The Case for Quiet

I recently returned to the United States from a long trip across Denmark and Norway. I returned to a lot of noise, both in the news and in life. I won’t rehash the noise in the news, but the life noise involves a new house, starting a PhD program, and an irregular sort of pastoral call.

And in travelling across Denmark and Norway, I realized that I like quiet. I like woodworking and cooking and translating Homer and fly-fishing and all sorts of things that don’t involve being talked at. And yet, here I am talking at people in my own little corner of the internet.

Even more than that, being in Scandinavia and being in distant not only spatially, but temporally from the United States, I realized how much noise there was from everyone else talking at people in their own little corners of the internet. And despite the fact that at times I can be a hyper-competitive person, I realized that I no longer want to compete to be heard (read?). I’m done contributing to the white noise of the unfiltered internet. That’s not quite true. I enjoy instagramming and occasionally saying sardonic things on twitter. But, I’m done devoting time and energy to the process of writing for this blog. And that’s because I realized that I need time and energy to devote to other things: to translating Plutarch and pastoral visitation and hunting ruffed grouse.

And so, with that, I bid adieu to my work here at Trout and Cast Iron. I’ll save some of the things I’ve written, and others, I’ll let go. It’s been a fun two year run, though I’m not sure I’m any nearer to my goal of learning to write “one true sentence.” Tight lines, folks. kdc

Learning to Laugh from Luther

This little essay first appeared as the 2nd place essay in the 2016 Gritsch Writing Contest:

In a sense, crisis consumes every moment in the life of those who belong to the Christian church.  Between Jesus Christ’s resurrection and His coming again in glory, our Lord continually calls us and we must respond.  But, we also live within the World and within history, and so, different moments in history present unique opportunities for us as church people to respond to the call of Jesus Christ.  As church demographics dance and politics continue to divide, we who reside in the United States find ourselves at a crisis point.  And while many potential points lie before us, all of the paths involve the same basic decision: will we take ourselves seriously or will we live with humor?

     The path of taking ourselves seriously and of getting down to the hard work of living out the gospel is a well-trod path.  It is a path that church people in the United States have trod for much of our history.  On this path, we must hear the words of the Gospel and renounce!  We must discard our possessions, work for our neighbor and bring about the kingdom of God.  When we take ourselves seriously, we work for our neighbor to “help and befriend him in every bodily need”1  and to “help him improve and protect his property and business.”2  This well-trod path of the American church is a path of great results. It is the path of Martin Luther King, Jr. marching on Washington, Desmond Tutu resisting Apartheid.  However, it is also a dangerous path.  It is a dangerous path because taking ourselves seriously can quickly become taking ourselves too seriously.  If we walk the well-trod path without a keen knowledge of our pride and sin, we will walk straight past the narrow gate.  Distracted by our burdens, we may forget why we walk and for whom we walk.

          Path number two, on the other hand, is a path that few in the United States have dared to wander down, because it is not a serious, hard-working path. Path number two is the path of humor and irony. It is a path that grabs hold of “the biblical sense of life as a mean meantime before the Last Day.”Even more, it Is a path that realizes that “a Christian man is righteous and a sinner at the same time, holy and profane, an enemy of God and a child of God.”If we church people wander down this path, we will, perhaps for the first time, be able to look at the works of our hands and laugh. We will laugh because we realize that all of our hard work, all of our striving has been at cross-purposes both with God and with ourselves. We will laugh because we will realize how ridiculous it is that Jesus Christ saved us miserable sinners. We will laugh because we will realize that when we thought we were striding triumphantly forward, we were hopping the wrong way with our shoes tied together.  The humorous path is the path of the church people who understand the irony that when the church thinks it is doing its best work, it often forgets its Lord.

     The humorous path is a path of humility, of joy, but it’s also a frightening path. It’s a frightening path because when you walk on it, you look at yourself and realize that your life and work does not look holy. You realize that your life and your work looks comical and normal, and you worry that God will not accept it. 

However,  as faithful Christians on this path, we can “smile about adversaries”And “laugh at them because the anticipated joy of a future without sin, evil, and Death outweighs all earthly anxiety.”5  In short, the paths that stand before the Churches are the paths that stand before each individual Christian.  As church people wandering in the ways of our Lord Jesus Christ, we live our days in tension. It is the tension of walking in the light of the cross and in the humor of the human condition.  Above all, it is the freedom of walking as a redeemed child of God.5

Martin Luther, “The Small Catechism”, on Book Of Concord: The Confessions Of The Lutheran Church accessed 10/9/2016
3 Eric W. Gritsch, The Wit Of Martin Luther (Minneapolis, Augsburg Fortress 2006), 77.
4 Martin Luther, Lectures On Galatians 1535: Chapters 1-4 (Saint Louis:: Concordia Publishing House, 1963), 232.
 5 Gritsch, 77.

The Parable of the Fisheries Manager

There was once a young fisheries manager in charge of a pristine trout stream high in the Sierra Nevada. Well, almost pristine. You see, the stream, though pretty in appearance, contained nothing but stunted, invasive brook trout. And so, the fishery manager decided to improve things. He obtained a batch of native California golden trout and dumped them in the stream. Later in the year, when he surveyed the fish population, not a single golden trout remained. The stunted brook trout had out-competed and starved them all to death. He tried again, this time with more fish, planted in multiple locations. Again, the stunted brook trout ate them out of house and home. He tried a third time. This time, he embarked on a comprehensive program of habitat improvement beforehand and selected the finest golden trout he could find. But once again, the brook trout out-competed them and the golden trout didn’t survive.

Camping 070

At his wit’s end, he called the senior fisheries manager from two drainages over. “You silly goose,” said the senior fisheries manager. “You forgot to kill the stunted brook trout first. It’s rule number one of good preaching.”

“Good preaching, sir?” the young fisheries manager replied.

“Did I say preaching? Excuse me, I meant good native trout restoration. Now go get some rotenone and remove the idolatrous misconceptions of those stunted brook trout.”

The young fisheries manager decided not to question the idolatry of brook trout and went out to do as he was told. Let the one who has ears to hear, listen! The End.

Through the Bible in One Year (Days 186-276)

Now that July 4th has come and gone, we’re now more than halfway through the Bible. Here in installment 3, we’ll finish off the Psalms, read some Wisdom literature and almost make it through the end of Old Testament. (If you’d like to start your year of Bible reading tomorrow, see here for the first 90 days).

The Whole Bible in One Year (Days 186-276)

Scrubbing a Cast Iron Pan

One of the wonderful things about a cast iron pan is that it doesn’t go bad. It may sit, unused, accumulating rust for months. But all it needs is a good scrub with steel wool, a thick layer of crisco and 4 hours in a 200 degree oven and it’s ready for action again. Likewise, I’ve got the steel wool out, I’ve rolled up my sleeves, and I’ll be getting medium-rare steaks out of this blog in no time.

For those of you who are still chugging along on reading the Bible in one year, fear not. I know that June 29th is the 180th day of the year. The beauty of doing 90 day chunks in a 365 day year, is that I have a five day safety net to roll out the second half. Keep watching, days 181-270 will be here soon. Until then, tight lines!

A Gonzo Preaching Mini-Manifesto

During my time as an undergraduate at St. Olaf College, while I struggled to figure out Lutheran preaching, I had a friend refer to Law/Gospel sermons as “Gonzo Preaching.” Now that I am older and more wise to the ways of the world, I realize that he was probably making a reference to Hunter S. Thompson and his concept of subjective, gonzo journalism. At the time, though, I thought it was reference to Gonzo, the Muppet.


Though I confess that Gonzo confuses me (what is he? a weevil?), I find him an apt patron saint for Law/Gospel preaching. What you may ask, could a species-confused Muppet have to do with Christian preaching?

Well, he’s ridiculous. And so is Law/Gospel preaching. It is not sensible; as St. Paul once put it, “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to gentiles. To paraphrase the late Gil Scott Heron, “Gonzo preaching does not go better with coke. Gonzo preaching does not fight the germs that cause bad breath.” In a world obsessed with action, Gonzo preaching maintains that God in Jesus Christ does all the work.

Against the trumpet calling all culture and social justice warriors to battle, Gonzo preaching says hang on a moment. Within even the most noble goal can lie the snare of self-justification. God’s work, our hands and our work, our hands resemble one another too closely for this preacher’s comfort. Rather, the mantra of the Gonzo preacher is “Christ’s work, Christ’s nail scarred hands, Christ’s body and blood for you.”

He’s an peculiar mascot, this blue Muppet. But he’s a fitting mascot for the peculiar job to which God has called his preachers.


Through the Bible in 1 Year (Days 91-180)

Today is the 31st of March, which means it’s day #90 of 2017. If you’ve been diligent, it means that you’re right in the midst of the trials and travails of Saul and (not-yet) King David. It also means that it’s time for the second installment of the Bible in 1 year reading schedule. Keep at it folks. This one will take us through the halfway point of the Bible, which happens to land smack dab in the middle of the Psalms. (If you’d like to start your year of Bible reading tomorrow, see here for the first 90 days).

The Whole Bible in One Year (Days 91-180)