Monday, August 11, 2014

THE ABBEY AND ME and the Story of the Takeover of the Alexian Brother's Novitiate IN 1975

Some books simply pull you in and won't let you go until you finish.  This was one of those books. In The Abbey and Me  J. Patrick Rick (2011)
shares a facinating story of a building and its history that can almost be described as simply tragic. At the heart of the story is the account of the takeover of the Alexian Brother's Novitiate in 1975.  However, beginning with the original construction of Jennie Peter's estate, begun in 1938 and finished in 1941 (built originally for her disabled daughter who died before construction was completed), Rick works though the years of the Peters family, through the brief history of the novitiate (1950-1968), during which the author was a novice himself for a short time, then into the takeover of the novitiate in 1975 by the Menominee Warrior Society, finishing with the history of the property to the present, which now only claims a gutted and aging edifice in a section of overgrown forest.  While reading the book I visited the property near Gresham, Wisconsin, but owing to the No Tresspassing sign I stayed at a distance with my camera and binoculars. The pictures here are the best I could get. If you look carefully at the center of the first picture you can catch a glimpse of the sole remaining building - the Peter's mansion. There are other pictures available from those who did get permission to enter.  But it's still a shaddow of its former self, a tragic ending to a property which once possessed so much potential.

Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the take over, and I am curious how it will be remembered.  From reading the book I suspect that the current leadership of the Menominee Nation would probably prefer to simply put it deeply into the past, a story of a different era perhaps best left without too much attention. 

The book is available on Amazon for under $13, but I read a copy my wife secured for me through interlibrary loan.  Amazon gives this description of the contents:
Born from a film project, The Abbey & Me is a non-fiction account of invasion and seizure of a Midwestern Catholic monastery. The narrative chronicles a certain 1975 Native American act of Civil Disobedience and Thirty-Four days of armed occupation in harsh winter conditions. Researched and told by a former cloistered resident and novice-monk, this is a true contemporary, cavalry, Indian, and missionary story of hostages, vigilantes, renegades, and celebrity including the late Marlon Brando facing the Wisconsin National Guard.

I was a fourteen year old boy living in nearby Wausau in January 1975, and like many my age, I suspect, I had no real knowledge of this event, even though it was heavily featured in major newspapers around the country.  Coming on the heals of the Wounded Knee incident, the takeover in Gresham was part of the waning efforts of what was then known as the American Indian Movement.  In those post-Vietnam years some political movements, it seems, tended to be more violent and destructive.  Reviewing the history of the Menominee tribe, especially the history in the last half of the 20th century, helps you understand, in part, the frustration that led to the take-over of the novitiate.  This was the era prior to the successful casinos and lumbering businesses that now bring a comfortable revenue flow to the reservation.  But it is also a story of how the government, for a time, removed the tribal status from Menominee, causing all kinds of anger and resentment.

It is a shame that, in the end, this once beautiful building and the later additions added by the Alexian Brothers, had to be reduced to nothing more than an aging shell of brick and stone left to slowly rot.  The damage casued in the take-over and the vandalism and neglect in subsequent years put this once great edifice on the irreversible road to ruin.  I still hope that someone with sufficient capital eventually attempts to restore the last remaining building and then make it available again to the public.  But I am grateful to Rick for the labor of love he gave in researching and writing a story that was in danger of being lost and forgotten.  As the 40th anniversary approaches there will undoubtably be other articles - maybe even another book - as people rediscover this facinating yet painful period in our history and the shadow of a building testifying to past days of fleeting glory.   [Note: the links provided here, especially to Wikipedia articles, are very informative in gaining a basic understanding of the events chronicled by Rick in his book.]

Here are some additional links and pictures I originally posted on my Facebook page:
--Article and pictures (including a Google arial shot) regarding the Alexian Brother's Novitiate: http://americanurbex.com/wordpress/?p=2313
--Article and pictures on the Novitiate Ruins: http://travellingstrongs.blogspot.com/2012/08/ruins-of-novitiate-at-gresham-wi.html

Here is a link from the College of Menominee Nation containing various documents related to the take-over, including newspaper articles: http://content.mpl.org/cdm/search/collection/cmnlsc/searchterm/Alexian%20Brothers%20Novitiate/mode/exacthttp://content.mpl.org/cdm/search/collection/cmnlsc/searchterm/Alexian%20Brothers%20Novitiate/mode/exact

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars: A Theological Assessment

Although I mentioned this in the previous post, I thought that I would single it out here as well.  Many people by now have both heard of and read the popular young adult fiction The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  Many more have also watched the movie.  John Green certainly did not write his book to promote a Christian or even a religious response to suffering and death, although he allows his characters to struggle with these in both religious and secular ways.  In an interview back in July with Issues, Etc. host Todd Wilken, I attempted to offer some theological assessment of Green's book.  Go here to find the archived interview, "The Will of God and 'The Fault in Our Stars'".


It's Been a While....

I took a break from this blog last year.  It impressed me that some people would actually enjoy and use what I wrote. It further surprised me that people stilll look at or read parts of this blog yet today, based on the "traffic report" I still receive from time to time. I created NS especially as an opportunity to write, since that is one of my passions and hobbies.  It was also a place to leave semi-archived information I might later need for reference.

Since I last posted in September of 2013, a few things have occured in the Seelsorger's life:
  • I received, deliberated and turned down a call to a larger parish to the west around November to serve as the senior/administrative pastor.  It was a congregation of over 1,000 with a school, a ministry I had known from my previous call in Michigan.  Amazingly (at least to me!) this was the only real call I had received in 13 years.  Fewer congregations are probably extending calls these days, due in part, I suspect, to the economic realities of the times.  Then there is the issue of age (I am over 50).  At any rate, I have no regrets over my decision and have continued to enjoy the mistry opportunities here east of Antigo. 
  • At the end of January I 'jump-started' my thesis research by taking a whole weekend to work at the library at Nashotah House.  It helped immensely.  Although my work was again stalled by various other duties, I have once again been able to make some headway and now have part 1 of chapter 1 complete in draft form.  I hope to have the entire thesis written in draft form by the first of the year, with graduation in May of 2015.  Stay tuned! (For those unfamiliar with my graduate studies, I have posts here, here, here, here, here, here, and here chronicling my experience with the STM graduate degree program at Nashotah House going back to 2010. The second-to-last "here" outlines the thesis proposal I submitted last Spring.)
  • In February of 2014 the Town of Antigo Volunteer Fire Department presented me with my 10 year Certificate of Service Award.  It's hard to believe it's been that long.  I started as a chaplain and then in 2008 expanded my training to become an actual firefighter.  Fire work has been a great experience, and I still enjoy the varied opportunities to grow and learn.  My goal now is to learn and somewhat master the operation of the pump equipment on the engine.  
  • This summer provided a number of great opportunties for growth and pushed me to do things outside my previous experience.  In January my classmate Pastor Peter Bender graciously extended an invitation to present at his Annual Symposium on Catechesis in June.  You can read more here. While I felt a bit 'out of my leaque' with the other presenters, I also discovered that I enjoyed the challenge and would like to do something like this again in the future.  In July I accompanied my daughter to the Higher Things youth conference at Concordia University- Wisconsin in Mequon.  While there I did a couple of sectionals on the topic of "The Fault in Our Stars or the Fault in our God: Wrestling with the Will of the Almighty."  You can read more about the sectional here.  This sectional also presented me with the opportunity a few weeks back for an interview with Pastor Todd Wilken on Issues, Etc.  If you would like to listen to the interview, which dealt primarily with the popular book The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, you can listen to the archived section here.
Well, that more or less catches you up on where I have been these last several months.  

Friday, September 27, 2013

Does Evolution Change Our Theology?

One of the issues with Evolution that seems to go unnoticed by many is its potential effect on the traditional understanding of our theology.  The claim put forth usually makes it seem like nothing really changes.  We simply need to approach Genesis differently so that its message and what is claimed by evoutionary theory agree.  Thus what began as narrative history now becomes symbolic.  Yet it doesn't end there.  A whole host of doctrines ultimately need to be reexamined.  Genesis 1 - 3 sets the stage for all that comes after this.  Adherence to Evolution of necessity brings into question the doctrine of sin, how we understand death, and salvation.  These doctrines are morphed, it appears to me, into this kind of thinking:
  • If Adam and Eve do not represent real, historical figures, then their recorded actions are merely symbolic and not related to any particular action.  Thus, their disobedience and the consequence of that disobedience, having no anchor in reality, floats free and becomes detached from any discussion of sin.  For sin is the act of disobeying the clear commands of God.  Actual sin morphs into a sense of general sinfulness which vaguely morphs into whatever we end up defining it as. We see this happening already as certain social behaviors are re-explained as no longer sinful because they are too widely accepted by people.  Sin becomes our unwillingness to accept people for what or who they are, for intollerance. 
  • If living things, including the evolutionary ancestors of man, were dying long before homo sapiens came on the scene hundreds of thousands of years ago, how are we do understand the reason for death and how it fits in which the general plan of God?  When Paul writes that the "wages of sin is death," death is then reinterpreted as "spiritual death" to make it fit with the evolutionary picture.  Death is even reimaged as somehow "good" since those who suffer from disease, disability and pain are relieved of these burdens by death.  There are real issues here that need to be noticed.  The Easter miracle so central to the Christian faith is that Jesus physically rose from the dead, the first fruits of all who would rise. If death is not the curse it is pictured in the traditional reading of Genesis, then how do we reinterpret the resurrection of Christ and its implications for the life and future of all who believe?  Why would His 'physical' resurrection be so important if spiritual death was the ultimate culprit and physical death simply incidental?  
These are but a few thoughts on the implications Evolution has for our theology.  

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why Francis is More Popular with the Media than Benedict

The title to this post, while reflecting a recent article on the subject ("Are the Media Giving Pope Francis a Pass?" - RNS), is a bit misleading on the point of this post.  My point, then?  I have to admit that this brief article revealed some simple, yet signficant points that could be incorporated by many Lutheran pastors in their own ministries.  Sounds odd, I suppose, for Lutherans to be taking pointers from a pope, but you should be perceptive enough to spot these things when you see them.  I would recommend reading the article for yourself, but here are the main points made (although not all are equally applicable).  Why does the media seem to like Francis more than Benedict? -  1.) Few knew him before he became pope, 2.) Francis is empathetic and humble, 3.) Style becomes substance, 4.) He practices what he preaches, and 5.) Francis is not Benedict.  Francis connects with people with a sense of genuineness that also betrays the ability to truly relate.  In other words, he's not removed from the world.  He may live in a kind of 'gated community,' of sorts, but that does not keep him from interacting with the common and the poor. He seems to understand the pastoral nature of his position and he acts as much like a regular parish priest.  To be pastoral means to minister to real people where they are at with a real sense of love and concern.  More could be said, but the point was made, and I confess I am still growing into this. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Professors Who Return to Parish Ministry

Another professor is returning to parish ministry.  Dr. Reed Lessing will be leaving a position at our seminary in St. Louis, where in addition to teaching various course offerings in the Old Testament he was also director of the graduate school.  These transitions facinate me.  After being in parish ministry for so long one has a tendency to think that positions such as Dr. Lessing's are seen as 'higher' than the common pastorate.  After a seeming 'promotion' to teaching future pastors, and that at a graduate level, you wonder what would move a man to go back to the parish.  Having known nothing other than the parish, I am admittedly at a loss to relate.  I realize that academics has its own downside.  One can probably feel a bit 'cut off' from the real world of the Church, left dealing with a somewhat artificial world instead of the flesh and blood people a pastor has to minister to in real time.  Perhaps one misses the relationships formed in the family of a congregation where the bonding between pastor and people brings untold blessings that cannot be duplicated in a classroom.  I'm not sure.  However, I am encouraged.  Too often I have coveted the opportuntity that Dr. Lessing is leaving.  I have not appreciated the tremendous honor given me as a parish pastor.  Thank you, Professor, for letting me see again the priviledge I have!
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As his biography will no doubt be removed soon from the seminary site, I will reproduce it below.  Dr. Lessing, it will be noted, did enjoy about 13 years of pastoral experience before going to the seminary.
Dr. Reed Lessing was born and raised in Denver, Colo. He was ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry on June 29, 1986 at Christ the Servant Lutheran Church, West Monroe, La. Reed served as the church’s pastor until March of 1990. From March 1990 to August 1999 he was the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Broken Arrow, Okla. In September of 1999 he was installed as assistant professor of exegetical theology at Concordia Seminary. In May of 2005 he was advanced to the rank of associate professor. In August of 2007 he became the director of the Seminary’s Graduate School. Reed is married to Lisa (nee) Radke and their marriage has been blessed with three children: Abi (24), Jonathan (21) and Lori (17).

Luther Academy

My congregation was blessed yesterday by a wonderful message from the Rev. Dan McMiller, executive director of Luther Academy, who came as part of our annual mission festival.  His sermon and presentation following the service provided us with a true tour de force in presenting the extensive work of his organization in international mission efforts.  Luther Academy is a small organization with a big mission and worthy of our support.  Pastor McMiller serves as the only paid staff, serving the many needs internationally by a team of very qualified volunteers.  They fill a unique niche in mission work by providing several annual pastoral conferences to pastors throughout the world who would otherwise not have this valuable resource which we in this country take for granted.  I would encourage you to check out their website and review their various projects and the teachers and presenters they employ.  Luther Academy was the brainchild of Dr. Robert Preus, the president of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne where I studied for the ministry.  I also had the honor of taking a few classes with Dr. Preus, an exemplary theologian with an international vision.  His son, the Rev. Daniel Preus, currently serving as fourth vice president of the Synod, continued the work of his father and enlarged the vision.  Luther Academy, like many small organization, is facing financial challenges in meeting the increasingly growing demands for its services.  Consider supporting their work and maybe even sponsoring one of their projects as a worthy mission effort!