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Cross Views

Keeping an Eye on the Sky

March 04, 2022
By Paul Emmel
Snoopy hugging a heart shape.
Dramatic sunset over Minneapolis, from my bedroom window

 

 When I lived closer to the ground, I seldom noticed the sky.  Disconnected from clouds, sun, moon and stars, I hardly gave the heavens a passing thought. Trees and buildings kept them out of sight. My worldview remained earthbound and narrow. 

Since 2017, all that has changed. Now, through ceiling-high, wide windows, each day presents a heavenly drama of the firmament.  I have a comfortable venue for the greatest show on earth.

 I enjoy brilliant sunrises reflecting off glass office towers on the western horizon. Like a celestial rheostat, the sky gradually brightens. "The rosy fingered dawn" makes her daily debut. About once a month the setting sun presents a soul-stopping sky.

The weather unfolds in real time. Cumulus clouds gather long before storms arrive.  "On clear day you can see forever." The horizon extends miles in all directions. Cloud formations are ever changing.  Puffy, stratified and dense clouds, of all kinds and shapes stretch across the sky. Approaching jet planes appear way off with strobe lights; military jets make contrails providing special effects in an evening sky.

 I've heard it said that people who grow up in Big Sky Country and on The Great Plains are endowed with a wide perspective on life. They are resistant to the cloistered effect of urban life with its walls and fences. "Don't Fence Me In" their souls sing. Not liking the cubicle life, they feel at home with distant horizons and panoramic views. I think there may be some truth to that.

When I keep my eyes on the ground, gravity pulls my soul downward.
When I lift my eyes on high, burdens lighten, the horizon expands and 
life presents more possibilities.  Here's why:

     "The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky proclaims his handiwork...
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom
leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man,
runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from it heat."
 
Psalm 19:1-6
 
Paul Emmel

March 3, 2022

Paul EmmelPaul Emmel is a retired pastor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, having served as a parish pastor, a correctional chaplain for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and a hospital chaplain and a community counselor. As a retired pastor, Paul continues to serve the Lord and His people, including establishing the Minnesota South District’s “Pastors to Prisoners” ministry.  

 

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The Truth About Unconditional Love

December 17, 2021
By Paul Emmel
Snoopy hugging a heart shape.
"All we need is a hug."

 

Americans have invested deeply in the notion that "all we need is lots of unconditional love ." Eric Fromm, in his classic book The Art of Loving, says that the healthiest people he has known are those who very often grow up experiencing a combination of unconditional love along with very conditional and demanding love, one parent who accepts us as we are and another parent who expects more of us and pushes them to do better.

I know that this is not the current version of what is psychologically "correct," because we seem to think we need nothing but unconditional love. (Any law, correction, rule or limitation is another word for conditional love.)  As Fr. Richard Rohr observes, it seems we need a foil, a goad, a wall to butt up against to create a proper ego structure and strong identity. Such a foil is the way we internalize our own deeper values and dethrone our own narcissism. Butting up against limits actually teaches us a lot.

It has been acceptable for some time in America to remain "wound identified" (that is, using one's victimhood as one's identity, one's ticket to sympathy and one's excuse for not serving others, instead of using the wound to "redeem the world," as we see in Jesus and many people who turn their wounds into sacred wounds that liberate both themselves and others.

Those who only whine about strict parents and authority for too long invariably remain or become narcissists themselves. I say this after working with prison inmates for 30 years as a counselor and confessor. Thinking of themselves only as victims or oppressed gets people stuck in their own adolescent misery. They don't grow up as responsible adults.

Mature people invariably thank their harder parent, law-driven church, kick-ass coach, and most demanding professors - but usually years later. It is what we should expect to hear from 50-70-year-olds and what you seldom hear from 20-40-year-olds unless they mature quite quickly. Some, of course, have also been wounded quite lethally, as in situations of rape or abuse or bullying and it takes them a longer time to heal and grow.

Bottom line: we need both law and love for spiritual growth. We need to be taught how to live with both limits and freedom at the same time. Too much of one at the expense of the other leads to problems with our fragile human ego. Law and structure, as fallible as they often are, put up some kind of limit to our infantile grandiosity and prepare us for helpful adult relationships with the outer world.

"All we need is a hug?" Not true. Sometimes we need what we don't like and what we often resist: the real truth about ourselves. Sometimes our behavior is "not okay" and we need to do something to correct it. Sometimes we need a kick in the butt and not a pat on the back. It's all part of "growing up."

Paul Emmel

The Third Week of Advent 2021

For this essay I am indebted to Fr. Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life(Jossey-Bass: 2011).

 

Paul EmmelPaul Emmel is a retired pastor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, having served as a parish pastor, a correctional chaplain for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and a hospital chaplain and a community counselor. As a retired pastor, Paul continues to serve the Lord and His people, including establishing the Minnesota South District’s “Pastors to Prisoners” ministry.  

 

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Burning Bushes

December 03, 2021
By Paul Emmel
Psalms/Now Book
A burning bush at Kick Ash Coffee House, Ellison Bay, Wisconsin.

 

Throughout the ages people have encountered "burning bushes," attention-arresting manifestations of God's presence in the world of nature. And when they do, some people are moved to "take off their shoes" to honor the Divine Presence.

As the iconic example, Moses beheld a burning bush and heard the voice of God summoning him to free Israel from Egyptian bondage. The bush burned with God's presence, but it was not consumed.  Just in case Moses doubted the voice he heard, he would be convicted by what he saw.

Moses was ordered to take of his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. Wherever God chooses to show Himself, that ground is holy because God's presence is always holy. The Divine Presence strikes mortal people with fear and awe. 

When I am out in nature, I try to keep my eyes and ears open for "burning bushes," encounters that remind me that I am walking on holy ground. I am reassured that despite the distress in the world, everything is still under God's control. 

Paul Emmel

Minneapolis
Autumn 2021

 

Paul EmmelPaul Emmel is a retired pastor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, having served as a parish pastor, a correctional chaplain for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and a hospital chaplain and a community counselor. As a retired pastor, Paul continues to serve the Lord and His people, including establishing the Minnesota South District’s “Pastors to Prisoners” ministry.  

 

Turning the Ugly into the Beautiful

October 11, 2021
By Paul Emmel
Psalms/Now Book
Professional fine woodworker Michael Doerr of Door County, Wisconsin, turns a rough Walnut burl into a beautiful bowl in his rural shop.

 

Wood artisan Michael Doerr works in his studio located along a quiet wooded road in Southern Door County, Wisconsin. For each project he selects a piece of wood that he fashions into something that honors the beauty and life of the tree. He combines the best flow of the grain with his dynamic design. The result is a unique table, chair, or bowl that is both a practical piece and a work of art.

While biking recently, I discovered his workshop. Michael was about to begin creating something out of a large previously cut Black Walnut tree that had been offered to him. The chips were flying, covering his fluffy white beard as he stood with chisel in hand before a powerful lathe. A handsome bowl was emerging from an aged burl of striking grains.

A burel is a growth on a tree formed by unsprouted bud tissue. The large, knobby looking, ugly growth on the trunk of the tree is raw material for wood turners. The intense grain patterns are caused by injury, fungus, virus, and insects.

 

Some large burls are sliced by saw instead of turned by lathe,  producing table tops like this one cut from a large White Oak.

Michael in his workshop showroom of furniture displaying an Oak burl table.
 
A handsome rocking chair made from select grains of Maple.

 

"A place for everything and everything in its place."
 
 

Afterwards, it occurred to me that the Creator takes the ugliness of human behavior and reshapes it into something beautiful for His ultimate purposes. In theology, it's called restoration or transformation.

We find this truth illustrated in the betrayal of Joseph by his eleven brothers and in Judas' betrayal of Jesus before His crucifixion. In both cases, evil was transformed into good for the salvation of all.

Likewise, the risen and reigning Christ takes the ugliness and evil of this world and turns it into transcendent beauty, truth, and love.

When I stay alert, I see that our world contains spiritual truth hiding in nature and in people who honor its beauty.

Paul Emmel

Minneapolis
October 8, 2021

Doerr's website: michaeldoerr.com

 

Paul EmmelPaul Emmel is a retired pastor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, having served as a parish pastor, a correctional chaplain for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and a hospital chaplain and a community counselor. As a retired pastor, Paul continues to serve the Lord and His people, including establishing the Minnesota South District’s “Pastors to Prisoners” ministry.  

 

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