Monday, August 24, 2009

Tornadoes and Minnesota part 1

Last night after Veeka fell asleep, I walked out to see a blanket of stars over the lake. I never get to see the Milky Way like this, near as we are to the Big City.
But this week we are away from the maddening crowd in the Minnesota north woods. How did we get here? Well, last week I was sent on a business trip to cover the biennial convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. As it turned out, it was a good call because they ended up making ecclesiastical history in that they are now the largest American Christian denomination to accept gay clergy. Which is what they voted to do plus a few other things this past week. You can read the walk-up to the event here, and and follow-up here and some of the react here and here and here. It was one highly interesting event to cover because of a tornado that bore down upon the gathering on Wednesday afternoon that some saw as a warning from the Almidghty to not proceed along the path the ELCA seemed to be going. My blog on this highly interesting event (nothing like having a tornado heading towards you) is at the end of this post.
Anyway, my cousins who live in town were super-helpful in arranging care for Veeka while I was covering all this. After dinner one night with the Weispfennings (related to my late cousin Anne) who live on a lovely bluff overlooking downtown St. Paul (or is it Minneapolis?), I got lots of help from Allison (actually my first cousin once removed as she's the eldest daughter of my cousin Faith) who has kids Veeka's age. So Veeka stayed at the daycare next door to Faith and Allison and husband Jon (shown with Veeka in one of the photos) picked up Veeka in the afternoon so she could play with her second cousins once removed: Charlie, Lucy and Cassie until Mommy got home from covering the ELCA. It sounds complicated but it all worked out quite well.
Finally on Saturday morning we were free to depart and head 200 miles northwest of Minneapolis to a lodge I'd found on the Internet on Leech Lake which has turned out to be a world Veeka's never encountered. Yesterday she touched her first fish and a little girl (who was equipped with a Barbie doll fishing rod) showed Veeka how to cast for fish. She's also seen cattails (none of those in Maryland) and experienced bonfires and tasted marshmallows. She's learned to say "Minnesota" and is reading a little paperback I bought her on Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox (might as well inculcate her in the local culture. After all, her grandfather is from these parts).
Stayed tuned for more Lessons in the Wilderness. Attached is another photo from our visit to the Mall of America and the interesting creature we met there. And below is my WTimes post on the tornado:

It was just before 2 p.m. when someone rushed into the press room and told us to vacate the place fast. A tornado had touched down close by, we were told, and it was heading our way. We were covering the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's churchwide assembly in Minneapolis. The police wanted us all in a safe place away from the glass windows that encase the huge Minneapolis Convention Center.
So everyone rushed into the main hall to join some 1,045 voting members who were listening to a Bible on the prodigal son being given by Luther Seminary Old Testament professor Diane Jacobson. As she continued speaking, a palpable blanket of fear descended on the entire group as the doors to the outside hallways were shut, enclosing us in the giant room which apparently was the safest place to be in the case of a tornado. Worse, we could hear the winds howling outside. I thought of my rental car parked nearby and hoped it'd stay in one piece. It also did not help the general atmosphere that the air conditioning was set on minus 2.
And a tornado *was* headed our way. Just after 2 p.m., the twister knocked the cross off the steeple of Central Lutheran Church just across the street from the convention center. I walked outside afterwards to look at it and the steel cross was dangling high up in the air.
During the storm, ELCA President Mark Hanson read outloud the 121st Psalm to us to calm everyone down.
"We trust the weather is not a commentar on our work," said the Rev. Steven Loy, chairman of an ad hoc committee on a controversial statement on human sexuality that was on the floor that afternoon. The statement, which seems to open the door to greater acceptance of homosexual practice, passed by an exact two-thirds vote a few hours later. One or two votes less would have killed it. There was quite a gasp when we saw the results.
Later some of us were discussing in the press room whether the Almighty had sent a tornado to send the Lutherans a message. After all, one of the reporters said, the ELCA endured an electrical storm during one of their previous conventions - where human sexuality was also on the table - in Orlando.
And if God was speaking, was anyone listening?
- Julia Duin, religion editor

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