Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sign of the Times

In another state I found this sign. I'm glad they are a church that cares. I hope it doesn't mean that other churches don't care. I also hope that it's a way of life, not just a sign on a nice green lawn.

I asked a local what she thought they cared about. She replied, "They care that you know that there is a God."

"Fair enough," I said. "But if I've just been laid off, have lost my health insurance and can't come up with the money for next month's rent and utility bills, do they care about that?"

She offered a general reply that church was not really about those things.

I have a former seminary classmate who is pastor of The Church of Hope in Canyon Country, CA. They have a little church building where they hold worship. But they also worship at another location: their Monday-Saturday thrift store and food pantry set in a strip mall between a liquor store and a pawn shop. On Sunday, they push the tables aside, set up chairs, pray and sing praises among the donated goods.

In the community, this church is not known as The Church of Hope. It is known as "the church that cares". It's not a name or a slogan adopted by a congregational vote after a yearlong study by committee who made a recommendation to the church council.

How wonderful when the community gives us our real name because of who we are, not what we say or think we are. If that's not Christ at work, I'm not sure what could be. May we all be so led. May all the names our community might give us be so reflective of Him.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Changing Landscape

There was once a lean-to with roof beams anchored into the wall of the one-time blacksmith shop. An auto repair business is now in the building where the blacksmith shop was once located. I remember the inside of the blaksmith shop. It had overhead line shafts that ran everything: the metal shear, trip hammer press, drill press, grinding wheels, buffing wheels, metal saw, even the fan for the forge.

The blacksmith did big business welding beads of stellite onto plowshares and cultivator shovels, then shaping and polishing the weld deposit. The dust containing metal particles and polishing fibers went everywhere and settled on everything. Surely in the blacksmith's lungs that must have been blacker than those of a coal miner.

I think the blacksmith who worked in the shop before Harry Teebken was a World War II vet. For some years he had a monkey living out back. He probably had gotten accustomed to being around them in the South Pacific.

Now the lean-to is gone. As is blacksmith work.

Across the street is a portion of sidewalk that once ran in front of a pharmacy. For all of my life, the building in this block was never a pharmacy. It was a feed and produce store where you could buy feed supplements and salt blocks and sell your eggs, cream and butter. That was before dairies became big comercial operations.
Interesting how the Leo Schneider sidewalk reads, though. Sorta looks like a gravestone for the pharmacy. Did it die in 1907 at the age of 16?
Or was the store opened in 1891 and the sidewalk first laid in 1907? Now there isn't even a building behind this section of walkway. There is the city clerk's office and the small USPS buidling. There's a big vacant Marshall's Nursery warehouse, a defunct Conoco gas station and a vacant lot. No pharmacy.
My Mom was born in 1907 and is still going. Leo Schneider Pharmacy is long gone. Changing landscape. Life in small Midwestern towns overtaken by strip malls and Wal-Mart.

Jesus Next Door

Mark 9:38-50. Jesus cautions us about the seriousness of offending children, causing them to stumble.

The JESUS sign on the porch caught my eye. It's on a little house right on U.S. Highway 30 in Arlington, Nebraska. I grew up on a farm 3.8 miles from this house.

In high school, I worked a couple of times for Don who lived in an identical house just to the left of the photo. Don had a Ford C750 cabover truck. On Saturday nights, we would drive to the Omaha World Herald newspaper publishing company in downtown Omaha. There we would pick up bundles of Sunday newspapers and drive them to route distributors in SE Nebraska. Towns like Beatrice, Roca and Wymore--almost to the Kansas border. It would be light before we arrived back in Arlington.

Don and his young wife Carolyn had a bunch of little kids. They had married early. They seemed to be an OK, happy family--although a little too open about some things in front of the kids.

Years later, things went very wrong. Don shot Carolyn, then himself. What a burden to lay on your own children.

I was glad to see the Jesus sign on the house next door. I hope Jesus has moved into the house where the sign is. I hope Jesus has moved into the house where Don and Carolyn once lived. I hope Jesus moves into every house. I pray He never leaves. Pray for the kids.


Saturday, September 26, 2009


9/26: Sort of a homecoming at the University of Nebraska campus in Lincoln. Last night I was in Nebraska's capital to see some college fraternity brothers, some of whom I hadn't seen in 20 or 40 years. Most are at the Husker football game today in Lincoln. Now I'm enroute to Portland via Denver.

My arriving flight in Omaha brought together the family members of Spc Don Grella accompanied by the U.S. Army Honor Guard and the Patriot Guard Riders. They will accompany Don's remains home to Laurel, Nebraska. Until recently, Spc Don Grella was listed as MIA. Now that remains have been identified, the status can be changed. It's now official: KIA 28 December 1965.

My Nebraska homecoming was a very fitting day for the return of a fallen soldier who had been missing for nearly 44 years.

Homecoming. Pray for the continued healing of the family and our nation.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Another Country

I'm in another country: My birthplace. The State of Nebraska. It's almost harvest time for the soybeans and corn. Things only need to dry a bit more and the combines will be working overtime.
It's another country. Not because they fly a red flag here with a big white "N" but because many folks see the world differently from where I live.
We are all one country here, but residents of 50 states, several territories and thousands of miles between us.
I listen when I'm here and people speak. That's what we should do.
But if I spoke, I wonder if anyone would listen to me, a man born here but now from another country? I'm not sure I could be heard.
Pray for our country, our leaders and one another. Especially for one another. It's not that I think our country is coming apart. I think it's a lot farther apart than any of us realize.
Meanwhile, the crickets sing their early autumn songs along the quiet roads. And the soybean leaves silently fall while breezes rustle those on the corn. And football is in the air.
Pray for the USA.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Peter, Paul and Mary

Peter, Paul and Mary burst into music all over the airwaves when I was just starting high school. PPM seemed a permanent fixture in American culture.

The album "Ten Years Together" was released in 1970. I never owned the vinyl LP, but I inherited the CD from our daughter Hilary while she was still in college. Hilary has always had a broad range of muscial tastes. I salute her for that.

Back when "Ten Years" came out, ten years seemed a long time to me. After all, my life at that time was only 2.4 times as long. Ten years took forever to pass. So it seemed. The four years of my life owed to the U.S. Air Force were an eternity for a young man to give up.

So, at the time, ten years . . . Wow! That was huge! When PPM disbanded in 1971, well . . . What more could we expect? They'd already been together forever.

1970. That was the year I met Jean. After a LONG and COLD winter in Syracuse, New York, the spring and summer of 1970 were such a God-send of change. Warmth. Green leaves. Love. And tension in the air. Campus unrest. National Guard troops enforcing martial law. Shootings at Kent State University. Four dead in Ohio. Marches and rallies in Washington, DC.

PPM would sing before many gatherings of Americans seeking an end to war or simply looking for an evening of peace. Music--and the lyric of the song--were our national dialogue on subjects we could not discuss with our leaders or our elders or, too often, with our own parents.

I remember one PPM performance at the Onondaga County War Memorial auditorium in Syracuse. The trio had barely made it to Syracuse after one of those Washington, DC gatherings. They were physically exhausted but inspired by the energy of the movement and the overwhelming sense of importance that they and we continue to seek an end to war and a way to build peace.

That was 39 years ago, 3.9 times the duration of ten years together. "Who knows where the time goes?" Judy Collins used to sing. Indeed.

Thank you, Mary, for all you gave us over all those years. God rest you now and always.

Pastor Roger

Monday, September 14, 2009


Same-same. I was so surprised to see this title on a children's book cover last week. It was an expression that many of our neighbors often used oh so many years ago in Yalova, Turkey. It could mean, "I get it. I understand. We do things that way too." Same-same.
A new front has opened in the war we seem to be waging against one another as fellow Americans. Last week, Rush Limbaugh said, "This administration is not your average presidential administration. This is not a garden party. This is not a lecture at Harvard or any other university. We are in the process, we are in the midst of an administration that is trying to totally tear down the institutions and traditions that have made this country great."
Really? Totally? Even a half percentage of hyperbole there?
A few days ago, there were Tea Party demonstrations around the country. Hey, I guess you could call me a liberal; but I've been for fiscal responsibility since long before conservatives seemed to adopt it--and then abandon it. But the Tea Party folks had more on the table. One man across the river in Vancouver said, "Our freedoms are under attack."
If either of the above quotes are true, or even partially true, then let me be the first Minuteman taking to the streets to cry, "Not on my watch!"
But what institutions and traditions, specifically? What freedoms are under attack? Substantively how and by whom? If those questions don't have specific answers are are not supported by hard evidence rather than opinion, are they helpful? Isn't that how Germany ended up with the Holocaust of 11 million people (6M Jews, 5M non-Jews)?
"Demand to be shown," said a card included with the first life insurance policy I ever bought back in college. If somebody told me they had something better, or that what I had was no good, I shouldn't just believe their words. I should demand to be shown. Sage advice in any age.
It was once a tradition in our country that women could not vote or own property. Once we had an institution known as slavery. At the time, many folks would have said those two things supported our economy and made our country great. But if instuitutions are not working, are actually keeping us from being what we are to be, shouldn't those be torn down? Shouldn't a new tradition replace an obsolete or destructive one?
Are there times when we can't afford to be real same-same? Is our current struggle over the cost of health care in the U.S. precisely one of those times?
There are a couple of "freedoms" that I hope actually are under attack in our country because they don't work in a free and modern republic like ours:
1. The freedom to be ignorant and uninformed.
2. The freedom to act on opinion and suspicion rather that solid information.
3. The freedom to let fear keep us from actually taking a hard look at new ideas.
4. The freedom to refuse to hear and respect each other.
5. The freedom to be dishonest.
These "freedoms" aren't in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. I hope they never are. On that score, I hope we're always real same-same.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Gifts We Don't See

This lamp post in Fairview Village does things that most ordinary lamp posts don't do. Some people are like that.

One was Bob Morland. Today at his memorial service we heard about a few of his gifts to his family and the wider community. Most of his gifts will never be seen as something from him. But the people and the community he touched will be forever brighter and better, regardless of whether people know Bob was the cause of so much good.

Gwen Williams was like that, too. Years ago she was in my Word and Witness class at Resurrection Lutheran. Gwen had a smile that wouldn't stop and a heart that was bigger. She would be the first to tell you that she was saved by love. Love in the form of hospital people, fellow members of 12-Step groups, her Lord Jesus.

Alcohol and cigarettes had given her skin that was older than her years, but even the extra wrinkles could not diminish the joy that shone through. That joy made her a standout as one of the earliest volunteers at Operation Nightwatch. The rest of us marveled at her heart for going to downtown Portland to serve folks on the street, folks facing some of the same issues she did. Gwen loved them. "Oh, the people," she would say, her eyes growing misty. Often, she could not complete the sentence because words couldn't do them justice.

I think Resurrection Lutheran learned about Operation Nightwatch through Gwen. For years, ONW has been in Resurrection's outreach budget. I saw the ongoing life of those gifts last Tuesday. A check with a familiar logo was on Director Gary Davis' desk as we chatted in his office. "They send me a check every month," he said.

These are gifts we rarely see. And they are possible because of the other gifts we rarely see: the offerings dropped into a plate or sent by mail. It's almost as though they do their work secretly.

But not quite secretly. A few of us know about Gwen and how much started with her. Thank you, Gwen! Thank you. I know you've already received eternal rewards from our Lord Jesus and don't need a thing today. The secret's out. It was Gwen!

But our thanks are a gift that can never be overdone. And that's a secret that's better if never kept.

Thanks, Gwen. Thanks, Resurrection. Thanks, Bob. Thanks, Jesus. Amen.


Friday, September 11, 2009

T.R. Reid

The Healing of America author T.R. Reid was at Powell's Books in Beaverton last night. Timely remarks, insightful questions from the audience.

Kind of startling to realize how other countries have made the commitment to provide health care for every citizen, either through a single-payer system, or else through private doctors, private hospitals and private insurance (not-for-profit insurance)--all for much less money than we already spend here. People in other rich countries don't go into bankruptcy over medical bills. 700,000 Amercians do every year.

Some kind of bill will likely pass Congress this year, but it will not be what we really need long-term. What's being proposed now envisions only 5-10% of the fix that we really need here. But we will never propose or adopt what we need and what other countries already have. Our politcal system requires too much campaign money. Nobody is willing to risk cutting off all that money by shifting us to not-for-profit health insurance here. That's a fact. We've created this monster. Now we are afraid to kill it. Soooo.....

If we're not willing to look at what other nations do and how it works, isn't our country saying two things:

1) We have decided that we CAN'T solve the problem of health care costs. Because?

2) We have decided that we WON'T.

That about sums it up. But don't take my word. Listen to T.R. Reid himself:

Couldn't we do better? Pray we do.



First things first.

I should never have made a previous post titled "Mixed Signals". To apologize is to offer a rationale for why it was justified. That I cannot do because there is none. To say I had a lot of stuff going on would be true, but not a justification and not an explanation.

So I stand completely revealed and convicted. I confess these sins of unkindness and lack of judgment. Strong words, right or wrong, can never be recalled. I am truly sorry and humbled. Forgive me Lord, and all whom I have hurt.

Today is an anniversary of greater hurt and loss than most of us can know. Let us pray for all for whom today brings tears and painful memories. 9/11.



Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Clear Signals

Ain't it funny how we get so many mixed signals from churches, but out there in God's creation they seem to be clear as crystal? Ponder these from my campsite above Moraine Lake at South Sister last month:

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross. . .

And right across the way on the side of Broken Top, the hand of God put a cross a few thousand years ago when all of this was formed.

It comes out in beautiful relief every evening as the sun gets low. Perhaps 15 years ago I camped at this site and never saw the cross. My eyes were younger then. We see differently as we age.

Do you see the cross where you live and spend your time? If not, give your eyes a few more decades. Someday, you will see it. Our eyes may dim. Sosmetimes that's what we need to see God's clear signals.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

He Called Her a Dog...

Mark 7:24-37
"And He was saying to her, let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." Mark 7:27
So Jesus was up in Gentile country trying to fly under the radar. I think it was not because he wanted to avoid people. I think it was simply because he wanted a respite from the endless requests for healing and the public spectacle of being a miracle worker. And being sought out ONLY for that.
I think he simply wanted to get to know a few Gentile folks as people, to have a straight across one-on-one. Without all the pressure and notoriety. Incognito, if you will.
Then a desperate Gentile Mom comes up and there in front of God and everybody she won't let go. She begs. She cries. She gets on her knees. Now everybody can see. It's for the life of her little girl that she pleads. Please!!!!
And Jesus calls her a dog. Well. . . He doesn't really call her a dog. But he lays the conventional wisdom on her that Phoenicians were dogs. Just like Palestinians would be to Zionists today.
She is unfazed. She doesn't want to turn things upside down. She doesn't ask to boot the insiders from their place of privilege at the table. She'd be happy enough with a few crumbs on the floor. She has nothing to bargain with. Not her wealth, her race, her religion or her pride. She doesn't ask to be promoted from outsider to insider, from scum to being privileged. She lays it all there in the dirt at Jesus' feet. She will do anything for the life of her daughter, whatever it takes.
Just like the Mom at the Saturday Market as she beams over her little girl's conversation with the Grandma there who has just sold them matching hats. This Mom would die for her child.
The Phoenician woman in Syrian-held territory is perhaps the only one in the picture who actually gets it that she has nothing with which to bargain or impress God. She doesn't come from a sense of entitlement: "this is my birthright".
Have we ever called someone a dog? Not with our words but with our thinking and our actions, have we made someone a de facto dog?
The literalist approach to Scripture burns the house down here: "Jesus said she was a dog. God said it. I believe it. That settles it." Oh?
Not. The real words of God are spoken by the woman ("crumbs are all I need, and there is an abundance of crumbs") and by the actions of Jesus. A little girl is healed.
Later, a man is given his speech and hearing. He had no bargaining position either--other than deep need.
Because Jesus was willing to see the person, not the label glued onto them or the condition in which they found themselves, people of no status were healed.
Do we see people the same way?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Parking Gone Postal

It's been a while since we had a postal shooting. Was it the working conditions, a bad home, or simply a media/entertainment fixation on gun violence that caused these tragic events of recent American history? We never arrived at a satisfactory answer.

Two weeks ago while pulling into the USPS lot to mail some documents, I stumbled onto an important discovery. Maybe the unhinged USPS shooters were all PO'd about the parking situation at the PO (Post Office). And all the while I thought those big blue metal bins were mailboxes. THEY ARE PARKING SPACES! Ever try parking your Hyundai Sonata or your Chevy Tahoe in (or between) mailboxes? You'd be PO'd too.

Yeah, parking's an issue. Especially when you consider the fact that PO employees aren't allowed to skateboard or inline skate on PO property. And so many of them look like they could really use the exercise. As do so many PO customers. . . Maybe they need to spend a night at Skate Church.

Already 40 years ago when I was an undergrad college student an article in the campus newspaper decreed that college administrators had an impossible task: providing beer and sex for the undergrads, football for the grad students and parking for the faculty and staff. Not humanly possible to juggle all that. Parking--or lack of it--will getcha fired!

And skateboarding and rollerblading hadn't really been invented yet.

So watch where you park. Especially when mailing letters. You might be in a Postal Parking Space. Keep the faith and stay out of harm's way--especially on Postal Property. And when in doubt, DON'T!