Wednesday, November 30, 2016



For reasons I can't fathom, the song stuck in my head has been "Go Tell Aunt Rhody," an old folk song that someone decided would be fun for kids to learn back when I was a kid. Really, America? Here is one version of the lyrics (different than the one I learned, which revolved around "the old grey mare is dead."):

Go tell Aunt Rhody,
Go tell Aunt Rhody,
Go tell Aunt Rhody
The old gray goose is dead.

The one she's been saving,
The one she's been saving,
The one she's been saving
To make a feather bed.

The goslings are mourning,
The goslings are mourning,
The goslings are mourning,
Because their mother's dead.

The old gander's weeping,
The old gander's weeping,
The old gander's weeping,
Because his wife is dead.

I suppose life on the farm was pretty hard, but that is one depressing song. To really ratchet up the pathos, it even creates the fiction of geese being married! It only uses two notes, though (A and D), so perhaps simplicity trumped theme...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


The turn towards Christmas

Sigh. Thanksgiving is over-- my favorite holiday. And once again it was great in every way.

Now we take the turn towards Christmas. As a society, of course, we tend to jump right over Advent, but the Episcopalians and Catholics around me are reminding me not to do that. 

Still, I need to get the lights out. I need to make a cd of Christmas music. I need to go out and cut down a tree. It is easier to make that turn in Minnesota, when any day might bring snow and the frosty air is pretty reliable. On December 1 they will start building the hockey rink and the skating ring down in Arden Park a few blocks away, and smoke will show up over the warming hut and its wood stove. A walk at night by the skaters... that can fit into the quiet spirit of Advent.

Monday, November 28, 2016


Now THAT'S memorable!

There were lots of great haiku last week. But...

I'm not fond of anonymous comments generally, but whoever this anonymous is, he or she had a memorable Thanksgiving!

Slapped him in the face.
(My brother-in-law, that is)
It caused quite a stir.

Sunday, November 27, 2016


Sunday Reflection: Advent begins

Have we ever needed Advent more?

After a year where discourse took us to a bad place over and over.  We turned our national election into a mess by obsessing over and rewarding the worst instincts of politicians.

It's time for calm and reflection. And thank goodness for that!

Saturday, November 26, 2016


Today's the day....

... that  Michigan fans have been waiting for allllll year:

Friday, November 25, 2016


Haiku Friday: Reflecting on Thanksgiving

So... what happened to you on Thanksgiving? What intriguing discussions did you have? What upsetting t-shirts were worn? [see illustration] Was there a meaningful moment for you? Or one where you wanted to be somewhere else?

Let's haiku about that today. Here, I will go first:

Hear a great story
Ate all I could. Contentment
Came easy; grateful.

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

Thursday, November 24, 2016



When I was little, I loved everything about Thanksgiving, but mostly I loved the way it smelled. There were eggs in the morning, and then about mid-day the amazing scent of a turkey in the oven, and fresh bread. I still love all of that, and long for it.

Now, though, I mostly love the thing that the holiday is about. I know very well that I am a lucky man, in so many ways. I have a lot to be thankful for, and it is good to have a day to dwell on that. It took a while, but as I have had the chance to observe other lives I have become more aware of the challenges I have been spared along the way.

A long time ago, I was walking along the side of a road. I was walking because my car had broken down, and I was far from anything in an area of farms and forests. Cell phones were not a thing everyone had in their pocket back then.  There was no sidewalk, so I walked on the edge of the shoulder of the road. It was kind of mesmerizing, and I felt real joy in it. The sun was out, low, and the fields were dusted with snow.  Coming past a house, I smelled a turkey roasting; it was November, but not Thanksgiving. That smell filled me up, a gift.

Soon after that, a car came by. A woman leaned out and offered to give me a ride into the town where I was going. I accepted, and sat down in that small warm space and she took me to where I needed to go. My car was towed, and then it was fixed. I went on my way. Life was, and is, good.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


Over 1,000 commuttions...

Yesterday, President Obama granted 79 more commutations, bringing the total to over 1,000 (though probably not in response to my article in the Star-Tribune).

It's an important landmark, and something to be glad for this Thanksgiving. I think that we need to incarcerate some people, but that we lock up too many for too long, and this has been a good way to address that problem.

There is a lot more to do, though. I'm not laying out here everything that I have been doing, but there is a lot going on. It is going to be a busy few months.

For now, though, I am going to enjoy this holiday tomorrow, and be thankful. It is my favorite holiday, after all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


My Thanksgiving Message

Every year, the spectacle of the President pardoning turkeys gets me upset. Turkeys! There are so many actual people who need commutations and pardons-- and who have earned them.

And every year I write a little piece in protest. Previously, these have appeared in the Washington Post, the Detroit News, the Waco Tribune Herald and a few other places. This year's edition is probably my favorite, since I messed with the form a little. It appears in the Minneapolis Star Tribune today-- you can read it here.

Monday, November 21, 2016



Ok, I loved Jill Scoggins' haiku:

Photo of pageant
winners captioned as "sinners."
Ladies not amused.

And I cringed just as MKS wanted:

A report for work
Forgot the L in public
You can't trust spellcheck. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016


Sunday Reflection: Good-Bye, Hilly Kinton

Last Sunday I was reading the Times and came across Jesse Wegman's piece about a Hillary Clinton action figure (which his daughter called "Hilly Kinton"). It was beautiful and sad. It still is rolling around in my head, and I think it perfectly reflects my mood.

A lot of people are angry about this election, but to people like me it feels more like a deep wound to the soul. Our work has been premised on an idea of America-- one that is fundamentally good, able to change, and moving towards what is better-- and this election seems a repudiation of that idea. I have thought that we are moving along that arc of history far down the line from Bull Connor and the fire hoses. Now I wonder not whether we are still moving forward, but whether that arc really does bend towards justice, or even exists at all.

Here in Minnesota the most prominent minority, Somalis, have the distinction of being immigrants and black and Muslim.  The stories (from eyewitnesses) in the wake of the election are harrowing: fights in the hallways, girls' hijabs being torn off. In nearby Iowa, similar things are happening.

I suppose that this is what if feels like to lose an idea, an idea at the center of your being. So what do we do?

First, I guess we (those of us working on clemency) will try to free the prisoners we can. Now that we know that Senator Sessions will be the AG, I think the right analogy is the last chopper out of Saigon. We just need to make sure it is as big as possible.

Second, we need to accept that elections have consequences. Donald Trump won this election. Those of us who did not support him have to actively analyze why he did, and how we can get a different outcome in the future.  

Saturday, November 19, 2016


Harvard & Yale: More than a game

Today is the annual Harvard-Yale game, an event that usually is completely irrelevant on the sports landscape (except for two years ago when Sportscenter went to Boston for the match) but still kind of fascinating. 

The two schools play an unusual role in the American imagination. Actually, I should say roles because people imagine them differently. For example, in a comment to a humor piece in the Yale paper about the game, someone (probably unaffiliated with either school) had this to say:

Harvard, and Yale, are Social Justice Warrior Academies producing obedient drones for imposing Soros' Open Society. Look around you, it's hard to miss. 

In rolling the comment around in my mind, I started to list the contemporary conservative political figures who got a degree from Harvard or Yale (or, in some cases, both):

Steve Bannon
Tom Cotton
Mitt Romney
George H.W. Bush
George W. Bush
Pat Robertson
Bill O'Reilly
Antonin Scalia
Samuel Alito
Clarence Thomas
Kris Kobach
Ted Cruz
David Vitter
Ben Sasse
Mike Pompeo
Chris Wallace

That is just off the top of my head; there certainly are many more.

The point is this: Harvard and Yale aren't an "academy" for either the right or left. The problem is that they are the academies for both the right and the left.

Friday, November 18, 2016


Haiku Friday: Oops!

Sometimes it just takes one little mistake to mess everything up... I'm certainly not immune. Just yesterday, I posted that it was "Haiku Friday." Oops.

Let's haiku about little mistakes, the ones that turn out to be important (or not). The human moments, you know?  Here, I will go first:

Seemed a good idea
To paint the van with house paint
That did not work out!

Now it is your turn... just show a little love, use the 5/7/5 syllable plan, and have some fun!

Thursday, November 17, 2016


Political Mayhem Thursday: Term Limits

I spent the start of this week in Washington DC, and people there are confused, worried, and turned around. The election of Donald Trump was not foreseen by either side, really. There is a lot to say about the whole thing, but let's start with a small, digestible bit.

Right off the bat, Trump repeated his argument for Congressional term limits, On 60 Minutes he said “We’re going to put on term limits, which a lot of people aren’t happy about, but we’re putting on term limits.”  

It's not hard to guess who is not "happy" about this, of course: Congress. They like the job, and don't want to give it up. Some of them have been in Congress for most of their adult lives. 

There are strong arguments for term limits, but because of gerrymandering many if not most congressional elections will not be competitive no matter who is running-- they were constructed to be won by one party or the other.

So what do you think about the idea of term limits?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


The Pope on hope

This is from his homily on Nov. 6:

Today we celebrate the Jubilee of Mercy for you and with you, our brothers and sisters who are imprisoned. Mercy, as the expression of God’s love, is something we need to think about more deeply. Certainly, breaking the law involves paying the price, and losing one’s freedom is the worst part of serving time, because it affects us so deeply. All the same, hope must not falter. Paying for the wrong we have done is one thing, but another thing entirely is the “breath” of hope, which cannot be stifled by anyone or anything. Our heart always yearns for goodness. We are in debt to the mercy that God constantly shows us, for he never abandons us (cf. Augustine, Sermo 254:1).

In his Letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul speaks of God as “the God of hope” (15:13). It is as if Paul wants to say also to us: “God hopes”. While this may seem paradoxical, it is true: God hopes! His mercy gives him no rest. He is like that Father in the parable, who keeps hoping for the return of his son who has fallen by the wayside (Lk 15:11-32). God does not rest until he finds the sheep that was lost (Lk 15:5). So if God hopes, then no one should lose hope.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


Pain and hope and fear

I am in Washington for a series of clemency events. Last night there was a vigil in front of the White House with people who have received clemency, family members who are waiting, and others (including Van Jones, who organized it).

The setting was stark: cloudy, with a Supermoon cutting though. I suppose that was fitting. We could not stand right by the White House in Lafayette Park, because the scaffolding is being built for Donald Trump's inauguration. I suppose that, too, is fitting.

I was able to see and talk to many of the people who have contacted me over the past several years. Some I have been able to help, others I could not. 

One of them was a woman I have corresponded with for years, whose brother is incarcerated for a non-violent narcotics offense. She has been a remarkable advocate and hero, pushing me and others to take on his case (I prepared and submitted his petition earlier this year). As we talked, she told me about the sleepless nights and worry, the disappointment that her brother has not been on the lists of those given clemency, and the slam of despair that came with the election of Donald Trump for her and other African-Americans. I gave her something, something ancient and precious, and she broke down. I held her as she sobbed, all the sadness and heartbreak pouring out of her. It was deep and real and true, for both of us.

And this, too, in the long nightshadow of the People's House.

Monday, November 14, 2016


Haiku in a new age

Wow! You guys did some good work. I admire Gavin's the most:

Five word short story
"For Sale: Pantsuits. Never worn."
That's the Heming-way!

Desiree (aka the Green Momster) told what must be the truth:

Indoor composting.
Sounds cool. Order worms online.
Fruit flies invade home.

David, are you SURE she liked you?

I liked her and she
liked me, so I kissed her lips,
then she ran away.

This from the Dirt Devil himself:

I was ten years old.
"Wait a sec! Vacuums clean things!
I'm done with laundry!"

Tried to vacuum the
dirt off of my clothes. Turns out
that there's a reason

You do laundry. You
can't clean with vacuums. Plus, I
kinda broke the vacuum.

And finally, Steve set out what others were thinking:

Molotov cocktails
Were sent to the D N C
By mad working people.

Sunday, November 13, 2016


Sunday Reflection: Night Moves

Everyone is reacting to this election differently. Some are jubilant. Some are protesting. Others are, unfortunately, inspired to do awful hateful things.

Some of us who feared a win by Donald Trump have been affected in ways we don't quite understand. I have talked to a number of people suffering from odd sleeplessness, an enduring restlessness. Others have periods of just forgetting things. Some people have a kind of aimless anger. Not many of those who supported (or actually are) Hillary Clinton are taking responsibility for mistakes made in the campaign and the primaries. For my own part, I'm just going to focus on doing what I can do in the next few months in my own little area of expertise.

The impact on me is kind of funny, and kind of not. I can't get the Bob Seger song "Night Moves" out of my head. I wake up in the morning, and there it is. Weird, huh?

Maybe. Maybe not. The song is on its face a light-rock take on sex, but that's not the part that rolls over and over in my head. There is something really unusual in the song, especially for its genre. It is this: The song contains about five seconds of silence, right in the middle of the song.  Then a stanza comes up with an entirely different mood and tone. In the video above, the silence begins at about 2:45, and it is the words following that silence-- and the sad, foreboding way they are sung-- that keep coming to me:

I woke last night to the sound of thunder
How far off I sat and wondered
Started humming a song from 1962
Ain't it funny how the night moves
When you just don't seem to have as much to lose
Strange how the night moves
With autumn closing in.

Has it been summer, with autumn closing in? People from Michigan (like me and Bob Seger) know exactly that feeling, when the cool air is a promise of the harsh and bitter season to come. It's not a thought or a conclusion; it is something you feel in your skin, as certain as a cut and the blood that flows.

Saturday, November 12, 2016


Writing in the midst of twin tumults

I guess I'm just not staying out of the fray.

Last Sunday, I waded into the whole mess at Baylor with a piece in the Waco Trib. You can read that here.

Then on Thursday, The Hill published my essay on the election (which I will write more about tomorrow). You can read that here.

Friday, November 11, 2016


Haiku Friday: OMG! What happened!?!?!

Sometimes, things just take a sudden turn you did not expect. We've all been through it. Let's haiku about that this week.

Here, I will go first:

Great idea (I thought):
Move the car to the back yard!
Then it got stuck. Oops.

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

Thursday, November 10, 2016


Political Mayhem Thursday: IPLawGuy's take on things

I was really intrigued by IPLawGuy's comment yesterday, and it deserves broader consideration. It is reprinted below.  What do you think?

Americans vote for Change Agents: Harding, FDR, Ike, JFK, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush, Obama all ran as agents of change. I think that's true of McKinley, Cleveland, Harrison, Cleveland, Lincoln, and every single elected pre-Civil War President starting with Andrew Jackson through Buchanan.

The ONLY time where an elected Democrat followed an elected Democrat since that pre-war period (when the Whigs were in disarray due their two elected Presidents dying in office), was Truman after FDR. And Truman was in the office for almost 4 years. And he ran as a change agent himself.

The only Republicans to do it were Taft, Hoover and GHWBush... all of whom lost bids for second terms.

Many of us remember Bush the elder's campaign -- he too ran as a change agent. What were his two big themes? "Kinder, Gentler" and "No New Taxes!" Reagan has become a secular saint for the GOP, but he was mistrusted by the right wing by 1988. He agreed to several tax increases as President.

Hillary Clinton forgot the lesson her husband taught us -- "It's The Economy Stupid!" And lest we forget, Bill Clinton's first big misstep as President was ending the ban on gays in the military. NOT an issue he campaigned on and one that got him all tangled up with controversy right out of the gate. This isn't a commentary on the policy, it was the timing and prominence of the policy change that were all wrong.

Hillary needed a positive, simple theme, like "Kinder, Gentler," or "Its the Economy Stupid," or "Morning in America," or "Hope and Change," or even "Return to Normalcy." But she had none. It reminds me of Teddy Kennedy's fatal interview with Roger Mudd in 1980 when he could not answer the question "why do you want to be President?" He had no one sentence answer. And neither did she.

Americans could hang their hats on "Let's Make America Great Again." It's simplistic, but so are all of the other, WINNING, slogans I just mentioned.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016


So... How did that happen?

The polls were wrong. Most of the people I know who care about politics were wrong. Donald Trump won Florida. He won North Carolina. He exceeded expectations nearly everywhere.

So, what happened? Why did the "experts" fail to see this coming?

Many people are going to say that misogyny has something to do with it, and probably it did with some voters-- the things that bugged them about Clinton came down to her being a "her."

Certainly, though, there was more than that going on. I suspect that each of the following also had something to do with Trump's success yesterday:

1) Clinton did not win back all of the Bernie Sanders supporters. They were drawn to an outsider, and she could never be that.

2) Some people simply detest political dynasties. They just did not want another Clinton or Bush.

3) As many people have argued (including Bernie Sanders), a lot of Americans feel left out of America's prosperity. Donald Trump appealed directly to this with his trade policies and hostility to immigration.

4) Rural people turned out to vote in higher numbers than expected, while people in the cities did not.

5) FBI Director Jim Comey's brief re-opening of the email investigation may have planted doubt in the minds of undecided voters about Hillary Clinton.

What do you think mattered?

Tuesday, November 08, 2016


Political Mayhem Election Day....

First of all, this is going to happen (and it is worth revisiting):

Second, today we vote. I love election day; it always feels like some kind of fantastic civic holiday. I go over to my polling place and go in slowly because I love seeing all the mayhem outside with the local candidates swirling around and people waving signs.

The polls are converging around the idea of a four-point Clinton lead. The most likely (but not certain) outcome is a Clinton win and Trump disbelief in the authenticity of that win-- though there are a lot of ways we might be surprised.

Then we will, somehow, move on. Our political health right now seems pretty poor as the dialogue is profoundly negative. It's not just that the candidates have diverged on solutions to our problems, but they vividly disagree about what the problems are.  Trump sees immigration as a primary challenge to the nation's security, for example, and few Democrats would agree.

But what a luxury that is! We are not facing an existential crisis, one that could erode our continuing existence as a free and wealthy nation. It would be wonderful if one of the things we share on the other side of this election is a sense of gratitude...

Monday, November 07, 2016


You can't argue with Christine...

... and her haiku:

The finest ash bat
Rizzo steps up to the plate
grip thick with pine tar

Steps into the box,
refastens his batting gloves
adjusts his ball cap

Looks left and then right
adjusts his stance one more time
stares at the pitcher

Daring him to throw
that one pitch, waiting, waiting
bat at the ready

Intensity builds
The pitcher throws to first base
Ritual starts anew.

Sunday, November 06, 2016


Sunday Reflection: One Nation

This week I gave three talks to three very different groups. The first audience was to about 700 people, nearly all of them under 24. The second was a smaller group, mixed in age. The third was a church group, mostly older. Three very different places, different groups, even very different parts of the country.  I gave a different talk each time (Other than teaching, I don't think I have ever given the same talk twice).

But... when I looked out each time, I saw the same thing: People who were willing to listen to me. That in itself is a remarkable thing, an act of grace. No one shouts me down or is rude, even though many do not agree with me. When questions are asked, they are respectful, thoughtful, and worthwhile.

It is more than I deserve. It's a realm that gives me hope, especially given the sad unpleasantness of this political season.

Saturday, November 05, 2016


Jesus, Etc.

First, regarding Jesus: Tomorrow I will be talking about him at Colonial Church in Edina at 10:30. All are welcome!

Second, about the election. Here is how things look at the moment, according to CNN:

A few observations:

-- This race is very tight. If the five states in ugly mustard yellow on the map (Florida, Arizona, Nevada, North Carolina, and New Hampshire) got to Donald Trump, he will probably win. And... that could happen.

-- If Clinton wins, she will begin her term with two important entities bitterly opposing her. One is the bloc of hard-core Trump voters and supporters in Congress. The other is Vladimir Putin and his followers in Russia. Both present dangers that will be time-consuming and tricky.

-- If Trump wins, he will face unprecedented challenges in staffing his administration, given that his circle of advisors is small and he has largely pushed away both Democrats and the Republican establishment. The upper and middle management of the federal government does some very important work, and it is hard to imagine who Trump will draw into those positions.

Friday, November 04, 2016


Haiku Friday: The World Series!

I'm not the biggest baseball fan in the world (that would be IPLawGuy). I do go to a few Twins games every year, and continue to be a Tigers fan (you don't leave that when you leave the city). I usually don't pay much attention to the playoffs and World Series, since that bleeds over into college football season, which actually does interest me. 

Not this year, though. I got totally caught up in the World Series, which ended on Wednesday night with the Cubs winning game 7 in 10 innings.  It was awesome! Let's haiku about that this week-- you can talk about a team, the games, a memory, or some other year. Here, I will go first:

A bobbling ball
Or a pinch hitter's clutch hit;
When baseball's good... wow!

Now it is your turn! Just make it line up with the 5/7/5 syllable formula and have some fun!

Thursday, November 03, 2016


Political Mayhem Thursday: Trump, Clinton, Comey, Arrrrgh!

Wednesday, November 02, 2016


Sports Update!

1) Cubs!

Game 7 is tonight, the 38th game 7 in World Series history. The Cubs forced that final game by winning the last two to even the series after trailing 3-1 to Cleveland.

So, now you know what you are doing tonight!

2) Baylor Football

After reeling off six wins to start the season, Baylor lost to Texas 35-34. Because of their weak schedule, this means they have no shot at the National Championship. They could still win the Big 12, though.

None of that matters, really, though-- or at least it shouldn't. It's time for Baylor to start over and re-evaluate everything, including the importance and resources it has put into football. The sexual assault scandal is worse than people imagined:

Tuesday, November 01, 2016


Tuesday in Tennessee

I am in Jefferson City, Tennessee to give the chapel talk this morning at Carson-Newman University.  It is a beautiful fall here, and still warm.  I know it will be different back in Minnesota, but it will be good to be back home for a while.

Except... This election is going to be the end of us all!

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