Sunday, October 31, 2021

Treats for Everyone

The major portion of this post is the article I wrote for the "Forward In Faith" section of the award winning Hillsboro Banner weekly newspaper of Hillsboro ND, published October 29th.  As of now the four clergy of the four congregations rotate weekly in submitting an article. Hopefully in 2022, other ministry staff and a deacon will join in sharing their written perspectives. The photographs in this post were not part of the newspaper article. 

Carving pumpkins occurred, but all the emphasis on Halloween was unheard of. No special parties, costumes, or treats in elementary school. Trick or treating was rare. Some churches had activities to provide children and parents options to save them from the occult nature of the day. This was six decades ago in a southeastern Minnesota farming community.

A quick errand through the grocery store provided gratitude that dispensing candy has not been a part of my recent Halloween recognition. Price tags ranged from $4.00 for the small, single variety bag to $25.00 for the multiple candies in a large bag. There were a few options between these extremes, as well. Yet in past years when my children were young, the costumes and candy buffet were part of the rite of October’s end. Actually, my wife did the decorating and costume design. I enjoyed greeting the ghouls or walking the streets with my costumed kids. It was all good fun with lighthearted, random sociability with others who sought sugary treats.

For the past decade living in condominium communities has reduced children or youth coming to the door to a trickle. Some condo kids or grandkids may come by, but the adults usually ask permission ahead of time. Thus expensive candy stays on the store shelves. I now ask the parent what their child(ren) may enjoy and selectively shop. This is so easy, as well as saving me from ingesting too much sugar from the leftovers. Decorations? Nothing but pumpkins, fall potted plants, and possibly a shock of corn. Again, this is up to my wife. I have no worries about saving children or adults from plunging into the abyss of vile vastitudes. It is a cultural celebration that has little connection to its origins. We seem to do the same with November and December holidays, as well.

Now I make it a habit to tour the area on foot or bike to see the elaborate decorations. Maybe it is my penchant for purple and orange colors? Maybe it is the fascination with twinkling lights and air-filled figurines? Or the awesome creativity displayed in massive yard scenes? No matter, I find the spectacle to be enjoyable and exhilarating. And more importantly, I can take in the sensory stimulation without taking down displays in frigid November temperatures! 

I encourage you, whether you share copious amounts of candy with strangers dressed in weird attire, enjoy adding new decorations to your collection, take in the artful decorations via drive or hike, or simply binge watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”, to share something more. The local food pantries provide more than miniature chocolates. These organizations provide meals. The pantry distributes hope. The array of colors on packaging is monstrous. And your contribution provides more than a short-term sugar rush. The cultural celebration of caring for others by providing life sustaining products in concrete ways does have a connection to the origins of creation!

I will be returning Sunday from an all day Saturday, 100+ mile fatbike event which occurred in Wisconsin. Plans are to get home well before the costumed humans begin taking over the residential streets. I also want to see the child from the adjacent condo. He will no doubt be our only visitor. On Monday, food items from fun to functional will be purchased and delivered to the food pantry so everyone can get a treat!

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Grace Filed

My handiwork with a
commercial lawnmower
A few weeks ago I completed mowing a section of the North Country Trail in the Sheyenne National Grasslands. As the picture illustrates I found a way to dig into a sand pit immobilizing the mower. After numerous creative attempts to remedy the situation (actually I made it worse), I sheepishly called one of the Forest Service workers. He was willing to quickly complete his duties and come to my location. With the help of shovels, layers of branches for traction, my pushing, and his driving the mower was freed from its sandy quagmire. This was the second time this season in which the mower and I had issues. The initial problem was caused by the shredding of the main drive belt. This completely disabled the mower (other than the engine starting) in a remote location. Incidents like these, along with other events have caused me to question my abilities and my usefulness in this volunteer position.

Recently I received feedback from a long time friend regarding my blog entries, as well as my You Tube videos. He wrote, "Your blog in particular feels defensive to me at times. I feel like you're explaining why you went one way rather than another..I wonder if we could write about out lives from a point of view that everything is and was ordained by God. God allowed things to happen. The objective becomes seeing our lives as grace filled...When I look back over my life, I think I see one continuous debris field. I wish I could see areas without debris. What if I could make sense of it from God's point of view? There would be moments where God's grace and my faith carried me through and/or over an issue."

What captured my attention and my reflection was his phrase, "seeing our lives as grace filled." I have used the mantra "embrace what is" for the past decade. This may well be my way of recognizing and accepting the debris field in which I live. Yet it is difficult to look back and not find fault or need for explanation of my actions. However, this does not change my decisions or actions. So, what is my need to justify? Or as my friend noticed, to be defensive about those decisions and actions?  I am not a follower of the idea that everything was ordained by God, if that means pre-planned. My decisions and actions simply "were" and in the present setting "are."  Grace, forgiveness, and acceptance are characteristics of God. Thus my life has been and continues to be filled with grace. No excuses or explanations needed to defend myself. 

Beauty in any season.
As I ponder this further, I see freedom in this outlook. Freedom from the defeating self-talk with which I can fill my mind. All of the "should haves" and "I know better" that have create defensiveness. The sense that I need to project an image which is acceptable because I believe I am not acceptable as I am. My life is grace filled. I have not earned it by proper decisions, behaviors, or actions. It is present as a gift whether I want to recognize it not. My actions do not influence or diminish what God chooses to provide. 

To the aforementioned incidents with my volunteerism: I will continue to provide my services. I enjoy giving back. Stuff happens to machinery. Learning occurs from life situations. It is great to be alive and enjoy beauty and grace in any season! To my friend, thank you for the willingness to share your insights! Your words and images are also "grace filled!"

Friday, October 1, 2021



A meaningful gift I received!
Three congregational settings in 5 years triggered the District staff to suggest I consult a counselor to investigate those moves. The suggested counselor was a pastor with specific training in mental health. After asking, listening, and contemplating the counselor stated that I have a "spirit of wanderlust." The counselor suggested if I neglected to reign in this aspect of my character the chances of longevity in pastoral ministry would be limited. I would appear, at least on paper as "too unstable." I wanted to continue being a pastor. My skill set was fairly limited to explore other vocations. My wife and I wanted to start a family. Someone needed to provide income, health insurance, and all of those things that provide for the typical, stable family. Thus I discovered ways and disciplined myself to suppress my wanderlust and act like a professional. 

Stiff & lifeless!

Everything can be suppressed. However, I had bouts when suppression seemed futile. If wanderlust was an intrinsic characteristic why was I attempting to lock it away? What about using it in a creative manner? Could it be enhancing instead of detrimental? I was provided opportunities to facilitate groups in spirituality, the first 4 Steps in Alcoholics Anonymous, and working with "at risk" teenagers in a Middle School setting. Instead of the usual droning of instruction I attempted to be more interactive and engaging. Given the task of enhancing morale at a healthcare facility where I worked as a chaplain, the other chaplains and myself provided root beer floats to staff as they came to their vehicles at the end of shift on a Friday afternoon.  Not to be forgotten, treats were personally delivered to staff working the other shifts. No group was to be neglected. It took time and creativity, but it was a morale booster. Yes, I received push-back from some administrators and peers, but it was worth it!  As most of my parish ministry has been in smaller congregations, I have taken advantage of props and nontraditional delivery methods for sermons. Maybe the message's details became clouded at times, but people remembered the overall theme in the days ahead. The willing and drive to seek out and create adventure in diverse aspects of life continues. Maybe it is now less threatening to others as I can be labeled a "crazy old person." It is now less damaging to my ego and job prospects!

Frozen Otter Ultra Trek finisher.
I sense the tension between staying within normative expectations and developing personal characteristics continues to exist. This is not the same as pushing personal agendas onto others. It is not imposing one set of characteristics as the only way to function in society. Those ways have and continue to be foisted and forced upon others. This generates anger, division, and an "us verses them" mindset.  Instead of being told to suppress characteristics, the opportunity to develop them creatively should be a priority?  This could make strong inter-personal connections a reality. It could foster more creativity in possible solutions for the imbalances in society and environment. As the adage goes, if we only color within the lines we only get what was already outlined on the page. 

There are days when I enjoy allowing the wanderlust to roam free. It takes my body and mind in areas of unseen beauty and exploration. It is in these adventures away from prescribed norms where I sense both freedom and fulfillment. As I progress away from the "make-a-living" aspect of life the wanderlust tugs me into "why not give it a try!"

My advice: no matter what age or stage of life explore and develop your characteristics and character!

White Mountains in Vermont
Staying within the boundaries, submitting to someone else's norms may define you as "normal", but are you really normal? We are all unique, precious, and priceless beings created by an adventurous God.