Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Is this your image of religion?

This past Sunday, February 7, the Star Tribune ran another article about Christian Nationalists. Written by Jean Hopfensperger, it is the continuation of articles that the Strib has shared in 2021 about those on the extremes of faith.  On January 18 the Strib ran an article on Christian nationalists which went deep into the views of Daryl Knappen of Cornerstone Church in Alexandria. They even included a link to a strange on-line talk from Knappen.  I clicked the link and listened to every word that Knappen shared. It was full of predictions that never took place.

In response to that article I wrote a letter to the editor complaining that the article was even included in the Strib. I emailed the letter to Mary Lynn Smith, the author of the Strib article, who respectfully and thoughtfully sent me two emails in reply. Because of the decency of her response I decided not to write any more at the time about the Strib's actions. 

However on Sunday another article appeared. This past Sunday, Hopfensperger wrote about Knappen again. Two articles in thirty days? Sharing views of people who don't even respond to a reporter's inquiry for an interview?  

believe the Star Tribune is unnecessarily sharing views of people on the extremes of religion. 

I have colleagues who preach outstanding sermons every week who have not and will probably not receive any coverage from the Strib.  I don’t believe that these religious fanatics who the Strib has highlighted are more newsworthy than Pastor John Gay from the Presbyterian church in Coon Rapids; or Pastor David Parker from Presbyterian Church of the Way; or Pastor Neil Craigan from First Presbyterian Church in White Beak Lake; or Pastor Riz Prakisim, pastor of New Life Presbyterian in Roseville. And for those interested,

Pastor Gay’s sermons are at pcommn.org

Pastor Parker’s at pcotw.org

Pastor Craigan’s at fpcwbl.org

Pastor Prakism’s at newlifechurchroseville.org/home  

And faithful reader, I can almost read your mind. “These mainline pastors don’t say anything controversial and the media wants controversy because that generates readers.” And your thought is certainly true.  Hopfensperger’s article in the Strib garnered close to 500 comments and for a while was the most read article on the Strib’s web site. 

However if the Strib is sharing extreme views about religion to garner readership, they should be up front about this. At a minimum the Strib owes the community an explanation for the criteria they use to share stories on religion.

 When the media consistently focuses on the extremes in religious media coverage, the extremes will define many people’s understanding of religion.  It’s like giving media coverage to a “healer” who masquerades as a doctor and promises that only eating eggs will cure cancer.   The person might be interesting for a while, but don’t mistake the person for a doctor.  When I want to have experiences on the extremes I’ll go to the circus—I won’t open up the Strib. 

These purveyors of falsehoods who are receiving coverage might be called pastors of congregations, but they reside on the extremes of what a pastor would teach.

Chik Chikeles is a pastor of a church whose Facebook page has 322 likes. That’s at least 200 less than the number of likes on the Chain of Lakes Facebook page. He was the first person mentioned in Hopfensperger's article. Does this mean that I would only have someone from the Strib come to worship at Chain of Lakes if I do something strange and bizarre? 

As I shared above, Daryl Knappen has been featured twice in the last thirty days in this Strib. In the talk that was linked in the Strib, he predictied martial law in the upcoming week. Interesting? Not really. Thankfully almost everything he predicted in his talk did not happen. In sharing this link to his talk on their web site the Strib was literally passing on “fake news.”

Are these "Christian nationalists" gaining more popularity and thus deserve media attention? I don't have any facts to back up the following statement, but I'm not convinced that their popularity has dramatically increased. Hopfensperger quoted Andrew White, a Purdue University religion researcher and co-author of a book on Christian nationalism, who said that millions of Americans accept these extreme views. I wouldn't be surprised if millions accepted these views ten years ago or twenty years ago or a hundred years ago.

I'm not convinced that these beliefs are new and more popular. It's not even really new that someone shepherding as a religious leader says things that are very strange. Jesus himself fought against people who proclaimed religious ideas that were certainly strange at the time.

I’ll give Hopfensperger credit for talking to main-line experts on Christian nationalism and by sharing a response from Christians against Christian Nationalism. In reading that section of the article I learned that over 19,000 people have signed an online statement condemning Christian nationalism. I signed the statement myself and encourage others to do so at this link, christiansagainstchristiannationalism.org/statement.

Building a congregation that encourages a faith with decency & kindness and a congregation who makes a tremendous impact in the community is hard in 2021. By focusing on the fringes of faith the Star Tribune is making this very important work even harder. 

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Until trust is restored ...

 As I wake up today and write this at 7am on Thursday, January 7, I think I am like many Americans in having a “what in the “#$%^” happened” yesterday.  I think our country has a collective hangover today.

I feel shell-shocked that a group of people would storm the United States Capitol building.  The questions that are going through my mind are, What has happened to our world?  How did our country get to this place?

I also can’t help but think about the response in the Twin Cities this past summer after George Floyd, an African-American man, was killed by Derek Chauvin, a Caucasian, Minneapolis police officer.  

I do not want to insinuate at all that there is one bit of moral equivalency between the people who committed violence after George Floyd was killed and the people who committed violence yesterday. These groups of people are different, the causes they represent are different, and the motivations they hold are very, very different.

And full disclosure.  I marched in the streets of Minneapolis after George Floyd was killed. I joined a peaceful march of clergy, and I participated with my family in a march on a Friday evening.  When that march started to turn violent, my family left the march.

And full disclosure—I am a pacifist. I do not believe in violence as a tool for change. I was trained to participate in the system and if the system works in an unfair way to protest in a non-violent way.  When I protest, I follow the teachings of Dr. King whose methods aimed at the heart of the person in power. Non-violent, resistance.

I spoke up against the violence this past summer, and I speak up against the violence that happened yesterday.

Both incidents reveal a foundational lack of trust.  To risk overgeneralization the people who committed violence yesterday do not trust the integrity of the elections and the people who committed violence do not trust how the police treat people of color. 

When someone joins Chain of Lakes church, I tell the person that I am their pastor. And over time I ask them to trust me as their pastor. I share that I don’t expect them to give me their trust; I believe that I have to earn their trust.

I’ve spent the last half hour reading about trust.  This doesn’t make me an expert, but what I read about trust is consistent with the beliefs I’ve always had about trust. Trust happens when a person, an organization, or an institution exhibit reliability, transparency, competency, sincerity, fairness, and vulnerability. I took these words from this site:   forbes.com/sites/dennisjaffe/2018/12/05/the-essential-importance-of-trust-how-to-build-it-or-restore-it/?sh=702f384a64fe

The Gallup Poll has been doing research on trust for decades. Their research has shown that trust in institutions has declined significantly in the past twenty-five years.  Trust in the church, the Supreme Court, Congress, Organized Labor, Big Business, Public Schools, Newspapers, the Presidency, Television news, banks, and the police has all gone down. In their polling the only institutions where trust has increased is the criminal justice system, the military, and small businesses.  I pulled this information from here: https://news.gallup.com/poll/1597/confidence-institutions.aspx

The purpose of this blog is not to go into why trust is lowered or to even share how trust can be increased. The purpose is to say that the reality of a decrease in trust is one significant foundation of the violence we have seen in the last eight months.

At a minimum all of us have to commit ourselves to earning trust. I have to earn your trust, and you have to earn my trust.  Until these numbers and beliefs about trust change, our country will continue to be vulnerable to the unacceptable actions we have seen.

Monday, December 14, 2020

A Turning Point?


According to a Star Tribune front-page article this morning, nearly three million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech corona vaccine were shipped yesterday and will be arriving at medical facilities today and tomorrow.

The shipment of this vaccine and the beginning of large-scale vaccination could be a turning point in the fight against COVID-19.

It’s also important to note that the vaccine developed by Moderna might receive emergency approval by the Food and Drug Administration this week. And many other vaccines are being tested and could be approved soon. A web site that I go to frequently to keep updated on vaccines is: nytimes.com/interactive/2020/science/coronavirus-vaccine-tracker.html  

Moncef Slaoui, chief science advisor to the White House’s effort to develop a vaccine said in the Star Tribune article that herd immunity could be reached in May or June. Whether this forecast is accurate or not, the possibility that a date for herd immunity is even being shared is reason for optimism. 

However, this possible turning point is more than just thinking realistically about when COVID won’t be so deadly. This possible turning point is an opportunity for the people in the United States to be united about something important.

Is it possible for us to be united that taking the vaccine is important? 

One sad part about COVID-19 is the extreme polarization about the disease.  People have argued passionately about whether COVID-19 is really that bad, about whether people need to wear a mask in public and keep distanced, about whether the measures taken by the government have gone too far or even gone far enough. I know that in Chain of Lakes Church—the congregation I serve—we’ve wrestled with the tension of moving forward in ministry while also keeping people safe.  We do this while looking out at a religious landscape where churches have responded in vastly different ways. I’ve read articles where some church don’t anticipate worshiping in-person until late 2021 while others are worshiping in-person right now. 

To be honest, I find the polarization about COVID to be ridiculous. 

My hope is this vaccine and other vaccines gives our country (and the world) the possibility of a reset button. Can we be united and even excited that the gift of a turning point has been given to us? This gift might be the best Christmas gift that anyone receives in 2020. 

Recently I read a Social Media post asking people if they would take a vaccine. I was surprised and even shocked at the strong skepticism about a vaccine. I didn’t engage in the “conversation” as I learned long ago that having an argument on Facebook rarely turns out well. But I found the level of hostility to be deeply disturbing. 

I get it—making conclusions from a Facebook post doesn’t make sense. But the resistance and even hostility to a vaccine is backed by poll research. 

A post on fivethrityeight.com (fivethirtyeight.com/features/many-black-americans-republicans-women-arent-sure-about-taking-a-covid-19-vaccine/) shared that according to a Pew Research Poll conducted in November eighteen percent said they would “definitely not” take the vaccine, and twenty-one percent they would “probably not.” A Morning Consult survey showed that thirty percent were unlikely to take the vaccine while a Gallup Poll taken in November had similar numbers. 

Breaking the survey research down even further showed that fifty percent of Republicans would take the vaccine and only 42 percent of African-Americans would take the vaccine.  No doubt that current skepticism about the government’s role during COVID has fueled the antipathy among Republicans about the vaccine, and mistreatment of African-Americans in the past in health care has fueled the sentiment among African-Americans. 

In my sermon this past weekend (colpres.org/Ministries#SermonVideos) I encouraged people to take the vaccine. I am not a doctor, but on the issue of taking the vaccine I will listen to my doctor.  If I was having dinner with a Republican friend and/or an African-Amreican friend, I would encourage them to review the facts and the results of the studies of this and other COVID vaccines. 

I hope that all leaders –political, business, and religious share a common front in  encouraging people to get vaccinated. I’d love to see a picture of all the living Presidents (with President Trump standing in the middle) receiving a vaccine. (Because he had COVID, I’m guessing President Trump does not need to receive the vaccine.)  How about another picture of the leaders of Congress getting vaccinated?  Why not have a Zoom call and picture of all fifty governors getting vaccinated. Include separate events of leading business leaders and religious leaders doing the same.  I would be willing to gather all the pastors in Blaine at a clinic in a professional way in the near future to encourage people to get a vaccine. 

The point is we have an opportunity to be united. This could be a turning point.  But it’s only a turning point if take our partisan masks off. 

And I understand that some might not get vaccinated because of health reasons. Even though the Pfizer vaccine has a 95 percent success rate and limited side effects, for five percent the vaccine won’t work and some will receive side effects. The enthusiasm about what can happen doesn’t preclude the importance of listening to doctors and scientists about the potential health problems of a vaccine. 

We could be at a turning point.



Monday, November 23, 2020

A tribute to my dad on his 80th birthday


Yesterday was my dad’s 80th birthday.  Before COVID our family was planning on celebrating this Friday at the Hubbell House in Mantorville, a restaurant where many of our family celebrations have taken place. But the pandemic has changed our plans.  My dad is fine with this milestone passing without a lot of attention; however I want to take some time to write a tribute to him. It’s not often that your dad turns 80!

He grew on a farm outside of Ringsted, Iowa, the youngest of six.  When my sister and I were growing up we heard many stories from him about working on the farm.  In particular he regaled us about the hundreds—maybe thousands, who knows maybe even millions—of hours he spent hoeing beans.  He found a way to escape farm work by spending time with his mom in the kitchen.  He learned to cook.  And he decided he wanted to go to college.

He ended up at Mankato State. He graduated in three years, but more importantly he met my mom.  She was the only woman he’s ever dated.  They got married in August 1961.  Both of them got teaching jobs in Paullina, Iowa.  I came thirty-one months later even though my dad had trouble finding the hospital. 

My family moved to Worthington where my dad got a job teaching English at Worthington Junior College.  My sister was born there in November 1965.  Life was not that complicated—family, church, work, community.  All four blended into each other.  He grew up going to First Presbyterian Church in Ringsted, Iowa, so my family attended Westminster Presbyterian Church in Worthington.

Life got interesting when he and my mom decided to go to Kansas City in the summer of 1972 to work for a social service agency called Cross Lines.  The preaching of Bob Burnett at Westminster encouraged them to go.  He ran a day camp out of a church for kids in a low-income neighborhood.  My mom ran a food pantry that delivered food to people.  They found their work so rewarding that my dad got a sabbatical from teaching.  We spent over a year living in what was called, “the Inner City.”

We experienced a different world in Kansas City.  We lived within a mile of two “projects;” we saw abandoned houses; garbage in the alleys; we locked our doors at night. Being there was the ultimate Mission trip.  We loved being there.  Living in Kansas City shaped how our family views the world.  Many people wondered why my parents would take two elementary-aged kids to live in such a different environment in Kansas City.  It was their way of serving the poor and teaching my sister and me that a big world existed outside of southwest Minnesota.

It’s not an accident that I became a pastor; my sister became a pastor, and then she married a pastor.  These decisions were incubated in our experiences in Kansas City.  Our family saw how faith could make a difference in the community. 

My dad mastered the concept of “showing up.”  He didn’t talk about love, he illustrated it.  When I wanted to take violin lessons in Sioux Falls, he drove me every Saturday. When my sister got serious about 4-H, he drove her.  He and my mom attended every athletic and music and church event in which my sister and I participated.  Every—single—one. 

He encouraged my sister and I to pursue our dreams.  He didn’t tell us what to dream but encouraged us to develop our own dreams.  When we shared our thoughts on what we wanted to do, he never discouraged us.  When I told him I wanted to go to Carleton College, he never said we couldn't afford it.  When I was wrestling whether to go to seminary, law school or be a teacher, he only shared his thoughts after I asked. And after sharing his thoughts, he said he would support whatever choice I made.  

Most importantly he was devoted to my mom.  I never saw them argue in the first 18 years of my life.  When I came home from college and saw them have a minor argument, it was so surprising that I wondered if they were going to get a divorce.  Having that consistency from them provided a foundation for our home. 

He has a lot of interests—square dancing and traveling and sports and politics.  We rarely talk for long without some conversation being about the church.  And every time I call on Friday mornings, I receive a report on how the morning Sudoku is going.     

The world is a better place because my dad has walked it for 80 years.  And even though five hip surgeries have caused him to walk slower, he still has a desire to help. 

Thanks, dad for being you.  Love you! I’m grateful for eighty years and hoping for many more

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Would you take the CDC pledge?

Hi Friends,

I've taken a break from blogging recently because of the many demands of being a pastor in a COVID world. Hope to get into more of a rhythm again. This post is my re-entry into the blogging world.

I am not into COVID shaming and this post is not intended to have any political overtones. 

The weekend of November 7-8, our daughter, Hannah had COVID. She had symptoms and took a test which was positive. She is fine right now. She has been symptom-free since then and is going back to her housing at Hamline.

I was exposed to her on Tuesday, November 10. I found out that her test for COVID was positive on Wednesday, November 11.  I asked a doctor in my congregation if I needed to quarantine.  He referred me to the Center of Disease Control (CDC) guidelines. I put the link to those guidelines at the end of this blog. 

I have not had any symptoms; I have had two tests which were negative and took a third test yesterday.  I am very confident that I do not have COVID.

However, it doesn't matter whether I think I have COVID or if I even am displaying symptoms.  The CDC guidelines say I need to quarantine.  Because of these guidelines I will quarantine for 14 days--through Tuesday, November 24. The criterion for being under quarantine is not my own opinion. The criteria for being under quarantine are the CDC guidelines.

I hate being under quarantine. And yes, mom, I know that "hate" is a very strong word.  Being under quarantine is a significant hardship for me in my work as a pastor. This past Sunday I preached by using video, and I stayed away from the people whom I love. The last place I wanted to be on Sunday morning was the couch at my home.  If I could have figured out a way to be present in worship, I would have. 

But despite my "hate" of quarantine, I have an even stronger desire not to get anyone sick. And I have an even stronger desire for life to get back to some semblance of normal. So, I am under quarantine.

Believe me, I question rules and regulations more than most people. Give me a rule, and my first thought is to question it. I've questioned the CDC guidelines.  It took me a while before I understood that the virus incubates very slowly. So not having a positive test does not mean the virus is not inside of me. 

It seems to me that until a vaccine is widely implemented that the best response to COVID is to follow the CDC guidelines. 

The COVID crisis presents an opportunity for our world. The opportunity is we can all unite around seeing COVID "defeated."

I'm asking everyone who is reading this blog to take the CDC pledge. The pledge is you will follow the CDC guidelines. Would you do that? If yes, make that pledge in the comments section.

I am a naïve optimist. I actually believe that if the 328.9 million people who live in the United States took the CDC pledge, that the rate of COVID transmission would significantly decrease.

Would you take the CDC pledge? The life of your neighbor might depend on it!

Here are the guidelines that were relevant for my particular situation.



Monday, July 6, 2020

Prayer is:

This Sunday I'm sharing a sermon on prayer. Preaching about prayer is one of my favorite topics. I came up with these statements about prayer. Hope they help you in your prayer life!

Prayer is:
Not a way to confirm our own beliefs, but a way of being open to God’s beliefs.

Not a way to tell God how to run the world, but a way to participate in God’s running of the world.

Not a plea from humans to God but a way to discover God’s plea to us.

A terrific way to reduce stress and anxiety.

Not a waste of time but a way to participate in timelessness.

Not a way to talk to the invisible, but a way for the invisible to communicate to us.

Not a way to be silent, but a way to have multiple conversations.

Not guaranteed to change God but over time is guaranteed to change us.

Not a duty or an obligation but an opportunity and privilege.

Not confusing but a way to develop clarity.

Essential to the lungs of our faith.

A mystery which helps us find direction.

An adventure whose path frequently brings new understandings..

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

What's the deal with Aunt Jemima and why is it important?

Last Wednesday, June 17, Quaker Oats and its parent company PepsiCo acknowledged that their Aunt Jemima brand was based on a racial stereotype. They are going to retire the trademark and rename its pancakes mixes and syrups. www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-aunt-jemima-brand-quaker-oats-20200617-qgpyv5hslfazzejk5hx7ak4hcm-story.html

For some this was a huge victory.  Others saw this as trivial and wondered what images or brands would be removed next.  I did quite a lot of reading of “conversations" on Social Media about the removal of Aunt Jemima as a brand.  In doing this I learned yet again how hard it is to have conversations about the topic of race in America.

In writing about this decision, my desire is to provide light and to lessen the heat.

So what’s the deal about Aunt Jemima and why is this important?

It’s all about a stereotype. 

Of all the online reading I did on this topic, Wikipedia expressed the stereotype clearly. “Aunt Jemima is based on the common enslaved "Mammy" archetype, a plump black woman wearing a headscarf who is a devoted and submissive servant.  Her skin is dark and dewy, with a pearly white smile. Although depictions vary over time, they are similar to the common attire and physical features of "mammy" characters throughout history.”  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aunt_Jemima

Put most simply Aunt Jemima represented a stereotype of a happy slave woman who obediently served her Masters. The implication of the stereotype is that slavery was not really as bad as many have made it out to be.

Some see this decision as rewriting or ignoring history. Removing Aunt Jemima as a brand is to expunge from history her role as part of the brand of Quaker Oats. Relatives of former Aunt Jemima spokeswomen shared this thought.  https://www.nbcnews.com/pop-culture/pop-culture-news/relatives-aunt-jemima-actresses-express-concern-history-will-be-erased-n1231769

Last night at Chain of Lakes Church approximately fifteen people gathered to talk about the topic of Race. During the conversation people of color shared how they deal almost daily with the projections that people put onto them. Because of the color of the skin people have a stereotype of who they are. This stereotype certainly doesn’t fit and their lives are much, much more difficult. They have been stopped by police because of the color of their skin; they have been prevented from boarding airplanes; people have asked them if they need welfare or scholarships when they don't need it or want it.

I played football at Carleton college. Though it was at the Division III level, I can guarantee that my desire to win on a Saturday afternoon rivaled that of any college football player in the country. At Carleton I received many projections on the stereotypes that people had of a football player. “You receive special treatment in class because football players do; you believe in violence because football is a violent sport; you look down on women because some football players have treated women poorly; you don’t deserve to be in school because football players received special treatment; you lack sophistication because football players don’t appreciate the arts.”  All of these projections are not true.

And let me be clear: the projections that I experienced based on a stereotype of a football player are miniscule in comparison to the projections that people of color are continuously experience.   

The removal of Aunt Jemima as a brand image by Quaker Oats is not going to end racism in the United States; however it is a small step towards removing a stereotype that has been harmful and has caused much pain. It’s not re-writing history.  Instead it’s acknowledging a symbol that has caused pain based on a racial stereotype. If this step can lessen the use of stereotypes for a race of people, then this is a very important deal. It is a step in the right direction.

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