Tuesday, August 26, 2008


This last week my office has been on Lake Carlos. Yes, for the last seven working days I've been on the lake completing a survey of the plants that lurk below the surface of the water. The survey is part of a state-wide effort to set bench marks that will enable us to better anticipate changes in aquatic systems from land use alterations, shoreline development and climate change. It was interesting and a lot of work. We sampled just under 650 points on the lake - which involves driving around to a set of predetermined points, tossing out a double-sided rake, and identifying the plants that are hanging from the tines as you drag it back into the boat. Who would have thought there would be more than 25 different types of aquatic plants in Lake Carlos? Of course this last week has been windy as well. I'm more exhausted from fighting the wind for 8 hours a day than from anything else. But it's a transition time and along with a transition of seasons in Minnesota comes the wind.
We're also transitioning at home as well. Tomorrow begins my third semester at St. Johns - I'm taking Christology, Mark, and Psalms and I'm really excited about each one of the courses! Thursday we'll be moving our son Anthony to Eau Claire, Wisconsin where he'll start the next phase of his life at UWEC. (In addition to moving, he's also auditioning for a spot in the music department's voice performance program - hopefully switching from violin. So that's a bit of added stress for him.) Our daughter Sarah is entering her senior year at UW and is looking to enter some type of medical related field (OT or PT), so she's already looking towards next year's transition. Next week Will begins junior high - which among all the transitions that are taking place this year is the toughest for me! Where did that little kid go? Next week Jeanne will also transition back from beach bum to great science teacher. It's fun to watch her get excited about each new school year.
Tomorrow night is our second contemplative service at Alex UMC and I'm grateful that I'll have that reflection time to deal with all of these transitions.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Advance Readers

My wife works part-time at the local, independent bookstore during the summer. It gives her a chance to get away from the house and be around books, which in addition to yarn, are among her favorite things. One of the cool perks about working at a book store are the advance reader copies that publishers send out prior to full-scale publication; you get a sneak peek at what's coming out in the next three to six months. Every now and then she'll see one that she thinks would be of interest to me and brings it home. Last week she brought two, American Buffalo by Steven Rinella and Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writers Life by Kathleen Norris. I'll write more about the first one when I finish it but as of now I'm not overly impressed with neither the writing nor the author's heavy reliance on frontier journalist accounts of life on the Great Plains during the 19th century. The second book is a fascinating read. I've always like Kathleen Norris's work and while this one might not be as interesting as Dakota and Cloister Walk, it is worth setting time aside to read. In the book, Norris examines the topic of acedia theologically, psychologically, and spiritually. As is her style, she relates the topic to her own life. And as is her style, she enables the reader to do the same. I'm only about half way through the book and there have been a number of comments that deeply resonated within me (see my last post). So far it has been interesting to read how early Christian monastics viewed "sin". Again, I'll write more about the entire book once I've finished it, just be on the look out for it when it hits the shelves of your favorite book seller next month. (As an added bonus the book features an appendix of collected quotes from theologians, psychologists, and spiritual leaders on acedia that give one a greater appreciation for what acedia truly is.)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

This daily prayer thing is hard!

I was just reading Michelle Hargrave's blog entry, it is a wonderful piece of writing. She concludes by talking about fitting prayer into her life, something that really resonated with me. One of the "requirements" of becoming an oblate is to read the daily office or liturgy of the hours at least once a day. I've been using "Benedictine Daily Prayer - A Short Breviary" by Max Johnson and the Monks of St. John's Abbey. The monks pray up to 8 times a day which is pretty impressive since I've been trying, and struggling, to get just that one each day. It is hard to believe, and admit, that my life is so busy, so convoluted that I can't set aside 5 or 10 minutes a day to pray. I've tried early morning, but the dog usually needs some attention. Evenings are pretty hectic around here and I do need to be present at work most of the day. So, my routine has gotten to be that I pray when I can, in the car on the way to work, as the computer is booting up, at lunch. It might not be the liturgy, but it is prayer and as Michelle says "it will have to do for now".

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Eucharistic Beginnings

We had barely unpacked our gear and unloaded the week's groceries. I was putting a few things away in our van when a young Lakota man stopped by the Tree of Life guest house and asked for something to eat. I went in and made him a ham sandwich, grabbed an apple, and a juice box. We sat on the tailgate of the van making small talk as he downed the sandwich and the juice. He put the apple in his pocket and said he was going to give that to a friend of his that needed to eat that day too. The entire incident tore me up inside. That was last summer. It wasn't until an evening this past March, when my instructor in Pauline Studies commented that "all we do in love, all we do in the name of God, goes through the table, the eucharist", that I realized what had happened that summer day was quite literally communion.

I really dislike missing communion and this year we were leaving on communion Sunday. So, I arranged to have bread and juice and a short service that evening. Some friends from Duluth joined our group which included people from Alexandria UMC, Jeffers UMC, and St. Paul's UMC in Mendota Heights. We sang and reflected on the lectionary (Mt. 14:19) I noted that I had just read a passage from Frederick Buechner that seemed to fit into the lectionary and what we hoped to do that week. He writes, "Greed is the mathematical truism that the more you get, the more you have. The opposite of greed - the selfless love of God and neighbor - is based on the truth that the more you give away in love, the more you are." We shared the gift of bread and the cup. It is this gift that allows us to focus on our work as church and to find God's love in a world where people are hungry, homeless, and oppressed in a world where there is what seems to be only a limited amout of fish and bread on hand. I think it got the week off to a grace-filled start.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Great Spirit meets the great lie.

The Great Spirit meets the great lie

That’s a line from the song “Hanging from the Cross” by John Trudell. John Trudell is an Indian activist/poet/blues singer/philosopher. His path through life is intriguing. To many Native people he’s seen as a prophet while others see him as a troublemaker. I like his music and am interested in what he has to say. I don’t agree with all of his stances, but some are spot on as they say. As those lyrics would indicate, Trudell’s poetry cuts right to the bone and is intense. This particular song is about “evangelizing” Native people and is honestly quite uncomfortable to listen to. I mention this because this year, more than in past years, I’ve seen more passenger vans touring the Rosebud Reservation emblazoned with various church logos. (Disclaimer, we’re traveling in one such vehicle.) The noteworthy aspect of these vans is that they are generally touting some “bible church” or other evangelical-leaning denomination. One group we ran into while getting gas this morning asked us about what we were doing, basically said “oh, that’s nice” and proceeded to tell us about all the children they were saving during the vacation bible school they were holding for them. In my humble opinion there are so many things wrong with this kind of evangelizing that it sickens me and makes me angry. (So, as you read this keep in mind, I’ve been fixing up a trailer home that 99% of Americans would have bulldozed. There is absolutely no excuse that people are living in these conditions in this country. Period.)
First, there can be no way these people have any idea of the damage that has been done to the Lakota people in the name of Christ. If they are clued into the history of the Lakota, then as Trudell says in the song, “they lie to us, then lie to themselves about lying to us”, and they just don’t care what’s really going on around them.
Secondly, I think this truly gives these kids a false sense of hope and believe me, hope around here is as rare as surplus, commodity brie. It’s pretty damn easy to live in an air-conditioned dorm, drive around in an air-conditioned van, get out, play some games and tell kids that if they just believe in Jesus, everything will be O.K. The saddest part of all that is then they’ll pack up the vans, head home thinking they’ve saved the world. Meanwhile, more than half of those native kids will be going without food until school starts in a couple of weeks.
Additionally, in my mind this shows a great deal of disrespect for the Lakota culture and spirituality. The opening line from “Hanging from the Cross” states, “we weren’t lost, and didn’t need any book”; the more I understand the spirituality (and I’m just scratching the surface) of the Lakota, the more I’m convinced of the truth within this statement. The more Meister Eckhart I read, the more St. Francis I read, the more Hildegard of Bingen I read, the more I’m convinced of the truth in that statement. Think about this, Vine DeLoria, a famous Lakota writer and cultural historian correctly notes in his book “God is Red” that no indigenous culture on earth has a messiah figure in their spirituality. His stance is that it was only the Christian, Hebrews and Muslims that really needed a savior figure! Lakota culture and spirituality are rich and beautiful and we need to respect that.
Finally, I can’t get past the remark “for them”. I honestly don’t see mission trips as something “for them”. Each time I come to Rosebud, I leave with much, much more than I came with and I honestly feel guilty about that. People who are among the poorest of the poor give me more than I can give in return. Sure, I can replace a few windows, put in an insulated door, offer a sandwich to a homeless guy walking down the street and all of that is slowly making a difference. But in each case, it pales in comparison to what I receive in return, and like I said, I struggle with that.
One reason Tree of Life is so successful here is that it follows what I feel are Benedictine values; that is, to see Christ in every person you meet and to offer the same hospitality to that person as you would if that person were Christ. There are no preconditions when homes are fixed, or when meals are served. There is no cramming Christ down people’s throats, evangelizing is done by living as Christ. All are treated as children of God because they are children of God.



Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Live from the Rez ...

I meant to post this yesterday (Tuesday morning) but didn't find time to hook up to the net.

One of the wonderful things about a VIM trip to Tree of Life is the cultural events that are available each evening. This evening we were fortunate to hear a presentation by Chief Duane Hollow Horn Bear. Chief Hollow Horn Bear’s story is truly amazing. In some ways it is a mirror of the saga the Lakota people have endured for the last 150 years. In other ways it is almost triumphant, if not triumphant certainly filled with hope. Rather than go into all the details I would encourage you to schedule a VIM trip to Tree of Life and hear Chief Hollow Horn Bear yourself.

Part of the Lakota saga centers on the fate of the Black Hills. The famous tourist area full of cheesy amusement parks and the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally is also a central part of the Lakota creation story. Despite “promises” from the U.S. Government in a series of treaties, the Black Hills, or Paha Sapa, were illegally taken from the Lakota. The legal battle for the Black Hills remains the longest unresolved court case in U.S. history. With that little bit of background, this morning’s reading from the Benedictine Daily Prayer was Psalm 42(43). As I read it, it occurred to me that if one replaced God with Creator, this could be a Lakota prayer.

Defend me, O Creator, and plead my cause
against a godless nation.
From a deceitful and cunning people
rescue me, O Creator.

Since you, O Creator, are my stronghold,
why have you rejected me?
Why do I go on mourning,
oppressed by the foe?

O send forth your light and your truth;
let these be my guide.
Let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.

And I will come to your alter, Creator,
the Place of my joy.
My Creator, I will thank you on the flute,
Creator, My Creator.

It’s 5:30 a.m., it’s thundering, lightening, and raining which should add to what already promised to be an interesting day.


Friday, August 1, 2008


Sunday morning I leave with a group from Alex UMC on what has become our annual mission trip to the Rosebud Reservation. This will be my fifth trip to Mission and Tree of Life. It is something I certainly look forward to each year. The trip will probaby be my only chance this year to take in some really wide-open spaces and the awesome prairie vistas of western South Dakota. This is the first year I haven't organized the trip, it was time for someone else to take that responsibility. In a way it's a relief, and I'm looking forward to letting things just happen this year. Having been to Rosebud a number of times, I've made a few friends and I'm looking forward to seeing them again. I'm not sure if I'll be able to blog while we're out there, but I'll try to get online at least once during the trip.

In other happenings, I just put together another blog that we'll be posting the outline and notes for the contemplative/Taize-style service that we've started. Once we get that finalized I'll link that from here too.