Bob Dylan sang, back in the 1960s and '70s, "The Times, They Are A-Changin'." They were. Dramatically. Even more than we, living through them, realized.
We were younger then. It seemed OK to have these strange things, "blowing in the wind." We didn't really know what they were. We felt we could handle them, no matter what they were.
That all seems different now. We do not agree with our friends - and even family - what those currents in the air really are. When people speak of "our divided country," we know they refer to political tumult. To deep feelings felt by many about their country. But, we fear to be clear about what our concern is.
We sense hatred in the air. We sense a spirit of revenge. Of a wholesale spirit of shaming. Of getting back at others. Particularly, our leader. The process has an unclean feeling. It is a haunting atmosphere that invades our dreams, that hangs heavy in the back of our minds.
But, we keep it to ourselves. We dare not "talk it over." There are friends to lose. People we cherish. Family members we dare not risk losing.
So, we turn inward in our anxiety. A kind of darkness pervades. We pray. Oh, we DO pray. For our country. For our President. For ourselves.
We do want God's Way. We do want the way of Peace. We want reconciliation, personally. And, for the land we love. Our very "Congregational way" challenges us to such unanimity through the Holy Spirit's leading. And His Way may not be our way. He may have a new way for us.
I know, in my soul, that the finding of reconciliation in America is the Church's business. Somehow, it is our task to find the way for reconciliation, through forgiveness, to come to the House, to the Senate, to the President, to the people.
And, I deeply believe, we are to be Americans. To be Pilgrim People willing to be on a journey in America. We are people given a vision. Following the Puritan's leader who said, "We are as a city set upon a hill, with the eyes of the world upon us." Our national life is to be lived for the sake of the world, and of our country. Where we are to dare to go to our knees, and to give our country and its leaders over to the God Who calls us to be a SERVANT NATION.
We are not to hate. Not to want or take revenge. We are to beg forgiveness for ourselves and for our leaders.
That has to mean BIG PRAYER. It has to mean an OPEN HEART. It has to mean turning to Jesus, day by day, minute by minute.
I dare us to be patriots who put our beloved country in the hands of the mighty God who came as Jesus to win by losing, to live by dying, showing the world the same, the way to NEW LIFE.
May we find peace in walking the sure way, with Jesus first, and with His people as our brothers and sisters - in these "parlous times."
Bless you - so dear to Him. And me.
The news, this last Sunday of January, has been interrupted by bulletins from California, that KOBE BRYANT and his 13-year-old lovely daughter have been killed in a helicopter crash in thick fog on a mountainside in the steep hills east of Los Angeles. Seven others were with them. Many have headed to the crash site.
A reporter for one of the news outlets wrote that he was weeping while he wrote, crying out to the sky, "Why? Why? " He urged all who would hear him to do the same, "let it go, cry out the tragedy of it all."
That's the way it always is, when one of our own suddenly dies, and leaves us. All the more if they are young and full of life - even a legend, like Kobe, the "greatest basketball player of all time."
We're a little more ready when it's the old who die. As one old man said to Molly and me at dinner last night, of his wife's death not long after they arrived at Covenant Village: "It was not unexpected."
With the heroes it's never "expected." We live our lives thinking that we will have this gift forever. We fool ourselves into thinking we too, will be forever young. We struggle with our self-expectations as each new decade comes. "But, I always did such and such." Inside our minds and bodies continues those illusory ideas of what we can do, because we always did.
But of course, Kobe was a legend in his own time. He made 60 points in his last game. He was already in the Hall of Fame. He'd already won championships. He was many times the Most Valuable Player. He is L.A.'s hero and, by extension, America's hero.
But what does his abrupt and flaming death on earth say to us about LIFE? About how we live, and to what end and purpose? Do we shout out our sorrow to the skies? Do we beat our chests and rip our clothes, the way some traditions do?
Or, do we mercifully find a hand to hold? A life to remember, a short life we are honored to remember, and emulate? Like Jesus' hand. Do we open our Bibles and read the treasured pages of John's Gospel, and the vibrant Book of the Acts of the Apostles, and the Letters of Paul? And, the great prophesies of Isaiah and Hosea and Amos? And the stories of the beginnings in Genesis?
They all stir us. They remind us of the One sent from Heaven to live among us. And show us how to live. They show us the great lives, and the great principles of living great was ourselves. They point the path. When, in all the years we've known, has such a Path been needed by us more than now?
A call to thought - and prayer. And, renewed practice.
Like so many, we had planned get-togethers - with two dear men precious to me from being on the trail together, of "Journey's Out" together to Africa, and later - a woman who'd made the journey with us in the earliest days.
We'd not accounted for the weather of this recent weekend, and both wisely called to bid for another, less blustery and icy Saturday morning.
As the weekend went on, my heart kept turning back to those three friends from long ago with whom we'd planned a time of reunion after long years. With the two men we said, "We'll do it again, when the one, coming from far, will be in town." With the brave woman traveler, it was the same, "Too dicey now, we'll do it another time."
Because these are friendships Jesus has wrought, and preserved, I have no doubt we'll try again. Surely such gathering together can be made to happen!
Then, I looked about this gracious place where Molly and I live, called "Covenant Living," and I thought, "Oh yes, we'll try." But the days are short for us old folks, and as we say, "You never know." It is a dying place. It's a last years' place. Not many days pass without another among us quietly passing away. Just yesterday Molly reported, "I met Bev downstairs, who's been so close to Dennis - her cousin. Tearfully she reported 'Last night Dennis died. He was in his chair watching football, fell asleep, and just died.'"
Just like that. "What a good way to go," some said. But, like so many deaths, it was unexpected - even though you know that's the way in life. "Here today, gone tomorrow." All of us one way or other.
So, will I see my two pals of the trail, or my regal friend who took a chance on us to brave Kenya, so many years ago? I wonder. And I want to, because they are precious to me. They are, all three, a part of my life. I don't want to forget them. I want to catch up on these later years. I want to hear the whole story of their lives. I will try to make it happen. "Soon and very soon."
In so many ways the lives of those around us are our lives. What friends do, and say, and think about becomes the context for our lives. Just as the news, on radio and television create a context for our existence, our thought - about ourselves and the world.
The world we live in profoundly influences our being. How we feel on a given day is affected by what's going on out there - in the news, in the neighborhood, in our friends' lives, and our families' lives.
All those precious people who affect us in how they live, what they do, what they believe, how they behave.
It should call us to care very much for them all. We pray for "the news," for friends near and far. And to look to our own lives.
Mercifully, Jesus ever calls us to His life, to follow Him in it, to walk with Him, and think with Him, and pray with Him. High Adventure right there. A way of keeping close, to the precious friends.
Bless you, my friends.
Some days are gloomy - even when the sun is shining. I want to shine myself. I want to be one of Jesus' lighted people.
When I cast about for whence comes the gloom, I must admit it comes winging in over the air waves. Molly turns off the TV before I do, but the dark spirit of anger in the land still hangs in the air.
I cling to the dream that is the Pilgrim Vision for America, that, as John Winthrop, leader of the Puritans, said on the Arabella arrival in Boston: "We are as a city set upon a hill, with the eyes of the world upon us." He saw the America that would be, as a city of hope - indeed a country of hope - for the world. A people of God, creating community, and dedicated to serving their towns, their families, and the world.
In the revolutionary generation that followed a century and a half later, John Adams said something like "democracy is made possible by believing people." Faith has to be the foundation for America's life.
Which calls us to the spirit of forgiveness, of a wise understanding of human nature, of a Biblical understanding that God chooses to work through compromised, broken, bad people as well as those more purely good. The people elect leaders, and pledge to uphold, and pray for them. Our leaders deserve our support. Because of the leadership the country, and God, have given them.
Too much spirit of revenge, if not hatred, has hung heavy over the impeachment process that has been playing out before us. I marvel at the resilience of our president in carrying out his work through these years of unimaginable pressure.
I have experienced myself that dark spirit working among people I was committed to serving, people who were - and are - my friends. My job was still to serve them, to try to understand and love them, even as some of them told others things about my work and life and decisions that were not true.
When I went round to see a dozen or so of those leaders, I found they didn't even understand what they had done. Only one woman out of a dozen or so who had worked for my departure, understood practically and theologically what had happened. "Arthur," she said, "we were overtaken by an alien spirit." She was right. A demonic spirit. It was as Jesus pled from the cross: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." These Christian friends in fact, did not know what they were doing. A dark spirit from beyond them had overtaken their minds and hearts.
That fact, so human, became so understandable. It has made all of that so much more easy to forgive. And that forgiveness has made reconciliation possible for me and for them. For the healing process then became God's work. And He has done it, slowly but surely.
I pray for the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation in our Congress, in our President, and among the American people. I believe it is the only way out of the angry malaise into which we have fallen.
And, I believe it is our work - as the Church of Jesus - through prayer, through compassionate understanding, through all of us becoming reconcilers by the power of the Spirit, to labor daily to bring it about.
I have seen it happen, out of the most horrific hell of the Rwanda Genocide. A whole country is being transformed - by FORGIVENESS.
Let it be so in this called country of America, for the healing of our land. May a great dawn come, out of the darkness of these days.
Love you all, as I ask you to forgive me.
Your brother, Arthur
Written on 1/09/2020
I came away empty today from a meeting that often offers challenging and thoughtful speeches as after lunch fare. The young 40-something businessman was introduced as a creative, passionate entrepreneur, promoting "the North": Minnesota and its North Star wonders of cold, outdoors, and generally northern pride.
As owner of a highly successful set of businesses, including a popular restaurant and a soon -to -go national clothing trademark, he said he was taking a little risk today to promote his passion for rescuing the environment in this age of climate change.
Getting his companies' "carbon footprint" down by various means was his #1 goal. "The thing I care about the most, is this," he said, and flashed a picture on the screen of his two young children. "My goal is to be able to say to them twenty years from now that I did all I could to save our environment for your generation."
It was a persuasive speech to our open-minded, ready-to-hear group. I wondered what I might have asked, with a little humor, that might have pointed toward more eternal things. Something like, "Well, what is 'northern food' besides the Scandinavian fare we hear so much about?"
Not sure even that would have merited a laugh. I left, struggling with my own real question, which would have been, "What is your deepest belief about this world we're in, and Who made it, and gave the very gift of life to your beautiful children and to yourself? Is there any 'Good News' in your life, anything that gives you joy in being alive, and makes you want to change things for the better, and that can give a vision for a selfless life for yourself and your children?"
I longed to ask the faith question, about love in the world and sacrifice. About laying down your life for others. About the One Who came from God above to live among us, and show us the Way Home, to God, by giving up His own life so ours could be saved.
I remembered the oiler on the SS Alcee Fortier after we twenty "sea-going cowboys" had brought 375 bred mares from Newport News to Salonica to help restart agriculture in Europe after WWII, who had spent our week there, drunk and with a prostitute, and was heading to hospital with syphillis and little hope in his heart, and had asked us boys, way back in 1946, the great questions about life, "What's it all about? What does life mean? What hope is there?"
How easily we miss the real question, the real point to our lives on earth. It is about God Who loves both us and the world, both of which He created.
--- A thought for 2020.
It's a tried and true old line saying about your health: "Listen to your body!" I'm finding it has extended applications and implications as you get older.
The body seems to speak louder and clearer as you age. At least mine does. It's an experience both Molly and I are having. We tire faster (and longer and deeper). Each bigger and more wonderful thing takes more out of us. The recovery time needed, takes longer. "What's wrong with you takes longer to figure out. "Do you have a cold?" Why is your nose running? Why does your standard cough persist longer and deeper?
For me, it was Christmas. Yes, wonderful Christmas. I had looked forward to it for so long. There was just one thing about it. I was going to preach. It would be my last Christmas Day invitation to preach. A high honor for me. Molly and I have always loved that particular service, after the crowds of Christmas Eve had gone home.
I wrote the sermon in November. I read it over and over. Was it right? Would it work? I believed it was what the Lord had given me to say. There was the matter of climbing up into the pulpit. Just getting me there was on my mind. I clung to the knowledge that always the Holy Spirit had come, and given me the strength I needed.
Yet, I nervously worried. The day came. My family would be there. Two dear preacher friends were coming. Other friends would be there, because it was to be the the LAST Christmas Service of mine.
The normal 120 or so must have doubled. There was a holy hush. People listened. It was a Spirit-touched time. So many lined up for a hug afterward. The Lord was there. Among the dear people.
We picked up Starbucks coffee on the way home. We ate a little breakfast. We went to bed. Late in the afternoon, two daughters came, two grandchildren, a grandson-in-law: A wonderful circle of love as we sat, ate soup, and talked of everything.
We rose late on "Boxing Day." I went to the Flagship to row. Saw more friends there (the locker room crowd). Stopped at the clinic for my INR. Had dinner alone with Molly in our apartment. Did my chest-pounding routine and my two nebulizer treatments, finally dropping into bed.
But on Friday, I woke very late, coughing, and struggled to get out of bed. Went back to bed. Coughed more. Finally sleeping till after noon.
I announced I hoped to go row at the Flagship. Molly just shook her head. "I'm announcing this as a rest day - FOR BOTH OF US." She made me soup, then went off to bed. She, of course, was right. It wasn't like it used to be.
We have to take care. We have to stay in when the DOT and the weather people say the storm of rain and snow will clog everything - and then it does. On Saturday morning alone, 350 crashes around the road system with two fatalities. We stayed in on both Friday and Saturday.
We listen to our bods, and listen to those charged with protecting us. And we're still alive. "You used to be very independent," Molly says, "and prone to the risks. You're readier now to ask help, and take a hand." I'm trying. We all need to try. It's part of growing up. Stay safe everybody. Listen to your bod. And listen to your friends.
Written on New Year's Day, 2020:
It's Christmas time, and I finally - after hospital, and homecare - got back to Starbucks, my "House by the side of the road, where I can be a friend to man."
Such a lovely reunion for an old guy who was, for so long, a habitue' of that coffee shop of meeting, in Edina, my town for 45 years. Sandy brightened into smiles behind the counter, saying "Arthur, hold on while I come around and give you a hug!" Then introducing me to the new manager, saying, "This is Arthur, he's a legend here. We love him."
Then Brenda drew close, saying, "And Arthur, I'm a new grandma!? It was the bright light of friendship showing there in warm and genuine welcome.
I take it as a sign, that now, at last, I am free - and able - to be "out and about." I praise God, the Lord of all mercies.
I know I need people. They have been my life, all my life long. You never know who will come along. And what they will bring. The very inspiration of their presence.
The other day a young 30-year-old teacher in training sat with me for an hour and a half by the fireplace in our Covenant Village common. At one point he regaled me with his story of meeting my Lizzie one day at Jerry's of Woodbury. He couldn't get over how effusive she was at her sample station, helping shoppers try out her samples, directing them toward aisles for which they were searching, laughing and talking with them. At one point he mentioned the work, post-college, he had been doing, of reconciliation after concentrating in it at Bethel College. He mentioned his work with the Pilgrim Center, and how much it had meant to him. Then he mentioned having worked with me. Did she know that name? "He's my father!" she answered. A delightful, unexpected, connection. He went on and on, about our out-going Lizzie, and how she inspired him. And, of course, what news for her father!
People stir us, and make all the difference in those places where we meet them, "out and about."
Today, the first day of the New Year, a small contingent of us kept a family tradition of meeting for breakfast on New Year's morning at Edina's Original Pancake House, just to be together. What fun I had telling Lizzie about the uplifting encounter this young man had with her.
So, we cheer each other on. We're meant to do that in life. That's what Jesus did, in His unique, mysterious way. Through questions. And comments. And observations.
It's really the work of love. Of seeing the good in others and bringing it out. Brightening the world. Lifting its heart and giving it courage. Helping it live. And hope.
Good work for us in this year opening before us.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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