Hello from my upstairs,
It has been a day of reflection and a day of feeling I am too far away from where I believe I should be. As I was telling my colleague, Mark, this morning as we shared our thoughts about Dan and Mike, or Drs. Riordan and Levy, a bishop might have demanded the resignation that removed me from a clergy roster, but he could not, did not, and cannot take away the profound and central part of my piety and soul that still has me providing pastoral care to so many people I meet. Certainly, I no longer wear the funny turned-around shirt and I’m no longer called, or referred to as, Pastor, but perhaps, just perhaps, some of the most significant and poignant ministry I have done has occurred in the Bible as Literature course, happened when I emotionally supported or demonstrated care for a struggling student, or lived the gospel in the manner that made someone reconsider God rather than ignore, or run from, God. In fact, it was 19 years ago this past week I was given a new commandment by an earthly person, one who enjoyed playing God, demanding I resign and forfeit my ordination. I certainly did some things to make him question, and for that I am accountable, but as many have said, he did not have to do things the way he did. Ironically, I had tried to resign the clergy roster only two weeks prior, but he would not accept it. I know now it was because I had taken his power away if I resigned on my terms and he couldn’t allow that. I have been asked more than once to consider applying to be reordained or reinstated, but having the title of pastor or the ability to do sacraments once again is not something I need, if I am to be fulfilled. There are certainly times I wish someone would just show me the easiest way to move forward, or as I tell my students, “please just give me the recipe card.” All too often that’s what we what. But there is a simple and profound problem with getting a recipe card; we are prone to blame whomever it is giving the card, especially when things don’t work out exactly like we thought. What does it actually mean to be shown the way?
I spent a good part of the day doing schoolwork @FogandFlame. When I was by myself I had my earbuds in and I can just disappear into my work. Part of the time was spent however again being somewhat of a surrogate father or providing some sense of pastoral care without ever really mentioning God. It’s not really that I am particularly brilliant or even very amazing, but I think I’m honest and genuine and the advice I give for the most part is accepting and pragmatic. It’s not a matter of rocket science it’s a matter of being honest with the situation and accepting accountability for the choices we make. I believe many times it is merely showing a person’s pathway, making it clear to them that there are options. To help them believe they have a right, even in the midst of difficulty, to make a choice that is hopefully in their best interest and in the interest of those around them. seems to be the right thing to do. Too often we are paralyzed, unsure if there is the best option, and by our paralysis we lose our own way. This happens way too many times. One of the things I most admire about my former colleague and forever- mentor, Dr. Daniel Riordan, is how he has managed his diagnosis with prostate cancer from the very beginning. He faced, and fought, this disease gallantly, honestly, and on his terms, to the best of his ability. Through his letters, his emails, his posts, and his indutibly beautiful spirit he has shown many of us the way to move forward and live life as it is meant to be lived. In his fabulous gift of photography and his willingness to share it with others, he reminded, and will continue to remind, us of the beauty, which is often directly in front of us on a daily basis. I still remember the first time coming to Dan’s and Mary’s house I was introduced to the newest hatchlings of bald eagles. I remember looking out from their amazing view what a town that woukd change my life. I have often said that the job at Stout prepared me for my job now. My being in Menomonie introduced me to Lydia and the consequence of Lydia can never be overstated. Little did I know the way I was being shown. I should note that the Riordan house was always a point of refuge for me, and that has been a wonderful gift. Mary and Dan are an amazingly wonderful couple. It was apparent, even the last time I was in their house this past January how much they loved and supported each other.
This morning I wished a belated Happy Birthday to someone who turned 23 years old. It reminded me of when I was 23 and I wondered momentarily what I was doing. It is an easy year to remember because of the consequential nature of it. That was the year I traveled on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team called Daybreak. It was the year I was blessed to meet the Swenson family, my first host family. Through breakfast conversations and return visits, somehow I did not quite follow my intended path, or the one I was imagining at the time. Indeed, Lee and Judy Swenson persuaded me to consider other options. Perhaps the most important thing they taught me was about family and sharing and the willingness to open themselves up to other people. To this day I am grateful for their involvement in my life. And yes, for more years that I want to admit (and only because it will reveal age), we are still friends. We still chat on the phone and those conversations are so treasured. Hard to believe the four-year-old I first met is now also a college professor just as I am. I do not want to tell you how old that makes me feel. I am pretty sure that is not what either one of us saw at that time. How do we determine the way? I am a firm believer that life is not deterministic. While I am certainly a cause and effect person, a process and product person, as I’ve grown older I’m quite sure that there’s more left to chance than we could ever imagine. Is that a bad thing? I’m not sure it is, but it certainly creates many more questions. For us as individuals, perhaps it is a reminder that we have less control than we think and we should exert less control over others then we often want. For me, what is more frightening is what it does to us societally, or as a country. By our votes we give power, and yet we have very little control. I already know that someone say we can just vote differently next time, but two years is a long time, and four years might change the course of history. What is the way and how are we shown a reasonable path when there are so many visions? And of course everyone wants to believe theirs is correct. Theirs is the way, just ask them.
Well, I have laid in bed working on this a bit longer than planned. I need to get some more things off my plate. I have gotten up, cleaned up and now back to @FogandFlame. As long as the day is productive, the week will go well. I have a number of student conferences this week for my Freelancing class and I need to do some things to prepare for that. Then there is just the grading that still needs to happen. Grading is such a difficult thing. I am reminded of the conversation with and for students that tries to help them understand the difference between evaluation and assessment. Students are so grade driven, they forget that classes and education are about learning and competency. When I ask students the difference between education and work I get some interesting answers. Education is for the sake of learning and understanding; it is not about skills, it is about what you have incorporated into who you are. If someone is learning, comprehending, analyzing, the grade will generally take care of itself. There is no one way; there is no recipe card. When students ask what I want them to do or implores me to tell them what to do, there is an issue? When they are more interested in the number of words, pages, or sources, they are asking for a recipe card. They want someone to not only show them the way, they want someone to walk it with them. That is an interesting struggle between being independent and dependent. That is an entirely separate issue and something that seems to be an oxymoronic process for most of my students. Of course, we did not have the communicative options students now do. I remember the last time I spoke with my Grandmother. It was from a phone booth just outside of Atlantic, Iowa, late in the morning as I pulled over on my motorcycle and called her because I had failed to stop and see her. Of course, I did not know this would be my last words with her. There is that uncertainty again. We have no way of knowing what lies ahead. How do we know the way forward? Perhaps it is not the path, but rather the direction.
What I am painfully aware of today is the tenuousness of life and that those who are alive ahead of me are fewer in number than those who are behind me . . . I am not elderly, though there are moments, and I am certainly beyond middle aged, so what am I? How do I understand the way or the direction forward? I know that I have some things squared away and in place, but there is still more to do. To whom do I turn for direction and advice? This is a tougher question than some might imagine because I am using giving advice rather than taking it (I can already hear some of you, so stop!!), but truthfully, the position of being an advisor, of being a surrogate parent, of being the elder, and of having a number of experiences has created a sort of interesting position for me. How do I reach out when I am uncertain, and to whom? I guess that will be the thing to ponder today, but for now, it is back to work. In the meanwhile, here is another video that offers some sense of my dichotomous struggle with being part of the church and being tired of the institutional aspects of this needed community. I guess it is not surprising that I find Bonhoeffer so compelling for many reasons.
As always, thank you for reading my blog. I have appreciated your comments and what you have shared with me . . . you all show me the way more than you know.