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.
There has apparently grown recently in the medical field an interest in COMPASSION, a word which in the Latin means "feeling with." It is about feeling for others, sensing their spirit, and caring to be with them.
Most of us who've been hospital patients have noticed how short the doctor's visits to our bedside are. There may be an attempt at cheeriness, but it is soon clear that the doctor's time is short, which often makes his or her attitude short, even abrupt.
And someone has figured out that that does not contribute to the patient's healing. More likely, it detracts from that process. It builds walls instead of friendship, or welcome, or openness, or any "feeling with" each other.
There are reasons, of course. The doctors are often paid for a prescribed or recommended schedule of visits - 15 minutes is about it.
To"feel with" another person takes time. Time to sit down, be at ease, pay attention, listen, watch, hear what is being said, catch the inflections in another's voice, pick up signals.
We have an effect on each other in life. Our "presence" makes a difference. Some people's presence makes other people feel better. "Presence" can calm troubled hearts. It can light up whole rooms. It can bring peace, even joy.
That's why families gather at Christmas. To share their lives. To ask about the others. Jesus did it around tables, over food.
Today a friend came to see me. Just to talk. We told stories. We talked of churches, and ministry, of our families, and friends. He smiled as we talked. Back and forth it went. We had caught up. We had spoken our affections for each other.
When he had to go, I asked him to pray for us. He did. We held hands. He lifted up my life and work to God. He held me in The Father's love. I was "blessed," over and over. It was a remarkable hour and a half.
Jesus said, after all, that not only was He the "Light of the world," but that we too, following Him, were also the "light of the world."
LIghted lives are an amazing phenomenon. Their faith makes them that way. Their love of Jesus makes them like Jesus.
We ourselves have a part to play in lighting up the world, in encouraging the world, in helping the world be healed, in overcoming the dark of this darkest time of the year.
We can be healers ourselves. We can help the doctors be better healers. We can help ourselves by remembering who we are, and Who lives within us, and Who intends to use us to heal, and change, and transform our world.
I'm a lover of tradition. Of doing things over and over, that have meaning beyond words. It is interesting to me how much people in the church confess to loving "the Gospel," and "the Bible," and how much they want to hear the old truths, and to sing the old carols, and to be told "the old, old story, of Jesus and His love."
One of our chaplains here at Covenant Living showed a video at Vespers that celebrates the tie between science and religion. Two professors doing very up-to-date things in science are also life-long believers in God. They were being interviewed by the very cheery minister of the nine-campus River Valley Church just south of the Twin Cities. I asked the chaplain to tell us about that church and his desire to go there with his wife and two grown children, and two grandchildren. He told about the church people welcoming them, and when they came back several weeks later, being remembered by them, and how the minister recalled their grandchildren's names. I thought, people come to church and want to be known, and loved. Simple as that!
Much more follows to be sure, but that was the real story. Recognition, old-fashioned love, more than the sermon and the music and the decor.
There's a hankering in people's hearts for something that is beyond words. Something that creates inside them a feeling, a sense. Of being wholly together. But not just with other people. With God. The invisible God. The One Who we know, comes unseen in His Spirit. The "Spirit of the Lord." The Holy Spirit.
Long ago Jesus told Nicodemus what He needed. "Nicodemus, you must be born again," You must allow a new Spirit to be born in you. It's not about theology. It's about welcoming God into your heart, so that you become a new person.
That's what people want. And, if they don't find it, they go away, looking for it elsewhere.
It is popular among church leaders today to say young people are abandoning the church. They're not finding there what they're looking for.
Maybe it's something in us that they don't find. Maybe we've lost something we once had. Could it be the Spirit? Are we afraid to let the Spirit come and take over our lives? Do we think the Spirit will be "too much" for people? Too much joy, too much wonder, too much power, too much love? Do we fear appearing unbalanced, too emotional, too committed?
Jesus told the disciples they would do even greater works than He did. Could that be true? Could our prayers bring healing, or joy, or new life to people? Perhaps hope in their hearts? A deep presence and assurance that they are in touch with the Living God, with Jesus in His Spirit.
I think people want that living thing. That Life to stir within theirs. That will bring them back that sense that once they had, perhaps when they were very young.
You know, this is Christmas time. The trees, the lighted candles, the sounds of the great organ, are already there, in church. The greatest tradition there is on earth. Of God coming. Coming to church, coming to you. In the mystery of this great celebration.
Simple things evoke it. Music. Carols. One has been going around in my Molly's head, and heart. It's called The Friendly Beasts. "It's my mother's favorite carol, she says.
Jesus our brother, kindly and good.
Was humbly born in a stable rude
And the friendly beasts around Him stood;
Jesus our brother, kindly and good.
"I," said the donkey, shaggy and brown,
"I carried his mother up hill and down;
I carried his mother to Bethlehem town."
"I," said the donkey, shaggy and brown.
What wonder. So simple. It brings back the beginning - of Jesus. And the beginning of Molly, when her mother sang to her.
It's Christmas time. Time for the simpler things. The great, yes greatest tradition. Bless you, these mystic days.
Molly and I attended a funeral a few days ago. It was for a handsome, composed, competent man. He had taken his own life. We hear of many shootings these days. Even this week. Often, before he's doine, the shooter also, in the end, kills himself.
As Christians, we feel called to compassion. We think about how hard life can be; about inner burdens people carry; about depression as illness that often overtakes everything. We think about the "blue" side of Christmas; of "the dark of the year."
We are sad. We shake our heads. We take into our own lives the wounds of others.
We find returning soldiers unable to bear the memories of war who then kill themselves. Out on "the Rez" our journeying Pilgrim Center friends were sometimes begged to come. "We need you," they'd say. "We are having a suicide a day."
We go through many emotions as we try to fathom the meaning of suicide in our time.
We know for sure that every life is precious. It is a life given by God. A life for which He had plans and hopes and dreams. It is not our right to take any life. But, how to protect it? How to keep any hand -- especially that person's own hand from rising against it.
As faith people, Jesus calls us to look at life: specifically His life. "Come with Me," was His call. "Come on the journey. I will show you many things." And so, He did. Sick people healed. Blind people seeing. Lame people walking. Dead people rising.
His Word was power. Power which came from the Spirit. And the Spirit, they saw, was full of love. Jesus said,"I am the Light. And, you are the light of the world."
Written on December 4, 2019
Today, December 4, we had a day of interpreting the intentions and understandings of "the founding fathers." In this case for supporting a certain view of what constitutes "impeachment" of America's president. One party wants it, and one doesn't.
At stake was the articulated fear of the dividing of our country. One side wants to impeach the president by Christmas. The other would like to see the people decide, in the next election.
I have just finished reading a book by the New York Times #1 best-selling author, Eric Metaxas. It is called "If You Can Keep It." Benjamin Franklin came out of the Constitutional Convention and was confronted by a certain Mrs. Powell of Philadelphia, who confronted him with this question: "Well, Doctor," she asked, "What have we got? A republic or a monarchy?" Franklin shot back: "A republic, madam -- if you can keep it." The people would have to make it work.
The Constitution was a promise. But the people, by their own lives, their own spirit and commitment, would be the ones to make it work.
John Adams, a member of that Convention, was to say something like "Democracy is for a believing people." This new land would be built upon the believing faith in God, of its people. Alexis de Tocqueville, the great student of America and its revolution said, "Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor without faith."
Freedom requires virtue, and virtue comes from faith. A quotation misattributed to de Toequevilles' famous book, "Democracy in America," says, "Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great."
We must be careful as we speak for the founders and their dream for America. By the end of his book, Metaxas goes back to the vision of the Puritans coming to Boston, and earlier the Pilgrims to Plimoth. They were a movement of courageous faith, seeking freedom for religion in the new world. John Winthrop cast the vision in his sermon aboard the Arabella, quoting scripture, "We are as a city set upon a hill, with the eyes of the world upon us." It was the shared Pilgrim-Puritan dream that what would grow here would be a servant nation to the world.
I dare to believe that this critical time must be a time when we reclaim our history, and understand the depth of its purpose, and that we stand for the things God wants for this land - that we have rights to live - every human being. That we be servants to each other. That we care for all people. That we work to be fair. That we be people of faith.
This is a time to recover Jesus' vision of our being one with Him and with each other, and with the Father in heaven Who made us and made this world for us.
It is time for a bold spirit, a deep faith, a certain daring in our living -- and not for a timid "political correctness."
A humble heart will be crucial. A brave faith will be our foundation. That is what will give unity a chance once again in the life of our nation, and of our communities.
God is giving us this time.
Written last week -
These are odd days for this Senior Guy. The cold creeps in from the dropping temperatures as weather people warn of "The Thanksgiving snow storm" that is on its way across the country. I would love to be warmer, but in America just now, getting to one of those places is a daunting prospect. A car trip would be too much to handle, and a plane trip would offer coughs and colds I just don't want to contemplate.
Which means enduring "in place." Making do. Bundling up. I'd rather stand and shiver. What I know I must do is exercise. So today I drove myself back to the Flagship Athletic Club for my second round toward getting back to my nearly daily routine from before summer.
All summer I'd paddled my canoe several times a week. It was exhilarating and inspiring. I was on Pine River. I looked at flowers on riverbanks. I watched the water flow. I plied the beautiful, large sup paddle Molly found for me perhaps five years ago. I yodeled out a greeting to the two occupied houses along the shore. My friends there called back, even came to the water's edge to chat with me. It was always the highlight of my day.
I felt I was gaining strength. I came back in late September expecting a busy fall. I began to see people. I preached on one Sunday afternoon at Friendship Village.
But then - whammo! I wasn't well. I knew it. Molly got me to the hospital. The diagnosis: pseudomonas pneumonia with sepsis.
Not good. Seven days in hospital. Weak again. Three weeks of Home Care from occupational and physical therapists. A nurse to check my blood. My breathing still compromised.
How was I ever going to get "on the road again"? I could only do about one thing a day. I knew I had to be careful. I could do nothing but go slow.
Today I made my second trip to the Flagship. That "old gang of mine" found in the locker room. Art, the NW curbside baggage man. Jim, from a locker near mine. John, 89-year-old pal next to him. Greg, one of the founders of Flagship. The ebullient Dave with profuse Irish welcome.
Encouraged, I managed a walk of 50 to 60 steps. I did some breathing exercises. I rowed - 40 strokes. Then, to the shower. What a sense of accomplishment and exhilaration as I drove home.
Earlier in the day was my 1-1/2 hour meeting with my wonderful helper Laury, who types sermons, mails letters, sends emails, runs the website, and "Keeps me in touch with the real world."
So there! Two things done today. Some encouraging emails. A GOOD day.
So, how will I "live usefully"? There isn't yet the strength to DO much. I can't go into the streets. But, I find, people will come to me. We sit by the fire in the common at Covenant Living. We talk, and pray. It is mutual encouragement.
Molly has urged me to "Be" rather than "Do." And helps me to be a friend. A little group will meet with me for Advent Bible Study at the Hilltop Restaurant - 7:00 am to 8:30 am - on three Thursdays, in the dark.
I pray for Christian usefulness - "BEING THERE" for whomever will have me. Enough for now. Praise God.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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