The Spent Dandelion Theological Retreat Center and Truth Mattering
Dear followers of OMG,
I am writing a bit of an odd, and in many ways unfortunate, post, but one that has within it truly good news to share.
The good news is that on Monday, the Lake County Planning and Zoning Commission approved my request to create the Spent Dandelion Theological Retreat Center at my home in Two Harbors, MN!
I am so thrilled to be able to steward this beautiful place for others to come for quiet and rest and, of course, theological study and conversation.
My hopes are to get it up and running so that I can welcome people to come and stay in mid-to-late Spring, and when we are officially ready, I will be sure and post the news here!
Although the website is not yet ready, please feel free to look at, and even better yet like, and best of all share to encourage others to like the Spent Dandelion on FB https://m.facebook.com/SpentDandelion/ and Twitter @SpentDandelion.
That said, unfortunately, significant misinformation and, in fact, lies are being spread about my intentions for this place, and about me.
To that end, I wrote the below posts for FB.
However, since many people seem to be looking at my OMG blog, it seems prudent to post an entry with the clarifications here as well.
It is discouraging, to say the least, to be the recipient of false accusations. The spirit that drives and is evident in them is even more discouraging, not to mention frightening.
However, I hope and trust that truth will out, and to that end, I offer the following rebuttals to the claims, along with the points in the broadcast where the initial mistruths were said.
Peace to you.
(Posted on Dec. 20th, 2016)
So, it’s a bit of a hard post to know how to write best.
Perhaps the first thing is to thank you for your support and curiosity about the approval process for the Spent Dandelion! It was, indeed, approved last night, for which I am incredibly grateful. I am so eager to create a quiet space for people to come and think, and write, and read, and visit about their faith, their theology, and the way these can be stewarded to serve and reflect the reign of God.
As excited as I am about being granted permission for this vision, I’m not sure that that is the most important thing that happened last night.
At the hearing, I learned that yesterday morning, someone had called into a local radio show, named me, and alerted the area that at last night’s 7:00 p.m. hearing, I was applying for a permit to create housing–a “group home”–on my property for 30 Somali refugees. People should show up at the meeting in Two Harbors, it was urged, and show that they don’t want people like that in our community. The radio host called the idea “insane” and said that all Somalis want to do is create a “Little Somalia.” Look, he said, at all of the terrible things they have done in Minnesota.
All of this, naturally, was news to me: the details of the call only became clear to me when this morning I found the recording online. You can hear the exchange on the link below, at about the 50:16 mark.
Apparently the Planning and Zoning Committee had received two calls of grave concern about my intentions, and it was because of these raised concerns that I was asked by the commission whether, indeed, these allegations were true.
I was stunned.
I confessed that I was conflicted about how to answer that accusation, for there were two elements to it.
First, I said, I have never thought, not even once, about building housing for 30 Somali refugees (or, for that matter, 30 Norwegians).
It was an absolute lie that was concocted for reasons unknown to me. There was no truth in it whatsoever.
Second, however, I also said this: I am a Christian. As such, I welcome all people to my home. How could I not? Welcome and hospitality are essential to who we are as Christian people. Particularly in this season, when we Christians celebrate the birth of a Savior who himself was a refugee, I wanted to make it publicly clear that all are welcome, regardless of whether this permit was approved or not. I was not before the Commission to apply for a permit for Christian hospitality, but rather a permit for theological retreat center.
I am grateful for several things:
1) I am grateful for the Planning and Zoning Commission who were neither swayed by the fear nor moved by this and other lies and baseless rumors that my application for a theological retreat center mysteriously generated.
2) I am grateful for the friends who showed up and not only defended me, but were courageous to refute other untruths that surfaced at the hearing.
3) I am grateful that such sort of fear-mongering and untruth-telling is not by any means the norm in these parts. My family and I have otherwise experienced amazing welcome and hospitality. Our experience of this place and the people who live here has been nothing but delightful and warm, and the beauty of the North Shore is simply unparalleled.
But I will not deny that last night shook me–and my father and 13-year old daughter who were in attendance.
It was distressing, for I am completely baffled as to the origin of the vitriol: those who know me know that I am truly quiet, I mostly read and write a lot, and I like drinking coffee, and at the end of the day enjoy a glass of red blend wine and/or an occasional Manhattan.
And it was distressing, for given the tenor of the day, that my name is now publicly associated with a false claim of harboring Somali refugees who themselves are unfairly mass-stereotyped as terrorists, I now have reasons to be concerned about retributions.
Suddenly I am aware not only of my own privilege in a new way, but the vulnerability of those who do not have it.
But it was most of all distressing, for the resort to racism and religious bigotry came easily and freely, and was easily and freely believed and spread.
Let me be clear, then, right from the start, about what my intentions are for the Spent Dandelion, intentions that are not only in keeping with my consistently expressed vision to friends and family and those who know me through my work as a pastor and theologian, but also with my application to the Planning and Zoning Commission:
The Spent Dandelion will be a place of retreat for 4-6 people. Not only can my property not hold any more people, I have no desire for more people to stay than that. I want to provide a quiet place for conversation and study and restoration.
The Spent Dandelion will welcome all people. I am a Christian, which means that I welcome not only Christians, but all people, for all people are God’s people…and of course this includes those who spoke and acted against me and my hopes for this place.
The Spent Dandelion will welcome all people, but it will not welcome racism, bigotry, lies, and general mean-spiritedness. Where it is expressed, I will continue to strive to name it and denounce it in the same spirit as Brother Amos did, and as Jesus calls us to do, and do as equally as we are called to welcome the stranger.
The Spent Dandelion will hope to offer an oasis for people to retreat from pressures, recover from stresses, and gain perspective not least of all about the sort of cultural and communal spirit that generates such anger and malignant falsehoods, so that returning, one has theological and personal clarity, calm, and courage to enter the fray of life again.
With that, now, regrettably but necessarily said, with the approval in hand, please know how excited I am to begin the final necessary preparations to welcome people to this place I already hold so dear, but now to do so by way of the Spent Dandelion Theological Retreat Center.
(Posted on Dec. 21)
It seems, unfortunately, that another post is necessary to set some significant matters straight about the Spent Dandelion Retreat Center.
To be honest, it is difficult for me to know whether addressing these allegations is wiser than ignoring them, but I have decided to err on the side of publicly correcting the misinformation that is being disseminated, all the more critical because as of yesterday’s 710 AM Sound-Off Radio show, in addition to more baseless rumors, my children’s names are now publicly associated with the lies.
That, for the record, is beyond unacceptable.
At 12:20 in the link below at the very bottom, you can begin to hear the latest coverage of the matter.
Right off the bat, my denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) was brought into the fray, with the question raised about the point at which the ELCA will come in and take control of the Spent Dandelion to make a half-way house for immigrants.
It would and could do so, it was stated, because housing refugees is part of the ELCA Mission Statement.
That is not true on several levels.
First, by reading the ELCA Mission Statement here https://www.elca.org/en/About/Mission, you can see that housing refugees is not mentioned in it.
That said, we as a denomination do have a commitment to stand with the refugees. Our eloquent and, these days, courageous statement about immigration can be found here: http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/ImmigrationSM.pdf?_ga=1.85472925.541496699.1452747836, and our fine work with the esteemed Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service can be found here: http://lirs.org/
I am proud to be a member of a denomination that is dedicated to welcoming the foreigner, as the long history of Scripture and our faith compels, and indeed commands, us to do.
Second, although many bishops I know have joked (and -only- joked!) about how they might -wish- that they have power to come in and take over a congregation or a ministry, they don’t.
Third, this truth is all the more the case in my situation, since my ministry is my very home.
Several callers, including one in this segment, indicated that I was “shut down” from large events, that I had to agree to having only six people, and that I was allowed to only have six vehicles.
Also not true: the basic information is, but the way it was construed was not.
As pictures of my application in the comment section show (I’m afraid that I had to take two photos, as I only had a computer copy of them at my immediate hand: the originals can be easily found at the Planning and Zoning Office), my initial application states very clearly that from the beginning I believed that only six people could stay here comfortably, and even then only if they knew and liked each other well!
In other words, the number of retreaters was not forced upon me, but rather was offered up by me in the very initial application.
You will also see on the pictures enclosed that I state that large gatherings would not only be very rare, but non-raucous. I state clearly that we do not like crowds or noise–in fact, that is precisely why, even though the suggestion for quiet hours was initially mistakenly suggested to be 7 p.m. until 10 a.m. (the person just accidentally flipped the times, which are typically 10 a.m. until 7 a.m.), I whole-heartedly agreed to these times, mistaken suggestion though they were.
I also make it clear on the application that on those rare occasions of a large gathering, a shuttle would be necessary, for I had no ample parking.
I also said that I had no interest in my hopes for the Spent Dandelion to be dashed because I, probably prematurely, had suggested that maybe, perhaps, on a rare rare occasion the Spent Dandelion might host a larger gathering. I was fine scratching that notion, although I did ask that it be possible that I could reconsider the notion before the Commission no sooner than a year down the road. Given that, an on-site limit of 20 people is more than fine with me, for that would accommodate a meeting of a comfortable size.
It was I who said that I could at most have 6 cars, including my own, on the property at one time. As was mentioned, the soil here is very clay-like when wet; given that, and allowing space for my son’s accessible school bus to turn around, six would be the safest and most prudent maximum.
Next, the announcer said that someone sent in to the show a picture of my very nice home (which, though it was very nice, was our home in Sioux Falls, and not our home in Two Harbors), with my OMG Mission Statement on it (I should have an official Mission Statement, but I don’t, though I do have a description of what I do through OMG) that includes that my home acts as a refuge for people traveling between Tehran and America.
I’d sure like to see that.
So, also not true.
So I went on the web to search for where this notion was cooked up, and the closest I could find, when I googled “OMG Madsen Tehran,” was a blog post written by a SD blogger whom I know, Cory Heidelberger, dedicated to a blog I wrote about the payday lending scourge in South Dakota. You can find that blog here: http://dakotafreepress.com/2015/08/19/martin-luther-payday-lenders-second-to-satan-as-enemies-of-human-dignity/
In one of the comments, this passage can be found:
“One of the main reasons Tehran John pushes this war with Iran bit is for that reason, war is good for the rich….Payday loans are much like war, they do little to benefit society while metaphorically killing and maiming all that are touched by those loans. They are the cluster bombs of capitalism.”
So…no. I have nothing to do with Tehran. I have not ever been a stopping ground for people arriving from Tehran. It is said that most people, anyway, fly -over- South Dakota rather than stop to land there–a sad slam on a state that enjoys its own unique beauty and powerful history.
As also occurred during the public meeting, my integrity and forthrightness were also called into question. It is not clear to me to what such people are referring, for there was nothing in my answers last night that was a surprise to the Commission, since I had been in regular conversation with them prior to submitting the application, and had been quite clear and consistent in my written answers on the application. Naming the exact alleged duplicity would be helpful, but I believe also unnecessary, were one to compare both the official application and the notes of the hearing. I have been absolutely transparent, truthful, and consistent, for to do otherwise would risk jeopardizing my hopes for this place, not to mention my integrity.
During this same section, the announcer suggests that I could end up getting money from the government as a Church group for transitional housing for immigrants.
Again, not true.
Although that might be true for non-profits, I am legally a for-profit, both as OMG and as the Spent Dandelion–a point more relevant were I to have actually ever indicated any interest in being any sort of housing for immigrants.
There was also the idea floated that perhaps, next, who knew, I could be building a Mosque here on the property.
So, no. For more reasons than I could begin to count, not true.
The woman who called in during this segment objected mightily to the name “OMG” as deeply offensive–as did either a different, or possibly the same woman at the hearing. For that I am sorry, but as I have written about before, I chose that name because it can be cried out in many ways, and has been even in Scripture: as lament, as prayer, as question, as praise. All forms are welcome here.
That segment ends at 22:50, with the next segment dedicated to the Spent Dandelion beginning at 27:00.
It was here that the announcer read my children’s names on the air.
I grant that this information is public, as it is on my blog site.
However, to read them in this context, where lies, misinformation, and fear are being generated about my intentions for the Spent Dandelion, puts my two children at risk for harassment, bullying, and other unsafe and unwelcome encounters they do not deserve.
You are welcome to be upset at me, and you are unfortunately free to lie about me, but my children are utterly irrelevant to the matter at hand, and should be completely left out of any public conversation of this sort.
It was an inexcusable thing to do.
The next caller said that my plan for welcoming immigrants was shot down.
In so far as I never had plans to welcome 30 Somalis into a new home here, nothing was there to be shot -at-, let alone down.
So, not true.
It was here too, and in the last segment, that my OMG: Center for Theological Conversation (www.omgcenter.com) was confused with OMG: Center for Collaborative Learning (http://www.omgcenter.org).
They are .org.
I am .com.
Unaware of the difference, the announcer was stunned at how many branches “I” have, while in fact the only branches I have are the ones gathered in my brush pile and on my forest floor and still extending from my beautiful trees.
That segment ended at 34:35.
In the last segment, beginning at 36:43 and ending at 39:57, I am both called a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and a camel with my nose under the Two Harbors’ tent.
I am very glad to have the wildlife that we do on this wonderful property, but of the three mammals listed above, only the wolves can be seen and heard here, and they are far stealthier and furrier than am I: a pretty average straight-forward human being.
Then the announcer, believing that I am www.omgcenter.ORG, instead of www.omgcenter.COM, asserts that I receive money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
There’s finally one allegation hurled at me in these last several days that I actually wish -were- true.
Laced throughout this entire spectacle, it seems as if what has generated the dismay and the lies is this blog I wrote after the election: Time to Out-Amos Even Amos.
You can read it here: http://omgcenter.com/2016/11/12/time-to-out-amos-even-amos/
In it, I am very clear in my dismay about Donald Trump, the choice of the voters who got him into office, the principles which he and those who voted for him espouse, and the bigotry, misogyny, racism, homophobia, bullying, and disdain for the environment which is thereby fostered.
I am not alone in my objection, an objection made not least of all precisely because of my faith.
Nor am I a rare thing: a person of faith who sees that one’s politics come precisely and absolutely necessarily out of one’s faith.
As a systematic theologian, my whole calling is to help people look at their faith, understand why they have it, see where the weak and strong points are, and then determine what difference their beliefs make in all that they say and do: their vocations, how they treat their families, what food they eat, what car they drive, how they spend their money, and, of course, how they vote.
God has to mean something. If “God” means your ultimate belief, than all other beliefs and actions, all of them, emanate from that.
My God is the one I see in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a God evidenced in the Old and the New Testaments as consistently siding with the poor, and the humble, and the sick, and the hungry, and the foreigners, and the outsiders, and calling out those who oppress the same.
I have yet to find one thing that Donald Trump has consistently said or done that reflects the God of Amos or the God of Jesus–the same God, of course.
Below are only just a few links to show that while I was vehement in this blog, I am standing with others just as concerned, although they might express it in different ways.
In fact, my own Northeast Minnesota Synod just passed Resolution 16-3 (http://www.nemnsynod.org/uploads/2/5/8/8/25887261/bor_2016_resolutions_andsupportingdocuments.pdf) entitled “Support and Protection of Muslim Refugees.”
I know theology, and I know history. Both compelled me to write what I did.
Anyone has a right to disagree with me–as I do anyone else.
But lies have no place in honest disagreement.
As has been said, you have a right to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.
I hope in the above that I injected some more of the latter into the spreading opinions about the Spent Dandelion and about who I am.
And one more thing: despite what was said about me in Tuesday’s broadcast, I have no hate in my heart for anyone.
Real indignation, yes. Shock and anger, absolutely. Deep fear for what has been unleashed for the Least of These, without question.
But maliciousness? Hate?
I hope that the same lack of maliciousness and hate can be directed toward my two children and me, and the hopes we have for the Spent Dandelion.
While lies and mean-spiritedness are not welcome here, any who leave those behind are.