“Do not be afraid”

It is estimated that there are 365 times that the words “Do not be afraid” or their equivalent appear in the Bible. The significance of this is that there are 365 days in the year, that translates into God telling us every day not to be afraid.

Why is that important? Because fear is one of the most powerful emotions that motivates people to do stuff, and (in my experience) when you act according to the fearful voice in your head you most often do or say things that you regret later.

Now, you have probably heard people (especially tough guy men) say, “I’m not afraid of anything.” Because they consider fear to be shameful, which is funny, because shame is the fear of what others might think of you. So we claim to be unafraid because we are afraid of being shamed for being afraid.

But fear is a natural part of how our brains react to the world. Let me stop here and define the word fear.

Fear is not necessarily terror. Fear is the heightened state of awareness we experience when our brains perceive something odd. For instance if you walk into your bedroom and notice that some of your stuff has been moved. Your brain senses that something has changed and you scan the room to determine what that is, only to discover that Mama has piled your clean clothes on the chair for you to put away.

It’s not a big deal, but it is a natural process through which your brain continually scans your sensory input to determine if something is wrong. If you smell a strange smell or hear a strange noise, it is natural for you to suddenly become alert to what’s going on around you to determine if there is danger or not. These are simple examples of the kind of thing we experience every day.

But the same thing happens when we perceive real danger such as lions, and tigers, and bear, “Oh my!” Things that truly threaten our survival cause an even more powerful response from the brain which then motivates us to a fight or flight reaction. We either perceive the danger as something we can confront and subdue or defeat, or something from which we must flee.

For instance, a bad smell in the house could be a sewer problem that could easily be addressed (fight) with a plunger for a weapon. But the smell of gas motivates us to leave (flight) the house and call the gas company to deal with the problem. And through experience and education we learn to interpret the difference between the two.

The part of the brain that processes this information is called the Amygdala which interprets what the eyes and nose perceive and if it’s danger we face, it sends a signal to the Sympathetic Nervous System. At which point the hypothalamus triggers the adrenal glands to release epinephrine (aka adrenaline) which acts like the accelerator of a car being pushed down hard sending us surging into action to deal with the situation.

(For more information please see https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response )

This is all part of our natural survival instinct, it serves us well to keep us alive and out of danger. So, fear is a good thing when we understand it and learn how to react properly to the experiences of our daily lives.

But fear can also be a dangerous thing in itself. When we misinterpret what our senses perceive we can easily be forced into a course of action that is not to our benefit. One of those things is knowing whom to believe, whom to trust, and discerning the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. The way we determine those things is based on our experiences in life, what we have learned from our parents and teachers, and the source(s) we look to for helping us understand what is true.

An example of the problem: You see a stranger, someone you do not know, and they are coming toward you. How do you react? Do you trust them?

Things your eyes will see and send to your brain to be processed and interpreted include: Age, gender, race, clothing, the sound of their voice, the expression on their face, the speed at which they approach, and many more things about this person all add to the amount of information upon which you will make the determination of whether this person is a threat or not.

Then there are things about your own context that also add to the pool of facts you have at your disposal. Are you alone? at home? can you shut a door between you? Are you in a strange country, or city? Do you know the language and customs? Are you in a public place with others around? Do you have a route you can easily take if you need to run? Do you have transportation? Have you just robbed a bank?

There are so many things to consider, so many things to fear. But here is the truth that will define your life. if you allow your life to be ruled by fear you will never experience the fullness of life you were created for. Don’t let the fear of what might happen prevent you from knowing the joy of the adventure we call life. Be willing to put yourself and your skills and talents before the world, some may be critical and mean, but from what I’ve seen of you over the past 13 years you have so much to offer, and you will make a tremendous difference in the world. You are a gift and the world is blessed to have you in it. Be the most awesome you you can be and you will change the world.

I love you.

Annababa. 🙂

Letters to Anna.

I started this blog a few years ago, and have been foundering. I struggle with what to write and how to write it, because I don’t know my audience. As a preacher, teacher, spiritual leader I have always considered the context of my words to be extremely important. And the audience to whom I write is probably the most important part of that context. Jesus used the symbolism of farming, sheep herding, and fishing because he was speaking to farmers, shepherds, fishermen. And many of those images make little or no sense to 21st Century people because too many of us only know that our food comes from the grocery store, or GrubHub/Uber Eats/other delivery services.

So, I have decided to write with only one person in mind: Anna. And I invite everyone and anyone to eavesdrop on our conversation. I hope this will help me to be more prolific in my writing, as there is so much I want Anna to know about the world, me, and the faith by which I live.


Belonging 2: Where Is Your Hogwarts?

I have struggled with belonging what seems like my whole life. Never truly feeling like I was accepted for who I am. Always feeling like I needed to change in order to conform to the widely divergent expectations of others. I have always felt like an outsider looking in on life.

I think that is partly because of the way my brain is wired. In 1983 I took the Graduate Record Exam. It is a test similar to the SAT or ACT, but it is for people applying to graduate school (I was applying to seminary for my Master of Divinity). There was a logic portion of the test back then and I scored a 98, meaning I scored better than 98% of those who were taking the GRE back then. It means I have a highly analytical brain, which is why things like math and music come easily to me.

Plato quotes Socrates as teaching, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” The problem with my brain is that I tend to examine my life too much. There are many days when I wish I could shut my brain off and just be. Since I like to analyze everything, I have many description for how my brain works. Here’s one: As a boy I had one of those Hotwheels race tracks that had a set of spinning wheels that sent a car careening toward a banked turn on an oval track. Every time the car came back around and hit those wheels again it would go screaming forward nearly flying off the track. Then it would complete the oval and do it all over again.

For those of you who know someone who has a clinical diagnosis of depression, this is also how I would describe my experience of ruminating. My mind gets stuck in a loop of negative self-criticism. “Why did I …?” “If only ….” “I shoulda, coulda, woulda, oughta, ….” On, and on, and on careening around an oval track being constantly reignited every time I come around to those spinning wheels again. The problem with an oval, it’s like a circle with no beginning and no end. Except the beginning often happens when I wake up at 2:30 in the morning and start pacing the floor going over and over a conversation or action of the previous day or month or year or decade. Yes, I sometimes ruminate about mistakes I made decades in the past.

If you want to understand ADHD, there is a great book titled, “Driven to Distraction” by Edward Hallowell and John Ratey published in 1994. I’m sure there are others that are newer, but that was the one that caused the lightbulb to go on for me.

“And now back to our regularly scheduled program.”

It is hard to develop a feeling of belonging when you constantly have to tell your brain to “Shut up!” because it is going off on tangents that wouldn’t make sense to HEY LOOK! A SQUIREL!

In “The gift of Imperfection” 2010, Dr. Brene Brown describes belonging in this way:

“Belonging is the innate human desire to be a part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic imperfect selves to the world. Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

Fitting in is what I have had to do most of my life. And I have a feeling the majority of you reading this would agree with that. I see people yearning to feel true belonging, but settling for just fitting in because that’s all they can hope to achieve. Things like Tattoos. I remember an episode of the TV show MASH where Radar O’Reilly wanted to get a tattoo so he wouldn’t be bullied by other soldiers. In the end he got a teddy bear on his butt, much to the disappointment of Hawkeye and B.J., only to reveal that it was only temporary.

Let me be clear. I am NOT criticizing people who get tattoos. But there are some who get them because they like body art and want to display their inner identity through amazing color and design on their skin. However, there are others who get tattoos because they yearn to be part of a group of people they admire, or think that by getting a tattoo they will be admired and accepted by others with tattoos.

Or, Harley Davidson. I continue to maintain my motorcycle endorsement on my driver’s license for those occasions when I get the chance to ride someone’s bike. I like motorcycles. I like Harleys. But how many of the people that we see wearing Harley Davidson clothing have ever ridden a motorcycle? Or ever will? There are plenty who do, and I have had some marvelous conversations with them. Like the guy with the Hell’s Angels jacket I met at a wedding in Las Vegas. I was in my suit and clerical collar and we spent about an hour talking off to the side of the reception. He was an interesting person I will never forget. He loved delivering Toys for Tots on his Harley at Christmas.

But how many others wear the clothing because they want to be perceived as a Harley rider? And how many more go so far as to buy an actual Harley so they can take the fitting in illusion even farther.

It’s like all the people wearing clothing from that Arm Pit brand. People of all ages displaying the Arm Pit logo on their clothes because they want to fit in. Oh, my bad, I mean Under Armor. Years ago the cool fitting in clothes required the IZOD label. I met a young teen who paid $700.00 for a pair of shoes, which she is afraid to wear and get dirty, so she keeps them in a box in her closet hoping her parents won’t find them. Just for the emotional boost of being able to tell others that she owns them, and by owning them it makes her feel like she fits in. But fitting in is false belonging.

In “Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone” 2017, Dr. Brene Brown asked groups of 8th graders, “What is the difference between belonging and fitting in?” Their answers were very poignant:

“Belonging is being somewhere you want to be, and they want you. Fitting in is being somewhere you want to be, but they don’t care one way or the other.”

“Belonging is being accepted for being you. Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else.”

“If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in.”

And the most sobering answer came when they talked about belonging at home:

One student wrote: “Not belonging at school is really hard, but it’s nothing compared to what it feels like when you don’t belong at home.” When Dr. Brown asked the students what that meant here’s some of the examples they used:

Not living up to their parents’ expectations.

Not being as cool or as popular as your parents want you to be.

Not being good at the same things your parents were good at.

Your parents being embarrassed because you don’t have enough friends or you’re not an athlete or a cheerleader.

Your parents not liking who you are and what you like to do.

When your parents don’t pay attention to your life.

When you don’t feel you belong in the world, at least you have a safe sanctuary where you can retreat from the world, relax, stop the worrying. That place we call home.

But when home is not safe, where do you turn? For Harry Potter it was Hogwarts/Gryffindor/Mrs. Weasley.

Other fictional characters have had their retreat/sanctuary/hidout/etc.:

For Frodo it was The Shire. Or Rivendell

For Batman, the Batcave.

For the Black Panther it’s Wakanda.

For Wonder Woman it’s Themyscira or Paradise Island.

Even superheroes need a place to call home where they can be themselves and feel safe. It is a fundamental basic human need to belong.

So, where can you be authentically you? Be safe and have a sense of true belonging?

Where is your Hogwarts?

Belonging: 1

4:51 a.m. Friday July 20, 2018

Sitting on the screen porch listening to the wind making music on our wind chimes and in the trees of our neighborhood. It’s dark, except for the light from my laptop and a few yard lights on the houses behind ours.

All around me people are still asleep preparing to begin a new day. Alarm clocks are set to go off and the frenzy of life is about to begin for another period of consciousness. Some dreams are playing out and some nightmares are coming to a welcomed end.

What will this day hold?

One of the most profound privileges of being a pastor of the church, is that I am blessed to be integrally connected to the lives of people for whom I care deeply. Some of them I have known for a very long time. Some of them I will never meet, never know their names, never even realize they exist. Yet we are connected in ways that transcend the mere external experiences of sight, sound, touch, and taste.

I excluded smell because, in the words of a man I only met through my mom’s stories, “I don’t smell so good.” I lost my sense of smell years ago. Mom had a friend named Dorothy who also had no olfactory sense, and her son used to say, “Yeah, my mom she don’t smell so good.”

I don’t recall ever meeting him, but through my mom’s frequent sharing of that quip whenever the mention of my disability came up, I get a smile on my face. That brief experience of inward laughter produces a slight spike in endorphins released into my blood stream and I feel a little bit better and more connected to the world in which I live.

I feel just a tinge of happiness.

The sky is beginning to lighten and traffic is picking up on the highway just to the north of our house. And so another day is in the offing. The events of this day will bring some to the peak of elation as expectations are met, hard work brings projects to completion, success is celebrated and hopes and dreams come to fruition. The events of this day will also bring some to their knees in grief and sorrow as expectations are smashed, hard work comes to naught, success is not achieved, and hopes and dreams are crushed under the weight of inexplicable circumstances.

I consider all these things, knowing that the day will be both boon and bane. I have expectations, hopes and dreams of my own for the day. I have plans. I have desires. I have needs and wants.

I also have fears and apprehensions. I have confidence and faith to counter those.

I am an optimist. I believe that I will finish this day’s race alive and healthy. I expect to receive hugs from my wife and daughter, speak on the phone with at least one friend, and spend time in prayer with people I love. I will read, drive, clean (it’s my day off and we are clearing out the basement after water got in a ruined a bunch of “stuff.”) I will go to my Dermatologist appointment and have spots Actinic Caratosis removed via freezing. It will hurt, but then that pain is a reminder that I am alive, I am privileged to live another day and experience all that the day holds in store for me.

I am blessed. Another smile (with its accompanying endorphins) as for some unknown reason memories of my grandmother flood my mind. I have a picture of her wearing my brown leather fedora that is both whimsical and gives me a deep sense of foundation upon which my life is built.

I have a major spiritual connection to my grandmothers. They were my baptismal sponsors and in many ways taught me the importance of the spiritual bond we have with one another. Grandma Olive (mom’s mom) was the one with which I had the privilege of worshiping whenever we visited. We would stay for the weekend and attend worship together at least once each month as I was growing up. I learned the value of faithfulness and commitment from her. When she was 70 years old, her church needed to hire a new secretary. She volunteered to fill in temporarily until they found a permanent secretary. On her 80th birthday she finally had to put her foot down and say that 10 years was enough.

Grandma Hannah (dad’s mom) taught me an important lesson in belonging through a very simply and humble witness to our shared identity as children of God. Grandma was as dependable as clockwork. My sister, brother, and received cards for our birthdays every year. In them was a small gift of money, the same year after year. My sister would get a card with $2.00. My brother would get a card with $2.00. And I, the youngest (by 10 and 8 years) got a card with $3.00. We each got $2.00 because we were her grandchildren, by my card held an extra $1.00 because I was also her godchild.

I’m not sure why these memories are flooding my mind as I write, except that I have been thinking a great deal about belonging lately. I peruse my Facebook feed each day and see the dramas of life played out in memes and posts, shares and comments, likes, smilies, emojis, hearts, laughs and cries. I read news that brings tears to my eyes as in the death of my friend Kim’s son, and joy to my heart in the adoption announcements of other friends. FB can be a rollercoaster, actually it is most days.

We will make it through this day together, because we belong to one another. We will share one another’s joys and sorrows, face to face or via social media. We will experience spikes of endorphins at the good, the happy, the joyful; which will strengthen and empower us to face the uncertain, the unknown and the temporary realization of our fears.

6:07 am July 20, 2018

My coffee cup is empty and it is time to get ready to do more basement cleaning. BTW, did I mention that I hate that job? But it does feel good when it is done.



I’ve been a pastor now for nearly 28 years. I’ve survived the “Worship Wars” and witnessed much of the upheaval that has taken place as “Christendom” has given away to whatever we call it now. I’ve read the books, listened to speakers, participated in conversations, discussions, debates, arguments, and am gearing up for the no holds barred Mime Wrestling Smackdown over worship styles.

Some background: I love to chant the liturgy, I also play guitar, electric bass, trumpet. I have played with praise teams, and polka bands for worship. I enjoy worship in all its fullness and diversity.

Really the answer is simple: It’s ….. wait for it ….

First a story about my maternal grandmother. She came into the world as a Methodist, and even though she spent the last 30+ years of her life worshiping at a Lutheran Church she was still at heart a Methodist. She frequently querried, “Why do Lutherans have to do the same thing every Sunday?” And she knew this because she was not only in worship EVERY Sunday; but, at age 70 when her Lutheran Church needed a secretary she volunteered to be the temporary secretary until they found a full time replacement. BTW, she retired from that position on her 80th birthday.

POINT #1: My grandmother worshiped every Sunday at a church whose liturgical worship style she didn’t particularly like.

At age 84 my grandmother moved from the little house across the street from the church to a Senior Living Apartment. It became harder for her to get there but she continued to attend worship every Sunday. The true revelation came after I was ordained and installed in my first call. Mom and grandma drove from Minnesota to southern Nebraska to visit me for a week and attended worship at the church I was serving. When I first told my grandmother I was going to become a Pastor she gave me one command, and only one: “You may sure to speak loud enough so that everyone can hear.”

After that one and only time my grandmother ever heard me preach, I was nervously standing at the back of the sanctuary greeting worshipers and waiting for my grandmother. When she came out, I asked the question that was foremost in my mind, “Did you like my sermon?” She smiled and replied, “I heard every word of it.” actually I spoke so loudly she even turned her hearing aid off and could still hear me.

She never said whether or not it was a good sermon. It took me the longest time to understand that interaction and what it really meant. And it was not until 27 years later that I finally understand the full significance of what she said. You see, she never even considered judging the sermon for content, delivery, effectiveness, style, or any of the metrics preachers and parishioners use to evaluate worship.  She went to worship every Sunday to worship God. She didn’t go to “church” (a noun), she went to “worship” (a verb.) Because worship was not about her, it was an act of devotion to God.

POINT #2: My grandmother worshiped every Sunday because it was not about her, it was about God.

The next thing that brought the truth of Point #2 home to me was when grandma could no longer attend worship because she didn’t have a way to physically get there, the person who had been bringing her was no longer able to do so. I could tell she was disappointed but she consoled herself with being able to watch worship services on TV. When I asked her about this she commented, “At least with the TV I can turn it up loud enough so I can hear the preacher.” I came to find out that for the final 10 years of her experience worshiping at her little Lutheran Church in Lester Prairie, MN, she hadn’t been able to hear a word the pastor said.

Now stop to ponder the significance of that statement: For 10 years my grandmother worshiped every Sunday without being able to hear a word of the 500 or so sermons that were preached during that time.


POINT #3: My grandmother worshiped as a Spiritual Discipline, because she knew that worship was a central part of what it means to BE a Christian, despite the fact that her physical hearing disability prevented her from “Getting anything out of the sermon.”

My grandmother chose to worship God regularly, it was part of the fabric of her life. She never asked questions like “Should I go to church today or stay home and read the newspaper?” She never refused to worship God because the service wasn’t designed according to her specifications.

Could she have chosen to do other things on Sunday morning rather than worship God? Yes. Did she? NO.

POINT #4: My grandmother worshiped every Sunday because she chose to do so.

And why did she choose to worship every Sunday? Because worship was important to her, it was a priority, it was the thing she put on her calendar before anything else.

Another story to help in understanding this issue:

When I served in Randolph, NE there were four men from Ohio who came every year to hunt pheasant on the farm of one of the members of the church. And every year they got up early Sunday morning and went out hunting, but they came back in time to clean up and attend worship on Sunday morning, every year. Why, because they chose to. Why, because it was important to them, a priority.

(I understand fully that nurses and others have to work on Sundays, and so for some of us our options and choices are limited. If you have no choice of where to spend your time on Sunday morning then you have a different issue to address regarding your Spiritual Practice of worship.)

Every one of us has 24 hours in a day. I know people who will move heaven and earth to watch “Dancing With The Stars,” or have the schedule of their favorite football/basketball/baseball/etc. team in their Google calendar the minute it is available. Their tee times are sacred, and opening day of fishing season is a high holy day.

So, Let’s be honest about worship. If you are in worship on Sunday morning, it is because worship is important to you, because God is important to you, it is a priority in your life, you make the time to attend worship. If you are not in worship on Sunday it is because you choose not to worship God. You can come up with all kinds of excuses why you make the choices you make, but in the end it comes down to priorities.

Some people impact our lives forever

This weekend I was at my sister’s house and saw an old picture of our dad pinned to the bulletin board. (The picture was pinned to the bulletin board, not dad.) Almost immediately tears began welling up in my eyes. I turned to my sister and said, “I really miss dad.” She replied, “Mmm hmm.”

We stood there for a brief time looking at the picture. She explained that it had been taken the weekend of our brother’s wedding, and she remembered that morning because someone had short sheeted their bed the previous evening.

Lynn went to finish making breakfast and I walked over to the light and looked closer at dad. He was standing talking to my sister, her husband and our family friend Bob Booth. As I stared at the picture I remembered that the last time I saw Bob was at mom’s funeral, it meant so much to see him there.

But my focus was on my dad. I could almost hear what he was thinking from the expression on his face. And right then the only thing I wanted was to be able to talk to him, or more importantly hear him share some of the wisdom I cherish so much t this day.

The thing you need to know, is that picture was taken 29 years ago, and dad has been dead now for almost 27 years. Some people may ruin or brighten your day with a word or action. Some people have a more lasting impact upon our lives that may or may not fade with time.

Then there are people like my dad who make a profound difference which only grows and becomes richer with age and the passing of time. The world would be much better off if there were more people like my dad. If I can be half the man he was I will have done very well in my life.


I grew up in a home with parents who didn’t always agree, but did always respect each other.

My mom was a registered Republican, and my dad was a registered Democrat. They both felt voting was one of the great privileges and sacred responsibilities of living in our nation, so they exercised that right at every opportunity. However, every time an election rolled around my dad, who was an unapologetic wise guy (I once saw him shake Hubert Humphries’ hand and the count his fingers to make sure he got them all back), would say to mom, “Marlys we’re just going to go and cast our votes for the opposite party and cancel out each others votes, why don’t we stay home this time.” To which mom would reply, “Bob, I’m not that stupid.” Then dad would get that little smile on his face and the gleam in his eye, and mom would smile back defiantly.

This oft repeated drama taught me a number of things: Stand up for what you believe in, and make sure you vote even if you know the wise guy in the next booth is voting for the opposing candidate. The other thing about my parents, is that they were each willing to cross the aisle and vote for someone of the opposite party if they believed in what that candidate stood for. You see they voted based on their core values and beliefs, and one of the strongest of their core values was love for one another, even in the face of disagreements.

Both of my parents were good faithful Christian people. Yet they saw things differently.

The decline of civility and respect in public discourse and even in casual conversation diminishes us all. When our identity and sense of self is defined by the small parcel of things that divide us, then we are all losers.

I have people in my life that I cherish, that I respect a great deal, and whom I enjoy spending time with. They are each the wise guy in the next booth voting for the opposing candidate. The strength of those relationships is that there are far more, and more important things that unite us, than separate us. We have a mutual respect and choose not to let the minor differences destroy our relationships.

I choose to love and respect those who differ from me, because my life is sweeter and fuller because of them.

Thoughts on Starting a Blog

I enjoy reading a few blogs, but I try to be discriminating in my choices. I want content that will be uplifting and encouraging, too many blogs seem to be filled with rants about how unfair life is, they are just depressing. I like blogs by people I know like my friend Allan Stellar http://paradisefrommyporch.blogspot.com/ even though sometimes he rants he’s my friend so I can overlook that.

Though I like to read what others write it seems a bit narcissistic to start my own blog. But the idea came up again at our church council meeting, “You should write a blog.” So I asked the Wednesday morning Bible Study group, “If I start a blog, what should I write about?” There was silence (no crickets chirped, but I could imagine them in my mind.) Finally someone said, “I think stories of your experience as a pastor would be good.”

That set my mind going, in 27 years I guess I have accumulated a few stories that would be worth telling. I have been blessed to know some living saints in my life, some of them have transitioned to their heavenly home in the bosom of our Father, and some continue on the journey of this life. The stories of their faithfulness and love deserves telling, as a testament to the Holy Spirit who is their guide and strength.

I have been witness to and participant in some events that cause me to laugh out loud at their remembrance. And I am blessed to have been used by God in ways that still take my breath away.

To that end, I humbly submit this first post.

     Self: OK do I sign my name as if it is a letter, or what?

     Reply: Allan doesn’t.

     Self: He’s really good at this blogging thing. Guess I’ll follow his example.

     Reply: OK, just don’t get in the habit of following his example. 🙂

     Self: Heheh, for sure. 🙂