Fashion Statement

We have entered the amazing time known as the Great Minnesota Get-Together, otherwise known as the Minnesota State Fair. It is a time when usually rational people become a little crazed over food on a stick, standing at the feet of the prize winning, largest boar, and standing in reverence watching two women in snowmobile suits, one posing quietly while the other carves her likeness out of a block of butter. I'd show up every day if I could!

On Saturday we headed to the fairgrounds early. We like to arrive as all the building are opening, as the young people showing their animals are preparing them for judging. It was a cool and beautiful morning. As we walked through the sheep barn we came upon a category of judging that was new to us. The young people were showing their sheep while also wearing some form of wool clothing. Often the sheep also had a matching piece of clothing, a scarf, a bow tie, so the sheep and show-er looked like a couple. One young woman was described as someone who "promotes wool and wears wool often."

As I heard this statement, for some reason it captured my imagination.  Perhaps it is because we've been hearing the letter to the Ephesians in worship over the last weeks in which we are encouraged to put on the clothes of Christ that this statement stayed with me all day. What might be said about me? What do I promote? What do I 'wear' often? How about you? What 'fashion statement' do we make with our daily lives?

Wouldn't it be wonderful if someone might use the description: 'promotes kindness and wears peace often' or 'promotes justice and wears compassion often' or even 'promotes joy and wears happiness often.'? I'd be pleased to have someone, anyone, describe me in these ways, wouldn't you?

So today as you put on your clothes, I invite you to think about what you are promoting, what it is you want to be seen in every day. Whatever it is, wear it boldly and with confidence. Who knows, you might even be given a blue ribbon for the way you walk in the world! And who wouldn't want that?

"As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the good news of peace." Ephesians 6:15


I am working at relaxing today. I say 'working at' because I have to admit that it is often difficult for me to avert my eyes from the tasks that always need to be done in any house, the piles that always seem to rise on any desk. So, today, I am trying my level best to chill, to lolly-gag, to read, drink iced tea, restore my soul and just let the hours pass gently, slowly.

Relaxing has become a bit of a lost art, I think. Even our leisure time seems to have purpose these days. What happened to aimless walks instead of power walks? Is it possible to have a day without to-do lists? Could there be reward in waking up without a plan for every day of the week?

Yesterday I observed several different people in states of what I would call relaxation. I noticed two beautiful women dressed in red and orange saris sitting on a park bench, their faces close together, talking animatedly, laughing as they threw their heads back.There very presence seemed to shout "no worries." In another place I saw a young woman, in what seemed to be her work-clothes, a dress anyway, laying modestly on the grass soaking up the sun, day dreaming or perhaps even dozing. Outside my office window the children from our vacation Bible school sat in small clumps, talking quietly to one another as they threw little objects, sticks, leaves, an acorn, up into the air, as sweat glistened on their sweet faces. They had had a full day and it was time to relax.

How do you relax? What hoops do you need to jump through to let go of all the things that 'must' be done so you can settle into the art of being? Do you plan for relaxation in the course of your daily life? I think we all would agree it is a good and important thing to do and is most often in short supply.

The weekend is about to unfold before us. My prayer is that relaxation will be some part of these final days of summer, that each of us can find a few minutes, even hours, to settle into the gift of breathing in the now cooling air, of simply being without purpose. Everything that needs to be done will be there when we've come back from the land of pure gift, pure joy. And we will be refreshed enough to tackle it.

"Leisure, it must be understood, is a mental and spiritual attitude-it is not simply the result of external factors, it is not the inevitable result of spare time, a holiday, a weekend or a vacation….(it is) a condition of the soul"  ~Peiper

Carrying Flowers

Walking down Nicollet Mall today I was surrounded by booth after booth of freshly picked vegetables and fruit. Thursday is Farmer's Market day. Sandwiched among the food laden tables were buckets of beautiful flowers. I couldn't resist and decided to buy a couple of the brilliant colored bouquets for two of my co-workers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty this week. After carefully selecting just the 'right' ones for these two fine people, I continued my walk down the street and across the park.

Here's what happens when you walk carrying flowers. People whose faces are usually blank as they move through their morning smile at you. Some say things like"Beautiful flowers!" Others nod and say with a wide grin "Good morning!" One random man carrying his morning coffee while dragging on a cigarette smiled while nodding toward the flowers and said "Have a great day!" I accepted his offer.  By the time I reached my office I was buoyant with all the positive energy and well wishes.

I thought about the times in our lives when we actually carry flowers: weddings, senior prom, an occasional procession of some kind. Sometimes family members will carry a flower to the graveside after a memorial or funeral service, quietly, reverently laying the flower on the grave of a loved one. There is something special about walking while carrying flowers.

I wonder what would happen if we imagined all the people we pass carrying flowers. What if, in our imagination,we saw that boss or colleague we find most difficult walking around with a spray of red roses? What if we saw the mail carrier, the one who fills our mailbox with bills and other unwanted correspondence, carrying sunflowers sticking out of their mailbag? What if the children lining up at the bus stop all carried a bouquet of garden posies to greet their bus driver, that person who has one of the most difficult jobs in the world? What if, we all imagined ourselves in the long, beautiful  procession of each day, carrying a glorious bunch of gladiolas?

It is a fantasy worth playing out, I think. It might be just the boost your day…and those you meet….need. So, now let us all walk out into the day like a beauty queen taking the ceremonial walk down the runway, head held high, smile flashing, our flowers tucked neatly in the crook of our arm. I can assure you. Heads will turn.

from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the
whole time to have such things about us."  ~Iris Murdoch, A Fairly Honourable Defeat


Many times in this space I have written about what I have observed on my daily commute between the two cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis. There has seemed to be a never ending source of inspiration as I tool along at 55 miles(most of the time) per hour. But over the last several weeks I have been making my way from my home to the church using the light rail system. This has made for  a completely different experience of getting to work, one I have been relishing.

The route I travel most people would think a bit cumbersome, certainly not direct. Getting on at the Fort Snelling station I travel downtown and get off at Nicollet Mall. Then I walk the mall, through Loring Greenway and across Loring Park. It makes for a good walk through some amazing scenery, past lovely gardens and the fabulous array of individuals I meet along the way.

What this has pointed out to me is what an isolated thing driving in a car really is. In addition to being a pull on the environment, driving alone(which most commuters do) creates this sense of individuality that is false. Especially in a culture that spends so much time in cars, it is easy to believe we are walking the world in isolation of our fellow human beings, alone, held safe in our little metal boxes with wheels. This is, of course, not true.

As I ride the light rail in the morning, I look at the other riders. I want to say to the young man dressed in what may be his first suit for his first real job, "I am connected to you." To the young Muslim woman who sat beside me on Monday, her head covered allowing the beauty of her eyes to shine, her smile to be brilliant, I say "I'm connected to you." The many rushed, suited, workers, briefcases held tightly to match their pursed lips, their furrowed brows, I want to say, "Breathe. We are connected." To the elderly man with the dirty clothes, the shoes so worn I could see his gnarled feet sticking through, I want to say, "I am connected to you."

Of course, I do not say this. I know the lines of eyes-straight-ahead privacy that seem to go with riding elevators and public transportation. But in my heart I say these words. And I mean them. I recognize that I ride this train out of privilege, because I can. I could be driving, alone. But if I did I would miss seeing my fellow life travelers, whose names I do not know, but who have shared the beginning and ending of my day. We have shared space and air and point A to point B. That has to count for something, I believe. If nothing else it has helped me remember all the invisible lines of connection that hold my days, that hold yours. And what a gift that remembering is.

"Traveling mercies: love the journey, God is with you, come home safe and sound." Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

Hold On

Ask any Minnesotan today how their weekend was and 99.99% will say "Perfect!" They will most likely say this because, since in this state known for its frozen nature we are obsessed with talking about the weather, the weekend could only be described in one way:Perfection. This past Saturday and Sunday are the days we want to hold on to, to remember and recreate in our imaginations on those long, cold, never-ending days of winter. Perfection. Cool mornings & evenings, with warm sunshine and a light breeze sandwiched in between. The lakes, the pathways, the streets were crawling with people soaking it in, holding on to these glory days, trying to squeeze the life out of the beauty of it all.

Outside my window sits the church's playground. This morning it is full of children for our Vacation Bible School. They are laughing, screaming, running, climbing. They, too, are holding on to the last of these summer days. Unlike those of us who live in the work world, they are given the gift of savoring the freedom of summer. But now the school supplies are stacking up in the house. Parents are talking about 'schedules, planners, backpacks, homework' and they can feel the summer slipping away. Vacation Bible School this week is a last ditch effort at summer camp, that place where kids get to play, make stuff, do a little study to keep the adults happy, and play some more with friends they have known their whole lives or with new ones. As they swing, as they slide, they are holding on.

Last evening we gathered to celebrate our first ever community garden at the church. The garden held all the ingredients for salsa so we deemed it a 'salsa party' complete with a salsa band. We ate tomatoes, cilantro, peppers, onions, jalapenos from the two little raised beds. As we scooped our chips into the blessings of these vegetables planted, grown, watered, and harvested by many hands, we were holding on to the the tastes that will become shallow and dull in the winter. One of the saddest sights at the grocery store is a tomato in February and that is to say nothing of the taste. Yuck!

Holding on need not be an act of desperation.Holding on can bring us into the moment, help us to savor the goodness of this day, this minute, this life. Holding on connects us with the Breath that moves among us at all times, urging us to look around, to touch gently, to listen deeply, to love wholly, this world, this blessed world. And we can all say together……it is good, very, very good.

"This day God gives me strength of high heaven,

Sun and moon shining, flame in my hearth,

Flashing of lightning, wind in its swiftness,

Depths of the ocean, firmness of earth."

~James Quinn, SJ, ascribed to St. Patrick

Mumbo Jumbo

"Give us grace in our changing day
to stand by the temple that is the present church,
the noisesome temple
the sometimes scandalised temple that is the present
listening sometimes to what again seems mumbo jumbo.
Make it our custom to go
till the new outline of your Body for our day
becomes visible in our midst."

~George Macleod, founder of modern-day Iona Community

I have spent my entire life in the church. Unlike many of my peers, I never rebelled against it, never thought it was irrelevant. Even in college, a time when most young adults have other things to do like sleep in mostly, I went to church with some regularity. To my friends this made me interesting or simply odd, depending on their own experience of this fragile institution. In some ways, that same perception could still be true. Many of my neighbors and friends do not attend church. They don't see its relevance or are so overcome by its perceived hypocrisy that they wouldn't darken the doors.

Churches are institutions like any other…full of frail humans, muddling through what it means to create any kind of life together, developing systems that can work miracles or great injustice, declaring belief that might encompass all involved but rarely does. The church at this point in the history of the world seems to be particularly fragile. Most mainline denominations are dwindling. Generations are trying to figure out how to work and worship side-by-side with one another, finding relevance and the Holy together in one place. Many communities are simply trying to find ways to maintain the aging and expensive buildings they have come to call home in troubled economic times.The whole situation gives one pause and lots of fuel for prayer.

Just down the street from my office my Lutheran brothers and sisters are meeting to decide what it means to them to be church. They are voting and praying and, you can bet,singing and voting and praying some more. Certainly they carry with them the fragility of inheritance and a fervent hope for the future. What is the church to be in the next decade? How will we all live together in love and mutual respect? Where is the voice of God heard in our time? How are we then so to behave and believe?

From church history I know these are not new questions or struggles. And I suspect they will be lived out over and over again in the next decades as people, hopeful people, try to once again understand the movement of the Holy in their time. That is why I continue to stay in love with this broken yet blessed institution. It is the one place where I can come together with others as fragile as myself to keep my eyes and heart open to the One who breathed us all into being. And every now and then, together, we get a glimpse of what it means to live in the presence, the beautiful presence, of God.

At this moment I am sending my prayers toward the gathered Lutherans…….blessed be.

Dreams and Clouds

"Rows and floes of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons ev'rywhere
I've looked at clouds that way…….
I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
Its cloud illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all."
~Joni Mitchell

The waning summer days make for great cloud watching. Have you noticed how the clouds these days are filled with amazing color…..soft pinks, deep lavenders, a tinge of yellow, sometimes even a rich purple….all held in the fluff of billowy white against the brilliant blue sky? It is worth paying attention to this sky show. It won't be evident in the same way come September. I don't know what causes the difference, simply that it seems like pure gift to me.

I don't know if it is the late summer atmosphere that has also brought the gift of my night time dreams which have been rich and wild recently. Vivid dreams, many of them seeming to be important message-filled wanderings that leave me pondering them all day. It is times like these that I wish I knew more about dreams, how to interpret them, what I am supposed to do with them. My dreams have been filled with important people, Jesus even,though he didn't look anything like any artistic image I have ever seen. I simply knew it was him and I was neither surprised nor frightened by his presence. It simply felt normal that he was there.A regular guy, a part of my every day life.

Then there are the dreams filled with people I don't know, have never seen before. How does the mind do that, conjuring up people you don't recognize? Is there a place in our brains that stores up images we encounter but don't register and use them to create middle-of-the-night films in our heads?

Last night I dreamed I was taking one of my co-workers' young son to Door County. He is really only a toddler, just over a year old. I was excited to be taking him to one of my favorite places, showing him the water, the stones on the beach, allowing him to soak in the fresh, clean air. As I carried this little one out onto the beach, my eyes recognized his parents, just out of eyesight, further down along the shore, looking on with protective eyes.

Dreams….clouds…..images and illusions…..all a part of the Mystery. I might surmise that Jesus' presence in my dreams was a gift of night time faith, an affirmation of a fellow traveler. And all those faces I don't recognize, a reminder of the invisible lines of connection we hold with all those who travel the path with us. And that little boy on the beach might just be my hope for our youngest who will soon travel off to his own adventures on the Pacific Northwest shores filled with its own stones and fresh breezes. My dream may have allowed me to know that, though he may be far away, we will always be just down the shore looking on with support and love, just out of sight, yet near.

And then again, if clouds illusions I recall, I really may not know anything at all about clouds or dreams. But I can receive them for the gift they are.


"Theodicy…..the branch of theology that defends God's goodness and justice in the face of the existence of evil; an attempted answer to the problem of evil; the justification of a deity, or the attributes of a deity, especially in regard to the existence of evil and suffering in the world."

Last week I found myself wrestling with what, in 'churchy' circles are referred to as questions of theodicy. The basic question is this: If God is good and God is love, why is there evil and suffering? Why doesn't God 'do' something when bad things happen to good people? I found myself once again confronted with these questions as I attended the funeral of a friend who had been killed in a tragic accident, a friend who had struggled in many ways throughout her life, and it simply seemed wrong that she died in such a horrible way. Of course, it was wrong,no question, but the 'question behind the question, can often be, so where was God in all this?

And then yesterday as our group that plans worship read through the scriptures for next Sunday's service, once again we were confronted with evil in the world,however that might present itself. In book of Ephesians, evil comes from the devil and the task at hand is to overthrow the devil. Since most of the folks present saw the devil as an ancient creation of people to make sense of evil, we found ourselves spinning around in this theodicy question again. To be able to pin the problem on something outside ourselves seemed too easy, allowing us to relinquish responsibility. We were all in the same boat in believing 'the devil didn't do it.'

Last evening as I was reflecting on all the events of the past week, I found myself swimming in the words and intentions of those who have tried to make sense of a world that isn't fair,is often cruel and violent, that doesn't add up. I realized that, with all the progress we have made as human beings, some of the biggest life questions, still elude us. It is humbling, isn't it?

As my eyes shut for the night's sleep, I was no further along with the theodicy question than I suspect anyone else is. But at least I hang my heart and life on this: in the places of the most pain, the most violence, I believe the Holy stands in the midst of it all, crying out. In those times of deep darkness and despair, I trust the healing hand of the One who dreamed us into being to be holding on. In the times when we humans are so removed from the deep knowledge that we are created in the image of the Sacred that we are capable of unspeakable acts, that same One looks on, hoping beyond hope that we will turn our face toward the mirror that will allow us to remember and be made whole once again.

In that moment, it is not about the devil or anyone or anything else. It is about standing face to face with the One who reflects back only kindness, only goodness, only love, asking us to go and do likewise. 

Stay Together

"Here's what I want you to do. I want you to get out there and walk-better yet, run!-on the road God called you to travel. I don't want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don't want any of you strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline-not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences. You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, bout outwardly and inwardly. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness. But that doesn't mean you should all look and speak and act the same." Ephesians 4(selected verses) The Message

In our worship over the last several weeks we have been reading from the apostle Paul's letter to the Ephesians. We have been using the wonderful paraphrase of Eugene Peterson in The Message. I love the way he has made words many of us have read for so many years, sometimes to the point of not hearing them, come alive in new ways. I also love the way his words invite those new to the scriptures into the words by using language that is more approachable.

Paul's letter to these ancient people was meant to heal the rifts that happen when what we say we believe and how we behave don't match up. Ever had that experience? Ever been in a situation with someone who claims to believe deeply in something but whose behavior doesn't seem to quite add up? Ever been that person? I certainly have been.

This man who loved Jesus and tried with all his might to follow the Way of this one who showed him the face of God, reminds us that we are all traveling the same road….the road of life. He urges us to remember that, as creations of the Holy One, this journey is not meant to be traveled alone but together. Not only is it safer it is also more fun. When troubles come, it means we can reach out and grab someone's hand. When there is dancing to be done, it means we have a partner or even a circle of people to join us.

Staying together also means we are confronted with all the differences that are implanted in our DNA….another gift. It means that along the path there will be those who see the world differently, often very differently, from the way we do. This can be a challenge or a gift depending on our 'humility and discipline'. It will mean we don't always get to be right or have the final say. But it does mean we are still held by that eternal Oneness, even when we refuse to recognize it or flat out deny it.

It seems our culture spends a significant amount of energy in trying to find ways that divide and pit humanity against one another. There are probably many people who have much to gain from this way of living. But in the end, I believe, it will always fail. Instead, what will always prevail, is the slow walking, one foot in front of the other, of humans stepping out each day, on the path of love and kindness, compassion and justice, reaching out for the hand of our fellow travelers. What does, in some eternal way, matter is that we stay together, celebrating our differences, looking for the ways those very ways we are unique bring us to the creative moments we need for the healing of the world.

The path opens before us all this day. There is no time for sitting on our hands. The world beckons. There is work to be done. It will be an adventure if we remember to stay together.

Have a blessed weekend……………….

Egret Landing

"Late summer, and once again the egrets have come back.
They stand in the marsh like white flowers.
Like flowers slowly flying, they cross over the dark water."
~Mary Oliver

While walking through the Loring Park earlier this week, I saw an egret land in the water. I am not sure I had ever seen these graceful looking white birds in flight. At least I had not seen one so near I could hear its wings, which is what caught my attention in the first place. Over head I heard, and felt, the presence of wind being cut by wings, of soaring. As my eyes captured the bird in its last graceful flap before landing, I saw its seemingly delicate legs dancing loosely before stiffening to find a solid resting place among the reeds and fallen branches under an oak tree. This is the common way I have seen egrets, standing as still as death, yet full of such contemplative beauty, it takes your breath away.

The egret's flight was freedom in its purest form. To be able to lift yourself above the earth, to soar,to know the gift of flight, of being carried on the invisibility of air. What human can fathom such freedom? There is such faith in the flying and in the landing. Seeing it I took a deeper breath, my shoulders relaxed, what had seemed harsh and impossible earlier in the day, now seemed less so. I had been blessed by this non-human one who was simply being itself.

I am thinking of this egret today, its grace, its freedom, the surety with which it flew and with which it found ground once again. There have been many passages over the past weeks, loss of dear friends, of saints who have held my life in special ways. Passages of children leaving for far-off places, leaving a silence that is palpable as they head into the adventure that is their life. The inevitable passage of the season of summer into autumn that is hovering in the morning air now.

Today I am reaching out to the egret for another blessing. I am praying for the grace of freedom for all those who are in passages of any kind. May they know the ecstatic sense of being held by the Invisible. I am praying for the gift of the solid earth to hold each of us through all life's passages, giving us something to plant our bare feet upon., to remind us that we are nestled in the Ground of All Being.  And I am praying to be filled with the sheer joy that must come from being able to fly, to see above,to be lifted in faith and to be held on the Breath that surrounds and fills us all.

So be it. Blessed be.