Monday, September 01, 2014

September Video of the Month

A rare version of a classic.
Jazz by Eric Burdon and the Animals.
Just for September 2014.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Excellent- But Too Narrow

Here is a video I came across today, made by SALT for the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). It is powerful and makes its point very well. A great message.

I kept wanting him to go one step further. I know it's to recruit people into the pastoral ministry, which of course keeps the pension fund financed. But I have to strongly and emphatically add a very important point.

Ordained ministry is NOT, I believe, the highest calling.

Ministry is the highest calling....

and ministry isn't just what the ordained clergy alone do.

The ministry we perform when not ordained, the ministry we receive from the non-ordained matters as much. The highest calling is that we are all to be ministers. THAT is what truly matters. Ten years ago I heard the call to change my place of ministry from the institution to beyond it. It was a move from doing the ordination ministry to a non-ordained ministry. Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to say these things? The assumption is that ministry done by or in non-ordained-type settings is less important than what happens in the church. Many years ago this even applied to some type of less-than-traditional ministry. What s shame.

In September it will be 40 years since my ordination and ministry has mattered in and out of the institution in my life. For the past ten years I have done a ministry that does not require ordination. Most people who do the ministry are not ordained. It is not in a "religious" setting. It is a health-care setting and I am not there as a chaplain. It took me a number of years to accept the call from God that I felt. It was taking me out of the church where ministry happens. But it has given me the incredible opportunity of doing "ministry" in the very best and broadest sense of the word with people who we don't often find in the church. Exciting is too narrow a word to describe it.

Yes, I need my pastor(s) but the ministry is not just located in the ordained. The church needs its clergy, I think. But it is not the highest calling. I am just as "called" today as I was 40 years ago.

Take a look at the video again. Listen as he describes ministry.

Then let's go do it- all of us- who dare call ourselves by Jesus Name.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Smart Aleck Co-Workers :)

Thursday was game day for both the Packers and the Vikings. As a true green and gold Packer fan I was wearing my Packer tie to work. Well, when I came back to my desk two of my co-workers had put this new desktop background on my computer.


Friday, August 29, 2014

Not All That Long Ago

I will make no other comment (today) about the racial situation in the United States. These two pictures are from the Race Exhibit that the Science Museum of Minnesota developed a number of years ago. I took these when it was here in Rochester in 2010.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Changing the Laguage

This came across my Facebook feed today about language and addiction. It was in the Science of Us section of New York Magazine online.

Think of the words and phrases we use to describe drug and alcohol addiction: “clean and sober,” “addicts,” “junkies.” It’s a vocabulary loaded with moralistic connotations. This isn’t good, argue the authors of a new editorial in the journal Substance Abuse, because the use of those terms can inadvertently lay the blame solely on the behavior of the person with the drug or alcohol addiction. And when people struggling with addiction internalize that attitude, it can undermine recovery.
My first thought was it reminded me of language usage 30 years ago as the AIDS epidemic was just ramping up and becoming really scary. The general phrase "AIDS victims" was often used at first. Then the AIDS activists decided that gave a bad morale to the individuals with HIV/AIDS. From then on it became "People with AIDS" or PWAs. It worked so well that I had to stop for a moment to even remember what we used before PWA. It also changed the face of AIDS in the country, most prominently for the people with AIDS themselves.

Victims is not what we want to make people with a disease feel like. That can engender self-pity, ongoing victimization,hopelessness.

I then put the two thoughts together in my head and realized the power of that insight. Dirty -vs.- clean? Drunks and junkies -vs.- people with addiction? The article even goes on to talk about the results of urine drug screens. For many years the phrase has been, a "dirty urine." (As if there is such a thing as "clean urine?") It is the difference language places on things. Dirty is bad- inherently bad. It is a negative state of being.

We have been working for years to change the metaphors of addiction language. We have been struggling to get beyond the ancient and incorrect moral judgements that we have often put on addiction and alcoholism. We have been wrestling with the greater society as well as the medical field itself to see the disease as real and not just some immorality.

Maybe part of it can become the language we decide to use. Even moving from a pathology to a healing language can help.

Here's a quote from another section of the editorial itself:
Recovery-oriented language refocuses the lens from pathology and suffering to resilience and healing. Recovery-oriented language also changes the discussion from one rooted in notions of one-time, acute treatments or interventions to one that appreciates the long-term modalities and strategies needed to sustain recovery.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cohen Continues to Amaze

Leonard Cohen makes music amazing. Here is one from his latest album that does nothing but amaze and dazzle. His voice gets your attention; the music supports the lyric without making any demands, just carrying them along; then you see the lyrics printed on the screen and he uses the Orthodox Jewish standard of not spelling out the Creator (G-d), and you know you are in the midst of someone who takes the Spiritual seriously.

Cohen, of course, is the surname of the priestly clan of the Hebrew Bible. Leonard was born Jewish which undoubtedly informs his views of G-d, has also spent years with Eastern religions.

Cohen: the priestly class of the Hebrew Bible;
Leonard: a Cohen (priest) for the 21st Century.

I saw some people starving
There was murder, there was rape
Their villages were burning
They were trying to escape

I couldn’t meet their glances
I was staring at my shoes
It was acid, it was tragic
It was almost like the blues
It was almost like the blues

I have to die a little
between each murderous plot
and when I’m finished thinking
I have to die a lot

There’s torture, and there’s killing
and there’s all my bad reviews
The war, the children missing, lord
It’s almost like the blues
It’s almost like the blues

Though I let my heart get frozen
to keep away the rot
my father says I’m chosen
my mother says I’m not

I listened to their story
of the gypsies and the Jews
It was good, it wasn’t boring
It was almost like the blues
It was almost like the blues

There is no G-d in heaven
There is no hell below
So says the great professor
of all there is to know

But I’ve had the invitation
that a sinner can’t refuse
It’s almost like salvation
It’s almost like the blues
It’s almost like the blues

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Primeval Place

The park, Ravensburg State Park, was one of many Civilian Conservation Corps projects of the late depression-era. As if the waterway and rocks were not enough, the CCC architecture has earned the park a place on the National Register of Historic Places.

The park sits in the gorge created over the millennia by Rauchtown Creek. The creek along with the freezing and thawing in the sandstone created the spires known as Castle Rocks. They are back there, behind the picnic area and the CCC dam-created swimming hole. I never remember exploring them when young. Dry, dull sandstone doesn’t have the attraction of the water and rocks of the run.

But there was something about The Rocks that made them more than a babbling book. I remember standing by the falls made by the dam and listening. I had no words for it. I couldn’t describe it. It just felt real. True. Something to depend on; something that would always be there.

Odd, isn’t it, to speak of water in those terms? Maybe it was the ancient mountains and rocks that helped. Maybe it was the primal knowledge that these rocks and this water path had been around for a long time. The Rocks is green and mossy and alive. It provides life and food and sustenance. It is off the beaten path- alive only briefly- but what an explosion of life. There are dense stands of trees along the Run. Only the dam area is in the “open,” a necessity of construction no doubt. A few yards up- or down-stream the sun is shaded, the temperature drops noticeably and the sound of the water increases.

Some places are holy for various reasons for various people. What draws some of us to parched deserts and others to the prodigal wildness of places like The Rocks? Why do some have a constant irresistible pull from an invisible God in a visible universe while others look at you like you’re speaking a foreign language?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A 25-year Memory: Pete Rose

On this day in 1989, Pete Rose was banned from baseball- forever- for gambling. One of the truly all-time greats of the game, his banning still raises controversy. I saw him play in the early 80s with the Phillies and he was electrifying. He helped lead the team to its first ever World Series championship. Barnes and Noble Review quoted from a new biography of "Charlie Hustle" (Pete Rose: An American Dilemma by Kostya Kennedy):

What do we think of him now, in his 70s and deep into a strange, sometimes slapstick post-baseball journey that has led him to prison for tax fraud; to the pro wrestling ring; to the dog track; to divorce from his second wife; to a reality television series pinned in part to the surgical fate of his young girlfriend’s breasts; and to so many instances of hawking one thing or another, selling his signature, his story, himself? What do we think of him now, the Hit King who still adores and reveres baseball—its nuances, its history—as he adores and reveres nothing else?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Somedays I Feel Dystopian

Every now and then, as I am watching the evening news I get this feeling of deja vu. I know I have heard all this somewhere before. Things like:

  • deadly viruses ravaging people
  • riots with heavily armored police and troops
  • record setting drought in the American southwest
  • flash floods carrying away cars and trucks
  • the Polar Vortex
I feel like I'm reading a futuristic science fiction story or a Cormac McCarthy novel.

Dystopia.From Wikipedia:
A dystopia is a community or society that is in some important way undesirable or frightening. It is the opposite of a utopia. Such societies appear in many artistic works, particularly in stories set in a future. Dystopias are often characterized by dehumanization, totalitarian governments, environmental disaster, or other characteristics associated with a cataclysmic decline in society. Dystopian societies appear in many sub-genres of fiction and are often used to draw attention to real-world issues regarding society, environment, politics, economics, religion, psychology, ethics, science, and/or technology, which if unaddressed could potentially lead to such a dystopia-like condition.
I realized that such dystopias can occur with no warning. All of a sudden we stop and realize that the world is much more hostile to us than we thought.

But I have a feeling that this has always been true. Dystopian societies have always existed. They are not something we have to wait to see happen in some future.

Just look at the evening news.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Good Question

I caught the end of the talk by David Brooks on Minnesota Public Radio's presentation of the Aspen Ideas Festival. He presented a question he learned from someone who does a lot of hiring. "What is the one question you ask," he asked the hiring expert, "that gives you what you want to know." The answer:

When did you tell the truth even though it hurt you?
I'm impressed by the thoughts this can raise. I have a hunch that many would probably be taken aback by the question. It is a surprising way of finding out what kind of a person the interviewee is.

I wonder how I would answer it in a quick response?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Brain Teaser

A brain teaser was on the Trivia Board at my local Caribou Coffee Shop the other day.

You may always chase me, but you are always about 3 miles away.
What am I?
No, I didn't figure it out in the moment I pondered.

Yep- the answer was the sunset.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Crumbs of Grace

Sunday's Gospel text was the story of the Phoenician woman who pleaded with Jesus for his healing. He refused with a somewhat snide remark.

It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.
But she was quick with a comeback:
Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.
Which led me to think the title of today's post. All any of us get in our day to day lives is truly nothing more than a few crumbs of grace falling, I believe, from the bounty of God. Crumbs of grace.

Yet it is enough. It is always enough. Grace is never deficient.

I have never thought,
Gee, if only I had a little more grace today. Things would go so much better.
Nor have I thought, (out loud, anyway!)
I deserve more grace. Look at all I have done. Look at how wonderful I can be. Surely there's more grace set aside for me.
I know that when I write that it sounds downright silly, if not idiotic. We all know (intellectually) that grace is unearnable. It's free, a gift, far beyond anything we deserve -or would get if justice were based on our human standards. Yet I have heard many people over the years make statements, in coded language of course, but the message is clear:
Look at me, I deserve more grace.
Sunday evening then I was doing some research for a presentation this fall that includes a look at "feminist ethics." As I was reading the description and insights of feminist ethics, it struck me that in the scene from the Gospel on Sunday, we were seeing an example of the "ethics of care" that the woman was presenting.

The "old ethics" was that this woman was below any attention. She doesn't even deserve grace. (I know, that's an oxymoronic statement!) But her ethic is far stronger. Her ethic is based on relationships and healing, not strength and force. Her ethic is based on caring for her daughter. So, in essence she says to Jesus and the disciples:
I don't care what your ethic is, mine is to take care of my daughter. It is as good as your ethic. Maybe better? Even the dogs get to eat the scraps, and Jesus, you are a man of grace and have a lot to share.
I then came across a quote in my reading that, for me, summed up the difference between her ethic and the ethic of force and wielding power:
grace is a healing power rather than a saving force.
What a statement. Healing vs. saving. Force, or a gift. Perhaps if we were more attuned to the Canaanite woman's ethic, we would be more open to caring for those around us in a more helpful way.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Another Great Year!

Monday, August 18, 2014

To Over Consume

An economy built on needing people to over-consume. That was what I heard an economic observer say in describing our US economy. It is not the first time I have heard it and the current economic situation is not the only time it has been raised. But the situation since the Great Recession a few years ago has brought it more clearly into focus.

Evidence seems to point to a few pieces of the puzzle why the retail (consumer) economy hasn't picked up as quickly as hoped. One is, the observer said, people are making budgets- and sticking to them. They are also attempting to save more and not using all their discretionary money on, well, discretionary items. As a result the up-tick in car sales earlier in the year has kept money from going into that discretionary spending.

Now, I am not a good example of a frugal, budget-conscious person. I know how to budget but have a very difficult time keeping to it. So I have been as guilty as the next person in lack of savings, etc. But there is much truth in the need for budgeting on individual levels as well as the governmental. It appears that people are working hard at doing that- and therefore the economy isn't growing like it could. Somehow or another that seems like a very unhealthy model on which to base any economy. It is a buy more, spend more mindset. The economy is not satisfied with last year's profit levels- the profits have to be more and more and more.

There has to be a balance here, I believe. I personally am working on that. As I look to retirement and Social Security income I know I will have to be more conscious of what and how I am spending. I wish now I had learned more about how to do that earlier in life. But it is also true that if I had, I might not have been doing my part as a "good" American consumer.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Remarkable Song's Ascent

It's about Biblical images of a shepherd King named David; it's a story of Samson and Delilah; it's a reflection on making love; it's a universal awareness that in the end there's nothing but standing before a Creator and singing.


Leonard Cohen wrote the original verses; John Cale sang the first variation; Jeff Buckley turned it into an anthem; Rufus Wainwright made it more playful; k d lang performed it at the Olympics and helped make it international.

It has been used for weddings, Yom Kippur services, movie and TV soundtracks and 9/11 reactions.


I just finished reading the book, The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah" by Alan Light. It tells the now 30-year journey of what has become an iconic song. Light traces the composer, Cohen, through his career and how this song, barely noticed for the first ten years of its existence slowly rose to the stature it has today.

It is a remarkable song that has a life of its own thanks in part to Cohen's own openness to change. The melody is simple, haunting and unforgettable. The first time one hears it, you think you've heard it before. It builds on its own familiarity and pulls you in. Light examines the song, the various verses added to it, it's use in the movie Shrek, American Idol and as the instrument for a resurgence and appreciation for Leonard Cohen, who as Light points out does the simple and radical thing of rhyming "what's it to you?" or "come to fool you" with "Hallelujah."

In the end for many, it may be the closing stanza of Cohen's original lyrics that speak of an attitude and a spirituality that we all seek to live. It is a holy or broken


I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Here is the now wise elder Cohen singing at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2008.

Note: Go to You Tube and hear the other three remarkable interpretations by
John Cale
Jeff Buckley (life at Sin-e) and
Rufus Wainwright.
Each is unique and will bring out different emotions.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Mid-Summer Days

When in need of more wilderness, I go to my favorite park just down the road- Whitewater State Park. As I have said before summer is usually thought of as a time of green- underbrush, trees, ferns. Greens are everywhere. But it is never boring. It all is on where you look.

Even the ferns are varied in color.

At Coyote Point the wondrous network of roots and trees growing right out of the rocks.

"Underbrush" that's three feet tall in a multitude of colors of green. This borders the path that is never the same from visit to visit.

After climbing through the dusky green of the woods it's out into the sunshine and the presence of flowers. Where there are flowers, there are bees.

In the prairie butterfly garden the colors are even more stunning than they were in spring.

And perhaps even more varied.

Then there are the butterflies.I am learning a little about the differences between butterflies and moths. I thought this was a moth, but it isn't. It's actually a Silver-spotted skipper.

Friday, August 15, 2014

All Names are Made Up

Last week i posted on the name of the iconic lake that forms the headwaters of the Mississippi River- Lake Itasca. I was reacting to the fact that the name of the lake was "made-up" by the headwaters explorer, Henry Schoolcraft. He came up with the name of the lake from a Latin phrase he put together, veritas (true) + caput (head). He got

ver- ITAS CA- put.
Sure it sounds like a Native American word. But the Ojibwe name for "Lake Itasca" was Omashkoozo-zaaga'igan (Elk Lake), according to Wikipedia.

At this time I felt cheated. Itasca was a made-up name. It wasn't it's real name. By that, I meant of course, the Native American name for it.

But as I rode across the lake the next day I realized that in and of itself this body of water has no name. It is just a lake. People give it a name. And who is to say that doing something that's actually kind of unique to give it a name is wrong? What if Schoolcraft had decided to name it after the then President Jackson? Would that have been a better or worse name?

I thought further, then, to the naming of the animals- a job given to Adam and Eve in the Biblical creation story. So if Adam named, for example, a "lion" a "lion," what language did he do it in? Aramaic- Aryeh; Hebrew- ari; Greek- léon; Latin- leō? The name I use in English for that animal isn't its real name?

While I may prefer certain older names to newer ones (Denali vs. Mt. McKinley; Tiadaghton vs. Pine Creek) neither name is right or wrong.  We name the names.

So, I apologize to Henry Schoolcraft for doubting and dissing his name for the lake. The more I came to know it last week, the more I realized that its name is Itasca.

And just for fun, here's Bob Dylan on this topic:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Joy of Diversity- An Example

Yesterday I wrote about the joy of living in a diverse country. After I was done I was scanning my Facebook page and came across a posting from the Del McCoury Band and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. It is a live performance from the Letterman show of a song from their joint album. Del McCoury is one of the top bluegrass musicians of the day and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band is, well, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Their album, American Legacies shows the musical power of diversity at work. Here is the live cut from Letterman:

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I Love Diversity

One of the fun things about living in a city like Rochester, MN, is that it is a highly diverse community. Thanks to a number of reasons there are lots of different ethnic groups here. It is not unusual to be sitting at one of my Caribou Coffee shops with people of different nationalities and languages. It keeps me aware of the incredible ways we are all different and yet all the same. Ever since I helped out on the Race Exhibit that the Science Museum of Minnesota developed when it was here in Rochester, I have been grateful for the ways we can share and live side-by-side here.

A couple weeks ago as Ramadan came to a close, Eid al-Fitr is the official name of the end, I happened to be downtown near the local Mosque. I parked across the street and did my errands. As I returned to my car, a gentleman I assume to be Muslim was walking along the sidewalk. He looked at me and broke into a big smile. No, he didn't know me. But he was excited about Eid al-Fitr and wanted to share it. He didn't speak English, but instead mimed that he was happy to be able to eat normally again- the fast was over. At first I was taken aback until I realized what he was doing. He smiled some more and expressed the joy of the end of the fast again. I smiled back and indicated I shared his joy for him.

That is what the wondrous picture of the United States is all about! The idea of a "melting pot" is a non-truth long ago disproved. While we do meld together in what we call "American" it is not a bland mixture of all kinds of different people from places far and wide. There is NOT this thing called "American." It is far more wondrous than that. It is a tapestry, a work of art that has been able to take all these different styles and ideas and personalities and ethnic backgrounds and make it into something of beauty, woven together with common desires for freedom and hope.

Which is why I get so upset at so many who think they have defined being a citizen of this country by a certain ethnic background. There was a time, and it is far less than a century ago, that the "true American" was a northern European. Oh- and Christian. Italians? Jews? Even some Spaniards? Chinese-no way. Japanese? Forget it.

Thank God we have these cross-currents to influence us. We have the ability to interact with people and cultures on a day-to-day basis. We are not diminished as a country by this. We are enriched. Perhaps we can even be a beacon of hope to a world still struggling with differences that lead to war.

As I have been sitting here writing there are some Egyptian-looking men speaking Arabic, some Muslim women wearing beautifully colorful clothing, an Asian-American studying for some exam, a guy with gray hair, young blondes, and others coming in and out.

What a beautiful place to live.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

In Memory: Robin Williams

I watched the story break across Facebook yesterday after supper. Robin Williams, age 63, had died, most likely of a suicide. A man who brought so much laughter and joy to our world over the past three decades is gone. Reports started coming that he had been wrestling with depression recently. He was also well-known as a recovering alcoholic-addict who at times has struggled with sobriety.

The combination of addiction and depression is a lethal mix. While one does not necessarily cause the other, they can be difficult to untangle. Both need to be treated.

Fortunately that message also spread across Facebook last evening. Like the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman from a drug overdose last winter, Robin Williams death raises awareness of this deadly disease.

We will miss Williams' humor and insanity. May there be a lesson for all to learn as well.