004Duluth at dawn a few weeks ago.  An urbanized frame for early morning over Lake Superior.

Bonhoeffer opens his Ethics with a question, and it is not ‘what is the good I can do’, nor ‘how can I be good’, but rather ‘what is God’s will?’

This morning I am sitting around a large round table in a Salvation Army building a couple hundred feet from the Potomac River, a few miles from the Capitol.  Early in the morning, the view is beautiful.  The Capitol, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial.  All beautiful.

These are images as well as real stone structures.  They represent structures of power.

So, then, what is God’s will?

Iris read text after text from the Old Testament.  Psalms, Amos, Isaiah.  Isaiah 61.

This is the will of God.  And if I may sum it all up, Micah 6:8.

I am now sitting in a semi-dark room.  It is early morning and soon I will need to be on the move again down the road in Missouri.  One further consideration in the ethics thought of yesterday.

The prophet Micah says to do, to love and to walk.  Justice, kindness, and only humbly with God.

Again, Bonhoeffer.  Much deeper in his Ethics -

“Love … is the reality of being drawn and drawing others into an event, namely, into God’s community with the world, which has already been accomplished in Jesus Christ.  ‘Love’ does not exist as an abstract attribute of God but only in God’s actual loving of human beings and the world.”

This being drawn into an event will be presented as metanoia, repentance, in Bonhoeffer’s prison writings.  It is a repentance, a turning to others in this world.  Others unjustly, unkindly walked over.  The will of God is to turn as did Christ to join in His community to do and walk as Prophet Micah said.

During the past two weeks I have been having a Mark Twain experience.

Punch, Brothers, Punch! describes Mark Twain’s experience of an ear-worm.  In the newspaper he happens to read a jingle -

Conductor, when you receive a fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare,
A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare,
A pink trip slip for a three-cent fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!


Punch, brothers! punch with care!
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!

He cannot get it out of his head. It tortures him for days.  Freedom comes only when he shares it with a friend, who then infected is also doomed until …

You hear some simple tune, and then you can’t stop it in your head.  Last year visiting Turkey with a group of friends it was the song Istanbul (Not Constantinople).   Andrew Shiels, you know what I mean.

For several days now a sentence scrolls into my consciousness.  Not banal, if anything it’s one that challenges me.

The church is the place where Jesus Christ’s taking form is proclaimed and where it happens.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer ends the second chapter of his Ethics with this statement.  It distills the preceding 26 pages in which Bonhoeffer develops an understanding of the role ethics plays in forming those human beings who follow Jesus Christ.

Several pages earlier he writes -

We can and should speak not about what the good is, can be, or should be for each and every time, but about how Christ may take form among us today and here.

The current top news item bringing anxiety to us this week in the USA deals with a movement of individuals who want to shape the world into their preferred future.

It is because they have lost hope about being able to have a place in this world.  They perceive the present world’s economic, socio-political and technological power out of their hands.  So, they turn to religion.  A religion which will overcome, take over and then form a world to its vision.  Those who oppose are dealt with violently.

It’s not an ear-worm but it does haunt me, Mike Davis’ Planet of Slums. Read it. It comes humming into my memory as I read news of the Western world’s campaign gearing up now in the land of Abraham. Davis’ prophetic analysis of a world of growing disparities seems to form a counterpoint to our growing awareness that all is not well with all.

Just before Bonhoeffer’s statement, that Christ is formed in the church to be proclaimed and found in the church, he gives a disclaimer for the ethics about to be presented. That it “will not develop a program for the formation of the Western world.”

But it will speak of how the form of Christ takes form in this Western world.

Bonhoeffer then explains how this fine distinction must prevent the church from a casuistic or an abstract formation for itself or for a place it has no business telling what its business is:  the world.

As I said, I am still working at grasping the full value of Bonhoeffer’s challenging statement.  And as I know that the claims on the world by a violent movement alarm us in the USA, so too should any claims we may hear about a world claimed as if it were some Christian trophy. Formed by those who make such claims.


From Kneebone and Berube of the Brookings Institution.

In 2011, the suburban poor outnumbered the urban poor by three million; from 2000 to 2011, the number of poor people soared by 64 percent in the suburbs, compared with 29 percent in cities. Today nearly one-third of all Americans are poor or nearly poor. One in three poor Americans live in the suburbs. If you’re poor in the Seattle, Atlanta or Chicago regions, you’re more likely than not living outside the city limits.

Check out the rest of their op-ed in the New York Times.

Groan. I am setting up another social media account.  Livestream.  

Just because I wanted to see what a person needs to go through to be able to follow tomorrow evening’s Alan Talks from the Urban Mission Center in St Louis.

Alan Roxburgh arrives in town in an hour.  About the time I’ll be pulling up near Union Station to pick up Andres Villatoro from his Megabus ride.  Alan, Andres and about two dozen others will meet tomorrow and Saturday for the UMC Design Days.  7:00 PM (CDT) tomorrow night Alan will present for 90 minutes in the St Louis Temple Corps chapel.  You are welcome to join us for this Design Days session open to the public.

I am grouchy about these things.  But I’ll admit that Livestream wasn’t too hard.  I did it.  

So, if you can’t be in St Louis Friday night, or just want to tune in on some of the Design Days activity, Livestream.  I might photobomb Alan.


We agree.  Let’s go see.

First, lunch.  The Hardee’s drive-thru near our office.  Charbroiled chicken sandwiches.  Neal’s driving so I get to eat mine first.  Neal wanted to try the jalapeno something-somethings, which look something like batter dipped french fries.  I try one.  Neal munches while he heads the car onto westbound I-64.

People, some people, around here still insist on saying “Forty” when referring to I-64.  US 40.  It is.  But after a year in St Louis I know it’s the old-timers.  Some of those old-timers really aren’t old.   It’s more a frame of mind.  US 40.  It hints back to a day before the federal interstate system.  Pre-Eisenhower.  I guess that when I was a kid someone was starting to build these interstate roads.

When I was a kid.  That would have been the days of Kennedy, Nixon.  The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

North on I-170.  East on I-270.  Exit and then south on Florissant Ave.  We turn left into the drive for a community center where Salvation Army and a few other agencies set up last Saturday, will again tomorrow, to serve people of Ferguson MO.  Park.  Go in.  Talk to a couple of the staff.  Who commiserate with us about the troubles.  Back in the car.  I drive so Neal can eat his now cold sandwich.

We continue south on Florissant.  It is a suburb that looks like a suburb.  Businesses, not close together.  Just enough space to give them the look of eyes a little too far apart.  We are seeing police cars everywhere.  St Louis County cruisers.  At about every corner.  It looks like the President could come through.  Not today.

We also see homes.  Neat, definitely not ostentatious.  Tidy neighborhoods.  Closer together than Florissant Ave. businesses.  Humble homes huddling together, still.  It’s early afternoon and they look very quiet.

Now, lots of police.  Cars, but now standing, small groups walking.  I notice the older policeman who seems to be represented in each group of county brown.  How they are described, they look, in their uniforms.  Yes, mostly white.

We have joined dense slowly moving traffic.

Somehow it reminds me of the tourists who visit Paris to see Notre Dame at Sunday vespers.  Worshipers sit.  Around them slowly circulate the tourists there to see the cathedral, hear the organ.  Not engaged, not worshiping.  Just came to see the thing.

On the left.  The burnt-out Quik Trip which is a landmark for these times of trouble in Ferguson.  Dramatic, how the burnt front and center is skeleton like, structural metal bare, swooping upward.  Now it reminds me of Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium Park.  I have an overactive associating mind.

On the right, the McDonald’s which is not burnt but has seen its share of troubles.  Lots of people and dozens of police.  Later in the day we hear it’s because Jesse Jackson was in there.

We see the Schnucks and Target stores and the ominous dark law enforcement vehicles in their lots.  I think Neal said ‘FBI’ and I think I saw SWAT on one.  Here and there, traffic lanes and drives blocked off.  Some shoppers.  All who we see, police and non-police, are in slow motion, not unpleasant.  Even the few protesters with signs seem to have that certain je ne sais quoi.

August night clouds 2014

I’m driving and Neal’s trying to take photos.  When he holds the iPhone up some give us looks.  Not real hard looks, just that squinty ‘hey, what …’ look.

We drive around the Schnucks/Target lots, back to Florissant Ave.  North to I-270.  The yellow then red traffic signal abruptly catches me and we joke about getting pulled over by the police.  We both give little nervous laughs.  We are out of here.


Not able to get to this year’s CCDA conference.  Hope you can.  Here’s the CCDA Flourish 14 link.

Noel video

Father Greg.

We were talking about who to get to say a few good words about the Salvation Army, to do it in a way highlighting the Army’s part in God’s mission in this world, and to say it in an, well, entertaining way.  Father Greg is entertaining.Father-Boyle

Father Greg Boyle is a Jesuit priest.  His life work in Los Angeles with gangmembers over the past several decades inspires me.  And Father Greg is great to listen to.  I’ve heard him more than once at CCDA conferences.  He makes me smile, laugh.  Get somber.  His words always seem to attest to the full life of John 10:10 Jesus brings us.

Here’s Brian O’Neil’s eight part radio documentary El Padre y los Homies that tells the story of Father Greg and Homeboys Industries.  If you want something a little less epic visit the Homeboys website and Father Greg’s Wikipedia.

We were talking.  And later today Neal sent me Orv Kimbrough’s blog post from yesterday In Search of Hope:  My recent trip to LA.  Is God pointing us toward Father Greg?

What I think God may be pointing more of us to these days is a fresh perspective on salvation.  If Jesus said “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full” then life in this world may possibly be part of his claim.  Okay, not ‘may possibly’.  I believe that the life of Jesus is meant to bring fullness here and now.  Our part in the mission of God includes life in this world as well as in the world to come.

Would Father Greg come to St Louis to speak at a Salvation Army gig?

Bonus:  transcript of Krista Tippett’s On Being American Public Media interview of Father Greg.

Kirsten sent The New Face of Hunger.  This month’s National Geographic features food around the world.  This article focuses on hunger in the USA.

Watch the video It’s Not Enough.  It could have made me cry.  To see people struggling to provide for their children, humbly doing so, ignoring the embarrassment.  Eminently decent parents.

I had a bowl of ice cream tonight after dinner.  It sure tasted good.

Today hunger in the suburbs is growing faster than in cities, having more than doubled since 2007.

For dinner tonight we had grilled chicken thighs, salad and whole wheat tortillas.  Yummy.

The root problem is the lack of jobs that pay wages a family can live on, so food assistance has become the government’s—and society’s—way to supplement low wages.

If I wanted, I could walk over to the fridge, the cupboard, and find something eat.  The only times in years I’ve felt hungry is when I’m too busy.  But the food’s there.  I can eat when I want.

But most of the working poor don’t have the time or know-how required to eat well on little. Often working multiple jobs and night shifts, they tend to eat on the run. Healthful food can be hard to find in so-called food deserts—communities with few or no full-service groceries. Jackie Christian didn’t resort to feeding her sons fried gizzards because it was affordable but because it was easy. Given the dramatic increase in cheap fast foods and processed foods, when the hungry have money to eat, they often go for what’s convenient, just as better-off families do.

Fried gizzards?

Those priorities are reflected at the grocery store, where the price of fresh food has risen steadily while the cost of sugary treats like soda has dropped. Since the early 1980s the real cost of fruits and vegetables has increased by 24 percent. Meanwhile the cost of nonalcoholic beverages—primarily sodas, most sweetened with corn syrup—has dropped by 27 percent.

So what is the problem, why do so many Americans, 1 in 6, struggle with food insecurity?

‘We’ve created a system that’s geared toward keeping overall food prices low but does little to support healthy, high-quality food,’ says global food expert Raj Patel. ‘The problem can’t be fixed by merely telling people to eat their fruits and vegetables, because at heart this is a problem about wages, about poverty.’

Time for bed.  I will not go to bed hungry tonight.

“We’re not starved around here,” she says one morning as she mixes up powdered milk for her daughter. “But some days, we do go a little hungry.”

food insecurity



Tonight, catching up with Perfect Duluth Day, a link takes me to The Way North series from the New York Times.  Damien Cave and Todd Heisler travel I-35 from Laredo TX to Duluth MN.

Day 37 of their travels brings them to my hometown.  Mayor Don Ness describes “A Missing Piece” -

… he often hears that one of the city’s drawbacks is its homogeneity. Those with experience in other parts of the country have come to expect a mix of ethnicities and cultures, he said over dinner and beers at a neighborhood restaurant where the only sign of international flair was the hummus on the menu. In his view, and especially of those Duluthians who moved elsewhere for college or work, diversity and the conflicts and benefits that immigrants bring with them are an expected norm — an integral part of what defines the contemporary American city.

“A lot of them, they’ll come back and say that’s a missing piece,” Mr. Ness said.

I agree.  On return trips, after decades of living in Chicago, Detroit and now St Louis, Duluth seems really white.  And I feel out of place.  It is a strange feeling to return to one’s home and not fit in.  I don’t.

Am I a missing piece?

photo 3

My alma mater. What a great looking high school.


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