Poems By Heart: On the Valuing of Memorizing

Winona Media (Leslie Schultz) - Tue, 11/18/2014 - 10:05pm

When the days shorten and grow chill, I turn to knitting, quilting, and crossword puzzles. The other day I was working on a  puzzle (‘My Stars!’ by Charles M. Deber, originally published in The New York Times.) Hmmm….what was a five-letter word for the clue ‘Commit to memory’? The answer was: ‘learn’.

What does it mean to learn something?

When I was in grade school,( classically the ‘grammar stage’of development when memorization was stressed) memorizing facts or poems–learning things “by heart”–was pedagogically passé.  I, have, however, always felt that, contrary to fashion, learning a few selected things by heart was the gold standard. Naturally, I don’t mean simply mean the ability to parrot without understanding. Instead, I mean that there is a confidence in being absolutely certain of a particular bit of material that can then anchor new explorations and the creation of new work.


Personally, I have found value in memorizing many different kind of material, from the Pythagorean theorem, the colors of the rainbow, and the books of the Old and New Testaments to the U.S. presidents in chronological order. What I most enjoy memorizing (and repeating over and over in odd moments) are poems I love.

I have been memorizing poems my whole life, beginning (like most of us) with nursery rhymes, moving on to proverbial sayings, and song lyrics and such poems as relatives had memorized. My father recited “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert Service with gusto, and my sister can still recite it, a breakneck speed, in under a minute. Later, in high school, I began making the effort (thanks to all my English teachers) to memorize poems. It is a practice I have continued fitfully ever since. For several decades, I had a file folder (an actual blue paper file with sheets of typewritten paper in it!) labelled “Solaces: Poems Committed to Memory”.

This year, I expanded to a three-ring binder, and I included copies of poems I have securely in my ‘neural anthology’ as well as those I have about three-quarters of but still need some work. (I have found that many of the longer poems require periodic polishing to remain clear, but once something is truly learnt by heart then it doesn’t take much to brush up. The oftener it is reviewed, the more reliably it can be called up. Some frequently revisited  favorites are as deeply engraved as the Pledge of Allegiance.

The majority of the ones I have memorized are formally structured using rhyme and meter.

Why do I do this? What is the point? Pleasure, primarily. I am intrigued by why my brain responds to language poetically patterned, and I keep coming back to this ground-breaking research, The Neural Lyre, first published in 1983 in Poetry Magazine, by Frederick Turner and Ernst Pöppel. Are we, I wonder, hardwired to respond to musical language? If so, why? And I am fascinated by more recent research that suggest memories of music and poetry can still be accessible after other problems remembering facts arise.

As my hearing becomes (ever so slightly) less acute and my eyesight needs (just a few) props – so that’s why my Condensed Oxford English Dictionary came equipped with a little drawer and a huge magnifying glass! — I know there is a chance I might, one distant day, become unable to enjoy reading, viewing a film, sewing, taking in an exhibit of art, hearing a lecturer, or listening to music. If that day ever comes, I plan to deepen my practice of breath work, explore the textures of flowers and vegetables and fruits, and continue to explore the contours of poems I have safe in my heart.

Below is my ‘life list’ of poems. The ones with asterisks are Recite On Demand. The others are, shall we say, Under Construction.

In future posts, I plan to share insights I have had about specific classic poems that I could not have had without the experience of committing them to memory; techniques for memorizing that have served me well; and a few stories, of my own and of others, of moments when the ability to call a poem to mind has been a valuable thing.

For now, I invite you to let me know if there is a poem you particularly cherish, or if you have thoughts on the merits of memorization generally — what do you know by heart? If you want to hold my feet to the fire, next time you see me you can ask me to recite an asterisked poem–I would love it if you have a poem to recite, too.

Poems Memorized (*) and Becoming Memorized         November 2014

Leslie Schultz
“Twilight at Tenney Park”*
“Gilbert’s Hobby”*

Robert Francis

Emily Dickinson
“441  This is my letter to the World”
“712  Because I could not stop for Death”
“445  They shut me up in Prose”
“656  I started early, took my dog”*
“249 Wild nights, wild nights”*
“254 Hope is the thing with Feathers”*
“341 After great pain”*
“288 I’m Nobody. Who are you?”*
737 “The moon was but a chin of gold”
“214 I taste a liquor never brewed”

Robert Frost
“Provide, Provide”
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”*
“Fire and Ice”*
“Acquainted with the Night”
“Nothing Gold Can Stay”*

William Butler Years
“No Second Troy”
“Lines Written in Dejection”*
“The Circus Animals’ Desertion”
“Among School Children”
“Sailing to Byzantium”
“The Wild Swans at Coole”*
“An Irish Airman Forsees His Death”*
“The Second Coming”
“The Lake Isle of Innisfree”*
“When You Are Old”
“Who Goes with Fergus?”*
“The Magi”
“A Coat”*
“The Scholars”*
“To be carved on a Stone at Thoor Ballylee”

William Shakespeare
“116 CXVI Let Me Not to the Marriage of True Minds”*
“29 XXIX When in Disgrace with Fortune and Men’s Eyes”*
“73 LVIII That Time of Year Though Mayst in Me Behold”*
“130 CXXX My Mistress’s Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun”*

Gerard Manly Hopkins
“Spring and Fall to a Young Child”*
“Pied Beauty”

William Wordsworth
“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”* (often cited as “Daffodils”)

Richard Wilbur
“Two Voices in a Meadow”*
“Advice to a Prophet”

Wilfred Owen
“Dulce et Decorum Est”
“Arms and the Boy”

Ronald Wallace
“Fathers and Daughters”*

Arthur Guiterman
“On the Vanity of Earthly Greatness”

Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn
“The Golf Links”*

William Blake
“A Poison Tree”
“The Sick Rose”*
“They Tyger

T.S. Eliot
“The Magi”
“The Song of the Jellicles”
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Carl Sandburg

Edna St. Vincent Millay
“Oh, Burdock”*

Alfred, Lord Tennyson
“The Eagle”
“The Lady of Shallot”

George Gordon, Lord Byron
“She Walks in Beauty”

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Thomas Lovell Beddoes
“A lake”*

Rosalia de Castro
“Black Mood”*

John Keats
“On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”

Mary Oliver
“Wild Geese”

James Wright
“A Blessing”

A.E. Houseman
“Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now”

Robert Herrick
“Upon Julia’s Clothes”*

Robert Southwell
“The Burning Babe”*

Richard Lovelace
“To Althea, From Prison”

Until another Wednesday, wishing you well!

Categories: Citizens

I’m Such a Yankee

Blowing and Drifting - Christopher Tassava - Tue, 11/18/2014 - 9:27pm

I’m such a Yankee.

Sadly, the countries-I’ve-visited map would have just two spots of color.

Categories: Citizens

From Container to Cookpot: A Squash Soup Story

My Northern Garden - Mary Schier - Tue, 11/18/2014 - 7:00am

Earlier this fall, I bought three nice squash from the Northfield Farmers Market to use in a fall container. When the weather turned cold (and then nasty) a week or so ago, I brought the squash in to put them to use in a soup. Squash are ornamental, and most are edible as well, so there was no reason to let the squash rot on the porch.

This soup turned out especially good and I think it’s in part because I had more than one kind of squash and because of the way they were prepared. The squash included a blue Hubbard squash, a red Kabocha squash and a buttercup squash. (Here’s a great guide to all things squash.)

I have been reading chef Alex Guarnaschelli’s book Old-School Comfort Food (Clarkson-Potter, 2013). For her squash soup, Guarnaschelli first roasts the squash with a rich coating of butter, sugar and molasses. I cut the butter by about half, but it was still plenty rich and delicious. After the roasting, I freelanced things and made a squash soup the way I normally would with onions, wine and warm spices. (Guarnaschelli’s soup sounds delicious, too, but this is my preferred recipe.) It turned out beautifully, elevating a simple soup and sandwich supper to gourmet levels. Of course, I served it with the red pepper relish that I make each fall.

That’s a lot of squash!

A couple of notes: 1) This is not a quick meal. Do it on a day when you will be hanging around the house for several hours. 2) The amounts of some of the ingredients are variable. Because I had lots of squash, I used six cups of cooked squash for the soup and the rest went into a squash custard. You may need more or less liquid depending on how big your squash are. 3) This soup calls for an immersion blender. If you don’t have one, you could mush up the soup with a potato masher or use a regular blender and blend the soup in batches, though I think that’s a bit dangerous. (Immersion blenders come at a variety of price points. Walmart has one for less than $15; if you spend $40,  you can have this nice one I got for my daughter when she got her first apartment.) It’s a good kitchen investment.

Squash Soup from a Container Garden

2-3 winter squash (your choice on type) If very large, you may only need one

5 TBSP butter, melted in a sauce pan

2 TBSP brown sugar

2 TBSP molasses

2 TBSP olive oil

1 large onion chopped

1 TBSP chopped garlic

1 jalapeno or other hot pepper diced finely (totally optional)

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp Garam masala

1 tsp cumin

Salt and pepper to taste (don’t skimp)

1/2 cup white wine (optional)

1-2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (or water)

Water as needed

1 cup (more or less) whole milk or half-and-half

Prepare the squash: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Also, check to make sure your oven shelves are far enough apart — especially if you have big squash. Wash the squash, then cut them into large pieces and scrape out the seeds. Place the pieces on large trays, preferably with a 1-2 inch lip, and drizzle the melted butter over them. Sprinkle on the sugar and molasses and some salt and pepper. Put a little water in the bottom of the pans to add some steam. Then cover it all with foil and crimp the edges around the pan. You want the squash to be semi-sealed in to prevent the sugars from browning too much. Bake for 90 minutes or more until the squash are soft. Take it out of the oven (carefully!!!) and let it cool so you can handle it.

The soup: Remove the squash flesh from the skins with a spoon or knife. For my soup, I used 6 cups of squash, but you could use more and just increase the liquid. Have your onion and garlic chopped and your spices ready. Put the oil in your soup pot and warm it slightly, add the onion and a bit of salt and pepper. Let it cook until it’s translucent. Then add the spices, garlic and hot pepper, if using, and let them cook for a minute or two. Pour in the wine and let all the goodness meld for about 2 minutes. Then, add your squash, the broth and enough water to just cover the squash. Bring it to a boil, then turn down the heat and let it simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. (If your squash is not perfectly soft, it may need more time. If it is soft, less.)

Blend the soup. When everything is soft and smelling good, blend the soup with an immersion blender until smooth. You may need to add more water because it should be rather thick. Add in the milk (as much or little as you like) to get it to your preferred consistency. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or (my preference) some red pepper relish.


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Categories: Citizens

Gigi ends her public service

Pegasus Librarian - Iris Jastram - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 11:11am

Just 3 days short of turning 13 months old (or 383 years old in people years), Gigi the stapler must finally give up her unprecedented tenure as a public servant in our library. She exploded some parts last night, hitting an unsuspecting bystander, and now her casing has come separated from her guts.

She will be sent to a quiet shelf to retire in peace and think back over her incredibly long career. We wish her well in her retirement.

Categories: Citizens

ACRL Framework for Information Literacy: 3rd draft released

Pegasus Librarian - Iris Jastram - Wed, 11/12/2014 - 3:05pm

This is planned to be the last draft for comment on this Framework before it gets presented to the Powers That Be at ALA Midwinter, and the committee really has been good about listening to feedback and making changes. So get out your red pens and mark up this, the 3rd and possibly final draft of the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy.

From their announcement:

The Association of College and Research Libraries’ (ACRL) Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education Task Force seeks feedback on the third draft of the association’s proposed Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, released today, November 12, 2014. Read the document and welcome message highlighting major changes since the June second draft then provide your feedback via an online form by 5pm Central on Friday, December 12, 2014.

Categories: Citizens

In Remembrance: Dr. Theodore Papermaster, 1914-2014

My Musical Family - Joy Riggs - Tue, 11/11/2014 - 6:22pm
My friend Ted the raconteur died yesterday, after a brief bout with pneumonia. He was 100 years young. I announce this with great sorrow, but also with a heart overflowing with gratitude. Getting the chance to hear his stories during the past two years has enriched my life, and I will miss him. I will miss his laugh.

If you follow my blog regularly, you probably know that I last saw Ted on Oct. 29, less than two weeks ago, and had a wonderful visit (I wrote about it in this blog post: Ted Talk: the Musical Picnic Surprise Edition). When I left his room at the nursing home that day, he was energized and happy because he had surprised me with the gift of some photos. Thats how I will remember him.

I will also remember him as the boy who played clarinet in the St. Cloud Municipal Boys’ Band, under the direction of my great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs, and as the boy who took piano lessons from my great-grandmother, Islea Graham Riggs.
Ted is the boy in the middle, in the front row. The photo was taken in 1925.When I showed this to Ted, he began to hum his piano piece, “Minuet in G.”I also will picture him this way: this is the photo that he prominently displayed in his room at the nursing home. This is how he looked when he served in the Army during World War II.

Ted served for four years as a flight surgeon in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. He earned 11 battle stars, the Presidential Unit Citation with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters and a Soldiers Medal. He told me several stories about his time in the service, including a few “off-color” ones he apologized for in advance, since — as he said — I seemed like such a nice person. I assured him I was not easily offended.

The war was deeply personal for Ted, a devout Jew. His grandfather was a famous North Dakota rabbi who had emigrated from Lithuania to the United States in 1891. In early August of 1945, after Germany had been defeated, but the war was still raging with Japan, Ted took the opportunity to visit what was then Palestine and is now Israel. During the flight back to Italy, the plane’s radio operator jumped up and announced that the United States had just dropped an atomic bomb on Japan.

“We were the happiest guys in the world because we knew we were all going home,” Ted told me during one of my visits.

Army logistics being what they were, Ted did not return to Minnesota until Nov. 1, 1945. When he arrived at his parents’ house in St. Cloud, he discovered that G. Oliver was widowed and was living across the street. Ted visited his former bandmaster and told him stories about the Army. This was shortly before G. Oliver moved to Bemidji to take a job organizing and directing a high school band on the Red Lake Indian reservation. The two men did not see each other again. G. Oliver died in Bemidji on Jan. 25, 1946.

After the war, Ted fought another war, against polio. He worked with the Sister Kenny Institute during the polio epidemic of 1952. He had a long career as a pediatrician in the Twin Cities and for a short time took care of my twin cousins, Brent and Scott Riggs, in the late 1960s when they were babies.

This last piece of news, about my cousins, had been a surprise to me. But during our visits, I uncovered yet another connection between the Riggs and Papermaster families and was able to unveil a surprise of my own: I found out that Ted’s dad, Bert, had met G. Oliver before either of them lived in St. Cloud. Bert had played clarinet in G. Oliver’s band in Grand Forks in 1909. (I wrote about this discovery in a January 2013 blog post, Another Visit with Dr. Ted).

Ted was preceded in death by his parents, Bert and Sonia Papermaster; his brother, Dr. Ralph Papermaster; his sister, Dale Fein; and his granddaughter-in-law Meredith Weimer Bender. He is survived by his wife, Dorothy; daughters, Gail Bender (Mark Satz) and Linda Papermaster (Nahum Gat); son, Barry Papermaster (Cheryl Buckles); grandchildren Brian (Leah Solo), Seth, David and Herschel Bender, Aviva and Illana Gat, Benjamin, Ariel and Zachary Papermaster; and great-granddaughter Samantha Weimer Bender. His funeral is tomorrow (Wednesday) at 2 p.m. at the Adath Yeshurun Cemetery Chapel in Edina.

Ted’s obituary in today’s Star Tribune.I talked to Ted on the phone once and visited him seven times during the past two years, beginning in November of 2012. Each time I talked to him, he told me something new. (My first blog post about Ted is here: A House Call with Dr. Ted).

I loved the fact that he not only remembered vivid details from his childhood, but he also remembered things I had told him a few months earlier; for example, he remembered that my daughter played the French horn. His memory seemed better than that of most people my age. I also loved the fact that he was still reading books, big fat books, mostly about World War II. His mind continued to be active, long after his body had begun to fail him.

Whenever our visits were interrupted by a nurse or some other employee of the nursing home, he would introduce me in a booming voice: “This is Joy Riggs. Her great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs, was my former bandmaster.”

The second-to-last visit I had with Ted was in late April. I had woken him up from a nap when I arrived, and he seemed to be feeling melancholy that day, although we still had some laughs over his stories. At the end of the visit I was hesitant to leave because I knew he would be sad, and he seemed reluctant to say goodbye.

“If I don’t see you again, be well, do well. As they say, shalom. Do you know what shalom means?” he asked me.

“It means peace?”

“Yes, it means peace. It also means goodbye. I’ll tell you the story about that one day, too,” he said.

I left the room and fought back tears on the way to the parking lot.

Just like I am doing as I write this.

Shalom, Ted. I am not the raconteur you are, but I will do my best to keep your stories alive as I complete my book. They are fantastic. Which, as a matter of fact, reminds me of a slightly off-color joke you told me once . . .

Categories: Citizens

Sad Day for Skyline Restaurant, Lake City, MN

Bright's Northfield Restaurant Blog - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 11:06am

I learned today that Skyline Restaurant, where the of Skyline Hotel Condos are on Hwy 61 in Lake City, MN has gone down and out.
It was one of my favorite places, located at the end of Lake Pepin, right there next to the water, where the Pearl boat harbors. The food, though sometimes missed a beat, was more often good and plentiful with very fair pricing.
A little word of advice on the side; never order a steak unless you are in a place that calls themselves a Steak House. It’s a special sort of situation that a restaurant that offers some of everything usually cannot cope with.
Anyway, I am so sad about them going down. A couple of new restaurants came to town and that may have pushed the sack over the bridge. I have been to one, called The Rail House, and it’s good, it has some original recipies, like pizza, and such, but it’s not that much different in its offerings, i think that its just that people like something new. We may get “5 senses blind” to a restaurant, it’s food, it’s ambiance and even it’s staff after a few dozen trips. So we go where everyone else is going to hit the latest trend in dining out.
Good luck to the new owners, if there will be new owners and if so, I hope to write about you, too.

Categories: Citizens

Test Post

Tom Swift - Writer's Notebook - Wed, 02/05/2014 - 5:15pm

Ex usu modo sadipscing disputando. Eu principes persequeris, voluptua hendrerit mel ex. Qui ad dico expetenda, numquam iracundia mei in. Has cetero eloquentiam voluptatibus id.[1]
Ubique eripuit an eam. Cu nec minim tritani albucius, quo quod sumo cu. Munere tamquam in mea. Ut tota omnes vituperatoribus usu, pro persius quaeque cu.

Mel te unum doming, est te cetero iudicabit repudiandae. Tempor sapientem vis ea, ex est duis mutat intellegebat. Ne tractatos necessitatibus eam, ex idque officiis disputando mel. An sit voluptua ponderum.[2]

Melius omittam deterruisset vix id, no his labore postulant. An essent electram per, quas everti epicurei eu per. Albucius appareat eu his. Ex nec ipsum invidunt, possim constituto eam an, usu id consul insolens. Fugit saepe vis no. Te nam noster accusata, vis regione vocibus in.

Habeo affert imperdiet ut sed, mazim aeque duo no. Mei habemus invenire ut. Vide aliquam neglegentur ut mel, an eum eros latine. Partem qualisque reprehendunt eos ad, agam assueverit sit et. Mei te dico erroribus scriptorem, an detracto interesset mei.

Eos no case mazim deseruisse. Eu duo ludus fastidii. Duo noster inimicus recteque ut. Illud clita ancillae usu ut. Vel euismod blandit evertitur ut, velit ludus id eam, eu choro iuvaret petentium quo. Cum reque detracto ex, in ius clita commune.

In vix affert vivendo recusabo, verear referrentur id pro. Vim ei noster suscipiantur conclusionemque, no est corpora percipit. Ei vidit mucius efficiendi est, at percipit urbanitas ius. Tritani ancillae deterruisset ius ei, euismod nonumes vix in.

Cu munere convenire aliquando sea, everti feugait eu cum. No vis iisque splendide. Mollis accusam praesent id his, augue nominati ne pri, pro accusam facilisis expetenda cu. Sea veri oblique ea.

Esse recusabo invenire ea vix. Mei debet ridens officiis no, movet molestiae qui eu. Harum malorum consectetuer ad nec. Id eam vide nemore invidunt, cu per reque oporteat. Vix eu inani accusamus disputationi, usu nibh persius abhorreant te, ne usu doctus expetenda.

Mel veritus percipit euripidis ut, tritani singulis delicatissimi ei his, eu fuisset quaestio antiopam mel. Cu eam prima feugait. Te vis dico fuisset, te eum modus exerci audiam. Laudem nostro duo in, ut usu etiam suavitate moderatius. Qui discere verterem maluisset ne, adhuc commune te quo, maluisset constituto ne eam. Te cum sint nullam, nam no voluptaria efficiantur.


[1] Yado, yado, yabbi.

[2] This is my footnote

Categories: Citizens

Cast of characters countdown: David Bailey Sindt

A Wretched Man - The Author's Blog - Wed, 11/13/2013 - 8:39am

Is Anybody Else Out There Gay?

Rev. David Bailey Sindt, a gay Presbyterian pastor, provoked the 1974 General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church when he asked this question with a sign held high. Pastor Sindt’s sign was no mere whim. It was part of a calculated strategy, a “ministry of presence,” that Sindt and other LGBT activists within the ecumenical denominations would pursue. By their openness and their presence, they implicitly proclaimed, “We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re Presbyterian (or Lutheran, or Episcopalian, or Methodist, or UCC), but we’re not merely the gay issue; we’re flesh and blood human beings.”

Pastor Sindt’s assertive coming out serves as the pan-denominational theme for the seventies, and his courageous action at the General Assembly is credited as the birth of More Light Presbyterians. In the heady movement days of the early seventies, Sindt and Rev. Bill Johnson served on a task force originating with the San Francisco Council on Religion and Homosexuality and recognized by the National Council of Churches. The task force served as resource for the startups of denominational advocacy groups. In 1975 Sindt met with the organizers of the first gathering of gay Methodists, and Sindt was present as resource person during the first national gathering of Integrity, the Episcopal advocacy group, that same year. Three task force members served as resource persons at the 1974 Minneapolis gathering that birthed Lutherans Concerned.

As the decade wound down, Sindt was joined by gay seminarians Bill Silver and Chris Glaser as leaders of More Light Presbyterians. Silver’s request for ordination in the New York Presbytery was kicked upstairs to the General Assembly for “definitive guidance.” The General Assembly responded with the creation of a task force that included Glaser as a member. The task force eventually submitted a gay-friendly report to the 1978 General Assembly, but commissioners (delegates) rejected the report and overwhelmingly rendered definitive guidance that stated, “homosexuality is not God’s wish for humanity” and “unrepentant homosexual practice does not accord with the requirements for ordination.” Subsequent decades would witness ecclesiastical trials that extended the scope and effect of this “definitive guidance.”

Pastor Sindt continued his advocacy efforts until his life was cut short as an early victim of the AIDS epidemic in 1986. David lived alone, but his church friends formed a team to care for him in his home during the last months of his life. Each evening, someone prepared dinner, and they shared the meal. His former congregation continues this ministry by taking a Sunday evening meal to the residents of a Chicago House facility. David’s own home became the first Chicago House residence owned by the agency. More Light Presbyterians has named their annual service award after Pastor Sindt. He was one of 13 persons inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame at a ceremony on Wednesday, October 25, 1995, at the Cultural Center in Chicago.


This is the sixth installment in the series Cast of characters countdown. I will continue to post biographical notes about the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in my soon-to-be-released book, Queer Clergy. Here’s the list of prior posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement(gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1970-72 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1972-77 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

Related Posts:
Categories: Citizens

Cast of characters countdown: James Siefkes

A Wretched Man - The Author's Blog - Tue, 11/12/2013 - 9:03am

A straight ally, Lutheran Pastor James Siefkes, a “rather rotund church executive” in the home offices of the American Lutheran Church (ALC), a predecessor to the ELCA, was the principal inspiration for the founding of “Lutherans Concerned for Gay People” in 1974. That’s the short version; here are the details. Well, even what follows is a condensed version; read Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism for the full story, woven into an overarching narrative.

After a couple of stops as a parish pastor, Iowan James Siefkes landed in the western regional office of the ALC in Palo Alto, California. Rev. Siefkes was a third-generation Lutheran pastor after his father and grandfather. Serving in the San Francisco area during the tumultuous 1960s, Siefkes developed a program designed to introduce clergy and spouses to hot-button issues such as the Vietnam war, campus riots, runaway youth, drugs, and more. His Matrix program offered the streets of San Francisco as Petri dish for clergy to examine life on the edge.

I would set up a program, take maybe thirty, forty people and move them into the YMCA in the Tenderloin in San Francisco and, then, would try to introduce them to what was going on in the Bay Area at that time.

Matrix came to the attention of the ALC home office in Minneapolis, and Pastor Siefkes was offered a position to develop something similar; he was to establish and lead a new ALC department to be called, “Congregational Social Concerns.” So far, so good, but when he invited approximately sixty persons from the Twin Cities (Lutheran and Catholic Social Services, ALC executives, an ALC bishop, the YMCA, the University of Minnesota Medical School, and more) to a seminar to evaluate the potential for ministry in the area of human sexuality, “the milieu heated up,” according to Siefkes. In particular, the scandalized director of Catholic Social Services published an unfriendly report in Commonweal magazine entitled, “Sex, Sex, Sex!”

Undeterred, Siefkes successfully sought a small ALC appropriation of a few thousand dollars:

To enable at least one national meeting of up to twenty ALC homosexual persons plus 5 resource persons to discuss their sexual orientation and their relationship because of it, to society and their church; to the end that they may address the church and the church might respond to them and become less a source of oppression to ALC and other persons with homosexual orientation.

Earlier, Siefkes had been interviewed by a reporter from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Howard Erickson, who was a closeted gay man who also published in the gay periodical, The Advocate, under the pseudonym, Bjorn Bjornson. Erickson’s Advocate article introduced Siefkes to the gay community as an ally, and Siefkes used contacts he attained following that article to invite around twenty gay and lesbian persons to an inaugural meeting in Minneapolis in June 1974. Five persons actually attended the weekend event, including reporter Erickson. Siefkes himself stepped back and let the five persons plus three facilitators conduct the meeting themselves.

On Sunday evening, June 16, 1974, Siefkes and his wife, Sally, joined the others for a social event and report at a professor’s home near the University of Minnesota campus. When he arrived, he learned that Lutherans Concerned had been born, the LGBT advocacy group that would grown in size and strength and become the lobbying force that encouraged the ELCA to revise its attitude and policies toward gays and lesbians. Five LGBT Lutherans and three facilitators would have “an impact way out of proportion to their numbers.” Sort of like five fishes and two loaves.

The conservative Lutheran press picked up on the story and lambasted the “Dollars for Disobedience” appropriation. By printing copies of the organizational newsletter, including the subscription form, the conservative publication unwittingly helped to spread the word. Four years later at the first national gathering of Lutherans Concerned, reporter Erickson would reminisce, “We five had our differences, all right, but it started to look like this nestling we’d hatched just might be around for awhile.”

In 1992, Lutherans Concerned established the Jim Siefkes Justice-Maker Award, to recognize superior and tireless efforts of straight allies on behalf of LGBT Lutherans. Siefkes himself was honored with the 2010 Peace and Justice Award from the Hawkinson Foundation. The award honors individuals or couples who have made significant and sustained contributions to peace and justice. Now retired, Siefkes remains in Minneapolis and helped me with background information to the founding of Lutherans Concerned (now ReconcilingWorks).


This is the fifth installment in the series Cast of characters countdown. I will continue to post biographical notes about the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in Queer Clergy. Here’s the list of prior posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1970-72 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1972-77 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

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Cast of characters countdown: Ellen Marie Barrett

A Wretched Man - The Author's Blog - Mon, 11/11/2013 - 9:09am

In 1970, the Episcopal General Convention authorized diaconal ordination for women, a non-sacerdotal role. Two years later, Bishop Paul Moore, Jr., of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, interviewed Ellen Marie Barrett, an early female candidate for ordination to the diaconate.

I asked her to sit down on the sofa across from the wing chair where I usually sit when someone comes to see me. Ellen is tall, with dark brown hair conservatively styled. She, like many tall people, stoops a little as she walks. Her most arresting feature is her eyes, which appear honest, deep, and welcoming … In conversation, she seems rather soft, until the discussion finds its way into an area of faith or conviction. Then you strike rock.

Though the progressive bishop was impressed with Barrett, he did not recommend her for ordination to the diaconate because she was an out lesbian. Barrett attended seminary. When she finished in 1975, she again asked Bishop Moore to approve her for ordination to the diaconate. He relented, and she was ordained a deacon in December, 1975 before a few church ladies, a few students, and her proud Southern mother. The ordination barely disturbed the church mice even though Barrett had been elected co-president of Integrity, an Episcopal LGBT advocacy group, at its inaugural national meeting earlier that year.

The following summer, the Episcopal General Convention went further; church canons were revised to allow women to be ordained to the priesthood, and many lined up for ordination when the policy would become effective in January, 1977. Deacon Barrett was among the hopeful women, but she and Bishop Moore weren’t prepared for the firestorm that awaited them. TV networks were there for her January ordination, which was a Time Magazine feature story.

The bishop and the lesbian priest were hounded mercilessly with calls, letters, and rejection. The last years of the decade of the seventies degenerated into the “height of homophobia” within the Episcopal Church. Barrett didn’t have a comfortable career and faced crushing depression. Eventually, she joined the Order of St. Benedict as Sister Bernadette.

In researching her story, I located her in the Diocese of Newark, and I asked her to comment. Months passed, and I heard nothing. Then, a long email arrived. With Sister Bernadette’s permission, the entire email appears as a poignant coda to the Episcopal section of my book.

Here’s a snippet:


Would I do it again? Knowing what I know now? That’s not a question that can possibly have an answer. Today is a very different time. I have no idea whether God would have moulded my combination of weakness, pig-headedness, and some talent into what another time would need. I was what I was, and I did what I did, in the context of a particular time and socio-political climate.

Am I still convinced it was the right thing to do? Yes. Done the right way by the right person? Who knows? It is what it is. And priesthood is as much a part of me as green eyes and once black hair turning white.

I am a priest forever. That’s all.


This is the fourth installment in the series Cast of characters countdown. I will continue to post biographical notes about the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in Queer Clergy. Here’s the list of prior posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1970-72 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

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Categories: Citizens

Cast of characters countdown: William R. Johnson

A Wretched Man - The Author's Blog - Fri, 11/08/2013 - 8:38am

The Christopher Street Liberation Day parade from Greenwich Village to Central Park on June 28, 1970 was peaceful. Though police turned their backs on the marchers, they honored their parade permit.

Across the nation in San Francisco, police were less respectful at a much smaller event that same day, consisting of a couple of hundred queers at a ”Gay In” at Golden Gate park; police arrested several of the participants. San Francisco was years away from its later reputation as an LGBT friendly city.

Five years earlier, on New Year’s eve 1965, San Francisco police had broken promises made to the clergy organizers of a ball sponsored by the Council on Religion and Homosexuality. When police attempted to crash the ball, the word went out to the clergy organizers: “Get down here and wear your collar.” Lutheran pastor Chuck Lewis kept flash bulbs popping, and his assistant, Jo Chadwick, stuffed his film negatives in her bra to prevent the police from confiscating the photos. At a later press conference, clergy offered the “cloak of the cloth” moral authority, and the eyes of the nation witnessed the reality of police harassment of the gay community.

Five months after the arrests at the “Gay In” at Golden Gate Park, another historic event would quietly unfold across the Bay. Sitting atop “Holy Hill,” the neo-Gothic structures of the Pacific School of Religion (PSR) stand in stately vigil over San Francisco Bay across from the Golden Gate bridge. The stone and timber halls of PSR had long witnessed Christian activism. Founded by Yankee congregationalists from the east in 1866, the seminary prided itself on a “courage born of rashness.”

Four hundred students and others attended a homosexuality symposium in the seminary dining hall on November 11, 1970. When someone made an incendiary comment about gays, a young seminarian found himself rising to speak. His spontaneous comment changed his life and the course of church history.

I am not a faggot, I am not a queer, I am not a fairy–but I am a practicing homosexual. And I can say that with joy–it is an affirmation which I make with pride.

Despite his impromptu “coming out” and over the objections of the seminary president, William R. Johnson continued in seminary and the Golden Gate Association of the United Church of Christ (UCC) ordained him to the ministry in June 1972 around the third anniversary of Stonewall. The UCC had accomplished another historic “first”—the first ordination of an out gay man by any traditional Christian denomination.

Thus began a distinguished career as the pastor to countless gay Christians, including many closeted clergy, and as the pan-denominational prophetic leader of the movement toward full inclusion. Rev. Johnson served as inspiration and strategist for the fledgling LGBT advocacy organizations that appeared in Protestant denominations during the 1970s, including as founder and first leader of what came to be known as the UCC Coalition. Later, he served for many years in the UCC home office.

Pastor Johnson has only recently retired. Elmhurst College, his alma mater, has honored him with an annual lecture series in his name. Pastor Johnson has also been a fact-checking source and supporter during my compilation of Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism.

He offers this endorsement of the book:

“I have always known that this historical overview of the religious LGBT movement was needed not only to tell our movement stories to the masses but to make same-gender loving people aware of a significant but often overlooked part of their own history. This is a significant work by justice ally Obie Holmen — a singular contribution toward the full inclusion of LGBT people within Christian community and society. Many will be surprised by the breadth and depth of the movement in the Church.”




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Cast of characters countdown: Robert Mary Clement

A Wretched Man - The Author's Blog - Thu, 11/07/2013 - 7:58am

On a June summer’s evening in 1969, a gay Catholic priest and his partner heard a disturbance a few blocks away from their Greenwich Village home. It seems a routine police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar, had gone awry, and the queers didn’t go quietly. Riots continued for the next couple of days, and the gay liberation movement was born.

A year later, the priest and his partner prepared to participate in a parade to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots. A light beamed from the Oscar Wilde bookstore, and as if drawn by a beacon, a few faceless strangers shuffled out of the shadows to gather in awkward silence. By the time the sun first peeked over Brooklyn across the East River, a crowd of hundreds milled about the bookstore that had become the de facto headquarters for the audacious planners of Christopher Street Liberation Day to celebrate the first anniversary of Stonewall. At the time, they didn’t realize they would make history in the first Gay Pride march.

Father Robert Mary Clement, a priest associated with Old Catholicism, a non-Roman spinoff, donned his priestly garb, like he did every Sunday, while his partner prepared a placard and orange flyers that they would distribute at the parade. Father Clement’s presence in the parade garnered much attention, especially by the press and the picture-takers, second only to the drag queens; after all, he marched as an openly-gay priest, in collar and cassock, carrying the banner, “Gay People This Is Your Church.” Meanwhile, his partner distributed their colored fliers inviting queers to attend The Church of the Beloved Disciple.

A few weeks later, the tiny congregation of the Church of the Beloved Disciple paid more than they could afford to rent the spacious sanctuary of Holy Apostles Episcopal church in lower Manhattan, but as the time drew near for the Sunday afternoon service, it appeared that their invitation to the Christopher Street marchers would go unheeded. Father Clement peeked out from the sacristy fifteen minutes before the start and there was no one there, but then:

Two o’clock, we opened the side sacristy door for our procession. We couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t just that every seat in the church was filled, the aisles were packed. That church, which would hold maybe six hundred plus in a squeeze, had over eight hundred people in it, and we don’t know how many people were turned away that day who couldn’t get in.

Because we had all the Protestants, the Orthodox, the Catholics. And on top of it all, you had, the most incredible thing, we had Jewish people, a lot of them. Because they wanted a home. Even though it was Christian, people were seeking God, they were seeking a relationship to the divine, and they would come to us because everyone else had rejected or turned them away. They had nowhere to go. [emphasis added]

In the early years of the decade of the ‘70s, the Church of the Beloved Disciple would be a safe haven for gays and lesbians of lower Manhattan. Father Clement and his partner would later relocate to California where Father Clement  became an archbishop for an independent Catholic group, and he has remained active in the interfaith LGBT movement on the west coast.

This brief biographical sketch is merely a snippet, and Father Clement’s story receives greater treatment in Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism.

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Cast of characters countdown: Troy Perry

A Wretched Man - The Author's Blog - Wed, 11/06/2013 - 9:33am

Queer Clergy recounts the journey toward full LGBT inclusion in the church, and readers will encounter many pilgrims along the way. As we countdown to the release of the book (now looking like the end of November), I will provide brief biographical sketches of some of the wayfarers who criss-cross the pages of the book.

Troy Perry was born to a family of bootleggers in the Florida panhandle, and he exhibited a youthful bent toward preaching. Perry became a Baptist preacher at age 15, married a preacher’s daughter at age 19 with whom he fathered two children, and was assigned as pastor to a Pentecostal Church in Santa Ana, California at age 22. Six years later he attempted suicide after he had been defrocked and divorced, and then life got interesting.

In October 1968, 8 months before the Stonewall riots of Greenwich Village marked the birth of the gay liberation movement, Perry held a worship service in his Los Angeles home for members of his gay community. Twelve persons dared to show up. They sang. They read Scripture. They prayed. Perry preached. They shed tears as they shared bread and wine.

That was the first worship service of what became the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) movement with hundreds of predominantly gay congregations popping up around the country and around the world in what would become the first welcoming church for gays and lesbians at a time that the rest of Christendom, including the mainline, Protestant denominations, remained hostile.

In the early years, the MCC survived several arsonist fires, including a horrendous tragedy in New Orleans that claimed the lives of 32 persons. By the time of Perry’s retirement in 2005, the MCC had grown to over 250 congregations in 26 countries with 43,000 members.

Of course, the book goes into greater detail.

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Last minute edits

A Wretched Man - The Author's Blog - Wed, 10/30/2013 - 10:54am

Last week, I read my Queer Clergy manuscript for the umpteenth time. As I tell my wife, sometimes I really like it and other times I think it is fluff. This latest re-reading of the manuscript marked up by Pilgrim Press copy editor, Kris Firth, was positive. Perhaps it was her editorial feedback:

 I applaud you on your scholarship, writing, and the scope of the material, but also on the excellent condition of the manuscript. It’s obvious that you have had editorial review prior to submission.

Actually, the MS hadn’t been edited previously, except by me, but I confess to nit-picking scrupulosity. In any case, her suggested edits are now in place, and the “page proofs” will be available for final review soon. Galley copies are in the hands of potential reviewers, and I wait, mindful of my days as a trial attorney, sucking in a long, deep breath as the jury shuffled out of the courtroom to begin deliberations.

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Let’s Reclaim Our Voice!

Kevin Dahle (Democrat) - Senate District 25 - Tue, 11/01/2011 - 7:49pm

Just about a year from now, we will cast votes for the President, a U.S. Senator, numerous county and city offices, and a new Minnesota legislature.  I am announcing my plans to, once again, run for a seat in the Minnesota Senate.  This election is not about getting my “old seat back.”  This election is about reclaiming a voice for Senate District 25 and all Minnesotans.  The current party in power in the Minnesota legislature fails to listen.  This past summer’s government shutdown proved they are more concerned about their party platform than the constituents who elected them.  I worry about the tone of today’s politics and our basic priorities.

We talk about recession…yet ignore the needy

We talk about test scores…while ignoring educational funding.

We talk about wanting quality health care, yet over 400,000 Minnesotans go without.

We talk about local control, yet we starve our cities and counties.

We talk about Republicans and Democrats yet we forget about Minnesotans

I believe the basics include a job, a quality education, affordable college, a clean and healthy environment, equality for all, and a right to grow old with dignity.

We are facing a critical time in Minnesota.  We can no longer allow extreme political agendas to divide us — the success of our state and our communities depends on our ability to find common ground on many critical issues.

We can do this together.  When we stop working together… government ceases to work. Again, let’s make Minnesota proud!

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Siddhartha Mukherjee’s “The Emperor of All Maladies”

Bill Ostrem, Northern Letter - Tue, 06/14/2011 - 7:38pm

I recently finished reading Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. I recommend it highly to those who want to know more about cancer.

It’s a long and challenging read, but it’s worth it. The main thing I learned: cancer is a many-headed hydra. Each type of cancer is a different disease that requires a different type of treatment.

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What we deserve

Bill Ostrem, Northern Letter - Mon, 05/23/2011 - 6:24am

The rich, the well-connected, the privileged, and the powerful have given themselves the society that they deserve. The rest of us deserve better.

Categories: Citizens

Hopes and Dreams

Northfield Cohousing Community - Mon, 11/30/2009 - 9:05pm

On November 22nd, all of the members of Norcoh met for their second programming meeting.   These cards with simple but effective drawings helped express their hopes, dreams, and goals for the neighborhood.

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Northfield Cohousing Community - Tue, 11/24/2009 - 4:34pm

The cohousing design discussion on November 5, 2009, was well-attended and lively conversation sprouted afterward. Attendees included ages from very young to retirement-age, which is a perfect match for our goals for our community.

In February, we will be offering a Community Ed course in four sessions for those who would like more information. Also, stay tuned to this blog for more opportunities to engage!

Categories: Citizens

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