These days between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July might be the best time to examine the question of what it means to be an American. I have been fascinated with the diverse immigrant experience ever since I can remember. Having grandfathers who were both immigrants and thus having parents who were first generation immigrants were perhaps the reason for my interest. Knowing my Dad had first cousins in Sweden and getting Christmas cards from them made my Grandfather’s immigrant experience more real. Seeing his photo from his naturalization papers, a young man of nineteen, wearing a stylish hat, suit and tie, but with a slightly confused look, caused me to wonder what he was really thinking on that auspicious day. He spoke English with a thick Swedish accent all his life. It was who he was, my grandpa.
Later on, when I was in graduate school, I took a number of classes which did a better job of rounding out my limited understanding on this question of diversity in America. Classes in African history from an Africa scholar were fascinating to study. To better understand this culture’s texture and diversity and how it was added to American life was life-changing. A course in “La Raza” (the people) talked about the history of Mexico and U.S. relations from warfare to acceptance of a people with the complex heritage of the Mayas and Incas and the European Spanish that are so much a part of the history of our country, especially in California and the Southwest. The resistance of Black slaves was a discussion that was core to a study of Black American history which supplemented the African history I had learned. Resistance to the institution of slavery had been integral to the history of Blacks in America. The fear the white master had trying to keep slaves under their control boiled into the South in the days of “Jim Crow”. Unfortunately it still permeates a part of our culture today. A Native American study just underscored the wide range of culture and heritage that are part of the American Indians' history on this continent, going back to the first humans who crossed the Bering Straits and made their way south almost 11,000 years ago.
Studying in India and dealing with a history 5,000 years old and later traveling and studying in Japan opened the doors to Asia and again cultures and histories which were intriguing and enriching to America and to the world. In both countries we stayed with families, ate together, and told our stories. I finally got to visit my family in Sweden and found a generous, welcoming group of people who are very much a part of who I am.
This season of the year I honor the soldiers who served this country in all its wars and the men and women who fought side by side: Americans of every race and creed. As I place a flag on my father’s grave, a veteran, I am reminded of how fortunate I am whenever I can learn from someone else about their world and share experiences.
Tonight on television, I watched a discussion on Racism taking place in Philadelphia, “the city of brotherly love”. I heard the voices of men and women, black and white, who said this is an issue for all Americans. Most of us are not overtly racist. We don’t want to be racist, but because we are white, we are privileged. Just that one characteristic opens doors for us that are not accessible to people of color. It is a privilege we do not readily understand nor do we easily share. There was a special on Asian-Americans, the Chinese, who labored under the Chinese Exclusionary Act for decades until it was defeated in the Congress. With its defeat families were reunited and the intelligence and great abilities of the Chinese people enhanced our technical revolution and their devotion to family and tradition reminded us of these important family values.
When I taught World History I used to tell my students that “different is not bad. It is just different.” Different is a word without negative or positive connotations. Different just “is”. While we appreciate our small town and rural living, we must not forget the wider world. The very essence of humanity is to find a common path to share during our time on this earth. The diversity, the color, the texture, the music, the history and the heroes of each group of people we welcome to our country can only enhance what we will build as we structure a future for the generations to come.
You can tell another Spring has rolled around when I start posting photos of my flowers as they make their appearance. The lilacs are filling the air with fragrance and I have a coming bud on my Winnipeg's Park rose bush. I hope whoever buys my house will enjoy the flowers and the yard. I will miss them and I suppose cast a critical eye every time I go by the house, but you gotta' give it up at some point in time and I am ready. So if you know of anyone interested in buying a cozy, little house in Glendive MT. at the entrance to Makoshika Park, send them my way!! I am so anxious to get started on my new "small" house.
Other news includes a Spring that has been unparalleled in green grass and more than one home owner bemoaning the fact his mower won't cut through the grass. It is either to thick or too wet. I've mowed three times, I think, and everything looks so pretty after the fact. My cousin, a rancher in South Dakota, says his pastures are "golf course green".
One thing all my down-sizing has done it make me very aware of all the "stuff" that passes through our lives. I said to one friend "I think I have touched every single thing I own in trying to decide whether or not to keep, throw, or recycle. Every greeting card, every photo, every item of clothing and on and on. You look at everything differently. I was asked if it made me "sad". I thought about it for a minute and decided, no, not really. There might be a momentary twinge as you remember the person or event associated with the item, but all that is stored in the memory bank of my mind and that is what is important.
I know come the day I move into my new home, there will be a second purge, but by then I should be an old hand.
Pentecost Sunday is May 20th, 2018
Sermon Pentecost United Methodist Church, Glendive MT 2018. (lead worship and preach in the absence of the regular pastor)
Sermon Pentecost May 20th UMC, 2018
Today is Pentecost, fifty days after Easter, a time to recognize the part of the Trinity known as, the Holy Spirit. Some call it the “verb”, the action, in the Trinity. Remember in Genesis at Creation it is the Spirit who moved over the face of the waters. We believe it is the Holy Spirit who inspired the writings of Scripture, and we believe it is the Holy Spirit that calls us to faith. Martin Luther wrote in the third article of The Apostle’s Creed: I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in the Lord Jesus Christ or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in the one true faith. Nothing happens in our faith lives or in the life of the church without the action of the Holy Spirit.
We can also call the Spirit the very root of our imagination in God. Nothing ever gets in the way of the Spirit and everything is possible when we live in the life of the Spirit. Too often our church life gets bound by rules and regulations and “being safe” and boxes into which we place “the Trinity”, “sanctification by grace”, “the law”. And on and on. There is something fearful about that much freedom and somehow that doesn’t fit in with the story we have been told and been telling in our churches.
So, I’ve always wondered why the Spirit does not receive more attention in our faith life and perhaps this is why. When there is talk about the Spirit there is a sense of people pulling back from any discussion. There is almost an aura of fear, perhaps, that once the power of the Spirit is released there is no holding it back. When you get into the Greek and Latin derivatives of the word Spirit we find dittamis which leads to the word dynamite connected with the Holy Spirit. Today we heard the reading from Acts 2. The Spirit is described as the rush of a mighty wind that filled all the house. It was so loud people came running to see what had happened. When that holy energy entered all those gathered in the upper room, people could not control their actions. I am sure their imaginations were running wild — they spoke in many different tongues, they began to testify to the power of Jesus and proclaim the freedom that comes when the Holy Spirit enters and controls your life. The words of the prophet Isaiah, which Jesus read in the synagogue in Nazareth rang true to them now. The coming of God means the prisoners’ chains are loosed, the mute speak, the deaf hear and the lame leap for joy and the poor have good news preached to them. Of course Jesus did these things in a physical sense, but just as important were the Spiritual bonds that were broken and the freedom people felt when they had the good news preached to them and through the power of the Spirit they believed and were given hope.
Not only did the new Christians rejoice at the good news, but they came to understand the power of the Holy Spirit to sustain us with God’s great love. The Spirit will never leave our side, but is always there to be our comforter and guide. St. Paul in our text from Romans for today gives us insight into how the Spirit works within us in time of need and when we sin. He writes: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
One of the many gifts of the Spirit is placing in us a need for relationships. As we draw closer to the life the Spirit calls us to, we intentionally begin to seek out those people of like mind. That is what a church community is all about. People are looking for an intentional way to live, rather than just drifting along. One author writes: And the hunger of the human heart that God put in us is not just for casual and recreational relationships. We long for relationships of meaning. We long to be connected, for healing, for vocation, and for mission. . . .
In our society people have connection in fraternal groups, or in groups who share a common goal such as food for the hungry, aid for those with disabilities. Often, the church, which should be central to all these activities is non-essential when others seem to do things more efficiently than our religious bodies. I am not sure where all of this is going to end up, but as the body of Christ, a community of faith, we have to have something more. Doing good things will give us a certain satisfaction, but Paul’s words in Romans describe what we long for as labor pains — the birth in us of the very nature of life itself. That is a creative freedom to live in the Spirit and see life uniquely through our eyes and the eyes of God. When we work for justice, when we are involved in peace-making, when we try to create a way of sustainable living for the poor, when we are willing to come together with all people everywhere to create a community where everyone is welcomed and a part then the definition of the church as “the body of Christ” becomes something much more.
This even moves into Creation as well. Paul says “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains.” Everything God has made, that is sustained by the Holy Spirit cries out for the imprint of God to be visible in all that we do and say. Think of Creation as the bluest of blue in the sky, a riot of colors in the flowers we see, the lime green grass of Spring, the colors of a blue bird. The Spirit is that creative energy constantly opening creation for us in new and exciting ways. As I think about it, it is as though the Spirit is calling us to a higher level — a sense of going deeper. I don’t know how familiar you are with the Chronicles of Narnia, all 7 of them. In the final volume when the Lion Aslan brings the world to an end, he calls to those who follow him to move “higher up and deeper in”. This refrain builds through the end of the story. I see it as a call for all our lives. The Spirit is calling us to not be afraid of moving higher up and deeper in to the glory of God. When we just want to skim the surface of life, when a deeper commitment is not what we desire, the Holy Spirit nudges us or sometimes gives us a great big push into life with God.
Years ago our Bishop at the time invited me to become a part of the TEEM program. It is an opportunity for men and women over 40 to enter seminary studies and eventually be ready for ordination and a call to serve. A group of us gathered for our first classes at Pacific Lutheran Theo Seminary at Berkeley CA. At first glance it seemed we had all chosen to make this leap of faith. Some left behind good jobs to begin this second career, but it was their choice, right? One of the frequent exercises we went through was to answer the question, “Why are you here?” Amazingly, as we listened to each other’s stories, every one of us had dealt with a restlessness, an uncertainty most of our adult lives. I had one foot out the door to attend seminary several times, but each time I pulled back for various reasons. At last this opportunity presented itself and I knew it was the right time. My story was strikingly similar to all the others. The Holy Spirit had been working on us in various ways to get us to this place in our lives to imagine the impossible as possible. The Holy Spirit was calling us to ordained ministry and we could no longer refuse.
The Holy Spirit can make a grand entrance as at Pentecost, but most often the Spirit is at work in our lives in quiet nudges for us to do what is good and right. Living creatively, but simply, practicing justice and kindness, speaking out on behalf of those in need, loving our fellow humans and working together to make the good news of Jesus Christ a reality. It is in these things the Holy Spirit is alive in the world and in us. May we be open to the Spirit and alive to the Spirit’s purpose and power. Amen.
Tonight I am sitting in a motel room in Bismarck on my way home after a whirlwind road trip to Minneapolis. A lifetime of accumulating has led to a determined downsizing and part of that requires passing on furniture pieces to family members. In 1945, for a wedding gift, my Dad gave my Mom a cedar chest. The chest accompanied my parents to Lead, South Dakota, then grad school at the University of Colorado in Boulder, to Rawlins, Wyoming, and finally to rest in Glendive for many years. Now it rests in an apartment in St. Paul, Minnesota where ownership has passed to my niece. When I became serious about my downsizing I knew that promise would have to be fulfilled so this was the time to do it. For years the contents were my parents’ wedding clothes — Mom’s suit and Dad’s army jacket (those remain with me and will be boxed up for posterity, i.e. when I am dead and gone someone else has to figure out what to do with them), baby clothes for my brother and me and various other items. Moving the chest from my car to hers as we met at the motel in Minneapolis, I told her she was now the keeper of the history. I think she will do a good job. She has a pretty good sense of family so I am not concerned. The next big job is photo albums and other pictures of family members. I have photos back to my great-great grandparents. I won’t get rid of those, but I am one who has to have them in some order. So it goes! Hence the purpose for the trip.
Driving across North Dakota and into Minnesota is always a trip down memory lane. Both my brother and I graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. We did our student teaching in Minnesota. Later I went to grad school at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud. We have family members in the Twin Cities and friends so there have been many trips over many years. I remember the first time the folks took us to Minnesota. I was excited to see the calendar picture farms with silos full of corn and the white country churches with their spires poking through the trees. We went to Lake Itasca State Park so we could step over the Mississippi River. The folks had family friends in Minnesota they had taught with in Wyoming so we visited them a couple of times and in the process got to see the sites of the big city.
Driving from Minneapolis to Bismarck (7.5 hours) is a geography lesson in changing climes and country. I drove in fog and rain showers from north of Minneapolis until almost Fargo. Around Alexandria, Minnesota, the fog was heavy. From Alexandria west to Fargo you go through not only farm country (the fields are ready), but also through lake country. There are dozens of small lakes which provide an ecology for the birds that fly through the region. In one short space I saw a pelican downing a fish, a heron, a red-winged blackbird and a slow moving turtle about to start across the interstate. I thought about stopping and taking it across, but I didn’t. It still concerns me, but I suppose he has lived there longer than I have. With the fog today the scenery was eerie and I wished several times I could stop and take pictures. Various lakes had dead trees immersed in the water with a few black limbs breaking the surface. Near Fargo upon entering the Red River Valley the soil becomes black it is so rich. The first time I saw it I wondered if it were wet but Dad assured me that was the way it always looked.
The prairies of western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota are not the “big sky” prairies I am used to, but they were green and wooded and reminded me of many stories I had read about these areas settled by the earlier pioneers than came to Montana and western North Dakota. My mother’s parents were from the forests of Wisconsin before moving out onto the short grass prairie of western South Dakota. Today one of their great grandsons raises buffalo not far from where they homesteaded 106 years ago.
It was a nice ride today, although the trucks really take over the highways. The interstate in Minnesota does not have the wide shoulders of Montana and western North Dakota so that made it a little more tiring to drive through. On my way through Medora on Sunday I saw some buffalo in the distance. As I came further west today I appreciated how the land opened up and rolled out in front of me. The trees and forests were left behind.
I am tired, but a little retail therapy always helps.
Had a lovely walk out into Makoshika this morning. The birds were raising quite a ruckus -- wish I could send you the sounds I hear --couple geese flying overhead were honking up a storm; meadowlarks, of course; and assorted other birds as well. Remember the movies The Librarian? He had to learn the language of the birds to find his treasure. The sun was very warm -- summer like, but no complaints. When I got home I rested a little on my porch and greeted others out walking. Took a shower and am tidying up the house a little.
Tomorrow I preach in Savage MT and then will drive as far as Bismarck before going on to Minneapolis. It is a turn-around trip -- in one day and out the next, but I have some items I want to get to Samantha as I continue my downsizing. Then in a couple weeks it will be to head to Cheyenne for Abby's graduation and a visit to Aunt Dorothy in Denver. Abby and Evan had a piano recital last week. It was her senior recital. Hated to miss it.
Still no takers on my house. I suppose I am too impatient but I want to get on to the next part of my life. The downsizing has been good and I have really cut down. I imagine when I do move into the house there will be another purge as I adjust to the room I have.
(Kind of long-winded on this one.)
I just ordered the new book by Ronan Farrow called The War on Peace. Farrow recently received the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for his investigative work on Harvey Weinstein. Farrow worked with Richard Holbrook, Assistant Secretary of State under Presidents Bush and Obama for a time, and since then has been an investigative journalist. The older I get and the more carefully I read, the more I see the incredible interplay between money and power and politics. It is a world we “poor people” can never hope to inhabit. We can only watch from afar as these power brokers play their games with our hopes and dreams.
But, it is a fascinating world. As he left the presidency, George Washington warned the new country to beware of entangling alliances with foreign powers and encouraged a policy to keep us isolated from the problems of Europe. Eisenhower, also a military general, warned against the military-industrial complex. Diplomacy is that art of walking a tightrope and making decisions, often contentious at home, that hopefully work for the good of the nation. The United Nations was the diplomatic move at the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War, to keep the Communists at the peace table. As the nuclear threat became more dangerous it was conceived as the only way to attempt to keep the peace. Today as well as throughout history, it takes men and women of rare insight to be able to see the bigger picture, a view of the world beyond our limited vision.
In a recent interview, Farrow said the decimation of the office of Secretary of State was begun as early as the 9/11 tragedy. As diplomacy lost some of its luster, ISIS was able to work its way into center stage. And diplomacy is always a balance between when to come to the peace table and when to rattle sabers threatening military action. According to Farrow we seem to be moving into a period when military action is more the norm than the art of diplomacy. Since the end of the Cold War, America has backed away from its historic role as one of the leading powers in the world. Some observers see the shadow of Chinese influence moving in to fill those vacuums.
History is never black and white. The tragedy of Viet Nam was a military solution to attempt to contain the growth of communism. John Foster Dulles, a controversial Secretary of State under Eisenhower, was a proponent of containment. Diplomacy and military action both lost out in Viet Nam.
When studying world history we see examples of the art of diplomacy stretching back as far as nations interacting with nations. Daughters of kings were a priceless commodity because they could be married off to an enemy in the hopes that family ties would bring nations together. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 ended the Thirty Years
religious wars as well as numerous other wars between feuding kingdoms. In 1814, the Congress of Vienna was an attempt to restore Europe to the boundaries and ruling families that were uprooted during the French Revolution and the Napleonic Wars. The power brokers of that day were conservatives who were not comfortable with revolution or a sense of the new nationalism that was arising. The Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I was to make this the war to end all wars and Woodrow Wilson, serving almost as his own Secretary of State, worked himself into a stroke
attempting to promote the League of Nations which eventually led to the United Nations following World War II. In its own time the League was defeated by American isolationists led by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. Lodge’s grandson is a good example of the workings of diplomacy that led into our modern era.
One source notes concerning the younger Lodge: “Believing that the Republican party needed to shed the isolationism that had long guided its views on foreign policy, Lodge helped Eisenhower win his battle for the Republican nomination against the isolationist Senator Robert Taft of Ohio. . .As a liberal internationalist, Lodge worked to foster a healthy American relationship with the United Nations and the Third World but, as an ardent cold warrior, he also advocated a tough line of opposition against the Soviet Union. . .As ambassador to South Vietnam from 1965 to 1967, Lodge supported President Johnson's decision to escalate American involvement in the Vietnam War, believing strongly that a communist takeover in the South would be disastrous for U.S. foreign policy goals.”
This snippet from the history of foreign diplomacy only underscores how complicated a path it is. As long as we have power struggles we will always have the decision before us. Do we choose a military action or a diplomatic one? Currently the Department of State is decimated and diplomacy, while apparent, is not the direction we are heading. In his book, Farrow interviews every living secretary of state and also men and women who are lifelong civil servants in the pursuit of diplomatic solutions.
The decisions made are way beyond our ‘pay grade’, but they influence our lives in profound ways. Diplomacy is an art, much more than the simple decision of “war or peace’. We can only hope there will be intelligent, courageous, and strong men and women to walk that path for us as a nation as we come to new and critical crossroads in our contacts with other nations.