I Will Pour Out My Spirit On All Flesh

October 23, 2016

It’s great to be back with you all today! Susanne and I hope you’ve had some time to be thinking and praying about some of the things we talked about last time and to begin dreaming about what the next steps at St. Alban’s might be in the months and years to come. Today we’re going to be focusing a bit on spiritual gifts which are present in each one of you and in this congregation.

One of those gifts is “discernment” which is really about prayerful listening to God and prayerfully listening to one another. And we want to think a little bit about “imagination,” about what it might mean to dream about a future free from what Susanne called last time “the de-fault mode,” specifically about the “one priest, one parish” mode of thinking we’ve become accustomed to. To dream about doing things differently than we’ve always done them before!

And if we were going to choose a passage from the Bible about spiritual gifts and discernment and imagination, we probably couldn’t find one much more appropriate than the 1st Lesson appointed for today from the Prophet Joel. Listen again to these words: “Then afterwards,” (says the LORD), “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days I will pour out my spirit.” (Joel 2:28-29). Those words are familiar to us because they had become so famous that the Book of Acts has Peter citing them in his first sermon on the day of Pentecost.

The early Christians believed that, in Jesus, and because of his life, death, and resurrection, those words from the prophet Joel had come true. God had poured out the Holy Spirit afresh and the evidence of that was that men and women were prophesying (speaking forth with God’s Word again), old men were dreaming dreams of a new future, and the younger ones were seeing visions of what might actually come to be!

Because of what God had done for them in Christ, these earliest Christians were beginning to experience God’s spirit in some new ways. No longer was God seen as far off and largely unapproachable except through the ministrations of the priests and the Temple sacrifices. Now they were beginning to understand that God’s spirit was as close to them as life and breath itself. God’s spirit was within them, in their midst – as individuals and as the church!

And they were able to recognize that spirit because of the gifts and abilities God was bringing forth. Paul lists some of them in I Corinthians and Romans – wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous accomplishments, prophecy, discernment (there’s that word again!), tongues, interpretation, ministry, teaching, exhorting, giving, leadership, compassion, pastoral care. Well, I could go on and on…

But these women and men were learning that the church was indeed the Body of Christ and that each of them was a limb or a member of that body. If they each played their part, if each of them was willing to use the gifts they had been given for the common good, then their little communities, their churches, could actually BE the Body of Christ for the world just as Jesus had once been that Body in the world. They could Be The Body of Christ!

They were beginning to learn what St. Teresa said centuries later: “Christ has no body now on earth, but yours; no hands, no feet on earth, but yours; yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on the world; yours are the feet with which he (still) walks about doing good.”

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church is just such a body!  Your hands have collected and distributed clean clothing to those who need it. Your eyes have looked compassion on those who suffer from alcohol addiction and other kinds of substance abuse and you have opened your doors to give them a space for healing. Your feet have walked out of this beautiful little sanctuary into the world and have taken the love of Christ into the jails and into the lives of women and children trafficked as modern day slaves right here in eastern Iowa. You are the Body of Christ!

One of the first spiritual gifts mentioned by St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians is the gift of faith. Faith, in the biblical sense, means “radical trust,” radical trust in God. One of the articles of faith for what we sometimes call the “total ministry” movement is that all the gifts necessary to be the Body of Christ are present in that local community. Everything you need to be the church, to be the Body of Christ in this place, is already present…by God’s grace!

All that is needed are for those gifts to be identified and lifted up, unwrapped and put to use. Oh, it takes a little while to discover, or re-discover, those gifts. It takes a little while for them to be shaped and formed by some training and education. It takes a little while for everyone to learn how to use their gifts for the common good. But know this: it can happen!

Because God has already poured out the Holy Spirit in this place! Some of your sons and daughters are already prophesying! Some of your old men are dreaming dreams! And some of your young people are seeing visions! And on each one of you – whether you feel quite ready for it or not – God is prepared to pour out the spirit all over again.

This morning we are Confirming the gift of the Holy Spirit in Kelsey’s life. And Susanne and I are here to help confirm that same gift in the lives of each and every one of you. Perhaps this prayer in the Confirmation service says it best: Almighty God, we thank you that by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ you have overcome sin and brought us to yourself, and that by the sealing of your Holy Spirit you have bound us to your service.  Renew in these your servants the covenant you made with them at their Baptism. Send them forth in the power of that Spirit to perform the service you set before them; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Today’s Lectionary Reading After Last Night’s Debate

October 20, 2016

“A wise magistrate educates (the ) people, and the rule of an intelligent person is well-ordered. As the people’s judge is, so are (the) officials; as the ruler of the city is, so are all its inhabitants. An undisciplined king ruins his people, but a city becomes fit to live in through the understanding of its rulers.

The government of the earth is in the hand of the Lord, and over it he will raise up the right leader for the right time. Human success is in the hand of the Lord, and it is he who confers honor upon the lawgiver. Do not get angry with your neighbor for every injury, and do not resort to acts of insolence. Arrogance is hateful to the Lord and to mortals, and injustice is outrageous to both.

Sovereignty passes from nation to nation on account of injustice and insolence and wealth.”

(Ecclesiasticus 10:1-8)


Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people!

Knocking On Doors For Hillary

October 16, 2016

I spent part of my Saturday along with other Iowa Democrats knocking on doors for the Clinton/Kaine campaign and other down-ticket Democrats. I prefer the door-to-door experience rather than phone-calling although I have done both and — as distasteful as they are — both have been proven necessary to win modern political campaigns. When you go door-to-door people are often more receptive than being interrupted at dinner by a phone call from a stranger. You get to have some real conversations.

Part of my territory included a predominantly African American community comprised of duplexes and some small stand-alone homes. As always, the majority of people are not at home (or decline to answer their doorbells!) and in such cases a colorful door-hangar is left, not only hyping the candidates but giving information about registration, early voting, and poll locations. A service in itself, I think. And I was able to provide voter registration information to a young Black man who asked how to get registered.

Even in this working class neighborhood and at this late stage in the campaigns there were some who were undecided. When someone said they were not inclined to vote for Hillary Clinton, I asked them if they then supported Donald Trump. Everyone I spoke to had some version of “Hell, no!” I would then gently remind them that, especially in Iowa, a vote against Hillary either by not voting or voting for a third party candidate or writing someone in or even leaving that top slot unmarked and voting for those down the ballot, was in fact a vote for Trump. I believe it made some think twice.

There were some great moments though. Like the nine year old boy who was playing on the porch next to the unit whose doorbell I was ringing. “You here for the President?” he asked. “Yes,” I said, “I’m here for Hillary Clinton.” “YES!” he exclaimed, pumping his right arm in celebration. Or the middle aged woman who said, “Of course, I’m supporting Hillary. I’ve already voted early. We can’t let that crazy man into the White House!” I held up my thumb, “Let him near the nuclear button?” “BOOM,” she said, “We gone!” I couldn’t agree more.
It is a mystery to me that Iowa is perhaps the only swing state, leaning toward Donald Trump at this point. Much of it is the populist, anti-Washington, anti-establishment ethos which blankets our state, especially west of Des Moines in the vast rural areas. Some of it is the strange coalition of so-called evangelicals and Roman Catholics who are bound together by their opposition to abortion and therefore do not want Hillary Clinton appointing Supreme Court Justices which would inevitably move the Court to the left and solidify the pro choice position which is, in any case, what the vast majority of people in this country want.

I keep thinking of what I read last week: “Ironically, the people who will benefit most from a Hillary Clinton presidency are the ones most likely to vote against her.”

It’s a strange political season.

All we can do is keep hoping.

And keep working.



Bob Dylan – Poet Laureate For A Generation

October 13, 2016

I remember sitting alone, eating one of my first meals in the dormitory cafeteria at the University of Florida in 1965. Blasting out of the speakers on the wall was Bob Dylan crooning “The Times They Are A’ Changin’.”

“Come mothers and fathers throughout the land/ And don’t criticize what you don’t understand/ Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command/ Your old road is rapidly agin’/ Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand/For the times they are a’changin’ !

There could have been no better way to name what we were feeling in those days. The civil rights struggle in the streets, Viet Nam exploding in napalm, John Kennedy gone, Bobby and Martin still speaking out, but marked for murder. And young people from San Francisco to Iowa City to Gainesville, Florida were beginning to speak out with Bob Dylan’s voice.

It took me a while to “get it.” I had spent my high school years drinking espresso in a folk music coffee house just off the campus of Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. A good friend and I played guitars sang the music of the day, mostly for our own amusement. But I had experienced Dylan mostly through his more sanitized interpreters like Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary and the like. In college, I began to hear Dylan in Dylan’s voice.

Over the years, he morphed into rock and roll and later — reflecting a religious conversion — began writing songs which sounded more like William Blake than Woodie Guthrie. But always he kept growing and thinking and composing amazing poetry. Yes, poetry. I remember wondering in 1968 when his lyrics would begin appearing in the poetry anthologies I was reading as an English Literature major.

Today — October 13, 2016 — Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature! The organizers praised him for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” A number of people have expressed disbelief that this aging hippie from the 1960’s would be considered for such a prestigious award. However, it seems to me most appropriate, and perhaps long overdue, if one embraces this definition of “poetry:”

“Literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm…” Or, “writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm.” Sounds like Dylan to me!

And, if timelessness is part of the definition of fine literature including poetry, I would encourage you to read a summary of our national news and this pathetic election cycle and then join me in singing these words:

“Come senators, congressmen please heed the call/ Don’t stand in the doorway don’t block up the hall/ For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled/ There’s a battle outside and it’s ragin’/ It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls/ For the times they are a changin’ !”

Bob Dylan — poet laureate for a generation.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day

October 10, 2016

I actually have no problem honoring Christopher Columbus. Even though he had no idea where he was going and didn’t know where he was when he got there, this is no different from countless other explorers and pioneers throughout history. Though I understand others’ doing so, I am not prepared to judge him by the standards of the 21st century or to lay at his feet the genocide of the indigenous peoples of this land after his “discovery” (really?) of America.

But Columbus certainly does not deserve an entire holiday dedicated to his memory when so many other explorers do not, and especially when there is not day set aside in our national calendar to those who first settled this part of the world and whose legacy has largely been forgotten and marginalized while we rhapsodize about the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.

I have a wonderful tee shirt from the Native American museum in Phoenix which depicts four heroic looking “Indian” chiefs above the presidential busts on Mt. Rushmore (which Native peoples call, “white man’s graffiti!) and the caption reads: The Original Founding Fathers: Fighting Terrorism Since 1492.  More significant is the quotation on the back of the shirt attributed only to a “Blackfoot Chief:”





Isn’t this a far more noble sentiment to think on today than the usual “Columbus Day” falsehoods?

On the brink of unity? No, not really…

October 8, 2016

There was a time in which I would have been ecstatic (and likely in attendance) at last week’s meeting between Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in celebration of the 50th anniversary of a similar meeting between Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey. That meeting opened the doors for a half century of extremely effective ecumenical dialogue between the two communions, specifically by the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) and also the more local expressions such as the Anglican Roman Catholic dialogue here in the United States (ARC-USA).

Many of the church-dividing issues of the Reformation era — justification by faith, the centrality of Scripture, the doctrines surrounding Holy Baptism and the Eucharist, even the theology of Holy Orders (ordination) have been addressed and largely resolved by these ecumenical dialogues. Unfortunately, there has been a break-down on both sides in formally “receiving” these reports and so much of the common understandings reached remain on theologians’ library shelves and in ecumenist brains.

In addition, new complications (described in the Common Declaration signed by Francis and Justin as “serious obstacles”) have arisen, rendering full visible unity as far off as ever. Predictably mentioned are the ordination of women and issues of human sexuality (code language for the ordination of persons who are gay and lesbian and the blessing of same sex unions). These are all obstacles presented by developments on the Anglican side, of course.

Unaddressed are issues which have arisen since the Reformation on the Roman Catholic side, including “creeping papal infallibility” (since Vatican 1), certain Marian doctrines (immaculate conception, assumption) and mandatory priestly celibacy which are not accepted by Anglicans. To say nothing of the “Anglican Ordinariate” promulgated by Pope Benedict which — unannounced to the Anglican Communion before its unveiling — provides a kind of one way ticket for disaffected Anglicans to become Roman Catholics, not just as individuals, but as entire communities of faith.

So I know longer have any hope of a reunification or even full communion between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church — in my lifetime, or the lifetime of my children…or grandchildren. That is not to say the dialogue should cease.

Efforts like the International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) and institutions like the Anglican Centre in Rome do heroic work. And surely it is to be celebrated that the Bishop of Rome and the Archbishop of Canterbury have recommitted themselves and their churches to work on issues of the environment, immigration, global poverty, and human trafficking — and to do so together whenever possible.

But then, we have been talking about doing that for a lot more than the 50 years since Pope Paul VI gave Michael Ramsey his episcopal ring.

And we are really not very much closer to “becoming one, that the world may believe” than we have ever been.

And that makes me very sad.

My First Hurricane

October 7, 2016

I remember my first hurricane pretty well. It was in about 1960 which would have made me fourteen years old. We had moved to Orlando from Greenville, SC in 1955 but had avoided any direct experience of major weather events until Hurricane Donna. Living inland, we were less effected than those on the coast, especially in this instance, southeast Florida which took most of the damage.

But I remember stocking up on water and food, battening down the hatches and waiting for the storm’s arrival. Even then, we knew the futility of putting masking tape on windows or even using plywood to board them up unless one knew exactly how to install them (which most people don’t). Years later, when my folks moved to Daytona Beach, they always had metal storm windows installed which stayed in place all year long and would simply be rolled down in the event of a storm, leaving the folks inside, as my mother put it, “snug as a bug in a rug.”

I do remember walking outside in our backyard when the eye of hurricane passed through Orlando. After the wind, rain and blowing debris, after the snapped branches and power lines, the eerie silence in “the eye of the storm” was mesmerizing. There are stories of people being so entranced by the experience that they stayed out too long in the eye and were hit by the backside of the storm as it continued on its path! Not too much danger of that for me, as my mother kept an eye on me and would not rest until I got back inside, well before the winds started picking up again.

As Hurricane Matthew storms up the east coast of Florida today, I’ve been in touch with friends and my dad, all of whom live in a straight line from Melbourne to Cocoa to Daytona Beach to Jacksonville. Other than power outages and a bit of water damage everyone seems safe and grateful that the storm stayed offshore for as far as it did. They are also experienced Floridians who take storm warnings seriously and make appropriate plans to stay safe in such instances.

Ironically, we had tornadic activity here in the Quad Cities, Iowa last night as well. We lost power for a while and there are reports this morning that our wonderful homeless shelter, King’s Harvest, took a direct hit and lost part of a roof. I’ll be taking a run down there later this morning to see how bad it is. Hopefully, our community will come together to help them re-build and, just as importantly, to be sure there are no lack of services in the interim for those who depend upon this facility and its dedicated staff and volunteers.

The power of nature regularly reminds us that, as much as we might like to believe so, we are not really in charge of this world, or even of our lives. It’s why we need to stand in awe of the creation and its Creator; and it’s why we need to take care of each other when these regular reminders show up!

The Role of Faith In The Vice Presidential Debate

October 5, 2016

I was one of the half-dozen or so who watched the vice presidential debate last night. It was, from my perspective, a mixed bag at best. I was disappointed in Tim Kaine who has been declared the loser of this match-up largely because he came out uncharacteristically aggressive and repeatedly interrupted his opponent a la Donald Trump.

This tactic, brought unhelpfully into the debate from his attack-dog role on the campaign trail, began the unedifying spectacle of two white men talking over one another, and the female moderator (whose questions were actually quite good) to such an extent that few, if any, could understand what they were saying for the first half of the contest.

Things settled down in the second half, but again, Tim Kaine spent most of his time quoting Donald Trump, and Mike Pence spent most of his time saying that Trump could not possibly have said, or at least meant, that! No surprise there; it is what the Donald’s surrogates have been doing since the campaign began. I had hoped for better.

For these are two pretty articulate spokesmen for their parties’ positions. They clearly have respect for one another, if not for their opponent’s choice for president, and could have used the debate to articulate those differences. Had they actually tried to answer the questions CBS moderator Elaine Quijano asked, rather than use them as launching pads for sound bites, and had they listened to, rather than talked over, one another, those stark differences might have been highlighted for all to see.

The one shining moment, I thought, was when Quijano asked Tim Kaine and then Mike Pence, when — as people of faith — they had been tested to square those commitments with their lives as politicians. Kaine answered immediately, “That’s an easy one,” and described his personal struggles as a Roman Catholic who opposes the death penalty having to enforce it as Governor of Virginia when he could not persuade the people through its legislature to change the laws.

His defense was much the same as John Kennedy’s all those years ago who made it clear that his personal beliefs, and the doctrines of his church, could not override his sworn oath to uphold the laws of this country in the administration of his duties as chief executive. In the land of separation of church and state, this is the only way to govern.

Mike Pence was not as forthcoming with times there may have been a conflict between the tenants of his faith and his duties as a government official, but I thought he was sincere and articulate about his right-to-life stand. And he actually complimented Kaine for being a person of deep faith and lauded his courageous decision to vote for a ban on so-called “partial birth abortions” even though that flew in the face of his party’s and his President’s position.

I thought that was a moment of honesty and candor in a debate which largely lacked both. However one expects Tim Kaine to walk the tightrope between his own, fairly conservative position on abortion with Hillary Clinton’s much more pro choice stand, one must at least applaud his “consistent ethic of life” balanced by a deep commitment for a woman’s right to choose in her reproductive life.

And, however one may disagree with Mike Pence’s stated goal to work to repeal Roe v Wade, one must at least acknowledge his commitment to adoption as an alternative to abortion and his rejection of Trump’s desire to “punish” women and/or doctors deciding for abortion. I believe the vast majority of the country will come down on the side of the Democrats’ pro choice platform, provided its goal remains, in the words of Bill Clinton, “to make abortion safe, legal, and rare.”

So, in an otherwise disappointing debate, it was refreshing to see faith discussed in an open, honest, and ecumenical way. It was the one thing I could believe, coming from both men.





October 3, 2016


Since Susanne and I are here this morning at the suggestion of Bishop Scarfe and the invitation of the vestry to begin a conversation with you about something called “ministry development,” I’m going to take the unusual step of departing from the appointed Lessons today and basing my sermon on another one which really forms the scriptural basis for what we’ll be talking about later. This reading is from the letter to the Ephesians, the church in Ephesus. I’m sure it will be familiar to you:

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift…The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:4-13)

This reading, taken together with an earlier one from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians and other New Testament references, make us pretty sure that this was how the early church functioned. It saw itself as a single body, made up of many members, each one performing its function to make that body move and grow.

The early church didn’t see itself as a congregation, waiting to call a pastor, who would then come and begin serving as their “minister.” Because the early church did not see itself as “a community gathered around a minister,” but as “a ministering community,” a community of ministers. In this example from Ephesians, an apostle (like Paul) might well have been a founding member of a local community.

But soon after that, the community itself would raise up, or identify, some prophets and evangelists, some pastors and teachers and, pretty soon, they would be a self-sufficient, self-sustaining Christian community ready to carry out its role as a ministering community and to make a difference for Christ in the wider world in which they found themselves.

For all kinds of complicated reasons, over the years, the church evolved into an institution which has become pretty “clergy centered.” Occasionally, when a church is in-between priests, you’ll hear someone say that they have a “vacancy.” A vacancy! What in the world might that mean? The congregation is still there, isn’t it? The building is still there. The ministries carried out in the community are still there. They’re looking for an important member of the body, but the body is still functioning. It is not “vacant,” not empty!

So, in recent years, we’ve tried to recapture some of this early church understanding. After all, the church has never been more alive, more fruitful, or spread more widely than in those earliest decades. So, as you probably know, the Catechism in our Prayer Book says that there are not just three kinds of ministers – bishops, priests and deacons. There are four kinds – lay persons, bishops, priest and deacons. And each kind of minister is to play his or her role in “representing Christ to the world,” in building up the body of Christ.

The canons of our church provide a kind of updated list of some ministries which can be licensed in a local congregation: Eucharistic ministers, Eucharistic Visitors, Catechists (who are educators preparing people for baptism and confirmation), preachers, worship leaders, lay pastoral leaders and evangelists. And this is not an exhaustive list. It’s only a place to start.

Some congregations have several licensed preachers and a whole team of Eucharistic Visitors. Others have social ministry coordinators along with deacons. Still others have two or three locally identified and trained priests. The point is the ministering community discerns the kinds of gifts it has and the leadership it needs!

These are just examples of what such ministries may look like in a given congregation. In some of our churches here in Iowa from Iowa Falls to Iowa City, from Clermont to Fr. Madison, teams have been developed and commissioned to serve as what we call a “ministry development team.” We used to call them “ministry teams” but now realize that the team exists to support the ministry of the whole congregation – outside the walls of the church as well as within. And so we call it a ministry “support” team.

And there’s a process for a congregation to begin discerning who might have particular gifts for particular ministries, to form a team which will receive some training and be commissioned at some point to provide leadership and ministry support for the whole congregation.

In some places, there are people in the congregation who themselves may have the particular gift necessary to be ordained as a deacon or a priest. Sometimes this circle of leadership includes ordained people drawn from inside the congregation and share clergy with other churches. Other times, congregations might share a deacon or a youth minister.

But most of the people in the leadership team receive their formation right alongside the other members…So that they truly are a team which can function together. Although some team members may receive financial remuneration, they are often non-stipendiary, freeing the congregation from the financial burden of “the priest’s package” and allowing more money to be spent in outreach and evangelism…to form new partnerships and to grow the church.

Is such a “team ministry” possible here at St. Alban’s? You bet it is. You’ve all been involved in various expressions of mutual ministry and outreach for decades. You’ve had your ups and downs just like any congregation I know, but there are people in this church who could be trained and commissioned for many of these ministries, and some I haven’t even mentioned.

The question is, is this the time to begin moving in this new direction? Is this who God is calling us to be and to do at this time in our history? That’s what Susanne and I are here to talk about and, more importantly, to hear from you about. We’re committed to helping you get started if you choose to move in this direction. I hope you’ll at least stay after church today for an hour or so. And let’s start the conversation!

For “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in (us) all. (For) each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”


The Iowa Folk Singer

September 28, 2016

Ran across an old friend the other day. Not in real time. On the radio. Surfing around the dial while driving through the cornfields of Iowa, I happened on an old Prairie Home Companion episode and heard the rich baritone of Greg Brown, “the Iowa folk singer.”

Greg grew up in southern Iowa and has had a pretty good career singing his original songs of the Heartland touring small clubs, town halls, and churches around the Midwest. He’s recorded mostly on his own label, but got his big break from Garrison Keillor which provided him with a larger audience around the country.

I used to listen to him for hours as I drove across that same Iowa landscape when I was bishop in this “Beautiful Land.” His poetry and music provided the background, and actually helped me understand, the delight and heartbreak of this complex and fascinating state I have come to love. A few song titles may give you a flavor of his work:

The Iowa Waltz…Counting Feedcaps…Out in the Country…Walking the Beans…King Corn

And this haunting lyric from Our Little Town:

“I don’t need to read the news, hear it on the radio; I see it in the faces of every one I know; boards go up, signs come down; What’s gonna happen to our little town.”

He tells the story of the economic devastation brought on by corporate farms and the “Walmart-ization” of Iowa. Little towns which used to depend on a dozen or more family farms surrounding them are drying up as huge farms, sometimes owned by out-of-state folks, use more technology (and chemicals), employ fewer people, and drive down the price of corn and soy beans by their enormous yields.

Walmart puts up its big box store on the outskirts of town and, by under-pricing local merchants because of the economy of scale, drive the small groceries, clothing and hardware stores, and small businesses out of business. Young people in rural areas, seeing the limited opportunities for employment, take their fine Iowa high school and even college educations and move to Des Moines, Minneapolis, Chicago or one of the coasts for jobs and a future.

That’s not the whole story of course. Like every other place, Iowa is adapting and will have to adapt, to advancing technologies and automation. But it does not come without a price. And Greg Brown catalogs the pain of that price in so many of his songs.

But there is also the beauty of small town and rural life, fishing in the local creek, and the priceless support of family and friends. Iowans are a strange mix of straightforward simplicity and sophistication; populist politics and global awareness.

I was adopted by this state and I have adopted it back. And, since I’m now a member of the family, I’m proud to get back in touch with my long-lost brother:

Greg Brown…the Iowa folk singer.