crucial conversations

While suiting up in the locker room  today I was audience to an impassioned conversation.  It was between a mother and daughter.  Maybe fifty-something and nineteen years of age.  They were going at it.

The mom was profoundly upset.  It seems the friend of her daughter had made a comment about hating people of another race.  The mom was painting the ways that hate talk and hate actions are one in the same.  Didn’t her daughter know that to be true? 

No, she did not.  The daughter was irritated and then some at her mother’s raw insistence that hatred based on racial prejudice is a slippery and inevitably violent slope.   She cussed plenty and was frustrated and annoyed plenty and tried to explain to her wrought mother that it was no big deal, her friend’s avowed hatred of people writ large because of their skin tone.

I was cheering for them, even as I thought about poking my head around the corner to let them know that there were ears about not capable of stopping themselves.

I was cheering for the mom because she is me and the so many of us who have seen the ugly reality of fear and hatred unleashed upon the tenderness of fellow humans as we sort the realities and woundings of racism.  I was cheering for her and I was wincing on her behalf because her conviction became cudgel and she was none too deft at using her passion artfully to make her point.

I was cheering for the daughter.  Not because I shared her conviction that hate speech means nothing.  I’m in the mom’s camp on that one.  But I cheered for the daughter because she was willing to stretch her mom and engage her fully and because they were talking about something important and she was willing to do that.

Talking.  About hard things and about things that we disagree about.  It’s the only way we are going to learn from each other and see the world in colors we never before knew.

They left the locker room, both undoubtedly nursing the comments they didn’t share and the conviction of the other’s folly.  But they left the locker room to go work out together.  And maybe as they were sweating, they gave thanks for the gift of sparring partners willing to engage over the real and challenge that is living.

holy hum

What makes a church hum?

I’ve thought about that a lot in the past three months.  Since I haven’t been in the thick of my “own” church, I have visited, observed and wondered what it is that makes for holy hum in a church.

There is in me a physical recognition upon entering a church.  Within the first minute (no kidding) the ethos of the gathered folk proclaims so much about who they are and what sort of adventure in living Christian community is unfolding there.

The thing I can’t get over is the power of the people.  Do they experience joy?  I’m not talking about yucking-it-up hilarity here.  I’m talking about a clear sense that they are delighted to be present together to worship God and give thanks for the power of hope and promise in their lives.

The “production” quality of worship matters only in that well crafted and led worship displays a reverence for the amazing gift of participating in it.  Are people engaged?  Are they open?  Are they real?  Are they aware of the miraculous power of gathering to do the most counter-cultural of things as they give over their conviction that they have to be perfect, know all the answers and be a size eight in order to be loved by the Holy and each other?  Are the kids loved and cherished?  Do the elders walk with pride and the sure knowledge that their gifts of years and learning are valued in their church?  Do the musicians make a joyful noise because they just have to share the good news?  Do the gathered laugh sometimes and are they equally willing to weep when the vulnerablities of their humanity surface?

I just spent two hours with women who call the church I serve their own and I left that time so fully aware that pastors are necessary, maybe, but in no way are they sufficient.  It’s the Body of Christ called the people of God in each and every church who are the most effective witnesses to the good news.

Luckily, I get to be in their midst and in the midst of the many like them who love God, neighbor, and self in the ways that make for hum.   It’s the sweetest of sounds.

joyful noise

There were four bagpipes.

Four bagpipes, a brass quintet, a pipe organ, a flautist and a community that welcomed me “home”.

I was able to return to space and people I poured my heart into for five years as  pastor.  And it was sooooo good.

I served a church perched on the top of a hill overlooking Lake Superior.  It was a church I had been a member of, left for a time, and then came back to serve as pastor.  Two of my children were confirmed there, I came to my sense of call there, my father’s funeral was held there, and I came to know myself as pastoral community organizer and joy participant there.  In short, I was nuts for the church and for its people.

Coming back after five plus years, the space and the people and the blast of the bagpipes took me in and love was reaffirmed and celebrated.

Growing up is hard to do.  Leaving any place with its network of relationships and comforts and delights takes courage, faith, and maybe some flat-out lunacy.  If we are truly blessed, we can revisit those places and know again the shimmer of grace.

So it was for me.  Four bagpipes and all.


…every soul that stands under condemnation with nothing to say for itself has the power to turn and discover it can yet breathe the fresh air of God’s pardon and mercy.  Why would it hesitate to confidently enter the presence of God?  Why should it fear the majesty who gives it reason to be confident?  Beauty is the soul’s birthright.  

Bernard of Clairvaux

Today’s newspaper shares the news that indulgences are making a come back.

Indulgences are, as described in the article, the gift of wiping from us the shadow of our harmful doings.  The Catholic church is experiencing many who seek such soul washing; in particular among those who are in their young adult years.

It makes sense.  Who doesn’t long for a holy soul washing?  Who doesn’t long to believe the vision shared by Brother Bernard above?  Who hasn’t participated in things that have caused hurt to self and others?  Forgiveness is a precious gift.  Embracing a practice that promises it is understandable and good.

The twelve step program gets the importance of this.  Healing can’t happen without forgiveness.  Without forgiveness, the past and its wrongs keep churning like a washing machine gone bad.

As human beings, we need practices that help us to grapple with the huge in our lives.  For too long we have let ritual and communal marking of life passages be somehow suspect.  We are soul-starved for the meaning and power they provide our lives.  The upsurge in interest in indulgences is testimony.

So how will we welcome the power of the real into the life of our faith communities?  Seems to me the Catholic church understands the need. 

With the unleashing sparked through the Reformation, those of us of the Protestant persuasion sought to claim the birthright of beauty in ways direct and unmediated by clerics.

But we lost something in the  pursuit of our individualized reaching for the Holy.  We lost the real power of sharing our souls and our stories in community.  We lost the incarnational gift of being the flawed Word in communion with other flawed Words and we somehow became convinced that sharing the real of our lives with others was just not seemly.

It’s not only seemly.  It’s necessary.

God longs for us to turn and claim our birthright of beauty.  We can choose to turn and accept the breath of God’s mercy and forgiveness.  Sharing that journey in the company of others makes the breathing of grace flat-out delicious.


Having three months to pay attention is a powerful thing. 

A thrashing about with time is one of the things I have discovered.

I will never have enough time to learn all the things I want to learn.  Books continue to taunt me with the worlds they offer and no matter how fast I slurp them up, there are more.

I will never have enough time to perfectly tend the many relationships in my life:  children, partner, friends, church community, colleagues, a world to which I am intimately connected.  I will never have enough time to do the work of loving perfectly.

I will never have enough time to fully feel the kiss of sun on my skin or the dance of wind in my hair or the smell of wood smoke in the air or the song of star in the night sky or the touch of my beloved.  There are tastes I will never encounter, soul wisdom I will never take into my being.

I will never have enough time.

But I have this time.  Time to watch the movement of wind and sun on the big Superior lake.  Time to read and time to be still.  Time to know that being a finite woman in the playground of the infinite is wonder;  wonder enough.

There is time for that.  This time.


I hit a deer yesterday.  With my car.  On a two lane highway.

I had been aware of them and was being very careful, even though the sun was out and it seemed that danger on four legs couldn’t be too tricksy.  But suddenly there was this creature, threading itself between my car and an oncoming vehicle.

I hit it.  Detached and wondering even as I did so.  Aware of the need to not hit the other car.  Aware of the inevitablity of contact with the live and defenseless creature impossible to dodge.

I pulled over to the side of the road and watched the deer flop around on the pavement.  It was heart breaking.  The car behind me pulled over and two young women got out.  We called 911 and described the scene to the dispatcher who must deal with this daily but for me it was no common place ballet I was watching.

Cars stopped in the road, providing a protective shield for the deer as it tried to get to its feet.  Repeatedly.  Its tongue was hanging out.  It seemed to be talking to itself, doing a systems check, ascertaining possibilities.  And then, after what seemed like and hour, it loped off into the woods.

I wept with gratitude and relief.  To be an instrument of death was a burden I couldn’t much bear.  I was grateful for the deer’s return to the safety of the woods, away from the stretcher of the asphalt highway.  I was grateful to the two young women who bore witness with me and kept me company as I breathed with the deer.  I was grateful that my car has only a few nicks and my person none at all. 

Except for my heart.  We can be so careful.  We can do all the right things.  And it matters not.  Tender and beautiful things leap out at us and sometimes there is hurt.  And we bear witness.  We pay attention and we do our best and we motor on aware of the life we know so little of playing out all along our pathways.

All last night I wondered how the deer fared.


I forget which poet it is – ee cummings?- who speaks of the great celebration that is spring.  The world becomes puddle-luscious.

And so it is here in Grand Marais, MN.

I put on my skis this morning to spend an hour or so in the woods and they LAUGHED at me!  I was moving (or trying to)  along on bannana peels, since I had no wax designed for spring skiing (I have since learned it is Klister wax that I need.  Tomorrow is another day).  I tried to make my way down the trail because  it is a day for outdoor savoring but finally gave up, laughing at myself and life because shuffling in place just doesn’t suit me.

Driving into town to get above mentioned antidote to skids, I topped the hill and saw kites flapping in the wind.  Kites!  Superman kites and box kites and dragon kites, anchored on the ice of the harbor, catching the wind with laughter, and tended by ice-skating people carving their joy on a shelf of ice with the sparkle of open water behind them. 

The world is puddle-luscious in this in between time.  I am perched in a coffee shop in a town I love, sipping a triple espresso and eating a Thunder Cookie and I will soon go out to play in the wind and the slush and the warm and the luscious.

Thanks be.


This big old lake that I find myself perched beside has been midwife throughout my life.

Lake Superior has sung her song and it has woven its way through generations of my people.  She sings to me as I near the end of my renewal leave.

My parents were both raised on her shore.   They grew and made life and play and meaning with her constant presence lending wisdom and a sense of awe impossible to dodge if souls are open to hear.  My kin are buried in soil watered by her presence.  I nearly met my own death along her shore thirty years ago when meeting a semi truck head on.  My children were raised with her breath in their being.  And now I am here.  A woman stepping into rebirth, seeking to knit the learnings of my life into celebration of that which is ongoing, eternal, and so much more given to delight than the deadly serious grind so often made of life.   And She is singing her song as the moon and sun echo their response.

Mostly I am moved by her eternal witness to the rhythms and power of life.  There is borning and dying always.  There is wonder available and offered to us always.  There is a force larger than our own fears and she sings her song if we will but stop long enough to open the ears of our heart to it.

These things I savor as I strap on my skis.  Entering the forest after a big snow is entering into holy ground.  And I am on it, in it, and of it.  Midwifed into the life uniquely mine to enflesh.


I went on a pilgrimage today. 

I’m no baseball guru, but I am married to a man whose first read in the morning is the sports page.  So we jumped into the car and motored thirty miles to watch the Twins play Puerto Rico. 

Who knew that such things happen and are so important?  We were in a sea of Minnesotans celebrating spring and cheering on their guys.  Being in the midst of the party was wonderful.  Listening in on conversations going on around me about the team and catching the delight emanating from my beloved made for a great bit of wonderment.  All of that, and sun too!

Who we are matters.  What it is we pin our allegiance to matters.  Watching the rituals of batting stances and knowing that in all my baseball ignorance I was a part of a communal celebration mattered.

A man sitting next to me was from Indianapolis.  He wondered how often we saw games in our home town, since it is so close.  We had to admit that we didn’t go to games.  That interchange led to a great conversation about why it is the opportunities to play go so often unexplored.

But not today.  We played.  We journeyed to the place of baseball and threw ourselves into the adventure and it seems to me we’re learning some good lessons about our own play as we watched it unfold before us on the field.


Being from Minnesota has its distinct advantages.

Today in Naples, Floridians and most other critters are hunkered down.  It is windy and brisk.  The waves on the gulf are majestic in their power and relentless in their movement.  The seagulls seem to have found shelter along with the bipeds who are shunning the beach.

But not me.  It is magnificent!  The crash of the waves, the expanse of beach without human presence, the smell of salt and the game playing with waves determined to catch my feet;  all are mine to savor.

The same creative ache of love that spun the waves and the wind and the sun into being walks with me into this day.  Snow and ice are fine tutors.  So too is this world wildly alive with wind.