Sunday, June 30, 2024


Sunday Reflection: Humility in the Hardest Times


If you have read this blog even casually, you probably know that I believe the heart of the Christian faith is humility. Jesus taught that over and over and over-- that we can't make ourselves the center of things, and that humility and sacrifice are what is righteous. And Jesus aside, a deep humility is inherent in any belief system that accepts that there is a God and I am not that God-- a belief in a deity is fundamentally humbling and means that there is much that you or I do not know and understand.

It's hardest to show humility when the stakes are highest. I see this often in criminal law. It is incredibly hard for prosecutors to admit they were wrong, because often the cost of that mistake is so huge-- someone has been wrongfully punished, sometimes imprisoned for decades. It is right there in Holy Week, at the trial of Jesus, when Caiaphus the prosecutor is so frustrated he tears his clothes and demands "Execute him!" Talk about over-commitment!

I've been thinking about this as Joe Biden digs in on his now-probably-futile run for the presidency. The best hope for Democrats and democracy would be for him to step aside, but that would mean admitting he was wrong when the stakes were highest (or at least feel like that). 

He seems to be a good man. And a part of so many good people is that humility finds them at the right time. Perhaps that will happen now.

Saturday, June 29, 2024


The Recap we all needed


Friday, June 28, 2024


Haiku Friday: Acts of kindness


After that brutally awful debate last night, I want to focus on something, anything, positive. So let's haiku about acts of kindness today, ok? Here, I will go first:

I needed a snack
And my mom knew that somehow
The scent of fresh bread.

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



 Tonight, Donald Trump evaded questions, told baldface lies and veered towards immigration as the answer to every question. And yet, somehow, President Biden was worse.

Here is an important piece of context: What Biden is arguing for is that he should be president when he is four years older than he is now. Think about that for a minute, in the context of the confusion and failure of this debate.

And, yes, I'm mad-- at all the people with influence within my party who insisted Joe Biden not be challenged for the nomination, who told us how behind closed doors he is quite spry, who have attacked anyone who doubts Biden's abilities. They have left us with a terrible candidate who is now fatally injured in this campaign.  I mean... he completed one convoluted answer by saying "We finally beat Medicare."

Democrats must find a way to a different nominee.

Thursday, June 27, 2024


Political Mayhem Thursday: Debate edition!


Regular readers know that I spent literally two years living in fear of this day-- that our (apparent) nominees would be Biden and Trump, and we would face the prospect of them having a debate. And that day is here. Sigh.

Expectations for both participants are extremely low. People think Biden will fall asleep or wander around, and that Trump will obsess over the last election. If either engages in an extended policy discussion-- about literally anything-- they will shoot ahead of these low expectations.

My hope, of course, is that someday a moderator will ask a question about clemency; we care a lot when presidents use it (as Biden did admirably yesterday, pardoning people who were punished for violating anti-gay policies in the military), but never ask about it when they run for office. Maybe Biden will bring up that recent grant, and if he does I will be thrilled. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2024


Politic Notes: Throwing tarantulas in Edina


The Republican candidate for County Commissioner here in my district in Edina is having quite a moment. A self-styled successful businesswoman-- she's a realtor who lost her license-she is all over the news here for an encounter with a woman who rented an AirBNB from her. There are some issues with that part, since Edina bars short-term rentals and the candidate didn't own the house. 

It seems that the AirBNB renter complained of a spider infestation, which annoyed the candidate. So the candidate drove her out by throwing a tarantula at her while yelling about Jesus.

So... if you like this kind of thing, be sure to look up Royce White, the Minnesota Republican's candidate to face Amy Klobuchar for US Senate. They really are on a roll!

Tuesday, June 25, 2024




Recently, I did a podcast with  Caitlin Morneau of the Catholic Mobilizing Network. I've worked with them before on issues related to the death penalty. You can listen to the podcast here-- and I hope you will!

I've always loved radio, and podcasts have a bit of the same vibe. They rely on audio alone, which allows for so much-- and people tell me I have a face for radio!

Monday, June 24, 2024


You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows


That's just my favorite lyric about the weather. But you probably knew that already.

Great work on the haiku, my friends! We had this from CraigA, who is dealing with it:

Hundred and five heat:
Getting up early with hose
in hand - saving plants.

And then his fellow Virginian, IPLawGuy, appreciates it all:

Dry heat, humid heat
Deep snow, frozen ice, crisp air
Give me the extremes.

Jill Scoggin is managing (and I love "I grow spent"):

Under the heat dome:
I grow spent so soon. Yard work
must be done in shifts.

Kitty is right there with IPLawGuy:

Montana is weird
It snowed last week but today
We might hit eighty.

And Anonymous has hopes:

Rain, rain go away
Come again some other day
Flowers need some sun!

Meanwhile-- Des sat this one out? No comment on climate change? Hmph.

Sunday, June 23, 2024


This is from Mark 4:35-41:

When evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

I do love this story! Jesus has just been teaching a huge crowd on the shore of the Sea of Galilee-- a lesson that contained the parable of the sower and the parable of the mustard seed, perfect for an agricultural society. As I mentioned last week, one genius part of Jesus's teaching is that he always started where his audience was, rooting his stories in experiences they could relate to. We so often fail to do that (at least I do) as we try to impress people with what we know as soon as possible.

From this point in Mark 4 through the end of Mark 5, the story pivots from teaching to miracles (though there is still some teaching thrown in). Here we see the first of the miracles in that streak-- that Jesus is able to calm the stormy sea. It's simple, isn't it? Here we learn the extent of Jesus authority-- that it extends at least to the ability to control nature and weather, an awesome power in a society much more vulnerable to weather than we are.

But there is a metaphorical level, too. The idea and teachings of Jesus do serve to settle us when things are rough. In a specific way, too-- because Jesus's teachings so often go to a single value, humility, we are guided to context and patience and love, exactly the things we need in those difficult moments. 

That perfectly still sea must have been an awesome thing.

Saturday, June 22, 2024


I think these are pretty fascinating...


Friday, June 21, 2024


Haiku Friday: The weather


We all talk about the weather this time of year-- and especially right now here in Minnesota, where rains are causing flooding. So let's haiku about weather this week! Here, I will go first: 

Blown-over building
A river in the street now
Ah, summer weather!

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

Thursday, June 20, 2024


A Reason Not to Execute


A version of this piece appears in today's Waco Tribune Herald:

Change is a Reason Not to Execute Ramiro Gonzales

By Mark Osler


I’ve spent the past three decades as a federal prosecutor, a state prosecutor,

and a professor who trains future prosecutors. In that time, one constant has

become abundantly clear: our criminal justice system too often fails to recognize

the truth that sometimes people change.


The latest subject of this failing will likely be Ramiro Gonzales, who is going 

to be executed by the State of Texas on June 26 unless last-minute measures

succeed. Gonzales’s crimes were terrible: At age 18, he kidnapped, raped, and

murdered a young woman named Bridget Townsend. It wasn’t his only serious

offense, either; eight months later he sexually assaulted Florence Teich. He

admitted to both crimes and received a life sentence for the sexual assault of Teich

and the death penalty for Townsend’s murder. This is not a case of innocence, but

one with a more complicated presentation, and one that appeals to a more complex



Gonzales wants to live. He has no delusions that he will be freed—and there

is no chance that he will be—but wants to live out his life in prison, ministering to

the others who are incarcerated. His change is rooted in faith. Because of his

embrace of Christianity, Gonzales has become someone worthwhile within the

prison who causes no problems and focuses his attention on religious activities.


One would think that such a faith-based change would appeal to those who

control his fate in Texas. Jesus often taught the value of mercy, and even (in John

8) interceded and stopped a legal execution, of a woman accused of adultery. More

importantly, Jesus’s teachings and actions were premised expressly on the belief

that people could change in fundamental ways—even be “born again.” One would

expect a largely Christian state to lead the way in acting from that belief.


The structure of Texas’s death penalty process is part of the problem. For

someone to be condemned to death at sentencing, a jury has to find that “there is a

probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would

constitute a continuing threat to society.” It’s a bizarre standard, given that the

degree of probability isn’t defined and that it’s unclear how an imprisoned person

(life in prison without parole is the only alternative to death in a capital case) could

pose a threat to the larger society. Beyond that, though, is a special kind of hubris:

that we can really say we know what an 18-year-old will be like when they are 40

or 50 or 70. We all know of people who have changed in remarkable ways over the

course of their lives.


Christian conversion is not the only way people dramatically change

themselves, of course. Some find that change in being loved by someone. Others

are moved by the example of another person, or a faith other than Christianity. I

worked on the clemency petition of one man, Rudy Martinez, whose life was

changed when he discovered literature. He received a commutation from a life

sentence from President Obama in 2016 and has thrived as a productive citizen

since his release.


For Christians, though, capital punishment has proven complicated. The

institution would not survive without the support of Christians in those states

where it still exists, yet the most prominent opponent of the death penalty in our

time has been a Catholic nun, Sister Helen Prejean. Christians will sometimes

justify the death penalty by reference to the adage “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a

tooth,” which appears three times in the Old Testament. Perhaps less often cited is

Jesus’s explicit rejection of that adage in the Book of Matthew, where he says

“You have heard it was said, an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth,” and suggests

instead that if someone slaps you, you are to offer them the other cheek.


People have been making bad decisions on clemency for centuries, of

course. Jesus himself was considered for clemency before his execution, when

Pilate allowed a crowd to choose between Jesus and Barabbas, an insurrectionist

and possibly a murderer (spoiler alert: they picked Barabbas). But it would be

particularly strange for a state as identified with Christianity as Texas to reject a

tenant of the faith: that people can change.


PMT: Louisiana and the 10 Commandments


The State of Louisiana just passed a law mandating that the Ten Commandments be posted in every classroom in the state. It's a terrible idea. The Ten Commandments directly conflict with the US Constitution-- and probably the best way to comply with the new law would be to post the Bill of Rights next to the Ten Commandments. I'll explain why (though I have already done that in an article you can read here after downloading it).

Consider the First Commandment: "Have no other Gods Before Me." Setting aside the assumption of other Gods there, this commandment directly contradicts the First Amendment, which sets out freedom of religion. The Second Commandment suffers the same problem-- the Constitution guarantees we can have graven images if we damn well want. The Third Commandment conflict with the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech. Our society has pretty much given up on 4 & 5. Really, the only commandments encompassed by American law and culture are 6 & 8-- and, if you think about it, any organized society bars theft and murder. 

The 10 Commandments can be perfectly fine as a personal code, but lousy as a government mandate-- especially in a nation that has thrived under the Constitution we have. Our government can embrace one or the other, but not both-- and it seems that Louisiana has chosen Old Testament rules over the Constitution of the United States.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024


Oops! A little late...

 Sorry I am a little late with my haiku recap, but there was a good crop this week! We had this from my Mom:

Blue skies and fluffy
white clouds make me think of art
by Rene Magritte.

And this evocative piece from CraigA:

Love watching storm clouds
approach from covered front porch:
rain and lightning dance.

IPLawGuy is a coming to it from a different angle:

Infectious drum sound
Hey, You, Get off of my Cloud
Favorite Stones Song.

Christine has a particular shape in mind:

As I stare skyward
Clouds drift, lazily changing
Shapes. Look it's a dog.

While Desiree's runs a little deeper:

Clouds in the sky made
her sad. Clouds in her coffee
brought enlightenment.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024


If you can only choose one Olympic venue....

 So, yeah, yesterday I skipped right over the Olympics this summer to talk about the 2026 World Cup, and I feel kinda bad about that. So let's jump back to the Olympics for a moment-- and specifically what I think might be the most interesting venue in Paris.

For whatever reason, a 30,000 seat temporary facility at Place de le Concorde is slated to host four of the more unorthodox events in the games: Freestyle BMX racing, 3 on 3 basketball, skateboarding, and breakdancing. 

3 x 3 basketball was an Olympic sport for the first time in 2020 (er, actually, 2021), but this will be the first time around for the US men. The team will have 4 members: Canyon Barry (son of hall of famer Rick Barry, who shoots free throws underhand and made 42 in a row in college), Jimmy Fredette (a former BYU star who played in the NBA for 7 years or so), Kareem Maddox (former Princeton player and NPR employee), and Dylan Travis (who played D2 ball at Florida Southern College). They are ranked #2 in the world.

The women's 3 x 3 team features two players familiar to most from the recent NCAA tournament: Cameron Brink from Stanford and Hailey Van Lith from LSU (who just transferred to TCU). They are joined by Rhyne Howard from the WNBA's Atlanta Dream (a former rookie of the year) and former WNBA player Cierra Burdick.

And breakdancing? A little bit here:

Monday, June 17, 2024


It's coming! World Cup 2026


I know... we should all be excited now for the Paris Olympics, which start next month, after all. But I'm looking past it to the 2026 World Cup for men's soccer, which is going to be a very different kind of tournament than we have seen in the past.

For one thing, it is being co-hosted by the USA, Canada and Mexico, with games held in all three countries. You can bet there will be real excitement all over once things start. I'm a little bummed that Texas got two host cities (Dallas and Houston) while the entire upper midwest (Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, etc) got shut out. Yeah, Kansas City is a host, but that is not the same.

The other big news is that the tournament is expanding from 32 to 48. teams, which means we will see some nations represented that don't usually get in the mix. 

It's never too early to get ready....

Sunday, June 16, 2024


Sunday Reflection: Teaching in parables

 In a lot of churches, this will be the reading for the day, from Mark 4:

26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle because the harvest has come.”

30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

There is a lot going on there, and basically three things a preacher could talk about: the parable of the sower, the parable of the mustard seed, and the explanation of parables. It's that last one that preachers least often address.

The explanation for the use of parables as a teaching tool is that it allowed Jesus to speak the word to his audiences "as they were able to hear it." Of course, that doesn't really explain the technique, but I think there are at least two important things at work here.

First, parables allowed Jesus to set moral lessons in the kinds of experiences that everyday people had at that time. Getting water from a well, sowing seeds, paying workers (or being paid), working as a shepherd-- these are settings that people could understand. In other words, Jesus started at a point of commonality. I often think of it as drawing a circle around me and an audience, and starting there, with what we have in common.

Second, as this passage explains, Jesus usually did little to explain the parables unless goaded to do so by his apostles later. He left the people in the audience to figure it out, and that gave them agency, a role in the process. The commitment to a conclusion is much stronger when we are part of the deciders, and that is what is going on here, I think. 

There is a lot to learn from how Jesus taught....

Saturday, June 15, 2024


Trump and Sharks


I know-- maybe not the biggest issue we face, this whole electric boat/shark thing. But it sure makes a rally more interesting!

Friday, June 14, 2024


Haiku Friday: In the clouds

 I love clouds. I like sunshine, sure, but even on a sunny day I am admiring that one wifty cloud hovering its dissent. 

So let's haiku about clouds this week. Here, I will go first:

Dark bank, storm perhaps
Butts up against the sunset
A war won by all.

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

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