It’s a Puppy World

Barclay on chestAfter much careful (actually impulsive) thought, we decided to add to the household. Barclay arrived in this world May 21, 2013. We brought him home last Sunday evening.

Barclay is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, a breed known for extraordinary companionship, quietness, intelligence, beauty, and ease of training, all of which drew us to the breed. But when we saw this little guy, saw those big eyes and that excitedly wagging tail, picked him up (all 3 lbs.6 ounces of him), and experienced the quick licks to the face and gentle nibbles on the ear, we were putty in a 10 week-old puppy’s paw.

Life has changed for him and for us.

He has a home…..and our sleeping days are over. He’s very quiet. Doesn’t whine at all. As we learned Monday night, he’s too young to make it through the night without a potty time. Poor little guy was cold, wet, and shivering when Kay came down at 4:30 for her cup of coffee and quiet time. He recovered well throughout the day, and we adjusted our schedule to be better “parents” to the un-house-broken baby. He has had no other accidents…largely because I watch his every move every day. I’m the stay-at-home puppy dad who now required TWO naps a day, just like Barclay.

We feel very blessed to have lost our mind and ask your good wishes and prayers that the three of us survive puppyhood in “a good way,” as our American Indian friends say.

On and off my rocker

My Rocking Chair

My Amish Rocker

“WHY, in a world filled with yelling and screaming, would you ‘PREACH’? Are you off your rocker?”

I can’t help it. I’m a preacher. I have to preach. But it’s the time in the rocking chair that matters most, times when I sit in Jacob Miller’s Amish rocker preparing for Sunday that I love the most. Jacob made the rocker just for me in his Amish shop in Millersburg, Ohio on a farm that spoke volumes about peace and love.

I approach the pulpit in fear and trembling, knowing that it is sacred space where people expect to hear a different kind of word, its sacredness only as real as the humanity that walks into it. The requirements of preaching result in a daily discipline: a fresh cup of strong coffee with the Scriptures in one hand the newspaper in the other.

We live in a crazy world where religion is a source of great sorrow as well as a source of joy. Religion divides and religion unites. It opens us up to the Other, or it walls us off. It broadens us or narrows us.  It increases our circulation or it constricts our arteries.

Not long ago American Christians seemed to take for granted that Christianity and our country were simply flip sides of the same coin (a curious blending of the Judeo-Christian idea of an “elect” people and the national misappropriation of Jesus’ “city set upon a hill”  as a light to the other nations). That bogus idea is dead, but the news is still reaching our ears, like the news of the town crier in Frederich Nietzsche’s The Gay Science:

Have you heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly, “I seek God! I seek God!” As many of those who do not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter…Whither is God,” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I.   All of us are murderers…. God is dead.  God remains dead. And we have killed him….

– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882), Section 126.

That god is already dead, but the message is still reaching our ears. The death of this god “clears the decks for the God of the Bible,” wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a letter from a prison cell July 18, 1944 before his execution by the Third Reich:

Christians range themselves with God in his suffering; that is what distinguishes them….  As Jesus asked in Gethsemane, “Could ye not watch with me one hour?” That is the exact opposite of what the religious man expects from God. Man is challenged to participate in the sufferings of God at the hands of a godless world. He must therefore plunge himself into the life of a godless world, without attempting to gloss over its ungodliness with a veneer of religion or try to transfigure it. He must live a ‘Worldly” life and so participate in the suffering of God. He may live a worldly life as one emancipated from all false religions and obligations. To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to cultivate some particular form of asceticism (as a sinner, a penitent or a saint), but to he a man. It is not some religious act which makes a Christian what he is, but participation in the suffering of God in the life of the world.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

I’m no Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But his words and life frame the way I look at the world. To whatever extent the sermons and commentaries that appear here reflect Bonhoeffer’s spirit, I am grateful to him and to others who have shaped my ministry: Ted Campbell, Paul Louis Lehmann, Lewis Briner, William Sloan Coffin, Jack Stotts, William Stringfellow, James Cone, Sebastian Moore, and a host of others. When my attempts fail to keep faith with their examples, they reflect my shortcomings and foibles. If and when any of them manages to speak a Word through my human frailty, it is because I have stood on their shoulders on the watchtower, grasped again by the Spirit of the Living God.

“I will take my stand to watch, and station myself on the tower, and look forth to see what G-d will say to me, and what G-d will answer concerning my complaint. And the LORD answered me, ‘Write the vision; make it plain…so those who run may read it. For still the vision awaits its time….'” (Habakkuk 2:1-3a)

Jacob Miller’s Amish rocker is my watchtower. A cup of coffee, Habakkuk, and the morning newspaper. Thank you, Jacob, for the place to be on your rocker when I’m about to go off mine!

“It’s Beautiful!”

Sometimes it takes a visitor from someplace warm to remind us of the beauty in the cold

Gordon C. Stewart published by MPR December 30, 2010

About this time of year, people in the Upper Midwest are wishing we were in Florida, Arizona, California or Mexico. The snow and cold get old.

But there’s a beauty to the snow and cold. Last week my friend Steve, who lives in Florida, finally came to Minnesota. Steve and I went to junior high school together in Pennsylvania. He’s lived mostly in the sunny climates of California and Florida. I’ve become a Minnesotan.

I’ve been trying to get him here for years; he always laughed when I told him how beautiful it is. “It’s cold!” he’d say.

Last week when, to my eyes, the snow had gotten dirty and the cold was bone-chilling, Steve finally came to Minnesota for his nephew’s wedding. When I picked him up at his hotel, the first words out of his mouth were, “It’s beautiful! This is really beautiful!”

We drove to the Dunn Brothers in downtown Chaska for a cup of coffee. “Wow, this is really neat,” he said. “We don’t have anything like this in Florida. This is a real town.” After an hour of catching up over coffee, he asked if we could walk down to the river. We walked the few blocks to the river and along the path that runs along the top of the levy in front of the townhomes.

It’s a beautiful scene of the Minnesota River. I was freezing up there, but Steve shot pictures, as excited as I would be snapping pictures of sea turtles spawning on a warm beach in Florida.

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Steve was beholding it. I was not — until I got home and saw the picture Steve had posted on Facebook, and the comment posted by someone who hadn’t been chilled to the bone on the riverbank. “That’s beautiful!” she wrote. “It’s so perfect it doesn’t even look real.”

And I realized: It is beautiful, and it is real. Just like the real downtown and the old corner coffee shop where strangers get to know each other by name — a real place to warm ourselves while we complain about the winter weather over a cup of coffee.

About the middle of January I’ll forget how beautiful it is here in Minnesota. I might spend a few days at Steve’s condo in Florida just to get warm, and to realize again what we have here that Steve doesn’t have there.

In the meantime, when the snow and cold get old, I’ll look at the Currier and Ives picture Steve put up on Facebook to remind myself of the beauty I take for granted in the Land of 10,000 (frozen) Lakes.