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,
[ If you are new to reading blogs written by Arthur and would like to be notified of future postings, please send an email to email@example.com ]
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.”
All of us live, one way or other, remembering our history. Remembering the good people in our lives, remembering “the things my mother taught me,” remembering friends of old. And, we relish the thoughts. We love to recall the people, and what they stood for, and how they helped.
There are those great influences in our lives – a teacher, a professor, a comrade. For me, it was James Stuart Stewart, my friend and professor at New College, Edinburgh, who preached a Good Friday sermon in the Union Seminary Chapel on “The Rending of the Veil,” which opened the way for heaven for me, and out of my grief over the death, under my care, of my 7th grade Sunday School student in New York, who drowned in the church swimming pool on a class outing, when I was myself a 20s-something theological student. James Stewart was a model for me in preaching, in praying, in living. I love to think of him and remember his ringing, lyrical Scottish voice and how, in his preaching he gave me Jesus in all the wonder of His personality.
As our own city went up in flames on Pentecost Sunday at the end of May this year, after the death of George Floyd on a street corner in south Minneapolis, rage rose, people marched, “systemic racism” became the cry, and we, as a city seemed to go “off the rails.” No one waited to take time to cool down, to know exactly what really had happened, and to respond in a way that could build on some very good things in our city, good people who had done good – in the police department, in city government, in our colleges and schools, in our churches and homes. We were overtaken – in some ways literally, by people whose intentions were destructive, who believed chaos was in their best interest, no matter who got hurt.
It’s important to remember our roots, especially our spiritual roots, both personally, and as a church. We came from heroes who dared a forbidding ocean to find in a wilderness land the freedom to live their radical faith and the vision it stirred for a life of freedom for all people. A vision they wrote into their Mayflower Compact, that echoed again 150 years later in their new country’s Declaration of Independence and the founding Constitution of their new nation’s life.
Their church and community life was founded in Jesus and His promise to be their leader whenever they “gathered as two or three together in His Name,” He would be there. He would lead their thinking and planning, through prayer until they came to conclusions that led them to say, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” Jesus led them together, by unanimous agreement toward decisions in which they were of “one mind and heart.”
It was not independent democracy, but an achievement of unity in the whole gathered group. Their being “together,” was a sign that the Spirit was leading them. They called it “the Church Meeting.” And the buildings they built in which to hold their weekly Sabbath gathering, they called “The Meeting House.” Making the careful distinction that they as a body gathered was “the Church.” But the “Meeting” became the means, the process, for their governance as a church. Indeed, the Congregational Church meeting gave them the exact form, later, of their “town” meeting.
The distinctions were subtle, but the results were profound. Yet today we call our meetings “town” meetings, and we look downtown to law offices and commercial businesses for the principles and models of “how to run a business.” But of course, that’s not what a church is. It’s a “church,” not a “business.” And, its interest is not in efficiency, but in God’s people undertaking and doing God’s work TOGETHER – in unity. It is a genius way of church life. More relevant today than ever before.
Especially in honest people’s sorting out any spirit or practice of “racism” that has crept into their life. Something Jesus our Lord is trying again to teach us, begging us to follow Him in ways that will unify and purify our hearts, and our intentions toward each other.
It is our way now, to look back, in order to go forward. Praise the Lord!
The Pandemic affects us all, as we are charged to keep our distance, and to wear masks – and then, be drawn into surreal grief that envelops our country as over 170,000 people die as a result of being personally infected by the Covid-19 virus. Many were older folks, but not all. Many of them, and others were taken down because they were already vulnerable with diseases and health conditions they already had. I am myself one of the latter, very vulnerable group.
So, we are wary, unsettled, but by God’s grace, not afraid. Always careful.
Yet, with all that, the division over race, is the more complicated. We have lived separately, in our own neighborhoods, our own regions, our own isolated worlds, not really choosing, but drifting into isolated conclaves. But suddenly now, with one killing too many, of a black man on a street corner in Minneapolis by a policeman who held him down on the pavement by a knee on his neck, as the man begged, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe,” making us all sick at heart that that kind of violence could be so casually used. Clearly, it should never have happened.
Thousands of citizens poured into the streets of cities across the country, and the world. Not all young. Not all black. Just people, enraged at the injustice of it all. Joined, as the description became deeper, and the mulling and shouting more confused, and the restraints more and more withdrawn, by the hooded, black-clothed dress of destruction, with their torches, and firebombs, their bricks and their axes, positioning their weapons strategically, and leading the leaderless through smashed store windows, to loot and steal valuable items from defenseless shops – many owned by refugees from Somalia trying to make their way in America. Over $82,000,000 worth of loss the newspapers are now reporting.
Cries went up, to “defund the police.” Meetings are held to dismantle some of the key structures holding our fragile society together. Leaders of the Chaos say looting is reparations. Destruction is justified. Destroying livelihoods is payback.
We are close to the “last days” whenever they may come. These are the days for people who care, to dare, to do something. There is more than enough time. The need is for will. For good hearts to find a way to do good, to do something good, to bring people together.
We have a friend who came as a black kid from Cleveland to go through Edina’s ABC (A Better Chance) program. He came back after college to direct first Edina’s ABC program and then Eden Prairie’s. He’s been a friend for many years. He’s helping Zion Baptist Church downtown, with its programs. He invited Molly and me to come down to Zion for a “Rap on Culture.” Our friend Gardner was there, waiting for us. We talked, and prayed. Pastor Bryan Herron came later after work of healing in the city.
My Molly said, “Why not gather some ‘Christian visitors,” - ten from Colonial and ten from Zion to meet, to go to each others’ churches for worship and to just “visit?” The Christians who talk to each other, who pray with each other, who worship God together – to hold up our city to Him?”
We’re going to do it. A half-dozen from Colonial and from our Hilltop Bible Study have said, “I want to come.” Soon after Colonial Church opens up in September for face-to-face worship, we’ll pick a Sunday, gather and go. And SEE WHAT HAPPENS.
Something friends will do together. In faith. With hope. And love. Somehow it will happen.
Pray that it will. In the Lord’s own way.
Mid-August has come and gone. Always in New Hampshire, by our lake, August meant clear air, down from the mountains, blue skies swept clean by August breezes, with days of whitecaps on the lake, and – in the old days – the unmistakable call to the high places, the mountaintops, the far view, the “closer walk with Thee,” then home, to the cool evening and a fire in the fireplace, for reading, and talking, and being together as a family.
In the dining room Molly would put out the Scrabble board, and two or three children would gather round to match their wits with hers. Sometimes I might sit to one side with my sketch book to see if I could catch the likeness of one or two of them.
In later years I’ve been content to read, after the thick book of American history, relieved by a Louis L’Amour record of the west. Some evenings were good for letters to just say to someone dear to me, but far from me, that I loved them, and why.
The handwritten letter in later years, has been more often the choice – for a way to stay in touch. My penmanship has deteriorated, but my joy in the remembering, and writing has increased as a wonderful exercise of the heart, to let people know I remember, and that they are dear to me, and near to my heart. “Blest be the tie that binds!”
August always held invigorating days – just by the air – with the hint of autumn coming, the time of deep reds and gold in the maple leaves, and oak. I could paddle up the Pine River and see beautiful forest trees having been touched by an invisible hand.
Fall coming, with brilliant colors, always made it easier to face the prospect of winter. Sad as it seemed, it always said, “This is my Father’s world,” and it will turn, round again, always bringing another spring, and another summer. Because it’s God’s world, and He cares.
And, if I fall into sadness, on a melancholy day in summer, it comes quickly back to me – often as my wise and faithful Molly’s own understanding – as she says, “We are so blessed to have this long, good life together. What a gift. What a gift.”
Love you, friends.
How they do come, out of the night, and in broad daylight – with the screech of brakes, and the crunch of metal, and the blood of sudden death hurled down upon someone so near and dear to you that words cannot describe the despairing pain of losing the life of someone you just can’t live without.
Of course, it is not always the horror of the highway. More often it is the unbidden pain of some invading alien presence in the delicate balance of your own body’s life. You don’t know how it entered, or made progress through your bloodstream, or into a critically important organ. And, ominously, it grows and takes over space that does not belong to it.
In a thousand ways the dark invader comes, and we pray and pray, and see wise doctors and rejoice when victory is won, and the invader is defeated. Until the next visitor appears. And we cry out: “Is this life? How can this be?”
When we’re “young and strong” it seems we could last forever. We eat and sleep. We exercise and “take care of ourselves.” And then – the visitor. The unwelcome visitor.
An email came this weekend that a beloved colleague’s sister died in an automobile accident. The children with her are in hospital. “How can it be?” we ask.
But, we know how. Because, this is the world. This IS life. The forces of darkness are there, all the time. “The Devil goes about, like a roaring lion, seeking whom he can devour,” Jesus said, long ago. In our fallen world, which began as a garden of innocence and new life, as God’s wonderful creation began.
But the Tempter came, with his insinuating suggestions, and the idea of power was planted, and taking it away from God, and rising up in pride ourselves. And serving self was born – not others. Not God.
And there is that human battle we all face – the dark forces that work to blot out that wondrous Light of Life and Love that Jesus brought, and is.
Time teaches us. And God knocks on the door of our heart from almost the first day, telling us to look up, to look out, turn to Him, and be ready. So we will not despair, not go down in defeat, not give up, not give in.
Oh, the world is so beautiful. And people are so precious. And blessings are poured out upon us in such abundance. Then the sudden surprise comes, and we learn loss, and grief, and loneliness. But also Hope. And Help. And Love. God’s love. And wisely we learn to navigate this strange world of strife, of Good and Evil.
And the great challenge is to become PEOPLE OF THE WAY. The way that was sent to us by God, through Jesus His Son, Who Himself faced the cross, and betrayal, and death. Yet, through it all showed us that He is the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE, and is Himself our Hope and the ANSWER.
And, as we learn it, we are privileged to be the bearers of that great answer, that great hope for human life, in the world – the hope and healing of Christ the Lord. Oh, yay! Good News!
Love to you, in these days.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
|Arthur Rouner Ministries||
ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES