Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bidding Farewell

Today is an occasion for celebration. I havne’t worked for MFSA for long (nearly 6 months), but I have loved getting to know my co-workers in that time.

Today is the day that Rob, our current office manager, leaves us. On the best of terms, of course: he leaves us for his retirement!

I’m excited for Rob as he enters the next phase of his life. I'm excited for him to say goodbye to office work and early mornings with long commutes (he rises at 3am to get here in time!). I’m also sad to bid farewell to a friend whose physical presence I’ve been able to rely on in an office that is often “mobile” as many of us travel for work.

Most of all: I’m going to miss this:
Rob’s door. 

Every day, Rob reads comics. Sometimes, he finds great ones worth posting. This is only part of the collection of “worthwhile” comics Rob has found throughout his time working at MFSA. I hope he doesn’t take it down!

Today: we celebrate. We celebrate Rob – his work, his commitment, his colleagueship, the next chapter of his life. And we do it the best way anyone could:

With food!

Last night I spent the evening baking for just this occasion: I made banana bread, cookies, and, at his request, even chocolate cupcakes with chocolate icing. This is my sacrifice and gift today: I managed enough restraint not to sample any of the chocolate (reminder: I am allergic to cocoa and sugar: both of which are potent in these delicious cupcakes!).

Off I must go now to celebrate, as our party begins and our lunch will be delievered soon.

Congrats on your retirement, Rob: you’ll be missed!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Cooking Fool

In an effort to avoid the many foods I am either allergic to or have build up food intolerance against, a little over a month ago I begrudgingly started a whole foods diet. And while it hasn't yet given all the perks I hoped it would (like dropping a few pounds), I must admit: I do feel better!

There are downsides to every major change, of course. This change comes with a huge financial burden of eating whole, organic, natural (and lots of raw!) foods that unfortunately cost more than the oh-so-easy processed foods (and we wonder why America is so overweight!?). It also requires a lot of time and intentionality, meaning that most of my evenings are spent cooking.

Fortunately for me, I love to cook, and while it of course would be nice not to HAVE to do it every day, it often provides a great form of stress relief. Which means I should be entirely stress-free after the past month! ;)

This weekend has been particularly busy as I have spent the weekend trying out new recipes. This weekend I have made for the first time (or the first time allergy free):

Sushi (with veggies: raw fish at home seems to risky!)
Homemade vegetable broth
Carrot soup with tofu (delicious!)
Vegetable stew (with sweet potatoes!)
Bedouin Bread

The best part? ALL of these foods - except the sushi and mayo - freeze well! So I've made big batches, divided it up, and now I can have "convenience food" I can actually eat!

I've also made turkey burgers and sweet potato fries. These - with a salad, of course, will be dinner tonight.

Sure... its better fresh (though not necessarily with the soup!), but now I can have options on nights I just don't feel like cooking. Like the good 'ol days. :)

All this talk about food... I'm off to eat my delicious dinner...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

They're Going to Kill My Friend

Today I am without words as I mourn the loss of a life. The death penalty is never acceptable ("Thou Shalt not Kill") - but in cases of such doubt, the ring of travesty echos on. Troy Davis, you will be remembered: and may your story live on into a new chapter of change and progress.

I leave you with the words of a friend who was intricately involved with Troy's case for years, and whose words are more eloquent than my own.

They're Going to Kill My Friend
by Rev. Karl Kroger
(Written for the Pierre, SD Newspaper ( for September 23, 2011)

As I write this, a man I deeply care about is about to be executed. Unless a miracle occurs, when you read this, Troy Davis will be dead. Despite overwhelming evidence that casts doubt on his conviction, the powers that be in the state of Georgia are not concerned. Though Troy Davis and I have never met, I consider Troy Davis my friend. What do you do when someone is about to kill your friend?

Three years ago, while helping with a colleague’s youth retreat, I felt the call of God to help save a man’s life. In between the boat rides and the campfires, I could not stop thinking about the very real possibility that Georgia might execute someone who was innocent.

It seemed as if very few people even cared that the criminal justice system might have gotten it wrong. It seemed as if a flawed conviction only mattered, if it personally affected you. For most of the people and most of the churches in Georgia, permanently punishing the wrong man was not important.

But it was important to me. How as a society could such an ugly distortion of justice be tolerated? Furthermore, what if it was you or me, who was wrongly accused of a crime, and no one cared? Wouldn’t we want people to wake up and demand that all the facts be taken into account?

Praying for God to lead and guide me, trusting in the Holy Spirit to convict my heart, and compelled by Jesus’ command to love my neighbor, I surrendered myself to God to be used for the Kingdom. And so began my intense battle to save Troy Davis’ life.

Soon I began calling upon people to pray, to fight, and to offer advice. Within days, I recruited a few seminary friends to join me in the fight. We then rallied our seminary and our entire university, joining in with the people all across Atlanta, the state of Georgia, and around the world.

Momentum began to build and we started working with other organizations already fighting for Troy, including the NAACP, Amnesty International, and Georgian’s for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. The state was committed to killing Troy Davis, but we were determined to do everything we could to stop them.

And because of our actions, the intervention of the courts, and miracles, we did; three execution dates were put on hold. The instantaneous shouts of joy and songs of praise on those days were glorious! Millions of people worked to save Troy Davis’ life. We marched and we protested, we held vigils and we prayed, and we wrote letters and hung banners on the freeway.

All of the details of the case, the trials and appeals, the four execution dates are too lengthy to expound upon here. You should know however, that Troy Davis was found guilty of killing a cop, Officer Mark MacPhail. His death was wrong and is extremely tragic.

This week I watched as MacPhail’s daughter Madison, just a toddler at the time of her father’s death, spoke about the pain of growing up without a dad. She said there was something not right about living beyond your father’s final age. He died when he was only 27 years old.

As a Christian, I take seriously Jesus’ commands to love God and love my neighbor. Love, peace, kindness, and goodness are fruit of the Spirit and they are values of the Kingdom. They are part of the ways of God and they stand in contrast to murdering and executing people. Christians don’t all agree on that unfortunately, but surely we can agree that executing someone who is innocent or who has a strong case of innocence is stupid, unjust, and evil.

I grieve for Troy Davis, for his mother Virginia who died last year. What privilege to have known, embraced, and prayed with a woman of such grace and love. I grieve too for Officer MacPhail’s death, and for the pain his family still bears. May God bring healing and comfort to them.

Tonight my friend is scheduled to die. My heart breaks, but my hope is in Jesus Christ. And I know Troy’s is as well.


Editor's Note: Despite the cry of thousands across the world for justice on behalf of Troy, the Supreme Court denied requests for a stay of execution. The state of Georgia executed Troy Anthony Davis, pronouncing him dead at 11:08pm on Thursday, September 21. May Troy's Spirit rest in the hands of God, and may God have mercy on us all...

Rev. Karl Kroger's extensive work on behalf of Troy Davis began as a Candler School of Theology student in 2008. This advocacy inspired thousands to get involved with Troy's case and eventually led to Karl being awarded with Emory University's prestigious Humanitarian Award in 2009. Karl now resides in Pierre, South Dakota, where he is the pastor of Southeast Pierre United Methodist Church.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Decade Later

A lot has changed in the last 10 years.

Like any other American I’ve ever talked to, I still remember vividly every detail of this day ten years ago. I remember where I was at 9:47am EST. I remember what I was wearing. I remember who I was with. I remember how I felt, and the overwhelming confusion and disbelief I experienced as the day seemed to move in slow motion.

It amazes me how much I remember about that day, and how the days, weeks and even months that immediately followed seemed to do so in slow motion. I was, after all, still a child. A youth of 17 years that thought I was all grown up and ready to take on the world. I had just begun my senior year of high school, and I was excited about venturing out into the world I (thought I) knew as I prepared for graduation the following May.

Yes, I remember it all with amazing detail. And yet it isn’t the details alone that I keep thinking about today: its how those details shaped, molded, changed me from the inside out. And in a strange way that I haven’t quite figured out how to articulate, I can’t help but be honest and say that I am grateful for the ways I have changed as a result of this terrible tragedy.

My eyes were immediately opened up to a world beyond my local community: I’ll confess I’d never gone out of my way to engage with national or global news, and it wasn’t readily available in the small, contently isolated town I lived in. For the first time, I realized there was a world of people out there who hated my country I’d been raised to love, and even more difficult was the realization that those people also hated me, purely because of where I was born. They didn’t know that really, I was a good person and didn’t want to do anyone harm. And they didn’t care about the individual stories of the people in those planes, the World Trade Center, or the Pentagon, either. Following from this realization, I also had another first: for the first time, I began to question our administrators, Republican politicians (I’d been raised to always question Democrat ones), and “defense” techniques.

I had a lot of questions.

The most powerful questions I immediately and unexpectedly faced came from my adversity to the hatred I was surrounded by. In the following days, weeks, and now years, I heard many racial slurs and ethnocentric statements referring to all people from the Middle East - especially “those Muslims.” I admittedly didn’t know the first thing about the Middle East or the politics around it. But Muslims? I kept hearing how terrible and hate-filled and anti-America they all were… and yet I couldn’t forget the details of my morning of September 11.

I couldn’t forget that since it was my first day back to school post-knee surgery, I got there early so I didn’t have to fight the hallway traffic on my crutches. I was just getting settled when my friend Basim came running in going on about details about some big accident at The World Trade Center in New York City. He turned the television on and we watched in horror as one building burned… and seconds later we watched the second plane go into the other tower…

I remember the details of lots of emotion, horror, confusion and fear that followed. I remember crying together with that small class, Basim included. and I remember that he was as confused and sad as any of us. I also remember that Basim seemed to fill in gaps for the many questions I had in my admittedly naive awareness of the world. You see: Basim already had a global perspective. I’d never thought much of it before, but Basim was from Pakistan. And he is a dedicated to his faith tradition: Islam. I had always respected him for this, especially in our white, “Christian” community.

So if Basim (and his family) were the only Muslims I’d ever met, and they were great, trustworthy, honorable people: then how could the world suddenly be afraid of and full of hate toward all Muslims? That certainly wasn’t my experience…

My naive questions have proven to be incredibly formative in the years since then. Instead of buying into the fear I’ve been sold, I have continued on living my life... working adamantly against that dreaded 4-letter F-word: Fear. Instead, I work toward living into Faith... and the love of ALL God has called us to...

I made the mistake of stopping and watching television for about 5 minutes this morning. I took a moment to mourn with the mourners. To listen to the sad voices reading names. To hear an interview clip from “the last survivor” who was pulled from the rubble. These stories are moving, and sad, and did their job of making me emotional, bringing me to tears as I relived those dreadful moments with the rest of the country…

and then I walked away. I couldn’t watch any more. I don’t want to forget (I never could) - but it isn’t healthy to re-live it, either. It was a terrible enough day to live through once. We can’t do it every year. I know I can’t. Not even on the 10th anniversary.

But I couldn’t let my sadness go, and I couldn’t figure out why.

So I moved on and walked to my boarding gate to take a seat. That’s right: my boarding gate. Today, on a day that most of my fellow citizens are most afraid to fly, I am not only flying, but flying into Washington DC’s National Airport: where my plane will touch down on a landing strip right next to the now fully-repaired Pentagon…

Why fly today? For one, I’ll be honest: it was convenient. and I didn’t really think about it when I booked the flight. I did realize it in plenty of time to have changed it: but why? To let  fear win? I do not believe in fear. Especially not this irrational, media-induced fear we have been sentenced to live with. On the contrary, lets be honest: security is so high today that it’s probably one of the safest days to fly.

So I am on my plane as I write this. And as I do so in an intentional stance of my rejection of the fear many want me to have, I do remember those whose lives were lost in 2001. But my sadness does not stop there.

Instead, most of my sadness is focused on the survivors. It is wrapped up in remembering victims of the fear-induced hatred that has engulfed and changed so many of my fellow American citizens.

The country I live in and that I am proud to be a citizen of is one whose citizens spent hours building sandbag walls around every house in my home community when they were threatened with flood waters. It is one that wasted no time arriving to help victims of the multitude of tornadoes that hit this past spring… And that took care of and celebrated with my teammates and I small town after small town when we were hot, hungry, thirsty and exhausted while riding our bicycles across America in the heat of summer.

That is my favorite picture of the America I love. It is vast and diverse and embraces the joy of community as we were able to realize that really: no matter where you come from, we are more alike than different.

The America I truly love is the one that opened my eyes up to the reality of the world as I watched the Twin Towers fall. As I watched people on the other side of the world dancing in the streets because we were suffering (an image I regrettably saw in reverse when Osama Bin Laden was killed…), I knew what it felt like to be on the receiving end of such hatred for the first time. Living in my naive bubble in my small town in South Dakota, I really did not know that people hated our country, culture and people until that day.

So as we look back an talk about “10 years later” - that is what I keep thinking about. About how fear and anger have consumed much of our society. I wonder (perhaps hope?): is this the same as it has always been, and my eyes are more open to it now? Or, is there something we can do to stop it.

It all starts with one. As I sit aboard my American Airlines flight into DCA, I renew my pledge with you - all people of the internet (who are still reading). A pledge to do more to “act justly and love mercy” - and to walk HUMBLY with the God who has been so full of love, justice, and mercy for me.

Won’t you join me? I promise, the world will be a better place...