Violence and Language

As the parent of young children, I often find myself stopping quarrels between sisters.  Sometimes these quarrels get physical and require separation.

Often times, however, squabbles between my two older children are fought with words.  I find it baffling where this vocabulary of fighting comes from—my spouse and I do not call each other names, nor do we use negative language with our children.   Yet name calling happens more often than I care to admit.

We live in a culture of violence.  From almost daily shootings, to violent video games, to the realities of war, acts of physical violence are commonplace.

But it is our vocabulary of violence that begets such physical acts.  As we try to teach our children, name calling is wrong.  Words hurt. Bullying happens often and the impact of violent words can (and are) felt for years to come.


I grew up hearing, “sticks and stones may hurt your bones but words will never hurt you”.  I disagree emphatically.  Psychological violence, and the effects of bullying, causes harm– the consequences of which can stick around for a lifetime.

It is time to watch our language, not just around our children, but for the sake of humanity.  When our politicians name call, we need to call them out.  When celebrities ‘throw shade’, we should resist the temptation to glamorize it.  When hurtful things are said on social media, we need not repeat them.

The art of polite deliberation seems to be lost.  If we want to create a truly non-violent society, we need to begin with our language.  Being part of a more perfect union depends on it.

Sauerkraut Anyone? Practicing Hospitality with the ‘Kraut

Each mid-September, (for I don’t know how many years), the folks at Zion Lutheran in Muscatine, Iowa (the church I’m called to serve as pastor) serves up some of the tastiest sauerkraut this side of the Atlantic.

I’m not joking.  I help with the supper.  I’m the chief meat slicer for the meal. This year, I sliced 318 pounds of pork roast.

I know what you might be thinking.   “I don’t like sauerkraut.  Why would I come?”  I thought that way about the sauerkraut too, but over the past 5 years, I’ve come to like it. Dare I say, it’s really good!

I also seat the guests who come in droves as their noses follow the pungent aroma of sauerkraut wafting up from the Mississippi River. Each year we serve 400 meals (or more some years when there’s an early fall).  Sales are better when it’s cooler outside.

Fact is, I’ve come to understand this event not as another “pride” event, but as an event in which it takes a whole lot of people to make happen.

Our’s is a congregation that rolls-up her sleeves and works together to pull-off this dinner.

And for good cause.

We use most all the proceeds to fund outreach ministries that we would like to include in our general fund benevolence, but simply can’t afford to make happen. In 2015, we funded ministries to:  the University of Iowa Hospital Chaplain, the Lutheran Campus ministry at University of Iowa, Muscatine County “Almoner’s Fund“, the Pastor’s Discretion Fund, and the “Jesus Mission” feeding ministry in Muscatine.  We use a small amount of the proceeds to cover the electricity cost associated with the event.

The thing is, folks around here still love an old fashion meal. Not kidding.  Everything is prepared as my grandmother in Texas would prepare for a dinner with the family. She’d be proud.

This year, I even sliced the meat a little thicker than last year. It’s a little secret, I didn’t tell anyone. No one complained about the thickness, s0 I’m guessing they liked it!

All served family-style. Tables are set with real plates and silverware, and servers come by and refill any empty bowls.

Here’s our food stats:

  • 318 pounds of roasted pork (from Reason’s meat locker across the river in Illinois)
  • 20 gallons of sauerkraut
  • 40 pounds of old-fashion butter noodles from the Amana Colonies in Iowa
  • 170 pounds of potatoes mashed by two workers
  • 2 cases of butter
  • 24 gallons of green beans with 8 pounds of bacon added for flavor
  • 12 gallons of apple sauce
  • 34 dozen rolls
  • 75 pies with 8 tubs of whipped cream
  • 15 gallons of milk
  • 2 200-ounce coffee 

And the labor of 67 members of the congregation.

Two members preparing roasters full of sauerkraut.

Left-overs are minimal; we’ve got this down to a science.   This year we only had six slices of pie left from the 75 donated homemade pies. Any food left over goes to the local shelter.

The hospitality ministry from our members is the sweet spot for this community feeding ministry.   It truly requires a group of folks who can work together with one another to pull off a meal like this. That doesn’t mean that we didn’t step on each others toes in the process, it’s just an example of when folks are committed to a common goal or vision, they can make anything happen.

I say it’s well worth the amount of labor it takes to pull this off. Our capacity to ‘do‘ ministry increases.  For example, this year, we expanded our social ministry to include the “Garden of Eatin‘” our garden ministry which provides our neighbors access to fresh produce.  It was a so successful, we’re planning to expand the garden 30% (two additional boxes) and add fresh herbs to the mix.

The thing is:  we are able to serve others through this meal and have a little fun in the process.

Can I say I’m crazy about the sauerkraut supper?  No.  But it’s neat to step back after the event and thank God we made it through another meal.

And then there’s the benevolence to other ministries.  In 2015 we directed over $3,000 to ministries outside the congregation.

It’s definitely worth the effort.

Get a ticket and join the folks for a meal you won’t soon forget. I promise.

If not, I’ll give you a refund.  From my own pocket of course.




The secret of Life — Men’s Work

At the heart of the matter lies this: Life is a series of surprises. Only the unexpected has Life, only the unexpected is true. You are not in control of what happens. It doesn’t matter how much education you have. If you do not know this, you are woefully uninformed. You will look for someone […]

via The secret of Life — Men’s Work

Emotional Intelligence Workshop

Inside the nave of the chapel in Northwestern Hall at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota
From July 11-15 I participated in an Emotional Intelligence Continuing Education Event at Luther Theological Seminary located in St. Paul, Minnesota.  The core of this event was processing, with group members, the 360 feedback report on the Emotional and Social Competency.
The data for this inventory was collected from about 15-20 individuals from distinct categories such as: managers, direct reports, peers, clients/customers, family members and others.
This was an intense workshop for all members of the group.  It requires a certain about of vulnerability to received feedback on one’s emotions and ability to manage relationships.
The majority of our working week (13-hour days) was spend in group sessions processing whatever was needed by the members.
The plenary sessions included the following topics:  Brain theory, Somatic work, Stages of community development, diversity training, and the JoHari Window theory.
The workshop was lead by Roy Oswald, former director of the Center for Emotional Intelligence and Joan Townshend.
Here’s the link to the Center for Emotional Intelligence and Human Relations Center founded by Roy Oswald.
Link to the Center for Emotional Intelligence and Human Relations Skills

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is defined as:  the capacity of individuals to recognize their own, and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.[1] 
The four areas that comprise Emotional intelligence include:
  1. Self-Awareness – recognizing one’s own emotions
  2. Self-Management- effectively managing one’s own emotions
  3. Social awareness – Recognizing and understanding the emotions of others
  4. Relationship Management – Applying our own emotional understanding in one’s dealing with other people.
The four main components of Emotional Intelligence and the Norms for our Learning Group experiential learning

The Human Brain and Emotional Intelligence
To fully understand and appreciate Emotional Intelligence, one must first understand how the brain functions in leadership development.
Diagram of the human brain including the three main brain structures (Autonomic, Limbic, Cortex/NeoCortex)
Of particular note is the area in the brain is one of the most primitive areas of the brain in the Limbic system know as the Amygdala.  The Amygdala is the most primitive area of our brain that our ancient ancestors needed for survival; it is the part of the brain that is the “flight or fight” response. The amygdala responds to potential dangers and threats in one’s environment. When someone is frighten or feeling fear, the amygdala can overtake the rational part of our brains and there is little ability for the person to reason.  Thus resulting in a “hijack” that can affect one’s emotional response to fear and/or anxiety.
There are ways in which one can avoid an emotional hijack from the amygdala.  The most effective method for me was to pause 6 seconds following an serious emotional response to a flight or fight situation.
Putting a reaction on hold can for a brief moment and gathering thoughts (along with breathing) can assist one in an emotionally laden and anxious moment.

The JoHari Window ( a theory of the Self)
The four parts to the JoHari Window are: the publicly reveled self, the hidden self, the blind (unaware self), and the unknowing area

Stages of Group and Community Development
Every group/community goes through stages of grow. Using a theory from M. Scott Peck in his book, “The Different Drum – Community Making and Peace” our workshop traced the four characteristics of community development.
These four stages include:
  1. Stage 1 is Pseudocommunity – This is an early stage of community that is characterized by:     Speaking in generalities, faking, withholding truth to be polite,
  2. Stage 2 is Chaos – people offer attempts to offer solutions, individual differences become open, people negotiate to make win/win situations, a general need to control others begins to surface.
  3. Stage 3 is Emptiness – this stage is characterized by: an acknowledgement and appreciation of the difference of interpersonal gifts and differences, barriers to communication are removed. in this stage, community norms begin to surface and team development emerge.
  4. Stage 4 is Community.   In this stage, members of the community accept and embrace one another, share vulnerability and fight (challenge one another), Communicate and solve problems to gather, commit to each other and share efforts to support the community.

    Dominate and Subordinated Groups
Another plenary sessions was on diversity awareness and recognizing power/dominate groups and subordinate groups.
Every group/relationship has dynamics at play in which dominance and subordinated  people are in relationship with one another.   Often people aren’t even aware of their dominance nor the impact they have on the subordinate group.
In every relationship it is very useful to pay attention to what is going on in our relationships and community to check out how the dimensions of dominance and subordination are impacting the effectiveness of the group/community.

Somatic Work
One of the most life-giving moments during this event, for me, was the morning centering and body work in which we stretched our bodies (practiced yoga) to create self-awareness followed by Apophatic mediation and prayers.
This was life-giving for me because I often do not have time to stretch and struggle to complete my daily devotions.
Chart indicating the difference between the Cataphatic and Apophatic prayer styles

So, with any workshop and new learning, the question always becomes, where do I go from here?
I’ve been aware of blind spots in my life.  Everyone has blind spots that are known to other  but aren’t readily known to the self.  I’ve been working on dealing with my blind spots and also creating awareness of my shadow self.
The work is deep, it can lead to emotional venerability, which leads to growth of Emotional Intelligence which can assist a person in building successful relationships with others.
Yale University has an outstanding Center for Emotional Intelligence and more information on this subject can be accessed from their website by clicking on the following link.
Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence

Saying Good-bye to Vicar Sam Nelson

Today, we said “good-bye” to our pastoral intern, Sam Nelson.  Sam has served Zion Lutheran since August 2015.  He is from Half Moon Bay, a coastal town in California. He received his undergraduate degree from California Lutheran University and a Master’s degree in Psychology from the American University in Washington D.C. Currently a student at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago (LSTC), Sam has completed his internship year at Zion Lutheran Church.  I served as his intern supervisor.  Sam was my first pastoral intern, and the first intern for Zion Lutheran in about 30 years.

Members of the Intern Committee in an act of blessing during the Litany of Sending for our intern, Sam Nelson.

Those preparing for ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) spend one-year completing a pastoral internship within a congregational setting.

Here’s a link to his blog:

Celebrating the completion of a sucessful intern year

I receive a great deal of satisfaction working with future leaders of the church.  It brings me great pride knowing that I support, equip, and prepare others for the vocation of ordained ministry in Christ’s church.

Following his internship, Sam will return for one more year of seminary study at LSTC.

In January 2017, Sam will enter the assignment process for his first call to serve in a parish of the ELCA.  Subsequent to his first call, Sam will schedule, in coordination with his synodical bishop, a time for his ordination.

God’s blessing to Sam and all people preparing for leadership positions in the Church.

“Garden of Eatin’ ” is Producing a Harvest

Two of my daughters watering the flowers at Zion Lutheran’s               “Garden of Eatin’

We have beets!!!! 

In the summer of 2015, I applied for a domestic hunger grant through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to start a community garden to provide our neighbors and local food pantry with access to fresh locally-sourced produce.

Our congregation, Zion Lutheran Church, received $1,000 from the grant application and subsequent work began through our Social Ministry committee.

On Earth Day weekend, in April 2016 , we dedicated the “Garden of Eatin’ ” to the Glory of God as an act of worship and the garden was off and running!

Garden of Eatin’ ” dedication on Earth Day weekend in April 2016.

Towards the end of June 2016, the garden has produced about 80 pounds of fresh vegetables that have been given to the Muscatine Community Food Pantry and a few produce has gone to our immediate neighbors.

Vegetables include:  broccoli, carrots, beets, romaine lettuce, green lettuce, two types of onions, tomatoes, two varieties of kale, green peppers, beets, and red cabbage.

The Garden of Eatin’ Ministry has really taken on a life of it’s own (no pun intended) and  gotten lots of inquires from our neighbors and folks in the community.

This is the kind of project that required the work of the entire congregation (and even our neighbors have graciously allowed us to use some of their water).   Some one from the congregation came up with the name for the garden, a member who happens to be a farmer donated soil, another designed the garden boxes, a couple of folks planted the crops, another the sign, and then each week, one family unit signs-up to steward the garden for a week.

The week of June 26-July 2nd is my family’s week to serve.  We had a great time working together in the garden and getting our hand’s dirty serving up a wonderful harvest!





Lutheran Living Senior Community Re-Dedication Celebration

IMG_3783[1] copy
Ribbon cutting celebration with me and Dave Armstrong, executive director of Lutheran Living and current and former members of the board. 
On Sunday, June 25th. I celebrated the completion of a four-year building expansion project and remodeling for the Lutheran Living Senior Campus.

It’s been a cumbersome journey, and the celebration was very rewarding for the leadership, staff, residents and the Muscatine community.

Lutheran Living is a non-for-profit, faith-based continual care retirement community (CCRC) providing a variety of services to area seniors.

The project included building a 24-bed Transitional Care Center which allows area citizens to rehab in their hometown.

Thanks be to God for the hard work and dedication to a very fine ministry that serves compassionately and faithfully!

Prayer Vigil of Comfort and Hope

Tonight we gathered with heavy hearts to remember all victims of gun violence, our sisters and brothers in the LGBTQI community, for our Muslim brothers and sisters, those who inspire hate, all who are afraid, first responders- police and EMT’s.  We prayed for those throughout history who have suffered violence and death because of their sexual orientation.

We remembered all the victims by name of the mass murder in Orlando. During the reading of the names, I experienced simultaneous feelings of sadness and anger. I found myself cursing the darkness.   What I needed (and wanted) in that moment was to reflect the Light, but I felt the darkness in the reading of the names.images

And,as a sign of great hope in Christ, we shared and named “Peace be with you” to one another. I think we loose sight to easily how profound those four words are.

After I’ve had time to process this service tonight and re-read the words of benediction,  I find the words of hope and the source of Light:

Trad. Gaelic

Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the infinite peace to you.

And so it is… And so it will be…

Lighten our darkness, O God. Amen. ++

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Bike Ride – July 15, 2016

Riding my bike is a spiritual practice for me –it has been for years.   I’m in tune with the road, bike, and earth.  Being in nature on my rides serves as my reminder that I’m not that important.  Everything belongs and I’m not the center of the universe.  Each leaf, twig, tree and blade of grass belong.   And so do I.

I capture this shot on my ride last night.