Friday, January 19, 2018


Haiku Friday: Your gentle addiction

I am a little wiped out from reading about bad addictions, particularly to opioids. Yikes-- bad, bad stuff.  

But what of gentle addictions? To the morning paper, or swimming, or maybe Lance snack cakes ("Don't go round hungry!"). Let's downshift a little and haiku about that this week. Here, I will go first:

One cookie a day
But... chocolate chip goodness
Makes me quite smiley.

Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable formula and have some fun!

Thursday, January 18, 2018


Political Mayhem Thursday: A Tumult in Pittsburgh

On January 14--Martin Luther King, Jr. Day-- the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a staff editorial titled "Reason as Racism: An Immigration Debate Gets Derailed." You can read the whole thing here. This is how it concludes:
Did the president use a crudity in a private meeting? He says he did not. No one who was there has said he did on the record. But if he did, so what? So what? America today is a sadly crass place where many of us use vulgar, corrosive language we ought not use in private and work conversations. How many of us would like to see and share a transcript of everything we have said in private conversations or at work?
And how many presidents have said crass things in the Oval Office in private meetings? Think of Kennedy, Clinton and Nixon, to name three.
If the president is wrong on immigration — on merit, on finding a balance between skilled and unskilled immigrants, on chain migration, on the lottery — let his opponents defeat him on these points, and not by calling him a racist. If he is to be removed from office, let the voters do it based on his total performance — temperament as well as accomplishment — in 2020. Simply calling him an agent of the Russians, a nutcase or a racist is a cowardly way to fight.
We need to confine the word “racist” to people like Bull Connor and Dylann Roof. For if every person who speaks inelegantly, or from a position of privilege, or ignorance, or expresses an idea we dislike, or happens to be a white male, is a racist, the term is devoid of meaning.
We have to stop calling each other names in this country and battle each other with ideas and issues, not slanders.
There is a lot wrong here, in my view. But I will hold my tongue for minute-- what do you think?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


Words from friends

So, I have two links for you today, from people I love writing about words.

First, please read our friend CraigA's piece from last Sunday in the Richmond paper. It is beautiful and authentic. You can read the whole thing here, but I will give you a taste:

Language is important, particularly so figurative language. The images and metaphors used to guide and to inform personal narratives can be fundamental to the process of living, to the process of healing — and to the process of dying.

It is important to note that language and images that may work for one, may not work for another. Such has been true for me.

I too have had to navigate a life-threatening illness — one that would have taken my life, save for the due diligence of my outstanding primary physician, a timely diagnostic procedure and excellent care throughout. And save for grace.

In terms of language, my experience had far more to do with acceptance, engagement, collaboration, trust, submission and, most of all, surrender. The language of prayer was important as well: my prayer and the prayer of others. The language of grace was also significant — a lot of undeserved grace.

Second, check out my dad's blog this week, about, well, words:

In 2008 I painted a portrait of Barack Obama in thought. During debates he was often criticized by his opposition for not thinking quickly on his feet in debates. I  thought that  he was the best choice for President because he was the candidate who thought before he chose his words.


My mother’s voice was always calm and soothing. She took time from her life to read to me. I still can curl up inside the memory of her pleasantness and the choice of her words.

My father had less time for extended warm moments. His voice was firm, authoritarian and final. It was also loving because he was loving which was reflected in his choice of words.

Martin Luther King Jr came along later and just reinforced my appreciation for the spoken and written word.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018


Footprints in the snow

I really liked the Medievalist's haiku from last Friday:

Walking in the snow,
I leave a track upon which
I will not return.

In part, I like it because of its ambiguity-- where is he going? Does "I will not return" mean the snow will be gone, or he won't be back?

Monday, January 15, 2018


MLK Day THIS year....

It's MLK day. I have been thinking about Dr. King's teaching and legacy a lot lately. In part, that is because I need to get ready to speak in Memphis as part of the 50th anniversary of his death there in April (more details here).

It's not just that, though.

It has been a hard year in this country in terms of race. President Trump has (often subtly) stoked his base with racial offense since the primaries, but now he seems to have gotten to the point where reasonable people are publicly and somberly concluding that he is a racist.

At the same time, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been turned into a secular moderate in much of the public imagination. That image hides two deep truths. One is that his faith had everything to do with his passion and his project. Christianity should, if it is true, drive us from hate, bias, and racial oppression. Over and over, he articulated that.

The second falsehood that sometimes we seem to want to believe is that he was a popular, let's-all-get-along type of guy. He was deeply unpopular with much of America, who seethed with anger at what he wanted and how he sought that change. He was right and they were wrong-- but often it is being right, in a way that implies moral judgment, that makes people the most angry. His solutions were radical at the time, in the places he sought them. His Letter from Birmingham Jail expresses his frustration with those who wanted him, in real time, to go slower and to be more moderate.

The truth, right now, is troubling.

Sunday, January 14, 2018


Sunday Reflection: Redemption in the desert

It's been quite a week.

On Tuesday, I found myself in Florence, Arizona. It's a dusty, remote place, out in the middle of the desert and far from Tucson and Phoenix. It's a prison town; there are more people inside those prisons than outside in the town.

It has a beauty to it, though. There are mountains around, and as a flatlander that always makes my heart skip a beat. The land in and around town is flat and dry, but not barren. The sun defines the place of course, and even in January it was inescapable. I liked it.

As I drove in, I saw what looked like snow by the side of the road. It was over 75, though, and I knew that couldn't be right. I pulled over and picked at it-- it was cotton, which grew in the fields nearby and had piled up in the ditch and roadside. It felt primal, to run it through my fingers next to the empty highway.

I wasn't there on an agricultural mission, though. I had been invited to Florence by James Mannato, the public defender for Pinal County. He had come to a presentation I had given last June on selecting capital jurors, and wanted me to come talk to his team as they prepared for trial in a death penalty case. I found myself presenting in a small courtroom, with the lawyers and staff in the galley and along the wall. It was humbling; they knew more than I did, of course. Their questions were real and somber, which is what you get when you are dealing with life and death. Mr. Mannato explained the case to me--at least the public details--and I was struck (as I always am) by the complexity of these cases, the underlying humanity to it all.

It's been a difficult period in some ways, these past several months. As I look around, I don't see much hope in the near future for a resurgence in the role of human dignity within criminal justice. We who care about that have to fight just to maintain our ground. But that afternoon rejuvenated me. I loved hearing about what they are doing, and how they are doing it.

I drove out at the end of the day with a new hope. I'm part of a community of people who care about justice being just and humane, and sometimes I forget that. It was good to be reminded.

As I drove out, I passed one of the prisons in town. Behind a fence, there was one man in the yard, silhouetted against the sky as he leaned an a pole. It was an image I can't get out of my head. And between me and him was a field of rough earth, bone dry, marked with a few scrubby plants covered with thorns. It was this kind of land that Jesus walked across, I suppose. He told us to visit the prisoner, because then we visit Him. And to do that, in the United States in 2018, you have to go to  a place like Florence, Arizona.

Saturday, January 13, 2018


Thanks, Yahoo News!

Yesterday I opened up a story on Yahoo News and came across this remarkable first line:

Botswana condemned President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony. [sic]

Now, I'm the last person who should criticize anyone for a failure to edit properly. I am the worst editor in America. But... what is going on here? Who is "John TrumpHouse?" And with a name like "John TrumpHouse," how is he a Democrat?  

Don't get me wrong-- I'm all in on John Trumphouse's condemnation of Donald Trump Jr. and his serious case of amnesia. But... what was that about Botswana?

Friday, January 12, 2018


Haiku Friday: Things to do in winter

Yeah, it's winter. Here in Minnesota, we just put on some more clothes and deal with it. Some people build a fire and hole up (which is what I am doing right at the moment), while others get out and have some fun in the snow (like my niece Alexa in the photo, from Christmas week in Michigan). 

Whatever it is you like to do, let's haiku about that this week. Here, I will go first:

I walk outdoors, night
And something about the snow
Makes the stars brighter.

Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable formula, and have some fun!

Thursday, January 11, 2018


Political Mayhem Thursday: Trump and the Farmer

So, maybe you missed it, but last week the Waco Farmer came back to the Razor! In a comment, where is what he said:

--> "Good morning. Hello from the other side. Some of you will notice that I have not checked in for a while. Some of you will remember me as a crazy guy who said a lot of crazy things. For most of 2015 and 2016 I asserted with absolute authority that Donald Trump would not make a serious run for the Republican nomination, even if he did--he could never win the nomination, and, in the end, he absolutely, categorically, unequivocally could never be President of the United States.
In the aftermath of that nightmare, I remembered a few fundamental truths ("nobody knows anything," hubris was in fact the original sin, and I had taken a professional oath at the beginning of my career to never predict the future). How had I gone so wrong?

I resolved to take a year to listen, ask questions (to which I did not already have all the answers), reject conventional wisdom, and observe. 

Questions. What is the true impact of the Trump presidency on American policy and political culture? Smaller and more Specific. What grade do I give his judicial appointments? What do I think about his re-orientation of the regulatory state? What do I think about his tax policy? What do I think about ACA moving forward? What do I think about his foreign policy? What is the state of our relations with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, Iran, Iraq, Russia, Pakistan, North Korea, Venezuela, China, Japan, and Mexico--just to name a few? What do I think about the Paris Climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, the decision to re-evaluate our traditional policy of buying off our allies and "frenemies" through foreign largesse?

And there are lots more. Just a sample of the many ideas to ponder. I will check in every once and while and let you know what I am seeing and hearing and how it has affected my thinking. Happy New Year."

So, after realizing "Hello from the other side" did not mean that he was dead (it just means he is conservative) I was so glad to see him back-- over the years, the Farmer has contributed some significant insights here.

In terms of what he said in the comment, I have been thinking some of the same things. The bad things about the Trump presidency are so bad that we see everything in the negative. But there must be some things going right, huh? And what is going wrong requires a more subtle analysis that some of the screeds I have read (and, at times, written).  

So, what do you think of his questions?  

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


Your trash is not your own

I was fascinated by a piece in the Portland Alt-Weekly that detailed an odd project: In the wake of a mild outcry over the police seizure of a a suspects trash, they went and examined the trash of the police chief, the mayor and the DA.  Two of the three-- the DA being the exception--went berzerk in response.

Of course, I'm not surprised that it was the prosecutor who didn't go haywire. Like me, he is trained in search and seizure law, and knows that trash is "abandoned" once you set it by the curb, and retains no expectation of privacy. It is a well-established principle of criminal law laid out in multiple Supreme Court cases.  Oddly, the newspaper's search found that he was disposing of items related to his own military service in the Marines. No scandal there, but interesting.

So, a note to you all: your trash is not your own. Plan accordingly.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018


The Mission of my school

A few weeks ago, a piece I wrote appeared on the St. Thomas website. It was a good exercise, writing it; it made me distill into words some things that i just felt. You can read the whole thing here.

Here is how it starts:

I first visited St. Thomas Law to give a talk to the faculty at lunch. During the visit I saw the mission statement posted on a wall: “The University of St. Thomas School of Law, as a Catholic law school, is dedicated to integrating faith and reason in the search for truth through a focus on morality and social justice.” There, in a few words, were so many challenging imperatives. Faith and reason. Truth. Morality. Social Justice. Each different, each complicated, and each one of them was a part of what I had been imperfectly striving for. Within a year, I was a part of the faculty after 10 years at Baylor Law School. Did the mission matter? It did when it drew me to St. Thomas, and it has ever since.
Consider, for example, the idea of morality. For too many lawyers, their vocation becomes amoral; they represent whichever side of a dispute walks through the door and offers money. Earlier in my career I was deeply troubled that we talked a lot about ethics – such as working hard for your client – but not much about morality. That’s not true at St. Thomas. In criminal law classes, I challenge my students to think hard about the morality of professional decisions, such as the choices a prosecutor makes within her area of discretion. Sometimes, I find students who aren’t comfortable with the moral decisions lawyers have to make and part of my job is to change that and help them see the moral dimension to all kinds of legal work. It can be the hardest part of the job.

Monday, January 08, 2018


The bird feeder....

How cold is it? You told us in haiku. I was a little obsessed over this one by Christine:

Enveloped by snow
Bird feeder becomes a Hajj
The world so quiet.

The Hajj, of course, is the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. Awesome reference!

And Oso Grande referred to one of my favorite Christmas songs (written by Christina Rosetti:

Frost stops by woods and
Rosetti's bleak midwinter
both give heart and hope.

Sunday, January 07, 2018


Sunday Reflection: A New Year!

I know, I know... it is a bit past New Year's Day. Still, this is the first Sunday of the New Year after that one, and I think it is not too late to mull over what it means.

There isn't anything magical about the year changing, any more than it is meaningful that the odometer flips over 100,000 on your car (which actually happened to me this year for the first time, and all 100,000 were mine!).

Except... isn't it a little magical when the odometer flips over? All those zeroes in a row?

There is a definitive statement in these things, really. Time passes. And, in your car, space passes, places passing by one after the other; some you notice and others you don't. And yet, there is something ahead, unknown, exciting, just as real as that which has past.

If this all has a design, than certainly this is an elemental part of it, a bit of deep truth that can be hard to look at too closely...

Saturday, January 06, 2018


Super Bowl Oddity: The "Food Truck Tower"

According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, next month's Super Bowl here in the Twin Cities will feature a "Food Truck Tower":

Where dyed-in-the-wool football fans gather, food trucks are sure to follow.

Schwan's Co. is taking the idea a step further with its Tailgate Truck Tower. The four-story-tall food stand, made from three of the company's iconic gold delivery trucks stacked on top of the other, wouldn't look out of place in a "Mad Max" movie.

Fans will be able to sample a wide variety of hot food offerings (for free!) from the Marshall- and Bloomington-based company, which owns a several retail brands, like Red Baron, Freschetta and Tony’s pizzas, Mrs. Smith’s pies and Edwards desserts. 

And, if free food is not your thing, it also features an interactive trivia video game, which will be projected on one side of the tower.

The tower will be unveiled during Super Bowl Live on Nicollet Mall, with construction starting in a few weeks where Nicollet Mall meets 8th Street.

When it’s built, the tower will measure about 40 feet high and 44.5 feet wide, and weigh an estimated 70,000 pounds, the company says.

So how is THAT supposed to work? I mean... what if I want a sloppy joe from the food truck on the top, how do I get up there to order it? This could be a total debacle. Or... the best thing ever.

Friday, January 05, 2018


Haiku Friday: How cold is it?

I love winter. I really do. Look, I live in Minnesota by choice, so if I didn't love winter I would be kind of an idiot.

On the way home from work I drove over a little bridge near my house which passes over the creek. Beneath me, on the ice, some kids had shoveled off a rink and were playing hockey. The puck skittered over the snowbank, and a kid clambered after it in his skates. It was 4 degrees out. I wanted in on that game.

I know that out east, it is kind of crazy with the "bomb cyclone." Any weather system with "bomb" (or, for that matter, "cyclone") is going to be pretty bad. 

Let's tell some winter stories this week, in haiku. Here, I will go first:

What I love the most
Is the sound(lessness) of it
The hush of cold peace.

Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!

Thursday, January 04, 2018


Political Mayhem Thursday: The sad fate of those around Trump

It seems that if you want to ruin your life somehow, the quickest way is to take a job in the White House. Everyone Trump touches turns to ash, it seems.

Those who got involved first-- in the campaign-- are among those who found misfortune most quickly. For others, the black cloud over their heads has yet to rain down indictments and embarrassment.

The people who ran Trump's campaign (except, for the moment, Kellyanne Conway) are all in some kind of hot mess.  Corey Lewandowski, the first of this trio, has been accused of sexual assault by a pro-Trump singer named Joy Villa.  Where? At the Trump hotel in DC, of course.

The second campaign manager was Paul Manafort, who is now under indictment as part of the Mueller investigation. He reacted to that yesterday with a lawsuit challenging Mueller's authority-- a suit that seems to be universally scoffed at by legal experts.

Finally, the campaign was put in the hands of Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway.

Bannon apparently talked to a book author and had quite a bit to say about Trump. Among other things, he supposedly said that Ivanka Trump is "as dumb as a brick."  In response, Trump shot back yesterday with a truly unhinged written response (which was apparently too long for Twitter):

Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Steve was a staffer who worked for me after I had already won the nomination by defeating seventeen candidates, often described as the most talented field ever assembled in the Republican party.
Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look. Steve had very little to do with our historic victory, which was delivered by the forgotten men and women of this country. Yet Steve had everything to do with the loss of a Senate seat in Alabama held for more than thirty years by Republicans. Steve doesn’t represent my base—he’s only in it for himself.
Steve pretends to be at war with the media, which he calls the opposition party, yet he spent his time at the White House leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was. It is the only thing he does well. Steve was rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue, whom he helped write phony books.
Yikes!  What's next? Oh, right... more indictments. 

Wednesday, January 03, 2018


Awards time!

Yesterday, Donald Trump tweeted this out:

I will be announcing THE MOST DISHONEST & CORRUPT MEDIA AWARDS OF THE YEAR on Monday at 5:00 o’clock. Subjects will cover Dishonesty & Bad Reporting in various categories from the Fake News Media. Stay tuned!

Wow! I am looking forward to that.

Sean Spicer has to at least get nominated!

Tuesday, January 02, 2018



Probably many of you remember Yertle the Turtle. He was a creation of Dr. Suess.  Yertle was the king of the Turtles, and he decides he wants to stack his subjects up so he can be on top-- eventually he wants to be higher than the moon. The turtle at the bottom, Mack, registers a complaint and is told to be quiet. Eventually, Mack burps, Yertle tumbles, and then becomes "King of the mud."

I remember as a kid talking to other kids about the story, and there were a few theories on what it meant:

-- some kids thought Yertle had the right idea and just did not execute properly
-- others believed that it was a story about madness for power for the sake of power
-- meanwhile, I thought it actually was a story about Mack.

What is (or was) your theory?

Monday, January 01, 2018


On the New Year

So... there were haikus. And they were good. I loved the uplifting ones...

Like this from Oso Grande:

Weird President Trump
Shots and cars in crowds, BUT.....then.....Granddaughter Nora!

And most of all this, from my dad:

went away came back
surrounded by rescuers and my
beloved family.

Happy New Year to all!

Sunday, December 31, 2017


Sunday Reflection: That there is a God

Because of the places I have taught and the people I have befriended, I know a lot of theologians. Their work is fascinating sometimes, especially the work by those who mix in a lot of history and linguistics. It's dense and challenging and rings true. Other times, it seems too distant from the heart of faith-- a commentary on someone else's thoughts about a text, strained through a distant intellectual tradition: Augustine thought this about what Paul said about that, and later commentators had additional thoughts. Great. But sometimes the whole discourse is really about something minute and small; it is placed entirely within the limits of our understanding, and pretends we can comprehend what we cannot.

I find myself drawn to the bigger questions. What does it mean that there is a God? Beyond "is there a God?" that may be the biggest question of all. Yet in my own heart, that matter of theology is settled.

If there is a God, and it's not me, then there is something eternal that is greater than me-- something I cannot and will never fully comprehend, that is always larger and greater than I.

Think of all that changes with that thought! It's a whipsaw of humility. It forces me to accept mystery. It demands that my answer very often be "I don't know." It places me firmly on the ground.

Today, the last day of the year, I go back to that. And I give thanks. And I build from that.

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