Monday, July 10, 2017

Dear Millennial

I read your article “59 percent of Millennials Raised in a Church Have Dropped Out – and They’re Trying to Tell Us Why” – along with similar articles making the rounds in recent months.

I’ve seen many of my friends ‘like’ the article on Facebook – although how they can hit the ‘like’ button, wail AND wring their hands at the same time is beyond both my understanding or dexterity.

All those ‘likers’ are faithful churchgoers - some ordained, some just ‘lay’ folks like me sitting in the pews on most Sunday mornings.
Frankly I’ve been amazed that not a single one of them voiced any concern about either the content or the tone of your observations.

Since you say you “need someone consistently speaking truth”, I thought I’d oblige and step up since I sense that no one else has or will. Think of this as a loving reality check from a big sister; ok, a mom. Oh alright, an indulgent Grandma.

I read your words – several times actually – and what I heard over and over again is “Me… me, me, me”. Listen to me; value me, elevate me, include me, conform to me, prove to me, create opportunities for me, serve me.

I’m not sure how to break it to you but, at its very essence, Christian community is about as close to getting a memo from God saying “It’s NOT about you” as you’re likely to find.

You declare that you value “voice and receptivity above all else”.
Really? Above being still and listening for the small voice of God?
Maybe its not a church you’re looking for; maybe you need to consider a community forum or discussion group where your voice can be the focus.

That being said, you are, and would be recognized as, a unique, beloved child of God with specific gifts to offer in every congregation with which I’m familiar  - but the church and Christianity writ large doesn’t revolve around your feelings, your voice or your schedule.

You ask that we stop all the church jargon and get down to basics – Love God and Love Others – and I couldn’t agree more.
But here’s the rub – putting God first and faithfully serving those He loves the most -  who are generally the populations our society values the least – takes time. It involves building and sustaining relationships; it’s inconvenient. Sacrifices will be required and it won’t fit neatly into the small sliver of time you happen to have available on the random Sunday in between whatever team sports you and your children are more passionately committed to than the development of your faith.

And, please, don’t tell me I don’t understand about time pressures.
I don’t have to Google or check it on Snopes to know the days in 2017 have the exact same 24 hours allotted to them that they did when I was raising 2 sons as a single working mother with no husband and no extended family as backup.

Being an adult – being a Christian adult – means making hard choices in time allocation.
You want a closer relationship with God? A deeper understanding of the life and love of Jesus? Then spend time in silence with them; read about them; discuss what others know about them and how living a life based on the teachings of the church have changed their lives. Intimate relationships don’t just happen; they’re a reflection of the time and effort you put into them - or not.

No one is preventing you from becoming involved, deeply involved, in the life of the church and impacting decisions about our shared spiritual life.

I’m not sure what you’re referring to when you say we should stop creating ‘Christian activity’.
You say “community happens best in service with a shared purpose”.
Again, maybe its not a church you’re looking for. Maybe the Kiwanis or Lions would suit you better.

We don’t ‘do’ activity as Christians for the sake of doing activity.

We pay attention to the brokenness of the world and we work in hundreds of small, often unrecognized, ways to bring this world closer to the Kingdom of God where resources, sorrows, joys and life are shared. We recognize that every gift we have is from a loving God, that none of it is ‘ours’ and we are called to freely share those gifts with others.

We struggle weekly with how to be as counter cultural and radical as Christ was.
We don’t have a lock on how to do it and we often don’t even agree on what that looks like and what our priorities for outreach should be.
Feel free to join us and add your voice and thoughts to the struggle.

On any given Sunday, our parish bulletin lists dozens of ways to engage in efforts to make a difference on a local, national and international level. All of these efforts are led by congregational members who are responding with passion to a calling to change the world.
They are always open to anyone who wants to get more involved.
But you won’t get an engraved invitation.
You may actually have to take some initiative.

And those people holding leadership positions in the church?
They didn’t leave a Newcomer brunch and demand to be included.

They demonstrated the radical act of faith called showing up - serving selflessly, sometimes for years - setting up tables, cooking, cleaning, raking leaves, leading other peoples children through the turbulent teen years as Sunday school teachers and leaders. They made a joyful noise by singing in choir, weatherizing windows for the elderly, leading Mission trips, visiting shut ins … all the small acts of love that are essential to a congregations communal life. They let themselves be known, be vulnerable; they made mistakes, asked forgiveness and tried again. They dug deep when times called for sacrifice; they supported each other during good times and bad - because that’s what families do - Gods family especially. They did all those small acts which made us stronger as a community so we could do the work we’re called to do as church.

Dear Millennial, what have YOU contributed to the life of your church?

How are YOU serving and building up the body of Christ so that together we can accomplish all that God is calling us to do?

Friday, July 7, 2017

Wopila, Maggie

It came as unexpected gift;
a blessing wholly undeserved.
Acrylic, canvas and talent 
capturing spirit and the hint of a smile, 
the twinkle of an eye.

I remember,
with a child's heart,
the rare occasions when a smile would break open -
delight overcoming her awkwardness about less than perfect teeth.

I remember being enveloped by soft brown arms,
resting my blonde curly head on her ample bosom;
not individual breasts but a shelf of comfort;
refuge from the latest injustice inflicted on my tender heart
by careless parents and siblings.

I knew then the old spiritual our church choir sang on Sundays
was wrong -
the bosom of Abraham had nothing to compare to the bosom of Mary.
O rocka my soul!

For a child longing to be part of something bigger than the brokenness she knew,
her embrace was home.

Her face was the first glimpse I ever had of God.

I tried to calculate the odds that led to the paintings creation:
a chance meeting years ago
between a New Jersey born and bred social worker
and a beautiful artist from the Inner Hebrides of Scotland;
a meeting at a barbeque on a Lakota reservation
in a forgotten corner of the plains in South Dakota,
just north of the Nebraska Sandhills.

I quickly stopped the calculations,
not because I'm bad at New Math (although I am),
but because there can honestly be no other explanation 
beyond the timelessness of Gods grace.

My heart filled to overflowing with gratitude for the presence of her in my life - 
the 'her' encompassing both artist and subject.

I marvel at the realization that 
while I only had my great grandmother in my life for a decade - 
much of which I was pre-verbal and inarticulate -
she silently shaped my world
and my soul
with unconditional love
in ways unequaled by anyone else.

I wonder if she knew how much I loved her in return.
I do know that one day -
maybe years from now,
maybe sooner -
when I leave this world to join the ancestors on the other side,
she'll be there waiting for me;
with a twinkle in her eyes 
and a hint of a smile;
ready for the delight in the reunion
to overcome any of our perceived imperfections.

I also know that in her embrace
I'll be home again.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Another reality check from the universe

I would have sworn I had gotten the message by now.

I didn't think the universe would need to keep reminding me 
that I'm not in control.

Apparently karma thought I needed more reminders.

I used to think it was hard being a single parent of two young boys.
I don't know why I used the past tense -
it WAS hard being a single parent of two young boys.
 What I didn't fully appreciate  -
and couldn't fully comprehend until I got here -
is how hard it can be
to be the single parent of two adult men -
and to see them struggle with life choices;
those that occur randomly through forces over which they have no control
and those that are consequences of choices they made.

At least when they're young,
there's the illusion of control;
the feeling - however delusional - 
that you can modify circumstances to mitigate the harm.

With fully functional and independent adults,
after you've offered your thoughts and observations -
IF and when asked -
there's nothing to do but step back and watch it unfold.

THAT, my friends, is infinitely harder.

I'm holding on -
waiting for the amazing
and ordinary

Monday, June 12, 2017

A full week

of physical labor
under the intense South Dakota sun.
By far, 
my favorite part was planting indigenous plants -
cranberries, golden currants, chokecherries and juneberries -
along the Little White River;
 a beautiful river that wends its way through the reservation.
 I also gained a whole new appreciation 
for the work of my mulch man!

I'm used to spreading mulch -
but not making it,
 hauling it,
unloading it
and THEN spreading it!
Important life lesson learned:
don't use the chipper when its been raining;
the wet pulp will create a huge mess that's guaranteed to gum up the blades!
No one 'missions' alone -
and my companions made the week fly by
 in our luxury accommodations!
 Try not to be too jealous!
Anything is bearable for a few days/nights though, right?

Doing wash, getting caught up on mail, and getting back to work -
will be back in the swing of things before I know it!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Reset button

For the next week or so, I'll be blogging here:

Come join me if you're so inclined - 
if not, 
I'll catch you later.

It's gonna be hard to leave these guys behind

 but they promised he won't grow while I'm gone!
 Call me skeptical.

Despite missing them,
I'm ready for a road trip to, literally, greener pastures.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

We are not amused

It reminded me of Pop-pop 
although the 2 men couldn’t be further apart in intellect, temperament 
or quality of character. 

As he aged,
my grandfather had a form of progressive dementia 
due largely to anoxia from COPD but,
since he was a man of few words,
you would never have known it.

He was capable of driving wherever he and my grandmother needed to go;
it was, after all, an island 18 miles long and 3 blocks wide 
not much likelihood of him getting lost for too long 
and, other than during the peak of summer,
the island was sparsely populated.

He spent most of his days 
sitting on the screened in front porch, 
rocking, “watching the world go by”;
and loving his family;
he was really good at that too.

Occasionally in the evening 
he’d say something totally random,
asking the gathered family, "Who has the room key? I’m ready to go back now."  

When one of us would gently say,
"Pop-pop, you’re already home but I can help if you want to go to bed now.", 
he’d issue a smile that reached all the way to his eyes 
and respond
"Very good. I was just checking to see if you were oriented and paying attention".

My grandmother would laugh these remarks off,
refusing to see them as sign of what we all knew was advancing incapacity.
If she had any misgivings, 
she never acknowledged them openly.

I thought of this yesterday after #45’s ridiculous, 
aborted and then deleted midnight Tweet:
Despite the constant negative press covfefe,”
only to be replaced several hours later with 
Who can figure out the true meaning of "covfefe" ??? Enjoy!

While millions of folks around the globe were laughing 
and making meme magic,
I had quite a different reaction.

It made me nauseous.

This isn’t a gentle man,
being lovingly cared for in the peace of his own home 
as his mental capacity slips away.

This is a man with tremendous power,
smallness of spirit,
no soul 
and access to nuclear codes.

When are those in power going to openly acknowledge that this man 
is a danger to himself and others?

Some of us ARE oriented 
and some of us ARE paying attention 
and, for those who us who have been there before,
it’s no laughing matter.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day 2017

I used to get up early on Memorial Day 
so I'd be one of the first in line for entry to Gypsy Caravan -
a huge flea market in town that has been operating for 45 years. 

Scoring a yearly 'find' after spending hours 
rummaging through other peoples castoffs 
was the order of the day.

Then I had a son who enlisted in the military
and served time in the Middle East
and the solemnity of the day took on new meaning.

shopping and BBQ-ing wasn't that important anymore;
remembering was, 
honoring was;
simply being present to an overwhelming amount of national loss
became the order of the day.
So, for the last several years,
early morning on Memorial Day,
 has found me at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.
It has never failed to move me.
Whoever the first person was to say that 'death is the great equalizer'
must have been visiting a military cemetery at the time. 

Personal characteristics of rank, class, gender and individuality have been obliterated;
the common denominators of military service and death
are all that are left.
I find that reality comforting - 
and disturbing - 
in equal measures.
The Mississippi River rolling along endlessly just down the hill
seems the perfect metaphor for life continuing to go on
despite personal sadness and loss.
To imagine the life and stories associated with each headstone
makes the amount of loss even more staggering.
Simply too many.

This wood sculpture on the lawn of a house right outside the cemetery
seems to sum up some of the current national mood.
But maybe that's just me.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

It's a good thing

1 week from today
 I'll be crossing the plains
to go 'home' to the reservation;
to re-new relationships and learn new things 
about a place that's familiar after 20 years;
yet a place that still abounds with mysteries;
mysteries which may always remain unknown
to a 'wasicu' like me.
1 week from today
I'll be turning away from news 
of treason and espionage in the White House 
to stand in solidarity with folks 
just trying to get through every day.

That's always the way of the world, isn't it?

Behind all the headlines,
all the news of impending doom 
and human misdeeds, 
folks get up every day 
to face their particular, very individual
and very universal goal
of staying alive 
and living a life that has meaning.  

I gave up trying to define what the pull is,
what keeps me coming back
year after year.
I've accepted that it's deep in my DNA, 
very real
demands to be honored.

It's unsettling,
often painful
and always beautiful.

I read words a few years ago -
in Scotland of all places -
and don't know who wrote them;
words that struck a chord 
and immediately reminded me of the reservation.

Don't hide;
don't run
but rather
discover in the midst of the fragmentation
a new way forward;

a different kind of journey
marked by its fragility,
and lack of definition.

And on that path
hold hands with those
that even in their brokenness
create a new tomorrow;
 dance at the margins
and see
the face of Christ
where hurt is real
and pain a way of life.

Be touched
in the eye of the storm
aware that tomorrow
may not bring peace.
 Impossible, you say;
let me retreat
and find my rest.

What rest, my friend, is possible
in these fragmented times?

I'm not looking for rest,
although my soul will be refreshed.

I'm not looking for peace
but there will be many peaceful moments.

I'm eager to be on the road. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world.

All things break. 
And all things can be mended.
Not with time, as they say, but with intention.

So go.
Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.

The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you

Saturday, May 20, 2017

News from the swamp

Good grief it's a full time job to keep up 
and I already have one of those,
thank you very much.

But I think I've got the highlights ...  

  • FBI Director Comey was fired, after asking for more resources to ratchet up the Russia/Trump campaign investigation and after refusing to pledge his loyalty to #45. (Honest to Pete, who does that? Other than the Marlon Brando in the Godfather? Was he supposed to kiss his ring as well?) 
  •  #45 throws all his staff under a bus by having them go before the press to say Comey was fired because of how Hillary was investigated - and then he turns around and admits that had nothing to do with it. He was going to fire him anyway. 
  • Then there's the small matter of telling the Russians (in the Oval office, no less) the guy he fired was a nut job and he was putting too much pressure on poor picked on #45, so he had to go.
  • In that same Oval Office closed door meeting with the Russians, during which US media outlets were forbidden but Russian reporters and photographers (and most likely surveillance equipment were let in), he brags about his 'intel' and just happens to leak Israeli intelligence about an ISIS plot involving planes and bombs again.
  •  When that story gets leaked, the White House says the report is false, without specifying which parts are incorrect and 45 sends national security advisor H.R. McMaster, to whore in front of the cameras and ruin his reputation.
  • 45 rants on Twitter that he did give the Russians information, but so what?- he's President so he can do anything he wants.
  • Another story gets leaked that Comey wrote a memo in February when the president asked him to shut down the investigation into Flynn's ties to Russia and being a double agent and all that, because he's a nice guy.
  • A Special Prosecutor gets appointed - to add to the FBI and Congressional investigations looking into this whole mess.
  • Oh - and son in law, Jared, the one in charge of world peace, solving the opioid crisis and making Korea play nice - yeah, that one... he's a special person of interest in the investigations. And, if you've watched more than 2 episodes of "Dateline", you know what that means - he did it!
I think that about sums it up! 
Just a few thoughts.

WHY haven't all the White House press staff walked out?
Isn't it bad enough that you were willing to sell your soul to the devil 
by covering and shilling for the Antichrist, 
why do you stay 
knowing he'll never defend you for lying your asses off 
and making you look ridiculous before the world writ large?
TRY to find your backbones - and get the hell out.
No one would blame you - 
except for staying when you know what a maniac he is
and you continue to aid and abet him anyway.
I, for one, can't WAIT to hear what Comey will testify to.
45 picked on the wrong man -
someone who's made an entire career 
of documenting evidence and producing legal reports 
worthy of withstanding scrutiny and legal challenges.
Just who do you think is going to come out as the winner 
in this pissing contest?
Career law enforcement or career con man?
Meanwhile, back in reality,
there are bills to pay, work to do,
deck art to make and enjoy
beauty to find

and people to love
even when it looks like he should be in an ad for 'Save the Children'!
I can practically hear Amy Grants voice now, saying
"Please, won't you help?"