Canine Behavior: Lessons in Wonderment from Maximus

Several years ago, after our house was broken into and the few pieces of jewelry belonging to my wife were stolen, we decided to get a dog. The police officer who filed the report of the break-in and theft said that burglars are not concerned with alarm systems. They smash a window or knock down a door…run into the master bedroom…take the pillowcases from the bed…dump whatever jewelry they can find into the cases…and run back out…sometimes in less than a minute. That same officer did say that a dog with a good bark can make a thief decide to go elsewhere.


That’s how we came to have Maximus. We selected Max from a local shelter when he was just a pup. His veterinarian tells us he is an American Dingo…also known as a Carolina Dog. My research tells me that in all likelihood, the veterinarian is correct. (Here is a link to information about these unique dogs if you care to give it a read:

Max is now seven years old. He joins me each morning on my hikes into the arroyo and mountains behind our house. Watching Max provides me with a sense of wonderment. I am continually amazed by him.

Max did not grow up in a pack of dogs. He was dropped off at the shelter when he was just a few weeks old. There he stayed, in a cage, until we rescued him. He did not learn how to behave like a dog by watching other dogs. He exhibits behaviors and reactions that are entirely innate. I believe he does what he does because God made him that way. Those without faith might say that his behavior is simply written into his canine DNA. I believe his DNA was made that way by the Creator.


When Max first encountered the abundant lizards here in high desert country, he started bounding off the ground simultaneously on all four legs. He did this as he chased the lizards, leaping over the sage brush with ease. Those of you who have seen mule deer stotting away from you know what I am talking about. Max’s four legged bound is much like the stotting of deer. When I first witnessed Max doing this, I stood there with my mouth wide open. “How did he learn to do this?” I thought to myself. Well, Max did not learn this from anyone…or any other dog. Stotting is in his blood. God made him that way.


One morning, Max was ahead of me by about twenty or thirty yards. When he does this, he always stops to turn and look back in my direction every so often. If I have paused to look at a Cooper’s hawk or coyote with my binoculars, Max then runs back to wait by my side. If he sees that I am still hiking in his direction, then he continues. This time, I watched as Max was in front of me…and then he started doing that same stotting behavior, only now he was not leaping over sage brush. Instead, he was jumping straight up in the air on all four legs over and over again…coming down on the same spot each time. I thought he must have finally succeeded in subduing a lizard. When I reached him, I saw that he actually had been pouncing on a gopher. Max then picked up the stunned gopher with his teeth and started shaking it back and forth…with such force that its entrails came flying out. All of this happened in a matter of seconds. Then Max placed the gopher at my feet. Wonderment…sheer wonderment! Once again I was amazed. No one taught Max how to stot in pursuit of lizards…and no one taught him how to catch and shake a gopher. Yet he did this…naturally. Some would call this instinctive and leave it at that. I believe Max’s instincts are a result of the way in which the Creator formed and fashioned him as a dog.


Max and I were recently coming back down the mountain we had climbed before sunrise. The morning light was starting to illuminate the trail, so I put away my headlamp. Just as I secured the headlamp in a compartment on the side of my backpack, Max jumped sideways and then ran to my side. On the trail in front of us was the biggest rattlesnake I have ever encountered in all my years of hiking and hunting in New Mexico. His head was raised as he looked in our direction…his tail was rattling louder than a Native American gourd rattler. Once again, I stood in amazement. How did Max know that a rattlesnake must be avoided? Where did he learn this? Why did he jump sideways to get away from it, instead of going after it as he does with lizards and gophers? By now you know the answer.


On most mornings, Max and I can hear the calls of coyotes. I always stop to listen as they call out to one another with various howls, yips, yelps and barks. Max then lifts his head and lets out a long howl that starts low, then rises, then trails off at the end. He sounds just like a coyote. On many evenings, we can hear the coyotes calling as we sit at home. Max has gone to the back deck and let out that same long, lyrical howl as he communicates with them…a conversation between Canis latrans and Canis familiaris…and I am once again in a state of wonder.


I am a morning person. I am about to finish these reflections and it is only 4:15 AM. As soon as I have a bit more coffee and a light breakfast, I will be heading east to the mountains with Max. Who knows what adventures we will have? Who knows how he will amaze me with his own natural behavior? Who knows how I will find myself once again in awe of the Creator who gives life and purpose to every creature?


By the way, Max has a great bark. He senses a person near our house long before we see them through the window. No one has broken into our home since Max came to live with us…

Decals, Detractors and Discipleship

“You are a pastor.  Why don’t you have Christian decals on your truck?”


I was taken aback by the question.  I had finished officiating at a funeral and committal service at a local cemetery and was getting ready to enter my truck for the ride home.  Earlier that morning, the young man who asked this of me had already identified himself as a born again Christian from Texas.  He was a nephew of the man whose funeral had just ended.   Before I could answer his question, he added:

“Are you ashamed of Jesus?  Those who are ashamed of Jesus will be shamed by the Lord when he comes again.”

So as we stood there in the parking area, I did my best to explain my choice of decals to him.  I have nothing against symbols and signs on cars or trucks that represent the Christian faith.  Many of my church members have such emblems on their vehicles. 

It has been my experience, however, that such decals do not result in any opportunity to share my faith with others.  Years ago when I had a Christian decal on my vehicle, not once did anyone ask me about it.  Not once.

When I acquired my truck, I put no decals on it for at least a year.  Then I decided to apply two simple white decals.  One says “Bowhunter” and the other is the symbol of the Minnesota Vikings.   These two images have generated lots of conversation over the years…and not just from zealous young men who scold me for not having a Christian symbol.

Time and time again someone will call out to me in the parking lot at the grocery store, the movie theatre, the sporting goods store and the gym.  “Hey, buddy, did you draw for anything this year?”  “Hey, what kind of bow do you shoot?” “Did you have any luck last year?”  “You think the Vikings will have a good season this year?”  “Skol Vikings!”  “Hey, Minnesota, Vikings rule!”

Mind you, I do not start these conversations.  People see my decals and they start talking to me.  And as we engage in conversation about hunting with a bow or the Vikings football team, sooner or later the person talking with me says, “So what do you do for a living?”


It is at that moment that I have an opportunity not only to tell them about the awesome congregation I serve as senior pastor, but my faith as a follower of Jesus Christ.  More than a few times people have responded by asking me to pray for them or telling me about a recent loss or painful experience. 

On many occasions, folks will tell me they used to go to church, but the pastor/board/organist/youth director/secretary/teacher where they used to worship did/said/inferred/suggested something that angered/disappointed/alienated/ them…so they stopped participating in the life of the congregation.  This, too, becomes an opportunity for conversation.  I tell them that I have not always had a positive experience with my doctor/dentist/grocer/mechanic/plumber but I didn’t quit getting my annual physical exam/teeth cleaning/food/engine tune-ups/repairs.  I invite them to worship at Faith and give them one of my cards that I keep in my truck.  If they aren’t ready for worship, I let them know that I am up for a cup of coffee if they would like to get together and talk some more. 

Do I always see these people in worship or wind up having that cup of coffee?  Of course not…but some have responded favorably.  Through the years, a few people have wound up joining our congregation and participating in our many ministries and missions. 

Do you suppose this would have happened if I did not have the hunting or football decals on my truck?

I am not ashamed of Jesus…and I pray that He will not be ashamed of my life and witness when He returns in glory.  Yet after thirty years of ministry, I have learned that we Christians should not be afraid to rethink the way in which we reach out to others with the Good News.  I’m not trying to build a theology of evangelism around car decals, I assure you.  Perhaps someone has asked you to share your faith with them in a parking lot because you have an ixthus symbol or cross on your rear window.  That’s great.  It just never worked that way for me.


As a disciple of Christ, I am in the world but not of it.  Yet while I am in the world, I will hunt and I will hope that the Vikings make it to the Super Bowl again before I am laid to rest.   That said, I will keep shooting my bow even when I am not drawn for a big game hunt here in New Mexico…there’s always next year.  I will keep cheering for the Vikings, even when they finish far from the playoffs.  And I will do my best to share my faith with people I’ve never met before who call out to me because they like my decals.

God gives us countless ways in which to demonstrate our faith each and every day.  Taking the time to talk with someone who notices the decals on my truck is just one of them. 

By the way, I’ve had a few anti-hunters shout at me in the parking lot too.  ”Bambi killer!”  Once in a while, someone will yell “Go Packers!” as I get out of my truck.  Even then, there is a opportunity to talk with these people…and that’s a story for another day.


I must tell you, however, that I am looking for a third decal to put on my truck.  It’s a Christian symbol….but of an altogether different kind.  Read more to learn about it:



Writing about Hunting

God blessed my wife, Kirsten, and me with four beautiful, talented and intelligent daughters. Having lived in a household of five women, I have watched many movies that my friends without daughters may have never heard of or seen.  I’m talking “chick flicks.”  I am not ashamed to admit that I have watched these movies.  Some of them reminded me that I really do prefer films like “Braveheart” and “300.”  That said, I actually enjoyed watching “A Walk to Remember” and “The Notebook.”  If you need to stop reading now, go ahead…I won’t be offended.

To my surprise, a few of those movies provided me with memorable quotes such as “talking about love is like dancing about architecture.”  For those of you without daughters, this line was spoken by Joan in “Playing by Heart.”


To some, writing about hunting makes as much sense as dancing about architecture.  You see no reason to do so.  Those who hunt should hunt.  Those who design buildings should design buildings.  Leave the writing and dancing out of it.

Yet I am compelled to write about the hunt.  Long before I began this blog, I started a journal.  In it, I write down as much as I can about each deer, elk or turkey that I have taken home from the forests or mountains.  I hope my grandchildren will enjoy reading what I recorded, but even if they do not I am drawn to put my thoughts and feelings into writing…to express what each and every hunt was like.

Perhaps it is my way of honoring the life of each animal that died as a result of my bullet or arrow finding its mark.  It may be my way of giving thanks for the meat they provided for my family.  All I know is this, hunting fills me with emotion, anticipation, excitement, wonder and exhilaration. Basketball and football never did this.  When I take to the mountains or go into the wilderness, I am tested in ways that nothing else can do…and for some reason, it causes me to sit down and write.


Fred Bear once said, “I have always tempered my killing with respect for the game pursued. I see the animal not only as a target, but as a living creature with more freedom than I will ever have. I take that life if I can, with regret as well as joy, and the sure knowledge that nature’s ways of fang and claw or exposure and starvation are a far crueler fate than I bestow.”  Those who have never hunted and actually harvested an animal may not understand this “regret as well as joy.”  I have experienced this each and every time I have killed a deer or elk.  It is so powerful that I must write about it.

St  Hubert Stained Glass

Mitch Ballard puts it this way in his reflections on St. Hubert, the Patron Saint of Hunters:  

Regardless, giving thanks to the dead animal, and to God, for the resulting nourishment must be what it’s all about.  Respect for the fallen, and seeking a blessing for the meat, and honoring the death of one of God’s creatures must be the catalyst for these traditions.  Of course tagging fresh venison is the object, but preparing for and participating in the hunt is almost as rewarding.  Activities surrounding the hunt as well as the camaraderie involved with the “tribe” provide untold pleasure as it creates lasting memories. Domesticated animals provide suitable protein but they don’t enjoy the freedom of the wildness experienced by game animals during their lives in the forests and fields.  Our teeth and stomachs convert that deer’s living energy into our own and we owe it much deserved respect.  So, if you wish, say a prayer of thanksgiving when you kill your next deer or elk; just remember to honor the death of the wild animal and utilize the meat with respect. It died so that you might live.


By the way, those of you who enjoy an adult drink called Jägermeister may not realize the connection with St. Hubert.  According to Roman Catholic tradition, he was pursuing a magnificent stag and in a clearing in the forest, the animal stopped and turned.  Hubert was astounded at perceiving a crucifix suspended between its antlers, while he heard a voice from the figure of Christ say, “Hubert, unless you turn to the Lord, and lead a holy life, you shall quickly fall into the abyss of Hell!”

You can read about Hubert’s life thereafter by going online and using your preferred internet search engine.  His is a remarkable story.

Back to dancing about architecture….I mean, writing about hunting.  Some of you understand exactly what I am trying to say here.  The hunt….from start to finish…from forest to feast…moves you deeply and profoundly.  Others of you may never hunt…and have no desire to do so.  I understand. I have zero interest in joining a bowling league and working on my technique…yet thousands of people find this downright exciting and satisfying.  Same with needlepoint and mountain biking.  To this I say…suum cuique.

Even now, as I get up at 430AM most mornings to run or hike in the mountains as part of my training for this fall’s hunts for ibex, deer and elk and hit the gym five days a week to strengthen my muscles for the rigors of the chase, I have started a personal journal.  The hunt has not even begun really, and yet I am drawn to write down my thoughts and feelings in anticipation of what the autumn months will bring.  

I hope for plenty of wild game in my freezer.  I look forward to sharing this meat with family and friends.  Let me know if you are heading this way.  I’ll put some venison on the grill for us.






It Seems like Yesterday…


Grown-ups used to say this all the time when I was a boy. I never understood what they meant. They would talk about events from ten to twenty years in the past and say, “It seems like yesterday.”

As a child, yesterday seemed like yesterday to me. Last year seemed like…well…last year. Things from ten to twenty years beforehand were ancient history in my opinion.


This week I am marking the 30th anniversary of my ordination. It took place on Sunday, July 8, 1984, at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Fairfax, Virginia. After finishing my undergraduate studies at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, then going on for another four years in order to earn my Master of Divinity degree at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, I received a call to serve Christ the King Lutheran Church in Richmond, Virginia. In order to become their pastor, I had to be ordained. Now I find myself saying, “It seems like yesterday.”


I was twenty-six years of age. You can do the math…and many of you are right there with me. We were teenagers together in junior high and high school. Some of us were college classmates in Decorah. A few of you went to seminary with me. All of us are closing in on 60. How did this happen?

I hope the next thirty years do not go by as quickly…but I remember those same grown-ups way back when saying “time goes by so fast these days.” They were right about so many things. I guess they were right about the passing of time as well.

Let’s get together soon…deal? Before you know it, we will be eighty-six.


Training for the Hunt


Most people have a stereotypic image of a hunter…and it is not favorable.  He (never she) is overweight, smokes cigarettes, wears blaze orange clothing several sizes too small, drinks Budweiser (before, during and after the hunt) and shoots his rifle at anything that moves.  He rarely gets out of his truck and usually fires his weapon while seated behind the wheel with his barrel sticking out the window.  If this hunter does use his legs, it is only when he walks a few steps to his deer stand…where he sits all day long taking naps.


For the record, I have never known a hunter who fits this image.   The men…and women…who are my fellow hunters take personal training seriously and would never think of shooting at anything that moves.  These hunters go after their quarry on foot, climbing up mountains and going down canyons, often hiking many miles at high elevations.  While I have hunted with a muzzleloader, rifle and shotgun, my preferred method of hunting is with bow and arrow.  Rarely have I taken a deer or elk beyond 40 yards with my bow.  Many were taken between 10 and 20 yards.  To do this, you must be able to get close enough without being detected by animals that are always on high alert for danger…usually in the form of a predator.  This is no easy task.  Once the big game animal is down, then it must be quartered out and carried back to a truck or base camp that could be several miles away.  If you’ve never done this, then you have no idea how physically demanding it can be.


Training for the hunt has become a year round discipline for me…and a growing number of both male and female hunters across the country.  Today’s serious bowhunter is really a hunter-athlete who knows that legs and lungs must be in top shape if one is to go far into the woods or high upon the mountain without growing weary…or just plain quitting. 

I spend 45 minutes, five days a week, doing intense weight training at the local gym.  I do not lift for bulk…and at my age, certainly not for looks.  I lift for overall strength and functionality. 


I wake up every morning no later than 4:30 a.m. and hike in the mountains behind my house for at least 1.5 hours…often wearing my backpack loaded with 50 lbs.  It is dark on this side of the mountains, so I start out with my headlamp as I await the rising of the sun. The only day I do not work out is Sunday when I am busy with my duties as senior pastor of Faith Lutheran Church. 

This weight and cardio training regimen prepares me for the challenges of pursuing animals that never take a “day off” and can climb mountains with ease.  Organizations such as Train to Hunt ( and individuals such as Cameron Hanes ( and Zac Griffith ( provide the advice and encouragement that many hunter athletes desire these days.  That said, it is ultimately up to the individual hunter to get out of bed when most are still asleep and do the work required to be in top physical shape.  True discipline is self discipline.


Some credit the movie “Hunger Games” with the recent increase of female hunters.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 11 percent of U.S. hunters were female in 2011…the latest year for which statistics are available. That represents an increase over the 9 percent reported in 2005.   Manufacturers are now producing bows and camo clothing designed specifically for women.  My daughter, Melinda, hunted with me in 2012 when we successfully harvested an elk.  She carried over 120 lbs of meat in her pack as we hiked back to my truck that was parked over three miles away (read “Why Do You Hunt” posted on June 28).


Stereotypes are one thing…reality is another.  There may be a few people who take to the woods or mountains shooting at anything that moves while seated in their vehicles. If you see or know of someone who does this, then every responsible hunter I know joins me in encouraging you to call the game and fish department in your state and turn them in.  Doing this is illegal…and does not deserve to be called hunting.  Here in New Mexico, you can contact the Department of Game and Fish to turn in those who are breaking the law (


The fact of the matter is this: The majority of hunters…both male and female…do not take short cuts and do not break the law when they take to the fields, forests and mountains.  They train year round…they are committed to fair chase ethics…and they respect the big game animals they pursue.

And when everything falls together and an elk or deer is successfully harvested, these hunters enjoy the original organic, free-range meat all winter long.  They delight in sharing this bounty with their friends as well.

Befriend a hunter if you want to partake of this feast.  Better yet….become a hunter yourself!

Surviving the Perfect Storm


So it was a “perfect storm” of two illnesses at once…severe influenza and fifth disease…that attacked my immune system and left me temporarily unable to use my legs. The intense pain, frustration and uncertainty of those winter months seem like a bad dream now that summer is once again here in the high desert and I am able to walk again.

Looking back, I realize I have learned some very important lessons as a result of being in the middle of this personal storm:


Some doctors make diagnoses and offer prognoses only within their narrow field of study, training and expertise. I respect the time and effort required to be accepted into medical school…let alone complete the rigorous program of study and training. I admire those who go on to focus on one particular area of medicine and devote their life’s work to that specialization. That said, it was my experience that some doctors cannot see beyond the parameters of their area of knowledge.

I understand this insofar that my worldview is informed and influenced by my Lutheran theology. I look at life, events, relationships, problems, situations, challenges and questions from my confessional Lutheran perspective. For example, Luther’s theology of the two kingdoms makes perfect sense to me. I believe it is based on the truth of God’s Word and does not contradict my experience of reality. However, I have learned through the years that there is much to be gained by giving honest and open consideration to the doctrines and practices of other Christian traditions. I learned to appreciate the blessing and holiness of the Sacraments (Holy Baptism and Holy Communion) not only by reading Lutheran theology and history, but by studying the sacramental theology of the Orthodox Church. I am not a Baptist, but the autobiography of Billy Graham taught me much about some important “do’s and don’ts” when it comes to the daily ministry of a church leader.

This is why I have come to value and appreciate the doctor that finally was able to bring some hope and healing to my situation. She is a renowned neurologist. She is widely respected by her colleagues. At the same time, she was willing to look outside the parameters of western medicine and learn from those who have different approaches to the causes and treatments of many illnesses. I am currently taking herbal formulas for detoxification and microbial defense immune support. Many friends have told me that such formulas do nothing and cannot be trusted. I beg to differ. I can walk again. Not only can I walk, I can hike into the mountains with 50 lbs in my backpack. I go farther and faster on my training hikes for archery hunting than ever before. Trails that used to leave me gasping for air now feel like a walk in the park.

The gluten-sugar-soy-dairy free regimen she recommended for me seemed odd and extreme…at first. Now it is my way of life. Again, many friends said all this talk about gluten, sugar, soy and dairy is a bunch of hype: “just the latest craze.” All I can say is that I am back to my college weight, my legs are strong and pain free and I have never felt better in my life.

Do I miss my green chile, double cheeseburgers from MacDonald’s? Do I crave a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream at night? Don’t I want a stack of pancakes from Denny’s swimming in butter and syrup? The honest answer is “no.” At first I wondered if I could do this without feeling deprived. My health, strength and vitality today mean more to me than any food or treat I once enjoyed. My blood pressure is 111/62. My resting pulse is 58. My waist has gone from nearly 39” to 35”. I have lost 45 pounds without being hungry. So I am sticking with this new way of being, eating and exercising. It is for everyone? Of course not…but it is working great for me.


I learned more about marriage throughout this ordeal as well. When Kirsten and I were married and promised to care for each other “for better, for worse…in sickness and in health,” we were only 22 years old. We were healthy and strong. We did not know then what the past two years would bring our way. Kirsten was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly before Christmas of 2013. She has gone through surgery and treatment…and is doing great! Even so, there were times of great pain and sadness. I did my best to be there for her. I didn’t have answers to many questions. I often didn’t know what to say. I simply loved her and stayed by her side. When I was unable to walk and the pain was beyond description, Kirsten did the same for me. We prayed “not as we ought, but as we were able” while taking great comfort in the Lord’s promise that “the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).


My heart is now attuned to those who suffer with chronic illness and pain as well as those who provide loving care for those so afflicted. Until January, I didn’t know much about real physical pain. I’ve had my share of bumps, bruises, broken bones and sports injuries, but nothing like the pain that had me bedridden or in a wheelchair. I am in awe of those who move forward in faith while suffering with bodily pain and chronic illness… and I remember them in prayer each day.

During one of the many medical examinations and tests that were done, I was slowly making my way from the parking garage to the hospital. It was all I could do to put one foot painfully in front of the other as I shuffled along with my cane. It took me over half an hour to cover the distance that would have been a matter of minutes prior to my illness. As I was almost to the door, a car pulled up and I watched as a woman with both legs amputated above the knee was helped into her wheelchair. She looked at me and smiled. As her family wheeled her into the hospital, I turned away and wept. The “old Bruce” would have been in and out of the hospital before she arrived. The “new Bruce” was forced to slow down… and in so doing, received the blessing of her kindness and smiling face.

I am feeling stronger and better with each passing day. My beloved wife, Kirsten, prayed with me and for me each step of this journey. She cared for me twenty-four hours a day. When we were married in 1980, we had no idea what would unfold in our lives thirty-four years later.

Isn’t that true for all of us? We move forward, not knowing what the future may hold for us, in the promise that our gracious God goes before us and will be with us not only on the joyful mountain tops, but even in the darkest valleys.

Who you know…

“It’s not what you know, but who you know.”

Having seen the urgent care doctor not once, but twice…and having seen a vascular surgeon who told me my leg pain and dysfunction resulted from a “lack of exercise” for one week when I was sick with flu…I was determined to get a second opinion.  Turns out I needed a third.

A friend from church contacted me.  One of his colleagues at work was the son of an orthopaedic surgeon here in Albuquerque.  He provided me with the contact information…and the assurance that this doctor could see me right away.  I made the call and was at his medical office the next day.  By this time, I was using the wheelchair at all times.  Kirsten drove me to the appointment and helped me navigate the parking lot, sidewalk and main entrance.  I was seen within minutes of arriving.


The doctor asked me to describe what had happened since all this began.  He indicated that the swelling and pain in my knees and ankles were not the result of influenza…and certainly not from a lack of exercise.  I work out at the gym three afternoons a week and hike in the Sandia mountains three mornings a week…at least I did before January 9 (read my previous post,”I cannot walk”).  He then asked, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you describe the pain?”  Without trying to exaggerate, I told him the pain was definitely a 30.  He said that x-rays were needed so he could see what was going on.  I was in the x-ray room moments later…and back in his office within 20 minutes.

“Bruce, your joints look absolutely great.  If I did not see you in the wheelchair…and the swelling in you legs…then I would think these x-rays are from one of the healthiest 56 year old men I have ever examined.  There’s something else going on here.”  I was relieved and perplexed at the same time.  I was relieved that the x-rays looked good…perplexed as to what in the world could be going on with my body.


Friends from far and wide had already been praying for me.  Many of them worked in various medical fields.  Some of them offered unsolicited diagnoses from afar…and I know they were offered in love and kindness.  I was told that I should be checked for cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, multiple sclerosis, lyme disease, lupus, reactive arthritis and septic arthritis.  One friend, whom I had known since high school, told me about someone who had similar symptoms caused by fifth disease.


Fifth disease.  Back in December my grandsons were sick with fever and congestion.  They had the “slapped cheek” redness on their faces.  The pediatrician told my daughter that it looked like fifth disease.  They were better in a few days.  Children usually bounce back from this illness with no problems.  Kirsten and I are blessed to see our grandsons on a regular basis as they live in town.  We worship together at church each Sunday.  We had spent a lovely Christmas Day together before all this began.

I did online research on fifth disease.  Turns out that while children get over the illness rather quickly and without complication, adults who never contracted the disease in childhood can have severe reactions if it infects them later in life.  At the same time, another friend who lives far away suggested that I should find a doctor in Albuquerque who deals with lyme disease and other illnesses that are caused by inflammation.  I was told to look for a physician who is a member of ILADS…the International Lyme and Associated Disease Society. As it turned out, the only doctor I could find in the area who is a member of ILADS has an office just two blocks from my office.  In fact, I had seen her name a thousand times on the sign outside her clinic driving back and forth to work.  Little did I know that her medical care and expertise would get me out of the wheelchair and back on my feet.  I called her office and made an appointment for the next day.

My first meeting with this doctor was comforting and helpful.  She said that I needed to get off the tramadol.  She prescribed 800 mg ibuprofen…only to be used until the pain subsided.  She indicated that most doctors would call for a cocktail of various antibiotics…what she referred to as “slop”…but that she would not be doing so.  Instead, she put me on a strict anti-inflammatory diet…gluten-free, sugar-free, soy-free and dairy-free.  She wrote up an order for extensive blood and urine tests to be done.  When the results came back, the levels of mercury, lead and aluminum in my body were abnormally high.  So I was told to get rid of my antiperspirant and start using all natural deodorant.  I was told to stop drinking tap water and consume only filtered water that is free of contaminants.  I was also told that the only seafood I could consume would be wild caught Alaskan salmon…but no more than once a week.


And if you are thinking that this doctor is some quack…or that she clearly is some granola-hippie here in the “Land of Enchantment”…you need to know that she is a renown neurosurgeon who does brain surgeries two to three days per week at our local university hospital in addition to having her private practice near my office.  She takes the best of western medicine and combines it with the best of non-traditional medicine as well.  Unlike some who only embrace one school of thought and treatment, she looks for the wisdom to be gained from the larger body of information and research.


So I began this new way of eating and drinking on February 4. Since then, I have lost 45 pounds. I feel stronger and healthier than ever. As I post this, I just returned from a five mile hike in the mountains…which felt like a walk in the park.


I’m thankful…for the people I know who pointed me in the right direction when I was in a very dark and painful place. I have learned so much these past six months…about nutrition, prevention, prayer, hope, grace and love. I look forward to sharing this with you…next time.

I Cannot Walk…


“I cannot walk.”  This I said to myself on January 9, 2014.  I know the exact time as well.  It was 4:16 a.m. on Thursday morning.  I woke up with pain in my legs that was excruciating.  They felt cramped and twisted.  My ankles and knees were swollen.  When I tried to put my feet on the floor and get out of bed, I could not.  I had to move my legs by lifting them with my arms over the edge of the bed.  My left foot touched the floor…barely.  My right foot would not touch the floor because of the way in which my knee and ankle were locked up.  I had to get on all fours and crawl to the bathroom.  The pain in my legs became even more intense as I put pressure on them. “I cannot walk.  My legs won’t work. What is happening to me?”  These thoughts raced through my head as I scooted backwards on my rear end to climb back up into bed.

I had already been sick for a full week with what the doctor at the urgent care center assured me was a bad case of influenza.  Back on January 2 I was one of a room full of people waiting to see the doctor with flu like symptoms.  My temperature was 102.8 F and I had not be able to keep food down for days.  So I went home, determined to tough it out in the hope that I would be back to normal in a short while.  After all, we’ve all had the flu.  We’ve all been sick at home.  We’ve all recovered from illness.  “Suck it up,” I told myself.

What a difference one short week can make.  I didn’t get better.  I didn’t make a quick comeback.  I was worse…and my legs would not work.  So I placed several calls to my primary care physician’s office…but you know how that can go.  The office staff took my name and number assuring me that I would hear from them as soon as possible…before the end of the day for sure.  I did not. 

Kirsten, my wife, drove me to the urgent care center that evening.  Once again it was packed.  After waiting for nearly two hours my name was finally called.  With a cane that had been stored in our basement, I slowly hobbled and shuffled to the examination room.  I would have preferred doing the backward-butt-crawl, but I didn’t think it would be appropriate in a medical clinic.  After an assistant checked my pulse, temperature (102.9 F this time) and blood pressure, I waited another hour for the doctor to enter.  It was the same physician who had seen me one week prior.  If we had been playing poker, then I would have taken all of his money.  The look on his face was not the confident, insouciant and unanxious countenance that doctors are taught to maintain while in med school. After examining my legs and sighing audibly more than a few times, he then said something I had never heard come out of a doctor’s mouth: “I have no idea what is wrong with you.”  So he prescribed tramadol hydrochloride for the pain which was getting worse by the minute and told me to see my primary care physician immediately.

I know how busy doctors are these days.  I understand that not everyone can been seen within hours of calling to make an appointment.  That said, I called my physician’s office multiple times daily for the next several days.  It was on January 15 that my doctor finally called.  His voice was panicked.  He apologized for taking so long to get back to me.  He then said, “This is serious, Bruce.  I am concerned that you may have deep vein thrombosis.  You need to be seen right away.  I don’t want to risk pulmonary embolism.  It could be catastrophic.”  Stunned, I asked when he wanted to see me.  That’s when he said, “You are not going to see me.  I’ve already called the hospital for you to see a specialist immediately.  Can your wife drive you?  You need to be there in 30 minutes.”

To make this part of a long story short, Kirsten did get me to the hospital.  There was no sign of deep vein thrombosis.  Instead, the vascular surgeon told me that the pain and stiffness in my legs were the result of not getting enough exercise during my illness.  This was a first. In the past, I was told to rest and drink plenty of fluids when afflicted with the flu. I was sent home with doctor’s orders to start walking, with my cane if necessary, and to continue taking my pain medication.  I was up for that challenge.  I had finished basketball games with ankles that were sprained and broken.  “I am a tough guy…I can do this,” I told myself.  

On my first attempt at walking, it took me 45 minutes to go around the cul-de-sac across the street from our house.  I am unashamed to tell you that I had tears streaming down my face.  The pain was bad…very bad.  The tramadol was doing nothing to ease the throbbing, stabbing and burning sensations in my legs. In fact, the pain was getting more intense with every passing day.  It got so terrible that I could no longer stand up.  Kirsten picked up one of the wheel chairs that we have at our church.  I had to use it.  Walking…hobbling…shuffling….were no longer possible.

ghost buffalo

The next day, I began to hallucinate.  The first hallucination was a ghost buffalo.  It appeared out of thin air in my room.  It spoke to me…in Navajo…and I understood every word.  Don’t ask me how I knew it was speaking Navajo.  It was a drug induced hallucination, you know.  “Bruce, do not be afraid.  Your heart is good.  You are strong.  Do not be afraid.”  And then it was gone.


Some time later that same day, I watched a 6×6 bull elk walk toward me after coming through the wall.  This animal did not speak…in Navajo or English.  He did not bugle.  He did not snort.  He did not make a sound…and like that, he was gone.  He walked back through the same wall through which he had entered.


Within minutes, I heard a humming sound that was musical…and beautiful.  It got louder and louder.  Looking up, three angels came slowly down to me through the ceiling.  They surrounded me.  The light was bright.  The musical humming was sublime.  They circled me a few times and then went straight up and vanished.


My fourth and final hallucination then appeared.  Ten court jesters came walking through the door.  They picked up things in my room….looked at them…shook them…held them to their ears to see if they would make noise…and put them back in place. They, too, then disappeared from sight…or was it mind?

It was then that I knew something had to change. The medication was doing nothing for the pain…though the hallucinations it caused were nice distractions. The pain in my legs…and my inability to walk…were not the result of the flu bug. My condition was not the result of my failure to get proper exercise when my temperature was high and I could not eat. I needed to see someone else…I needed another medical opinion…and I needed it soon.

“I cannot walk,” I said to myself once again. And then it hit me…and hit me hard. If I cannot walk…and if I do not get better…then I will never be able to hike in the mountains with my grandchildren…or go hunting again.

All this happened in January. That was six months ago. I am better now…better than ever before…but it has been a long journey. Many things have changed…so many things.

More later…

Why do you hunt?


This is the question I have come to expect from many who do not hunt. Long ago, Keith graced me with his question (read “Memories”) and the invitation to hunt with his family that followed.  This question is different.  It is not a matter of grace.  It is usually asked with incredulity and sometimes a large measure of disapproval. 

Before I joined the ranks of those who enjoy the hunt, I had read stories and heard about those who didn’t like hunting or hunters.  Yet the criticism and condemnation from the anti-hunting crowd had no bearing on my life.  I was not yet a hunter.  Back then, it was a matter of freedom as I saw it. 

Let those who disapprove of hunting have the freedom to say so.  After all, this is America.  My own father had served in the military to protect our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness…which includes freedom of speech.  At the same time, I believed hunters have the freedom to hunt even if some of our fellow citizens didn’t approve of it.  In my mind, it was much like football or motorcycling.  Some like to watch and play football.  Others think it is a waste of time.  Some like to ride their motorcycles on the open road and find great joy in it.  Others are of the opinion that motorcycles are death traps and a foolish mode of transportation.  To each his own, I thought. 

Not until I became a hunter did I realize that such a spirit of respectful disagreement is hardly ubiquitous.  The tired cliché of being labeled as a “Bambi killer” is rather mild compared to what some think and say about hunters.  Recently I received an unsigned letter from someone accusing me of being “worse than Hitler” as a participant in the “ongoing holocaust against millions of innocent animals who have a right to life.”  This individual indicated that I could not call myself a Christian, let alone a pastor, and continue “murdering” my fellow creatures “in cold blood.”  He or she went so far as to tell me that I would spend eternity in Hell unless I repented of my heinous sin.

Most of my non-hunting friends are glad that I enjoy what I do.  Many of them hope I am successful because they look forward to feasting on the wild game meat that I share with others.  They wish me luck and tell me to “be safe out there.”  Yet there are those who accuse me of superseding the evil of the Nazi regime because I hunt. They believe I am unworthy of heaven…all because I am a hunter.

“Why do you hunt?”

I cannot send a written reply to those who mail unsigned letters with no return address. I can…and do…engage in conversation with those who actually care to hear and think about my reasons for hunting.  There are many reasons I choose to hunt, just as there are many reasons a group of friends would spend the afternoon playing touch football or tailgating in the parking lot of their favorite NFL team stadium.

On that first hunt with Keith and his family, I discovered a part of me that I did not know existed.  Historians and anthropologists remind us that humans have spent more time hunting for and gathering their food than they have driving air-conditioned and heated automobiles to the grocery store to buy a bag of assorted and pre-packaged products.

When I hunt, I am doing something that humans have done for eons.  I can drive my truck to the grocer to buy a pound of hamburger, but I prefer hiking in the woods and taking home the meat of a deer or elk.  Just as the “Sons of Norway” and other heritage groups enjoy eating the foods, singing the songs and wearing the clothes of their ancestors, I enjoy hunting.  Only some people can claim Norwegian ancestry, but all of us are the progeny of those who hunted for their food. 

While some find it strange that I would enjoy the hunt, those who have no interest in or curiosity about hunting strike me as the true peculiarity.  Hunting for food is part of our DNA as members of the human family.  When I am in the woods or on a mountain with my bow and arrows, I feel connected to my ancestors in a way that is both powerful and palpable. 

Many of the people who look down on hunters as “primitive” and “unsophisticated” are the very same people who spend extra dollars of their hard earned money in order to buy free range, grass-fed, organic meat.  They do not want to settle for animal products that contain chemicals, additives or hormones.  I don’t blame them.  But someone has to take that grass-fed critter from the open range to the freezer.  To my knowledge, the cows, chickens and pigs do not voluntarily commit mass hari-kari in order to end their happy lives in wide open spaces and provide organic meat for selective suburbanites.


Someone has to kill the animal.  Its life must end in order for its meat to be made available to the customer in the grocery store.  Most people just choose (and pay) to have someone else do the killing for them.  They think they are innocent of something unsavory if they do not slaughter the creature with their own hands, but this is wishful thinking at best and outright denial at worst.   Hunters know better and are unashamed of ending an animal’s life in order to consume its meat.


During a recent hunt for elk, my daughter, Melinda, was with me.  It was extremely hot during those first days of September when our hunt took place.  Water holes were bone dry and temperatures soared into the 90s each day.  The bulls were not bugling or moving by day.  We covered over 40 miles on foot in five days without seeing or hearing a single bull.  As this was an archery hunt, we were allowed to take a bull or cow elk.  I managed to coax a mature cow from a canyon far below me to a mountaintop by using diaphragm calls in my mouth that mimic the sound of cows trying to locate other elk.  This took over two hours.  When I finally managed to call her within 30 yards without being detected, or “busted” as hunters like to call it, I was able to draw the string on my bow and let the arrow fly.  Its flight was true and the arrow passed through both lungs.  I watched as the cow ran back down toward the canyon.  Then it stopped 50 yards from where I had shot it with my arrow.  She looked back in my direction trying to figure out what had just taken place.  She stood still for about twenty seconds before falling to the ground.  Once I released my arrow, the elk was down in less than one minute. 

I then went to find Melinda who was set up not far from me.  We hiked back to field dress my elk, also known as “quartering out” the animal.  This was no easy task…it never is.  Bees and wasps were everywhere as the elk blood was the only moisture to be had in such arid conditions.  We moved deliberately and slowly.  Neither of us was stung.  One should not engage in anthropomorphism when it comes to such things, but I would like to think the bees appreciated the fact that this feast would not have been possible without us.  As I was removing the entrails with my arms deep within the elk’s body, Melinda remarked, “Dad, I have never seen you like this.  You’ve obviously done this many times, but I never knew this was part of getting the deer or elk meat home for us.” 


After we quartered out the meat, removed the tenderloins, backstraps and heart (for our family dog, Max), we then get all of it out of the mountains strapped on our backpacks to our ice-filled coolers that were awaiting such bounty.  We had not boned-out the quarters, which meant we were carrying a grand total of approximately 275 pounds between us.

It was a hot, sweaty and hard hike.  Once an elk or deer is down, there is always the matter of getting the meat from the field or forest to the freezer.  Only those who have actually done this can appreciate the work involved…work that is well worth the time and effort. 

A few days later, as we sat at the dinner table with other loved ones and friends gathered with us, Melinda and I looked at each other and smiled as the platter heavy with grilled venison was passed around.  Words were not necessary.  She now knew what it took for me to provide all the venison that our family had enjoyed through the years since my first hunt in Minnesota.  She tells her friends that such food is the original organic meat.  And she is right. 

Unlike our ancestors, I am well aware of the fact that I will not go hungry if I am unsuccessful when I hunt.  I do not pretend to be something I am not.  I am not an ancient hunter/gatherer who must kill beasts if my family or tribe is to be fed.  If I do not harvest a deer or elk, then I will go to the grocery store and purchase the healthiest foods I can afford. Yet even on those hunts when no venison winds up in the cooler, there has been fellowship and camaraderie.   During such hunting trips, we have still enjoyed long hikes in wild places.  We have slept in tents that we pitched together.  We have gathered around the camp fire at night to share jokes and funny stories.  We have heard coyotes calling out to one another.  We have seen deer walk through our camp under a full moon. We have watched comets soar across the sky.  We have awakened to two feet of snow on the ground when the weather forecast indicated there was a “slight chance of precipitation.” We have savored fresh coffee cooked on a Coleman stove two hours before sunrise, appreciating the heat of the cups that warmed our hands as much as the taste of our pre-dawn brew. This fellowship between hunters is another reason I like to hunt.  The memories made are like none other.  While some like to make memories on crowded beaches or loud cities full of tourists, I prefer doing so in small groups of three to four…far from the things of man.

The challenge of the hunt is undeniable.  Those who think it is easy to kill an animal with any weapon have never hunted.  On my last elk hunt, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish reports that only 119 bowhunters were lucky enough to be drawn for tags in the GMU (game management unit) up north where I hunted in the state lottery system.  Of those 119 hunters, only 13 succeeded in getting their elk according to the mandatory harvest report.  This means that only 11% had venison to enjoy the following winter. 

The odds of bringing home a steak from the grocery store are usually 100%.  You may get a flat tire or an urgent phone call on your cell phone once you get into your car, but this usually means only a delay in the purchase of your meat.  The fact of the matter is this…most hunters do not succeed in tagging a big game animal when they attempt to do so. 

To the north, only 21-22% of the hunters harvest an elk each year according to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department.  This includes all hunters using rifles, muzzleloaders and bows.  In Minnesota, the Department of Natural Resources reports that 38% of the total deer hunters were successful in the most recent hunting season.  Information published by Deer and Deer Hunting Magazine (February, 2008) tells the larger story.  While deer bowhunters have an amazing 88% success rate in Alabama and 45% in Georgia (the two best success rates in the nation), most states have substantially lower rates.  In the great state of Texas only 18% of the archery hunters are successful.  In Vermont, a mere 15% of those who hunt with “stick and string” succeed in bringing home a deer.  Hunting is a challenge.  While many people want everything to be easy, including their acquisition of food, there are some who appreciate the odds that are stacked against them in having a successful hunt.  I am glad to be among the latter and smaller group.  The meat we bring home tastes all the better knowing how difficult it was to get it.


During my freshman year at a small, private Lutheran college in the Midwest, we were required to read Aldo Leopold’s “Sand County Almanac.”  I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about this remarkable man who helped establish the National Forest system as we know it today and our role as stewards of the earth.  I hunt because I am a steward.  Stewardship means taking care of that which belongs to another.  A good steward manages the affairs of a home or the property that belongs to someone else with the same care he would exercise as if it was his own. 

As a Christian, I believe God created the world and placed humans on his earth to be faithful stewards. Hunting is stewardship…what some prefer to call conservation.  Hunters have done more to preserve habitat and wildlife species than any others.  Leopold understood this relationship between those who enjoy hunting and the care of the earth required to protect ecosystems that promote the health and well-being of wild creatures.  He wrote:

We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.…I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf’s job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.” (A Sand County Almanac: With Other Essays on Conservation from Round River)

I also hunt because I have the right to do so.  This may offend the sensibilities and assumptions of the anti-hunting crowd, but only because they fail to appreciate and understand our history as a nation.   Throughout continental Europe and England, hunting was only for the privileged few.  It was tightly controlled by the aristocracy. Common people were often forbidden to kill rabbits that were destroying crops on their own land, let alone hunt big game for food and sustenance. The American colonies had no interest in imposing such harsh European-style hunting or gun-control laws.  This would have made it virtually impossible for most people to survive.  In fact, colonial laws required households to possess a firearm.  This was for service in the militia and civil defense to be sure, but these very same weapons were used for hunting as well.  Those who could not afford a gun were often provided with “public arms” to keep and maintain at home.

Why do I hunt?  Now you know….





“Do you hunt?”

This was the simple yet unexpected question he asked of me as he stood there in my office. I was the new pastor at his church in northern Minnesota and had only been there for a matter of months. People who came to see the pastor usually wanted to talk about some personal issue, ask for prayers due to an illness in the family or seek advice due to problems with a loved one. Before I could answer, he continued, “The pastor before you wasn’t a hunter. How about you? Do you hunt?”

Truth be told, I had never hunted.

As a boy, I watched from Tennessee hilltops as my father, uncles and grandfather hunted rabbits with shotguns and dogs down below. My brothers, cousins and I were told to stay put, not get lost and behave ourselves. We did alright with staying put and never got lost, but we did not always behave. Crude jokes, mumbley-peg and throwing rocks…sometimes at each other…kept us boys from getting bored as we waited for the men to return. We could hear the dogs…all beagles…as they filled the valley belong with their long, drawn out, vocal music. It wasn’t until many years later that I learned this half bark, half howl was called baying. Occasionally we would hear the blast of a shotgun. The baying would subside, but only for a few moments. Soon enough my grandfather’s beagles would be at it again as they pursued another rabbit.


When the sun went down and darkness fell, we could hear the baying getting louder. The hunt was over and the men were heading back. We could see their flashlights as they climbed the hill toward us. “How many did you get? How many?” we asked as a chorus of cousins. And then they would hold their rabbits in front of us…always up-side-down by the hind legs. We would count them one by one. If we were lucky, we’d be allowed to hold a rabbit or two by ourselves while the men emptied their guns, put them back into the cases, loaded the dogs into my grandfather’s truck and prepared for the ride back to his house.

To this day, I can still see my father on top of a hill with his shotgun…grinning from ear to ear. He was in his thirties back then…a good twenty years younger than I am now. He was young, so very young, but I didn’t realize it at the time. Children rarely do until they become parents and grandparents themselves. It is only when we look back that we realize the youth of our mothers and fathers as they raised us. Though he spent twenty-eight years in the Army and I saw him in uniform more often than not, the image of my father standing before me after the hunt is the most vivid. I was well aware that he had flown helicopters on two separate tours of duty during the war in Vietnam. Over and over I had looked at the old black and white photos of him in fatigues with his flight helmet…a sinewy young officer far from the ones he loved. I knew that he was a soldier, indeed a warrior, having received the Silver Star and Purple Heart. Yet for some reason, seeing my dad…the hunter…back home with his father and brother is my strongest and most treasured memory.



Watching the sunset in the hills of eastern Tennessee…waiting eagerly to see my father hiking back toward me…listening to the baying of the beagles as they got closer…these are the images I have tucked away deep inside me. Images so vivid that I can sense the cool evening air, smell the tobacco on my grandfather and feel the rabbit’s fur as I held its stiffening body. And in my mind’s eye, I can see my father standing before me, so young and strong.

I’m not sure why my brothers and I never hunted with my dad in later years when we were growing up. We were told that we were too young during those rabbit hunts so long ago. Life got busy, I suppose. We didn’t travel back to Tennessee as often. My father’s work load only increased as he was promoted and assigned to the Pentagon. My brothers and I certainly enjoyed our years of playing basketball, baseball and football on all the different Army posts where we lived…with our father often coaching our teams. But we never hunted together. Like some many families, hunting became something they did “in the old days”…a relic of the past. Fathers and sons nowadays are more likely to golf together than head to the woods with a rifle or gun. Chances are greater that they will pull through the drive-up window for a bag of hamburgers instead of carrying the quarters of an elk back to camp.

“So do you hunt?” the man in my office asked again. I was suddenly back in northern Minnesota, even though I had traveled through time to old Tennessee in the few seconds that had elapsed. “I remember watching my father hunt when I was a boy, but I’ve never actually hunted myself,” was my reply bordering on apology and embarrassment.

“So do you want to hunt with us?” he responded. “Yes…yes…that would be…great,” I told him. “Good,” he said. “Get a rifle, some blaze orange…and don’t forget to buy a license.” “What kind of license?” I inquired. “Deer. We’ll be hunting deer.”


The church I served at the time was in the small town of Warroad…not far from the Beltrami Island State Forest, named after the Italian explorer, Giacomo Beltrami.  Deer, bear and wolves were known to live in the forest. I had seen deer, but only on the side of the road at night driving back home after visiting someone who lived in the country.

Keith was the name of the man who invited me to hunt. Every fall he hunted white-tailed deer in the forest with the other men in his family. My secretary told me that it was an honor to be invited to join this hunting party. “Folks up here usually don’t let outsiders hunt with them,” she informed me.

As a pastor, I already knew that I was an “outsider.” It usually takes a year or two for people to think of their pastor as one of their own. For some pastors, this never happens. Those pastors and their families are always looked upon as being different…and feel as if they are living in a fish bowl as the locals observe them, but never fully embrace them.

Keith’s invitation was extraordinary in many ways. We didn’t know each other, yet he was willing to reach out to me. I was a pastor…and the pastor before me had served there for over 30 years as a non-hunter. Keith had no way of knowing if I would appreciate, let alone respond favorably, to his kind offer, so he was taking a risk. And it was extraordinary for anyone to be invited to join an established hunting party in that neck of the woods. These men hunted together as members of the same family…as childhood friends who had grown up together…or as buddies who worked together making windows, hockey sticks or snowmobiles in the local factories.

So Keith’s invitation was a moment of grace. Grace, theologically speaking, is God’s love and mercy that we receive through His generosity and compassion through no merit of our own. This rare gift of grace can break in to human relationships and unexpected encounters with others. Keith graced me, so to speak. I had done nothing to earn the right to hunt with him and his family. He certainly did not have to include me. He was under no moral imperative to ask the new pastor to head to the woods with him on a hunt. Yet grace happens…and once you’ve experienced it, you are never the same. Little did I know how my world was about to change…or how all this would change me.

That was nearly twenty-five years ago when I was a hunting neophyte.  I’ve since learned a thing or two.  Most of those lessons came the hard way, as it is for most of us who spend time in pursuit of wild things.  I have hunted with bow, muzzleloader, shotgun and centerfire rifle.  I have been blessed to take my share of white-tailed deer, mule deer, wild turkey and elk while in the woods or up in the mountains.  I’ve been doubly blessed to have a freezer full of wild game meat each winter and gather with my growing family around the table as we feast on venison.  Though my father is now a great-grandfather and has slowed down a bit, I think of him each and every time I head out to hunt.  He is with me as I pitch my tent and set up camp.  I can feel his presence as I put on my backpack and start my stalk long before the sun rises.  I can see him smiling as I field dress my deer or quarter out my elk.

b&b buck

In my hunting journal is a photo of me with my father when I had the privilege of taking him on his first and only hunt for deer when I still lived in Minnesota.  It was a hunt with shotgun slugs only as mandated by the Department of Natural Resources.  After four days of freezing temperatures and seeing only does, we finally spotted a buck in the middle of a thickly wooded area.  He was a warrior, just like my dad, for his face showed the marks of head to head fighting with other bucks during the rut…and one of his antlers was missing.  Dad and I decided to raise our guns and fire simultaneously after we quietly closed the distance.  On the whispered count of three both our slugs hit the mark and the old buck when down where he stood. In that photo, my father is grinning…just as he did when I was just a boy.

Though my work schedule is always busy as I do my best to serve faithfully as senior pastor of my large congregation, I always apply for the hunts that take place in New Mexico where I now live. If my children and I are lucky enough to be drawn, then we make the time for preparations, training and the few days we get to spend on public lands in pursuit of elk and deer.  My grandsons are too young to hunt presently, but I know that with the blink of an eye they will be young men…and I want to be strong enough in order to hunt with them the first time they experience what so many of us have come to treasure.  And when we do, I will them about a man named Keith who invited their grandpa to hunt with him when he was only thirty-three years old.  I will encourage them to invite a friend or colleague to experience the hunt with them when they come of age and the time is right.  I want them to grace another person’s life as I have been graced.  As we gather round the fire telling stories and jokes, I will be sure to tell them about the canine melody of beagles singing in the valley, the sound of shotguns ringing out, the feeling of cool Tennessee evening air and the sight of their great-grandfather with a mile wide grin as he climbed back up the mountain.