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The Servant Role

I have often quoted Orville Sherman, Timbercrest’s first administrator and the visionary who brought Timbercrest from the Mexico Home in 1968. Orville said frequently that “Timbercrest is the church in its servant role.”

As we enter yet another month of the pandemic (six now), the hubbub about all the “health care heroes” has waned. The signs have faded. The emotion has turned to burnout. Many good women and men have left health care fields for less stressful and less frustrating situations.

The truth is that you can’t do what we’ve been doing for the last six months if you’re a hero. It can only work if you’re a servant.

Only a servant can set aside their own feelings and do their best to cheer up a nursing home resident who’s been cooped up in their rooms (by the ISDH) for months.

Only a servant can continue to take overtime hours to help with one more meal, one more activity, one more visit, one more ADL.

Only a servant can see the big picture – that their risk in the pandemic is of less importance than the men and women we serve. 

There is no glory in all of this. People are getting very sick – and thank the Lord, nearly all of them are recovering. But walking with them is a selfless act done by the health care servants in long-term care, in hospitals, in clinics, in emergency rooms… you name it.

The ones who are in it for glory are already gone. It is up to the servants to continue bearing the load. Trudging on faithfully. 

Because serving older adults – no matter where – is being the church in its servant role.

Eleven Reasons I Could Not Be President


Since everyone has been asking, I thought I would address this issue head-on:

“No. I will not seek, nor will I accept, my party’s nomination for President of the United States.”

There. “But, why not?” you ask. Here are eleven reasons:

  1. I would move the capital from Washington, D.C., and turn Washington into a monument city. I have two ideas. One is that I would move the capital to a central location in the U.S., like St. Louis, or a suburb. The other idea is that I would “rotate” the capital around. Each year, a city would have an opportunity to host the Congress, Supreme Court, and Executive Branch. We’d have a central base-operation (like St. Louis), but in this electronic age, there’s no reason the federal government couldn’t be made more accessible to the people (who are actually the government).
  2. I would strip the federal government down to only constitutional responsibilities: if it’s not in the U.S. Constitution, the federal government would not do it. Period. State and local governments would be empowered to do what the Constitution asks them to do.
  3. I would transfer significant power back to the states. There was a time when someone identified more with their state than with the U.S. We still see vestiges of this, I think, in the loyalty fostered by state universities and locally-based sports teams. I believe people are most loyal to places and people with whom they have a shared experience. This is why people feel disconnected to the federal government – and, maybe, more importantly, why the federal government is dysfunctionally detached from people outside the “beltway.”
  4. I could not, and would not, lead federal troops into war. I am an unashamed and unapologetic pacifist. The president is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. It simply wouldn’t work.
  5. I would work diligently for a Constitutional amendment limiting terms of senators and representatives. To be consistent, I would only do this via a Constitutional amendment. At the same time, the founders did not want a permanent, professional government – a “House of Lords.” The vision was for a government of the people, by the people (I know, Lincoln said it, not Washington). But we have created two Houses of Lords, a ruling elite. It’s time for that to go.
  6. I would make proceedings of the Supreme Court completely public including television other openness measures. There is no good reason that the public doesn’t have access to the proceedings of the Supreme Court. A little light shed in the court might eliminate some of the darkness that goes on there.
  7. I would return the State of the Union address to a written document delivered to congress not a nationally televised speech. This is how it used to be. No pontificating president, thumping his chest for a national audience. Simply a report on how things are going. The Constitution requires it, but it does not require the showmanship and bravado that has become the State of the Union.
  8. I would reset and restrict the use of Executive Orders to only things required for administering the Executive Branch. There would no longer be any Executive Orders impacting anything to do in the states. I would rescind all Presidential Executive Orders made by presidents before my term. The president executes the law, he does not make the law. (Except I might issue an executive order allowing people to go anywhere they want to barefoot, but it wouldn’t be consistent with anything else I’m saying, so I probably wouldn’t. 🙂 )
  9. I would eliminate all trappings of a monarchial president: no ceremonial flags, no ritual dinners, no palaces (like the White House) for presidents to live in, etc. I would eliminate most housing benefits for Senators and Representatives, requiring them to live in such housing like the mean standard of living of the average American (in the new capital city). They can keep a private home in their own district, but while they’re doing the peoples’ work, they should live like “the people.”
  10. Special honors given to individuals by the president would no longer be given. They would be made by the Congress and made by a representative vote of the Congress. The executive is not a monarch, bestowing honors and titles and other beneficences on his subjects. While these honors have merit, and many of the honorees to this point are certainly deserving, is it really the role of the president to do this? Aren’t we just a step away from dubbing people into an artificial construct like knighthood? Wouldn’t an honor given on behalf of the people be more suitable?
  11. Trade agreements internationally would be made by individual states not by the federal government. The only free trade agreement states would be obligated to participate in are those that regulate interstate trade in the Constitution. The economic welfare of the states would be dependent of their participation in the international economy on their own. This would foster greater independence on the part of the states and it would create greater need for local business, education, and trades institutions to step up to the plate.

This is why I could not be president.



Time for Politics

barefoot boy

I am not supposed to talk about politics at work. It’s against the rules in a retirement community setting, which is a good thing. Timbercrest is home for 300 people and I know I wouldn’t like it if a bunch of people were politicking in my home.

I also don’t talk about politics from the pulpit. I think few things are less appropriate. The Church is comprised of conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, but we are the Church because of Jesus Christ, not political views. There are precious few enough hours in a year to preach the Gospel and teach disciples. Politics in Church is casting pearls before swine.

But I get asked all the time about my political views. What to do?

My first response is that I am a convinced, conservative Libertarian. By that I mean that I believe in as little federal and state government as possible. I am on the conservative side of Libertarianism. I don’t think the government or its agencies should tell people whether or not they can wear shoes in stores and restaurants (which they don’t, but that’s for another time).

A Timbercrest resident asked me (in front of an entire group of residents) if I’m not scared to death about whether or not Donald Trump will be elected.

I said “No.” Here’s why: I believe the U.S. Constitution is a solid document. I’m not afraid of anyone who’s elected. There are people with whom I disagree, but I’ve been voting for president since 1976 and everyone elected is subject to the Constitution, people I’ve agreed with and people I’ve disagreed with. The checks and balances of the Constitution are strong, whether or not the Supreme Court is held by liberals or conservatives, whether or not the Congress is Republican or Democrat, and no matter who lives in that piece of government housing we call the White House.

Donald Trump – or Donald Duck – would be subject to the Constitution, no matter how hard he, or anyone else, would want to try otherwise. It has been the same for Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama. They’ve all tried to weasel their way into more power and they’ve all been held back by the Constitution. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Another resident asked me (also in front of an entire group of residents), “Why don’t you like Hillary?”

My response was weak: I said, “I don’t like any of them.” I think the people running for president now are not at all what I look for in a president. About Hillary: It’s not that I don’t like Hillary. She is highly qualified to be president. She has already lived in the White House, she has served time in the Senate, she was Secretary of State. I just don’t trust her. I feel like she’s always talking down to her audiences. I don’t think she means what she says. I think she seems plastic and phony.

I think we got a glimpse of the “real” Hillary when she angrily snapped at the Bernie Sanders voter a few weeks ago. She is repressed in her anger at life in general and I think it shows all over the place, and I don’t like it. I think she would be unpleasant to have at the dinner table and that is one of my criteria for determining a candidate (unlike Bill, whom I think would be a blast.)

I also don’t support Hillary because I don’t think “dynastic politics” are the American Way. I felt that way when George W. ran in 2000. We already had a wealthy Bush under Reagan and in the White House. I was especially against Jeb! for the same reason. The patriots in 1775 rose up against having a political class. Having the same old saws from the same old aristocratic families can only lead to trouble. It’s not just true for the Executive branch: there are too many long-term, worn-out, government welfare check Senators and Representatives. And although the Constitution holds that Supreme Court justices are appointed for life, it seems like they ought to have the decency to retire in a timely fashion.

A government of the people (Lincoln’s words, not the Constitution) ought to have an influx “of the people.” Term limits aren’t in the Constitution, but I think they’re a good idea. And I think someone in Washington (or Indianapolis) who has the best interest of the people in mind, should have the moral fortitude to say, “You know what, I’ve been here 12 years… time to let some fresh blood in.” It works well for both major political parties. New Democrats enliven that side of the aisle as much as new Republicans do their own.

At Hardee’s, another regular asked me (in front of a bunch of other regulars, while I was wearing a Timbercrest sweater-vest), “You’re a pastor… why aren’t you for Cruz?” Hoo-boy… Why do some people think that all Christians, or all pastors, think the same way? Christianity isn’t about stated political beliefs. Christianity is about Jesus Christ. There isn’t really a “Christian” candidate unless the candidate himself or herself is Christian. And I’m not the one to judge that.

What do I want in a presidential candidate?

Here are “Brian’s Five Qualifications for A President,” in no particular order:

First, I want someone who would be comfortable coming to my house for a game of euchre and hamburgers on the grill. I want someone who would show me pictures of their grandchildren or who would change the toilet paper roll if they were the last to use it. I want someone who would like my posts of Facebook or share a meme they thought was funny.

Second, I want someone who would refuse the salary and benefits package. If it is truly “public service,” let them serve. If there were to be a salary, I think it should be the same as the average working American, about $52,000 a year. And like any other job, the benefits should end when the job ends.

Third, I want someone who has not been in government before. I am not convinced that the presidency is any more difficult than what I do every day – there’s just a lot more responsibility. A president needs to know how to make decisions, manage people, and get things done, something most Americans do every day. It doesn’t take a lawyer or former Congressman or other professional government hack to do the job. In fact, I think that the way things have been run by lawyers, former Congressmen, and other government hacks for the last 75 years has left us with a system that is broken and, perhaps, beyond repair.

Fourth, I think the President should be someone of faith. A person of faith understands life in a bigger sense: that God matters and His will and way are good and right. A person of faith would not think they have all the answers, but would look to God, who does. A person of faith would understand the importance of quiet time in the morning, worship in Church on Sundays, and reading the Bible regularly. I think those practices would shape a president’s priorities: He would care more about the poor than the wealthy profiteers. He would want to feed and clothe to hungry and naked rather than bowing to the fashionistas and celebrities. He would seek justice for the oppressed, rather propping up oppressive regimes and institutions. Those are things that are motivated by faith, not a political agenda.

Finally, the President should be someone who understands that his days are numbered: A four year term is only 1460 days. What is realistic to do in 1460 days? The Constitution spells it out: be commander in chief of the armed services, make appointments for the cabinet and Supreme Court, give a report on the state of the Union to Congress every year. That seems like enough. And if they do that well, they should get another 1460 days to do it all again.

As a barefoot man, I hope I haven’t stepped on anyone’s toes, because I certainly don’t want to have mine stepped on. Let me know what you think in the comments below.





Thank You Macy’s

Last summer, I had an unfortunate encounter with Macy’s Department Store in Glenbrook Mall, Fort Wayne. I was asked to leave the store for being barefoot.

I stewed over the matter for several months and finally wrote a letter to Customer Service, both at Macy’s headquarters and at their Glenbrook store last November.

Here is an excerpt from my letter to them:

“… When I was there in June, a staff member began yelling at me that I needed to have shoes on. She was 30 feet away from me when she began yelling; I was near the cosmetics counter, near the escalators. She yelled loud enough that it drew the attention of the clerks, other customers, and passers-through. When she got close to me I asked her quietly, “Are you yelling at me?” She continued to yell that I needed to get out of the store. I told her that I was on my way to the escalator to leave the store anyhow… There are no signs on the door of Macy’s indicating that shoes are required, even though there are many notices for many things on the doors.”

Last week, I got a very good letter back from Peter Deutsch of Macy’s Corporate Customer Service Department. He said that Macy’s has no corporate policy regarding footwear in their stores and that his research found that the local (Glenbrook) store has no such policy, either. He said I was welcome to shop there without shoes any time.

I felt that it was very important to share this “Thank You.” I have been asked to leave several businesses over the years because I was barefoot: Walmart in Wabash and Huntington, CVS in Wabash, Cracker Barrel in Marion, the Blue Bird Café in Laketon and Great Clips in Wabash. (At Cracker Barrel, I went to the car and got flip-flops, and returned – like flip-flops make a big difference from being barefoot. At Great Clips, I was already in the chair. I left and went to Fiesta, where they finished my haircut and said nothing about me being barefoot.)

Once I was confronted about being barefoot at Jefferson Pointe in Fort Wayne – an outdoor mall. I had flip-flops with me that I showed the security guard, who reluctantly let me “proceed.” I walked away thinking, “Where better to be barefoot than outdoors?”

It is always embarrassing to be asked to leave. Always. I have gotten much better about not going to stores that have a footwear requirement; I also do my best to respect the rules of those stores that have a footwear rule posted when I have to go in them. I wear flip-flops in those stores – again, because they are so much better than being barefoot.

Mr. Deutsch’s letter’s approach was mature, respectful, kind and thoughtful. I wasn’t addressed as a kook or fanatic; there was no condescension. He took the time to investigate and respond without finger-wagging or falsehood. As I said, it was a very good letter. I greatly appreciate it.

There have been some businesses that have never had an issue with my being barefoot: Nordmann’s Nook, One World Handicrafts, Cottage Creations, La Regional (Mexican store), Strauss-Peabody Aquatic and Fitness Center (except Fitness Center), the Post Office, Batteries Plus, the AT&T Store, Center Court Barber Shop, Andy’s Barber Shop, the North Manchester Public Library, and, of course, Church. Both Hire’s Gifts and the Studio are now closed, but they were also okay with my barefooting. In general, I have found North Manchester to be pretty-much barefoot friendly, which I really like.

Todd’s Corner in Roann has a ‘no shoes-no service’ sign. I asked Todd about that, because I had been going in there for years barefoot. He said, “It doesn’t apply to you.” So I go there when I need to, but I would more often if the sign were taken down.

(I should note that I always wear my sandals – not flip flops – when I am representing my employer in a public situation. This was by their request and I respect that.)

I have digressed. I close by emphasizing again how much I appreciate the thoughtful and well-written response I received from Macy’s. Thank you.

See my post from 2012, “How to Handle a Barefoot Customer” to see how other retailers and restaurants ought to treat barefoot buyers…


My Informal Social Experiment

On November 3, I went to work in my favorite pair of cargo pants. They are darkish-green, with the obligatory cargo pockets on the sides and a checked pattern woven into the fabric.

I wore those same pants to work every day until December 3. (Yes, they were washed regularly.)

These sorts of little things amuse me. I grinned uncontrollably every day as I put those pants on. I walked through Timbercrest every day wondering who would be the first person to say to me, “Didn’t you wear those pants yesterday?”

Even Karen didn’t notice… she has assured me since that she will be paying better attention from now on.

“Why do this?” you may wonder.

I had three main results I was looking for:

1) Would anyone notice?

2) If they did notice, would anyone say anything to me?

3) On an even playing field with an optimistic outlook, working hard and well, and otherwise having a decent demeanor, does out outward appearance really matter all that much?

I often find myself doing this very thing: I get a little catty when someone is a little disheveled. I look askance at the woman still wearing clothes from the 80’s. I sometimes worry what people will think when I dress like “Christopher Robin” (which happens to be a look I enjoy).

Keep in mind, I work in a retirement community that is very, very nice. The people who live there wear nice clothes (not too formal, but nice). The staff only wear jeans on paydays, every other Thursday. Otherwise, there are uniformed departments and the other departments have a dress code. To a significant degree, appearance matters.

Also keep in mind that I spend very much of my time barefoot. Almost always when I’m not at work and usually in my office, summer and winter, rain and snow. I am used to people making remarks to me all the time about being barefoot… “Aren’t you cold?” or “How can you do that?” or “Shouldn’t you have shoes on in here?”

So, first, did anyone notice? When I announced on Facebook on December 3 that I had been conducting a “secret but very public social experiment at work;” several friends speculated as to what I had done. Only one got it spot on: Carrie Vineyard. When I talked to her about it, she said, “I was wondering the other day if Brian had any other pants.” Otherwise, no one else noticed.

This is directly connected to my second question: “If someone noticed, would they say anything to me?” The answer, apparently, is “No.” There are 310 people who live where I work and 200 employees. Almost every day, I go to several places related to my work: the grocery, the library, Manchester University, etc. No one said a thing.

There were some “retro” notices when I told some people… “Oh, yeah, I thought about that,” and such like. Sorry. That doesn’t count.

Some might say, “Well, you’re in management, how could we say something?” If you knew the employees in my department, you’d know they don’t hold back. Also, anyone who has worked with nurses or older adults knows that the connection between an opinion and the mouth is a short one… if they notice, they say it.

So my final question, “On an even playing field with an optimistic outlook, working hard and well, and otherwise having a decent demeanor, does out outward appearance really matter all that much?”

My conclusion, drawn from this non-scientific experiment, is what I suspected: No. Outward appearance doesn’t matter as much as anyone thinks. There are plenty of people who go to work in $500 suits who are negative and grumpy. There are plenty of people in the latest fashion trend who are ineffectual or marginal in their performance. I know people who look great but they are really a drag to be around.

This gets to the root of a lot of issues in life. People are too often judged by how they look rather than by who they are. This is unfortunate. It is also too familiar to almost anyone:

– The older person who has lost their false teeth and won’t see anyone until she does

– The teenager who dreads the day because of acne and withdraws from his friends until it clears up

– The woman whose hair is responding poorly to the humidity and takes it out on the waitress at lunch

– The man who pulls in his gut when a young woman approaches think it will make a better impression

… and on, and on, and on.

When I go barefoot into a store most people don’t say a word. However, I can tell right off when I see a clerk or another customer who is begging to say something. It doesn’t seem to matter that I am generally in good humor, or that I’m in a nice shirt and pants, or that I’m there to spend money, or that I may even know half the people in the store. I’ve been judged for how I look – barefoot – rather than who I am or what I am there for.

It’s not enough to say “Everyone does it” or “There has to be ‘professionalism'” or other such: When we judge by outward appearance we fail to see the bigger picture.

For example, we may be put off by the clerk with a conspicuous piercing – and I’ve witnessed people make remarks to people like this – but we fail to see that this person may be working two or more low-wage jobs to pay child support or to afford tuition or medical bills.

Or maybe we judge the overweight woman at Walmart for her tight clothes or awkwardly exposed skin without seeing that she’s being abused at home or has a child in jail or is simply very lonely and can only seem to find comfort in food.

Worse yet, maybe we determine that those fine looking people in smart suits or fashionable dresses are nothing to worry about only to learn that these are the people who working to tear down historic buildings or suing the schools for having a Christmas party or what-have-you. It is truly a lie that “clothes make the man.”

If someone has an optimistic outlook, does it matter if they’re wearing shoes or not?

If someone is working hard and well, does it matter if their clothes are stylish?

If someone has a decent demeanor, wouldn’t we rather deal with them than with someone with good looks and critical?

My conclusions are this (and I am not exempting myself from this):

* Try to see a fellow human being as they are, not as they appear.

* If you (or I) have an issue with what someone is wearing, try to see beyond that – what is their appearance communicating?

* Examine yourself (or myself): why is their appearance bothering you (or me)? Is it more to do with my own prejudice than with who that other person is?

Thanks for sharing this little social experiment with me. It was fun 🙂


Elmer Steffen: How You See It…


I eavesdrop too much.

Today I walked in to a room as two men began a conversation. Introducing each other, the one man thought the other might work with the first man’s wife.

No, he stated. He works in a plant of a similar name and nature, but, he explained, the wife works in the tool and die shop; he, the second man, works in the foundry.

Ah, said the second man.

Then he said what piqued my interest.

“We’ve only lived here a short time. But I can tell you there’s a lot of drugs on this town.”

He looked up at me, standing at the other side of the room.

He waffled.

“I don’t know if there’s any cops here,” he hedged, “But I just know there’s a lot of drugs.”

The other man agreed.

“Pills. All kinds of pills.”

On a cue from the first man, he added, “as I’ve heard…”

Being the only other person present, I thought myself to be the suspected cop. I stood silently, awaiting my turn to order.

The conversation diffused quickly and as went our separate ways ways. I thought that things really are as we see them.

I have worked in North Manchester for 16 years. I can think of 100 first impressions I have of the town that have nothing to do with drugs. Victorian homes. Amazing downtown architecture. Intelligent community. Great schools. Friendly. Artsy. Cultured in a small town way. Urban (I live in a town of 399 souls).

Drugs wouldn’t ever cross my mind (other than the kind you get at CVS).

How we approach life is the real difference as to how we see things, isn’t it? I suppose if the cop-fearing man had an interest in the finer things life has to offer, he wouldn’t have had his first impression that the town is full of drugs.

And I’m not saying that the victim of my eavesdropping is a druggie of any sort.

There’s a story that makes my point. It was told to me years ago by the late Elmer Steffen. Elmer was a volunteer in his Church and community many years ago. He told the story this way:

A boy moved to a new town from across the state. He approached his new neighbor who was out sitting on the porch.

“Sir,” the boy asked, “I’m new here. What kind of kids live in this town?”

The man answered, “Well, what kind of kids live in the town you came from?”

“Well, they were mean and you couldn’t trust them. We had bullies and all kinds of trouble. Kids never dressed well or took care of their things.”

The man answered the boy, “We have exactly those kinds of kids in this town.”

The boy went away sad.

It turns out that the man had new neighbors on the other side also, and the boy next door came to see the man on his porch, just like the first boy did.

The second boy also asked the man, “What kind of kids live in this town?”

And the man asked the second boy the same question, “What kind of kids live in your old town?”

“We had great friends! We had lots of fun playing together and helping each other out at school. It was so much fun to share things and spend time together.”

The man answered the second boy, “We have exactly those kinds of kids in this town.”

In my experience with people, I’ve come to believe the wisdom of Elmer’s tale.

We see life and live life according to our perspectives. I know people on their death beds who are more concerned for their family and friends than they are for their own impending departure. And I know people – many younger than me – who simply think they have no reason or purpose in life.

I don’t recommend dosing the water with Pollyanna or fitting everyone with rose-colored glasses, but I do recommend that everyone take stock of the good things they have and work from that perspective.

Things like drug problems or other ills won’t go away simply by thinking optimistically; at the same time, a positive outlook puts those problems in perspective. The problems don’t run our lives – we run them and deal with the problems as they come.

Thanks Elmer for this great lesson.

Ten Things I’ve Learned from Anna Karenina

1) Leo Tolstoy portrays the peasants as barefoot on a regular basis. (This isn’t the most important point, but this is a barefoot blog, so I thought I’d get it out of the way first.) In the picture above, Tolstoy himself is barefoot. I don’t know if this is out of self-identification with the peasants – which would be his style – or out of his mixed spirituality – a blend of Orthodoxy, Deism, and non-Orthodox beliefs of 19th century Russia – or if he simply liked living barefoot, too.
2) I don’t like Anna. She is a spoiled prima-donna. Maybe I’m just not getting it, but she is unfaithful to her husband (20 years her senior, a wealthy statesman, the father of her son – whom she loves – and he has been a faithful, dutiful man, if not very romantic). Anna finds the man of her dreams (Vronsky) who is handsome, young, smart, and well-heeled. And yet, it isn’t good enough. She leaves her husband, son, and family for Vronsky and yet, she wants more. Nothing is good enough. After she has her daughter (by Vronsky), she’s unhappy with everything. She acts like a spoiled brat and it doesn’t resonate with me. She becomes a morphine addict and the young woman with everything to live for throws it all away under the carriage of a train.
3) Infidelity has always been around. I didn’t really learn this from Anna Karenina, but it always surprises me when someone breaks their wedding vows. (Yes, always.) I have often had this idea that until the “sexual revolution” of the 1960’s, most people were pretty staid and confined (if unhappy) about marriage and faithfulness. But it appears that marriage vows seemed to mean little in old Russia (except to the peasants, as Tolstoy points out) as much as in the rest of the world.
4) Doubt, though strong, is not sin. When Levin goes to confession before his wedding, he goes as an unbeliever – a non-believer, as Tolstoy puts it. He confesses his doubts to the priest and yet the priest tells him, “Everyone doubts, tell me your real sins” (my paraphrase). Tolstoy, through the priest, recognizes the humanity of doubt… we want God, but it is our human nature to doubt. God invites us to doubt. Through our own questions, doubts and seeking, we find God.
5) Royalty is a sham. Anytime anyone thinks they are somehow privileged simply by their birth they are grossly delusional. Tolstoy’s treatment of the petty-nobility of Russia spoke to me. Snobbery, indifference to the plight of the peasants, and a fixation on things that don’t matter (fashion, china patterns, who’s whom at the ball, etc.) are characteristic of “royals” – to paraphrase Tolstoy again, “who needs it?”
6) There is nothing like a good day’s work outdoors. Tolstoy’s depiction of Levin’s work with his bailiff and crew on the harvest is nothing short of genius. The sense of fulfillment and pride Levin experiences in his work with them – the sweat, the exercise, the camaraderie – are brilliantly portrayed by Tolstoy.
7) Country mouse vs. City mouse has always been a thing. Again, I thought that  the rural-urban divide of life began with the urbanization of the world during the Industrial Revolution and was accelerated by the changes in life created by the Great Depression and the rise of “agribusiness.” Not so, in Anna Karenina. I am definitely a “country mouse” and maybe that’s why I related much better to Levin than to other characters of the book. I like the practical, pragmatic way. I love the beauty of the countryside. I like the rural rhythm of life. I am glad that Levin’s wife and son become “country mice” rather than vice versa. There are times when the city is a necessary evil – like Levin’s dreaded trips to Moscow – but country is where there is peace and real living.
8) The Church must go beyond the institution of itself. This isn’t a lesson I’ve learned anew, but it is a lesson I’m glad to have had re-affirmed. Repeatedly, the institutional Orthodox Church of the novel is (justifiably) depicted as aloof and insensitive to the non-nobility citizens of Russia. And repeatedly, Tolstoy depicts through Levin’s conversion and conversations with God, that faith is present when we least expect it and usually outside the formal walls of Christendom.
9) A novel is still not my favorite form of literature. I prefer non-fiction. I have enjoyed Anna Karenina, but I’m also looking forward to reading something more solid and factual.
10) The “book is better than the movie” is still true. I haven’t seen the 2012 film version (with Kiera Knightly), but I don’t think I want to. I have seen Vivien Leigh’s portrayal (1946) and I would like to see Greta Garbo’s if I can find it. Vivien Leigh’s was good, but there was so much omitted – if I hadn’t read the book, I wouldn’t know what was happening. The 2012 edition I’ve only seen in previews. Just seeing the previous I can tell that eroticism has replaced nuance, that flagrant sexuality has replaced the subtleties of real romance, and that the producers were more interested in telling a skewed version of Anna’s story – the beleaguered, spoiled, adulteress who is somehow justified in her infidelity – rather than the full story of family, the strength of good relationships, and the tragedy of losing all in a futile attempt to please everyone.
Finally, I wish there were a way to get back to a way of life more like Tolstoy depicts here: where people read books, write letters, interact, and work hard.

The Woman Who Got Me Going Barefoot


Today is a sad day for me. Nedra Hawkins died this afternoon. Nedra was a person I really cared for a lot just for who she was. She was someone I especially appreciated because she is the person who told me to go barefoot – and that has changed me forever.

Ten years ago I was dealing with hip bursitis something fierce. I tried insoles, I tried new shoes. I tried pain medicine.

I went to the doctor because I thought I had broken my hip. He x-rayed me and said there was nothing wrong. He gave me a cortisone shot and sent me on my way. Two weeks later, the pain was back as bad as ever… they wouldn’t give me another shot.

I was walking with a cane… my daughter was on a mission in the Caribbean in January and brought me a beautiful, carved cane that I cherish.

That’s when Nedra came along.

Nedra (right) with her daughter, Julie.

Nedra and her late husband, Glenn, operated a Health Food Store in Fort Wayne for a long time. While in that business, Nedra learned about the benefits of Reflexology. She began to practice it and had quite a large clientele.

After Nedra and Glenn moved to Timbercrest, she continued her reflexology practice with others who live at Timbercrest. I went to her a number of times.

If was on one of those visits that I was telling Nedra about the difficulty with my hips. She listened closely and attentively. After she got done with my reflexology treatment, she said to me simply (and straightforwardly):

“You should try going barefoot for a few days.”

You have to understand that I’m not a big fan of bare feet (ironic, isn’t it?). When she told me that, I sloughed it off a little but. I had all the usual prejudices people have about bare feet: they’re dirty, offensive, rude, slovenly and more than a little hillbilly-ish. It was okay for kids, but I was 45 years old (at the time) and it certainly wasn’t a fitting thing for a middle-age man to do.

But when I got home, I took my shoes off and didn’t put them on the rest of the weekend.

By Sunday, the pain was gone.

I was flabbergasted. The pain was gone. No meds, no insoles, no cane.

I began reading a lot about going barefoot and found that many people were in the same boat – they found their health and posture to have improved considerably by such a simple and harmless action as going barefoot.

By that summer, I was dedicated to going barefoot all the time – as much as I could. I did and I do.

I wear sandals or slides at work, that I can get out of easily. I wear my sandals a little at Church, but most of the time not, and the people of the Church love me in spite of it (I love them, too, by the way). Otherwise, my shoes stay in the car. I wear flip flops in stores that are ignorant enough to have a “no shoes” policy (foolishness) and I wear my sandals when I am representing my company in the community.

Honestly, I don’t understand why people wear shoes at all. In most cultures, all around the world, there is a strong heritage of going shoeless. Last week I officiated a funeral of one of our Church members. (I wear regular shoes for funerals and weddings.) It was wonderful to bless her family and to commend Marcille into God’s hands, but I couldn’t wait to get those shoes off! 🙂

I will miss Nedra a great deal. She had some significant health issues in the last few years of her life, but she never failed to be encouraging and witty. She had a deep faith and a personal peace that “passeth all understanding.” She loved to sing the old hymns and was a woman of prayer.

She and I would talk about her time “doing feet” as she called it and I often told her about how important her advice had been to me.

I will keep her family in my prayers this week as they mourn. May she rest in well-deserved peace.





Timbercrest and Roann

If you’re a history nut, you may enjoy a few thoughts here about our little town of Roann and the place I work, Timbercrest, in North Manchester.

The connections of Roann and Timbercrest actually pre-date Timbercrest. They go back to the days when Timbercrest was located in Mexico, Indiana, and it was called The Old Folks and Orphans Home of the Church of the Brethren (or, more fondly, The Mexico Home).

Today, Timbercrest is in North Manchester, Indiana, having moved with 37 residents of the Mexico Home. And Roann is situated about half-way between the two.

Many leaders of the Roann Community have lived at TImbercrest over the years.

– Dale Kinzie, who lived in a delightful brick and gingerbread home on Church Street, called TImbercrest home for a number of years.

– Carl and Gretchen Pence lived at Timbercrest. Back when Roann had a “drug store,” Carl ran it. He had family in the Roann years for many years. Carl recalled playing basketball for Roann High School back when the old school stood where the Bryan Apartments are now and the teams played ball in the old Unitarian-Universalist Church. Carl said they played with a modified court and the only room for spectators was when people could look in the windows from the outside.

– Lloyd Miller had a locker plant where the Roann Fire Station now stands. For many years, Lloyd was active in the Roann First Brethren Church, but he grew up north of town. One of my favorite pictures is of Lloyd as a 5 year-old boy fording a team of oxen across the Eel River near the Covered Bridge.

– Gretchen DuBois still lives at Timbercrest. She and her husband, John, used to own the gas station that stood where the access to the “new bridge” is. She and her husband built the house that still stands on that corner, from scratch. Gretchen found Roann to be a place of healing. As a young bride, she lost her first husband in World War II. She and her new husband found great friends and a good place for their children in Roann.

– June Wolfe is the widow of the legendary pastor of the Roann Church of the Brethren, Claude Wolfe. Claude worked at Manchester College. June was a character in her own right, though, using her gifts of great love and service in the Roann Church and community. She remained a member of the Roann Church of the Brethren all her life.

– Katherine Carr always considered Roann home, even though she and the family farm south and east of town.

– Phyllis LIttle and Mary Miller hail from Roann. They still live at Timbercrest in the Neighborhood Homes.

– According to orphanage records, several families from the Roann area helped with orphans and the orphanage before that ministry closed in the mid-1900’s.

People are the main (but not the only) connection of Roann and Timbercrest.

Back after World War II, someone in the Roann Church of the Brethren got the idea of going to the Mexico Home each year for Christmas to help decorate. And they’ve been doing it ever since. Even as Timbercrest has grown – 37 opened Timbercrest, 310 live there now – a team of diligent women from Roann have come to decorate trees, hang garland, assist residents with their won décor, and just to bring the spirit and joy of Christmas. Today, that legacy has been taken up by the Walk By Faith Community Church, with the same spirit and joy of Christmas.

In addition to that, Roann Church of the Brethren women made countless noodles to help fund projects at Timbercrest. And Walk By Faith Church women still come for birthday dinners and other events on campus.

Back when there was an orphanage, quite a few children came from the Roann, Chili, and Denver area and several families from Paw Paw Township helped house orphans. This part of the Mexico Home closed long before there was a “Timbercrest,” yet their heritage is in common with Timbercrest today.

I’d love to hear more stories of connections of Timbercrest and Mexico Home to the Roann Community. If you have a story, please send it along to me at  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Thanks!

What A Great Barefoot Winter!


Pictured above is me on Mar. 12, 2014, after we got yet another blast of snow. I had just walked through the ploughed snow from my car on my way to the door at work (note my sandals in my left hand).

I can’t deny the fact that I love going barefoot in the cold and snow. I’m going to try and explain why in this little post.

This was a great winter to be barefoot. Much of the time it was so freezing that the snow was light and powdery, soft to the touch and easy to get through. It was also easy to shovel, except for the fact that it was often windy and  blew some of the snow right back to wear it had been cleared.

It was a great winter to be barefoot because the very cold (often sub-zero) temps meant less chemical ice-melt used. It is really ineffective to use when the temps are below 15, so lots of places didn’t seem to use as much. Regular rock salt is tough to deal with, but it’s bearable and I like it when it’s mixed with sand or cinders. But to me, going barefoot through those chemicals is worse than going through the ice and snow. If you see me in flip-flops in winter, it’s more likely the chemicals than the cold!

It was a great winter to be barefoot because of “warming.” I don’t know what the technical term is, but when you come in from a super-cold day, the process of the warmth returning to your feet feels almost hot… like a “super warming” effect. There were lots of opportunities for this during this past winter.

It was a great winter to be barefoot because people seemed to be so pre-occupied with their own issues with the chill that they didn’t bother me. A few people stared, but most people were shaking in their parkas and not caring about the barefoot guy walking near them.

It was a great winter to be barefoot because it challenged me to think about why I do this. Living a barefoot life is a personal choice. I do it for my health – and my hip – and because I love the connexion with nature and life. I like the spiritual sense of walking with God and the mindfulness of the present moment being barefoot brings. I empathize with those who are poor in the cold… I am not poor, thankfully, and I need to be intentional about understanding those who God loves most: those who have no heat, who have to sleep outdoors in the winter, and many others who experience the freeze through no choice of their own. Being barefoot helps me empathize with them.

It was a great winter to be barefoot because this was a great winter. Have we ever had a winter this long before? From the week after Thanksgiving it hasn’t let up until late last week – and we still have piles and piles of snow everywhere that may take through April to melt. It’s a winter like no other and we’ll be talking about it 30 years from now, just like we still talk about that Blizzard of ’78. And I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren, “I went barefoot through it every day!”

There are those in the barefoot sub-culture who refer to going barefoot in the winter as “Snowfooting.” I like the term. Here are a few thoughts on that:

1) Just like going barefoot the whole rest of the year, going barefoot in the snow and cold is a sensory rush. People ask me all the time, “Aren’t your feet cold?” Yes, often, but the challenge and the rush (I can’t think of a better word) is amazing.

2) There is a unique sense of feeling the snow melt against your warm skin. On the soles, it’s a functionary thing, treading to go and not slip. On the tops of the feet and toes, it’s a mixed message. The cold can be brutal on less-used skin, like the tops and toes, but it’s also physically amazing to see what your skin can withstand.

3) Frostbite, well, maybe. I’ve never had a confirmed case, although this winter I may have had a touch of it. If it is what I thought, then it’s really not so bad. I wouldn’t want to lose a toe to it, mind you, but in general it was no worse than a sun burn (and peeling after).

4) In that string of super cold, sub-zero days in January, I was forced to wear boots (!?!?) for the first time in nine years. I hope it’s another nine years before I have to wear them again. But it did remind me that being smart in the cold is important, too.

This was a great winter to be barefoot 🙂 and there are still four days left ’til Spring! 🙂