Happy Birthday, Dr. B!

I studied French in college. I never became fluent in the language and my accent is not very good, but I can read a fair amount of the language. I read several books in French. I also studied philosophy in college and was proud to have read Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus in French. Sartre’s play, Huis clos, three people are ushered into a drawing room and through their conversation, the audience encounter’s Sartre’s idea that hell is other people. The first principle of René Descartes’ philosophy published in the Discours is “Je sense, done je suis.” I thought for some time that I was quite sophisticated being able to quote Descartes in French until I learned that although he spoke French, he wrote in Latin. The famous phrase in Latin is cogito, ergo sum, usually translated into English as “I think, therefore I am.”

So I read enough French that I am sure that were I in France, I would be heading to the newsstand today to purchase a copy of the satirical newspaper, La Bougie du Sapeur. It is a 20-page tabloid with sections on politics, sport, international affairs, arts, puzzles, celebrity gossip, and the latest installment of a serialized story, “The Drowning in the Pool.” It is fairly expensive for a small tabloid, costing priced at €4.90 ($5.31). It is, in my opinion, however, well worth the price and i wish that I could purchase a copy here in the states, though there won’t be any available here.

Here is the rub about the paper. It is the world’s only quadrennial, a paper that is published once every four years. Founded in 1980, the paper has published an issue each February 29. This year’s edition is issue 12. The lead article in this year’s issue, under the headline, “We all will be intelligent,” is about how everyone could get perfect scores on exams and intelligence tests by using artificial intelligence. Another article - titled "What men need to know before becoming women" - explains what it describes as "challenges" facing men wanting to transition. That article might be seen as perpetuating an anti-trans message, but I think it needs to be read with a French sense of humor, which doesn’t translate well. The editors say that they are careful to be silly, but not nasty - to poke fun without being cruel. On the international pages of this year’s edition is an article about the most “forgettable” of modern British prime ministers that names Liz Truss with that title.

The paper does not appear online and can only be bought at newspaper kiosks in France. I guess I’ll have to be satisfied with reading online articles reporting on the paper instead of having a copy of my own.

Celebrating its 12th edition makes the paper only half as old as a friend of ours. Dr. Reuben Bareis, who lives in a care center in Rapid City, celebrates his 24th birthday today. We had to customize a birthday card for him, as the store where we generally purchase cards had plenty of cards for decade years (20, 30, 40, 50, etc.) but did not have any for the years in-between and we wanted a cart for a 24th birthday. Reuben is 96 years old, but, being born on leap day, has only had 24 birthdays on the same day as he was born.

I didn’t mention it in our greeting, but It seems to me that being a leap year child and making it to your 24th birthday sort of ups the pressure to hang on for your 25th in 4 years.

Whatever his age, Dr. Bareis has lived a life worth celebrating. Born in Kansas and growing up in Missouri and Colorado, Dr. Bareis graduated from medical university the year before I was born and went on to complete training in internal medicine at the University of Michigan. In 1957, he came to Rapid City where he has lived since. His younger brother, Robert, also became a physician. Both doctors became active in serving residents of nursing homes and Reuben was involved in founding seven care facilities serving older citizens. He was a leader in the development of West Hills Village, a continuity of care facility and the first of its type in South Dakota. He was also instrumental in the development of Rapid City’s Hospice House after a Bush Fellowship took him to the British Isles in the late 1980s. He is honored in the South Dakota Hall of Fame for his work as a geriatrician.

One of the deep joys of my life was that I got to spend hours with Reuben. When I was studying at the University of Wyoming, I interviewed him as part of a research project in adult post-secondary education and was fascinated and delighted to hear him speak of the process by which he took what had originally been envisioned as a small church-related nursing home and led the community to develop and fund a much more comprehensive system of care with multiple housing options for residents from townhomes to apartments to assisted living to a full nursing care center - all in the same institution, all in close proximity to encourage family members to visit, and all under an umbrella funding system designed to make sure that residents received the care they need as they journey through several stages in their aging years. He himself is now a resident at Westhills Village, and when I lived in South Dakota he was active in founding a writer’s group there. I also knew that I would see him at many local theater and musical performances. He was a contributor to both a project to replace our sanctuary piano and an expansion of the pipe organ in the church I served there.

Reuben’s 24th birthday is indeed an occasion worth celebrating. Although I don’t know whether or not he can read French, if it were possible, I would take great delight in being able to send him a copy of La Bougie du Sapeur. Perhaps that could be a goal for his 25th.

Rules of grammar

I confess that I can be judgmental about how others use language. I remember learning rules of grammar in school. Often I had no idea why the rules existed. They were simply presented as things that one had to learn in order to be considered educated. There was a correct way to spell a word. Other ways of spelling were wrong. And don’t you ever end a sentence with a preposition. I often self-correct my writing when I notice errors in grammar or spelling.

However, the so called rules are not so much hard and fast rules as observations about convention. And the rule about not ending a sentence with a preposition was called to question last week when no less an authority than Merriam-Webster posted on Instagram the following: "It is permissible in English for a preposition to be what you end a sentence with. The idea that it should be avoided came from writers who were trying to align the language with Latin, but there is no reason to suggest ending a sentence with a preposition is wrong."

It isn’t the first debate over the use of language that has caught my attention in recent years. Not long ago I read several articles debating the use of the Oxford comma. I became convinced that it was time for me to change my practice. I was taught that when writing a list of three or more items, no comma was used immediately before the conjunction. My elementary grammar school teachers would have me write a sentence like this: “Would you like steak, chicken or pork for dinner.” However, I learned that not only is the use of a comma before the conjunction acceptable, it is preferred in certain academic circles. So now, I’ve begun to write, “Would you like steak, chicken, or pork for dinner.” I have convinced myself that the Oxford comma helps to make it easier to read lists and so have revised my practice.

It isn’t easy to adjust to new ways of expressing oneself. I learned to operate an alphabetic keyboard in the days of manual typewriters. We were taught to make a double space following each period. It was so automatic for me to add that extra space that it took me years to change when I switched to using a computer for my writing. Because modern computers use proportional spacing the extra space is unnecessary and occasionally can leave too much space when certain fonts are employed. I just got used to that practice when I discovered that when writing text messages on a smart phone, where punctuation marks require shifting to a different screen, you can insert a period without switching by simply adding a double space after a word. I know that it works in my brain, but I still haven’t trained my fingers to that new way of writing.

Of course spaces after periods are a pretty minor issue when it comes to clear communication. And whether or not one uses the Oxford comma is probably not only unimportant, it is most likely not noticed by the majority of readers. Still, I find myself eager to teach our grandchildren some basics of educated language use. We’ve had fun with a series of sentences in the category of punctuation saves lives. Here are some examples:
There is a difference between “Let’s eat kids,” and “Let’s eat, kids.”
“Jacob likes cooking his family and his dog” means something entirely different from “Jacob likes, cooking, his family, and his dog.”

The examples get giggles from our grandchildren and make a point. One of our grandsons has taken to being intentional about saying, “Let’s eat grandpa!” when he is ready for a meal just to get a response from me. I have no intention of becoming part of the menu for a meal.

But when it comes to Merriam Webster taking a stand against long-established grammar rules about ending a sentence with a preposition, I confess that I squirm. I can defend your right to choose a preposition to end a sentence with. However, I doubt that I will make the same choice when it comes to writing.

And don’t get me started on dangling participles. It seems that the latest edition of Merriam-Webster’s “Dictionary of English Usage” is calling into question many rules declaring particular phrases or usages to be in error. According to the dictionary, many grammar rules were introduced in the 19th century and are based on the structure of Latin, and that those rules do not necessarily apply to proper usage of English. Many writers employ dangling participles including Jane Austen, Alexander Pope, Arthur Miller, and even Shakespear: “Sleeping in mine orchard, a serpent stung me.” (Hamlet). Can sleeping serpents can sting? Just because Shakespear wrote it doesn’t mean it is well communicated. “After being whipped fiercely, the cook fried the egg.” I don’t think it is ever wise to whip a cook and I certainly don’t want one to be whipped before cooking an egg for me. “Approaching the station and admiring the scenery, my hat blew off.” I’ve never had a hat that cared anything about scenery.

While I think that it is entirely possible to over apply the so-called rules of grammar and that there is no reason to rigidly enforce grammar rules, I do think that some common practices do aid in clear communication. Thus I will continue to teach my grandchildren that commas save lives. While it may not be literally true, observation of some common practices can definitely aid in clear communication.

I also think that different principles apply when writing as opposed to speaking. I’ve worked hard over the span of my career to learn the distinction between effective verbal communication and effective writing. People don’t want me to read an academic paper when I preach and to do so would not make for effective communication. On the other hand, I find it challenging to read transcriptions of my sermons without a bit of practical editing. Writing and speaking are two different forms of language.

If there remains any doubt that I am a bit of a language nerd, I’ll close with another topic. To quickly go to the topic of split infinitives might be interesting, but I’ll leave that for another day.

Hardware Sales

One day when I was working at our church in Bellingham, I needed a nut driver to make some adjustments to a handbell. I happened to mention that I was heading to a hardware store to our church janitor, who told me that a local hardware store was closer than the big box store where I had initially planned to go. I’m a fan of independent merchants and I like supporting local hardware stores, so I followed his directions and found the store. It is located in a mis-matched set of buildings a few blocks from a Trader Joe’s grocery store. When I walked into the building, my jaw dropped. It was packed with row upon row of shelves with narrow aisles between, filled with every type of hardware i could imagine. On my way to find the tool section, I passed all kinds of hardware items in bulk bins. It is possible to purchase a single bracket or bolt, something that is nearly impossible at the big box stores. And the selection far exceeded any big box store. When I got to the tool section, they not only sold individual nut drivers without the need of purchasing a more expensive set, they had every size in both metric and standard sizes in at least three different types of drivers.

I’ve since made the store my “go to” place for hardware. In addition to expansive stock, the store boasts very friendly employees. Unlike big box stores, it is not difficult to find an employee and when I do they take time to show me where to find exactly what I want. When I wanted a strip of adhesive backed Velcro eight inches long they had it and sold it by the inch. When I wanted a harness ring, they have them in stock. So far, I haven’t failed to find what I’m looking for when I go to the store.

When I have a bit of extra time, I enjoy just wandering in the store. There is an upper level with all kinds of wonderful things. There is a rental shop. Larger items such as pipe are in a separate building out back. Power tools and hand tools each have their own section. They sell obscure tools that are not stocked in the big box stores. And over head as you down the stairs from the upper level is a sign that reveals a bit of the history of the store. The sign says, Powder Sales & Equipment. That was the name of the store in the 1950s and early 1960s before the family that currently owns and runs the business purchased it. It used to be a supplier of industrial tools and dynamite was one of the supplies that they sold. I asked an employee and was informed that they no longer sell powder. Keeping up with safety regulations combined with a very limited demand to cause the store to go out of that particular line of business.

Around the time I discovered the store, it made headlines in the local newspaper because an employee was arrested and charged with embezzlement of $1.4 million. The story caught my attention because I had the impression that the store was not large enough for that much money to go missing. The dollar figure was, however, an indication of just how big the company is.

Starting with the purchase of the old Powder Sales and Equipment store in the 1960’s the family grew the business into a source for all kinds of hardware. As the customer base grew, demand for mail order sales grew also. Soon they were shipping enough hardware to other locations to require a remote warehouse to keep extra stock on hand and to provide a place for shipping. As Internet sales became a reality the business continued to grow. Now in addition to the brick and mortar store in its original location and the shipping warehouse in a community north of Bellingham, the company has an Amazon storefront for online sales. Among their customers are general contractors, shipbuilders, and refineries.

Despite all of the varied aspects of the growing business, it is still a wonderful place for an individual who happens to like hardware to go to browse and shop. I’m not much of a shopper. I usually like to just go into a place and find what I’m looking for and get out as soon as possible. However, when I go to Hardware Sales it is fun to just look around and see what they’ve got.

One of my father’s business was a farm store. He ran a John Deere dealership out of the main store and had a feed warehouse across the street. The business also sold tires, fuel, oil and grease, and general hardware. He was a member of the Montana Hardware Dealer’s Association for decades and had many friends who were in the hardware business including businesses that grew into large chains. I loved stocking the bolt bins in our store. Among other things, I learned all of my fractions of quarters, eighths, and sixteenths from the bolt and nut sizes. I also learned to know what size wrench to use by looking at a bolt or nut. In those days we only stocked standard sizes, so my eyes and mind aren’t as well trained for metric bolts, nuts, and wrenches, but I’m leaning.

These days, I’m quick to recommend Hardwares Sales to others who are looking for hardware. If nothing else, it is a lot more fun to shop there than in the big box stores with their wide aisles and short staff. I suppose it is partly nostalgia, but I like the smell and feel of the narrow aisles and high shelves jam packed with boxes and bins. I’ll never learn the location of all of the merchandise, but I know that if I wan a specific item there will be a helpful employee who knows where things are and is eager to help me.

God knows

Part of the regular liturgy of our congregation is a prayer time in which worshipers are invited to speak aloud their prayer concerns. Most weeks there are quite a few concerns expressed.
Concerns like a family member or friend who is suffering from an illness or who has received a devastating medical diagnosis are raised nearly every week. Occasionally there are heartfelt expressions of gratitude. Fairly regularly we hear prayers of concern for victims of disaster. Sometimes we hear about prayers offered for victims of war.

I think I have only voiced a prayer concern out loud during that time in our worship service. My understanding of prayer and of my relationship with God does not require my prayers to be publicly voiced to be meaningful. I find the time of sharing of prayer concerns to be an opportunity for me to expand my areas of prayer and concern without increasing a need for me to share. I am aware that this dynamic would be a bit different were I the one leading the time of prayer. When I was leading prayer in a congregation on a regular basis, I used a combination of carefully crafted written prayers and spontaneous prayers based on the concerns of the congregation. However, I never pretended that I was able to give voice to all of the prayers of the community. Rather, I used the invitation to quiet prayer and the words that made the transition from quiet prayer to the pastoral prayer as an opportunity to remind worshipers and myself that God hears all of the prayers of the community, not just those that are voiced out loud.

I am grateful for opportunities for community prayer whether or not I am the leader chosen to officiate. In my personal experience, the prayers of the community are very important in part because I often find myself with prayers for which I have no words. In my deepest moments of grief and sorrow, I don’t know how to pray even though I am a trained professional who has written and voiced thousands of prayers over decades of service. When faced with unsurmountable challenges and deep worries, I often struggle to put my prayers into words.

Lately, the plight of the victims of the war in Gaza is a part of my prayers every day, but I find myself at a loss to find the words for my prayer. The one time I did voice a prayer concern out loud in our congregation I simply said, “I ask for prayers for the children of Gaza and Israel.” The words were not expansive. They did not cover all of the pain and suffering of those who live in that region. But I trust God to receive my prayers even when the words do not fully cover the situation. After all, from my theological perspective, prayers are not to inform God who already knows the pain and concerns of people everywhere. And my prayers are not to instruct God as to what is needed. God does not need instruction. God knows need. My prayers are primarily to open my spirit to God. Often, I find that simply listening is as effective as any words I might utter.

God knows that my heart breaks for children who are forced to scrounge for food for their families in a hostile and war-torn country. God knows the depth of the trauma that has been witnessed by those who have been forced to flee their homes and now find themselves trapped in an area that is under constant attack with no place to go. God knows the grief of children who have lost their parents and parents who have lost their children. God knows the desperation of those who wait daily for aid that is not delivered. God knows the anguish of Israeli families whose members are being held hostage by the brutal Hamas organization. God knows the anger and thirst for revenge that has arisen from the shock and horror of the brutal surprise attacks of October 7.

God knows.

Perhaps the reason I cannot get thoughts of the victims out of my brain - the cause of my mind going to their plight each time I pause to prayer - is God reminding me of what I must not ever forget. Prayer often works that way. It is more about what we learn from God than about what we say to God.

Still, I long to hear worship leaders and others put words to prayers for the victims of war and violence. I know how reassuring it can be to be reminded that when I have no words for my prayers I am not the only one praying. When weeks go by without mention of the plight of the victims of violence I can sometimes delude myself into thinking that I am alone in my prayers. My rational mind knows that this is not the case. There are many others in our congregation who pray daily for the children of Gaza and Israel. But emotionally I distance myself from this reality when my prayers go without being voiced.

I know I could raise my concerns in worship. The invitation is clear. There would be no judgment of one who raised the same concern each week. But as I sit and worship, I find that I choose silence over speech.

The experience has been illuminating for me. I am sure that during all of the years I was a worship leader and offered pastoral prayers in many different settings, there were worshipers who felt isolated in their prayers. There were people whose prayers went unvoiced when I was responsible to speak in worship. My carefully crafted prayers fell short of serving all of the people who came to worship. Often, however, at the time I was leading worship, I was unaware of those whose prayers were not voiced. Although I sought to always acknowledge their prayers by offering a generic reminder that God hears prayers that are not spoken aloud, I now know that there were those who felt lonely in their prayers when it fell to me to lead prayers.

Our prayers are imperfect. God does not demand perfection. 1 Thessalonians 5 invites faithful people to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, [and] give thanks in all circumstances.” Among my prayers is a request that I might discover ways of becoming more sensitive to the prayers of others that are not voiced. And when I do not know those concerns to be reminded, God knows.

Gratitude for gifts of joy

On his birthday a couple of weeks ago, our 2-year old grandson received a bright green car with large tires and a friction motor. When rolled on the floor, the car will continue to travel for quite a distance across the room. The large tires placed at the corners of the car result in wild actions when the car encounters bumps or uneven surfaces. When it hits a wall or the leg of a chair or a person’s foot the car will flip onto an end or side and spin around in circles. The motion delights not only the young child, but his brother and sisters, parents and grandparents. His laughter is infectious and we all find ourselves laughing with him.

Last night I was sitting on the floor, pushing that car back and forth with the two youngest children of our son’s family. I was enjoying watching not only the play with the car, but also the interaction between the two young children, who were managing play between themselves despite different ages and abilities. The situation didn’t require that I speak much or that I intervene to assist the children’s play. I simply turned the car around so that it headed in the direction of the children each time it came towards me.

Being able to simply play with children is one of the luxuries of my retired lifestyle. The situation was as low stress as I can imagine. I didn’t have any responsibilities. The supper table was cleared, the other children were safely engaged in activities, the other adults were enjoying a bit of conversation, and I didn’t feel any rush to be anywhere or do anything. It was delightful.

There were many years in my life when Saturday evenings were not a good time for me to relax. Sundays were days when I needed to be on top of my game and my profession required that I be ready to lead worship with clarity and sensitivity. Even if I was engaged in other activities, I was going over my role in worship the next day in the back of my mind. I needed to think about dozens of things from what I might wear, to the many special prayer concerns that had come to me in the past week, to the dynamics of leadership in a congregation, to upcoming meetings, to budget issues, to the needs of volunteers and church employees. There were all kinds of things that could interrupt my concentration. Emergencies don’t pay attention to schedules and calendars. I could be called out of bed to respond on any night of the week.

I think my family learned not to expect me to be fully engaged on Saturday evenings. Even if I was engaged in conversation and trying to give them my full attention, I’m sure that I was glancing at my watch and allowing my mind to wander from time to time.

Now I am retired. I could enjoy the simply pleasure of being focused on the play of my grandchildren.

The day had been busy for our retirement lifestyle. I had gone over to our son’s home right after breakfast to care for the children so he could go to a work meeting for a couple of hours. Our daughter-in-law works long days on Saturdays, so a bit of extra childcare help eased the pressure on them. I helped the children with breakfast and helped them get dressed and ready for the day. After their father returned, I went home for lunch and a walk with my wife. In the afternoon we attended a delightful birthday party with friends that was a reminder of the community of friends that we now have in our new home. From there we stopped at a pizza restaurant to pick up dinner for our son’s family and headed to their house. The schedule of the day wouldn’t have seemed crowded during my working years, but it was quite a few activities back-to-back for our retirement lifestyle. I’m used to having a few more minutes to read a book or check my email.

However, I don’t get email that can’t wait for a response these days. I don’t have pressing business that lingers in the background. If I don’t complete a task one day, I’ll have time for it on another. The day had plenty of time for me to sit on the floor and roll a car back and forth with my grandchildren and delight in their joy.

I am well aware of the complex dynamics that contributed to the luxury of my evening. Five different congregations over a span of 44 years faithfully contributed to my retirement account to create a source of income for this phase of my life. A very complex set of politics in government created Social Security and Medicare to support my needs and the needs of other seniors. There were a lot of careful church budget meetings, generous volunteer hours, faithful church donors, and visionary planners behind the gifts of time that I enjoy. I have contributed to that process. There were plenty of times when I worried about my impact on the congregations I served. For decades, my salary and support package were the largest single item in the budgets of the congregations I served. I worried about taking too much from the mission of those congregations. Somehow, however, we came up with a fair exchange of my time for the compensation the congregations gave to our family.

When I pause to reflect on the gratitude I feel, I am aware of the hundreds of faithful church volunteers who donated untold thousands of hours of time to maintain healthy institutions that supported my work. I was fortunate to have a career in a unique moment in the history of the church when pastors were appreciated and well supported by congregations and the institutional church was strong and healthy. Through the church I have met so many gracious and generous people.

I’ll never be able to express my gratitude to all who have been so good to me. More than a few of them have died. I officiated at a lot of their funerals. Others continue to serve their congregations in countless faithful ways. A few will read this journal post. I hope that those of you who do will get a glimpse of my gratitude. Your faithfulness has brightened not only my life, but contributed to the joyful laughter of my grandchildren. Thank you.

No secret key to wealth

Here is a simple thing about me that I’m pretty sure that those who read my journal already know. I am not an influencer. I do not have a large number of people who follow me on any digital platform. In addition to maintaining this web site, I have a few social media accounts. I have a Facebook account and I rarely post anything. I look at other’s Facebook posts to keep up with a few friends and I have responded to messages from friends in Facebook Messenger. My Facebook account is linked to my Instagram account to which I have posted less than 10 times. When I post on Instagram, the photo or video appears on Facebook. I have a YouTube channel on which I posted a daily prayer on the pandemic. The last of those posts was posted on my last day of working at First Congregational United Church of Christ of Rapid City, SD on June 15, 2020. Since then I have posted two very short videos, one promoting an event at First Congregational Church in Bellingham and another brief video of Nooksack Falls posted to show our grandchildren where we were and what we were doing. No video that I have ever posted garnered 100 views. I have not gone viral. I do not have hosts of followers.

My journal is primarily a personal adventure. I write for the joy of writing. I would be keeping a journal even if I was not posting it to my website. What you are reading are words that I have written on my laptop while sitting at my library table in my home and posted to an account that I pay for out of my own funds. I do not receive any income from the Internet.

There is a distinct advantage to not being famous or popular on social media. There is no one interested in creating deep fakes of my images or my ideas. There is no money to be earned from pretending to be me. That hasn’t totally prevented scammers from trying. When I was working as a pastor, there were multiple occasions when people would create fake Facebook accounts and fake email addresses and, pretending to be me, sent messages to people whose email addresses were associated with me on the church website or who were listed as my friends on Facebook. They appealed to those people for funds, generally in the form of giving gift card codes. Although I am aware of a single incident where a friend fell for one of those fakes, no one has generated any significant amount of money by pretending to be me.

If you receive an email in which I am asking for money, check the sender’s address. It hasn’t come from me. And those scammers aren’t finding very many people to contact by looking for names associated with me on the Internet.

Those who have a lot of followers and fans have experienced some pretty bold attempts at using their names, pictures, videos, and other postings by unauthorized people to get money from unsuspecting victims. Celebrities including Piers Morgan, Nigella Lawson, and Oprah Winfrey have had their images altered to make the false impression that they have endorsed a self-help course. The faked advertisements promoted “Genie Script,” and a “manifestation” course sold for $37 by Wesley “Billion Dollar” Virgin. The fake videos claim that Genie Script is a “missing” Hebrew Bible scripture of just 20 words that could - supposedly - change a person’s life.

While I am no expert at social media and I have no intention of using it to generate income and furthermore have no intention of becoming wealthy through any get rich quick scheme, I am a student of the Bible and know a bit about the history of Biblical texts. There are no missing pages from the Hebrew or Greek scriptures. When ancient texts are discovered, they are most notable not for the new information they contain, but rather for the sections and words that are missing. Ancient texts are fragmentary. They have been damaged by time and exposure to the elements. They may contain clues to how scriptures were used by ancients, but they do not contain old secrets that have been used to allow possessors to become wealthy.

Genuine faith does not lead to worldly riches. It is not magic. There are no magic words in scripture. For a couple of hundred years there have been a few preachers of various forms of prosperity gospel who promise that if people follow them and believe what they say they will become rich. One thing about prosperity gospel preachers is that while the preachers may occasionally experience financial success, they don’t make their followers any richer. Their financial gains are based on extracting money from their followers. I promise you, reading my journal will not make you rich. And there is no 20-word fragment of scripture that produces magical results. Genuine faith does not work that way.

Most prosperity gospel thinking can be traced to late 19th century America. It suggests that healing and prosperity are available to Christian believers if they have enough faith. While Jesus did heal people, he did not dole out healing only to those who gave him money. Nor did he set some requirement of a certain set of beliefs in exchange for his compassion.

You will find that I rarely post links to other web pages in my journal. While I do read a fair amount of material published on the Internet, I try to apply the same critical thinking skills that I apply to other documents that I read. I have a healthy skepticism about claims that cannot be supported. The times when I do include links in my journal are times when I am attempting to give credit for ideas that are not my own and have come from other sources. I have also given links to trusted websites that offer information and do not attempt to extract profit.

So be careful. The Internet is filled with fakes and scams. Find a real person who has earned your trust for financial advice before investing your money. And if you do want to continue to read my journal posts, please feel free to do so. I won’t make you wealthy, but it may occasionally make you laugh.

In other news

A week ago, I was returning home from a meeting in the early evening. About a half mile from home, I waited at an intersection to yield to an ambulance heading in the direction of our place. I could see additional vehicles with flashing lights, so I waited for a fire truck, a fire department command vehicle, and a law enforcement vehicle. When I turned onto our street, it was blocked by emergency vehicles. I had to turn around in a neighbor’s driveway and go back and then around to our house by an alternate route that allowed me to approach our home from the other side. I couldn’t tell what the emergency was, but I didn’t notice smoke so assumed that it might be a medical emergency. After I got home, we went for a walk and we could still see flashing lights down our street. We decided to stay away from the area, as the last thing emergency responders need are noisy neighbors gawking at the scene of a situation to which they are responding. We couldn’t see or smell smoke and we talked about what might be happening, and again decided that a medical emergency might be the most likely cause of all of the responders on our street.

Our neighborhood is fairly quiet. When we read the newspaper each week, we take note of the police and fire news. It is a small town weekly paper and always has a report of every response made by emergency crews. Most of the time the emergency calls are to places that are not near our house. This isn’t to say that there haven’t been issues. A couple of months ago there was an incident a few blocks from our home that made the newspaper. A person was moving out of a rental home and getting assistance from his mother. A dispute between the mother and the landlord erupted that resulted in the landlord pulling a gun on the mother. He was subsequently arrested and has been charged with a couple of felonies over the incident. He has been arraigned and is currently in jail with a high bond waiting for trial. That seemed to be a pretty wild story for our neighborhood. And, there was a house across the street that was under construction for all of the first year we lived here as the result of a major fire. A barbecue had been left unattended that set the back of the house on fire and caused extensive damage.

It turns out that all of the flashing lights last week was a house fire. Yesterday’s paper reported that a house fire sent one person to the hospital to be treated for minor smoke inhalation after a fire started in a bedroom. The story reports that the fire battalion chief reported that although the fire was contained to the bedroom, smoke damage throughout the house and attic has rendered the house unlivable. Reading the article in the newspaper, I wondered if the home might not have had working smoke alarms. For some reason the person who suffered smoke inhalation did not exit the home in time to avoid injury. That seems pretty uncommon with the safety equipment available for homes. I do not know the details of the story, but it is a reminder that we all need to be vigilant to be sure our homes have effective safety devices and that we have escape plans.

Another news story caught my attention this morning. This one from Texas where a judge ruled that a school district did not discriminate against a high school student when it punished him over dreadlocks. The case is currently on appeal, and it certainly looks like the judge’s opinion might be reversed. The school district claimed that their rule was not race based. The policy says hair cannot be “blow the top of a T-shirt collar, below the eyebrows, or below the ear lobes when let down.” I’m pretty sure that the rule is only applied to males, which makes it sound gender based. Texas has a law that specifically prohibits race-based discrimination against people based on their hairstyle called the Crown Act. The school district required two students to cut their dreadlocks in 2020, their families sued, and a federal judge ruled that the district’s hair policy was discriminatory.

While it certainly seems like the school district is on the wrong side of justice in this case, what caught my eye was the existence of such a restrictive hair policy. More than 50 years ago, my brother was expelled from high school over the length of his hair. Our family sued over the policy, but lost the case. The district judge’s option was reversed on appeal, but by that time my brother was a college student, having earned his GED and moved on with his life.

I thought that rules that set different standards for male and female students about the length of hair had long ago been eliminated. Over the years, I’ve known a lot of students and more than a few male teachers whose hair easily touched the collar of their shirts. Rapid City, where our children graduated from High School, has lots of long-haired students. It is traditional for Lakota men to wear their hair long and a motorcycle rally, with lots of long-haired people is an annual feature in that town with a major impact on the area’s economy. People don’t make a fuss over the length of a person’s hair, and such a policy there would clearly be seen as discriminatory against Lakota youth. Our son had long hair during part of his high school career and it was not a problem for him or for other students. He grew up to be a successful adult and a contributing member of society.

I fail to see how the length of a student’s hair is something that needs to be regulated by a school district. I worry when schools, which are short of funds, continue to invest resources in battles. Imagine the legal fees the district has spent in recent years, diverting funds from the education of students.

It seems that just like we need to be vigilant to keep our families and neighbors safe from the dangers of house fires, we need to be vigilant to keep our communities safe from discrimination and school boards and administrators that are distracted from the goals of public education.

When it is time to give up driving

My great uncle Ted made his own decision about when it was time for him to quit driving. He loved cars and his brother was a car dealer for many years. When he was in his seventies, he traded his Volkswagen beetle and bought an Opel Kadette. It was a very small and efficient car for the 1960s. As his 80th birthday approached, he decided that it was time for him to quit driving. He sold his car the year before I got married. The timing was fortunate for me. That car got us through our last year of college and four years of graduate school. It took us to and from Chicago and was my commuter car when we lived in Chicago and I worked in a western suburb. We had a few problems with the car. Once he starter gave up and we push started it for an entire trip from Chicago to Montana. Another time a u-joint failed on the freeway and we had to have the car towed and find alternate transportation while repairs were made. But for the most part it was a reliable car.

I later found out that the sale of the car was a big relief to my parents. Uncle Ted had moved to the town where we lived and worked for years as the parts manager of our father’s John Deere dealership. He had a special relationship with our family. He and his wife had had no children and our family provided support for him when his wife predeceased him. My parents felt that they were going to have to advise him to quit driving as he grew older. But they didn’t need to worry. He made the decision himself before they had to come up with a strategy to get him to stop driving.

The story was a bit different with my mother. Years before she quit driving she regularly said to us that she expected us to tell her when we thought that she was no longer safe as a driver. She promised that she would willingly give up driving if one of us said that we thought it was time for her to do so. I helped her buy her last car and at the time felt that although she was still a safe driver, having a car with air conditioning and an automatic transmission might help her remain safe for a while longer. She was living near my sister when she first became confused while driving. Although there was no accident involved the incident shook both her an my sister and my sister and I discussed whether or not it was time to tell my mom that it was time for her to quit. We never really had that conversation with her, however. She cut back on her driving a lot. For a few years, I would drive her between my sister’s home and her summer place in Montana and she would drive about our small town in Montana a bit during the summers, but the car remained in the garage when she was back in Portland. When the time came for her to quit going to Montana each summer, our son was in need of a car and I bought the car from her at the book price. She was happy about the deal and glad that the car was going to help her grandson. I remembered how my great uncle’s car had helped us when we were getting started.

A few years later, however, after my mother had come to live in our home, I overheard her talking with friends at the coffee hour after church one week. The table with several women in their 80’s sitting together was discussing when it was time to give up driving. At least two of the women in the conversation were at the point where I thought that they should give up driving and wondered if their children were getting ready to talk to them. I had witnessed a couple of frightening maneuvers in the church parking lot that showed inattentive driving. What my mother said, however, surprised me. “My son took my car away from me,” she declared. I thought her statement was unfair. I certainly didn’t remember our transaction that way. As far as I know, she was glad to sell her car and give up driving at the time.

She repeated that version of the story about my taking the car away from her several times, including a conversation over our dinner table. I wonder if that is the version of the story that she believed for the rest of her life.

I’ve joked with our children that I will know that it is time for me to quit driving when I find a full motion truck driving simulator in my living room. It will be their responsibility to provide the device. But it probably is about time to have a preliminary conversation with them in which I ask them to be honest with me when they feel that I am no longer a safe driver. When I am traveling with my children, they usually do the driving, but I am careful to regularly drive when our son is with me just to make sure that he has the opportunity to see how I am doing. I’m confident that he would be honest with me if I made him uncomfortable with my driving. Since we have a full-sized pickup truck, maneuvering the long vehicle in tight places is more challenging than driving our car and I try to have him ride with me from time to time as a safety check. I sometimes joke with friends that driving with one of my children in the car with me is like taking a driving test.

I wonder, however, if the scenario will be different for us. Self-driving cars are already a reality and those systems are going to improve with the passage of time. It is possible that as my abilities decline technology will provide a solution. I suspect that my timing is a bit off and that I won’t be able to afford a technological chauffeur, but I really don’t know how soon I will be a passenger in a car without a human driver.

In the meantime, I hope that those around me will be honest with their observations about my driving. If such a conversation bothers me, I can always make up a fictional version of the events to tell my friends. It worked for my mom.

A time for everything

We are coming up on the fourth anniversary of our retirement. It took us a while to get moved after we retired, and after we moved it took us another year to get into the house where we now live. This February is the fourth that we have been members of First Congregational Church of Bellingham. I don’t know exactly what I expected, but I thought that after this much time, I would have settled into my new life. However, I am aware that I am still adjusting. There are still days when I am not sure what to do with myself even though I have plenty of tasks to do and work to accomplish.

One of the things that still surprises me about our adopted home is the flow of seasons. We’ve had a couple of mild days in the past week or so and over and over again I have heard people say, “This sure is nice. I’m ready for spring.” I’m prone to spring fever and I often got a bit carried away during spring months earlier in my life. I remember best the year when our son was born. His birthday is March 15 and not long after he was born the weather was warm and mild and I set out tomato plants that were frozen when it turned cold. I tried a second set of plants that also were frozen. Around the end of May, I finally set out plants that survived. I knew the rule, “Wait until memorial day to set out your plants,” but I was seduced by warm sunny days. It wasn’t the last time I got into the gardening mood and pushed the schedule.

Still, I have to suppress the urge to say to folks around here, “You may be ready for spring, but it is only the middle of February.”

After all, I’m a survivor of the Mother’s Day blizzard and I can remember several years when we got snow during Holy Week and it has only been Lent for one week.

But we live in a different place now. Our daffodils are four or five inches out of the ground and we can see buds on some of the plants. The tulips are breaking through the ground as well. I can see the buds on the lilacs starting to turn green. There are all kinds of signs of spring around us. I’m just not quite used to this place. According to the USDA climate map, our area is zone 8b, where last frost comes around March 15. That should be easy for me to remember because it is our son’s birthday.

Our daughter-in-law, who is a disciplined and effective gardener, keeps schedules of when to plant various crops. She starts most of her seeds in the house, moves them to the greenhouse, then lets them acclimate to being outdoors before planting the plants. In the process she moves the plants from smaller to larger pots. It is a lot of work, but you can’t argue with her results. And she is very busy outdoors these days, mulching, spreading wood chips and straw, preparing her beds and doing other chores.

Our gardening plan is much simpler. We time most of our planting to the plant sales of more experienced gardeners. We have neighbors whose relatives have a greenhouse and who allow us to order tomatoes and some flowering plants from them. When their tomatoes and petunias are ready, we pick them up and pant them. We also try to get to the local native plants sale each spring and come home with additional flats of plants. In both cases, we don’t have to worry about the dates, because once we get the plants it is generally safe to put them out. I simply observe our son’s practices with his dahlias and put out our tubers after I know he has gotten his in the ground. We harvest plenty of tubers each fall to have planting stock for the next year.

I am planning to plant a few plants from seed that can be planted directly into the garden this year, and I’m comfortable waiting until after our son’s birthday. When we lived in South Dakota, I used to let the sunflowers go to seed and allowed the birds to harvest all of the seeds, but we had good luck with our sunflowers here last year and I have enough seeds saved from just a couple of heads for planting this year. I’ve added a few small beds in our back yard and so have a bit more space for plants this year.

It seems a bit strange to me to not be chomping at the bit when it comes to gardening. I’m content to wait for now. I think that is partly residual habits from our years in the Dakotas. I’m in no rush. I keep thinking, “It’s still February.” When I do, sometimes I am thinking that I have months to go when in reality it is probably closer to weeks. Who knows, maybe I’ll even be a bit late this year. On the other hand, I have noticed that the lawn services have started making their rounds and some of my neighbors have started mowing their lawns. Ours is getting close. I’ll probably begin weekly mowing in a couple of weeks. The extending mowing season still seems strange to me. This year, however, forecasters are predicting much lower than normal rainfall and it is likely that we will allow our lawn to go dormant for a couple of summer months and not need to mow much in July and August.

The third chapter of Ecclesiastes reminds faithful people that “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the sun.” It, of course, doesn’t say that the seasons come at different times depending where you live. That may not have been obvious to the ancients who tended to live their entire lives in a fairly small geographical area.

I just need to learn the seasons and times in this place so I can discern “a time to plant and a time to uproot.” Then again, I’ve never been good at knowing, “a time to be silent and a time to speak.”


I’m not one to pay much attention to celebrities, and I’m not overly impressed by billionaires, but I did notice an article posted on the BBC website about the death of Hirotake Yano. Yano’s death was announced by the firm he founded and ran for many years, Daiso. In a statement released on Monday, the firm said he passed away and that a private funeral had already been held by close family members.

When we visited Japan, we enjoyed shopping at Daiso. The store stocked everything from housewares to paper products. It was a good source for some of the tourist goods that we wanted to bring home, such as rice bowls, chopsticks, origami paper, and Japanese candy. In Japan you can find Kit-Kat bars in dozens of flavors not available in the United States, including Matcha and Wasabi.

Before dollar stores became popular in the United States, Mr. Yano opened his first discount store in 1972. He named the store Yano Shoten, which means “Yano’s Store.” Five years later, he changed the name of the company to Daiso, which means “Create something big.” He said that he and his wife Katsura found that having to price products differently was too time-consuming so they decided to charge 100 yen for every item. For comparison, 100 yen is worth 67 cents. They operated the store on that basis for a long time and eventually opened many more stores. Eventually the stores began to sell items in multiples of 100 yen.

The idea became very popular in the 1990s when the Japanese economy stalled. Eventually Daiso grew to 4,360 stores in Japan and nearly 1,000 in other countries around the world. The idea was imitated by several different chains of dollar stores in the US, Australia, and Canada as well as Pound stores in England.

We have a special connection with Japan. When our children were high school students, we hosted an exchange daughter from Japan for a year in our home. We have remained in touch with her and twenty years later, in 2018, we were able to visit her and her family in Japan. It was powerful to meet her parents and realize that although we don’t have a common language, we do share a daughter who is an excellent translator and we have been bound for more than 20 by our love for our shared daughter. Both of our children participated in short student exchanges and traveled to Japan. Our daughter lived in Japan for nearly 5 years and one of our grandsons was born there. We got to make a second visit to Japan when he was born.

As a result, we were delighted when Daiso opened a store in Bellingham Washington last fall. Shortly after they opened we visited the store and found that some of the things we purchased in Japan are available at the Bellingham store. Throughout the store there are signs that show the prices in Yen and in Dollars. And the store is stocked with some of the same items we shopped for when we were in Japan. On our first visit to the Daiso store here we bought a rice bowl to replace one that had been broken. We bought some inexpensive paper products. We purchased a variety of Japanese candies for Christmas presents for our grandchildren. We sent a few special Japanese treats to our daughter with the presents for their family, too.

There are several products that cost considerably less at Daiso than they do in US dollar stores. Daiso has a much larger selection of housewares than in dollar stores. It is a good place to purchase storage bins and boxes priced well below half the cost of similar items in big box stores. There is a Japanese brand of ginger beverage that is only available at Daiso or online in the US and the store price is well below that of Amazon.com.

This journal entry may illustrate why Mr. Yano became a billionaire and I will never do so. I am promoting the store with my comments here and my conversations with friends. I spend a bit of my money in the store. And I’m not one to devote much energy to bringing business ideas to fruition. I am just the kind of customer that helped make Daiso successful. I enjoy saving a little money, and I don’t mind accepting items with a bit lower quality in exchange for a good price.

Since 1972, when Mr. Yano started his first discount store, I haven’t focused my attention on how to earn more and more money. I’ve figured out how to earn enough for my family to have good food and a home and that has been enough for me. I haven’t had the desire to possess millions.

I’m pretty sure that Mr. Yano’s death will have very little impact on the continuing success of the stores that he founded. The chain continues to grow. They recently opened a new store about an hour’s drive from the one in Bellingham and I think more are being planned for the west coast of the US.

I’ll be back at Daiso from time to time. It is a good place to pick up inexpensive Japanese chop sticks. And sometimes I’ll just look around the store for entertainment and when I do, I’m sure to discover a few bargains. It isn’t that I need anything, we have plenty. But a few items spark my nostalgia and remind me of the wonderful people that we have met from Japan.

Our daughter now lives in South Carolina and these days purchasing airline tickets to Japan isn’t quite as attractive as it was when she lived there. We might never make an other trip there. In the meantime, we can drive a few miles down the road and pick up a few treats from Japan because we have the good fortune to have a Diaso store. Thanks’ Mr. Yano for your vision. May your memory be treasured not only by your family, but also by those of us who enjoy visiting your stores.

Unending fire season

Across Canada, last year was a year of fire. More than 44 million acres - an area roughly the size of Cambodia - were burned by wildfires in Canada in 2023. That is much more land burned than the 10-year average in one fire season.

The problem is that Canada is quickly becoming a place where there is no longer a fire season. Year-round fires are an increasing problem for most of Canada, and they are a really big issue in British Columbia, our neighbor to the north. Over the past decade, it has become increasingly common for a few fires to continue burning through the winter. Five or six fires that continue to smolder slowly beneath the surface in layers of peat moss in a typical recent year. Most of those fires eventually go out by themselves, but on rare occasions the fires provide enough heat that they flare into open surface fires if the spring is dry and warm temperatures come early.

This, however, as I have previously stated, is not a typical year. In January there were 106 active fires still burning in British Columbia and according to CBC, there are still 91 active fires in the province. Wildfire officials are especially worried because there is much less snow than is typical at this time of the year. Once the snow melts and the fires are able to get more oxygen from the air, they can reignite and flare into destructive fires once again.

The province is still reeling from the 2023 season which claimed the lives of sever firefighters in the line of duty, caused the evacuation of many communities, burned a record number of homes, and cause many disruptions in business and in essential services such as education and health care. The fires were, in part, due to an extended drought that has been worsening in recent years.

Residents of the province are already suffering from wildfires. Recently, when temperatures plummeted to -40 (which is the same in both the Celsius and Fahrenheit scales), smoke plumes continued to be visible in Fort Nelson, British Columbia. People in the small town have endured months of blue-gray skies filled with smoke. This winter residents have noticed that even snowfall smells like wood smoke.

So far there is no end in sight to what has become a lifestyle of wildfire as opposed to years when the danger grows and ebbs with the local forecasts.

I’ve been monitoring fire activity in British Columbia in part because traveling and camping in the province has been one of the retirement activities to which we have been looking forward. Back in 2006, when we had a sabbatical funded in part by a grant, we spent almost a month in British Columbia, visiting national and provincial parks, enjoying the scenery, and visiting rural and isolated communities as we studied and wrote on the subject of sacred places. Ever since that trip, I have dreamed of doing more exploring in the north. Our plans included driving and camping in Yukon and Northwest Territories as well. Such plans, however, have had to been put on hold several times due to the pandemic, the processes of moving, and our return to work for two years.

Now, we are reluctant to plan extensive travel because the wildfires are making such plans impractical. Last year there were road closures that would have prevented our visiting to some of the locations we want to see. It is hard for us to make solid plans for this coming summer because of the continuing threat that wildfires will make travel difficult and could result in us being stranded in remote locations. Time will tell, and the fires aren’t the only factor in our choice of summer activities, but it is looking as if the summer of 2024 won’t be our summer for a bit trip to the north.

Of course it is important that we remain flexible and open to changes of plans. Flexibility is one of the luxuries of being retired. We have more time, are able to take more time for travel and other activities, and can travel at a more leisurely pace than was the case when we were actively working with limited vacation time.

I know of no continuing wildfires still burning on our side of the border. The intensity of the 2023 wildfire season that caused so much destruction north of the border did not drift south, even though fire from BC fires drifted over much of the United States last summer. It appears that our next summer will also bring smoky skies to our country even if we have a somewhat less dramatic fire season than our neighbors.

US firefighters and resource planners are already taking note that the drought that has been continuing and is currently deepening in Canada has also had an impact on our side of the border. The north Cascades have far less snow than is typical and cities and townships are already warning of water shortages this summer. The amount of snow pack places a wide variety of different effects on the land and the people from decreases in water available for domestic consumption to decreases in the number of salmon that spawn successfully. The impacts are visible in stream and river levels, in the number and diversity of fish, birds, and land animals, and the availability of winter recreation opportunities.

Winter should be a time for firefighters to get some much needed rest and to make repairs and upgrades to equipment as they prepare for the coming season. To that list of activities, fire managers now have to add monitoring of the forest form last summer and fall that are still actively burning and which threaten to blow up into very early and very widespread fires.

So we will watch and wait and keep sniffing the air for signs of smoke as we anticipate the summer to come. Time will tell how much traveling and camping we do in Canada this year and, I fear, for many years to come.

Learning from the bees

I took the beginning bee keeper’s class in the spring of 2022, but I decided not to keep my own beehives that year. I wanted to give myself a year to check out other bee keepers’ practices, to plan for hives on our son’s farm, and to make sure that I was ready to assume responsibility for the care of bees. By the spring of 2023, however, I was ready and in early February I placed my order for two nuclear colonies, which consist of five frames of bees with a queen. The bees arrived in early April and I transferred them into the hives that I had purchased and prepared for them. The spring and summer were amazing. The bees thrived in their adopted location. The farm is rich with an orchard, a lot of flowers, and a host of bee attractive plants such as lavender. The pasture was filled with bee-friendly flowers last year. The bees quickly multiplied and filled their hives including producing sufficient extra honey for a successful harvest in the fall.

Along the way, he bees taught me a lot, starting with lessons in patience. I quickly learned that one of the best ways to work around the bees is to move slowly. When the bees are not surprised by sudden actions they are remarkably calm. When they get agitated, it can be intense to be around them even when I am wearing a bee suit that protects me from stings. After a few practices and a few mistakes, I learned to adjust the individual boxes in the hives, make inspections to check the health of the hive, install queen excluders to section of areas of the hive for honey without any brood cells, and perform other tasks. Over the course of the season, I was stung only twice and both times were my fault. The first time, I neglected to tie off my pants legs. When a bee wandered up my pants leg instead of calmly providing an escape for the bee, I tried to brush it down my leg towards my shoe. The motion alarmed the bee, which caused it to go into a defensive mode and it stung. It didn’t take me long to walk away from the hives to a private place where I could remove my pants, pull out the stinger, and apply a baking soda compress to soothe the area.

The second sting came when I was working bees without any protective clothing. A bee became entangled in my beard. I should have simply walked away from the hives and calmly waited for the bee to clear itself from the entanglement. Instead, I tried to remove the bee with a bee brush and when the brush pushed it against my beard it became alarmed and stung. The stinger didn’t lodge and my face was a bit tender for a couple of days, but otherwise it wasn’t much of a problem for me.

Traditional bee keepers use smoke to deal with bees. In the wild, bees are alarmed by smoke, which is a signal of forest fires which are a threat to bee colonies which generally are lodged in the hollows of trees, often in areas that have preciously served as bird nesting areas. When there is smoke, the bees that are outside of the hive rush into the hive to protect the queen, literally offering their bodies as insulation to protect her and the brood stock at the center of the hive. When bee keepers use smoke, the bees will rush into the hive or cluster around a queen if the queen is outside of a hive during a swarming event.

Although I own a smoker, I have learned that smoke isn’t really necessary for my style of working with the bees.

Mind you, I am still a novice. Although the bees in our colonies have done well and survived weeks of cold weather, including some record cold days and a season of very few days that are warm enough for them to leave the hive and food is scarce, the colonies are down well and the bees are active and healthy. However, I haven’t even been responsible for bees for an entire year. And I have already ordered two more nucs to expand to four colonies this year. I have also built my own bee boxes for the new colonies and have switched form the traditional Langstroth hives of my first colonies to Warre hives for the new bees. If the year goes as I hope, I will switch the first colonies to Warre hives in the spring of 2025. I don’t expect to expand the apiary beyond four colonies. I don’t want to displace any of the wild native pollinators on the farm, I don’t want to increase the risk of parasites and diseases in the colonies by keeping too many bees too close together, and caring for the bees is a hobby, so I don’t want to generate too much work. Switching to the Warre hives is inspired in part by a style of bee keeping that is less dependent on intervention and inspection by the bee keeper.

I no longer think of myself as a bee keeper. I’m not keeping anything. The bees are pretty much independent beings from whom I steal a bit of honey each year. In exchange, I provide water for them, give them food during the cold seasons, and inspect the hives for signs of parasites and illnesses.

I also have slowed my use of bee colonies as metaphors for anything. Human politics and government are vastly different than bee colonies so those who use bee hives as metaphors for politics and government demonstrate their ignorance of how bee colonies are organized. Unlike politics, bee colonies have a very limited roll for males in a system where females do virtually all of the work from nurturing larvae to foraging for food to serving as guards and protectors of the hive to construction of new cells and storing of honey.

Mostly I am grateful for the experience of observing the bees. Nurturing patience and learning to move a bit slowly are skills that I need in increasing quantities as I grow older. Having a few bee boxes to build over the winter and working to seal them with tongue oil over a few weeks in the spring is a creative task that keeps me engaged. Waiting for the new bees to arrive is something to anticipate along with waiting for warmer weather and blooming plants. A healthy supply of honey in the pantry is an added bonus. A teaspoon of honey in my tea each morning sweetens my day and improves my attitude.

Yesterday I wrote my check for the annual registration of my apiary with the Washington State Department of Agriculture and the process once again stirred my thoughts of the year to come. With any luck this will become an annual tradition for me for many more years.

Riding the ferry

NOTE FOR REGULAR READERS OF MY JOURNAL. If you need more proof of yesterday’s entry, I went to the library yesterday. I intended to just look around for a couple of minutes while we waited for our son who was meeting us there. After writing yesterday’s entry, I was resolved not to get any more books, as I have plenty to read at home. However, I left the library with two more books checked out. One is a collection of short stories by a favorite author. I don’t know how I have missed reading that particular book. And a collection of short stories will be a quick read. The other book is part of an annual program. Every February the library offers “Blind Date with a Book.” Patrons can check out a book, wrapped in plain paper, without seeing the cover or knowing the title or author. They are asked a simple question to determine which book they will be given. Yesterday, I chose “A book for someone who likes interesting people.” I participate in the program every February. It is just too much fun. Last year, I got a book that not only had I already read, but that I own and is on my shelves. This year, I got a book that I have not read, but that I’ve been meaning to read based on the reviews I have read. And, after all, it is just two books, and I have three weeks before they are due.

One thing that I never considered when we moved to this area is how the people who live on the nearby islands travel around. My brother lived on Whidby Island for many years, and we used to take the ferry to visit him, but when we were on the Island we knew that we also had the option of traveling to the other end of the island where it is connected to Fildago Island by a bridge and Fildago is connected to the mainland with another bridge. However, most of the islands in the Salish Sea are not connected to the mainland by bridges. Such structures would simply be impractical given the distance between islands and the number of people who travel to and from the islands.

The State of Washington operates a fleet of ferries that shuttle people and cars to and from the Islands. The ferries charge fees for transporting vehicles and people. When we visit Lummi Island, for example, the short round-trip ferry ride is $22. So far when we have traveled to more distant islands we have not taken our car and instead walked onto the ferries. Walk on rides cost much less and we can have fun visiting the portion of the islands close enough to the ferry terminal to explore by walking.

But there are people who are dependent on the ferries to support their everyday lives. People who live on the islands need regular mail delivery and they order items online which are delivered by parcel trucks. Some people live on islands, but work on the mainland or on another island. Some islands are too small to support their own schools and students ride the ferries twice each day to attend school.

All of this is great when the ferries run on schedule, but even though the performance of Washington State Ferries is pretty good, there are cancellations. Each year the state issues a report on the performance of ferries. The year we moved to Washington, the ferries performed at 99.4%. That seems like a good record, but it does mean that families with children who attend school 180 days a year might face a couple of days each year when their children either cannot get to school or cannot get home from school. Some families use private boats as emergency backup to the ferries. Others have to have care plans for their children should they become stranded off of their home island.

Each year that we have lived in Washington, the performance report has concluded that performance is worse than the previous year. The 2023 report, just released, reports a 97.7% performance. The most-cited cause of cancelled sailings is a shortage of crews available to operate the ferries. Cancellations are also caused by mechanical problems with the aging fleet of vessels. Some are over 50 years old. Five new ferries have been authorized by the state, but it takes years for a ferry to be built and delivered once funds for its purchase have been authorized. The new Lummi Island ferry, the boat we ride on the most often, probably won’t arrive for several more years. Weather and sea level are other reasons why ferries are occasionally less reliable. Although high winds and waves occasionally necessitate the cancellation of a ferry run for the safety of passengers and crew, such weather is unusual. The ferries are equipped to travel safely in weather extremes including wind, rain and fog. However, low water levels can result in load limitations meaning that cars waiting to cross may back up at the terminals because the boats can carry fewer vehicles per trip when water levels are too low.

Our neighbor across the street works for the ferry service and he reported that a cold snap a few weeks ago caused delays and cancellations. For example, the hoses that load water onto the ships and other hoses that drain waste from the holding tanks, froze and were unusable, forcing the ferries to close their bathroom facilities. That problem was worsened by plumbing freeze ups that caused terminal bathrooms to be closed as well. And our neighbor has to commute 60 miles one way to the ferry terminal where he works. Icy roads can cause him to miss work, which leaves the ferry short-staffed. While most employees of the system have shorter commutes than our neighbor, getting around on land can have an impact on the operation of the ferry service.

State ferries have to compete for limited highway transportation funds, which are already insufficient to make all of the needed repairs to bridges and roads that are needed, causing shortfalls and delays in repairs.

Our need for the ferries is optional, but it is a different matter for those who live on the islands. While the population on most of the islands is small, there are several with more than 5,000 residents. And even one child stranded away from school or home is something that should be of concern to all of us.

It is different from where we used to live. As far as I know the reliability of ferry service isn’t a factor in school attendance anywhere in South Dakota.

I have a problem

My name is Ted and I have an addiction to purchasing books.

Before I go farther, however, it is important that I not make light of serious addictive illnesses and that I not mock Alcoholics Anonymous, whose 12-step process has provided a path to resumed health for millions who have suffered from alcohol and other chemical addictions. This is not my intention.

I do, however, have a serious problem. The problem is not with my love of books. One can support a love of books with regular trips to the library. And I do love libraries. I carry library cards from two library systems and I am a regular visitor to libraries. I check out and read books from the library regularly. The problem is that I also have a love of bookstores and of purchasing books.

I ignored the problem for years - for decades in fact. When we moved from Boise, Idaho to Rapid City, South Dakota we set a record for weight loaded into a box van of the moving company that did the hauling. We moved ourselves from Rapid City to Mount Vernon, Washington and from Mount Vernon to Birch Bay. As we did so we downsized in both moves. Before leaving Rapid City we gave away more than 30 boxes of books, and divested ourselves of roughly half of our bookshelves. You might think that such an experience would have taught me a lesson, but that is not totally the case.

I have become a bit less consumptive in my book habits since the move, although we did replace some of the bookcases we moved with new ones purchased from my sister that have more capacity and those bookcases are all full. When we completed our service as Interim Ministers of Faith Formation, the church graciously gave us a gift card to our favorite local bookstore and I accepted that gift as the generous gesture that it was. Five months later, I still have a bit of unused credit on that card. I am trying to discipline myself.

On my shelves are some really wonderful books waiting for me to read them. I am currently reading “How to Tell a Story,” a guide to storytelling from the producers of The Moth Radio Hour and Podcast. It is delightfully well written and a book to which I know I will return many times.

Waiting for me on the shelf are other books. “Between the Listening and the Telling” by Mark Yaconelli was included in the registration for a conference I recently attended. Mark is one of the most captivating storytellers and preachers I have ever encountered. “Feathers” by Thor Hanson is another book I had autographed by the author. Hanson is an incredibly detailed and rich naturalist and writer. His book “Buzz” was part of my inspiration to become a tender of honey bees. John Edgar Wideman’s “Philadelphia Fire” is a novel and winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award. I’ve been meaning to start that book for months, but others seem to have received more attention. “On Fire” is a collection of essays by Naomi Klein that combine a passion for justice with a love of nature. I thought that I might have read enough of Karen Armstrong’s books over the years, but “Sacred Nature” is such a prime candidate for the church library that I bought a copy which I intend to donate to that library as soon as I have read it. David B. Williams is a Seattle-based naturalist, whose book, “Spirit Whales & Sloth Tales” about fossils of Washington State was a recent purchase that delighted me.

I can’t say for sure how soon I will get around to reading those books because I confess that there are two books on their way to our home that I purchased online from a bookstore just over the border in Canada. “Hope Matters” by Elon Kelsey and “The Sacred Balance” by David Suzuki are books that I hope to have read before a major event hosted by our church in April.

It isn’t just printed books with which I have a problem, though I do confess to a definite bias towards reading books on paper with heft that I can hold in my hands. I have learned to travel with an electronic reader that allows me to carry extra books without extra weight. A recent trip prompted me to load several books onto that reader. “The Adversary” by Michael Crummy, “Church of the Wild” by Victoria Loorz, and “Two Women Walk into a Bar” by Cheryl Strayed are loaded onto that device, and as yet unread. Perhaps they wait for my next trip, but I believe that I will get around to reading them before that.

In my defense, my addiction to books did not leave our children wanting for food, or clothing. I did not spend the money for their educations on books, though I confess there was a phase of my life when over use of a credit card was a problem. I didn’t blow our retirement savings on books - at least not yet.

Common sense, however, might dictate that I at least refrain from purchasing new books until I have read the ones waiting for me on the shelf next to my recliner. I have vowed to find a way to donate a volume from our existing collection for each new volume that I purchase, but I have not kept up with that promise. I think I need to go through our library with serious eyes for books that we no longer need to own soon. Although a certain amount of book clutter is an interesting choice of decor and provides conversation with guests who come to our home, I don’t want our house to become so cluttered that it is not welcoming. Nurturing friendships is one of our retirement goals and we have a list of friends we intend to invite to our house for dinner. Each time we do that, we are delighted with the experience.

As the situation currently stands, I have not sought help with my book addiction. It hasn’t gotten serious enough for me to recognize it as a problem. It feels a bit more like an indulgence at this point. I don’t know if my family is talking about an intervention.

Types of people

There is a joke that goes, “There are two types of people in the world: those who believe that there are two types of people and those . . .”

When I tell the joke, I generally don’t need to finish the sentence, the punchline delivers itself. Depending on my audience, the joke will get a few laughs. The problem with the joke, however, is that I don’t believe that there are only two types of people in the world, and I don’t want people to think that I do. I tend to follow-up the joke with some kind of an explanation that makes it clear that I find people to be a fascinating medley of almost infinite variety. Even in our highly-polarized post-pandemic political world, it is a gross oversimplification to say that there are only two sides to any issue.

There are Republicans who voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020 who will not vote for him this year. There are Democrats who voted for Hillary in 2016, but who intend to vote for Trump this year. There is a significant number of voters who have not changed their opinion of the candidates for the presidency with the likely repeat of the choice when November rolls around.

For all of my life, and much longer than that, there have been issues that divided people. There have been intense feelings about those issues and fierce loyalties to different causes. There have been widely different interpretations of history and of current events. If one wants to study such things, and many have, there is a big difference between disagreement and demonizing the opposition. There is a big difference between campaigning to win a political contest and cheating.

It does seem, however, that we live in an era where cheating abounds and where both sides in most political debates are quick to accuse the other side of cheating. Whether or not it is objectively true, it certainly feels like there is a significant rise in the demonization of opposition in the current political debate. And that feels dangerous. It has already led to violence. People in the public eye receive serious death threats.

Violence always begets more violence. Current events in Gaza and the world’s reaction to those events is a clear example. There is no question that Hamas engaged in cruel violence aimed at innocent civilians in the attack on Israel last October. The taking of hostages was a clear case of gross violation of human rights and international standards. It was shocking and cruel. The reaction of Israel to the attacks has also been violent. The targeting of civilians, the refusal to allow food and medical supplies to reach the most vulnerable, the huge toll of casualties, and the creation of refugees who are trapped in battle zones are also violations of human rights and international standards.

That situation, however, does not justify violence in reaction to political acts and statements about either side in the conflict. Still, there has been violence and threats of violence on college campuses and other places of public debate since the beginning of the conflict. Those who speak out about the situation try to be clear in their condemnation of violence, but they have become the targets of violent acts because of having expressed their opinion. People in the public eye have lost their jobs and suffered continuing threats because of their statements, including cases of mis-speaking when apologies were issued. It seems as if rational discussion of the situation is nearly impossible amidst the constant barrage of shouting and threats.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

I have often held political views that were different from my friends and neighbors. I’ve voted in every presidential election since I became old enough to vote and I’m old enough for that to be a lot of elections. Only once in my life, however, have the electors that represented my state voted the way I did. From one perspective it might be argued that my vote didn’t make any difference in the results of the national contest. From another, it shows that I have had to live with neighbors who hold different political opinions than I. Beyond simply living in the same community as those with whom I disagree, I have had many opportunities to work shoulder to shoulder with people who see things differently than I. I count myself in the “never Trump” camp, but I am grateful to the neighbor who has multiple Trump bumper stickers on his truck and who wears a MAGA cap who graciously offered his assistance when I got my truck stuck in the mud. Despite what you might conclude from media reports, we don’t hate each other. Neither of us wants the other to leave our neighborhood.

I have no desire to live in a place where everyone is the same. I am retired, but I really don’t want to move to a retirement community. I love living on a street where there are lots of children. I am delighted that the teenager across the street plays basketball in the middle of the street long after my bedtime. I don’t mind that he occasionally is careless about parking his car in front of my driveway. I am amused by the variety of standards in lawn care in our neighborhood. Our houses don’t all look the same. The landscaping of our lawns varies widely as does the length of our grass. I’m delighted to wait for the school bus loading or unloading students when I head out to run errands. I pray for the safety of all of those students and I hope they all grow up to become citizens and participants in our shared political life. I delight in the different accents I hear in the grocery store. I am fascinated by the religious beliefs and practices of my non-Christian neighbors. I don’t want to surround myself only with people who are like me.

There are more than two types of people in this world. And for that I am grateful.

Proclaiming hope

I have had several conversations recently about the need for some kind of environmental chaplaincy in many of our communities. Some of the first articles I read about the topic centered on research involving children, youth, and young adults. Those who work on college campuses have noted the prevalence of climate anxiety among students. In December of 2021, the results of a global survey of persons aged 16 to 25 years was published in the British Medical Journal, The Lancet. The survey of 10,000 youth in ten countries collected data on participants’ thoughts and feelings about climate change and governmental responses to climate issues. Respondents across all countries were worried about climate change. 59% were very or extremely worried and 84% were at least moderately worried. Young people reported feeling sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty. More than 45% said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning. 75% said they think the future is frightening and 83% said that they think people have failed to take care of the planet. Climate anxiety is related to a perceived failure by governments to respond to the climate crisis. The study’s authors proclaimed an urgent need for further research into the emotional impact of climate change on children and young people and for governments to take urgent action on climate change.

I do not doubt climate anxiety among young people. I’ve witnessed it in my interactions with youth and young adults. But I have also witnessed a significant amount of climate anxiety among older adults. People my age and older also have expressed significant levels of anxiety and fear, sometimes bordering on hopelessness. They cite their sources of news as being filled with alarming statistics and overwhelming problems.

Regardless of their age, people are feeling anxiety. Intense weather events, droughts, fires, and shortages of food and water directly contribute to that fear. It is compounded by passive experiences including news headlines, social media posts, and the words spoken and written by celebrities. In addition, the oversimplified narrative of those who sought to cause doubt about the science of climate change seems to have shifted to an even more simplistic narrative. The message they proclaim is that there is nothing individuals can do. They argue that proposed solutions to climate change do not work and tout the problems with alternative energy, more efficient vehicles, and other solutions.

It seems that the narrative embraced by too many people of all ages boils down to some version of this: “Previous generations have degraded our planet to the brink of no return, and the last hope for saving it, if there is any hope at all, rests with Generation Z.”

It is that fractured vision with I believe needs to be directly confronted by those called to environmental chaplaincy. If we are to enable people to find their way through climate anxiety we need to start with the truth: That vision of our situation is not the truth. At the very least it is not the only story. Yes, the inhabitants of this planet do face a very real climate crisis. It is not, however, a problem created by previous generations leaving solutions only to young people. There are many sustainable actions that can be undertaken by people of all ages. Solutions are already coming from all living generations. Environmental sustainability and conservation successes are frequent and common.

Elin Kelsey, an educator and scholar with a Ph.D. in science communication and international environmental policy knows that climate change is real, devastating and urgent. She also teaches that focusing only on negatives is neither truthful nor effective. She has written and spoken extensively on what she calls evidence-based hope. Such hope doesn’t come from wishful thinking or simplistic stories about good dees, but rather from fact-based study, research, and writing.

Through reading an interview with Kelsey, I discovered Solutions Story Tracker, an online database of stories about positive responses to social problems. Solutions Story Tracker now features nearly 16,000 stories from 9,000 journalists from 90 countries representing a growing movement of journalists using solutions journalism.

There are far too many telling stories of environmental doom and gloom. It seems that nearly every conversation I have about the environment with people of all ages, focuses on the negative. I find myself called to encourage people to look beyond that dominant narrative and the assumptions that come from such a perspective.

I continue to draw my inspiration not only from the news and real science about sustainability and environmental solutions that are working, but also from the stories of our people. For decades I have taught the poetry and vision of the prophet Isaiah whose legacy includes the biblical book that bears his name. The school of thought that stemmed from the prophet’s work made a critical shift in the face of the exile. Proclamations and predictions of impending doom shifted to a narrative of hope in the face of the reality of the destruction of Jerusalem and the carrying of some of its residents into exile in Babylon. The prophets not only warned of impending danger. They also offered real world solutions and proclaimed hope in the midst of destruction.

To the extent that I can participate in the work of environmental chaplaincy, I intend to take seriously the need of those who proclaim hope in our current situation. I am convinced that while fear may motivate some to action, it is not the best motivator of humans. Genuine hope, as proclaimed by biblical writers, casts out fear.

It is simply not the case that we are in a hopeless situation with all of the action taking place in the future. We are the inheritors of decades of concerted and careful action to preserve animal and plant diversity, to address problems of over consumption and injustice, and solid scientific research into real solutions. To those who say that everything is wrecked and that it is too late to change and that nobody cares, I declare that there is much more to the story. We aren’t the first people to recognize the danger, nor are we the only ones working on solutions.

I may be old and retired, but I think there may be a place for another voice to speak of deep seated hope that is more than wishful thinking. Perhaps there is a need for an elder to witness to people of all ages about what works in this world and of the right of everyone, young and old, to discover ways to live and make change in the real world where change is indeed possible. As was true in the time of the biblical prophets, when voices young and old combine, the message of hope is stronger than the message of fear.

Lent begins tomorow

There are traditions in many world religions that have to do with food and eating. For centuries, adherents to many different faiths have known of a relationship between fasting and seeking visions. Going for periods without eating is a discipline that has been shared by faithful people around the globe.

The traditional calendar of Christianity has days for fasting and days for feasting. Today is a day of feasting that precedes a season of fasting. Fat Tuesday, also known as Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, and the final day of Carnival is the last night of consuming rich, fatty foods in preparation for the season of Lent. Lent begins tomorrow with Ash Wednesday. Through the complexities of the Christian calendar which involves both elements of solar and lunar calendars, Ash Wednesday lands on Valentine’s Day this year. Saints days are often observed as times of feasting, and popular culture has connected Valentine’s Day with gifts of chocolate candy and other foods often given up for Lent.

Our particular corner of the Christian church has generally not made a big deal of either feast or fasting days. When I was growing up, we were aware that our Roman Catholic neighbors didn’t eat meat on Fridays, but were unsure of the reasons behind that particular tradition. In our household, we at meat on Fridays. We did tend to have generous meals on Sundays partly in observance of a day that was less scheduled than the other days of the week, but we didn’t speak in terms of fasting or feasting except in reference to special meals for holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

As one who has struggled with a tendency towards some unhealthy eating habits and who has often carried a few extra pounds, I have used the heightened spiritual awareness of the season of Lent as an opportunity to make more healthy choices about food. Sometimes I have gone without eating on days such as Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as a personal discipline, but I have not been public with such actions and have not encouraged others to imitate that practice. For many years of our professional careers, the congregations we served had traditions that pulled together elements of Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday into a single event. Members of the congregation would gather for a pancake supper before the Ash Wednesday worship service.

Ash Wednesday is a traditional time of reflection on human mortality. We are reminded that all of us will one day die and that grief will enter every life of those who love. I have observed the season of Lent and especially the final Holy Week preceding Easter as an opportunity to practice the process of grief. Given that we all will have seasons of grief in our lives and will experience the disruption of loss, it makes sense to me to set aside times to recognize and practice for those seasons of our lives.

While many health experts tout the benefits of intermittent fasting, I have not found that periodically going for short periods without eating has had much of an effect on how much I weigh or my overall health. Like many people my age, I have discovered that gradual changes in habits and lifestyle are far more effective than diets and other short-term changes in behavior. Last year, however, I was successful in shedding several pounds during the season of Lent. Following a health scare that required the intervention of a skilled cardiologist, I decided that the time had come for me to pay attention to my weight and overall health. I am approaching the one year anniversary of what I hope is a permanent change in my lifestyle.

I have shed a few pounds and I hope that I will be able to keep them off. However, my weight loss program has plateaued and for several weeks I have been frustrated with my inability to lose a few more pounds to reach my overall goal. I’m sure that part of the process is that my discipline regarding snacking seems to come and go. I will be good for a while and then allow myself to eat between meals more from time to time. Although I have an active lifestyle, I’m not one for working out in a gym and I’m sure that variations in physical activity are also factors in my ability to lose weight.

While I acknowledge the relationship between my faith and my health, I have never felt that the goal of my spiritual life is to somehow be more healthy or to live longer than other people. I do want to maintain my overall health so that I have energy for relationships with others and the capacity to serve others.

For this year at least, I have no special plans to have any special foods or feasting today. Nor do I have plans for fasting during Lent. I do plan to be careful about having too many snack foods around the house, but I hope that discipline will be an overall lifestyle choice and not just a single season.

The season of Lent comes in the spring for those of us who live in the northern hemisphere. The lengthening of days is even more obvious in our home here on the 49th parallel than it was in other places where we live. Today will have more than three minutes more sunlight than yesterday and the rate of change will continue to grow each day until nearly Easter, when the rate of change starts to slow a bit, but still will be more than three and a half minutes each day.

Longer days brings thoughts of spring planting and invites more outdoor activity. There are always plenty of outdoor projects on the farm but I have the luxury of being able to stay indoors on rainy days or other times when the weather is chilly. In general, I find more opportunities for outdoor work in summer than winter, making it easier to balance exercise and eating.

The change between today and tomorrow with the start of Lent won’t be very dramatic in our household, at least in terms of meal planning and grocery shopping. I could, however, stand to lose a few more pounds and perhaps paying a bit of attention to my eating patterns would be a healthy discipline for the change of seasons.

Moving into Lent

My career as a preacher came at a time when the wider church was exploring patterns of reading scripture. The Second Vatican Council in 1963 resulted in a careful process of examination of worship in the Roman Catholic Church. One of the products of that examination was the publication of the Order Lectionem Missae in 1969, a cycle of readings for worship. Although very few Protestant congregations embraced that lectionary which was a unique product of the move of the Roman church away from the Latin Mass to worship in the common languages of church members, biblical scholars and worship planners did take notice. Conversations began in circles of Protestant congregations about the creation of a shared cycle of bible readings that might lead to greater unity among Christians. Those conversations became talks between Protestant and Roman Catholic scholars and gave rise, in 1983, to the Common Lectionary. The Common Lectionary was Revised in 1992 and the Revised Common Lectionary has been in use in many congregations since that time.

I was ordained in 1978 and was in my first call as a pastor in 1983 when the Common Lectionary was released. Fairly quickly after that release I began to use the lectionary as the source of readings for my preaching. By the time I moved to my second call as a pastor, in 1985, I was fairly entrenched in the practice. For the rest of my career, the lectionary was a guide for worship planning and preaching that was important to me. It is a three-year cycle of readings, with four texts for each week: A reading of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), a Psalm, a reading from the Epistles, and a Gospel Reading. The first year’s readings focus on texts from the Gospel of Matthew. The second year draws from the Gospel of Mark. The third year focus on readings from the Gospel of Luke. Readings from the Gospel of John are scattered throughout the other years of the pattern, with a few more coming in year two in part because the Gospel of Mark is the shortest of the gospels.

There are some drawbacks to preaching from the lectionary. The most serious of these is that congregations hear only part of the Bible in worship. The readings do not cover the entire Bible, but rather present short passages around themes related to the cycle of the year.

Nonetheless, I served my career steeped in the Lectionary and immersed in the cycles of the Christian year. The readings became familiar and natural to me. I began to anticipate and look forward to certain weeks and events and they cycle of wrestling with familiar texts over and over again. My preaching did not become repetitive because the congregations I served continued to grow and change as we journeyed together through the years. Receiving the text is only part of the process of preaching. Faithful preaching requires making connections between the text and the lives of the people in the congregation. For me, following the lectionary helped to prevent me from simply preaching about what I wanted to present and later selecting texts to support what I wanted to say in the first place. Rather, I hope, I approached each worship service with a careful study of the scripture for guidance for the life of the church. As I often said, I wanted to be led by the scriptures rather than using the scriptures to serve my ideas.

One of the things that guided our choice of a congregation to join after we retired was that the church we found was following the Revised Common Lectionary. Worship was familiar and I found that I was still motivated by examining the texts freshly in each cycle of the lectionary. However, after we began to serve as Interim Ministers of Faith Formation, our congregation switched from the Revised Common Lectionary to the Narrative Lectionary and I learned to look at different texts freshly.

This week, however, the text was not from either lectionary. Instead a text from Acts was substituted. the last minute substitution was inspired by a book the lead pastor was reading, by a popular Christian writer, Kenda Creasy Dean. I have read several of Dean’s books. She was a popular author of books on Youth Ministry a few years ago. I have not, however read her most recent book, which focuses more generally on the nature of the church. A product of the pandemic, the book explores radical change win Christian congregations including declines in membership and giving. The themes of the book line up with the decisions facing the congregation during the annual meeting which followed yesterday’s worship. The congregation agreed to cutbacks in staff for the second year in a row in the face of declining income.

However, the preacher soon wandered away from the chosen text from Acts and from the themes of Dean’s book to end the sermon with a passionate declaration about her commitment to the congregation. The declaration might have been appropriate but it rang hollow in my ears because of its emphasis on her desire to retain her title and existing role in the congregation. It made it clear that in the midst of great change in the church, the lead pastor is firmly entrenched in retaining her position. Despite other staff members facing decreases in hours and income from the church, the budget had a cost of living increase for the lead pastor. The sermon struck me as self-serving and I felt my temper rising.

I kept my reaction to myself and remained silent during the meeting following worship. I am careful not to abuse the power of my status to influence the congregation’s decisions. I don’t want to criticize the leader of our church in any public forum. I know that retired pastors can cross ethical lines and I don’t want to venture into that realm.

However, I feel that something critical has shifted in my relationship with this congregation and its leadership. My plan is to do nothing short term, to trust God and to listen carefully to the Spirit. This journal entry is as close as I will come to criticism of our pastor. Today, however, it feels like something important has broken. Fortunately for me, my faith calls me to follow the great healer. May I find the grace to welcome the healing in God’s time. I begin Lent with a heavy heart, which may be appropriate. Easter still is in the future. I pray for patience.

Leadership and hope

Both of the pastors of the congregation to which we belong frequently refer to themselves as “bible nerds,” by which they mean that they enjoy studying and talking about the bible. I don’t think one has to be a minister to share their enjoyment of the bible. I’ve known plenty of laypersons who have developed expertise and derive enjoyment from bible study. In fact, now as a layperson who has a lot of academic study as well as a lifetime of devotional reading of scripture in my story, I almost resent the use of the term “bible nerd.” The way it gets used in our congregation, it seems to me, is almost as a way of distinguishing those who have attended theological seminary from those who have not.

There has been an ongoing conversation about leadership in the church that probably goes all the way back to the first generations of church members and leaders. How leaders are identified and called varies in different denominations and different phases of history.

To be sure, the church has often gotten it wrong. For example, the Christian church in general has suffered many failures of leadership because of the attachment to traditions that favor male leadership. In the United Church of Christ, we are often a bit smug about this, noting that there are many churches, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, who have yet to recognize the full ordination of women while our denomination has been ordaining women since 1853. While that statement is technically correct, it is not the case that women have enjoyed equal status in the leadership of the church. While Antoinette Brown was ordained by a Congregational church in 1853, our denomination chose its first female General Minister and President in the summer of 2023.

Although I served on a search committee that, in 1998, called a woman to the position of General Minister and President of our denomination, the action of our committee was reversed and our candidate was not presented to General Synod for election because of the decision of some leaders in the church. A man, chosen by a new search committee, was presented and elected to the position at the next Synod.

My wife and colleague, Susan, and I were ordained in the same worship service in 1978. My whole career as a minister was served with female colleagues who have been important not only to my personal development as a pastor, but who have also contributed to the leadership of the church. However, back in the days when we were ordained, the placement of pastors was controlled, in a large part, by Conference ministers, who served as placement officers for their conferences. In those days, the Council of Conference Ministers was a good old boys club. And I mean boys literally. Although women joined the ranks of conference ministers not much longer after we were ordained, the majority of conference ministers were male and white for many years.

Another way in which the church has gotten things mixed up when it comes to leadership has come from confusing preparation for ministry with fitness for ministry. In our denomination, ecclesiastical councils are charged with determining fitness for ministry, while evaluating preparation has been delegated to committees on the ministry. Until fairly recently, the United Church of Christ and most of its predecessor denominations have placed a high value on academic preparation. When we were ordained, an four year college degree plus a three year masters degree were considered to be base requirements for ordination. That bias towards advanced academic preparation excluded from ordained ministry those who were called but who could not afford very expensive educational programs. This resulted in a shortage of leaders and the overlooking of other factors such as experience, maturity, personal study, and mentorship that have served the church’s leaders throughout generations. The adoption of a major study, called “Multiple Paths to Ministry,” began an important change in how our denomination viewed leadership. It also resulted in a general decrease in the number of church leaders with intense academic experience.

The general perception in the church is that there is a shortage of leaders available to serve the church. Congregations have a very hard time finding pastors. Positions are advertised and have very few applicants. This is in part due to a general decline in the ability of congregations to offer living salaries. The cost of health insurance has skyrocketed and forced churches to commit huge portions of pay packages to insurance leaving fewer dollars for wages and housing expenses. Many small congregations simply can no longer afford to offer health insurance to their leaders. Add to that expense mountains of debt from years of academic preparation and freshly-graduated seminary students simply cost too much for many congregations to afford. Those with academic preparation and years of experience can demand higher wages making competition for a small number of clergy fairly intense.

I can observe all of this with a certain sense of detachment now that my time as an active minister is passed and I am retired. Like some of my colleagues I am sometimes tempted to bemoan some of the changes in the leadership of the church. However I am not only a retired minister. I am also an active member of the current church. I care about the leadership of our congregation and other congregations. I care about the future of the church and how leadership affects that future. I also confess that I don’t know all of the answers.

What I do know is that leadership continues to emerge, despite the flaws of the system. I am confident that the Holy Spirit will continue to lead and provide leadership for the church. I believe that the Spirit will continue to work through our flawed human systems to call the church into God’s future. I also believe that even though I have much of a lifetime of involvement in the church behind me, there can and will be surprises of leadership that emerge from places that I did not anticipate. God yet has more surprises even for an old fool like me. Knowing that gives me hope.

A bit more calm

Recently we had friends over to our home for dinner. They are new friends, met since we moved to Washington, so they have only known us as semi-retired. They belong to the congregation we served as Interim Ministers of Faith Formation, a full-time job that Susan and I shared for two years, each working half-time. The position was quite different from the years when we were both working full-time. We still had significant time for personal projects and we are now living close to one family of our grandchildren, which is different than before we retired.

At any rate, one of our new friends asked me if I ever get angry or explode. It was an interesting question, because the answer is, “Yes. There have been times when my anger has shown to everyone who was around me.” He said he couldn’t imagine it. His experience of me is as a very gentle and quiet person who is very tolerant of others and who does not speak out in anger.

I thought to myself that he simply did not know me when I was younger. I don’t think that people who knew me in my teens or twenties would have described me as gentle and quiet. My family of origin was large and I had three younger brothers. We argued regularly and raised voices were a part of nearly every family meal. When I was first dating Susan and she would come to visit our family she was taken aback at the loud arguing that accompanied every family meal. She experienced us as constantly shouting at one another, which was accurate even though I think there was a bit less anger than she perceived. Sometimes we simply raised our voices to be heard, not because we were angry.

At any rate, I think I have changed over the years.

Moreover, I think that being retired has relieved some of the pressure that I once felt. It seems to me that being retired has given me an opportunity to see the world a bit differently and to react to stresses in a more peaceful fashion. A couple of things that happened yesterday illustrated the point to me.

Two of our grandsons had birthdays yesterday. One turned two and the other turned thirteen. Washington has some of the most restrictive laws regarding children and car seats in the nation. In our state, children are not legally allowed to ride in the front seat of a car until they turn thirteen years old. That being the case, it seemed to us that one way to celebrate our grandson’s thirteenth birthday was to take a ride with him in the right front seat of our car. Both Susan and I have been looking forward to his being able to ride next to us when we are going places. Conversation is much easier when two people are next to each other. So we picked him up as planned to go out for lunch on his birthday with him riding shotgun.

As we pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant, I slowed to read the markings on the pavement indicating the length of parking. We wanted to make sure that we parked in a space that allowed 90 minutes so that we would have time for lunch. I stopped the car for a very short time, less than 5 seconds. When I turned on the blinker to indicate which direction I was going to turn to park, I heard the horn of the car behind us. I looked in my mirror and saw the driver pulling around us in the parking lot. Seeing it, I simply remained still until the car passed and then parked our car. The irritation and honking of the horn didn’t bother me, and I decided that the person was simply in a bigger rush than I.

I remember a time when such potentially dangerous behavior would have angered me and while I probably would not have yelled at the other driver, I would have at least raised my voice when telling the other occupants of my car how rude I thought that person was. Instead, I simply said, “I’m retired. I have more time than that person.” I noticed that the person in that car rushed into a mobile phone store upon parking. People rushing into mobile phone stores usually are having problems with their phones and are seeking solutions. I am grateful that I am not having those problems.

Later in the day I was stopped at a train crossing. The train was a long one and it was slowing so that the end of the train was taking quite a bit of time to pass the intersection. A car behind me got tired of waiting and made a multi-point u-turn in the street and sped off in the opposite direction, seeking an alternate route that would not be blocked by the train. Where we now live we frequently have to wait for trains that are entering a loading and unloading area at an oil refinery. I’ve learned to accept the delays as part of life and an opportunity to put the car into park and sit quietly for a few moments. I just don’t get annoyed, though I can imagine the frustration of others. These days I rarely am in the kind of rush that often was part of my life when I was working full time and trying to balance very full home and work lives.

It seems to me that I have mellowed a bit with retirement. I think that my friends observation that I have a calm demeanor may be accurate. It just isn’t true that I’ve always been that way. I’ve muttered under my breath at unanticipated delays. I’ve been impatient with other drivers. I’ve gotten frustrated to be caught behind those who are unfamiliar with the roads and drive slowly enough to delay traffic. But the circumstances of my life now afford me more room to be patient with others.

It may be that I’m a bit easier to get along with than was the case when I was younger and felt more stress in my life. At least I hope so. It would be nice to think that I’m improving a bit with the passing of time.

The Super Bowl is coming

For several years a member of the congregation we were serving signed up to serve as lay reader or liturgist on the Sunday of the Super Bowl. He liked to exercise his sense of humor when serving and tried to have some joke that would provoke a response from the congregation. He asked me to help him make some statement about the teams playing in the Super Bowl and I wrote some scripts for him to read about how the names of the teams might have been interpreted in biblical times. In my scripts I was careful not to predict a particular outcome or to make it appear that God was somehow favoring one team over the other. They were written tongue-in-cheek and the congregation enjoyed the bit enough to encourage repeats for several years.

I’ve never been much of a sports fan, however. I pay attention to major sports events because I want to bring a bit of intelligence to conversations with the people I serve and sports are important to many of those people. Long before the years when I wrote scripts for Super Bowl Sunday, there was a time when some of the playoff games were held on Sunday Mornings. On one of those mornings, I used a radio to check the score of a playoff game just before the opening of worship. A while later, during the announcements in worship, I told the congregation the score of the game. A member of the congregation corrected me stating that one of the teams had just scored a touchdown and the lead had changed hands compared to the score I had noted. It got a laugh out of the congregation and reminded me of how serious some spots fans can be. The only way he could have known the updated information was if he had been listening to the game through a headphone during the worship service.

Chances are pretty good that there are a lot of things going through the minds of congregational members of which the pastor is unaware.

Those years are now passed. The gentleman who enjoyed reading Super Bowl scripts is a bit older than I and probably doesn’t sign up to be a lay reader any more. I am not the pastor of a congregation and no one is asking me to prepare scripts of any kind. It is a bit of relief for me because I think I would be hard pressed to come up with biblical references to this week’s game. It takes a bit of twisting to find the word chief in the Bible. Some English translations do use the word when translating κεφαλή (kephalé), which is more commonly translated head, ruler, or lord. There may be something that could be used to refer to the Kansas City team. Because of the use of alphabetic letters to represent numbers in Biblical Hebrew, the number 49 usually appears as “7 times 7,” and there are numerous references to that number that could be interpreted as either “perfection” or as the end of time. There are quite a few references to multiples of 7 in the Book of Revelation.

I suppose I could come up with something were I pressed.

In our congregation, however, this Sunday is the day of the Annual Meeting of the congregation and that meeting could be challenging because of projected income shortfalls and a proposal for large budget cuts which, for the second year in a row, call for reductions in church staff. I suspect that ardent sports fans in the congregation are likely to simply wish that the meeting doesn’t go too long so that they can get to planned game day activities. They are probably glad that the site of this year’s big game is Las Vegas, which is in the same time zone as our congregation meaning that the game will air later in the day than would be the case if the venue were in other time zones. We’re three hours behind Eastern Standard Time. Generally however, game organizers are sensitive to the various time zones. Kickoff this year will be at 3:30 pm, meaning the game will conclude before it is too late in Eastern time.

Over the years, I’ve probably paid almost as much attention to the advertising on the Super Bowl as I have to the game itself. At a cost of $7 million to air a single advertisement during the game, companies who view the advertisements as a good investment usually are willing to spend a significant amount on the production of their ads. They get a significant amount of extra visibility from purchasing ad time during the game. It has become popular for the ads to be released in advance of the game and media pundits often comment on the ads before and after the game.

I don’t watch television and I haven’t paid much attention to the game, but at least I know the names of the teams and I also know that one of the ads is causing quite a bit of controversy. An attempt to make a joke about nut allergies appears to have fallen short in one ad. Food allergies can be serious and life-threatening. People die from anaphylaxis, the sudden and severe reaction to food, medicine or insect stings. As one who witnessed a severe reaction to a medicine in a loved one, I am in no mood to think that jokes about such reactions are funny. I’m pretty sure that those who are allergic to peanuts and their loved ones aren’t going to want to do business with a company that makes fun of their situation. The joke includes a stereotypical portrayal of a food allergy and words that are displayed at the bottom of the screen make the allergy sufferer to be stupid and not know that peanut butter contains peanuts.

On the other hand, the controversy over the ad that has already arisen is likely to increase the visibility of the company that has shelled out big bucks to place the ad. Plenty of critics will bring attention to the ad and the company that paid for it.

I can’t help but think that the amount of money paid to air the ad would be sufficient to endow all of our congregation’s staff positions in perpetuity. If we had just a portion of that amount, we wouldn’t be facing tough decisions. Then again, we’ve no interest in promoting any of the companies who have purchased ads for the game this year.

Happy birthday!

I wasn’t there, so I know only parts of the story and what I know I know from others having told me stories about the day. The couple lived in Garrison, North Dakota. They were a little bit older than some of their peers when they married. He had lived near Garrison for all of his life. She had moved to the small town in pursuit of a job, tipped off by her sister who had seen opportunity in the town near where the Garrison Dam was being built. The gigantic earth-fill embankment dam is over two miles in length and it took the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers five years to construct, creating a reservoir on the Missouri River extending upstream to Williston and to the confluence of the Yellowstone River near the Montana Border. When it was completed, the rising reservoir flooded one-quarter of the Fort Berthold Reservation including the tribal headquarters, the hospital, and 154,000 acres of farm land.

An entire New Town was constructed to house the reservation’s headquarters. And an additional town, Riverdale, was constructed to house construction workers, housing for Corps officers and engineers, and services for the families of workers including a hospital. Riverdale was only 10.5 miles from Garrison as the crow flies, but the crow can fly over the river whereas cars have to drive around obstacles, making the trip nearly 25 miles. Although cars were making good time on paved roads in the early 1950s, the roads were less than ideal, awaiting the construction of a future diversion dam separating Lake Audubon from Lake Sakakawea. Nonetheless, Riverdale was the location of the hospital that served Garrison in those days. Traveling to get to the hospital was part of life in small town North Dakota.

When it was time for the mother, in labor with her first child to make that trip, her husband was 200 miles away in Hettinger, near the South Dakota border, wiring a new school building. The contract was important to his struggling electrical company and the income was critical with a new baby on the way. His parents were 75 miles away in the state capitol, Bismarck where his father was serving as the Sergeant at Arms of the North Dakota legislature. The laboring mother had to call on a friend for the ride to the hospital.

In those days no one knew whether the child would be a boy or a girl until the birth, ultrasound technology being a generation away. The joy and surprise of the birth was sufficient to merit several long distance phone calls, themselves a luxury at the time. The baby was the first grandchild for the grandparents, who rushed to make the trip from Bismarck to see her.

Somehow the stories I have heard never reported how long it took the father to get up to meet his new daughter. What I know is that both parents grew into their roles and formed a close family that nurtured the baby and the two sisters that followed over the next few years. What I know is that a couple of decades after the birth they became the best in-laws a person could ever want when I married their eldest daughter in a small ceremony at Mayflower Congregational Church in Billings, Montana.

The fact that the wedding was in Billings, Montana is the result of the changes that occurred in the life of the family over the years. After the second daughter was born and the third on her way the young family moved from Garrison, North Dakota to Libby, Montana, where the Corps of Engineers was planning to construct another dam, a 422 ft. tall dam nearly a mile long across the Kootenai River. Several factors, including the need to re-engineer the dam so that it could withstand earthquakes, meant that construction of that dam was delayed and after operating a Dairy Queen ice cream stand and working in the electrical business, job prospects demanded a second move - this time to Billings which is where the family lived when I met them at a family church camp in the mountains south of my home town.

Although I wasn’t initially much impressed by the family, I remember my first meeting of their daughter, who became more interesting to me a few years later when we met at church youth rallies. I had the audacity to ask her to the junior prom at our high school. She had the courage to accept and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now, 50 years after we celebrated her first birthday as a newly wed couple, we’ve seen a parade of birthdays come and go. We’ve celebrated in Montana, Illinois, North Dakota, Idaho, South Dakota and Washington. We’ve had cake and ice cream and a few meals in restaurants. We’ve been joined in our celebrations by friends, our own children, and our grandchildren. A nephew arrived one day earlier than her birthday fairly early in our married life. He is now a high school teacher. Our first grandson came the day after her birthday and our youngest grandson arrived on his brother’s birthday. Today is the center of a season of February birthdays in our family. As has been the case since we moved to Washington, there will be more than one cake.

Today is a day of stories. We’ll tell a few of them to our grandchildren and perhaps I’ll learn a detail or two more than I have retained even though I’ve heard the stories many times over the years.

Mostly, however, for me, today is a day of gratitude. Among the deepest blessings of my life is the love that we have shared. There was a time, near the end of 2019, when I thought that I might not get another birthday with her. Two cardiac arrests landed her in the iCU with on a ventilator with a port connected to a maze of IV pumps installed in her. After a few long nights at her bedside and an extended period of recovery, however, we were given the gift of a return to full health and vitality. These days I get to take a walk with her every day, to hold her hand in mine, to listen to her voice as she tells me about her day, and to share the joy of her presence.

It is a day of celebration. Happy Birthday!

The taste of vanilla

Uncle Bill was proud of his Hungarian heritage. His father took a long and arduous route from Hungary to get to the United States. As a young man, he was in contact with family and friends who had emigrated from Hungary and settled near Toledo, Ohio, where they found work in underground coal mines. Intending to join them there, he made his way to Italy. Not speaking Italian he boarded a ship bound for Mexico, either because he simply didn’t understand the difference between Central and North America, or because he was swindled by the operators of the ship, who were, among other things, transporting laborers from Europe to Mexico to work in mines there. He arrived in Mexico and soon was working in a mining operation in that nation. However, he kept his original goal in mind and when the opportunity arose he walked away from the mine in Mexico and kept walking. He walked all the way to Ohio where he found the family and friends he intended to reach. Surrounded by other recent immigrants from Hungary, he spoke Hungarian as his primary language. He married and they had a large family. Several of his sons moved from Ohio to Grant County, South Dakota, where they founded a small surface mining operation, digging coal which was sold as heating fuel. He later joined them and moved into the home of son Bill and his wife Sybil after they moved to the Black Hills to run a church camp. Sybil insisted that he use English in their house and he learned quite a bit of the language towards the end of his life.

Son Bill, having grown up in a Hungarian speaking family, was bilingual. His services were employed translating when visitors from Hungary occasionally visited the Black Hills. One of the pieces of his Hungarian heritage he treasured was making pizzelles from scratch. He had obtained a pizzelle iron and later gave irons and recipes to nieces and nephews, including our family. He steadfastly maintained that although it is common for pizzelles to be identified as Italian waffle cookies, their origin is in Hungary, not Italy.

Bill maintained that the secrets of the recipe included getting the iron heated to exactly the right temperature. When he was quite elderly and lived in a retirement apartment, he would rise early in the morning to make pizzelles because he was convinced that variations in the electricity caused by other apartments using their ovens caused his oven to be inconsistent in temperature. Bill made pizzelles for church rummage sales and gave large containers of the cookies to family members. His second secret to his version of the delicacy was the use of pure vanilla extract.

According to bon appétit, ninety-nine percent of the world’s vanilla extract is fake imitation vanilla that is flavored with a lab-produced version of the same chemical compound that occurs naturally in real vanilla. Bill insisted in using pure vanilla. He got his vanilla directly from Mexico, traveling there on vacations and purchasing quantities of it. Pure vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla beans in an alcohol solution. According to the FDA, vanilla extract must be at least 35% alcohol with a minimum of 100 grams of vanilla beans per liter. When purchasing pure extract, check the ingredients. It should list only vanilla beans, alcohol, and water. There should be no additives like sugar, artificial colors, or flavors.

I have made pizzelles using the iron and recipe Bill gave us and I have used the pure vanilla extract we used to get from him in other recipes, including homemade ice cream. I developed a liking for its flavor and am careful to purchase pure vanilla extract for use in all sorts of recipes. I tend to be generous with the extract, often adding a bit more than the recipe specifies.

Vanilla itself has an interesting story. What we call vanilla beans are not beans at all, but rather the pods of an orchid plant that originated in what is modern Mexico. Totonac Indigenous people who settled around 600 on Mexico’s Atlantic coast were first attracted to the scent of the orchids and began to use the pods to flavor various foods. The Aztecs used vanilla to flavor xocoatl, the drink they produced from cacao and other spices. When contact was made with Europeans, cacao and vanilla were exported from Mexico to Europe. Many attempts were made to grow vanilla across Europe and in Africa, but early attempts failed. In their natural state the plants are pollinated by a unique species of bees that have adapted to the unique shape of the plants. Without knowing how the plants were pollinated, they could not be grown away from Mexico. However, a 12-year-old enslaved boy who lived 180 hers ago o a remote Indian Ocean Island, discovered how to hand pollinate the plants. That knowledge was shared and today the majority of the world’s vanilla is produced in Madagascar. Vanilla is also produced in French Polynesia, Uganda, China, and Indonesia. A popular variety, Heilala Vanilla, is produced in Tonga in the South Pacific.

Vanilla blends well with other flavors including chocolate, hazelnut, brown sugar, cinnamon, and coffee. I like to use it with cinnamon to flavor a variety of foods including breakfast oats, cooked apples, berries, and other foods. Pure vanilla is expensive, but it is one of the luxuries I grant myself even though I confess I rarely invest the time required to make Uncle Bill’s pizzelle recipe. When I do make pizzelles, however, you can be certain that I would never use imitation vanilla.

As I write this morning, I’ve got some rolled oats soaking in a mixture of plain yogurt and milk, flavored with pure vanilla extract, cinnamon, and chia seeds and sweetened with a bit of honey from the colonies on the farm. A mixture of blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are adding their flavors. Just writing about it makes me hungry for breakfast already. I credit Uncle Bill with refining my taste buds when it comes to vanilla and I think of him each time I reach for the bottle of extract in the cupboard.

Reading poetry

I belong to a poetry group. A couple of the participants are published poets. Most of us are people who dabble in poetry, enjoying the shimmer of words in patterns that create rhythm, evoke images, inspire us to explore our senses, and give delight. Over the span of my life, I have sort of run hot and cold on poetry, having times when I have read the poets often and other times when poetry has not been a regular part of my reading. In retirement, I have a short shelf of poetry right next to my recliner and I regularly take up poems and read them slowly and carefully, allowing them to sink in. Often I read out loud, appreciating the sound patterns that the words create in ways that touch my spirit.

In our poetry group, I have begun to notice differences not only in how people write poetry, but also in how they read poetry. One member of our group was born in Wales and her accent is lyrical. She works hard at her poetry, a quality that shows in the volumes of poems that she had published. I appreciate her contributions to our group. Beyond those words, however, I am grateful for the way she reads poems. It is the practice of our group to share the written poem as it is read for the first round of each meeting. In subsequent rounds, the poems or poem fragments are read, but not shown. When this poet reads, I have a tendency to close my eyes to allow my senses to embrace her words as she speaks.

Others in our group have the opposite effect on me. A couple of them write words that reveal their care for the craft of poetry, but that seem to be lifeless when they read. I am drawn to looking at the words and imagining how they might sound if I were reading when they present. Of course, I cannot close my ears in the way I can close my eyes.

Reading rhythmically is an art and it requires practice. I learned this over years of honing my technique as a preacher. There are two great preachers among the dozens of mentors I have had over the course of my career whose example has taught me a great deal about the difference between oral language and written language. In my seminary experience, the art of preaching was primarily taught as prose expression. Students were invited to create manuscripts and to read those manuscripts with care and precision. I maintained that practice throughout my career, using manuscripts for weddings and funerals and periodically in my regular worship leadership.

Reading a manuscript, however, can be stilted and, frankly, boring. As I worked to refine my preaching and learn from my mentors, I learned to pay attention to cadence, patterns of repetition, and even pitch. One of my mentors spoke of engaging emotions with words. He urged preachers to speak from the heart, saying that reading scripture is insufficient preparation for preaching. “To preach,” he declared, “you must invite the scripture to dwell inside of you so deeply that when you preach from your heart, the text is revealed.” His words sound fancy, but his style was terribly difficult to imitate. For me, following his technique involved memorizing the text well in advance of the sermon and allowing the repetition of it in my mind, and often out loud, to become automatic before I could find the words to interpret it.

Another mentor spoke of pitch and rhythm. Preachers who ignore pitch and rhythm make the words go flat. In learning from him, I experimented with a lot of vocal variation, speaking softly and loudly, intentionally supporting my preaching with techniques taught for singing, warming up by singing arpeggios and scales. At times, members of my congregation would report that they had difficulty hearing all of my words. Variation of volume in preaching is valuable, but speaking too softly results in missed communication. And speaking too loudly can make it hard to listen. I’ve heard many preachers who confuse projection with yelling. No one wants to be yelled at. Yelling steals safety from the experience.

Invite the text inside, keep pitch and rhythm - good advice for a preacher, and I think, good advice for those who read poetry. When I think of it, I realize that it is no mistake that there is so much poetry in the bible. Psalmists and prophets have given us the gift of poetry with words that transcend centuries and layers of translation to convey power and meaning despite generations of less than stellar preaching. It isn’t a mistake that the gospels report multiple instances of Jesus reading or quoting poetry from the Hebrew scriptures. Even though the pitch and rhythm of the original languages and patterns of speech are battered by translation, the power of the poetry remains.

It is not a mistake that we retain the practice of reading scripture aloud in worship. Sharing print does not carry the power of the words in the same fashion.

Participating in a poetry group is a luxury of being retired. I did not give time to such a venture during my years as an active preacher. From my current perspective, I think that I would have benefitted from such a practice, however.

I don’t know if I am becoming better at reading poetry than I was before I began meeting with the group. I suppose other members of the group might have some perspective on that. I hope I am. I would like my reading to carry the power of carefully chosen words, to dance with their playfulness and to shine with their brilliance. Not preaching each week has left me a bit out of practice at the art of preaching but I suspect that the art is not unlike singing, or even riding a bicycle. There are elements of the art that have become so ingrained that they don’t leave when one is idle.

I am grateful for the poetry group in my life. While I miss regular preaching, I am learning once again of the power of careful listening. And some of the words of the poets are diving deeply into my soul and inhabit me in ways that empower my reading.

Dinner with friends

It has taken us a while but a sure sign that we are settling into our new post-retirement life is that we had a delightful evening of conversation with friends last night. New friends whom we met in our new church came to our house for dinner. We asked them to come over in the late afternoon so we would have a bit of time to talk before dinner. They did and we had such an engaging conversation that when they left for home I looked at my watch to discover that it was much later than I expected. They have to get to work this morning. I, however, am retired and can take things easy.

Friends have been one of the blessings of our lives in all of the places where we have lived.

Boundary training classes and professional development classes all mention the importance of ministers having friends who are not members of the congregation they are serving. We have had friends who are not members of our congregations, but we have also had plenty of good friends who have belonged to the churches we have served. Our social life has always revolved around the church, and the people with whom we are most bonded are people who share our passion for the church and its ministries.

When we agreed to serve as Interim Ministers of Faith Formation at our church, we were very clear that being members of the church was important to us. We said that if serving would mean that we would have to leave the church when we completed the interim, we would withdraw our names from consideration for the position. As it turned out, we did take a few weeks away from regular worship with the congregation when we completed our time of service, but soon returned to the church and to the friends we have made.

Being with friends from the church is natural to us. And naturally, one of the topics of conversation when we are with friends is the church. Our congregation is facing several challenges and like other members of the church, we are concerned about its future. While it would be inappropriate for us to criticize the leadership of the congregation or to become involved in certain leadership positions now that we are no longer working for the congregation, it is natural for us to care about decisions that are made about the future of the church. With the annual meeting just a week away and challenging choices ahead for our church it was natural for the topic of the church to come up in our conversation.

Of course there were plenty of other topics that came up. One of the people who sat at our table last night has retired more recently that we and the topic of how we are adjusting to being retired came up. Another was recently widowed and fond memories of her mate were shared. We spoke of the challenges of raising children, of our love for children’s literature, of the books we are reading, of the weather and a thousand other topics as one does when with friends who love and accept us as we are.

As I drifted off to sleep I was filled with gratitude for the blessings of friends that we have been given in the many different places where we have lived. The holidays brought us greetings from friends who we have made in each of the congregations we have served. Among those greetings are news of friends we have known for more than four decades. Even though it has been many years since we have lived in their town, we have remained in touch and we know that if we had the opportunity to sit down to a meal with them the conversation would flow as freely as it does with our new friends.

There are people in our lives with whom we can pick up conversation even after years of living separate lives in separate places. While there are many ways to meet other people, for us, so many of our life-long friends have come to us as gifts from the church. Having shared faith and mission has brought us close to one another.

One of the blessings of being ministers is that each move of our lives has given us a community into which to move. With each call to serve a congregation has come a fully-formed community of people who have welcomed and supported us. It was, to be sure, a bit different for us when we retired. Part of that difference was something that everyone experienced. The pandemic left us all feeling a bit more isolated. Part of that difference was that for the first time in our adult lives we were moving to be near family rather than to a specific congregation. It took us a bit of looking to find the right congregation to join. Then, as a surprise to us, a call came to come out of retirement to serve in as interim ministers. We quickly moved from the edges of the church into the center of its life and activity. We met the children and their families, we learned their names, we got to know what was going on in their lives. We heard their stories. We were inspired by them.

We knew that we wanted to get to know them better. And there is no better way to get to know people than to sit down for a meal with them. The oak dining room table that has been the center of our family life is a perfect place for a small group of friends to sit, share a meal, and get to know one another better. It has heard a lot of stories over the years. Tears have been shed as we sat around it. Laughter has filled the air and our hearts as we ate. Good food and good friends combine for great memories.

We are not alone. And for that I am deeply grateful.

Church meetings

One of the luxuries of being a retired pastor is that I no longer have anxiety about the annual meeting of a congregation. Annual meetings used to be a time of significant stress in part because they are unpredictable. Actually they are fairly predictable given enough experience, but when one is the pastor of a congregation the decisions of an annual meeting become pretty personal. The congregation votes in open meeting on the pastor’s salary and the pastor’s salary is one of the biggest items in the budget. Any member can make a motion to amend any portion of the budget. Again, such changes are rare. In the span of my career, I never saw an annual meeting alter a budget that had been carefully prepared by church leadership. Budgets were changed, but not in ways that had a negative effect on my leadership.

However, I’ve found that annual meetings still seem to be able to raise a certain level of anxiety for me. I still care deeply about the congregation to which I belong.

The annual meeting of our church is a week from today. Today there is a special meeting after worship to review the proposed budget. The meeting is not set to make any decisions, just to give members information about the proposals developed by church leaders and approved by the church council.

Our congregation has experienced significant decline in recent years. Prior to the Pandemic the church had a program staff of 3 full time and one part time ministers. In addition, there were full time office and janitorial staff as well as three part-time musicians and a part-time nursery worker. The proposal that will be considered today is for a program staff of one full time minister and one part time minister. Support staff will be reduced as well. I don’t know the exact numbers of members and worship attendance, but I do know that numbers have not returned to pre-pandemic levels.

I know, from visiting with colleagues, that such decline is not uncommon in mainline congregations. Recently, when attending the annual gathering of the Association of Partners in Christian Education, I spoke with several colleagues whose positions have been eliminated in recent years. Here in the Western region of the United Church of Christ there are very few congregations who have paid education staff. Full-time education positions are becoming rare in our denomination.

Knowing that we are not alone, however, doesn’t make the change easy for our congregation - or for any congregation. I know that there are others in our congregation who are hesitant about the rate of change and who have visions of different approaches to staffing than have been proposed by church leaders. I also know that a week can be a long time in the life of a church - at least a lot of change can occur in one week. The current round of cuts is not yet carved in stone. Additional gifts will likely appear before next week’s meeting. Today’s meeting is likely to stir additional generosity. Other ideas will circulate.

The challenges of all of the changes in congregations life are significant. In a way we are lucky to have begun our retirement during the pandemic before the congregation that we were serving at the time experienced a period of rapid decline. Congregations that we served faced big challenges and tough decisions during our time of leadership, but for the most part we were able to serve congregations that experienced significant growth during the years of our active careers.

I have a colleague who is significantly younger and is still decades away from retirement. She has told me that when she turns fifty she plans to be on vacation during the annual meeting of her congregation. That date has not yet come, and whether or not she will actually take vacation at that time remains to be seen, but the idea is definitely floating in her imagination. Taking vacation that spans the congregational annual meeting is something that I never contemplated. I learned to trust the congregations I serve and their leadership, but I also believed that my leadership was essential at certain times. I never took Christmas or Easter as vacation and I only once took a week off during Lent during my 44 years as an active minister. I felt that part of my responsibility was to plan vacation times with respect for the cycles of congregational life. I never missed an annual meeting.

My style of leadership, however, is not the only way for a pastor to behave. I have a lot of colleagues who have made different decisions than I did. Maybe taking vacation at the time of the annual congregational meeting is an expression of trust in the processes of congregational leadership. After all, our denomination has a strong tradition of lay leadership. The annual meeting of a congregation is an expression of local church autonomy and of the leadership of lay people. The role of a pastor at an annual meeting is one of supporting lay leaders rather than one of directing the action and decisions of the congregation. We believe deeply that the church is most healthy when it is led by laity.

Furthermore, a church is a voluntary organization. While a few church members are called and set aside for ministry by being paid to work for the congregation, the bulk of the work of the congregation is carried out by volunteers. The size of a church’s staff is not the only measurement of its vitality or its faithfulness.

There are a lot of dynamics at play in any congregational annual meeting and although I am a bit nervous about this particular season in the life of the congregation to which I belong, I am confident that there is still a call to ministry in this place and that our congregation will still find ways to respond to that call in meaningful ways. And, as always, we need to be open to the calling of the Spirit in the decisions that lie before us. Our future is not set in stone, but is a dynamic and changing entity.

This is a season for me to trust that God is still speaking and leading our church.

The name of a game

I’ve never been much for video games. Before personal computers were common, we had a couple of games that I played a few times. Pong was a black and white game played on a television set where players moved paddles up and down on the edges of the screen to deflect balls that bounced around the screen. Later we played Pac-Man. I never owned the game systems, but played the games on systems that were owned by family members and friends.

Later, when our children were in their teens, we had some of the early game systems that featured controllers that plugged into devices connected to the television set. I’ve played some of the games, such as Mario Kart a few times on game systems belonging to our children. When we got our first Macintosh home computer we had a copy of the game Myst that we played a few times. However, I never got into playing the games very much and never got very good at them.

These days video games are nearly everywhere. There are several games that are either free or cost little that are designed to be played with cell phones and many people play games on personal computers with or without special game controllers.

There are plenty of criticisms and reviews of online games offered by people who don’t know much about them and who don’t play them. I don’t want to get into the habit of complaining about things that I don’t understand and that I haven’t invested the time to understand.

I write the above because I want to be clear that today’s journal entry is about a topic of which I am not an expert and it is possible that I really don’t know what I’m writing. I’m reacting to the title of a game that I have not played and that I don’t intend to play.

The latest game released by the company Rocksteady has been in development for years. It has been released under the name “Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League.” In the game, players take on the role of the Suicide Squad - Harley Quinn, Deadshot, King Shark, and Captain Boomerang. Suicide Squad members are villains in DC Comics. The targets of the villains are Justice League superheroes including Superman, the Flash, and Batman.

In keeping with the theme of commenting about things of which I know very little, I have not spent much time reading comics or watching the movies based on comics. I know a little bit about comic superheroes from movie reviews and a few things that I have watched, but I don’t understand why one would be entertained by playing a game in which one takes on the role of the villain battling a superhero.

What I will not be silent about, however, is the name that has been given to the game. Suicide is not a game, nor should it be presented as something with which one plays. I’ve made too many visits to traumatized family members who have lost loved ones to suicide to think that it is a topic about which anyone should speak casually. I’m touchy about the use of language that invokes violence. I’ve been known to correct colleagues who speak of “bullet points,” “hitting the mark,” or even “on point.” I am not some champion of politically correct speech, nor do I believe in censorship. However, I want people to be aware that sometimes their choir of language can be painful for others.

If you have lost a loved one to suicide with a gun, any talk of bullets can be a source of pain. And suicide with a gun is alarmingly common in our country these days. Law enforcement officers and firefighters are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. Emergency Medical Services providers are nearly 50% more likely to die by suicide than the general public and members of the general public are at high risk. Suicide is a leading cause of death in our country. 50,000 people die by suicide in the United States each year. That is a death every 11 minutes. According the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 12.3 million adults have seriously thought about suicide. 3.5 million have made a plan. 1.7 million adults have attempted suicide.

Death by suicide of youth has been rising at alarming rates. Youth suicide rates rose by 62% from 2007 to 202, making suicide the leading cause of death among U.S. adolescents.

Despite these alarming rates, it is likely that death by suicide is underreported. There are many deaths which are unattended and unwitnessed and investigators are unable to determine whether the death was intentional or accidental. Among children and young teens it is unclear how much the victim understood the nature and permanency of death when carrying out their actions.

While there is a link between serious mental illness such as depression, the underlying causes of suicide are not completely clear. The stigma attached to suicide victims and their families is real and despite the overwhelming statistics of suicide people are reluctant to talk of suicide. It is possible that the inability to speak openly and honestly about the risks of suicide contributes to those who are struggling not obtaining life saving help.

I can go on and on about the topic, and I have done so on many occasions. I am convinced that we need honest and open conversation about not only suicide but also about prevention. There are proven methods of intervening when suicide risk is known. Speaking frankly about suicide ideas and plans can lead to support that enables those who suffer to obtain help.

Suicide, however, is not a game. I know that violence is a part of many video games. I also know that playing games where a player engages in imaginary violence does not necessarily mean that the player becomes violent in their relationships with others. Playing a game with suicide in the title might not cause an increase in suicidal behavior. But it doesn’t contribute to healthy conversations about suicide and suicide prevention either.

I’ll take a pass on this game as well. But I will pay attention and continue to seek alternatives for those who wish to engage in online games.


I’m not much of a social media person. I opened a Facebook account years ago when our nephew was traveling in Central and South America. He was posting some pictures of his trip and I wanted to keep up with him as he traveled. I accepted invitations to be Facebook Friends with people that I knew when they invited me. I didn’t ask to be friends with anyone. I set up a profile so that my friends could identify me and I made a few posts. I was reluctant to post photographs because I didn’t want to have Facebook control my photos. Unlike some friends, I didn’t feel that it was appropriate for me to post pictures of our grandchildren when they came along so I didn’t do it. Later, I added Facebook Messenger because it was a way to contact friends who lived on South Dakota reservations. It seems that Facebook and Messenger worked for my friends as a communication tool when they didn’t keep up with regular email accounts and didn’t have reliable phone service.

Later, when I was working with media accounts for the Association of United Church Educators, I opened a Twitter Account and experimented with using short messages.

When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, I expanded the use of social media to keep in touch with members of the congregation. When we had to shut down in-person worship for a while, we posted worship services live on Facebook. I also opened a YouTube account to post the videos of worship for later access by church members. I began a practice of daily prayer broadcast live and lodged on YouTube with links in the church web page. The prayers enabled shut-in church members to stay connected and proved to be popular.

After I retired, I pretty much stayed off of social media. When I went back to work as Interim Minister of Faith Formation, I once again took up a bit of social media, making most of my posts on the congregational accounts.

I know that social media is an essential communication tool and I have observed as our son has used media effectively in his work as a community librarian. I have followed his library’s social media as well as the social media of several congregations. I enjoy reading of the activities of my friends on Facebook and have tried to respond to the many birthday greetings I get each year.

Most of the time, however, I am a content consumer and not a content producer. I don’t post much on social media.

Last week, while attending the APCE annual event in St. Louis, I took a workshop on the use of social media in Faith Formation and listened also to the leadership that younger colleagues are offering to AUCE and APCE. As a result, I decided to open an Instagram account to follow activities in some of the congregations of my colleagues as well as the pages of AUCE and APCE.

For some reason I decided that I should probably post a picture from time to time so that my colleagues know that I am present on the media. I don’t have any particular desire to gain a lot of followers or to be a content provider, and I don’t intend to post many of my pictures, but I thought that playing with the media might be a good way to learn a bit more about it.

Because Instagram and Facebook are both owned and operated by Meta, my accounts are linked. It was the easiest way to set them up and I let the default settings remain. Yesterday, I posted my first picture on Instagram. I had cooked myself a particularly nice breakfast and plated it with an element of artistry. It was a fried egg on a bed of quinoa with a few fried cherry tomatoes and half an avocado. I drizzled a bit of balsamic reduction over the food, took a picture and posted it before I sat down to eat.

The picture didn’t make any kind of a splash on Instagram, but quite a few of my Facebook friends took a look at it when it appeared on that media. By bedtime, I had received comments and reactions from 46 people on Facebook. The picture, with the single word, “breakfast,” generated more response than many other things. I had comments from high school classmates who I had forgotten were my Facebook friends.

I’m not one to take selfies and I’m not much to look at in the first place. There are plenty of pictures of old white guys in the media, so I don’t feel a need to add more. I am, however, wondering what I might photograph to post next. I like cooking and so might add a few pictures of food. My bees aren’t active outside of the hives right now, but when spring comes I might get a few good pictures of bees. I like to use a macro lens to capture a few images. I am also in the process of building new hives and the structures might be worth a single image. I like to take paddling pictures and have a lot of images of paddling at sunrise. I have taken to making multiple sunset pictures simply because the sunset over our bay is gorgeous.

I’m glad that I am retired in part because I think that the use of social media is very complex for churches. I don’t feel that it is a good idea to post images of children, especially the children of other people on social media. Our congregation doesn’t do so except in a few cases and then they are very careful to have permission to do so and do not put any identifying information with the post. Still, it is hard to tell the story of a church without telling about the people. A church, after all, is all about the people.

So, if you follow social media, you might find a random photograph by me from time to time. I’m not a gourmet cook, so don’t expect pictures of food often. If I really figure out how to make good use of the media, I may become more active. But for now, don’t get your hopes up for much news about me.


At the end of January in this new year, there are a lot of people who are struggling. Of course there are the obvious places of human suffering that are so evident from reading the news.

After the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel from the Gaza Strip in which hundreds of Israeli civilians were killed and hostages were taken, the Israeli military has engaged in a campaign of retaliation including extensive bombardment on Gaza, a large-scale ground invasion with the stated goal of destroying Hamas and controlling Gaza that has resulted in the death of over 26,000 Palestinians, the injury of an additional 65,000, the destruction of 20 of the 22 hospitals in northern Gaza, and the displacement of nearly the entire population of the area.

The ongoing war in Ukraine has resulted in the displacement of more than 7 million people, including more than 3 million refugees. The United Nations Children’s Fund has estimated that half of the children in Ukraine have been displaced by the war and no end is in sight.

The war in Yemen moves in and out of an uncomfortable truce after claiming the lives of tens of thousands. Conflict in Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, and the Congo continue to destroy lives and hope for countless people.

Although our nation has avoided full out war in recent years, there is increasing anxiety over drones launched from Houthi bases in the Middle East, including the attack that killed three American troops.

And it isn’t just war that has made people anxious.

There is a growing understanding of the depth of the crisis resulting from human-caused climate change. Glaciers are melting. Sea levels are rising. Intense weather events are increasing. Forest fires are becoming more intense and destructive. Ocean reefs are being destroyed. Animal species are becoming extinct. The possibility of the destruction of all human life is perilously close.

Nearly everyone with whom I speak these days has deep anxiety over the state of American politics. The extreme polarization of our country and the free use of the language of fascism is making many who do not live in the United States nervous about the outcome of the 2024 election and the state of the American congress and judiciary.

It shouldn’t surprise us that when the fictional Elmo, Muppet character from Sesame Street, posted on X (formerly Twitter), asking people how they were, thousands of users replied, sharing grief and despair. The post on Monday morning seemed casual and innocent. The response was overwhelming. One user wrote, “Elmo I’m suffering from existential dread over here.” Another wrote, “The world is burning around us, Elmo.” A third wrote, “Every morning, I cannot wait to go back to sleep. Every Monday, I cannot wait for Friday to come. Every single day and every single week for life.” Celebrities including actress Rachel Ziegler joined in saying she was “resisting the urge to tell Elmo that I am kinda sad.”

it is easy to dismiss exchanges of short sentences on social media, especially those created as part of the development of fictional characters for television. Elmo isn’t a real human being. There is no puppet that is actually sitting at a keyboard typing entries. The account was not opened by a furry red creature with a bulbous orange nose and a pair of google eyes. Cookie Monster and Bert also have X accounts and have posted recently, but that doesn’t make them human.

The furry of responses, however, is indicative of a general anxiety and lack of well being that seems to be a part of everyday life for so many people in the world today. Hope is difficult to find in the face of the enormous challenges that face humanity. It doesn’t help that dismissing hope is a tactic employed by moneyed interests in pursuit of short term profits. The recent shift from climate denial to public claims that proposed solutions will not work is evident in the publicity of those seeking short term profits from unrestrained oil and gas extraction. Cynicism runs rampant in political discourse. An alarming number of people have no trust in any institutions and want to tear everything down without thought of what might replace schools, courts, legislatures, hospitals, churches, and other institutions. A lot of people speak and act as if they have no hope of positive change or positive outcomes.

David Beebe was one of the ministers ordained by the then brand-new United Church of Christ in 1959. He served churches in northern California and Chattanooga, Tennessee, as well as serving as a college chaplain and serving in the national setting of the United Church of Christ on the Stewardship Council. His hymn can be sung to its unique tune or to the more familiar hymn tune Hyfrydol. That hymn continues to speak to me in the midst of troubled times filled with so many troubled people:

Let us hope when hope seems hopeless,
When the dreams we dreamed have died.
When the morning breaks in brightness,
Hunger shall be satisfied.
One who sows the fields with weeping
Shall retrace the sorrowing way
And rejoice in harvest bounty
At the breaking of the day.

Faith and hope in love’s compassion
Will survive though knowledge cease,
Though the tongues of joy fall silent,
Dull the words of prophecies.
Faith shall see and trust its object;
Hope shall set its anchor sure;
Love shall bloom in Love eternal.
Faith and hope and love endure.

Like a child outgrowing childhood,
Setting childhood things away,
We will learn to live in freedom,
In the life of God’s new day.
Now we see as in a mirror,
Then we shall see face to face,
Understand how love’s compassion
Blossoms through amazing Grace.

For thousands of years the poets have given direction to the lives of faithful people. Once again we find ourselves in need of the vision and counsel of poets and hymn writers.

Social media posts by real and fictional characters can’t tell the whole story of the state of humanity in our time. I give thanks for the poets who have too much to say to be contained by the limits of popular media. May their songs ring out for all to hear.

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