Thursday

Five Things You Can Do To Build Community

Five Characteristics of Community

Newer subdivisions today often have wide streets with long driveways to the houses. Any family activity is often in the backyard that is cut off from the neighbors by high privacy fences. American’s value their privacy and individuality, and that is reflected in our community development and neighborhood development.

It was different years ago. If you drive through neighborhoods that are fifty or more years old, you will notice that the streets are narrow and the houses are closer to the sidewalk or curb. Many of the homes have front porches, designed for families to sit together and relax during a summer evening. These older neighborhoods were often built within walking distance of grocery stores, schools and churches. The reason is because fifty and sixty years ago most families only had one car, and dad took it to work, so mom and the kids had to walk to where they wanted to.

The very nature of the older neighborhood promoted neighborliness: walking, stopping, talking, listening. People knew the families living next door, across the street, and down the road, because they were always walking around together. Also, because there wasn’t the second car to drive the children to a multitude of activities, or to a friend living thirty minutes away, the children were forced to play, fight, and make up with the annoying kids who lived right next door. Children learned to be good neighbors by virtue of having no other choice but to. Something developed in these older communities, a spirit of neighorhood.

Our wider roads and high fences, along with less walking and more driving, have robbed neighborhoods of neighborliness. Instead of drinking iced tea or coffee on our front porches, visiting with passers-by, and watching our kids walk across the street to play neighborhood ball, we are racing across town, watching a movie, or working our tech device. In the place of community conversation and bonding we now suffer from solitary confinement, and with it, loneliness and isolation. Maybe you feel this way. Is there a way out? Yes.

Randy Frazee, author of The Connecting Church, calls upon Christians to be the force that rebuilds a sense of community and neighborhood through the church. He identifies five characteristics of a neighborhood that we can work to establish for people. The first is spontaneity. Friendly neighborhoods are characterized by children walking to the store and older neighbors yelling greetings. “Hey Marie! Hey Bobby! How’s your mom and dad? Tell them to stop by.” In communities friends linger over fences talking about their children, jobs, and health issues. Such encounters aren’t planned, they just happen due to proximity. Friends are spontaneous with each other.

A second characteristic is availability. We think we have availability due to email and cell phones. Availability years ago meant you could see someone in person, like a neighbor, and they were usually only a stone’s throw a way. Or a short walk. And the encounter was in person. Notice how we don’t have many drop-in visits anymore?


Picture from bryan2012.com

A third characteristic of community is frequency. People spent a lot of time together. Churches that take relationship building seriously often utilize small groups to allow people to get together for an hour or so a week. The early church did that every day, enjoying meals, prayer and conversation (Acts 2). Christians in many less developed countries still get together about that frequently. Frazee says that many of the fees people pay to counselors could be saved if we would simply reach out to other people for intimate conversation and connection.

Sharing common meals is the fourth characteristic of close communities. For families, that means we should be sitting at a table together at least two or three times a week. Sharing food together promotes talking, listening, and love.

Finally, there is geography. Close proximity means we can be spontaneous available to each other for conversation and meals. The immediacy of internet chat rooms gives us the feeling of connection, but the widespread loneliness of Americans suggests it isn’t working. We simply miss those frequent face-to-face encounters. (Pp.118-36).

How can the church help? By being a community to and for people. By creating opportunities for people to sit down, share a drink, tell a story, and get engrossed in the life of another. “Come to me,” Jesus said. Let’s be his voice sounding out that call to lonely people today.

What are some ways the church today can promote the development of these five characteristics of community?

Warren Baldwin

Tuesday

Small Groups and Spiritual Revival

Small Groups and Spiritual Revival

Spiritual growth means to develop into the character of Jesus Christ. It means to care for and do the things he did. To mature spiritually means that you are better able to love the unlovable, forgive  hurts, and give to the needy from your own possessions.

It is no wonder that this process is spoken of as growth or development, because just as our bodies require proper nutrition and exercise for growth, so do our spirits. Physical growth doesn’t just happen; it has to be fed and nurtured. Spiritual growth has to be fed and nurtured, too.

The food for spiritual growth is the gospels, the inspired stories about the life of Jesus Christ. As we read, reflect, and think deeply about the life of Christ, and pray for that message to fill the fiber of our being, we become filled with his thoughts. That is part of the process for spiritual growth. But, it is only part.

A child who eats good food is providing herself the proper nutrition to build strong bones and have a healthy heart. But, she must also exercise. Running and climbing are some of the fun activities of childhood, but they are also important developmental activities, strengthening muscles and developing coordination. Good food is important for growth; activity is important for growth, but neither of them are sufficient alone. They must both be present for a small girl or boy to become a strong and healthy young man or woman.

The same is true of our spiritual life. The gospels, the story of Jesus, is the food for our spirits. It is the nutrition for our soul, the thoughts to think about and make our own. But, where is the exercise? The exercise is in doing what Jesus did. Spiritually, we flex our muscles when we walk in the steps of the savior and love the people he loved, feeding them, forgiving them, restoring them to places of respect and honor in society. We flex our spiritual muscles when we eat with people no one else wants to eat with, having them in our homes, watching their children when they look for work, and becoming their friends.

If you feel uncomfortable being in someone’s presence, if you worry if your friends are going to see you with them, if you wonder if you are going to be judged by others, you are probably with the right person to flex your spiritual muscles.

Philip Jacob Spener started a major revival Germany in the 1600s. That poor nation had been ravaged by a major war lasting for 30 years, much of the fighting done by other countries within her borders. One-third of her population was killed. Orphans numbered in the tens of thousands. Young women sold themselves for a loaf of bread. Untended children became criminals. Spener wept over his beloved nation. But, he did more. He read the gospels and learned about Jesus. He filled his mind with the ministry of Jesus to the poor, the sick, the children, the morally questionable, and the sinners. He wondered, “How can I do for Germany in my day what Jesus did for Israel in his?” Spender gorged himself on the nutrition of Jesus. But, he knew that wasn’t enough; he needed exercise.


Philip Jacob Spener. Both pictures are from wikipedia.

The next thing Spener did was organize members of his congregation into small groups. The purpose of the small groups would be for more than studying the Bible; they would do some of that, but the real emphasis would be upon exercise. The members of the small groups would reach out into the community to actually do the things they learned about Jesus doing. They would provide food for the poor, homes for the homeless, child care for the orphans. Spener’s ministry led to a major revival in Germany, with the development of food programs, orphanages and schools started and led by Christians trying to be like Jesus. Those folks developed some muscle.


A Haugean pietist meeting in Norway, influenced by Spener

Studying the Bible does to our hearts what eating raw carrots does for our bodies. Sharing a meal with a hungry child does to our spirit what running a mile does for the muscles in our legs. It strengthens. Small groups are a vehicle for people to get that exercise.

Spiritual growth is not produced just by reading about Jesus. Spiritual growth is produced by living like Jesus, and being obedient to the mission he gives us in service to others.

Warren Baldwin

Wednesday

The Dark Side of Leadership

The Dark Side of Leadership

Inherent within every leader are personality traits that guide them to success. Parents, teachers, preachers, elders and CEOs all share these positive traits in common. They can’t be avoided. But, they can be identified and used to our maximum advantage.

The first dysfunctional leadership trait is the compulsive personality. The compulsive personality likes order and systematization, leading them to be rigid. They tend to exercise control over all activities within their reach. If these traits aren’t enough to drive their coworkers to frustration, compulsives also tend to be perfectionists. When others don’t measure up to their high standards and exceptional performance, compulsive personalities can get angry and judgmental of others. They can’t understand why other people can’t be as driven to succeed as they are. Obviously, those other people need to be controlled. The positive side of the compulsive personality is that they will get a job done, and it will be done very well. A biblical example of the compulsive personality is Moses, who was both a judge and leader over Israel. It took the intervention of his father-in-law Jethro to relinquish control to other leaders. Compulsives need to recognize God’s control and trust him.

From Forbes.com

The second dysfunctional leadership style is narcissism While outwardly narcissists seem sure of themselves, inwardly they rage with feelings of inadequacy and a hunger for esteem. Their inner sense of dissatisfaction drives them with an intense ambition to succeed, leading them to downplay the accomplishments of others while overemphasizing their own. The narcissist likes to feel important and have the admiration of others. The positive side of the narcissistic personality is that their drivenness to feel good about themselves does help them accomplish many good things, even if it is at the expense of the feelings and good will of others. Solomon is a good example of a narcissistic personality in the Bible, especially seen in the self-promotion of his wealth and achievements in Ecclesiastes 2. Narcissism must be met with the realization that achievement will never satisfy the hunger of inadequacy. Only Christ can do that.

Paranoia is the third leadership trait. Paranoids feel insecure, and are constantly worried about being undermined by others. They overreact to the slightest criticism from even their own followers, fearing it is an effort to undermine their position. This leads them to being distrustful, suspicious and hostile toward others, while being guarded and hypersensitive as a defense mechanism. Because they feel others are out to get them, paranoids keep a close watch on others through a network of spies. Paranoids can use their network of allies to achieve good things, but their constant fear and suspicion often proves to be their own undoing. King Saul had the  support of his loyal follower, David, but his own paranoia undermined the relationship and led to his ultimate failure as a king. Trusting God for one’s reward, and learning to recognize, appreciate, and promote the achievements of others will help diffuse the paranoid spirit.

The fourth leadership style is codependency. Codependents like to please others, have a hard time saying no, and try to ease the pain of others. They work hard to keep peace, and will even take responsibility for the attitudes and actions of other people. Because they like to please, and hate to disappoint others, they have a high tolerance for bizarre behavior from family and friends. This means they can adapt to dysfunctional situations, like an alcoholic home. But, this is also problematic because it indicates codependents have poor boundaries. Because they want to avoid hurting feelings, they also tend to avoid confrontation. They do, however, like to mediate in the disagreements of others, especially if there is a positive outcome. Codependents are always willing to help others. This makes them sound like very nice people, and generally they are. But, they overextend themselves with commitments and helping, causing them to overload and then get angry that other people aren’t doing more. Codependents are good to have on a leadership team to help keep peace and to consider peoples’ feelings. But, they may not be the best leaders to get important things done because they are too busy worrying about what others will think or feel. Codependents need to give up several tendencies: feeling responsible for other people’s feelings and actions, trying to fix others, and keeping the peace. They need to allow other people to be responsible for themselves. Samson is one biblical example of a codependent personality. His inability to say no to his own impulses and his unhealthy relationships with women indicate a man with weak boundaries.

A passive-aggressive tendency of leaders is the fifth and final personality trait. Passive-aggressives resist change, procrastinate, dawdle, are forgetful and inefficient. One reason for this is their fear of failure. Interestingly, they also fear success, because they know that will create a higher level of expectation for their behavior. Passive-aggressives are prone to emotional outbursts, a pessimistic disposition, and complaining. Their coworkers are understandably edgy around them. Passive-aggressives don’t plan for the future, largely because their pessimistic tendencies lead them to think nothing is going to change, anyway. In a group setting, such as church or a business, they will resist putting new plans into effect, will complain that their leaders don’t support them, and they will even sabotage the plans of the group. To overcome their dysfunctional tendencies, passive-aggressives need to commit their emotional turmoil to God, and need to realize that a good plan is better than manipulative and emotional outbursts. The prophet Jonah’s resistance to God’s will for him, followed by remorse at his own success and anger at God, make him a good example of a passive-aggressive in the Bible.

Just reading, or listening to, this discussion of dysfunctional leadership styles is probably enough for most of us to realize which one or two of these categories we fit into. Hopefully, this discussion will alert us, even alarm us, about some of the negative tendencies we might have, but it should not overwhelm us with fear or regret. Everyone of us has both the negative and the positive attributes that go with any of these five leadership styles.

Compulsive and narcissistic personalities are well positioned to get tasks done, but they will start a lot of fires with people along the way. This is where the traits and skills of the codependent personality are valuable to soothe the hurt feelings of those bruised by the compulsives and narcissists. The lofty dreams and high aspirations of the compulsives and narcissists can be kept in check by the paranoids and passive-aggressives, who will see all the reasons why the high goals simply can not be reached. The concerns of the paranoids and passive-aggressives need to be considered because they will be the ones to spot potential problems but, leaders need to be careful to not be mired in their fear and inactivity. While compulsives and narcissists are the people to set and achieve new goals for their church or business, they need to be aware that just as important as the final achievement of the project is the process getting there. Are they developing their people along the way? Are they teaching, nurturing and inspiring capable people in the organization to take over the reins one day? Are they allowing for everyone to use their gifts? Everyone of these personality traits is necessary for the healthy functioning of the organization.


I got much of this information from Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), by Gary McIntosh and Samuel Rima, Sr. The authors provide a series of questions for readers to answer and identify their leadership style. They also provide a lengthy discussion about how to deal with the dysfunctions in our lives.

Every trait has its set of weaknesses and strengths, so don’t despair. Accentuate your strengths and work with God’s grace to minimize the effects of your weaknesses, and God will bless you with his power for today.

Warren Baldwin
Nov. 2014

Thursday

Forgiveness and Helping


Forgiveness and Helping

Gospel. Gospel means “good news.” In the New Testament it refers to the good news of Jesus Christ. In churches it often means a body of doctrine you must believe in order to be saved and to be in good standing.

Paul defines the gospel in Romans 15 as four items of first importance: Christ died for our sins, he was buried, he was raised after three days, and he appeared to the disciples. The point about Jesus appearing is critically important because it means too many people saw him to deny that his resurrection really happened. It is a fact.

It is because of the gospel - Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and appearance, that we have forgiveness of sins and fresh standing with God and the community. Paul said, “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you” (v.2). That is good news, good news because our lives need forgiveness and restoration to God.

There is a parable about forgiveness and restoration that we are all very familiar with. Luke 15 tells the story of a young man who left his father’s house to go party. Jesus said he squandered his wealth in wild living. His brother specifically mentioned prostitutes. What a waste of the family’s resources and his young life. What this young man committed was personal, rebellious sin. His chosen lifestyle was sin, and it was his fault. He needed the gospel: he needed forgiveness. That would be good news for him, to know that he was forgiven and reconciled to the important people in his life: his family. And, he was forgiven and restored. Gospel.

But, there is another parable in the New Testament with a different view of good news. If we sin and separate ourselves from God and others, good news means we are forgiven and restored to God and others. But, what if we are not the perpetrator of sin, but instead we are the victim of sin? What does good news mean to the victim of sin?

In Luke 10 we have the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this story a man is traveling when he is attacked by a violent gang, beaten, robbed, and left for dead. But, good news! Two preachers walk by. Surely they will help him. Ah, no, that doesn’t happen. Apparently they have some spiritual business to attend to and can’t spare the time, nor can they risk being ceremonially contaminated by the uncleanness of the poor victim. So, they pass by. But, another fellow happens by, a Samaritan. He cleanses the man’s wounds and takes him to a motel, paying all the expenses incurred. The Samaritan was the bearer of good news.

As in the story of the Prodigal Son, there is sin in the story of the Good Samaritan. In the first story, the one who committed sin needed forgiveness, and he received it. Good news. In the second story, the man who was beaten was the victim of someone else’s sin. He didn’t commit the sin, but he was damaged by it. It was not his fault. What did this poor man need? Not forgiveness, but help. He needed to be cleaned, bandaged, fed, and given a place to stay. That for him is good news, and God gave it all to him through the actions of the Samaritan.

Two gospel stories, two good news stories, one involving forgiveness, and one involving charity. The gospel involves both. On the one hand, the gospel is forgiveness. God forgives, and we must, too. We must forgive those God forgives. Further, we must be agents of God’s forgiveness. There is action - we preach and teach the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

On the other hand, the gospel is about helping. It is caring and ministry. This form of the gospel involves action as well, such as social engagement with other people, dispensing charity, mercy and justice as God reveals the need to us. We are agents of God’s charity.




For the gospel to be good news, it must touch people where their needs are. For some, those needs are the healing of the soul through forgiveness. For others, it is the healing of the body through food and compassionate care. Our role in the good news is to share with others what God reveals to us they need. (Idea from The Externally Focused Quest).

Warren Baldwin

Tuesday

Orphan Trains

 Orphan Trains

“Come on son, buck up and stop crying. We’re doing this for your own good. Is that your little sister? Ok, tell her to stop crying, too. We have a long trip and you are going to have to look after her.”

“Where are we going, sir?”

“You are going west, young man, you are going west. How old are you, anyway, son? Eight years old? Oh, you’ll do fine, you’ll do just fine. And your sister? Three years old? Well, you just watch out for her son, you hear? You watch out for your little sister now. She’s going to need you in the days ahead. Ok, buck up now. Stop your crying and whining. Wipe your face off. The train will be here soon and we have a long ride ahead of us.”


A conversation on this order was no doubt repeated thousands of times during the period from 1853 to 1929 when America was running the orphan trains from eastern cities to the prairie communities of the midwest. During these years there were hundreds of thousands of orphaned and abandoned children in America’s eastern cities. NYC alone had 30,000 “street children” in the 1850s. In an attempt to find decent homes for the children, the Children's Aid Society and the Catholic New York Foundling Hospital placed children on trains and sent them west. For some of the children it was a life-saving experience. For others, it was a nightmare.

Children could be as old as 18 or as young as 4. Some children got to travel in decent conditions; many traveled in cattle car conditions. Brothers and sisters often traveled together, only to be separated when they reached their destination if an adopting couple only wanted one child. Fortunate were the siblings whose prospective adoptive parents were moved by the tears of the siblings being separated and said, “Oh, ok, you can come, too.”

For John Green Brady and Andrew Burke, the orphan train experience was not so bad. Both were adopted by supportive families and eventually became governors, Brady of Alaska and Burke of North Dakota. But, many other children found endless work, abusive parents, and a life of crime. Some abolitionists saw the orphan train as a form of child slavery. Pro-slavery advocates argued that the orphan trains provided forced child-labor and undermined slavery.


No doubt the founders of the orphan trains meant the best for the children. They hoped that life on farms in the Dakotas, Kansas, Wyoming and numerous other states would be healthy for their bodies and spirits. Charles Loring Brace, founder of the Children’s Aid Society, wrote, "In every American community, especially in a Western one, there are many spare places at the table of life. They have enough for themselves and the stranger too."


 Herman Clarke, a minister, was a tireless worker on behalf of the children during his many years in the employ of the Aid Society. He received up to 2,000 letters a year from the orphans who loved and trusted him. Today, those letters provided invaluable information about the orphan train movement of 1853 to 1929.

Numerous sources are available for those who would like to read more. Christina Baker Kline has a novel entitled Orphan Train. You might want to read Andrea Warren’s Orphan Train Rider: One Boy’s True Story. There are more. And, you might be interested to know there is a National Orphan Train Museum and Research Center in Concordia, Kansas.


Orphan Trains. Thanks to my friend Perry Rubart for making me aware of this generally unknown subject. Whether good or bad, orphan trains were America’s response to a crisis situation for children. I hope the orphans, at least most of them, were treated well. I hope God was pleased. And I hope we’ll always have a godly heart for children.

Warren Baldwin

Friday

Compassion vs. Commitment

Compassion vs. Commitment

When people tell church consultant Kennon Callahan, “What we need (in the church) is people with more commitment,” he has a standard response ready. “Good friend, you have just taught me that you are a longtime Christian.” (Kennon Callahan, Twelve Keys to an Effective Church, 27).

Dr. Callahan’s response is not a put down, but an observation. He says the early motivations that lead people to investigate a church are compassion, community and hope. Compassion is sharing, caring, giving, loving and serving. Community is good fun, good times, belonging and a sense of family. Hope is confidence and assurance in the grace of God (21). People are looking for the kindness of compassion, the sense of belonging in community, and the assurance of hope, and they are hoping to find that in a church.


Photo from Ironbuilt.com 

Nearly everyone who walks into a church building is hoping that the people there will greet them with these three incredibly important attitudes: compassion, community and hope.

But, what are they often greeted with? Challenge, reasonability and commitment. Challenge is accomplishment, achievement and attainment. Reasonability is analysis, logic and good sense. Commitment is duty, vow, obligation and loyalty (21). These three attitudes are generally what church leaders are looking for in members. They want them to live up the challenge of Christian living, to understand with their heads the reasonableness of the Christian story, and to be loyal and committed to the church. These are attitudes are every bit as important as the three attitudes seekers bring to church with them, but it is not what they are looking for. They are looking for compassion, community and hope.

That is why Kennon Callahan responds to the statement, “What we need (in the church) is people with more commitment,” with “Good friend, you have just taught me that you are a longtime Christian.” What he means is, “You have been in the church for a long, long time. You came seeking compassion, community and hope, and you found it. So, you stayed here a long time. You lived up to the challenge of Christian living, you studied the scriptures for a long time and accept the reasonability of faith and knowledge, and you grew committed to the Lord and the church. But, you have been a church member for so long you have forgotten what it is to be someone who lacks all this, and is looking for it. In time people can accept the challenge, reasonability and commitment. Right now what they need from you, church leader, is compassion, community, and hope. Love and accept them, no matter where they are in life. Can you do that? If you can, they will put down roots because this place will feel like home, and they will feel they belong.” (Twelve Keys to an Effective Church Study Guide, 25)]

Well-intentioned church leaders know the importance of living up to the challenges of the Christian life, studying to understand the scriptures, and commitment to life and work in the church. They have worked at this for years. But, in the process, they may have forgotten what it is to be a beginner. A seeker. Someone who senses something is missing in their life so they go to church hoping to find it there. What drives them to that first visit, what Callahan calls motivational resources, are a yearning for compassion, community and hope. What they are greeted with is the set of motivational resources leaders rely upon: challenge, reasonability, and commitment. The result is a motivational gap, with the seeker often leaving, despairing of ever finding what he needs in church.

If you ever find yourself saying of your congregation, “What we need is more commitment,” catch yourself and rephrase your statement to, “What we need is more compassion.” Show enough compassion, grace, love, community, forgiveness, hope, and encouragement over time, and you won’t have to beg or cajole people into being commitment. Commitment will grow gradually and naturally as the person realizes their church is home, they put down roots, and they assume their place in the family.

How does your church offer compassion, community and hope to both members and visitors?

Warren Baldwin

Monday

You’ll Enjoy Reading If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name

You’ll Enjoy Reading If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name

“Looking at all the people at Matt Bell’s funeral was close to an out-of-body experience for me. I remained in my seat, but I felt as if I were high on the wall. I could see everyone clearly that way, and how we all fit together and how tightly we were all holding on to one another with otherwise invisible ropes. In school the children learn drownproofing skills ... (they) learn that the best way to survive if your skiff capsizes and sinks is to link arms in a circle and hold on tight. That’s what we were doing for the Bells that day.”

These words were written by Heather Lende in her book, If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name (p. 215). Heather is the obituary writer for her local newspaper. The title of Heather’s book leapt up at me from the shelf in our local library. “Read me,” it exclaimed.


Sometimes I read a book and say, “I can write one like that.” And I did, once. Other times I read a book and say, “I can’t write one like that.” Heather’s book falls into the second category. With such a book all you can do is read it and thank God there is someone who can put your feelings to words better than you can.

I’ve been in the situation Heather describes about young Matt Bell’s funeral. Eleven-year old Luke, a drowning victim in Cody, who gave his life trying to save another swimmer. Cole, also age eleven, who died in a car wreck. Five hundred people celebrated his life at his funeral, one of the hardest I ever performed. When it was over all I wanted was to go home so I could cry without anyone seeing me. There is a precious young child whose loving mother shares her ongoing conversation with her daughter on FB for family and friends to share in. And we will still remember Julia, Tori, Myranda, and Veronika, four high school sophomores we lost a few years ago.

In each of these and numerous other funerals I have attended or performed for young people and children, we were holding on to each other with invisible ropes, trying desperately to communicate love and support to families we love. We were consoling ourselves, too.

Since If You Lived Here was written by an obituary columnist there are, as you might expect, a number of stories about death and dying. They are not morbid. They are sensitively written and touch numerous fibers of your being: hope, sadness, laughter, grieving, purpose. You will do a lot of smiling and laughing as you journey through the book.

Lende says of her work,

    “I love what I do. Being an obituary writer means I think a lot about loss, but more about love. Writing the obituaries of so many people I’ve known makes me acutely aware of death, but in a good way ...

    My job helps me appreciate cookouts on clear summer evenings down on the beach, where friends lounge on driftwood seats and we eat salmon and salads by the fire while our children play a game of ball ... Most of all, though, writing about the dead helps me celebrate the living - my neighbors, friends, husband, and five children - and this place, which some would say is on the edge of no where, but for me is the center of everywhere.” (pp.8-9)

“This place” is Haines, AK, located about 75 miles north of Juneau, population 2,400. This little town is now high on my places to visit. I was privileged to speak in Anchorage two years ago, and will be in Homer in 2016. Maybe on that trip I’ll be able to visit Haines and pick up a signed copy of one of Heather’s newer books at the Babbling Book Store. Hope so.

Lende is right that she writes about love. She loves her town, her family, and the people she writes about. Writing obituaries isn’t a job for her; it is a spiritual service. And because it is, the author weaves spiritual reflection throughout, causing you to pause, ponder, and find some meaning in your own experiences. This isn’t the kind of book I can write, but it is a book I’m glad someone else wrote for me to read. I encourage you to read it, too.

Warren Baldwin