Dwight’s Andiron Presentation

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GLIMPSES OF THE FACE OF GOD: A SPIRITUAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY

(Andiron Talk at Pilgrim Place, Claremont, California)

Dwight W. Vogel, OSL                                                                                            May 3, 2017

My life is a quest for that Deep Mystery of the Transcendent beyond language but to which language must dare to point. Or, put another way, I am a pilgrim seeking to be open to the glimpses of the face of God made known to me. As Emily Dickinson writes:

       He was my host – 

       he was my guest,

       I never to this day

       if I invited him could tell,

       or he invited me.

 My paternal grandparents came from Germany as children; my Dad didn’t speak English until he went to school. Nevertheless, he was the first person in that northwest Missouri farming community to graduate from high school. After completing college and seminary, he was appointed to a church in Ponca City, Oklahoma, two states away. He was single and knew no one there. He would be a stranger in a strange land. His mother gathered the family in the living room and read Psalm 121:  “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come?  My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth . . .  He will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”  It became the family psalm. Every time the family parted, we would read that psalm and sing

(sung) “God be with you til we meet again.”

In the German pietism of my family of origin, a personal God was very real. Jesus was savior and Lord.  Family life was permeated with prayer, the reading of the Bible, and the songs of faith.  My first glimpses of the face of God were nourished there.

My mother was an Erffmeyer, a prominent family of ministers, missionaries, and educators in the Evangelical Church. Together, my father and mother ministered during the depression years there in Oklahoma. In those days, women in that denomination couldn’t be ministers, but a minister’s wife was expected to be an unpaid partner in ministry, and mother filled that expectation diligently.

was born right there in the parsonage. I was an instrument baby and my skull still carries the indentations. It was clear my mother would need help. Dad called his sister, my beloved Aunt Esther who took the train to Oklahoma.  The first night there she took me into her arms and into her heart and nurtured me with a love that never let go. With prevenient grace, before I had words or thoughts, I glimpsed the merciful, accepting, never ending love of the face of God.  Until she died at 103, Aunty Esther believed in me, cared for me, was always there for me, so I could know what it means to sing:  (sung) “Great is thy faithfulness.”

One of my earliest memories is lying on the floor as my father shoveled coal in the basement, his voice coming up the furnace duct: “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth. Before the mountains were brought forth or ever you had formed the earth and the sea, from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.” Psalms and hymns were as much a part of my nurture as food and drink.

During the years of World War II, my father pastored in Topeka, Kansas.  I began school at Lincoln Elementary. Most of my classmates were Mexican American or African American- – with only a very few of us being white.  It was a microcosm of a wider world, one that seemed quite normal to me.  Only in later life would I realize that I had taken my white privilege with me, with opportunities for learning most of my classmates wouldn’t have.

We moved to Abilene, Kansas, and while walking its streets with my Grandpa Erffmeyer, he said: “Dwight, you are the same age as I was when my father was elected presiding elder which is what they used to call district superintendents.”  Dad was re-elected again and again, serving as a superintendent for 16 years. So I grew up in the district house there in Abilene.

Thus, my pastor during my growing up years was not my father, but Rev. Carl Platz.  He taught three stimulating years of catechism during my middle school years.  From him I learned that knowledge is not the enemy of faith but its friend, and that serious questioning is part of the faith journey.

These were glimpses of the face of a God who didn’t have to be protected from questions.  Never did I hear “well, you just have to have faith” as an answer to a serious question

On my desk from junior high through graduate school was a quote from Abraham Lincoln: “I will study and get ready and maybe my chance will come.”  I spent time in both the school and public libraries where I found Nietzche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, which was my introduction to philosophy. Four years of debate honed my ability to think and speak on my feet, and I began to envision a career in law and politics.

The guest speaker one year at our summer assembly was W. R. Montgomery, a national church executive I knew from work in the EUB Youth Fellowship.  I told him why I thought I was being called to a career in law and politics.  In retrospect, methinks I did protest too much!!

“Well, Dwight,” Monty said, “if that’s what God is calling you to do, that’s fine, but I think you may be misreading that call.  You have the gifts for ministry, and I believe that’s who God is calling you to be.”

And then he prayed with me that I would be open to whatever path God called me to take. The next year at Summer Assembly I answered the call to “the ministry of the gospel.”  It was the first of what I’ve come to call “God’s surprises,” or as Bonhoeffer puts it, being “interrupted by God.[1]” In it I glimpsed the face of a God who lays claim on one’s life, giving it purpose and direction.

Three generations of my ancestors had attended North Central College and my parents and I had always assumed that’s where I would go. At my grandfather’s funeral, my great uncle Clarence, long time academic dean at North Central, asked me:  “What do you want to study in college?”   “Philosophy” came my quick response.  His answer shocked me: “Then you should attend Westmar College and study with G. O. Thompson.”  Westmar and North Central came from two different branches of what came to be the Evangelical Church and were usually considered competitors. Such was uncle Clarence’s esteem in the family that my parents never questioned my decision to attend Westmar.

In the fall of 1955 I went to Westmar College in LeMars, Iowa, a focus of my life for the next thirty years.  Music was important, both academically and as an activity. I sang in both school and church choirs, was invited to direct the college choir in the conductor’s absence, and became the choir director at the local E&R church. I expanded my knowledge of literature and history and was introduced to the delights of art museums, a welcome addiction I have to this day.

Philosophy helped me ask questions I had never before considered.  I moved away from a naïve evangelical belief.  The Spirit had never made much sense to me, so I became a binitarian.  But then I was left with a Christological problem. What was the value of Jesus’ obedience if it was all preprogramed “from the foundation of the world?”  Could Jesus have chosen not to answer the call? I stopped going to church.

That didn’t last long. On Easter morning, it didn’t feel right not going to church, so I went. It didn’t solve my intellectual problems, but I did reclaim a home base from which to do my explorations.  I came to believe that my problem was jettisoning the Holy Spirit in the first place.  Spirit interpenetrates but does not manipulate. It was a rudimentary insight to be further developed but it enabled me to glimpse the face of God with a Trinitarian awareness.

I was introduced to Soren Kierkegaard and Karl Jaspers in one seminar on philosophical existentialism and to the writings of Alfred North Whitehead in another.

In the summer before my junior year, I worked as minister’s assistant in Topeka, Kansas.  The first day I was to join the youth group working at the summer assembly grounds. As I drove in, a captivating young woman with eyes that sparkled like diamonds gave me a huge smile and waved a welcome. I fell deeply in love in a moment and was delighted to discover the feeling was mutual.

The pastor told me to work closely with the president of the youth fellowship who turned out to be Linda Jane Baker, the young woman with the smile. I did as instructed. We courted, discreetly we thought, but discovered later everyone knew.  Only later would I realize how profoundly this glimpse of the face of God would permeate my life from then on.

In the fall of my senior year I experienced another of God’s surprise interruptions. President Kalas called me into his office and told me he wanted to nominate me for a Danforth Fellowship which would support my graduate work through to a Ph.D. “Then,” he said, “we want you to come back to Westmar and teach.”

“But Dr. Kalas,” I objected. “I’m called to the ministry.” “That’s what I’m talking about” he said. Reluctantly, I agreed to accept the nomination. The application came but I didn’t do anything with it. At Christmastime I told Linda I didn’t think I’d go to the trouble of filling it out. “There will be thousands of nominees from colleges and universities all over the country and they’ll give less than a hundred fellowships. I don’t think it’s worth the effort.”  “Oh, why don’t you give it a try anyway” she said.  “You write it and I’ll type it out. We’ll do it together.”  And so we did.

I was amazed to be among the 200 some applicants invited for an interview. I took the bus to Omaha to be interviewed by Dr. Robert Rankin whom I later met here at Pilgrim Place. I was overwhelmed when I received the letter indicating I had been awarded one of the coveted fellowships.

So it was that Ralston-Purina, the food that stipends are made of, covered tuition, fees, books, travel, and living expenses for six years of graduate study. Because they believed the spouse of a professor should be educated, we discovered they paid for Linda’s tuition, too.  There was the added benefit of stimulating conferences and dinner in the homes of friends of the fellow like Huston Smith, Samuel Miller, and Nels Ferré.

After my college graduation, Linda and I were married. It still amazes me that this wonderful woman chose me to be her life partner. Without question, she is God’s greatest gift to me and the one in whom I find most clearly glimpses of the face of God. And there were collateral blessings, too.  Her mother Gladys was an amazing woman who showed us how to live and how to die, and her stepfather Marvin was deeply loved by all of us.

We headed off to the big city of Boston. We lived in a one room sixth floor apartment in the Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries Home for Indigent Students, on Yarmouth Street, sharing an unheated bathroom with 3 other couples.  I began studies for a Master of Arts in philosophy at Boston University, following up my college interest in Karl Jaspers with a thesis on his philosophy of religion.

His recognition of the limits of knowledge with the truth lying beyond those limits shining through for just a moment, is the conceptual basis for my talking about “glimpses of the face of God.” And beyond the horizons of our conceptual schemes is what Jaspers calls “the Encompassing”—the Deep Mystery which is the foundation for our concepts, but never completely grasped by our minds.

Finding a church home was frustrating.  And then, only a few blocks from where we were living, we found Trinity Episcopal Church on Copley Square, Phillips Brooks’ old church. The sermons by Theodore Parker Ferris were thoughtful and inspiring, the music marvelous, the worship with a depth and richness that was new to us, bringing new glimpses of the face of God.

Four couples who would be studying in Boston met at the Danforth Fellowship camp at Minnewanka and we got together for dinner monthly.  Jim and Gloria Bishop were African-American and it was our first encounter with the problems of racism first hand.  They invited us to join them in protesting the segregation at the Greyhound Bus Station, our first involvement in direct action.  Some years later she would write asking us, “how can a moral person stay in the church?” Answering that question was one of the hardest letters we’ve ever had to write.  It is a question that still haunts us and one to which we return again and again.  But that too, I believe, was a glimpse of the face of God.

A few months into the semester, I realized that while one or two philosophy courses at a time was fun, a complete diet left me intellectually malnourished. What had been great explorations of the mind increasingly seemed like fruitless conceptual nitpicking that was unlikely to make the world a better place.

It became clear that philosophy was not my life calling.  Perhaps graduate work was not for me after all. But I’d been taught to finish what I started so I never questioned finishing the degree.  In the spring term, I took a course in philosophical theology with a guest professor, Nels Ferré.  The Danforth program provided for a seminary year whatever field you were in.  So I petitioned to do a seminary year at Andover Newton where Dr. Ferré was a faculty member.

Andover Newton proved to be a stimulating intellectual community unlike any other I was to encounter until Pilgrim Place.  I soon realized that my problem was not graduate study but the field. I asked the Danforth Foundation to change my focus from philosophy to theology. The faculty was superb and my studies were rewarding.  Studying with Ferré was everything I hoped for and more.  He was a demanding teacher, but if you’d done your preparation, you could engage him in vigorous dialogue.  His insistence on agape love as the dominant characteristic of the God revealed in Jesus Christ was a glimpse of the face of God which has been dominant in my theological journey.  To recognize that God is not made in the image of my emotions, and that how I feel when I pray says something about me but not about God caused a fundamental shift in my understanding of prayer.

In D. M  Baille’s God Was In Christ both my perplexities about the incarnation and my experience of falling in love came together.  The problem lies in our making rigid alternatives that don’t correlate with experience—something I should have learned in my study of existentialism.

When I fell in love, on the one hand, it was something that happened to me, a gift from beyond myself. And yet I have never freely chosen anything more fully in my life.  It is a paradox in which seemingly strict alternatives can both be true in experience.  So Jesus could both freely choose and be directed by his Abba. It was a profound glimpse of the face of God.

Guest lecturers at Andover Newton were a never-ending source of new knowledge. Most memorable was an address by Martin Niemoller who had talked with Hitler several times and told us of the recurring nightmare he had in which Jesus came to him and said: “Martin, Martin, why didn’t you tell Adolf that I love him?”

I completed my seminary degree and joined the graduates processing down the hill as we sang the hymn written for Andover Newton’s commencements:

 (sung), “through days of preparation, thy grace has made us strong.”

Linda had completed the last three years of her bachelor’s degree at Boston University but was only half way through her degree in Christian education at Andover Newton.  Yet I am embarrassed to say that it never crossed either of our minds to stay on at Andover Newton for another year.  Instead I chose to continue my studies at Garrett – Northwestern with Philip Watson, who was open to my writing my dissertation on Ferré’s theology.

So we moved to Evanston, Illinois, working toward a Ph.D. in theology, as well as studying New Testament, aesthetics and ethics.  Studying with British Methodist theologian Philip Watson reinforced the work I had done with Nels Ferré, further building on Nygren’s understanding of  God as Agape.

Watson’s unforgettable image was the difference between “I love me and want you” vrs. “I love you, receive me.”  That is the way an invitational claim is laid on our lives and it was another glimpse of the face of God.

The Evangelical United Brethren and Methodist Churches had just merged to become The United Methodist Church and Watson taught a course on the Wesleys.  In John Wesley I discovered a theologian whose thinking, along with that of Bonhoeffer, would be foundational for me.  And in Charles Wesley’s hymns I found rich appropriation and application of that theology.  For both of them, self-giving love is such an important part of God’s nature that they could sing (sung) “thy nature and thy name is love.”[2]

Along with a seminary intern, Linda and I worked on the staff of Wheadon United Methodist Church with Pastor Chuck Peterson, editor of the Methodists for Church Renewal journal Behold.  He introduced us to the lectionary and an order of worship that followed the pattern of the early church reflected in The Apostolic Tradition, a pattern we had experienced in Trinity Church in Boston, and which remains the core of my approach to  worship.

Along with this, it was his commitment to God as a God of Justice that profoundly affected us. When the invitation to come to Selma came, we all wanted to respond but decided to pool our money and buy one round trip bus ticket for Pastor Chuck. While he was eating in a Selma café, he heard a crowd noise just outside. He discovered Jim Reeb had just been murdered.  Meanwhile back in Evanston, a wealthy benefactor came to the church and took the three electric typewriters he had given on permanent loan.

It’s uncanny how, week after week,  the lectionary speaks to contemporary conditions.  The Old Testament lesson I read to the half-empty church the next Sunday was from Malachi: “For our God is a refiner’s fire and he will purify.”  It was so direct that only because it was the assigned reading for the day did I have courage to read it.  The remnant congregation became deeply committed to social justice.  It was a powerful glimpse of the face of God for me.

Linda’s father and David Fleming’s father had been boyhood friends. David had taken vows with the Society of Mary and was studying for a doctorate at the University of Chicago. His mother and Linda’s mother facilitated getting us together and David came for lunch.  We connected right away—neither of us had ever had a substantive conversation across Protestant-Catholic lines with a theologically well informed person. At supper time we were still at the table, so Linda took the lunch things off the table and put supper on. Our ecumenical explorations opened up a very different glimpse of the face of God.   David and I became life-long friends and he and Linda had been friends from childhood.  It has been a rich and rewarding friendship.

The next chapter of our lives was twenty years on the faculty of Westmar College in LeMars, Iowa. I discovered teaching as learning, for the best way to learn something is to teach it to others.  Linda guided my pedagogical development.  I started teaching as I had been taught—namely through lectures.  But the teaching-learning experience is better understood as a spark plug than a fuel line, so I moved increasingly from lecture to engagement in my educational method. They were exhilarating years of intellectual investigation, strengthened by interdisciplinary dialog among stimulating faculty colleagues.

I was asked to take responsibility for the Tuesday evening Vespers which was the liturgical chapel option.  In preparation, I began reading and discovered a whole new world of liturgical scholarship.  This shift of focus to liturgical and sacramental theology has persisted to today.

In teaching ethics, I had used the Viet Nam war as an example of listing the pros and cons of an issue, seeing both sides, and then taking an informed position.  One afternoon as I was preparing a Vespers sermon, I had a crisis of conscience.  If I was going to have any sense of integrity as a preacher of the gospel, I had to say what God gave me to say. When I returned home, Linda took one look at me and said “What’s happened to you?”  “I had a word from the Lord,” I said, “and I’m going to have to preach it.”

(sung)  “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

This very direct sermon landed me overnight in the middle of the anti-war movement in northwest Iowa, where such a position was widely seen as pro-communist. Realizing we were no longer Republicans, we changed our party affiliation.  We entered the exciting world of Iowa caucuses and I found myself Democratic precinct caucus chair the very first time we attended a political caucus.

The college church had always had a large gifted choir but our first year in LeMars, the church hired a director who just didn’t work out. One Sunday, I looked back at the choir loft in the balcony and saw only the director and three other persons. “I can do better than that,” I told Linda. So I applied for the job.

Thus began nearly twenty years of music ministry with a choir that included many students, faculty and staff. At conferences of the Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts, I ended up directing three age-group choirs along with the adult choir. Singing together opens us to dimensions of spirituality rhR continue to be the source of many of my glimpses of the face of God.

(sung) “When in our music God is glorified!”

In our first three years in LeMars, Linda and I became parents to three children.  Our first son, Peter Jonathan, was adopted as an infant just before we moved from Evanston.  Our third was our daughter Kristin Deborah. who was also a baby.  The second was another of God’s surprise interruptions.  Linda’s parents were with us after visiting relatives out here in California.  Mark, the son of a cousin, was visiting his grandparents. “It’s too bad about Mark,” Linda’s mother said. “He’s such a nice boy but he’s been in so many different homes as a ward of the state; things are so bad in his own home.”  We talked some more and then went to bed.

At 3 in the morning, Linda sat bolt upright in bed.  “What’s wrong?” I said.  “I think we should adopt Mark” she said.  “I do too,” I said.  And we went back to sleep.  Now Mark was 14 and taking a 14 year old male is something one should enter into only “advisedly, discreetly, and in the fear of God!”  But this was a God-incidence for us.  He entered our family just before beginning 9th grade.  As the president of the college told us when he graduated from high school “You know, you had no reason to expect things to have turned out with Mark the way they did.”   But they did turn out very well, and we are grateful.

Our house was a block from the campus. One published announcement of a student activity said it would take place in the big red house with the smiling front door!  If we were home and the lights were on, we could count on students dropping in, making music, discussing all manner of things until one of us would say “why don’t we go to bed so these folks can go home?”  In fact, Ron and Lois Hines who will soon be moving to Pilgrim Place announced their engagement in our living room!

On the way to visit friends in Colorado one summer, we decided to stop in the Black Hills, camp for three days at Wind Cave National Park, and see Mt. Rushmore. We fell in love with this land, the Paha Sapa of the Lakota, stayed for ten days, finally making it to the Rockies.  The next summer we went back and camped and explored the area more thoroughly. Several years later we bought nearly 4 acres of mountain meadow and forest where we spent a part of 45 summers at the place we call “The Birds’ Nest.”  It is a thin place where glimpses of the face of God happen over and over again. (sung) “Take me back to the Black Hills, the Black Hills of Dakota, that beautiful Indian country that I love.”

We spent our first sabbatical at the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at Collegeville, Minnesota.  In the Benedictine communities with the monks at St. John’s and the nuns at St. Ben’s we discovered the daily office which was to become central to both my scholarly and spiritual journeys, and I prepared my first book for publication: Psalms for Worship Today.

But another of ”God’s surprises” was waiting.  We had expected to remain at Westmar all our professional life, but we discovered that Westmar was not all of life there was to be for us.  The college was going in directions we could not support.  We asked for an appointment to a local church where we could be in team ministry.   I had come as a freshman in the fall of 1955, but in the spring of 1985 we moved on.

We were appointed to St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Dubuque, Iowa, with its first meeting in 1833 said to make it the first congregation of any denomination in the state.  It is a downtown church with a current building dating to the 1890’s.

The guilt letters in the arch over the nave reads “He that keepeth Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps,” a verse from our favorite family psalm. St. Luke’s has 108 Tiffany windows, including seven large ones in the sanctuary.  But as their t-shirt proclaims: “If you think our windows are beautiful, you should meet our people!”

And they were—committed, compassionate, capable, ready and willing to engage in the ministry of all the baptized.  The church is a people and they ministered to me even as I ministered to them.

The first Tiffany window you see when you enter the nave through its most used door is that of Jesus and the children. It affirmed the conviction Linda and I had that children are not just the church of tomorrow but a vital and necessary part of the church of today. My predecessor had been uncomfortable with children in worship and encouraged them not to be in the worshipping community. How could we make them know they were welcome?  We decided Gus was the answer.

Meet Gustapher Gustavus Agoosis, given to me by my mother-in-law for Christmas—which tells you something about both her and me!  On our first Sunday there we had Gus invite the young church to the front for our time with the children.  They poured out of the pews to meet him.  On the way out, they asked me over and over again “will Gus be here next Sunday?”  That hadn’t been our intent, but recognizing a gift of the Spirit in our midst we said yes.  So Gus was with us every Sunday and had a short column in every week’s newsletter, with a talented artist in the congregation providing a drawing of Gus that changed every week according to the topic. Youth would ask their parents “is the newsletter here? What does Gus have to say?”  It was the best way to get any information to the whole congregation.  At our farewell, there were three chairs: one for Linda, one for Gus and one for me!!  We couldn’t have planned it, it came as a gift.  Gus showed us glimpses of the face of God in the eyes of children.

We separate our professional life into three major chapters: twenty years at Westmar, three in Dubuque, and seventeen in Chicago.  Yet, in terms of the depths of friendships and the extent of our experiences and our intellectual and spiritual growth, the Dubuque chapter is as important to us as are the other two. Our books contain phrases and ideas mined from conversations with friends there. As we were told: “when Dwight or Linda grab the paper napkin and start writing, you’ll probably end up in their next book!” Such friendships are glimpses of the face of God.

I saw a notice about the Order of Saint Luke and sent off for further information. Becoming part the Order is not like joining an organization.  It involves vows which affect all of life, providing the way one lives out one’s baptism in mutual accountability and support with one’s brothers and sisters, seeking to live a sacramental life.  It was both who I was and who I was called to be.  Soon after taking vows, I attended a convocation of the Order.  At the general chapter meeting, I said, “We need to develop resources for the daily office related to the liturgical year.”  Abbot Michael responded, “That is an excellent idea. I invite you to answer the call to service by doing just that.”  And so came another of those interruptions, as the daily office became the focus of both my scholarly work and my spiritual journey.

Another of God’s surprises was on the horizon.  We returned to the parish intending to live out the rest of our ministry there.  But already in the first year at St. Luke’s, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary began courting Linda to come to their faculty in Christian education.  In the second year, that invitation was intensified. In consultation with our beloved bishop, Rueben Job, we decided that was where God was calling her to go.  But despite numerous inquiries, there was no job for me.

“I just won’t go,” Linda said.  “Oh no,” I responded. “The one thing we are sure about is that you are being called to join the Garrett-Evangelical faculty.”  And as one alternative after another fell through, we concluded that the only option open for us was to have a commuter marriage for a year.

We didn’t expect to like it and we didn’t.  Linda would return to Dubuque most weekends.  Sometimes I would carve out a few days to go to Evanston.  We quickly realized that life apart was an untenable solution.  Yet nothing opened up for me.

On one of my desert days in a monastery nearby, I was reading the story of Saul on the road to Damascus when the words flew off the page: “Go into the city and there it will be told you what to do.”  And in that glimpse of the face of God, I knew what I had to do:  leave the ministry I loved so much and move to the city without any guarantee of a job, daring to trust in the One who went before me.  Something would work out but I wouldn’t know what.  Like the claim laid on me in preaching the sermon on Viet Nam, I knew I had to do it, even though it was no more than a glimpse of the face of God.

We found a unit in a six-flat in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago with spacious living and dining rooms just meant for the entertaining we like to do.  A very part-time position directing the seminary choir became available in the spring.  I applied and was appointed.  There was a new director of field education there named Barbara Troxell who was looking for someone to oversee the student pastors and seminary interns in an adjunct position; again I was appointed.  The new United Methodist hymnal was coming out and I was asked to teach a class introducing it.  I applied to Loyola as an adjunct in theology and taught two courses a term there for the Jesuits.  All in all, I ended up with 11 contract letters—more than full time work with considerably less than full time pay, which is par for the course for adjuncts everywhere.

The first spring term brought new possibilities.  A gift from Nellie B. Ebersole, a music teacher and choir director in Detroit, enabled the establishment of the Ebersole Program in Music Ministry. But the big opportunity came with the retirement of one of the two preaching professors.  That position was to shift the focus of one of those positions from preaching to worship. “Ah,” I thought.  “This is what God has been leading me toward.” And so I worked hard developing my application, making a case for my preparation for such a position and developing sample syllabi.

I was one of three finalists and was invited to prepare for an on-campus interview.  I was ecstatic.  But then the chair of the search committee told me they had changed their minds.  They would only do a full interview with a candidate of choice, and that wasn’t me.  I was devastated.  The candidate of choice was Ruth Duck and she was appointed to the position.

When she arrived on campus, I discovered that her office would be in the same building as mine, one floor up.  We had corresponded some regarding use of her hymns by the Iowa Annual Conference so I had some acquaintance with her. Swallowing my pride, I walked up the stairs and knocked on her office door.  “Welcome, Ruth,” I said. “The seminary is blessed to have such an excellent hymn writer on the faculty.  Of course, I have to be honest.  I’d be a lot more enthusiastic if I weren’t hurting so much from not getting the position myself.”  Whereupon Ruth said, “close the door, come in and sit down.”

She shared some of disappointments of her own professional life and some of her anxiety about this position.  By the time the conversation ended, we had begun what was to become a rich and rewarding friendship as colleagues with deep respect and appreciation of the gifts of each other.

The faculty had recognized that times had changed since the day when most incoming seminarians had a major in philosophy or at least some undergraduate work in it.  It’s difficult to teach systematic theology to students who don’t have any background in philosophy or religion.  So they designed a course, the title of which is a dead give-away that it has been designed by committee:  “Contexts and Methodologies of Contemporary Theologizing.”  Among the goals were to provide students with a rudimentary background in philosophy, acquaint them with major theological options, and develop an awareness of the role of context in theologizing.  All this in one introductory course!

“Dwight,” the president and dean said to me,  “you have a master’s degree in philosophy and a doctorate in theology, you’ve taught undergraduates, and you’ve got pastoral credibility for having just come from pastoring a church. We’d like you to teach the course.”  Of course, I said “yes” and was appointed associate professor of theology.

Later the president called me in and said: “Both of our systematic theologians are process theologians. We need to give students another option and want you to teach systematic from another perspective.”

I took this as opening for the use of a wide range of readings, including Bonhoeffer, Moltmann, and liberation theologians.  I included Cobb and Suhocki, too, but not as the only option on the menu. As time went on, I was able to focus my attention on Systematic II dealing with Christ, Spirit, Church, and the Trinity, which I came to understand as  perichoresis (not three persons dancing, but the DANCE itself including the three persons!)

I told Ruth that I’d love to teach a course in liturgical theology, and she said, “I’ll just list it next term and we’ll see what happens.”  It went through without objection and I taught it regularly from then on, alternating it with a course on sacraments and rites with a strong component of sacramental theology. In time, I was reviewed by my colleagues and promoted to full professor of theology and ministry.

Back in Dubuque days I had been elected to membership in the North American Academy of Liturgy and I continued to be an active member of the liturgical theology seminar there, serving as its convenor for a number of years.  Sensing a need for a reader in primary sources of liturgical theology while on sabbatical at Collegeville, I pitched the project to the Liturgical Press who enthusiastically supported the idea.  Working with the major figures in liturgical theology from many faith perspectives and enabling them to be in dialogue with one another gave rise to a book which remains the only book of its kind on the market, surprising me every year with how many copies are being sold!

Ruth and I determined that we could provide a very credible Ph.D. program in liturgical studies. She asked me to oversee its development and coordinate the program, which received a full ten year accreditation from its inception.

One of my proudest moments came when a new doctoral student told us he had asked a venerable scholar in the field where to do his doctoral work in liturgics.  She said “if I were doing it now, I’d go to Garrett-Evangelical.”  Working with those talented doctoral students was one of the greatest joys of my teaching career, opening up new glimpses of the face of God with amazing regularity. When a fully endowed chair was established at Garrett-Evangelical, I was installed as Ernest and Bernice Styberg Professor of Worship. For the first time, the title of my position reflected my scholarly focus.

The last class I taught at the seminary was an introductory theology course in which the students were mostly Christian educators and church musicians doing their master’s degree while continuing to serve in churches around the country. They told me they were “scared to death of theology”  yet, I’ve never had a class where students prepared so rigorously.  Near the end of the first week, one of them said to me: ‘‘You’re going to turn us into theologians yet, aren’t you?” To which I replied, “no, I just want you to discover you’ve been theologians all along and just didn’t know it!”

This conviction was reflected in two books Linda and I co-authored in which we tried to take scholarship in liturgical and sacramental theology and ritual studies and put it into language and concepts that persons without a background in those fields could understand and recognize as part of their own lived experience.

We spent one January term traveling around India with our friend Father David, who by then was teaching there.  It was way outside our comfort zone but having a knowledgable guide who knew the territory made it into a valuable learning experience.

One of Linda’s doctor of ministry advisees was Houston McKelvey, director of education for the Church of Ireland. After Linda did his mid-program review in Belfast, we made a circle tour of both Northern Ireland and the Republic.

We’ve now made eight trips to Ireland. From our very first visit there, Ireland seemed like home. Part of it is the beauty of the countryside, a lot is the friendliness of the people. I delight in the ruins and tombs and historic sites.  But most of all, it’s a “thin place” where the boundary between ordinary life and the Deep Mystery beyond us is very thin, and the “communion of the saints” beyond our sight is not beyond our sense.

We have encountered those thin places all over Ireland. I’ve chanted the canticle of Simeon with no one else around me in Cormac’s Chapel on the Rock of Cashel and the Gallarus Oratory on Dingle, stood in the whipping wind near the ancient tombs of the Burren, been overwhelmed by the waves crashing against the Cliffs of Moher and stood in utter solitude by the peat bogs of Connamerra with only the gulls intoning their liturgy above. Together with the Paha Sapa of South Dakota and the Pecos ruins of New Mexico, it’s in such places that I’ve felt the Deep Mystery beyond words and concepts which is a profound glimpse of the face of God.

Where would we go in retirement?  None of the places we looked at seemed quite right so we decided to stay in Chicago for a while.  Then in the second year of retirement came another of God’s surprises. Now you need to know that Southern California was not one of our favorite places.  When we had taught one summer at CST, the smog had been horrendous and the traffic terrible.  It was a place to visit but not to stay.

However, the national retreat of the Order of Saint Luke was scheduled for the Old Santa Barbara mission, and our friend and former covenant group partner Barbara Troxell, invited us to come and spend a few days with her before the retreat.

The first evening she took us to the Petterson Museum for a presentation on the Day of the Dead by Jim and Joanne Lamb, the beginning of a long-lasting relationship with the Petterson as a microcosm of the world where the art of the craftsman is a language that crosses cultural barriers.  As T. S. Eliot puts it:  “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”—a lesson we learned from Taylor and June McConnell with whom we studied culture-bridging in New Mexico.

Within twenty-four hours, Linda said to me: “This is where we need to be.”  “You never cease to surprise me” I said to my companion who had made four seasons a stipulation for a retirement location, “but I think so too.”  Later that week, as we reflected on that decision we realized that we could best understand it in terms of vocation—a call to intentional community.

Travel has been part of our life here, including summers in the Paha Sapa, trips to New Mexico and our beloved Ireland, and most surprising of all, being invited to teach at the University of Dayton’s educational center in Deepahalli, India.  Think of it, two United Methodists from mid-west America teaching liturgy in India to Roman Catholic brothers in the Society of Mary!  The cultural context of these brothers who would be working in slums and impoverished areas with homeless boys and single mothers and remote villages was very different from ours.  But the liturgy of the hours and the sacraments that feed us was what fed them, calling us to ministries of compassion and justice.

I have glimpsed that deep mystery in the natural world on Mt. Baldy, the pounding of the surf along the coast, morning walks in the desert at 29 Palms, and in persons in the beloved community here—Pat Patterson’s poetry, my brothers and sisters in the Order of St. Luke, and the Eucharistic circle breaking bread, aware of our broken world. I find those glimpses of God’s face in so many people here, but even more in the inter-relationships—the dance we dance, the incarnation of perichoresis itself—the being-together-with-one-another of which Bonhoeffer speaks.[3]

In writing Times and Seasons with God, Linda and I wrestled with how we arrive at meaning in our search for Truth. We decided that it is not just discovered—a reality that’s out there that we can comprehend. But neither is it created wholly by our minds out of the concepts and language of our culture.  Rather we are engaged in sculpting meaning out of our lived experience.

My concept of the One whom I worship and to whom I pray is an icon, a doorway to the Transcendent/Immanent/Relational Great Mystery beyond all human names and construals.  But it is not only an icon I have sculpted to gaze upon. It is also the doorway through which Deep Mystery gazes on me as I apprehend that mystery in prayer and the daily office, in the celebration of the Eucharist, in spiritual experience, and most clearly in Jesus. All this despite the myopia and cataracts that affect my capacity to see.

The face of God which I glimpse is

  • personal — even as I know the Deep transcendent mystery to be more than personal,
  • relational — yet beyond relations and more than all of them, and
  • incarnational — in people and thin places and times of joy and crisis.

As the anonymous hymn writer of 1890 puts it:

“I sought the Lord and afterward I knew,  my soul was moved to seek God seeking me.”

—glimpses of the Deep Mystery who keeps my “going out and my coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”  (Ps. 121)

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

[2] Come O Thou Traveler Unknown, UMH

[3] Sanctorum Communio

Closing a Chapter in Our Lives

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Linda’s Reflections on Aging

In the summer of 2015, we knew Dwight was facing treatment for prostate cancer. We decided to schedule surgery at City of Hope and then to go to our beloved Birds’ Nest in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota until mid August before returning to Southern California for surgery. The drive to SD was difficult. We arrived to find Pete battling Norway rats who had moved into our cabin. Dwight was very tired and it became apparent to me that we needed to return home earlier than planned. Then it seemed clear to me this probably needed to be our last summer at the cabin. Dwight’s legs were weak; walking on the uneven terrain was asking for a fall. With our kids support and help, we chose what we wanted to take from the cabin and  with Kristin and Daren’s help, enjoyed a neighborhood gathering planned quickly by our neighbors of 45 years, Mark and Lois Bucholz, and began the long drive back to Claremont.

Dwight’s pre-surgical tests discovered a 95% blocked carotid artery; Dwight had immediate surgery to have a stent inserted and then he ended up with aspirational pneumonia. After a five day hospital stay and ten days in the Health Services Center at Pilgrim Place, I discerned that a four or five hour surgery would not be a good thing. We were blessed to move from City of Hope to Loma Linda where proton therapy for prostate cancer promised equally good results. So for 45 days over a ten week period, we traveled to Loma Linda (only a forty-five minute drive) for proton therapy. Fatigue was really the only side effect and we can now say that the treatment (which we completed on Epiphany (January 6, 2016) was successful. We give thanks to God for the options available to us and for the excellent care which Dwight received.

Nevertheless, we continued to know that our summers at our Birds’ Nest were over. After 45 years, beginning in 1971 when we bought 4.88 acres in the Black Hills–surrounded by National Forest–with ponderosa pine, an Aspen grove and a meadow at almost 6,000 ft. elevation, it was time to close this chapter of our lives.

Could we have returned for a shorter time and kept trying to make it work? Could we have stayed the course until a fall, or some other health catastrophe forced us to return no more? Of course.

How did we know? What led us to make this decision? We knew that we would have to depend on our kids and our friends if we were to try to deal with the water, fences, unwelcome cabin rodents, and all the other things that are required to keep a seasonal cabin up. With 4o miles to good medical care (13 of which were on winding gravel roads), 13 miles for groceries or drugs, uneven ground for walking, and miles to drive for church and visits to all our favorite sites, the time was right to close this wonderful chapter of our lives. The long car trip from Southern California to South Dakota was also a factor.

Our two youngest children were preschoolers when we purchased this land and now they are nearing 50. We have so many wonderful memories of times well-spent in this “thin place” close to the heart of God. Our generation in Spring Creek Valley has been slipping away–we’ve shared memories across these last summers of neighbors who have died and one couple sold their cabin. The next generation is slowly claiming family cabins.

I made a wonderful coffee table book of our 45 summers in the Paha Sapa. It was my grief work. It still lives on our piano where we can open it to different pages whenever we walk by and think about it. We have photos on our hall wall and that bring us joy. We love seeing posts on face book from our friends there! Memories, some bitter sweet, sustain us.

As a gerontologist, I have been reflecting on what enabled us to close this chapter without a crisis that forced such a decision. Here are some of my thoughts.

  • Accepting one’s physical limitations and choosing to use things like hearing aids, walkers, canes or whatever else assists one in living as fully and as independently as one can for as long as one can is an important life skill that enhances the aging process.
  • Denying one’s aging and continuing to risk falls and accidents that could be avoided is detrimental to successful aging.
  • Finding ways to acknowledge one’s grief and to own it, frees one to move into new chapters in life.
  • Celebrating the past and then choosing to move to a different chapter can offer new opportunities so that one is not stuck in grieving what is lost.
  • Looking for new ways of experiencing favorite things in different settings fosters growth.

Here are things that we miss.

  • Having visits from family and friends (especially some of our Midwest friends who came oftener than they are able to come to California).
  • Attending all the plays at the Black Hills Playhouse.
  • Visiting Crazy Horse Memorial and the fine museum that continues to develop.
  • Wildlife drives through Custer State Park.
  • Days spent meandering back roads.
  • Breakfast at Cheyenne Crossing followed by time at Roughlock Falls where we often spent whole days reading beside the stream, napping, picnicking, and walking the trail from above the falls to Cheyenne Crossing.
  • Sharing meals with good neighbors from Spring Creek Valley.
  • Our annual Valley Rally with so many of the adult children and grands and great-grands of our neighbors and friends gathering to eat and share.
  • Finding ghost towns/ranches and imagining what life was like “back then.”
  • Stopping to see what was new at our favorite Warriors’ Works gallery in Hill City.
  • Worshipping at Custer Lutheran Fellowship with friends in our summer congregation.
  • Reading on our deck or in front of the fireplace.
  • Being dazzled by the night sky where the Milky Way arced right up our draw and once being awakened by the Northern Lights.
  • Being blessed by seeing two graceful mountain lions (we knew they were there but folks rarely see them!).
  • Evening drives to see deer, elk and beavers.
  • Having dinner at the Alpine Inn.
  • Enjoying the French Creek Folk musical group that Dwight was keyboardist for.
  • Fourth of July celebrations at Mount Rushmore.
  • Snuggling under a down comforter when the temperature drops into the thirties in August.
  • Watching children make moon shadows on the road.
  • Being awed as a thunderstorm moves across the meadow and the rain comes.
  • Roasting hot dogs and making s’mores around our wonderful slate fire circle.
  • Scattering ashes of loved ones in a sacred place.
  • Being blessed by Darrell, Joy, Jan and Herb, Marion and Stan, Doris, Janna and Randy and so many more whom we would never have known if we had not become “more than summer folks.”
  • Visiting the fire tower at Bear Mountain.
  • Experiencing a major forest fire and learning from having to decide what to take and what to leave when we had 45 minutes to load our van and drive away—not knowing if anything would remain.

Once in a while, a memory brings tears and that is okay, too. We wouldn’t trade those 45 summers for anything. But as we begin our second summer without the planning and anticipation of soon heading for the hills, here are things that this new chapter in our lives offers.

  • Our first opportunity to visit the LA Phil’s summer home for a concert at the Hollywood Bowl.
  • Continuing to enjoy our pool and spa with water aerobics three times a week.
  • An opportunity to celebrate our anniversary near Joshua Tree National Park and seeing the desert in the summer.
  • A cross-country train trip to visit my sister in MO and to help Kristin celebrate her 50th birthday in Wisconsin.
  • A September cruise to Alaska with Dwight’s college roommate and his wife—good friends we haven’t seen for a long time.
  • A more leisurely schedule at Pilgrim Place with concerts in the city park, a fourth of July breakfast in the park and a parade in Claremont.
  • Summer activities at our church that we’ve missed in the past.
  • Drives up Mt. Baldy (we can be in the Angeles National Forest in 20 minutes) to get our “mountain fix.”
  • Pilgrim Tours to the Hollywood Bowl, to Palm Springs and to the beach that we’ve missed in the past.
  • Dinner theater performances with good friends just a mile from our home.
  • Time for reading on our patio.

Speaking as a gerontologist, once again, I advocate for living by the serenity prayer—learning to accept the things we cannot change, having the courage to change the things we can, and embracing the wisdom to know the difference!  We need to know when it is time to stop driving on the freeways and when it is time to give up driving altogether. We need to be willing to use whatever aids for walking safely that we need—canes, walkers, electric carts, or motorized chairs. We need to assess honestly when we are being stubborn and when we are giving up too easily. Sometimes, working at physical therapy can enable us to remain mobile longer. Sometimes, we risk broken bones and other bad outcomes from falls because we are too stubborn to accept our need for a safer way of living.

Learning to know when it is time to downsize and move into assisted living is a crucial skill. Here are some guidelines that can help us decide.

  • When I become too tired to do what I want to do because activities of daily living take all my energy.
  • When I find myself forgetting whether or not I took my medicine.
  • When I stop eating in healthy ways because it takes too much energy.
  • When I withdraw from activities and friendships due to depression and/or lack of energy.
  • When I feel vulnerable and fear falling.
  • When I am no longer able to safely bathe, dress myself or care for my home.

We have told several good friends that we believe we will know when it is time for us to make the move to assisted living because we have always been proactive in deciding that “now is the time” (for example) to move from Chicago to Pilgrim Place and to give up the cabin. However, in case we aren’t as aware as we think we are, these friends have permission to tell us they think it is time for us to make such a move. Our children, too, have permission to give us their counsel and advice.

The old adage, “Aging is not for sissies!” is true. But aging well, with dignity and hope, is possible. It is a journey those of us who reach our eighties and beyond are both blessed and challenged to pursue. With acceptance of what is and with grace for what can yet be, we journey on!

Vespers at Pilgrim Place 9/1/16

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Surprised by the Spirit!

While the Birds’ Nest remains in our family, last summer Dwight and I determined that this wonderful chapter of our lives had come to an end. Forty-five summers in our beloved cabin in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota were a gift beyond measure. Let me share just a few memories–

Wonderful friends, the Spring Creek Valley community, Custer Lutheran Fellowship, Custer State Park and the buffalo round-up, watching Crazy Horse emerge from a mountain on its way to being the world’s largest sculpture, Pine Ridge Reservation and Red Cloud’s grave, as we learned more about all the injustices Native Americans have experienced; the Badlands, Wall Drug, so many family and friends who have shared time with us there, Cheyenne Crossing and Spearfish Canyon with it’s amazing Roughlock Falls,

Dwight and Kristin sharing the Enchanted Village—rock formations on the ridge across from our cabin where they saw dragon’s breathe on the wall of the house of the tailor just I nside the city gate and once they found a snake sunning herself in the princess’ bedroom–such imaginations; the reading of many, many books (no TV ever and hardly any radio reception!) and the writing of others; visits to the fire tower on Bear Mountain, being evacuated for five days during the Jasper Fire which provided a forty-five minute  lesson in what to load in the car and what to leave behind; watching the 87,000 acres of ponderosa pine trees that burned begin a forty year recovery; hiking around Sylvan Lake and driving the Needles Highway in Custer State Park, being a part of the Black Hills Playhouse family with season tickets every summer, going up onto Crazy Horse’s arm and standing under his nine-story tall carved face—a leader of his people who was stabbed in the back while under a flag of truce by a U.S. soldier; monumental ice cream cones at Mt. Rushmore, savoring the artistic delights at our favorite Gallery where the owners hosted our 50th anniversary party,  the Valley Rally with neighbors. The memories go on and on!!!

Celtic spirituality teaches me that we come from the earth—we are one with the earth. Love and deep friendship come to us through our senses—as gifts, as GRACE.

Love, John O’ Donohue says, is the most real and creative form of human presence. Love is the threshold where divine and human presence ebb and flow into each other.” (15) “To be holy is to be home, to be able to rest in the house of belonging that we call the soul.” (John O’Donohue, Aman Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, p. 28).

And this is what I want to share tonight. We never have to give up “our home.” Whether it is where we live now, in an independent home, or a place in Pitzer, or in HSC. Our home is “in the house of belonging that we call the soul.”

When we understand HOME as our soul–as that place where we are open to the surprises the Spirit opens in our presence, we are freed from feeling “homeless” when the Spirit nudges us to let go of a most beloved place. HOME is wherever we love and are loved—by God and by loving and caring family and friends. We are blessed here, because we have said we intend to be present with and to help each other—that is what it is to be a part of our intentional community.

Last summer, we experienced that Spirit nudge that said, “It is time to let go and to close this wonderful chapter of your lives and to move on to the next chapter where God’s love and grace is also to be found.

Our Birds’ Nest (‘Vogel’ is bird in German) where we put down roots for forty-five summers; where we watched our children grow up and our grandchildren and even our great-grandchildren share the wonder of waterfalls and the Milky Way right over our heads, of thundering buffalo and majestic elk, of tiny forget-me-nots blooming in flowing mountain streams; that most loved and holy place that nurtured our souls with beauty and wonder for almost half a century, will now become a sacred and holy memory as we move on to the next chapter of our lives.

Part of my grief work, was to make a coffee table book which is here if any of you would like to catch of glimpse of our Birds’ Nest over the years after Vespers. The “Birds’ Nest” sign—made by a dear friend, now hangs outside at the back of our Pilgrim Place home where we can see it from our deck.

HOME for now is on 8th street here at Pilgrim Place. We pray that God’s grace will keep us open to the Spirit’s nudge when it is time to move to Pitzer or wherever the next chapter of our lives is to be.

Sisters and brothers, dear friends, let us find the freedom to listen for the Spirit’s gentle and sometimes not so gentle nudges. Let’s help one another be pro-active rather than re-active! There can be joy as well as tears when we dare to let go and to move into yet another chapter of our lives!

As Noela Evans says in Meditations for the Passages and Celebrations of Life (Brussett, SL, p. 99): “The stage of my life has changed; old doors are closed and new ones now stand open. … Hello and greetings to the heart and soul of this new setting. I honor this place that will shelter me, and I embrace the changes and opportunities that this move invites into my life.”

May it be so for each of us whenever the Spirit nudges us to step out of our now-home, and into the new home God beckons us toward.  Amen.

 

PRAYERS[1]

To the home of peace

to the field of love

to the land where forgiveness and right relationship meet

we look, O god,

with longing for earth’s children

with compassion for the creatures

with hearts breaking for the nations and people we love.

Open us to visions we have never known

strengthen us for self-givings we have never made

delight us with a oneness we could never have imagined

that we may truly be born of You

makers of peace.

[1] John Philip Newell, Praying with the Earth: A Prayerbook for Peace, 2011, p. 52.

Summer Meanderings, 2016

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Summer Meanderings

Linda J. Vogel

These birds of paradise bloom in our back yard. So far, most evenings have been cool enough for us to sit on our patio where we can see them and the face on our redwood tree. We have solar “mushrooms around the base of these “birds.” Our bougainvillea is beautiful as well.

Our “Birds’ Nest” sign from our beloved cabin in the Black Hills (made by dear friend, Jan Conn) is now on our wall above our back flower bed with Eldon Oliver’s “birds” flying below it. This home, then, has become our Nest in the West where we will spend summers as well as the rest of the year. It is hard to not be at our Birds’ Nest for the first summer in forty-five years!

But life is made up of chapters and that chapter has ended. Interestingly, Dwight’s and my fifty-seven years as a married couple have had some amazing chapters.

Chapter One: Graduate school (1959-1965) in Boston and Evanston (actually, those first three years I was an undergraduate but our community was graduate school).  Linda completed a B.S. in elementary education from Boston University and an M.R.E. from Andover-Newton Theological Seminary. Dwight completed an M.A. in philosophy from Boston University, a B.D. from Andover-Newton, and he finished his coursework and exams for a Ph.D. from Northwestern University in Evanston. (He received his doctorate in 1968.) We adopted Peter near the end of this chapter in 1965.

Chapter Two:  Teaching at Westmar College (1965-1985), expanding our family with Mark Pulver in 1966 and Kristin’s arrival in August of 1967, and living in the “big red house with the smiling front door” (as it was described by one of our students). There were several interesting subchapters—our first sabbatical at the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at St. John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, MN and each publishing our first books; our year in Martelle, IA while I completed my coursework for my Ph.D. at the University of Iowa (awarded in 1981) while Dwight became an accomplished “house husband” and primary parent for the year while serving Martelle UMC; a sabbatical January spent traveling in India with Father David Fleming; wonderful colleagues and life-long friendships with faculty and students; Dwight’s weekly newspaper column and his church choirs at Calvary Church and so much more. . .  When Westmar’s president began making decisions that we believed to be unethical, we decided we needed to leave and asked the bishop for an appointment.

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Chapter Three: The Birds’ Nest (1971-2016). While the Birds’ Nest remains in the family, last summer we determined that this wonderful chapter of our lives had come to an end. Forty-five summers in our beloved cabin in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota were a gift beyond measure. Wonderful friends, the Spring Valley community, Custer Lutheran Fellowship, Custer State Park and the buffalo round-up, watching Crazy Horse emerge from a mountain, Pine Ridge Reservation and learning more about all the injustices they have experienced, the Badlands, Wall Drug, so many family and friends who have shared time with us there, Cheyenne Crossing and Spearfish Canyon with it’s amazing Roughlock Falls, Stan and Marian Eng, Darrell Overlin, Joy Dillon, Jan and Herb Conn (explorers of Jewel Cave), Mark and Lois Bucholz, Doris McDill, the French Creek Folk, Randy Berger and Jana Emil  and so much more!

Dwight and Kristin sharing the Enchanted Village which they created from their imaginations, the reading of many, many books (no TV ever and hardly any radio reception!), gathering with friends at Grand Vista, visits to the fire tower on Bear Mountain, being evacuated for five days during the Jasper Fire and watching the forest begin to recover,  hiking around Sylvan Lake and driving the Needles Highway in Custer State Park, being a part of the Black Hills Playhouse family with season tickets every summer, going up onto Crazy Horse’s arm with Kathy and Jim, making s’mores around our fire circle, riding the 1880 train, having monumental ice cream cones at Mt. Rushmore, savoring the artistic delights at Warrior’s Works/Ben West Gallery,  the Valley Rally (with Spring Creek friends like the Schwanns, Thorsons, Bells and Darrell),  . . .   The memories go on and on!!!

The Birds’ Nest—a thin place in the Paha Sapa (Black Hills, SD)!

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Chapter Four: Overlapping the Birds’ Nest chapter, we left Westmar College and were appointed to serve St. Luke’s UMC (1985-1988) in Dubuque, IA—the oldest congregation in Iowa (1833) located on the Mississippi River with 128 Tiffany windows, a beautiful sanctuary and even more beautiful people.

A river town with its lock on the Mississippi River, Eagle Point Park, a twenty minute drive to Galena, IL (the town that history forgot!), a downtown church—all of these offered new and exciting experiences. Serving in team ministry together was a joy. Dwight was senior pastor and I was minister of education. During our time there, I transitioned from being a diaconal minister to being ordained as a deacon. And what we had assumed was to be the next long chapter in our vocation was soon to end when the seminary called me to be a professor of Christian education. The goose puppet Mother gave to Dwight one Christmas even had a ministry beyond our wildest dreams!  That is—Gustapher Gustavus A-Goosus!

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When we left Westmar, we assumed we would finish out our ministry in parishes. That was not to be. Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary urged me to apply for a Christian Education position almost as soon as we arrived in Dubuque. I declined. They interviewed candidates but did not hire anyone. D.J. Furnish began a full court press to get me to apply in the fall of 1986. After much soul searching and consulting with Bishop Job, we agreed that I should apply.

So it turned out that I accepted the faculty position as an Associate Professor while Dwight agreed to continue at St. Luke’s. Neither of us liked having a commuter marriage (I drove home almost every weekend—a 4 hour drive with an hour of Chicago traffic if I were lucky). By late fall, Dwight told the bishop that he would leave the church in June and go to Chicago to live with his wife!

This was a difficult decision (Kristin was attending Earlham College and Pete and Mark were gone from home). We loved St. Luke’s and enjoyed living in this river town.

 Chapter Five: (1987/ljv & 1988/dwv – 2005) Continuing to overlap the Birds’ Nest chapter, we moved to Chicago when Linda joined the faculty at GarrettEvangelical Theological Seminary in 1987 while Dwight remained as senior pastor at St. Luke’s and we commuted for one school year. Linda lived in a G-ETS apartment for a year and then we purchased our wonderful 1928 six flat condo in  the Rogers Park neighborhood in Chicago—1605 W. Chase.

Just 10 minutes from the seminary in Evanston, a three block walk to the beach on Lake Michigan and very close to the Jarvis El stop which took us to the loop in forty minutes, we marveled that our vocation brought us to this place!

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When Dwight came to Chicago in June, 1988. he began as director of the choir at the seminary, taught undergraduates at Loyola, began teaching courses at G-ETS and eventually became a full professor in the Styberg Chair in Worship. We loved our seminary teaching—wonderful students, good colleagues. I published a Jossey Bass book on adult religious education, was promoted to full professor and became a member of the Northwestern University graduate council. I served as faculty trustee for one term, We worked with the Sacred Worth (LGBTQI) group, engaged in curriculum development and loved seminary life! Our MCE/M students across the nation were empowered and able to complete their degrees without leaving their church positions. We both were blessed to work with Ph.D. students from here and around the world.

During our time at G-ETS Dwight served a term as Abbot of the Order of St. Luke and I served as president of the national Christian Educator’s Fellowship. We both wrote and published. Dwight continued as an Elder and I as a Deacon in the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Chicago also meant CSO concerts, the Chicago Chamber Ensemble, the Art Institute, Steppenwolf Theater, the Goodman Theater, the Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, the Chicago Botanic Gardens, Lincoln Park Zoo, opportunities to travel to Japan and India and so much more! We loved walking along the shores of Lake Michigan both in Rogers Park and on the Garrett-Northwestern Campus.

Once we were both teaching full time at the seminary, our life settled into a lovely routine. We began spending spring break on Sanibel Island, FL with Paul and Carol (one year we went to Santa Fe together on the train and another time we flew to Elbow Cay in the Bahamas to stay in the McGees lovely vacation home there) and our entire summers at the Birds’ Nest where we wrote, prepared for classes and continued to enjoy life in the mountains and forest!

Friends from Dubuque and friends from far and wide were much more interested in visiting us in Chicago (imagine that!) and we loved sharing our home and our city with them! We retired in 2003, though we both became Emerita/us and Senior Scholars. For some years, we continued to offer intensive courses and independent studies as needed by the seminary. I taught “Vocational Formation and Church Leadership” on-line for students unable to take the course at G-ETS for 10 years.

Retirement was good but we lacked clarity about where we might settle. We looked at Spearfish, SD (close to the cabin and a university town), Madison, WI, and even Dubuque. Nothing seemed quite right. We decided we would stay in Chicago (our condo was paid for and we loved the city) with longer times at the cabin (maybe even June-mid October). “We’ll know when it is time to move,” we said!

And then we planned to attend a national OSL retreat in Santa Barbara and our colleague and good friend, Barbara Troxell, said, “Come and spend a few days with me at Pilgrim Place and we’ll drive to Santa Barbara together.”

We did. And after only 24 hours at Pilgrim Place, I said to Dwight, “I think we need to move here!” “You amaze me,” he said, “but I agree.” We picked up applications and by the time we left the OSL retreat, we had decided that this was, indeed, what we should do! The only downside when we made our lists of pros and cons was how far away SO CAL is from our kids. That still remains our only downside after eleven years as Pilgrims!

So we sold our condo (the market more than tripled over the seventeen years we lived in Chicago to our great benefit!) and headed for California on Feb. 1, 2005!

 Chapter Six: We moved into our home at Pilgrim Place (610 W. Eighth St.) on Ash Wednesday, 2005. And we attended our first service at Claremont UMC where our OSL friends, Bob and Rosemary Davis were pastor and deacon, that very evening. That congregation became a Reconciling Congregation (open to LGBTQI persons) in 1993, has a refugee house (the first family occupants were from El Salvador), and is strongly committed to peace and justice ministries!

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Meeting our Refugee Family, LAX, 2o11
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Still a Deacon                                  Choir

Dwight sings in the choir, works on interfaith issues and preaches when asked. For six years, he planned and led a wonderful Easter Vigil. I chair the Sustainability and Faith task force, read scripture, preach when asked and we both help serve Eucharist from time to time.

It is hard to believe that we have been at home here for eleven years. We love having a guest room which we share often. Our home with its studio, its fireplace, and its lovely patio/deck is very comfortable! We often entertain OSL for compline, the Patient Advocates and Petterson donors during Advent, our covenant groups and lots of friends and family from far away!

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Palm trees & flowers all year! PP dining room and weekly produce sale

We never dreamed we would love living in Southern California, but we do! The Huntington Library and Gardens in Pasadena, the Santa Ana Botanic Gardens,  wonderful musicals at the Candlelight Dinner Theater and dance and theater productions at the Claremont Colleges just a mile from our home, as well as the LA Phil and the Ahmanson Theater in LA provide us with great cultural opportunities.

The Metrolink to Union Station in LA just takes 55 minutes from Claremont to the heart of the city. Then there is the Norton Simon Museum, the Getty Museums and so much more. Pilgrim Tours (via chartered bus) take us to many sites both near and not so near! The beach is an hour away, the desert is two hours away, and it just takes us twenty minutes to be in the mountains in the Angeles National Forest! The Inn in Mt. Baldy Village gives us our mountain fix and offers great meals beside a roaring, open fireplace! Our favorite get-away is Roughley Manor in Twentynine Palms (we’ve fallen in love with the desert!) and during our first summer to not be in the Black Hills, we’ve discovered the Little Red Cabin in Idyllwild!

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Angeles National Forest 20 minutes from Pilgrim Place

 

 

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Manor at Twentynine Palms—The Farmhouse is our favorite place.

Pilgrim Place is an intentional community with about 350 residents. It began as a home for retired missionaries and now includes persons who have spent their lives in church or non-profit institutions where they worked for the common good. The application process requires multiple references, essays but not the GRE! We are now a CCRC (continuing care retirement community) and struggle with what it means to be needs blind and to remain true to our mission while also being financially viable!

Dwight served for six years as president of our Petterson Museum Friends’ Board, plays keyboard in the Pilgrim Pickers, served on the library committee, and has been a significant contributor to our Eucharistic Circle liturgy development. I have been on the Health Services Advisory Group, on the leadership team for Eucharistic Circle, and participate in the Environmental Concerns committee.

Life is very full here—lectures by amazing world leaders, movies, our annual festival to raise money for the Resident Health and Support Fund (almost a quarter million dollars raised each November), weekly movies, a weekly verspers service, the gathering of a Eucharistic Circle every Tuesday before our noon community meal, lectures and forums sponsored by Health and Wellness, International Concerns, Women’s Perspective, Inter-religious Concerns and much more. We work on issues fostering peace and justice. interfaith concerns, LGBTQI concerns, ending the death penalty, climate change, gun control, homelessness, immigration issues, economic justice, an end to torture and war, and so many more issues that are of deep concern and require both study and action on the part of many in this community!

I coordinate the Patient Advocate Program with another pilgrim—we have over 80 trained advocates who accompany pilgrims to doctor’s appointments, the ER, and who offer support and help in navigating the health care system.  Janet and I have led workshops at California’s Leading Age state conference and have offered training to other facilities and to the Pasadena Village.

This is a community where we offer our presence and support to one another. We have multiple levels of care (independent living, assisted living and a health services center). We offer palliative care and hospice.

We have an exercise center with a trainer, a swimming pool and spa, a building for arts and crafts, an auditorium, and a dining room where we share the noon meal everyday (with seating computer-generated so that we sit with different folks at assigned places every day). Our table conversations are amazing and we learn to know everyone in this way! Memorial services are often held here on campus.

How blessed we are to have this community of support and care—good friends who journey with us into and through old age! Diminishment is real and one cannot avoid facing one’s mortality when living here at Pilgrim Place!

Chapter Seven: Our life has been deeply enriched by opportunities to travel and to meet amazing people from around the world. Our first trip abroad was a trip to Spain to visit Mark, Virginia and Moriah when Peter and Kristin were still quite young. Our dream when we married (in 1959) was to be able to go to Europe (once). We could not have imagined where we would go and what we would do!

We connected with Father David Fleming when we were in graduate school in Evanston in 1963. His dad and my dad were childhood friends and our families had stayed connected. David was a Ph.D. student at the University of Chicago when Dwight was working on his Ph.D. at Garrett-Northwestern. That friendship has grown deep and lasting! We traveled in Europe with David the year Kristin was 16—Italy, Austria, Switzerland, France, and Germany! We traveled together in England and Scotland years later. Twice we visited him in India—traveling for three weeks on our first trip where we were blessed to meet and spend 20 minutes alone (the three of us) with Mother Teresa in Calcutta; and team-teaching liturgy to Marianist brothers for the University of Dayton for six weeks at Deepahalli (outside Bangalore). David has visited us in LeMars, Chicago, at the Birds’ Nest and here at Pilgrim Place. Discussing theology, praying together, celebrating Eucharist together, being family for each other…  Such joy this has brought into our lives.

We have visited Father David in Rome several times and were blessed to participate in his Golden Jubilee celebration and mass. Dwight read the epistle lesson at his first mass at his home parish (Topeka, KS) in the early 1960’s) and he read it in Rome at his Golden Jubilee. We couldn’t receive Eucharist in Topeka but he and Dwight con-celebrated in India and we received together in Assisi (“Francis would want you to receive”).

Cruises with family and friends—to the Bahamas, Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico and from Copenhagen to St. Petersburg and from Rome to Pompei, Ephesus, the Greek Isles and more. We’ve traveled with Father David, Jack Seymour and Margaret Ann Crain, Kathy and Jim Thornburg, David and Diane Hogue, the Claremont School of Theology, Pilgrim Tours, …

Eight trips to Ireland—first to do a mid-program review for my D. Min. student, Houston McKelvey; to teach and lead workshops in Ireland and Scotland, and then to travel with Kristin and Bill, Lois and Mark Bucholz, Paul and Carol Clark (twice) and on our own! We have fallen deeply in love with Ireland! It, along with the Birds’ Nest, are the thin places where our spirits have been deeply fed! Connemara and the Antrim Coast are places we would love to put down roots for a spell (though we probably won’t). Houston and Roberta have become fast friends and we have shared visits back and forth across the years. Garrett brought Houston over to give the commencement address and to receive an honorary doctorate at the time we retired so they were able to join in our retirement festivities!

Mark and Virginia served in the Peace Corps in Ukraine after Caleb’s death. We had a wonderful trip to visit them—Kiev, a long train trip to Kerch, Crimea where Mark served in the public library. He developed a computer center and was named a “National Treasure” for his work there.

 

We became surrogate families together with friends going all the way back to Westmar College days, Bob and Joan Franklin and their daughters, Sonya and Marcia. We’ve shared more pots of tea than we can count and have shared the joys and the scary experiences of life. For Bob’s 80th birthday, Sonya gave the four of us Bob’s Birthday Great Train Adventure and we travelled together from Claremont to LA to Emeryville (San Francisco) to Omaha! What a wonderful gift to us all!

I was able to travel with seminary students to Japan. I taught a D.Min. course in Alaska, and we have been blessed to lead workshops and preach in many of the churches where our students are serving across the nation.

Dwight has written The Psalms for Worship Today (Concordia Press), Food  for Pilgrims (OSL Publications) and has spent decades working on the Order of St. Luke’s Daily Office project which has published a five volume Daily Office, The Book of Offices and Services, and now A Lukan Book of Hours for which he was editor and compiler. He continues to work on a web-based daily office for years A, B, and C of the liturgical year and on  another book, A Lukan Book of Feasts and Holy Days. He works with an editorial team for the Order of St. Luke on these projects.

I wrote Helping a Child Understand Death (Fortress Press), The Religious Education of Older Adults (REA Press), Rituals for Resurrection  (Upper Room Books), and Teaching and Learning in Communities of Faith: Adult Religious Education (Jossey Bass).

We have written two books together—Sacramental Living: Falling Stars and Coloring Outside the Lines, and Syncopated Grace—Times and Seasons with God—both published by Upper Room Books. These books were written while we were on sabbatical leave from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

We spent two sabbaticals at the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at St. John’s University and Abbey in Collegeville, MN. The first one in 1971-72 (Westmar College sabbatical for Dwight and leave for me) when Peter was in second grade and Kristin was in kindergarten. We each had our first books published because we were able to live and write in this place. Many years later during a Garrett sabbatical for us both, we spent the fall semester at Collegeville and wrote Sacramental Living. The worshiping/learning communities at St. John’s and St. Ben’s (in St. Joseph) have enriched our lives immeasurably!

Chapter Eight: And now we find ourselves in the final chapter of our lives. We celebrated our fiftieth anniversary in 2009 here at Claremont UMC and at the Birds’ Nest.

And on June 14, 2016, we celebrated our 57th anniversary! We’ve known Pilgrims to celebrate 65 anniversaries and more. But we know that we have been blessed (are being blessed) beyond measure and we know that diminishment comes. Having decided last summer that that would need to be our last summer at our beloved Birds’ Nest was, perhaps, the beginning of this chapter we titled “Diminishment.“

In the past year, Dwight has had a stent to open a 95% blockage in his carotid artery. They found this at his pre-op examination preceding prostate cancer surgery to be done at City of Hope. The stent procedure was followed by pneumonia, hospitalization and then ten days at our health services center. This led us to reconsider the wisdom of major surgery and we were blessed (yet again) that our insurance approved proton radiation therapy at Loma Linda Medical Center—only a 45 minute drive from our home. Dwight completed 45 proton treatments on January 6 (Epiphany—how appropriate for a liturgical scholar!) and after 4 months it appears that the cancer is gone. We are truly grateful!

Now he struggles with bone-on-bone knees and weak leg muscles though he is working hard at the exercise center and in water aerobics to strengthen them. I have fibromyalgia, arthritis and an artificial hip that is working very well! I’ve made an appointment for a hearing test so hearing aids may be in my future!

We have updated our wills, have POLST documents signed by our doctor (with end of life orders), and are arranging to donate our bodies to Loma Linda Medical Center. This does not feel morbid to us. We are excited about all the opportunities that lie ahead of us. And as we age, our family and friends become ever more important to us!

 

We visited Mark and Virginia in South Carolina last spring and took the train home (Greenville, SC to Washington D.C., to Chicago to LA). We are flying to Milwaukee this month and will visit Kristin and celebrate her birthday with her! In September we will train to Vancouver, have 4 days to visit that city and take a day trip to Victoria and the Butchart Gardens before Kathy and Jim join us to cruise from Vancouver to LA. Family time and time with dear friends has become a real priority for us in the days and months and years (?) ahead.

We plan to continue to be proactive—making decisions before someone else has to make them for us. We are slowing down but we still have lots of living and dreaming and hoping to do. We continue to work for justice and peace in our church, in our nation and in the world. Climate change is a primary concern for me and we are both committed to working for justice for LGBTQI persons in our church and world.

When we were in Phoenix this May to celebrate our great-granddaughter’s high school graduation, I got a text from a couple who were students of ours at Garrett. “We know you are here for family time, but we’d love to get together.” The rest of the family had not yet arrived so Moriah and Mandi were willing for us all to meet for dinner.

In the course of the dinner conversation, Katherine asked what the “I” in LGBTQI stands for. We deferred to Mandi who led the gay club at her high school. She began by telling us that it stands for “intersex.” As the conversation progressed, our former student said, “I wonder how many high school graduates are having this conversation with their greatgrandparents!?! We count it a privilege and a blessing to be able to continue to be open, growing and ever more committed to “doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).

Whatever the future holds, we believe God holds the future. We hope and trust we will be able to walk hand-in-hand into the sunset together. But whatever happens, we have been and are being blessed beyond measure and for that we are grateful to God, to our family, to all our students and parishioners across the years, and to our friends—all of whom have blessed us richly!

I will lift my eyes to the hills, from where does our help come?

Our help comes from the Lord  who made heaven and earth . . .

[Psalm 121]

 

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Peace: A Prayer

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Mysterious One,

You come silently and pervade our world,

if we will only open our eyes and hearts to see.

Touch us with your gentle presence. . .

Challenge us with your compassion and justice. . .

Move us to embody your Truth.

Empower us to be agents of change for good.

Give us hope in this violent and fearful world.

Creating God,

Make us instruments of your peace!

Amen.

 

Trees: A Prayer

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Creator God,

Our trees are dying—

from bark beetles and drought and fires,

and from destroying the rain forests!

The creation cries out

and we refuse to hear!

Trees in our forests and on tree-lined streets in our towns and cities

are dying!

Fires rage in our national forest and coastal canyons—

killing trees and destroying homes!

Claremont–“the city of trees and PhD’s”–

is losing its battle to save our trees as drought rages.

Forgive us, God, for failing to be responsible stewards

of your good creation!

Replace our greed and carelessness and apathy before it is too late!

Give us eyes to see and wills to care enough to act! Amen!

 

Water: A Prayer

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DSCN6230Creator God,

Your gift of water is life-giving.

All of life depends upon it!

And, yet, we continue to waste it,

To pollute it,

To sell it for a profit!

We pollute the oceans and the air

so that oceans rise as ice caps melt.

We drill for oil and pipe it and ship it—spilling it into our oceans and streams and onto the land.

How long, O God, how long?

You offer us living streams and we continue to prefer broken cisterns!

You call us to care for our brothers and sisters and we protect our profits!

O, God, I repent the raping of your good creation.

Call us all to see clearly,

to act justly and to return to walking humbly with You. Amen!