Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Virtually Together

A lot of people have asked me if we were going to go to Wisconsin or Pennsylvania to see our children and grandchildren. Not really too practical or affordable. Well, both Rachel and David as well as Leanne and Jon sent us web cams for Christmas, which is a way to see and talk to each other live. While we didn't figure out how to give hugs and kisses over the internet, we did have an exciting sense of almost being together this afternoon.

The sense of "what's happening in the family" suddenly became more immediate. We could actually see Elizabeth walking unassisted. Sam was hamming it up with a stuffed penguin (he's really into penguins) for the camera. Hannah could show us the scarf and ear rings she got for Christmas (what does it say when your granddaughter shows off clothing accessories and not toys?). Isaac told us about his basketball game (we didn't get to Cub Scouts).

Of course, since we got two web cams we have to decide what to do with the other one. When Erik gets back from work (we do expect him here tonight), we should see if he has a cam on his lap top or if he would want the second one. He did get 4.0 for this semester. One of the classes (senior/graduate level) he will be taking for his music minor next semester (the last one before graduation in May) is on Frank Zappa. Hard to believe a serious university course on a musician from the rebellion of the 60s who didn't seem to take anything seriously.

We also got some nice family photos for Christmas. We're delighted to share them with anyone who wants to see.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Erik's New Hair Cut

After several years with a pony tail, Erik gets a buzz and poses with Tess and Isis. He just finished this semester at the University of North Texas (anticipating 4.0 for the semester). One more semester to graduation (sociology major - music minor). Horray!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Social Security Eligible

I turned 62 yesterday and became Social Security eligible, even though I hope to go quite a few more years before I start drawing on that. A bout of vertigo over the weekend precluded delivering my message or even participating in Sunday’s worship, except as a telephone listener. Elder BJ Austin read my manuscript. The juxtaposition of vertigo and this birthday are reminders of personal frailty and limitation.

Last night Candy and I had dinner with Erik to celebrate my birthday. Ponytail gone and sporting a buzz cut, Erik was excited to tell us about his healthy eating and physical exercise habits and about how well the semester seems to have started. He seems to be on track and motivated to graduate in May. I think I got more joy out of listening to him than marking the passing of another birthday. In some ways, they both seemed to be milestones in the rising and passing of generations.

I certainly don’t feel ready to “check out” – a few more years of pastoring this congregation and hopefully a “retirement” ministry of pastoral care, spiritual formation and writing. Witnessing our boys living substantial maturity is immeasurable joy, and now we can see that taking shape in Erik. Of course, none of us are done. I intend to keep growing as I round this bend in my journey.

When the vertigo knocked me out of commission Sunday morning, Candy jumped into action. She made the phone calls to get people in place to keep worship going. She left the message with the doctor that got me in for an appointment on Monday. She kept my Mom and her Dad up to date. She made the dry toast and plain, weak tea to tease my stomach back to trying something that evening.

We’ve often commented on what a team my parents had been, and took considerable satisfaction from Rachel’s ambition that she and David could be like that after 50-60 years. In January we will mark 40 years of marriage. This weekend was just a little assurance that we are on that same intimate teamwork path.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Last “Back to School” for Norm and Candy?

Father's Day with my sons: Jon, David, Erik (l to r) I'm the small one who needs to "grow."



Elizabeth has adjusted to North American food. She seems to love this bowl of guacamole. She is definity getting well nourished.

Sam heads off to his first day of first grade.

As we have communicated with Rachel and David about Sam’s start in first grade, it occurred to me that this may be our last “back to school” season as parents. In the registration and student loan process, Erik learned that by a relatively small addition to his schedule this fall and next spring he would be able to graduate in May 2009 from the University of North Texas with a major in sociology and a minor in music. He seems motivated, and we are cheering (and praying) him toward that goal. What comes after that is still not clear, but we are excited and encouraged to have that goal within sight. He and some friends rent a house in Corinth, Texas, works at Pei Wei (pan-Asian restaurant) and performs with The Raven Charter.

Both of us past 60, we are coming on coming up on another milestone: 40th wedding anniversary in January. As one of the elders in the church here says, “Wow! Forty years and not only are they still speaking, they actually enjoy each other!” Though she doesn’t have a separate spot on the payroll, Candy is a crucial player in the pastoral care ministry of Central Christian Church (not to mention all the wife and mother management Erik and I tend to take for granted, but not without gratitude).

David is now program supervisor (vice-principal) for the experiential education program in an alternative school in Milwaukee, WI and studying for school administrator certification at Marquette University. Elizabeth is on the verge of walking and starting to talk (English, of course). Sam is the great big brother, and seems to grow in relishing that role (even if he’s not as excited about the new work expected in first grade). Rachel continues her nanny work, which lets her devote lots of love and attention on Sam and Elizabeth. They are finding a lot of satisfaction as part of the founding core of Milwaukee Mennonite Church.

Jon is manager for a new team for Siemens in their automated building controls office in Blue Bell, PA. Leanne is now the director of the pre-school for Christ Church of the Valley. In fifth grade, Hannah enjoys the privileges of being in the top grade in her elementary school. Mom and Dad are not sure they are ready yet for middle school next year. Isaac is a boy on the go: Cub Scouts, piano, trumpet, sports.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Elizabeth Brings Stolpes to Wisconsin

Candy and I were able to gather with all three of our sons, our two daughters-in-law, and our grandchildren to welcome Elizabeth Rose into the Stolpe family and into the community of Christ’s Church. Though Candy had met Elizabeth when she arrived from China, I first saw her on Wednesday, June 11. What a thrill and joy!

Elizabeth has gained weight, overall health and socializing since coming from China. We are thankful that with the use of casts for a little over a month, her club foot responded so well that she did not need surgery. She is now adjusting to the brace she will wear all the time for a couple of months and at night after that.

Having all three of our sons and their families together for the first time since my Dad’s funeral in February 2007 was important affirmation of our family bond. We got enough time with each one individually to have some conversations of significant depth, and we had plenty of time all together to just have fun. Especially great was seeing the connecting between the grandchildren. Sam and Isaac singing around the campfire was a scream, and Hannah loved being the babysitter for Elizabeth. I enjoyed my first Fathers' Day with all four grandchildren.

We worshipped twice with Milwaukee Mennonite Church, Rachel and David’s congregation. Many of them were also part of the service of dedicating Elizabeth to Christ on Saturday, June 21. This congregation has played a major role of encouragement and practical support to Rachel and David through the whole adoption process. I was honored to share in Elizabeth’s dedication along with her other Grandpa, Kent Hadley. We both got pretty emotional.

Candy and Erik and I also drove down to Batavia, Illinois to see my Mom in the Michaelsen Health Center of the Holmstad retirement community. She has a new room and seems to be feeling a lot better. Making this visit was an important affirmation of our family bond as well. We are thankful for the chance we had to just chat with her at a time she seems to be doing pretty well physically and mentally.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Four Generations of Stolpe Women

Candy flew to Milwaukee to be ready with homemade cookies to welcome Elizabeth home. Besides the usual "grandma stuff," she went with Rachel and David to visit Norm's Mom in Illinois so she could meet Elizabeth. This historic picture show these four generations of Stolpe women.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

New Position for Jon

Jon recently interviewed for a new position with Siemens Building Technologies Inc. (Building Automation, Philadelphia Branch) as Group Operations Manager and started that position about a week ago. Below is an excerpt from the notice that went out in his office. Jon's was the first of three new positions announced in this notice. So distance excitement comes to our family from two directions at this time.

I am pleased to announce that Jon Stolpe has accepted the Group Operations Manager position here in the Blue Bell office. Jon is a Professional Engineer in Pa and NJ and has earned an MBA from Penn State . He has been with Siemens for over 12 years in project engineering and project management roles. In his new role Jon will form a team that will focus on quick-turn work, developing new techniques and the use of productivity tools to be more suited for us to compete in lower cost markets. ... Please join me in wishing Bill, Steve, and Jon Success in their new roles.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Elizabeth Joins Our Family

David phoned from Nanjing last night just after 11:00 PM, Sunday, March 30 (around noon, Monday, March 31 in China) to tell us they had Elizabeth. Thanks be to God! Rachel's glow in this picture expresses the joy we are all sharing. For more pictures and the story of their time in China go to

Thursday, March 27, 2008

First E-Mail from China

Yesterday, March 26, we received this first e-mail that Rachel sent from China. Sounds great, and we were very excited to get it.

We got to Beijing just fine. It was a very long day of traveling. We left Milwaukee on Sunday at 7:00 AM and then got here Monday at 10:00 PMish.

Yesterday we walked around the city and went to the zoo to see the pandas. The food is incredible everywhere we go. It is so cheap and so tasty.

Today we saw the Great Wall. Sam was awesome! He practically ran up to the top of the Great Wall and thought it was "incredible" and "awesome". We thought it was too. Then we took a tour of Beijing, saw the Olympic area, and went to Silk Street for some shopping. The shopping is very wearing, they come at you and try to get you to buy things and then you have to bargain. I am very bad at that. David is really good at it though, luckily.

I am having a hard time being here, I really just want to get to Nanjing to get Elizabeth, but it is incredible to see this city. The people are very nice (the ones that are not selling things) we had a tour guide, Jackie, today. He was incredible and very nice. This city is huge, polluted and very smoky. Everyone smokes, everywhere. It is clean though.

I am so tired, but Sam is doing great. The jet lag was not bad either. Did I mention how well Sam has been doing? He has tried all the food and has walked all over and not complained. I hope I did not jinx it by writing about it.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

In the Air to China

After 16 inches of snow on Good Friday, Rachel and David with Sam and with Rachel's parents, Fran and Kent Hadley, left for China on Easter Sunday, March 23. They flew out of Chicago O'Hare. They expect to get Elizabeth on March 31 and return to Milwaukee on April 12. They will be sending me emails to post on their blog. Anyone who cares to follow their progress can check

Their itinerary looks like this:

  • Sunday, March 23, Leave OʼHare for Tokyo , then Beijing
  • Beijing for the week
  • Saturday, March 29, leave Beijing and head to Nanjing for the week
  • Monday, March 31, gotcha day! We get Elizabeth !
  • Saturday, April 5, leave Nanjing for Guangzhou for the week
  • Wednesday, April 9th, consulate appointment
  • Saturday April 12th, leave Guangzhou for Milwaukee by way of Chengdu , Shanghai and Chicago !
  • Land ride back to Milwaukee

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Easter Tickets to China

Rachel and David (with Sam and Rachel's parents, Kent and Fran) have their tickets booked to leave for China on Easter Sunday, March 23. Praise God! You can see Rachel and David's blog for some of their reactions (and hopefully update post from China).

They just received some new pictures of Elizabeth from China (the wonder of the internet). She is now 14 months old, weighs 17 pounds (that's what Sam weighed at about 6-8 weeks) and has four teeth.

100 Wishes Quilt

Friends and family have contributed to a 100 wishes quilt for Elizabeth and one for Sam. It is tradition in China for friends to bring the expectant mother pieces of fabric and she makes a quilt for the baby. Adopting parents in America have taken the tradition as a way to keep busy in the long wait. They also sew the pieces together with red tread, a symbol of the Chinese folk tale that everyone who is supposed to be together is connected with an invisible red thread. Rachel and Sam are holding up their quilts. Sam is holding Elizabeth's quilt and Rachel has Sam's. Sam has just learned that he got a quilt too. As you can see, he's not happy about that or anything!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Alleluias in Lent

Rachel and David called today, Thursday, March 13, 2008, to say they have gotten word that their travel permissions to go to China to get Elizabeth have come through. They are expecting a schedule close to these dates: leave for China March 23, get Elizabeth March 31, complete adoption process April 8, return home April 10. With our joyful thanks, we continue to pray for all the details and arrangements to come together smoothly and for a wonderful and safe experience traveling to and in China. May God give Rachel and David, Sam and Elizabeth many blessed years together!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Election Reflection

Do not put your trust in princes. Psalm 146:3

In this amazing U.S. presidential election season, where neither party started with a clear heir-apparent, campaign rhetoric has gravitated toward two poles. One is an almost messianic fervor for candidates as though they will rescue the country. The other is a demonizing the opposing candidates as though they will doom the country. As hopes and fears intensify, losing sight of the whole complex of government and international politics also clouds the perception of God's hidden hand in human events. I am not at all suggesting that God manipulates elections so the "right" candidate wins, but that eternal forces are at work with more profound significance and power than transitory circumstances.

I am not suggesting this means voting doesn't matter or that we shouldn't make our voting decisions with prayerful and careful research, but I do think looking at all of this from God's perspective can spare us from unwarranted hope and fear. The Psalm also suggests the kind of values godly people should be looking for in government and political candidates: consistency with the character and concerns of God. (vv. 7-9)

[One] who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

This is a remarkable match with Luke 4:18-19 where Jesus reads from Isaiah 61:1-2.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

It is fully consistent with the expectations for the king expressed in Deuteronomy 17:16-20. While the theocratic and hereditary dimensions of those expectations clearly don't apply in a democratic, secular, pluralistic society like the U.S., the implications about character, power and wealth are right on target.

He must not acquire many horses for himself, or return the people to Egypt in order to acquire more horses, since the LORD has said to you, “You must never return that way again.” And he must not acquire many wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; also silver and gold he must not acquire in great quantity for himself. When he has taken the throne of his kingdom, he shall have a copy of this law written for him in the presence of the levitical priests. It shall remain with him and he shall read in it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, diligently observing all the words of this law and these statutes, neither exalting himself above other members of the community nor turning aside from the commandment, either to the right or to the left, so that he and his descendants may reign long over his kingdom in Israel.

Adopted Heir of the Covenant

As I did the prayer exercise for Thursday of Week Three in Unbinding Your Heart (Martha Grace Reese, Chalice 2008, p. 136), I read in Genesis 28:10-22 about God’s affirmation of the Abrahamic Covenant with Jacob and thought about the spiritual implications of Elizabeth’s adoption. By virtue of Christ, I am an adopted heir of the Abrahamic covenant. (Romans 8:15; Galatians 3:6; 4:5; Ephesians 1:5) Rachel and David have talked about how this adoption process has strengthened their faith and made them more aware of God’s action and presence. So by adoption Elizabeth will come from a culture with a non-Christian heritage and an officially non-religious society into a family of the new covenant in Christ. I can’t begin to explain God’s sovereign hand in how this one little girl and this one family are brought together by adoption. Of course, just being in the family is not automatic faith for Elizabeth (Jacob’s conditional acceptance of the Abrahamic covenant shows the mystery of our role in God’s sovereign calling), yet the adoption is a claiming of Christ’s covenant for her, as well as a welcome into our family. For me, today, reflecting on the juxtaposition of Jacob’s experience and Elizabeth’s impending welcome into our family has heightened my appreciation of being an adopted heir of God’s covenant with Abraham through Christ.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

We Await a Date

Rachel and David have learned that some of the other couples in the same adoption group with them have received their travel papers for China, so they are expecting theirs to arrive anytime. Then they can turn the frequent flyer miles they have been offered into tickets. They have been approved for a no-interest loan that will reimburse them for their expenses in China, but they are looking for a way to get some kind of short-term cash advance before going to China that would be paid off when they return. They are working on getting the house ready for Elizabeth. Candy and I are going to try to get one more shipment of old cell phones and ink/toner cartridges together to put a little more in their adoption fund.

In my conversations with my mother, she seems to have gotten some incentive for hope from anticipating Elizabeth’s arrival. Rachel and David have said one of her first trips will be to see her.

Candy and I were talking the other day (as we were mall walking) about what those first days, weeks and months coming into our family will be like for Elizabeth. Certainly different than the institutional life she has known (regardless of how good it has been). At a year and four months old, she will certainly be aware of the language switch from Chinese to English and of being brought by people she has never seen into totally new surroundings. So many family members are excited to see her, she will find herself to be the center of attention: parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, friends, church. And camping in June. Wow!

We can tell how God’s hand through this process has built up David and Rachel’s faith. We are confident, not only in finishing the process (money, travel, etc.) but also adjustment for Elizabeth and Sam, not to mention David and Rachel.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

One Christian’s Response to the Hijab

Yesterday I heard a news story on NPR about the debates in Turkey over women’s head scarves (hijab). Those arguing in favor of allowing them on university campuses and government facilities appeal to religious freedom. Those opposing them suggest this is an attack on the Turkish secular tradition and a step toward religious oppression. A number of western proponents of women’s rights in the Islamic world see the hijab as an abusive tool for the oppression of women.

The debate is a curious inverse parallelism to the discussions about the hijab and other religious symbols in Europe, much of which seems to center in France. There the concern seems to be that any religious symbol is offensive and a threat to national secularism. Religion is acceptable only as a private concern but is impermissible in the public arena.

In the U.S. religious symbols seem almost relegated to the realm of fashion and treated as fairly innocuous, though women who wear the hijab are definitely identified as Muslim. For many non-Muslim Americans, this takes on a cultural dimension with the assumption that with the passing of a generation it will be abandoned for current western dress. Some non-Muslim Americans may interpret the hijab as a threatening sign that Islam intends to displace American culture, perhaps even violently. Some Christians in the United States see the hijab as a symbol of “the competition” and even suggest that it is inappropriate with this country’s Judeo-Christian roots.

As a male Christian and pastor of a church in the U.S., I must acknowledge that my response to Muslim women wearing the hijab in western society is largely positive. Now, I do advocate equality, justice, opportunity and freedom for women in Islamic societies and in the rest of the world. I welcome and celebrate women in ministry in the Church. So I would not approve of using the hijab as a weapon of subjugation.

I do believe that Christians should refuse to let our faith be privatized, as though religion was a matter of personal taste akin to one’s favorite flavor of ice cream. This can happen through legal structures such as seem to be under consideration in Europe. Perhaps even more powerful, though, is an informal social consensus that makes it impolite (or “politically incorrect”) to bring faith or religious convictions or symbols into public discourse or even casual conversation. More insidious is reducing religious symbols to mere fashion, as that empties them of value, so that a cross ceases to represent Christian faith. Perhaps if Christian symbols were powerful enough not to be expressions of fashion but of faith, and being publicly identified as a Christian was socially unacceptable, then Christian discipleship would be stimulated for strength and significance.

It would seem that U.S. politics have already moved in this direction. The press, if not the electorate, now expect candidates for the U.S. Presidency to say that their religious beliefs are private and will not influence their public decisions and policies. While there have certainly been abuses of politicians trying to use their clout to impose a particular religious perspective without regard to varieties of perspective in the public, to suggest that religious convictions of public officials shouldn’t influence their policy decisions diminishes faith to an inconsequential hobby rather than the core of being from which all of life springs. Perhaps that means that a fully committed disciple of Jesus Christ could not serve as President of the U.S. or in other public offices. I would suggest instead that an authentic disciple of Jesus would respect the convictions of others and want them to be part of open social discourse. After all, the only Christian faith that matters is that which is understood (within the bounds of finite intelligence and infinite mystery) and freely, voluntarily adopted.

So as a Christian, I welcome Muslim women wearing the hijab as a religious symbol. It opens respectful, mutual conversation about faith. I feel no need to protect Jesus or the Bible from the free exchange of ideas from alternate or competitive sources. Nor do I feel compelled to convince people that Christianity is right (and other religions are wrong) or superior. I am confident the Holy Spirit is quite capable of whatever persuasion is needed.

Christian symbols seem to have become either expressions of fashion (a cross on a necklace) or trivial (a fish or dove or WWJD) or a culture wars attack (a slogan on a bumper sticker). What symbol might have the strength and significance to represent serious Christian discipleship the way wearing the hijab signals that this woman is a devout Muslim?

The hijab, however, is more than a symbol of being Muslim. It is a means of modesty. I am not at all suggesting that covering the hair is necessary for modesty. But I do sense that modesty has gone out of fashion, not only in the general society but among Christians as well. We snicker at Victorian cover ups and equate modesty with prudishness or repressed sexuality. My concern for modesty has little if anything to do with what I expect of the culture in which I live, but everything to do with how Christians respect their bodies and sexuality and that of others. Also, this is not just about women or about thinking of women as temptresses who corrupt men.

Rather, I want to cultivate and explore how a modesty that values and celebrates our physical bodies and sexuality might be expressed in Christian discipleship. As the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:20, “You were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”

We tend to get caught up in rules and externals: how much and which skin showing is immodest? How short is too short for skirts and shorts? How tight is too tight? All of that, I think, misses the point of our internal, spiritual modesty. How do I dress, and how do I look at the way others dress that glorifies God for, with and in these bodies? Beauty, strength, energy, movement, focus. What is my own (male, Christian) hijab that disciplines me toward Christ-like modesty in my time and place? When I see a Muslim woman wearing a hijab (as is common enough to be a daily occurrence when I am out and about in the city), I respect her courage in outwardly identifying her faith, even if unpopular, and her expression of modesty. I take it as Christ’s call and reminder to me to cultivate my inner spiritual modesty.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Adoption Race Rounding the Bend

Rachel and David just got word that the Chinese government has completed the bureaucratic process that makes Elizabeth available for them to adopt. Now the travel permit is in the works and should take 6-8 weeks to complete. Then they can go to China to meet Elizabeth and bring her home. Read Rachel’s last post on their blog to catch their excitement. This means that the sprint is on to get frequent flyer miles, money and logistics in place. Pick up the prayers!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Wedding Anniversary

Thirty-nine years ago today (January 25, 1969) we were married at Wooddale Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota (old location on Nicolette). What a journey! Three sons, two daughters-in-law, 3 (soon to be 4) grandchildren. A treasury of friends from each of our stops on the pilgrimage: Illinois, New Jersey, Ontario, Wisconsin, Texas (not to mention our home-bases of Minnesota and California). We have found Christ’s presence in the delight and pain of serving the Church: Countryside Chapel, First Presbyterian Church, MorningStar Christian Church, Central Christian Church. A wealth of adventures and experiences have shaped our relationship from Marriage Encounters in Illinois and New Jersey to life in the L’Arche Daybreak community to friendship with the Bruderhof community. We give thanks for the models and inspiration of our parents’ marriages and the memories of Candy’s mother, Roma Miller, and Norm’s father, Harold Stolpe. Though dramatically imperfect, we have received the great grace of being called to live our marriage as an icon of Christ’s covenant love for the community of faith, albeit through a glass dimly.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Mom's Gets New Glasses

Today (January 18) my sister Elaine picked up a new pair of glasses for Mom (they were lost in the move to the hospital). Not seeing double (and less fuzzy) is a morale boost.

Monday, January 14, 2008

What You Can Take With You

“I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the LORD, and my reward with my God.” Isaiah 49:4

Out of college I joined the staff of Christian Service Brigade in 1969 just after the movement had reached its peak, but no one knew it yet. I imagined myself as part of a cadre of pioneers looking to be on the cutting edge of ministry in the reverberations of cultural upheaval. A much diminished organization continues to serve churches, extruded into a thin wire that is a mere shadow of its former promise.

Candy and I threw ourselves into the heady brew at Countryside Chapel. This small congregation with many young families was a ready laboratory for daring experiments in church community. Non-denominational, out of the circuit of prominent churches, we were free from conventional models. We bonded deeply with each other. And one by one, God spread the core leadership across the country. The presumptuous dreams evaporated, unrecognizable in a merger with another congregation.

Working for Family Concern was a way to pursue my calling with Countryside Chapel. But after three years, the split time becoming untenable, this back-up became my career. Family Concern was on the verge of becoming more than a vehicle for J. Allan Petersen’s personal ministry. As I struggled with my “dark night of the soul” to discern my calling, I fought depression with the hard work of writing, editing and research. Though a catalyst for a host of marriage and family ministries, Family Concern did not have the velocity for escaping beyond a vehicle for personal ministry and phased out as J. Allan Petersen retired.

I still consider my seventeen years as Minister of Nurture with First Presbyterian Church of Mt. Holly, New Jersey (1980-1997) as the prime of my career. Great pastoral team, spiritually strong elder leadership, solid theological foundations, daring global and local mission engagement, creative and thoughtful worship innovation. How empowered I felt to be prepared and sent by this congregation to be the first pastor of a church with a bold vision in Milwaukee. How I have hurt to hear from my friends in New Jersey as that church has struggled and slipped to find its vision for the next generation after God moved that pastoral team in new directions.

At MorningStar Christian Church in Milwaukee, I relished the same pioneer spirit that had been so nourishing at Countryside Chapel. I quickly felt the crush of conflicting visions and competition among leaders that I was unable to reconcile. After only two years, relinquishing this ministry was necessary for the future of the congregation and the health of my family. The congregation sputtered and stumbled, many left, before a new pastor could be found and a new direction forged, which is markedly different than the bold dream that had brought that congregation into existence.

Since 2000, I have been the pastor of Central Christian Church in Dallas, Texas. This church, too, has had a long struggle and endured many crises. What will come of our vision to become a community based, urban, multicultural faith community, bringing the presence of Christ in the 21st Century is far from clear. Yet, my calling here is affirmed over and over from people within the congregation and leaders and colleagues in ministry in the larger church. At 61 years old, it is certainly not about adding to my résumé or building my career.

In terms of institutional success, I do wrestle with Isaiah’s feeling of having spent my strength for nothing and vanity. I remember with a deep ache the doubt of calling I felt in my dark night of the soul in the late 70’s. I recall in 1999 the dizzying bewilderment of being absolutely confident in God’s pastoral calling and gifting for me while having no confirmation of being sent as well as called when going from Wisconsin to Texas.

Yet, I still get notes and messages of the importance of my pastoral presence from many people whom God privileged me with in these past nearly 40 years. Clearly my legacy is not in bricks and mortar, nor in organizations. It is the people through whom God has enriched me over the years. I cannot imagine losing the contact with some of these folk by skipping one of the stops on my pilgrimage. Of course, buildings crumble and organizations dissolve, but people are raised to eternal life.

“You can’t take it with you” is certainly true, but you can take them with you. The people with whom we share faith in Jesus are our eternal treasure. I have often mused how the timelessness of the Kingdom of God means not having to hurry from conversation to conversation.

Even greater is the realization that God is my reward. My fleeting conversations with God, now in Scripture and prayer, will be leisurely and intimate beyond imagination. So my cause is not career or institution but with the Lord.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Idolatry of Seeking a Stable State

The words of the Magi that a child had been born king of the Jews (Matthew 2:2) made the infant Jesus a threat to Herod the Great. His fear provoked violent anger. This obscure Jesus kept threatening subsequent Herods: Archelaus (Matthew 2:22), Antipas (Matthew 14:1; Mark 6:14; Luke 9:7-9; 23:7), Agrippa (Acts 25,26). When those who imagine they have power and authority are threatened, their fear often provokes violent anger. This is not an ancient phenomenon, as current events in Pakistan and Kenya make clear.

The United States is in the midst of the most wide open presidential race in the memory of anyone now living. Orderly democratic succession of leadership and a deep tradition of the rule of law are important protections from the violent anger that rises from the fear of threatened leaders. “Change” has become the theme of this political season, with candidates from both parties competing to convince voters that they are best able to bring “change.” Regardless of how capable and successful these candidates may be, even if elected with a congressional majority, none of them will bring about utopia. None will lead the Unites States to an enduring era of stability and permanent prosperity. Expecting that is idolatry. Even the best candidate is not the messiah. Even the best administration is not the Kingdom of God.

As much as people enjoy the holiday season, most people feel relief at “getting back to normal” after Christmas is over. The decorations are put away. No more parties are planned. Diets are accelerated with the intention of fewer pounds and healthier eating. The lure of “back to normal” is a longing for the eternal stability of the Kingdom of God. But this longing can never be fulfilled within human history. Children grow up and move out on their own. People change jobs and move to new houses, even new cities. Generations rise and pass away. Old landmarks outlive their usefulness and are replaced. Tragedies invade. Empires rise and fall. Wars are won and lost. Wanting to keep things as they were in some imagined golden moment is idolatry. The only hope for healthy, authentic stability is the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Update on Norm's Mom

Norm's Mom, Doris, returned to her room at the Michaelsen Health Center of the Holmstad in Batavia, Illinois after about two weeks at Delnor Hospital. Though much improved, she is still weak and is in for an extended recovery time. Her eye glasses were lost in the shuffle getting to the hospital and have not been found. The eye clinic doesn't want to make replacements unless she comes in for an exam, which she is not up to. Our prayers:
  • thanks for getting past three serious and simultaneous infections
  • strength and patience for the recovery process
  • a solution to the eye glasses so she can see more clearly
  • mental, emotional and spiritual peace, clarity and wholeness
  • that the days she still has here can be good and when the time comes, her passage into Christ's presence will be easy

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Epiphany for the New Year

New Year’s Day doesn’t commemorate any historical event or person. It does not correspond to any astronomical milestone, since it misses the winter solstice by twelve days. It seems to be an arbitrary accountant’s convenience for bookkeeping. Yet, we celebrate as though the start of the New Year had some intrinsic significance. Any excuse for a party! Since it is not tied to a solemn occasion, noble character or spiritual value, New Year’s is the ideal rationale for abandonment to uninhibited excess (for one night).

But six days after New Year’s comes Epiphany, whose significance is lost on the contemporary Church as anti-climax to Christmas, if even recognized. Yet, here is the climax of Christmas. The revelation of Epiphany enables us to perceive the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, all peoples have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (Ephesians 3:4-6).

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Praying for Our Family as We Enter 2008

  • For peace of heart and clarity of mind for Norm's mother, Doris, hospitalized in Illinois. For strength and patience for Norm's sister, Elaine, who is present. Thanks for Rachel and David who made two trips from Milwaukee to Illinois to give their support, and Elaine's daughter Helen who also came from Wisconsin to visit.
  • For all details and timing to fall into place for Rachel, David and Sam as they make arrangements and preparations to go to China to get Elizabeth. For Elizabeth's total readiness for this next step in her journey.
  • For energy and focus for Erik as he starts another semester at the University of North Texas.