Sunday, October 1, 2023

Growing Up


Tiny Tim
"Where'd ya grow up?" I have been asked this question countless times during my existence. In the Northern Great Plains it is a common, yet cryptic question to recognize another person and possibly initiate a polite conversation. The subsequent response to whatever place answer is given is either, "Yup, that's a nice area." or "I've been through that area before."

While being accustomed to the colloquial dialogue, I often ponder the exact response to "growing up." October will denote twenty-seven years of residing in the geographic area known as the Red River Valley of the North. This has been and no doubt will be the geographic area where most of my life will be lived. Living in an area or measuring time does not directly correlate to growing up. I have a portion of the Peter Pan mindset, "I won't grow up!" Some of the lyrics sung by Peter Pan (played by Mary Martin) in the 1954 Broadway production, "I don't wanna go to school just to learn to be a parrot and recite silly rules...if it means I must prepare to shoulder burdens with a worried air, I'll never grow up."

In every location where I have resided or visited I have experienced something unique. Unique does not mean fun, easy, or joyful. Life experiences have been as expansive as the North Dakota prairies. The pain of personal loss (physical and emotional), as well as accompanying other people in their deep wounds broadens my outlook on the spectrum of life. Standing in the delivery room while a daughter was born, as well as in a recovery ward while a daughter regained alertness following surgery provided an 

Bradley Rose @ PSL

opportunity for internal growth. Being in the London studio for a live Peloton cycling class was amazing. The room was filled with more human energy than it was sweat induced body order. Sitting under a branch thatched shelter in the high, tropical forests of Columbia, listening to an interpreter share the perspective of the
Village in Columbia 
indigenous spiritual leader took me beyond my damp, uncomfortable surroundings to envision a completely unfamiliar way of existence. Now being in the midst of moving three miles to live in a ground level apartment for the enhancement of my spouse's mobility is both exciting and somber. 

Once again quoting Peter Pan, "I won't grow up!" If growing up means settling in and shutting off, I want no part of it. The stimulation of life experiences are both generative and exhausting. Yet, each day I awake to further my discoveries about life while hopefully being open to its unsettledness.

"Where'd ya grow up?" Everywhere I have had the opportunity!

Manitoba winter ride

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Anniversary Words

This past week the yearly occurrence of my wedding took place. Over four decades of remembering the event at a church surrounded by cornfields in southern Minnesota. Exuberant fanfare was minimal. The tradition of eating lunch at a restaurant of non-American cuisine remained intact. The day was duly noted. "One and done" and onto the next day.

A card received
Before too many eye rolls and thoughts of my being a curmudgeon rise in your minds, I offer this perspective. The notion of "celebrating" brings with it either a sense of accomplishment against all odds or the end of a grueling challenge.  My marriage has not ended nor do I sense this past year in the perspective of, "You will be lucky to make it through."  The use of "happy", as in Happy Anniversary, bears the same Midwestern expression as, "The weather sure has been nice lately." It is something to say without engaging in anything further. A pleasant nicety which carries a thin veil of caring. Neither of these words describe the reality of the present in my estimation. 

Decades ago there were weeks of careful planning in preparation for the anniversary event. The consideration of satiny sleepwear or provocative undergarments took me to many stores with a dollop or two of embarrassment. There was no online shopping in those years. This ritual morphed into finding functional flannels. Now with the proliferation of online everything and no hassle returns, the aspect of gifting has been set aside. Drives to surprising destinations to walk along wooded trails enjoying the burgeoning beauty of fall foliage, or going to different orchards to pick apples are only memories. Riding in a vehicle for an extended period of time does not bode well for my wife's enjoyment. Maintaining balance while walking now defines what may be acceptable for a trail. It is not that the words, "celebrate" or "happy" are wrong. Yet, in the marking and remembering of the anniversary along with the existence of what has transpired in our relationship, these words are shallow, if not hollow. The journey of  my relationship of marriage continues with its unique characteristics. 

All of us function with images and expectations. When these images and expectations are not realized we

True sentiments
endeavor to find resolution. The prevailing culture holds up unrealistic, fairy tale images of relationships. My perspective on marriage is not about romance and living happily ever after. However, that image was part of my early years of marriage. The word which has become foundational is, "commitment." It carries little glamour. It does not radiate roses and passion. Nor is it a word to overlook. The anniversary day was a time to explore the dimensions of my promise, spoken and unspoken, to another person. Surrounded by cornfields, as well as relatives and friends in a rustic building built for religious purposes years ago, a day most in attendance have forgotten, I have not forgotten the intent of the vows, even though I do not recall the exact words. The time to reminisce was brief because I believe it is more important to focus on the aspects of commitment today. The journey continues!

Groomsman and garter

Sunday, September 3, 2023

This Mess is a Place

A friend with a knack for being subtle gave me a framed, desk-sized poster which read, "This mess is a place." The act, as well as the gift made an impression. I cleared a space for it among the debris scattered on the desk. My interpretation of the gift focused upon recognizing myself as a person surrounded by clutter. I was not simply a messy, lazy, or disorganized person. The stuff suppressed and obscured my being. Or as 

One of many books
may be more fitting for today, "my authentic self." I was a mess. I used a variety of external materials, expectations, and beliefs to create an image. This worked in many circumstances. It was beneficial for my vocation. Yet my friend saw through the clutter, expressing acceptance and gratitude.

I continue the process of minimizing clutter. It has been a part of at least the past decade. While the focus has been on the extraneous stuff tossed in plastic totes, I have new undertakings parallel to the totes. I have surrounded myself with numerous expectations which have become overgrown. I liken it to clearing the underbrush from trees so that both the forest and the soil can be restored. While both the soil and trees can continue living, neither can fulfill their original purpose encumbered by dense, nutrient demanding underbrush. It is important for the soil to be nurtured by moisture, sunlight, and rotting organic matter. Trees become stronger, more resilient, and express their beauty when not fighting for

Thick underbrush
nourishment. Living through the expectations of culture, organizations, relationships, and beliefs masks personal integrity and our natural beauty.

In my pastoral work, the initial directive was not to share personal information about the deceased at a funeral. Focus on Jesus. This will be an opportunity for conversion. That directive rimmed the trash bin a few times before I finally sank it. People sort out their spiritual needs without a paid, professional with a penchant for maintaining old beliefs glossing over the realities of a person known and loved by others. What is the purpose of a generic funeral? We opt for name brands, so why not fully and respectfully name the deceased and her/his connection with those gathered? Clear the underbrush and express the unique beauty and character of the person.                                                      

Pastoral activity

In relationships, whether they be personal or professional, expectations clutter reality. Assuming a role because it may be less challenging to another sucks the vitality out of that relationship. Once again, the underbrush has limited benefit. It provides coverage and distraction while negating the beauty and potential of each individual. People are adaptive and learn to survive in environments of various health. Survival does not equate to living. Living involves freedom and well-being in the present. I have lived and currently live in relationships where the underbrush has grown thick because it was less painful than removing it. I no longer want to navigate or get caught in the underbrush. Uprooting the old patterns while establishing my present self is slow. However, I tell myself that it is about progress, not perfection. Whether others in general or another in particular chafe at the change is outside of my control. I desire freedom of expression, movement, and growth without clutter. 

I accept myself and am grateful for life!

Thank you for reading.


Sunday, August 20, 2023

Less Daylight - More Choices

Sunsets are beautiful
The days are getting shorter! I am not only referring to the seasonal change but my changing life, as well. If you watched either (08.06 + 08.13) of the last two YouTube videos, I alluded to the theme of ceasing to explore life. A prevailing societal thought is that at some point humans stop exploring life in order to give attention to life after death. Prevailing thoughts usually are not for the benefit of the individual. Other motives are being established.

In the book, Out of Silence - After the Crash by Eduardo Strauch, he writes, "Instead of asking myself if there was life after death, I asked myself what life was before death." The author is a surviving member of the Uruguayan rugby team whose airplane crashed into the Andes Mountains while en route to Chile in 1972. A portion of the book recounts his seventy-two day ordeal prior to fifteen others and himself being rescued. There were forty-five passengers on the flight. They survived -30 degree temperatures at an altitude of 11,500 feet, crafting survival items from the wreckage, as well as getting nutrition from the deceased. His account is honest and deeply personal. It is bereft of any semblance of a happy ending. I found the depth of his life experience to be powerful, as well as respectful.

Death will be a reality at some point. Until that time presents itself, I want to live. Not simply exchanging air
A lifeless decoration

and having blood flow, but expanding my senses, my perspectives, my creativity, and my appreciation for all that surrounds me. I do not perceive this as selfish. Self care is never selfish. My days of focusing upon family concerns: food, shelter, medical insurance, education/tuition are in the past. Playing by the rules and earning income were chosen parts of my life. However, rules are meant to maintain order and safety. Income is one aspect of life of which we can never have enough, so we are told over and over.  Along with this is the projected worry about having enough for retirement. I believe we easily get bound to the rules while attempting to build walls of safety. In so doing, we block out life and forego the joy of living.

As a pastor, the concept of life after death has always been present, if not in the forefront. The congregations I have served, the hospitalized I visited as a chaplain, and the community members where I have resided have asked about life after death. Is the role of clergy that of dealing with what cannot be experienced in the here and now? The Christian Scriptures have numerous concepts about death and life which scholars over the centuries have attempted to blend into a homogeneous pabulum. Most often the teaching has been used to promote a type of moral playing by the rules. It has created hesitancy and fear of making choices today. The belief is that our free choices would negatively affect life in the hereafter. I believe what originally had good intentions has repressed more than it has freed. Personally, I no longer focus on life after death. As Eduardo Strauch aptly penned, "I asked myself what life was before death."

A lot to savor
My days are not getting shorter. There continues to be twenty-four hours each day. I am not waiting to be rescued from a disaster.  I have not lived this long to stop prematurely. In many ways I do not want to be mature! I am not opposed to rules. I am not opposed to safety. I am opposed to focusing so painstakingly upon the future that I neglect to experience my surroundings today. Death and what comes after that is not in my control. Choosing to live fully and freely today is a gift I want to continually unwrap!

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Old Dog - New Tricks

It served well!
Aging provides an opportunity to coast with all that is familiar and to complain about all that is changing. Questions arise as to the necessity of change. Frustrations erupt when cornered by others prodding me to change. Can I not be left alone to gracefully slide into decrepitude?  Chided by an adult child, as well as decoding the cryptic intimations of my spouse, a new (well, it has 3,000 miles on the odometer) vehicle was purchased. The last time I drove a new transport away from a dealership was three decades ago. 

Air conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth, and rear defrost are necessary. "Less that needs fixing," was my antiquated mantra. These words also help weave the thin shroud disguising my economic rule of mass depreciation as soon as four wheels leave the boundary of the dealership. The old belief patterns had served, as well as saved. All of the labor to solidify this mindset was quickly cast aside. The mission or possibly the obsession for new imprisoned me. I finally submitted to my captor. So much for sliding gracefully into decrepitude!

Along with air conditioning, Bluetooth, and rear defrost comes: dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure

Words, not letters.
alerts, heated seats, automatic high beams, and forty miles of electric distance. Little hatches adorn both upper rear panels. One allows for a fuel nozzle. The other allows for the alien looking charging plug. The old fashioned "glove box" contains thick bound manuals with minuscule print and drawings explaining the features. It was strongly suggested to download the app in order to increase access to features and updates. Decrepitude was not found in the app!

I did not expect so many internal changes, either. My head is on a swivel looking at the multitude of circumstances which can damage this wheeled wonder. I obsess over keeping the colorful graphics in the proper areas which indicate maximum mileage. I ponder how often to wash it and where to wash it. And the most satisfying, yet disturbing change: I am honing defensive driving skills anticipating the action of other drivers. My initial, internal verbal response to the other driver is, "What an a**h#le!" It is now morphing to congratulate myself for being aware. Instead of cursing, I applaud myself for the insight into the behaviors of others. 

This may be my last vehicle purchase. The investment in extended warranty and service/maintenance contracts should enable a long term relationship with this vehicle.  It also spells the end of a meaningful relationship with the repair shop mechanics. By the time the contracts expire I will either no longer be driving or I will board a self-driving ride-share to my destination. At that time I will once again consider my slide into decrepitude!


Cartagena, Columbia

Sunday, July 16, 2023

This Is Only a Test

Tests captured my attention. In the overall flow of life tests were significant speed bumps which changed my focus. Once completed, life would resume its easy going rhythm. With the completion of eight years of post secondary education tests were placed on a high and out of the way shelf. I knew what I needed to know and I did not need to increase my knowledge.

A remnant of the Cold War with its penchant of nuclear holocaust were public service ads on radio and television from the Emergency Broadcast System. The portion of the announcement etched into memory is, "This is only a test. If this had been an actual emergency...." In an actual emergency detailed instructions would have come from the Civil Defense. Actions including shelter locations and updates from governmental agencies would have been forthcoming. Emergencies change the rhythm of life. Most of our days are only a test with little need to be concerned about emergencies.

Driving an EV (a test drive) was a thrill! It was not a significant speed bump, but the vehicle had plenty of speed. The representative from the dealership instructed me on a small portion of its features. The rep drove the vehicle for about 10 miles, all the while explaining the system, showing off the acceleration, technological driving features, and providing basic EV education. Getting into the driver's seat for the return trip to the dealership was my test. Not only did I pass the test, but I passed many other vehicles along the way. The experience was awesome! Is it an emergency to purchase this vehicle? NO. I have a very capable eleven year old vehicle with over 200,000 miles. It is reliable. I know about internal combustion engines. I know about its creaks and quirks. I know what I need to know without the mind numbing array of   

Toyota bZ4X
electronics. I know about the workings of gas station/convenience stores. I know nothing about charging stations nor their locations. My life can easily slip back into its easy going rhythm.

Along with many people, I find it not only easy but comforting to have a calm flow of life. As the joke is told in the Upper Midwest, "How many people does it take to change a light bulb?" Answer, "Change?! Why do we need to change?" The resistance to change or even to prepare for the test runs deep in human nature.  The idea that once the test is completed there is nothing left to learn is powerful. The denial, the push back, the acrimony expressed when we are confronted about impending predicaments in culture, climate, and global community indicate our unwillingness to prepare for or even learn from tests. 

Confronted with my own resistance to move beyond what I know and believe is becoming too uncomfortable. It is an actual emergency. Thus I will seek, listen, discern, and respond to instructions that are presented from a variety of sources. This is not about protection and defense. It is about embracing the current spectrum of life, expanding the base of knowledge, and moving forward.  

Sunday, July 2, 2023

The Bright Side of Life

Ryan finishes the
Lutsen 99er
In 1979, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" written by Eric Idle, was performed in Monty Python's Life of Brian. The song was also included in the 2005 musical, "Monty Python's Spamalot." Is there something that makes the song so enduring? Here are some of the lyrics:                                                               

Some things in life are bad, they can really make you mad, other things just make you swear and curse.....If life seems jolly rotten, there's something you've forgotten, and that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing."  Chorus, "Always look on the bright side of life."

No matter when a picture is take, my friend Ryan always has a smile. Whether it be mud splatter, an ice beard, or  a bloodied leg or forearm he exhibits a genuine smile. Maybe it comes from the enjoyment of movement on two wheels? Yet, I have seen this smile many times when he is not on one of his bikes. Ryan has a full repertoire of emotions, but somehow he grounds himself with a smile. 

A hiking adventure in early May, close to Colombia's Caribbean coast tested my endurance. It was not so 
Saturated, but made it
through the first day
much the physicality of hiking, as it was the bodily adjustment to the tropical climate. The heat and humidity meant I was constantly wet. This was not just some unsightly perspiration, but soaked shirts, pants, socks, and hiking boots for five days. In the midst of my self-consciousness and some ribbing from fellow hikers and guides, I realized my bodily mechanisms were working to keep me moving forward. My sweating was beyond my control. Even though my limits were tested, I could easily flash a smile. I had a functioning body, the ability to interact in a less than ideal setting, plenty of food and water, and a covered place to sleep every night. Plenty of reasons to brighten my face!

With a steady diet of media, my emotional, spiritual, and relational functions plummet faster than a roller coaster cresting the initial climb. I believe there are individuals, businesses, and organizations who want nothing more than for me to view the world as frightening. These sources benefit both in power and prosperity from providing toxic materials which nourish an attitude of despair and dependency.  It is easy to get caught in the thick of thin things. Arguing over minutiae is a distraction from living life. The number of people, situations, and things to cherish far outnumber those I am encouraged to curse. I am tempted at times to succumb to the constant reminder that life is not fair and others are getting preferential treatment. ENOUGH ALREADY! 

We all have choices. We all have life. We all are terminal. The question is, "How do each of us choose to see life ?" I will choose the bright side.

"Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" This link takes you to a YouTube clip of the song from the "Life of Brian." You may find it off-color or offensive. However, that is part of the Monty Python genre of humor.

Shorts, snow, and a smile!

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Without A License

The person did not have a license! The person had no data indicating that training or lessons were a part of their past. It takes a lot of courage and/or lunacy to attempt such an activity with no relevant background. At least the person had a name: Orville Wright. I doubt if Orville Wright understood the impact of his actions, but they have been massive. 

As a young farm boy, I would often gaze skyward to see the white contrail of a jet or hear the distant hum of a propeller plane. The few times my family attended a Minnesota Twins game (always a double header because of the value) I watched airplanes take off and land from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The bleachers of Metropolitan Stadium (the cheap seats) were a fine location to satisfy my lust for viewing the airport. Needless to say, the airplanes captured my interest more than the game of baseball.  In the fervor of my obsession, I mailed a letter to the United States Air Force asking for photographs of their jets. To my surprise, I received a large, manila envelope filled with over a dozen glossy photographs of aircraft. It was my massive treasure. I developed a weekly rotation of the pictures on the bedroom wall. Orville Wright, 

Northwest was based at
even though long dead, gave me a world of visions and dreams due to his willingness to fly without a license!

My dreams and desires never materialized due to my need for corrective lenses. Decades ago the sight requirements were more rigid than today. I also learned that heights, spinning, and hanging in the air messed with my balance, perception, and bodily functions. Too many amusement park rides, along with a couple of turbulent flights in small aircraft created physical conditions which demonstrated my deficiencies for flight. However, I still enjoy not only watching aircraft, but traveling by air imparts a pleasant mystique. 

An author I enjoy 
After decades of staying in my lane of vocational licensure, the dream of journeying into untried competencies has returned. I want to express myself, be creative, and take risks in the arena of writing. It has been a dormant avocation. My small, but significant collection of instructional writing resources, along with the joy of using fine writing instruments has catapulted me into a space which is not frightening. I am setting aside the routine for the thrill of discovery. Whether anything gets officially published does not matter. I want to pursue that which has been in my being for years. I want expression to take flight. I want to enjoy the surprise of taking off. Thank you, Orville Wright!

Thank you for reading

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Jump With Both Feet


A street in Cartagena
The flight was scheduled to depart at 5am. It was an international flight with a connection in Florida. I have TSA Pre-Check, so the security screening process is quick. One bag to check at the self-service kiosk. Being at the airport three hours early certainly did not apply to me!

I had difficulty sleeping, so the ride share dropped me off at the airline's departure doors at 2:10am. The self-service kiosk indicated I needed to speak with an airline service agent. It must be an error. The third time this came on the screen I decided to follow the instructions. Off to the rear of an endless line which moved at a snail's pace. Because my destination was South America, the airline's agent needed to verify and approve Colombia's entry form which I had previously completed online according to instructions. After receiving paper, color coded boarding passes for my flights the rest of the process went as I had expected. Note to self: there is a reason for the three hour arrival before your flight advice!

This was my first, solo international flight. I have never been to Colombia or South America. On previous overseas adventures, my younger daughter took care of the details and so I just followed her. It made travel easy, but I did not learn the details of such travel. This time I had no one to follow, so the learning curve and the anxiety were steep. One way to learn is to jump in with both feet!            

One of the hiking guides

After returning and processing what had occurred over my ten days in northern Colombia, what rises to the top are people. The various cities and landscapes held a unique beauty. Individual tours, as well as the five day group hiking experience were packed with information, as well as physical and emotional fatigue. Beyond the Caribbean music, the hectic and chaotic traffic, the lush jungle, and countless varieties of tropical fruit, images of individuals continue to surface in my memory.

Cecilia in the market
Women who cooked with basic heat sources and marginal cookware in a crowded market produced delicious food and abundant hospitality. One of the guides on the hiking trip was not only agile and strong, but made certain everyone was cared for both on the trail and in our campsites. Most of this caring was accomplished with less than detailed communication. The ride share driver, who though recently married, treated me as a friend making certain (due to the late hour) that my lodging was available and acceptable. A woman from Canada who noted her sixtieth birthday by sweating, hiking, and persevering over five days while never second guessing her decision. 

Seeing the terrain, landscape, and sites of another part of the world is awe-inspiring. Seeing and interacting with a wide array of individuals makes me plan the next adventure. I am glad I jumped in with both feet!                 

Not just people,
but personalities

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Haunted House

Our memories are ghosts. The houses they haunt are us.

"Forever" Pony Cars
The beautifully maintained 1964, Ford Mustang parked on the other side of the gas pumps was being filled by its owner of similar vintage. A new Kia Optima pulled in behind the Mustang. Its Gen X driver quickly scanned his payment card, activated the pump and began fueling. Gazing in admiration at the classic pony car he said, "That has to be awesome to drive." 

"An afternoon cruise around the area is enjoyable. If I was going on a road trip I would choose your vehicle.", was the reply.

"I thought the Mustang was supposed to be an amazing car?" asked Gen X.

"For its time it was innovative and exciting. Compared to the comfort, handling, and safety of today's vehicles it is a dinosaur."

The typical refrains of, "Back when I was your age, and In the good ol' days" are both descriptive and bromidic. The memories of bygone days invite us into a fantasy which is comforting, confusing, and heartbreaking. Take a look at the Stay Puft Marshmellow Man from the movie, Ghostbusters (1984). Fun and cute while providing distraction from the current chaos. Yet escapism is fleeting even when one chooses to reside in its fairyland. A one day pass to Disneyland starts at $104.00. Reside there too long and the expense will cause not only financial bankruptcy, but the inability to navigate daily life. 

I have numerous ghosts which haunt my being. The horrific ones include, but are not limited to needing to

Sheep in Cumbria, UK
end the lives of animals and pets on the rural acreage of my youth.  Some were for sport while others were for sustenance or mercy. No matter the reason, their eyes always seemed to be looking at me. My mournfulness was blended with the arrogance of power over other living creatures. 

In my recent past, the Red River of the North floods of April 1997, have dug a deep trench which is exposed when ancient Lake Agassiz seeks to reclaim itself. Initially my wife and I moved our daughters to a secure setting with friends. That security was fleeting! My wife and daughters drove hundreds of miles in order to reside with family. From their new location the rising, unpredictable waters were stories on the television news. I remained in the town surrounded by untested dikes. The Minnesota National Guard established an encampment within the town. Yet this tenuous security failed to provide restorative sleep. I was frightened that my fatigue would deafen my ears to the evacuation sirens if there was a breach of the levee. If that occurred the town would be multiple feet deep in water within minutes. 

Current flooding on the Red

Intermingled with these images are the ones of friendship, courage, camaraderie, laughter, and hope. Numerous relationships were created and strengthened. On the fatigued and forlorn faces were glimpses of consolation and compassion. While becoming an island surrounded by raging waters, the core of people created a community. Any dream of long-term, interpersonal kumbaya faded slowly as the flood waters receded. When the crisis was past the conflicts resumed. Yet, these memories open many doors in my internal house. Abiding with the haunting are the helpful.

The memories which cruise the avenues of my life have the power which I choose to given them. Primarily, I embrace the present. This is where I live with the freedom and the foolishness for the road trip which lies ahead. 

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Beauty Surrounds Us


Transition Time
There is no abrupt beginning or ending to the seasons. As much as I wanted winter to conclude in early March, it continues to hang on with schizophrenic characteristics. The increasingly intense warmth of the solar radiation, while welcomed, is creating a landscape of potholes, puddles, and porous piles of decaying snow. All the thawing and freezing accompanied by weather systems of frozen precipitation, strong winds, and ice underfoot creates an endurance event instead of a celebration of spring. These random swings are not limited to the external climate. The vacillation of feelings and perspectives have established a solid foundation within myself, as well.

In my ever increasing, normative chaos came words on a Facebook post.  The poignancy of the author's perspective touched me immediately. Going to the eclectic variety store for which she is assuming greater responsibility in downtown Fargo, North Dakota, while being an enjoyable experience did not provide the satisfaction I desired. A note left at the store followed by a couple of text messages provided Josie's permission to share her writing. Here it is:

There is still beauty in this broken world. Sometimes you find it after a hard run under a recently felled tree; in the leaves and fragments of what used to be. It's in between the challenges, it's before the cold, it's after the work. It's all around us simultaneously finding its place amongst the pain, the heartbreak, the anger, the uncertainty. It's part of a whirlwind of wants, wishes, wonders, and woes. Sometimes we have to actively search it out, but mostly it appears like a respite, a relief, a reminder of hope. Beauty isn't something that comes at the expense or suffering of others. It's not found in karma, or greed, or irony. It's infinite, and open for interpretation. It's in movement and stillness and song and quiet. It's man-made and nature's gift. It's long-lived and fleeting, monumental and nearly missed. It's universal. It's mine and yours and ours to share. If we keep navigating through the thick of the troubles and trials the beauty will always tread along the same track. Beauty surrounds us, in this broken world, we just have to let it in.

What if we recognized that we must wilt and wither in order to root and rise? What if we accepted that our life is more than just one bloom?                   Josie Danz      April 3,2023

Multiple Blooms

If I seek beauty only in that which provides pleasure or serves my specific needs, I constrict and constipate the vast offerings surrounding me. During transition, during frustration, during celebration, during life itself, beauty surrounds me!

Look for Josie at Zandbroz Variety, 420 Broadway N, Fargo, ND. I have known her for years, but under appreciated the depth of her insight about many aspects of life. We first met through the sport of running.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Enjoyable + Creative

Chocolate Chip Caramel Bars
They need work.
My mother was non-traditional. She did not fit into a predetermined mold. Cooking, cleaning, and laundry were activities everyone could and would do. Of those tasks I gravitated toward cooking. Maybe it came from my desire to eat, but I also enjoyed the creativity and experimentation associated with cooking. The machinery and mechanics of the farm held little interest for me. Cooking? Yup, I could do that and enjoy it! Rarely did I throw my work into the trash. Even if it did not come out as intended or look like the picture attached to the recipe, it could usually be consumed. 

The enjoyment of cooking continued. It cycled from creative to common. With the arrival of a family there were times when basic foods needed to be prepared. The reality of places to go and activities to attend meant that culinary creativity was shelved for the sake of consuming calories and sating hunger. Added to this was the 
Prehistoric pressed chicken
changing palate of the children. Dino Nuggets, mac and cheese, and tots were in the rotation along with corn dogs and frozen pizza. Creativity crept into the corner and covered its eyes!  However, it was enjoyable to be with my children. Creativity transferred into the art of parenting.

Currently there is a push for perfection in many aspects of life. Restaurant quality, chef curated cookware is promoted. Subscriptions to meal services provide gourmet ingredients and instructions. Competition, whether it be on a cable channel or social media is normative. Unique, one-of-a-kind adventure vacations need to be a part of family life. If not, we run the risk of just being ordinary. The mantra which is not subtle is, "Live your best life." I see this in part as capitalism working its magic. Without projecting a need which has to be filled or a deficiency for which restoration is necessary, products would not be sold. We are prodded and brainwashed 
Cover of my calendar 
into believing that our best life is a few purchases, a few experiences, or a few investments away. I believe the questions need to be asked: When will the illusive best become reality? Who decides what is best for me? How will I know when I have reached my best? What if my best already occurred? Is the concept of best meant to be a fluctuating destination so that feelings of inadequacy drive me to increase spending? Can the best be purchased? 
I believe there is a marked difference between stagnation and activity. Does improvement in education, salary, housing, and possessions with the increase in activity which is necessary for these things to occur provide the measurement toward becoming my best? I also sense there is a belief that acquiring and strictly following formulaic instructions will provide the desired outcome. All of this striving, all of this vision narrowing is performed at the expense of enjoyment and creativity. I ask myself often, "Tim, did you experience some enjoyment today?" Creativity, in my opinion cannot be stringently defined. However, it can be applied to all activities. Creativity and enjoyment are intertwined. I enjoyed the process of attempting to layer caramel over a bed of cookie dough and covering it with cookie dough topping. The outcome was not what I anticipated. It was an experiment. If attempted again I will change a few things. However, it was enjoyable on many levels. One of which is a dentist's dream whether it be producing cavities or pulling loose a filling! The infusion of sugar into the blood stream has some enjoyment, too. I chose not measure this baking venture in terms of my best. It was simply an enjoyable and creative enterprise. 

I may be more like my mother than I care to admit. I have no desire to fit into a "best" mold. I would much rather enjoy the journey while being creative in the process.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

HELL - Yes & No

High Plains Drifter
Most of us have a concept of Hell. It is a place of eternal punishment and unquenchable fires,with wailing and gnashing of teeth. This image was actively taught and vividly described in my early years of Christian Sunday School. Or we became familiar with Hell through reading Inferno, the first part of Dante Alighieri's epic poem Divine Comedy. Another lasting image of Hell came from High Plains Drifter, a movie (1973) starring Clint Eastwood focused on the beneath the surface cruelty of the people in a mining town named Lago.

Over the years the concept of Hell has changed from a place of eternal confinement to a current condition of life. I have experienced any number of soul-sucking situations in my life. There have been short-term summer jobs, especially one with an asphalt roofing company which lasted six hours.  A couple of pastoral ministry settings, that at first glace appeared exciting which quickly became an abyss of despair. Feeling confined by the expectations of my peers and profession, as well as needing the benefits provided for my family, I allowed creativity and appreciation to trickle out of my life. It was not a massive, consuming fire, but the ever increasing flame which deadened by spirit. There have been personal relationships in which I could not muster the energy nor face the perceived consequences of "ripping off the band-aid." My lack of action kept me enclosed emotionally and spiritually. The relationships were not physically harmful, but there was no enthusiasm or exploration in them. 

What has occurred cannot be changed. Reliving the past does not serve the present if it is only a
Late Night - Seth Meyers
rehashing of guilt or "should haves." I have realized that "hell no" is a response to be used frequently. It is in the action of "Hell No" that the freedom of "Hell Yes!" can take root. Daily life does not have to be routine. Discoveries, as well as diving deep into activities that provide perspective furnish opportunities for personal productivity. The willingness to take a risk while enduring short-term pain keeps me out of the pervasive and periodic entrapment of a lived hell.  

If a sign is posted to indicate my life, I have not formulated the words to attach to it. However, if it had to be done today I want "Hell Yes" listed first and "Hell No" directly underneath it. These words express freedom in my current setting, not eternal confinement. All I have are the choices I make today, eternity can wait!


Saturday, February 25, 2023

The ONLY Way


Along southbound I-29, just beyond Exit 86 at Gardner, ND I noticed the billboard pictured on the left. This was not the first billboard of this genre to capture my attention. A simple search on the internet indicated the providers of these billboards {(83) FOR-TRUTH}is an organization called "Christian Aid Ministries." On their donation page the following is written: "we cannot buy our salvation or pay for the forgiveness of our sins with money. ONLY through the blood of Jesus can our sins be forgiven and only by believing in Him can we be saved from eternal damnation. We are not soliciting funds; however, if you would like to make a donation to help us put up more billboards across the USA, we are making it possible for you to do so."  While my belief system is placed under the heading "Christian", I do not endorse nor do I condemn the work of this organization. What peaked my interest was the word, "only."

Whenever someone uses a word which denotes exclusivity and superiority my rebellious nature rapidly surfaces. This has been a characteristic since childhood.  My father or an older brother would tell me the way something had to be done. I would comply in their presence. Once that person was gone I would attempt the get the same result in my own way. Imagination, creativity, problem-solving, and innovation are options which are contrary to "only."  When I hear the word or get the sense that someone or some group is stating there is only one way, which they possess, my immediate reaction is it means power, control, and protection.

I am nearing completion of a book entitled "Liberating The Gospels - Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes" by John Shelby Spong. I have found it to be insightful, irritating, thought provoking, and persuasive. On page 299, he writes, "We have nothing to lose by looking at new possibilities unless we yearn to hide inside the hysterical prison of self-deception. For some religious folk, that is exactly what they seek to do. They no longer believe in God in any real or genuine way, but they still are convinced that they believe in believing in God. Hence they seek to protect, not their God, but their believing in God behind a fortress-like barrier of significant emotional defenses. Such an irrational belief system cannot be discussed openly, and incredible anger becomes obvious when such believing is disturbed." This statement can easily be removed of a religious context and placed into politics, economics, lifestyle, and most any topic currently under the umbrella of culture wars. Objectively looking at the data, at science, and placing it into context seems rationally appropriate. However, our anger is more about protecting personal power,control, and ego than it is the specific issue. 

Northern Scotland

Where will the water flowing over the rocky terrain gather? Eventually it will enter a stream and make its way into the ocean. It will then go through the cycle of evaporation and condensation. The multiple descending flows provide significant beauty to what in fact is an ordinary process. I believe the creativity and innovation which provides beauty in our relationships is functionally impeded when we believe our perspective has to be defended at all costs. Life becomes focused on raising and reinforcing the bulwarks we believe will keep us safe.  

My ONLY desire is to be an incomplete work in progress.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Good Idea, Once Upon a Time

The final portion of the house tour was viewing the partially finished basement. Upon entering a room with finished walls and an uncovered concrete floor, the console television, turntable, and AM-FM stereo radio combination captured my attention. The person giving the tour of the parsonage stated that the unit has not worked for years. Due to it being a gift from a family in memory of a loved one, no one dared to dispose of it. The tour occurred in 1981. I wonder if the unit is still in the basement?

Memorials, those gifts given to organizations in order to secure a loved ones name will be recorded somewhere. While I could not find the origins of memorial gifts on an internet search, I decided to seek another source. A mortician friend reinforced my suspicion that memorials began as a way to assist a family during the transition following a death. Maybe the monies helped pay for the funeral expenses? Maybe the cash provided a small cushion for the family if the deceased was the primary income provider? This was a practical and helpful gesture necessary to care for others in a concrete way. 

During the Annual Meeting at Hillsboro United Parish, I wondered about the longevity of the Memorial Committee. Fewer funerals are conducted in the church. The nature of ceremonies at the end of life are changing. These insights were shared with the aforementioned funeral director. I was told that the idea of memorials continues to haunt families. Once discussion of a service or gathering begins there comes a time when the family asks, "What about memorials?" It is now an expectation that monetary gifts are a part of

death rituals. Looking at various obituaries many included the phrases, "in lieu of flowers" or "memorials can be given to." It appears that what was once a expression of kindness and support has turned into an expectation. One obituary stated that memorials could be designated to the church's elevator fund. My thoughts are if an organization believes something is important enough to have or maintain, why is there an ongoing fund? Is a brass name plate going to be placed in or near the elevator recognizing the deceased? 

As in many things, what was once a good idea has served its purpose. Most people no longer need help with funeral expenses. Other societal safety nets assist with maintaining income during a transition period. I believe there are many needs in our society. I am not opposed to providing financial support to organizations I find meaningful. I also choose not to wait for someone to die in order to make a contribution. The beverage

services which can still be found in many congregations rarely get used. Weddings and anniversaries are held in other venues. Being served by someone else is rare in a self-service society. Many people bring their own beverages to various events. No one tells the story of the person whose name may adorn the platter, if anyone even remembers that person. Yet like the behemoth piece of entertainment furniture in the parsonage basement it cannot be discarded because of an unknown memory associated with it.

I would appreciate your insights and feedback on this topic. You can leave comments on this site. Or go back to the Facebook page and add a comment. 

I will be taking a couple of weeks away from blogging. I plan to post again on February 26th.Thank you for reading and responding!

Sunday, January 15, 2023

By the Numbers

Since the beginning of the month I have been surrounded by numbers. Everything from fitness, to tax forms, to gas prices, to lottery jackpots dot the landscape of my days. What is out culture's obsession with numbers? Are they meant for guidance or for definition? Do numbers imprison us, free us or both? Or am I experiencing the creeping senility of aging? Maybe I am becoming more like Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) in the movie Gran Torino, muttering and scowling, "Get off my lawn!"

There is no consistency in the interpretation of numbers. Gas prices are to be low. Income is to be high. Interest rates are to be both low and high depending if a person is purchasing or investing. Clothing sizes are never consistent, yet we are told that smaller is better. Additional the numbers attributed to sizes vary from country to country. My European Union shoe size ranges from 47 to 48.5.If I was buying the same shoes in Japan it is 31.5 to 32.5. Who comes up with all of these numbers? We are labeled "successful" if numbers reflecting are income are high. Low income numbers come with labels of "uneducated" or "lazy". We want high numbers in the scores of sporting events or they become "boring". What is our obsession with numbers? Do they objectively measure aspects of our lives? My sense is numbers are manipulated to benefit our facade of self. They are used as a reflection of our status. They are equally used as a reflection of our superiority over others. 

The author and poet, Donna Ashworth wrote, "Friendship Is Not A Numbers Game"                                                                                                           You can have one friend-one single friend-whose support is so fierce, that you feel like there is an army behind you. And yet you can have umpteen other friends whose allegiance you are not entirely sure of. You can meet a friend tomorrow who rocks into your life, rolls up and says, "I am here for you." And they actually , truly are. Yet you can have friends you've known and loved for years and years, who can't show up even for the best of times, never mind the worst. If you're really lucky, you can have a few of each, but one is all you really need. Friendship is not a numbers game, it's a game of instinct-trust yours.

I need to trust my instinct more often. Yes, I need to deal with W2s and 1099s and submit my taxes. I believe it is important to pay for the many great services and benefits which I receive daily. I believe it is important to support others by contributing to the general well-being of society, also. But the numbers which serve to measure my foot size, my waist, my retirement funds; the numbers generated by my fitness tracker to achieve a check mark next to step count or the numbers indicating the street I traveled most often in 2022 are of no substance or value unless I choose to provide it. My instinct tells me I have value beyond numbers. I have value in being me, however that is displayed each day. 

The New Testament book of Luke, chapter 12 sums what I am trying to express well, "Life is more than food, and the body more than clothing...which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to life...if God clothes the grass which is alive one day and dead the next, how much more will God clothe you"

Trust your gut. Trust that it is not numbers which define, but our choices to engage in life every day!