Wednesday, June 6, 2018

June 5 and 6 1968 and 2018: Hope in the Darkness

So many thoughts and feelings swirl around my head and heart that I don’t know where to start this June 5 and 6. Fifty years ago Bobby Kennedy won the California Democratic Primary June 5 and then was assassinated, dying June 6. Two million people lined the railroad tracks for his funeral procession from New York City to Washington D.C., all races and economic classes, honoring a man whom they saw as being able to bridge divisions, and bring hope in that dark and dangerous 1968. Over 4000 gather today in Arlington Cemetery to remember and ponder “hope.”

It’s dark in Mason City, Iowa, this morning, the kind of day one wants to just pull the covers over one’s head and refuse to feel or face 2018. What do you make of the news? A Supreme Court decision and the ongoing question of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  The Philadelphia Eagles? Invitation to the White House and presidential preoccupation with popularity. Honoring the nation and the flag by kneeling out of commitment to justice for all. Pardoning oneself or service for others? Children of immigrants and refugees separated from their parents as an incentive for their parents to not come to this country. Primary elections, here in Iowa, and yes, again on June 5 in California.

June 6: D Day 1944. A day that changed the world. Our nation together with its allies risking all in service that turned the tide of WW II. Over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing during the Battle of Normandy. In 1968, the United States struggled over the Viet Nam War and we were torn apart over racial and economic inequality.  And 2018? Do we understand what is at stake in nuclear negotiations globally? Do we believe trade wars with allies protect our “God-given” national identity? Do we comprehend the necessity of a vital United Nations as much today as after WW II? Do we daily kneel and listen and work to understand each other across racial divides?

So we wonder. Issues swirl around. Is there an absence of hope? An anxiety? An apathy? What will the November 5th election results mean? In some places there were large turnouts; in some places fewer than 100 people in a county voted.

June 5: the 58th anniversary of my consecration as a deaconess. That day I made a commitment to faith and service in Christ for a lifetime. What would that mean? I would not fully know. We cannot know, but God knows and continues to call us. The days have been dark before and divisions dangerous. We pray for wisdom for the choices that are before us these days and for the courage and energy to live into the challenges together.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Distant Relatives! What Does That Have to do with Pentecost?

Jackie, my first cousin, came with her mother to my daddy’s funeral in 1950 when I was 11. That was probably the only time Jackie and I ever saw one another. She, oldest of nine children, lived in Texas; I in Iowa.  Separated by time and space.

Distant relatives. Pentecost.

Jackie died May 4 at the age of 93. Pentecost is Sunday.

Relatives: people “like us.” Pentecost: strangers, gathered from great distances in one place.

DeeDee, a closer relative, sent me Jackie’s obituary and funeral home video from Alto, Texas. I saw pictures of Jackie, for the first time. I didn’t know her; didn’t know as a young woman she sang on  a half-hour radio program in Chicago. I didn’t know she and her husband worked manufacturing airplanes during World War II.

I viewed the video of pictures spanning childhood through the many decades of her life. I related, from a distance. In her face I recognized familiar faces in my family: Aunt Helen, Aunt Ruth, Aunt Dorothy, cousins Beverly, Shirley, Mary, and more.  I met Jackie and also said good-bye and saw that hers was a life of laughter and love.

Throughout my lifetime in the Church I have often wondered, “How is it that we keep connected through the years to brothers and sisters in the faith, people who are not our relatives?  People whose faces do not resemble ours at all?”

Pentecost.  The Church is not a genetic family who look only like us. Church is more than family. It is a Communion.

Acts: When the day of Pentecost had come they were all together in one place.
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability.
The crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.
This Jesus God raised up and all of us are witnesses. 
All who believed were together and had all things in common.
And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
The disciples were surprised.

I’ve often wondered in awe . . .

God creates. God relates.  And God continues to broaden the communion, binding us together in Jesus Christ.  The Spirit surprises us with people who may not resemble us at all, but joins us through adoption, refugee resettlement, immigration, and global justice. In what language are we to listen? What political issue do we need to understand? Whose facial feature is so different and yet heart so similar? I wonder. This Pentecost I may just meet some hungry people who feed the non-hungry? A whole congregation who breaks bread together with glad and generous hearts.

I thank God for Jackie’s life. And I stand in awe.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Five ELCA Women Bishops Elected and Re-Elected!

A powerful weekend of re-elections and elections of five women as synod bishops in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Ann  Svennungsen of Minneapolis Synod. Shelley Wickstrom as bishop of Alaska. Election of the first African Descent bishop Patricia Davenport in Southeastern Pennsylvania, election of the second African Descent bishop Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld of South Central Wisconsin, and election of Sue Brineras bishop in Southwest Texas. The Holy Spirit is up to something! Let's dance with her! Congratulations to all!

Friday, April 13, 2018

When We Live in the Midst of History, What Are We Called to Do?

When we live in the midst of history, between the times, we question, doubt and are confused. We live between Easter and Ascension Day, this year April 1 and May 10. We know what happened on Pentecost and after, but the disciples did not. All they knew was that after his suffering, Jesus presented himself alive to his disciples, appearing to them during forty days, telling them not to leave Jerusalem and to wait (Acts 1).

This year we live between the 50th anniversaries of the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, April 4, and June 6, 1968. Looking back, we realize that year was full of turmoil and uncertainty. On March 31 Lyndon B. Johnson, embroiled in the Viet Nam War, announced, “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.”
On April 3, King delivered his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech and made plans for a march to be held on April 5. But the evening of April 4 at age 39 he was shot.
During Holy Week 1968 the nation was swept up in grief and anger, named riots. Around 3,500 people were injured, 43 were killed and 27,000 arrested. Would this nation, as violently divided as it had been since the Civil War, survive? We did not know.
Just weeks earlier, the Kerner commission established to investigate the 1967 riots, provided explanations for the deadly upheavals. “Segregation and poverty have created a destructive environment.” “What white Americans have never fully understood—but what the Negro can never forget—is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.” After a summer of turmoil, political uncertainty and violence, Richard Nixon was elected president in November.
I heard a young reporter ask last week, “Were the riots worth it?” That’s not the question.  Any more than “Is the fatigue of the daily news stories unfolding today worth it?” or “Was the disciples’ uncertainty during those 40 days called for?” When you are in the midst of history unfolding, you don’t know what to think or do or feel. Riots were not the plan to be deemed later “worth it” or not. They were the context.
The Fall of 1973 was another such time. I remember it well. October 20 became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.” Attorney General Richardson and Deputy Attorney General Ruckelshaus resigned in the same night after refusing Nixon’s order to fire Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor appointed to lead the investigation into Nixon’s reelection campaign. News media that night worried on-air about our national Constitutional crisis.
After two years of bitter public debate over the Watergate scandals, President Nixon on August 8, 1974, bowed to pressures from the public and leaders of his party to become the first President in American history to resign. While the President acknowledged that some of his judgments "were wrong," he made no confession of the "high crimes and misdemeanors" with which the House Judiciary Committee charged him.

How do we live in the in-between time, when history is being made?

We live, meanwhile, with the complexities of our daily lives, personal, professional, familial, and ecclesial.

During the uncertainties of the national Constitutional crisis: “How will this turn out?” a Lutheran Church Body, the schism in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod unfolded. The New Orleans convention was in the summer of 1973. On Jan 21, 1974, the students of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis voted 274-92 to “walk out” (until the church body declared which of their professors were being considered false teachers). Then followed the faculty walk out and the beginning of the “Seminary in Exile.”

Lives were changed. Lives are changed. History is changed. How? How do we know? That schism may have contributed eventually to the formation of the ELCA, joining together of the LCA, ALC, and AELC (outcasts of LCMS) in 1988.

What if Johnson had decided to run again? What if King had not been assassinated at age 39? What if Robert Kennedy had been able to win the democratic nomination and Nixon had not won the election in 1968?

What if the disciples had not waited together in Jerusalem, but had scattered?

How do we live in the in-between time, when history is being made?

I, too, have a hard time watching/listening to the news each day. And, to which news stream do I turn? There were fewer channels in 1968; all showed the same pictures of over 100 cities burning.

The disciples were called to wait together in the city of Jerusalem.

Today IS a difficult time, a dangerous time. Investigations, special counsels, constitutional issues, questions: “What is truth?” Indictments, firings, resignations, primaries, mid-term elections, campaign financing. How will this all turn out?  Trade wars or not? Diplomacy or not? Nuclear escalation or not? Bravado. Fear. Can’t we just turn the page of history and find out?

But we are called to live in the midst of history. To wait, yes.  But also, to watch, and to be peace-making, community-building, equality-seeking, truth-telling, witness-bearing, radical Christ-is-alive living disciples. Pentecost is May 20.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

A Holy Week to be Freed from Our Foolish Gun-Killing Ways

2018 Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday Procession into Jerusalem coincides with a Valentine’s Day Mass Shooting to yesterday’s March into Washington, D.C.  This year’s Lenten journey of repentance led surprisingly, but surely not unexpectedly, to a “March for Our Lives.”
         This afternoon is the funeral service for my beloved colleague and friend of almost four decades, the Rev. Dr. Ralph Quere, Professor Emeritus of Church History and Theology at Wartburg Theological Seminary. Among his many gifts, Ralph devoted special attention to ministries with youth and to the work of evangelism for the contemporary world.
          This weekend Burton and I are caring for two youth of our own, 11 and 13-year old Jackson and Jennaya Everist, with whom, in our Mason City blizzard, we watched the marches on TV (more than 800 around the world). Jackson and Jennaya processed with Palms in church this morning. The connection was not lost on them. Jennaya prayed at lunch for the marchers and that the voices raised by youth against gun violence might be heard by legislators.
         Ralph Quere, as an historian and teacher of Lutheran Confessions, was never surprised by the human condition of cruelty and violence. And he was always a man of deep faith and great hope. His passion for youth blends with my absolute joy in hearing the voices of youth yesterday. The newscasters who covered the story all day Saturday, for the most part, dropped adult commentary, and let the youth talk. It was good news indeed. Amid excruciating suffering, with clarity and perseverance, the youth spoke. The youth organizers engaged social media—yes—and involved intersectionality. Youth of all colors and economic backgrounds are killed in schools, and on the streets outside of school, and at home. The Lutheran Confessions remind us there are not bad guys with guns and good guys who should buy guns to shoot the bad guys with guns. There are not bad neighborhoods and good neighborhoods. We need to be liberated from a killing culture.
        On this Palm Sunday, with a Lent which began with an Ash Wednesday on a deathly Valentine’s Day, we are bid to ponder deeply, and be ready to be awakened from our foolish ways on April 1st. Easter! Resurrection. Christ is alive.  Ralph Quere lives eternally. We are called to live and to serve and to act and to march for our lives—everyone’s life.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

March for Our Lives

NOW! I'm a member of the Silent Generation proud to stand with the students of this generation and the "March for Our Lives" to end gun violence happening right now in Washington D.C., 800 places around the U.S. and the world. It's so important to unite the movement to change the gun culture in order to make schools safe AND the streets, and homes and all communities. We're in this for real change. Now.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

"We Know you are a Great Country and that You Can Change"

Last week I had the privilege of speaking (via Zoom) with a class on leadership at the Presbyterian College, University of McGill School of Religious Studies in Montreal, Quebec.  At the end of our engaging conversation on the book, Transforming Leadership (Everist and Nessan) which the students in Montreal had been using as a textbook, I mentioned the Parkland school shooting and how much we could learn from Canada in terms of gun violence. In poignant words they responded with care but also with concern. “We know you are a great country and that you can change.”

Likewise, the Australian delegation, including the prime minister, visiting the United States this week, also noted their care and concern for the United States. They noted how after the horrendous Port Arthur massacre in 1996 that country adopted sweeping reforms to that country’s gun laws.

After a massacre at Dunblane Primary School, Scotland, in 1996, there have been no school shootings in the UK. Gun restrictions now are much, more strict. Children feel safe in school.
Today Dick’s Sporting Goods, one of America’s largest sporting goods retailers, is immediately ending its sales of assault-style weapons and high capacity magazines. They will also require customers buying firearms to be at least 21 years old.  Many businesses are ending their relationships with the NRA. People can make change happen.
This is a great nation, but not one without flaws. To admit that amidst our prominence we have things to learn from other countries may be our most hopeful promise. Those who may admire us also see our glaring, deadly, problems. We can change! They see this. I was humbled by those words from the class in Montreal.
And we hear that from the students in Parkland, Florida. Do you notice they do not refer to their school as just “Douglas High?” That made me wonder just who was this woman after whom the school was named
 Marjory Stoneman Douglas (April 7, 1890 – May 14, 1998) was an American journalist, author, women's suffrage and civil rights advocate, and conservationist known for her staunch defense of the Everglades against efforts to drain it and reclaim land for development. She became a freelance writer, publishing over a hundred short stories. Her most influential work was the book The Everglades: River of Grass(1947), which redefined the Everglades as a treasured river instead of a worthless swamp. Its impact has been compared to that of Rachel Carson's influential book Silent Spring (1962).
Marjory Stoneman Douglas lived to 108 and received numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Perhaps the students returning today to the high school named in her honor have received some of her eloquence, persistence, and outspoken political advocacy for the public good.  We can learn. We can change.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Did You See the Woman with Ashes Mourning the 17 Dead?

Did you see her? The woman in Parkland, FL, her forehead marked in ashes with the sign of the cross, in tears holding another woman in agony over the deathly shooting of 17? It was Ash Wednesday. We had wondered about Ash Wednesday falling on Valentines’ Day. Now hearts were broken. We questioned why a nation could endure 18 school shootings already in 2018 and not repent, turn from its gun violent ways.

The day after, one can discern clearly the congressional/presidential messages from people that call for prayers but omit any call for regulation on guns being the same people who have received millions from the NRA. “Now is not the time” will no longer suffice. We have entered Lent. For real.
Have you been watching the Olympics? I have. All those nations participating in the opening ceremonies. Together. The United States had the largest delegation, but even the smallest nation mattered. Their athletes were honored. Peaceful coexistence envisioned, as both Koreas carried their one banner and the torch together. Of course, the world questioned if this was for real. Could it become the norm?

In the United States we are now asking if all the school shootings since Columbine have become the norm. We know how to do the liturgies of lament: the flowers and teddy bears, the candlelight vigils. We cry together and support one another. We pledge we will turn from our violent ways. Good, determined people put forth legislation, organize, but progress is blocked, and we grow hopeless of winning against powerful forces.  People resign themselves to saying that “Some young people are just evil.” There will be more school shootings. Nothing can be done.

Have you been hearing? A phrase by U.S. Olympic news reporters this year? “Redemption.” Oh, not Lent to Easter Sunday Redemption of Jesus Christ, marked on the woman’s forehead with the ashen cross.  It has seemed to do with slipping away from viewing all athletes coming into the stadium to focusing only on U.S. athletes who win or should win gold. Yes, there are some heart-warming stories of those who lost or couldn’t compete four years ago who won this year. “Olympic Redemption!” It’s an old American story: those who, by their own boot straps, worked their way to the top of the podium.

And then there is the image of the woman with the ashen cross on her forehead in anguish over the 17 dead, 14 wounded in the 3000 student-body school in mourning. Why, literally on earth, are we the nation, who has thought of ourselves as the “Redeemer” to the world, the only country with so many guns and so many school shootings? Valentine’s Day is past. Lent has really begun. May we wear that cross of ashes in public all these forty days, while holding each other in anguish and while daring to summon Olympian courage together to change this nation for real.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Challenge of Living in an Adversarial Culture

People want to know how to live in this argumentative, adversarial time when the goal seems to be only to win rather than to jointly seek the truth. 

For the past two weeks I led Wednesday Night Alive sessions at Trinity Lutheran Church here in Mason City (IA) based on my book, Church Conflict:from Contention to Collaboration (Abingdon). The conversation among these adults was amazing! Engaging, deep, astute, attuned not only to conflict in the church, but in the culture. 

We dealt with (book chapters)
1. Images of Conflict

2. Types 
3. Patterns of conflict
4. Personal History of Conflict
5. Roles in Conflict
RESPONSES TO CONFLICT (There is a negative and positive side to each)
6. Avoidance
7. Confrontation
8. Competition
9. Control
10. Accommodation
11. Compromise
12. Collaboration

The challenges change over time, but call forth our most skilled leadership now more than ever.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Even the Smallest Children Lead the Liturgy

Silently the children entered the sanctuary. First came the pre-school children, then grade by grade through 8th, over 200, all sizes and tones of colors, came for Friday morning mass at Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church.  A sixth-grade boy announced the service was beginning. His class would lead today. The entire parish school takes turns leading week by week, including the kindergarten. This was the people’s mass and all were totally engaged. It was a full hour-long service with children leading every part, except for the presiding/preaching priest.

The reverent silence quickly turned to the beautiful sound of children’s voices filling the sanctuary: opening hymn, confession, Kyrie, Gloria, lessons, sung Psalm verses.  The music of the liturgy was central. There was singing and signing, all by heart, coming from the heart.

Numerous sixth grade children had carefully prepared their leadership roles of reading lessons, composing prayers, providing the choir for the day, (I understand when younger children lead, reading may be a bit slower, but lead they do!) In communal worship, all take their part. No one is mere audience.

The Liturgy is the work of the people. This reverence was not duty but the rhythm of joy. When it came time for the Eucharist, all knelt, the eyes of the youngest barely peering over the top of the pew in front of them. And then they came forward, many crossing their arms for a blessing, older children to receive the bread, and older still for bread and wine.  But all were part of this most holy communion.  And this most holy community.  

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Issue is More Than Obscenities

Today is the 8th anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti. Today the world is enraged that the president of the United States yesterday asked why we should accept more immigrants from s----hole countries of El Salvador, Haiti and Africa rather than from places like Norway. Monday is Martin Luther King Day. What will you be doing that day?

We have known of Trump’s racist outlook from his many previous words and actions. But it is not enough to say someone is racist. This lens of viewing some of God’s created, beloved people as inferior and of no worth has consequences. It creates policy in the United States and globally for years to come.

Words matter. Relationships matter. Consider how many Africans arrived in the U.S. during the Atlantic slave trade. (Does Trump not know Nigerians don’t live in huts?) Consider the hundreds of thousands who died in the Haiti earthquake, and the spirit of the people of Haiti, (See the book, A Witness: The Haiti Earthquake, a Song, Death, and Resurrection by Renee Splichal Larson, whose young husband, Ben, was killed in the earthquake) And did you know that Haiti helped us in the U.S. Revolutionary War?

The Jan 15th issue of “The New Yorker” magazine cover artwork features Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “taking a knee” in prayer, arms linked with NFL football players. What will you be doing and saying MLK day? Where will you be?

To be focused only on the obscenities of Donald Trump is not enough. We are called to be vigilant of the policies (those in the news and not) being put in place. We are called to deeply understand the issues and their intersection. We are called to be astute to global implications. We are called to care. Yes, about people’s fears, so they can be freed from their deep prejudices.  We are called to care for those who have suffered and suffer still. And we are called to have the courage to speak, lest disdain and dismissal of nations and peoples become the norm in speech and policy. Do we have the kindness and courage and wisdom for that? What will you say today?  What will you be doing on Martin Luther King Day?

Friday, January 5, 2018

Different Times for film "Unrest"

My previous blog told about the film "Unrest" to be broadcast" Monday January 8.  I just discovered that in some places it is being broadcast at a variety of times during the week of January 8-14, so please CHECK YOUR LOCAL PBS LISTING including the PBS WORLD channel. 

In Iowa it will be broadcast Wed, Jan 10 at 7:30 on World