Tag Archives: Memoir

Gonna Stick My Sword in the Golden Sand

Sergeant Holmen and Sergeant Heald

Sgt Holmen and Sgt Heald 1970

Forty-five years ago this month, I was in transition. I was leaving a line company of infantry in Vietnam where we slept under the stars in the mud and amongst the critters for the life of a LRRP (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol) that would offer a barracks and hot meals but also hair-raising scouting missions into hostile territory. Even after this lengthy passage of time, I’m not sure of the wisdom of that decision, but it was what it was.

This spring, during a California book tour, I visited my best friend from those long-ago days, and we discovered that time has stood still for our relationship–we jumped straightaway into discussion of religion, politics, sex, and all the philosophical musings and questioning that we first experienced as young men on late nights in the barracks as the sun was setting on the tumultuous sixties.

G-pa Holmen and G-pa Heald

G-pa Holmen and G-pa Heald 2014

A few years ago, I wrote several short stories based upon my army experience–some of you may have read the compilation entitled Prowl– and my recent visit with Gary inspired me to finish that project. Thus, I have edited and revised those stories, woven them together, and added some new material. All this is to say that I am pleased to announce that Gonna Stick My Sword in the Golden Sand: A Vietnam Soldier’s Story has just been released.

The title comes from a stanza of the gospel traditional, Down by the Riverside, with its refrain–“Ain’t gonna study war no more.” I would like to think that there are echoes of earlier classics of war fiction. Like The Red Badge of Courage, Golden Sand recreates the fear of the soldier facing battle; like All Quiet on the Western Front, Golden Sand confronts the banality of war for the weary soldier.

Golden Sand coverGolden Sand is a bold, dark, and intense retelling of the Vietnam experience through the eyes of an army scout, the point man on a camouflaged and face-painted four-man LRRP team inserted by helicopter into remote and unfriendly territory to search for “Charlie,” the North Vietnamese soldiers who travelled the mountain gullies of the Ho Chi Minh trail. Golden Sand is less about patriotism and heroism than about the gut-wrenching reality for the Vietnam combat soldiers who are celebrated for simply doing their best to get by, not as superheroes, but as young men who often acted heroically but sometimes foolishly in circumstances not of their own choosing. One reviewer of an earlier short story commented, “The bond and the folly of immortal combat ring loud and clear from the page, and the story’s told with all the realism, language and pathos of experience.” The mood of Golden Sand is dark and somber rather than triumphalistic: a hauntingly honest and brutally true retelling rather than a glorification of the Vietnam experience.

Others commented after reading the short stories:

Gripping stories, unquestionably authentic, well written.

You read along on everyday books, then open one of these up and its like being smacked in the head. They just open up and tell it to you like it is. I love it.

The tension in the individual stories leaps off the page but the author manages an injection of black humour.

This story is a page-turner, the reader will not be left bored or yawning.

Characters and place come to life with the words, dialog is pitch perfect, and there are haunting comments I’ll remember long after the story’s done.

Click here if you’d like an autographed copy, or go to Amazon.com for either a print paperback or eBook. For $0.99, you can download an individual chapter on Amazon to check it out. Here’s the list of chapter titles:

Eleven Bravo

Humping

Here Comes Charlie

Cat Quiet

Whiskey in the Rain

Chasing After Wind

Elijah Fire

Donut Dollies

Down by the Riverside

Blessed grief

My eighty-nine year old father will soon pass. His health has deteriorated significantly in the last year as he as moved from ambulatory to bed-ridden, assisted living facility to nursing home, and now to hospice care. In the last week and half, he has been in and out of the hospital, and over the weekend we had serious conversations with him that the end is near unless he would choose to override his living will which rules out extreme measures to prolong life. He understood and didn’t change his mind. Today, he will be returned to his nursing home and will spend the last days in hospice care.

We called his sister and a sister-in-law from his hospital room, and he heard their voices on speaker phone. With exertion, he was able to whisper “Hi”. They were able to express their love and say their goodbyes. When the word spread, others called. Family gathered in his room, including children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Dad smiled at our jokes and with each new arrival. Pastor Trish from our home church in Upsala, Minnesota came, and we shared bread and wine and many tears.

Even though I tend to be an emotional person, easy to come to tears, I am surprised at just how teary I have been. My cheeks are wet as I write this. But it’s good. It’s so very sweet. This is a holy time, and each memory, each phone call, each labored breath is sacred. My yoga-instructor daughter would say we shouldn’t avoid the pain but embrace it as part of the fullness of life. We can learn from Eastern religion. God is in our tears.

Long remembered stories are told again. Pictures are popping up on Facebook. I add my personal favorite. The scene is from a Minnesota winter in which we sat in a steamy sauna and then ran outside and rolled in the snow. The picture shows Dad returning inside, and you can see the snow in his sideburns; the exuberance demonstrates his essential nature.Dad and sauna

More than any person I know, Dad has loved life.

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.  Isaiah 25:6

Yes, my dad ate the marrow—literally. And stinky cheese, pickled herring, venison steaks barbecued in the fireplace during the winter months, and he drank his homemade wine made from Basswood blossoms picked at Cedar Lake. The way he  relished rich foods serves as metaphor for his life. With a flourish. As he savored a tasty morsel, he had a characteristic flick of the wrist which said, “Yes, life is good!” Amen.

Though I cry, I am not sad but joyful. Along with so many others, I have been blessed to have him in my life. Thanks be to God!

When Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber talks, Lutherans listen

Nadia Bolz-Weber

I was one of 500 or so who packed the sanctuary of Central Lutheran in downtown Minneapolis last night to listen to ELCA rock star, Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, as part of her whirlwind tour to promote her spiritual memoir, Pastrix.

Rev. Bolz-Weber, a tall, slender, dark-haired, heavily tattooed, “cyber-punk” pastor and a self-described “cranky, post-modern gal of the emerging church a la Luther,” rocked this audience, much as she did the 35,000 screaming teens and chaperones at the most recent ELCA youth convention in New Orleans. The irony is that her counter-culture appearance and hip language born of a prior career as a standup comedian (I’m sure last night was the first occasion that “F-bombs” were dropped inside this hallowed sanctuary) is used to convey a decidedly mainstream Christian, especially Lutheran, message (grace and redemption, saint and sinner, death and resurrection).

I first encountered Rev. Bolz-Weber, long before she became famous, about the time I started this blog back in ‘09, and she had started her own called Sarcastic Lutheran. At that time, I read a story in which her mission church startup to “my people,” the House for All Saints and Sinners in Denver, had provided sanctuary to a lesbian teen who had been booted from her own home. Though Bolz-Weber is straight (she talks about her really cool and good-looking husband), she has been an outspoken LGBT ally. In 2011, Pastor Nadia offered the sermon at the California Rite of Reception for seven gay, lesbian, and transgender Lutheran Pastors. One of them, Pastor Ross Merkel, had been defrocked by the ELCA in the early nineties after he came out to his Bay Area congregation, but the congregation kept him in place and a newly-elected synod bishop did not object. Pastor Nadia calls Pastor Merkel her spiritual mentor, and she embraced Lutheranism in his adult-confirmation class after a childhood of spiritual abuse in a fundamentalist, patriarchal, congregation.

Again, an irony. This outsider and pastor to the outsider has been embraced by the ELCA establishment. Though there were youngsters in the audience last night–including a carload of teens from Iowa who tweeted while traveling north on I-35, “We’re coming! Don’t start on time!”—the audience was mostly middle-aged Lutherans, even elderly, including several hundred clergy from the Twin Cities area.

Before encountering Pastor Merkel and Lutheranism, Pastor Nadia had experienced spiritual healing in AA, where she became sober “by the grace of God and in the fellowship of other recovering alcoholics.” I share this journey with Pastor Nadia, and I have given talks entitled, “I learned all I needed to know about grace in AA.” She also credits a couple of years of Wiccan involvement for healing the patriarchy-inflicted, gender scars of the church of her youth.

Queer Clergy cover jpgJust released this week, Pastrix is already appearing on best-seller lists. As an author whose own book will be released later this year (Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism), I must confess to more than a little envy. Maybe I should hire her publicist.

Herbert W Chilstrom Autobiography

Eighteen years after his retirement as the first Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Herb Chilstrom is still a commanding presence, standing straight and tall with his characteristic white hair. At the recent Churchwide Assembly in Pittsburgh, Herb and wife Corinne always had a cluster of well-wishers hovering around them in hotel lobbies, in the exhibit/lunch hall, or signing books in the registration area. When I had a chance to visit with them, I thanked Herb again for the kind words he offered in support of my forthcoming book, Queer Clergy (see below), and he inscribed a copy of his autobiography for me (A Journey of Grace). We joked that he expected that I should finish the 600 page hardcover book that first day. Well, it took me a week, and I  thoroughly enjoyed reading about the back stories to the early days of the ELCA of which I was only vaguely aware.

Chilstrom was raised in a poor Swedish family on the outskirts of Litchfield, Minnesota, but he became the face of the newly-formed Lutheran denomination called the ELCA. The ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) came into existence on January 1, 1988 as the result of the merger of the two largest Lutheran denominations in the U.S. (LCA & ALC) together with a moderate splinter from the Missouri Synod (AELC). Chilstrom had been the bishop of the Minnesota Conference of the old LCA before his election to be the first presiding bishop of the ELCA.

He steered the fledgling church through rocky shoals during two four-year terms. Immediately, the church was buffeted by conservative theologians who decried the drift toward other mainline denominations such as the UCC, Presbyterian Church, the Episcopal Church, and the Methodists, preferring instead a rightward tilt toward Catholicism, the Missouri Synod, or the burgeoning evangelical community. Among other things, critics decried the democratic, egalitarian structure of the new church and the loss of influence for white, male, pastors.

This was hardly a new battle. The fault line could be traced from the reaction to Enlightenment rationalism, through 19th century Scandinavian lay-revivalism and Darwinian debates, into the modernist-fundamentalist controversies of the early 20th century, and on to the post-WWII culture wars of the religious right.

Within the first years of the new church’s existence, the conservatives seized upon the LGBT quest for full participation as the bogeyman to frighten parishioners in the pews. When the gay community persisted in seeking the church’s blessing, like the Gentile woman in Luke’s gospel, Bishop Chilstrom was conflicted in a classic confrontation of unity versus justice. The frail new church had no deposit of accrued legitimacy, no ballast to keep the ship upright, and the gales whipped her sails. It was all Chilstrom could do to keep the helm from spinning out of control, but he did so, and the church survived her tempestuous early years. His autobiography poignantly revisits his internal wrestling by quoting his own journal entry from the early years:

I continue to wonder how I got into all of this and how I can carry such a load … I feel so divided. I wish so very much that this church was ready to accept [gays and lesbians]. But it isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination. So I must do my duty. I must support denial of ordination for them. I feel very torn apart by it. At times, I even wonder if I should resign because of the conflict between my conscience and the stance I must take as bishop.

It took over two decades for the church to finally break down the barriers to full LGBT participation. At the recent 25th anniversary Churchwide Assembly in Pittsburgh, there was a sense that the church had reached calmer waters. With a new captain at the helm, and a woman at that, the church boldly surged forward, sails unfurled with a fair wind and following seas.

Presiding bishop-elect Liz Eaton appears to be a suitable heir to the progressive and pastoral leadership that has passed from Bishop Herb to Bishop H. George Anderson and, most recently, to Bishop Mark Hanson. Strong leadership has been a hallmark of this church, and the church is excited that Bishop Liz Eaton will continue that legacy.

Awhile ago, I provided Bishop Chilstrom with a copy of the book manuscript for Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism, and this is what he wrote about it:

“I can’t imagine a more comprehensive review of the journey of various churches in dealing with the issue of inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in the church than Holmen has encompassed in the pages of this book. Though deeply involved in these issues before, during and after my time as presiding bishop of the ELCA, I learned much from this book that had not come to my attention. I commend Queer Clergy to any serious student of the subject. This remarkable book will serve as the definitive text on the subject for a long time to come.”

Click here to Like the my Facebook page and to read the eBook (PDF) Preface to “Queer Clergy.”

A family story

Before my wife and I head out to spend Thanksgiving with our three adult children (and son-in-law and granddaughter), I’ll note the passing of a family anniversary.

RMS BalticIn April, 1912, the RMS Titanic of the White Star Line struck an iceberg and sank.  Seven months later, the RMS Baltic, a sister ship in the White Star Line, departed Liverpool bound for New York City.  Like her younger sister, the Baltic had once been the largest ship in the world.  Among many other Scandinavians on board, a pair of Swedish brothers, eighteen-year-old Olaf and his older brother Jens, had worked their way to Liverpool to seek their fortune in the New World.  They left their parents and other siblings behind in southern Sweden.

After passing through Ellis Island on November 12, 1912—a century ago–the brothers sought an uncle in the Hartford, Ct., area who had come to America earlier.  Olaf took the name Lofquist.  Soon, Jens would return to the homeland, but Olaf stubbornly remained.  When WWI intervened, Olaf served in the American army before settling in Minnesota where many Swedish communities thrived.  In 1925, he married Hilma of Upsala, Minnesota, the daughter of Wilhelm and Adelina, Swedish immigrants a generation earlier.

For awhile, Olaf and Hilma lived in Southwestern Minnesota near Redwood Falls, where Olaf and a partner operated a face-brick factory.  In 1929, Marilyn was born, the third daughter of Olaf and Hilma.  Marilyn was my mother.  Around 1930, Olaf received a letter from his sister in Sweden.  Their mother had died.  In response, Olaf wrote a poignant letter that is now a family treasure.

Olaf and Hilma would birth three more daughters before tragedy struck.  With the depression, the brick factory closed, and Olaf became a game warden, and the family moved to the woodlands of northern Minnesota.  In January, 1936, Olaf was a passenger in a car driven by another game warden as they headed to court in Aitkin, Minnesota, to testify in a trial of poachers they had arrested.  The car skidded on ice into the path of a train, and Olaf was killed.

Great-Grandpa Wilhelm with Obie & MikeHilma’s brother picked up Hilma and her daughters, and they returned to the family farm near Upsala, but soon the farm would be lost to depression-era foreclosure.  Using insurance proceeds from Olaf’s death, Hilma bought a house in town, and that was where she raised her daughters, along with her father Wilhelm who had lost the farm and who became a surrogate father for my mother and her sisters.  Years later, I lived in that house for awhile.  This is a picture of great-grandfather Wilhelm with my brother and me standing outside the Upsala café called “Hilma’s Eat Shop.”

In 1976, my mom and my dad spent six weeks in Sweden, visiting Holmen and Lofquist relatives.  Mom discovered Olaf’s living siblings and their children—her aunts and uncles and first cousins.  The circle was closed.  Since then, many of our Swedish kin have visited us in the U.S.–some three or four times.  Our two daughters, Karin and Greta, bear the names of two of mom’s cousins that she met in Sweden.  Our son, Haldan Robert Lofquist Holmen, keeps Olaf’s adopted last name alive.

Last Sunday, my sister Sue arranged for Skype sessions with many of the Swedes to remember the 100th anniversary of Olaf’s journey.  Though he never returned and never again saw his parents and siblings, he would be pleased to know that the circle is unbroken.

Ah, ha, ha, ha stayin’ alive

March 12, 1978.

I spent the late winter Sunday in the Burtrum Hills, west of Upsala, Minnesota.  My dad was in his mid-fifties, and he and mom had not yet retired to the snowbird’s life.  So, if you live in Minnesota in the wintertime, you either hibernate or you adopt a wintertime hobby—snowmobiling & ice fishing were two of dad’s favorites, but that winter he spent making wood.  He bought stumpage rights to a 40 acre parcel of hardwoods.  Now, there was no practical reason why he made wood—after all, his business was as the fuel oil distributor in Upsala—but it was something to do to stay active.

There was a man who had two sons.  The younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.

We brought a six-pack along, as always.   Dad would work the chain saw, and I would split logs.  Then I would gather the lopped off small branches and heave them atop the bonfire started earlier with glugs of fuel oil.  Flames must have leaped twenty feet in the air.  His transistor radio blared the number one song of the day by the Bee Gees.

Well you can tell
by the way I use my walk
I’m a woman’s man
no time to talk
Music loud and women warm
I’ve been kicked around
since I was born

I had my own wintertime hobby.  And summertime too.  I drank.

When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.

We finished up as the red sun dipped behind a stand of white pine.  We covered some of the gear with a canvas tarp and piled ourselves into his pickup.  Mom had chili cooked back in Upsala, which I washed down with a couple more beers.  Soon my wife, six-month old baby daughter, and I headed to our own home along the Mississippi River north of St. Cloud.

And now it’s all right, it’s ok
and you may look the other way
We can try to understand
The New York Times’ effect on man

Lynn put Karin to bed while I chipped some ice for a Beefeater’s martini.  I was a classy drunk.  I only drank the best.  I rolled a joint.  Before long, I was exquisitely high, and Lynn looked away.  She knew it was pointless to say anything.

I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”

But this night was different.  I had a secret plan.

Whether you’re a brother
or whether you’re a mother
you’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
Feel the city breakin
and everybody shakin’
and were stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive

The next morning, I went early to work as a young associate at the leading St. Cloud law firm, and I placed a letter on the senior partner’s desk.  Then I drove a few blocks to the St. Cloud hospital where Karin had been born the previous fall.  The lady at the information desk said the Alcohol & Chemical Dependency unit was on 2 South.

So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.

The folks at the nurse’s station weren’t quite sure what to do with me.  They didn’t usually get Monday morning walk-ins in pin stripe suits.  I called Lynn and told her where I was.  She came as soon as she could arrange a babysitter, and my boss showed up too.

Well now I get low and I get high
And if I can’t get either, I really try
Got the wings of heaven on my shoes
I’m a dancin man and I just can’t lose

You know it’s all right, it’s ok
I’ll live to see another day
We can try to understand
The New York Times’ effect on man

Life goin’ nowhere
somebody help me
Somebody help me, yeah
I’m stayin’ alive…

That was thirty-four years ago, and I’m still clean and sober.  Saplings that we left on the slopes that day are pretty high by now.  Karin’s three years sober herself.

But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’

Santorum says I’m not a Christian

Of course, he doesn’t know me.  We’ve never talked, and I doubt he’s read any of my writing, though I ‘d be delighted to send him a copy of A Wretched Man with the hopes that he publicly disses it.  I’d send him a copy of Prowl, too, but that might offend his piety because the book drops a few ffenheimers.   But, he knows I’m not a Christian because I’m a self-avowed, unrepentant, practicing liberal.  What is more, I’m all about sex, because I’m a Democrat.  From the 2008 interview in which he suggested that liberals could not be Christian:

Woodstock is the great American orgy. This is who the Democratic Party has become. They have become the party of Woodstock. The prey upon our most basic primal lusts, and that’s sex. And the whole abortion culture, it’s not about life. It’s about sexual freedom. That’s what it’s about. Homosexuality. It’s about sexual freedom.

I’m sorry I missed Woodstock, but I was preoccupied dodging bullets and feeling scared, homesick, and abandoned in the jungles of Vietnam.  I was pretty much celibate in those days, too, so I’m not quite sure why Santorum thinks I’m oversexed.  I’ll ask my wife what she thinks.

Isn’t the sanctimonious, “we’re Christians, but you’re not”, what we really dislike most about the religious right?  Well, I take that back; there are too many delicious absurdities to rank them.

Eleven Eleven Eleven

The eleventh day of the eleventh month of the eleventh year happens once a century.  On November 11, 1911, the progressive former President Teddy Roosevelt was discovering that the increasingly conservative Republican Party no longer welcomed his moderate views about regulating corporations.  Hmmm.

Coincidentally, today is also Veteran’s Day, which derives from the signing of the peace at the conclusion of WWI on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.

Romeo 18I don’t remember Veterans Day in 1969, and I doubt whether my fellow soldiers in Vietnam paid much attention.  By then, the drawdown of troops had begun even as the war protests in the US accelerated.  On November 3rd, President Nixon had delivered his famous “silent majority” speech, and on November 15th, over a quarter million protesters descended upon Washington for the largest anti-war protest in US history.  Just as we were oblivious to Veteran’s Day, my comrades in K Company Rangers stationed at Camp Enari near Pleiku paid little attention to speeches and protests back home.  We had more immediate issues, and for us the geo-political ramifications of the war were of little concern.  It was around that time in 1969 that Ranger team 18 was formed—call sign Romeo one eight–consisting of (left to right) Billy Powers, yours truly, Mark Estopare, and Gary Heald.  The four of us stayed together as a team for four or five months.

Prowl paperbackSome of you know that I have published five short stories based upon our experiences, and today I announce the release of a compilation of the five in a book entitled Prowl.  Prowl is available as a Kindle eBook or paperback here, or in other eBook formats here.

The title is based upon the following passage:

Survival depended upon stealth. The black and brown stripes smeared across our faces matched our tiger fatigues, and we prowled silently and slowly. Unseen and unheard, we would be hunter and not hunted.

In slow motion, I lifted my combat boot over a rotting branch and gingerly stepped to the soft ground on the opposite side. Momentarily straddling the fallen limb, I scanned the brush from left to right before dropping my gaze to the forest floor ahead to plan for my next footfall. When I was satisfied, I shifted my weight forward and lifted my trailing foot over the branch. Again and again, the methodical process was repeated as I silently crept through tall ferns, low-hanging vines, and suspended air plants of a mountain valley in the central highlands of Vietnam. Behind me in five to ten yard intervals, my three Ranger teammates mimicked my actions. LRRPs on patrol.

We stalked men from the north, soldiers of the North Vietnamese Army, searching for signs of their highways or hooches, hidden from the eyes of our helicopters by triple canopy jungle. But who stalked us?

In the branches above, a noisy flock of flycatchers bobbed and weaved for bugs, while the seed-eating finches flitted here and there in the low grass and brush; the birds didn’t notice us nor we them. Birdsongs and chattering squirrels said all was as it should be; silence would sound an alarm.

Home in Arlington Heights

The Village of Arlington Heights began to take shape in the 1850’s when a New York land speculator persuaded the railroad to build a terminal in the local farming community consisting of recent German immigrants.  The railroad allowed the farmers to ship their produce to the far-off city of Chicago, twenty-five miles to the south and east.  Originally the town of Dunston, the Village of Arlington Heights was incorporated in the 1880’s.

Today, Arlington Heights boasts a population of 75,000,  a “Village” budget in excess of $60 million annually, and the railroad terminal is now a popular waypoint along a spoke of the “Metra” light rail that delivers commuters into the Chicago hub.  Downtown Arlington Heights consists of fine shops, restaurants, Yoga studios, theaters, high-rise luxury apartments and other indicators of an affluent community.  Several of you who sent well-wishes noted personal connections with this area.

New homeWe have rented a century-old, four-bedroom (all small) house just a block away from downtown.  We can see the Metra trains pass by from our spacious porch.  I have set up my new office in a cheery sunroom that catches the morning sun and from which I can watch the teenagers next door play frisbee.  We have received welcoming gifts of chili, sweets, and salads from several of the neighbors who were pleased to learn that we hold a humorous disdain for our fellow Minnesotan, Michelle Bachmann.

Yesterday, we visited the 2,300 member Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church just a few blocks up Arlington Heights Road.  I nudged my wife as Senior Pastor Dan Hoeger offered the morning announcements.

“I know him from somewhere,” I said.

After the service, we confirmed that we had met a year ago at the Lutherans Concerned Convention at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.  Our Saviour’s just concluded a congregational advisory survey in which 82% voted to authorize the pastors and the congregation to bless same-gender unions.

So, we’re settling in.  We still have a few boxes to unpack, and I need to get untracked with my writing.  Several projects have languished in recent months, but now it’s time.  Thanks to all who sent comments to this blog or private emails wishing us well in our new adventure.  I will be returning to host a series of retreats in Minnesota in upcoming weeks, and I hope to see many of you then.

Goodbye Blue Monday—and the rest of Northfield, too

After spending most of our married life in central Minnesota, my wife and I arrived in Northfield just in time to vote in the 2008 election.  Election night was our initial visit to First United Church of Christ, the voting precinct for the Carleton side of town.  We would later be blessed with numerous friends at this UCC congregation.

Within a few months, we had settled on Bethel Lutheran as our new church home, and we have continued to appreciate the way Bethel “does church” … a vibrant youth ministry, heady and stirring preaching, and a multi-faceted music ministry that draws on superior professional and amateur talent.  Before long, I was invited to the men of Bethel weekly discussion group and then “volunteered” for the personnel committee.  I taught a Sunday adult forum class and addressed Bethel gatherings on other occasions.  Wednesday evening Bistro, a weekly congregational meal, helped us to meet new friends fast.

Northfield is a college town that boasts two of the finest liberal arts colleges in the Midwest.

Skinner Memorial ChapelCarleton’s founders were New England Yankees with roots in the Congregational Churches of the East, but Carleton is no longer affiliated with any church or denomination, and the gothic church building that sits sentinel at the entrance to the college green now hosts Islamic and Jewish gatherings, as well as Christian groups.  Last Passover eve, the Bethel men’s group was hosted by the rabbi from the Twin Cities who serves the Carleton Jewish community.

St Olaf is one of the leading ELCA colleges in the country, and many Lutheran pastors, church leaders, and theologians have ties to St. Olaf, especially those of Norwegian heritage.  The King and Queen of Norway will visit St. Olaf in mid-October.  Although I have no personal ties to St. Olaf, I was privileged to speak at Boe Chapel, to sign books thru the bookstore on homecoming weekend, and to gain the friendship of many present and former professors and staff.

Student center and Boe Chapel

Downtown Northfield is an eclectic mix of shops, eateries, museums, libraries, and a village square overlooking the historic Cannon River.  Summer concerts, art fairs, and a popcorn wagon grace the square, but the biggest annual downtown event is the “Defeat of Jesse James Days” held each September.  Yes, it was here where the infamous Jesse James gang met its match, and the shootout outside the old bank building is reenacted multiple times on this September weekend.  “Get your guns, boys, they’re robbin’ the bank” is the message printed on many T-shirts.

Tiny’s Hot Dogs recently closed, but you can still see the bumper stickers that read, “Eat at Tiny’s.  Save the World.”   Goodbye Blue Monday is one of several excellent coffeehouses downtown, and it is here that the local ELCA clergy from Northfield, Faribault, and environs gathers each Thursday morning for coffee and conversation.  Though I’m laity, I appreciated the invitation to join this heady group and to participate in church gossip, text study, and a great deal of laughter that often drew wondering glances from the students and town’s folk: who are these Lutherans and why are they having so much fun?

But now it’s time for the next chapter in our lives.  Next Thursday, the 29th of September, we will pull out from the driveway of our townhouse in a rented Penske truck loaded with our earthly belongings.  Arlington Heights in the Northwest Chicago suburbs will be our destination.

Guni, Awa, Greta, Karin, Lynn, ObieIt’s a family deal.  Our middle daughter, Greta, has been offered her dream job as the Caribbean Product Manager for Apple Vacations, but that requires relocation to Chicago.  The complication is that her husband, Guni, still has a year or more remaining on his PHD program at the University of Minnesota.  Guni encouraged Greta to accept the job offer and to ask Mom and Dad if we would relocate with her to temporarily provide support for her and our two year old granddaughter until he could join them.  So, we’ll all live together in a rented four-bedroom house in a three-generational family.

HalOur oldest daughter, Karin, a Yoga instructor and writer, has been establishing a Northfield following, but after a few days of indecision, she has also decided to join us in Chicago.  She was a counselor at a battered women’s shelter in Chicago early this decade, so she still has close friends in the Windy City.  Our youngest, Hal, will remain in the Brainerd, Minnesota area, but he has taken vacation next week to help us all move to Chicago.

So, Goodbye Blue Monday and the rest of Northfield.  Though we leave Northfield with many tears, we also eagerly anticipate the opportunity to be part of rearing our granddaughter and to share the adventure that awaits us in Chicago.