He came the first time, 20 years ago now, holding a pair of shoes out to me. “Pastor, I need some money. Will you give me $10. I’ll leave these shoes with you.”

Well, there is an actual verse about not taking a persons cloak in pledge. Exodus 24:12

12 If the neighbor is poor, do not go to sleep with their pledge in your possession.

So I helped him. that was the start of a number of visits. He came to the office, he came by my house at times.  There was always a small need.  He had a prescription, but needed a co-pay.  He needed a few dollars for gas to get to a food pantry.  He turned out to wear my size of shoes and pants, so I would save any shoes that were old but not worn out and give them to him.

He did day labor when I first knew him.  He had a series of old cars that somehow he kept running.  Over time he was not able to work due to his health.

Yesterday his partner of 30 years came by in tears. Larry had died on the evening of Thanksgiving.  They were not married, so she did not know if she could see him.  I called the funeral home and we arranged to meet there the next today. She asked for a bible and a prayer, which we did in the parking lot.

Larry was laid out. down stairs in a small room,  under a cover.  He looked calm, as he usually did.

She wanted to know if she could kiss him. Yes she could.

Larry had some family and a few friends who were there, saying good-by.  His brother read a couple of verses from the New World Bible.

What is next?  Larry is in the hands of the Almighty, as is his partner for many years. He on that side and she on this.

She kept saying, “I want to take him home.”

I tried to say that he is home.  “You can take him home in your heart, but he has to stay here.”

If you read this, pray for Larry’s partner, Donna.

Sin – a bouquet of words


Sin is a word without much meaning in our culture.  It seems very old fashioned.  Does anyone understand what it means to “live in sin.”  Do we agree that we “sin in word and deed”?

Here in Wisconsin we have lots of words for winter weather – we could just say cold, but we can also say sleet, snow, heavy snow, blizzard, thunder snow (yes that exists), frost, frozen rain, powder, slush, wet, dry, and so on.  Why so many ways to talk about it? because we have it from mid November to Spring. (Basically from the end of the World’s Series to Spring Training.)

The Biblical words for sin are multiple.  Sin can be transgression, corruption, stain, debt, missing the mark, willful, secret, high handed, wicked.

Psalm 32 has a glossary of sorts:  Psalm 32:1-2

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
    and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

The Lord’s Prayer is rendered two ways in Matthew and Luke

Matthew 6:12

and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Luke 11:4

and forgive us our sins,
    for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

The Bible is the Word of God and it was written by people who were very concerned with a life with God and under his blessing. Hence words that relate to God are common. “theo-logical” – means god (theo) words (logoi).

So while we don’t have “sin” in our cultural vocabulary, we have other words:

unfair, guilty, biased, racist, sexist, specieist, hateful, greedy, crooked, liar, sneaky, selfish, stingy, mean, law breakers, elitist, crude, violent, aggressive, abusive, addicted, willfully ignorant, and verbose to name a few.

So we do believe in sin, but we see it human centered, or centered specifically against ourselves.  We do not see it so much as against God.

Yet, he is not far from us.  We let him sneak back in whenever we talk about justice or fairness.




What is in a Name? – Lord’s Prayer




I got to think of ways in which we use and misuse the name of God.




What’s in a Name?

He calls by name

            Awaking a heart.

We call on his;

            It’s the start.

Saved by his name

            Written within

Baptized in the name of

            Father, Son and Spirit

Call on his name

            When In distress  

Ask in his name

            That needs be less

Praise to his name

            With lungs and life,

Confess his name

            With all the rest

We’ll sing his name

            As his guests.

Don’t lower his name

            To a comma or a curse,

Give honor to him

            In deeds and words.


Repeat words

and they fade

like documents

from another time.


Speak of passions

felt long ago

by others

or your former self.


Preach on texts

of mighty acts

by those

no one knows.


And the words

found in books

clatter like arrows

missing the mark.


Weekly, weakly

we make words

that are overcast

by time.

David E. Carlson



the challenge for the preacher is to keep from being only an observer and teller of what others have done and said.  keep it fresh.

Christmas Eve at Kipp Street

star It is Christmas Eve, but that does not really matter for the shift on duty at Kipp Street*.  The trash keeps on coming and the line keeps on moving.  As they say, “Our business is picking up.”

The first shift is moving smoothly.  The line has not stopped and so the workers keep at the work of sorting.  They are like a line of Santa Clauses in Hi-Vis and stocking caps sorting ought the naughty trash from the nice recyclables.  Below them the bobcats turn here and there with their loads and the fork lifts pick up and drop off large bales bundled in steel wire.  There is a tall maze made up of stacked bales and the runways in between.  The loader lifts its jaws up toward the in-bin and drops in the unsorted items from the pile rising at the doorway.  There a succession of trucks back in to unload. The drivers seem to be glad to finish their shifts for the short holiday break.

All in all it is a good day.  Then something unusual happened. There have been some unique visitors here.  A raccoon found its way in, and a few other creatures.  Occasionally an unusual item arrives, money, golf balls, a basketball, an old auto transmission.  It is all in a day’s work but these items stand out as something a little different.

John saw them first.  A young couple was looking in the entry door.  He went up to them and asked if he could help.  “My name is Joe,” the man said, “I heard that you might be hiring.”

“That’s true, “replied John, and pointed to the trailer outside.  “There is someone in there you can talk to.  We are always hiring around here. “

As Joe headed for the trailer, the woman looked at John and said, “is there a place I can sit down for a minute?  I am expecting the baby to come soon and it is getting hard to stand.”

“Sure, just in there is a break room.  It is at least warm and there is a place you can sit.”   And he led her past some odd items in bins, opened the door and let her in.

That seemed to be about it, and all was calm again – if you can call the sound of the line, the bailer the bob cats and the fork lifts quiet.  A littler later Joe walked back and looked around.  John shouted and pointed to the break room; “She’s in there.”

“OK, Thanks.”  Joe walked in, and then walked out about 10 seconds later.  “I could use some help!  My wife is having a baby, right now! Her water broke”

What a place to have a baby.  Clara was driving by with a bale of plastic bottles when she saw the commotion.  She came over and got the news.  “A baby?  What a place to have a baby!”  Looking over at John she said, “Do you have a cell phone? Call 911!”   Then she looked at the soon to be parents and said, “Help will be here soon.”

Joe said, a bit nervously, “Mara is not due for another week. Do you think there is a problem”

Clara replied, “They come when they are ready, don’t worry.”

The whole floor crew now came over and asked what is going on.  When they heard, they said, “We can all help until 911 gets here.”

So a couple of guys went to direct the ambulance when it arrived.  Another went upstairs to get an office chair, thinking it could be more comfortable.  Someone bought Joe a cola from the vending machine, this one read “give to a Dad” on the side.

The men started to look for something to boil water in, because one remembered that is what the men did in all the old cowboy movies.  Clara took off her work jacket and gave it to Mara to help her stay warm.

The contractions had started, the first one about when the water broke, and the second came about 10 minutes later.  Joe and Mara were looking very anxious about this turn of events.

“Don’t worry, I’m a mom too, you’ll get through this.”

It took another 15 minutes before the paramedics arrived.  They guys outside waved them to the front door and brought them into the break room.  And they said, “          We’ll take it from here.  Thanks for your help.”

By this time the line had stopped, so in all there was a baker’s dozen  or line and floor workers standing outside the break room.  Mara and Joe had insisted that Clara stay.   Every once in a while she would peek his head out to say, “It’s getting close!”

Someone said, “Well this is new, a baby at Kipp Street. This sure beats that old raccoon story!”

Another said, “It sure does, but what a place to be born. This ain’t no hospital.”

“Well,” said a third,” I am glad we invited her in, at least she is out of the cold.”

After what seemed to be forever Clara popped her head out and said, “It’s a girl!  Everyone is OK, though Joe is a little green around the gills.”

The paramedics got ready to transport Mara, Joe and the baby to the hospital.  The one in charge looked over to the group and said, “Thanks for all your help, it made a difference.”

So that is how a baby was born at Kipp Street.  A few days later there was a note that came from Joe and Mara.

“To all the people at Kipp Street, thanks a ton.  Our little bundle arrived and we decided give her Jessie as her first name and Kipp for her middle name.  By the way, Joe got the job and will start next week.”

Just then two or three of the guys had to blow their noses or clean their glasses.

David E. Carlson (aka FRESHREAD)

*Note: Kipp Street is a real place, where FRESHREAD serves as a workplace chaplain. Everything else is fictional, but it does in a way resemble a true story from another place and time.

Scholars Compass – Wisdom Literature

306px-Wisdom_-_Google_Art_Project-191x300 I recently posted three pieces in an online devotional called Scholars Compass, which is part of the Emerging Scholars Network with IVCF.

Post 1 – How I Discovered Wisdom Literature

Post 2 – How I Fell in Love with the Library

Post 3 – How Wisdom Calls Out in the Streets