Category Archives: story

Exploring My Early Encounters with Race

Screenshot_2020-06-21 Maggie Keller ( maggie e keller) • Instagram photos and videos

I visited George Floyd’s Memorial with my grandson

The murder of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer has knocked me out of my comfortable middle-class status quo bubble.   “I am not a racist – I don’t use offensive language or avoid black people on the street.” I would think to myself,  “I am sorry that African-American or Hispanics or Hmong immigrants have trouble with police or other white people, but I didn’t cause it or participate in it.”

Yet as I pray and reflect more deeply, I can hear the still, small voice of God saying to me, “Yet by ignoring such crimes against your brothers and sisters in Christ, you have ignored me and my suffering”  (Matt 26:31-46).  I confess that I simply want the protests and trouble to go away, that I want the police to find a way to eliminate the one or two or three (or ??) bad police officers from their system and then I can get back to my “normal life.”  But my complacency is major part of our culture’s problem.  I have adapted to the “white privileged” view that there is no systemic racism in America, that I have not been shaped and molded by my white majority status with which I grew up.

My parents did not converse on race concerns.  We might watch the violent Civil Rights marches in Selma, Alabama on the TV news but never discuss it at our kitchen table. I do remember the morning my mother woke me and told me, with sorrow in her voice, that Dr. Martin Luther King had been murdered but she said nothing more.  I could feel her pain, but I also heard her silence and discomfort at  discussing MLK’s death.

I grew up in two small towns in Washington state. The first, Port Angeles, had very few minorities.  My elementary school and my Lutheran church certainly did not have any.  The second, Bremerton, was a naval port and there were a few African-Americans in my High School.  I rarely interacted with them or thought about their perspective.  I attended a Quaker liberal-art college outside of Philadelphia where I encountered many more African-Americans, but only a few as fellow students or professors.  More often they served in roles of custodian, clerk, or conductor that I simply took for granted.  I didn’t understand that these jobs were often the ONLY jobs they could find.  And I rarely stopped to ask, “why is that?”

Two moments in college started to crack my “oblivious white privilege.”  The first was an annual Black Gospel Concert that my white history professor hosted each spring. He invited local black church choirs to come and “raise the roof.’  The choir members not only raised the roof in song but preached about the power of Jesus Christ.  Along with other white Christians, I made a joyful noise during the concert.  One year some students protested outside the concert.  They said they loved the music, but they didn’t need the preaching.  “Their preaching is intolerant towards many religious beliefs here on campus,” they said.

The host professor listened to their complaint, but then tried to help the students understand that the singing and the preaching are part of a greater whole – they cannot be separated.  They were both part of the black church culture.  I also learned that my Black brother and sister in Christ often had to bear criticism and attacks from whites who had never taken the time to understand their unique story.

The other crack was studying the story of John Woolman, an American Quaker just before the American Revolution.  He preached to his fellow Quakers that owning slaves was wrong on a spiritual level.  “They bear the same light of Christ as we bear it.”  At first he was a lone voice crying in the wilderness.  Many Quakers refused to relinquish their slaves because it would mean a huge financial loss.  Woolman was considered a radical and agitator. But he continued to preach his message of love and simplicity and slowly the Quakers “woke up” and sold their slaves and relinquished slavery.  I learned that justice is possible, that change can come, but it takes persistent courage and difficult work.

Part of Woolman’s preaching was asking questions for his listeners to hold and reflect.  The questions do not ask for quick and easy answers, but deeper reflection and prayer.

Questions like:

  • How do I react to the words of “white privilege?” What feelings does the idea provoke in me?  Is it anger, or fear, or guilt, or shame?  Am I willing to listen to these emotions and learn from them?  Am I willing to ask God’s guidance?
  • What was my childhood like regarding race and racism? How did my parents, grandparents, or respected elders talk about it?   How do their perspectives continue to shape my thoughts on racism?

Talking about race is awkward and difficult but also healing and hopeful. God seeks to breathe new life into God’s children, even old white males, like myself.

History Lessons

Yesterday I was taught the value of living history.  Inez Oehlke spoke to our youth regarding the early history of the Woodbury community. Inez and her husband Glenn farmed the land where Resurrection Lutheran Church now stands and she donated her farmstead buildings and land to the church when she moved into senior housing.

Outdoor WorshipWe now enjoy summer outdoor worship under the tall oak trees that surrounded her farmhouse and barn.


Inez Oehlke

Inez recently celebrated her 94 birthday, but she is still active in the community. She has spoken at Luther Seminary regarding stewardship and generosity as well as the  Woodbury Foundation Gala on the early history of our city. She has seen plenty of change in the city landscape, but she also sees enduring values.

Yesterday, she told the youth about the early white settlers in Woodbury: the Middleton family. The immigrated from Ireland in stages, finally settling in south Washington county prior to the Civil War. The Middleton built their home near a rough trail that the Ojibwa Indians used to travel between the Mississippi and St. Croix River. The Middleton family welcomed the Ojibwa to camp on their land and fed them whenever there where food shortages. Inez praised the Middleton family for their values of hospitality and compassion towards others.

Inez then reminded us that the city of Woodbury continues to live out these values in two significant ways. Woodbury has the most Habitat for Humanity homes of any Twin Cities suburban community; the city thus practices hospitality in a meaningful way. Woodbury’s churches continue to show compassion through food shelves (like the Christian Cupboard) that works to feed the hungry in our midst. The values the Middleton family practiced more than a 150 years ago continue to impact us today.

In our fast-paced society, we rarely take time to remember our history. Inez reminded our youth of our shared values of hospitality and compassion.

Inez with youth 2After her talk Inez was presented with a photo book that captured how Resurrection is now using her old farm house for youth ministry. She was so grateful for this token of appreciation.

I am so thankful for elders like Inez who inspire us to be faithful and generous.

What history lessons have you learned?

Lord Jesus, teach me to listen to the wisdom of my elders.

Blessed to Receive

A few weeks ago I posted about Michael Johnson’s experience at the Boston Marathon.   As he approached the finish line he encountered two runners helping a distress runner.  He and another runner decided to help as well and the four of them carried the distress runner for several hundred meters towards the finish.

Near the finish the four set him down so that he could finish the marathon on his own.

This encounter was captured on a Twitter account and it became national news.  Michael was interviewed by local media as were the other three assistants.    Their actions were hailed as a model of Boston Strong, people helping others in a time of need.   Michael’s story was worthy of attention.

Upon further reflection, I noticed that the distress runner chose to remain anonymous.  He did not want any media attention.  He preferred not to be remembered as a “runner who needed help.”  Such a choice makes sense, since runners are an independent breed that train and race on their own.  I am guessing he would have preferred completing the marathon on his own, without any assistance.

I thought of him when I ran a recent race.   I ran in the Cemstone Run For Others 10K about a month ago.    I started strong, but at the top of the first hill, I noticed that my heart rate had jumped 40 beats according to my heart rate monitor.  (I have a condition called tachycardia in which my heart rate will suddenly jump 30-50 beats during exercise.  I have consulted with my physician regarding this and continue to run under his supervision).

The start of the Run For Others 10K.

The start of the Run For Others 10K.

My normal practice in this situation is to stop, lie down on the side of the road and within 30 seconds my heart rate drops back to its normal running rhythm.

However this day it did not.  My heart rate refused to drop.   I tried to relax and will my heart to slow but it refused.   1 minute passed; 2 minutes passed. All the 10K runners had passed me and soon the 5K runners/walkers would be coming.  My frustration was all over my face.  I decided to push on and see if it would right itself.  I made it to a water stop, but my heart rate continued at an accelerated pace.   I again stopped and laid down on a green lawn.

As I laid there, one of the volunteers came over to see if I needed help (others had asked before, but I waved them off.)  She  told me was nurse and she listened to my hurried explanation.  She reminded me to take some deep breaths, to calm my mind and to be at rest.  Her calm voice settled me down and soon my heart rate dropped back to normal parameters and I finished the race.

That volunteer reminded me that I need to open to receiving care just as much as being open to giving care.  The story of the Good Samaritan is told to a Jewish questioner of Jesus.  In Jesus’ parable it is the Jewish traveler who is beaten and robbed and so must receive assistance from the “hated” Samaritan.   As a Christian I know that I need the mercy and grace of God.   I forget that God’s mercy and grace often comes through someone else.   Even a race volunteer.

When was a time you received grace and mercy through someone else?

Lord Jesus, give me the humility to receive from others when offered.


The Call of the Cobbler

Martin was a cobbler, a man who made shoes. Most of us take shoes for granted, especially if they are work shoes or everyday shoes, the kind Martin made. Oh he could make your fancy dress shoes, your party shoes, your “lets-get-everyone-to-notice-me” shoes but he preferred to make simple, dependable  shoes. Now don’t get me wrong, his shoes were not ugly. In fact they were quite beautiful in a simple, unadorned way. And they were popular. Martin had plenty of people coming to his shop everyday to buy his shoes and he enjoyed his work.

In the evening he would walk home and he would get a kick spotting his shoes on the people he passed. “There is a pair,” he would say to himself “there is another.” He felt a certain satisfaction that his work kept people happy.

On Sunday, Martin would go to church with his family, as was his custom. He sang, he prayed, he talked with fellow members. Occasionally he would spot a pair of his shoes. Martin was grateful to God for this community of faith. He found strength and comfort in being with other Christians.

the-crossOne Sunday, while in church, as he listened to the sermon, he felt a sudden inspiration. He had always wanted a way to express his faith in Jesus in a more tangible, direct way. Words were always awkward for him. He knew he was no preacher. Still he wanted to do something for God.

As he was listening to the sermon, he looked up and saw the cross at the front of the church. The cross! The idea struck him hard. “I could put a cross on every shoe I make, so people will know that I am a Christian. And it will remind them to follow God everyday.”

db woodnecklace001The next day he got to work. He tried different styles and materials for the cross. He tried copper and iron, wood and leather. He tried big crosses and little crosses. He put them on the front of the shoe and the back of the shoe. He wanted the cross to be perfect because he wanted to express his love of Jesus in that cross.

As he added the cross to his shoes, he expected his customers to comment or ask questions about the shoe cross. Only a few did. Most customers asked about fit, comfort and durability, questions they always asked when they bought shoes. Still Martin would not be deterred. He continued to invest time and thought into the crosses he made. He wanted to make a good impression.

But as the weeks and months went by, he discovered that he had fewer and fewer customers. He thought to himself, “The crosses must be costing me business. Well, Jesus said we might suffer persecution when we follow him. I guess this is the cost I will have to bear to follow Jesus.”

But he was particularly struck that many of his fellow church member were not wearing his shoes. Were they offended by the cross? This gnawed at him for several weeks, until finally after church one Sunday, he asked one of his former customers , Pete.

“Pete, I feel strange asking this, but I’ve got to know. I noticed that you stopped coming to my shop to buy your shoes. Is it because I put a cross on them?”

Pete responded. “The crosses? No, I don’t mind that you added a cross. ”

“Then why did you stop coming?”

Pete, looking a bit sheepish, replied. “Well to be honest, your shoes don’t seem as comfortable as they use to be. Your shoes use to be the best in town. Lately they seem just average.”

And then it dawned on Martin. He had become so focused on making crosses for his shoes that he had cut corners on the shoes themselves. He checked this out with other former customers and they concurred with Pete. Martin’s shoes were not as good as before.

That afternoon Martin shared his insight with his wife. “I am so confused. I thought I was doing God’s will by putting the cross on the shoes. Instead I seemed to be ruining my business.”

His wise wife listened and said. “You know Martin, you were doing God’s will all along when you made good shoes for people. Doesn’t the Bible tell us to love our neighbor as ourselves? What is more a practical way to love your neighbor than to provide them with good durable shoes? “

The next day Martin took all the elaborate crosses he had made and put them in a bottom drawer. He refocused himself on making simple, comfortable, durable shoes. And inside each pair, hidden from view, he sewed a simple leather cross, to remind himself that as he served his customers he was serving Jesus.

Wrong Interpretation

I have written in the past about how I have changed my perspective or interpretation on a certain passage of scripture. An example is the widow’s coin.

Artist He Qi Samaritan Woman At The Well

John 4 is another example. Years ago I taught a Bible study based the story of Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well. Like others, I saw the woman as somehow morally bankrupt and in need of repentance. The evidence was clear.

First, she came to the well at noon. (John 4:6-7).  The woman came at the heat of the day so as to avoid others who would chastise or shun her because most women came in the cool of the morning.

She has had five husbands and is now with one who is not her husband (John 4:18). Obviously she must be a sinner to have had five husbands and to be living with a non-husband. Perhaps she was a prostitute or some other moral deviant who needs to repent.

Yet over time I began to see a problem with my old interpretive framework.

Dr. David Loose at Luther’s Seminary writes at,

And that’s precisely the sentence that has moved preachers of all stripes and across the centuries to brand her a prostitute. Yet if we read more closely we discover that there is nothing in the passage that makes this an obvious interpretation. Neither John as narrator nor Jesus as the central character supply that information. Jesus at no point invites repentance or, for that matter, speaks of sin at all. She very easily could have been widowed or have been abandoned or divorced. Five times would be heartbreaking, but not impossible.

Further, she could now be living with someone that she was dependent on, or be in what’s called a Levirate marriage (where a childless woman is married to her deceased husband’s brother in order to produce an heir yet is not always technically considered the brother’s wife). There are any number of ways, in fact, that one might imagine this woman’s story as tragic rather than scandalous.

The difficulty with the all too regular interpretation is that it interrupts and distracts from the rest of the story.

David Loose then points out that the woman’s response is not a deflection from herself but rather a sign of faith. “I see that you are a prophet.” Seeing in John’s Gospel is tied to faith. One sees and one believes. The story of John 9 when Jesus heals a man born blind demonstrates this. Such seeing also casts light on the time of the story. The woman encounters Jesus in the brilliance of day, not to avoid scandal but rather to encounter truth.  Contrast this with Nicodemus who comes at night in John 3.  (A great Bible Study is to compare and contrast Nicodemus encounter with Jesus and the woman encounters.)

Later the woman tells her neighbors to “come and see the man” (John 4:29). Just as Philip invited Nathanael to “come and see” Jesus.  (John 1:46).  She is one of the first evangelists.

Studying scripture is an ongoing experience that can change our perspective.

When has studying scripture changed your perspective?


Lord Jesus, help us to see with fresh eyes.

The Study of the Way

Hiking below Mt. Rainier

Hiking below Mt. Rainier

My past few posts have focused on my backpacking journey along a section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Today I am writing about a different journey, a much more ancient yet comprehensive path: the Christian journey through the story of Scripture.

Like the PCT, the Biblical story is long, covering sixty-six books and nearly 2000 years of history. It has moments of great beauty, high adventure and powerful spiritual depths. And to be honest, the Bible has sections that seem tedious and overgrown, especially to the newcomer. Not every verse inspires when read. Yet the diligent study of God’s Word reaps tremendous benefit for those who stay on the path.

Confirmation Bibles prepared to guide our students.

Confirmation Bibles prepared to guide our students

On Sunday evening, as part of our orientation to Resurrection’s confirmation program, parent of our confirmation students will place in their hand their new student study Bible. Along with other staff members, I have taken time to highlight Bible verses that have guided my spiritual walk with Jesus. Such verses as

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:19b-20).

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

In the coming weeks I will have the privilege and joy of leading these students through the basic story of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, from Creation to Resurrection and beyond. We will meet such Biblical heroes as Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Pharaoh, Ruth, David and Solomon, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Peter, Mary and Martha, Paul. We will explore such stories as Abraham’s call, the Exodus, David and Goliath, the Exile, the Good Samaritan and the Lost Sons. This journey is so rich with wonder and meaning it will take a lifetime.

Jesus Discourses with His Disciples

Jesus Discourses with His Disciples (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My biggest task and joy will be exploring the story of Jesus, the Word of God. He is the core of our Christian faith and I am so thankful that he is the true guide on this journey. After all, he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). My central reason for studying God’s Word is to stay on the path with him.

What Bible verse is one of your favorites? How does the Bible guide your life?

Lord Jesus, Word of God, guide me today as I seek to follow you.

Palm Sunday

The Mount of Olives outside of Jerusalem

As Jesus was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:37-41)

Are you a follower who shouts Hosanna or a stone-cold skeptic that keeps your mouth shut? Or a stone that longs to sing?

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to see you as your truly are, the Prince of Peace.

The Journey

Next week is central to my identity. My life changes as I enter it. It is the annual pilgrimage of Christians worldwide.

Holy week is more than a seminar on how to improve my life skills.

A popular way to read scripture, preach sermons or write devotionals is to seek life application. The goal is to find specific practices or concepts on how to improve my life. For example, how I might be a better parent or a better spouse, how I can worry less or trust God more. There is a place for life application, but I don’t see the final days of Jesus’ life as serving that primary function.

I want to use a metaphor to explain this. Our lives can be compared to a home where we live. We have our spaces, our furniture, and our routines that shape daily lives. “Life applications” help us do minor rearrangements and some remodeling to our home, but we still manage how the day-to-day routine flows in our home.

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( ) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But Holy Week actually forces me out of my home. I am on a pilgrimage to ancient Jerusalem in my imagination. I am part of the crowd that shouts “hosanna” as Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey. I join with the disciples in eating with Jesus the upper room. With the crowd outside of Pilate’s court, I shout,  “Crucify him.” Finally I hurry to the tomb with the women, full of wonder.

I gather with the people of Resurrection Lutheran to worship, pray, sing and sit in silence. I will seek no specific application or wisdom other than to be with Jesus.

Through this journey my daily story is rewritten, reworked. Like the hobbit Frodo Baggins, I am on a journey far from my comfortable Shire. And when I return to my home, I have been changed by the journey.

Are you ready to enter the story of Christ’s passion this year?

Lord Jesus, let me truly walk with you this week.

First and Last Communion


??????????I enjoy teaching first communion classes for families. The children are often excited and eager to learn about this mystery meal. We bake bread, tell stories, and taste foods.  I love connecting the meal to the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. We walk through the story of the passion: Palm Sunday parade, the last supper, the trial, crucifixion, and burial.



Then the surprise of Jesus’ resurrection, (which is the name of our congregation I remind the children).

But first communion is just the first step. I like having the parents there since they are rediscovering what the meal is for them. Communion grows in meaning and joy as we participate in it.  There may be times we take it for granted, but God never takes us for granted.  It is always his gift of grace for us.

Though the focus is on preparing for their first communion, I often ask the question, “do any of you know when your last communion will be?”  Together we wonder about the uncertainties of life, yet the constant promise of God to be with us in the Lord’s Supper.  I tell them the story of taking communion to people in hospice as they prepare to die. The meal become an appetizer for the feast that is yet to come. When we will all feast with Jesus and drink the new wine.

Jesus said, “I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29)

Lord Jesus, let me taste again the power of your grace and love.

February is the Longest Month

The month of February is not the shortest month, but the longest for me. The length of a Minnesota winter has always been a big psychological barrier. I did not embraced Nordic skiing this winter and now my winter running has been interrupted by a nagging hamstring injury. For the past month as I watched the snow piles rise in the church parking lot I wondered if spring will ever come.

Saint Ambrose beyond the snow.

Saint Ambrose beyond the snow.

Yet I hope in the promise of spring. The evidence of it may be fleeting, but I am confident that the snow will melt, the trees will bud and my winter coat will be shed.

In a similar way, I take hope in God’s promises of scripture. The Bible is not a set of apps that I can download into my life. I cannot go to the “Google Playstore” and find a verse or two on depression or happiness and plug them into my life. No, the Bible is more like a story into which I am invited. As I live God’s story I discover that no matter how chaotic or troubling the plot may be at times, the Author remains faithful to the story of redemption and new life.

Just as I know that spring will come to Minnesota, I know that Jesus rose from the dead and comes to bring life. Beyond the snows of winter lies the promise of new life.

This is written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31).

Walter Brueggemann wrote these word of questions and hope regarding the Bible thirty years ago.

The central concerns of the Bible are not flat certitudes . . . but assurances that are characterized by risk and open mystery. The quality of certitude offered by the Bible is never that of a correct answer but rather of a trusted memory, a dynamic image, a restless journey, a faithful voice. Such assurances leave us restless and tentative in the relation, and always needing to decide afresh. Rather than closing out things in a settled resolution, they tend to open things out, always in fresh and deep question and urgent invitation. The central thrust of the Bible, then, is to raise new questions, to press exploration of new dimensions of fidelity, new spheres for trust. Such questions serve as invitations to bolder, richer faithfulness. Such questions also serve as critics exposing our easy resolution, our faithless posturing, and our self-deception. If the Bible is only a settled answer, it will not reach us seriously. But it is also an open question that presses and urges and invites. For that reason the faithful community is never fully comfortable with the Bible and never has finally exhausted its gifts or honored its claims. (The Bible Makes Sense)

Lord Jesus, continue to write hope upon my heart.