Waiting for service

It should be obvious that I am not an expert in running an automobile dealership. The profession is far from my own vocation and requires a completely different set of skills and talents. About as close as I can come to knowing about the business is that my father, among several other business interests, owned and ran a farm machinery dealership for 25 years and sold vehicles during some of those years from the dealership. For a brief period of time he held a franchise for vehicles and sold new and used vehicles. One thing about my father’s way of selling farm machinery was that he saw the entire dealership as a complete enterprise, not a series of departments. He often said, our shop and parts department exist to support our sales. Without selling new and used equipment, we couldn’t afford the salaries of mechanics and parts managers. With out a good shop and parts department, we couldn’t sell machines. Service was key to his business. I remember plenty of late night runs to the shop to provide parts for a rancher who broke down and needed to have his equipment in the field the next day. I remember Sunday afternoon trips to pick up a disabled machine so that it would be first in line at the shop on Monday morning.

That was a long time ago. Times have changed. As near as I can figure, many of the vehicle dealerships in our town run their parts and service departments as stand alone businesses that set their own rates, pay their own staff and make their own profits. What I do know is that it is hard to get good service from a dealership repair shop these days. Yesterday I called a local dealership to schedule routine maintenance on my pickup. It is not broken down. The service that I need is routine preventive maintenance as specified in the owners manual. They couldn’t schedule the work for next week or the week following that. I had to accept an appointment three weeks out. In my case, I will be attending the Conference Annual Meeting in Omaha in those weeks, which means the truck will have another thousand miles on it before it gets to the shop. This won’t cause a big problem for me because I keep my truck well-maintained, but it is frustrating because I was unable to schedule the work for my day off and shuttling the vehicle to the shop will be a bit of a challenge on a busy work day.

I could try other service providers, but I know from experience that the shop I called is one of the best and most responsive dealerships of that brand in our area. The best shop can’t schedule routine maintenance in a reasonable amount of time.

I hope that the reason I’m scheduled out so far is that they maintain some space in their schedule for those who are truly broken down and need immediate service. Imagine if the vehicle wasn’t available and the shop put you off for weeks.

I already know the song and dance that I would get from the dealership if I spoke to one of the managers or owners. They would give me a long complaint about not being able to hire enough workers. They want their shop to be able to do more work, but they can’t hire the technicians and the technicians they do hire will leave to work elsewhere at the drop of a hat.

That is all probably true. I don’t know the dynamics of hiring labor. I do know that the dealership spent millions and millions of dollars building a new shop with a luxury waiting area for customers. I’ve sat alone in their service area waiting for my vehicle to be repaired. I have no need of mood lighting, multiple large-screen televisions, leather furniture and carpets in the waiting room. I’d be satisfied with more modest surroundings. The difference in the cost of the building itself would provide salaries for several employees. I also know that I have had conversations with two capable and well trained automobile technicians who moved from our state to our neighbor to the west because wages are so low in our area that they were having trouble supporting their families with what was paid.

Theoretically, in an open capitalist system supply and demand would kick in. The dealership experiences a shortage of technicians which forces them to pay higher wages to get technicians. That doesn’t seem to be operating in our area, however. The dealership experiences a shortage of technicians so they make their customers wait longer for service which makes their customers mad at the dealership, so the customers drive to larger cities to purchase their vehicles. The demand for service in the area remains high because there are many vehicles in the area, but sales go down, so the dealership is forced to raise prices. Yes, I had my pickup in an urban area during my sabbatical last summer. I had work performed on it. I know that the shop rates here are higher even though the wages paid to technicians are lower.

Again, I’m no expert, but I believe there is a good business in providing solid, reliable service in a timely manner. It wouldn’t take al luxury setting. One of the older, abandoned dealerships would have sufficient shop space. It wouldn’t be hard to hire technicians. A couple of dollars more per hour would make it easy to hire good labor from the existing dealerships. It shouldn’t be hard to manage scheduling. You could learn how many emergency hours to leave available each day and the average weekly demand for routine maintenance. You could learn which seasons are busiest and when the schedule would be lighter after just a few years in business. In my father’s shop, employees could earn bonus vacation hours to be taken during slack times of the year by working during the busiest seasons.

But I don’t run a repair shop. I’m a customer. And so I sit and complain. I even write about it. But I’m waiting for service that I should have been able to drive up to the dealership and obtain. And I’ll pay the shop rate when the pickup goes in for its service.

Then again, I’m not a customer for a new vehicle purchase. The price of new pickups is beyond my reach. I buy used vehicles and drive them for many years. No dealership will make much profit selling new vehicles to me. Maybe the customers with brand new vehicles don’t have to wait three weeks for service.

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!

Ascension 2019

Ascension Day is not one of the most-celebrated holidays in our corner of the Christian tradition. The festival is based on the accounts in several of the Epistles as well as the report at the end of the Gospel of Luke, repeated in the first chapter of the book of Acts. In both accounts, Jesus is taken up into heaven right before the eyes of witnesses. It is a scene that is difficult to imagine for several reasons. It makes it seem as if heaven is a physical place that is located above the clouds, as is a common image. I remember a conversation I had as a teenager with an elder member of our congregation. The US space program was nearing the first manned journey to the moon and the elder was concerned that all of the rocks were disturbing heaven. In the mind of this person, shooting rockets above the clouds was a physical invasion of a sacred space. I didn’t understand heaven in the same way and had no fears that we could somehow technologically create travel to heaven.

Ascension Day is the 40th day of Easter, and so lands in the middle of the week and not on a Sunday. The celebration of Ascension Day has never been a big part of the religious traditions in the congregations that I have served. I’ve never preached an Ascension Day sermon. But I’ve decided to break the tradition this year. On this coming Sunday I plan to depart from the lectionary and preach on the ascension, even though it will be three days late.

Ascension Day is a public holiday in France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Finland, Indonesia, Luxembourg, The Netherlands , Norway, Sweden and Vanatu. Secular observances of the holiday focus mainly on the eating of spring foods: lamb asparagus, avocado and new potato salad. In Germany Ascension Day is also Father’s Day, sometimes called Men’s Day. The Thursday break from work is marked by a significant amount of drinking. One report states that alcohol-related accidents triple on ascension day. The tradition dates back to at least the 18th century as a way to celebrate Jesus returning to the Holy Father.

The theology of Ascension is a bit confusing. Most Christians understand the basic tenants of Christian Doctrine. In Jesus Christ, God came to the earth in human form. This divine embrace of humanity was so complete that Jesus suffered and died as a human. On the third day, Jesus was resurrected from the dead and appeared win bodily form to his disciples. So far most Christians follow the story of faith. But then what happens? Obviously Jesus is not present with us today in a physical form. The Biblical answer is that on the 40th day he was bodily transported to heaven. The resurrected Christ in bodily form was present with his disciples for a mere 40 days and then his body was gone from them with a promise of a return.

We live in that time between the ascension and the promised return. Jesus is not present with us physically.

In a sense, a celebration isn’t quite the right mood for the day of departure.

I’ve experienced enough days of departure in my life to know that such days are more likely to inspire tears than parties. I sometimes joke that my wife cried all the way home after walking our son to his first day of Kindergarten. She also cried all the way home after we delivered him to his college. The difference is that his kindergarten was a few blocks from home and his college was 1,300 miles from home. Days of departure are a challenge.

We experience departures in other ways. I’ve witnessed the emotional departures that accompany the breakup of a marriage. I’ve watched as loved ones slip away through increasing bouts of memory failure. I’ve been around as families dissolve into conflict over property and possessions. And I’ve been present at the moment of death of quite a few people. Except in the cases of sudden and traumatic loss, we don’t usually lose a loved one all at once. We lose them bit by bit. Maybe it starts with a decrease in focus, or a failure to remember a particular event. Maybe it starts with learning to accept a disability or a challenging illness.

Luke reports that Jesus left in the middle of blessing his disciples. “While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.” (Luke 24:51) It is almost as if he departed mid-sentence. Did the disciples receive the complete blessing? Did some of them close their eyes and just not see what happened? Like so many biblical stories, we are left without all of the details and questions come to our minds.

What we do know is that this process of leaving is a part of our faith story. When family travels to a distant place and we have to say good bye, we learn a bit of leave-taking. Our faith teaches us that we are not the first generation to have experienced those feelings of sadness at the departure. The bittersweet feeling of love and loss lies at the center of our story and the core of our faith.

In Pennsylvania there is a church with a beautiful series of contemporary stained-glass windows depicting scenes from the Gospels. They are so beautiful that they invite those who see them to look at them individually and think of the biblical scenes shown. I was examining them one by one and came to the last, the ascension. I giggled out loud at the scene. In the window, all you can see is the bare feet of Jesus sticking out of the bottom of a cloud. The image seems almost like a cartoon at the end of this series of serious scenes. It is as if the artist is saying, “That’s all folks!”

Maybe the artist got it right. We can’t explain it. We are simply invited to accept it. And if we can do so with a smile and a laugh - all the better.

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!

Religious freedom

It used to be letters received in the mail, now it is mostly email. Whatever the method of delivery, I’ve been on a lot of mailing lists. Because I am a minister affiliated with a church, I receive a lot of messages from organizations with religious concerns. Many of those who reach out to me have very different religious perspectives from my own. Over the years, I have gotten a lot of different messages about those who believe that the lack of organized prayer in public schools is some kind of restriction on religious freedom. That has always struck me as a point of disagreement, because I believe that if children are raised in an atmosphere of love and prayer and taught religious practices, nothing can prevent them from praying wherever they are. Furthermore, I am a bit suspect of schools as having the capacity to produce theologically educated leaders for prayers. Teachers, in general, are not biblical experts. And to top it off, I lived for a decade where our faith was a definite minority. Every public invocation, every occasion was marked by the prayers of leaders of the LDS church. It was in that setting where our children went to elementary school. I would not have appreciated it if they had been exposed to Mormon prayers each day in school. I wanted to be their primary source of religious instruction.

I also get communications from those who think that if science is taught in schools it is a threat to their Biblical interpretations. They don’t want children to be taught evolutionary theory because they feel it will make them less likely to believe in the Bible. I don’t share their perspective. I don’t see the incompatibility of Biblical faith and scientific inquiry. I don’t think that knowledge threatens faith. I do think that their interpretation of the Bible is often shallow and devoid of an understanding of the context of the Bible. It seems to be a series of texts pulled out of context rather than an attempt to understand the Bible as the narrative of a people of faith. Then, again, I don’t worship a particular English translation of the Bible. I treasure the Bible as a way to learn more about God. I am curious about the history of translations. I have studied original languages. I have worked hard for the knowledge and love that I have developed for the Bible. It offends me slightly when someone says, “The bible says . . . “ followed by some opinion that came not from the Bible, but from their prejudices.

I don’t think that public schools are a threat to religious freedom.

I did, however, read an article that made me worry about religious freedom in our country. The National Public Radio website has the text of a report that was aired about extending “Zero Tolerance” to people who help migrants along the border.

Teresa Todd is a four-time elected city and county attorney in west Texas. She was driving at night in February when a man in a white shirt ran out into the road. He was pleading for help. She stopped and he told her is 18-year-old sister was in trouble. The sister was dazed and could hardly walk. She allowed them to get in her call while she texted a friend who works for the U.S. Border Patrol, asking for help. Before she received a reply, a sheriff’s deputy showed up. The deputy called the U.S. Border Patrol, who arrested Todd. Eight days later a search warrant was executed for her phone. She was told it would be returned in a matter of hours. It took 53 days before the phone was returned.

It turned out that the young woman who Todd had stopped to help was on the brink of death. By the time she got to the hospital, doctors told her she nearly died.

In 2018 there were more than 4,500 people federally charged for bringing in and harboring migrants. that is a more than 30% increase since 2015. We don’t know how many of those people had simply stopped to help someone in distress.

My faith is clear. You don’t have to study the Bible much at all to see the mandate to stop and help those in need, regardless of who they are. Read the parable of the Good Samaritan. Read the parable of the sheep and the goats. Our faith teaches us to be compassionate. Our faith teaches us to reach out with generosity to those who are in need.

If it is illegal to offer shelter to a person who is dazed and stumbling and near death, we live in a country where our religious freedom is severely restricted. Forget about who gets to lead prayers in elementary school. A law that makes it illegal to show compassion is a threat to religious freedom.

I don’t live near the border. I am unlikely to find myself in a situation like that of Teresa Todd. But if I ever find myself in that situation, I know what I will do.

When our children were in elementary school, I told them that it was not illegal for them to pray in school. Despite what others might say, if they prayed quietly and didn’t disturb anyone else, they would be allowed to say thanks for their meals and ask God for help. I am unaware of any problems that they encountered. I intend to live my faith in the same way. When I see a person in distress, I try to render aid. When someone asks me for help, I try to see what I can do to help. I welcome strangers into our church and I don’t ask anyone their immigration status when they ask for food or other help.

“Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” - Matthew 10:41-42

I find clear instructions in the Bible. And if following the Bible results in being arrested and having my phone confiscated, then that is a risk I’ll have to take.

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!


Fog and rain changed my plans. I didn’t get the lawn mowed yesterday. And it is really growing. I suppose I should have tackled it on Saturday, but there were still areas covered in snow back then. Oh well, one day it will dry out enough to mow and I’ll be moving slowly. I’ve been there before. In the meantime, I’ve lived in dry places enough years of my life not to complain about moisture.

The water is causing problems for those downstream and in general the weather has been a real problem in Missouri and other states. We are lucky and we know it. And, as I say to folks when the ask, “It appears that I am waterproof. I’m not as wet from the rain as I get from falling in the lake.”

And when people ask how I am, I usually respond by saying, “I am well,” which is true. My health is generally very good. But those words don’t tell the real story. I’m a happy person. There is a lot of joy in my life. There is much to which I am looking forward. In three weeks, our son and his family will arrive for a week’s visit. The next day, My wife’s sister, her husband and granddaughter arrive. That means that we’ll have ten people in our house where normally we have two. We have plenty of room, but things need to be rearranged a bit. A basement room that often is the place where we do ironing and sewing and store a few items needs to become a play room with toys for four busy and active children. A bedroom that is used as an office needs to be available for people to sleep. Another small room, where the closet is occupied by our off season clothes needs to be ready to receive guests. Windows need to be washed. Carpets need to be shampooed. We had no shortages of things to do on a rainy day yesterday. Of course the lawn needs to be mowed several times before they arrive, but I’ll get to that in due time.

I think that one of the reasons that I am happy is that I have plenty of meaningful work to do. It isn’t just the work of preparing our home for guests. I also have meaningful work waiting for me at the church. I visit with people dealing with medical crises, I celebrate with graduates, I witness marriages, I baptize infants, I get to do any number of wonderful things that make up for the other times when I scout problems in the computer system, fill out forms for church bureaucrats, sit through meetings that could be better run, and serve as the chief complaint officer for matters ranging from the volume of the hymns to the temperature in the sanctuary to the types of cookies chosen for coffee hour. I always take the complaints with a small dose of gratitude that they aren’t complaining about the pastor, but then again, they probably take those complaints elsewhere and I just don’t hear them.

One of the gifts of being a bit older and having had some wonderful experiences in life is that I have come to know that real joy is much deeper than a flash of euphoria. The search for a continual succession of pleasure leads to exhaustion, not to happiness. Part of what makes me happy in my everyday life is the result of some deep commitments that have been made. I can’t explain to a twenty-something the joys of growing old together, but I can let them know that there is true joy in keeping promises that I made when I was twenty. A young couple planning their wedding can’t imagine being more in love than they feel at the moment, but I can look at them and know that love deepens over time and life has more for them than the present, as wonderful as that is.

I’ve read quite a few books on presentness and other Buddhist principles of living in the moment and seeing the beauty that is present. I’ve tried some of the practices of meditation, and I have an active prayer life. But part of the joy of my life is that the present is infused with memories of the past and anticipation of the future. I don’t live in the present only. I treasure my memories and return to them regularly. I have high hopes for the future and the hope is part of the energizing force of my life.

I’m confident that I am happier today, having invested energy yesterday in preparing to receive guests than I would be if I had spent the entire day studying the fog and rain and quietly appreciating the beauty of nature. It isn’t that I don’t see and appreciate the beauty, it is just that my life is always more complex than a simple focus on one moment only.

I am aware how precious the present is. I know that there are diseases that rob one of memory and that I am not immune to any disease. I know that the wonder and joy of this time of my life will not last forever. And I am blessed to have few regrets in my lie. I’ve made mistakes, but I have also learned how to apologize. I’ve learned better ways to do some things and better ways to manage my resources. But I am not so naive as to believe that I won’t make more mistakes in the future.

So I am more than just well. I am happy. I am content. I am excited about what is coming. I probably have more to say about my present condition than the person asking a simple question about my well being wants to know.

One of these days, when I get time, I plan to read Matthieu Ricard’s book, “Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill.” I’m guessing, however, without having read the book, that perhaps I’m working on developing that skill without having read the book.

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!

Search and rescue

I spend an evening a month and, depending on circumstances, sometimes a half day or more hanging out with the volunteers of the Pennington County Sheriff’s Department Search and Rescue Squad. Our County’s Search and Rescue Team is a group of about 25 very active volunteers and a few who are a bit less active. They hold weekly meetings for training and equipment maintenance. They become proficient with a large number of technical skills such as the use of ropes for ascending and descending cliffs and other steep areas. There are specialized dive and deep water rescue teams that are comprised of volunteers and professional firefighters and sheriff’s deputies as well. The Search and Rescue team has quite a bit of expensive specialized equipment such as jaws of life for vehicle demolition and rescue, air bags to lift overturned vehicles or to lift heavy objects that are crushing individuals, specialized vehicles for rough terrain and for deep snow, radio communications equipment and cases of matched mapping GPS units that track every area covered in a coordinated search. All of that equipment requires specialized and recurrent training.

These volunteers enjoy the training, to be sure, but what they really live for is the adrenaline rush of an actual emergency. The Search and Rescue vehicles have lights and sirens and there are times when they need to run “hot” to get to an emergency quickly. The meetings that I attend include a careful diffusing of all of the calls to which they respond each month. Many calls involve little direct action. The team is summoned and responds only to receive a radio call that the situation has been resolved and the team is no longer needed. Other times they will arrive at the scene and be able to provide a simple solution quickly. Some calls are more recovery than rescue. The team responds to accidents and incidents where the victim has already perished and provides the same professional and caring service removing a body and getting it to safety as they would give to a living person.

Some searches and rescues take days to resolve. Volunteers take time away from paying jobs in order to sustain the search. Some searches are never resolved. We currently have, in our county, a search for a missing child that has been active for more than three months. Specially trained dog teams from multiple states have been brought in to assist with the teams of volunteers who have conducted grid searches in very rugged terrain. There is still hope of finding some kind of resolution to the search - some evidence, some remains, some clue as to what happened. But the team knows that even the most thorough, careful and well-organized search can come up short. Some mysteries are never solved.

Everyone in the business of search and rescue, however, is encouraged and delighted with a recent search conducted on the island of Maui in Hawaii. A hiker who was missing for more than two weeks was found alive and rescued by helicopter. Members of our team have watched the YouTube videos of Amanda Eller being loaded into a rescue basket and lifted up to the helicopter to be transported to the hospital for recovery. Stories like this one sustain the searchers through many difficult and trying days.

The basics of survival are pretty simple. An average person can survive without food for a week, without water for a day and, depending on the weather, without shelter for an hour. Maui offers abundant opportunities for survival. The weather is generally warm, there are plenty of places to gain shelter from the rain. Rain is common and clean water to drink fairly easy to obtain. Edible plants abound. Survival is possible for a person who is able to keep their thinking straight. Maui County, like our county, has excellent collaboration between volunteers and professional first responders. In the search the volunteers were essential. Other duties called the professional first responders away from the search with a few days. The volunteers keep on searching with determination and commitment. The result in the end was success.

That story will provide inspiration for decades for teams like ours. We know that there will be searches that end in tragic discoveries. We know that not every story can have a happy ending like the rescue in Maui. But we also know that human beings are capable of great endurance and that there are cases when having the right people with the right skills can result in a successful outcome. The volunteers are motivated by the scenes of reunited families and rescued survivors.

We have a few stories of successful rescues from our team. They’ve descended by ropes into a mine in the middle of the night to rescue teens who pushed beyond the limits. They’ve extracted victims from automobile accidents for transport to medical care without further injury. They’ve found lost hunters. They know the positive value that a well trained search and rescue team brings to our community. They are rightfully proud of the work that they do.

Having a well-equipped team is expensive. Part of the funding comes directly from taxes collected by the County. Part of the funding is provided by donations from individuals and businesses. The on-going search for the missing child has produced a need for some equipment that will serve future searches for many years. The system works because many people become involved, some in small ways, some in larger ways. It is an imperfect system. Improvements can always be made. But the dedication of volunteers and the expertise of professionals combine in a very powerful way to serve our community.

It is an honor and a privilege to be allowed to spend time with the team. Each time I attend a meeting, I am once again impressed with the dedication and the spirit of volunteerism that is alive in our community. I hope and pray that you will never need a search and rescue team, but if you do, you can rest assured that they are working hard to stay prepared for whatever call may come.

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!

Humor in the Headlines

I know that I have a quirky sense of humor. Some things that don’t amuse others cause me to laugh. I see humor where others do not. And some jokes that others love to tell aren’t all that amusing to me. It is just one of the ways in which we humans aren’t all the same and all of our differences are which make life interesting.

I know I couldn’t make it as a comedian. My sense of humor is just too quirky. All the same, I think that it must be fun to earn a living by making jokes about what is going on in the world. The news headlines alone provide me with quite a bit of entertainment most days. Some of the entertainment and the humor I find in the news comes from the fact that I don’t really understand all of the details of a particular situation. If I were to go public with the things that strike me as funny, I’d probably open myself to criticism for my lack of research.

I don’t know if it struck anyone else as funny, but a series of serious cyber crimes have been committed by those who stole a National Security Agency tool. In the first place, there is something comical about those who are hired to protect you from crime by developing security networks, being vulnerable to crime because their network doesn’t work. The crimes are genuinely serious. The city of Baltimore, near where the agency is headquartered has suffered an attack. The use of EternalBlue is estimated to have caused billions of dollars in damage worldwide. So I know you’re waiting for the punchline. According to the New York Times, the N.S.A. will say nothing.

If you don’t think that’s funny, don’ worry, I told you my sense of humor is quirky.

I giggled openly when I read that the owner of Noah’s Ark theme park in Kentucky is suing their insurance company over their refusal to cover rain damage. I’m pretty sure that every home owner in the United States has been told that homeowner’s insurance does not cover damage caused by flooding. You have to buy flood insurance from the U.S. Government, the only source for that kind of insurance. And the theme park owners are trying to make a point to guests about their own interpretation of the Bible and their belief that the great flood was a historical event. If you believe that God uses a flood to teach humans a moral lesson, what lesson might there be in torrential rains causing slope to slide and a retaining wall to fail. I checked, and no it did not rain for 40 days and 40 nights to cause the damage.

Having traveled in Japan last summer, I know that some Japanese people are not very impressed with President Trump. Nonetheless, I know they will be polite and host him graciously during his visit. The press is making a big deal about his visit to a sumo match and presenting the trophy to the winner. To our president, it is a “very big event.” It doesn’t take that much memory to recall that 20 years ago Jacques Chirac, who was president of France at the time attended a sumo match and presented the trophy in much the same manner as President Trump. Chirac, however, was able to sit on the traditional mattresses. They had to bring in a chair for President Trump. And Chirac was so taken with the sport that he named his dog Sumo. It probably won’t happen for our country, or we’d already have a white house dog named Golf.

Although the United States has never had an emperor, it has been common folklore that he famous dish Caesar salad originated in our country. It is said to have been invented by an Italian Immigrant, Cesare Cardini, who opened a restaurant in Sacramento and later one in San Diego. The story is that he was experimenting with leftovers: a bit of romaine lettuce, raw egg yolk, Parmesan cheese and a few other ingredients. What he ended up with is a surprisingly delicious meal and one offered on menus around the world. The pice of the story that isn’t often reported is that Cardini didn’t develop and first serve the salad in the United States. He left San Diego and established a restaurant in Mexico during the 1920’s in order to escape Prohibition and the famous Caesar Salad really originated in Mexico. It just goes to show that it is hard to own a recipe. And the whole thing strikes me as hilarious. If it is any consolation, Taco salad did originate in the U.S.

I know that it is no laughing matter and that laughing at the misfortune of another is schadenfreude and not one of the most appealing qualities of humans. But somehow it strikes me as amusing that the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has issued a safety warning about improperly set up beach umbrellas. A sudden gust of wind can turn the temporary shade into a violent weapon, hurtling it at high speeds and when it hits someone, it can be a real hazard. According to the CPSC more than 31,000 people were treated in hospitals for umbrella-related injuries between 2008 and 2017. It amuses me that there is such a category as umbrella-related injury.

Because mountain climbers can go on and on about the beauty of wilderness and getting out to areas where there are no other people, I am amused by the crowded conditions on the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain. Apparently it has become so crowded that they have to schedule climbs and it is difficult to get a picture of yourself at the top without having another climber in the background.

In the end, quirky sense of humor or not, I find it to be a blessing that I can laugh at the news. If I didn’t, I’d probably be crying.

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!

When I grow up

Yesterday a colleague and I were talking about all of the changes that are occurring in the leadership of churches in our community. We came up with two pastors who are switching from one denomination to another, one who is moving out of the United States to serve in another country, one who is leaving South Dakota for an east-coast state, one who is moving to another community in our state, and several who are nearing retirement. I suppose that there has always been a lot of change in the many congregations that we have in our town, but as we were talking, the number of changes seemed to be larger than typical.

The fact that there are so many changes taking place all at once is probably a matter of coincidence and unlikely to be repeated again soon, but all of the changes mean that there will be a certain amount of shuffling of church members and other changes in the congregations that serve our community. One factor that is frequently cited is the general low wages in South Dakota. In our denomination the South Dakota Conference has the lowest wages of all of the Conferences in the nation. Similar statistics appear in other denominations as well. But pastors are rarely primarily motivated by pay scales. It isn’t as if pastors are compensated as CEOs in any part the country. And the costs of living are higher in most other places. I’m not convinced that we understand the dynamic and suspect that each pastoral change is surrounded by its own unique circumstances and reasons. Several of the pastors who are moving are close friends of mine and knowing that they will be going to places far away from here means that our paths may7 never again cross in this life. It has been good working with such colleagues and they will be missed.

I spend a fair amount of time with high school and college students and young adults and have enjoyed conversations about “what do you want to be when you grow up?” What I find these days is that such conversations are not just reserved to people at the beginning of their careers. In fact the questions about where and how to invest the next phase of my own life seem more intense than they did when I was younger.

I am currently in regular contact with four different individuals who are in he process of seeking discernment about their calls to become Christian ministers. It is the largest number at one time that I can remember. For most of them, the sense of call is strong. It is also clear that they may need to have other streams of income to their families if they are to pursue ministry. That has been a part of Christian traditions since the earliest days of the Christian church. Whether is is Paul’s tent-making or other stories of how the early apostles obtained financial support reported in Acts, it is clear that the call of God does not come with a guaranteed income.

That is true of other vocations and professions as well.

Most of us, if we go back into our family histories, can come up with an immigrant story. Some ancestor came from another country and started with nothing. The image of hard work and perseverance paying off within a single generation is a common story in the United States. I think, however, that the path to success is significantly different for people today. In the span of a single generation, more new jobs and job titles have been produced than ever before. And many of the jobs that people are doing today will not exist in just a few years. Finding a calling and pursuing it as a lifelong venture, as has been my story, is unlikely to be the story of my grandchildren. They will need to be much more adaptive and be able to make multiple major career changes as they navigate their way through life. I am, frankly, bored with the talk of many of my age mates about “the kids these days.” The world is so different for them that it is unfair of us to make comparisons.

Whenever talk turns to careers it includes talk of money. We don’t want to say out loud that we are interested in becoming rich or that our goals for our children and grandchildren center around income and how much money they can earn, but we do think about it a lot. My conversation with my colleague yesterday drifted to money and income within a few sentences.

We’ve all read the book and we know that happiness, well being, service and loving are not the same as money and that they cannot be purchased with money. We all know the there are things that are more important than income levels and the balance in savings accounts. But assets and net worth seem to creep into every conversation about vocation.

I feel compelled to tell some of the people with whom I am regular conversing about call to the Christian ministry that their prospects for full-time employment in the church are very slim. If the reason they are pursuing ordination is to improve their financial stability, it may not be the right choice. This is something that they all know and acknowledge as soon as the subject drifts in that direction, but it is a factor as well.

We measure the success or failure of others in part by assessing their financial situation.

Looking back, I am grateful that I have lived in my particular part of history. I entered the clergy at a time when it was still possible to pursue that profession as a lifelong adventure. I have been able to provide a home and education and health care and food for my family. I am not confident about the future or my prospects for retirement, but I’ve been more fortunate than many of my colleagues.

Now if I can just figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

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!

Seeking justice

I am not a money person. I have tried to be responsible with the amounts entrusted to me and I’ve signed my name to mortgages and made the payments. I can read the financial statements of our church and the other nonprofit boards upon which I sit. I served a term on the corporate board of Local Church Ministries, which at the time had tens of millions of dollars in designated investments and a very large budget for a church organization.But managing money is not my most capable skill and I think of myself as one better suited to small amounts of money than large sums.

My father set a goal for himself to become a millionaire and he achieved that goal. As he passed the age of 50 his net worth was steadily going upward and he became more active in managing investments. It allowed him to make a six figure gift to a beloved college. It allowed him to spend the last two years of his life replacing roofs on cabins at church camp and historic buildings at the college without affecting the budgets of the organizations. It allowed him to create a pension for our mother that saw her through 35 years of widowhood and several changes of address.As his son, I felt that there were times when he became a bit obsessed with his financial goals, but he did well and I’m proud of the decisions he made.

So I’m having a bit of trouble understanding the reported settlement between disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein and his former studio’s board members to pay a settlement to the women who accused him of misconduct. The settlement is reported to be worth about $44 million.

My first reaction is that I don’t know how someone can be rich enough to pay $44 million. If I were ordered to pay a tenth of that amount, I would not be able to do so. Bu there is a picture of Mr. Weinstein on the BBC web site with a smile on his face, presumably pleased with the figure. I don’t know how many women were abused. I don’t know how the amount will be divided. I don’t need to know. What I do know is that the pain and suffering inflicted on the victims is something from which they can never recover and it appears that Weinstein can pay the money and recover. The amount may be sufficient to support victims and aid in healing, but it doesn’t seem to have punished Mr. Weinstein very much. It seems that the comparative cost of the abuse is born disproportionately by the victims.

I’m glad I’m not the judge in the case. I’m glad I’m not the negotiator for the victims or for Mr. Weinstein. I really don’t know what fairness would look like in the situation.

I remember a famous case years ago in which a woman was burned by extra hot coffee in a disposable cup that was spilled at a McDonalds drive-through. The amount she was awarded by the jury seemed to be radically disproportionate to the small amount of suffering of some surface skin burns. The jury members, however, felt that the settlement had to be that large in order to inflict at least some punishment on the giant corporation. They didn’t want to establish a precedent that those with large amounts of money could buy their way out of punishment for damage they had done. The case was argued at many of the coffee circles in which I have participated with various people taking various opinions in the case.

Around the same time the cost of product liability insurance caused Cessna and Piper, two of America’s oldest and most popular brands of general aviation airplanes to cease production for about eight years. The result was that the cost of used airplanes went out of reach for people like me. New laws were enacted and the companies have resumed production, but the issue remains. What is a fair number for an accident, in which a manufacturer is ruled to have a share of the liability, that takes the life of a person. Is there any amount of money that will replace the one who is lost? I believe that the answer is no. You can’t measure the value of a human life in dollars and cents.

The work that I have done with the victims of sudden and traumatic loss leads me to believe that there is no compensation which can make up for the loss of their loved one. Trying to value their life in monetary terms just doesn’t work. But insurance companies and courts try to restore some sense of justice and the tools they have to do so are limited. Often what is able to be done is to give some financial compensation at the point of loss.

I work with C.O.P.S. (Concerns of police survivors) who work to rebuild the shattered lives of survivors and co-workers affected by line of duty deaths. Line of duty deaths are relatively rare for police officers, but when they occur, they can tear a community apart. C.O.P.S. works to make sure that surviving family members get the compensation that they deserve. More importantly, the organization works to provide emotional support through events, classes, commemorations, memorials and a host of other activities that provide on-going support years after the loss has occurred. My observation is that the on-going support is far more important than the checks that come to the family.

So we are left with an imperfect situation in an imperfect world. We can’t fix all of the wrongs that have occurred. We can’t make everything better. We have to learn to live with grief and loss and brokenness.

My prayer for the victims of Mr. Weinstein is that they will be able to go on with their lives with as little contact with the man as possible and that the courts will commit themselves to doing whatever can be done to make sure that there are no new victims.That will be worth more than all the money in the world.

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!

Watching the snow melt

Tuesday afternoon, while it was still raining in town, the snow was starting to get deep at home. There were about 7 or 8 inches in our driveway, which made it impassible for our little car, which was in town with Susan. So I headed home and blew snow for about an hour. Then I walked to an intersection with the main highway and met Susan, armed with a scoop shovel, just in case. We got the car into the garage and returned to work in another vehicle with more ground clearance. As I was shoveling and walking, I noticed that the deer were a bit wound up. They were running through the neighborhood, mostly running in the streets, where cars had made paths through the deep snow. They seemed disoriented by the storm. Often when we have a storm, the deer hunker down below the big trees where less snow falls to the ground and wait it out. Something had stirred them up, perhaps a neighbor’ dog or the noise of the snow blower or some other thing that I hadn’t noticed.

The deer are looking scruffy at this time of the year. They’ve begun to shed their winter coats, and their fur is patchy. I suspect the lack of fur makes things a bit uncomfortable for them, especially in the wet snow. After I had finished shoveling and walking as the snow was still falling at a good rate, it felt really good to go inside and put on dry clothes for the rest of my evening’s activities. The deer can’t do that. When they are wet, they have to stay wet until the sunshine dries them out. And there was no place for them to go to dry out on Tuesday. We didn’t see much sun until yesterday afternoon.

I’ve been paying attention to the deer. They are within a month of the birth of fawns and I like to look to see which does are pregnant and observe where they are going. Sometimes I can get a general prediction of where the fawns will be born and have a chance to see the little ones early. They hid easily in the first weeks of their lives and you have to look carefully to get a glimpse. The little fawns can stand within minutes of being born, but it takes half a day before they can walk even a short distance, so if you know where they are born, you can get several glimpses of them if you are careful.

I’ve also been looking for a particular doe. There is one who has raised two sets of twins and a single fawn in our backyard over the past years. Whitetail deer only live 4 or 5 years in the wild around here, with many being lost to the winter or the highway. I’m guessing that this doe is at least 5 years old. At least I can remember 4 summers with her. She was injured, perhaps by a car, which left a visible scar on her flank so she was easy to pick out from the others. But I haven’t seen her since last fall and I suspect that she is no longer living.

Life has to be hard for the deer in our neighborhood. They’ve adjusted to semi-urban living quite well. They know where the grass isn’t mowed for cover and where it is for the tender green shoots of early spring. They know where there is shelter under the trees. They know which homes have dogs that occasionally are let out off leash and which ones have none. When my sister visits with her dog, even though he is not allowed off leash in our neighborhood, they are startled by his presence. Most interesting to me is that the deer have adjusted to yard lights. 20 years ago, if there were deer in our yard and I turned on the light, they would quickly run from the yard. Now, I watch them walk into the neighbor’s yard, where they have motion sensors on the lights and when the lights turn on it doesn’t startle them at all. They just go about their browsing almost as if they appreciate the light to see the best grass to eat.

15 inches of snow on May 22 is a record for us, if not for the hills. We’ve live here long enough to have seen plenty of spring blizzards but none with quite this much quite this late. Although the heavy snow caused some problems with the electrical system, we only lost power for a few minutes at a time. Neighbors up the road had longer power outages as crews struggled to keep up with the heavy snow. The pine trees handle the snow well, but some folks with deciduous trees may have some broken branches. I talked to one neighbor who went out several times during the storm to shake the snow off of his new willow trees to protect them.

As strange as this spring’s weather has been for us, we are lucky to be at the top of the hill where we no threat of major flooding. Our basement stays dry even in the wettest of conditions. The water runs off. Folks downstream don’t have it as lucky. There are flood warnings all across the state as the waters head towards the Missouri. And downstream in the Missouri and Mississippi there are severe floods. Add to that the tornadoes that swept across Missouri and Oklahoma and there are lots of folks who have weather far worse than ours. On the anniversary of the Joplin, Missouri, tornado there were fatalities just 40 miles away n Golden City yesterday. More severe storms are predicted for the next couple of days as a high pressure area with unseasonably hot temperatures is stalled in the southeastern corner of the US with the winds swirling around it.

We complain about the snow a little bit, but the moisture is great for the forest and we are safe and comfortable. And I can go inside and change into dry clothes when I get wet from working outside. Besides that, I can watch the deer without going outside. We really do have it good!

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!

Awards for Volunteers

I attended the Black Hills Spirit of Volunteerism Awards luncheon yesterday. The event is sponsored by the Helpline Center with the support of major corporate sponsors including a bank, a large construction company and the area’s electricity supplier. Volunteers were nominated by various groups throughout the community in several categories: Youth, Group, Corporate Humanitarianism, Up and Coming (19-49), and Shining Bright (50+). All of the nominated volunteers were people who had made exceptional contributions to our community and the award winners were deserving of their recognition. It was fun to see how many dedicated volunteers are at work in our community and what meaningful work volunteers perform.

The event, however, left me feeling a bit uninspired. One would expect such an event to be a celebration that invites and inspires others to become involved. It didn’t have that effect on me, and I’m not sure exactly why I had such a reaction.

Parr of the process, I’m sure is that they had so many nominees. Nearly 50 individuals and groups were profiled in short descriptions from the podium in a 90-minute event. That meant that they read profile after profile with almost no separation between them. The short amount of time for each nominee meant that they barely covered the surface and didn’t speak at all about motivation or note those who volunteer for multiple organizations. The event came off as if the most valued volunteers were those who volunteer for only one organization, despite the fact that many of the volunteers are not so single-minded or focused on a single organization. It made it seem as if the organizers of the event believed that individuals should pick a single organization and feel that their work was sufficient. We humans, however, are complex and have many different interests. I work at a full time job and yet find time to volunteer with at least four different organizations that do meaningful work in our town.

Another reason for my discomfort for the event was that it was filled with promotions for the corporate sponsors. The program booklet, color printed on expensive paper, was filled with advertisements. The screens at the front of the room displayed advertisements for the sponsors. Representatives of the sponsoring organizations presented the awards. the whole thing came off as if the reason sponsors donate is for recognition and the reason volunteers give of their time is for recognition.

I work in a voluntary organization. I see dedicate volunteers who serve without any thought of recognition. I work with donors who donate for the purpose of doing good, not for the public recognition. I know a lot of donors and volunteers who weren’t at the luncheon, many of whom have given as deeply as those who won the awards. Each individual is special and I have no disagreement with the judges choices of award recipients, but awards and luncheons aren’t the reason that volunteers serve.

The sponsor of the event is a relative newcomer to our community. The Helpline Center promotes itself as a one stop place for service. They operate the 211 phone line that connects those in need with organizations that help. Their shrives are not yet well developed in our town. The times we have called trying to connect people in need, they have been less than helpful and we have ended up working directly with organizations ourselves. The Center has, however, been very successful in obtaining funding. They have received grants that previously went to other organizations. My frustration is that the Center doesn’t provide any services at all. It just is a coordinating group. It seems to operate as another layer of bureaucracy in a world that doesn’t need more bureaucracy. I like the idea of a single phone call that connects those in need with services, but so far the system doesn’t work in practice in our community.

There has been a big effort in our community to centralize services. The Helpline Center has a lot of support form the Mayor and other community officials. They also have been promoting the development of a single campus that consolidates all services tor people who are homeless. The idea is to create public-private partnerships that are as big as the problems that are faced. The problem with that idea is that there are very good niche service providers who know they can’t solve the whole problem, yet continue to serve faithfully in one small area. The Mission provides emergency shelter, but is not able to provide addiction recovery services. Habitat for Humanity provides affordable housing, but is not able to provide transitional housing. Love Inc, provides classes and some direct services, but is not able to do food distribution. Hope Center provides drop-in day services, but is not able to provide overnight housing. All of these organizations work together in diverse locations with services that are spread out. The idea that they all should become part of a huge county-owned campus doesn’t align with the mission of many of the groups.

The Black Hills Spirit of Volunteerism Awards is a nice idea, but it falls way short of recognizing all of the volunteers who make our community work. And that is just fine with the volunteers. Among the most dedicated of volunteers are plenty of people who have no need of luncheons and awards and recognition. They don’t serve for that purpose. They gain reward from the people they serve and the knowledge that they have helped. That is sufficient reward for them.

There were plenty of pictures taken under the Helpline Center banner yesterday. They showed award winners and corporate sponsors together. The pictures will show up on public media and will be displayed in corporate headquarters and offices. There will be plenty of sponsors and volunteers for next year’s award luncheon. I’m thinking, however, that I’ll skip the luncheon next year. That would give me an hour and a half that could be given in volunteer service to one of the organizations I love and support. My absence from the luncheon won’t be noticed and I can leave the recognition events to those who enjoy them. I prefer to hang out with the unsung heroes.

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!

Rejected topics

Well, it is the 21st of May and writing about the fact that there is an inch or so of snow on the ground this morning would be boring. I’ve been complaining about the bits of spring snow that persist late this year. I’m ready for spring or even summer, but the seasons come on their own time.

I’m not going to write about the finale of Game of Thrones. I haven’t watched a single episode and don’t even know the basic story line or the characters. I have a colleague who says that I am culturally deprived, but it doesn’t bother me one bit.

I really don’t have much to say about the 2019 World Bear and Mustache Championship. I don’t even know why they spell the word mustache “moustache.” The pictures are pretty amazing, but there isn’t much to say about it.

I don’t watch American Idol and don’t know who won and who did not. That would be a poor choice of topics for me.

I’m annoyed at the anti-vaccine movement and its use of inaccurate statistics and pseudo science, but I am also not an expert on disease and my vaccinations are all up to date.

I am inspired by philanthropist Robert F. Smith’s generous donation that will allow the entire 400-member 2019 class of Morehouse College to start the next phase of their lives without college debt. It is an amazing investment that will yield impressive dividends for society, but the words spoken and written but the students themselves are more eloquent than I could write.

Austrian Formula One racer Niki Lauda was famous for having escaped a near-fatal crash and making a remarkable recovery. But he did not live forever and died at the age of 70. I don’t follow auto racing and I suspect that readers of my journal know more about the story than I.

For reasons that escape me, a lot of attention has been paid to methane emissions from cows. The jokes about cow farts are boring. The ignorance of legislators and other leaders about cattle ranching is appalling. Cows down’t actually have seven stomachs, but their stomachs do have four chambers and are ruminants. They swallow partially chewed food which mixes with chemicals in their stomachs and later is brought up and chewed more fully. The methane comes out of their mouths, not the other end.

Nepalese Kami Rita Sherpa has reached the summit of Mount Everest 24 times, the last two times in seven days. That is a record for all humans. And he’s only 49 years old. He says he plans to keep climbing until he reaches 60. His accomplishments are notable, but I don’t know enough to write an entire journal entry about him.

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s restaurant chain is facing financial collapse and if the restaurants close about 1,300 people will be out of a job. I’ve never eaten at one of the restaurants. I don’t even know what kind of food they serve. It wouldn’t be an appropriate topic for my journal.

Using advanced techniques and improved imaging devices, scientists have discovered a host of earth-like planets in recent years. More discoveries continue to be made. What I can’t figure out from the reports is how much those planets are really like our own. And I don’t know what it would mean to discover a planet that is similar to ours but so distant that visiting it could not be achieved in a lifetime. I guess I’ll pass on that for a topic as well.

I’m not going to write about the abortion debate. I think that it is possible that men have done too much talking on the subject when we ought to be listening. Enough said.

I can’t seem to figure out all of the controversy over the Chinese company Huawei. The telecom equipment company has been accused of all kinds of intellectual property theft and unfair business practices. I’m not confident that I understand all of the nuances of the intense competition between companies. I do know that there are huge amounts of money involved. I’d better leave that discussion to someone who understands it.

I’m beginning to believe that very few members of the US House of Representatives or Senate have actually read the Mueller Report, even the redacted version. Then again, neither have I. I’d probably better read it before I comment too extensively.

I can’t even keep track of all of the candidates running for the 2020 Democratic nomination for President. It might be interesting to do a little comparing and contrasting, but that would take more research than I have time for today.

The Golden State Warriors are headed to their fifth straight NBA finals. They’ve been so successful in recent seasons that it is almost boring. I try to avoid boring topics when selecting my journal ideas.

It seems like reconfiguring states is a topic that comes up from time to time. In Illinois, there is always someone who proposes making the Chicago Metro area into its own state, dividing northern and southern Illinois. From time to time a North Dakota legislator proposes dropping the word “North” from their state name. Proposals to divide California into two states show up from time to time. But those things don’t really provide a sufficient topic for a Journal entry. I suppose I could write about what we in South Dakota would do with the name of our state if our Northern Neighbors change the name of their state. It might be vaguely interesting and even amusing.

Memorial Day is coming up. I could write about hot dogs and barbecue and other summer foods. I’d have to brush the snow off of my grill to run a fair test. I will eat a boiled hot dog from time to time, but I far prefer to have them grilled. Perhaps waiting until the 4th of July to write about summer foods would be more appropriate.

I guess, I could just write a journal entry about all of the rejected topics that have come to my mind.

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!


We have two birthdays coming up in our family. Our two granddaughters will turn 2 and 5 in the next couple of weeks. Since their birthdays are close to each other, their parents planned a joint birthday party which was held yesterday. Through the gift of modern technology, we were able to see pictures of the party as it was in progress. The older sister has had a love for turtles for several years, having seen and touched a pet tortoise when she was a toddler and enjoying seeing turtles and tortoises many times since. We’ve picked up toy turtles for her when we have traveled and other family members have given her stuffed animals and other turtle items. It came as no surprise to me that the party for the two girls had a turtle theme. There wee turtle cookies and stuffed turtles and a homemade turtle piñata. The weather was cooperative for the party and the children were able to play outside and share the piñata on the back deck. Later they all went down to the lake, which is near their house, to wade in the water and play in the sand at the beach. The pictures showed a group of happy children having a good time. It was one of many occasions when I wished I could have been there to enjoy the fun and perhaps to help the parents just a little bit, though the prints seem to do a wonderful job of planning and carrying out parties for their children without our help.

One of the pictures that we received shows a line of about 10 children waiting for their turn to take a swing with a plastic bat at the piñata. Our eight-year-old grandson is swinging the bat and the piñata is swinging wildly, In the background, a younger girl is holding her hands over her ears as if she is expecting a loud explosion when the piñata is broken. I laughed at the picture when I first saw it, but something invited me to take a second look and what I discovered is that the children weren’t wearing a blindfold. Looking back at the pictures, I see that they didn’t blindfold the children when it was their turn to swing the bat.

The images reminded me of something that I hadn’t remembered for many years. When I was a child, I didn’t like any of the games that were played by putting a blindfold on the child and spinning the child around and around. I don’t remember having a piñata when I was a young child. I think we made one for a Mexican-themed study unit in school, but I was an older elementary student at the time. But pin the tail on the donkey was a very popular birthday party game when I was a child. I hated that game. I don’t remember any instances of a child being hurt with a thumbtack, though we were warned about the dangers of that part of the game. Mostly I remember being incredibly bad at the game and not even being able to pin my tail even at the right height, let alone the right end of the donkey. Most of all I hated the sensation of being blindfolded and spun around.

As a teenager, as part of my ground school flight training, we each took turns in an exercise with a vertigo simulator. The device was very primitive. These days they have virtual reality goggles that can be programed to induce vertigo very quickly. No such devices existed in our time. We used a simple office chair that could be spun around. One by one, we were given a piece of broomstick to hold between our knees and move as if it were a control stick in an airplane. We sat on the chair, had a blindfold placed over our eyes, and then the chair was rotated slowly. Our job, as we rode the chair was to keep the stick centered. If we felt that we were leaning in one direction or the other, we were to move the stick as if correcting the attitude of the plane. One by one we watched our classmates become confused and unable to tell which direction is up. When it was my turn, I did no better than my classmates. The point of the exercise was for us to understand how quickly a pilot could become disorientated when flying in clouds without outside visual reference. Once disoriented, a pilot could input incorrect flight control actions with fatal results. A doctor explained how the fluid in the inner ear cause nerves to send signals to the brain about head and body movements relative to gravity. Those signals help us keep our balance in normal circumstances.

In cases of severe vertigo, the victim can become nauseated and vomit. In the case of our simulation with an office chair and a blindfold, it took just a few seconds after the blindfold was removed to regain our orientation and our balance.

I’m relieved that at least some parents have come to the conclusion that inducing vertigo as a party game isn’t all that much fun for children. Add to that the benefit of having the child with the bat swinging at the piñata instead of another child and I suspect that the birthday party was more fun for everyone.

As my flight training continued, I learned exercises to decrease the effects of vertigo. Being careful about head movements, developing a consistent instrument scan, learning to trust the instruments available to the pilot and other practices can lessen the sensation of vertigo. Well-trained pilots can fly for hours without visual references outside of the cockpit and without the sensations of vertigo. Learning to recognize vertigo is also important in learning to fly safely. Understanding vertigo probably would hav made me slightly more skilled at the games from my childhood. Short of that training, however, I simply disliked the exercises.

Knowing that my grandchildren were escaping the experience brought a smile to my face as I looked at the pictures. It is amazing to me how brilliant their parents are.

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!

Snow in May

A skiff of snow on the deck isn’t what I would call typical for May 19. We’ve been longing for some spring weather around here, and although there have been some genuinely nice days, and it isn’t all that atypical for us to have plenty of moisture at this time of the year, I confess that I’m a little tired of snow. There’s really nothing to complain about. I won’t have to shovel this snow. And when you live in the forest, it is misplaced to be sad about any form of moisture. The wet spring helps improve the general health of the forest and we can remember the dry summers when we were sniffing the air every few moments and living in fear of wildfire.

One of the things about our ever-connected world with its 24/7 news cycle is that we are fairly aware of severe weather that is happening in other parts of the country. Texas and Oklahoma suffered tornadoes over the weekend and the forecast calls for more tornadoes early this week. I complain about a few snowflakes, but they don’t pack the destructive force of a tornado. At least a couple of tornados have been reported in Nebraska, which is closer to home.

Added to the weather news are the predictions of flooding. The wet weather that is forecast for the week to come will run off quickly from already-saturated hills and the streams in the hills are already running full. As the water makes its way down to the major rivers, downstream flooding is sure to increase and there are some places that are already overwhelmed with water.

It really isn’t reasonable for me to complain about the weather when its effects are so dramatic and life-disrupting for others. I’m sleeping safe and secure in my home on top of the hill and a bit of snow on my deck is giving me a story to tell. It isn’t quite as dramatic as the May 11 blizzard of a few years ago, but snow on the 19th of May will be something I can report to my grandchildren.

Recently I had a conversation with some friends who are planning to relocate to another part of the country. They aren’t sure where the next job will turn up, but they are definitely making a country-wide search and while they consider their options, they’ve had a few conversations about where they would like to live. Florida came up several times in our conversations. Suffering from a bit of seasonal affective disorder, the idea of sun and beaches is very attractive to them. The thought of hurricanes and such flat land when the waters rise would give me pause in considering that state, as would the crowding and traffic, at least around its major cities. The conversation with friends got me to thinking about how different we are. I’ve never had a job where location was first among considerations. My calling has always been to serve where I am needed and although we’ve generally served in places north and west of the center of the lower 48 states, the needs of the church have always taken precedence over my personal desires. Our son and his family, however, are about the same age as my friends who are considering Florida. They live in Washington State, very close to the coast and very close to the Canadian border. It is as far from Florida you can get in the US without going to Alaska or Hawaii. Our family members love the pacific northwest and are glad to live there. And it isn’t because they haven’t experienced other parts of the country. Our son lived with us in North Dakota, Idaho and South Dakota and he went to graduate school in North Carolina, so he has some sense of other parts of the country.

I frequently joke about moving to the Yukon and I am fascinated by places that have even longer and colder winters with more snow than we get around here. I’m not sure what the attraction is all about, but I prefer shoveling snow to mowing grass and I find cold weather to be easier to bear than hot weather. Hot and muggy is very uncomfortable for me.

I realize that even being able to have a conversation about where we would like to live is a luxury that is not afforded to most of the people in the world. They don’t have the means to pick up and relocate. When refugees move, their minds are generally focused on the places they have been forced to leave behind not on the destination. When we lived in North Dakota our church sponsored refugees who had fled Vietnam. In Idaho, our church sponsored refugees from Rwanda. In both cases, our new neighbors were not given a choice of destination once approved for transportation from their refugee camps. In both cases we had long conversations about how different the weather was than in their original homes. In both cases the resettled refugees chose to move a few years after getting established. Having a choice about where to live is a luxury that most people don’t experience.

Given all of that, I have to say that we have been very fortunate about the places we have been called to live. Our home in the hills has a good balance of summer and winter and though we don’t get extended spring or autumn some years, when we do have those seasons they are wonderful. The tornadoes seem to stick to the plains for the most part and we’ve learned to hunker down and endure the blizzards. A good wood stove and a pantry filled with the essentials make it pretty easy to live even if the power is out for a day or so.

So no complaints about the snow, even if we get the additional snow that is forecast for the next day. It will mix with rain and it will melt quickly and we are blessed to live where we do.

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!


Occasionally I will wake during the night with a partial memory of a dream. If I lie very still and try to remember, I can catch a few images from the dream. Sometimes I will remember enough that I will be able to describe part of the dream to my wife the next day. Most of the time, however, I don’t remember my dreams at all. I will go night after night with no conscious memory of my dreams at all. When I do remember one, it is a fleeting memory that sometimes captures a mood or a hazy image, but rarely enough of a narrative to make a story.

My wife remembers a few more of her dreams. She can tell me the story of what happened in her dream. I tease her that we don’t need to pay for psychoanalysis in order to discern the meaning of her dreams. They are all pretty obvious. When our son went off to college she had dreams in which a baby was lost. It seemed easy to know that she was working through the grief of his going to a far-away campus and not being in our home every day.

I think that part of the difference between my wife and I is the way that we get up in the morning. I tend to respond very quickly to the alarm on my phone and get out of bed and get into action very quickly. I don’t like to lie in bed when I am awake. Sometimes when I wake in the middle of the night, I get up and read. Sometimes I write my journal. My wife, on the other hand, will lie quietly in bed. When her alarm goes off, she turns it off and stays in bed for a few minutes before rising. That ten or fifteen minutes she lingers in a kind of half-awake state. She will often talk to me if I am in the room, but she isn’t ready to fully engage in a conversation. It is at those moments that she sometimes reports to me one or more dreams.

There is a scientific reason for our differences in remembering the imagery of our dreams. According to sleep researchers, the levels of noradrenaline are low in the brain when we are experiencing REM sleep, this is when the most vivid dreams occur. Our bodies, however, produce quite a lot of noradrenaline when we are startled. A sudden sound, such as an alarm clock, can raise the noradrenaline levels significantly. As our noradrenaline levels rise, usually quite suddenly, our brains go into rapid activity, sorting out the details of our circumstances. For most of us questions like “Where am I?” and “What should I be doing today?” are quickly answered. As our brains process that information, it discards imagery that doesn’t support the quest for specific details.

I remember teaching myself to rise quickly upon waking. When I was a child, my father rose between 4:15 and 4:30. Most days he was out of the house by 5 am. If it was not a school day, he was glad to take me to work with him and often I could get an airplane ride, depending on the activities of his day. Even when I didn’t get the airplane ride, I got to hang out at the airport with my dad, which was something I loved. So I taught myself to wake, rise and get dressed as soon as I heard him wake. He once told me, when I was an adult, that I was the only one of his kids who could get out of bed and get dressed in the amount of time it took him to put on his boots.

I taught myself to respond to the noradrenaline in my system in ways that allowed my body to produce more of it. The sensation of quickly waking became pleasant to me. My brain responded by discarding imagery that got in the way of my primary task, which was being in the car next to my father when he headed off to work. I became addicted to the feeling, which was a chemical addiction, but the chemical was natural and produced by my own body.

A professor of psychology in college kept a dream journal for decades. At the time we were students, he had more than 25 years of dreams recorded in his journals. He maintained that remembering dreams was a simple matter of practice. The more you try to remember dreams, the more dreams you will remember. He trained his brain to remember the imagery of his dreams.

Dreams have a number of practical advantages. Our brains, as they rest, process feelings, ideas, and experiences. They access information in less structured and formal ways than is the case when we are awake and fully conscious. Ideas and concepts that normally would be kept distinct are put together in different patterns. Dreaming enhances our creativity and allows us to solve problems that defy pure logic.

However, it does not appear that we have any need of remembering our dreams in order for us to gain the positive effects of dreaming. Our brains can benefit from sleep without requiring our consciousness. In fact, some sleep researchers are gathering data on a theory that remembering dreams can have negative effects, especially when there is confusion between the images of dream state with conscious reality. People suffering from sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy, can find it difficult to tell the difference between their waking and sleeping lives, leaving them confused and embarrassed. Some people remember their dreams to vividly that they export dream memories into their waking lives, resulting in false memories. When those false memories are checked, confusion can result. Excessive dream memory might be a symptom of an underlying emotional or mental disorder.

It turns out that sleep is far more complex than we once thought. I am fascinated by the research, but not distressed that I am not always the best sleeper. That college professor who remembered all of his dreams ended up suffering from severe dementia and was unable to distinguish reality from fantasy for several years at the end of his life during which he required constant care.

Part of the reason I don’t remember my dreams might be that I am not disciplined or practiced at remembering. On the other hand, there is little incentive for me to adopt such a discipline given what is currently known about sleep and dreams. I prefer to retain the ability to sort dreams from reality and hope I am able to do so for many more years.

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!


I started playing the trumpet when I was 10 years old. My parents purchased a trumpet for me to play and I signed up for the grade school band. My first band director was a bit of a tyrant and I was a bit intimidated, but he gave good basic instruction in instrumental methods. By the time I was in high school, our community had hired a new band director. He was young and excited about teaching music. He had our high school band marching formations in the fall and playing a bit of pop music along with the standards. He pushed use to practice and to learn new and challenging music. He really encouraged me and in the 11th grade, I was driving 60 miles one way once a week for private trumpet lessons. I also had purchased a new trumpet with my earnings from a summer job.

My private lessons teacher challenged me with a mixture of classical and popular music. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass were popular at the time and he obtained arrangements of some of the trumpet solos. My teacher also played with me during most lessons and I gained an appreciation for both the duet literature and the process of playing and listening in small ensemble work.

I played my trumpet through my college years and although I was not a music major, I did take a few music courses including instrumental methods and introductory classes in both choral and instrumental conducting. My trumpet traveled with us as we went off to seminary and we put together a small brass quintet to play at our seminary graduation.

When we lived in North Dakota, there was a revival of an old community band, called the Cowboy band. I enjoyed playing with the band. Our repertoire was mostly drawn from the high school’s music, so it wasn’t very challenging, but it was fun nonetheless.

After we moved to Boise, Idaho, I began to play with a quintet that had some tremendously skilled players. I was in a bit above my league, with mostly symphonic musicians, but the group was patient with me and a lot of fun. They got me to practice hard and learn some challenging pieces. The group was just getting to the point of regular performances when the time came for me to move to Rapid City.

The music scene in Rapid City was a bit different than Boise, and I had a very challenging job that didn’t afford as much time for hobbies as had been the case when I was in Idaho. The trumpet sat unplayed for quite a few years. I’d get it out and play a bit for MAD camp at Placerville and a few other occasions and even played a few fanfares and accompaniments for worship from time to time, but mostly just allowed my skills to get rusty.

Now we are in the process of forming a new brass quintet. We’ve played for our church a couple of times and for the local Seventh Day Adventist congregation once. the group has musicians of varying skills, but I can see that we are all eager to challenge ourselves and play some more challenging music as we get used to playing together.

All of this means that I’ve had to get out my old exercise and scale books from the days when I was taking lessons. I’ve been playing about one lesson per day trying to regain some of my former skill level. I don’t polish the lessons like I did when I was doing a lesson peer week, but rather working the scales and getting my fingers and my brain limbered up to play a bit more.

I’m not pleased with my level of performance at the moment. I leave most of the rehearsals of the quintet a bit frustrated with myself and I’ve felt that the performances, while good at pushing me, haven’t been as polished as I’d like.

The term “amateur” is not an expression of skill level. It is rather, a designation of the motivation for the performance. A professional is paid for the work that he or she does. An amateur plays for the love of the music. It comes from Amator, which means lover. An amateur musician is a lover of music.

So I’m an amateur when it comes to brass music. But I’m not a lover of scales and exercises. I know that they build skill and I know that they are essential to developing good, consistent technique, but, frankly, they are boring. I have trouble with the repetitions that are essential to developing the skills I long to exhibit. I know how to get better, but some days I don’t have much enthusiasm for the behind the scenes work of playing scales over and over again.

I’m trying to apply some of the principles that I have applied to writing. I write every day, without exception. I’ve been less disciplined about my trumpet playing, but I’ve been playing every day this week. Unlike the writing, which I can do in the privacy of my own home at whatever hour I like, practicing the trumpet is loud enough to wake sleeping family members and annoy neighbors, so must be undertaken in a more careful manner. So far, I’ve been practicing at the church and even though I sometimes play early in the morning, I haven’t played loud enough to prompt calls from the neighbors. But that means going to the church to practice, which involves a different kind of effort than my writing.

I doubt that I will ever become what I consider to be an accomplished trumpet player. For now, my goal is simply to become a better trumpet player. It wouldn’t hurt if I practice enough to at least keep up with the other members of our brass group.

So if you hear reports of wounded animals in the church yard, raising a ruckus at odd hours of the day, give me a call. I’ll adjust my practice hours and see if that works better for the neighbors.

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!


I read an article about home organization and decluttering that had a couple of paragraphs focusing on books. “Once read most books will sit unused on shelves, or even the floor, for years, yet many of us are reluctant to discard them.” it is true of me. I have a hard time dealing with books. In my early adulthood, books were my treasures. I collected them. I boxed them up each time I moved and carried them to their new home. We moved a lot in our early marriage, so we were constantly sorting our possessions, yet we rarely discarded books. I would occasionally find a new home for one or two books while at the same time collecting three or four new ones.

I’ve begun the difficult task of culling my library. I’ve been sorting books for months, although a casual observer wouldn’t notice because a number of my books continue to occupy shelves even though the decision has been made to get rid of them. One of the first things I learned is that books that have value to me have very little cash value. Most of the books I intend to cull from my shelves have less value than the cost of shipping them. I’ve found a few that I could sell to companies that buy textbooks and other volumes and have amassed a small amount of credit at amazon.com by selling books to the giant retailer. I have credit at a local used book shop that will never be used. Most of the books are likely to end up on the rummage sale one day and we have at least three boxes of books that are sorted and ready for the next church rummage sale. There are plenty more to follow.

I bring up the topic of books because I suspect that one volume that is going to show up on a lot of yard and rummage sales is a volume by Marie Kondo titled “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” The book begins with the words, “Tidying can transform your life.” Kondo is what I would call and evangelist. She is eager to change the lives of other people. She is passionate about convincing others to live their lives the way that she lives hers, which gives her happiness and pleasure. She wants to share the joy. In the process, she puts books in other people’s homes. 11 million copies of the same book! The thought of all of those books brings a smile to my face. I’m the one who thought it was funny to find, when we were cleaning out the home of my in-laws, a saved newspaper clipping on how to declutter. Its role once had been to inspire, but it became part of the clutter that needed to be cleaned out. The thought of Kondo’s books appearing on yard and rummage sales all around the world brings a smile to my face.

One of Kondo’s pieces of advice is to go to a room, pull out every item in the room and evaluate one by one. Keep only items that are useful or “spark joy.” I’m telling you that her system simply doesn’t work fo me. In the first place there are rooms where I couldn’t stand to have every thing out at once. Sometimes, I need to go drawer by drawer or shelf by shelf. A whole room would overwhelm me. Secondly, there are plenty of things that spark joy in me that I should not retain. My copy of “We Seven,” the book by the original US astronauts sparks joy in me. It belonged to my father. We enjoyed reading the same copy of the book and talking about it. I love the memories it brings to mind. I’m never going to read that book again, and if I did, I could easily find a copy at a library. My Ivan Doig novels spark joyful memories of reading with my mother and my father-in-law. I don’t need to keep them. I’m not going to read them again. They would spark even more joy if I could find someone who has not yet read them to whom I could give them. Well, perhaps not “Bucking the Sun.” That wasn’t Ivan’s best work. Getting rid of that book will cause me no pain.

I know that there is value in decluttering. I’m not trying to defend my tendencies to hoard items. But I spend quite a bit of time in decluttered spaces that are not happy spaces. One of the clearest examples of this are the rooms in nursing homes and care centers. The rooms are the last vestiges of private space for their occupants. Most of them have reduced their possessions through moves from a house to an apartment and an apartment to an assisted living facility and from the assisted living facility to the care center. Their lives are now reduced to a single bedroom. But those rooms are not all the same. Some are filled with mementoes and photographs. Some are bare and have only medical devices and equipment. I can tell when entering the rooms which are happy places. I know how to pick up a conversation about a family picture or while admiring a memento. Despite Marie Kondo’s claims, I’m not convinced that decluttered spaces are the most joyful. While it is true that people can become weighed down by their possessions, it is also true that empty spaces tend to feel lonely and sad.

I’m sure that Kondo has heard the Albert Einstein quote so many times that she is weary of it. Einstein, who was known for his messy desk, reportedly said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

I’m pretty sure that Kondo is happy with here completely decluttered life. After all she has the proceeds of having sold 11 million copies of her book, which should enable her to know that she can purchase any item she chooses, should she find a need for it down the road.

I’m more drawn to the University of Minnesota study that found a messy environment can make a person more creative. Those who occupy more orderly surroundings tend to more more likely to conform to traditional expectations.

I’m not out to evangelize or change anyone else and I won’t be writing a book, but I hope that Marie Kondo knows that some of us are not unhappy in our clutter. We prefer to think of ourselves as creative.

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!


I read this morning about a gruesome accident in Nebraska. A 63-year-old farmer was moving grain from one bin to another with an auger that had been modified to fit under a grain bin. The modification included removing a safety shield. His closing got caught in the auger and that pulled his foot into the machine. By the time he got things shut down, his food was mangled and caught in the machinery. He was working alone. He could not find his cell phone. Eventually had was forced to cut of the end of his own leg below the knee with his pocket knife. Once freed from the machine he crawled to a phone, called his son, who came and rushed him to the nearest hospital. From that hospital he was flown to Lincoln for additional treatment. That was followed by weeks of rehabilitation before he was finally released from the hospital. He will live the rest of his life with only one foot.

I have a friend who has one leg that was crushed in an accident and had to be amputated. This friend also is partially paralyzed, so could not walk even if fitted with a prosthesis.

Knowing these stories reminds me of just how good it feels to be able to walk. When the weather is good, I like to leave my car at the church and walk to various meetings around the town. Most of the destinations to which I walk are between one and two miles away. Our church sits on a hill, so I start out going downhill and end my little walks with a bit of a steep climb right at the end. It is a joy to walk from several perspectives.

I have a job that can sometimes be somewhat sedentary. I spend a fair amount of time either sitting at a desk in front of a computer, or sitting and visiting with people. Some days I don’t get enough exercise. I have eaten a bit too much and so I am overweight. Walking doesn’t solve all of my needs for physical activity, but it helps.

Walking gives me time to clear my thinking. In a fast-paced, constantly in contact world of email, cell phones, instant messaging and other things, I frequently have to make the mental adjustment to the world. It is not at all uncommon for me to talk to people in other time zones. When we talk to our daughter in Japan she is always a day ahead of us. I have to think about things that are happening in the future in order to plan and lead worship. When I walk, however, I am called to the present of a slower pace. It isn’t difficult, but I have to start 15 minutes earlier to reach a destination. I need to plan my day so that I have an additional half hour to make up for the extra time it takes to walk. That extra time is a gift. It is an opportunity to allow my mind to wander. I don’t have to be as focused while walking as I do when talking to someone.

While walking to a meeting is hardly the same as a pilgrimage, there is a Christian discipline of traveling at a slow pace for the sake of connection with the world and discerning God’s call. I can walk and pray at the same time. Walking is an especially good time to pray for those who have been injured and are no longer able to walk.

I have just a touch of arthritis. It isn’t much and it doesn’t cause any real problems, but my joints sometimes ache, especially my hands and ankles. When I get up in the morning, I need to take a few steps to loosen up my ankles for the day. Sometimes there is just a touch of pain in a step that I take. It isn’t enough to cause me agony. It is just enough to remind me that I am alive. I am mortal. My body is a gift and I should not take it for granted.

There is another spiritual discipline that is often undertaken as a walking prayer. The discipline is simply to slow the pace of your walking. Take smaller steps. Take fewer steps each minute. With the destination in sight, slow so that you double or even triple the amount of time it takes to reach it. If you slow enough, your mind will eventually release the destination and you will be able to focus on the journey. From a spiritual perspective, all of our lives are a journey. Real joy does not come from reaching the conclusion of our lives, but from the experiences we have along the way. Reminding ourselves of this truth enables us to pay attention to the present and find joy in the moment.

Waling benefits the earth. By leaving the car parked, I consume less fuel, put less pollution into the air and make the machine last a bit longer. My impact is small, but it is real. It is a good choice from the perspective of the environment.

I count myself among the most fortunate of people. I am able to walk. I have work that has a degree of flexibility in scheduling. I can find an extra half hour in a work day to slow my pace and take a few steps. I can allow my imagination and intuition to lead me as I take a few steps.

And there is the simple joy of surprising people. “I didn’t see your car. How did you get here?” or “I saw your car at the church, but you weren’t there.” Just being in a different place than my car surprises people. Because I drive an older vehicle, they often assume that my car has broken down. Sometimes they think I need a ride. Some are puzzled by the fact that I refuse their generous offer of a ride preferring to walk.

Don’t worry, I’m happy when walking.

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!


It appears that we are slipping directly into summer from winter with almost no spring. There have been plenty of clues. Two weeks ago I mowed my lawn and used my snowblower in the same week. That doesn’t happen very often around here. Yesterday, I got up and started to mow at 8 am and by the time I finished it was over 75 degrees. It was only the second time I’ve mowed this year. Unlike some of my neighbors, I mow your 1/2 acre lot with a walk behind mower. I’ve used the same mower all of the time we’ve lived here. This will be the 25th summer with that mower. The wheels have hard rubber tires, but I’ve worn out two sets of those tires. This year I replaced the drive belt for the first time. The old belt wasn’t broken, but it had become so dry that it slipped on the pulleys. The new belt made a great deal of difference. Oil changes, spark plugs and blade sharpening are the only other maintenance items I’ve done on the mower. On the days I mow I walk 3 1/2 miles without leaving my yard.

We live in a subdivision called countryside and when we moved here it was a good name for the neighborhood. We were just outside of the city limits, had a private water system and the homes were surrounded by the forest with mostly natural landscaping. Some of our neighbors don’t mow all of their yards. We’ve chosen to mow partly for fire protection of our home. But there was little of what I call “competitive lawn care” back in the early days of our living in this place. These days, several neighbors have installed underground sprinkler systems, hire companies to apply fertilizer and wee control several times per year, and have manicured lawns with fancy plantings. In contrast, we mow our lawn and allow the grass to grow dormant when the weather turns dry. We keep a vegetable garden most years, but when we get really busy, we have not planted much of a garden. Our flower plants are the species that the deer are less likely to eat and planted close to the house, where the deer are a bit more timid. We have no landscape plan and try to keep lawn maintenance chores minimal, like other folks who live out in the country.

As we were eating dinner out on our deck last night, I heard another sound of the urbanization of our neighborhood. We know that our neighborhood has changed because of the increased traffic on the road behind the house, the city water bills, and other signs. Last night I heard it before I saw it: a pigeon. That’s not a bird I associate with a pine forest, but rather a bird that is known for its adaptation to urban environments. Soon I could see the bird, which flew to the top of a power pole and sat there with its cooing for a few minutes.

Pigeons are also called rock doves and prefer cliffs for nesting. Originally they were more common on the coasts than in inland areas. However, the birds adapt to many different environments and, unlike some other species of birds, have adapted to having close human neighbors. They have been domesticated for many years and descendants fo domestic pigeons have become feral animals in many cities. Because of their urban diets, people have stopped hunting and eating them in many parts of the world, which allows their numbers to increase.

Another factor in the population of pigeons is that in their natural environments they fall prey to raptors. A pair of peregrine falcons in Boise Idaho kept the pigeon population very low in the urban core. An increase in the pigeon population can be a sign of a decrease in raptors.

I have nothing against pigeons. And a single pigeon doesn’t indicate a dramatic change in our neighborhood. I’ve seen others, however, and it is just one more sign that our world is changing. We still have plenty of wild deer and turkeys in our yard and we are lucky to have so much space between neighbors where we live. Our home is a pleasant refuge from a busy life with lots of contact with other people. And despite my frequent complaints about increasing traffic, we don’t have traffic problems when compared with those who live in cities. I sometimes joke that our town just can’t afford a rush hour so we have a couple of ten minute periods of slower traffic in the gap each day. The truth is a bit more dramatic. It takes me 3 to 5 minutes longer to commute to work than was the case 20 years ago, and the difference isn’t caused by the fact that my car is 20 years older than it was back then. It will still go as fast as I want to go.

One of the luxuries of our life is that we have been able to live in the same home and work for the same congregation for 24 years now. That is a rare experience for clergy. Some of my colleagues have moved every 4 or 5 years. Many of them have never served the same congregation for more than 10 years. Long term pastorates have benefits and costs for pastors and for congregations. In our case the benefits have outweighed the costs. It has allowed us to observe incremental changes in our community. We’ve been able to grow with the congregation as together we experience the changes in community, culture and religious expression. It definitely isn’t the same congregation that I was serving in the early years of my ministry. One of the teens in our congregation was practicing her driving skills under the supervision of her father in our church parking lot this past weekend. I remember her parent’s wedding. A lot has happened in their lives since that day.

With all of the changes, it is good to have a few things that re the same. I’ll keep my old lawn mower, and I’ll keep walking to mow my lawn. I’m not in the market for a riding lawn mower. And it brings a grin to my face when the jays chase the pigeon from my yard.

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!


In 1942 the US Army Corps of engineers was hard at work in Canada, building a highway that would connect Alaska to the lower 48 states. After the attacks on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, it was determined that Alaska was especially vulnerable to attack from Japanese forces. The two territories didn’t become states until 1959, and were considered to be remote and distant from the United States. Much of the rout of the Alaskan highway was across extremely remote country, far from towns. The road was being constructed at breakneck speed. During the construction, US soldier Carl K. Lindley was injured and transported to Watson Lake in the Yukon, to recover. As he recovered, a commanding officer asked him to repair and erect the directional signposts. He completed the job, adding a sign that indicated the direction and mileage to his hometown of Danville, Illinois. That was the start of what has become known as the signpost forest in Watson Lake. In 1990, two years before the 50th anniversary of the tourist attraction, a couple from Ohio added the 10,000th sign to the collection. Today there are over 77,000 signs. Travelers from around the world bring signs from their hometowns and attach them to posts erected by the community.

It is one of the landmarks on a highway that I have not yet driven, a place that others have reported about to me and one that I hope to one day visit. I’m pretty sure that someone has already placed a sign that says “Only 2,057 miles to Wall Drug” up there, but if not, I’m sure the Wall Drug folks would provide a sign for someone willing to post it.

Watson Lake is barely in the Yukon territory. There is a whole lot more to explore in that part of Canada, but arriving at Watson Lake is one of the distinctions that marks a long overland journey. The thought of going there fuels my imagination at times. YouTube is filled with videos of the Alaska Highway and the Dempster Highway, which are the major routes for exploring the Yukon in this time.

Who knows what destinations I will reach on this life’s journey? I know that I have been able to go places that I didn’t expect to reach. If you had asked me, even a few years ago, if I would consider taking two trips to Japan in two years, I would have been skeptical and needed a reason. A daughter living there and a grandson on the way are sufficient reason. So we will go there, even if it means and other trip will be undertaken in a different time frame. One lifetime is too short to do all of the traveling that I can imagine, so there are places of which I dream where I will not travel.

Signposts aren’t the same as reaching the destination. It’s nearly 3,000 miles from Watson Lake to Danville, Illinois. In 1942, the roads weren’t as well designed and constructed, vehicles weren’t as reliable, and undertaking the journey was a huge series of trips. Carl Lindley was probably a bit homesick and nostalgic when he posted the sign, pointing southeast as he worked in a location that seemed to him to be a long ways from home.

I was thinking of signposts because Krista Tippett, host of the Public Radio program “On Being” replayed part of an interview with civil rights leader Vincent Harding in which Harding challenged all to become “live human signposts.” It is an empowering image. Sometimes our lives can be a way of pointing others in the right direction.

There are a lot of people who come and go through a church. I often meet strangers who come to the church with a particular need or in hopes of some assistance. We have a conversation and I do what I am able and then they go on with their lives. Most of the time it is a single encounter and I never learn the rest of the story. Perhaps they were helped by our conversation. Maybe a sack lunch or a bit of other assistance made a difference. Most of the time I don’t know if our church was a signpost or just another place passed by on a long journey.

Sometimes people come back. A few of the strangers have become friends and members of the congregation. The lives of some have changed direction because of what happened to them at our church.

One of the striking architectural features of our church is a large white cross on the top of the hill that can be seen from a long distance away. We have a light that shines on the cross at night to show the way to our church. Our church is tucked into a neighborhood. We simply aren’t in a location where a sign would be seen by many people and so far we have avoided constructing one of this digital billboards that are common at churches to display the time, temperature and a few chosen verses or an aphorism about religion. I prefer the cross, frankly. We don’t have to come up with a clever slogan, probably repeated from some other source, each week. Our sign is the same. Like Carl Lindley’s sign in Watson Lake, the distance and direction remain the same. Except the cross doesn’t point in any direction because God is present everywhere. Turning towards a deeper relationship with God doesn’t require orientation in a specific direction.

Child development experts tell us that all children develop a notion of God by the age of five whether or not they receive religious instruction. Those who receive religious instruction tend to have a more expansive understanding of God as they mature. Signposts are important. Teachers and mentors are important. And every parent and teacher knows that more is learned from who we are than from what we say. Vincent Harding is right, we each can become a live human signpost for another.

Whether or not I ever make it to the Yukon, I know the direction and I know that my home is not a particular place: “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.” (Ps 90:1)

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!

Happy Mother's Day

It seems to me that Mother’s Day often coincided with the opening of fishing season on the river next to our home when I was a kid. The convergence of the two holidays inspired, on more than one occasion, gifts of fishing gear to our mother. I don’t, however, ever remember our mother actually fishing. She had plenty of other things to do and it wasn’t here passion. I can remember her patience as she helped us untangle masses of fishing line and sort out clogged spinning reels. She was so good at helping such projects, that I resolved to try to exhibit similar patience when our children presented me with tangled messes.

We lived in a small town and most of the restaurants were closed on Sunday, so we didn’t often go out to eat on Mother’s Day. Our father was pretty good at making breakfast and he helped us prepare that meal for our mother on several occasions. Sometimes he would cook steak or another main dish for dinner. It often was the occasion for the first cookout of the year. He encouraged us to come up with our own gift ideas, saying, “She’s my wife, not my mother. She’s your mother.”

I’m not sure we ever got the holiday quite right, though there were homemade cards and small gifts and expressions of love. Looking back, it took me quite a while to figure out how to come up with gift ideas for others. I was distracted by what I wanted or what I would like to receive and had trouble focusing on the other, even when purchasing a gift. Our mother was always very good at expressing gratitude and making us feel loved even when our choices of gifts were a bit misdirected.

It seems like the years passed so quickly. Our mothers have gone before us and we are the oldest generation of the family and we marvel at the ways our children and their partners carry out the tasks of being parents.

Today, however, is a good day for a bit of nostalgia. It is a good day to think of mothers. I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by wonderful mothers. My own mother was courageous and adventurous and a wonderful mother. Before she had children, she earned her private pilot’s license and worked side by side with our father. She continued to share in his business interests, rising early in the morning while her children slept to do the books for the family business. With seven children in the family, she got plenty of opportunities to exercise her skills as a mother. Being a registered nurse didn’t hurt with all of the skinned knees, bumped heads and fish hooks poked in the wrong places that were a part of our growing up. I’ll never find sufficient words to tell of all of her wonderful qualities. One of the huge blessings of my life is that she lived in our home at the end of her life and her love and humor and cheerful spirit was a blessing to us for which we will always be grateful.

I was blessed with the most wonderful mother-in-law. I know men who make fun of that relationship, but in my case, it was a joy. My wife is the eldest of three daughters and was the first to marry. I got to be the first son of the family in a way, and it was a privileged position. My mother-in-law would carefully shop for shirts and other clothing for me as gifts. In the early years of our marriage I would often return a compliment about an outfit I was wearing by saying, “My mother-in-law has great fashion sense.” She welcomed me into her family and loved me without hesitation.

I knew long before we had children that my wife would be a wonderful mother, and that knowledge was born out when we had children in our lives. She had worked as a preschool teacher and had a special talent for 3 and 4 year old children, but her gifts as a mother have shown at every age and stage of our children’s lives. She was good with teenagers. She was good with infants. She is a wonderful mother. She once told me that she worried that it might be more challenging to love an adopted child than the one born to us, but she mastered that from the first day that our daughter came to live with us. I continue to be delighted with their relationship.

And now our son has three children and our daughter-in-law is an amazing and delightful mother to them. Our daughter is expecting and I have no doubt that she, too, will be a truly great mother.

I’ve been extremely fortunate in the mother department. There is much to celebrate on mother’s day and on every day of the year.

At one point, when I was a kid, I remember thinking, “We have mother’s day and father’s day, what about kids’ day?” I might even have said it out loud. Now that I’m a grandfather, I realize that when I was growing up every day was kids day. My mother and father always put us first, always celebrated our presence and always honored us with expressions of love and affection. We didn’t need a separate holiday to know we were loved or to remind us that we were special.

So happy Mother’s Day to all of the mothers and to all who have wonderful memories of their mothers and to all who will one day become mothers. The legacy of love that is passed down from one generation to the next is a marvel and a miracle that is worth a day of celebration. I’m grateful for an annual holiday that gives me an opportunity to reflect on what a wonderful mother I had and all of the other wonderful mothers who have graced my life.

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!

Living the good life

Last night we were talking on FaceTime with our son. The weather is warm where they live. Spring has come and the whole family was outside. About a third of their yard is garden and the greens are all up: lettuce, collard greens, kale. The tops of the beets are lush and thick, the potatoes are starting to show above ground and even the corn is just appearing. It’s pretty amazing when compared with where we live. Our daffodils are appearing a bit defeated after having endured so many snowstorms. Our garden isn’t even planted.Our daughter-in-law was tending the garden with minimal help from their children from time to time while our son was responsible of taking care of his parents and the three children. Taking care of his parents involved carrying around his smart phone and aiming it at his children. The three children have varied interests, so with the phone in one hand, and sometimes propped on the top of the rain barrel, he was pitching a wife ball to his eight-year-old son, who has a pretty good swing with the bat these days. The almost-five-year-old daughter was sort of acting as an outfielder, running down some of the long hits, but easily distracted by the appearance of a frog and later a small lizard. Meanwhile the toddler, not quite two, was exploring everything, which required frequent attention from her father. Usually a stern warning was enough to turn her around when she haded too close to the street or to the water in the ditch, but it took part of our son’s attention to keep up with her and occasionally, he’d run out of the picture and return with a toddler in his arms, who’d soon squirm and head off exploring again.

At one point, off camera, we heard a bit of a gasp and a few seconds later, our son returned to the picture with wet hair and some water spots on his shirt, saying, “You know when a toddler picks up the hose you’re going to get wet, but that caught me by surprise!”

It is just everyday life in their family, but it gives me such intense pleasure to watch. I’ve enjoyed every phase of being a father. I really loved playing with our kids when they were young. I enjoyed their school programs and projects. I got a kick out of exploring the world with them. I remember those years with great fondness and joy. Watching our son so enjoying being a father is one of life’s sweetest pleasures. I know how good it feels to play with your kids.

Sometimes, when I am with those who are grieving they will apologize for crying. I always try to reassure them and remind them that crying is natural and good for us. “It’s OK, we’re waterproof!” I’ll say as I hand them a box of tissues. It’s true. We are waterproof. As one who loves canoes, I’ve fallen into the lake more often than some. I’m a huge proponent of personal flotation devices (PFDs) and In insist that we all wear them whenever we’re around the boats. We’ve purchased quality PFDs for all of our grandchildren and keep a few spares for adults on hand whenever we take our boats to the water.

Life with children is messy. Glasses of water, milk, and juice get spilled. Experiments don’t always go the way you’d planned. Learning to pour involves missing the target. Washing hands can get the entire counter and sometimes the mirror splashed. And when a toddler gets ahold of the hose, it is a race to see if you can get it turned off before she pulls the trigger. And even when the hose is turned off, there’s enough residual pressure in the line to get you wet. It’s amazing how someone who has no aim at all when pouring water from one glass to another can be perfectly accurate when aiming the hose nozzle.

An hour earlier we had been talking to our daughter in Japan who was excitedly showing us some of the clothing they have for a baby due to be born in late July. It is their first and they are at least as excited as we are. She’s picked out an outfit for the little one to wear home from the hospital when he’s born. I, trying to be a sage dad, advised that she should have a “backup” outfit selected. Babies don’t always keep a single outfit clean enough to make even a short public appearance. Furthermore, I commented, “It probably doesn’t matter much what he wears. So far, the pictures I’ve seen of the new British royal baby, Archie, have been only a blanket and a stocking cap.”

I know I can’t tell our daughter what it will feel like to hold that baby in her arms for the first time. I know her life will be filled with surprises, and not every one will make her laugh. And I am as grateful for the surprises as I am for the predictable elements of being a parent. Being a grandpa is a double pleasure because I get not only the joy of the child’s exploration of the world, but also the joy of the parent’s reaction. One of the surprises of my life is that I didn’t anticipate how wonderful it is to watch your children become parents.

There re days when I get annoyed with the world in which we live. I’m tired of constant chaos and scandal in our government. I am frustrated with having to shop online at web sites that don’t work well. I’d much prefer to shop in stores, and troubled when local stores close and force us to shop at the online giants, where monopolies are as bad as they are in bricks and mortar stores. I can go on and on with my frustrations with living in an increasingly secular society where people make a religion out of gods not worthy of their idolatry and worship at the altars of soccer and can’t give time to developing real faith. But I don’t stay annoyed and frustrated for long. A toddler with a hose in the middle of a backyard whiffleball game can take your mind off of your troubles.

I count myself among the most fortunate of people. I’m not ready to toss the technology into the garbage can. Despite my frustrations, the images of our children and grandchildren fill me with delight.

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!

Big and little things

I’ve been watching from a distance as friends in Montana are struggling with how to keep their beloved church camp open. It is a very important place to me. I grew up participating in church camp every summer. The memories of camp shared have stirred my own memories. I’m not one to use Facebook as a way to communicate my thoughts and ideas. I simply don’t trust that particular forum with my personal stories, so I haven’t written in that place the kind of memories that others have shared, but I have been thinking about how I might contribute in a meaningful way to help those who are working so hard to keep the camp open.

Part of my reality is that personally I am more invested in seeing what I can do to foster a new generation of campers than in sharing my nostalgia for times that have passed. Making sure that my grandchildren have the experience of grand camp this summer is a high priority for me. Creating shared memories with them is important to me. That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t have memories or that I don’t know that sharing memories can be meaningful. There is a lot that our memories can teach us. I’m just aware that it will take more than a sentimental old fool to keep a church camp vital in decades to come.

One image that comes to my mind, when I think of being a child at church camp is washing silverware with my father. A camp tradition is having chores that need to be done. In those days all campers were part of work teams that helped keep the camp running. Among the chores were cleaning the shower house, cutting and stacking firewood, setting tables and serving food, and three teams to clean up after every meal: dishes, silverware, and pots and pans. There were three sets of sinks for the three different crews. The silverware tubs were on the porch. Three tubs were used: soapy water to wash, hot clean water to rinse, and water with bleach added to sterilize. We’d wash the silverware by hand, transfers to the hot water, from which we fished out the silverware with a utensil because the water was too hot to use bare hands and time the silverware in the disinfectant before fishing it out onto clean towels where it was sorted into containers to air dry. My dad loved the washing station. Many times he explained to me how to use my fingers to carefully feel for dirt on the silverware while our hands were immersed in soapy water. He would tell stories of washing dishes when he was in college. We’d laugh and sing songs as we worked.

Doing chores with my father revealed a side of this that we didn’t often get to see. He’d sometimes do dishes at home, but most days he would have eaten breakfast and left for work before we got out of bed. Our big family meal was at noon, when he’d come home, but at the end of one hour he had to get back to work and he often left before the dishes were done.

At camp, however, everybody participated in the chores after every meal. He was always cheerful about chores and tried to make sure that whatever chore we were assigned was done well and completely. I think that it was as we were washing silverware one day that my father taught me the quote of Laurence Bell, founder of the Bell Aircraft Corporation, who said, “Show me a man who cannot bother to do little things and I’ll show you a man who cannot be trusted to do big things.” Doing the little chores, like making sure that every speck of food was cleaned off of every piece of silverware was presented to me as the mark of the character of a person.

My dad operated in circles of power and prestige. He ran his own company. He managed an operation at the airport and ran a farm machinery business at the same time, always balancing two businesses and serving his customers’ needs. He was a member of the board of trustees of a college. He served as moderator of the statewide conference of our church. He had held every leadership position in our local congregation. People knew him by name. He was boss to his employees. But he thought it was important to teach his children how to wash silverware properly.

Once, when my “job” was sweeping the feed warehouse, I complained about the job and asked him if I could do something that was more important. He told me that there wasn’t anything that was more important than keeping the warehouse clean. “Every job is important, or we wouldn’t do it.”

This kind of memory, while empowering for me, isn’t the key to the future of our church camps, however. Times have changed. The silverware needs to be washed in a commercial dish washer to maintain the state-mandated kitchen standards. There are still camp chores, but the insurance company won’t allow children to use two-person crosscut saws or splitting mauls for their camp chores. The jobs we do to work side by side with our children and grandchildren have to be different. The cost of providing for a week of family camp is a lot higher than was the case when we were children. Families when considering what to do with their vacations, frequently choose destinations with full amenities. You don’t have to clean the bathrooms when you go to Disneyland for your vacation.

I still firmly believe that church camps have much to offer to future generations of the church. I believe that it is worth the effort to maintain and preserve the camps for those who come after us. I grieve with every camp that is closed. But I also know that the future is not in my hands. I don’t have much time for the Facebook group that is only people my age being sentimental about our past. I’d rather stand by those folks, mostly ones who are younger than me, who are building a new future for the children of the church.

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!

A Woman of Faith

the 9th chapter of the book of Acts begins with the conversion of Saul followed by a couple of reports of Saul preaching at Damascus and Jerusalem. Then it returns to stories about Peter and ends with a couple of healings. Aeneas was paralyzed and bedridden, but he gets out of bed when Peter invites him to do so. The next story is about the only woman expressly named as a disciple. Tabitha, whose Greek name is Dorcas, was devoted to good works and acts of charity.

Most of us know the grandmothers of our communities. We recognize the scene into which Peter comes. They have laid out the woman after her illness and death and called for Peter to come. When he arrives, there are a few tears, and the women who are present are all showing one another all of the tunics and other clothing that she had made when she was alive. I’m not Peter, but this scene is so familiar to me. The churches I have served have had their quilters and crafters and sewers and when a beloved grandmother dies they are quick to show off her handiwork. Like Peter, I’ve said my prayers while viewing the body.

Our congregation lost a grandmother of our faith this week. She wasn’t living in our town any longer, but we all remember her fondly.

the first time I met Mae Louise she stood out from some of the other grandmothers of the church I was meeting because she wasn’t interested in showing me her craftwork. She wanted to talk about a connection she and her husband had made in Costa Rica. After a career as a YMCA director, George had volunteered to serve the YMCA in Costa Rica for three years. Traveling with George, Mae Louise had made contacts with the church in Costa Rica through the United Church of Christ’s person to person travel program. They didn’t just attend a church while in Costa Rica. They asked around. They met missionaries who were providing essential services in a squatter community and trying to establish a church to serve recent immigrants to Costa Rica. They met leaders and others who are working to serve the community which was mostly women who had fled violence in Nicaragua and El Salvador and were struggling to provide for their children.

After the three years were finished, George and Mae Louise kept going back. They would return each year for Vacation Bible School at the tiny church. Then they would come back to our church in Rapid City and tell stories about the little community Christian church of Los Guido.

Shortly after I became pastor of our Rapid City congregation, Mae Louise wanted to meet with me to talk about how our church could provide more support for the congregation in Costa Rica. Our conversations eventually led to four intergenerational mission trips to our sister church, and a visits by the missionary couple and the the pastor of the church in Costa Rica and her daughters.

It was pretty clear that I wasn’t the only one Mae Louise was talking to. Soon another couple from our church were making the annual trek to Costa Rica for Vacation Bible School. That was 18 years ago. In total, someone from our church has participated in Vacation Bible School at the little church every year for the past 31. The first dozen years George and Mae Louise were keeping that relationship alive all by themselves.

Over the years, the two congregations have partnered in big programs such as the purchase of an additional house for church leaders and programs. Without a doubt our biggest shared ministry is a feeding program that serves nutritious meals to children two days each week and supplies good food for many families in the community.

Around the edges there have been so many stories. Mae Louise would go through the pictures of trips to Costa Rica. We learned that she didn’t always have the right name with the right child, but she had a passion for serving others that was simply contagious. If she could care so much about serving others, the least we could do was to support her work.

We learned that she had a similar effect on others. In Worthington, Minnesota a Lutheran Church where George and Mae Louise had been members during a brief time serving the YMCA there before moving to Rapid City continues to be faithful supporters of Costa Rica ministries. It all started with friendships that Mae Louise forged with the folks there.

But unlike Peter in the stories of the book of Acts, I cannot go to the place where Mae Louise is. She and George moved to Florida years ago. I can imagine part of the scene as a couple from our church, who are now the principal promoters of our Costa Rica ministries were there visiting Mae Louise, celebrating her birthday, and recalling that George also died on May 8, 13 years ago.

Unlike Peter, there will be no one to take Mae Louise’s hand and invite her to get up and return to life in this world. There is no doubt that she has already been embraced by God and by George in that realm where all of God’s children gather in peace. We would not do well to wish for her to return, even temporarily.

And there is no room down there in Florida where the other widows are gathered around to show off the clothing and handwork that Mae Louise has done. In its place, we can gather in clusters all around the world. Wherever there are people who knew George and Mae Louise, we can get together and marvel at the work they did in Costa Rica. Already we’ve received email from our Costa Rica partners and the process of telling the stories of a woman who dedicated her life to serving others is in full swing. I’ve already discovered that I’m fully capable of placing the wrong name on the kids in the picture. And each time that someone gently corrects me, I’ll be thinking of Mae Louise.

And when we sing a song of the saints of God, we’ll be singing of Mae Louise and George.

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!

Facing hard times

I have lived my life in the world of nonprofit corporations. In addition to the church, I’ve sat on the boards of community service organizations, foundations and trusts and many other corporations that are not geared towards making money, but rather towards providing service. So, I know that there are many different kinds of nonprofits. They don’t all fit neatly into one category.

Right now, in the arenas where I operate, trusts and foundations are cautiously optimistic. The market has been volatile, but there are ways to make money. The more cautious trusts have larger percentages of their portfolios in cash at the moment as they look for opportunities to buy. The market seems to be over valued and some are focusing more on short-term gains than the quest for dividends and long-term gains. But there are ways to make money if you have money to invest and finding ways to fund their programs and projects continues.

Many other nonprofits are experiencing cutbacks and hard economic times. Changes in US tax law have produced dramatic decreases in charitable donations across the board. Smaller non-profits, who are dependent upon small donations seem to be hit the hardest. Donors who give less than $25,000 no longer are able to deduct their donations from their taxes. While there are plenty of good people who are not motivated by the tax advantage, experts have predicted that approximately 30% of charitable donations were driven by tax advantages. Removing the tax incentive means that churches and community service organizations experienced dramatic decreases in giving in 2018 compared with 2019.

In the past few months, I’ve sat in on quite a few meetings where directors are scratching their heads, cutting expenses, and strategizing new fund-raising opportunities. Balancing budgets without laying off staff is a genuine challenge for many service-based non profits, where the largest part of expenses is payroll.

Last night was no exception. Frustration was displayed as a board on which I sit struggled to deal with rapidly depleting savings and financial challenges. A quick survey of the financial report demonstrates that the problem is not excessive spending. Spending has been kept at or below budget levels. The problem is decreased revenues. Despite a recent fundraising event that was very successful, year to date income is substantially below budget projections. Leading the decline is corporate sponsorships and donations. Decreases in individual donations is slightly lower as well.

I’m starting to recognize that I am repeating myself in these meetings. What I have to say sounds to me like something that I’ve said before. The realities of this world and the politics of our time means that these organizations that we love are being forced to retreat and become smaller than was the case a few years ago. Hard times force prioritization and we don’t all see eye to eye when it comes to making cuts that none of us want to make, but that we feel forced to make in the light of our circumstances.

From the perspective of the directors, it is especially painful because we all believe that the mission of the organization is essential. We are convinced that a cut back in services means that more people will die. It is that serious for us.

I am not ready to give up. I know that our organizations are going to have to operate with fewer paid staff persons as we go forward. We are going to struggle because recruiting, training and retaining volunteers is difficult work. There are specialized skills that paid staff bring to an organization that are well worth the price when the organization can afford to pay. Hard times invite innovation and fresh ideas. Starting over with an examination of the purpose of the organization and forging new partnerships takes a huge amount of effort. Some of us can remember enough of the past to know that many of our organizations have faced and survived hard times before. Some of us remember humble beginnings. It is a huge challenge, but it is possible to operate a nonprofit without office space, without paid staff and without tools such as computers and copy machines. We invested in those things because they made the work of the organization more efficient. We were able to expand the amount of work we accomplished. Going back to those levels of organization definitely means that we will have to decrease the level of services that we provide. It also means that we will have to work harder and learn to trust one another more than was the case in recent years. And most of us don’t have more volunteer hours to give. We run fairly close to the limits of human endurance in our lives already. Even the longer meetings required by our financial challenges put a strain on already overtaxed people. We spoke frankly about our need to recruit additional directors with specific skills at our meeting last night.

The work of nonprofits, however, is essential hopeful work. The organizations were formed in a vision of changing the world and making things better for others. We know that we are small and that our impact is limited, but we believe in the work that we do.

The United States may be experiencing a decline in nonprofit corporations, but the work that they do remains undone. The need continues. And as long as there is a need, there are people of good will who are dedicated to meeting that need regardless of the state of tax laws and incentives.

We may not look back of these times as the “glory days” of our organizations, but experience has taught us that hard times are not necessarily bad times. Rising to meet significant challenges is one of the deep joys of being human. Serving others without reward is rewarding work. Purpose trumps profits in the long run. We know the slogans. We’ve given the pep talks enough to have the memorized. Now is the time to roll up our sleeves and go to work.

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!

Setting Records

The spring, 2019 issue of Canoeroots Magazine, which is now a part of Paddling Magazine, has a two-page photo of brothers Kyle Roberts and Tom Schellenberg carting lightweight skin-on-frame canoes across a narrow foot bridge hight in the Himalayan Mountains. Prayer flags hang from the underside of the bridge and the brothers sport heavy packs as well as the canoes carried traditionally, over their heads.

The article reveals a very strange portage of canoes. The pair hiked from the city of Lukla at 8,383 feet above sea level to Everest Base Camp at 17,600 feet the 58-mile trek took them 18 days. And when the arrived, of course, there is no river or lake to paddle at Everest Base camp, so the pair picked up their canoes, which even though ultralight, weighed 30 pounds each, and walked back down. They had planned their trip for more than two years. They knew the conditions of their destination. They knew that the altitude and winds would make carrying canoes and staying upright very difficult. They knew that their hands would get so cold that it would be hard to maintain a constant grip on the gunwales of the canoes. They knew that they would leave a whole bunch of us scratching our heads and wondering, “Why in the world would anyone do that?”

They did the trip to raise funds for The Women’s Mental Health Centre facility for Koshish, a Nepalese organization providing short-term care for women with mental illness. The pair are the founders of The Weight We Carry, a non-profit organization. They have vowed to carry canoes to the most unlikely places on earth to support mental health. The canoes are symbolic in several ways. They are carried to symbolize the extra weight that must be borne by those who suffer from mental illness. The pair chose carrying canoes because of their love of outdoor adventure.

The 115-mile round trip certainly ranks among the most arduous portages in history. I don’t know if there are official record books for that kind of thing, but it deserves to be noted as some kind of record. I carry around canoes quite a bit and I am aware of the dangers of the twist and lift that is required to pick up a canoe and get it into carrying position. Once, when I was a much younger man, I twisted my back in such a fashion that it took several years, several repeat injuries and a round of physical therapy for me to recover from the injury.

You can dismiss it as a crazy stunt, but the funds they raised are significant and will help to relieve a bit of suffering for others.

I read about a lot of stunts done with canoes and kayaks and not all of them are undertaken for a cause other than to do something that no one has done before. Some records stand for a long time. In the mid 19th century, Sir George Simpson, lead a team including seasoned Mowhawk paddlers from New York City across Canada to the Pacific and back, with a side trip to York Factory on Hudson Bay. I think the record stands. Not even three-time-cross Canada canoeist Mike Ranta has undertaken such an epic adventure all in one expedition.

Other records don’t last long at all. Pedro Oliva launched his kayak off of Salto Belo Falls in Brazil, free-falling 127 feet before successfully splashing down and staying in his kayak, setting the world’s tallest kayak fall. His record lasted less than a month before Tyler Brandt successfully kayaked over 189-foot Palouse Falls in Washington.

Of course not everyone who sets out to conquer a record succeeds. In 1934, John Smith decided to paddle from Peterborough, Ontario to Peterborough, England in a 16-foot cedar-canvas canoe. He is buried in southwestern Newfoundland where he and his canoe washed up on the beach.

There are all kinds of records for outdoor adventurers and it seems that each year someone discovers some new record to achieve. After his minister father died of cancer, Nebraskan Mikah Meyer decided to undertake a three-year trip to visit every US National Park Service site, including parks, seashores, preserves, reserves and monuments, in the US and its territories. He traveled and lived in a van, except when crossing oceans required flying, visiting every state and territory, covering 200,000 miles. He was just 19 when he started and felt that his father’s death had taught him an important lesson about chasing life while we have it. One of the ways that he funded his trip was to sing in churches along the way where free will offerings were received to support his travel.

Some of us, however, will live our lives without setting any records. I’ve been content to paddle my canoes and kayaks in places where others have gone before. I don’t find any need to be fastest, highest, longest or most accomplished. I’m delighted to be able to visit a new park or monument and simply enjoy the beauty that lies before me. I find great joy in simply setting out on a short paddle in a canoe I made with my own hands or watching my grandchildren in a kayak that came from my workshop. I’m the kind of guy who studies the photograph of the brothers carrying their canoes across the high bridge and thinks, “Wow! Those are neat canoes! I wonder who made them!”

Out on the west coast of British Columbia Gibson Paddle Club has a special insignia for anyone who paddles 100 consecutive days in the same year. I’m pretty sure that I’ll never even make that mark. I enjoy being able to wake up on a rainy day and decide not to paddle, but to roll over and get a bit more sleep. I’m thinking it would be fun, perhaps after I retire, to paddle 100 days in the same year. I’d have to do some of the paddling in places where the lakes don’t freeze, but it might be fun.

On the other hand, I’m probably the happiest when I’m not counting the days or keeping track of the numbers. The best for me would be to do it without noticing what I’ve done.

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!

Prison consultants

BBC News has an article this morning about prison consultants. I do quite a bit of visiting at the county jail and have made a few visits to state prisons, but I was unaware that such a thing as a prison consultant exists. I guess that the people I visit who are incarcerated aren’t rich enough to be able to pay thousands of dollars for a consultant. Actually, most of the people I visit are in jail because they can’t raise a few hundred dollars for bail.

There have been quite a few celebrities facing prison time. The college admissions scandal and the current presidential administration have supplied quite a few convictions with more to come. High profile, well-known and wealthy people are heading to jail in significant numbers.

Apparently a prison consultant serves as an advocate of those incarcerated, advising them of their rights, connecting them with prison programs, helping them find perks and sometimes assisting with changes in facilities. One of the consultants interviewed for the article had, among his credentials, the fact that he served a decade as an inmate. He said of himself, “I’m like a cross between a psychologist, a marriage counselor, a life coach and a priest.” I doubt that the description is accurate. Licensed psychologists and counselors and priests all devote years of their lives to education and preparation for their chosen vocations. It sounds like this particular consultant spent more time in the school of hard knocks than he did in a formal educational setting. This particular consultant also speaks of advising his clients on when it is best to take a plea deal and when to take the case to trial. That sounds to me like giving legal advice, which unless this guy also happens to be a lawyer, might be crossing a boundary that shouldn’t be crossed.

Actually, I’m not very concerned about what rich people do with their money, although I do think that those who can afford tp pay restitution ought to do so.

What I do know is that there are plenty of people in the system who don’t have consultants. There are plenty who don’t have advocates. I’ve met a few who feel the they have been abandoned by their families.

The prison system performs a lot of different functions in our society. Some think of it as a deterrent, though there is virtually no solid scientific evidence that it is effective in deterring crime. Others think that it is punishment for wrongdoing, and certainly it functions in that way. Being locked behind steel doors in a concrete box is an experience of losing control. Even with years of experience, I’m always just a bit uncomfortable when I’m visiting behind bars. I joke about making sure that the control room operator is in a good mood and recognizes me, but the knowledge that I can leave when I am ready is important to my anxiety levels when going into a secure facility.

At least in theory, however, prisons are about rehabilitation. People are capable of making changes in how they live their lives. We even use the term “correctional facility” to refer to the places where people are held in jail. There are a few prison programs that are geared towards rehabilitation. There are educational programs in jails and prisons. There are opportunities for study and learning.

White collar criminals typically end up in prison camps that are a lots less frightening than maximum security facilities. They might have to bunk with dozens of other inmates in a dormitory-style building, but they have access to exercise spaces. Some even have private places where they can read or meditate without being bothered. Some federal prison camps don’t even have fences.The prison where Michael Cohen will be serving his time is known for kosher meals and Jewish services.

High profile celebrities are not the reasons our prisons are overcrowded, however, Most people who end up on the wrong side of the law and locked up are in prison because of the use and selling of illegal drugs. Many are completely without any financial resources.

I exchange letters with an inmate in a federal prison facility. He was convicted of a crime in South Dakota, but is currently serving his time in Texas. He wasn’t given any chance to choose which facility he would serve his time in. He doesn’t have any outside funds that can be directed to a prison consultant. He worries about his family having enough money for food and keeping the house warm while he is serving his time. He has no say about his diet or his roommates. He has no say about a whole lot of things. He writes letters to everyone he can think of who might write a letter back to him. He has to pay for the paper, the pencil, the envelope and the stamp, but that is less expensive than phone calls and he’s learned that there are very few people who will accept a collect phone call from a federal prison facility.

Even the conditions in prison are dependent upon whether or not you can afford to pay.

I’m not a psychologist or marriage counselor or life coach. I’m just a minister. There is no one who is willing o pay me hundreds of thousands of dollars to be their prison consultant. I am, however, someone who is allowed to visit prisoners in the jail. With my bible and book of worship I make my way mourned the facility and meet with inmates in cramped conference rooms where the tables are bolted to the floor. I don’t give any advice. I don’t have any expertise about how to obtain perks or changes. I can listen to complaints about food and roommates, but I can do nothing about them. I’m very careful never to make promises to the people I visit.

The story of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25 lurks in my mind. “Lord, when did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” I’ve been on both sides of that one. I’ve visited those sick and those in prison, but there have also been times when I’ve not made those visits.

I suspect the same is true of those who get paid for their consultant visits.

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!

Diverse activities

Yesterday I went to a park in Rapid City at 7:30 in the morning to help set up for the annual Front Porch Coalition Black Hills Area Suicide Awareness Walk and Fun Run. The weather was glorious and the crow was large. I’ve participated in the walk every year since it was first organized. I have a lot of friends whose faces I see at the walk. There are always a few tears and a bit or remembering of grief, but the event is about hope. Life goes on in the face of devastating grief and sometimes just taking a walk with others is a way to embrace life. I didn’t walk this year as I had another event in the morning. Our brass group played at the local Seventh Day Adventist church’s worship service. From there it was a quick trip to the local John Deere dealer to pick up a part that I had ordered for our 25 year-old lawn mower.

One of the things that I like about my life is that there are many events that are quite different from each other. My life is not a stream of “same old, same old.” Rather things that seem, at least from the outside, to be very different are put together in ever changing patterns.

The thing about yesterday morning’s three events is that each carries with it a bit of nostalgia for me. As I was putting out t-shirts for the walk, I reflected on how many t-shirts I have from years of walking. Each year there is a new t-shirt. I have pink, green, red, yellow, blue, black, and other colors. My t-shirt draw is brimming. I have way too many t-shirts for one person. But each carries a memory and the stack of t-shirts from the suicide awareness walks is impressive. It is something I do every year.

I got my first trumpet when I was 10 years old. I played in bands through high school and college. I was a member of a brass quintet that played at our seminary graduation. I always took my trumpet with me each summer during my educational career. When we lived in North Dakota, I played in our community band. In Idaho I was in a brass quintet that often was a sextet and sometimes a larger group of brass musicians. When we first came to South Dakota, I didn’t have a brass group, so it is good to be back at something that has been a part of my life for a long time.

And my father operated a John Deere dealership when I was a youth. My first summer jobs were at that store. I swept floors, cleaned machinery, did setup and assembly and delivered a lot of lawn mowers to their new owners. I used to hang out in the parts department and help sort out parts as they arrived in the freight. I’m at home in a farm machinery store. The sights and smells are familiar. I know how the system works, I know how to get what I need.

Maybe feeling nostalgic is just a function of my age. I do lots of things that seem familiar and comfortable.

I have been thinking, however, how very diverse elements in my life fit into a pattern. On Friday I served communion in an assisted living center and made a call to a resident in a care center. I’m at home in those institutional settings with door codes and watchful staff. I know how to go into a place that is not set up like a church and lead a worship service. I’ve visited enough people who have various forms of dementia to know how to have a conversation that isn’t always rooted in the familiar.

On Friday I also took coffee and refreshments to the staff of a juvenile corrections facility. I spent time with a person who wandered into the church off of the street who was having a serious episode of mental illness and needed help. I spent several hours in front of the computer getting church communications out and preparing for today’s worship service.

These things might seem very diverse and different, but to me they are all part of a single life. I’m not a different person when I’m playing my trumpet than the person who squats in front of a wheelchair and draws close to speak with a person who has trouble hearing. The guy who wanders into the tractor parts department isn’t a different person from the one who gives safety instructions to those walking in memory of loved ones who have died. Our church’s computer network administrator isn’t a different personality from the guy who cares for law enforcement staff. It is all me.

From time to time I will have a conversation with someone who doesn’t see all of the parts of my job and my personality. That person my experience me only as the leader of worship services or only as the one who answers the phone at the church or only as the chaplain at Western South Dakota Juvenile Services Center. Those people might even comment on how easy my job seems from their point of view. Sometimes someone will speak to me about their opinion that I should spend more time at one part of my job and less time at another. My priorities are not the same as every member of the congregation that I serve. Once in a while, when I’m a bit frustrated at a particular conversation, I’ll think to myself, “If only that person knew what I really do with my time,” or “He (She) should just follow me around for one day.”

The bottom line, however, is that I have a good life. My personality is well suited to frequent changes in role. I like to move in and out of many different and diverse worlds. I enjoy being able to blend the work I do as an employee with volunteer work and home life in a complex web of activity.

And when the day is over, I’m usually tired enough to sleep well so I can get up and start another exciting day.

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!

Random rantings

Some days I don’t have a topic that i worthy of a full 1,000 word essay. Those days don’t come that often, but today is one of those days, so here are some shorter comments that aren’t necessarily related to one another.

So far I haven’t paid for a digital subscription to a newspaper, but I’m contemplating doing so. The reason is that the New York Times haas taken down its paywall for three days. On May 3, 4 and 5, anyone can enjoy unlimited reading at the New York Times website in celebration of World Press Freedom Day. Part of the announcement of their decision reads:

“We are living at a moment in history when democratic values are under threat by authoritarian leaders. The internet, which holds such promise as a democratizing force, has been co-opted by people peddling divisive, hateful ideologies. Citizens around the world who want to speak out are under siege from their own governments. Imagine if no one were watching.”

I believe that one of the roles to which we are all called is that of being witnesses. I try my best to keep up with what is going on in the world. I read articles about Venezuela and Yemen and the border between Israel and Gaza. I read the headlines every day, but I know that the headlines don’t tell the whole story. I know that the world needs witnesses to the events of our time. When I try to imagine if no one were watching, it isn’t a pretty picture. It is important that I pay attention even when I do not have the power to change the events. We, like those of years ago, may be called to tell the story.

I’m not positive that the sentiment means I should give way to the advertisers and the commercial purveyors of biased reporting, but it is becoming clear that what has been labeled “fake news” by our leaders isn’t fake at all and that the news reporters are much more accurate than the politicians.

On another topic: Read an article by a friend about a youth sailing club on the east coast that doesn’t have a boat. Since it seems absurd that there could be a training program without a boat, it was proposed that they build a boat. A well-known designer offered to draw up the plans for free. A local boat builder offered to supervise construction.What the members of the group and their parents would have to do is raise funds and provide volunteer hours. They opted to not build the boat, figuring that they simply couldn’t find the time. There wouldn’t be enough volunteer hours to accomplish the task. My reaction to the story is similar to my reaction to parents who keep arguing for youth confirmation programs to be designed without any attendance requirements. Signing up should be seen as sufficient commitment for confirmation. Youth “need to be confirmed” and parents have argued to me that study and learning about the church and regular church attendance shouldn’t be a part of the process of preparing for confirmation. It doesn’t make sense to me that parents should argue against youth making commitments. And, I don’t understand the argument that youth “just don’t have the time.” 21 years times 365 days peer year times 24 hours a day is 183,960 hours. In fact youth today have exactly the same number of hours youth had in my day. Add to that the fact that adolescence is longer than was the case in our time, they may even have more time.

They don’t, however, have enough time to build a boat or to take regular confirmation classes. I’m guessing they don’t have time to read a newspaper, either.

On an unrelated topic, I recently had a conversation with a friend who is a pharmacist, who was explaining to me how pharmacy benefits managers engage in spread pricing. Pharmacists purchase drugs from manufacturers bottle them and distribute them to those in need. They themselves are one type of intermediary. But the transaction isn’t that simple, because insurance companies and large corporations hire pharmacy benefits manufacturers (PBMs) to make decisions about where to purchase drugs and what prices are paid. PBMs make their money by paying one price to the provider of the drugs and charging another price to the insurance company or corporation paying the bill. The insurance company, in turn passes the costs off to the consumer in the form of premiums. The average spread for a PBM on drugs coming out of a local pharmacy in Rapid city is $40. That’s right, a bottle of pills for which the pharmacy is reimbursed $6 costs the insurance company $46. But that is just the average. Some drugs have virtually no spread, while others have much bigger spreads. Cited was the case of a generic drug for which the pharmacy was paid $5.73 and the insurance company was billed $198.22. Remember the PBS was hired by the insurance company “to keep down the costs” of drugs.

Pharmacy Benefits Services blame the drug manufacturers for the high price of prescriptions. But they don’t seem to be going broke in the process. And there is considerable evidence that they don’t really save money for the insurance companies, either.

American use roughly the same amount of health services as people in other industrialized nations. In one time period, however, U.S. patients averaged $1,443 per person for duress, compared with an average of $749 per person across the other countries in the study. When the system is set up for U.S. consumers to pay double what others pay at the same time that the health outcomes in the U.S. are worse, there’s bound to be someone who makes extra money.

When it comes to news sources, youth commitment or drug prices, I don’t have solutions. I do, however, have opinions and I’m not afraid to express them. What I wish is that I could figure out how to motivate one of these brilliant youth I know to make the commitment to come up with solutions to the high costs of medicine. It appears that they have enough time. And, if they avoid excessive health care, they have more time left in their lives than I do in mine.

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!


spring flower
The flower beds are just emerging from the snow. We haven’t gotten them cleaned up yet. We had a strange autumn last year - or a strange lack of an autumn. Whatever happened, we returned from a summer sabbatical with a lot of work to get accomplished and some of our normal yard work just went by the wayside. So we’ve got quite a bit to do this spring as we get ready for summer. We’re lucky to live in a neighborhood where there isn’t an expectation that everyone have manicured lawns. We’re on the edge of the forest and different people have different standards tor landscaping and lawn care. We’re about middle of the road for our neighborhood. We’re not the house that people point to saying, “Well at least my place isn’t as bad as that.” Nor are we the folks with a lawn likely to get noticed by the master gardeners. I keep the lawn mower sharpened and the grass a reasonable length. We have a few flowers and most years we plant a vegetable garden. We love to spend time outside and we have a large deck where you can find us in the mornings and evenings whenever the weather is warm.

I came home after a long day’s work yesterday and found that most of the snow had melted. there were little patches here and there, but it is hard to believe that we had five or six inches of snow yesterday morning. It really warmed up and melted off fast.

One of the daffodils was simply tired of winter and decided that we needed a blossom to lift our spirits. It certainly put a smile on my face as I climbed the front steps wondering what to fix for my supper. In our previous homes, crocus or grape hyacinth were the first flowers of the spring, but in this neighborhood, both would be eaten by the deer before there are any blossoms. I planted crocus and tulips the first autumn we were in the house, but we quickly learned that our four legged neighbors thought that we planted them for their tasty flavor and didn’t see any reason to wait for the blossoms to appear. They leave the daffodils and iris alone for the most part, so we have to wait just a bit longer for blossoms to appear in the yard.

The surprise blossom made me wonder if this might be a year when we basically don’t have much of a spring, but go directly from winter into summer. It has happened before, especially in years when we have had late spring blizzards. This isn’t the latest we have had snow, but there are plenty of years when we’re pretty much done with frost by the beginning of May. After having gone from summer to winter without much of an autumn, I have visions of our climate shifting to a two-season location instead of a four-season place, but I think that’s not likely. South Dakota is really a good place to experience all four seasons. Sometimes we get all four in the same day!

One of the things I like about spring is that it is irrepressible. The birds are back and they’re going to sing whether or not there is snow on the ground. The flowers are poking their buds out of the ground and getting ready to bloom regardless of the weeds and debris that needs to be cleared. Spring comes despite winter’s chilliest winds. A daffodil blossom on the day after a snowstorm seems like a defiant act of hope. And I like defiant hope. I like hope that cannot be suppressed.

In a week or a little bit more, we’ll have enough daffodils to bring a bouquet inside to freshen up our dining table, but right now, I have no urge to cut the blossom. It seems to belong outside. I want to see if by tomorrow it is pointing up a little bit straighter than it is today.

Like most of the folks in this neck of the woods, I’m ready for spring.

girls in daffodil fields
Our son and his family live in a place where winters aren’t like they are around here. They wouldn’t be impressed by our single daffodil. The picture of my granddaughters in the daffodil field was sent to us nearly a month ago. Most of the bulbs that are sold commercially in our part of the world come from the fields in their county. That part of Washington State is also known for tulips.

I’m comfortable with a single flower and the promise of a row of a few dozen that are on their way. I don’t really need a whole field of yellow, even though I admit that the fields of flowers are pretty amazing and make a great background for photos of my granddaughters.

My life has taught me that there are many things in life that are made to seem more valuable because of their scarcity. You don’t need a million dollars to feel fortunate. You don’t need excess to be happy.

The master gardeners can tell you that what I call a daffodil is Narcissus, which is a predominantly spring perennial plant of the Amaryllidaceae family. They are also known as daffadowndilly, narcissus and jonquil. They are distinguished by a central trumpet surrounded by a ring of pedals. The trumpets and pedals come in different colors, but most have yellow as a prominent color. There probably is a lot more that one could say about the flowers. What I know is that they are pretty. They are bold. The bright color is a welcome sign of spring. And we are ready for spring around here, so we’re going to take any signs we can get this year.

The melting snow reminds me of the long list of chores that remain in my yard. And I’ve got a long list of chores at work that need to be done before summer arrives. A month from now, I’ll be caught up in a sweep of activity and wondering if I’m going to get everything done.

This morning, I’m just eager to head out and look at the flower. Maybe there’ll be another today.

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!

Nurturing the spirit

One of the important parts of my life is that my work allows me to spend time with people in many different phases of their lives. Yesterday I spent time with two different women who are being cared for in a health care facility. Both of them have recently experienced severe injuries. Both of them are widows. In other ways they are very different from one another. The children of one of the women all live in distant places. Some of the children and grandchildren of the other live close enough for frequent visits. One of the women has been widowed for more than a decade, the other lost her mate more recently. One can barely hear the other’s hearing is very good. One struggles with significant memory issues. The other’s memory is very clear and accurate. They have similarities, but they are very different from each other.

Tomorrow I will be spending some time with a half dozen young people who are in their twenties. This particular group tends to be people who are in excellent physical condition and who work out regularly. Most of them engage in cross fit training multiple days every week and they all have jobs that require a certain level of physical conditioning. They, too have lots of differences. It would be a mistake to consider them to all be in the same category.

As a result of my experiences, I’m suspicious when I hear people talking about generational theories. Sure there are shared experiences that shape us. We who cannot remember Pearl Harbor as an event in our lives, but can tell you exactly where we were and what we were doing when the news of President Kennedy’s assignation reached us are different from those who were born after the September 11 attacks. Those who can remember the great depression are shaped by heir common memories. But within the generations there are great variations, not the least of which is that our capacity to remember makes us different from one another.

We like to think that our memories are accurate, but researchers tell us that we actually aren’t very accurate in what we remember. The memories that are most familiar to us and the stories that we tell most often are most likely to have been altered in the remembering and the telling. I am only half joking when I say that my brother either didn’t grow up in the same household as I or he is a liar. There are moments when we are together when our memories of similar events and times are so divergent that I question not only the veracity of his memories but also my own.

So each of us is unique. The impact of various experiences shapes us.

One of the things that I’ve noticed is that makes me a bit of a strange character in relationship to many people whom I meet is that one of the main focuses of my twenties was spiritual discipline and development. I confess that I allowed my physical conditioning to slip as I transitioned from youth to adulthood. I remained active, but I didn’t belong to a gym. I didn’t have a personal trainer. I didn’t work out as a regular part of my routine. Unlike many young people I know today, I focused on my academics almost exclusively. I spent most of my spare time reading. I went to church every week. I attended mid-week worship services. I thought a lot about religion and how to live a religious lifestyle. That’s fairly different from the focus of the lives of many of the young people I know.

Our society in general puts significant energy into helping young people develop their physical bodies. Scientists have studied the relationship between regular physical exercise and dementia. We can speak of the importance of physical conditioning. Nurturing young minds is also a priority in our society. I’ve read several recent studies that seek to understand the connection between having books read to them and learning to read in early childhood and neuroplasticity.

What is less common in contemporary society is an emphasis on the spiritual development of children. It is not that there aren’t resources available. The studies of Robert Coles and the writings of Sandy Eisenberg Sasso remind those who read them that spiritual development is critical not only to the joy of life an individual experiences, but also to the very fabric of society. When spiritual and moral development is ignored the consequences for all people are severe.

When I am with young adults, I don’t spend a lot of time asking them questions, but rather try to observe and develop relationships with them that are based on my learning to understand and make connections. But I have been known to challenge them from time to time to consider what really matters in their life. When first asked, they often respond in economic terms. They speak of earring a living. I have been blessed with meaningful work and I understand the value of having a way to earn a living that also contributes meaning and value to life. But I want to challenge all people to think about things that are more important than going through a daily routine. What is really precious? What is most important in your life?

Sometimes I tell them about a young man I know who was at the peak of his physical conditioning when he fell from a ski lift and woke up paralyzed from the waist down. Or a woman, not yet 30 who was injured in a construction accident. One of her legs was amputated. She will use a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Sometimes I speak of another twenty-something I know who was struck by guillain barre syndrome. One day he felt flu-like symptoms. Within a week they were considering placing him on a ventilator to keep him alive. Three months of hospitalization followed.

All of those particular people were forced to come face to face with their spiritual conditioning. All three have demonstrated remarkable resilience, maturity, and faith. They are, in their own ways, as wise as the seniors I visited in the care center. Each of us will face moments in our lives when our spiritual training, discipline and conditioning will be necessary. There’s no time like the present to engage in serious spiritual conditioning.

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!

May Day, 2019

Decades ago I went with my father to visit a customer who was suffering from cancer. The man was still able to live in his home, which was a beautiful structure set on a hill overlooking a gorgeous mountain valley in Montana. The living room had a wall of windows that looked out over irrigated bottom land where the alfalfa was blooming. There was an orchard between his home and the river which would be brimming with apples later in the season. The property was well maintained and the machinery was parked in neat rows. It had the appearance of the home of a man who had made a success of his life.

I really don’t know all of the details. Perhaps the cancer was already causing the man a great deal of pain. Perhaps the diagnosis had thrown him into depression. Perhaps loneliness had gotten the best of him. What I do know is that he was alone when we visited him and that the entire visit was filled with his complaints. We heard about all of the grievances he had with his son. We heard about his anger over medical bills. We heard about what he considered to be unfair taxes. We heard about his displeasure with a local farm organization. We heard about his anger at a County Commissioner. We heard about a raw deal from local automobile dealership. I don’t remember all of the details of the meeting, but when I think back I can’t think of anything positive or joyful that was expressed by the man in our hour or so of visiting him. The meeting was just one long complaint session.

I hope and pray that the visit helped. I want to think that he got some of his frustrations off of his chest at the meeting. Because a month later he had died. He spent the last week of his life in the hospital with very few visitors. I didn’t visit, but I heard about it from my dad who did. I hope he wasn’t quite as angry at the time of his death as he had been when we visited.

I think of the man from time to time. I don’t want to become someone who spends his aging years complaining. Sometimes I worry because I can come up with a list of complaints. Today I’m tired of shoveling snow. I cleared the driveway last night after work and it needs to be cleared again this morning and it is forecast to keep snowing all morning long. It is the first day of a new month, but I’m still smarting from last month when we had to pay a higher than expected tax bill. Some people got an income tax break from the new law. We lost all of our deductions and our tax burden went up significantly. I get frustrated at the lack of commitment from some folks in the church. I’ve heard every excuse in the book to explain why high school students don’t come to church, but I still don’t understand why parents want their youth to be confirmed when the teens can’t even commit to attending church a dozen times in a year and can’t schedule any confirmation preparation classes.

I could go on and on with my list of complaints.

But I really, really, don’t want to be that kind of person and a list of complaints isn’t interesting reading for the folks who check out my journal from time to time.

And the truth is, I’ve been blessed. It could be so much worse.

Imagine the parents of the people who were killed on the last day of class at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte yesterday. Imagine the parents of those who are injured and in critical condition at the hospital. A 22-year-old student opened fire for reasons that are unknown and the all too familiar story of campus violence erupted on what should have been a day of celebration of the accomplishments of another academic year.

Meanwhile, I have two children who have grown into adulthood and not suffered violence.

Nearly every day I work with people whose lives have been marked by tragedy much deeper than anything that I have ever experienced. I’ve know my share of loss and grief in this life, but nowhere near what others have been forced to face.

I complain about the heat bills at my house, but I live in a wonderful home in a great neighborhood with deer and rabbits and turkeys in the yard and a lake only ten miles away and access to the national forest closer than the lake. I can go for a walk in breathtaking natural beauty any day I want. But there are a lot of people in our community who live in poverty housing. One recent poll revealed that nearly twenty percent of households with children in our town live with housing insecurity - spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs.

I know without even checking the the shelters in our town were full last night. Those people don’t even know where they will sleep tonight. A blanket and a mattress and a sack lunch isn’t much consolation when it is snowing and you’ve got no place to go.

During the first world war when radio communications were just being explored as a tool of warfare communications were further complicated by the different languages spoken by the allies. After the war it was determined that there needed to be an international radio language with specific calls for emergency situations. A senior radio officer at a London airport suggested that the official distress call should be “mayday” because it sounds like the French “m’aider” which means “help me.” The phrase stuck and to this day “mayday” is a universal call for help.

Today is May Day. And I’m not the one who is in need. I’ve got a wonderful family, a comfortable home, a meaningful job and a community of loving and supportive people. The distress call is coming from others.

When I respond to their cries for help, I forget about my own troubles. The best way to avoid becoming a person who can only voice complaints is to reach out to those who are in need.

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!