a mentor for an awesome middle schooler on Wednesday nights through Zumbro Lutheran. 

Below are the links to each of the "Holy Everything" columns of Lent. Feel free to use them however you'd like - as devotional material or perhaps in your congregational context. A word of background: I took a lot of creative liberties in these portrayals. Parts are certainly drawn from the biblical descriptions of each person, but I also did plenty of research on cultural norms and historical references from other sources. I hope you enjoy!

(Please note: If you are not a Post-Bulletin subscriber, I believe you get 4 clicks per month per browser. Consider becoming a subscriber. It's $16/month for the paper version, and $10/month for online online. As a columnist I don't get a discount, but we do subscribe nevertheless. Journalism matters to democracy, and I really don't want it to die; subscribing to a few papers is one way to support journalism and reporters.) 


Post-Bulletin Column Links: 

3.23.2019

A Column from Judas' Perspective



For this year's Lenten series in the Post-Bulletin, each week the column is written from a different perspective of a person with whom Jesus interacted.

I've always been intrigued by Judas and curious about his part in the story of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. Today's column is written from his viewpoint: here's the link.

3.22.2019

A Letter to Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo

"An official visit by the Special Rapporteur on Racism to the United States during this timely season will give [Professor Achiume] an opportunity to gather information, meet with officials and civil society organizations and directly impacted communities, and offer an assessment and recommendations for effectively fighting the deeply rooted issues of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of xenophobia and bigotry in the United States."

"We are equally concerned about the rise of misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and anti-immigrant sentiments which ave continued to escalate across the United States."

These are two portions of an important letter written to our Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, from a broad coalition of religious and civil rights organizations including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The letter invites Secretary Pompeo to extend an invitation to Professor E. Tendayi Achiume, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, to gather and present information about trends related to racism and discrimination in this country.

I am prayerful that Secretary Pompeo and his team will respond to this letter and invite Professor Achiume to the table. Together, we can build a more just world. To do so, we must understand the depth of the problems at hand, hear from those most directly impacted and base our solutions on the recommendations of people like Professor Achiume whose perspectives are based on research, data and experience.

Holy Spirit, hear our prayers and grant us courage.

3.04.2019

Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday

Location: Hosanna Lutheran Church, Rochester
Gospel: Luke 9:28-36
Good news: When we stay awake and listen to Jesus, we are transformed.

Today we find ourselves on the top of a mountain between two significant seasons of the church year. We’ve journeyed through Advent, Christmas and Epiphany - and before us is Ash Wednesday, Lent, Holy Week and Easter. But first - we climb a mountain with Jesus and a few of his disciples, and we stand in awe.

Today we honor Transfiguration Sunday.

It’s a Gospel reading filled with mystery. There’s Peter, John and James - some of Jesus’ closest friends and disciples. Jesus takes them up a mountain to pray. And then there’s Jesus standing with Moses and Elijah…two Old Testament heroes representing the law and the prophets. Both Moses and Elijah had mountain experiences…and here there are on a mountain again. Moses received the 10 commandments. Elijah encountered God in a whisper. And then, in today’s reading, there’s also cloud. After that, we hear the actual voice of God.

The surroundings of the Gospel reading are significant. Throughout the Bible, mountains are more than places of beauty. They are places of prayer and transcendent spiritual experiences. Clouds are important, too. In the Bible, clouds represent mystery.

Right from the start of this Gospel, we know something really special is happening…we know God is doing something new in Jesus. Jesus brings people with him. Peter, James and John are with him for the transfiguration. This is different that Moses and Elijah…and other biblical heroes. Oftentimes their encounters with God happen individually, and then they bring a message back to the people. Jesus expands the table and invites more people to encounter God’s presence.

******

While they’re with Jesus, they experience the importance of staying awake. Luke, the author of the story, tells us that they were weighed down with sleep. We don’t know exactly what time Jesus invited them out to the mountain to pray…maybe it was late at night. We’ve all been really sleepy before. Heavy eyelids. Pinching ourselves to stay awake.

Somehow, Peter James and John do figure out a way to stay alert. Luke writes, “But since they had stayed awake, they saw Jesus’ glory.” This detail invites us all to reflect on the power of spiritually staying awake. If their sleepiness had overcome them, they would’ve missed it all.

I don’t think the Gospel writer, Luke, is advocating getting less than 8 hours of sleep…or that we give up sleeping altogether. On the contrary, rest is a really good and important thing. Instead, I think he’s inviting us to think about what it means to remain awake emotionally and spiritually.

As Jesus’ followers today, are we awake? Alert? Paying attention to God’s movement around us? Do we slow down enough to practice awareness of the present moment? I wonder if we, like the disciples, are often weighed down with sleepiness, too - literally and metaphorically. We fill our days and nights. We fill up our attention in so many ways. When our time and energies are so full, it’s hard to stay awake and aware of what God is doing in our midst.

But what a wonder it is when we are alert and aware and paying attention. We witness the Holy Spirit in so many ways!
*Last time and the sound system…people ready to solve problems and respond
*On an airplane and met a chemistry teacher from North Carolina
*Denver Public Library: Dr. Seuss Birthday Party
*When and where have you witnessed God's presence?

So what can we do as Hosanna Lutheran Church…individually and collectively to encourage each other to stay alert and aware and awake?

-Engage in spiritual practices…prayer, meditation, slowing down, sharing meals
-Serving…inside and outside the walls of the church
-Reading the Bible and other spiritually enriching literature

All of these are ways we can be awake and aware…tuned into Spirit’s guidance. This is really what any kind of Lenten discipline is about…to empower us to remain aware of God’s nearness.

In staying awake, Peter, James and John experience something profound and astounding. Even terrifying. They see Jesus’ glory and transfiguration. They hear God’s voice in a cloud! And what does God say to Peter, James, and John?

“This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him.”

Of everything God could say, this is what God chooses. It’s powerful. And brief.

Imagine what the experience was like for Peter, James and John. They were already Jesus’ disciples…and certainly they were already incredibly inspired by him and in awe of his words and deeds. But now they were actually hearing God…and God said, “listen to Jesus.”

This is God’s same guidance to us today. Listen to Jesus.

In the church, we’re really good at listening about Jesus. We listen to stories about Jesus…we read stories about Jesus….we hear people talk about Jesus.

But God doesn’t say, “Listen to stories about Jesus.” God says, “Listen to Jesus.” And that means that Jesus has impactful things to say…and we, as his followers, are equipped to listen!

How are we listening? Is there a mutuality in our communicating with Jesus…or does it tend to be one-sided? Where might we take a step toward listening more deeply? How do we shift from hearing about Jesus…to actually hearing Jesus?

As we transition into the season of Lent, may the Spirit empower us to be awake and aware. May we listen to Jesus. And may travel through these 40 days ahead trusting that the Spirit will guide us along the way. Amen.