Clergy View: A glimpse of paradise


A few months ago, I walked into my office at Lord of Life and on my desk was a small gift, a beautiful wooden pen. I instantly picked it up and it felt just right in my hand — smooth and balanced and weighted perfectly. Of course the next big test is how it writes. And again, smooth and balanced and just right. Curious, I opened the card attached and discovered it had been carved by a member of the church and was made out of buckthorn. In my mind I imagined this beautiful wood, this rare bush or hedge or tree from which such a lovely thing could come. Thankfully, there was a piece of paper in the note telling me all about buckthorn. And what I quickly learned is that while buckthorn is pleasing to the eye when it is in full growth, there is really nothing helpful about it. And not only is it not helpful, it’s harmful.

A bit of information about buckthorn. Common buckthorn was first brought to Minnesota from Europe in the mid-1800s as a very popular hedging material. Shortly after its introduction here it was found to be quite invasive in natural areas. It’s a problem because it outcompetes native plants for nutrients from the soil. It degrades wildlife habitat. It contributes to erosion by shading out other plants that grow on the forest floor. It serves as a host to other pests. And that’s just part of the list of ways in which Buckthorn is harmful.

In this community, the Rotary Club has taken up the task of removing as much buckthorn as possible in public places. (Did you happen to see the buckthorn-eating goats in Rotary Park recently?)

And one member of the community has committed his time and skill to turning this troubling, pesky hedge into beautiful pens. Or in his words, “From a noxious vice, to a writing device.”

I use that pen every day now. Why? Because our country seems to be overrun with an invasive spirit of malice and contempt. Why? Because our country seems to be growing in hatred and vitriol which is eroding our identity as a place where all are welcome and have a chance to thrive. Why? Because it seems the need of the individual is outcompeting the need of the whole and we’re collectively suffering for it. Why do I use my buckthorn pen every day? Because it gives me hope.


That little pen is a reminder to me of the power of God to transform the harmful into helpful, the selfish into selfless, the deadly into life giving. That little pen is a reminder to me that the noxious vice of division and fear and hatred can be transformed by the love and grace and mercy of Christ at work in us. That little pen — smooth, balanced, perfect is a reminder to me that the way of transformation is often tedious and challenging but when experienced, it leads to a whole new narrative.

May this moment in our story be a moment where, by the grace of God, noxious vice is transformed into a glimpse of paradise.

Erika Nilsen is pastor at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Baxter.
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