The Heron

“Just walk down to the end of the parking lot and you’ll see the path toward the lake. Follow the grass path around the lake. They keep it closely mowed… mostly. You’ll be fine.” These were my directions to find a place to walk while at the abbey for a couple of days. So, I followed my nose to the end of the parking lot. There was the well mown path that headed to the water. I was on my way, on a beautiful morning.

As I rounded the first curve of the lake, I was absorbed in my own thoughts on a solitary exercise. When I looked up, I found I was not alone. There, maybe fifty yards ahead, was a heron standing at the water’s edge (Great Blue Heron, perhaps – but I’m no ornithologist). The majestic, graceful creature stood looking in my direction, then began to walk up toward the path. As I got closer, the heron took flight – effortless, powerful. As the long neck and head stretched forward and the long legs trailed, I could, for just a second, see the prehistoric ancestors of this bird – pterodactyl and such. The great creature landed on the path farther down the line. As I approached again, it winged its way onto a stout tree nearby. Then again, to the water’s edge at a place where the path was less visible – and I was unsure where it turned. The heron, my companion, flew off into the trees ahead. I followed. There I found the  neatly mowed path once again.

“Woven into our lives is the very fire from the stars and genes from the sea creatures, and everyone, utterly everyone, is kin in the radiant tapestry of being.”

Lots of folks might see God in this encounter. Many would conclude that the Heron had been sent to guide me – its presence would be all about me. I don’t buy that for a minute.  More likely, it was fleeing my presence. I had probably interrupted its breakfast. Too often we think that creature and creation are all here for us. We’re terrible narcissists in that way. We don’t see that the Heron exists all on its own, with its own communion with God. It would have been there had I explored the path or not. We need to be careful seeing every butterfly and bird; every tree and sunrise as a message from God just for us. In the same way, we need to see that the resources of creation are more than consumable resources out here for me and you to use.

The gift this beggar received from this beautiful creature was in the transformation of my solitary, self-absorbed walk into a journey with something; dare I say, with someone? The One who created us both? From the moment that bird flew off, I was unable to be alone. The little white and purple flowers were all around. A hawk crossed the path ahead of me. A big green bug in the path and dozens of other creatures were all around. These creatures, made and beloved of God, are not pests, weeds, interlopers or guests in my world. We are, as St. Francis would say, brothers and sisters. Maybe, if we humans would see this more clearly, we would stop, or at least slow, our drive to be the most invasive, viral species to bring death to the planet.

Perhaps this is what theologian Elizabeth A. Johnson is getting at when she says, “Woven into our lives is the very fire from the stars and genes from the sea creatures, and everyone, utterly everyone, is kin in the radiant tapestry of being.”(1) We are called to love God with our whole being and called to love our neighbor as ourselves. Who is our neighbor? Certainly, as the Good Samaritan story tells us, it is anyone in need. Perhaps any-thing in need. On that day, my neighbor was a heron – and hundreds of God’s creations too numerous to count. It is so every day, if we will look, listen and be aware of the neighborhood of life. That is this Beggar’s Take.

© 2018 – Timothy V. Olson. All rights reserved
(1) Johnson, Elizabeth A., Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love (Bloomsbury Continuum) Kindle Edition

Whip-Wielding, Table-Turning Messiah

For most folks, “Gentle Jesus” is the image we carry of the Messiah. The whip-wielding, table-turning, angry Jesus who cleanses the temple seems to be an aberration. When Jesus finds that the noise of livestock and clatter of coins is louder than the prayers; when he sees that the name of God is being used for personal gain, he gets angry, righteously angry. We do the same kind of things today. So, what does “cleansing the temple” mean for us?

Disaster in Oklahoma and the Presence of God

So, I was thinking that not to speak in the face of the devastation of the most recent disaster in Oklahoma is well, unthinkable.  What I share here is in part, some of a letter shared with the congregation – so pardon any redundancy.

The pictures of the devastation wrought by the huge and protracted tornado are heart breaking and even beyond comprehension.  The fact that our own area has listened to sirens warning us of the possibility of similar threats over the last two days brings the destruction closer to home, even if only in our imaginations. “What if….?” What if I were the one trying to imagine where my house used to be.  What if this town was being featured on the news feed.  We might even utter “Thank God it was not here” knowing immediately that our thanks is not really gratitude, but relief.  The images and the possibility of such an event happening means that fear becomes a companion in times like this.

Reminds me of a story you may know:

One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they put out,  and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger.  They went to him and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm.  He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?” (Luke 8:22-25)
Who is this Jesus; this sleeping presence and stiller of storms?  None other than the God who over and over says to us, “Do not be afraid.” But letting go of the fear can be hard.  Especially when we wonder if it isn’t precisely this God who somehow allows, or even causes these disasters and storms.

I am thinking that soon, if not already, some morally upright, emotionally uptight, self-proclaimed proclaimer of “truth” will announce that this disaster was God’s punishment for something or another.  Listen: No matter what anyone tells you, the God revealed in Jesus Christ and worshiped as the Holy Trinity does NOT punish people with tornadoes — or disease, or earthquake, or any other such thing.  This God does not have a “plan” that called for a tornado to strike Oklahoma yesterday to serve some mysterious purpose.  It is true that tornadoes and earthquakes and such all happen within the order of creation, within the providence of the God who orders all things.  But that does not mean God points a divine magic wand to conjure up the tragedies of life.  They happen as part of the natural course of things. Tornadoes happen because rain falls; cancer happens because cells grow and sometimes, do so out of control. The God I have met in Jesus Christ does not inflict such things, but bears them instead.  You see?
So, where is God in this disaster?  Look at the cross — God is on the cross, suffering, bearing the brokenness and crying out for mercy. Look to the devastation itself to find God in Oklahoma. God is in the rubble, in the cries of the broken and grieving.  The God of the cross is present in the one who races into the rubble to find the person wailing for help and in that very wail.  God is already working to bring new life and resurrection from this disaster – and every other incidence of suffering, pain, grief that happens this day – even if it never makes the news.  God is with you as you tremble with fear and draw your kids close. God is with the people and working through the people.

God be with all who weep and mourn and clean-up today and in all the days ahead. God be with us as we battle fear and seek faith.

Pax Christi,

Pastor Tim Olson

Football Coach. Witness. Saint.

The next time you find yourself wondering whether “Lutherans” make any difference or whether support of the ELCA or its various colleges, schools, and ministries make a difference, think about “Saint Frosty.” Along with John Gagliardi of St. John’s in Collegeville, MN (two of college footballs best coaches ever) Frosty brought humanity, fun, and faith to the field.  Read about him and give thanks for his witness at his death.

Frosty Westerings unusual style deserves memorials. | : Chuck Culpepper Article.

A Movie and Mob Violence

So, I’ve been thinking about this anti-Muslim movie and the wave of hate and violence unleashed upon American and Western diplomats and embassies throughout the Arab world. Certainly the movie is itself a hate-based piece of propaganda that  espouses a view of Islam that is ill-informed, out of touch with the faith of most Muslims and was intended for this kind of reaction.  It is a stupid movie, not worth the effort to see.  I was offended enough to shut it off after just a few moments.  I think, like most of you, the depth of rage and violence shown by the killing of our Ambassador to Libya and other mob violence seems an incredibly out of control reaction to one stupid movie produced by a hateful man.  There is no movie or cartoon or news article that should prompt such rage.  That the rage is aimed at our whole nation is, if you are like me, just impossible to understand.

So, I have been thinking – and even praying – to understand the rage.  Not to condone it, not to excuse it or explain it away.  But because I have found that when people are in deep conflict, finding some semblance of understanding is the first step to dealing with the conflict.  Now, I know that for some, the only path to resolving the violence is to bomb the perpetrators back to the stone age; to take an “eye for an eye” – which always ends up being more than an eye.  There is a part of me, I must confess, that feels that way very deeply.  I am not beyond contemplating punching an idiot in the nose for being an idiot.  But, as I hope you can understand, I have to work hard to only contemplate and then confess such things.  My line of work and all, you see.

It occurs to me as I ponder, that this response by those in the Arab world is incomprehensible to me partly because I have lived my life in a society where people have the freedom to say anything — even really stupid things.  I know that when the outrageous things said on TV, in the news, in a movie are proclaimed they are not speaking for the whole country.  Heck, I know that when a leader of this country, say running for office, says something stupid, it is not necessarily policy.  I wonder if this kind of freedom of speech is as incomprehensible to people who never had it as their violence in this situation is to me.  Perhaps for them, when a movie gets circulated, it is impossible to think that the government did not have something to do with it because that is what they live with every day.  Just a thought.  Maybe a little path to understanding.  That does not mean the violence is OK.  Killing is always wrong and against the will of God – no matter the god you worship.

The other thing I have been thinking is that freedom of speech – like any freedom – can be used for good or ill. The great Danish Lutheran philosopher and pastor Soren Kierkegaard once said “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.” Seems to apply to our movie maker — and oh, so many more.  We have the right to say, print, paint, sculpt anything.  And even pornography has protections under this right because it is nearly impossible to judge what freely spoken or rendered communication is good and bad.

I would like to suggest that we are, however, as human beings – and certainly as Christians – to focus not on the right we have, but upon our responsibility as citizens and people of faith to express ourselves for the common good (recognizing this too is hard to discern).  In the 3rd chapter of the Letter of James the writer says: “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue– a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.”  What we say stands at the heart of much of the evil that takes place in the world.  Paul says in Ephesians 4:29 “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” 

I have a right to call you an idiot, to insult your god and make fun of your family and the dog.  In Christ, I have the responsibility to hold my tongue, say no such thing, and even confess my hard hearted hatred and just plain meanness, seeking the Lord’s forgiveness.  Luther says that we violate the 8th commandment about bearing false witness (lying) if we do not interpret what our neighbors say in the best possible light.  Seems that my right to say whatever I want is to be disciplined by my faith and responsibility for loving my neighbor.

So for what its worth, that’s what I’ve been thinking about a movie and the mob violence.

Pax Christi,

Pastor Tim