Wednesday, January 26, 2005

On a toothpaste smear and true love

After thirty years of marriage true love sometimes takes interesting shapes.

One morning last week I woke at 4:30 a.m. and decided to get up and have breakfast at the Indian Valley Inn to work on collecting signatures to run again for the library board in the April election.

The Indian Valley Inn is one of two bars in Tiskilwa (pop. 600) and the place to get breakfast in Tiskilwa.

I had quite a few signatures on my petition but I needed more to get the 50 required. By the way, to run for sheriff in our county you need 15 signatures but to run for library trustee you need 50.

Who knows why? I try to persuade myself that its because some bureacrat decided that a libary trustee is more imporatnt than a sheriff.

Last time when I ran three years ago I froze my buns off in Janaury going door to door. Breakfast at the Indian Valley Inn seemed like a better plan.

As I was getting dressed I was wondering how I was going to get my socks on since my hands were stiff (I have rheumatoid arthritis). About that time Sarah woke up and went to the bathroom.

When she came back to the bedroom she put on my socks before going back to sleep.
I went to the Indian Valley Inn and had oatmeal and grape fruit juice for $2.98. By 6:30 I had only five more signatures to go. I stopped at Casey’s, the one gas station and convenience store in town, bought a chocolate donut, and collected two more signatures. Only three to go. Then I decided to go home and hope I could collect the final three at a joint meeting of the village board and library board in the afternoon at the bank in Tiskilwa.

As Sarah was getting ready for work she looked at me and started laughing. She had spotted a big smear of bluish white Crest tooth paste beneath my mouth.

"Didn’t you look in the mirror?"

"No, I didn’t look in the mirror."

She laughed and brought me a mirror so that I too could enjoy the sight.

Now she could have called me an idiot. I felt like one. All those strangers I was charming and asking to sign my petition while I had tooth paste on my face.

But Sarah didn’t take it seriously--just laughed. I love being married to that woman.

Laughing is a lot more fun than thinking I am an idiot.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Lefse and goose bumps

Tonight I had lefse for supper to night. Lefse is a Norwegian delicacy.

I had lefse because I went on retreat in mid-December and meditated on Acts 2--you know, the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit.

As a Pentecostal boy I was well versed in that passage. I began speaking in tongues when I was 12 or thirteen.

This time as I meditated on the passage I noted all the languages were speaking in: Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene and visitors from Rome all understood the lads and lasses from Galilee.

Why did the Holy Spirit speak all the languages? I pondered on my retreat.

Alternating with meditating on the Acts 2 story, I was meditating on a pamphlet on the spirituality of the Toba--a small group of Native Americans in South America. They are trying to maintain their traditional culture after having been almost wiped out by the dominant culture.

Many of the Toba became Christians beginning in the 1930's. In early December Richard and Ruth Anne Friesen from Plow Creek moved to Argentina in early December to live with the Toba and encourage them on their spiritual journey.

Their traditional culture had many similarities to Christianity and that made them very open to the good news via Jesus.

I realized that the Holy Spirit had the folks from Galilee speak so many different languages on day 1 of church history to make the point that all God speaks all languages and cultures. God values all languages and cultures.

What, I wondered, is there to value in my culture?

When I reported on my meditations to my two retreat guides, Anne, who does anti-racism training across the USA, said that the founder of her organization had noted that immigrants from the white areas of the world gave up their connections to the roots in order to fit in in America and get on the wealth and progress gravy train.

My great-grandfather emigrated from Norway. My Dad still speaks with a Norwegian accent.

As I reflected on Anne's words I realized that I tried to get rid of everything Norwegian about me. No accent. No Norwegian music. I adopted rock and roll (which, of course, came from African roots).

As I thought back I realized there was one thing I loved from my roots--lefse. I came home from the retreat and told Sarah that I would really like lefse for Christmas--food from my roots. On the day after Christmas she made lefse.

Oh, did that taste good.

Then tonight she made it again. Lefse is a simple pancake-type food made out of potatoes. Fresh of the griddle rolled up with butter and sugar, it's the best.

When she finished she said, "I'm proud of myself." It's not easy to make since you have to roll it out like a pie crust.

"I'm proud of you too," I said.

"I do it all for you," she said and kissed me on the neck.

Lefse and goose bumps. What a good day.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

A foolhardy life

On Sunday I had lunch with Jim and Donna in their apartment. It took some doing.
Jim and Donna, in their 80's and in poor health, don't get out. Donna has been bed ridden and incommunicado for six years since the double hit of a stroke and Alzhemiers. Jim's knees buckled a few times starting last September and he doesn't get out much.

At Plow Creek we have a tradition of eating sandwiches and fruit together as a community for Sunday lunch after worship and Sunday school.

When Jim could no longer come for Sunday we began taking turns bringing sandwiches and fruit to their apartment and having lunch together.

Sunday was my turn. It had snowed a few days before and I knew I was unlikely to be able to get through the snow to their apartment with my wheelchair. Sarah suggested that I trade with someone else.

At first I thought that was a good idea but then I woke on Sunday morning and said to myself, "I'm gonna have lunch with Jim and Donna even if I have to get a couple of people to help me through the snow."

Jim and Donna are my elders and I love honoring them by being with them. Others in our Plow Creek community care for their medical needs, wash their bedding, shop for them, etc. I can't do those things but I can greet Donna, even if she doesn't respond, and I can spend time listening to Jim's wisdom and supporting him as he valiantly limps this stage of life, a stage where he is piling up loss after loss of health and peers.

I first began thinking about honoring my elders when I was in college 35 years ago. As an underclassman I did the usual underclassman analysis of our culture and found it lacking. Our culture's incredible emphasis individuality and mobility, I concluded fractures our families.
I remember thinking, the nuclear family (a popular term at the time for the family unit of a mother, father, and children) cannot possibly meet all the needs it's expected to meet. Since then the number of single parent families has sky rocketed and they have an even challenging time meeting the needs of its members.

Better were the days, I thought, when extended families, clans, and tribes were the norm.
Living the free, individual, mobile life leads to three things I noticed: an increase in the divorce rate, increased mental health issues due to people feeling isolated and unsupported by a social network, and a culture that isolates its elders in nursing homes.

I began to look for an alternative. As a Christian I thought churches should be the alternative but from what I saw, most churches were into supporting people in being free and individualistic.

Then I became aware of a few communal churches. I and some friends experimented with creating our own communal churches in the '70's. After two failed attempts Sarah and I moved to Plow Creek, a communal church, in 1977.

At the time, Jim and Donna, in their early 50's, were the oldest members. When Sarah and I joined, giving our few thousand dollars in savings and few hundred dollars in school debts, to the common treasury, people said, "What about retirement?"

I gave two versions of an answer: One, I'm going to trust the Lord and two, giving myself to serving him at Plow Creek is my retirement plan.

But none of us knew if this was a good plan or not. Only time would tell.

Jim and Donna were the first people to retire at Plow Creek. By the mid-1990's, as Donna's health began to deteriorate, Plow Creek as a retirement plan didn't look good at all. At the time we were rocked by a sex scandal involving one of our founders and in the fall out this founding couple left along with about half the membership.

During that time another pastoral elder and I met often with Jim, listening to his anguish as it seemed like Plow Creek was going to vanish just when he and Donna needed us the most.
I couldn't promise Jim that Plow Creek would be there when they needed us. I didn't know if we would survive either.

Through God's amazing grace we did survive and new people came to Plow Creek. When Donna had her stroke the doctor assumed that Donna would go to a nursing home. We moved her into an apartment on our farm and Jim and members of the Plow Creek community have provided 24-hour care for her for six years. When Jim could no longer live alone because of his knees buckling, last September he moved into the farm apartment with Donna.

Last Sunday, with the help of Tim Gale and Jim Foxvog, I made it in my wheelchair through the snow.

Donna made a slight motion when I greeted her. Jim and I had a wonderful conversation.

Then I called Sarah on the cell phone to ask her to help me get through the snow back home. She found Jeff Moore and the two of them came to get me.

"When Rich called," Jim said as we were leaving, "and said he was coming, I thought it was foolhardy."

"That's how I've gotten through life," I said with a laugh, "by being foolhardy."

"More power to you," said Jim.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Pastoring out of the box

One of my favorite blogs is His post, "Susan and the Cookie Man," January 5, reminds me of the strange situations pastors can get themselves into.

For twenty years I worked with Jack Domagall. His first wife was bi-polar and I remember sitting in our shared office as he described his tale of woe. Once in a manic episode this woman, who almost never went out of town, drove all night to the Peace Gardens on the North Dakota - Canadian border.

Eventually they divorced.

He married again and soon discovered he had married a woman with bi-polar illness. That marriage didn't last long.

For years we shared an office and he'd ocasionally say to me, "If I ever tell you I am going to get married again, shoot me."

Then he met Rose. They lived together for awhile and then Jack asked me to marry them.
I'm a big believer in church weddings. After all marriage, in my eyes, is not only between the couple but between the couple and God. And every marriage needs the support of a community.

By the time Jack asked me to marry he and Rose I had been a pastor long enough to know that life seldom fits the neat little boxes we'd like it to.

And there's always Jesus who seemed to bang regularly through the boxes that his religious compatriots had set up to manage life with God and his people.

I took a deep breath and said yes.

It was a small private ceremony with 20 people at a bed and breakfast. Jack, who was blind and the funniest man I've ever known, walked down the little aisle with his bride to be, swinging his cane, and firing off one-liners.

Jack died last winter. Such a shock. He'd been sick but none of his friends or Rose knew he was that sick.

At his memorial service lots of people shared. One of the themes-- the handful of years of being married to Rose were the happiest years of his life.

Every once in awhile I do things as a pastor that don't fit the box. Maybe I do it because I know that God loves me. He knows that life is much bigger than the little boxes I'd like to wrap it in.

And, as Jesus demonstrated over and over again, people and groups never thrives in too small a box.

I just want to be gentle with the out-of-the-box people who wander across my path. When I get to heaven I trust Jesus to be gentle with me as he tells me how I've done.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Figuring out blogger

I'm playing around with blogger. I used a template. Is there an easy way to modify a template? By the way this is a duplicate of a blog I have been keeping for some time at on the Evergreen Leaders web site. The blog section on the site has some limist so I'm trying out as a way to do things like include links to other blogs, not a possibility on the EGL site.

Yeah, that's me. Posted by Hello

A long, slow slog

To accept one's past--one's history--is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it. James Baldwin (1924-1987)

Two scenes from our recent trip to Florida. Taking 24 hours to travel 30 miles in Kentucky on I-24 due to snow and Kentucky's seeming denial that it snows there. (Few snow plows, no road salt, and tow trucks not big enough to move semi's).

Watching a TV preacher at my daughter and son's-in-law. The preacher's sound bite--"We have to move from being victims to victors." He's a 40-something pastor of a megachurch (I don't remember where), one founded by his father. He said that it was hard when his father died, especially when so many people, including him, were praying for healing. But he has moved beyond the past. "I've never visited my father's grave," he said.

He made me uneasy. Why?

First, telling people to move from being victims to victors could be a way of silencing people; i.e., saying,"don't bother me with your pain." Many a victim has been silenced and that's definitely not the path to being a victor.

Second, and perhaps a deeper reason for my uneasiness is that our past, all of it, is part of our roots. Even the pain and shame of our past is part of our roots.

Becoming disabled at age 16 was the beginning of a whole series of painful, shameful events. I basically had to reinvent my life after it burned down. Eight surguries between ages 17 and 23. People mistreating me because I was disabled. Losing my Pentecostal people when I failed to be healed. Losing my sense of call to the ministry. A major depression.

Let me tell you, it was a long road from victim to victor. And I can imagine the guilt I would have felt during those years if I would have heard the pastor's sermon. Forget this victim stuff. Hurry up and get to victory.

But I had a body that kept sending me back to the hospital for more surgeries. I had a body that made planning for the future seem like a crazy guess.

Plus all the things I had learned as a child about God and faith and healing didn't speed me along the road from victim to victory. I tried them all (answering altar call after altar call and limping back to my pew every time.) Rather than speed me along from victim to victory they added to my misery.

Yet all of these experiences are part of my roots. And crazy as it seems, I draw incredible strength and courage from these miserable experiences. To use James Baldwin's image, I didn't drown in my misery, although for years it felt like I might.

Now I use my past. As I prepare to teach Evergreen Leaders workshops I draw on those victim years because as part of my roots, they energize me to work with groups. Groups and people in them are often victims and moving from victim to victor is not a hop, skip, and jump. It's a long, slow slog.

It's organic.

I like that Evergreen Leaders is named after a a type of tree. On Memorial Day weekend 2003 when nine of us gathered to found Evergreen Leaders we planted a Colorado blue spruce. The tag on the spruce said that it's supposed to grow to 35 feet tall. Now that's a thriving spruce. But eighteen months after we planted it's only 15 inches tall--a long ways from a 35 feet.

On alot of days Evergreen Leaders seems about 15 inches tall, a long ways from a thriving organization giving tools to lots of ordniary people, teaching them to help their groups thrive.

But that's okay. A Colrado blue spruce grows to 35 feet tall, one slogging season at a time.