". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Monday, November 9, 2015

I tried.

Evan: My life ends in four weeks.

Me: What? What do you mean?

Evan: That's when I have to play organ for church. 

Me: Oh, Evan. You're going to do fine. But if you make a mistake, it's okay. Everyone makes mistakes. That's actually one of the wonderful things about live music--that it's living and breathing and imperfect. Recorded music sometimes has all the life erased and dubbed out of it. Live music is human, and humans make mistakes. We aren't machines.

Evan: Well, technically we are. Don't you remember Schoolhouse Rock?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


It is sometimes pointed out that a synod, or church body, is a human institution and that as such, it can err. This is most certainly true. But the reason it is true is that human beings can err. When it comes to the question, then, of where to place my trust on matters of doctrine, I have more confidence in the wisdom of a group of theologians than I do in one theologian. To grant one person the final word on anything is dangerous. To assume that you are the person who possesses that final word is equally dangerous.  

In the words of Huckleberry Finn: "I can't stand it. I been there before." And I have no intention of ever going back.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

J. Alfred, Rebutted

About 3-1/2 years ago our world fell apart. I won't rehash the details here. The point of this post is not to look back, but to look forward.

When everything around which you have built a life comes crashing down, it can be a little difficult to find your balance again. It is hard to trust, and I don't mean only others, although that is part of it. It is also hard to trust yourself. How could you have been so stupid, so blind, as to not see what was coming? How could you have gotten everything so wrong? In an effort to not go through that again you start second, third, and fourth guessing every decision. You hand-wring and agonize and ask yourself, Prufrock-style, "Do I dare?" You look for some celestial sign that now, finally, you have got it right.

Problem is, that's what got you into trouble in the first place: putting your faith in men, and their plans and promises, instead of in God, and looking for that shiny, new idol to replace the one that was shattered. For human beings, it's a daily challenge and struggle, one we will always face this side of heaven.

Still, though the challenge remains, there is such a thing as growing in wisdom and learning from one's mistakes. There is such a thing as waking up one day to realize that the answer you have been seeking is not in Oz but right in front of you, in the good people who have been loving you while you were skipping down the yellow brick road trying to find your heart's desire. There is such a thing as realizing that the struggle itself is a gift, reminding you as it does of the danger of idols and the need to fix your eyes on Jesus rather than on your own silly human efforts.

Oh, and there is also such a thing as new beginnings.  

Monday, October 5, 2015

Pleasing Mr. Bisbee

"My play time was cut short because Mr. Bisbee, one of the boarders, took a notion to teach me to sing and I had to waste some time every day practicing the scales up and down and mixed. I would rather play but Mr. Bisbee was one of the richest men in Burr Oak and our best paying, steady boarder. He must be pleased if possible and so I patiently learned to sing 'do ra me fa sol la see do.'"

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, p. 102, Laura Ingalls Wilder, ed. Pamela Smith Hill

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Regular Guy? (From the Archives) - 1 Timothy 3

Facebook reminded me that I wrote and posted this article three years ago today. My opinion hasn't changed. I give thanks for all the pastors I have known, including my current ones, who understand and take to heart Paul's charge to the overseer.  

I have been pondering this for a while. In my life I have known quite a few men "of the cloth" (pastors, priests, preachers, etc.). With many of them I have observed a certain quality that I find it difficult to put my finger on.  I have seen it in both priests (I used to be Roman Catholic) and Lutheran pastors as well as ministers from other denominations. For lack of a better word, they are "pastoral." There is something that is just a little different about them, something that sets them apart from the rest of us. Again, it is hard to define and describe, but some of the qualities that come to mind are thoughtfulness, quietness, dignity, caring, kindness, peacefulness, gentleness, serenity, self-control and calm. In short, they are Christ-like. I am probably going to get raked over the coals for saying this, but I also appreciate pastors/priests who in their own demonstration of propriety and decorum make  "regular" people want to behave better than they otherwise might. In the same way that I as a parent try not to let my children see me sin (even though I do sin) because I don't want my sin to lead them astray, I appreciate pastors who set a good example with regard to their use of language and their choices in entertainment, dress, behavior, etc. I think men who are charged with standing in for Christ in the worship service often carry some of that aura of holiness into their everyday lives, and I think that is a good thing.

At the same time, I understand that pastors are sinners like the rest of us. Believe me, I understand. But it seems that there are some pastors who, in their effort to warn us about the worthlessness of our own good deeds, go out of their way to put the baser aspects of their humanity on display. Similarly, there are some lay people who go out of their way to encourage pastors in this anti-pietism crusade. This doesn't make sense to me. Does not Paul himself call the overseer to a higher standard of behavior than those he oversees?

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable,able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)

I take the statements that the overseer should be "respectable" and "well thought of by outsiders" to be a call for him to adhere to a high enough standard of speech and behavior that he will not confuse, offend, or lead astray one of his sheep or miss the opportunity to minister to someone in need. In my opinion, then, a pastor should not use foul language. He should not tell dirty jokes or use racial slurs. He should use good manners and exhibit modesty in his behavior and moderation in his lifestyle. He should be humble and act like a gentleman, not drawing excessive attention to himself. These are all things I try to do in my own life so as to set a good example for my children; I think my pastor, and pastors in general, should make the same effort for us their sheep. I realize that pastors fail as we all do. But we will all fail less often if we make the effort to begin with.

One final thought. I find it puzzling that sometimes the same people who promote the "Pastors are sinners like the rest of us so don't expect them to behave any better or differently" mantra are the very same people who will blindly follow a pastor simply because he is the pastor and he cannot possibly be at fault. This seems to me a disconnect. If the pastor is a sinner like the next guy, isn't it possible that he has actually somewhere along the way made a mistake or committed a sin? And if so, shouldn't he have that sin pointed out so that he can be brought to repentance and forgiveness like anyone else? And isn't doing so actually a good and positive thing for him (and his sheep) if it leads to a recognition of sin and a change in behavior going forward?

I guess what I am trying to say is that while I realize the man in the clerical suit is a sinful human being, I also look to him as a father figure and teacher, one who has been called to high and holy purpose, and as a result I hope and expect of him certain attributes and behaviors that I don't necessarily expect of the person sitting next to me in the pew. I also hope and expect that when he sins, which he surely does, he does not hide behind his office but readily acknowledges his failings and in so doing models the humility with which we should each approach the cross of our crucified Christ.

Sunday, September 6, 2015


This is my brother. His name is Jerry. He died yesterday at the age of 66.

Quick background: my father was a widower with four children. My mother was divorced with six. They married when Jerry, my father's youngest, was 14. I was born when he was 15. I don't have memories of living in the same house with him, but I do have memories of spending time with him. He loved to go fishing and would take me with him sometimes. I would hand him worms to bait the hook. When he got married he would let me come to the apartment complex where he and his wife lived and stay the night and swim in his pool. When I got a little older I babysat his daughter, my niece, sometimes.

I have several vivid memories of Jerry helping me when I was little. Once when I was swimming in his pool I panicked in the deep water. Before I even started to go under, he was there, pulling me out. Another time something started biting me inside my pants leg. Jerry was the first to hear my screams and come and help me get the pants off so as not to get more stings from the scorpion that had apparently crawled inside.

I remember Jerry's smile and his hearty laugh. He was mischievous and playful and loved to play horseshoes.

Like my dad, Jerry was a smoker and drinker. He contracted lung cancer a few years ago and underwent treatment and surgery that stemmed the cancer's progress. Last month his daughter let me know that he was going to see the doctor due to a return of symptoms. Last week he went in for a biopsy but a few days later had to be admitted to the hospital due to fluid on his bad lung. In rapid succession he was put on a ventilator and went into sepsis before dying yesterday.

My family is a patchwork. I am the only "ours" of a "his, mine and ours" family. To some extent my dad's children seemed more like aunts and uncles to me than siblings. On my mom's "side" the youngest was 7 when I was born, so I spent a good chunk of my childhood living like an only child. Once I grew up, got married and moved to another state, and my dad died, it became harder to maintain a connection with all the pieces of my family, and there have been long stretches where we haven't kept in close contact. I haven't been a very good thread to try to hold this family quilt together.

My brother Jerry is the second of my siblings to die. My father's oldest son died three years ago. I wish I had called Jerry when I first got word that he was not feeling well. I thought there was more time. There wasn't.

I have been looking through old pictures to try to find a picture of me and Jerry together. I haven't found one yet. I will keep looking.

Jerry wasn't a churchgoer but I take comfort in the knowledge that he was baptized into Jesus Christ when he was a child. I pray he was able to cling to that faith at the last. I love you, Jerry. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.