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Late Forties: New Life

This is the fourth, and last, post in a series reflecting on my forties, as I near their end.

2021/47--A Transition Year


Vaccination!  Much thanks to Darryl Brown for informing me that clergy were being inoculated along with social workers, therapist, chaplains, and others at the tail end of medical worker inoculations in January 2021.  What a blessed day that was, full of possibility and newness.  I went walking on the Field Club Trail afterwards and was almost dancing.  And by my birthday, at the end of February, I was fully inoculated.

By the end of February, Michael had moved out, and so began a period of creating something new.  First up was cleaning and reorganizing and redecorating the house, buying to replace the items that he had moved, filling the house with plants, finding new art for the walls, etc.  And while I was processing many emotions, there was also a sense of possibility and the fun of all these new things.  In the spring I had a few friends over for a house blessing.

47 birthday

Earlier I had invited a few of my straight, single, female friends over to explain online dating to me.  It seemed that pretty much everything about dating had changed in the fifteen years since I'd last done it.  Plus, it was still Covidy, so not a lot of social life going on.  I did not want a serious relationship that year.  Instead there were a few short term, casual relationships.  Including one that was particularly nurturing and healing for me.  

At the same time I was rebuilding my social life and friendships.  And on my days and weekends without Sebastian, creating new routines.

Most of the major milestones of that year were related to my grieving and healing process--books read, podcasts listened to, tears cried, conversations with friends, therapy sessions, meetings with my spiritual director, praying, meditating, and thinking while out for a walk, etc.  It was not a linear process.  I made mistakes, had second thoughts, and experienced moments of deep heartbreak and pain, but there is nothing about that journey that I now regret.  All of it, every step in the journey, was important and had to be gone through.

With Jason

Looking back through my 2021 photos, they are full of fun memories.  Sebastian, Mom, and I were often going and doing fun things.  We took trips together as well--back to Oklahoma for spring break and to Kansas City the weekend he got out of Kindergarten.

On my days without Sebastian I took little excursions too--to Lake Okoboji, to our church campground in Burwell, and my first flight since April 2018 to the OU-Texas game that fall.  

Big Tex

Another highlight was that my hometown of Miami, Oklahoma hosted their first Pride, and I had to attend.  I enjoyed spending the day catching up with old friends.

Miami pride

The theme of the year was reconnecting with family and friends, and so the camera roll is filled with visits to and with all sorts of folks.  For me it was important to go back to my sources, of who I had been before my marriage, to help me find myself again.  And it seems that those plans worked.  That summer we spent time in Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma.

Mom's time living in Omaha ended that September, but her trips here, or ours there, have been quite regular ever since, as she has helped me be a single Dad.

Mom & Sebastian

At Christmas time, Sebastian and I performed our first duet on the piano.

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2022/48--A Good Year

In February, right before my birthday, I asked Michael for one last sit-down conversation to discuss whether divorce was really what we wanted to do, and it was clear it was.  From that moment I've had emotional clarity that I lacked before and was really able to fully turn toward the future.  We still had lots of legal and financial steps to complete.  There continued to be arguments, and warmer moments.  Custody issues would not be resolved fully for some time.  But these divorce-related moments became less the central narrative.  Now when someone asks me about my divorce I describe it in four statements: I didn't want it.  It was hell to go through.  I'm so glad it happened.  I'm a better version of myself.  Of course it took a lot of work to get to that point.

The central narrative was much more about Sebastian and the joyful, rich relationship we have with one another.  Everything else in life has, of course, been secondary to parenting him.  

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By the spring of 22 I was ready to try an actual relationship, but so far, no serious one has developed.  I have fallen for a couple of guys, but neither developed.  I spent many months dating a really sweet guy, even introducing him to Sebastian, but it just didn't develop for whatever reason.  Mostly dating these days is just difficult.  The Neil Patrick Harris mini-series Uncoupled did a fantastic job portraying what it is like to be gay, in your late forties, dating again after a long relationship.  

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2022 was a year of travel.  A spring break trip to Austin.  A work trip to New England.  And then all of my sabbatical trips last year--to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the grand adventure to Yellowstone and Grand Teton, home for my 30th high school reunion, and to the Boundary Waters with Robyn.  The three days Sebastian and I were at the Old Faithful Inn were among the very best time we've ever spent together, in our down time just playing board and card games together.

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2022 was also full of great shows and concerts, including the wonderfully fun Outlandia Music Festival, where I saw Wilco again and The National.

And I moved forward on a number of home improvement projects, completing some that had been in process for many years and doing some new ones of my own.  

2023/49--A Good Life


In January I traveled to St. Pete Beach for a clergy retreat where I connected with old friends, made new ones, experienced a time of refreshment, and came home with lots of good ideas for church.

First Central has come out of Covid even stronger and with more vitality than we had before.  Our attendance and participation have been excellent, and our programs for children and young families have experienced rapid growth.  It's an exciting time.


This spring was also hectic with work.  In the office we were experiencing staff transitions.  In 2021 my long-time Office Admin Sara Sharpe retired, and we had some bumps finding the right person then.  Which we did.  Only for her to depart this winter, and we had an even bumpier time finding the right person this time, which we've also done.  At the same time my Associate Pastor Katie Miller announced she was moving to Vermillion, South Dakota to become the pastor for First Congregational Church there.

Outside the office, I was running to Lincoln over and over again this legislative session to oppose vile and disgusting legislation that threatened bodily autonomy and the dignity of the human person.  With many shenanigans, those measures passed, which has been the dark shadow hanging over this year and giving a sense of foreboding for the future.  Apparently Nebraskans elected a Christian nationalist governor, and we have a difficult fight for democracy, liberty, and human rights ahead of us.  

Clergy at capitol
Clergy at capitol

I was rather exhausted by the time summer rolled around. 

With three parents of young kids now working in the office, we often had kids all over the place at work during the summer break.

Sebastian and I didn't travel as much this year, and so more of our attention was focused on activities here--attending shows, his participation in camps and classes, and lots of playdates with friends.  My life is now structured around the rhythms of being a full-time single dad.  While I miss some aspects of the weekends I had to myself for a couple of years, we're having a great time together.


Over Memorial weekend, we visited his birth mother and sisters, for a fun time together.

And for our summer vacation, he wanted to return to the Upper Peninsula to see his friend Thomas.  We added a few other stops along the way there and back.  This year he has embraced kayaking, which has given us even more fun to have together.


49 isn't finished--there are six months left.  But as I wrote the other day on Facebook on the occasion of my half-birthday, "Today I am six months from turning fifty, and the most surprising realization, as I head into the final six months of my forties, is how young and sexy this age actually feels."


Mid-Forties: The Momentous Years

This is the third post in a series reflecting on my forties.  The first is here and the second here.  This writing is prompted by my half-birthday last week and entering the final six months of my forties.  That day I posted on Facebook "Today I am six months from turning fifty, and the most surprising realization, as I head into the final six months of my forties, is how young and sexy this age actually feels. Never would have convinced me of that in my thirties, but a joy to discover."  So these posts should be taken with this context in mind.  And definitely read the last and final post, just so you don't make the mistake of thinking I don't have emotional distance now from the events described in this one.

2019/45--Setting the Stage

Birthday party

A highlight of that year was Sebastian's fourth birthday party.  He was in preschool, clearly not a toddler anymore, with a huge group of friends, and what a great time we all had.

The most notable event of the late winter was the massive blizzard and flooding that impacted the entire region.  As a member of the Advisory Board of the Salvation Army, our organization was on the front lines in response.  And I took some leadership in the response of the Nebraska Conference of the United Church of Christ.

In June I began my term as Chairperson/President of the Board of Directors of the Nebraska Conference of the UCC.  I had been looking forward to this opportunity with the hope of moving forward with a number of initiatives, particularly to rally folks to more engagement.  The storm and response had also created an opportunity to build upon.  I'm quite proud of the work we did during my term--on climate change, anti-racism, and officially becoming open and affirming.  However, my time as chair was not what I expected it to be, and was instead filled with much stress, as we handled the pandemic and a very difficult situation with staff.

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In July our whole family attended the UCC General Synod in Milwaukee (even Mom and Nash!), followed by a camping trip in northeast Iowa (without Mom) in a beautiful location. 

Pikes peak

Late summer we experienced one of the best periods in our family life, and what to me felt like one of the best periods in our entire relationship.  Michael and I took a weekend away to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary (that had fallen earlier in the summer), and, a few weeks later, we had a great date night seeing Hamilton.  In those weeks we had some fun family excursions to the Iowa State Fair and to Pioneer Village. Plus, we really enjoyed the All Church Retreat together.

Bumper cars

And, then, late September, it all fell apart.  Michael left.  And we were separated.  This wasn't public, and we didn't even tell our families.  

An aside on pastoral ministry.  My husband walked out on a Saturday and the next morning I went ahead and led worship and preached.  I  warned my associate Katie that I might not be able to do it, so she was ready to take over.  I did do it, and felt so strong for having done so.  Only to have a church member come to me at the door and criticize the sermon for being too short. 

That fall I was preaching a sermon series on the Lord's Prayer, in the very traditional way of taking one phrase at a time and exploring it.  Which became for me a pretty powerful spiritual experience--to spend every week researching this prayer and preparing a sermon as I was wrestling with such profound personal emotional issues.  At the time I thought, "this would make an interesting book," though I had no extra energy to create it as I was going through the experience.

We decided to work on the marriage and entered counseling again (the fourth time actually).  Thanksgiving played a healing role in all of that, as we showed up in Oklahoma with our families and pretended everything was normal. But going through those motions and being in the place we had fallen in love, helped.

The actual separation ended, and by New Year's it left like we were on the road to recovery.


Pandemic, of course. Which swallowed everything about that year. For everyone. 

I was doing the full-time childcare, while almost everything about how I do my work changed, and I needed to provide spiritual leadership and pastoral care for hundreds of other people. There were days I thought I was going insane (not a unique experience, of course). 

2020 garden

One of the best parts of being home was all the gardening and landscaping we did that spring.  And I've never enjoyed my front porch so much.

The highlight of 2020 was my team at work.  We were each other's "bubble," even before anyone was using that term.  Everyone rose to the occasion doing more and different and backing each other up.  Even Sebastian's fifth birthday "party" was put on by my staff.  We all became even closer than we were before.

Covid worship

Then, Omaha erupted in the wake of the murders of George Floyd and James Skurlock. And during one of the protests I was tear gassed and shot in the back of the neck by a pepper ball. I still feel that today in both my body and my soul. 

Protests 2

Eventually, we began to regather for church. It was small, with lots of safety protocols, but oh so good.

Fortunately Mom moved to Omaha in September to help with remote schooling and allow me more time for work. I started writing again--a book on moral vision. Weekends Mom, Sebastian, and I would go do fun outdoor activities.

Mummum school

Apple picking

Michael sometimes worked eighty hour weeks that election season. Finally in mid-November we had time to talk and acknowledged that we needed to restart the process of repairing the relationship. 

The day after Thanksgiving, Mom took Sebastian and Nash to give us some time together, and that's when he said he wanted a divorce. 


My Early Forties

I've been thinking this week of the highlights and turning points of each year of my forties (as I'm in my final six months of the decade).  So I decided to write about them.  

In this post My Early Forties which include some of the most significant years of my life.

2014/40--A Fresh Start

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My forties began on the Big Island of Hawaii, where we had traveled to celebrate the big occasion.  A wonderful trip that included hiking over the caldera of a volcano, exploring lava fields at night, kayaking in the ocean, swimming on beautiful beaches, and a stargazing trip up to the top of Mauna Kea.

With a pastoral excellence grant, that summer I attended the Yale Writer's Conference which was one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had, renewing and invigorating.  The three weeks in New Haven (and a side trip to NYC) were the source of new friendships and spending some time with a couple of old friends.  But mostly importantly, that experience was the impetus I needed to finally finish the memoir I'd been working on off-and-on for almost a decade. And I worked diligently writing the rest of the year.

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While in New Haven, I got the call from Creighton University asking me to teach philosophy that autumn. I was thrilled, as I've always wanted to maintain my academic connection and hoped to teach while also engaged in ministry. So that year began six years of teaching, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It also benefited us the next year when Sebastian started daycare there, a place where he thrived (until the pandemic closed the preschool). He (we actually) made lasting friendships with some of the other families.

Some bad news that autumn sent us into couple's counseling to work on our marriage.  As I reflect, more of these moments stand out now.  Where we ended up may have felt surprising, but I realize now how long a road it was to that ending.  

2015/41--The Great Year

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Sebastian was born!  And so many of that year's highlights are connected to that, of course--the call from Jason that Kelsey had picked us, meeting Kelsey, the public announcement, the church shower, the outpouring of generosity from so many, including acquaintances, preparing the nursery, his actual birth, bringing him home, his first time meeting various people, the day we the adoption was final, getting the birth certificate, the wonderful baptism weekend, much less all those precious and first moments with a new born.

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And in the midst of all that celebration came the legal recognition of our marriage, with the Obergefell decision that June.

The pre-Sebastian highlights of the year were completing a first full draft of my memoir and our trip to Costa Rica for a friend's wedding, and what was ultimately our "babymoon."  

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And that autumn we took a wonderful family trip to New England for another wedding.

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When I was sixteen, my Dad died of a heart attack.  He was 41, so over the ensuing 25 years I had always expected 41 to be my weird year, and had told many people such.  Instead, 41 was the greatest year of my life. 

I did cry about Dad a lot that year as I became a dad, but they were good tears.  

But the best year of my life was to be followed by one that ended horribly.  

2016/42--Bizarro World

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On the one hand, 2016 was full of all the wonder and beauty of Sebastian turning one, learning to walk, talking more, and exploring the world. 

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That summer was my sabbatical, delayed from the year before because of Sebastian's birth, but because I had a one-year-old, the sabbatical lacked most of the travel and experiences I had hoped to have, instead staying close to home for much of it to care for him.  I did go hiking in Oregon with Dan Morrow, and it was sublime.

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That June Katie Miller began serving as my full-time Associate Pastor.  There was the sense of professional accomplishment--having spent six years growing the church, its programs, and its funding sources such that we needed and wanted and could afford a full-time associate pastor.  I also hired the person I wanted, having met her a few years before and wanting even then to work with her eventually.  And this relationship became not only one of the most rewarding of my professional partnerships, but she was a dear friend and pastor to me, essential to the years ahead.

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We did get our back patio installed, the conclusion of a multi-year project working on improving our backyard, and just in time for a kiddo who needed it to play.

That October my sister and I fulfilled a promise to take our Mom to Ireland.  A grand and wonderful trip full of so much fun and beauty (and the day I left the country, Hillary was ahead by 14 points).  The best day of that trip was our hike from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher, followed by dinner and live music in the pub in Doolin. 

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That autumn began with the death of Ted Cich, Michael's grandfather, and then the nightmare of my mother-in-law being killed in a car accident that November.  I loved, admired, and respected her.  With her death, it really felt like we entered bizarro world that November (Trump's election being part of that sense of an alternative timeline), and nothing was ever quite the same afterwards.

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NPR Interview

Our local NPR station  KIOS has a new Sunday morning interview show in the spot once occupied by Krista Tippett's On Being.  The show is entitled Lives and is hosted by my friend Stuart Chittenden.  This last Sunday, they broadcast an interview of me that we pre-recorded back at the end of May.  I talk about my faith, my coming out, the pandemic, being a dad, and my divorce and what lessons I've learned for living a good life.  It was a fun interview and fun (and a little emotional too) to listen to it.  Here's the link.


Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific JourneyHeartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey by Florence Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After hearing a promo for Florence Williams's appearance on Fresh Air, I ordered this book, then listened to the interview. This was just the right book at just the right time. I'm almost 15 months since the end of my marriage, and I often feel stuck with emotions that I think I've processed through and yet remain. The book was quite helpful in discussing the physical, mental, and emotional effects of heartbreak. I realized my experiences were not unusual and some of them really out of my control. She also suggests various practices to help ease the heartbreak and maybe speed up the process, while making it clear that it is just a process that takes time. After reading it I feel I better understand what I'm going through.

View all my reviews

Rising Strong

Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and LeadRising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Continuing my Season of Grieving, Healing, and Growth I decided to finally read this book. I had planned to for a long time mostly as an academic exercise in order to understand why it was so popular and what people were finding in it. Now in my own period of relationship breakdown, I read it as part of my grappling with what has happened and what I need to do going forward. In that it was quite helpful in compelling reflection and giving some tools I need.

View all my reviews

"Padre, You've Been Shot"


My colleague the Rev. Darrell Goodwin, Associate Conference Minister for the Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota Conferences of the United Church of Christ, picked me up around 5:30 in the evening so we could head downtown to work as clergy providing pastoral care and de-escalation in an effort to avoid more violence, particularly loss of life while also bearing witness to those who were angry about yesterday's decision not to charge the killer of James Scurlock.

We parked on the outskirts of downtown, donned our clergy stoles, and began walking.  As we came up to the first of five police cordons we went through, I lowered my mask and introduced myself and explained why were were there, intentionally speaking first as the white man in the duo.  The first two cordons of officers sent us ahead.  At the close of each exchange, I wished those officers well and said I was praying for them.  In all the officers you could sense their worry and the tension of the day.

At the third cordon, we encountered a commander in military style fatigues who then walked us the remaining few blocks and through other cordons to where the protestors were gathered.  We walked up to the first officer there, who just happened to be Deputy Chief Kanger.  We again introduced ourselves, and he gave us elbow bumps.  We said what we were there to do and asked if we could be of help. He seemed very pleased and thanked us.  He asked us to talk to people who seemed particularly emotional, which is what we spent a lot of the evening doing.  This was the first of many conversations over the next few hours with the Deputy Chief.

Darrell and I headed to the front of the line.  We walked along between police and protestors introducing ourselves to both.  I generally led next with, "How are you feeling this evening?"  Which often elicited a long response.  In each exchange I'd close with offering to be of help in any way I could and told them I was praying for them.  One young man asked specifically for me to pray over him.  Many thanked us for being there.  A few talked about how churches needed to talk about these issues.

The protestors were almost all so young.  They were upset and afraid.  They didn't understand this injustice, why people keep getting killed, why nothing ever seems to improve or does so so very, very slowly.  A number of the protestors at front were engaging the police in conversations.  Occasionally they took pictures together.  

A few, and it was only a few, were more aggressive, yelling at the police.  Often other protestors gathered around those folk to try to de-escalate them, and the few clergy there (I think I counted six total over the course of the evening--fifty clergy would have radically altered the event for the good) also tried to engage those folk in conversation.  My experience was that most people just wanted their pain and anger heard and after someone listened to them, they appeared not as agitated.  Darrell did amazing work on more than one occasion talking someone down, including one person who early in the evening wanted to rush the cops.  

Occasionally I had to explain to some protestor why what they were demanding some cop to do was something that couldn't be done last night, trying to help them see how unreasonable demands didn't work, but that those demands could be channeled, were legitimate, and could be pursued.  

I talked for a while with one of James Scurlock's brothers, who was so heartbroken and was there to thank people for peacefully representing the family as they had asked.

Shortly after we arrived one very young woman was asking the front line of police if everyone could march together.  A pastor from Zion Baptist heard her and brought her to the Deputy Chief to talk and eventually the Deputy Chief okayed that, so the crowd, with some police included, marched around the Old Market.  For a good part of this march I walked alongside the Deputy Chief and we discussed how to help the situation when the 8 o'clock curfew rolled around.  During the march around I also ran into a church member there protesting.


I was most troubled by one very angry woman who had a toddler with her who walked along the line screaming at all the cops.  I tried talking to her child, and she snatched him away and then wouldn't talk with me.  Darrell tried, and she wouldn't talk with him.  But eventually she did, and Darrell kept trying to talk her into taking care of her baby.  She did eventually seem to disappear.

Some of the young people were wonderful positive influences on the crowd.  One young man, crying, got everyone to kneel and asked all the cops to, and when they did, the crowd erupted in positive cheers, suddenly the cops were swarmed with hugs, hand shakes, and selfies.  This occurred shortly before the curfew, and I believe is one reason that many of the young people left before the curfew.  They had been heard and their pain acknowledged.


Suddenly as the curfew fell, the crowd was very different.  Many of the folk who had been there on the front lines for hours had left and there were new people.  It was also a much whiter crowd than earlier.  At that point Darrell and I began trying to talk them into leaving peacefully.  One couple asked, if we do leave, which way do we go, we look boxed in.  So, I asked the Deputy Chief, who told me to the North, so we began passing out that information.  It was clear that some did not trust us or the information.  It was during this time that I had protestors asking if I was really a cop.  Or I overheard them say to others after I had talked to them, "You know he's a cop, right?"

I saw two young women, the eyes above their masks revealed their fear.  I stepped up to talk to them.  "What happens now?" one of them asked.  I told her that those who remained would be arrested.  "I can't be arrested.  Where do I go?"  I told her she was to walk north.  I took the two of them to the Deputy Chief and had him confirm that for them.  So those two young women started out the exit route.  A trickle of others began to follow.

And suddenly, some idiot in the departing crowd through a water bottle, and some police began shooting pellets at the people leaving.  I was horrified, as I had sent them that way.  I ran into the street screaming at the cop who was firing to stop as the Deputy Chief had sent them that way.  The look he gave me, I thought he was going to turn his weapon on me, but he did not.  He did quit firing.  A media person nearby said, "Yeah, they fucked that up."

We kept encouraging people to leave peacefully, even after that happened.  There was a moment when the protestors were completely closed off from the exit route.  Darrell and I were standing together with the media across the street and began yelling for the police to make an exit route.  Which they listened and did.  Suddenly, some shots and tear gas were released not far from there and so many took the opportunity to run for the exit.  Darrell and I were walking along and got a little separated.  A couple of cops began insisting I move along.  I told them I'd been working with the Deputy Chief in getting people out and was waiting for my clergy colleague right behind him, he told us snidely, "You should have left already, it's after curfew."  He didn't listen to our explanations, but we moved along, encouraging those leaving to keep going and not turn around and yell or anything as doing so risked everyone going that way.

The gas now came our direction and I was coughing and struggling momentarily to breathe.  A woman came up and squirted water on my face and in my mouth.  Moments after that, as I was walking along behind the protestors with my arms raised and yelling, "Leave peacefully" I was knocked to the ground by an impact on the back of my neck.  I yelled "What hit me?" as the realization and fear began to dawn on me.  A young man ran up to me, "Padre, you've been shot." Darrell grabbed me and pulled me against the wall of the building to make sure I wasn't bleeding.

At that point we rushed along behind the exiting protestors continuing to encourage them forward.  We finally turned a corner and found four police to whom we explained what had just happened, who we were, that we had been told by the Deputy Chief to go that way but had been shot and gassed.  We asked what was the safe way back to our car and they directed us.  We had to repeat this conversation a number of times.

We finally made it back to our cars and had to drive a circuitous route back to my house where Darrell dropped me off and then drove himself home.

I've never seen so many cops. So many of them in full military gear.  There were military-style vehicles in the streets.  It was horrifying.  There are so many different and better ways to let people express their justified anger without creating a war zone.

Today my entire body hurts, but my soul hurts even more.

The Teens

Saw so many posts on Facebook this week with people reviewing their personal highlights of the decade, which got me to thinking about ours.


Michael and Scott moved to Omaha, Nebraska, when Scott accepted the call to become Senior Minister of the First Central Congregational Church.  We bought a 1910 house and began remodeling projects.  


In January we rolled one of our cars on the ice.  In April we went to Italy for two weeks for the honeymoon we had delayed since 2009.  Michael was elected to the Justice and Witness Ministries Board of the United Church of Christ.  And Scott's grandfather died.


Michael started working at the Urban League of Nebraska.  The Equality Ordinance was passed by the Omaha City Council.  Our niece Zoe was born.  We kayaked at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior.  Scott went to Paris with friends.  And in November we were legally married on the Iowa side of the pedestrian bridge spanning the Missouri River.


We were foster parents.  Enjoyed a trip to California that summer.  Michael had his tonsils removed.  Michael's grandmother died.  And he traveled to Costa Rica with friends.


For Scott's fortieth birthday, we visited the Big Island of Hawaii.  Scott attended the Yale Writer's Conference and began to work diligently on completing his book.  That fall he began teaching in the philosophy department at Creighton University.


Sebastian was born!  Marriage equality was achieved!  We traveled to Costa Rica for Sara Salas's wedding (and our babymoon).  Scott's stepfather, living with Alzheimer's, entered a nursing home.


Scott took a sabbatical.  Michael's grandfather died.  Scott and his sister took their mom to Ireland.  Michael's mother was killed in a car accident.


Nash, a West Highland Terrier, joined our family for Sebastian's birthday.  We took a family vacation to the Black Hills of South Dakota.  Michael was elected to the national Board of Directors of the United Church of Christ.  Scott's Mom moved in with us after receiving a cancer diagnosis.


Scott's Mom's surgery revealed no cancer, and she moved home.  Michael began working at the Douglas County Election Commission.  Sebastian started preschool and was ring-bearer for his godfather.  Scott's memoir was published.  Scott's stepfather died.  Sebastian had an emergency appendectomy.  Michael celebrated his fortieth birthday.


Scott delivered a TEDx Talk and was elected chair of the Board of Directors of the Nebraska Conference of the United Church of Christ.  Sebastian appeared in his first dance recital, attended theatre and nature camps, competed in a triathlon, and otherwise flourished.  We camped at a picturesque Iowa State Park overlooking the Mississippi River.  And we celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary.

The Influence of Donald Wester: Part Three

One of the virtues of a small liberal arts college is that there is a greater chance for direct, personal relationships with senior faculty even when you are an undergrad.  For example, the first semester of my freshman year I had been in the Wester home, which was an inspiration.  Don and Janie had built a home that with the best available technology of the 1980's was energy efficient and environmentally sustainable.  It was filled with Janie's art and Don's books.  Books everywhere, but well organized, in wooden shelves with glass doors.  

My sophomore year I began working with Don as one of his graders, a job I kept for three years.  As his student employee, I grew personally close to Don and benefited from the many conversations.

One day he mentioned reading a book that week, which to me was shocking, that he could read the entire book in one week. When I said as much, he said he did that all the time and assured me I would one day too.  He was correct, of course, as I now read 70-80 books a year.

Working for him, I also became the tutor for Intro to Philosophy, hosting a weekly session with students reviewing what they were doing in the class and answering their questions.  This was my first opportunity for teaching philosophy.

I remained living in Shawnee the five years I commuted to the University of Oklahoma in Norman to work on my Masters and Ph. D.  During those years I was an active member of the First Baptist Church of Shawnee where the Westers were members.  So through those years of grad school at OU, my friendship with Don deepened.

And we live in a small world, as my connections to the Wester family have grown.  Son Mike and I served as deacons at First Baptist Shawnee.  When I moved to Oklahoma City in 2005 to pastor at Cathedral of Hope, Tom Wester attended the church.  And then I was very surprised when I moved to Omaha in 2010 and son Donald Junior was a member of First Central.  Donald and I became good friends as well, initially bonding over stories of his dad.  I got to participate in Donald’s ordination, and he even served on the staff of First Central for a while, before moving to Arkansas to pastor.  Don, Sr. participated in the ordination service for his son, a fun moment for me.

This week so many messages have been shared by former students and colleagues about Don and his impact.  Today we will celebrate and honor a great legacy.


The Influence of Donald Wester: Part Two

On May 9th of this year I sent the following e-mail to Donald Wester, Junior about his dad:


I'm grading final exams from Intro to Philosophy. One student wrote about how he's long struggled with proving the existence of God and that he was very disappointed with the day we spent on the traditional arguments. But then we read William James and he discovered that we don't need to prove God's existence.

Reading the essay made me think of your Dad, from whom I learned that. Now 27 years later I'm passing those lessons on.

Which also reminds me I brought up your Dad in worship planning yesterday when Stephen and I got off on a discussion of Nietzsche's criticisms of Christianity. I mentioned how your Dad taught me to interpret Nietzsche, that basically the criticisms have some validity and any thoughtful person of faith needs a response that survives the criticisms.

Anyway, thought you might appreciate these stories.


Don Wester, Sr. for decades taught a class entitled "Fundamentals of Philosophy."  It was a sophomore level course required of all religion and ministry majors, the only other philosophy class they were required to take beyond Intro.  It was something of a rite of passage, which means many experienced it as a stumbling block.  The course was part of the genius of OBU's curriculum at the time--before all these young (mostly) men were turned loose on the church, they had to spend a semester with Don Wester.

Wester's textbook for that course was simply the Library of America volume of William James's philosophical writings--Pragmatism, A Pluralistic Universe, Essays in Radical Empiricism, the Varieties of Religious Experience.  William James is not a conservative evangelical, so his works were a definite challenge for most of the students in the course.  Many struggled with it.  I know because I was also Wester's grader for three years, which didn't give me a lot of confidence in the future of pastoral ministry. :)

Which gets me to Don Wester's intellectual project.  

As Don told the story, he was a rural pastor who decided to become a foreign missionary--the plan was to go to Indonesia.  He was smart enough to realize that much of the Christianity he knew was deeply Western, influenced by Greco-Roman thought forms.  He didn't think Indonesians should have to first accept the legacy of Greco-Roman thought before becoming Christians, so he realized he needed to figure out what Christianity was more basically, freed of Greco-Roman philosophy.  Or to put it more simply, Christianity without Plato.

This is a more challenging project than you might realize.

Wester never did end up on the mission field, but the intellectual project remained.  And it is one he passed on to his students.  The intensive study of William James was part of this.  I absorbed his love of James (in my Intro class we read Pragmatism).  I adopted his overall understanding of the history of philosophy and its relationship with Christianity.  I too wanted to understand the history of ideas so that I might know where certain ideas came from and what effects they had had.  The framework I learned from him still shapes how I think about new ideas and how I teach them to my students. 

One implication of this intellectual project is how we think about God.  Wester rejected the notions of omnipotence, omniscience, and impassibility, as they were inherited from the Greeks (Parmenides really) and not the Hebrews.  Being persuaded by Wester on these points opened me to Whitehead's Process Thought, for he too rejects these concepts and conceives of God differently.  

When I took Fundamentals of Philosophy, my final paper was entitled "William James's Concept of God."  Wester marked the title as being wrong and then explained why to me.  James doesn't think we have a concept of God, but a perception, an experience.  He let me rewrite the paper.

Sunday I preached a sermon which explored the myriad ways one could interpret the Letter of Jude.  The sermon was written before Don Wester died, but I dedicated the sermon to his memory, for he taught me to explore truth in this way.

How does one measure the gift of an intellectual worldview?  Especially when his teaching helped me to keep my faith by seeing things in a new light?