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Refrigerator Theology

I’m standing in front of the fridge looking for the catsup. It will not show itself to me; I cannot see it. I call to Judy, my wife, “where’s the catsup?” “Third shelf, right side, in the back.” And sure enough there’s the catsup.

The lesson is about presence. God meets us where we are, whether that’s in the fridge (no, this is not a light box), in the garden, or (in my case) up a tree somewhere.

The lesson is about attitude: if you think the catsup is in there, it is more likely to show itself. It is about faith. If you believe the catsup is there, it is much easier to see. It is about the ubiquity and grace of God: God can speak to us through any medium She believes will reach us. If we understand the catsup as a metaphor for Truth, we are assured it’s “in there” even when we have given up hope. We pray “God, help me see the catsup.” The answers are often not what we expect. Grace  overflows: we are not berated for not knowing or seeing. We are gently guided.

There’s a lot of stuff in the fridge besides the catsup, some of it bad, like that bit of 3-week old casserole that has become sentient, has “culcha” (culture pronounced with a Joisey (Jersey) accent) and will have linguistic ability if we leave it another week. Now it is the nature of prayer that we may start by asking God to show us the catsup, only to find that we really wanted the French dressing. It helps to be open to redirection. What we practice is discernment, whether we call it that or not.

In the “Am I a Preacher” essay, I discuss embedded (or intuitive) and deliberative theologies. Embedded “stuff” is largely absorbed passively. Deliberative stuff (for the idea applies to many things in our lives besides theology) requires us to be intentional in our pursuit of whatever. So, we stand in front of the fridge and passively practice discernment.

To actively (deliberatively) practice discernment requires us to take worship (understood as being in communication with whatever you call that which is beyond us) from the meetingroom (church) into the rest of our lives. We are easily confused. We think of our work as doing the chores or how we earn a living to keep body & soul together when in fact the actual work is to take worship from the nursery we call church into the gardens of our lives. We start by asking questions. The Bible is full of people questioning God, sometimes not so gently. Catsup, God? Really? Are you sure there’s not something else that would taste better? Or at least not give me bad breath? And so we ask questions. Clearness (the product of discernment) tells us that yes, indeed, catsup is the answer. Or not.

But how do we know? Some of the questions have to be about ethics, about rightness. Will our proposed course of action lead us towards (closer to) God or away from the Presence as the center of our lives? Does it help our neighbors (whether plants, animals or other humans)? Is it ethical? What do Scripture & other sources of wisdom & Truth have to say about it? By asking questions, we can hope to test the rightness of our actions. One of the places to ask questions is in community. The caveat is that we have to be willing to accept the answer when we reach clearness that the casserole is spoiled (evil) or that catsup is not the way forward.

We also need to be aware that some of the stuff in the fridge is not ours (or intended for us). Those messages are not for us. But sometimes, the burning truth is in some insignificant speck, as perhaps a fleck of jalapeno in the corner of our eye. Just as a weed is merely a plant out of place, evil can be misapplication of an otherwise good thing. Things just /are/, in the sense of absolute value they tried to teach us in math. The goodness or badness then goes back to those questions we asked earlier about ethics and direction in relation to us & God.

Remember all this next time you’re lost in the refrigerator.

Perspectives in Forestry: Roy.

Roy currently runs a one-man sawmill. Has been a logger. Is ordained and serves as a bishop in the Mennonite Church (Conservative). In conversation with a friend who is a forester, we came up with four loggers (or sawmillers) in a 2 county area who are in some position of ministry within their church. Even though my class is finished, I hope to continue to post podcasts of conversations with various folks in the wood business.

What is a conservative Mennonite? What is it about logging that nurtures faith? Should faith and work mix? Give this podcast a listen. Let me know what you think.

A logger’s life in story

i phone 6 2013 083

In the podcast, the logger tells a story about how these machines, originally intended for harvesting sugar cane in South Africa, were adapted by loggers in the US. The claw on the front flips up. The operator uses it to grab the tree, and a hydraulically powered chainsaw (in the square part you see just in front of the big tire) cuts the tree off. The operator can pivot, and/or drive forward or backward to make the tree fall in the desired direction. I have one myself, and though they’re kind of archaic by today’s equipment standards, they function well in PA’s forests. They’re hydrostatic: one pedal for the left wheel, one for the right. You can literally turn on a dime by making one wheel for forward & the other backward. I tell folks it’s sort of like riding inside a video game. There are numerous videos on YouTube if you search for “bell feller buncher.”

Needless to say, the names have been changed to protect whoever it was that needed to be protected. “John” provides a window into the joys, the ins & outs of life as a logger. It’s hard work, but there’s something special about it that gets into a person. Listen & find out for yourself.

Day 2.

Why martinstrees? To know me at all is to know that I live, breathe and speak trees. While much of my work on a daily basis is cutting trees down- -whether in the forest to help with forest health and meet our needs for lumber & paper, or in town near houses, power lines and poodles. But I see trees as much more than how I earn money to feed my family or lumber that will become someone’s kitchen cabinets. I am in awe of them: their beauty, their strength, why they grow where they grow, their shape or architecture. I like to share that with other people, tooi phone 6 2013 119

Scotch pine in Indiana. Sculpted by the weather. Silhouetted against the setting sun.

Am I a Preacher?

In class on Wednesday, Sue asked “who is your embedded (or intuitive) preacher? Who is your deliberative preacher?” She borrowed the words embedded and deliberative from a book we used in class on theology, How to Think Theologically by Howard Stone & James Duke. In their book, they define the terms embedded & deliberative theology as follows:


“Embedded theology is the understanding of faith disseminated… and assimilated in [our] daily lives. Deliberative theology is a[n intentional] process of reflecting on multiple understandings of faith implicit in [our] life and witness in order to identify and/or develop the most adequate understanding possible.” (p. 18)[1]


I have heard it said that if our minds don’t know how to make sense of information inputs, it will create a scenario that makes sense to it. So it is that in this case, the saying “Perception is reality” takes on a new, sometimes scary, meaning and import. This is the stuff of Greek Mythology. It is the source of urban legends today. It generates the stories which morph in the campfire game “Whisper down the Lane” where the message at the end of the line sounds nothing like the message at the start. It feeds pernicious rumor mills. Too often, it is the stuff of rhetoric and demagogues.


The problem with embedded things, whether theology or preachers, is that they’ve often never really been thought about. Who is your embedded preacher? In my case, my embedded preacher turned out to be a caricature. I considered the question. I responded “He (for my embedded preacher is always male) wears a long black robe and he stands at the front of the church on the stage, behind the lectern and gives some sort of boring exposition about some aspect of how we are to live. The speech usually has some connection to the bible or doctrine. The congregation is passive in this operation.” Smiles broke out on the faces of my classmates. They knew this person. Maybe you know him, too.


Wow! That’s not someone I really want to get out of bed to hear on a Sunday morning.

So who’s my deliberative preacher? Friends speak of the ministry of all believers. They speak of that of God in everyone. My own definition of preaching is “opening to others the Presence, the Joy, the Peace which is our inheritance. It is the work of helping ourselves and others to awaken, in a spiritual way.” In this sense, we are all preachers. Further, I have come to understand ministry as doing the work of God, here on earth. If we are willing to accept that work, it means that our entire lives can be understood as ministry. When we acknowledge that actions speak louder than words, we let our lives speak. That speaking is also a form of preaching, albeit often non-verbally.  It helps to inform us and those we touch (consciously or unconsciously) of right relationship with the eternal.


What do they have in common, Sue asked. Not very much, if anything. I also had to admit that I was allowing my embedded preacher to overpower the deliberative one. It was if someone had turned a light on, or the way the air becomes clear after a thunderstorm passes. I realized that I’m already a preacher, whether I choose to acknowledge it or not. This horse has been led to water and finally awakened to the fact that it is thirsty. Let me share some of this water of life with you.

[1] Duke, Howard Stone and James. How to think Theologically, 3rd ed. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2013.


Back to Iowa

Back to Iowa.

One. Last. Time. Home. With a capital “H.”

For years, the trip was an annual pilgrimage

To see her mother, to see her friends, to see the land, to return

To gravel roads. Flaxen hair, riding beside her father

As they cruised the prairies looking for jewels.

On gravel roads high-crowned, deep-ditched

So they blew clear when the blizzards came

Wild rose. Indian paintbrush. Dwarf lupines. Meadow Larks. Blue birds

To the grocery & mercantile Uncle Willie ran in town

Nestled beside the apple barrel

While she read of fantastic places

I Married Adventure. Fifty Years Below Zero. Kipling. Sandburg.


Her mother died 45 years ago

Friends dropped away one by one.

She is the last one standing.

The county said she couldn’t live alone.

She could have a live-in nurse or go to a “home.”

She wanted neither.

When I visit, she says with pleading in her papery voice

Please don’t take me back to that place.

Where’s Bob? Husband. And Robert? Where’s Em and Peg? Three of her 7 children.

She doesn’t ask about the twins. Two of her children.

I haven’t heard from Mother in a long time, it seems like


I need to take care of some things at the farms, she says.

Century farms, their fate unclear after she’s gone.

The kids never got bitten by the farming bug.

The grandkids were all born in the east

They see the beauty of the place in its physical presence

Its place in her soul is a mystery to them

Union Slough. Reedy grasses. Herons, green and blue.

Red-winged blackbirds scratch their chick-a-ree call.

The sky in all its moods

From cerulean peace to tornadic wrath

Gridwork roads. North-south. East-west.

Tall grass ruffled into waves by the prairie wind.

Corn and beans and beans and corn.

Trees confined to the creek-bottoms.

I wonder why they always grow on the south bank, she wondered one time.

Life was always, prairie was always, a place of wonder, awe, beauty.


When can we go, she asks.

I want to go to the farms

Poor health or not, independent as a hog on ice (as the saying goes)

She’ll make the pilgrimage, no longer annual

Back to Iowa

One. Last. Time

Note: Eleanor Melville passed away April 3, 2016 about 60 days short of her 97th birthday. Though she moved to the Washington, DC area in 1963, her heart always remained in Iowa. She will be buried in Burt, IA, her home town. She was an extraordinary woman who lived a complicated life with grace and strength.

While the sting of separation is strong, she is still with us if not in spirit, at least in the lives of those she touched: in caring and compassion, in our family’s love for words and history and those fantastic places. Peace, friends.