Author Topic: Life in Quarantine: One man's reflections  (Read 38482 times)

Dave Benke

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Re: Life in Quarantine: One man's reflections
« Reply #315 on: April 28, 2021, 04:17:24 PM »
While attending Concordia Luth H.S. Milwaukee on the campus of Concordia Jr College,
in the late 1950's.......I walked to various nearby churches for Sunday Worship. They were   
Hope Lutheran, Bethany Lutheran and Mount Olive Lutheran.  Perhaps Bishop Benke
could update us on the status of these three as far as survival goes.

Thinking about those halcyon days, with 32 teams in the Walther League Boys Softball division inside the Milwaukee city limits.  Lots of Lutherans of the Missouri stripe, plus a ton of WELS congregations in their homeland and a lot of ALC/Augustana churches for those of the more Scandinavian bent.  All three of those congregations are still on the books as open.  Mt. Olive is undoubtedly the most vibrant of the three.  The reporting on the final day of my home parish, Christ Memorial, was tough to watch.

I'm not sure what the plan is any more in the urban context, or if there is one big city by big city.  Keep Hope alive!  One Hope's former pastors, Dave Koch, who followed WAM Jr., preached at my ordination at Christ Memorial back in 1972. 

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Charles Austin

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Re: Life in Quarantine: One man's reflections
« Reply #316 on: May 15, 2021, 04:19:52 AM »
It feels like the biggest “step forward” since the shut-down more than a year ago. After the announcement by the CDC and rulings by Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, our management tells us that we no longer need to wear masks in the common areas of our retirement community.
   All independent living residents here have been vaccinated and there have been no positive tests or cases of the virus for months. This means that we need not be masked during exercise classes, events in our auditorium, games in the card room or while taking part in other group activities on campus. We will wear masks on the busses to outside events and when visiting in the attached nursing home. And some may choose to wear masks, even if they are not required.
   It is a relatively small thing for me, as I have never found masking more than a tiny bit uncomfortable and “one more thing” to think about when moving around. (Mask. Spare mask. Double or single? Disposable or washable?) Masking has been a bearable annoyance and worth the slight discomfort if it kept me from getting or spreading the virus.
   I’ve read several articles – in major media, minor media, and journals – and am convinced that the researchers have found that people fully vaccinated pose little risk to ourselves or others. The doctor that Beloved Spouse and I had dinner with last night added his support, with a couple of minor caveats, to the new protocols.
   For several weeks now, we have been allowed to have outside visitors in our apartments. They cannot eat in the our dining room, but we can order room service meals so they can eat with us. That was a most welcome step towards more personal and human-contact lives with friends and family.
   The words “road to normalcy” have appeared in many stories. I believe “normal” has changed. We will not go back to 2019 “normal.” And it is possible that in the future we may again need the masks.
   Many trumpet the fact that the recent learnings make it possible for “the economy” (that sacred economy!) to expand. Others take it as a triumph for the get-out-the-shots efforts of President Biden. Some claim we didn’t need so much masking anyway. Some only reluctantly acknowledged the masking protocols, masks drooping below noses or being installed just before going through the doors at Walmart.
   During the past year, however, I think the masks have also been community-building devices. We may have fought over the need, but we wore them. We were “in it together,” our common effort visible on our masked faces. The “observant” ones frowned at or sometimes admonished the slackers. We discussed our “favorite” mask sources or wore the one that matched or complemented the color of our shirt.
   Spiritually, I take the positive steps towards a more relaxed society as blessings, the “gifts” of God, gifts of science, benefits of research and the work of those who study such things. Few in the “public square” seem to see anything philosophical or theological about the new situation. This is too bad. We should always be conscious of what makes life “better” or easier or healthier as blessings. We should see whatever we do to protect our neighbors as help in following the commandments of God.
   In the retirement community I inhabit, we will be seeing each other’s smiles again as community life expands and brings us closer together. This, I hope, will strengthen the view that – wherever we go or however life unfolds in the years ahead – we are “in it together.” We remember that we do what we must do to make that "together" healthy and happy.
« Last Edit: May 15, 2021, 04:23:56 AM by Charles Austin »
Retired ELCA pastor. Iowa born. Back home from Sioux City after three days and a pleasant reunion of the East High School class of - can you believe it! - 1959.

Charles Austin

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Re: Life in Quarantine: One man's reflections
« Reply #317 on: June 18, 2021, 04:01:53 AM »
Is it over?
   We sat last night on the Trillium Woods patio, probably 350 of us, eating fried fish, barbecue chicken skewers, watermelon, salads and other buffet line foods. The servers, who quickly refilled drinks, were masked, but we were not. We sat close together, some hugged. Each night for the past few weeks, we have eaten in our dining room. Activities and excursions are expanding. Our choral group is rehearsing for a show.
   We can dine out, go to movies, shop for groceries un-masked. Crowds are at sporting events.
   Is it over? No, it is not.
   Doctor appointments, frequent for people our age, are conducted under strict protocols of masking, hand-washing, social distancing, and other precautions. Our flights to North Carolina last week required masks at the terminal and on the plane. Newspapers carry disturbing stories of large numbers refusing vaccinations. We fret now about what should have been done and what must be done to prepare for the next time. Some who snarled about and avoided the mediation protocols – if they survived – say “See! Did we really have to do all that?” The way thousands work and do business has changed, probably forever. 
   And of course, in many parts of the world, the sickness and deaths continue.
   We are changed, or if we are not, we ought to be changed from the time when the words “COVID-19” and “pandemic” were not in our daily vocabulary. The pandemic was not the only assault on our lives for the past year or more. Serious developments in our political and civic lives rattled the foundations of our democracy and we are trying – politically and in our civic lives – to get a grip on what our nation should be. In some of those developments, it is clear that in fighting the pandemic we were not “in it together” waging war against a common enemy.
   Did the pandemic add new fuel to the fires of racism, classism, mistrust in our institutions, and the fragmentation of social life? Bizarre theories, galloping paranoia, and just plain craziness drive some who are or would be our leaders, pulling us apart.
   It was a joyful fish-fry buffet, one we sorely missed last year, almost a celebration of “we’re back!” But it is not over and there is much to be learned from the recent past. I wonder if we are capable of learning; I wonder how much we realize that we are in a complex struggle to live, organize society, work with others around the world, protect our resources, and care for our neighbors.
   Do we know that we are indeed “in it together” and that if any single faction, any single movement, any single ideology or theology “wins” most of the time, we all lose?
« Last Edit: June 18, 2021, 04:05:42 AM by Charles Austin »
Retired ELCA pastor. Iowa born. Back home from Sioux City after three days and a pleasant reunion of the East High School class of - can you believe it! - 1959.

Donald_Kirchner

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Re: Life in Quarantine: One man's reflections
« Reply #318 on: June 18, 2021, 08:54:16 AM »
"'Ghastly' things... have always been among us. And yet, here we are - the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church - winning some, taking our hits at times, celebrating and mourning, and living in the joy of our faith and confidence in God's love.
My criticism of some of my 'liberal' buddies is that they focus too much on how awful things are (even when they are not), rather than find in joy where we are even as we try to improve and move to an even better place."
Don Kirchner

"Heaven's OK, but it’s not the end of the world." Jeff Gibbs

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Re: Life in Quarantine: One man's reflections
« Reply #319 on: June 18, 2021, 09:36:08 AM »
This week has demonstrated to me that we now live in a kind of two world reality.  Almost all of the people in church attend without masks.  Many, of course, are of the older crowd, so they have all been vaccinated, and I suspect many others have as well. I think the un-vaccinated are in a small minority.  The tape separating every other pew  for the sake of 'social distancing' has just been removed.  I still mask for consecration and distribution of the Sacrament, but that is one of the few obvious remaining reminders of how COVID-19 impacted our church on Sunday morning.  A few other things remain changed, probably permanently, like the familiar 'passing the plate' (changed, in part, already before the pandemic when we introduced online giving) and the so-called 'sharing of the peace' or greeting at the beginning (hand shaking remains somewhat rare).  As I am out in the community I also see normalcy. All the major retailers have dropped mask requirements. People mill around and shop much like they did pre-pandemic.  I met with my adult children on Memorial Day indoors without masks, and we finally braved going to restaurants in the last few weeks, again without masks.  There is a relief in coming back to a reality I so missed and took for granted.

On the other hand, as Pr. Austin observed, that reality does not exist within our hospitals.  I visited two parishoners on Monday in two different cities.  I had to mask, was temperature checked, and was quizzed about possible symptoms.  What struck me, especially on the second visit at my local hospital, was the feeling of 'emptiness' in the halls.  Patients are limited to one family member during the week.  No more. No exceptions, even for spouses.  The only 'exception' is clergy. After I came home I then realized the 'two world reality' we now live in, which also includes, to some degree, the assisted living centers.  And it may explain, in some part, the partial reluctance of those working in the medical world to fully engage the outside world.  I wondered what it must be like working inside a virtually isolated world that still lives with strict pandemic protocols for 8 hours or more, where all you see are your fellow masked workers and sick people, with a few healthy ones here and there.  What a contrast. And, I might add, my area, as well as that of my state, has a very low rate of COVID-19 infections. 

I don't know how long this dichotomy will last, but I suspect it will be until they are no longer talking about the pandemic every day on the news, with commentary on 'variants' currently working their way through the population.  My guess, is it could be as long as another year. 

I also realize that this event has forever changed our world and the way we live.  I am pleased that many 'normal' activities are returning.  But just under the surface for some seems to be a permanent sense of fear and foreboding.  Of course, the crisis filled the news every day for over a year.  Not a morning goes by that it is still not a part of the regular reporting.  Even when the danger is not acute in our local areas we are reminded that places far away like Japan and India are in crisis.  It feels like what it must have been like in the 60s and 70s when reporting on the Vietnam War brought warfare into our living rooms as never before.  No longer did you go to the local theater to see the 'news reels.' If you watched the daily news you had regular, ongoing exposure to war. 

As to the politics and civil unrest mentioned, that, too, has been colored by regular media reporting.  Yes, there are problem areas, but most of our communities are relatively safe and free of violent, angry protests.  I look around my own area and I do not see what I see every day on the news.  I suspect it is that way for others as well.  Now I am not arguing that we should be uninformed.  But a steady diet of an assault of such news instills within the heart a restless sense of fear and foreboding that is not healthy.  I cannot live with such fear all the time.  It eventually impacts faith and hope.  As a first responder I know the necessity of facing crises and tragedies.  I have been part of many debriefings that involved injury, death and destruction.  But to remain mentally healthy I cannot live in that world 24/7.  I must walk away and return back to the world that is not severely broken.  Otherwise I lose balance and I cannot respond with needed perspective in times of high stress.

I hope that we find a way to deal with this lingering fear that cripples some lives unnecessarily.  It is not healthy for our society as a whole.

« Last Edit: June 18, 2021, 09:39:01 AM by D. Engebretson »
Pastor Don Engebretson
St. Peter Lutheran Church of Polar (Antigo) WI

Dave Benke

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Re: Life in Quarantine: One man's reflections
« Reply #320 on: June 18, 2021, 10:23:11 AM »
Lingering fear is definitely a theme not just dictating institutional practices but very central in human hearts and minds. 

The root word for "terror" has to do with shaking, trembling, the exterior manifestations of pervasive fear.  At some place in time, the word "terrific" moved from the fearful to the fearless side of the aisle.  So I spoke on that the other night during a series on Mental/Emotional/Spiritual health as we move from the Pandemic - from Terrified to Terrific.  And there's this great Bible passage (so odd!) from Matthew 28:

28 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

"Afraid yet filled with joy."  That's right there in the middle after the terrified shaking of the guards (as dead men), and the repeated "do not be afraid."  Along with - by the way - the repeat instructions to tell the disciples to go to Galilee. 

Anyway, that text will preach in these times - from terrified to terrific and all the steps in between.

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Re: Life in Quarantine: One man's reflections
« Reply #321 on: June 18, 2021, 12:45:25 PM »
The Resurrectional Evlogetaria, sung nearly every Sunday in the Orthodox Church:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HflNMqQsFo
Greek Orthodox-Ecumenical Patriarchate

Baptized, Confirmed, and Ordained United Methodist.
Served as a Lutheran Pastor October 31, 1989 - October 31, 2014.
Charter member of the first chapter of the Society of the Holy Trinity.

Chrismated Antiochian Orthodox, eve of Mary of Egypt Sunday, A.D. 2015

Dave Benke

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Re: Life in Quarantine: One man's reflections
« Reply #322 on: June 18, 2021, 08:25:10 PM »
The Resurrectional Evlogetaria, sung nearly every Sunday in the Orthodox Church:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HflNMqQsFo

Beautiful and powerful - the time for lamentation is at an end!

Dave Benke

Charles Austin

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Re: Life in Quarantine: One man's reflections
« Reply #323 on: July 08, 2021, 01:19:32 PM »
“Back to Normal”? Do we want that? Can we go there? A reflection on Romans 6.
Adapted from a sermon. Copyright 2021 by Charles Austin

Are we “back to normal”? Has the pandemic passed? Maybe, but we have a problem “adjusting.” The problem is that everything passes, even the things we do not want to pass, even what is “normal.” Good things, once “normal” things pass. 
   We want “back to normal,” but can we go back?
   Most Augusts, I want to go back home to Iowa in the 1950s, to a Lutheran church, and to a neighborhood full of friends.
   They say, “you can't go home again.” I hope they are wrong about that. They say, “you can't go back, you have to go forward.” I guess they are right about that.
   So every August, I get a little homesick for the Iowa of my childhood.
   I didn’t live on a farm, but it was farm country; we knew the growing seasons. This, I believe, leads to trust in God. A sense that God is in control.
   Farmers think of the words of the Psalm, “The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.” People who trust God for the seasons understand planting, growth and harvest.
   In Sicily some years ago, I learned that Mediterranean climate makes lemon trees produce four harvests each year. Well, that’s not true in Iowa. You get most of the crops in the summer, especially the vegetables. Sow seeds in spring; harvest in summer. One crop.
   Iowa summers were free from care, all those years ago. We stayed out late at night, we could roller skate (not roller–blade but roller skate, with metal skates that you clamped onto your shoes, the skate key hanging from a string around your neck.)
   Evenings we sat in our yards and watched the lightning bugs, caught them and put them in jars. We lay on our backs in the grass and looked at stars.
   It got hot in July and August, but we didn't know it because we didn’t know about air conditioning. It wasn't hot, it was just summer; and there were shady places where you could go for relief. Or the swimming pool.
   Nobody told us sugar was bad for you, so we drank gallons of grape Kool Aid. We froze it in ice cube trays with toothpicks and made little square popsicles.
   There was the sweet smell of lilacs and peonies and cut grass. Sprinklers whirled in the yards, sending spirals of water over the lawns. We ran through them; getting just wet enough to cool off; but not so wet your mom would yell at you.
   No cellphones. No Facebook. No Instagram. No Zoom. Only three channels of television.
   But there were friends and we played Monopoly games lasting for weeks and rode our Schwinn bikes. I don't know where any of those friends are today; but those many summers ago, they were – outside of my parents – the most important people in the world.
   The library summer reading program gave you an award or put your name on the bulletin board if you read a certain number of books. I don’t remember specific books; but I remember the joy of reading them. Adventures. Biographies. Travel. History. Whole new worlds; flowing off the printed page right there under a tree in my backyard.
   That was my “normal.” Iowa. Summertime. Childhood. I remember it as paradise.
   Every August, I think I'd go back to that “normal” in an instant.
   But they say you can't go home again. They say you have to go forward, to progress.
   That is our destiny. We cannot be 11 years old forever. If time for us stops, we die.
   In the Bible, St. Paul says we cannot go back to what we were. But Paul refers to our old sinful selves, before we knew the gospel. He says “Once you were slaves to sin; and you died from it. Now you are free in Christ Jesus and have life eternal.” He asks the Romans Christians, “do you want to go back there?  Back to sin? Back to that death? Why would you want to do that?”
   A very sound theological point indeed. Why go back to your old sinful self? But I don't think my Iowa childhood was so “sinful.” I know a lot more about sin now than I did then. I guess I haven't improved very much. I'm a bigger risk, in need of more grace now than when I was 13.
   Paul says to remember that we have “died” to sin; that once we were doomed and now we are saved.
   Those Roman Christians could remember a time when they weren't Christians, when they weren't redeemed. I can't. Sometimes I feel less redeemed now than I did back in Iowa.
   We had Vacation Bible School those Iowa summers. That was like daily Sunday school; except that we played games outside and you didn't have to get dressed up or go to church afterwards. And they'd give us more of that wonderful, sugary Grape Kool Aid. Sometimes cherry.
   The grace of God is more evident in summer; especially in Iowa. Winters in Iowa don't bring out many thoughts about God's wonderful grace.
   But summer! It showers us with so many blessings. So many blessings that we took them for granted. Blessed. Happy. That was “normal.”
   Food was a special summer blessing. Neighbors who fished gave you walleye. Vegetable gardens produced sweet peas and beans. Rhubarb grew like weeds in our back yard. And some foods – like the fried chicken and potato salad brought to church picnics and family reunions – tasted better because you ate them outdoors.
Simple food, prepared in simple ways. Fry the chicken in Crisco. Boil the potatoes and mash them. Nothing fancy. Nothing unusual.
   My mother once caught me slipping potato chips into my peanut butter sandwich. “We don't do things like that, no sir! You do things like that, young man, and who knows what will come of it! You start doing things like that and … you could end up in New Jersey!”
   And the greatest blessing of all – sweet corn. Mothers turned some of it into relish; but I'm not sure God approves of that. I'm fairly certain God intends sweet corn to be eaten on the cob, with butter, with salt.
   Childhood summers. Who wouldn't go back to that “normal”? But who can? If we survived the pandemic as adults, we are still adults, not children.
   I don't believe God gives us wonderful graces and then snatches them from us. Why would such blessings flow if God did not intend for us to enjoy them always, and praise God for them?
   Aging cynics will say that childhood and summer dies; and will dismiss my longings as looney escapism. St. Paul must have had a bad day when he wrote to the Romans saying that the past has to die. “All those things you were before! They lead to death, destruction. You died to those things when you came into Christ. Come on! Give it up!”
   If I were a newly–converted ex–pagan; I would say “Yes, brother Paul; I died to those old things; and thank you for reminding me what a pagan I was.”
   But St. Paul didn't know the innocence of my youth, Iowa, and summer with the smell of lilacs and the taste of fresh sweet corn. Poor Paul never knew those graces and blessings.
   I think he knows now – because I think the whole, completed Kingdom of God preserves all those blessings; and even perfects them. There is sweet corn on God's banquet table in heaven and there's never a dark spon on the ear or a little clump of deformed kernels that throws you off your pace as you gnaw from one side to the other.
   Perfect rows of sweet corn kernels to delight the teeth of the angels.
   The Kingdom of God restores all the blessings God ever gave, all the blessings our mortal lives tend to lose. We do go forward in time, day after day in our lives. And it is not always “progress.” We let ourselves be led and become the slaves of the wrong things. Paul is very right about that. Paul called on the Romans to remember their baptism, give up the things that wrongly enslave us and put all that old, pre–baptism stuff out of their lives.
   Maybe the Holy Spirit now calls us to our old “normal” lives; not our old pre–baptism, sinful, unredeemed lives, but to those moments, those times when we are so filled with the blessings and graces of God that it is nearly heaven on earth.
   Once, after I had been in New York a few years; I flew to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Landed about 9:30 on a summer night. This was in the days when you actually got out of the plane into the night air.
   There were crickets chirping; and nearby an alfalfa dryer was at work, sending out waves of the musky very–Iowa smell of dried alfalfa. I cannot begin to describe what those sounds and smells evoked.
   Summer graces. I think that's what the Kingdom of God is like. A most blessed “normal.”
   I don't know how God will handle our different experiences of “normal”. I know there are those for whom “normal” summer meant playing three–sewer stickball, sleeping on the fire escape and a ride on the Cyclone coaster at Coney Island.
But I'll bet God can handle that. Maybe in the eternal kingdom a kid from Brooklyn will learn how to eat fresh sweet corn, and I'll get a ride on the Cyclone.
   “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” Jesus said in Luke 12. And God does indeed.
   There were limits to “normal” Iowa summer evenings. Usually about 9:30, a mother on our block would stand in her front door and call: “T–o–m–m–y! T–o–m–m–y!” And Tommy would reply “c–o–m–i–n–g.” Another mother would pick up the call. The rest of the mothers didn't have to call; for we would all drift home, just a little afraid of the dark without our friends nearby.
   And we'd go to bed. We could just look forward to another glorious day; the smells of summer, riding bikes, and blessings from God – taken, alas! – for granted, but granted nonetheless to small children.
   “It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Glimpses of it at least; and a promise that if we stray, we can always come home, come back to “normal”. If our friends have left, if we're a little too far from home, maybe over in the next block, and if the darkness gets sort of scary, or now, when we know that there are no more childhood summers in Iowa (or Brooklyn or New Jersey) – a heavenly voice calls in the night and says: you have a home.
   It’s all in this hymn. “Normal.” Normal is that Jesus calls us, that we have a home, that we have mercy, forgiveness, blessings, a home.
  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkRTfrLBii0
Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me.
See on the portals he's waiting and watching, watching for you and for me.
Refrain: Come home, come home. You who are weary come home.
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling 'O sinner, come home!'

Oh, for the wonderful love he has promised, promised for you and for me.
Though we have sinned, he has mercy and pardon, pardon for you and for me.
Come home, come home. You who are weary come home.
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling 'O sinner, come home!'

-0-

« Last Edit: July 08, 2021, 01:22:40 PM by Charles Austin »
Retired ELCA pastor. Iowa born. Back home from Sioux City after three days and a pleasant reunion of the East High School class of - can you believe it! - 1959.

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Re: Life in Quarantine: One man's reflections
« Reply #324 on: July 08, 2021, 03:03:02 PM »
“Back to Normal”? Do we want that? Can we go there? A reflection on Romans 6.
Adapted from a sermon. Copyright 2021 by Charles Austin

Are we “back to normal”? Has the pandemic passed? Maybe, but we have a problem “adjusting.” The problem is that everything passes, even the things we do not want to pass, even what is “normal.” Good things, once “normal” things pass. 
   We want “back to normal,” but can we go back?
   Most Augusts, I want to go back home to Iowa in the 1950s, to a Lutheran church, and to a neighborhood full of friends.
   They say, “you can't go home again.” I hope they are wrong about that. They say, “you can't go back, you have to go forward.” I guess they are right about that.
   So every August, I get a little homesick for the Iowa of my childhood.
   I didn’t live on a farm, but it was farm country; we knew the growing seasons. This, I believe, leads to trust in God. A sense that God is in control.
   Farmers think of the words of the Psalm, “The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.” People who trust God for the seasons understand planting, growth and harvest.
   In Sicily some years ago, I learned that Mediterranean climate makes lemon trees produce four harvests each year. Well, that’s not true in Iowa. You get most of the crops in the summer, especially the vegetables. Sow seeds in spring; harvest in summer. One crop.
   Iowa summers were free from care, all those years ago. We stayed out late at night, we could roller skate (not roller–blade but roller skate, with metal skates that you clamped onto your shoes, the skate key hanging from a string around your neck.)
   Evenings we sat in our yards and watched the lightning bugs, caught them and put them in jars. We lay on our backs in the grass and looked at stars.
   It got hot in July and August, but we didn't know it because we didn’t know about air conditioning. It wasn't hot, it was just summer; and there were shady places where you could go for relief. Or the swimming pool.
   Nobody told us sugar was bad for you, so we drank gallons of grape Kool Aid. We froze it in ice cube trays with toothpicks and made little square popsicles.
   There was the sweet smell of lilacs and peonies and cut grass. Sprinklers whirled in the yards, sending spirals of water over the lawns. We ran through them; getting just wet enough to cool off; but not so wet your mom would yell at you.
   No cellphones. No Facebook. No Instagram. No Zoom. Only three channels of television.
   But there were friends and we played Monopoly games lasting for weeks and rode our Schwinn bikes. I don't know where any of those friends are today; but those many summers ago, they were – outside of my parents – the most important people in the world.
   The library summer reading program gave you an award or put your name on the bulletin board if you read a certain number of books. I don’t remember specific books; but I remember the joy of reading them. Adventures. Biographies. Travel. History. Whole new worlds; flowing off the printed page right there under a tree in my backyard.
   That was my “normal.” Iowa. Summertime. Childhood. I remember it as paradise.
   Every August, I think I'd go back to that “normal” in an instant.
   But they say you can't go home again. They say you have to go forward, to progress.
   That is our destiny. We cannot be 11 years old forever. If time for us stops, we die.
   In the Bible, St. Paul says we cannot go back to what we were. But Paul refers to our old sinful selves, before we knew the gospel. He says “Once you were slaves to sin; and you died from it. Now you are free in Christ Jesus and have life eternal.” He asks the Romans Christians, “do you want to go back there?  Back to sin? Back to that death? Why would you want to do that?”
   A very sound theological point indeed. Why go back to your old sinful self? But I don't think my Iowa childhood was so “sinful.” I know a lot more about sin now than I did then. I guess I haven't improved very much. I'm a bigger risk, in need of more grace now than when I was 13.
   Paul says to remember that we have “died” to sin; that once we were doomed and now we are saved.
   Those Roman Christians could remember a time when they weren't Christians, when they weren't redeemed. I can't. Sometimes I feel less redeemed now than I did back in Iowa.
   We had Vacation Bible School those Iowa summers. That was like daily Sunday school; except that we played games outside and you didn't have to get dressed up or go to church afterwards. And they'd give us more of that wonderful, sugary Grape Kool Aid. Sometimes cherry.
   The grace of God is more evident in summer; especially in Iowa. Winters in Iowa don't bring out many thoughts about God's wonderful grace.
   But summer! It showers us with so many blessings. So many blessings that we took them for granted. Blessed. Happy. That was “normal.”
   Food was a special summer blessing. Neighbors who fished gave you walleye. Vegetable gardens produced sweet peas and beans. Rhubarb grew like weeds in our back yard. And some foods – like the fried chicken and potato salad brought to church picnics and family reunions – tasted better because you ate them outdoors.
Simple food, prepared in simple ways. Fry the chicken in Crisco. Boil the potatoes and mash them. Nothing fancy. Nothing unusual.
   My mother once caught me slipping potato chips into my peanut butter sandwich. “We don't do things like that, no sir! You do things like that, young man, and who knows what will come of it! You start doing things like that and … you could end up in New Jersey!”
   And the greatest blessing of all – sweet corn. Mothers turned some of it into relish; but I'm not sure God approves of that. I'm fairly certain God intends sweet corn to be eaten on the cob, with butter, with salt.
   Childhood summers. Who wouldn't go back to that “normal”? But who can? If we survived the pandemic as adults, we are still adults, not children.
   I don't believe God gives us wonderful graces and then snatches them from us. Why would such blessings flow if God did not intend for us to enjoy them always, and praise God for them?
   Aging cynics will say that childhood and summer dies; and will dismiss my longings as looney escapism. St. Paul must have had a bad day when he wrote to the Romans saying that the past has to die. “All those things you were before! They lead to death, destruction. You died to those things when you came into Christ. Come on! Give it up!”
   If I were a newly–converted ex–pagan; I would say “Yes, brother Paul; I died to those old things; and thank you for reminding me what a pagan I was.”
   But St. Paul didn't know the innocence of my youth, Iowa, and summer with the smell of lilacs and the taste of fresh sweet corn. Poor Paul never knew those graces and blessings.
   I think he knows now – because I think the whole, completed Kingdom of God preserves all those blessings; and even perfects them. There is sweet corn on God's banquet table in heaven and there's never a dark spon on the ear or a little clump of deformed kernels that throws you off your pace as you gnaw from one side to the other.
   Perfect rows of sweet corn kernels to delight the teeth of the angels.
   The Kingdom of God restores all the blessings God ever gave, all the blessings our mortal lives tend to lose. We do go forward in time, day after day in our lives. And it is not always “progress.” We let ourselves be led and become the slaves of the wrong things. Paul is very right about that. Paul called on the Romans to remember their baptism, give up the things that wrongly enslave us and put all that old, pre–baptism stuff out of their lives.
   Maybe the Holy Spirit now calls us to our old “normal” lives; not our old pre–baptism, sinful, unredeemed lives, but to those moments, those times when we are so filled with the blessings and graces of God that it is nearly heaven on earth.
   Once, after I had been in New York a few years; I flew to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Landed about 9:30 on a summer night. This was in the days when you actually got out of the plane into the night air.
   There were crickets chirping; and nearby an alfalfa dryer was at work, sending out waves of the musky very–Iowa smell of dried alfalfa. I cannot begin to describe what those sounds and smells evoked.
   Summer graces. I think that's what the Kingdom of God is like. A most blessed “normal.”
   I don't know how God will handle our different experiences of “normal”. I know there are those for whom “normal” summer meant playing three–sewer stickball, sleeping on the fire escape and a ride on the Cyclone coaster at Coney Island.
But I'll bet God can handle that. Maybe in the eternal kingdom a kid from Brooklyn will learn how to eat fresh sweet corn, and I'll get a ride on the Cyclone.
   “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” Jesus said in Luke 12. And God does indeed.
   There were limits to “normal” Iowa summer evenings. Usually about 9:30, a mother on our block would stand in her front door and call: “T–o–m–m–y! T–o–m–m–y!” And Tommy would reply “c–o–m–i–n–g.” Another mother would pick up the call. The rest of the mothers didn't have to call; for we would all drift home, just a little afraid of the dark without our friends nearby.
   And we'd go to bed. We could just look forward to another glorious day; the smells of summer, riding bikes, and blessings from God – taken, alas! – for granted, but granted nonetheless to small children.
   “It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Glimpses of it at least; and a promise that if we stray, we can always come home, come back to “normal”. If our friends have left, if we're a little too far from home, maybe over in the next block, and if the darkness gets sort of scary, or now, when we know that there are no more childhood summers in Iowa (or Brooklyn or New Jersey) – a heavenly voice calls in the night and says: you have a home.
   It’s all in this hymn. “Normal.” Normal is that Jesus calls us, that we have a home, that we have mercy, forgiveness, blessings, a home.
  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkRTfrLBii0
Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me.
See on the portals he's waiting and watching, watching for you and for me.
Refrain: Come home, come home. You who are weary come home.
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling 'O sinner, come home!'

Oh, for the wonderful love he has promised, promised for you and for me.
Though we have sinned, he has mercy and pardon, pardon for you and for me.
Come home, come home. You who are weary come home.
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling 'O sinner, come home!'

-0-

Wonderful, Charles! I have the same memories of growing up in Iowa.


Peace, JOHN
Pr. JOHN HANNAH, STS

Dave Benke

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Re: Life in Quarantine: One man's reflections
« Reply #325 on: July 08, 2021, 08:18:25 PM »
I got on the old synthesizer some years back and prepared a version of "Softly and Tenderly" in the Country/Western style in which the intro and outro are "I Remember the Red River Valley," which is the ancestral area from which one side of my family came after their trip across the Atlantic and across the country when they migrated to the Great Midwest.  "Come home, come home..."

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J. Thomas Shelley

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Re: Life in Quarantine: One man's reflections
« Reply #326 on: July 08, 2021, 09:47:44 PM »
I got on the old synthesizer some years back and prepared a version of "Softly and Tenderly" in the Country/Western style in which the intro and outro are "I Remember the Red River Valley," which is the ancestral area from which one side of my family came after their trip across the Atlantic and across the country when they migrated to the Great Midwest.  "Come home, come home..."

Dave Benke

Twenty five years ago, at the occasion of my long-deceased parents' Golden Annivesary (which coincided with Western Pentecost) I composed a hymn celebrating both.

The refrain began by borrowing the opening measures of the chorus of "Softly and Tenderly"  (including the echos) before moving into my original melody.

For you (for you), for you (for you)
Given and poured out for you
O trust in His promise, believe it is true:
'Tis broken and poured out for you.
« Last Edit: July 08, 2021, 10:13:16 PM by J. Thomas Shelley »
Greek Orthodox-Ecumenical Patriarchate

Baptized, Confirmed, and Ordained United Methodist.
Served as a Lutheran Pastor October 31, 1989 - October 31, 2014.
Charter member of the first chapter of the Society of the Holy Trinity.

Chrismated Antiochian Orthodox, eve of Mary of Egypt Sunday, A.D. 2015