Tag Archives: church

We Expect Visitors


Last night Mac and I decided to take today off from paddling for the first time since our daytrip to Hibbing on 9 August, which Mac wrote about here. We’ve been alternating paddling ever since Richard left for the Twin Cities, and we’re getting too fast for our own good! Not really, but since we’ve kind of fallen in love with Little Falls, despite the gaping lack of a proper internet cafe, it seemed like a cool thing to spend the day here, an actual day off.

Since it’s Sunday, I wanted to find a church for my weekly immersion in community life. After the not-really-Lutheran church the first week, I’ve been to a very friendly Methodist church in Deer River, and a (real) Lutheran church in Palisade, where they had a really touching baptism the Sunday I was there. I considered going for a Catholic mass this week, but the church had giant pro-life billboards out front, which seemed a bit much, and I do feel uncomfortable about the whole communion question in a Catholic church. I thought Lutheran might be interesting given this week’s decision about gay and lesbian clergy. But then we passed an Episcopal church that had a sign saying ”We Expect Visitors,” so we had to go there. I’m really glad for that: the parishioners take rightful pride in their beautiful windows and sanctuary, they had a real pipe organ and good music, and the priest and all the parishioners were very warm and down to earth. The gospel reading had that excellent moment where Jesus tells the apostles they can leave if they want, and Peter says, sort of plaintively to my ear, “Where would we go?” Like if he could think of something better than following this crazy guy around, he would do it in a heartbeat.

One stained-glass window depicted Bishop Whipple, who famously went to Washington to talk Lincoln out of killing 264 of the 303 Native people who were convicted of murder in the 1862 uprising. The window had a crest at the top that had a tomahawk and a peace pipe crossed underneath the Christian cross; our host thought that maybe that’s the crest for the Episcopal mission to the Native peoples.

Afterwards we headed to the grocery store where we found real Greek yogurt, yay! So we bought a bunch of berries to go with the yogurt and ran square into Tony, who had stopped us the first time on the steps of the library Friday afternoon to expostulate about how cool our kayak was and ask about our journey. (Tony is the third schoolteacher I’ve met so far on these travels, and I’ve decided schoolteachers are just the best ever. Perhaps it’s because they have to deal with meeting and engaging with a whole bunch of really idiosyncratic new people every year (I think kids are just more individual than grownups most of the time: they haven’t yet had their edges trimmed to fit…) Anyway, it was excellent to meet up with Tony again in the grocery store, shopping with his wife on a Sunday afternoon. (Can I admit I also like that? just the idea of having the sort of calm and orderly life where the husband and wife go to the grocery store together once a week to stock up. Imagine!)

Anyway, so we headed off to the park with the nun-tended virgin pines that I so enjoyed yesterday, and we arrive and the Baptists are having their annual picnic, but that’s cool, we can share, so we’ve been spending the afternoon hanging out reading and listening to music, and suddenly there’s Karen! This is the woman Mac met Friday morning on the steps of the library, and we met her again yesterday and she told us about these cross rocks at Blanchard Dam, and then here she is at the park! Okay, this is really small-town life, no?! Three times in three days!

Another nice thing about Little Falls is that people really work on their houses: there’s a True Value in basically every mall in town, and I can see how they all stay in business! The picture above is just an example, a house right across the street from the library.

Anyway, in the park I read some more Schoolcraft and here are a couple of favorite additional facts he relates about the Ojibwe language:

Verbs, in the Chippewa, must agree in number and tense with the noun. They must also agree in gender, that is, verbs animate must have nouns animate. They must also have animate pronouns and animate adjectives. Vitality, or the want of vitality, seems to be the distinction which the inventors of the language seized upon to set up the great rules of its syntax. [Ch XVII]

Doesn’t that make WAY more sense as the core category? Life/non-life is kind of a more important distinction than male/female, after all! Similarly, the third person singular, ween, is used for both he and she: maybe we should take it up in English to solve that dumb problem in our language once and for all!

touch beautiful places


It rained pretty seriously last night, and I woke up before six and set up in the convenient shelter Palisade’s town park offers its users and read some more of this really curious and interesting book, Ojibwe Singers: Hymns, Grief, and a Native American Culture in Motion, by Michael D. McNally. I found it in the giftshop at Itasca State Park visitor center, next to all the tourist stuff – go figure! Anyway, the book is about what the Ojibwe people have made of the Protestant hymns taught them by Christian missionaries. The book’s claim is that a specifically Ojibwe method of singing these hymns — in unison, very slowly and solemnly, usually at wakes or funerals — came into being, and is quite separate from the ordinary hymn-singing that happened under the supervision of the missionaries on Sunday mornings in church.

Hymns were among the first texts that got translated from English into Ojibwe, starting sometime in the late 1820s, but because various concepts central to Christian theology (e.g. sin, salvation, grace) just simply aren’t directly translatable into Ojibwe, one can imagine that the Ojibwe texts are not terribly literal embodiments of Wesley and Watts.

Here, for example, is my favorite re-translation of the Ojibwe in the book. First, the original stanza, from Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove (Isaac Watts), #510 in the 1982 Episcopal Hymnal, for those of you following along at home:

And shall we, Lord, for ever be
In this poor dying state?
Our love so faint, so cold to thee,
And thine to us so great?

And here is Larry Cloud Morgan’s re-translation of the 1910 Ojibwe version of the hymn.

As we are thinking,
As we sing,
Our prayers
Touch beautiful places in us.

The Ojibwe version may not have a whole lot to do with Isaac Watts, but it’s definitely taking me someplace I want to go!

hotel Bibles and turtle muck

Today I was scheduled for a driving day, so Richard set off from Wanagan’s Landing in the kayak, Mac on the bike to meet him at the next overpass, and I headed out to the local church for morning service. Because I’m looking to meet people in the various communities we’re passing through, I thought going to whatever local church seems promising every Sunday might be a good way to enter in to a local experience. Jonathan Raban stopped at bars in the towns he passed through, and of course ended up with a pretty depressing view of American life. not being much of a bar type myself, I figure churches might serve a similar function in terms of allowing me to interact easily with strangers, but perhaps somewhat less depressing. we’ll see!

so I arrived at the sort of Lutheran church just in time for the service: a congregation of about 25, all the men wearing checked shirts, seems to be a uniform, the women wearing hopeful summer sandals (it’s about 60 and raining.) the pastor is a supply priest (probably there’s a different name for it) from the local non-denominational evangelical college, and there is a guest speaker/guitar-player, Tim, a Gideon volunteer. Tim looks like a middle-aged version of the young Elvis (i.e. not like the actual middle-aged Elvis) and has brought his wife and two tow-headed children. he plays a song about how God made the tree that got turned into the cross, and the hill that was Calvary, and then he does a spiel about the importance of placing Bibles in hotel rooms, and tells a story about the daughter of a Hindu priest secretly converting due to a Gideon Bible, then being swept away in a flood, having left a note in her Bible that causes her parents, including her Hindu priest father to convert to Christianity. trouble is, this same story slightly transposed to Japan, where the young girl dies in a plane wreck, is printed in the pamphlet he hands out to all of us. did this same story coincidentally happen to both the Indian and the Japanese teenage girls? are all foreign heathens the same and the details unimportant? it is not clear to me.

the text was Jonah 2, and that was kind of great: the shroud of seaweed is instantly recognizable to me as the turtle muck that I just paddled through yesterday. and the organist was utterly dear, she must have been eighty, with a fabulously idiosyncratic sense of rhythm that was almost a species of swing, and Thelonious Monk-ish clusters to go along with it, and thrilling control of the volume pedal on her electronic organ.

at coffee hour the people were friendly if a bit wary. I don’t think they get visitors very often, and it took them a bit to warm up, they were far more NewEnglandish than my Vermont church congregation had been the first time I went there.

I headed out to the highway bridge to meet up with Mac and wait for Richard, who we soon realized was quite overdue. eventually a guy drove up to tell us Richard had gotten balled up in the swamp and turned around and was back at the previous bridge. so Mac and I headed there to find a pretty bedraggled Richard, and Mac decided to try the same patch of swamp, and eventually he got through, pretty bedraggled as well, and I felt really bad that both of them had a kind of rough start to their river kayaking. Mac continued on to the next campsite, Coffee Pot Landing it’s called, and I set up the tent in the rain, and we decided to head to Bemidji for dinner instead of cooking in camp, ’cause everyone was tired and wet and cold. Applebee’s never tasted so good!

got back to camp in time for a really gorgeous sunset: a red molten sun collapsing into the clouds. really hoping that red sun at night is indeed the sailor’s delight!