Rainy weather

I can hear the rain falling on the skylights in the kitchen as I write this morning. The forecast is calling for three days of rain. From the weather satellite images I have seen pretty much the entire west coast of the United States and parts of Canada and Mexico are in for the same forecast. The weather pattern has been known as the Pineapple Express because there is a band of moisture-laden air that stretches from Hawaii all the way to Vancouver BC, curving past California, Oregon, and Washington on the way. However, I heard a forecaster on CBC radio say that the term “Pineapple Express” is no longer used by them. The term now is “atmospheric river.”

Whatever you call it, we seem to be in for rain. The ground is pretty much saturated and the creeks and rivers are already running high. Flood watches and warnings are out for parts of our county and parts of southern British Columbia. Such a forecast and the accompanying warnings are taken seriously by folk in low-lying areas. There have been flood watches and warnings in several parts of the county in the past couple of days.

Snow levels in the mountains are high and the rivers are already running pretty much at full flow. There was possibility of flooding of the Nooksack River at Ferndale, and there were a few places where the water spread out into low lying fields and partially covered a few rural roads, but the region escaped major flooding Monday. Part of Slater Road was closed yesterday, but alternative routes were available. Concerns for flooding remain high as this substantial atmospheric river brings more rain to the Olympics and the North Cascade mountains. Rain on top of the snow can cause flooding and landslides.

River forecasts are tricky. A few degrees difference in temperature can mean the difference between rain and snow in the higher elevations and how the precipitation comes can make a big difference in how much comes back down the river.

It hasn’t been that long since winter rains caused pretty extensive flooding in our area. In the late fall of 2021 the rivers overflowed their banks and a lot of farmland was flooded north and east of where we live. Our home and our son’s farm both sit up high enough that we have not had any problems with flooding, but others were not so fortunate. Part of the concern right now lies in the fact that some of the flood mitigation that has been planned in the aftermath of the 2021 floods has not yet been completed and some areas in the Nooksack and Fraser Valleys continue to be very vulnerable. The Fraser is the longest river in British Columbia and drains a huge area into the Strait of Georgia just south of Vancouver, a few miles north of where we live.

In the past flood mitigation efforts have resulted in diversion dams and other structures that allow some of the water of the Nooksack River to be diverted into the Fraser. When the flood gates are in that position, parts of the Sumas Valley just across the border in Canada are at risk for flooding. Pump stations to ease the problem are under construction, but completion of the project is still years away and in the meantime the flooding can have an impact on some of British Columbia’s most productive dairy and food producing region.

All of this rain is somewhat new to us. We’ve lived most of our lives in areas where the rainfall is much lighter. The next three days could bring as much rain where we now live as half of the annual rainfall in Boise, Idaho, where we lived for ten years. However, this land, with acres and acres of timber and abundant rivers, is able to absorb a lot of water. We live in a region known as a temperate rain forest. When we moved out here, I was a bit concerned that the rain might be a bit depressing. Rain, however, is not much of a problem for us. We learned to acquire good rain jackets and pants and we go out in the rain just like we used to go out in the snow and cold in other places where we have lived. It doesn’t affect our day to day life very much.

The short days and cloudy skies do have a bit of an effect. Some are more vulnerable to the effects of winter weather than others. It doesn’t bother me very much, though there are times when I miss bright sunshine and blue skies.

The rain should fill up the rain barrel in our back yard. We have a tap on the barrel that allows us to use the water to irrigate our flower beds when longer summer days arrive.

I joke that I discovered that I am waterproof for the most part after years of being drenched while paddling canoes and kayaks. As long as one can keep warm, being wet is really only a minor inconvenience. Rain simply is not as threatening to survival as extremely cold temperatures and we don’t have any below freezing temperatures in the forecast for the next few days. Lows should be in the 40s and highs in the 50s for the next several days.

I don’t think the rain will have much of an impact on activities around here. I don’t have any major outdoor projects in mind and being retired means I can take time to sit by the fire and read a book most days. Errands such as trips to grocery store will be unaffected even if there is more flooding in the county.

So I’ll listen to the rhythm of the rain falling on the skylights and peek out at the wet lawn from time to time. I’ll make sure to have my rain coat when venturing outside. Waterproof shoes are pretty much the norm for all of us around here. Dry feet are essential to remaining comfortable.

Wherever you are, stay warm and dry and know that the weather is bound to change. It always does.

Busman's holiday

I heard an incredible story this week. A week ago a friend missed a bell choir rehearsal. It is very unusual of this person, who is good ringer and who enjoys the ensemble. When he returned to our group he told us his story. On the day when the snow fell a couple of weeks ago, our friend, who is an avid bicyclist, got ready to go to work. It was snowing, but he is used to commuting with his bicycle every day, rain or shine. However on this day the snow was too deep. There was already more than a foot of snow on the streets outside his door and it was still snowing hard. He decided it wasn’t a day for riding a bike, so he put his bike away and started to trudge to the bus stop. Shortly afterward he found himself lying on the ground in the midst of a lot of tree branches and leaves and snow. He pulled himself up and his head began to ache and his vision was a bit blurry. Worried, he tried to figure out what had happened. Soon a few other people gathered. An ambulance arrived. He was transported to the emergency room at the hospital. As he had been walking the snow load on a tree near the sidewalk became too heavy for the tree and it had split, sending a giant branch to the ground striking our friend on its way down. He was knocked down and he received a concussion.

After being examined at the emergency room, the doctor informed him that he had suffered a concussion, but fortunately his injury was slight and he would soon recover. The doctor advised him to take the rest of the day off but that he could return to work the next day. Then the doctor inquired about how he came to be under a tree while wearing a bicycle helmet. Our friend realized that because he wears a bike helmet nearly every day when traveling to work, he neglected to take his off when he decided to walk to the bus stop. The doctor commented that the helmet likely saved his life.

The event was frightening, but the result was good. Our friend has recovered from the concussion and survived an event that seemed to be pretty random. And he has this great story to tell.

My sister is visiting us this week. She had a week of vacation from work and she thought that it would be good to get away from home for a little while. We really enjoy being together and always have lots to talk about. We have had a wonderful time and I got to tell her the story of my friend and the falling tree branch. She has told me about a lot of her adventures, including some stories about her work.

I accused her of taking a busman’s holiday. It sort of seemed like that as she drives a city bus in Portland, Oregon, for her regular work. The first day of her vacation, she got in her car and drove for four hours to get to our house. I realize that busman is an antiquated term, and doesn’t quite fit because she is not a man. Bus driver’s holiday might seem like a better term, but the term with which I am familiar is busman’s holiday. It refers to someone who spends a vacation doing what they do in their usual job. So a busman who takes a driving trip for vacation continues to drive each day and from that kind of practice came the term busman’s holiday.

I sort of understand the concept because when i worked as a pastor, sometimes my vacation activities closely resembled my active working activities. I might spend part of a vacation facilitating family gatherings, a practice not dissimilar from facilitating small group meetings in the church. I officiated at weddings and a couple of baptisms while I was technically on vacation. I often would monitor and respond to email even when I was out of the office for vacation. The line between working and not working is often a bit vague for a pastor. Often I would be thinking about a coming sermon even when I was not officially on duty.

I’m glad my sister didn’t decide to avoid driving all together during her vacation. And it reminded me of the freedom we have at this phase of our lives to travel. It isn’t hard for us to get in our car and go to visit family members who live a ways away from us. This will not always be the case. The time will come when we will need to give up driving. As we age, some of things that we used to go must come to an end. In a couple of decades it is likely that neither I nor my sister will be driving cars any longer. That means that we will either have to do all of our visiting by using computer video conferencing, or that we will be dependent on others to drive us so that we can get together. There will be challenges to growing older. But for now we have good health and are able to get together. While we enjoy talking on the phone and sending text messages to one another, but it isn’t the same as being together in the same room, sharing meals around the table, telling stories and discussing whatever events come to our minds.

Whether or not we like it, change will come. Often it isn’t as dramatic as a branch falling from a tree stressed by heavy snow load. Many changes are more slow and subtle. I seem to get stiff more easily than used to be the case. I tire a bit more easily. I need to work a bit harder to maintain sufficient focus to keep from forgetting something important. From time to time, it takes me a bit longer to get where I am going because I make a wrong turn.

And, being retired means that there are some routines that I observe every day, including not going to work. I guess that when you’re retired, you are always on a busman’s holiday.

A big boat

Here is a brief bit of background about me that regular readers of my journal probably already know. I enjoy boats. Currently, I have a rowboat, four canoes, and four kayaks, plus an additional kayak that is near completion. I like to build and repair boats. I have built a sailing rig for one of my canoes. I subscribe to Wooden Boat magazine. I often hang out around the docks just to look at the boats there. Last fall, Susan and I went on a three-day, two night cruise aboard an historic sailing vessel that allows guests to participate in crewing the boat including shifts at the navigation station, behind the wheel, and duties for raising and lowering sails. It was a really fun adventure and aside from the fact that we generally don’t do things quite that expensive, I’d do it over again. I like boats and I like going out on the water in boats.

Another bit of trivia about me. I spent last week at a large hotel and convention center. The center, housed in what once was the train station for St. Louis, Missouri, now has more than a thousand guest rooms, five or six restaurants, a coffee shop, an ice cream parlor, a bakery, an aquarium, a ferris wheel, a carousel, a mini-golf course, a health club, bars, and meeting rooms that will accommodate large groups. We had a banquet one evening in which they served over 500 people in a few minutes after we sat down. I had a good time. After a few times of walking around the facility to become oriented, I developed a couple of routines about where to get my meals, where to meet my colleagues for conversation, and where to go to attend the worship, workshops, and meetings. Although I found a way to go outside of the building each day, I knew how to conduct the various parts of my day within the convention center. For example, I ate all of my meals in the facility from Monday dinner through Saturday breakfast.

However, I’m not attracted to the idea of spending a week or more in a hotel that is on a boat. Recently, Royal Caribbean International launched what is currently the largest cruise ship in the world. The Icon of the Seas is 1,198 feet long. That’s over a thousand feet longer than the sailing ship on which we took our sail. It displaces over a quarter of a million tons. For comparison, it is more than five times the size of the Titanic.

This boat is really big. It has 20 decks. It has room and crew to support 7,600 passengers. I that seven swimming pools, six water slides, more than 40 restaurants, bars, and lounges.

I have read several articles about the mammoth ship. The fact that it was built in the first place is interesting to me. I have tried to imagine what the shipyard in Turku, Finland, where it was built might be like. It would have taken thousands of tradespeople to build all of the staterooms, bathrooms, and various components of the ship. There must be thousands of miles of pipes and electrical conduits in such a vessel. It would be interesting to me to see the bridge and to know the size of the crew that is required to keep such a vessel operating. The giant liquefied natural gas tanks required to serve the ships’ engines and generators must be enormous. The communications systems required to move such a vessel alongside and away from the docks have to be incredible.

But I have no desire to dip into our savings for the cost of a cruise on such a ship. Tickets for its initial seven-day, six night, trip around the islands of the Caribbean cost between $1,723 and $2,639 per person. A high-season cruise around Christmas next year will set purchasers back $5,124 per person.

I’ve never been on board such a gigantic vessel, but I imagine that it doesn’t feel much like riding a kayak on the small swells of our sheltered bay. I wonder if there is much sensation of motion at all when riding on such a ship. A giant, 20-story hotel must be designed for the majority of the guests to take elevators to get around the boat. With 7,600 passengers, I’m pretty sure that most guests don’t get to meet the captain or tour the bridge or engine room. I enjoy swimming pools and restaurants, but I generally avoid crowds when engaging in dining or recreating.

I’m having trouble imagining what the lure of such a vessel might be. Being just one of thousands of guests doesn’t appeal to me very much. I imagine that it might feel a bit closed in to be on board such a ship. When I stayed in the convention center, I could go outside and walk down the street away from the hotel whenever I wanted. Even though I didn’t venture far, I had access to areas that were not indoors. If there had been a fire or another emergency, I knew how to get out of and away from the building. You can’t do that with a cruise ship. I wonder how many life rafts such a boat must carry and how passengers determine which one to board. I suppose they must do some kind of emergency orientation for guests, but the thought of having to evacuate 7,600 people plus all of the crew seems like a nearly impossible task. The ship must have a clinic and hospital just to deal with potential health crises. I imagine it has a deck where a helicopter can land for an emergency medical evacuation. It might even carry one or more helicopters at all times.

It interests me that such a vessel could bear built and that it has been launched and is floating. The logistics of maintaining such a ship are impressive. But I won’t be lining up to purchase a ticket anytime soon.

Convention Conclusions

Flying is a good way to travel. You can cover a lot of miles in a short amount of time. Traveling by air is the only way I know of that would make it possible for me to be in St. Louis yesterday, having breakfast with colleagues, attending a workshop with people from Canada and New Hampshire and Kentucky and Illinois and other places, and still get from there to the northwest corner of the northwest state in time to worship this morning with my home congregation. Had I traveled by car and participated fully in the APCE event, I would still be at least two, and perhaps three days away from arriving at home. Had I traveled by train, I would not been able to leave St. Louis until tomorrow.

Still, modern air transportation involves a lot of sitting and waiting. You have to arrive at the airport early because of uncertainty about how long the lines at airport security may be. It can take hours of waiting in line to get through the necessary safety checks. Then you need to arrive at the gate early so that you will be in the right place at the right time to board your plane in an orderly fashion. The plane must be fully boarded in advance of the announced departure time in order to keep on schedule. Then the journey requires you to sit and wait. There isn’t much to do on an airplane, at least not much that involves action. An airline passenger needs to spend as much time as possible in a seat with a seatbelt buckled tight and low. Sometimes you can look out the window. Often what you see is clouds and more clouds. After that, there was a longer than usual layover in the Seattle Airport. It would have technically been quicker to drive from Seattle than wait for the next flight, but that would have involved a lot of inconvenience. Taking the airplane from Seattle to Bellingham makes things a lot less stressful than driving through a huge city and up a busy Interstate Highway in the dark late at night. So I waited some more.

One advantage of this type of travel is that it gives a person time to think and reflect. After a very busy week, a little time to reflect is welcome. So much has happened in my life that there are all kinds of experiences that I had but did not have time to fully incorporate their meaning. I’ll be processing those experiences for quite a while now, but there were plenty of things to think about as I sat and waited.

In the marketplace at the convention there was a panel that was erected for congregations seeking Faith Formation professionals, directors of children’s ministries, youth ministers, and other educators to serve those congregations. The purpose of the gathering was not to be a job fair, but when you gather over 500 educators in person there will be those who are seeking a new position in the group. There weren’t many positions posted that board, though. I think there were two or three that were full-time jobs and those had other responsibilities that required additional experience and qualifications that a typical educator might not possess. Most were looking for someone to work less than 20 hours a week. I don’t know educators who are able to move to another place for a less-than-full-time job.

Meanwhile, i met with friends and colleagues who told me stories of hard places in their careers. One colleague is just a few years younger than me. He is 62 years old, has served the church faithfully in several different settings. When I first met him he was on the educational staff in the national setting of our church. In those days our national staff included a whole group of educators. There were curricula developers and trainers and certification specialists. There were ministers who were responsible for children and others for youth and others for adult education. Now, I know of only one person on the national staff with responsibility for educational ministries and she has other responsibilities in the church as well. Every year of my career there have been fewer jobs for educators in all settings of the church than the previous year. This colleague has, for the past seven years, been faithfully serving a large congregation with multiple staff persons. In addition to planning and leading educational ministries, he has served them by officiating at weddings and funerals, making visits in homes and hospitals, leading retreats and camps, and the whole range of activities that pastors and teachers assume. He is beloved. He has been told over and over by the senior minister of the church and the members of the staff that they are grateful for his ministries. A week ago, however, the senior minister of the church came into his office and said, “Don’t take this personally, but I want to give you a heads up that it may be time for you to start looking for a new position. This isn’t about you. It is just that the church doesn’t have the funds to support the size of the staff we have and the number of staff will be reduced.” How can you not take it personally when your job is being eliminated? At 62, the job options are not many. Most congregations seeking full-time leadership want someone who will stay for a decade or more. My colleague said to me, “Just three more years! That’s all I wanted. I know we’ll figure things out, but I need to know how to pay the mortgage right now.

Another colleague who is a brilliant teacher, author of a textbook with another book nearing completion, who was teaching in a graduate school in his thirties is now approaching his 50s. He told me that his educational debt, upon which he has now been paying for more than 20 years, is now double what it was when he graduated. Interest that is compounded daily is piling up quicker than he can pay the debt down. In any other form outside of educational debt, it would be labeled predatory lending and would be illegal. And now, he has been between professional jobs for a couple of months with no new offers in sight.

As I traveled, I thought of a half dozen other stories that I have heard this week. These are dark days for too many very good servants of the church. We can’t see what the future holds. A lot of good people cannot see a way to continue to serve the church. A lot of congregations are saying good bye to beloved educators.

I am a person of faith and hope. I know that God is still working, even in hard times. But today, travel weary and needing even more time for reflection, I am struggling to see the hope. It is a time to persist, to keep working, and to trust that God is good all the time. The hope will come, but not in today’s journal entry.


I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to connect with long standing colleagues. I am grateful to have met some new and inspiring Christian educators. I have been enriched by worship, keynote addresses, celebrations, song, and workshops. I will leave this event with a passion for a new project that I hope to pursue over the next few months. It is an idea that has been bubbling in me for some time, and this event has inspired me to get started. I’m looking forward to the promise of meaningful work that lies ahead.

To get home however, involves a long day today. Through the reality of time zones, I can have breakfast with colleagues and attend a workshop before I have to leave for the airport. My flight into Bellingham arrives at 11:57 pm, which gives me most of a night’s sleep before getting up for church tomorrow. The problem is that I got up at 6 am here. Add in the time zone change and I will have been up for 20 hours by the time I get to the airport and probably 21 before I get to sleep and will only have about 5 hours to sleep before time to get up.

Fortunately, as one who grew up around and in airplanes, it is easy for me to sleep on the airplane and I have a 4 hour flight from St Louis to Seattle and I’ll be able to get in a good nap, so all is well. In addition, I have been energized by the event and will be further energized by the prospect of seeing Susan and getting home.

Over the years I have attended a lot of annual meetings. Most of them have a banquet as part of the meeting. APCE is no exception. Last night’s banquet had been carefully and fully planned with entertainment, awards, food, music, and so much more. (Really, SO much more!)

There was a happy hour before the banquet, which I skipped in favor of an opportunity to explore an area of Union Station that I hadn’t seen. We viewed the grand hall from the second and third levels of the balcony and took a look at the clock tower up close. It was a fun tour and it gave us the opportunity to get a bit of exercise. I haven’t done too bad with exercise on this trip. The hotel has a health club and I have gotten in a half hour on the exercise cycle every day. Several days, I have had time for a Yoga workout as well. In addition, this place is huge and there is a lot of walking involved just getting to and from meetings.

Exercise before dinner turned out to be a good choice. Once we were seated, I remained seated for three hours. After the meal was served, with a very rich dessert, the awards ceremony took at least an hour. There were three persons honored with special awards and each made an acceptance speech. It turned out that all three were Presbyterian ministers, whose definition of brief is the length of a sermon, I guess. And Presbyterians don’t seem to go in for short sermons. Everyone from their families to their childhood Sunday school teachers was thanked. And there were videos on the careers of the honorees. Then there was the celebration of those who had become certified during the past year, complete with speeches by members of the certification committee and investiture with stoles and explanations of the stoles and gifts awarded.

They were just getting started. A half hour dramatic presentation followed and then the musical act took the stage. We were seated a bit close to the speakers for the up tempo and up volume music. I stayed for the first two songs, but couldn’t take sitting any longer. I planned to just go to the back of the room to stand but when I got there, someone opened the door for me, so I slipped out and returned to my room. Whew! It felt like escape, even though I did feel slightly guilty if for no other reason than that the singers and band were really good and they deserved our attention.

On the other hand, at 70, I am aware that I have some limits. Sitting for long periods of time is not my strong point, and I do have a four hour flight tomorrow that involves a lot of sitting.

All said, however, I am glad I came and grateful for this opportunity to be among the ranks of church educators, many of whom, like me, have given a lifetime of service to our vocation. When we were viewing the videos of the honorees last night, I could identify with them. Two of them graduated from seminary the year after I graduated, so we are of similar age. The videos contained heartfelt testimony from those who had loved them and benefitted from their teaching. There were several young clergy who felt their call to the vocation from activities planned and carried out by the honorees. Teaching can sometimes seem like a thankless vocation, but there are moments when you know that the lessons have found home in your students. The videos were very moving for me. Despite my grumbling about the length of the evening, I can see why all of the elements were important to those who planned the event.

Another part of the evening was the announcement of the dates and place for next year’s event. It will be during the end of January and the beginning of February in Nashville, TN. For a second, I thought of entering the dates into my calendar, but I know that it does not make sense for me to attend this event every year. I may not ever attend it again. After all, I am retired, and my term on the national board of the Association of United Church Educators will end in January of 2026. The AUCE board won’t be meeting in person as an entire board with APCE again for several more years.

Bracing myself for a long day filled with gratitude and a few good byes - onward!

Worship and workshops


On the one hand, The Association of Partners in Christian Education is not my usual crowd. I did not run in Presbyterian, Christian Reformed, and other denominational circles in my professional career. There are a couple of educators who have been coming to the annual APCE event every year who I have known over the years. At least two UCC pastors that I know are serving Presbyterian congregations and are at the event. But only about a dozen of the over 500 people attending this meeting were known to me before I came.

Still, I very much feel the family reunion sense of the meeting. These people are all Christian Educators and Faith Formation Professionals. Those who are ordained ministers are, for the most part, ones who have specialized in educational ministries. I speak their language. I understand some of their frustrations with denominational structures. I know how seriously they take opportunities for high quality continuing education. I know how high their standards are for excellence in education.

In an event with more than 75 workshops, however, there are bound to be a couple that are less than stellar. I happened to choose one of them yesterday. The workshop description offered a topic about which I care deeply and about which I have significant experience. It is a topic that I care about a lot. The presenter came highly recommended, has written a book on the subject, and I was expecting engaging in stimulating conversation during the three hour workshop block. Instead, The entire first hour was a lecture with the presenter being the only person in the room who talked. After that hour there was no break, but the assignment was given to reflect on a word for 5 minutes then write about that word for the next 15 minutes. At that point, I walked out of the room. I decided that reflecting and writing about the word “boring” wouldn’t be productive. I hope that there were some participants in the workshop who found the experience to be meaningful. I took the next hour and a half to have a break, a short nap, and take a stroll through the marketplace exhibits and visit the bookstore.

After my self-chosen playshop for the second part of the workshop time, I was refreshed. The plenary session that followed was excellent, with a dynamic speaker. I finished the day with a satisfied feeling of having made significant contact with beloved colleagues, learned some new things about the teaching ministry of the church, gained a few new skills, discovered a few new resources, and a general sense of having invested my time well. One poor choice of a workshop was insufficient to color my experience. And I know, from years of experience both as a participant and as a planner of such conferences, that the quality of workshop presentations can vary widely in any event that employees a large number of workshops and presenters.

One of the things that helped set up my day was that after our breakfast meetings, we gathered for a communion service with vibrant liturgy and song, excellent preaching, and a service of communion. I’ve served communion in a lot of different settings. Ive delivered communion to individuals in homes and hospitals. I have organized communion services in nursing homes and parks and camps and a wide variety of different settings. I officiated at the table at least once a month for more than four decades. I’ve written a lot of liturgies for the celebration of communion.

The celebration never has become old for me. There is something about our ritual meal that transcends the setting. I always feel a connection not only with friends and family in distant places, but also a connection with those who have gone before us and those who will come after us. With a few changes in language, the ceremony in which we participated yesterday is the same as the ceremony I’ve shared in so many other settings with so many other congregations. It is the same ceremony in which my grandfather participated when he served as legal counsel for the national gathering of the Methodist Church. It is the same ceremony that our Australian colleague shares with his Tongan congregation. It is the same ceremony that we celebrated with our sister church in Costa Rica. It is the same ceremony that our South African friends used to celebrate the end of apartheid. It is the same ceremony the pilgrims celebrated upon disembarking from the Mayflower. It is the same ceremony we celebrated at the ordination of three powerful Lakota spiritual leaders. It is the meal that Jesus shared with his disciples.

Our people have been celebrating the simple taste of bread and of the cup for thousands of years.

Others will share this sacrament long after this generation has passed from the memory of those who will come after us.

We are a part of a huge stream of history-making and of experiencing the power of God’s presence in the simple elements of communion.

While I have a distinct preference for small, intimate settings in which I have shared the sacrament, from time to time, it is also a joy to share the sacrament with a large group of people. Not only do we celebrate our role as educators, we also celebrate the core of the content that we seek to teach, knowing that it is beyond words, beyond fads of pedagogy, beyond the personalities of our leaders, beyond the peculiarities of this particular community.

We’ve passed the midway of our event. Today is mostly additional workshops with more time for making new friends and sharing with old friends. We’ve gotten into the rhythm of the event, knowing that it will soon end. Before long we’ll be traveling back home. And i am eager to get back home. I’m not someone who would enjoy having to travel all the time. This trip, however, has been worth the effort and expense. I am not only a part of my nuclear family, I am also a part of the extended family of Christian educators and faith formation leaders in the church. And here, with them, I am home.

With colleagues

Yesterday was a very full day for me. Highlights included worshipping with over 500 in person and more than 100 online. That many Christian Educators means a LOT of energy, great singing, new songs, fresh liturgies, meaningful prayers, and a truly dynamic preacher. I was sitting with colleagues, all of whom I have known for many years - some for many decades. The keynote presenter was a truly gifted storyteller who told some impressive stories of healing in this often broken world. Hope abounded. I got mixed up on the room assignments for regional dinners in the evening and wandered into the room for Canadians where I was so warmly welcomed and I so thoroughly enjoyed meeting the people that I stayed without regrets at missing the Northwest Regional gathering.

A little background: The Association of Presbyterian Educators (APCE) was formed many decades ago. I think in the 1950s or 1960s. At the time there was a need for support for those who were called to the educational ministries of the church. The group functioned partly as a professional guild, with certification programs for church educators, continuing education, and resource sharing. With time and careful investments of a growing endowment, the group grew to embrace a tradition of annual national gatherings. Later they began to partner with other denominational educators’ groups and became the Association of Partners in Education.

Our parallel group, The Association of United Church Educators (AUCE) was formed on a slightly different model. In the United Church of Christ, our group assumed the roles of resource curation, professional support, and continuing education, while certification of educators was lodged in the National Setting of the Church. Compared to APCE, AUCE has been a much smaller organization about 1/5 the size of our Presbyterian colleagues.

When I was certified as a specialist in Christian Education, I was urged to join the Association of Untied Church Educators. The Association of United Church Educators. AUCE is based on a grass roots model with Conference and Regional groups which offered gatherings. In our old model there were regional gatherings every other year and a national gathering in the other years. In our best years, AUCE membership was mostly under 200 educators. and national gatherings usually attracted less than 100 participants. Because I served in two of the regions of the United Church of Christ with few churches and large distances, AUCE never had a strong regional presence where I lived. However, I became active in the national setting of the organization when they hired their first digital missioner to develop their web site and beginning social media presence. I was hired for that function and served in that capacity for several years.

A couple of years ago, I was invited to re-join the board as the regional representative for the Western Region and partly out of love for the profession and the organization and partly out of the desire to make connections with other educators, I eagerly accepted the invitation. I have enjoyed that connection.

AUCE is not an official member of APCE, but we have nurtured strong relationships over the years. This year, after three years of the AUCE board meeting over Zoom, we decided to have a face-to-face meeting of the board and to piggyback our board meetings with the APCE national event. Since I was coming for the AUCE board, I registered for the entire APCE event. AUCE members were offered the membership discount for registration at the event.

After more than four decades of involvement in youth ministry, educational ministries, and faith formation, I have a lot of colleagues and friends. Many are in the United Church of Christ, but many are members of other denominations. We share a lot of resources interdenominationally. As a curriculum writer, I was involved in preparing both denominational resources and resources designed intentionally for many different denominations. One of the largest projects in which I was involved was produced by the United Church of Canada, so I developed many collegial relationships with Canadian educators as well.

When I wandered into the Canadian regional meeting this evening, I immediately found many things we shared in common, some shared historical moments and places, and colleagues who were familiar to me and to the Canadian educators. Despite being a first time attendee at the APCE event, there is definitely a reunion aspect to the meeting so far. Yesterday, I was walking down the corridor and heard my name called out. I turned to discover a colleague whom I haven’t seen in the last 20 years and who I did not expect to see at an APCE gathering. What a joy it was to start to catch up. Soon we realized that we have too many stories to share and so planned to get together for a longer discussion during a break in the schedule today. I’m really looking forward to reconnecting, hearing about his family, about the congregations he has been serving, and his career as a pastor and educator.

Being retired has not dimmed my enthusiasm for quality teaching, quality resources, and strong advocates for children and youth in the church. Being in a large convention center filled with church educators is a delightful experience and reminds me of how much I enjoyed getting together with colleagues earlier in my ministry. The addition of wonderfully planned and executed worship, excellent music, and spirited keynote presentations made the experience even better.

Today is a day of workshops. Were I an active pastor, I could actually get a whole year’s worth of continuing education from this single event. I am signed up for workshops as varied as Infants in Worship, Digital Storytelling, Walking Empowered Through Grief, Caring for Creation Together, and Films for Teaching and Engaging in Social Justice. Between the workshops, I will be delighted to continue networking with colleagues and reuniting with old friends. I’m sure that there will be more surprises among the people who are present for the meetings. I will no doubt be exhausted by the end of the day.

I’m sure that being retired, my experiences won’t be as easily shared with the folks back at home as was the case when they gathered in worship and heard me talk about what I had been doing. Still, I am grateful for this opportunity and energized by the presence of so many dedicated to a cause that is so deep within me.

I am blessed!

90 seconds to midnight

I have lived my entire life with the Doomsday Clock hovering close to midnight. For those not familiar with the Doomsday Clock, it is a symbol introduced by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists in the aftermath of the Second World War with the use of atomic weapons. The scientists who created the clock felt that the destruction of all human life was so close that they needed a way to symbolize the danger to all of humanity posed by weapons of mass destruction. The clock appeared in the publication at 7 minutes to midnight in 1947 with the use of nuclear weapons being feared as an imminent danger to all humanity. Midnight is the symbolic end of all humanity in the symbol.

The first test of nuclear weapons by the Soviet Union in 1949 moved the clock up to 3 minutes to midnight.The year I was born, 1953, the clock was advanced to 2 minutes to midnight in the wake of the first tests of the hydrogen bomb by the United States. It remained at that close point throughout the nuclear arms race.

The scientists, however, glimpsed an increase of hope and moved the clock back to its earliest setting of 17 minutes to midnight in 1991 with the end of the Cold War in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. A few years later in 1998 when India and Pakistan both staged nuclear weapons tests, the clock was advanced to 9 minutes to midnight.

2015 was the first year when climate change was introduced into the scientist’s warnings about the capacity of humans to destroy the conditions necessary for human survival and the clock was advanced to three minutes to midnight. Then in 2007 the clock moved again to 2 minutes before midnight in the wake of North Korea’s nuclear weapons tests.

A year ago the scientists responded to the War in Ukraine, advances in nuclear weapons testing, biological weapons testing, and climate change advancing the clock to 90 seconds to midnight. This year the scientists left the clock at 90 seconds to midnight but added the uncontrolled advance of artificial intelligence to the list of threats that also includes nuclear and biological weapons and climate change.

From the perspective of concerned scientists, humanity has lived on the edge of destruction for my entire life. Even 17 minutes, which offering some cushion compared to 90 seconds, is a tiny fraction of the 24 hours of a normal clock. The symbol, of course, is intended to rise alarm and concern. And it has accomplished at least some of the caution that the scientists urge upon all of humanity.

There are, however, real dangers in constantly living under the threat of imminent destruction. It is worth contemplation about the effectiveness of a symbol that constantly shows humanity near its end. I am sure that the symbol has lost some of the power that it carried in the early years of its use. A large majority of the people alive today have never experienced a time when the symbol did not demonstrate imminent threats of human destruction. Since I have lived my entire life in the shadow of midnight so to speak, I have allowed myself to think of other things and not focused my entire life on threats to human existence.

As a person who dedicated my life to developing spirituality, faith formation, and ministry to others, I see dangers that are not fully covered by the symbol, While I do not dismiss the careful analysis of scientific facts in the work of the scientists who contribute to the publication of the doomsday clock, I am equally worried about the many factors, sometimes including the constant publication of threats to humanity that rob people of hope. Many of the factors covered by the clock including the testing of weapons by governments, the actions of multi-national global petroleum corporations, wars and the threat of wars, and unrestrained advances in technology without accompanying advances in the ethical use of those technologies, combine to make individuals feel as though the danger advances beyond their control.

In order to live our lives, we seem to need to view the advance of the clock as solely due to things that we cannot effect. While the intent of the creators and contributors to the clock intend to raise awareness in hopes of grass roots actions that lead to changes in the decisions of governments and corporate giants, the sense of constant threat seems to contribute rather to a sense of hopelessness. We ask, “what can I possibly do to make a difference.” Some of that hopelessness is intentionally seeded by the very corporations that profit from arms races and climate destruction.

The shift within just a few years of the false message of climate denial to a message that the proposed solutions won’t work has been dramatic. The same financial sources that funded the promotion of the view that climate change is not human caused are now being redirected to promoting a sense of futility about proposed solutions. While the majority of scientists say that the switch to sustainable energy sources can slow rising global temperatures, a concerted effort is being made to promote the notion that there are no effective alternatives to continuing acceleration in the pace of the consumption of fossil fuels. Despite evidence to the contrary, those seeking profits form fossil fuels are promoting a message that humans don’t really have any choice other than to continue down the path of advancing the clock to midnight.

By proclaiming that we have no choice - that there is nothing we can do - these messages threaten rob us of hope. As a theologian and biblical scholar, I know that this is not the first time that our people have experienced the treat of the destruction. The biblical prophets proclaimed a message of imminent doom. And while our people have faced deportation and exile, it has not always come from the threats proclaimed by the prophets. History shows that Assyria wasn’t the source of the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile. It was, rather Babylon that rose to power. That does not mean that Isaiah was wrong in raising the threat, however.

I choose to pay attention to the doomsday clock precisely because I have hope. 90 seconds to midnight is not the end. It is an opportunity for us to take action now to slowly move the hands of the clock away from the end of humanity. From my perspective even 5 or 10 minutes would illustrate great progress.

May we find the hope we need to work together for sustainable solutions and peace for all of humanity.

Union Station

In 1828 ground was broken for the first railroad in the United States. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) began with a fantastic vision: to provide passenger and freight service across the wide expanse of the settled United States from Baltimore to Ohio. The enterprise was deemed so necessary to national security that engineers from West Point were allowed to help with surveying and planning the tracks. The initial offering was a much more modest affair. 13 miles of track were laid and the carriages traversed those miles drawn by horses. Expansion followed. Eventually, passengers and freight could be shipped all the way from New York City to St. Louis, Missouri with major stops in Washington DC and Cleveland. Three trains ran each direction leaving each day. The National Limited offered the highest level of luxury with shower baths, barber shops, fine dining, and many other amenities. The Diplomat was a lower level of luxury without all of the amenities. And the Metropolitan stopped at every station, took a lot longer, and was the blue-collar workhorse of the railroad. The railroad experimented with different forms of propelling the trains down the tracks. An experiment in wind-driven trains was attempted with limited success. Eventually stem locomotives became the dominant means of propulsion.

To support these modern trains with all of their amenities and the volumes of freight which could be shipped, elaborate stations needed to be constructed. These stations were grand buildings, feats of modern architecture, with opulent entryways, high ceilinged grand halls, and scores of restaurants and shops.

After the Second World War, however, passengers declined on the rails. The development of the national Interstate highway system accelerated the decline of the railroads. By the 1960’s railroad companies were being bought and sold, consolidated and reconfigured in attempts to keep them solvent. The stations fell into disrepair, the large staff of cleaning people could not be sustained by the decreased traffic.

Many cities across the nation have faced the dilemma of what to do with the once prominent buildings that at one time were the heart of the urban core. Now the giant structures could be operated only at a loss and the cost of maintaining them continued to rise. A few of them were eventually repurposed.

Union Station in St. Louis, once the heartbeat of the city and the center of social and commercial life is now a hotel and convention complex operated by Hilton. I have been to St. Louis on many trips and have visited many different sights in the city but before this trip, I had not visited Union Station. It is the location of this weeks annual gathering of the Association of Professional Church Educators and I am excited to have the opportunity to wander around this giant building and see how it has been restored and repurposed. As hotels go it is one of the largest I’ve ever visited. I’ll have no problem getting my steps in as I wander around the complex with five restaurants plus a soda fountain and a cookie and cupcake shop, an aquarium, a garden courtyard, an outdoor pool, a carousel and ferris wheel, mini golf and scores of ballrooms and meeting rooms, exhibit halls and a fitness center. I don’t know how many rooms are in the hotel but they are located in at least three different areas and the room numbers in the area where I am staying go up to 6040.

Many of the murals on the ceilings and walls have been restored and there are nightly light shows in the Grand Hall in which colored lights are projected onto the ceiling and walls all set to music. There is also a fire and light show around an artificial lake in the courtyard.

The experience has already made me wonder what other cities have done with their grand railroad stations. It might be an interesting thing to add to a city visit to explore what has been done with the historic structures. I’m sure some have been torn down. Others have become museums. Surely some still serve as train stations even if they now serve fewer passengers than when they were originally designed.

In the vast flow of history the age of trains is a relatively short chapter. Unlike smoother areas of the world where railroads are vibrant and the centers of transportation, railroads in the United States carry few passengers and passenger rail service is not available in many parts of the country. When we traveled in Japan, for example, we were able to go anywhere we wanted within the country from one end to the other by using railroads. The trains are fast, efficient, modern, clean, and reasonably priced. It was far easier for us to use the railroads than it would have been for us to rent a car and drive.

I was fortunate to have had the experience of taking a short railroad trip behind a steam locomotive that our father arranged because it was obvious that diesel electric locomotives would soon replace steam. And we have the adventure of a winter trip from Chicago to Montana and back one Christmas during our seminary years. On that trip the train traveled all the way across North Dakota in sub-zero temperatures. Systems became so cold that the train was delayed by the process of uncoupling and coupling cars that was part of the regular process of dividing the long train that left Chicago into a couple of smaller trains that went in different directions to different destinations.

Like other old timers, I can tell a few “I remember when” stories about train travel. But, for the most part, I don’t really remember. The height of passenger railroads in the United States occurred before my time. Fortunately for me there are a few of the grand stations of the halcyon of railroads in America that remain. And in those stations are a few displays and historic artifacts that help to recall the history.

I’m enjoying my time staying at St. Louis Station, but I got here on an airplane and I’ll be returning home by air as well.

Travel Day

Today is a travel day for me. In one sense, I think that when I imagined retirement, I thought that we would travel more than we have so far. And when I imagined what retirement would be like, I didn’t imagine that I would be taking trips like this week’s adventure. There was a time in my life, during our active careers, when I would travel quite a bit. I served on boards and committees in the national setting of our church. I worked as an educational consultant for Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. I served as a writer and editor for curricula projects and traveled for writers’ conferences. Because much of our life also involved caring for children and later caring for our parents, we often took a “divide and conquer” strategy to keep all of the bases covered. That meant that I often traveled solo while Susan was working hard at home to balance work and home life. We did travel together some. We shared some of the same curricula projects and traveled to writers’ conferences. We attended several gatherings of the General Synod of the United Church of Christ together. And of course, we traveled as a family on vacations and educational trips for our children.

Today, however, I am once again boarding a plane for a large national professional meeting. I serve on the national board of the Association of United Church Educators. I served on that board previously when I was actively working. At one time I was the web creator for the Association. Another time, I served as a regional representative. When we went back to work as Interim Ministers of Faith Formation at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Bellingham, I accepted an invitation to re-join the board as the regional representative for the Western Region of our church. It has been a joy to serve in that capacity. Some of the other board members are colleagues with whom I have shared many different experiences. There is a writer, whose work I edited, a colleague for whom I read drafts of a book he published, others with whom I shared educational consultant duties. In addition, serving on the board has enabled me to connect with younger educators and listen to their perspectives, benefit from their fresh educational experiences, and have my hope for the future of the church renewed by their enthusiasm, dedication, care, and competence. So far, however, since my recent return to that board, we have met by Zoom. The pandemic changed the shape of a lot of national boards and committees.

However, last year our board decided to take advantage of the big national meeting of another organization, The Association of Professional Church Educators. We have set our board meeting for the day before the opening of the APCE meeting. Most of us are staying on for the APCE meeting which is an excellent opportunity for continuing education, networking, worship, and catching up with some of the latest trends in Christian Education. Susan and I briefly considered going together to the meeting, but when we considered the amount of time she would have to entertain herself while I was in dedicated meetings, the cost of travel, and other considerations, we decided to save the funds we might have spent on a week in St. Louis in January and invest those funds in travel to visit family and friends. We are hoping to make a couple of trips to South Carolina this year to see our daughter and grandson who live there.

Flying from here is a bit complex, however. Although we live within easy driving distance of two major airports, Seattle-Tacoma and Vancouver International, there are reasons why both are difficult to use. Seattle is a two hour drive from our home and it is on the other side of the city. In addition, Sea-Tac airport has huge problems with security staffing that mean you must arrive at the airport at least three hours before your departure in order to make it through security. In addition it involves dealing with city traffic and either paying a lot for parking, or having someone give a ride to the airport, which is a four hour round trip. Vancouver is less than an hour away, but it involves a border crossing and unless we are heading to an international destination, ticket prices are higher.

There are a few connecting flights to Seattle-Tacoma from our nearest airport, Bellingham International, just 12 miles from our home. Prices on those flights, however, are quite expensive. Also, in order to make connections at Seattle-Tacoma you have to leave early and return late, often involving long layovers at Sea-Tac. So travel is far from perfect, but for this trip, I was able to use points I earned from purchases, so it didn’t involve an outlay of cash and having Susan give me a ride to the Bellingham Airport is way more convenient for us both. However, my departure flight is at 5:15 am this morning and my return flight gets in at 11:57 pm next Saturday. A very early morning and a very late night for her to provide my rides.

Still, I am excited about the trip. It will be good to connect with colleagues. It will be good to feel like I’m at least a bit up to date with the profession that I have loved. And, for a week at least, I will feel a bit less retired. That last one might seem like a questionable benefit for some who have worked hard to earn their retirement, but I so loved my job that I have struggled with retirement more than some others. I miss many aspects of the work that I did and connecting with colleagues was one of the things I miss. I’m willing to get up early and stay up late. After all, I’m retired. I can catch up on my sleep some other week.

For the rest of this week, however, you may have to endure a bit of commentary on my travels and some of the things that I will be learning. And now, I’ve got a flight to catch.

Choosing a tie to wear

The usual dress for most members of our church is casual. I took note of this and dressed in accord with that when I worked at the church. My usual mode of dress for Sundays when I was working at the church included long-sleeved shirts, mostly fishing guide shirts in bright colors, and cargo pants. I like to wear bright colors and I have a number of guide shirts. The bright colors were attractive to young children and my work at the church included leading the time with children in worship as well as supporting church school. Since I was regularly working with the children of the church my choice of clothing seemed natural. Furthermore, I had heard my then-boss, the lead pastor of the church comment on over dressing for worship. She had commented that she once told her father that wearing a suit was “a bit too much” for the church. Her parents live in the Eastern United States and I have never met them, but I believe that they are similar in age to us. They celebrated their 50the anniversary the year before we celebrated ours.

Now that I am retired, however, I’ve returned to my usual for worship before I worked at the church, which is to wear dress shirts and most weeks I wear a tie. I even wear suits some weeks, though many weeks I don’t wear a suit and often do not wear a sports jacket. I know that wearing a tie is fairly unusual in our congregation, though one of my friends in this church also usually dresses up for Sunday worship and often wears a tie, especially on the weeks when he serves a head usher.

For many years I always wore a tie when working at the church, when attending church meetings and when leading worship. Even in later years of my career when I didn’t wear a tie on many weekdays, I continued to always wear a tie for leading worship, including Sunday worship, weddings, funerals, and special services. I was comfortable in what was common for pastors of my generation. Even when I attended meetings in the national setting of our church, where casual dress was more common, I wore ties and often suits when participating in activities there.

So, now that I am retired and not worried about meeting others’ expectations, I dress up on Sundays. It is a way of marking the special day. It is also an opportunity to wear the clothes that I collected during years of serving the church. I have a pretty good collection of ties and I enjoy wearing them. I’ve even bought a few new ties this year - a couple for the celebration of our anniversary and a couple more purchased on an after-Christmas sale at one of the makers of ties that I enjoy. Although I used to wear long ties often, for many years I have preferred bow ties and I enjoy the simple fact that they are a bit less typical. I guess I like to stand out from the crowd a bit. Perhaps that is why I enjoy dressing up in a congregation where casual is the norm. Perhaps I enjoy standing out a bit.

In addition to my typical white dress shirts, I also have several colored dress shirts. Thought pastel colors are what I wore most often when I served as a pastor, I also have a black dress shirt and dress shirts in the liturgical colors of red, green, and purple. There isn’t much attention given to liturgical colors in our church, though the vestments and sanctuary decorations are generally purple during lent and blue during advent in this church. In a more liturgical congregation, the color for Epiphany Sunday is white, with green being the color for the other Sundays of Epiphany. So, I’m planning to wear my green shirt with a tie today. Which tie to wear is a bit of a conundrum for me because I don’t have many that go with the green shirt. Even though green is the most common color in the church year, being the color for the Sundays after Pentecost, also known as ordinary time, most of the ties I wore during those seasons when I was working were more suited for wearing with white shirts. Not every green tie looks right with the green shirt. Ties generally are contrasting colors with the shirts.

I’m not worried, however. I’ll find a tie to wear today in my collection. After all, I have a good selection.

Another task for my day, after worship today, is to pack for a week-long trip. I leave early tomorrow morning for nearly a week in Saint Louis where I will attend a meeting of the board of the Association of United Church Educators and the large annual gathering and continuing education event of the Association of Professional Church Educators. I’m looking forward to being with friends and colleagues who are professional faith formation leaders in their churches. They are some of the most creative, caring, and engaged people that I know. I’ve always had a passion for education in the church and a week with my educator colleagues will be a treat.

I’ll be packing dress shirts for my trip. I know that it is an occasion where casual dress is the norm and few folks who are not presenting keynote addresses will be dressed up for the occasion. However, I would definitely have worn ties and jackets for similar meetings prior to my retirement and I’m sticking with what is most familiar to me. One of the treats of being retired is being able to wear what you like. While some of my colleagues have used retirement as an occasion to ditch ties and embrace causal dress every day, I prefer to dress up for church and church meetings. I don’t mind being seen as a bit quirky. Another treat of being retired is that I pretty much don’t pay attention to what others think of me. I don’t mind having my younger colleagues think of me as that strange older guy who over dresses. More likely, they don’t pay any attention at all to what I am wearing.

Happy sabbath to you. I hope that you feel welcome in worship dressed however you are most comfortable. There is no need for you to imitate my style. After all, I’m wearing what I like to wear and I hope you are free to do the same for yourself.

In the news

We have a very good small town weekly newspaper in our community. The Northern Light made a very good choice when pressures from the Internet and changes in media consumption had devastating effects on newspapers. Although their action was counter-intuitive it has allowed the newspaper to remain healthy in a changing economy for media. What they did was to drop all subscription fees and deliver a copy each week to every household in their service area. By doing so they increased their circulation which in turn allowed them to increase their ad rates. Part of the lost revenue from subscriber fees has been made up by volunteer support from readers. Each week they print a small add inviting readers to voluntarily send $24 each year to support the newspaper. Many do and those who do are named in one issue each year. The increased circulation and the resulting increase in ad rates more than makes up for the lost revenue from subscriber fees. This allows the newspaper to maintain a small editorial and production staff and a larger circle of correspondents. We have learned to look forward to receiving our mail on Thursdays and reading the newspaper. Most weeks we read everything in the newspaper including the police reports and editorials. I don’t read all of he legal notices, but I understand how they help maintain the presence of the newspaper in our community.

This week’s edition has a front-page article about a landlord who was arrested after allegedly putting a gun to the head of his tenant’s mother. The defendant was released from jail on a cash bond after being charged with second-degree assault with a deadly weapon His arraignment is scheduled for later this month. The victim was involved in a confrontation with the defendant while helping her son move out of the home.

I don’t know any of the details of the incident. People find themselves in conflict over a lot of different things and I suppose that moving out of a home can stir intense emotions. Perhaps the landlord had reason to want the renter to leave. Perhaps the landlord was upset about losing the revenue from the renter. Perhaps there was a dispute over ownership of some of the property being moved. The article in the newspaper doesn’t report any of the reasons for the conflict. It is likely that none of that information is available to the public.

What caught out attention about the article is that the incident happened in our neighborhood, The address of the altercation is a street that intersects with our street just a block from our home. We frequently walk down that street when walking around our neighborhood, which feels to us to be a very safe place. It doesn’t surprise us that there was conflict. People disagree all the time about a wide variety of things. What is surprising and alarming is that the conflict intensified to the use of a deadly weapon.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that such an event occurred in our neighborhood. The truth is that in the United States nearly every neighborhood has many residents who are armed with deadly force. Guns are so much a part of our culture that they are brandished in all kinds of situations. Weapons that owners claim are present for defense often turn into offensive weapons when conflict arises.

There is nothing new about gun culture. I grew up in a community where nearly every home had guns. We were hunters in my home. We harvested wild deer, antelope, and elk to supplement our family’s diet. Each of the children in our home took a hunter’s safety class when we turned 12. Most of the vehicles parked at our high school had rifles in a rack in them.

I also can remember several times when conflicts arose among my peers in high school. Arguments sometimes accelerated into fist fights. But I never remember anyone using a gun in an attraction. I can’t think of any incident when someone grabbed a gun and pointed it at another person. We all had learned from an early age that you never point a gun at another person, even when you know it is unloaded. In our home the rule was that all ammunition was removed from guns except when in the field hunting. When the gun was brought into our home not only was the ammunition removed, but the ammunition and the bolt that secured the ammunition in the firing chamber were stored in a different place than the weapon. It never occurred to us that we might use a gun against another person for any reason. Guns were tools and dangerous tools that needed to be treated with utmost respect.

That was the way it was in my community when I was growing up. But things are different now. In the first place where I live the majority of the residents do not own firearms. We have no need of guns at our house and we don’t have any. Statistically, however, there are more guns than people in most neighborhoods. There are, I assume, in our neighborhood people who own many guns. There are gun safes stocked with dozens of weapons in homes in our neighborhood. There are loaded handguns in night stands and glove compartments and purses. There are concealed weapons carried by our neighbors. And, when tempers flare, guns are drawn not because they are needed for defense, but because they are used to intimidate others and to get them to comply with the demands of the one brandishing the weapon.

Nowhere in the article about the alleged assault does it say that the victim threatened the accused. Again, I don’t know what happened, only the brief description in the newspaper article. Fortunately the gun was not discharged, but all too often in our communities weapons are discharged in circumstances that do not require the use of deadly force. And weapons are brandished by those who don’t have the training to use them appropriately.

It is a problem not only in our neighborhood but in most neighborhoods of our nation. Fortunately for us, county deputies were able to intervene and enforce the law before someone was injured. Now, we hope we will be able to go back to pursuing our newspaper for articles about the weather, high school sports, school board news and the struggles of small town government. We really don’t need the excitement and drama of neighbors brandishing weapons and holding them to the heads of other people.

Lazy Winter Day

Yesterday I got up early and finished shoveling the snow from my walks and driveway right after breakfast. I headed to town fairly early, stopping at a truck stop in town to pick up some anti-gel for my truck. Although it generally does not get as cold here as South Dakota, I make sure to have the additive on hand for fill-ups when it is cold. No one has heard of number 1 diesel around here. It isn’t even available at truck stops, which is a surprise, because there are plenty of trucks heading north from here. Some are going all the way to the Yukon and Northwest Territories and others are heading for the Alaska highway. At any rate, I now have the fluid on hand for my next fill up and the bottle will last me longer than the cold weather will last as I don’t drive the truck that much in the winter.

After stopping there, I drove into Bellingham to be at a local computer store at opening time. The store doesn’t open early. 10 am seems to suit the staff and usual customers fine. the parking lot was empty and unplowed when I arrived and by a few minutes after ten I realized that the store wouldn’t be opening on time. I finally gave up and headed over to the church where I did a bit of work in the library and picked up our shop vacuum, which had been staying at the church to help with water clean-up after recent flooding caused by burst pipes during an especially deep cold snap last week. I hadn’t planned to go to Bellingham yesterday even though Thursday is my usual day to volunteer at the church library. Things are pretty much shut down by the snow.

After the church I headed back to our son’s farm where I dropped off the shop vacuum and visited with the family. All of the children were outdoors playing in the snow. The older kids had brought a snow shovel around. Their plan was to shovel a lot of snow behind their father’s car so that he wouldn’t go in to work. They like it when snow days include their father combining working from home with a lot of extra time for them. After a bit of negotiation, I convinced them that their time would be better spent adding to their sledding run. The farm is fairly level without any good sledding hills, but there were several drifts in front of the barn and there is a raised tank that is part of the septic system that provides a bit of a ramp for sledding. The children had plenty of effort for the task. I just hope that they remembered to return the shovel to its storage place. They have a bit of a tendency to leave tools out and it would take only a bit of wind and additional snow to make it hard to find when needed,

The forecast was for warming temperatures and rain by noon, but that never happened. It snowed lightly in the afternoon, and I believe the high for the day was about 30 degrees. The thermometer began slowly recoding warmer temperatures about midnight.

After lunch I filled up the bird feeders again. The little creatures are going through a couple of pounds of seed each day right now. Our bird feeders are very busy and popular places with the wisteria and cherry trees filling with birds. We don’t have many exotic birds. Our most frequent visitors are juncos and finches. We’ve seen at least one flicker and a couple of woodpeckers at the suit feeder. Yesterday a couple of red-winged blackbirds discovered the feeders. They seemed quite large compared to the tinier birds that are our regulars.

We live a little over a block from a stand of native birch that lend their name to our bay. Before colonization the entire area where our neighborhood now is developed was birch forest. The trees grow quite close to one another and they have shallow roots in the very moist soil. Where the native forest still stands in small patches downed and leaning trees are common and the undergrowth is so thick and the trees so close to one another that it is difficult to walk through them. There is a path along one side of the trees that is a favorite place for us to walk. We use it most days on our walk to the beach. The last couple of days, however, we’ve been just walking on the streets in our neighborhood as few sidewalks are cleared of snow and it is difficult to walk in the deep snow. The snow packed streets are fairly empty of cars most of the time and it is easy to walk in the middle of the street.

While it is very difficult for people to walk through the stand of birches, the area provides rich shelter for the birds. Most of the time, you can hear hundreds of them in the trees as you walk by. I’m pretty sure that a few of them have discovered the feeders in our back yard. They are definitely welcome. The entertainment provided by the birds far exceeds the cost of seed in my opinion. The thing is, once we have committed to feeding, we need to follow through and make sure that the feeders are full when the weather is cold or snowy. The little ones have become a bit dependent on us.

Clam days like the last few have seduced me into avoiding the news. I know that there is a lot going on in the world, and I usually follow the news, including US politics. Most days I read news from around the world to gain a perspective that isn’t always available from US media sources. But the last couple of days, I have scanned the headlines and forgone reading the articles. I have lots of books and a few magazines to read that are more entertaining and fun for me. I’ve convinced myself that one of the treats of retirement is to be able to allow myself to fall behind in reading the news. I’ll get back to it one of these days. In the meantime, I’m entertained by shoveling snow, watching the birds, and sipping a warm cup of tea. It is a luxury that I could not afford for many years, but one I am enjoying for now.

Stay warm and safe and let the world take care of itself for a few days. I’m pretty sure that there is much I can learn from the birds. Our neighbors are usually very patient teachers.

Snow Day

Almost everyone in our neighborhood took a snow day yesterday. We woke to about four inches on the ground and heavy snowfall. There was a little breeze, so it was a bit difficult to measure, but by midafternoon we had about a foot of snow. The drift in our driveway was about 18 inches deep. We weren’t snowed in. We could have gotten out with our pickup, but we didn’t really have anywhere that we needed to go. There aren’t enough snowplows in our county to keep up with heavy snow, so there probably won’t be any plowing in our neighborhood. The main county roads will be plowed, but we had no need to go anywhere. Schools were closed for the day as well as some businesses.

In the afternoon I wasn’t the only one in our neighborhood shoveling snow. My neighbor across the street, who moved here a few years ago from Casper Wyoming was shoveling at the same time as I and we were talking across the street as we worked. His dog was having the best time and saw the snow as a real bonus. I think there were some neighborhood children who agreed. Our backyard was a real hit with the birds, and I refilled the feeders which I had refilled the previous day. Most of the time it takes two or three days for the birds to eat all of the seed, but word got out among the birds, and they are going through the seed quickly with the snowy weather.

Although I don’t have a snow blower anymore and I don’t even have a good snow shovel. I don’t mind. The plastic shovel I brought with me from South Dakota is enough to clear my driveway and sidewalk. My driveway is much shorter than the one we had in South Dakota, and I don’t have anywhere I need to be, so there is no pressure with the shoveling. We’re supposed to get rain tomorrow, so I don’t want to leave any deep snow that might turn to ice.

I can’t remember having snow days when I was in elementary and high school. I suppose we must have had some, but they weren’t very frequent. On days when blizzard conditions persisted, we had blizzard days when the school buses didn’t run. Rural students who were in town when the blizzard struck were all assigned to “snow homes” in town where they stayed until the roads were cleared. The rest of us walked to school as usual and made our way home in the snow.

Here, however, we know that there will be a snow day if there is more than a couple of inches of snow. Even that much doesn’t happen very often. Yesterday was the first day this school year with enough for the school district to cancel classes. Our district has already declared that there will be no snow today, either. I’m guessing that even with the accumulation we have, there won’t be much snow left by next week, but they could end up canceling school on Friday if things don’t melt or if the rain makes things icy. The school district doesn’t really have any equipment to clear snow from parking lots and other areas.

We have a good stock of groceries in our pantry. Our home is warm and cozy. It seems fine to us to sit by the fire and read a book with a cup of tea. We can watch the birds and go for short walks around the neighborhood. There isn’t enough traffic to prevent us from walking in the streets where the snow has been packed by the cars. Shoveling sidewalks isn’t really a thing around here. The few homes where the driveways are shoveled don’t have the walks shoveled. I didn’t even finish shoveling mine yesterday, but I’ll make sure they are shoveled this morning. I can see that cars aren’t having trouble going up and down the streets and suspect that the county road is plowed.

Our neighbors to the south have a shiny new Subaru parked in their driveway, but they didn’t seem to be inclined to get out to test its all-wheel drive capabilities yesterday. Our Subaru stayed in the garage all day. We probably won’t bother to get it out today either, though I’m sure we could get around with it.

I’ve got chains for my pickup, but I’m sure I won’t be needing them even if we need to go somewhere. Thursdays are my usual day to do volunteer work at the church and there are books that need to be sorted because of a water leak last weekend. Not many of the church’s books were damaged. The library escaped water damage. However, some children’s books were damaged, and we will sort them so that any that need to be replaced are valued on the insurance claim. However, that work can be delayed for a few days. I’m sure we’ll be able to get to church on Sunday.

I’m glad the snow came this week as I will be traveling next week. I am planning to attend a big gathering of the Association of Professional Church Educators in St. Louis. I’m looking forward to seeing colleagues from across the country, many of whom I haven’t seen face to face since the start of the pandemic. It would be a bit more hassle for Susan to deal with snow by herself, especially if much shoveling was required. Besides, it is more fun to be snowed in if you have someone to share the experience. We had fun getting out our bird books and identifying birds yesterday. Our walk on the snowy streets of our neighborhood was fun and we’re used to cooking for two. Well, we really aren’t used to cooking for two, but we are used to making good use of leftovers when we prepare food in quantities that serve more than a single meal, which is most of the time.

Being retired relieves us of the pressure felt by those who have work piling up at the office when they take time off. And, unlike other places we have lived, we know the snow won’t last.

Sacred Land

For most of my life I have lived in or near places that indigenous people called sacred. When I was a young boy and a teenager, we used to climb up the side of a mountain in the valley south of our town to see what we called the Indian Caves on the side of a mountain called the Lion and the Mouse because of the distinctive shape of rocks near its summit. Beneath the Lion’s head were caves with walls decorated with ancient pictographs. I don’t know the exact dates of the decorations, but they were much older than the presence of settlers in the valley. Before any Europeans had ever come to the valley, Apsáalooke or Crow youth would go up on the mountain to pray and seek a vision for their lives. The area was considered to be sacred and used for ceremony more than any other purpose. While the surrounding area was rich in wildlife and a place of hunting deer and elk, the rocks at the top of the mountain were reserved for sacred ceremony.

When we moved to Rapid City and purchased a home just outside of the city, we knew that the entire area was considered sacred by Lakota people. There are sites in the Black Hills including Papa Mato (Bear Butte) and Mato Tipi (Devil’s Tower) that have been places of meeting, ceremony, Inipi (sweat lodges), and vision seeking for hundreds, if not thousands of years for multiple tribes of plains natives. About forty miles from our Rapid City Home is Wind Cave, considered by the Lakota to be the place of the origins of their people. Lakota stories tell of the first humans emerging from the ground through the cave, due in part to a trick played on they by Iktomi, a trickster spirt who could take on the form of different beings to manipulate humans. Sometimes appearing as a spider, Iktomi convinced humans that they would be able to fly like an eagle if they emerged from the cave, but humans remained bond to the ground despite having left the safety and shelter of their previous underground existence. Thus humans now must endure harsh winters and follow Tatanka (Bison) for food and sustenance.

From our newly adopted home here in Birch Bay we can see the stacks of the British Petroleum Refinery. The Refinery is part of a complex of industrial facilities located at a point of land where our bay ends. Just around the point are deep waters and a large safe harbor. During the Second World War, an aluminum manufacturing facility located there used abundant hydroelectric power from dams in the nearby Cascade mountains to produce aluminum for the manufacturing of airplanes for the war effort. The aluminum plant is now closed, but developers and BP have their sights set on all of the properties in the surrounding area, including additional shoreline. At the end of the street where we live are signs saying that the undeveloped land on the other side of the road belongs to BP.

This land, however, did not always belong to industrial developers. It is the sacred land of the Lummi people. Their name for the region is Xwe’chi’eXen (pronounced wuh-chee-uh-kin). The land on the other side of the BP refinery contains an historic village, fishing grounds, and the final resting place for ancestors of present-day Lummi Nation members. Now BP has proposed the purchase of an additional 1,100 acres along the shore that includes the village site and areas where treaties promised the Lummi rights to fish for all eternity. BP says they have no current proposal for the land. They say they may use the land as a buffer for existing facilities, or for wetland restoration, or perhaps for some as yet unknown purpose related to their proposed transition to cleaner energy in the future.

Lummi Nation leader are opposed to the acquisition of the land by the rich industrial entity. It hasn’t been that long since the Lummi people, with support from other Northwest tribes and nonprofits, engaged in a yearlong battle to protect Xwe’chi’eXen from what would have been North America’s largest coal terminal. In 2016 they succeeded in preventing the construction of the terminal, which almost certainly would have destroyed their historic offshore herring fishing operations.

The struggle to protect sacred Lummi lands has been constant since first contact with whit settlers a century and a half ago. Industrial developers, the State of Washington, and government of the United Sates have pursued the clearing of ancient forests for building materials, the construction of dams for electricity and drinking water, the digging of hillsides in search of valuable minerals, and the pollution of land and water for industrial development. Lummi People are once again united and asking for support from their neighbors in opposing the acquisition of yet more land by the giant multi-national corporation.

Industrial development has no understanding of the sacredness of land and water.

The concept of ownership of land is not a part of traditional Lummi culture. However, they have had to learn the business of titles and fences and control of their traditional ancestral territories. They have been forced to abandon places where their ancestors lived and fished and held ceremonies since time immemorial in just a few generations. They have had no choice except to adapt to some of the ways of the settlers. But they have not lost their connection to place and their reverence for the land and water from which their people have drawn sustenance for as long as any can remember.

As was the case with our South Dakota home, our house here comes with title to a small parcel of land. We understand the investment as an important part of what we measure as wealth. But we also see it as a commodity which can be bought and sold. We acquired it by paying money to the previous owners and we expect some day to be able to sell it for money to support the transition to our next place of living. Our attachment to the land is different from those whose ancestors lived here and who expect their great, great, grandchildren to live on the same land.

As we live in this place we can listen carefully to our indigenous neighbors and learn to appreciate the sacredness of this land. And we can seek to be wise stewards of the small patch of ground we currently occupy. As settlers, we hope to learn from those who have made their home here long before settlers arrive. There is much we have yet to understand.

Treating pain

We have an acquaintance who, many years ago, had a serious brush with addiction. Now, clean and sober for 20 years, many of the worst parts of addiction are behind him. He has emerged from the lows of addiction to become a productive member of the community, has found a mate and formed a stable marriage, is able to keep a job and contribute to the community in many ways. Addiction, however, is a chronic disease and he has to keep his guard up to prevent its return as a dominant force in his life. Recently he needed surgery and, after careful consultation with his doctors, underwent the surgery without complication. Some of the anesthetics used for surgery, however, were not an option in his case given his history. Other medication, used for pain control following surgery, seemed too risky to use. As a result he has had to endure more pain than some others who have experienced similar procedures.

Although our family has been fortunate to have avoided the kind of severe addiction that he suffered, we have significant understanding and empathy with the challenges he has faced in seeking appropriate medical care. Back before the Covid-19 pandemic my wife suffered a life-threatening reaction to a medication administered to treat her. The medicine, used to treat irregular heart rhythms, caused her to go into cardiac arrest. Fortunately, she was in the hospital at the time of her arrest and although she arrested a second time a few minutes later, she was successfully revived and after a stay in the intensive care unit with the assistance of a respirator, she recovered. Later she had surgery that addressed the arrhythmia and now is able to live a healthy life free of the need for heart medication. Her experience has left her with an entire category of drugs that cannot be safely administered to her including several drugs used for anesthesia for medical procedures.

In my background as well is a brush with medication. In 2001, after being burned, I was administered morpheme for pain control. I had a severe psychological reaction to the drug, became irrational and paranoid, and my reaction created problems with my emergency room treatment. Fortunately I recovered as the effects of the medication wore off, and now list morpheme as a drug allergy. I also have learned that pain mediations are extremely effective for me and that taking half of the recommended doses works best for me. On another occasion, I was prescribed an opioid for back pain. One dose of the medicine caused me to sleep for 22 hours.

We are very careful and reluctant whenever we encounter a need for pain medication. We have also found that we need to be active in seeking appropriate treatment and knowledgable about which medications to avoid. Despite the fact that my morpheme allergy is listed on my records at my dentist’s office he has twice offered to write prescriptions for pain medication for me. Both times were after I received treatment that required novocain for him to do his work. In both cases, I experienced no pain following the procedures. Once the novocain wore off, I resumed my normal life and had no residual pain. Both times, I refused the offer of a prescription for pain medication, confident that I would not require medication. I could have self administered Tylenol if I were to need it, but nothing was needed either time.

It would be very simple for a person suffering addiction to obtain a legal prescription for a medicine that is easily abused with dangerous results.

I was once told by a friend who is an emergency room physician that many, if not most addictions have origins in pain treatment. People experience pain that is difficult to treat and physicians prescribe medications that are potentially addictive. Once addicted to pain medication, those suffering addiction seek additional medication and if they are unable to obtain it legally they enter the illegal market, where dosages are imprecise and substances are often laced with foreign and very dangerous substances. Drug overdoses claim many lives every year. One of the most dangerous substances is fentanyl, a synthetic drug that is approved for anesthetic that can cause delusions and carries many dangerous side effects. It is highly addictive and imprecise dosage can be fatal.

Fentanyl poisoning has reached crisis proportions in many communities in the US and Canada. Naloxone, marketed under the brand name Narcan, is a life-saving nasal spray that is approved as an over the counter treatment for fentanyl overdose. First responders are equipped with it and trained in its administration. It is becoming more commonly available. In fact, I found a single dose container, still in its sealed sterile packaging, in the parking lot of our church last Sunday. Its presence is an indication of the presence of life-threatening addiction on the streets of our community.

As a society, we still have much to learn about addiction and its treatment. Dangerous mistakes are still being made in treatment. All people, whether or not they have experienced addiction, need to be aware of the dangers and take an active role in making decisions bout which drugs to take and which to avoid. Physicians are becoming better trained than they were a couple of decades ago when opioid prescriptions were common and many patients were becoming addicted to the drugs after experiencing relatively minor conditions.

Pain can be an important signal for humans. Not all pain is to be avoided. It can help us avoid further injury. But there is significant fear of pay that is experienced not only by the general public, but also by those who treat them. Doctors do not like to see their patients in pain and are generally aggressive in treating pain rather than understanding the role of pain in the process of recovery. I certainly am no expert and do not have the answers, but I am a witness to how deeply addiction can damage individuals and family systems. Learning to manage pain and the medications used to treat it is important not only for our recovering-addict acquaintance, but for all of us.

Frozen pipes

We’ve been watching the temperatures in the places where we used to live. Montana, Chicago, North Dakota, Idaho and South Dakota have all seen temperatures in the double digits below zero over the weekend. In contrast, the lowest temperature we saw here was 5 above and that didn’t last long. Last night’s temperature was 15 degrees, similar to the night before.

Fifteen degrees, however, has been fairly damaging around here. On Saturday a team of volunteers spent most of the day cleaning up water damage from broken pipes at our church and I joined other volunteers yesterday afternoon going back to the church building to vacuum more water from the church basement after yet another leak was discovered. Frankly, we don’t know how many other leaks will appear as temperatures rise above freezing, which is forecast for today.

Around our neighborhood, we have seen several houses with large sheets of ice spreading from garages, which is likely due to freezing pipes. We had a frozen pipe in our garage two winters ago. Fortunately for us, I discovered the break while the pipe was still frozen and turned off the water supply to that spigot and was able to have it repaired without experiencing a leak. We also experienced a freeze-up of a water line feeding a shower, but that line was PEX polyethylene tubing which can expand quite a bit without bursting. The line, however, is installed in an exterior wall of our home and remains vulnerable to cold temperatures. Fortunately we know of the problem and can allow a bit of water flow in that pipe when it gets cold to prevent freezing.

The bottom line is that there are a lot of buildings in our county that are not constructed to withstand cold temperatures. We lived for 25 years in our South Dakota home during which we saw temperatures as low as 25 below zero and never suffered any frozen pipes. Our house there was also more tight around the doors and windows than the home in which we now live. Despite having had all of the insulation in the crawl space replaced in this home since we moved in, the floors on the ground level are colder than our South Dakota home, which had a full basement.

The lack of winter awareness in buildings around here is a bit of a surprise to us. We know that this isn’t the first time that our county has experienced deep freezes. Many years ago, Dutch settlers in the area decided to establish tulip fields similar to those in their native country. After several winters when the bulbs failed to be fully productive because of deep freezes, the tulip producers moved south to Skagit County where the tulips have flourished, making it the top region of the nation in the production of tulip bulbs. Back then, they knew about frost danger in the area where we live. Still home construction around here seems to have lagged behind the standard in other parts of the country when it comes to preparedness for cold weather.

Back in the winter of 2021-22, the year we bought out home when we discovered the garage plumbing that is vulnerable to freezing, I was fortunate to have a neighbor who worked for a large plumbing company. I called the number on his van, parked in his driveway and was able to have a plumber come and repair the pipe the same day I noticed the problem. That plumber told me that by the time they got to my house there were so many calls for emergency plumbing services that their company had needed to bring in additional people to handle the phone call volume. He said they had more than 300 unanswered messages on their voice mail that came in while there were multiple employees answering the phones.

There is a similar demand for plumbing services in our county once again. And, I suspect that there will be even more burst pipes discovered over the next couple of days when temperatures are forecast to be above freezing once again.

Retrofitting houses to cope with cold weather is much more difficult than building them to weather standards in the first place. The only practical solutions I can imagine for the exposed pipes in our house are to do a complete bathroom remodel and relocate the shower head that is currently on an outside wall to an interior wall or to remove the siding from that wall of our home and fur out and add another layer of insulation to that entire wall before replacing the siding. Neither solution is inexpensive. Constructing the home with no plumbing in exterior walls adding sufficient insulation and properly sealing all doors and windows would have been relatively inexpensive at the time the home was originally constructed. Those simple construction standards observed in most of the rest of the country, however, are not the way homes are built in this area. This house is the newest house we have ever lived in. Fortunately we have fewer problems than many others in our area. We are also fortunate that our son, who lives in a hundred year-old farmhouse doesn’t have water freezing problems in their home. Their primary heat source in their home is their wood stove, but they also have an electric furnace that will keep their home from freezing should they travel during the winter. They do have some frost problems with pipes that supply water to farm animals, but fortunately they do not have cows on the place at present so we were able to drain those pipes prior to this cold snap.

So we are not suffering with the cold. Probably my biggest concern is with the bees in our apiary, and their hives are well insulated. I did the insulation my self. And the bees are a variety that are known for their winter resilience. They were in good shape going into the cold weather, but I will not check them until it is above freezing and the sun is on the hives so that I don’t allow heat to escape from the hives when I lift the lid to check. For now, I will watch and wait. While I wait, I can be available to volunteer cleaning up water at the church should I get a call about more broken pipes.

Thanks for volunteers

I wasn’t there, but I guess there was a lot of excitement at the church yesterday. When the first person arrived at the building, it was discovered that there was water leaking into the fellowship hall from above. The initial assessment resulted in a report that the sprinkler system had either gone off or was leaking. What had happened is that a pipe had frozen and burst. Assessing the location of the leak required some shuffling through attic space in the hallway adjacent to the fellowship hall. The leak was detected and the water supply to the offending pipe was turned off but not before a significant amount of water had fallen to the floor. Carpet in the hallway was wet and volunteers were summoned to help clean up the public areas at the church.

Even though it was Saturday, a day that is usually not filled with activities in the church building, there was a memorial service scheduled, so the volunteers had to scramble to get ready. Wet vacuums were brought in to extract water from carpets. Ceiling fixtures were drained of accumulated water. Floors were mopped. At some point someone realized that the kitchen would be unusable for the funeral because the water was shut off. Volunteers were dispatched to a nearby coffee shop to purchase coffee for the reception after the memorial service.

Here as in other places, food is an important part of our rituals of grief. Full funeral meals aren’t quite as common as they are in the midwest, but it is practically unthinkable that there might be no opportunity for people to have a hot beverage and a snack while they visited and consoled one another following the service. i’ve found that those times are precious. Wonderful stories of the recently deceased community member are told. A sense of common purpose around remembering the loved one emerges. Those closest to the departed one make progress in their journey of grief.

When I think back on funerals of people that I have loved, I don’t remember what was said in the eulogies or the pastoral prayers, but I do remember stories that were told in the reception after the service. That recollection is a bit humbling for me because I am a preacher. I’ve delivered a lot eulogies and funeral sermons. I’ve carefully crafted a lot of prayers for memorial services. I saw those tasks as a sacred mission of tending to those who are grieving. Even though I often delivered sermons without notes in regular worship, I always prepared a full manuscript for funerals. they are simply too important for there to be a misstep or a misspeak. Grieving families deserve the words that are said to be just right. However, it is possible that I placed too much emphasis on what I said. My ego sometimes got in the way of what is most important in serving grieving people. The truth is that the volunteers who baked the goodies and served the reception were as important to the process as the preacher.

Yesterday’s event at our church demonstrated the power of Christian service. Volunteers rallied to do what they could to minimize the damage at the church and to make it ready for grieving family members. Those attending the memorial service probably never realized how much the flow of their day was aided by unseen folks who were wiling to roll up their sleeves ad clean up gallons and gallons of water, to run vacuum on the carpets, mop floors, and even run for coffee to serve.

It was also another reminder for me that buildings around here are not set up for cold weather. Compared to the temperatures being endured in much of the rest of the country, It wasn’t all that cold. It got down into single digits above zero - definitely low enough to be a danger to those forced to be outside and definitely low enough to freeze water. But we saw lots of reports from familiar places of temperatures that were a lot colder. Our old home in South Dakota saw -25 cold. That was “warm” compared to most of our home state of Montana, were temperatures were -45 and colder in some places. At -40 metal becomes brittle. Skin exposed to those temperatures freezes within minutes. Frostbite is painful and causes loss of tissue. People die of exposure. Severe cold is no joke.

The places where we have previously lived, however, are set up for the cold. Buildings are designed with enough insulation to keep pipes from freezing. Underground pipes are buried below the frost line. In this country there are lots of people who have no idea about the frost line. Just a few days ago I was digging post holes at the farm with no problem. There was no frozen ground. Three days of temperatures well below freezing, however, have changed things. I’m sure the ground is frozen several inches deep now - deep enough to cause problems with water pipes that aren’t buried deep enough.

Our home is relatively new, but there is no insulation in the walls of our garage. I didn’t know that detail until the first really cold spell during the first winter of our living here when the water line to the outside faucet froze and burst a few feet from the spigot. Fortunately, I discovered the problem before things warmed enough for the water to flow and I could turn off the water to that spigot without having to turn off the water to the rest of the house. I also got lucky to have a plumbing company that could respond to the issue within a couple of hours. The pipe was repaired. I now have a system to drain that section of plumbing each autumn when we anticipate cold weather. I don’t need that outside faucet during the winter and I leave it drained until things warm in the spring so that there is no danger of freezing. I have also replaced the copper pipe feeing the spigot with pex pipe which is flexible enough to expand and can endure more pressure from freezing than copper.

We are not suffering. We are warm and safe and the major systems of our house function well. Although we do have a heat pump, we have a supplemental gas furnace that takes over when temperatures fall enough to make the heat pump inefficient. And I’m sure that there is a reasonable fix for the frozen pipe at the church. Fortunately, there were enough volunteers to respond and keep things going, even on a very cold day.

Now is the time

You might not have come to my journal for a sermon, but after all, I am a preacher and beyond that I’m a retired preacher, which means that I have plenty of sermon ideas that come to me that I no longer get to deliver. After 42 years of preparing sermons on a regular basis and a couple more of being responsible for children’s moments in worship, I get more ideas than I get to express, so here is a sermon idea. Were I really having the opportunity to preach, I would discipline myself to following the lectionary so that I would be led by the scriptures and not just airing an opinion, but since it is Saturday and since a real sermon doesn’t fit this format, I am allowing myself to start with an idea that was prompted by a sermon Brook Berndt once delivered.

In the Gospel of Mark, the first words spoken by Jesus are: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.” Those who have taken Bible Study classes with me have probably heard me go on and on about the problems posed by the translation of language. I have been known to lecture for a couple of hours on the topic, and I’ll spare you all of that in this format. Suffice it to be said that Jesus spoke Aramaic, what is often called the Old Testament, was originally the Hebrew Bible, the Gospels were originally written in Greek, and for a thousand years or so, the Christian Bible was heard in Latin, which influenced how the earliest English versions were translated. And one of the things that has suffered in all of that heritage of translation is the concept of time. Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic, which is related, don’t speak of time the way we understand it with past, present, and future. Ancient Hebrew has only two tenses that might be described as “action that is completed” and “action that is finished.” And Greek, the language of Mark’s Gospel has two quite different words that are both translated time in English versions.

So when we read, “The time is fulfilled,” as the first words of Jesus recorded in the Bible, we speed by those words and our minds rush to words that follow, like “kingdom,” “God,” “repent,” “believe,” and “good news.” The first hearers of those words, however, would have taken pause at the word, “time.” It wasn’t the Greek Word, “Chronos,” which means the time measured by the ticking clock. It was “Kairos,” a word for the quality of time. It is about the right action arriving at the right time.

We know that not all time is experienced in the same way. Time passed waiting in a waiting room at the hospital while a loved one is in surgery passes differently than time passed sharing a meal with friends. Time spent solving tough problems feels different than time spent playing with grandchildren. Time listening to a political speech feels different than time listening to words of love spoken by your mate.

In Jesus’s opening words in Mark’s Gospel what he is really saying is, “Hey! I’m just what you have been waiting for. I’m just what is needed in this moment.” What has been translated as “The time is fulfilled,” is about the importance of the present moment. The theologian Paul Tillich wrote about Kairos moments with enthusiasm and a bit of poetic flare,

The Jewish community that Jesus addressed was living in a time of crisis. The domination of the Roman empire over the everyday lives of common citizens was profound. Rome held all of the power and justice was difficult, if not impossible, for everyday people to obtain in first century Israel. It was difficult to find basic resources such as food. Their lives and the lives of their loved ones could be taken away without warning by the whim of soldiers and authorities of the Roman government. It wasn’t the first time Israel had suffered under the oppressive domination of a foreign power. Stories of the Exile in Babylon where a part of their scriptures. their lives echoed the words of the Psalms, “How long, O Lord? . . How long just I bear pain in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all day long?” (Psalm 13:1-2)

When they heard Jesus say, “Now is your time - the time to go in a new direction and believe the promise of God,” it was as if the people had been waiting for generations for that moment because they had been waiting for generation for relief from suffering and oppression.

Faithful people in every generation are called to see the present moment as a critical moment - a Kairos moment when specific actions match the needs of the current time. When we hear “Now is the time,” we are called to think of the call of the time in which we live. It was this urgency of time that led Christian leaders in South Africa to lead people to a truth and reconciliation process instead of revenge when the apartheid government was finally overturned in 1985. And, with Martin Luther King day coming on Monday, we can easily remember his sense of Kairos time when he spoke so eloquently about the time for racial justice in America. If we are listening with the ears of faith, we can easily hear young people telling us that now is the time to address climate justice in our world. The global effects of unrestrained greed and consumption are resulting in the suffering of others right now through more severe weather events, devastating fire, sea level rise, and species depletion. Poor people and people of color are disproportionately affected by the human-caused climate crisis. Scientists tell us that we must act now in order to avoid catastrophic acceleration of this process.

If we listen to the Gospel, we must take seriously the words, “Now is the time.” It is an invitation to Kairos time. May we have ears to listen.

Brrr . . . It's cold

Fair warning: Here is another journal post that is mostly about the weather. If you are reading just to find out what happened with my new computer as mentioned in yesterday’s post, you can rest. I’m writing this on the new computer. Things always seem to look better in the morning and after a bit of time to reflect, I had the new computer up and working in time to take it to use when I worked in the church library yesterday morning. The thing I’ve noticed about it so far is that it has significant battery life. It will work all day without needing to be plugged in, which is a significant improvement over the old one.

Ah, yes, the weather. It is a significant topic around here. I had a meeting yesterday where it was the primary topic of conversation prior to and after the actual meeting. Then again, the participant from the Washington Department of Labor and the participant representing the City of Bellingham both have extensive backgrounds in disaster management. Furthermore the meeting was being held to discuss the possibility of our church becoming a shelter area in the event of major disaster situations. We are in the process of considering the addition of additional solar panels and a large battery storage device that would make the building independent of the electricity grid so that it could be operated as a shelter for those who are unhoused and those in the neighborhood who need special services in the event of a major disruption of power.

So it was natural to talk about the weather at the event. I arrived at the church a couple of hours early to do some volunteer work in the church library and by the time I left, a bit before 1 pm the temperature had dropped over ten degrees. It continued to drop the rest of the day. It was above freezing when I headed into town. As I write the temperature outside is 8 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind is blowing. It is bitter cold out there, as I said to my family yesterday, “It is South Dakota cold out there.” Temperatures are expected to remain well below freezing until about Sunday.

We are well situated to deal with the cold. We walked down to the beach yesterday and donned our winter parkas and heavy gloves for the walk. Years in the midwest left us well situated with winter clothing. We are lucky to have a warm house with a reliable gas furnace to supplement an electric heat pump when the weather turns cold. Over at the farm they also have two heat sources and there is plenty of firewood in the shed to keep their stove going throughout the winter. They do not have cows on the place right now. The markets kept prices high this year so they have sold cattle and are waiting until more favorable prices to purchase additional animals. That means that they don’t need to have water out for the cows - a challenge in very cold weather with the water source in the barn subject to freezing. Since there are no cows to water, we turned off the water in the area that freezes in cold weather and we have heat going in the area where the water valves are located so all will be well there. My major winter worry at this point are the bees. Bees are hearty insects and the hives are all insulated, so they should be fine, but there is really nothing additional that I can do. They haven’t had any opportunity to acclimatize as we haven’t had any prolonged periods of below freezing temperatures this year, so they may be at slight risk. The colonies are healthy, however, and I am pretty sure that all will be well when it warms enough for me to check them. I’ll be sure to give them a bit of supplemental food at that time. I should be able to take a peek early next week.

We are aware, however, that we are fortunate. The city and county have opened emergency shelters for those who do not have homes. The severe weather shelters will remain open through the day today and tomorrow, but it is expected that they will reach capacity and that there could be some people who have to be turned away from the shelters. If someone leaves one of the shelters it is likely their place will be taken by someone else and they might not be able to get back in. Being stuck outside for any amount of time in this weather is life threatening. Officials will be on the lookout throughout the weather event for those who become stranded with additional assistance in getting to a place with room in a shelter.

We know from our experience in Rapid City that there is real danger of death by exposure for those who are without adequate shelter.

Just north of us, in Vancouver, BC, they are contending with a lot of snow. The snow that blanketed the city and surrounding mountains spared us, but created all kinds of traffic problems for commuters beginning on Thursday. Avalanche danger has closed mountain roads and severe weather has closed the major ski resorts. Vancouver is a large city, the fourth largest in Canada. It is home to the largest port in Canada and the fourth largest port in the Americas. It is a major urban area and the weather is generally quite mild so when it turns very cold as it did yesterday, there are significant challenges for city officials and those seeking to provide services to people who don’t have houses and access to adequate shelter.

How cold is it? It is so cold that a headline in a local newspaper declares that temperatures are “unseasonably cold.” Maybe it is just all of the winters I lived in the Dakotas, but I wonder if winter isn’t the right season for such cold, what season might be. It is, after all, January and January is when we expect cold weather. If I were the editor, I might have chosen different words to express the unusually cold temperatures. Then again, I’m sure a good editor would find lots of things to correct in y journal.

Technology Frustrations

As I write there is a brand-new computer sitting on the side of my desk. I have completed the tasks to migrate my various accounts to the new computer, but it has rejected my login information. Fortunately for me, my old computer is still working so I can use it and hopefully use it to find a solution to logging in on the new computer. It is frustrating, but not devastating.

First of all, there is a part of me that resents the fact that I had to get a new computer. The “old” one is just ten years old. I have lots of possessions that are ten years old. Both of our cars are 13 years old and we have no plans to replace them right away. Our everyday dishes are 50 years old and I see no reason why they won’t last for the rest of our lives. The clock that I wind each night is in at least its fourth generation of human owners and although it needs a periodic cleaning, it keeps time and chimes on the hour. Computers, however, are like a lot of other tech gadgets. Technology is changing at such a rapid pace that systems become obsolete. Not long ago we replaced our cell phones and heard the representatives of the cell phone company refer to them as old and obsolete though they weren’t all that old in years and had been serving us faithfully.

However, I gave in and bought a new computer. My dependence on a computer is significant. I use it multiple times every day. Publication of my journal requires the use of a computer. And I didn’t want to push the old one until it abandoned me. So there is a new computer sitting on the edge of my desk. However, at this moment, I am able to use the old one, but not the new one. It is frustrating.

I know that part of the problem is that I am aging. This is the first migration from an old computer to a new one that I dreaded. Before, I have eagerly awaited the time when I could afford to order a new computer and when I was able, I did so with great enthusiasm. I liked the feeling of being up to date. I’ve long been a bit of a gadget person and have enjoyed all kinds of new gadgets. However, I find that as I grow older, my enthusiasm for gadgets is not what it once was. I think part of it is that I learn new things at a slower pace than I did when I was younger. I am no expert in the aging brain, but I know that our brains work differently after we have accumulated decades of memories and are experiencing some of the health effects that naturally come with aging. Admitting that I’m getting too old to learn to use a new computer is, however, not something I’m willing to do.

I know that part of the problem at this particular moment is that I got a bit too eager once the new computer arrived. It was delivered a few days earlier than expected and it arrived in the late afternoon. I should have waited to start the process of migrating data and applications to the new computer until I had a whole day in front of me. Instead, I started the process after cleaning up the dinner dishes and the migration process was completed only well after my bedtime - not a time when I am thinking clearly or am at my best. And that is why I am writing this on my old computer. It is familiar. Perhaps I have gone past my capacity to adjust to the challenges of the new computer for this day. Though I often write my journal after having slept for a few hours, it is still the middle of the night and I still need a few more hours of sleep to be at the top of my game. I know my sleep patterns are not typical, but I’ve been doing this for years and I also know that I’m not at my best at this time of the night. So I am distracting myself from the new computer by writing this journal entry.

Of course, I am running the risk of writing an entry that either leaves the reader hanging and not knowing how I resolved the computer problem, or perhaps as likely, writing an entry that I am not comfortable publishing without revising because it no longer is accurate about my situation.

Since I am rambling about technological devises, I’ll complain a bit about the “smart” watch I wear. We obtained our watches in part on the recommendation of an electrophysiologist - a cardiologist specializing on the electrical side of the heart. The watch can take a basic EKG and will show signs of arrhythmia, something that has caused problems for both Susan and me. My cardiologist looks at the EKG function on my watch on each visit to determine whether or not he needs to order additional tests. So far he has been satisfied with the results of the watch.

My watch has a fitness program that tracks how many hours I am sitting without standing, how many calories I have consumed, and how many minutes of exercise I have done in a day. My complaint is that the watch seems to understand workouts, but does not understand work. Yesterday was a good example. I spent over three hours in the morning working hard. I dug post holes and set fence posts. I carried heavy wooden posts around the farm yard and barn. I installed a gate latch that required drilling pilot holes to insert 8 inch long lag bolts. And I did all of that while it was raining lightly. By lunch time I was wet, muddy and tired. My watch said that I had completed 22 minutes of exercise. In the afternoon, I worked at my desk, took a leisurely walk to the beach, and did a brief yoga workout. I had over 100 minutes of exercise when I took off my watch to go to bed. I’d like to see the young engineer who wrote that software try to keep up with me when I’m cutting wood or building fence. I suspect that there are plenty of people who are strong in the gym but weak when it comes to actual work, especially if they pay attention to the exercise function on that smart watch.

Check my journal tomorrow. Perhaps I will have used my new computer to publish it.

In the shelter of the big island

We live in a calm area of what is now known as the Salish Sea. Technically north of the Puget Sound the waters of our bay and the area between the mainland and Vancouver Island and the smaller Islands is known as the Strait of Georgia. The cluster of islands in the Strait and the big Island provide a great deal of shelter from the North Pacific’s raging storm tides and fierce winds. As one writer put it, the Pacific is anything but pacific. South of here, where the waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca circle around the southern end of Vancouver Island, the wind and waves can be much more fierce than they are further north. But here in Birch Bay we are lucky to avoid some of the worst of the fury of the open ocean.

It was windy here yesterday. The winds howled the night before and started to calm through the morning. We got a few raindrops, but no steady hard rain during the day. I was able to work outdoors during much of the day without having to endure any hardships. My winter parka, often a daily companion during South Dakota winters remained in the closet. An insulated sweatshirt was sufficient and that was shed when I had tasks that took me inside the unheated shop.

There was, however, some pretty wild weather not far from where we live. Over on the big island, wind gusts of up to 60 mph combined with surging waves led to road closures, ferry cancellations, and power outages. Environment Canada issued a special weather statement for higher than usual ocean levels for shorelines along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, including the capitol city of Victoria. More than 85,000 customers were without electricity on the island at one point yesterday.

South of us, in Sedro-Woolley, near where our son works in Mount Vernon, there is an ongoing power outage affecting around a hundred homes. Trees fell onto power lines causing a row of power poles to collapse. The power went out late Monday night and is not expected to be restored until tomorrow. One of the employees at the library where our son is the director called in and said that they were unable to come to work as “just keeping my house warm is a full-time job.”

When I first ventured out of the house in the morning, I went down to the bay to have a look. The tide was in and the water was high. The water in Terrill Creek, which empties into the bay just a ways up the beach was almost as high as it was a year ago when a king tide flooded homes. But the waves on the bay were very small and the roads were all dry. We walked down to the bay in the afternoon when the waters had receded and though the waves were higher as the cold front passed there was no damage in evidence. Up on the hill at our home we were snug, safe, and secure.

The forecast called for snow, but what they call snow around here isn’t much compared to other places where we have lived. Our lawn was white Monday morning, but the snow wasn’t sticking to the roads and by mid-afternoon what snow had fallen was gone, washed away by rain.

In the Cascade Mountains to the east and farther north on the other side of the border, things were different. Heavy snow has been falling for a couple of days. The snow fell onto previous snowfalls that had become unstable due to rain and warmer than usual temperatures making unstable conditions with lots of avalanche danger. the Coquihala Highway and Highway 3 in interior British Columbia were closed at time with blizzard conditions and avalanche warnings.

And all of the weather phenomena in our region is nothing compared to the massive storms battering the eastern part of the continent. So far, when it comes to winter weather, we don’t have much to complain about.

The forecast calls for colder temperatures toward the end of the week. Our 40 degree weather will give way to lows in the teens. I might even get out my winter parka and maybe my long johns, but I won’t have need of my insulated coveralls.

Of course, I am retired. I don’t have work that requires me to be outside. I can stay at home whenever I want to. But I love to putter around the farm. The project this week has been setting a few new posts and installing a couple of gates. I’ve also got projects going in the shop including a kayak that is waiting for warmer weather so I can work epoxy and two new sets of bee boxes preparing for a couple of additional colonies in our apiary next spring. I have also been spending a couple of hours a week working with our grandson in an improvised shop class to supplement his middle school education. He’s build himself a nice toolbox and is becoming handy at a few other woodworking tasks.

Despite our sheltered location, the birds in our backyard seem to be pretty hungry. In the fall I was filling the bird feeders about once a week. Now it is an every-other day chore. I’ve started buying birdseed in 25 pound bags at the feed store finding the hardware store prices a bit high for our voracious birds. I’m not complaining. The birds provide way more entertainment than lots of things that cost a lot more. We keep our bird books on the kitchen counter these days as we have occasional visits from birds we don’t recognize. The suet has attracted woodpeckers and a flicker, while the seed feeders attract mostly common birds.

I seem to be sliding into a fairly comfortable retirement routine. I’m much more relaxed and at home with the relaxed schedule than I was a couple of years ago. I guess, like other phases of life, it takes time to adjust to the change. But life is good, and between the weather and the birds, I don’t have any problem coming up with things to talk about.

More professors

I think I’m a bit slower at remembering the correct date after the New Year than I was when I was younger. I know what year it is, but sometimes I write the wrong date and it has been 2024 for 9 days now. I suspect that there are a couple of reasons for this. One is simply that I am older. I have noticed that some though processes aren’t quite as rapid as they once were for me. In general, I take longer to make decisions these days. That isn’t all bad. I have had tendencies to be a bit impulsive over the years and slowing my decision-making process probably is resulting in slightly better decisions.

Another reason it takes longer to get the date right is that I simply don’t date as many things as once was the case. Much of my correspondence is now electronic mail and my computer automatically dates those documents. I don’t have to input the month, day, and year in order for the date stamp to appear on my messages. Electronic payment methods have greatly decreased the number of checks that I write. Years ago, I would have written checks to pay at the grocery store and perhaps at the gas station by now. I don’t think I’ve written any checks yet this year. Writing the date less means less practice.

And while 2023 was a bit stressful for me in some ways, it was a good year and one that was easy for me to remember because it was 50 years after our marriage. Since we were married in 1973, I’ve had special affinity for the years that end in 3.

On the other hand, 2024 has its share of anniversaries as well. We graduated from college in 1974 so this fall’s homecoming at our college will mark the 50th anniversary of our graduation. I remember homecoming ceremonies at our college when I was a student. There were always a few 50 year graduates, but not many. Now I guess I’m one of those few. We haven’t decided whether or not we will attend homecoming this fall. We haven't been big on reunions and homecomings at our schools in the past and I’m not sure that there is a big reason for us to make the trip, but it isn’t out of consideration. As I said, I’m slower to make decisions these days.

I have, however, been thinking about my college experiences recently so today I’m going to follow up a bit with some comments about some of the truly great teachers I have encountered on my life’s journey.

One professor I didn’t appreciate at the time has proven to have taught me some very important life lessons. I took two courses taught by Dr. Helen Bross. One was simply titled “Logic.” It was primarily a mathematics course, but it taught me to be aware of various logical fallacies. It has helped me in the process of making solid arguments over the years, and has served me well in evaluating the arguments of others. It is a course that I wish every political candidate would take. The sorry excuses of ad hominem attacks that pass as debates in contemporary society do little to inform and educate voters.

The other course I took from Dr. Bross was the history and philosophy of science. It certainly would help if the current generation of tech-savvy STEM students were taught a healthy dose of the history and philosophy of science. There is a direct relationship between the shortcomings of the current technological revolution and the industrial revolution for example. The creative inventors who are claiming that artificial intelligence is their baby need to be reminded that yes, the technology is in its infancy. Just as we don’t allow human infants to operate automobiles, there are serious problems related to allowing technologies to drive cars and power everything from college admissions to airline security. We shouldn’t be surprised at those problems the technology is anything but mature. Understanding both the history and the philosophy of science would be a great benefit to the 20-something software engineers who can develop a smart watch, and also make a device that will interrupt a workout by asking the wearer to rate their mood.

I studied ethics with Dr. Dicken and with Dr. Murphy. Once course had a Christian perspective and the other was a general philosophy course. How I wish that ethics had been a required course for all candidates to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. They might understand the distinction between a rather simplistic set of rules of conduct and the more complex and nuanced process of internalizing ethical principles to guide everyday decisions. It is probably too much to ask, but they might also understand the difference between ethical decisions made by individuals and those made by corporations.

Dr. Richard Ramsey had a keen sense of the intersection of his field, Biology, and Christian spirituality. Rather than teach about imagined opposition between so called hard science and the humanities, Dr. Ramsey enabled students to experience genuine wonder at biological processes and grasp the need for critical thinking in planning experiments. He was equally at home at a scientific convention and at a campus prayer group. He partnered with the Christian Thought faculty members to teach several different interdisciplinary courses. If more of our country’s leaders in science and religion had been exposed to his courses they would be quicker to get past the childish “religion vs science” interpretations of scripture.

Our college chaplain, Bob Holmes, taught me a great deal about worship. He also taught me a lot about how to serve others with focus and care. Rather than elevate himself he invested in empowering students to lead campus religious organizations. I used things he taught me every day in my years of service as a law enforcement chaplain. I have seen too many chaplains try to impose their own style of evangelism on the people they are called to serve. I often wished they had bene given the opportunity to learn from some of my college teachers.

Our college was small. Its faculty was a close-knit group. There were other exceptional teachers. I still use the lessons they taught every day. 2024 will be a year of gratitude for me.

Three professors

The story of the visitors from the east coming to Jerusalem inquiring after Jesus, reported in the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew refers to the visitors as “Wise Men,” in the King James and Revised Standard Versions of the Bible that were most common in the church of my childhood. Later, when the New Revised Standard Version came out, the translation reverted to the English form of the Latin and Greek words. The NRSV uses “magi” which is the plural of magus in Latin. The word is mags in Greek. I think that the main reason the NRSV reverted to the more ancient form is that there was sensitivity to imposing gender when none was evident in the original text. Perhaps “wise ones” might have been an acceptable choice. Still, reverting to earlier languages is a time-honored way of making accurate translations.

What I miss about the use of the term magi, is the concept of wisdom in the earlier translations. In our time, we associate the term magi with another form that comes from the same roots. Magush is a skilled magician. While the original probably contained the association with the practice of magic, it carried an equal sense of a practitioner of astrology. Both magic and astrology had different connotations in biblical times. Magos is the name of a Persian priestly class. Persia which occupied roughly the territory of modern-day Iran, is among the oldest inhabited regions in the world. In the Bible it is sometimes referred to as Elam. It was among the most advanced cultures of its time before it was later conquered by the Sumerians and later by the Assyrians and again later by the Medes, and still later by Alexander the Great.

Clearly Matthew’s story of the visitors from the East is reported in part to emphasize that people of great wisdom, culture, and insight recognized the Messiah even though they were not of the Jewish faith. At the time the dominant religion in the area followed the Persian visionary Zoroaster (also known as Zarathustra).

I’ve come to think of those visitors as scholars - ones who studied a variety of natural phenomena, including the position of the stars and planets in the night sky.

Yesterday, as our worship service began with a children’s story in which the children of the church were invited to dress in costumes from the Christmas pageant, we were sitting in the pews and we often do, were writing notes to one another on the church bulletin. We began to imagine the wise ones from the east as members of an academic faculty. I referred to them as the “three professors.” “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, professors from an eastern university came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews.’” Quickly my imagination began to annotate the traditional scripture.

I imagined that the professors included a full professor, an adjunct professor, and a visiting professor. That led to speculation around some of the teachers and professors who were a part of our academic careers. Since Susan and I both graduated from the same college and the same graduate school, we shared many of the same professors during our time as students. It seemed quite likely that a faculty meeting at our college would have selected Dr. John Bross, professor of Psychology. Dr. Bross, as a part of his academic studies analyzed dreams. He kept a complete journal of his own dreams for decades and taught himself to remember dozens of dream fragments and complete dreams each night. He also was an accomplished musician who served as organist in the church we belonged to during our college years. One of our treasured memories of him is him playing the organ accompanying the congregation while singing at the top of his voice. Dr. Bross always sang along with the congregation. He said it helped him with musical phrasing. He was the organist at our wedding 50 years ago. He also was a practical man. He was for years clerk of the Yellowstone Association of the United Church of Christ, where we were ordained. He would speed up meetings by suggesting possible motions that could be made. He taught me a lot about how to serve as secretary of any meeting, a practice that I employed much during my career. Dr. Bross might well have been selected to go check out the cause of the mysterious star that appeared in the night sky.

Of course, among the delegates would have to be a professor who had discovered the star. At our college it might have been Richard Walton, the professor who taught the introduction to science course, “Atoms to Stars” that I took my first semester. It was that course that convinced me to major in the humanities, but it was the enthusiasm of the professor for physics that engaged me enough to earn an A in the class. My fascination with the study of physics and my friendships with many who have made that their field, including professors of physics, throughout my adult life makes me think that Dr. Walton might be the kind of person to notice something in the night sky that had not been previously discovered.

For the third professor, my vote would probably be for Dr. Cliff Murphy, professor of philosophy. He wouldn’t have been an obvious choice at a faculty gathering. He was a bit quiet outside of his lectures which fascinated me, especially when we got him sidetracked on the history of philosophy. He inspired a lifelong love of the role of philosophical thought in me. I think his presence on the team might explain the presence of myrrh among the gifts. It is, after all, a rather obscure ointment, used in the preparation of human remains for burial. It seems like a very strange gift for a baby, but someone like Dr. Murphy wouldn’t have thought about the gift at all, his mind being in the clouds or in the dust of his books until the last minute, when he grabbed something - anything - to present when the time came.

It is a silly fantasy, but sometimes silliness is what keeps us interested and engaged with each other and the life of the church. Laughter is one of the treasures we share with great joy. If you were present at that imaginary faculty meeting long ago, which of your teachers would you have nominated?

One stop church membership

The Covid-19 Pandemic forced me to learn quickly about online church. In a very short time, we began videoing worship services and making them available over social media to members of the congregation who were not able to attend church in person. Our retirement occurred during the height of the pandemic, when our congregation was not able to worship in person indoors. Our farewell service was conducted outside in the parking lot of the church. When we moved from South Dakota to Washington, we joined our new congregation in an online service. Our covenant with the congregation was recorded in advance with us in our home and others joining the church in their homes as the lead pastor conducted the ceremony over Zoom. The recording of that ceremony was replayed as part of the online worship the following Sunday. When we returned to work as interim ministers of Faith Formation, that congregation was still not worshiping face-to-face. There were many weeks when a small number of us would be present in the sanctuary while the majority of the congregation was worshipping online. I quickly became skilled at attending meetings and conducting small group sessions over Zoom.

Online worship never caught on for us. While we participated online when we were not able to participate in person, it never seemed to work well for us. Even joining the leadership team so that we could be in the sanctuary for worship seemed like a step in the right direction and we were so grateful when our congregation was able to return to face-to-face worship.

There are, however, some pandemic-induced changes that continue to be part of congregational life. Our church has very few evening meetings at the church any more. The official boards of the church all meet over Zoom these days. A major adult-education program and a couple of book clubs continue in their online format. I continue to serve as Zoom host of meetings that would have been in-person events prior to the pandemic. Susan and I both are members of a poetry-writers group that meets online. I like some of those changes. In the dark of winter it is nice to not have to leave home to participate in groups. Some weeks we can get by with only a single trip to the church, though I continue to make a second trip to volunteer in the church library many weeks.

There are, however, some things that just don’t work online. Except for a few highly edited pre-recorded special performances assisted by significant technical skills, bell choirs cannot perform unless the members of the choir are all in the same place at the same time. The same applies to vocal choirs. And choirs demand rehearsal which also requires in-person gatherings. I enjoy singing in the vocal choir and ringing in the bell choir and I am a person who requires significant rehearsal before I am ready for public performance.

The pandemic, however, has left its mark on our choirs. None of the choirs in our congregation have mid-week rehearsals any more. The regular vocal choir rehearses on Sundays before worship. The bell choir and a second vocal choir rehearse Sundays after worship. It seems that members of the choir, having gotten used to making fewer trips to the church during the pandemic are unwilling to make the extra trip to the church building for mid-week rehearsals.

For me personally it means that I need to be at the church at 8:30 am for vocal choir rehearsal before the 10 am service and I rehearse with the bell choir from 11:30 to 12:30 after worship. For my wife, who does not sing in the choir, nor ring with the bells, that means being at the church for four hours in order to attend a one-hour worship service. We do have the luxury of having two vehicles, but we feel it is wasteful for us to drive both to church and try to avoid it when possible. However, when our bell choir rings in worship, we also ring in the worship service of another congregation that meets at 2:00 pm. That means I have to be in the building for 6 1/2 hours and we do drive separate vehicles on those days. We save one trip those weeks because i do my volunteer work in the church library between the two services.

I am adjusting to the changes. Frankly, long days at church on Sundays have been so much a part of my life for so many years that I don’t mind going early and staying late on Sunday mornings. But there are no other members of our congregation who sing in the vocal choir and ring with the handbells. I think that if rehearsals were at a different time, there might be a few others who would do both. Four hours on Sunday mornings seems like a stretch for most members.

Before the pandemic and before my retirement I used to bemoan all of the meetings adjacent to worship. I needed quiet time for prayer before worship to be ready to lead. I wanted to be fully present with my congregation during the coffee hour following worship, not attending to meetings. I am sure that there were times when I was more vocal than I should have been about Christians who say they love the church, but who wouldn’t consider making more than one trip to the church building each week.

It seems that one trip to the building a week has now become the norm. It is pretty much entrenched in the culture of our congregation at this point. I’m learning to live with it, but it is not what I would prefer. I’m sure it is frustrating for our music director and our bell choir director to have to cram so much into such a short amount of time. This morning our vocal choir will sing during worship music that we won’t have seen until just before worship. We aren’t much more than a pick-up choir at this point. That has a direct impact on which music our director can choose. And as members of the choir, we don’t get to sing some of the more challenging anthems that require additional rehearsal.

Change is inevitable. I am resolved not to spend my aging years complaining about change. But I confess that it is a struggle for me.


The Google dictionary website of the English Language is provided by Oxford Languages, the company that produces the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED is considered by many to be the world’s most authoritative source on the use of English. Among the features of the Google/Oxford online dictionary is a chart that shows the frequency of a word’s use over time. One axis of the chart is the number of mentions in published writing. The other axis is time. I don’t know how the charts are determined. I suspect that there must be some database of writings that can be compared through the use of a computer. However it is produced, I have been fascinated by the chart of the use over time of the word epiphany.

Epiphany is the word for today. January 6 is the traditional day for the celebration of the visit of magi from the East to the infant Jesus. According to the chart, during the period between roughly 1925 and 1975, the use of the word was at its lowest, with a steady rise in the use of the word until recently when its use has leveled somewhat. Sometime towards the end of the 20th century the use of the word became more common than at any other time depicted on the chart. To put it simply, we use the word more now than ever before and that increase in usage has occurred during my lifetime.

The chart roughly corresponds to my personal experience. I don’t think I was aware of the word or its meaning until about the time I went to college. The celebration of Epiphany as a part of church life wasn’t emphasized in my childhood religious experiences. We rolled the story of the visit of the wise ones into the story of Christmas. It was only when I began to study the Bible in the academic setting that I took time to understand the distinction between the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany.

Epiphany has grown to be important to my faith and my faith practices over the span of my adult life.

It is important, in a discussion of this day, to recognize that cycles of Church life and the calendar of festivals in the church do not date back to the beginnings of Christianity. Celebrating Christmas on December 25 wasn’t a practice of the early church. The timing of the celebration arose during Roman times when the church experienced a time of rapid growth. Initially Christmas was added to the year’s cycle of observances to accommodate rapid growth and allow for more new converts to officially join the church. The elements of the observance of the time between Christmas and Easter developed slowly over a long span of time. The cycle of readings in which I immersed myself in my career, known as the Revised Common Lectionary, was developed near the beginning of my career. The rise in the use of the word epiphany noted by the OED corresponds roughly to the increase in the use of the Revised Common Lectionary. There is no evidence to link the two. The use of the legionary did not cause the rise in the use of the word and the use of the word did not cause the rise in the use of the lectionary.

The season of Epiphany is based on an obscure story that appears in only one of the four Gospels. It is reported in just 12 verses at the beginning of the second chapter of the Gospel. The story reports that “magi from the east came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star in the east and have come to pay him homage.’” It goes on to report that they succeed in finding the child and, filled with joy, saw the child and his mother and paid him homage. They offered gifts and then left to return to their own country.

Upon those few verses layers of tradition have been piled, with many aspects of the story coming from sources other than the Bible. For example, in our collection of creche sets, several feature camels. Our grandchildren and their parents before them enjoy playing with the camels in the sets. There is, for example, no mention of camels in the stories of Jesus’ birth. Although a great deal of art has depicted camels in association with the magi, it may well be that there were no camels involved. And the biblical story does not give a number for the magi. There are three gifts reported: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. I guess that the tradition of three kings came from the three gifts. And the crowns that appear in so many Christmas pageants are the products of someone’s imagination, not the way that scholars would have dressed at the time.

For me, while the story in Matthew’s Gospel has become beloved and worth reading and pondering over and over again, there is more to the season of Epiphany than just an ancient story. The name of the days between the end of Christmas and the beginning of Lent, Epiphany, is a word with roots in both Greek and Latin. It refers to a revelation or perception of the meaning of something. An epiphany is a discovery, realization, or disclosure of what something means. Often when we use the word we think of it as a sudden and sometimes surprising discovery.

Often when I have an epiphany it takes me time to fully understand what I have experienced. After the surprise of a sudden understanding that was not previously present, I need to mull the experience and test the meaning. It seems natural to me, then, that Epiphany is a season in the church and more than just a single day.

Today Christians once again begin a journey of discovery of deeper meanings of our faith and our relationship with God. Focusing our attention each year leads to deeper understanding over time. As one who has traveled the journey of the Christian calendar for many years, I pray that I might be open to surprise, wonder, and new discoveries along the way.

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night parties aren’t a really big deal around here. I haven’t heard of any, though there must be a few people who observe the tradition. The big night for winter bonfires in our neck of the woods is New Year’s Eve, when bonfires and nautical flares light up the entire bay with a ring of fire. I suppose it might have been a good night for a party. After all, it lands on a Friday this year and there aren’t a lot of other events. Had I thought of it earlier, I might have proposed that we host a few friends for dinner this evening. Alas, I didn’t have the occasion in my mind.

There are various traditions associated with Twelfth Night, which is also known as Epiphany Eve. First of all there is some variability about the date. The tradition of our corner of Christianity is to count Christmas Day as the first day of Christmas, making January 5 the twelfth day. Some traditions start counting on the day after Christmas, so that the Twelfth Night in those traditions is January 6. I once read that Twelfth Night parties are particularly popular in New Orleans and are celebrated with many of the elements that are a part of the city’s famous Mardi Gras celebrations such as costumes, fancy decorations, and music.

Other traditions include various elements such as gifts wrapped in gold and gold decorations representing the gift of gold brought by the Magi to the infant Jesus. Twelfth Night cakes can be a wide variety of recipes. The tradition of giving fruit cakes for Christmas has its roots in Twelfth Night traditions. In the early days of the American Colonies, it was common to incorporate edible elements in Christmas wreaths which were taken down on the Twelfth Night and the edible portions consumed. In some traditions a hard bean or dried pea would be mixed into the batter of the cake. The person who found the dried bean or pea in their portion would be proclaimed king for the evening and might even be chosen to fill the role of king in a pageant or drama. The tradition of dried peas or beans changed over the years. Now it is common to find a small plastic doll, representing the infant Jesus baked into the cake.

Removing Christmas decorations is a part of some Twelfth Night celebrations. Although a few traditions have faithful people leaving up Christmas decorations until Candlemas on February 2, most include removing the decorations on the Twelfth Night. In some communities, Christmas trees were brought to a common location and used a fuel for a huge Twelfth Night bonfire. I’ve always wanted to observe that tradition, but never have organized such an event, which might be complex in these days of burn permits, awareness of carbon pollution, and dangers associated with a large bonfire.

In England the tradition of going door to door singing Christmas Carols used to be common. Singers would be celebrating the last night of carols until the following Christmas. Homes would share warm Apple Wassail with the singers. The tradition became known as Wassailing and among the songs is “Here We Come a Wassailing.”

The Theatre Royal on Drury Lane in London received a bequest from the will of Robert Baddeley in 1795. The £100 was to be invested and the proceeds provide cake and punch every year for the company in residence at the theatre on January 6. That tradition continues to this day.

In the Netherlands, Twelfth Night parties became so secularized, rowdy and boisterous that the church banned public celebrations.

None of those traditions are on the docket for our household this year. After having loads of Christmas cookies and candies and a special New Year’s cake baked and decorated with the assistance of eager grandchildren, a bit more sensible diet is in store for us. At the age I find myself extra pounds go on easily and come off hard so this is a season of mindful eating to restore a bit of balance. Christmas carols, having been playing in stores since Thanksgiving or before, disappeared from public places on December 26 for the most part. I don’t think we could get enough voices to go caroling on January 5, and our neighbors might not be inlined to open their doors to carolers, and certainly don’t have any Wassail on hand. I’m not even sure what is in Wassail, but I imagine that it contains a pretty strong shot of alcohol. Our Christmas tree is a live tree in a root ball that will soon be going to our son’s farm where it will get acclimated in the greenhouse before being planted on the farm. There are no plans for even a fire in the fire pit. Such events always include marshmallows and s’mores in our family.

We will, however, begin boxing Christmas decorations. It is time to move on. We have enjoyed being surrounded by our eclectic collection which includes a lot of decorations hand-made by children. This year a few popsicle stick snowflakes were added to our tree which was much too small to handle all of our collection. Ornaments are hung from the bookshelves in our study and from various house plants. One of the traditions in our house seems to be that at least one ornament escapes the initial packing and a Christmas box needs to be taken back down from the shelves to receive that ornament days after we thought we had stored all of the decorations for next year. I probably won’t be singing any Christmas Carols, though I still have Jim Strathdee’s “I am the Light of the World” in my head with its Howard Thurman words about the work of Christmas beginning.

Shakespeare’s play, “Twelfth Night or What You Will” wasn’t among the required reading in my school days and I can’t remember ever having read the play or seen it performed. Since most Shakespeare plays are available online, I’ve thought about reading it this year. I think it was written as entertainment for Twelfth Night, though according to Wikipedia it was first performed on Candlemas in 1602. Perhaps Shakespeare intended to get it finished for Twelfth Night and just didn’t complete his work. I could understand such a delay. These days I often don’t finish projects as quickly as I expect.

Cue the pipers

A few of my ancestors came from Scotland, though I know almost nothing about my Scotts heritage. As far as I know our family does not have a tartan and I’ve never seen any of my relatives dressed in kilts. My mother used to tell us on St. Patrick’s Day that we probably didn’t have any Irish ancestors and if we did, they most likely would not have been Roman Catholic and would not have recognized St. Patrick but rather celebrated Orangemen’s Day on July 12, commemorating Protestant King William of Orange’s victory over Catholic king James II at the Battle of Boyne. Nonetheless I generally wore green on St. Patrick’s Day to avoid getting pinched. Our father was a John Deere dealer. Finding green clothing wasn’t a problem.

There is a bit of dispute about wearing kilts and playing pipes as to which country was the first to do either. I’ve heard it said that the Irish were the first to play bagpipes and the Scots were the first to wear kilts. I don’t think it matters as kilts and pipes are part of both country’s heritage. And, frankly, bagpipes didn’t originate in either country.

Like many instruments that existed in antiquity, it may be impossible to document the very first use of some form of reed pipe to make music. However, pipes, including those with bladders that could be used to regulate the passage of air through a drone pipe, existed in Roman times and possibly in Greece before Rome. It is said that Nero plaid the pipes. The tradition, however, is that he was playing his violin when fire destroyed Rome.

When we think of bagpipes, however, we generally think of Scottish Highland bagpipes, with a blowpipe, a bag, at least one chanter that is played by placing fingers on the holes, and a drone pipe. Historians write that the pipes were used at the Battle of Pinkle in 1547. The Scotts replace the trumpet on the battlefield with pipes to give signals to the combatants. Pipe music contains battle tunes, marches, gatherings, salutes and laments.

I have a friend who has significant Irish heritage and who also is a firefighter. He took up the pipes as part of his commitment to both his heritage and his profession. He is part of a team of professional firefighters who respond to the deaths of firefighters offering support to survivors and assistance at funerals. The playing of pipes for the funeral of a firefighter is a tradition in many places. When he was first learning to pay the pipes, he often would practice at our church because his wife was not a fan of practicing the pipes in their home. He actually has gotten quite good and frequently is asked to play Amazing Grace at funerals. In our church he would pipe from the balcony, though in some churches, his music was relegated to out doors following the church service as the casket was carried to the cemetery.

I think I know almost as many semi-insulting jokes about bagpipes as I know about banjos and there are a lot of banjo jokes circulating.

Bagpipes are often played in combination with drums, instruments that also have a martial heritage. However, the use of pipes in combination with other instruments is relatively rare. You seldom hear pipes being played in a symphony orchestra. This may have to do with the limited range of bagpipes. It also may have to do with what is often perceived as imprecise tuning. The pitch of the sound coming from the pipes can vary with the pressure in the bag. Maintaining a constant pressure requires a good set of lungs to keep the bag filled and a lot of precision in how the bag is squeezed to make air flow through the pipes. The change in the pitch of the drone as the piper starts playing is so common that it is generally associated with any music featuring the pipes.

As a result, I am not sure if I have ever heard eleven pipers piping all at once, at least in live performance. It isn’t hard to find YouTube videos of large groups of pipers performing, but somehow I’ve never been in a place where there were many. My friend who plays the pipes has a couple of other friends and I think I heard three of them playing together once at a large firefighter’s funeral, but mostly I’ve heard him playing solo.

The song counting the 12 days of Christmas starts out with gifts of birds. If you think of 5 golden rings referring to pheasants, birds are the gifts for the first seven days. After that, the gifts are people performing specific activities, milking, dancing, leaping, piping and drumming. I suppose that after all of the calories of the various cooked birds (though the song doesn’t mention cooking them), a bit of exercise might be in order. Milking, dancing, leaping, piping and drumming might burn off some of the excessive calories that came from days of celebrating by feasting.

At our house we don’t wait until the eighth day of Christmas to begin our exercise program. We’ve taken an outdoors walk every day this year and that has been our custom for some time. We almost always walk outdoors every day. And when it comes to feasting, we generally have a special dinner on December 25 followed by a few days of leftovers. Having a freezer allows us to spread out the leftovers and there are a few fresh menus during the twelve days. This year the turkey carcass was cooked into stock and the stock made into soup for our dinner last night. It is hard to beat homemade turkey soup on a winter evening, even though we live in a place where winters aren’t very severe. We do have short days and long nights, however, so dinner is generally consumed after dark in the winter.

We didn’t have any lords a-leaping last night and I’m not expecting any piper’s piping today.

The Work of Christmas

I’ve had Howard Thurman’s poem, “The Work of Christmas” in my head for much of this Christmas season. It has been appearing on social media, often posted by friends of mine as early as the second day of Christmas.

The Work of Christmas

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.

Howard Thurman

Having read that poem many times it is interesting that the version that keeps playing in my mind is a slightly altered version, though almost a direct quote in the song, “I am the light of the world,” by Jim Strathdee. Many of the poems that I have memorized over the years replay in my mind as hymns. Having a tune aids in memorization, a phenomenon that early religious leaders knew. Much of our Bible, including the Psalms and portions of the prophets, were preserved in oral tradition before being written. Those oral traditions often included tunes that were sung. It has been so long since those ancient texts were recorded in writing, however, that many of the tunes have been lost. Some, such as Psalm 23, have been re-set to tunes in more recent years and we know them in part because of those newer tunes.

There is an interesting story about Strathdee’s song that was told to me by Jim himself. We met at a writer’s conference years ago. He was traveling somewhere in Central of South America, I can’t remember the exact location. What I do remember from his story is that the folks he was visiting spoke Spanish and he was interested in learning their local customs and traditions. He inquired about favorite hymns and religious songs and they were eager to share with him what they considered to be a traditional local song about Jesus. When they started singing, Strathdee was amazed to hear his own hymn being sung in translation. The story was told to us as a tale of how certain things become embedded in culture and tradition. It doesn’t always take a long time, and it isn’t always ruled by US copyright law. Sometimes things are shared and songs are sung and they become part of people’s world without us ever knowing the precise way that it happened. Strathdee has been honest from the beginning that he was not the creator of Thurman’s words. He set them to a tune because he was moved by them. He makes no claim of ownership of those words. The discovery that people in another part of the world who speak a different language than he sing the song didn’t spark anger in him. Rather he was amazed and humbled at the power of music to reach beyond an individual and carry meaning beyond the audience of a performance.

The thing about Strathdee’s song and Thurman’s poem this Christmas season, however, is that in a sense it is appearing sooner than I think it should. From the perspective of the traditional days of celebration of Christmas and Epiphany, the kings are not yet home. If we tell the story in the manner of the celebrations of the church, the kings have not yet arrived at the manger. That day will be Saturday and the song should appear in our congregations this coming Sunday, though I suspect that those traditions are becoming blurred in most congregations and the timing doesn’t follow my sensibilities.

In Matthew’s telling of the story of Jesus’ birth, which comes into play at Epiphany, there is a lot of intrigue and plot twists that lie ahead. Herod, threatened by the arrival of wise ones from the east and fearful of a loss of power that might result from a Jewish insurrection on his watch, becomes absolutely paranoid and orders infanticide. Joseph, warned of the danger in a dream, takes the infant and his mother out of the country to Egypt for safe hiding and escapes the terror that is visited on the Jewish families in his homeland. In a strange plot twist for those who are familiar with Biblical texts, Egypt, which had been the land of slavery in the Exodus narrative, now becomes the land of salvation for Jesus, just as it had been the land of salvation for his ancestor Joseph when his brothers contemplated his murder. In a few short verses, Matthew places the child on a pilgrimage that recreates that of the history of his people, traveling to Egypt and later returning out of Egypt to the land occupied by Israel. For the author of Matthew’s Gospel, the child is firmly stationed in the traditions and culture of his Jewish faith.

The thing about singing the song early, however, is that it does begin to steel us for what seems to us to be a difficult year ahead. If we take seriously the call to be partners with God and with other people of faith, there is a lot to be done. There are many lost and lonely ones in our communities. There are broken souls, hungry children, unvisited prisoners, and entire nations crushed by oppression and war.

There will be many days when it will be hard to dance.

So we begin the year by sharing the poem and the song. We remind ourselves that we are not alone and that our call is not to save the world all by ourselves. Our call is to be a part of a much bigger picture, just as Strathdee understood that his song was one small part in a much bigger world of faith that reached beyond his home place and native language.

The last verse of Strathdee’s song will be ringing in my heart long after this week is concluded and the stories have once again been told over and over:

To bring hope to every task you do,
To dance at a baby’s new birth,
To make music in an old man’s heart,
And sing to the colors of the earth!

Thurman and Strathdee continue to make music in the heart of this old man.


I have lived all of my life as a part of congregations that are a part of the Congregational-Christian side of the United Church of Christ. One of the quirks of our particular history and corner of Christianity is that the union of the National Council fo the Congregational Churches in the United States and the General Convention of the Christian Church during an historic meeting in Seattle, Washington in 1931 brought together to denominations with similar ways of governing themselves but different theologies and understandings of church practice. Among the differences is that one denomination predominantly practiced the baptism of infants by sprinkling and the other predominantly practiced baptism by immersion of older children, sometimes called believer’s baptism.

All of that happened before I was born, so I grew up in a church that officially respected both forms of baptism. We officially honor and affirm baptism of infants and also baptism of children when they reach the age of making their own decisions. We officially affirm baptism by sprinkling, pouring, and by immersion. The one thing that has given us pause when it comes to baptism is the practice of re-baptizing someone who has previously been baptized. We simply do not see the need of repeating the sacrament. If baptism is truly a sacrament, that is a moment of direct encounter with God’s sacredness, then it cannot be manipulated by a human being. It is not for us as humans to judge baptisms performed by others. One of the expressions of that is that I believe and have practiced as a minister the belief that I do not possess the authority to refuse a sacrament, whether it be baptism or holy communion, to anyone. When I officiated at sacraments, I tried to always be clear that anyone who chose to come for the sacrament was welcome, without exceptions.

I have officiated at baptisms of infants and baptisms of older persons. I have officiated at baptisms by sprinkling and baptisms by pouring and baptisms by full immersion. I have officiated at baptisms in sanctuaries with special fonts, in sanctuaries with baptismal pools, in homes and hospitals with a small portable basin, in lakes and rivers and in public swimming pools. I have witnessed baptisms in fountains. I have experienced each of these as sacred moments.

I was baptized as an infant in the first year of my life. I do not remember the ceremony, though I can remember the baptisms of my younger brothers. Nonetheless, I believe that I was fully welcomed into the body of the Christ known as the church at my baptism. I displayed my baptismal certificate, signed by Rev. E. Brentwood Barker, on the wall of my office along with my diplomas, my certificate of ordination, and my certification as a Christian educator.

However, even though I was baptized by sprinkling as an infant, and even though I do not see any reason to repeat that sacrament, I did, yesterday, take the step of full immersion. That’s right, I waded into the Salish Sea until I reached a place where it was about up to my waist in depth and dove fully under the water. The ritual was not particularly religious, however. It was part of a secular tradition that has been practiced in our little bay for 44 years of a New Years Day Polar Plunge. Precisely at noon on New Year’s Day, a time designated for a test of the area’s tsunami warning sirens, hundreds of people wade into the water and dive under for a few seconds. A few remain and swim a few strokes. Most exit rather quickly, towel off and head for a warming tent to put on warm clothes.

Yesterday was sunny at noon here and when I emerged from the water and dried off with my towel, I was sufficiently warmer than I had been while immersed that I picked up my certificate and walked with my wife, who served as my support person, holding my outer clothing and glasses as I stripped to my swimsuit and waded into the ocean, to our car. We waited patiently in the heavy traffic departing the parking lot, got onto the street, and drove to our house where I promptly took a warm shower. With the salt water rinsed off, and my body warmed up, I proudly wore my commemorative polar plunge t shirt the rest of the day. I’m likely to wear it fairly frequently in the years to come. In polar plunge tradition, it is long-sleeved and quite nice for chilly weather.

I rather like this somewhat quirky tradition of my adopted home even though I did not participate in previous years. The year we moved to the community, I only learned about the plunge at the last minute and it snowed on New Years Day that year. I stayed home and enjoyed a big dinner with my family. The next year, we were traveling and were at our daughter’s home in South Carolina on New Year’s Day. But this year, we were home and I planned for several weeks in advance to take the plunge. I announced my plans to my family to bolster my courage, though I confess the practice didn’t require much courage at all. It was a fun lark for a laid back day. Our family celebrations also included a round of mini-golf with grandchildren, a walk on the beach and another walk in the park, a few games and snacks and a family dinner around the table in our dining room. It was a good day and, I think might be the start of a new tradition. I told our grandchildren that they would be welcome to join me next year, though none of them seemed inclined to do so. I also told them that I thought I should do it each year at least until I am eighty. If so, I could collect eleven t-shirts. I don’t happen to need any more t-shirts. I’ve collected sets from National Youth Events, from Survivors of Suicide Awareness Walks, from Habitat for Humanity home builds, and many other occasions and events.

I do, however, intend to repeat the experience. The cold salty water makes one aware of being fully alive, which is a good experience at any age.


I guess that fireworks have been associated with the celebration of the New Year since fireworks have existed. However, if what I know about the history of fireworks is accurate, the first fireworks were invented in China when potassium nitrate, sulfur and charcoal were combined to produce the first “gunpowder” which was poured into hollowed out bamboo sticks to form the first human-made fireworks. So if the use of fireworks to celebrate the New Year were to give a nod to historical accuracy, perhaps they should be exploded in celebration of Chinese New Year. Over a billion people in China and millions around the world will celebrate the Lunar New Year on the weekend of February 10. The bottom line is that not every calendar starts on the same day of the year.

In the Christian church, the new year begins with the first Sunday of Advent, anticipation being an important part of the discipline of our faith. Our secular calendar, however, starts with January 1 each year. The cycle of 365 days per year is based on observations of the amount of time it takes the planet earth to complete a single revolution around the Sun. Of course it doesn’t line up exactly, so next year will have 366 years to keep the calendar roughly synchronized with the earth’s journey through space. And, as I’ve previously noted, the Chinese lunisolar calendar begins each new year on the date of a new moon.

I don’t remember fireworks as part of the festivities of New Year’s celebrations in my hometown during my years of growing up there. Below zero temperatures tend to limit outdoor activities and the occasion for fireworks in our town was the celebration of the Fourth of July. But New Years fireworks are a big deal in our neighborhood. I noticed a few of them just as dusk fell as I drove home from our son’s farm yesterday. Loud blasts and big bursts started in earnest between 9 and ten pm and things really got loud and bright around midnight. Our village has a tradition of a ring of fire celebration for New Years. People gather all around the bay and light fires and flares which reflect in the water and make a cheerful exhibit. Fireworks are added to the celebration by many, their bursts also reflecting from the water of the bay. And some of the folks around here have access to some pretty professional grade fireworks. They set up mortars on the beach to blast their pyrotechnics high into the night sky.

I’m not much on New Years celebrations. I’m not much for that kind of a party. I never was much of a drinker and since I experienced heart arrhythmia and learned that alcohol can be a trigger for atrial fibrillation, I decided to forgo alcohol. Parties where people drank excessively never were a place that I enjoyed. I’m no evangelist about alcohol consumption. There are a lot of people who drink responsibly and who host events where alcohol is served that put no pressure on those who choose not to drink. Unlike my teetotaling forebears, I don’t think that everyone needs to avoid it. One thing that we learned from prohibition is that society’s ills were not solved by a total ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol.

Our preferred way to recognize New Years is to greet our friends and neighbors with best wishes, to have a family dinner where we all state some of things for which we are grateful, and to enjoy our time together. Our plans don’t involve staying up until the clock strikes 12 and I joke about my practice of observing New Years at the stroke of midnight in Eastern Standard time, which is 9 pm here.

However, the fireworks in our neighborhood pretty much precluded being asleep at midnight unless one is used to sleeping in a war zone. I’ve never really been in a war zone, so it probably doesn’t sound at all like fireworks being blasted over the bay and the sound echoing through the neighborhood, but it is how I imagine it might sound.

I confess that I have some anxiety about the year to come. I have had my opinions, but I didn’t used to feel anxious about US presidential elections, but the election in 2000 that was determined by the Supreme Court weighing into a dispute over the recounting of ballots made it seem like the popular vote was somehow less important than I used to believe. Then another candidate who did not win the popular vote but did win the electoral college became president in 2016 with clearly-stated ambitions to imitate some of the world’s most notorious dictators. On January 6, 2021 that same candidate, after having lost the popular vote again attempted to disrupt the constitutionally mandated process of peaceful transfer of power, loyalists to that president stormed the US Capitol in an attempt to disrupt the election and subvert the process of free and fair elections. That insurrection nearly toppled constitutional government in our country.

That candidate is back for this year’s race and according to the polls, stands a good chance of once again being re-elected. The fascist rhetoric has been turned up a great deal so far with the candidate quoting Hitler in stump speeches and not shying away from the use of the term dictator.

And politics aren’t the only reason for anxiety over the year to come. The disparity of the distribution of resources that results in a small number of ultra rich people and a huge number of poor people has resulted in a housing crisis with many hard-working individuals left without homes with no way to afford simple, decent housing. Childhood poverty is on the rise around the world and in our country.

The over consumption of the earth’s resources, pollution of the water and air, and human-caused global warming have reached crisis proportions and it is possible that humans may cause the extinction of our own species as well as many others.

Of course those issues are closely tied to politics as well.

My New Year’s prayer for this world is that we all might seek “the peace that passes all understanding.” May peace come to the children of warfare and violence. May peace come to threatened and endangered species. May peace come to neighbors who disagree about politics.

Fireworks are optional. In fact at my age I prefer a year with fewer fireworks.

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