[written on 7/21/21]
I was up early today, to shave, take my pills, dress, and be ready to roll if the appointment in my book was still on. Turns out, it wasn’t, but would take place in another week.
It would be a gathering of friends, surrounding a minister to the people and government of Kenya. For decades Sam Owens had been a presence in Kenya and beyond, working through the National Prayer Breakfast movement, reaching larger and larger groups each year. But, on the side, he and his wife had welcomed many travelers to their Kenya home and their life and faith witness there, including the Windpump “Boys of Summer,” who traveled in Africa under the guidance of World Vision and our group of five churches in Edina, who had ventured out to Africa in 1982 and had their lives profoundly moved.
Sam’s lovely wife died within the recent months – a huge loss for Sam and their children. He is traveling now in the U.S., visiting friends, and I’m sure, doing fund-raising indirectly.
But, the relationship is real, and we all are eager to see him – to extend the hand of Christian fellowship, and be of what comfort we can, and assure him of our love as he goes forward into a new life on his own.
Of course, he has important ministry works waiting to be done in Kenya and East Africa, and we, his friends here, hope to hear about that, and the plans he has, and the projects that are underway. We want to encourage him if we can and be supportive as we are able.
Sam’s work is relational, as it has always been. He moves through friendship, lifting up the name and love of Jesus wherever he goes. We try to do the same, here at home. Witnessing as we go, holding each other up, praying for each other when we can be together – AND when we are apart.
So, gathering for breakfast in Minneapolis will be a checking-in time on each other. Catching up on what’s happening in our various lives – Sam’s and ours, praying for a host of things, hearing what the needs are, writing them down so we can really help, and do what we say we’ll do.
I know from my recent hospital days how real those needs are, and how much those prayers count – giving us very life.
So, that’s the task of Christian friends. That’s the reason for breakfast, or lunch, or coffee together. To be at table, as Jesus so often was, with His dearest friends.
I’m trying to do that with mine here at home. With the old Confirmation kids of 50 years ago, who still want to talk, and pray, and encourage me, and be themselves encouraged. My wonderful friend and assistant sets up those meetings for me. And sends letters, and types my odd blogs, in the hope they will lift some friend on the way.
It’s what you do when you’re not so steady on your feet anymore, when house calls, as in the old ministry days, aren’t possible anymore, and even the telephone, in its cell phone form is sometimes baffling.
I had to bring the Faith Line to an end. But, I can write. And I can sit by the fireside at home, or in a coffee shop, and listen, and try to discern how the battle goes for the friends in life Jesus has given me, and what word I can add for them as they head out on the road of their lives each day.
That is pure joy for me, as I too, travel the road of life with the greatest Friend of all, our Lord and Savior Jesus. Join me, would you?
[If you are need of someone to listen, or would just like to share a cup of coffee with Arthur, please contact me through his email address: email@example.com – Laury]
It’s high summer. And, we’re beginning to see people again. That is, they call, and want a date to talk. About themselves. Their life. Their history. Their hurts.
Molly’s our best conversationalist. But, she listens, too. And, that’s the key to healing conversation. Just listening. And then praying. Asking God to hold this friend close, to hear his or her heart. To dare to face the wounds they bring. About family life. About disappointments. About hurts. Even hurts from church. Of trying to make peace that just didn’t come. Of feeling they were at the Church of the Closed Door. Which really felt like the church of the closed heart.
Part of the wound seems to be in the expectation that church is where the door is always open. That church is where they always listen. That at church they understand. Because they have the Bible, and Jesus – Whom we all know loves every soul, even the prickly, awkward ones. Even the wrong ones. He came into the world precisely to hear the hearts of the outsiders, of the difficult ones. The ones with a different view from His.
The surprise is that church so often doesn’t listen. Doesn’t seem to want to listen. Has its mind already closed, shutting you out.
And you don’t know what to do. You don’t want to make trouble. You don’t want to offend. You wanted to talk about what seems to you to be true. About hurt in the beloved community.
But, that seems to be a no-no. Something church doesn’t want to hear.
What most people do is disappear. Fade away. Leave. Will other churches be the same? Or, is that the way “church” just is? They think they know your mind. They know your heart. They want you to resign. And go away.
They think others will come. People who’ll agree. Younger people, who’ll bring a new day. Who’ll fill the pews, who’ll be “our kind.”
National statistics show it’s everywhere. It’s the new day. Where church doesn’t fit.
Strangely, that doesn’t sound like Jesus’ conversations. He stands His ground. He asks uncomfortable questions. He says, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” He writes with His finger in the sand. The embarrassed accusers drop their stones, and walk away. “Does no one condemn you?” Jesus asks the declared sinner. “No man, Lord,” she answers. “Neither do I condemn you,” says Jesus. “Go and sin no more.”
Jesus faces sin. He faces self-righteousness. He changes everything. His love changes the game. His love uncovers the way forward. His love invites the wounded ones into the New Community.
That’s the peculiar way. The Way He calls His Church to be.
Bless you all.
How easy to take for granted the good that others do for us. How easy to assume that we deserve what people do selflessly for us, forgetting that they likely have made a very conscious decision to give up something they value in order to do us a favor in generous time or a ride to an appointment or an event.
Sometimes it’s actual money that pays a bill for us, or offers an expensive gift that we could never have had if the responsibility had been ours to pay.
One night a daughter appeared at our door with chunks of steak freshly cooked at their outdoor grill. “We just can’t eat it all,” was her explanation. “Let us give it to you.” When it came, two ears of corn had been added to the package. We felt we had a feast that night.
Another child had driven the three days across county, paid gas and hotel bills to work alone for four days to prepare a mutually-owned family house for summer renters to come, with the same expensive trip back at the end – never asking for help for those costs. She just did it – gladly. Out of the goodness of her heart.
We do not have to even the score. We do not have to pay her back. We can begin by being grateful. By remembering our debt is real, that we can repay by never forgetting the grace with which we have been treated. By remembering to “do unto others” what they have so generously done to us. By saying “Thank you” and being grateful. By finding ways we can serve this dear one whom we love so much. And by responding intuitively -- to others as they have done to us. By so living that way, we do something substantive to create the new community, the beloved community, this fellowship of Jesus’ people on the earth, as He called us to do, and so sharing the spirit of love and the power of healing with the community.
Jesus reminded us to live this way. It is our work to so change the world by being ourselves changed. It will be work. And very good work. Important for the coming of the Kingdom, through us.
It’s love’s work. Wonderful work.
Tonight we go to the Park. Edina’s JOHN PHILIP SOUSA MEMORIAL BAND will play in a park in Golden Valley. Molly and I are going – for old times’ sake. For Independence Day. An American tradition. Even – an Edina tradition.
The first John Philip Sousa Band gathered and founded long ago, in the late 1960’s, in Edina by Scott Crosbie. One of their earliest concerts was at the Colonial Church of Edina, when it was on Wooddale Avenue at one of the first “Summer Thing” concerts on the lawn in front of the church. Each July we had outdoor music between the church and Wooddale Avenue just at sunset time. And usually, the first concert of that wonderful summer season was a pick-up Edina band called the Scott Crosbie John Philips Sousa Memorial Band.
A couple of hundred people had gathered on the lawn with blankets, lawn chairs, with coffee and punch being served. Scott Crosbie was an Edina boy who loved good band music. There were many good band people in Edina. Music teachers. School musicians, graduates of college bands. Scott Crosbie recruited them. They became a tradition in our town. And they made that early July Sunday evening one of their first venues.
We were gathered before the band arrived. And then, suddenly we heard it -the brass band playing, up the street, probably outside the Edina Country Club. They became a marching band. The faint sound grew louder and louder. It was wonderful! “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” Sousa marches. Down the street they came, making beautiful music. Standing applause as they found their places on the front lawn. Scott Crosbie leading them. What an evening it was.
They played at Wooddale. They later played at Colonial Way. The same march to the neighborhood, and the congregation that gathered at the Colonial Way parking lot.
We felt the band was sort of ours. A community tradition we shared with those eager young men and women. Ralphie Campbell was in the band and a few others from our congregation. So much fun. And, what a way, in early July, to celebrate Independence Day.
It’s been years since I’ve heard them. I wonder if Scott Crosbie still leads. Or, if others, like Ralphie Campbell still play?
I’ll find out tonight, as the band comes to a park in Golden Valley. Twenty folks from “Covenant Living” will be taken to the park to enjoy the ambiance of the summer evening, and the thrill of John Philip Sousa’s traditional American band music. I’ll be looking for Scott and Ralph, wondering if they’ll be there.
Of course, it is now decades later. Probably 30 years. It’ll be the last hurrah for Independence Day for this year.
Molly and I will sit on our borrowed lawn chairs and enjoy every minute of it.
Tradition. A wonderful American tradition. Indeed, an Edina, Minnesota and Golden Valley tradition. To help us remember our country – this wonderful land that’s been so good to us. A time to think about our best traditions. Of faith. And, founding, and patriotism.
Thank God for these good ways to thank God for what He’s given us in our land, and our people. A time to be glad, and give thanks.
Let’s all say a prayer, of heartfelt thanks.
Your comrade, of this land we love,
Our little apartment of a small living room, with a tiny kitchen on one side and an alcove for me to study on the other, two small bathrooms and an adequate bedroom, has become a place of “old papers.” We are forever trying to reduce the piles.
Today, the 5th of July, after a quiet Independence Day of church at Colonial and waffles for lunch at a daughter’s house, I am up in a quiet house at 4:30 am, shaving, washing my face, and finally deciding to write my blog for this week.
I sit in my alcove as the room becomes brighter with the light of morning, and I shuffle papers, seeking a writing pad, and stumble upon a packet of letters from about ten years ago. One was a respective, loving letter from a life-time friend who had been in my first confirmation class, telling me she had just learned of my brother’s death in the Hitchcock Hospital in Hanover, NH, and how I had flown home from Rwanda to see him before he died, noting that I had washed his feet, and how she wished she might have done that for her mother who had died not long before that.
The next was a letter from a man at WCCO Radio with a story he had to tell me about how he had come to Colonial Church on Wooddale Avenue, and how much it had meant to him, and about how, after 30 intervening years he had come back to that church building under its new ownership by Wooddale Church of Eden Prairie.
“I just had to share with you a story, a blessing really, an amazing blessing that confirms once again that God so loves us and is so involved in our entire Christian walk, that he can see blessings coming for us 30 years down the road when we have no clue as to what he might be up to.
“I just recently got involved in a new church, in the actual renovation of the building, on nightly and Saturday painting teams and just last week with the usher training and the like. One night last week a fellow painter and I were finishing off one of the bathrooms, and he mentioned that he had gone to this church when he was a little boy in 3rd grade. He mentioned the pastor at this church who was pastor for decades. And when he said his name, my heart jumped. I was still paralyzed, and filled with such joy and praise for God I could not keep myself from crying at that very moment.
“Because 30 years ago as a young disco king living the life separated from God, the fellows I was rooming with, all students at Bethel, would drag me out of bed and we would go to church on Sunday. And I marveled at the pastor, and the ministry of this church. I remember sitting in the pew, half awake soon to be fully awakened by you, Dr. Rouner. And I would watch you preach as you stared out the side window and spoke so lovingly of our Lord. I loved that church. I loved you and your ministry. I learned so much from you and you would strangely come to mind when I needed self-correction.
“For the next 30 years I would think about that church, about you, Dr. Rouner, about my time there. I would pray for you through the years overseas in Guam and wherever I landed in life, about how I would give anything to be a member of that church and preach in that pulpit someday. And the thoughts of that church stayed with me my whole life.
“I would return to Minnesota eventually in 1994 but have yet to find a church home. With a Catholic raised wife, harmony has been difficult.
“When my painting buddy mentioned your name, I knew God had just blessed me beyond what I could ever imagine and will ever deserve. That church I was painting, the church I would soon be a member of, was the very church you ministered over and I had attended 30 years ago. That was Colonial of Edina, the church that was handed over to Wooddale Church that would soon become Wooddale of Edina. I had no idea. None.
“When I walked out that night of what was once just a building, those walls became home for me. God had brought me out of the fire so many times in life, and blessed me in such amazing ways that here I could serve him in the very church I had never forgotten for all of these years. And soon I will share my faith story from the pulpit I had always hoped I would stand in.
“How about that?
“Blessings to you always.
“Your brother in Christ.”
It was a letter I just couldn’t throw away. And now it tells the story of what a church can mean to a young person, and even over 30 years of his life. It touched my heart. And maybe would touch yours.
People often say, “I don’t want to live until I’m old and feeble.” Jesus warned Peter about life, saying, “Some day they will come and dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Saying essentially, “You won’t be the one to decide. Life will demand of you that others will direct the course of your days. You will have to learn to live with grace, to develop an amenable spirit, a cooperative heart, to go along with those who are trying to help you. You’ll have to live without bluster and command.”
To themselves people say, “Not me. I will not go easy into that good night.”
At a 90th birthday party I had a chance to watch the woman I love most dearly, my companion and teammate in life for 70+ years, handle attention, respond to people across the world who were telling the truth about her, about her grace and kindness, and how she handles life – from friends, even from the State House in Uganda, to people who had traveled the dusty roads of Africa with her and seen her in the midst of people’s sorrows and sin, their grief and anger, as they struggled to forgive those who had taken the lives of their family.
Mama Molly was remembered for leaping out of a car in the midst of an afternoon traffic jam in Kigali, Rwanda, and directing traffic and disappearing into her car after the jam was unsnarled. For saying to our host after a dinner in his home, “Well, if you’re the one to be the next president of the Pilgrim Center, I hope you’ll tell us!”
There were tears and laughter as people told of the remarkable wisdom and forthright approach to life of this petite and surprising white-haired woman who saw to the heart of the matter and fearlessly declared what she knew – whether in her own home or on a public street in a land 10,000 miles away.
This was the mother of five, who got tired of hearing the stand-up party conversation of people’s off-hand reports of their jobs and achievements in the marketplaces of their days, who finally said when asked what she did, replied, “I hold the world together, what do you do?”
This woman has learned in her long years who she was, and that she could be herself and tell the truth in any company, with an ingenuous smile, from her humble heart.
She has helped her children be themselves, even as she was finding ways to be herself, and helped us all to live with at least the occasional grace of living for others. We are still learning, and she is our teacher.
Though 90, she still walks fast, and thinks precisely and acts without fear. She is sure of God her Father, and knows what He’s said He’ll do, He will. All will be well she promises – even though different.
She remembers the Spirit coming to her when she was four, sitting in a sunbeam on the floor of a simple Quaker Meeting House in Purchase, New York, and was my quiet, confident encourager when I was overwhelmed by the Spirit at a Catholic school in Collegeville, at the age of 40.
She learned early to forgive, and in all our years has never held a grudge. We think there is much to do in the time that is left. We try to meet the days with hope, as they come, knowing Whose hand we hold.
In these days of the world’s, America’s, and the Church’s need, each day counts. What a good time to be alive.
Love you all,
Arthur, your friend.
There is a great Biblical phrase which comes back often to me. And, I’m feeling it today as I take my seat on our lovely balcony, after supper, at the hour of sunset. It is this observation: “the day goeth away, and the shadows of evening are stretched out.”
It’s a sense about the day that’s been, and is now dropping into night. It is sunset, when so much changes. Even buildings, like ours here that surround the courtyard of our “Covenant Village.” In the morning, dawn’s light was fresh upon them. Until later, in the heat of the day, they were awash with brilliant noonday sun.
A soft wind blew through this afternoon and the lovely linden trees, growing tall outside our second floor apartment, gave a lacy pattern of light and shade to our balcony. I sat here, writing as the soft summer wind blew, and I could look at the sky and our pond, and think about all kinds of things.
Now, in the evening hour, I’m back, writing, listening to bird sounds and fountain splashing, and water rippling.
Molly got me, as the old father in our family, to phone the fathers and thank them for the loving work they do so well, attending to their families. And one of them is getting supper for one of his granddaughters. Something I think I could never do.
I began to think of how important families are, and the connections they provide. Molly talks by phone with our children almost daily.
How strange that we can tell how their day is going by the sound of their voices. The tone. The hesitations. The pauses. The rush of news. Or their silences reveal sometimes, deep thought.
I began to think of all the connections we have in life. Of the people out there, half a world away, who mean so much to us and who some, quite regularly, call or write to us, to say they care about us, or what they learned from us, or what it means to them to be “in our lives.”
Such an honor when they want you to know that, about them – “to have you in our lives,” they say.
Connections. Somebody out there caring. Remembering. Telling you that you mean something to them. We say that too, to others. “You count. You made a difference. You brighten our days. You give meaning to life itself, for us.”
And so we call. We write. We journey out, to be with them. And arrange to just meet for coffee.
It’s a “thing” in life to most of us. The value of connections. Jesus says, “Come with me. Be with me. Listen to me. We need to be together. And, not just now. But always. Forever. Personal relationships.”
That’s how we live. How we care. How we know what’s right. How we value – Connections. “Behold, I am with you always,” He says. So true. So important. Let’s keep it that way.
I’ve never liked the end of life protocols that hospitals, and caregivers, and often families want you to sign. So the near and dear will know what to do with you when they feel you’re too sick, too impaired, to decide for yourself when you’re at the door.
The medical people want it in writing. In fact, everyone seems to want your will about your dying to be in writing.
But my mind knows it’s not that simple. They assume one of your present illnesses will rise up to smite you. That the chronic leukemia will take over and be the one to cause your death. Or that the long-term lung disease, mycobacterium avium will be the guilty party. Or that the newest contestant, your kidneys, will get busy and decide to make more stones, like the three big ones that sent me to surgery will be the culprits. Or the swallowing difficulty which probably caused the two decades of coughing which I brought home from Africa and is now dominating my diet will be the interloper who gets the nod.
They are all there. Their time will come. But no one knows when. And, of course, it may be off the street, in the car, or someone’s growing anger. I had two death threats, long ago, both from within the flock.
Friends say, “Arthur, you’re ‘finishing well, we’re trying to follow you.” The Apostle Paul said he was “running the race.” The trouble is we don’t know where the finish line is.
What we do know, is that our life is in God’s hands. God already knows the year, the day, and the hour. He knows our length of days. He’s already decided. “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.” He’s already decided, long ago. His word is, to us: “Don’t worry.” Don’t ask for it. Be ready to take it when it comes. Just be ready.
I’ve sung to my congregation when I was their minister: “Well, I want to be ready when He comes. Oh, I want to be ready when He comes again. He’s comin’ again so soon.”
I do want to be ready – in my heart, in my spirit. I expect Him. I expect Him to keep His promise, “In My father’s house are many rooms, and I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again, and take you to myself, that where I am there you may be also.”
That’s what Molly and I tell ourselves. We will be with Jesus. And, we will be with each other. There’s a place already being prepared for us. We don’t have to worry.
And, as He said so often, to so many: “Don’t be afraid.” We don’t have to make a place for fear in our lives. It will work out. We will know, when it’s time. And, I believe we’ll know what to do. And we’ll have peace about it. Jesus said, “Peace be unto you.”
I believe the promises – of a life after death. A life with Jesus in heaven, where it will be all right. Everything will be all right. It will be the right time. And the right way.
I want to live as long as I can, here. To do what I can, to bless whatever people have been given to me to care about. By fireside visits, by coffee dates, or lunches “without end.” By blogs. Even if I now let the Faith Line go. By letters. By prayer. By early gatherings at the Hilltop.
I think my doctors will work with me. And my family. Most of all I believe Jesus will help me do the right thing, and help my family, so dear to me, to be of one mind, in Him. My high hope. My growing faith.
Thank you, Jesus!
Love you, all you dear people,
In the four weeks of hospital and then extended care, I’ve had many dreams. In those dreams I have made plans – one of them to step in the car and head out on the highways of springtime, swooping somehow on an upward arc to meet a dear son of ours on a journey across the country, with his wife and two children soon to be coming to spend the end of June with us – in times for his mother’s 90th birthday party under a tent, on the lawn of Colonial Church, where he had spent the years of his childhood and growing up.
We look so forward to it. I’ve had Andrew “on my mind.” He phoned me almost daily during my three weeks in the care center. One evening he called to tell me about the boat race of the day in which his two tall lanky late-teenage kids had rowed. And then he lapsed into a lyrical account of how beautiful rowing is as a sport. Andrew himself had rowed for his college the year he’d spent abroad, studying at Oxford. “The sound of the oars entering the water together, with eight people pulling, and then the oars coming out – ready to swing forward for another stroke. It was just beautiful, Dad.”
Such a moment on the phone in my darkened hospital room with my son, talking about something we both loved.
But today, I found I had other appointments. I must stay, and continue my recovery, even though it will mean disciplines for me I am not sure I can fulfill. The nurse at the swallowing center, taking video pictures of my throat, said it bluntly when she saw the doubt on my face, “Well, the alternative is pneumonia.” I knew I had to fight back – even with doubts I would really do it.
All rather strange to me. How had I lived all these years and not have known about my swallowing difficulty. Is it too late? Can I correct it?
I will try – no matter how hungry I get. For I do still have dreams that can be fulfilled. Small ones, maybe, but appropriate ones. Dreams that still can happen, in life, in these days.
At supper tonight a wise daughter said, “Well Dad, the great thing still is PRAYER – learning what God is doing in the world now, and how He can use you for good.”
That’s a dream I want to continue to dream, till maybe certain things happen. He can still take my hand, and lead me on, and show me new deeds of ministry, yet to be done. In the city I know and love, along the streets that are familiar to me, even among people close to my heart, who are still alive, who still care, and who are praying.
About things like two wonderful churches getting together to do God’s work – Colonial, and Zion, two churches who each know that the Spirit is the way. The Spirit Jesus promised to send, and wants to send – into the Church’s heart in new ways, in these new days. There are people I can stand beside, and love, and encourage. Maybe there are words of love yet to say, that I can speak in quiet ways that can help these cities and the good people who want to be part of what God is ready to do now.
Please join me in praying for that – in these new days.
Arthur, with love.
[Written on May 20, 2021]
Molly has just left to walk across the street to our small apartment we call home. Scores of programs go on here, led by people in different colored uniforms. Three different “therapy” sections, occupational and a couple others. They’re all here to help. But they announce themselves at my door ready to claim the next half-hour of my time, to teach me how to swallow, or to use unused muscles again, how to stay balanced, or how to use legs and feet again. In short, to prepare us patients for the world.
That is, the world of home, the medical world, with too many dimensions to count. And too much that was too complicated to try to count.
That, beginning tomorrow, my 92nd birthday. I must try to count, try to understand, try to use, try to bring back that old familiarity of long life.
The task is daunting. Am I a little afraid? Yes, I am a little afraid. I must try to perform at a level that meets the speed and accuracy, confidence and competence that will allow me to “pass.” To get by. To be adequate.
So many have prayed, and have thrown their love into the mix. Dear Molly, herself, has worked so hard to help me be ready for the change at considerable cost to herself.
My great hope is Jesus, who said – repeatedly – “Be not afraid.” God will take care of me. I know it. I must believe it. I must trust. I must follow Joan of Arc, who said, “I must dare, and dare, and dare, until I die.” Only God can make it happen, can make me “adequate.”
Perhaps little steps, at first, will be right. Jesus practiced His whole ministry “one step at a time.” And of course, that Sunday in Pentecost. The Day of the Spirit, Whom Jesus said He would send, to lead us.
I count on that. I want so much to get “back to my life.” But, it won’t be mine. It will be Jesus’ life for me. He will show me the life – starting tomorrow. When I get to face friends again. Help people again. Be a useful person again. Hear the signals of the Savior – and FOLLOW.
Help me, Jesus, to do exactly that. And take every hand held out to me. And keep me going.
Your prayers have kept me alive. I know my life itself is a miracle. So – I cling to that. My wonderful family of faith will help me. Thank you. Thank you!
Your brother, Arthur
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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