Monday, July 10, 2017

Community

It was Sunday, and I was thinking about the verse in Hebrews that says "Don't stop getting together." That's a loose translation, but gets at the idea of the verse that says basically, "Don't go it alone. Keep gathering with other Jesus-followers." It's important.

During this season of my life, loneliness has been one of my worst enemies. Recognizing that, I try to be intentional about scheduling time with others. Human beings are designed to need community, and I'm certainly no exception.

So I started the day in community with God. Read my devotions, from a couple good sources I tap into each day. Then a little time in Ephesians, which is my current biblical book of choice. In chapter 3 right now. Eventually I toddled off to worship at the little Lutheran church on top of the hill.

Going to formal worship services is difficult for me these days.  I'm not part of the community yet and that's painful and I recognize that it takes time and intentionality to become so. I sympathize with people who've told me over the years how hard it is to attend worship alone. So I come in two minutes late, during the opening hymn, and leave during the second verse of the last hymn, just before the pastor reaches the back of the sanctuary to shake hands. That's about as much as I can handle. And it's good to be there. Yesterday was a communion service, and it was good to kneel at the rail with strangers in Christ and receive a sliver of bread and a thimble full of Chardonnay (really??) and swallow the lump in my throat and take a deep breath to clear the tears from my eyes on the way back to my seat, still chewing on the words -- "The body of Christ, given for you" -- "The blood of Christ, shed for you."

After worship I drove about 90 minutes to see a good friend. We had things to talk about, and I knew I needed to unburden about a few things, so I took some time after connecting with the family to allow this good friend to hear me out and care for my still-broken heart. He did a masterful job of listening to my thoughts without passing judgment. What a gift, to be able to lay out all of one's paragraphs and see the words sifted generously! He knew better than to offer answers, but he did share some perspective that was most helpful. Then it was time for me to get on the road again.

Two hours' drive this time, to another friend who is checking in at the Mayo clinic to get some insights into his cancer treatment. I met him and his wife at a restaurant and we chatted, then attended evening devotions at the Mennonite guest house where they're staying. A young women's ensemble sang beautiful four part harmonies of traditional hymns, starting with "God Will Take Care of You" and a half dozen others. One of the leaders shared thoughts about Elijah and God's care for him after his duel with the prophets of Baal. Then we went out to Perkins for pie and good conversation, and talked (among other things) how we are daily reminded to pray for each other -- him in his brokenness, me in mine.

And I drove home northward, and the entire drive the north and west skies were full of lightning and thunderheads -- one of the most spectacular displays of God's power I've seen in many years. It was as if God showed up to say, "Is anything too difficult for me?" So the drive became a counterpoint to the beginning of my day, a time of prayer and worship and lament and holiness and grief.

What a day, right? What an incredible day of Jesus-focused fellowship! What a fantastic day of connection to other believers, to a loving community, to the great and powerful promises of God.

And yet ...

The entire philosophical system of existentialism is built around the idea that at our core, we are basically alienated. Alienated from God, nature, other humans, ourselves. And last night I felt it. After that incredible day I felt the weight of isolation.

Yet I see the wisdom in the book of Hebrews. Don't forsake the practice of gathering together. This life is hard enough to bear without cutting yourself off from love, from community. Don't do it. Keep the connections, because when life is really hard, you will need them more than ever. When you're most tempted to curl up in a ball all alone, reach out. Schedule a conversation, or walk into a worship service, or phone a friend. Talk to God. Do the community things that remind you you're not really alone, even if it feels like you are.

It's important.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Endings

I didn't hit the doe. But I was there at her death, and complicit in it. 

I have hit deer many times before. Too many: a half dozen that I can specifically remember, brakes and adrenaline and dread and sickening thud and danger and blood and death and lasting damage. It is a sad fact of life that deer and vehicles do not coexist well. 

But I didn't hit this doe. That happened earlier, and I got drawn in to the ending of her trauma. 

It was a lovely spring day and I had parked my truck along a paved two-lane road in southeastern Minnesota, waiting to refill the spraying rig my partner operates. He called and said, "There's a doe over west on the property line -- I called the sheriff's deputy and he will be here soon." I walked up the road to wait, to give directions, to be complicit in her death, and to assess. Was this really necessary?

In emergency rooms it's called triage, the idea that you have to evaluate the damage in order to give appropriate aid. Often there is a sign on the wall to remind those of us with minor ailments that "the worst go first." 

When I first saw her, she was standing fifty yards from the roadway, head down in the young corn, looking for all the world like she was grazing. Maybe it's not so bad, I thought. I've known deer to be hit and bounce back relatively quickly. One December night my daughter and I collided with a nice buck whose skull and antlers shattered my windshield, leaving a silhouette of his profile right in front of the steering wheel in the spiderwebbed glass, inches from my wide eyes. I was doing over fifty miles per hour when we collided, and he took the whole impact to his head. There's no way he could survive, we thought. So after getting safely off to the side of the road and taking a look at the spectacular damage, we went tracking. We expected to find him dead within a few yards of the road. We saw where he had spun around, fallen, crawled, and fallen again. His tracks described a crazy weave in the clean snow. Then slowly, the weave became a stagger, and the stagger became a walk, and after a quarter mile his tracks merged with a trail. We gave up, shaking our heads at the resilience of this buck. 

So I wondered about this doe. Maybe she was just recovering. I worked my way around and noticed, first, that her head never came up. She never looked around, though I was less than fifty yards away in plain sight. She was not alert -- a sure sign of trouble for a whitetail. I could see one of her back legs was obviously broken, but that doesn't define things for a deer. There was more wrong. The flies were plaguing her, but her tail never flicked to chase them away. She stood hunched over, head down, staring at but not seeing a spot five feet in front of her. She had bedded down several places here and there, and my eyes teared to think of her agony in lying down and getting up again. 

The deputy arrived and we talked briefly about the doe. I hate this part of the job, he said. He took a rifle from his truck, loaded it, and walked to within twenty yards of her agony. Her head came up then, slowly, making eye contact with the officer. One quick, precise shot to the head and she fell, twitched twice and was still. 

Mercy. 

"Thanks for all you do," I said, and he just shook his head. I walked back to my truck. 

Ending things can be a hard decision. Ecclesiastes says that "there is a time to die." How to decide when it's time for the death of a deer, a pet, a person, an idea, a relationship, a church? How to do the triage, to weigh treatment options, to opt for compassionate care or a merciful death? Ask any doctor and they will tell you that though there are important guidelines and principles, it's not an easy science. 

And beyond the science, emotion rises up and threatens to break the levees of our lives, swamping us with fears of guilt and shame. If they unplug life support, does that mean they don't love him any more? If I file for divorce, does that mean I am a failure? If we vote to close the church, are we dishonoring the generations that built it?

Endings are hard, and discerning how to handle them is harder. Triage is necessary. Discernment is crucial. And we don't always get it right. We don't have the luxury of flying into the future and looking back with 20/20 hindsight that allows us to say, "That was exactly the right decision! Why did I put it off so long?!" No, we live and love and die and grieve in the present, and -- this is important -- God knows this. 

While the people around you may well second-guess your decisions, God never does. He wraps your imperfect discernment, your fears and your hopes -- even your failures and mistakes -- into his glorious future. He takes the toughest of our endings and brings about the most beautiful resurrections. 

In a biblical view, after all, there is no hope without death. Be comforted. Grieve. Pray, and make the hard decisions. 

Mercy.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The messiest life

I often wonder why we like Jesus so much.

Most people in Jesus' own day didn't like him. At least the people that mattered didn't like him. He was trouble. They said he drank too much and ate too much and did both with the wrong people. He came from the wrong side of the kingdom, from Galilee, where young men had a reputation for being trouble. Spend any time at all with Jesus, and you could tell he was going to come to a bad end.

Yet when we tell our flannelgraph stories about him ... I suppose it's a sign of the times that spell-check doesn't recognize the word "flannelgraph" ... we make him out to be "gentle Jesus, meek and mild" and if there was ever a boy you wanted your children to hang out with, it's this blue-eyed blonde guy from Nazareth.

Not a biblical picture, however much we like it.

Jesus' life was messy. MESSY. I mean, think about it. Imagine this is the guy who is hanging out with your thirteen year old son, or worse yet your thirteen year old daughter.

He goes to a party and somehow manufactures 150 GALLONS of wine. The good stuff.

Okay, that might just be fun. And if we keep him away from the minors, he's a great guy to have around, right?

Not so much. Don't take him to church. He'll throw the furniture around and offend people.

He breaks the law. That's so much of what this comes down to -- we have people in positions of power to tell us what is RIGHT and what is WRONG and somehow Jesus always gets on the wrong side of things.

If you know anything at all about the world in which Jesus lived, or even if you just read the stories and pay attention to who is getting offended by Jesus at any given moment (usually the Really Good People) you realize that this Jesus is not necessarily going to get voted Most Likely To Succeed.

Instead, Jesus is a rabble rouser. He offends EVERYBODY. He offends the militants who want to kill Romans. He offends the Sadducees who want to placate the Romans. He offends those like the Essenes who want to withdraw into the wilderness and ignore the Romans. He offends the Pharisees who think the reason we have issues with the Romans is because we need to obey the law better. He offends Herod, whose kingly position was granted him by the Romans. He seems to offend everyone except the crowds, who love him until after Palm Sunday when somehow in a few short days they're crying for him to be crucified.

He offends his brothers and his mother, for crying out loud. So much for blood being thicker than water.

In the end, Jesus even offends his own disciples, who run away into the dark trying to save their own skins because Jesus won't take care of them or himself properly.

Jesus' only defender in the end is Pontius Pilate who declares him innocent. But rather than thanking Pilate, Jesus offends him, too, and gets himself crucified as a pretender to the kingship of Israel. "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" the sentence over his head reads for all to see. His strange kingship offends everyone from the patriots to the collaborators, the peasants to the wealthy.

A generation later, writers and followers were still trying to figure him out. The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews, right near the end of the letter written to a group of Jews who were being excluded from their religious communities, pondering the Old Testament sacrifices that had to be disposed of outside the Israelites' camp, wrote, "Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured." Despised and rejected, said the prophet Isaiah six hundred years before Jesus fulfilled the words.

So why is Christianity today such an insider religion?

Why is it that we try hard to figure out how to get more people to belong to our clubhouse churches, because if we have more people, we're more successful, we're more "In"? If you get really good at drawing people In you can write a book, host a seminar, develop a podcast. And people will flock to be In like you are.

But where is Jesus in all this?

He is still despised and rejected more often than not. He is still outside the camp. He is still doing ministry among, as a dear friend told me not long ago, the tax collectors and sinners. The holy people, the good people, the moral ones and the righteous ones are generally still offended when Jesus shows up and invites all the wrong people to the party.

For messed-up people, Jesus is nothing but mercy and hope. For the moral, the upstanding, the righteous, the in-crowd, however, his is still an abhorrently messy life.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World?

So we've been building a hayshed. It's an incredible amount of physical work, and many times we've looked at each other and said, "This is why people pay other people to do this."

But there's also something satisfying in building it yourself. And as my brother observes, it's a lot harder to carp about how it's not done right if it's you that did the work.

So all those graves -- we set tall poles in each one. And the posts stood all crooked and askew, pointing at the sky at weird angles. I thought of a very old movie where a dying man told some people about a treasure buried under "the big W" -- and they spent the rest of the movie looking for it. So as I looked at the poles, all cattywompus and crazy, I thought of moving a few of them to make them look like a big W. And that seemed, especially in that sweaty, catch your breath moment, like a lot of work. Unnecessary work. But here's a picture so you can get the idea:

All those posts stood crooked in their too-big holes like the world gone crazy. I stood there looking at them, imagining the ancient builders of Stonehenge getting their big rocks crooked and wondering what to do about it. The world's gone mad, they might have thought.

And here we had the modern rural version. Let's call it "hayhenge." Or not.

So we used a level and a string and a shovel and lots of dirt and we straightened those posts. Brought them into right relationship with the earth and with each other and with the compass points, all there in their individual graves. In biblical terms it's called "justification" -- bringing something into right relationship with the important things surrounding it.



 And the beat goes on. Not only were those posts justified, one to each other and to the earth and to the farmer's preferences, they began to serve a greater purpose. They became pillars, not just posts, that held the trusses that one day soon will hold a roof. So what seemed chaotic and crazy -- mad, in fact -- was justified.

It's what the Bible talks about when Paul in the book of Romans describes our lives being justified. We are a bit mad, all on our own, like the character in Alice in Wonderland says: "I'm mad, you're mad, we're all mad here."

And we all need to be justified, to be brought into right relationship with what's around us, with the important things, with God and his purposes for his good creation. If we let him justify us, and if we can begin to grasp what he's up to in that work (his work, not our work) we begin to serve a larger purpose. We begin to become useful to his ends and his directions, bearing a weight and serving a purpose and holding an identity we didn't have before.

So it's a mad world. And in the midst of it is a God who is at work with some crazy idea that he can rearrange it, make it good for his purposes.

It's a hopeful thought, at any rate.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Dust to Dust


I've had this phrase running through my head a lot lately. Dust to dust. Mostly we think of this in association with funerals -- "ashes to ashes, dust to dust" -- meaning that we, like Adam, are from the earth and in the end, no matter how hard we fight it, we return there. I'm not sure why this phrase, more than the idea of mortality, keeps scurrying around in my mind.

Maybe it's because I'm driving truck these days, and the only days we can be in the fields are the days it's dry enough to raise dust in clouds on the rural gravel roads or the gravel parking lot where I work. Great, unwieldy clouds of dust that cover my parked car and the grass and my nose and mouth and the windshield of my truck. And every other possible surface. Dust.

Whether it's associated or not, for at least a week I've had the Civil Wars' song, "Dust to Dust" stuck in my head. Powerful song. Not really related much to funerals, but there it is.

And for the last couple days, I've been helping my brother build a shed to hold his hay. Like most construction projects, this one begins -- well, it really begins last winter with sitting at the table talking about plans and prints and production costs. But the construction phase begins with measuring and staking out the ground, and digging deep graves for the posts that will provide a skeleton for the structure.




One of our deep graves, with a mallet (not a sledge, thank goodness) for scale. And my foot.



So we have been measuring, and staking, and digging, and digging, and digging. I remember hearing about a story Leo Tolstoy wrote that asked the question, "How much earth does one man need?" It told of a law in pre-revolution Russia by which a man could claim all the land he could walk around in a day. So one particularly ambitious man began at sunrise to run, and ran a long course all throughout the day, rounding the corners in the heat and driving himself to take possession of as much land as he could. As the sun dropped toward the horizon, he stumbled toward his final stake, but just as the sun dropped, so did he -- dead, six feet short of that last marker. How much land does one man need? Six feet.

We work and dig and sweat in the field, and every so often I look into these deep holes and think about graves I have known. I've dug a few, and I've presided at many funerals and many graveside services. As a farm kid, there's something particularly holy about putting a person's last remains into the earth.

While we took a break not long ago in the cool shade under the cottonwoods, I looked up at the fluff from the cottonwood trees blowing on the breeze. At first glance it looked like dust, but it was seeds, the seeds of the cottonwood tree, drifting, trusting on the wind like tiny sailors navigating by the breath of God's Spirit.

I looked around and saw a young milkweed plant not far from my foot:

Growing like a weed, waiting for the Monarch butterflies to return from Mexico and lay their eggs underneath the tender leaves with their sticky white sap. In the fall these same milkweeds will open up boat-shaped seed pods and their fluffy seeds will also drift on the breeze toward parts unknown. I took a picture last winter of a milkweed plant that had not shed its seeds before freeze-up:














I sat this morning and watched the cottonwood seeds drifting on the wind like a dust storm. I thought about all the graves I have known, all the times I've grieved, or helped others grieve, next to a hole in the ground or a hole in their hearts. Grief is hard, and I don't think anyone gets out of this life without at least some of it on board.

It's Pentecost Sunday as I write this. I think about the story in Ezekiel's vision about how God took a bunch of old skeletons and knit flesh on them, and breathed spirit into them, and brought them to life.

From a natural point of view, we are dust and to dust we will return. We hear it on Ash Wednesday like the tolling of a somber bell over our lives. Dust you are. To dust you shall return. Be aware that your life is short, and terminal. Dust to dust.

And yet ...

Jesus said unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. There's something to grief, something to this business of facing the death of things, even of ourselves, that has the potential to bring us to life. If the Spirit of God is in the mix, it is just possible that facing death opens a door to new life. It takes a lot of trust to let your life go. It takes a lot of trust to let go and drift on the Spirit like cottonwood fluff, like the pixie dust of milkweed seeds on the breeze. But God is faithful. If God is anything, he is faithful. And he knows where each bit of fluff comes to earth, and where each one springs to life in his Spirit.








Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Cattle and the kingdom of God?

Preface: Initially I figured I'd write some reflections on the difference between "following Jesus" and "being a Christian." That's a topic that runs constantly under the surface of my life like the hum of an electrical current, and I'm constantly reminded of it in various contexts. So I was thinking about it again today, and planned to write about it ...

I got home from a moderately short (ten hour) workday, anticipating a 6 am start tomorrow, since the wind is supposed to go down and we should be able to spray all day, unlike the last couple days.

I'm going to take a shower quick before supper, I said when I got home. So I did.

Let's eat, they said. Supper was delicious.

I thought about retiring to my room, writing a blog post, and going to bed early, delightedly clean and good-smelling.

We're going to work the cattle, they said.

Oh. I said. Need help?

Yes, they said.

Plans change.

Now, let me hasten to say that my brother and his wife have a remarkable herd of Hereford cows and calves. They run a little less than 20 cows, and I don't think I've ever experienced a herd as well-tended or as carefully cared for as these cattle. My brother and his wife intentionally walk the pastures each evening, scratching and talking to as many of the animals as possible. They know each animal's individual personality. They intentionally handle the calves, interacting with them so they get used to humans in a positive way.

All this means that rather than your stereotypical images of a cowboy roping a calf either by the head or by the heels and dragging it over to a fire so it can be branded, "working" these cattle means being right down in the pen with them, in very close contact. We would select two or three or four of them, carefully move them into a smaller holding pen, and most often down into a chute too narrow for the cows, and challenging for the calves, to turn around. Then (I am not making this up) my job was to take a rag soaked in an oil-based insecticide and rubbed it first up the length of their spines, then down each leg (ever been kicked by a cow? I have -- multiple times. I remembered those times vividly tonight. But none of these cows even tried to kick me) and then across their face and around their eyes. Though not every one of the animals really enjoyed this process, and some protested significantly, this was not so challenging on the cows, who have mostly been through this process a few times over the years. But it was significantly more challenging with the calves, who sometimes get nervous and might just jump over your head or try. Fortunately none of them made serious attempts at that tonight, though it was close a couple times. My favorite moment of the whole evening was me, hip-checking a calf who is very nervous and wanting to turn around, holding one hand over the top of his head to keep him from getting the idea he can climb over me, starting to rub down his spine with my rag, when he decided to shift position significantly, and my glasses came off. I caught my glasses in the same hand that was keeping his head down and held them there while laying down across his back to reach his front hooves, then his back hooves, holding him immobile the whole time in the chute. Then I put my glasses back on, wiped my rag once across his face, and let him go.

So we wiped down each of these animals, including the herd bull. While I was doing that, my brother inserted an ear tag that helps keep flies off the animal. So all of this is helping these cattle live more comfortably and healthy through the summer.

It was a workout. Here are a few pictures:


Above you get a little idea just how closely we're working with these animals. One of the things I love about Herefords is that in general terms, they're more docile than a lot of other breeds. At this distance, that is important. 


Here you see my brother Darin in the chute, keeping a calf in place with one hip. In the next few seconds after this picture was taken, I eased in next to Darin (personal space, anyone?) and rubbed the oily insecticide on key parts of this calf that are especially vulnerable to flies and other insects. This includes laying down across the calf's back and reaching in turn down each leg all the way to the hoof, since flies love to bite cattle legs. Remember that shower I took? Yeah. Didn't last long.


Can you find Stacey in this picture? She's working in among the cows and calves trying to move those that haven't yet been treated down past where I'm standing, toward the holding pen and chute. 

After the last of the cattle were treated and tagged, including the smallest calf that was born just a month ago who was napping on the hillside and we (again, I am not making this up) walked up to the napping calf, sat down next to it and gently rubbed it with an oily rag with some bug preventative incorporated into the oil while it languorously woke from its nap. And this little calf just loved it, a little like a favorite dog that loves a good rubdown. 

Then we turned the cattle out into a new pasture where the grass is belly deep down along the creek bottom. They were incredibly excited (oh, yes, cows get excited) to get into that pasture. They wandered up and down, sampling the grass and exploring their new digs. We had to spend some time walking fencelines and making sure everything would hold them in place. Here are a couple shots of Calli (a favorite dog who loves a good rubdown) and her idea of farm work:





So after making sure the fence would keep the cattle contained, I came back to the house and washed up again. It's a long time since I worked cattle on anything like a regular basis, and it seems that every time I get to work with them, whether it's feeding them in -20 degree weather last winter for another brother while he was out of town, or what we did tonight, I love it. I love the connection with my roots, of course, but there's more to it than that. 

In some ways, it ties back into what I've been thinking about following Jesus. I just recently finished reading N.T. Wright's excellent book, The Day The Revolution Began. Wright makes the argument in this book and elsewhere that Christians have mistaken Jesus' main message. We've made Jesus all about "how can I get to heaven when I die" -- we think that in fact is what Christianity is all about, that and an agenda that each of us should be morally good and respectable -- and that doesn't seem to have even been on Jesus' radar, if you read the gospels. What Jesus talked about in great detail was the kingdom of God. That seems to be the theme he was really excited about, and he almost never talked about how you can go to heaven when you die. 

Are we missing something? 

What Jesus seems to have meant by the "kingdom of God" is that in every area of our lives, and of our world, God is King. So to understand what it looks like that God would be King, we can look at a few different images from the Bible. The garden of Eden is a good place to start. Adam and Eve are given a significant amount of authority to manage the garden as servants of God, to "till the garden and keep it." Of course, they botch it up, but wait. Have you noticed how the Bible again and again talks about a new creation? New heavens and a new earth. Peter uses a phrase I just love to describe this new creation, saying it will be "a land in which righteousness is at home." There are significant signs that Jesus was trying to communicate exactly this sense of humanity's role on this earth -- that we are entrusted by God to manage his creation, to be his "image-bearers" so that every area of our lives -- relationships, work, play, worship, and more -- reflects his identity, his love, his goodness. That theme is all over through the Bible!

So maybe, just maybe working the cattle tonight gives me a vivid image of what following Jesus looks like. What would it look like for someone who bears the image of God to keep cattle? Would they tend and care for them with diligence and affection? Would they make sure that these cattle are well loved in appropriate ways as part of a good, God-reflecting creation? I think so. And if you are a Jesus follower who is called to keep cows, I suggest that this is the kind of thing you have to think about. 

So as we finished mending fences, and I turned to walk through the lush creek bottom pasture, I looked back westward over my shoulder and saw this view -- the moon coming out over the fields and the cottonwoods. If you look close, Darin is in the picture, taking a moment off from fixing fence to talk on the phone to another cattleman who called up to tap his wisdom about how best to manage his herd. 

There's a little bit of the garden of Eden in this sweaty, stinky, oily evening, in spite of the fact that every stitch of clothing I wore as I shot this picture went immediately into the hamper when I got home. Life is messy. Even reflecting the image of God, working for his kingdom, is messy. Jesus' life may have been the messiest of all. But that's fodder for another post. 





Thursday, May 25, 2017

Treasure in a field

It's so easy to miss the good stuff.

In this transition time, I find myself at loose ends, especially when it's been raining a lot and I can't drive truck in the beautiful fields of southeastern Minnesota. So, since I am curious about the world and wonder what's out there beyond truck driving and pastoring, I've spent a lot of time the last few rainy days on job boards.

Yesterday the walls were closing in and I needed to get out of the house, so I went to downtown Red Wing to find a coffee shop. Lo and behold, what I found! The largest Caribou store in the chain (the manager explained to me) and a gorgeous old building that used to be a railroad depot, then was a restaurant, and now is an amazing, spacious, two-level beautiful coffee shop with a fireplace and a conference room and dark wood and brick and oh, my goodness.

You never know when you're going to run across a treasure. I rearranged a bit of my day today to come back here and enjoy the ambience. Delightful.

Thing is, I've driven by this Caribou dozens of times. It's a coffee shop. They're all the same, right? Wrong. So wrong. This picture doesn't really do it justice. I mean, you get the whole standard thing with their best coffees -- the Obsidian and the Mahogany and the Starlight all lined up right next to each other on the shelves, and the custom coffee mugs, the apple fritters and espresso beans and chalkboard and leather chairs and all of that. But there's something about the space, the luxurious space, that is just joyous. Welcoming.

It's a treasure. I don't know how to put it better than that.

So what do you do when you find a treasure?

You can walk by, or drive by, and smile and nod. Most of the time we do. Or you can rearrange your schedule, your circumstances, your life, and let yourself be shaped by the encounter.

One of the refrains that regularly haunts my life comes from a poster in a student lounge when I was in college. It said: "The secret of life is this: To be ready at any moment to give up all that you are for the sake of all you may become." That thought is both inspiring and terrifying.

The other day a friend said he was struggling with a question. "When was the last time I did something for the first time?" he wondered. Too often we wear ruts in the soil of our lives and miss so much.

Are you keeping your eyes open for the treasures God puts in your way? Jesus told that story, you might remember -- that the kingdom of God was like a man who found a treasure in a field, and in his joy, he went and sold all that he had in order to buy that field. It's easy just to blip over that story and not take it very seriously. But if you think much about it, it's a very challenging story.

Here's one shot of the Caribou in downtown Red Wing. It doesn't do the experience justice, but you get a little idea. It's worth the trip!