Published by

Paula Mehmel

Paula V. Mehmel is currently parish pastor at Elim Lutheran Church in Fargo. Based in Casselton, N.D., but a Minnesota native, she holds an undergraduate degree in English and German from Washington University in St. Louis and her Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry in Preaching from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. “Pastor Paula,” as she is widely known, is a popular speaker, writer, and proud single mother of two sons who both attend Harvard University. With a passion for serving the last, the lost and the least, Mehmel is a committed community member with a special interest in homelessness, refugee resettlement and addressing issues of sexual violence. She also created a no-cut community theater in Casselton to assure herself a small role in the ensemble each summer, fulfilling her desire to sing and dance on stage. She relishes the opportunity to share her thoughts on anything from social justice to theology to random musings about her latest travel adventures.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — September, North Dakota

My favorite month in North Dakota is September.

It is a difficult choice. June is filled with new growth in the perennial beds and the planting of the garden and with birdsong.

But September. Ah, September.

The heat of summer has passed. I dislike the hot weather. I wilt easily.

My children and husband were born in September, so it is a time of celebration for us.

In September, the sky is bluer than blue, and it is still and quiet. The Missouri River is like glass. Each day is a gift, a pause before the northern Plains winter to come. The tomatoes are abundant, and my husband is busy with the harvest. He and his buddy will soon be occupied with the fall walleye bite on the Missouri, and duck hunting begins. Right around the corner are pheasant and goose seasons. I get some time on my own.

I can sit under our aspen grove and watch the leaves turn to golden. The two trees that Sheila Schafer gifted to us have grown to 35 feet tall.

The three aspen seedlings that I’ve allowed to remain are also doing well.

The back patio is nicely shaded on these September days, and we can linger over morning coffee and supper. Overhead we watch the migrating hawks pass by.

The last Dakota Sunshine daylily of the year makes its appearance.

Meanwhile, in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, following the various shades of khaki and juniper, yellow is a dominant color, with the blooming of rubber rabbitbrush, curly-cup gumweed and sunflowers. There is a hint of autumn in the green ash trees.

The bison rut has passed, and the herds placidly move about the park, in their ancient rhythms.

Savor the wild September moments in your life.

PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — The Truth About Dreamers

Given all of the things I have seen and heard about DACA in the past few days, I thought it might be helpful to lay out a few facts in the midst of so much misinformation. We are entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts.

For the record … DACA recipients are ineligible for

  • Medicaid.
  • Food stamps.
  • SSI.
  • Welfare.
  • Section 8.
  • ACA.
  • Federal student aid of any type.

The most serious crimes any have been convicted of are minor misdemeanors like traffic violations. If they are convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor (e.g a DUI, a drug dealing or sexual or domestic violence) or three minor misdemeanors, they lose eligibility.

Ninety-five percent are in school or working. Many are in the military. They are not draining the economy. They are contributing to it.

Unemployment is at an all-time low. They aren’t “taking your job.”

They arrived as children. To be eligible, they entered the country under the age of 16. For most, this is the only country they’ve known.

Many did not know they were undocumented until they wanted to get a driver’s license or apply for college. They often entered with their parents on a legal visa, and when that visa status changed, their parents stayed and the children were not aware of what happened.

They all speak English and often it is their only language.

Jesus fled to Egypt as an infant. Had he fled to the U.S., he would have been eligible. Except he was convicted of a crime.

If you are in favor of a path for these innocent victims to remain in the only country they have called home, call your legislators and urge them to act. They need a pathway forward if we are to be a compassionate nation.

Most of the arguments that oppose them remaining and not providing a path for them are rooted in racism and not in the facts.

PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — Blame Humans, Not God

I​ ​hate​ ​the​ ​phrase​ ​“act​ ​of​ ​God.”

​In​ ​legal​ ​usage​ ​throughout​ ​the​ ​English–speaking​ ​world,​ ​an​ ​act​ ​of​ ​God​ ​is​ ​a​ ​natural​ ​disaster outside​ ​human​ ​control,​ ​such​ ​as​ ​an​ ​earthquake,​ ​hurricane,​ ​flood​ ​or​ ​tsunami,​ ​for​ ​which​ ​no​ ​person can​ ​be​ ​held​ ​responsible.

As​ ​a​ ​pastor,​ ​I​ ​have​ ​always​ ​found​ ​it​ ​interesting​ ​that​ ​the​ ​only​ ​time​ ​God​ ​ever​ ​makes​ ​it​ ​into​ ​the parlance​ ​of​ ​the​ ​secular​ ​world​ ​is​ ​when​ ​a​ ​catastrophe​ ​occurs,​ ​and​ ​God​ ​is​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​is​ ​causing bad​ ​things​ ​to​ ​happen.

I​ ​don’t​ ​believe​ ​God​ ​is​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​causes​ ​destruction​ ​and​ ​chaos.​ ​I​ ​believe​ ​in​ ​a​ ​God​ ​who​ ​is​ ​the healer​ ​of​ ​all​ ​ills,​ ​not​ ​the​ ​one​ ​originator​ ​of​ ​​ ​them.

Believing​ ​that​ ​these​ ​kinds​ ​of​ ​natural​ ​disasters​ ​are​ ​“acts​ ​of​ ​God”​ ​paints​ ​a​ ​picture​ ​of​ ​a​ ​God​ ​who​ ​is throwing​ ​darts​ ​at​ ​a​ ​dartboard,​ ​randomly​ ​picking​ ​out​ ​certain​ ​people​ ​and​ ​areas​ ​to​ ​“hit”​ ​with tragedy.

The​ ​God​ ​I​ ​serve​ ​is​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​brought​ ​order​ ​to​ ​the​ ​world​ ​and​ ​who​ ​provides​ ​solid​ ​ground​ ​when the​ ​earth​ ​around​ ​me​ ​shakes,​ ​not​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​sets​ ​the​ ​earth​ ​shaking.​ ​God​ ​put​ ​the​ ​world​ ​on​ ​its course,​ ​and​ ​allows​ ​for​ ​a​ ​natural​ ​order​ ​of​ ​things.

Bad​ ​things​ ​happen​ ​in​ ​the​ ​natural​ ​world.​ But​ ​not​ ​because​ ​God​ ​is​ ​at​ ​the​ ​helm,​ ​pointing​ ​the​ ​wind to​ ​go​ ​here​ ​and​ ​the​ ​waves​ ​to​ ​crest​ ​there.​ ​Those​ ​just​ ​follow​ ​the​ ​laws​ ​of​ ​nature​ ​that​ ​God​ ​set​ ​in motion.

People​ ​have​ ​a​ ​tendency​ ​to​ ​blame​ ​God​ ​for​ ​anything​ ​bad.​ ​​Whenever​ ​there​ ​is​ ​an​ ​illness ​or​ ​a person​ ​faces​ ​a​ ​great​ ​struggle,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​not​ ​uncommon​ ​to​ ​hear​ ​“God​ ​doesn’t​ ​give​ ​you​ ​more​ ​than​ ​you can​ ​handle.”

Why​ ​is​ ​God​ ​the​ ​one​ ​giving​ ​us​ ​the​ ​struggles?​ ​When​ ​I​ ​hear​ ​people​ ​say​ ​that,​ ​​ ​I​ ​can​ ​understand why​ ​more​ ​and​ ​more​ ​people​ ​are​ ​fleeing​ ​religious​ ​faith.​ ​I​ ​mean,​ ​who​ ​wants​ ​to​ ​be​ ​a​ ​part​ ​of​ ​a system​ ​where​ ​God​ ​is​ ​handing​ ​you​ ​every​ ​trial​ ​and​ ​challenge.

I​ ​prefer​ ​to​ ​think​ ​that​ ​“God​ ​gives​ ​us​ ​the​ ​strength​ ​to​ ​handle​ ​what​ ​the​ ​world​ ​gives​ ​us.”​ ​We​ ​live​ ​in​ ​a broken​ ​world.​ ​And​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​consequences​ ​of​ ​that​ ​brokenness​ ​is​ ​that​ ​unfair​ ​things​ ​happen.

We​ ​are​ ​subject​ ​both​ ​to​ ​our​ ​free​ ​will — and​ ​consequences​ ​of​ ​our​ ​action — and​ ​the​ ​free​ ​will​ ​of​ ​others. For​ ​example,​ ​​ ​if​ ​I​ ​drink​ ​and​ ​drive​ ​and​ ​something​ ​happens,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​my​ ​action,​ ​my​ ​free​ ​will,​ ​​ ​that cause​ ​it.​ ​​​If​ ​someone​ ​else​ ​drives​ ​drunk​ ​and​ ​hits​ ​a​ ​person — the​ ​person​ ​hit​ ​​ ​has​ ​suffered​ ​because of​ ​the​ ​free​ ​will​ ​of​ ​another​ ​person​ ​who​ ​drank​ ​and​ ​drove.​ ​God​ ​had​ ​nothing​ ​to​ ​do​ ​with​ ​either​ ​action.

God​ ​is​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​gives​ ​a​ ​person​ ​the​ ​strength​ ​to​ ​deal​ ​with​ ​the​ ​pain​ ​of​ ​those​ ​actions,​ ​the consquences​ ​of​ ​free​ ​will.​ ​​And​ ​it​ ​is​ ​God​ ​in​ ​Christ,​ ​through​ ​the​ ​power​ ​of​ ​the​ ​resurrection,​ ​who gives​ ​life,​ ​and​ ​not​ ​death,​ ​the​ ​last​ ​word​ ​in​ ​the​ ​face​ ​of​ ​the​ ​brokenness​ ​of​ ​the​ ​world.

The​ ​victory​ ​of​ ​eternal​ ​life​ ​that​ ​Christ​ ​provides​ ​in​ ​the​ ​face​ ​of​ ​a​ ​world​ ​where​ ​death​ ​is​ ​inevitable​ ​is an​ ​act​ ​of​ ​God.​ ​Freedom​ ​from​ ​eternal​ ​death — that​ ​is​ ​the​ ​ultimate​ ​act​ ​of​ ​God.

But​ ​there​ ​is​ ​another​ ​reason​ ​I​ ​have​ ​come​ ​to​ ​loathe​ ​the​ ​phrase​ ​“act​ ​of​ ​God.”​ ​​ And​ ​that​ ​is​ ​because it​ ​denies​ ​any​ ​human​ ​agency​ ​in​ ​the​ ​most​ ​recent​ ​acts​ ​of​ ​destruction.

In​ ​the​ ​last​ ​three​ ​years,​ ​there​ ​have​ ​been​ ​three​ ​“500​ -year​ ​floods”​ ​in​ ​Houston.​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​think​ ​that​ ​this is​ ​happening​ ​because​ ​God​ ​has​ ​it​ ​in​ ​for​ ​Houston.​ ​I​ ​think​ ​there​ ​are​ ​far​ ​more​ ​human​ ​reasons​ ​it​ ​is happening.

In​ ​the​ ​Bible​ ​story​ ​about​ ​Noah,​ ​God​ ​destroys​ ​the​ ​world​ ​in​ ​a​ ​flood,​ ​saving​ ​only​ ​Noah​ ​and​ ​his family,​ ​​​and​ ​a​ ​bunch​ ​of​ ​their​ ​animal​ ​friends​ ​brought​ ​on​ ​board​ ​in​ ​pairs,​ ​because​ ​humans​ ​were​ ​so sinful​ ​and​ ​awful​ ​that​ ​they​ ​lost​ ​favor​ ​with​ ​God.​ The​ ​story​ ​ends​ ​with​ ​God​ ​saying​ ​that​ ​this​ ​will​ ​never happen​ ​again.​ ​Basically,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​a​ ​story​ ​whose​ ​purpose​ ​is​ ​to​ ​tell​ ​us​ ​that​ ​natural​ ​destruction​ ​in​ ​the world​ ​is​ ​NOT​ ​an​ ​act​ ​of​ ​God.

But​ ​that​ ​doesn’t​ ​mean​ ​that​ ​there​ ​aren’t​ ​natural​ ​consequences​ ​for​ ​human​ ​behavior.​ ​​The​ ​recent near​ ​apocalyptic​ ​floods​ ​not​ ​only​ ​in​ ​Houston,​ ​but​ ​in​ ​India​ ​and​ ​Sierra​ ​Leone,​ ​are​ ​the​ ​result​ ​of​ ​the human​ ​sin​ ​of​ ​greed,​ ​that​ ​happens​ ​when​ ​there​ ​aren’t​ ​constraints​ ​on​ ​oil​ ​companies​ ​or​ ​the​ ​use​ ​of fossil​ ​fuels.

Climate​ ​change​ ​is​ ​the​ ​result​ ​of​ ​human​ ​action​ ​and​ ​the​ ​refusal​ ​to​ ​address​ ​it​ ​because​ ​of​ ​the​ ​focus on​ ​the​ ​​profit​ ​margins​ ​of​ ​oil​ ​and​ ​coal​ ​companies​ ​has​ ​led​ ​to​ ​very​ ​real​ ​conseqences.​ ​​The​ ​climate has​ ​changed,​ ​the​ ​waters​ ​in​ ​the​ ​ocean​ ​are​ ​warming,​ ​polar​ ​ice​ ​caps​ ​are​ ​melting​ ​​ ​and​ ​the​ ​weather patterns​ ​are​ ​changing.​ ​This​ ​leads​ ​to​ ​500​-year​ ​floods​ ​becoming​ ​​yearly​ ​events.

These​ ​floods​ ​are​ ​not​ ​“acts​ ​of​ ​God.”​ ​​They​ ​are​ ​the​ ​consequences​ ​of​ ​the​ ​acts​ ​of​ ​humans.​ ​Sadly, however,​ ​the​ ​victims​ ​of​ ​the​ ​floods​ ​are​ ​rarely​ ​the​ ​ones​ ​ones​ ​who​ ​are​ ​reaping​ ​the​ ​benefits​ ​of unchecked​ ​energy​ ​companies.

​Instead,​ ​they​ ​are​ ​the​ ​people​ ​on​ ​the​ ​tiny​ ​Pacific​ ​Island​ ​countries​ ​like​ ​Kiribati​ ​whose​ ​homes​ ​are being​ ​swallowed​ ​up​ ​in​ ​the​ ​ocean;​ ​they​ ​are​ ​the​ ​slum​ ​dwellers​ ​in​ ​Sierra​ ​Leone​ ​who​ ​have​ ​no protection​ ​when​ ​unprecedented​ ​rains​ ​cause​ ​mudslides;​ ​they​ ​are​ ​the​ ​people​ ​of​ ​Houston​ ​who didn’t​ ​have​ ​enough​ ​money​ ​to​ ​flee​ ​the​ ​city​ ​when​ ​the​ ​alarm​ ​went​ ​up ​and​ ​were​ ​caught​ ​when​ ​the torrents​ ​came​ ​down.

So​ ​it​ ​is​ ​incumbant​ ​upon​ ​us​ ​to​ ​not​ ​blame​ ​God​ ​and​ ​instead​ ​focus​ ​our​ ​energy​ ​on​ ​human​ ​acts.​ ​The Trump​ administration’s​ ​rollback​ ​on​ ​controlling​ ​​anything​ ​having​ ​to​ ​do​ ​with​ ​climate​ ​change​ ​​has far​-reaching​ ​effects​ ​for​ ​our​ ​entire​ ​civilization​ ​and​ ​as​ ​a​ ​result​ ​we​ ​have​ ​a​ ​call​ ​to​ ​action.

We​ ​need​ ​to​ ​lift​ ​our​ ​voice​ ​in​ ​more​ ​than​ ​prayers​ ​for​ ​those​ ​who​ ​are​ ​victims​ ​but​ ​also​ ​in​ ​advocacy​ ​for those​ ​who​ ​will​ ​be​ ​the​ ​next​ ​victims​ ​as​ ​we​ ​deal​ ​with​ ​the​ ​effects​ ​of​ ​destruction​ ​that​ ​humans​ ​have​ ​a hand​ ​in​ ​causing.

Floods​ ​are​ ​not​ ​an​ ​“act​ ​of​ ​God.”​ ​But​ ​if​ ​we​ ​speak​ ​up​ ​about​ ​the​ ​need​ ​to​ ​address​ ​climate​ ​change​ ​in real​ ​and​ ​consequential​ ​ways,​ stand​ ​up​ ​for​ ​those​ ​who​ ​are​ ​fighting​ ​for​ ​regulations​ ​to​ ​protect​ ​our land​ ​and​ ​water ​and​ ​change​ ​our​ ​own​ ​patterns​ ​of​ ​behavior​ ​to​ ​help​ ​preserve​ ​this​ ​world,​ ​we​ ​will be​ ​doing​ ​acts​ ​for​ ​God​ ​to​ ​protect​ ​the​ ​world​ ​God​ ​made.

PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — There Is More To Activism Than Sheet Cakes

I love Tina Fey, and I laughed out loud when she poured her sorrows over the events at the alma mater, the University of Virginia, into stress eating a sheet cake on “Weekend Update” this past week. It was a brilliant segment.

However, my fear is that her satire of feigned helpless is all too easily embraced. We laugh with her at the ridiculousness of ignoring the current struggles by attacking a sheet cake with gusto. Yet I have read on social media people who failed to capture her satirical intent by claiming that Fey was right about what she said at the end of the sketch — that maybe it is best that we simply ignore the white nationalists and “Let these morons scream into the empty air.”

That attitude misses the point entirely. While it is easier to take Marie Antoinette to a new level and “let us eat cake,” the path of nonviolent resistance is the far better way.

The reason I can’t ignore white nationalists is precisely because I am able to ignore them. I am a cisgendered heterosexual middle-class Christian woman of Northern European descent. These angry white men aren’t going to bother me as long as I’m not outspoken and don’t draw attention to myself.

It would be easy to just scream into the abyss as I listen to NPR, watch MSNBC and scroll through my Facebook and Twitter feed, occasionally sharing something on social media so people know I am outraged.

But right now, what I need to do, more than ever, is show up.

I am an old hand at marches and protests. I took part in my first boycott when I was 9. It was against Nestle’s over their distribution of infant formula in developing countries. And it worked. Nestle changed its practices after years of pressure.

During my college and grad school years, I took part in sits-ins, die-ins (in response to nuclear proliferation), boycotts, rallies, vigils and marches.

My college graduation photos show “Divest Now” emblazoned on a patch on my robes. I was standing outside the South African consulate in Chicago singing and protesting the day Nelson Mandela was released from Robben Island. I know pressure makes a difference.

Those actions continued when became a pastor. Sometimes I show up in a collar if I feel the issue is one where I am representing my faith, and sometimes I go in a T-shirt when it is just my personal conviction. I pushed my kids in strollers at marches when they were little and this summer loved attending rallies with with now adult son.

One of the things I’ve learned in my years as an activist is that you have to know who you are with. Before my sons left for college, I had that all important mother/son talk. “When you take part in any protests, know the people around you, so you aren’t caught up in violence unexpectedly. You should only get arrested if you intend to as a result of civil disobedience, not because someone around you was stupid.” (Every mom has that talk, right?)

I am fully aware that if someone is violent at a peaceful march, that is what gets the headlines.

I was at Standing Rock with six Lutheran Bishops the day before one of the most volatile confrontations with law enforcement. I prayed in a circle with well over 100 of the people who were committed to take a stand at the front line. I knew as we prayed together that 98 percent of the people who were there were fully committed to nonviolent resistance and that the headlines would focus on the few that were not.

I also know that loud and angry responses draw more headlines. I spoke at the Rally Against Bias Speech and Hate Crimes in Fargo a few weeks ago. For over two hours, several hundred people stood in the rain as we listened to speeches encouraging love and lifting up mutual support.

However, when the media reported on the event, nearly one-third of the article was devoted to the white supremacist who shouted out a couple of rude epithets while I was speaking and then he left.

Hate sells. So whether there are counterprotesters or not, these rallies and gatherings of white nationalists shouting Nazi chants and spouting bigoted hate speech will be covered.

And sadly, their ilk are no longer hiding in the shadows, clinging to the fringes of society. Because of the political climate they are becoming more and more mainstream. And that acceptance terrifies me.

That means that now, more than ever, I need to show up, speak up and stand up for the rights of others who may be silenced. As a white person of privilege it is imperative for me not to ignore the angry voices simply because they aren’t directed at me.

There are well-meaning voices who say “we simply need to be united and work together.” “All this division is terrible — we need to find a way to live in peace.”

I agree. We need to be united as a nation. But that unity cannot compromise the values upon which this nation was built — values that all people are created equal and that we are a nation of immigrants who have benefited from the opportunities we all receive as citizens, which include “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Peaceful unity is a good thing, but not when it is bought with the price of tacet acceptance of hate speech and when actions that promote bias are ignored. When that happens, we play the role of Neville Chamberlain and look the other way as the scourge of bigotry grows stronger.

The way to unity is in peaceful, pro-active support. It may not mean marching — but it does not mean standing silently by. Perhaps it means learning how to be an ally, how to be effectively present for those who are being oppressed when the struggle is not your own.

You can do that by speaking up when you hear something that denigrates on the basis of creed, color or country of origin.

You can do that my taking part in de-escalation training, so that you know how to respond effectively if you see someone being harassed in response when you see an infraction.

You can do that by reading articles written by people of color and ethnic minorities to gain a deeper understanding of the issues they face and sharing those articles with others.

We each can respond in a lot of different ways to the current rise in hate speech and crime and the proliferation of acceptance of bias and denial of white privilege.

We know that, no matter how many are gathered, the violent thoughts of white nationalists will be covered whether counterprotesters show up or not.

Because of that, just screaming into a sheet cake while we bemoan the state of the world without doing anything is not an option. Doing nothing is not an option. At least if we want the world to change.

PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — When Hate Goes Unchecked

In January, I spent two weeks in Uganda, working in refugee camps, doing trauma healing. There I came face to face with the victims of a brutal civil war in South Sudan. I heard stories of rape, murder and torture committed in the name of genocidal, tribal hatred.

In April, I visited the Killing Fields of Cambodia. I saw the skulls of some of the 2 million Cambodian people who were killed during Pol Pot’s reign of terror piled high as a memorial to the senselessness and viciousness of the Khmer Rouge.

I stood by the pit where women were thrown after they were raped and had their throats slit and next to the tree that still had bits of skull, blood and hair of the babies and small children who were bashed against the tree before they were thrown into the same pit.

Children were killed because of the belief that “in order to kill the weed, you must pull it out by the roots.” The Khmer Rouge did not want to leave children alive to exact revenge on their parents, so the whole family was killed.

Just last month I was in Germany. While there I touched the ovens in Buchenwald where Jews, Romas, people with disabilities, gay men and lesbians were reduced to ashes in the Nazi quest for the perfect Aryan nation.

The refugee camps, the killing fields and the ovens mark the end of a genocide but they do not mark its beginning.

A genocide begins when words of hatred are tolerated and accepted.

It happens when speech that demeans, devalues or destroys another culture, race or religion is not challenged, allowing the speaker to believe that there is tacet approval from the one who is listening.

It happens when people laugh at jokes that objectify people and mocks their identity

Slowly, it grows in power and force, as it moves beyond speech into subtle acts of exclusion, growing with force and power when no one pushes back, standing up for what is good and decent, allowing aggressions — both of the micro and macro variety — to go unchallenged.

And slowly but ever so surely, what began as a ripple of of unchallenged words becomes a wave of acts of violence and ultimately the tide is turned in a nation that allows people to see those who are not like them as “the other,” and it ends in refugee camps, killing fields and ovens.

The people of South Sudan, the people of Cambodia and the people of Germany are not morally inferior to the people in this country today. We are all humans, plain and simple. Subject to the same range of emotions and response. What happened there can happen here if we don’t take steps to enforce our laws, live by our stated values and name the growing scourge of xenophobic racism.

The atrocious acts that resulted in every genocide began somewhere. They began when their society accepted seeing those who are “different than me” as less than me. And it continued when those forces of hate gained power and were not condemned.

Right now, we stand at a precipice as both a state and a nation.

North Dakota is second in term of hate crimes, yet there remains a steadfast refusal by its legislature to establish a law against hate crimes. Such a law would allow the state to root out the organized purveyors of hate, but still there is reluctance and justification on the part of our government leaders to address this horrible stain on our state.

In Charlottesville, Va., there are men marching with torches shouting Nazi slogans, emboldened by White House employees who support white nationalism. There are acts of domestic terrorism enacted against peaceful counter protesters as clergy who lead marches of peace are beaten with brass knuckles.

Sadly, former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke speaks for a hate-filled core of people who believe with him that “This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back, we’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump and that’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back and that’s what we gotta do,”

On one point, I agree with Duke. This does represent a turning point for the people of this country.

Silence is not an option. Claiming that there are two sides to this protest is not an option. Not naming this for what it is — white nationalism rooted in the hatred of the KKK and the Nazi party — is not an option. Not removing from the center of political power advisers who espouse the values of the “alt right” is not an option.

George Santayana famously said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Make no mistake. This is not alt right. This is real hate.

All people of decency, regardless of political orientation, must repudiate this rally and all hate crimes. Silence speaks volumes, and leaders, whether they are religious or civic, who fail to stand up to this are complicit.

Toleration of hate is where it starts, but it’s not where it ends.

In a world where I am faithfully praying that we can find a way to embrace the humanity of everyone and not get stuck in tribal politics, seeing those who don’t agree with us politically as “the enemy,” I know this is not about left and right. It is about right and wrong. And we can’t remain silent.

PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — Without Reservations

Something happened to me today that has I’ve never done before while traveling. I made my reservation for the wrong day.

In a European calendar, the days begins with Monday not Sunday. When making reservations I have always caught this fact but must have been tired when booking the Pension Gina in Gorlitz, Germany, because I made it one day later than I’d meant.

I received an email from the proprietor yesterday asking me to call 30 minutes before we arrived as he did not live on the premises and this morning, I responded that I would and looked forward to seeing him today.

I called and when we arrived Frank, the proprietor, said there was a problem. The reservation was for tomorrow. And the pension was fully booked for tonight. I got the wifi password and checked it out, and he was correct, and the mistake was 100 percent my fault.

However, Frank did not leave me in the lurch. Instead, he made a call to a friend and when that was fruitless, he told me to get in the car with him as we headed out to find a place for us.

He told the boys to stay at the pension and watch TV, which I translated. Frank does not speak a word of English.

We drove to the city center to the information booth and to another hotel booking place. Both were closed.

We then drove to visit a friend of his who had a hotel, and there, too, there was no room at the inn. But the woman who owned it and all of the guests at the bar pitched in to help, suggesting places we could stay, to no avail. Who knew Gorlitz was so popular?

Even as they discussed where to stay, Frank was concerned about costs for me. He kept saying places were too expensive.

Finally, we returned to the pension, he took the phone book, and I logged on to Trivago to see what we could find. Finally, we found a place for three, although Frank was still concerned about the price.

Then he called — and negotiated down for me — getting me what he said was a more fair price.

We went outside, and he told me to follow him, as he led us to our new hotel in his car.

When I tried to pay him for the night I won’t be using tomorrow, Frank declined. Insistently. Then he hugged me and went on his way.

I was dumbstruck by the entire event.

I made a mistake. Frank would be losing money on my account. Yet he took time out of his schedule — well over an hour — drove me around, made many phone calls, showed concern for my well-0being and made sure I had a place to stay at a reasonable price.

This came from a complete stranger who showed to me what true hospitality really means.

One of the reasons I love to travel is that you get to see different cultures and peoples, and you get to show the best of who you are and what you represent.

Today, a man who grew up in Communist East Germany and spoke no English whatsoever, became the greatest ambassador for Germany I could ever have hoped to see.

And I struggled hard to not be the “ugly American.” I owned my mistake and offered to pay for it. I communicated with him in his own language. And I was effusive with my thankfulness and gratitude. I was in the wrong, and my new friend, Frank, made everything right.

At one point in the middle of all of our communication, I accidentally called Frank “du” rather than “Sie,” the more intimate use of the word “you” in German, is rude to use for anyone but a dear friend or family member.

As soon as I said it, I immediately backtracked and apologized, and Frank said “du is OK. We are friends now.

We all make mistakes when we travel, but I was lucky today. My mistake gave me the image of a humble innkeeper who truly went the extra mile when there was no room at the inn.

And I’m pretty sure there is a sermon somewhere in this story.

Oh, and should any of my readers ever visit Gorlitz please stay at the Pension Gina. Tell Frank Paula sent you. And make sure you make the reservation for the right day.

PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — Iceland And Norway: Rental Cars, Planes And Ferries

One of the things about travel is that you really have to learn to “go with the flow,” and for me, some of those parts are easier than others.

For example, a snafu with weather, a travel delay or an unexpected glitch in my plans usually doesn’t get under my skin. Being late for flights, however, not so much.

Unfortunately, this morning, I had just one of those experiences. We were up and out of our lovely Icelandic bed and breakfast in what should have been plenty of time, except when I entered what I thought was “Keflavik Airport” into my Google maps, I inadvertently hit “Keflavik Airport Inn,” which it turns out is a good five miles from the actual airport.

Once we figured this out, which took sadly longer than it should have due to morning brain, we whipped over to the actual airport as fast as we could, arriving at the rental place 54 minutes before our scheduled departure to Norway.

The car rental return went smoothly enough, but the shuttle wasn’t there when we finished, so we hoofed it over to the airport as fast as we could in the rain and got into the checkin and luggage line at 7:17 a.m. for our 8 a.m. flight.

At first, I was optimistic. Even though we had to clear customs and security, I thought we could still do it, even though the line was very long. That is until I saw that only one person was working economy checkout, and the line snaked back three rows.

This is when my panic mode went in gear. I was mentally figuring out how much I was going to lose in prepaid ferry fees and hostels and how I was going to rebook them during the height of tourist season in Norway.

Duncan, who is more familiar with being late for flights than I am, kept me calm and assured me it would work out fine. It is a skill with which I was impressed, but one that I never want to be so practiced at as to acquire.

Just when I thought all hope was lost, they called out for anyone going to Europe to go to the head of the line, and we processed our bags at 7:34 a.m. While doing that, I discovered something that held true for the remainder of my time with Icelandair. The employees were kind, positive and helpful. Never once were we scolded or shamed, and my anxiety was calmed. United could take a few lessons from these fine folks.

I had planned to get a refund on my tax on my sweater, but there was a line, and I had no time. I felt fine about my donation to the economy of Iceland. Iceland has an equitable health care system and free universities for residents, so my money went to support something I support.

After whipping through security and customs (honestly, Iceland is the simplest border I have ever crossed going both ways), I ended up running the length of the airport to get to our gate, arriving five minutes before our scheduled departure. And believe it or not, they were waiting for us. And were pleasant and polite, once again.

I did not feel as bad as I would have making them wait, as others were waiting for the shuttle to take us to the plane, which arrived a few minutes later. Guilt is engrained in me when I make others wait for me, and the fact that our late arrival didn’t slow the plane assuaged my concerns. But I am quite sure my heart can’t take being late for flights very often — in terms of nerves and running in airports!

The flight to Bergen, Norway was lovely, but when we arrived, it was raining. After discovering once again that my cash car did not work, I continued in an unintentional experiment to find out if it is possible to travel Europe on a purely credit card economy, eschewing cash altogether. So far so good.

I had hoped to explore Bergen a bit, but a downpour hit, so Duncan and I found a cafe where we warmed ourselves with soup. I had chicken with saffron — I recommend it as a great spice for soup. Duncan had reindeer — and we discovered the Norwegian word for reindeer is Rudolf. He felt no guilt at all. I could not have done it.

We headed for our ferry, which provided a lovely five-hour ride to the Sogndal, in the fjords, where we will stay for the next three days. It has been overcast and rainy all day, but I am still amazed at the greenery on the hills, the blueness of the water and the freshness of the air.

Tomorrow, we rise early to head up to the glaciers for a five-hour glacier hike. I’m hoping that we get to the bus in plenty of time, because one story about the travails of the travel process is quite enough for one trip.

PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — What Would Have Been My Silver Anniversary

I was married 25 years ago today. And I’m not sure how to think about it.

My marriage ended 11 years ago, and Steve died seven years later. I was holding his hand as he took his last breath, providing a lasting legacy of grace for our children, a reminder of the power of love and the transformative nature of forgiveness.

But all of that water under the bridge means that I am not celebrating what would have been my silver anniversary, and as someone who marks her time in terms of dates and remembrances, that creates in me an assortment of feelings that are at odds with each other.

The old joke says that marriages end, but divorce goes on forever. I think of that every time I have to check the box that says, under marital status “divorced,” in a survey or a form. As I check it, I think, “Why do I have to check this box? The person to whom I was married is no longer alive, but I’m still divorced from him?” That never adds up in my mind — how you can be divorced from someone who is dead. There has to be a different box to check. But rule follower that I am, I still check it.

I can’t look back at my marriage with regret, for many reasons. I married a wonderful man — funny, smart, good-looking, kind and the best cook I have ever known, truly the love of my life.

When we were married, I became the stepmother to two amazing children, who remain an integral part of my life to this day, and who are the parents of my five grandchildren.

Finally, the fruit of that marriage is still very much alive in my sons. I never have trouble looking at my sons and seeing their father in them. Anyone who knew Steve and knows them is aware that the best parts of their father are alive in them, and my marriage gave me these two phoenixes who arose from the ashes of our union.

But I am also a realist. Just because Steve is gone, I can’t turn my marriage into a fantasy that it was not. In spite of the gifts that my marriage gave to me, in the end it was a failure, as the ravages of addiction and the havoc it wreaked on our lives overcame what was sincere and deeply felt love, expressed on a sunny Saturday morning in my hometown of Willmar, Minn., and celebrated at a beach picnic on the shores of Green Lake, in nearby Spicer, Minn.

As a perfectionist, it is hard to accept failure in any form, least of all the very public failure of marriage. Perhaps that is why I held onto my marriage for so long, longer than I should have — because, damn it, I can make this thing work if I just put enough time, effort and energy into it. But sadly, that can’t be the case in something as fluid as a relationship between two living beings. Some things, no matter how hard you try, are just destined to fail.

Which brings me to today. What is it? A celebration of what was real and resulted in the creation of two beautiful and incredible people? Or a reminder of the greatest and most public failure of my life, one that I have to own and declare any time I fill out an application or a government form?

Perhaps I don’t have to pick, as I live in the tension between the two.

The need to pick sides, to have winners and losers, is one of the greatest challenges we face today, the incessant desire to cast our lots with villains and victors, good guys and bad guys. We live in an either/or world and I am a both/and kind of person.

When I look at my marriage, and the two people in it, it isn’t that simple, or that easy. The truth was that we were two broken people who together could not make a whole, especially when the third party of addiction ran rampant, leaving destruction in its wake.

So today, as I reflect on what would have been my silver anniversary, I recognize what silver is — a soft and malleable metal that i​s stable in oxygen and water but tarnishes when exposed to sulfur compounds. In other words, it remains shiny in some conditions, but not in others, and it is not as solid or strong as other compounds.

That was my marriage.

As I embrace that image, I don’t have to deny what was good or ignore what was bad. I can see it’s beauty even as I know that it was deeply tarnished.

Because marriage and divorce, like the silver compounds that are poured into the bowls that commemorate this anniversary, are complex, and not simply a box to be checked.

PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — The Chance Of Life

It’s been an interesting week.

It started last Thursday, when Ian and I were driving to work. I had just passed the Veteran’s Boulevard underpass when I saw what looked to me like a mushroom cloud of dust in my rear-view mirror. I immediately told Ian, and he turned around and saw it as well, and we both commented that something bad had just happened.

Throughout the morning, I kept an eye on my Facebook newsfeed and eventually saw a report that Interstate 94 had closed in both directions due to a crash that involved two semis that had blocked the freeway going both east and west but that no one was injured in the accident.

Satisfied that I had my answer to the mystery of the mushroom-shaped cloud of dust, and thankful that no one was hurt, I put the accident out of my mind.

However, later that night, I saw a report that they had video of the accident, and it was really quite remarkable that there were no injuries. I clicked play and watched with amazement as a semi rolled over on the on-ramp on the eastbound lane, landing on top of another semi and sending that truck hurling into oncoming traffic in the westbound lane.

It was stunning that no other cars were involved, as the car behind the semi braked quickly enough, and there were no cars in the westbound lane of traffic when the other semi went over the median into the other lane.

Then I watched the video again a bit closer and a frightening reality hit me. The car in front of the semi was mine. I timed it out and had I been a second and a half slower, the semi on the onramp would have rolled on top of Ian and me.

A second and a half. Between potentially dying in a car crash with my son or seeing dust rise in our rear-view mirror.

I went to bed saying a prayer of thankfulness for every second of life, knowing that seconds do count.

Fast-forward to last night. Ian, his friend, Jack, and I had gone to the International Refugee Day Potluck at Lutheran Social Services and after we returned home, we stood by my car in the driveway.

At one point, I looked down at my phone to check the updated results of the Georgia 6 election and suddenly I heard Jack yell, “Paula,” and instinctively, having no idea what was happening, I lurched forward. As I did I felt a sudden pain on my arm and heard the sound of something crashing onto the driveway.

I fell to my knees, my arm in pain, and then turned around to see a large dead branch had fallen off the tree next to our driveway, and the thickest portion had landed right where I was standing. Had Jack not yelled my name when he heard the crack of the branch and saw the leaves start to flutter on this windless night, my head would have taken the hit solidly, instead of it being a glancing blow to my arm as I lunged away from where I was standing.

I can’t say with assurance that I would have died, but being hit in the head by something that heavy dropped from that high could have easily altered my life.

So twice in less than I week, I was faced with my own mortality, the fleeting nature of life and capriciousness of time and chance.

My profession makes it hard for me to ignore how quickly life can change. I get phone calls in the middle of the night and have police showing up at my door asking me to go be the bearer of shocking and heartbreaking news.

The truth is, we are all often seconds away from life-altering events. One turn here, one slow beat there, and we could all face imminent doom each day. And sometimes, it goes our way, and sometimes, unexpected and tragic accidents happen. That is the nature of life.

I think it is probably a good thing that we don’t get to see, in the vivid terms I experienced this week, how close we often come to death. Because I believe such knowledge could end up leaving us terrified and afraid to move. Honestly, I haven’t walked into my yard since the branch fell without glancing up at the tree with a great trepidation and more than a little anxiety.

However, seeing first on a video and then in the detritus of a limb of a tree on my driveway, the reality of how I was seconds and then milliseconds away from mortal peril, also gave me great cause to pause and reflect.

Life, at its very core, is both a matter of chance as well as a gift. The fact that the one sperm met the one egg to form you into the very individual you are and me into who I am is both improbable and incredible.

There is so much in life that we absolutely cannot control. Yet, I find myself too often becoming obsessed by those things over which I have no power. Now, more than ever, I find myself focusing my time and energy on what is happening, externally, in the world, without fixing the same energy into changing the world where I can.

I was staring down at the results of a congressional race over which I had absolutely no influence while the bough above me was breaking and coming crashing down on my head. Had Jack not been paying attention to the world around him, I could have been lost to the world around me.

Does this mean I should ignore the news and the effects of what is transpiring right now in our country? Hardly. But there is a difference between being aware and being obsessed. I think it is just as bad to stick one’s head into the news and not engage with the world as it is to stick one’s head in the sand.

So I resolved this week to limit my consumption of social media, cable news and online articles and pour that time and energy into caring for those who are being left behind and those who are around me. I need to look up and watch out for those whose lives are coming crashing down around them as they face a reduction in their health care benefits or changes in their housing benefits and engage in more conversations with people who may not see the world the way I do, to help bridge the great divide in our country.

I need to spend more time listening to the voices of the disenfranchised and sharing their stories than I do to the talking heads on television news. And I need to spend more time living my life rather than watching what is happening when I have no power or control of the outcome.

For me, it wasn’t so much getting hit upside the head that told me that but rather missing getting hit upside the head by a branch.

Life is chance and I have no idea what will happen tomorrow, or what might have happened if I had been a second earlier or a second slower. But in the meantime, I am going to take every chance I get to live life, fully engaged and keep my head up.

PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — The Race Of Life

I am not a runner.

Oh, there have been times in my life when I’ve run, like when I was in high school and I was in track. I was a thrower — shot put and discus — but the coach wanted to fill out the full roster for team points, so I was forced to run the two-mile. And forced is the right word. I used to pray for rain, and even do rain dances, so that meets would be canceled and I wouldn’t have to run.

The thing is, when you are bad at something like the 100-meter dash, you can only lose by so much. Your humiliation is over quickly. But when you are bad at the two-mile,  it can go on for what seems like an eternity. And I was bad — to the tune of being lapped a time or two in an eight-lap event.

So bad, in fact, that everyone on the field would be pulling for me. I often thought it was because they were all afraid I would die and it would gum up the rest of the meet. But those cheers mattered. They got me through the race.

I tried to take up running a few years ago, completed an abysmally slow 5K, and in the process tore my medial meniscus and needed surgery. I think God was telling me something. So now I don’t run.

Even though I don’t run, I nonetheless often use running metaphors when I talk about a life of faith. The Bible frequently uses the image of running the race  as a comparison to a life of faith, including a call  for people of faith to “run the race that is set before you.”

As a pastor, I tell people that they need to practice their faith for the same reason that people need to train for a marathon. You train for a marathon so that you are ready to go when the big day comes — you are prepared to face the challenge.

And by practicing your faith, you are ready when there are challenges in life. You are prepared.

But unlike training for a marathon, you don’t know when your challenges will come. You don’t know when you are going to have to rely on your faith to help you forge ahead in the face of struggle, heartache and pain.

Just as marathon runners train their muscles to deal with the pain, when you practice your faith through prayer, worship, service and devotion, you are ready to deal with whatever life throws you. Faith isn’t to get into heaven — that was accomplished by Jesus and his defeat of death and offer of forgiveness. Faith is to get you through life. To help you run the race that is set before you.

It isn’t easy to get through a marathon — or to get through life. But if you are prepared, you are better able to handle it.

That is why I watched with shock the YouTube video of Scott Cramer, the Minnesota State University-Moorhead student who ran a marathon without training for it. I know Scott tangentially. He is dating a young woman who is the daughter of one of my closest friends. I baptized Jaden, taught her in confirmation, and she was president of the Philanthropy group I advised when she was in high school. So I know that he has good taste and must be a quality guy.

But I also think he has a few rocks loose in his head. After watching the video he made while running the Fargo Marathon, I think he may agree. His plan was to train for the marathon when he registered for it last October, but he never got around to training for it. So he decided instead to run it without training and make a video of his effort.

Scott survived his ordeal. At first, he was confidant — running the first nine miles, but as time wore on, the reality set in, and he discovered what real pain was. However, he soldiered on, finishing the 26.2 miles in 6 hours and 16 minutes. Not exactly a top finisher, but a finisher nonetheless.

He credits his ability to complete the race to the encouragement he received, both from the people along the way, who cheered him on, as well as his core supporters, Jaden, as well as his sister, who walked about six miles with him, to keep him going when he was down on himself.

As I reflected on his journey and what I have often said about faith, I have decided that Scott is the exception who proves the rule. Scott did get through the race. But it was much harder than it would have been without training, he didn’t do as well as he could have, and he hurt far more than he needed to. The pain that was apparent in his video the next day revealed a man who could barely move. He was literally felled by the race he endured.

In life, that is also true. Can we get through the challenges of life without faith Well, sometimes you just have to. You just forge ahead. But if you aren’t practicing your faith, those challenges can take everything out of you and literally drive you to your knees, unable to move forward.

There is still pain when you are in shape — spiritually or physically. But the immediate and lasting effects of being ready allow you to cope better. You are better prepared for what comes your way, far better prepared than Scott was. And because of that, you are better able to face the journey and stronger in its aftermath, rather than being laid out flat on your back, unable to move.

But there was one other part of this story that struck me. It was the role that both Jaden and Scott’s sister played. Scott said he could not have made it had they not walked with him and encouraged him. They kept him going when he was down on himself and motivated him to finish the race.

In Hebrews 12:1, it says that “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”

When you practice your faith, and stay in shape spiritually, it becomes your job to be a part of that “cloud of witnesses,”  to be encouragers who support and urge on others in their race, whether they are in shape or not.

Because just as faith is not to get into heaven, but to get through life, it is also not just for ourselves. Living a life of faith means living a life that focuses on others.

Selfishness is the antithesis of a spiritual life. Jaden and Scott’s sister could have derided Scott and told him that he needed to do this himself. That kind of “rise from your own bootstraps” mentality, where they could have told him “You are responsible for this, so we aren’t going to help you.”

But that’s not what they did. Instead, they cheered him on, walked with him, and helped him finish the race. They literally went the extra mile — actually six miles — to accompany him as part of his cloud of witnesses.

Because that is what friends do, and that is what Christians are called to do. To help others when they are down on themselves, to see their needs and to accompany them on their journey.

Those who say people are not responsible for the needs of others, who don’t want to support them, or worse yet, tear them down, miss the point of faith entirely. It isn’t meant to just run your own race. It is a team event. Where we call out to each other and support each other on our journey.

The life of faith is about being a part of a community and being a community means supporting each other.

Back in the day, when I was a reluctant runner, earning “team points” as I circled the track, being lapped not because I was out of shape, but because I was just bad, it was those who cheered me on who got me through the race.

And Scott said the same thing — he wasn’t ready, but those around him were ready to cheer him on. And that made all the difference.

So I urge you today to keep in shape spiritually so you are ready for the race. Learn from Scott that not being in shape can make life hurt more than it needs to. And learn from Jaden that cheering others on can help them finish the race, even if they aren’t prepared.

In doing that, you live out what it means to run the race of life. Not just for yourself, but for others.