[Written on Friday, September 25, 2020]
I do admire the energy of so many around me. There is Molly, ever on the move. And my Bible Study friends, young and strong. And even vigorous oldsters, living with us here in “Covenant Living.” Not to speak of our own dear kids – and their kids, active, involved, and so kindly keeping track of us.
I had to admit to my Mayo pulmonologist yesterday, that I am not strong anymore, missing my exercise, and moving slowly. But oh, so glad to be alive, and walking as I’m able, beside our Lord and Leader, Friend and Savior, Jesus.
I stopped to read the paper in our library today, with its good news of the Twins, and hope of the Vikings. And even the news from Washington, as the President, amazingly vigorous, moves about the country in this strange mixture of election campaign, Covid-19 pandemic, and raging anger over race.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg has died after her life-long battle with cancer and the nation wonders about succession in the High Court.
It is all too intense to ignore. We want to “do something.” Something to help, something to heal, something to mend. And wonder sometimes if that can ever be.
Feisty Molly is leading a handful of us to at least go to our black neighbors, to sit with them in church, to declare our friendship with them, to pray with them, to sing the great hymns of faith, letting music of the heart and soul “bind us together.” Saying, we want to be Jesus’ people together, we want to be brothers and sisters.
So, this Sunday, September 27, nine of us will meet at our own church parking lot, have a prayer, and then drive to Zion Baptist Church downtown. And be “Visiting Christians,” sharing in their worship, bringing our greetings, moving toward one heart, one spirit together. And waiting to see what will happen. Perhaps some friendships formed. Maybe some plans to witness together. To make clear, as God’s people, that we do not want race to divide us anymore. We want to walk together. We want to be close as God’s children: to give voice, and hand, to being one people, loving each other – as the human community, as Christians.
There’ll be more exchanges. Want to come? Something good – for God and our neighbors – we can do for the world.
Something with the joy of Jesus.
It’s Monday morning, under leaden skies. Cars race along the freeways, heading for somewhere. To the office? On errands?
For me, it’s the hospital. Minnesota’s Heart Center at Southdale, to have my “device” checked. After a half-hour of cardiac imaging, “Good pictures,” they said. That must mean it’s working. I’m relieved.
We were late for this appointment. All that work for nothing. Doing my nebulizing. Getting dressed. Driving through two cities to get there. Big disappointment. We headed for the elevator. “Come back,” we heard them saying from the check-in desk. Second chance. My little prayer, answered. Praise God! I’m in.
The technician comes for me. Off comes my sport coat. “Your shirt, too,” she said. “Lie on your side.” She tests various spots. “Heart’s good,” she says. The lights go down. The probe begins twenty minutes later. I’m excused. Molly helps me make way for the next patient. Back to the waiting room. Molly heads out for errands.
I watch the people. A masked assortment of old folks. Old folks with hearts. One bent old couple with canes. They find seats. And wait. We all wait.
Then I hear my name. Much sooner than the rescheduled time. Whew, I’m ahead of the game. We walk to a little office. “Sit in the big chair.” More leads attached. We’ll see how much your heart can do on its own. I pass. Six months to go. Then they’ll replace the “device.” A small surgery. In six months.
To stay alive. To keep going. That’s what all these people in the waiting room want. More time. More life. I am among them.
I think about that. That precious thing – of life. Life with dear Molly. Life with precious friends. Life in the world. Trying still, to make a difference.
Is it worth it? Do I count? Will the world be better if I stay? I want to try. My Mayo doctor, a week ago, said, “You make a difference being here. People watch. They count on you. Your presence is important.” I thanked him.
I do want to stay. As long as I can be useful. And with my dear ones. And yes, most of all, with my Lord. He does dominate my days. He moves me about. He puts me beside others. We talk. We pray. Lights go on. Lights of love – and courage, and hope.
I’ll stay for that. With Him. As long as it helps.
I have enjoyed the face, these days, of that regal Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. There was that spare face, with all the lines often smiling so broadly beneath the carefully pulled-back, straight hair, slowly greying, above her white, long tabs and the simple, black robe of her high office in the Supreme Court of America.
I like it that she grew up in Brooklyn. Brooklyn was my home from very early teen-age years until my parents left the Brooklyn they loved, on my father’s mid-retirement, after 17 years as Senior Minister of Cadman Memorial Church.
My father was a city boy, and loved Brooklyn. I didn’t. It seemed an endless tangle of shops, and garages, and downtown office buildings. I didn’t appreciate enough the wonder of Prospect Park, and the “Heights” above the river, looking across toward Manhattan. I’m sure a childhood in Brooklyn made Ruth Bader strong, and encouraged her as a young woman of Jewish faith.
I was moved by her Supreme Court colleague, Antony Scalia – who as the careful conservative on the Court, found Ruth Ginsberg to be a true friend who laughed and talked with him of many things, sharing the great respect he had for her.
In this angry time, the friendship of those two brilliant and remarkable people, both in such a high place of honor in our land, their friendship was singular and real, both committed to preserving the deep meanings of America’s Constitutional principles.
Both their lives, and particularly their relationship, are salutary for all Americans and all human beings.
How could they have been good friends in a polarized land? Because there were deeper things they cared about. She was a deeply believing Jewish person from Brooklyn, and he was a committed practicing Catholic. Both were patriotic Americans. They loved God and they loved America.
There are so many good people in this land who love their country and love God. Those deep feelings of the heart are foundational. Back to basics is not a bad way to go.
Looking at foundations. At what home and country and faith are built on, is a huge source of strength.
What draws us to others is something in their character. Something that is born out of faith. Something that speaks the highest that we know.
It draws us to people who tell the truth. Who do the right. Who follow the highest. Who love God, and pray to Him. When trying to “take the high road.”
It’s the low road that leads to envy, and jealousy, and the desire to get the best of others. It always ends in hurt, and misunderstanding and the willingness to do to others damage. We’ve been shown the “good way,” the selfless way, the way of seeing and serving the other, and making of him or her, a friend.
It’s a pathway two great leaders have shown us. We could follow it. And, we would not be alone. What a good year to remember these people, and to try to follow them, on their high road. Amen?
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What a wonderful invitation that is. A call to celebrate the great things of faith and country. A call to break free. To speak out. To declare the great and good things we know, and believe.
But the time we are living through seems not to be amenable to the free speech of the human heart. Of deep beliefs being expressed. Of truths we know being told. It feels like “political correctness” writ large. A hand of preferred philosophies clapped over our mouths, demanding silence about old-fashioned, not sophisticated, truths that belong in decades past, but not now.
It’s going on in attempts at speech in the public square. It’s going on, on college campuses. In political parties. In churches. In neighborhoods. Even families.
I was invited to have lunch recently, with an old and dear friend. A Christian friend, who’s had struggle and loss in his own life. He had brought along a high school-aged grandson, who’d had a huge loss in his life.
My friend wanted his grandson to meet me, and vice versa. As the meal progressed, my friend began to tell his grandson about his own relationship with me. About our friendship. About Africa in my life, and the work of reconciliation. Dutifully, the quiet lad listened. He loved his grandpa. He respected his grandpa and his grandpa’s work. The grandpa talked about Jesus, and how he had come to know Him. About how important He was to this grandfather’s life.
Genuinely, and deeply, he told his grandson the reasons for finding faith. For walking with Jesus. I thought, what a brave grandfather. And, what a willing and open grandson. It was a powerful witness of telling truth with great love.
There was no restraining hand of political correctness holding him back. He spoke the truth in great and earnest love. It was instructive, and humbling for me.
What my friend had done was make it clear he was a Jesus man. And that he wanted his grandson to know. And to receive it as an invitation.
It was mystical, and holy. So often, within families, we don’t want to share our heart like that. We want to be cool, and if anything, indirect.
But this was straight arrow, and to the heart. It was too brave and true to be brushed off. The friend exercised his grandfatherly privilege with great earnestness, and skill. He held nothing back. He drew his grandson – and me – into the fellowship of believers. He was a brave disciple, declaring the Gospel – Good News – to his grandson.
In days of pandemic, and the sophistry of sophistication, this grandfather was showing the way of loving evangelism. He was letting his own heart show, and offering the best he knew, to his grandson.
What he did there, he could do anywhere. So could we. Just take the ball, and run through the line – for a touchdown.
What Jesus expects of us and has taught us: To speak His truth, and shine His light, in the world. Without fear. Allowing no fearful constraints of the self-appointed speech police to stop us.
Just singing our song. Hallelujah!
Your friend in the battle,
I found I just don’t know how to do Sundays without church. Saturday had been a long day. A happy one. With family. Celebrating the wonderful years of our eldest daughter’s self-giving life.
She had driven Molly and me to Big Sandy Lake on Monday for coffee with our son. Then a boat ride around the lake. With lunch after. Then the road again, and the long drive back.
You’d think that would be enough. But by early morning, she was heading to the airport to fly to Washington to see her younger brother and to pick up the grandmother’s car to drive it back to Minnesota for her son – three days on the road. Just in time for her wonderful birthday next day.
She was up for it all. The talk. The cook-out supper. The two-part Scrabble game, which she won. After which we old folks headed home for bed.
And then Sunday. We decided to watch on TV, the service led by Joel Osteen. Always a huge encouragement. Church for us wasn’t open and visiting downtown seemed too much.
Then began the longest day. Oh my. On slow time, one thing after another. Downing pills. The nebulizing. Then Sunday lunch - eggs and toast and a bratwurst.
A dozing time watching the Vikings game. Even they could not escape the languor of the day. I finally found my bed for a nap – shivering to get warm.
Finally, when we both were up, Molly’s phone rang. I heard her gales of laughter. I thought it was one of our daughters on the line.
Not so! One of our friends called to report a high-tech surprise that had her in roars of laughter as she told the story to Molly. Looking for a church service as we had done, she went online, and just for fun, typed in “Arthur Rouner.” Suddenly she was whisked to the Congregational Church of Center Ossipee, New Hampshire, and a summer church series of eight years ago. There was Molly, telling the congregation about Pilgrim Center healing work in Africa. Followed by Arthur, preaching a full-length sermon of the day! “Just like the old days,” our friend calling from Woodbury said. Arthur and Molly doing church, in far away New Hampshire, with a Jesus word for today, and one of her “thousand stories” from Africa being told by her friend Molly.
Totally unexpected. A miracle of the internet. But a message for today. She couldn’t help but call us up. Both women were overcome by the coincidence, the surprise from God that changed our friend’s day, and our day.
God was at work in an unexpected way. And then we were all in church again, but 1,000 miles away.
It turned this Sabbath Day into a day of Christian friendship. Of reminding us that the Gospel lives on. And something deep for us was being shared not only with our friend from Woodbury, but perhaps with others – who knows where? – who perhaps also inadvertently tuned into church with the Congregationalists of Center Ossipee.
A day which had seemed lost turned into a high day of remembrance, and reflection. Praise God!
So, I go to my bed with a new sense of wonder, and a renewed joy at what God can give, on His high and holy day – across the years, and across the miles.
I sit in my study which has been cleaned and rearranged and made even more amenable as a quiet place to think, and write, and wonder about the world and life and people, and the days of hope that we, as Christians, so need in these times.
Summer is over. No canoe and paddling, for me. No river. No friends of the New Hampshire north country. But, many friends here. Family here. A chance to cheer for some, along their way.
We’ve visited Zion Baptist – and been inspired. We’ve looked in on Colonial’s gradual opening. So good to see the friends. They are the more precious as time goes on. There was prayer, and a couple of good hymns. Like “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” so loved by Martin Luther King, Jr. And, “How Great Thou Art.” Beloved on at least two continents.
We sat under the canopies, out beside Colonial’s Gardens. A couple of strangers came to welcome us. It was a happy, different time. Twice a chair was brought for the old man. It was a sweet thing.
I find it’s hard to “get off on the right foot” with people, when it’s all different, with everything changed, and people are working hard to make it be all right.
It’s hard to make anything be all right, when the weeks have become months that we must be wary of each other. “Don’t get too close. Keep a distance.” And we want to fling ourselves at each other, embracing all comers, “being the Church!”
Such a subtle thing in the above. Coming like Jesus into people’s lives. Standing by. Watching. Listening. Speaking words of love, with eyes of love, and heart of love.
Not so much organizing anything, as being something. Being “present.” Inviting others into your life. As in “Come, follow Me.” “Come, be with me for a while. Converse with me. Find out who I am.” Take the steps of friendship. Not being too brittle. Or embarrassed. But mostly interested.
People ask me, “What do you do these days?” I say, “Well, I see people. People who want to see me, just to talk, and listen, and uphold.”
One man, after we’d talked, and prayed, and eaten, and were parting, suddenly, uncharacteristically, reached out and hugged me. He couldn’t help it. But, his gesture said volumes.
Little things build relationships, that become bonds. The “ties that bind.”
These are good days for surprises. They are one of God’s specialties. Happy days for you, my friend. That’s my prayer.
Written from the road:
It’s Monday morning. We’re heading north. Destination: Big Sandy Lake, for a day with our eldest. There’ll be talk, and a speedboat ride. Lunch. And then homeward bound.
Grown kids make it possible. Oldest daughter at the wheel. I ride the back seat. Watching Minnesota fields and forests pass us by. And towns - ones we haven’t seen for years.
The highways are wide open. The big traffic is coming south, heading home. We head toward our “last rose of summer.” The sun shines pale through high haze, from the fires of the West. It’s all the talk on the radio: Washington, Oregon, California, all – on fire. People’s homes, their history, their papers and possessions, gone. In a blaze of fire.
What lies ahead, but to rebuild. To remember. To begin life again! My soul can hardly hold that. As an old man, I cling to what I have. My precious wife. Our children. And theirs. My 40 years of sermons – even now being scanned. For whom: for Posterity? Maybe. For the unknown future.
I write - about life. About what it means to have lived, to have done, what I could. Not really what I should. Not the father I wanted to be. Or my children wanted me to be.
My Cheyenne River Indian friends gave me a name. Translated it is: “He is away. He will return soon.” Going and coming. Trying to be a minister. Trying to bear a message to the world. Of life. Of hope. Of following a Lord. THE Lord. Living for others. Caring for people. Changing the world.
Maybe. I pray so. Soon I will know what it all really means, “Following Jesus. No turning back. No turning back.”
So many turns in the trail. So many decisions. Such high adventure. With Molly. Following Jesus.
And the earth turns. And the fields are golden, ready for harvest. And the pale sun says, “There is fire on the earth.” There is destruction and loss. But, there is life, too. Children grow older. So do we. And we learn. And understand. All so mysterious.
The fire that comes, that changes the world, is the fire in the soul. The Light that overcomes the darkness, that gives hope, that helps us keep going, is the light within our hearts – God’s gift to each of us. In these times. And all times. Oh yay!
Love to you.
Labor Day Sunday, and I’d been to church again on the north side. The minister’s welcome to all was genuine and beaming. We all felt at home.
There was singing, and waving of arms. Some came forward to kneel at the stage – and, clearly, to cry out to God.
The sermon was a strong message on salvation – on receiving it, and claiming it, and living in the joy of it. Before long we realized the minister was telling his own story, about sin and its betrayal – in his own life. It was deeply personal. It was nothing the congregation didn’t already know. It even included prison and what he learned there. How he came to reality. To facing himself and being received by God. Being saved by God. And finding a new, loving way to live.
He offered it to us all – the joy of his salvation. He blessed Molly and me on our way. We drove home rejoicing.
Later, in the evening, a radio person told how he is trying, in our country of conflict, to break through to oneness with people he interviewed. One was Dolly Parton, who seemed to work at developing healed relationships with people. At one point she let out her secret. She said something like, “Without forgiveness, there’s nothing.” She makes that work. It is part of her faith.
I thought of our torn time. Of the differences we feel with other people. Good people. Our friends. Until that hurt, that difference of opinion – deeply felt – gets in the way.
How easily difference comes. Even in churches. And we want to get our way, quickly. And, we leave the table with all sides wounded.
While Dolly Parton walks the way of forgiveness. The way of saying sorry. Of acknowledging the change in your heart. It’s a way that takes time, and truth, and giving up self. It’s the divine way. And it works.
All over Minneapolis we need that way of dealing with each other. The forgiveness that changes everything. Jesus gave it from the cross – to heal the world. So, surely, it could heal cities, and neighborhoods, and churches, and homes.
These are days when God calls the church to step out, and take a chance, let our hearts be changed toward each other.
That’s important work for us. Before our hearts can be healed and our important relationships mended. Our work, these days, as summer ends. And we fight a pandemic to the end, and restore peace and unity among Jesus’ people – before winter comes.
“God bless us, every one!”
Funny, how things do come together, and strangely “fit,” and become one more beckoning voice, one more stirring of the Spirit to rise up and do what you’re called to do.
After attending our church’s Chorale offering on Saturday afternoon “Music in the parking lot,” Molly and I both said on the way home: “I do so miss church,” meaning the fellowship, the moving of the Spirit, the people, together touched by God.
“Why don’t we just go on our own to Gardner’s Zion Baptist Church on the northside tomorrow,” I offered, “and be there with God’s people, and hear the hymns, and receive the Word, and ‘Do Church’ after all these weeks of Sunday TV fare?” She was more than ready. “Let our daughters know,” she said. I did, and on Sunday we went.
It was that beautiful blue sky Sunday morning, the last day in August, that whispered soft of the autumn coming. We rose early, dressed up, “masked up,” and headed down Hwy 55, through Wirth Park, to Zion Baptist Church on the other side.
The welcome was warm, as the Black church knows how to give it. Calling us by name. Remembering reconciliation work we’d done together years ago. We touched elbows, smiled above our masks, found a pew a few rows back, and soon found we could “swing and sway” with the music, stand, raise arms, clap when it came time, and let out our own “Praise the Lord” and “Amen,” and welcome the Spirit that was flowing there as that Sunday congregation gradually filled the church.
Pastor Herron made sure we all were welcome, and soon was holding his Bible up and saying, “We are soldiers of the Lord, sent to do battle in this time, and this (the Bible) is our weapon!”
He drew us all in, and then introduced the preacher of the day (not himself) who picked up the theme of who we are in this time. And soon, he was distinguishing CHRONOS (continuing time), from KAIROS (this time, God’s time, God’s moment).
And he was turning to the Book of Esther, the young Jewish girl who had been chosen to be the Queen of King Ahasuerus who ruled over 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia. And read from that great story of Haman’s plot to trick the king into ordering the death of all the Jews in the realm, and the plea of Esther’s cousin Mordechai for the queen to save her people by going to the king to plead for their lives, and her own.
Esther had protested to Mordechai that “only if the king holds out the golden scepter to someone, may that person live – and the King has not called me in 30 days.”
But Mordechai’s answer to the Queen was “Do not think that in the King’s palace you will escape any more than any other Jews. FOR IF YOU KEEP SILENCE AT SUCH A TIME AS THIS, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter but you and your father’s family will perish. AND WHO KNOWS whether you have not come to the Kingdom, for just such a time as this?”
And so, the preacher laid it out for me. In this historic moment, in this time of turmoil for Minneapolis, and for America “who knows but what this is our time, the Church’s time, God’s time – through His Church – for us to be soldier’s of the Lord, using ‘the weapon’ of the Word, to speak Truth, and Love, and Hope to America to bring about the change that God wants, for our city and nation to be redeemed? And like Esther, if we perish doing it, we perish!
Our moment. Our time. Stirring. Calling. We were meant to be there on that day, to hear that word, and be summoned.
We were thrilled. Lifted up. Inspired. And so, we shall see, we will return with Molly’s “Christian Visitors.” And – who knows? Who knows?
Want to come? And see what God will do?
Bless your good hearts.
It has been a wonderful summer of sunshine, warm days, sweet evenings – in Minnesota, largely indoors, being overly mindful of laughingly touching elbows with those you greet on the street, of feeling deprived of summer as I’ve known it all my life: on the water, with paddle in my hands, making my way up Pine River, and coming back to Molly by evening for talk and quiet reading by the fireplace.
But just in recent days a stirring has come, an urge has come over me, to order my days, however simply, to writing, and thinking, and recording these passing hours in such a way as to have my soul stirred, my person confronted, my being galvanized to use this chapter of time to gain perspective, to write my reflection, to encourage others to make these “good use days.”
On too many days I wasn’t sure of the time, the date, the place of this day in the scheme of things. But I realize I CAN GET BACK TO EXERCISE. I can READ THE NEWS. I can think of THE MEANING OF THE DAYS AND TIMES.
It is not right to smash store windows because you are angry. Nor to burn businesses because I am frustrated and want to “pay back” a city or society that hasn’t wanted to do things my way.
I would like Al Sharpton to stay home, and let others find their voice and speak, shrill as they may be. In the March on Washington today, Martin Luther King’s 12-year-old granddaughter let fly the shrill protests of those around her. Not the words of peace – nor particularly of prayer, that her grandfather voiced from a brave heart of faith, on the Washington Mall five decades ago, that still stir the world.
It is far harder to speak peace, and lift up words of love, and dare to say, “I have a dream,” than to shout the anger you may rightly feel.
I can see that God has kept me home in Minneapolis this summer to see the rage in my own city and to find a way to be part of this summer’s turmoil.
I can speak faith and love, peace and hope to the little handfuls of people left to me – in my summer Bible Study at the Hilltop, at a quiet table in Starbucks at Jerry’s over coffee, with friends who want to drink coffee with me, accepting Gardner Gay’s invitation to join a Rap on Culture with Gardner and his friend in the city, Rev. Brian Herron, pastor of Zion Baptist Church, where Molly’s innocent suggestion of “Why not Christian Visitors, to go home and home to each other’s churches?” is happening, to write blogs as candid and Christ-like as I can make them for my small audience to read and think about –
- OR, maybe more: WHO KNOWS?
But, stumble as I may, I’m feeling ready, called, to “get up and go,” to step out and do – what little may be left for me to do, while there is still time.
After all, why not, after 70 years of faithful life together, with the most wonderful woman I know, doing ministry, in the parish, and of course the 25 years together in Africa bringing reconciliation to Rwanda and beyond, speaking Jesus, following Molly in asking forgiveness, going to our knees together to wash the feet of the wounded across Africa – so many, so wounded, and being their friends still?
Love you all,
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Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES