Monday, December 3, 2018


It's springtime in Chile--where Luisa is here pictured hugging a tree in Patagonia.  Technically, we’re in “meteorological winter” in Minnesota (and it looks like it outside), but it’s still fall in terms of the equinox-solstice thing, so a couple musings on fall:

This is the first fall in 22 years that I have not had my morning routine include getting a child to school.  (The first fall in over 25 years, if you count taking our first born to day care.)  It’s kind of strange: nice to be free of that urgency, but a little sad to see it go.  BUT…

It’s also the first fall in a long, long time that I have not been working, since we are on sabbatical.  That sets up a whole other routine, to say the least.  We’ve done our travelling, we’re at home, getting ready to return to work next week.  Like not having children going to school, returning to work is a mix of emotion: sadness to see the sabbatical end, excited about reconnecting with our community of faith. 

I’m back in the writing studio at the Loft.  I didn’t rent it while we were travelling, but now cold December is upon us, and it is a warm and welcoming place. (There were even dark chocolates left for us writers today!)  I look out at the Vikings stadium on this gray day, and see it’s massive black face staring back, a stark contrast to the white snow all around.  Advent is a season to let go, to wait for that which we can’t see.  Pretty much like being a Vikings fan since 1961.

I can see planes taking off from the airport, until they disappear into the gray sky.  Part of me wants to flee.  But I am tired of travelling, and my calling calls.

Our sabbatical’s theme was “Spirituality and Art”.  (I should say it “is”, not was, since there are 10 days left!) During our travels, we saw incredible art (and I hope created some).  As beautiful as the art was in cathedrals and museums, what impressed us the most were much of the memorials and the street art.  Memory is so important, even—and perhaps especially—the painful ones.  From memorials to the Holocaust and the Wall in Berlin, to a visit to the Terezin Concentration Camp in the Czech Republic, to the memorials to the disappeared during the dictatorship in Chile.  Why don’t we have many memorials in the U.S.—to slavery, to the genocide of the indigenous peoples, to people fighting for worker’s rights, women’s rights, children’s rights?   There are a few, but they feel cordoned off to me.  In France, nearly every town we visited has a plaque—at a school, or a town square—remembering those deported to death camps.  A small reminder of who we were and what we did and was done to us. Luisa and I want to talk to people about doing some kind of deportation memorial in Minnesota.  Maybe just the names of all who have been separated from their families.

I spent a couple days in my hometown of Austin, MN, doing research for the novel I’m working on.  The last day I spent hours reading newspapers from 1916-1919.  When I got back to our house, it took me awhile to return to the present.  I wonder if we could do that with Scripture in a way that was transforming.

This was the first Thanksgiving where I did not eat turkey and “all the trimmings”. Chile does not celebrate Thanksgiving, but alas, Black Friday is trying to gain a foothold there. I had been out of the country once before on Thanksgiving, in Mexico, while Luisa and I were courting.  There were sufficient ex-pats in our circle that we had quite a feast.  Luisa and I still laugh about how the Blessed Jim Peterson—who never quite got fluency in Spanish—sent the two of us to pick up what he thought was a 22 pound turkey.  Of course, it turned out to be 22 kilos.  That was a trip from the store to the car!  Maybe our back problems started then!  As I recall, we had to cut the drumsticks off the bird in order for it to fit into the oven.

Advent is a time for cutting off, or letting go. As the nights grown longer and the days colder, the Spirit moves us inwards: indoors, into the recesses of our heart, into the hurts of the world, and ultimately into the story of that migrant family seeking Posada, seeking asylum.

Be Fall. Be Advent.  Be Beauty.  Be Justice.


Friday, November 23, 2018


Luisa and I spent four days in Patagonia in southern Chile.  We saw King Penguins mating, lots of guanacos and other animals, amazing mountains and the Straits of Magellan.  We stayed in Punta Arenas, whish is latitude 53 south.  It was often terribly windy and cloudy, but it stayed light well passed 10 pm.

Part of our travels took us along “La Ruta del Fin del Mundo”—the Route at the End of the World.  Of course, it isn’t quite the end of the world!  But every time we looked at a map, or travelled along the Strait, we were reminded that following the 1973 coup, for many Chileans Patagonia was the end of the world.  Dawson Island was turned into a political prison, where many leaders of Chile were imprisoned, tortured and killed.

Since I was a kid, I’ve loved to look at maps and calculate how far one place is from another.  Punta Arenas’ latitude is 53º south.  For reference, Minneapolis, where I live is 45º north.  Punta Arenas and Tierra del Fuego is the farthest south I’ve ever been.  It’s not as far south as the farthest north I’ve ever been.  That would be Helsinki at 60º north.  But it is, I think, almost as far south as the farthest northern latitude my father ever crossed.

My father enlisted in the army in 1940.   On December 7. 1941, he was stationed in the Aleutian Islands. As far as we can tell—his military records were destroyed in a fire, apparently—he probably was on Attu Island at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack.  Attu Island is 53º North—as far north as Punta Arenas is south. 

To say the least, I think my father was scared that December 7.  He didn’t talk too much about the war—some stories he told to me, some to my older brother, some to no one.  He did share that they were much closer to Japan than Pearl Harbor was.  Attu is roughly 54º North 173º West.  Pearl Harbor is 158º west, 21.3º West.  Flying distance: Attu Island is a little less than 2000 miles from Tokyo, Pearl Harbor about 3850/

My mom died in 2004, my dad eight years earlier, in 1996.  When we went through my mom’s house after her funeral, we found some of Dad’s stuff from the war.  One was a program for a formal military dinner on board a ship.  It listed the Invocation, the National Anthem, the main speaker and the menu.  I think I remember that it was roast beef and potatoes.  The date of the proposed dinner was December 7. 1941. Needless to say, I don’t think that dinner took place that night.

Attu Island was the site of the only land battle on United States soil in World War II.  After the Japanese Army occupied it in 1942, they deported some 47 inhabitants.  16 of them died or were killed in camps.  The U.S. fought to take it back in 1943.  According to Wikipedia, “there were 3,929 U.S. casualties: 580 were killed, 1,148 were injured, 1,200 had severe cold injuries, 614 succumbed to infectious diseases, and 318 died of miscellaneous causes – largely from Japanese booby traps and from friendly fire. U.S. burial teams counted 2,351 Japanese dead, but it was presumed that hundreds more had been buried by naval, air, and artillery bombardments over the course of the battle.”

In addition, some 800 Aleuts—American citizens all—were deported internally to detention camps inland, where some 75 died of infectious diseases.

While in Patagonia, we went to Tierra del Fuego, where we learned the history of the indigenous people there. The native people were never conquered by Spain, though Spain claimed sovereignty over the whole southern part of the continent.  It was after Chile gained its independence—in fact, almost near the end of the 19th century that the extermination of the indigenous Tehuelches. Onas and others began.  Chile invited immigrants—from Germany, England and especially Croatia—to settle in the south, and “gave” them land in exchange for their support of Chilean sovereignty. Of course, it wasn’t Chile’s land to give. 

The extermination began with the importation of sheep and cattle to the pampas of Patagonia.  The native people were hunters, and it was a lot easier to hunt a docile sheep than a guanaco.  They didn’t massacre the cattle and sheep, but the “pioneers” saw them as a terrible threat.  Bounties were given for ears, tongues, genitals and eventually heads of the Tehuelches and other people, until they were all but exterminated.  The last “full-blooded” indigenous person, an elderly woman, died a few years ago.

Today, the indigenous people of Chile—Mapuches in particular—continue to fight for their land, their language and their dignity.  While we were in Chile, the police shot and killed an unarmed 16-year old Mapuche boy, in the back of the head.  The circumstances around his death, and the immediate coverup were so eerily like so many shootings of African American and Native American people in the U. S.

Why do I share all this on Thanksgiving weekend in the U.S.?  Because I think memory is essential to gratitude. And essential to working for a different end for our world. Today, we went to the Museum of Memory in Santiago, a museum dedicated to remembering all those persecuted during the military dictatorship, and to working to keep it from happening again.  In the dedicatory plaque, there is this quote from former President Michele Bachelet (who herself was imprisoned, tortured and exiled):

“We cannot change our past.

We can only learn from what we lived.

That is our responsibility and our challenge.”

For all of us, I dear say.  I hope to keep imagining a different end for our world, one of beauty, justice and hope for all from 53º South to 53º North, and everything in between, and everything beyond.

Be memory.  Be justice.  Be beauty.  Be thankful.


Saturday, October 27, 2018



Forget the commercialism of Christmas, which we rail against the same way we rail against negative political ads: righteously, loudly, while making no changes.

Forget the “War on Christmas”. In my view, the only war on Christmas is the one that turns a revolutionary act of power arising from the edge of the margins into a triumphant celebration of how good and generous we are (and how “persecuted” we are as Christians in the U.S., which is utter nonsense).

That’s not the reason I’m not saying Merry Christmas this year.  It is because of the way we treat Jesus.  This is what I might say:

“Bless Jesus, who was poor, a migrant, a Jew, a refugee from violence, homeless.” Doesn’t seem as cheerful as “Merry Christmas”?  Well, the birth of Jesus was a joyful, transforming event in the midst of poverty, violence and racism.  His parents had to travel because of an emperor who thought he could control the world and all people in it.  He was born in a barn because no one gave them shelter.  He sought sanctuary in a foreign country because of a murderous king. 

Better yet, I think I will say, “Bless Jesus who is poor, a migrant, a Jew, a refugee from violence, homeless.”  Because as a Christian, I believe that Jesus rose from the dead, is alive in us and in the world, and especially to be found in the poor, persecuted and outcast.

To my friends who are not followers of Jesus, I bless you.  And I say to everyone, regardless of what you believe, don’t you think the power of the world, the hope of the world, the love of the world should be, and is, standing side by side, living and dying with the poor, migrants, Jews, refugees, victims of violence, homeless, trans and every other person who is condemned, violated or refused?

Pittsburgh. The MAGA bomber.  Yemen.  The caravan. Matthew Shepard. Khashoggi. Vicky Lee Jones and Maurice Stallard in Jeffersontown. That’s where my Christmas Jesus was just this week: being born, living, rejoicing, suffering, dying, and dare we hope, rising in us.

Be Justice        Be Beauty       Be with Jesus by being with those where he is


Friday, September 7, 2018

A Sad Day

This is a sad day.  Our dear friend and colleague Stephanie died last night at 11 pm, Minnesota time.  It was 6 am here in Labastide-Esparbairenque, in the south of France.  I got up a minute or two after 7; Luisa awoke around 9.  I was typing a poem to Stephanie—one I had started in my journal during the time of our prayer watch, while Stephanie was in the hospital.  People often say, “while she was fighting for her life”. I don’t know what you do when you are that grievously wounded in the brain and in the heart.  Maybe it wasn’t fighting she was doing.  Maybe Stephanie was waiting, preparing, releasing.

Stephanie leaves behind three young children and her husband Paul.  Her middle name was Joy, and that name was her.  Full of wit and energy, a great sense of humor, a very generous heart.  A heart that failed, despite the best offices of her doctors and nurses and other caregivers.

She died in Abbott Hospital, just a few short blocks from our church.  Had we been in Minnesota, we would have been over there visiting her and visiting Paul.  Maybe we would have volunteered to help with the kids.  What one can “do” in those situations is very limited.  But we would have loved to “be” with Stephanie in her woundedness, and with Paul in his worry and sorrow and hope.

We often say in the church—when we can’t be physically present—that “we will be with you in Spirit”, or “we will be with you in prayer”.  We were with Stephanie in prayer this last week, in the midst of the incredible beauty and joy of being here and being on sabbatical.  As for the Spirit, on this day, I can sense, but I do not comprehend where the Spirit is in this grief.  Were all the prayers of all the people who love Stephanie for naught?  Is there some cry that God has not, cannot hear?

I imagine that this will not be the hardest day for Paul.  There is the shock that overcomes everything.  The suddenness of death that overwhelms, even when you have known that it may come. There are details to be worked out, the children to be loved, loved, loved.  There will be many prayers, many people to help; perhaps food brought to the house, offers of childcare and errands, calls to family.   The hardest days—when that is all gone, when there is nothing but the emptiness—they are coming. Oh, dear Paul. Oh, dear Stephanie.

I believe in the communion of saints.  I believe in the resurrection from the dead and the life everlasting.  Oh God, help my unbelief!  Your perpetual light shines on Stephanie right now, right eternally.  Give us a glimpse of that, of the peace that can surpass.

In this little village, the town bell rings once on the half hour, and then rings the number of hours as each hour ends and a new one begins.  It just rang twice.  In a few seconds, it will ring twice again—I guess to help those who heard the bell the first time but didn’t count the hours. 

No more counting for Stephanie.  No more accumulating.  Her life was a blessing.  Her life is a gift.  But this, this incredible pain.

I usually end my blog posts with “Be Justice. Be Beauty” and then “be” something else I’ve written about.  Today, please be…I don’t know, just be.  Be in love, be alive, be joy, for this loss of joy.


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Random Thoughts

They’ve finally changed the sign on the paint factory next to my writing studio at the Open Book building downtown.  Valspar, who donated paint for our Guerrilla Garages Program—quick murals over graffiti in the alleys around the church—was bought out by Sherman Williams, and today I see their name is on the building next to where I park.  Not the old Sherman Williams Paint logo, with a paint bucket labeled “SWP” is pouring red over the globe—as if the Socialist Worker’s Party finally did succeed in worldwide revolution—but new style neon words that continue the corporate model of making things that are at once fancy and boring.


Last night, BBC News reported that around 7,000 people from the mostly Christian minority in Kachin State in northern Myanmar have fled their homes after a military crackdown in the war for independence that started soon after what was then called Burma’s military took over in 1962.  That hasn’t received much international coverage, especially since 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled the genocide by the Myanmar’s army and their “Buddhist allies”.  In college, I did my paper on Burma in the International Relations course.  I remember that Burma was noted for the particular brand of Buddhism practiced by the majority there: Theravada Buddhism.  Apparently, if you practice that kind of enlightenment these days, ethnic cleansing, rape and murder are allowed.  Of course, Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s Nobel Peace Prize Winner blamed the trouble on “terrorists”, the favorite word of military dominated governments worldwide.


On Monday, the Israeli military killed at least 58 Palestinian protestors and injured more than 2,700 on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel, a day for celebration in Israel, and the nakba—catastrophe—for Palestinians, who remember hundreds of thousands pushed out of the homes and towns.  The protests were intensified because our commander in chief moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem (but didn’t go, because Trump doesn’t go to anything—baseball games, correspondents’ dinners, international events where he can’t pick the entire audience). Israel says the deaths are the fault of the “terrorist group Hamas”, and that Israel is the only true democracy in the region. The United States is “always pro-democracy” and always pushes for “free and fair elections” in any international situation. Hamas won the elections a few years back, and the US immediately denied their legitimacy.  Solid history there: elections in Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Chile, Viet Nam and a lot of other places that didn’t go the way the U.S. wanted were met with brute force, blockades, coups, invasions and so on.  U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nicky Haley said of the carnage inflicted by Israel on the Palestinians on Monday that “no other nation has shown greater restraint than Israel.”  Hmmm.


But then I thought: when a thousand people peacefully protested the police murder of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, they were met with close to 2,000 city and state police and National Guard in riot gear, with tear gas and so on.  So maybe Haley has a point about restraint.  See Ferguson, New York, Philly, Minneapolis, Nashville, etc.


I am thinking about my Pentecost sermon coming up.  The usual suspects: Getting on Fire!  What Wind Can Do!  We’re Not Drunk!  Well, they just aren’t ringing any bells in my head.  I’m thinking of using a quote I can’t attribute because I don’t know who said it.  The gist of it is that after Pentecost, the disciples “stayed not with certainty, but with courage.”  That is, they didn’t do business as usual, but took big, joyful, powerful risks.  Are you listening, church?  Nation?  Me?


Wednesday mornings and early afternoons, I write at the studio. I was looking today to see what the themes of my most recent poems published in journals. In no particular order: immigration, a 4-year old’s response to witnessing her mother’s boyfriend be shot dead by a policeman while she was sitting in the back seat of the care, immigration, my dad’s barber shop as a gentle confessional, teaching gardening to a 6th grade science class, a love poem to my wife and to God in the same poem (interesting), immigration, feeding an abandoned dog in a Philly park the week of Christmas, and getting late to planting at our Shalom Community Garden last year, because the county seized it, padlocked it and put no trespassing signs on it.  Today, I began a poem about meeting a South African political exile at a university in the Soviet Union and worked on revising poems about ghosts, a nine-year old thief, Judas’ last moments and riding our bikes around the slaughterhouse in my home town.  Psychologists—amateur or professional—are welcome to comment.


Minneapolis got 17 inches of snow on April 15, the second big snowfall of the month.  Then we got heat.  All of the trees have blossomed at once, and the lilacs are wonderful.  My nose loves the aroma and my eyes love the stunning beauty. Both of those body parts are suffering for their love.  Allergies, anyone?


A bunch of friends from college and I are planning a July “Medicare Reunion”, since we’ve all turned or will turn 65 this year.  Both my new knees should be in pretty good shape by then.


In exactly 21 days, our baby, our little one will graduate from high school.  When I think about it for more than a few minutes, I start to cry—for joy and for loss of her early days.


That’s it.


Be justice. Be beauty. Be random (as the kids say)



Wednesday, December 20, 2017


We had our annual Posada last Saturday--the Christmas procession with Mary and Joseph/Maria and Jose, looking for shelter for the holy child.  We had some really mean innkeepers turn us away, which was great!

I'm looking for Posada or shelter from all the craziness of this past year.  The tax cut for the rich has passed, sacred lands are going to be sold to mining companies, Dreamers are hung out to dry, pedophiles are honored, but don't say "transgender" or "science based".  It seems like an assault a day.  But--as they say on the ads for "miracle" products on late-night TV--"there's more!"

That "more" may indeed be more assaults on the poor, the earth, those who are seen as "other".  But on this eve of the Solstice, I hold my hands out, not only asking for shelter, but offering it.   Mary gave the fetus that became Jesus (yes, Virginia, that's how it happened) posada in her womb.  She gave him breasts aching with milk.  She became the house for God, the house for hope.

I wrote this blog post on the Posada for our denomination's worship blog:

And I ask, what indeed, if we were all Posada for hope, for justice, for healing.

Be Justice.  Be Beauty.  Be Shelter.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Sounds of Silence

In 1967--I'm pretty sure of the year--I was out hunting pheasants with my older brother Mike and my father.  "Hunting" is the right word--not "getting" any. It would have been this time of year: not a lot of snow on the ground, the landscape a muted severity of grays, tans and browns.  A low angle sun that seems to call to the inner depths of things.  One of my favorite times of the year.

If you've hunted pheasants, you know that the two actions you take are walking and being quiet.  We walked cornfields, barely used railroad tracks, sloughs, edges of woods.  I can't remember if we ever saw any birds that day. I know that we didn't shoot any.

It was cold that day, and one of the joys of that day was getting back into the warm car and driving to the next stop.  There was a new song that really grabbed me, as I sat in the back seat.  It spoke to the cold day, and also to where I was in my relation to my family at that age:  It was haunting, melancholic, beautifully sung, and also contained words that challenged how we looked at the world: "the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls..."

I think maybe "The Sound of Silence" was the first song I fell in love with.  "Hello, darkness, my old friend..."   "In restless dreams I walked alone..."  I felt that, finally, someone was singing to my 14-year old soul. I didn't know where I fit into the family.  I was sad, in a time when boys--especially boys who played football, did Boy Scouts and hunted--didn't show that sadness.  I remember leaning back all of my 14-year old self into the back seat and thinking something like "I want to keep hearing this song forever".  There was something like joy and sorrow wrapped together in my hearing of it.

Except maybe I wasn't 14. The wonder--and curse--of on-line access is that I can just look up and see that "The Sound of Silence" was released in 1965.  Who knows how long it took to get to the top of the play list at KAUS 1480 in Austin, Minnesota.  But it probably didn't take two years. So maybe I was 12 or 13.  And maybe it doesn't matter, because as I continue to discover myself, who I am now at 64 (that I can confirm), who I was, and who I will be, I can give thanks for the beauty, the pathos and the call of that song. And so many others.

This is a poem I wrote over 30 years ago. I think that 12 or 13 or 14 year old boy is in there.


For Thomas Merton

A boy raises a match to twin candles,
Chanting baseball scores behind his prayers.
Bread and wine are ground into the stone,
The water is drawn, knife whetted,
Colors kissed and draped over shoulders.
The priest steps slowly to the altar,
Holding his years like stones coughed up by the sea.
He opens the book, lets the words slap his face,
Turns reddened to us, and weeps history.
It is a moment to say yes to failure.

The candles burn thick with darkness,
The music dances in the flames of a thousand circles.
Now the host is raised up to the beaks of night,
Now the words are shouted from the cross:
“This is my Body!” “This is my Blood!”
Walk now to the River, with hands open to receive the promise.
Like a tooth picked off a playground after a fight,
You put it in your pocket, wish on it,
Watch it grow into some terrible friend,
Some new and utterly lonely beast.


Be justice. Be beauty.  Be thanksgiving.