The Year is Complete

2019 has been completed and this journal now contains all of my entries. If you are a regular reader and want to check out my 2020 journal, you can do so by going directly to that page. If you read daily and have bookmarked my 2019 journal, now is the time to bookmark my 2020 journal. You can find it by clicking on the menu at the upper right hand corner of any page in my web site and selecting Journal 2020 or by following this link.

New Year's Eve

Here we are on the last day of the year, the last day of the decade. The celebration of the new year comes in the midst of the celebration of Christmas . New Year’s Eve is the seventh day of Christmas. It seems appropriate to look back and to look forward as the year makes its transition. Somehow reaching the third decade of the 21st Century seems like an amazing thing to me. It is not that I didn’t expect to live this long. I did. I expect that I’ll see more decades ahead. Perhaps there is something in the fact that my parents were born in the twenties of the last century. Neither of them lived that long, but the centennial of their births seems like a significant time.

The 2010’s were a significant decade for our family. It was the decade of the deaths of my mother and Susan’s father. It was the decade of the births of all of our grandchildren. It was the first decade of our daughter’s marriage. The list of things that happened int he last decade is significant for us personally. Perhaps, however, that is true of every decade. When I look back, I can name significant events that have been a part of each decade of my life.

In some ways for me reaching the 20’s of the century is a kind of realization that the century is mature. In the early years of the 2000’s it seemed a bit like a novelty. We weren’t used to writing the year beginning with a 2. We thought of ourselves as 20th century folk and it took a while to think in 21st century terms. And when I think of my own life, the decade of my twenties was significant. In my twenties I married, completed my college and graduate degrees, became a father, and launched my career. A lot happened in my life in those years.

It is traditional to make resolutions at this time of the year. To look back and discover the areas of life where change is desired and to make plans to create the change that is required. I’ve never been much for resolutions, though I respect the process of evaluating oneself honestly and daring to make changes. In a way this particular year doesn’t seem to need resolutions. Big changes are coming for me personally and I know that flexibility and adaptation will be required just to survive. We have enjoyed changes in the past and we’ve always found a certain joy in encountering the unknown, so there is an eagerness to our anticipation that feels right.

There is also anxiety about the future. There is enough uncertainty that it is hard to imagine how I will feel when I sit down to write my final journal entry of 2020. Right now it seems like there will be a significant journey before that day comes. I suspect that I’ll be sitting at the same desk, but that desk will have been moved to a new home. My relationship with my career will have changed significantly. I continue to struggle with the concept of retirement, and I know that there is plenty of meaningful work that doesn’t involve the exchange for a paycheck, but that idea is so different from the way I have lived, that I wonder a bit how things will work out.

So I guess you could describe me as a bit nervous about the year that is to come. I guess, however, that I should save that nervousness for tomorrow. Today is the last day of the year and it is a good day to look back and reflect on the year that is ending. The writer Dave Berry’s year-end reflection, published in the Washington Post, isn’t that positive. “Impeachment. Brexit. Greenland. Can we say anything good about his year? Nah.” He’s a humor writer and he writes to create and impact and a reaction, but I have to disagree with him. 2019 was the year of the birth of our youngest grandson. For that reason alone, I cannot say it was a year to forget. 2019 was the year of a major health scare in our family that ended with very good results. We are enjoying a new commitment to fitness and exercise and start every day with a renewed sense of gratitude for life and health and each other. 2019 was a year of emerging leadership in the church. Some of the tasks that I have done myself for decades have been assumed by others. A few new leaders have emerged.

Each year is unique with its own challenges and opportunities. Each has its own grief and its own celebrations. It seems quite natural that the season of Christmas should surround the ending of one year and the start of another. The occasions fit together in my mind.

Monday is my usual day for grocery shopping, so I went yesterday. The stores weren’t as crowded as they had been the week before. People were not buying as many groceries. They seemed to be a bit less hassled by the lines and the general crowdedness of the store. Still, you could tell that people were shopping for another week of celebration. There were plenty of smiles and a bit of understanding when someone else was in the way. Several of us were wandering around the store with a bit of confusion, looking for items that aren’t on our regular lists. For me it was cranberry sauce. We don’t buy it that often, and we didn’t need it for our Christmas dinner as it was provided by someone else, but we’ve got a turkey for New Year’s and cranberries seem like a good touch. I finally found them, wondering if the store makes a practice of changing the location every year just to keep us wandering - perhaps we’ll make an impulse purchase if we walk around the store long enough. Cranberries are too insignificant to make the store’s directory of items. But I found them. And our pantry is restocked with the supplies we need for this week.

I won’t be staying up until midnight tonight. I trust the new year to come in without my assistance. We’ll probably celebrate on Eastern Standard Time and then go to bed. I hope your celebrations are joyful and your reflections meaningful. Happy New Year’s Eve!

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Thinking about time

The artificial separation of science and religion is a relatively new phenomenon. For most of recorded history, religious leaders have also been leaders in the observation of nature and the study of the sciences. Academia and scholarship have been supported by religious institutions. Most of the great universities of the world have their roots in religious institutions and the desire of religious leaders to teach and learn.

One of the keys to the study of science is an understanding of the nature of time. It is a conundrum that has puzzled scholars since the beginning. People observed that the separation of day and night varied depending on one’s location in the world and the season of the year. They also observed the regularity of seasons. Combining those observations with observations of the movement of objects in the night sky, an understanding of the solar system and the movement of planets began to develop. All of this resulted in the division of the day/night cycle into 24 hours, which in turn were divided into 60 minutes and minutes into 60 seconds. the development of precision mechanical timepieces allowed for the measurement of location upon the surface of the planet and long distance navigation.

Because the understanding of the nature of time took many generations, there were human errors in the measurements. The development of more accurate tools of observation resulted in more precise ways of talking about time. It is important to be aware of this when we consider ancient texts. In terms of contemporary scientific measurement, the Bible is not precise when talking about time. Because people observed that wisdom develops with age and the passage of time, it was often assumed that wise people were older than was the case. Famous figures in the stories of our people were often reported to have had very long lives and remarkable physical stamina and vigor. Among the ancient stores of our people is the story of Abraham and Sarah. According to the Biblical record Sarah was 90 or 91 when Isaac was born and she died at the age of 127. Abraham is reported to be 100 years old at the birth of Isaac. It strains the imagination to come up with a theory of how this could be if we assume that the measurement of a year was precisely the same of our contemporary measurement.

The measurement of time and even the passage of seasons has changed throughout history. Trying to reconcile ancient texts with modern measurements results in some interesting discussions. Literalists try to measure everything by contemporary standards. Serious biblical scholars note that the Bible itself comments on the flexibility of time. Notably the 90th psalm compares a thousand years from a human perspective to a single day from the perspective of God. Since the development of the theory of relativity contemporary scientists have know that perspective makes a difference when measuring time.

All of this is background to a discussion, or perhaps even an argument, that I have had with a few of my friends recently. The conversation is about whether or not the end of 2019 marks the end of the decade. On the surface, it makes sense to use the even number 2020 to mark the beginning of the new decade. It is ten years from 2010 and 20 years from 2000. It will be ten years until 2030 arrives. From one point of view it is quite simple. However, there are those who argue that since there was no year 0, the years that end in 10 are the tenth years and therefore the new decade doesn’t begin until the year 2021. You can see how such an argument could be sustained for a long time.

It is true that neither the Julian nor the Gregorian calendars have a year zero. In both, the year 1 AD immediately follows the year 1 BC. The negative numbers are followed by positive numbers without a zero year. The argument might make sense if there was a precise measurement of the year where the division takes place. In reality, both calendars are based on estimates of the date of Jesus birth and it is likely that the estimates are inaccurate. At least it is fair to say that the most accurate we can come is within three or four years. Add to that the confusion that was caused by the fact that a year is not technically 365 days, but rather 365.2422 days. We deal with that by adding a day every fourth year, which we call a “leap” year. that gets us a bit closer to a measurement of the passage of time. However, our calendars with leap years are based on 365.25 days, not 365.2422 days, so we would get off were it not for the fact that our calendar omits a leap year every 100 years. That is more precise, but not completely so (365.2425 vs 365.2422). Additional adjustments need to be made every 400 and 4000 years to keep our calendar from moving around the seasons and remaining in sync with the movement of our planet in the solar system. It is fairly confusing, but the difference can become significant as is demonstrated by the differences between the Julian Calendar (without leap years) and our current Gregorian Calendar.

The development of the calendar we use was a religious project adopted in 1582 by an official decree of Pope Gregory XIII. The calendar retained the irregular lengths of months (varying from 28 to 31 days) of the Julian calendar. The irregular months were the result of political decisions. Mixing politics and religion always ends up with a certain degree of confusion.

So, for the sake of discussion, I’m going to assume that it is reasonable to think of tomorrow as the last day of a decade and Wednesday and the beginning of a new decade. I’m aware that this isn’t completely precise, but sometimes you have to make an arbitrary designation for the sake of the story. And I suspect that in my personal life and in the life of the church the next decade will be at least as significant as the one that is ending.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Continuing celebration

When our children were very young, we served a congregation where we had services on Christmas Day. The Christmas worship fit well into our family’s schedule, allowing us to have some separation in all of the gift giving. Our children would check out their Christmas stockings and receive one or two of their gifts early on Christmas morning. Then we’d take a break and they’d get dressed up for church. After church there would be dinner and more presents. It was at that time, with our own children being little and the church being a bit short of volunteers because of the holiday that we started inviting the children to come into the chancel and just play during the service. The service was fairly informal, with a lot of Christmas carols and the children were always well behaved.

Time passed. We moved to a congregation that does not have a tradition of Christmas day services. Our children grew up. We still follow the practice of inviting the children to come up to the front of the church and play during the service. This congregation has a number of nativity creche sets designed for children’s play. We put them out and the children let their imaginations wander with the telling of the Christmas story and the characters in the nativity sets. The children are always well behaved and there is seldom any disagreement or need for adults to intervene. When there is a need for an adult, there are plenty of adults ready to provide guidance.

I know that some parents prefer to have an attended nursery during worship and our congregation provides that service. They enjoy being able to worship and have a few quiet moments knowing that their young children are receiving attention. They find that having the children with them in worship is a distraction from their need for quiet meditation. We have also found that the majority of the parents of school-age children in our congregation prefer to have an overlap between worship and church school. Children begin worship with the congregation and leave for church school part way through the service. That way they get to experience part of communal worship, learn the responses and the practices of worship, but they also receive the specific instructions of church school all within a relatively short amount of time. It means a bit less time for church school and lessons have to be carefully planned to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time.

Despite the preferences and the choices of the congregation, I prefer to have children in worship. I know that they can sometimes be a distraction. I can remember being upset when one of our children was crying as we were trying to worship. Worship, however, is the gathering of the community and the community is incomplete without our children. I think that the presence of children would force us to change our style of worship a bit. There would probably be less talk and more music. There would be more opportunities for movement. Children are often a bit fussy when restrained. If the community can provide opportunities for them to be safe within the sanctuary while still allowing them to move about the room, they can be part of the worship even when they don’t understand all of the words or know all of the traditions.

So I look forward to the 1st Sunday after Christmas. We get to sing familiar carols and enjoy the presence of children in our entire worship service. I don’t feel a need to water down my sermon for the children, but I do remain aware of their presence. I won’t be going on too long with my preaching and I hope to have enough flexibility to engage the children as much as practical.

The season of Christmas allows the congregation to be just a little bit counter-cultural. We continue our celebrations while much of the rest of the world is quickly moving on beyond Christmas. We are, of course, influenced by the wider culture. Church members have already asked me, “How was your Christmas?” as if it were already past. Our Department of Hospitality is hosting a potluck brunch today and the notice in the church bulletin refers to the event as a New Year’s celebration. Of course new years’ comes in the midst of Christmas, so the reference is completely appropriate, but we know we have to work a little bit to hang on to Christmas while the rest of the culture is quick to move on to other things. You won’t find Christmas references anywhere in the headline news. I’ve seen people taking down Christmas decorations and I suspect that the lots where the city collects Christmas trees for recycling are already filling up with discarded trees. We still have another week to celebrate.

We’ve been following two families related to our congregation this holiday. One is a couple in which the father grew up in our church and moved away to attend college then continues to live in another city pursuing his career. Another is a young man who was part of our congregation in his teenage years, but is not active at this stage of his life. Parents of both of the young men are active in our church, so we keep track of their stories. One family has a brand-new daughter, born this Christmas and the other family is expecting a birth day day now. I know that the Christmas season will always be a rich time for both families, filled with memories and love. I grew up in a family with a brother whose birthday is Christmas Eve. Our father’s birthday was December 28. One day is not sufficient to celebrate the birth of a new baby. It takes some time to adjust to an event that changes your life forever. These two families will always carry a sense of Christmas lasting beyond a single day. There will be birthday celebrations and family times marking the season.

So as we worship today, I’m hanging on to the spirit of Christmas. There is no rush for the celebrations to end.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Christmas continues

Talking with friends on Christmas Eve the topic somehow turned to close encounters with animals while driving. We all had experienced encounters with deer. There ere a lot of deer in our area and collisions between car and deer are fairly common. The experts all say that it is safest to slow down as much as you can without swerving. Hitting the deer directly will cause less damage and be less dangerous than going out of control and perhaps running off of the road or rolling the car. My experiences with deer have all occurred so quickly that there was no time for conscious thought about what to do. I simply reacted the best that I was able. Then one of the people present told us a story of another encounter. She was driving north from Hot Springs to Custer late at night and rounded a corner while going over a rise to see a huge dark beast in the middle of the road. She slammed on the brakes and stopped just short of hitting a buffalo standing in the middle of the road. While she steadied herself and stopped shaking, the animal calmly turned to look at her, but made no attempt to move. She finally backed up her car and made her way around the backside of the animal and continued her journey.

There aren’t a lot of buffalo around here, but the herds at Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park where she was driving are significant. There are also buffalo being raised on private ranches in South Dakota as well as those owned and managed by the Intertribal Bison Council.

Before going farther, I should note that I know that North American Bison are not true buffalo. There are only two living examples of buffalo in the world: African Cape and Asian Water buffalo. And there are two living Bison species: North American Bison and the European Bison. When European explorers first came to the North American continent, they encountered a lot of species of animals that they had never before seen. The journals of Lewis and Clark refer to North American Pronghorn Antelope as “goats.” American bison looked somewhat like Asian water buffalo and they were given that name by the explorers. Of course they already had a name in the indigenous languages. The Lakota name for the animals is Tatanka. Over 60 million of them once roamed the plains of North America. By the close of the 19th century it has been estimated that fewer than 1,000 survived.

We livd in southwestern North Dakota for seven years, in the area were the last large buffalo hunts took place in a process that can hardly be called hunting. The slaughter of the buffalo was part of a wider attempt to destroy the culture of indigenous American people as settlers took the land and forced natives out of their homelands and attempted to eliminate them all together. Living in North Dakota for seven years, I also became aware that for fans of the North Dakota State University at Fargo the animals are bison (and don’t you ever forget that!).

The Bison football team dominated Montana State University in the FCS semifinals 42-14. They will play in the national championship in Texas on January 11. A Bison win would mean an unprecedented eighth national title in one decade. They know how to play the game.

But I grew up calling the animals buffalo. There has been a herd in Yellowstone National Park all along. The group, tiny when compared to the massive herds that once roamed the plains, is easy to show to visitors. We often would take guests to the park knowing that we would be able to see antelope, big horn sheep, elk, deer and buffalo. We often could also show them moose, bears and an occasional coyote. I’m from South Dakota now and here we pronounce that name of that animal a silent e at the end. I guess our coyotes don’t speak Spanish.

All of this is a rather long set up to the simple fact that for our celebration of the third day of Christmas yesterday, we had a really fine dinner of buffalo sirloin, hassle back potatoes and chopped salad. It was a lovely meal. Bison is naturally low in fat and a small steak is a good source of protein. Eating responsibly is a challenge anywhere one lives. One of the challenges for those of us who live on the northern plains is that so much of what is available in the stores is trucked long distances from the places it is grown. I’v been told that our carbon footprint is more influenced by the choices we make about what food we eat than the choices we make about what vehicle to drive. When we buy meat from Wild Idea Buffalo Co. her in Rapid City, we know we are getting meat that is grass fed, local and ranch raised. The meat is sustainably produced and hasn’t had to travel long distances to get to our table. It is the meat that sustained people in this part of the world for centuries before modern ways displaced the indigenous way of life. Buffalo meat is a good choice for protein from a heal perspective, too. Reasonable portions can be part of a heart-healthy diet. The real splurge in terms of fat and calories in our dinner last night was the butter on the potatoes. And I don’t skimp on butter when making hassle back potatoes. We try to be responsible in our food choices.

I try to think of something special for each of the twelve days of Christmas. We don’t center our Christmas celebrations on gifts, but we do eat a few special meals during the season. Some meals are celebrated with friends as our Christmas day feast. Some are a bit more intimate as our dinner last night. All are ways of recognizing and setting aside this unique and special time of the year. We enjoy prolonging the celebration.

There is fresh snow this morning to keep the world outside looking just right for the season. May the celebrations continue.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!