Thought for the Day – September 25, 2022

Photo credit: Sasin Tipchal on Pixabay

For those who have taken a leap but have not yet landed, we pray…

There are many reasons to make a leap into the unknown. Perhaps it’s because there are no safe options remaining; perhaps it’s for the excitement or the possible rewards on the other side. Maybe it’s the result of a dare or a challenge, or pushing yourself to do something beyond your comfort level.

What has caused you to take a leap into the unknown? Could you see the spot where you wanted to land? Did you feel brave or fearful, or some mixture of both? In your plans for today how can you be aware of the situations where you might leap into the unknown?

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Barbara Bruneau is a retired Lutheran pastor, living in southeastern Minnesota. Her home is shared with two cats who occasionally make appearances in this blog. She is a knitter, a weaver, and a very occasional blogger at An Explosion of Texture and Color.

Thursday Prayer: Alone

Image by jplenio from Pixabay

[This is the prayer that I wrote today for the RevGalBlogPals website.]

I was listening to a podcast, and the speaker asked who we would want to be with us if we were stranded on a desert island. My immediate answer was “Nobody. Just nobody.”

Yesterday I said to a friend, “I love the work I do, if only I didn’t have to deal with people.” I was kidding… sort of.

I made the mistake of reading the comments on a social media thread, and I wonder how you could have created the people who are saying such hateful things.

A friend sent me an e-mail in which the wording was a little unusual, and I immediately felt attacked.

People are starting to talk about when we can resume “normal” activities, and I realize that I’m more afraid of engaging people than I was of the isolation.

Today, Lord, the prayer on my lips is “Spare me from your people.” But please don’t answer that prayer. Answer instead the prayer of my heart. Give me the gift of space to rage and weep and swear. Help me excavate the muck that is burying my love for your people. Then give me the gift of a deep breath to blow away the trash, the gift of a kind word received and a kind word shared, the gift of knowing again that I am your beloved child, the gift of loving your people again. Amen.

Even on Social Media

[This is a post I wrote for RevGalBlogPals. It appears in this week’s edition of the e-Reader.]

Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. (Joel 2:13)

Slow to anger… gracious and merciful… abounding in steadfast love… This scripture verse is sung, in the churches where I have worshipped, every Sunday in the season of Lent. The haunting melody has been playing in my mind recently.

Slow to anger… gracious and merciful… apparently God doesn’t read the comments on social media posts! I have been noticing lately how easy it is to slip into anger and judgment. I certainly see it happening in others when I read the comment thread following a social media post. If it’s anything more controversial than a picture of a kitten or a puppy, the anger and venom seem to start almost immediately. There is a whole buffet of name-calling, foul language, wishing ill upon others, and even threats to others.

I can’t simply shake my head at how awful other people are acting, though. As soon as I begin judging them for their hostility, I remember situations in which I am quick to flare up in anger and judgment. It may be a roll of the eyes at a comment someone makes. It may be a quick and snarky response in a social media thread. It may be frustration that’s way out of proportion to something that doesn’t work as I expected.

And yet, from the first stories of creation in the Bible, I am reminded that God created each of us in God’s image. I am created to be gracious and merciful, not judgmental and callous. I am created to be slow to anger, to overflow with love for all of God’s creatures. Even when I’m on social media.

Gracious and merciful God, remind me today that I am created in your image. Give me the words in the actions to display your steadfast love. Amen

The Blurry Line Between Fear and Compassion

coronavirus-4817450_1920I’m not usually driven by fear or exclusive self-interest. However, back in March I recall hearing accounts of doctors in New York City having to make triage decisions about who would get care and who would not. I believe that, based on my age and a couple of health conditions, I would not be in the front of the line to get treatment if I should get the virus at a time when facilities and equipment are in short supply.

That vision of being denied healthcare because  it would be against the odds touched a nerve of fear in me that I didn’t realize I had. For the last five months, my decisions have been largely driven by trying to avoid any contact with the virus in order to avoid being the subject of such a triage decision. I have essentially not left my home since the middle of March.

I have not written or spoken this directly about these feelings until today. A friend shared a question on her Facebook page that had been inspired by another friend’s question. “When you evaluate what coronavirus risks you’re willing to take, are you thinking primarily about the risk to yourself, or the risk to others?”

During the past few weeks, I have begun to feel uncomfortable with my set of priorities. I have begun to think of it as selfish to be sheltering at home while others deliver my groceries, pick up prescriptions, and run other errands for me. I understand the logic of putting on one’s own mask first; but it feels like I don’t move beyond protecting myself. I have remained safe, at the expense of others needing to deal with those public situations that frighten me.

I’m still not sure how I’m going to sort it all out, but I’m actively looking for ways to get out of the house at least a little bit. I’m taking the smallest of baby steps. I will probably switch from home delivery of groceries to curbside pickup. Next week I hope to  drive my dog to her appointment at the veterinarian and sit in the car while she gets  her annual shots and a nail trim. I will work my way up to picking up my own prescriptions and maybe venturing into the post office to mail a package. And of course I will wear a mask and have hand sanitizer at the ready for all of those adventures Some things are still beyond my imagining: I don’t feel ready for an in-person medical appointment, and I believe it will be a long time before I see the inside of a retail store or restaurant. My hope is to work toward a better balance between concern for my own safety and well-being and concern for those around me.

How are you handling all of this, friends? How do you juggle the similar-but-different concerns of protecting your own well-being and protecting the well-being of those around you?

(Photo: Gerd Altmann at Pixabay)

What Is It?

leaves-4673997_1920 (1)[This is a post I wrote for RevGalBlogPals. It appears in this week’s edition of the e-Reader.]

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone.

These words from a Joni Mitchell song (Big Yellow Taxi) capture my attention every time I hear them sung. Perhaps it’s the contrast of the gentle, lilting melody with the picture of loss and regret painted by the words.

In this time of our extended response to the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps this could be one of our theme songs as well. We look back at precious times that we didn’t fully appreciate: visits with elderly saints in our congregations, coffee or a cocktail with friends, leisurely shopping at a farmers market, placing a bit of bread or a sip of wine in the outstretched hand of a fellow sinner and assuring them that they are loved and forgiven.

The people of Israel could have been singing those lyrics as they complained bitterly about conditions in the desert. They grew nostalgic about the big pots full of meat simmering over an open fire and the fresh-baked bread that could be used to mop up every last drop of the savory stew.

After hearing their complaints, Moses relayed God’s promise that thy would have meat that evening and bread in the morning. The meat showed up right on schedule; quail covered their encampment. Imagine the feast! Those fleshpots in Egypt had nothing on this dinner of quail, all they could eat. They could hardly wait for the bread that God would provide in the morning.

When they woke up and looked around, though, there was no bread. Nothing that could be toasted over a flame or given to a teething infant to chew on. All they saw was something that looked like frost, even though the weather was all wrong for frost. They were so perplexed that they actually named the white flaky stuff with a question: What is it?

We all have a vision of how we expect our lives to unfold. We think we know how God ought to respond to our prayers. We spend our energy calibrating how we can simulate the in-person worship services that we carry in our memories. Sometimes we get so fixed on our ideas of what would be good for us that we miss what God is actually doing. In our urgency to recreate pre-pandemic worship, perhaps we miss the unexpected blessings hidden in our new forms of worship. We get so busy looking for just one kind of bread that we completely miss the sweet coriander and honey manna that is all around us.

We confess, Lord, that we often don’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone. Our lives get so crowded with other things that we don’t even notice the signs of your presence. Open our eyes, open our minds, open our hearts, to see your love and care all around us. 


A Prayer for Saturday

breakdown-984812_1920I am stalled.

I have been pushing too hard for too long.

I’ve given my life more gas than it can handle, taken on too much, tried to do more than I am capable of.

And now I’m sitting by the side of the road, unable to get started again, watching the smoke pouring out of my broken-down life, weeping with frustration.

Come to my rescue, O Lord.

Dry my tears. Dry my engine. Give me rest and cool water. Teach me about the limits of my body and my spirit. Help me heal.

And when I am ready, send me on my way again. Gently, slowly, trusting in your watchful care.



(Originally published at,  Saturday, July 13, 2019.)

A Life, in Bags and Boxes

box-1209969_1920It’s been almost two weeks since the phone call came. He introduced himself as a police officer from a small town about three hours from where I live. He explained, as gently as he could, that he had been called to do a welfare check on my cousin and had found him dead in his apartment. It appeared to the medical examiner that his heart just stopped working.

Because of a variety of circumstances, I was the only member of his immediate or extended family who had the time or willingness to do the work of wrapping up his affairs. I spent most of the last ten days sitting in his apartment, going through his things. His life, a box at a time, a shelf at a time, an envelope at a time.

I got help from unexpected sources, and I got refusals of help from unexpected sources. My cousin was a man about whom few people were neutral. He had friends and neighbors who were fiercely devoted to him. One neighbor stopped in to tell me that Jeffrey had taken him grocery shopping every week because the neighbor could no longer drive. With tears in his eyes, he asked if he might have some small thing to serve as a remembrance. I offered a few ideas, but soon realized that my wisdom was not sufficient for the task of choosing such a remembrance. I invited him to look around, and he settled on a set of refrigerator magnets in the shape of dogs. It seemed to represent their shared affection for the pets they had each known. Another day, a 95-year-old man described my cousin, young enough to be his grandson, as his best friend. It was an honor to entrust the care of his favorite Christmas cactus to this friend.

My cousin’s apartment contained many items of furniture from the home of our mutual grandparents. While I might have wanted to take it all, I am recently  retired and trying to downsize, so that just couldn’t happen. One of the best gifts I received was the name of an antiques dealer who loves his work and knows that every piece in his shop represents a story from someone’s life. (If you are ever looking for an antiques dealer in eastern Iowa, here’s an unsolicited recommendation for Hoppy’s Primitives in La Porte City.) Dave Hopkins and his helper Nick spent hours helping me sort through the things in the apartment. They purchased many items for their own businesses, and they made daily trips to donation centers in the area to drop off things that I couldn’t keep and didn’t have time to sell.

In the end, though, I Two weeks ago, I didn't know that this thing existed; has my life been less for the lack of it_was the only one who could sort through the boxes (and boxes and boxes!) of photos, memorabilia from family members, and notes from my cousin’s extensive genealogy research. The landlords had been as generous as they could be in giving us time to vacate the apartment, but there was only so much that could be done. Finally, the choices were stark: Keep or throw. Take on the work of caring for this item, or let it go and realize that a tiny slice of our family’s history goes with it.

It would have been easy to step on the slippery slope of trying to preserve everything, and several times each day I was tempted to do just that. The question I settled on to keep me focused was this: Two weeks ago, I didn’t know that this thing existed; has my life been less for the lack of it? Sometimes the answer was yes; my grandfather’s cribbage board, the vehicle for many enjoyable hours of conversation and some memorable lessons in the art of gamesmanship. But other times, the answer was no; photos of family members I don’t recognize, even though I can see the family resemblance.

Jeffrey baby picsSomeone else doing this job might have made very different choices about what to keep and what to throw. Someone else may have had the luxury of space to store everything while they worked through it more gradually. Whoever was doing the work, whether it was compressed into a week or spread out over months, would still feel the burden of the decision: keep or throw. As it is, neighbors in his apartment setting are gratefully making use of his furniture, his food, and his things. Family members will choose whether to remember the baby placed in the arms of his adoptive parents one autumn day in 1959, the hurt and angry adult who never learned how to let go, or the lonely soul who desperately wanted acceptance.

As I sorted, I thought often of the words I have said to hundreds of parishioners on Ash Wednesday each year: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The bags and boxes of things from Jeffrey’s life are just that: things. Ashes and dust. Adiaphora (a Greek word meaning “the little stuff”).

Jeffrey recent pics 2Jeffrey was a complex person. He experienced much pain in his own life; and he caused much pain in the lives of others. Some people will remember Jeffrey as mean-spirited, delusional, and angry. Others will talk about his warmth, his sense of humor, and his gentle manner. And they will all be correct; Jeffrey was all of those things. He was not merely the bags and boxes that we carried to the dumpster and hauled to the donation sites. He was not completely his worst self, and he was not completely his best self. The truth that will remain is this: Jeffrey was a child of God, claimed in his baptism, “a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming.”

Rest eternal grant him, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon him.



Ordination Anniversary – July 21

Ord 000I’ve been thinking more about my ordination day this year than I have on any of my ten prior “ordiversaries.”  Maybe the fact that I’m transitioning (gradually) from full time ministry to retirement is making me more reflective than usual. I have some thoughts about the eleven years of ministry that I’ve been able to serve since then, and I’ll share those with you in another post. Today my mind is on the path that got me there in the first place. It was a rather long path, so this might be a rather long post.

I was not a likely choice for ministry; I didn’t have any of the usual credentials. There’s only one person in my family tree who is a pastor; I didn’t major in religion in college; and I hated my weeks at Bible camp as a kid. Still, God is not in the business of fitting in the boxes we build. So one day in college, my campus pastor told me that I should consider attending seminary after I graduated. I thanked him for the compliment; but privately, I was pretty sure he had me confused with someone else. And my life went on.

Over the next 30 years, I continued hearing (and ignoring) the same message from other people. (God is nothing if not persistent.) One Sunday, I was driving home from church after an encounter with someone who told me – again – that I should be a pastor. I was on Interstate 35W in Minneapolis, near the 35th street exit, when I reached into the back of my mind to pull out the list of all the good reasons I shouldn’t go to seminary. I came up empty. And so it was decided, that quickly. No drama, no harps, no angel voices, not even any angry car horns (I had actually managed to stay in my own lane). I changed at my core, from being a computer software trainer to being a future pastor.

Minnesota ValleyFor the next few years, God opened the doors that needed opening and closed those that might have distracted me. I moved into campus student housing and enrolled as a full-time student. In the spring of 2007, I was assigned to the Southwestern Minnesota Synod of the ELCA to pursue my first call. After interviewing a few places, I accepted the call of Minnesota Valley Lutheran Church and Borgund Lutheran Church to serve as their pastor. I would be living just a few hours away from my home town, where my elderly mother was living. I began making plans for my ordination to take place at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Sioux City, where I had grown up, so that Mom would be able to attend.

The next few months were a roller coaster of events, from sublime highs to lose-your-lunch drops to the lowest of lows.  I don’t think I’ve ever again been able to look at one of those magazine articles that lists life events and assigns points, in an attempt to tell you how stressed you are.

The church that had been my home for over 30 years was Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. It was considered one of the “big steeple” churches, a reflection on both the church’s imposing architecture and its reputation in the larger Lutheran world. Every year on “Seminary Sunday” in the spring, a graduating senior was invited to preach at the Sunday services. That year, the invitation came to me. I had preached in other places, but there was something about that pulpit in that worship space, with its history of great pastors and preachers who had stood in the very same spot. I was struck by how big this calling really was.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the end of May, I was back in that same worship space as one of 178 people graduating from Luther Seminary. I got to share the day with two of my favorite study-buddies,  Meredith McGrath and Wayne Gallipo. We had all met on the first day of my first class in seminary, we’ve supported one another through all kinds of life “stuff,” and we’re still the closest of friends.

After graduation, I took some time to spend a few days with my mother. While I was visiting her, she fell and broke her hip. She was recovering well after surgery, and was to be transferred to a rehab facility in a couple of days. She was determined to be strong enough to attend my ordination in July. She bought my red ordination stole as a gift for me, and she had even picked out what dress she was going to wear. With everything looking so hopeful, I felt safe heading back to my seminary apartment to start packing for my upcoming move. Sometime over the weekend, there were some questionable (probably even irresponsible) decisions made about Mom’s medications. The new (unnecessary) meds knocked her flat on her back and pinned a “Pneumonia Welcome Here” sign to her chest. When I had left, she was walking up and down the hall to build up her strength, and three days later she was in the ICU. I still harbor a lot of anger about the medical “care” she received. She died just three weeks before my ordination date.

The next few weeks were a blur of tears and travel, of packing my things to move for my first call and packing Mom’s things to be sold or donated, of planning Mom’s funeral and planning my ordination service. I’m sure there were points when I couldn’t have told you my own name.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy ordination day was… I’ve actually started this sentence about a dozen times and backspaced over all of them. There just aren’t words (even from a wordsmith) to capture the ways that I was carried along by all the circles of community in my life. The people of that congregation, whose fierce love for my mother had brought us together in grief just three weeks earlier, gathered around me with equally fierce love to bless me into my ministry. People from my Minneapolis church family, people from my internship congregation, family members, people from the synod where I would be serving, a motorhome full of people from my new congregations, pastors who had welcomed me into their text study groups, my internship supervisor, my Sunday School classmate and friend who had been my parents’ pastor for about three decades, the Bishop of the synod where I would be serving, one of my seminary best friends and one of my long-before-seminary best friends… we all gathered to worship and sing and pray and grieve and rejoice.


There are some big moments and some funny details that stick in my mind from that day. I remember kneeling with a score of pastors surrounding me and laying hands on me… and I remember wishing that the kneeling pads were a little thicker because my knees were sore from kneeling for a long time. I remember that one colleague had just finished a graveside service for a member of her congregation, so the funeral director brought her to church in a hearse. I remember the bittersweet moment when my mother’s pastor presented the red stole that my mother had purchased for that day, and we both wept a bit at her absence. I remember another pastor-friend working absolute magic from the organ bench and my internship supervisor’s sermon wrapped around a story about sharing the light we’ve been given.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost of all, I remember being carried along by a cloud of witnesses surrounding me, filled with love and joy and hope. And song… oh my, did we sing:

“Gather us in, the lost and forsaken.
Gather us in, the blind and the lame.
Call to us now, and we shall awaken.
We shall arise at the sound of our name.”

Gather Us In, words and music by Marty Haugen, © 1982, GIA Publications, Inc.



The Politics of “Just”

SELRES_b9c822e9-2cda-4a6e-b2b8-c7a9105634b5SELRES_e94ef793-d697-4d1e-84a0-516057e25d67SELRES_9df5d44a-10bf-4f9b-875f-3cfdbf8cfa26RevGalBlogPals SELRES_9df5d44a-10bf-4f9b-875f-3cfdbf8cfa26SELRES_e94ef793-d697-4d1e-84a0-516057e25d67SELRES_b9c822e9-2cda-4a6e-b2b8-c7a9105634b5is an organization dedicated to the mission of creating community for female clergy. Their website ( has new content every day. One of those features is a weekly column called “The Pastoral is Political.” Here is the column I wrote this week:

I have served almost exclusively in small-town and rural congregatioQuiltsns in the Upper Midwest. Each of those congregations has a quilting group that makes dozens, sometimes hundreds, of quilts each year. Today I’m thinking about two of those groups. In one group, one of the members made it her special ministry to cut up the donated fabric into standard size squares, pin the squares into bundles so they could be sewn together into strips, and ordered the strips into a pleasing design of colors and prints. The tops were stitched together, batting was added, and a coordinating backing added to the quilt. The other quilters occasionally grumbled about her high standards, but the quilts they produced were lovely, and sturdy, and warm.

In the other group, the phrase I heard most often was “It’s just for mission.” The quilts were usually made from donated bed sheets. Fitted sheets had the elastic cut off, and the corner seams cut out. Some other random-color fabric was used to patch the empty corner. A second sheet, or perhaps a donated tablecloth, was used as the “batting” and another sheet (similarly patched in one corner) was used for the backing. Newcomers to the group who asked about finding coordinating colors for the patches were quickly reminded that such effort wasn’t necessary. “It’s just for mission.”

Hearing the phrase “It’s just…” makes me cringe, every single time. It has also taught me to listen for the occasions when the word “just” is used to demean and dehumanize those whom we claim to care for, to excuse a lesser degree of caring for our neighbor.  How often to we think or speak the word “just” as we provide lesser quantity or lesser quality items to be given to those in need. Anyone who has volunteered at a food pantry can tell stories of donated items with expiration dates several years in the past. A few years ago, I helped to organize a drive to gather shoes to be distributed through clothing “free stores” in a several county area. Despite our requests for new shoes only, we filled a few shopping bags with well-worn (and sometimes aromatic) shoes to be discarded.

I have sometimes found it difficult to encourage members of my congregations to consider their “it’s just…” words. Sometimes they are proud that they can donate more pairs of shoes if they buy inexpensive, inferior brands. My spirit resists that quantity-over-quality reasoning. Still, it’s important that I keep raising the question. “It’s just” language can grow roots and turn into “it’s just” attitudes. “It’s just” attitudes can create a background against which “it’s just” actions can flourish. “It’s just” a refugee, a poor person, an LGBTQ+ person, a woman, a child, a person suffering from mental illness. “It’s just” someone we can ignore, someone we can make assumptions about, someone we can separate from their families, or imprison, or kill, without ever actually seeing them as God’s beloved children.

A number of years ago, I learned a lesson from a friend and mentor. In one of our “coffee and wisdom” conversations, she told me that when she looks in her grocery cart or her cart from Target, she doesn’t want anyone to be able to guess which items are for her family and which are to be donated. I hadn’t thought of it in exactly that way before. But ever since that conversation, I have made it a practice to shop for donations from exactly the same stores and brands that I shop for myself.

Buying Campbell’s soup instead of a house brand isn’t going to end poverty and discrimination or stop police shootings of people of color. And it may not even make a huge difference in the life of the person who gets that can of soup at a food pantry. What it does, however, is change me. It makes me more aware of the recipients of this food as individuals with names and lives and families and stories to tell. It’s not “just” for the food pantry, or for mission, or for disaster relief. It never is.

Barbara Bruneau is a retired Lutheran pastor, living in southeastern Minnesota and currently serving in interim ministry. She is a knitter, a weaver, and a very occasional blogger at An Explosion of Texture and Color.

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Cloud of Witnesses

FB_IMG_1521021848451In the church, we often speak of the communion of saints, of being part of a great cloud of witnesses. Mostly, we think about that cloud of witnesses as being invisible to us; they are the children of God who have lived in all times and in all places. Once in a while, though, that communion of saints becomes visible in an undeniably powerful way.

On Tuesday, I was one of a few hundred people who gathered to commend our friend and colleague, Ben Ahles-Iverson, into the arms of our Heavenly Father. Ben was only 37 years old when he died a week ago. I knew him for just half a dozen of those years, as a friend and colleague in ministry. Ben was known by church members in the area as the pastor with the amazing singing voice. Our congregations worked together on joint worship services and fundraising events in support of the ELCA campaign to fight malaria. For several years we were part of the same round robin preaching group for Lenten services. Ben and his wife Mara regularly joined our weekly text study group. I remember Ben never being content with easy answers as we discussed the scripture passages for the week. And I remember the charming delight he took in sharing with us the latest antics of their daughter Elizabeth. When a pastor was going to be away, Ben was one of the first to volunteer to be on call in case of emergency.

In the days since he died, I’ve learned more about Ben as I have read Facebook posts and other reflections by friends, colleagues, and especially by those who knew him when he was at Wartburg Theological Seminary. On Tuesday, nearly a hundred of those friends, colleagues, and classmates were part of the congregation that gathered for Ben’s funeral. We cried. We laughed. We shared Holy Communion. We remembered. And we sang. Oh, did we sing!

At the end of the service, clergy were invited to join the family in gathering around Ben’s cremains for the prayer of commendation. One of Ben’s seminary professors began the prayer. A moment later, without planning or intention, there were nearly a hundred voices joined in this prayer that we have all said so often in our own congregations.

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Ben. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.

As those words flowed from some deeply ingrained part of my memory and joined with the voices of colleagues, I could imagine the very same prayer being prayed by generations of pastors with countless families as they took that painful but important step of commending a family member into God’s loving care. This is the great cloud of witnesses. This is the communion of saints.


Photo credit: Jacob Sorenson ©2018