Family Matters

Family Matters

Among countless pleasures of our 16-day European honeymoon we remember gracious hospitality, spectacular sites, pristine Autumn weather and reunions with cherished friends. And these do not include our delight upon hearing that a friend had upgraded us to First Class for our 8-hour return flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis. Ours was truly the honeymoon of our dreams… a dream we will long remember.

One extraordinary gift was the opportunity to visit the small rural hamlets from which my German ancestry emigrated. My paternal great-great grandparents came from Ellsdorf-Esch, near Cologne, in 1850. My mother’s German ancestry (she’s half Irish) left Weiberg/Hegensdorf near Kassel in 1856 for America.

Wanting to symbolically mark the occasion, we gathered dirt from fields near both sites. On our next visit to the cemeteries in NE Nebraska where these forebears are buried we will sprinkle earth from their homeland upon their graves. We will do this in their honor, in gratitude and in testimony to the enduring family bond they established.

We will not perform this simple ritual with naive sentimentality. The strength of family bonds we so easily take for granted required that they cut the bonds that linked them to family, culture and homeland. Their sacrifice was immense and should never be romanticized nor underestimated.

They left everything they possessed and all they knew out of necessity — families from the Rhineland were reeling from intractable poverty, lack of opportunity and political repression following the failed social revolution of 1848.

Virtually all German emigrants to America were desperate refugees fleeing intolerable conditions for a better life. Surely they could never have fathomed the good fortune of their children, not to mention the extravagances and indulgences of our honeymoon.

All this came rushing forth as I read a news report on my iPad from the comfort of our Minneapolis home. John Allen, a reporter for the Boston Globe, wrote about taking an old friend out to lunch in one of his favorite restaurants in Rome. The friend is Bishop Borys Gudziak, leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Paris and president of the prestigious Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv.

Toward the end of lunch, Gudziak looked at Allen and said something like: “This has been a great meal, and I thank you for it. Let’s not forget, however, that millions of people in this world live in extreme poverty, and could never dream of affording something like this.” Allen’s unspoken reaction was, “You’re a great guy, Borys, but you can be a real downer sometimes.”

Bishop Gudziak wasn’t finished. “Almost half of the world lives with less than what a cappuccino costs in this neighborhood, less than two euros a day, and 80 percent of the world lives on less than $10 a day,” he said, with rising intensity in his voice. “There’s 150 million homeless people, 100 million orphans, 60 million refugees.”

Yes, I too easily accept — even with sincere gratitude — the unfathomable opportunities and unmerited comforts of my life. I can easily sentimentalize our family heritage, minimizing the sacrifice, romanticizing the true story. I can claim it as a unique family saga when it is in fact a universal human search for freedom, dignity and a better life for our children.

The dirt we scooped from the fields of Ellsdorf-Esch and Weiberg/Hegensborf sits in a plastic container not far from my recliner, current book selections and flat screen television. Until we have the opportunity to sprinkle it upon the graves of our forebears in sacred testimony to their courage and sacrifice, I will remember that my story is not something out of the 19th century but is more accurately “our” story today.

I will remember with this photo of a migrant praying in a field near the border between Serbia and Croatia about 100 km (62 miles) west of Belgrade, Serbia on Oct. 18, 2015.   It is a family photo for truly this man is more than a neighbor, he is our brother:

image

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The inspirational article by John Allen about his lunch with Bishop Borys Gudziak is from the October 18 online edition of Crux [link].  The photo is from the Associated Press: (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic).

A Much Needed Second Look

This should have been yesterday’s post. But I had nothing to say about the topic. It all seemed so “yesterday”, so passé. In fact, I have some negativity to overcome.

As a kid, the Rosary was a big deal. It was prayed in church before Mass. An expensive set of prayer beads were a typical gift for First Communion to replace the cheap plastic rosary we fingered before we even knew the Hail Mary.

We’d pray the Rosary at the beginning of every family road trip — we knew we better have our beads readily at hand. While other kids ran outside to play after dinner we knew we had to pray the Rosary first — not just during Lent, throughout theyear! My Dad prayed the full 15-decade Rosary everyday well into his 80s.

Life moves on. Religious culture changes. Schedules impinge on time. We outgrow childhood practices. I had plenty of negative baggage to dump regarding the seeming dreary repetitious routine that impinged on my youthful spontaneity.  I quickly discarded the practice for what I thought would foster a more mature “contemporary” spirituality.

Yesterday, my solid Catholic upbringing reminded me that October 7 is the feast of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary (just like I remembered it was my sister’s 54th wedding anniversary).  But I had nothing to say. It seemed like a kindly artifact of yesteryear. Harmless enough. A bit quint. But, irrelevant.

Then a couple of things happened. A friend shared her delight with a prayer service she had attended the evening before at a local Catholic high school. The service was built around The Rosary with St. James, an innovative way of praying that combines the repetitive and contemplative aspects of the traditional ritual with the message that Christ’s disciple James preached—the message that “faith without works is dead.”

The rhythm, the structure of the five decades, and other aspects of the more traditional format are the same. This rosary uses contemporary composer and liturgist David Hass’s Mysteries of Discipleship:

  • First Mystery: To Serve the Poor
  • Second Mystery: To Serve Those Who Experience Discrimination and Hatred
  • Third Mystery: To Serve the Cause of Peace
  • Fourth Mystery: To Serve the Young and the Fearful
  • Fifth Mystery: To Serve the Suffering and the Dying

Interspersed throughout are musical responses along with inspired passages from the “cloud of witnesses,” including Óscar Romero, Peter Maurin, Martin Luther King Jr., Harvey Milk, St. Francis of Assisi, St. John Paul II, Dorothy Day, Mahatma Gandhi, St. John XXIII, St. John Baptist de la Salle, Robert F. Kennedy, St. Teresa of Ávila, Adrienne Rich, Helen Keller, and Henri Nouwen.

Then, as if God were intent on putting an exclamation point on the enduring relevance of this ancient prayer form, I simply happened upon a blog post by an Anglican who extolled the Rosary’s spiritual benefits. This Protestant recommends it as a graced entrée for prayerfully inhabiting the mysteries of the Creed.

Yes, the Rosary is Marian in character.  This is because she is among all Christians the model disciple. Yet, at its heart the Rosary — the Mysteries on which we meditate — are thoroughly Christo-centic.

The Anglican bblogger confesses that as he prays the Hail Mary over each plain wooden bead, he is brought again and again into the mystery of the Incarnation – in joy, light, sorrow, glory.  God the Word fully assuming our humanity, that our humanity may fully share in the life of God.

I may be a day late with this reflection.  Nevertheless, it is time to take another look at this discarded, even disvalued, prayer.  Accordingly, I am brought back to profound gratitude for the conscientious efforts my parents made to pass on the faith they treasured, a conformity to Christ they personified.

I enthusiastically introduce you to The Rosary with St. James [here] and the perspectives of the Anglican blogger [here].

Who’s Invited? Who’s Not?

I saw and looked away. I could not look again. I could not even bring myself to read the accompanying story — I knew. We all know. The world knows too well! But not now, please!

We are planning our wedding! We want nothing to detract or conflict with our special day. The silver’s been polished. God forbid the weather be less than perfect!

Our special day leaves no room for too-much of what our world knows too-well. Individually and collectively we have perfected the fine art of distraction, denial and diversion. Not now, please!

The heart wrenching image of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, lifeless on a Turkish shore, has been emblazoned in our consciousness. How are we to celebrate our marriage, mark this happy occasion with family and friends? We are here to commit our selves to one another in love, seek the blessing of the church.  Ominous images impinging on our celebration? No, not now!

Then, what’s the point? If not now, when? We are masters at slicing, dicing and segregating our loves and our lives. And, it doesn’t work! Our “gated communities” too often leave us more isolated, private and alone.

Is not marriage about unity, openness to life, self-giving? Three-year-old Aylan Kurdi was not on our invitation list — he needs to be. Not to dampen our celebration but to keep it real, full and consequential.

I used to think that the most important line in the Bible was “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Then I realized that it is easy to love your neighbor because he or she is usually quite like yourself. What is hard is to love the stranger, one whose color, culture or creed is different from yours. That is why the command, “Love the stranger because you were once strangers”, resonates so often throughout the Bible. It is summoning us now.

With these prophetic words, British Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is summoning all of Europe to reaffirm its Judeo-Christian heritage in light of the current refugee catastrophe. Is this not the fullest and finest expression of love, to love precisely the one who is not just like you?

Will the world be better off because two people promise to love one another for the rest of their lives? We hope so. Perhaps it will be — provided our love is big enough, all-embracing enough, other-centered enough, life-giving enough.

Aylan Kurdi, as our young ring-bearers bring wedding bands to the priest for blessing, you will be remembered. Your spirit will summon us to look, to see and never look away again from what we dare to pledge in love — even unto death.
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You may read Rabbi Sacks’ superb article from The Guardian [here]. Special thanks to Susan Stabile for posting it on her Facebook page today.

For the Love of Strawberries

A story is told of Bertha and Abraham Maslow… like many couples who marry at a young age — she was 19 and he was 20 — they struggled financially as their daughters Ann and Ellen arrived. As Abraham completed his degree at City College, the young family indulged simple pleasures within their constrained budget.

A favorite family outing was to go to one of the many city parks in their New York neighborhood where Abraham and Bertha had both grown up. During strawberry season the parents would splurge on one carton and carefully divide the berries among the four of them.

The parents would generally nibble on only one strawberry. Being the ebullient young children Ann and Ellen were, the girls would quickly gobble down their full share oblivious to their parents restraint. Abraham and Bertha knew their children would soon be back asking for more of the juicy, sweet treats.

Years later, after he had become one of the most influential developmental psychologists of the 20th century, Abraham would recall moments like these in the city park, “Bertha and I learned that strawberries never taste better than in the mouths of our children.”

My unexamined assumption is that the Maslows were Jewish. Their religious affiliation does not matter — their human experience as parents points to something foundational to all the great world religions — a deep, down unity and goodness girding all creation, the felt experience that all is bound up in the Holy, and we are “wired” to participate in this Love.

Contemplative practices of all faith traditions entice, nudge, cajole us to embrace a single-hearted unity with all creation — what my friend Ellen Swanson likes to call “community without conformity.” The Maslow’s strawberries — indeed the simplest of all genuinely human encounters — open for us what is nothing less than a mystical experience, we find God in all persons and all creation!

The mature spiritual life takes us beyond the prescriptions of what is “right,” “moral,” “just,” or “equal.” We are set free from the prescriptions for every step we take or move we make because some authority has “said so” or “others are watching.” We ourselves become the dance; our living becomes the loving; we are swept off our feet by the One who is Love.

The Maslow family came to appreciate this Love through strawberries. Jesus speaks of this in many ways, at many times and ultimately with his life — “unless a grain of wheat fall to the earth and die…” We find our life by losing it. Those who would save their life will give it away.

Love, life, God are never so wonderfully tangible as when shared in selfless communion with family, neighbors, whomever is hungry among us.

Some Assembly Required

Mike is a retired school counselor in his mid 70s. We know him best as the grandpa of the kids next door. He’s over regularly to live-trap and “relocate” pesky chipmunks, sweep up the acorns from the yard’s stately oaks and otherwise do those tasks full-time parents don’t have time to do.

Mike likes to talk. Man, does he like to talk! Fortunately, the Englishman who came to Minnesota to get his PhD, fell in love and stayed. He’s bright, knowledgeable and curious about many things. Recently, Mike was telling me about his decision to resume more regular church attendance.

Mulling over eternal verities or ultimate questions about meaning and purpose was conspicuously absent in Mike’s priorities. What was most striking were not questions about death or an after-life. Rather, Mike was primarily focused on quality of life now! He explained how social engagement and sense of community are essential for maintaining mental health and physical vitality well into our senior years.

Such nuggets of wisdom from elders I would want to emulate get noticed by 65 year-olds like me. Same way with my 85 y/o bother-in-law, Al. He’s always been popular in our family. Now six years into their seconds marriages, he and Elaine are modeling for the rest of us what its like to age with grace, gratitude and charm.

This past week I took a sour cream raisin pie over to share with them. A longstanding claim in our family is that Mom’s double-crust recipe is far superior to any meringue version others may tout! After our self-congratulatory remarks (and second helpings) we engaged in easy, wide-ranging conversation as we always do.

What I noticed throughout Al’s animated story-telling was more than a sugar-high from dessert. He was engaged, grateful and enthusiastic as ever.  This time he kept apologizing for going off on tangents. Every story had about five subplots and as many asides. But his were not the untethered wanderings of a feeble mind. They were exuberant reminiscences of people, places and times we shared in common. A perfect accompaniment to my mother’s double-crust sour cream raisin pie.

Not all our stories are easy or happy. My sister died in 2007. Now Al and his wife talk openly and lovingly about their first marriages. Though family circumstances prevented him from graduating from high school, Al remains as curious, wise and insightful as any philosophy professor I had in college. Twenty years his junior, I have always aspired to be like Al — now more than ever!

These disparate conversations with Mike and Al suddenly converged yesterday as I drove east on 50th Street. On the marquee of the largest Lutheran congregation in the world these words foretold this weekend’s sermon: “Some Assembly Required.” Immediately I chuckled at the clever play on words.

My conversations with Mike and Al suddenly struck me as profound as any sermon a pastor will be preaching at Mount Olivet. Life — and I would hold the spiritual life — is not like putting together a swing set or gas grill. As useful as the owner’s manual is for putting things in place and for their upkeep, such instructions are woefully inadequate for conveying the function and purpose enjoyed in life’s many conveniences — and dare I say, coping with life’s inevitable annoyances.

Yes, some assembly is required. Yet a full life, a purpose-filled life, a life the likes of which Mike and Al model for the rest of us demands more from us. We are nudged and enticed to move beyond the verb, “to assemble” according to the prescriptions of even the best user’s manual. We are invited, even wired, to engage assembly as the noun it is, as community — that full, rich, diverse assortment of characters that make us who we are.

Yes, some assembly is required. Here we carry the stories that enrich and define us, the memories we treasure, the tales that will one day be told about us. In the gathered assembly we reverently hold what’s most valuable and sacred — communion with one another.

Needing to Knead

My last post already confessed to my compulsion for needing the last word. Yes, that’s a well-ingrained fault that warrants my continuous attention (not always successfully). But there are other reasons I don’t want this site to degenerate into a Twitter-like roster of cut-n-paste stories Yours Truly finds of interest.

There’s a reason this blog is named, Kneading Bread! Watching my mother knead countless batches of flour, yeast and water I learned that her labor was not just about the bread. As growth enabled me to deduce patterns I discovered something quite interesting. On those days my mother chose to bake bread — often indulging a little extra energy really getting-into the kneading, I began to recognize it wasn’t primarily about the bread or our family’s love of her good food!

Yes, this blog enables me to wrestle with ideas and issues of importance to me and topics I believe to be of spiritual and social importance. If it’s not obvious, I “need to knead” this batch of ingredients the world regularly plops in front of us to see what comes of it, to discover what value it holds for our health and well-being.

But Kneading Bread is intended to be something more, more than my personal playground for having the last word or indulging my fiercely defended opinions! No, my purpose would fall short if posts failed to stimulate reflection or provoke the reader to wrestle with your own values, beliefs, convictions, commitments and ways of acting in community. As my mother demonstrated, it’s as much about the laborious act of kneading as it is about savoring the finished product!

She also demonstrated in countless ways that there are always exceptions to any rule. That’s true today. Sometimes you come across a quote that is so incisive, so well-crafted, so true it would be wrong to do a thing to it. Today is such a day!  I can do no better. On my best days, I wish I could say it so well:

We have become a society of machines and business degrees, of stocks and bonds, of world power and world devastation, of what works and what makes money. We train our young to get ahead, our middle-aged to consume, and our elderly to be silent. We are sophisticated now. We talk about our ideas for getting ahead rather than about our ideas for touching God, We are miles from our roots and light-years away from our upbringings. We have abandoned the concerns of the civilizations before us. We have forsaken the good, the true, and the beautiful for the effective, the powerful, and the opulent. We have abandoned enoughness for the sake of consumption. We are modern. We are progressive. And we are lost.

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These prophetic words were written by Sister Joan Chittister, OSB. I came to them via my friend Sheila Wilson’s Facebook posting. The only citation I can give is what Sheila gave. It is from Chittister’s book, What Does It Mean to Be Human? In a way, a specific page reference is unnecessary — anything Joan Chittister writes is worth reading!

Failing Forgiveness

Recently, I deeply hurt a dear family member. My well rehearsed self-defensiveness easily shifts into excuses and rationalization: “I didn’t mean to hurt you.” A reflexive, limp, “I’m sorry!” “Here’s what I really meant…” In the back of my mind I also sprinkle in a good dose of “Oh, get over it!” “You’re too thin-skinned.” “You misinterpreted what I meant.”

I easily nurse grudges or smugly assert my innocence, all with a heavy dose of moral superiority. “Me? Why I would never willingly hurt anyone!” This has been my default position for most of my 65 years.

And, it doesn’t work! In fact, it isolates and hardens us. Ultimately, it turns us bitter — the sort of arrogant curmudgeons no one wants to be around. Even we discover we are not in very good company when we increasingly find ourselves alone.

Coincidental to my recent family incident the University of Minnesota was going through a major publicity nightmare and scandal. The Athletic Director had been forced to resign after sexually harassing two colleagues at a mid-summer gathering of top university administrators. Yes, alcohol was involved. Yes, his “excuse” was inept. Yes his “apology” was predictably lame.

Apologies must be about the person who has been hurt, not about protecting our backsides or rehabilitating our reputations! We concoct an amazing assortment of avoidance strategies which are really more about self-forgiveness. According to a really fine op-ed in the Star Tribune about the dismal response by Mr Teague and University leadership, such self-defensiveness sabotages any hope for recovery or rehabilitation.

James E. Lukaszewski’s op-ed convincingly describes the essential pieces of an effective apology:

  • Regret — an explicit acknowledgment that my behavior caused unnecessary pain, suffering and hurt that identifies, specifically, what action or behavior is responsible for the pain.
  • Responsibility — an unconditional declarative acceptance and recognition that my wrongful behavior and acknowledgment that there is no excuse for it.
  • Restitution — an offer of help or assistance to the person I have hurt, followed up by action beyond “I’m sorry,” and conduct that takes responsibility to make the situation right.
  • Repentance — explicit acknowledgment that my behavior caused pain and suffering for which I am genuinely sorry; language that recognizes that I cause serious, unnecessary harm and emotional damage.
  • Direct request for forgiveness — “I was wrong, I hurt you and I ask you to forgive me.”

Reading these words admonishing the Athletic Director and University felt like red-hot coals being heaped on my head. Despite my self-righteous efforts to keep the need for an effective apology theoretical and about others, I felt exposed and incriminated.

My gut was confirming what Lukaszewski claimed.  Admitting that I have done something hurtful and requesting forgiveness is damn hard! Maybe that’s why it is so rarely done, at least with sincerity and effectiveness. Though 65 years of moral evasiveness have taught me the same truth, the hottest coal of all was his final admonition: “Skip even one step, and you simply fail.”

You fail! Not just in this instance. Not just with this family member, neighbor, colleague. We fail — as human beings, the kind of people others want to be around, the sort of person I’d want to be with when I’m all alone!

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The August 10, 2015 op-ed in the Star Tribune is available [here]. In his essay, James E. Lukaszewski credits his source as The Five Languages of Apology, by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas.

An Audacious Wish for an Auspicious Occasion

Turning 65 is an auspicious occasion. Forty-four years ago I celebrated my 21st birthday on the Jersey shore eating seafood with my sister and her husband. Karen died ten years ago but I am again celebrating with Denny. This time in Omaha with his wife of eight years, Roseanne whom I have come to love.

Today, I will take the man I love — and will marry on September 12 — to Lincoln. We will reminisce as I share where I lived and worked right out of college. Haven’t been back in decades — much has changed, of this I am sure. Yet, much remains the same! Seems like the perfect way to spend the day leading up to an auspicious birthday.

Lloyd Stone (1912 – 1993) was born in California and attended the University of Southern California as a music major. He intended to become a teacher. Life often gets in the way of plans —  he joined a circus bound for Hawaii and remained there for the rest of his life, writing poems and songs. This is his best known work — written when Lloyd was 22 years old. It has become the heartfelt prayer of this 65 y/o man:

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine;
this is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine:
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.

The poem is typically sung to the tune Finlandia, composed by Jean Sibelius. Churches wanting to include it in their hymnals “christianized” the lyrics by adding additional verses. I believe the original poem by Lloyd Stone is plenty Christian as written and needs no further embellishment.

A favorite rendition is sung by Minnesota-based Cantus [link]. At this point in my life it says more to me than any birthday song, expresses a wish greater than any gift I could desire.

Until Death Do Us Part

Too many are tormented. Too often our churches and moral leaders instill lingering shame instead of comfort and support. They just don’t get it!

Once again I sat across from a long-suffering faith-filled Catholic who was in a second marriage without an annulment of a first marriage. As a gay man, I get it! I know what it is like to be deemed “inherently disordered” if not demonized by a church in which I had eagerly professed vows as a religious and served as a priest.

As a family member, I get it! First marriages of two siblings culminated in divorce. Both married again. Neither sought the “benefit” of an annulment from the church. Neither have I sought official “laicization” (that is “return to the lay state”) from ordination as priest. Annulment and laicization legalities simply feel condescending and shaming. With my sibs I choose to have no part of it.

As a friend, I get it! The same sad story is all too common. Too many live with lingering doubts and troubling conflicts inflicted by a church they want to call home. Many tears have been shed, many doors slammed, many hearts broken. As one friend recently shared:

“Till death do us part” has been narrowly assumed to be physical death. In my experience, there is also mental, emotional, and spiritual death that can occur. I hung on to a 21 year marriage until I was so close to mental, emotional, and spiritual death that it has taken 21 years to get resuscitated.

As Scripture attests, those in high places are wont to impose heavy burdens on others they themselves would never carry. (Matt 23:4) In this — and so much regarding sexuality and marriage — the church leadership is simply wrong!

Married people know this! Your average Catholic knows this! The Synod of Catholic Bishops gathering for a second session in October have a rare opportunity to show they are beginning to get it. Perhaps as preparation they can meditate on the verse: “It is mercy that I seek, not sacrifice!” (Hosea 6:6; Matt 9:13 and 12:17)

But married people and average Catholics have our work cut out too. We “get it” but too many of us are still shackled by shame and doubt. Perhaps all who have been baptized would do well to reflect on the words Jesus heard at his own baptism in the Jordan and his disciples heard spoken at Jesus’ Transfiguration: “You are my beloved son. In you I am well pleased!” (Matt 3:17 and 17:5)

God does not say to those he loves, “Get an annulment, jump through these legalities to become acceptable.” To all who are baptized into Christ — and I would include all who have been created in God’s own image — God says, “You are my beloved. In you I am well pleased.”

With that as bedrock, we are prepared and commissioned to love as best we are able — until death do us part. In this God is more than well pleased.

Interdependence Day

The Fourth of July… Independence Day!

My paternal grandparents’ wedding anniversary was July 6. Every year until my grandpa died we had a family reunion at the park pavilion of our hometown on the weekend nearest the Fourth. Many, many years have intervened. Yet, even while going out for ice cream last evening with my 52 year-old nephew, such enduring bonds of family console me.

Alleys! I never want to live in a neighborhood without alleys. Although we live on a block with a floating TGIF sign (who ever wants to host the weekly kid-friendly TGIF gets the sign from last week’s host and posts it in their yard on about Wednesday), most of our goings-on occur in the alley. That’s where we grow our raspberries — this time of year they come in such abundance neighbors know they are free to sample. That’s where neighbors stop for conversations so long the driver sometimes even turns the car off. If we need a tool or cup of sugar we could cross the street but we are more likely to cross the alley.

Last Monday we had dinner at the home of our pastor. The priest who will marry us is someone with whom we are more likely to share stories and laughter than Scripture and liturgy. And despite all the crap associated with clerical abuse (and it’s more than sex abuse), I have never been more comfortably Catholic in all my life. Things are breaking open, truth is being told, arrogant power is being challenged, we’re getting back to what really matters. All this suggests to me we are a much healthier church in 2015 than we were twenty years ago.

Minnesota may be a beautiful state but it’s really flat — the fifth flattest of all the 50 states as a matter of fact. No surprise, then, that water would be a really big deal here. Ten thousand lakes. Headwaters of the Mississippi. Lake Superior holding primacy of place. Yet, my special affinity is with Minnehaha Creek where Jeb the Dog takes me each day for a walk and where we mark the rhythm of the seasons. True to my Nebraska roots, I actually relax and resonate more with the farms of southern Minnesota than our state’s North Woods. In the past month we have been fortunate to enjoy them all — lakes, forests and farms.  Life is good!

It’s also been a great summer for Constitutional government — “We, the People of the United States, in order to form a [ever] more perfect union…” I am so grateful to live in nation where the Founders laid claim to certain inalienable rights and then crafted a system that would, as one Federalist writer wrote, “protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority.” Or as Gerald Ford assured my generation upon the resignation of President Nixon, “We are a nation of laws, not of men.” For this — and on behalf of the millions of Americans who have health care coverage because of the Affordable Care Act — I feel incredibly blessed.

Fourth of July weekend — family, neighbors, faith communities, nature, our nation. Blessings all! Each worth celebrating! All to be cherished! We call it Independence Day but it’s our interdependence we celebrate and cherish most.

May we always remember from Whom these gifts came and for which they were given.