The Harvard Magazine came to our house today. We don't subscribe, it just comes. I read the "Personals," the obituaries of classmates, the sports accounts, and often the serious pieces about faculty and the life of the University, itself.
The cover story was called, "1969 Memories and Meaning from a Time of Turmoil." It recalled the tumultuous time of Harvard's student protests of the Vietnam War, their taking over University Hall, and President Pusey's calling the State Police, who came into Harvard Yard with metal helmets, billy clubs, and a battering ram. Blood flowed and many students were carted off to the Middlesex County jail. One of them was Chris Wallace, class of '69 and anchor of Fox News Sunday. He wrote 50 years later, "When I got my chance, I called the radio station and did a report from jail. And caught up in the moment, I signed off on the phone, "This is Chris Wallace in custody."
Novelist Mark Helprin, class of '69, reflected the same decades later, "I felt revulsion at hatred of the American Constitutional system by those infatuated with murderous revolutionary dictatorships."
Of course, I was alive in 1969 and heard and felt something of what was going on in the college at which I had rowed on the Charles River for four years, met and fallen in love with and married Molly Safford, and studied American History before graduating in 1951.
But, in 1969 I was the still the young minister of a Congregational church in far-off Edina, Minnesota. Martin Luther King, Jr had been murdered, and so also Senator Robert Kennedy, running for President, his brother John already having been shot down in 1963. My life and ministry had already been marked by the dark rage of that decade.
We held services after each assassination. We went to the marches, too. We opened "The Colony" as a place for junior high kids, already feeling the effect of drugs in their lives. We reached out to high school young people. We established Alpha House for people coming out of jail. We established the Colonial residence for girls. We sent teachers down to the My-You nursery in Fifth Avenue Church. We established 12 monthly meetings across the Twin Cities to talk and pray about the troubling issues of those times. We established Bible Studies in many parts of town, led by our gifted teaching ministers, Dr Bob Guelich and Robert MacLennan, to hear what God would say to us. We sent mission teams to serve in inner cities, in Appalachia, and other places of poverty. We tried to be a church that cared, and a church that served. Even the City of Edina and its schools called on us to help.
We brought black pastors like John Mickel from Memphis, right after brother Martin's death, to speak to us from our summer pulpit on how they saw the painful issues. The great Pastor-poet Dr. Howard Thurman came soon after, and then Prof. Bill Pannel, teaching minister from Fuller Theological Seminary.
We did what we saw we could do, right where we were, for our town, and for Minnesota, and America. On Thanksgiving Day and Independence Sunday, we taught American history - of Pilgrims and Puritans, and the faith base of this America. We took groups on pilgrimages to Plimoth Rock and to the English places of America's roots, to better understand who we are and why we're here. Like the Puritans of old we were on our own "errand into the wilderness" of our time in tumult.
The conviction has grown that God is our business. That He came in Jesus to show us right and wrong, to show us the life of love and sacrifice, to remind us of the Resurrection victory over all the forces of the darkness and of death.
But, it is ever clearer that even in today's rage and anger, and penchant for change, with a host of bristling issues that are bent on dividing us, Jesus is more than ever the healer of our hearts, the Light of the world, here to lead us out of darkness.
Prayer is our power. Love is our strength. Faith is the overcoming Spirit of our souls. We are still in battle days. All around us is still the "strange call" of Christ to give "Our Utmost for His Highest."
Make this our Hope for these days that will be leading us to the Cross of Victory and the Crown of Easter.
In America, the great goal of a life of hard work, was the chance to rest at the end. To have financial plans supported by your company, or your denomination, or the government's Social Security plan, or insurance schemes, and health care plans that would help pay for medical expenses as we aged.
There was the vision of going south to a warm climate to golf, or play tennis, or relax by the pool. We would turn off the various devices to compete, and be up and doing, and look at life as now a time of reward and rest.
Of course, when we come to the age of cashing in on the plans, we discover unexpected health issues that we hadn't anticipated. Suddenly we have to take time and money to treat the illnesses or accidents that come upon us in our later years. And all of us are subject to those later life surprises.
But, there are happy surprises, too. Without the daily disciplines of a regular job, there is freedom to try other things we've always wanted to do. For some, maybe hobbies, or skills in a workshop, or a volunteer job, or following some exotic interest you've had for a long time.
The great thing Molly and I have figured out is that you need to have some kind of purpose. For people of faith, a "higher purpose." A purpose that lifts you out of yourself. If it is something you can do - or be - by way of serving others, so much the better.
When I left the church I had served for 32 years, friends gathered around to help me figure out how I could do something of ministry, using what I had learned in those 40 years of pastoral ministry. We formed The Rouner Center for Mission and Ministry, which soon became The Pilgrim Center for Reconciliation.
At first, we took "Pilgrims" on journeys to see the sacred places of our Pilgrim Fathers and Mothers: to New England and old England. We studied the history and saw the places. They were all inspiring.
Two wonderful friends set out to raise funds that would support and expand this work, as it grew. One young woman went back to Wheaton College and earned a Master's degree in Pilgrim Studies, so she could be our historian.
We soon lifted up the idea of "The Journey Out." This meant for us journeys as a way of learning. Journeys in canoes into the Boundary Water Canoe Area of northern Minnesota - meeting Jesus on the trail. Journeys to Africa with World Vision to fight the famine there. All kinds of journeys.
God seemed to miraculously place opportunities before us. Who would have thought Molly and I together, at 65 and 63, would be called to the darkest place on earth to speak peace to broken and wounded people who were left to build a new nation after an angry, murderous genocide? But there we were, and God showed us how - beginning with asking them, in our healing retreats, to forgive us for our part, and our country's part, in dividing them from each other.
And then it grew, to a ministry in seven countries, and is still going on under wonderful new, imaginative, and energetic leadership.
And what joy, for Molly and me to minister together, telling the truth in love, and on our knees, washing their feet.
And so, God still has a place for us - at Starbucks over coffee, by the fireside at our Covenant Village residence; listening to the heart of people, encouraging them, praying for them, and even opening the Bible at the Hilltop Restaurant with 18 - 20 friends of the decades, who just want to be together, with Jesus and each other.
Kind of a miracle, for us. I still cherish the strokes I row in my racing shell on Ossipee Lake, my late afternoon paddles up Pine River on summer afternoons, writing what I can on the dock in summer, and in my little study in Golden Valley in the winter.
And mostly, being with people, trying to encourage, and passing on the Good News of the great story of Jesus. God has something for all of us to do, in days ahead, however slowly. People wait. And listen. What a late, great chapter, of this wonderful life. Praise God!
A young pal came to see me today, at the Fireplace in our retirement village. We talked about everything. Even about growing up. I said at one point, "Well, it's very important to know who you are." I meant by that knowing who you are meant to be; who God has called you to be. Something about why you're here, why God has you in the world.
"Arthur," he said, "when did you know who you are, and why you're here?" "It's a growing thing," I responded. "Beginning at 12 when I walked "the sawdust trail" to commit to Jesus. And then at 17 on the way home from Greece after delivering horses to Greek farmers and our ships' oiler asked our group of young men about the meaning of life and we fumbled for an answer.
It came clearer yet when Agnes Sanford, grandmother of the modern Christian healing movement prayed for me to have the spiritual gift of healing. "It's not something you talk about," I said, "but you know you have it, that you're called to use it, to help heal the wounded of the world who are all around you."
When God calls you, you have to be brave about who you are and why you're here.
I tried to say that religion and politics are both touchy subjects because they both have to do with things people care about the most. We need to care about politics because that has to do with our country's life, and about who we choose to be our leaders. And, we care about that.
I've been reading historian David McCullough's thick book about Harry Truman, who didn't have a clear picture of his own life and what he should be, until he was a man of 50. He was a Missouri farm boy, who plowed fields and mowed hay. He didn't go to either high school or college. But he knew right and wrong. He was to become the common man president of the United States. He conceived the "Truman Doctrine" of foreign policy, and gave the "Marshall Plan" to save Europe after World War II (which is why in 1946 I was taking bred mares to Greek farmers - to help restart European agriculture).
Truman dared to use the atomic bomb to show Japan it must end the war in Asia. Truman bore unimaginable responsibilities, and was vilified for some of his decisions. But he knew who he was, and the responsibility he'd been given. He was not an elegant patrician of wealth, family and culture like Franklin Roosevelt whom he followed. He was a straight forward, honest, common man of the land from Missouri. An amazing part of our wondrous land and natural heritage. He served, and did what he was given to do.
We are called to honor our presidents, whether they are Washington or Truman. Whether we like them or not. They all have survived the call of leadership, for us.
I heard part of Minnesota's Senator Amy Klobuchar's declaration of candidacy speech, given outdoors in the snow. "I'm a coal miner's granddaughter," she said, "and a teacher and newspaperman's daughter," as she launched into her reasons for daring to be president. She opened up new doors of responsibility for American politics in the future before us. A daring vision.
We need not to hate those who lead, but pray that they can be the servants they want to be.
The same is true in religion, and church. God calls people to tell the truth, to live love, and to fashion the church as the Body of Christ. Leaders of the church get vilified too - for things they feel called to be, and do. They too, need prayer.
And we all need to be loyal patriots, loving our country, but even more, loyal followers of Jesus, building believers who, in their lives, will dare the highest, and best.
Either way, it is a high calling, to be God's people in this strange world He made, and loves.
It's Monday. The roads are icy. Walking is precarious. It's still winter.
At our house, we've canceled out on a late-February, much-anticipated, winter reprieve week on Florida's Amelia Island beach, where for several years we have bunked in near to our oldest child, and walked along stretches of the Atlantic's surf, soaking in the sun. We hope resting and exercising here in cold Minnesota will be a helpful, healing substitute.
It's a little about extending life, taking care, stepping out, claiming the future, trying to do good, serving, and staying on the trail with Jesus.
I look forward to Lent. We're planning our early morning breakfast Bible Studies for six weeks at the Hilltop Restaurant. A lovely group of nearly 20 friends, old and new, celebrated Advent that way, with me, and each other - reading wonderful words of scripture, praying, reporting on their lives, giving us words of wisdom and faith that blessed us all during the high and holy time of the Advent season.
The great thing is being together, being a little community of brothers and sisters in faith. So blessed are we always. That non-Florida week will be my special preparation time, anticipating those sweet mornings (7am to 8:30am).
For me it is life-giving. It is energy-restoring. It is healing, and renewing, and faith-building. And that, I find, has a lot to do with extending life, living longer, having a purpose. It is thinking and talking, with friends old and new, about Jesus.
It's really the faith that has the most to do with living longer. And, "living well." Having joy. Being happy. Loving others, and being loved by them.
I didn't think as much about that in my younger years. Now, I think about it much of the time. What in our age, it seems to me, we do well to think about life, and about walking closer with the Lord of life. Letting Him rule our thoughts, and create our ideals, and nourish our hopes, and give us visions and dreams.
Want to live longer? Take Jesus' hand. Let Him into your life.
Yesterday our family gathered for lunch after church to celebrate the 88th birthday of my wife, their mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. She who gave birth to them, and loved them through the years, and who heard God's call in wounded Rwanda, about forgiveness. Asking for it and freely giving it. So much of her time is given to smiling. Such that her 15-yr-old grandson in St. Louis, remarked to his father, "Nonny just radiates light.
She does. It's Jesus' light. It keeps her going, and all of us going. It's a living miracle of life. There's so many more birthdays for her. Because of that.
Shine the light, friends. And live long!
This is the much-heralded Week of Cold. Real Cold. So one newspaper said: "Not just 'feels like' cold," but, the real thing.
Where were you when it struck? Skiing on a "Colorado high"? Or just shivering in our arctic land, bundled to the hilt, trying to get your car started so you could go to work?
Our work, Molly and I, was getting to "doctor-land" in St. Louis Park for 10:00 am "infusion" (of antibiotics, taken intravenously through a PICC line from arm to heart) with dear oldest daughter ready then to bundle us into her car, and drive off under noon-day sun to the Mayo world of doctors for a 3:00 pm nose and throat exploration to start the two days of "getting to the bottom of this, so we can make you better."
It was an adventure in the cold, for sure. Getting on the brave shuttle bus at our motel, we observed that the sick from everywhere, no matter their infirmity (one man on a leg stump with his head also bandaged, another pulling an oxygen tank, perhaps others struggling with obesity) all looked like Minnesotans with their new-style down jackets and coats, their stocking caps, scarves over noses, and mittens and gloves to prevent frostbite, climbing on with universal good cheer, helping each other on and off, generally laughing off the cold and its dangers, feeling safe in the superb hands of our expert shuttle driver as he made his rounds of motels, hospitals, and finally the Mayo Clinic, apologizing to us all, "This is the first time in two years I have been so late in this run. I'm so sorry." We all felt sorry with him, and gratefully left our tips as he helped us off at Mayo's Gonda Building.
Not only were our fellow shuttle-riders surprisingly cheerful, but all the young doctors and nurses, women and men, half born somewhere else, were kindly, caring, interesting young people of good heart and gentle spirit.
They were patient in explaining, gentle in their probing, wise and helpful in their observation, and clearly were doing everything they could to solve the mysteries of this old man's sources of infection, and ready with their healing plans.
While daunting for us patients, they were eminently helpful in all their insights and recommendations.
On top of that, I was guided, hand-held, even wheelchair-pushed by my dear strong wife, bustling and inveterately cheerful, and our oldest daughter (the "second mother" in our growing up crew of five children) doing all the driving, interpreting complicated instructions, and selflessly serving her old parents. What a gift are both these two strong women.
The whole two-day experience in the cold, yet in the hands of wondrously helpful kind healing professionals, and among a crowd of wounded human beings, battling disease and infirmity in their own bodies, plus the horrendous cold of this coldest week, all making the very best of it. God's children, being good to each other. So many lessons learned in our experience of this historic week.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES