A poem for Mr Shaw “Walking With Jesus” by Barbara Crooker

in the Blue Ridge Mountains, eating corn fritters

and okra, passing the black-eyed peas. He loves

redbirds and kudzu, all that green tenaciousness.

He’s not so much of a fan of men in white sheets,

gun racks, the Stars and Bars, but he’s Jesus, so

he loves them anyway. The gospel of football

eludes him, but he sure likes to tailgate. He tells

me that all the commandments are really

about sitting with your neighbors on a wide

front porch, eating peach pie, watching the sun

go down. Why are you still going on about sin

and salvation, he asks me, when you have all this,

right here, right now?

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I once, again, find myself in a conundrum. I am a pastor of a small congregation of people who seek to come together in authenticity and intimacy creating a community where a voice of inclusion, justice, and hope is heard, but I am not trained in great systems of nonviolence or conflict resolution. Rather I am a child of the streets, a place where unrest is sometimes the only way to be heard.

The group of Jesus followers I am blessed to serve have been declined a facility to show a documentary that illuminates an injustice that has occurred within the world. The reason for the decline was the facility ‘will no longer be renting the facility on Sunday’ and ‘the film has created controversy in other areas.’ My initial response to this was a great sense of unease.

Is this decline a larger emulation of what is wrong with this world? That we, who seek change, are denied venues of bringing to light severe injustices that exist among our world? And then, as people of peace, how do we respond? Do we take the road of not wanting to create more confrontation and sit idly by not saying anything because to say something creates more unrest in a world already plagued with too much unrest? How do we create change among a world of exploitation and oppression when we long so desperately for the world to stop its violence but at times can see no other way but to create unrest?

I recently heard that at times the best response is silence. I agree. There are times that the best response is silence…But did silence stop the oppression of the African Americans? Did silence break the bonds that held women for so long? Is silence the answer to the inequality that continually finds its way back into the discussion of full rights and inclusion for people with all sexual orientations and gender identities? Is it silence that makes the injustices of our world fade away?

If its not silence, than what it is?

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Interfaith Panel to be held

There are 126 different languages spoken in Sioux Falls, SD. There are 3 Muslim Centers and a Multi-Cultural Center that houses people of many faith traditions. This diversity will continue to move throughout the state of South Dakota.

In an effort to develop acceptance and understanding among the human family among all faith traditions, the ANEW UCC will be holding an interfaith panel on April 27th for the Two Rivers Association of the UCC.

If there are members of the Mitchell Community who would be interested in hearing the panel, please contact Kristi McLaughlin at 605-999-9361.




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In my spare time, I teach different philosophy classes, including a World Religions course, at a community college. Most of the students are young: 19 to early 20s. Some have children. Some do not, but a few things stand out to me.

The students open up when they realize the class is a safe space to explore ideas most other venues prohibit. Ideas like equality, interfaith opinions, respect for others, and even ideas such as choice are welcomed to the table.

The students enjoy creative dialogue. They want more information than what they have been given. They want options to think through and to come up with their own thoughts. They already have great thoughts; however, many of their venues do not allow them the space to discuss due to the “authorities’ ” views or input.

You see, what I am witnessing is a generation that is tired of oppression from the pulpit, from the marketplace, from the “authorities,” and they are waiting for us to get out of the way. This is a generation that realizes if the hate and exploitation, the oppression and fighting does not stop, they and their children lose. They have a point. Radically divisive politics and radically divisive religion, institutions built on systems of status quo and money, legislation of marginalization and prejudices, destruction of the earth and its resources will only lead to one path: demise.

Whether we agree or not, they have a point. The world is global. Our brothers and sisters of every shape, size, color, religion, no religion and language are coming together, and our task is to build compassion and bridges among us regardless of our faith tradition. We can honor the faith of one another without losing our own faith and the love we have for it. We can let go of the dogmatic belief that our knowledge of something beyond knowledge is the only knowledge. We can and we should. I think our lives depend on it. Or I suppose we can continue our current path and see what happens.

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Remembering: The Jesus Movement and Million Dollar Buildings

This semester, I am teaching a world religions class. Last week we entered our two days exploration of Christianity, the faith tradition my students claim as their own. What became apparent, as our dialogue happened around Christianity, is that my students really do not ‘know’ why they are Christian. They said the cliched answer, “Jesus died for my sins.” They say this because it is the only thing they have been taught about Christianity.

I struggled with this as an instructor and as a pastor. Not in some fundamentalist way, but rather in the view that if you are going to claim a faith tradition as your own at least take some time to clearly understand what it holds and why you follow it. (Author’s note: I love my students and in this time, I saw their eyes light up and their brains engaging). So my response was to take another class period and explore Christianity more completely. We talked about Anselm and Substitutionary Atonement, we talked about Jesus’ death possibly having a political edge to it, we talked about assumptions made when the students sit down and talk with someone who says they are ‘Christian’ and that in reality Christianity is diverse in doctrines and Christology.

During this hour, I was silently reminded of the radical nature of the Jesus movement: ya know the movement that describes the Kingdom of God being created here on earth at the banquet table not only filled with the ‘pretty’ people of the day, but rather filled with the untouchables.

Who are the untouchables of 2013?

The Jesus movement that does not exist in 4 million dollar buildings while children on the streets are going hungry.

Remember that Jesus movement?

Do you remember the Jesus movement that said feed the hungry, visit the sick, give your cloak, turn the other cheek, find your life not by being greedy, but find it by giving it away?

In many ways, I will be honest and say that I have given up on institutional Christianity. It  is too focused on buildings, structures creating status quo, doctrines that don’t matter, liturgical functions, etc etc. but I haven’t given up entirely on the Jesus movement.

I just need to remind myself once and again, what it is really about.


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We all have stories we tell ourselves. Human life is full of stories: faith stories, historical stories, mythological stories…stories can give meaning to our lives.

Stories can also keep up stuck. Personal stories that move about in our heads: stories of that second grade music teacher who said we could not sing, stories of that basketball coach who never let us play, stories of our moms/dads some good some not so good. We tend to believe these stories, the messages they give us and sometimes we struggle our entire lives to work through them.

Stories really are simply stories. Most of them don’t even exist anymore so it becomes quite interesting to see how much power they hold over us.

When we begin to watch how the stories are told in our thinking patterns, we begin to see how they live themselves out in each present moment. How they can keep us bound, tight, suffering…

Learning to pay attention to these story patterns can be quite liberating. Learning to let the drama in our head settle down, sort of like dirty water that has been stirred, but as it settles we can clearly see the bottom, can free us from the stories and in our becoming free of them, we become more whole, more at peace.

Stories are in the past and they can be in the future, but our lives are lived right now. Letting go of the stories helps us live more fully right now.


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Guns in the Public Square

This may come as a surprise to you, but I have never held a gun. I have stories I can tell about people around me who have owned or own guns, but myself, yea not so much. I have never been afraid to the point of needing ‘protection.’ I have never felt the desire to stop the breathing of another living being.

In most places I have lived guns have not been welcomed in public venues and I believe that at some point in the history of the West, public places made cowboys leave their guns at the door.

Today; however, we seem to be conversing about guns in the Public Square.

Gun advocates begin with their Second Amendment Rights, a piece of our Constitution that appears to speak to the “militia,” but has been argued as being for ‘all people.’ (See: http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/second_amendment) Then they begin making the conversation about the police or military both of which have nothing to do with the current conversation.

And yes, if I was to be completely honest, I am one who wishes guns were not so much a part of America’s favorite pastime, however, I do try to be consistent in my thoughts. For example, I believe women should have reproductive rights; thus, if women are granted the right to choose, consistency would warrant that others have liberty in personal rights including the right to own guns.

In saying this, I do believe that society should have some restrictions on termination of pregnancy. Allowing a 7 month pregnancy to be terminated beyond extreme medical reasons should not be allowed. My desire to be consistent carries though to our current conversation regarding guns. There should be laws regulating the ownership and venues guns are accepted.

At maybe quite possibly, the heart issue for me is whether humans become so able, so willing, and possibly so accustom to the ills of being human that we stop working to make humanity better.

Movies portray these societies (and to be honest some of these are part of the human history). Societies where people fight to the death while others watch cheering. Or societies where the first shooter gets the girl and becomes the hero.

I don’t know about you but those images are not the ones that touch the deepest part of my soul. Rather when I feel the most human it is those moments when tenderness is present, when humanity reaches out in generosity or compassion, or hope. Those  images create feelings of awe and wonder. I have to say none of those most human mysterious moments include guns.

Today, we are conversing about guns, guns being carried down a public street. We are not conversing about an individuals right to own a gun or hunt, or even have it in a locked car or truck. Today we are talking about the public square and why, we in the 21st Century, are not questioning guns in the public square.





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What is the human endeavor? What is the human experience?

I am creating an Introduction to Philosophy class to be taught next year at a local community college. Philosophy is interesting because it begins with curiosity.

Human curiosity: Who are we? Why are we here? What makes ‘us’ us? It questions birth, death, and the life we live in between.

I remember as a child wondering who I would be if I wasn’t me but rather someone else. Wondering in that way would always take me to a different interior state. A state that was almost surreal.

Some people need hard and fast answers to these questions. It brings them comfort.

Others do not.

This fact in itself is part of philosophy. Why are some people one way and others another? Is it biology, experience, education, personal need for control or…? How come two people can have the exact same experience, same opportunities, same challenges and one go one way and the other go a completely different way?

And maybe the biggest questions humans tend to ask are the God questions. Who is God? How do we know? What does God want from us? Why do humans fight the most about God? And will this ever change?

Even in the church, the place where some believe God is experienced the most, God is argued over. However, much of what is argued over in the church has nothing to do with God. What hymns do we sing? What power structure do we hold? What is our vision? (Can we even really know what vision God holds?) And then maybe the biggest question we ask that has nothing to do with God…..How do we convince people to come to our church because its only in convincing others to come do we believe we are doing what God wants us to do.

As I continue on this quest, my personal quest of curiosity, I am discovering that my greatest desire is to continue being curious. I am learning that pain comes in holding to tightly to any strong idea or belief or story. But being curious is different. Being curious allows me space to watch as things move and change…as philosophies alter. Being curious  without hanging on tightly is freedom.

I suppose this, too, is a philosophy.



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Meditation Group

I will be facilitating a mindfulness meditation group in Sioux Falls on June 28th at 6:00pm. If interested in learning more about Buddhist mindfulness, please post a comment with contact information and I will be in touch!

Mindfulness is a wonderful way to see how one’s thoughts work.


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