Advent Riffs: Third Sunday, Repent and Act

Advent candles, Third Sunday

Advent candles, Third Sunday, photo by Melly95, used under Creative Commons license

This Sunday brings us powerful words from John the Baptist.

“Bear fruits worthy of repentance.”

We are not to sit stewing over sins, but to repent and to act, to bear fruits worthy of repentance.

And the crowds ask him: How? What can we do? We are here in the desert, with you.

He tells them:

“Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

Anyone who has none. Anyone who does not have enough food, does not have a coat, does not have a shelter against the storm.

Jakelin Caal.jpgAnyone who has none. Surely that includes the desperate migrants at our southern border. Jakelin Caal was seven years old when she died after crossing the border on December 6. She walked from Guatemala with her father and a hundred other people, desperate families seeking life and hope and safety. Instead, she died in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol, dehydrated and in shock after the journey. Continue reading


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Advent Riffs: Second Sunday, Healing the Earth

IMG_6126John proclaims a baptism of repentance:

A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

John is the voice of one crying in the desert. He tells people to prepare for the Messiah, that the King is coming, that the Messiah will overthrow the wickedness of the world and conquer all, with a winnowing fork to clean the threshing floor and an inextinguishable fire to burn up the chaff.

I love the resonance of these verses, and the shiver-inspiring Godspell invocation of “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.”

And yet—John is wrong as much as he is right. Continue reading

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Advent Riffs: First Sunday, Sweet December

pottery shards

Pottery shards / Flickr / Creative Commons

Archaeologists dig for clues and artifacts of ancient civilizations. They may find an amphora handle and a fragment of a casserole, which will become part of a collection, perhaps on display in a museum. From these fragments, they may deduce the age of a home and the wealth or poverty of its inhabitants.

Like archaeologists, we dig through the scripture, looking for meaning and truths. What are the message to be dug out of today’s scripture readings? Continue reading

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Human Life Is Precious. Stand Up For It.

Talmud do justice nowThis week, on Wednesday, a white man shot and killed two black customers in a Kroger supermarket in Kentucky. He came to the supermarket shortly after he tried and failed to gain entrance to a nearby black Baptist church. He acted out of hate.

This week, another white man mailed bombs to prominent Democrats and to news organization who have been denounced repeatedly by Trump. The bombs were sent by a man who listened to Trump and who lived in a van plastered with Trump stickers and slogans. He acted out of hate.

Today, another white man, screaming his hatred of Jews and of immigrants and refugees, went into a synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed 11 Jewish people praying there, and wounded many more in the congregation and also four police officers who tried to stop him. He acted out of hate.

Tonight, I am heart sick because of these tragedies, because of the hate overwhelming the country.

That hate does not come “from all sides.” That hate is amplified and encouraged and spoken and tweeted daily by our president.

Tonight I remember the words of Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemoller

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—

     Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—

     Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

     Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

My daughters are Jews, and we fear someone is coming for them. I have friends who are immigrants and refugees, and we fear someone is coming for them. I have friends who are people of color, who are gay and lesbian and transgender, and we fear someone is coming for them. We fear someone is coming for us.

Perhaps fear is the wrong word. We know someone is coming. We just do not know who or when.

Here’s a lesser-known part of Pastor Niemoller’s story. At first, when Hitler was coming to power in Germany, Pastor Niemoller supported him because Hitler was anti-communist. Then, as he saw the evils and the hatred that Hitler spread, he became a leader among clergy opposed to Hitler.

The first lesson I take from Pastor Niemoller is the obvious one: that we must stand up for everyone and must always stand against hate.

A second lesson I take is this: that people who once supported Trump, the loudest voice of hate in this country today, can change and oppose his hateful speech and actions now.

Today and every day, I oppose that hate. Today and tomorrow and every day, I stand in solidarity with the people who are the immediate targets of that hate: with people of color, with immigrants and refugees, with lesbian and gay and transgender and bisexual people, with Jews and Muslims, with socialists and communists and Democrats and journalists.

At noon on Sunday, I will stand on Lake Street, with transgender people and allies, in an action to “show to the world our power as fellow human beings and to support and show love for each other in a time where our government seems to be discarding us.” Standing on Lake Street for an hour is a very small thing, but it is something.

Can you find something to do, too? Can you find a small action to take? Even listening to the voices of people who are suffering under these attacks is something. Even reading the news instead of turning away is something. Voting against haters is something.

Let me say this once again: the hate that is preached from the bully pulpit of the presidency is affecting lives right now, today. Please do something.




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Climbing to Devil’s Kettle

Brule 3

Brule River

“It’s a rugged hike, but not that bad,” the young park ranger at Judge Magney State Park assured me. “I’ve seen a three-year-old and a little dog and a 70-year-old do it.”

Not much doubt which category I belonged in.

“How far is it?” I asked.

“About a mile to the stairs. That’s the hardest part – a lot of stairs. You go down the stairs to the upper falls and then climb back up a little and go farther to the Devil’s Kettle. And of course you can continue on with the Superior Hiking Trail, if you want to go further.”

“So … maybe an hour for two miles there and back?”

Mendaciously, she agreed. Continue reading

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Ninety in the Shade

monarch 1 full size.png

Summer fills my ears:
finches, cardinals, robins sing before dawn,
jays scold on my morning walk,
cicadas buzz in afternoon heat,
crickets chirp away the evening.

Bees and butterflies and blossoms,
late summer’s goldenrod fills the air,
pollen mingling with smoke from Canada,
toxic and intoxicating.
Living dangerously, I ignore health warnings,
go outside and walk through this heavy air.

Ninety degrees again.
Ninety in the shade and nowhere to wade,
no Aunty Helen to take us to the river,
no Dad and Grandpa with fishing poles and worms.
What good is ninety in the shade without them?

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Garden Mysteries


Foundlings, wrapped in cotton,
cradled in a plastic shell,
left on a doorstep without a clue:
no names, no note, nothing at all.

“I can’t raise these,”
my sister said.
“You take them.”

Mystery seedlings.
I recognized tomatoes,
guessed at peppers,
planted them in my garden,
hoping for the best or, at least,
for something. .

Watered, caged, watched tomatoes grow,
setting on big fruits,
some round, some lobed, tripartite,
bright green shading darker through July,
a soft, hazy red creeping up from the bottom.

Most potted pepper plants produce jalapeños,
first green and growing, then red,
then poppers stuffed with goodness.
sweet hot from the oven.

A single pepper plant produces nothing
but branches and bushes through July,
finally flowering in August.

My foundling tomatoes hang heavy on their vines,
still green and red, not changing color any longer.
Brown scars mark where they have almost split.
I lift a big tomato gently, bounce it in my hand:
soft and heavy. Maybe
this is ripe?

Taking a chance, I cut it from the vine,
wash it, cut the lobes apart, remove the stem, and taste:
so sweet!
Essence of tomato, in
a nameless, orphan heirloom.

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