Sad partings

Death comes in many forms.

Describing the hurt I twice experienced this year, I will not presume my sorrow approached that of losing a human being. However, because the things I lost had directly connected me to human beings I love, my sadness was deep.

A connection to Dad

When my father died in 2010, I wanted only one thing from his estate: his cultivator.

Dad used that cultivator for my entire life. Dad instilled in me a love of gardening. Dad taught me everything I needed to know in order to succeed as a gardener.

If I could have Dad’s cultivator, two good things could happen. First, I would have a significant piece of what Dad meant to me. Second, I would own a useful garden tool, one which I didn’t have.

None of my siblings was interested, so I eagerly took possession of the cultivator. It was spring, so I immediately put it to use in my vegetable garden in Port Hope, and then got just as much use from it in Indianapolis.

I wish I knew the age of that cultivator. The wood always was in rough shape; it was a splinter factory. The metal has been rusty since, well, I can’t recall it ever not being rusty.

As I was cultivating late in 2018, the left wooden arm broke. Since it was the end of the growing season, I set it aside to examine in 2019.

When I pulled out the cultivator last spring, I was disappointed to find that no elves had magically repaired it. Seeking Julie’s input, she agreed with my assessment: it was too far gone to fix.

While I had made do without a cultivator before inheriting Dad’s—for thirty years, I labored far harder using only a hoe—I now was spoiled. I got a new cultivator. One that is all metal.

Though I’m no longer using Dad’s cultivator, I’ve still not parted with it. It sits to the side, where I spy it quite often.

I can’t bare to break it down and dispose of it.

When I look at it, I see my father.

A connection to Port Hope

In the spring of 2008, I was in my eighth year as pastor at St. John Lutheran Church. As far as I knew, I would minister there until I retired. While I wound up being correct, in 2008 I never would have guessed my retirement would come as soon as 2014.

In the spring of 2008, I was in need of a new car. I headed to Bad Axe, to Hanson’s, where the year before we had purchased a Chevy Impala for our son.

I loved that Impala. I was envious that Alex got to take it to college.

Arriving at Hanson’s, I explained what I was looking for. “You like your son’s Impala?” “Yeah. I love it. I wish I were driving it.” “Come with me.”

I soon was standing in front of an Impala. Though it was seven years old, it had only 24,444 miles on it. I took it for a test drive.

A mile from Hanson’s, I pulled over and called Julie. Hearing the excitement in my voice, she simply asked, “What are you waiting for?” Returning to Hanson’s, I looked at no other cars, happy to take ownership of this Impala.

That car did me well. It got excellent gas mileage. It was reliable. I fit in it the way I feel in my favorite chair.

Three years ago, our car mechanic was fixing something on the underside of the car. He said, “It’s rusting really badly. It could go at any time.”

It didn’t go at any time. And, because it continued to run well and get great gas mileage, I usually forgot about the rust.

Until this autumn, when it sprang a leak. In the gas line. And the mechanic said, “If I try to fix it, I fear the entire underside of the car will crumble.”

I hate switching cars for the same reason I hate switching my living room chair, for the same reason all of you reading this don’t need me to tell you why—and it has nothing to do with money.

This car, however, was more than a reliable friend. As that old cultivator provided an intimate connection to my father, the Impala was intricately tied to my life in Port Hope.

I bought the Impala while I was in the best of years there—the first few years were a growing-into-the-work period; St. John, with its school, was a way larger challenge than my first call in Iowa—and I had so many more great years after. Julie and I were firmly entrenched in the village. It was home.

I drove that car everywhere. I made hundreds of home visits, and nursing home and hospital calls in it. Around Port Hope and Huron County. To Saginaw, and Port Huron, and Bay City. To minister to people I came to love. To minister to people to whom I wish I were still ministering.

I couldn’t have asked for more from that Impala. I got my money’s worth. I got my heart’s worth.

In September, Julie and I went car shopping. We purchased a 2017 Toyota RAV4. We’ve already taken it on a long trip, to Iowa in October. We are pleased with our new wheels.

The Impala was not trade-in worthy. We sold it for scrap.

Awaiting the guy’s arrival to take it away, I cried.

I was taken aback by how much this hurt.

1,000 miles in 2019!

On November 4, I achieved a goal that until the last few years was not even on my radar: I logged 1,000 miles on my running app.

I began distance running in 1980. Living in Michigan and Iowa, there was too much snow to run in the winter. I jogged from April to November, then headed inside to the treadmill and elliptical.

I also never liked running in the cold. But, having moved to Indianapolis, where there’s much less snow and, when it does snow, it usually doesn’t stick around too many days, if I could get used to jogging in the cold I could run year round.

Perhaps, it was my desire to be outside, not to be stuck in the basement on the elliptical, that drove me to get used to running in the cold. I did and, before long, I was digging it. Now, I love it, and have found that I can run better and farther than in the heat and humidity.

In 2017, I fell just short of 1,000 miles. I intended to hit the mark last year, but health issues kept me to 839. With my health issues resolved, I set my sights on 2019.

I entered the year strong. Indeed, not only have I achieved the total miles mark, I’ve averaged just shy of 5.5 miles per event. Never before have I averaged even five miles per outing.

As I lay in bed on November 3, I pondered what route I should take, needing four miles to hit 1,000. Immediately, a five-mile route came to mind, one which would have me arrive at the four-mile mark at the longest hill in our neighborhood—a hill I always walk up because it’s so long and high, and because I always arrive at it near the end of my run.

I hatched a plan. I would take this route, and I would celebrate my 1,000 mile achievement by running up that hill. To me, it would be achieving a huge goal by achieving a huge goal. And, to commemorate the moment, I would make a video as I ran.

Here’s my huffing and puffing recording of the moment:

November and December in Indianapolis provide generally good running weather. I have one more goal in mind for the year. Since I hit 1,000 miles in just over ten months, I bet you can guess how many miles I want to achieve for the year.

Pray The Gay Away

What do the following have in common?
• 1982
• Lutherans—specifically, Missouri Synod Lutherans
• Gay conversion therapy
• Comedy
• Music

The commonality for these five items is the new musical comedy, “Pray the Gay Away,” which premieres in Mount Vernon, Washington, on November 8.

Check out the Facebook page:

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

What do the following have in common?
• “Pray the Gay Away”
• Its author, Conrad Askland
• Yours truly

Last July, I received a Facebook message from Conrad. He had found my blog as he was doing research for his play. Because I had been a minister in the Missouri Synod, and also had been transgender, he hoped I could provide assistance in accurately portraying the Missouri Synod and its pastors. I eagerly replied and, the very next day, we enjoyed a long phone chat.

We hit it off. Conrad is a friendly dude, with a good sense of humor.

I wondered what prompted him to write a musical comedy play about gay conversion therapy and set it in the early 1980s in the Missouri Synod (LCMS)? While he did not grow up LCMS, he had experience in the Lutheran faith. He went for the early ‘80s for a number of reasons, such as its being right before AIDS became widely known and attitudes toward same sex relations had not developed to where they are today.

As for the LCMS, they provided a good church setting because the LCMS has remained where it was in the 1980s. In the LCMS, theology is akin to math facts; where 2 + 2 always equals 4, theology is factual and does not change. Thus, if a theological doctrine were true in 1982, it remains true in 2019.

Regarding gay conversion therapy, this is the practice—which has now been widely rejected, even seen as harmful for those subjected to it—by which those with same sex attraction are immersed in “right thinking.” To wit, God made males for females, and females for males, and if you just accept that, and dig it deeply enough into your mind, and pray long and hard enough, you can change your sexual orientation.

It’s also been used for those with gender dysphoria. Indeed, two pastors used it with me (while never specifying that’s what they were using, perhaps not even aware it’s what they were doing), in the months before I transitioned. “Greg, you’re a male.” “You fathered children.” “Remember your baptismal identity.” I replied that I didn’t question any of that, and chanting these things didn’t help because my problem wasn’t with how I was thinking. Since they had no other way to help me, they simply repeated their mantra.

Thus the title of Conrad’s play, taken from the well-worn joke: pray the gay away. Just pray, and seek God, and think right, and you can get rid of these feelings.

Back to Conrad. Over these months, he emailed me a number of times. He began by sending the pastor’s lines. I was able to help him polish them for accuracy. Over the months, for anything of which he was not sure he popped me the question.

Conrad scoured the LCMS in search of properly understanding what it continues to believe about same sex attraction and every associated bit of theology and practice. While I’ve not seen the play or read the entire script, I am confident he has gotten it right.

He recently contacted me, wanting to connect his cast members on a Skype call. You know I jumped on that!

We talked for an hour. They asked me loads of questions, mostly about Lutheran attitudes. We laughed at many of the LCMS’s foibles, while I also explained why Lutherans stand up for what they believe.

Among those I met were the man who plays the pastor, the woman who plays the mother of a gay son who took his life, and “Martin Luther.” Most impressive was the young man who plays the boy who is the focus of having his gay prayed away. (In the photo at the top of this page, that’s him.) After we talked for five minutes, I asked his age. “I’m fifteen.” And a very impressive fifteen he is.

Conrad didn’t set his sights unreasonably high for how his play would be received. Thus, when he learned that opening night has been sold out, he was elated. He now reports the entire three-weekend run might see the house full each for each performance.

I have only one regret about the play. I’m in Indiana and Conrad is in Washington. I am eagerly watching from here, to see the reviews come in.

Playing it for laughs and setting it a generation ago, Conrad was able to tackle a ticklish topic in a way so as to be palatable. With Conrad and cast, I hope he achieves what surely are Conrad’s twin goals: to entertain and to educate.

Iowa 2019

Julie and I just returned from our annual trip to Iowa—a rare October visit. And a dandy visit it was.

We always snap a pic of the Mississippi as we cross, and text it to Julie’s mom and sisters. Not only does it tell them where we are, it’s the halfway mark of our trip.

Next comes the requisite “Welcome to Iowa.” While it feels good to be on the homestate turf, recall what I wrote, above. Because we enter the state in the southeast, and they live in the northwest, we still have many miles to go.

With three stops, we always plan on the trip taking eleven hours. We made it in 11:03 to the Leckband’s bit of paradise.

With the wide shot, I wanted to capture the grandeur of it.

Not. Even. Close.

Between the soybeans and the house is a huge pond, which they spent years digging, creating it from a creek, before they built the house (rear left in the pic below).

From a previous visit, the next two pics better show the pond and house.

Julie is the dutiful daughter. She spends a good chunk of her week doing things with and for her folks, such as this:

Most of my time is spent reading, eating, and jogging. I love running wherever I visit, including here. But, man oh man, the terrain is one hill after another.

While I’ve adjusted to the city life in Indianapolis, give me the country anytime. I never tire of looking at the farm fields. I don’t mind running on gravel—there’s usually a track of hard ground created by vehicles. If I don’t use the gravel roads, I am stuck running the same two routes—north or south—on the pavement.

Sunny days brought farmers into the fields to harvest corn. Below, there was a combine working near where these trucks were parked. I stopped my run to snap this pic because the thought occurred to me: the old is still respected as the new is appreciated.

In the background, above, the buildings sticking up from the treeline are in Ocheyedan. Down the road from this spot, work is ongoing at a culvert, taking one lane away. Note the yield sign’s admonition.

I was amused. For vehicles to have to take turns would mean at least three would have to arrive at the same time. The odds of this happening are about the same as my never making a smart-aleck remark to my mother-in-law during my week’s stay in her house.

Family time is always the best part of our visit. Sunday morning breakfast was one of many meals we enjoyed together.

The week flew by, then we flew the coop. Julie and I split the driving. I was glad I thought to download some shows on Netflix, to occupy me when Julie was behind the wheel. I was pleased to be able to prop my phone in the dashboard nook. With earbuds in place, I sat back and enjoyed.

Photo jogging journal

Jogging provides me with way more than great exercise. I see lots of interesting things. Some are funny. Others odd. Several intriguing, At times, after passing by, the sight propels me to create a story about it.

I don’t like to interrupt my running to take photos, so when I see something about which I later found a fun angle, I plan my next run to return to that spot to capture it.

Sometimes, I miss my chance, as with the brick tied up in a bow, that was in the middle of the entrance of a driveway, which was gone the next day.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The photos that follow all come from this month—October, 2019—except for this one from 2016. I include this older picture because I can’t imagine the scenario in which an intact frozen pizza wound up on the side of a busy, 45 mph speed limit road.

Actually, I can imagine …

I see a car in which there are two occupants. These two are screaming at each other. It goes awry:

“I swear, Terry, I’ll throw these groceries out the window!”

“No, Tracy!”

“Oh, yea, Terry. Here goes the pizza—“

“For the love of Mike! If you have to toss something, why can’t it be the rutabagas?!”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

At first glance, I thought this monster was preparing to kick a soccer ball. When I saw that ball was a skull, the soccer game stuck in my mind:

“Great game, Slayer!”

“Yargh! We really cracked some skulls!”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A half mile later, I came across the following, which was the only one of these things I stopped the first time to photograph.

Yes, I thought about picking it up and taking it to place next to the skull at the monster’s feet. Alas, satisfied with the photo, I resumed running.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I run across a lot of roadkill. Never had I ever seen a perfectly preserved skeleton before I saw this (which was mere feet from where that Digiorno pizza had been):

It’s as if someone placed the bones on top of the skin. Crazy.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Proving the old saying: records were made to be broken.

In case you were wondering, the group that made this album was Skip And The Vinyls.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I’ve mowed over plenty of acorns and pine cones, even my neighbor’s crabble apples. I suspect the owner of this house has to pick up these hedge apples before hitting the lawn.

If Newton had been sitting under a hedge apple tree, history might have been written far differently … probably by his assistant … after he laid Newton to rest.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I simply think this next thing is cool. Nowadays, it sits in the yard of condominiums. I would love to see the original house by which it stood, and know the reason it was built.

The easy answer is that it was used as a root cellar. The fun answer would be that it was a hiding place for bootleggers during Prohibition. The best answer is that it was a prison … for disobedient children.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Here’s my favorite, a situation with three parts to it.

Part 1: How fast did this guy have to be driving, and how hard were those brakes working, to rip into the ground like this?

Part 2: At what point did he realize he was about to come to a stop on top of a No Parking sign? Perhaps, that’s why he kept going, you know, so as not to break the law.

Part 3: The sign didn’t stop him, but this tree—or, the tree that used to be here—sure did.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I was running through this WALK sign as I took this picture.

Did I break the law? Should I have kept going until I plowed into a tree?

Whatever the case, the cops will have to catch me, because I’m on the run and I’m not stopping!

To be ten again!

When you were ten years old, what did you love doing? At what did you excel? Did you follow through with it as an adult? If not, is it too late to do so?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The October issue of Reader’s Digest includes this thought-provoking article, “Here’s Why Living Out Your Dreams from When You Were 10 Is the Key to Happiness.” It is available on their website:

The article centers on this question: “What if what we really loved doing between ages 9 and 11 is what most of us ought to be doing, somehow, for our actual job as adults?”

It was enlightening to learn that age ten (plus or minus a year or so for all of us; as with autos, your mileage will vary) is a growth turning point. According to the author, “At age 10, kids graduate from being biologists, searching for a theory of life, to being philosophers, grappling with the truth that no one escapes death. The surge in bandwidth helps 10-year-old kids reconcile what they think with how they feel.”

Bill Nye—you know, the Science Guy—was quoted: ““Everyone who works at NASA or Google or SpaceX got excited about science before he or she was 10 years old. This is well documented. If it isn’t 10, it’s 11 or 12. But it ain’t 17, I’ll tell you that much.”

I paused as I read to consider myself at these ages. What I recall about my ten-year-old self is my love of sports coming together. I’d been catching bits of baseball and football games on television for a couple of years. By 1968, I was sitting still and watching entire games, and I was playing them with such interest that I would even play by myself. (How many times did my mom come outside to instruct me to stop throwing the baseball on the roof—as I allowed it to roll back to me so that I could catch it—because the noise was driving her nuts?)

Absolutely, my love of sports came into focus at this age. As with so many kids, I had desires to play professionally. I was good at baseball and football, but I wasn’t great. And, to get anywhere, you have to be great. Yet, I certainly continued to play in adulthood. For years, I was in two softball leagues at a time, and usually led my team in batting average and runs batted in. I played tennis several times a week. And I watched so much on television that my first wife dubbed ESPN: Every Sane Person’s Nightmare.

Besides the skill aspects of the sports, I loved to run. Man, I ran all the time. When others walked between plays, I ran. When I was in high school, I ran home from school. We lived exactly one mile away, and when I ran I could beat the school bus to the corner of Cook St. and Wilcox, where I turned for the final block to home. I guess it should surprise no one, least of all me, that at age twenty-three I took up jogging. And never stopped. I am rounding the corner to completing my fortieth year.

I loved sports so much that I studied it. I would have loved to work in the business end of it. I have the aptitude for it and believe I would have succeeded, even excelled.

But, at age ten or so, I recall nothing of what really grabbed me, my twin loves of writing and performing. Reading Nye’s dissing of age seventeen, I was miffed. It wasn’t until age seventeen that writing grabbed me. It was in Creative Writing class. I have a distinct recollection of sitting in class and thinking, “I’d love to do this for a living. I want to be a newspaper journalist.”

As for performing, it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I did that and learned that nervousness would not be an obstacle too difficult for me to conquer. At the same time, I was becoming interested in being a minister. That I was now standing in front of people, succeeding in reciting my memorized lines, informed me that I could speak from a pulpit to people in pews.

And, regarding writing, well, pastors write a lot—sermons, articles for church newsletters, even columns for local newspapers. I loved writing sermons, and I grew as a writer. Now, in retirement from the ministry, I have written more than ever.

So, that’s me. While I can see a lot of my long-term self at age ten, it is only one of the tent poles of my life.

How about you? What grabbed you at age ten or so? Did it follow you into adulthood?

Is there something from your youth that you’d love to recoup? Is the time ripe for you to do so?

Ain’t that just impeachy

I uncovered the whistleblower’s Facebook profile:

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Vice President Mike Pence is a devoted Christian. His holiness meter must be jumping all over the place these days.

At one moment, he finds himself praying for President Trump, because that’s the right thing to do. In the next moment, visions of himself in the oval office dance in his head and he finds himself praying for Nancy Pelosi.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In September, President Trump set a personal record for tweets in a month, tweeting or retweeting nearly 800 times.

It’s the hardest he’s worked since he was inaugurated.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

With this Ukrainian thing, we’ve been hearing a lot of comparisons to Watergate. I don’t see the connection.

In 1973, at my house we only had three TV channels. Watergate was on all of them, all day long.

In 2019, I have Netflix.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


Democrat: from the Greek: one who sees everything, including some things that do not exist.

Republican: from the Latin: one who sees nothing, including some things that do exist.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It’s time for me to come clean. I, too, was in on the call.

I can prove it. Just ask Colin Kaepernick and Rosie O’Donnell. I was sitting between them.