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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In a time when the land we love is divided in our vision of America’s meaning and purpose for the world, it has seemed increasingly clear that the work of restoring America’s soul is the work of the Church.
Institutions like government, and a university, and family, and community can play their part but responsibility rests primarily with the church. It rests with those who deal with the heart and soul of people. Who understand what the “soul” of a nation is, has been, and can be.
I believe the church is called by its Lord to do this work not just in the denomination form to which it subscribes. But in its best understanding of the Christian character for all churches.
We begin with: “Jesus is Lord.” Jesus is the Lord and Teacher. Jesus is the Divine Son of God Who came down from heaven to save us from the ego and pride that prepared the way for our sin and turning away from His Father in heaven Who had made us, and made “all things bright and beautiful” for His family on this earth.
Our life centers in Jesus. And Jesus and the Cross make us humble. And forgiving. And able to love, and do the work of patiently restoring human lives. All delicate business for sure.
These gifts are sought after in all denominations of the church. They are the common stuff of the Christian’s life, and the church’s life.
We may go about the same work differently – but the heart is there, as the same, in all of us.
And so Americans, with a country we love together, we can find our way to the commonalities that bring us together.
We would be grateful for your prayers for Molly’s little “Christian Visitors” program, which is welcoming willing visitors to show up as fellow Christians who care, back and forth, at Zion Baptist and Colonial Church, as we get into September. It’s a small step, but we hope important.
Bless you as we feel our way together in these – at the very least – “interesting times.”
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES