Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Few Favorites from 2007

It's the time of year that everyone comes out with their lists of top books, music, etc. Not wanting to be left out, here's a very quick look at a few of mine from the last year. Disclaimer, just because I read them in 2007 doesn't mean they were published this past year! It sometimes take me a bit to get around to all the books that I buy.

I didn't purchase much in the way of "new" music this year. I'm just not finding much that interests me these days. One CD that did find its way onto the regular "playlist" at our house was "An Other Cup" by Yusuf Islam (the artist formally known as Cat Stevens). It was actually released in 2006, but didn't find its way to our house until spring. It's a wonderful CD full of mystical and hope-filled lyrics (even if they are from a ... gasp ... a ... a ... Muslum!). "The Beloved" is a prayful song that I find a great lyric for contemplation/centering .... give it a try.

Three books found their way onto my "best of" list for 2007. Topping the list is "Buffalo for the Broken Heart: Restoring Life to a Black Hills Ranch" by Dan O'Brien. It's a wonderful story of a hard-luck biologist that takes a huge gamble to reintroduce bison to a ranch in South Dakota. It's a story that encompasses the natural history of the prairie, our totally screwed up agricultural system, sustainability, and determination. It's about life and death, predator and prey. O'Brien has brought a sustainable agribusiness to the Great Plains, you can read more about it at wild idea buffalo. This was my favorite book of the year.

The second pick was "The Unquiet Grave: The FBI and the Struggle for the Soul of Indian Country" by Steve Hendricks. At times this book made me sick to my stomach. It took me several months to finish it. There were times when I was so angry that I couldn't continue reading. Hendricks does a brilliant job digging through FBI and Department of Justice files and pieces together a revealing look at the political struggles on indian reservations, mainly in South Dakota. It's a story of bad government and even worse law enforcement. The names the pop up in investigations are amazing. I could never quite figure out why the FBI, ATF, CIA, (oh, yes the CIA and the Army were all involved with Wounded Knee II) and other government law enforcement agencies would bother native people. I still don't know. Although there is a great deal of blame to go around on both sides of the issue, it still amazes me what the government and their thugs got a way with. People should be in prison over many of the things found by Hendricks during his investigation.

Finally, a book that came out several years ago by Richard Louv entitled "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder". Louv does an excellent job linking a number of childhood trends: increases in obesity, depression, and ADD to a shift from nature-based play to a sedentary life-style. It is incredibly well researched and not only does Louv outline the problem well, he offers up solutions to getting kids back outside and active. There's a substantial section on "The Spiritual Necessity of Nature for the Young" that I wish were expanded. We all need to be reminded that we are God's creatures, we come from the Earth, return to the Earth and are integral the the well-being of God's creation.

That's the list for 2007. For those of you that happen upon my little blog I hope that your new year is full of good health, laughter, joy and blessings that are yet unseen.


Thursday, December 13, 2007


Music is a very important part of the day to day life in our household, there is always something or someone playing some form of music in the house. Christmas is my favorite time of year for music. We generally start cranking the Christmas tunes right after Halloween. I'm not a huge fan of popularized Christmas music and I think some of it is really done with out much regard for taste let alone out of praise and respect for the birth of Christ. In fact a lot of it just reinforces my thought that we should actually loose the mythical "war on Christmas"! I mean, Larry the Cable Guy has a Christmas album? I would hold that as a perfect example of why not to shop at a particular store rather than for the clerk saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas". But I digress from my original intent on this posting. I wanted to share a few of my favorite Christmas tunes with you. First comes "Light of Christmas Day" by Peter Mayer. This a cappella song (with background from the Brentwood UMC Choir) is very striking and the lack of accompaniant allows one to really focus on the message in Peter's lyrics. Perhaps my favorite Christmas sone is also one of Peter's. Sing Joy really speaks to me. It's about the dark, bleakness of winter being broken by the event of Christ's birth and the promise that his birth gives us. I can sing along (not very well mind you) with this song all year long. The Light of Christmas Day is on Peter's album "Echos of the Season" and "Sing Joy" can be found on "Stars and Promises".

And now for something completely different. I've really been struck by the simple beauty of ancient music. I've really grown to appreciate the tradition that is part of Christianity. While some of our history is decidely very ugly, there are jewels such as the ancient music that groups like the Rose Ensemble are working to keep alive. (I had a difficult time linking into the mp3 samples, so you'll have to go to the Rose Ensemble site and skim through it on your own. It's well worth the effort.) First is from an album of Baroque period Christmas music from Mexico entitled Celebrmos el Nino. The song Convidando esta la noche is roughly translated to "inviting this the night"; as you can imagine, it's about the birth of the Christ child. From their album "Rosa Das Rosas: Cantigas de Santa Maria and other Spiritual Songs for the Virgin" another Rose Ensemble favorite is Pues que tu, Reyna del ciclo. I won't even pretend to know the translation but the entire album is full of songs about Mary.

So, there you have a sampling of songs that you probably won't hear at the mall. I hope you'll take a few minutes to listen to them. If you do, I'd love to hear what you think.


Thursday, December 6, 2007

Everything Must Change

That's the name of a book from Rev. Brian Mclaren. I started to read it a while back but other readings for school have taken up much of my reading time and it, along with several others have found a place on the book shelf for the time being. I'm not going to get into the details of the book, but today Rev. Rory (see the link on the side bar) posted a blog about an article Mclaren had blogged. I too recommend the article, which pertains to the book. However, the interesting read for me were the comments from readers. I wasn't surprised by the attacks on the "religious right" but I was fascinated by many of the reasons people gave for not being active Christians. People had left the church for a number of reasons, the pointed fingers at various Christian faiths for ruining the Christian religion. The most surprising thing to me were those that left because, and this is my view on their comments - so I may be off base, which is absolutely possible! - there were certain things they didn't like. In other words the church they left wasn't perfect. Wow. Imagine that, a group of people doing something together that isn't perfect! The other thing that struck me was the "me" factor. Lot's of individualism that in my view totally misses the point of Christianity.

I'll be the first to admit that the Church isn't perfect. Most denominations are struggling with issues. I don't agree with everything the United Methodist Church does, but I don't run and hide from reality. I hope that things will change in our denomination someday and I hope to work constructively within the church to get that done. Taking my toys and going home isn't going to change anything. Change not only comes from within for individuality spiritual growth, it happens that way for the Church as well. As far as I know there's only One example of perfection on earth.

The individualism is also alarming. In another book that I was reading and hope to finish soon, Take this Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles the author makes a statement that "you can't be a Christian alone". The point being that to be truly Christian, to live in the example of Christ, you need to be part of the family of Christ; not just showing up on Sunday morning but being actively involved, part of the body, the community of Christ. I think the people that are looking for that perfect fit, are more worried about themselves are missing the point of Christianity. I feel sorry for them too.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007


I love it. I've always loved it, and I've missed it! I even like shoveling it (although my body is a little less fond of that aspect of the white stuff these days). Above all, I love gliding over it. Ever since my parents bought me a pair of wooden skis, bamboo poles, some ugly brown boots I've been a skier. The first year on skis I set up a 1/4 mile loop in our neighborhood and every night after supper and homework I skied. I skied so much that I logged over 300 miles that year. Except for some time in graduate school and when I first started work in MN, I've spent the majority of my winters doing something related to skiing.

There is something very unique about skiing towards evening that I really like. The woods are generally very quiet, add in a few flurries or light snow and I don't know if it really gets any better than that! I love the sting of the cold on my face, and how it moves into my lungs.

I also love going fast on skis. The last few years that's been a little difficult because a general lack of fitness on my part and this year won't be much different I'm afraid. I love twisting downhill trails, but greatly dislike big downhills. That's one of the great things about skiing, you can go as fast or slow as you like.

I may be singing a different song come March, but right now, I'm pretty fired up about this white stuff!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Follow up on Thanksgiving

I had an immediate response to my Thanksgiving blog this morning. I was going to delete the comments but thought that I would rather leave them so people could read how misinformed and absolutely ignorant they are with regard to our nation's history. To think that this guy is writing history books makes me want to puke, I can only hope that there are few schools that would buy into his agenda of manifest destiny. Sorry folks, I can't believe that God would want us - let alone lead us - to enslave africans to work our farms, exploit asians to build our railroads, or kill any indian that got in our way, just so we can sit in our 4 bedroom homes with 2.5 kids, 1.3 pets, and tune out the world around us.

On second thought I don't need to give this guy a platform to spew forth his vile rhetoric, he and his manifest density are gone.

I apologize, but because of this incident, I've put tighter controls over commenting on here. I do this reluctantly because I believe that these forums should be as free as possible. But if someone is selling something, particularly if it is something I wouldn't believe in, it's not going to show up in the comments section.


Some thoughts on Thanksgiving

Over the last 3 or 4 years I've been more or less tolerating Thanksgiving. Ever since I read Kent Nerburn's book "Neither Wolf nor Dog, On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder", and having spent a fair amount of time investigating native "issues" the whole Thanksgiving thing just doesn't cut it for me. I wouldn't have such a problem with it if we weren't annually subjected to the sanitized version of the First Thanksgiving or if we, as a nation, were to finally stand up and admit to the genocide that we have inflicted on native people. On Thursday there will be people celebrating the bounty of this great land, there will also be a small group of people mourning the loss of their culture and to a great extent their dignity. Let us not forget that many of them couldn't afford a full blown Thanksgiving meal either.

If that wasn't enough, the fact that Thanksgiving just adds to out gluttonous nature as a society is also troublesome to me. Do we really need to be celebrating the fact that we over consume food or that we're an obese nation? The environmental costs of food production are enormous. The United Nations has published a report that shows food production, specifically the livestock industry, produces more greenhouse gasses than does transportation. Those costs don't include the land destruction that takes place to grow feed for livestock or the costs of the added nutrients to our watersheds from animal waste.

So, with all this going against it, why even bother? I do think we should celebrate Thanksgiving. Food is a sacred gift from God and we should be thankful for that. We should celebrate the fact that native cultures still exist and that we can still learn from them. So, Thursday morning I'll get up early, burn a little sweet grass and sage to give thanks for my many native friends, put some free-range chickens in the oven, and chill some salmon-friendly wine from Oregon and be thankful for the opportunity to do so.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

What is a farm?

Last year the Minnesota Legislature redefined what constitutes a farm. At one time if you had more than 10 acres of land and lived outside an incorporated area you could be considered a farm. Now, the 10 acres doesn't cut it. Why should this matter? The fact of the matter is people are farming, and making a living, from 10 acres of land. This has everything to do with sustainable farming practices, good, fresh food, and a stable, sustainable economy. I'm certain there were people abusing the old system, but should we be punishing those who weren't? The StarTribune is running a story on this in the Sunday (November 18th) paper. This is something we can all do something about from a grass-roots level.

Friday, November 16, 2007

War Eagle!

War Eagle is the "cheer" and greeting of Auburn University students, alums, and fans. It does kind of grow on you, and it does have kind of a neat background, but I'd still prefer it didn't have such a militaristic tone to it. I spent a couple of years living in Alabama while I was doing my M.S. program in fisheries biology. It was a great experience and I'm glad I was able to do my graduate studies within a great program like Auburn's. I was able to study with some truly remarkable people and got to see a totally different part of the country. My research was conducted across the state looking at crappie populations which enabled my to see a lot of rural Alabama. It was pretty eye-opening to see the little sheds and cabins that people were living in. It wasn't uncommon to drive through the country and see light shining through cracks in the walls of houses. So, I was particularly pleased and proud when I opened my last little email from Speaking of Faith this morning. This week's program is about Auburn's architecture program designing housing for people living in poverty. I think this is a really big deal, since a lot of people see Auburn as a football school. I've known it's much more than that but this will (hopefully) give people a little different perspective. I'm eager to hear the program (although for some stupid reason, they play it here from 10 a.m. on Sunday when I'm at church!) and hear what the folks at AU are doing. It's good to know it's not just about football.
Peace Eagle,

Thursday, November 15, 2007

And what did you do today?

I've seen a number of posts describing the blogger's day, including work, home, activities etc. This evening while driving home, it occurred to me that I had a pretty unique day. I woke up at the UofM's Forestry Reseach Center in Cloquet. I was there for a short, two-day meeting with a group of other biologists with the goal of developing a detailed sampling program to track environmental changes in aquatic systems all across the state of Minnesota. I'm responsible for developing and implementing the zooplankton sampling protocol for the program. About mid-morning I left the meeting and headed for St. John's. I spent the first class talking about the implications of Vatican II on ecumenism and the second about Hildegard of Bingen and the Beguine mystics. I got back to Alexandria around 5:30 p.m. just in time for a potluck/monthly church council meetings at church. At 8:30 I was helping Will put the final touches on his science fair project. Pretty good day I'd say.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A new level of frustration

I'm a little, ummm, frustrated right now. When I started this journey, I figured it would be fairly difficult - balancing work, dad, husband, and school - and that part hasn't disappointed me. It is challenging, but I enjoy it. I enjoy learning and I enjoy the growth that I'm undergoing. The frustration stems from this diaconal ordination track that I'm trying to figure out. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I started the program at St. John's without an intention of ordination. However, at the time I wasn't aware of the Deacon program within the UMC. There truly is a calling above the self fulfilling gratification of further study and I am serious about the diaconal program. However, I've grown increasingly frustrated with the definitions that are presented with the program. Everything is vague and from my point of view open to a great deal of interpretation. I was initially told that with a previous M.S. and being over 35, I needed 24 (and depending on which website or pamphlet you read it could be 27) credits of basic graduate level theological courses, half of which would need to completed at an "approved" school. (What's half of 27 credit-wise?) That wasn't a big deal since United Theological Seminary and Luther Seminary are just down (140 miles) the road and they do offer a few online courses. Better yet, St. John's will count those credits towards my degree AND will include them in the fellowship they've given me. Sweet deal... but too sweet?

Now to the frustrating part. During a conversation with a professor at another school about some environmental issues, the subject about ordination came up and I was told that ALL my credits needed to come from an "approved" school. Yet, all the literature I've found says "Master's degree in appropriate area of specialization, plus completion of 27 semester hours of basic graduate theological studies in the Christian faith. OR Professional certification, plus completion of 27 semester hours of basic graduate theological studies in the Christian faith. Must have reached 35 years of age at the time of being certified as candidate." It says nothing about an approved school OR the 27 or 24 credits having to come from an approved school. For tracks A and B, it specifically states that all work must be completed at an approved school. The frustration (and you must realize that I work for state government, so it takes a lot to get me frustrated!) stems from not being able to get an answer about any of this. In the last two weeks I've left 11 voice mails with various people at the General Board of Higher Ed. and have yet to have one returned. That really goes beyond, rude - it's incompetence in my mind. My District Super. has called on my behalf and hasn't gotten really any further than I have, other than they're sending him some informational literature.

The second point of frustration grows out of the "approved" school list. For a theology born from an Anglican tradition it is truly amazing that there is not a single Anglican, Episcopal, or Roman Catholic school on the approved list. I've pretty much decided that whatever transpires within the UMC, I'm going to finish my M.A. program at St. John's. They've made a commitment to me financially and I've made a great deal of progress in my studies of combining ecology, spirituality, and theology. So, stay tuned, I'm sure there will be more twists and turns on this journey.


Tuesday, November 6, 2007


As I've mentioned in previous blogs, I've been leading a Sunday discussion at church on land ethic, theological response to environmental issues, and most recently the spirituality of food and eating. During the discussion's we've covered Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic, looked at how other denominations view God's creation (including the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the American Baptist Church) and have viewed a short video producted by a Franciscan community of nuns on the challenges of climate change. We are currently looking at the theology and spirituality of food.

During the conversation, corn somehow creeps into our discussions. During the section on Land Ethic, we talked about the toll the environment has taken while we have developed a monoculture of corn on our prairie landscape. During the conversation on climate change, we talked about ethanol a great deal. We discussed how hoarding corn for ethanol production affects the food chain (the commercial one, not so much the natural "eat and be eaten" one). We found that filling up a large SUV with pure ethanol uses enough corn (about 400 pounds) to feed a person for a year. What are the ethical/theological implications of that aspect of corn alone? Interestingly, I found a tidbit (sorry I can't find the link) that John Wesley's cry for abstinence from alcohol wasn't so much that it was unhealthy or a sin to drink; rather it was that the grain that was converted to alcohol could have fed the poor.

As we move our conversation to food it will be interesting to see the role corn plays in our discussion. Corn is everywhere, it is nearly impossible to find a pre-packaged food that doesn't have some corn or corn derivative in it. Nearly all the soft drinks consumed in this country have some high fructose corn syrup in them. Even diapers have corn in them. We've even errected statues of corn! Paul Gruchow, wrote about our corn dependency a number of years ago. His essay, Corn is not Eternal, he paints a fairly frightening analogy between our dependence on corn and the Lakota dependency on buffalo. He wrote:

"A person born in our time will as an infant be clothed in a diaper made in part of corn and fed a formula based upon corn syrup. That person will grow into adult life sustained in thousands of ways by products made from, packaged in, or manufactured with derivatives of corn, from every kind of feed except fresh fish to plastics, textiles, building materials, machine parts, soaps and cosmetics, even highways. And when that person dies, some laws require that the body should be embalmed - in a fluid made in part from corn." "We have not begun to imagine a life without corn. We have assumed, by the default of failing to think about it, that corn is eternal. But it is not any more eternal than the buffalo. In fact, because the corn we cultivate shares a common cytoplasm, it would take exactly one persistent pathogen to devastate our culture as we know it.

" Demand for corn, fueled more of late by the growing ethanol industry, continues to increase. The fear is that in order to meet the demand, more corn will now be grown in places where it should not, such as highly erodible lands. Conservation lands where grasses and forbs now shelter wildlife and help control run-off into lakes and streams are apt to also be converted into new rows of corn. Corn is king.

Are we, by demanding cheaper sources of fuel, running from one dependency to another? Or, perhaps we're already there?

I've been challenging the participants in this discussion to think of ways to make this a pasotral issue. This, as all issues related to the environment, boils down to social justice. Are we going to keep feeding our appetite for fuel at the expense of a hungry world? Are we going to keep warming our climate so millions of people will be displaced by flooding?

Quite literally, food for thought.


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

First Sermon for a Grade

For my Christian Mysticism class we were assigned to write a short, no more than 7 minutes, sermon/homily on a topic of our choice and incorporate the writings of a mystic into the sermon. Here's my first shot at this:

One of John Wesley’s most famous sayings is:

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

That sounds pretty ambitious doesn’t it?

What Wesley is talking about is compassion, being compassionate.

In Wesley’s time, that generally meant being compassionate towards the poor. He preached relentlessly and passionately about the conditions that factory workers in England were subjected to. He was a voice for social justice, for social change at a time when that wasn’t the most popular of topics.

For Wesley, it was about the works, doing good deeds, and actually living out Christ’s mission on earth.

Perhaps Wesley was influenced by the sermons of Meister Eckhart. We know he liked to read the writings of the Church fathers, but he makes no mention of Eckhart in any of his sermons. Still, he was greatly influenced by German theologians of his time. Meister Eckhart speaks about compassion being manifested in the deed as well (Sermon 30). Like Wesley, Eckhart speaks of compassion as being about relieving the misery of the poor. Interestingly enough, Eckhart doesn’t just preach about the poor as those lacking material wealth, he also notes that we should have compassion for those poor in Spirit. But we’ll save that topic for another time.

Both Wesley and Eckhart speak to issues of social justice. Eckhart says:

“It is a great crime to give the wages of the poor to the rich and for the livelihood of the poor to increase the luxuries of the powerful” (Sermon 30)

These are words spoken nearly 800 years ago but have powerful implications yet today. According to Meister Eckhart, compassion isn’t simply about justice but also requires one to work towards the removal of injustice.

This congregation is well known for its commitment to missions at all levels. For nearly 40 years we’ve supported Dr. Gess on his medical mission trips to Sierra Leone. Since the Minnesota Annual Conference has been keeping records on the subject – going back some 50 years, this congregation has never failed to fully meet your annual apportionment payment; very few congregations in the Conference can say that. Your apportionment payments fund agencies like the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and support regional mission projects like the Emma Norton House in St. Paul. You’ve become one of the most recognized supporters of Tree of Life mission on the Rosebud reservation, both through your financial support and the amount of work your VIM Teams complete when they’re on Rosebud. You’re one of the largest contributors to the Douglas County Food Shelf.

You do good things. That is certainly evident from your good deeds.

But is it enough? Is it enough to write a check, put it in the offering plate, and go to Sunday brunch?

We have the compassion but do we have the passion that Meister Eckhart warns is necessary to be truly compassionate? We supply food to the food shelf but there are still hungry people in this community. We’re about to send a second shipment of over 100 winter coats to Rosebud, but there are still people that will go without a jacket this winter. We pay our apportionments, but abused women and their children still seek refuge at Emma Norton.

Compassion isn’t just about doing just deeds, it requires one to work towards the removal of injustice – here in Alexandria, on Rosebud, in St. Paul and in Sierra Leone. It is about speaking out on environmental issues that disproportionately affect the poor. It is about your back aching and your shoulders sunburned from putting a roof on a 90 year-old elder’s dilapidated trailer house in Rosebud. Compassion is about looking into the eyes of a frightened child at the Emma Norton House, and letting her know things are going to be OK.

“Compassion is manifested in the deed.”
Meister Eckhart (Sermon 30)

Meister Eckhart speaks about compassion as being the “glorification of God on earth” (Sermon 35) and when we act compassionately (with passion!) we are imitating Christ (Sermon 30). Isn’t that what we as Christians are about? Imitating Christ, showing compassion to the poor, the hungry? Isn’t showing compassion to the poor and hungry, showing compassion to Christ, and ultimately to God? Indeed, in Matthew (New Living Translation 25:40) Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me.”

This isn’t to say this is easy. It is hard work. But to those who are truly compassionate comes compassion. According to Meister Eckhart, compassion pours from (the One) God to the compassionate, giving the compassionate one a true sense of heaven on earth (Sermon 30).

John Wesley says:
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

When we look at that statement, we see “good”, “means”, “ways”, “places”, “times”, a lot of “all”, and “ever”.

What if we looked at it this way?

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

Indeed, you can.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Perspective on MEA Weekend

The other day I got into a discussion on the merits/pitfalls of that time honored tradition of MEA weekend. I come to this discussion and discourse with a fairly unique perspective - that of a child of teachers, a father of school-age children, and the spouse of a teacher. As a kid growing up in Wisconsin, I loved "Teacher's Convention". It was a weekend that I either spent at our friend's "farm" bow hunting and packing away the garden for the winter or at another friend's hunting camp chasing whatever was available - usually ducks. It is a great time to be outside. It was also that first time of the school year when my parents got to take a break. At that time, "personal days" weren't even heard of so they were limited to breaks according to the school calendar. I always got a sense that it was a much needed break for them. It probably was for me as well. As parent, I don't usually like the short weeks because they mess up that routine we've developed. I particularly dislike the ones for workshops, I've heard enough stories about second-rate consultants coming in an giving their "take" on how to improve education (they're usually someone that just got a PhD in education and are wanting to spread the wisdom they got writing a dissertation to the rest of the world.) Teachers do need time without students constantly hovering over them, there is a lot of work in preparing lessons and correcting papers. Workdays are great, particularly if schools are going to constantly ignore the need for prep time. With that in mind I think a three-day week in October suites us well. I know my wife appreciated the break and I sense her ability to breath a little easier - at least for a few days.
What got me about this discussion was this person assertion that kids should be in school learning as much as possible. Hard to disagree with that reasoning. I pressed the person a bit on this, our conversation went something like this ...
J - Have you ever taken a winter vacation - taken the kids out of school for a week to go to Disney World in February.
"Oh course, every year" was the response.

J- what's the difference between this and MEA?

"Well there are things to learn outside of school too you know!"

J- Of course there are. But that's a week of school your kids are missing.
"Well, they take their homework with them"

J- and they do it when?
(obviously stumbling now) "Um, when they get a chance"

J-And what about the extra work it takes for the teacher to put that material together so they can work on it "when they get the chance" ?

"Well, they have to do it anyway, so what's the big deal .. one kid"

J- What if there are 25 or 30 families doing the same thing? Doesn't have to even be the same week, it still adds up to a lot of extra work.

Suddenly this person had an appointment they had forgotten about.

I have a couple of points to ponder. Have we gotten to the point that individual wants are bigger than societal needs? That is, is a week at Disney or in Jamaica more important that education? There is a lot of talk about holding education to higher standards. Do we need to hold parents to those same standards? That is, we expect your child to be in class, prepared, engaged, on a daily basis. Do we need to consider family development and incorporate more MEA-like weekends into our school calendars (with the caveat that's when vacations are taken)?

We spent the weekend traveling to UW-Eau Claire and UW-Madison to visit the music faculty at each school. Got to see my folks for a little bit, and spend some time with our daughter Sarah on Friday and Saturday. I still enjoy MEA/Teacher's Convention Weekends.


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Why St. Johns?

That seems to be the most common response to people when I tell them about my return to school and future plans. A Methodist at a Catholic University? Interestingly, it's also been a common question from anyone I come into contact with from St. Johns. The two professors that I have who belong to monastic communities were particularly interested in why I choose St. Johns.

First, as I've mentioned before, I am still working full time so I'd be less than truthful if I didn't say that location didn't play a significant factor in my decision. As it is, it is less than convenient for spending time doing research in the library or interacting with other students. Secondly, I like that fact that the Abby and the monastic community are associated with the school. I have a particular interest in spirituality and mysticism and who better to learn about that than from people who have devoted their lives to spiritual living. Also, St. John's is a very open and welcoming community - all that Benedictine tradition - to a wide variety of religious view points. (For example, this summer they hosted a conference on the role of women in Islam; last spring they hosted a group of Buddist monks as they worked on a mandala; and they also play host, on a permanent basis to the Center for Eccumenical Research and the Episcopal House of Prayer.) I've also been impressed with the way the community embraces sustainability. The woods surrounding campus are managed by the Benedictine community and are used for a source of wood for building and maple syrup. It's one of those "fit" things and I'm very happy that pieces have fallen into place that have allowed me to take this path.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Three Little Birds

I got into the office early this morning. The sun was still not up but light radiated over the landscape, the moon was shining over Lake Minnewaska (I've got a GREAT office!) and the coots were all rafted up on the bay. The resident flock of wild turkeys was cruising through the yard scarfing up any acorns they may have missed in previous outings. Over the lake, an adult and a juvenile bald eagle were circling the raft of coots, looking for stragglers, ummm .. coot breakfast. It should be a grand morning. But I'm anxious. Seems like things are starting to pile up and when I think about it all it gets a tad stressful.

I flicked on the computer and had forgotten to take out the CD I was listening to yesterday. When I got back from making coffee I heard ...

"Don't worry about a thing,
'Cause every little thing gonna be all right.
Singin': "Don't worry about a thing,
'Cause every little thing gonna be all right!"

Rise up this mornin',
Smiled with the risin' sun,
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin' sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin', "This is my message to you-ou-ou"

Singin': "Don't worry 'bout a thing,
'Cause every little thing gonna be all right."
Singin': "Don't worry (don't worry) 'bout a thing, 'Cause every little thing gonna be all right!"

Hmmm .... smiled with the risin' sun, three little birds - coots, eagles and turkeys (ok eagles and turkeys aren't exactly little ... but still).

So, Bob Marley spoke to me this morning. Well, at least it was Bob's music. And I feel much better, really I do. Weird eh? I'm really not so stressed out about my first exam, about getting ready for Adult Sunday School and movie night at church, writing a sermon on mysticism, the mission trip party on Wednesday, getting the leaves picked up, the two journal publications sitting on my desk, taking the dog for a walk ....

Don't worry, 'bout a thing, 'Cause every little thing gonna be all right.

I realized that in the grand scheme of things, these ARE little things, important, but little - AND everything IS gonna be all right.

fading ... 'cause every little thing, gonna be all right ....


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I found this today ..... and thought I'd toss it up here for all my clergy friends.

A Disappointing B+

Argh. I got my first essay back and was really disappointed with my B+. I wasn't disappointed with the grade assigned by Fr. Ruff, I did pretty much nail the topic and would have probably received an A had it not been for a number of stupid, stupid grammatical errors. Actually, I would have given myself a C. What is disappointing, and rather embarrassing, is that I regularly write, and edit, and review papers for journals. There was absolutely no reason for those mistakes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Land Ethic and Sunday School

I've been teaching, or rather leading a discussion about land, food and associated ethics and how they relate to Christian life. There are about 10 folks in the class and the discussion has been good. The first book we're reading is A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. Specifically, we're concentrating on two essays, Good Oak and A Land Ethic. It was interesting the hear the different views on Good Oak; which I thought was a rather benign essay about cutting down an oak tree that had been hit by lightening. Leopold starts the essay by saying "There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the assuming that food comes from the grocery and heat from the furnace." The idea that one looses that connection to the land as they become urbanized. I think it is among my favorite quotes of all time and rings very true, probably moreso today than when it was written 70 years ago. There were a few folks in the discussion group that thought his writing was condescending. That still puzzles me a bit and I've reread this essay again and I'm just not seeing it.
As we moved to the esssay A Land Ethic, we started by discussing what constitutes an "ethic". It was a very good discussion and really set a good foundation for our future discussions. We talked about being part of the land community - functioning with it instead of controlling it and how that affects our personal freedoms. Leopold does tend to "stick it" to the farmers in this essay and we started to discuss whether or not that was fair. We'll pick up on that issue at our next meeting. I've also assigned an essay by Paul Gruchow, a wonderful Minnesota writer that I miss dearly. As we move from the land to food in our next book I wanted the group to think about the impact our food system has not only on the land but on the people that live in rural communities. Gruchow's essay, in my opinion, is excellent in that regard. Finally, we'll be reading "Food for Life: The Spirituality and Ethics of Eating" by Shannon Jung. I'll keep you posted on our discussions.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A few more thoughts on doubt ....

I was pleasantly surprised with my class this past weekend. The course, entitled "Rural Social Issues" meets monthly with a focus on the social justice implications of food and food production and distribution, the environment, immigration and multiple parishes. The dialogue was excellent and it actually feels like a class with application. Not that the other two I'm taking don't, but this has "immediate" feel to it.

My doubt subsided a little this morning when I got my first paper back from my Christian Tradition class. It went well and I was pleased with my effort and the result.

In Christian Mysticism, we spent some time talking about what happens to people that have that direct contact with God, many of whom become mystics. During the course of the conversation is became very evident that what Mother Theresa experienced isn't out of the ordinary. Dutch mystic Jan van Ruusbroec summarized the experiences of many mystics and others that had experienced that contact with God; finding it similar to a concrete wall that is broken down revealing the presence and full grace of God. The catch, if you will, is that the person consequently never had that time with God again. In fact the concrete wall became one of steel. Many who experienced this while living a monastic life left the monestaries and abbeys, they found no consolation in prayer, contemplation or community life. Sounds very similar to what Mother Teresa spoke about! Several UMC Clergy have written on this subject and their words are thoughtful and elequent - check out Michelle Hargrave, David Bard, Jeff Ozane, and Rory Swenson .

Off to do some homework ..... Arius vs. Athanasius anyone?


Thursday, September 6, 2007


After my first day of classes, I felt very overwhelmed with the assignments (mostly reading). I spent most of the labor day weekend pouring over my texts, running to the computer to look up theologic vocabularly, and generally wondering if I was going to be able to do this for the next three months. Yesterday was the second day of classes and I was feeling a little better about having completed all the readings, figuring out what most things meant and such. There was a little anxiety about being able to contribute to class discussion; I was trying to get my notes down, listen and try to get in a point or two but it just didn't happen. I'm not one for spontaneous conversation at that level to begin with, preferring to form my thoughts well before spewing forth what I have to say. It's a characteristic that doesn't fit well in classroom discussions but I usually manage to make do. I'm still having doubts that this is going to work. I'm not even overly busy at work and am worried what's going to happen when things pick up around here. I was thinking about the revelation of Mother Theresa's doubt and was comforted by the fact that even she questioned her faith from time to time (actually very frequently as I understand, I have yet to read the article in Time). I think we all have doubts and it's good to reaffirm them, admit them, and ask for help from God to overcome them. I know I'll be doing a lot of asking in the next few months!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

first day jitters ...

Where will I park? How am I supposed to carry six books around with me? Will I be able to "compete" with the MDIV students - many of whom actually have a theology background? Why can't "Praise in the Pub" be earlier on Wednesday nights? Will I get along with my major professor?

Just a few of the questions swirling around in my little brain this morning. First day of classes. I'll keep you posted on how things go.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

it'll do

Sunday I was supposed to take Will up to the north shore for a couple of days of camping. After spending the entire day (it was a good day) in St. Cloud on Saturday car shopping and picking up those last few items for school I was beat and didn't feel like making the 5 hour drive to Silver Bay. Still, with grad school on the horizon, I've made a pledge to myself, and I guess Jeanne and the kids as well, that I won't neglect spending time with them. So while, Will was disappointed to be sure, we did manage to scrap out a little trip to Glacial Lakes State Park about 30 miles from home. We chose a back pack site out on the prairie to set up camp. For a backpack site, it wasn't too tough hauling in our gear (we did purposely pack light on this trip) and the site was pretty nice - tucked into a small grove of cottonwood trees over looking a small pond. Upon a little exploration, we found that some settlers had probably thought the site was nice as well. A few yards from camp was what remained of a rock foundation. Now, Sunday was very, very windy out on the prairie but we managed to set up our tent with little problem - we were actually quite proud of the feat! We unpacked and Will made it his job to set up the sleeping arrangements inside.

Glacial Lakes is a seldom used park. It lacks a big lake for recreation and doesn't have the big, north woods feel to it. It's a prairie park. You can climb an esker or a drumlin and see for miles and miles; across a landscape that is as open as one can imagine. I love being able to see great distances and am particularly fond of watching the waves of grasses moving like the ocean. I get jealous of the native people that lived on the great prairies of this continent and were able to see this as one large unobstructed landscape of grasses and flowers. (I get a bit angry that through our pioneering spirit found it necessary to plow up 99.99% of that landscape.) I think more people should spend time on the prairie, looking at how it changes subtly with elevation, water and lack of water. The diversity of plant life is amazing. I hope that Will will gain an appreciation for the prairie someday.

We arrived at the park, to find the office closed. (One of the pitfalls of a lack of visitors.) This wasn't a big deal except for the fact that we needed firewood! Technically, you're not supposed to collect firewood in the park, but we didn't think picking up some cottonwood branches in an area that had been burned would be a big deal. So, we scraped together a little pile of sticks and some bark. Now, I'm not an expert of fire building but can usually manage to get a flame going. But I'm telling you, cottonwood doesn't like to burn! ( We bailed on the fire idea and settled down for some reading instead. Once it got dark enough we headed inside, put on our head lamps and continued reading. We talked some but mostly we just hung out together. During the night the wind stopped. The silence was eerie and loud enough to wake me up! We got up and looked at the stars and the big prairie moon. A great-horned owl settled in a tree nearby shortly thereafter and we listened to it calling to another owl some distance away. As the sun rose, it got windy again and had clouded up. We had intened to watch stars and mars, but the clouds didn't allow much celestial viewing that night. We packed up early and headed for home.

It wasn't waves on Lake Superior or waterfalls on the Baptism River. But for time spent with my son it will surely do.

Monday, August 20, 2007

it always just says "now" ...

I bought a cheap watch from the crazy man
Floating down Canal
It doesn’t use numbers or moving hands
It always just says now

Jimmy Buffett "Breathe in, Breathe out, Move on"
2006 Album "Take the Weather With You"

I love that line, "It always just says now"

What a great reminder to live in the moment.

Last night Alexandria UMC was the venue for the 15th Annual Alexandria Festival of the Lakes Chamber Music Series. World-class musicians took the stage for two hours of beautiful, live music. I've come to realize that music like this is as much a visual experience as it is an audio experience. Watching the passion in which the artists play is captivating.

I once heard someone say, perhaps it was on MPR, that think about music 100 years ago, or even 200 or 300 years ago. Think about how special it was. When Bach played Brandenburg Concerto Number 1, it was the only time that piece of music would be heard that exact way. When someone picked up a violin and played a tune in the evening to calm the kids down for bed, it was there for only that one moment. That one moment, that was it. Think about how people appreciated that, they couldn't rely on popping in a CD and listening to it over and over. It kind of blows me away thinking about it.

Could it be that we've lost that appreciation for the "now", the moment because technology has given us the ability to literally freeze time? (Unfortunately, too many of us don't take the time to use that opportunity to learn from past mistakes!) Do we look to the future, with disregard to the present, knowing that the past will be there - recorded somewhere in some format?

(I can imagine the offense someone might take by leading off a blog with lyrics from Jimmy Buffett and then referring to Bach .... ummm, get over it.)

What does your watch say?

(FYI, the song is about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.)

Friday, August 17, 2007

I think I'm a student again/back from Rosebud

Today I got an email from my professor, Dr. Bernie Evans, who is teaching "Rural Social Issues" this fall. The email contained my first assignment! Exciting and scary! I'm not too worried about the writing part of class; I write all the time and regularly get called upon to edit things. I am a little concerned about putting things into more of a theological context though. I am fortunate that the first class is on sustainable farming and landuse. I do know a little bit about that and Farm Bill policy. I'm looking forward to that class very much.

I do have to get my books, my ID, parking pass and all those good things. I've been trying to purchase my books online. Its been fairly frustrating, but I'm sure I'll figure it out. I was kind of surprised at the cost of the text books. Most are in the $50 range, a far cry from Organic Chemistry or Fish Physiology texts that cost $125 a crack. The only difference is that I need like 3 for each class. So, I'm still going to have to dish out a pretty good chunk of money to get all the required books.

Last week I was out on the Rosebud Indian Reservation - Land of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate. Rosebud is one of my favorite places. It is full of wide open spaces that I love, big sky, ridges of pine and aspen, and some of the most wonderful people I've ever had the honor to meet and associate with. I spent the week as a VIM through Tree of Life, a mission of the United Methodist Church. Our group did lots of work during the week, repairing things, building things, handing out school supplies, and meeting people. We not only work, but we learn about the Lakota people and their beautiful culture. (One VIM tripper after hearing a couple of presentations from various people remarked that she couldn't believe that Europeans thought they could improve on native culture!) Each time I return from Rosebud my longing to get back gets worse. This week has been difficult. I find my mind drifting back there often. I don't know if I made much of a difference and feel like I should be finishing the job we were working on. I also feel guilty each time I return - not so much about the horrible conditions that exist, although there's a lot of that swirling around in my head too - but guilt for coming back with more than I went with. I learn so much from the Lakota people, they give so much, that it just doesn't seem like I'm living up to my end of the bargain. Last year, after we got back from Rosebud, I gave a sermon at Alexandria UMC on our trip. I closed by saying that we went to Rosebud with great intentions of helping people, and I think we did that. However, I had no idea what I was going to get in return for just being there; I returned with so much more inside than I ever thought possible. I don't know if that is fair or not.

This year was no different, I still don't know.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

And away we go .....

One of my favorite singers is the late Chris LeDoux. I picked up on him during my rodeo "phase" back in the 1990's. Chris's music was a little country and a lot of western themed rock and roll. One thing about Chris is that he always stayed true to his set of values; it probably cost him a lot more fame and fortune but that didn't matter much to him. What mattered was being able to look himself in the mirror each morning, knowing he was being true to himself and the things he believed. Now, I'm fairly certain Chris and I wouldn't have seen eye to eye on a lot things. I'm guessing he was a little more conservative than I am; but that's OK. Anyway, Chris did a cover of Tom Cochran's "Life is a Highway" (The same song that Rascal Flats has butchered recently) a few years back. It's a great road trip song.

Life is a highway. Despite wanting life to be a path, tree-lined and covered with lush grass, I think too often life is a highway. Think about the analogy; we speed along, cutting off the other guy, swearing at the guy that does the same thing to us, isolated in our little cruising machines, totally unaware of what's going on around us.

If you don't believe me think about this:

On the same day that 9 (so far) people died on the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, 18 to 20 million people were made homeless in India and Bangladesh due to monsoon rains. Not to downplay the loss of those people in Minneapolis, the loss and pain their families and communities have felt is real. The entire event is painful and we can (and will) go on assigning blame to various individuals and entities. However, in my mind the real tragedy is that we've had days upon days of coverage of the bridge incident and how that was going to affect a couple hundred thousand people on their daily commutes, yet there wasn't a single mention of the tragedy in Asia. Cruising along, totally unaware of what's going on around us.

I'm about to embark on a new path in life. In a little less than two weeks I'm starting an M.A. program in Theology at St. John's University here in Minnesota. I hope to some day be ordained as a Deacon in the United Methodist Church. It's been 17 years since I stepped foot into a class room; I'm excited, nervous, and a little apprehensive. Mostly though, I'm hoping and praying that this path doesn't become that highway that Chris sang about.