Saturday, February 21, 2009


The van windshield was fogged inside and glazed with ice out. I could not see the snow drift at the foot of drive though I might have remembered that a howling north wind blows snow across the twenty acre pasture next door and drops it over the fence line where my car parks. I returned home from bread and soup dinner at Trinity Lutheran Church, and wheeled into the trap --easy to do in a Honda Odyssey with just four inches of free board under carriage. Spinning the wheels stuck me further.
Joshua was the first one out of the van to help. He made a game by running toward the house, turning at the house and running full bore toward the car. Upon contact, he shoved and pushed on the grill. My headlights showed his grimaced face and shoulders above the hood framed by swirling snow. Not a budge. The van heater blew full blast inside the car but there was not blast enough to keep out the wind. My headlights illuminated more snow piling under and around the car. Shammond was out of the van by now, knee deep working with a shovel that made no difference.
Joshua went into the house for more clothes and came out swathed to continue his running start, charge and jump approach to freeing mom. He kept encouraging me. "This will do it," he shouted as he turned to take another run.
The girls bailed out and hustled into the house, leaving their backpacks and mittens on the floor in the back seat. "
"We'll make coco," they promised before they dashed. Shammond diligently shoveled against all odds. Joshua's running shoves didn't quit. I settled in the driver's seat for the duration. My place was behind the wheel, alternately shifting drive, putting on gas, shifting reverse and pressing the pedal again.
Ten degrees below zero. Dark outside. The lights from the house looked welcoming. There was no choice about leaving the car until morning. Snow was blowing so hard and fast that the car would be near buried by dawn.
Managing and leading had no effect right now. I just sat in the driver's seat with my collar turned up, waiting and watching for Joe's headlights to appear. When he returned home, I knew he could set me free.
When Joe arrived I did not even have to ask. He sized the situation, found a rope, backed his truck to my rear bumper, tied his vehicle to my hitch and gave brief instructions. "Remain in reverse, press steady but slight on the gas and put on brakes when I honk."
"Get the boys out of the way, " I open and call from the driver's side door since the van windows are frozen shut. Crunch goes the snow. Whirl goes the engines under load and the van is scooted out with fish tail wiggle.
Being stuck is familiar in my life. I sit at the wheel, notice that I can't get free by myself, see the lights of home ahead, know coco is brewing, wait and watch the redeemer work.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Women Are Coming

The Washington Island Women's Club is scheduled to arrive at 1:00 p.m. A reservation for seventeen women. One would be enough to remind me of the need to sweep under the tables for all crumbs. One woman would be enough to remind me that the silver may not be clean enough. I feel old today, with limited time. Set the tables. Put out flowers. Sweep. Mop. Bake cherry muffins. White Chocolate cookies. Cut fresh for fruit salad. Make pie crush and quiche. Whirl, whirl the blender to create light. Do I have everything needed? Check supplies. Run to the store. Is the furnace keeping the room warm enough for them? Will the coffee be hot? Are the cups clean? Will they see the smudge on the window? Do I have time to clean it? Take away the old Norfolk Island Pine --it looks bedraggled. The women are coming.
Prayer calls me before the cookies go in the oven. I kneel. Light the candle. My prayer shawl is cozy. The women are coming. May they find the tomb empty. And, go to tell.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Wooden Spoon

I heard a story about Wynton Marsalis playing trumpet in a club where a cell phone went off during his set. The inane jingle caused the phone owner to jump and run from the room. Wynton kept playing, changed the tune, picked out the phone chorus with his horn and spaced the notes and timing so that the offending phone sound was made beautiful with his touch and breath upon the instrument. He finished the riff by looping back to the conclusion of the song he had been playing before interruption. How did he do that? Without missing a beat.
Driving the children to school this morning, I lived a story of my own in which in which sweet sound was missed. "Who did this?" I accused while driving and held a white ceramic canister with lid in view of all the children. The wooden spoon that nested through a loop on the jar was missing. "I had nothing to do with it," said Korrina. "But, I saw you using one of the spoons to eat cereal yesterday," I countered. "It wasn't cereal," she responded. "Juice, you were drinking juice out of the cup with the wooden spoon," I said. My concern was now tangled in the was-it-cereal-or-juice-as-if-that-made-a-difference, corner. I eyed her in the rear view mirrow.
In the precious time for taking our children to school, in those moments of transition from a wonderful weekend to their work day in the classroom, I bleated sour notes and heard myself say; "I bought three of these canisters this weekend and within one day, I discovered one spoon on the porch floor, one spoon in the living room and now two spoons missing. " Other topics bugged me too. "Steve, I don't begrudge you eating a snack but when you open mandarin oranges and eat, the empty can goes into the recycle bin, not the trash can," I said, remembering my retrieval of yet another misplaced disposable.
We were nearing the school. A hasty litany of good sounded tacked on. "Thank you Shammond for cleaning your room. I'm glad you like your new bed Joshua. Thank you Micala for shepherding your sisters to make a piano recital last night at my birthday party. I love you," and they were gone, departing the car and walking up the school steps.
Sweet sound was not made in my car this morning. Mom rattled the cage until I saw snow on the window shield and knew it would be gone in the warming of the morning sun. I noticed six children's faces in the rear view mirror and took a closer look at the children with whom I have been entrusted. It never works with them as audience and me on stage. We make music together.
The wooden spoon was found another day hid beside the porch outside and stuck in a half-eaten jar of dill relish. Who did it did not matter any more. I placed the glass jar in the recyclable bin and returned the wooden spoon to its place with the white ceramic canister. All three spoons accounted for. "Who do you say that I am?" is is a better question than "Who did it?" and makes a melody that will not be interupted nor quit.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


"What needs to be said?" I heard the chairperson of the Order of Elders ask. The clergy-packed Chapel of the Unnamed Faithful at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, remained quiet. "What needs to be said?" he repeated and paused as members of the West Michigan Annual Conference found voice and answered.
I don't remember all of our clergy response that evening, but the question "what needs to be said?" resonated with me for years as one of the wisest refrains on earth. Over time, I sensed the need to go beyond talk and wonder about necessart words spoken and heard. My faith tradition says "The word became flesh and lived among us." "Who needs to be known?" is what I'm trying to ask now.
M. Craig Barnes writes in the February 10th, 2009, edition of the Christian Century about pastors as "Poet in residence," subtitle "listening for the sacred subtext." The undercurrent. Barnes writes that "pastors help people explore the mystery of their souls." He opens his piece with an example of Bob and Carol Stratton who come into the church office to complain about the new organist. "Complaining is usually a veiled lament about deeper issues of the soul. Since people are unaccustomed to exploring the mystery of their own souls, they will often work out their spiritual anxieties by attempting to rearrange something external, like a church's music program. but it doesn't matter how many changes they make to the environment around them. They will never succeed in finding peace for the angst of the soul until they attend directly to it. This is why people have pastors."
Pastors are not lynch pins but I am a pastor and I am called to be about the work of exploring undercurrent in my life.
Prayer is one place where I catch glimpses of what happens behind the scenes. For example; at Bread & Water, LLC, the cafe, lodging and kayak tour business I own and operate on Washington Island, Wisconsin, I noticed that the Washington Island School did not have a hot breakfast nor hot lunch program for the students. In spring, 2008, I piggy backed with Student Council Health Week and provided a free hot breakfast trial for the kids -- a universal program where all could eat. Hot old, fashioned oatmeal, golden raisins, fresh frozen fruit, milk and brown sugar is the menu. Fall, 2008, I got a sponsor and permission from the School Board to serve hot breakfast every day. Even today, in a few moments I will turn the water on to boil and begin the ritual of cooking oats, packing, transporting, serving and coming back to the restaurant kitchen sink to wash the dishes and prepare for tomorrow's service. No paper products are used so I count and wash each spoon, each dish, each pot every day.
Each day, the elementary children fairly dance in front of the service cart holding empty bowls and saying "more please." With candle lit in office, prayer shawl warm about my shoulders, just up from the kneeling rail by my desk. Bible still open to Isaiah 34:1 "Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye people; let the earth hear, and all that is therein; the world, and all things that come forth of it," I dare to come near, hear, hearken and nose around. This morning in prayer, I remembered the Craig Barnes piece I had read while lying in bed before the sun rose. I remembered that I had a blog site with no blog post. I dared consider (or, was it whispered to me?) that my call to preach is not stilled, but offered new form and function beyond the local church.
Blogging for the first time, I assumed the undercurrent was what I had already guessed -- the reason I am serving oatmeal to the students at Washington Island School is that I have six children of mine in the school and some of them rarely eat breakfast at the kitchen table before they leave in the morning. I thought that my breakfast service at the school was me chasing my children down the street -- even into the halls of the school to make sure that they ate.
But, I sat at the monitor and dared go deeper. In the process of writing, I recognized that I am serving what I know to be communion with students and some teachers who are hungry. The elements are oats, golden raisins, dark brown sugar, fresh frozen fruit, cinnamon and milk. Thanks be to God.