The endless prairie all around is so bereft of people and buildings today that coming up on St. Stephenie Scandinavian Church from any direction is a resounding joy, even though the old church is but a shell of its former self. It’s hard to imagine the neighborhood teeming with Danes and Bohemians and Virginians, a Great Plains melting pot, each family – eleventy-seven kids too – trying to make a go of it on 80 acres.
Theirs was “teamwork” in a less than obvious sense. About the farm – specifically hogs – she had never been particularly fond. He wasn’t driven by dreams of great barns or greater wealth. For years, he used the same nails and 2x12s for farrowing hogs, kept all that swine farrow-to-finish (no one does that these days). He farmed in a fashion that made his operation strictly one-man. If she helped him while haying, she might have been aboard the tractor; but his good wife kept chickens and eggs and stayed far away from chores not her own.
I’m thinking you need to be of a certain age, a certain vintage, to use a word like ungodly with any seriousness. For added bluster, sure there’s usage, as in, “It was ungodly cold last night, wasn’t it?” As an add-on maybe, an adjective or expletive. “Who on earth made this ungodly mess?” You know.
One of them was working on the Bible, rewriting it. I was stunned. I knew the man by reputation but hadn’t read a thing of his. Tall, gaunt, slightly stooped, fleece vest, a plaid shirt and a silvery comb-over, he seemed shy, thoughtful, and, in a very good sense, preacherly, the softest touch of the whole bunch, no reason to be afraid.
Eugene Peterson had nothing of Jeremiah in him. He was quiet, his wife, Janice, more social, nimble in conversation. Sometimes he entered the discussions only at her prodding. I told my wife the man had the bearing of a saint.
There I stood, an old white man who’s written a half-dozen books of meditations, a professor who spent 37 years teaching in a Christian college, and more of my life in church than most Americans can even imagine. I had nothing to say to a couple of Lakota kids who were saddened and snickering that a cemetery stone said their ancestor had been “a Christian and a friend of the whites.”
So began what has turned into, for Menning, a passion and ministry aimed at family members who leave or are forced out of polygamous families, as so many are – men, women and children who suddenly become strangers in a strange land.
“I thirst” (John 19:28).
I’m not trying to fool anyone. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone, right? I am not about to hurl a thing. I know my sin.
“But then, I told myself, Easter brings out the best in us. It’s hard to be dour when one glorious dawn brings us eternity.”
Sometimes blessings come in the form of an adult sized single bed. The only one available in town.
I doubt we come from the factory as a fountain of thanks. Thanksgiving takes discipline, even if you count things as ordinary as a momentary glow in a bean field.
Anyone my age can’t help but know Cassius Clay/Muhammed Ali. Lots of news sources call his the most recognizable face in all the world.