Wednesday, July 22, 2020


There was always a garden plot (to me it seemed like a field) on the farm where I was raised. My parents enjoyed tending to the plants, as well as enjoying the plot's produce. Green peas and sweet corn were field crops for the local cannery, so those did not consume garden space. Hours of heat, humidity, and biting insects remain etched in my mind when I think about gardening.

Summer Squash
A colorful array of vegetables now compliments most of my meals. The diverse tints, textures, and tastes are a sensory explosion. Long gone are the traditional vegetables of my youth. Yes, some meals consisted only of corn on the cob! Now kale, eggplant, brussel sprouts, swiss chard, beets, summer and winter squash, carrots, cabbage, and broccoli are in the dietary rotation. The availability and variety in the grocer's produce section makes this a reality.

Early this spring I noticed information about a local CSA (community supported agriculture). After as bit of investigation money was sent to secure a weekly half-share box that continues into the fall. Local, a worthwhile job and skills training organization, easy to access, and reasonably priced ticked all of the boxes for me. Being a few weeks into a blissful vegetable coma, I remembered something from my youthful gardening experience: seasonality. How many yellow, patty pan, and zucchini squash can a person consume? Recipes have been exhausted. Shredded zucchini in zip-top freezer bags are tucked into the corners of the freezer. My friends fail to reply to text messages about summer squash giveaways.

A mid-60's rock band used Hebrew Wisdom Literature as the basis for one of their hits. "Turn, Turn, Turn" was made popular by The Byrds. The third chapter of Ecclesiastes states, "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven." (New International Version)

Local CSA
The present reality of availability and variety (not only for vegetables) has placed seasonality into the category of boredom. Attention spans have shortened. Palates have expanded. The expectation of new and novel determine everything from media to medicine and education to business. I, too have become reliant upon a vast array of stimuli to sense fullness in life.

Seasonality is a forgotten entry into serenity. Enjoying what is present; seeing and savoring each day; discovering meaning in the minute and  overlooked grounds me in gratitude. I find that constantly seeking the next new thing fails to provide fullness, instead it produces frustration, The philosopher, Epictetus wrote, "Those who are wise do not grieve for things which they have not, but rejoice in those which they have."

I will savor and rejoice in the summer squash. The taste, the texture, the curvature of the produce, the various hues and striations, and its simplicity are qualities to cherish. There is a time for every activity. I will revel in seasonality. There is no rush.

I also produce video reflections. Click this link for my You Tube Channel.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Coffee and Consistency

One thing about Pike Place blend at Starbucks, it is the same on Navy Pier in Chicago as it is in Paducah KY. Consistency is a marketing characteristic of Starbucks and numerous food and beverage retailers. These establishments offer nothing extraordinary but it is consistently acceptable. Consistency is key.

My youthful sense of smell enjoyed the aroma of perking coffee while my taste buds had a vastly different opinion.  During college my palate's perspective changed. I have enjoyed an ongoing relationship with coffee including a stint as a barista. A variety of brewing methods, espresso based drinks, and countless customers broadened my appreciation of what began as fragrances emitted from a white Corningware stove top percolator. Changes in tastes, perspectives, and awareness were key.

In our present predicament of pandemic and politics , consistency is becoming a battleground.  "I cannot trust anything they say." "That person flip-flops like a fish out of water." Such are the statements that direct us to think in binary (involving 2) ways. Inconsistency becomes synonymous with wrong. Thus consistent is right and inconsistent is wrong.  The pandemic originating by a novel coronavirus has become a flash point in the debate. We forget this virus is new as we think that it has been a part of our lives for years. (novel=new, detected in late 2019). Wearing or not wearing mouth and nose covering has become a benchmark defining judgement, political affiliation, and personal freedom. We forget the scientific method which has produced so much for human betterment is founded on consistent trials and tests to uncover new insights and further knowledge. (The earth is not flat after all!) Do we view cancer treatment, oil extraction, or food options from a 1965 perspective? If consistency is foundational for every aspect of life we would not have the life we live today.

Jesus shares a story about two sons. The father asks the first to go to work in the vineyard. The son says, "NO!" After some thought he changes his mind and goes to work. The father asks the same of the second. His response is, "Yup. I will get right to it." This son never gets close to the vineyard. (Matthew 21.28-32) The point being made is that changing one's mind in response to new information, the needs of others, and respect for what we have received is not only acceptable but expected. As I have come to understand through time, it is better to examine and discover what is right and do it than to believe I am right in the midst of prevailing evidence and not change.

Place the percolator on the wood burning stove. Plug in and pour water into the reservoir of the Keurig. Gently pour in a circular motion 200 degree water over the grounds on top of the Chemex. It matters little which method you use. What matters is enjoying the coffee, the people with whom you share it, and the life given for another day. Outlook, response, respect, and gratitude are key as change continues.

If you have interest, I have video reflections posted on YouTube.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Training for Life

White Mountains in NH
Over a decade ago the decision was made to focus attention on intentionally getting outdoors and challenging myself to become more active.  Raised on a farm in southeastern Minnesota, crops, creeks, and woodlands were a part of my beginnings. Yet over the years other aspects of life took precedence. I wanted to revive the exploration of nature.  As with most resolutions I knew to begin with an obtainable goal. Paying the registration fee for a 5k event cemented my commitment. Completing this challenge gave both a sense of accomplishment and a reason to take a break. Training became event centered.

Winter on Foot
While accomplishing specific goals the fits and starts of event centered training did not provide sustained satisfaction. Conversations with friends often included the discussion about the next scheduled event. Training became compartmentalized. Over time this disjointed feeling changed. I began to consider training as life-centered. When asked, "What event are you training for?" My response became, "Life."

Change is a consistent aspect of life. Even when not recognized change is ever-present. I believe examining and developing life choices is a significant facet of human development. With almost four decades of pastoral care experience along with recent realities provide by COVID-19, my interest in providing innovative, person-centered, and creative spiritual training for life has been rekindled. Faith and faith development is not a weekly, monthly, or seasonal event in which we participate. It is integral to life itself. Training for life is a daily process which enhances spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being.

Winter on Bike
I serve 2 congregations: Congregational-Lutheran United Church in Gardner ND and Hillsboro United Parish in Hillsboro ND. I have assisted numerous couples examine their relationship throughout the continuum of commitment. I have enjoyed discussing sacred stories and their multiple meanings with generations around a table. Conversing with individuals while biking gravel roads or hiking miles of trail provides a real time dimension to spiritual growth. This is training for life.

If I can assist in the enhancement of your life training, examining spiritual integration into daily living, contact me. You can post a comment on this site. With the technologies available contact and conversation can occur in the comfort of your setting.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Years of "Alternative Facts"

Within the current limits of the city of Hillsboro ND there are 4 structures, representing 5 religious denominations, with 5 clergy: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Roman Catholic, United Church of Christ, and United Methodist Church. 

The Hillsboro Banner is an award winning, weekly newspaper owned and operated by a family in Hillsboro. As part of their publication a section entitled "Forward in Faith" is provided for the 5 local clergy to share thoughts and perspectives on a rotating basis.  Today's edition (July 10, 2020) includes the writing which I provided. The Hillsboro Banner has both print and online editions. However I wanted to provide my reflection to a larger audience. What follows is that writing.

On January 22, 2017 during a Sunday morning political show the phrase, “alternative facts” became a cultural reality. The show’s host responded, “Alternative facts are not facts, they are falsehoods.”

In looking at and seeking clarity into my present setting this verbal exchange came to mind. I realize “alternative facts” existed long before the phrase was uttered over three years ago. How did I come to that discovery?  I have been a purveyor of the aforementioned falsehoods for decades. It was not my intention to lie (although I have used that ability), but as a leader in a religious institution I have passed on concepts, stories, and understandings that are interpretations, not facts. 

Part of the scandalous actions making Jesus such a threat to the establishment was his caring for people on the fringes of society, e.g. tax collectors and sinners. As a pastor I have conveyed the message (blatant and subtle) that “good Christians” behave in a certain manner. I have expressed to teenagers that there are acceptable and unacceptable thoughts and attitudes in God’s perspective. The term “unchurched” was and continues to be used to differentiate (hear “segregate”) groups of people. While the phrase, “People should get their priorities straight.” is uttered to uplift my viewpoint of acceptable preferences in contrast to those who choose other ( hear “less meaningful”) options for their lives. This is a small example of religious and denominational “alternative facts.”

While I deeply appreciate and cherish the renewed gatherings of the two faith communities I serve, people got along well without my in-person presence. The formal method and structure of Sunday morning worship was replaced by 10-15 minute vlogs. No one complained about the shortened length. I attempted to place a personal, spiritual nugget online weekly. More than parishioners watched the videos posted on YouTube. Responses received made me pause and ponder. Analytics showed me that most people did not watch the entire video.  I realized again we are all on our spiritual journeys as unique individuals. We have much in common and insights to share with one another. However, tests of Scriptural purity or doctrinal sanctitude create divisions instead of strengthening.

For myself the overarching message of Christianity with its sacred stories and writings is that God embraces all of creation, no matter what. In that embrace humanity is free to explore, examine, make choices, reflect upon those choices, and make new choices. Trying to place the realities of life into neatly defined boundaries and packaging, separating the “haves from the have nots” is alternative facts.

As I reflect upon my years as a pastor I realize my perceived power was limited. Yes, I did propagate "alternative facts", most of which was unintentional. I was doing what I thought was expected and what the religious organization promoted. All people, I believe have the ability to think and act for themselves. Thus my power over their concept of God and faith was limited. Yet, I feel responsible for my teaching and preaching. I realize that due to my title and position what I spoke and taught carried extra significance. Now, I ask more questions inviting others to do the same. God embraces all of creation, no matter what!

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Rolling in It!

The morning was unusually hot and humid for a 12 mile hike with a friend and her canine. The Sheyenne National Grasslands which holds 31 miles of the North Country National Scenic Trail was our path. Barely a half mile into the hike, Luna (a 3 year old mixed breed) discovered and rolled with great pleasure in fresh bovine excrement. Her golden beige coat was splotchy with greenish brown color. She continued her unbounded joy of exploration while her owner expressed disgust verbally and non-verbally. To which I eventually replied, "That is what dogs do."

Never having intentionally rolled in manure, but certainly stepping in it, splattering it up my back from a bike tire, and occasionally picking it up to throw it at an older brother I know it is what humans do, as well. Not only do we roll in it to express ourselves to others, but we contain and exude some rank and odoriferous qualities. That is what humans do. No, not all of the time. Yet we choose to express ourselves in some base ways. And those around us pronounce their disgust in sundry ways

After completing the trail trek, the water pump at the campground not only provided hydration, but the beginning of washing away dried streaks of cow dung from Luna. She could now get in her owner's vehicle with less residue and less odor.

Even when we choose to cover ourselves in or emit our own pent up manure, it can get washed away. The stains may remain, fading with time and more washing, but we can get clean. I believe the One who created us loves us even with the residual indications of our actions. We are not abandoned or treated with disdain because of our nature. We are expunged and freed to continue the journey of life. 

This picture was shared by Luna's owner with the caption, "And this is Luna hiding in the backyard when I tried to clean her with the hose." Luna's expression says more than I can. Even when we hide, realizing what needs to occur in order to get refreshed and renewed, we are loved and accepted.